The Section Seven Chronicles

Heart of the Huntress

 

Written by Charlie Schone schone23666@yahoo.com

 

Summary:  A novel set in the Slayerettes’ early days before they became Section Seven.

 

This story is rated for Mature Readers and depicts sexual situations, offensive language and graphic violence.

 

Disclaimers:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: All rights and properties belong to Joss Whedon, Fox Studios and Mutant Enemy, etc.

Highlander: All rights and properties belong to Rysher Entertainment.

The Legendary Adventures of Hercules/Xena-Warrior Princess: All rights and properties belong to Renaissance and Flat Earth Productions.

Charmed: All right and properties belong to Spelling Television and Paramount Pictures.

Bureau 13, Horace Gordon, Dimitri the Centaur, Edward Alvarez, and Team Tunafish are the property of Tri Tac Systems and Nick Pollotta.

The characters Thulsa Doom and the Serpent Men are the property of the late Robert E. Howard.

The Witches of New Salem are the property of Marvel Comics.

The characters Steven St. Wolf, the Knights of the Grail, and the Wandererverse are the property of Steve Pantovich.

The characters Rhiannon Cathcart, Edwin Giles and Patricia Driscoll are the property ofHarvey

 

The characters Layla Constantin, Jericho Saito, Sergio Dominguez, Vladimir Petrovsky, Edward Trent, Alex Sinclair, Julian Stone, Hekhmut, Tex Boyd, the Disciples of Set, the Hell Riders, and the Sisterhood of Bast are the property of Charlie Schone and may be used only with my permission.

 

Any characters, whose names and descriptions are used, are the property of their original owners, and no copyright infringement is intended or meant.

No money can be made from this story. It may be distributed freely so long as it is kept in its entirety, with all notices and copyright information remaining intact.

 

Comments and criticisms are welcome AND HIGHLY ENCOURAGED! Please give me feedback (just try to keep it somewhat constructive,J), as this definitely helps everyone out, the author and the readers.

 

Special thanks to Jack, for being a terrific as well as a VERY patient editor and providing plenty of ideas and advice for this story, and for adding more to this story and making it even better. Thanks also to Tater (vegetables of the world unite!) and Mike Weyer, for taking the time out of their schedules to read over my stuff and provide good input.

 

I’d also like to thank several authors, past and present, whose stories have fascinated me, and, in their own way, inspired me when writing my own stories. They are (but certainly not limited to): Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert E. Howard, Stephen King, Ed Greenwood, Neil Gaiman, Mercedes Lackey, and Frank Miller.

 

Credit also goes to all the fanfiction writers out there in the Wandererverse and beyond, including Jack and the late Tim Knight, who gave me inspiration to write my own stories as well.

 

Also special thanks of course to Steve, for letting us play in the “Wandererverse”, as well as the other readers who provided feedback on my work, and last but not least, the creators of these characters we’ve grown to love, including Joss Whedon (whose talents brought these characters to life, however flawed some of his ideas may be...). 

 

Now, on with the show…

 

(Author’s Note: This story takes place about one month after the events of “The Immortal Man” and a few days before “Midnight Visitations”)

 

 

#######

 

 

Sunnydale High School

January, 1997 …

 

As Catherine Madison yelled, “Corsheth, take her!” the Slayer executed a standing hook kick, knocked the pole out from under the mirror and allowed it to drop in front of her to shield her.  Then the spell leapt from the witch’s hands only to be reflected by the mirror back at Catherine.  It enveloped her as she screamed, catching her up in the twisting energy that with a roar, disappeared, taking her with it.

Buffy then surveyed the scene to find a badly shaken Amy and her Watcher waking up from Catherine’s attack.

”Well…that was, um, interesting,” Giles observed.

Buffy helped him up and asked, “You guys okay?

After Amy said she was fine, Giles said, “I assume the, uh, all the spells are reversed. It was my first casting, so... I may have got it wrong.”

Beaming at him, Buffy gushed, “You saved my life! You were a god!”

 

 

Sunnydale High School

November, 1997…

 

Rupert Giles caught up to the slender woman who had started to climb the stairs.  “Jenny! Ah, Jenny…”

 

Jenny Calendar turned to face the English Librarian. “Rupert…hi.”  She was dressed very casual today.  She also looked very tired.  The Watcher cringed as he imagined just how distraught she was after being possessed by the demon Eyghon.

 

“I-I tried to call you last night…s-see how you were.”

 

“Yeah, I…I left my phone off the hook.”  The computer teacher took a deep breath, fidgeting uncomfortably.  “I seem to need a lot of sleep lately.”

 

Concern flashed in the eyes of the Watcher as he regarded the woman he loved.  “A-are you all right?  Is there anything you need?”

 

Jenny shook her head. “No, no I’m fine.”  She paused for a moment then continued.  “I mean, I’m not running around, wind-in-my-hair, the-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-music fine, but…” She took another deep breath, trying to relax.  “I’m coping.”

 

“I would like to help.”

 

Jenny nodded sadly.  “I know.”

 

Giles fidgeted with the papers he held in his hands, his mind racing with what he wanted to say.  “Perhaps, um…we could talk sometime.  Uh, dinner…or a drink?  When you’re feeling stronger.”

 

The Technopagan gave Rupert a sad, uncertain smile.  “Sure, sometime.”

 

The Watcher attempted to reach out to Jenny, who quickly backed away.  “Yeah, sometime,” Jenny quietly added.  A range of emotions played briefly across her face, before she sighed and gestured above.  “I better get to class.”

 

Giles at that very moment felt as though something had struck him in the gut, hard.  He wanted to say more, but knew that it was useless.  “Yes…of course.”

 

The Watcher and the Technopagan looked at each other one last time, before Jenny turned and walked away…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heart of the Huntress

 

 

The Bronze

Sunnydale, California

April 29, 1998

18:50 PST

 

The Bronze nightclub, one of the prime hotspots for Sunnydale’s youth, bustled with activity on almost any given night of the week.  The club’s brightly lit dance floor was alive with teenagers and college students alike who danced and swayed to the techno music blaring from the overhead speakers, while the more dimly lit areas were congested with various cliques and couples, who shared gossip and kisses with drinks in hand.  Friendships were made and lost, hearts were broken, and people kissed and made up…

 

On this particular night, Buffy Summers, Steven St. Wolf, Xander Harris, Cordelia Chase, Amy Madison, Willow Rosenberg, and Oz Green were seated comfortably around a large table, nursing their drinks and chatting the night away, watching the flurry of student life swirl around them.

 

“So, Super-Soldier Man, enjoying what currently passes for Sunnydale’s Center of Coolness?” inquired Xander to the Immortal Wanderer St. Wolf, who in turn received a round of quizzical stares from everyone at the table.  “What?” he asked.

 

Buffy Summers, the Immortal Slayer, raised a questioning eyebrow at her friend.  “I thought you were the one that was supposed to be ‘Super-Soldier-Guy.’”

 

“Oh, please,” scoffed Cordelia Chase, “he’s more like ‘Super-Soldier-Wannabe.’”

 

“Hey!” Xander said indignantly to the Amazon beauty at his side, “at least I don’t spend an hour checking my nails after every fight!”

 

The lovely brunette shrugged.  “Well, even though we constantly battle the forces of Darkness, one still has to maintain a sense of decorum.”  Sunnydale’s self-proclaimed prom queen cast a critical eye at her boyfriend’s off-color wardrobe, comparing it to her own dark purple mini-skirted ensemble.  “Obviously, that’s something you still need to learn, Oh Lame One.”

 

“Xand, I have to agree with her on the decorum part,” Buffy added, smoothing a crease in the sleeveless white shirt that went with her own miniskirt and knee-high boots.  She’d overheard one of the boys snickering earlier that she and Cordy were playing another round of “who’s-most-likely-to-flash-a-glimpse-of-paradise.”  Buffy frowned at that.  Sometimes Slayer-hearing wasn’t such a cool thing to possess.

 

Xander just glared at his girlfriend.  “Idiot!”

 

“Moron!” Cordelia shot back.

 

“Loser!”

 

“Dweeb!”

 

“Bimbo!”

 

The brunette Amazon’s frown changed into a sensuous yet wicked smile as she stole a kiss from her boyfriend, to a chorus of sighs and eye-rolling from the other Slayerettes.  “Ahem,” Steve interjected himself, interrupting the two lovebirds.  “In response to your question, Xander, I’ve been here before, remember?  It’s…okay.”

 

“Okay?”  Buffy mouthed the word to the Wanderer.  “What do you mean by, ‘okay’?”

 

“I mean, well….” Steve fidgeted uncomfortably for a second, combing the fingers of his left hand through his short brown hair.  “I tend to frequent other types of clubs.”

 

“YES!” Xander exclaimed triumphantly, “I always knew underneath that professional exterior you were a strip club groupie, Steve!”

 

“Uuuuugh,” Amy Madison, the blonde Amazon witch everyone called “Sabrina” grunted.  The willowy girl clad in a blue leotard top with an attractive pair of leather pants grimaced in disgust at Xander’s comment. “Could you possibly be any more of a perv?”

 

“Shut up, Harris,” the Wanderer growled, “I don’t frequent strip clubs!  Well…not often,” he sheepishly admitted, which drew a deadly glare from the Slayer, “I just tend to more often frequent…honky-tonk clubs.  You know, country-music bars.”

 

“Eeeewww!” The Slayerettes exclaimed in unison.

 

“What the hell’s so wrong with country music?”

 

“Country music?” asked Willow Rosenberg, the Amazon Wicca, her pixyish face scrunched up in a quizzical expression hued by flaming red hair that matched her red camisole top and complemented her black leather pants.  “Isn’t that where they have guys decked out in Roy Rogers’ outfits constantly croon about pain and misery?”

 

“Actually, it’s more like music that drives you insane,” Oz Green, the taciturn werewolf muttered, shaking his head. His multi-colored clothing almost matched his own mop of infamous multi-colored hair.  “Dude, that’s definitely not my scene.”

 

“Well, Little-Miss-Likes-To-Fight,” Cordelia said, “guess that explains your boyfriend’s wardrobe.”

 

This time it was St. Wolf’s turn to look confused.  “What’s the matter with my wardrobe?”

 

Buffy Summers looked over her new boy-toy and cooed, “Well, I hate to agree with Queen C, but she’s got a point, sweetie.  Flannel shirts, jeans, and cowboy boots are SO passé. However,” she added with a wicked smirk, “I might be able to persuade you to allow me to take you to the mall sometime, get some clothes for ya that are more this century and all…”

 

The Immortal Demon Hunter shot an intimidating look at the Immortal Slayer, only to find that it had failed miserably as she continued to smirk at him.  Being dragged to the mall by the Chosen One on a shopping trip was NOT his idea of a good time.  He pinched the bridge of his nose and growled, “Is this why you asked me to come along, so you all could torture me all night?”

 

The blonde’s smirk broke into one of her irresistible thousand-watt grins.  “Got it in one, sweetie.”

 

“Don’t feel too bad, Steve, my man,” Xander offered in a show of support, “At least you’re old enough to drink manly beverages while we poor hormonal teenagers,” he held his soda drink up in the air, “are still doomed to drink what amounts to overpriced carbonated Kool-Aid.  But let’s not forget…while you’re older, at least you don’t look old and crinkly like Giles.”

 

“Excuse me?!” the Wanderer and the Slayer asked in unison, both of them shooting very cross looks at Xander.

 

“Hey, let’s face it; I’m not the only person who’s totally wigged that an awesome hottie like Ms. Calendar falls all over herself for an old guy like the G-Man.”  He continued, oblivious to the table’s occupants’ frantic glances over his shoulder and the unsubtle clearing of their throats. “I mean, he’s ancient enough to be somebody’s daddy!  What is it about chicks and old guys anyway?”

 

“Actually, Xander,” a familiar English accented voice with a hint of menace purred dangerously behind him, “I do believe it’s because ‘chicks,’ as you say, find older men to be far more intelligent and…mature.”

 

Xander turned around in his chair with an expression of dread on his face to find Rupert Giles, dressed in his usual tweed outfit, regarding him rather frostily.

 

“G-Man!”  Xander yelped.  The boy’s face instantly shifted to one that resembled that of a deer caught in the headlights of an approaching semi-trailer truck, “Uh, you’re here!” he squeaked.  “Er…I mean…here.”

 

 

“Yes Xander, I am,” the Watcher said, his eyes narrowed dangerously as he flashed a hint of “The Ripper” in his glare at the young boy.  “And again, I ask you not to call me that!”  Then his demeanor transformed into one that reminded Buffy of a cobra preparing to strike as he leaned over Xander and softly noted, “I see that you’re exhibiting your usual habit of allowing your mouth to race ahead of your reason.” 

 

The X-Man could only weakly laugh as he inwardly gulped.

 

At that moment, Buffy was impressed.  Wow, she mused, my Watcher really scared the crap out of Xander.  Man, for an old guy…he’s got it going on!

 

Then without missing a beat, Giles glanced over at his charge and flashed one of his special smiles meant only for her.  “Hello, Buffy.”

 

The Slayer beamed at her Watcher.  “Giles!  It’s so good to see you…er, I think.”  The Chosen One then frowned slightly.  “So what brings you here?  Another news flash about a prophesized end-of-the-world thingy, pending catastrophe, pre-ordained massacre, stuff like that?”  Her lips then curled up into a lovely smile.  “Or have you decided to emerge from that dusty, musty library and hang out with the rest of us?” 

 

“Oh, ahm, well, actually,” the Watcher stuttered, reverting back to his normal, librarian self.  “I-I’m here because…”

 

“He’s here because I was able to convince Rupert that it was okay to go out and experience something fun tonight,” purred a lyrical female voice.  Everyone looked to see Jenny Calendar, clad in a fashionable black leather trench coat that matched her raven hair, appear besides Giles with two bottles of beer in hand.   “Here you go, England,” she offered a bottle to Giles, who took it gratefully.  She turned to the assembled Slayerettes and smiled.  “Hi kids, what’s up?”

 

Willow smiled brightly at the Gypsy witch who had become her mentor.  “Hi, Jenny!  Nice to see you here!  So, you decided to come and hang out with us?  That’s so cool!”

 

“Well, actually, this,” she indicated with a sweep of her hand that held her bottle of beer, “was our second choice.  I was gonna take Rupert to a heavy metal concert but it was postponed.”

 

The  Slayer paused for a moment, considering that the words “heavy metal” and “Rupert” had been used together in the same sentence.  “A heavy metal concert, huh?  That would’ve been…interesting.”  Then she couldn’t help but cock a well-groomed eyebrow at the thought of Giles, clad in tweed, thrashing to heavy-metal music.

 

“Ah, yes,” Giles continued, “I’m sure it would have been, um, fascinating.”  He quickly took a sip of his beer and blushed slightly.  “Uh, can I offer any of you a drink…a-a latte perhaps, or….” He paused when he heard Jenny snicker next to him.  “What’s so amusing?”

 

“People don’t come to nightclubs to drink lattes, Rupert.”  She smiled coyly at him.  “They come to do fun stuff, like…”

 

“Like?”

 

“Dance.”

 

The Watcher paled at that word, and then out of the corner of his eye noticed the bemused expressions on the faces of the other Slayerettes and Steve.  “D-dance?  I…I…ah, Jenny, I’m really not that skilled of a, um, dancer...” The sound of a chicken squawk emanated from one of the Slayerettes.  Giles swiveled his head and glared at the table’s patrons, all of whom feigned innocence.

 

The gypsy smiled seductively at the Watcher and snuggled slightly closer.  “Dancing isn’t that hard, England,” she teased.   “You just move to the beat, that’s all.”

 

The Watcher gazed at the dark Amazon quizzically for a moment before he shifted his gaze to the dance floor, where a crowd of youths were busy gyrating to some indiscernible tune.  “And you call that dancing, I take it?”

 

Jenny shrugged in response.  “Actually, that’s a bit more like rave dancing…kinda like what they do at the Burning Man festival, although they do it in the nude.  At least, that’s how I do it,” she added casually to the wide-eyed stares of the Slayerettes and the Wanderer.  Meanwhile, Giles nearly choked on his beer.

 

As if on cue, the techno song finally came to an end and all the youths that had been dancing whooped and cheered.  The club deejay, a young man sporting a goatee, headphones and sunglasses, loaded a new CD onto his sound system and soon a slower, mellower tune began to play throughout the club as the lights dimmed.  The gypsy teacher’s face broke into an impish smile before she stood slightly back from the Watcher, placed her beer bottle on top of the table and slowly…deliberately untied the belt of her leather duster.  Moments later, she swept the coat off with a flourish…revealing a sight that instantly caused the Englishman’s eyes to widen along with those of the rest of the table’s patrons.

 

The dark Amazon was encased in a glossy black leather dress that left her arms and shoulders bare, showing off her perfectly tanned skin that shone in the dimmed lights of the club.  The dress clung to her body like a second skin, smoothly and perfectly, showing off her trim figure.  The garment terminated at the midpoint of her upper thighs, revealing her fabulous dancer’s legs, which rode on a pair of high-heeled shiny black stiletto pumps.

 

The boys, including Steven St. Wolf, could only gawk as their hormones, along with all their baser urges, had suddenly shifted into overdrive…something that did not go unnoticed by their respective dates and Amy.  Meanwhile, the teen-aged women could do nothing but stare and occasionally blink like a flock of owls. 

 

This was SO not the Jenny Calendar they’d come to know!

 

“I say…Jenny, um…th-that’s a…d-different look for you,” Giles stammered, struggling to hold onto his British reserve while being confronted by the lovely vision before him.

 

“Thank you,” she said softly, smiling.  With slow, catlike grace she sauntered toward the dance floor.  Then, as if an afterthought, Jenny coyly glanced over her shoulder at the librarian.  “Aren’t you coming?”

 

“If he isn’t,” Xander murmured under his breath, “I’m about to.”

 

Giles stood frozen, feeling like he had walked into a carefully laid trap, with the object of his desire holding out a perfectly manicured lure to him in a “come hither” gesture of temptation.  As he continued to stand there hesitantly, as if trying to decide whether to step forward or back, the gypsy derailed his train of thought by gliding her hand down the Watcher’s arm to intertwine her fingers with his.  Without further ado, the gypsy Amazon gently tugged her paramour toward the dance floor, where several young couples had already began to gently sway to the music.

 

#

 

When the computer teacher wrapped her arms possessively around the shoulders of her Watcher, Buffy felt a twinge of something in the pit of her stomach.  Was it jealousy?  Uh uh, no way…uh, maybe way, she thought, when she noticed that her beau was still staring open-mouthed at the form of Jenny Calendar pressing herself against Rupert Giles.  “Ahem,” she said, pretending to clear her throat rather loudly, “you’re not by chance trying to catch any flies, are you, Steve?”

 

St. Wolf blinked once, then twice before he turned his attention to his blonde companion and, after noticing her slightly annoyed expression, quickly shut his mouth, his cheeks turning a slight shade of red.  “Uh, sorry,” he stammered, “I just thought it was a little…unusual that Jenny was dressed like that and I was…uh…just wondering if she was okay…and….uhhhhh,” his voice trailed off.

 

Two can play at this game, Buffy thought.  She had decided she was also in the mood for a little dance with her new boyfriend.  She stood up and took his hand into hers, pulled him up onto his feet none too gently, and began a little stroll toward the dance floor.  Looking over her shoulder she asked, “Anyone else coming?”

 

“I…think everyone else here is A-okay for now, right guys?” Amy said, as she looked at her Amazon sisters and their respective boyfriends, and noticed that the boys were still staring open-mouthed at the form of Jenny Calendar swaying to the music.  “Uh, guys??”  The boys continued to gape…until their mates slapped them upside the head, hard.  As the boys yelped and rubbed their heads, Amy just sighed in resignation and muttered “Yeah, we’re just peachy.”

 

The Immortal Slayer simply shrugged and guided St. Wolf onto the dance floor.

 

#

 

After watching Buffy and Steve find a niche on the dance floor, Amy murmured to her friends in a concerned tone, “Say guys, just curious…has Jenny mentioned anything more to any of you about, well, ‘the incident?’” 

 

In the Slayerette lexicon, the “incident” referred to the time a month ago when the gypsy witch had been forced to defend Buffy from the gypsy Immortal Alexi Gregof.  Jenny had been forced to kill her clansman and her noble sacrifice resulted in her banishment from her clan. 

 

Both the brunette and redheaded Amazons shook their heads.

 

“No, she really hasn’t said that much about it, Amy…I guess you really can’t blame her if she doesn’t wanna talk about it,” Willow offered, her face slightly scrunched in a worried expression.   Although she and the other Amazons certainly felt Jenny had done the right thing and were firmly supportive of her, they also wondered how devastated she must have felt by having both to take the life of her cousin and lose her connection to her people.

 

“Well, if you ask me, Jenny’s better off without those losers.  I mean, HELLO!  Just what kind of morons place a curse on some guy and say, ‘Hey, let’s put in a clause saying that if he finds true happiness by boinking some poor unsuspecting schmoe, he presto-changes back into Psycho-Killer Guy as his punishment?!’  And just as an added bonus, let’s send out some homicidal sword guy after the unlucky tramp who happens to give him the ‘happy’ that breaks the curse!”

 

The little red witch cringed at Cordy’s diatribe.  “Buffy’s not a tramp, Chase!”

 

“Don’t get all wiggy on me, Rosenberg.  I didn’t mean Buffy particularly…I was just thinking about it from a global perspective.  Besides, not everything revolves around the Slayer, you know.  We were talking about Jenny!”

 

Although Willow narrowed her eyes and shot a look of annoyance at the brunette, she decided to let her issue about Buffy drop for now.  “Well, Jenny’s situation isn’t that simple, Cordelia.  I mean, she was really close to her clan and all, you know?  They were her family.  Now she doesn’t have that.  I don’t think having to kill her own cousin helped out anything much either.”

 

Queen C huffed and rested her elbows on the table.  “I know, Netgirl, I know.  Best we can do for her now is to be there for Jenny like the sisters we are, or are supposed to be, or…whatever,” she muttered, as she took another look at Jenny who was engaged in a slow, sensual dance with her enthralled librarian.  “She should be ready to go for the ritual thingy with Artemis we’ve got planned for Friday though, right?  Belfast, bedlam, bell…something.”

 

“Beltane, Cordelia, Beltane,” Amy chimed in patiently. “Celebrated May 1st, sometimes referred to as May Day.”

 

“Pagan and Wiccan celebration of fertility and rebirth,” Willow added with a smirk.

 

The dark Amazon threw her hands up in the air in defeat.  “Okay, FINE!  Beltane, smeltane!  Excuse me for not being Little-Miss-Webster’s like you two geeks.”  Cordelia huffed once more before she flipped a few strands of her lovely chestnut hair over her left shoulder.  “But I thought Beltane, or whatever you call it, was more of a Pagan-ish than an Amazon-ish kind of thing.”

 

“Well, technically speaking the term is ‘Amazonian’, but as to the ritual…um…yeah,” Amy confirmed sheepishly.  “But since we’re still learning about Amazonian rituals and holidays, we figured in the meantime it wouldn’t hurt to do something like this for Artemis.   Hopefully she’ll like it, and this’ll be good for Jenny, too…I think.”

 

“I just really hope she’s okay.”

 

“Us too, Cordy,” Willow agreed as she and her Amazon sisters watched Jenny continue to dance sensually with her companion.   The redheaded Wicca noticed that Buffy, who was also out on the floor dancing with her beau, kept throwing sidelong glances at Jenny and Giles, as if she were spying on them.  What’s up with that?

 

Cordelia couldn’t help but smirk as she watched Giles attempt to sway to the music.  “You know, Giles at the Bronze, I’ve seen that before.  But Giles dancing at the Bronze?  Now that’s a first, right Xander?  Xand…?”  Cordelia turned to her boyfriend, who, along with Oz, was once again staring slack-jawed at the curvaceous, sensual form of Jenny Calendar swaying seductively to the beat of the music, her motions fluid and graceful, as she weaved a spell over her paramour.

 

“Damn, look at Jenny go,” Xander muttered, his eyes wide.  “Now I know how I must’ve looked when Buffy dirty-danced me at the beginning of the school year.”

 

“Yeah, man, for a teacher, she’s really hot,” Oz noted.

 

Both men were once again slapped upside their heads by their respective girlfriends even harder this time.

 

“Now would be a good time to stop drooling, Dweeb-boy!” Cordelia hissed dangerously to Xander, who gulped loudly.

 

#

 

Jenny Calendar moved with an uncanny grace as she allowed the music to guide her across the dance floor.  Every movement of her body reminded Giles of a seductive flame.  He continued to dance as well as he could, however clumsy he felt, to the mellow tune of the music as he continued to be mesmerized by the woman before him.

 

To Jenny, dancing was nothing short of a living art form, a true expression of one’s self.  Ever since she was a child, she had always been fascinated by the intricacies of dance, how each form painted a vivid, living tribute to human emotion.  Her thoughts drifted back to the first time she’d watched a gypsy dance.  She had been fascinated and enthralled by it, the way the dancers expressed themselves for everyone to see, and at the same time seduce all who watched them...including her.  It brought back even more memories regarding her clan, of those she’d once called family…but sadly, no longer. 

 

She was now mordu…an outcast.

 

The pain played briefly across her face before she could catch it.  She hoped that the dimly lit club would hide it from her lover, but when she looked up into the compassionate eyes of her fuddy-duddy librarian, she saw his concern for her plainly in them.

 

“Jenny…are you all right?”

 

She smiled earnestly at the Watcher as she felt the genuine warmth in his voice.  She often felt that Rupert never considered the fact that he was in many ways so unlike most of the other men she’d known in her life.  Oh sure, she mused, there’d been plenty of other guys she had dated before, some of whom were, for lack of a better word, “nice.” But none of them could have held a candle to the gallant and charming man who held her in his arms at that moment. 

 

“I’m fine, Rupert,” she said softly as she drew him closer, her body melding into his.  Giles felt her warmth flow through their connection, along with an electricity that aroused him.  He closed his eyes and deeply inhaled the scent of her perfume, a faint yet pleasant aroma that made him think of a cool, flower-speckled forest glade.  He almost shook his head in wonder at how this woman never ceased to fascinate him, especially now.  He could only marvel at what had compelled her to act like this tonight; was it a part of herself she had kept hidden from him…or was it…something else? Then she derailed his train of thought when she leaned her head against his chest, causing his momentary sense of worry to slip away, for the moment.

 

The mellow dance tune subtly shifted into another song, and soon the words from Lauren Christy’s “Walk this Earth Alone” began to play over the club’s sound system:

 

You're in the doors that keep revolving

The sirens that keep screaming

You're in the flashing of the headlights

The things that I'm believing

 

Jenny looked up again into the face of her companion and met his gaze…and then with a little smile, turned around and leaned her back into his chest.

 

You're in the water that I'm drinking

The sound of 911

The walls that protect me

From the damage that you've done

In this world you are with me

 

With her right hand she undid the knot that held her raven hair in place and allowed her tresses to fall like indigo waves across her shoulders.  As Giles continued to worship her with his eyes, she leaned her head back and subtly began to glide her body up and down his torso, her hands entwined with his own.  Feeling extremely aroused, the Watcher struggled to control the burning desire that he felt for this seductive creature.

 

But I walk this earth alone

And all I've ever known

Is you are right beside me

If I love you for a day

Then blow my life away

Could I leave you behind me?

 

“Rupert?” she whispered softly.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“Do you still want me?”

 

Giles looked again at the woman he loved and stammered “I-I beg your p-pardon?”

 

You're in the crashing of the windows

The angels 'round the ceiling

You're in the fire in my belly

The fucked-up way I'm feeling

 

The dark gypsy turned around and looked earnestly at the man she loved more than anyone else in her life.  “I asked…do you still want me…in your life, even after everything that’s happened between us?”

 

The Englishman could only stare at the gypsy witch for a moment, as he struggled to find the words he longed to say.

 

You're in the warning on the table

The pills that disappear

The whines as I'm talking

The words you'll never hear

In this world you are with me.

 

“Jenny,” he whispered, “how could you ask me that, darling?  I…of course I want you…I need you.”  His voice cracked with emotion.  “I-I need you so very much.”

 

The dark Amazon smiled as she attempted to hold back her tears.  She tried to speak but couldn’t find the words.  Jenny felt a burning desire that had been building inside her during the last few days, a desire that was slowly forcing her to throw caution to the winds…

 

But I walk this earth alone

And all I've ever known

Is you are right beside me

If I love you for a day

Then blow my life away

Could I leave you behind me?

 

The Amazon’s sensuous face leaned closer to the Watcher’s own, her eyes narrowed to slits as their lips drew closer…

 

Could I leave you behind me?

 

“Buffy?  Oh…bloody hell.”

 

“Huh?”  Jenny opened her eyes and her mood was shattered.  She noticed that a perturbed Giles was looking over her shoulder.   She swiveled her head and saw Buffy with the Wanderer in tow behind her with serious expressions on both their faces.  “Buffy, what is it?”

 

The Slayer regarded her Watcher and the computer teacher momentarily before she responded.  “I think I just saw an old friend of ours walking out the back door.”

 

Giles got a blanched look on his face when he considered that the Slayer had used the term “old friend” in a not-so-friendly tone of voice. 

 

Jenny turned from the Watcher and sighed, muttering “Dammit, another fricking Tuesday night in Sunnydale.”

 

The quartet walked briskly over to the table where their friends sat and donned their coats, automatically checking to make sure the weapons they had hidden in their pockets were ready.

 

“Hey, what’s up?  You guys were all getting dirty dancy out there and now it’s all risky business?”  Xander noted.  “We were at least hoping you’d go for an encore before heading home to engage in the horizontal mambo…OW! Dammit, will you stop doing that?!” The X-Man howled as Cordelia, Willow and Amy kicked him in the shins, hard.  “What am I, your whipping boy?!”

 

Cordelia raised her perfectly manicured eyebrows and said sarcastically, “Wow!  Dweeb boy actually got something right for a change!”

 

Giles watched the antics between the teens and rolled his eyes.  “Ah, yes, ‘the future of America’…I pity this poor nation,” he muttered in resignation.

 

“Buffy?”  Willow asked, a worried expression dawning on her pixie-like face.  “What’s wrong?”

 

“Just saw something that I think we’d better check out,” Buffy said, her usual flippant tone long gone.  As the rest of the gang at the table moved to get up, Buffy shook her head.  “No, just wait here, ‘kay?  Keep an eye on things ‘till we get back.”

 

Oz simply shrugged.  “No problem, Buffy.”

 

“Sure thing,” Xander piped up, throwing a mock salute, “and in case something happens and you die for good, we’ll be sure to notify your Mom.” Suddenly, the young man noticed a round of evil glares from the Slayerettes.  “What?  Why can’t anyone appreciate my sense of humor?”

 

Leaving the rest of their team behind, Buffy, Steve, Jenny, and Giles had almost reached the exit door in pursuit of their quarry when the quartet ran across a young, curvaceous teenaged girl clad in a tight-fitting turtleneck, miniskirt and boots with long raven hair that came all the way down to her shapely behind. Standing next to her was a young, darkly handsome Hispanic teenage boy wearing casual evening clothes.

 

“Oh, uhh, hey Patty, Sergio,” Buffy blurted out to the young couple recognized as two of the few people outside the Scooby gang she considered as friends.

 

“Whoa, hey, Buffy! What’s up?”  Patricia Driscoll queried, an earnest smile illuminating her pretty face.  Next to her, Sergio Dominguez casually waved and offered a smile of his own…before his eyes grew round at the sight of Ms. Calendar in her evening dress, which was clearly visible beneath the open jacket she had donned. 

 

Madre de Dios,” Sergio muttered in awe, slack-jawed at the sight of the curvaceous computer teacher, before mentally slapping himself back to reality and hoping Patty hadn’t noticed. 

 

“Hey, Patty…uh, sorry to cut and run so soon, but I gotta go, it’s an…” The Slayer fumbled with what she wanted to say.  “It’s an emergency.”

 

Another emergency?”  Patty sighed.  “Again?  But you said…”

 

“I know, Patty, I know…and I’m sorry, really, but I gotta go,” the Slayer said, cringing inwardly.  She hated this part of the Slayer gig, always having to come up with lame excuses to fend off people who wouldn’t, couldn’t know or understand the horrors she and her friends faced on a daily basis. “Uhhh, make it up to you later?”

 

“Okay, yeah, sure,” Patty’s face fell slightly, muttering.  “Later.”

 

The Slayer looked like she wanted to say more, before St. Wolf cleared his throat and nodded toward the exit.  After shooting him a glare, the Slayer excused herself and headed toward the door with her three companions in tow.

 

“Man, what’s that all about?”  Sergio asked.  The Puerto Rican and former Bronx native had heard some weird tales about Sunnydale, things that made the crap he’d seen and heard back in New York sound tame in comparison. However, the oddest thing to him as of late was Buffy Summers and her friends.  As much as he hated to admit it, as he considered them to be a cool bunch, he had heard some awfully strange rumors about them as of late…

 

Patty just shrugged and shook her head.  “Who knows?”  She spied the rest of the gang over by the table.  “There’s some more of her group.  Let’s go say hello.”  After the pair approached the Slayerettes’ table, Patty chirped, “Hey, guys!  What’s up?”

 

“Hey, girlfriend!” Amy yelled over the music.

 

“Hi, Patty,” Willow said with a winsome smile.  “Hello, Sergio.”

 

“Sergio!”  Xander called out to his new bud.  “Urge to Serge!  How’s it hangin’, man?”

 

“Hey, Xander…Oz.”  Sergio said, before he regarded Cordelia, Amy and Willow and sighed wistfully.  His cheeks flushed as he smiled shyly at the trio of beautiful girls.  Hola, senoritas.  Que pasa?

 

Amy waved.  “Not bad Sergio, not bad.”  She noticed the rest of her Amazon sisters were also smiling at the darkly handsome youth.  Although none of the Amazons considered Sergio to be anything more than a friend, mostly because he seemed to be interested in Patty, they all thought he had a hunky, Ricky-Martin-look to him.  In fact, Amy mused silently, if Patty hadn’t already taken an interest in Sergio, she’d do him.  Then she inwardly groaned at her horny thoughts and muttered under her breath, “For Goddess’ sakes, I’ve got to hurry and find a hunk of salty goodness of my damn own!”

 

“Sooo, what’s up with Buffy and her guy?”  Patty asked.  “And what’s with Ms. Calendar and Mr. Giles?  I didn’t think they hung out at the Bronze.”

 

“Oh…” Willow furrowed her brow in thought for a moment before she answered their friend.  “Giles and Jenny just wanted to get in touch with their inner adolescent selves, so they decided to come here.  Buffy and Steve were out dancing earlier, but they had to leave…they had to, uhhh…”

 

“Get a cat out of a tree,” Xander interjected, before suddenly feeling rather lame.  He noticed Amy and Cordelia out of the corner of his eye pinching the bridge of their noses in resignation.

 

“Right…so…basically all four of them left to take care of an emergency…which is to remove a cat from someone’s tree?”  Patty drawled and looked thoroughly unconvinced.  “Sure…whatever.”

 

#

 

The Slayer shoved the handlebar on the rear exit door and stepped out into a narrow alleyway cross-junction followed by her Watcher, the Wanderer, and the Amazon gypsy.  A light rain had recently fallen and thunder could still be heard rumbling overhead.  Pools of water congealed on the slick wet pavement as Buffy the Vampire Slayer stood in the middle of the alleyway and faced north, while her companions took flanking positions next to her and looked south, east and west. 

 

Not a thing appeared to be stirring, except for a stray cat poking through a dumpster.

 

“Buffy, are you quite sure you saw something?”

 

The little blonde regarded her Watcher and frowned slightly.  If she didn’t know better, he seemed slightly miffed that he and Ms. Calendar had been interrupted before having their little smooch.  Well, duh!  However, the fact that she had interrupted them before they could complete the dirty deed felt oddly comforting to Buffy.  Instantly, she shoved that notion aside and experienced a little twinge of guilt.  Why the hell would I want to feel that way?!   Then she shook her head to clear her mind and said, “Well, unless my spidey sense is on the fritz, I’m pretty sure I know what I saw.  Actually, scratch that, I’m definitely sure of it now…it’s Lyle Gorch.”

 

The Watcher blinked.  “Lyle Gorch.  Ah, yes…one of the Gorch brothers you faced several months ago, the vampire you didn’t slay?  You’re certain?”

 

She narrowed her eyes at her Watcher.  “Thanks for rubbing it in, Recap Guy, and yeah, I’m certain…mainly because he’s standing right behind you, Mr. Smarty-Pants.”

 

The librarian whirled to find a tall, mustachioed figure dressed in a tan duster and a cowboy hat that had appeared seemingly out of nowhere just a short distance away.  The man had a cocky smirk on his face and a gleam in his eye that clearly spelled “trouble.”  On either side of him were several vampires in game face, also dressed in cowboy-style attire and grinning humorlessly.  To the Slayer and her Watcher, the lead vampire’s features were unmistakable…

 

“Evenin’ there, sugar lips…miss me?”  Lyle Gorch drawled in a menacing tone.  Or at least, he seemed to be trying to sound menacing as he glared at the Slayer and her companions, who had now slightly shifted their positions to provide one another cover.

 

“Oh, PUH-lease,” Buffy drawled, “you come crawling back to Sunnydale and the only thing you can come up with is ‘sugar-lips’?  I’ve heard better pick-up lines from the pizza boy.”  She then threw him a mock pout. “Oh, and your poor excuses for cowboy henchmen should know that the circus won’t be in town for months, so we aren’t auditioning for clowns at the moment…sorry.”

 

“Watch your pretty little mouth there, Slayer,” Lyle growled.  “This posse’s with me.”  The vampire reared himself up proudly with his thumbs casually hooked in his belt.  “We’re the Hell Riders, and we’re here to raise all sorts of—“

 

“Wait!” the Slayer snapped, interrupting the vampire.  “Don’t tell me!  Let me guess… you’re looking to raise all sorts of…gee, I hope my ‘maw’ don’t go and wash my mouth out with soap for saying this…H-E-double toothpicks?” she drawled in a mock Ozark accent all the while regarding him with a bemused smile on her face.

 

Thrown by her sarcasm, the vampire gave her a confused look for a moment.  “Er…um…yeah?”  Then, apparently realizing the Slayer was taunting him, Gorch sneered angrily at the diminutive girl.  “Yes, indeedy, little lady!  We’re gonna raise all kinds of hell in this here little town!”  The other vampires chuckled in agreement as they began to stride forward slowly and purposefully toward the four assembled warriors.

 

“Hell Riders,” Giles whispered, recognizing the name.  He exchanged a quick look with St. Wolf, who nodded grimly. 

 

“Poor Marty Robbins must be rolling over in his grave right now,” the Wanderer said, then sighed.  He knew the name too.

 

Jenny cocked her head to one side and raised an eyebrow.   “Hell Riders? Oh really, that’s what you call yourselves?  I thought it was Captain Cowpoke and the Buckskin Brigade.”

 

Lyle stopped and his features instantly shifted into his game face with a snarl.  “Who the Hell are you callin’ a ‘cowpoke,’ missy?!  Get ‘em, boys!!”  With that, the four vampires flanking him on either side whooped, “Yee-haw!!” and rushed toward the Slayer and her companions.

 

“Oh brother,” Buffy sighed as she faced one of the vamps.  Just as the vamp came within striking range, the Slayer whipped out a finely-carved oak dagger and gave it an easy twirl in her hand before flinging it straight and true into the vampire’s chest, causing the assailant to gasp and clutch the dagger as it was sent flying backwards before being reduced to ashes.  Out of the corner of her eye she witnessed her beau pull out his mystical sword Demon Slayer and, with practiced ease, swung the katana in a graceful horizontal arc, slicing the vampire that had rushed him in half, causing it to disintegrate.

 

On her other side, the Watcher drew his Glock 26 pistol with a threaded suppressor and fired twice, sending a blessed silver 9mm round followed by a compressed wooden one speeding into the night.  Both bullets penetrated one of the creature’s chest and reduced it to ashes.  On Giles’ left, the Amazon witch narrowed her eyes and quickly chanted lowly.  Eldritch fire glowed and swirled in her dark eyes before twin Levin energy bolts fired from them like Superman’s heat vision, striking the fourth vampire directly in the head and destroying it, causing a larger than normal cloud of ash to scatter everywhere.

 

As if on cue, the Slayer piped up in a mock sports announcer’s voice and said, “Well, sports fans, it’s four to nothing with the Slayer’s team in the lead!  Golly gee willikers, I wonder what Lyle’s thinking just as he’s about to kiss his ass goodbye!”  However, much to the Slayer’s disappointment, it seemed Lyle Gorch had once again run off and vanished, leaving her to pout prettily.  “I just hate it when they cut and run.”

 

#

 

 

After the Immortal Slayer and her friends had sent the wannabe cowboy vampires to Dustland, minus the elusive vampire Lyle Gorch, they regrouped inside the Bronze with the rest of the Scooby Gang.  Although they didn’t believe the return of Lyle Gorch constituted an Apocalyptic-type scenario, the fact that he wasn’t alone bothered Giles.  St. Wolf also agreed with the Watcher.  He’d had a few run-ins with this particular vampire pack before.  He knew there were definitely more of them, and despite the ease with which they had dispatched several of them earlier, handling them en masse wouldn’t be a piece of cake. 

 

After much discussion, it was decided that Buffy along with St. Wolf, Willow, Oz, Xander, Cordelia, and Amy would patrol the streets of Sunnydale tonight for any signs of the vampire pack, as well as stop by Willy the Snitch’s bar for a little “chat” to see if the weasel-faced owner had any news about their new arrivals.  While the gang patrolled, Giles and Jenny would go to the Sunnydale High School library and do some additional research on the Hell Riders.

 

Or at least, that’s what the librarian and the gypsy claimed they planned to do…

 

#

 

Pistyll Rhaeadr

A waterfall situated a few miles west of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, Wales.

00:05 Local Time

 

In the shadows of the lush, gently rolling steppes of the Berwyn Mountains, sat a secluded waterfall called Pistyll Rhaeadr.  Known by the locals as one of the Seven Wonders of Wales, it was regarded as one of the highest and most beautiful waterfalls in the land.  On this particular spring night, the wind gently sang amongst the blooming trees as water from the falls flowed freely down amidst the worn rocks, splashing gracefully into several steppes before finally gathering into the large pool nestled at the bottom of the falls. The occasional sounds of nocturnal wildlife carried along the gentle breezes along with the splashing and bubbling of the pristine water.  Overhead, the clouds had parted to reveal a moon that was not completely full, yet bright enough to reveal a lone figure, a woman who gently bathed at the base of the falls. 

 

She rose from the water, ethereal, allowing rivulets of water to trail sensually down around her lovely breasts and fair skin.  Her tall, trim figure contrasted against the waters that mirrored the light of the moon, highlighting her lush curves.  She closed her eyes momentarily as she slicked back her wet, honey-blonde hair away from her perfect heart-shaped face and full red lips.  She continued to stand there for a moment with her eyes closed, paying no heed to the chilly night as the moonlight continued to illuminate her achingly stunning face and form.

 

While the opulent waterfall and its surroundings were considered to be one of the most beautiful sights in Wales, they paled in comparison to the radiant beauty of the lady, a legendary creature who was so lovely that any mortal man would swear upon his grave that she was the most beautiful woman in existence…

 

“Lady Rhiannon?”

 

The woman, or rather, the deity known to many as the Welsh and Celtic Goddess of the Moon and Magic, the Sorceress Supreme herself, opened her eyes, revealing two beautiful witch-green orbs that shimmered like emeralds as she turned to regard the source of the voice. By the water’s edge, a tall, magnificent white steed stood regally with its head bowed respectfully.

 

“Aeddan,” she acknowledged softly, in a lilting voice that carried like the tinkling of the waters around her.

 

The tall, pale horse raised its head slowly before it spoke again, its voice deep, yet distinctly human-like. “Please accept my humble apologies for this intrusion, Lady Goddess.  Artemis, daughter of Zeus and the Greek Goddess of the Hunt, is here and seeks an audience with you.”

 

Rhiannon smiled warmly at Aeddan and nodded.  “Excellent.  Please show her in, Aeddan.”

 

The steed bowed again.  “By your command, my Lady.”  The horse turned and quietly trotted away, while Rhiannon stepped from the water onto the rocky edge of the pool, completely nude as the cool liquid continued to gently run down and away from her long hair and her magnificent body.  The Goddess of Magic raised her hands and summoned a miniature gale of wind that cloaked around her body and whipped through her hair, drying away the last remnants of water.  Moments later, the Goddess made a slight gesture with her hands and allowed the air around her to grow still.  Rhiannon then looked up to the tops of the gently swaying trees, from whence a small chorus of birds began to gently chirp and sing.  Soon, out of the treetops descended three magnificent birds…one emerald green, one gold and one snow white.  Two of the birds gently held a long, shimmering gown that was composed of ethereal golden lace in their beaks, while the third clutched a shimmering jewel in its small claws.

 

The Goddess smiled a greeting to her winged friends as they gently lowered the gown around her like a sheer veil, until it draped her form as the other bird gently came down and nestled the jewel into her hand.  The Goddess then wrapped the ethereal, shimmering gown around her body, the light of the moon turning it nearly transparent and revealing her incredible figure, before she took the jewel that the bird offered her and gently mounted it on her forehead.  Their tasks complete, the green and gold birds fluttered their wings before taking a seat on her shoulders, while the white bird gently nestled itself in her honey blonde hair.

 

“You keep excellent company, sister.  I am certain my forest friends could learn many things from yours,” a husky yet gentle voice spoke.

 

The Sorceress Supreme turned to find Artemis, the Greek Goddess of the Hunt and Moon, standing before her.  The Olympian had her trusty bow at her side and was dressed in her ornamental hunting leathers.  The moonlight seemed to radiate around her beautiful chestnut hair and her strong, yet supple curves as well.  The two Goddesses took several steps toward each other before reaching out and embracing in a sisterly hug.

 

“Thank you for coming, Arty,” Rhiannon spoke softly.

 

“It was my pleasure, Rhi.”  Artemis pulled back slightly and brought up a hand to caress Rhiannon’s cheek.  The Goddess of the Hunt nodded in greeting to the three birds that nestled on Rhiannon’s head and shoulders, the birds quietly chirping their own greeting in reply, before becoming still again.  “How are you, sister?”

 

Rhiannon smiled earnestly at Artemis, although there seemed to be a hint of sorrow and pain that manifested in her youthful-looking, yet ancient eyes.  “I’m well, Arty.  Actually…as well as I could be, I suppose.  I just wanted to come here for a little while, and relive some old memories.  Jonathan and I…we’d used to come here often, alone at night, just the two of us.”  The Goddess’s lovely face became sorrowful as her emerald orbs turned slightly moist.

 

Artemis drew her into another embrace, this one tighter than before.  “I’m so sorry, Rhi,” she said gently as she brought up her hand again to wipe a tear that trickled down Rhiannon’s cheek.  “I only wish there was something I could have done.  I just wish it wasn’t always like this…for them, or us.”

 

After Artemis let go of Rhiannon, the Welsh Goddess nodded sadly and wiped her eyes.  “I know, Arty.  Thank you all the same.  But perhaps, at least, that may change, at least in regards to the young women whose fates bring us here tonight.”

 

Artemis nodded. “Yes, indeed.  The time has certainly come, has it not?”

 

“Yes…it will be a long journey, sister.  You and I have spoken to our fellow moon sisters as well as some of the other gods, including a messenger from the Lord of All.  It is decreed, our wait is over…it begins tonight.”

 

The Goddess of the Hunt pursed her lips in thought.  “It will not be an easy journey, sister, either for them, for us, or our sisters.  There are many other forces at work now who will eventually realize, or are already beginning to sense, the potential that our Chosen possess.  They will undoubtedly try any means necessary to either gain complete control of them or kill them.”  The face of the Greek Goddess grew hard and determined.  “And neither we nor they can allow that to happen.”

 

“I know,” Rhiannon whispered.  “I recently spoke with Freyja, who had an audience with Odin.  It appears the One-Eyed God had a vision of the future…a most terrible vision, if our girls should fail.”  The beautiful goddess shuddered.  “I…can’t even describe it.”

 

Artemis nodded grimly. “Indeed.  I recently spoke with the Oracles myself.  They have spoken of similar dire warnings, should our Chosen fail in the long journey before them.  That is why time is indeed of the essence.  We must act now.”

 

Rhiannon nodded and turned to regard a cluster of numerous beings that had emerged from the shadows of the forest.  Creatures of the day and night, forest spirits, winged sprites, elves, and even a few dwarves had all come from out of hiding to bid farewell and good journey to the Welsh Goddess and her sister, as well as her white steed and her avian companions.  One of the winged fairies of the forest strode out in front of the assembled group and bowed deeply before the Goddess.

 

“Good journey, Lady Goddess,” she spoke in a soft lilting voice.  “Please come back and visit again soon.  These lands are not the same without you.”

 

Rhiannon smiled sadly yet earnestly at all the assembled faces, before walking up to gently embrace the fairy.  “Thank you, Hywela, and thank you all. Remember however, that I am always here.  If ever you need my audience or aid, simply call out my name, and I will answer.”  With that, the Welsh Goddess released Hywela, turned toward her sister, and strode over to Artemis with the steed and the three birds in tow.  The two Goddesses turned and raised their faces and arms to the eternal moon high in the sky.  Soon, their forms became ethereal as they merged with the light of the moon and vanished altogether.

 

For a moment the assembled spirits of the forest quietly regarded the spot where the two Goddesses had stood, before they silently merged back into the shadows of the forest.  Soon, there was nothing at all except the gentle wind swaying through the trees and the churning, bubbling waters of Pistyll Rhaeadr.

 

#

 

Sunnydale High School Library

Sunnydale, California

19:25 PST

 

“England?”  The lilting voice of Jenny Calendar caught the Watcher’s attention.  Giles looked up from the well-worn text on vampires he studied to gaze at the computer teacher.  Her face wore an amused smirk as she typed on the keyboard connected to the computer in front of her. “Just so you know, you still have about a year and a half left.”

 

The English librarian adjusted his spectacles and regarded the gypsy with a puzzled expression.  “A year and a half left for, ah, what exactly?”  They were both seated at one of the library’s long wooden oak tables with piles of old texts and ancient manuscripts laid all about.  The Tiffany lamp perched on the table cast lingering shadows in the dim library, illuminating the book that the Watcher held lovingly in his hands.  He gazed for a long moment at the gypsy teacher’s beautiful, sensual face framed by her indigo hair and illuminated by the dim glow of the computer monitor. My God, she’s so beautiful…

 

“To join the Twentieth Century,” Jenny drawled as she clicked the mouse and retrieved an article on a website that specialized in the occult and folklore.  She never missed the chance to tease her favorite librarian about his aversion to modern technology.  While she prided herself on her expertise of computers, among other things, the Englishman chose the old-fashioned, scholarly route, immersing himself in centuries, sometimes millennia-old, manuscripts and scrolls.  I guess what they say is true, opposites do attract, she mused.

 

“Oh…yes, very amusing,” Giles noted in a droll tone.  “Well, I think I shall have to be, to use the vernacular of this country, ‘dragged into the Twentieth Century kicking and screaming.’”

 

Jenny chuckled and shook her head.  “If that’s what it takes, England….” Her voice trailed off as she read the opened text document on her computer screen.  Then she frowned.  “Hmm.”

 

“Find something?”

 

The Technopagan raised an eyebrow at the Watcher.  “That kind of expression always gets your attention, doesn’t it?”  She returned her attention to the computer.  “Well, I’ve found some history on these vampires called the Hell Riders.   Looks like you were right, England…they’re not exactly a warm and fuzzy bunch.  According to occult folklore, they’re descended from a rather notorious gang of outlaws that were prevalent throughout the American West during the 1800’s.  They pretty much did everything…murder, robbery, rape, arson, etc.  And they did all of that BEFORE they were turned.”

 

“Hmmm, yes, that seems to agree with what I’ve found here,” the Englishman said as he stood up with the book still carefully cradled in his hands.  He walked around the table to where Jenny sat, but stopped before getting too close to the computer in front of her.

 

“What’s wrong, Rupert, can’t take the heat?” Jenny teased as she gave him a flirtatious smile.  She shifted her position slightly to allow the Watcher a full view of her legs, as she slowly crossed them seductively.

 

“Yes…well, ah, I think this is as close to that…dread thing…as I wish to get,” Giles muttered. He tried to examine the computer screen, although the Gypsy, still clad in her evening dress, greatly distracted him. 

 

“This ‘thing’ won’t bite, Rupert…I promise,” the computer teacher said as she gestured at the computer screen, all the while her eyes twinkling with humor.

 

The Watcher huffed.  “Well, after that little incident with Moloch last year, I can’t truly say I could even be certain of that now, can I?”  After a moment, Giles relented with a sigh and sat on a creaking chair next to her, the book still cradled in his hands.

 

“The good news,” Jenny chimed in, continuing her analysis, “is that they’re believed to operate with a bit of the old mob mentality.  That’s to say they don’t have any particular long term goals or sophisticated agendas….they just like to pillage, murder, massacre, and have lots of bloody fun…you know, your average vampire thugs.”  The gypsy Amazon gazed at the screen again then added “with guns.”

 

“Ah, d-did you say…guns?”

 

“Yes, Rupert,” the computer teacher confirmed in a tone as though she was speaking to a child, “guns. You know, things that go ‘bang’?”

 

Giles tossed a frown at Jenny, who only smirked wickedly in return.  “Yes, of course,” he muttered.  “Vampires with guns.  Well, since this IS bloody America, I can’t say I’m surprised in the least.”  The Watcher sighed deeply as he placed his book on the table and drew out his handkerchief to wipe his spectacles.

 

“Hey, Mr. I’m-So-Stuffy-I-Eat-Scones, what’s up with the diss?” The Technopagqan snapped with a cocked eyebrow.

 

The Watcher placed his spectacles on the bridge of his nose and said, “Well, it’s not meant to be, as you would say, a ‘diss’, Jenny.  It just seems that you Americans, such as our dear Mr. St. Wolf, have quite a fascination with firearms.  Although I suppose that’s only natural for a country that prides itself on its so-called masculinity.”

 

Jenny rolled her eyes.  “Uh-huh…this from a guy who didn’t hesitate to whip out his piece to dust a vamp less than an hour ago.”

 

Giles took a moment to glare at the Amazon, who now had a bemused expression on her face.  “I’ll have you know I considered that an act of pure necessity, as opposed to a bunch of Yank cowboys shooting guns all over the place and shouting….’Yippe-ki-yay’, or whatever it is they spout these days.”

 

“Sure, England, you keep telling yourself that.  You might actually believe it someday!”  The gypsy took a few more moments to do a search on her computer, before shaking her head and shutting down the terminal.  “Unless you’ve found something in one of your dusty volumes, I think we’re done.  Overall, I’d say we’re not in serious crisis mode…yet.”  The teacher then frowned.  “Of course, that depends on just how well-armed these vamps are…”

 

“And just how many there are exactly, and what they’re planning,” the Watcher added, finishing her statement.  He scratched his chin thoughtfully.  “Well, I…suppose Buffy and the others are all right.  Of course, I’m assuming Mr. St. Wolf had them carry a bit more than their average assortment of weaponry,” he added with a touch of resignation, as he looked down at the two emergency gear bags they had stowed on the floor next to the table.  Both bags held an assortment of wooden stakes as well as holy water and spell-casting implements…in addition to two MP5A3 submachine guns equipped with laser sights, suppressors and extra magazines.

 

Jenny patted his back assuredly.  “Don’t worry about them, Rupert…they’ll be fine.”

 

“Oh, I’m quite sure of that…as long as they don’t do something foolish like burn down half the bloody town,” Giles sighed.  After that the Watcher and the Amazon shared a moment of silence.

 

The dark beauty pursed her lips in thought for a moment then smiled.  “You know,” she purred, in a slightly different tone of voice that instantly caught the librarian’s attention, “you were quite suave, the way you dealt with that vampire.  The way you handled that pistol almost reminded me of….”

 

“Er…James Bond?”  Giles asked in a hopeful tone.

 

“Nope,” the gypsy piped up in reply, then smirked.  “I was thinking more ‘Austin Powers.’”

 

A look of absolute dread crossed the Watcher’s face and he almost turned white, while the Technopagan’s eyes twinkled with amusement.  “Jenny, I beg you, for God’s sakes, never bring speak of that movie in my presence again!”  Giles shuddered for a moment, trying to forget the images seeping into his mind.  “I must admit I’m still traumatized after Buffy and Xander tricked me into watching that…that dreadful film.”

 

The dark Amazon laughed and her beautiful, lilting voice tickled Giles’ senses.  “Come on, Rupert, where’s your sense of humor?”  She then smiled…a very different kind of smile than the one before.  “As Buffy would say, you could be SO Austin Powers, the International Man of Mystery…” Before Giles knew what hit him, Jenny smoothly glided over to the librarian and sat on his lap, with an arm wrapped around his neck.  “And I can be your Ms. Kensington,” she added in a huskier voice, her lovely face just inches away from his, her dark luminous eyes boring into his own.

 

Giles sat frozen, completely caught off guard by his gypsy enchantress.  After a moment he inhaled the scent of her perfume once again, as the dark Amazon gently lifted the spectacles from his face and placed them on the top of the table.   She then turned to the Watcher again and leaned even closer, their faces now only a whisker’s length apart as she laid her other hand on his chest to detect his rapidly beating heart.  She shifted her position slightly and Giles felt her smooth, shapely behind clad in the shiny black leather dress press enticingly against his groin.

 

“Jenny…” Giles began, feeling uncertain.

 

“Shhhh…” The Technopagan quietly hushed Giles with a finger pressed to his lips, then glided her finger underneath his chin and drew his lips to hers…

 

The Watcher immediately found himself savoring the taste of his lover, his tongue exploring her mouth with a sudden fervent passion, as her own tongue reciprocated.  His right arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her closer, their bodies melding together as they continued to kiss…until the gypsy unexpectedly broke the kiss and gazed at the Watcher.  “What are you doing?” she asked softly.

 

Giles blinked.  “What?” he asked in confusion, then looked down and noticed his left hand had slid down to rest on her outer thighs.

 

“Not there,” she spoke softly.  She gently took the Watcher’s hand in hers and guided it to her inner thighs, just below her skirt.  “There.”

 

The Englishman gazed at where his hand now rested, before he glanced at the gypsy’s face again, which now wore an impish smile.  While still smiling, she brought her sensuous face to the Watcher’s again and kissed him more deeply this time.

 

Giles’ hand explored the gypsy’s inner thighs, causing the Amazon to shudder and moan with pleasure.  He marveled at the silky smoothness of her skin, as his hand began to rub faster and further up her thighs…until his fingertips lightly brushed against hot, moist curls…

 

The gypsy’s mouth broke free from his as she gasped while she craned her head back in ecstasy, her eyes closed as she bore her neck to the Watcher, her throbbing pulse visible beneath her skin.  Giles gave in to his urges and clasped his mouth to the gypsy’s pulse, bringing another gasp and then a sigh of pleasure from the Technopagan as she gave herself over to her lover, her left arm hugging him tightly.  With her other arm she moved her hand to the top of her dress, and began to draw the leather material away from her shapely bosom…

 

“I SAY, WHAT THE DEVIL IS GOING ON HERE?!! Is this a library or a brothel?!”

 

The lovers’ tryst was abruptly terminated as they opened their eyes and looked toward the source of the booming voice.  Standing at the library entrance were two distinguished-looking gentlemen in finely-tailored business suits carrying leather-bound briefcases.  One of them could have passed for a stuffy-looking Michael Caine.  He possessed graying hair and a prominent frown set upon his face as he glared at the couple, while the other was a slightly younger, nervous-looking man with brown hair, glasses and a large mustache.   Giles and Jenny quickly untangled and rose from the chair, with the Watcher quickly snatching up his spectacles from the table and straightening his tie, while the Amazon slowly moved toward the two weapon bags sitting by the table as she kept her eyes on the new arrivals, ready to act if there was trouble.

 

“Excuse me,” Giles began, clearing his throat as he hurriedly put on his glasses, his complexion turning a shade of red as he regarded the two men, “may I help you?”

 

“Mr. Rupert Giles?”  The older looking gentleman queried in a formal, well-cultured English accent, although it held the hint of a sneer as he addressed the librarian…something that wasn’t missed by the Watcher as his eyes narrowed slightly at the man’s tone of voice.

 

“Yes, that would be me.”

 

“I am Mr. Edward Trent, and this is my assistant, Mr. Patrick Nelson,” the elder man gestured to the gentleman standing next to him, whose eyes kept twitching back and forth between the librarian and the gypsy.  “We represent your…employers, and we have some ‘business matters’ to discuss.”

 

Giles raised his eyebrows momentarily in surprise.  “I see…you’re with the Watcher’s Council?”

 

Edward visibly grimaced at the mention of the name.  “Mr. Giles!  If you don’t terribly mind, it would be greatly appreciated if you were a bit more discreet in the presence of such company as this…woman,” he said as his eyes narrowed in distaste at the sight of Jenny Calendar in her evening dress.  The gypsy’s own eyes narrowed darkly in return as she regarded the stuffy Englishman, deciding that she didn’t like the newcomer’s apparent attitude.  Wonder if he even likes women, she mused.

 

The librarian gritted his teeth and struggled to retain his composure.  “This woman you refer to just happens to be my companion, Jenny Calendar, and whatever your business is here, if indeed you represent the Council, I would appreciate it if you were to show proper manners and tell me why you are—“

 

“Jenny Calendar?!”  Edward’s voice nearly boomed in the library as he gazed at the woman incredulously, then turned to the Watcher and glared at him in silent accusation.  “You mean to tell us that this woman is indeed your…companion?!”

 

“Yes,” Giles said calmly, “she is.”  The Watcher’s reply brought a look of surprise from the gypsy…along with a smile.

 

“You mean to tell me you are indeed fraternizing with this woman,” Edward hissed, “who just happens to be a member of the gypsy tribe who placed the curse on the vampire Angelus!”

 

At the very mention of that, Giles’ blood ran cold along with Jenny’s.  Before Giles could digest what Edward had just said, the elder Englishman continued, noticing his surprised look.  “Yes, Mr. Giles, the Council has been keeping track of developments here in Sunnydale…and to say the least we are rather appalled at the apparent reports that your charge, the Slayer of all people, was engaged in a sordid affair with the vampire Angelus!  Frankly, I must say I am rather disappointed, and rather disgusted, at this revelation, not to mention that this all occurred under your watch!”

 

“Now, wait just one moment…”

 

“And if that wasn’t enough,” Edward continued, cutting off the Watcher, “now you tell me, and from what I saw rather plainly just a few moments ago, that you are engaged in a tawdry affair with this woman, this Jenny Calendar…who is in fact, from what we have learned through our sources, is a spy working for the Kalderash gypsy clan!”  The elderly man fired an accusatory look at the gypsy, before shaking his head in disgust.  “Truly Mr. Giles, you are a man of even lower taste than I could have—“

 

“IF you are finished with your condescending diatribe and your baseless insults, I suggest you get to the matter of why exactly you are here, before I toss you out on your arse!” Giles growled menacingly, his usual gentle demeanor long gone as he revealed a hint of his Ripper persona as he glared at Edward.  Although he was already beginning to wonder how exactly Edward knew of the information he had revealed, or more importantly, how much he really knew about what was going on, he wasn’t going to stand and tolerate anyone trying to insult his position as Buffy’s Watcher…or anyone trying to insult his lady love.

 

Edward stiffened momentarily as he regarded the Watcher, silently gulping as he noticed Rupert Giles’ furious expression…then gulped again when he noticed the dagger-like glare Jenny Calendar was shooting at him as well.  Rearing himself up slightly, Edward continued in a more professional tone of voice yet still devoid of warmth.  “Mr. Giles, on behalf of the Governing Council of Watchers, I am here as a Senior Watcher to make a progress report on the Slayer known as Elizabeth Anne Summers, and to also make a progress report on your actions as her Watcher.”  The elder Watcher’s eyes narrowed again.  “As you may or may not know, the Council is quite interested in your Slayer, considering that she, thus far, has survived longer than many of the previous Slayers in recorded history.  However, we are also rather concerned about this...Calendar woman,” he gestured in Jenny’s direction without bothering to look at her, “who we now know through our sources that she spied on both you and your Slayer.  But now…of all the blue bloody blazes, you now tell me you are in fact CONSORTING with this woman!”  Edward’s face nearly turned red as he bellowed out that last statement.

 

Jenny, who quite clearly had heard enough, angrily stalked toward the elder Watcher, causing his nervous assistant to visibly take several steps backward.  Edward’s eyes opened slightly wide in surprise as the gypsy got within an inch of his face.  “Mr. Trent, is it?” she hissed.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Good.  At first, I was going to ask if you’d ever considered switching to decaf, but instead I’m inclined to inquire whether you’ve ever consulted a proctologist.”

 

“A…proctologist?”  Edward blinked several times.  “What the devil are you talking about, Ms. Calendar…if, indeed, that is your name.”

 

Jenny smiled wickedly.  “Why, I thought it was obvious, Mr. Trent.  It appears you need surgery to remove that steel rod that’s shoved so far up your—“

 

“Jenny!”  The Amazon looked over at Giles in surprise, whose face now wore a pleading expression, “please…this is not the time.”

 

Jenny looked at her paramour, apparently confused.  “England, you’re not just going to let this troll badmouth you and Buffy, are you?”

 

“Just who are you calling a troll, missy?”  Edward growled, but then shut up when Jenny gave him a deadly glare.

 

“No, Jenny,” the Watcher continued, struggling to keep his emotions under control, “but there are more…civilized means to resolve this matter.”

 

Jenny just looked at her paramour, open-mouthed, while Edward harrumphed and said, “Well, Mr. Giles, at least you still have some apparent control of your faculties.”

 

“My faculties are just fine, Mr. Trent,” Giles snapped. “I will also have you know that Jenny poses no risk to me or my Slayer in any way, shape, or form.  In fact,” the Watcher paused for a moment, considering what he was about to say, then spoke, “she is no longer a part of her gypsy clan.  Her clan banished her after she….prevented a renegade gypsy from trying to harm Ms. Summers.”

 

Edward stared at the gypsy woman for a moment, whose face had become stoic and revealed nothing, before turning his attention back to the Watcher.  “And I presume you can prove this?”

 

The Watcher nodded.  “I have been making regular diary annotations and reports on all matters concerning my Slayer as is the duty and privilege of all Field Watchers.”

 

“Good, I would like to see everything you have written and reported pertaining to the Slayer,” the elder Watcher glared at the gypsy woman again before continuing, “in private.”

 

“Mr. Trent, I have already told you—“

 

“These are Watcher-related matters, Mr. Giles.  Matters that do not need to involve Ms. Calendar,” he said with a snide expression, before walking over to one of the large wooden tables in the library and setting his briefcase on top, unclasping it as his assistant Patrick followed suit.

 

Giles stared at Jenny momentarily, sadly before murmuring, “Jenny…perhaps it’s best if you go.”

 

A look of fury manifested on Jenny’s beautiful face as she glared at Giles.  She couldn’t believe what she’d just heard.  “England, I’m not going any—“

 

“Jenny, please,” the Watcher continued, “for me?   I…I’ll see you tomorrow, all right?”

 

Jenny’s eyes grew cold before she strolled over and snatched up her belongings next to the table, before Giles could offer to hand them to her.  He walked after her as she marched toward the double doors.  “Jenny, p-please don’t take this the wrong way…”

 

Jenny whirled and glared at the Watcher just as she reached the double door, her face softening as she regarded the Watcher’s compassionate, pleading eyes.  “Who said I was taking it the wrong way, Rupert?  It seems pretty apparent Mr. Stuffy and his patsy over there don’t approve of me.”

 

“I don’t give a damn what they think, Jenny…and neither should you,” he noted softly.  “I’ll deal with them.  I don’t know how much they truly know of the situation, but I promise I’ll try to find out.  In the meantime, I’ll be sure they only know what they need to know.  You may also need to give Buffy a call tonight when she returns from patrol, and apprise her, St. Wolf, and the rest of the group what’s arisen here.”

 

The dark Amazon sighed for a moment, before gazing at the Watcher again, a hint of bitterness creeping into her voice as she spoke, “It seems we never really do get a break…do we?”  Despite the bitter tone in her voice, Giles could also feel the sadness in it as well, which almost ripped through his heart.

 

“Jenny….”

 

“I better go, Rupert,” she interrupted him in a softer tone, her shoulders sagged slightly as she spoke.  “I’ll see you tomorrow.”  Without further ado, she turned and walked out of the library.

 

The librarian watched her form walking alone down the darkened hallway through the small window in one of the doors, before he reluctantly turned away and headed back toward Mr. Trent and Mr. Nelson.

 

#

 

Las Pureza del Fuego

An abandoned Spanish missionary 3 miles north of Sunnydale

19:39 PST

 

“Hey, boss,” one of the burly vampire’s henchmen called from a lookout post, “looks like Lyle’s comin’ back.  Don’t see no one with ‘im, though.”

 

“That so?”  The towering seven-foot tall vampire, dressed in a long leather duster and a black Stetson hat, looked up from the corpse of a biker he’d drained before casually tossing the body to the muddy ground with a dull thud.  Then his features shifted from his game face back to that of a powerful-looking man with piercing dark eyes, a mustache and short black beard.  He gestured to several vampires who were merrily tossing several corpses of a biker gang they had quickly drained onto a large fiery pyre that had been constructed in the center of the ruined villa they now occupied.  “Throw another log on the fire, boys,” he called out with a chuckle.  The henchmen grabbed the corpse and threw it on top of the burning pile, the sweet sickly stench of burning corpses wafting up into the night sky.  With that, the head vampire strode toward the front entrance of the enclosed villa where the rumbling sound of a motorcycle could be heard approaching.

 

Tex Boyd, one of the leaders of the infamous Hell Riders, was the head of this particular vampire pack.  They had just ridden into the outskirts of Sunnydale that night and were now getting settled into the remains of an old Spanish missionary settlement once known as Las Pureza del Fuego.  The site had once witnessed sacrilegious practices by the monks and unspeakable tortures inflicted upon the native Indians that had once lived in the area.  It had long been abandoned more than a century ago and was now in a partial state of ruin, its lone, weather-worn bell tower jutting up like a grasping hand from the partially-collapsed roofs and crumbling walls.  It had since become a hangout for drunken college kids and rowdy biker gangs, such as the unlucky group who had become the victims that night when the Hell Riders had rode in and proceeded to feast on whatever warm-blooded bodies they could find.

 

Tex looked up into the night sky for a moment, observing the low hanging clouds illuminated by flashes of lightning, the blood from his last meal coursing though his undead veins.  “Ahhh, nights like this, it’s good to be a vampire,” he mused out loud.  His brief reverie was interrupted as a Harley-Davidson-vintage chopper rumbled through the entrance’s crumbling archway and came to a skidding stop within a few feet of the towering vampire, kicking up mud onto his leather duster.

 

The head vampire frowned at the mud splattered on his outfit, before glaring at the chopper’s rider.  “Dammit, Lyle…do I have to teach you how to park your ride?”

 

“Uh, sorry, Tex,” Lyle mumbled, as he shut off the motorcycle and footed the kickstand in place, before getting off to stand in front of Tex Boyd.  The comparatively shorter vampire removed his hat in a gesture of respect before continuing.  “Boss…I got some news about the Slayer…”

 

An evil grin that would have made Satan proud flashed across Tex Boyd’s face.  “Ah, I reckon you got some good news for me then, yes?”

 

“Uhhh…” Lyle nervously fidgeted with his hat in his hands.  “Well, Tex, you see…we did find the Slayer, just like you told me and the boys to do.  Wasn’t that hard.  We had a little trap ready for her, see?  And….”

 

The devilish grin disappeared from Tex’s face.  “And?”

 

“Well…she wasn’t alone.  She had some company with her.  A big guy tryin’ to act like he was a gin-u-wine buckaroo like us, some old fancy-dressed city slicker, and a real fine-lookin’ lady who was damn near unshucked.  Had a bit of a mouth on her though.”

 

The grin returned to the giant vampire’s face.  “Ah, so I take it the boys are runnin’ just a lil’ late because they’re feasting on the leftovers, eh?”

 

“Uh, not exactly, Tex. You see…they actually went and…did a number on us.”

 

“WHAT?!!”

 

Lyle inwardly cringed as Tex’s voice boomed throughout the ruined settlement, surprising all the other vampires who now turned toward the conversation with keen interest.

 

“Well, you see, boss,” Lyle called Tex by the respectful title of “boss” in a vain effort to defuse the big man’s boiling temper, “These weren’t just regular dudes.  The big man who looked like he was all friendly with the Slayer pulled out some glowing pigsticker and sliced Buck in half like he was a weed.  The city-slicker jerked a pistol and, I swear on this, fired twice and dusted Floyd like he weren’t nuthin’.”  Lyle’s eyes went wide as he continued to babble. “And that fine-lookin’ lady I mentioned whipped up some serious mojo and shot thunderbolts right from her eyes!  She burned up Carson like a stick of kindlin’.  Oh, and…Farley got toasted by the Slayer.  She stuck one of her twigs in ‘im, and…” The vampire’s mouth quickly shut after he noticed the glare Tex gave him.

 

“I see,” Tex drawled, as he continued to glare at Lyle, who was now beginning to look rather uncomfortable.  “And just how did YOU manage to escape, hmmm?”

 

Lyle quickly painted an ass-kissing grin on his face.  “Well, you see, boss, I had a plan.  Everyone knows I’ve always got a plan.  You see, since plan A didn’t work, I thought I’d try plan B, and figure that if I led them here, that way we could ambush them, and…uh…that was my plan.”

 

The big burly vampire looked over Lyle’s shoulder before looking back at him.  “Well, now, I don’t see no sign of them, Lyle.  Maybe it’s because you hightailed it out of Dodge so damn quick like a yellowbelly, they probably didn’t even think you were worth chasin’!”  Fire almost appeared to be dancing in Tex’s eyes.

 

Lyle stood alone before the towering vampire for a long, silent moment, quietly wondering if this indeed was going to be the last night of his un-dead existence…before Tex simply shrugged and spoke “Oh well…guess that proves that Hack Mutt feller, or whatever his name is, wasn’t lyin’ after all.”  The vampire leader turned away from Lyle momentarily and looked at the several dozen vampires behind him, with a deadly grin on his face.  “Guess we’ll just have to pull out the big guns, right boys?”    The vampires all whooped and hollered in agreement.  As though to further punctuate Tex Boyd’s words, one of the vampire lookouts shouted that a large sedan and a truck were approaching the mission.  The vampires instantly became alert and tense, before the lookout reported that the vehicles had stopped and were flashing their headlights.

 

“That’s them,” Tex said with a nod of acknowledgement.  “Give ‘em the signal and have them come to the gate.”  One of the Hell Riders flashed a signal lamp back at the trucks to move up.  Soon the hum of the sedan and the truck’s engine grew louder as they approached the front of the old mission, their headlights casting stark yellow light and contrasting shadows against the crumbling walls before the vehicles came to a halt. 

 

The front passenger door on the sedan swung open and an average sized man with a medium build stepped out, wearing a jacket and boots.  His dark hair and eyes seemed to blend in with the night as he looked around warily for a second, his right hand resting by the Stechkin pistol on his belt, before he motioned with his other hand.  Several men, armed with folding-stock AKM assault rifles, got out of the sedan and truck and took up guard positions around the two vehicles, while the clean-shaven man with short black hair approached the gate where the Hell Riders were clustered, with Tex out in front.

 

“Well, well, well!”  Tex called out merrily to the armed man who stood warily before him.  “If it ain’t mister….hmm.”  Tex raised an eyebrow as he regarded the individual who regarded him coolly. “What did you say your name was again?”

 

“We do not know each other, obiri,” the man snapped in a clear, crisp Russian accent. “But you may call me Vladimir.”

 

“Vladimir, eh?” Tex drawled in a bemused tone.  “You a Russkie, boy?  Hell, you sound like one...look like one, too.”  He then took a sniff and winced. “Shit son, you sure as hell smell like one!  Been hitting the ol’ vodka pretty hard, ain’t ya?”

 

Vladimir stiffened somewhat for a moment as he coolly regarded the head vampire.  “I don’t drink vodka, obiri.  It’s bad for my liver. Perhaps you have detected it on one of my associates behind me.”  The Russian turned to glare at his compatriots, who all momentarily shrugged before he turned back to the tall black-clad vampire in front of him.  Vladimir reached into the inside pocket of his jacket, causing Tex to warily regard him before his hand slowly pulled out a small, silver cigarette case.

 

“I’m surprised you even know that I would be Russian to begin with, Mr. Boyd,” Vladimir said smoothly as he popped open the case and carefully withdrew a cigarette from the holder, tapped it twice and proceeded to light it with an elegant butane lighter.  “Or that you would even know what vodka is, considering that you are a Yankee buckaroo.  It seems you are actually a bit more, how shall we say, intelligent than some of your dog compatriots are.”  He took a long breath of the cigarette before exhaling it off to the side.

 

Tex’s eyes narrowed with a deadly glint.  “For a mortal and a Russkie, you sure got a mouth, son.  And the irony sure as shit ain’t lost on me with that cigarette you’re puffing, but know this: If you got a big mouth, I imagine you got a pretty big tongue rolled up in there too.  Say any shit about me or my boys again, and I’m gonna rip that tongue out from your mouth and eat it, along with the rest of you, am I clear?”

 

Vladimir paused for a moment from enjoying his cigarette, as he considered the vampire’s words before sighing.  If he was afraid of Tex, he was certainly careful not to let it show. “We’re wasting time.  Let us get down to business, da?

 

“Sounds good to me, amigo.  I imagine you got some gifts for me on behalf of Mr. Hack Mutt, am I right?”

 

Vladimir nodded and snapped out several commands in Russian to his compatriots. The men shouldered their weapons and went over to open the back of the truck and the sedan.  Soon several crates and ammo boxes were brought over and set down in front of the vampires.  The lids were then carefully pried off, revealing the weapons inside that were so new, the vampires including Tex and Lyle could smell the fresh coat of gun oil on the parts.  Vladimir’s men then pulled a weapon out of each crate, assembled them, inspected them, and loaded each weapon with a distinctive metallic sound before laying them out for inspection.

 

“Here we are,” Vladimir announced proudly. “Fresh from the factory in Mother Russia—some new tools to help you with your particular task.  I like to call them tools, because as Sun Tzu once wrote, ‘weapons are tools of ill omen’.”  He bent into the first crate and pulled out what at first looked like a short, stubby assault rifle with a folding skeletal stock.  “PP-19 Bizon submachine gun, this version chambered for the West’s 9mm Parabellum rounds, instead of the standard 9mm Makarov.  This cylinder magazine here,” he pointed to a large removable cylinder under the barrel, “functions as both a handgrip and holds sixty-four rounds of ammunition.  With this, you can clear out a house and still have enough rounds left to pick off any bodies still twitching without having to swap out the magazine.” He moved on to the next crate and lifted up a very distinctive-shaped assault rifle.  “This is the AK-74M, standard assault rifle of the Russian armed forces.  Uses plastic furniture instead of the wooden furniture like the old AK-47 and has a folding buttstock.  Fires a 5.45mm high velocity round from a thirty-round magazine.  Good for penetration and for making very ugly wounds.”  Vladimir then went onto the next two weapons displayed, continuing to talk smoothly as though he were a car salesman as he pointed out the heavy machine gun with belted ammo laying near it.  “Kalashnikov PKM machine gun, fires 7.62x54mm ammunition. Good for suppressive fire, drilling holes in cars and buildings, and of course, crowd control, da?  And last but not least,” an evil smirk appeared on Vladimir’s face as he gazed at the assembled rocket launcher.  “An RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launcher.  Can be taken down into two parts for storage or easy transport, and can fire an almost limitless variety of ammunition ranging from 70 to 105mm in size for any occasion.  Even some modern tanks cannot stand up to this piece of portable shoulder-fired artillery.”  Vladimir took another puff from his cigarette and slowly exhaled, making little smoke rings.  “Satisfied?”

 

Tex bent down and picked up the PP-19 Bizon and the AK-74, one in each hand and examined them for a moment.  Seeing that the safety catch on both guns were rather simple, and similar to the old AK-47, he had no trouble flicking the safeties off of each before he spied one of his henchmen out of the corner of his eye.

 

 “Hey, Cody, stand right there for a moment, why don’t you?” Tex drawled out loud to the vampire who casually shrugged. Without warning, Tex turned around and held the guns, one in each hand, and fired off a deafening volley of gunfire that ripped through Cody’s chest, sending spurts of blood flying as he was knocked to the ground.

 

Vladimir stood there quietly for a moment, his cigarette resting between his fingers as he surveyed the scene before him.  While he considered himself the epitome of a cool, collected businessman, doing business with certain…unpredictable personas, such as the vampire Tex Boyd, gave him reason for concern.  He didn’t even dare draw a breath before Cody got up, blood staining his ruined chest, and mock whined.  “Why’d you do that Tex, you just ruined my shirt!”  And with that, all the vampires started howling with laughter.

 

Tex chuckled darkly himself as he casually tossed both of the guns to Lyle, who caught them somewhat clumsily.  “Not bad, Vladimir, not bad at all.  For a mortal and a Russkie, you know how to deliver.  Although speaking frankly, I’ll think I’ll stick with these.”  He drew back his duster slightly to reveal two fully loaded Uzi submachine guns hanging on his belt, as though he were some sort of deranged gunslinger.  With that the vampire made a gesture to his henchman.  “Give ‘em room, boys.”  With that Vladimir nodded in return and casually dropped the cigarette to the ground, smothering it with the heel of his boot as he barked orders to his men to unload the rest of the weapons and ammunition from the truck.

 

“Uh, boss?”  Tex turned back to his sometime-partner and now-henchman, who now wore a look of bewilderment on his face.  “Can I talk to you for a moment?”  The leader of the Hell Riders sighed in annoyance before moving away from where Vladimir and his henchmen were offloading the guns from the trucks.  When they were a little further away, Lyle leaned in and said, “That Hack Mutt feller, he told you about what was going on with the Slayer and her pals?”

 

A small smirk curled up on the taller vampire’s face.  “That he did, Lyle, that he did.  I thought he was just spinning tall tales, but it seems what he was sayin’ about what was goin’ on here in Sunnydale was on the money after all.  Of course, I didn’t want to bet the odds on the house that he was right, so I needed to make sure.  And that you did, Tex, my long-time amigo.  That you did.”

 

Lyle blinked at the man who had often rode with him and his now long-gone brother Tector, unwilling to believe that he’d actually used him in such a fashion.  “But, Tex, you never told me or the boys about all that, how could you—“

 

“Lyle?”

 

“Uh, yeah, boss?”

 

Tex got within an inch of the vampire’s face and hissed, “Shut…up.”

 

Lyle gulped.  “Right, boss.”  Lyle went quiet for a moment, before he found some courage.  “Uh, Tex?  How can you really be sure this Hack Mutt, or whoever…or whatever he is, is on the up and up?  I mean, we haven’t even met this hombre face to face yet…and truth be to tell, boss… something about this feller gives me the willies.”

 

Tex sneered, “What’s wrong, Lyle, you need me to tuck you in now with a little teddy bear?  Sheee-yit, son, grow some damn spine.   After you and that Hack-Mutt feller help me and the boys skin the Slayer and her little gang, we are gonna rule the Hellmouth, and after that…” The vampire’s face took on a wistful expression as his mind drifted off in thought, before he smiled darkly.  “The west will truly become the Wild West…once again.”  With that, he allowed a self-satisfied chuckle to rumble from deep within.

 

#

 

Haight Street

San Francisco, California

19:45 PST

 

A fairly chill wind blew through the bustling streets of the famous Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, carrying with it the faint stench of brine blowing in from the Bay.  At this time of night, the district was alive with the sounds and sights of the city.  People of all stripes, from partygoers to punks, stall vendors and passerby, walked the streets of what had once been one of the centers of the counter-cultural movement in America during the 1960’s.  Nowadays it served as a reminder of San Francisco’s colorful past.  For the lovely young cream-skinned woman who strode past the well-preserved Victorian homes that dotted Haight Street, it felt almost like home to her.  Indeed, she would have felt right at home if it weren’t for the fact that she had a nagging suspicion that someone was following her…

 

Paige Matthews shivered slightly from the breeze as she walked down the historic street, wrapping the denim jacket more tightly around her shoulders.  She mentally scolded herself, yet again, for not wearing something heavier than her silk shirt, denim miniskirt and high heels. She flipped a strand of her raven hair away from her deep brown eyes as she glanced over her shoulder, looking again for a familiar face that she swore had followed her since she had gotten off the bus a few blocks before.

 

Oh jeez, Paige, paranoid much?  Get over it already!  Truth be told though, she didn’t know why she was feeling so jumpy to begin with.  Ever since she’d been a child, Paige had always been the independent sort. Free-spirited and adventurous, she always loved scoping out new things and places. Well…that plus she readily admitted she, at one time anyway, had been a bit of a brat and a hell-raiser, too. Her wild and sordid lifestyle in high school had often been at odds with her fairly conservative Catholic parents, at least until the fateful day when both her parents died in a crash…

 

Paige took a slight gulp then exhaled, the searing pain of that moment still singed her mind.  It’d been several years now, but every time she thought of it the memories came flooding back to her. That oncoming car that her adopted father saw too late, of her own mind screaming of the imminent death that was to come, and then…next thing she knew, she found herself lying on the ground, without a single scratch on her body, yet before her horrified gaze, just a few feet away sat the mangled burning remains of both cars, one of which had held the charred bodies of her adoptive parents.  The horror of that moment always stayed with her, along with a sense of confusion:  How did she suddenly appear outside the car just before the crash?  How…and perhaps more importantly, why?

 

Why did she survive when her parents didn’t?

 

The raven-haired beauty took another deep breath as she tried to bury the pain.  She had survived, but they didn’t. And she'd felt like shit for it.  Survivor’s guilt, a shrink had said. After many sessions, Paige slowly and eventually had gotten on with her life and, for the most part, had turned it around. She’d cut back on the partying and drinking binges and gotten serious about her studies, improving her grades and graduating.  About that same time she'd begun to wonder just who were her real parents and where exactly she'd come from.  She made numerous inquiries, but had no joy.  A part of her had continued to feel empty throughout all this, to the point that she tried channeling her frustration in a constructive manner by becoming a social worker for the city of San Francisco. 

 

So here she was, walking down Haight Street toward a place that had caught her eye.  She could see the large, white and tastefully ornate Victorian home ahead, which was also a store and had a simple, yet eloquent sign hanging above the storefront: RHIANNON’S MYSTICAL EMPORIUM. The elegantly arched windows each displayed a wide variety of different, for lack of a better term, “witchy” stuff: Incense burners, candles, athames, tarot cards, etc.   A large stick-woven pentagram hung in one window, while a large Celtic Cross crafted from stone sat in another.  A small sign tucked into the corner of one of the shop windows read: Divinations and various readings available, please inquire within.

 

She’d chanced by the place before, but truthfully had been somewhat hesitant…maybe because of her lapsed Catholic background.  Or maybe she was just afraid it would be one of those hokey, fake places that tried to rip off a poor sucker’s money.  But yet…the place didn’t feel anything like that.  She didn’t know why; it just didn’t. And now she was beginning to feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end, again…

 

Paige quickly whipped her head about again to see if there was indeed the face of that one sinister-looking fellow she’d seen get off the bus with her…and her heart skipped a beat when indeed she saw him, not far behind.  He stood by one of the streetlamps, the light seeming to miss his form entirely and cast his rather swarthy looking features and dark clothes in shadows.  The man’s face broke into an amused smirk as he began to slowly, assuredly walk toward her.

 

The brunette’s lovely face set in a grim line as she clasped the small canister of pepper mace she kept in her purse for certain emergencies, like now.  Okay, if you’re stalking me, creep, you’re gonna get a fist-full of mace right up your ass!  Paige then quickly glanced around the block.  There were some other pedestrians here and there, but no sign of a cop.  She glanced back at the mystic shop, which was just a short walk ahead.  She’d come to this place hoping to find answers, but now she was also hoping they had a telephone as well to call the police.  She quickly began to quicken her pace toward the store, which wasn’t much farther when suddenly all the lights along the entire city block went out.

 

“Now what?” She muttered as she glanced around again.  She could see lights visibly working far down on the next street or so, so obviously it must’ve been just a local circuit breaker that got tripped or something.  Okay, no big deal…except that power outages usually occurred during storms, and this certainly wasn’t a “dark and stormy night”.  Paige looked behind her again to see any more signs of the stalker, but couldn’t see him. Maybe it was just because it was dark, or maybe he was trying to hide himself.  Paige looked back at the storefront which was now only several yards away and quickened her pace.  She could feel her pulse and breath beginning to quicken as well.  Whatever was going on, she was starting to feel seriously creeped out.

 

And then just as she was almost to the store, the man seemed to appear out of nowhere like a phantom in front of her.

 

Paige blinked. What the hell? How did he get over there?!  Okay, she thought, the entrance is right there, get inside and ask for a phone, call the freaking cops…

 

The raven-haired beauty ran inside the entrance and quickly shut the door behind her, her breath coming in gasps and her heart pounding in its chest as she locked all three of the old-fashioned bolt latches on the door shut.  With that done, Paige turned to quickly look around the store.  The store’s lights were, obviously, shut down by the power outage and the only light came from various candles that were arranged and lit around the place.  It appeared almost more like an elegantly appointed old-world-Victorian living room than a store, albeit with plenty of mystical undertones.  Various books, jars of herbs, dagger and wands, and other paraphernalia were displayed on various oak shelves and tables.  However, the faint light from the candles only seemed to make the store feel just a tad bit spooky…that plus there didn’t seem to be anyone around.

 

“Hello?”  Paige’s inquiring voice, tinged with a hint of nervous anxiety, echoed throughout the shop.  “Is anyone here, hello?”  She then frowned.  “Great, I’ve locked myself inside a spooky store with apparently no one around, the power’s out, and there’s some creep outside stalking me.  I guess this is the cue for some guy in a hockey mask to jump out at me with an axe.”  She then noticed movement out of the corner of her eye, right outside the window…

 

Paige whirled around to see the man who’d been stalking her earlier standing right outside one of the windows.  The man whose features seemed to be cloaked in shadows just stood there for a moment, motionless and staring at Paige from outside the shop.  That is, until his eyes seemed to glow red for a moment, before he moved away from the window out of view.

 

Okay, hold everything, a man’s eyes do NOT glow red!  Well, unless he’s wasted, or something. Or maybe, it was her sense of nervousness that was making her see things.  She gradually began to retreat, her eyes constantly scanning the shop windows, wondering if that selfsame stalker/intruder/creep/whatever was still lurking out there…

 

“May I help you?”

 

Paige let out a small yelp before she turned around, half-expecting to find some creepy woman despite that the words were spoken in an enchanting, lilting Welsh accent.  Rather, before her eyes stood what had to be the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen in her life.  The brunette blinked once, then twice as she saw a lovely blonde haired woman in a flowing silk dress standing before her, her sensuous face illuminated by a candle she held nestled in her delicate hands.  Her emerald orbs seemed to capture and radiate some of the candle’s warmth as she gently regarded Paige.

 

“Miss, are you alright? I’m sorry if I frightened you, I was just lighting some more candles after the power went out. Is something the matter?”

 

The social worker then realized that she’d been doing nothing except stare at the woman in front of her, almost feeling for a moment as though she was beginning to fall completely into the woman’s entrancing, hypnotic emerald eyes.  Shaking herself to awaken from her stupor, her creamy white skin flushed slightly crimson with embarrassment before she said, “I…I’m sorry to disturb you ma’am, but I was coming to your store to inquire about a…um, divination, until I saw some creep out there in the street following me and I think he’s still outside. I think he’s some sort of stalker or something.  Uh, do you have a phone so I can call the police?  Like I said, I’m really sorry to bother you.”

 

The young woman shook her head in reply.  “It’s quite alright, dear, you’re not disturbing me at all, but I’m afraid when the power went out, so did the phone. It might partly be because the wiring in this house is rather old, to say the least.”  She then looked toward the windows and narrowed her eyes.  “You said there’s someone following you, and he might still be outside?”

 

“Yes.”

 

The blonde beauty nodded thoughtfully.  “Hmm. Stay here a moment, would you?”  She placed her candle on a nearby counter then briskly walked toward the door.

 

Paige’s eyes opened as wide as saucers. “Whoa, wait a sec! You’re not actually going out there, are you?!”

 

The blonde woman stopped before turning to regard Paige with a mysterious smirk.  “Don’t worry, dear, this will only take a moment.  Let’s just say…I have a way with men.” She then winked before she unlocked the door and stepped out into the street, before closing the door behind her.

 

Paige waited inside the store for a moment, fidgeting and wondering what she’d gotten herself into.  Several moments passed and she began to wonder if maybe she should just get out of the store and leave, before she swore she heard a slight commotion outside, like a shout or something, before there was a brief flash of light.  A minute later, the lovely blonde unlocked the door and stepped back inside, looking none the worse for wear and quietly humming a tune, as she shut the door again.

 

The beautiful woman noticed Paige’s inquiring expression and smiled assuredly.  “Well, I wouldn’t worry about that little nuisance anymore.  He’s…gone away.”

 

The brunette girl blinked in confusion. “Uh, gone away? You mean you saw him and he’s gone, just like that?  What…what’d you do?  And by chance did you happen to see some flash of light out there?”

 

The tall blonde shrugged. “That flash of light must have been someone playing with a lamp.  Oh yes, I did see that rather uncouth-looking stalker you mentioned, but don’t worry, as I said he’s gone.  Or at least, he fled with his tail between his legs when he saw me.  Perhaps it’s because he’s one of the people around here who knows I’m a witch,” she added lightly with a smile.

 

Paige blinked and felt a small lump form in her throat.  A witch? “Uhh, okay.”  She continued to regard the beautiful woman with apprehension.  “So, if I can steal a line from the Wizard of Oz, are you a good witch or a bad witch?”

 

The blonde woman smirked with a hint of amusement and chuckled before she patted Paige’s shoulder in a reassuring gesture. “Now, now, dear, there’s no need to feel uncomfortable. Despite what you may have heard in the media, I’m hardly the sort of devil-worshipper some of those boorish televangelists and politicians claim us witches to be.  However…I suspect you may have already known that.  After all, you already knew that this little shop caters to the mystic and arcane, and you already stated you came here for a reading.  Why else would you be here?”

 

The raven-haired girl glanced around the store for a moment, fidgeting.  “Er, bath and beauty products?”

 

The beautiful blonde woman gave Paige a dazzling smile as she chuckled softly. “Well, I have some of that particular merchandise in stock as well, all natural.  But forgive me, goodness, where are my manners?”  She offered a hand in friendship, which Paige, after a moment’s hesitation, took in her own and shook.  “My name is Rhiannon Cathcart, and you are…?”

 

“Paige Matthews.”

 

Rhiannon beamed.  “Excellent!  Well, welcome to both my home and store, Paige.  And please, call me Rhiannon.”

 

Paige paused for a moment. “Rhiannon…oh, right, I get it.  Uh, kinda like the Fleetwood Mac song, right?”

 

Rhiannon smiled mysteriously.  “Yes, you could say that, like the song.” She then regarded Paige thoughtfully.  “Now, I believe you mentioned you were here for a reading, yes?”

 

Paige found herself fidgeting again, feeling for a moment almost uncertain.  But why?  It almost seemed as though part of her was telling her that something big was in store for her, but what?  “Well…yeah, I came here for a reading, because…I’m sorry, I don’t want to bore you with all the details, but, okay.”  She took a deep breath.  “The thing is…my parents died not long ago.  But see, we were all together in the car.  But somehow I survived, unscathed, and they didn’t.  I mean, why?  Why me?”  She sniffled a bit as she tried to hold back the tears that were beginning to form in her eyes.  “Why did it happen?  I mean, something must have happened, right?  Something…I don’t know.  It’s like for some reason part of me has felt like there was something else going on in the world then what everyone normally sees on TV or whatever, but what?  What is it?  Why did it choose to save me but not my parents?” Paige sniffled again and hastily wiped at the tears forming in her eyes.  “God, I’m sorry for coming off like this.  I’m a complete stranger running into your store and—“

 

“Child, hush,” Rhiannon said gently and, to Paige’s surprise, drew her into a warm motherly hug.  “It’s alright to feel sad. Unfortunately, we can’t always keep those we cherish with us forever, except in our hearts, like you do with your parents.” Rhiannon drew back and gave Paige a sad, yet earnest smile.  “Believe me…I know.  But perhaps, I can help you with what it is you seek.  Come, follow me,” she offered gently, and gestured toward a door leading to the back of the store.

 

Paige regarded the large oak door with a bit of uncertainty.  “Uh, what’s back there?”

 

Rhiannon smiled once again.  “You’ll see.  Come,” she said as she offered her hand to Paige, which she accepted with a sense of both apprehension and wonder.  The tall blonde then gently led her toward the back, passing by two small bowls that were carefully set aside on the floor, one appearing to hold milk and the other small little honey cakes.

 

“Not to pry,” Paige asked, “but do you keep a cat here?”

 

“Oh, not quite,” Rhiannon said, smirking.  “Those are for the Brownies.”

 

A look of puzzlement crossed the raven-haired girl’s face.  “Brownies? You mean dessert brownies?”

 

The blonde woman chuckled softly and shook her head.  “No dear, not those brownies.  Brownies.  The little folk, the Hidden People.  They’re quite helpful around the house, but they’ve always tended to be a bit shy, unfortunately.  Oh, well.  But come, we mustn’t tarry.”  Paige blinked at Rhiannon’s words before they neared the door, which as if by its own accord, swung open revealing a candlelit chamber within.

 

Paige again felt that odd bit of hesitation course through her, as though feeling that once she entered that doorway there was no turning back, but all that seemed to wash away when Rhiannon turned to look at her with those beautiful emerald eyes, as though just looking into those orbs seemed to make all her doubts and fears melt away altogether.  The beautiful woman held her hand in a reassuring gesture, the warmth from her own lovely hands seemingly flowing into her.  “Don’t worry, there’s nothing that can harm you here.”

 

Without protest, Paige allowed Rhiannon to guide her within the chamber.

 

The room appeared dark at first, but was lit by dozens of candles set within various niches set within rock walls, which surrounded the opulent chamber.  Various handcrafted ornaments and chimes dangled from the ceiling alongside long green vines. Statuary and symbols of different humanoid figures and mythic beasts were carved into the rock walls.  A quiet spring appeared to bubble down the side of one of the walls and formed a small pool in one corner surrounded by leafy plants.  Everywhere lay various bottles of herbs, incense, wands, and other paraphernalia laid about in a casual manner, as though to imply this was not another part of the store, but a place where the Craft itself was practiced.  Off in another corner there was a round cloth-draped table upon which sat a large crystal alongside a lit table lamp, a small leather bag from which several stones inscribed with runes had partially spilled out, and a deck of cards laying face down.

 

Paige gazed in wonder at her surroundings, before her eyes were drawn to the floor, which was hewn from oak and was inscribed with various runes and symbols. “Well, this is a little different,” she drawled, feeling somewhat awed and spooked, all at the same time.  “It’s pretty original to say the least.  Who’s your interior decorator?  This must’ve cost a fortune.”

 

“Me,” Rhiannon replied with a hint of smugness in her expression, before she gestured Paige toward the table.  “Come, sit.”  Paige obediently did so, settling down on one of the plush, high-backed chairs.  It was strange she thought, most people venturing into a room like this would have probably just stood there and gawked before turning around and leaving.  But she hadn’t felt that way.  Again, she couldn't shake that feeling that it felt like home to her.  As she sat, she heard the beautiful, musical chirping sound of several birds above her. Up in the ceiling rafters three birds, one gold, one green and one white looked down at her and chirped musically, the lovely sound carrying into her ears and soothing her mind almost immediately.  The birds then fluttered their wings and flew downwards, before landing on Paige’s shoulders and in her hair, continuing to chirp and sing gently as the raven-haired girl gasped in surprise.

 

“Some pretty affectionate birds you have here,” Paige noted as she raised a hand up to her head as though to pet one of the birds, the white one, before it hopped on to her arm and looked at her innocently, causing her to smile and giggle a little.

 

“They’re my friends,” Rhiannon said, smiling warmly at the birds.  “And they certainly seem to like you.  They’re very good judges of character.” With that said, the birds then spread their wings again and flew back up into the rafters, before sitting down and nestling there. Rhiannon gracefully sat in another chair opposite Paige at the table, before regarding the younger woman thoughtfully.  “Now, by what means would you like me to cast a divination for you?  By way of reading your palms, through the facets of the crystal, by way of the runestones, or by the meaning of the cards?”

 

Paige blinked, then looked at the deck of cards that lay on the table.  “The cards?  You mean Tarot cards?”

 

“Precisely,” Rhiannon said, nodding with a raised eyebrow.  “I would suspect you know a small bit about the Craft, don’t you, dear?”

 

Paige blushed.  “Well, I did watch the movie.”

 

Rhiannon gave a look of bemusement as she showed her the deck of cards.  Upon each card there were different pictures, each replete with different symbols.  “These are but one way, or one tool for that matter, by which one may divine your path in this life, if that is what you wish.” Rhiannon then gave her an earnest look.  “But please understand Paige, what I would tell you, by way of these cards or whatever other means you choose, are by my own perceptions.  And while I would like to think that my own sense of perception is rather vast,” she added with a wry smile, “it is simply that, my own perception.  What I tell you through my own observations may be rather different from what someone else may tell you.  Do you understand?”

 

Paige shrugged.  “Well…I guess so, what the heck. Um...let’s go with the cards.  And to be honest, I guess I really don’t wanna know so much about my future, but…just where I’m going in life, if that makes any sense.”

 

Rhiannon nodded and picked up the deck of cards in her hands.  “Take a deep breath, exhale, clear your mind then focus on your life, what you wish me to divine.” Paige did so, breathing in deeply then exhaling, as she listened to the beautiful woman’s enchanting voice.  “When you have done so, envision your thoughts flowing from you, out from your mind and into your hands.  When you have done this, touch the deck.”  After a moment’s hesitation, Paige gingerly reached out with her hand and touched the deck with her soft fingertips, feeling a slight tingling sensation coursing through her as she did so.   As she withdrew her hand with a small sense of wonder, Rhiannon began to shuffle and fold the deck, once, twice, and then three times.  She then held out the deck again and instructed Paige to remove one card from the deck, a card of her choosing.  “This will be your significant card, or one card that will have a significant role in the reading.  Trust your instincts, then choose.”  Paige, after another moment’s hesitation, gingerly removed a card from the deck and looked at it…

 

A picture of a man dressed in gaudy clothes, carrying a knapsack and looking rather winsome:  The Fool.

 

“Lemme guess,” Paige muttered dryly.  “This means I’m an idiot?”

 

Rhiannon firmly shook her head.  “No, Paige, not at all.  Never take the cards, or anything for that matter, at face value.  Please, if you will place the card on the table.”  After Paige did so, Rhiannon began to draw a card from the deck, one at a time, and lay them out in a cross pattern around the card Paige had chosen.  Two cards were first placed above the first card, one showing the silver orb of the moon, and the other a resplendent woman sitting gracefully flanked by pillars, wearing an elaborate headdress and a crescent at her feet.  “The Moon, and the High Priestess,” Rhiannon explained, then she drew two more cards and placed them to the right, showing a woman sitting regally on a throne in royal clothes clutching a scepter, and a naked man and woman coming together in union.  “The Empress, and the Lovers.”  Two more cards were placed to the left, one showing a man in a robe holding a wand aloft, next to a table covered with spellcasting implements, while the other showed an angel blowing his trumpet from the heavens.  “The Magician, and Judgment.”  The final two cards were then drawn and placed below the first card.  One showed a high stone tower struck by lightning and exploding, and the other showed a sinister-looking figure with horns that could only be the Devil himself.  “The Tower…and the Devil.”  Rhiannon then placed the remaining cards off to the side and sat back for a moment in her chair, studying the cards before her.  “Interesting…most interesting.”

 

A few moments passed in silence before Paige quietly piped up.  “So, what’s it mean?  Am I gonna win the state lottery or anything?”

 

Rhiannon appeared to purse her lips in thought before she regarded Paige with a serious expression on her face.  “I wouldn’t exactly say that Paige.  I’ll give you my own observations as to what the cards appear to say, and let you decide for yourself.  Fair enough?”  Paige shrugged and nodded.  “Good.  The first card you drew, the significant card, is the Fool.  This implies that you are on the start of a very long journey ahead, Paige.  The Fool does not know where he is going, he simply follows the trail to wherever it may lead him.  Above that, the Moon symbolizes the powers of the Moon itself, its wonders and its horrors.  By the light of the Moon, one may witness things many would rather not know, but may also witness wonders the likes of which no one else has ever seen.  It also implies great powers may be bestowed on oneself, and great intuition as well. You must be willing to trust your instincts. The High Priestess represents hidden knowledge, a wise woman who is a repository of all things arcane and supernatural.  You may soon begin to learn, how shall we say, some very odd things of great importance, in conjunction with the Moon.  To the right, the Empress, the one who may be regarded as a mother figure blessed with many gifts.  This may signify an importance in relation to your mother Paige…your true mother.  The Lovers signify that, through this discovery of your connection with your mother, you may find an incredible love like no other. It may be a significant other, or perhaps other relatives you did not know you have, like brothers….or sisters.”

 

Rhiannon took a deep breath then went on.  “To the left, we find the Magician.  He symbolizes the male force of creation, perhaps your father.  One who possessed great powers, or gifts for that matter, like your mother.  Judgment would symbolize the judging of a past deed, perhaps an action that one has come to regret, or what some would call a sin.  This may signify something that your mother and father committed, Paige, and Judgment reflects on the importance of how you will ultimately decide to view that action in your own eyes.  And below…this is where you will need to be careful, Paige, for these two are very important.  The Tower symbolizes that…well…for lack of a better term, that there will be a moment of great strife in your future.  Your established beliefs, or how you wish to see the world, will come crashing down.  It may be a revelation so shocking you may have difficulty accepting it.  But when the Tower is destroyed, however painful it may be, remember...it allows a new one to be built.  And the Devil…this card symbolizes a significant danger, a danger of perhaps excessiveness, or something of malefic origin that may try to enslave you through your own desires.  Be very careful of this, Paige, because in your journey this will be the ultimate test you shall face.”

 

After quietly digesting everything Rhiannon had spoken to her, Paige quietly squeaked out in a hushed voice.  “So…I guess I’m not going to win the Lottery, huh?”

 

“Well…not quite,” Rhiannon drawled.  “But it does mean that you have much to look forward to in your life.  There will be suffering in your time, however…but there will be much joy as well.  Passion and pain, ecstasy and grief. ”  Rhiannon then leaned forward and gazed deeply into Paige’s eyes with her emerald ones, once again giving the young girl that feeling as though she could fall forever into those witch-green orbs.  “Such is the way of life…and of magic.”

 

“Magic?” Paige whispered in a hushed tone.

 

“It may sound clichéd to some, but magic is all around us.”  Rhiannon released her gaze from Paige to look up and around the chamber, gesturing widely with her lovely hands.  “Here, in this chamber, in this house, on the city streets, above and below, in the forests, in the oceans, across the span of the globe and even across infinite galaxies.  Magic is everywhere, Paige. It's as natural as electricity, as the air we breathe, like a living organism, forever in existence, immortal and undying, as natural as the universe itself.  It isn’t necessarily found in a book, or a bottle, or these cards that I showed you.  These only act as tools.  It is found everywhere.  Without…and within.”  With that said, the beautiful woman gently took the raven-haired girl’s hands in her own.  Paige again felt that warm tingling sensation, of something coursing through her.  It felt, for lack of a better word, different, and yet…natural.  Like it was something that had been there all along…

 

Paige blinked in surprise and withdrew her hands from Rhiannon’s, who regarded her thoughtfully.  “Why, again, did you come here, Paige?” The blonde woman asked gently.  “You came because you seek something that which you, or a part of you, have always known all along. When you said that there was something more to the world, you sensed that yourself.  What you sensed is the world of magic.  Magic, or as I prefer to call it, magick, exists within each of us. It lives within me…and it lives within you.”

 

Paige at this point could do nothing except try to digest everything she’d been told….with a rather loud and noticeable gulp.

 

Rhiannon smiled with a hint of bemusement in her eyes.  “Not exactly what you had expected, is it?”

 

Paige gave her a disbelieving look. “Uhhh, no, not exactly.  Actually, I’d say that’s the understatement of the century, no offense.”

 

Rhiannon smiled wistfully at her.  “None taken, Paige.  I understand it can be quite a bit to process.  But then again, you have to admit, there is a certain, well, how shall I put this, wonder in discovering new things, isn’t there?  The wonder of discovery, the adventure and joy of innovation.  If we felt we now knew everything there is to know, then where would that wonder and joy of exploration be?  Humanity would stagnate, and not even begin to reach its potential.” Rhiannon then chuckled and shook her head. “But…goodness me!  I’m terribly sorry to keep you here and bore you with my lectures…”

 

“No, no!”  Paige stammered, causing Rhiannon to arch an eyebrow in surprise.  “I mean, really…yeah, it’s a lot to take in and think about.  But you’re fine, as in, you know, you’re not boring me at all.”

 

Rhiannon once again graced Paige with a smile that felt even warmer this time as she clasped Paige’s hands in her own.  “Thank you, Paige.  It’s good to know that there are girls like you willing to listen, however incredulous some things may seem.  To you, anyway,” she added with a smirk before gracefully rising from her seat and gesturing to Paige to do the same.  “But let’s not tarry further.  I imagine it’s late and I’m sure you will want to be getting along home.  Let’s go see if the power is back on and if it is, I’ll call for a taxi to take you home.  Agreed?”

 

Paige smiled in return, feeling a true sense of kindness and warmth radiating from the lovely woman.  “Why, thank you.  I really appreciate that.”  As they walked over to the door, Paige began to fish in her purse.  “So, how much do I owe you?  For the reading, that is.”

 

“It’s free, Paige.”

 

The brunette gazed at Rhiannon almost in shock.  “Free?  No, wait, I can’t let you do that…”

 

“Yes, you can,” Rhiannon replied firmly.  “You came here asking for a reading and for guidance on the journey that lies ahead of you. You didn’t ask how much I would charge and you didn’t laugh or sneer at the service I offered.  You were rather thankful…and that’s all the reward that I need.  Although,” Rhiannon drawled with a glint in her eye, “that doesn’t mean you may not want to examine any of my wares while you’re in my store.”

 

Paige got the hint and chuckled good-naturedly.  “Well, can’t quite shake off the old shop-till-I-drop impulse, can I?”  They walked back into the store and found that, indeed, the power was back on, as evidenced by several old-style Victorian lamps that were now aglow and bathing the store in rich golden light.  Paige went about browsing through the various wares while Rhiannon made a call to a local taxi service to pick up Paige.  After a while Paige finished browsing through the wide selection and came to the counter with several candles, a few jars with potpourri herbs and incense, and some homemade bath salts. 

 

“Ah, very good,” Rhiannon said.  “But perhaps I can also interest you in some reading material?  Let’s see.”  The Welsh woman went over to the book section and looked over several titles.  “Hmmm…no, not that one, not yet…hmmm, maybe…no, oh wait…this one, yes!  And let’s see…yes, this one too.”  She came back and proffered two books to Paige, which she took and read off the titles.

 

Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft by Raymond Buckland, and Power of the Witch by Laurie Cabot?”

 

“Two well-written books on the Craft, my dear.  It’s something to help get you started, if you’d like to know more.  But they’re quite good.  Good old Raymond is quite the fellow.  And Laurie is such a spirited lass.  I've had plenty of lively conversations with those two, believe me,” Rhiannon added with a wink in reply to Paige’s inquiring gaze. “But don't be shy. Buy them, read them, and tell me what you think.”  Paige shrugged and added it to her small collection of merchandise that Rhiannon began to ring up on the cash register, before adding, “Oh, did I fail to mention that there is in fact a Pagan festival planned for this Friday night at McLaren Park?” She reached beside the cash register to pick up a pamphlet for Paige to leaf through. “It’s called Beltane, dear. It’s a festival that welcomes the beginning of spring and the blossoming of new life, and of course, fertility.  And I’m quite sure you know what I mean by that,” she added with a wicked grin.  After seeing the wide-eyed gaze from Paige, Rhiannon continued.  “Well, I wouldn’t say everyone will be tossing their clothes to the wind, dear, but it is a festival to celebrate the beginning of a new year, with an emphasis on the joys of a new life, of the love between men and women…or their significant others, for that matter.”  She coughed before continuing.  “It’s free and open to all those who’d like to attend, with free food and drink.  And there will be some very nice, handsome young men there as well, not just women. So what do you say?”

 

Paige leafed through the pamphlet thoughtfully, considering Rhiannon’s offer for a long moment.  What should she say?  Truth be told she wasn’t as much of a die hard partygoer as she used to be, but that was trivial compared to the fact that it was a pagan festival that Rhiannon had invited her to.  I mean, Pagan, hello!  This isn’t like a church gathering or anything! Or was it?  Another part of her told her to take the plunge, since, hell she’d already ventured this far into the unknown.  Why not take her up on her offer and just check it out, for the hell of it?  Paige looked up from reading the pamphlet and replied with a shrug.  “Sure…um, I guess.  Just as long as there’s no kitty sacrifices or anything…oops, sorry, no offense meant.”

 

A small chuckle escaped from the Welsh woman before she smiled broadly.  “Wonderful!  Oh, and no offense taken, Paige…this time, anyway,” she indicated with a wave of her finger and a twinkle in her eye. “As I said, it’ll be at McLaren Park on Friday night, starting at 7:00 pm.  Just follow the signs, and you should have no trouble finding it.”  She finished ringing up the merchandise and placed it all neatly in a brown paper bag, while Paige handed over several bills and some change.  A moment later, a yellow taxi cab could be seen outside pulling up to the curb.

 

“It appears your ride is here,” Rhiannon indicated with a nod toward the taxi outside the shop.  “Well, I won’t keep you any longer.  Thank you for coming, Paige,” she said softly as she gave Paige an earnest expression with her soft, beautiful green eyes.  “I truly appreciate your company.”

 

Paige looked at her in confusion.  “You’re thanking me? Uh, what for?”

 

Rhiannon smiled gently.  “As I said, I appreciate having you here.  Many come in here simply to browse, or gawk at my wares, or have so precious little appreciation for what magick is.  Others however, are different…like you, for instance.  And it’s always lovely to meet a friendly face.”

 

Paige felt her creamy-white cheeks blush slightly, as she brushed a few strands of raven hair away from her pretty face.  “Oh, thanks.  And thank you for, you know, for being so nice to me.  It’s kind of something you don’t always see in a big city, even in San Fran.”  She fiddled slightly with the shopping bag she held before continuing.  “But you know, I’m really…I mean, REALLY new to all this stuff.  I mean it seems just a little overwhelming to me.”

 

Rhiannon continued to smile as she took Paige’s free hand in her own. “Ah, but everyone starts somewhere, don’t they?  And for you, it’s like I said: your journey is just beginning.”  She then drew Paige into another motherly hug, one that Paige found quite comforting, before releasing her and clasping her hands in her own a final time. “I’ll be looking forward to seeing you again on Friday, Paige.  Blessed Be.”  Paige nodded and smiled at the woman, liking the kindness and warmth that seemed to radiate from her like an aura, before she went out the door.

 

The raven-haired beauty opened the cab door and slid inside the taxi with her bag, before indicating to the driver where she wanted to go.  As the taxi cab pulled away from Rhiannon’s Mystical Emporium, Paige chanced a glance behind her, spying Rhiannon in one of the store windows, offering her a friendly wave, before the store faded from view.  As she turned back and relaxed in the well-worn leather seat of the cab, Paige pondered on everything that had happened tonight, from her encounter with the stalker, to her meeting with Rhiannon, and then everything that Rhiannon had told her.

 

As she watched the city lights and streets of San Francisco zoom past her, Paige felt that feeling once again, that there was something out there beyond what was considered the everyday world.  Something beyond that she felt a part of her could almost touch.

 

But this time, it felt more natural to her, comforting actually, and it didn’t bother her at all.

 

#

 

Rhiannon watched the cab fade from view, before she went about locking the door, drawing down the curtains and reversing the “Open” sign on the door to “Closed”.  When she was finished with this, she slowly turned around, the flowing silk dress she wore morphing in an aura of golden light into the beautiful, ethereal and shimmering dress of none other than the Sorceress Supreme herself.

 

“Well, I think she’ll be just fine, for now anyway,” the Welsh Goddess of the Moon and Magic drawled out loud.  “Now for another matter.”  She made an easy wave of her lovely hands, the Soul Gem now visible on her forehead radiating with power, before in a flash of crimson light appeared the swarthy, shifty-looking man in a coat and hat that had been stalking Paige earlier, contained and squirming in a fiery cage of bars.

 

“Release me at once, you interfering, do-gooder BITCH!!!” the man screamed in fury.

 

“Now, now, don’t be such a boor,” Rhiannon said lightly with a mock frown, as she wagged her index finger at him in disapproval.  “You really should learn proper etiquette on how to address a lady.  Or for that matter, learn how to behave like a civilized person.  I mean, I’ve only been in this country a short while, and already I have uncouth barbarians at my doorstep. Oh…and stalking a woman?  That is quite the no-no.  Then again,” she cooed softly, “that would be rather ‘par for the course’ for a person, or shall I say thing, of your particular ilk, wouldn’t it?”

 

As if in reply the man’s features seemed to twist and split apart completely, his clothes shredding to bits as his form morphed and changed into that of a gargoyle-like creature with flayed skin, a reptilian skeletal head with glowing red sockets for eyes, and skeletal bat-like wings that stretched out and attempted to flap inside the narrow confines of the cage.  His true form revealed, the creature tried to beat at the fiery prison that held him, yet screamed and recoiled when its taloned claws were burned when it came in contact with the flames.

 

The Welsh Goddess sighed theatrically as she regarded the creature with a look of boredom.  “My, you minor demons truly never change, do you?  Well, it seems the Source hasn’t changed his ways, either.  I mean, has he truly learned nothing from his predecessors?  It’s not as if he’s that high on the demonic food chain anyway, you know.”

 

The demon’s eyes, or what passed for eyes in any case, seemed to widen slightly at Rhiannon’s statement, bringing a wicked smile from the Sorceress Supreme.  “Indeed, I wager you are wondering how I knew that.  Well, even though you’re a demon, it’s not all that difficult to pluck the information I need from your mind.  I am a Goddess, after all.”

 

The demon’s jaw dropped open while Rhiannon regarded him with a bemused expression.  “Now, what shall I do with you, hmmm?  Shall I spare your existence, at least long enough anyway, to send a message back to the Source not to get in over his head while I am in town?”  The Welsh Goddess feigned to think momentarily, before allowing her lovely red lips to form into a wicked smile.  “No, I think that would be a waste of time.  The poor boy simply doesn’t have the mental capacity to know when he’s outclassed.  I believe your death in a slow, painful and agonizing fashion, will provide a much more…satisfying conclusion to tonight’s proceedings.  Ta ta, my dear.”  With that, the Goddess raised her hands, from which two beams of light shot forth and engulfed the magical cage.  Soon, the fiery containment cell began to slowly shrink and close in on the winged demon.  The monstrosity panicked and began to shriek, flapping its wings to no avail as the fiery strands began to burn into the creature, cutting into its leathery flesh, burning away its various appendages and crushing its body.  The creature howled in pain and fear as it was slowly crushed AND burned as the cage grew smaller…and smaller, until it was a tiny globe of fire, from which could be seen just the scorched remains of the creature’s head that shrieked one final death cry before the globe collapsed in upon itself and disappeared, taking the demonic entity with it and leaving only a few wisps of smoke behind.

 

Rhiannon hummed a tune as she gazed over at where she’d placed the gifts of milk and honey cakes for the brownies that evening, only to see that they had been fully consumed. With a satisfied expression on her lovely face, the Goddess gestured toward the doors that led to her divination chamber and they flung open with a creak, from whence her three winged friends flew over to her outstretched arm that was encased in her ethereal gown.

 

Rhiannon smiled warmly at the three birds, which each chirped and sang affectionately to her.  “Shall we go and see what Prudence, Piper, and Phoebe are up to?”  Then she chuckled, thought once more of Paige, and quipped, “Their mother, Patricia, must have been a very cruel woman to curse her daughters with names like that!”  And with that, the Sorceress Supreme and her three birds morphed into a shimmer of golden sparkles, before disappearing altogether.

 

#

 

Apartment of Jennifer Calendar

Sunnydale, California

19:55 PST

 

Jenny sighed as she hung up the phone that sat on her nightstand next to her bed.  She had just finished calling Buffy on her cell-phone about the situation concerning the unannounced arrival of the Watchers.  Naturally, the Chosen One didn’t sound terribly thrilled by the unexpected news, and Jenny suspected her friends weren’t going to be terribly thrilled either.  Oh well.  Jenny’s thoughts drifted back to the recent meeting between her and the Watcher team, particularly that boorish troll Mr. Trent, and his unkindly comments about her.  “Stuck-up, arrogant prick,” she muttered to herself. As far as she was concerned, the Limey bastard didn’t even know how close he came to getting vaporized by her. She continued to fume for a moment then silently wondered why she was so upset.  She should have just blown him off, and she had been ready to do just that…until her favorite Englishman had told her to leave.  Almost just like the last time…when she had offered to help Buffy and the others battle the Judge…

 

The gypsy squeezed her eyes shut momentarily, trying to block out that painful memory.  No, she told herself.  It wasn’t the same.  Rupert hadn’t told her to leave because it was the will of that bastard Trent, he’d only told her to leave because, for better or worse, she would have been a distraction.  But then, when she thought further about it….wasn’t that possibly the same reason Rupert had told her to leave the first time?  That she would have been a distraction to Buffy and her Watcher?  Jenny took a deep breath then exhaled, shutting her eyes momentarily again.  When she opened them, she felt wetness on her cheek.  She wiped her face with her hand then looked at it.

 

A tear.

 

Jenny reluctantly rose from her bed and padded over to the kitchen.  She opened the refrigerator and spied the large chocolate cake on the top shelf, the one she kept for certain emergencies, particularly emotional ones.  One of the greatest advantages of being an Amazon was that her metabolism had increased tenfold, and she had to worry more about losing weight than gaining weight.  No, no, she chided herself.  You mustn’t eat sweets before bed; you might get a tummy ache and have bad dreams.

 

“Screw you,” she snapped out loud then proceeded to slice a generous portion.  While she devoured a slice of chocolate heaven, she turned on the television to catch the evening news.  Not much was going on in the world…other than the usual “good” news that the networks liked to report, such as riots, civil wars, catastrophes, etc.  Oh, and the local weather forecast predicted another cold front following the one that had recently hit Sunnydale, arriving tomorrow and likely to bring rain for at least a day, if not several.  Jenny frowned at that.  If it continued to rain for the next several days, it could mean the Beltane ritual they had planned for Friday night would be a bust.

 

The gypsy Technopagan sighed and turned off the TV, deciding she’d heard enough good news for one night.  After putting the dishes away, she slowly undressed and draped her leather outfit over a chair, then padded over to the bathroom and into her shower. She turned on the shower head and allowed the water to stream down her face, through her raven hair, and down along her nude body.  She sighed as the water carried away her fatigue.  Her thoughts then drifted to her fuddy-duddy librarian, of what it might be like if he was with her, now, in the shower together…

 

“Rupert,” she whispered, her eyes closed while she lathered her body with soap, imagining his hands were the ones caressing her. A moan emanated from her parted lips as her right hand unconsciously drifted down between her legs and began to stroke, her middle and ring finger deftly caressing her nether regions.  Her other hand caressed each breast and gently pinched her nipples.  The gypsy moaned again and began to pant as she continued to touch herself, faster and deeper.  The rapid movement of her fingers combined with the warmth of the shower’s streaming water aroused her further until, no longer able to stand, she shakily leaned against the stall, gasping for breath as a damp heat blossomed between her legs and spread throughout her body. Warm water continued to caress her face as her orgasm flowed through her.  Moments later, she opened her eyes, expecting to find her English lover beside her.

 

But he wasn’t there. 

 

The Amazon witch reluctantly finished rinsing herself, then dried off with a towel and stepped out of her shower.  After taking care of the rest of her nighttime routine, she padded toward her bed.  A thick leather-bound book rested on a nearby table, a book on gypsy divination techniques, along with a scrying crystal and some other spell implements. Perhaps she'd do a little scrying of her own, and see what she could discover.  If nothing else, it would give her something to do and get her mind off of things.  Before she could take another step however, she blinked and then gave out a long, stifling yawn.

 

Whoa, I guess I must've been a lot more worn out from tonight's antics than I thought. 

 

She almost thought about throwing on a shirt and a pair of shorts, but then decided against it.  She just suddenly felt so…tired.  Maybe a nap was in order, instead.  The gypsy gently rolled onto the mattress and threw the single satin blanket over her nude form.  As her head touched the pillow she began to feel herself drift away, into the world of dreams, yet before she succumbed, she managed to whisper a prayer of protection for her friends, Amazon sisters and loved ones to Artemis.  Then sleep consumed her.

 

As the gypsy slept in her bed, a regal and beautiful brunette woman dressed in hunting leathers appeared in Jenny’s boudoir.  The woman leaned over to examine the sleeping Amazon gypsy, before she gently brushed away a few strands of raven hair from Jenny’s sensual face.  The woman smiled mysteriously then softly caressed Jenny’s forehead.  Soon, a soft golden glow emanated from the woman’s fingertips, causing the gypsy to stir and moan slightly before the golden illumination vanished.  Nodding to herself, the woman stood, reached over to switch off the lamp nearby, and faded from view…

 

#

 

1329 Prescott St.

San Francisco, California

20:05 PST

 

“Ahhh!  Ohmigod, help!  Somebody, anybody…help!”

 

Piper Halliwell glanced frantically around her kitchen.  “Quick, quick—where’s the cooking wine?  Dammit, everyone—this is an emergency!” 

 

The diminutive, chestnut-brown-haired woman stood over a large skillet, sautéing beef and vegetables.  Appearing to all the world as a crazed chef garbed in her stained cooking apron with caked flour on both of her cheeks, no one would suspect that Piper, the middle sister of the current crop of Halliwell witches, along with her sisters, Prudence and Phoebe, were the Charmed Ones, a potent force of mystical good in an unsuspecting world.  At the moment, however, Piper was experiencing yet another of her infamous panic attacks.  As she surveyed the scene before her with her patented wide-eyed stare, while her hands flailed about, it appeared the apocalypse was fast approaching, unless someone did something, fast…

 

Then, as luck would have it, someone unceremoniously handed her a bottle of red cooking wine.

 

“Oh, thanks, Phoebe,” she said with a loud and notable sigh of relief, before promptly adding a liberal dash of the contents to what would be tonight’s dinner in the Halliwell’s opulent Victorian manor.  Soon there was more of the flavorful smell of beef and vegetables simmering in wine with other seasonings wafting through the large, spacious kitchen, bringing a contented smile to her pretty face.  “Ahhh…doesn’t that smell just heavenly?”

 

“Y’know Piper,” Phoebe muttered, her chin resting on her cupped hand as she leaned on the kitchen counter with a slightly bored expression, “there’s not gonna be much of that dinner left if you keep thrashing it.”

 

“Oh, hush,” Piper scolded lightly, before she raised a small bit of the broth to her delicate mouth with a spoon and sipped, pursing her lips thoughtfully before stirring a little more.  “At least I can cook.”  She then smirked mockingly at the youngest Halliwell sister and drawled, “You, on the other hand…”

 

“Hey!” Phoebe interrupted with an indignant shake of her brown-haired head.  “I can cook too, y’know.”

 

Piper rolled her eyes as she added a little more pepper to the meat and vegetables.  “Oh right…I guess microwave pizzas and toasting bagels does count for something.”

 

“It SO does count!  Everyone knows that no one toasts a bagel better than me, ain’t that right, Prue?”

 

Prue was Prudence’s, the eldest of the three sisters, nickname.  The raven-haired woman smiled mischievously as she casually leaned against the kitchen table with her arms crossed.  “Hmmm, well, let me think about that,” she replied, looking skyward as though pretending to think, before she glanced at Phoebe.  “Yeah, I’d say it’s something you’re good at.  One of the few things, anyway…”

 

The youngest sister glared at the oldest while she along with the middle sister chuckled.  “Whoa!  That is SO not true!  Did you see how I arranged the whole dinner table over there?” She gestured with a wave of her hand toward the table where all the plates, cutlery, and side dishes were neatly arranged.  “See?  Everything is in its rightful place.  Hell, I betcha Martha Stewart would be proud of me right now.”

 

Piper looked over her shoulder and added dryly, “I’m not sure that looking to Martha for approval is such a ‘good thing,’ Pheebs.  I tell you, the only way that woman can possibly accomplish all that she does is by invoking demonic powers.”  As Piper continued to stir, she asked, “Oh, by the way, everything’s in place, right, Phoebe?”

 

The baby of the family gave her sister a slightly condescending look.  “Well, yeah, it’s been ready for the last half hour or so. We’ve all been waiting on you.”

 

The middle Halliwell sister frowned.  “Well, you can't rush when you're cooking a cordon bleu recipe; otherwise it's gonna turn out all yucky.”

 

The youngest Halliwell sister's beautiful brown eyes shot wide before turning to glance over at her eldest sister with a smirk.  “Whoa....Prue, can I have you as my witness to this? Piper actually said she can't rush something!”  Despite her best efforts, Prue's face broke into an amused smile of her own.  “I guess the world must be coming to an end,” Phoebe added before she cringed.  “Whoops, shouldn't have said that.”

 

“Nice going, Pheebs,” Prue said wryly.  “You just cursed our dinner.”

 

“Yeah,” Piper added, “probably any moment now, a warlock is gonna come bursting through the front door.”

 

“Oh, c’mon guys, give me a break…it’s not like every night we have to kick some demon’s or warlock’s ass, y’know.  Tonight, we are gonna have a nice, relaxing dinner…compliments of Piper, of course.”  Phoebe then narrowed her brown eyes resolutely at the eldest sister.  “And no ‘buts’ from you, Prue.”

 

Prue looked downcast momentarily before she glared at Phoebe, her own dark eyes meeting both of the sister’s gazes before her face broke into a tiny smile.  “Okay then, no buts.”  She then hesitated before adding, “You know, this really wasn’t necessary, but thanks anyway.”

 

The youngest Halliwell’s mischievous expression gave way to one of genuine concern as she crossed over and wrapped her arms around her elder sister. “Hey, that’s what sisters are for, Prue!”  She then pursed her lips thoughtfully for a moment, before the inevitable question came tumbling out.  “So…anything new on the ‘Andy’ front?”

 

By “Andy”, of course, Phoebe had referred to Prue’s on-again, off-again relationship with her San Francisco police inspector boyfriend, Andy Trudeau.  The couple’s relationship had been on the rocks during the last few months, to say the least, until Andy had finally found out that Prue and her sisters Piper and Phoebe were three of the most potentially powerful (and in the eyes of many, among the most beautiful) witches in the world.  Unfortunately Andy, even with all the normal human evils he faced on a regular basis, didn’t appear ready to accept having a beautiful witch for a girlfriend whose purpose was to protect humanity from the depravations of various demonic creatures and entities. 

 

“No,” Prue muttered, still looking and feeling noticeably dejected. “No word.  Guess he still needs time to think it over, or…whatever.”

 

“Hey, he got that boss of yours off your case though, didn’t he?” Piper added, trying to be helpful as she added the finishing touches on the dinner.  She along with Phoebe had gotten used to Prue being the super-serious sister of the bunch, but seeing her like this still bugged them plenty.  “So that should mean something…right?”  Of course, Piper didn’t have much better luck with men, either.  She had a rather hopeless relationship with Leo Wyatt, a handsome gentleman who had appeared to the mundane world as a simple handyman but was in fact a guardian angel of sorts called a Whitelighter, of all things.  Then she recalled another time she’d spent with an unfortunate Chinese-American ghost who, if he’d been alive, would have stolen her heart as well.  And take Phoebe.  She’d been involved with some ne’er-do-well they had to protect from a cursed Egyptian urn. 

 

Piper snorted.  Why couldn’t she and her sisters find a nice, handsome, family-oriented guy like Andy’s partner, Morris, instead of falling for unattainable men?  Perhaps they really were doomed to follow in their Grams’ footsteps after all.

 

Before Piper could quietly meditate on the disaster that was her and her sisters’ love-life, or lack thereof, Prue interrupted her reverie.  “Well, yeah, that’s true.  He did get that royal bitch…I mean, boss of mine, Claire, off my back, though I don’t know for how long that can continue with the way she likes to dig her claws into everything.”  The other sisters couldn’t help but agree.  There was something to be said about a boss who could give Prue a serious challenge for the “Uberbitch of the Year Award” and whose tactics included her unceremonious attempt to fire the eldest sister over the phone of all things.

 

“Yeah, well, with her being such a bicca, she’s got hers coming to her, Prue, trust me,” Phoebe said with conviction.  Then she added as an afterthought, “Either that…or she just needs to get laid.”  That comment drew raised eyebrows from her sisters before she continued.  “Just a suggestion, but maybe you ought to try to look for a new job.  I mean, for an antiques business, that place seems to be crawling with assholes.  First Rex and Hannah, and now Claire…“

 

“Well, I can’t just up and leave and let everything I worked for at that company go to waste, Phoebe,” Prue snapped with an angry glint in her eyes.  She then narrowed her eyes disapprovingly at her sister.  “And, by any chance, have YOU found a job yet?”

 

“Okay, okay, let’s change the subject, shall we?” Phoebe noted with a sigh.  It was best not to allow Prue to start one of her infamous tirades if Phoebe wanted to live to see tomorrow. “Let’s get back to what we were discussing earlier. Piper’s right, Prue.  Andy’s not giving up on you.  I mean, with the truth spell and all, okay, he’s probably just a little freaked out, but…well, just give it time, all right?  Andy loves you, there’s no doubt about that.”

 

Prue’s eyes seemed to mist over slightly at those words, a part of her almost regretting that her sisters could still make her feel so emotional, before her youngest sister embraced her in a warm hug, followed by Piper, still wearing her apron.  “Thanks, guys,” Prue said quietly, before her eyes widened at the food that was still cooking on the stove.  “Uh, Piper…the dinner?”

 

Piper’s own eyes shot wide open again like a cartoon character before she turned around and hurriedly stirred the cooking food on the stove before shutting it off.  “Okay, dinner’s ready.”

 

“Finally!”  Phoebe said with glee just before the doorbell rang.  The perky brunette looked over at the clock and frowned.  “Wonder who that could be?”

 

“Maybe it’s a certain police inspector?” Piper said hopefully for her elder sister’s benefit.

 

“Sure…or maybe it’s Claire who’s decided to fire me anyway and do it in person,” Prue muttered sarcastically.

 

Phoebe rolled her eyes to the ceiling in resignation.  “Don’t worry, I’ll get it.”  She then started for the door.

 

“Yeah, you do that,” Prue said, before she smirked and added coyly, “It’s so nice that you’re useful again; perhaps it’s the beginning of a new trend.”

 

Phoebe looked over her shoulder and took a moment to stick out her tongue, before she crossed into the foyer and approached the door.  She peeped through the stained glass window and was pleasantly surprised at who was there standing patiently outside…

 

“Rhiannon, hi!”  Phoebe exclaimed, beaming as she opened the door to welcome the owner of Rhiannon’s Mystical Emporium.  “What a surprise!  What brings you here?”  She had met the exceptionally beautiful Welsh woman a few days earlier when she’d been shopping on Haight Street, looking for a reputable place where she could find some decent Wiccan supplies at low prices, without attracting too much attention.  The lady had been quite friendly and very helpful as well as discreet, something Phoebe wasn’t sure she could expect considering she’d dealt with few very few other witches. Well, other than the one girl she’d met, Aviva, who as it turned out had been used as a pawn by a demonic entity.  Phoebe tried to chase all that away in her mind as she turned her attention back to the lady standing before her.

 

Rhiannon Cathcart’s own beautiful face seemed to become even lovelier, if that were possible, as she smiled warmly at Phoebe.  “Hello, Phoebe, I’m sorry to disturb you but the herbs you ordered have arrived,” she said, gesturing to a large brown bag she held for emphasis, “And I just happened to be in the neighborhood.  Is this a bad time?”

 

“Oh, well…no, not at all.”  Phoebe held the door open for Rhiannon and indicated with a wave of her hand to enter, which she did, her every step graceful like a dancer’s and accentuated by the flowing silk dress she wore.  “Maybe you’d like to stay for a moment?  I mean, we’re about to have dinner, but…”

 

“Oh no, no, that’s quite alright, dear,” Rhiannon said, “I don’t wish to intrude on your supper.  I’ll just set this bag down here, and let you look through everything.  It all should be in order, but examine everything anyway, just to be safe.” 

 

As Phoebe bent over to look through the contents in the bag, Piper came breezing into the foyer from the kitchen, her apron removed and followed by an equally inquisitive Prue.  “Phoebe, who’s there?”  She then blinked and did a double-take along with Prue as they regarded the tall, beautiful blonde woman standing next to Phoebe.  “Oh…hi.  Can we help you?”

 

Phoebe hurriedly stood up from where she’d been pulling out and inspecting the bag’s contents to introduce the Welsh woman to her sisters. “Oh, Piper, Prue, this is Rhiannon Cathcart,” she said, gesturing to the tall blonde who nodded and smiled gracefully before extending her hand in a friendly gesture, which the two other sisters took in turn with a friendly, yet cautious manner.  “Rhiannon, this is Piper and…Prue, my sisters,” Phoebe said casually.  “Rhiannon owns a magic shop on Haight street.  She’s just dropping off some herbs for us.”

 

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Piper and Prue,” the blonde woman said in her soft, lilting Welsh accent.  “And by all means, call me Rhiannon. Might I add that you have a very lovely home?”

 

Piper quietly studied the woman with a curious expression for a moment before she chirped, “Thanks.  Nice to meet you. Yeah, the house has been in the family for awhile now, more than a hundred years actually.”

 

Prue’s face became marred with a suspicious frown.  “Magic shop?” the elder sister parroted in an inquiring voice.

 

“Well, yeah,” Phoebe said with a shrug.  “I told her we were into Wicca and basically needed some herbs and such.  She’s been pretty helpful.”

 

“Indeed, your sister is quite an inquisitive one,” Rhiannon added with a smile. “I would wager that she’s one of the more bright-eyed customers I’ve seen in my shop lately…”

 

“Well, yeah, that’s nice,” Prue cut her off, bringing a frown to Rhiannon’s face. “Phoebe, can I talk to you in the kitchen for a moment?”  The elder sister’s narrow-eyed expression brooked no room for arguments.

 

Phoebe cringed inwardly.  Oh shit, here we go. “Prue…this isn’t a good time right now.  We have a guest!” she added too brightly.

 

“NOW.”

 

Phoebe sighed to herself before turned to face Piper.  “Hey, Piper, uh, would you mind checking over the rest of the contents with the list here?”  She thrust a piece of paper into Piper’s hands, bringing a questioning look to the middle sister’s face before Prue unceremoniously grabbed Phoebe’s arm and started pulling her toward the kitchen.  “Uh, be right back, Rhiannon,” she said hurriedly before she was dragged out of sight.

 

Once they were in the kitchen Prue whirled on Phoebe, the expression on her face livid.  “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” she hissed.  “Going and babbling to a complete stranger about us and what we are!  Jesus, Phoebe, why don’t you just take out an ad in the classified section and shout out to the whole world that we’re witches, for Chrissakes!”

 

Phoebe glared back at her sister. “Whoa there, Prue!  Let’s just derail that train of thought, okay?” she said, holding up her hands for emphasis.  “I didn’t tell her that we’re witches, all right?  I just said we’re into Wicca, that’s all. I figured that we needed to get stuff for the various spells listed in the Book of Shadows from someplace, and her place looked like the best bet.  I mean, she seems to really be into Wicca too…in fact I think she might actually be a witch herself. But she’s not in any way ‘out there’ like some people are.  And she’s been pretty helpful…”

 

“But you don’t even know who she is!” Prue said angrily, her face beginning to turn that infamous shade of crimson.  “For god’s sake, she could be another demon or something for all we know! And I don’t think I need to tell you how many of those types we’ve already had barge into this house!”

 

Phoebe sighed in resignation.  “Look, Prue, maybe we just need to start to look outside the box, you know? Pull back on the paranoia a little.  It’d be nice if we could find at least ONE other person we could talk about Wicca stuff with.  Just Wicca, okay?  We don’t need to tell her we’re really witches.”  Prue just continued to glare at Phoebe, behooving the youngest sister to add in a pleading voice.  “Prue, just trust me on this, okay?”

 

Prue seemed to think about that momentarily before she narrowed her eyes again.  “Trust you?!  Right, sure, just like when you trusted Clay and he used you to attempt to sell off that cursed Egyptian urn, or like when you brought Aviva into our house and she damn near killed us?”

 

This time Phoebe’s face clouded over with anger.  “Okay, Prue, you know what?  If you wanna keep harping on me for all my screw-ups, fine, but don’t start ragging on me because of your own problems with Andy, all right?”

 

Fortunately for Phoebe, the Charmed Ones were unable to use their powers against one another because Prue looked like she could both chew and spit glass.  “Now you listen to me, you little…this has nothing to do with Andy—”

 

“Pheebs…Prue?” Piper queried from the foyer.  “Uh, is everything okay in there?”

 

Prue sighed noisily, gathered herself, and responded.  “Yes, everything’s fine.”

 

Piper hesitated for a moment before she said, “Okay.  I just wanted to let Phoebe know that everything on her list seems to be all here.”

 

A moment of tension hung between the eldest and youngest Halliwell sisters that was so thick one could almost cut it with a knife.  “We’ll talk more about this later, Phoebe,” Prue said in a tone that implied she meant it, before turning on her heel and marching back to the foyer.  Sighing and muttering to herself in disgust, the young brunette blew a wisp of brown hair away from her lovely face before she reluctantly followed her oldest sister back to where Piper had been looking through the various herbs with Rhiannon.

 

“Whoa, I definitely don’t wanna be cooking with some of these herbs,” Piper said dryly as she studied two jars in particular that held freshly-cut stems and leaves of belladonna and hemlock.

 

“No, I wager you wouldn’t,” Rhiannon replied lightly. “Unless you were looking for a one-way ticket to the afterlife, that is.”  She then brought her nose up for a moment to sniff the delicious aroma wafting out from the kitchen.  “My, that smells heavenly.  Pardon my curiosity, but I noticed the apron you were taking off when you came into the foyer.  By chance are you the one who’s cooking dinner?”

 

Piper casually shrugged her shoulders and offered a little smile of her own. “Yep, that’s me!  I usually tend to be the head cook of the household and all.  Um, I wouldn’t say I’m anything like Emeril Lagasse, but I manage.”

 

Rhiannon chuckled ruefully and shook her head.  “Oh no, dear, I’m sure you’re a much better cook than me.  Don’t misunderstand, I love my native country of Wales, but…there is something to be said about our choice of cuisine,” she added with a slight blush.

 

Piper raised an inquisitive eyebrow.  “Wales, huh?  That’s pretty neat.  By chance have you—“

 

“Well, we’re sorry to keep you here waiting and all,” Prue interrupted rather quickly in a stern voice, “But thanks for dropping this stuff off, however misguided Phoebe can get sometimes.  So, now if you’ll excuse us, we have other things to attend to,” she finished with her arms crossed against her chest, her dark eyes coolly regarding the woman from Wales and temporarily ignoring the frown that her baby sister shot her way.

 

Rhiannon shot an equally frosty look of her own back at the elder sister, apparently unimpressed by her bitchy demeanor. She rested her hands on her shapely hips that were accentuated by her silk dress.  “Excuse me…Prue, is it?”  Rhiannon asked in a calm voice.

 

“Prudence,” the raven-haired woman corrected with a deadly smile that reminded one of a cobra’s. 

 

“Well, Prue,” Rhiannon went on, ignoring Prue’s correction in a manner that nearly caused her to gnash her teeth, “If I may be a bit forthcoming, I fail to understand what you mean by your sister being ‘misguided’.  She only came into my shop looking for items to aid her in her interest with Wicca and witchcraft, that’s all.”

 

“Yeah, well, my sister tends to get herself in things that are way over her head sometimes.  So, now if you’ll kindly leave—“

 

“Hey, Prue,” Phoebe cut in, her normally beautiful face morphing into a bitchy look of her own, “Excuse me, no offense, but I don’t need you making the decisions for me, okay?  All I did was—“

 

“Later, Pheebs,” Prue snapped, cutting off her sister in mid-sentence.  She then turned her gaze back to Rhiannon, who hadn’t budged an inch from where she stood.

 

“Your sister IS right, you know,” Rhiannon said calmly, “she is more than capable of making her own decisions.  I rather fail to see why you continue to insist on second-guessing her.”

 

“EXCUSE ME?” Prue hissed, appearing for all the world like a panther who was about to jump on Rhiannon and tear her apart with her claws.  “Who the hell do you think you are barging into this house and butting yourself into our personal affairs?  I don’t recall inviting you.”

 

“Correction, dear, I was let into this house by one of your sisters,” Rhiannon said coldly as her emerald eyes almost seemed to be literally ablaze as she continued her staredown of the elder sister.  “And I just happen to be a woman who sees nothing wrong with Wicca or witchcraft, and certainly nothing wrong with any woman who wishes to explore it.  I DO however, have a problem with you, dear, and your particular attitude.  Are you this boorish towards everyone, or does it come rather naturally?”

 

Prue took several steps toward Rhiannon and locked her dark, deadly orbs with Rhiannon’s own emerald ones as her lovely lips flashed an ice-cold smile.  “Actually, it’s something I keep warm and special for bitches such as your—“

 

“Ladies!”  Piper said in a tone keeping with her namesake, albeit a bit too brightly as she literally got in between Prue and Rhiannon.  “Well, this has been interesting, but it’s getting late and I think it’s time we all went our separate ways, right, Prue?” Demons, witches, or just plain bitches, whatever the case happened to be, the Halliwell’s middle sister wasn’t going to let any feuding spoil whatever remained of the nice, pleasant dinner she’d planned for her sisters all day.  She gave her elder sister a potent glare of her own to accentuate the real meaning of her words.

 

Prue looked almost ready to belt out something else at Rhiannon, but something in Piper’s own gaze brought that thought to a screeching halt as she decided to bite her tongue instead.  The middle sister then whirled around, whipping her chestnut hair about as she turned to regard Rhiannon with a courteous smile on her lips, though her dark eyes seemed to flash a warning of their own.  I’m watching you.  Don’t try anything you’ll regret…

 

The Welsh woman seemed to take the hint in stride, and nodded without missing a beat.  “Yes, of course.  Well, I suppose I mustn’t tarry here any further.  My sincerest apologies for catching you all at such an awkward time.  But it was a pleasure to see you again Phoebe, as well as meeting you Piper, and…Prue.”  She then turned to walk toward the door then stopped as if to think for a moment.  She glanced over at Phoebe who stood nearby and asked, “Oh, Phoebe, won’t you be coming to the Beltane festival this Friday night?”

 

The perky brunette casually shrugged, pretending not to notice the inquisitive expressions from Piper and Prue.  “Sure, sounds like a date.  7:00 p.m., McLaren Park, right?”

 

Rhiannon smiled widely.  “Right.  Well, wonderful then!  But by all means don’t come alone.  Why don’t you bring Piper and Prue as well?”

 

Phoebe’s expression seemed to change almost instantly from “eager-beaver” to “uh-oh” as she noticed the raised eyebrow from Piper and the death glare from Prue.  Taking a moment to chew on her bottom lip a bit nervously, the youngest sister stammered, “Well, I don’t know, maybe…”

 

“Splendid!” Rhiannon purred, “So it’s a date then, as you would say.  Friday at 7:00 p.m. it shall be.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing you all there…especially you, Prue,” she added with a ghost of a smirk before she smoothly wafted through the door as though she were a breeze of air and into the night.

 

Phoebe quietly shut the ornate oak door and stood there for a moment, quietly studying the inlaid stained glass window panes before she turned to regard her sisters, who were gawking at her.

 

“Beltane…” Piper began in an incredulous voice.

 

“Ritual?” Prue finished in an interrogative tone.

 

“Okay, okay, look,” Phoebe began, holding up her hands for emphasis in an effort to forestall the drilling that was about to come.  “Basically, the local Wicca groups are holding their annual Beltane ritual Friday night at McLaren Park.  And I just thought, you know, maybe it would be another good way to start learning a little more about the Craft, and…you know,” she ended, feeling a little uncertain…and not unlike that one time when she’d been six and Grams had caught her stealing chocolate from the candy jar.

 

“And you were gonna tell us this when, exactly?” Prue growled.

 

“Well, I’m telling you now, aren’t I?” Phoebe countered with a sigh. “Look, Prue, Piper, it’s not such a big deal, okay?  I mean, Beltane is basically a fertility ritual where…”

 

“Yeah, yeah, boys and girls dance around a maypole and afterwards they get all horny and boink each other, we know,” Piper finished, then noticed the looks she was getting from her other sisters. “What?  It’s in the Book of Shadows.  I read about it.”

 

“Sounds like you were reading pretty closely if you ask me, Piper,” Phoebe added with a devilish grin.

 

“Very closely,” Prue added dryly.

 

Piper muttered something under her breath and rolled her eyes to the ceiling.  “Look, whatever, okay?  Let’s refocus on what we were discussing.  That is, assuming we’re discussing, not fighting.”  She then looked at Phoebe and Prue expectantly.

 

Phoebe looked ready to say something before Prue beat her to it.  “Phoebe,” she began in her trademark stern tone of voice, though her eyes did seem somewhat softer than before, “You have got to be more careful with what you’re doing and who you talk to, because god knows how many demons and warlocks are out there and after us, and…goddamit, will you look at me?!” Phoebe’s attention had drifted off somewhat, her eyes studying the picture of Grams nearby before she turned her full attention to her elder sister with a bit of surprise.  Undaunted, Prue continued.  “How much do you even really know about this Rhiannon, or her business, or what people she deals with, or this Beltane ritual for that matter?”

 

“Okay okay, so I, or we don’t know that much about her, but so far, she seems to be okay.  She hasn’t shown any inkling that she’s some crazy bitch that’s gonna fry us or whatever, yet anyway.  And the Beltane ritual is legit, like I said.  Unfortunately it’s also popular with some of the local church groups…in a not-so-nice kinda way.  But either way, Prue, it would be nice to actually branch out just a little and meet some like-minded people, okay?  Not necessarily witches, just people into Wicca and stuff.”

 

“Sure, it’s great for them as long as people aren’t dying around them,” the elder sister retorted acidly.

 

Phoebe sighed in disgust. “Prue…”

 

“Actually, going to this Beltane ritual might not be a bad thing,” Piper spoke up, deciding once again it was up to her to play “peacemaker” between her two feuding sisters.  “Like Phoebe said, it would be nice to meet some like-minded people and perhaps share some information, learn a little more about the Craft.  And,” she looked pointedly at Prue before continuing, “considering that this is a pagan gathering, it might actually be a tempting target for some demon types as well.  So maybe we should go check out this place just to make sure no warlocks or whatever are gonna try to crash the party.”

 

Prue looked at her for a long moment, before letting her shoulders sag slightly, appearing as though she was cooling off her “super-bitch engine,” for the moment, anyway.  Prue silently mused to herself that the middle sister always did seem to have a rather uncanny talent for keeping the peace in the Halliwell home at times.  Her thoughts then drifted back to the situation at hand.  “Okay…we’ll all go to the Beltane ritual this Friday.”

 

“Yay, Prue!” Phoebe said gleefully, almost jumping on her feet as she regarded her sister with a mischievous expression. “And maybe we’ll find some hunky hotties to hang with while we’re there, eh?”

 

“But,” Prue interjected with a raised finger.  “Let’s be careful.  Especially with this…Rhiannon woman.” She nearly said the name in disgust, bringing some raised eyebrows from her sisters.  “Until we know for certain who she is…let’s NOT have another situation like Aviva, okay?”  She pointedly glared at her youngest sister as she uttered those last words.

 

Phoebe nodded in resignation. “Sure, okay, whatever you say, Prue.”  Then, noticing Prue’s stern expression, her face became more serious.  “It’s cool, Prue, I understand, okay?  Hey, dinner’s getting cold, let’s eat!”  With apparently no more to say, Phoebe sauntered into the kitchen, followed moments later by an amused Prudence.

 

Piper was the last to follow, as she silently thought for a moment how it never ceased to amaze her how they managed to stick so close together despite all the differences they shared.  She then thought again about her unofficial job as peacekeeper of the Halliwell manor before she snorted.  Gee, as if my normal job AND being a witch isn’t enough.  Being the middle sister really does suck sometimes. And with that, she walked back into the kitchen to rejoin her sisters as they prepared to have a nice, quiet dinner together…

 

#

 

In a parallel dimension, hidden from the view of the Halliwells by the way and means of magick, Rhiannon floated by one of the windows, invisible as she finished listening to the sisters’ conversation with a bemused expression on her face.

 

“Well, this is certainly going to be fun,” she mused aloud as she tapped her chin thoughtfully.  Her lovely face then broke into a smirk, as she coalesced into sparkles of energy and faded away.

 

#

 

Somewhere, sometime in another place...

 

Jenny Calendar’s eyelids slowly flickered open to find that she was lying on a grassy meadow, covered in a soft animal skin blanket.  Above her she did not see the ceiling of her home, but rather the twinkling night sky, lit by the silvery sphere of the moon that was barely concealed by a multitude of thick tree branches.

 

“Oh boy,” she whispered.  She slowly rose and, finding that she was still nude, held the soft blanket to her chest as she scanned her surroundings.  She appeared to be in a small clearing, surrounded by huge, moss-covered trees with trunks bigger than she had ever seen, reaching up into the night sky almost as if to touch the stars themselves.  Moonlight filtered through the thick foliage, casting faint beams of light that revealed a deep forest that seemed to stretch on for eternity.  She inhaled the cool moist-laden scent of the forest, while her ears caught the faint chirping of crickets, the hooting of owls, and the scuffling of deer hooves through the forest. 

 

“Okay, “ she drawled to herself out loud, “since the Sunnydale forest doesn’t have trees anywhere this tall, I guess it means I’m no longer in Sunnydale, or to paraphrase Dorothy, I’m no longer in Kansas, Toto.”  Her brow furrowed.  This had to be a dream…or something else was going on.  She certainly hoped it wasn’t the beginning of a nightmare.  “Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that chocolate cake after all,” she sighed.

 

“You are dreaming,” a husky, ancient-sounding female voice called out to her.

 

Jenny whirled around, the blanket still clutched tightly to her bosom, and saw, standing before her, dressed in hunting leathers and armed with a bow, Artemis, the Greek Goddess of the Hunt and Moon.  Moonlight pooled around the tall, regal Goddess, highlighting her chestnut hair and powerful shoulders as she regarded her spiritual daughter with a warm, yet enigmatic smile.

 

The gypsy felt at that moment as though she were in a cathedral and witnessing an epiphany, as she gazed momentarily in awe at the holy vision before her.  She then fell to her knees and bowed reverently to the Goddess before her.  “Lady Goddess,” she whispered in a respectful tone, her voice full of awe.  “This…this is a dream?”

 

“If that is what you wish to call it…yes,” she answered softly, as she strode proudly toward the gypsy Amazon, her leather armor and sword rustling faintly with each step.  When she had reached Jenny’s side, Artemis gently laid a hand on the Amazon witch’s bare shoulder, causing a warm, tingling sensation to course through her body. “Rise,” she commanded softly.

 

The Amazon witch obliged, taking a moment to affectionately regard her spiritual mother.  “Lady Goddess, please excuse my curiosity, but how can this be a dream? It feels so real.”

 

“It would depend on your definition of ‘real,’ Jennifer,” the Greek Goddess offered gently.  “A dream can be as real as your mind, or your astral self for that matter, wishes to perceive it so.”  She gestured toward the forest and the tall foliage parted by itself as though the plants were alive, revealing a path before them.  “Come, daughter,” she commanded softly, “The moon is bright and the woods beckon us…let us hunt.”

 

The gypsy hesitated for a moment.  A hunt?  She then looked down at the blanket she held clutched in her hands.  “Um, no offense, Lady Goddess, but I think I’m a bit underdressed for a hunting trip,” she said, blushing prettily.

 

“Ah yes…of course,” the Huntress said.  She smiled and made an easy wave of her hand. Instantly, the blanket shifted in Jenny’s hands and almost seemed alive as it wrapped itself around Jenny’s body, the soft material growing snug against her skin and reforming itself.  Before she could even have time to gasp, the blanket she had worn was gone and in its place was a leather bodice, leather skirt and boots, similar to what the Goddess of the Hunt wore.

 

The Goddess appraised Jenny for a moment, while the Amazon gazed in wonder at the leather outfit she now wore.   Artemis then nodded, and a sword set within a leather scabbard with a belt appeared in her hand, which she offered to the Amazon.  “This is a hunt, daughter, so you shall require a weapon,” she noted softly.

 

Jenny stared at the weapon momentarily then hesitantly took the sword from the Goddess. With a faint hiss she drew the blade momentarily from its scabbard to inspect it, the light from the moon glinting along its polished razor edges.  With a nod she attached the weapon to her waist and followed the Goddess into the forest, her eyes and ears alert, although still curious as to why the Goddess had brought her here tonight.  Moonlight continued to cast beams and shadows through the trees and dimly illuminate the leafy vegetation and mossy rocks of the forest floor.  After several minutes of walking within the forested dreamscape, Jenny allowed her curiosity to get the better of her and felt she needed to ask the Goddess what exactly was going on.  “Begging your pardon, Lady Goddess, but why are we here?  What are we hunting, exactly?”

 

The Goddess raised a finger to her lips.  “Hush,” she commanded quietly, “and listen.”  Jenny focused on her hearing and caught a faint rustle nearby in the dense foliage.  She turned in the direction of the sound, her hand reaching for her sword then saw a glimpse of white through the thick leaves.  Moments later, the source of the sound slowly pranced into view. 

 

A tall, majestic white stag emerged from the trees, an elegant array of horns crowning its head.    Its magnificent white coat, rippling with muscles, stood in stark contrast to the dark green hues of the forest.  It stood amongst the forest vegetation, proud and erect as it regarded the Huntress and the Amazon with dark yet innocent eyes.  Jenny gazed upon the magnificent creature, awed by its majesty, until out of the corner of her eye she noticed the Huntress swiftly draw an arrow from a quiver on her back and notch it onto the string of her bow.

 

“Lady Goddess, what are you—“

 

Jenny’s question was interrupted when she heard another rustling sound behind her, accompanied by a low, animalistic growl.  As the Amazon spun around, her sword flashing as she instinctively drew it from its scabbard, a dark, large shape appeared from the foliage.  Jenny’s eyes opened wide when she saw a humungous, growling dark-furred wolf that almost looked like the Guardian spirit Duke’s evil twin.  The canine creature glared menacingly at the Amazon who realized she stood between it and its chosen prey.  Before she had time to think, the large wolf tensed then lunged at Jenny.

 

The gypsy only had enough time to roll to the side as the wolf flashed by, its claws barely missing her as it tried to rend Jenny’s throat.  The Amazon thrust her sword upward into an arc as she dodged the lunging wolf and slashed its hide.  Droplets of blood flickered into the air as the wolf howled in rage and pain.  The creature landed back on the earth with a thud and turned with a painful limp, its eyes now filled with bloodlust as it regarded the woman who had dared come between it and the stag.  Jenny stood fast, her feet firmly planted as she warily regarded the huge dire wolf.  The creature growled and, despite the pain, prepared to pounce again before an arrow flew past the Amazon and landed straight and true into its hide, causing the creature to jerk, howl, and whimper in pain before falling to the ground.

 

The computer teacher looked over her shoulder and found the Greek Goddess, who had already drawn another arrow and notched it into the bowstring.  With an eyebrow raised, she said, “Nice shot, Lady Goddess!”  The Huntress simply nodded in response.

 

The Amazon glanced at the white stag and was surprised to find it was still standing there, continuing to watch her with its innocent eyes.  Jenny drew a deep breath and warily approached within a foot of the fallen dire wolf with her sword at the ready, half expecting the creature to rise up at any given moment…

 

The creature’s eyes suddenly opened, its head jerked, and its jaws snapped at the female who had wounded it.  Jenny gritted her teeth and brought her sword downward in a sweeping arc, cleaving the head from its body in a splash of blood that spattered the gypsy’s boots.  The Amazon took a breath after assuring herself that the wolf was certainly not getting back up this time.  She looked over and noticed that the stag had finally decided to prance away and disappear into the forest.  She then looked back again at the gore-splattered corpse at her feet.  When she spied the creature’s dismembered head, she suddenly felt a pang, a memory of something that had occurred not long ago…

 

Alexi.

 

Jenny quickly turned away from the carnage with a sharp intake of breath.  Then she glared sharply at Artemis who regarded her calmly.  “With all due respect, what’s this all about, Lady Goddess?  I thought mind games were beneath you.”

 

“Jenny,” the Goddess said with a sigh, “I certainly did not bring you here to…play games with you, as you would say.  I wish to talk to you about the events that transpired a month ago.”

 

Jenny looked back at the Goddess, as an aching pain began to show in her eyes in the form of unshed tears.   “Why?  What is it that I did wrong, Lady Artemis?  What else could I have done?  I was faced with a terrible choice…and I made it.  I knew what had to be done…but for God’s sake, he was my cousin!”  The tears now flowed freely from Jenny’s eyes as she could no longer inwardly bear the pain.  “Alexi…before he was consumed by his own hate, was a hero to me.  He…he represented everything that was good and honorable in my tribe, he…he was almost like…” The gypsy then closed her eyes and wiped her face, unable to say any more.

 

The Goddess’s own eyes misted over as she witnessed the pain that dwelt within the Amazon.  She gently brought her daughter into a hug and whispered to her.  “Jenny, I know you have been carrying this burden for some time now.  I also know that you have been reluctant to share it with your sisters.  Why is that, daughter?”

 

After the gypsy had wiped the tears from her face, she looked at the Goddess with a face etched with both sorrow and frustration.  “You don’t understand, Artemis…it’s because my sisters…Cordelia, Amy, Willow…they look up to me.  I don’t want to burden them with my own problems.  I admit I don’t always feel comfortable with how they consider me as their elder, but they do.  Willow particularly.  I know she considers me her mentor, but sometimes, when she looks at me, I know she sees me as something far more than that, almost like…” The final word was left unsaid.

 

“A mother,” Artemis offered gently. 

 

Jenny regarded her patron Goddess and quietly said, “I haven’t forgotten you can read minds.”

 

“I did not need to, Jenny.”

 

The gypsy sighed.  “But it’s more than just that.  I almost feel like…like they shouldn’t see me as their sister.”

 

The Greek Goddess peered intensely at Jenny, her deep brown, ancient eyes unblinking as she met the gypsy’s own.  “And why is that?”

 

Jenny half-expected to find fury or disappointment in her Goddess’ eyes.  Instead, she found compassion in them.  The tears began to form in the Amazon’s eyes again before she spoke.  “Because I betrayed them once, Lady Goddess, remember?  I was the one who hid things from them, who lied to all of them…even Rupert.”  Jenny blinked the tears away, silently vowing that she wasn’t going to cry again, before continuing.  “And I hate living with that.  But now look at me…I’ve killed my cousin, I’ve been banished from my clan…my clan now won’t acknowledge that I even EXIST!”  The dark beauty took a short pause to breathe and wipe the tears from her cheeks.  “How can they even accept me as a sister when it seems I’ve done almost everything that’s unbecoming of one?”

 

“Jenny,” the Goddess spoke softly as she stroked Jenny’s cheeks with a strong, yet gentle hand, “you more than anyone know that there are no perfect beings in this universe.  I wish I could say otherwise, but not even we, the Gods, are perfect.  We too, have done things in the past that we…regret,” she noted sadly, her eyes misting with the pain of an old, bitter memory.  A haunted look played briefly across the Huntress’ face before she shook it off and gave her Chosen a sad smile.  “You only performed what you felt was your sacred duty for your clan when you came to Sunnydale.  Later, after you became one of my Chosen, you were forced into a confrontation where your only choice was to either defend or abandon the Slayer.  Everyone, even the Gods, must make difficult decisions, never knowing what the true consequence, right or wrong, may be.”  The Goddess paused for a moment before she added, “But Jenny, know this; for every door that is closed…another one is always opened.”

 

The Amazon blinked. “What are you saying?”

 

A Mona-Lisa smile then graced the face of the Huntress.  “I mean to say that despite the tragedies and heartbreak you have endured during this particular journey, there is now a new path in your future that awaits you, if you so wish to follow it.  That is also why I have come to you this evening, daughter.  I have a task for you, as well as a warning.”

 

Jenny quietly regarded her patron Goddess.  “I’m listening.”

 

The Huntress nodded then continued.  “As you know, the festival of Beltane is almost upon us.  This is when the energies of the Earth gather to be reborn anew.  And as I understand, you will be officiating at the ceremony.”

 

“Well…yes.”

 

The Goddess smiled.  “And that is where my task for you lies, Jenny.  My link to your world, as you may or may not know, is still relatively weak.  Your prayers, and the prayers of others that still remember me, are slowly restoring my ties to the earthly plane.  However, to truly rekindle my connection to your world, the ritual must take place…and you will be the one to help reestablish that link, my daughter.

 

Jenny’s jaw dropped slightly when she considered the implications of the task the Goddess had laid before her.  She inwardly gulped before replying, “Lady Goddess, how?  How exactly do you wish me to perform this task?”

 

Artemis held up a hand in reply.  “Before I reveal that to you, I must give you a warning, daughter…there are forces now in motion amongst the Darkness, sinister forces that have sensed the return of the Old Gods, including me, to this plane.  They will stop at nothing to prevent this from occurring, including trying to prevent you or your sisters from reestablishing my link.”  The Goddess’s eyes narrowed as she continued. “In fact, they may already have their own plans in motion.  That is why you must be willing to trust and have faith in your friends, your beloved, the Slayer, and your sisters, now more than ever, daughter.”

 

The gypsy grew silent as she thought about the Goddess’s warning, of what the implications could be…and then came to her decision.  “So, how shall I perform the task you have placed before me, Lady Goddess?”

 

Artemis smiled. “So, you will accept this responsibility?”

 

The Amazon witch nodded resolutely and looked eye-to-eye with the Greek Goddess.  “Yes, my Lady…I will perform this honor to the best of my abilities.”

 

The Huntress nodded.  “Of that, I am certain, Jennifer.”  She then brought up her hand again, with her palm facing the sky.  Suddenly within her palm a light appeared.  It seemed no bigger than a tiny speck, almost like stardust.  The single speck of light shone and glittered with an impossibly bright glow that bathed both women in brilliant, golden light.  The gypsy Amazon was mesmerized by the light’s hypnotic brilliance, almost losing herself within its depths as it cast shafts of radiance into her dark almond-shaped eyes and across her sensual face.  Then she blinked several times and returned her gaze to the Goddess.  “Lady Artemis, what is this?”

 

“Many creatures, both mortals and Gods, forget that sometimes, faith can be born, and even renewed from the most infantile speck, the smallest seed, the faintest glimmer of hope.”  Her voice grew softer as she continued, the tiny sphere of golden light continuing to shimmer in the palm of her hand.  “Such a seed, if carefully nurtured, may blossom into a new hope for the world.”  The Goddess then raised her palm and brought it to Jenny, causing the gypsy’s eyes to grow wide and her heart to race with excitement.  However, she did not flinch as the light in Artemis’s hand came to rest just an inch away from the center of Jenny’s bosom.  “Jennifer Calendar, you shall become the vessel for this seed, which you will take back to your world.  You shall use this gift I bestow upon you to reestablish my connection with your world, and thus you shall be forever linked to me.  This light, this smallest part of my essence, I bestow upon you, my daughter.”  With that, the Goddess placed her hand over Jenny’s breasts.  The light shimmered and danced across Jenny’s skin momentarily, before entering her body and penetrating into her very soul…

 

The gypsy witch suddenly arched her back.  Her eyes closed, as her entire body stiffened with an indescribable ecstasy that filled her entire body.  It felt like powerful electricity was suddenly coursing through her spine, through every nerve ending and into her brain, and the only thought that her suddenly addled mind had time to process was that it reminded her of when she had first been Chosen by the Greek Goddess, before the brilliance consumed her entire being…

 

Oh…my…GODDESS!!!  Her soul screamed with joy as she was flooded with divine energy, her entire body now aglow with brilliant, blinding light.  Her eyelids snapped open, revealing two glowing orbs of golden light.  The power she felt coursing through her veins, her heart, her mind, her soul was indescribable!  Her head arched back and the gypsy mouthed a silent cry of pure exhilaration as the divine light continued to merge with her own essence.  The energy brimmed and finally burst from every pore in her body as it shaped and reformed her, changing her forever…

 

And then just as the light had finished reaching to every last corner of her body, mind and soul, she felt herself becoming light as air and floating away, falling away from the forest and back to the realm of her world.  As she felt her astral self return to her realm of existence, she heard the voice of her Goddess call out: “And now daughter, return to your world. Be reborn anew, and begin your new journey…”

 

#

 

Sunnydale High School

English Literature Class

Sunnydale, California

April 30, 1998

08:26 PST

 

A flash of raven-black hair among the rush of students entering the room drew Willow’s attention away from the conversation she shared with Amy.  Willow glanced up and saw Patty Driscoll scoot past Amy, Cordelia, and her as the brunette headed for the far side of the classroom.

 

“Patty!”  Willow called out.  The taller girl stopped short and hesitated for a moment before she turned to face the little red witch.

 

“Willow,” Patty said, her tone frosty.

 

“We saved you a seat,” Willow offered brightly.

 

Patty shifted her weight from one foot to the other as she stood, fidgeting.  “You shouldn’t have gone to the trouble.”

 

A confused look crossed Amy’s face.  “It’s no trouble, Patty.  You always sit with us.”

 

“Yeah, well...” she paused for a moment then narrowed her eyes at the three girls.  “I don’t like to hang out where I’m not wanted.”

 

Cordelia closed her book, tossed it down on her desk, and cocked a well-groomed eyebrow at Patty.  “All right…what’s eating you?”

 

“Look, you know I don’t hang with you guys after school because I have to look after my kid brother while my mom’s at work.  So I get that you guys share stuff that doesn’t involve me.  But last night, I came to the Bronze to get to know your friend Buffy better and got the brush off, both from you and her.  Now, if that’s the way it’s going to be, just tell me straight up, ‘cause I don’t need the aggravation, all right?”

 

A crestfallen Amy stared at Patty.  “We didn’t mean to make you feel like that.  It’s just…it’s…well…our lives are kind of complicated now.  And we do want you to get to know Buffy better…it’s just that, she’s got a lot of stuff on her plate.”

 

“Like what?”

 

“Well,” Willow said, “she had some problems with her first boyfriend.  He kind of went a little psycho and all.  Although we think he’s left Sunnydale, he was involved with one of the large PCP gangs and they’ve targeted Buffy and her new boyfriend Steve.”

 

“Is that the hunky hottie who was with her, Mr. Giles and Ms. Calendar last night?”

 

“Yeah, that’s him,” Amy said.  “Oh, and sorry about that lame story Xander tried to feed you about the ‘cat.’  Buffy thought she saw one of her old boyfriend’s gang members at the Bronze, so she, Steve, Mr. Giles, and Ms. Calendar went outside to check it out and make sure he’d leave without causing any trouble.”

 

Patty gasped at that.  “Wow, isn’t that kind of dangerous for them to have tried to face one of those crazed guys down?”

 

Willow shook her head.  “Not for Steve or Mr. Giles.  Both of them are into martial arts and stuff and they’ve been teaching us how to defend ourselves because Angel, er…he’s Buffy’s ex, might have his gang get back at her by hurting us.  So a lot of our time after school has been spent training with them at Steve’s place.”

 

“Oh,” she said.  “I guess you’re right about the complications and all.”

 

“Maybe so,” Amy said, “but that still doesn’t let us off the hook for the way we made you feel.  You and I have been best friends since kindergarten, Patty.  We hurt your feelings and I’m really, really sorry about that.”

 

After both Cordelia and Willow also murmured their sincere apologies, Patty gave them all a tiny smile.  “That’s okay, guys.  Just don’t do it again, got it?”

 

Willow grinned brightly.  “Got it!”

 

Cordelia rolled her eyes.  “Yeah, yeah, we understand.  Don’t do it again…sure, right.  God, you’re such a drama queen!”  Then she opened her book and growled, “Now pipe down!  I want to finish this chapter before Miss Harker starts class.” 

 

At that moment, Patty noticed the title on the book’s cover.  The Art of War?  What in the heck is that about?”

 

Cordelia spoke absent-mindedly as she continued reading.  “It’s a book on ancient and time-tested strategies to defeat your enemy in any situation.”

 

“Oh,” Patty said woodenly.  Then she caught a glimpse of the books that were on Willow and Amy’s desks, next to their textbook.  Patty spied the title Modern Magick on the spine of Willow’s book and The Field Guide to North American Monsters on the spine of Amy’s paperback.  She blinked rapidly several times then reached into her backpack, dug out her own extra-curricular reading, and mused, *and all I’ve got is this trashy Harlequin romance.*  Then she sighed inwardly and thought, *Man, I gotta get a better hobby!*

 

#

 

Buckland’s Antiques

San Francisco, California

April 30, 1998

08:45 PST

 

Prue Halliwell sat at the large oak desk in her office, trying to sort through a pile of faxes that sat on her desk alongside a steaming mug of coffee (“the breakfast of champions” as Phoebe had once sarcastically called it) on what was undoubtedly going to be another busy day, as usual.  Outside the sky was a cloudy yet glorious blue, allowing golden streams of sunshine to filter through the curtains into her office.  The elder sister frowned slightly, almost wishing she could be out enjoying it rather than being stuck in the damn office all day.  But business had to be done if she wanted her bi-weekly paycheck to keep flowing in.  She glared momentarily at the stack of papers on her desk, as though the faxes themselves were whispering to her that, yes, there was no escape, this was indeed her miserable life.  Prue closed her eyes and sighed.  Okay, now I’m starting to imagine the faxes are speaking to me.  Maybe it’s time for me to go and see a shrink…

 

“Ah, Prudence, there you are…not sleeping on the job, are you?”

 

Prue squeezed her eyelids even tighter and resisted the urge to belt out a reply as she heard the condescending voice of the most annoying, asshole boss this side of the Mississippi River: Claire Pryce.

 

The raven-haired woman opened her eyes again to look at the form of her boss standing in the doorway, dressed as usual in one of her power pinstripe suits with pumps, her face set in her usual “you-are-beneath-me” look as she regarded Prue.  Several documents were casually gripped in one of her hands, which from the look of things were probably intended for her.

 

“No, Claire,” Prue replied in a perfectly neutral tone, “just had something stuck in my eye, that’s all.”

 

Claire appeared for all the world as though she didn’t seem to care as she casually walked into Prue’s office.  “Really?  Well, I hope it’s nothing serious, Prue.  It would be a shame if you had yet another emergency to distract you from your duties,” she added in that ever-infamous tone of voice that made Prue’s skin crawl.  The elder sister fought to keep her cool as her boss handed her the documents she held. “These just came in today.  The MacPherson estate is coming up for auction, a very important one at that considering how large it is.  Of course, that means since it’s important to this business, it is now of the utmost importance to you.” As Prue began to page through the documents, her boss continued. “And since it is of such importance to you, it means you’ll get to work on this, now.”

 

Prue glanced up with an incredulous expression. “Now? With all due respect, Claire, I’ve still got several claims and items that need to be processed first.”

 

Claire narrowed her eyes at the raven-haired woman, any hints of a faux attempt at kindliness long gone as she sternly regarded Prue.  “Did I stutter, Prudence Halliwell?  Let me repeat myself:  You’ll get to work on this RIGHT NOW.”

 

The elder Halliwell sister, who was easily regarded by her two other sisters as the queen bitch of San Francisco, struggled mightily to keep her temper from flaring and giving the uberbitch a piece of her mind.  Claire just stood there momentarily, with a bit of a bemused expression in her eyes as though daring Prue to say something that she’d regret later.  After a moment passed, Prue nodded, albeit reluctantly.  “I’ll get to work on it right now.”

 

The boss smirked triumphantly.  “Good, I’m sure you will.”  She then turned and started walking for the door, paused, then turned sideways to regard Prue again.  “That is, of course, assuming your…sisters…don’t call you with another of their pressing matters.”

 

Something in Claire’s voice, how she had used the term “sisters”, as in regarding her sisters, caused something inside of Prue to snap.  She glared at her boss and said in an inquiring voice, “Excuse me?”

 

“You heard me,” Claire said, as she walked back slowly toward Prue’s office.  “Now, of course you have helped keep this auction house above water, Prue, even with all your lame excuses as of late, but don’t begin to think that I’m ever going to let you slip and slide through this business. If you truly wish to keep your job here at Buckland’s, Prue, I suggest you put out a MUCH stronger effort.”

 

“Wait just a moment, Claire,” Prue said, a note of anger now creeping into her voice.  “Just when have I ever been slacking off?  I have been handling every auction this house can manage and then some, and I think Inspector Trudeau already explained to you that in addition to all of that, I was helping him with a case—“

 

“And how utterly convenient that is, Prue,” Claire cut her off.  “You always seem to have an alibi whenever you’re off doing something else, when your focus is meant to be here.  You belong here, Prudence.  Or, wait, allow me to see if I can sum this up in a more effective sentence.”  She leaned over Prue’s desk with her hands resting on the polished oak, her eyes boring menacingly into Prue’s  “You belong here, because I own you.  When you’re here, you’ll do as you’re told, when you’re told, and how you’re told.  And I don’t really give a damn what your so-called ‘sisters’ might have to say about that.”  A cold smile then flashed across Claire’s face.  “Or that particular detective that just happened to waltz in here before.  Inspector Trudeau, is it?  Hmmm, I wonder, did you do…anything in particular to curry his favor, Prue?”

 

That last sentence did it for Prue. Slandering her sisters was bad enough, but the bullshit stopped when it came to her boyfriend Andy. The elder Halliwell slowly rose from her desk and glared eyeball-to-eyeball with her boss.  “Claire?”

 

“Yes?” she replied with an amused expression.

 

“I think there’s something you need to know,” she began, her “superbitch engine” now starting to churn. “But first, before that; you can do me and the rest of the world a favor by wiping that ass-puckered smile off what you call a face, right now.”

 

Claire blinked.  “Excuse me?”

 

Prue flashed a cobra-like smile of her own.  “Did I stutter, Claire?  What you need to know is that, like it or not , I am the one who has been busting her ass, day and night for this auction house to keep it up and running and help it turn a profit, thus keeping it from having to file bankruptcy.  Not you, Claire…ME.”  She stabbed her own chest with her index finger for emphasis.  “Me.  Now, with that out of the way, let’s just say for the record that I am fucking sick and tired of your condescending attitude, especially when it’s me that’s been doing all the work around here. So don’t you dare even think that I’m some sort of slacker when you damn well know it’s the exact opposite.

 

The older woman’s momentary look of surprise was chased away as she narrowed her eyes at Prue.  “Well, I wouldn’t even worry about that then, Miss Prudence Halliwell, since as of now you can start cleaning out your desk, because you’re—“

 

Prue instantly brought up her palm within an inch of Claire’s face, bringing her tirade to a halt.  “Just a moment, Claire.  Since I’m actually feeling generous today, I’m gonna let you in on something before you say something you’ll regret. Let’s face facts, Claire; I more than anyone else in this city has the knowledge about antiques, their value and history, how to spot forgeries, how to successfully market and sell off these items and estates for a hefty profit, etc. etc. etc.  You, on the other hand…well, I do recall our first conversation not-all-that-long-ago where you confessed that you didn’t know spit about antiquities, just the bottom line.  Well, bottom line is this, Claire:  If you fire me now, you are gonna be short of the only person in this whole building who knows exactly what she’s doing and how to do it.  You are then going to be in a world of hurt because whoever you hire is not going to be able to carry your ass through, and on top of all that, you get to explain to the bank and it’s directors of how you fucked up and fired one of the few competent people in this company all because you decided to throw a little temper tantrum.”

 

Claire’s mouth dropped completely open as she absorbed Prue’s words.  The elder woman seemed to try to form a sentence but appeared lost as she found herself absorbing what the younger woman had just said.

 

“So…you had something you were going to say, Claire?  Something about my sisters, or Inspector Trudeau perhaps?”

 

The woman’s mouth shut, then gaped open, then shut again several times as she tried to come up with something, her eyes wide.  Prue on the other hand silently watched the spectacle with glee, wishing she had a camera.

 

“Well….ah,” Claire began uncertainly.  “Well…just do what you can then, Prue.  Ah, keep up the good work.” With that the older woman turned and, rather hurriedly, exited Prue’s office.

 

Prue gazed off into space for a moment, a benign smile forming on her red lips.  “Well,” she drawled to herself. “I never thought I was gonna do that.” She then turned her gaze back to the sun that was filtering through the window.  “I feel better actually,” she mused. “A whole lot better.”  With that she took a sip of coffee from her mug and sat down at her desk, beginning to quietly hum a tune as she went back to work.

 

Perhaps today was going to be a good day, after all…

 

#

 

Sunnydale High School

Sunnydale, California

09:31 PST

 

It was another weekday in Sunnydale as sophomores, juniors and seniors strolled the grounds of Sunnydale High School, getting caught up on the latest news and fidgeting with papers and books.   In the school’s inner courtyard, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, sporting a particularly tight-fitting dark blue workout outfit underneath a light jacket, patiently waited for her Watcher to appear when she caught sight of the rest of the Scoobies, minus Giles and Jenny.  She waved to them as they walked over to her. 

 

“Hey Buff, what’s up?” Xander queried, his mouth partially full as he munched on a “maple-walnut flavored” energy bar.  The teenager, dressed in his usual mismatched wardrobe, then frowned and tossed the energy bar into a trash bin.  “Blecchh, they should sue the guys that make these things for false advertising.  They should call ‘em ‘chalk-flavored’ energy bars.”

 

“Or better yet, how about not talking when you eat?  That is so yuck,” Cordelia grimaced, looking fashionable as usual in a fetching Catholic-schoolgirl style outfit that amply displayed her luscious figure and long legs.  Willow and Amy, both dressed in light, fashionable silk shirts and attractive slacks, also made “eww” faces in agreement with Cordelia’s observation.  Oz, in his own colorful laid-back attire, backed up his red-headed girlfriend with a smirk.

 

“Actually,” Amy said, “we fixed a potential problem that Xander caused for us.”

 

“What problem?”

 

“He told Patty something pretty lame about what you were doing last night, so we fixed it by telling her the cover story we’ve invented about PCP gangs and Angel being involved in one.”

 

“Thanks, Amy.  So, nothing else to report?” Buffy asked her friends, who all shook their heads in reply.  Their patrols last night had virtually found nothing else on the Hell Riders.  The visit to Willy the Snitch turned up dry as well, with the little weasel saying the only thing he’d heard (after a somewhat-subtle pyrotechnical display from Willow and Amy) was that his regular customers had heard about the Hell Riders coming to town, along with supposedly something else, and were choosing to lie low.  The Slayer frowned, wishing they’d turned up more information then realized what she’d just said.  “Did I just say ‘report’?  Oh, God,” she groaned, “I’m already starting to sound like Steve!”  The horror of it all!  She didn’t know what she feared most since first meeting Giles last year then Steve this year…turning into a She-Giles or a She-Commando.

 

“But that’s actually a good thing, right, Buffy?  It means he’s rubbing off on you,” Willow offered with a smirk.  The little red witch then frowned slightly when she thought further about it.  “Um, just as long as you don’t start saying stuff like ‘sir, yes sir’, or anything like that…”

 

Oz looked at his girlfriend with a ghost of a smile on his otherwise bland face.  “Well, good thing I’m the monosyllabic one of the group.”

 

The red-headed Wicca regarded her werewolf boyfriend thoughtfully for a moment.  “Hold on a minute there, mister.  You’re not the only one capable of guttural utterances, you know.  Sometimes, I even manage to growl now and then, normally when you’re doing the same,” she admitted.

 

The lead guitarist of “Dingoes Ate My Babies” got a quizzical look on his face.  “Will, I don’t growl…do I?”

 

“Well, you do whenever we…uhhhh.”  The little red witch’s complexion grew almost as red as her hair when she blushed.  “Um…never mind.”

 

There was snickering among the other Scoobies before Buffy said somewhat glumly, “Well, I have to admit I’d rather be satisfying my daily requirement of smoochies with my honey right about now than having to attend a meeting in the library with Mister-English-tea-and-stuffy-scones,” she finished in a mock English accent.  She was SO not looking forward to meeting the Watcher team, from what she heard was composed of Mr. Tweedledee and Mr. Tweedledum

 

“Don’t worry, Buff,” Will said in a reassuring tone, “we’ll back you up, through thick and thin.  No matter how stuffy or…English…these Watcher guys get with you, right guys?”  The rest of the gang more or less nodded their heads in agreement.

 

The Immortal Slayer managed a smile from the show of support by her friends.  “Thanks Will, and…thanks guys.” 

 

There was a moment of silence before Xander drawled “Ahhhh, can we get a group hug?  With just the ladies and me, I mean.  Because that does bring to mind some really interesting fantasies…OW!”  Xander yelped as Cordelia stomped on his toe.

 

Amy piped up, changing the subject. “Oh, hey, Will, were you able to purchase the other herbs we needed from the magic shop?”

 

“Yep,” the red witch’s smile returned.  “Everything’s looking a-okay for Beltane…except for that rain that’s supposed to hit us.” Willow frowned again at that thought. “Hope it doesn’t last too long.”  She then noticed the glum look that had returned to the Slayer’s pretty face.  “Buffy, you okay?”

 

“Oh, I’m fine.  I guess…well, what I mean is, I hope you guys are able to enjoy the ritual you’ve got planned.  I mean, if I was out, umm, picking daisies or something on a full moon night and it rained, that would suck to, or actually I mean…never mind.”  The Slayer quickly shut her mouth after realizing she was going into Babble Mode again.

 

Goddess, Willow thought, inwardly cringing.  I can’t believe we never thought that Buffy would feel left out.  “Hey, Buffy?  You know, this isn’t just an Amazon thing.  Why don’t you come along, too?”

 

The Slayer’s eyes widened at that, before she shook her head.  “Uh, you want ME to come along?  I mean…wow, that’s nice, Will.” The blonde thought for a moment, then frowned.  “But I don’t know if I can break away from patrol though.  I mean if I can’t go, it’s no big, I can just make a small offering to Artemis or something when I get home, or whatever.”

 

All the Amazons stared at Buffy, blinking before Cordelia said, “Whoa, wait a minute Little-Miss-Likes-To-Fight.  You’re praying to Artemis now?”

 

The Slayer’s cheeks turned an attractive shade of red.  “Well…yeah.  Er, didn’t I mention that to you guys before?”

 

“Um…” Amy drawled, glancing upwards with a mock perplexed look on her face, “let me think…” Then she snapped, “Hell no, you never mentioned it before!” Amy’s eyes opened wide along with everyone else’s as her voice took on a slightly quieter tone before she continued.  “How long have you been praying to her?”

 

“Well…I guess I started talking to her after that trip in the woods I took with Jenny, where she…you know.”  Buffy winced slightly at the memory.  She took a deep breath before continuing.  “Anyway, I’d be in my bedroom praying, and she’d actually appear, like my fairy grandma or something, and we’d talk. She’s real nice to me, almost kinda like Mom.”  The Slayer looked off into the distance, a wistful smile dawning across her face before she continued.  “And after that, I just went and got a small little statue of her, made a little shrine, and…I’ve been praying to her ever since.”

 

A quirky smile formed on Willow’s pixie-like face as she spoke up.  “Wow!  That’s so cool, Buffy!”

 

The Slayer smiled at her best friend.  “Thanks, Will.”  She then pursed her lips momentarily in thought.  “Um, does this mean I have to wear an Artemis t-shirt and do bake sales now?”

 

The little red witch’s brow furrowed in confusion.  “Huh?”

 

The blonde snickered and shook her head.  “Don’t blow a gasket over it, Will.  So, now that I think about it…yeah, I mean if I can work out something with Steve and Giles as far as patrol is concerned for Friday, sure.” The Slayer shrugged her shoulders. “I’d like to go.”

 

“Cool!”  Willow exclaimed.  “We’re gonna wear these neat dresses that Amy found at the magic shop, Cordelia helped pick them out.  See?”  She drew a small catalogue out of her backpack, flipped it to a page and showed it to her.  “They’ve got a couple different sizes, so we should be able to find one that’ll fit you.”

 

Buffy’s eyes opened comically wide as she studied the picture of the dress and the young woman modeling it.  “Uhh, like, wow.  It’s really….” The Slayer tried to find the word.  “Revealing.”

 

“Well, that’s the point, Buffy.  It’s a fertility rite, so no need to be modest,” Amy added with a wicked grin.

 

“I’ll say!”  Xander exclaimed, peeking over Buffy’s shoulder.  “Throw in some nachos, free drinks and a naked lesbian orgy, and I’m there!”  The X-Man’s grin promptly disappeared when he noticed the deadly glare emanating from Cordelia.  “Uh, just theoretically speaking, of course,” he added hastily.

 

After throwing a nasty look of her own at the wisecracker, Amy continued. “Oh, and Jenny will be there, too.”

 

Buffy’s face fell slightly.  “Jenny?  Oh, that’s…cool,” she muttered.  The Slayer scanned the inner court again briefly.  “Well, no sign of Giles, let’s see if he’s lurking in one of the hallways, or something.”  The Slayer turned and started walking, until the Scoobies caught up with her.

 

“Hold on a minute, Slay-gal,” Cordelia spoke in a firm voice, both hands on hips as she fronted the Slayer.  “What’s up with the diss?”

 

“Diss?”

 

“What are you, my echo or something?  Yeah, like I said, what’s with the diss?”  Cordelia shot Buffy an annoyed look as she crossed her arms, indicating that she wasn’t going to budge.  “I thought you were over this thing between you and Jenny.”

 

The Slayer got slightly huffy as she glared back at the former cheerleader.  “I’m not dissing anyone, Cordy.  I just think that she was acting a little odd last night.”  She glanced at the rest of her friends.  “Don’t you think so?”

 

The brunette Amazon pursed her lips thoughtfully for a moment when she considered Buffy’s words.  “Odd?  Well…she was getting kinda groiny with Giles last night.  But that’s nothing new.”  She narrowed her eyes at Buffy again.  “So?”

 

“So, I just think that it was…odd.”  She looked again at her friends and noticed they all seemed to be agreeing with Cordy’s observation.  “Come on, guys, just how often does Jenny dress like that anyway?”

 

“I don’t know, Buffy,” Oz piped up, stroking his chin thoughtfully, “she didn’t seem all that less-than-normal to me, other than looking extremely hot anyway.”  The taciturn member of the Scoobies noticed Willow’s jealous look and quickly added, “From a purely objective, sitting-in-the-bleachers viewpoint, that is.”

 

Willow quietly accepted his apology with a smile.  “That was a neat little chicken squawk impression you made last night,” the Amazon Wicca cooed softly as she snuggled a little closer to her boyfriend.

 

The werewolf allowed a quirky smirk to form on the corner of his lip.  “Thanks, I thought so.”  The young man then turned to the Chosen One.  “Hey, Buffy, think about it, really. I mean, it makes sense that Giles and Jenny wanna get hot and bothered with each other, right?  I mean it’s kind of like the birds and the bees, or whatever the teachers like to call it.”

 

Buffy stopped to consider the Zen wisdom of Oz for a moment.  It almost seemed to make sense.  Perhaps she was just overreacting…maybe.  She finally let her shoulders sag and muttered, “Okay, okay.  Maybe you’re right.  Maybe I’m just overreacting.  Maybe I’m just…acting like a moron.”  She sighed.  “Fine, I’ll just leave Giles and Jenny alone, let ‘em do their little birds-and-bees thingy, or whatever they call it…”

 

“Also known as sex,” Xander supplied in a theatrical tone with a self-satisfied smirk.

 

Buffy took a moment to glare menacingly at the X-Man while Cordelia said acidly, “Wow, you’re learning something new every day, Lame-O.  Pretty soon your IQ may even move past single digits!”

 

The Immortal Slayer looked ready to throw a nasty taunt of her own at the young man, before she caught flashes of tweed amongst the milling crowd of students.  Relieved, she waved to her Watcher, who briskly walked over to her.  Buffy then noticed that despite his usual well-groomed appearance, his expression appeared rather anxious.  Uh oh, she thought.  Not a good sign…

 

“Buffy!  Oh, ah, glad I was able to find you. Um, w-we need to talk, about…”

 

“Hey, Giles. Oh yeah, I know.  A bunch of oh-so-stuffy tweed-clad Watchers have arrived here in Sunnydale, wanna put me under the microscope, dissect me or something.”  Buffy then flashed one of her patented pouts.  “No offense, but I really don’t feel like being a lab rat for a bunch of Watchers in white coats, or whatever.”

 

“Buffy,” the Watcher sighed, trying to exercise a modicum of patience with his charge, “I was just about to discuss that.  Yes, i-it seems the Watchers have decided to make a surprise visit. Apparently, they are very much interested in you.”  Giles shifted the mass of papers he held in one hand and his briefcase in the other before continuing.  “At least that’s what they’ve told me.  However, it would make sense considering that, ah, you have survived much longer than most Slayers listed in the Watcher records.”

 

“Uh, thanks, Giles.  That makes me feel a whole lot better…sort of.”  The Chosen One noticed the worried look on Giles’ face and made an inward sigh of her own.  “Okay Giles, you’ve got ‘but’ face.  So spill…what’s going on?”

 

The Watcher took a moment to regard the assembled Slayerettes before taking a deep breath.  “Well, I tried to, subtly, discover how much the Watcher team knows, particularly Mr. Trent.”  The Watcher then cringed. “It seems they know you were killed by the Master, Buffy.  They also seem to know that your friends, including Ms. Calendar and myself, have been actively helping you.”

 

The Slayer’s mouth instantly shifted to that of something resembling a large letter “O”, along with the rest of the Scoobies.  “Oh, God,” Buffy moaned, “Giles…do they know...”

 

“Buffy, I-I don’t think they know you’re an Immortal.  A-at least not from what I could tell.  And I don’t believe they know anything about your friends being Amazons or that Jenny, Willow and Amy practice witchcraft…at least, as far as I know.”

 

“As far as you know?”

 

“Well, I couldn’t bloody well ask them directly, could I?”  Giles growled.  Even though he felt it was prudent to keep the Scoobies’ secrets safe from the other Watchers for now, particularly that troll Trent, he still didn’t like sneaking around behind the backs of other Watchers.

 

Buffy shut her eyes and massaged her temples with her fingers, trying to stave off a headache she knew wasn’t due to her Quickening.  “This is just peachy.  First, Lyle Gorch and a new bunch of vampire yahoos show up in town, and now I have to deal with a bunch of nosy Watchers.  Argh, maybe I should just directly ask the Hellmouth if there’s any other wonderful surprises scheduled for today.”

 

The Watcher frowned in concern.  “Buffy, I wouldn’t, ah, tempt the fates as that usually isn’t a good thing.”

 

“Why?  They might make things worse?”

 

“Er…um…no…it’s just tacky.”

 

As she stuck her tongue out at him, Giles pressed on.  “Now as far as the Watchers are concerned, I would suggest we try to be discreet and reveal as little as possible.  Once they’re satisfied with their own research, I’m sure they will leave town.  Now if Jenny were here, I would…would….” The Watcher’s voice trailed off, his eyes going wide, as he stared at an approaching figure. 

 

The rest of the Scoobies turned to follow the Watcher’s gaze, although Buffy’s Slayer hearing already heard numerous comments emanating from a plethora of boys who stared at the approaching woman…

 

“Ms. Calendar?”

 

“Holy shit.”

 

“Check her out, man.”

 

“Damn…”

 

The Scoobies became slack-jawed as they witnessed the approaching vision of Jenny Calendar, while Giles was too stunned to speak.

 

The gypsy wore a sultry white lace shirt that hugged her bosom nicely, while a colorful silk scarf was draped over her head.  Gold hoop earrings dangled from her ears, while a belt composed of golden-spun links circled her waist.  And then they all noticed her skirt. It was long and white, sheer in the early morning sunlight, causing any boy staring at her to gasp as the skirt revealed her long, sensuous legs.  But that wasn’t all.  There was something…different about the sultry Amazon.  Her face was aglow. Her tanned skin was perfect.  Her dark, hypnotic eyes took in almost everything around her and gave out subtle hints from their shadowy depths.

 

No one said a word as the Amazon gypsy strode slowly and deliberately toward the Watcher, her movements slow yet light and agile, like that of a dancer.  A playful smile played across her lovely lips as she regarded her favorite librarian.  “Good morning, Rupert,” she purred softly, smiling.

 

“Er, ahm, hello, Ms. Cal…oh, I mean, Miss….ahm, Jenny,” the Watcher babbled, unable to look away from the gypsy enchantress now standing before him.

 

The computer teacher coyly regarded her lover and stepped even closer to the librarian, her face now only an inch away from his.  The Englishman’s breath caught in his throat, tensing as the gypsy leaned close to him, his nose catching a whiff of a different sort of perfume this morning; a tantalizing, spicy blend that tickled his senses.  Then before the Watcher knew what happened, the gypsy smoothly glided past him and started walking toward the library, her gaze never leaving the Watcher as she teasingly cooed, “We better get to the library Rupert; we wouldn’t want to be late now, would we?”  And with that she gracefully walked toward one of the inner hallways. 

 

Buffy stood and blinked, along with the rest of her companions, as the Watcher obligingly followed the gypsy down a hallway leading to the school library.  “Uh…huh.  Just the normal birds and bees thingy, right guys?”  Her question to the Scoobies contained a healthy dose of sarcasm.

 

“W-well,” Cordelia stammered, flabbergasted at what she’d just seen, “maybe she just got up on the wrong side of the bed, or something.”

 

“I think that’s the right side of the bed, Cordy,” Xander muttered.

 

The Scoobies, wondering what exactly was going on, decided to follow the pair toward the library.

 

#

 

The Watcher caught up to the gypsy woman just outside the library’s double doors.  “Ah, Jenny,” the librarian called to the Amazon, who slowly turned in Giles’ direction. “It’s…it’s good to see you bright and joyful this morning.  I was worried about how you might be feeling after what happened last night.”

 

Jenny shrugged and smiled gracefully at the librarian.  “Don’t worry, Rupert.  I know you didn’t mean to be hurtful toward me in anyway.  Just water under the bridge; don’t worry about it.”  The Amazon’s eye trailed appreciatively down the librarian’s tweed-clad ensemble.  “Actually,” she drawled in a husky tone, “you might want to worry a little more about yourself.”

 

Giles looked momentarily worried at Jenny’s observation.  “Er, myself?  What’s wrong?”

 

The Amazon witch smiled and gently began to trail an index finger down the front of his tweed outfit.  “You do seem rather stiff in that tweed ensemble of yours.  I don’t think I’ve ever really seen you wear anything else.  Perhaps we need to…” The gypsy’s finger continued to trace down his tweed jacket, until finally reaching his belt.  “Change that,” Jenny finished, pausing for a moment as a naughty smile crept onto her face, her finger resting at his belt buckle.  The librarian, feeling a bit uncomfortable, looked away and felt relieved that there weren’t too many students hanging around near the library…other than the Slayerettes, who now stood a short distance away and gawked at what they saw.  Giles’ face flushed red with embarrassment and he looked back to his lover, who now wore a very naughty-looking grin on her face.

 

“Er, Jenny, are you quite sure you’re alright?  You do seem a bit…different this morning.”  Giles once again couldn’t help but notice how radiant the gypsy appeared.  However, on second thought it didn’t seem so much that she had become radiant, but somehow almost…perfect.

 

The gypsy purred, “I’ve never felt better, Rupert.”   She continued to let her hand rest visibly near his belt buckle for a moment, her dark chocolate eyes continuing to stare into the Watcher’s own before she moved her hand away, broke eye contact and walked through the double doors into the waiting library.  The librarian shook his head to awake himself from his stupor before following the gypsy inside.  However, both the Amazon witch and the Watcher were surprised to see that they weren’t the first ones to arrive.

 

Before them a tall, lean man stood near one of the library tables, regarding them warily.  He wore a light dark jacket over a shirt and trousers, with black hair that was cut short in an almost military-style look.  He appeared to be in his early or mid-thirties, his face a mix of Caucasian and Oriental features.  His dark, slightly slanted eyes carefully regarded the computer teacher and the librarian with a stern expression, although his eyes did seem to momentarily widen at the sight of the beautiful computer teacher.  In one hand he casually gripped what appeared to be some sort of small metal detector or electronic device, while his free hand had subtly glided toward his inner left jacket breast pocket, a move that instantly alarmed the two lovers before he spoke in a voice that was American and professional in tone, although with a slight indiscernible accent.  “Sorry, sir…ma’am, but the library is closed right now, you’ll need to come back later.”

 

The Englishman reared himself up and fixed the new arrival with a stern gaze of his own.  “As it just so happens, I happen to be the librarian here, and this is a public institution.  My name is Rupert Giles. Who are you?”

 

At the mention of the name, the Asian-American relaxed slightly, although he kept himself in what appeared to be a ready stance as he continued to appraise the couple, plus the other kids who had now come through the double doors and skidded to a stop when they sighted the professional-looking man.  “My apologies, Mr. Giles.  I was just finishing a security sweep of the library before the Watcher team arrives.”  He carefully walked toward the librarian and offered his hand, which the librarian took with a hint of wariness.  “Jericho Saito, security consultant.”  While he shook the Englishman’s hand, his eyes looked both Giles and Jenny up and down one last time, before he withdrew his hand and extended it to the computer teacher.  “And you must be Jennifer Calendar, I presume?”  The gypsy paused for a moment before reluctantly taking the young man’s hand in her own, her once-flirtatious expression gone as she warily nodded to the newcomer before her.  Jericho nodded in reply before fixing his gaze on the young students that had walked into the library, particularly the Slayer who eyed the young man with a note of suspicion.

 

“Pardon me, Mr. Saito, but you said you’re with the Watcher team?” Giles queried.

 

Jericho returned his gaze from the students to regard the librarian, and continued in a slightly more relaxed tone that still revealed nothing.  “Yes, Mr. Giles, I am with the Watcher team…so to speak.  Admittedly, I’m actually here as a security escort for my companion.”

 

A confused look crossed the Englishman’s face.  “Your companion?  Who might that be?  It was my impression that Mr. Trent and Mr. Nelson were the only Watchers to have arrived here in Sunnydale.”

 

“Rupert?”

 

All eyes in the library turned toward the source of the lilting voice.  From between the bookcases emerged a female figure whose appearance instantly caused all the faces in the library, save Jericho, to widen from shock, surprise or lust.

 

The woman appeared to be a little taller than Jenny, with a slightly darker complexion.  Her lovely face was framed by glossy dark hair that captured some of the sunlight filtering through the windows, showing subtle hints of red as it cascaded down past her shoulders.  Her full, red lips were slightly parted as she regarded the Englishman with dark, almond-shaped eyes with hints of green within their hypnotic depths.  She wore a finely-tailored, form-fitting business suit that was smart in appearance, yet showed off a breathtaking figure and shapely bosom that was complemented by a very short miniskirt that revealed her long, beautiful legs.  Her fashionable, high-heeled shoes gently clicked along the library floor as she walked toward the Englishman with a grace that looked like it would be more at home on a catwalk in Paris, rather than in the musty confines of the library.

 

In short, as Jenny, Buffy, Cordelia, Amy and Willow regarded the newcomer with suspicion and alarm, Oz and Xander determined at that very moment that this woman, whoever she was, was, without doubt, a MAJOR LEAGUE hottie!

 

Giles simply gaped at the woman before him for several moments, almost forgetting to breathe before he exhaled slowly.  “Layla?”

 

The exotic beauty regarded the Englishman for a long moment before allowing a ghost of a smile to grace her lips, although her eyes seemed to hold a touch of sadness as she gazed at the Watcher.  “Rupert Giles, as I live and breathe,” she spoke again, in a lilting French-accented voice that held subtle undercurrents of another accent that couldn’t be readily placed. “It has been far too long, non?”

 

The Watcher attempted to form words, but appeared to be struck speechless as the exotic beauty stepped closer to the librarian.  Then, unexpectedly the woman’s face clouded over with anger as she drew up her right hand and slapped Giles across the face with a loud smack that left the Watcher reeling.

 

“You miserable bastard!” she hissed, the anger she displayed doing nothing to mar her gorgeous face as she glared at the Watcher.  “It has been almost ten years since I last saw or heard from you, and now I find you here of all places?  Not even a word, not even a note from you! Mon Dieu, I might as well have never even existed to you!  Apparently, nothing we had meant anything to you!”

 

Before the woman could continue her tirade, Buffy and Jenny slipped in front of the Watcher, with Jenny firmly planting her hand on Layla’s bosom and shoving her backward, throwing the woman off balance momentarily before she regained her equilibrium and glared at the gypsy. At the same moment, the Slayer planted her feet firmly in front of the Watcher and narrowed her eyes at the young woman, silently daring her to try and strike her man…  Then, realizing what she had just thought, Buffy’s eyes opened comically wide as her mind raced to scream inwardly to herself, I meant Giles…not my man…Giles, again!  Meanwhile, Jericho silently cursed under his breath and moved to Layla’s side, while the rest of the Slayerettes wondered if a royal rumble was about to break out in the library.

 

“Dude, this is SO sweet!  I believe we’ve got a hottie catfight on our hands,” Xander murmured sideways to his werewolf friend, “Buffy, Ms. Calendar, and the French babe--man, if we only had some Saran Wrap, bikinis, body oil, and a video camera, I’d be in heaven!  Wanna place any bets?”

 

“Ixnay on the pornofestay, bro,” Oz muttered, as he elbowed Xander and nodded slightly in Cordelia’s and Amy’s direction, who both glared at the two boys with frosty looks while Willow had her “resolve face” on full display.  The two boys instantly shut up.

 

“Excuse me,” Jenny snapped as she narrowed her eyes at the exotic woman.  “Before you even think of bitch-slapping my man again, might I ask just who the hell are you?”

 

The beautiful woman took a moment to regain her composure then looked sideways at Jericho who stood beside her with a look of warning directed toward her.  Taking a deep breath, she thrust her chin forward and spoke, “Please forgive my outburst.  It is simply that Monsieur Giles and I are…old acquaintances.” She shot a meaningful glare at the Watcher, who was busy rubbing the cheek where he’d been struck as his eyes darted between Layla and Jenny.  “I am Dr. Layla Constantin. I have been officially designated by the Watcher’s Council as an analyst for the team currently assigned to Sunnydale.”  She coolly appraised the gypsy woman in front of her before continuing. “And you are Jennifer Calendar, I presume, the Kalendish gypsy that I have heard so much about.  I wish I could say it was a pleasure to meet you.”

 

The computer teacher looked at Giles momentarily, mouthing the question “old acquaintance?”  The Watcher gulped and remained stone-faced, appearing as though he wanted to be anywhere else at that very moment rather than be caught between the two women.  Jenny huffed and glared back at the “doctor”, unimpressed.  “Oh, likewise, Doctor Lay-la Constantin,” she hissed.  She momentarily looked the woman up and down, noting her chic, refined clothing.  “Exactly what are you a doctor of, if I may ask?”

 

“Well,” she drawled, not missing a beat as she also noted Jenny’s gypsy-style attire, “I happen to have a PhD in Psychology from the University of Provence, France.  I specialize in psychological analysis as well as other areas such as hypnotherapy.”

 

“Dude,” Xander quietly babbled, “did she basically say she’s a couch therapist?”  His mind suddenly floated on air with thoughts of him lying on a couch and this Frenchwoman, who looked more like a Victoria’s Secret supermodel then a psychologist, administering therapy to him while dressed in high heels and little else…

 

“Get your mind out of the proverbial gutter RIGHT NOW, Alexander Lavelle Harris,” Cordelia hissed through gritted teeth.

 

The rest of the Slayerette’s attention turned back to the gypsy teacher and the French psychologist, who were now staring at each other with dagger-like glares.  Giles continued to look fearfully between the two women while Buffy continued to shoot an icy glare of her own at the Frenchwoman.  “Well, I have to say, Lay-la,” the gypsy drawled again, in a tone that caused the exotic woman to almost gnash her teeth, “it seems that if there’s anyone who at this moment needs therapy, it’s you, considering that unprovoked assault you just launched on my man…”

 

“YOUR man, mademoiselle?”  The psychologist said, almost laughing.  “Ah, but it seems Monsieur Giles has not told you everything about…his past.  You are hardly the first woman to know this particular gentilhomme, isn’t that so, Rupert?”  She flashed a seductive smile at the Watcher, her eyes twinkling. “We have so many memories between the two of us, oui?” The Englishman’s face grew even whiter when he noticed the fury in both Jenny’s and Buffy’s eyes when they glared at him.  At that moment, Giles frantically scanned the library for the quickest escape route open to him.

 

“But where are my manners?” The Frenchwoman continued, “Far be it from me to be rude.  You are…Elizabeth Anne Summers, or Buffy, as you wish to be called, oui?” She nodded to the young blonde woman, who cringed at the mention of her despised Christian name, before her brow set in puzzlement as she remembered that she hadn’t been introduced to the young woman.  Smiling gently yet mysteriously, the psychologist continued.  “And the rest of you are…Alexander Harris, Cordelia Chase, Willow Rosenberg, Amy Madison, and Oz Green,” she accurately indicated each Scooby with a graceful motion of her lovely hands.  “Allow me to say, the pleasure and honor is mine.”

 

“Ahem,” the Watcher cleared his throat, trying to regain his professional air, “pardon me, Mr. Saito…ah, Layla, would you mind terribly if I take the liberty, to, umm, uh, speak a moment with Ms. Calendar, Ms. Summers and her fellow students…in private?”

 

Layla looked like she was about to say more, before she looked sideways and noticed the stern warning on Jericho’s face.  Taking a breath and emitting a sigh, she relented.  “Yes…of course, Rupert.  Please, I hope you will forgive my earlier behavior.  It was not my intention to be so…forthcoming.”  She looked earnestly at the Watcher before turning her attention back to the young man by her side, who looked almost sentinel-like as he gazed at the Scoobies with a hawkish expression.  “Come, Jericho.  We should go and greet the Watchers when they arrive.”  She then glanced at the Slayerettes.  “We shall be back soon.  Believe it or not, I am actually looking forward to getting to know each and every one of you.”  With that, the psychologist and the security consultant walked out of the library.

 

The Englishman sighed deeply…which, to his dismay, was too soon as the rest of the Slayerettes suddenly barraged him with a field of questions, all at once….

 

“England, who the Hell is that Eurotrash bitch?!”

 

Giles, that was truly wigsome!  What the Hell is going on?”

 

“G-Man, you mean to tell me you actually did the nasty with THAT hot little number?”

 

“Giles, who’s that guy with Layla, he—“

 

“OH, BLOODY WELL SHUT YOUR GOBS ALREADY!!”  Giles roared, his eyes shut and his mind nearly at the end of his rope.  He opened his eyes into angry slits and found his beloved Jenny, his Slayer and the rest of his charges all staring back at him with stunned looks on their faces.  He closed his eyes again momentarily, counted to ten then regarded them with his normal, gentle gaze.  “I mean…bloody hell…I’m truly sorry. It’s just…this is indeed an unexpected turn of events.”

 

“Unexpected is a bit of an understatement, Rupert,” Jenny hissed, her dark chocolate eyes smoldering with rage as she glared at her beloved. “Just who the hell is that woman?  Is she really an ex of yours as she claims, or is she just yanking everyone’s chain?”  She silently prayed it was the latter.

 

Giles purposefully tried to avoid Jenny’s gaze, before reluctantly locking his green eyes with her dark ones.  “She speaks the truth, Jenny. Layla and I were…umm…a…ah, a couple ten years ago.”  He mentally cringed as he witnessed the withering glare of the Amazon gypsy directed toward, him then out of the corner of his eye he saw the angry stare of his young charge, the Slayer as well.  Noting the rather shocked and perturbed expressions from the other Slayerettes, the Englishman continued.  “But, I would like to focus on another problem that I’m afraid has emerged with Layla’s presence.  As much as I wish I could say otherwise, Layla is not just a psychologist, she’s…ahhh…”

 

“A Major League Hottie?  We already knew that one, G-Man.  Damn, no one ever told us you were just a regular pumping Love Machine in your day!  And, illjustquietlystandoverhereandshutupnow,” Xander murmured when he noticed the furious gazes from all the women.

 

After taking a moment to grit his teeth and make a mental note to give Xander another lesson in proper etiquette, a/k/a keeping his mouth shut, the Watcher continued.  “As I was saying, Layla is not merely a psychologist; she possesses…psychic abilities.”

 

The Slayer blinked like an owl at that.  “Psychic?  Uh, excuse me?  As in Psychic Friends Network?”

 

The librarian pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.  “No, Buffy, she is certainly not one of those bloody whatever you call them, ‘dial-a-psychic’ types.”  The Watcher paused, as if considering what to say then continued.  “A little more than ten years ago, Layla was a student at Oxford University.  She was also a volunteer test subject at the British Society for Paranormal Research.  She along with another woman I…knew…were determined rather early on to be the most powerful telepaths they had yet encountered since the Society’s founding.  I was called in as a research assistant as a favor to a friend, who knew of my…dabbling in the subject.  And that was, for lack of a better explanation, how we met.”

 

No one said anything for several moments before Buffy groaned.  “Well, Giles, you were right.  Blame it on me for tempting the Hellmouth.  So now we’ve got another guy who’s looking all mysterious ‘Secret Service’ type, and on top of the whole enchilada, we have some French babe who, from what you just blabbed, is not only your ex-honey, but some sort of freaking Jean Grey?”

 

Giles looked clearly confused, once again failing to grasp another one of Buffy’s infamous pop culture references. “Who in the bloody blazes are you talking about?”

 

“She’s basically asking if Layla is really as badass powerful a psychic as I think you’re saying, right, Buffster?”  Xander supplied, with a nod from the Slayer.

 

“Well,” the librarian paused for a moment, appearing unusually hesitant.  “I-I don’t think she means to appear as any sort of threat, at least not toward you lot.  But I do believe we are now going to have to be especially on our guard, both mentally and physically.  By that I mean we must be careful not only in what we say in front of the Watchers.  We are going to need to watch what we think in front of them as well.  I…don’t think Layla is the type to intentionally try to read or manipulate anyone’s minds without their consent…under these circumstances, that is.  But I must stress again that we all need to be careful.  Layla was perhaps one of the most powerful telepaths I had ever seen, and that was bloody well ten years ago.  I wouldn’t want to consider the possibility that she could be even stronger now, compared to, well, other than…” His voice trailed off before he decided to shut his mouth.

 

“Other than what or who, Giles?” Buffy demanded.

 

When it appeared none of the Slayerettes were going to let Giles off the hook, the Watcher relented.  “Ah, as I mentioned earlier, there was another woman at the Society who was undergoing tests alongside Layla.  Her name was Alex Sinclair.” Giles hesitated as an old, unwanted, bitter memory flashed in his mind. “She and I were also, somewhat…involved, as it were.”

 

“Oh man,” Xander moaned, “you gotta be kidding, G-Man…you are kidding, right?”

 

“Er, no, I’m afraid not.”

 

Everyone stared at Giles open-mouthed before Xander finally found courage and squeaked out in an awe-inspired voice, “G-Man, I gotta say, dude…you are without an absolute freaking doubt, MY HERO.”  The young man then noticed the library had grown eerily quiet as every other member of the Scooby Gang regarded him with less-than-noble intentions in their eyes.  “Uh, guys, simmer down.  It was meant to be a compliment…guys???”

 

Fate, it appeared, smiled upon Xander that day, for as each and every other member of the Scoobies prepared to pounce on the tactless youth, the library’s double doors swung open again, heralding the return of Layla and Jericho…with Edward and Patrick in tow.  As Giles, Jenny, and the assembled Slayerettes turned to face the Watcher team, Buffy, who had momentarily forgotten her fury concerning the Watchers, started to loudly hum a funeral dirge.

 

Edward Trent, looking as gray, cold, and authoritarian as he had the night before, swiveled his head in annoyance at the source of the sound, fixing his glare on the young Slayer.  “Is there something amusing, miss…?”

 

“Buffy Summers” the Slayer piped up with a smart-assed smile on her face, “and you must be…oh, wait, I know this one; you’re the Mister-English-Tea-And-Stuffy-Scones that I’ve been hearing so much about.”  She turned her lips down in a mock frown.  “Sorry, but just so you know, I’m not too much of a Miss Muffin type.”

 

Edward glared at the young blonde woman, unimpressed while Patrick simply continued to stare nervously around the room, saying nothing.  The Chosen One noticed her Watcher closing his eyes again and muttering a curse that her Slayer hearing picked up all too easily, but also noticed, of all things, that Layla was actually smirking, as if she was thoroughly enjoying the exchange, while Jericho had his right eyebrow cocked with a bemused expression on his face. 

 

The Slayer’s thoughts snapped back to reality when Edward spoke in a droll tone, a thinly-veiled look of apathy on his face.  “I suggest you change your attitude quickly, Ms Summers, for we have much to discuss this day and much to do, and I for one do not plan to waste my time playing parlor games with you or your friends.”  His gaze momentarily swept the rest of her friends, seemingly unconcerned at all the icy glares being shot his way.  Rearing himself up slightly, the Senior Watcher continued.  “The day will commence thusly; once we are finished reviewing all the records provided to us by Mr. Giles, Mr. Nelson and myself, along with…Ms. Constantin,” he shot a glare at the young woman, then continued, “will, throughout the day, take each of Ms. Summer’s friends aside, including, of course, Mr. Giles and Ms Calendar, and conduct an in-depth interview with each and every one of you, where we shall study the extent of your…involvement with the Slayer.”  Edward proceeded to frown once again.  “Although I must say that this would rather be unnecessary, had Mr. Giles and Ms. Summers followed the rules that have been set down by the Council, which clearly states…

 

“Yes, yes, I understand all this quite well, Mr. Trent.”  Giles snapped, catching everyone by surprise. “The Slayer is to work alone, with only her Watcher to guide and protect her.  Well, allow me to state here and now that, as much as I wish I could say otherwise, the only bloody reason that both Ms. Summers and I have survived this long is because she has had the honor and privilege of having both Ms. Calendar and these brave young men and women you see standing before you,” he indicated with a sweep of his hand, “by her side while she has been forced to face one horror after another without recognition or reward from the world-at-large.  I daresay that Buffy would not be the same woman standing before you today, nay, perhaps less so with her physical self and her psyche intact, if not for the courage and fortitude that Ms. Calendar and Buffy’s fellow students have shown time and again.” Rupert’s eyes then darkened considerably, “Now, perhaps that doesn’t mean bollocks to one such as you, but perhaps that’s to be expected, considering you’re not a bloody sixteen-year-old who’s had her childhood forever ripped from her and chosen to save the bloody world!”  Everyone else was rendered momentarily speechless after Giles’ rant. The Scoobies stared in shock at the Watcher, while Buffy and Jenny both suddenly began to tear up.

 

Edward seemed completely stunned by Giles’ outburst, before reassuming his apathetic demeanor.  “Mr. Giles, your observation is duly noted.  However, as I was about to say before you so rudely interrupted me, the rules clearly state…”

 

“Monsieur Trent, I’m afraid I must say that Monsieur Giles clearly has a point,” Layla interjected in a slightly more professional-sounding tone than what she had used previously, the enchanting lilt of her exotic French accent remained as Buffy, Giles and Jenny along with the other Slayerettes looked at her in surprise.  “Plainly, from my own research of this particular area, referred to as Boca del Infernio, or Hellmouth, it would be impossible for one, or a pair such as Buffy Summers and Rupert Giles, to battle such evils in this area, alone.  Indeed, I would say that Monsieur Giles’ observations are quite valid.”

 

“Ms. Constantin,” Edward snapped, looking very annoyed at the psychologist, “you are here to help provide psychological analysis for our investigation and research, NOT bore us with your unneeded opinions.”  He then sniffed in disdain at the sight of her mini-skirted ensemble.  “And might I suggest you try wearing more…professional attire?”

 

Excuse moi, Monsieur Trent,” Layla shot back, looking rather displeased, “I would first greatly appreciate, non, I insist that you refer to me by my proper title, and that is Doctor Constantin.  And furthermore, just so that you are aware,” she struck a fashionable pose with both hands on hips, “this is my professional attire.”

 

“Meow,” Xander drawled, obviously appreciating the exchange.  Cordelia regarded him with a stern warning look before returning her attention to the Watcher team.

 

“In any case, as I had stated,” Edward went on, looking and sounding rather bored, “once we are finished interviewing the Slayer and her friends, we shall commence with a…martial duel here in the library, after school.  This will give us an excellent opportunity to gauge the Slayer’s abilities.  Now, since Mr. Giles is Ms. Summer’s Watcher, I would like to see him—“

 

“Excuse me, sir,” Jericho interrupted, gently clearing his throat.  The Senior Watcher regarded the man with a look of aplomb.  “May I request that I be considered as Ms. Summer’s opponent for the sparring match?  I believe, with all due respect to Mr. Giles, of course, that I may be much better suited for such an endeavor considering that I am a ‘third party’ and thus have no personal connection to the Slayer.  And last but not least,” he fixed his imperceptible gaze on the petite blonde, “I am rather anxious to see and experience Ms. Summer’s supposed power and skill, up close and personal as you will.”

 

Giles regarded the young man with a mix of both surprise and suspicion, while Buffy’s eyebrows narrowed menacingly as she stalked toward the security consultant, who didn’t flinch and continued to watch her like a hawk sizing up its prey, albeit an extremely dangerous and lethal prey.  “Excuse me, did I just hear you say, “supposed,” as in a sentence describing me?”

 

Jericho continued to gaze at the Slayer, unflinching as a smirk formed on his lips, although his dark eyes seemed to give a hint of menace.  “Well, I have heard that as the Slayer, you are certainly imbued with certain…powers and skills beyond that of normal humans.  Although I have to say…you don’t look like much more than a valley-girl- cheerleader to me.”  The young man then cocked his head to one side, subtly revealing to the Slayer’s heightened sense of vision a small horizontal scar running parallel above his right ear.  “Speaking of which, are you really a blonde?  I couldn’t help but notice you seem to have rather dark roots…”

 

The Slayer growled and barely resisted the urge to gnash her teeth.  “I don’t know who you think you are, but you’re not gonna score points with me using cheap second-rate insults like that.  If it’s a fight you want this afternoon, you’re on, so just bring it.”  She then smiled wickedly.  “Oh, and a word of advice?  Don’t plan on too much strenuous activity once we’re done, assuming you can still walk, that is.”

 

Jericho returned the Slayer’s grim smile with one of his own.  “Just worry about yourself, Ms. Summers. I can handle myself just fine.”  He paused momentarily for effect.  “I might even surprise you a little.” 

 

“Really?”  The Slayer retorted, “try living on a Hellmouth, it might change your worldview a little.”

 

Jericho’s eyes darkened considerably as he hissed, “Please don’t assume to patronize me, Ms. Summers.  I’ve been to Hell, figuratively and literally.  So I don’t need words of wisdom from immature seventeen-year old cheerleader wannabes. ” That last jibe visibly succeeded in pissing off the Slayer, who now shot her own deadly glare at the challenger. “But in response to your challenge, I accept.  So be it…unless there’s any objection from anyone in this room, we’ll spar, today, after school, your strength and skill against mine.”  His eyes almost seemed to burn into the Slayer, who continued to stand her ground and glare back at Jericho.  “Fair combat, one-on-one…no tricks.”

 

Buffy nodded, never taking her eyes off Jericho as she said, “After school, today then.  As you said, no tricks.”  With that, Jericho nodded and was about to turn away before the Slayer piped up, “Oh, and Jericho?  Where’d you get that?”

 

The man narrowed his eyes at her.  “Get what?”

 

“That scar running above your ear.”

 

Jericho felt above his right ear and then grimaced momentarily, as if remembering something.  “Oh…that. Near miss.”  He seemed to think for a moment, then smiled grimly at the Slayer.  “I got into an argument…with an Iraqi T-72 tank.”  With that, he turned and walked away.

 

“He got into an argument…with an Iraqi T-72 tank?” Xander parroted quietly with a worried look on his face. 

 

“Hmmm, so be it, then,” Edward said in a bored tone, derailing Xander’s train of thought. “Mr. Saito will spar with Slayer Summers later this afternoon.  Until then, I’m sure everyone is aware of the schedule for today.  We, of course, have more of Mr. Giles’ annotations and records to review.  Come Patrick.”

 

“Yes, sir,” the nervous-looking assistant spoke up as he followed Edward over to one of the tables, where a number of books and notes were spread out. Giles was a bit surprised to hear him speak at all, considering that he hadn’t said a word last night.

 

“Buffy?”  The Slayer turned to face Willow.  The little red witch had a worried expression on her delicate features. “Say, we know the Watchers are asking for a display of your Slayer skills and all, but…that doesn’t mean you gotta prove anything, especially to that Jericho guy.  I mean, what’s his beef with you?  He’s either just an idiot or maybe…maybe he’s one of those ex-Special Ops guys like your boyfriend.”

 

“Who knows?”  The Slayer casually shrugged, glancing at the young man who was being pulled off to the side by Layla, obviously to discuss something out of earshot.  She tried listening with her Slayer senses, but oddly didn’t hear anything.  She then wondered what Giles had said earlier about Layla being a telepath and wondered if she was doing some sort of freaky telepathy thingy.  Buffy then shook off that thought and noted, “I face demons and vampires on a nightly basis.  Even if he’s some commando type, he can’t be that tough.”

 

“Yeah, I guess…just be careful all the same, okay?”

 

The Chosen One smiled at her best friend.  “Aren’t I always?”  She then glared at her Watcher just as he attempted to respond.  “Don’t say it, Giles,” she deadpanned.

 

“All I was going to say, Buffy,” he said drolly with a teasing smirk on his face, “was…I believe that’s that,” Then the librarian reverted back to his usual Watcher self.   “You all know what to do, and I’m sure you all need to get to your classes, so you had all better hop to it then.”  He then cast a long, meaningful look at Jenny, indicating he wanted to speak to her in private.  The gypsy nodded as the rest of the gang trudged out of the library.  The Englishman gently pulled his lover aside and whispered, “Jenny, I…I really am sorry for all this, it’s just…”

 

The Amazon gypsy sighed.  “It’s just what, Rupert?  Overall rather screwed-up-every-which-way that your goddamn ex…wait, excuse me, one of your multiple exes just happens to show up today with a bunch of freaking Watchers?!”  Her whisper almost became a roar as she struggled to control her temper.  She looked over momentarily at the Watchers and “Doctor” Constantin, who momentarily glimpsed in her direction.  Flashing them a glare, she turned back to her favorite librarian…well, still her favorite librarian as long as that hussy Frenchwoman didn’t try to claw her way into his pants.  She took a deep breath and tried to focus on the situation at hand, realizing that at the moment they had bigger fish to fry.  

 

“Well, I guess I’ll have to nix that magick lesson I had planned for Amy and Willow today, as long as these guys are snooping around.”  The Amazon spared a quick glance at the library clock and, noticing the time, reluctantly spoke, “I gotta go and set up the lab.  So, will I see you here later today, then?”

 

The librarian nodded enthusiastically “Oh, yes, definitely.  I suppose Buffy would appreciate having an, ah, audience, for lack of a better word, when she commences her sparring match.”

 

In spite of everything that had happened in the last few minutes, the gypsy smiled, which gave the Watcher a momentary sense of relief.  “I think you meant to say pep squad, Rupert,” she said wryly.  After casting another glare at the Frenchwoman, who flashed Jenny an icy one of her own, the gypsy gave her lover a peck on the cheek before she walked out.

 

Moments later, Giles turned to the assembled Watcher team.  “Excuse me, Mr. Trent,” Giles spoke again, this time in a rather authoritarian voice of his own, which brooked little room, if any, for arguments.  “I would like to speak with Dr. Constantin.  Alone, if you please.”  Layla looked up from some notes she was leafing through in a briefcase, surprise with a mix of dread evident on her lovely face.

 

The Senior Watcher frowned again at the librarian.  “Mr. Giles, we have more notes and annotations from your records to cover.  If you wish to socialize with your former paramour, it can wait until later.”  Edward failed to notice Layla’s own icy look as she glared disdainfully at Edward.

 

“Actually, you’re the one who can wait,” the Watcher growled, with a hint of menace that caused the four other individuals in the library to stop and take notice.  “We have plenty of time.  Now, you may all represent the Council, but I am still Buffy’s Watcher, this is my library, and I will not tolerate any more of your insults and boorish behavior, do I make myself clear?”

 

Edward walked toward Giles in a manner that almost seemed threatening, while his assistant stayed back and simply continued to watch.  Jericho spared a quick glance at Layla, who shook her head as if indicating he should stand his ground.  The Senior Watcher came within a few inches of Giles and hissed, “Mr. Giles, you are truly quite the buffoon if you think to threaten me, I suggest—“

 

He never had time to finish as Buffy’s Watcher suddenly grabbed him by the scruff of his collar and slammed his back against the library counter with a thud, causing a mix of fear and shock to instantly display itself in Edward’s eyes, along with looks of surprise from the other members of the Watcher team.  Giles leaned in over the Senior Watcher, his forearm pinning his chest against the counter, his teeth bared and his eyes shining with a deadly gleam that caused Edward to shut up immediately.

 

“Do…not…ever, get in my bloody face like that again, you ponce,” he hissed with menace.  “As I already said, you may represent the Council, but here, you are on MY turf, and that means you had better bloody well start to show proper manners and respect not just to me, but to Ms. Summers, Ms. Calendar, and their friends as well, do you understand me?”  His eyes then narrowed menacingly.  “If not, rest assured I will be more than happy to give you a proper…demonstration of why everyone back in Merry old England referred to me as ‘The Ripper’.  Oh, believe me, the tales are quite true.  Demons were my playthings, and I performed deeds that would make the Devil himself cry!” Edward’s eyes were now wide with fright as he continued to gaze at the almost-demonic visage that had replaced the normally gentle face of the Watcher just a moment ago.  Out of the corner of Giles’ eye, he noticed the extremely frightened look on Patrick’s face, the wide, hesitant look in Jericho’s eyes, and the shocked expression on Layla’s face.  Grimly smiling to himself, the Watcher regarded Edward one last time.  “So, for the rest of your time here in Sunnydale, I would strongly suggest you be on your best behavior, or I may be forced to…indulge myself.  And I think you know what that means.”  With that, the Watcher calmly removed his arm from Edward’s chest, then looked down and sniffed in disdain.  “Dear me, it seems you had a bit of an accident in your trousers.  I suppose you had better take care of that, don’t you agree?”  Edward looked down at his trousers and, noticing the stain, quietly and hurriedly excused himself.  Patrick murmured something indistinguishable and dutifully followed the Senior Watcher out through the double doors.  With that, only Jericho and Layla were now left in the library with Giles.

 

“Jericho,” Layla spoke softly to her partner, who looked at her with a visibly concerned expression.  “Go and…wait outside.  In fact, why don’t you see if you could go and get some coffee for us, please?

 

“Layla, are you sure this is a good idea? I think—“

 

“My friend, please,” Layla looked at her companion with a pleading expression in her beautiful, dark green eyes.  “Go.  I will be alright.”

 

Jericho regarded the Englishman warily, then nodded reluctantly.  “As you wish.” He picked up a large briefcase from the table and proceeded to walk out of the library.  As the Asian-American walked past the librarian, Giles noticed the briefcase appeared to have two small, noticeable holes in one side, with what almost looked like a trigger hidden in the briefcase handle.  After shooting a questioning look at the Frenchwoman when he reached the doors, to which the young woman nodded, Jericho walked out.

 

A moment of silence passed between the two sole occupants of the library, the tension so think it could be cut with a knife.  Then Giles asked simply, “Why did you come here?”

 

The Frenchwoman turned from the papers she had been shuffling to regard the Englishman, looking him squarely in the eye.  “I already told you Rupert…the Council hired me as an analyst for this assignment.  While you were gone, I went on with my life.  I continued my studies, learned to harness my gifts, and when the Council learned more about me and tried to hire me, I accepted.  So there, everything fully explained to you, presented nice and proper on a silver platter.”  She narrowed her eyes dangerously.  “Does that satisfy you?”

 

“No,” he hissed, as he stalked toward the psychologist, who almost visibly took a step backward before rearing herself up and standing her ground, as she warily regarded the Watcher.  “That bloody well doesn’t satisfy me at all.  I may not be a high-level telepath like you, but I know you’re hiding something.  The Council wouldn’t hire someone like you in the first place for something as mundane as a ‘progress report’ on the Slayer.  So, I’ll ask you again…why are you really here?”

 

“I told you—”

 

“BOLLOCKS!  You’re lying!”  Giles snarled as he reached out and grabbed both of Layla’s shoulders, pushing her back and pinning her against one of the bookcases.  “Why are you really here, damn you!”  Then he growled menacingly.  “I shan’t ask you again…”

 

The Frenchwoman looked fearfully at the man she had once loved as she witnessed his godlike rage, plain for her to see as his smoldering eyes drilled into her own.  The Frenchwoman’s own eyes, however, shifted from fearful to determined, as a primordial power welled up inside her mind…

 

“Get…off …ME!!” She commanded forcefully, an invisible force lashing out from her mind that penetrated the Watcher’s own and instantly caused him to jerk his arms away from the woman and forcibly down to his side.  The Watcher instantly recognized that Layla had used her psi-powers and quickly visualized a brick wall in his mind to repel any more psychic assaults from the young woman using his knowledge and training in the arcane arts.  He reared himself up with a snarl and a defensive stance, as he called up a spell from his memory that would unleash a mana bolt if he needed to do so.

 

“Do not presume to think I am that same, naïve young fille you left behind ten years ago, Rupert,” The Frenchwoman snarled.  “I have grown into my own powers over the years, and you have not the slightest idea what I can do now.  Others have tried to harm me, and I left many of them as vegetative husks of their former selves…and believe you me, those were the lucky ones!”  She was positioned in a stance of her own, her eyes narrowed and her mind focused, ready to unleash a hail of psychic energy bolts at the Englishman if necessary.

 

“Don’t get your knickers in a bunch with me, ducks,” The librarian warned with a not-so-subtle hint of menace.  “Remember that little show of magic I used before your very eyes when I was with you and Alex?  That was child’s play compared to what I’ll do if you bloody well try to harm Jenny, Buffy or her friends!”

 

The two former lovers continued to regard each other warily, before, ever so subtly, the two began to lower their defenses, as each took a deep breath, considering what either of them had been prepared to do…

 

“What in heavens’ name are we doing?” Layla whispered.

 

Giles paused for a moment then sighed.  “I haven’t the foggiest notion,” Giles said resignedly.

 

Both took another look at each other, than sighed in unison and, slowly yet carefully relaxed themselves, both visibly shaken at what had almost occurred between the two of them.

 

“Rupert…oh, mon dieu,” Layla choked, a horrified expression dawning on her face.  “I am so sorry, I…I never wanted to do that.”

 

“I wish I could say I was sorry too, Layla,” Giles said hoarsely.  “But I’m not so sure I could trust you again.”

 

Tears began to form in Layla’s beautiful eyes as she regarded her ex-lover.  “You still do not trust me, Rupert?  Not after everything we shared, after all the times our bodies and minds touched?  Not…not even after all the times I wanted to tell you…that I was sorry?”  She blinked rapidly, trying to will away the tears, and with partial success, opened them again.

 

The Watcher looked as if he wanted to say more, than, deciding on a different course of action, he carefully walked to within a whisker’s length of the lovely Frenchwoman.  He could smell her perfume, a mix of jasmine and other Eastern fragrances as he gently grasped her lovely hands in his own and slowly brought them up to his temples.  Allowing the young beauty to hold his head in her hands, he focused his gentle eyes on the woman’s darkly hypnotic, emerald-flecked own as the Watcher and the psychic joined their minds, time appearing to halt completely, as flashes of old memories began to appear before them….

 

 

The two gentlemen walked down the stately, pristine yellow-lit marble hallway of the building, their shoes making a faint echo while outside, a heavy rain could be faintly heard on yet another cold, gray yet glorious day in Kensington, London.

 

“Thank you for coming, old chap,” Professor Julian Stone noted to the bespectacled, scholarly man that walked alongside him.  “I truly do appreciate the favor.  In fact I think you’ll be most surprised at what I’ve discovered with our two volunteer subjects.  The results, to say the least, are most astonishing!”

 

Rupert Giles smiled at his slightly taller friend.  The two had shared a long interest in matters that were obscure and arcane since their meeting at Oxford University.  Rupert had immersed himself in the studies of ancient cultures, myths and religions, Julian was for the most part, more interested in the studies of parapsychology, psychology and neurology.  The two had decided to meet up again in London when Julian had sent a call, asking if he could help him with a new project, as well as catch up on old times.  While Julian continued to gush excitedly, Rupert once again thumbed through the manila folder that he’d been given earlier, carefully studying the portfolios of the two volunteer test subjects that formed the core of Julian’s new project.

 

“As I said, it’s certainly no problem, Julian.  It’s always good to see how my fellow mates are doing, and I’m glad to help.” He glanced at the profiles in the folder again.  “Two rather interesting subjects you have here, I must say.  Alex Sinclair, new student at Oxford University, transfer from Boston, Massachusetts.  An upper-class bred from the colonies, eh?  It says here it’s believed that her mother may have been a senior priestess or seer in one of the old witch cults still operating in the area, most interesting.  And this other one…Layla Constantin, also a new student at Oxford, transfer from Provence, France.  Born in France, although her mother is Egyptian and her father Romanian. And it’s currently believed that her mother is or was a mystic in a cult dedicated to the ancient Egyptian Gods.  Yes, definitely interesting.”

 

Julian chuckled.  “Ah, not as interesting as to what you’re going to see, friend.  Now, you and I have most certainly seen our share of so-called ‘mystically-gifted’ people in our time.  Some of them are legit, many of them are fake…but I daresay these two, after some experimentation, are certainly the two most talented I’ve ever seen.”

 

Rupert’s eyes shot up in alarm.  “Experimentation?  Er, what exactly do you mean by that, Julian?”

 

The professor shot a reassuring smile his way.  “No need to be alarmed, old chap.  Nothing major, I assure you.  Mainly utilizing some advanced hypnosis techniques, minor hallucinogens, and…other things.  But come, let’s not worry about that now.  Let’s see what our two dear students are up to, shall we?”  They stopped in front of a large heavy oak door marked “Lab 12B: Observatory Room”. Julian produced a card and slid it through the electronic card reader next to the door and opened it, gesturing to Rupert that he should go first, to which the scholar obliged.

 

The room was dark and dimly-lit by several computer monitors attached to various terminals, each displaying various graphs and thermal images.  One of the terminals was being studied by a young male lab technician, who was dutifully noting down annotations on a clipboard in his hands.  The young man turned and nodded momentarily in greeting to Rupert and Julian, before returning to the task at hand.  On the far end before them was a large one-way glass mirror.  Through it could be seen a brightly-lit, modestly furnished room in which two women sat at a table covered with different books, pictures and drawings.  It was the two women in particular that instantly caught Rupert’s attention…

 

The woman on the left was a porcelain-skinned beauty with shimmering silver-blonde locks that came down to her shoulders.  Her aquiline nose was offset by lovely deep-blue eyes and glossy pink lips that were pursed in a sensual pout.   The other woman who sat on the left was no less beautiful than her companion, if not lovelier. Her dark, exotic complexion was framed by waves of raven-black hair that held subtle hints of red, almost like burning coals.  Her full, red lips offset her hypnotic dark, green-flecked eyes as she gazed at the blonde beauty in concentration.  The lighter-skinned woman held a series of pictures in her hands, hidden from the darker woman’s view.

 

“A cat, a one-story house, a view of the sea, and a cloud,” The dark woman purred in a rather exotic French-accented voice that could be heard through the room’s overhead speakers.

 

“Correct, my friend,” the blonde woman said in a Boston Brahman -accented voice along with a smile.

 

Julian picked up a clipboard sitting on a desk, paged through it and nodded in satisfaction, before handing it to Rupert, who was still staring wide-eyed at the two beautiful women sitting in the next room.  The scholar blinked before taking the clipboard, with a look of embarrassment on his face.  Rupert took several minutes to study the results that were listed, trying not to notice the bemused smirk on Julian’s face.

 

“My word, Julian, you were correct,” Rupert whispered as he read through the data.  “These two women are truly…amazing.  I’ve never seen figures in this range before.”

 

“Oh, is that all, old chap?”  Julian nudged playfully.  “Are test results really ALL you’re interested in?  The fact that these two ladies may very well be the most beautiful women currently residing in London doesn’t peak your interest one bit?”

 

As if on cue, the two women stopped the experiment they were performing with each other before turning their attention to the one-way mirror before them, looks of curiosity on both of their lovely faces.  The two women stood in unison and walked toward the glass wall.  Both of them were clad in designer jeans and fashionable blouses, revealing tall, curvaceous figures that would look easily at home on any major fashion magazine cover.

 

“Hello again, Professor Stone,” the blonde woman spoke.  “Aren’t you going to introduce us to your friend?”

 

Rupert stared at the two women again with a wide-eyed expression.  “Ah, Julian, isn’t that one-way glass?”

 

“Indeed it is, Rupert.  But as you can see, our two lovely friends can sense our presence, among other things.”

 

“Er, among what other things?”

 

Julian smiled and pressed an intercom button next to a speaker.  “Hello, ladies. Sorry to interrupt, but we have a guest.”  The Professor then indicated to each woman.  “This is Miss Alex Sinclair, and this is Miss Layla Constantin.  Ladies, this is…hmm, actually, perhaps you ladies would care to do the honors.”

 

“Monsieur Stone, Mademoiselle Sinclair, may I?”  Layla queried cryptically.

 

The professor smiled and nodded.  “Of course, Layla…fire away.”  The blonde beauty in the room also nodded and smiled as well.

 

The dark beauty nodded and then focused through the glass, almost as if she could actually see Rupert in the room.  The bespectacled scholar suddenly felt odd, as if he was almost naked in front of this woman, who now wore a knowing smile on her face. “Mister Rupert Giles, I presume?”  She then paused for a moment, her smile growing wider.  “I see that you are a very well-groomed gentleman, monsieur.  I can also see that you seem to prefer wearing tweed, but nice tweed nonetheless.  Your hair is wavy brown, and you have very nice green eyes.” Her smile became very flirtatious. “If you do not mind me being so forthcoming, you are very handsome as well.  Indeed, Alex and I were discussing earlier about the new assistant that Professor Stone said he was meeting.  We are both happy to see he chose rather…nicely.”  She then stepped a little closer to the glass and brought her hand up to it, pressing it against the window as though it presented no barrier whatsoever, as if she could actually reach out and touch the scholarly gentleman on the other side, who gazed at her in awe and wonder.  “I…we, look forward to getting to know and working with you, Monsieur Giles.”

 

Rupert stepped forward, continuing to gaze in wonder at the two beautiful women, but more particularly the dark beauty who continued to press against the glass with her hand.  The scholar hesitated, then reached up with his own hand and pressed against the glass, as if he could touch Layla.  “The… pleasure will be mine as well, Layla…I mean, Miss Constantin,” he whispered.

 

The memory faded, then shifted away like a morning mist, revealing the Watcher and the psychic once again, their eyes still staring into each other’s souls.

 

“You…you still remember that day when we met, so clearly?”  Layla whispered, her eyes glistening with unshed tears.

 

“Of course, I remember that day.  How do you ever think I could ever forget that first moment…I laid eyes on you?”  Giles answered hoarsely.

 

The telepath paused a moment then continued to press her soft fingertips gently against Giles’ temples, as she delved deeper…

 

Rupert sat at the large, heavy oak table in the experimentation room, his left hand absently shuffling through a stack of pictures while in his other hand he quickly jotted down notes on a clipboard.  On the other side of the table, Alex and Layla sat, waiting patiently.  Rupert had been busy conducting several tests with the young women over the past few days, using many of the “standard” tests recognized by parapsychology specialists to test the level of mystical or psychic ability in an individual using words, pictures, phrases, etc.  He’d been amazed by the results he’d seen so far, was even more astounded by his experience firsthand with these two women and the abilities they possessed, and continued to be impressed by the high, if not exceptional marks on the tests he administered.  Although, he privately thought, he admittedly was just as impressed by the grace and politeness of both women, which indicated they had been raised by well-appointed families.  Rupert had been rather curious about that.  Both women seemed content although neither wished to discuss in any great detail their personal backgrounds or their families.  He of course, could understand that.  They certainly were rather open and willing to be subjects for Professor Stone, so some formal privacy was to be considered as proper decorum.

 

However, the compliance of both of these young women bothered him a little.  Whenever Professor Stone issued a command to them, they both seemed instantly eager and willing to obey him, without any complaint or reserve, even if it would mean an inconvenience to them.  Indeed, he’d never heard them try to contradict the professor once, but simply obey whatever commands or orders he gave them without question.  Rupert wondered if some of those vague “experiments” on the ladies that Julian had referred to, such as the use of hypnosis, may have included some sort of behavioral modification or post-hypnotic suggestions…

 

The scholar shook his head and concentrated on jotting down the rest of his notes.  Why the bloody hell would he think of such a thing?   Was he jealous?  Of what?  That the professor, his friend, had two incredibly beautiful, mystically-gifted women working for him? Rupert tried to chase away such thoughts, before he looked back up at both women, who wore impish smiles on their faces.

 

“Er, is there something w-wrong?”  Rupert stammered.

 

“Oh, nothing of major importance, Mr. Giles,” Alex purred smoothly.  “Although Layla and I were both thinking…it is rather unfortunate that you constantly insist on wearing tweed.  Not a terrible thing, but it would be rather nice to see you in some…different attire.”

 

The scholar cleared his throat nervously.  “Ah, d-different a-attire?  What would you mean by that?”

 

“Oh, just a slight makeover, Monsieur Giles,” Layla said, chuckling to herself.  She shared a knowing, mysterious smile with Alex, making Giles wondered how much these two women probably communicated with each other via telepathy, or more precisely, WHAT they communicated.  “A sports coat, perhaps?  A European cut suit? We don’t mean to be rude, monsieur, however, there are some excellent men’s clothing stores here in London, you know.”

 

Rupert blinked then adjusted his glasses.  “Oh…ah, well…hmm, yes.  I had thought of that, buying some new clothes.  But I’m afraid that I’m not particularly keen on fashion trends.”

 

“Not a problem, Rupert,” Layla chimed in, smiling.  “Perhaps Mademoiselle Sinclair and I can help you with that endeavor.  Oh, and Monsieur Giles?”  Her voice grew softer. “ Thank you.”

 

“You’re thanking me?  For what?”

 

“For thinking how beautiful Alex and I look.”

 

The Englishman blushed, feeling embarrassed, before he saw the benign, lovely smile on Layla’s sensual face.  Alex was also smiling, although it seemed it wasn’t quite the same as before.  Her eyes almost seemed to hold a spark of jealousy…

 

The images shifted away again, back to the Englishman and his ex-lover.  Both blinked rapidly, their breaths quickening as they struggled to process the information that passed between them.  Layla’s hands trembled as she continued to make both physical and mental contact with the Watcher. 

 

“I remember Alex back then, before…what happened. She was so different,” Layla mused sadly. “Or was she?  I wonder just how much of what she said, what she felt, was truly hers, not what she was conditioned to feel, or know, that Julian programmed into her…what Julian programmed into me?”  The Frenchwoman shuddered.

 

Giles winced. “However Julian manipulated both of you…I don’t think it could have had anything to do with what we shared that one night…” They closed their eyes and saw everything again…

 

It was late.  Most of the rest of the lab technicians had closed shop and had gone home for the night except for the sole occupants of the dimly lit laboratory.  Off in a corner of the lab sat a long, horizontal pressurized tank composed of clear glass, around which another tank was arranged, this one composed of dark plastic, designed to immerse the glass tank in complete darkness.  This night, the plastic cover was open, allowing the single attendant at the station to observe the goddess-like beauty who floated inside the glass tank…

 

Layla was completely immersed in a sea of warm saline solution mixed with chemicals that relaxed her tanned, curvaceous, white-string-bikini-clad body.  Her eyes were closed, her mind in a deep, hypnotic sleep as her hair floated, dreamlike around her head like a halo.  Her breathing was rhythmic and shallow, a clear mask attached to her mouth and nose that supplied a mix of oxygen and a mild hallucinogenic. Two small plugs were attached to her ears, each providing a low, constant hum interlaced with subliminal suggestions that relaxed her mind further, while several electrodes attached to her temples and scalp gently stimulated various areas of her mind with electrical pulses.  Several more electrodes were attached to various parts of her body.  They monitored her biological signs in addition to providing additional stimuli.  The liquid kept her perfectly suspended, as a series of machines next to the tank recorded her life signs and reactions while providing different detailed scans and images of her.

 

Rupert Giles stood, mesmerized by the scene before him as he continued to observe Layla within what was called a “sensory deprivation, control and stimulus” tank.  Although he was at a loss to explain why, he’d requested he be given the task to conduct another batch of tests and experiments with Layla inside the tank.  He was supposed to monitor the various computer graphs and monitors during the experiment and to keep the outer cover closed so Layla was enclosed in complete darkness.  But something told him to do otherwise, to open the outer cover so he could watch this sleeping beauty, who he had come to know over the past few weeks and, as much as he was afraid to admit it, was no longer simply a research subject. She was his own personal goddess, a mystical creature that he could only gaze upon with such emotion that he wanted to touch her, to feel her and caress her…but alas, he knew he couldn’t.  It wouldn’t be proper, it wouldn’t be right.  And yet…the agony and ecstasy was unrelenting.  He brought up a hand and stroked the glass, almost imagining he could touch and stroke her, to please her, to tell her that he had fallen in love with…

 

A small beep from the console interrupted the scholar’s reverie, telling him that the treatments and the experiment were now over.  With a reluctant sigh, he moved away from the tank to the console and punched a button as he’d been instructed to do so by the lab personnel.  The saline solution slowly began to drain from the tank, gently lowering Layla’s relaxed body downward, until the liquid had completely drained.  Her eyes were still closed as she continued to breathe rhythmically, her mind still in a trance.  Rupert pushed another button and a series of electrical stimuli was gently applied to her mind and body, slowly waking her from her trance.  Layla blinked once, then several times before she slowly regained consciousness.  After checking the machines to ensure that she was fully awake, the Englishman undid the latches on the tank and depressurized it with a soft hiss before he opened it.  As the Englishman gently removed the various electrodes and monitoring devices from her body, the Frenchwoman lay perfectly still, allowing him to perform his task.  After he unmasked her and assured himself that she looked perfectly normal, Rupert gently helped her to her feet and tried not to stare at her sensuous body.

 

“Layla?  Can you hear me?  Do you feel all right?” 

 

Layla sat on the edge of the tank, her eyes closed as she took a moment to center herself.  Then she opened her darkly beautiful eyes and focused on him.  “I am quite fine, Rupert.  No need to worry.  I have already completed several sessions of this particular type of experiment, remember?  I have to admit it is both extremely…relaxing and stimulating at the same time.  I only wish I could do it more often.”  She then stood up and sighed as she stretched her muscles.  As he watched her move, Rupert couldn’t help but be reminded of the sleek sensuality of a jungle cat.

 

“Oh, ah, here.  You should, um, d-dry off.  Er, you don’t want to catch a cold, or anything…”

 

Layla finished her exercises, noticed the towel in Rupert’s hands, then smiled coquettishly.  “Now, why would I need that towel, Rupert?”  She slowly stalked toward him with a sensual grace.  “There is no need for that, mon cher.  I know you watched me while I was in the tank.  I know you liked what you saw. There is no shame in admitting how you feel about me.  You forget, mon cher…I can read your mind.”  She stopped within a whisker’s length of him, her shapely body only an inch from his tweed-clad own.  He trembled as she brought one of her lovely hands to his face.  “Your thoughts,” she continued, as she gently stroked his cheek. “Your wishes...” She cupped his cheeks with both of her hands. “Your desires...” She brought his face down to hers.  “Your dreams…”

 

Her lips melded with his, her kiss seared him like flame, as her tongue gently explored his mouth.  The Englishman, no longer able to resist, began to feverishly kiss the young beauty, first her mouth, then her face, then her neck.   The psychic sighed in surrender, her dripping wet body pressing and straining further against his tweed suit.  Then, no longer able to contain his passion, Rupert lifted Layla and sat her on a nearby counter.  He stepped away from her momentarily and frantically began to pull off his tweed jacket.  While he did so, Layla smiled and reached behind her back, and, with a single snap, allowed her top to fall away, exposing her beautiful, pomegranate-sized breasts to his hungry gaze. As he stared at the sight of Layla’s bare breasts, glistening in the dim light of the lab, she smiled and motioned for him to come to her. When he complied, she carefully slid both of her hands down to his crotch and unzipped his pants, all the while sharing a mesmerizing gaze with the scholar.  Soon, her fingers deftly caressed his manhood and caused the Englishman to moan.  Smiling, Layla then beckoned him forward and guided Rupert toward her breasts, which he began to kiss reverently.  Rupert slowly trailed his kisses down her lovely body, causing her to pant as his hands found the clasp holding her bikini briefs in place.  He unfastened it and tore the restraining cloth away.  His hands firmly grasping her buttocks, he gazed hungrily at her now-completely nude, beautiful form.  He gazed up, questioningly into Layla’s eyes, which now wore a pleading expression as she lifted her shapely legs and gently wrapped them around his neck.

 

“Touch me, Rupert,” she whispered, in a pleading voice. “Taste me…please.”

 

Giles, without further hesitation, obligingly did so, diving his head between her legs and snaking his tongue into her womanhood.  Layla’s hips bucked as she arched her back and cried soundlessly in pure, enraptured delight…

 

Unbeknownst to the two lovers, Alex Sinclair and Julian Stone watched their lovemaking from a darkened observatory booth.  Alex clearly had a look of jealous fury on her face, while Julian’s held a look of disappointment.

 

“That conniving, seducing bitch,” Alex hissed between gritted teeth. She felt ready to charge into the lab right now and show both of them just how powerful…and deadly her abilities could be.

 

“Hmmm, well, this is an…unfortunate development,” Julian said, frowning.  He looked with a note of concern at his ice-blonde companion.  “However, this shall be dealt with in a proper manner, in due course.  Now is not the time.”

 

Alex looked at the professor with cold fury evident in her deep blue eyes.  “Julian…I mean, Professor, how do you mean this is not the proper time? We should—“

 

The Professor narrowed his eyes at the lovely blonde woman.  “Alex, listen to me.  I am the Master, and you will submit.  Whatever I command, you obey.  Do you understand?”

 

Alex blinked several times, as if a switch had been thrown in her mind.  The anger began to evaporate from her face as she quietly stammered, “I…no, wait…I…”

 

Julian growled, “I am the Master, Alex, and you will obey.”  He clamped a hand firmly on her shoulder.  “Hear my voice…and obey.”

 

Alex’s face became completely calm, like an ocean after a storm had passed, as she spoke without emotion.  “Yes Professor Stone, I obey,” she said in a calm, blissful voice.

 

Julian nodded in relief, although his face was still tinged with worry.  He studied Alex closely and, satisfied that, at least for the moment that the blonde beauty was back under his control, he returned his gaze to Giles and Layla, who had now fallen to the lab floor, completely enthralled in their passion.  Julian’s own eyes narrowed with dangerous intent as he regarded the two lovers…

 

Giles and Layla opened and refocused their eyes on each other, and then noticed, to each other’s surprise, that they had drifted slightly closer together, standing no more than an inch apart.

 

“Layla…no,” Giles spoke in a hoarse, emotional yet firm voice as he gently pushed Layla away.  “I won’t go through it with you again.  I can’t.  Jenny is my life now.  Without her, I…”

 

The Frenchwoman’s own eyes widened in surprise, although the pain within them remained.  “Rupert, I…I did not come here to…to try to seduce you, or try to win you back from Jennifer.”

 

“Didn’t you?” The Watcher retorted, a note of hurt and anger creeping into his voice.  “After what happened that night where everything went to bloody hell, I’m not so sure.”  He refocused his gentle eyes on her dark, seductive ones as one last, bitter memory flashed before them…

 

“You BITCH!” Alex screamed as she clutched her head in pain, the psi bolt that had penetrated her defenses left her reeling as though someone had taken a dagger and stuck it directly into her mind.  She growled and refocused her attention on her enemy, who stood before her with a defiant expression and a sneer despite the pain that throbbed in her own mind, the result of Alex’s own psionic mind blasts.

 

Layla stood her ground, blood beginning to drip from her nose, as she glared at the woman who had once been her close friend, who had now gone completely ballistic when she had walked into the lab that day, only to find the Frenchwoman and Giles wrapped in each other’s arms in a passionate kiss.  When Giles tried to intervene, Alex projected a command into his mind that momentarily forced him to step back from the two women, who were now engaged in a deadly psychic duel with each other.  Julian had also walked in after noticing the commotion, only to find himself locked in an increasingly bitter argument with Giles that was now threatening to devolve into fisticuffs.  The buildup of psi-energy between the two powerful telepaths began to manifest almost as a physical presence, a tinge of ozone swirling within the room as lights overhead began to burst and electronic instruments began to overload and explode, while the two women and the two men dueled with each other.

 

“You bloody bastard!”  Giles hissed as he grabbed Julian by a fistful of his shirt and pinned him against the wall.  “I know what you’ve been really doing here!  You’ve been warping both Alex’s and Layla’s minds and trying to brainwash them into becoming your obedient slaves, you twisted pillock!”

 

“Bollocks!”  Julian sneered in reply, rage starting to form in his eyes.  “Everything was bloody well fine until I brought you here.  You were just supposed to be an assistant, nothing more, Rupert!”  He stared directly into the scholar’s eyes with an unveiled hatred as he continued to rant.  “Everything would have been fine and bloody dandy if you hadn’t decided to start fucking with my women—“

 

“YOUR women, you sick bastard?!”  Rupert roared, tightening his grip around Julian’s throat, slowly cutting off the professor’s supply of oxygen, forcing him to gasp for breath.  “I ought to kill you for what you’ve done!  You had no right whatsoever to violate them like that!”

 

“Oh, but I did, Rupert,” Julian said, continuing to gasp and wheeze.  “Yes, I made them my little lovely playthings.  But do you know what else I did? Through my experiments, I’ve finally unlocked their true potential.  Look at them, Rupert!”  He gestured with his eyes toward the two women, who were still engaged in their psychic duel, the air between them becoming more charged with mystic power as static electricity began to crackle and sizzle.  “Witness the power!  I have transformed them from mere, beautiful mortals into demigoddesses!  And do you know what that makes me, Rupert, dear boy?”  Julian grinned wickedly as his eyes took on an insane gleam.  “That makes me…a GOD.”

 

Rupert’s eyes widened as he realized that his one-time friend, the professor, had somehow truly gone over the edge in his obsession.  He felt the urge to give this bastard his just desserts now, but the more rational part of his mind told him to stop what could be a potentially fatal exchange between Alex and Layla.  He spared another glance at the two women, before he turned his attention back to Julian and angrily threw him into several shelves of computer equipment, causing the shelves to topple and shatter electrical parts everywhere as the professor went sprawling onto the floor.  With his former friend temporarily out of the way, Rupert turned his attention to the two women, electricity continuing to crackle and flow in the air between them as they continued their battle with each other, a distinctly hypnotic blue glow forming in each of their eyes as they felt the powers of their minds surge to unprecedented levels.

 

“Alex, Layla, STOP!”  Giles shouted as he moved towards them, then cried out as a console next to him exploded, the concussion sending him kneeling to the ground in pain.

 

Layla witnessed the scholar fall out of the corner of her eye, a shocked expression dawning on her face.  “Rupert!” she cried out, the mystic glow fading from her eyes as she turned and moved toward the fallen Englishman, her love for him taking precedent over her duel with Alex.  But then she realized, too late, the mistake she had made…

 

Alex refocused her powers on Layla’s mind, her own eyes now glowing a brilliant blue as she seized the opportunity before her and finally penetrated the Frenchwoman’s defenses, causing her to gasp and scream in pain, before her eyes shot open wide and her entire body stiffened and became immobile, as if she had become a marionette and someone had seized complete control of her strings.  Alex smiled darkly and focused more of her power into invisible hooks that dug into Layla and seized complete control of her mind and body.  Layla now stood straight and motionless, her arms dangling limply at her sides as she stared off into the distance with a vacant expression on her face.

 

“There, there, my pet.  No more silliness or games from you.  You’re my little plaything now,” Alex cooed, chuckling wickedly.

 

Giles, struggling to recover from the effect of the concussion, watched helplessly as Layla had attempted to run to his side and help him, only to be psychically assaulted and now possessed by Alex’s powers.  Giles shook his head and focused, quickly hatching a plan that he prayed wouldn’t be necessary.  As he mentally began to call up a spell in his mind, he turned to Alex.  “Alex, enough of this, release her now!”

 

Alex turned to Giles, the wicked smile she’d worn only a moment ago now chased off by the scholar’s words.  “Release her, Rupert?  Why? So she can play more of her kinky little games with you?  So she can get inside your head, just like I did?  Although, as much as I hate to admit it, she seemed to be a little better at it.”

 

Giles almost momentarily forgot the spell he was calling up as Alex’s words fell on him like a ton of bricks.  “What?  What are you saying?”

 

Alex smiled bitterly.  “Don’t you realize it, Rupert?  No, I suppose you don’t.  Layla manipulated you, she got inside your head, played with you like a cat toying with a ball of string.  That wasn’t your idea to be in the lab alone with Layla that night…it was hers, Rupert.  She simply planted the suggestion in your mind, is all.   That’s how the little bitch got inside your pants.  You’re wondering how I know this?  It’s because her mind is completely open to me now.  I know everything she knows.  Don’t I, dear?”  Alex taunted the Frenchwoman, who remained immobile and blank-faced, although now it seemed tears were beginning to stream down her cheeks.

 

Giles stared, open-mouthed in shock at Alex’s revelation, trying not to believe what she’d said, before his reverie was interrupted by Alex as she continued her rant.  “But this all ends now.  One tiny moment is all I need with this little bitch…to fry her brains, lobotomize her, render her a vegetable for the rest of her days…and then she won’t even matter.”

 

The scholar became horrified when he realized what Alex was going to do.  Rising to his feet, he looked Alex squarely in her eyes with a pleading expression.  “Alex, please…this has gone far enough.  Stop it, let it go…please.”

 

The lovely blonde stared back at Rupert, bitterness in her beautiful blue eyes as they began to glow again with mystic power.  “Let it go, Rupert?  I can’t let it go.  We could’ve been together, Rupert…and this bitch has gotten in the way, long enough.”  With that, she turned to Layla…

 

“NO!!”  Giles raised his hand, pointed it toward Alex, and shouted the incantation.  A brilliant blinding flash followed by a boom sounded within the remains of the lab as a bolt of lightning emerged from the scholar’s outstretched hand and struck Alex in her shoulder, causing the young blonde to scream in pain and agony as she flew backward, smashing into a computer terminal and slumping to the floor.  Layla gasped and fell to her knees, as Alex’s psychic domination over her was cut loose like someone slicing a puppeteer’s string.  The dark beauty held her head in her hands, wincing while the icy blonde groaned in pain.

 

Giles stood, looking and feeling almost shell-shocked as he realized what he’d done, before he noticed that both women were now staring completely wide-eyed at the scholar, shocked and awed at the display of arcane power that the scholar possessed. Both women continued to stare at him with a mix of wonder and fright as the Englishman now found himself in a dilemma, still caught between both women.  Should he check Alex first…or Layla…?

 

After a moment’s hesitation, Rupert walked over to Layla, who seemed to have some blood running from her nose, her eyes appearing to be somewhat dilated, but otherwise appeared to be fine.  As Giles gently helped her to her feet, he looked over to Alex, who painfully rose on her own legs, and it was then that Giles noticed the charred clothing around her left shoulder, the scorched flesh…

 

Witnessing the magic-using scholar helping the French psychic to her feet was too much for Alex, who now glared at both of them with a burning hatred.  “Damn both of you to hell for this!”  She screamed as she turned, clutching her shoulder in pain and ran, past Julian, who had now limped back to his feet after witnessing Giles’ display of power, and out the laboratory doors.

 

The professor surveyed the destroyed remains of his precious laboratory, then looked to the doors where Alex had run out, before swiveling his head back to Giles and snarled angrily.  “Rupert, I will see you suffer for this.  I swear it on my grave!”  Julian turned and then ran out the lab doors, calling out for Alex.

 

Giles almost considered going after them, but then decided against that course of action as he cradled the woman he loved…or at least, he thought he loved, in his arms as she wept.  “Rupert, what Alex said, about what I did,” Layla choked out, sobbing.  “I…I…”

 

Giles looked Layla directly in her eyes, his momentary sense of compassion giving away to a hint of anger.  “Is it true what she said…what you did to me?”

 

Layla stared at Giles as more tears began to form and run down her cheeks.  She was now beginning to wish that Alex had indeed lobotomized her…

 

 

The final, painful memory mercifully drifted away into nothingness as the Watcher and the telepath found they were back in the Sunnydale library, in the present day.  Both regarded each other with eyes filled with pain, with regret, with thoughts of what might have been…

 

“Rupert, don’t you see now?”  Layla whispered as she gently removed her hands from Giles’ head reluctantly, the tears in her eyes now finally spilling over.  “I was so sorry.  I still am.  I know it was wrong of me…to manipulate you like that.”

 

Giles silently regarded the telepath, before he gently cupped her cheek with one of his hands, trying to catch some of the tears that continued to streak downwards.  “Layla,” he began, his voice now even more hoarse with emotion than before.  “I still loved you.  You knew that.  When we stayed together, at least for a while after what had happened, when we would still touch, you knew I still cared for you.  You…you were my…you were everything to me.”  Giles then removed his hand as his voice took on a slightly bitter tone.  “But even then I still couldn’t bring myself to trust you again.  And I still don’t.”

 

“But I didn’t force you to fall in love with me, Rupert,” she said, her accented voice resounding with a bitter tone of its own.  “That first day, when we met, when I saw you in my mind, through the glass, when you saw me…when I touched you, when we touched each other, not physically, but…what we felt for each other, that was true, Rupert.  It wasn’t because of mine or anyone’s manipulations…it was just us.”

 

The Watcher’s voice became tight as he struggled to contain the conflicting emotions within him.  “Yes…it was us, Layla.  We did share something, together…but that was long ago. It’s over now.  Obviously, you’ve gone on with your life, and I’ve gone on with my life.  Jenny is in my life now, and Buffy is my ward. There’s nothing more to be said.”  With that, he turned toward the door.

 

“Rupert, wait!  Where are you—“

 

“I’m going out to…to get some air, Layla,” Giles responded, not turning around, although Layla now sensed, either through her sixth sense, or perhaps just her own intuition, that Giles was starting to cry as well.  “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”  Then he turned and walked out of the library.

 

Layla stood alone, hurting and full of regret.  No longer able to bear the pain, the beautiful woman reluctantly sat down at one of the tables, before she buried her face in her hands as her body was racked by sobs…

 

#

 

The rest of the day passed without incident, as the Slayerettes were each called into the library, one by one, by the Watcher team.  The team members sat them down individually and asked a multitude of questions.  The questions revolved around their involvement with the Slayer, what creatures they’d faced, if they had picked up any fighting skills, gotten involved in any mystical or witchcraft-related areas of study, how they felt knowing about the existence of vampires and demons, how they carried out their daily lives, etc. etc. etc.  During each interview (or interrogation as Xander and Cordelia had grumpily called it), Edward asked most of the questions in his usual droll tone, while Patrick studiously scribbled down notes and answers to Edward’s questions.

 

Layla also wrote down notes in addition to carefully observing and studying the emotional reactions shown by the Slayerettes during the interviews.  Knowing full well that Layla was telepathic, thanks to Giles’ warning, the gang did their best to keep a cool head and blank out any thoughts that might betray sensitive information to the Watcher team.  What struck the Slayerettes the most, though, was that despite her professional as well as alluring appearance, she also appeared to be much more subdued, even sullen since the first meeting in the library.  Giles, however, also seemed more reticent and withdrawn since that morning, leaving the rest of the gang to wonder if something may have happened between the two.  The last member of the Watcher team, Jericho, simply stood off to the side quietly, standing watch, watching the Watchers, Slayerettes, and the rest of the environment during each interview. His eyes constantly scanned like a hawk’s, while he continued to casually clutch the briefcase that Giles had seen him carry earlier.  Willow took a moment during her interview to observe the briefcase in his hand and catalogue it with her photographic memory, before letting the gang know later on from what she’d pulled up on some web sites dealing with military and security gear, that it appeared Jericho was carrying a rare type of custom briefcase designed to carry and shoot a submachine gun, in this case a compact “shoebox-shaped” Fabrique Nationale P90.

 

“Gee, getting a little extreme with personal protection devices, much?” Cordelia asked no one in particular.  The gang was in the library moving tables and chairs to prepare for the sparring match.  “I mean, I know some guys like to be careful, which is perfectly normal, but…isn’t that just taking it a bit too far?”

 

“Hate to say it, but Cordy’s got a point,” Xander added as he helped, or in this case pretended to help the Scoobies as they pushed the last table out of the way.  Outside, a light rain that had started began to increase in intensity and could be heard pattering against the roof and window panes.  The library had become somewhat dingy when the sunlight that normally filtered through the windows had been replaced by the dull gray light of the low hanging storm clouds.  Rumbles of thunder could be heard as the hands on the overhead clock in the library clunked into the five o’clock position. 

 

“I mean,” Xander continued, “what’s he doing bringing a freaking machine gun to school?  Go all Rambo on the school bullies, or something?”  The X-man pondered on that for a moment.  “Well, if that included Principal Snyder, it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing.”

 

Giles rolled his eyes once again at the tactless observations from Xander and Cordelia.  He mused that perhaps, they were indeed destined for each other, considering their habit for inane conversation.  “Willow, by chance were you able to learn anything more about our Mr. Saito, or Jericho for that matter, from your…ah, dread machine?” 

 

The little red witch smiled at the librarian.  “It’s called a computer, Giles,” she said, before frowning in thought as she leaned against one of the tables.  “Well, I got a hunch and did a little snooping around on some of the U.S. military databases.”  She then noticed the blanched look on the Watcher’s face.  “It’s a-okay Giles, I doubt anything I did was illegal…I think.”  Willow politely picked up a computer printout from Oz, who had been quietly studying it with a thoughtful expression on his face.  “Anyway, there doesn’t seem to be too much info listed about this Jericho guy.  Not even his family, or where he was even born for that matter. Except that he’s Japanese-American, and both of his parents died in some sort of…shootout when…ohmigod, on the day he graduated from Army basic training.”  A look of sadness marked the Wiccan’s features.  “Poor guy.  Apparently he went into the Army Rangers and saw combat in places like Colombia, Panama, the Gulf War, places like that.”  The Wicca’s witch green eyes widened slightly as she continued.  “Wow, it seems he earned some pretty neat decorations during his time, too.  Shortly after the Gulf War, he went to Officer Candidate School, graduated, and then…that’s it, everything else is blank.”

 

“Blank?”  Amy asked as she walked over to stand behind Willow’s shoulder.

 

“Yep, blank…um, except for when he left the Army, or rather, got kicked out, which was last year.” Willow cringed slightly.  “It says that he was stripped of his rank and given a discharge.  Ouch, that had to hurt.  Doesn’t say for what though…which is weird.”

 

“But if that’s the case,” Jenny piped up, both hands clasped behind her back as she leaned against the library counter in thought, “what’s he doing working with a Watcher team?”

 

Giles finished rolling out the mat, then stood and took off his glasses so he could wipe them with a handkerchief, usually a sign that he was perplexed about something.  “I believe Jenny raises an interesting point.  If that’s true, if he did leave the Army in disgrace for some reason, why is he now working for the Watcher’s Council, of all people?  From my own personal experience, when they hire anyone for security work, they tend to have rather high standards in regards to their professional backgrounds.”  The librarian perched his glasses back on his nose and stuck his hands in his jacket pockets.  “Very strange...” He then looked around the library.  “Ah, where’s Buffy?”

 

The Watcher’s question was answered when Buffy raced in through the library’s double doors, making a “ptooh” sound as she blew some wet strands of hair out of her face, which, along with the rest of her spandex-clad body, was dripping wet.  She muttered to herself as she took off her jacket and attempted to dry off.

 

“Hey, Buff, you know that you’re supposed to take a shower after you do your Slayer stuff, not before, right?”  Xander cracked, before taking another good, long look at the petite blonde in her form-fitting workout outfit, which was dripping wet… and found his eyes along with his brain going into “ogle” mode.

 

The Chosen One gratefully took a towel that Giles offered and proceeded to dry herself off.  “Had to go call my mom, let her know I wouldn’t get home until late tonight.  My cell phone went dead though.  Figures they had to have the pay phone outside in the freaking rain,” she grumbled, as she toweled her hair then noticed that Xander was gawking at her.  “What ARE you looking at?”

 

“Uh, nothing,” he stammered out quickly in reply when he saw Cordelia’s suspicious glare.

 

A few minutes passed before the Watcher team returned, with Edward and Patrick in front, and Layla and Jericho behind.  The Senior Watcher and his assistant, both wearing practically the same expressions they’d worn throughout the day, placed their briefcases on a nearby table and took out appropriate stationary for taking notes.  Layla, her apparent mood still quiet, had her own briefcase which she set on another table and took out her own items, while Jericho set a duffel bag next to hers.  Everyone also noticed that Jericho was now dressed in a loose-fitting, black kata uniform. 

 

“Well, I see everyone is here,” Edward droned in his usual bored tone.  “Ms. Summers,” he declared, his eyes narrowed distastefully at Buffy’s outfit, “do not mean to tell me you are going to commence this match, wearing…that.”

 

The Slayer briefly studied her tight spandex uniform before cocking an eyebrow at the Senior Watcher.  “Say, Mr. Trent, can I ask you a question?  Thanks.”  She cut off the Watcher before he could reply.  “You seem to really have something against women showing off their assets.  You wouldn’t by any chance, be, um…how can I put this delicately…?” 

 

The Senior Watcher’s eyes shot wide, before he glared at the young Slayer.  “I wouldn’t by any chance be what, missy?”

 

“Oh…nothing.”  The Slayer said with a bemused smirk on her face, as she cast a sidelong glance at the Slayerettes, who were all now snickering amongst themselves.  “Nothing at all.”

Edward’s face turned a visible shade of red, before he noticed out of his eyes the grin on Layla’s face, which she had attempted to hide rather unsuccessfully, and the twinkle in Jericho’s eyes as he regarded the Senior Watcher with a slightly bemused smirk.

 

“Let’s get on with this,” Edward growled, turning to the Chosen One and Jericho, who had now taken their places on opposite sides of the mat, facing each other.  The rest of the room’s occupants noticed that Layla sat on one end of the large room, her already short skirt hiked slightly higher as she crossed her legs, showing a full, sensuous view of them.  Jenny, who sat on the other side of the library, gracefully sat on a chair and crossed her legs seductively as well, the sheer skirt giving a full view of her own lovely dancer’s legs.  Buffy cast a quick glance at both women, who were continuing to shoot each other nasty looks, while she made a momentary adjustment to her own spandex outfit.

 

“Dude, it just doesn’t get any better than this,” Xander whispered appreciatively to Oz as he watched the competition between Jenny, Layla and Buffy.  “Did you bring any popcorn?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“Ah…crap.”

 

Buffy took a moment to stretch a kink in her neck as she regarded her opponent.  He stood in a relaxed position, both legs evenly spaced in front, with his hands loosely clasped in front of him, while his dark brown eyes continued to scan the Slayer intently. Buffy was somewhat comforted by the fact that the guy had paid a fair amount of attention to the fact that Buffy’s “assets” were well displayed with the rather tight outfit she wore.  The Chosen One could somehow tell from his stance, the way he carried himself, and the way he was constantly aware of his surroundings, that this man was clearly much more dangerous than he appeared.  Buffy then realized where she’d seen such presence before…from her boyfriend Steve St. Wolf.

 

“So,” Jericho drawled, “I see you’ve brought your friends.  Are they supposed to be your pep squad?”

 

The Slayer smiled sweetly in reply, although it never touched her blue-green eyes as she stared down the security consultant.  “Nope.  They’re just here to watch me kick your ass to the curb.  And in case you’re wondering, I’m the pep squad.  See?  Watch.”  She began to imitate some basic cheerleader moves, pretending to have two pom-poms in her hands as she made several positions.  “Gimme a B!  Gimme a U! Gimme an F!  Gimme an F!  Gimme a Y!  What’s that spell?”  The blonde leaped in the air, her arms outstretched before landing back on her two feet easily.  “BUFFY!”

 

“If Buffy is ever going to become a cheerleader, she has got to learn better moves,” Cordelia noted with a grimace.

 

Jericho, on the other hand, continued to silently appraise the Slayer, neither his face nor the rest of his body flinching as he continued to stand, sentinel-like.  Buffy sighed at him with both hands on hips.  “What?  Did someone slip you a Valium this morning?”

 

The man smirked out of the corner of his mouth in reply, before rearing up and making a formal karate bow to the Slayer.

 

“Oooh, he bowed,” the Slayer snickered.  “Wonder if he’s still hoping to score with me?”  When she noticed the rather irritated expression on Jericho’s face, she spared a quick glance at Giles, who arched his eyebrows at her in a scolding expression.  Buffy sighed before making a more or less awkward bow of her own.

 

“Ready,” Edward called out, cuing the Slayer and the security consultant to take defensive stances.  “BEGIN!”

 

Neither opponent wasted any time as each swiftly attacked the other.  Buffy feinted a punch before launching a kick to Jericho’s abdomen, which the man dodged by twisting his body and deflecting it with his forearm.  Then he launched several jabs of his own at the Slayer, who deftly avoided each one with her uncanny speed.  Continuing to press her attack, Buffy countered with several of her own jabs and thrusts.  Without warning, after her fifth jab, Jericho grabbed her arm and twisted it.  Buffy stumbled, allowing Jericho to close within striking distance as he prepared to deliver several palm strikes to her chest.  However, as he brought his arm back to launch his attack, the Slayer whipped out her other arm, grabbed both of Jericho’s shoulders, rolled over backwards and launched him end over end into the air.  Then she vaulted back to her feet and turned around to see Jericho fly headfirst into the mat.

 

“Ooh, crash and burn, that’s gotta hurt,” the Slayer snickered, before Jericho took no more than a second to shake it off and vault to his feet.  He reassumed a fighting stance as he glared at her.

 

“I hope you can do better than that,” Jericho sneered.  “Or can you?”

 

Buffy narrowed her eyes and launched herself at her opponent.  Soon, both combatants were engaged in a furious, whirling duel of kicks, jabs, punches, and blocks as each opponent tried to find and exploit the other’s weaknesses.  As the spectators watched, it was clear that Buffy had the edge in power and speed, as she managed to deflect several of Jericho’s blows easily and counterattacked with several strikes that almost left him reeling.  Soon however, it became apparent that the security consultant was no slouch.  The man growled and continued to shake off Buffy’s blows, wincing after them but using the pain to drive himself onward.  Indeed, Giles noted, the man was cunning.  He used a series of moves that clearly were not the standard type of karate, kung fu, or tae kwan do that he had taught Buffy.  They appeared slightly more elegant, yet brutal in form, perhaps lethal if they were used against an ordinary mortal.  Jericho managed to land several blows on the Slayer, causing her to growl as she counterattacked and launched a snap kick to his abdomen, which sent him flying to the ground.

 

“Well, gotta admit you’re pretty persistent, especially for a guy who still doesn’t know how to score with me,” Buffy taunted as she wiped sweat from her brow.  Inwardly though, she was rather surprised at how long this commando-type was keeping up with her, despite getting beaten several times.  Some of his moves had also managed to catch her off guard, which made her curious as to where he’d learned to fight.  It seemed to her he was using another art form in addition to the moves she had already learned.  Although he was now clearly in pain, the man continued to shake it off and rose to his feet once again.

 

“What can I say, I’m full of surprises,” the man grunted, before he reared himself up again and launched several attacks of his own, which the Slayer countered before slamming her fist into his abdomen, causing him to double over in pain.  The Slayer then launched a snap kick to his head…which was halted when Jericho uttered a low growl and grabbed her leg before she could connect with his head.  As the Slayer’s eyes widened in surprise, Jericho cocked his free hand and blasted a fist into the petite blonde’s face, sending her crashing to the ground.

 

Alarm and concern registered on the faces of several of the onlookers, as Buffy shook off the stunning blow.  She tried to get back on her feet when she felt something wet drip into her eye and make it sting.  Assuming it was sweat, she flicked it away with her fingers.  That’s when she noticed the crimson fluid on her digits…blood.

 

Once upon a time, Buffy would have completely wigged if she so much as broke a nail.    After she had become the Slayer, she had more or less been forced by both her duty and circumstance to become accustomed to the sight of blood, among other ghastly things.  But it wasn’t the fact that she was bleeding that bothered her.  It was the fact that her Immortal Quickening would rapidly heal the wound in front of a bunch of nosy Watchers that nearly caused her to panic.  Quickly deciding on her best course of action, Buffy continued to sit on the mat, holding her head, pretending that she was still recovering from the blow, and hoping that the wound, however it was inflicted by that bastard, would heal quickly.  Then Buffy caught a glimpse of Jericho’s standing form, noticed the arrogant smirk on his face, and her blood began to boil…

 

“Ahhh, what’s this?  The Valley Girl can’t take a punch to the face?  Afraid to screw up those pretty looks of yours?”  Jericho sneered as he taunted her.  “And you call yourself a Slayer.  I’ve seen better stamina from…” The security consultant’s words stopped in his throat when he felt wetness on his fingers.  Looking down at his right hand, where he had an old ring, a memento from long ago, he saw Buffy’s blood staining his fingers. 

 

The sneer ran away from Jericho’s face as he stared at Buffy who was still sprawled on the mat, holding her head where she’d been struck as she glared back at him with her blue-green eyes full of pain.  Wincing as he realized that he’d unintentionally injured her, he gingerly took a step forward and offered a hand to her.  “Ms. Summers?  I—”

 

He never had time to finish as Buffy launched herself at him and focused all her Slayer strength and speed into her attack like never before, instantly turning into a whirlwind as she started to land blow after blow on Jericho.  The man tried to defend himself but found that this time he was clearly outgunned as the Slayer kept pouring on her speed and strength, transforming herself from a deceptively normal-looking California blonde into something resembling the She-Hulk.

 

“Is this what you wanted, Jericho?!” the Slayer screamed as she continued to hammer the young man.  Then she struck him so hard that he was sent sprawling down to the mat.  Relentless, Buffy straddled the fallen man and began to pummel him.  Deceptively dainty fist after fist smashed into his face and body as she continued her tirade.  “Do you get off on this, huh?  Does this make you hot?!  Is this what you wanted to see from me?!” She grabbed Jericho by the scruff of his collar.  He was beaten, no longer capable of fighting back, blood oozing from his nose and mouth, his eyes swimming as he found himself face-to-face with a woman who was a devastating, supernatural juggernaut.  The Slayer narrowed her eyes, which were now almost completely consumed with bloodlust as she drew back her other hand into a fist that would deliver a killing blow as she screamed, “Well, IS IT?!!”

 

“Buffy, stop!!”

 

The command from Giles reverberated throughout the library as Buffy remained mounted over the fallen form of Jericho, the arm that had been reared back to deliver a killing blow to Jericho frozen as she continued to grip his shirt with her other hand.  The petite blonde blinked several times, her chest rapidly rising and falling with every breath before she took a moment to stare at the nearly broken man in front of her, the arm that had been positioned to strike trembling, before it slowly lowered. 

 

“Ohmigod,” she whispered, realizing what she had almost done, before she released the man’s shirt, allowing his head to fall to the mat.  She heard a slight commotion that sounded almost a million miles away as she slowly began to back away from Jericho, only dimly aware that Layla had run to Jericho’s side and was now gently cradling the man, whispering words of comfort to him which he barely acknowledged as she checked him for injuries.

 

“Oh…my…god,” she choked as she continued to step away further, horrified when she realized what she’d been prepared to do.  She glanced at the faces of everyone there…Xander, Cordelia, Amy, Willow, Oz, Jenny, Layla, Jericho, Edward, Patrick…who all shared looks of horror at what Buffy had nearly done.  And at that very moment, the Slayer felt revulsion…for herself.

 

“Buffy,” Giles began, his eyes soft and welcoming as he approached her while she held her hand to her mouth with tears beginning to stream down her cheeks. “Listen to me very carefully…”

 

The Slayer almost bolted from the library, her legs wanting to carry her as far from that terrible place as possible.  However, she couldn’t leave because Giles had anticipated her every thought.  He grabbed her by the arm and commanded, “Buffy, look at me!” The little blonde found herself gazing into her Watcher’s gentle green eyes.  “Please listen to me.  It’s over.  You managed to regain control, you didn’t—“

 

“But I almost DID, Giles!” she wailed, unaware and unconcerned that everyone else in the library now stared at the Slayer and her Watcher.  Even Jericho watched, after he painfully turned his head toward them.  “I mean…oh God…I nearly killed him!” 

 

“But you didn’t, Buffy.  You stopped.  You didn’t go too far.” Then he drew his Slayer into an undemanding hug.  At first she weakly resisted then surrendered into his arms as she began to sob in earnest.  “It’s over now.  You didn’t lose control.  And do you know why?  It’s because you’re more than just ‘the Slayer.’  You’re my Buffy.  And I’m so very, very proud of you.”

 

Although she had stopped sobbing, her tears still trickled down her face for a happier reason.  Upon being succored by the solace of his arms and hearing him finally say that she was his for the first time since they’d met, Rupert Giles had once again become a god in Buffy Summers’ eyes.

 

#

 

In the library, several minutes passed as no one uttered a sound.  Everyone watched the Watcher continue to gently comfort his Slayer.   Cordelia and Xander stared in wide-eyed amazement at the disturbing scene.  Oz could only glare at the pair with a quizzical expression on his face.  Willow and Amy, however, regarded Buffy and Giles with suspicious looks as they watched the interplay between the petite blonde beauty and her tall and handsome Watcher…

 

Layla occasionally glanced at the Watcher and his charge while she tended to Jericho, as a look of reluctant acknowledgement dawned on her face.  Jericho continued to lay on the mat, his eyes barely opened as the Frenchwoman gently began to wipe the blood from his face with a gauze pad.  Edward harrumphed at what he’d witnessed, his cold eyes staring disapprovingly at Giles’ show of compassion for his Slayer, while at his side Patrick quietly observed, saying nothing.

 

Jenny, however, felt a strange mix of both pride for her English lover, this gentleman who wasn’t afraid to give support in a crucial hour of need to his Slayer, and awkwardness as she observed the body language displayed by the pair as they continued to embrace….

 

“Wow.” Cordelia’s whisper finally broke the silence. “That’s something you don’t see every day.  I mean, Buffy and Giles are acting kinda…friendly, aren’t they?”  Everyone who heard the brunette Amazon’s tactless observation stared at her incredulously, which caused her to get a slightly defensive look on her face.  “Well, dontcha think?”

 

Jenny rose from her chair to walk over to her favorite librarian and the Slayer, although part of her knew it was for some reason other than just wanting to comfort them both.  The Amazon witch strode over to the couple and gently laid a hand on each of their shoulders, before softly whispering, “Buffy, England is right.  You didn’t lose control.  You didn’t give yourself completely over to your anger.  You managed to retain that sense of what makes you more than just a Slayer.”  Buffy turned from her embrace to look at Jenny questioningly and Jenny gently smiled at her.  “You’re human, Buffy…just like the rest of us.”

 

The Chosen One sniffled and wiped the remaining tears from her face, before reluctantly releasing the Watcher from her embrace.  As she did so, the Slayer almost thought that she saw a momentary glimpse of relief flash across Jenny’s face.  However, she chased that thought away as the gypsy pulled Buffy into a warm hug of her own.  After a firm hug, the gypsy released her and gently brushed away a few strands of blonde hair that had fallen in front of the Slayer’s eyes.  “Just remember what Rupert and I said, okay?” she asked softly, to which Buffy nodded.  After that, the little blonde stepped away from the couple over to the prone form of Jericho, who was still being nursed by Layla.

 

“How…is he?” Buffy asked haltingly. 

 

Layla looked up from her task and regarded the Slayer with a sense of awe.  Yet, before she could speak, Jericho beat her to the punch.  “It’s not too bad.  I’ve had worse.  Gotta say, you sure as hell throw a mean right hook,” the security consultant muttered quietly, one eye partially closed.

 

“Jericho,” she whispered softly, “I…I’m so sorry for going off like that, I…”

 

“Stop it,” he cut her off harshly, his eyes now fully opened as he regarded the Slayer with a mixture of pain, and something else. At first the Slayer felt hurt, before she noticed what was in Jericho’s eyes. It was something completely unexpected…it was respect.

 

“Mr. Giles and Ms. Calendar…as much as I hate to admit it…are right.”  Jericho looked her squarely in the eye as he continued. “You managed to get a hold of yourself before going psycho.  It says a lot for a girl your age and what it is you do…much as I hate to admit that, too.  And you gave me a fair fight.  Well, as fair as me going against you, in any case.” He smirked slightly before he coughed, clearing his throat.  “You were a hell of a lot more honorable than some other…people I’ve faced.”  He closed his eyes again and laid his head back slightly in Layla’s lap, who continued to stroke his head gently with a wet cloth. “You’re definitely a fighter.” He then frowned momentarily.  “Just don’t expect me to bow to you or anything…not that I could do that at the moment, anyway.”

 

Buffy stood there for a moment, her mind silently processing what Jericho had said, before a small yet earnest smile graced her face.  “Thank you,” she said softly.

 

“Don’t mention it,” he muttered.

 

While everyone else quietly surveyed the exchange between the Slayer and Jericho, Edward harrumphed and droned, “Well, that was more or less an adequate display.  I would have expected more…but still adequate.”  He pretended not to notice the incredulous as well as annoyed stares from the Watcher and the computer teacher as he continued.  “Patrick, I assume you took proper notation?”

 

“Yes, sir,” the nervous assistant said dutifully.  “Although I think it may be better to organize some of these notes I’ve made and send them to our database.  Ah, Ms. Calendar?”  The gypsy raised an eyebrow at Patrick in acknowledgement.  “Would, um, would it be possible if I could make use of your, er, computer laboratory?  It may take a few minutes, but I would like to transmit some of these notes to the Council while they’re still fresh.”

 

The computer teacher cast a sidelong glance at Giles and smirked playfully, as she drawled, “You hear that, England?  Apparently, the rest of the Council has actually joined the Twenty-First century.  Will wonders never cease!”  Giles raised his hand to his mouth, pretending to cough as he hid a smile in response to the gypsy’s observation.  Jenny then turned back to Patrick with a more serious expression on her sensuous face.  “I suppose it would be possible, Mr. Nelson.  Assuming of course you’re not gonna take all night to do it…”

 

“Oh, no, no,” Patrick said, smiling slightly for the first time.  “I assure you it shouldn’t take long at all.”

 

Jenny spared a glimpse at Giles, who nodded.  Looking around the room and seeing that her presence probably wasn’t required at the moment, she nodded and went over to the library counter to retrieve her purse.  “I guess it won’t be a problem.  Follow me.”  With that, Jenny walked out the library with Mr. Nelson close behind.

 

#

 

Jenny and Patrick walked down the hallway to the computer lab, while the sound of rolling thunder continued to boom outside, seemingly louder than before.  The gypsy fished the keys out of her purse and unlocked the door, gesturing for Patrick to enter first, to which he obliged. 

 

“Er, which of these computers would have internet access, Ms. Calendar?”

 

The computer teacher set her purse on the desk at the head of the classroom, before turning to Patrick.  “All of them actually, but you may want to try that one in the corner, next to the window.  It seems to have a slightly faster connection than the rest.  Just give me a moment and I’ll get you set up.”

 

Patrick nodded agreeably.  “Thank you, Ms. Calendar.”

 

Jenny nodded in reply as she crossed over to the terminal and, with a flick of a switch, turned on the power.  She sat down in front of the computer and grimaced as another loud boom of thunder reverberated throughout the classroom.  She glanced momentarily toward the windows and watched the rain hammering against the window panes.  “Wow, it’s really starting to come down out there.  Looks like quite a storm.”

 

“Hmmm, indeed.”

 

The computer teacher clicked the mouse a few times, and, with a few short keyboard strokes, drew up the terminal’s internet access on the computer screen.  “Hold on, this might take a few minutes, connection seems to be acting a little freaky due to the storm.”  A few minutes passed before the computer teacher finally smiled in satisfaction.  “Well, that should do it, assuming we don’t lose power or the connection.”  She turned in her seat…only to find Patrick standing right behind her with a syringe in his hand…

 

Before she could react, the bespectacled man grabbed Jenny’s arm and plunged the syringe needle and its contents into her.  The computer teacher’s eyes went wide as she saw the evil smile that was now displayed on the face of Edward’s assistant, who only moments before had seemed docile and quiet.  The Amazon instantly felt a warm, tingling sensation race throughout her body as she attempted to fight off her attacker…only to find that her arms wouldn’t respond.  Neither would her legs.  She attempted to form words or even scream, only to find that her vocal cords wouldn’t respond either.  Her arms dropped to her sides, her legs gave out from underneath her and her body went completely limp in the chair, her head lolling back slightly, appearing for all the world like a broken marionette.

 

“There there, my dear…just relax,” Patrick purred smoothly, chuckling softly as he calmly drew a small black leather case from his jacket pocket and opened it, placing the empty syringe within it.  The Watcher’s assistant calmly placed the case on the computer desk next to the teacher, who continued to be sprawled in the chair, the gentle rise and fall of her bosom the only visible indication that she was alive, as her eyes stared off into space.  Patrick smiled darkly as he removed his glasses to affectionately regard the limp form of the gypsy, before he leaned over her and gently cradled her head with a free hand so she could see him, face-to-face.

 

“Now, I find this much better, Ms. Jennifer Calendar…or shall I say Janna Kalendah?  No matter, I suppose, since from this moment on I shall be the only one making conversation.”  He leaned in even closer, his face now only a few inches from her own. “Ah, but I suppose you’re wondering what’s happening?  Quite simple, really.  I gave you a nice little curare derivative that paralyzes you completely, except for your more basic life functions like breathing.  A wonderful little invention, actually.  It is rather particularly useful for subduing a lovely, yet dangerous creature such as you.” He sighed wistfully as his eyes trailed down the length of the beautiful woman’s gypsy-style ensemble, his other hand beginning to gently caress her shapely bosom. 

 

“You are indeed lovely my dear,” Patrick continued in a whisper as his hand trailed down to her skirt, gently feeling the sensual curves of her legs beneath the sheer skirt that she wore. “No…you are in fact, magnificent.  Almost as if, oh, like you might have stepped out of a Raphaelite painting into the modern world.  But I digress.” He then grinned mirthlessly as he continued to stare into the gypsy’s wide, lovely chocolate eyes.  “That Greek bitch Artemis certainly knows how to select her Amazons…just like that bastard Rupert Giles seems to know how to select his women.  Oh, but what’s that?  You’re wondering how I even know such things. Simple…it is my job to know many things.” He chuckled again.  “Such as, I know that Bitch Goddess of yours had a neat little ritual planned for Beltane, where she would undoubtedly try to re-establish Her presence again.  But I…or shall I say, my ‘employers’ and I certainly can’t have that now, can we?  Rather, I have a much more interesting plan for you, my dear. It’s not entirely business, of course.  I would say, it is a mix of business, pleasure, and…a little vendetta of my own.” His normal-looking eyes suddenly began to turn a malicious golden color, the pupils becoming slit like a snake’s.  “Something you shall discover, soon enough.”

 

She might have screamed if it wasn’t for the fact that her vocal cords were completely paralyzed.  However, all she could do was continue to stare at Patrick’s now malevolent, snakelike eyes, which gave her all the reason to assume Patrick wasn’t entirely human.  She remained helplessly immobile as he casually withdrew another syringe from the black case and carefully pushed the needle into her arm.  She frantically tried to think of some way, any way she could contact her fellow Amazons or her lover, then wondered if she could perhaps, somehow send a telepathic call to the one man she loved more than anyone.  She managed to form one single, coherent thought in her mind, of the gentle-eyed Watcher, before the syringe’s contents overtook her senses and she felt her eyelids grow heavy, as her mind began to fall into a deep sleep. 

 

“Rest now, my beauty,” Patrick cooed affectionately, as he bent over further to plant a kiss on Jenny’s forehead.  The gypsy’s eyelashes fluttered several times before they gently closed…

 

#

 

“Giles?”  The voice of his Slayer caused the Watcher to look up from his mundane task, where he was adding milk and sugar into steaming cups of Earl Grey tea.  The Englishman had decided to put some tea and butter shortbread cookies, or “biscuits” as he preferred to call them, together for the gang and the Watchers as they waited in the library.  He noticed an odd expression on her face, one that he didn’t see often….the look of a child, wanting advice and direction.  “Can I, um, ask you a question?  It’s nothing big or anything.”

 

Giles blinked once then turned from his task to regard his Slayer affectionately.  “Oh, ah, yes of course, Buffy.  How may I be of service?”

 

The petite blonde looked downcast momentarily, shuffling her feet a little, before she gazed into the gentle green eyes of her Watcher.  “I was actually just wondering if you had any advice for me…well…after that sparring match I just had with Jericho.”  She leaned closer to him and continued in a quieter voice.  “I mean, shouldn’t I have been able to beat that guy quicker than that?  He seemed to be able to keep up with me pretty well for being a regular guy, or commando, or whatever.”

 

“Actually,” Giles said in a quiet voice of his own.  “We did find some interesting information about him.  I don’t think, from what I saw, he’s necessarily just an ordinary security consultant.”  He then relayed to the Buffy what they had found out earlier about Jericho, causing the blonde to purse her lips thoughtfully as he continued.  “But ah, in regards to your question, perhaps you rely too much on your Slayer strength and speed.  Indeed, at the risk of sounding, er, what would be the term…?”

 

The Immortal Slayer regarded him wryly.  “Like a nag?”

 

Giles cleared his throat slightly.  “Ah, y-yes…a nag.  Buffy, despite the training I’ve given you plus the additional training from Mr. St. Wolf, you’re not quite using all the knowledge we’ve imparted to you.  Perhaps you ought to consider applying a little more finesse and technique in your future battles, rather than…” The Watcher suddenly paused.  He didn’t know how or why, but he could have sworn he heard something in the back of his mind…no, maybe a thought, echoing somewhere…about Jenny?

 

“Giles?  Uh, Earth to Giles, hello, does anyone copy?”

 

The Watcher blinked again before returning his attention to his charge.  “Ah, I’m sorry Buffy, please forgive me. I thought…I’m sorry, would you excuse me for a moment?”

 

The Slayer now looked clearly confused.  “Well, yeah, sure…but why?”

 

Giles shook his head.  “I’m sorry, it’s just…I think I should go check on Jenny.  I shan’t be long.”  He began to walk toward the double doors, before he paused to regard the rest of the library’s occupants.  “Ah, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go check on Jenny…er, Ms. Calendar.  I shall return shortly.  In the meantime, there are tea and biscuits on the counter; please help yourselves.”

 

Oz exchanged a look with Xander.  “Dude, why do those English guys always keep calling cookies ‘biscuits’?”

 

Xander shrugged.  “Who cares?”  Both of them walked over to the assembled tea and sweets arranged on the counter, ready to indulge themselves…before the sound of clearing throats behind them caused them to swivel their heads in unison to see Cordelia, Amy and Willow standing behind them.

 

“Say, guys,” Willow asked casually, “would you mind going with Giles to look for Jenny?  Just, you know, in case he needs help, or anything?”

 

A look of slight bewilderment crossed the X-Man’s face as he grabbed a cookie from the serving platter and bit into it.  “Help with what?  G-Man avoids computers like they were the plague, but that’s not something we can help him with.”  His voice came out slightly garbled as he talked around chunks of cookie in his mouth.

 

“Just go,” Cordelia directed in a deceptively sweet voice, as she stalked closer to Xander with both hands on her shapely hips. “Now.”  The brunette Amazon’s beautiful eyes then narrowed and took on a deadly gleam as she continued.  “Oh, and Lame-O?  What did I tell you about NOT talking while you’re eating?  Do that disgusting Porky Pig imitation of yours again, and you won’t be eating anything unless it’s through a straw, got it?”

 

At the brunette Amazon’s words, Xander paled immensely.  “Uh, right Cordy, gotcha.  Let’s go, Oz.”  The werewolf shrugged in reply and the young men both followed Giles, who had a confused look of his own at the exchange, out the double doors of the library.

 

The three Amazon sisters looked at one another momentarily, before turning their attention to the Slayer.  “Buffy?”  Amy queried.  “Can we…uh, talk to you for a moment?  Matter-of-privacy sort of thing?”

 

Buffy glanced at Edward, Layla, and Jericho, who was now back on his feet after a shower and change of clothes, albeit painfully.  The three were helping themselves to the tea and cookies on the counter, although she noticed the curious looks from the Frenchwoman and the security consultant directed their way.   The Slayer shrugged and said, “Sure.  Uh, let’s just talk over there.”  She gestured to a shadowy corner of the library, situated away from the Watcher team.  The girls all nodded in reply and the quartet shuffled over to the corner, all the while looking over their shoulders at the Watchers to make sure they weren’t being spied upon.

 

“Okay, ladies.”  Buffy sighed.  “The official ‘Girl Talk’ session is now open for business. So, what’s the what?”

 

The Amazons all exchanged looks, before Cordelia finally cleared her throat and posed the question that was on their minds.  "So, Buffy...how can I put this delicately?  I know!  So when exactly did your Watcher decide to channel Humpert Humpert and you his trampy little Lolita?"

 

Buffy blankly regarded the tall brunette for several beats before she could actually summon the presence of mind to respond.  Then she lifted her hand and asked, "Raise your hand if your response to Cordy's question is...'huh?'"

 

Amy rolled her eyes momentarily before she glared at the brunette Amazon.  “Way to be tactful and diplomatic, Cor!”

 

“Well, it WAS kind of tactful and…and diplomatic!” Cordelia said huffily.  “I mean, it’s not like I’m directly asking Buffy if she’s, um…how can I put this delicately?

 

Amy groaned.  “Cor, just give it up already!  You missed the ‘Delicate Boat’ a long time ago!”

 

“If I’m WHAT?”  Buffy squeaked.  She didn’t like the direction this conversation was heading….then it finally dawned on her exactly what Cordelia had meant.  The Slayer’s face nearly turned white as a ghost’s.  “What are you saying?!  Ohmigod…I mean, that’s just…EWWWW!”

 

Willow growled and sharply elbowed Cordelia in the ribs, hard, causing the brunette to yelp and glare at the little red witch.  "Cordy, I swear!  We can't take you anywhere!"  The Amazon Wicca then turned to the Immortal Slayer.  "However, Tactless Girl does have a point.  You and Giles seemed like you were both in your own little world just then.  And there was last night when he was dancing with Jenny and you kept giving them the hairy eyeball.”

 

Buffy’s left eyebrow nearly shot up toward the ceiling.  “The ‘hairy eyeball,’ Will? 

 

“Don’t try to change the subject, ‘Buff.’  I’m on to your wily ways!”  As the Slayer shot a bemused look at Willow, mouthed the words, “wily ways,” and cocked a perfectly groomed right eyebrow, Willow continued her tirade.  “I've never seen you react to him like that before, not even when you both tried to die in the other one’s place during that Eyghon thing.  I just want to know that you two aren't...becoming confused...and stuff...‘cause confusion leads to hurt feelings and jealousy and other kinds of...stuff...”

 

Buffy held both her hands up and backed away slightly.  “Guys, it’s just a Watcher/Slayer thing, really.  Seriously, do you think I actually have something going on the side with Giles, or would want to have something going on with him?  Why that’s just deeply, deeply disturbing!  I mean, he’s my Watcher and he’s just…well, it’s just that he’s, just, you know…” The Slayer fumbled momentarily then received the answer she sought from divine providence.  “He’s just…old.”

 

Cordelia cocked a perfectly groomed eyebrow at that.  “Methinks thou dost protest too much,” she mocked in a sing-song voice.

 

Amy rolled her own beautiful blue eyes in response to Buffy’s inane observation.  “Old?  Get real, Summers!  Let’s review, shall we?  You’ve dated a vampire that’s over two centuries old.  In relation to that, Giles is like a toddler!  And you’re dating a guy who’s almost as old as Giles right now!  Now let’s examine your Watcher.  He’s currently dating a very beautiful and intelligent woman, he’s dated not one, but two hotties who are both telepathic, he’s probably smarter than Einstein, he knows five languages fluently, he’s a gentleman, and nearly every girl who walks into the library swoons over his dreamy accent.  Goddess, Buff, haven’t you ever noticed that he’s got that whole suave, debonair, James-Bond-thing going on, along with a hidden bad-boy-streak to boot?!”

 

“No,” Buffy drawled, “but apparently, you have, Amy.”

 

When she saw Buffy’s condescending look, Amy sighed.  “Look, we just want to make sure you’re not suddenly getting all into Giles, okay?  I mean, we just wanted to make sure you weren’t, you know, going to cause problems for Jenny, or Giles…or, for that matter, us.”

 

The Slayer placed both hands on her tiny hips and stared each Amazon squarely in the eye.  “Look guys, I appreciate this…well, actually, I don’t and, I must say, I find this seriously disturbing.  Trust me, we’re not reenacting Nabakov’s novel in the library and…” Her sentence was interrupted when her Watcher burst through the double doors, with Oz and Xander right behind. “Giles?”

 

Everyone in the library, save the two boys, turned from what they were doing and saw the panic that was clearly etched on the Englishman’s face.  “Jenny!  Are you in here?  Jenny!”  The Watcher’s face seemed to be growing even more frightened and stressed by the moment.

 

“Giles, take it easy!  Jenny’s not here, she’s in the computer lab…um, isn’t she?”  Buffy’s question was answered with a panicked glare from her Watcher.  Oh, crap…

 

“No, she bloody well isn’t in the computer lab!  In fact, Patrick’s not there, either.”  Jericho and Layla walked over to Giles, alarm on both of their faces.  “All we found was this.” He showed them Jenny’s purse.

 

Buffy’s own eyes widened along with everyone else’s.  “Uh, Giles, maybe she and Patrick both went to the bathroom. I mean, not together or anything.  Actually…man, you don’t think that…”

 

“They were kidnapped?”  Xander squeaked out in a slightly panicked voice of his own.  “Well, even though this isn’t ‘Jeopardy,’ I hate to say you might have just answered the Five-Hundred Dollar question.  We also found this.”  He showed them a small black leather case, with two empty syringes inside.

 

“Oh Goddess,” Willow whispered, horrified.

 

Jericho narrowed his eyes momentarily.  “Xander, may I?”  Without bothering to wait for a reply, he took both syringes out of the case, brought them to his nose and sniffed.  After a short pause, he sniffed again, then nodded grimly as he placed both syringes back in the case.  “I hate to tell you this, but one of ‘em smells like curare.  Poison, or maybe a derivative.  The other, though, doesn’t smell too much like it, more like a serum.”  He then noticed the quizzical looks regarding him.  “What?  Oh…I have a certain knowledge of such things.  Tools of the trade, if you will.”

 

Layla’s own dark eyes widened even further at Jericho’s revelation.  “You…do not think that one of them may have been kidnapped, and the other…but wait, that does not make any sense.”

 

Buffy’s looked at Layla suspiciously.  “Why wouldn’t that make any sense?”  Before she could ask further, her Slayer hearing detected movement several yards behind her.  She whirled around to find Edward quietly walking toward the rear emergency exit door.  “Excuse me, but where do you think YOU’RE going?”

 

Edward stopped dead in his tracks and regarded the Slayer along with the rest of the library’s occupants, appearing for all the world as if he’d been caught attempting to escape from Sing Sing.  “Oh, ah, I was just going out back to smoke a cigarette.”

 

Buffy’s Watcher narrowed his eyes dangerously.  He could bloody well tell that something was rotten in Denmark.  “Out in the rain, Edward?”

 

A panicked look crossed Edward’s face before he turned and vaulted for the exit door.  Buffy was already hot on his tail, when a chair sailed through the air and smacked Edward’s legs right where it hurt, causing him to groan and fall to the ground.

 

Buffy looked to where the chair had been thrown from and noticed Cordelia standing there.  “Nice toss,” she remarked wryly.

 

“Thanks.  Dweeb boy gives me lots of practice.  He inspires me too.”  The brunette Amazon shot a meaningful glare at her boyfriend.

 

The petite blonde turned and strode over to Edward, then grabbed him by the scruff of his collar and dragged him over to the library counter.  She lifted him up and slammed him against the counter and got in his face, her deceptively dainty hand clasped around his throat while her normally pretty features were twisted into a deadly snarl.

 

“If something has happened to Ms. Calendar, Edward, I will be really, really upset at you.  And I think it’s fair to say that when I get really, really upset at something or someone, soon after, that particular something or someone ends up really, REALLY…dead.  Now, I think you really don’t want to get me really, really upset and the best way for you to avoid having that happen is to tell me everything you know about what has happened to Ms. Calendar and to tell me really, really…NOW!”

 

Lightning flashed through the rain-streaked windows as the storm continued to gather in strength, briefly illuminating Edward’s face, which was now contorted in an expression of extreme panic.  “I…I don’t know anything! P-please just let me go!”

 

“Sure, I’ll be happy to let you go…” Buffy’s eyes darkened considerably as she leaned slightly closer to Edward’s sweaty face.  “After I break your arms and legs, that is.”

 

The Senior Watcher gazed pleadingly at Buffy’s Watcher, whose furious expression gave no hint of pity.  “Giles!  Command your Slayer to release me this instant!”

 

Giles continued to glare at Edward momentarily, before switching his gaze to Layla.  The Frenchwoman caught his look and regarded him with a curious expression on her face, before her eyes shot wide open as her extrasensory abilities immediately sensed what Giles wanted her to do.  Her throat tightened as she considered what the Englishman had silently asked her to do…before hesitantly nodding her head in response. The Watcher nodded and stared at the panicking Senior Watcher, still held in a viselike grip by his Slayer.  “Buffy, let him go.”

 

The Slayer shot Giles one of her “are-you-crazy” looks…only to receive a knowing smirk in reply.  “Trust me, Buffy…let him go.”

 

Buffy glared at Edward a final time before she released her vise-like grip on his throat, leaving the Senior Watcher to momentarily gasp and wheeze.  “Thank you, Mr. Giles.

I—”

 

“Layla,” Giles interjected in a cold voice, cutting off Edward as though he wasn’t there, “Probe his mind.”

 

Everyone except Buffy stared at Giles in silence for a moment.  His Slayer, though, shot her Watcher another “are-you-crazy” look.  “Whoa there, Giles…hold the phone!  Are you freaking nuts?  You’re asking us to trust Little-Miss-Jean-Grey here,” she indicated the Frenchwoman with a wave of her hand “who, for all we know, could be involved in this whole freaking mess?!”  The blonde along with her friends turned to glare at both Layla and Jericho suspiciously, while the psychic and the security consultant began to look slightly uncomfortable.

 

“Mademoiselle Summers,” Layla spoke softly in a pleading voice, “you must believe that neither I nor Jericho had anything to do with this.  In fact, we…we were not even originally scheduled to be part of this group up until the last minute. We know nothing about this, please trust me.”

 

Buffy continued to glare at Giles’ ex-lover as she retorted in a voice dripping with sarcasm.  “Sorry, Layla, but we’re running a little low on our stock of ‘trust’ right now, maybe you could try back later.”

 

“Buffy!”  Giles interjected sternly, “We don’t have time for bloody arguments!  If you’re unwilling to trust Layla, please at least trust me.” His last sentence caught the Slayer off guard, causing her to stop and consider what her Watcher had said before she belted out any more sarcasm.  After a moment passed, Buffy reluctantly nodded and stepped aside.

 

“Remember, Layla,” Giles cautioned his ex-lover.  “We just want the information.  I don’t want him damaged…just yet.”  The psychic nodded in reply and turned her gaze toward the Senior Watcher.

 

“You, you would do bloody well not to try anything, Ms. Constantin,” Edward stammered, his eyes wide as he attempted to back away.  “I, I’m a Senior Watcher, I command you to—“

 

“No, you will not command me or anyone to do anything, Monsieur Trent,” Layla said coldly as she stepped forward and locked her dark, sensual eyes on Edward.  “Rather, it is I who will command you to do whatever I say…and you shall do so, whether you wish it or not.”  Her eyes narrowed and twin, hypnotic blue pinpricks of light began to emanate from within her irises, while the Senior Watcher’s face became suddenly contorted, his eyes unable to look away from hers. For a moment it appeared as if he was inwardly attempting to resist…before his entire body shuddered and then stiffened, a slight gurgle emanating from his throat before he became completely still, although his eyes remained wide, as if swallowed by Layla’s intense gaze.

 

“Uh, I somehow get a feeling this isn’t gonna be pleasant,” Buffy whispered.  She looked uncertainly at her Watcher and noticed his cold gaze targeted on Edward, as she quietly considered what Layla was going to do.  It made her shiver slightly.  For a moment she almost felt sorry for Edward.  Almost.

 

“Now, Edward, sit over in that chair,” Layla continued calmly, gesturing to a nearby oak chair.  The Watcher turned and walked over to it rather stiffly, as though he were a puppet, before he sat down and gazed off into space.  The psychic walked over to Edward, the clicking of her heels echoing throughout the library, and stood in front of him before gripping his chin with her right hand and guiding his wide-eyed gaze directly into her own, which now began to intensify.  *You will now reveal everything I wish to know, Edward*, the psychic said to Edward telepathically. *Do not attempt to resist me, for it shall be futile and you shall only bring pain to yourself* The Frenchwoman then guided her hands up to his temples, pressing her fingertips against them as her mind began to penetrate further into Edward’s own…

 

Everything it seemed, became distant, a timeless void as Layla’s consciousness began to explore and unearth a kaleidoscope of memories buried within Edward’s mind, images and sounds of times past flying past her as she sought to find what it was that Edward was hiding…until she sensed an obstacle before her, a wall that attempted to hide something from the psychic.  Layla narrowed her eyes further and methodically began to remove the wall as though it were made of brick, piece by piece at first, then segment by segment, with efficient and ruthless ease.

 

Edward began to gurgle slightly, his eyes widening further, silently begging her not to take that wall down, not to go further and see what he sought to hide.  The psychic answered by mercilessly tearing down the rest of the wall within his mind with a single, easy stroke of her powers….and then witnessed what Edward had been hiding.

 

The Frenchwoman’s eyes widened in shock and horror before she quickly withdrew her presence and her hands from Edward’s mind, leaving the Englishman to gasp and sob in pain and fear…before Layla struck him across the face with such force that he nearly tottered over.

 

“You sick, twisted, evil bastard!”  Layla growled, her hands tightened into fists.  “You were foolish enough to summon him?”

 

“Layla,” The sound of Giles’ voice turned the psychic’s attention from the Senior Watcher to her ex-lover.  “What do you mean, whom did he summon?”  The Slayer’s Watcher then realized what she meant, his face turning pale.  “Oh, bloody hell…just who or what did he summon?”

 

Layla paused for a moment and looked uncertain.  “Rupert, what I saw…mon dieu, I’m not sure you want to see…”

 

“Yes, we do,” Buffy snapped, surprising everyone else in the library as she stepped forward.  The Slayer narrowed her own eyes at the psychic.  “We don’t have time to waste.  If Jenny’s in danger, then show us what you saw.  Show all of us.  You can do that, can’t you?”  Without waiting for a reply, the blonde went on.  “Then do it!”

 

The Frenchwoman regarded the Slayer momentarily before reluctantly nodding.  She then closed her eyes for a second and gathered her thoughts, before she opened her eyes again.  Her dark green orbs flashed with a mystical blue glow as her powers coiled, then burst from her as images flew into the minds of each of the assembled Slayerettes and Jericho, causing them to clutch their heads in pain as the sudden fury of the vision exploded before each of them…of Edward, standing in a darkened room, surrounded by a pentagram and sigils drawn in chalk on the ground, a ceremonial dagger in hand, as he chanted an incantation in a long-dead language.  The room was dimly lit by several candles that were set at each point of the pentagram, while wax dripped and congealed from each one onto the wooden floor.  Several feet away from the pentagram, another circle was drawn in chalk on the floor, with several sigils inscribed around it as well.  In this circle laid a prone, unconscious body…Patrick.

 

Edward finished the incantation with a shout as he extended his arm with the dagger and traced a sigil in midair.  Moments later, the air itself was rendered with a crackle of arcane power, as space itself began to fissure and rip apart, revealing a crack in reality leading to a void of endless darkness…from which spilled fourth a serpent-like creature with dripping venomous fangs and golden reptilian eyes that glowed with an unholy power.  The serpent reared up and inspected the prone body within the circle that began to stir. Patrick blearily opened his eyes and looked up into the unholy visage of the serpent creature…and had only enough time to scream once before the demon shot forward with a snap, its jaws and fangs extended, as it devoured the man in one swift, brutal stroke…

 

Everyone in the library, save Edward, gasped and shook their heads, attempting to clear their minds of the horror they felt from what they had all just witnessed…before they turned their attention to the Senior Watcher, who had started to get up from the chair but was now frozen as everyone stared at him. The Slayerette’s expressions changed from horrified shock to anger and revulsion, particularly Giles.

 

“Holy crap,” Buffy whispered in complete horror.  “So this means that guy we saw…it really isn’t Patrick, is it?  It’s…it’s whatever-the-hell ate him?!”

 

The Slayer’s Watcher strode over to Edward and grabbed him by the scruff of his collar.  He pulled him up, his eyes flashing with a deadly gleam.  “You incredible fool, you offered Patrick as a sacrifice in order to summon Hekhmut?!  Are you out of your bloody mind?!”

 

“Wait a sec, Giles,” the Slayer interjected, a questioning look on her face momentarily replacing the revulsion and disgust she felt.  “Hecky-who?  Hack Mutt, or something?”

 

“Hekhmut,” Giles corrected with a growl, his furious gaze never leaving Edward as he continued to hold him.  “He’s a demon associated with the infernal aspects of Egyptian mythology, often summoned by those who worship the dark God Set to act as a sort of intermediary or guide, or to carry out wishes by those who summoned him.” 

 

“Oh,” Buffy said, blinking. “Is that all?”

 

The Watcher turned and regarded his Slayer incredulously, before Layla gently cleared her throat. “Buffy, Hekhmut is also known as the offspring of Apep, the mighty serpent who battled Ra in his attempt to devour the sun.”

 

The Chosen One processed that for a moment, before her reply came out in a tinier voice. “Oh.”

 

The Slayer’s Watcher turned his menacing gaze back to Edward. “Indeed, however he can be contained, provided he’s appropriately bound and given an appropriate sacrifice, that is.  And I’m willing to guess you completely botched the ritual and not only did you murder Patrick, you bastard, you actually let that demon get loose in this world, didn’t you?!”

 

The Senior Watcher stared back at Giles, shivering as he saw the terrible rage on his face.  “It was just s-supposed to be a little m-minor summoning,” he stammered.  “Just call up a demon from the lower Hells, ‘twas all, and use him to curry a few favors.  I-I only thought the ritual would summon a minor demon at best, not something like Hekhmut. And I only thought he would need a little blood from Patrick, not devour him.”  Edward’s own eyes then narrowed into a show of defiance. “I didn’t think it was any different from what you did in your days as the Ripper, Giles.  Oh, of course, you can summon all sorts of demons and create all sorts of mayhem, but the moment you come crawling to the Watcher’s Council, they forgave you of your sins and allowed you right in the front door, all because of your dear father, Edwin—”

 

The sound of Giles’ fist smashing into Edward’s face resounded throughout the library as his blow sent Edward sprawling onto the floor with blood spurting from his nose.

 

“Edward, I hardly think you are in any position to say anything in your defense at this point,” Giles drawled darkly as he stood over Edward’s prone form, his hands balled into fists and ready to strike again.  “And if you wish to live to see tomorrow, do not mention my father’s name, ever again.  As I was saying, Hekhmut should have devoured you, but he didn’t, WHY?!”

 

Edward held a hand to his nose in a vain effort to stop the bleeding.  “He…after he assumed Patrick’s identity, he said he could find a use for me…in whatever it was he was plotting, and in return, he’d help with my political aspirations within the Watcher’s Council.  He said…that he and his ‘associates’, whoever they were, needed him to go to Sunnydale to stop the Amazon’s Beltane ritual.”  At the shocked looks on the faces of the other Slayerettes, Edward suddenly found enough courage to sneer.  “Don’t be surprised.  You think I didn’t know?  Hekhmut told me everything…about the Amazons, about your witches, even about your alliance with the man known as the Wanderer.”  At the mention of that name, Jericho’s eyes widened at first then darkened considerably as Edward continued to rant.  “He said he was going to use some vampire pack known as the Hell Riders as hired muscle while he uses Jenny to…to…”

 

“He plans to use Jenny for WHAT?!!”  Giles roared.

 

Edward licked his lips momentarily then continued.  “He said he was going to use Jenny in some sort of ritual…to create another one of his kin.”

 

At the very mention of Edward’s final revelation, Giles turned white as a sheet.  “Oh, Jenny…please God, no.”  He then snarled once again as he hauled Edward up onto his feet.  “You are going down for this, you bastard.  On behalf of the Watcher’s Council, I hereby place you under arrest for the murder of Patrick Nelson and for aiding, abetting and conspiring with demons.  Try to resist or run away, you little pillock,” Giles bared his teeth, “And I will not hesitate to destroy your very mind…that is, after my Slayer, her friends and the Amazons have had their turns with you.”  As if in reply, Buffy, Cordelia, Willow and Amy nodded grimly and stepped forward, both the Slayer and the brunette Amazon flexing their knuckles.  Meanwhile Willow and Amy hissed small incantations and a small pyre of flame appeared in the little red witch’s left hand, while a razor-sharp icicle appeared in Amy’s right hand.

 

“You…you won’t do anything, Giles,” Edward stammered, hoping to gain some sort of leverage, “Because know this; if you try to turn me over to the Watcher’s Council for questioning…I’ll expose you.  Oh yes, I’ll expose you all!”  The Senior Watcher stabbed his finger at the assembled Slayerettes before continuing.  “I’ll tell them everything I know, about your precious Amazons, your witches, your gypsy bitch, everything!  And even if you manage to kill me, rest assured the Council will investigate.  The way I see it, I just helped you by exposing Hekhmut, so therefore in a sense, you owe me.  So why don’t we make a little deal?  We just go our separate ways.  You say nothing about me, and I won’t say anything about—“ The Senior Watcher never had a chance to finish his sentence when Jericho appeared behind him, silent as a ghost, and, with the fluid and deadly grace of a striking cobra, wrapped a garrote cord around his neck and strangled him.

 

“No deal for you, Edward,” Layla said calmly with a cold expression on her sensuous face.

 

For a moment, it seemed everything in the library became eerily still, as everyone stared at Edward’s bulging eyes, his hands frantically grasping for the wire wrapped around his neck.  The Senior Watcher made futile gasps for breath as the wire choked off his airway, causing his face and veins to turn blue as his tongue lolled from side-to-side.  His eyes bulged further as he stared at the Slayerettes with a pleading, desperate look.  Jericho’s own face however, in contrast to Edward’s, wore an expression of ice-cold calm.  With a final tightening of the cord, Edward’s windpipe was crushed and the Senior Watcher shuddered once then died. 

 

No one said anything as they stared at Edward’s corpse, shock registering on several faces.  Buffy in particular stared wide-eyed in horror at what she’d just witnessed.  She had just seen a man die right before her very eyes.  For a moment it didn’t matter that he’d been a pompous liar and a conspirator with demons, it was the fact that a human had been executed right in front of her.  And then she remembered the expression she’d seen on the executor’s face…or the lack of one, for that matter.  It almost reminded her of the same expression her boyfriend St. Wolf had worn when he’d killed a maniac who had run her through with a machete.  The Slayer shuddered momentarily at that memory.

 

Jericho calmly regarded the corpse he still held with the cord, before turning to regard the rest of the people in the room.  He noticed the shocked expressions on all their faces, except for Layla’s and Giles’, who both wore grim faces of their own.  The security consultant allowed Edward’s body to collapse at his feet with a dull thud as though he were a slab of meat before he withdrew the length of cord, which appeared to have a metal ring on one end and a hooked blade on the other, and tucked it away in a pocket.

 

“Well,” Jericho said, “I must admit I’ve wanted to do that all goddamn day!”

 

#

 

Las Pureza Del Fuego

18:15 PST

 

Within the eerily quiet confines of the abandoned church of the Spanish missionary, the rumble of the ongoing thunderstorm could be heard outside as rainwater leaked through the dilapidated roof, making a patter that echoed throughout the dimly lit area.  The frescoes that once decorated the domed ceiling had grown faded with mold and age, while the alcoves and altar that had once held sacraments and statues of saints had been torn down and desecrated by vandals.  As the last dim, gray light of day filtering through the church’s high windows gave way to night, a dark form shifted from one of the old wooden pews rose from the woolen blanket it had slept on.

 

Tex Boyd took a moment to blearily open his eyes, before he looked around the old church.  It was lucky for him and his gang that it was rather well sized, since all the other vampires had decided to sleep in the desecrated spot rather than try sleeping in the other areas of the abandoned mission.  Several vampires had tried, only to wake up minutes later, looking as though the devil himself had walked into their dreams.  Tex almost shivered at that, despite himself.  He didn’t know why that Hack Mutt feller had wanted his boys to shack up here, as this place, with its creepy tales and legends, even gave a vampire like him the shivers, especially after they’d found that old catacomb beneath the mission just like Hack Mutt had instructed them to do.  All those bones…

 

Tex shook his head and donned his black Stetson hat, before he took out a long black cigar from his jacket and lit it with a match, the fire briefly illuminating his dark eyes and almost giving him a devil-like visage.  The head vampire took a long puff then blew out the smoke in small rings before he turned to his henchmen, who were still asleep.  “Alright boys….up and at ‘em!  Get up!  Don’t make me have to drag your sorry hides out in the rain!”

 

The vampires all collectively snorted, muttered and cursed before they all slowly rose up from their slumber, save one.  Tex strode over to the one vampire that was still asleep and, upon seeing who it was, rolled his eyes in resignation.

 

“Hmm….heh, here sugar lips, come here sweet thing,” Lyle Gorch murmured quietly in his sleep, his cowboy hat hung low over his eyes with a dreamy smile on his face.  “Yeah…yeah, here piglet, come here…”

 

“Lyle…WAKE YOUR ASS UP!!!”

 

At the sound of Tex’s booming voice, Lyle’s eyes snapped open as his arms and legs flailed around, before falling out of the makeshift cot he’d set up on the old wooden pew.  The vampire blinked several times and looked around before noticing the tall, unmistakable form of Tex, who gazed at him with an expression of disgust.  Lyle quickly dusted himself off and got up on his feet, then donned his hat.  “Oh, evenin’ Tex,” he said, “Is it night already?”

 

“Of course it is, you idiot,” Tex said with an annoyed expression, as he momentarily withdrew his cigar and held it between his middle and index finger.  “Good to know that someone got a good day’s sleep,” he said sarcastically.

 

“Oh, indeed,” said a new voice, smooth and suave like black velvet.  All the vampires instinctively went for the firearms they’d kept beside them and turned toward the sound of the voice.  From within one of the darkened, desecrated alcoves emerged a well-dressed, mustachioed man whose eyes glowed with an unholy golden light, the irises slit like a cobra’s.  In his arms he held the limp, unconscious body of a beautiful raven-haired woman dressed in a sultry gypsy-like ensemble.

 

Tex narrowed his eyes at the intruder and the unconscious woman he held, as safeties were audibly flicked off on a plethora of automatic weapons.  “City-slicker, you’ve just stepped into the wrong hideout.  Better speak your piece about what you’re doing here awful quick, before my boys use you for tonight’s target practice.”

 

The man with the demonic-looking eyes allowed an amused smile to creep onto his face.  “Ah, such decorum.  I would expect no less from one such as you, Mr. Boyd.” While the vampires momentarily looked at each other in puzzlement, the intruder knelt to gently lay the unconscious woman down on the floor then stood again.  “And I see you’ve been taking good care of the weapons my associate Vladimir has supplied to you,” he continued with a nod at the vampire’s brandished arsenal that was pointed at him.  “Or at least, I hope you have been taking good care of them, because rest assured you will need them tonight.”

 

Tex’s eyebrows lifted momentarily in surprise before he narrowed them again at the new arrival.  “Ah, so…you’re that Hack Mutt feller, eh?  Yeah, the guns were a nice gift.  Of course, I’ve been around long enough to know your little Russian friend didn’t provide these shootin’ irons for free.  So I reckon you’re here to discuss business.”  The vampire took a moment to absently tap the ashes from his cigar.  “’Course, I’m curious as to how you got in here in the first place, past the booby-traps we set up and all.”

 

Hekhmut glared with annoyance at the head vampire.  “First, my name is Hekhmut, not ‘Hack Mutt’.  Why mortals, particularly you Americans, find my name so difficult to pronounce is beyond me.  And in answer to your question as to how I came here, it is rather simple…I teleported.  Now, let us, as you would say, discuss business.”  The demon clasped his hands behind his back.  “Business for tonight shall be rather simple, gentlemen.  And I do use that term in the loosest possible form,” he added with a hint of amusement at the assembled rough-looking vampires dressed in cowboy attire, still brandishing their guns.  “I shall be performing a very delicate ritual tonight, in the catacombs beneath this mission.  It is important, first and foremost, that I not be disturbed during this ritual.  And by that I mean, no intruders.  Hence I shall need you to provide security for this place.  Two,” the demon paused for emphasis, “I will need a sacrifice. Oh, rest assured, not from you of course, but from the mortal population.  I shall require one young boy and one young girl, preferably full grown and healthy, and definitely clear of mind, thus no drug addicts or bums.  They are to be delivered to me within the catacombs, in the chamber where I instructed you to leave the items I sent to you.  Oh, and I must stress the two mortals are to be unharmed.”  He emphasized that last word with his reptilian eyes narrowed.  “And three…it appears that the Slayer and her friends, which of course I mentioned to you, have probably learned of my plans in some shape or form, and are undoubtedly upset.  Thus I shall need you to provide a distraction for them as well.”

 

The head vampire of the Hell Riders harrumphed.  “Thought you had a challenge for me, amigo.  So, basically, you want us to watch the place, bring you a boy and a girl, and create a little chaos while you’re doing your…well, whatever it is you’re gonna do.  Mind if I ask what that might be?”

 

“That needn’t concern you, Mr. Boyd,” Hekhmut said smoothly, although his demonic eyes gave a hint of menace.  “Just do what I ask, and I assure you the rewards will be most…fulfilling.  And by chaos, I mean whatever it is you vampires normally do.”

 

“Oh, chaos,” Tex said, grinning evilly.  “My favorite subject.  Yeah, we can do that.”  As he mused darkly, Lyle along with a few vampires idled over to the unconscious woman who lay still on the floor, her shapely bosom gently rising and falling with each breath.

 

“Damn, that woman sure is fine lookin’,” Lyle muttered, his eyes gazing appreciatively at her beautiful body, before his eyebrows shot up.  “Hey, that’s that missy that was with the Slayer last night.”  He bent over to touch her…

 

Hekhmut turned and glared at Lyle, before making a motion with his hands creating an invisible force that yanked the vampire away from the woman and held him suspended in midair.  The demon cocked an eyebrow as he regarded the vampire who now stared wide-eyed back at him.

 

“Mr. Lyle Gorch, and to everyone else here assembled…I have one other request, nay, a command. And that is, do not touch this woman.  She is mine, and mine alone.  Should any of you even think of touching her, rest assured I shall forego all manners of business and proceed to rip every last organ, bone and entrails from your undead bodies, before I rip out your heart.  Are we clear?  Excellent.” With that, Hekmut made another wave with his hand and the vampire collapsed onto the ground with a muffled “oomph”.  The vampire scrambled back to his feet before donning his hat again. 

 

Tex stared wide-eyed momentarily at what he’d just seen, before regaining his usual demeanor.  “Uh, right, no problem, Hekhmut.” With that, he dropped his cigar on the ground and smothered it with the heel of his boot.  “Okay, boys, you heard the man.  Let’s saddle up and move out!”  The vampires gathered together the rest of their weapons and ammunition before strolling out of the church with Tex Boyd and Lyle Gorch last, the head vampire giving Lyle an annoyed look.  After they all left, Hekhmut strode over and gently picked up the unconscious form of Jenny Calendar in his arms.

 

“Come, my dear Jennifer.  There is much to do, and I must make certain you are properly…prepared.”  With a chuckle, he strode away with the unconscious woman.

 

#

 

Sunnydale High School Library

18:35 PST

 

Everyone in the library stared momentarily at the corpse of Edward Trent, lying at the feet of Jericho.  The library was eerily quiet save for the continuous rumble of thunder and the sound of the pouring rain.  No one said anything for a minute after what they had just seen, until Giles angrily broke the silence.  “Why in the bloody hell did you kill him?”

 

Jericho stared back at Giles with a slightly puzzled yet casual expression. “Why not?  He was a murderer and overall pain-in-the-ass to boot.”

 

The Watcher gritted his teeth.  “Yes, and you’re correct, it doesn’t bother me one bit that the murdering bastard is now dead, except for the fact that the entire Watcher’s Council will be all over every single one of us!  And don’t even think that I’m going to let anyone assign the blame for this to Buffy, her friends or anyone else other than YOU!”

 

“Rupert,” Layla’s soft, accented voice turned the Watcher’s attention to her.  “There will be none of that.  In fact, I would like to assure you and everyone else in this library that steps have already been taken to properly ‘handle’ this.”

 

Giles’ expression changed to one of complete bafflement.  “Handled?  What the devil do you mean?  What’s going on here?”

 

The security consultant made an audible sigh.  “You might as well tell them, Layla.  The proverbial cat is pretty much out of the bag, seeing as everyone here already knows you’re psychic.”

 

Everyone save Jericho and Giles glared at the Frenchwoman, appearing like a pack of wolves sizing up a potential threat, while Giles narrowed his eyes at the psychic with a look of both suspicion and hesitation, as if expecting to hear something he wouldn’t like.  The psychic sighed.  “Very well.”  Layla looked at her ex-lover squarely in his eyes.  “Rupert, when you…asked me earlier, about why I was really here, the truth is, well….” She swallowed before continuing.  “I am working for the Watcher’s Council, but only on a consulting basis.  I, we, that is, Jericho and I, we also have…other employers.”

 

Buffy glared at Layla suspiciously, her sense of paranoia starting to shift into overdrive.  “Other employers?  Who do you work for, lady?!”

 

Layla pursed her lips thoughtfully for a moment.  “Allow me to start with myself.”  The woman reached underneath the neckline of her blouse, causing the Slayerettes to automatically tense.  Everyone held their breath before Layla carefully withdrew a golden pendant attached to a fine golden chain around her neck and allowed it to be prominently displayed against her blouse.  The pendant almost seemed to resemble a medallion, circular in shape and several inches wide.  The polished metal reflected the dim light of the library with a seemingly living radiance of its own.  An exquisite carving within the medallion formed the shape of a left eye, with a small green gemstone set within the iris that glittered like a star, while several small hieroglyphs were elegantly arranged around the eye.

 

Buffy looked at the pendant for a moment before fixing her eyes again on the woman that held it.  “Okay, that’s a nice piece of jewelry you’ve got there.  I assume it means something?”

 

Before Layla could reply, Willow said, “It’s an Utchat, Buffy, the eye of Thoth.  It’s one of the two sacred eyes of Horus in Egyptian mythology.”  The little red witch then noticed all the stares directed her way. “Um, I read about it in one of Giles’ books,” she added, blushing slightly.

 

Layla blinked at the redheaded Wicca, a look of pleasant surprise on her face.  “Yes, you are correct.  That is exactly what this is, although you may have forgotten to mention that this eye is sacred to the Goddess Bast.  And by that I mean…I am one of the Lady’s humble servants.”  The Frenchwoman took a moment to regard Giles, a look of puzzlement on his face, and after a moment’s hesitation, made a graceful yet humble bow directed toward both the Slayer and the Amazons.  “At the risk of sounding too formal…allow me to reintroduce myself.  I am Adept Priestess Layla Constantin, understudy to the Immortal High Priestess Ankh-Meres-Bast, daughter of the Sacred Temple and Sisterhood of Bast.”  Her tone became more respectful as she continued to bow.  “It is an honor to make your acquaintance, Amazons, Chosen daughters of Artemis, as well as you, Elizabeth Anne Summers, the prophesied Immortal Slayer.”

 

All the Scoobies stared at Layla for several moments, trying to digest what they’d just heard, before Cordelia decided to break the silence. “Okay, let me get this straight.  You’re an under-something to And-huh-what?”

 

“If I understand correctly what Layla just said,” Giles interjected as he took off his glasses in a manner that meant that he was clearly perplexed, “She claims to be a priestess of the Egyptian Goddess of the Moon and Rising Sun, Fertility and Felines, among other things.”  His eyes then narrowed with suspicion at the Frenchwoman.  “However, I’m not certain I’m inclined to believe what you’re telling us.”

 

“Join the club,” Buffy added sarcastically.

 

Layla looked at her ex-lover again, hints of pain and frustration manifesting in her eyes before she hesitantly continued.  “I speak the truth now, Rupert, please believe me.  I…represent a mystical sisterhood, one devoted to the lady Bast. We have awaited the return of the Amazons for some time now.”  She then turned back to the assembled Amazons.  “When the Sisterhood sensed the rebirth of the Amazons, we were filled with joy to know that our sisters-in-arms walked the Earth once more.”  Her expression then became grim.  “Unfortunately, we are not the only ones to have sensed your return.  One of our most ancient foes has also sensed your presence, a consortium that calls itself the Disciples of Set.  As the name implies, they are a cult dedicated to the worship of the malevolent Egyptian God.  Your presence had apparently gained their attention when the High Priestess of our temple received a vision from the Lady, warning that the Disciples were sending an emissary to attempt to prevent the future spread of the Amazon Nation.  Unfortunately, the warning was rather vague as to what specifically entailed the threat, although it was sensed to be very close by.  When we learned that the Watcher’s Council was sending an envoy here to study the Slayer, they felt I would be the most ideal agent for this mission, since I was already a consultant for the Watchers.”

 

Giles stared off into space for a long moment, a range of emotions playing across his face, before he regarded Layla again, this time his face showing one definite emotion…betrayal.  “This-this is just unbelievable.  After my willingness to give you the benefit of a doubt, after my willingness to trust you…you still continue to hide things from me?”  His look of betrayal gave way to anger.  “Why the bloody hell did you go through such an elaborate deception…WHY?!”

 

Giles’ roar stunned the Frenchwoman momentarily, before tears began to form in her eyes.  Blinking her eyes shut momentarily to hold them at bay, the priestess took a deep breath, then opened her eyes and continued.  “Because we…I didn’t know who constituted the threat, Rupert.  The demon, or Hekhmut for that matter, apparently was using some powerful cloaking magicks to disguise himself, even from me. For all we knew it could have been anyone, perhaps even one of your young charges here, maybe Jenny, or, Goddess forbid, even you.” 

 

Buffy snarled and if Giles hadn’t stepped in her way would have been on Layla like a panther.  “No way, lady!  Giles could never betray me!”

 

Layla’s voice choked with emotion.  “Please understand, I prayed to the Lady it wouldn’t be so, that once we revealed the threat, I could find a way to forego this awful deception and tell you and your friends the truth, but—I am so sorry.”  Her tears finally trickled down her face, before she quickly wiped them away.

 

The Watcher looked downcast, shaking his head, trying to understand what he’d heard, or wondering if he should believe at all.  Part of him felt like he wanted to forgive her, to truly believe everything she’d said, while the other half, his authoritarian Watcher persona, told him to keep a level head and remind him that there still were unanswered questions…

 

“You still haven’t told us everything,” Giles said in a more interrogative tone. “Your so-called Sisterhood couldn’t have just arranged you to join the Watcher team without some inside help.  What I want to know is who.”  His tone of voice brooked no room for arguments.

 

“You’re right, Mr. Giles,” Jericho spoke up, surprising everyone. After sharing a brief look with Layla, he continued.  “We did have help.  In fact, to tell the truth, the ‘inside man’ you’re referring to just happens to be my real employer.  My position as security escort to Lay…excuse me, Doctor Constantin, is just a cover.”  The man looked at the Watcher squarely in the eye.  “I work for your father, Edwin Giles.  He said that—“ He never had a chance to finish as Giles strode over to Jericho and clamped his hand around his neck, all in one breath.

 

“My father set you all up for this?”  Giles hissed, baring his teeth as his blood began to boil at the mere mention of his father’s name.  “Why here; why now?  Does the overbearing bastard enjoy making my life a living hell?  Did he hire you to give me grief, knowing I’d bloody well kill him if he even so much as tried to lay a hand either on Jenny or Buffy?”

 

“No,” Jericho grunted, trying to be somewhat civil as he tried to pry Giles’ fingers from his throat.  “It’s nothing like that.  Edwin ordered me to accompany Layla…to Sunnydale.”

 

“How convenient,” Giles said darkly, “then perhaps I should send you back to my father in pieces.”

 

At that moment, Cordelia and Xander both stared, wide-eyed, at the tense scene.  “They used to call him ‘Ripper,’ huh?” Cordelia asked

 

Xander nodded woodenly.  “That’s what that Ethan Rayne guy always called him.”

 

She nearly choked on the lump in her throat.  “Somehow… that works for me.”

 

While everyone else was motionless, Buffy moved to her Watcher’s side.  “Giles,” Buffy said lowly, “please stop.  You’re scaring our friends.”

 

The Watcher shot an askew glance at his Slayer, searching for any signs of her fear of him.  He found none.  He only witnessed her compassion and devotion for him in her beautiful blue-green eyes.  Stunned by the unvarnished emotions plainly evident on her lovely face, Giles loosened his grip on the other man’s throat.

 

#

 

*Amy!*

 

The blonde witch tore her eyes away from the scene involving the Watcher and his Slayer to the red headed witch whose voice she’d suddenly heard in her mind.

 

*Willow?*

 

*Did you see that—that thing between Buffy and Giles?*

 

Amy nodded.  *Yeah.  She can stop him dead in his tracks with a few words, too.  I guess it works both ways.*

 

*Man…they’re really giving me the wiggins.  They’re acting like lovers who’ve been together for years.*

 

Then Willow felt the psychic shrug of her fair-haired sister tickle her mind.  *Maybe so…but I can’t help but think…it’s sort of romantic...and kind of hot!*

 

Amy felt Willow’s slightly annoyed expression through their link just then.  *That’s it, missy.  No more Harlequin romances for you!*

 

#

 

Jericho gasped.  “Dammit, man…listen to me! Your father’s…a ‘friend’ of Layla’s sisterhood.  When he heard of the danger, he wanted me to come along…to watch you…to make sure you didn’t get caught…in the crossfire.”  He coughed momentarily.  “Edwin did say…you’d get rather steamed.  He wanted to let you know…for what it’s worth…he did this because he loves you.”

 

The anger almost completely evaporated in the Watcher’s eyes at Jericho’s revelation, before his hand unclamped from the consultant’s throat, allowing Jericho to breathe in much-needed air for a moment before he was able to right himself and glare at the Watcher.  “Satisfied?” he growled.

 

Giles stared at the man and woman before him for a long moment, before Buffy sighed in frustration and broke the silence.  “Giles,” she spoke in a gentle yet firm voice, causing her Watcher to turn his full attention to her.  “We don’t have time to waste. If Jenny’s been kidnapped by this…this ‘Hack Mutt’ guy, and the Hell Riders are involved, we need to act fast.  We have to come up with a plan, now.”

 

“Yes, yes, of course,” Giles agreed, nodding reluctantly before turning his attention back to Layla and Jericho.  “We’ll discuss this further at a later time. Now, if you’ll kindly get out of the bloody way, we have things to do.”

 

“Rupert,” Layla said gently, “Allow us to help, please.  It’s why we came.  If it is indeed Hekmut, and he has vampires along with...well, who knows what else, you may need all the help you can muster.”

 

The Watcher growled.  “Like bloody hell!  We—“

 

“Giles,” The Slayer interrupted again, “Layla’s right.  Better let them come with us.”

 

Buffy’s Watcher turned and looked at his charge with complete surprise.  “Excuse me?  Buffy, this is not the time for—”

 

“We need their help,” Buffy cut in.  As much as she didn’t want to admit it, this was beginning to remind her of when she and Giles had confronted Jenny about Angel’s curse.  No, she thought, it wasn’t the same as that…or was it?  Jenny had said she’d only been doing her duty, she knew nothing about the curse.  Wasn’t it the same with Layla, and wasn’t she there to actually protect the Amazons?  Or at least, that’s what she claimed.  Buffy chased away her brief foray into internal ‘Buffy-babble’ and refocused on the situation at hand.  She stared directly into the Watcher’s eyes.  “Actually, maybe we don’t need their help, but…if this whole deal is as bad as it sounds, we’ll need whatever edge we can get.  Trust me…please?”  After several moments, Giles nodded reluctantly.

 

“Thank you, Buffy,” The Frenchwoman said softly.  “I…we—“

 

“Don’t thank me just yet, Layla,” Buffy retorted sharply.  “You just hold up your end of the bargain, and no funny business, understand?”  With that, she shifted smoothly into her Slayer-mode.  “Now, we need to know exactly where they took Jenny.  Anyone got any bright ideas?  Layla, Will, Amy…can any of you, like, scan or scry for her, or something like that?”

 

The priestess shook her head.  “Well, I can certainly sense that she’s not in the immediate vicinity, but further than that…I cannot tell.  I’m strong but not that powerful, Buffy. The energies of this place, this Hellmouth, it—it effects my extrasensory abilities to a certain extent.  I had to suppress them and my other mystical abilities somewhat when I first arrived, lest I draw unnecessary attention to myself, although that is rather pointless now.”  She then sighed in frustration.  “Unfortunately, if Hekhmut is as effective as he is at cloaking himself magically, he may be effective at cloaking Jenny as well.  I could call upon the Lady to assist me in scrying his location, but that could take some time.  Unless we had a more powerful spell…”

 

“Wait!” Amy shouted.  “How about a locator spell?”

 

Layla’s well-manicured eyebrows shot up at that.  “A locator spell?  I...I think that may work, but to make it effective, at least in this case strong enough to pierce whatever magicks Hekhmut may be using, you would need something that was part of Jenny…er, as in blood, or fingernails, or hair…”

 

“Hair,” Willow whispered, stroking her chin softly before her witch-green eyes flashed.  “Wait a minute,” she said as she walked over and picked up Jenny’s purse. The little red witch began to dig through it, carefully noting the Glock 30 pistol that was stored in the hidden holster, before she triumphantly fished out a hairbrush.  “Here! What about this?” The Wicca removed a clump of black hair from the brush and showed it to Layla, Giles and Amy.

 

The blonde witch grimaced slightly despite the excitement she felt.  “Jenny needs to clean her brush a little more often, but…yeah, I think this might work!  We just need to get together a few ingredients and tools, and a map of Sunnydale and the surrounding area, and we should be good to go.”  Amy then paused for a moment. “Wait, we also need something else.  It’s a sisters-calling-to-sister type spell in this case, so we’re gonna need blood.  Mine, Willow’s and Cordy’s.”  She then noticed the blanched looks that momentarily appeared on Willow and Cordy’s faces.  “It, um, shouldn’t require too much, I think,” she added in an attempt to sound reassuring.

 

Cordelia shook off her momentary sense of dread and set her face in a firm expression that was now all business.  “Whatever,” she growled.  “As long as it works.  Jenny’s our sister, so we’ll do whatever it takes to get her back, right?”  Amy nodded in reply, her own face set in a grim expression.

 

Willow nodded grimly as well, her “resolve face” now clearly in force.  “Yeah, what Cordy said.

 

The Watcher’s worry and concern for his beloved was tempered by the determination he witnessed from the three beautiful young Amazons.  “Willow, Amy, this version of the locator spell you appear to describe, it seems quite powerful.  Do you think you can succeed?”

 

Amy furrowed her brow momentarily.  “Well, actually, we’ve only practiced it once or twice with Jenny…but I don’t think we have time to pull off anything else, we have to try.”

 

Buffy nodded forcefully, ending the discussion.  “We’ve got no other choice.  Okay, Amy, Willow, get the necessary ingredients you need together.  Cordelia, go with them.  Xander and Oz, head over to Steve’ place, let him know what’s going on, then start cracking out all the hardware and get it ready.  And by that, I mean everything…guns, armor, grenades, everything. Got it?”  The two boys nodded.  “Good.”  She then turned to Giles.  “Do you have anything in particular that might help against this demon guy?”

 

“Y-yes, I believe I do,” the Watcher said.  “If it’s Hekhmut, we will definitely need whatever we can muster against him.  I do believe I have a few spells in my books along with some implements that might help, but…it’s just…” Giles stared off into space momentarily, a flash of guilt crossing his face.

 

“Giles?” Buffy asked gently.  Although she hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, her hair had stood on end ever since they’d learned about this demon.  A sense of dread permeated her soul as she wondered if this demon could be a little too familiar to the man who’d once summoned demons as the Ripper.

 

The Watcher shook his head. “Never mind.  I didn’t mean to…ahm, what would you say, space out like that?  It’s just…Jenny.”  The Watcher finally began to choke, as he began to realize just how serious and deadly matters had become, probably much worse than when Jenny had been possessed by Eyghon.  The mere thought of that, coupled with what they faced, or to be specific, with what he knew they faced, filled him with both guilt and horror.  “Oh god…I’m sorry, it’s just…if anything happens to her…”

 

The Slayer gently laid a hand on his arm in a show of support.  “We’ll get her back, Giles,” the Slayer continued in a tone meant to comfort her Watcher.  “No ifs, ands, or buts.”  The other Slayerettes and even Layla voiced their support, although Jericho made a gentle clearing of his throat, to which the Slayer arched an eyebrow.  “Yeah?”

 

“No offense, boys and girls,” Jericho said cautiously, “but from the sound of things, this rescue business isn’t kid’s stuff.  Now, with Ms. Summers being the Slayer, I get that.  But the rest of you?”  He gazed at Cordelia, Xander, Willow, Oz and Amy before shaking his head.  “Look, maybe you’re Amazons, maybe you’ve got some combat skills, or witchcraft, or whatnot, but this isn’t something for a bunch of kids wanting to play toy soldiers.  Might I suggest you kids step aside and let the professionals handle this?”

 

Layla gritted her teeth and appeared ready to belt out something to her partner, before Willow beat her to the punch.  The red-headed Wicca stalked within an inch of Jericho, her “resolve face” on full display as her eyes visibly changed from their normal witch-green hue to a void-like black with pinpricks of red light.  Jericho nearly winced as Willow spoke in a deadly voice.  “Maybe you should step aside if you’re even beginning to suggest we stand aside and do nothing when our own sister is in danger.  We’re Amazons, we’re sisters and we look after our own.  If you have a problem with that, then maybe you should get the hell out of the way.  Of course, I can always…help you with that.”  A wicked smile then appeared on the Wicca’s face, one that hinted at no mirth or mercy whatsoever, causing Jericho to suddenly feel a twinge of something he hadn’t felt in quite a while…fear.  After a short breath, Jericho reluctantly nodded.

 

Whoa, check out Willow going into ‘psycho-bitch’ mode, Cordelia mused inwardly.  The self-proclaimed prom queen, who normally considered herself the epitome of bitchiness, couldn’t help but be impressed…and a little scared.

 

The Slayer watched the scene and was a little freaked by her best friend’s display.  Then she shook her head to clear the frightening image of Willow’s dark turn from her mind and turned back to her Watcher. “I’ll stay with you and help you get whatever you need, ‘kay?”  Giles nodded agreeably, before a cough emanated from the boys, barely disguising something indistinguishable that they both muttered under their breath.  The Slayer turned to look at both of them sharply, her Slayer hearing definitely catching them muttering something.  “Excuse me, what was that?!”

 

“Er, nothing,” Xander said quickly.

 

Buffy glared at Xander momentarily before turning her gaze to the corpse of Edward, lying motionless on the library floor.  “What about…him?”

 

Jericho pulled a cellphone from his duffel bag and punched in a number.  “I’ll handle this, don’t worry.”  He turned away from the Slayerettes and quietly began to talk into the phone.

The Slayer then directed her gaze to Layla who stood nearby.  The priestess of Bast cleared her throat slightly as she regarded the petite blonde who now had an all-business and no-nonsense air around her.  “I will go with Jericho and help him…dispose of this,” the Frenchwoman said softly in her accented voice, as she nodded toward Edward’s corpse.  “Afterwards we will head to the motel and gather our own weapons and gear.  Don’t worry, ma petit,” she added, a ghost of a smile appearing on her lips, “we came prepared.  This is the Hellmouth, after all.”

 

Buffy allowed just a faint hint of a smile to appear on her own pretty face in reply.  “Good.  Meet us in an hour at 317 Brandt Terrace.”  She then gave Layla quick directions to the place.  “That’s the residence of my…er, boyfriend, St. Wolf.”

 

“Steven St. Wolf?  The gentilhomme called the Wanderer?”

 

The Slayer arched an eyebrow.  “Yeah.  Lemme guess, you know him too?”

 

“Well…only by reputation,” Layla replied rather cautiously.  “Although, I feel I should warn you, I believe Jericho also knows your…boyfriend. From what I know,” she added, cringing slightly, “I do not believe they are the best of friends.”

 

Buffy blinked at that.  NOT the best of friends?  Oh boy…  She sighed deeply in resignation.  “Well, whatever.  Just meet us there in an hour, got it?”  The Frenchwoman nodded and walked away, leaving the Slayer to muse silently for a moment.  That’s just peachy, yet another surprise coming. Did we just win the cosmic lottery today, or what??

 

#

 

317 Brandt Terrace

Residence of Steven St. Wolf

19:40 PST

 

As the evening thunderstorm continued to pummel Sunnydale, a flurry of activity swirled around inside the house of Steven St. Wolf, as the Slayerettes and the Wanderer were busy making preparations for what would undoubtedly be a very busy night.

 

Oz and Xander had been the first to arrive at St. Wolf’s home, as the two went back and forth with each other in detail over what had happened that day to a nearly disbelieving St. Wolf, who could only shake his head in wonder.  The Wanderer had been busy sharpening several blessed silver knives and wooden daggers, among other things in preparation for tonight’s patrol, although it now seemed vampires were not going to be the only problem tonight.  The Immortal Demon Hunter’s expression had grown wide in alarm however, before furrowing in suspicion at the mention of Jericho Saito. Although the boys suspected the two knew each other and pressed for details, St. Wolf refused to relent with a particular growl that left the boys opting to let the matter rest, for now.  Steve and the two boys then began to pull out and prepare various weapons, ammunition, assault gear, and communications equipment from the house’s substantial subterranean armory and spread them in an orderly manner on the large mahogany dining room table.  In addition they pulled out the sets of specialized combat armor that had just recently arrived a few days ago, custom-built for the Wanderer and each member of the Slayerettes. The boys were still rather curious about the mysterious suits of armor and their rather unique traits, and were about to ask about the armor again when the doorbell rang.  A check from the closed-circuit TV camera in Steve’s office, along with a bark from the Guardian Spirit, Duke, verified the arrival of the rain-soaked Amazons, with several pouches of herbs and spellcasting implements in their possession, along with the equally rain-soaked Slayer and her Watcher, who also bore several books and a few other assorted items.

 

The witches immediately went to work preparing their spell, as they cleared off the large oak coffee table in the living room and began to place different pouches of herbs, several crystals and runestones, several thick candles of differing colors, an elegantly polished brazier, an athame ritual knife, and last but not least, a map of Sunnydale and the surrounding area on top of it.  As the witches busied themselves, Amy sensed her spiritual sister’s apprehension.  “Willow?”  The redheaded Wicca glanced up from her task of arranging various herbs in the brazier, a look of worry evident on her pixie-like face. “Are you okay?  I mean, okay, that’s probably a dumb question, because I know how close you are to Jenny.  I mean, she’s our sister, and she’s close to all of us, but with you, I…everyone knows it goes deeper than that.”

 

The little red witch swallowed a small lump that had been slowly forming in her throat since Jenny’s kidnapping.  “I-it’s just…she’s not just my mentor Amy.  She…she’s the mom I wish I had…maybe the mom I’ll never have.”  Her witch-green eyes began to brim with tears.  “I know Jenny and I will never say something like that directly to each other, you know?  But I wonder if…” She swallowed again before a tear trickled down her cheek.

 

Amy’s own eyes misted over with emotion before she reached over and gently hugged her Amazon sister.  “We’ll get her back, Will, don’t worry.  But to do that, we need you centered and focused for this spell, okay?”  After a moment, Willow nodded, then felt two strong yet delicate hands gently stroking her back in a show of support, before she looked up and noticed Buffy and Cordelia standing behind her.  The Amazon Wicca managed a smile before she drew a long breath, gathered her thoughts again and focused.  “Thanks, guys.  I’ll be okay.”

 

The Slayer nodded in relief before she heard the sound of an approaching car above the ongoing roar of the thunderstorm.  The Chosen One, with Duke in tow, strode over to Steve’s office as she slid a magazine loaded with enchanted silver and compressed wooden bullets into her Sig Sauer P229 pistol and racked the slide, before walking up to the office windows to gaze out at the front yard, where a Mazda Protégé could be seen parking along the sidewalk.  After a moment, two figures could be seen exiting the car and hurriedly pulling out various duffel bags from the backseat and trunk.  Despite the darkness and pouring rain, the Slayer’s finely-tuned vision instantly made out the forms of Jericho and Layla.  Soon, both figures ran up underneath the roof of the front porch then the doorbell rang. 

 

“They’re here,” Buffy called out to St. Wolf, who was busy loading a magazine into a Colt M4A1 carbine with an under-mounted grenade launcher and scope-mounted, flat-topped receiver.  The Wanderer visibly tensed before he slammed the bolt closed on the assault rifle and charged the handle, then strode with it in his hands, past a wide-eyed Buffy, up to the front door and opened it, revealing Jericho and Layla.

 

While the Frenchwoman looked rather apprehensive as she regarded the tall, muscular brown-haired man who stood in the doorway, with an assault rifle at his side no less, the Asian-American calmly regarded the Wanderer, albeit with a dark expression in his eyes.

 

“Hello Steve, how’s it going?  Gotta say, the world just isn’t big enough for the two of us, is it?”  Jericho spoke quietly in a calm and measured tone.

 

“Too small for the two of us, Jericho,” the Wanderer replied darkly, as he looked the man and woman up and down.  “Anyone ever mention you’re like a bad penny that always turns up?”

 

Jericho chuckled mirthlessly.  “Same could be said about you, Steve. Aren’t you going to invite us in?  It’s raining out here, we’re on a tight schedule, and I don’t think it’d be a good idea to start any violence out here with the potential for witnesses peeking from their windows.  If you want to throw down, we could at least do it indoors in private,” he added with a tinge of dry sarcasm.

 

The Wanderer stared down the man who stood outside, before he heard Buffy gently yet firmly clear her throat behind him.  “Steve? It’s getting kinda drafty in here. Maybe you should let them in?”  She herself was quite curious as to what was this thing that apparently existed between her boyfriend and Jericho.

 

St. Wolf narrowed his eyes at the two arrivals before backing up and, with a reluctant nod to Duke indicating he should step aside, allowed Jericho and Layla to enter the foyer.  The Slayer greeted both of the arrivals and motioned for them to follow her.  The telepathic priestess and the security consultant dutifully complied, with a highly alert St. Wolf and a suspicious Duke right behind them.  The quintet made their way past the kitchen and into the dining room and living room, where the other Slayerettes were busy preparing various gear and weapons as well as ritual items for the locator spell.  Jericho hadn’t taken another step before he heard St. Wolf’s voice behind him. “That’s far enough, Jericho.”  The man sighed and dropped one of his bags, as he turned to face the Wanderer.  Several eyes widened in alarm when they saw St. Wolf now had the assault rifle directly aimed at Jericho’s chest. 

 

Layla seemed to automatically tense into a stance and narrowed her eyes, apparently ready to send a psychic blast into St. Wolf’s mind before Jericho made a subtle wave with his free hand, indicating to her to back off as his other hand carefully drifted inside the bag he wore on his right shoulder.  A faint yet audible click could be heard from inside the bag…

 

“Don’t even think about it,” the Wanderer warned in a deadly voice.

 

The Slayer blinked at what she saw, before the rational part of her mind told her to act.  She stepped between both men and faced her boyfriend.  “Steve? What the hell is going on?”

 

“Xander and Oz filled me in on what happened today,” the Wanderer replied calmly, his eyes never leaving Jericho’s gaze, who stared back with an equally cool expression.  “So, this man claims he’s working for Rupert Giles’ father, doesn’t he?”

 

“You know what, St. Wolf?” Jericho shot back in an icy tone, “Why don’t you just piss off!  I don’t work for you and I don’t owe you a damn thing.” He continued to coolly regard the Wanderer as he continued. “In fact, I do work for Edwin Giles.” He made a slight, casual shrug with his shoulders. “What can I say?  A man has to make a more-or-less honest living somehow.”

 

The Wanderer’s eyes darkened even further.  “I wouldn’t call being an assassin an honest living, Jericho.”

 

The Slayer looked back and forth between her boyfriend and the security consultant, or assassin as St. Wolf was now apparently calling him.  “Excuse me?  Hello? Care to fill in the audience in the bleachers here?”

 

“Jericho is…or was, an assassin working for a government black-ops unit,” the Wanderer said, not missing a beat.  “And a rather highly prolific one at that.  Some say he’s one of the deadliest in the world, among…other things.  He’s carried out quite a few hits in his time.”  St. Wolf’s voice became slightly lower and deadlier in tone as he continued.  “And isn’t it just interesting you happen to drop into the neighborhood?”

 

As Buffy turned to regard Jericho, the assassin looked at her with a ghost of a smirk on his face.  “No need to worry, Ms. Summers.  I am in fact a, well, I prefer to call myself a ‘troubleshooter’, but the point is I don’t work for the government anymore.  Long story, but to make it short, we had a bit of a…” His face darkened considerably for a moment, before he closed his eyes and shook it off.  “A falling out, as it were. But that’s not important.”  He turned his gaze back to the Wanderer, who still held the assault rifle to his chest.  “Truth be told, we have a bit of a history, but that isn’t why I’m here.  I’m just here to keep an eye on Layla and Mr. Giles, and make sure Edwin’s son doesn’t run into any nasty mishaps…like you, for instance.” 

 

“Oh, that’s almost funny.”

 

Jericho’s eyes narrowed.  “It wasn’t meant to be.  After we get this mess sorted out with Ms. Calendar and these demon-types, you can go proclaim yourself a hero once again, and I’ll go with Layla back to England and collect a nice paycheck.  So there, everything explained.” He then bared his teeth slightly as his expression darkened.  “Now, I suggest you get that rifle out of my face. It’s rude to point a gun at people unless you intend to use it.”  As if to get his point across, Jericho shifted what he held inside the duffel bag slung on his shoulder, allowing the barrel tip of a distinctly linear submachine gun to poke from the bag’s zipper lining.  The FN P90 he’d been carrying earlier was now out of the briefcase and fully loaded.

 

“Precisely, Jericho,” the Wanderer replied.  The rifle in his hands didn’t flinch.

 

For a long moment tension hung in the air, everyone else in the house plus Duke glued to what they saw before them, as the two men faced off each other as though they were in a standoff at the OK Corral in Tombstone.  The tension was unexpectedly broken when two dainty yet firm hands slapped both weapons away in an upward motion.  The two men gazed in surprise at the Slayer, who now stood with her hands balled into fists on her shapely hips, glaring at both men.

 

“If you two idiots are finished playing ‘Gunsmoke’ or whatever,” she hissed in a deadly voice, “then I’d suggest you hang up your guns and focus on why we’re here, and that’s to save Ms. Calendar and stop a bunch of vamps and a demon from making a smorgasbord out of the local population.  Now, if you continue to insist on being cavemen and engage in any more testosterone poisoning, I will personally break every last freaking bone in your bodies and send you both to the hospital, permanently!”

 

Everyone’s eyebrows rose at the threat that Buffy Summers, the Immortal Slayer, had just uttered to the two men, save one.  Giles gently yet firmly cleared his throat and drew everyone’s attention.  “I suggest you two behave like gentlemen, and do what the lady says,” he said in a velvety voice with a hint of menace, as he allowed his eyes to take on a “Ripper”-like gleam.

 

Both men looked at each other warily one last time before they, ever so gently, lowered their weapons, both of them wisely deciding that the last thing they wanted to do at that moment was get on the bad side of a pissed-off Slayer or her Watcher.

 

Wow, Buffy sure has a way with men, Willow mused quietly.

 

The Slayer, with both hands on her slim hips, nodded to herself, satisfied that the two men, at least for now, would behave accordingly.  She then turned to the Amazons. “Are you ready to cast your spell?”

 

Amy spared a quick glance at Willow, who took a deep breath and nodded.  “We’re ready,” the blonde witch said.  The witches each lit a small wick and in turn began to methodically light each of the various candles that were arranged around the brazier.  Candlelight softly reflected off of the polished surfaces of the runestones, as well as the elegant brazier and the athame that lay nearby, as the witches carefully whispered a chant in an ancient language.  After the candles were lit, both witches gently placed the wicks in the brazier along with the clump of Jenny’s hair. The herbs began to smoke and flame, giving off a sweet yet pungent odor.  With the task completed, Amy gently picked up the ritual knife and removed the fine red cloth from its blade, allowing the metal to gleam in the candlelight. 

 

“Say, do you think they put any particular herbs in that thing?” Xander queried in a hushed tone. “Because I think I’m beginning to feel kinda funky in the brain, not like I’m starting to see colors or anything, but…” His babble came to a halt when he noticed the annoyed stares from the rest of the house’s occupants, including Duke.

 

“Now for the unpleasant part,” Amy muttered, ignoring Xander’s comments as she brought the fine point of the knife to the palm of her right hand.  She drew a breath then winced as she lightly stabbed her palm, the cut leaving a red welt that began to grow as she extended her right hand over the brazier.  She then handed the knife to Willow, who paled visibly.

 

Willow reluctantly accepted the dagger and guided it to the palm of her own hand.  She paused momentarily and nearly swooned.  “I’m…okay with this,” she told herself, then looked again at the dagger and the minute droplet of blood that stained its tip.  “Or…maybe not.”  She shut her eyes momentarily then grimaced as she jabbed her own palm with the knife, then opened her eyes again and turned nearly white as a sheet.  After a moment she regained her “resolve face” as she linked her bloody hand with Amy’s and intertwined her fingers with hers.  She then gave the knife to the brunette Amazon with her left hand.

 

“Oh, I SO hate this,” Cordelia groaned as she took the knife.  The former prom queen held the knife momentarily, as if reluctant to perform the needed task.  She then pursed her lips and became serious again.  “To hell with it,” she muttered and jabbed her own palm with the knife as well. Cordelia yelped with a rather loud “OUCH” then looked somewhat relieved when the task was finally done.  After she handed the knife to Amy, who gently placed the knife on its ceremonial cloth on the table with her free hand, the brunette Amazon brought her own bloodied hand up and clasped it with the two witches, interlocking their fingers.  The blonde witch shared a look with the little red witch, and both chanted the final part of the spell.

 

Goddess Hecate we pray,

Allow us to find our lost sister,

By the power of our sisterly bond we petition thee,

So mote it be.

 

For a moment, everything grew still and quiet.  Even the raging storm outside suddenly became eerily quiet, before the lights throughout the house began to flicker.  Then everything went completely dark save for the illumination of the candles arranged around the brazier.  Suddenly, by the candle’s flickering light, minute drops of blood could be seen rising upwards from the Amazon’s clenched hands, almost as though they were being propelled by the lazy wisps of smoke rising from the brazier. The crystals began to pulsate with energy as the runes inscribed on the various stones also pulsated in unison. The droplets bobbled and coalesced together, until they formed a single tiny red sphere.  Specks of light seemed to flow from the burning candles like fireflies and flew into the blood, creating a small glittering orb of crimson light. The tiny, glittering sphere of blood floated over the map, then disappeared as it flew downward and struck the crinkled paper.  No one even dared breathe for one moment as everyone watched the scene before them.  Then, as if nothing happened, the lights flickered back on and everything appeared normal again.  The Amazons looked around and blinked, the wisps of scented smoke still rising from the brazier as they continued to hold hands.

 

“Uh, well, at least there wasn’t any aftereffects,” Willow offered lightly as the Amazons withdrew their hands, wincing at the blood on their palms just before a lamp sitting on a table stand nearby fizzled and shattered, startling nearly everyone in the room.  The little red witch cringed as everyone else looked at her with exasperated looks.  “Oops…sorry.”

 

“Whoa,” Cordelia muttered, blinking several times and shaking her head.  “That spell…that just felt…wiggy.”

 

The two witches regarded their brunette spiritual sister with concern.  Willow asked in a worried tone, “Are you okay?”

 

“Oh yeah, I guess.  I mean, I never participated in a spell-casty ritual thingamajig before.  It felt kinda neat actually.  I still got this tingly thing going through me.  But yeah…I’m okay.”

 

As the Amazons wrapped their bloodied hands with gauze, the others turned their eyes to the map that was still spread out on the coffee table. Giles bent over further to examine the map and noticed where the blood had landed.  He carefully wiped up the droplet with a piece of tissue and his face visibly tensed as he noted the location on the map highlighted by the blood.  “Pureza Del Fuego,” he said with apprehension. 

 

Buffy looked questioningly at her Watcher.  “Uh, excuse me?”

 

“Pureza del Fuego,” the Watcher repeated again, momentarily removing his spectacles with an obvious sense of worry.  “It’s an old ruined Spanish missionary settlement a few miles north of here. It’s reputed to have been the sight of a horrendous massacre of local Indian tribes by the Spanish Conquistadors, although no bodies were supposedly found.”  His voice became slightly more hushed as he continued.  “When the mission was built, it was rumored that the head priest and his fellow monks were practicing black magic rituals and sacrifices beneath the villa, and were torturing the remaining Indians in the area, that is until church Inquisitors raided the settlement and killed all the monks.  It’s been more or less abandoned since then. And what’s more, supposedly the monks were paying homage to a “serpent god from the deserts of the East”.  He glanced meaningfully at Layla, who nodded grimly.

 

“Set worshippers,” she said, nearly spitting out the name in disgust.  The connection was definitely clear.

 

The Slayer sighed resignedly.  “Why can’t these demony types ever choose a nice place like a shopping mall?”  Her face became all-business once again as she turned to her Immortal lover.  “You said you’ve faced these Hell Riders before?  What kind of arsenal do they usually pack?”

 

The Wanderer scratched his chin and said, “Usually whatever they can get their hands on; rifles, shotguns, handguns, mostly ‘civilian’ firearms.   They’ve also been known to carry some illegal firearms such as fully automatic Uzis and converted AR-15 rifles.”

 

“I wouldn’t plan on just that,” Layla warned, directing everyone’s attention to her.  “The Disciples of Set have a very well-funded and established criminal and terrorist network.  I would assume, from what has been described of these vampires, that Hekhmut has probably brought their services by supplying them with additional black market military hardware.” 

 

The Wanderer’s own expression became hard and determined.  “Well, guess we’ll find out, won’t we?”  He turned to all the assembled occupants in the house.  “All right people…saddle up.”

 

#

 

Several minutes later, more activity buzzed around the house as the Slayerettes busily strapped on various gear and weapons for an assault mission.  The group passed around silver “demon killer” bullets along with swords, wooden stakes, blessed silver knives, and concussion grenades that were wrapped in special nylon jackets packed with blessed silver fragmentation pellets.  They checked the loads and suppressors on their Glocks and Sig Sauer pistols, while the Wanderer and the Watcher quickly zeroed the ACOG optics mounted on their M4A1 carbines before loading 40mm high-explosive shells into the under-mounted M203 grenade launchers. The Wanderer then secured his sword Demon Slayer, along with a short, stubby Remington 870 MCS  “breeching configuration” shotgun, and his other mystical items while Giles prepared several charms and talismans.  Willow and Amy carefully stored several pouches filled with spellcasting components on their belts, before loading magazines stacked with 10mm Auto rounds into their Heckler & Koch MP5/10 submachine guns that were equipped with collimator sights, forearm lights and laser aiming modules.  They then passed out vials of healing potions supplied from the witches of New Salem to each member of the team.  Cordelia loaded blessed silver 12-gauge buckshot shells into a Benelli M3T Super 90 semi-auto shotgun, a customized version with a pistol grip and folding stock for close combat, and firmly pumped it once, loading a round into the chamber before inserting another shell into the magazine.  Satisfied, she looked over to her boyfriend Xander, who was loading a clip of two 30-round 5.56mm NATO magazines clamped together into his SIG 550 assault rifle, before he noticed Cordelia’s look and nodded in reply.  Nearby, Oz quietly checked the multi-vision scope and folding bipod on his own, similar rifle.  Since Xander and Oz didn’t possess metahuman strength or agility like the Wanderer, Buffy and the Amazons, it was decided both would stay back and provide cover fire whenever possible. 

 

The Slayer herself finished loading shells into her own customized M3T Super 90 shotgun, and then slid the finely crafted katana she’d been training with into a scabbard across her back.  After that she loaded a 30-round 9mm magazine into an H&K SMG II, a custom-designed, compact submachine gun that was built for covert “wet work” operations, and charged the cocking handle before strapping it to a specially designed holster on her belt. Satisfied that she was now ready, the petite blonde took a moment to survey the rest of her team.  All of the Slayerettes and Steve were now dressed in their dark armor that was composed of interlocking ballistic plates that, according to Steve, was capable of stopping no less than a fifty-caliber round.  Despite the incredible strength of the armor, it seemed to weigh no more than a full suit of ultra-lightweight Kevlar and barely made a sound when they were on the move.  Of course, all the boy’s eyes had widened considerably when the Slayer and the Amazons came downstairs after putting on their armor…

 

Apparently whoever had supplied the armor had heard that the girls wanted to always “look their best” when fighting demons, and thus their armor was particularly form-fitting as it fit snugly around every curve, perfectly outlining their attractive physiques along with chest-plates that pushed up their breasts and enhanced them with a low cut that generously showed some nice cleavage.  All the men had continued to gape at the girls…that is, until Layla and Jericho came down behind them.

 

Jericho was dressed in a suit of dark gray, modular body armor that apparently was designed for not just protection but stealth and subtlety as well, but everyone’s eyes were drawn to Layla’s outfit.  The priestess of Bast was dressed in what could only be described as a dark, revealing catsuit.  Soft, dark leather-like material with a velvety sheen encased the woman from neck to toe, fitting sensually and perfectly around her trim figure. A series of buckles held together the front of her suit, which was split down the middle and displayed her cleavage in a provocative manner.  An ornamental gold-and-leather utility belt encircled her waist, the belt appearing to have sigils of protection drawn into it that looked similar in design to the other sigils that were just faintly visible along every inch of the armor.  The utchat that Layla had shown earlier was now proudly displayed between her breasts, complemented by elegant bracers on her forearms, a golden choker at her neck, and a small, shimmering teardrop-shaped moonstone that was mounted on her forehead and held in place by a thin band of silver.  The suit and its accessories were clearly not for just show, however.  Anyone with a trained eye and a familiarity with matters technical or arcane could tell that the various items she wore were either equipped with hidden gadgets or were enchanted to make her more lethal in combat.

 

In short, the boys had once again found themselves gawking at the exotic woman, much to the annoyance of the girls. 

 

“You know, if it wasn’t for the fact that the lady knows how to accessorize, I’d say she looks kinda skanky,” Cordelia muttered lowly, before she noticed Layla glancing in her direction with a raised eyebrow that reminded her that the Frenchwoman could read minds.

 

Buffy rolled her own eyes as her Slayer-hearing heard Cordelia’s off-the-cuff remark, before she walked over to briefly check her Watcher, who continued to check his gear, although he’d already gone through everything.  The Slayer gently nudged him and asked, “You okay?”

 

The Watcher looked up, momentarily surprised before his face softened in reply.  “Oh, er, well, not exactly, but...thank you, Buffy. It’s just…I’m sorry; it’s just that I’m rather worried about all this.  Or rather…” The librarian quickly shook his head and ended his babble.  “Thank you for asking,” he added softly and went back to checking his gear again.  He just wanted to occupy his mind with something so he wouldn’t keep worrying about Jenny.

 

The Slayer held his arm in a comforting gesture as she nodded, before noticing that her dainty fingers were unconsciously caressing his back.  The Slayer quickly withdrew her hand with a wide-eyed expression on her pretty face. Uh, I was just trying to comfort him, that’s all.  I wasn’t trying to flirt with him! Uh-uh, no way.  She fervently hoped that no one had noticed…until she saw Steve had glanced in her direction.  Oh, crap…she thought, cringing inwardly as she attempted a small smile to reassure her lover.  Steve smiled warmly in response, although his eyes begged a question.  Deciding to check on Jericho and Layla, the Slayer moved toward the duo.  The assassin had several throwing knives and grenades arranged on his person, along with twin wakizashi blades on his back, two USP .45 Tactical pistols in a double shoulder rig, and a few other weapons that Buffy suspected were hidden.   The man had also quietly deferred his compact submachine gun for a much more brutal looking H&K G36K carbine with an under-mounted AG36 grenade launcher, with which he was busy checking the illuminated sights. Layla carefully zeroed the rail-mounted optics on her Steyr AUG A2 assault rifle before bending down to check the elongated daggers that were stowed in each boot and on her belt, along with a pair of CZ-75 Automatic machine pistols in holsters attached to her thighs.

 

“So, you’re just doing this for a paycheck, huh?” Buffy asked with a note of challenge in her voice as she faced Jericho.  The man looked up and noticed the stony expression on her face.

 

“As a matter of fact…yes,” Jericho replied calmly.  The Slayer continued to stare at him before he let out a sigh as he glared at the blonde.  “I have to make a living like anyone else, Ms. Summers.  And like it or not, guys like myself serve a purpose.  I ‘remove’ particularly annoying individuals like our dearly departed Mr. Trent, just so things can work a little more smoothly overall.  And yes, getting paid a nice sum definitely helps.”

 

“You don’t know,” she said softly.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“I said, you don’t know,” she said in a deadlier tone as her eyes narrowed.  “To you it’s just a job.  Giles was right. You…you don’t know what it’s like to be Chosen, to have all the normal things you wish you could have; friends, family, a life…all that taken from you.  To have a stake placed in your hands and told to kill things that you thought never existed, without ever knowing if today or tomorrow might be the last night of your life.” Her voice rose slightly and the other house’s occupants turned in her direction.  “To watch those same things kill people that you wished you could have saved.  To be told that this is it, that there’s no way out, no backing out of anything and no turning back.  To watch everything you thought you knew about life unravel before your eyes.  No,” she said in a final tone as her chin quivered with emotion, her eyes blazing with pain and anger, “you don’t know.”

 

The assassin seemed speechless for a moment, before he locked his eyes directly with the Chosen One’s and said in a tight voice,  “Actually you’re wrong Buffy.  Believe it or not…I do know.”  He then paused momentarily, as though he were thinking about something, before softly adding “And Buffy, what I said back in the library…I meant what I said.”  The Slayer could see a note of pathos in his own eyes, before he turned away and walked over to gaze out of one of the living room windows, the rain streaking against the paned glass.

 

“Buffy?”  The Slayer turned to the Frenchwoman whose dark hair was now tied back in a braid, a look of concern evident on her lovely face.  “You must not be so hard on Jericho.  I know you don’t know very much about him, but please understand he’s had a very difficult life, to say the least.” She let out a heavy sigh, before continuing.  “I know he’s not exactly a champion.  But…he does have his redeeming qualities.”

 

The Slayer flinched as a tiny bit of guilt crept over her.  “I wasn’t trying to be hard on him.  I just wanted him to know, that’s all.”  She let out a breath.  “God knows I’m hardly any sort of ‘champion’”.

 

The exotic beauty gazed at the Slayer sympathetically, noting that the Chosen One was glancing at her Watcher, who was quietly talking with St. Wolf.  “Perhaps you do not think so, but your Watcher certainly believes otherwise.”

 

Buffy looked at her with a puzzled expression on her face. “What do you mean?”

 

The psychic regarded her gently.  “Don’t you see, mademoiselle?  If you had been the one who was kidnapped, your Watcher would have ordered me to rip the information from Edward’s mind and render him a vegetable with no regard whatsoever for his well-being.  You ask how I am aware of this?  I sensed his thoughts, filled with the emotions he felt for you, when his defenses were momentarily down.”

 

The Slayer looked at her with confusion and guilt both clearly evident on her face. “I’ve done nothing except be a pain in the ass to him.  I’ve lied to him.  I tried to run from him when he asked me to take up my calling.  I’ve done nothing but give Rupert Giles a ton of grief.”

 

Buffy sighed deeply and blinked back a few tears.  “Not long ago, I gave into my feelings about a dark, handsome star-crossed lover.  I turned him into a monster who tried to kill everyone close to me until Steve and his friends chased him out of Sunnydale.  And you know, through it all, when I said how Giles must be so disappointed with me, do you know what he said?  He said, ‘he could offer nothing except his support and respect.’”  She sniffled and Buffy’s voice quavered slightly as her emotions threatened to bubble to the surface.  “You know, he wanted to go in my place to face the Master.  He would have died if I hadn’t knocked him out.  Can you tell me why he was willing to go in my place?”

 

Layla smiled gently yet sadly.  “How could he not, ma petit?  For Jenny he would fight to his last breath.  For you, he would gladly die a thousand deaths.  You are more than just the Slayer to him, Buffy. You are his champion…his goddess.  Jenny may be his love, but you, you silly girl…you are his life.”

 

The stunned Slayer could do nothing except stare at the Frenchwoman who had just dropped an atom bomb on her.  Conflicting emotions played clearly across her face as she struggled to process what she’d just been told, wondering if it could actually be true, that she’d been so blind as to how much her Watcher loved and cared for her all this time, before she reluctantly set it aside as her Slayer-self told her to concentrate on more important tasks at hand.  Another question then popped into her mind, which she put forth to the priestess.  “When we were in the library, you called me the ‘prophesied’ Immortal Slayer.  What exactly did you mean by that?”

 

The dark beauty pursed her lips momentarily in thought.  “I unfortunately know little Buffy, as the prophecy, as it was revealed to the Sisterhood, is rather vague,” she said in a hushed and respectful tone to the Slayer.  “However, I do know the prophecy speaks that a Slayer, one unlike any other known since the First Slayer, will ‘descend to earth’, and whose arrival will foretell the formation of the Army of Light, and the coming of the ‘Chosen Nine’.  I would like to think the Army of Light is perhaps the champions of humanity banding together, although I am not certain about the Chosen Nine. There are also vague references to a ‘Slayer Trinity’, and the rise of ‘Seven Sisters’, but what that last part entails, no one knows for certain, yet.”

 

The Slayer gulped as her eyes widened slightly at what she’d just been told. “Uhhh…okay.  Guess that’s almost as good as being told I won the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes any day of the week.”  Layla cocked an eyebrow in bemusement at Buffy’s observation before the petite blonde continued.  “But is that all?  I mean, is there anything else?”

 

Layla shook her head.  “No, I’m afraid not.  At least as far as I know.”  She then gently laid a hand on Buffy’s shoulder in an empathic gesture, the elegantly designed bracer on her wrist inlaid with scarab-shaped precious stones that shone in the lamplight. “But perhaps, this is another reason why you are more than just the Slayer, Buffy.  Perhaps…there is more to you than you have yet to realize.”  With that said, the priestess turned and walked over to Jericho who still stood by the window, leaving the Slayer by herself momentarily to process everything she’d been told.  Maybe I should ask Giles if he can research that prophecy Layla mentioned, the Slayer thought…

 

“Okay, everyone, are we set?” The Wanderer’s voice rang out in a calm, authoritative tone of command that interrupted the Slayer from her introspective moment.  Everyone nodded and did one final check, each person adjusting the headsets they wore that allowed two-way communication with each member of the team using a “whisper mike”.  In addition the headsets were each equipped with a retracting eyepiece that offered low-light night vision capability, something that was obviously useful for night operations.  After a final check from everyone that assured St. Wolf that everything was in order, the Wanderer hooked his mike to a small portable radio scanner on his belt that was designed to constantly scan all emergency channels including those used by EMS medics, the fire department and police. 

 

“Alright, we’ll split up in two teams and go in two vehicles.  Buffy, you’re with Giles, Jericho, Willow, and Oz.  Oz, take them in your van.  Cordelia, Xander, Amy and Layla, you’re with me in the Tahoe.”  He narrowed his eyes menacingly at the assassin.  “And Jericho…I’ll be watching you closely.  Don’t try anything stupid.”

 

Jericho shot an icy glare of his own at the Wanderer.  “Fills me with joy to be working with you too, Stevie-boy.”

 

The Wanderer fought the urge to roll his eyes and turned on the scanner momentarily.  “Now, let’s see if anyone’s talking.”  He was quickly answered on the police frequency by a panicked voice slightly garbled with static…and the unmistakable sound of automatic gunfire…

 

“This is Adam 4-11 to Dispatch! We are on Route 101 on the North Sunnydale outskirts!  Officer needs help, shots fired! Multiple perpetrators on motorcycles wearing cowboy clothing, armed with fully automatic weapons just shot us up!  Goddamit, my partner’s unconscious and bleeding and the car’s shot to hell! Send help! Send—” Then the transmission abruptly terminated.

 

The Wanderer wordlessly exchanged a glance with the rest of the team who had heard the unnerving broadcast.  A moment later, the house was empty save for the Guardian Spirit Duke, who watched two vehicles screeching away from the house from the office window, a look of worry and concern on the canine’s face as the storm continued to howl outside…

 

#

 

The Espresso Pump

Downtown Sunnydale, Main Street

20:05 PST

 

On the streets of downtown Sunnydale, the majority of the local townsfolk and University students wisely decided to stay indoors and away from the constant downpour that continued to come down.  In one place where some folk of different stripes had sought shelter, the Espresso Pump coffee house, one of the few places open late, was filled with several couples and cliques seated at tables, chatting over large steaming cups of various hot beverages while they waited out the storm.

 

“Well, leave it to luck for this weather,” Sergio Dominguez muttered somewhat dejectedly as he nursed his large cup of espresso.  His dark eyes glanced at the outside weather from his seat at a small table, before he fidgeted slightly with the sleeve of his dark evening shirt.  He then affectionately regarded his companion for the evening, Patricia Driscoll.  The lovely young girl wore a nice silk shirt and slacks, complemented by a cool dark leather jacket that did nothing to hide her curvaceous figure.  Patty returned his glance with a warm, earnest smile that seemed to illuminate her Irish green eyes, causing the transfer student from New York to blush. Okay, so maybe I feel like a stupid goof…but can I help it? It’s not like I regularly find nice, sincere girls like Patty on a regular basis…

 

“Ahh, don’t let a little rain get you down, Sergio,” Patty teased.  “I mean, it’s not like it’s good weather for strolling through the park or anything, but you have to admit…it’s kinda romantic in a way.”  She grimaced for a moment as the wind howled slightly. “That is, if it wasn’t coming down so hard.”  Her eyes then brightened as a smart-assed smirk touched her ruby red lips.  “I don’t suppose I could convince you to dress up like Gene Kelly and do a little “I’m Singing in the Rain” number.”

 

The Puerto Rican cocked an eyebrow at his raven-haired companion.  “No offense, Patty, but I don’t think I’m really keen towards song-and-dance routines.”  His eyes then narrowed momentarily.  “And don’t even start with that ‘macarena’ song.”  He shuddered at the mere mention of that song before shaking his head.  “Man, I really wish they’d shoot the pendejo who started that crap.”

 

“Oh, but you’d look so cute in a suit and a little hat…”

 

“Stop it,” he replied with a mock growl…before he broke into a chuckle that brought yet another warm smile from Patty, nearly causing him to lose his equilibrium before he regained his senses, just in time for him to hear yet another police cruiser tear past the coffee house, its lights flashing and its siren screaming as it went by.

 

“Geez, that’s the third cop car in just the last several minutes,” Patty said with a slightly worried expression on her lovely face.  “I hope there wasn’t an accident or anything.”  Her own inner instinct told her otherwise though.  The girl shivered when she remembered some of the weird stories she’d heard about Sunnydale, along with all the disappearances that convinced her to never go anywhere at late hours alone.  She then noticed Sergio’s concerned expression.

 

“You okay?”  The sound of police sirens hardly bothered Sergio, since he’d heard them all the time, along with all the other fairly common noises such as gunfire, where he’d grown up.  But he couldn’t help but be concerned by Patty’s worried expression.

 

“Oh yeah…I’m fine,” she said in a reassuring tone, her delicate hand moving away from the steaming cup of latte she held to touch Sergio’s own hand, which had drifted away from his own coffee mug.  The young man felt his cheeks flush as a warm tingling sensation raced into him from Patty’s touch…

 

“So, uh, I brought that portfolio along that I mentioned.  You know, with the drawings and such.  Did you want a look?”

 

Patty shrugged.  “Sure, why not?”  The young beauty was curious when Sergio mentioned one of his biggest passions was none other than drawing, sketching and painting.  At first she thought he’d meant it just as a hobby, but he seemed quite enthralled with it, as though it was something he held close to his heart. “It’s true,” he’d told her emphatically, “a picture says a thousand words.”

 

The young man reached down beside him and pulled up a bound leather portfolio that was filled with various paper sketches, which he handed to Patty with a sense of nervous excitement.  Truth be told, not many people showed interest in his sketches and drawings, and Patty was the last person he’d expected that would be interested in such a hobby of his. The young woman took the portfolio from the Puerto Rican and opened it, her eyes widening slightly as she examined the contents.  Although she wasn’t an art critic, the nicely-detailed drawings of various landscapes and personal portraits caught her eye immediately.  “Wow…not bad Sergio.”

 

“You like it?”

 

Patty tossed her companion a mock frown.  “Sergio, if I didn’t like it I would’ve said it.” Her expression then softened.  “Really, you got some great talent here.  Has your dad—“

 

“He doesn’t care,” he snapped out somewhat harshly, cutting her off and bringing a surprised look from Patty.  Sergio then visibly winced.  “Crap…I’m sorry.  I mean, he’s too busy with stuff, y’know?  Ever since we moved out of New York after…” He then hesitated as he felt his mouth become somewhat dry, unable to speak out the reason why they’d left…the death of his mother, victim of a senseless crossfire between New York’s notorious street gangs.

 

Patty’s eyes misted over before she gently gripped the young man’s hand in her own in compassion. “Hey, it’s okay.  Don’t worry about it.”  She knew the death of his mother was a sensitive issue for him, for obvious reasons.  The fact that she’d learned that his dad was a Vietnam War veteran who had supposedly seen some REALLY bad things in the jungle probably didn’t help either.

 

Sergio managed a smile of his own as he held her hand.  “Thanks,” he replied softly, after which he reluctantly let go of her hand and went back to stirring his coffee with a spoon in silence for a while.  After a long moment of silence passed, the teenage artist popped a question that had been on his mind for some time.  “Say, Patty, hope you don’t mind if I ask but…well, actually…”

 

The young brunette glanced back at her companion with a raised eyebrow.  “Yeah?”

 

“What I mean to ask is…actually, no, what I really mean is…”

 

Patty sighed.  “Sergio, get to the freaking point already!”

 

Sergio let out a little sigh of his own. “Okay, right, sorry, I’m just wondering, what do you make of these weird stories that keep circulating about Buffy and her crew?  I mean, I don’t pay too much attention to that crap, ‘cause I know it’s just the local cliques spreading the usual bullshit about someone they don’t like, but…don’t you think a few of the stories are just really, really weird?”

 

The dark-haired beauty gave Sergio a bemused expression.  “Weird?  Oh yeah, definitely…just as weird as a few of those stories you told me of what you saw in New York…like gargoyles flying around, for instance.”

 

The young Hispanic paused, feeling embarrassed.  “Wait a minute, I didn’t actually say they were gargoyles.  Maybe just really big birds, or something…”

 

“Or that guy you saw that was dressed up like some sort of…panther?”

 

“Uh, maybe he was just confused thinking it was Halloween.”

 

“Or…oh, wait! This is a good one!  How about that time when you claim you briefly saw two guys with swords clashing on a rooftop, and later one of ‘em gets beheaded and then there’s some sort of weird freak light show!”

 

The Puerto Rican felt himself becoming redder by the moment, feeling embarrassed he’d ever mentioned those things to Patty.  “Well…maybe they were filming a movie?”

 

Patty sighed in disgust and slammed the portfolio on the table, the heartfelt concern she’d felt for her boyfriend earlier now beginning to give way to aggravation and anger.  “Exactly, Sergio! What’s the point?  Like you said, it’s just a bunch of crap, so don’t worry about it, okay?” 

 

Sergio glanced into his own coffee cup as he swirled the contents again slightly with his spoon, his own thoughts swirling in unison.  “I know Patty.  Look, only reason I’m bringing this up is, people say there’s been weird shit going on in this town for a very long time, and supposedly it’s been going on long before any of us came here…”

 

Patty narrowed her eyes disapprovingly at her boyfriend and retorted in a voice tinged with a hint of her typical sarcasm.  “Yeah, well, what else is new, Sherlock?  You think I’m not aware of the rather wacked-out mortality rate around here?  Why do you think I never go anywhere alone at night?  Although, to tell the truth, I’m a little more surprised about you, Sergio.”

 

Sergio looked back up at Patty with a look of surprise. “Me?”

 

“Yeah, I mean, I just illustrated to you how ridiculous rumors can get.  Frankly, I’m just a little surprised you’d even pay attention to that crap, especially when Buffy and her group happen to be my friends.  If I wasn’t mistaken, I thought they were your friends too!”

 

Sergio’s faced reddened with shame and a bit of guilt.  Smooth fucking move, Sergio.  You’re such a ladies man…NOT!!! “Look, Patty, I’m not trying to come off like an asshole or anything, okay? Just take it from a guy who had to learn to trust his instincts when growing up in the Bronx.  And all I’m saying, is, I like Buffy, Xander, Willow and Oz too, and Cordelia. I’m just saying…from what I hear…I hope they’re not involved in this weirdness somehow…and…”

 

“And?”

 

Sergio looked directly into Patty’s Irish green eyes, the concern in his own dark eyes clear and unvarnished.  “I just don’t want you to get hurt, alright?”

 

Patty’s anger evaporated slightly at Sergio’s sincere expression.  She took a deep breath and let out a sigh.  “I’ll be just fine, Sir Lancelot. So stop being a worrywart, okay?” She then narrowed her eyes again.  “If anything, I should be worried about you.  What was up with you last night?”

 

Sergio’s brow momentarily set in a puzzled expression. “Up with me, bonita?  What do you mean by that?”

 

“Oh, don’t try to charm your way out with your fancy Spanish, Sergio.  Any particular reason why you were ogling Ms. Calendar last night?

 

“Ogling?”

 

Patty glared at Sergio. “What, do you have an echo in your brain or something? Yeah, ogling, just as you were also doing with my good friends, Amy, Willow, and Cordelia.  I’m not blind, Sergio.  I just assume that you were only ogling them because that’s what guys normally do…right?

 

Sergio paled somewhat, frantically searching for what he wanted to say to Patty. Well, of course I ogled them.  They looked freaking hot, especially Cordelia!  Madre de Dios, those babes are probably among the finest girls in Sunnydale along with Patty! He caught himself before mentally rambling on any further, noticing that Patty was patiently awaiting a reply. It’s official…this date is completely shot. He tried to come up with an answer when he heard the rumble of numerous engines at the front end of the coffee shop.  Outside in the pouring rain, numerous dark shapes on motorcycles along with a pickup truck could be seen parking in front of the coffee house.  Loud woops and shouts could be heard as the figures shut off the engines and started gathering in front of the shop, long dusters, jackets and cowboy hats clearly visible on them…along with an arsenal of firearms that they brandished openly.

 

“Oh shit,” Sergio and Patty whispered in unison, both of them feeling a cold dread running through each of them.  This SO did not look good…

 

#

 

Outside, Tex Boyd, Lyle Gorch, and the other assembled Hell Riders stood in front of the Espresso Pump, the outside rain continuing to lash at them as lightning flashed overhead.

 

“Here, boys,” Tex gestured to the coffee shop and the overhead sign, the yellow phosphorous light from the nearby street lamp casting his face in shadow. “We’re gonna make a little stop here, first.” He flashed a devilish grin. “I imagine the local sheriffs and their posse are gonna be a might bit preoccupied with those poor old deputies we left right outside of town…or what’s left of them anyway,” he added with a chuckle, referring to the two police cars they’d shot up, along with the cops in them.  The other vampires laughed in agreement

 

Lyle Gorch regarded Tex with a puzzled expression, his right hand casually tapping the AK-74 rifle slung on his shoulder that was still warm from recent use.  “Why here, Tex?  This ain’t no waterin’ hole.” He grimaced at the sign above them.  “It’s an…’expresso pump’.”

 

Tex smirked out of the corner of his mouth back at Lyle, before replying, “Or course it is, Lyle, my long-time amigo.  Exactly my point. Watch…and see.”  With that, the vampires sauntered inside the open front entrance of the coffee shop, their weapons brandished openly, drawing plenty of apprehensive stares and fearful whispers from the shop’s patrons.

 

“Hello, bartender,” Tex called out casually to the young man who stood nervously behind the polished service counter.  “I’d like a round of drinks for my boys.”

 

The young man gulped.  “Ah, y-yes sir.  Uh, w-what drinks would you like, sir?”

 

Tex looked at the man with a malevolent gleam in his eyes, his black Stetson hat pulled low over his face, casting it in shadow.  “Why give me some whiskey, my fine man.  You DO have whiskey here, don’t you, son?  You’re not just serving mud and piss to the rest of these fine folk,” he indicated with a casual sweep of his hand, “are you?”

 

The young man stammered out a reply.  “S-sorry, sir.  W-we just serve coffee…and lattes…and espresso.”

 

Tex’s eyes narrowed with deadly intent as he continued to regard the server behind the counter.  He replied in a softer, more menacing tone, “Oh…really?”  The vampire’s face then quickly morphed from menacing, to a look resembling disappointment.  With a sigh he turned to face Lyle and the rest of his crew.  “You hear that, boys?”  He shook his head sadly.  “They only serve coffee here.”  Lyle and the rest of the vampires all expressed notes of sympathy.

 

“I remember, boys,” Tex continued, rambling, “back in the good ole times, in every town there was saloons, whiskey, drinkin’, whores, an’ gamblin’ as far as the eye could see.”  Tex looked downcast, almost appearing as though distraught, before his eyes gleamed again with deadly intent. “But now, what do I see popping up all over the West nowadays?  Something like…this,” he hissed, gesturing all around the café. “This…GODDAMN EXPRESSO WATCHAMACALIT FROM THE CONTINENT!!!”

 

Just then, Tex’s ears perked up and the vampire turned, his face instantly shifting into his less-than-human, demonic “game face”.  The vampire grabbed the young man’s hand, which had been reaching for the panic button underneath the counter.  The server yelped in pain and fear as Tex regarded him with a deadly grin.  “No, no, no….mama don’t like tattletales.” With that, his other hand snaked forward and in one quick audible snap, twisted and broke the man’s neck like a twig.

 

“Belly up to the bar, boys!” Tex called out merrily as he produced a long, wicked bowie knife from his leather duster.  The vampire pulled the corpse of the young man over the bar, his head hanging askew, and, with a quick slashing motion with the knife, sliced his throat and arteries open, allowing his blood to flow out like a fountain.  Tex then grinned as he grabbed a nearby cup to catch the blood that flowed out of the corpse.  “Drinks are on me!”

 

The other vampires laughed in unison as the shop’s customers began to scream in terror…

 

#

 

“Oh god, oh god, oh god…” Patty moaned, turning nearly white with fright as she saw the horrible scene play out before her.  She’d seen the man’s face shift into something out of a horror movie, and the logical part of her mind was going at a million miles a minute trying to explain how that could have happened.  Out of the corner of her eye though, she noticed Sergio, a look of fright clearly evident on his own face, but silently gesturing toward a mop and broom sitting next to them in their corner of the shop. 

 

Uh, uh, no way…don’t even think about it, Patty thought.  Taking a bunch of sticks to a bunch of psychos brandishing guns, especially psychos on PCP, what was he thinking!  Patty then noticed that Sergio was also gesturing toward the rear emergency exit door that was nearby. Okay, so actually he meant to make a run for it, and use the sticks if they needed to.  That seemed to make sense. Unfortunately, the big burly man that had sliced the man’s throat was standing right next to them as well, along with another, who had both their backs turned to them.

 

Sergio leaned forward and spoke in a bare whisper, hoping the two men were too preoccupied with the chaos they were creating.  “Just take the mop, and follow me, okay?”  Patty gulped and nodded as she carefully leaned over and grabbed the mop handle while Sergio grabbed the broom.  With that, the couple quietly started to get up, fervently hoping they wouldn’t be noticed…

 

#

 

Lyle Gorch surveyed the scene before him, a wide grin on his face.  Ah, this is getting off to a great start.  Reminds me of how we started in that Mexican village with dear old Tector.  As the vampire momentarily reminisced about the old days, his vampiric senses detected movement behind him.  The vampire whirled to see a dark-haired man who seemed Mexican in appearance, along with a very fine-looking young filly, both of them quietly creeping in the direction of the rear door, mop and broom handles in both of their hands.  “Well now,” he drawled as he regarded the two mortals attempting to escape, “and where do you suppose you two city-slickers are going, eh?”

 

The young couple looked wide with fright as they knew they’d been caught.  At the sound of Lyle’s voice, Tex turned from the bleeding corpse slumped over the bar to appraise the couple that had unwisely attempted to flee.  “What do we have here?” he mused darkly…

 

Patty and Sergio exchanged a look and, in a desperate measure, drew up their mop and broom handles and, with whatever strength they could muster, brought them down and with a loud crack, snapped the handles against the vampire’s chests, breaking them in half.

 

The two vamps regarded the couple idly, as if nothing had happened.  Patty and Sergio stared at the broken sticks they now held in horror and disbelief, as Tex boomed out to his associates. “Hey, boys!  Look what we got here! Two gin-you-wine, honest-to-Betsy hee-roes!”  With that, Tex reached his arm out like a snake and grabbed Sergio by the throat, while Lyle did likewise with Patty.

 

“This was a stupid idea, Sergio,” Patty choked out, her eyes wide with terror as she regarded the burly man holding her like a chicken about to be plucked.

 

“Yeah, well, you went along with it!” Sergio choked back as he also stared in fright at the tall, menacing form holding him at the throat as though he were a rag doll.  The Puerto Rican and the dark Irish girl then noticed the white, gleaming canine fangs on both men as they grinned together in unison darkly.  Oh Jesus, it can’t be! No way!  Mary Mother of God protect us…

 

“Shoo-wee!” Lyle exclaimed, continuing to grin as he sized up the curvaceous young woman he held.  “Well now, missy!  Ain’t YOU a pretty young thing? Heh heh.  You look good…good enough to eat.”

 

“Th-that goes without saying,” Sergio babbled, his mind going at a million miles a minute as he unsuccessfully tried to pry the vampire’s fingers away from his throat, before Patty reached out with her hand and hit him on the side, hard.

 

“Well now,” Tex drawled out bemusedly, “I must say I do have a hankerin’ for Mexican…but I guess you and the girl just won the lottery.”

 

Lyle had his fangs extended and appeared ready to make a meal out of Patty, before the vampire’s mouth furrowed in puzzlement and looked over at Tex.  “Boss?  What do you mean they won the lottery?  They weren’t playin’ no lottery.”

 

Tex made a long, audible sigh in resignation.  “What I mean is, they’ll be the sacrifices for dear old Mister Hekhmut.”  He then grinned again, his fangs clearly visible as he regarded the couple.  “I imagine he’ll find that these two fit the bill…”

 

“Sacrifices?” Patty managed to choke out in a hushed whisper.

 

“Oh yeah,” Lyle replied, smirking evilly.  “You two are gonna have some fun tonight.  Too bad it’s gonna be your last.”  With that he allowed a chuckle to rumble out of him.

 

The leader of the Hell Riders fished some rope and handkerchiefs from the folds of his jacket and handed them to Lyle.  “Tie ‘em up and gag ‘em, Lyle.  You and me and a few of the other boys will take ‘em back to the villa.  After that,” he went on, grinning darkly, “we’ll come back and pick up where we left off.  He then turned his attention to several of the other vampires who were grabbing the panicked customers and lining them up against the wall opposite the serving counter in the shop.  “Line ‘em up and take everything they got, boys. Afterwards…just do ‘em the old fashioned way, if you get my drift.  And after that…see if you boys can start redecorating this town.”  The vampires chuckled wickedly.

 

“Hey, boss,” one of the vamps called out to him.  The vampire had a frustrated look on his face as he attempted to collect some more blood from the now considerably pale-looking corpse on the service counter in a cup.  “Tap’s run dry.”

 

Tex shrugged.  “Oh well, might as well just open a new one.”  He eyed a somewhat chubby middle-aged woman among the crowd of mortals who looked like a group of cattle being herded to the slaughter.  “I reckon that one will do.”  The woman screamed before the vampires grabbed her and dragged her over to the counter.  The vampires then produced another bowie knife and slit her throat, causing her to gurgle as crimson fluid flowed down her dress like a fountain, before her head lolled to one side and her eyes stared off into eternity.  The vampires then plopped her on the counter and began milking her blood as well, to the delightful whoops of the Hell Riders.

 

“Oh, hell boys, don't be so damn stingy!  We got us a regular cornucopia here!” As if to illustrate his point, Tex sauntered over to where a young couple stood nearby and stared back at him fearfully.  He was a young blonde man with an attractive girl with short dark hair at his side. Tex eyed the slender beauty, up and down appreciatively.  “Now, ain’t you a fine lookin’ filly,” he drawled with a humorless grin.

 

“Please,” she said in a choked whisper, her eyes shimmering with tears.  “P-please don’t hurt us.  Oh god…please.”

 

Tex leaned over so that his face was within an inch of hers.  He wrinkled his nose momentarily, as he sniffed her perfume before replying, “Sorry missy, but God can’t help you right now.  He’s kinda busy.”  With that Tex grabbed her by her lovely throat and bit into her flesh, his fangs ripping apart her jugular with such force that blood spurted and sprayed out from her neck like a geyser, causing the woman to scream and cry out in agony as Tex mercilessly and greedily drank her life fluids.  Her boyfriend who’d witnessed the spectacle cried out in rage and vainly tried to beat off her attacker, only to have two of the vampires grab him and hold him idly, while another produced another knife and viciously skewered him through the neck, the blade piercing his larynx and nearly exiting though his spinal cord as his blood flowed everywhere, leaving the young man to choke to death on his own blood as the vampires quickly added him to the other corpses now on the counter.  Meanwhile the young woman’s eyes had finally glazed over and now mercifully stared into forever while Tex finished gulping the last of her blood from her now considerably-pale corpse. He then finally looked up from his kill, crimson fluid dribbling and staining his demonic face and clothes as he regarded the other patrons as though he were some sort of beast straight out of hell.  The shop’s patrons on the other hand could do nothing except cry and silently pray for swift deliverance from the devil that had come to them this night.

 

“Ah, but this does bring back the good ol’ days,” Tex mused out loud, grinning demonically in satisfaction before he let the corpse of the young brunette collapse to the ground with a lifeless thud.

 

#

 

Several buildings away, hidden from the view of casual bystanders, the Wanderer watched the front of the coffee shop with his compact infrared-equipped binoculars, taking care to keep himself to the shadows of the alley from which he observed. Steve’s face turned grim as he watched the vampires, the continuous rain continuing to hammer him from above, though he paid it no mind. He was more concerned at what he was witnessing, and it wasn’t looking good. 

 

The team had driven off into downtown Sunnydale, deciding on a hunch, primarily from the Wanderer, that something wasn’t right.  Their worst fears were realized when the Slayer’s mystical vampire radar, along with Layla’s own extrasensory perception, went off the scale as they approached Sunnydale Main street.  Parking their vehicles a block away, the team quickly exited and moved toward the source of Buffy and Layla’s alarm…and immediately saw all the vehicles assembling in front of the shop, along with the figures dressed in cowboy clothing brandishing plenty of guns…

 

The Wanderer turned away and made a silent hand signal to the rest of the team to move up to his position.  Silently the rest of the team converged, with the Wanderer handing his   special binoculars to Xander and indicating to him to continue to watch the shop while he conferred with the team.  Xander nodded and moved up to the building corner.

 

“They’ve already killed four civilians,” he said, in a clear and commanding tone that meant they needed to act, now.  “We move. Oz, get up on the roof of the building facing the front of the shop and set up your rifle from the south corner. Jericho, cover him and work as a spotter.  You’re Echo team. Xander, get your rifle set up on the same roof at the north corner.  Layla, go with him and cover also, you’re Delta team.  And I’m assuming, Jericho and Layla, that you have no problems working with the team or taking orders from me, do you?”  The hint of a threat came through in his words as he regarded the assassin and the Priestess of Bast.  He wasn’t completely sure about Layla, but he sure as hell knew where he stood as far as Jericho was concerned.

 

Jericho looked ready to belt out an answer before Layla beat him to the punch.  “Don’t worry, Monsieur St. Wolf.  Rest assured there are no problems.”  She then glared at Jericho, her eyes indicating there was nothing further to be said.  The assassin clenched his jaw angrily, but said nothing.

 

The Wanderer nodded in satisfaction. “Good.” He then took a deep breath.  Now for the hard part.  He blinked away some of the rainwater streaming down his face and into his eyes before he continued.  “Amy, you’re with me as Alpha team. We’ll hit ‘em from the back through the emergency exit door.  Buffy, you take Giles with you, you’re Bravo team. Go around and get in position to go in through the front, flanking from the North.  Cordelia, you and Willow are Charlie team. You two get in position to hit the front also, flanking from the South.  We’ll all move in on my signal…”

 

“I got movement!” Xander whispered into his headset, his voice coming loud and clear to the rest of the squad.  The youth continued to scan the front of the shop with the infrared binoculars as he described what he was witnessing. “I’ve got several vamps getting on the pickup truck and a few of the bikes, looks like they’re getting ready to take off.  I still see several vampires in the store though, doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere.”  There was then a pause.  “Wait a minute…they’ve got two people tied up and gagged with them, they’re piling them into the back of the truck.”  Xander’s face then paled immensely.  “Oh shit…they’ve got Patty and Sergio!”

 

Buffy’s eyes widened instantly.  “What? Give me that!” She snatched the binoculars from Xander then operated the zoom feature on the binoculars to take a better look.  Sure enough, she recognized the young Hispanic and the dark Irish girl instantly.  Her face set in a definite tone of worry, the Slayer handed the binoculars back to Xander so he could continue to observe, before she turned back to the team.  “It’s definitely Patty and Sergio.  Looks like the vampires are taking them away as hostages.”  The other Amazons, plus Giles and Oz, had looks of worry clearly evident on their faces at this new development.  “They’re pulling away,” Xander noted a minute later.

 

The Slayer’s own face set in grim determination.  “Okay, we’ve got no other choice.  Let’s split up, the Amazons go with me, and we’ll…”

 

“No, Buffy,” the Wanderer strongly interjected, cutting off the Slayer.  “We stick to the original plan.  We stay together and focus on getting the hostages out of that shop first, understand?”

 

“Are you fucking kidding me?!” Amy screeched at the Wanderer.  “They just took off with my best friend, probably back to that freaky mission place! We have to go after them!”

 

“Amy’s right,” Willow growled.  “Jenny’s in danger too, in case you’ve forgotten and we don’t have time!  I know we have to free those hostages, but we’ve gotta save Jenny, Patty and Sergio too!  So let’s—“

 

“NO,” the Wanderer growled.  “I’m not going to risk your lives in a foolhardy attempt at bravery.  We have a better chance if we all stay together—that’s the only way we’re gonna succeed here.  Plus we have an advantage.  There’ll be less vampires to deal with in the shop now.”

 

“An advantage?!” Amy snapped.  “You cold-blooded bastard!  How can you think like that?! We’re talking about my best friend’s life here!”

 

The Wanderer’s own face became grim and unyielding.  “Actually, we’re talking about innocent lives at stake here. And when you’re in a position like this, sometimes you have to make hard choices.  It comes with the territory, Amy.”

 

Jericho snorted.  “Congratulations, everyone, you’ve just met the real Steven St. Wolf.”

 

Layla cursed under her breath.  “Jericho, do NOT start with this.  Not now.”

 

“Shut up, Jericho,” the Wanderer growled, not even bothering to look at the assassin.  “One more word from you, and I’ll take you out myself, understand?”

 

“Steve,” Buffy interjected again in a firm voice, although the worry and stress in her eyes was evident.  “We can’t let Jenny, Patty and Sergio die!  We have to—“

 

“Stay together and first rescue these hostages,” Giles interrupted in a firm voice of his own.  When the Slayer turned to him, the Watcher sighed deeply and took a moment to wipe away some of the rainwater dripping from his eyes before focusing on his young charge. “Buffy, Amy, I’m afraid St. Wolf has a point.  This isn’t a bloody democracy.  We need to stay united and focused on our first task at hand, and that is to save innocent lives.  Do you understand?  God knows I want Jenny back, but we have a duty first and foremost to protect humanity, even if it means doing things we may not necessarily agree with.  What would Jenny, Patty and Sergio say if we, theoretically, managed to save them, but ended up sacrificing others in the process, when it could have been avoided?”  That last bit from the Watcher seemed to reverberate through the Slayer and each of the Amazons.

 

The Slayer took a deep breath then nodded, albeit with reluctance.  “Okay, we stay together.  Everyone follow Steve’s lead.”  The Amazons looked ready to say otherwise, but after a stern glare from the Slayer, the girls reluctantly agreed.

 

The Wanderer harrumphed.  “Well, glad you girls are finally seeing things my—” He never finished his sentence because the Watcher got directly in his face, his features fully set in “Ripper” mode.

 

“If you ever countermand my Slayer in front of her team again, you pillock,” he snapped with menace, “it’ll be your bloody head on a platter, do you catch my drift?”  The dire expression in his eyes and his voice left no room for doubt. 

 

The Wanderer tried hard not to visibly gulp before the Watcher’s features shifted back to their normal state.  St. Wolf took a moment to clear his throat before addressing the group.  “All right team, everyone take your positions.  Move!”

 

#

 

Minutes later, the Slayerettes were in position around the coffee shop.  Oz and Xander were on the roof of the building facing the front of the shop from the other side of the street, their rifles deployed with the bipods unfolded and resting on the roof’s edge as the two scanned the open front interior of the Espresso Pump with their electro-optical scopes.  Next to the two, Layla and Jericho had their weapons laid out and nearby as a precaution as they also scanned the area with binoculars.  St. Wolf and Amy were at the back of the shop near the rear door, their weapons locked, cocked and ready.  The rear door had been secured, but was now unlocked thanks to a simple telekinetic spell from Amy.  On the south side of the building, Cordelia and Willow had crept up alongside the wall and were now waiting behind the front corner, ready to attack.  Buffy and Giles had also, likewise crept up alongside the north wall and were now in position as well.

 

“There are eight vampires inside,” The Slayer whispered into her mike, after momentarily going into a trance, using her Slayer senses to detect the number of Hell Riders still in the building.

 

The Wanderer nodded, though no one saw him.  This would have to be done quickly and professionally if they were to avoid any more civilian deaths.  He could only hope and pray that the months of intense training he'd given these children...no, no longer quite children, these warriors would be enough for the task at hand. He silently gestured to Amy, and received a nod in reply.  The Wanderer held his rifle, supported by a tactical sling in one hand, as he gripped the door handle with his other and got ready to charge in. “This is Alpha team, in position and standing by.  All other teams report status.”

 

“Bravo team standing by,” Buffy whispered, her shotgun held to her shoulder with the barrel pointing downwards as she crouched in a tactical stance.

 

“Charlie team standing by,” Cordelia whispered, her own shotgun held out and ready as well.

 

“Delta team standing by,” Xander said as he peered through his scope, his finger coming to rest near the trigger.

 

“Echo team standing by,” Oz said quietly as he monitored the vampires through his own scope, his trigger finger also ready.  Everyone's adrenaline was now pumping high.  If it hadn't been raining they would all be sweating bullets right now as they tensed for the inevitable order to attack.

 

St. Wolf nodded grimly.  “Roger that.  Layla, Jericho, what’s the position of the vamps?”

 

Layla’s accented voice came over everyone’s headsets.  “Four vampires are clustered around the service bar on the north side of the shop….” 

 

“And the other four are by the hostages lined up alongside the south wall,” Jericho finished.  As the Wanderer was about to speak into his mike, Jericho spoke again. “Hold up…two of the vamps are moving away from the counter.  Another one’s behind it, looks like he’s bending down for some reason.”

 

As if to confirm this new development, the Slayerettes near the front of the store heard a vampire’s voice, loud and clear. “Damn, this one’s run dry too! What is it with folks these days?  Grab that next one!”  Moments later, the Slayerettes heard scuffling and sobbing as the snipers and observers quickly noted two vampires dragging a young blonde woman over to the counter.

 

Steve’s voice came back cool and collected over the comm. “Xander, Oz, do you have a shot on both vampires?” Both boys quietly confirmed with a terse “yes”.  “Echo, take out the vampire on the left, Delta, take out the one on the right. Alpha, Bravo and Charlie, move in on my signal. Sniper teams, engage targets now.”

 

There was a pause as Xander and Oz each zeroed the crosshairs of their electro-optical scopes on a vampire, the red dot laser that emanated from each scope highlighting a target.  Although snipers would normally use a rifle more dedicated for such an endeavor in a heavier caliber such as 7.62mm NATO, the relatively short range and the desire to avoid having civilians wounded from over-penetrating rounds made their 5.56mm NATO-caliber rifles sufficient for the job. As the vampires scuffled with the woman who continued to beg for mercy, the boys paused, uncertain as a horrible possibility began to form in each boy’s minds…what if they missed and struck the woman instead?

 

As the horrible thought played out in their minds, the Wanderer’s voice came back out harshly over their headsets.  “Echo, Delta, what’s the problem?  Take them out NOW!”

 

As the boys continued to hesitate, their fellow squad mates on the roof noticed the tension on each of their faces.  Jericho whispered to Oz in a calm tone, “Easy boy. Deep breath…then let it out.  Easy…” The boy took a deep breath, then let it out as Jericho instructed, then calmed down as he resumed his usual “Zen” persona.

 

Xander felt the soft fingers of Layla’s hand lightly caress the back of his head in a reassuring tone.  “Relax, Xander…relax.”  The youth then felt strangely calm, as if there was nothing to worry about. Unbeknownst to him, the psychic was using her abilities, focused and enhanced with the moonstone she wore on her forehead, to calm Xander’s mind and allowing him to focus on the task at hand.  The youth blinked, then nodded as he and Oz both aimed and steadied their rifles… 

 

Lightning flashed overhead as two loud cracks emanated from each of the SIG 550 rifles as Xander and Oz each fired a shot, the sounds splitting through the rain-soaked night. The enchanted “demon killer” 5.56mm NATO rounds sped into each vampire’s chest, never giving them a chance to scream as they disintegrated into dust…

 

“Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, GO, GO, GO!” Upon St. Wolf’s command, the Slayerettes charged in with weapons drawn, flanking from the front sides and crashing through the rear door.

 

“EVERYONE DOWN!!” Buffy shouted as each Slayerette immediately lined up their gunsights on a vampire, while the shop’s patrons screamed and dove for cover.  The vampires were completely surprised and attempted to draw their assault rifles and submachine guns, but were too late.  The Slayer fired a blast of blessed silver “double-O” buckshot from her shotgun directly into a vampire’s chest, nearly shredding it in half while Cordelia fired a blast from her shotgun and destroyed another vampire. Behind her, Willow snapped off a three-round burst from her submachine gun and destroyed a third.  At the rear of the shop, the Wanderer and Amy charged forward and fired three-round bursts from each of their weapons, destroying another two vampires.  There was now only one left…

 

The last remaining vampire dove for cover underneath the bar next to the small bag he’d set down, frantically bringing a walkie-talkie up to his game face, its eyes wide open with terror.  “Boys!  They’re here! They’re…” His voice died in his undead throat as he looked up into the barrel of Giles’ assault rifle, the rifle bore aimed directly at his head at point-blank range.  Without word or emotion, the Watcher fired a burst that shattered and tore apart the vampire’s skull, hot empty brass cartridges flying from his rifle as the creature was mercilessly obliterated.

 

“Clear!” the Wanderer barked, indicating there were no more vampires in his field of vision. 

 

“Clear,” Buffy confirmed.

 

“Clear,” Cordelia said tersely.

 

“Clear,” Willow chirped.

 

“Clear,” Amy assented.

 

The Slayer’s Watcher gazed momentarily at where the vampire had been, noticing the black bag behind the counter…as well as the bodies lying on top of it, red crimson trails of blood oozing down the counter’s walnut paneling and congealing onto the marble floor.  “Clear,” he spoke quietly, continuing to gaze at the bodies, a grim expression on his face.

 

On the opposite building’s roof, Jericho turned and nodded to Oz.  “Good job,” he said, to which the multicolored-haired youth simply said, “Thanks”.  Nearby, Layla smiled assuredly and patted Xander on the back.  “Well done,” she said softly, to which the young man blushed and nodded.

 

The Slayerettes and Steve all lowered their weapons before turning to regard the huddled civilians who lay on the ground, quietly sobbing.  “Is everyone alright?” the Wanderer asked, before receiving a bunch of nods and assents in reply. His gaze then fell upon the bodies lying on the counter, carelessly piled like cordwood, and the corpse of the young brunette that lay on the floor.  He then noticed the tense gazes of the Slayer and the Amazons as they stared at the bodies as well, the momentary adrenaline rush they’d felt evaporating as they stared at the carnage.  The coppery scent of blood mixed with the burning stink of cordite assailed their noses.

 

“We’re too late,” Buffy choked out, struggling to control her emotions as she stared at the corpses.  Cordelia, Amy and Willow also became ashen-faced, their lips quivering with guilt and grief.

 

“Buffy?”  The Slayer’s eyes turned to her Watcher, who gazed back at her sympathetically.  “We did what we could.  We…can’t always save everyone.”

 

The Slayer visibly swallowed, still struggling to control herself, her Slayer-self telling her that now wasn’t the time to break.  “I know,” she whispered.  “I know…” The Slayer noticed the looks of guilt on the other Amazon’s faces as well.  She saw Willow standing next to her and gently pulled the redheaded Wicca into a hug, the little red witch’s own eyes misting over with tears.

 

The Wanderer quietly placed a hand on the Slayer’s back in an expression of sympathy, before his professional side told him that something was still very wrong.  The vampire that Giles had taken out had gotten on the walkie-talkie with someone.  That plus the fact that this had felt almost a little too easy was setting off a warning klaxon in his head.  “Delta and Echo teams,” he spoke into his mike, “Keep scanning the area for hostiles. This place isn’t secure yet.”  His assault rifle at his side, the Wanderer quickly strode past the huddled patrons, who were still sobbing quietly, over to the bar and peered over the edge, wondering what the vampire had been doing over there.  He then noticed the black bag lying behind the counter.  “What’s that?”

 

The Watcher’s eyebrows furrowed.  “I was wondering that myself.”  The two men regarded each other momentarily before both of them hopped behind the counter and reached down.  The Wanderer unzipped the black bag’s contents….before his eyes widened at what exactly the contents were. Several rather distinctly red strawboard-rolled sticks were held together with lengths of duct tape and were topped off with blasting caps. A set of wires protruding from each led to a black electronic timepiece that was visibly counting down…a TNT bomb.

 

Giles looked on in horror.  “Oh bloody hell.”  Just as the Watcher had spoken those words, the rumble of numerous engines could be heard approaching downtown Sunnydale’s Main Street.

 

“Dudes! Uh, I mean, this is Echo team.” Oz’s voice came over their headsets.  “I’ve got two trucks far to the south approaching fast!”

 

“And I’ve got several motorcycles coming from the north!” Xander’s excited voice also rang out over their headsets.

 

“Civilians?”

 

“No,” Buffy and Layla’s voices answered in unison, their own mystical senses going into overdrive as they sensed the presence of undead.  “Vampires.”

 

The Wanderer cursed under his breath.  “Goddamit, it’s a setup! Hold them off while I disarm the bomb!” He set his weapon down and quickly drew a small pack from his back and started ripping out a pair of pliers, a set of wire-cutters and other tools.

 

“Whoa, wait a minute,” Cordelia screeched.  “Disarm what?!”

 

“A BOMB,” St. Wolf replied matter-of-factly.  “I can disarm it but it’s gonna take me several minutes.” Without wasting time the Wanderer went to work as he examined the wires.

 

“Yes, well, according to that timer, that’s all the bloody time we have!” Giles growled as he turned toward the approaching vehicles.  The Watcher crouched behind the counter to give the Wanderer cover, as he brought his M4A1 carbine up to his shoulder and readied the attached grenade launcher.

 

The Slayer’s momentary wide-eyed expression morphed into a set of determination and rage as she briefly regarded the bodies lying on the counter again, before momentarily turning to the shop patrons.  “All of you stay down!” The Chosen One barked in a commanding voice, before she turned to the approaching vehicles.  “Hold them off, huh?  Oh, I’m gonna do a whole lot more than that,” she growled as she got into a crouch next to the wall.  She slung the shotgun over her back, then drew her SMG II submachine gun and thumbed the selector switch to “auto”.

 

“Get in line, Buffy,” Cordelia barked as she got into a crouch and slung her own shotgun, before bringing her own SMG II submachine gun up into a firing stance as well.  Behind them, the witches silently clasped their hands and chanted in unison, their eyes turning entirely black before they began to glow and swirl with arcane energies…

 

As the two trucks approached from the south, Oz scanned them with his scope while his teammate Jericho quickly popped open the ladder aiming sights mounted on the side of his assault rifle and thumbed the attached grenade launcher’s safety switch to “fire”. The werewolf’s eyes widened when he saw a particular object mounted on the back of the lead truck, manned by one of the vampires.  “Dude, the lead truck’s got a big freaking machine gun mounted on the back!”

 

“Not for long,” Jericho said as he aimed the launcher at the lead truck.  “Say the word, Buffy.”  Nearby, Xander pulled out a high-explosive rifle grenade from his pack and mounted it on the muzzle end of his weapon, while Layla brought her assault rifle to bear on the approaching motorcycles.

 

The Slayer tensed and regarded her team, who all nodded including her Watcher, who had his undermounted grenade launcher ready to fire.  As the vehicles closed in, she could hear the excited whoops and hollers of the Hell Riders as they closed in on their supposed prey.  The Slayer set her poutish lips in a grim line and said into her mike, “Waste ‘em!”  And then all hell broke loose…

 

Up on the building roof, Jericho fired his grenade launcher, the weapon making a distinctive “foomp” sound as the 40mm high-explosive grenade exploded into the grille of the pickup truck, obliterating the front of the vehicle as scrap metal flew everywhere.  The truck came to a shuddering stop as the ruined front of the truck plowed into the street and flames erupted from the ruined engine. The vampire that manned the Kalashnikov PKM machine gun on the rear was thrown backward by the concussion and tumbled to the street, before several bullets from Oz’s rifle destroyed him.  On the ground, the Watcher aimed his own grenade launcher mounted underneath his assault rifle and fired at the following pickup truck, the round slamming home into the truck cab and obliterating the truck cab and its occupants in a ball of flame. Some of the other vampires riding in the back were jarred out of the truck and tumbled to the ground like rag dolls, while the rest jumped away from the ruined truck and started blazing their weapons at the humans that had dared to attack them, only to be met with a hail of enchanted silver bullets.

 

Giles mused darkly for a moment as he sighted down a vampire and fired a burst from his rifle, obliterating it.  Bloody hell, whoever thought I would be playing “Rambo”?

 

On the ground, the Slayer and the brunette Amazon opened up with their SMG II submachine guns on the approaching motorcycle-riding vampires, bullets speeding into the night and finding their targets as several vampires were felled by the streaming spray of silver ammunition that burned into their bodies. Several vampires were killed and others wounded, causing them to scream in pain while their motorcycles careened and skidded out of control, before crashing and sending their riders tumbling. Another motorcycle was hit in the gas tank and began to leak and flame before the bike exploded and tumbled end over end like a fireball, torching the vamp with it before coming to a stop.  Above, Xander sighted down a small cluster of Hell Riders on their bikes while Layla covered him with several bursts from her Steyr AUG carbine. The young man aimed and fired the projectile, the rifle grenade making a “woosh as it rocketed through the air and struck home into the group of vampires, scattering them and their motorcycles about in an explosion of flaming debris. Oz took potshots at whatever targets he could find while Jericho next to him fired staccato bursts from his G36K.

 

Amy and Willow brought up their hands in unison and chanted, their eyes aglow with eldritch fire as their bodies surged with arcane energies.  As they prepared to launch a deadly fire-and-ice spell into the ensuing carnage they heard movement behind them. Whirling about, they spied several vampires burst through the rear exit door.  Willow snarled and thrust her hand forward, a white-hot fireball blasting forth from it like a rocket, the ball of flame illuminating the shop’s interior like an acetylene torch and slamming into two vampires, vaporizing one and sending the other behind him crashing back through the door, the force of the spell so powerful the door was scorched and blown off its hinges, as the other vampire disintegrated.  Amy narrowed her eyes and extended her own hand, sending forth several razor-sharp icicles that flew like missiles straight and true into another vampire, impaling the demon to the wall before another icicle sheared through its neck completely, mercifully turning the Hell Rider into dust.

 

With a quick and well-practiced movement, Jericho released the empty magazine on his G36K and slapped in a fresh magazine.  While he did so, he noticed with a bit of unpleasant surprise that several more vampires were carrying rather distinctively-shaped rocket launchers that they were swinging around to aim at them...

 

“RPG’s!  We got several vamps with RPG’s out in the open, take them out!!”  The team momentarily refocused their fire on the three vampires that tried to bring their RPG-7 launchers to bear on the team, only to be cut down by a swath of gunfire. One of the vampires, however managed to squeeze the trigger on his launcher just moments before gunfire ripped into his body and threw off his aim.  As the vampire disintegrated, the rocket-propelled grenade streaked off with a “foosh”, barely missing the Espresso Pump and instead, plowing into the Tiffany's Clothing store that stood nearby.  An explosion of fire, chunks of masonry and glass blew outwards into the street along with ragged charred bits of clothing, as the department store’s interior was turned into a flaming gutted ruin.

 

“Oh…my…God,” Cordelia moaned as she realized that the vampires had inadvertently torched one of her favorite shopping places on Main Street.  Her normally lovely face turned livid with rage as she began to hyperventilate...

 

“Cordy?” Willow's face came loud and clear over her headset in a worried voice.  “Uh, breathe, okay?  Just breathe...”

 

Queen C however seemed to pay no attention as she drew her shotgun and her submachine gun, one in each hand, and blasted away mercilessly at any vampires she could find.  “YOU BASTARDS!!!”

 

Gunfire continued to echo through the street as more Hell Riders swarmed the area, hoping to take down the mortals, but finding that, despite their numbers and significant firepower, they were no match for the better-trained and equipped Slayerettes, who returned fire with deadly effect.  The street was now alit with the burning wreckage of several vehicles and the flashes of automatic weapons fire, bullets perforating walls and empty brass cartridges flying everywhere as chaos reigned in downtown Sunnydale. One of the vampires climbed onto the wrecked back of the lead truck and gripped the heavy machine gun on it.  “Try some of this, you bitches!” the vampire yelled as he swung around the Kalashnikov PKM machine gun and fired a deadly burst of automatic gunfire that left visible tracers streaking through the night.  Giles turned his weapon on the vamp just as several rounds slammed home into the Watcher’s shoulder and chest, slamming him against the wall as the machine gun ripped into the shop’s walls and shattered light fixtures, bringing more screams from the huddled shop’s patrons.  The Amazon witches ducked for cover as they quickly chanted another spell to raise a mystical barrier around the civilians. Overhead, Jericho cursed, hoping he hadn’t just lost his paycheck as he loaded another round into his grenade launcher, aimed and fired into the truck.  The grenade blew apart the vehicle, the machine gun and the vampire behind it all into one big fireball as the vehicle itself was blown upwards, tottered, and fell onto its back on the street, twisted into a flaming mass of scrap metal.

 

“Giles,” the Slayer croaked, her vocal cords barely able to function as her heart stopped.  Then, finding her voice, Buffy screamed.  “GILES!” 

 

Buffy dove over to the bar to help her Watcher, her submachine gun holstered and her shotgun now out and blasting away as she kept the vampires at bay.  The Slayer winced as she could literally feel and hear bullets zinging by her head and missing it by a mere inch.  Even though she was Immortal, Buffy didn’t take death lightly and was in no mood to die at that very moment. She looked up at the building across the street and noticed Layla up there, beginning to move from cover as though she wanted to run down and check her former lover.  “Layla, no,” she snapped. “Stay up there and cover us! I’ll see to Giles!” The Immortal Slayer ran and vaulted over the counter, before she came face to face with her Watcher who was slumped against the wall, his eyes partially closed as he moaned in pain.  The Wanderer was busy attempting to disarm the bomb, continuing to perform his task as a look of regret crossed his face.  He wanted to help the Watcher but knew that seconds counted and that if he didn’t get the bomb disarmed in time, none of this would mean anything.

 

“Giles!  Are you all right!  Answer me, please!” Tears stung her eyes as her mind screamed, “Giles, please, please don’t die!  I can’t do this alone!”  She carefully examined her Watcher and noted where the bullets had struck the Watcher’s left shoulder and chest, leaving visible marks but thankfully there was no sign of penetration.  Thank God, or Artemis for that matter.  Guess Steve wasn’t kidding about the armor after all.  With tears in her eyes, the Slayer grabbed her Watcher’s shoulders and shook him. “Giles, please, say something!” she wailed.  “Don’t leave me!”

 

The Watcher’s eyes shot wide open and fixed on his Slayer’s beloved face.  “I shall never leave you, Buffy.  Even if death came for me, it couldn’t keep me from your side.”

 

Buffy’s grin was as bright as the sun.  “Oh, Giles!  Thank God!”  Then she hugged him fiercely.  “Are you all right?”

 

“I’m…fine….I think,” he moaned and blinked several times.  “Don’t worry about me, Buffy.  Take care of the others.  Now, go!” The Watcher winced as he clutched his shoulder; he could swear that he had at least a few broken bones somewhere. He fumbled at his belt and drew out a steel vial of healing potion, uncorking it before he brought the acrid liquid to his lips.

 

The Slayer turned to her lover and asked, “How’s it coming?” She gestured to the bomb, her voice raised several notches so she could be heard over the constant barrage of gunfire.

 

“Getting there,” he grunted in reply.  “The mechanism is more complex than I first thought.  I think I almost got it, though.”  The timer was down to only a few minutes.

 

“Uh, yeah, no pressure, sweetie…except none of us wanna be turned into hamburger meat, so hurry, ‘KAY?!”

 

“Hey, Buffy!” Cordelia’s voice rang out over her headset.  “Nice to know that you care about your boy-toy and G-Man, but we could use some help here!” The brunette Amazon fired another volley from her semi-auto shotgun before she spied several vampires move out of the corner of her eye, attempting to sneak up from behind the wall of the shop.  She whirled and fired a blast directly into the lead vampire’s head, shredding it apart as the bolt on her shotgun blew back on an empty magazine. The vampire behind him noticed this and laughed as he raised his assault rifle to bear on the Amazon, but too late realized his mistake when the brunette she-devil reversed her shotgun with a snap and swung it upwards like a club, driving the stock up into the Hell Rider’s chin and knocking the stunned creature backwards.  The Amazon warrior then whipped out the katana sword on her back and in one fluid, deadly motion cleaved the blade through the creature’s neck, destroying him.  Another vampire tried to rush the raven-haired warrior but she leaped into the air and performed a whirling midair roundhouse kick, driving the vampire back against the wall as her firm, taut legs landed on the ground, perfectly.  The Amazon then drew a stake from her belt and shoved it into the vampire’s chest.  Not far away, Amy and Willow crouched behind whatever cover they could find near the shop front and raised their MP-5/10’s to deliver more fire into the vampires.

 

The Slayer of course, wasn’t going to let the Amazons have all the fun, and was driven further to slay even more at the behest of her Watcher’s words.  Leaping over the counter, the Slayer shouldered her shotgun and brought her submachine gun up before she went into a barrel roll and back up into a crouching position, before blasting another two vampires that attempted to fire back with their weapons and destroying them.  As the vampire’s dust became mud and washed away in the street, her hearing caught the approaching rumble of more motorcycles…

 

Two more Hell Riders careened down the street, riding side by side on their custom chopper bikes, their less-than-human eyes narrowed and focused on the Slayer who now stood on the street.  Buffy frowned when her gun clicked on empty…but then smiled wickedly as she spied the lamppost overhead…

 

“You’re roadkill, missy!” One of the two vampires roared as they bore down on the Slayer.  The Chosen One hunched over in a tense crouch, waiting for the vampires as they tore like bats out of hell through the torrential downpour toward her…before she leapt up and grabbed the overhanging lamppost, to the gaping stares of the vampires.

 

“What the Hell?!” The other vampire said, before Buffy spun around on the horizontal post she clung to as the vampires sped underneath her, before letting go and popping down behind one of the vamps on the bike and grabbing him, piggy-back style.

 

“Mind if I borrow your bike, cowboy?!” The Slayer shouted before she drew a wooden stake from her belt, brought it around and slammed it into the vampire’s chest, taking care not to drive it too deep to avoid impaling herself.  The vampire briefly screamed before it disintegrated into dust, leaving the bike free for the Slayer to take control of the vehicle.

 

Buffy snaked forward with her hands and grabbed the handlebars, just barely keeping it steady before she noticed out of the corner of her eye the other vampire riding alongside her.  The creature drew his PP-19 Bizon submachine gun and prepared to fire off a volley of rounds.  Buffy, acting on instinct (and thanking Steve for giving her motorbike lessons) slammed the brakes on the bike and brought it to a complete stop, just barely keeping it under control on the slick pavement. 

 

The vampire cursed as he turned his arm and fired his submachine gun, his bursts missing the Slayer wide as he sped on ahead before bringing his own bike to a stop and bringing it around to face the Slayer, who stared at her prey down the rainy street with deadly menace in her eyes.  The vampire growled in return as he adjusted his grip on the submachine gun and flexed his knuckles.  The Slayer, noticing the vampire seemed to be challenging her to a modern-day joust, smirked as she revved the bike.  The vampire snarled and revved his own bike before charging forward, kicking his bike to full throttle and paying no heed whatsoever to the slippery street.  The Slayer charged forward on her own bike and the two careened toward each other at high speed.  The vampire brought his submachine gun up and prepared to fire a volley into the little armor-plated bitch’s head, before he witnessed something that he couldn’t believe…

 

The Slayer tensed then brought her feet up onto the bike’s seat as if to stand on it, before crouching, transforming her entire body into a coiled spring of kinetic energy.  As the vampire stared wide-eyed at the Slayer who charged forward, crouching on the bike as though she were a stuntwoman, Buffy leapt into the air as the motorbikes were almost upon each other and, with all the kinetic energy she could muster from both her body and from being propelled by the bike, the Immortal Slayer brought up her booted feet together, heel first and transformed her body into a missile that slammed home against the vampire’s chest, knocking him completely off the bike as though he was hit by a comet.  The two bikes crashed against each other and steel twisted against steel as the Hell Rider went tumbling end-over-end down the rain-sodden street, while the petite blonde landed on her own two feet on the ground perfectly, as she regarded her fallen prey, her eyes going momentarily wide at what she’d just done.  Whoa, major wiggy adrenaline rush!  How the hell did I do that, or…what was I thinking? 

 

While the Slayer and the Amazons battled the remaining vampires, Oz and Xander along with Layla and Jericho took a moment to reload their weapons, empty brass casings littered around their positions…before Layla’s psychic radar felt the presence of several vampires creeping up behind them…

 

“Behind us!” Layla shouted a warning to the rest of her teammates on the roof, before reaching behind her back and throwing a slim, sigil-inscribed throwing knife hidden underneath her hair at one of the oncoming vampires, the knife slamming home into his stomach. The vampire doubled over and screamed, the enchanted knife penetrating and searing his flesh like a red-hot iron.  Next to her Xander drew his Glock 21 pistol and fired several times at the creature, landing a bullet in the skull and destroying it permanently.  Not far from them, Oz took out one of the other vampires with several shots from his own pistol, while Jericho snapped out two small, concealed discs in each hand.  The Asian barked out a warning to his teammates to shield their eyes before throwing them at the remaining vampires.  The discs exploded in a flash like miniature stun grenades that dazed each of the creatures, giving the assassin enough time to whip out one of his wakizashi blades and leap forward like a lightning bolt.  A split second later one of the vampires was beheaded in a swift, brutal stroke.  Now only one vampire was left…

 

Layla narrowed her eyes at the remaining vampire, only this time they became slit and catlike in appearance.  The priestess vaulted forward, her arms outstretched as, before the two young boy’s startled eyes, the woman’s body morphed, twisted, and shaped in a blurry haze of black, until finally reemerging as a large panther-like creature, elegant muscles rippling sensually beneath its smooth ebony skin.  Layla, or what had once been Layla leaped through the air and pounced on the vampire, its razor claws ripping apart the undead creature as it screamed and howled in pain, before the panther ripped off the demon’s head with one fell swoop of its claws.

 

Xander Harris stared wide-eyed at the scene before him, his heart racing and his lungs rapidly gasping for oxygen as he realized just how close they’d come to being a column in tomorrow’s obituaries.  But as he momentarily panned the area with his pistol to make sure there were no more vampires, his eyes were drawn to Layla as the panther-like creature she had become blurred and morphed before his eyes, transforming again back into the woman she had been earlier.  The Frenchwoman’s eyes were momentarily closed as she stood up, her breasts thrust forward proudly and erect as she raised her face to the rain and slicked back her hair, while the rain cast a nice sheen on the rest of her body clad in the dark catsuit.  Xander had been momentarily awed, and a little frightened at Layla’s transformation, almost as much as when he’d witnessed Buffy, Cordelia and the witches fighting the vampires…but then realized there was another reason he’d been gawking at all the women just now.  God, they all look so freaking HOT!!!  He then looked at Oz and noticed the typically taciturn werewolf had a wide-eyed expression on his own face as he stared at the Frenchwoman as well.

 

The priestess then opened her eyes and regarded both boys.  “Are both of you all right?” she inquired in a sincere tone, to which both boys nodded somewhat nervously.  Layla and Jericho both gave nods of their own in reply, although Layla’s eyes seemed to twinkle briefly with a bit of amusement, leaving Xander and Oz to wonder if she’d been “listening” to what had been going through both of their minds just then. “Thank you for your assistance, Xander,” she noted softly as she bent down to retrieve her thrown dagger. “I meant to strike his heart, not his stomach.”

 

“Oh, uhh, no problem, no problem at all,” Xander stammered, as he quietly hoped that Cordelia wasn’t paying too much attention.  The beautiful priestess graced him with a sincere smile that nearly stole his breath away.

 

The Frenchwoman then turned to another concern as she spoke into her headset.  “Rupert, are you well?”

 

“Oh, er, yes.  Nothing serious—perhaps a slight fracture or two.”

 

An expression of relief came over her face.  Unseen but sensed by her, the Slayer felt relieved about the Watcher’s condition while at the same time was unsettled by her reaction to Giles’ injury and the way her heart jumped at his vow to her.  Buffy roughly marched the vampire she’d battled earlier to the coffee shop, one arm held behind his back as she gripped his neck from behind. “Rupert, I possess some healing magicks, do you—“

 

“No, I’m fine.  I used some of that healing potion I was given, tastes like bloody cough medicine.  Just get down here, it appears everything’s safe now.  Oh, and for those who are concerned,” the Watcher’s voice took on a slightly dry tone, “It appears Mr. St. Wolf has disarmed the bomb.”

 

“Woop-de-frickin-doo,” Jericho muttered sarcastically.

 

The Wanderer rolled his eyes in annoyance before he stood up with the now-disarmed bomb and looked at the carnage strewn out on Sunnydale’s Main Street.  His mouth dropped slightly as he looked at the buildings that were now pockmarked with bullet holes, several streetlamps that were shattered, the twisted flaming wreckage of two trucks and several motorcycles, numerous discarded weapons and empty shell casings lying in the ruined street, and the rain-soaked Amazons who watched Buffy forcefully march a vampire toward the group.  The Wanderer summed up his feelings in two words…

 

“Holy shit.”

 

“Yep, sweetie, it seems you missed all of the fun,” the Slayer remarked in a casual tone into her headset. “But I managed to save a live one.  I think I can make him talk.”

 

The rest of the team all gathered together in the front of the shop, Layla apparently exhibiting a bit of impatience as she transformed into panther mode again and leapt off the building’s roof and landed on the rain-soaked street.  The woman changed back into her normal form once again, to the surprised looks of the rest of the group before they turned their attention to the vampire who was held immobile before them by the Chosen One.  The blonde roughly shoved him face-first down to the pavement, hard before turning him around onto his back. Silhouetted against the raining night sky lit by lightning flashes, the Slayer inserted a shell into her shotgun and manually loaded it with a single pump of the slide, the weapon making a distinct “ka-shack” sound before she shoved the business end right into the vampire’s face.  The creature stared at the open barrel end of the shotgun and the cold gaze of the woman who held it, and felt something he thought he’d never feel again…

 

Fear.

 

“Tell me what we wanna know, and I might give you a quick and easy death,” the Slayer remarked in a matter-of-fact tone of voice.  “Where exactly did they take the boy and girl they kidnapped earlier, and WHY?”

 

“So what? Who cares, you’re gonna kill me anyway,” the vampire sneered in an attempt at bravery.  “So do your worst then.  Makes no difference to me, girlie.”

 

Buffy cocked an eyebrow in bemusement. “Are you so sure?”  The two witches instantly got the Slayer’s hint and began to allow eldritch energies to swirl around their hands and eyes once again.  Meanwhile both Buffy and Cordelia casually drew silver knives from their sheaths and toyed with them, as they noticeably eyed the vampire’s crotch.

 

The creature’s eyes went wide with fright, its earlier bravado completely forgotten when it realized these beautiful, yet deadly women meant business.  “Okay! Okay!  Yeah, they took the brats back to this old missionary place north of here.  Some weird demon feller said they wanted them for some sort of sacrifice.”  At the mention of that, their faces became even grimmer than before.  “So, does that satisfy you?”

 

The Slayer calmly nodded.  “Yeah, it does.”  Before the vampire could say anything else, Buffy squeezed the trigger and blasted the vampire’s head apart at point-blank range.

 

“Geez, Little-Miss-Likes-To-Fight!  Kind of let him off a little easy, didn’t you?” Cordelia taunted lightly with a gleam in her eye that indicated she’d wanted to stick her knife into the vampire.  Her breasts heaved noticeably with each breath as her adrenaline rush still ran through her veins.

 

“No fair, Buffy…you spoiled our fun,” Willow whined with a pretty little pout, while Amy also quietly pouted in kind.  Their normally innocent-looking faces were cast in a darker, yet disquietingly attractive manner.

 

“You know, I think I could really like these women,” Jericho murmured quietly.  Next to him, Layla stared at them, feeling a little bit of fear at their ruthless display, tempered by overwhelming pride at having the honor to have witnessed such feats of combat artistry.  But most of all…she felt an undeniable sense of lust as well.  Her own body and mind was pumping with adrenaline as she gazed, enthralled at the magnificent and deadly women.

 

The other men said nothing as they surveyed all this, deciding that they were both definitely frightened…and uncomfortably aroused.

 

The Slayer simply shrugged.  “We have more important things to worry about now,” she replied as she quickly reloaded her shotgun.  Her gaze then fell upon the civilians still huddled together in the shop.  “What about them?”

 

Layla nodded. “Leave them to me.” The psychic turned and walked up to the patrons. “Sleep, and forget what you have seen here,” she commanded in a soft voice as she quickly and calmly regarded each person. “Sleep.”  In response, all of the patrons slumped over and fell into a slumber, the memories of what they had just witnessed erased from their minds.

 

“I wish I could do that,” the Slayer mused, before the whine of numerous police sirens caught everyone’s attention.  “That’s our cue.  Let’s get out of here; we’ve got unfinished business to take care of.”  The gang then retreated to their vehicles, knowing their next and final stop was…Pureza Del Fuego.

 

#

 

Sunnydale Forest

2 miles north of Sunnydale

21:05 PST

 

Patty and Sergio shivered from the chilly rain that continued to soak them to the bone as they rode in the back of the pickup truck.  They were still bound and gagged and the bare metal bed of the truck did nothing to comfort them as they jerked back and forth while it drove along an old muddy dirt trail through the Sunnydale forest. She could still hear the putter of the motorcycles riding behind it.  The low hanging branches of the trees surrounding the forest trail seemed to almost swipe at the truck and its passengers, as if trying to force them to go back…

 

Patty nervously looked up from where she was forced to sit in the truck’s open bed, while the chilly rain had plastered her hair and soaked her to the bone.  She wept knowing the rest of the patrons in the shop that they’d left behind were now dead.  Well, probably as dead as she and Sergio were soon going to be.  The young beauty tried to keep telling herself not to panic, that they’d be rescued, that the authorities were coming and they’d be saved…then realized just how stupid and foolish that notion was.

 

No one was coming to save them…especially from a pack of homicidal vampires.

 

The dark Irish girl closed her eyes momentarily, trying to make sense of this twisted lunacy they’d found themselves in, fervently wishing that this was all a bad dream, that this wasn’t happening, and then trying her damned best not to completely lose it. She opened her eyes again and looked at Sergio.  The young man seemed like he was trying to blink the rainwater out of his eyes…or maybe he was trying not to cry as well.  His gaze met Patty’s in the darkness, his dark brown eyes looking into Patty’s green eyes, and she felt a sense of warmth and comfort despite their situation.  For a moment she felt somewhat guilty for blowing up at him earlier.  Well, if we’re gonna be sacrificed, at least we’ll be together…not that it really gives me any comfort…

 

“Hey, missy, don’t be getting all doe-eyed, or be thinking of tryin’ anything funny for that matter,” a cocky voice warned.  Patty turned and looked at the other vampires who rode in the back with her and Sergio, their weapons casually pointed in the direction of the two youths.  “We’re here,” the vampire who’d uttered the warning earlier piped up, as the overhanging trees on either side of the road gave way to a large clearing on a hill.  Thunder boomed and rolled across the landscape as lightning silhouetted a low edifice that was built on the clearing…a dark semi-rectangular set of buildings composed of stone and brick, highlighted by a crumbling bell tower.  No lights seemed to emanate from the place, save a few trashcan fires sitting underneath the overhead arch of the front entrance, nearby which milled a few more vampires clad in similar clothing and casually brandishing weapons.  The light of the fires almost made the entrance look like the jaws of a gaping beast, ready to devour anyone who entered the place.  It was then that Patty recalled a tale she’d been told of an old Spanish missionary settlement outside Sunnydale, which caused her to shiver even more when she realized where they were…

 

“Ah, Pureza del Fuego,” Lyle remarked casually, as the truck along with the motorcycles shuddered to a stop right outside the entrance.  The undead cowboy then turned to regard Patty and Sergio again, a bemused smirk on his game face.  “Hope you two like it here, ‘cause you’re gonna be residin’ here, permanently.”

 

“Lyle, quit yappin’ with those kids and get ‘em off the truck,” Tex barked to his henchman as he climbed out of the truck’s cab, before making a slight adjustment to his hat and leather duster.

 

Lyle’s face fell slightly.  “Right, boss,” he muttered as he and the other Hell Riders grabbed the youths and roughly hauled them off the truck.  The two youths were then forcibly pushed forward by the vampires and made to stand in the pouring rain before the tall, imposing form of Tex Boyd, who regarded them both casually.

 

“Well, since I reckon this is a special occasion, why don’t we make it a little more special?” Tex drawled before producing two black hoods in his hand.  The vampire quickly donned the hoods over Patty and Sergio, rendering them temporarily blind. With a satisfied smirk, the vampire gestured to his henchmen that stood watch.  “You boys stay here and watch just in case there’s any trouble,” he called out.  He then turned to Lyle.  “Let’s take these two city-slickers down below, shall we?”  The vampire chuckled in agreement and started roughly shoving Patty and Sergio forward into the villa…

 

#

 

Down below, deep beneath the surface of the old mission in a large cavernous chamber, Hekhmut tended to his soon to be bride…Jennifer Calendar.

 

Torchlight flickered in sconces, illuminating the hewn stone walls and carved pillars that were inscribed with Egyptian-style hieroglyphics, casting them in light as shadows danced and played around the stone chamber.  Old cobwebs hung from the ceiling as rats scurried around the dusty floor, mingling with skeletal remains dressed in tattered robes that lay about as if with utter carelessness.  At the center was a raised altar carved from dark, bewitching obsidian, the carved symbolic inscriptions fused with the blood of innumerable sacrifices from long ago, the smooth top appearing to almost swirl with indigo waves of darkness.  Surrounding the altar stood seven braziers mounted on tripods, each filled with incense and unlit coals. Flanking the altar on either side was a bottomless pit, their black maws wide and gaping as old chain manacles dangled from the ceiling over each.  And near the altar, like an unholy specter, stood the form of Hekhmut, still in his mortal guise, wearing a long red robe that left his face hooded.  His golden reptilian eyes glowed with power as he gently put the final touches on the beautiful woman who lay on the darkly shimmering altar.

 

Jenny Calendar lay completely flat on the obsidian altar, her eyes closed, her raven hair carefully arranged around her face, and her lovely bosom rising with each breath as she continued to sleep.  Her gypsy ensemble along with all her other belongings had been completely removed and now lay nearby in a pile.  She now wore an intricately woven golden brassier that held her lovely breasts in place, along with a fine white silk cloth that barely covered her womanhood, held in place by a finely crafted golden belt.  Golden bracelets that looked like snakes sinuously encircled her upper and lower arms in addition to her legs, the metal fitting sensuously against her skin.  A golden tiara fashioned in the form of a cobra was mounted on her forehead as well.  Her skin itself shone with a lovely sheen, her entire body and face completely lathered in a special blend of fragranced oils that caused her skin to reflect the torchlight in a sensual manner.  Her arms lay at her side as she continued to breathe shallowly yet rhythmically.

 

“Soon, you will be perfection itself, my dear,” Hekhmut whispered reverently as the fingers of the mortal shell he inhabited glided along her lovely skin.  He added the last amounts of the special oil from a wooden bowl along every last part of her body, leaving nothing untouched.  The demon smiled darkly with both excitement and anticipation as he neared completion of his task.  Of course there were many reasons why he was here, now, but admittedly the one thing that had beckoned him to Sunnydale, more than anything else, was the uncanny combination of sensual beauty and arcane power that this mortal creature radiated.  Soon the dark ritual would begin, through which he would defile Jenny and transform her into a beautiful and powerful agent of darkness.  One who would further spread the Disciple’s web of corruption and sin, while serving him and his dark masters as a beautiful slave.

 

Of course, he mused, there had been plenty of other lovely mortal women he had seduced in his eternal lifespan, many of which had become his pleasure slaves and minions during his forays into the mortal realms. While he fed his hunger with the essence of human souls, the essence of what humans also radiated in the form of beauty and lust, particularly from sensual and nubile young women pleased him as well.  And what he felt from this mortal woman was more than what he had felt in many of his other devoted thralls as of late.  Oh, to be sure, it was not just Jenny.  He had felt much, much more of that uncanny combination of lust and power radiating from her redheaded charge, Willow Rosenberg, as well as Amy Madison and Cordelia Chase.  No matter, he thought.  Once he had finished his glorious work with Jenny, perhaps, if his dark master was willing, he would convert their beautiful bodies and souls as well.  “Indeed,” he drawled out loud, grinning to himself.  “Perhaps when the true chaos begins, I shall establish a harem here to feed all my desires.”

 

The beautiful raven-haired woman on the altar moaned slightly as her fingers began to twitch and her eyelids flickered, indicating that she was beginning to wake from the serum’s effects.  Hekhmut nodded in satisfaction, expecting that this would occur before he dipped his fingers into another wooden bowl that lay nearby and brought it to her lips.  He carefully traced the clear liquid on her lips and below her nostrils, ensuring that she would breathe the liquid’s contents into her system.  Hekhmut then calmly waited for the gypsy to awake.

 

Jenny’s eyes fluttered open as she began to wake from her drug-induced slumber, her foggy mind only beginning to hazily remember what had happened as she began to inhale a curiously sweet-smelling fragrance, like a bouquet of exotic flowers held to her nose and lips.  The scent instantly traveled from her orifices directly to her mind, plunging her already addled brain into a completely submissive, unresisting state.  As Jenny fell into a trance induced by the powerful effects of the drug, she became aware of a sensual, tingling sensation along her entire body.  The oil that Hekhmut had used was seeping into every pore of her skin now, and was stimulating every pleasure center in her mind and body.  She then felt other sensations…that of Hekhmut, whose hands gently caressed her skin, from head to toe.  Jenny closed her eyes momentarily and moaned as she felt her body slipping into a cocoon of pure ecstasy, unresisting to the intense pleasure she now felt.  She continued to lie perfectly still, as her breath came quicker and deeper, inhaling more of the drug’s essence into her mind.

 

Hekhmut hissed in pleasure, feeling aroused at the sight of Jenny submitting completely to his touch as well as the drugs he had applied to her.  But there was much more to be done.  The hooded demon leaned over Jenny’s lovely body as he took another moment to fondly regard her, before he locked his golden reptilian eyes on Jenny’s face.  “Jennifer Calendar…open your eyes.  Look upon me,” he commanded.  The gypsy opened her eyes again slowly, bringing her dark chocolate eyes to focus on the demon’s own as he commanded.  She did not resist, her will completely given over to the drugs and now enthralled by the demon’s voice. Hekhmut’s eyes began to intensify in power as his golden orbs blazed into Jenny’s own, cutting into her mind and whatever thoughts remained, until she could see and think nothing except of the sinister golden light blazing into her soul.

 

“You are now mine, dear,” Hekhmut spoke, his voice no longer masked by the mortal tenor he had used before, but now a deep, commanding voice accompanied by a soft irresistible hiss as his reptilian eyes continued to glow from beneath his hood. The rest of his mortal face remained hidden in shadow.   “You are now my thrall, and soon you will become much, much more.  But for now, you shall be still, you will submit…and you will obey.”

 

Jenny’s lips parted as if to speak, but said nothing, her eyes unblinking as she continued to stare into Hekhmut’s powerful golden orbs.  Her enthralled mind drank in the voice of her new master as though it were an aphrodisiac, sending shivers of delight through her. It was a voice that demanded absolute obedience while the power emanating from his eyes burned a new desire into her mind…the desire to obey.

 

“Obey,” the gypsy finally said in a bare whisper.

 

The demon smiled in satisfaction before raising his hands and uttering a chant in ancient Egyptian, his gaze never leaving Jenny’s eyes.  Soon the braziers that surrounded the altar flamed into life, each one radiating flames in a shifting hue of blue, green, purple and red.  Smoke rose from each brazier and began to coalesce like writhing snakes, shifting and moving, before the fumes coiled through the air toward Jennifer’s body in unison.  Tendrils of luminous mist writhed and began to swirl around Jenny, wrapping her body completely like a cocoon, before the fumes began to sinuously enter the pores in her skin.  Jenny’s eyes shot wide even further and gasped, before the smoke curled and drove into her ears, mouth, nose and eyes.  One final tendril of smoky mist poised like a snake against Jenny’s womanhood, before it finally shot forward and burrowed into her nether regions, stimulating her erogenous zones to indescribable levels of delight.  Jenny moaned again and her eyelids snapped shut, no longer able to hold her gaze with Hekhmut as the power and the ecstasy funneling through her became uncontrolled and unrelenting. The demon continued to gaze upon Jenny patiently for several moments. Soon he was rewarded when Jenny’s eyes slowly opened again, but this time her dark orbs were gone…in place were two orbs that stared off into space above her, aglow with eldritch fire that swirled with colors like the mist that now completely enveloped her body.  The gypsy’s mind was now a blank slate, aware of nothing except the arcane power that was now channeling through her body and soul, her erotic pleasure now increased a hundredfold and completely overriding any other sensations she might have felt. She continued to lay still and breathe quickly and deeply, as her body began to levitate a foot off of the obsidian altar and hung in midair, suspended by the arcane energies enveloping her.

 

She was now ready for the ritual.

 

Hekhmut grinned in triumph, before his demonic senses detected the presence of others standing behind him at the entrance to the chamber.  Without turning around to acknowledge their presence, Hekhmut spoke in a smooth yet dangerous tone, “Ah, Mr. Tex Boyd, and Mr. Lyle Gorch.  I trust you have justified your intrusion into my domain with news of…profound value?”

 

The tall vampire cleared his throat slightly.  Although he wouldn’t openly admit it, this demon did in fact give him a definite case of the creeps.  Just being in that damn place was bad enough, but around this weird dude it made it even worse.  Tex reared himself in a show of confidence and said “In fact we do have proper justice, or whatever you want to call it.  And here it is.” Tex and Lyle shoved forward the hooded boy and girl they’d been dragging along, before yanking the hoods off of them.

 

Sergio and Patty blinked several times, readjusting their eyes and getting reacquainted with their surroundings…which apparently had gotten a whole lot worse.  The two noted the chamber they were standing in with a sense of dread, before noticing with surprise the beautiful woman who hung suspended over the altar, surrounded by glowing, writhing wisps of smoke and wearing little clothing.  Their eyes went wide with shock when they realized it to be none other than Jennifer Calendar before gazing fearfully at the hooded man, or something vaguely resembling a man, who had turned from Jenny and was now staring with appraisal at the two youths, his golden slit eyes glowing malevolently from within the hood that cloaked his face in shadows.

 

“Ahhh…yes.  These two will do nicely,” the creature spoke in a smooth tone.  “Well done, Mr. Boyd and Mr. Gorch.  You have delivered as I instructed.  Now go, ensure that I am not interrupted, like you two so brazenly did a moment ago.”  The creature’s eyes then narrowed with menace.  “In fact, if I may kindly suggest, you may want to doubly ensure that the Slayer, the Amazons and their allies have not caught up to you.”

 

Tex snorted.  “What the hell do you mean by that, amigo?  My boys are WAY ahead of that pack of brats.”  He then chuckled.  “Trust me, with the guns you gave my boys, and what we had planned, there ain’t nothin’ that’s gonna go wrong.  In fact, if what I heard over our radios is right, it seems my boys have already run into them. Since I haven’t heard anything back, I’d assume it’s all been taken care of.”  He then narrowed his own eyes in annoyance.  “So I don’t see no call for you to be havin’ any doubts about my boys, especially when it’s just ONE Slayer and her lil’ friends.”

 

“Is that so, Mr. Boyd?” Hekhmut replied in an eerie tone that hinted he knew something he wasn’t willing to share with the vampire. “Perhaps you give these ‘brats’, as you would call them, less credit than they deserve.  Especially after these ‘brats” destroyed four of your own number with ease.  Something, if I am not mistaken, Mr. Gorch witnessed just the other night.”  The demon then pointedly glared at the other vampire, who shuffled slightly, uncomfortably.  “But,” the demon continued, cutting off Tex from belting out a reply, “you have done well thus far, and delivered just as I have asked.  Thank you.  Now…leave us.”

 

Tex and Lyle exchanged a look, before rather quickly making an exit from the chamber.  Neither of them felt any desire to be in that place longer than they had to be.

 

Hekhmut gazed at the retreating forms of the vampires with a bemused expression on his face before turning his full attention to the two youths who stared at him with eyes wide with fright, their mouths gagged with handkerchiefs and their hands tied behind their backs.  The demon stepped closer to regard the darkly handsome boy, and the rather lovely young girl with raven hair and green eyes.  Ah, he thought, such fortune to have another lovely young mortal woman at his mercy.  Truly the dark gods must have been smiling on him tonight!  Alas, she was there to serve a different purpose tonight.  Ah well, sacrifices had to be made…

 

He nearly chuckled at his own musings before leaning closer to study the two, as though he was an entomologist studying insects trapped in jars before pulling a sinister-looking knife from his robe.  At that both of the youths tried to flee, only to find in shock that they were immobile, their feet and legs held in place by an invisible force wielded by the demon.  His reptilian eyes glowed with menace as he softly asked the girl, “Are you afraid, little one?  Oh yes, I know you are, as is your friend.  That is good…I like mortals who are afraid.  For indeed, you should be.”  He brought the knife down to her chest, letting the tip of the wavy blade gently caress the valley between her breasts which heaved with every breath as she struggled not to cry in fright…before he brought up the blade and carefully cut away the cloth that gagged her mouth, after which he repeated the action with the boy.

 

“What do you want with us?!” Patty demanded, trying to sound courageous before her eyes were drawn to what was behind Hekhmut.  She gazed in horror at the altar and the beautiful woman who was suspended above it, appearing for all the world like a sleeping goddess. “Ms. Calendar?! Ohmigod…Ms. Calendar, can you hear me?  Ms. Calendar!” Beside her, Sergio could only stare in disbelief, part of him now even more frightened at this turn of events, another part of him strangely aroused at the sight of the lovely computer teacher in her revealing outfit, the slick sheen of her skin coupled with the mysterious tendrils of mist curling sinuously around her body making her appear even more beautiful.

 

“Oh, don’t worry about her.  She can’t hear you.  I’ve ensorcelled her into a trance of utter bliss and made her my thrall, my dear.  It’s a pity I cannot do the same with you. You would make a lovely addition to my little harem.  Alas, I must use you for another purpose, I’m afraid.”

 

“You mean sacrifices?” Sergio barely choked out.

 

Hekhmut smiled widely beneath his hooded robe.  “But of course!  And I’m happy to know you’ve deduced my plan already.  Not that I would have explained it to you, but good for you to know nonetheless. It will make your screams of agony and terror all the more…stimulating to me, I hope.”  The demon laughed as he turned from the pair, who remained immobile, and strode over to a small set of elaborately decorated clay jars that stood near the altar. They almost appeared like antique canopic jars.  Hekhmut removed the lid of each jar and dipped his hands into the first one, coming out with handfuls of sand which he proceeded to blow in the direction of the skeletal corpses that lined the chamber on the floor.  From the next he drew several black, quivering masses of bloody flesh that looked almost like human hearts.  The demon carefully levitated each of the hearts into the air and allowed them to float for a moment, before each of the hearts flew into a corpse, accompanied by stomach-turning sounds of wet tissue fusing to decaying bone.  From the last jar, he drew out several writhing black snakes, the reptile creatures hissing in anger, as though demanding release so they could each find a new home.  Hekhmut smiled before releasing the snakes and allowing each one to quickly slither toward a skeleton.  When each of the snakes had finished burrowing into a bony rib cage, the demon raised his dagger and shouted a final incantation.  The air above near the ceiling began to flux and pulsate, before reality itself split open and unveiled a void of endless darkness from which emanated the screams of the damned.  Several ectoplasmic spirits wailed and moaned as they flew from the fissure before it closed in on itself.  The disembodied spirits howled in rage before they were drawn into the skeletal remains of the bodies they had once inhabited…

 

Patty and Sergio felt their minds begin to scream.  Reality for them as they’d known it had ceased to exist altogether when they witnessed the bloodcurdling scene before them.  Soon the skeletal corpses underneath the tattered robes began to twitch and jerk, as flesh began to coalesce and form around the bones, green and scaly like a lizard’s.  The bones themselves began to twist, bend and lengthen, becoming grossly distorted.  Soon the corpses began to shuffle and moan as if alive.  But it was not a human moan.  More like a moan of something less than human, almost…reptilian.  Hisses emanated from the hooded forms as they slowly rose to their feet.  They had talon claws that seemed only vaguely human in appearance visible from their robes.  The heads were only vaguely visible yet the outlines suggested nothing human, almost more like that of a snake’s head.  The humanoid beings all rose together in unison before they cast their slit eyes toward Hekhmut….and hissed loudly in triumph.

 

“Ah, my brethren,” Hekhmut said in a pleased voice. “On behalf of our dark lord Set, I have resurrected you from the pits of Hell, you who once served my master in your mortal incarnations as frail humans.  Now revel in your new existence as children of our dark master…as our SERPENT MEN!”

 

The creatures roared, inhumanly so in approval, while Patty and Sergio began to silently pray…

 

#

 

Up above in the old monastery, several of the Hell Riders stood outside in the pouring rain, keeping watch for intruders while the other vampires, supervised by Tex Boyd, started loading additional ammo and explosives onto the truck and motorcycles. 

 

Off away from the main entrance, two rather wet and bored-looking vampires guarded a smaller side door that led into the villa compound.

 

“I’m getting tired of this bullshit.  When the hell are we gonna see some action, Tucker?” One of the vampires complained, as he vainly tried to light a cigarette.

 

“As soon as Tex lets us, Ross,” the other vampire muttered in reply.  Both vampires had joined Tex Boyd’s posse long ago to enjoy the true meanings of the Wild West…murder, mayhem, and plunder.  But since they’d arrived in Sunnydale, all they’d done was pull guard duty.

 

“Yeah? Well, if you ask me, seems old Tex needs to get off his ass and—OW!!”  The vampire yelped as he grabbed the back of his neck. “What was that?!”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Something just sliced me in the back of the neck, Tucker!” The vampire whirled around and drew his assault rifle before cocking it.  The Hell Rider gazed in the direction from where that attack had come, furiously hoping to find who’d sliced him…only to see nothing.

 

“Ross?  What are you talking about?  I don’t see nothin’.”  Ross muttered as he glanced in his companion’s direction.

 

The vampire turned his gaze back to Tucker.  “I’m tellin’ ya, someone just sliced me…wait a minute, what’s that?”  Both of the creatures turned to look at something embedded in the old door sill of the entrance they were guarding.  It appeared to be a star-shaped, black oxidized steel disc, its razor-sharp edges clearly visible in the dim light.

 

“What the hell is th--?”  The two creatures never had a chance to finish, when the razor edge of a wakizashi blade hissed through the night and cleaved Tucker’s head off in a single blow, disintegrating him.  Next to him, his companion never had time to react as Ross’s head was also decapitated in a swift, deadly stroke from a gleaming katana blade.  Both of their weapons and ammo belts fell to the ground in piles, devoid of their owners.

 

Buffy Summers stood for a tense moment with her katana at the ready, using her Slayer senses to detect the presence of other undead.  Next to her, Jericho Saito held his own wakizashi in a tense stance, his free hand ready to draw any of his other weapons before the Slayer waved her hand, indicating the only ones left were clustered around the entrance.

 

“Good work,” Jericho said in a hushed voice, nodding to Buffy approvingly.  Once again he was impressed by the skill displayed by the tiny blonde woman.

 

“Thanks, same to you.  Nice trick by the way,” the Slayer whispered in reply gesturing to the shuriken that was embedded in the wood.  Jericho had thrown the spinning blade as a means of distracting the creatures before they had quietly crept up and dispatched them.  As the assassin pulled the shuriken from the wood and placed it in a hidden compartment on his body armor, the Slayer quietly piped up, “What’s with all the fancy martial-artsy stuff anyway?  You supposed to be some sort of ninja or something?”

 

Jericho smirked quietly but said nothing.

 

Behind them, Giles cast a questioning glance of his own at Layla who stood beside him, the two having crept up after the vampires had been dispatched.  The priestess of Bast just shrugged and smiled mysteriously, indicating she had nothing to say either.  Allowing herself a brief moment to pout, the Slayer sheathed her katana and pulled out her shotgun as she went back to being all-business, before she cautiously moved through the side entrance with her companions following suit…

 

#

 

“Careful, boys!” Tex yelled as the vampires hauled one of the ammo crates onto the truck.  “You drop that damn thing and you’ll blow us all to hell!” The rain continued to pelt downwards into the muddy earth that splattered beneath the vampire’s boots, as they struggled with the slippery crate before securing it in the back of the vehicle.  Tex muttered to himself as he took out an old antique pocket watch and checked the time.  They definitely needed to be starting back soon.  If he knew his boys, they should have begun torching downtown Sunnydale by now, but the extra ammo and rocket launchers would help move things along. His reverie was interrupted when he heard Lyle clear his throat.

 

“What the hell is it now, Lyle?” Tex growled as he adjusted his hat again to keep the rain out of his face.

 

“Tex?”  Lyle queried in a slightly worried tone.  “I don’t mean to be sayin’ I agree with that Hack Mutt feller, but he’s got a point.  I mean, that Slayer’s a lot more dangerous than she appears to be, don’t you think—“

 

“Quit flapping your gums already, Lyle,” Tex replied with annoyance. “We got everything planned out, nice and easy.  Just like you said, it always pays to have a plan.  And the plan we laid out is foolproof.  Those city-slickers ain’t getting’ by us.”

 

Lyle raised his arms and shoulders in a shrug. “I wasn’t sayin’ they are Tex. I’m just sayin’ maybe we need to be a little more careful.  Like maybe have a backup plan, or somethin’.”

 

“Or maybe, you just need to shut the hell up!” Tex nearly bellowed as his patience neared its end.  “Yeah, you’ve always got a plan, don’t you…just like last night when you hightailed it and left the other boys to get smoked by the Slayer!”  An angry look manifested on Lyle’s face as his features shifted into his vampiric visage, indicating that for the first time in a long while, he was clearly pissed at Tex.  Before he could snap a reply though, Tex went on, paying no heed to Lyle’s expression.  “Now like I said, everything’s well and good.  We got our boys taking care of the Slayer and her friends right now, and soon this whole town is gonna burn.”

 

Lyle glared at Tex.  “Yeah, if that’s so, boss, why haven’t any of them called back yet?”

 

Tex appeared to think for a moment, before he called out to his henchmen.  “Any of you boys heard back from the others yet?”  The other vampires shook their heads. Frowning, Tex grabbed a walkie-talkie from one of the vampires. “Gimme that.” He extended the antennae and pressed the speaker button.  “Cody, you out there?  How’s it coming?”  Tex patiently waited for several moments, only to be answered by static.  The tall, burly vampire frowned as he spoke into the radio again.  “Cody, where the hell are you? Talk to me.”  There was still nothing.  “Cody?  Dwight? Jesse? Travis? Talk to me boys!”  Only static continued to answer him.  “Where the hell are you boys, sucking on the local whores or something?!”


 

 

Suddenly a voice answered over the static, but it wasn’t the voice of a man…it was the voice of a girl.  “We’re sorry, but the good old boys you mentioned are not available right now, they’re currently dust.  If you’d like, feel free to leave a message after the beep,” she taunted in a California Valley-girl voice.

 

Tex blinked.  “Who the hell…?”

 

Lyle’s eyes widened with fear.  “Boss, that’s the—“

 

He never had a chance to finish as a fiery explosion knocked them both to the ground.

 

#

 

Several meters away, hidden by some trees, Xander stood with a now-empty AT4 recoilless rifle, staring in awe at the carnage caused by his rocket-propelled HEDP grenade blast that had slammed home into the truck and destroyed it along with the munitions it carried, momentarily turning it into a fireball before the munitions on the truck exploded into a lethal display of fireworks, scattering and burning any vampires unlucky to be nearby.

 

Oz took aim and fired his own AT4 launcher, sending another rocket-propelled grenade speeding into the night and obliterating several motorcycles parked in a cluster near the front of the mission, cutting off an avenue of escape for the vampires as well as cooking several more of them.

 

Both boys now stood in the rain, staring momentarily in awe at the destruction they had just rendered, before Oz was able to pipe up, “Dude, that was…just…” He tried to find the words.

 

“Awesome!” Xander yelped out, before turning to regard his werewolf friend. The boys paused for a moment before they exchanged high fives and pumped their fists in unison.  “Mess with the best, die like the rest! YEAH!!!”

 

“Ahem,” Buffy cleared her throat noisily over their headsets.  “’Scuse me, but while you wannabe He-Men are celebrating, we still got people to save and vamps to slay, remember?”  Both boys stopped and blinked when they considered the Slayer’s words…before they were both slapped upside the head by Cordelia and Willow who stood nearby, hard.

 

“Uh, right, no problemo,” Xander hurriedly put out, both boys blushing and rubbing their heads after their momentary sense of euphoria dissipated.  They quickly discarded the disposable launchers and drew their assault rifles as they moved up to cover the rest of the squad.

 

#

 

Tex Boyd groaned as he lay in the mud, his head swimming momentarily from the concussion effects of the blast that had seemingly come out of nowhere.  He shook it off and raised his head, noticing his hat had blown off and lay nearby.  Growling with anger, he grabbed his hat and donned it back on his head as he got up, before noticing that the truck with the ammunition on it had been turned into a flaming scrap heap.  Nearby several motorcycles that had been parked were completely destroyed as well…by what?  A rocket?

 

“What the hell?” He muttered as he saw the carnage before him, while his fellow henchmen groaned as they stood up and drew their weapons.  Nearby, Lyle fumbled with his own rifle momentarily while a panicked expression dawned on his face.

 

“Someone just fired a damn rocket launcher at us!” One of the vampires yelled.  “But where are they?  I don’t see—“ A burst of automatic gunfire cut into his chest, disintegrating him.

 

Tex stared wide-eyed at what he’d just seen before more gunfire erupted.  “It’s them, dammit! Kill ‘em!” He shouted as the remaining Hell Riders started firing wildly at the muzzle flashes they saw in the raining darkness.  Tex whipped out the two Uzi submachine guns on his back and started blasting away in the direction of the intruders who’d dared attack them on their own turf.

 

#

 

Tracking the vampires had not been terribly difficult, since they already knew the vampires would come here.  After hightailing it in their vehicles away from the chaos in downtown Sunnydale, the Scoobies and their friends had driven as close as they could to the mission without being noticed, after which they restocked their ammunition loads before converging on the settlement.  A quick mental scan by Layla had confirmed that there was no sign of Patty, Sergio or Jenny in the mission itself, but she had felt something underneath, something so powerful, and yet so…sinister she had clutched her head momentarily in pain from just feeling it.  The Slayer and the witches had reacted likewise as well when they’d used their own senses, saying that there was something pulsating underneath the villa with such power it gave them the wiggins. They didn’t need to be rocket scientists to conclude that their friends were probably in the catacombs rumored to exist below the mission.

 

The Wanderer along with Willow, Cordelia, Amy, Oz and Xander advanced in pairs toward the mission entrance, bounding from cover to cover as they used shoot-and-move techniques, firing on the move as they converged on the remaining Hell Riders.  A large fiery pyre was all that remained of the truck, as the flames from the wreckage along with the bright flashes of gunfire illuminated everything in a hellish glow. The Slayerette’s faces were set in grim expressions.  They’d all witnessed the carnage the vampires had left back at the Espresso Pump, and could only imagine what other chaos they may have sown in Sunnydale, or what they might sow if they were given the chance.  There was only one way to solve the problem at hand…and that was to kill them all.

 

Each of the members of Steve’s team bounded from cover to cover in a “leapfrog” fashion, using boulders and fallen trees as shields against the random sprays of automatic fire that kicked up the mud around them. They sought out targets utilizing the night vision devices attached to their headsets, before leveling their weapons as they sent accurate and deadly bursts of automatic gunfire blazing into the night.  It soon became painfully clear what the difference was in tactics and training between the two groups.  While the vampires were considered to be decent shots, they lacked the overall discipline to effectively cover each other and lay down concentrated fire like Steve’s team. Also their tendency to fire their weapons wildly in a “spray-and-pray” type fashion tended to backfire as they only succeeded in wasting ammunition, while the Slayerette’s use of accurate single-shots and controlled three-round bursts were devastatingly lethal against the creatures.

 

“Fire in the hole!” St. Wolf shouted before taking aim with his grenade launcher and fired a round, sending a high-explosive grenade into several vampires that were clustered in a spot near the entrance, the explosion sending them flying like rag dolls.  To his left and right, Willow, Cordelia and Amy advanced in tactical crouched stances as they continued to pour fire at the diminishing ranks of the remaining vampires. Behind them Xander and Oz sighted through their night vision scopes and provided additional covering fire, as the vampires started to panic and began to retreat into the villa.

 

“They’re falling back inside.  Bravo team, take them out!”

 

Upon Steve’s command, Buffy along with her Watcher, Jericho and Layla opened up with automatic bursts of gunfire from their hiding places inside the villa’s inner compound, the muzzle flashes of their weapons illuminating the villa’s gloomy, wet interior as they engaged the vampires attempting to retreat inside.  The creatures were now clearly caught in a vise-like trap with nowhere to go.

 

#

 

The vampires looked around in confusion and terror, only now realizing that they’d fallen into a trap similar to what they had planned for their intended prey.  Indeed, it seemed the tables had turned on the Hell Riders as they were mercilessly cut down one by one.  As they frantically blazed their weapons around them in a measure of desperation, Tex Boyd attempted to rally his henchmen.

 

“Keep firin’ dammit! Don’t any of you be runnin’ out on me!”  As the vampires continued to fight for their undead lives, Tex noticed that one of his particular henchmen was missing…

 

“Lyle, where the hell are you?!”

 

#

 

Oz and Xander continued to provide cover fire for the squad as they advanced on the remaining vampires, until their rifle bolts shot open on spent magazines.  As the youths ejected their empty magazines and inserted fresh ones, they spied movement several yards to the left of them, away from the group.  They only had enough time to charge the cocking handles on their weapons before they found themselves face-to-face with two rain-soaked vampires who bore panicked expressions as they aimed their AK-74 rifles at them, uncertainly.  The boys recognized one of the vampires from Giles’ books on the undead as none other than Lyle Gorch.

 

“Well, ain’t this a treat?” Lyle said in a tone meant to sound brave, although the panic in his voice was evident.  “I was just about to skip town, only to run into two gumsuckers tryin’ to play ‘hero’!”

 

“Yeah, well….who’s the gumsucker now, Mr. Soon-To-Be-Dust EX-cowboy?!” Xander babbled nervously.  He was well aware that both of the vampires had their rifles aimed at his head along with Oz’s.  Trying to sound brave, he continued with false bravado.  “So, why don’t you just lower your weapons and give up, and we MIGHT go easy on ya.”

 

“Easy on us?” Lyle snorted.  “Right! And I’m Wyatt Earp!  I ain’t fallin’ for that boy, you’ll just stake the both of us.  And it seems to me we got our guns pointed right at your heads, so how about this…why don’t you put your shootin’ irons down, and let us on by.  How’s that?”

 

“No way, overbite!” Xander snapped back.  “Because then you’ll just shoot us in the back! We ain’t fallin’ for that, right, Oz?”

 

“Uh, no offense, dude,” Oz said in his usual bland tone, “but I think you’re making this more complicated than it needs to be.”

 

The X-Man blinked. “I am?”

 

“Yep.”

 

Before the boys could ponder further, it appeared that Lyle had come to his own conclusion.  “Hey, boys, I got an easy way to resolve this whole problem.  How about…” The vampire feigned to think momentarily, before he grabbed the vampire next to him.  “I appreciate the help, son!” He yelled as he flung the vampire and sent him colliding into the two youths, before he quickly tipped his hat and ran off into the rainy night.

 

“Dude, I could use some help! Uh, somebody?!” Xander yelled as he struggled with the vampire, who’d been momentarily surprised but was now on top of him and pinning him down against the muddy grass, growling with bloodlust.  He struggled to keep his rifle held in front of him like a shield against the vampire’s protruding fangs, before Oz got up and saved his bacon by drawing a stake from his belt and plunging it into the creature’s back and through its heart, destroying it.

 

Xander took a few moments to blink the rainwater out of his eyes before refocusing them on his hero of the moment, trying to ignore the muddy remains of the vampire splattered on his armor.  “Thanks for the save, Oz,” he muttered, somewhat dejectedly.  “I guess we’re in big trouble now though…dammit, I can’t believe he got away, we had that fang-boy right in front of us!”

 

Oz raised an eyebrow at that.  “What do you mean ‘we,’ kimosabe?  Come on!”  The multi-colored haired werewolf pulled Xander to his feet before the two of them went to catch up with their comrades, rifles at the ready.

 

#

 

Tex growled as he reloaded each of his Uzi submachine guns, trying to keep some sort of control over an increasingly dire situation.  His boys were clearly trapped with no place to go, with those damn brats both in front and behind, packing guns that could kill them. And there was no sign of Lyle, meaning he was already dead…or the son of a bitch had taken the opportunity to run away.  Mentally reminding himself to find that bastard and stake him and leave him to burn out in the desert sun, he reared up his Uzi’s to fire more rounds at the bastards who had him cornered, until he realized too late that it was just him and a few others left.

 

“Dammit all to hell!” He screamed in fury as he watched the last remaining members of his gang get ruthlessly cut down by automatic gunfire, one by one…until he was the only one left.

 

Tex looked to his left and right frantically, his guns pointed in both directions as the teams emerged from the shadows, converging on his location.  Tex squinted and noticed the grim faces of the men and women who calmly walked toward him.  They wore strange clothing and armor and carried enough weapons to take down several hundred more vampires.  They all stared at him with a look in each and every one of their faces that indicated the same thing…death had come for him.

 

The creature growled and raised his Uzis, only to scream as gunfire blew away the guns he held and sent them flying, along with several fingers.  As the vampire fell to his knees and howled in pain, a petite blonde girl, a tall brunette minx, a redheaded nymph and a blonde filly stepped within several feet of him.  As Tex gazed at them, the girls solemnly holstered their firearms and drew melee weapons from their sheaths, each with a distinctive hiss.  The petite blonde and the brunette now held long, gleaming katana blades, while the redhead and the blonde each held wide-edged short swords that tapered to a wicked point.  Each of them wore deadly expressions on their pretty faces as they pointed their weapons at Tex in silent challenge.

 

Tex growled defiantly.  “Piss on you, you tarts!” he screamed as he stood up and lunged at the petite blonde, only to have the girl easily sidestep his charge before she brought her sword around in a graceful arc and sliced off his right arm with a single blow. 

 

“That’s for the boy you killed in the Espresso Pump,” she said simply.

 

Tex screamed even more so in pain, before the brunette stepped forward and coolly amputated his other arm with a swipe from her sword. 

 

“That’s for the poor woman you murdered tonight,” the brunette noted.  After that she stepped back as the redhead and the blonde came forward and sliced off each of his legs with ruthless precision, leaving the limbless vampire to plop back onto the mud, screaming for mercy.

 

“And that,” said the skinny blonde heifer with the extremely haunting onyx eyes, “was for killing that young girl and her boyfriend, you son of a bitch!”

 

Then the petite blonde stood over him and studied the vampire who lay helpless in the mud, sobbing and begging for mercy.  But when he noticed her watching him with a cold, yet bemused expression, he sneered in defiance.  “Before you send me to Hell…I want you to know…I enjoyed suckin’ them worthless city folk dry, you two-bit whore,” he said before his face morphed into a twisted, sadistic grin.  “And I can see from your faces…it just riles you stick-figure bitches to no end that you were too damn late to save those sheep…don’t it?  And just so you know, that boy and little filly we took along with that gypsy woman are gonna be joining them in—“

 

“You know what I hate?” the little blonde drawled as she raised her sword.  Then she cleaved it down and sliced Tex from head to toe, barely giving the vampire one last time to scream before it mercifully disintegrated. “It’s bad guys who talk WAY too freaking much.”

 

#

 

Deep beneath in the catacombs, Hekhmut gave instructions to his Serpent Men in ancient Egyptian, gesturing grandly as he did so, while the ensorcelled form of Jenny Calendar continued to float over the altar, her eyes still ablaze with eldritch fire, her breath coming in rapid, short gasps followed by moans of pleasure as the uncanny mix of arcane power and erotic pleasure continued to channel relentlessly through her.  To the left and right of the altar, the cloaked reptilian humanoids hissed and spoke in guttural, alien tongues as they bound Patty and Sergio into the chain manacles that dangled over the pits.  The two youths quietly sobbed in terror and fright as the Serpent Men then hoisted the chains upward using wheels that stood off to the side of the chamber, until the two of them were now left dangling over the dark, wide chasm underneath them.

 

Hekhmut smiled pleasantly to himself.  Everything was almost ready, except…he frowned momentarily and closed his eyes, his demonic senses probing beyond the catacomb and above him, before he growled in displeasure as he felt the presence of none other than the servant of that bitch Goddess, Bast.  And as if to make things much, much worse, he also felt the presence of Artemis’s Chosen Amazons, along with another presence he was all too familiar with…the Slayer.  A further probe from his senses revealed that the Hell Riders were gone. Either they had chosen to run off, or perhaps more likely they had been destroyed altogether by the meddling bitches now in the villa. There is much to be said for the supposed usefulness of hired henchmen, he mused to himself with a sigh. Oh well.  At least they had succeeded in delaying them, which was precisely what he had needed.

 

“So, the Slayer, the priestess of Bast and the Amazons have proven to be even more enterprising than I had expected,” he said aloud darkly.  If the Slayer was present then he had to assume that her Watcher was by her side, as always.  Hekhmut briefly turned his gaze to the entranced form of Jennifer Calendar who continued to levitate over the altar.  “Do you hear that, Jennifer?  It seems the Greeks have come to save their dear lovely Helen, meaning you, of course.” The demon then smiled again in a sinister manner.  “I would have expected no less.  So be it.”  With that, he raised his arms above him and shouted a long, powerful incantation that began to build in power as it echoed throughout the chamber, reverberating off the stone walls before it began to penetrate the walls of reality itself, before the wails of the damned began to answer in response…

 

#

 

Up above in the inner courtyard of the ruined missionary complex, St. Wolf along with the other men momentarily stared wide-eyed at what the Slayer and the Amazons had just inflicted upon the Hell Rider’s leader Tex Boyd, paying virtually no heed to the rain and thunder that continued to pour down.  The Slayer and Amazons stared at the muddy spot where Tex Boyd had been in silence, before sheathing their melee weapons in unison.

 

“Buffy?’ Steve asked with a look of worry evident on his rain-soaked face.  The petite blonde turned to him with a stony expression of her own.  “Are you…?”  His voice trailed off uncertainly.  He’d never seen her, or the Amazons, quite like this before.  The gazes from the other men made him suspect they were all thinking the same thing.

 

The Slayer tried to assure him with a brief, faint smile.  “We’re fine, sweetie, not to worry, ‘kay?”  The women then grabbed their firearms and began to reload their weapons, prompting the rest of the team to do the same.  While they did so they looked around the dark inner courtyard of the ruined mission, grimly noting the burned-out pyre set up in the middle, on top of which a heap of blackened skeletal remains were visible.  A few rats could be seen scurrying about along the crumbling walls.  The wind howled through the darkened overhanging arches and the windows that hung open like opened maws, the broken wooden shutters that remained creaking back and forth in the wind.

 

“I’ve SO got a bad feeling about this place,” Cordelia muttered.  She knew she wasn’t the only one.  Something about this place was causing a sense of revulsion, mixed with anxiety and fear to burn in the pit of their stomachs.

 

Layla turned and raised an eyebrow at the brunette Amazon. “YOU think you have a bad feeling about this place?”  The priestess’s own mystical senses were practically screaming a warning.

 

“Hey, can we cut it out with the clichéd ‘bad feeling’ vibes already?”  Xander snapped in a slightly nervous tone.

 

The Slayer set her pouty lips in a hard line.  “Xander’s got a point, much as I wish he didn’t.  We need to find a way down into the catacombs.  Any ideas as to where the entrance is anyone?”

 

“The chapel,” Giles spoke up, his concern for his beloved Jenny creasing the Watcher’s face with worry. “I-I think we should try there, as traditionally that’s where the catacomb entrance would be…I think.”

 

They glanced toward a large gloomy building off to the side.  The jagged remains of the lone bell tower could be seen rising from it, silhouetted against the lightning-filled sky.  Two sagging, large double doors could be seen that appeared to be the main entrance, the doors hanging open as if inviting them into its maw…

 

“Figures,” Buffy muttered.  Then she looked at the members of her team and said, “Look, guys…I know we’ve come this far together but going down there to face a major demon goes way beyond the call of duty for you.  I think it might be better if Giles, Steve, Layla, Jericho, and I take it from—”

 

“Dammit, Buffy!”  Everyone was stunned into silence by Willow’s passionate interruption.  “We’re a team!  They’ve got our Amazon sister down there and we’re going in there to get her back, so don’t pull any ‘I’m-the-Slayer-and-you-do-as-I-say crap,’ you got me?”

 

Buffy regarded her best friend solemnly for a moment before a tiny smile tugged at her lips.  “Check…no ‘do-as-I-say crap.’  Gotcha.” 

 

After they all had a slight chuckle to drain away some of the tension, the team moved across the muddy courtyard toward the chapel. As the team advanced cautiously through the torrential downpour with their weapons at the ready, the Chosen One rolled her eyes and said into her mike, “Xander?  Quit moaning, ‘kay?  We’ll be out of here once we get back our friends and kick this demon’s butt.”

 

“Uh, Buffy?” Xander replied with worry. “I’m not moaning.”

 

“Oh sure, Lame One,” Cordelia replied with a tinge of her usual sarcasm, despite the dread she felt. “You moan all the time, especially when we’re in—“

 

Cordelia, cut the chatter!” The Wanderer snapped, before his eyes darted around, his sense of danger going into overdrive.  “I hear it too.”

 

At that moment, Layla nearly doubled over in pain, her hands reaching up to her temples. “Ma Deesse,” Layla whispered, her eyes suddenly going wide with horror, “No…”

 

Jericho came to Layla’s side instantly and gripped her by the shoulder with worry evident in his dark eyes.  “Layla, what is it?”  His question was soon answered when a chorus of wailing moans, like a symphony of the damned, began to echo throughout the mission.

 

“Please,” Buffy whispered, “tell me that’s the wind.”

 

Next to the Slayer, the redheaded Amazon Wicca looked up into the sky, her wet red hair plastered to her skin, before her witch green eyes widened in horror.  “Uh, Buffy…it’s not the wind.”

 

Everyone looked up and saw innumerable phantasmal shapes swirl like mists of fog above them, before coalescing into ghostly forms with vaguely human-like faces contorted in expressions of agony.  The horde of ghostly apparitions screamed in pain and fury, sending a profound shiver of horror through every member of the team, before the spirits dove into the muddy earth and disappeared.

 

No one said anything for a moment, until a rumbling noise could be heard emanating from underneath the earth.

 

“Oh shit,” Amy said with worry in her voice. “This is not good.”  As if to punctuate her words, a rotting skeletal hand burst from the ground and attempted to grab the blonde witch’s foot, before the Amazon yelped and kicked it away.

 

“What the hell?!” Buffy snapped as the ground around them began to shift and churn as various shapes began to burst fourth from the muddy earth.  Rotting skeletal shapes began to slowly rise accompanied by the moans of the damned, as fleshless skulls attached to decaying bones rose up and glared at the Slayerettes with unnatural hatred.  Unholy red light filtered out from eye sockets that had long been empty save for the presence of soil and maggots.

 

“Holy crap, dude!” Xander babbled aloud. “It’s the freaking night of the living dead!  Who the hell invited George Romero to this shindig?!”  More of the undead began to burst from the ground while those already arisen began to converge on the Slayerettes.

 

“It must be the souls and corpses of the Indians who died here, Hekhmut must be controlling them,” Giles said in a horrified voice, before another skeletal corpse burst from the ground at his feet and attempted to claw at him with a shriek. The Watcher quickly whipped out a large Nepalese kukri knife from his belt and brought the blade in a downward swipe, cleaving off one of its limbs.

 

“Get to the chapel, move!”  The Wanderer shouted as the shrieking undead surged toward the team, prompting them to open fire with their automatic weapons.  The courtyard was lit up with muzzle flashes as enchanted silver bullets ripped into the undead horde, shattering bones and felling several creatures. But for every creature that was destroyed, another two or three appeared. The undead relentlessly pushed forward, with their skeletal hands outstretched like claws toward the Slayerettes, who grimly continued to fire with their weapons as they retreated in a group toward the chapel entrance.

 

“Everyone get inside, go!” The Slayer barked as she loaded several more shells into her shotgun, before turning and blasting a creature that tried to claw her face. 

 

The Slayerettes ran inside the darkened chapel in pairs, covering each other with automatic weapons bursts, until only Buffy, St. Wolf, Jericho and Layla were left.

 

“Buffy, Monsieur Wolf, get inside, we will be right behind you!” Layla said as she fired bursts from her assault rifle.

 

Buffy looked at her incredulously.  “Are you crazy?! What—“

 

“No arguments dammit, go!” Jericho shouted.  The Slayer and the Wanderer muttered under their breaths as they fired their weapons one last time before retreating inside.

 

“You two had SO better get your asses in here or I’ll kick both of them!” The Slayer called out.

 

Jericho shared a look with his companion. “Ready?”

 

*Yes*, the priestess replied telepathically, before they both shouldered their weapons.  The Frenchwoman drew forth her utchat symbol from between her breasts, while the Asian pulled out one of the special silver fragmentation/concussion grenades and gripped the pull ring.  Layla closed her eyes and chanted an ancient incantation against the undead, as the Sisterhood and her Egyptian mother had taught her.  A golden light began to radiate from the medallion she held cupped between her hands, bathing her and her surroundings in a light that caused the undead creatures to shriek and fall back, with beams of light striking several creatures and causing them to burst into flames and disintegrate.  As the undead horde recoiled from the presence of the woman, Jericho pulled the grenade pin and threw it into the horde of undead, before grabbing Layla and shoving her into the chapel.

 

“Shut it!” Jericho shouted as he came through behind Layla.  The Slayerettes shoved the heavy wooden doors closed and slammed down the crossbar, before a concussive blast along with silver pellets ripped through the courtyard and the undead, causing the heavy doors to groan and strain in protest although they held.

 

Jericho leaned over momentarily to catch his breath, while Layla took a moment to clear her thoughts.  Both of them looked up to find the rest of the Slayerettes staring back at them, wide-eyed.

 

“Are the two of you all right?” The Watcher asked, visibly concerned to which they both nodded.

 

“What the hell was that flashy thingamajig you did out there?” Buffy asked.

 

“That was an, ah…’thing’ that we have done in the past,” Layla said as she leaned against the door. “An incantation and prayer to the Lady, accompanied by a concussion grenade. Simple, but effective, non?”

 

The Slayer shook her head before switching on the tactical light attached to her shotgun and panning it around the dank, leaking chapel. The old furnishings were scattered in disarray as water continued to leak from the roof.  “We need to find the entrance to the catacombs, and fast.  Let’s look around.”  With no time to waste, the Slayerettes and their allies began to search the expansive chapel with flashlights mounted on their guns, only to be interrupted by the sound of shrieks and groans as skeletal fists could be heard pounding and clawing at the barred wooden doors.

 

“Pretty crazed, aren’t they?” Cordelia said, eyes wide. “And I thought shoppers during the holiday season were rough.”

 

“This chapel’s holy ground though, isn’t it?” Amy queried with a slightly worried expression on her pretty face. “They can’t come in…right?”

 

Layla shook her head.  “There is little holiness left in this place, I’m afraid.” Her observation made the Slayerettes begin to search more quickly.  Minutes passed as the pounding on the door began to intensify, while the team’s search for an entrance remained futile.

 

“This figures,” Xander muttered as he looked around near the altar.  “We got a zombie horde outside itching to make us into a raw meat buffet, while we’re stuck inside looking for some stupid entrance.” He leaned momentarily against an old heavy iron candleholder that jutted out of the wall.  “Why can’t they just hide these things in plain view—WHOA!”  The candleholder he leaned against squealed and groaned in protest as the metal depressed downward, activating a lever that clunked in place and sent several hidden gears turning in motion.  The team whirled toward the source of the sound in unison with their weapons raised, before the old stone altar itself began to jerk and move.  Stone scraped against stone as the altar moved away by itself, pulled by hidden levers, revealing a winding stone staircase that was apparently hewn out of the rock, spiraling downwards into the darkness.

 

“Ooookayyyy, that was interesting,” Xander said with a note of surprise.  “So…who wants to go down into the creepy-looking darkness first?  Buffy!”  The X-Man emphatically gestured to the little blonde. “You’re the Slayer.  You go first.”

 

The Chosen One took a moment to glare at the youth, before she pulled out a chemical break light, activated it with a snap, shook it and tossed it down the staircase.  The light glowed with a blue fluorescence as it tumbled down the staircase into the darkness, before it came to a dead end, which was apparently the bottom. Muttering to herself, “How come I get all the sucky jobs?” the Slayer held her submachine gun to her shoulder as she started to move down the stairwell…until a sound of splintering wood drew her and everyone else’s attention to the entrance, where the double doors began to crack and fall away before the undead horde’s onslaught. 

 

“Crap,” Amy muttered, “Guess you need something stronger than a door to hold these guys. Willow!”  The little red witch turned to regard the blonde enchantress. “Containment field!”

 

The Amazon Wicca nodded and pulled out a tiny jar from her belt and hunched over away from the altar, with Amy doing the same.  Both witches began to gently lay down a line of salt around the catacomb entrance, quietly chanting as they did so.

 

“What’re they doing?” Oz asked with a furrowed expression.

 

“They’re laying down a barrier to prevent the undead from crossing,” Giles noted.  Layla nodded in agreement before stepping forth and drawing a pouch from her belt.  The priestess poured out a small quantity of sand, before smoothing the pile and then drawing a sigil of protection into it with her finger.  “A little something…extra, as you would say, to reinforce the barrier,” Layla explained.

 

The doors at the entrance to the church gave away completely in a shower of wood splinters, from which spilled forth the screaming skeletal corpses that locked their burning red eyes on the Slayerettes with hatred, before they began to walk and shuffle towards them.

 

“Get moving!” The Wanderer ordered, as the team began to go down the stairwell, one by one.  The two witches were last, feeling uneasy and wondering if the line they’d drawn along with Layla’s sigil would work…only to feel somewhat relieved when the horde came toward the line of salt, then paused before recoiling backwards, unable to move forward due to the mystical barrier that had been erected.

 

“Worked like a charm!” Willow noted with relief as she hurriedly climbed down the staircase. “Wonder if that tactic would work to keep the school’s chess club at bay…?”

 

#

 

The team climbed down the stone staircase warily, their weapons ready and eyes along with other senses constantly scanning for any signs of an ambush.  As they reached the bottom they continued to carefully study their surroundings.  The Slayer panned around the area with her submachine gun after finally reaching the bottom of the stairwell, before raising a hand to indicate to the rest of the team to come down.  “Clear,” the Slayer whispered. Moments later the rest of the team joined her at the bottom of the stairwell.

 

The chemical break light that Buffy had tossed sat on the dusty ground, faintly illuminating a low tunnel that stretched before them. The team shined the tactical lights mounted on their guns down the darkened path.  Several meters ahead the tunnel seemed to break off into three separate paths.  The middle path however was faintly lit in the distance by a flickering yellow glow, the light apparently emanating from torches.  The Slayer’s hearing caught the squeaks of mice and skittering of cockroaches, along with a very faint sound that sounded more alien than human in form. Almost like…chanting?

 

“Since that’s the way I SO don’t want to go, I guess we’re heading that way,” the Chosen One said with a faint bit of resignation, gesturing directly ahead toward the faint source of light.  The team cautiously began to move in pairs down the tunnel, utilizing their weapon-mounted tactical lights for illumination.

 

“We've got something up ahead,” St. Wolf whispered into his mike.  “Switch off your lights, go to night vision.”  The team shut off their lights and activated the eyepieces mounted on their headsets, the dark passage appearing before them in a greenish tinge within the reticule’s illumination.  The tunnel continued to gape before them, the walls and ceilings themselves held in place by sections of carved rock that was beginning to crack and fall away in places.  As they continued to walk down the dark passageway, the tunnel before them seemed to take on a different silhouette.  Things could be seen dangling from the ceiling and walls, appearing to be clumps of moss or tree roots…until the Slayerettes were able to get a closer look.

 

“Jesus fucking Christ,” St. Wolf whispered in horror, his gaze frozen on the macabre scene before him.

 

The stones that had lined the tunnel had ceased to exist.  Now before them was a passageway where the walls and ceiling were composed not of earth or stone, but rather…bones. LOTS of bones.  Skeletal corpses along with pieces of them formed the grisly archways that beckoned forth.  The long-rotted human remains appeared carelessly jumbled and tossed together, some of them appearing to be hugging each other in Death’s embrace as they almost appeared plastered into the walls and ceilings, an occasional limb hanging away, askew from what otherwise looked like a grisly portrait of hell.

 

Everyone stood momentarily frozen, gaping in a sense of macabre awe at what they witnessed.  Some of them quietly whispered prayers, while others held hands to their mouths in revulsion.

 

“Bloody hell,” Giles said in a horrified whisper.  “This…this is why they never supposedly found any evidence of the Indian massacre by the Conquistadors.”

 

St. Wolf furrowed his eyebrow at the Watcher. “What the hell do you mean?”

 

“Don’t you see?” Layla choked, struggling not to cry, beginning to feel almost completely overwhelmed by the emotions that dwelled here.  “The Indians…they’re all trapped here.  The Spanish dogs dumped their bodies here.  The mission is built on top of one large charnel pit.”

 

As the Slayerettes considered that horrifying revelation, the bones themselves began to twitch and groan in protest against their earthen prison.  To the gang’s shock-filled gaze, the tunnel itself seemed to become alive with the skeletal corpses of the dead.  An unholy red light appeared in hollow eye sockets as the mutilated skeletons began to thrash and wail.

 

“Get moving dammit, GO!” The Wanderer shouted.

 

Buffy gritted her teeth and drew her sword.  “Giles, you never mentioned I had to whack my way through a bunch of skeletons when you signed me up for this gig!”

 

Giles grunted as he swung at bony appendages that reached for them.  “Actually, Buffy, it is detailed in the Slayer’s Handbook.  You simply haven’t bothered to read it.”

 

Buffy pouted.  “Rats!  I’m supposed to do this job, for no pay, which, I must say, sucks beyond believing, and on top of that, I’m expected to do homework, too?  Good thing for you, Watcher-guy, that I’m the masochist who takes a licking and keeps on ticking!” she quipped as the team pushed its way through the grisly carnage.

 

At that, Cordelia grimaced while she hacked at a skeletal arm.  “Yack!  I can’t believe you’re thinking about foreplay at a time like this!”

 

Aghast, Giles chanced a quick glance at the tall beauty and sputtered.  “Cordelia…for God’s sakes!  Buffy was quoting an old Timex commercial!”

 

“Oh,” she breathed as they continued to whack away at their attackers and pushed toward the torchlight and chanting that beckoned them.  “Never mind.”

 

#

 

Inside the ritual chamber, the Serpent Men knelt in a semi-circle around the altar.  Each of them chanted in a foreign tongue accompanied by hisses that made them sound alien as they repeatedly bowed in unison toward the floating form of Jennifer Calendar and the crimson-robed demon that stood before her, Hekhmut. The demon glowered toward the entrance, sensing the approaching presence of the intruders.  No matter, he thought, his undead slaves would keep them busy, long enough in any case so that the ritual would be completed, and their silly little quest would be all for naught.  Without wasting further time, the demon grandly gestured toward Patty and Sergio, who were now precariously suspended over the endless pits below them.

 

“Let the ritual commence!” He thundered, his voice echoing throughout the chamber.  “Draw the blood of the innocents, so Those Who Dwell Below may taste them!”  A Serpent Man stepped in front of each of the youths with a drawn, sinister-looking blade.  The creatures hissed as they ripped open Sergio’s shirt and Patty’s blouse, exposing the Puerto Rican’s toned chest and the dark Irish beauty’s shapely bosom, clad in a black satin bra.  The youths stared with eyes wide with fright, as the Serpent Men then raised their daggers in unison and slowly brought the tips to their abdomens.  Patty and Sergio sobbed with fear as the creatures gently traced the razor tip of the blades across their skin, leaving a long red welt.  The creatures then flicked the minute drops of blood that had coalesced on each knife into the darkness below. 

 

Hekhmut levitated off the ground, hovering several feet in the air before he turned his mortal body and became parallel to the ground, his red robes billowing all around him.  Like a sinister incubus, Hekhmut floated over the prone form of Jenny Calendar who floated above the obsidian altar, her eyes still aglow with the arcane power that ensorcelled her entire being.  The demon smiled and made gestures with his hands across her lovely body.  The beautiful gypsy woman craned her head back with her eyes closed, moaning in arousal as she thrust her breasts and hips upwards in a provocative fashion.  Her body was already in a supernaturally heightened state of arousal, but was now being stimulated further by the invisible waves of pleasure that Hekhmut spun and wove from his form into hers.  She felt the burning need in her body and mind, a desire to come and give herself completely over to the Darkness, a desire that could only be quenched by her master.

 

“Soon you will come my dear, come into the Darkness and become one of us,” the demon hissed, before briefly turning his attention again to Patty and Sergio who continued to gaze in terror.  “For each of you shall die, an appeasement to my father Apep the Devourer, a gift to Those Who Dwell Below, so that Jennifer will enter her new existence.”  The demon then leaned closer to the lovely woman and craned her inviting ruby red lips to his mouth, from which a forklike tongue could be seen slowly slithering out.  The Serpent Men around the altar began to quicken their chant as an invisible, sinister energy began to build around the demon and his chosen prey. As the two other Serpent Men drew their daggers back in a motion from which they would stab forward and eviscerate the two youths, Hekhmut whispered into Jenny’s ear.  “And now my dear Jennifer, unshackle from the bane of this mortal existence. Join me in the Darkness…for eternity.” And with that, his forked tongue began to extend into Jenny’s mouth…

 

Several bursts of gunfire echoed through the chamber, interrupting the blasphemous ritual as silver hollow-point bullets ripped into the cloaked bodies of the two Serpent Men who were poised to sacrifice Patty and Sergio. The inhuman creatures wailed in pain as dark blood along with their innards were spattered into the air, before they tottered over and fell screaming into the pits below.

 

“WHO DARES?!!” Hekhmut boomed, his forked tongue springing back into his mouth as he turned his attention away from Jennifer.  His inhuman eyes glowed with menace as he regarded the source of the gunfire…only to be met with a painfully bright lightning bolt that smashed into his face, sending him flying away from Ms. Calendar before smashing into one of the braziers arranged around the altar, scattering flaming embers and red hot coals about as it crashed onto the floor.  With the brazier toppled over, the spell that had bewitched Jennifer Calendar was interrupted and the glowing smoke that swirled around her shapely body dissipated, before a slight moan of pain and confusion escaped her lips as she fell back onto the top of the stone altar and lost consciousness.

 

With a howl of rage the demon got to his feet and ripped the burned remains of his hood from his mortal face.  His once human-looking face was now a blackened ruin, with flecks of charred, stinking flesh peeling away from a reptilian visage of hideous ebony scales.  The demon’s eyes narrowed in fury as he gazed toward the large entrance to the ritual chamber and the source of the spell that had struck him, while the other Serpent Men, their chanting interrupted, also turned toward the source of the disturbance with deadly hisses emanating from their reptilian throats.

 

“Get away from my woman, you bloody pillock!” the Ripper growled in a deadly voice.

 

#

 

Rupert Giles, member of the Watcher’s Council, the Watcher of Buffy the Immortal Vampire Slayer, formerly known as “the Ripper”, and beloved of Jennifer Calendar, was in a VERY ugly mood.

 

The scholarly mage and warrior had battled through hell alongside his companions to save the lives of the innocents that had been taken hostage, but most importantly to save the life and soul of the one woman he loved more than life itself, that of his beloved Jenny. And he had done so, only to find her, dressed in scant gold, silk and little else, and apparently ensorcelled by the demon Hekhmut, who had been floating over her like some lecherous piece of filth as he had been about to defile her by inserting his unholy essence into the lovely woman.  Meanwhile, Patty and Sergio were apparently about to be sacrificed by two hideous-looking reptilian humanoids.  Several quick bursts of gunfire from his companions, however, along with his own well-placed lightning bolt spell had, at least temporarily, put a halt to Hekhmut’s diabolical scheme.

 

As the Slayerettes and their allies exchanged looks of angry defiance with the demonic beings that surrounded the altar and an unconscious Jenny, the Slayer piped up in a rather impressed voice.  “Wow…wicked nice shot with that spell, Giles.  And it was a good thing you did it before he could use his tongue.” She then narrowed her eyes menacingly at Hekhmut before saying, “’Cause I was gonna say, that was SO the lamest and most disgusting attempt at a French kiss I’ve ever seen.” She then spared a brief sideways glance at Layla who stood nearby.  “No offense.”

 

“None taken,” the priestess of Bast replied in a dry, casual tone.

 

“AMY?!” a manacled Patty yelped as she hung precariously over the pit.  She appeared to be struck dumbfounded even as a momentary sense of relief flooded through her.  She didn’t know what was crazier just now…almost being sacrificed by some whacked-out, ghoulish-looking reptile boys or being rescued by her best friends who were dressed in weird-looking armor and packing some serious heat!

 

“Patty! Sergio!” Amy called out to her friends.  “Don’t move, just stay where you are! Uhh, not that I guess you could go anywhere at the moment, anyway,” she added hastily with a sheepish expression, after noticing the incredulous looks from the two of them.  She then narrowed her own eyes in challenge at the demonic beings before them.  “We gotta take out the trash, first.”

 

A look of astonishment crossed the demon’s ruined face as he stared at the priestess of Bast, the Slayer, her Watcher, the Amazons, and their allies.  “Incredible! Almost…astonishing. Just how you managed to penetrate all the obstacles I had erected before you mere mortals is beyond me.  Oh, wait.”  The demon then narrowed his eyes as he examined the unique armor the humans wore, along with their arsenal of automatic weapons, archaic blades, and mystical items.  A small hiss escaped his mouth as he sensed the presence of that accursed sword, Demon Slayer.  “Hmm, yes, I suppose that would explain it.  You Americans do seem to have quite a fondness for large, noisy guns, among other things…”

 

“Hey!” The Slayer replied indignantly. “Excuse me, but that is SO harsh! If there’s one thing I hate more than a run-of-the-mill demon, it’s a royally stuck-up demon!”

 

Hekhmut glared for a moment at the impetuous woman-child, before he returned his gaze to the other mortals with a hint of a smirk on his face. “So, you have all come this far, then!  I must congratulate you for your dauntless determination…including you, Layla Constantin, priestess of Bast,” he sneered contemptuously at the beautiful, exotic woman who shot her own challenging glare at the demon.  “I now regret not taking an earlier opportunity to be rid of you sooner. But of course, I should not forget the always meddlesome Amazons, the accursed Slayer, the damnable Wanderer, or our dear old friend, eh…Ripper?”  He smiled wickedly as he regarded the Slayer’s Watcher, who stared back with an equally menacing gaze of his own. The demon gestured to the unconscious form of Jenny Calendar who lay on the altar before him.  “Beautiful beyond compare, isn’t she?  And such tremendous power to match. You certainly know how to choose your women, Ripper, although I must say I’m actually surprised!  I thought the only way you could have gotten your lot through my mystical barriers was to call on your birth-rite as a Hellraiser.” 

 

Buffy’s eyes shot wide open at that.  *Giles was someone called a Hellraiser?  Why does the sound of that give me the heebie-jeebies?*

 

Continuing his diatribe, the demon said, “Now I see you have resorted to using more mundane means.  I am sad to say, I am a bit disappointed in you at this moment."

 

“You would be far better served worrying about yourself, Hekhmut,” he growled. “You of all beings should know how many of your filthy kin I’ve summoned AND banished in my time!”

 

His hideous features changed into a frown as he floated above and over the altar, before coming down to the ground and placing himself between the warriors and Jenny. “True, perhaps. However, Ripper, now the game ends…here.”  His features along with his skin began to shift, almost as if the flesh itself began to bubble as inhuman muscles roiled beneath, before his entire form began to reshape and form beneath the red robe he wore…

 

“Behold my true form, mortals!” He boomed with a reptilian hiss as the skin he wore first peeled and cracked, then tore away completely as hideous ebony reptilian scales squirmed forth from beneath.  His grotesque face split apart like a fragile ballroom mask before his robes expanded, as though something coiled beneath that pushed it to the end of its seams before ripping away altogether…revealing a horrifying serpent creature that reared itself up then towered far above them, almost to the ceiling. Massive ebony scales studded its entire body, coupled with twin reptilian eyes that glowed with an unholy, hypnotic fire as large muscular flaps formed on either side of its head, forming a hood like that of a gigantic cobra. A massive forked tongue slithered between a large set of jaws from which protruded two long, glistening sword-like fangs.

 

“Well waddaya know, he’s just a snake,” Xander babbled, fear clearly etched on his face. “A really, really, REALLY big, freaking snake!!”

 

The rest of the Slayerettes and their allies were transfixed by Hekhmut’s true form as it gazed down upon them as though they were insects. The gargantuan serpent creature then bellowed, “Let the souls of the damned give me strength!” Several phantasmal mists, their faces writhed in agony, were drawn from the stony walls and floor of the cavernous chamber.  The spirits howled with fear as they were drawn and ruthlessly swallowed into Hekhmut’s gaping maw.  The serpent shut its maw and smiled wickedly as, for one horrifying moment, it almost appeared that the shapes of faces and hands could be seen trying to press through the creature’s skin before they were literally absorbed into the serpent’s massive body. Hekhmut sighed with pleasure and whispered, “Ahhh…delicious,” before he turned his attention back to the human warriors and smiled once again. The Slayerettes, however, set their faces in grim determination before its members aimed their weapons at the serpent’s head and fired a volley of automatic gunfire…only to have the bullets strike an invisible shield that the demon had raised before the rounds could strike, causing them to disintegrate.

 

“I am not felled so easily, mortals,” Hekhmut boomed, his reptilian visage plainly displaying his sneer laced with disdain. “Now, DIE!!!” He chanted a powerful, ancient Egyptian version of a death spell that unleashed a series of black tentacles that appeared out of nowhere and streaked toward each of the wide-eyed humans, only to have the tentacles quiver and recoil when they struck a small bronze amulet that each of the Slayerettes and their allies wore on their person. The amulets were charms that had been specially prepared by Giles and infused by magic cast from Willow and Amy, as well as a blessing from Layla. Each of the charms sparked momentarily then shattered into pieces, causing the team to momentarily wince as the spell itself was dissipated.

 

“Spell wards?” Hekhmut mused aloud.  “Why, Amy and Willow, my little beauties, I must say, I am truly impressed.”  He eyed them lasciviously, causing both maidens to shudder, and said, “Perhaps, if you nubile nymphs manage to survive the next few minutes, you will join Jennifer in my harem.” The large serpent then almost appeared to frown, if such a thing were possible for such a creature, as he glanced at his cloaked underlings, the Serpent Men who hissed in resentment at the intruders.  Each of the creatures unveiled long, sickle-like Egyptian khopesh swords that gleamed wickedly in the torchlight as they faced the human warriors. “To arms, my brethren! For my father Apep and our lord Set, DESTROY THE INTERLOPERS!!” The creatures roared and charged forward with their swords drawn, thirsting to spill and drink human blood.

 

Cordelia holstered her submachine gun, drew her katana blade, the sword sounding a deadly hiss as it was withdrawn from its scabbard, and shot a quirky smile the demon’s way.  “I’ll do you one better, snake-boy,” she drawled.  Then she bellowed at the top of her impressive lungs, “AMAZONS ASSEMBLE!  FOR ARTEMIS--ATTACK!”  In response, Willow and Amy drew their own swords in kind and shouted a loud war cry in unison as they faced the deadly blades of the Serpent Men, before the sounds of battle rang out within the chamber as steel clashed against steel.

 

Buffy gritted her teeth and charged into the battle against the Serpent Men with her own katana blade drawn.  Next to her, St. Wolf, her Immortal lover and the infamous Immortal Demon Hunter now wielded his own legendary Sword of Destiny, Demon Slayer as he faced the reptilian demonoids.  Layla shouted an undulating battle cry of her own before she shifted and morphed into her large, ebony panther form and leaped into the fray with her claws outstretched.  Jericho covered Layla and Giles’ backs with his own arsenal as another menace was closing in behind them, the skeletal undead that had freed themselves from the earthly walls of the tunnel and were now shrieking and howling in rage, searching for human flesh to rend and tear apart.  Near him Oz and Xander swallowed their fear and became determined as they faced the undead horde shuffling down the tunnel, as each of them manned their assault rifles. Suddenly, Giles narrowed his eyes, chanted a levitation spell, and before everyone’s incredulous stare, he began to float and elevate above the din of battle as he shouldered his weapons and outstretched both hands, with blue-white eldritch fire crackling in the palms of each and his eyes bright with deadly intent.

 

Each of them had their own reasons for being there tonight, but they were all united by one purpose: to save the lives of Jennifer Calendar, Patricia Driscoll and Sergio Dominguez, and put an end to the sinister machinations of Hekhmut.

 

And so that night, the apocalypse had come to Sunnydale…

 

#

 

Bureau 13 Headquarters

Location Unknown

21:35 Sunnydale time

 

“Sir, we’ve got huge Kirilian readings centered on a site north of Sunnydale, California.  For Christ’s sakes, they just went through the roof! In addition to the multiple four’s, five’s, the six and the eight, we’re now reading a LEVEL TEN demon in that area!”

 

“Goddammit.” Horace Gordon, the director of the above-top-secret agency known only as Bureau 13, growled as one of the agency’s Kirilian scanners, Agent Cindy Trainer, rattled off the increasing power fluctuations over a speaker situated in one of the Bureau’s emergency deployment teleportation chambers.  It was rare for the Director himself to be in such a room with one of the Bureau’s leading investigation and assault units, but it’d only been a half-hour or so ago when Team Tunafish, headed by Agent Edward “Fast Eddie” Alvarez, had personally debriefed the Director on their last assignment, a rather messy one at that, in Virginia.  And now here he was listening to yet another situation unfolding…which had, long ago, become par the course for this particular agency.

 

“Don’t these apocalyptic scenarios ever take a holiday?” Eddie Alvarez muttered as he finished suiting up in his special-treated Kevlar body armor before slamming the bolt closed on his M16A3 assault rifle.  Nearby, the rest of Team Tunafish; his wife Jessica, George, Raoul, Mindy, Tina and Xavier had already finished putting on their armor and were now loading their assault weapons.  The team all looked at Eddie and nodded in unison, indicating they were ready.

 

“I’d stow the comedy if I were you, Eddie, unless you want to be transferred to a field office in Alaska after this,” Horace growled between clenched teeth.

 

“I hear it’s nice up there…lots of caribou,” Eddie muttered lowly.

 

Horace glared at the leader of Team Tunafish with a steely look that could have burned through concrete, before his assistant, the centaur Dimitri, galloped into the ready room.  “Sir!”

 

“Report!” Horace barked.

 

“It appears Tunafish is the only team we have available at the moment, sir.  Team Angel is still handling a demonic infestation in Oregon and the Thunder Bunnies are still working on containing a ghoul outbreak in Texas. We do have several Special Response Teams that are suiting up; they should be ready within the hour.”

 

“Tell them they’ve got five minutes, Dimitri.”  The centaur nodded and galloped away.

 

“Sir,” Eddie snapped, “I don’t think we can wait any longer.”

 

Horace closed his eyes for a moment.  Then he opened them and met Alvarez’s expectant glance.  “I know.  All right…we’ll send the other teams right behind you as soon a—”

 

“Sir!” Dimitri snapped, cutting off Gordon.  “The ‘portation chambers…they’re down!”

 

“What?!”  Gordon stormed over to the control panel. 

 

Dimitri glanced at the panel over the technician’s shoulder.  “They’re down!  We’ve got no power flowing to any of the chambers in the building.  It’s like…something’s not allowing the circuit to be completed!”

 

Gordon felt like the very ground had fallen out from under him.  Without the chambers, none of his agents had the capability of traveling that far with their own innate mystical power in time to stop something terrible from happening. 

 

Even though it was hopeless, everyone looked to him as the leader to do something.  So he did.  “Well,” he barked at the technician, “don’t just stand there!  Find out what’s wrong and fix it…NOW!”

 

#####

 

In the bowels of Pureza Del Fuego…

 

Once upon a time, there was a pretty little girl with blonde hair named Elizabeth Anne Summers. 

 

She preferred to be called “Buffy.”

 

Like many young girls her age, she was sassy, at times spoiled, a trifle selfish, perhaps even a little shallow…that was until the day her first Watcher, Merrick, had appeared and told her that she was the Chosen One.  And since then, everything had changed.

 

She’d faced and destroyed unspeakable horrors of the night, had witnessed Merrick’s death, had been forced to burn down the gymnasium of her first high school to destroy a legion of undead led by the powerful vampire Lothos, had been through a divorce between her mom and dad, and had been expelled from school.  And that was BEFORE she’d even heard of a town called Sunnydale.

 

Since her arrival in Sunnydale, the stakes had risen exponentially.  She’d tried to run away from her new Watcher, Rupert Giles, before discovering there were even deadlier things in the night than she’d known before. She’d been killed by the Master, only to be resurrected just in time to save her friends from the fiend’s sinister plot. She’d tragically fallen in love with a vampire, ironically named Angel, only to see him turn into a monster after one night of passion.  She watched him kill several of her classmates and try to kill her friends before St. Wolf and his friend Frank Iverson had shown up in town and drawn several of their Immortal friends into the combat.  That’s when she’d found out that she was Immortal, too.  Now, she was Buffy the Immortal Vampire Slayer.  And since then, once again, things had changed in ways she’d never dared dreamed.

 

And she had changed as well.

 

As the Slayer swung her blade and parried a sword thrust from one of the “man-serpent-whatever” things that tried to attack her, she took a nanosecond to regard the rest of her team, her friends, her boyfriend St. Wolf, and her Watcher Giles who was levitating, of all things, above the fray and engaged in a deadly spell duel with Hekhmut.  Buffy couldn’t help the fact that she was in awe of Rupert Giles.  She chuckled inwardly as she launched a back-hand punch that shattered a serpent-thingy’s jaw.  She had been so naïve when they had dealt with Amy’s mom to be taken in by Giles’ act.  “It was my first casting,” he’d said, “so... I may have got it wrong.”  Now Buffy suffered no illusions.  With his mastery of the mystic arts she knew that neither she nor Steve were a match for her Watcher.  And after today, she was very happy that she had never ended up on the business end of one of his lightning bolt spells.  *Now look at him* she breathed to herself, *battling a demon like a god!* 

 

Reluctantly dragging her attention back to her own battle, she spied her friends out of the corner of her eye engaged in combat.  These were people who, without recognition or reward, for better or worse, had chosen to fight by her side against what they’d believed had been a losing battle, at least until Steve and his friends had shown up and given them the tools, training, and network that they had desperately needed in their war against the Darkness.  Oh sure, she’d often tried to push them away, keep them from losing their lives for her cause.  But for whatever reasons of their own, they’d stuck with her, and now they were among the few reasons she was still alive and sane today, because of these friends, these people who had become…her family.

 

The Chosen One winced as she barely parried a rapid downward strike from one of the Serpent Men’s weird sickle-like swords, the strength behind the blade nearly jarring the sword from her hands.  No time for woolgathering, these things were quick and vicious!  The diminutive blonde spun and launched a vicious roundhouse kick right into the creature’s stomach, causing it to bend over and hiss loudly in pain, before the Slayer jumped and somersaulted over the creature and landed on her two feet, her sword planted firmly behind her and impaling the reptilian thing with her blade.  Buffy had only just enough time for a smirk as the creature howled before her eyes widened as another one of the creatures literally jumped several yards above the fray toward her with its blade extended forward, aimed directly at her throat.  The Slayer ripped her sword out from the creature and grunted as she barely deflected the other creature’s blade with her own, before she turned sideways and rammed her right elbow into the creature’s chest, doubling it over before she fired a vicious head-butt into the creature’s snout. She then launched a snap kick into the creature’s jaw, sending it backwards.  Noticing the creature’s long tongue, sharp teeth and hideous scales, the Slayer winced in disgust as she continued to battle the thing. “What is it with me, boys, and ugly reptiles?  First that reptile-boy at the frat party, now this! Can’t I just meet some NORMAL guys for a change?!”

 

#

 

Rupert Giles levitated effortlessly far above the fray as eldritch fire surrounded his entire being with a deadly aura.  He was face-to-face with the serpentine demon Hekhmut, who had uncoiled his massive body and was now levitating his entire form as well, his ebony-scaled body rippling and curling almost hypnotically, nearly filling the high chamber.

 

“Have a little bit of this, ‘old friend’,” Giles sneered as he extended both hands forward and chanted a spell.  Several blue-white spheres that crackled with electricity appeared and streaked from his hands, before smashing into Hekhmut’s raised shield with such force that the creature winced momentarily as electricity crackled and dissipated into the air.  Hekhmut then reared up and narrowed his serpentine eyes at the Watcher.  Two ruby-red eyebeams pulsating with deadly energy fired from the demon’s eyes and smashed against the Watcher’s own raised shield, attempting to penetrate it, but to no avail.

 

“Impressive, Ripper!” the demon announced brightly. “And here I thought you had become soft, little more than that façade you show to your delicious morsel of a Slayer of a doddering, old librarian!  I wish I could say it is rather nice that you haven’t lost your touch, so to speak.” The creature then regarded the still form of Jenny on the black altar. A faint glow surrounded the beautiful gypsy woman who remained unconscious and in a trance, the result of Hekhmut’s powerful magic. “Although I suppose that could be said in more ways than one!  I say, old boy, being in the presence of your delectable little charge, Jennifer, Cordelia, Amy, and Willow all day long!”  He gave Giles a sly look.  “Why, Nabokov would have been quite envious of you, old friend!  But then, you always did have an eye for lovely young women, Ripper…as do I.”  Suddenly, without warning, a large bolt of acid spat from Hekhmut’s gaping mouth.  The Watcher had barely enough time to reinforce his mystical shield before the acid struck and roiled over it, before re-coalescing into a sphere.  Before Hekhmut’s wide-eyed gaze, the Watcher grinned wickedly and gestured with his hands.  The sphere flew toward the gargantuan serpent, which only had enough time to duck his massive head and avoid the globe that flew over his head and struck the cavern wall, eating a hole into the rock and melting several carved hieroglyphics.

 

“Too right, you bastard!  I haven’t lost my touch one bloody bit!”  The Watcher who’d once been known as “The Ripper” had been quite the legend in his youth.  His infamous exploits, from rocking with London’s underground punk bands to midnight demonic summonings, were well known throughout certain segments of society in Europe, even to the point it had been rumored that a certain comic book writer had developed a character based on his nefarious exploits.  Of course that had been in the days of his misbegotten youth when he’d rebelled against his father, following the tragic deaths of Lillian, his father’s Slayer and forbidden love, and his mother. That was all before he had finally, reluctantly heeded his calling as a Watcher, after which many years of study and adventure in places both remote and urban, he’d finally come to what was, unknown to many, one of the most infamous cross-dimensional sites next to the Bermuda Triangle…Sunnydale, California, a deceptively quiet university town that sat on the Hellmouth.  And since then, he’d become the Watcher of what was, in his opinion, the most infuriating and stubborn woman-child with the cutest little button nose to ever walk the Earth, the finest and most unique Slayer to have ever lived, his golden angel, Buffy Summers.

 

Oh, of course, their first encounter had been less than…stellar.  He’d been unprepared for the rather sassy and spunky little blonde minx, especially when she’d tried to run away from him.  But in the end, she’d realized that running was futile, that a stand had to be made, especially when her friends had become endangered.  It was the Watcher’s code that the Slayer was to work alone with only her Watcher for support, and he had resolutely committed himself to doing just that, only to see that she needed her friends at her side in the battle, just as much as they needed her. Indeed he’d needed friends as well, when he’d reluctantly enlisted the help of none other than Jennifer Calendar, and he had never been the same ever since.

 

Giles had known and loved many women in his time, but none of those relationships had ever ended happily.  Some, like Layla and Olivia, had ended badly, while others like Deidre were filled with regrets.  Alex had become only a cold, ruthless shadow of the woman he had known. Indeed, Giles had been so unlucky in love that he had vainly tried to never fall in love again. But Jenny had truly been the first woman in his life to ever notice him first, and fall in love with him. That was of course before she’d learned of his days as the Ripper, and had almost turned him away after becoming possessed by Eyghon. As if that hadn’t been bad enough, he’d then learned that she was a gypsy sent by the Kalderash tribe to watch the vampire known as Angel, only to see the rather tragically flawed curse bestowed upon him broken in one night of passion with none other than his Slayer.  The subsequent revelations since then had nearly driven the two apart.  Buffy had been nearly adamant about never forgiving Jenny, while Jenny had tried to explain that she hadn’t known that Buffy’s lovemaking with Angel would have broken the curse. Giles, of course, was trapped in the middle, unwilling to abandon either his precious Slayer, or the woman he had come to love like none before, until the day when Jenny, during a training mission with the Slayer, had been forced to defend the petite blonde against a vendetta from the gypsy Immortal Alexi Gregof.  When the Slayer had come to understand the depth of Jenny’s sacrifice, she finally realized the futility of continuing such a foolish grudge, and had forgiven her.  And when Rupert had realized this, he’d forgiven her as well. Thus their bond had blossomed once again despite whatever obstacles lay before them…such as the ruthless schemes of the demonic serpent bastard that now faced him.

 

“Now, now, Ripper,” the demon taunted, “you mustn’t overtax yourself, especially when we have so many games to play.” Hekhmut glanced briefly at Patty and Sergio who still dangled from their manacles.  “Let us increase the stakes, shall we?”  And with that, the demon gestured with his tongue toward the young couple.  Before Giles’ horrified gaze, the manacles that held the two teenagers over the pit began to loosen and become undone…

 

#

 

The sounds of the nightmarish battle echoed throughout the large ritual chamber as the Slayerettes continued to battle the forces of the demon Hekhmut. Buffy almost seemed to be everywhere at once, almost like a whirlwind with her sword as she crossed blades with the Serpent Men and ruthlessly cleaved through the creatures who attempted to swarm her en masse.  Nearby, Cordelia, not to be outdone, twisted and turned her shapely body with an uncanny grace as she narrowly avoided the serpent creature’s vicious blades and parried them with her own katana.  She brought one of her shapely legs up into a reverse kick and sent a creature that attempted to get behind her flying backwards with a shriek, before bringing her sword around in a magnificent arc and cleaving one of the creatures nearly in two using her Amazon strength, spraying blood and gore everywhere.  The Amazon warrior smiled grimly while she continued to wade through the creatures’ ranks.  Not far from her, Willow and Amy used their own swords coupled with their Amazon strength and speed to parry and strike down the creatures, before the winsome pair called upon the other powers they possessed.  Amy’s eyes turned a haunting shade of onyx tinged with ice-blue light as she thrust one of her hands forward and shouted an incantation.  A miniature ice storm of razor-sharp icicles flew from her hand like missiles into two Serpent Men that stood before her and impaled them with such force that they were thrown several feet backward, almost appearing as though they’d been turned into bloody pincushions. Willow’s own eyes turned a wicked shade of indigo, highlighted by shimmering specks of crimson light as she finished chanting her own spell and unleashed a devastating jet of flame that leapt from her hand and slammed into another Serpent Man, nearly incinerating the creature.  Meanwhile, the Wanderer roared like a raging bull as he fought like a demon himself against the Serpent Men, wielding his mystical sword Demon Slayer with merciless intent as he hacked and slashed through the creatures.  Layla pounced on another one of the creatures in her panther form, narrowly avoiding its blade before proceeding to rip and tear with her claws.  Behind her, her battlemate Jericho fired deadly bursts from his assault rifle alongside Xander and Oz as the three battled the emerging horde of skeletal undead that surged toward them from the tunnel and threatened to flank their position.

 

“Oh shit…SOMEBODY HELP!!”  Several of the Slayerette’s eyes were drawn toward the desperate cry and saw the manacles that bound Sergio and Patty over the gaping pits begin to slowly come undone.   Amy’s and Willow’s eyes widened in horror when they realized what was going to happen, unless they acted now…

 

The manacles snapped open and the two youths began to fall, screaming into the blackness below…

 

“NO!!” Amy yelled as she witnessed her friend plummet to her death.  Next to her, Willow gazed in horror at the terrifying scene…before instinct took over.  Amy immediately clasped her left hand in Willow’s right.  Then the joined witches controlled the fear in their minds and used it to save their friends as their mental force manifested in a powerful wave of telekinesis that slammed into the couple and sent them flying together into the stone wall nearby…rather roughly.

 

“Oops! Ouch,” Willow grimaced before she whirled and parried a sword thrust from one of the Serpent Men before she used her enhanced Amazon strength and agility to deliver a gut-tearing strike into its abdomen.  The little red witch and the blonde witch fought back-to-back against the creatures as they edged toward the couple who lay on the ground next to the wall, moaning, hurting, but thankfully alive.  The two witches then decided to try another tactic. Willow and Amy quickly switched their short swords into their other hand and drew up their submachine guns in unison, before firing off several bursts one-handed.  Such a feat would have been difficult had Willow and Amy not been chosen on that fateful day alongside Jenny and Cordelia to become Artemis's New Amazons, but it was child’s play for them now.   Both of the witches allowed wicked smirks to appear on their faces that were illuminated by the muzzle flashes from their guns, while several of the creatures howled in pain as the silver 10mm rounds ripped through their bodies. The two Amazons then briefly looked up and noticed the awe-inspiring spell duel taking place between Giles and Hekhmut.

 

Thank the Goddess that Giles is on our side, Amy thought in awe, I don’t think Willow or I would ever want to go toe to toe with him! The two slowly backed toward the couple while continuing to battle more of the creatures before them.  The witches raised their hands in unison and quickly shouted another incantation that caused several glowing white mana bolts to materialize in midair, before streaking off and striking two more of the lizard-like creatures, leaving gaping charred holes in their bodies.

 

“Patty! Sergio! Are the two of you okay?!”  Amy shouted above the din of battle toward her friends, who groaned as they began to slowly sit up and lean against the stone wall.

 

“Uhhh, yeah…I think so,” Patty muttered, eyes wide in fear, awe, horror and disbelief at what she witnessed within the huge chamber.  Her boyfriend Sergio had an equally awed expression on his face as he watched the scene, trying to comprehend everything he saw.  Both of them gaped at the eldritch fire that appeared to flicker and coalesce around each of the witches like an aura.  “Ohmigod,” Patty said as she watched her friends.  “I-I don’t believe it!  I mean…i-is it really you?

 

Amy shrugged and regarded Patty nervously. “Um, yep…it’s really us!”  The blonde witch then winced as she brought her short sword up to parry another blow from one of the creatures.  Using her own Amazon warrior skills, Amy deflected the next blow, grabbed the creature's sword arm, and twisted it.  As the creature tried to wrench itself free, the golden-haired Amazon delivered a powerful snap kick to its groin, doubled it over, and stabbed her blade ruthlessly into the center mass of its head.

 

Above the two witches and their friends, Hekhmut took a moment from his spell duel with Giles to appraise the situation.  Afterwards, his face displayed a strange mix of both respect and disappointment.  “Ah, you are all even more resourceful than I had ever anticipated.”  His expression then changed to that of a rather sinister smile.  “You would be much better served however, if you were to serve me instead.”  His eyes began to pulsate hypnotically with golden light as he regarded the three lovely women.

 

“Shield your eyes, don’t look at him!” Willow snapped, as she along with Amy and Sergio turned their eyes from Hekhmut’s intense gaze.  Patty however was not so fortunate…

 

The lovely brunette’s eyes widened as the light from Hekhmut’s intense stare filled her entire vision.  She became aware of only the light as it penetrated deeply into her mind, then seemingly her entire body.  She heard nothing and saw nothing, except for the light that burned into her very soul and filled her with complete bliss.  And then she became aware of only one thing….Hekhmut was her master.  She was his slave.  Nothing else mattered.

 

*Whom do you serve, my dear?* Hekhmut’s telepathic voice echoed deeply within her now-blissful mind.

 

“I serve you, master,” Patty spoke reverently in a bare whisper.

 

*Whom do you love, my dear?*

 

“I love you, master.”

 

*Excellent, my dear.  Then prove your love and loyalty to me.  Strike down the ones that threaten me.  This, I command!*

 

Patty narrowed her eyes at the two Amazon witches, who were occupied trying to fend off several more Serpent Men that wanted to play with the witches.  The dark-haired Irish girl calmly picked up a discarded dagger that lay nearby and raised it up in a stabbing motion, aimed directly for Amy’s back…

 

“Patty, NO!”  Both of the witches glanced at Sergio, who’d grabbed Patty from behind and valiantly attempted to wrestle the dagger away from her.  As the young Puerto Rican tried to hold Patty back, Amy shouted at her friend.  “Patty? Patty, snap out of it!”  Patty however growled and attempted to lunge with the dagger, determined to obey her master’s command and to please him…

 

Suddenly, Willow’s gloved fist smashed into Patty’s cheek and causing the brunette to sprawl backwards and topple over Sergio into unconsciousness.

 

Amy stared incredulously at what the little red witch had done, to which the Amazon Wicca turned a slight shade of crimson.  “Sorry,” she murmured, grimacing before spotting another one of the lizard things springing toward them, bloodlust in its eyes.  “Watch out!” She shouted and extended her hand forward, before the Bad-Ass Wicca’s eyes turned as dark as the depths of outer space when she launched a fireball at the creature. The lizard thing was completely engulfed and incinerated.  The redheaded Amazon then reeled slightly, the effects of using so much magical energy in such a short time began to take its toll.  She was starting to feel a little lightheaded and woozy…

 

“Willow, are you okay?”

 

The redheaded Wicca shook her head and flashed her “resolve face” at Amy. “Yeah, I’m fine.”  She noticed that Amy was starting to look a little piqued herself.  The two then looked at Sergio, who tended to an unconscious Patty.  The youth noticed both of their gazes and nodded assuredly.

 

Hekhmut hissed in annoyance at the situation as he deflected another one of Giles’ energy blasts.  “Great fortitude, indeed. However, if I am not mistaken, Those Who Dwell Below are quite… famished.”  The demon boomed out a chuckle that reverberated throughout the chamber.

 

The little red witch shot a worried look at her fair-haired spiritual sister. *Uh, Amy…what’d he mean by that?* Her telepathic question to Amy was answered when an echoing sound of SOMETHING began to rumble and shift from the shadowy depths of the pits…along with a chorus of hisses.

 

“Now what?!” Willow squeaked when they looked in the direction of the pit, from which burst forth what appeared to be at first a mound of jumbled, rotting bones. Cracked skulls and broken femurs along with rib cages were clearly visible as they began to heave and burst from the pits like some sort of grotesque fountain, until it appeared that there was something squirming underneath that thrust the bones upward and outward from their resting place deep within the pit…

 

A horde of black, squirming, writhing, hooded snakes slithered out from between the bones and skulls that spilled forth.  They reared up and allowed the girls to see the forked tongues that flickered from their fanged mouths.  Hisses emanated from them as they glared at their surroundings; then they fixed their glowing red eyes on the Slayerettes who continued to battle within the chamber…particularly the witches who stood nearby.

 

Amy’s and Willow’s eyes widened at the horrible spectacle.  Then instinct took hold and caused them to throw up a shield.  Magical energy sparkled and coalesced in front of them, just as several of the snakes arched toward the witches and spat wads of deadly acid venom that glanced off of their mystical shields.

 

“Oh yeah,” Amy muttered in disbelief, “This just keeps getting better and better!”

 

#

 

Near the tunnel entrance, Xander and Oz, along with Jericho, blasted away with their assault rifles at the relentless skeletal undead that continued to pour from the tunnel toward them, the muzzle flashes from their weapons lighting up the area and the muzzle blasts nearly deafening their ears as enchanted silver hollow-point bullets smashed through rotting bones.

 

“Jesus Christ, they're nearly wall to wall!” Xander almost shrieked as he aimed and fired a burst that shattered a skeleton's rib and spinal column.

 

“Keep at it, don't let them flank!” Jericho barked over the din of gunfire. Each of the young men took turns firing salvos with their weapons, until the bolt on Jericho’s carbine blew back on an empty magazine.

 

“OUT!” He shouted as he released the empty magazine and proceeded to insert a fresh one.  As Xander and Oz covered him with bursts from their assault rifles, the security consultant/assassin/mercenary noticed movement out of the corner of his eye.  Several Serpent Men were above them, rapidly crawling along the walls like spiders toward them…

 

“Move!” Jericho shouted and pushed the two boys out of the way, just as the lizard-like creatures hissed and leaped from their positions toward them with their blades drawn.  Jericho had only enough time to slam the bolt on his rifle forward and fire off a burst directly at one of the creatures.  Bone and bloody tissue exploded outwards and rearward from the creature’s chest as it collapsed in a heap on the ground.  One of the other creatures however, swiped at Jericho and knocked his rifle to the ground, while another one of the creatures lunged at him with his sword.

 

Jericho growled and rolled, barely avoiding the blade aimed at his neck, before he leapt back onto his feet and shot out a sweeping low kick at the creatures.  With no time to think, the assassin then drew the twin wakizashi blades sheathed on his back and whirled them like a Ginsu chef as he parried the Serpent Men’s swords in a shower of sparks, steel ricocheting against steel.  Jericho didn’t have supernatural strength, speed or any of the other powers that the Slayer and some of her friends wielded, thus he had had to rely on his intense training in weapons and the martial arts, including the one he was most familiar with, the art of ninjitsu, along with his years of experience in operations that few people acknowledged, much less talked about.  The man grunted as he leapt back to dodge another blow from one of the creatures, before one of them struck the flat part of one of his wakizashis with such speed and force that it was jolted from his hand.  Near him, Oz and Xander tried to get a clear shot at the two Serpent Men that fought with Jericho but to no avail.  It seemed Jericho was in trouble when the man smirked and snapped out a concealed, slim chain with a sharp weight on the end from his hand like a whip.  The chain wrapped around one of the lizard men’s swords and jerked it away to the creature’s surprise, before Jericho closed the distance and stabbed his wakizashi in a rearward motion that drove the blade deeply into the creature’s scaly chest.  The creature screamed then gurgled as dark blood dribbled from its mouth.  The Japanese-American winced as he noticed that the other Serpent Man had raised his sword and was preparing to cleave him in two.  Jericho snapped out a kick and struck the creature in the gut, hoping it would give him enough time as he ripped out his sword from the other dead creature’s chest.  The reptilian creature seemed to shake off the blow, growled and raised its sword…before a three-round burst from an assault rifle shredded the creature’s head apart in a shower of gore, splattering Jericho’s face.

 

Oz stood behind the creature as it collapsed, nearly headless, to the ground. The taciturn werewolf held his assault rifle in his hands as smoke curled from the muzzle end, a wide-eyed expression on his face.

 

“Whoa,” was all that Oz could say.

 

“Thanks all the same,” Jericho muttered, before he spat out a wad of blood from the creature that had dribbled into his mouth.

 

The two then turned to look at Xander, who mounted a rifle grenade on the muzzle of his weapon.  “Uh, dude, what’re you—“ Oz’s question died in his throat when he saw no less than a wall-to-wall horde of undead shuffling toward them, the skeletal beings shrieking and wailing. Without further ado, Oz ripped out another rifle grenade from his pack and mounted it on his assault rifle with a twist.

 

Jericho glanced incredulously at the pair. “What the hell are you two doing?”

 

The two youths looked at each other momentarily, before facing the horde of undead with the grenades mounted on their rifles. They shouted together in unison: “FIRE IN THE HOLE!” And with that, both grenades were launched down the tunnel…

 

The concussive blast ripped apart the shuffling undead as it blew through the tunnel, before knocking down all three of them onto the ground, hard.

 

“Nice shot,” Jericho said dryly, despite the throbbing pain in his head as he turned to look at them from where he was sprawled on the ground.  “Don't suppose you could have used something a little more subtle, though?”

 

“Hey, dude, don't look at me,” Oz  replied in a slightly muffled voice, his face buried in the ground. “It was Xander's idea.  He's the gun bunny of the group.”

 

After he spat several clumps of dirt from his mouth, Xander muttered, “Shut up, Oz.”

 

#

 

Shouts, screams, sparks, blades and bullets continued to fly while the Slayerettes desperately battled onward.  The hieroglyphs on the walls were splattered with blood, bullet holes and burns as gore and the corpses of numerous Serpent Men covered the floor.  But soon those corpses were joined by the bloody and burned serpentine bodies of the evil asps that had oozed from the pits.  The Amazon witches fired off several more spells of magical energy that froze, burned, sliced, crushed and disintegrated numerous asps.  However, their faces were growing pale and their stances unsteady as they suffered from the constant drain due to their spell-slinging and the battle.  Regardless, each and every member of the team did not falter, knowing that this battle would only end in death…or victory.

 

“More, my brethren,” Hekhmut boomed aloud, his voice reverberating about the chamber as though he were addressing the Abyss itself.  “Give me MORE!”  Another incantation flowed from his maw, and before the team’s horrified gazes, there was more than just the sinister-looking enchanted asps crawling out of the pits.  Several stone carvings on the wall began to creak and pull away, unveiling hidden entryways that led to seemingly infinite darkness within…from which spilled forth more Serpent Men who hissed and shouted in an unknown language as they brandished exotic looking spears and battle-axes.

 

“What is this, a demon convention?!” Xander grumbled in disbelief.  “Good grief, enough already!”

 

Buffy’s adrenaline went into overdrive as she continued the struggle.  She was a pure fighting machine, hacking off the raised sword arm of a creature while intent on finding some way to reach Jenny who still lay ensorcelled on the black altar, even if it meant fighting every last one of the demons.  Nearby Cordelia growled like a great jungle cat as she ruthlessly cleaved off the head of another creature and sent its head flying away, blood flowing from its severed neck.  The two young furies found themselves back to back as they fought like a pair of tigresses.

 

“Watch your left, Chase!” Buffy yelled as she drove her sword in a stabbing motion to her right, piercing the abdomen of a creature that attempted to strike the brunette Amazon from outside her field of vision.

 

“Right back at ya, Summers!” Cordy snapped as she swiped her sword right over Buffy’s head and decapitated yet another of the creatures that had attempted to impale them with a spear.  Ignoring the Slayer’s incredulous look, the Amazon warrior fought on relentlessly…until she spied Willow and Amy out of the corner of her eye.  The witches weakly raised their hands in unison, and chanted another incantation that sent both a huge storm of icicles, followed by a gigantic fireball, careening into a horde of Serpent Men and asps, the magical one-two punch smashing them asunder before incinerating them altogether.  But for every creature that fell, several more took their place.  The witches however were clearly drained of their strength by the relentless battle.  The little red witch and the blond witch moaned and fell to their knees, no longer able to stand, barely able to fight.  Several of the Serpent Men gestured at the Amazons, cackling and hissing gleefully.  Weapons raised and fangs extended, they closed in on the exhausted witches and a frightened Sergio who cradled an unconscious Patty in his arms behind them.

 

At one time, when she had been a rich, spoiled brat, Cordelia probably would have done little more than scream and run away.  Even now, deep down, she believed that was the case to some extent. 

 

In reality, though, that was then. 

 

This was now. 

 

When she saw Amy and Willow go down, something inside Cordelia simply…snapped.  For the first time in her life, Cordelia knew who she was and accepted it without question.  Chosen by Artemis, mystically granted powers beyond the ken of mere mortals, and reborn as the ultimate warrior among the finest warriors the Earth had ever known…let’s just say, the forces of evil would only truly realize the extent of Cordelia Chase’s power…the moment before they perished at the point of her sword.

 

Cordelia spared just enough time to shout to the Slayer, “Buffy, cover me!” With that, the brunette she-devil roared and charged toward her Amazon sisters, determined to save them at any and all costs.  Indeed, Cordelia knew she wasn’t leaving this tomb unless they left with her.  With her acceptance, came clarity…and deadly calm.

 

Cordelia ruthlessly hacked and slashed at any creature that tried to even remotely raise a weapon against her, sending blood and limbs flying everywhere.  When the Amazon came within several yards of Amy and Willow, the brunette beauty shouted out a keening war cry that would have made Xena proud as she leaped and somersaulted through the air, before landing on her two feet right in front of her fallen sisters and arcing her sword behind her back, deftly parrying an attempted strike from one of the Serpent Men’s axes that’d been aimed for the little red witch’s swan-like throat.  And like that aforementioned warrior princess, Cordelia spun and cleaved off the creature’s limb, not even giving it time to scream before she methodically hacked off its other limb then its head with quick, cold, merciless precision.  Another creature tried to run through the she-devil with a spear, but was rewarded by having its spear deflected away then sliced in two before the disbelieving eyes of the creatures.  Then the Amazon thrust her katana into the creature’s groin and ripped upwards with her blade, literally tearing it in half from groin to skull.  The creature stood for a moment, seemingly uncertain, before falling away in two separate pieces.

 

The other Serpent Men, and indeed even some of the Slayerettes along with Jericho and Sergio, were stunned by the carnage that the wild and untamed Amazon warrior had rendered.  Cordelia’s eyes took on a deadly gleam as she grinned like a jackal, cackling wickedly while she ruthlessly cut another Serpent Man in half.  Several asps hissed in Cordelia’s direction and reared their heads, preparing to spit wads of acid at the warrior. Plainly unimpressed, the Amazon cocked a wry eyebrow at them before she drew and aimed her shotgun in one motion, and fired off a Dragonsbreath shell.  The powdered magnesium and phosphate mixture roared out of the shotgun barrel like a fireball into the snakes, engulfing them in flame.  The sound of the snakes’ dying shrieks was music to her ears.

 

Cordelia decided at that very moment she no longer cared that she was an ex-cheerleader.  She along with Willow, Amy and Jenny had become so much more than a prom queen, a geek, a teen witch, and a computer teacher.  They were now Amazons.

 

“Goddess…so help me…I love being an Amazon,” she whispered breathlessly.  “I really do.”

 

#

 

Sergio Dominguez had seen, heard, and done plenty while growing up in a city like New York…actually more than he’d cared to admit. But none of that had prepared him for what he and Patty had witnessed that night.  In just the last few hours, he along with his girlfriend had been kidnapped by a gang of vampires.  Not a gang riding high on PCP…actual vampires!  And if that wasn’t enough, they’d seen ghosts getting sucked out of an abyss only to be resurrected as weird serpent-like things, along with a robed guy with glowing eyes attempt to boink a hypnotized, hot-looking Ms. Calendar, before transforming into a gigantic snake!  And to top it all off, the few friends he’d known since transferring to Sunnydale High School, i.e. Buffy along with Xander, Oz, Willow, Amy, and Cordelia, along with Mr. Giles and a few other people he didn’t know, had shown up just in the nick of time and saved their asses.

 

Yet all of that paled in comparison to the savage beauty of Cordelia Chase engaged in battle.  The young man stared in complete, enraptured awe at the tall, beautiful brunette who fought like a demon from the lowest depths of hell, putting to shame the poor creatures unfortunate enough to stand against her as she sent limbs and heads flying everywhere. Sergio shuddered then gulped when he heard her cackle and spied the dark smile on her face.  Shaking his head, Sergio knew then that he never, ever wanted to get on Cordelia’s bad side!

 

But then the same could be said about the other women who had stuck their necks out for them.  Willow and Amy had wielded some sort of weird powers, powers that had completely obliterated swarms of the demonic creatures.  Even when they’d appeared visibly drained of their strength from the ensuing battle, neither woman seemed ready to give in.  As Cordelia continued to fight, Amy and Willow slowly, painfully got up on their feet and gripped their swords in one hand and their submachine guns in the other, apparently determined to reenter the battle.  That was when Sergio swallowed another lump that had formed in his throat.

 

The boy along with his father had been nearly shattered when his mother had senselessly, tragically died. After he and his father had left the urban life of New York and resettled in California, he felt like he was still only beginning to pick up the pieces of his life again, and one of the reasons for that had been Patty.  The former Bronx native’s life had become much less lonely when one of the most beautiful, and admittedly smart-assed, girls in Sunnydale had decided to give him the time of day.  But privately, he had just as much been smitten by the other group of beautiful, yet outcast young women who attended Sunnydale High School; Buffy Summers, Cordelia Chase, Amy Madison, and Willow Rosenberg.  And yes, his eyes had definitely been drawn to the lovely Ms. Calendar as well, although having a crush on a high school teacher freaked him out a bit to say the least.  But seeing all these women, using superhuman strength and powers to protect him and Patty from things that weren’t supposed to exist made him feel like he was in one of the pulp-fiction-like tales his grandfather Rafael, a mercenary pilot during WWII, would tell him when he was young.  But the small, rational part of his brain that was still there told him that perhaps this meant that maybe…just maybe, there were still heroes in the world.

 

As Sergio continued to gently cradle Patty in his arms, the young beauty began to stir and moan, apparently coming out of being struck unconscious.  The Puerto Rican felt an immense wave of relief, and yet, he also felt a twinge of guilt. And he realized why that was so.  Sergio had completely fallen for Patty…but another part of him, for better or worse, had also fallen for these armored goddesses as well.

 

#

 

From her spot where she continued to aid the Slayerette’s fight against Hekhmut and his minions, Layla shifted momentarily back into her human form and stood nearly dumbstruck in awe for a moment, as she witnessed the sheer power displayed by all of them.  From Buffy and Cordelia’s display of courage mixed with merciless power, to Amy and Willow’s awe-inspiring manifestations of magick coupled with their Amazon powers, Layla couldn’t help but be extremely impressed…and honored.  Even the men had humbled her with their courage despite the horrors they faced.  But even she was amazed, and even a little frightened, when she witnessed yet again the true arcane power that her ex-lover possessed. Seeing him levitate above the battle and fight a creature that was none other than the offspring of Apep himself, was a sight to behold…and to lust for. The sight of the Slayer and the Amazons battling the demonic creatures with such grace and ferocity, while dressed in their form-fitting armor was a lust-inducing sight to behold for any man…or a woman like Layla, who had come to appreciate the finer aspects of women as well as men.

 

Layla’s observations were interrupted as she sensed two Serpent Men attempting to flank her battle-mate Jericho, who had his hands full battling several more Serpent Men and skeletal undead alongside Xander and Oz.  With no time to think, the Frenchwoman shifted in a blur into her panther form again, a mystical gift from the Sisterhood and her Goddess, and charged toward the creatures.  The Serpent Men had only enough time to spin around before Layla leaped and slammed headfirst into the creatures, sending both of them sprawling backwards onto the ground. As the huge ebony panther’s paws touched the ground, it instantly shifted and blurred again back into Layla, who turned and reached into her belt, whipping out her twin enchanted golden daggers.  She viciously thrust both of the elongated, wavy-edged blades deeply into one of the creatures and was rewarded with its dying screams as the enchanted steel pierced and burned reptilian tissue.  Her nose was assailed with the sickeningly sweet smell of the kill as her eyes detected the other creature leaping onto its two feet with a growl, ready to run her through with its spear.

 

Layla didn’t possess the supernatural strength, agility or most of the other physical attributes that Buffy and the Amazons possessed.  Nor did she quite wield the powerful offensive magicks that the witches along with Giles had harnessed, either.  Rather she used her own fighting prowess that she had developed over the years, along with her own inherent mystical abilities including those granted from her Goddess, and sense of cunning coupled with her unique items and weapons.  Her coordination and reflexes were also nothing short of amazing, another unintended result of Julian Stone's questionable mind control experiments on her which she now used to her advantage. Layla smiled darkly and concentrated, the moonstone on her forehead along with her dark eyes shimmering with power.  The Serpent Man looked on, confused when it appeared to it that the woman had disappeared right before its very eyes!  The creature seemed to blink several times, then too late noticed movement out of the corner of its eye…the movement being none other than Layla, who held the muzzle end of one of her machine pistols directly toward its head. 

 

Although the Serpent Man’s aberrant biology prevented her from seizing control of its mind like a normal human, it still retained enough humanoid characteristics to allow her to alter its sense of perception...such as what it would normally “see.”  The Frenchwoman allowed herself an amused smile as she snapped off a three-round burst, blowing the creature’s head off.

 

Jericho grunted as he sliced and diced two of the skeletal undead apart with his wakizashis, the sharp titanium blades slicing through their bones like hot butter before he turned to the woman he regarded as one of the few people he trusted completely. “Thanks for the save.”

 

“You’re welcome,” she demurred. Although she knew Edwin had ordered Jericho to accompany her to Sunnydale to watch his son, she suspected it was also because he knew of the close bond between the two of them.  Although Giles, from his awesome display of sorcery apparently didn’t need any “protection” after all.  Her mind snapped back to the present when she and Jericho noticed to their dismay that even more of the Serpent Men along with the deadly asps were swarming out of the pits and holes toward them.

 

“I was about to say…” Jericho began, hesitantly.

 

“This doesn’t look good?” Layla offered somewhat dryly, although her worry was now plainly evident.

 

#

 

Buffy snarled like a raging tigress as she continued to hack at any serpent-man thingies, butt-ugly serpents, or anything else dumb enough to get remotely near her.  Blood, bone, flesh and entrails flew through the air and splattered her armor and face.  Yet the petite blonde no longer cared, her persona of Buffy Summers long gone and now replaced with the pure living machine of vengeance known as the Slayer.  The Chosen One battled on and swept her sword across in a long horizontal arc, cleaving through not one but TWO Serpent Men that were foolish enough to charge her.  Without even bothering to look behind her, the Slayer raised up her fist and backhanded another one of the creatures, crushing its jaw before she stabbed rearwards with her sword in her other hand and impaled an asp on it like a shish kebab.

 

The Slayer flashed a wicked smile and her beautiful blue-green eyes took on a wicked gleam when she dared the creatures to come to her and be slaughtered.  However to her dismay, it appeared she was getting her wish as even more of the demonic creatures were swarming out of the pits and literally coming out of the walls. Holy freaking shit, she thought, what’s this place supposed to be, Hell’s version of an ant farm?!  And then, like those aforementioned ants and to the Slayer’s horror, more of the Serpent Men began to climb onto the walls in a swarm and appeared to be positioning themselves to get the jump on Giles, who was beginning to visibly tire and sweat from his intense spell duel with Hekhmut.  However, even with the strain, her Watcher showed no signs that he was caving in.

 

Watching her protector’s precarious situation instantly caused Buffy to change from the vengeful Slayer back to the young woman who saw that one of the people she held most dear in this life was in danger of getting ambushed from behind. “Giles, watch your back!” The Slayer screamed into her headset over the massive chaos of constant gunfire, explosions and bursts of magickal energy.  However it seemed the Watcher completely had his hands full as he bore the brunt of a powerful barrage of deadly mana bolts from Hekhmut.  The rest of the team saw the danger but found itself in trouble as more of the other creatures began to swarm them relentlessly.  Layla, Jericho, St. Wolf, Cordelia, Amy, Willow, Xander, and Oz all fought for their lives as they desperately tried to hack and blast their way through the creatures, but found that they were increasingly outnumbered.  Once again, it was up to the Slayer…

 

There were certain things in life, hidden triggers that could instantly transform a girl like Buffy into something more than anyone could imagine.  A few of those triggers was when either her Mom or her best friends were being threatened.  Another one of those was when her Watcher was in danger…

 

The Slayer without thought poured on the speed and barraged through the numerous creatures like a missile, her katana in front of her as she cleaved her way through.  Up above she saw her Watcher, visibly tired yet determined as he fired off a lightning bolt in one hand at Hekhmut, to keep him temporarily at bay, and from his other hand shot off a fireball that engulfed several of the Serpent Men who attempted to get the jump on him.  Buffy however noticed several more creatures outside his field of vision clinging to the walls, their weapons drawn and gleaming wickedly as they flicked their tongues around their drooling mouths with anticipation.  And then several of them leaped and almost seemed to fly into midair, their weapons raised as they flew toward the Watcher in unison to strike him from different directions like a pincushion.

 

The blonde beauty roared like the She-Hulk and, using all her strength, plus some she thought she never had, launched herself into the air like a missile.  To the wide-eyed stares of everyone, the Slayer flew straight into one of the creatures and skewered it with her sword, before ripping it out and, using the kinetic energy from the collision, Buffy propelled herself away from the creature while still in midair and launched herself into another Serpent Man a short distance away. The Slayer slammed her katana into the other creature with one hand, while she drew her SMG II submachine gun with the other.  With a well-trained, long, accurate and deadly burst, the Slayer swept her gun and rained a barrage of silver 9mm hollow-point “demon killer” rounds into the other remaining Serpent Men as she fell to the ground, her sword still buried in the creature’s chest.  The reptilian humanoid’s hisses of ultimate victory turned into dying shrieks as the silver bullets ripped through their bodies.  The Slayer and her kill finally landed on the ground with a thud, the petite blonde on top and the Serpent Man on bottom as the Chosen One drove her katana through the creature and into the ground, nailing it to the floor.

 

And yet, as nearly EVERYONE in the large chamber stared, completely stunned by the Slayer’s incredible feat, some of the creatures wanted to play.  One rather large and muscular-looking Serpent Man saw the Slayer bent over her kill, spied an opening and raised an enormous battle axe over its head, aiming directly for her throat as it prepared to decapitate her…

 

#

 

The Slayer’s Watcher, along with his demonic opponent, both gazed momentarily in complete shock and utter awe at the incredible feat the diminutive blonde beauty had just wrought…along with the resulting carnage.  Giles nearly forgot to breathe as he realized, once again, just how remarkable his own personal champion, his Goddess, this petite blonde woman-child truly was.  A lump began to form in his throat as he then also realized that this young girl, who was probably one of the most infuriating and stubborn girls he’d ever met, had performed one of the most incredible feats he had ever seen, probably never even heard of before in the annals of the Slayers…and she had done it to save him.

 

Giles stared in complete awe at the Slayer while he continued to levitate, until he noticed that while the Slayer was bent over her kill that she’d impaled into the ground, a large hulking Serpent Man had spied an opening.  The creature raised a large axe high above it, poised to deliver a killing stroke that was aimed at her delicate neck.

 

Without another word or thought, Giles called upon one of his most devastating spells in his arcane arsenal to save the life of his golden-haired charge.  The Englishman raised both hands and called into existence several strands of magickal energy that seemed to form a vortex between his fingers.  Dagger-shaped stone shards, globules of steaming acid, balls of fire, and crackles of lightning all flared within the elemental storm that now flowed between Giles’ outstretched hands.  With a word and a snarl the Watcher channeled the deadly spell into a stream of elemental energy that fired like a large beam toward the Serpent Man….

 

The unlucky target of the spell never even had a chance to scream as every molecule in its body was blown apart in a shower of gore.

 

Giles allowed a faint Ripper-like smirk to form on his lips as he gazed at the bloody mess that was the result of his spell, before he heard a plethora of shouts in his headset telling him to look out behind him...

 

The Englishman swore under his breath when he realized that he’d left his flank open to Hekhmut.  The Watcher turned back to his opponent, only to see the demon shooting his ruby red eyebeams at his magickal shields again.  Without the Watcher attentively keeping the eldritch energy that formed his shields in place, the magickal energy that protected the Watcher had dissipated, now leaving him completely vulnerable.  Hekhmut smiled evilly before he gestured with his head and sent a wave of telekinetic force into the Watcher that slammed him against the wall like an insect.

 

“Ahhh, such noble and heroic efforts, my dear friends…but futile nonetheless,” Hekhmut chuckled gleefully as he inclined his large serpentine head again and sent Giles crashing into another wall.  The Slayer and her companions saw what was happening and valiantly tried to train their guns on the large serpent demon, but found themselves completely overwhelmed by hordes of the Serpent Men who seemed to pile onto the men and women and held them down.  Sergio and a reawakened, groggy Patty could only stare helplessly in horror as several more of the creatures grabbed them as well.

 

Hekhmut’s chilling laughter boomed and echoed throughout the massive ritual chamber as he turned his attention back to Giles. Telekinetic force slammed Giles into another wall, and then another as though he was an insect being struck by a flyswatter before letting him fall to the ground.   Satisfied that the Watcher was down, the demon reached out with his massive tail and wrapped it around the dazed scholar in a tight grip.  With a triumphant smirk, the serpentine creature brought the tail that held his captured prize up to within mere inches of his face so the demon could see him, eye-to-eye. Blood and bruises marred Giles’ handsome face, his eyes lolling and dazed as he valiantly tried to focus on the creature before him.  His hands brushed against the butt of his battered M4A1 carbine and he tried to reach for it in vain, but couldn’t move his arms as he was now held completely immobile in Hekhmut’s grasp.

 

“Well, I must say this has been rather…brisk,” the demon hissed.  “You put up quite a noble effort, my friend.  Even though it was rather brave and foolish of you to attack me in my own sanctum, I must thank you.  Oh, not for giving me such a challenge, although I do appreciate it.  After all, where would we be if we did not have such opponents worthy of our own skill? Rather I must thank you for providing me with such lithe and comely gifts…in the form of your delightful women.”  The demon grinned wickedly as he regarded the Watcher with his slit golden eyes. “Your nubile little Slayer, your sensuous Jennifer, your achingly beautiful Cordelia, your delectable Amy, your winsome Willow, that lovely girl, Patty…and yes, even your dear former paramour, Layla.  I shall convert them all; mind, body, and soul.  They will be among my greatest, most powerful, and most beautiful of my endless harem of pleasure slaves.  As you die, Ripper, do not fret.  I will treat them all well; I promise you that.  And I will enjoy every lovely strand of hair, every gentle curve of their bodies, and every kiss from their ruby lips like fine wine.”  Hekhmut chuckled.  “Yes indeed, the best of all worlds…and all for me. For you however, I am sorry to say, your journey ends here.  Although I’m sure your soul will be most appetizing.  Time, as you would say, ‘to pay the check’…Ripper.”  With that, Hekhmut’s jaws opened massively wide as he prepared to devour the Watcher whole…

 

#

 

Jenny felt her body float effortlessly.

 

She didn’t know where she was…but it didn’t matter.  She gently floated in a sea of mist, her mind in a state of utter bliss. Her skin...indeed her entire body felt wonderful. There was nothing that could harm her here, nothing at all.  She would do nothing here except float for eternity in a sea of calm, and do nothing except what she was commanded to do by her Master.

 

“Daughter...”

 


 

Jenny blinked.  Did she hear a voice?  No...she was alone, except for the voice and presence of her Master.  And she remembered her Master’s command...that she belonged to him for eternity.  The Master commanded that she was to–

 

“Daughter! Awake, this is not your world.  It is an illusion, a lie!”

 

Jenny blinked again, suddenly recognizing the voice.  No, it wasn’t her Master. Wait a moment.  Master? The gypsy remembered that she didn't have any “Master”...then she gasped as a flood of memories overwhelmed her.  Where the hell was she?  What was this place?  What happened?  She remembered that she'd been in the computer lab when she was drugged by someone or something that had been impersonating Patrick Nelson, and then she'd come...here, wherever this place was.  There had been a thing that had entranced her with its golden eyes and its irresistible voice, lulling her into this sea of faux bliss, before a new voice had intruded into her trance...

 

“Artemis?”

 

“Yes, daughter! Hekhmut, son of Apep the Devourer has entranced you and is now locked in a life or death struggle with your loved ones and fellow Amazons.  He is going to devour your chosen mate, Rupert Giles, unless you act now!”

 

The gypsy was momentarily puzzled.  “Hekhmut?  Lady Goddess, what--” Suddenly her mind was assailed by a kaleidoscope of images.  The gypsy nearly screamed in pain as the rapid flurry of visions and senses ripped through her consciousness.  Images of Patrick who was really Hekhmut, the true identities of Layla and Jericho, the atrocities of the Hell Riders and the ensuing battle between them and her friends, the Amazons and their allies assault on Pureza Del Fuego and the apocalyptic battle between them and Hekhmut along with his demonic minions...

 

Jenny gasped.  “Rupert,” she whispered.  “My sisters...oh Goddess, no!”  She panicked when she realized that she was trapped in some sort of endless void.  How would she escape?

 

“Jennifer,” Artemis's voice continued gently.  “Remember what I told you before; a dream can be as real as you wish it to be.  That is what all this is, a dream.  Or more specifically, merely an illusion spun and woven by Hekhmut to control you.  You can, however, break free of it if you wish.”

 

“But...how do I do that, Lady Goddess?  This isn’t any normal spell or enchantment! I'm not a goddess like you! I'm only mortal.”

 

“NO, Jennifer,” the Goddess said in a firm voice. “You are far more than a mere mortal now.  In fact, you are more than my spiritual daughter now. You are, in essence…me.”

 

Jenny was awestruck by Artemis’ words. “My Lady…are you saying…”

 

“Yes, Jenny.   That night, when I imbued you with the seed of my essence, you became my form on the Earthly plane…my Avatar.”

 

When Jenny became slack-jawed from the shock, Artemis continued.  “We are linked even closer now.”  Jenny then realized that the Goddess was before her, dressed in her regal hunting garb, her chestnut hair arranged sensuously around her noble, beautiful face.  Her timeless brown orbs looked deeply into Jenny's own chocolate ones.  “You are me and I am you, daughter.”  With that, Artemis drew Jenny into a warm embrace that the gypsy did not resist.  Golden light flared like an aura around both of their lovely forms as the mortal Amazon and the Goddess merged together into one entity...

 

#

 

Giles was only partly conscious, his dazed mind gripped in the clutches of despair as he saw Hekhmut’s jaws open wide to devour him.  Buffy, Jenny, Layla, Amy, Cordelia, Willow…I have failed you.  Please, forgive me…I love you all.  As the Watcher saw the final moments of his life flash before his eyes, a light flared brilliantly, nearly blinding him…

 

“What in the dark gods—“ Hekhmut never had a chance to finish his query as an arrow-like mana bolt of energy ripped through his scaly body, leaving a charred hole in his side.  The serpent-like creature roared in pain as his body uncoiled, allowing Giles to drop to the ground with a dull thud.  Hekhmut hissed with displeasure and bared his elongated fangs.  “I am rather tired of these tedious interruptions.  Now, just who or what might this…be?”  The creature’s words nearly died in its maw as Hekhmut beheld the source of the blast that had injured the demon.

 

Jenny Calendar no longer lay in a trance on the obsidian altar. She was now fully conscious and not only standing, but floating several feet above it.  Her clothes and appearance had changed completely.  The revealing gold and silk ensemble she had worn earlier was now gone, replaced with a low-cut, form-fitting leather bodice and a short leather skirt, along with a pair of leather boots and bracers.  Her hair curled and floated around her head as though it had a life of its own while her normally dark and sensual eyes flared with eldritch fire that swirled within.  Blue-white magickal energy shimmered around her entire being, radiating an aura of divine power as she continued to grace their presence.  She held a long bow in her hands and wore a Greek xiphos sword on her belt as she glared with menace at Hekhmut and his minions, who were now cowering in awe from her magnificence.

 

However, all the human occupants in the room now stared at the divine entity that hovered before them.  The Amazons in particular looked completely rocked by the sight of their spiritual sister now awake and apparently ready to do some serious damage while dressed in an outfit that was eerily similar to Artemis’s own.  Meanwhile, Giles could only gape and whisper in an awestruck voice, “Jenny?”

 

She glanced momentarily at her beloved and allowed a graceful, assured smile to touch her lovely lips before it ran away.  She shot a steely look at the gargantuan serpent creature before her and proclaimed, “Hekhmut, I believe we have some matters to discuss.”

 

Hekhmut sneered in defiance.  “The only matter I wish to discuss is your death, foolish bitch!”  The serpent opened his gigantic maw and spat several lightning bolts at the woman, only to have the electricity strike the eldritch energy that swirled around Jenny and be absorbed harmlessly.

 

As a surprised Hekhmut stared wide-eyed in disbelief, Jenny looked at him with a bored expression.  “Is that the best you can do?” she drawled.  In response, several Serpent Men flashed their swords and valiantly charged and leapt toward the woman with their blades outstretched.  However, with a self-assured smirk and a twitch of her left eyebrow, Jenny raised her bow and drew back the gossamer-like string.  A fiery bolt of energy appeared before she released the ethereal string and fired, the bolt shooting forth and then separating into several arrows of flame that struck and burned into each creature with such force that they were driven backwards and nailed against the walls, like a couple of flies that had been shot with a nail gun.

 

“And, now,” she said to the snake, “so you can have my undivided attention, I have a few ladies who wish to have some words with your minions.”  Jenny then raised her arms and shouted to the heavens, “ANCIENT AMAZON BATTLE-QUEENS, TO ME!!”  In response, several phantasmal shapes appeared high above the chamber momentarily, before diving into the crowd below and streaking into each of the Amazons directly through their eyes.  Cordelia’s, Amy’s and Willow’s eyes snapped shut just before they arched their heads back and gasped for breath.  Each girl shuddered when they felt their bodies surge with an incredible energy that flooded every cell of their being, while the Serpent Men that held them down exchanged looks of concern and the girls’ bodies continued to strain for several moments.  Suddenly, the three Amazons relaxed in unison and opened their eyes to reveal six orbs that swirled with the same glowing, liquid fire as Jenny’s. 

 

Before any of the creatures could react, the brunette, blonde, and redheaded Amazons all howled an ancient war cry and rose up, literally sending the Serpent men that held them down scattering in several directions.  As the Serpent Men stared at the warrior maidens, fear clearly etched on their reptilian faces, the Amazon sisters brandished their swords, while Cordelia picked up a battle axe in her free hand, faced their foes, and smirked wickedly at them just before all hell broke loose.

 

Jenny’s face broke into a sly smile for Hekhmut’s benefit.  “It is my turn now, little demon.”  Then she launched several sizzling mana bolts from her hands that flew into the large serpent body of Hekhmut, scorching and tearing chunks of flesh from the creature as he screamed in agony.  Below her, the possessed Cordelia, Amy and Willow mercilessly carved through the ranks of the Serpent Men with their blades toward their friends, their movement and grace a display of controlled fury that was both magnificent and frightening to behold.  Gore sprayed in every direction.  They had become virtual whirlwinds of steely death. Anything that tried to stand in their way died a bloody and grisly death as the she-devils relentlessly pressed their attack to drive off the creatures that held their friends.  As more creatures fell under their blades like wheat before a scythe, Cordelia’s body suddenly sprang into the air, and while she flew toward Xander, Oz, and Jericho, she decapitated several creatures with her sword and axe to free the three men from the monsters that had held them down.  Then the things that possessed both Amy and Willow clasped their hands, raised them in unison, and shouted an incantation to the heavens, calling down multiple fireballs and ice stalactites that rained death on their foes and scattered several demons that had been trying to hold Buffy, St. Wolf and Layla.

 

Shaking off their stupor at the carnage caused by the three Amazons, the Slayer and her Immortal boyfriend both gritted their teeth and shoved off the remaining creatures that had tried to hold them down.  Then, they recovered their swords and joined the fray as they began to carve at the diminishing ranks of the creatures.  Meanwhile, Layla issued a silent mental command to her bracelets, from which each burst forth rays of brilliant light that blinded the creatures around her, allowing her to kick them away before she rose to her feet.  She then shot out twin blades attached to slim chains from her bracelets that struck two Serpent Men in their chests, allowing her time to smirk before she gestured with her hands and the blades with their chains shot and retracted back into her wrists. Her paramour, Jericho, not to be outdone, produced twin katar punching daggers that he used to stab two more of the creatures that had tried to restrain him directly in their throats.  The creatures fell away with dark blood spurting from their wounds as Jericho and Layla drew their pistols and fired off volleys of gunfire.  Soon after, Oz and Xander joined in with automatic bursts from their assault rifles as well. 

 

In the midst of her attack, the Slayer spied Giles slumped against the wall, moaning in pain and she barked a command to everyone else, “Xander, Oz, form a cordon around Giles!  Layla, Jericho, check on him!  Steve, you and I will reach Patty and Sergio and protect them from these Serpent thingies!  Move it, people!”  The Wanderer raised an eyebrow at the assertive nature of Buffy’s command, but went along with it.  Moments later, Oz and Xander formed a defensive ring of steel and automatic gunfire around the Watcher, while Layla and Jericho fought their way over to his side to examine him.  The Slayer kicked then stabbed another unlucky creature that tried to get in her way as she and St. Wolf moved over to the stunned teen-agers.  She then turned back and noticed, wide-eyed, the number of Serpent Men that were dying at the hands of Cordelia, Amy and Willow, as well as the powerful magickal energy that Jenny was now sending the weakened Hekhmut’s way.  The gypsy witch…or whatever she was now, seemed to be telekinetically forcing Hekhmut’s long coiled body into rigid shapes while she proceeded to blast at it with numerous volleys of ice, fire and lightning from her hands and eyes with a vicious smile on her face. Holy shit!  And I thought Giles was bad!  I think Jenny could be even worse!

 

When she reached Sergio and Patty’s side, Buffy snapped into her mike, “Jericho, Layla… report!  How is Giles?

 

“He’ll live,” Jericho assured her.  “Your Watcher needs to stop getting beat up and shot all the time, though.  I’d hate to lose my paycheck.” The Slayer rolled her eyes in response.

 

“Oh, bloody well shut your gob,” the Watcher growled as Layla bent over him.  The priestess closed her eyes and softly uttered an incantation as she held her gentle fingertips to Giles’ head and chest.  Soon her body was aglow with golden light before it traveled into the Watcher. The Englishman twitched slightly, then blinked as the cuts and bruises on his head and body slowly disappeared.

 

“Well, you’re good for something after all,” the Slayer drawled, bringing an annoyed look to Layla’s face before she and Jericho gently hauled Giles to his feet.  They then all stared once again at the carnage the Amazons had wrought on the last of the Serpent Men, and Jenny’s incredible rout of the increasingly battered Hekhmut. 

 

The demonic son of Apep desperately tried to call up every last spell in his arsenal to use against the powerful Amazon witch who floated before him, only to see every one of them fail as they glanced harmlessly off of the witch’s powerful shields.  Meanwhile, the witch called forth displays of powerful magicks that the demon had rarely ever seen that continued to burn and tear away at his mangled body.  The serpent felt himself grow heavy and weak as he fell to the ground, no longer able to hold himself in midair.  The Amazon witch effortlessly floated through the air toward the gigantic creature as she drew her sword, the blade gleaming with a deadly light.

 

“You…” Hekhmut croaked, barely able to form words as blood oozed from his ruined mouth.  “I don’t understand…how could you…break free?  So much power…in a mortal woman…i-it’s impossible…”

 

Jenny smiled darkly as she regarded the bloodied creature.  “Perhaps,” she purred, “It’s because I’m more than just a mortal woman now…more than a gypsy, a witch or an Amazon.”  Power coalesced in her eyes as they glowed with impossible brilliance.

 

Hekhmut’s eyes widened in fear, an emotion he rarely felt, except for now. “No…NO!!! I-It cannot be!!!”

 

“Yes,” Jenny replied cryptically.  “It can.”  With that, the Amazon threw her sword and sent it spinning through the air, before it slammed home into the center mass of Hekhmut's massive head and cleaved it completely in two.  As the spinning sword returned neatly to Jenny's outstretched hand like a boomerang, Hekhmut’s corpse stared at the Amazon, as if uncertain what to do before his head fell away in two pieces in a shower of gore and bloody matter.  As the smoking, bloody pieces of Hekhmut's corpse collapsed upon itself, a whirling mass of darkness rose from the body and seemed to hover for a moment, before it was sucked down into one of the pits, accompanied by the hissing screams of Hekhmut's disembodied essence.

 

Moments later, the beings that had possessed the bodies of Cordelia, Willow and Amy, stepped through a pile of corpses to approach Jenny.  All three girls were covered in gore, like terrible, yet magnificent Valkyries, and stood regally in the midst of the dead that had been Hekhmut's army of minions as Jenny gracefully and effortlessly alighted on the ground. 

 

The possessed Amazons shared a knowing look with one another, recognizing someone or something within each of their eyes that wasn't discernible to anyone other than Jenny.  Then Jenny smiled at each girl and said, “Hippolyta, Andromache, Ephiny…I thank you for your aid in my time of need.”

 

Each of the women smiled before the spirit in Cordelia bowed slightly and said, “It is we who should thank you, my Lady, for allowing us to serve both you and our sisters of this day and age.  Even before we interceded, these younglings brought honor to our proud heritage.  I believe we can safely say that our legacy is in good stead with these New Amazons.  Now, we shall return to Olympus by your word, my Lady!”

 

Jenny’s smile was as bright as the sun when she nodded majestically and said, “Valiant Andromache, again I thank you all.  The word is given, oh mighty warrior queens!” she pronounced.  With that, swirling energy exited each girl through their eyes and hovered over the blonde, brunette, and redheaded Amazon for a moment before the energy signatures vanished above.  Suddenly, Cordelia and Amy along with Willow gasped, moaned, and collapsed to the ground. 

 

“Cordy!” Xander yelped as he moved to his girlfriend's side.  As Oz tended to Willow and St. Wolf swept Amy up in his arms, a shaken Sergio and an equally shaken Patty limped over to join the group.  While the boys helped the disorientated girls to their feet, they all noticed Jenny, still looking regal and ethereal in her leather hunting garb, regarding them with a mystifying smile as eldritch fire continued to dance in her eyes.

 

Everyone was quiet for a moment until Willow squeaked out in a tiny voice.  “Jenny, is it really you?  Wait, no, you're different. Are you--?”  Before she had a chance to finish, the entire cavern around them began to shake as the ground itself began to split and the ceiling shuddered.  More cracks began to form in the walls as sections of rock broke from the walls and ceiling and crashed onto the ground.

 

“Now WHAT?!” the Slayer pleaded.

 

“Oh, bloody hell!” Giles groaned as he got to his feet.  “The magickal forces unleashed during the battle have affected this place.  In that sense, I would say the whole bloody tomb is going to collapse and bury us alive!”

 

A wild-eyed Xander glared at the Englishman.  “Dammit, Giles!  Why do you use so many words to say, ‘we’re fucked?!’”

 

Everyone looked at the only way out to see the earth, stones and mounds of skeletal bones collapse and seal it off, blocking any hope of escape.  As the Slayerettes struggled to keep their footing while the cave collapsed around them, Jenny closed her eyes and raised her arms wide.  Before everyone's startled gaze, the witch, or whoever she was now, uttered a powerful incantation that surrounded them all in an enormous flash of light.  A second later the cavern was empty save for the scattered corpses of Hekhmut and his minions as the cavern finally groaned and tumbled in upon itself...

 

#

 

In the blink of an eye, the Slayerettes along with Layla, Jericho, Patty and Sergio found themselves in a wet, grassy clearing several meters or so away from the hulking remnants of Purez Del Fuego.  As the storm continued to pelt and soak them with rain that mercifully washed some of the gore from their faces and bodies, they each heard muffled, yet distinct noises of stone collapsing beneath the earth.  Suddenly, the buildings of the old missionary settlement itself began to shudder.  With the lower foundations now beginning to falter, the buildings started to groan, then collapsed in on themselves as the cursed remains of the place started to tumble into the earth.

 

“Well, guess there's one less place for the frat boys to hang out now.  And strange as it sounds, I'm not too brokenhearted about it,” Xander quipped before each person turned to regard Jenny.  Moments later, the mystic glow that surrounded her faded and her leather outfit disappeared, morphing back into the sultry gold and silk outfit she'd worn when they had first arrived to rescue her.   A second after that, the gypsy Amazon moaned and fell to the waterlogged ground in a heap.

 

“JENNY!”  Giles nearly screamed as he knelt by her side and turned the woman's sensual face toward him as he cradled her in his arms. Her eyes were closed and her breathing seemed shallow.  Concern etched in his face and tears started to form in his eyes as he desperately hugged her to his body.  “Talk to me, say something.  Please don't leave me.   Don't leave me now, damn you.  Say something...please.”

 

Jenny's eyes slowly opened and she fixed her chocolate-brown eyes on Giles' gentle green ones.  A smile graced her lips as she whispered, “You know I'd never leave you, England...just as I know you'd never leave me.”

 

Tears of joy mixed with the rivulets of rainwater that ran down Giles' cheeks as he fiercely wrapped the gypsy witch in his loving arms, while Amy hugged them both as Willow and Cordelia wrapped an arm around the others’ waist and cried.

 

#

 

Lair of the Disciples of Set

Somewhere beneath the Egyptian Desert

05:05 Local Time

 

“High Priestess…are you certain?”

 

Deep within the hidden labyrinthine lair of the Disciples of Set, the tall, darkly beautiful woman stood up and turned from the gigantic scrying pool along with her fellow sisters and bowed toward the source of the deep, booming voice, grim expressions on their faces.  Torches set within sconces along with large blazing urns only gave faint illumination to the cavernous, ancient tomb that seemed to stretch on for nearly an eternity underneath the sands of Egypt.  It was as if the shadows themselves consumed all but the slightest bit of flickering light, reflecting off of the lovely, oil-fragranced skin of the priestesses who wore little, save the golden jewelry and silk that accented their sensual bodies.  Indeed, their garb was similar to that which had been worn by Jennifer Calendar, the gypsy who, had Hekhmut succeeded, would have become one of them, a beautiful thrall and convert of the Disciples…

 

“We are, my dark Lord. Through our powers of scrying, we have ascertained that, indeed, the woman known as Jennifer Calendar, assisted by the other Amazons known as Willow Rosenberg, Amy Madison, and Cordelia Chase, along with their allies including the Slayer and the Wanderer…have destroyed our Master.”  Her accented voice carried a note of lament that echoed throughout the chamber.

 

“Hekhmut, Son of Apep, most favored of the Disciples and our Master, is dead!”  Another priestess wailed.  Soon she was joined by a chorus of moans of despair from the other exotic, beautiful women who lamented the departure of the One they all loved like none other, save the shadowed figure who sat resplendent on the golden throne that was carved in the shape of a cobra’s opened maw. Shadows cloaked nearly all his features save his eyes that glittered with a red hypnotic light.

 

“Be still, my priestesses,” the shadowed figure’s voice purred in a voice that boomed deeply yet seductively. “Be still.”  At that, the women all became silent and fixed their eyes upon the figure’s enthralling gaze, their features becoming instantly blissful once again as they each fell submissively and willingly under the control of their dark Lord.

 

The shadowed figure rose from his golden throne and gracefully descended the long, stone steppes toward the throng of women.  Soon, flickering torchlight illuminated the long, red resplendent robe that he wore, decorated with gold woven in bizarre shapes.  The clothing encased him up to his head, which was not at all human in appearance, but rather like the white calcium bone of a skull, his “face” set in a morbid grin like Death himself.

 

The women however, who composed part of Hekhmut’s bountiful harem of lovely slaves, were not frightened, but rather enthralled by the cloaked figure with the skull’s head approaching them.  The imposing figure reached out with what appeared to be a very human-looking hand and gently stroked the hair of the High Priestess, who closed her eyes and sighed blissfully, savoring the touch of the being before her.

 

“Do not fret, my priestesses,” the figure continued in his deep voice. “Your master Hekhmut will need time to…consider the rather foolish errors he has made this night.  However, just as he has succeeded with each of you, his thralls, to spread the power of the Disciples and draw more of Humanity into our fold, he shall also rise again like the phoenix as well.”  The women each smiled darkly, their eyes momentarily glittering with an eerie golden color, before returning to the various seductive hues they normally wore. 

 

“For although we have suffered a…minor setback,” the figure continued, “We have learned much as well.” The figure drew his hand from caressing the High Priestess and gestured toward the large glimmering pool before them from which mist curled and rose.  The High Priestess opened her eyes and turned, along with her fellow sisters in unison, toward the scrying pool from which images rose, ghostlike out of the water.  The scene of the final battle underneath Pureza Del Fuego played out before their eyes, as they all witnessed the power wielded by Jennifer Calendar, Willow Rosenberg, Amy Madison, Cordelia Chase, Elizabeth Summers, and their friends and allies, including Layla Constantin.

 

“It would appear that Layla Constantin continues her misguided loyalties toward Bast,” the tall skull-faced man noted with a hint of disappointment.  “That however, is not important.  This is.” He made a gesture with his hand and the translucent images of Jennifer Calendar, Willow Rosenberg and Amy Madison appeared before them, hovering over the misty water.

“There is much power that emanates from these women, including the Slayer.  Indeed, I do not recall witnessing such power from any other Slayer throughout my time.  The same could be very well said for the Amazon known as Cordelia Chase as well.  The potential that I have…seen from these three witches, however…particularly Jennifer and her redheaded charge, Willow, is unlike anything I have sensed in a very long while.”

 

The High Priestess watched the images of the three witches, particularly Jennifer Calendar, and smiled darkly yet affectionately.  “The woman known as Jennifer…she has shown to be a woman of considerable power.”

 

“Yes,” the other women whispered in unison.

 

“But it is power she does not yet fully understand, for it is far greater than even she realizes.”

 

“Yes,” the other women continued.

 

“The same is true of her charges…they are more powerful than they have yet to realize as well.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“We will show them the True Way.  They will, in time, become part of OUR sisterhood, and forsake the misguided path of the Amazons.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“They will eventually become our sisters; it is inevitable,” the High Priestess said in a resolute tone as her eyes narrowed, “Or they will die.”

 

“YES.”

 

The tall figure regarded his High Priestess with a look of what might have been bemusement, had his features not been skull-like.  “You are most perceptive, my High Priestess.  Indeed, there is much potential in these women, particularly these three witches.  But we shall discuss this later.  Now, there is another matter.”  The figure raised his hands and shouted an incantation.   A crimson light erupted not far from the scrying pool, before dimming and revealing several vampires in cowboy clothing that were being held by hissing, sword-wielding Serpent Men…the Hell Riders, or for that matter, the lucky few that had managed to escape the slaughter at Pureza Del Fuego, minus Lyle Gorch.

 

“W-What’s going on here?!” One of the unlucky vamps stammered as he took in the scene before him.

 

“A simple and asinine question,” the tall, authoritarian-looking fellow with a skull for a face replied, in a deep voice laced with amusement.  “It would appear that your positions as hired help for my associate, Hekhmut, did not go…well.” He gestured toward the scrying pool again and showed the Slayerette’s battle against Hekhmut and his minions.

 

“H-hey, I don’t know what’s going on,” the vampire stammered, “But we did what we could, okay?  But that Slayer bitch and her friends were tougher than we thought, and we sure as hell weren’t gonna all stay around and get staked by that crazy bitch, no matter how much your boy was gonna pay us, comprende?!”  The weasel-looking vamp looked ready to say more before he noticed the tall, menacing looking figure silently appraising him, causing him to gulp.

 

“Yes,” the skull-faced man, or thing replied with a slight hiss, “it would seem, unfortunately, that you and your fellow…compatriots, despite the weapons Hekhmut provided to you, were not enough to deter the Slayer, her Watcher, and her Amazonian allies.”

 

“W-whoa, wait a minute, did you say Ama—“

 

“That matter no longer concerns you,” the cloaked figure continued with a snap, cutting him off.  “I now simply wish to…reward you for your assistance.”

 

“Reward?”  Another one of the vampires spoke up with a glint in his eye.  “So…uhhh, you’re not upset then?”

 

“Why should we be?  Despite the fact that you all fled with your tails between your legs like a pack of mangy curs,” The tall man hissed with menace, causing the Hell Riders to gulp,  “your encounter with these rather powerful women and their allies has yielded us some interesting information to ponder as well.”

 

The first weasel-looking vampire finally found the courage to speak up again.  “Uh, don’t wanna spoil anything, but I don’t think the Mayor is gonna be too happy with what happened tonight, with the chaos downtown and all, what exactly are you—“

 

“As I have already said,” the thing that looked like a personification of the Grim Reaper said in a tone that hinted of supreme annoyance, “This is no longer a matter that concerns you.  I thank you for your assistance, and now, your reward.”  And with that, he gestured toward the scrying pool.  The mist seemed to curl away from the water, revealing an impossibly large cache of shimmering gold, gems, and other jewelry that sparkled beneath the water’s surface.

 

The vampires yelped and whooped with joy as they nearly fell over each other before rushing into the gigantic pool, splashing into it and standing up to their knees in water.   One of the vampires picked up a sparkling gold coin, nearly as big as the palm of his hand, and looked at it with wide eyes.  “I-it’s gold!  We’re rich!”  His fellow compatriots cheered and began to scoop up the riches that lay within the pool. However, none of them seemed to notice the rather coldly amused looks that the sinister cloaked figure, the Serpent Men, or the sultry priestesses were giving them.

 

“Yes, enjoy this moment of savoring such wealth,” the one who looked like a personification of Death said in an amused voice.  “For it is the least I can give you for your…sacrifice.”  As that last word escaped his grinning death’s-head maw, a swarm of black, squirming serpents with glistening fangs burst out from underneath the piled riches and savagely tore into the assembled vampires, eliciting a chorus of terrified screams as the serpents clamped their fangs onto their bodies and began to tear away at their flesh, blood spurting out in all directions like an artistic fountain and turning the pool’s water a crimson red.

 

“Such is the fate of fools,” the tall one noted with amusement as the unlucky victim’s screams began to resemble a symphony of pain and damnation.  He then gestured to his priestesses, whose eyes had all begun to turn a shade of gold and began to sway sensually, seductively to the howls and wails of terror before they closed their eyes to savor the moment, licking their lips in anticipation.

 

“Dance, and copulate, my thralls!  Revel in the blood and terror that appeases the Lord of us all, our Lord of Darkness, SET!!”  With that, the beautiful yet sinister-looking women all began to touch and pleasure themselves, stroking their breasts and genitalia in such a manner that each of them sighed and moaned with arousal before they began to touch each other, kissing in an orgy of beautiful flesh among the screams of the damned and dying.

 

The robed figure then turned to his Serpent Men who stood nearby at attention.  “So…you have not been able to locate Mr. Lyle Gorch I presume?”  The Serpent Men hung their heads slightly and murmured in an alien tongue accompanied by hisses.  “No matter.  Despite the fact that he has more proverbial lives than a cat, he is of no consequence now. See that when this is…finished, that a generous portion of the riches from the pool are rewarded to Mr. Vladimir Petrovsky for his cooperation. I am certain he will be most grateful…and will think twice about ever betraying our trust to anyone.”  With that the Serpent Men bowed deeply then marched away.

 

The tall man then turned and strode back up to his throne.  Then he sat and quietly contemplated all that had occurred tonight.  While his arcane senses drew in the intoxicating mix of pain and fear from the dying victims, as well as the sensuality and lust of the thralls that provided him pleasure as well as their own, his ancient mind already pondered his next move…

 

There was much to consider.  This debacle, if his suspicions were correct, pointed to some very interesting things that portended the future.  But it was all well and good.  He had waited long for this moment, for the signs.  No doubt there were other matters that needed attending to, first.  He imagined that the “Mayor” would be most upset by the chaos tonight, but it mattered little. If all went well, the Mayor would soon have his hands full attempting to destroy the Slayer, the Amazons and their allies. Such thoughts would have brought a smile to his face, had he had one at all.  Let the fool try to destroy them, he thought.  If he were to succeed, so be it.  If he were to fail, which he already sensed was more than likely then it would undoubtedly prove that these were the VERY women he had waited for all along.  Unfortunately, there were other wild cards in the deck to consider, not the least of them that if the Amazons were involved, then that would mean those two Immortal bitches that had set back his plans before, Gabrielle of Potadeia and Sonja of Hyborea, would inevitably come into play as well…

 

But perhaps, that was the way it was meant to be. Perhaps it was all a matter of fate, after all.  It was not as if Gabrielle and Sonja had been the first to attempt to destroy him.  Conan the Cimmerian, Kull of Atlantis…they had all tried, and failed.  And if he had his way, Fate would be one of many things in the universe that he would eventually control. It was inevitable, indeed…

 

As the figure upon the throne contemplated all of this, he looked again at the symphonic orgy of pleasure and damnation, a New Order, an order built upon Chaos, that he would introduce to the world.  In time, the entire universe would eventually tremble before the one most ancient, known throughout time as…Thulsa Doom.

 

 

Bureau 13 Headquarters

Location Unknown

22:35 Sunnydale time

 

“Sir,” someone screamed, “the teleporters are back online!”

 

 “And,” Cindy Trainer added, “The multiple four’s, five’s, the six and the eight are still alive and kicking, after a visit from the three eleven’s and the twelve, while the level ten demon is outta there!”

 

“I’ll be damned,” Gordon mumbled under his breath.  Based on the information that Dimitri had dug up, Gordon knew that his father’s bodyguard, the Wanderer, had been the level eight in Sunnydale.  He had a strong suspicion that the six was that town’s friendly, neighborhood Vampire Slayer.  However, the Bureau was still in the dark over the four’s and the five’s who’d helped the Wanderer achieve a stunning victory against a high level demon.  He determined that he had a lot to discuss with Merlin to solve this little mystery.  Raising his voice to a good-natured growl, Gordon said, “Well, people, it must be our lucky day!  Alvarez,” he barked, “you and your team go on standby until further notice.  Trainer, help McKenzie at transporter control track down that power drain.  Oh, and I want a definitive answer about whatever caused us to go offline, and I want that answer yesterday!  You’ve got that?”

 

As the agents scrambled to comply with his commands, Gordon mused inwardly that sometimes it was better to be lucky than good.

 

###

 

317 Brandt Terrace

Home of Steven St. Wolf

Sunnydale, California

22:40 PST

 

The front door of St. Wolf’s home nearly slammed against the side-wall as the soaked Slayerettes, along with their friends and allies, trudged inside out of the rain.  Duke had already sensed their arrival and was amicably barking away, hoping to find out about all that had happened earlier…until the Guardian spirit saw how tired, dirty, wet, and exhausted everyone was.  Buffy and St. Wolf led the pack, followed by Giles who gently carried a nearly comatose and scantily clad Jenny in his arms.  A ragged-looking Cordelia leaned on Xander while Oz bore a haggard Willow’s weight on his shoulder.  Both women stared straight ahead with heavily-lidded eyes and looked ready to collapse at any moment from sheer exhaustion.  The same could be said for Amy, who clung to both Layla and Jericho and was gently propelled forward by the couple.  The last to enter were Patty and Sergio, both of whom displayed a mix of relief and apprehension on their faces. Patty in particular looked slightly woozy and uncertain of her step.

 

Duke watched the whole scene with a puzzled expression on his canine face. “Hrrrrm?”

 

St. Wolf shook his head.  “It’s a long story, Duke.  I’ll tell you later.”  With that, the Wanderer quickly went into “super leader” mode and took charge.  “Buffy, come with me.  We’ll get some bowls of hot water, washrags, and first aid supplies out. The rest of you just sit down and…” His words trailed off momentarily as the Slayerettes and their friends had already begun to sit, or sprawl around the house in exhaustion, discarding their weapons and gear and laying them helter-skelter on the furniture and carpeted floor, which had already been covered in plastic wrap in anticipation of the state of the team. Giles, in particular, gently laid Jenny on one of the couches and she barely uttered her thanks in reply.  “Well yeah…do that,” he muttered quietly.  He then noticed that Patty and Sergio were still standing around nervously, their eyes darting about.  “Excuse me.  Patty and…Sergio, isn’t it?”  The two turned their attention from the plethora of guns, ammunition and gear that the Slayerettes along with Layla and Jericho had strung about to look at the Wanderer.  “Okay, I’m sure you have plenty of questions; I assure you they’ll be answered in time.  So please, sit down.”

 

“No way, pal!  We’re not taking any of your crap!” Patty blurted as she frantically glanced around the room.  “I wanna know who you all really are, what’s really going on, what’s gonna happen to us, what—“

 

“Patty?” 

 

The tall brunette turned to regard her childhood friend.  Amy gazed at her with genuine warmth and compassion in her beautiful blue eyes.  “Look, I know you’re confused, scared…okay, that’s SO an understatement. The first time something like this happened to me, I was scared shitless.  But please trust us. Or at least trust me.  Just sit down and we’ll try to explain everything to you.”

 

“B-but what abou—“

 

“SIT DOWN, damn you!” Layla growled as though she were a lioness, displaying a bit of impatience in her eyes.  Before Patty and Sergio realized it, their bodies jerked as they were momentarily controlled by someone else’s thoughts and they sat down on one of the plastic-covered couches.  The other Slayerettes took a moment to glare at Layla, who gently cleared her throat in reply and appeared to the entire room like a little girl whose hand was caught in the cookie jar.  “Sorry,” she demurred.

 

“There are two bath tubs upstairs,” the Wanderer announced as he started handing out bottles of water to everyone, which they took gratefully.  “I imagine you’ll all want to get out of your clothes…Xander, not a word…” he growled as several people regarded both Steve and Xander, who audibly clamped his mouth shut, “and wash up.  There’re plenty of towels and some bathrobes available, so help yourselves.  Actually…maybe Jenny wants to get freshened up first,” the Wanderer suggested in a not-so-subtle manner.

 

Giles rose from where he’d been tending the gypsy to glare at the tall brown-haired man almost threateningly, before reluctantly realizing what he had meant.  He gazed down at Jenny.  She was barely awake, yet she peered at him through heavily-lidded eyes with a beautiful yet tired smile that lit up her entire face.  It seemed only moments ago that she'd become something akin to an avenging goddess, laying waste to hordes of demons that had cowered before her magnificence...now she simply appeared as a very vulnerable, albeit extraordinarily beautiful young woman.  He struggled to keep himself in check as he noticed the gentle rise and fall of her bosom, clad in the woven gold and silk outfit that was soaked from the rain and clung to her body.  Taking a moment to gather his thoughts, the Watcher nodded.  “Yes, ah, I suppose you’re right.  Ahm…er, it is likely that Jenny would appreciate a bath, but…um…I don’t know if it is proper for me to…”

 

“G-Man, if you wanna take her upstairs and play ‘up periscope’ with Jenny in the bathtub, go right ahead, we won’t say anything.”  The rest of the Slayerettes glared incredulously at Xander after he uttered his off-the-cuff remark, before a thoroughly tired yet annoyed Cordelia leaned over and managed to slap him upside the head.

 

“OW!”

 

“Idiot,” she muttered under her breath.

 

“Rupert?”  The Englishman turned to regard Layla, who had risen gracefully from her chair despite her obvious fatigue.  “I’ll take care of her, don’t worry.” 

 

The Slayerettes, with the exception of Giles, blinked like owls at this development.

 

Rupert was completely stunned by Layla’s offer and the innocent look in her dark green eyes.  “A-are you quite certain, Layla?  I mean, if it’s no—“

 

Layla chuckled ruefully and shook her head.  “Rupert, if I didn’t want to do it, I would not offer, non?  Please, allow me.  Perhaps you can make some tea for everyone while we freshen up.  I would suggest chamomile tea, assuming Monsieur Wolf stocks any in his pantry.” The psychic then looked earnestly at Giles and projected in his mind, *No tricks Rupert, I promise.  After what we have all been through tonight, it’s the least I can do for her* The Englishman paused, before a genuine smile touched his lips.  Satisfied, the beautiful Frenchwoman gently helped up the equally lovely gypsy from the couch and the two quietly began to climb the stairs. 

 

“Would you like some company?”  Jericho queried.

 

Everyone expected Layla to either deliver a sarcastic retort or roll her eyes, but no one was quite prepared for what she finally said.  “Actually, I wouldn’t mind, but I am not certain Jenny would enjoy…engaging multiple partners in her present state, if you will, as much as I.”

 

While several of the assembled friends gagged and choked on their water bottles, Layla smirked, turned, and gently guided Jenny upstairs.

 

#

 

The main bathroom upstairs was spacious and thankfully well-appointed, with decoratively-tiled walls and floors along with plenty of toiletries.  The best part though as far as Layla and Jenny were concerned was the nicely sized bathtub with the removable showerhead.  The gypsy padded into the bathroom before she purposefully walked straight into the wall with a slight thunk, and leaned against the tiles as though ready to collapse.

 

“Here, let me help you get out of your…er, clothes, and I’ll prepare your bath,” Layla offered gently.

 

“You don’t need to coddle me,” Jenny uttered in a tired voice.  “You hate me, remember?  And I hate you; we both hate each other.  That’s the way it goes.”

 

Layla pursed her lips thoughtfully for a moment.  “Oui, I suppose that would be true,” she said dryly. “However, as you Americans would say, ‘fuck it’.”  Despite her exhaustion, the gypsy managed to raise an eyebrow as the Frenchwoman continued.  “Right now that isn’t important…well actually it may be somewhat important…or not important at all, or, ma deesee, why are we even having this conversation?!  Just sit yourself down, now,” she growled, which brought an earnest chuckle from the Amazon witch before she sat down on the bathtub rim and let Layla carefully remove the different articles of clothing from her, including the silk cloth and the golden circlets that were sinuously wrapped around her arms and legs.  As the Frenchwoman went about her task she couldn’t help but notice how trim and well-proportioned the gypsy was…

 

“See anything you like?” Jenny asked quietly.

 

Layla blinked, feeling rather surprised.  “Excuse moi?”

 

“I was just asking if you liked any of the jewelry or the outfit.”

 

The psychic’s cheeks turned a slight shade of crimson.  “Oh.” After removing the last parts of Jenny’s outfit, the Frenchwoman stood back a moment and was nearly stunned at the sight of the gypsy, completely nude.  Not even the revealing harem outfit she had worn had seemed to do the Amazon’s sleek, darkly sensual figure any justice.  The exotic woman continued to gape at Jenny for a moment, then, noticing that Jenny was watching her, forced herself to tear her eyes away from her body and looked at her face.  It was then that the Frenchwoman began to feel rather hot and uncomfortable in her own special form-fitting armor, which was normally one of the more comfortable items she wore. Shaking her head to remove herself from her stupor, she knelt and gently helped Jenny into the bathtub, before standing up again.

 

“I…admit that I feel a bit…uncomfortable in my suit,” Layla said. “Do you mind if I remove it? Merci.”  Without bothering to wait for Jenny’s reply, the priestess of Bast began to slowly…methodically strip off each of the items she wore, starting with her gloves, which she draped over a chair, then the moonstone she wore on her forehead, then each of the long gem-studded bracers on her forearms. The priestess set each of the items aside before she titled her head back and gently removed the thin golden choker around her neck, and then her hands drifted down, slowly, to her utility belt…

 

Jenny watched, eyes wide as the darkly sensual priestess slowly undid her belt and draped it over the chair with her other belongings, then bent down to methodically remove each of her boots, which she also set aside.  The gypsy noticed that, oddly enough, her breath was beginning to quicken as the Frenchwoman’s hands drifted to the top of her neckline and slowly…deliberately began to undo each of the metal buckles down the front of her suit, before she finally undid the last buckle that was near her waist.  She then gently pulled the dark leather-like material away from her bosom.  The gypsy’s eyes grew even wider when the exotic beauty pulled the top of the suit away to expose her firm and ample breasts along with her elegant arms and toned midriff.  Clearly while the suit had done a marvelous job of outlining her sensual body, it committed a crime by hiding her nearly perfect, tanned skin.  Layla then bent over and proceeded to remove the rest of her outfit from her slim hips, which swayed gently as she guided the skintight material down her long, shapely legs.  Afterwards she set the suit aside and stood there wearing nothing except for a pair of red satin panties and the shimmering talisman nestled between her breasts.

 

When Jenny realized that she had just gawked at the priestess during the entire time that Layla had removed her clothing, she tore her eyes away and blushed, feeling slightly uncomfortable.  You gotta hand it to those Euro chicks, they sure aren’t…wallflowers, she thought for a moment then noticed that Layla was looking at her with a slightly bemused expression before the psychic knelt down and turned on the faucet, allowing steaming warm water to flow. The Frenchwoman then proceeded to use the removable showerhead to wash away the grime from Jenny’s body.  The psychic took her time gently spraying the gypsy from head to toe with the water, eliciting a sigh of pleasure from the Amazon as the soothing liquid carried away the grime along with her fatigue.  After thoroughly rinsing Jenny, the priestess turned on the main faucet head and began to fill the tub with hot steaming water, to which she added some lavender bath salts that she’d found underneath the counter.  A moment later the Frenchwoman gently began to rub the gypsy’s shoulders with a wet washcloth.

 

“Mmm, that feels nice, thank you,” the gypsy murmured, her eyes closed as she savored the sensations of Layla’s hand gently caressing her skin with the washcloth, the lavender scent rising to meet her nostrils, which she inhaled deeply and relaxed her further.

 

De rien,” Layla replied softly.  “It seemed the…least I can do, after…after everything that has happened today.”  She paused momentarily before continuing.  “Jenny, I’m sure you have already guessed that everyone, including me, has plenty of questions about...what happened.  Although I admit I am hardly in any position after, well, hiding certain things from the rest of you,” she added somewhat hastily after Jenny shot a questioning look at her. “What I really wanted to say is…is that I’m sorry.”

 

The Amazon blinked.  “You’re sorry…for what?”  Her eyes then narrowed. “Oh…you’re sorry for being such a bitch and hiding things from us?”

 

Layla’s jaw twitched slightly as she appeared ready to belt out a retort.  “Yes, as you would say, for…being such a bitch.  However,” she continued as her own eyes narrowed as well. “I hardly think you are in a position to criticize me for withholding information when you have done the same, especially with Rupert.”  The Frenchwoman then visibly winced when she realized what she’d spoken with her tirade, and noticed Jenny’s extremely pissed-off look.  “No…wait.  That was wrong of me. I…I shouldn’t have said that.”

 

Jenny looked away, staring off into space for a moment as Layla gently massaged her back with the washcloth, then sighed resignedly.  “No, you shouldn’t have…but you were right though.  I shouldn’t have hidden those…things from Rupert.”  A grimace then crossed her sensual face.  “I just wish my life…I just wish this whole goddamn thing wasn’t so complicated sometimes, that I wouldn’t have had to led my life as a gypsy in secret.  I mean, I never intended to hurt anyone, I was only…”

 

“Performing your duty?”  Layla queried softly. Then with a gentle, yet sad smile on her face, she washed both of Jenny’s legs, guiding the washcloth slowly along her soft curves.

 

Jenny quietly savored Layla’s tender caress for a moment as she took in Layla’s words then nodded. “I guess you know something about that, don’t you?”

 

Oui,” Layla replied hesitantly, appearing reluctant to speak further on that matter, until something else crossed the Frenchwoman’s mind.  “Jenny…I also wanted to say, I truly am sorry…about what happened to your cousin.”

 

Jenny looked away again, saying nothing.

 

“Jenny, please listen to me.  I cannot imagine how difficult it was for you.  I imagine it was much harder than I, or possibly anyone will ever know.  But each of us, in our own way…there are times in our lives when we have to go through that crucible, and it may take different forms, but…we go through that suffering, and learn to endure, and by that we come out better for it. Like when I came here and met Rupert again, face-to-face.”

 

The gypsy looked sharply at Layla when she mentioned her beloved, but then softened when she saw her own eyes were becoming moist.  The Frenchwoman softly began to wash Jenny’s breasts as she went on.  “When I came here and saw Rupert again, I realized that there were…things that we did not resolve when we parted, things that needed closure.”  The priestess swallowed a slight lump in her throat and went on.  “I had to learn to accept that we were never meant to be.  That we are not the same now as we were before, and that Rupert was clearly meant for someone else. He was meant for someone…who truly loves him, and can take care of him.”  Layla unsuccessfully blinked away a tear that ran down her cheek, which she quickly wiped away with her arm.  She went back to the task of cleansing Jenny’s soft, yet firm breasts with loving care and elicited an expression of pleasure from the Amazon who continued to quietly regard the psychic.  Layla sighed and looked earnestly at Jenny.  “Do you understand what I am saying now, Jenny?”

 

Jenny nodded.  “Yes…I do.”

 

#

 

While Jenny, Layla and Jericho(who’d “volunteered” to use the other bathroom before anyone could protest) bathed upstairs, Buffy and Steve went about setting out bowls of hot water and washrags for everyone, along with dry ice and antibiotics for all the minor cuts, bruises and scrapes.  All of them felt more than lucky to have come through the battle without anything worse, which they attributed to the training as well as the special armor supplied by St. Wolf.  The rain had relentlessly been hammering outside earlier, but now seemed to ease somewhat to a gentle patter as the constant thunder dimmed.  Meanwhile, Giles had been able to find some chamomile tea in Steve’s pantry and a kettle was now quietly bubbling on the stove.

 

Before any of the girls, including Patty could utter a protest, Steve along with Giles, Oz, Xander, and even Sergio sat each of them down and quietly began to tend to them, gently wiping the caked dirt and blood from their faces with wet cloths. Even Duke had wanted to be helpful, by gently picking up each bowl of water with his teeth before trotting over to each of the girls, one at a time, and setting them down.

 

Patty blinked at the canine's surprising intelligence, completely unaware of Duke's true nature.  “Wow, that's a pretty smart dog.”  As if in reply, Duke's ears perked up as he looked at Patty.  Emitting a friendly bark, the Guardian trotted over to the dark Irish girl, its tail wagging enthusiastically, before he sat down in front of her and gave her a sad puppy-dog expression.

 

“Um, you want something, boy?  Er, whatever your name is...”

 

“His name's Duke,” Xander explained, “And he likes table scraps...but he goes for doggie biscuits even more.  See?  Here boy,” Xander reached behind him and pulled out a bag of doggy treats.  “I got a nice tasty milk bone with your name on it!” Duke growled lowly before skulking away from the young man.

 

Patty gave Xander a questioning look, to which the X-Man shrugged.  “Never mind him, he’s overly sensitive,” he said before Buffy expertly threw a wet washrag at his face, hitting him dead center.

 

“You’re such a dweeb, Xander,” Buffy muttered before she got up and walked over to the nearby fridge, from which she pulled out a small plate with some sliced bacon on it and walked back.  “Here you go, Duke,” she said softly as she set the plate down in front of the dog that wagged his tail happily and proceeded to munch away.

 

“Gee, I wish you’d take care of me like that more often,” Steve joked lightly as he wiped some caked blood from Buffy’s arms, causing the Chosen One to momentarily flash a pout.

 

“Well, if you want me to serve you Kibble ‘N Bits in a little doggie tray, I can always do that,” the Chosen One said with a smart-assed smile despite her fatigue.  Steve tried to frown for a moment before he chuckled and shook his head.

 

“Wow, for a moment I thought Lame-O and the boys were actually going to act like gentlemen tonight,” Cordelia muttered quietly with a bit of her usual snarkiness, as Xander plied the wet cloth from his face.

 

“Hey, I happen to be in the room here,” Xander shot back as he glared at Cordelia. “And yeah, I guess we all decided to act like grown men and coddle all of you, instead of just taking advantage of you in your present state by whacking you over the head with clubs and dragging you back to our caves like Neanderthals. Wonders never cease, huh?”

 

The brunette Amazon narrowed her eyes at the X-Man for a moment before they grew gentle. “I was joking, Xander,” she said softly.

 

“Yeah, I know,” Xander said quietly as he gently caressed her cheek then wiped some of the grime off of her tender skin.  “I’m glad you’re okay, hon.”

 

Oz soaked his cloth with more water from the bowl that sat nearby and proceeded to wipe down some dried blood and filth that matted Willow’s normally vibrant, crimson hair.  “Will?”

 

The Amazon Wicca blinked twice and turned to look at her werewolf boyfriend. “Huh?”

 

“You okay?  You kinda look…I don’t know.”  The werewolf shrugged “Spacey.”

 

“Spacey?”

 

“Yeah…like you’re staring off into space or something.”

 

“Oh, yeah, spacey.  But not like outer-spacey, or anything like that.  More like spacing out, right?”  The Amazon Wicca paused for a bit then spoke in a hushed voice.  “I guess…I don’t know, that whole thing where me, Amy and Cordy got possessed by…by the Amazon Queens.  It felt really…weird.  But then it didn’t.  Um, did that make any sense?”

 

“It totally wigged me out,” Cordy blurted.  “I mean it was like something had taken me over…but for a moment, it felt like someone I knew, or should have known, and for some reason after that I didn’t feel wigged at all.”  The tall brunette shook her head.  “Until now that is.”

 

Amy stared off into space as Giles quietly tended to her scratches before a realization hit her with such force she was nearly jolted from her seat.  “Wait…I remember a name…Hippolyta.  That was the name of the…one that possessed me.  But she was an Amazon Queen, wasn’t she?”

 

Giles paused from his task of tending Amy and scratched his chin thoughtfully for a moment.  “Yes, if I remember correctly. So were Andromache and Ephiny.  But I wonder what that means, because Jenny seemed to—” His musings were cut short when the tea kettle on the stove let out a high whistle.  “Ah, excuse me.”  The Englishman went over to the kitchen and began to lay out a tray with fine china cups and saucers.

 

#

 

As he stood by the stove, he heard a noise behind him.  He glanced over his shoulder and saw his Slayer standing in the entrance to the kitchen with a strange expression on her face.

 

“Buffy?” he prodded gently.

 

A sob was torn from her throat as she launched herself into her Watcher’s arms.  “Oh, Giles!  I was so scared!  That Hack-mutt thingy almost killed you!”

 

Holding her tightly against his chest, he gave her a big hug, too. Buffy was taken aback for a moment.   Giles had never been much for hugging, but she quickly got into the spirit of it. It felt wonderful to hug him. As he grunted a little she pulled back. She didn't think she'd hugged him that hard.

Giles took a small step back and put a hand on her cheek. His face was so close to hers. For a weird moment, Buffy thought he might kiss her. He never got this close unless he was looking at a wound, or well, actually, never. She was unprepared for the emotions it engendered in her, apprehension, the whole ‘Twilight Zone’ surreal thing, and the sensation she was the most unprepared for, some unexpected butterflies in her stomach. But Giles simply smiled. "I’m all right now, Buffy.  I was very frightened that his minions would have killed you, too.  I am so glad that you proved to be more than a match for him.”

 

Buffy scoffed at that.  “Are you kidding me, Giles?  Tonight, until Jenny became…whatever it was she’d become, you were our heavy hitter.  You almost had him on the ropes with your bad-ass mojo, British guy!  You were like a god!” she breathed.

 

He blushed and glanced down shyly at the floor.  “Well, let’s just say that watching you perform your duties so splendidly inspired me.  Thank you for defending me from his minions while I fought against him." Then he hugged her again.

Again Buffy dealt with dual emotions, acute relief and a vague sense of disappointment. She shrugged them both off and just hugged him again. Just then, they heard someone from the living room bellow for some tea and this time when he backed away he backed completely away. “W-well, I suppose we had better serve our friends some nice hot tea.”  Then he filled several of the cups with steaming water, placed them on a tray, and carried them toward the living room. 

 

Buffy watched him go and muttered lowly, "Wow, I just bogarted some major hugs from my Watcher while his honey, who was kidnapped and almost used by a demon for unspeakable acts, is taking a bath upstairs with his old girlfriend and trying to recover from almost being violated.  That’s it; I SO have bought a ticket on the ‘express train to Hell’ for this…"

 

#

 

Patty gently, yet firmly, moved Sergio’s hand away from her face from where he’d been tending to her, and motioned for him to sit. “Okay guys, look, I don’t mean to interrupt or come off like a bitch…”

 

“Too late,” Sergio blurted out, before Patty glared at him and slapped him upside the head, hard.

 

“Now you know how I feel, Serg, my man,” Xander said.  “The truth unfortunately does hurt sometimes…OW!” He yelped as Cordelia slapped him upside the head as well.

 

“No kidding,” Queen C muttered.

 

“As I was saying,” Patty muttered, after glaring at Sergio who rubbed the back of his head.  “You all said you were gonna explain all this crazy, wacky, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ crap to me.  So, now that we’re all nice and comfy...” Then the dark Irish girl gestured toward the Slayerettes for emphasis and waited for an answer.

 

For several moments she heard nothing except the gentle patter of the rain.  Indeed, if it hadn’t been raining, there might have been crickets chirping.

 

The tall brunette Amazon threw up her hands in defeat.  “Okay, fine!  Guess I’m the one who has to take the bull by the horns…again.  Figures!  God, you guys are SO lame.” Then Cordelia looked Patty straight in the eye.  “Okay Patty, it’s sort of like this.  You know those silly movies where they have the supposedly scary-looking slasher guys with the huge knives chase down the big-breasted girls and hack them to pieces—”

 

“Cordy, we are SO not getting a cool visual with that,” Buffy growled.

 

“Look, I was just getting to the important stuff, okay, Little-Miss-Likes-To-Fight?” Cordelia retorted.  “I’m just trying to put everything in an easy to understand format…”

 

“By that you mean we still can’t take you anywhere, Tactless Girl,” Willow said with a groan before she turned to Patty.  “Okay, really it’s like this.  Um, okay it’s sort of like where you have the scary-looking guys that try to chop other people into little pieces; we come along shortly after and chop the scary-looking guys into little pieces and save the day,” she announced brightly just before she noticed the disturbed looks on everyone’s faces.  “Okay, maybe Cordy should handle the explanations,” she muttered.

 

Amy groaned as her head fell and hit the coffee table with a resounding “thunk”.  “Augh, you guys…enough already!”  She then glanced up and went over to where Patty sat.  Amy knelt down and took Patty’s hands in her own, looked deeply into her childhood friend’s eyes, and drew a long breath.  “Patty, this is how it is:  I’m a witch.  I come from a long line of witches who were born with their magical powers.  However, I’m not the only witch here.  Willow and Jenny are witches, too.  Plus we’re Amazons as well, including Cordelia, meaning that we’re wicked strong and agile and are kinda like living weapons.  We can kick ass with swords, guns and whatever else we can put our mitts on. Oh, and Buffy’s a Slayer.  She slays vampires and other things that go bump in the night. She’s kinda like an Amazon, only tougher I think, and Giles is her Watcher.  He’s basically a guy who…watches her, not in a creepy, stalker-guy way, but in a good way!  Steve is an ex-Special Forces commando guy who carries a really big sword.  We let him think he’s one of our team leaders and he hunts lots of demons, too.  Some folks call him the Wanderer.  And Oz and Xander…well, Xander gained some of the memories of a super soldier guy and Oz is basically a werewolf.  You know, the kind that changes under the full moon and has fur and big teeth, that sort of thing.  But most of the time they serve as the comedy relief….”

 

“HEY!”

 

Amy fought hard to repress a smirk at Oz’s and Xander’s outburst, before she took another breath and looked into Patty’s green eyes, which had grown even bigger and rounder (if that were possible) as she’d listened to Amy’s speech.  “So, that’s it…all in a nutshell.  Um, does that help?”

 

Patty said nothing for several moments before a little “eep” sound was squeezed from her throat.

 

“I don’t think it helped,” Buffy deadpanned.

 

Madre de Dios…we’re in the freaking Twilight Zone,” Sergio whispered.  Meanwhile, Patty’s face was beginning to turn a slight shade of crimson from a lack of oxygen.

 

“Patty…Pat?”  The tall raven haired girl refocused on the worried face of her blonde friend. “Your face is turning a little red…I think you might wanna breathe.”  After another moment passed, Patty finally drew in a long breath then exhaled…before she jerked her hands away from Amy.

 

“Amy, with all due respect, I don’t think it helped that you just practically babbled everything to a pair of civilians about who we are and what we do,” St. Wolf said in a stern tone.

 

“Steve?”  The Wanderer looked over to his blonde companion, the Slayer, who shot an annoyed glare at him.  “Just back off and chill out, okay?”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“I said…chill.”  Buffy leaned in closer as she continued to glare at her boyfriend.  “Now.”  St. Wolf looked ready to retort before he noticed the looks from the other Slayerettes, especially Giles, who was regarding him with his patented “Ripper” glare.  His thoughts drifting back to what the Slayer’s Watcher had told him earlier tonight, the Wanderer reluctantly nodded.

 

“This is, I mean, this is so…way…freaking…NUTS!”  Patty yelped, standing up nearly on her tiptoes as she continued to stare wide-eyed at nearly everyone in the room.  From whence she’d nearly forgotten to breathe a moment ago, the brunette beauty’s chest was now beginning to heave rapidly.  “This is just fucking crazy! You’re telling me that you guys are practically all freaking super heroes with guns and stuff, and you hunt vampires and demons and shit?!”

 

“More or less,” Oz said with his usual “Zen” tone. “Except no one here wears spandex…as far as I know anyway.”

 

“And…and those guys that kidnapped us, the cowboy wannabes at the Espresso Pump, they were all really vampires?”

 

“Well, they weren’t exactly gang members on PCP,” Willow offered.

 

Sergio continued to dart his now saucer-wide eyes back and forth at everyone from where he sat, while Patty appeared almost wooden in her posture as she stood and gazed at everyone, the color draining from her face.  “I…I think I really need to sit down,” she whispered.  Before she could protest, Amy along with Sergio got up and gently helped her sit down.

 

A visibly concerned Giles quickly picked up two steaming cups of chamomile tea from the serving tray nearby and walked over to the young couple with them, the fine china cups on the serving plates making a slight tinkling noise.  “Here, both of you.  Please drink this, it’ll help calm you down.”  Patty and Sergio each warily stared at the steaming cups that Giles offered, before cautiously taking them.  The two stared at the cups for a moment, the distinctive aroma rising up to meet their noses before they looked at the Watcher, who smiled reassuringly.  “I, ah, can assure you there’re no drugs of any sort in them, just chamomile; it’s good for calming the nerves.”  Something in the Englishman’s voice felt honest and reassuring to the young couple, who then brought the hot steaming cups to their lips and sipped.

 

“Hey, Giles.” The Watcher turned to look at the Slayer, who was now sprawled on the couch next to the Wanderer. “Why don’t you tell Patty and Sergio that really long, drawn out, boring…er…I mean that really neat, fascinating, super cool speech about the 'one girl in all the world who’s Chosen,' ‘kay?” Buffy asked sweetly.  Giles took a moment to pointedly glare at his young charge, although if one looked closely enough, they could have seen the twinkle in Giles’ soft green eyes before he turned back to Patty and Sergio, who both looked at him questionably.

 

“Ah, y-yes,” The Englishman stammered as he scratched the back of his head with his hand.  “You see, Patricia, Sergio, there have actually been vampires, demons, and other creatures of darkness that have threatened humanity’s existence, and indeed at times nearly overrun the Earth, since the Dawn of Man.  And there has been one girl, the Chosen One, the Slayer, who…” His speech was interrupted by a chorus of fake snores.  “Yes, very amusing,” the Watcher noted with an exasperated sigh.  Even Patty and Sergio couldn’t help but chuckle a little.

 

Buffy awoke from her mock slumber to smirk at the librarian. “Sorry, Giles, guess we couldn’t help ourselves.” 

 

He returned her smirk with one of his own.  “Please…do try harder, won’t you?”

 

She grinned at him before she turned to Patty and Sergio with a more serious expression on her face.  “Basically, it’s like Giles said.  There’s been demons and vampires and who-knows-what-else for as long as anyone can remember, so, to fix the little problem, the Powers That Be, or whoever, decided that they would have a young girl, one in all the world, called the Slayer who would be granted super strength, super agility, super hearing, blah blah blah to kick the demon’s butts and save the world. Sort of like Supergirl…um, except there’s no red cape and miniskirt or anything…”

 

“Well, in Buffy’s case there are miniskirts, thankfully,” Xander noted, earning a nasty glare from Cordelia.

 

After shooting her own glare at the youth, the little blonde went on.  “And so basically this Chosen One gets stuck walking around in graveyards, staking vampires and saving the world from demons and such.  Kinda like a job, only you don’t get paid for it, which sucks.  But what sucks even more is that you get Chosen for it.  It’s not exactly a choice.  When a Slayer dies….which, um, tends to happen a little too often to suit me, another one gets Chosen….and as of right now, it’s me…sorta.  Except that I did die, uh, sorta, and now there’s another Slayer, but technically, I’m still the Chosen One…which is sorta confusing I know, but, that’s another story.”  Noting the confused looks by Patty and Sergio, and the perturbed look from her Watcher and Steve, the Slayer pantomimed a “zipping” motion along her mouth with her thumb and index finger.  “And I’ll stop now.”

 

“Man…just when I thought I’d seen and heard everything in New York,” Sergio muttered as he slumped lower in his seat.

 

Patty sighed.  “No shit.”  She then shivered slightly despite the warmth of the house’s interior.  “God, that…that serpent guy, when he hypnotized me or whatever, it was like he was completely inside my head, controlling my thoughts and everything.  But the worst thing was…it was like I wanted to do everything that he said.”  Patty shuddered again before she looked at Amy with guilt, her eyes beginning to glisten with tears.  “Oh god, Amy.  I…I even tried to kill you!”

 

Amy’s own eyes misted over as she immediately got up and pulled her friend into a loving hug.  “Patty, hush, it wasn’t your fault,” she said in a choked whisper. “It was that snake demon bastard thingy; he did some really powerful mojo on you.  But it’s over now.  Goddess, I nearly lost you.  But you and Sergio are here now, and nothing else is gonna happen to you two tonight. I promise, okay? I’m just so sorry that I’ve been hiding all of this from you.  I was so scared…that if I’d told you what was really going on, you’d think I was crazy and leave me, or you’d get hurt.  And…and you’re one of the few true friends I’ve got.”

 

Patty pulled back and saw the tears that had trickled down Amy’s cheek.  The blonde Amazon witch noticed that Patty’s cheeks were moist as well.  “Amy,” Patty said softly as she gently brushed the tears from her friend’s lovely face, “don’t worry about that, okay?  You, along with everyone else here, came through the fire and saved both mine and Sergio’s asses tonight.  I owe you my life. You’re one of the few true friends I’ve got too, and that’s never gonna change.  I promise.”  And with that the two embraced and rocked each other gently, sobbing quietly.

 

A few moments passed before Xander, the Master of Inane Speech, broke the silence.  “Wow, if we could only add some of that hokey porno music, a bed with silk sheets, and a video camera, this would be a moment to cherish for all eternity!”  All the other people in the room glared at the youth for a moment before everyone eventually chuckled softly, even Amy and Patty, who eventually stepped back and quickly wiped their cheeks after feeling a little embarrassed.

 

“So, if it’s okay for me to ask,” Sergio piped up cautiously, “What’s gonna happen to us now?”

 

“Well,” Steve drawled, “there are two options, actually.  One is that, you simply go on with your lives, with a clear understanding, of course, that you will not under any circumstances tell anyone what you have witnessed tonight, or what you know about us for that matter.  And I mean anyone…that includes any of your other friends, family, relatives, etc.  What’s been said here tonight stays here. We don’t like drawing civilians like yourselves into the crossfire, but unfortunately, as I’m sure you’ve seen, that has a tendency to happen.”

 

Patty felt a bit of apprehension as she asked the inevitable question. “What’s the other option?”

 

“The other option,” Steve went on, “is that we can arrange to have either the witches perform a spell on you and Sergio, or have Layla use her psychic abilities to basically erase all your memories of what happened tonight, and of what you know.  Basically, things will be the same as they were before, except you’ll know nothing about who we really are or what’s going on.”  The Wanderer glanced momentarily at each other member of the Scooby gang, getting a visual read of what each of them said in their facial expressions, before turning back to the couple.  “The choice is yours.  But you need to decide now.”

 

Sergio blinked.  “Oh…so, you’re not gonna just drug us, or kill us or whatever…?”

 

The Wanderer glared at the young man with a faint hint of annoyance.  “Well, if you’d prefer it that way…”

 

The Puerto Rican quickly held up his hands.  “Whoa, hey, just asking.”

 

Patty and Sergio turned and gazed into each other’s eyes for a long moment, not saying anything…until Patty broke the silence.

 

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

 

“Yeah, I think so.”

 

The lovely brunette nodded then turned back to the Slayerettes.  “Well, speaking for myself, I’m going to just…go with the first option.”

 

The Wanderer narrowed his eyes momentarily.  “You’re sure?”

 

Patty nodded resolutely.  “Positive.”

 

“A-are you quite certain about this, Patricia?” Giles asked in a concerned tone.  “I-I mean, I know that what the two of you have experienced tonight is perhaps quite traumatizing, to say the least.”

 

“Y’know, much as I hate to admit it, Giles has a point,” Buffy spoke up in a serious tone, no longer flippant.  “You really don’t need to know about all this.  I mean, I’m sure that—“

 

“Buffy, Mr. Giles, everyone…really, it’s okay,” Patty said, cutting them off.  She then rolled her eyes momentarily.  “Alright, I guess it’s not quite so ‘okay’.  I guess Sergio and I are both just a little freaked out to say the least that there are actually vampires, and demons, and boogeymen, and god-knows-what-else out there.  But…at least I know now, anyway, that there’s freaking superheroes out there fighting this crazy shit as well.”  Her eyes softened considerably as she went on. “And, at the risk of sounding hokey…they’re people I know and trust.  They’re my friends.  And they all came through tonight to save both my ass and Sergio’s.  I don’t wanna forget that, ever.  I don’t wanna pretend not knowing that my friends are actually heroes that are out saving the world, or whatever.  Because…that makes us, or at least makes me, feel better knowing that you guys are actually doing that, doing something that I don’t think most other people could do, really.”  She graced them all with a beautiful, earnest smile, her eyes just slightly moist.  “I don’t ever wanna lose that.”

 

Everyone else in the room, save Sergio, quietly contemplated what Patty had said, feeling a genuine sense of warmth from Patty’s sincere expression of what she felt, before they turned to regard the young Puerto Rican, who gave them all a nod.

 

“I’m with her,” he said softly.  “And she pretty much said everything I felt.  All I can say is, I wish my grandfather Rafael was here.” He shook his head.  “I know you said we can’t tell anyone, but he would have LOVED hearing about all this.”

 

Willow looked at Sergio curiously. “Your grandfather?”

 

“Oh yeah, he used to tell me all these crazy pulp-like stories about a group of mystery men he’d sometimes run around with during World War Two called the Liberty Brigade or something, and…uh, sorry, didn’t mean to go off there.  Long story, I’ll tell you later sometime,” the young man finished quickly.

 

After a quiet moment, Xander spoke up, “Sooo, now that everything’s worked out, who’s up for some chips n’ dip?”

 

Cordelia glared at her boyfriend, before a naughty smile spread across her beautiful face.  “I’ve got some dip, Lame-O,” she drawled before she took the bowl of water next to her and dunked it over Xander’s head.  The impetuous youth yelped as everyone broke into a round of amused laughter.

 

#

 

After a while, everyone had showered or bathed and wore either changes of clothes or bathrobes.  They all were situated around the main living room, cups of hot chocolate, coffee and tea in their hands.  Satisfied that everyone was comfortable, the Wanderer cleared his throat noisily. “Alright, so I guess we all still have one matter to discuss tonight, and I’m sure we know what that is.” He turned and pointedly gazed at Jenny, who sat on one of the couches, cuddled next to Giles with a hot cup of coffee in her hands.  “Jenny, we don’t mean to pry, but I think we need to know exactly what happened tonight out there.  I mean, I’ve seen some pretty crazy and powerful magic before, but I don’t think I’ve seen much that could quite top what you pulled off tonight.  Care to explain?”

 

Jenny noticed everyone looking at her with curious expressions, before she glanced at her beloved Englishman, who gently rubbed her shoulder and nodded quietly.  Emitting a sigh, she placed her coffee cup on the table and gently cleared her throat.  “I…think it’s safe to say it’s been quite a night for everyone, so I’ll try to explain this as best I can.”

 

“Actually, perhaps it would be better if I were to explain, Jennifer,” a gentle yet husky voice offered.  Everyone looked toward where the voice had originated from, immediately on guard despite their fatigue, only to see none other than the Greek Goddess of the Hunt and Moon, Artemis herself. 

 

Each of the Amazons, including Buffy made as though to stand up and bow in her presence, but the Greek Goddess gently motioned for them to be still.  “No, please, do not rise, my daughters,” the Goddess said.  She smiled gently when she saw the worried looks on their faces.  All except Jenny, who smiled a knowing, mysterious smile.  “It is all right.  I know how exhausted you all are this evening, for indeed you should be after such a heroic battle.”  Her eternal eyes swept the room and regarded Jericho, who stared at her with a slightly apprehensive look, Layla who regarded her with a look of both surprise and respect, and Patty and Sergio, who were both clearly shocked by this new development.  The Greek Goddess smiled and winked at them before turning her gaze back to her Chosen.

 

“It is not you who should bow to me this evening, daughters,” she continued softly, before she bowed lowly to her Chosen.  “Rather, it is I this night who bows to each of you. Tonight you have shown many that you are, indeed, more than worthy of being my Amazons. It has been long since I have seen such feats of compassion, honor, and bravery, and you have all displayed those traits tonight.  Truly,” she said softly, her eyes showing her emotions clearly, “you have made me very, very proud of you all.  And I am honored to consider you as my Chosen.”  Her words were spoken with such sincerity and unvarnished conviction that each of the Amazons felt themselves begin to tear up.

 

The Greek Goddess then carefully regarded each of the other members of the room, particularly Giles and Layla, who both quickly and quietly cleared their throats.  “And I would also like to say I am very impressed and proud of the courage and bravery shown by your friends as well.  Truly, you have all demonstrated that you are indeed more than worthy to be considered my daughter’s chosen battle-mates.  But now, as I am certain everyone is aware, you witnessed the incredible power that Jennifer wielded tonight.  And I am certain you are also aware that my faithful Amazon Battle-Queens of old, Hippolyta, Andromache, and Ephiny, aided you in the battle as well.”  Several of the Slayerettes nodded in response, their brows furrowed in curiosity as to where this was leading.  The Goddess nodded majestically in kind before continuing.  “I would like to put any fears you may have had to rest.  Jennifer is still indeed one of my Chosen.  However, I have also selected her for another…special purpose as well.  I have chosen her as my earthly vessel on this plane…my Avatar.”

 

The collective sound of jaws hitting the floor could almost be heard as they stared momentarily in shock at both Artemis and Jenny, who warmly regarded the Huntress.  The deity smiled and gently held the gypsy’s hand in her own before she went on.  “Just as each of you, my daughters, and worshippers,” she indicated to Buffy with a smile, “are connected to me, Jennifer is connected to me as well.  However she now also bears the seed of my essence.  In time, it is an essence that will be used to usher in a new dawn.  That is, of course, in time,” she emphasized cryptically.  “In time, the Amazon Nation will be mighty indeed, and, there will be, I hope, one who shall rule as Queen,” the Goddess finished, with a momentary look of sadness in her eyes, as though an old, melancholy memory had intruded into her thoughts.  The Goddess appeared to shake it off while everyone else looked completely stunned and floored by this revelation, before Artemis’s gaze fell on Patty.  The girl became a little more nervous when she noticed that the Goddess of the Hunt was looking at her.

 

“And there is, I admit, another matter to which I have come here tonight,” she spoke softly.  She strode proudly over to where Patty sat and continued to regard her with her soft, unblinking deep brown eyes.  Patty gulped and nervously rose from her couch, while Sergio watched, clearly concerned.

 

“Um, look, just so you know, if you really are who you say you are, ahhhh…oh shit, what am I supposed to say?” Patty babbled nervously.  “Umm, I got nothing against your daughters, okay?  Amy’s my best friend.  I admit I’m a little floored by all of this, I mean it’s not exactly something you see every day, but—“

 

The Huntress’s eyes twinkled with amusement before she laughed softly, a lilting tone that carried throughout the house.  “Patricia, I bear no ill will whatsoever toward either you or Sergio.  In fact, I simply wished to tell you how very proud I am that the two of you have chosen to remain by my daughter’s side and be her friend and confidante in these trying times.”

 

“Oh, really?”  Patty’s face blushed slightly as she relaxed.  “Oh, well, um…thanks.”  Her face fell then as she muttered, “Not that I guess that really means much though.  It’s not like I or Sergio really helped at all during the fight.  We’re just basically your average people-in-distress, y’know.”

 

“Indeed.  That however…can change.”  The Goddess added, smiling mysteriously.

 

Patty blinked.  “Uh, come again?”

 

“I mean to say that you can, if you wish, become more than a mere, ‘damsel in distress’, as it were,” the Goddess said cryptically.

 

“Whoa.”  The tall brunette’s eyes widened considerably when she began to realize what Artemis was suggesting.  “You’re not…nuh-uh, no way…are you serious?”

 

“Yes,” the Goddess said with utmost sincerity as she regarded the lovely raven-haired girl.  “I wish to extend the same offer of sisterhood that I granted to Jennifer, Cordelia, Amy and Willow.  I wish to offer you the honor of becoming one of my New Amazons.”

 

Patty’s face slowly turned into something resembling a large letter O. “An Amazon”, she squeaked, “Me?”

 

The Goddess smiled and nodded.

 

Patty blinked before drawing a deep breath. “Oh boy,” she whispered.

 

Everyone else was quiet for a moment before Xander couldn’t help himself and broke the silence.  “Patty an Amazon…the mind boggles.  Say, Patty, by chance do you like to wear leather?  Because if you become an Amazon, maybe you can convince all these chicks to—OOF!” He nearly doubled over as Cordelia elbowed him in the ribs while Sergio shot him a deathly glare.

 

Ignoring Xander’s outburst, Patty stared off into space for a moment, completely floored by what the Goddess had offered to her.  She, Patricia Driscoll, an ordinary Sunnydale resident, become an ass-kicking superheroine, an Amazon?  She then searched the faces of her friends, especially Amy, her eyes begging the question.  What if she were to say, yes?

 

Amy regarded her friend warmly and shrugged.  “It…it’s really up to you Patty.  I mean, I think I speak for everyone here; we’d love to have you with us.  Hell, I know I would.”

 

“Well, DUH!” Cordelia spoke up. “Of course we’d love to have you with us, Patty. I mean, I wouldn’t consider us a clique or anything.  I’m still trying to teach these losers on proper fashion etiquette,” she indicated the other women with a wave of her hand, ignoring the raised eyebrows directed her way. “But you could always assist me with that,” she finished with a smirk before she became serious.  “But really, all that superficial stuff aside, you’re an okay girl, Patty, and I’d love to regard you as a sister. Just uh, don’t start babbling that to everyone…other than these losers, anyway.”

 

Willow regarded Cordelia with surprise before she turned to look at Patty.  “I guess the world must be really getting weird for me to say I actually agree with Cordy, sorta.  You’re one of the few girls who’s ever been nice to us, Patty.  You’re not at all superficial like some of those other, you know, girls…”

 

“Like me?” Cordelia inquired with a raised eyebrow and a wry expression.

 

Willow glared at the brunette Amazon somewhat before replying.  “Well, no, not anymore.  Not mostly anyway,” she added with a wink to which Queen C tossed a mock frown.    The little red witch turned back to Patty again and continued.  “But basically, yeah, it’d be cool to have you with us!  You get cool powers and get to kick bad guy’s butts and save the day! Just except that we don’t wear spandex, like Oz said.”

 

“Which is truly a crime,” Xander added, before noticing the deathly glare from Cordelia and wisely decided to shut up.

 

Jenny’s face broke into a beautiful smile as an amused chuckle escaped her lips.  “Good point with the spandex, Willow,” she purred and received a smirk from the little red witch in reply.  She then looked at Patty earnestly.  “Well, it’s not any little thing, Patty.  There’s a lot of commitment involved in this, and there’s a lot of danger and risk too, which I think you’re pretty aware of after what happened tonight.  But this is your call, it’s up to you.”

 

Patty thought for a long moment…and finally came to her decision.  “I…I’m sorry.  I can’t do this.” She gulped again before looking the Huntress squarely in the eyes.  “I can’t be an Amazon.”

 

The Huntress regarded Patty for a long moment before nodding in reply.  “I see,” she noted softly.

 

The beautiful brunette licked her own lips nervously for a moment before continuing.  “Wait, that’s now how I mean it.  I mean…okay, I admit, part of me would love to be an ass-kicking superheroine like your daughters, or Chosen, or whatever, but truthfully,” she took a deep breath and let it out before continuing, “I just don’t know if I could go through with that kind of commitment, especially after everything Sergio and I saw tonight.  But it’s not just that; I’ve got a mom and a kid brother to look after.  What about them?  I mean, how would I be able to explain all this to them, would they get caught in the crossfire?  I couldn’t live with myself if they did.”  Patty let her eyes fall downward for a moment, thinking of what else, if anything she wanted to say, before she brought up her eyes to look into the Greek Goddess’s timeless brown orbs.  “I…I know this must be a disappointment to you, but I wouldn’t feel right about it if I did accept, and still had doubts about it.  I wouldn’t want to put you or your daughters in an uncomfortable position, or fear that I might become a liability.  So…that’s my answer.  Again, I’m sorry.”

 

Patty at that moment almost felt certain that the Olympian was going to throw a tantrum and fry her with a lightning bolt or something, but she wasn’t quite prepared when the Huntress instead smiled benignly at the girl and gently clasped her shoulders.  “Patricia,” she said softly in her warm, husky voice, “There is no reason whatsoever for you to be sorry.  You made your decision not due to cowardice, but by your own conscience.  And you have shown your own sense of selflessness and bravery by choosing to stand by and support my Chosen.  That, in and of itself, is more than I could ever hope to expect from many. I understand your reasons, Patricia, and accept your decision.  However, know that my offer always stands, and should you ever reconsider, call out my name, and I shall answer.”  The Goddess’s eyes then twinkled.  “Or, if you ever wish to talk to me about anything, you may always call out my name then as well.”  The Huntress then squeezed Patty’s shoulders warmly in a gesture of friendship, bringing a nod from the dark-haired beauty who now felt an obvious sense of relief, before she sat down again beside Sergio.  The young Hispanic’s own face seemed to momentarily hold an expression of disappointment, but seemed to chase that off when he gently clasped Patty’s hand in her own and gave her a supportive smile.

 

The Huntress nodded to herself, apparently satisfied that everything was settled, at least for now.  She then turned to what appeared to be the empty air beside her and smiled before asking, “So…what do you think of my New Amazons, sister?”

 

“Sister?” Willow asked in confusion.

 

Before the eyes of everyone in the living room, the air beside Artemis began to shimmer into a shower of golden sparkles, before it slowly began to coalesce into a humanoid form.  A moment later, everyone nearly gasped as they beheld the dark-skinned form of an incredibly beautiful and exotic woman before them.  The woman was dressed in resplendent gold finery, adorned by a large jewel-encrusted winged scarab beetle that was wrapped around her waist. Twinkling golden jewelry sinuously accented her arms and legs.  Her silky raven hair fell down around her lovely face and past her shoulders, as she stood in a relaxed, yet sultry pose flanked by several black cats that meowed and purred affectionately, rubbing against her legs.  Another cat was draped across her shoulders; it lazily regarded the house’s occupants with its slit, golden eyes before letting out a slight meow of its own, causing the woman to raise a hand and stroke its fur affectionately. 

 

Two things about this woman, however, left nearly everyone stunned except Layla, who had fallen to her knees and bowed deeply to the beautiful entity.  The woman’s eyes were like those of a cat’s; two golden, shimmering orbs with slit pupils that seemed to have a powerful hypnotic affect on anyone that looked into them.  The Amazons and the Slayer along with Patty felt transfixed, mesmerized and unable to look away from the woman’s potent gaze…

 

The other was that she wore nothing across her ample bosom.  Her perfect breasts were in full view literally, for all to see…which drew a round of wide-eyed stares from all the red-blooded males in the room, including Giles.  The males in the room blinked several times before noticing the narrow-eyed glares from most of the women and coughed, turning a slight shade of red. 

 

The Greek Goddess seemed to notice all this and cast a wry expression at the woman besides her, who seemed to shrug rather casually as though being partially naked in front of several men and women meant nothing to her.

 

“Lady Goddess,” Layla whispered reverently as she continued to bow toward the exotic woman before her.

 

“Rise, daughter,” the female deity commanded softly in an elegantly accented voice.  Layla did so, her dark green eyes sharing an enthralled look with the deity’s golden catlike orbs, before the dark woman gently caressed her hair and stroked her cheek.  The Frenchwoman closed her eyes and sighed in arousal at the woman’s touch, before the deity withdrew her hand and Layla’s eyes opened again.  After regarding each other again as though telepathically, Layla made another short, respectful bow and then went to her seat.

 

“Amazons, Slayer, friends,” Artemis announced with a graceful indication from her hands, “allow me to introduce one of my fellow moon sisters; Bast, Egyptian Goddess of the Moon and Rising Sun, Fertility and Felines, Daughter and Avenger of Ra.”

 

As the Slayerettes and their friends took in this new presence, the Egyptian Goddess nodded majestically.  “Greetings, Chosen of Artemis, Immortal Slayer, Wanderer, and friends,” she noted regally in her accented voice.  “I am honored to accompany my fellow moon sister, Artemis, to your home.  Allow me to also say that I am deeply honored as well, to witness such displays of courage and tenacity in such a ferocious battle against one of the Sisterhood’s most ancient foes. I thank you as well, for allowing one of my own Chosen, my priestess Layla Constantin, to battle alongside you in such a titanic struggle.  Although, of course, it would not be the first time,” she added cryptically with a wink, bringing raised eyebrows from the Amazons and a mysterious smile from Artemis.

 

The cat on the Egyptian Goddess’s shoulder made another small meow before it stood and hopped off to the ground, joining the other sleek, shiny coal-black felines nestling around her feet.  The cats then all seemed to look in unison over to where the Guardian Duke was watching the events, with a wary look in his canine eyes.  The cats almost seemed to smile before purring softly in his direction...causing the Guardian to whimper and run underneath one of the couches.

 

“Pardon my felines…they are, how shall I say, in heat at the moment,” Bast added with a wry smile.  “And speaking of which, I am pleased that you have been taking good care of the other Guardian felines, the ones that you refer to as Ariel, Patches, Harriet, and Salem.  Although, I believe they would prefer some more milk in their saucers…and less tunafish,” she added, causing several of the Slayerettes to blink.

 

“But, as I was saying,” she continued, “you have all impressed me very much this evening…to the extent that I would like to extend an invitation to you, Chosen of Artemis, as well as you, Elizabeth Anne Summers.”  The girls looked somewhat hesitant, waiting to see what the Goddess had in mind.  “There are many sacred places both in plain view and hidden within the ancient sands of Egypt. One of these places is my Sacred Temple, hidden from the world of man.  There, my Chosen, priestesses and worshippers alike are...how shall I say, instructed in the most sacred arts of fertility, pleasure, seduction, and sensuality.  Indeed,” she drawled with a seductive smile, “many of the world’s most beautiful women may be found in my temple, where they undergo initiation to become among the most irresistible seductresses in existence.  That is my offer to you, Amazons and friends.  If ever, at any time in your lives, you wish to become initiated in the finer arts of lust and life, call on me or my Chosen, such as my priestess Layla, and there I and my priestesses shall introduce you to a world where all forms of passion is permitted, and nothing is forbidden.”

 

“Er…nothing?”  Buffy asked, wide-eyed.

 

Layla looked over at the Slayer and smiled affectionately. “The Lady speaks the truth, Buffy.  The Sacred Temple of Bast is a place where all forms of passion and sensuality are explored.  Nothing is forbidden.”

 

The Slayer, along with some of the other Amazons, noticeably gulped.

 

The Egyptian Goddess chuckled to herself with a faint hint of amusement along with Artemis.  “That is my offer to you all.  Of course, that is not all.”  Her catlike eyes continued to enthrall the mortal inhabitants of the room, as she drew them in with her seductive gaze. “I may, how shall I say, reward each of you in some…other manner at some point in time, as well…”

 

“STOP RIGHT THERE, ‘SISTER’!!!”

 

The Slayerettes looked around in confusion while Artemis appeared to pinch the bridge of her nose and sigh in resignation.  Bast’s expression changed from seductive to frosty in a split second as, right beside her, another shower of golden sparkles appeared, this time morphing into the image of a lovely blonde woman who wore a revealing silk negligee that left little to the imagination, along with a tremendous scowl on her face.

 

“Aphrodite,” Bast drawled with a tone that was so cold, one could almost see the frosty vapors exiting from her mouth.  The cats nestled around her feet glared at the new arrival and made audible hisses of their own.

 

Aphrodite, on the other hand, appeared to be so boiling mad one could have fried an egg on her forehead. “Just what do you think you’re up to, Bast?” She hissed with her hands on hips.  “Now, if you wanna go and invite Arty’s Chosen to your little shindig temple, that’s fine.  But don’t start getting any wise ideas and offering any additional ‘freebies’ to these girls.  That’s MY domain, buster!”

 

“Shindig temple?” Bast asked with a noticeable hiss, her frosty expression giving way to a dark, nasty look.  “My ‘shindig temple’, as you would call it, is more lovely than anything YOU could ever hope to have, Aphrodite.”

 

The Greek Goddess of Love snickered loudly.  “Oh, PUH-lease!  It seems you’re just a tad desperate to attract some more poor suckers to your place.  I mean, ‘porting in here with your double D’s out and bobbing everywhere for the whole world to see?  Sounds like someone’s trying a ‘leetle’ too hard if you ask me,” she added, making a squishing motion with her thumb and forefinger for evidence.

 

Bast looked ready to literally pounce on Aphrodite like a panther, before her eyes and lips drew into a wicked smile.  “Not necessarily, I just tend to believe that one should feel free to display their ‘assets’ naturally and for all to see, without shame or discomfort.  But what about you, hmmm?”  She narrowed her eyes at Aphrodite’s gown.  “Where exactly did you get that dress, dear?  Did it come from…ah, what is the name of that particular store the mortals call in this country….K-MART?”

 

At that, Aphrodite went completely ballistic.  “Oooooh!  That…is…IT!!!  Come’ere--I’m gonna kick your fat ass, you little…” She almost looked ready to lunge at Bast with claws outstretched, while the Egyptian Goddess regarded her coolly…before yet another flash of light instantly appeared beside Aphrodite, morphing into the form of a handsome, blonde muscular man who quickly and unceremoniously held Aphrodite back.

 

“Okay, sis,” Hercules drawled in a resigned tone with a roll of his eyes, “That’s quite enough.”

 

“Herc?!” Aphrodite sputtered.  “What’re you doing here?  Nnnngh, lemme go!  I’m gonna massacre the little runt!”

 

“Well, normally sis, I would, except that right now Zeus REALLY doesn’t want you tangling with Bast, or have any of the Olympians getting into any fights with the Egyptian Gods in general.  I think you remember how that went the last time, don’t you?”  Hercules asked wryly.

 

Bast, however, appeared unmoved by Hercules apparent restraint of Aphrodite and her own lovely face became even angrier than before.  “Little runt?!  I will show you who is the ‘little runt!’”  She nearly lunged at Aphrodite before Artemis managed to hold her arms back and restrain her in time.

 

As Artemis struggled to hold onto Bast, Aphrodite sneered.  “Did I say ‘runt?’  Why don’t we just replace that ‘R’ with a ‘C!!’”

 

As most of the Slayerettes responded with a low “Oooooh” to Aphrodite’s taunt, a nervous Hercules said, “Ah, Arty, maybe we should take this elsewhere…now!”

 

“Agreed,” the Huntress noted with a sigh.

 

“Oh, by all means...please let them fight,” Xander murmured under his breath, wide-eyed.  “I’m sure we’ve got some cooking oil in the kitchen we could use to grease them up!”

 

Ignoring the boy, Hercules looked at Buffy and the Wanderer, who’d been watching the entire proceedings with raised eyebrows.  “Oh…hey, Buffy, Steve,” he said with a smile.

 

“Hey, Herc,” they said in unison, with Steve offering a casual wave and Buffy a winsome smile.

 

“Hey, sorry to just, y’know, pop into your place and run, but duty calls.”

 

“No problem, Herc,” Steve replied with a shrug. “Par for the course, eh?”

 

“Well, yeah.  But hey, just so you know…nice way to kick ass tonight.  All the pantheons are talking about it.” Hercules then raised an eyebrow and smirked. “I even heard Ares is a little jealous.”

 

“Really?” a beaming Slayer asked.  “COOL!” She then frowned momentarily in thought.  “Um…who’s Ares again?”

 

Hercules chuckled before he grimaced as he continued to hold Aphrodite back from pouncing on Bast.  The two goddesses didn’t appear to be ready to settle down yet, prompting the Son of Zeus to exchange a knowing look with Artemis, who nodded.  “Well, take care, guys.  Great job tonight; see ya around.”  Hercules then spared a glance at Patty and Sergio, who sat nearby with their jaws hanging open as they recognized him.  The Olympian winked at them both before he, Aphrodite, Artemis, and Bast all shimmered and faded from sight.

 

“Wasn’t that…?”  Sergio tried to ask, unable to believe what he’d just seen.

 

That guy from the TV show…?” Patty tried to finish, unable to believe what she’d just seen as well.

 

“Yep, it was,” Buffy said wryly then shrugged with her palms facing upwards. “Welcome to our world.”  She then regarded the young couple with a raised eyebrow.  “Still sure you wanna remember everything?”  For their own part, Patty and Sergio still appeared rather dumbstruck.

 

Jericho just quietly stood there for a moment, before addressing the Slayerettes.  “So, tell me, just out of curiosity,” he asked in an inquiring tone, “does this type of thing happen often?”

 

“For better or worse, yeah, pretty much,” Jenny said with a shrug.  “I’d say it’s almost the norm now.”

 

“I see,” he noted quietly, taking another moment to ponder on this, before muttering, “And I thought black ops was…interesting.”

 

“Artemis and Hercules both summed up how you all did pretty well,” Steve said with a respectful nod and a look of pride at the assembled Slayerettes. “Good job tonight by all of you.  Well, almost all of you, anyway,” he said as he pointedly looked at Jericho with a cool expression, bringing a snort from the Japanese-American in reply.

 

As Giles quietly excused himself for a moment to put away the cups and dishes, Xander looked inquiringly at the beautiful Frenchwoman who stood nearby.  “So, Layla,” he asked casually with his arms wide for emphasis, “we’re just curious…are you really a doctor?”

 

The exotic beauty narrowed her eyes momentarily at the youth before her face broke into an amused smile.  “I am, indeed, Xander.  That part is certainly true. As I said, one of my specialties is hypnotherapy.  When I’m not doing, for lack of a better word, this, I work part-time as a therapist and counselor for those suffering from depression, sleep deprivation, nightmares, and so forth.”  Her perfectly manicured eyebrows rose slightly before she added in a droll tone, “And yes, Xander, I actually perform sex therapy as well,” immediately sensing some other more base desires emanating from the youth’s mind.

 

Xander’s eyes grew slightly wider.  “Sex therapy too?  Oh, that’s very cool. Did I mention that’s very cool? Y’know, to be perfectly honest, I’m kinda feeling a little spooked after tonight’s little sojourn.  So, I was wondering, do ya think you could maybe give me a little therapy later?  I mean, just normal couch therapy stuff, y’know,” he added hastily when he noticed Cordelia’s infamous “Look of Death” directed his way.

 

Before Layla could reply, Cordelia beat her to the punch. “That’s quite all right, Xander, feel free to get all the therapy you want…just as long as you don’t mind becoming my pack mule for my next shopping excursion. And every one after that,” she said in a sweet yet deadly voice.

 

Xander loudly gulped and became slightly pale.  “Ah, actually, I guess I’m feeling just fine.”

 

A minute later Giles returned from the kitchen. “Well, it appears the Hell Riders were able to inflict a bit more damage than we had thought,” he said with a sigh, removing his glasses.  “According to the radio, it appears the high school was apparently firebombed.  The fire department and police are taking care of that plus the other disturbances plus the mess on Main Street.  The police are calling it the work of a gang of armed biker thugs and are promising a full investigation…as always.”

 

“Business as usual for Sunnydale,” Jenny added dryly, before she looked at Giles with a concerned expression.  “England, was anyone hurt at the school, was there any damage to the library…?”

 

“I-it doesn’t appear anyone was there when it happened, although there appears to have been some damage to the outer walls and maybe one or two classrooms.  I don’t think the library was damaged from the way it sounds, but I guess we won’t know until tomorrow.  Oh, and there is one other thing…” The Englishman waited a moment and braced himself for what the inevitable reaction would be when he spoke it aloud.  “Due to the nature of tonight’s events, school has been cancelled for tomorrow.”

 

“YAAAYYYYYY!!!”  The sound of the Slayerette’s excited woops echoed through the house and nearly startled the other occupants in the room.

 

“However, there will be a make-up day scheduled in the future,” the librarian added with a smirk, causing a round of groans while the Slayer stuck out her tongue at her Watcher.

 

“The question remains though,” Jenny added, “is what about the other Hell Riders?  According to the research Giles and I did, there’re several more packs of them all over the Western United States.  I imagine they’re going to get a bit antsy after the way you all kicked their butts tonight,” she added with a wicked smile directed toward her sister Amazons and the Slayer, who all returned hers with an equal wickedness of their own.

 

“I imagine they’ll be very cross, to say the least,” the Wanderer mused.  “But after the way we thrashed them, even though a few of them did manage to slip away,” he said pointedly as he glared at Xander and Oz, who both quickly coughed and cleared their throats, “I don’t imagine they’ll be coming back.  Anytime soon, that is.”

 

“Hmmm…maybe.  But what about Hekhmut…?”

 

“Well,” Layla drawled, her arms crossed and deep in thought, “Considering that you all, how would you put it, ‘kicked his ass’,” she offered lightly to several raised eyebrows, “I don’t think he’ll be back anytime soon.  I would wager that his father Apep as well as Set himself are undoubtedly upset at his failed attempt to…ah, convert you,” she said as she pointedly looked at Jenny.  “However, I should stress that according to both the Watcher’s records and the Sisterhood’s own chronicles, he has often returned to wreak havoc on the mortal plane, and I would imagine that the Disciples of Set are quite upset as well.  I would strongly recommend that you remain on your guard, as they usually tend to bear very long grudges,” she finished with emphasis.

 

Jenny, Buffy and the other Slayerettes regarded each other momentarily before shrugging.  “Well, considering how, like Layla said, we kicked their asses,” Buffy said with a smirk in her trademark perky voice, “I don’t think we’ll have to worry about them coming back anytime soon either.”

 

“True, perhaps,” Giles said cautiously, “but Layla is right, I would recommend we remain on our guard nonetheless.  Perhaps…errr, we should stay close together tonight, if that were possible as a precaution…”

 

Buffy’s eyes lit up almost instantly.  “A sleepover?”

 

Giles stuttered as his cheeks flushed slightly, noticing the bemused expression in Jenny’s eyes.  “W-well, ah, er, that’s not exactly what I meant…”

 

“COOL! Slumber party it is!” Buffy announced brightly to a round of cheers from the Slayerettes, and looks of puzzlement from the others as she sprang off the couch.  “If anyone’s hungry I’ll be making orders to the local pizza place.”  With that said, several of the Slayerettes started making preparations around the house and made calls to their parents they’d be staying over at Steve’s place.

 

Willow looked up from where she was beginning to spread out a blanket on one of the couches, and shared a knowing glance with her blonde witch sister before looking over to where Cordelia was pulling out some extra pillows from a linen closet. “Hey, Cordy, can I…uh, we talk to you for a moment?”

 

Cordy looked over at her Amazon sisters and shrugged her shoulders, before unceremoniously tossing several of the pillows at Xander’s face.  “Sure.  Be a darling and arrange those pillows for me, Xander, will you?  Thanks.” She then walked over to the two Amazon witches. “What’s up?”

 

Willow fidgeted for a moment before she brought her witch green orbs to look directly into Cordy’s own darkly gorgeous brown ones.  “I…Amy and I, we just wanted to thank you for saving our butts back there.  I mean, really,” Willow’s face showed her complete admiration.  “That was awesome what you did! Goddess, I’ve never seen anything like that!”

 

“Yeah, you really came through and saved our butts tonight, Queen C,” a starry-eyed Amy added in a gushing voice, “You were like freaking Xena herself out there!”

 

Cordy, oddly enough began to feel her cheeks blush slightly.  It wasn’t something she was used to...blushing that is.  When she’d been the popularity queen of Sunnydale High, she was used to hearing glowing, albeit shallow comments from her former peers, the usual superficial comments about her perfect hair, perfect wardrobe, etc.  But now…this felt completely different.  She was being appreciated not for her fashion sense, but for something much more dear to her; for saving the lives of her Amazon sisters.

 

The tall brunette’s gorgeous face grew slightly redder as she regarded Willow and Amy.  “Hey, you guys …it’s cool, all right?” Cordelia smiled warmly at them without her usual crankiness.  She fixed her eyes firmly on Willow’s green eyes then Amy’s blue ones before continuing.  “We’re sisters now, remember?  Amazon sisters.  We look after our own, like you said.  And, that’s really all that needs to be said, okay?”

 

Willow blushed slightly at that. “Well, yeah, okay.  But, just so you know, I wanna take back what I said when I told Buffy we could call Xander by dialing 1-800-I’M-DATING-A-SKANKY-HO.”  Willow’s mouth then dropped to the floor when she’d realized what she’d  said and saw the shocked expressions directed her way, including Cordelia’s.  “Oh my Goddess…did I just say that out loud?!”

 

Cordelia’s eyes seemed to bore through Willow for a moment, as she appeared ready to unleash her awesome fury on the hapless witch.  Then her face suddenly, unexpectedly broke into an amused smile.  “Yeah, you did, Willow.  But it’s okay.  In fact, I might even use that line myself sometime, if you don’t mind.”

 

Casting a wry expression at the Amazons and shaking her head slightly, the Slayer then turned to Patty and Sergio who stood nearby. “So, you guys wanna crash here?  We’ve got plenty of room y’know,” Buffy inquired casually.

 

Patty and Sergio looked at each other uncertainly. “Well, uh…” Sergio began, feeling awkward.

 

“Patty, Sergio, seriously, why don’t you stay?” Amy offered gently as she came over.  “Look, I know you’re all still kinda shook up, so why not just hang with us tonight?  I mean, school’s cancelled anyway.”

 

Patty quietly regarded her friend. “Really?”

 

“Yeah, really,” Amy said softly as she took her friend’s hand in her own. “Hey…remember when you used to sleepover at my house when we were kids? We’d share the same bed and everything…”

 

Xander regarded both girls with dreamy look.  “Y’know, although I know they were just kids back then, my mind keeps picturing them in bed together at their current age…”

 

Ignoring him, Patty said, “Yeah…and you always had that habit of singing songs from Madonna in your sleep.” Patty finished her sentence with a smirk.

 

Amy’s eyes shot wide open.  “Wait! I SO don’t sing in my sleep!  Uh, much anyway,” she added with a blush in reply to several raised eyebrows. “But really…stay with us tonight, okay?  We’ll even share a bed together, just like we did when we were kids.”

 

Patty’s eyes grew slightly moist as she drew her friend into a hug.  “Well, as luck would have it, Sergio’s parents and mine are out of town on business, so yeah, I guess we could stay,” she murmured into her friend’s blonde tresses, completely unaware of several wide-eyed stares directed their way while Sergio stood nearby with his mouth agape.

 

“Hey, Sergio,” Xander inquired casually, draping his arm over his newest bud’s shoulder in a show of friendship. “By chance YOU wouldn’t have a portable video camera handy we could hide in their room and capture the moment for posterity, would ya?”

 

Sergio glared at the impetuous youth. “Xander…you seriously need help, man.”

 

A bemused Buffy then turned her attention to Layla and Jericho.  “What about you two?”

 

“Well…I think we’ll return to our motel room,” Jericho said quietly as he looked at Layla, who nodded in kind.  “I…don’t think we’d make very good party conversation, if you know what I mean.  No offense,” he added as he spied St. Wolf out of the corner of his eye, watching him while Layla noticed likewise with Jenny.

 

Buffy nodded in understanding.  “Yeah…I think I see what you mean,” she replied softly.  “Uhh…but just so you know, be sure to call us, if, y’know, you run into any problems or anything, okay?”

 

A moment passed before a ghost of a smile appeared on both Jericho and Layla’s faces.  “Of course, Buffy,” Layla said earnestly.  “We will see you again tomorrow, agreed?”  After the Slayer nodded her agreement, the duo went about picking up their belongings before trudging out the door.

 

“Well, guess we’re staying here tonight, huh?” Jenny asked her beloved as she snuggled slightly closer to him.

 

The Englishman smiled as he felt grateful to once again feel the warm, comforting touch of his gypsy enchantress.  He felt more of the tension from tonight's hellish battles drain from him as he gently nuzzled his nose within her sweet-smelling raven locks. “Yes, I-I believe so,” he murmured softly in his hair, before he turned to look deeply into her beautiful chocolate eyes. “Not that it really matters.  By that, I mean, I don’t mind wherever you go tonight, or what you plan to do, just as long as I’m with you.  I am NOT letting you out of my sight again tonight, you understand?” he said hoarsely.  “And no bloody arguments from you.”

 

Jenny looked into her lover's eyes for a long moment, at first almost thinking of some witty comeback, before her heart almost began to melt at the unvarnished emotions that dwelt in his soft eyes.  This man, along with the Slayer and her sister Amazons, had gone through hell and back for her.  The gypsy gently leaned her head against Giles' chest, trying to hide the tears that had come to her eyes, and whispered softly in reply, “Well, since you put it that way, I guess I can't really argue, can I?”  She then looked up into his eyes again and managed to smile with a hint of mischief. “Although isn't that what normally makes it fun?”

 

The Englishman gazed for a long moment, willingly losing himself again in her deep, enthralling eyes before he smiled in kind.  “Yes, I-I suppose you’re right.”  He looked as if he wanted to say more, but instead gently cradled her head to his chest.  “I’ll see if I can get Steven to let us use one of his bedrooms.  I’m certainly not going to have you sleep on a couch, especially after what happened tonight.”

 

“Really?” she replied in a teasing tone.  “Looking to spend the night with me?”

 

Giles blushed hotly and stuttered momentarily.  “W-well I-I hadn’t meant by that…”

 

“I wouldn’t worry,” she noted dryly, in a tone that signaled her fatigue.  “As of right now I can barely walk.”

 

 “No matter,” Giles replied softly as he continued to hold her protectively, “as long as you’re with me.”

 

They continued to hold each other for a long time, never letting go…

 

 

The rest of the evening, and the following morning passed, thankfully, without incident, other than some rather amusing shenanigans from the Slayerettes, some whispered smart remarks  about Amy spending some “quality bedtime” with Patty, and Giles’ apparent habit of snoring on occasion.

 

St. Wolf had taken the liberty of having his team confiscate some of the Hell Rider’s arsenal before they’d left the ruins of Pureza Del Fuego, and after some examination had determined that the weapons had recently been produced in Russia.  Tracking the weapons, though, would probably be fruitless considering how wide the illegal arms market was.  It definitely, however, raised the specter that the demons were definitely getting aid from some not-so-scrupulous individuals within mortal society…

 

Patty, after some more chatter with the Amazons, had inquired in a curious tone if they had any particular rituals or holidays they’d celebrated.  The issue of the coming holiday of Beltane came up again, and the raven-haired girl had asked, with a sense of curiosity, if she could participate in such an event.  The Amazons had enthusiastically agreed…well, most enthusiastically as Cordelia had remarked that “it’d be okay as long as all of freaking Sunnydale High School doesn’t hear about it!”

 

Some better news came later in the day when it was announced that the cold front had started to pass.  It would be sunny by late Friday, assuring that Beltane indeed would go ahead as planned.  While the Slayerettes busily went about making preparations for Friday, and the Wanderer made calls to some of his Immortal friends asking if they’d come down to assist on patrol for the weekend as well as catch up on old times, the Slayer along with her Watcher and his beloved gypsy Amazon showed up to see off Jericho and Layla as they got ready to return to England.

 

“So, are you all set?” Buffy inquired as they all stood outside in front of Giles’ apartment.  Overhead, it was still a bit gray and windy, but the rain had gone away and the clouds were now slowly beginning to break up.

 

“Yeah, everything’s in order,” Jericho replied with a nod as he along with Layla stood by, dressed in casual attire while their belongings were neatly packed in the rental car.  A moment of silence passed before he added, “Oh, just so you know…it seems Mr. Trent and Mr. Nelson may have ‘disappeared’ last night, or possibly earlier than that.   No word on what’s really happened to them, but there are already rumors circulating that they may have been targeted by a splinter IRA terrorist faction,” he said in a casual tone.  “Unfortunately, any leads they pursue, if any, will probably dry up rather fast.”

 

“I see,” Giles said rather suspiciously, his eyes narrowed. “And I suppose you’ll be collecting your paycheck as it is, yes?”

 

Jericho let out a sigh of resignation in reply.  “We told you already, Mr. Giles, it’s all been taken care of.  No one will ever point their finger in this matter toward you, Miss Summers, Miss Calendar or any of your other friends.  Your father, Edwin, went very much out of his way to help resolve this whole mess, you know.”

 

“Yes, of course…in keeping with the usual order of Watcher politics, that is,” Giles replied calmly, apparently not yet completely willing to accept the olive branch his father had offered him.

 

Jericho quietly regarded the Watcher for a long moment, his face set in a neutral expression that seemed to mask some conflicting emotions of his own underneath, before replying in kind, “Maybe so, Mr. Giles.  But at least you have a father that’s looking out for you. I…” He hesitated for a moment, as though uncertain.  “I wish I had one.  A father, that is.”  The Watcher’s face fell slightly at that, as the “security consultant” then brought his gaze to rest on Jenny and Buffy.

 

“Be careful out there,” he said softly, “especially who you trust.”

 

“Does that include you?” Jenny inquired with a raised eyebrow.  “I mean, you seem to be an okay guy, Jericho.  You stood with us last night…but there’re still some things we’re not completely sure about you.”

 

Jericho smirked momentarily as though in amusement, before his face became very serious.  “Yeah...even me.  And in answer to your question, Miss Calendar…some things, unfortunately, are better left alone.  Nonetheless, be sure to watch your six.”  He then locked his eyes with those of the Chosen One.  “That goes especially for you.”

 

Buffy shrugged and offered a casual smile of his own.  “Hey, I’ll manage.”  Her own expression then became thoughtful.  “But hey…you be careful too, okay?”

 

Jericho nodded, a ghost of a smile on his lips.  “Always.  Look after your friends, alright?”  After a nod and a handshake from the Slayer and her two companions, Jericho ambled toward the car, allowing Layla to step to the fore.

 

“I…well, for what it’s worth,” Layla said softly as she regarded the Slayer and the Amazon gypsy, “I know this has been a rather awkward time for all of us, but yet…thank you, for allowing me, I mean us, to battle alongside you.  You were willing to set aside your personal feelings about me so we could prove ourselves to you. And so…thank you.”

 

The Slayer offered a small smile of her own in reply.  “Hey, no problemo.  You were in pretty good form yourself.  I’ve met some pretty nasty demons who probably wouldn’t wanna tangle with you, y’know?”

 

Layla blushed prettily, before digging in her coat pocket and fishing out what appeared to be a small, gem-inlaid golden scarab.  The priestess brought up Buffy’s hands into her own and gently pressed it into her open palm.

 

“What’s this?” Buffy inquired with a puzzled expression.

 

“Something for good luck,” Layla explained.  “Also…it acts as a way of letting the Sisterhood know if you ever wish our assistance.  If you do, simply hold the scarab and concentrate, and we will know.”

 

The Slayer gazed at the scarab for a long moment, seeing what Layla meant by it.  “Thank you,” she replied softly.  Then her eyes lit up with a bit of her usual sassy self as she smirked. “Don't get your hopes up, though. Who knows Layla...maybe you'll be the one calling us for help, eh?”

 

Layla chuckled in reply.  “Yes, you could be right.”  She then looked over at Jenny, who watched her expectantly.  Layla took a deep breath then gathered her thoughts.  “Jenny…you’re a very lucky woman.  I don’t know whether you realize it, but you have several very intelligent and talented young women who look up to you, and…” She hesitated a moment before adding, “And you have a truly wonderful, one-of-a-kind man who’s in love with you.  As Jericho said, look after them, oui?”  Jenny nodded in understanding with a ghost of a smile on her own sensuous face.

 

Layla then turned her attention to the Watcher.  The Englishman looked at her longingly, as though there were a thousand things he still wanted to say.  “Layla,” he began, feeling uncertain, “I…”

 

The Frenchwoman shook her head, gently cutting him off before he could go further.  “There’s nothing more to be said, Rupert,” she whispered sadly as she gently drew his hands into her own in a warm clasp.  Her dark green, hypnotically beautiful eyes gazed for a long, wistful moment into Giles’ own. “It…what we had, it was never meant to be.” Her orbs then seemed to momentarily, subtly glow from within…

 

A kaleidoscope of memories suddenly flashed through the Watcher’s mind…of every time he and Layla had been together: The laughs, the joys, the tenderness, the pleasures, the sorrows…each memory as fresh, and as real as though it had happened yesterday.  Every memory of when they had shared a kiss, of when they’d made passionate, uninhibited love to each other as real as though he was holding her right now, as though he could smell her fragrance, taste her full red lips…

 

And then he was back to where he was, blinking for a moment as he regained his equilibrium as he still stood with the beautiful Frenchwoman.  This worldly woman who was a psychologist, a telepath, a priestess, an adventurer, and his former love, all in one who had just telepathically shared every one of their memories together.  And then he realized as she continued to regard him with her enthralling eyes; he had never forgotten the time they’d spent together, and neither would she.

 

Buffy and Jenny quietly watched, suspecting that something had passed between the two, but decided to say nothing.

 

“Layla?”  Jericho called out gently from the driver’s side of the car as he leaned against it.  “We need to get going.”

 

“Yes, of course,” Layla said softly, then turned to sadly regard the Englishman one last time.  *Au revoir…mon cher* Giles heard her voice echo deep within his mind, as they both looked down to where they still held hands, and, after a moment, reluctantly let go.

 

The Frenchwoman opened the door of the car and climbed inside as Jericho started the engine.  Moments later, the car began to pull away, Layla turning to look back through the glass as the automobile cruised down the road, eventually fading from view.

 

Giles quietly stood there for a moment, flanked by the petite blonde Slayer and the Amazon gypsy witch.  And then Jenny turned to her lover.  “Are you okay?” she gently asked in a concerned tone.

 

The Englishman let out a long sigh then turned to look first at the gypsy woman he loved more than anyone else in the world, then the young blonde woman-child who was more precious to him than anything else in his life.  “Y-yes, I’ll be fine.”  He shot them both a reassuring smile as he brought an arm around Jenny, and gently clasped his other hand in Buffy’s own.  The trio then walked back up the pathway back inside Giles’ apartment to rejoin the other Scoobies…

 

#

 

As Jericho continued to drive the rental car, Layla watched the scenery flash by her window, the engine humming softly as they drove toward Sunnydale Airport.

 

“We should make it to the airport in no time,” Jericho said, attempting to make casual conversation.  “Couple of connecting flights, and we’ll be back in England.”

 

*Yes, of course* Layla replied telepathically as she continued to gaze out the window.  Right now she didn’t feel like talking; communicating via telepathy felt more comfortable to her.

 

“We’ll…probably need your abilities when we go through customs again, so they don’t find our weapons.  There might be a few government spooks inquiring about us, too, so we’ll need to stay on our toes.”  That statement was needless of course.  Layla already knew all of this.  It was par for the course of their many excursions together.  They always planned ahead.  Jericho was just trying to engage her in conversation to get her mind off of things.

 

*I know*

 

Jericho watched the road ahead as he drove, before sighing and glancing sideways at his beautiful companion.  “Are you going to be okay?”  The concern in both his voice and his dark steely eyes were clearly evident.

 

Layla turned to look at her companion with her own dark green, gorgeous eyes.  *I’ll be fine, Jericho* She then slowly reached out her hand and took his own that rested near the gear shift for a moment, holding it gently.  *I’m glad you came*

 

The Japanese-American casually shrugged, as though it were no big deal.  “I was ordered to tag along, part of the job.”  He then paused before looking earnestly at his companion again.  “I still would’ve come either way, though.”  He was rewarded with a small, yet beautiful smile from the Frenchwoman.  After a moment passed the assassin reluctantly let go of Layla’s hand and punched in a number into the cell phone that lay nearby, and switched it to “speaker” mode. The phone audibly dialed the long-distance number with several clicks, before it was answered by a male voice in a crisp, distinguished English accent. “Hello?”

 

“Edwin?  It’s Jericho and Layla; we’re on our way to Sunnydale Airport now.  We’ll be on our way back soon.”

 

“Ah, good,” the voice on the other end replied.  “I’m glad to hear you two made it through relatively unscathed.  From what I’ve read of your report so far, it was quite a tussle to say the least, wasn’t it?”

 

“Yeah, I’m afraid so,” Jericho grunted.  “But we made it through.  No small thanks in part to the Slayer, your son, his gypsy girlfriend and their friends.  They’re one hell of a bunch, to say the least.”

 

“Indeed,” the elderly man drawled.  “It seems some rather interesting times are in store for Sunnydale.  Oh, and thank you for taking care of that unfortunate…problem of ours.  Rather odd how that Edward Trent chap just happened to disappear like that, wouldn’t you agree?  Although the rumor mill is already stating he may have run afoul of the IRA. Quite unfortunate, that.”