Author: Michael Weyer
Title: Pantheon Rising
Copyright July 2001
Legalese: Aside from those characters I name, I do not own anything and am using them without the permission of their creators, all rights reserved to those creators.
Up to Season 2, Phases.
1. Buffy died fighting the Master but became Immortal. Her death activated Kendra as a Slayer. When Kendra was badly wounded, Faith became a Slayer.
2. Jenny Calendar was not killed by Angel and is still alive.
3. Faith does not go bad and Kendra was not killed by Drusilla so both serve as Slayers.
4. Amy Madison never turned herself into a rat and is a member of the Scooby Gang (and still blonde as well).
5. No Tara, Willow is still with Oz.
6. Joyce Summers is still alive.
7. Buffy never underwent the Cruciamentum, so Giles is her Watcher.
8. Larry is not only alive, he is part of the team.
9. Cordelia, Jenny, Willow and Amy are Amazons with abilities blessed by Artemis, Greek Goddess of the Hunt. Xander, Giles, Oz and Larry carry equal empowerments from Robin Goodfellow.
10. Also Amazons: Dana Scully, Melissa Scully, Teresa Santigo, Andrea Parker and Maxinne.
Empowered by Robin: Fox Mulder, Jarod Russell, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, Jackson "Jax" Briggs and the Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog (Rhoan, Diedre, Ivar, Angus and Torc).
Up to Season 5 finale.
1. Richie Ryan is still alive.
2. The Watchers are now known to all Immortals and some are even aiding them in fighting demons.
3. A Scroll discovered by Steven St. Wolf has shown that the Game is a fraud, begun by an ancient Immortal as a joke and got out of hand. (Of course, Steve doesn't know that the Scroll itself is a fake. Read Immortal Kombat for more on that.)
1. Mulder and Scully became Immortal in 1996.
2. The two are married.
3. Skinner is their Watcher.
4. Melissa Scully became Immortal when she was shot in season 2 and was trained by Teresa Santigo (the Queen of Swords). The duo are also lovers.
5. As noted above, both Scully sisters and Teresa are Amazons while Mulder has an equal empowerment from Robin.
Wandererverse spoilers: Immortal Kombat by myself, Inside Out by Tim Knight.
Summary: Hiding out from the angry Sunnydale gang, Robin and Liam get involved with a group of people who have a destiny greater then they could imagine, to be decided on a distant planet. In Sunnydale, the gang tries to aid a woman to defeat her mad brother in another extraterrestrial affair.. But things may not be all they seem in both cases.
Elizabeth Corday, Lucy Knight and ER owned by Warner Bros.
Maximus Decimus Meridas owned by Dreamworks
Steven St. Wolf, Randi Jessup, Brian Jessup and the Sprit Guardians created and owned by Steve Panktovich.
Shaw Hunter and Ulric Johannsen created and owned by Tim Knight.
Robin Goodfellow, Liam Danahure, Calliway Burton, Marybeth Andrews, Shirley Denvers, Nicky and Katie McDaniels, Kim Wagner, Sean Cavendish, Cal Reynolds, Father Bernard Tarring, Mel Tarrick, Dullrena, Romino, Fahn, Zev Mundac, Roz Candrum, Eril Koenig, Ujaki, Father Conrad Garrow, the people and planet of Varra, the concept of the Pantheon and the cosmic personas of Apalla, Darknighter, Astra, Shamaran, Elementra, Pretor, Imator and Soldar are all my own creations and belong exclusively to me.
Thanks to Steve for inviting me into this madness in the first place and okaying things with the story.
Immense, immeasurable and seemingly never-enough thanks to Tim Knight for dialogue, character aid, brilliant ideas and agreeing to my suggestion as to just who could win the heart of the half-elf he created.
Let's get ready to rock........
"What do ya want already?"
"You must prepare."
"Prepare what? Dinner? Party? Rave? Orgy? Oooh, hope it's the last one."
"Avatar, cease this foolishness."
"Sure, what foolishness do you want to see?"
"Avatar, you must be ready. Forces are converging that will cause you to release your debt at long last."
"Aw, man, don't tell me the Cubs actually won the World Series."
"No, Avatar. They are coming."
"Really? Cool, great, I'll get ready."
"You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"
"The protectors you have awaited. The ones who will embody the powers you have kept
sacred.. The souls worthy of the energies to save two worlds."
"Could you be a tad more specific?"
"The Queen of Light. The Sage of Shadows. The Mistress of the Stars. The Master Mage. The Fury of Nature. The Pride of the Wild. The Dreamweaver. The Gladiator."
"With them will be others, two of whom are known to you. It is time, Avatar."
"Cool, I'll order a pizza."
"Be wary, Avatar. Cosmic forces are converging in a way that may cause chaos to all." "Ain't that always the way?"
May 23rd, 1999 - 1823 hours Central Standard Time
The sun was beginning its downward motion towards setting, throwing summer shadows onto the skyscrapers of Chicago. Even in May, the gusts that gave the Windy City its name kept things from becoming too warm. There would be hot days down the road in a few weeks but for now, Chicago still felt like spring weather, jeans and jackets still the normal dress code.
The dress code would appear to be lost on the two figures who were walking down State Street. One had an unruly mop of red hair, a wide grin and was wearing a pair of dark jeans, a green shirt and a green jacket with a large shamrock insignia on the back. It would have taken a keen pair of eyes to see the pointed ears peeking through his hair. His companion was even wilder, wearing a pair of red slacks, a red vest over a black shirt and a red overcoat flapping behind him thanks to the wind, yet his red cap stayed on his brown hair, the small bangs on either side of his face blowing a bit in the wind.
"Ah, I missed this town," Liam Danahure said with a grin, arms spread wide, his Irish brogue heavy even in a light tone. "You can feel the Irish in it. Well, once you get past the Italian, Hispanic, Chinese and African-American influences ye can."
"Hmph," Robin Goodfellow sniffed, evidentially not in the same good spirits as his long- time best friend.
Liam shook his head. "What are you upset about? Isn't this a great town?"
"It's not our town," Robin replied. "I want to be back in Sunnydale."
"Kind of hard since they want our heads," Liam reminded him.
"Oh and whose fault is that?" Robin asked. "The guys decide to throw a welcome-to-town party and hire a stripper who happened to look just like Kathleen, your all-time favorite wife. Okay, you were pissed, I accept it, so was I, I couldn't believe they could do something so cruel. And Artemis backed us up. Of course, none of us were aware of the fact that it was a coincidence and the kids had no idea who Kathleen was. So when the monthly Big Bad comes to town and casts a spell that switches the guys' bodies around, including Shaw, despite the fact she had nothing to do with the joke and, like Joyce, had chewed the guys out for it, everyone thinks you did it. But you managed to convince them otherwise but still decided to do payback by filming the entire week-long switch. Now, while it was hilarious to see the guys going a week in each other's bodies, I couldn't be with Amy since she was in Shaw's body and then a pack of lunatic elves come to town along with the Balrog and we have to fight them all off. So we get things back to normal, at which point the guys learn we taped the entire mix-up and sent copies to every one of their allies, so they run us out of town. The only reason they haven't come after us is because we sent them all copies of a master edition showing how Shaw, Larry, Faith and Kendra were all helping us out with the gag all along."
"Thank you, master of the bluidy exposition," Liam said sourly. "Look, Robin, it's not that bad. Just give it a few days and they'll be more pissed at Shaw so the heat will be off."
"It'd better be," Robin muttered. "I'd kind of like to get back to my own home sometime soon."
"Ye always were a worry-wart, Robbie," Liam smiled. "Ye've been in Sunnydale too long, a road trip will do ye some good! We check out Chi-Town a bit, maybe catch a Cubs game, maybe even check out that lass you said played the best you in 'A Mid-Summer's Night Dream' last year and then I think Disney World is a great place to unwind."
"Liam, try to contain yourself," Robin said in a slightly chiding tone. "Remember, we're both on a lower power level now, we can't just zip around anytime we feel like it. Low profile, Liam, you do know the meaning of the words low profile?"
"Chill, laddie," Liam said. "It's just a little vacation, what's the worst that could happen?"
Robin groaned. "Oh, God, Liam, didn't you learn your lesson last week? You say that and now anything-------"
As if to validate his unspoken comment, a man came running around the corner and slammed right into the two faeries, knocking them back. The man bounced off and fell to the ground, the copy of the "Chicago Sun-Times" in his hands falling to the ground. "Shit, sorry about that," he said in a nervous voice. He seemed to be an average-looking guy, somewhat handsome with dark hair, dressed in jeans and a faded shirt, hurriedly coming to his feet and brushing himself off.
"Sorry," he repeated. "I'm kind of in a hurry, didn't see you coming this-----" He broke off and glanced around. "My paper. Oh, God, where's the paper?"
"Right here," Robin said, holding up the paper he had caught in his hand. "We've got it all, Mr.....?"
"Gary Hobson," the man answered. "Can I get that back?" He reached for the paper with Robin glancing at it.
"Hold up a minute," the faery replied. "I need to check what the weather------" He paused as he looked at the heading on the paper, then looked closer. "Liam, what day is this?"
"What?" Liam frowned. Before them, Gary groaned and rolled his eyes.
"What day?" Robin repeated. "As in, the date."
"The 23rd, why?" Liam asked in confusion.
Nodding, Robin held up the paper to show the heading, letting Liam clearly read the date just under the paper's name. "May 24th," Liam frowned. "Well, I'll be damned."
Gary swallowed. "Look, there really is a perfectly good explanation......."
"Ye got one of the prophecy papers!" Liam said, glancing at it.
Gary froze and stared at him. "The what?" he choked out.
"Prophesy papers," Robin explained, checking out the headlines. "Our nickname for them. Just people around the world who, for some reason, get tomorrow's news today."
"People?" Gary repeated. "You mean......You mean, I'm not the only one?"
"Course not," Liam sniffed. "There's people around the world who get it. What do you use it for?"
"What?" Gary said, not believing these two were just accepting this.
"I mean, do you check out lotto numbers, stocks, horse races, that sort of thing?" Liam pressed.
"Um, no," Gary shrugged. "I just sort of......try and help people out, stop disasters and stuff like that."
"Well, well, a humanitarian," Robin smiled, handing the paper over to Gary. "So nice to know there's still people like that around."
"I can't believe it's not just me," Gary muttered.
"I'm surprised too," Robin said, turning to Liam. "I thought you'd talked Callie out of doing this!"
"Since when have I ever talked Callie out of doing anything?" Liam shrugged.
"Well, you have me there," Robin nodded.
"It's probably better that she still does it this way," Liam pointed out.
"What do you mean?" Robin frowned.
"You want to imagine Callie online?"
Robin shivered at the image of Liam's four time ex-wife and seer on the Internet.
"Wait, wait," Gary shook his head. "Someone is actually giving these to me?"
"And yer using them the way she wanted," Liam replied. "That's why she created them."
"I thought she created them because she lost the bet on the '51 pennant game," Robin remarked.
"What can I say?" Liam shrugged. "Not even Callie saw Thompson's homer coming."
Gary looked at the two, shook his head and spoke. "Listen. Normally, I wouldn't ask this but since you two seem to know already, maybe you can help me out. I've got two major emergencies to deal with, one's about a block away, one's halfway across town, they're both going to happen at the same time. Can you two help?"
"Sure thing," Liam nodded. "What do you need?"
Gary flipped open the paper and folded it to a certain page to let Robin and Liam see what was written on it. "I hate to ask," he repeated. "But------"
"Say no more," Liam said, rising. "Come on, Rob, let's do some good work, might influence our karma."
"We could damn sure use it," Robin muttered, shaking his head as they moved off. Gary watched them go, shook his head and took off. He'd figure out what they said later, right now he had a car crash to prevent.
"Lad needs to take on some helpers," Liam said as he and Robin moved off. "Callie wouldn't want him to drive himself into a nervous breakdown."
"If he couldn't do it, Callie wouldn't have picked him," Robin said. "Come on, let's do our good deed for the day."
In the days and weeks and months to come, the two faeries would look back on this moment and wonder if just maybe that story had been intended for them, not Gary Hobson, who was fortunate to avoid the events that were to come.
It wasn't a tall building, only six or seven stories. Given its proximity to the river that cut through the city, it was a popular spot for businesses and some swank apartments but not exactly stargazing so it was a safe bet the young woman standing near the edge wasn't there for the view.
She was about 17, a little over 5' 6", with short black hair cut in a pageboy style around her face. She was pretty, not overly attractive but with the right effort, could show her beauty clearly. Her beauty was marred at this moment with streaks of makeup, tears rolling down her face, drops on the insides of her glasses, dripping down to the nice green dress she wore.
Marybeth Andrews had turned 17 last week and fully expected to be dead inside the next two minutes.
It wasn't what she had planned for her life but she knew life wasn't fair. She'd gotten that lesson about half-an-hour before and just couldn't handle it, which was why she was balanced on the edge of the building, looking down, her mind automatically making the computations to push herself out so she'd land in the river, hopefully not too messy.
Closing her eyes and steeling herself, her mind raced. Seventeen years wasn't a long time so she figured her life wouldn't take too long to flash before her eyes. But some things just came to the surface right now. *Mom. Dad. I love you. I'm so sorry. Please forgive me.* Swallowing, she took one last breath and kicked herself outward----
---And a pair of hands grabbed her and yanked her back and onto the roof, pulling her away. Marybeth yelled as she shook her head, staring at the two men in wild clothing. "Who the hell are you?" she yelled.
"Two people who are trying to save your life," Robin said.
"I don't want it," Marybeth muttered, moving back to the ledge, Liam grabbing her arm.
"Lass, come on, ye don't want to do this," he said, Marybeth tearing her arm away.
"You don't know what I want!" she yelled. "You don't know what's happened, what that jerk did to me!"
"What jerk?" Robin frowned.
"Randy Morris," Marybeth muttered, turning away from them.
"Who?" Liam asked.
"Doesn't matter," she said, wiping at her face. "Nothing matters now."
"Lass, come on, it can't be that bad," Liam said. "There can't be a good reason to kill yerself."
"Oh, it can't?" Marybeth said, turning to them. "You want to know how bad it is? You want a good reason? Fine. Three days ago, the captain of the football team, the big hunk, comes over and asks me to go the big dance with him. Me. ME! The biggest geek in school! So, I get my hair done, I blow three months allowance on my dress, get makeup that will work with my glasses, a new haircut, everything, I come down here and I wait for him and guess what?"
"He dumped you, didn't he?" Robin said gently.
"Oh, no," Marybeth said sarcastically. "No, he doesn't just dump me. First, he has me wait outside the train station for twenty minutes. Then, he drives by in his limo, having it slow down enough for him and Monica Heathers, head of the rich bitch popular crowd, his *real* date, to pop out and throw a couple of rotten tomatoes in my face, then drive off laughing! I figure, hey, no way I'm gonna be able to show my face in school, so what the hell?"
She turned away, wiping at fresh tears as the two men looked at her with compassion. Liam sighed. "Lass, trust me, it doesn't matter what he did. There is no one and I mean no one worth throwing your entire life away for. Especially not a piece of shit like this."
"Trust him, lady, he knows all about being a piece of shit," Robin nodded.
"Yer not helping, Rob," Liam shot at him.
Marybeth threw up her hands and turned to them. "Okay, Irish boy," she shot at him. "How many women have you had, huh? How many women have you had walk out on you?"
"Well, first you have to consider the fact that I've been married 287 times......." Liam started.
Marybeth stared at him, her tears forgotten at the shock of his statement. "287 times?" she said hoarsely. "Who the hell are you, Liz Taylor?"
Liam shook his head. "No, lass. I'm Liam Devlin O'Shaunnesgy Patrick Dillon O'Hara Paddywick McHale Thornton Danahure of the Leprechaun Glens."
Marybeth stared at him for a full minute before shaking her head and turning to Robin. "Let me guess," she said dryly. "You're a faery, right?"
Robin was taken aback by surprise. "How'd you know?"
Marybeth stared further. "Robin Goodfellow," Robin smiled, shaking her limp hand. Marybeth just kept staring as Liam turned to his old friend.
"Robbie, me lad," he said in a tight voice. "A grave injustice has been done to this girl. I see it as our duty, nay, our moral obligation, to ensure some payback."
"I know," Robin nodded. "I mean, honestly, asking her out on a fake date and throwing tomatoes at her? I've done so much better than that. The younger generation shows no imagination these days, I mean, if it had been me, I would have------"
"Robbie?" Liam interrupted. Robin paused, looking at him, then at the still staring Marybeth. "Oh, right," he nodded. He turned to her. "Where's this dance?"
"Um, hotel ballroom downtown," she answered. "What......What are you going to do?"
"Never plan an act of vengeance, lass," Liam answered, turning and walking towards the exit door. "Just let it happen naturally."
"Although getting inspiration from an Italian bartender and a leggy lawyer do count," Robin added with a smile. Becoming more rapidly convinced by the minute that she was in the presence of two escapees from a lunatic asylum, Marybeth followed them out.
Rushing towards the scene where the car accident was going to take place, Gary Hobson quickly checked his paper. As he looked, the headline HONOR STUDENT COMMITS SUICIDE OVER PRANK faded and was replaced by another headline. HIGH SCHOOL DANCE TURNS INTO DEBACLE. Shrugging, Gary raced on, not giving the two people he'd met another thought, unaware of just what he had set into motion.
County General Hospital
1844 Hours CST
The room was quiet, not surprisingly given it was a morgue. The chill in the air seemed to suck all the sound out of it, making it seem even scarier than it really was. Lined around were bodies, most naked, some still with clothing, bloody and torn, tags on their toes, sheets covering them. Most were strangers, people who had never been seen before by those who worked here. But tonight that was different, tonight one of those corpses was well known.
Tonight, the ER mourned one of its own.
The clicking of heels broke the silence as a figure moved down through the row of metal slabs carrying the corpses, glancing from one to the other until it found the appropriate one. A pair of hands drew back the sheet to expose a lovely young woman, a fragile beauty with dark blond hair flowing around her. Her face seemed serene, as if she had just stopped off for a nap instead of left this life. The sheet was pulled down to expose her small body, still wearing a professional outfit with a white lab coat, the doctor's uniform. Her blouse and coat were both stained with blood, a massive red blot on her abdomen, a match of the one on her back.
The figure didn't need to glance at the information to know who this was and what had brought her here. Lucy Knight, intern, bright and energetic if inexperienced but learning, a woman seemingly with her entire future in her hands.
Until a disturbed man she had treated earlier in the evening came back and stabbed her in the stomach and back. John Carter, another doctor on staff, had also been wounded and, after a great deal of surgery, had been put into stable condition. Lucy, on the other hand, hadn't been so lucky. Everyone had tried their best but it just wasn't enough and she had been declared dead less than an hour ago.
The figure pulled the sheet away and checked the body, looking under the clothing to where the wound had been. Finding what had been expected, the figure nodded and quickly moved to lock the morgue door. Coming back, the figure leaned against a table, eyes fixed on Lucy's body and waited.
It didn't take long.
Lucy's eyes shot open suddenly, the table under her shaking as she took in a gasp of breath, eyes whipping around as she came back to life. She sat up, heaving with breath, shaking her head as she tried to get her bearings together. She glanced around her, starting as she saw all the bodies around her. She glanced down at herself and let out a small yelp as she saw the blood on her clothing, jumping off the table and looking around.
"Okay.....okay......" she said softly. "Just.....just take it easy, Lucy. Think this through. You got stabbed.....They wheeled you in.....And then.....And then...."
She yelled and grabbed her head as a sharp pain suddenly filled it. It almost blinded her, the sudden buzzing in her head, the drop in her stomach and the icy feeling running up her spine. "Oh, God," she moaned. "What was that?"
"We call it the Buzz," a British accent cut into her. "It's always scary the first time. You get used to it after a while."
Startled, Lucy glanced up in amazement at the woman standing before her. "Doctor Corday?"
Dr. Elizabeth Corday let out a small smile as she stepped forward, wearing a loose blouse and jacket with dark slacks, her reddish-brown curly hair framing a face that was the perfection of English beauty. She looked Lucy up and down and smiled. "Lucy. Sorry I couldn't be here sooner."
"Please," Corday smiled. "Call me Elizabeth. You'll be getting used to it, believe me."
"Okay, Elizabeth," Lucy sighed. "What the hell is going on?"
Elizabeth's smile faded and she sighed. "Lucy, there's no easy way to say this," she said as she came closer. "I had hoped to get to you beforehand, maybe even hide it, but the fact is, it's now official." She straightened and looked Lucy dead in the eye. "You died, Lucy. You bled to death from the wounds, there was nothing anyone could do and it's important you understand this. You died."
Lucy stared at her, trying to process that statement. "But.....but...." she whispered. "I....I don't.....How can I be here? This doesn't make any sense!" She saw a smile on Elizabeth's face. "What? What are you smiling at?
"You," the older woman shrugged. "God, it brings back memories of my first time."
"First time?" Lucy frowned. She glanced at the corpses and went a little pale. "I don't want to know."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "Not that. I mean the first time I died."
Lucy stared at her. "What?" she asked automatically before she could think of anything else.
Elizabeth glanced over and saw a scalpel nearby. Picking it up, she held it before her hand. Gritting her teeth, she dragged it along her palm, opening a huge cut, straight to the bone. Lucy instinctively moved to her but Elizabeth held up her hand. Lucy stopped and stared as what appeared to be bolts of electricity covered the wound, the blood seeming to vanish and in seconds the hand was good as new.
"Damn," Elizabeth muttered, shaking it a bit. "Always forget how much that hurts."
Lucy just stared. "Please tell me I'm dreaming," she whispered almost pleadingly.
"That's what I said when I came back the first time," Elizabeth nodded.
"When was that?" Lucy asked before she could really think about it.
"1771," Elizabeth replied quite naturally.
Lucy just stared, unable to accept what she'd just heard. "That----How-----What---- You're-----"
"Two hundred and sixty one years old," Elizabeth nodded. "My name is Lady Elizabeth Corday, born in Manchester, England in the year of our Lord, 1738. Killed in a holdup in Paris in 1771. I'm Immortal, Lucy. And now, so are you."
Lucy just stared in shock. "I-----I don't understand....."
Elizabeth nodded and moved over to a locker. "Let me find you some fresh clothes and sneak you out of here," she said, rummaging through the clothing inside. "I'll explain it all, I promise you, once we're on holy ground."
"Why holy ground?" Lucy asked.
"That's one of the things best discussed on holy ground," Elizabeth answered, coming up to her with arms covered in spare clothes.
"Why?" Lucy pressed.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "Americans," she muttered. "Here, put these on." She pushed the clothing at her but Lucy just stared at her. Sighing, Elizabeth leaned down and looked her right in the eyes. "Lucy, please, you have to trust me, this is the single most important thing you are ever going to hear in your life. I promise, I'll answer all your questions but not here and now. Please, trust me."
Somehow knowing she was going to regret this, Lucy peeled off her bloody clothing and swiftly changed. Elizabeth handed her a dark cap and bundled her hair inside, then a pair of glasses. "Back entrance should be empty," the Englishwoman said. "But best not to take chances."
"Oh, God, what have I gotten myself into?" Elizabeth moaned.
Radisson Hotel Ballroom
1845 hours CST
Richard Jacobs wiped a handkerchief along his forehead, sighing as he felt how high the bald skin was starting to rise on his head. Only in his forties and he was already getting bald. Well, he was the principal of a high school so he supposed that was inevitable, given all he had to deal with. At least the summer gave him a chance to unwind a bit before the whole cycle started over again. He tugged at the collar on his shirt, wishing he didn't have to be so formal tonight. But, for dances, it was a necessity, to give himself an air of authority.
He turned at the footsteps behind him, frowning as he saw the three people coming up. The dance had been going on for about an hour and everyone who was supposed to come was here. He had left some of the other teachers inside to make sure things were okay so didn't know who would be coming this late.
His frown deepened as he saw that two of the people were quite easily too old for high school and one was quite familiar to him. "Marybeth?" he asked, coming forward and looking over the stains on her dress. "What's going on?"
"Hi, Mr. Jacobs," Marybeth nodded respectively.
"What happened?" Jacobs said, looking over Marybeth's disheveled appearance.
"Well, we're about to give the majority of the bunch in there a much-needed lesson in manners," Robin answered with a smile.
Jacobs looked at him and Liam and somehow knew letting these two into the dance was going to be a bad idea. "Now, wait, I don't want any trouble------"
"Little late for that," Liam broke in. "Ye know a couple of folks by the names of Morris and Heathers?"
"Randy and Monica?" Jacob frowned. "What of them?"
"Well, they played a big joke on the lass here," Liam explained, nodding towards Marybeth. "And basically, we want to give them some payback for it."
Jacobs shook his head. "Listen, I'm not going to allow you two to-----"
"Mr. Jacobs," Robin interrupted gently. "If it weren't for my friend and I here, Marybeth would be floating in the river right now thanks to those two."
Jacobs stared at him and then at Marybeth, who nodded solemnly. "What'd they do?"
It took less than a minute to tell the story and Jacobs bit his lip, thinking. "That was....very nasty. But I just can't watch you two to do something to my students." He slowly nodded. "Give me a minute to get all the teachers out of there."
The large ballroom was filled with decorations with a sea theme, some miniature fountains and even a small aquarium near one wall, albeit without any fish in it. The "Under the Sea" dance a huge success, teens in the best suits and dresses mingling among themselves. Well, that wasn't exactly accurate. The fact was that the room seemed divided between the popular kids and the less popular ones, with little contact between the two. Still, they were all united in failing to notice how the teachers, after a quick talk with Jacobs, left the room. And all were united when the doors burst wide open and Robin and Liam marched in.
Without warning, the music cut out, an angry roar going up at the loss of their dance tunes, cut off as everyone took notice of the two bizarre figures who slowly strode to the middle of the floor. They took a moment to look all around the room, gauging the reactions of those inside before Robin spoke up.
"Has anyone heard what happened to Marybeth Andrews?" At the faery's question, several seniors on the popular side snickered while some of the unpopular clique looked down at the floor or wore sad expressions.
"I'll take that as a yes," Robin said, looking around until his gaze focused on an athletic young man and his apparent date, a blonde-haired beauty in a light dress. "Let me guess. Randy and Monica, right?"
"Um, yeah," Randy frowned. "What do you care?"
"We're friends of Marybeth," Liam explained. "Good ones."
"Wow, she has friends?" Monica smirked. "When did this happen?" The smirk faded as she took in the hard look on Robin's face. The faery took a step forward until he was looking Monica in the eye.
"That girl almost died tonight," he said in a low tone. "She almost died because of what you did. She was ready to kill herself because of that stupid joke you pulled."
Monica shrugged. "So?"
Robin stared at her in disbelief, then at Randy, who wore the same uncaring look. "Oh, that's it." He gazed at the seniors who appeared to be confused as to what the fuss was about, then at Liam. "Liam. Music."
Smiling, Liam raised his fingers and snapped them. Instantly, the speakers began blasting out a hard rock tune. Robin listened to it and looked at his friend. "'Ballroom Blitz?'"
"Figured it was apros," Liam smiled as he waved his hand. A table filled with deserts started to shake, everyone staring at it in confusion. Liam made a motion and the table flipped up, the pies and cakes on it smashing up in a large arc before coming down on top of the seniors, Randy and Monica getting the full burnt of the ariel drop.
The two were gasping for breath, wiping sticky desert off their faces when Robin got into it. Another wave and the punch bowls went flying off a table, keeping upright as they floated over the heads of the group. Robin slowly raised his thumb, then turned it down, the bowls unloading their punch onto the screaming teens, two bowls landing right on Monica and Randy's heads, causing them to stumble in confusion as they tried to figure out what the hell was going on.
"Eat yer heart out, Carrie," Liam grinned as he flicked his fingers. The teens near the back of the crowd shrieked as they felt the aquarium break apart, deluging them with water. The small fountains along the walls streaked out water at the group, dousing them down, yet managing to avoid hitting any of the less popular crowd, who were watching it all with absolute amazement on their features.
Robin glanced at the dishelved seniors and then to Liam. "I think they could use a rinsing, don't you?"
Smiling, Liam nodded and faced the group, concentrating hard, Robin with him. Nozzles came alive from the ceiling, spilling water down onto the dance floor. What made it unique, however, was how the water seemed to stop inches short of the younger part of the class while the seniors and other popular kids were doused hard, shrieks clearly heard over the pounding drops.
With a wave of the hand, both Robin and Liam let out a final magical burst that stopped the downpour, then stood, watching their handiwork. The music cut off, stunned silence filling the hall. Slowly, the younger classmen came up behind them, not sure what was going on but definitely enjoying the sight of the people who had long tormented them now getting a taste of their own medicine.
Randy threw off the bowl from his head, his hair sticky from the punch and the deserts. "What-----how-------" He broke off as Liam reached over and grabbed him by the collar, yanking him in tight. Randy felt a shudder of fear go through him as he gazed into the leprechaun's cold eyes.
"Right," Liam said in an icy tone. "Me and me mate here are going to beat the shit of you and you know it and these people know it and we all know you deserve it." He hauled back a fist as the jock closed his eyes in readiness.
"Don't hit him, Liam." Everyone turned to see Marybeth come up, her face hard. Liam stepped back as she walked up, looking Randy right in the eye with a steely resolve she'd never shown before. She clenched her jaw and talked to him.
"I can't believe I was actually going to throw my life away because of you. You're beneath me, you know that? It doesn't matter how rich your father is or how big on campus you are. When we get out of school, it's a whole new ballgame. When I'm working at NASA and getting ready to go to the stars, you'll be lucky to be a middle-class manager at some investment firm. I don't need you to date me, I don't need you to make me feel special, I can do that on my own. And right now, I'd love nothing more than to nail you one myself. But then I'd just be sinking to your level and I wouldn't be able to look at myself in the mirror for two days."
She turned on her heel and walked off. She took two steps before stopping, apparently thinking something over, then shrugging. "Ah, what's two days?" She spun around and launched a kick that nailed Randy right between the legs, the man gasping in pain as he bent over, almost every student there dropping their jaws open in shock at the sight. Marybeth let out a tiny smile as she turned again to walk by Robin and Liam.
"You bitch!" Monica shrieked. "Look at me! Look at my dress! When my mother learns what you did------"
"She already knows." Every single person in the hall turned to see Jacobs standing before them, a sour look on his face that was minored by the teachers behind him as well as the two middle-aged couples standing on either side of him, both looking quite angrily at Randy and Monica, who both shrunk back a bit.
"Mom?" Monica stammered, looking at her blonde-haired mother and her sandy-haired father, both with very angry expressions on their faces. "Dad? What----what are you-----?"
"We took the liberty of calling them before dropping by here," Liam explained with a smile.
"You called our parents?" Monica asked in disbelief.
"Well, it was that or jail," Robin shrugged. "And let's face it, parents are scarier than jail."
Randy stood up, wheezing for breath a bit before coming up to face his father, a red- haired man who stood by his black-haired wife, both not looking happy. "Look, Dad," Randy started. "I don't know what you've heard, but it's all been blown out of proportion."
"Really?" Mr. Morris said. "So you didn't ask that girl out solely for the purpose of humiliating her?"
Randy licked his lips nervously. "Well, yeah," he said, shrugging. "But, Dad, come on. I think you should reconsider hooking up with her dad like you were talking about. Look at me, look at what she did! I mean, look at her, she's a loser, he probably is too, probably worked as a cook or a busboy or-------"
Randy trailed off as the fury on his father's face finally impacted upon him. "I've got news for you, Randy," he said coldly. "I've been a cook. I've been a busboy. I worked at a garage and a mail room and a lot of other minor menial jobs before I joined the company Maybe that's the education I should have given you instead of spoiling you. I tried to give you what I didn't have at your age and this is the result. A son who think it's all right to hurt an innocent girl just because he feels like it."
"Oh, come on, Dad!" Randy barked. "Look at her! She's a geek, a loser, she has no friends, she was so obviously up for a date, hell, she's not even that good-looking!"
As Marybeth winced a bit from the insults, Mrs. Morris stepped forward, a hurtful expression on her face as she looked at her son. "You know something, Randy? I was a lot like her when I was in high school. And I had people trashing me every day but I got beyond it, I grew up, I married and I raised a family. And I can't believe my own son would actually do something worse than even they could."
"Um, scuse me?" Robin announced. "Hate to interrupt this, but sorry about the mess, my friend and I will clean up------"
"Oh, no, no, no," Jacobs said with a slight smile. "I wouldn't hear of it. No, I think Randy, Monica and their little clique will be just right for the job."
"Um, sir?" Monica asked, wiping her hair. "I have to get home. I've got this big trip for New York planned with some friends and I have to start packing------"
"Oh, honey," Mrs. Heathers said in a chiding tone. "You can forget about New York. In fact, you can forget about a whole lot of things."
"But, Mom," Monica started in the whining tone that had helped win her mother over many a time before.
"It's going to work this time, honey," Mrs. Heathers said in a cold tone. "You almost drove a girl to kill herself over a joke that was just cruel and thoughtless. I can't believe you'd actually treat another human being like this."
"Mom, come on," Monica said, laughing. "She's not exactly a human being."
"That comment just cost you the car," Mr. Heathers interjected.
"What?!" Monica shrieked.
"Honey, don't even *think* of interrupting again," Mrs. Heathers went on. She turned to face the principal. "Mr. Jacobs, Monica has just volunteered for any summer programs at the school and will be happy to aid you in anything you might think of, say, cleaning some of the halls?"
"I think that will suffice," Jacobs said with a smile.
"Wait a minute," Randy said, holding up a hand. "I'm going to be spending the summer getting ready for college-----"
"Randy, you've just proven you are in absolutely no mental state to go to college," Mr. Morris said. "If you think I'm letting you take this attitude of looking down on people to a college on my money, think again. Until I think you're ready, college is off, it's going to be a long, hard, menial labor career until you learn something."
"Oh, I like him," Liam smiled.
"Hey, Randy?" A young man wearing an ill-fitting suit and overgrown glasses spoke out from the dry side of the hallway. "How does it feel to be pushed down for a change?"
"All right, that's enough," Jacobs said, his face and tone hard as he took in the entire student body present. "Now, I know you people may feel some joy at seeing them get their comeuppance and it might be deserved. But by feeling this way, you're no better than how they've felt about you. I can't pretend that feelings like that can change overnight. I don't expect that. But I will say this."
He turned to the soaked seniors, his gaze still hard. "I've lost count of how many times I've seen people like you push down people like Marybeth just because they didn't fit the definition of 'cool.' And I've lost count of how many times I've seen reunions where the cheerleaders are now overweight and stuck in dead-end lives and the people they tormented are now the true beauties and successful. Think on that very carefully because it's like the old saying goes: watch who you step on the way to the top, because they'll be waiting for you when you go to the bottom."
He turned back to the lower classmen. "Hating them for how they treat you is no better than how they feel about you and may even be worse. You should be above feeling that, you should be above hating due to differences, yours or theirs. Judge people by what they are, for what they're worth, not for what they seem to your standards. You people are the next generation. Start acting like it."
A long silence hung over the room that was broken by the sound of hands clapping together as Robin and Liam began to applaud, the wave spreading to the teachers, then the students, even some of the soaked ones acknowledging the wisdom of Jacob's words.
"Sure, the guys couldn't have gotten *him* for a principal back in Sunnydale," Robin smirked.
Mr. Morris turned towards Marybeth and smiled. "I think your father can count on that little business deal going through. If he's got half the strength of his daughter, he's just the kind of man I want to know."
"Thanks," Marybeth said with a smile.
"If there's anything we can do to make up for what they did-----" Mrs. Heathers started.
"No," Marybeth said. "Just.....do what you want with them. That's fine by me."
"Spoken with wisdom beyond your years," a voice came up behind her. Marybeth turned and grinned as she saw a young man in a nice suit come forward. He appeared to be about 18, with short black hair and handsome features, a few inches taller than Marybeth and looked happy to see her. "Good to see you bounce back, Marybeth. Believe me, if I knew what was going to happen, I would have asked you out."
"You didn't need that excuse," Marybeth said shyly.
<Someone's got it for someone> Liam smiled.
"Friend of yours, Marybeth?" Robin asked.
"Just a study partner, really," Marybeth said. "Mel Tarrick, this is Robin and Liam."
Mel shook hands with each, looking around the hall as he did. "Nice work. Just how did you....do this?"
"Trade secret, laddie," Liam smiled. "You complaining?"
"Oh, no," Mel said, shaking his head. "No, no, I don't disagree at all. Those people did need a lesson a lot of teachers wouldn't give out."
"Always our pleasure to hand such things out," Robin smiled.
"Yeah, we figured it was best we help her now," Liam said. "Otherwise, she'd carry the hate and resentment of what happened within her for years until it warped her mind and drove her insane so she'd come back to the reunion and start hunting down and killing all her tormenters off one by one......" He trailed off as he saw the three staring at him.
"When we get back," Robin said carefully. "You're off the Sci-Fi Channel and the USA Network for a month."
Mel nodded and looked at Marybeth. "Are you okay getting home? Train and all?"
"Well, I haven't gotten the chance to call my mom and dad yet," Marybeth frowned. "I guess they still expect me to be out for a while longer."
"Hmm," Mel nodded, glancing about the soaked ballroom. "Look, it's going to be a mess here for a while longer. Would you like to....go somewhere? I mean, just take a walk, maybe ice cream or something? It'd be a shame to waste a night like this, you know?"
Marybeth looked at him and slowly nodded. "Sure. Sure, I'd like that a lot, thanks." She looked over at Robin and Liam. "I don't know how to thank you guys, really."
"Our pleasure, lassie, our pleasure," Liam stated. "Just go and enjoy yourself. Tonight and the rest of your life."
"Well, I think our work here is done," Robin said, clapping his hands together and rubbing them. "Have a great time, kiddo and be sure to spread the legend of the dance around. I could use all the good press I can get."
With a grin of thanks, Marybeth allowed Mel to take her arm and headed towards the exit.
"Good kid," Liam stated. "Nice, calm, dependable, good head on her shoulders. And the lad seems a decent sort too."
"Very true," Robin nodded. "So, how far a distance you think we should follow them from?"
"Sounds good. Let's go."
Our Lady of Heaven Catholic Church
1920 Hours CST
The church was of the old style, built in the 1930's, with a wonderful Gothic feel to it. The large chamber held nearly a hundred rows of pews, stained glass windows catching the lights starting to come on from the streets outside, the chamber nearly empty, save for a man near the back and the two women sitting near the front, facing the large altar.
Lucy was wearing a hastily thrown on pair of jeans and a light shirt with jacket, taken from the laundry, the jacket turned inside out to hide the blood stains left from its previous wearer. Elizabeth was dressed in a light blouse and slacks, her hair flowing around her as she looked at Lucy. After taking her out of the morgue and sneaking her out of the hospital, Elizabeth had walked Lucy the few blocks over to the church. Once there, she'd told Lucy everything: Immortality, the Game, beheading, faking identities, everything a newly made Immortal needed to know. It was quite a lot to take in so Lucy's reaction was understandable.
"I'm gonna be sick," she moaned, holding her head as she leaned forward. "Oh, God, this can't be happening."
"It is," Elizabeth said firmly. "I'm sorry, Lucy, but you have to understand that right here and now. Your life is over, literally."
"Oh my God," Lucy said, sitting up. "My parents.....The hospital's probably called them, I have to-----"
"They're not your parents," Elizabeth said gently.
Lucy looked at her, her face pale. "What?" she choked out.
Elizabeth sighed. "Immortals are foundlings. I was apparently adopted into a wealthy family, probably to replace a baby who died. So, I'm sorry, but the people you think are your parents aren't."
"What?" Lucy said in shock. "But.....But what about your mother?"
Elizabeth frowned for a moment before understanding. "Oh, you mean that woman who was at the hospital the other week? Old friend. I saved the lives of her and her family during the war, dying in the process, so they repay me by popping back in every now and then to pretend to be family." She chuckled lightly. "Mind you, she liked it better when she could pass for my younger sister instead of my mother."
"Oh, I don't believe this," Lucy said, anger coming to her voice. "First you tell me I'm dead, then you tell me I'm Immortal, then you tell me I have to kill to survive, now my parents aren't my parents? I want out of this, okay?"
"This isn't a health club, Lucy," Elizabeth said in a chiding tone. "There's no going back. Now that you're Immortal, the only way out is a beheading and I think we want to avoid that."
"How?" Lucy shot back. "By killing someone else? I can't do that."
"You'll have to learn," Elizabeth said tonelessly.
"I'm a doctor, dammit! I took the same oath you did! Do no harm."
Elizabeth looked at her with a flare of anger in her eyes. "I was Immortal for a century before I became a doctor, Lucy. I've had to do a lot of things I didn't want to in order to survive and playing the game was one of them. And might I add, the Hippocratic Oath was not intended to be a suicide pact. It's kill or be killed, it's that simple."
Lucy looked at her, a soft horror covering her. "And you've done that? You've..... killed people?"
Elizabeth looked away. "It's something I had to do," she said softly. "And I hated it every time, believe me. But you have to learn or you die."
Lucy stared at her. "How long have you known? About me?"
Elizabeth looked down. "Since the first day we met. I didn't say anything because that's not how it works. I had to wait for it to happen naturally and hope I could get to you in time."
A thought struck Lucy and she stared at the older Immortal. "Did Benton know? Or Greene?"
Elizabeth sighed at the mention of her former boyfriend Peter Benton and her current one, Mark Greene. "No. Neither of them knows."
"Not even Dr. Greene?" Lucy pressed. "You haven't told him?"
"Well, it's not exactly the sort of thing that just pops up in idle conversation," Elizabeth barked back. "'Hello, Mark, how was your day, I'm older than your country, pass the potatoes.' It's not that easy, Lucy, especially when you've got a couple of centuries on you."
Lucy rubbed her head. "What now?"
Elizabeth sighed. "You're dead in Chicago for about fifty years. You're dead in America for about twenty. First thing is to find someplace you can hide until I can arrange a new identity and a way to get you out of-------"
She cut off and straightened as the Buzz hit her. Lucy gasped in pain, gripping her head as it came over her again. "God, is it always like that?"
"Headaches will fade soon," Elizabeth said, turning around to the back of the church. "The chils up the spine and the drop in the stomach still remain." Lucy looked back as well as the two took in the man walking down the aisle towards them. His pace slowed and stopped as he faced the duo.
He wasn't that tall but he did have a strong and athletic build. Even under his suit, tie and long coat, the two doctors could tell he had a well-muscled build yet flexible enough for a fight. His brown hair was cut in an almost military-like style and his face showed off signs of age as well as some small scars. But it was the eyes that caught Elizabeth's attention. Eyes that showed off an age she knew well surpassed her own. When he spoke, it was with a deep and commanding voice, laced with traces of an odd accent Elizabeth couldn't place. "Max Sufington."
"Elizabeth Corday," the Briton replied. She nodded to the bewildered Lucy. "Lucy Knight."
The man glanced at Lucy, sizing her up instantly as a newbie, then returned his gaze to Elizabeth. "I'm not looking for a fight."
"We're on holy ground," Elizabeth pointed out.
"I meant at all."
"I'm not a hunter."
"Then we have no quarrel then."
"Some other time," Elizabeth nodded as the man continued to walk on, heading toward the office door near the altar.
"He was......" Lucy trailed off.
"Yes," Elizabeth nodded.
"How'd you know he wasn't going to fight you right now?" Lucy asked.
"We're in a church," Elizabeth explained.
"What, he's Catholic?" Lucy frowned.
Elizabeth sighed. "No, it doesn't matter what beliefs he has. The one rule that's never broken is that we don't fight on Holy Ground. At all."
"What happens if someone breaks that?"
"According to legend, that's only happened once," Elizabeth explained. "In Pompeii. In 79 A.D."
"But that's when the volcano------" Lucy trailed off. "Oh."
"Could just be a coincidence but no sense taking chances," Elizabeth shrugged.
"That's kinda scary."
"Get used to it. Scary is part of your life now."
The knocking on the door caused Father Bernard Tarring to close his book and place it on his desk. He stood up, instinctively adjusting his white collar, his dark robes flowing well over his body, which, while having added a few extra pounds, was still in good shape even in its 50's. He glanced at the mirror, chastising himself a bit for caring about the growing white appearing in his black hair. Going to the door, he opened it to see the man who had identified himself as Max Sufington waiting on the other side. "Max! Come in, it's good to see you again!"
"And you, Bernard," Max said, a smile breaking onto his face. "I had some extra time after classes and thought I'd drop by and see how you were."
"Oh, the usual budget hassles," Tarring sighed as he sat down, Max taking a seat across from him. "Thank you for your generous donations. I just wish more people could give like you do."
"More people don't have as much experience as I do," Max smiled.
"Yes, 2000 years does give one time to build a sizeable bank account," Tarring nodded.
"I'm not that old," Max smiled. "I still have a century to go before I hit the big two zero zero zero."
"Well, since I won't be around, I suggest a drink a little early," Tarring said, moving to a small cabinet and taking out a pair of bottles. "So. Coke or Sprite?"
"No liquor still," Max smiled. "You'll be the death of me, Bernard."
"Max, my friend, I doubt anything could be the death of you," Tarring smiled as he poured.
Near the back of the church, a tall, well-built black man in his late twenties glanced at his watch, the lights reflecting off the gold plating. He adjusted his coat and crossed his legs, his leather pants and dark shirt blending well with his skin, his hair cut short against his skull, a scar on his right cheek marring what otherwise would have been a handsome face. He glanced behind him as two figures entered and shook his head. "Bout time," he muttered. "I've been waiting here for ten minutes."
"Crime never sleeps," a male voice stated. "You should know that." A man and a woman sat on the pew behind Cal. Both were in their late twenties and looked athletic. The handsome man had short brown hair, the bangs hanging over his forehead, wearing a pair of jeans, dark sweatshirt and short jacket. The woman was quite attractive, her face shown more by her long dark blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, draping over the collar of her blue jacket and blouse, jeans covering her lower half as well. Each of them wore a badge on their lapels, the initials CPD evident on them.
"So, how's life treating my favorite honest cops?" Cal Reynolds asked, throwing a smirk back at Detectives Sean Cavendish and Kimberly Wagner. The two partners looked at each other and rolled their eyes before Sean came forward.
"Cal," he said in a stern tone. "I'm feeling very sluggish today. So don't make me slug you."
"Watch it buddy," Cal said harshly. "We're in a church. My momma wouldn't appreciate threats like that here."
"Really?" Kim said in a light mocking tone. "And how does she feel about what you do for a living? Low-level con man, stoolie, informant?"
"Hey, you want this info or not?" Cal said sharply.
"It'd better be good to drag us out here," Sean warned.
"Your money's good, my info will be," Cal reassured him as he started to talk.
<Rob, I thought we were going to do more than just follow this kid around all night> Liam telepathically asked his friend. He and Robin were walking down the streets of Chicago, keeping a fair distance from Marybeth and Mel but always keeping track of them.
<Just making sure they're okay> Robin stressed. <I kind of like this kid, I don't want anything else to happen to her.>
<Ah, the humanitarian Robin Goodfellow. Ye should show that side to yerself more often.>
<Nah. I'd hate to ruin my image.>
As the two walked, neither of them took notice of the taxi driving past them, which means that they were among the few who didn't see the incredible image of its driver.
The first thing people generally noticed about Shirley Denvers was her hair. Naturally brown and grown long, the hair was streaked with a wide shade of colors, which shifted as the mood struck her. Currently, orange, blue, purple and green mixed with her brown color, the hair usually got people's attention, at which they'd notice the other amazing thing about Shirley: her dress sense.
She didn't have one.
Currently, she was wearing a pair of orange and red pants with large white shoes, a zebra- style jacket over her green and white blouse, a large necklace around her throat and long hoop earrings.
"How about this weather, huh?" she said in her usual loud manner that laced humor in every single word. "Great for baseball, you know? Especially the way Sammy's going, that will be kick-ass this season, don't know if he can top last but maybe you're Sox fans, hey I don't hold it against you, we're all one town here, you know, we can live together. Or maybe you're not baseball fans at all, you just like to stay home and watch TV, you watch 'Suddenly Susan?' No, you strike me as 'Seinfeld' fans, hey, that's okay, personally nothing can beat MST3K for laughs, way I see it. Am I babbling? Tell me if I'm babbling, if there's one thing I can't stand more than someone who's babbling is somebody who won't tell somebody they're babbling. Am I that way?"
She glanced behind her at the two people in the back of the cab. They appeared to be in their early thirties, the man wearing a nice tuxedo that fit over his trim body, his black eyebrows raising towards his black brow as he glanced at the woman beside him. She was wearing an elegant black dress which fit well over the curves of a body that, while not supermodel material, was highly attractive. Her beautiful face was scrunched up in confusion over Shirley's remarks, her earrings not as large or elaborate as Shirley's, but they were real gems inside, glinting near her short cherry-red hair.
"Remind me again why we couldn't take the limo back," Katie McDaniels asked, a soft glare at the man next to her.
"Hon, it was buried behind all those other cars," Nicky McDaniels told his wife. "It was your idea to leave early, you know."
"I just didn't feel like going through another big art opening," Katie said. She smiled and nuzzled her face against Nicky's shoulder. "Not when you and me can have some fun tonight."
Nicky smiled as he brushed her hair. To say it had been an instant attraction between the two didn't even come close to describing it. They had met at a restaurant bar, both unwinding after college finals and within twenty minutes, they were in his apartment, tearing each other's clothes off. Ten years later and that passion still hadn't faded.
"Ooooh, I see a romance here," Shirley smiled as she glanced at the rear-view mirror. "Say, I don't suppose you'd be able to save some for me?"
"Sorry," Katie said in a cool tone. "He's mine."
"Who says I was talking about your man, honey?" Shirley grinned at the looks on Nicky and Katie's faces. "Although, if you want, he's welcome to join us."
The McDaniels looked at each other, then at Shirley. "Pull over here," they said in unison, pointing at the church standing to the side of the road. Shirley did so, her eyes widening as Nicky handed her a fifty-dollar bill. "Keep the change," he said as he opened the door and moved around to let Katie out.
"Whoa! You guys are loaded?" Shirley grinned as she put the car in park and hit the 'service' light off. "Hold on, I wanna show you my artwork." She stepped out of the cab, allowing the full effect of her outfit to be seen by the McDaniels as she reached into the cab to pull out a large canvas covered with a wild blotch of paint. "Whadya think?"
Katie and Nicky looked at each other and without a word, turned around and walked towards the church. "Is she following?" Nicky hissed under his breath.
"I don't know," Katie said. "Just hope she won't be able to enter a holy place." They moved up the stairs towards the church, a confused Shirley trailing them.
"Thanks for the ice cream," Marybeth smiled as she licked at the cone in her hands, Mel dropping his finished one into a garbage bin. "And the walk. And the talk."
"Always a pleasure," Mel smiled as the two turned to a corner, the large cathedral before them. "Like I said, I am sorry I didn't ask you out myself."
"Well, I was surprised you went," Marybeth said. "I mean, you've always been so private and quiet since you started there. I've only seen you at classes, I don't even know where you live."
"I board at a house near school," Mel explained. "I help around and it cuts down on my rent."
"You don't live with your parents?" Marybeth frowned.
"They died when I was young," Mel said, looking down.
"Oh," Marybeth said, her face falling. "I'm sorry."
"It's all right," Mel shrugged. "It was a long time ago. Another life, it seems like. I'm just trying to make a new one in my new home."
"Sounds good," Marybeth nodded, finishing her ice cream. "Any chance getting together more with me might be in the plan?"
"It's always a poss----" Mel broke off and stopped in place. He had caught something out of the corner of his eye, something that looked almost familiar. He looked again and froze in place. Hanging in the alley of a nearby building, almost impossible to see unless you knew what you were looking for, was a small globe the size of a softball that seemed to emit a bright red glow. A red dot pulsed around it, as if searching for something. The moment Mel saw it, the pulse quickened, the flashing increasing as the globe slowly started to move in his direction.
"Oh no," Mel whispered.
"What?" Marybeth frowned, not seeing the globe. "Mel, what is it?"
"He found me," Mel said hoarsely, not hearing her. "He actually found me after all these years. I don't know he found me but he found me."
"Who?" Marybeth said, starting to worry. "Mel, who found you?"
"We have to hide," Mel said, grabbing Marybeth by the wrist and yanking her away as he started to run. Marybeth stumbled for a bit, trying to catch up as Mel, with a surprising strength for his size, dashed down the street.
<Uh oh> Robin remarked. <Something tells me this date isn't going to end well.>
<I hope the lad doesn't have bad intentions> Liam answered as the two began to move. <I hate being proven wrong.>
<Why? You should be well used to it by now.> The two took off, a blur in motion as they swept down the street, a burst of wind following in their wake which Chicago veterans barely noticed.
"Come on, look at this!" Shirley was still following the McDaniels as they walked down the church's aisle, holding up the canvas. "Come on, this is great work here, you gotta admit that!"
"I admit it was a bad idea to take the cab," Nicky sighed to his wife, rubbing at his head.
"I'll be grateful you admit to be wrong later," Katie sighed. "Where's the priest, maybe he can do something."
"It crossed my mind."
"Good to see we're not the only couple having a hard time tonight," Sean remarked as he, Kim and Cal watched the interesting exchange. Had he been looking closer, Sean might have seen the tiny flash in Kim's eyes when he mentioned the word "couple."
"Hey, I came here to dish info and get my money," Cal said.
"You're not telling us anything new, Reynolds," Kim said sternly. "We need to know more than just who's involved, we need where and when."
"Hey, that's gonna cost extra, 5-0."
Sean glared at him. "Talk now or talk in a cell, Reynolds, your choice."
Before Cal could shoot back a reply, the doors to the church banged open and Mel ran in, dragging a yelping Marybeth behind her. "Mel, let go!" she yelled. "That really hurts!"
Instantly, Sean and Kim were on their feet, walking towards the two teens, each instinctively unsnapping the holsters underneath their jackets. "There a problem here?" Sean asked as the two came up.
"Do you guys ever get sick of those cliches?" Cal remarked as he stood up and came up to them.
Mel looked at the group around him, his face covered with fear. "Everyone, get out of here. Get the hell out------"
"Watch the language, pal!" Cal stated. "We're in a church."
"Shut up!" Mel yelled at him. "All of you, just get out now, while you can!"
"Is there something going around here?" Katie asked, glancing from Mel to Shirley.
"Beats me," Nicky shrugged. "At least he's got some fashion sense."
"Does no one appreciate art here?" Shirley demanded, waving her canvas.
A bang from the direction of the altar got everyone's attention and they looked up to see Max and Tarring come forward. "Just what is going on here?" Tarring demanded. "If you have differences, I advise you to take them out of God's house. At the very least, conduct yourselves in a civilized manner."
"Like Americans know about civility," Elizabeth sniffed.
"Hey!" Lucy said in an angry tone.
"Sorry," Elizabeth said. "Old upbringing dies hard. You were still a colony when I was growing up."
At the back of the church, Robin and Liam stepped through the doors and stopped, looking at the strange tableau before them and turning to stare at each other. Liam's eyes fell on Max, widening in recognition. "Well, I'll be damned."
"Undoubtedly, in my opinion, but I guess that's between you and the Almighty," Robin said in a light tone.
Liam nodded towards Max. "Recognize him?"
Robin bent his head and squinted before his eyes widened as well. "Is that.....?"
"The man himself," Liam nodded.
"Looks a lot better then the last time we saw him."
"Robbie," Liam said, biting his lip. "Ye get the feeling something's going on here?"
Robin bent his head in thought. "Well, it could be the Fates, using their usual great power and inimitable skills to inveigle a group of strangers into accepting a previously unforseen destiny." He paused and shrugged. "Or it could all be one big coincidence."
He and Liam looked at each other, sighed and nodded.
"Fates," they both said.
"Well, don't look at me," Liam added. "I never dated a Fate."
"Oh, bring that up," Robin said, rolling his eyes. He felt a blur suddenly pass by him and saw the red globe fly through the open doors and stop several yards away from the group. The humans were all staring at it in varying degrees of confusion and surprise, watching as the globe rose up several feet and then began to spin.
"Oh, shit," Mel whispered. "Oh, shit, everyone grab onto something!"
"What?" Marybeth frowned as Mel grabbed her and hustled her over to a pew. The others stared in confusion at him, then all jumped as a loud booming sound came out from the globe. Without warning, the globe flashed and then opened up into what appeared to be a bright red vortex. The candles on the altar winked out, one by one, as if a giant wind had blown through them. Prayer books and mass cards began to fly out of the pews, some whipping across the church, others yanked towards the red hole that had appeared in mid-air.
Too late, the group inside realized that the vortex was like a whirlpool, a massive wind tugging at them, blowing them off their feet and towards the red hole. With a shriek, Shirley was yanked off her feet, flying into the air, the canvas ripped from her hands as she flew through the vortex. She flew right into the center, vanishing into thin air.
Kim and Sean each gripped onto a pew, feeling their feet lifted off the floor, tugging towards the vortex as they hung on. Sean's grip loosened and he felt himself start to let go. Seeing him start to go, Kim immediately reached out to grab his arm. The result had Kim yanked away with him, the two flying towards the vortex.
Cal was next to go, his attempt to get a better grip ruined with a piece of the pew came loose in his hands, his yell echoing over the wind as he was sucked away.
Lucy pushed herself in between two pews, hoping that would be enough to hold her in. She looked up and was amazed to see Elizabeth holding a sword in her hands, the blade wedged into a pew. Lucy couldn't begin to wonder where she had been hiding that thing as the wind intensified and the pew behind her suddenly ripped out of the floor, holes in the tile behind it. Lucy yelled as she fell back, the pew flying up and into the vortex. Lucy skidded on the hard tile floor, her arms flaying about, reaching out for something to hold onto.
Feeling her hand grip something solid, Lucy automatically tugged on it hard. Unfortunately, the solid object turned out to be Mel's leg and the tug was enough to dislodge his tenuous grip on the wood pew. Yelling, Mel went flying loose, Marybeth, who had been holding onto him, going along for the ride, the three young people screaming as they vanished.
Seeing Lucy go, Elizabeth was racked with indecision. Part of her felt the responsibility of making sure the newly Immortal Lucy was all right. The self-preservation instinct within her, however, dictated she save her own hide first. That problem was solved when the wood paneling of the pew gave way, her sword ripping through it, Elizabeth barely able to hold onto it as she flew out, her hair whipping behind her as she hit the energy and vanished.
Katie let out a long scream as she felt Nicky's grip loosening. The two had been holding on near one pew, Katie's legs wrapped around Nicky's waist for support as the wind grabbed at them. Nicky tired to pry Katie's hands loose, hoping to let her grip the pew herself. Katie glanced at him, though, with a look that let him know she wasn't letting go of him no matter what. Unsure if this was the last thing he would ever do, Nicky kissed his wife hard, the two embracing as they flew into the vortex.
Knowing he wasn't going to last long, Max tried to crawl his way up the aisle and away from the vortex but it was like crawling up an avalanche. The hole tugged at him harder and harder and he knew before it happened that the tile under him was actually coming loose, sending him into the vortex.
Given his age, Tarring thought it a miracle he had lasted this long but seeing Max vanish let him know it was almost done. Deciding to bow to the inevitable, he let go, crossing himself and whispering a prayer as he hit the vortex.
At the back of the church, their coats whipping around them, Robin and Liam stood firm, magically held back as they watched the others vanished. The two Eternals faced each other in contemplation.
<We should help them> Liam "said," knowing he couldn't be heard over the wind.
<I know, I know> Robin nodded. <But why do I get the feeling this is going to be bigger trouble than what we got into back in Sunnydale?> With that, he and Liam ran up and jumped to the portal, vanishing within it.
The wind died down as the vortex seemed to fold in on itself, swallowing its own energies up. There was a rush of wind and then it was gone, vanished as if it had never existed, leaving behind only a silent church to bear witness to the incredible event.
May 24th, 1999
1031 Hours PST
Joyce Summers sighed as she went over the books from the previous day. She knew Buffy had tried her best but she had already spotted a dozen mistakes in the records for the week her daughter had been running the shop. Then again, Joyce hadn't been that great with Buffy's homework, so she supposed it balanced out.
After spending a week in the body of her Immortal teenaged Slayer daughter, Joyce was finding being back to her true age a relief. Funny, a second youth sounded so good on paper but when it actually happened, it was a nightmare. Stuck in Buffy's body, watching as her own body hugged Steve, who was in Giles' body at the time, having to deal with that huge fight, it took its toll. And finding out every moment of it was recorded on video for everyone connected to Section Seven to see was just rubbing it in.
Unlike the others, however, Joyce didn't feel any animosity towards Robin and Liam for that touch. She had been dismayed to hear that the kids had played such a cruel joke on Liam, jumping to the same wrong conclusion as Liam, Robin, Shaw and Artemis, that it had been deliberate. Even after learning the kids had no idea who Kathleen was, she still thought the very idea of the stripper to be in bad taste. So, she could understand Liam taking advantage of the switch scheme to get a little payback.
Joyce also didn't feel any hostility towards Shaw, Faith, Kendra or Larry for helping the faeries along with the joke. The truth was, she had somewhat suspected something was going on when Faith and Kendra kept telling her details of the Slayers that she was pretty sure didn't exist. Unlike most of the gang, as a mother, Joyce had a built-in bullshit detector that let her know that it probably wasn't true that doing training in the nude in the morning was a tradition for Slayers.
Frankly, Joyce was fine letting the teens sort things out. As far as she was concerned, both sides had viable arguments for getting at the other but that was their problem, not hers. She was happy being back at work, getting the gallery together and actually welcoming the paperwork involved.
She glanced up from her ledger to see Sherlock pad in. Joyce had to smile. While they had been firmly in Robin and Liam's side when the switch was pulled, the Spirit Guardians had gotten dragged in due to an element of the switch that hadn't counted on: That the Guardians' telepathy could be heard both by their owner and by the person in their body. Meaning that Sherlock had been forced to put up with hearing the thoughts of both Joyce and Buffy during the week they'd been in each other's bodies. And the pets had also been in on the video prank so the guys weren't happy with them either, so it was no surprise Sherlock was hanging closer to Joyce then ever.
<Someone's here> the dog spoke, Joyce raising an eyebrow.
"One of the guys?"
<Nope. Looks like a customer. Expensive type too.>
"Really?" Joyce said, standing up and brushing at her dress. "Let's go see what he wants." She stepped out from behind the counter, walking over and glancing behind a shelf to see the figure Sherlock had identified.
He was just under six feet tall with dark black hair in a short but stylish cut, streaks of gray at the temples. He was wearing a gray suit that looked to be worth more than Joyce's car repair payments, his black shoes well-polished, a coat draped across his shoulders. Joyce could see that he had a good build, not overly athletic but nice and trim yet carrying a strength to it. But it was his face that got her attention. Handsome, the light wrinkles made it appear he was in his early forties at the most, strong features, a sharp nose and tight jaw. Set in the middle of that were a pair of dark eyes, eyes that seemed to carry a long past to them, and a sad one at that.
Her quick apprisal done, Joyce put on a smile and spoke. "Hello. Can I help you?"
The man looked up at her, letting a smile come onto his face that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Hello," he said in a deep yet somehow gentle voice, no traces of any accent whatsoever. "I was hoping I could speak to someone who'd know about what kind of stock you might have. Do you know who would be in charge?"
"That would me," Joyce smiled. "Joyce Summers, I own the gallery."
"A pleasure," the man said, shaking her hand. "I was wondering if you might be of help finding a certain item."
"Certainly," Joyce nodded. "What is it you're looking for, Mr.....?"
"All right, Mr. Zev------"
"I'm sorry," he interrupted. "Let me clarify. Zev Mundac."
Joyce raised an eyebrow. "That's an unusual name."
"I'm from abroad," Zev answered easily as he reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a photograph. "I was hoping I could find this."
Joyce looked at the photograph, which showed what appeared to be a simple ruby, not very large but eye-catching, marked by a strange spiral design in the middle. "Nice," she remarked. "But I'm afraid I haven't seen anything like that here."
"Are you sure?" Zev asked, a touch of intensity in his voice as he spoke. "I was told the owner would be bringing it to this town and thought you might have heard about it."
"Sorry," Joyce said, handing the photo back to him. "I haven't heard about anything like that and something with such a unique design would get some attention."
Zev sighed, disappointment in his voice as put the photo back. "It couldn't be that easy, of course," he muttered to himself. He shook his head and looked back up at Joyce, smiling. "Well, thank you, anyway. I still believe it will be coming to this town soon so I guess I'll just have to wait and see."
"I'm sorry I couldn't be of more help," Joyce said apologetically.
"It's not your fault," Zev remarked as he turned and started to walk off. He paused suddenly, a thought striking him as he slowly looked back at Joyce. "Ms. Summers?"
"It's Mrs., actually," Joyce said.
"Really?" Zev remarked, looking at her hand. "I fail to see a ring."
Joyce couldn't help but feel a bit thrilled that he had actually looked, automatically rubbing her hand as she answered. "Divorced. Three years ago."
"Hmmm," Zev said. "So.....if I were to ask if you would be free for dinner tonight, that wouldn't be a stumbling block?"
Joyce stared at him, trying to keep the surprise off her face as she processed his request. "Are you....are you asking me out on a date, Mr. Mundac?"
Zev appeared to think about it before nodding. "Yes. Yes, I suppose I am at that. Of course, if you agree, I'll have to insist you call me Zev."
"And I'll have to insist you call me Joyce," Joyce smiled. "You're really asking me out?"
"Oh, come now," Zev smiled. "Surely this isn't the first time this has happened to a woman as attractive as you?"
Joyce bit her lip, hoping to hell she wasn't blushing too visibly. "No. It's just...been a while and that didn't exactly end well."
"I hope I can do better," Zev said. "I'm new to town and if I'm going to be staying here for a bit, I believe I'll need to get the lay of the land, so to speak. And I can think of worse company to keep while getting that."
Joyce looked at him carefully before nodding. "All right. When and where?"
"For the latter, what's the best restaurant in town?"
"Maison Declaire," Joyce answered. "But if you're trying to get something for tonight, forget it, they're booked weeks in advance."
"Is seven o'clock all right with you?" Zev asked.
Joyce shook her head. "I don't think you understand. It's impossible to just walk in and get a meal."
"I understood," Zev said. "Seven o'clock?"
Joyce had to let out a little laugh. She stopped when she saw Zev staring at her in slight confusion. "Sorry. Yes, yes, seven will be fine."
Zev smiled and this time Joyce could see it in his eyes a bit. "All right. I'll be waiting." He turned to leave as Joyce looked at him. "Zev?"
He turned to face her smiling face. "I'm somewhat surprised. You're asking out to dinner a woman you only just met? For all you know, I could have a secret life."
Zev paused by the doorway and looked at her and that melancholy look was back in his eyes as he spoke. "We all have secret lives." He walked out, the door shutting behind him as Joyce and Sherlock watched him go.
<Gee, *that* wasn't foreboding or anything> Sherlock remarked dryly.
"Oh, shut up," Joyce smiled as she walked back to the counter, a slight spring to her step. Sherlock stared at her in mild surprise. <You're not actually going to meet him, aren't you?>
"Any reason why I shouldn't?" Joyce asked. "You didn't detect any demon stuff on him, did you?"
<No. But that doesn't mean he's a nice guy.>
"In this town, I'll take what I can get," Joyce remarked. The phone rang and she reached over to answer it. "Hello?"
"Hi, Mom!" Buffy's voice came over the line. "I was just checking in quick, Steve was talking about having a big dinner tonight, try to smooth things over with Shaw, Faith, Kendra and Larry, before patrol."
"That sounds good, honey," Joyce said. "Glad you're getting over them helping Robin and Liam."
"Oh, we're not," Buffy replied good-naturedly. "We're just putting them off-guard so they won't expect our payback. So, you wanna come?"
Joyce sighed. "Unfortunately, honey, I can't participate in you getting even tonight. I've got a date."
Joyce had to smile as she imagined the look of utter disbelief on Buffy's face right now. "A date?" Buffy asked, breaking the silence. "Wait a minute, wait a minute, with a guy?"
"I thought that would beat the other alternatives," Joyce answered dryly. "His name's Zev, he was a customer here, he asked me out so I said yes."
"Mom," Buffy said in a concerned tone. "Are you sure this guy's......"
"What? Wealthy, handsome, respectful?"
"Well, he was walking in broad daylight, none of the demon detectors went off, Sherlock seemed okay with him and I didn't get any bad vibes. I didn't see his arm open, so the robot theory may still hold."
There was a long silence before Buffy spoke. "Okay. We'll talk about this at home later." She hung up, Joyce chuckling as she hung up her end. She looked down to see Sherlock staring up at her, his eyes carrying a great humor to them. "What?"
<You don't get it, do you?> Sherlock said, making it seem like he was laughing.
"Get what?" Joyce frowned.
<Buffy's going to tell the girls, which means when you get home, you're going to have a daughter dealing with her single mother going out on a date on the Hellmouth on the one hand and a bunch of teenagers, who also happened to be a mix of Slayers, Amazons and witches, giving you advice on how to dress and act on the other.>
Joyce took a moment to reflect on that, then slumped on the counter, her head in her hands. "Oh, God, what have I done?" She lightly banged her head on the counter as Sherlock just laughed.
Time relative to present-day Earth calendar
The vortex blasted open without warning, the wind blowing across the lush grass of the hill below it. It spat out red energy and flickers of lightning, a howl covering it. The howl was soon overcome by another one, a more human one as the vortex spat out Shirley, who let out a loud whoop as she landed hard on the hill, rolling down it before coming to a stop on the bottom, stunned.
There was a double yell as Kim and Sean emerged, the two breaking apart as they rolled down the hill, Kim's gun pressing hard on her side as she slid down for a bit, her ponytail coming loose as her long blonde hair whipped around her. Sean yelped as he hit the bottom of the hill on his back, Kim landing next to him.
Another yell came out of the air, Cal slamming onto the hill and rolling down to Shirley, slamming into her stomach and knocking the wind out of her.
A triple yell filled the air next as Lucy hit the ground with Mel and Marybeth, the trio mixing together in a painful pile as they went down the hill, Mel ending up underneath the two girls, gasping for breath through it all.
Elizabeth didn't let out a long yell, just a short shriek as she hit the ground, wincing as she felt a couple of fingers break under the impact. By the time she made it to the bottom of the hill, they were swiftly healing, the Englishwoman shaking her head as she joined the others on the bottom of the hill.
Katie and Nicky were still holding on tight to one another as they left the portal, refusing to let go even as they rolled down the hill, each trying to put themselves on the bottom but their partner rolling them over to take the burnt of the hits.
Max was next and as he landed, neatly rolled forward and came to his feet, managing to slide down the hill, keeping his balance so he ended up in a standing position, his body tense as if ready for action.
Tarring's calling didn't forbid him from letting out a yell as he landed hard on the hill, biting back the instinct to curse as he felt dust and dirt cover his robes, gasping as he came to a stop next to the McDaniels.
A final flash disgorged Robin and Liam, the two Eternals easily landing on their feet at the top of the hill and calmly walking down as if it was no problem whatsoever. Behind and above them, the portal remained flashing for a few more seconds. Then, with a sucking sound and a flash of light, it vanished as quickly as it had appeared, only air left behind.
"We have confirmation. The portal has been opened and the prince is here. Should we send a squad after him?"
"No, I kind of thought I'd let him run around the planet for a few years, whip up a resistance and bring down everything I've been trying to create."
There was a sound of steel whipping through the air, followed by a gurgled choke.
Several moans could be heard as the humans slowly got their bearings, rising to their feet to try and figure out just what had happened.
"God, my body feels crazy!" Katie hissed, rubbing at her arms. "My skin's burning up but my insides are freezing!"
"Gotta love spatial portals," Liam remarked offhandedly, brushing at his coat as he offered an arm respectfully to Tarring, carefully pulling the priest up. "There ye go, Father."
"Thank you," Tarring said, brushing at his robes. He looked over to where Max stood. "Are you all right?"
"Why shouldn't he be?" Lucy said bitterly. "He's the only one who didn't do a tumble act down that hard-ass hill!"
"How did you do that, anyway?" Marybeth said, placing her glasses back securely on her nose.
Max was looking about, trying to get his bearings, even as he answered the teenager's question. "It's not my first rough fall."
Sean got up and offered a hand to his partner. "You okay, Kim?"
"Yeah, thanks," Kim said in an easy tone, accepting his hand and letting him pull her up. Nearby, the McDaniels watched the way she clutched his hand and shared a knowing glance.
"Sure, no one gives the brother a hand," Cal groaned as he got up, rubbing at his back.
"Give it a rest, Reynolds," Sean said coldly. "Anyone know what the hell just happened?"
"No," Cal shrugged. "But odds are, I'm gonna die first."
"What makes you say that?" Katie asked in confusion.
"First rule of action and/or horror movies involving large groups in strange surroundings," Cal answered. "Black guy is the first to go."
"That's Hollywood!" Katie said in disbelief.
"They have to get the idea somewhere," Shirley pointed out.
"Thanks," Cal nodded at the woman.
"Anyone have any idea what the shit just happened?" Kim said, shaking her hair loose.
"Young lady, I know this is a trying situation but please try to refrain from foul language," Tarring said in a chiding tone, adjusting his collar so it could clearly be seen.
"Sorry, Father," Kim said, chastised.
"It is all right," Tarring stated. "Since we seem to be in this together, I believe introductions are only proper. I am Father Bernard Tarring."
Kim and Sean both held up their badges. "Detectives Sean Cavendish and Kimberly Wagner."
"Dr. Elizabeth Corday, this is Dr. Lucy Knight."
"I'm his wife, Katie."
"Liam Devlin O'Shaunnesgy Patrick Dillon O'Hara Paddwick McHale Thornton Danahure."
It took a moment for everyone to shake that lengthy introduction off, then all realized there was one person who hadn't chimed in. "Mel?" Marybeth asked, looking about. "Mel, where are------" She looked up to see him standing at the top of the hill, staring outward. Marybeth walked up after him, the others following, all still a but unsure what was happening. "Mel?" Marybeth called again as she reached the top of the hill. "Mel, what are-------"
She broke off, her eyes widening in shock as she saw what he was looking at. One by one, the others joined them, each reacting with the same stunned silence, save for Robin and Liam who rolled their eyes in "oh, great, *here*" expressions.
Before the group was a massive plain of grass. What made it unique was that the grass was red, a plain of crimson leading to a nearby forest, a river flowing through it. A set of craggy rocks was set on the side, the gray boulders creating small pockets of caves within them. To their left, some distance away, was what appeared to be a simple village. What was getting everyone's attention, however, was the massive sight before them.
In the distance, in what appeared to be several miles away, was a city. That it was so visible from such a distance hinted at its size but it was its layout that got their attention. Massive towers jutted upwards, several set on what appeared to be platforms that added to their height, the towers reaching up for what seemed to be miles. The entire city appeared to be set on a pedestal, one that made it seem more majestic than ever.
It was the architecture that really caught their eye. It seemed to be a mix of classic European medieval castles and the type of futuristic cities that were often seen in movies of the 1950's. Small dots flew about the air, what appeared to be flying craft moving about, an odd contrast against the castle landscape they moved about in. Everyone was silent, several gaping with mouths open, barely noticing how they were stepping a bit down from the top of the hill.
A cry got the attention of the group and they looked up to see a massive winged shape flow over them. It appeared to be a dragon-like creature, a pair of huge wings flapping as it flew over the hills toward the distant mountains, tail flicking behind it as he went. As they watched him go, the humans could see in the sky the outline of what appeared to be two moons.
"Well......" Shirley said after a full minute and a half of silence. "That's something you don't see every day."
"Actually, we do see stuff like that every day," Robin remarked, although no one seemed to hear him.
"That.....that was....." Katie stammered. "That was real. Wasn't it?"
Sean swallowed and put into words what they were all thinking. "We're not on Earth."
Cal looked at him incredulously. "Wow, you really cracked this one, Columbo!"
Sean rolled his eyes. "Columbo wasn't a cop. He was an amateur sleuth with a badge. Did you see anything on that show that remotely resembled proper police procedure?"
"And that's why he actually solved his cases," Cal shot back.
"Excuse me!" Lucy shot out. "Can we concentrate on the big stuff here? Like where in the hell------"
"Ahem," Tarring coughed.
"Where in the *heck* are we? What is this place, what just happened, can we have a frame of reference here?!"
Everyone turned to look at Mel, who was staring off, his look not one of shock but of sadness. "It's called Varra," he continued. "I'd estimate we're about five or six light years away from Earth, at a rough guess. To be technical, we're on the continent of Laushana, right by Varran, captial city of the planet."
Everyone stared at him. "And," Shirley began. "You'd know that how?"
Mel turned to look at them, his eyes carrying a sad acceptance. "Because it's my home."
It took the group about a minute or two to digest that information, Marybeth naturally taking it hardest, staring with her mouth wide open at his schoolmate. "Wait a minute......" Lucy said carefully. "Are you telling us you're.......an alien?"
"No, actually," Mel replied.
"Oh, good," Lucy sighed in relief.
"See, we're on my planet right now, so, technically, *you* guys are the aliens."
Another long silence filled the air as the group took that in. Mel turned and rubbed at his hair, taking a deep breath. "I hate to say it, but......I'm the one responsible for you guys being here."
"Oh, you are, huh?" Cal said dangerously, taking a step forward.
"Easy, Reynolds," Sean said, putting an arm on Cal's shoulder, pulling the black man back. "Let him explain himself."
"Yeah," Kim said, eyes narrowed at Mel. "Maybe then, we'll all want to take a stab at him!"
"Can we not mention stab, please?" Lucy muttered, wincing in pained remembrance.
"Mel?" Marybeth whispered, staring at the friend she now realized she didn't know at all.
Taking a deep breath, Mel faced them and spoke. "My real name is Melroy Tarrickton and what I'm about to tell you is what I discovered when I was eight years old. Twenty-five years ago, as you measure time, my father was the king of this planet."
"The king?" Kim said dubiously. "So, you're a prince?"
"I guess so," Mel shrugged. "But just try to keep quiet and listen, okay? I'm trying to get this all out." Rubbing at his forehead, he went on. "Twenty-five years ago, my father, the king was caught in a major internal political move. Following a war my people barely got through, one of his advisors, Mingor Fahn, began a massive rebellion that ended up removing my father from power. It was pretty ugly, from what I could tell, major civil war with lots of casualties. Among them......" He swallowed. "Were my mother and father."
The others were spellbound by the tale, Mel wiping at his eyes before continuing. "Just before he......died, my father managed to get together a small craft. It wasn't too big, just enough for one passenger. Me, his only child, heir to the throne, the man needed to unite the planet if need be. Varra is.....sort of unique in the technology department. No nuclear power, but we have made strides in anti-gravity and energy weapons that Earth never did. Sort of 'Blade Runner' meets Camelot, I guess you'd call it. Anyway, we didn't really journey outside our planet so our space program wasn't exactly up to your standards and what was developed was kept secret so my father knew Fahn would have no idea of his emergency backup plan. To send me out on a lone capsule, sent to Earth, out of harm's way in case he fell. The hope was that somehow, someway, I could land on a space-faring planet and, when I grew up, manage to get the resources together to return to Varra, unite the planet and overthrow Fahn, reinstalling the rightful rule.
"Unfortunately, he vastly overestimated how powerful the spaceship's engine would be and I ended up on a planet whose people haven't even gotten past their own moon and where aliens are considered fiction. So, my ship lands in the middle of Wisconsin, found by a former military officer who knows the value of keeping it quiet. He and his wife raise me as their own until I reach the age of eight at which point, I get the unwelcome birthday present of an unlocked memory archive my father put in, letting me know what I really am and what's expected of me."
"Hold up," Shirley said, holding up a hand. "Let me get this straight. An infant placed on a rocket ship by his father to escape the doom of his world, sent through space, crash-lands on Earth, is taken in by an old couple, gets a message from his dad revealing he's an alien and that he's meant for a great destiny?" She glanced about. "Am I the only one thinking 'Ripoff!' here?"
"Well, it depends," Marybeth suddenly said. "I mean, it was Wisconsin, not Kansas, military guy instead of farmers and the hologram from his real dad was the post-Crisis John Byrne Superman continuity, not the pre-Crisis-------"
She trailed off as everyone stared at her and threw up her arms defensively. "What? A smart girl can't like comic books?"
Mel sighed. "To make a long story short-------"
"Too late," Robin and Liam remarked in unison.
"I realized that there was no way in hell I was getting to Varra with Earth technology," Mel went on. "So, I figured if I was stuck there, I might as well make it my own. I've pretty much forgotten about Varra and what it was like, what the recording from my father showed me. I just couldn't live up to my destiny." He looked about and sighed. "Apparently, destiny didn't get my memo on the subject."
"It rarely does," Liam observed.
Kim shook her head, holding up a hand. "Wait a minute, wait a minute," she stated. "There's one thing here I don't get."
"ONE thing?!" Lucy asked in disbelief.
Kim fixed a hard gaze on Mel. "If your technology isn't to space-faring level, how could this guy manage to transport us over several light years?"
"That's a good question," Mel admitted, rubbing his chin. "I wouldn't think even my people could be up to transwarp tech in just a few decades. And to send it several solar systems over is a major achievement, I don't think it's ever been done before."
"So what you're saying," Elizabeth said carefully. "Is that we're the first people from Earth to ever set foot on your world?"
"As far as I know," Mel nodded.
Elizabeth quickly reached into her coat, rummaging through her pockets, before letting out an "Aha!" as she found what she was looking for. She pulled her hand out to reveal a small Union Jack attached to a tiny stick. Clearing her throat and holding her head high, she spoke out in a clear and concise tone. "I hereby claim this land in the name of her Royal Majesty, Queen----"
"What the hell are you doing?!" Mel exclaimed, staring at her in shock. "You can't claim my planet!"
Elizabeth held up her small Union Jack. "I have a flag."
Mel stared harder. "So?" he yelped. "That doesn't mean you can just claim any territory you want!"
"How the bloody hell do you think they built their empire?" Liam interjected with a smile.
"You have a problem with the British Empire?" Elizabeth asked, looking back at Liam.
The leprechaun let out a snort and returned the gaze. "Lass, note the hair. Note the build. Note the bloody Dublin accent. What do ye think?"
Elizabeth's face dropped and she swallowed as she faced the Irishman. "Now, I think we've got more on our hands than politics--------"
"Really?" Liam said, raising his red eyebrows. "Ye're the one trying to claim his planet, just as your countrymen have been trying to claim lands not theirs for centuries on end. Course, I don't blame you. All that spotted dick."
"I'm sorry?" Elizabeth asked in confusion.
"Yer food," Liam clarified. "Yer.....cuisine, if you'll excuse the expression. Spotted dick, toad in a hole, warm beer, boiled every damn thing. Let's face it, the English conquered the world just to escape their own cooking!"
Elizabeth stared at him, then turned to the chuckling Robin. "Are you going to let him talk about Britain like that?"
"Why not?" Robin smiled.
"Well, you're British."
Robin stopped smiling, his face now in confusion. "I am?"
"You have a British accent," Elizabeth stated.
Robin stared at her, then at Liam. "I do?" he asked both.
Elizabeth stared at him in amazement. "Are you trying to tell me you honestly didn't know you speak with a British accent?"
"No," Robin said in a stunned tone that showed it honestly hadn't come to his attention before. "Well, I'll be damned," he remarked, scratching his head. "I never noticed that before. I can't believe none of the guys ever mentioned it before."
"Well, they've been hanging out with Giles," Liam pointed out. "Probably used to it. Could be why Amy likes ye so much, the whole James Bond aura."
"See, there's a good example of English culture!" Elizabeth stated.
"Hate to burst yer bubble, lass," Liam said in a tone that made it clear he didn't hate it at all. "But he was created by a 1400-year-old Irishman."
As Elizabeth's face fell, the others in their group exchanged perplexed glances. "Are all Europeans like this?" Cal asked.
"You'd be surprised," Max remarked. He suddenly jerked his head as if he'd heard something, his eyes peering about nearby.
There was a loud and sudden pounding and then a growing volume of voices coming from the other side of the hill. The group moved back up to the top, Max in the lead, stopping at the top of the hill and looking down at the spot the group had occupied a few moments before. "I was afraid of this," he muttered.
"Afraid of-----" Sean broke off as he came up behind Maximus, staring at the sight before them. The others soon spotted the same sight, which once again shocked them into silence.
At the bottom of the hill, slowly moving upwards, were a pack of armored figures, nearly twenty in all. They all wore dark black armor, their helmets and chest plates carrying strange symbols, all carrying what appeared to be sharp blades, each with an odd glow to them. What made them so unique though was their bodies. All were strong and burly and each had a green- colored skin that, as they came closer, could soon be seen to actually be scales. The ones whose faces weren't obscured by face-masks had plainly reptilian features, yellow eyes set in their hard faces. From each set of armor came a long and apparently strong tail, which flickered about behind them to give them a truly alien appearance.
"Shit," Mel whispered. "The Lizardon."
"Who?" Marybeth meekly asked.
"They've long been an outcast race," Mel explained. "Murderous and brutal, many of them aided Fahn in the rebellion. Apparently, they now work for him."
On the side, unseen by the others who were staring transfixed at the soldiers, Max slowly knelt down and scooped up a small clump of dirt. He briefly rubbed it between his hands, loose dirt sliding out as he rose, brushing off his hands, one moving to the side. "What is with the glowing swords?" he asked as he came up to Mel.
"Probably unilether," the young man replied. "It's a special metal from the Hinterlands, creates a layer of heat around the blade, meant to make the blows more deadly."
"Good to know," Max nodded.
One of the creatures, the bright coloring on his symbols marking him as the apparent commander, stepped forward, his cold gaze sweeping over the group before coming to Mel. It spoke, a series of hisses and grunts that nonetheless conveyed cold hate.
"Um, translation?" Kim asked.
"Sure," Robin nodded. He and Liam each snapped their fingers, a spark of energy appearing between them. Without warning, the Lizardon's hisses turned into words. "-----Now or we will kill them all."
"How the hell------" Katie started.
"Oh, just the magical equivalent of an instant Berlitz course," Robin replied good- naturedly.
Throwing the two a strange glance, Nicky came forward, coughing to get the Lizardon's attention. "Excuse me......sir?" The creature glared at her. "It is sir, isn't it?" The creature still glared, evidentially understanding Nicky's words but not really caring about them. "All right," the man calmly said. "Now, I understand you probably have your orders here but perhaps we can talk about this? You see, we've only just arrived and we really don't have much of a grasp of the situation so perhaps if we could talk to your super------"
Elizabeth had kept careful watch of the Lizardon, her instincts for survival and danger warning her that Nicky's talking wasn't going to do the job. She could see the tension in the creature's muscles as he pulled his blade back. Instinctively, Elizabeth rushed forward, pushing Nicky out of the way just as the reptilian's arm shot forward, the blade ripping through the Englishwoman's stomach. She let out a gasp at the blow, not just at the blade itself, the tip jutting out of her back, but also the feeling as if the blade was on fire, heat filling her stomach. She fell onto her knees as the Lizardon yanked the blade out, then spun around, his tail whipping through the air and smashing Elizabeth on the side of her head. A loud cracking sound rang out as her head whipped hard to the left, the chin on the other side of her shoulder. With a light grunt, Elizabeth fell, dead before she hit the ground.
"ELIZABETH!" Lucy screamed as she watched her fellow surgeon collapse from a massive wound and a broken neck. Tarring automatically crossed himself as the Lizardon snarled, his blade held up as he moved to the others.
There was a blur of motion, the sound of steel moving through the air and suddenly the reptile's sword was on the ground, most of his arm with it. The Lizardon chief barely had time to register any pain before Max's sword dived forward, slicing the creature's throat. Without a word, the Immortal ditched his coat and suit jacket and dived into the fight, slicing down the troops with incredible skill.
Although they were facing an opponent unlike any they had ever seen, Kim and Sean's training automatically kicked in. In seconds, the two had their pistols out, both taking well- practiced stances and opening fire on the oncoming troops. Their first shots against the armor were ineffective, but the two swiftly changed to shots at the unprotected head and throat areas, several of the soldiers quickly going down.
Cal had ducked under his coat to pull out his own revolver, blasting the large gun out. To the surprise of Kim and Sean, several of his bullets went through the armor plating of a pair of soldiers, sending them down. "You realize you're under arrest for illegal armor-piercing bullets," Sean let out as he sent a bullet through a Lizardon's eyepiece.
"Just keep shooting!" Cal let out. "Either of you get wasted, I'm getting blamed for it and you know it!"
Putting Cal's lovely observation aside, the two cops stood back to back, trying to make their shots count.
Katie screamed as a Lizardon grabbed at the hem of her dress, tripping her up. The creature leaned over the redhead, his foul breath nearly causing her to swoon. The reptilian let out a howl and stood up, a discarded blade sticking out of its back. With a snarl, Nicky let go of the blade and yanked the Lizardon off his wife. The creature landed on his back, the blade slamming in and swiftly ended its cries of pain.
Shirley yelped and ducked a swing from one soldier, standing up to let out a punch. Another tried to come up behind her and she swung backwards, yelling as her fist met the metal helmet. She grabbed the thing's wrist and, on impulse, brought her teeth down to it and bit down. The creature screamed, his sword falling from his hand as Shirley brought a fist right into its jaw, sending it down.
From her cowering position, Marybeth stared up at Shirley. "Wow," she whispered. "How'd you-------"
"You grow up where I did after high school, you learn to protect yourself," Shirley shrugged, kicking the creature in the ribs.
Mel ducked a blow from a blade and launched a savage kick to the solar plexus. The Lizardon he faced growled and swung back out with its blade. Mel ducked again, rolling on the ground and coming to a blade that had been discarded by a fallen soldier. Grabbing it, he spun about, raised the flat edge and brought it down right on the lizard creature's tail, severing it. The creature let out a horrendous scream of agony that cut off as Mel smashed the butt of his sword onto the back of its head.
Lucy was scrambling to get to Elizabeth, letting out a howl as she felt a blade just cut her cheek. She stared at the Lizardon who stood before her, his blade hoisted high. Suddenly, Tarring appeared, the priest grabbing the creature with a strength that belied his age. Whispering a prayer of forgiveness, Tarring punched the Lizardon in the face, rocking it.
"Father!" Lucy cried out and Tarring glanced behind to see another Lizardon charging him, his blade down with the point aimed at his back. Quickly, Tarring grabbed his opponent and pulled him forward, giving him a shove. As it happened, that Lizardon's blade was also aimed point-first so he and his compatriot ended up skewering each other, both letting out long and loud gasps of pain before collapsing onto the ground.
"Go with God," Tarring whispered, making the sign of the cross swiftly before moving toward Lucy. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, just a little cut," Lucy said.
"What cut?" Tarring frowned. Lucy touched her cheek, amazed to look at her hand and see no blood from the cut that had been there moments before. "Wow," she whispered before thoughts of Elizabeth once more took hold.
<You know, I'm really not in the mood for this> Robin remarked as he saw a trio of Lizardon charge him and Liam.
<Come on, we can have fun> Liam smirked.
<Liam? Reminder time. We no longer have near unlimitless power and we're on a distant planet.>
<Damn, you're right> Liam frowned. <Great, ruin my fun.>
<Ah, relax> Robin said. <We can still protect ourselves.> He and Liam each let out a wave and the soldiers changed in mid-step, turning into a trio of worms that were quickly stamped down by the two Eternals, who looked at the rest of the conflict.
At the top of the hill, the gunfire was quieting, Cal and the two Chicago police officers running out of targets. Cal placed a final bullet into one Lizardon's chest and lowered his gun. Letting out a small smile, he turned to see Sean's gun sticking into his face. Without a word, the officer held out his hand. Glancing at Kim's gun, also aimed at him, Cal sighed and put his revolver into Sean's hand. It still remained up, Sean raising an eyebrow and with another sigh, Cal reached into his coat and pulled out a set of bullets, putting them with the gun.
Lowering his gun and pocketing Cal's, Sean glanced over to see what else was going on. Shirley had just punched out another Lizardon, Marybeth behind her, looking a bit overwhelmed. Mel had used the butt of his blade to knock out another trooper and sent him down. Robin and Liam appeared to be watching the entire affair with looks of mild amusement, as if enjoying the chance to appraise the group. The McDaniels had moved over to the middle of the field, staring in amazement at the same sight that soon drew the attention of the three gun wielders.
Max was in the middle of a large pile of Lizardon corpses, all with savage blade wounds on them. He grabbed an attempted thrust, yanking the blade away, spinning it in his hands, and slamming it into the soldier's throat. He had his own blade up and ready to block the blows of another trooper, slicing his chest and then slamming it into his throat. Yanking the blade out, he spun about and hurled it behind him, the sword slamming right into the eyehole of a masked Lizardon behind him, the creature falling back before it could even register its own death. Another Lizardon charged Max. The human slid his foot under a discarded blade and kicked it upward, catching it in mid air, smashing the point into the Lizardon's chest. Max took the other blade out of the stunned troopers' hand and slammed it into the other side of the wounded being's chest. Reaching out to take a knife out of the Lizardon's belt, Max easily threw it at the sole remaining soldier on his feet. The blade slammed right into its throat, sending it down. With a look of utter calm, Max reached out, took the two blades, yanked them out of the Lizardon's chest and then slashed inward, his arms coming together, the blades neatly slicing the creature's head off.
Max let the blades drop and calmly walked toward the Lizardon who had Max's sword in his helmet. He let out a grunt as he put a foot on the dead creature's helmet and pulled his blade out. He wiped the green blood off on his coat as he turned to face the others, almost all of whom were staring at him in a mixture of horror and awe.
"Okay, that's just about the single most horrible thing I've ever seen in my life," Kim said with more light a tone than she felt.
"Damn," Cal whispered, the Cabrini-Green native actually shocked by the brutality he'd just seen. "That was incredible."
"That was hardly incredible, young man," Max stated calmly.
"Then what do you call it?" Cal said in disbelief.
The vaguest hints of a smile came onto Max's face. "A decent workout."
As Cal gaped, a choking sound came over the hill. Everyone looked over to where Lucy and Tarring knelt by Elizabeth's body. Lucy brushed at Elizabeth' face, tears coming down her cheeks. "You told me we couldn't die..." she whispered. "You told me......"
"Well, looks like we were wrong," Shirley said, looking to Cal. "The white British girl got it first."
"About time the brother got a break," Cal replied.
"Hey!" Katie yelled out with an anger that surprised them both. "She just died saving my husband's life. So show respect for God's sake."
Tarring knelt before Elizabeth, his cross in his hands as he whispered in Latin, making the sign of the cross above her body. "Eternal light grant unto her, O Lord," he stated solemnly. "And may perpetual light shine upon her-------"
Without warning, Elizabeth's body shook under Lucy's hands, the younger doctor unable to restrain a yell as the Englishwoman's head suddenly came to the side, another cracking coming out as her neck reset itself. A burst of lightning covered the wound in her stomach and then Elizabeth's eyes and mouth open, a huge gasp coming out as she took in air.
"Jesus!" Nicky yelled, he, like about everyone else, jumping back from the unexpected resurrection.
"Somehow, I doubt it's him," Shirley managed to quip, her eyes wide.
"So...." Cal said, looking at the startled Tarring. "I take it the perpetual light is on hold?"
Elizabeth groaned as she rubbed at her neck. "I hate that," she sighed. "Every damn time it happens, I hate it. Getting my neck snapped is the worse, I'm going to have a crick in it for hours." She paused as she looked about, realizing everyone had just witnessed her return to life. "Oh, damn."
"How.....How did-----" Kim stammered, unable to accept what she'd just seen. "How did you----You were------"
"Dead," Elizabeth sighed. "Not for the first time. Not for the last, unfortunately." She groaned as she started to stand up, balancing herself out carefully. She brushed at her coat, cursing at the hole in her shirt before speaking. "I was born in 1738 in Manchester, England. I died for the first time in Paris in 1771. I'm Immortal."
"Immortal?" Marybeth whispered. "You mean.....you can't die?"
"Oh, no, I can die," Elizabeth replied. "I just won't stay dead very long, as you've just seen."
Kim shook her head, her mind whirling. She turned toward Max and her mouth fell open. "Oh my God."
As one, the group turned to see what she had seen: A burst of energy covering a wound on the man's back, taking with it the large cut along his back a lucky Lizardon had managed to inflict. "You," Kim whispered. "You.....you're like her, aren't you?"
Max turned to look at her and nodded. "I am."
Sean asked the question they were all wondering. "Who the hell are you?"
Max stared at him for a long moment, then let his gaze sweep over the entire group, appearing to gauge his response on something he saw in them. He evidentially found it as he rose to his full height, his eyes suddenly taking on a much older and experienced look as he opened his mouth to speak.
<Oh, boy> Robin grinned. <Here it comes.>
<Prepare for the dropping jaws> Liam returned with a smile as Max spoke out.
"My name is Maximus Decimus Meridas. Commander of the Armies of the North. General of the Felix Legions. Loyal servant to the Emperor Marcus Aureilus. The gladiator known as the Spaniard."
May 24th, 1999 - 1601 Hours PST
"What do you think about the dress?"
"It looks fine. Now, he was out in daylight?"
"Yes. What about my hair, is it all right?"
"Looks terrific. None of the demon detectors went off?"
"None of them. Which earrings go better?"
"The gold ones. Sherlock didn't sense anything spooky off of him?"
"If he did, he didn't mention it. How do I look?"
"Great. And he didn't give you anything either?"
"Nothing. Buffy, he's not a demon and I doubt he's a robot."
"Still leaves a few dozen nasty options, Mom. Plenty of guys out there who'd be trying to get at me or Steve by using you."
"Buffy. This may be a bit hard to accept, but not everything in Sunnydale revolves around you and the group."
Buffy rolled her eyes as she sat on her mother's bed. She was dressed in a loose white skirt and light top, having come over directly from school to her mother's house, to try and find out just what was up about this date her mother had suddenly made. Joyce had been spending the last half-hour getting ready for it, adjusting her earrings and making sure her nice black dress was ready to impress.
"Look, Mom, maybe we should wait a bit," Buffy said. "You know, I could get Willow to do a check on the guy, run through stuff and--------"
"Buffy," Joyce said in her best "I am your mother and my word is final" tone. "I know you are nervous about this and uncomfortable. I remember full well the last time I got involved with someone, he turned out to be a homicidal robot who fed me drugged brownies and both of us believed you'd killed him before we found out the truth. So, I understand you're a bit off about me dating again. But you will not, I repeat, NOT, do computer searches on this man, you will not stake out the restaurant and you will not take time out from patrol to follow us or get any of the others to do the same. I want to see for myself how this man is and I can handle that much. So please, just let me handle that, all right?"
Buffy bit her lip, knowing her mother wasn't in an argument mood right now. "Okay, Mom," she said softly. "I'm just a bit thrown. I mean, you just spent a week in my body, okay, but does that mean you have to just jump in with a date with someone?"
"It's just dinner, Buffy," Joyce replied, combing her hair again. "Just a nice dinner, hopefully quiet. I was never the type to do more than that as a teen."
"Okay, way more info than I needed," her daughter said, holding up a hand and shaking her head. "It's just a bit sudden, Mom."
"Well, hopefully, it won't be too bad," Joyce said.
Before she could go further, there was a banging on the door downstairs and the sound of a female voice calling out. "Buffy?"
"Up here, Cordy," Buffy called down. As Joyce stared, Cordelia Chase and Amy Madison came up to the room. Cordelia was wearing a short black skirt with a nice blouse. Amy had on a simple yellow dress, her newly-shortened blonde hair flipping behind her as she smiled at the two Summers ladies. "Hey, Joyce," she smiled. "We heard about the date and thought we'd drop by."
Joyce turned to Buffy, her hands on her hips. "You told them about my date, Buffy?"
"Well, I did mention it when we were done talking," her daughter defended herself. "I didn't really expect them to come over."
"So, come on, details!" Cordelia grinned. "Who is he? Where's he from? What's he like?"
Joyce sighed and rolled her eyes. "His name is Zev Mundac."
She saw all three girls staring at her blankly. "Zev Mundac?" Amy repeated. "What the hell kind of name is that? Where's he from?"
"He didn't say," Joyce shrugged. "I hope he'll tell it tonight. Anyway, he's about six feet, dark hair with a bit of silver in the temples, nice suit, good build, he seems like a good guy."
"What else do you know about him?" Amy asked.
"Well, you and Cordy didn't try to set him up with Mom," Buffy answered with a smile. "That's one plus in his favor."
The two rolled their eyes. "Sure, we make one mistake------" Amy started.
"You set your cousin up with Jack the Ripper, Amy," Buffy pointed out. "And let's not even bring Larry into this."
"I don't know, I wouldn't mind doing that," Faith Pryce grinned as she waltzed in. She had on a pair of extremely tight pants and tighter shirt, a loose jacket over it. She grinned widely at Joyce, giving a thumbs-up. "Hey, Mrs. S! Just got the 411. You've got a date? Good going!"
Joyce threw her hands up. "God, Buffy, did you post it on the Internet?"
"Willow's working on that," Buffy smiled at her put-upon mother. "Hopefully, we can get volunteers to check out the place first."
Joyce sighed again. "Why couldn't I have just kept my mouth shut?" she muttered under her breath.
"Okay, Mrs. S, let's see what we can do," Faith started, pulling out a large bag and putting it on the bed.
"Oh, God," Buffy moaned, her eyes widening at the thought of what Faith had gotten her mother for a date.
"Okay, first off, I think you need something a bit flashier," Faith said, looking over Joyce's dress. "I mean, you wanna impress the guy, you gotta show some flash. Here, check it out." She reached into the bag and pulled out a long black dress. She turned it back and forth, letting Joyce see the plunging neckline and the nice dip in the back, with a slit up the leg of the outfit. "Whadya think?" Faith grinned.
Joyce stared at her for a long moment, then back to Buffy. "Buffy, if she gets within twenty feet of the restaurant, you have full permission to knock her unconscious."
"No problem," Buffy nodded.
"Oh, come on!" Faith pouted. "I haven't shown you the killer perfume I got, guaranteed to drive guys nuts and ready for fun, I use it myself!"
"Make it thirty feet."
Faith rolled her eyes. "Come on, Mrs. S! Don't you want to get a guy going?"
"Faith, do I need to bring up the time in February when I had every guy in town except Robin going for me?"
"And Ulric," Buffy added.
"Because Shaw put him out for most of the night," Joyce replied. "I much prefer taking things a bit slowly this time, all right? Trust me, I do not need more nightmares of me with Xander and Oz, thank you very much."
Amy and Cordelia had to giggle at the pout on Faith's face. "Well, sounds like you'll probably have more fun than me or Xander," Cordelia muttered, her face downcast.
"Why?" Buffy asked. "What happened?"
"We tried to do our usual thing at the Motor Lodge, now that we were back in our own bodies instead of each other's," Cordelia explained. "But some jerk bought out our room!"
"What?" Amy frowned. "I thought you guys had it reserved!"
"We did!" Cordelia said in outrage. "This guy slaps some big wad of cash down and he's got our room. He's so lucky he wasn't in, I wanted to kick his ass!"
"Sounds bad," Faith smiled. "I know you wanted to get back together bad. Week of celibacy was tough, huh?"
"Hey," Cordelia shot out, pointing at the Boston Slayer. "You spend a week in the body of your boyfriend while he spends a week in yours and then talk to me about it."
"I'd need a boyfriend first," Faith replied. "Man, almost wish we'd been caught up in it, I could have gotten Larry."
"Oh, we would have needed that," Buffy groaned. "I'm still recovering from looking into a mirror and seeing Mom and Giles hugging."
"Yeah, must be nice for Steve to talk without the British accent," Faith smirked, to dirty glares from the rest. "Say, where's Will?"
"School," the other teens replied.
"Still?" Joyce asked in surprise. "Classes were over a while ago."
"Jenny's got her doing extra credit," Cordelia replied. "Little payback for what happened during the switch."
"She's still mad about that?" Joyce frowned.
"Gee, let's see," Cordelia said sarcastically. "Willow in Jenny's body and Oz in Frank's body go out and try going to a bar for the first time but drastically underestimate how much liquor they can handle, leading to a drunken night of passion so that, technically, Jenny and Frank slept together which seriously pissed off them, and Giles too, and from the look of shock on your face, this is the first you've heard of it." Cordelia swallowed. "Oooops."
Joyce stared in shock at the revelation. "I.....I was talking about Willow making Jenny feel like the student when they were switched, I didn't........" She swallowed. "Wow. Guess I got lucky."
"Not yet, but if you play your cards right, then tonight......"
"FAITH!" The two Summers yelled.
Amy sighed and brushed a hand through where her hair used to end, feeling empty air there. "At least none of you got an unwanted makeover," she muttered sourly. "God, I miss Robin."
Cordelia stared at her. "After all he and Liam put us through?"
"Hey, I was pissed about the tape and all too," Amy replied. "But that's just who they are, you know. Besides, Robin did tell me he loves me. That means a lot."
"Yeah, it does," Cordelia admitted. "So, you going to forgive him for letting Shaw cut your hair when she was in your body?"
"He told me he liked it a lot."
"Damn, he's good," Cordelia muttered.
"Who is?" the group all looked up to see Shaw Hunter standing in the doorway. The half-elven fighter wore a set of loose pants and a nicely-cut black shirt, professional yet somehow seeming casual at the same time. Her eyes swept over the group, seeing the remaining hostility from Buffy, Cordelia and Amy. She was used to it, none of the group exactly happy over the fact that she had been helping Robin and Liam with their special video of the guys during the switch, helping to pull some gags and add to the already wild situation.
"The guy Joyce is going out with," Faith answered. Since she, Kendra and Larry had also been helping out with the gag, she was sympathetic to the Harper's predicament.
"Yes, I had heard of that," Shaw said. "Cordelia and Amy did not set her up, did they?"
"No, he just asked me out," Joyce answered.
"Good, that will save us much trouble."
"HEY!" the two Amazons yelled.
"She's got you there, guys," Buffy smiled. "Your track record with her alone......"
"Now wait a minute," Cordelia said, holding up a hand. "Joyce is normal. That makes things a lot easier......."
"No," Buffy said coldly.
"Buffy, we wouldn't set your Mom up," Amy reassured her.
"Learned your lesson or self-preservation?" Buffy asked.
"Duh," the two Amazons replied.
"So, Shaw, what brings you here?" Faith asked.
"I picked up the ingredients Amy wanted," the Harper replied, holding up a bag.
Everyone stared at her. "Excuse me?" Joyce said, a tiny twinge of fear at the remembrance of a night in February coming back to her.
"I said, I picked up the ingredients Amy sent me to buy," Shaw repeated.
Buffy looked at her, then her cousin, then to Joyce. Coming to her feet, she yanked Amy off the bed with one arm and with the other grabbed Shaw. The two cousins were taken aback at the treatment, surprised as Buffy marched them downstairs and to the foyer. "Buffy, what-----" Shaw began.
"Out," Buffy said, letting go of her long enough to pull the door open.
"But, Buffy------" Amy started.
"Out, both of you out, I don't want to see you until patrol and don't try anything," Buffystated as she pushed out Shaw, then Amy, shutting the door before her and locking it. Amy stared at her, then at Shaw, looking at the bags in her hands before her eyes went wide. "Ooooh, I can't believe you!" she yelled.
"What?" Shaw frowned.
"Goddess, it wasn't enough with my hair, you had to throw this in! Like I wasn't mad about your joking around before?"
"Amy, what are you talking about?" Shaw said in confusion.
"Don't do give me that!" Amy yelled, glaring at her cousin. "You know full well what I mean! You brought those bags of stuff in just to make Buffy think we were doing another love spell on her mother! Dammit, Shaw, how could you do that?!"
Shaw looked down at the bag in her hands, then back at her cousin. "Then you are not going to bake a cake for your father's birthday?"
Amy stared at her, frozen in shock at the answer. She sighed, reaching up to rub her hair and realizing again how short it was. She threw up her hands. "Goddess, Shaw, couldn't you have gotten the right conditioner before you got it cut?"
"I was merely interested in shortening it for battle, Amy," Shaw replied. "I did not have time for any unnecessary details."
"Unnecessary------" Amy closed her eyes and took a deep breath before looking back at Shaw. "Okay, Shaw, that's it. You and me, right now!"
Shaw raised an eyebrow. "Amy, you are not suggesting we fight, are you?"
"Hell, no. No, we're going down to the salon right now and you're getting your hair cut."
Amy was treated to a sight she got to see so little of: Shaw Hunter speechless, her eyes wide open in shock, her jaw working up and down as she tried to figure out what to say. "Amy-----I-----What are------"
"Listen, Hunter," Amy said, leaning in and putting a finger to Shaw's chest. "Sonya gave YOU the advice to cut YOUR hair, right?"
"And you've got glamour so no one notices your ears, right?"
"AND......you did this when you were in MY body, without MY permission or knowledge beforehand. I'm at least giving you fair warning. So, come on, let's go, you're getting a cut."
"Amy------I do not believe--------"
"Shaw. Either we go to the salon right now or I'm taking a pair of scissors and doing it myself."
<Not the big payback I hoped for, but it's a start,> the witch thought to herself as she and her cousin walked off.
A long silence covered the area as everyone stared at the Immortal, taking in his words. "Wait a minute," Nicky said, holding up a hand. "Wait a minute. THE Maximus Decimus Meridas?"
"Now, exactly how many people do you think go about introducing themselves like that?" Maximus replied lightly, looking back at the man.
"You know this dude?" Cal asked.
Nicky looked at him in amazement. "Anyone who has studied Roman history has heard of him!" he replied to the black man. "The general who became a slave, the slave who became a gladiator, the gladiator who defied the empire!"
"Well, it wasn't that dramatic," Maximus shrugged.
"But.....but you're supposed to be dead!" Katie yelled. "Never mind the fact this was 2000 years ago, everyone thought you died after killing Commodus in the Coliseum!"
"The reports of my death......weren't exaggerated in the slightest," Maximus replied with modesty.
"Ah, but the funeral was grand," Liam told him.
Maximus stared at him. "You saw my funeral?" he asked in puzzlement.
"And a lovely affair it was," Liam sighed. "Nowhere near what my people could put together, of course, but still good."
"Ah, the eulogy was wonderful, not a dry eye in the house," Robin added. "Or temple, as it were."
"And when they started the fire-------"
"They burned me?" Maximus interrupted. As Liam nodded, the man rubbed at his forehead. "No wonder it took so long for me to come back that first time. It took me months to get the ashy smell out of my nose." He looked over them all, seeing Marybeth staring at him intently. "What?"
"Sorry," the teen shrugged. "It's just that you don't really look like......"
"Richard Burton," Maximus finished, rolling his eyes. "Gods, why didn't I try and stop that movie from being made? At least they didn't have Elizabeth Taylor playing Lucilla, she'd be rolling in her grave."
Nicky looked at him, his amazement giving way to curiosity. "Funny....I always thought you'd be...taller."
"Face me on the battlefield and I'm positively statuesque," Maximus stated. "At least Burton got *that* much right...."
"What was your problem with the movie?" Katie asked curiously.
"Plenty of problems, the foremost being that I was played by an Englishman."
"What, you'd prefer an Australian?" Kim joked.
"No, I'd prefer someone of Spanish origin," Maximus replied. "I was born and raised in the Spanish provinces of Rome. I was called the Spaniard, remember?"
"You don't sound it," Lucy said.
"Immortals are funny about accents," Maximus shrugged. "Some of the older ones like me can have it fade over the centuries. Some never lose it, like Corday here."
"Yeah, how come you still talk with an English accent?" Lucy frowned at Elizabeth. "Haven't you traveled in 200 years?"
"Of course," Elizabeth sniffed. "After I died in Paris, I met my first teacher, a Scotsman. Then, I left England for America, and arrived *just* in time for the Revolution. I went back to England and since then, I've been to South Africa, India, the British Virgin Islands, Ireland and England just before getting the job at the ER."
"So you went pretty much where English only is spoken," Lucy stated calmly.
"Pretty much," Elizabeth conceded.
"It's the upbringing," Elizabeth told her. She glanced about at the bodies around them. "Um, perhaps we should be going before someone misses those troops?"
"Not until we get more answers," Sean said, holstering his gun. "I want to know just who we're dealing with here in you two."
"Young man, I hardly think this is the time-------"
"Look, Moll Flanders-------"
"Oh, God, don't bring that up!" Elizabeth groaned, rubbing at her head. Everyone stared as she looked up at the heavens. "The one time, THE ONE BLOODY TIME, I use a different name in 200 years and what happens? I hit a rough patch and then I'm immortalized in print as a harlot! You know how rough it is to live with that?"
Katie looked at her partner. "Is she serious?"
"I can't tell," Sean muttered back.
[Author's note: To those who don't get it, Alex Kingston, the actress who plays Corday on "ER" got her big break playing Moll Flanders in a BBC mini-series. It's called an in-joke.]
"Hey, it's not that bad," Robin stated. "At least you got an okay shake instead of being confused with an utter and complete scumbag and being blamed for his stunts for four hundred years of pain and misery-----!"
"Rob, Rob, breathe, Robbie, breathe!" Liam said, grabbing the arm of his now-excited friend. "Remember those exercises the monks taught you!"
The others stared at the two for a moment before going back to the Immortals. "Are you serious about this?" Shirley said, amazed. "I mean, you've really been alive all these centuries?"
"I have," Maximus said. "And since I'm standing out in daylight, or what passes for it here, I'm not a vampire."
Another silence covered the group as they stared at him. "Vampire?" Nicky said softly. "Are you trying to tell me....vampires are real?"
"I've run into a few in my time," Maximus nodded.
"I ran into a nasty foursome back in London in the 1880's," Elizabeth said sourly, rubbing at her neck. "Got fed off on by this blond punk and his psychotic girlfriend who kept rambling nursery rhymes before she bit. I ever find those two, they're dust."
<Think we should tell her?> a calmed Robin asked Liam.
<Let her find out herself> the leprechaun replied.
"Vampires are real," Marybeth stared. "You mean this?"
"Them and quite a few other types of demon," Maximus answered.
"Demon?" Tarring said, taken aback. "You never mentioned demons before in confessional!"
"Well, I didn't want to throw you more off balance than you already were from the Immortal thing," Maximus smiled.
"Actually, demons are more common than you think," Robin put in. "After all, contrary to belief, Earth was not a paradise in the beginning and demons ruled it for quite a few centuries before humans came along."
Tarring stared at the faery before shaking his head. "I must have been out sick the day they covered that in seminary."
"Okay, that's it!" Nicky said, throwing up his hands. "Is there anyone here who can give me an actual, logical explanation for all of this?"
Instantly, Robin and Liam's hands shot up, waving wildly. "Oh, this should be good," Marybeth remarked sarcastically.
"Oh, this will be so far beyond good-------" Robin started.
"Just introduce yerself, laddie," Liam put in, rolling his eyes.
Robin smiled and looked at the youngest of the group before him. "Marybeth, I told you my name, you just never made the connection."
"What?" Marybeth frowned. "You're named after Robin Good-------"
Robin held up his hands and smiled, a spark of magic going between his palms before he lowered him, everyone staring in shock. "Wait-----wait a------wait a minute!" Marybeth shrieked. "You're the REAL Robin Goodfellow?!"
"Of the Faery Kingdom, Merry Wanderer of the Night, Leader of the Armies of the Faery Kingdom in the battle against Outworld, personal servant to Oberon, high Lord of the Faery Kingdom and the Lady Titania," the faery said with a bow.
Liam looked at him curiously. "Ye never put Titiania's name into the intros before."
"After what she did involving Outworld, you'd think I'd leave her out?" Robin replied.
Liam nodded in understanding. "It was her volunteering that got the recruitment drive going, aye. It's only fair."
"I was talking about her bitch-slapping Khan all over Sunnydale," Robin replied. "But that works too."
Katie slowly leaned in toward her husband and spoke softly. "I don't what's worse. The fact that he claims to be a faery out of Shakespeare or that he talks about Oberon and Titiania like they're on a first-name basis."
"Excuse me," Maximus said calmly. "But I happen to know for a fact that you're not who you say you are."
"Really?" Robin frowned. "How so?"
"I've met Puck," Maximus explained. "And believe me, if I thought you were him, you'd be dead right now."
Robin threw his hands up. "You see why I hate the little bastard? He's been screwing my name over for four hundred years wherever I go!"
"Um, are we missing something?" Nicky asked with a frown.
"Let me explain it, lad," Liam told the cop. "Like this. Robin was the one who did all that stuff in a Mid-Summer's Night Dream but Willy was drunk when he wrote it and mixed him up with this little shit Puck so Robin gets the blame for all of Puck's crazy stuff."
"And this is a bad topic?" the man frowned.
"Lad, ye ever watch the Three Stooges?"
"I'm a guy. Of course I watch the Three Stooges."
"Ye know that gag of theirs where one of them would set the others off by mentioning Niagra Falls?"
"Puck is Robin's Niagra Falls." Liam turned and held a finger up to Shirley, who had her mouth open. "And that is not a cue to mention the name a dozen times, trust me, you don't want to go there."
"Wait, you guys are talking about magic?" Lucy frowned.
"Like this, kid," Robin said. "You know all those crazy stories you've heard about magic, vampires, demons, witches, ghosts, goblins, dragons, angels, leprechauns, faeries and the Greek myths?"
"Well, they're all true."
"I don't believe this," Lucy said, rubbing her head. "I don't believe a single word of this."
"Yeah, guys, you did some fancy tricks at the dance, I'll give you that," Mel said. "But this? Faeries? Please."
The two Eternals looked at each other and sighed. "It always comes to this, doesn't it?" Robin asked, bringing a hand up.
"I blame television myself," Liam added as the two held up their hands and, with a pause to gather power, snapped their fingers. Instantly, every one of the humans before them glowed brightly and then shrank down, skin giving way to scales and small legs so a group of lizards scurried before the two Eternals.
Liam looked at Robin. "Didn't go for frogs?"
"That's Obe's gig and he doesn't like others stealing it," his friend replied.
"Well, to each their own," Liam shrugged.
The Limerick and Shamrock Connection let them hiss in startled outrage for a few moments, then snapped their fingers again and in a flash, all were back in their human form.
It took a few moments for them to recover and reflect on what had just happened. A few of them held their stomachs, trying to keep from throwing up. Cal shook his head and held up his hands. "Okay," he said, swallowing. "Okay, when someone calls me a low down dirty snake, that is NOT what they mean!"
"Would you have believed us otherwise?" Robin smiled.
"Um, no," a subdued Cal said.
Marybeth took off her glasses and rubbed at her eyes, trying to recover from being a lizard. She put her glasses back on to look at the duo, focusing on Liam. "Liam, don't tell me you're a faery too?"
"Of course not, lassie," Liam grinned. "I have better taste."
"You're Robin's sidekick?" Lucy asked.
Liam fixed a glare on her. "No, I'm an Eternal, like Robbie here, but I'm Irish. What do YOU think that makes me?"
"Mad bomber in the IRA?" Kim asked lightly.
"He means a leprechaun, you idiot!" Marybeth yelled. She paused to think on what she had just said, her face falling. "Oh, this is turning out to be a very bad day."
"No shit," everyone with the exception of Tarring said, although the priest could understand the sentiment.
Liam chuckled as he looked about, seeing Nicky looking at him intently. "What is it, Nicky me lad?"
Looking carefully at Liam, Nicky addressed the others. "Is it just me or if you add a beard to this guy, doesn't he bear a very, very scary resemblance to the leprechaun you see when you see anything involving Notre Dame?"
"I told him not to pose for that painting, but does he ever listen to me, noooooooo......." Robin muttered
"Okay, that's enough!" Cal said, glaring at the two. "Next thing you know, these two will be telling us what kind of crowd they hang out with!"
"You mean right now or normally?" Liam smiled.
Sean smacked Cal on the back of the head. "You had to open your mouth, didn't you?"
"Police brutality, police brutality!" Cal yelled out. "You're all witnesses!" he added, pointing at the gathered group, a couple of whom just looked away.
Sighing, Sean looked at the two Eternals and threw up his hands in defeat. "Okay, get it over it, let's have it. What's your normal crowd?"
Liam and Robin shared a smile before turning back to the group. "Well, first off," Robin started. "We currently both reside in a nice little town in California called Sunnydale."
"Far from L.A.?" Maximus asked.
"A few hours drive. You've been to L.A.?"
"I was a cop there in the 1950's," Maximus said. He grimaced slightly. "It didn't end well."
"How so?" Sean asked.
"Well, let's just say I got into harm's way."
"And I'm guessing harm won," Kim correctly stated.
[Author's note the second: In case I was too vague, this is about Russell Crowe's role in "L.A. Confidential." Another in-joke.]
"Anyway," Robin went on. "Sunnydale's a nice place. Good people, nice real estate prices, decent schooling, it'd be the perfect little hamlet if it weren't for one minor thing."
"Which is?" Kim asked.
"It's built on the Mouth to Hell."
"Why did I even bother?" Kim muttered.
"Before ye start to freak out," Liam added. "We've got a bunch of friends on that Hellmouth who make sure the world doesn't end, a threat that pops up at least once a month."
"I don't want to know, I don't want to know, I don't want to know....." Sean muttered, his eyes closed. Opening them, he looked up at the two. "Who are they?"
"Well, there's three Immortals, like Maximus and Corday here," Robin started.
"Two of whom carry Swords of Destiny and the third carries the Sword of St. Catherine, the sword that was wielded by Joan of Arc, for those who didn't know," Liam smiled.
"Which swords?" Maximus asked, taking this the mostly calmly. "Justice? Mercy?"
"The Slayer Swords," Robin answered.
"Ah, katanas," Maximus nodded in approval. "Nice weapons in the right hands. How good are these Immortals?"
"Well," Robin started. "Demon Slayer belongs to Steven St. Wolf, former Army Ranger, Green Beret, agent of the CIA......."
"......Knight in the Order of the Grail," Liam added. "Trusted ally of the C'est Dei, High Priests and Priestess of Wicca......."
".......Children of Oberon, besides myself, the Council of Dragons......."
"....And he has some other nice little toys, such as the fangs of Tyr and Hercules' wristbands."
"Vampire Slayer," Robin continued. "Is wielded by Buffy Summers, who's the first Immortal who was the Slayer in her mortal life......."
".....That being, a girl blessed with special strength and fighting abilities Chosen to fight vampires, demons and the powers of evil and who is now cursed with Eternal love for her boyfriend, Steve, who carries the other sword, which curses them to love her eternally......"
".....Which they hardly needed because they were in love before Buffy ever saw that Ginsu crossed with a lightsaber and by the by, they are truly in love so the fact that Steve is physically a few years older while Buffy still looks like a teen shouldn't be that big an issue."
"The other Immortal is Randi Jessup, given Joanie's sword by Joanie herself."
"And her brother, Brian, who's mortal, is the reincarnation of Marcus the Valiant."
"Then, as for the rest of the group......" Liam went on. "You have the four Amazons, three of whom are witches....."
".....One of said being the woman I love, despite the fact there's a few thousand years between us," Robin said with a trace of pride. "The other three are dating guys who I gave magic empowerments to so they could be the equals of their mates in all departments....."
"All departments?" Shirley grinned. "I like the sound of that......"
"Of the empowered men," Liam smiled. "One's a British mage who happens to be nobility, who is the Slayer's Watcher, not an Immortal Watcher, who records the actions of Immortals around the world but who watches and helps Slayers......"
"....And who, after getting my empowerment, went to his old bosses at the Council, beat up a few of their guys and told them to stop any planning they had to try and kill his Slayer."
"The other empowered blokes include a teen who gained the memories and skills of a Special Forces operative during this whole cursed costume thing a couple years back, a football player who's quite the nice guy, and the other is a werewolf but Robbie's empowerment fixed it so he could change back at forth at will, barring a full moon, of course."
"And then there are two more Slayers. One's a Jamaican called when Buffy died for the first time and became Immortal. When she was nearly killed, that called up another one, an Irish Boston teen who has a flair for flashy costumes and a lavacious attitude towards a few guys."
"Oooh, gotta meet her," Shirley grinned.
"And that leaves the last member of our main team," Robin smiled. "A half-elven warrior priestess from another dimension who has partial blood ancestry from this dimension and through that is a cousin to my girlfriend......"
"......Who is a priestess in her own religion, lives with a priest and is Robbie's adopted little sister and whom I'm trying to get to be my girlfriend."
"Oh, and we can't forget the Spirit Guardians, animals who seem to be pets to the guys, only they have telepathic connections to their owners, they're bonded to them, the dogs change into wolves and the cats into sabertooth tigers."
"And let's not forget the Immortal Slayer's mother, who is a den mother to all but who managed to save the world a while back and kick the ass of the one who tried to kill her daughter."
A very long silence reigned as everyone took that long speech in. "Well, that was......informative," Marybeth remarked softly. "Um, is there more?"
"Oh, sure," Robin grinned.
"There's more," Marybeth groaned, her head in her hands.
"Let's see," Robin said. "There's the FBI's spook division, the X-Files, which regularly investigates paranormal phenomenon. The two agents in charge are Immortal, married, the woman's an Amazon and the guy has my empowerment. Oh, and her sister, who she thought was killed a few years back, is also an Amazon as is her teacher/lover, who was once the female version of Zorro back in the 1800's."
"There's this genius who can take on any identity or occupation like he's been living it for years who escaped from this private think tank who had him prisoner most of his life. There was this ball-buster of a woman chasing him but eventually fell in love with him, they got killed and became Immortal, she's an Amazon, he's got Robbie's empowerment."
"And a friend of theirs, who's their Watcher, is a shrink to the whole gang and they so need it."
"Give us his name, we might need him soon," Kim moaned.
"There's a trio of weirdo conspiracy nut hackers with their own newsletter and let's not forget a New Yorker who's an Amazon, much to the chagrin of Macleod."
"Macleod?" Elizabeth perked up. "Connor or Duncan?"
"Connor," Robin said, surprised to hear Elizabeth knew about them.
"He's still running the antique shop in New York?"
"Yep. Duncan's in Seacouver, with his student, Richie with Amanda, an Immortal thief, occasionally popping by."
"Amanda?" Elizabeth said, shocked. "Duncan let Tessa go?"
Robin looked at her sadly. "Tessa was killed five years ago."
Elizabeth's face went pale. "Oh, God, poor Duncan," she whispered.
"Well, moving on," Liam said. "We then move onto my part of the world with the Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog, four Immortals, three of Irish origin, one of the Middle East, all of whom carry mystic weapons capable of creating a set of armor around them. The female of the group is a princess, married to a legendary warrior and their teacher, once an aid for King Arthur, is with them and lives with an old friend of ours, who happens to be a faery from Tir Na Nog."
"Might I add, all of them carry my empowerment. We also know the champion of Mortal Kombat, a sacred tournament used to keep Earth from falling into the hands of another dimension as well as a ninja who can control cold and ice. There's also two Special Forces Marines who have my empowerment, as does Johnny Cage, the action movie star."
"Oh, and then there's Merlin," Liam added.
"Merlin?" Elizabeth stared. "As in King Arthur's Merlin?"
"Yeah, Steve's his champion," Robin answered. "Oh, and Arthur himself is kicking around too."
Elizabeth's eyes threatened to bulge out of their sockets at that remark. "Yep, Merl is kicking around with Arthur still doing good in the world," Robin continued.
"Oh, and then there's JP Withers, also known as Aderron, last survivor of Atlantis, quite probably the meanest non-Eternal son of a bitch ever to walk the Earth, with some seriously nasty hardware. Oh, yes, almost forgot, Buffy happens to be the reincarnation of his dead daughter so he has a natural concern for her."
"And let's not forget our assorted allies like the Order of the Grail, Bureau 13, a bunch of dragons, some gargoyles, a couple of vampires who have had their souls restored, one who's turned into a spirit of vengeance, various commando groups, and let's not even get started on the whole whacko alternate reality thing, I think that about covers it."
Another long silence covered the group before Lucy spoke up. "Okay, this is the part which we should call, 'we had to ask.'"
Shirley began to whistle the "Twilight Zone" theme. "Been there," Robin said.
"Done that," Liam added.
"No way," Cal muttered.
"Way," the two Eternals replied.
Shirley stopped and stared at them. "You've been to the Twilight Zone?!"
"And the Outer Limits?!" Cal added.
"You're saying those are real?" Lucy barked out.
"Of course not," Robin said, sounding offended. "Those are TV shows."
"But you said......" Shirley started.
"Lassie, do you think no one's ever used that line on us before?" Liam laughed. He turned to Robin. "You'd think they could come up with something original for once."
"And thinking that the Twilight Zone and Outer Limits are real?" Robin shook his head. "Where do these kids get this kind of insanity?"
"I always said television was no good for anyone under the age of 20,000 years old."
"We are NOT getting into that argument again."
"Is this a 'Saturday Night Live' routine?" Kim asked.
"No, this is funny," Robin replied.
"So, vampires are real," Cal muttered.
"Yep," Liam nodded. "Now, I know it doesn't make sense------"
"Hell, man, it makes perfect sense!"
"It does?" Liam frowned in surprise.
Cal nodded. "Yeah, back in the Green, there's always talk about seeing gangbangers people thought got wasted showing up with this weird shit on their faces."
"And we do hear about bodies disappearing from morgues," Kim added. "And these gangs on some drugs that screw up their faces, gang members on PCP....."
"Where have we heard THAT before?" Robin and Liam said sarcastically.
"All right," Nicky said, holding up a hand. "SO many question were raised by that little monologue but one in particular sticks out. Amazons? As in......."
"Women blessed with fighting skills and strength by Artemis, Greek Goddess of the Hunt," Liam answered.
"Amazons?" Shirley smiled. "Real Amazons? Oooooh, I could have some fun with them....."
Robin looked at Liam. "You know, I think I'm finally understanding how they feel about the whole 'Amazons equal lesbians' mentality." He sighed and looked at the group. "Listen, except for two I already mentioned, none of them are gay. In fact, it was to make their boyfriends more equal that I was sent to Sunnydale in the first place."
"That and Aphrodite wanted to set him up with Amy," Liam smiled. "Course, no one pulls one over on Robbie."
"Aphrodite?" Tarring asked. "You're telling me the Greek Gods are real?"
"They are, Father," Liam said. "But believe me, they fall lower on the scale than the God you worship."
"And Amazons are real too?" Marybeth pressed on.
"Yeah, they existed for a few thousand years in Greece. Xena was even hooked up with them for a while," Robin remarked, which elicited more stunned stares.
"Xena was real?" Kim asked weakly.
"Yeah, Herc was good bringing her story to life."
"Herc?" Elizabeth asked in confusion.
"Oh, God, I know where this is going," Sean groaned.
"What?" Elizabeth frowned.
"You ever see that Hercules show?"
"I don't have much time for television."
"Well, on the show, they'd do these episodes where Hercules would be alive today, pretending to be Kevin Sorbo, pretending to be Hercules."
"You mean......" Elizabeth shook her head. "I don't believe this."
Everyone turned to Maximus. "You do?" Cal asked. "Why, you met the dude?"
"Before my time," Maximus smiled. "At least he was in his time. But when the show started airing, I wondered why the star happened to look just like a non-Immortal I'd met a dozen times over the years."
Silence reigned for a few minutes before Shirley spoke. "Well, I can't speak for the rest of you, but my gast is thoroughly flabbered."
"This is the most bizarre conversation I've ever had," Marybeth remarked.
"Then you don't get out much," Shirley shrugged.
Lucy stared at him before shaking her head. "Elizabeth, you should have left me in the morgue." She stopped rubbing her head to see everyone staring at her. "Oh, hell," she muttered.
"Morgue?" Marybeth asked, staring at her. "Wait a minute......you mean....you're like them?"
"Not really," Lucy replied. "Yes, I'm Immortal but I'm not going to kill to stay alive."
"You'd better learn," Maximus told her.
"I don't know if I can," Lucy softly told him. "I've lost my life and not just in the obvious way. Do you know what that feels like?"
"Not really," Maximus shrugged. "I lost my life before I died." He turned, moving towards Mel. The alien looked at the Immortal as he came up. "You know this planet," Maximus said in a flat tone. "You know anywhere nearby we can go for help?"
Mel bit his lip, going over the memories he had gotten from the recording to try and think of a place. "Not sure off the top of my head. I mean, this info was twenty years ago, things have probably changed. If we can find a place to rest for a bit and find out more, we might get something."
"Fine," Maximus said. He turned to the group. "First thing we need to do is find a village or someplace, get some food and clothing."
"Um, we have clothing," Kim pointed out.
"On a couple of you I wish you didn't," Shirley smirked, glancing over both Kim and Sean, the cops staring at her.
"I think what he means," Mel spoke up. "Is the fact that we all stand out like sore thumbs here. We need some local clothing to blend in better."
"Yeah, that really goes for her," Lucy said, nodding towards Shirley's wild outfit.
"Hey, this is a personal style!" Shirley shot back. "Do I run you down for your outfit?"
"What's wrong with my outfit?" Lucy asked.
"It looks like it came off a corpse."
"Children," Elizabeth muttered. "I'm surrounded by children."
"Don't forget, Doctor," Maximus smiled. "I'm nearly 2000 years old. You're a child to me."
"You can say that again, Junior," Robin smirked. As the two Immortals looked at him, he added. "I'm 55,000 years old."
The two stared at him with wide eyes. "55,000 years old?" Elizabeth asked. "And you're dating a human teenager?" She shook her head. "And I thought I was cradle-robbing with Peter and Mark."
Maximus turned away, stripping away his coat to move towards some of the dead Lizardon. He bent over, beginning to strip away pieces of armor and several weapons. His own sword he kept to his side as he pulled off a belt from a corpse, moving it around his own waist, tightening it. He quickly moved to slide a few daggers into the hooks built into the belt, taking a loose sword and holding it to his side. He tore off his jacket and shirt sleeves, taking a few of the Lizardon's wrist protectors and placing them around his own arms, tightening the buckles.
"Is it me or is anyone else getting the feeling we're watching Death get dressed?" Kim whispered as the group stared at Maximus. The Immortal finished and turned towards them. "What sort of technology can we expect here?" he asked Mel.
The young man thought for a minute before answering. "Hard to say, it looks like it's changed over the years. But, when it comes to the real high-powered stuff, it's way beyond anything 20th century Earth has."
"Well, the 20th century ends next year, so we're in luck!" Shirley grinned.
"It doesn't end next year," Marybeth patiently pointed out. "The 21st century doesn't officially begin until the calendar shifts to 2001-----"
"Oh, dear God!" Elizabeth moaned. "Are we going to have to go through this idiotic debate EVERY bloody century?!"
"Tell me about it," Maximus sighed. "It was so much easier before the modern-day calendar was invented." Shaking his head, he got back on track. "What's our weapons status?" he said, his voice in total command as he looked at Kim and Sean.
"Um, we've each got about two clips left," Sean said. "Plus Cal's gun and ammo."
"I've got my sword," Elizabeth said, holding up her blade.
"I suppose that'll have to do for now," Maximus remarked. "Mel, it's your planet. Which way should we go?"
Mel paused to look about, tapping his chin with a finger before pointing to an eastern direction. "That way."
"Is that a guess?"
"Fine, let's go."
It took about half an hour for the group to make their way to a small village near the outskirts of the clearing they had been in. It looked to be a typical small settlement, several building gathered in tight surroundings. The architecture, on the other hand, was a mix of various styles, African-like hut buildings with furnishings and outside appearances that seemed to echo Medieval Europe. As luck would have it, it was by one of the buildings near the edge of the village that the group found what looked like an old-fashioned clothesline filled with local garb.
"Okay, think we've got this settled," Robin said as he and Liam started to divide up the clothing they had gotten. "Here's a pile for the ladies, Liam's got the guys."
"These are guy's, right?" Liam asked Mel, who glanced at the pile in his hands.
"Looks about right," the alien nodded. "I'm hoping the styles haven't changed too much."
The two Eternals started to hand out the outfits, the others taking a few minutes to look them over, Shirley frowning a bit at hers. Turning, she walked over to the clothesline and picked out about a dozen more items of clothing. "I like a variety to pick from," she told the others as she came back up.
Maximus shook his head and looked at Robin and Liam. "What about you two? Aren't you going to-------"
A shimmering light covered the bodies of the two figures as their clothing shifted. Liam changed into a pair of dark brown pants with a green shirt and greener vest over it. Robin's outfit was a pair of red pants and shirt, with light blue striped along the collar and neckline. "Wow, I like your style," Shirley said with a smile.
Cal looked the two over and shook his head. "Now, wait a minute, why don't you just magic up something for all of us? It'd save a lot of time with all this!"
"We're conserving energy," Robin explained. "We don't want to waste it on frivolous items like clothing."
"Man, if I had your powers, I'd be using it for nothing but frivolous," Cal said. "Whatever the hell that means."
"Hey, I'll go with you on that," Marybeth agreed with a nod. "I could definitely fix myself up for some hot dates with some magic."
The two Eternals shared a look and rolled their eyes. "Mortals," they both said with a slight sigh in their tones.
Cal frowned at them. "What does that mean?
Robin fixed him with a gaze before replying. "Listen, Cal. I've talked this out with the witches and I've been keeping an eye on them just so they don't go overboard with it."
"With what?" Cal still didn't get it.
"I mean, it's one thing to use it in a fight or to heal," Robin answered. "And even the occasional gag is fine, I do admire that. But when you start using magic to handle everyday activities, it's time to start worrying. Hey, I understand the desire, really. Don't want to waste two minutes getting dressed, poof, you're dressed. Don't want to spend an hour cleaning the kitchen, wave a hand, it's clean." Robin's eyes narrowed as he shifted his tone. "Course, when you start using magic for simple, everyday things just because you want to spend a little time and elbow grease doing them yourself, that's when you start going down a slippery slope."
"From there, it's not really that big a jump to other things," Liam put in. "Bills piling up? No problem, just use magic to fix the bank's computers, never mind how that might get some teller fired for mismanagement. Bad grade in school? Simple, cast a spell on the teacher to change the grade, forget how it robs someone who truly deserved it of the top honors. Get into a fight with yer sweetie? Easy solution, just make them forget all about it." He bent his head as he looked at Cal. "Ye get the point we're subtly making here, right?"
Cal shrugged. "Well, yeah, but you can see--------"
"Oh, we understand," Robin told him. "But there's something about magic you need to know, Cal. It's addictive. Oh, I know the witches and Giles and the others will all deny it but I know they feel a little rush when using it. I've felt it myself. Course, I'm not human so my control over it is much better. But get to using it ever day and it gets real addictive real quick."
"That's why I like Steve," Liam said with a smile. "He doesn't do magic but he understands the danger which is why he set down rules for everyone. Using it in a fight, using it to heal, that's all right. But no using it for chores or to get out of school or any other work. Which is good, because any type of magic weakens the body. And when you start using magic to do everyday stuff, that takes a bit more out of you any time."
Cal slowly nodded. This was something he knew about. "And like any drug, the more you use it, the more addictive it gets and pretty soon, you'll be wanting to use it all the time."
"Right," Liam said, impressed by how Cal understood. "And that takes a lot out of you."
"Which means you're going to want a new burst of it," Cal stated, getting into this now. "A new fix, something that can get you a better buzz. A new high."
"Bingo. Only, with magic, it's not like shooting yourself up with a needle. You're going to want a major fix and that takes a lot of power. Nasty power, held by even nastier bastards."
"And of course, there's the eventual overdose." Cal was a quick learner.
"Indeed," Robin said. "Except with magic, when you overdose, you don't just risk losing your life...but your soul."
"I cannot believe I'm hearing a discussion of how magic is a drug," Elizabeth broke in. "Are you going to use an egg as an illustration now?"
Instantly, an egg was held between Liam's forefinger and thumb, a slight smile on the leprechaun's face. "This is your brain." A burst of flame covered the egg and Liam lowered his hand to show a palm of ashes. "This is yer brain on too much magic." He blew the dust off, letting it float through the air. "Any questions?"
"This announcement brought to you by the Surgeon General and two maniacal faeries," Lucy sarcastically said.
"Just doing our part," Robin grinned.
Maximus shook his head, still not believing he was in this situation. He turned and pointed to an empty building standing nearby. "All right. Ladies on one side, men on the other. Get changing."
"I'll pass, if you don't mind," Tarring said politely, handing his batch of clothes over. "From what Mel was saying, I think I might be able to pass with just these." He motioned at his robes.
"You'd better hide the cross," Mel said. He stepped back a bit at the look Tarring was giving him. "The robes, okay, but the cross will get attention."
"This is a symbol of my faith and my office, young man," Tarring said in a tight voice. "I do not wish to------"
"Bernard," Maximus said with just the trace of an edge in his voice. "He's right. Keep the collar but hide the cross."
"Sheesh, this guy's a bit committed," Lucy muttered, shaking her head. "Could be killed and he still won't let go of his stuff."
"Don't knock priests, Lucy," Elizabeth told her in a chiding tone. "They can be very dedicated. And quite often, that's a good thing."
Elizabeth Corday cursed under her breath as she felt one of her heels fall off. She couldn't pause to get it, she just kept running, one bare foot trying to keep in time with the shoed one. She held up the bottom of her dress as well as she could to avoid tripping over it. It hadn't been designed for physical exercise. Then again, neither was Elizabeth.
She knew she looked the bizarre figure: A beautiful woman in an elegant dress, spoiled by the large red stain just above her left breast. Her reddish-brown hair partly freed from the bun, strands whipping around her head as she ran. Her face was marked with a smidgen of dirt and a look of sheer panic as she glanced behind her.
At the sight of the angry mob coming after her, Elizabeth ran faster. She didn't take time to take a good apprisal of the mob and would have been struck by the interesting mix of figures, merchants and beggars, soldiers and a few of the rich, men and women, all chasing after her. Several carried weapons, from clubs to knives and even a few pistols. All were yelling at her, the words "Demon!" and "Burn her!" flowing into Elizabeth's ears.
She raced across a street blindly, her eyes looking about, trying to locate a place where she might be safe, any place at all. Her eyes fixed on the cathedral a few blocks away, the cross on the roof drawing her attention. Reflexively touching the crucifix around her throat, Elizabeth immediately picked up her pace, trying to reach the front gates in time.
A pair of vendors, seeing the mob chasing Elizabeth, tried to cut her off. With a show of strength that would have surprised her, had she been given time to think of it, Elizabeth barreled into them, knocking them both aside as she raced into the courtyard before the church itself.
Her fear and panic were so great that Elizabeth didn't even notice the strange chill that went through her body as she entered the courtyard, taking the steps two at a time, the other heel coming off her shoe as she yanked open the church doors and ran inside.
She could see a sole figure inside the large church: A priest who stood by the altar, looking at her in slight surprise which turned to concern as Elizabeth ran down the aisle and fell to her knees at the steps of the altar. She heaved with breath, trying to get her mind and mouth to form the words in French that she needed. "Sanctuary, Father, please, grant me sanctuary!"
The priest stared at her, obviously at a loss for words. Before he could say anything, the doors at the front of the church burst open and the mob rolled in, their voices loud as they started down the aisle. "There she is!" one ragged woman cried out, pointing at Elizabeth, who shrank onto the steps. "There is the demon! Burn her! Burn her!" The cry went up as the mob moved forward.
The priest immediately paced down the aisle, stopping before the altar and staring down the mob. "Stop!" Something in both his tone and the slight edge in his eyes made the people pause a bit, slowing their march as they took in the priest. "If you have no respect for God, at least have some for those who worship him!" the priest continued in the same rebuking tone.
Several people backed away from the bristling fury the priest showed but one merchant stepped forward. "This is an unholy demon, Father!" he yelled, pointing at Elizabeth. "We saw her rise from the dead! We will send her to Hell, where she belongs."
"We're doing your work," the ragged woman bit out. She stepped back as the priest hit her with a piercing gaze. "I will decide what my work shall be." He backed up a few inches and shook his head. "It does not matter what you want. She asked for sanctuary and I have granted it. What happens to her now is my responsibility and should you attempt to drag her off, you will be risking a fate far worse than what you have planned for her."
An angry murmur went through the mob until a man in uniform held up a hand. "No. He is correct. The law states that we cannot do anything to her as long as she stays inside the church walls." His eyes narrowed at the priest as he brought himself up. "But should she stray off the grounds, priest....she will be out of your authority."
"But not God's," the priest said, returning the man's gaze with strength. The gaze swept over the crowd and no doubt aided them in slowly backing away, exiting from the church in small groups, muttering as they did.
As soon as the last of them had exited, the doors shutting, the priest turned toward Elizabeth. She was lying on the bottom steps of the altar, the exhaustion of her physical ordeal catching up to her, wheezing with breath. He carefully walked forward, kneeling down to brush at Elizabeth's hair. "Are you all right, child?"
Elizabeth slowly looked up at him, tears in her eyes. "I....I don't know," she whispered in her native language.
The priest smiled and repeated the question in perfect English. "Are you all right?"
"It's...." Elizabeth sat back, looking down at herself, her hands going to her chest and feeling at the red stain. "This is...this is my blood. Isn't it?"
"I believe so," the priest said gently. "What happened?"
Elizabeth replied dully, still staring at herself. "I was...I was on the street, shopping. I....I was passing by an alley and someone grabbed me and yanked me into it. He was dirty, he had a knife and the next thing I knew, he was shoving it into my chest. It hurt and I couldn't breathe and I was falling and then...." She swallowed. "And then I'm waking up in the alley and there's all these people there who start screaming at me and......"
"It's all right, it's all right," the priest said soothingly. "It will be all right."
Elizabeth looked at him, fear in her eyes. "Am...Am I damned, Father?"
The priest smiled gently. "No, child. No, not damned. Just...different. But in a good way." He brushed at her hair as he helped her to her feet. "What is your name?"
"Lady Elizabeth Corday," she replied with a nod.
"I am Darius," the priest replied with a gentle smile. "I believe there is much we need to discuss."
"That's how you died?" Lucy frowned as she pulled a light brown tunic over herself to go with her light brown pants "In a robbery?"
"Awfully pedestrian, I know," Elizabeth nodded. She wore a aqua-green shirt with a dark brown vest and pants. She kept her long overcoat to hold in her sword as she brushed her hair back. "But, that's how I went the first time. Darius explained it to me, sheltered me and gave me a sword but wouldn't train me. He did tell me where I was likely to find someone who could help and that led me to Duncan and Connor Macleod. I stayed with them for a while, Duncan training me while I got used to the idea that my life as a high-born noblewoman was now over."
"Nice story," Kim remarked as she tied her long hair into a ponytail. She was wearing a loose pair of light slacks with a yellow top, adjusting her jacket so her holster wasn't too obvious. "So it's later you get into the whole head-chopping thing?"
Elizabeth sighed and returned the cop's gaze. "Should we get out of this in one piece, my dear, I'll be happy to list my entire history of kills. Fascinating, really."
"So what happened to this Darius guy?" Lucy pressed on. "He still in Paris?"
Elizabeth's face took on a look of sorrow. "No," she softly answered. "No, he was beheaded a few years ago. A bunch of mortals took it upon themselves to judge all Immortals as not worthy to live. So they hunted down a man who had done nothing but good for over a thousand years and beheaded him in his own church." She shuddered a bit at the memory and Lucy could tell the pain was still raw inside her.
"This is still so unreal," Katie sighed as she adjusted her red shirt. She wore a black pair of slacks, boots replacing her high heels. She gave a look of slight sorrow to her torn and dirtied dress before throwing it into the pile of Earth clothing the ladies had gathered up. "I'm on another planet talking to a woman who can't die."
"Two women who can't die," Marybeth pointed out, adjusting her glasses as she glanced at the older woman. She was wearing a one-piece blue outfit, which played into her somewhat mousy appearance.
"Come on, new experiences are the spice of life!" Shirley said as she stepped out from behind the screen inside the shack's small room. The other women stared at her outfit: A purple shirt with a dark blue vest-like top and red jacket, white slacks with what appeared to be a striped belt tied around it. "What?" the woman frowned.
"Unbelievable," Kim muttered. "Do you ever wear anything casual?"
Shirley stared at her quizzically. "This is a casual outfit for me. You should see me when I dress up."
"Pass," Kim replied as she slipped her badge into one of her coat's pockets.
"That could get attention," Katie pointed out.
"Hey, the priest has his decorations, I got mine," Kim shot back. "Trust me, Sean has his with him too."
Lucy looked at her with interest. "You really like being a cop, huh?"
"It's in my blood," Kim shrugged in response. "Same with Sean, both our families have been in the police for over three generations. You're in a Chicago-bred cop family, it's the only way to go. Kinda funny, me and Sean have known each other since we were kids, makes being partners a lot easier."
If Kim saw the little flash of realization in Katie's eyes, she didn't give any indication of it.
"Wow, two cops," Shirley said with a smile. "Bet you guys have a whole lotta fun with the handcuffs, huh?"
"Me and Sean are just partners," Kim told her patiently.
Shirley shrugged. "Well, I didn't mean you guys together. I mean, you pull some guy over, it's late, you're hopped up and he wants out of a ticket........"
Kim stared at her for a long moment. "Do by any chance read 'Penthouse?'"
"Proud subscriber since 1993," Shirley grinned.
Elizabeth groaned. "God, why did I ever come back to America?"
"You were there before?" Lucy said with surprise.
"Arrived during that little brouhaha you call the Revolutionary War," Elizabeth answered. "Then that lovely War Between the States thing, that's how I got into medicine. Last time was in Detroit in the 1950's, had a nice small practice then."
"What happened?" Katie asked.
Elizabeth sniffed. "That miserable little senator from Wisconsin got his Communist witch- hunt going and they started to look at my past. Or rather, my lack of one. So, I had to die to get out of that."
"You faked your death?" Marybeth asked.
"No, I really did die," Elizabeth stressed. "It was tricky finding the right building to jump off of, had to die long enough for it to be recorded, not long enough to be buried."
Katie shook her head. "Do you even know how frightening it is to hear you talk about dying like it's perfectly natural?"
"Amazing," Nicky muttered, shaking his head. Out of his tuxedo, he still kept to a somewhat dapper outfit, a gray shirt and coat with a similar-colored pair of pants. "It doesn't matter what planet you're on, women still take a while to get dressed and ready just to go out."
"For the record, this was the married guy talking," Cal pointed out. He wore a brown shirt with a black jacket and pants that blended well with his skin, his "Shaft" look as he had put it.
"Well, as someone who's dated a lot, I can go with that," Sean nodded. The cop had on a pair of dark pants with a loose blue coat over his darker blue shirt, holster and badge underneath. "Sometimes, I just called it off when she couldn't get ready in time."
"How considerate," Maximus said sarcastically. He still wore his armor, wrist coverings and belt and had made some "adjustments" to his dark silver outfit to allow for better movement if the need called for it. A long cloak hid some of his armament, including his sword. "Always nice to know who the womanizer in the group is."
"I thought that was me," Liam said jovially. "I'm the one who's been married 287 times."
The men all looked at him. "You married 287 different women?" Sean asked in obvious disbelief.
Liam grinned. "No, I married 287 times. Some ladies just needed a second time around. Or third or fourth."
"Okay, we don't need the whole litany," Mel said, adjusting his coat over his brown pants, white shirt and brown tunic. "Do you always go around blabbing your past marital life to people?"
"With age comes wisdom and with wisdom comes the knowledge of when to keep one's mouth shut," Robin stated. "Which goes to prove that Liam is younger than I am."
Cal sniffed as he adjusted his shirt. "Still wish I could use magic," he muttered. "Could make it work for my job."
"Oh, yeah, that'd be a noble use," Sean said sarcastically. "Use magic to pull con games and negotiate minor drug deals."
"You're a criminal?" Maximus frowned at Cal.
"Well, it depends on your definition------"
"Yes," Sean cut him off.
Cal rolled his eyes. "Hey, don't knock what I do, I get my money!"
"Money isn't everything, my boy," Maximus stated. "I have several million in a Swiss bank account I hardly ever use."
Cal looked at him for ten seconds before breaking out in a wide smile. "Max, buddy, pal....!"
Ignoring him, Maximus looked over to the shack just as the doors opened and the women came out, all self-consciously adjusting their clothing as they made their way over. "Come on, say it," Shirley was asking Elizabeth.
"No," the Briton replied.
"Say it! Please?"
"You're not going to stop pestering me until I do, are you?"
"Fine." Stopping and taking a breath, Elizabeth spoke. "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."
Shirley looked at her and shivered. "Goosebumps."
"Nice," Nicky said, looking over his wife. "That looks good on you."
"You're just saying that," Katie said with a slight blush on her cheeks.
"Course, you'd look good in anything."
"Cheap pop!" Shirley called out.
"Interesting slogan," Tarring observed.
"Sorry, padre," Shirley said. She looked down, suddenly appearing a bit nervous. "Um, I guess we should clear this up now since we're going to be hanging around for a while. I'm....um...I sort of....well......"
"Play for both teams?" Tarring smiled at Shirley's stare. "I can draw conclusions from some of your comments, my dear."
"Ah," Shirley stated. "So, um....you're not gonna stone me now are you?"
Tarring chuckled. "My dear, I take a far more liberal point of view than most of my church. I happened to know quite a bit about sin before I took my vows. Have you ever sat down and read the Bible closely? No offense against our Lord, of course, but some of the things there are simply impossible to achieve. I don't automatically condemn people for something that, as far as I can tell, is simply part of their nature. I know it's not the most popular view with Catholics but I don't see how I can pray to a God who would damn people for being in love simply because the other person is a member of the same sex."
"Wow," Shirley said softly. "I never met a priest who felt like that."
Tarring shrugged. "Christ died for all our sins, Shirley. He didn't pick and choose which ones when he was on the cross. It may not be a popular view but it is the one I believe in the most. And belief is the first step towards faith."
"Two hundred years ago, I would have argued about that equality line," Elizabeth sighed. "But then I hit a rough patch myself so I know how something like that can lie within one's nature."
"What are you....." Shirley broke off as it hit her. "Oh, yeah. You were Moll Flanders and she sometimes slept with------" A wicked smile came onto her face. "Say, Doc......."
"Oh, God, kill me," Elizabeth moaned.
"Keep in mind, with you that could be termed an actual request," Kim quipped as Elizabeth groaned again.
Marybeth sighed and looked over at Mel. "Okay, it's your planet, where do we go?"
Before Mel could answer, Maximus broke in. "There's a tavern a few streets down. We should go there first."
"Why?" Marybeth frowned.
A wry smile came to Maximus' face. "It doesn't matter what planet we're on or what race we're dealing with. If you want information, the first and best place to go to is a bar." He started to lead the way, the others following him. "Just try to act natural," Maximus ordered.
"I haven't acted natural since I was in high school." Somehow, no one was surprised at Shirley's admission.
"Well, I'm disappointed," Marybeth said as the group entered the bar. "We're on another planet, I wanted wild creatures, I wanted freaky characters, I wanted real alien-looking aliens. I was expecting the Mos Eisley cantina, not a tavern from any Miramax period piece."
Indeed, the bar the group had wandered into looked like it could have fit easily into any spot in Europe. The long bar took up one end of the room, the rest covered with tables and chairs, groups of Varrians (at least, Marybeth assumed that was the right term) sitting, drinking and talking, a buzz of conversation filling the bar.
"Well, the majority of the more inhuman characters don't stray near the city," Mel explained as the group slowly entered the tavern. "Varran tends to be the home mainly to my kind. You'll see some slum-like areas for the Lizardon but the other races tend to stick to their own areas."
"Man, and I thought Cabrini-Green was bad," Cal muttered.
"Whitechapel was less downbeat than this," Elizabeth observed.
"Wasn't always that segregated," Liam piped in.
"Yeah, the place really has gone downhill in the last few centuries," Robin nodded.
Very slowly, the rest of the group stopped and turned to stare at the two. "Are you saying you've been here before?" Mel asked in amazement.
"Once," Robin shrugged in response. "It was a while ago."
"How long a while?"
Robin looked up, trying to figure out the calculations. "Let's see.....eight hundred years?" He looked to Liam who nodded.
"Sounds about right," the leprechaun replied. "Course, the Varran calendar is different, not sure how long ago that was by their standards."
"I'm getting the feeling we're not going to hear *you* making the logical points too often," Sean dryly observed.
"Liam's the Banjo to my Whiteside," Robin said with a smile. As everyone stared at him blankly, the smile vanished. "'The Man Who Came to Dinner?'" As the stares continued, he threw up his hands. "Doesn't anyone go to plays anymore?"
"How about this," Liam said, holding up a hand. "Robin's the clarinet of Kenny G, I'm the fiddle in 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia.'"
This time, nods of understanding went around as Liam shot Robin a wicked smirk. "Showoff," Robin muttered sourly.
"I learned from the best," Liam said modestly.
"And that's why we got chased out of Sunnydale," Robin quickly pointed out. "So stop learning so well."
"You've been here?" Marybeth said. "And the planet is still in one piece? The people must be tougher than I thoought."
Mel rubbed his head. "This is not the way I envisioned my homecoming being." He sighed and looked around the bar, his eyes falling on a corner table. "Wait a minute...." he muttered. "That couldn't be....." He broke away from the group, striding across the bar and toward the table and the figure sitting there.
He was a short man, only about five foot five, with a ratty beard and a balding head, his face seemed etched in a permanent scowl, his black eyes set deep in his face. He was rather plump, his stomach straining against his black shirt and the buckle to his black pants. He took a deep drink from the mug before him, looking up at Mel, droplets of his drink in his beard. "You have a problem with me?"
Mel paused and bent his head to study the man. "Hermon Jaguan?"
The man tensed slightly as he nodded. Glancing about to make sure none of the bar's inhabitants were looking, Mel slowly pushed up the sleeve of his left arm and turned it over to show it to Hermon. There, seemingly etched into the underside of his forearm, was a red mark that resembled a trident.
Hermon stared at the mark, his eyes widening in shock as he slowly looked up to Mel's face, peering at it closely. "Is....Is it really you?" he whispered.
Mel slowly nodded. "Your face was part of the information packet my father had programmed into my pod. I was hoping I could run into you."
"Melroy," Hermon whispered. He swiftly shut his mouth as he looked around, as if afraid of being overheard. "Sit, sit!"
As Mel took a seat, the rest of the group came up behind him. "Mel, do you know this man?" Maximus asked.
"Not personally, no," Mel said. "But I heard of him from my father's message. This is Hermon Jaguan, once my father's chief advisor."
Hermon nodded at Maximus, then looked at the rest of the group. "Did you bring an army with you?"
"Not exactly," Mel sighed. "I don't suppose I could trouble you for some money? We don't exactly have any currency on us. Well, none that would actually be current here."
Hermon hurriedly reached to his belt and pulled out a small bag, handing it to Mel. Nodding, Mel tossed the bag over his shoulder to Sean, the cop catching it with a startled look. "Better get some drinks," Mel said. "This story is going to take a while."
After getting a quick list from Mel over what drinks would be best for humans, Sean, Kim, Katie and Nicky moved to the bar to place their order. Kim watched as the bartender moved to a strange device behind the bar it looked like a blender of some sort but with a microwave-like box on the bottom. Tapping in a few buttons, the bartender moved back and watched as the previously empty blender suddenly filled with liquid and churned about. In seconds, the blender emptied out, the bartender opening the box underneath and pulling out a tray of glasses, setting them down.
"Unbelievable," Kim muttered, shaking her head as Sean paid the man. "This place looks like something out of Robin Hood but they've got stuff even we don't have!"
"Well, it's not that surprising," Nicky remarked. "It's simply a logical progression of cultural advancement. Think about it. On our world, we had the Dark Ages, an 800-year period where science was considered hearsay and magic and outlawed. Look at the technological progress we've made in the last twenty years alone. If not for the Dark Ages, we might very well be colonizing the stars. Here, it looks like that technology advancement went on, but, if this is the feudal/tribal system Mel described, then it's not as wide spread, those in power or those with the right money and influence, getting the better parts of it while some vestiges of it slip through, such as here."
Katie grinned widely at him. "God, I love you when you're being smart," she said as she leaned up to give her husband a quick kiss. Kim and Sean looked at each other and rolled their eyes. Katie glanced at Kim before looking at Nicky. "You guys bring the drinks over, we'll join you right away," she said, taking two glasses off the tray and handing one to Kim.
"Just try to be quick," Sean said, keeping the "for once" under his breath as he and Nicky walked back towards the table. Kim looked at Katie, frowning. It was partly because of the request to hold back and partly because the five-foot-seven cop wasn't used to having to look up at another woman. At five-foot-ten, just a few inches shorter than her husband, Katie was easily the tallest woman of the group, a fact that threw Kim a bit. "Why are we waiting back here?"
"Oh, I just wanted to talk to you about something," Katie said in a light tone as she brought her mug to her lips. She took a sip and grimaced. "Hmmm. Bitter.....but not too bad."
Kim took a sip of her own and surprisingly liked it. "Wow, you don't get this in Milwaukee. So, what'd you want to talk about?"
"Oh, I just wanted to ask about your partner."
"Sean? What about him?" Kim raised her mug up and started to drink from it again.
"How long have you been in love with him?"
At Katie's matter-of-fact question, Kim nearly spit her drink out, coughing for a bit as she shook her head. "Wha----what are you-----"
"It's a simple question," Katie stated. "How long have you been in love with Sean?"
Kim looked at her for a long moment, then down at her feet. "Since we were kids," she whispered. "Schoolgirl crush for her next door neighbor, you know? Then high school, academy, partners for five years, it's just....grown from that."
She looked up at Katie and the redhead was thrown by the very thin veil of tears in Kim's eyes. "I love him," she whispered. "And I've had to watch him go on date after date with women more beautiful than me, just quick affairs and wondering why he couldn't see me like that." She wiped at her eyes quickly as Katie put a hand on her shoulder.
"Listen," she told Kim. "Guys can be pretty dense, sometimes, I know that. But don't give up. Hey, if the last hour's taught us a lesson, it's that anything is possible."
"I don't know if that would be possible," Kim sighed.
"Just don't get up," Katie told her as the two started to go back to the table. "This one guy I knew, he couldn't take the hint on what we should do on our seventh date. So, I just kept pressing him on it and working on him and before I knew it, we did what I was hoping we'd do on that date."
"What was that?"
"Oh, we got married," Katie answered lightly as the duo came up to the table. "So, what have we missed?"
"Just explaining where I've been and how we got here," Mel told her. He turned back to Hermon, sighing. "Look, Hermon, what's been happening here? On Varra?"
Hermon shook his head. "It's been bad, Melroy-----"
"Just call me Mel," the young man stressed. "And don't even think of saying, 'your highness' at any time."
"Very well.....Mel," Hermon started. "Fahn's out of control, completely. He's turned the Fadukar into an army of bullies and sadists. He's actually allowed the Lizardon to stay in the main areas of Varran and work as part of the army. He's wiped out most of the Cavoronas, forced them underground. The only people he can't really push around are the Peritus but you know how hard they can be."
"Amen," Robin muttered darkly.
"Okay, if he's speaking English, then I'm Albanian," Cal announced.
"The Order of Irilus is mostly intact but not as powerful as they used to be," Hermon went on after shooting an odd look at Robin. "Fahn's leveled hard taxes, lowered the quality of life and if anyone tries to go against him, they're subjected to his own personal form of....pleasure and entertainment." The way he phrased the last words made it clear that the others didn't want to know the details. "Even worse, Fahn's worked to set the three major forces against each other so they're more willing to fight each other than Fahn."
"Still in Alabania here," Cal said, holding up a hand.
"Okay, there's one thing here I don't understand," Marybeth said.
"ONE thing?" Lucy followed.
Shaking her head, Marybeth pressed on. "Why would Fahn go through all the trouble to bring Mel back here after twenty years?"
Hermon sighed. "His disappearance wasn't a secret. It soon got out what his father had done and that he had escaped. Since then, there has been a belief, almost a prophecy, that if he comes to age, he will return and unite the peoples of Varra to defeat Fahn and reinstate just rule."
"So Fahn must have decided that the best way to stop this belief is to bring Mel here and execute him in as brutal and public a manner as possible," Maximus decided, rubbing his chin.
"Despite the fact I don't have the slightest inclination to do any of this," Mel groaned. "God, I hate irony."
"So, we're stuck on a world where everyone seems ready to tear everyone else apart," Lucy summed up. "And we're supposed to stop it."
"We few, we happy few," Maximus remarked.
"We band of bloody buggered," Elizabeth added sourly.
"Actually, I was at the Battle of Agincourt," Maximus told her. "It was bad odds then, tensions arise all around. On the night before the battle, in fact, I got into an argument with a cloaked soldier who challenged me to meet after the battle to settle our differences. To make sure I'd recognize him, he gave me his glove."
Elizabeth stared at him for a long moment before suddenly breaking into laughter. "You...You....You knew.....You knew Henry the V?"
"I never said I knew him, I said he gave me his glove once," Maximus corrected her.
Cal slammed a hand on the table to get everyone's attention. "Listen," he bit out in a hard tone. "I don't care about this planet or the people or for that matter, any of you. All I want to know is, how. The fuck. Do we. Get. HOME?"
"Although vulgar," Elizabeth began. "Cal does have a point. I hate to say it, but I don't think we should get involved in this, this isn't our world."
"Hey, an hour ago, you were ready to claim it for England!" Sean pointed out. "Just like us, you get kicked out and you don't want any part of it anymore."
"Oh, certainly, go ahead," Elizabeth shot back. "Maintain a global empire for a few hundred years but lose ONE bloody colony and you never hear the end of it!"
"It'll fall in end, you know," Maximus stated. "Fahn's empire. They always do."
"All right, so Britain isn't what it was," Elizabeth began. "But that doesn't mean-----"
"You forget, Doctor," Maximus interrupted. "I'm Roman, by way of the Spanish provinces. I was a general at the height of Rome's glory, when we controlled a great deal of the world we knew at the time. We were strong, brilliant, powerful and could never be defeated." His face darkened. "Except by ourselves. That is why democracies and republic succeed where empires fail. When you keep spreading out, the corruption starts within much easier."
Elizabeth studied him carefully. "You're a teacher, aren't you?"
Maximus smiled with pride. "Eight degrees."
"People," Robin interrupted. "Could we can the political and historical talk for now and just concentrate on our next move?"
"Robin's right," Liam agreed. "This is a bad situation."
"Well, at least it can't get much worse," Lucy muttered.
A loud scream could be heard from outside, followed by a loud horn. As one, everyone in the bar stopped what they were doing and looked up with expressions of absolute terror.
"Amazing," Robin remarked to his best friend. "Even *here* it still works."
There was a rush for the doors, the Earthlings going with the crowd, trying to understand just what was going on. They stopped in the street, staring up at the rushing force that coming toward them.
It took a moment for the humans to realize that the figures coming toward them were riding on what appeared to be bikes, each one in a half-moon design, the large rudders in back helping to steady it on turns. Each boasted a large windshield that served as protection for the rider and a nasty-looking cannon attached to the nose. What made them unique though was that there were no wheels, each "bike" hovering about four feet off the ground.
"The Fadukar," Hermon choked out. "Oh, Great One, they must have found the bodies of the Lizardon you killed and followed you."
"How bad are they?" Sean asked, feeling under his jacket for his gun.
"Take your worst nightmare and multiply it by three."
"Let's see, carry the two, add the four......" Shirley muttered to herself.
As nasty as the bikes looked, though, what was atop them was far worse. Each rider was dressed in a suit of armor that covered them from head to toe, the faceplates combining with the helmet design to give them an almost devilish appearance. The knuckles of their gauntlets boasted spikes and several more spikes could be seen elsewhere on the armor. The armor was blood red with a black insignia on the front that looked like a dagger piercing a heart. Each of the figures carried a long spear with a tip that crackled with energy.
"Oh, great, it's the Village People," Shirley remarked.
"It looks more like the Pillage People," Maximus said before he could stop himself.
"Oooh, he made a funny! This guy's got potential, folks!"
Shirley's chuckling was immediately ended when the lead biker hit a button on his spear. A bolt of red energy streaked out from the spear, impacting a bystander square in the chest. The impact sent him down with a scream, his chest actually on fire, his twitching quickly ending.
"Oh, shit, here we go again," Sean muttered as he yanked out his gun, Kim doing the same. By this point, the Fadukar were racing through the village, bursts of red energy ripping through the buildings, screams of the people filling the air as the village became chaos.
"Well, in a situation like this, we Reynolds usually do the same thing," Cal remarked with more lightness than he felt.
"Turn tail and run like hell?" Nicky asked, staring at the attackers.
"You know the family."
"Spread out!" Maximus yelled. "Everyone with someone else!"
Immediately, Katie and Nicky broke off together to run towards one end of the village, Cal and Shirley behind them. Katie yelled out as a burst of energy ripped over her head, blasting out a chunk of rock from the building over her. Holding onto his wife tight by the arm, Nicky turned onto what looked like a side alley. Behind them, Cal outraced Shirley and pushed past the married couple. "What happened to ladies first?!" Katie yelled.
"I'm an equal opportunity survivor!" Cal yelled over his shoulder. The distraction no doubt led to the reason why he didn't notice the way the alley suddenly curved to one side. He turned onto it and was barely able to stop at the edge of a large pit before him. It had a long and slick slope before it, leading into a burrow so deep that no light could penetrate it.
The McDaniels ran up behind Cal, both managing to stop in time, automatically pulling the black man back from the edge of the slope. Just as they were realizing the large opening before them, Shirley crashed into them from behind. With a collective yell, they fell onto the slope, realizing too late just how slick it was as they slid down it and vanished into the ground.
Seeing a woman go down to a burst from a spear set Kim off. The police officer pulled out her gun and started shooting, sparks erupting off one Fadukar's armor as Kim realized the thing was tougher than it looked.
Sean was having the same lack of success, realizing he had exhausted four precious bullets to no effect whatsoever. Well, that wasn't entirely accurate. He did manage to get one soldier's attention, the man turning his cycle towards the cop. He expected the villager with the strange weapon to get out of the way when he came past, giving him a clear shot at him with the lance.
It wasn't until he was about ten feet away that it occurred to him that Sean wasn't going to move. Before he could wonder why, the athletic cop leaped forward, grabbing onto the front of the cycle and pulling himself up. The soldier was too startled by the unexpected move to react as Sean thrust his gun forward and fired into the man's faceplate, a bullet striking him right in the eye. The cycle veered wildly as the man slumped forward, Sean managing to get off just as it fell over.
Sean smiled grimly as he turned to see how his partner was doing. His eyes widened as he saw a Fadukar on a cycle swing behind Kim, the blonde woman still trying to get a shot in at another soldier standing by. "Kim!" he yelled out.
Kim turned around at his cry just in time to see the blunt end of the Fadukar's spear coming at her. She tried to duck away but it was too fast and the lance struck her on the side of the head. Her gun fell from her limp hand as she slumped onto the ground, unconscious.
"Kim!" Sean yelled as he saw his partner go down and began to run toward her. He was so focused on Kim, he failed to see the Fadukar that approached from the side, the cycle suddenly right before him. Sean had just enough time to slow down before the soldier's lance smacked him in the chest. He fell to his knees, gasping for breath from the sharp blow and an easy target for the sharp blow behind his left ear that knocked him out.
Both officers were unaware of the Fadukar, exchanging a few nods, picking up their limp bodies and draping them across the back of two cycles. In seconds, the soldiers raced off, their prisoners secure behind them.
The village was pure chaos at this point, several buildings on fire, people trying to find some shelter as the Fadukar pressed their attack. Elizabeth, Lucy, Tarring, Mel and Marybeth were running past the remains of the shack where they had originally changed, now on fire from some stray shots. "Where the hell are we going?" Lucy yelled at the man who knew the place best.
"Far away from here!" Mel shot back.
"Works for me!" Lucy suddenly heard a flashing sound and then a sharp pain striking her leg. She cried out as she went down, holding her smoking flesh.
The others stopped, looking down at her, Elizabeth automatically kneeling to check out the wound. The burst had torn open part of Lucy's leg, cauterizing it so the bleeding was minimal but the exposed skin was still a major danger. At least, to a normal person, it would be. "Damn," Elizabeth muttered. "It'll probably still be a bit before that can heal right."
A shuffling got their attention and they looked up to see the Fadukar who had taken the shot step forward, spear still held up. Another joined him, the two carefully aiming at the quintet before them. "Melroy Tarrickton," one stated in a voice that echoed slightly due to the helmet. "Yield or die."
"I hate multiple choice questions," Mel muttered under his breath as he stared the two soldiers down. "Let them go and you can have me!" he called out. "They don't have anything to do with this!"
"They do now," one Fadukar observed. "Surrender and we shall be merciful and kill them now."
"That's merciful?" Marybeth asked softly.
"Yes," the two Fadukar said together.
Mel looked at the wounded Lucy, then at Marybeth. Swallowing, he drew himself up, ready to try and deal with the soldiers when they suddenly vanished. Mel blinked, trying to figure out what had happened. "What just happened? Where------"
"Oh, somewhere in the Plantaic Sea," Robin said as he and Liam suddenly appeared before the group. "Gee, I hope all that armor doesn't make it difficult to swim."
"Thanks," Mel said in gratitude. "Look, we have to get going------"
"We know," Liam nodded. "Take off, we'll cover for you."
"Guys, I don't want you sacrificing yourselves for me," Mel stressed.
The two Eternals laughed. "Sacrifice?" Liam announced. "Lad, this is the best fun we've all had all day. Come on, Rob, let's go rock and sock 'em!"
"Lead on, my friend, lead on!" Robin grinned as the two raced back into the village.
Elizabeth helped Lucy up, the younger doctor wincing in pain as Mel moved in to take her other arm. "This is their idea of fun?" The Immortal Englishwoman asked Marybeth.
"Somehow, I don't think we want to know what their idea of fun really is," the teen answered her and Elizabeth was hard pressed to argue with that.
Maximus' instincts kicked in as he launched himself forward, tackling one of the riders, knocking him from his cycle. Maximus didn't even notice how the cycle automatically stopped as he rolled about the ground with the Fadukar underneath him. He was about to try a blow when the Fadukar's fist slammed into his jaw. Maximus rocked back, both from the pain of the blow and the blood flowing from the spikes on the gauntlet.
The Fadukar pushed him away, Maximus landing on his back. It rose up, taking its lance and shoving it down at Maximus. The Immortal rolled to the side and let the lance strike the ground next to him. He came out of the roll, his sword in his hand and sweeping out to strike the lance. It held tough and Maximus traded several blows as he got to his feet, the Fadukar making wide swings which Maximus was barely able to block.
As the Fadukar jabbed at him, Maximus stepped aside and spun about, the tip of his sword slamming into the tiny space where the helmet and the chestplate allowed the neck to be exposed. There was a choking sound as Maximus ripped the blade away, the Fadukar falling to its knees, hands at his throat, before collapsing in its own blood. Maximus nodded and turned, only to see four Fadukar pointing their lances at them.
Before Maximus could think of a plan, a green glow covered the soldiers and suddenly there were a quartet of rats scurrying about on the ground. Maximus looked to the side to see Robin and Liam step forward, Robin brushing his hands. "As much as we'd love to do this to all of them," Robin said. "We don't have the unlimited power needed."
"Fine," Maximus nodded. "Where are the others?"
Robin sighed. "They got Kim and Sean, we saw them being driven off. They looked like they were still alive."
"No sign of the McDaniels, Cal or Shirley," Liam told him. "They might have gotten away."
"And the rest?"
"We saw them heading southward," Robin explained. "Hopefully, they'll find some help that way."
"We took out a few more of these bastards," Liam went on. "The rest scattered fast. The villagers are pretty shook up but from the way they act, this isn't the first time it's happened."
"No, but it will be the last." Maximus Decimus Meridas brought himself up, the fire and drive that had made him Rome's greatest general and then its greatest gladiator, the dedication that had pushed him to swear vengeance upon the emperor himself, the passion that overcame him when a battle was about to begin, it was all coming back to him. He looked at the two faeries, command in his every word. "We find the others, we find some allies and we try to figure out what needs to be done to stop these bastards."
"What about getting back to Earth?" Robin asked with a slight frown.
"If we can, wonderful," Maximus told him. "But I once defied an emperor to stop a madman from making his will the only law there was. I won't let it happen again, not here, not everywhere." He turned and strode back towards the village, sword still in hand. He paused, looking at it carefully.
"Well, old friend," he said softly. "I'd almost hoped you and I would become strangers. But I fear that will never be." Shaking his head, he continued to walk toward the village. Behind him, the two Eternals looked at each other and smiled. Each was thinking the same thing.
Once again......a hero was about to rise.
24 May, 1999 - 1858 Hours PST
The soft sounds of violin playing greeted Joyce as she stepped through the doors to Maison Declaire. Easily the best restaurant in Sunnydale, it catered to several high-society forms of cooking, from Italian to old-fashioned steak. The waiting area was done in nice white and black tiling, artificial vines hanging around the large pane-glass window and the light blue wallpaper giving off a charming feeling.
That there was only a couple of people in the room was hardly surprising for Joyce. As the best restaurant in town, Maison Declaire had a booking list going months ahead. Not seeing Zev, Joyce walked up to the small podium where the matrie'd stood. "Excuse me?"
"Yes?" the small man with slicked-back black hair asked, looking up at Joyce.
"Ah, I was supposed to meet someone here," Joyce said with a bit of nervousness in her voice. "He told me he had tried to get something for seven. My name is Joyce-------"
"Ah, yes," the man nodded, surprising her. "Mr. Mundac's guest. He's already waiting for you."
"He is?" Joyce said, thrown. "But....I thought you couldn't just walk in and....."
The man looked at her with a tight smile. "Sometimes, madam, we find ourselves giving...leeway to some special guests." He snapped his fingers and a young waitress was standing by his side. *Amy and Willow should be able to appear out of thin air like that* Joyce thought to herself as the waitress, with a smile, led her into the dining room.
The room wasn't very large, about the size of the interior of a fast food chain but the furnishings more than made up for it. With wood paneling, dark and lush carpeting and tables covered in white cloth, it would make any four star restauranteur proud. The dark blue paneling and classical music piped in through the speakers on the ceiling added to the charm.
Zev Mundac, still dressed in the same suit he had worn in Joyce's shop, was perusing a menu as Joyce approached. Catching sight of her, he gave a small smile and rose. "Glad you could make it," he told her, reaching for her hand. Joyce smiled a bit as she thought he was going to kiss it and was a bit taken aback when he simply shook it. The waitress pulled a chair back from the table, allowing Joyce to sit down. "Thank you," Joyce nodded as she put her purse on the floor.
As soon as the waitress had left, Joyce picked up her menu. "Wow. I can't believe you actually got in here," she told Zev. "Do you know how exclusive this place is?"
"I can believe it," Zev said offhandedly, looking over his menu. "It took a bit more than I thought to bribe the matrie'd to push us in. I suppose the people here really do have morals."
Joyce chuckled, then stopped as she looked closely at Zev. "Are you....Are you serious?"
Zev glanced up to return her gaze. "Almost always." That slight smile came back onto his face as he waved at the waitress to place their order for wine.
St. Francis Cemetery
1904 Hours PST
"Get the feeling we're still on the outs with the rest of the gang?" Faith asked as she, Kendra and Shaw walked through the cemetery, keeping an eye out for any vampires.
"What gives you that impression?" the Jamaican Slayer asked as her eyes swept the graveyard. "The fact that they made it quite clear that none of them wanted to be with us while on patrol tonight? Or that any attempt to mention what happened last week earns us some sour looks from all of them?"
"Ah, I'm sure they'll get over it soon," Faith said with a shrug. She was dressed in a tight pair of leather pants with a leather jacket over her loose red shirt, which accented her chest a bit. Her two partners were dressed a bit more conservatively, with dark fighting outfits, Shaw's a bit less revealing than Kendra's.
"Hey, we get to see Shaw's new cut in action!" Faith grinned, glancing at Shaw. Without any conscious intent, Shaw's hand reached up to brush at her curly brown hair, now cut much shorter, just managing to brush less than an inch past her ears, with a bit of a perm to make it look more set. "It looks good, girl! Maybe Buffy should try it."
"Buffy cut her hair?" Kendra sniffed. "I believe we shall see Willow as a blond before we see that."
"It is only a haircut," Shaw stated. "I do not know why it is such a cause for concern."
"That why Amy had to drag you over to the beauty parlor?" Faith grinned.
"She did not-------" Before Shaw could continue, a scream could be heard coming from the opposite side of the cemetery. Instantly, all three were running, dashing past headstones, the Slayers grabbing their stakes while Shaw pulled out her sword, all ready to attack.
They came across the source of the scream just around a corner. There was a woman falling to the ground, having tripped over a headstone. The quartet of vampires who had been chasing her saw their opportunity and pounced at her. The woman got to her feet and punched out, managing to hit one vamp in the face and send him down. She snap-kicked another in the chest, knocking him back but the other two tackled her down to the ground, ready to bite at her.
Shaw was the first one to reach the scene, spinning her sword about as she sliced one of the standing vampires across the chest. He howled in pain as he went down, his companion soon falling back from a kick delivered by Kendra. The dark-skinned Slayer blocked some of the vampire's sloppy punches and kicks, spinning around and slamming a stake in his heart, the vampire crying out as he disintegrated.
Faith leapt onto the other two vampires, grabbing them and yanking them off the woman. One got to his feet and tried to attack her, Faith dodging his kick and backhanding the vamp, sending him down. She spun around and kicked out, hitting the other vampire in the jaw, sending him stumbling back. It just so happened that Shaw was making a wide sweep with her blade, the arc managing to slice the vampire just above his neck, beheading him. Shaw wasn't even aware of the man turning to dust as she thrust the blade into the chest of the other vamp, the fire ripping through his chest. Shaw yanked it out as the vamp burned away.
Faith blocked the punch of the remaining vampire and kicked out at him, doubling him over. She flipped him onto his back and then slammed a stake into him. "Damn," she muttered. "That was a little too fast for me."
"At least I am in my own body for it," Shaw muttered back as she lowered her sword. She looked at the woman, holding out a hand. "Are you all right?"
The woman took it, allowing Shaw to help her up. She was rather tall, about five foot ten, her shoulder-length brown hair framing a beautiful face. She had a good build on her, athletic and trim, dressed in a loose brown dress. She smiled at Shaw, her face lighting up as she did. "Thanks," she said. "I sort of got in over my head there."
"Hey, no prob," Faith said. "It's our job, five by five."
"Huh?" Faith asked.
"Five what by five what? I mean, what is that supposed to signify?"
"It is just Faith's way of speaking," Kendra broke in. "Are you sure you are all right?"
"Oh, fine, fine-----" The woman broke off, her hands going to her pockets, a look of panic on her features as she tried to find something. She stopped, her face showing relief as she pulled out a palm-sized ruby, the red facets glowing slightly in the moonlight, the strange spiral design on the face of it showing brightly. "Oh, thank Jurden," she whispered. "If this had broken......"
"Roz! Roz, where are you?" The women looked about as a male voice made its way through the graveyard.
"Over here, Father!" the woman called out, holding up a hand to wave at the man who came rounding the corner. He was dressed in the dark robes of a priest, the white collar around his throat showing clearly. He was about five foot seven, with a balding head, what hair there was silver. He was plump, with a heavyset face, heaving for breath a bit as he came up to the woman called Roz.
"Oh, thank God," he got out. "I was worried when those creatures attacked us."
"Are you all right?" Roz asked with concern.
"Yes, yes, some holy water dealt with them," the priest told her. He looked over at the three women nearby. "Ah. Friends of yours?"
"Could be," the woman said, a bright smile coming onto her face. "They definitely helped me out just now." She nodded at them all. "I'm Roz Candrum."
"I'm Father Conrad Garrow," the priest introduced himself.
"Wow, another guy of the cloth," Faith noted. "Better be careful, Shaw, Ulric will get jealous of not being the top God guy in town."
"Ulric?" Garrow said, staring at Faith in surprise. "Do you...do you mean Ulric Johansson by any chance?"
Shaw straightened with surprise and a bit of suspicion. "You know Father Ulric?"
"Yes," Garrow told her. He bit his lip, looking at Roz. "I think....I think if we're to find him, he could help us."
"With what?" Kendra asked, putting away her stake.
"Well, it's not exactly a simple thing....." Roz said nervously.
"Try to simplify it," Shaw cooly stated.
Taking a deep breath, Roz told them.
1921 Hours PST
"Hon, calm down."
"I'm calm, I'm calm. I'm Shaft, I'm so calm."
Steven St. Wolf had to smile at the obvious nervousness of his girlfriend. Although she had tried to put on a show of support, Buffy was nervous about her mother being on a date with a stranger. Steve had known Joyce long enough to know her instincts were usually on the money so if she thought the guy was okay to dine with, Buffy had nothing to worry about. Apparently, Buffy didn't share that idea.
"Buffy, I don't understand why you're so upset about this," Steve said as the two walked from Bob and Carol's shop to Steve's home. Steve had been attempting to undo some of the damage Giles had unwittingly inflicted during the week the Watcher spent in Steve's body. Between messing up the computer files and the confusion he created with Bob and Carol, it would be a bit before things got back to normal.
Buffy sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "Steve, you weren't here for Ted. My mom liked him and he turned out to be a psycho android. What if this guy's something as bad? Or worse? I don't know if Mom can handle that."
"Buffy, your mother has handled finding out you're a Slayer, finding out you're Immortal, discovering everything about all the guys, seeing Xander save her when he got Robin's empowerment, has actually spent more than ten minutes with Robin and maintaining her cool, and met a double of you from another reality who was a cold-hearted killer. Not to mention her not only keeping calm during the whole Outworld thing but actually saving the day and that she just spent a week in your body. Trust me, she can handle this Zev character."
"I'd still rather be there," Buffy pouted, which Steve had to laugh lightly at.
"Well, maybe we could swing by very quickly while on patrol------" Before Steve could complete the thought, his cell phone rang. Taking it out of his pocket and opening it, Steve answered. "Hello?"
"Steve?" Faith's voice came on. "Listen, me and the guys just ran into something I think you're going to want to listen to. Can you call everyone and tell us to meet at your house?"
"What's it about, Faith?" Steve asked with a frown.
"Bossman, trust me. Even *we* haven't come across anything like this before. We'll explain when we get there. Oh, and make sure to call Ulric too, we need him to verify something for us." Before Steve could ask for more details, Faith switched off.
"Let me guess," Buffy said, looking at him. "We're not going on patrol."
"Not at the moment," Steve sighed as he started to dial a new number.
Buffy closed her eyes. *I swear, Faith, if you're just giving my mom more time on the date, I am so gonna........*
Sunnydale City Park
1926 Hours PST
"So, Willow," Randi started, a small smile on her face. "Any problems being back on patrol? Not tripping over your own two feet?"
"Oh, shut up," Willow sourly said. "Just, all of you, shut up."
Randi's chuckle was echoed by Larry, the powerfully built young man getting a kick out of seeing Willow look sour. As opposed to her look and the smiles on the faces of Larry and Randi, Oz looked even more blank than usual.
"Come on, Will," Randi pressed on. "How'd it feel to be older?"
"I wish I'd remembered a few more spells to use on you right now," Willow sourly muttered.
"Chill out, Will," Randi said with a shrug. "Come on, Shaw wasn't as antsy about things. By the way, I think you guys are being a bit hard on her about the tape. Last I saw, she was in her room, playing the flute."
"She could use the practice," Willow muttered.
Randi raised an eyebrow. "Have you ever played the flute?"
"Well, I kinda had the idea for it once," Willow answered. "But I just couldn't stand going to band camp." She let out a long sigh. "Goddess, why did Steve stick us with you guys?"
"I think Frank made him promise to get some payback before skipping town," Randi explained. "Probably would have done it himself but he didn't want to get caught just in case something else crazy happened."
"This is Sunnydale, Randi," Larry pointed out. "Name a single month where at least two or three crazy things don't happen."
"Well, you guys weren't here for the latter part of April," Oz calmly pointed out. "Outworld. Shaw's job. You missed that"
"And are we grateful," Larry said. "Glad I was on the road trip with the team." He smiled. Randi did too, although she kept herself quiet about her whereabouts. Somehow, she didn't think it wise to mention to the guys that during the entire trip in Ireland, where they were desperate for allies against Outworld, she, Brian and Ulric had been in Dublin all along.
"I'm sorry I got here too late for the switch thing," Randi added. Her mouth broke into a grin. "Although I can't say I missed it......."
Even Oz had to let out a sigh at the mention of the videotape, the source of ribbing from every ally the Sunnydale group had. From Mulder and Scully in D.C. to the Mystic Knights in Ireland, everyone had called to rub in the laughs they'd gotten out of week of chaos. "I'm going to kill them," Willow muttered darkly. "They get back, I am going to kill them both."
"Don't think that's wise, Will," Oz said.
"Why not?" his girlfriend demanded.
Oz lifted an eyebrow. "You want to see kind of joke they could come up with as payback?"
"Um, Oz, if I killed them, they'd be dead?"
"And can you imagine what kind of doomsday prank they'd have cooked up?"
Willow's shudder was her answer, cut off when a ringing sound came over the group. Immediately, Randi was flipping open a cell phone and talking. "Yeah? Where are you? Did you call Steve already? Okay, we'll be right there."
"What was that about?" Larry asked with a frown as Randi hung up the phone.
"That was Faith," the Immortal answered. "Seems they've ran into something, could be a code situation."
"Why is it always code red?" Larry muttered. "Or code yellow? We need more codes. And I don't mean orange or blue, we need to spread it out. Why not code pink or code brown or code chatanuse or-------"
"Larry?" Oz broke in.
"Let Seinfeld do Seinfeld, okay?"
Home of Rupert Giles
1931 Hours PST
"BUGGER!" Giles let out as he heard the phone ring. He could hear Jenny groan, not in pleasure as she had been for the last several minutes but in disappointment. Rolling off of her, Giles reached over and picked up the phone. "What?" he barked into it with more edge than his cool exterior would have hinted at.
Jenny sighed and sat up a bit in bed, her hands lightly caressing her pert breasts. *It figures. It just figures. We try to make up for the lost week and something comes up.* Although neither wanted the subject to ever come up again, Jenny couldn't help but think that all the two teachers were doing was trying to erase the idea of Jenny's body being with Frank's, with a drunken Willow and Oz actually in the driver's seat at the time. Giles and Jenny had been spending more time lovemaking than ever as a way to make up for things. *So, maybe it did have some benefits* Jenny thought.
She saw Giles hang up the phone and move back to her. "What's going on?" she asked.
Giles brushed at her hair as he leaned over her. "Steve's calling an emergency meeting, wants everyone over there as soon as possible."
"Dammit," Jenny sighed. "Now, of all times......." She frowned at the smile on Giles' face. "What?"
"Steve's waiting for everyone to get over there," the Englishman told her. "And since Xander and Cordelia are always late normally and since they're trying to make up for lost time as well......"
"I love you when you're sneaky," Jenny smiled as she brought Giles down for a kiss and the two quickly picked up where they left off.
1934 Hours PST
"That's one veal special," the waitress nodded, jotting Joyce's order down on her notepad. "And you, sir?" she asked, turning toward Zev.
The man snapped the menu shut and held it up to her. "Steak. Medium."
The waitress frowned. "Um, what kind, sir, we have filet or New York sirloin or------"
"Steak," Zev stated in a flat tone. "Medium. Choose one."
Repressing the sudden urge to shudder, the waitress wrote down a filet and walked over toward the kitchen. Joyce raised an eyebrow at Zev, who just returned the gaze. "You don't believe in tact?" Joyce asked.
"I believe in it," Zev answered. "Belief and practice are two very different things."
Joyce decided it was time to start learning a few things about her date so she'd have time to bail out before the entree. "So, you know what I do. Just what's your profession?"
"I guess the best description is...a locator," Zev answered after a brief pause. "That crystal I was looking for is an item that's been dominating my attention for quite a few years."
"Will you be moving on then?"
"No, as I said, I expect it will come here soon. I just need to wait until it does."
"What's so special about the crystal, anyway?"
Zev was silent, picking at a piece of lint on his suit. "Let's just say it has some....personal value to me and leave it at that."
Joyce held back a sigh and brought her glass of wine to her lips. "So, how are you liking Sunnydale?" she asked, ready to take a drink.
"Not a bad town," Zev answered in a normal tone. "It would probably be better if it weren't for all the vampires." He seemed taken aback as Joyce spat half her wine back into the glass, coughing a bit as she recovered from her surprise. "You...." she started, still coughing. "You...You know about vampires?"
"It's rather hard to miss them," Zev told her, seeming confused as to why it was such an unusual comment to make. "I ran into a pair the very night I came here."
Joyce stared at him. "And?"
A tiny smile tugged at the corners of Zev's mouth. "Let's just say....I have skills, and leave it at that."
Joyce immediately realized two things: First, that her opinion of Zev was going to have be drastically altered. And second, this had the makings of a very interesting dinner.
Home of Steven St. Wolf
2011 Hours PST
As the door knocked, Steve went to open it and nodded at the man on the other side. "Good of you to come, Ulric."
"I was rather surprised," the priest admitted as he stepped inside. "Usually, I don't get called into your mission meetings."
"Well, it's not exactly a mission meeting," Steve told him. "At least, not yet it isn't. We called you here for an ID."
"ID?" Ulric frowned. "I don't quite------"
He stopped as he stepped into the living room and saw the crowd inside. The group was spread about the room, the couples tending to be close together, all dressed rather casually. Giles and Jenny apparently weren't happy about being there. Neither were Xander and Cordelia. Amy was also a bit sour after having her night off after a week of doing Shaw's job, wrecked by the phone call. Ulric's temptation to smile was brushed away when he got a good look at the man standing near the couch, smiling at him. "Hello, Ulric," Garrow said. "It's been a while."
"Conrad?" Ulric's amazement gave way to a large smile and a short laugh. "Good heavens, Conrad Garrow!" With another laugh, he walked forward, he and the other priest shaking hands warmly.
"Well, that settles the question as to Ulric knowing the guy," Buffy remarked offhand as they looked at the two priests.
Ulric looked at her and smiled. "Conrad and I were in seminary together," he explained. "We haven't seen each other in...." He glanced at Garrow. "Good Lord, how long has it been?"
"Oh, quite a few gray hairs ago, I'm afraid," Garrow replied with a sigh, brushing at his silver hair. "Sorry I haven't been in touch more but you know how it is."
"Well, it's good to see you here and now," Ulric smiled. "Just what brings you to town?"
Conrad motioned toward Roz, who was sitting on the couch next to Faith and Shaw. "I have a small church in Nevada. About a week ago, Roz here entered it, looking for help. As soon as I heard what she wanted to do and what she needed, I did some checking and found out you were in this town. I'd hope you might be able to help." He looked about at the room. "I had no idea that your current...flock would be so large or skilled."
"They do surprise visitors," Ulric said, smiling. He looked over at Roz. "And just what problem is it that you need so much help with, my dear?"
Roz took a deep breath and let it out. "Um....This is going to be somewhat....hard to take in. So, I think I need to do something to prove myself to you." She stood up from the couch and quickly moved over toward Shaw. "Can I have a knife?"
Shaw was a bit thrown by the sudden request. She opened her mouth to ask why but Roz just held up a hand. Shaw looked at it, then at her face, looking into Roz's eyes and seeing a touch of pleading there. Carefully, she reached to her belt and pulled out a small dagger, handing it to Roz. Nodding in thanks, Roz held the dagger to the palm of her hand and bit her lip. She slowly let the blade drag along the skin, breaking it, her face grimacing in pain at the small wound. She lifted the dagger, handing it back to Shaw, then held up her palm.
Everyone stared at it in silence. It looked to be a simple and small wound, the flow of blood from it not too bad. What was getting their attention, however, was the fact that the blood happened to be a bright blue.
"I'm....not exactly from around here," Roz started slowly, lowering her hand as she began her narrative.
2018 Hours PST
Joyce Summers considered herself, for the most part, to be a good judge of character. True, her daughter had managed to keep her status as a Slayer secret for quite a while but Joyce chalked that up to the fact that she had never considered that a possibility as to why Buffy was always acting up. She would like to think that if she hadn't been drugged, she would have seen through Ted a lot sooner as well. Living in Sunnydale quickly taught one to keep an eye out for signs of evil and/or danger.
Yet, Joyce still didn't know quite what to make of Zev. He was charming, there was no doubt about that but at the same time, it was tinged with a trace of pride, even arrogance, that kept him from being totally likeable. She also sensed he was holding something back, not that she wouldn't know anything about that. So, the man remained a mystery, which was something Joyce just hated to have on her plate.
"Any family?" she asked as she lifted a piece of veal to her mouth, chewing on it.
Zev waited to swallow the piece of steak before answering. "Not really. My parents are both long gone, along with most of the rest of my family. Well, except one but...we're not on speaking terms."
"I'm sorry," Joyce said sympathetically.
"It's all right," Zev shrugged it off. "It was a long time ago. That doesn't erase the pain, of course, but it...eases it a bit." He took another bite of his food before looking up at Joyce. "And you? Any children?"
"One daughter," Joyce said, struck again by the lack of tact Zev often used in his questions. "She's in her senior year of high school."
"Anything special about her?" Zev asked.
Joyce took a moment to respond. "Well, she's...the typical teenager, really."
"You tell her she can't go out at night and she acts like it's the end of the world?" Zev replied with a light smile.
"Something like that," Joyce allowed. "And what about you? Any-----"
"No children," Zev quickly broke in. "Never got around to it. My...job doesn't leave time for much of a social life."
"Ah, so you were just desperate for company?" Joyce teasingly said.
"I wouldn't say desperate," Zev sniffed. "Just...needed a quick break, really." Sipping at his wine, he looked at Joyce. "Just how did you get into antiques, anyway?"
Marveling at how well he could slide from one subject to another, Joyce paused to think. "Well, it just seemed like a great way to get a new start after the divorce," she explained. "I'd always been interested in old things, always dragging Hank to garage sales and flea markets for various little items for the house. I made a few contacts that I called on for when I got my shop started, it just grew from there." She took another bite of her veal and leaned back. "How about you? How'd you get started on...whatever it is you do?"
Zev's face darkened a bit before he replied. "It had to do with some...personal history of mine."
Joyce peered at him. "You sort of like being an enigma, don't you?"
That tiny smile appeared on Zev's face again. "If I answered that, that would take away from the enigma persona, wouldn't it?"
Joyce wasn't quite sure just who this man was but a boring dinner companion was not one of them.
Steven St. Wolf's home
2028 Hours PST
"Now, let me get this all straight," Buffy said, holding up a hand and leaning forward to look closely at Roz, who was standing in the middle of the room. "You're an alien."
"Yes," Roz confirmed, nodding.
Buffy looked at her. "From another planet."
Buffy looked closer. "From outer space."
Buffy nodded. "Okay. You're an alien from another planet from outer space who's been forced to leave your world behind in order to safeguard a crystal capable of feats of immense power. You use the crystal to teleport yourself away and land here on another planet from outer space. Only, your brother, an apparent power-hungry lunatic, wants to find and track you down to get his hands on the crystal. So, you've been moving from planet to planet over the last decade or so, staying one step ahead of him before landing here on Earth." Buffy paused to think about what she had just said. "Wow, that is easily the weirdest thing I've heard all week."
Randi just stared at Roz. "Wow, you're really an alien?"
"What's so strange about that?" Roz replied with a shrug. "You people are hardly the All- American family yourselves."
"So, what do you want from us?" Steve asked, crossing his arms.
Roz took a deep breath. "Look," she said softly, a trace of fear in her voice. "You guys don't know what my brother is like. He was always the black sheep of the family, the one we didn't like to talk about. He was always angry and lustful, wanted power and would do anything to get it and it just got worse as he grew older. And after our parents...were killed, he put his sights on me and I knew I to run."
"He...killed your parents?" Shaw asked softly.
Roz wiped at her face. "I can't prove it but...He left the house, they're found dead, it's not that big a jump in thinking."
"Ah, shit," Faith muttered. "Sorry."
Roz waved her hand. "It's okay, it's okay. But that just goes to show you how far he'll go to get this, particularly if he thinks I can succeed in my plan."
"What plan?" Giles asked.
Roz rubbed at her face as she answered. "When I used the crystal the first time to teleport away from my planet, he followed and was caught in its energies. It took me a while to figure out that there's a link of sorts between us now. Whenever I do teleport, he gets dragged along with me, the two of us appearing on the same planet although thankfully, not at the same place. So, that gives me a while to wait for a conjunction and teleport out before he finds me."
"Conjunction?" Jenny asked with a frown.
"Yeah, I can only port out if there's a certain alignment of stars," Roz explained. "Shifting through space isn't as easy as it sounds, there's a lot of gravity and physics laws to take care of before you can safely traverse across star systems. This isn't 'Star Trek', you know."
"You watch 'Star Trek'?" Cordelia asked in disbelief, raising an eyebrow.
Roz smiled. "It's the crystal," she explained. "It gives me a crash course on the languages and cultures of whatever planet I land on so I can fit in. Languages, customs, things like that. What, you think everyone in the universe speaks English?"
Willow shook her head. "So there's a conjunction taking place soon?"
"Tomorrow night," Roz said. "And it just so happens that, given the energy readings I've been sensing from this town, not only will I be able to calculate it so I can finally get back home, I can also sever the connection between me and my brother so he won't follow me."
"So, you're going to leave a dangerous psychotic alien here on our world," Xander said. "Thanks a lot."
"Well, okay, so it's not the perfect plan," Roz admitted, shrugging and taking a seat.
"Let me understand what you're saying," Steve broke in. "You want us to keep an eye out for your brother long enough for you to get this teleporting out of the way?"
"I don't want to ask that of you," Roz stressed. "I know it's a lot to ask for and if you say no, I'll understand. It's just....I could use the help, that's all."
"Mr. St. Wolf," Garrow calmly spoke up. "I understand two strangers coming in and asking you for help with something like this is suspicious, I accept that. But I've gotten to know this woman pretty well in the last few days." He motioned toward Roz and smiled. "She's a good and capable woman, Mr. St. Wolf. Believe me, she's worth saving, Mr. St. Wolf. I at least hope you make the effort."
"If Conrad thinks Roz could use help, that's good enough for me," Ulric stated with a nod.
"You trust his judgement?" Shaw asked, raising an eyebrow.
Ulric returned her gaze evenly. "As I would trust yours, Shaw. I've known this man for years and his judgement has always been sound." He looked over at Steve. "Perhaps I'm out of line for speaking up but I think we have to at least try to help her."
Steve thought for a minute before nodding. "All right," he finally said. He looked over to Roz. "We'll do what we can. Hopefully, it'll be enough to get you home safely."
"Thanks," Roz said, letting out a sigh of relief. "Thank you so very much, I really needed to hear that." She paused and looked around. "Um, I don't suppose there's anyplace around here I could stay?"
"Well, Conrad is welcome at my church," Ulric said, looking at his fellow priest. "I'm sure I could fit you in there as well."
"Hey, maybe you can crash with Joyce," Faith said. "She'd love the company. Well, unless this Zev guy is-----"
"FAITH!" Buffy yelled.
"ZEV?!" Roz shot to her feet, staring at Faith in shock. "Zev Mundac?!"
"Um, yeah," Faith said, taken aback at the sudden outburst from the formerly laid-back woman.
"How do you know him?" Roz shrieked, grabbing Faith by the arm.
Faith shrugged off the surprisingly strong grip before replying. "He's on a date with Buffy's mom."
"What?" Roz whispered, her face going pale. Swallowing, she asked a quick question. "Tall, good build, silver streaks in the hair?"
"Yeah, sounds like the guy Joyce described," Faith frowned. "Why?"
"Oh, Radilon's Ghost," Roz whispered, her hands going to her head.
"What's wrong?" Buffy asked, concerned.
Roz looked up at her. "Zev....is my brother."
A long silence came over the room before a low and very dangerous voice spoke up.
"Oh, he just jumped to the top of the list," Buffy hissed under her breath, her eyes narrow slits.
"And may he rest in peace," Xander and Cordelia said in unison.
"Amen," Oz added.
2039 Hours PST
"Well, I had a lovely time," Joyce said. She and Zev were exiting the restaurant. Joyce watched Zev tipped the valet to get his car, a large wad of bills in his hand. "Are you...rich or something?" Joyce asked, remembering the look on the waitress' face when she saw the tip Zev had left.
"Or something," Zev said with that strange little smile of his. A dark blue Saab pulled up to the curb, the valet giving Zev a big smile as he shook his hand. "Thanks," the young man said, his eyes showing that he was already thinking of ways to spend his sizeable tip. He looked to Joyce, who shook her head. "I parked a bit away. It's just a little to expensive to valet for me."
"To each their own," Zev said as he walked to the driver's side of his car. He paused and looked at Joyce. For the first time all night, he appeared to be unsure of himself. "I would...like to see you again. If I could. If you want, of course."
Joyce was a bit amused by the look of anticipation on Zev's face and purposefully dragged out her answer, biting her lip. "Well...All right," she said at last, nodding. "Perhaps we could work something out. As long as you're going to be in town for a while."
"I certainly have a reason to stay," Zev remarked, his hands reaching into his pockets and quickly pulling out a pen and a small card. He scribbled a number onto the card and handed it to Joyce. "My motel room number. If you decide to give this another try, feel free to drop me a call."
"I will," Joyce said. She glanced at the number, flipping the card over and was mildly surprised and a bit touched to see that it was one of hers. She looked back at Zev and smiled. "I...hope we can meet again sometime, Zev. Good-night."
"Goodnight," Zev nodded, opening the door to his car and sliding in. He watched Joyce turn and walk toward a parking lot across the street. He started his car and paused in thought. He slowly sat back, leaning his head back against the seat.
*What are you doing, Zev? This is not what you came to this town for and you know it.* He glanced over toward the direction Joyce was headed in. *Still...a little distraction every now and then is a good thing. You still have to wait for Roz, you might as well enjoy yourself a little.* He sat up, putting the car in gear and pulling away from the restaurant.
*After all.....One way or another...It's quite probable you'll never see her alive again after tomorrow night. A shame, really, she is a nice woman. But, if it's her fate to die with the rest of her world...nothing you can do about it, can you?*
With that, Zev drove off into the night, thoughts of Joyce soon replaced by thoughts of murder on a global scale and how soon that would occur.
2051 Hours PST
Joyce kept herself from whistling as she unlocked her front door and entered. She still didn't know quite what to make of Zev but finally getting out for a change was definitely a good thing. *God, I'd forgotten just how good it makes me feel* Joyce thought with a smile. *I hope I can work something for as long as he's in town, I could------*
Joyce jumped a bit, startled as she stopped near the living room. She looked inside and was a bit thrown to see Buffy there, along with the rest of the Scooby Gang, Ulric and two people she didn't know. "Buffy, what is------"
She was cut off as Buffy came up to her, giving her a quick hug before backing away. "Mom, are you all right?"
"Yes, honey, I'm fine." Joyce was a bit unnerved by the urgency and concern in her daughter's tone.
Buffy looked at her closely, seeming a bit suspicious. "Are you sure?"
*Oh, God, don't tell me there's a vampire double of ME from another reality in town!* Joyce briefly thought before nodding. "Buffy, I'm fine, what's wrong?"
"Zev didn't...do anything, did he?" Buffy pressed on.
"Zev?" Joyce was very confused. "No, no, he was a gentleman."
The woman Joyce didn't know snorted. "He always seems that way."
"He didn't feed you any brownies, did he?" Xander called out.
Joyce was more confused than ever. "Um, no."
"Okay, point in his favor," Xander nodded.
"Hey, don't knock brownies!" Amy yelled at him.
"Where'd he take you?" Jenny asked.
Jenny nodded approvingly. "At least he's a psycho with good taste." She looked over at Giles. "How come you don't take me there?"
Giles took off his glasses and rubbed at his nose while speaking. "Joyce, how did you meet this man?"
Joyce's first instinct was to say that was her own business but something about the way Giles said it made her answer. "He was in my shop today, asking about this crystal, he seemed nice and he asked me out."
Giles looked at her, glasses still in his hand. "He asked you out? Right in your own shop?"
"Wow, did that love spell get reactivated?" As everyone stared at him with varying degrees and surprise and a bit of disgust, Larry threw up his hands. "Hey, either Xander or Faith was going to say it! I thought it'd be better coming from me!"
"Think again," Buffy said in a dangerous tone.
"I'm never going to live that one down, am I?" Joyce sighed.
"You could just bring up the fact that you were the one who closed the portal against Outworld," Shaw pointed out.
"Point." Joyce shook her head, holding up her hands. "Buffy. What is going on here?"
Buffy took a deep breath and looked at her mother. "Mom, you can't see this guy any more."
Joyce's eyes narrowed, keeping her anger in check. "Buffy," she said calmly. "I understand that you're nervous about my dating but we discussed this earlier today. You cannot just tell me what I can and cannot do with my own life. I am not going to stop seeing this man just because you say so. You'll need a very good excuse to do that."
"He's a murderous alien who's come to this planet for the express purpose of murdering his sister here and he's ready to add you, me, the guys and everyone in town to his body count."
There was a ten-second silence before Joyce slowly nodded. "That....will go a long ways toward doing it."
The setting of the sun cast dark shadows throughout the capital city. Even with the four moons in the sky, shadows managed to dominate. They seemed to have grown right out of the dark and foreboding buildings that filled the city, the architecture carrying that same strange mix of medieval style with modern-seeming materials.
The city was quiet as night fell, most of the civilian population knowing by now that it wasn't wise to be out after dark. Some taverns were still open as well as some of the seedier places of business. Even under a tolitarian regime, crime still had its place and in some places was even encouraged.
Had Kim and Sean been awake for their transport into the city, they would no doubt have classified is best as the Gotham City of Tim Burton meeting "Blade Runner." They would have gotten an excellent view, being transported in one of the large troop transports that often flew through the sky. Ranging from twenty to forty feet long, wide and flat, the transports usually held legions of the Fadukar and their weaponry, with prisoners occasionally held as well. It was painted the same blood-red as the Fadukar's armor, the head shaped like a tri-horned beast to give it the intimidation factor needed to keep the populace in line.
The transport had cut through the large towers, easily maneuvering past the bridges that connected some buildings together, heading directly towards the largest structure in the entire city, and for that matter, the planet: The Capital Palace.
At its highest peak, it reached nearly three thousand feet, the sharp tower on top having served as a beacon for the city for generations. Unlike castles of medieval Earth, it tended to grow upwards instead of spreading out along the ground. The base was the length of a football field by the width of two. Like most of the city, the builders had preferred to build on what had already been established instead of making new ground. It had once been a pristine white, a brilliant standout amidst the other structures. Now, however, it was dark, even in daylight, the sharp turrets and redesigned edges making it appear dangerous and horrific. Which was exactly what its current owner wanted.
After landing the transport in the 125th floor hanger, one of six within the castle itself, the troops had quickly dragged Sean and Kim out. The two had still been unconscious and thus missed the amazingly rapid elevator system that had taken them to the 13th floor. Or, as the inhabitants of the city knew it, the Level of Pain.
"It's times like this," Sean slowly said. "Where I begin to think my brother Mark might actually have made the right choice by *not* being a cop."
Kim knew it was a major statement for her partner. Mark was the black sheep of the Cavendish family, the first male in three generations not to be in law enforcement, instead opting to work as a lawyer in Atlanta. At the moment, however, Kim had to agree that being in another line of work wasn't such a bad idea right now.
She and Sean had awakened a few minutes before to a rather precarious situation. They were inside what appeared to be a laboratory of some sort, complete with a table filled with beakers and burners. Of course, most labs didn't have the large assortment of sharp-edged tools lining up on one table, gleaming brightly under the surprisingly bright lights coming down from the ceiling.
The two police officers were facing one another, set right in the middle of the lab, each held by manacles that covered their arms, from fingers to elbows, the manacles attached to massive clamps from the ceiling. The clamps evidentially had been set to lower and raise to hold the humans' arms up as high as possible. Similar manacles were bolted to the floor, covering their feet from toes to knees. Each was spread-eagled, their heads the only parts of their bodies they could move.
"I knew I shouldn't have gotten out of bed this morning," Kim remarked a bit more light- heartedly than she actually felt. She frowned. "At least, I think it was morning. It was night when we got sucked into the portal and day when we landed here. I wonder what time it is on Earth now?"
"I don't know, I don't care but if we got out of this, I am needing one hell of a drink," Sean muttered. He sighed and looked at his partner. "You okay?"
"Fine and fucking dandy," Kim sourly answered. She scrunched up her face a bit, blowing absently upward. "Oh and of course, I have a major itch on my nose to scratch. This just hasn't been my day."
Before Sean could agree, the large steel door opened and a trio of men walked in. One appeared to be old, in his sixties, his face tightly drawn, the skin appearing to be so tight and dry it threatenened to snap apart. He was thin and walked slowly, appearing to wince a bit with his steps. Despite his age, he carried himself well, his dark gray outfit offsetting his balding head, wisps of white stubbornly hanging on.
The second man was younger, in his late thirties, with jet black hair. He was dressed completely in black, his jackboots clicking on the ground as he made his way forward. One look at his tight face and Kim and Sean immediately knew he wasn't a man who smiled a lot. Or if he did, it would be at something no one else would find amusing. Leather gloves covered his hands and his dark coat fluttered a bit as he walked forward.
The third man got attention. An even six feet tall, he was completely bald, his face carrying a sharp goatee and trimmed mustache. He was dressed in a wild red, gold and green outfit that appeared to shift in patterns as he came forward. A large collar brushed past his neck, highlighting his face, red gloves covering his hands, black boots actually ending with the toes curled up. That his skin was bright gold just made him appear all the more unique.
"My God," Kim muttered. "It's a gold-plated Ming the Merciless."
The trio stopped, the man in the wild robe coming forward a bit, a smile on his face. "Hello," he said in a surprisingly high-pitched voice. "Mingor Fahn, you're at my service."
"Oh, wonderful," Sean groaned. "We've got the head of the entire asshole planet come to greet us."
The smile stayed on Fahn's face but his head tilted to the side, looking over at the black- suited man, who was standing near a console set in the wall. Fahn gave a little nod and the man flicked a button. Immediately, Sean's entire body spasmed as a wave of pain ripped through him, the level of it causing him to yell in pain.
"Jobell here really likes his work," Fahn said. "And that work is pain. Your pain, to be exact." Fahn threw a look back at the unsmiling Jobell. "He really takes pride in it."
"I can....tell..." Sean got out, panting as he tried to blink away the tears that had formed in his eyes. Inside her manacles, Kim clenched her hands, anger and sympathy for her partner's plight coming over her.
Fahn seemed to sense her concern and once more nodded to Jobell. The man hit another button and it was Kim's turn to scream in pain as her body was racked with shocks. "He's an equal opportunity pain-giver," Fahn informed her calmly.
"Leave her alone!" Sean yelled, tensing against his restraints, anger in his eyes.
"Well, this is a caring attitude, Mr...." Fahn paused and bent his head slightly. "I'm sorry, what should I call you?"
"Well, I think 'lucky' would be inappropriate under the circumstances," Sean remarked dryly.
Fahn actually chuckled. "Ah, a sense of wit. I like that, I do. A sense of humor can always get you through whatever problems you have. I know that."
Kim and Sean exchanged a look of confusion. From what Mel had told them and from what they had seen, they were expecting Fahn to be more...well, evil.
Fahn saw the look and slowly nodded. "Ah. I can guess what you're thinking. Why isn't he raving or ranting or threatening like most dictators do? I'm not sure, really. I mean, I could if I wanted to but I just don't feel like it." He begin to pace the area right in front of the two detectives. "But if you're thinking that just because I don't act it, it means I'm not evil....think again."
He rubbed at his bald head, gathering his thoughts. "I don't know what it's like from where you're from but the way I've seen it, the vast majority of people that have been termed 'evil' by history never thought of themselves as such. A lot of them truly thought they were doing the good, even the noble, thing with their acts of murder and mayhem. I, on the other hand, labor under no such false impressions. I'm fully aware that I'm a psychotic tyrant. It's my nature, I suppose. I am a killer, sir and lady. I killed to get where I am and I've killed to stay there as well. I have ordered the executions of innocent women and children to satisfy my own ends and in fact, I've even handled such killings myself. I have no morals, no pity, no compassion, no remorse." He paused, tilting his head, his brow furrowing in thought. "Well, actually, I suppose I do, I mean no one's *all* bad. I just don't need much use of them."
"Oh, Jesus," Sean groaned. "So you'd be type to say, 'I'm evil and insane, I do that?'"
Fahn snorted. "Please. Anyone who uses that simple an answer as a cop-out is just an amateur. I'm a king, my young and foolish friend. I'm above thinking like that."
Kim shook her head. "So, what's the plan here? Torture?"
"Yes, actually," Fahn answered with a touch of laughter in his voice. "Jobell's been out of practice for a while, he really wants to try out some new things he's dreamed up. Me, I'm willing to let him try it. Personally, I just want to know where Melroy is."
Despite themselves, the two detectives couldn't help showing a flash of recognition at the name, which Fahn quickly seized upon. "Fine. You know him. Where is he?"
"Like we're going to tell you," Kim sniffed.
Sighing, Fahn made a motion behind his back. Jobell pushed down on the two buttons and Kim and Sean both yelled in pain as they felt that torturous pain go through them again. "I waste a lot of power doing that," Fahn said, his voice starting to grow dangerous. "So I would appreciate it if you could just try to cooperate."
"Not a chance," Sean bit out through the pain.
Fahn rolled his eyes dramatically. "Great One, do you two think I'm playing about here? Do you? You have any idea just what kind of pressure I'm under here? *You* try my job and see how it is."
"Glowering and bellowing and ordering people killed?" Kim said sarcastically. "Oh, yeah, that sounds a time-consumer."
Fahn crossed his arms and glared at the two. "Taking over a planet is one thing. Actually ruling it is something else altogether. I needed to purge any and all supporters of the Royal Family after my coup and you can imagine how much time that took. I need to keep my troops paid and kept so they're happy. Of course, just letting them go out and rampage through the random village settles them down. But I also have to keep an eye on my generals and advisors, make sure none of them get any ideas to take over. It's really annoying to not be able to trust anyone. Look at Maro here." He motioned toward the elderly man. "He's been at my side since the beginning and do I trust him at all? No. Do I trust Jobell? No further than I can throw him." He spun around, hands behind his back, pacing as he continued on his rant. "Then, there's the sheer logistics involved in ruling a planet. You have to keep your water running, the power flows going, keep a tight hand on all the technology, food distribution, maintenance, the constant need to keep control, moving around the troops, upgrading------"
"Oh, God, just go back to the shocks!" Kim groaned. "That's less of a torture than hearing you talk!"
Shrugging, Fahn turned and nodded at Jobell, who hit the buttons again, causing the two detectives to scream. "Kim...." Sean got out. "For future reference...they don't seem to grasp the concept of sarcasm on this planet."
"My Lord?" Fahn turned toward the elderly man who had remained silent through all of this. "Perhaps, under the circumstances more...efficient means are called for?"
Fahn stared at him before nodding. "Yes, Maro. I do believe you may be right in this case." He slowly turned back to the two captives and held up his hands. He began to pull at the latex covering his gloves, pulling up each finger. Gripping the now loose ends, he tugged and pulled the glove off of his arm, exposing it.
"Oh my God," Kim whispered, her eyes going wide at the horror before her. Sean had the same wide-eyed expression as he took in the horrific exposed hand. In contrast to the gold of Fahn's skin, the arm, from the elbow down, was a gnarly black, appearing to be rotting right in front of them. Sinews and veins could clearly be seen at some places and it almost looked as if pieces of his skin were falling away as they watched. The fingernails were nearly three inches long, sharp as claws, giving him the appearance of a feral beast.
"I know, I know, it's a curse," Fahn said with more jovial a tone than one would have expected. He began to undo his other glove, talking as he did. "It's sort of the reason I never got much loving or caring as a child. Not that I'm using that as an excuse of course. As I said, I've tended to rise above such things." He pulled the glove off, revealing his right hand to be as deformed as the left. "Of course, these things do have benefits. Jobell, if you would?"
Nodding, the man hit another button on the console and the clamps holding up Sean and Kim lowered, the two finding themselves sinking to a level where Fahn could reach up to them. Taking his time, obviously enjoying the moment, Fahn clenched both hands, tensing the fingers. "Have you ever wondered how a man can take over a planet so quickly?" he asked rhetorically as he walked in between the two. "How he can keep so many people under control, keep his orderlies in check? Well, it's an invaluable aid when you know for a fact just what someone is thinking. What they know is important. And when you know what they know...well, why tell you?"
With that, he reached out, one hand going to Sean, the other to Kim. Each pulled back as much as they could from the horrid appendage coming toward them but the restraints held them back. Kim tried to keep from letting out a squeal of fear as Fahn's hand came to her, his nails brushing against her forehead. As soon as they did, Kim felt a wave of dullness overtake her mind. She slumped slightly in her restraints, head lolling to the side, her mind seeming to cloud over, her ability to think breaking apart as Fahn's nails slid along her head....
Suddenly, Kim realized that his nails were going *into* her head, a pain ripping through her like nothing before. Dimly, she could see Sean across from her, his eyes open and staring, Fahn's nails actually appearing to slide right into his head, yet leaving absolutely no wound. That was the last thing Kim saw before......
*Memories of the womb, her birth, her mother and father looking down on her, tears in their eyes, her first years, infancy, growing, crawling, walking, school, the first time she met Sean, her first period, holidays, Grandma Jean dying, high school, stressing for senior exams, prom, graduation, her first time having sex (Johnny Granger, what was she thinking?), police academy, training, graduation to cop, partners with Sean, promotion--------*
*Memories of the womb, his birth, parents crying, growing up, infancy, crawling, walking, school, the first time he met Kim, annual family trips to the lake in the summer, Eddie's drowning accident, holidays, Grandpa Leo dying, high school, homecoming game, prom, his first time having sex (Gwen Huffington, not a bad gal but....not what he really wanted somehow), police academy, training, graduation to cop, partners with Kim, promotion------*
*The church, meeting Cal, the others coming in, the portal, arriving on Varra, Mel's story, Elizabeth dying, the Eternals, the village, the capture------*
The blast of memories suddenly cut off as Fahn took his hands away. Both Kim and Sean slumped forward, each heaving with breath, both trying to recover from what had just happened. Fahn stood there, his arms still up although his nails had withdrawn from the heads of the duo. His eyes were closed and the look on his face could best be described as sheer ecstasy. "Great One, I love that," he whispered, shivering with the rush of Kim and Sean's memories flowing into his mind.
"Shit," Kim whispered, shaking her head. "Shit, what the fuck did you just do, you sick bastard?"
"Oh, just took a little trip in your head, got a flash of pretty much everything you've ever known in your entire lives," Fahn explained as he began to slide his gloves back on. "Events, people, emotions...." He paused, looking at Kim. "And on that subject...."
Kim's head shot up, her eyes open, tears of pain in them. "No. No, don't you dare, you mother-----"
"Now, Officer Wagner," Fahn said, mockery in his tone. "Why shouldn't I tell everyone what you've been feeling all these years? How you've been so close to Sean all your lives, growing up together, academy together, partners for years and all those years, you've been so madly in love with him, always having your heart in pain when you saw him going out with one bimbo after another, wasting all that time on them when all you've ever wanted and hoped for and dreamed of and wished for, was for him to someday look at you the same way you've always looked at him."
Fahn turned, gloved hands outstretched toward his two aides. "Everybody, all together now: AWWWWWW!"
Kim's eyes were shut, tears starting to drip down her cheeks, not wanting to look at Sean. Sean simply stared at her with wonder, honestly surprised at what his long-time friend's true feelings for him were.
"Well, that was fun," Fahn said, turning toward Maro. "Get the soldiers searching, concentrate mostly on the area near the village where we found them. Make sure our informants are set, especially our big one, I want them to try and find Melroy and these new friends of theirs "
"My Lord?" Fahn stopped to see a man standing in the doorway of the room. He was about five foot eight, with a light red tinge to his skin. He wore a lighter suit of armor over his athletic build, the color with a slightly less intense red to it. His black hair was cut quite short, his face impassive as he looked over at Fahn. "The reports have come in from the Jeradu Fleet. No sign of the prince."
"Well, since they're on the opposite end of the planet, that might explain it," Fahn remarked dryly. He looked back at Sean and Kim and then glanced at Jobell. "They're all yours."
"Wait a minute!" Sean yelled. "I thought that psychic download shit told you all we knew!"
"Oh, it did," Fahn nodded. "But, I've been promising Jobell a special treat for a while and you're it. Don't worry, he likes to start slow, he won't leave you too crippled. He saves that for later." With a sweep of his cape, Fahn walked away, Maro following him. As they left, Jobell picked up a large scalpel from the table and twirled it in his hands.
"Do you know," he said in a voice that carried a strangely familiar accent. "That no matter how many people I dissect, no two anatomies are the same?" He turned to face the two and for the first time, a smile came onto his face. A smile that just made him look all the more terrifying. "But that's for the future. For now....let's start slowly, ja?"
"Like what?" Sean asked, trying to hide his fear.
"Oh, like putting you into so much pain, you'll want to snap your own neck to stop it," Jobell answered in a casual tone.
"Sorry," Sean smirked. "I've already heard Celine Dion sing."
"Hey!" Kim barked.
"Children," Jobell spoke up, getting their attention. "Please....try to contain your enthusiasm. But not your pain."
He stepped forward and as he did, the edge of his collar was exposed for the first time. Kim and Sean managed to tear their eyes away from the glinting blade to see an item on his collar. Both just stared in mute surprise at the small pin with a symbol that was the last thing either of them had ever expected to see on the inhabitant of an alien planet:
"They're not from this world," Fahn was telling Maro as they walked down the hallways, the guard called Eril following them. "And they're not alone. They've got quite the collection of allies, including a few we have to watch out for. I'm sure Jobell will just love to have more playthings to study on."
A scream cut through the hallway, causing the three to pause and look back at the interrogation room. "Oh, yes, he'll just love it," Fahn continued as he started to walk off. "Ah, Maro, it's so nice to put the fear into someone who doesn't know about me, who doesn't know why to fear me beforehand. Getting that terror off of them...Great One, it felt terrific." His face broke out into a huge grin and he laughed softly. "I tell you two....It's good to be the king."
So lost in his own pleasure, Fahn failed to note the look in Eril's eyes as he followed him away.
The Nuelian Forests
"Fascinating," Maximus remarked as he let a hand brush against the bark of a tree. "So similar to Earth and yet..."
"Yeah, most of the planet's like that," Liam remarked. He, Robin and the Immortal were walking through a vast forest area. It reminded Maximus a lot of the ones in Germania a few centuries before. The trees towered nearly a hundred feet above them, the dark barks blending well with the night, small patches of light making their way through the foliage above. The three had been on the move for hours, trying to find a trace of the others. It hadn't been easy aiding with the clean up at the village, the Eternals doing their best to
"You're sure they headed this way?" Maximus asked Robin.
"I get minor traces," Robin answered. "Wasn't with you guys long enough for a full telepathic connection to form and even if I was, I don't know if I could use it."
"Why not?" Maximus frowned.
"Same reason we can't just port all around this planet and look for them," Liam answered. "Me and Robbie had to take a bit of a cut in our power levels a bit back. We can still use them but we don't have as big a level of energy to use as we used to. So, if we use up a ton of magic, we have to wait a bit to recharge before we use more. And since our powers happen to be connected to Earth itself------"
"Since we're on another world, you can't recharge as easily," Maximus answered with a sigh. "Which means you have to conserve your energy as much as possible."
"Exactly," Robin nodded.
"Hopefully, we can find the others, then figure out a way to bust out the cops," Liam remarked. "I hope we can find them fast, I like those kids."
"Yeah," Robin nodded. "Well, at least I've got time to figure out a way to get them together."
"Rob, we want to save them, not put them through hell."
"Excuse me?" Robin sounded insulted. "Are you saying I couldn't get them together as a couple? Please, I can get anyone into a couple."
"Oh, really?" Liam said sarcastically. "Robbie, does a Mid-Summer's night come to mind?"
"HEY!" Robin pointed a finger at his friend, face tight. "Now, that was not my fault! Obe told me to put the potion on the eyes of a man in Athenian garb. Now, if he had told me there were *two* guys in Athenian garb in the forest at the time, I could have avoided a whole lot of unnecessary complications, including what Willy ended up doing to me. Aside from that, though, I've got a good track record."
"Oh, really? Just what couples did you ever get together?" Liam asked, eyebrows raised.
Robin began to tick off his fingers. "There was Ramses and Nefetiri...."
"And look what happened there!"
"Marc and Cleo....."
"And Antony got his ass kicked by Ceaser for it."
"Obe and Titania...."
"Which brings up my Puck point."
"Hey, they're still together, and happy, after all these millennia. Then, there's Thor and Sif...."
"And you had Loki steal their hair for their anniversary....."
"Which led to Ol' Redbeard getting his lovely carpenter tool. Sonja and Conan....."
"I point out that she's now sleeping with a woman and leave it at that."
"Ferdinand and Isabella."
"That was on a bet, doesn't count."
"Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn."
"Well, all right, I'll give you that, but points off since they could never get married."
"Paul and Linda McCartny."
"Okay, but it was your idea to introduce John to Yoko so that wipes it out."
"Tessa Alvarado and Melissa Scully."
"All right, what about......" Liam's voice trailed off as he stared in surprise at Robin, whose grin widened. "Wait a mo," the leprechaun whispered. "You're saying-------"
"I was just trolling around Earth for a bit, saw a couple of ladies out, could see they were tight and had some feelings but were both too afraid to admit it. So, caused a litttle "accident" to hit Tessa, Melissa helps her out, takes her home, one thing led to another....."
Liam still stared in amazement. "Well, I'll be a Protestant," he muttered. "Do Fox and Dana know about you being behind those two getting together?"
Robin's smile widened. "I'm saving it for the right occasion. Oh, and of course, there's the piece de resistance."
"What?" Liam asked with a frown.
Robin leaned in, the smile dulling a bit. "You and Kathleen."
Liam slowly nodded. "Aye," he whispered. "Have I ever thanked ye for that?"
"Only every other day for the last eight hundred years," Robin answered, giving his friend a quick pat on the shoulder. He saw Maximus staring at them. "Sorry," the faery said. "We sometimes get involved in some conversations."
"I can understand that," the Immortal answered. "I simply wish that just once you two could have a conversation that doesn't require an instant explanation."
"Sure you want to keep hanging with us?"
"I am," Maximus answered. "For three reasons. First, despite your limitations, you are both extremely powerful and that could be useful. Second, I find the two of you to be a fascinating character study."
"And the third?" Liam asked.
"The concept of the two of you running around a strange planet unsupervised is absolutely terrifying."
"Knew I liked the lad," Liam grinned as he and Robin led the way through the forest. "Say, Rob, ye got a fix on our position yet?"
"Not quite sure," the faery answered. He looked about, biting his lip. "Something about this place is so...familiar." He tapped a finger against his chin, slowly looking about. "Say....Liam, isn't this about the place where we met-------" He broke off, his eyes widening as he turned to look at Liam. The leprechaun had the same wide-eyed expression as he looked at his friend.
"Oh, shit," Liam muttered. "Are ye thinking what I'm thinking?"
"No, I'm thinking what I'm thinking. But I think you think you're thinking------" Robin shook his head, throwing up his hands. "Oh, no, we're not going through *that* again!"
"What in the world are you two talking about?" a confused Maximus asked.
Before either of the faeries could answer, there was a whistling sound coming in fast. Instinctively, all three men moved away just as a three foot-long spear flew through the air next to them, impaling itself on a tree. The pole of the spear bounced a bit as it settled, the expertly designed razor-sharp tip embedded in the tree's bark. Maximus had just become aware of the fact that the spear appeared to be attached to a cable just before the same cable tightened and pulled back, the spear ripping out of the tree and flying back into the hands of its owner.
Maximus Decimus Meridas had been through more battles than most men had a right to, even for his age and certain skills had developed over that time. Maximus had acquired a sense of incoming danger as well as an almost psychic ability to detect when someone was close, traits that had saved his life more than once. So he was immediately struck by how in the span of ten seconds, the area around him, which he would have staked his life on being devoid of anyone, was suddenly filled with warriors.
That they were warriors was obvious at a glance. Each of them, man and woman, were dressed in loose combat gear, each showing off a well-developed body, in excellent shape, with toned muscles and ready stances most soldiers would dream of having. Their clothing was in shades of green and brown, Maximus guessing that the patterns were picked by them personally, to serve as a personal insignia of sorts. The clothing on the women was quite loose, just covering the parts polite society would frown upon showing, legs exposed, a slight dip in the cleavage, but somehow, Maximus suspected that it was meant to distract and put opponents a bit off-guard, particularly male ones. The men weren't as exposed but what skin that showed featured near- perfect muscles and the skill to use them.
He was rather surprised at how they appeared to be a multi-ethnic group, with skins ranging from white to tanned to brown to dark black. Maximus decided that the patches of brown and green on their skin were body paint, either to blend into their surroundings or ceremonial, he didn't know for sure. What he could tell was that the woman at the front of the group, the woman who held the spear in her hands, was definitely the leader.
What first drew Maximus' attention was the fact that the woman was at least six feet tall and maybe a little higher. Like the other women there, she wore a pair of dark boots that went to her calves, her one-piece outfit cut so her long and strong legs had ample room to move. At the top of her outfit, right under the point where her cleavage ended (Maximus knew this was by design) was a small silver plating with a strange insignia on it. Her long orange hair curled outward, sweeping down her shoulders, a dark headband wrapped around it with a silver pendant in the center. Her face, although incredibly beautiful with sculpted cheekbones and a strong chin, was drawn tight, her eyes cold and malovent as she looked over the men before her.
"Robin Goodfellow," she remarked in a low and dangerous tone. At Robin's look of surprise, she sniffed. "Even if you weren't in the company of...." She threw Liam a disdainful glance. "That....Even if I hadn't heard you talking just now, that miserable arrogance comes through. No matter what form you wear."
"Oh, shit," Liam muttered under his breath. "I knew it. I knew we were going to be running into *her* sooner or later."
Robin swallowed and stepped forward, doing his best to put on a smile. "Oh, this can't possibly go well," Liam stated, shaking his head.
Robin coughed into his hand as he walked toward the woman, his smile weak but trying to show some charm. "Hey, um....Dullrena! Wow, it's been a while, huh? You look....good. I mean, all thing considered of------"
The orange-haired woman spun about, building momentum as her fist rocketed forward, smashing into Robin's face. The force of the blow sent Robin sailing several yards, landing hard on the ground, sliding right up to where Maximus and Liam stood. The Immortal looked down on him and, with a frown, looked up to Liam, who calmly answered the unasked question.
"Ah," Maximus said knowingly, giving an understanding nod.
Robin sat up with a groan, rubbing at his chin. "I said I was sorry!" he yelled out.
"Your apology meant little then," Dullrena stated in a tone that was showing more than a bit of anger to it. "Time has failed to inflate its value any."
Robin let out a slight groan as he pulled himself up. "Listen, Dull, I don't want to be here any more than you do, okay? It was pretty much circumstances beyond my control. But look, since we are here, maybe we could hook together, you know? We could use a------"
"I beg your pardon?" Dullrena asked, her eyes wide. "You have the audacity to show your face...or at least one of them....around here again, two thousand years after dumping me-----"
"Dump you?! Dump? YOU!" Robin's eyes flared with anger as he strode forward. "I'm the one who woke up with you trying to carve your initials into my chest with a dagger!"
Dullrena rolled her eyes as if it was a minor complaint. "That was meant as a symbol of our connection------"
"I don't care if it was a pre-nup with me getting all your stuff, I don't want my girlfriend trying to hack me up when I'm sleeping!"
"And was that excuse enough to teleport me, NAKED, across the entire forest?!"
"All right, all right, I overreacted, I admit but you're the one who tried to get the entire Peritusan population to hunt me down and run my entrails up a pole!"
Dullrena stared skyward, letting out a hiss. "Great One, whoever tries to be your lover again had best have the will of an Amazon." She looked back at Robin, with the slight hint of a smile on her lips. "What am I saying? Those miserable bitches are dead and gone, with no hope of ever arising and might I add, your world is the better for it."
"Are you going to tell her?" Maximus asked openly.
Robin looked back at him and shrugged. "I don't have the heart."
"I don't have the life insurance," Liam added.
Dullrena looked back at Robin's companions, a slight sneer on her face. "I recognize Danahure," she remarked as if Liam wasn't around to hear her. "And just who would this be?"
"Maximus Decimus Meridas. Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the Emperor Marcus Aeurelius. The gladiator known as the Spaniard."
Dullrena returned his gaze for a long moment before nodding. "Dullrena. High Princess of the Peritusan people, wielder of the Sacred Crowns of Mothran, Protector of the Fields and Forests of Nuelian."
"Oh, God," Liam moaned, closing his eyes. *Please, please, PLEASE don't let Robin get any ideas!*
Dullrena looked Maximus over and raised an eyebrow. "Well. You strike me as a warrior, sir. Perhaps I can interest you in joining my people?"
"It depends," Maximus stated evenly. "Is acting like a stuck-up, self-centered bitch a requirement? Because, I might be a bit unable to qualify."
Dullrena's smile fell away, her eyes narrowing and her grip on her spear tightening. "I wouldn't raise that up if I were you," Maximus stated evenly. "It wouldn't be nice for either of us."
Dullrena sniffed. "Please. I saw enough of the men on Robin's world to know that you have problems hitting women. You wouldn't do------"
Maximus was a blur as he moved forward, his fist rocketing out to smash into Dullrena's face. She staggered back, shaking her head as Maximus waved his hand, a bit surprised at how much it hurt. "Armor-clad women were quite popular in the Circus, my dear," Maximus said. "I killed them so you can imagine what I might do to you."
*Well, that settles the matchmaking possibilities* Liam thought as he saw the warriors behind Dullrena take a step forward, holding up spears, swords and a few crossbows, all aimed at the trio of intruders. Dullrena herself had shaken off the blow, her face now drawn even tighter in anger. She pulled herself up to her full height, glaring down at Robin. "Well. I can see you still have the same distaste in friends."
"Hey!" Liam yelled.
"Oh, don't even try to act outraged, Danahure," Dullrena said, glaring at him. "I heard you just now, talking about yet another of your wives. Who was she, hmm? Some other worthless bitch you found in the gutter or perhaps your parents gave her to you as a way to make up for being so thin in strong blood to raise such a--------"
Without warning, Dullrena found herself yanked off her feet and sent sailing several feet forward, still in a standing position. Liam had raised an arm, palm cupped and waiting for Dullrena to fly right to him. Liam's hand closed around her throat, holding the woman tightly, Dullrena finding herself unable to do anything but choke. She tried to fight her way free but found she was unable to move, forced to stay immobile while Liam glared at her.
The leprechaun's eyes are alight with rage, his brogue thicker than ever as he spoke. "Me wife was Kathleen Morgan Harris, the only good woman t' come out o' a family o' scum. Me father was Seanus Patrick Byron McClane Finnegan Brannigan Thornton Danahure and the only thing that ran through his veins was pure iron. Me mum was Mary Nancy Eileen Mabel Riley Gleason O'Toole, the finest woman in the Glens." He yanked Dullrena in close so she was almost nose-to-nose with him, letting her feel the anger within him. "If ye say one more word t' dishonor their memories, ye worthless bitch, I swear to Holy God on High, I will kill ye, no matter the cost."
He hurled outward, sending Dullrena flying back, falling to the ground. She was up in a flash, her own eyes sparking with anger, fighting the urge to rub at her throat. The last thing she wanted was to send a sign of weakness to her fellow warriors. "You have trespassed on our lands," she hissed. "You know that is automatic punishment. You have insulted me, brought up a slew of very bad memories for me, had one of your friends assault me and generally been a massive nuisance so I'm going to take a great deal of pleasure in------"
Robin's voice hadn't raised vocally over a conversational tone. However, everyone present could feel the pure power of his words, which echoed throughout the forest. In the silence that followed, Robin carefully stepped forward, leaning in toward Dullrena, who stared at him in mute surprise from his sudden shift. Although he appeared calm, the alien warrior could see the spark of anger and power in Robin's eyes, a combination that promised to be unleashed on her if she didn't listen carefully.
"I could...." Robin shrugged lightly. "You know. I didn't expect to come back here, Dullrena, or see you again. Frankly, I would like to go on my merry way but me, Liam and Maximus here need help. We have some friends of ours scattered throughout the land, one of whom has a very important connection to you and your people. We need a place to stay, to rest, to regroup and some help in finding our friends. If you insist on pushing this attitude over something long past, if you keep pushing me to the point of a fight...."
He raised a single eyebrow and Dullrena could swear she saw a flash of light around it as he did. "Do you actually think, when push comes to shove, that you and your little playmates here have a chance against me and Liam together?"
There was a long pause, Dullrena glaring back at Robin before slowly backing up. She glanced at a female warrior next to her. "Go ahead to the village and tell them we are brining guests," she ordered. "And make sure the patrols are still going out on time." The blonde lieutenant nodded and turned, dashing off into the trees so fast that Maximus could barely register when she had vanished.
Dullrena looked back at Robin, sniffed, then turned on her heel and began to walk off. She threw a nod over her shoulder and several of the warriors moved in to surround the Immortal and Eternals as they began to follow her. "I'm sure you know the way," Dullrena said with light sarcasm. "But an escort is appropriate here."
"Oh, this day just gets better and better," Robin sighed as the odd group moved through the dark forest.
"I hate to have to point this out," Maximus spoke up. "But do you two realize you're both insane?"
"That's your problem, laddie," Liam said with a grin. "Ye're mistaking style for insanity."
"So," Maximus announced as they walked along. "Will I regret asking just what the story with this woman is?"
"Yes, you will," Robin nodded.
"Well, then, I might as well get it out of the way," the Immortal sighed. "How long until we reach the village?"
Liam frowned before answering. "About a half-hour walk, I think."
"Oh, good, just enough time for the short version," Maximus remarked as the forest swallowed them up.
The Drazonia Caverns
"Well, let's face it. We're lost."
"Maybe we should try Hare Krishna."
"And she's a Muppets nut, wonderful," Katie groaned as she tried to ignore Shirley. The two women, along with Cal and Nicky, were trying to find their way through the immense system of caverns they had found themselves in. Upon sliding down the massive opening from the village, the foursome had landed in a dark room. It had taken a few minutes to find a way out of it and into the main tunnels that dotted the underground of the region.
Finding their way through the underground caverns wasn't as difficult as it might have sounded. This was due to the fact that the walls were lined with a unique mineral that gave off a light orange glow. That glow bathed the quartet as they walked along the natural hallways, having no more luck with finding a way out than they had two hours before.
"You know, this is sort of how I see the whole world the day after New Year's," Shirley remarked as she looked at the light orange tint on her arms.
"I don't even want to know how you see the world on a daily basis," Katie muttered, rubbing at her forehead. "God, I want to be home, back in bed."
"Yeah, seeing your face first thing in the morning is a great way to start seeing the world," Nicky said, giving his wife a loving look.
"Cheap pop," Shirley muttered as Katie gave her husband a kiss.
"Shit, spare me the white sugar," Cal muttered.
"Hey, don't knock it, it's a great additive to the fun," Shirley remarked.
Nicky sighed and looked around. "I can't believe this. I can't believe I'm stuck with the good, the bad and the garish." He brushed back his hair and shook his head. "God, I do wish we were home. Watching the Sox."
Katie stared at her husband in surprise. "You hate the Sox."
"I love them now!"
"We passed that rock at least twice already," Cal complained, nodding toward a triangular piece of stone set in the wall.
"No, we haven't," Nicky said. "Can't you tell we've been going slightly down for the last hour? Try to pay attention."
"I knew it!" Cal yelled. "I knew it! I knew you were gonna start in on me soon!"
"Excuse me?" Nicky asked, frowning in confusion at Cal. The black man had halted and was pointing a finger at the other man.
"I knew you were gonna bring up how you're better!" Cal yelled at him. "The white man with the big house, big money, hot wife-----"
"Thank you," Katie said, surprised.
"And now you're shoving it at me!" Cal continued. "You're down on me because I'm black!"
Nicky stared at him. "I'm down on you because you're an idiot!"
"Idiot! Idiot! I ain't the one who's been leading this march, buddy!"
"Where else are we supposed to go?" Nicky stretched out his arms. "It's been one long tunnel all the way through here!"
"How about that room we were in a while back?" Cal said, pointing the way they had come. "We had another way to go!"
Nicky folded his arms and glared at Cal. "It was pitch-black and a rotten smell was coming out of it. Not a good combination, in my opinion."
"Oh, and of course, your opinion counts," Cal sniffed. "You're the guy with the cash, after all."
"Now listen," Nicky said, staring Cal down. "The last thing I need right now is to have a criminal yelling at me about making the best out of my life. I've had opportunities, I've taken them, I've succeeded. That's how I got to where I am and I'm not going to apologize for that."
"And for the record," Katie threw in, standing by her husband. "Before you start harping about how we're automatically prejudiced, should we get out of this, I'll be more than happy to show you photos of the two of us everywhere from protesting apartheid at the South African embassy to helping out at the Million Man March. We donate quite a bit to the right causes, I'll have you know."
"Oh, and naturally, that means you're on the same level as the people whose rights you champion," Shirley remarked offhandedly. "Or at least, you like to think so."
"Thanks," Cal said, a bit surprised. Not just by the way Shirley spoke up but by the fact that she sounded totally serious while mentioning it. He turned back to Nicky, still showing anger. "Listen close, pal," he hissed, a finger poking into Nicky's chest. "You think just cause you throw some cash around that you're on my level? That you can talk like we're buddies? Let me ask you, just where do you live?"
"Um, apartment just off Michigan Avenue," Nicky answered.
"I shoulda known," Cal grunted. "You have any idea how long you'd last in Cabrini- Green, McDaniels? You'd be set on by a gang in ten seconds and they'll rip you up six ways from Sunday, take your cash, your watch, your clothes and even your damn gold teeth. And those are the grade school kids, you don't wanna know what the older gangs will do to you!"
"Okay, that's it!" Nicky yelled, his patience nearly snapping. "You want to get on this stupid race/class/money status thing, fine! You want to yell at me and assume I'm a bigot, okay, wouldn't be the first time. But I think it's just a stupid waste of time for us to be getting into such a petty argument when we're stuck in a cavern on another planet with no clue as to how to get out and find the others, let alone get back to Earth! So why don't you just shove the attitude and stop acting like a stereotypical punk!"
"Punk?" Cal bit back. "You're calling me a punk?"
"Sonic," Shirley suddenly said.
"Huh?" Cal asked, turning to her in utter confusion. "Sonic?"
"What?" Katie was as lost as Cal.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Nicky cut in.
Shirley looked at them all with an innocent expression. "I'm sorry, I thought we were free- associating."
After a pause to shake that one off, Cal turned right back to Nicky. "Ya know, I shouldn't even be here. I was just trying to get some quick cash and that was it, I didn't ask to be dragged on this bullshit trip."
"And we did?" Nicky returned. "None of us wanted this, Cal, but we're stuck with it. And trust me, spending time with some lowlife drug dealer is not a------"
"I don't do drugs!" Cal interrupted, his face tight with anger. "That's one thing I stay away from! I don't do them, don't deal them, don't handle them at all! I do some low cons, some information on deals and maybe a couple of robbery or smuggling goods but no drugs, that's one line I don't cross."
"Ah, so you're showing morals," Nicky said sarcastically.
Cal snarled as he pointed at Nicky. "I stopped thinking about drugs when my brother got killed by the cops during a raid on a crackhouse."
"Okay, I know this may sound overly harsh, but if your brother was involved with drugs, he was already messing up his life."
"He didn't do drugs!" Cal shot back. "He hated that shit! He had a good life, a wife and a couple of kids, he was going places. He wouldn't go near drugs."
"Then why was he there?" Nicky pressed.
"He was trying to take me home!" Cal yelled back.
There was a long silence, the black man visibly seething as Nicky blanched with embarrassment. He opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again. Before he could speak, Cal threw up his hands and turned away. "Forget it! I don't need this! I'm leaving, I quit!"
"You can't quit!" Katie called out. "Nobody quits!"
"Then call me nobody!" Cal shot back at her.
"He said it, not me," Shirley couldn't help remarking.
Nicky shook his head and looked at Cal, who was beginning to walk off. "You're just going to leave us here? You know how selfish that is?"
"That's me, pal," Cal nodded as he continued to walk on. "I've just got this funny thing about liking my habit of breathing."
"Come on, Cal, you can't leave!" Shirley spoke up. "The only black guy in the group can't quit! It's an unwritten law!"
Cal stared at her as if she was one of the aliens. "Do they even have a name for what's wrong with you?"
"You really want to risk going another way?" Katie asked.
Cal shrugged. "Come on, what's life, without a little risk?"
"Gee, I don't know," Nicky said sarcastically. "Longer?"
Cal ignored him as he continued to walk away, throwing a hand back over his shoulder. "Best of luck to you all, I'm finding my own way home." He marched on, making a turn around the corner and lost to sight.
"Should we have just let him go like that?" Katie asked her husband. "Nicky...Maybe we should try to get him back."
"I don't know, hon," Nicky sighed. "Maybe we should let him cool off." He shrugged. "Where else is he going to go? It's not like there's a wide-open range of options down here."
"Too bad, I was starting to like him," Shirley remarked. She looked over at the McDaniels and let a smile come to her face. "Well, well, just the three of us. Maybe we could take a break for some...rest?"
The McDaniels immediately turned and started to walk down the tunnel.
"Next break time, then. Okay," Shirley nodded as she followed them.
Cal felt some of his rage burn up as he made his way up the tunnel. He was still rather angry, however, Nicky's comments having gotten under his skin. *Sure, he's the Man, he's got cash, so he has to lord it over me? God, I can't believe I've wasted time on those assholes.*
He found himself coming to the chamber where the fork had been and stopped. He took a few deep breaths, calming himself down before turning toward the other tunnel. "Okay, this will work," he spoke out loud. "I'll just forget about them, just go down the other tunnel, find myself a way out and a way off this planet, get back to Earth, get back to Chicago....."
He paused then felt his body deflate slightly. "And feel guilty about leaving them here to rot every day for the rest of my life," he sourly finished. He rolled his eyes and threw up his hands. "Terrific. My conscience picks *now* to kick in!"
Even though he knew he was going to regret this, Cal turned around and started to go back down the tunnel where Shirley and the McDaniels were. He was trying to find a logical reason to back out of this while he still had the chance and thus never saw the rocky fist that streaked out and smashed him in the face, sending him down to the ground, unconscious.
The Urigolin Hills
"Does anyone have even the slightest clue where we're going?" Elizabeth asked. She, Lucy, Marybeth, Mel and Tarring were seated by an outcropping of rocks, Elizabeth looking about. There really wasn't much to go on as they had found themselves in a hilly region, with only trees and the occasional rock pile breaking the grass landscape. Above them, the stars shone brightly, along with the quartet of moons in the sky, throwing light upon the hills.
"I'm sorry I didn't grab a AAA map of Varra back at the village," Lucy said sarcastically. "I was a little preoccupied with *getting shot!*" She motioned to her leg, the clothing still charred from where the blaster bolt had hit her although the skin underneath was unmarked.
"There's no need to get nasty about it," Marybeth claimed. She pushed her glasses back up on her nose, brushing at her short hair. "Come on, it healed right up!"
"Yeah, but it still hurt," Lucy complained, rubbing at her leg.
"You'll get used to it," Elizabeth stated, her eyes scanning the horizon. She had her sword out and in her hand, carefully pacing about as she looked out for a threat.
Lucy's brow furrowed as a thought came to her. "Say, Elizabeth, I just thought of something. Weren't you sick just last month?"
A small smile came to the Englishwoman's face. "Lucy, children have been faking symptoms of illness to get out of school for decades. I've been alive for two hundred years. I've learned to fake it well. It helps keep up appearances so you don't raise suspicions." Her eyes once more swept around the area.
"Elizabeth, could you stop that?" Lucy asked. "It's sort of irritating. You're a doctor, not a soldier."
"I've been through enough battlefields where that doesn't make much difference," Elizabeth cooly told the younger Immortal as she turned to face her. She had pulled her curly hair back into a makeshift ponytail and had taken on an air of a trained fighter, a sharp contrast to her usual friendly British charm. It was something that Lucy was still having trouble getting used to as she wondered which one was the real Elizabeth Corday.
"I can relate to that," Tarring spoke up. The priest had taken a seat on the least sharp pile of rocks he could find and was wiping at his brow. *Getting old, Bernard, getting old. You used to be able to go twice that distance without a break.* "I've been through a few battles myself."
There were several surprised looks thrown in his direction. "You were in the army?" Lucy said with surprise.
Tarring smiled. "I'm hardly the first soldier to join the priesthood, my dear," he said in a gentle tone. "Let's just say that after seeing the worst in humanity, I decided it was time I tried to look for the best."
Elizabeth knew there was more to the story but had too much respect for the priest to press him further. Lucy, on the other hand, didn't. "You went from soldier to priest? There's an odd switch."
Tarring shrugged. "I guess you could say it runs in the family. One of my ancestors was a Welshman who took up the sword in the First Crusade, fought his way to Jerusalem and back. By the time he got home, he was tired out and sickened by the violence so he took up the vows of a monk. I guess he wanted to get started on washing off the stains on his immortal soul."
"Wait a minute," Marybeth said, holding up a hand. "If he was a priest, how could he have ancestors?"
Tarring chuckled. "He was forty when he gave up his old life, Marybeth. And birth control was not a practice people had heard of in that time."
"He sounds like an interesting man," Elizabeth stated.
"Oh, he was," Tarring agreed. "And he did do quite a lot to redeem himself. From what I've been able to gather, he was something of an amateur sleuth, solving murders and other crimes within his parish. Became something of a family legend, which is where I got my middle name."
"Your middle name?" Elizabeth asked.
Tarring nodded. "Bernard Cadfael Tarring."
Lucy sighed and stood up. "I can't believe I'm stuck in this mess," she complained. "God, we don't even know where the hell we are!" She looked over at Marybeth. "Hey, can't you figure this out? You've been going on about how big an astronomy student you are. Shouldn't you be able to tell where we are by the stars?"
"Wow, why didn't I think of that?" Marybeth said with a sudden burst of sarcasm. "Gee, maybe I could, if it weren't for the FOUR MOONS messing things up!" She shot a finger up to illustrate her point.
"You don't have to be nasty about it," Lucy said, throwing Marybeth's own words back at her.
Marybeth sighed. "You don't get it, Knight. We're on another planet, in a different galaxy, these are stars and constellations I've never seen before. I can't tell which way is north or south, hell, I don't even know if they have the same directions we do! How am I supposed to-----"
Silent until this point, Mel rose from his seating position and pointed toward the far horizon. "North," he said. He pointed to his right. "East." He turned and pointed behind him. "South." Then turned and pointed to his left. "West. Any other directions, I'll let you know as we go." He looked toward the direction he had indicated as north. "Come on, we need to reach the forests, it's too dangerous for us out in the open like this."
He began to walk forward, brushing at his clothing as he marched on. After a few moments, the others quickly fell in line behind him, Elizabeth shaking her head. "And he claims he's not a king," she muttered under her breath as they walked on.
"I hate to sound like Shirley," Lucy announced as the group made their way through the forest. "But is anyone else here hearing 'Lions and tigers and bears, oh my' running through their heads?"
"You're right," Elizabeth remarked. "You do sound like Shirley. Please stop."
"Actually, that's not a bad idea," Mel spoke up, pausing by a tree. "We could use another break quick."
"Are you sure it's safe?" Elizabeth asked him.
Mel shrugged. "Hell, I don't know if anywhere here is totally safe," he said in a sad tone. "But the forest should provide us some protection from the soldiers, at least for the time being. We'll just have to see how long it lasts." He leaned against a tree, taking a deep breath. Lucy took a seat by a tree near him, with Elizabeth standing right by. Marybeth and Tarring ended up sitting on a handy stump.
Marybeth took off her glasses and rubbed at her face. "This has been one hell of a day." She suddenly started as she looked up at Tarring. "Ooops. Sorry."
Tarring smiled lightly as he shook his head. "It's all right. I was just thinking the same thing." The smile faded as he watched Marybeth slip her glasses back on her nose and his smile vanished. "Are you all right? I know this has been...unsettling."
"This? Naw," Marybeth said sardonically. "Waking up one morning in 1996 and realizing you've wasted a couple hundred dollars on the Clone Saga, now that's unsettling!"
Tarring wasn't fooled for an instant. "How are you, Marybeth? Really?"
Marybeth bit her lip and looked down. "I'm scared, Father," she whispered.
"A normal reaction," Tarring stated. "We're all scared, Marybeth, in one way or another. But you can't let that fear overwhelm you. You have to try and be strong."
Marybeth shook her head. "Father, you don't understand. If I die here, on another planet, my mother and father will never know, they'll always wonder what happened to me and I'll never see them again!"
"You will, someday, Marybeth," Tarring said gently. "You will. We'll all be together one day, you know, in God's embrace."
Marybeth was silent for a long moment. "That's just it, Father," she said in a soft voice. She slowly brought her head up to look at him. "I don't think I believe there is a God."
She expected surprise. Maybe a little bit of anger, harsh words, demands to know why she could say something like that. What she didn't expect was Tarring to let out a little chuckle as he shook his head. "Oh, Marybeth," he said in a voice that carried only a tiny bit of chiding. "Come on now. You're far too intelligent a girl to get mired up in *that* old chestnut."
Marybeth stared at him in amazement. "How can you say that?" she asked. "Come on, Father, look where we are! We're on another world, which already blows away the idea that God created only Earth with intelligent humans. There's crime and evil here without any Adam and Eve or Cain and Abel. Life has evolved, just as it did on Earth. How can you possibly look at that and tell me I can still believe in God?"
Tarring shrugged. "The universe is vast, Marybeth. And from what I've seen, there is an order to it. Far too great and natural an order to be created purely by chance."
Marybeth shook her head. "Listen, Father, I'm not trying to insult your beliefs. But I've always been interested in science and there's a lot of unscientific stuff in the Bible. Can you prove to me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is a God?"
"Can you prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there isn't?"
Marybeth just stared at him in disbelief. "How can you...." She sighed. "How can you just...know?"
Tarring studied her for a moment before speaking. "There's a very old parable that's been passed around. I learned it my first year in seminary, I have little doubt I'm not the first to use it as an example." He bent his head to the side and began to recite it.
"A knight and a monk are riding together one day. The knight talks about how the monk has given up all of life's pleasures to serve a God he has never seen or heard from. The knight, meanwhile, has the freedom to do what he wants, wether it be to lose himself in drink, in battle or with women, without fear of reprisal. 'What will you do?' the knight asks. 'What will you do when you pass from this life and discover that all your teachings have been a waste? What will you do when you die and find out there is no God?' The monk thinks for a minute and then replies 'Then I will be sad. But you face a far more important question. What happens when you live your life filled with sin, confident that there will be no consequences because you believe there is no God....And then, when *you* die, you find out there is?'"
Marybeth took a few moments to digest his words before looking back up at the priest. "What is that supposed to mean?" she softly asked.
Tarring gently smiled. "It means you have to have faith in something beyond just us, Marybeth," he stated. "A few hundred years ago, no one would have believed we could be here because no one believed that there was anything beyond Earth's solar system. Beliefs change, Marybeth."
"Yeah, I know," Marybeth stated. "But that's mainly due to science, you have to agree with that."
Tarring's smile stayed on as he spoke again. "Marybeth, need I remind you that only a few hours ago, you and I were briefly lizards thanks to a pair of magical creatures who know a woman who carries Joan of Arc's sword? I don't know about you, but having two faeries talking about knowing angels sounds like definite proof in God to me."
"Forgive me if I'm a tad dubious about the source," Marybeth said in a glum tone. She crossed her arms before her and stood up, walking over toward where Mel, Lucy and Elizabeth were sitting.
"I heard what you were talking about," Elizabeth spoke up. "I wanted to say something."
Marybeth rolled her eyes. "Oh, sure, let's hear what the woman from the Dark Ages has to say."
"Good God, I'm not that old!" Elizabeth snapped. Marybeth started as she saw the tension in the Englishwoman's face. "As someone who's seen the world change in ways you can't imagine and who has had her own world view shaken more than once, Marybeth, I would suggest that you don't believe everything is as certain as you imagine it to be."
Lucy looked at her fellow doctor with an intrigued expression. "How has your worldview been shifted?"
Elizabeth sighed. "Well, after a few years training with Duncan and Connor, I hopped a boat over to America and arrived just in time for that little brouhaha you call the Revolutionary War. That's when I got into my first duel."
"When was this?" Mel asked.
"March 13th, 1777," Elizabeth answered without hesitation. At the stares she received, she sighed. "If there's one thing you never forget, it's your first Quickening. He was a Frenchman, using a rapier, not a bad style. It was a tough fight but in the end, I managed to get lucky and stab him in the stomach."
Elizabeth paused, staring off into the forest. "I'll never forget the look on his face when I asked him how many Quickenings he'd been through," Elizabeth said softly. "He was completely incredulous, actually demanding 'I'm your FIRST?!' He actually seemed to think it better I take his head then and end his pain." She shrugged. "So....I did what I was trained to do."
"You killed him," Lucy choked out. Her face was wrapped in horror as she stared at Elizabeth like she'd never seen her before. "You killed him in cold blood."
"It wasn't like------"
"You stabbed him in the stomach and when he was helpless, you chopped his head off," Lucy pressed on, anger coming into her voice.
"Well, if you want to be absolutely legalistic about the matter," Elizabeth barked, throwing up her hands. "It's not like I had a whole lot of options at the time, Lucy. It's kill or be killed in a situation like that. It's something you're going to have to learn."
"I don't want to learn that," Lucy said in a defiant tone.
"We all have to learn things we don't want to, Lucy," Mel stated. "I think we're all getting a major example of that right now."
"I wanted to save lives, not take them," Lucy sniffed, turning away from Elizabeth.
Mel sighed and rose from his spot. He walked over and gently reached a hand out to touch Lucy's shoulder. "Hey," he spoke up, catching her attention. "It'll be okay, Lucy. Trust me. I don't consider myself the king but as a birth citizen of this planet, I'm going to do my best to keep you out of danger."
Lucy smiled and nodded her thanks at Mel. The two both failed to notice the way Marybeth's eyes narrowed at them as she rose from her stump. "I think we should start walking again," she announced. "We may not be safe here."
"I'm not sure if there's safety anywhere on this " Elizabeth suddenly broke off as something caught her eye. She frowned and knelt on the ground, her fingers reaching out to touch a spot on the ground. She brought her hand up and stared at her fingers. "Mel?" she called out. "By any chance, do you have a different color of blood?"
Mel frowned at the question. "Well, mine's red and most of the properties are the same as humans. That's how I managed to get by medical tests without being noticed. But, I suppose, with so many different races on this planet, they could have slightly different colors. Why?"
Elizabeth held up her fingers so everyone could see the purplish drops on her skin. Looking down, Elizabeth soon saw the trail of blood leading away and began to follow it. Lucy followed her, the others soon falling in as they walked behind the Englishwoman.
Elizabeth turned around a large fallen log and stopped. Slumped against the log was the source of the blood trail: A woman, barely out of her teens (although for all Elizabeth knew, her race could stay young in their 80's), dressed in a loose silver fighting outfit, her face marked with pain, her short blonde hair wet with perspiration. A large dagger lay in her hand, her arm having apparantly finally gone limp from holding it.
Elizabeth immediately kneeled next to the woman, her fingers feeling at her throat. "I've got a pulse," she announced. "But it's weak." She looked down to where the woman's hand pushed against her midsection. Pushing it aside, Elizabeth could see the purple blood-stained gash along the woman's stomach. "Ah, dammit," she muttered. "This is bad, this is very bad."
Lucy took one look at the bleeding woman and her instincts kicked in. Her earlier argument with Elizabeth was pushed to the background of her mind. Her concentration was now on helping someone in need. She pushed her way past Marybeth and Mel and knelt next to the woman. She looked at the wound and took a breath. "Whoever did this was out to hurt her," she announced. "Maybe even kill her."
"We can worry about who and their motives later," Elizabeth said. She looked up at the woman's face. "She's passed out, could be on the verge of going into shock." She reached down and pulled the blade out of the woman's limp hand. "Lay her down," she ordered and Lucy quickly complied.
"Damn, wish I had gloves," Elizabeth muttered. "Lucy, try to keep track of her vitals, I know it will be difficult but at least try."
"Elizabeth..." Lucy swallowed. "I'm not sure what her vitals are, she is an alien, I don't know about her physiology or----" She broke off as Elizabeth tore off a piece of her own coat and used it to wipe away as much blood as she could. For a brief moment, Lucy could actually see inside the woman and her eyes shot open. "Oh, my God. Are...those...her intestines?"
"Concentrate on her, Lucy," Elizabeth said. "This is going to be tricky enough as it is. Just try to keep it cool, we can do this."
"Elizabeth," Lucy bit out, trying to keep her voice under control. "We have no equipment, we have no monitors, no extra blood, we "
"I got my start doing this in the field, Lucy," Elizabeth barked out. "Just follow my lead and it will be all right." Elizabeth stood up and used the blade to cut at the lowest part of her pants. She ripped out several pieces of cloth and threw them on the ground. "Try to cut off what you can of yours," Elizabeth told Lucy as she knelt back down. "I'm going to need whatever I can get to bind this together."
As Lucy did so, the others stared at the two doctors. Tarring automatically crossed himself and began praying softly as Mel and Marybeth looked at the duo, each not quite sure what to do.
"Oh, God, that's not good," Marybeth said, feeling more than a little ill at the blood spilling from the wound. "Mel, no offense, but your planet? So far, it sucks."
"Relax, already," Mel said, turning from the sudden field surgery to face the teenager. "The dangers here are a lot less serious than-------"
A whistling sound cut through the air and suddenly, a trio of spears slammed into the ground, inches from Mel's feet. He yelped and jumped back as a slew of expertly-aimed arrows flew out and smacked into the tree by Elizabeth. She drew her sword and held it up for only a second before an arrow smacked it out of her hands. Two arrows planted themselves around it, showing Elizabeth the dangers in trying to reach out for her blade.
There was a long moment of silence as everyone turned to see the squad of heavily armed and rather nasty-looking warriors that were standing before them, weapons trained right on the humans.
"Mel?" Marybeth called out. "As the native of this planet, you should well know not to tempt it like that."
"Point taken," the Varra native said as he swallowed.
Sunnydale Motor Lodge
May 25th, 1999 - 0802 Hours PST
The ringing of the phone startled Zev. He rose from the small table inside the small room and raised up the receiver. "Hello?"
"Zev?" a female voice spoke up. "It's Joyce. Joyce Summers?"
Zev broke out into a smile. "Why, yes, Joyce, it's nice to hear from you again."
"I'm hoping I didn't wake you," Joyce went on. "It is rather early, I know, but I had to ask you something."
"Oh, no worries, I'm an early riser," Zev replied. "What did you want to ask me?"
"Well, I'm hoping I'm not being too forward," Joyce started. After a brief hesitation, she went on. "But, I wanted to know if you were interested in another date tonight. If you want."
Zev raised his eyebrows. "So soon? I guess last night went better than I thought."
"Well, it...had its moments," Joyce said. "So, um, I was wondering if you would like to pick me up at my home?"
"Certainly," Zev stated. "Any time in particular?"
"Seven sounds about right," Joyce told him. She quickly recited her address, Zev not even writing it down.
"I'll be there right at seven," he stated.
"I'll be waiting," Joyce replied. "Um.... you aren't by any chance going to be around town today, are you?"
"Actually, no," Zev frowned. "No, I have some...research to do on my computer. It should take me most of the day. But I should be at your home promptly at seven, rest assured."
"I'll see you then." Joyce hung up, Zev following the action a moment later. He paused, bending his head as a thought occurred to him. Joyce's voice had carried a great deal of nervousness to it. Zev shrugged it off. The woman had obviously not been dating for a while and was no doubt anxious about getting back into things.
Shaking his head, Zev moved back to the table and sat down. He pulled his laptop forward and typed in a few keys. "I know you're out there," he muttered under his breath. "You can't hide forever, dear sister. And I will find you....." He hit the "Enter" key and watched the data unfold before him.
0807 Hours PST
Joyce hung up the phone and slowly turned to the man standing in her kitchen. "So, Steve," she said in a voice that carried a trace of bitterness. "Do I get my thirty pieces of silver in one go or in installments?"
"That's not fair, Joyce," Steve stated, his arms folded before him.
Joyce shook her head and walked around the counter. She was wearing a light blue blouse with a dark vest and dark skirt, all in a professional manner. "Steve, I just don't feel right doing this. Especially after the way he treated me last night. He seemed like such a good man, Steve."
"Um, Mrs. Summers?" Steve and Joyce both turned to see Roz facing them. The woman had spent the night at Ulric's home with Garrow and Shaw but had insisted on coming by to see Joyce make the important phone call. She still wore the same outfit from the night before but looked a little better now that she was a bit more cleaned up.
"My brother has known a lot of women, Mrs. Summers," Roz began. "And they all have a few things in common. They all thought he was the prefect gentleman. They all began to like him a lot. They all found themselves caring for him in one way or another. And after he was done with them, the ones who weren't dead wished they were."
Joyce was silent as Roz sighed. "Mrs. Summers, I really hate to have to tell you about this. But you have to realize that my brother only cares about himself. Other people are nothing to him, just playthings to amuse himself with. You...." Roz shook her head. "You were just a brief distraction for him, something to while away the time."
"He would have just dated me and dumped me?" Joyce softly asked.
Roz nodded. "Yeah. Dumped you in your daughter's room with your throat slit, probably." She blanched as she realized what she'd said. "Oh, frozik, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you like that. It's just...his way."
Joyce ran a hand down her face in weariness. "I should have known he was too good to be true," she sighed. "You'd think life in Sunnydale would have taught me not to take anything at face value."
"That's a sad universal fact," Roz agreed. She looked over to Steve. "So, now what?"
Steve had already thought this through. "You stay at my house for the day, keep yourself out of sight. The kids, Giles and Jenny are at school today but we'll be assembled at my place by six. We'll set things up for Zev's arrival."
Roz bit her lip in thought. "I might as well warn you, Mr. St. Wolf. My brother is a very capable fighter. Jurden knows, he's a Surton of a lot better than me. You can't underestimate him."
Steve gave her a light smile. "We've got some pretty good fighters on our own side," he told the alien. "I think we can handle one man."
Roz wasn't smiling as she stared at him. "He's not a man," she said in a tone filled with more than a hint of fear. "He's Zev."
Father Ulric's Residence
1051 Hours PST
"Ah, just like I remember it," Garrow said as he lowered his coffee cup to the table. He looked up at the man standing by the kitchen sink. "You can still make the best coffee I've ever had, Ulric."
"It's a skill I've been grateful for," Ulric said with a smile as he came to the table. He took a seat and sipped at his own coffee. "I find it a wonderful pick-me-up after a long night."
"Yes, I can guess your nights are rather long," Garrow stated as he sat back in his chair. He looked toward his fellow priest and frowned. "Ulric.... I don't want to sound judgmental but...Teaching these children to fight demons....."
Ulric held up a hand to stave off the argument. "Conrad, these children were involved in fighting demons long before I got involved with them. They're proud, strong, capable young men and women, mature beyond their years. Trust me, they'll be more than enough to keep Roz safe."
"I hope so," Garrow sighed, shaking his head. "I really do."
Ulric looked at him carefully. "You really care for her, don't you?"
Garrow let out a slight smile. "Yes, I suppose I do," he said. "She's...reignited something in me that I thought dead." The smile faded and he looked down. "I was...starting to lose my faith a bit not too long ago."
"You?" Ulric asked in surprise. "You were one of the most passionate people in seminary. Frankly, your devotion left even our teachers in the dust."
"I suppose I sort of...burned out," Garrow offered as an explanation. "You know how it is, Ulric. It's all well and good to talk about God's love and His presence but out in the world, with crime and death all around.... It's hard sometimes to remember that. I could feel myself losing my connection a bit with our Lord and began to feel that maybe there was nothing in my life worth working toward."
"And Roz changed that?" Ulric asked.
Garrow nodded. "She did indeed. She's given me something to look forward to, Ulric. Something I thought could never be achieved. But, with her, I can finally find some inner peace with myself."
"I'm glad to hear it," Ulric said, a wide smile on his face. "I must confess, I've been through something similar with my own charge."
"Ah, Shaw," Garrow stated. "Yes, she does strike me as a.... unique individual."
*If you only knew,* Ulric thought to himself. So far, Steve had decided that, until it came up, things ranging from Immortality to the team's empowerment to Shaw's true nature would be kept secret from Roz and Garrow. Ulric had disapproved, not liking having to keep things from his old friend, but Steve had put his foot down so Ulric had decided to adhere to his suggestion. "She is at that," he spoke out loud.
"She seems a bit tense though," Garrow went on.
Ulric smiled. One thing that hadn't changed about Conrad, he was still a bit outspoken. "Well, she was through something of a wringer over the last week," Ulric said. Despite his promise not to sink to such an easy line, he simply couldn't resist adding, "She wasn't quite herself."
"Well, that happens from time to time," Garrow stated. "I've felt that myself sometimes."
"Oh, I don't think quite like Shaw, Conrad," Ulric said with a smile.
It was Garrow's turn to appraise the other priest. "You care for her as well, don't you?"
Ulric nodded. "She's like a daughter to me. I've looked out for her and cared for her in so many ways. She came to me as a troubled and emotionally battered woman and I've been happy to see her heal inside and grow. She has friends, a man who's like a brother to her and another who, despite her statements to the contrary, could be something even more."
"Where are they?" Garrow asked.
"Truth to tell, I'm really not sure," Ulric admitted. "They had to...leave town suddenly and I'm not sure when they'll be back."
"Oh, Conrad, I dare say there are no words in the English language that could properly convey what these two are like."
"I look forward to meeting them," Garrow said. "Provided we can help Roz out here and now. Hopefully, these people are as good as you say and can help out Zev."
"You can be sure they can do the job," Ulric assured Garrow.
"I hope your assurances are worth slightly more now," Garrow said in a teasing tone. "If memory serves me right, you assured me that we wouldn't have any problems with washing the choir's robes after our little accident with the wine?"
Ulric looked at Garrow for a long moment and then laughed. "I've missed you, Conrad."
"And I have you, old friend," Garrow stated. "It's good to see you doing well for yourself."
Ulric sipped at his coffee for a moment before speaking up. "I could always use more help," he stated carefully. "True, my church is small, but another priest couldn't hurt in this town. If you're interested, of course."
Garrow tapped his chin for a moment before replying. "I'll consider it," he said. "I can't promise anything for now. Except that I'm sure by the time this is over, I'll be planning a new life for myself."
Ulric smiled and nodded as the two priests began to talk shop.
Steven St. Wolf's Residence
1622 Hours PST
The training center in Steve's home wasn't as crowded as it usually was. Most of the team were getting ready for their planned confrontation with Zev later that evening and wanted to conserve their energy. Of course, there were a few who felt they had more than enough energy to burn up.
Shaw ducked as Faith's foot flew toward her face, the kick sweeping over her head. Jumping back into a standing position, Shaw let out a punch that Faith just managed to block. The Slayer gave Shaw's arm a yank, pulling her in close. At the same time, she fell back, a foot planting into Shaw's stomach. Faith hit the ground, rolling on her back, her foot causing Shaw to rise up. Shaw barely kept back a yelp as she flew over Faith's head and landed on her back.
Faith leaped to her feet and spun around as Shaw brought herself up. "Didn't expect that one, huh?"
A smirk filled one side of Shaw's face. "You have improved, I'll grant you," she stated. "I assume your time away was most beneficial?"
"Well, I did take care of some personal stuff," Faith admitted. "But I'm sorry I missed out on the fun going down here."
"Please, Faith," Shaw said with just a touch of pleading. "I do not need to hear how happy you are to have not been switched about last week."
"Fine, fine," Faith shrugged. "But it's not like you're out of the woods either, you know. We both ticked off the guys by helping with the tape. You wanna imagine what kind of payback they're planning?"
"Actually, I believe they are saving the worst of it for Robin and Liam," Shaw told her. "But I am sure they will have reprisal for us."
"Ya know, it's kinda scary how well you take imminent pranks, Hunter," Faith muttered as she looked over toward the gym's doors. "Whoa," she said. "We got company."
Shaw looked up to see Roz carefully stepping into the room. While Faith was dressed in a pair of tight pants and red top and Shaw was wearing a one-piece sweatsuit, Roz was still dressed nicely. She had managed to get a new outfit, a light pair of slacks, white blouse and a green vest and appeared a little more confident than she had been earlier. "Um, hi," she spoke up. "I'm sorry, but Steve told me I should drop by around now and I was just looking around..."
"No prob, Roz," Faith said. "Me and Shaw were just doing some sparring to kill time."
"You kill time this way?" Roz asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Actually, we generally kill vampires this way," Shaw dryly said. "We simply try to keep in practice."
"I'll take your word for it," Roz said. "I'm...well, I'm not much of a fighter."
"Ah, come on, you can't be all bad!" Faith said, coming up to Roz.
"No, no, it's true," Roz told her. "I've been running for so long, I never really got any fighting skills. I know, I know, I really should have tired learning but just never got around to it."
"Come on, it can't be that as bad as you say it is," Faith sniffed. She smiled as she came up to Roz. "Come on, let's see you handle this!" She threw out a fist in a short jab toward Roz's chin. She held the punch back, deliberately slowing it down to the point a half-blind senior could have dodged it. So Faith was more than a little surprised when her fist connected with Roz's jaw,
sending the other woman to the ground hard.
"Faith!" Shaw yelled. She moved over to where Roz lay. The woman was letting out a slow moan, a hand to her chin but otherwise not moving. "What is the matter----"
"Wow," Faith said in a slightly apologetic voice. "I guess she really is that bad."
"Ah, am I interrupting?" Faith and Shaw looked up to see Randi standing in the entrance to the gym. She was wearing a light gray sweatsuit, her blonde hair held back in a ponytail. She raised an eyebrow at the prone Roz and looked over to Shaw. "Faith?"
"Faith," Shaw confirmed with a nod.
Faith knelt down to where Roz lay, holding out a hand. "Hey, you okay?"
Roz was silent for a moment before responding. "I think that cured my little case of fantos."
"What?" Randi asked, frowning in confusion.
"You don't want to know," Roz said as she accepted Faith's hand. The Slayer carefully pulled her up to her feet, Roz shaking her head a bit as she got her bearings back.
"I'm really sorry," Faith apologized. "I thought for sure you'd get out of the way."
"Sorry to disappoint," Roz muttered, still rubbing at her chin.
"Wow, you're really that bad?" Randi stated, looking at Roz.
"Yes, yes, I smell worse than a wet rukian, keep harping it on," Roz shot out as she walked over toward the nearby bench. She sank onto it, leaning against the wall and still rubbing at her chin. Faith took a seat next to her while Randi put on foot on the bench and leaned onto it. Shaw remained standing all three looking at Roz.
"Just be glad Kendra isn't here yet," Randi said in a mildly teasing tone. "You'd be flipped around about two or three times before she realized how bad you are."
"Thank you for the memories," Shaw muttered. She sighed and looked over to Roz. "I must admit to being somewhat surprised. I would have thought a woman of your...experience may have been through battles before."
"Oh, I have been," Roz spoke up. "I've sort of fallen into a war here and there but I've always managed to stay one step ahead of things. Like I said, I just wanted to keep away from Zev. I..." She sighed. "To tell the truth, I've kinda been on my own for more years than I care to remember. I don't...stay long enough to make any connections to people." She let out a slight smile. "I guess that's sort of why I kind of feel a connection to Father Garrow. He's really helped me out a lot."
"Priests have that capability," Shaw said with her own slight smile. "It sounds like your life has been...rough."
Roz leaned against the wall and shrugged. "It hasn't been all bad," she said. "I have seen a lot of planets, a lot of cultures, you can't take away that. Course, I don't stay long enough to really connect to them but..."
Faith took a seat next to Roz and put a hand on the woman's shoulder. "Listen, Roz," she spoke up, more gently and without her usual attitude. "When it comes to rough pasts, me and Shaw can give you a run for the money. We've both been through tough times and we've got the scars to show it."
"Although I would not recommend it in my case," Shaw said. "It is not...pleasant to look upon."
Seeing Shaw's face tighten, Randi quickly stepped in. "We've all been through bad times, Roz. What matters is how you get past them."
"And making sure your psycho bro is off your back once and for all will definitely get you past them, right?" Faith said.
"I guess so," Roz agreed. She looked up at the others with another smile. "Um, girls? As much as I sort of like this little bonding thing we've got going...I plan on being out of here tonight. So...Don't be expecting this to be a serious friendship, all right?"
"In that case," Shaw announced. "Perhaps we should try and fit in what we can."
Faith looked up at her and grinned. "Dump the training and hit the town?"
"We are on a timetable," Randi put in. "And Steve has given out orders to keep us all in check until we go after Zev."
"Fine," Faith said with a slight pout. "We'll just order a pizza. We can introduce Roz to Ted while we're at it."
Roz looked over at Shaw with a look of slight apprehension. "Ah...She isn't trying to...what's the term you use...set me up with a guy?"
"She is," Shaw dryly answered. "But given the alternatives in that field, her judgment is not that bad."
"Ah, nothing I enjoy better than coming off a day at school in time to set up an ambush," Jenny stated as she and Giles entered Steve's home. The two had stopped at their place in order to change out of their "day clothes" and into something more active. Jenny wore a pair of dark pants with a navy blue blouse while Giles' outfit was a simple pair of jeans and a long-sleeved shirt.
"Don't worry, love," Giles said. "We'll make up for it later."
Jenny shot him a look of amusement. "Wow, English, you really are randy, aren't you?"
"Spending a week in the body of an Immortal is highly invigorating," Giles pointed out. "Plus, you at least know where mine hasn't been."
Jenny shot him a fast glare as the two entered the kitchen and saw the group that was gathering there. "I thought we were setting up for a fight, not a party," Giles observed as Xander, Cordelia, Shaw, Roz, Faith, Randi, Willow, Oz and Kendra were sitting around the table munching on the contents of a large box.
"Hmm, this is good," Roz said. She swallowed her last piece of sausage and rubbed at her chin with a napkin. "What do you call this again?"
"Pizza," Xander told her. "A vital part of the American diet."
"Remind me to get the recipe, I could use this when I leave," Roz told him. She looked up at Jenny and Giles and gave a little smile. "Hi, Mr. Giles, Ms. Calendar."
"You can call us Jenny and Rupert," Jenny told the woman. "Where are Steve and Buffy?"
"Buffy's at her house," Willow explained. "Apparently, she's thinking of just how she's going to make Zev pay for being with her mother. Steve's there to talk her out of just marching to his motel and killing him herself."
"I'm guessing Zev picked the wrong lady to screw around with here, right?" Roz asked.
"Oh, yeah," Xander nodded. "And it's not just Buffy. We all like Joyce and we all want a piece of this guy for playing her."
"Good to hear," Roz said. She paused and sipped at the glass of water from her place at the table. "It's funny," she softly said. "I've been running for so long, I can't remember the last time I just took the time for an actual sit-down meal with people." She sighed and shook her head. "Amazing how you miss the little things."
Jenny stared at her with sympathy. "It sounds lonely."
Roz shrugged. "It has a few bright spots here and there," she explained. "But, yeah, it can get lonely out there, running around from planet to planet, looking over my shoulder all the time, always worrying about him finding me." She gave a little shiver. "Sometimes it could get...hard."
Jenny saw the looks on the faces of Shaw and Faith, able to tell how the two were both feeling for Roz. Even the normally passive Kendra was sending off waves of sympathy toward the alien. "I am sorry for what you have gone through," Kendra said.
Roz held up her hands and stood up. "Look, I don't want to go on a big brooding binge or anything," she told the others. "And I'm not looking for huge amounts of sympathy either. I have seen an awful lot of the universe in my time, plenty of planets and outposts, lots of different cultures. It's...been an experience."
"Seen any planets like ours?" Willow asked, truly curious.
Roz bent her head in thought. "Well, in terms of physical layout and weather, yeah. As for the people..." She bit her lip. "Sorry to say it, but in terms of technology, you people are what's known as Class G. That's sort of backward in relation to other worlds and races."
"Oh, so we're mostly harmless?" Xander asked with a grin.
Roz started and stared at him. "What the Surton did you say?"
"Mostly harmless," Xander repeated. "Like 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.'"
Roz stared at him in shock. "How could you know about that?" she asked softly. "You can't have that book!"
"Sure we do," Xander told her, not understanding why Roz was taking this so seriously. "The whole series by Douglas Adams."
"Who in Jurden's name is Douglas Adams?" Roz asked in confusion. "I'm talking about 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy!' Intergalactic bestseller, a trillion copies sold, don't leave your planet without it!"
The entire group of Earthlings stared at her.
1958 Hours PST
"He's here," Joyce announced. She drew the curtain shut and turned to face the others. The entire group was packed inside her living room, all of them dressed in loose clothing, ready to fight. Buffy had her sword drawn and a look of intensity on her face that was scaring Joyce a bit.
Steve didn't have his sword out but he was ready to fight it out if need be. The others all wore the same determined expressions and stances. On the far side of the room, Roz sat in a chair, nervously twiddling her thumbs and looking away.
Joyce sighed and looked over at Steve. "For the last time, is this really necessary?"
"I don't want a fight any more than you do," Steve assured her. "But if he presses it---"
"He will," Roz spoke up. As Steve looked at her, she sighed and got to her feet. "Zev doesn't do anything the easy way, Steve. He'll fight, trust me." She shook her head. "I just hope you're ready for him."
Giles coughed to get Steve's attention. "I still don't see why we can't just have Jenny, Willow and Amy open up a portal and send him to the MiB."
"Three reasons," Steve said. "First of all, they're under serious backlog, no agents available, for reasons we're probably better off not knowing."
"Second," Roz added. "I need him close by for this to work. I've done all the calculations a hundred times and I need his presence near me in order to cut off our connection once and for all."
"Are you sure?" Willow asked. "I mean, maybe I should look at your calculations."
Roz turned and gave her a look of light amusement. "How's your grasp of Level 1AA multi-spatial trans-dimensional physics in a hard vacuum shifting starscape?"
"Um....A little rusty," Willow meekly said.
Roz smiled and lightly rubbed at Willow's hair. "You're a smart kid, Will, but this is just a bit beyond you, trust me."
Jenny looked at Steve. "What's the third reason?" she asked.
"Because I called first dibs," Buffy said in a cold voice. She put one fist into her other hand and cracked her knuckles. "I can't wait to punch that asshole's face in for using Mom."
"We're not doing that, Buffy," Steve briskly informed her. "Willow, Jenny and Amy will set up a containment circle around him, keep him trapped. That should be enough for Roz to take care of what she needs to do. Once that's handled and she's gone, we can drop him off to the MiB and let them handle someone like him."
"I still wish you didn't have to do it here," Joyce muttered. "I don't want any damage to the house, Steve."
"Joyce, he's coming over for a date, he'll be off guard, he doesn't know Roz has warned us about him," Steve argued. "We'll be able to take him quick and by surprise with a minimum amount of force. Trust me, there won't be any damage."
"I'm holding you to that," Joyce informed him, crossing her arms.
"Trust me, Mrs. Summers," Roz announced. "It'd be a lot better than whatever Zev has planned for you."
"I still can't believe he's like that," Joyce protested. "He seemed like such a gentleman."
"Joyce?" Shaw spoke up. "I have two words for you. Jacob Devonshire."
As Cordelia and Amy winced, the doorbell rang. Taking a deep breath, Joyce walked through the foyer and stood before the door. She closed her eyes and steadied herself before reaching out and putting her hand on the knob.
Zev was wearing a nice suit and a smile as he saw Joyce. "Good evening," he nodded. "You look quite lovely."
"Thank you," Joyce said, unable to keep from blushing a bit. *God, why do all the good ones have to turn out to be psychos?* "Won't you come in?"
Nodding his thanks, Zev stepped into the house. He looked about, appraising the foyer. "Nice. I can see you save some of your best things for your home."
"Enjoy the view, asshole," a hard voice spoke up. Zev turned to see a young blond woman standing in one of the foyer's entrance ways, a long katana clutched in her hand. Her face was an expression of pure hate as she looked over Zev. Behind her was a strong and handsome man who Zev could instantly tell had the bearing of an excellent fighter.
"Zev, this is my daughter, Buffy," Joyce stated. "And that's Steve."
Zev nodded toward the duo. "Zev Mundac. So, you're Buffy. I've heard an awful lot----"
"Save it, pal," Buffy said. "You're going down and you're going down hard."
For the first time, Zev became aware of the crowd inside the house. He slowly turned his head to the left and saw Xander, Cordelia, Shaw, Faith and Kendra step into the doorway. After taking a long look at them, he turned his head to the right and saw Willow, Oz, Giles, Jenny and Randi step in from the living room.
Turning his attention back to Buffy and Steve, Zev raised an eyebrow. "Is this some sort of greeting custom?"
"Yeah," Buffy snarled. "It's where we kick your ass six ways from Sunday for being here."
Zev was feeling a bit confused and more than a little apprehensive by this point. "And your reasons for doing that would be?"
"Because I said they should."
At the female voice, Zev instantly froze in place, his eyes widening. He whipped around and saw Roz step into the entranceway. The woman's bearing was nervous but strong as she stared at her brother. She folded her arms and raised her chin as she stared at him. "Zev. It's been a while. But I think this is where we finally settle things."
His lips curling back into a snarl, Zev began to move toward her. Immediately, Jenny, Willow and Amy raised their hands and chanted out. A circle formed around Zev, giving out a bright flash and he stopped dead as if he'd hit a wall. He appeared startled by the sudden blockade and carefully raised out his hand. He felt at the invisible barrier before him, sensing the power teeming from it. "Force field," he said out loud. He fixed the witches with a hard gaze. "I've broken force fields before."
"If the people using them were just stupid enough to stand there and let you do it, I have little doubt," Amy quipped.
"Intelligence isn't a requirement for usage," Zev said, continuing to test the barrier. "Your entire species has certainly proven that."
"Sir, you might as well give it up," Giles stated. "You're sealed in tighter than a drum."
"Would you care to know exactly how many sealed drums I've gotten out of in my lifetime?" Zev calmly asked the Watcher. His eyes swept to Roz and his face glowered. He began to hiss and spit out a stream of guttural sounds, his voice rising as he did. Roz responded in kind and it quickly became apparent the two were speaking in their own language. The humans watched as the two bickered, Zev stabbing a finger out at Roz as his voice hissed with pure hatred. Roz responded with a light smile, waving a hand at the occupants of the room and spoke in a lighter tone.
The argument raged for a couple of minutes while the humans simply turned their heads from one alien to the other. "What the hell is this?" Cordelia asked with a frown.
"Oh, he's just swearing to kill me, I'm just letting him know how you won't let that happen, usual sibling bickering," Roz remarked with a light tone.
Zev was silent and frozen for a long moment. Then, he slowly turned and faced Joyce. Despite the fact that she knew the man was a murderer and a monster, Joyce couldn't help but feel guilty at the accusing look in Zev's eye. "Well," he softly said. "I hope you'll understand why
I don't call back."
"I'm used to it," Joyce got out, trying to sound light. "First a killer android, then this."
Zev stared at her for a moment in confusion, then shook his head and turned toward the witches. He narrowed his eyes and bit his lip in concentration. "Would I be right in surmising," he began in a conversational tone. "That it takes some concentration to do this?"
"You would be," Jenny said, not quite sure where this was going.
Zev calmly nodded and then the hints of a smile tugged at his lip. "Amazing," he softly said. "So much power, so little intellect. If you were truly that intelligent, my dear, you'd have thought of something very important."
Jenny frowned. "That being?"
"That since I can hear you and you can hear me, that means that something can get through this little force field of yours," Zev told her. "Sound."
He took a deep breath, as if building himself up somehow. The witches exchanged confused glances. They didn't know what the man was planning but were confident that whatever he tried, they would be protected by the spell.
As Zev's breath finished and he stayed frozen in place, Roz's eyes widened and she immediately ran for Jenny, Willow and Amy. "Down!" she yelled as she tackled Jenny, sending her into the other two, all three landing in a heap. The sudden and unexpected action caused the concentration of the trio to be broken and so there was no barrier as Zev suddenly emitted a loud scream. It came out as a blast of pure sonic force, blasting back the quartet on the floor, pushing back everyone near the outer edges of the voice wave and shattering a mirror and two vases resting by the wall where the scream finally ended.
"Dammit, Steve, you promised-----"
Pushing Joyce's outrage to the side, Steve raised up his sword but was stopped by Buffy putting a hand on his arm. "Sorry, hon," she said. "But I did call it."
Steve nodded and backed up. "Try not to enjoy yourself too much."
Buffy rolled her eyes and moved forward. "Okay, buddy. You want to go quietly or do you think you've got the guts to go against me?"
Zev raised an eyebrow at her. "My dear, are you under the impression that I may not hit you because you're a woman?"
Buffy shrugged. "Well, you know, you did seem like a gentleman so I wasn't sure if---"
Zev stepped forward and spun about with a speed that was literally inhuman. His left foot lashed out and hit Buffy in the jaw. The Slayer staggered back, Steve barely able to catch her as she flew back. Instantly, every one of the Scoobies was in a fighting mode, fists up and legs ready to kick out.
Zev had gone back to his previous stance and looked at Buffy. "On my world, equality of the sexes was a given," he coldly said. "So, *we* could hit anyone we wanted to."
"Oh, good," Faith said as she cracked her knuckles. "Then he won't feel bad about me kicking his ass."
Jenny, Willow and Amy were pulling themselves off the floor, trying to disentangle from Roz. "Roz, we would have been protected!" Willow protested.
"Sorry," Roz blanched. "I wasn't sure..."
Giles coughed as Zev pulled off his jacket. "Sir, I would respectfully suggest you surrender now. You're locked in here with all of us."
"Oh, no," Zev stated as he undid his tie and pulled it off his neck. "No, my friend, you've got it all backwards." He bent his neck to the side, a slight cracking sounding out. "I'm not locked in here with all of you," Zev said as he bent his head to the other side. "You're all locked in here with me."
He swung his arms out and then back, feeling them loosen up. He stuck his left foot forward, the toes on the floor and started to give it a shake. The humans stared, as his leg seemed to swing around with his toes still on the floor. Zev repeated the procedure with his other leg and then stepped back.
"So...Who wants to go first?"