Marked By Kane

Author: Greywizard1235 <grey.wizard[at]>

Rating: PG-13 for violence and language. Not any worse than the show

Disclaimer: All of the really good characters belong to Mutant Enemy and Crack-Head Joss Whedon, although he doesn't deserve any of them, considering the way he's destroyed them over the past couple years. Kane belongs to The Karl Eric Wagner Literary Group and Night Shade Books. Xena, Warrior Princes belongs to John Schulian and Robert G. Tapert, I believe. Dwayne Hicks belongs to Dan O'Bannion. Darth Maul belongs to George Lucas. 'Enchanted' is my brain child and Monica belongs to me. I'm just borrowing all of the characters for a while. There is no intent to profit from this. Only the story is mine.

Category: Yet another Alternate Universe Halloween story. I just couldn't pass this opportunity up. 'Tis the season, after all. I think this will fulfill a lot of Chorlton's request for a different type of Halloween story with the costumes affecting the characters in significantly different ways. Hope you like it, but in any event, let me know what you think of this one, please.

Summary: Xander doesn't go as a soldier, but as a legendary warrior from the depths of pre-history.

Time Frame: Canon for first season, then becomes AU at second season episode 6, "Halloween."

Spoilers: None really, if you've watched anything past the middle of second season.

Character Bashing: None. However, some characters will definitely be acting in a non-canon way, so don't immediately assume I just screwed up, okay? That's why it's marked as AU.

Feedback: Of course! Constructive criticism will be greatly appreciated. Flamers will be added to the lists of those to be painfully exterminated, once I attain my rightful position as King of the World. (Yeah, just wait and see if I'm kidding.)

Author's Note: As usual, // word // indicates a foreign language being spoken, and :: word :: indicates telepathic communication.

This is a repost of the first part of my story which has been very slightly revised, along with the second part, which now completes it.

Chapter 1

Ethan's Costume Shop

"Xander! I can't wear that!"

Willow's protest was high-pitched enough that Xander winced and figured that just a tiny bit higher pitch would have shattered glass and have every dog in the area howling to the moon.

"Actually, you can, Wills," the brunet grinned triumphantly as he held out the costume he had selected for the redheaded hacker to wear the next day when they shepherded their own personally assigned group of elementary school kids through their annual candy extortion crusade.

"Buffy! Tell Xander I can't wear that!"

The redhead turned and appealed to the petite blonde accompanying them on their costume quest, hoping for a display of female solidarity, but instead found a Slayer trying desperately to keep a grin from springing out on her face as she watched her two friends arguing like brother and sister.

"Sorry, Will, but the bet did very specifically say that the winner got to pick out the loser's costume," she reminded the agitated redhead. "And you lost," she pointed out, as the slightest bit of a smug grin slipped out to take its place on her face.

"But how could I know he was going to fill out a royal flush?" Willow demanded indignantly. "He was drawing three cards. Do you have any idea what the odds of something like that happening is?"

"One hundred percent," Xander chimed in with what Buffy had to admit was a *completely* evil grin. "For that hand."

"But -"

"Take it, Will," the original Scooby directed as he held out the outfit. "I called and made sure that they had it in your size before we left."

"But, Xander -"

"Will, it's either this, or the Princess Leia Slave Girl outfit.
Your choice."

Xander hadn't thought that his childhood friend's eyes could bulge out any further than they had been, but the redhead's reaction to his last statement proved him wrong, and he burst out laughing at the horrified expression on her face as she considered the choice he offered.

A moment later, a small tremor of trepidation squirmed its way down his spine as Willow's face shifted and she gave him a narrow-eyed glare that made it clear that he would regret his enjoyment of this occasion later.

"Fine!" she told him, with an expression that he would have described as a snarl on anyone else's face. "But I'm picking out your costume, too!"

"Hey! That wasn't part of the deal!" he automatically protested. "Right, Buff?"

He turned to find that the blonde Slayer, seeing the way the conversation was developing, had quickly made her escape and was now examining a rack of elaborate ballroom gowns, the fervor of the former fashion-ista she had been at Hemery lighting her eyes as she scrutinized the selection available.

< I guess they're pretty much like the ones that would have been worn by noblewomen back when Angel was still capable of getting a non-fatal tan, and probably trying to jump anything female that walked near him, > he decided sourly, the thought of the Slayer's infatuation with the undead brood-master immediately quelling his enjoyment of the group's excursion to the costume shop.

"Are you okay, Xander?" he heard Willow asking behind him.

"Sure, Wills," he restored his normal grin as he turned back to face his childhood friend. "How about this? I'll at least give serious consideration to what you pick out, okay?" he offered a partial conciliatory gesture.

"Xander." The mournful tone and sad puppy-dog eyes she threw at him made the tall brunet break out in a laugh.

"Sorry, Wills, that won't work on me, and you know it. I'm the one who taught you the 'puppy-dog eyes' ploy, remember?"

"How come, if I have to be Xena, you don't have to be Joxer? OHH! Or maybe even Ares?" she demanded petulantly, giving an excellent impression of being half her age.

"Because I won the bet, and you didn't. And besides, I don't look nearly as good in leather armor as you do."

"Actually, my young friend, you obviously haven't found the correct costume."

The unexpected, British-accented voice startled both teenagers and they both jumped with shock, Xander reflexively placing himself between Willow and the man who had surprised them.

< Ah, a guardian, > Ethan Rayne noted the brunet's instinctive move to protect his companion with a faint stir of interest. < I wonder just how long he'll last in this town with those instincts? >

"My apologies, I didn't mean to startle you," Xander heard the man, a rather thin, quasi-distinguished looking guy, say as he smiled at them. "Allow me to introduce myself; I am Ethan, the proprietor of this establishment and I overheard your comment about leather armor. I merely meant to say that there are numerous variations on such items and I am quite certain that I can find something that both you and your lovely companion would agree will suit you perfectly."

"Oh, that's very kind of you, sir," Willow automatically responded to the man's air of undoubted certainty. "I'm sure you're right about that." She flashed Xander a pleased smile with an evil glint in her eye as she spoke, clearly delighted to discover an unexpected source of support in locating the costume she wanted for Xander.

Turning to face the clearly bashful redhead, Ethan smiled in his most charming manner as he said, "Please forgive me if my words seem bold, but I must say that I am certain that anyone seeing you in that costume will find you breathtaking in the extreme." The redhead merely smiled self-consciously, blushed at his comments and looked away as she unconsciously tightened her grasp on the outfit in her hands. He then turned to the youth accompanying her.

"I assume, then, you are seeking to procure a costume to portray yourself as something other than the generic soldier that so many of your compatriots have been pestering me for all afternoon?" the Englishman asked, a somewhat condescending air to his question. At least, it sounded that way to him, Xander decided.

"Yeah, I'm definitely looking for something other than a G.I. Joe costume," Xander agreed. "Will is going as Xena, the Warrior Princess, but I'm not all that wild to go as Joxer, or even Ares.

Although I'm sure Giles would love seeing me dressed like either of them," he added in an aside to Willow.

"You know, last week, he said that he thought I must be a descendant of Joxer's, in some esoteric, metaphysical way. I thought librarians were required to be quiet and sedate, but he's just plain mean and nasty, sometimes," he complained.

"A librarian named Giles? You wouldn't be referring to Rupert Giles, by any chance, would you?" Ethan inquired, a small thrill of malicious delight coursing through him at the thought he might have inadvertently stumbled across his old running mate.

"Uh, actually, we would," Willow acknowledged. "Do you know him?"

"Indeed, I do," the Brit nodded, mentally rubbing his hands together in gleeful anticipation of the next few hours. There was only one reason that Ripper would be wasting his time in a town like this, and that reason would be the Slayer. It still galled him that Ripper had given up his rebellion against the Council. There had been a time when Ripper would have taken out any vampire or demon who stood against him, himself, and not wait for a little girl to do it for him. "We're old school mates, you might say."

< Thank you, oh god or goddess, whoever may be looking down on us right now, > he sent a grateful thought out into the ether. < I will not waste this opportunity you've offered me. >

"So, you're considering a warrior motif of some kind, then?" he turned his attention back to the youth standing before him. "The Grey Mouser? Or D'Artagnan, perhaps?"

"I'm thinking more like maybe Bran Mak Morn or Krull or John Carter of Mars or maybe even Conan," Xander replied. "You know, dashing barbarian hero with leather armor and huge freakin' sword - that kind of thing."

"Conan? Krull?" the shop owner sneered, albeit in a very genteel manner. "Please! All of Howard's heroes were hulking brutes whose only redeeming grace was an overwhelming affinity for mindnumbing violence. Brawn over brain - not exactly the type of icon I would have envisioned you as striving for, my lad," Ethan stated. "You have more the look of a staff officer than a mere underling, someone better suited to issuing orders rather than following them.

"If you don't mind, might I suggest another character you could consider emulating? He was clearly a formidable warrior, equally feared for his determination and single-mindedness of purpose as for his skill with weapons and his strategic and tactical expertise. He was also widely noted and respected for his talents as both a diplomat and statesman, and acknowledged as being as astute and incisive in the shadowy halls of courtly intrigue as he was on the battlefield," Ethan boasted of his suggestion's merits. "In fact, half-forgotten legends insist that he ultimately succeeded in his avowed quest to kill his god, the deity who allegedly created him and the rest of the human race."

"Whoa," was the male Scooby's only comment to the Englishman's narrative

"And the most compelling aspect of this mythic warrior," the shop owner concluded his spiel, "was that he was an actual person about whom innumerable legends have grown since he last walked our world, not the dream-addled meanderings of a second rate hack writer."

"Wow, this guy sounds like Conan and Machiavelli combined," Xander nodded his approval of the shop owner's tale. "So how come I never heard of him? And what is this guy's name, anyway?" he demanded of the gleeful shopkeeper.

"Kane." Ethan smiled as he pronounced the name of the nigh-forgotten legend. "Also known as the Black Prometheus. The God-Slayer."


"I must say, my dear, you would look simply magnificent in that. The hidden princess emerging to take her rightful place atop the teeming masses of humanity."

Xander could hear Ethan fawning over Buffy in the background as he looked over the selection the shop owner had offered him. For surplus movie props, as Ethan claimed them to be, everything certainly seemed to be in excellent condition, he reflected to himself. Black leather pants, high boots, a mail shirt with a linen shirt to wear beneath it, flapping black cloak, and a scabbard holding a heavy-bladed longsword, combined with the long-haired red wig and blue contacts he had been given would make him an unmistakable avatar of the long-dead legend. At least, according to the Englishman, it would.

Cautiously sliding the blade free of the scabbard, he examined it carefully, trying to remember everything he had heard Giles say on those occasions he had lectured Buffy about the swords she used. The blade, which seemed to be as sharp as the ones Buffy regularly used, was fashioned from an odd-looking, dark, silver-bluish metal he didn't recognize, one that somewhat resembled steel but was much lighter and with a different feel to it, with wire wound around the grip and covered by tough but comfortable interwoven leather straps to provide a secure, non-slip surface for the wielder.

"Oh, i-it's beautiful!"

Buffy's awed comment caught Xander's attention again and he turned to see Ethan holding out an engraved cameo medallion on a golden chain to the clearly entranced blonde. Willow, too, was obviously caught up by the pendant's elegance.

"The person who provided this piece to me insisted that it had been the favorite possession of a sixteenth century noblewoman," the Englishman was saying. "While I find it hard to believe that it could actually be something as priceless as they describe, I simply cannot permit something as exquisite as this masterpiece to remain here in the store when it so clearly demands to be worn by a woman as beautiful as you, my dear."

"Oh, I couldn't," Buffy protested reflexively, shaking her head even as her eyes never left the medallion the shop owner was holding.

Willow, also clearly enraptured by the medallion, was in full friend-support-mode, enthusiastically agreeing with Ethan's comments about the beauty of the amulet, and providing the urging the blonde obviously wanted to hear.

"Oh, please, the medallion is simply screaming to be worn with this dress. And to be worn by you."

Ethan's smile was a bit too oily to suit Xander, but he remained silent; he could see that Buffy was fascinated by the piece of jewelry as only someone without a Y chromosome could be and wanted to be persuaded to take it home with her by the shop owner. Any protest he made would only annoy the Slayer, so he restrained his initial impulse to pantomime sticking his finger down his throat and gagging.

It took only two additional entreaties by the Englishman before Buffy capitulated and agreed to take the cameo along with the dress, and after that, the trio was quickly on their way out of the store, their purchases carefully wrapped and bundled for the trek home.

Glancing back over his shoulder as they left, Xander could see that the shopkeeper looked to be extremely pleased with his efforts.

< Definitely a weird guy, > he decided. < You 'd think he'd won the lottery or something. >


Oh, tomorrow evening was truly going to be a joy to behold.

Ethan smiled to himself as he watched the three teenagers depart with a deep sense of personal satisfaction at a job well done. Janus would be pleased, indeed. The extra energies he had expended on those three costumes had taken a lot out of him, but it was most definitely effort well spent, especially when combined with the other costumes he had enchanted earlier in the week. Chaos would reign, and with any luck at all, the Watcher Council's, and thereby Law's, tool here would be destroyed, either by her own actions or by one of the creatures that would be unleashed here tomorrow night. And quite possibly the demons who ruled here, too.

Once he had realized the most likely reason for Giles' presence in this gods-forsaken pesthole, he had focused his mystic perceptions and had almost laughed out loud when he realized the unusual variations in the aura of the young blonde standing before him in his shop to be those of the mystically enhanced Slayer.

Everything he had told the three teenagers was completely true; although, he had to admit, the truth may not have been compete.

The Warrior Princess had been a major force for Chaos during her time here on this world and to have her, with her short temper and strong opinions once again striding through this culture of homogenized tastes, MTV-generated music and generally vapid sensibilities would do these complacent cultural barbarians a world of good. And as far as the redhead's wearing the costume proving breathtaking to anyone seeing her, any fool who made the mistake of insulting or annoying the Warrior Princess would quickly find themselves short of breath and, quite possibly, their life's blood, too.

And the cameo he had persuaded the Slayer to accept actually had belonged to a sixteenth century noblewoman; he just hadn't bothered identifying the former owner as the Lady Catherine de Medici. And so, tomorrow night, the spirit of one of the most notorious and vicious poisoners in the history of European royalty would once again walk the night; he could barely wait to see the driving force of one of the three great houses of Europe and the consequences that would entail from her devious and scheming appearance here on the Mouth of Hell. Only the Windsors and the Hapsburgs had had a greater effect on the world than the Medicis. Setting a force like that loose on the world would surely be a joy to behold. And if she survived the night, that mind would then know just what a tool the Slayer was to the Watchers, and the consequences that would entail from that knowledge would be a delight to watch. Oh, yes, Janus would most certainly be pleased.

Even better, to his way of thinking, was the impact that would follow the being who would be called up and take possession of the youth he had persuaded to go as the legendary warrior.

Just as with the blonde Slayer, every word he had used to describe Kane had been accurate and truthful. However, he might have neglected to mention that all of the legends had also described the man as the most likely source of the Biblical account of the first murderer, a homicidal psychopath as likely to kill someone upon their first encounter as not, but always with the most flawless techniques one might ever wish to see. The most accurate and succinct description ever given of the man had called him the perfect human killing machine.

While he personally had no inclination to meet the legendary warrior, he had absolutely no reluctance whatsoever at facilitating a possible encounter between the mythic icon and his old school chum. And while the children's views of the character might have some effect on the final outcome, he had faith that Janus would be stronger.

< One should be very careful to make sure that someone left for dead really is, my boy, > he thought to himself with a smirk. < And that you always watch your back. >

Oh yes, indeed. This was going to be a Halloween to remember.


Sunnydale High School
Halloween afternoon
The quad

Children began arriving in the school quad in costume to be taken trick-or-treating, and Snyder was in attendance with his dreaded, ever-present clipboard

"This is your group, Summers," he snarled with his usual lack of charm and grace. "No need to speak to them. The last thing they need is your influence. Just bring them back in one piece and I won't expel you."

"Hi," the ball-gowned blonde smiled as she bent down to greet her charges.

"Ah, ah, ah!" Snyder growled, turning back to glare at her.

Buffy straightened back up and rolled her eyes as he turned back to his self-appointed task of making the lives of as many students as possible miserable.

Off to one side, Larry walked by Xander and Willow, dressed as a pirate. On the other side of the quad, Xander could see a fatigue-clothed Jonathan Levinson talking to a cat-suited Diana Riggs-styled Amy Madison and a cloaked and a red-and-black-tattoo-faced Andrew Wells, the blonde haired geek waving around a scarlet light saber for emphasis as he spoke.

"Where's your bodyguard, Harris? Curling her hair?" Larry sneered, as he jumped at Xander, making him flinch. The football player laughed in Xander's face and walked off, as Xander stared after him for a moment, loathing and animosity in his eyes, before finally dismissing him and turning back to his own group of Halloween revelers.


Inside the school

Oz was checking his guitar at his locker as Cordelia came down the hall, attired in a classy black pants suit and silk white blouse.

"Oz. Oz," she called as she approached.

"Hey, Cordelia. Dana Scully. Looks good on you," he nodded as he continued checking his guitar.

"I told the troll I'm dressed as Monica from that show 'Enchanted' and he bought it," she mentioned in passing. "Are you guys playing tonight?"

"Yeah, at the Shelter Club."

"Is Mr. I'm-the-lead-singer-I'm-so-great-I-don't-have-to-show-up-for-my-date-or-even-call gonna be there?"

"Yeah. Y'know, he's just going by 'Devon' now."

"Well, you can tell him that I don't care, and that I didn't even mention it. Or him. Especially since I'm going to be attending a college frat party later," she semi-explained. "So that's just fine."

"So, what do I tell him?" he queried, not quite following the not-quite conversation.

"Nothing! Jeez! Get with the program," she half-snarled, as she walked off in a huff.

"Why can't I meet a nice girl like that?" he asked, a wry grin on his face as he shut his locker and turned around. Right into Willow, who was now wearing a brunette wig and her Xena costume.

"Oh! Wow! Uh, I'm sorry. My fault," he semi-babbled as he stepped back and took in the leather clad hacker's appearance with an appreciative eye.

"Sorry," Willow echoed, blushing. But in a pleased way, as she realized he was being checked out, although in a much more respectful way than Percy or any of the other jocks would have done.



The two continued down the hall on their separate ways.


Outside on the quad

"Okay, on sleazing extra candy: tears are key," Xander was instructing his troops, who were lined up in two rows and standing at attention as he spoke. "Tears will normally get you the double-bagger. You can also try the old 'you missed me' routine, but it's risky. Only go there for chocolate. Understood?"

They all nodded their heads in unison, respect for his age and obvious experience clear in their eyes.

"Okay, troops. Let's move out."


On one of the neighborhood streets.

Buffy's group was scouring one side of the street, while Willow's scouted the other. A few houses further up, she could see Cordelia, the tall brunette's imperious manner unmistakable in any costume or at any distance.

"You're beautiful! You look just like that whitelighter lady from that 'Enchanted' show," one of the Halloween-ers Cordy was escorting informed her as they made their way up a walkway. "Except you're prettier than she is."

"Why, thank you," the former May Queen beamed down at the young prince. "And you are a very perceptive and intelligent young man.

That's exactly who I'm dressed as, "she agreed as she urged her charges towards the front door of the house they were visiting. "See this pin? I got it especially for this outfit."

< This kid is SO much more perceptive than Devon, > she thought to herself. < Only seven, and he already recognizes perfection when he sees it. >

Willow followed her charges along the porch to the door, eager to get their rounds finished before sunset. Despite what Giles had told Buffy, she was still wary of the dangers that roamed Sunnydale once the sun was down. She'd also taken the precaution of secreting a stake among her copious collection of weapons while dressing earlier.

"C'mon, guys. If we hurry, we can get a few more houses before we have to head back."

One of the kids, dressed as some kind of green monster rang the bell and stepped back. An old woman, obviously a grandmother answered the door.


"Oh, my goodness, aren't you adorable!" the woman smiled at the gathered children

A sudden wind began blowing through the area and Buffy's 'Hellmouth' sense began to clamor that something wasn't quite right.


Inside the closed costume shop, a small double-faced statue began to slowly brighten as its acolyte knelt before it, suddenly flaring into a blinding glare for a moment before then subsiding to its previous level, leaving a smug and smiling worshipper behind it.

< Let the gods of Heaven and Hell tremble as Chaos walks the night! >

Outside the shop, a wave of arcane energy roared through the town, carrying away with it the consciousness of everyone who had purchased their costumes from the outwardly genteel Englishman, leaving behind and in control of their body the personality the costume's wearer had sought to emulate.


The grandmother looked into her empty candy bucket.

"Oh, dear! Am I all out? I could've sworn I had more candy."

Her attention distracted by the empty bucket, she didn't notice one of the kids who had been wearing a red rubber cap with horns morph into a horned, red skinned monster.

"I'm sorry, mister monster," she said as she bent down. "Maybe I..."

Her words were choked off as the kid who had dressed as the green monster actually changed into one and grabbed her by the neck and began choking her. The other kids ran away, screaming in terror as they witnessed their former classmates' transformations.

"No! Let her go!" Willow screamed, leaping forward to intervene. The red monster attacked the green one, as Willow broke its grip on the old lady. The two monsters then enthusiastically went at each other's throats, as the woman ran into the house and slammed the door shut.

"Stop! What're you doing?! Stop! Hey!" she was shouting, trying to separate the two monsters as they ignored her and continued fighting.

Suddenly, she began to feel weak and dropped to her knees, an instant before a cloud of darkness encased the street and enveloped her and the other would-be revelers


"Oh dear, what in heaven's name could have happened?"

A faint Irish accent colored the brunette beauty's words as she recovered from the sudden dizzy spell that had affected her for a moment. Which was strange and disturbing in and of itself. After all, she and her fellows just didn't get sick. Things like that just didn't happen to them.

Abruptly, the *wrongness* of the area around her hit her and she did stagger, as the overwhelming taint of evil that permeated the area assaulted her senses and almost made her pass out.

Marshalling her resolve, she pulled herself together, her blessed senses reaching out around her, trying to locate her companions and determine exactly where it was she had found herself.

The normality of the area surrounding her had been affected by some non-benign source, she realized, twisting the local reality into a misshapen reflection of itself, warping the people as well into distorted doppelgangers of their true selves in many cases. In others, she was horrified to see, their souls had been pushed aside to let another entity take control.

Monsters had taken over and warped the bodies of innocents and were now running amok, hurting and tormenting whichever unfortunates they might chance upon in their travels, and that was something she could not permit to continue. She couldn't afford to waste any more time trying to determine where her friends might be; she needed to act now, before any more innocents suffer. God would provide.


// What's going on?! Where am I?! //

The brunette quickly scrambled to her feet and spun in a circle, her eyes alert for any enemies attempting to sneak up on her, her sword ready in one hand, her chakram in the other. All around her, people ran screaming as monsters large and small chased them or fought amongst themselves.

One moment she had been fighting off some relatively incompetent bandits who had made the mistake of attacking a traveling caravan she and Gabrielle had been accompanying from one unexceptional town to the next, and the next moment she had found herself here.

How she had gotten here, and where 'here' was exactly was something she needed to determine.

The clothing the people running around wore was strange and unfamiliar, and the buildings she could see were exotic in construction, obviously well-made but resembling nothing she could recall seeing in all her travels. So, she was in some foreign land; that was nothing new to her.

The thing she found most disturbing, though, was the lack of response from Gabrielle to her calls. If anything had happened to her friend, if she had been taken prisoner by whoever or whatever was responsible for her presence here, then the gods help them, because she was going to make them regret their bringing her here. Right up until the moment of their death.

< This just stinks of Ares' manipulations! > she thought to herself, looking around for the god of war. < Someone's gonna pay. >

Eyes narrowed, weapons ready, the young woman who had once shied from even throwing a volleyball at another student, stalked off into the night, looking for someone or something to gut.


// What in the name of Saint Peter and all the saints is going on here? //

Everywhere she looked, she saw people running in terror, while various creatures, most of whom strongly resembled the various descriptions of demons given by the more learned theologians she had had been fortunate enough to speak with, either sought to ravage the helpless or fought each other in mindless rage.

< God in Heaven above, where have you seen fit to send me? > she asked the heavens as she searched the area for some possible refuge from the terrors running rampant around her.

She had just begun heading for the closest house, keeping to the shadows for concealment and hoping to prevail upon the inhabitants to allow her sanctuary, when she heard the terror-filled screams of children issuing from between two of the unfamiliar dwellings filling the street upon which she had found herself.

Instinctively, she broke into a run towards the screams, to find half a dozen children dressed in some outlandish fashion being menaced by a creature that could be nothing les than one of the goblins of which the priests had preached in last month's Mass.

// Begone, spawn of Satan, // she commanded it as she rushed forward to strike it from behind, knocking it to the ground and taking up a position between it and the children it threatened.

// By the power of God the Father, Creator of All, by Jesus Christ, His only Begotten Son, and by the Holy Ghost, who completes His Trinity, I command you to leave these innocents alone and return to your accursed home in Hell! // she ordered, presenting her crucifix to the demonspawn before her as strongly as she could, while she prayed to her Lord for the necessary strength to prevail.

Fortunately for both the children and herself, her faith proved strong enough that the creature was sent fleeing in terror of her Lord's cross, leaving them unscathed. She hurried to gather them together, for they could not count on evading the attention of the demons stalking the night for long. She needed to get the children and herself to some haven before they attracted the attention of some more powerful fiend

// Come, children, follow me, // she directed, pausing when it became obvious that they could not understand her speech.

< Obviously, we are not in Italy, > she decided, and quickly switched to French in an attempt to communicate, an effort that met with an equal lack of success, as did her attempts with Latin, Greek, German and Hebrew. It was her final try, using Spanish, that ultimately yielded at least a partial success with one of the group.

The young girl's grammar was strange, not at all like the Castilian form in which she had received her instruction, but they could at least manage to speak each other in more than a pidgin manner.

< We need to find shelter, > she told the child, who was dressed in a gown of a gauze-like, finely spun cloth upon which adhered some type of crushed mineral. It sparkled and caught whatever light was cast upon it, looking much as if the stars in the sky had been scattered upon the material. She would have to examine it at some later time, when they were all safe and both their bodies and souls had attained shelter from the demons that were currently assailing their surroundings.

< Are these your siblings? > she asked, indicating the other children. Seeing the lack of comprehension in the child's eyes, she asked, < Are they your brothers and sisters? >

< Tommy's my brother, > the girl indicated one of the younger boys. < The others are our friends. >

< All of you, follow me, > she ordered, and began leading the children to the front door of the building nearest them, making sure that none of the children lagged behind.

They were all huddled in an alcove surrounding the house's entrance and pounding in earnest on the door, when they were again attacked, this time by creatures that apparently were not of demonic origin, since her presentation of her crucifix deterred them not in the slightest.

Her attention had been distracted for but a moment, as she considered the light that hung above the door and shone through some wondrous form of illumination that she could not immediately discern, and the diminutive bear-like creatures, carrying stone-tipped spears, came silently out of the darkness, much the way that Old Sanderson had tutored her that the Picts had assaulted the Roman legions, back when he had sought to instill a knowledge of their countrymen's history in a young girl's flighty mind.

Taking up a position in front of all the children, she somehow managed to deflect the first of their attackers' spear thrusts, as well as the second, somehow moving faster than she had believed herself to be capable of.

< The Lord is clearly guiding me and helping me in the protection of these innocents, > she told herself. < He surely will not let them be taken by such creatures as these. >

Her actions seemed to anger the furry monsters as they renewed their attacks with some kind of war cry that sounded like, "Yub-yub!"

Unfortunately however, her efforts turning aside the first two spear thrusts had left her vulnerable and unable to avoid the third.

She screamed aloud as the stone spear tip ripped its way deep into her left side, angling up under the rib cage to tear its way through the all-too-mortal tissue behind it. Somehow, she managed to rip the spear away from its wielder even as she crumpled to the ground.

Pulling it from her side, she struggled to keep herself erect, even if it was on her knees, and she used the spear to knock aside another of their attackers even as she prayed for deliverance.

< The Lord works in mysterious ways, > she reminded herself. < It is not my place to judge His plans, but I can ask Him if He might not alter them in the slightest detail. >

// Do what You will with me, Lord, but please, spare these children, // she begged, hoping that her words would not fall upon deaf ears.

The rescue she requested came in a form she was not sure even Old Sanderson, with his seemingly endless stories from the depths of history, would have believed.


Kane blinked and turned to examine his surroundings, wondering where it might be that he now found himself.

An instant later, his eyes flared open wide and his rage blazed up into an inferno as he realized that he was alive again!

All the millennia-long effort, the almost literally uncountable thousands of years that he labored to achieve his goals, first researching for the solution to his primary quest, and then, once that had ultimately been accomplished, seeking a way to achieve a final resolution to the problem of his own existence, had been undone!

Over fifteen thousand years of unrelenting effort had been expended before he had determined what he had believed to be an irrevocable solution to the problem of his never-ending existence, and now, he found that all his works had been thwarted?!

That was intolerable! He had worked too long and too hard to allow anyone to undo his efforts!

He would soon determine who it was who had had the arrogance to attempt to frustrate his intentions.

And then he'd destroy them, completely and utterly, until nothing remained of them. Their fate would a warning to any survivors; a declaration that any efforts seeking to countermand his desires would result in nothing more than a painful and not necessarily quick death.


"He's come back, he has! He's finally returned and now devastation will walk the land! The Red Reaver's back and he's very displeased to be here!"

The mad vampiress' typically inane comments seemed the least bit more lucid now than they usually did, Spike decided as he listened to the ivory-complected beauty talking to her doll as she primped the figurine's hair.

"Who're you talking about, luv?" he asked as he opened himself another can of beer.

"The Dark Prometheus walks the land again, my sweet," Drusilla said as she turned to look at her childe with an expression of worry on her lovely features. "The foolish, foolish priest has called him here and he's not at all pleased at his homecoming. To meet him is to die, my darling, so we must join the little bugs behind the walls and pretend we're not here.

"Whisper, whisper, scurry and hurry," she told him. "We can't go out tonight. To see the stars is to die."

"Well, we're all already dead, sweetheart," the bleached blond reminded his sire, once again dismissing her meanderings, "and I'm feeling in the mood for something Italian. I'll be sure to bring something back for you. Got any particular hankerings you're hungry for?"

"My kitten's become the Dragon, he has," Drusilla told Miss Edith as she began redressing the well-preserved toy as Spike and several of their minions exited their lair. "And now he's going to kill my darling boy.

"Children never listen to their elders," she lamented in a confidential tone to the silent doll. "And now he's never going to listen to me scold him again."


A loud woman's scream of pain echoed through the area and she turned her attentions to determining both the source and the cause, breaking into a run as she heard additional howls, almost beast-like it seemed to her ears, following the initial cry.

Ahead of her, to the left, she saw a mob of furry kobold-like creatures clustered about the entrance of one of the local dwellings, apparently harrying the owner in an effort to gain access to the home. As one of the waist-high demi-monsters flew backwards, scattering his fellows across the ground from the force of his impact, she caught a glimpse of blonde hair and what looked to be a staff swinging through the air to slam against another of the creatures before its user was overrun by the creature's companions.

// Gabrielle! // she screamed in mixed alarm and rage, as she darted forward, her sword cutting a swath through the small, but nonetheless deadly, creatures as she hewed her way to the woman and the children she could now see that the woman had been defending.

Faced with an opponent with both the weapons and the skills to defend themselves, the diminutive monsters ran off, taking their wounded fellows with them, and Xena dropped to her knees next to the regally attired blond woman, who she could now see, with a mixture of relief and disappointment, was not Gabrielle.

// What happened? Where are your guards? Were they killed or did they run off? // she demanded as she bent to examine the wound in the woman's side.

// Greek? // Xena heard the woman lying on the ground murmur in surprise. // This land is, indeed, one of many mysteries, // she added, as she began a hacking, body-shaking cough that brought tears of pain to the woman's eyes and which the warrior recognized as an indication of a punctured and hemorrhaging lung.

From what she could determine in the light scattered across the area from the unfamiliar lamp mounted on the wall above, the wound was both deep and serious. All of her efforts to stop or minimize the bleeding were proving useless; if the rate of blood flow remained unchecked, the woman would bleed out in the next few minutes.

// Girl! Find me a healer! Hurry! // she ordered as she turned to the oldest looking of the children who were now all gathered around the two of them, expressions of fear and distress on all of their faces. Her face darkened as the child simply stared blankly at her and didn't move, and she opened her mouth to snap at her before being interrupted by the woman lying on the ground.

// She can't understand you, // the blonde said as she looked up at her rescuer. // None of the children speak your language. Do you speak Spanish? // She added a few words in an unfamiliar tongue and looked up at the woman expectantly.

Looking down at the dying woman, Xena shook her head to indicate her non-comprehension of the unfamiliar language she had just heard and saw the woman shake her head at her.

// It is too late for me, // she heard the blonde say. // I am dying. You must keep the children safe. The demons will come for them, for they are innocents. Keep them safe. //

Her words were interrupted by a hacking, gurgling cough that sprayed blood over the ornate gown the woman wore, although the deep crimson color concealed the stains.

// Keep the children safe, // she whispered, once the spasm had ceased, as blood ran from her mouth. Her head turned, her eyes searching, struggling to focus as she looked in their direction. // Keep them safe. //


Monica's head turned as she began searching the area around her, trying to determine the source of the sense of foreboding and apprehension she was feeling.

Someone in the vicinity was seriously, perhaps critically, injured and she needed to find them while she still had time to act. Once someone died, they would be beyond any efforts she might be able to extend in their behalf. But until that point was reached, she could still act.

With free will came a concomitant responsibility for the actions one chose. But it seemed quite clear that the vast majority, if not everyone, affected by whatever-it-was occurring here tonight hadn't chosen to undergo the transformation voluntarily, and to her way of thinking, that gave her equal opportunity/justification to act however she thought necessary.

The major problem she had at the moment, however, was establishing a level of priorities for the people injured by this truly malevolent act. If and when she could ever determine who was responsible, she was going to make sure that they regretted this deed for a very, very long time.

Her eyes grew wide with concern as she felt the final death throes begin for the person she had sensed a moment earlier. Slipping into the meditative state she had discovered worked best for her when she needed to search, she let her senses roam and then, once she felt certain she had located the victim, she concentrated and *shifted*.


Maul blinked and immediately exerted a fraction of his power to mask his presence.

Strange things were happening; things which had not been anticipated when his master was developing both his long- and short-term plans for his eventual ascension to rulership of the galaxy.

By his determination, he had been on Naboo just an instant ago, on an errand for his lord, to kill yet another interfering Jedi meddler, and now he found himself in a village on some backwater planet.

Who or what might be responsible for his abrupt translocation, he had not the slightest clue, so it would be best to step back out of any possible spotlight and watch what went on. Once he had a better idea of what was happening, he could best decide how to then turn it to his, and his dark lord's, advantage.


Corporal Dwayne Hicks staggered slightly, but immediately regained his balance as he spun in a quick circle, his M41A Pulse Rifle at the ready as his eyes searched the area around him for any sign of either face-hugger egg sacs or the black carapaced adult forms of the creatures that had been attacking the squad a few minutes earlier.

< What the hell's going on? Where the hell am I? > he asked himself as he took in what looked to be a small town on one of the less industrialized planets out on the Fringe.

There was no indication that there was any of the razor-clawed monsters that had assaulted the squad in the area, but that was no assurance that they might not be lurking around. All of his attempts to raise someone, anyone, on his transceiver met with failure, so he was just deciding to find someplace relatively safe to hole up in until he could figure out just what the hell was going on when he heard a chorus of screams erupt from between two of the houses halfway down the block.

Swearing profusely, he checked his ammunition readout and headed down that way, while he silently prayed that the source of the screams wasn't the creatures he had seen earlier.


// Who are you? // Xena asked the dying woman, her inability to do anything more than witness this woman's inevitable passing frustrating her. And frustration was something she did NOT handle well.

Although she may not be Gabrielle, this woman had the same sense of nobility and compassion that had originally draw her to the small blonde who had become so much more than just her traveling companion. Whoever was responsible for this situation, which had brought this woman to the brink of death, was going to regret their actions and suffer long and greatly before their eventual and certain death at her hands. That, she swore to herself by everything she held sacred.

// Tell me your name so that I can at least tell your people that you died honorably, protecting the children, // she said, seeing knowledge of the certainty of her mortality in the blonde's eyes.

// My name... is Maria... Gaetana... Agnesi... of Milan, // came the wheezing reply.

// Please...tell love...them...all... // Maria managed to gasp, before a series of wrenching coughs broke off her attempt to speak.

Whatever else she might have intended to say was interrupted as a vortex of bright, swirling particles of light suddenly appeared next to the two women, sparking a reflexive attack by the brunette.


Kane murmured a simple analytic spell, ignoring the tumultuous groups of humans and other creatures rushing around him as he determined the nature of the magic permeating the area and searched for the source of the enchantment.

Once he had established the spell's point of origin, he headed directly for it, as the various frenzied groups swarming the streets across which he strode parted around him like river waters around a boulder, the more astute and mystically aware of them taking great care to avoid attracting the attention of the towering redhead with the coldly gleaming ice-blue eyes.

As he turned down an alleyway which looked to be the most straightforward path to his destination, he encountered a massive pirate who had been occupied molesting a brunette clad in some noblewoman's finery.

"Eh, the wench is mine," the brigand snarled as he turned away from the sobbing woman and moved to confront the approaching stranger, drawing and lifting a well-used cutlass as though he were about to attack. "Begone, if'n ye want to live any longer."

The redhead didn't even break stride as his left hand moved at a deceptively rapid swiftness to draw his own longsword, the blade flashing out and slashing through the pirate's rather feeble defense to cleave half-way through his neck and deep into his torso. Freeing the blade from the now lifeless body with a reflexive twist of his wrist, he continued onward to his intended target, never even glancing at the cowering woman huddled on the ground.

An additional few minutes' travel had the unwilling revenant approaching the source of the spell, his thoughts focused on exactly how he would wring the answers he desired from the sorcerer responsible for this particular spell and how long the wretch would suffer, when he was accosted by a group of vampires led by a slightly-built, arrogant, Cockney-accented vampire, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.

"Well, well, well. Look what we've got here now, lads," the Bleached Bad announced as he saw the youth heading towards them. "It's one of the Slayer's bunch. The lapdog, if I'm not mistaken," he smirked, looking forward to the ridicule and humiliation he was going to put the boy through before he'd finally allow him to die.

< I even 'ave a few railroad spikes with me. It's a good night indeed! > Spike thought to himself, anticipating the screams he would wring from the boy's tortured form over the course of the coming hours.

Unfortunately for the master vampire, the spirit currently occupying Xander's body was in no mood to tolerate any additional delays. Even as the blonde-haired vampire opened his mouth to continue his gloating, Kane struck.

Wordlessly, the longsword again flashed out, the keen edge shearing through the neck of the demon-infested body closest to the Slayerette and continuing on, again cleaving through the neck of the vampire standing next to him before any of the group could realize what had happened and react. The returning backstroke sliced open the belly of the vamp standing next to Spike, spilling the body's intestines out onto the ground and paralyzing the remaining demons with the viciousness of the apparent teenager's assault.

Stepping in closer to his would-be assailants, Kane drove a rock-hard fist into Spike's shocked, disbelieving face, shattering his nose and painfully driving the fragments back into his brain as he simultaneously slammed a foot up into the Englishman's groin, stunning the vampire with the excruciating twin blows.

As their master dropped to the ground, momentarily incapacitated with agony, the two remaining untouched vamps leaped forward at their intended victim, trying to get close enough to prevent the youth from using his sword.

Kane brought up his sword and caught the leftmost one on the point, allowing the charging demon impale himself and drive his body along the length of the blade, only to discover too late that it was either enchanted or blessed, as it began burning him from within. Its agonized screams were mercifully cut short as Kane ripped the blade upward, bisecting the monster's stolen body and rendering it dust an instant later.

The second vamp, seeing the devastation wrought on his master and fellows by the redheaded youth, grabbed hold of the teen as he tackled him to the ground, then foolishly took a moment to sneer triumphantly at his ostensible victim, giving Kane an opportunity to grasp his attacker by the throat and murmur a brief incantation in a long-forgotten language. The vampire had only a fraction of a second to realize his mistake before a bolt of energy shot from his victim's palm and tore through his neck, effectively decapitating him.

Quickly regaining his feet, Kane strode over to the blond-haired vampire, who was still curled into a fetal position on the ground, the entire episode not having taken more than fifteen seconds at the most.

"You've not only delayed me, leech, you've annoyed me, too." The daunting voice rumbled from deep within the youth's now thickly-muscled chest, and Spike forced his eyes open, to look up into a pair of pale blue eyes that seemed to nearly glow with a murderous, near-malevolent rage.

The piercing, pain-racked screams lasted only a few moments before silence again claimed the area.


// Demon! // Xena's snarl was accompanied by a reflexive thrust of her sword towards the barely perceived figure within the coalescing lights, an attack that resulted in a sudden shock, as though she had been struck by one of Zeus' thunderbolts, and she was flung backward a dozen feet to land sprawling on the well-landscaped ground.

// Back off! I'm trying to heal her! // barked the dark-haired woman in the black tunic and leggings who was now crouched over the dying blonde. // If you interfere with me, she'll die! //

Realizing that there was nothing she could do for the woman that could prolong her life, the leather-clad warrior woman, along with the children, merely watched with narrowed eyes as the newcomer's hands pressed against the blonde's injury and began to glow with a pale, heavenly light.

It was childish and completely inappropriate, Xena reminded herself, but she felt a twinge of jealousy course through her as she watched the brunette's hands press against the petite blonde's side and chest.

The two remained motionless nearly thirty seconds while the onlookers witnessed the eerie tableau, until the larger woman sank back on her heels and gave a long, tired sigh.

// That was close, // Xena heard the woman mutter under her breath, // but you can chalk up another save for the good guys. //

The woman lying on the ground, Maria, Xena recalled, took a hesitant breath as she looked up at her rescuer before hesitantly asking, // Who are you? An angel sent by Our Lord to lead us to safety? //

// You can call me Monica, // the tall brunette smiled, watching as the blonde carefully sat up, her fingers gingerly probing at the torn gash in her gown and the smooth unblemished skin beneath it. // You're fine now, // she assured the recipient of her healing power. // The injury is completely healed. //

// You are indeed an emissary of God! // the blonde stared at Monica a moment longer, before giving a start as though coming to some sudden comprehension and then quickly scrambling so that she was kneeling before the woman, her head bowed in obeisance.

// Forgive me for my lack of respect, Holy One, // she said respectfully. // Command me what it is I need do, to better serve His purpose. //

// Get up, girl. There is no need to kneel to me, // Monica responded with a small smile. // I, too, serve Him, remember? And as far as what you need do? Merely continue on, as you have been doing, // she added.

Anything further Monica might have said was interrupted by a sudden explosion of darkness that seemed to overwhelm them all.


He strode up to the metal-framed entrance of the building within which was sheltering the source of the spell that had brought him back. Pausing only long enough to determine that there were no guards posted around the area, he kicked in the doors and marched into the darkened interior, heading towards the curtain-shrouded rear room in which the powerful mystic energy source he could sense was contained, while ignoring the abrupt shrill alarm bells that had just begun sounding.

An instant before he reached the curtains, they were pushed aside by a scrawny looking worm wearing an indignant look on his face, who began demanding something or other before his protest were unceremoniously brought to a halt by Kane's fist impacting his face.

The terrified look of recognition that replaced the indignation identified him to the enraged unwillingly-born-again returnee as either the mage responsible for the spell or a fellow participant in the ritual, and Kane smiled with a disconcertingly feral expression as he bent down to grasp the feebly protesting mage and pull him to his feet.

The screams were just as loud, and lasted longer than they did with the blond vampire, before finally dying away a few short seconds before a second wave of arcane energy exploded outwards, following the path taken by the first wave that had initiated the evening's happenings.


Sunnydale High Library An hour later

Rupert Giles looked with dismay at the uncharacteristically-subdued group of adolescents filling the chairs around the large oaken table at which the self-styled Scooby Gang did most of their research.

Once the initial transformation spell had been broken, his Slayer, accompanied by her two fellow students, had made full use of her ability to sense mystic energies to backtrack the spell to its source, the costume shop from which they had all procured their costumes

In the course of their search, they had come upon a clearly dazed and shocked Xander wandering the streets close by the shop, and had immediately taken the unspeaking, traumatized youth into their care, with Cordelia watching over him outside on the street, while Buffy and Willow had cautiously checked out the clearly burglarized shop.

The discovery they had stumbled across inside had shaken both girls intensely; although, the librarian admitted, finding a carbonized body pinned like a butterfly to a wall with pieces of metal shelf brackets was enough to shake even the most hardened observer. That the girls hadn't remained and investigated further after making their initial discovery was something else the Watcher admittedly couldn't find fault with, so the question of who or what may have been responsible for the shop owner's extremely charred condition remained unanswered.

From the various fragments of information that he had been able to gather from the still quite distraught students upon their return to the library, the shop had apparently been operated by Ethan Rayne, a former - colleague and associate - was how he had described the man to the inquisitive teens when they had questioned him about their association.

That both he and Ethan had sometimes - dabbled - with some of the more fanatical covens in their wild and tumultuous youth, back before he had come to his senses and realized the potentialities that the Council could offer to those smart enough and bold enough to reach out and grab them, was something that he had neglected to mention when explaining his relationship with the now severely deceased Chaos mage.

What exactly was responsible for Xander's current state was yet another question for which they were still seeking answers. The near-catatonic youth sat quietly off to one side of the room, seemingly in a state of shock and responding with only the most minimal responses to the questions with which the clearly worried Slayer and hacker and even the usually aloof head cheerleader were pestering him.

"Uhm, exactly who was it that you, uh, that you believed yourself to be when the spell was active, Buffy?" Giles asked, his curiosity piqued when he heard his Slayer muttering to herself in Latin as she worried about her still basically unresponsive male friend. And correctly conjugating the verb, at that.

To the best of his knowledge, most of the students at the high school would most likely identify Latin as the language spoken by people living in Latin America, so hearing Buffy uttering phrases as fluently as a native of ancient Rome would have done, was of enough significance that he took immediate notice.

"My - uh, that is, her name was Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Giles," she informed him, a trace of confusion on the petite blonde's features as she answered, "and she lived in Milan, Italy most of her life. I can still remember attending Mass pretty much every day and overseeing the staff taking care of my, uh, that is, her brothers and sisters and studying mathematics a lot.

"That was just simply fascinating," she stated, and Willow noticed and marked for later discussion that her friend had what looked to be a fond smile on her face as she spoke of the various studies that the woman who had occupied her body earlier that evening had been interested in.

"Hmm," the librarian commented as he then turned his attentions to the other two girls. "And who was it that the two of you had decided to dress as?" he inquired, looking over at Willow and Cordy.

"Uhm, I was dressed as Xena, the Warrior Princess," Willow admitted, blushing as she realized tha she was still attired in the leather semi-dominatrix (at least in her opinion!) costume that Xander had selected for her to wear that evening.

"And what, if anything, do you recall of your persona's memories?" he questioned the redhead.

"Well, I can still remember some Greek and some Macedonian.. OH! And a lot of small stuff about some of the lesser characters on the show that wasn't ever mentioned," the hacker admitted.

"And I went as Monica, the whitelighter from that show, 'Enchanted'," Cordy noted when he turned his attention towards her. Seeing the baffled look on Giles' face, she then elaborated further.

"You know, the show that's a spin-off from 'Charmed' - about the two brothers who are wizards and have an angel guardian to help protect them from the Big Bad that attacks them every week?" she explained. "Monica's the whitelighter and I went as her."

"Yeah, Giles, and Cordy used her whitelighter healing power to heal me from a very definitely fatal wound I got when we were attacked by some of the trick-or-treaters who got turned into some Ewoks," Buffy interjected.

"And by the way, Cordy, thank you very much for that," she added, looking over to the taller girl. "I can remember how that whole thing felt, too, and I would have been a goner if you hadn't shown up."

"You're welcome, Buffy," the head cheerleader smiled her acknowledgement of the other's thanks. "It's just a shame that I couldn't have kept the powers. The orb-ing thing would have made getting to L.A. to shop a real breeze," she lamented the lost opportunities to visit the upper-scale boutiques, the regret in her voice bringing grins to her two female companions' faces.

Looking at the tall brunette, Giles was plainly puzzled as he examined her outfit.

"You procured that outfit from Ethan's shop?" he asked, the doubt in his voice clearly evident.

"Ewww, not a chance, Giles!" Cordy practically screeched her protest at his suggestion. "As if! I got this outfit at Niemen Marcus, I'll have you know!" she declared indignantly, drawing even wider smiles from Buffy and Willow at her outraged expression. "I got this angel pin from the shop, that's all! From what I saw, the guy's fashion sense was almost as bad as yours is."

"Erm, thank you, Cordelia," the Watcher replied, the sarcasm evident in his voice running off the cheerleader's indifference like water off a duck's back. "By any chance, would any of you know who it was that Xander had intended to dress as this evening?"

"Uhm, yeah, I do," Willow admitted. "Xand had said he planned to go as a barbarian warrior, someone like Bran Mak Morn or Krull or John Carter of Mars," she informed the others, ignoring Cordy's snort as she named the various characters. "You know, someone like that, but then Ethan got all condescending and said that characters like that were only noted for 'an overwhelming affinity for mindnumbing violence' as he phrased it and then he said that Xan impressed him more as a staff officer type and suggested that he go as someone more legendary. Someone he called Kane," she finished her summary.

"Are you okay, Giles?" she asked, noticing the sudden pallor that the Watcher had taken on.

"Good Lord!" the Englishman involuntarily gasped when he heard exactly who it was that his now-deceased former associate had offered as an option to the youth who had saved his Slayer the previous year.

"Are you certain he said Kane, Willow?" he asked, wanting to eliminate any possible doubt as to the possible identity of Xander's possession. "There's no doubt in your mind about that at all?"

"What's the matter, Giles?" Buffy immediately demanded when she saw his reaction. "Who is this Kane guy? What's the problem with Xander dressing as him?"

"Well, Buffy, the personage Kane is, uh, well, that is, he was, uhm," the Watcher stammered, as some of the possible ramifications of the semi-mythical individual actually physically manifesting ran through his mind, staggering him with the potential for destruction that Sunnydale had evidently just barely managed to sidestep.

"He was a monster. He was as bad as anything we've ever faced, Buff. Not even the Master was as bad he was."

Turning, the girls and Giles saw a grim-faced Xander Harris staring at them, his almost luminous light blue eyes holding a well of misery and despondency.


It had taken a while, but Xander had at last completed a relatively succinct account of the history of the being that had taken possession of his body upon Ethan's successful completion of the spell.

The fact that, unlike any of the girls, the founding Scooby Gang member retained a relatively clear set of all his possessor's memories dismayed the girls while at the same time fascinating the Watcher, who had, at times, had to be almost physically dissuaded by Buffy from his requests for more detailed information regarding some esoteric point of history he mentioned in passing in the course of his narrative. A subtle kick to the shin under the table usually got him to back off, though, Buffy quickly found.

Xander's account of the origin of the legendary warrior had fascinated all of his listeners as he described a barely recognizable history of their world, one in which humanity had been created by an all-powerful, but far from omnipotent being referred to as the Creator who had fashioned a race after his own image, and named that race 'man', setting them down in what he had deemed paradise and interacting with them in much the same way that humanity interacted with dogs and cats.

Something that humanity's Creator hadn't bothered to take into account, however, was that his imperfections would be reflected in his new creation. One of these First Men, was Kane, son of Adam, the purported leader of humanity, who had rebelled against this god's authority by spurring the infant race of man to independent will, provoking them to rise in rebellion against their stifling paradise with its regimented rules of behavior set down by their Creator.

Abel, Kane's brother and a favorite of the Creator, led an attempt to thwart Kane's defiance, but failed dismally when Kane then strangled him before the main altar to the Creator.

The Creator's discovery of Kane's dual 'sins' of rebellion and murder had enraged him to such an extent that he had decide to punish the insurgent by 'elevating' him to become his avatar of violence, so that he could stand as an eternal example of his creator's punishment for those who crossed him. The Creator had physically altered Kane's body, augmenting his strength, speed and agility, giving complete immunity to disease, and the ability to completely regenerate any damage received (even organs and body parts), if not initially totally destroyed while also reinforcing Kane's will to triumph in any form of conflict. Because of the alterations forced on him, Kane no longer aged and was condemned to an eternal life of both receiving and inflicting violence.

And as a final, ultimate punishment for his 'sins', Kane's soul had been almost completely torn from him, leaving the man with only the faintest fragments of his essence, pieces just adequate enough to serve as an unending reminder of that which he no longer possessed. A step above a vampire, admittedly, but not a very big one.

Xander's replicated memories had also revealed something that human history had never recorded: that humanity had actually been 'dumped' on Earth, abandoned here by its Creator when demons still ruled the planet, as a response to the outbursts of violence and rejection of the Creator's 'rules' that had been spawned by Kane's example

Something the Creator had not foreseen, however, was his creation's forceful participation in fomenting the 'angels' civil war in 'Heaven' that ended up with nearly half of the ranks of 'angels' either destroyed or banished from both 'Heaven' and the 'Garden of Eden' in which humanity was first created and from which they had later been expelled.

Something else he had also not foreseen Kane's ultimate triumph, after millennia of endless wandering the face of the planet and numerous forays into alternate dimensions in quests for both forbidden knowledge and temporal and magical power, in finally destroying his Creator, leaving him cursed to wander alone for the rest of his soulless existence.

"I can almost not blame him for what he did, Giles," the now blue-eyed youth had commented after completing his tale. "He existed for literally thousands of years knowing that everything he was, was just the faintest echo of what he had been, and that there was absolutely nothing he could do to regain what he once had. All he had left was his hatred for the being that had condemned him to an unending existence. He couldn't even kill himself, because of the way his Creator had altered him. It took him probably another fifteen or twenty thousand years after finding a way to destroy the god that had created him before he finally found a way to ensure an end to his existence."

"And then he woke up here tonight, in your body, and realized he's alive again," Willow completed his unspoken thought. "Boy, he must have been *pissed*."

"You have *no* idea," Xander grinned back at the hacker. A little feebly, his childhood friend had to admit, but at least he had managed a start.

"Oh, Xander, I'm so sorry," the redhead half-sobbed, throwing her arms around his neck and hugging him. She was quickly joined by an equally teary-eyed blonde and, to everyone's surprise, a misty-eyed brunette, too, each of whom echoed the redhead's sentiments.

The gathering broke up soon afterward and everyone headed home, those who had been affected by the spell desirous of a good night's sleep, if only so that they could leave behind, at least temporarily, the emotional upheavals of the evening.

As he lay in his bed, his newly re-colored eyes closed, Xander found himself reflecting that the Hellmouth was entirely too potent a source of power to let it remain untapped and open to whatever forces might desire to exploit its energy.

Best to harness its power so that it could be used to keep his girls safe, he decided as he drifted off to sleep.

Chapter 2

Harris residence
Late afternoon on the fourth day following the 'Halloween Event'

"Xander, we're all worried about you."

The speaker, Buffy Summers, was sitting on the immaculately clean living room of the house that now belonged to the youth who had brought her back to life the previous May. The Slayer was dressed in a demure black dress, like the two other young women seated in the room with her, Willow Rosenberg and Cordelia Chase, and clearly had been designated as the speaker for the three of them.

An observer familiar with the interpersonal history of the other two women in the room would have been astonished to see that both of the girls were not only *not* exchanging vicious glances and barbed comments with each other, but were actually acting civilly and considerately towards each other, their faces unmistakably full of concern and worry that was being directed towards the taciturn and uncharacteristically quiet young man who occupied the fourth seat in the room.

That same observer would also have been astounded to see the changes that the young man had undergone. Whereas only a few days previously, the youth known as Xander Harris had possessed dark chocolate brown eyes, dark brown, almost black hair and a lean and moderately muscular physique, the young man who now answered to that name had undergone significant changes to his appearance.

The formerly chocolate brown eyes had turned a piercing, almost luminous blue in color, his skin was a deep golden-bronze and his hair now gleamed with a reddish-auburn hue, while his formerly lean frame had somehow acquired some three inches in height and approximately fifty pounds of hard, clearly defined muscle mass, transforming the youth into a clearly formidable and daunting individual. And like the young women, he, too, was dressed in black, wearing a well-cut suit, pale blue shirt and a subdued, but quietly festive multi-colored Jerry Garcia tie.

But the most significant difference from the formerly joking, self-proclaimed class clown was the now ever-present look of awareness and evaluation in his glacial eyes, an expression that could instantly send a shiver of fear down the spine of those the young man took a dislike to. An expression that could effortlessly convey an aura of menace and the impending likelihood of serious injury to the recipient of that gaze.

The ice-blue eyes that turned towards the seemingly fragile and delicate blonde held none of that menace, though, but were instead filled with what might be identified as curiosity and modest amusement, as though he found the girl's statement entertaining for some as-yet-unidentified reason.

"Why is that, Buff?" he asked quietly, the corners of his mouth turning upwards the slightest bit as he looked at the beautiful blonde.

"You're too calm about everything that's happened, Xand," she immediately replied, leaning slightly forward towards him, her eyes visibly conveying the anxiety and concern she and the other two girls were feeling toward him.

"You just finished burying your parents this morning and you're acting like it's not bothering you the slightest bit," she added.

"You haven't cried or spazzed out even once in the past three days, Xander, and we're worried that you're repressing about everything that's happened," Cordelia joined in to elaborate their concerns, the faintest hint of an Irish accent coloring her words. "We're not trying to Doctor Phil you or anything, but we are worried about you. That's not healthy and we're all afraid that you're gonna lose it some time when we're not here to help.

"You dweeb," she added that last with the smallest hint of a smile, making everyone present grin as her characteristic 'Queen C' persona manifested for the briefest instant.

The youth's eyes shifted to the last young woman present as Cordelia finished speaking, his newly-recolored eyes holding both satisfaction and the slightest hint of gratified surprise as he looked at her.

Willow shifted uncomfortably under that gaze for a moment before visibly straightening and opening her mouth.

"It wasn't my story to tell, Xand," she answered the clearly unspoken question the other two women realized had been asked. "But I was really worried about you, too.

"I saw how Detective Stein was watching you when he showed up to talk to you at the funeral home the other day," she noted with a frown of displeasure at the detective's tactless and insensitive behavior. "I'm pretty sure he'd like to tie you into what happened, if he could come up with any half-way plausible way to do it."

"Especially considering the way your parents died."

Seeing the puzzled looks on both Buffy and Cordelia's faces at the two childhood friends' enigmatic conversation, Xander took pity on them and began to explain.

"Stein wants to find some way to blame me for my parents' deaths," he informed his friends in a matter-of-fact manner, "because he knows all about the way they treated me while I was growing up. Not that it ever stopped him from being drinking buddies with dear old dad."

Seeing the growing suspicion and horror that his words had engendered in the two formerly unaware girls, he went on.

"Despite what the reverend was saying earlier this morning, guys, Tony Harris was a total and unmitigated bastard, without any redeeming qualities, whatsoever," Xander said. "He was a completely self-centered prick, who didn't have the slightest interest in his family or other people, except insofar as how it might possibly benefit him. The fact that he could be completely charming if and when circumstances required it was yet another endearing aspect of his personality.

"When you combine those qualities with a truly incredible capacity for alcohol and an equally wide vicious streak, you end with the male donor of half of my original genetic material," he noted with a completely blank expression on his face. Moving on before either one of the clearly horrified girls could say anything, the male Scooby continued his explanation.

"About the nicest thing I can tell you about my mother was that she never beat me," he said, still wearing that same blank expression. "Of course, for her to have beaten me, she'd have to have noticed me, first, and for that to have happened, she'd have had to sober up enough to realize, first, that I was around and second, who I actually was.

"I figured out when I was about seven that pretty much the only reason they kept me around was because that was the only way they could keep the money coming in from Grandpop Lavelle," he went on. "Good old Grandpop was your original self-made man; worked his way up from an impoverished, immigrant Irishman who arrived in America with everything he owned in the bag he carried with him to the head of a major inter-state transportation company, which he eventually sold for a very, very large chunk of change, once he realized that the tramp of a daughter he had treated like a princess since the day she was born wasn't interested in the slightest in doing anything other than drinking, popping her prescription pills and screwing any guy she found the slightest bit interesting. Once she met good old dad, she probably realized that she had found her soul mate: someone just as shallow, self-centered, small-minded and useless as she was.

"The only reason the two of them ever got married was because once she got pregnant with me, Grandpop insisted on it," Xander expanded on his never-before mentioned family history. "His righteous Irish-Catholic upbringing wouldn't stand for anything else, and most especially wouldn't even consider an abortion, which I was continually reminded was my parents' first choice as I was growing up.

"He died of cancer when I was nine, but Tony and Jessica didn't inherit a single cent," he informed his all three of his entranced listeners with a grin of obvious satisfaction; from the way Willow, too, was hanging onto his every word, it appeared even she hadn't know this much detail of her childhood friend's life. "Grandpop had put all of his assets into a trust fund that provided them with a weekly allowance sufficient to let them follow their preferred lifestyles, and gave me enough weekly spending money to let me eat and get by, 'cause God knows they'd never bother to feed me.

"Once they didn't have to worry about Grandpop seeing the bruises, Tony started taking out his frustrations with life on me in a more than verbal way," the dark-auburn-haired youth stated dispassionately, drawing both tears of sorrow and growls of anger from his audience.

"I'd been to Sunnydale General's ER fifty-seven times even before I started helping you out with the Slaying, Buff," he casually mentioned to a shocked and appalled Slayer. "That's how come I knew most of the nurses by name."

"Oh merciful God," the blonde half-whispered as she stared at her friend in a combination of horror, dismay and sadness, an expression that seemed to have carried over from her brief time as Maria. The thought briefly passed through her mind of the many times she had lamented what she had considered the unfairness and inequalities of life that she had had to endure and she reflexively whispered a brief prayer of thanks for her life, even as it was now.

"Now, given that background, the fact that I am the sole heir to what is an admittedly very large financial legacy, and the sudden, simultaneous demise of both my parents under what might be considered unusual circumstances, is it any wonder Stein would love to pin their deaths on me?" he asked, in an obviously rhetorical manner.

"And I guess now you can understand why it is that I'm not all that broken up about the fact that I'm never going to see them again," he finished up his family history.

It was only a matter of seconds before the sole surviving member of the Harris family found himself buried under a trio of teary-eyed woman, all of them offering him their apologies and condolences for what he had undergone as a child and their fervent vows to be available to him now, should he need help or support in any manner.


As he pulled his (now deceased) father's Infiniti Q45 into the driveway after delivering all three girls back to their homes, Xander reflected on just how much his life had changed for the better in the last few days.

As a result of his parents' demise, the legal paperwork was already underway to declare him an emancipated minor, a move that would allow him to more easily manage his own affairs now that he was in a position to do so. And the monies that would soon be available to him from his familial inheritance, along with the proceeds from the life insurance policies that he'd discovered each of his parents had taken out on their unsuspecting respective spouse, would provide him with more than sufficient funding to establish the financial empire he'd realized that he'd soon need if he was going to be able to protect his girls the way he had decided would be necessary.

It had also somehow come as absolutely no surprise to find out that his parents had taken out a extremely large term policy on him the previous year, shortly after he had first found out about the night life here in town and had first made some strong 'suggestions' to both of them about taking precautions when going out on the town at night. After all, the fact that nothing had happened previously during their years of late night partying gave no guarantee for the future. The realization that your parents were looking to gain a small fortune upon your death made their increased absence in his life much easier to deal with. Somehow, he didn't think that they had intended to use the money to build a lasting monument to their only child.

In a way, his finding out about the insurance policy eased the memories he had of what Kane had orchestrated during his relatively short period of possession.

Kane would have been the first to admit that he was as far from the concept of a crusader or champion as you could get, but even the red-haired warrior had possessed certain principles and beliefs that he adhered to, and to which he reacted quite forcefully when confronted with such blatant violations of those convictions.

Primary among those rules was the unyielding conviction that children should be guarded and protected from harm, an ideal no doubt based on Kane's personal reaction to his creator's overly harsh response to his creations' rejection of his rules and precepts of behavior, and the creator's brutal punishment of Kane himself.

Whatever the reason for its origin, Kane's fervent belief that children should be protected to the maximum possible extent was what had ignited the mythic warrior's legendary rage towards his host's parents once he had reviewed the adolescent's memories upon taking possession of his body.

Taking a few brief moments to detour to the Harris residence, the redheaded icon of violence had used only the least bit of his vast magical knowledge to curse Jessica Harris to an endless thirst for the alcohol she had so relentlessly consumed during her son's early life, and which had rendered her even less capable of acting as a mother than she could normally have been. That had been the basis for the coroner's diagnosis of extreme alcohol poisoning as the cause of her death.

As for Tony, Kane had smiled mercilessly as he had returned, with interest, every blow the man had inflicted on his son during the course of his elementary and middle school life, not even deigning to explain to the brutally beaten, slowly dying man the reason for his punishment. He merely smiled as the self-centered, normally drunken, worthless child abuser died in exquisite pain and misery at the ersatz hands of his victim.

Given the couple's widely known history of verbally abusive behavior towards each other, the discovery of Tony's broken body lying in the kitchen close to the comatose body of his wife with a blood-splattered baseball bat covered with Jessica Harris's bloody handprints on the floor near her feet had provided even the usually inept Sunnydale police force with more than sufficient evidence to rule the two deaths a murder and an accidental death by alcohol poisoning subsequent to the murder.

He admitted he still had mixed feelings about his possessor's handling of his familial situation, but he also admitted to himself that he really hadn't felt the overwhelming horror and grief that might be normally expected in such circumstances. His parents had been emotionally, and in the case of his father, physically, abusive towards him for far too many years for him to really regret their absence in his life.

At the same time, he was feeling a bit uncertain and not completely sure about just exactly how he was going to navigate the new arrived allegorical waters of his life.

Although the bequest the fiery-haired and -dispositioned warrior had arranged to provide him before departing once and for all would most certainly go a long ways towards assuring he accomplished everything he intended, he decided with a small smile.

The next few days were undoubtedly going to prove very interesting.


Sunnydale High School
The library

"Hey, Buffy, how're you doing? Is everything okay this morning?"

Willow asked curiously as she found her friend already inside the school library, even before classes began, when she showed up third morning after Xander's parents' funerals.

"Yeah, Will, everything's fine," the Slayer replied, not noticing the restrained look of surprise on the hacker's face at discovering her classmate standing back among the stacks with several clearly weighty texts cradled in her left arm.

"What've you got there?" the redhead asked, her curiosity triggered at the seemingly incongruous sight before her.

"'Euclid's Elements,' 'Convergence of Stochastic Processes,' and 'A Course in Universal Algebra,'" the petite blonde read off the titles of the textbooks she was currently holding.

"What're you doing with them? They're all third and fourth year advanced texts," Willow noted, looking at her friend with mixed doubt and amazement.

"Well, I finished reading through this year's text last night before I went to bed and it seemed so simple, I wanted to find something a little more challenging," Buffy explained absently as her eyes continued to scan the shelves before her.

"Uh, you finished our math text last night, and you thought it was simple?" the redhead repeated in disbelief.

"Yeah," the blonde affirmed, a preoccupied expression on her face as she pulled yet another book from its position on the shelf.

"The Geometry and Topology of Three-Manifolds?" Willow noted the title incredulously, before looking up at her friend.

"Is this some kind of joke or something, Buffy?" she demanded, her forehead wrinkling in puzzlement.

"Uh, what do you mean, Will?" Buffy asked as she turned to look at the other girl. "Is what a joke?"

"This stuff," the Scooby's senior resident researcher replied, indicating the texts Buffy was holding. "All these math books...Are you using them for some kind of joke on Giles or something?"

"Uh-uh. I was gonna take them home to read tonight, before I go on patrol," Buffy shook her head in negation as she elaborated.

"Oh-kay. Who are you, really?"

"Are you feeling okay, Will? 'Cause you're starting to act kinda strange."

"*Me* act strange?" The redhead's somewhat piercing response to Buffy's comment didn't shatter any windows.

Not quite, anyway.

"*You're* the one acting strange, Buffy!" Willow declared quite emphatically, bringing an expression of surprise and indignation to the blonde's face. "Pretending like you really read our math text last night, and then saying you're getting these books out to study like you're really interested in learning more math! *That's* what's strange!"

"What do you mean, 'pretending like I really read our math text'?" Buffy demanded indignantly, her eyes narrowing with annoyance at the redhead's condescending attitude. "Why would you think that I didn't read it?

"Or are you implying that I wouldn't understand it, even if I could read it?" she added, a bit heatedly.

"Well, it's not like you've ever really spent a lot of time on your studies before this, Buff," the hacker replied a bit snidely. "Any extra time you've had available has usually been spent drooling over Angel."

"Is there something wrong, Buffy? Willow?" Giles asked as he entered the library, a dark leather valise in his hand.

"No, everything's fine, Giles," Buffy shook her head, not wanting to discuss the source of her and Willow's disagreement at the moment.

Especially with her Watcher. She also decided against mentioning that she'd just finished testing out of her French 101 class; Willow might take it badly, at the moment.

After all, Giles had a tendency to wig out if the tiniest little thing went differently than he thought it should, and she most certainly didn't want him thinking that there was anything strange about her enjoying her schoolwork. So, okay, she might not have been the most diligent student in the world the past couple years, but she really did have the distractions inherent in being the Slayer to contend with, in addition to all the normal demands on her time that came with being a teenage girl. Since that night she'd shared her mind with Maria, however, she'd found a quiet enjoyment and satisfaction in exploring some of the previously less interesting aspects of her schoolwork. The few memories of the eighteenth century polymath that she could still recall had showed her the surprising enjoyment that pure intellectual stimulation could provide to a inquiring mind, and she found the diversion that contemplating the theorems and concepts she read about in her math book to be an excellent way of relaxing after a difficult, or even a boring, night of Slaying.

"No, nothing's wrong," Willow immediately agreed with her friend. This was, after all, just a minor disagreement between friends, and had absolutely nothing to do with the Slaying. There was absolutely no need to bring in stuffy British Watchers to stick their stuffy British noses in where it didn't concern them.

Overbearing, prim and prissy librarians could just butt out; she and Buffy could work out any disagreement they might have by themselves.

"Well then, I believe you should both be heading for your classes, shouldn't you?" the Englishman noted as he glanced at his watch. "First period is about to begin."

"Okay, Giles. See you later," Willow nodded as she immediately picked up her books and began heading out of the library.

"Sure, Giles. See you after school. Sword training today, right?" Buffy asked hopefully, as she, too, picked up her books and headed out.

"That is correct, Buffy," the Watcher agreed.

"We will begin working with two blades, today," he informed her, bringing a wide smile to the tiny blonde's face as the Slayer aspect of her personality perked up at the perception of possible violence in the near future.


It had taken him more time than he had initially thought would be necessary, but he had finally managed to evaluate and mentally catalogue nearly all of the information that Kane had left as an inheritance of sorts for him before breaking Janus' bust and removing himself from existence once and for all.

For reasons fully understood only by the mythical icon, the one-time god-slayer had taken a fancy to the young demon hunter whose body he had involuntarily co-opted and decided to provide him with the potential to not only continue his battle against the forces of darkness, but to escalate it to an entirely new level of conflict.

The catch, however, was that Xander would have to prove himself worthy of the information by successfully cracking the metaphysical locks the now departed warrior-mage-assassin-schemer had placed upon succeeding blocks of knowledge.

Before his departure, Kane had left the then-currently stunned adolescent a brief mental memorandum informing him of the cerebral prize package available for his use, once he had successfully retrieved it from within the mental labyrinth he had placed it.

Using the merest fraction of the magic he commanded, Kane had managed to encode a small, virtually miniscule, portion of the virtually limitless arcane and technical knowledge he acquired over the course of his multi-millennia-long existence and had left it situated in a normally little-used area of Xander's mind.

Hidden away, the wisdom and esoteric learning lay waiting for the adolescent to seek it out and work his way through the various intricate locks and puzzles the legendary Immortal had devised to keep them confined and unavailable until the youth had proven his worth by deciphering the various conundrums and challenges he had established to secure it. While he might have looked favorably on his involuntary mind-companion, Kane still obviously believed in giving nothing away for free. If Xander truly wanted the knowledge offered him, he'd have to work to retrieve it.

Which was exactly what he had spent the past three days doing: working out the various combinations to the seemingly innumerable psychic locks and custodians safeguarding Kane's legacy.

Some of the locks had required considerable mental effort, like the one embodied by the image of his computer teacher, Miss Calendar, requiring him to provide a simple, but comprehensive and comprehensible explanation of a computer's inner workings, with every right answer rewarded by the dark-haired beauty removing an article of clothing. Kane apparently also had a wicked sense of humor, since once she'd gotten down to the lacey black slip she wore beneath her skirt and blouse, she'd started to produce a seemingly inexhaustible supply of hairpins from her long black tresses, together with a rather wicked smile. The roast beef sandwich she'd tossed him at the end of the exercise was a very poor second to the reward he'd been hoping for, although the vast panorama of knowledge that he'd acquired after finishing the sandwich had staggered him for a few moments.

Xander was also convinced that another example of the legend's wicked sense of humor was an exercise in tact and diplomacy utilizing Snyder's image, something that required him to persuade the pseudo-troll that he should permit him to pass by without either giving him 'permanent detention' or expelling him from the school premises entirely. While Xander wasn't entirely certain that his ultimate solution would be considered completely diplomatic (grabbing the annoying little bastard by the collar, slamming him up against the wall and informing him that if he continued to hassle him, he wouldn't possess a larynx), he decided that if the 'lock' had found that an acceptable resolution, he wasn't going to complain. And again, the skills he'd taken away upon consuming the apple that the now-groveling little gnome had given him were staggering in their width and depth.

The most recent test, evidently one intended to check his physical resilience, had involved meeting an eerily accurate doppelganger of his father, who had then tried to recreate events that had occurred shortly after his eleventh birthday, when The Bastard had beaten him unconscious, evidently for the mistake of being stupid enough to still be around when Tony came home drunk and in a bad mood. He probably cheated a bit on that one, too, when he kicked Tony in the balls after ducking then first punch, then kicked him in the head 'til he was unconscious, but the chocolate fudge ice cream cone that had appeared once the asshole was down and out indicated that his solution was wholly acceptable to the test's originator.

Now, after various efforts that had strained him to his personal limits, and at times beyond even those of which he had believed himself capable, he had, at long last, arrived at the final piece of his reward. His labors had already gained him a plethora of knowledge and skills ranging from what seemed to be graduate-level expertise in math, physics and chemistry to previously only-dreamed-of skills with weapons and hand-to-hand combat.

This last piece still ahead of him, however, was the Big One.

The Comstock Lode.

The Holy Grail.

The information Kane had left for him assured him that this last compilation of information waiting for him would provide him with an affinity for and an ability to wield magic on a scale that he had never even dared imagine before encountering Kane.

Overcoming this last obstacle would provide him with the means to keep his girls safe from virtually anyone or anything that might ever menace them. That made it something that he simply *had* to acquire. There really wasn't any choice about it. He needed that knowledge to ensure the safety of everyone he loved; therefore, he would acquire it or die trying.

It was that simple.

Shrugging off the metaphysical fatigue enveloping him, he moved forward towards his final goal.


"Are you sure you're feeling okay, Cordelia?" Sunnydale High's undisputed social queen heard Harmony ask her, in what the blonde apparently believed sounded like a concerned and caring tone. The complete absence of any real positive emotion on the hanger-on's voice, however, made the question come across as more of an accusation from an adversary than an inquiry from a friend.

"I'm feeling just fine, Harmony," the brunette replied as she turned to look at the subordinate cheerleader. "Why are you asking me that?"

"Well, you just let that geek, Jonathan, pass us by and you didn't say a single word to him about that G.I. Joe style he's started wearing the past few days," the blonde replied. "And he actually smiled at us and nodded like he thought he was high enough on the social ladder that he could talk us without us saying something to him first!" she went on indignantly.

"Will the sun stop rising if he doesn't tremble as we pass by?" Cordelia asked in response, a small smile on her face as she considered just how unimportant something like the supposed affront to her dignity actually was when considered in the greater scheme of things.

"Huh?!" Harmony's obvious lack of appreciation of the insignificance of her earlier question made the tall brunette shake her head with minor irritation, both with the stereotypical California bottle blonde and her own ongoing association with the other cheerleader and the other self-involved members of the self-proclaimed lords and ladies of the social order.

< Why am I even bothering with a ditz like her? > she asked herself. < There're so many much nicer and much more pleasant people I could be hanging around with. >

Ever since *that night*, she'd been having these strange moods affecting her more and more frequently; things like thinking that being at the top of the social order really wasn't all that important; thinking that consideration of others should be more than an afterthought, if and when it was considered at all; thinking that maybe she could help make things around here better for everyone, rather than just trying to improve her own life, at the expense of others; and, most significantly, wondering why she hadn't been more active in helping Buffy and the other members of the so-called Scooby Gang fight against the darkness.

It wasn't as though she hadn't suspected for a long time now that there was something wrong with this town. Most other people seemed to suspect that, too, but it seemed like no one wanted to be the one to point it out, in case there really was something out there waiting and watching, ready to grab the first one to speak up.

And what was this whole thing she had been doing the past few days with Xander Harris? It wasn't as though they had ever been the best of friends or anything. So why was she so concerned about him and how he was feeling about the deaths of those two ne'er-do-wells who passed themselves off as his parents? And what was this whole 'caring and concerned' shtick she'd been feeling lately, especially about him? She didn't need people; people needed her, or at least her approval. That was how things were, or at least, how it had been, up until Hell-o-ween night, as she had taken to calling it in her mind. Her abrupt changes certainly hadn't endeared her to her parents; her sudden lack of shallow had clearly made them uncomfortable.

She'd been possessed by that TV show character that night, and she'd been acting strange ever since. That was the problem! She'd been possessed and that was why she was acting so out of character.

She'd have to talk to Buffy and the others about seeing how she could get rid of these thoughts and feelings she'd been having, so she could get back to being her old self.

It was the fact that she just wasn't really all that sure that she really wanted to be her old self that kept her from going ahead and doing that, each time the thought occurred to her.


"So, boy, you think you're bad enough to get by me?"

The low-voiced, almost growling challenge made Xander groan silently to himself as he looked up to the gallery that waited at the top of the pyramid he was currently climbing.

< Oh, fuck. Of course, *he'd* be there. It couldn't be Jenny Calendar doing a striptease for me now, could it? Hell no! > he reluctantly acknowledged to himself as he spied the dark-haired figure grinning down at him from his position a dozen steps above.

Although, given everyone and everything else he'd already encountered in his quest, why should he be surprised to find the personification of every dark impulse he'd ever had or considered waiting here for him?

"You've got a choice here, chump," he snarled back up at the smirking doppelganger gazing down at him. "You can either move aside and let me by, or you can get hurt. Bad."

"Oooh, the little boy thinks he's a bad ass now, does he?" the simulation of the Primal Spirit that had possessed him the previous year sneered as he continued his approach up the seemingly innumerable steps leading up to the pyramid's summit.

"He's picked up some of the goodies the *real* bad man left behind for him and now he thinks he's in the big leagues," his final adversary laughed at him derisively.

"Didn't you get your ass kicked enough by Tony to realize that you're never gonna amount to anything, boy?" the faux Primal demanded. "When are you finally gonna admit that you're worthless, and that nothing you do is ever gonna be good enough?"

"About ten minutes after I'm dead, asshole," the now blue-eyed, auburn-haired youth replied as he paused for a moment to evaluate their respective positions.

According to standard military analysis, his adversary was not only a whole friggin' lot stronger and faster than he was, he also occupied the ostensibly superior position by his current possession of the high ground, the self-labeled Slayerette realized.

But that superiority in position was also based on the assumption that both opponents based their actions and reactions on the same fundamental way of thinking, he also recognized, and there was the fallacy in that reasoning.

The Primal Spirit that this particular foe was based on was a distillation of emotion and sentiment, a concentrated focus of feeling and sensation. It most certainly was not a being which allowed logic and rational thought to dictate its actions, so if he could manipulate it into attacking him at a time of his choosing, his chances of victory were substantially increased when compared to allowing it to decide what was its own best opportunity for attack.

Well then, if its focus was emotion, the easiest way to manipulate it was probably to piss it off. And if there was one thing that pretty much everyone who'd ever met him would admit was one of his strengths, it was pissing people off.

< Less with the thinking, more with the acting, > he scolded himself as he pulled himself up to his full height.

"So, you just gonna stand there and talk like a badass, or are you actually gonna do something, dickweed?" he smirked at the dark-haired figure looming above him. "From what I can recall, that's pretty much all you did, back when you were in charge - talk."

"I did a lot more than talk," the pseudo-Primal snarled back at him. "I was the Alpha! The others did whatever I told them to do!"

"And isn't that an impressive boast," Xander sneered, letting a wide smile cross his face as he spoke as he let his hands rest on his hips in a stance that pretty much screamed insolence and contempt at his adversary. "A bunch of pussy-whipped candy asses, whose only real claim to fame was eating a helpless pig and attacking an overweight, out-of-shape high school principle, all did what you told them to do.

"Boy, color me impressed."

The derisive grin on his face was definitely one of his ten best, he thought to himself, as he watched the face of tall brunet looking at him slowly begin turning beet-red, a moment before he screamed and leaped forward towards him, his hands outstretched to grab and pummel him.

Darting forward with the deceptive, new-found speed he'd discovered that he now possessed the day following Kane's unexpected appearance, he ripped from his back pocket the folding Buck knife he'd taken to carrying over the past few months and thumbed the blade open with the ease of long practice. Ducking beneath his adversary's widespread arms even as he grabbed hold of one to pull him close, Xander whipped the knife forward as rapidly as he could and buried the blade its full length into the faux-Xander's belly.

He ripped the blade up the length of his now seriously injured foe's torso, eviscerating him/it even as he snapped his head forward to slam his forehead against the brunet's nose, his focus on inflicting as much damage to his momentarily shocked and hopefully traumatized enemy as possible.

A second later, he was flying through the air to slam a dozen feet away against the stone forming the gallery's floor, the result of his opponent's wildly flailing arm.

He rolled to his feet as quickly as he could to again face the now copiously bleeding brunet, as he refused to acknowledge the pains shooting through his back and the rest of his thoroughly abused body as a result of his unscheduled transit off the pyramid's roof.

" out," the now clearly mortally wounded faux-Primal threatened him as he staggered forward towards him, blood running from the corner of his mouth to mix with the blood already staining his chest and abdomen. "Eat it... watch..."

"I don't think so," Xander shook his head in disagreement, painfully standing his ground as the rapidly hemorrhaging figure dropped to his knees, then collapsed full-length onto the gallery floor and lay still as blood slowly oozed from beneath him and stained the stonework on which he lay.

As he watched, the unmoving form began to flicker, its color and outline shimmering as it brightened to an almost unbearable level before beginning to shrink and collapse in on itself.

A moment later, all that remained was a small, brightly colored, easily recognizable package, at which Xander stared in disbelief.

"You have got to be kidding me," he murmured to himself as he looked at the package of Twinkies that lay on the floor before him.

"What's the matter, boy?"

Xander looked up, his arms lifting into an instinctive offensive stance, before freezing in stunned surprise as he beheld the towering, muscular redheaded figure staring at him.

"What were you expecting, ambrosia?" Kane grinned at him. "Going by your memories, I thought you'd appreciate getting these instead of some unfamiliar cheese dip you'd never seen before," he noted as he stepped forward to pick the cream-filled sponge cakes and toss them to the astounded youth, who reflexively reached out and snatched them from the air.

"Go ahead," the mythic warrior encouraged his one-time avatar. "Dig in. That's the only way you're going to get that last bit of knowledge I promised you. Don't mind me. I'm just the final remnant of that personality overlay that happened the other day, left here to congratulate you, if and when you actually made it this far."

Ignoring the deeply ingrained suspicions that anyone living around a Hellmouth fighting demons quickly developed, Xander followed his semi-mentor's suggestion and opened the package of cakes, stuffing one of them in his mouth in the same manner he typically used when consuming snack food.

After all, if the redheaded warrior had wanted him dead, he could have orchestrated his death in any number of ways long before he reached this point in his quest, he had realized almost immediately.

"Thanks, I appreciate," the Scooby Gang founder thanked his erstwhile benefactor after swallowing the first cake. "They're definitely something that'll come in handy around here."

"You're welcome, kid," the apparition smiled at him. "I didn't run across people like you very often, back when I was still alive," the image informed him. "Most people were out to grab as much as they could get for themselves, and didn't care all that much what happened to anyone else. When the occasional paladin did show up, people didn't know how to take them, for the most part. Made for some very interesting reactions, at times."

"Okay," Xander nodded, unsure of exactly what kind of response he was expected to provide.

"I'm not really expecting anything back in return for what I gave you, kid," the redhead grinned again, as though reading the younger man's mind. "That fool that summoned me here the other night worshipped Janus, who sounds like an aspect of the Seven Nameless, the gods of Chaos in my time, and something he forgot is that Chaos doesn't play favorites. I gave you everything I did as much to throw sand in the gears that are meshing around here right now as for any other reason.

"Do your best to screw up all the plans that have been laid around here, and I'll be pleased. Or don't, and go do whatever you want to do. Either way, Chaos increases," the icon of violence smiled and Xander felt a small shiver run down his back at the expression the redhead wore.

"Goodbye, kid. If you ever see me again, you'll know you really stepped into it," Kane said as he began to fade away.

"Oh, and one more thing," the legendary being added before vanishing. "I stumbled across more than a few Hellmouths in my travels, and none of them felt like this one you have here does.

Take that for what it's worth."

And with that, Kane was gone.

Never again to be seen.


"What the hell did he mean, none of them felt like the one we have here?" Xander asked himself as he shoved the remaining Twinkie into his mouth and swallowed after barely chewing it.

Before he could give the statement any further thought, his brain seemed to explode as vast panoramas of wonder began to unfold in his mind and never before dreamed-of realms of arcane knowledge expanded before him.

The world around him seemed to fade way into insignificance compared to the marvels revealed to him and he let himself be swept away by the magnificence shown to him.


The ringing of his phone interrupted the librarian from his intense perusal of one of the more ancient texts he had brought with him from his apartment.

"Rupert," the deep, somewhat gravelly voice issuing from the receiver carried with it the tone of one long accustomed to command, along with at least a pack of unfiltered a day. "Can you talk freely?"

"Ah, Fifth. So nice of you to call." The grin the librarian wore as he responded to the speaker would have astonished any members of the self-named Scooby Gang, had they been present to see it. "I'm currently alone, but with the way the American school system haphazardly functions here, I could be interrupted at any moment.

Have there been any sudden, new developments that might affect the project? I'm assuming that you wouldn't be calling at this time unless something has come up."

"Belinda had a vision last night," his caller replied. "Not a great deal in the way of details, but she said there was an overwhelming feeling of danger and menace. Not just for you personally, but with regard to us all."

"I see," Giles said, a thoughtful and grave expression on his face as he considered the information he had just received. "Well, it's not as though we were unaware of that fact prior to our undertaking this endeavor."

"That is correct, Rupe," Fifth agreed. "But for her to receive a warning like that at this point in time in the mission makes me wonder what had to have occurred recently to trigger such a premonition," he pointed out cautiously.

"Well, as I indicated in my report the other day," Giles said, "our old friend Ethan followed up the hints regarding my presence that you so diligently managed to place before him, as we'd hoped he would, and took the opportunity to inflict that so-called 'joke' of his on a number of the town's residents, including Buffy and several of her friends. As a result of the spell, she was transformed into an eighteenth century Italian noblewoman, one Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Signora Agnesi was apparently, from the information that Buffy provided me, an intellectual dabbling in mathematics, who held the Chair of Mathematics at the University of Bologna, but who had no other significance or import that I have been able to determine. I would strongly suggest that you have the research section follow up a little further on that aspect of the situation, by the way," he suggested, "if for no other reason than to allow us to eliminate her from any future consideration.

"Unfortunately, however, there doesn't appear to have been any lingering effects from the spell on her that I have been able to detect," he then went on. "The only real concern I might have had regarding that situation was that one of Buffy's friends, that buffoon who revived her last year after she had been partially drained and then left to drown by the Master, was transformed into Kane.

"Yes," he confirmed the unspoken question that the surprised gasp on the other end of the call hadn't yet asked, "*that* Kane.

"And," the Watcher went on with a slight smile before Fifth could say anything in response to that statement, "in a truly ironic twist of fate, it seems that Kane was so incensed with Ethan's summoning him back from oblivion that he sought that poor unfortunate out and personally demonstrated exactly why it was that he had gained the reputation he had, before going on to break the focus of the spell and end all of the possessions and transformations."

"Bloody hell," was the only presently comment forthcoming from the distant caller.

"Indeed," Giles agreed calmly. "I've seen no indications that any of the other children involved with Buffy retained any of their costume's abilities, and she herself has no shown no unusual abilities. At least none that I have been able to recognize."

"Damn," the Englishman heard the other curse mildly. "I was *certain* that she was the correct one. If she doesn't show any signs within the next few days, we'll have to assume she's really not the right one, and start taking steps to look for her successor."

"I think you're being a bit hasty, Fifth," Giles stated firmly. "There are as yet no definite indications that the Commencement is actually approaching. Moving too quickly can be just as hazardous as waiting too long."

"And I think you're getting a bit too concerned with this young chippy you're Watching," came the other's rejoinder.

"I think you're forgetting that I am perfectly capable of doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done," Giles replied in a cold voice. "Need I remind you who it was that handled things when Father took exception to our proposed strategy?"

"You're right, Rupe," Fifth immediately acquiesced. "I misspoke. My apologies."

"You said that Belinda had a vision," Giles said, reverting the subject of their discussion back to the original topic. Did she say anything specific, anything that I might look for or beware of?"

"Unfortunately, no," Fifth sighed regretfully. "As is customarily the case, her dream consisted primarily of short descriptive phrases and the feelings linked with them, which, as I indicated to you, involved extreme danger and menace to those associated with the project. One phrase she uttered repeatedly, however, was 'blazing cerulean fire immolating the transgressors for their crimes.'

"I checked out all of the records relating to the Commencement and anyone or anything that might be remotely connected to it in the expectation that I might find a description or some type of correlation to Belinda's expression, but came up empty," Fifth concluded with a tired sigh.

"Well then, I expect we'll all just have to remain alert for anyone or anything that might be capable of producing or utilizing a blue flame," Giles offered as a possible course of action.

"In the meantime, I will continue my watch over Buffy," he continued. "We still have some time left available to us for the portents to manifest, if she truly is the one Arum described in his vision. If it should turn out that she is not, then I will do what is necessary and we will move on and evaluate her successor."

"All right, then," the caller agreed. "Just be careful, Rupe. You're out there by yourself without any reliable backup. If the Board should ever suspect what we're actually doing, it'll go badly for all of us. You'll just be the first to go down."

"Yes, but the rewards, should we succeed, more than outweigh the perils, Fifth," Giles smiled with anticipation as he envisioned the power they sought.

"We shall be as gods. Isn't that cause enough to risk everything we have now?"

"Quite," Fifth replied. "Just still, be careful."

"Indeed, I shall be. As always."

"I'll speak with you further, once I've finished researching this Agnesi woman and seeing if we have anything that could be considered remotely reliable on Kane," Giles' caller promised before hanging up.

Replacing the handset back on its receiver, the Englishman returned to his examination of the ancient text lying on his desk.


Author's note: Maria Gaetana Agnesi was a real person, and spoke Italian, French, Spanish, Latin, Greek, German and Hebrew by the age of nine and was acknowledged as a polymath with an aptitude for mathematics. She was also highly religious and was appointed to the Chair of Mathematics at the University of Bologna in September 1750 by Pope Benedict XIV.