Author: Arjen <fanfic81[at]>

Length: About 56.000 words

Summary: When Dawn and Xander recognize someone from Sunnydale they embark on an adventure to save someone they never heard of before. But is everything as it seems?

Pairings: X/D friendship, nothing romantically.

Rating: PG-13.

Crossover: None

Disclaimer: All characters are property of Mutant Enemy and whoever else wants to lay claim to them. Everything that I thought up is made using their property so I cant really claim that either.

Feedback: Preferably constructive criticism, tell me what Ive done right and wrong and Ill be happy. Flames I consider as written by five years old who according to that ridiculous rating system arent allowed to read this.


1. Rebirth: Noir (posted on

2. Rebirth: Family (posted on and Twisting the Hellmouth)

3. Rebirth.

Background: Takes place about a year after Season 7 ended. And follows on the events of Rebirth: Family, which isnt necessary to read in order to understand the story but might be nice to do anyway. Xander stopped actively fighting the darkness, although he still helps the Slayers in other ways. The reason for doing that will be explained in the story.

Chapter 1

Sweltering in the ridiculous heat Xander was starting to doubt the wisdom of his current action. While he really enjoyed the opportunity to once again spend time with Dawn, he didn't believe he could stand the constant chattering much longer.

He had agreed to go shopping with her so that they could catch up on everything that had happened since their last meeting. But now, barely 2 hours later he really wished that he had understood the subtle hints Buffy had been giving when she heard of this plan.

"Look, discounts in that store. Let's go and see if they've got anything nice." Dawn exclaimed, dragging Xander into yet another clothes shop. Inside the, thankfully cool, shop he listened to her blathering on about some ruins she had visited in Rome, interspersed with comments about what she found on the racks. Xander wondered why he hadn't figured out how Dawn would react to the chance to spent time with someone she hadn't really talked to in over a year.

It wasn't long though before it was decided that everything nice had already been bought and Dawn dragged him back into the heat. So busy berating himself about his lack of foresight, Xander didn't immediately notice the girl's sudden stop and walked into her.

"Hey, what's with the suddenly stopping where people are walking?" He then noticed where she was looking and sucked in his breath before quietly asking. "Is that who I think it is?"

"The strange stalker guy?" the brunette asked him. "I don't think there are two people in the world who dress like that, do you?"

"I wonder what he's doing here."

Dawn glanced at him for a moment before looking back at the shabbily man who seemed oblivious to the pair following his movements. "I'm still wondering what he was doing in Sunnydale."

"Right," Xander told her, wanting to know the same thing, "let's find out shall we."

"Yeah" she concurred, before starting after the man. "So how shall we do this?"

"Let's see where he's going first, we can decide what to do after that."


Following the man proved to be harder then they had suspected as he seemed to be very aware of his surroundings and they had almost been caught several times. This last time Xander had been quick to press Dawn against a wall and probably thinking the two of them were lovers their target hadn't paid any attention to them.

"He's gone into the store." Dawn told him, letting him know he could let go.

As he did so Xander posed the question he had been wondering about for the last fifteen minutes. "I don't get it, why is he buying clothes?"

"It's not like he can't use them, his taste in clothes is even worse then yours used to be."

"Yeah, wait a minute. What do you mean by that?"

A perfectly innocent smile was the only reply he got to that.

"Fine, be that way. But it still didn't answer my question, I mean I can understand the normal clothes but unless he likes to dress up why would he go into a lingerie store?" And to emphasize his point he indicated the store they had just seen the badly dressed man enter.

"A girlfriend?"

"You know Dawnie, that is one of the scariest things I've heard you say in a long time. Just imagine there really is someone out there that would like to date him." Even the thought of that managed to send shivers down his back, just the fact that whatever the man was might breed was bad enough. To actually imagine his partner did so voluntarily was a little too much for him.

"Okay, I admit it's a little farfetched but I'm sure there is a perfectly good explanation for it that doesn't involve images that make us sick."

"Yeah well, I think that maybe we should call for some help after all. The way he almost caught us this time was a little too close for comfort."

Smirking Dawn answered that. "What? You mean you didn't like it? We could practice a little if you want."

That was wrong in so many ways he didn't even want to think about it so he grabbed his mobile phone and dialed what he thought of as the Slayers house. Hopefully Buffy wouldn't ask just how the two of them had managed to make the man believe they weren't following him. Raising the phone to his ear however he discovered he couldn't get a connection.

"I can't get through, maybe you can try your phone?"

"I didn't bring it and besides it wouldn't work here anyway."

It wouldn't work? What kind of nonsense was that? "Why not?"

The way she looked at him didn't make him feel like the smartest person in the world but he was used to that so it didn't bother him that much. "I was in Europe remember? I've got a phone that works there and since the phones there use another wavelength then we do here it won't work on most networks and besides, the others are too expensive with the routing through Europe and all."

"Oh." He hadn't known that, not that he had ever really paid any attention to his phone except to make sure it looked good.

"He's leaving again."

"Great, any idea what he bought?"

"I don't even want to think about it."


When the man finally left the shopping district he had been into what must have been every clothing store the city contained and a couple of others, including a travel agency. That last one bothered him the most because it indicated the man might be leaving again and he didn't want that to happen before they had gotten some answers from him.

They continued following the man while he made his way toward the seedier parts of the city and Xander was happy to notice their target wasn't as vigilant as before. This meant that they could just follow him without having to duck into every other side passage. For some reason however Dawn still insisted they pretend to be a couple so he allowed her to cuddle against him. When she had first told him that he had feared her crush might have returned but he was quite certain the girl he thought of as a little sister knew better than that.

Still he had to admit that it did make for an excellent cover and he once again wondered about the man that was now making his way to what he figured would be a seedy motel. A motel probably not unlike the one they had finally managed to track him to back in Sunnydale. Of course, it might have been more useful had they managed to do so before he had left but at least they had tracked him down. And now they had a second chance to find out who and what he was.


When their quarry finally entered a shabby looking motel he realized they had indeed finally found his lair. Well, that sounded a little more ominous then it probably was but still, he made sure not to underestimate the man.

"Okay, we know where he's staying now." Dawn told him, after she had let go of his arm. "Shall we get Buffy and the others and ask him some questions?"

"I don't think we can take the chance to wait for them," Xander answered, although he had a feeling that entering the motel would have consequences he wouldn't like. "In Sunnydale he disappeared before we could find out anything and I really don't want that to happen again."

"So we go ask him ourselves?" his friend asked, and he detected a slight tremor of nervousness in her voice as she did.

He could definitely understand that nervousness, while the man hadn't exhibited any special powers the last time they encountered him, he had managed to elude Buffy's Slayer senses when she tried to follow him. But he couldn't allow that to interfere with this, as far as he knew the man was only human. "Sure." He told her with a confidence he didn't really feel. "What's the worst that could happen?"

The dirty look Dawn sent his way convinced him that hadn't been what she wanted to hear, but they crossed the street in order to enter the building anyway.


Upon entering the motel Xander was confirmed in his suspicions about the hotel, but his attention was soon drawn towards the young attendant who looked up from his book, before telling them "Room 12; take the stairs one floor up, second door to the left." Without bothering to see if they had understood the strange command he then once again returned to his book.

The two former residents of Sunnydale however stopped where they were and when Xander turned his head to look at Dawn, he noticed her looking back with the same confusion on her eyes as he was feeling. Deciding they needed more information from the man, Xander tried to get some. "Eh, what?" He didn't like his sudden inability for coherent speech and for a moment he doubted the wisdom of coming here alone.

The attendant looked up from his book again and when he spoke this time, agitation colored his voice. "You're here for the weird guy, right?"

When he didn't receive an answer besides another confused exchange of looks the man obviously decided he wasn't dealing with the sharpest tools in the shed and elaborated a little "You know, the guy with the blue baseball cap, the butt-ugly green shirt and the shoes that were fashionable some time before the wheel was invented?"

This time Xander understood what he was talking about, but since he was still a little unsure about the situation he asked. "Yeah, but how do you know?"

This seemed to confuse the attendant a little. "He told me to look out for you and send you up to his room. Didn't he tell you about that?"

This time it was Dawn who answered him "No, he must have forgotten," she looked a little doubtful before continuing though, "you're sure it was us he told you to look out for?"

The short-lived confusion had disappeared from the attendant's face as he answered her. "Absolutely, he told me to look out for a beautiful brunette and her companion. And I don't think anyone else approaching your beauty will come here today."

Xander had to roll his eyes at the rather pitiful attempt of flattery but still noticed how Dawn preened a little at the compliment. So deciding to get on their way he thanked the guy and after verifying the directions set out for the stairs. Once out of sight from the attendant Dawn confronted him. "Okay, that was weird. I think it's safe to say he knows we were following him though."

"No kidding, and to quote Han Solo, I've got a bad feeling about this." He answered, thinking a little about the description the guy had been given about them. Looking at Dawn he tried to see the beautiful brunette that had been described, but in his mind he only saw Buffy's little sister. While he had noticed she had become her own person, physically he still thought of her as the same twelve year old he had to baby-sit.

"But we're still going to do it, aren't we?" she asked of him.

"I don't really see how we can do anything else." He confirmed and started up the stairs, wrinkling his nose at the stale smell of cigarette smoke that had permeated the stairway.


As they stood in front of the door, Xander mentally prepared himself for any surprises that might come. His behavior downstairs had worried him and he had no intention to be caught by surprise like that again, life in Sunnydale had taught him that surprises were rarely positive.

After completing this mental preparation he looked at the girl standing next to him, who appeared to have done something similar, and asked her if she was ready.

At her nod of confirmation he knocked on the door. First they'd try the nice approach, if that didn't work they could always go for the bad cop routine. Fortunately, or so he decided to think of it, the response was immediate as they were told to come. Xander took a deep breath before pushing open the door with care and stepping into the room that was hidden behind its wooden appearance. He believed himself ready for anything and his first action was to take in as much of the room as possible.

The first thing he noticed was that their quarry was seated at a table, working on something with his back to the door. Not letting this distract him, his one working eye then flickered to the bag of new clothes that was placed next to the man and continued scanning until he had categorized the threat everything present in the room constituted. The room was surprisingly empty though, and since there was nothing hidden under the simple bed, there was only one thing that could be a danger to them. He therefore decided to keep an eye on the door leading to the bathroom, until he'd get a chance to look inside it.

"Please, sit down," the man told them pointing to the bed, while still turned away from the two of them, "I have to finish this and then we'll talk. If you're thirsty, there's something to drink in the fridge."

After sharing yet another confused look Xander motioned for Dawn to take a seat. He however decided to make the best of this opportunity and went to check the bathroom for any surprises first. Opening the door didn't reveal anything outside of the normal stuff a place like that contained and he soon closed it again. Mentally crossing off that threat as well, he then walked to the tiny fridge where he took two cans of coke. Passing one to Dawn he seated himself next to her before he used the sweet-tasting drink to quench his thirst.

While waiting for their host to finish, Xander studied the man who had been an enigma to all of them when he came to Sunnydale and still was by the time they discovered he had already left. Upon entering the room he had already noticed the surprising silvery hair of the man who normally kept that feature hidden underneath a baseball cap, but what surprised him the most was the youthful face of the man. From the way the man had acted back then he would have thought him to be older. For a moment he took his eyes of the man to look at his drink and when he looked back both he and Dawn were being scrutinized by the man.

"Welcome to my humble abode." Their host started the conversation. "It is nice to finally speak to the One who Sees and the Living Key."

Xander could feel Dawn stiffen next to him at those words but her answer still came faster then his. "Are you talking about us? Because those aren't our names."

"Ah, but as Cyradis told Belgarath, they are your names as they are written in the book of heaven."

"Riiight," Xander drawled, starting to doubt the man's sanity, "while we're speaking of names, what's yours?"

The man focused on Dawn now, "Why, I already told your sister what you could call me, didn't she tell you?"

At this Xander interrupted "Well, you don't really look like a Minbari, so I doubt Valen is really your name."

"Ah, of course," Valen smiled "I should have realized you recognized the name. But it's as good a name as any and you won't get another."

At that moment Xander realized just how ridiculous this situation was, here they were sitting quietly, drinking a coke and conversing with an obviously insane man who enjoyed playing games with them. It was almost enough to make him scream. "Okay, we're done talking about the names, I really don't care what you call me or yourself. You knew we were following you, didn't you?"

"Naturally, showing myself to you was the only way to get your attention."


The man ignored his question however and peered in Xander's eyes, something that made him feel quite nervous and made him move back a little before he caught himself doing so.

"What are you looking at?"


"What?" Why couldn't anyone act like a normal person today?

"Your fake eye, unless you look clearly it's difficult to see the difference with the other. Except of course that it's always the same but still, it's amazing to see such proof of the progress in the medical community."

"Great, I'll tell the doc you said so. Now I think I asked you a question?"

"Indeed you did."

"And? Are you going to answer it?"

"Why, to talk to you of course."

This was really getting too much, Xander had a feeling that if he didn't get some real answers soon, he'd explode from frustration. He realized that this playing that the man did was probably designed to keep the two of them of balance, but knowing about it didn't really help him. He then heard Dawn steering the conversation to a useful subject, she at least was capable of keeping a clear head here. "I'm really happy about that, why don't we start with the reason you were stalking us back in Sunnydale?"

At this the silvery haired man looked a little embarrassed. "Ah yes, I must admit I had underestimated your witchy friend there. Neither of you, nor any of the others would have remembered me if she hadn't spotted me."

While he didn't like to admit it, Xander knew this to be true, he had completely forgotten the vagrant hanging around the construction yard that day, until he arrived at Casa Summers and heard Willow talking about how she had been stalked.

"That may be, but why did you do it in the first place?" Dawn pressed, although it appeared as if the frustration was starting to get to her as well

"It wasn't something I had planned, but as I was in the neighborhood for something else I decided to take a look at the people that were guarding the Hellmouth."

A whim, they had been worrying for weeks about whether this annoying creature might have been some new ally of the First and all of it was just because the man had been curious. Xander felt that if the situation hadn't been so serious he could almost laugh about it. He then realized something "Why didn't you tell Buffy when you saw her?"

"She wanted to capture me, so I wasn't in the best of moods, besides, I really don't like Slayers." The strange man then reached out and picked up several folders from the table next to him. "But that isn't why I asked you here. I want you to go on a mission for me, a mission that might even save humanity from extinction."

"No." The answer was spoken so calmly Xander almost looked around to see who had spoken, before he realized it had been him. "I have spent seven years of my life saving the world, but now there are a lot of Slayers who can do a better job then I can."

"Yeah, yeah, we're all very grateful you fought those skirmishes and destroyed some beings that were too stupid to be allowed to live. And yes, you should be allowed to rest now after everything you have done." The way Valen looked at him almost seemed to be sympathetic.

"Right." Xander told him, not bothering to acknowledge the slight to their accomplishments.

"Right," the older man agreed before trying to tear apart Xander's arguments, "in a fair universe this would have been the case, unfortunately, this is the real world and it isn't fair."

Now Xander was really starting to lose his temper, his hand moved subconsciously to his glass eye reminding himself how he had already given up more then enough. He probably would have started yelling and screaming at the man if Dawn hadn't broken in at that moment. "Why don't you tell us what it is that you want us to do and if we think it's important we'll take it to Buffy."

This time it was Dawn who received a glare, "Didn't I already tell you I don't like Slayers? They have no finesse whatsoever and this job requires people that can use more then two brain cells at a time."

"Hey, that's my sister you're talking about!"

An annoyed look was the brunette's only answer to that comment before Valen continued "What I want you two to do is important, so I'd appreciate it if you'd keep your comments to yourself until I've finished."

"What if we just leave?" Xander asked him, he had regained control over his temper during the discussion of the other two, but that didn't mean he wanted to listen to anything the man said. He really didn't like the way the man had taken control of the situation.

"You won't because you hate leaving a mystery unsolved; you want to know what this unknown danger is that I'm talking about."

No matter how he hated to admit it even to himself, the man was right about that. Sharing a look of frustration with his friend Xander saw that she too wanted to know what this was all about, so he sighed and let himself relax into the not quite comfortable bed. "Alright then, talk."

And talk their host did, the subject, of what Xander thought of as a lecture, was a woman who had apparently become a quite powerful sorceress and had collected a small group of followers. She was supposedly at the center of the problem Valen had mentioned earlier. He couldn't tell them what exactly the problem was, all he could say was that sometime during the next couple of weeks, something would happen that would determine the future of humanity.

When queried where he got this information the man wouldn't tell them, nor did he want tell them how he believed they could handle the problem. The only hint he gave them on what might be the cause of the problem was a rumor that she intended to tell humanity about the existence of demons.

"So she wants to reveal the real world to humanity?" Xander answered this statement, slightly relieved that they had at least gotten some information. "What's the problem with that?"

"She doesn't intent to tell humanity about everything, only that demons exist."

Resisting the urge to role his eyes at the correction, Xander asked. "Isn't that the same thing?"

"Why, do you really believe that demons are all that has been hidden to humanity as a whole?" Valen shook his head in denial. "No, while you know something about the real world, your pretty friend here knows a greater part of the truth." Both of them turned to Dawn, who at first appeared confused and then seemed to realize something. "Yes indeed, your friends from Europe also hold a portion of the truth. But while it might be interesting, we are not here for a lecture about the real world. Now, like I said, releasing the information about the demons might indeed create a dangerous situation. But you have to remember that we can't be certain that will be what creates the problem."

"And you want the two of us to find out what the problem really is and handle it?" Xander wanted verified.


While Xander's mind had long been made up, he looked at Dawn and he was happy to see that she appeared to hold the same opinion. "No."

"No? You mean you won't do it?" Valen asked surprised.

"That's right, we won't." Xander confirmed, crumbling his now empty can of coke and placing it on the table. "I already told you I wasn't interested in doing this and your story didn't change that at all. I think I might even agree with her about telling the world."

The other man appeared a little disheartened by this and didn't utter any complaint as the two stood up and made to leave. As they were about to open the door however, Xander caught a comment Valen muttered.

"What do you mean by other way?" he asked the man, curious despite himself.

"Why, there are two ways to handle a problem and since you didn't want to solve it there only remains one option to deal with this problem."

With a feeling of impending doom Xander asked him "What option?"

"Why, by removing it of course."

Chapter 2

"I hope he dies and rots in Hell." Were the first words Xander uttered after leaving the motel and he meant them from the bottom of his heart. That morning he had been looking forward to spending a nice day in the company of one of his friends, but now his good mood was completely gone.

He stared out of the window of the taxi that was steadily making its way towards the airport all the while cursing himself for a fool. He never should have let his curiosity take over, the moment it had been clear what the bastard wanted he should have gotten up and left.

Leaning back he placed his hands over his eyes and told his companion "He played me, he knew exactly how I would react to that and he used it against me."

Even though he couldn't see her, he knew Dawn had an expression of compassion on her face as she answered "We could have gone with my idea and told Buffy."

"No, while I hate to admit it, he was right about her. Tact isn't exactly her strongest point. And he was probably right about me being able to discover what the problem is, after all," he finished in a mocking voice "I'm the One who Sees."

No further words were spoken during the ride and soon they had reached the airport. While Xander paid the driver, he noticed Dawn putting something in the bag of clothes they had brought along. That bag alone was almost enough to make his blood boil and once again he wondered how it was that Valen knew so much about them. This afternoon he had wondered about the clothing stores the man had entered. Upon leaving the motel he had given them the bag and his questions had been, all the clothes were for either him or Dawn.

Despite the high level of security that had become the norm, there were no problems for them with checking in and finally they boarded the airplane that would take them to their destination. There had been two arguments when they were in the airport, the first when he had tried to convince Dawn not to come, which he lost, and the other once again about whether to contact Buffy or not.

"You know how she will react if we don't contact her." Dawn had told him.

"Yes, but she will want to come to keep us safe and besides, Valen said he would contact her."

"He said he would tell her all that she needed to know, and since he hates Slayers how much do you think he is going to tell her?"

"He knows it's important to us that they are told, so he'll tell probably tell them the basics. And Buffy will want to come anyway."

"I'm sure we can convince her she doesn't need to come."

A knowing look was all that was needed to counter that argument.

"Well, okay, she will want to come, but is that so bad? I mean, Europe has mellowed her a lot. She isn't the great general anymore and actually listens to other people now."

By that time he had realized she would continue to come up with arguments, until he found a reason that she couldn't counter. "Dawn, think about what would happen if she came."

"There'd be three of us, so we would have an even greater change of discovering the great and mysterious danger?" The brunette answered.

"No, there are only two tickets. So you wouldn't be able to come and according to Valen it was important for you to come." It felt gratifying to use her own argument against her, but the dirty look she gave him didn't bode well for the future.

"Fine, but we'll call her after we have arrived."

Despite granting this concession she made it clear that it would be hours before she'd speak to him again in anything approaching a normal tone.


It seemed as if the rain that was streaming down his face had decided his eyes were a great place to pool. As he once again wiped them dry, well at least less wet, he wondered why Buffy didn't seem to be bothered by the weather. Usually she was the one that was complaining the most but maybe she was trying to set a standard for the potentials.

Looking over the two girls he wondered whether this was such a good time for a training exercise. The stalker that had shown up today might well be very dangerous and while the girls were pretty good in a fight they didn't have the experience to deal with certain things. Sighing he tried to loosen the clothes that were sticking to his body and when that didn't help he admitted, at least to himself, that he couldn't deal with certain things either.

When Buffy suddenly stopped and looked around Xander knew that it wouldn't be long before something showed up. And indeed moments later he could see three vampires appearing out of the rain. After the usual villain speech of the vampires and Buffy's heroic answer, both of which he could more or less predict a week earlier, they started fighting.

Using his crossbow he fired at one of the vampires who hadn't seemed to notice that Buffy wasn't alone and the other two were rather surprised when their friend suddenly became a cloud of dust.

"What?" The moment of surprise was enough for Buffy to quickly move in and stake one of the survivors.

The other then seemed to realize he was outnumbered and in serious danger of losing his un-life, turned around and started running. Buffy immediately started chasing it, while he and the girls followed behind her. Had it been someone else running over the muddy ground he might have actually thought the three-way chase funny. Fortunately it didn't last long as Buffy caught the vampire before it even got out of the park and tackled it to the ground. Wrestling until she had her stake in position had her lying on top of the vampire when it dusted, causing her to fall the tiny distance to the ground, into the mud.

He had to stifle a laugh but looking at her face he realized that she wasn't nearly as happy about the mud covering her body. That probably wasn't what she had wanted to show the potentials so she tried to cover her mistake up by explaining the best way to take out a vampire. After all, it wasn't likely that the Watchers had already told them that, was it?

In the middle of her explanation however she suddenly stopped and turned to look at a group of trees. "Who are you and what do you want?"

"Both interesting questions, although they have different consequences." Came from the figure he could now make out for himself. It was the stalker!

"Don't try that with me, I've had psychology classes myself."

"Well, there is no fooling you, is there? But I shall answer your first question. My name is Valen." Oh great, they were getting into a Babylon 5 theme, first with the questions and now even with the names.

Buffy, the barbarian that she was, hadn't seen this greatest of all series and therefore didn't recognize the name. "Okay, Valen, what do you want?" From the way she started approaching the man it was obvious she intended to get some answers, even if she had to beat them out of him.

"Buffy, look out!" Came from one of the potentials, who was paying more attention then they were as an impressive looking demon had managed to sneak up on the blonde Slayer. For a moment he took his eyes of the man to see if he could help his friend in this battle and when he turned back there was no sign of the so-called Valen anymore.

"Wake up, sir. We are about to land." What? Still a little groggy he looked at the pretty woman talking to him. Oh yeah, he suddenly realized, he was on a plane. Nodding his head he indicated that he was indeed awake before moving his chair in its upright position.


"I don't understand though, why do you suddenly care so much about what Buffy thinks." Xander asked Dawn after they had cleaned up from the trip. Noticing her dark look, he quickly added "Not that you didn't care about her before but, it's different."

Dawn uttered a soft sigh before answering him "We got a lot closer in Europe, most of the time there wasn't really anyone but the two of us and we resolved most of our problems." She walked to one of the beds in the lavish hotel room and expanded a little on that. "No, that's not all there is to it. After the first months, nothing had really changed. Despite the fact we both wanted things to change, we just had no idea how to go about it. I mean, in Sunnydale it always seemed like she was the only one who really mattered and the rest of us were just the extras, especially me since I wasn't real."

Knowing she'd never listen if he tried to deny that, he asked her what changed after these first months.

"Those friends Valen mentioned. In the autumn we went to London and met them there when a lot of things came together and together we managed to solve the problem."

"Who were they?" Xander asked her.

"I can't tell you that." She sighed again before continuing. "It isn't my secret to tell. But suffice to say they showed us another way to act. Apparently they too had some problems when they first met, but in the end all that mattered was that they loved each other. They showed us that the problems of the past didn't really matter as long as we didn't stop caring about one another."

"So you worked things out and became closer because of that."

"Yeah, and that's why I believe Buffy will worry so much if we can't contact her. We haven't really been out of contact since."

Xander understood this, he had noticed a little of the changed attitude between the sisters, although he hadn't realized before how far the change had actually gone. "Okay, what do you say we go to dinner first and then try to reach her again before we start on our great and noble quest?"

"Alright, I am a little hungry too."


Hours later they were still walking through the city, not having found any clue on the whereabouts of their quarry and Xander was starting to feel that he wasn't cut out for this sort of thing. Even in Sunnydale the information gathering had always been rather straightforward, you either went to Willy's or looked in some dusty books. But here he had absolutely no idea how to go about it and so after dinner he hadn't known what to do. That was when Dawn had shown why she was needed.

"I have no idea on where to start looking for that woman." Xander had said after yet another unsuccessful phone call. "Do you have any ideas?"

Dawn looked thoughtful for a moment before answering "When we had to find someone or something in Europe we usually went looking for the demon bars, like Willy's. There was usually someone there who was willing to give us the information we needed."

"Really? They just gave you the information you needed?"

"Well, Buffy asked and when she didn't get what she wanted, she beat someone up or threatened."

Ah, that made more sense. "I don't think we can do that, but it's as good a start as any."

They had then started looking for the bar that Dawn kept saying had to be there. But now, having spent the entire night going from one seedy bar to another, hoping to find a clue to the location of such a place they hadn't yet come up with one.


It was the lack of results that got on Xander's nerves. He could live with the way they were treated in the places they had been visiting, although the behavior of some of the men towards Dawn hadn't exactly been proper. After he tried to stop that however, it soon became clear that she could handle herself when those situations cropped up. And even the fact that he was getting tired didn't really bother him; after all that was to be expected, it had been almost a year since the last time he had been up this late for anything but having some fun. But the fact that they still hadn't found what they were looking for didn't agree with him.

Even after he had been tricked into accepting this mission, he hadn't really believed that it would take long. They just had to find the woman, figure out what the problem was and they could leave. But now that they couldn't even complete the first step he began to realize the extent of time this could take. At the moment he didn't have any other obligations at home, but in about two weeks he would have to go back to work. He shook his head, that shouldn't be a problem. Just because they hadn't found anything yet, didn't mean that it would take that long.

"I don't think we're going to find anything tonight Dawn." He told his friend.

Dawn didn't look entirely happy about it either, but she had to agree with him. "I know, but let's try that bar over there as well. Maybe we'll be lucky, and if it doesn't work out we can go back."

And with those words they set out for their sixteenth bar of the night. Had this been a movie, Dawn's comment would have triggered their inevitable luck, but this was real life and it wasn't long before they left the smoky bar

"Can you believe that? He actually carded me! None of the others tried that." An irate Dawn complained to Xander.

"Well, you are under twenty-one and technically aren't allowed to drink alcohol." He tried to placate her. "The man was only doing his job."

A furious look from Dawn told him exactly what she thought of that "In Europe it was a lot easier to get a drink, nobody there really bothered with age."

It took Xander most of the way back to their hotel to calm her down and even then she kept muttering comments about the bartender's parentage.


The next day was spent trying to find information about their quarry using public sources, but they were unable to find anything that wasn't already in the files Valen had given them. And after nightfall they once again started on their tour of the sleaziest bars the city had to offer. When midnight had come and gone however they had to admit that this tactic just wasn't working and decided on the alternative they had come up with during the day.

Like the original plan, this one too was simplicity itself; they would still go look for the demon bar, but instead of looking for clues in other bars they would go and look for the bars patrons and ask them. And what could possibly be easier then finding a demon inside a city?


They had reverted to the most basic plan to look for demons. Although they knew that not all demons hang out in cemeteries, that was the place they started looking. While not as rich in cemeteries as Sunnydale, they didn't have that much trouble finding them and started looking around. It was the third cemetery they finally found a clue, or rather it found them.

The first thing they noticed about the two vampires was when they spoke. "Look what we have here, dinner has just arrived."

When the two of them turned around Xander fumbled in his jacket for the stake he had brought along. But when he saw the demonic faces of their opponents he froze, somewhere in his mind he was shouting at himself to move and stake the bastards, but he was paralyzed in fear.

All he could think about when he looked at those faces were the things he had lost in the time he had been fighting them. Memories crashed through his head, he remembered putting a stake through his best friend's heart. He remembered Buffy dying, not once, but twice. An image of Willow preparing to destroy the world was followed by Caleb taunting him while putting out his eye, until finally he came to Andrew telling him how Anya had died.

It felt like hours before he could move again, and when he did he noticed that the vampires had gone while Dawn was shaking him, trying to get his attention.

"Xander, what's wrong?"

"Nothing, Dawnie, I'm alright."

This earned him a scornful look, "Of course you are, that's why I've been shouting to get your attention for the past five minutes."

The last thing he wanted to talk about with the taste of fear still in his mouth was the reason he hadn't been able to do anything, so he looked for something to change the subject. The knife in Dawn's hand gave him this excuse as he could dimly recall her using it to kill the vampires.

"How did you kill the vampires, I thought they couldn't be hurt by knives?"

The reaction he got was stronger then he had anticipated when Dawn almost jumped in the air, while looking guiltily at the weapon in her hand.

"They can't, but this isn't a normal knife. There are a lot of spells on it that enable it to destroy beings of magic."

"Where did you get it then? Not that you can't handle it, but I'd sooner expect one of the Slayers to use it."

"No, it's mine. Buffy agreed with me on that, I'm the only one who should use this knife."

Once again, the reaction was a lot stronger then he had expected, but he didn't think he should push her on it. "Okay, but where did you get it? I've never heard of anything like it."

But Dawn wasn't listening to him anymore, she was staring at the knife as if remembering something terrible. He suddenly had a feeling that maybe he didn't want to know where she got it, but still curious about the knife he tried to see as much of it as he could and couldn't help but notice a tiny pattern on the haft when she put it away.

"Let's just go back to the hotel shall we? We can try to find the bar again tomorrow."

This finally did get Dawn's attention and she looked at him with sorrowful eyes before agreeing.

Chapter 3

The vampires once again made their inane comment while Xander watched them. As they reverted to their demonic faces, he briefly wondered how they actually did that and if it hurt them. Shaking off the absurd question, he looked at the fight that was progressing before his eyes.

The two vampires, who he decided to call Blond and Short, had split up in order to take on Dawn as she moved in a fighting stance, Short was the first to make his move. As the vampire closed in on Dawn he tried to grab the hand with which she was holding the knife. Although he clearly didn't understand the real danger the knife presented, he was smart enough to realize that being cut by it would hurt.

Dawn however had clearly gotten better at fighting vampires, when Short grabbed her hand she closed the remaining gap between them and, lifting her knee, hit him where it hurt. Xander could only hiss in sympathetic pain as the vampire made a strange keening noise while bending over and grabbing his crotch with both hands. Dawn however wasn't inclined to give up this advantage and with a fast move, she planted the knife in his back. Blond, who had momentarily stiffened, as he too suffered from sympathetic pain, snapped out of his daze and moved in with a loud roar of anger.

Dawn however didn't seem to notice this as she was looking at the ashes that were all that remained of the former vampire. Xander moved in front of Dawn and for a moment he could see a smile on her face, indicating the pleasure she received from this fight. He tried to shout at her to look behind as Blond's long strides were quickly eating up the remaining distance between the two of them, but she didn't appear to hear him.

However when the vampire tried a flying kick on her, she suddenly rolled to the side, ensuring Blond missed her and upon landing was out of balance. This lack of balance was enhanced when she swept his feet from under him. This was obviously the end of the fight as the vampire fell on his back hard enough to expel whatever air an undead creature had in his lungs. Had he been given a moment to recover, the fight might have continued, but Dawn had started moving even before he hit the ground and for the second time in minutes, the knife destroyed a vampire.


It was 2 o'clock the next day when Dawn's patience had reached its end.

"Okay," the brunette told him, laying aside the file she had been studying, "now I want to know what happened last night."

Xander had been dreading this moment ever since waking up and he was grateful to Dawn for giving him until now to come up with an answer. "I froze."

"I noticed that, but why?"

"I was terrified when I saw the vampires."

"Why? You've never really been afraid of them."

"Oh, I was afraid often enough, only a fool wouldn't be afraid. I was just good at hiding it." Xander told her "I made jokes about the danger of the week, but most of the time I was afraid to face them. After all, most things we fought are so much stronger and faster then me. But I stood with the others because it was important, not just because we would save the world, but also because it was something I was good at and I could feel I wasn't the screw-up my parents believed me to be."

"You were never a screw-up." Dawn protested.

"Well, my parents thought I was, but that doesn't really matter anyway. When I fought, I didn't consciously do it for that reason, it's just that in the past year I've had a lot of time to think about that sort of thing. And that was a possibility I came up with, back then I mainly did it because I wanted to save the world.

"Anyway, yesterday when we encountered the vampires I was ready to stake them, until I saw their faces." After this he was silent for a while, although he noticed Dawn wanting to ask the question burning on her tongue. It was true what he had told her, he had spent a lot of time thinking things over the past year and he wasn't all to happy with everything he had found out about himself.

Finally though the silence became too much for Dawn and she asked him quietly "What happened when you saw their faces?"

He knew what the answer was though he didn't tell her immediately; first he moved his hand to the glass replacement where once he had a real eye. Moving his finger gently over the eyelid he could feel the reason he froze the day before.

"When I saw them, I saw everything I had lost because of them. Everybody I cared about that had died because of the demons. I saw Jesse die at my hands, I saw Buffy die, I felt Caleb put his finger in my eye and I was scared. I had lost so much, and I really didn't want to lose anything else so I froze."

Confessing this had been hard for him, he knew that Dawn would try to understand since she had lost a lot as well, but it was unlikely that she really could. He didn't care about the loss of material possessions and while she too had lost people it was unlikely she had ever spent a lot of time thinking about it.

The girl did indeed look a little confused when she asked him "I know that you have lost a lot, but it never stopped you before did it?"

"No, but I never had a year to think about it either." Seeing she didn't understand what he meant he tried to explain it better. "While in Sunnydale there was almost always someone we needed to fight and we never really got any time to think about what we had lost. After the battle with the First though, there wasn't really any need for me to continue because we had so many Slayers now and they made it clear a normal person wasn't really needed for the fighting thing.

"I spent the entire year creating a real life away from the demons and vampires, but in doing so I became afraid of losing what little I had left. I knew the others were fighting daily but at first I listened to them and later I was afraid that I would only get in the way during a fight. That doesn't mean I didn't help at all, just not with the fighting. In fact the only vampire I have seen in the past year was Angel, when I went to LA in order to visit Cordy's grave."

He closed his eye at the memory of that event. Selfish Cordelia who as a child he had considered his archenemy, until he found out what an archenemy really was, and who he then came to care for. First as a friend and later even more, until that faithful day where he had betrayed her trust. Losing her to the fight as well had been one of the things that made him even more determined not to lose anyone else.

"Is that why you didn't want to accept this mission? Because you were afraid?"

She was sometimes too clever by half. "Yes."

"And you didn't want me to come with you because you were afraid that something might happen to me."


"And Buffy? You never doubted her abilities before."

"The less people involved in this mess, the less chance anyone dies." By now he had turned his back to her so he wouldn't have to see the expression on her face. Either pity or disgust would probably shatter what little control he had at the moment.

The sound of Dawn's soft voice luckily contained neither when she asked him "If you fear all this, why did you accept to do this mission. I understand now why you didn't want to at first, but what made you change your mind?"

"You know the reason."

"Perhaps, but I want to hear you say it."

Before he answered her, he could feel her moving to sit next to him and put an arm around him. Nonetheless he still refused to look at her. "That bastard was going to kill her, without knowing if she was actually guilty of whatever crime he believes she will commit. This is the United States, we might have some faults but we do not kill someone because of their thoughts."

"In other words, you are willing to put aside your own fears if it means you can save someone."

Xander wildly shook his head "No, if I were like that I would have done it when he said it would save the world. I have become a coward and the only reason I dragged us here is because I couldn't face it if someone else died because of what I did or didn't do."

"Xander look at me," He could feel Dawn grab his chin and turn his head towards her. "Now open your eyes." When he still refused to do so he heard her sigh "Okay, be stubborn about it. Look, I'm not to good at the speech thing, but what I'm gonna tell you is the truth. Do you believe that?"

Even while nodding his head to indicate that he did, he had his doubts about what he was going to hear.

"Okay then, you have always been brave, since I've known you I have looked up to you, even if you discount that silly crush. Among all those super-powered people, you were the only normal person and yet you fought next to them, you stood against the worst the universe had to offer and you won. Yes, sometimes the cost was high and you felt as if nothing had really been of any use, but think about what would have happened if you hadn't stood there. Would we still be around here if you had not done what you did? And that hasn't changed, you are still that same brave person who would do anything to save his friends."

During this speech she had moved behind him and Xander could now feel her arms encircling him trying to give him the comfort he so desperately needed, while tears streamed down his face.

"Let's start with Jesse, I never met him, but from what I heard he was a nice guy right?"

"The best." Was Xander's soft reply.

"The best, but he was turned before you even realized what vampires really are. So you couldn't do anything about that, but you did end his suffering or would you have preferred it if he had been cursed like Angel or Spike? Is that what you would have wanted to happen to him?"

Xander could only shake his head in denial, while he didn't like either vampire he wouldn't wish their fate on his worst enemy.

"So even though you lost him, you still saved him." Now Xander finally understood what it was that Dawn was trying to do, by reminding him of the positive side of things she tried to boost his self-image.

And indeed for the next couple of hours Dawn kept up a monologue that reminded Xander of all the positive things that had happened because of his fight against demonkind, while trying to put a mostly positive spin on the bad things. But even though some of the things she said made sense, she couldn't put everything right. Anya might have died heroically, but she still died. He might have saved the world by stopping Willow, but that didn't mean the wound left by her betrayal of him could ever be truly healed.

When Dawn was finished however, he smiled at her before thanking her for the good job she had done and how he felt a lot better now, while inwardly he cursed himself for lying to her.


That night they once again went to look for the mystical bar that they were sure was somewhere in the city. This time however it seemed like luck was on their hands as they spotted a demon before they even reached the first cemetery.

The blue-skinned demon was of a race unknown to both of them so instead of approaching him to ask for directions, and possibly having to kill him, they started following the demon in the hope he would lead them to the bar.

"Where did he go?" Xander asked after they had turned a corner to find the demon had disappeared.

Dawn looked as confused as he did "Maybe it's one of those places you can't see the entrance of, there were a couple of those in Europe."

"How would we know where to go then?"

"Well, I guess it would have to be in this street, just look for open and empty places."

They looked around to see if they could spot anything that met those requirements, but couldn't find anything, until from behind them came a voice that sounded so shrill it sent shivers up Xander's back.

"Why were you following me?"

Xander immediately turned around to confront the demon they had been following. "Following you? Ah, why would you think that? We weren't following you, we were just walking."

"Do not lie to me, I heard you speaking of me."

Realizing that only the truth would work Xander told the demon "Okay, we were indeed following you."

"Why?" The tone of the demon's voice clearly indicated the answer should be good.

Out of the corner of his eye, Xander noticed that Dawn had once again taken hold of her knife and he almost froze again as he realized that this would probably lead to a fight, another chance to lose someone important to him.

He also knew that he was the only one who had a chance to stop this fight from happening and he would attempt to do so. "We're looking for a place and we hoped that you could lead us there."

This obviously wasn't the answer the demon had wanted to hear, and he moved in what appeared to be a fighting stance, a move which Xander noticed was copied by Dawn.

"What place, and why?"

"A demon bar, we're looking for someone and we thought we might be able to get some information there."

"Hunters!" the demon hissed.

"No! We aren't hunting for demons."

This confused the demon enough to stop it from attacking "Then why do you want to go there for information?"

"We are looking for a sorceress, Torala."

"I have heard of the name, and you believe that you can find information about her at Vlad's, that's probably true. But why do you wish to find her? She is dangerous to anger."

This wasn't a question Xander had expected, so he gave the only answer he could "A badly dressed guy with a false name told us to."

The demon's hideous face broke into a grin at that "Ah, I have heard of him as well. You are working for one of the Nameless, that is good. I will lead you to the bar, but do not follow me again after that or I will kill you." And with those words the demon turned around and started walking.

Sharing a look with Dawn made it clear that she understood the sudden change in the demon's mood as much as he did. But since he was going to lead them to where they wanted to go they set out after the demon. He had taken three steps before something that the demon had said connected in his mind.

"What kind of name is Vlad's?"


When they had arrived, their guide merely pointed to the bar, told them that was the place they were looking for and left. The two of them looked after him for a moment, before turning towards the bar. "Well, we finally found it."

"Yes, you were right about it and according to our blue friend we should be able to find the information we need in here." He answered the smug looking Dawn.

"Hmpff, talk about hiding in plain sight, this looks more like some gothic place then an actual demon bar."

"Yeah, well let's just hope Dracula isn't really inside. Being reduced to eating bugs once in a lifetime is enough for me."


When they entered the bar however, they encountered something stranger then Dracula.

"You have got to be kidding me." Was Xander's first comment about the bar. Where they had expected to find only a couple of vampires and demons, there seemed to be a party going on. There was a swinging mass of beings dancing to the music provided by a live band, the most disconcerting fact however wasn't the dancing, but the fact that about half of the beings there were dressed-up humans.

While the two of them watched in revulsion how the different species interacted, a red-skinned devil look-alike approached them. When he went to stand in front of them with a frown on his face, it took them a moment to recognize him as a human.

"Why aren't you dressed up? Nobody is allowed in here unless they look like a demon of some sorts."

Xander looked at the man, who obviously worked there "Do they even know that half of the 'people' in here aren't?"

"Aren't what?"

"People, I mean look at them, they're looking at the humans as if they are selecting their next meal."

"Oh that," the man was obviously unconcerned about this, "some of them will probably find out tonight, it might be too late for them by then, but hey, that's life."

He once again fixed them with a glare "But that still doesn't excuse you for not wearing a costume. So I would ask you to leave, and not return until you do."

"Oh, but we are wearing costumes." Dawn told him with a smile that gave Xander an uneasy feeling, especially when he noticed her stroking her hidden knife.

"Really." The man's disbelief was clearly audible. "And what are you dressed as then?"

The smile hadn't left her face when she told him "I'm a Slayer, and he's my Watcher. We want some information and were told this was the place to go."

"And what is a Slayer, how can I know if you're dressed like one if I don't know what it is?" the devil asked while Xander noticed that the demons closest to them had stopped dancing and were looking at them. His sight might not be what it once was but he could still smell trouble coming and this smelled really bad.

"Dawn." He tried to warn his friend to stop talking about Slayers, but it was already too late as a vampire was coming towards them.

The great hulking vampire stopped in front of the girl and sneered down at her. "We don't want your kind here. If you leave now, I won't kill you."

Okay, Xander thought, that was new. The vampire had to be really stupid to believe something like that would work with a real Slayer, on the other hand he might be lucky in this case as there was no real Slayer around. He looked at the demons taking an interest in the conversation before turning to Dawn, trying to figure out what she was planning when she spoke.

"Do you really believe that will work? I could kill you without any trouble and you think to threaten me. Were I here for anything but information you wouldn't be anything other than food for a vacuum cleaner, now stand aside."

He had really hoped Dawn wouldn't say something like that, they were in a bar full of demons who would like nothing more than the slightest excuse to kill them and she was baiting the biggest bastard of them all. Obviously the vampire thought the same thing as he turned his head to look at his fellow demons in surprise.

That was when Dawn struck, at a speed he didn't know she was capable of. Xander saw her pull the knife out of her pants and stick it in the vampire's heart. The surprise on its face turned to shock before he exploded into dust and Dawn turned to the red painted human.

"That is what a Slayer is. We kill demons." She slowly turned her head to look at all the demons and humans that were staring at her before she said. "We're here for information, is there anyone else beside dusty here who has a problem with that?"

The blood-thirsty look on her face must have convinced the demons they shouldn't have a problem with it and they made sure to keep away from them. Xander meanwhile was surprised that he hadn't recognized sooner that Dawn was trying to bluff their way through and followed her until they reached the man that the, now terrified, devil look-alike had pointed out.

As they joined him at his table he told them they could call him Abe but also made it clear that he had no love for Slayers and would prefer to see them leave. In Xander's opinion it was starting to look as if everyone suddenly hated Slayers, which he thought was ridiculous since they spent their lives trying to save to world.

"Now, what do you want?" asked the man who told them to call him Abe.

"Torala, a sorceress, what do you know of her?" Xander asked.

"Torala, yes I've heard of her. What do you want of her?"

"None of your business." Interjected Dawn.

"It is my business if I say it is, answer my question and I'll answer yours."

What happened next was something Xander had never expected to see. Dawn suddenly leaned forward and with one hand grabbed Abe's arm while she used the knife in the other to spear his hand to the table. "Answer the question."

The man couldn't do anything but look in shock at the knife sticking out of his hand however, and when Dawn didn't receive an immediate answer she started to twist it a little. This caused a reaction as the man started to shriek in pain. "Now, answer the question."

Xander had no idea what to do, sweet and carefree Dawn had suddenly turned into someone capable of torturing a fellow human being. Interfering with what she was doing would most likely call the entire bar down on them so he just sat there, trying to look as if her behavior was something to be expected.

The man however did know what to do by now and started telling them about the sorceress, while pleading her to stop. Thinking about his friend's behavior Xander missed most what he told them, but when Dawn suddenly pulled the knife free and walked out he quickly followed her.

"What the hell was that?" He yelled at her once they had exited the bar.

"We needed the information, now we have it." The unconcerned looking girl told him before starting to walk back to the hotel.

She hadn't reached two steps however, before Xander took her by the arm and spun her around to demand a better explanation. A question that never left his mouth, as she took the knife and cut him across the chest.

Xander slowly sunk to his knees in pain, while Dawn stepped back with a horrified look on her face, alternatively looking at him and the bloody knife.

All he could ask her was "Why?" but instead of answering she turned around and ran into the night.

Chapter 4

Xander watched her run away, but the searing pain in his chest took precedence and he forced himself to look at the wound. Looking down the scent of fresh blood wafted up in his nose, almost making him throw up. Trying to look at the wound in as clinically a manner possible he noticed that while it hurt terribly, it appeared as if the slice had not gone through his ribs and no internal organs had been hit. Of course, the fact that it had actually cut in his ribs told him the knife couldn't possibly be normal.

He sat down, still holding the wound with his hands, until he suddenly remembered where exactly he was. "Oh shit." Less then 10 meters behind him was a bar filled with demons and vampires who would love to kill him, and he was just sitting there with a chest wound they would undoubtedly smell as soon as one of them opened the door. That wouldn't do.

Gathering his strength, he started to walk away from the bar. In an attempt to keep his mind from the pain he wondered about Dawn. She had been acting rather strange and while he had at first shrugged it of as the year she had spent in Europe, a lot of what went on there was strange enough. Now he wasn't so sure anymore, while some of her behavior was undoubtedly influenced by her experiences there, he doubted that it was anymore normal to stab people there than it was in the States.

By then however he had reached a crossroad and he thought he saw car lights moving towards him. As he waited for it to reach him he hoped it was someone that might help him and finally he had some luck. Hailing the taxi, he allowed himself to drop inside while telling the driver where to take him.


Once again Xander found himself on the street outside Vlad's, but this time there were two of him. One Xander tried to talk Dawn into explaining her actions and eventually grabbed her by the arm, eliciting the painful response that had been so unexpected. The other him stood apart from all this and tried to understand what it was that had caused this sudden change in his friend.

He moved in front of her before his other self grabbed her and watched her carefully. Even during the short exchange of words he noticed the pain in her eyes, trying to hide something from herself but not completely succeeding. When the other Xander grabbed her arm, Dawn's eyes seemed to change and for a moment it was as if someone else was looking through her eyes, someone old and powerful. Someone that was not quite human.


When he woke up Xander was at first a little disoriented, he felt a pressure on his chest and couldn't immediately remember what had happened. Until he suddenly recalled that Dawn was missing and she had left him a present. He opened his eyes and looked around, his mind still a little foggy from the painkillers. Recognizing the hotel room the two of them had shared for the last days he looked over to Dawn's bed in the hope that she was in it.

No such luck however, it didn't even look like it had been used which meant that she was still somewhere out there. So he needed to find her but considering the size of the city he doubted he could accomplish such a task all by himself. He would need to call Buffy and tell her what he had allowed to happen to her little sister.

Groaning in despair at the thought, Xander got up and noticed his chest was bandaged. How did that happen? It took him a moment to remember the exact order of events that had taken place the night before.

The taxi had taken him to a hospital, which must be where he had acquired the professional bandages. Believing he had spent enough time in hospitals he had demanded to be released and they had eventually agreed to let him go, after which he had come back to the hotel.

He had a feeling that there was something missing though, something that had happened before he had returned to the hotel. Shaking his head he wondered for a moment what kind of painkillers they had given him to make his head this fuzzy.

By the time he had finally managed to finish his breakfast, it was already one o'clock and he had gathered enough courage to call Buffy and face her wrath. Unfortunately though, he still couldn't get a connection to anybody in Cleveland. This just wasn't normal and there was only one person who could be behind this sudden inability to call them.

Valen, if he ever saw the bastard again, he was going to kick his grey-haired ass from New York to Los Angeles and back. Hanging up the phone in despair he thought of something that might enable him in getting a message through. Going through his stuff he looked for his list of phone numbers, maybe he could call someone that might pass the message along. It wasn't as good as a direct connection but if it got the others here that didn't matter to him.

No, most of the names he encountered all belonged to people living in Cleveland so they probably couldn't be reached either. He looked further, encountering numbers to people that could never again be reached, neither Anya nor Cordelia would ever be able to answer another phone call. Wait a minute, Cordy. He skipped through the alphabetized list until he encountered the numbers listed under 'D'. While he couldn't stand the guy, maybe Angel would be able to reach Buffy and tell her.

Five minutes later however he had to give up on that idea as well. There just was no way to get anyone to help him; he'd have to do it by himself. He was pretty sure he could do it, the only thing he didn't know was if he'd be fast enough. The state his friend was in meant she might do anything, but how and where should he start. A pang of pain from his chest made it clear that physically going out and looking for her in the city wasn't something he would be able to do at the moment.

Using a computer to find her was no use either, besides the fact that he had no idea how to go about that, he doubted there was anything useful on it about her. A memory of the night before suddenly flashed through his head and he once again saw Dawn holding her knife in the bar with that blood-thirsty look on her face. The knife, he could try to find out more about the knife until he was healed enough to go out and look for her. After all, a magical knife might be the reason for her behavior.


Sitting in the library he was deeply engrossed in a book when one of the librarians softly spoke to him. "I'm sorry sir, but we'll be closing shortly."

Xander looked up, not immediately understanding. "I thought you didn't close until nine?"

"It's a quarter to nine." Was the reply she gave him.

He looked at the clock hanging on the wall and noticed she was right and as he was made aware of the time Xander noticed the hollow feeling in his stomach. He blinked in confusion as he wondered how he could have lost so much time when the librarian spoke to him again "We'll open tomorrow at 10, you can come back then, but would you mind placing these back where they came from?" At this she indicated the piles of books surrounding him.

"Oh yeah sure." He thought for a moment and then asked her. "Do you have any older books about mythology as well? Maybe some obscure tomes or ancient manuscripts you don't place in the public area?"

"I'm sorry, but no. Can't you find what you're looking for in there?"

"No, none of these even mention it."

"I don't really know much about books like that but why don't I ask my colleagues if they know anywhere you can go for these obscure tomes? I'll leave a message at the reception with the information they can give me and you can pick that up tomorrow morning."

"Thank you." He flashed her a grin "What's your name?"

"I'm Annie."

"Well Annie, I really appreciate you doing this for me. My name is Xander by the way." Making small talk the two of them then placed the books back on their shelves.


The next day Xander was walking around the city, visiting the stores mentioned on the list he had collected at the library earlier. While some of them had indeed sold the kind of books he was interested in, none of these held any clues to the origin of the knife, or even its powers. For easy reference he had made a sketch of it, which he used to query the store-owners about it. But besides comments about his lack of skill when it came to drawing even that hadn't gained him anything.

By now he had visited over half of the stores on his list and was starting to feel the pain of his chest wound again. Unlike the day before he hadn't dosed himself up on painkillers, since he felt that it had interfered with his ability to research. The drugs prevented him from being able to concentrate very well and he really needed to be as clearheaded as possible. This did mean that he had to rest even more often.

While passing through the streets in the direction of the next store on his list, he walked past an antique shop. While the name 'Ye Olde Shoppe' sounded more like it came out of Harry Potter than something that was actually used in the real world, he decided he might as well try it. Walking towards the entrance he noticed the plague next to the door saying 'Selling the finest antiques since 1885 AD'. He actually had to blink when he saw that and tried to remember what he had read in those books about the little wizard. When he recalled that something very much like that sentence had been used he looked a little nervous at the entrance. Okay, he decided to make a promise to himself, if anyone in there was actually waving a wand he would leave.

After pushing open the door and entering the dusty smelling shop his first thought was about how Giles would have loved this place. He looked at all the old books that were displayed and almost subconsciously he started looking for a tweed-wearing older man. But when he couldn't find anyone matching that description he approached the only other person in the store, a young woman peering at the titles in one of the racks.

Only when he was standing next to her she finally noticed him and quickly turned around, almost dropping the book she was holding. "Hi, welcome to the shop. I'm Alice, what can I do for you?" Without bothering to wait for an answer she continued. "You're looking for a gift aren't you, yes that's it. What is it you're looking for? You look like someone who was thinking about buying a book and you're in luck, we have some nice works in both Greek and Latin. Or maybe you want something from the Ancient Near East."

"Actually." Xander attempted to break her monologue.

"Yes, the Near East will do." Alice went on. "How about the Epic of Gilgamesh? We've got a nice version of it in cuneiform, well not really of course since it's on paper, but it's still the same symbols. It's relatively modern, originally published in the sixties. Only 60 dollars and for that I'll throw in a modern English translation as well, what do you say?"

"I'm sure that's nice, but it's not"

"Excellent, do you want any gift-wrapping?"

"STOP!" Xander shouted, finally managing to shut the woman up.

She looked at him with teary eyes and stammered "That's rude, you shouldn't shout at someone like that especially when they're only trying to do their job." She sniffled a little, managing to make Xander feel even worse about shouting.

"I'm sorry, but I'm not looking for a gift. I need to find information and when I saw your shop I thought I might find what I'm looking for."

The woman's tears disappeared as fast as they had come and she suddenly looked a lot more competent and able to help him. "Really? What are you looking for then?"

He handed over the drawing of the knife and told her what little he knew about it.

"So it's from Europe you say? Any idea how old?"

When he indicated his lack of knowledge about that she turned towards one of the bookcases at the back of the shop and took a book out.

"Does it have any magical properties?" She asked him then.

While he hadn't expected that question, Xander knew the answer to that. "Actually yes, it's supposed to be able to destroy anything magical."

"Sounds dangerous." Muttering some things that Xander couldn't hear she then asked him if he knew whether it had any markings on it.

He had to think about that, "There could be, I think there might be something of a blue shield on the haft, but I'm not sure."

Alice then grabbed a piece of paper and pencil before sketching something on it, apparently a skill she did possess. The drawing consisted of a picture of a large shield with several designs, for which he didn't know the name, on it. "Could this be it?"

Tracing the design with his finger he tried to remember what he had seen only once in the past few days, at a time that he was having some problems of his own. "Yes, I think that if you color the shield blue this might be it, although I'm not sure about these things inside it. I didn't really get a good look at it."

She now looked quite smug. "I had a feeling that might be it, I was thinking who would need something that destroys magical beings and while there are a couple of them, there's only one that uses a shield design."

"And that is?"

"The Faithful."

"The Faithful? Who are they?"

"An offshoot branch of the Order of Byzantium."

"You mean the Knights, don't you?" Xander asked unhappily.

"The Knights are only part of that ancient Order, that supposedly exists only to destroy a magical being called the Key. The Knights are those who actually do the destroying but there are a number of people with other functions as well."

Holding up his hand in order to interrupt her explanation he told her "I know what the Knights are and do. What I don't understand is what they've got to do with those Faithful you mentioned."

"I thought that would be pretty obvious. The Faithful are those members who did not believe Earth was safe even after the death of Glorificus, which is why they broke away from the Order."

"And they made this knife?"

"Probably yes, while the Faithful weren't powerful enough to go after the Key during their first years they probably spent that time creating it. Even then getting the necessary components to build a weapon like this would not be very difficult for them, nor would the actual creation be an insurmountable problem. After all, the Order always had quite extensive contacts and they could still use quite a lot of these. At least, that had been the case until the entire leadership and most of their members were killed last autumn."

While he hadn't known about the size of the Order or their contacts, he realized that he should have thought of that himself. Those members that had been in Sunnydale during the whole Glory thing could not have done everything by themselves, there just hadn't been enough of them. The parts about the Faithful and in particular the death of their leaders were unknown to him however, although there was something about it that sounded familiar. With a by now familiar feeling of impending doom he posed his next questions. "They were killed? Where did that happen?"

"I believe it happened somewhere around London, I'm not to sure about the exact details though."

This definitely struck a chord in Xander's head, as he realized where Dawn had gotten her knife. Unfortunately this still didn't tell him what he was looking for. "Could such a weapon be made to influence people, I mean possess her or something?"

"I doubt it, while the amount of magic needed to create something like that dagger is enormous, weapons just don't influence people. You can't compare the real world with those stories that contain sentient swords."

"Oh." The comment came out dejected as the hope that it hadn't been Dawn who attacked him shattered.

"Although…" She looked pensive for a moment, causing Xander's hope to flare back into life. "No, that's so unlikely, it could never happen."

"What? Tell me, please." Anything, even if it sounded ridiculous, that offered the slightest of chances that Dawn had not done those things of her own volition had to be explored.

"Well, it sounds ridiculous, but if we assume some things, it might be possible that there is a chance that…"

"Just tell me, please." Xander knew that he sounded desperate, but it didn't matter.

"Okay, let's assume that like I said a lot of magic had gone into the weapon."

"Sure, no problem."

"The dagger has been created for only one goal. To destroy a powerful magic, agreed?"


She paused a moment to gather her thoughts and Xander had a feeling that this was where she was going to make her leap of logic. "What if the dagger did not gain sentience, but did get a feeling for what it's meant to destroy? I'm not sure what to call it, a hunger maybe? Yes, that might work, a hunger for magic."

"Okay," He could follow her logic here, sort of, but it didn't really tell him what kind of effect this would have. "But how could something like that affect anyone?"

"Well, with a weapon like that, there might be some kind of feedback between the user and the dagger. Which in turn would mean that this hunger could be felt by the user." After that Alice stopped talking for a moment and looked at him in consternation. "Oh, but I don't think that would have been enough to influence your friend. The effect would hardly be noticeable, even in a battle with magical beings, it would at the most steer her in the direction of the most powerful enemy."

While the logic about all this was a little shaky in his opinion he had no wish to give up on this possibility. "Is there no way this could change her attitude or anything?"

"I'm sorry, but no." As she noticed the dejected look on his face she tried to comfort him. "I understand this isn't what you wanted to hear, but it's the only answer I can give you."

"I understand." The great range of emotions that the conversation had put him through had exhausted him and now he only felt empty. The dull ache in his chest was also steadily becoming worse and he knew that it wouldn't be long until he had to return to rest. "You wouldn't happen to know of any book that might be written about it, do you?"

"No, the knights didn't exactly allow information about them to be published and it would have been created sometime during the last couple of years anyway."

"Oh." Another possibility gone. "And there really is no way your theory could be responsible for the change in behavior?"

"Not unless she is almost pure magic herself, no."

"What? Why?" The emptiness of moments before was quickly being replaced by once-again rekindled hope.

"Well, if it were used by something it is meant to kill, the dagger might just try to influence the user into killing herself. If something like that went on long enough, it might even drive her crazy. But well." Alice shrugged. "This would only work if the user is really magic, and not a magic user such as a witch. I don't think something like a vampire or even a Slayer would be influenced like that. In fact the only kind of person I could think of that something like this might work on is if for example the Key was made human and the dagger had actually tasted her blood."

After profusely expressing his gratitude for her help, a jubilant Xander left the store and went back to his hotel room in order to get some rest and let the wound heal. Once he was capable of doing more he could go and look for Dawn. He now had a reason for her behavior and was pretty sure he could save her from herself once he had found her.

It wasn't until he was drifting into sleep that he realized there had been something strange about the entire conversation he had with Alice.

Chapter 5

Xander found himself in the antique shop and surrounded by the ancient dusty tomes he once again found out about the knife that had taken Dawn's sanity. This time was different however as he appeared to be a mere spectator to the discussion taking place between himself and Alice.

A discussion that by now was making him wonder about Alice. The flighty saleswoman of the first couple of minutes had soon been replaced by a competent researcher who didn't bat her eyes as the other Xander revealed things about magic she hadn't appeared to know before. And it soon became clear to this separated Xander that the entire conversation since he had entered the store had been leading up to that moment where she told him that Dawn had been driven insane by the knife.

She had known exactly who he had been and why he was there, something his tormented self had no chance to detect as she played him like a pro. Even when she had called him by name at the time they said their goodbyes he had never noticed the inconsistencies.


Once again he woke up with a head that felt like it had been stuffed with cotton, but this time he at least knew where he was and how he gotten there. Looking at the clock hanging on the wall he saw that it was almost seven o'clock, as he had lain down on his bed around 2 he wasn't immediately sure whether it was evening or if he had slept until morning.

His stomach however soon managed to solve the mystery, there was no way that he would be this hungry after only a couple of hours sleep. Apparently, the previous days had worn him out more then he had anticipated. Unfortunately for his stomach, taking a look at his wound and refreshing the bandages had to take priority over pacifying his stomach so he started removing the bandages. After doing so however the stench of sweat and things he didn't even want to identify made it clear to him that a shower was in order as well.

Having done all that meant he could finally eat, after which he once again returned to his room. He had to decide what he would do today as he had found out everything he needed about the knife the day before. Unfortunately his wandering about the city to do that had convinced Xander that he clearly wasn't up to walking around the city in order to look for his friend, even if he'd had any idea of where she might be.

Thinking about Dawn made him look at what he considered her side of the room, and what he saw there made surprised him. It looked like a number of her items had disappeared and since he doubted that even the most corrupt cleaner would take this much from a room the obvious conclusion was that Dawn herself had taken them.

The day before, when he had gone to hunt for the knife's background he had taken a look at those same items and they had all still been present. He couldn't recall if they had still been there when he had returned but the thought of a possibly insane Dawn wielding her knife while creeping into the room where he was sleeping was enough to send shivers up his back. He really needed to find her and get rid of that knife.


Xander spent the next hours coming up with ideas of how to find her, thinking them through and in the end rejecting them one after another. The plans he came up with all had vital flaws, they might have worked in Sunnydale or even LA, but here he his disadvantage simply was too great. His wound was the least of these as he could wait a couple of days before he executed the physical parts. But as he was alone and didn't know anything about this city his options were even more limited.

There had to be another way to find out where she was, he just couldn't think of it. With a curse about the painkillers that were undoubtedly the source of his befuddled mind and therefore the reason he couldn't come up with anything he stood up to start pacing around the room.

But as he should have expected that didn't help either and as he moved in front of the window he tried to understand how she was able to outsmart him, without even doing anything. Frustration at his inability to help another of his friends made him feel like a trapped animal, and when he consciously registered the warmth of the sun on his skin he decided to go for a walk, maybe that would clear his mind.

Walking through the crowded streets made Xander realize just how much he had needed to do this. His mind was clearing up and the fresh air and sunshine gave him a renewed hope for a positive solution. His main problem however remained his lack of knowledge about this city so he needed a way to overcome that. But how to do that?

When he figured it out he had to restrain himself from slapping his forehead. How stupid could he be? Here he had spent two days looking for the information about a knife, talking to various people who had been more than helpful and then he didn't even think about doing that again? Okay, he now knew what to do but who should he try first?

The librarian Annie had been nice to him and had offered him information before he had even asked so she was an obvious choice in this matter. When he arrived at the library however he found out it was her day off and while the others seemed more than happy to help him Xander thought it best to keep the number of people who knew about Dawn's disappearance to a minimum.

He was pretty certain that the librarians were nice and didn't have anything to do with demons but after the incident at Vlad's he was pretty sure that most of the demons in the city knew what Dawn looked like. And spreading the word that the person who the demons thought was a Slayer was wandering around the city in a less than healthy mental state was a recipe for disaster.

He could always come back to the library to talk to Annie the next day and in the meanwhile there was the other source. He still felt there was something strange about the woman but as he had no idea what it was and didn't believe it to be dangerous he decided to go back to 'Ye Olde Shoppe' anyway. Maybe he could buy something there as a sort of thank you, he was pretty sure that Giles would be interested in some of those books and as a bonus it would mean he'd be finished with buying the Brit's Christmas presents.

The first time Xander thought he might have made a wrong turn, so he decided to turn around and start back. The second time he still believed the mistake was his, but after walking through all the streets surrounding where he believed the store to be, he still couldn't find it. Enquiries at the surrounding stores soon made it clear that there had never been a store called 'Ye Olde Shoppe'. So he went back and stared at the blank wall where only yesterday had been a store claiming to have existed for almost 120 years.


Puzzling over this strange occurrence he sipped his coke, almost gagging at the taste of the drink that had been boiling in the sun for far too long. He had been standing in front of the blank wall for an indeterminate amount of time until a comment by a passing kid had shown him how foolish he looked. Not wanting to draw too much attention to himself he had crossed the street to a café where he sat down at a table that overlooked the blank wall.

He just didn't get it, how could a store be there one day and be gone the next? Once again, his eyes drifted to the blank space that bothered him so. Thinking back he realized there had been some inconsistencies in Alice's behavior that he hadn't paid any attention to. Mulling this over didn't help him solve the question of the strange disappearance though and in the end he simply gave up on trying to understand it. After all, there was something far more important that he ought to work on.

Since his coke wasn't drinkable anymore, he ordered a new one. Absently paying for it, Xander once again tried to come up with new ways to find Dawn, but he still couldn't come up with a workable plan. And not for the first time that day he cursed Valen, had that insufferable know-it-all not interfered with at least the phone lines he could simply ask Willow to do a locating spell.

At that thought he frowned, he had completely forgotten about it since the mess with Dawn, but they had come here to find a sorceress. A new plan slowly made its way through his mind, a plan so simple it was brilliant and he couldn't imagine he hadn't thought of it before. A plan that would help him find Dawn and meant he didn't even need anyone's help either. After all, he might have forgotten about it but Dawn, who had been more driven to undertake this quest, would undoubtedly have remembered. Quickly finishing his coke he stood up, and with a smile on his face he left for his hotel intending to try and find this Torala.


Finding out where the sorceress was however wouldn't be as easy as he had hoped. The information in the files wasn't enough, the two of them had determined that days ago, and he couldn't remember everything the guy in the bar had told them. In his current state however he couldn't go to Vlad's and ask, what was his name again? Something to do with a president, shaking the inconsequential thought off he focused back on the important things.

The man's name wasn't that important but he did realize that getting information from him was going to be a lot more difficult this time around. Especially since it had been Dawn who everyone had so been afraid of. No, he would just have to come up with a plan that would enable him to talk to the man. He looked at his half-healed chest wound in despair. At least having to come up with another plan would keep him occupied while he waited for it to heal.


Less than a week after his first visit to the bar, he was once again facing the entrance of Vlad's. The difference this time around was that he had no intention of going in, he was here for one person only and he didn't feel like going through half of the demon community of the city just to talk to him.

While his wound was far from completely healed, Xander had decided it was time to take action. His anxiety about Dawn's wellbeing had been steadily increasing, making him ever more restless. The restlessness had also been increased by the dreams he kept having. He had a feeling there was something important about them but as he could never remember them after waking he didn't know what.

So here he was, ignoring the faint twitches of pain indicating the fact he had not taken any painkillers and hoping that, for the first time since following Valen home, he was lucky.

It was around midnight that he finally saw the man and Xander almost pinched himself to check he wasn't dreaming. But it seemed as if he was indeed in luck, with his hand swathed in bandages, the man he had been waiting for was walking down the street towards the bar. Alone.

Adjusting the broad hat that shaded his face Xander crossed the road to approach the wounded man. The man never realized the danger he was in, until Xander grabbed him by his neck and dragged him into the alley he had selected as their meeting spot.

"Hey, you can't hurt me!" His victim shouted "I'm under the protection of Rolquar himself. If you kill me, you won't survive for long yourself."

The threat didn't bother Xander, the way people had acted in the bar had already convinced him that the man was protected by someone powerful. "Shut up." He growled, not completely trusting that his voice wouldn't be recognized, despite that it had been Dawn who had done all the talking during their previous encounter. "I need information and you'll give it to me or it won't matter who you know."

"Right, let me tell you buddy, if I'm not inside that bar within 5 minutes they'll start looking for me and you won't like that."

Xander hadn't counted on that, but it wouldn't matter since he didn't expect this to take very long. "Last week, you spoke to two people. A Slayer and her watcher, I want to know where they are."

The change in the man's behavior confirmed that this was indeed the right way to approach him. "Why?" Was the almost eager answer, "Do you want to kill them?"

"What I plan to do to them is my own business, I know they spoke to you, where are they?"

By now the man had a smile on his face. "Hey, hey, no reason to threaten me. See this hand." He held up his bandaged hand in front of Xander's still shaded face, where he could clearly smell that the wound hadn't been properly treated. "That bitch put a knife in it and I want payback. If you are looking for them I'll be happy to help you."

"That's the spirit." Xander told him with a venom laden voice. "Are you actually gonna tell me anything or will just keep blathering about your helpfulness?"

"Relax, I'll tell you what I can." He appeared to gather his thoughts for a moment. "Okay, I can't tell you where they are, since I don't know."

At this Xander grabbed the man by his throat and hissed. "I thought you said you'd be helpful, and now you suddenly don't know anything?"

"Wait," the other wheezed, "I said I don't know where they are, but I know what they were looking for."

Relaxing his grip a little Xander only cocked his head to indicate he was listening.

"They were looking for this sorceress, that's why they came to me."

"What sorceress?"

"Torala, they were looking for Torala."

"See, how easy this is? Now tell me where I can find her."

The terrified man suddenly appeared to realize that it might not be the best idea to send the kind of person Xander seemed to be on a suicide mission. While it was probably more out of fear for retribution than anything else, it was obvious the man thought it important to warn him. "She is very dangerous; I don't think you'd want to fight her."

"I'm dangerous." Xander replied, before once again asking. "Where is she?"

"Okay, but don't say I didn't warn you. Last I heard she could be approached through this house in the suburbs. Apparently there is a passage there that leads to where she lives, that's the same thing I told the bitch and her plaything."

Choking a little at being called Dawn's plaything, Xander nonetheless asked for directions to this house. After receiving them he took some bills from the wad of money he had taken with him and handed them to the man. "Thanks, now why don't you buy yourself a drink and forget we ever had this conversation?"

Staring at the money the man could only nod and Xander quickly continued deeper in the alley, using the escape route he had scouted out earlier. Within half an hour he was once again in his room where he finally allowed himself to relax. While the plan had worked exactly like planned, the acting had been harder than expected and he therefore decided not to go to the house until the next day. If Torala was as dangerous as everyone kept saying a daylight approach would be better anyway.


Despite the heavy rain, Xander got out of the taxi that had stopped in front of the house. Not paying any attention to the water streaming down his body he studied the house that would supposedly lead him to Torala and, more importantly in his opinion, to Dawn. There was nothing really spectacular about it; from what he could see it looked exactly the same as the houses on either side, although there was a large garden with trees, screening most of the house from the neighbors.

As the taxi drove away he made his way towards the entrance. Walking through the fresh smelling garden he was surprised at the lack of weed growing, as nobody was supposed to actually live here he had expected the garden to reflect the obvious lack of attention.

The door however proved to be an even greater puzzle then the garden. Where the garden had looked like every other garden around here, except for the trees of course, the door was definitely different. In fact, the most noticeable fact about it was that there was no door. There was only a wall with a drawing of a door on it. "You've got to be kidding me." Xander exclaimed in frustration. What kind of person would draw a door on the wall instead of actually putting a door there? Wasn't it a lot easier to get inside if you could use a door, or was that sort of thing outdated? Since this obviously wasn't the way in he decided to walk around the house and look for the real entrance. If it actually existed.

Running his hands over them proved his suspicion that the windows he spotted at the side were as real as the front door. And when he reached the back of the house it seemed like the owner had been lazy as there wasn't even the illusion of a door. Just wonderful, with the rain still causing his clothes to stick to his body he had to draw a conclusion he wasn't happy about. It looked like this house was just another dead end.

Maybe he should pay another visit to his helpful friend from the night before and demand the real location. No, Xander shook his head in denial, there was no way that Abe would have lied. Besides, he had told them the same thing during their first visit and the way Dawn was at the moment she wouldn't have waited this long to exact revenge if he had lied to them.

So the entrance had to be here, but where? Continuing to walk around the house until he found something seemed to be the best solution, so he tried that. On his third cycle he finally spotted something at the backside. He hadn't paid attention to the slight indentations circling the original position of the door, but now he did.

They were out of place, there was absolutely no need for them to be there even if the door had been removed at a later date. Looking closer he recognized them as letters and when he finally read the message they made up Xander laughed a little hysterically. "No, this isn't happening to me. Why does everybody I meet suddenly feel the need to use references from either books or TV?"

While he hadn't read the book, there was no way he could forget the movies, so unlike Gandalf he didn't need long to figure out the command 'Speak friend and enter.' He did as ordered and the wall before him seemed to shift, until an arching doorway revealed a passage to him.

When Xander passed through the entrance torches on the walls suddenly lighted, making it possible for him to see at least a little in front of him. Unfortunately it was only the torches nearest to him that lit and once he had passed them, they extinguished once again, creating the appearance that he was walking in a tiny bubble of light. When he first noticed this effect, he looked behind him, just in time to see the doorway through which he had entered close again.

He ran back to the door, hoping that his presence or the magic word could open it again. As he had half expected however, this didn't seem to be the case and reluctantly he had to admit there was nothing to do but continue his journey. Not that he really wanted to turn around and go back into the rain, since he was here to rescue Dawn, but he would have liked it if there was an obvious way to get out.

When Xander estimated he had walked for maybe two hours, he took a brief rest and examined the walls. While in the beginning the walls had seemed bare to him, by now they were decorated with drawings. He didn't recognize the scenes they depicted, although he had a feeling that some of them looked a little familiar. Shortly after his rest however he came upon a scene that didn't leave much to the imagination, as he saw how a flattened city was engulfed by a storm of fire, centered on a mushroom cloud.

Swallowing hard at the terrorized Japanese faces of the inhabitants of the city, he thought he finally understood what the scenes depicted. A scene of Nazi-Germany that he came across a couple of meters further on confirmed his suspicion. It also made him wonder how much of history had been depicted here. If the distance he had already traveled was any indication he had a feeling his walk was far from over.

His journey through the passage however wasn't as bad as he had figured it would be, by looking at the lifelike paintings he almost felt as if he was actually there when the events took place. This way he felt happiness whenever he encountered one of the more beautiful moments in history, and grieved with the victims of those moments that weren't as enlightened.

All the walking however made him very thirsty, and he was then greatly relieved when somewhere around the Napoleonic wars he discovered what was obviously a resting place. Holding his head over the fountain he used the sweet water to ease his thirst and after some hesitation he decided to risk the food as well. By then he reckoned he had walked for about eight hours and he tried to figure out how much longer he needed to walk through history before he reached his destination. Napoleon, wasn't he that little guy that kept checking his wallet? Xander thought he remembered the guy from History classes. He lived at the beginning of the nineteenth century, didn't he?

Understanding that he had only passed about 200 years in eight hours made him realize it could take a long time before he reached the end of the tunnel. Great, a locked door behind him and the entire history of the human race between him and the other exit. Another disturbing thought shook him then. What if it wasn't just human history? He decided at that moment that if dinosaurs suddenly started to show up on the paintings he'd go back and try his luck with the door.

Strange enough he found after his brief rest that, despite walking for all this time, he didn't feel tired at all. So Xander continued his journey through history, seeing scenes that no history book had ever mentioned. The walls clearly depicted history from the entire human race. Not only those events that shaped the western world, but also the things that influenced those about whom was less known these days. The original unification of what later would be known as Germany was depicted as extensively as the birth of the Aztec empire. The construction of the Chinese Wall was shown to be as important as the discovery of penicillin and the tunnel just kept going on and on.

Several rest stops later Xander started to see a pattern. After about every 200 years of history he would find a small resting place, where he could eat, drink and take care of his needs before going on. But when he had walked past about a thousand years of history he didn't find the now familiar place consisting of a fountain, some food and a toilet but instead found a more extensive resting place. Here was also a bed that he could use and a small bathroom that even included a shower. Once there he found that for the first time in over 40 hours he was actually tired.

Chapter 6

This time Xander knew he was dreaming, and for once he could even remember the other dreams that had been plaguing him since he had arrived in the city. Not that he could still be there, all this walking had surely at least taken care of that. Wondering about what this dream was going to show him he started following the other Xander. It soon became obvious however what this dream was about and he really didn't like it.

While the paintings had looked almost alive when he was awake, in his dreams they were more then real and every time he passed one, he could feel what was happening in there. In some cases this wasn't really a problem but history was full of suffering and after walking past the painting depicting Hiroshima when it was destroyed he decided that feeling an atomic explosion really was too much.

But not only could he feel what was happening, he also understood what the painting was about. As he passed an assassination he hadn't understood while awake, he did not only smell the gunpowder, feel the bullet enter the victim's body and taste the blood as it flooded his mouth. He also understood how important this man had been to the Dutch people and why the assassin, who he now knew was called Balthazar Gerards, never lived long enough to spent the money he earned for this job.

On and on it went, every few steps there was a new painting that wanted him to know what had happened at that time. Most of the times these impressions weren't what he had expected as they showed him both sides of the event and he had to revise his opinion about a lot of things. Seeing Columbus reach America while convinced he had arrived in India was weird enough, but the reaction of the natives to this event was far stranger then he could easily handle.

But compared to others that event was still easy enough for him to understand. Those moments where incomprehensible reasons cost people their life were what he didn't understand and never wanted to. He had been fighting to save humanity for so long, that he couldn't understand how anyone could arrange the death of their friends, just to increase their own influence.


The painting of two beautiful half naked assassins kneeling with swords in their hands, while a priestess gave them her blessing, was the strangest sight Xander had ever woken up to. Strangely enough though, he had no trouble remembering where he was and he felt more refreshed then ever. He had no intention to think about the weirdness of this place and a quick shower and breakfast later he was once again walking along the path of history.

Somehow he had the feeling he understood some of these paintings better now, even those that depicted the kind of scenes he hadn't really cared about before his sleep now struck a chord in him. It was almost as if for some reason the people depicted had become more real and he wondered whether something had happened during the night.

He was pretty certain he had another dream while sleeping but he couldn't actually remember what it was about. Unfortunately while that wasn't exactly new it didn't tell him anything either. Ever since they had agreed to look for this Torala he had been plagued with dreams he couldn't remember. No matter how he looked at it however, he just couldn't shake the feeling that this most recent dream was influencing how he thought about the scenes he passed.


Focusing on a painting that was different from most of the others he watched the scene with a weary heart. That he felt connected to this scene didn't surprise him in the least as it reminded him of his graduation. His memories of that day contained many similarities to the scene that now captivated him, but there was of course that one most important difference between the two moments in time.

At graduation day the plan they had devised had actually worked and so they managed to defeat the mayor before he had been able to do even more damage. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of the village depicted here, this ascension had been completed successfully and he could only imagine the terror those people must have felt before they died. He stood in front of the painting for maybe half an hour before he decided to continue his walk through what he had identified as the Dark Ages.

The Dark Ages, during history classes he had sometimes wondered why they were called that. But now, after having walked past all thousand years of them, he could easily understand the reason why the people of the Renaissance had given this name to such a long period of time. From the wars that never seemed to end to the witch-hunts, nothing was ever easy for the people who lived in those times.

And yet, in between the oppressions and persecutions he noticed people acting in such a way that they could almost be considered saints. Acts of selflessness and compassion that would momentarily outshine all the bad that took place at the same time. But he also realized how Dark Ages was a purely western term as he could see how in other parts of the world mighty empires stood and people lived lives that most of Europe's inhabitants longed for.

As the ages rolled by however, the paintings became ever more incomprehensible to him. Not that they weren't clear, or painted well, but it seemed as if the motives of the people depicted weren't as understandable as those of the people he had passed earlier. While he didn't realize it at the time he later came to understand that it had been the cultural gap that prevented anyone from truly understanding history that had caused this.

Xander's journey continued on for days, although he walked faster and faster through time. For while he noticed that there were important events during every part of history, the amount of paintings depicted about a year became fewer as he passed deeper and deeper into history. At first he didn't really understand the reason for this, until it became obvious to him with less people alive, there just couldn't be as many events in the same time span.

And then there were the things that were almost funny to watch. Things that happened of which he had seen the consequences thousands of years earlier, or was it later? Damn time stuff, he had seen them earlier in his walk but they took place later, right, yes that was it. And for what? Some of those things he really couldn't understand, he had always thought that those archeological things had simply ended up in the ground because of something to do with time but one of the paintings had told him this wasn't always the case. In that painting some Egyptians were busy burying some kind of stone circle thingie that he knew would be found again somewhere in the beginning of the twentieth century. Oh well, some things just couldn't be explained.

But the biggest mystery of all remained the tunnel itself and the further he traveled the more his hope about ever reaching the end began to dwindle. The rest stops kept appearing at regular intervals and every time he found a bed to sleep in, fatigue would overcome him. Whenever he awoke he would feel as he did that first time, but no matter how hard he tried, he could never recall the dreams that he must have had while occupying the comfortable beds.

While he had continued looking at the paintings in the earlier stages of human civilization it wasn't until he encountered a painting that showed a scene he had only heard described that he realized something. With the exception of that Ascension and several others there had hardly been any scenes that contained demons. It was almost as if they hadn't had as great an influence on humanity as he had always thought, although the few scenes that he had seen always ended badly for humanity.

This had mostly been horrifying scenes where what he could only describe as an army of darkness had destroyed entire towns, cities and even empires. While he would never agree with the annoying man about it, those scenes made him understand Valen's low opinion of their work in Sunnydale a little better. But in his heart he knew that if the scene he was now staring at had never taken place, the paintings he had walked past for the last couple of days would have depicted an entirely different history.

Not too long after he had passed the painting, depicting the Calling of the First Slayer, Xander though that he could see the light at the end of the tunnel. He stopped paying attention to the walls and started moving faster and faster, until in the end he was running.

He had no idea how long he had been inside this tunnel, but there was no way he would spend any longer here than was absolutely necessary. He was panting as he reached the end and as he peered through the crack in the doorway he had to shield his eyes from the unaccustomed harsh daylight but he opened the door and passed through anyway.


"Welcome Xander." He couldn't see who said it, since he was still blinking the tears from his eye, but the voice sounded like it belonged to a woman.

"Hi, sorry I can't see you yet, but who are you and how do you know my name?"

"Take your time, your vision will return shortly enough. That has always been the case, and always will be." There was a short pause during which he had a feeling she was looking him over. "But you are correct that I should introduce myself, you may call me Torala. Am I correct in thinking that you have been looking for me?"

Xander opened his eyes once more, and this time made out a blurry figure, but continued his blinking. "Ehm, yeah. How do you know?"

The other once again answered him in that light accent he just couldn't place. "There isn't much that I do not know about as I am certain you must have noticed. Did you like my paintings?"

"You painted that?" He asked incredulously, while he knew that someone must have done all the painting, until now he hadn't really thought about the work that must have been.. "It must have taken centuries to paint all that. I mean, only walking through it took me…" He tried to figure out how long it had taken him to walk through the tunnel.

"About a week." Torala told him.


"It took you about a week to walk through the tunnel of time."

"A week?" He wasn't completely certain, but that did indeed sound about right. It also convinced him that he wouldn't want to live here, after all this meant that you could never do something like rent a movie. By the time you'd be halfway home it would have to be returned. "So, I guess you don't get many visitors then?"

This caused her to laugh, a clear and beautiful sound that twisted his stomach into knots. "Most people use another entrance and only pass through the tunnel when they feel the need to."

"Feel the need to?" Yes, his vision was indeed clearing, and he could make out what she looked like. While she was beautiful he couldn't really name a specific feature that was the cause of this. There wasn't anything really remarkable about her, but the complete effect made her one of the most beautiful woman he had ever met. The shiny white dress she wore accentuated the black hair.

But hold on, was that a purple glow in her hair? He tried to make it out, but he couldn't be certain the effect wasn't caused by how his working eye was still adjusting to daylight. Suddenly he realized that he had been staring, something that made him feel a little self-conscious, a feeling that was enhanced when she looked at him with a smile that seemed to imply she knew exactly what he had been thinking about.

It wasn't until he once again looked at her face however, that she answered his question. "Yes, as I am certain you noticed how your feelings changed when you walked along this path of history. That feeling is something that a lot of people long for, and my friends regularly walk along the path to once again regain that feeling. It makes them feel closer to humanity I think."

"Okay, while it was certainly pretty and intense, I don't really think I'll want to spend another week doing that." Remembering that she hadn't yet answered his earlier question made him repeat it. "You said that you had painted all that, right?"

"That is correct."

"How, I mean, you don't look very old." In fact it was difficult to pin an age on her, but he didn't think it could be more then at the most 30.

"Thank you, but I am a little older then I look. I created the paintings shortly after the respective events happened."

Now that wasn't a little older, there were scenes thousands of years old. If she was capable of living that long she must be very powerful indeed and he wondered how she had gotten that power. He had known only one human that had lived longer then he should have and Xander doubted that had been accomplished by clean living. Thinking about what she could have possibly done to prolong her life to such an extent scared him so much he couldn't move.

"You have no need to be afraid. It is not by making sacrifices that I have lived for this long. The endurance of my life has been granted for a specific reason, but that is not something that we will discuss at this time." As she was telling him this, Torala once again seemed to be studying him. Something was bothering him about the way she did that but he couldn't quite figure out what it was.

Trying to overcome what he thought of as his own cowardice, he tried to steer the conversation in another direction. "So, what's with the entrance anyway? After all, it's not like by now practically the whole world knows the answer to that riddle."

She looked a little confused before she once again used that lethal laughter. "You refer to the Lord of the Rings, don't you?"

At his nod of confirmation, she explained that the command at the entrance didn't work like that. It wouldn't have mattered what he said, the door only checked whether he had friendly intentions or not. Had he wanted to bring harm to either her, or anything else behind the door it wouldn't have opened.

"This was in fact the case with your friend. When she first approached the door, she attempted the same thing you did. Unfortunately it seemed that at that time she was not in her right mind and posed a danger. For this reason the door remained closed until she had calmed down."

"Dawn is here?" Relief flooded through his body as he realized this entire trip had at least not been for nothing. She really was here and now he could go and save her.

"Indeed she is. You must be worried about her and I believe I have kept you from her long enough now. You can find her in the lounge. Why don't you go and see her?"


He hadn't needed long to find the lounge and when he entered it he could see Dawn reading a book. His eye immediately strayed to her waist where the knife was now hanging in a small scabbard. While he hadn't expected it to be gone, the way Dawn was now so openly carrying it didn't agree with him at all.

Faking a cough to gain her attention he waited until Dawn spotted him. Once she did she threw aside the book she had been reading with a shout of joy and ran towards him. When she got closer to him however she suddenly slowed down and Xander noticed that she was deliberately not looking at his face, instead alternating between the floor, the walls and his chest. "Dawnie?"

"I'm so sorry Xander." She managed to say through the tears that had started streaming down her face. "I don't know what came over me, I just suddenly." She shook her head and didn't continue speaking, while looking at him with those remorseful eyes.

Xander just took her in his arms and hugged her, relishing the feeling of a friend safely enclosed in his arms. "Shhh, it's okay. I'm fine now, see. Nothing can keep me down."

Dawn's muffled voice came from his, now wet, shoulder where she had buried her face.

"I'm sorry, but what did you say?" He asked her, still talking in the calmest voice he could manage while his heart was thundering from the happiness he was feeling about her safety.

"You shouldn't have been down at all." A tear-streaked Dawn told him before once again trying to bury her head in his shoulder. "It's all my fault."

It was only now, while holding her, that he noticed how his own anger and feelings of betrayal about the situation had disappeared during his trek through the tunnel of time. So he continued to comfort her, drawing on all his experience in this kind of matter and while he didn't expect anything to happen instantaneously, it seemed to be working.

It took him most of an hour to get her calmed down enough that she wouldn't burst into tears every time she looked at him. Realizing that asking how she had ended up here would only result in another flood of guilty tears Xander tried to distract her by enquiring after her travels of the past year.

She gave him a knowing look when he proposed this, but she was obviously happy that he didn't want to talk about her behavior and so she spent the rest of the afternoon telling him stories about what she and Buffy had gotten up to in Europe. Xander meanwhile relaxed into the couch they had seated themselves in and did his best to ignore the way Dawn would regularly fondle the knife.

Just listening to these tales calmed him in a way he hadn't really expected to happen and it wasn't until he noticed the delightful smell of food that he remembered where exactly he was and for what reason.

Chapter 7

When Torala came to call them to dinner Xander hadn't expected the banquet that had been prepared. Upon entering the dining room he first noticed the large table around which the rest of the room seemed to be organized. The beautiful wooden table looked rather old and considering who owned it, he assumed it had indeed been around for a long time. The table had been set for three people only and this made him realize that they were here all alone with the sorceress.

Torala was already seated at the head of the table and indicated they should seat themselves as well. The food laid out on the table didn't look like anything he had ever seen but smelled good nonetheless. He noticed that Dawn had no trouble with eating the various dishes but he wasn't so certain about trying it for himself.

Their hostess apparently noticed this and advised him to take some of everything and he could put aside the things he didn't like. He wasn't really inclined to trust her about this, but when his stomach loudly proclaimed its need for food and Dawn chimed in as well he started trying some of the dishes. While the food didn't taste like anything he had ever eaten before, he decided that with some notable exceptions it didn't taste too bad.

Xander had planned to make use of this opportunity to enquire after the sorceress herself, but when she made it clear that she wouldn't answer any personal questions for the time being he switched to other subjects.

"At this time, the two of you are my only guests." Torala informed him after he had asked her about it.

"But why? From what I have seen there is more then enough room for people to stay and you have already said that your friends often come for a visit."

Dawn decided to add to this. "There hasn't been anybody else here since my arrival. Does that mean you don't let two groups of guests stay here at the same time?"

This earned a sad half smile from the sorceress. "Normally I do not have any problems with people staying here, but there are circumstances at the moment that prevent this from happening. I would prefer not to discuss these at this time and will therefore ask you to talk about other things."

That was weird, but there were only two reasons he could think of why she wouldn't let anyone else stay here with them. The first was that she was indeed doing something that she didn't want them to know about which, considering the information they had received from Valen, was a likely option.

The second reason however was one that he had worried about himself. From his earlier conversation with her he understood that she was aware of Dawn's problem and the reason they were here alone might just be to ensure the safety of her friends.

However, he could think about that later, now was a chance to get some information and he wanted to make the most of it. "So, tell me about this house. Somehow I have a feeling it isn't exactly a normal place."

"Indeed, you are correct about this. I had the basics of this house built about fifteenhundred years ago."

Wait a minute, that didn't sound right. "Ehm, I thought that the Indians didn't go for houses, so how did you do this?"

Another of those smiles, that seemed to convey so much, appeared on her face before she answered. "What makes you think that this house is located in the United States of America?"

The shock of that question caused his food to go down the wrong hole and when he turned back after his coughing fit he noticed that Dawn hadn't exactly gotten off easy either. "Excuse me?" He did his best to control the mild panic that had appeared in his voice but couldn't keep it out completely. He hadn't walked that far had he?

"The physical location of this house is not in any place that you would know, but it has many entrances and exits that lead to and from what you would call civilization."

"Do you mean the house is in some kind of other dimension? The tunnel was like a Hellmouth?"

Torala sighed at that, it seemed as if she didn't want to explain but had decided to do so anyway. "No, while the tunnel of time is not what you would call normal, as it too can end in more places than one, it is not a portal to a different dimension. You have never needed to leave this earth in your journey here. This house was built in what some people now call a place forgotten by time, it is in a place that civilization has passed by."

"Oh." This didn't really make a lot of sense and hadn't exactly answered his question about where they were, but at least it was something. "So, how does the whole exits that lead to and from civilization deal work?"

"Just like I have already said, they lead to and from different parts of the world. You will not be able to use these doors at the moment, there is only one door that can currently be used by either of you and that leads to China."

"China? And what could we possibly do there?" This came from Dawn, who had apparently never asked after these things before, something that he thought to be rather strange.

"There is nothing there of interest to you. It leads to a valley in the mountains there and the nearest town is several hundred kilometers away. But if the two of you need some time alone, or feel the need to leave the house that is where you can go."

After she had told them this, Torala made it clear that she had no more interest in holding conversations about any subject and the rest of the meal passed by in relative silence.


"So Dawn, what have you found out about the house and its owner?" After the lack of information gained during the meal, Xander was anxious to find out more about his current situation.

"Not much." She looked a little sheepish at having to admit this. "I didn't feel like doing anything but read since the moment I've arrived."

He had to blink in surprise at this. "Read? You've done nothing but read since you got here? Why? You know the reason that we're here for and I can't imagine you aren't interested in the house."

"I don't know why. When I arrived I wasn't exactly myself and Torala told me to go and read a little until I'd calmed down. Then you arrived and well… you know what's happened since then."

"You mean you've only arrived today as well?"

"No." The girl appeared a little confused. "I have eaten here before and slept, so I must have been here longer than a day. But I'm not sure how long exactly."

"Okay, that's weird."

"Yes it is, now that I think about it, it's probably got to do something with the house or Torala herself."

"You think she messed with your mind?" That gave him an uneasy feeling. His mind was his own and since it had been messed with before he knew that it was one of those things he hated most. If the sorceress messed with people's mind that meant that he didn't want to stay here any longer then absolutely necessary.


"Damn, any idea why?"

"Like I said, I wasn't exactly in my right mind when I got here."

He didn't like this at all and decided he really needed some privacy where they could talk about these things without being overheard. "Do you know where that door is that she spoke about?"

"Yes, that's something I do know. It's this way." And she started to lead him through a series of corridors that seemed to go on forever.

When they had been walking for maybe ten minutes Xander began to question how the girl could have possibly found this door if all she had done was read. "Are you sure you're going the right way?"

Dawn only looked at him with an expression that he figured she could only have learned from Buffy and which basically said that she was certain and he shouldn't doubt her.

And indeed, within a few minutes they had arrived at their destination. It seemed like a normal front door to Xander, but there was a small display next to it that read 'Tian Shan mountains, China'.

Deciding that he might as well open the door to see what was behind it he made for the handle, when it opened by itself. Daylight streamed through the opening and he had to squint a little at the sun that had appeared above the valley less then an hour before. It was rather strange though that despite the fact he could see the effects the wind had on the environment he couldn't feel it. The door acted more like a window in the way that sunlight was the only thing that made it through.

When the two of them stepped through however there was no resistance and he immediately noticed the fresh smelling mountain air that was blowing all around him. He also took in the scenery, the beauty of which almost took his breath away. "I think we'd better leave the door open or we might not find the way back."

Dawn agreed with this but they did decide to move farther from the door so they would minimize the chance to be overheard. Moving away from the door but always keeping it in sight, it struck him how ridiculous that looked. In his life he had seen many strange things but had he made a list, a hole in the air that led to the inside of a house he couldn't see would definitely be in the top five. He considered that thought for a moment before amending it, well the top fifty at least.

When they had walked sufficiently far away from the door they sat down on the grass. Dawn started playing a little with the flowers that surrounded them while Xander looked at this, knowing that very soon he would need to ask questions that she wouldn't like.

Bringing one of the flowers to her nose to smell it Dawn started the conversation. "It's beautiful here isn't it?"

"Yes it is."

"You want to know what happened, don't you?"

A little surprised but also pleased that she brought it up herself he just nodded, allowing her the opportunity to talk the way she wanted.

After a short silence she then started telling what had happened to her since their separation. "I don't really remember how I, you know," she stopped here and made a stabbing motion with her hand, "it's like something took over. When I saw you wounded and I saw that I had my knife in my hand, I knew that it was my fault. But what I did then was the worst thing I've ever done in my life."

When she had started speaking she had looked down, but now she looked at Xander's face and he could see her eyes filling up so he tried to comfort her again. "Hey, it's okay remember. We talked about all that before and I forgave you for what you did."

"It's not okay!" This came out more vehemently than he had expected and he shifted a little uncomfortable when she continued. "What I did to you then was unforgivable. The fact that I stabbed you is bad enough, but it's nothing compared to my running away. I left you in front of a bar full of vampires while you were bleeding."

He now finally understood why she still felt so much guilt despite all of his assurances after his arrival at the house. And he also realized there was nothing he could do about it. This was something that only she could work out and even that would be difficult. Swallowing with a little difficulty he tried to say something anyway but couldn't find the words. Once again a friend needed him and he was unable to help her.

She just looked with sad eyes at his attempts to speak before she spoke herself. "It really is unforgivable isn't it? Even if you find something to say to try and comfort me, there is no way that I'll ever forgive myself for that moment." Shaking her head she then continued in a more collected voice. "I ran and ran as far away as I could because I felt so guilty, at first for the stabbing and later for the running away part as well. But by then it was too late to return and I decided I might as well do what we had come for, so I went to that weird house."

He snorted at that, weird house indeed. How there could be a house that lacked any kind of normal entrance in the middle of a city without anyone noticing would have surprised him had he been born in any place but Sunnydale.

"Yeah," a slight smile had appeared on Dawn's face, but she had once again averted her eyes, "You must have found it as well. I spent hours looking around it to find a way in but couldn't find anything, only when the sun rose did I finally find the engraving. Of course I knew what I had to do, but for some reason it wouldn't let me in at first. I spent over an hour trying different languages and cursing Torala for everything that had happened."

He didn't want to interrupt but he did make a mental note to explain to Dawn why she wasn't let in at first.

"In the end I was so exhausted that I decided to take a rest under one of those trees in the garden. I think I must've fallen asleep, because the next thing I remember was opening my eyes when it was already midday.

"This time when I tried the door it immediately opened and I walked into the tunnel. Well, you know what that was like since you've gone through it yourself." Talking about the tunnel made her look a little wistful, as if she wanted to go through it again and this only confirmed Xander's opinion that she wasn't exactly emotionally balanced anymore.

When he noticed that she had become lost in thoughts about this he decided to risk a question. "And when you came out?"

"Oh, sorry. When I came out I saw Torala standing there hidden in the sunlight. Did you have trouble seeing as well when you came out?" At his nod she looked a little relieved and continued. "So she was standing there and greeted me by name, I was kinda freaked out by that I guess and I took my knife. I'm not entirely sure what happened after that, although I know I didn't attack her, but the next thing I remember is that I had let go of the knife and she told me I might want to read a little to calm down."

"And that's what you did, until I came." Xander told her mulling things over. There had been something about the story that bothered him, but it wasn't until now that he knew what it was. "You said that you haven't come back to the hotel room?"

"No, why?"

"That isn't what you were wearing when went to the bar and some of your stuff was missing from the room, could you've forgotten about coming back?"

Again a smile appeared on her face and she even chuckled a little. "No, I understand why you'd think that, but I didn't take my things. They were here when I arrived and you'll probably find your own clothes and stuff in your room at the house as well."

Wonderful, this meant that they were dealing with a powerful sorceress who had lived for who knows how long, liked to do Jedi mind tricks on people and probably knew everything about the two of them. Oh yes, he was so happy that he had decided to do this, why couldn't he just let Valen try and kill her? At least he would have been rid of that annoyance.

"Xander?" The tremulous voice of Dawn shook him out of his reverie.

"Yeah Dawn?"

"I'm sorry, I know I deserve your anger but it still hurts to see it."

What was she talking about? Feeling a little confused he looked at her, but all he could see was a movement of her head as she once again looked down at the grass so that her face was hidden by her hair. Feeling frustrated he moved his hand through his hair, but stopped halfway through.

On his forehead he could definitely feel a frown, that was probably what had triggered his friend's reaction, but he had no idea how it had gotten there. Thinking about Valen and this entire messed up situation was probably what had caused it, however he had to convince Dawn of this.

"Dawnie, look at me. Please Dawn, I'm not angry at you."

As she hesitatingly brought her face back up he could see how believing he was angry at her had hurt her. "You looked so angry." The small voice she used to say this almost physically hurt him, it was so different from the Dawn with whom he had gone shopping. At the time he had hoped she could stop talking for a while, but now all he wanted was for her to once again act like she had on that day.

"I'm not angry at you." It was frustrating that he had to explain this, but he also knew he couldn't show any of that frustration. She would likely misinterpret it again. "It's this whole situation that I don't like, I just wish that I'd never said yes back in that stinking motel."

Dawn looked a little relieved but it didn't appear as if she was convinced yet, there was probably only one way to get her to lose some of the blame. "Dawn, I know a little more about what happened to you then I've told you so far."

"What do you mean?"

"I know why the door didn't open for you when you came to the house."

"Why?" This seemed to interest her, although he noticed that once again she had taken out that cursed knife and had started playing with it.

"You told me you were feeling angry at Torala when you wanted to open it, right?"


"That was why the door wouldn't open, it was created to stop anyone with bad intention from entering." He could see that she understood this, however now would come the hardest part. Taking a deep breath of the slightly chilly air he continued. "I also know why you were like that."

"What do you mean?" Anger was starting to surface in her voice again and for what must have been the fiftieth time that day he noticed how fast her mood could change.

"It's your knife." Nodding in the direction of the knife he then started to explain what he had found in that strange little antique store. It took a long time, especially since Dawn didn't want to believe that the knife could pose any danger to her. And when he admitted that the shop had disappeared the next day she wanted to write it of as a bad dream he must have had. There was no way that her beloved knife could do something like that to her.

"So, like I said, you must've dreamed it or do you really think that I've lost my mind?" Dawn seemed rather pleased with her little self-delusion and her look dared him to deny it.

"Trust me, had it been a dream I would've known. I've had enough weird ones the last weeks to recognize when I'm dreaming."

"So you really think that I'm fit for the loony bin?"

Though it was accurate, that wasn't exactly how he would have put it and he didn't think he should answer that question. "Okay, let's assume for a moment that you are right and that knife hasn't done anything to you. Could you at least tell me where you got it?"

Agreeing to this, she started telling him about what had happened during those days in London when she and Buffy had found out about the plot to kill her. It all sounded a little complicated to Xander, since Dawn didn't give the names of the two people that had informed them of this or what organization was trying to kidnap her so she could be given over to the Faithful.

She then told him how she had been taken while walking to her favorite park and that Buffy, Giles and the two mystery guests had come to save her. That none of the Faithful was left alive was something she didn't seem to care about, at least she clearly didn't disapprove of it. And that was what he thought strange, not just the fact that she didn't care but also that Buffy had apparently done some of the killing. Buffy's reluctance when it came to killing humans could be interpreted as a weakness but he had always believed it was one of the things that showed exactly what kind of person she was.

"And then she shot this priest guy that had tried to kill me with the knife." Another time one of the unknown had shot someone. "Since they had bragged about how powerful the dagger was we decided to take it with us when we left. Giles did some tests on it to find out if it was dangerous and when he told us it was safe, I got it since Buffy already had the scythe."

So Giles had already tested the knife, this shouldn't really surprise him since he knew the older man well enough to know he wouldn't just give something that could be dangerous to a friend. And yet, he had seen the effect the knife had on Dawn. An effect that could not be denied however much he wanted to, it was destroying her sanity and she didn't want to believe his warnings.

But even without that, he couldn't really believe that Buffy would have allowed her to have the knife. Something just sounded wrong about the entire story, as if an important part was missing. Why did Buffy kill humans, instead of just knocking them out? Who were the mystery guests? And how much did they have to do with the fact nobody survived? But above all, why was it that Dawn now held the knife meant to kill her?

"I take it there is no way that I can convince you to throw away the knife?" He had to keep trying, the safety of his friends was after all the most important thing to him.

"No. And besides, if what you've told me was actually true it would be too late anyway, wouldn't it?"

That had been a concern that had regularly crossed his mind since his meeting with Alice, but he had no idea what to do about it. No matter how hard he had tried he hadn't been able to think of anything that could reverse the process, magic had never actually been his forte, it had always been others who dealt with that and he couldn't reach them. One possibility entered his mind, but it was so ridiculous he didn't think there was a chance anything would come out of it.

Thinking that over he suddenly noticed how parched his throat was, they had been sitting here for hours talking and they had neglected to bring anything with them through the door. Maybe it was time they went back inside, it wasn't like there was anything left that he could try here and, he had to admit to himself, he was getting tired. So he ignored her question and asked if she wanted to come back into the house with him.

Following him she suddenly spoke up, interrupting his continued thinking about a possible solution to the problem. "Sorry, I wasn't listening."

Playfully rolling her eyes she repeated her question. "I asked what you meant by those strange dreams you mentioned earlier."

The dreams, had he mentioned them to her? He must have, although he couldn't remember when or why. "I've been having these weird dreams ever since we spoke to the annoying one."

"What about?"

"I don't have a clue, when I wake up I've completely forgotten what they're about."

"But you know they aren't normal dreams?"

"That's the only thing about them I know for sure."

"You know, I read somewhere that it is possible to remember you dreams if you repeat 'I want to remember my dreams' a couple of times before you go to sleep. Maybe that would work?"

"That actually works?" He didn't really believe something that simple could be the solution to his problem with the dreams, but if Dawn believed it, he might want to try it anyway.

"It does according to that book, apparently it is supposed to enhance creativity or some nonsense like that. But it might just help you with your dreams."


His other self had run to the end of the tunnel what seemed to him like hours ago but Xander had been unable to move past the paintings with the same speed. Like the previous nights he had been pulled into the various paintings until he too had now finally finished walking through the tunnel. This time around when he exiting the tunnel the light didn't hurt his eye, that obviously was something that only happened to real bodies and not to strange memory thingies.

He noticed the sorceress waiting for him although his other self had left already in order to find Dawn. "Welcome again, Xander." She could see him! Panic momentarily flooded his brain, how could she see him if this was only a dream? Was she able to see into his mind during his dreams as well? She continued speaking however. "Dinner will be ready within moments, unless I am mistaken that is what you most want to see in this dream." She turned away, presumably to go to the dining chamber when she turned back for a last question. "What did you think about the paintings?"

Xander did not answer the question, he felt there was no need to do so. If she was capable of invading his dreams, surely she would know his opinion on the paintings. He passed Torala without looking at her and walked to the dining room where he discovered that he was the first to arrive and this surprised him. In all his other dreams he had been connected to his other self, but now he could walk around freely. Most likely it was an effect of the house or maybe even the sorceress herself, had she messed with his mind as she had with Dawn's? He was sure that if he'd been corporeal the thought would have send shivers up his back.

Finally the diners entered the room and he could pay attention to the conversation, trying to figure out the things that had been said and what hadn't been said. He couldn't find anything though, nothing was said that he could interpret differently but he kept being distracted by the sorceress who was obviously aware of him. Remembering that he had believed there was something strange about her, he started paying more attention to her actions instead of only her words. In the end when he discovered it he was so shocked that he woke up.


"She never looks at anyone?" He whispered it softly in his darkened room. He scrambled to get a pen and some paper so he could write it down; this wasn't something he wanted to forget about. It was only when he had written the last word that he stopped to think for a moment and burst out in laughter. "What do you know, it actually works."

Chapter 8

He was roaming through the house and had been doing so for what seemed like hours. He could remember going back to sleep after his discovery about the eyes and how happy he had been that he had remembered something. It was a shame that while he had indeed remembered something, the greatest part of the dream had been forgotten but maybe that was how it was supposed to be.

Upon reentering this strange dreamworld he had decided not to follow his other self and Dawn to the Chinese mountains, choosing instead to explore the house. He didn't know how much he would remember of it but any info about the layout of this complex building was useful.

He had been walking for a long time when he once again encountered her. Like before she spoke to him despite the fact that that shouldn't have been possible. "Why did you not go with the other Xander?"

This time he decided to answer her. "There was no need to and I thought it might be more useful to explore the house."

She nodded thoughtfully at that. "That was a wise decision, even though I had not foreseen it. Tell me, is the other you capable of convincing Dawn of the danger she is in?"

That was a confusing question, surely she must have known by now that he hadn't been able to do so but he answered her anyway. "No, she refuses to believe there is any danger in the knife."

"I had thought that was the case but it would not have mattered anyway. She would not have been able to do away with the knife without risking what little sanity she has left. Something more intensive must be done in order to save her, something that I can not do without risk to both her and myself." She looked pensive for a moment, before she continued. "But we do not have any other choice. Tomorrow you will bring her to me and then we will discuss the solution to this problem."

He opened his mouth to ask a question, although he didn't know which one when she interrupted him. "No, the questions you wish to ask will have to wait for the morning as well. Now go back to your body."


"So did it work?"

The two of them were having breakfast when Dawn asked him this and for a moment Xander didn't know what she meant. "What? Oh yeah, I don't think that I actually remembered everything but I did most."

"That's great!" The girl looked extremely pleased that her suggestion had helped.

"I guess so."

"You guess so? Yesterday you were so anxious to know what happened and now you act as if you couldn't care less. Was whatever happened in your dream that bad?"

He almost laughed at that, no, it hadn't exactly been very bad but he was disturbed by the fact that Torala had been able to talk to him in his dream. Unfortunately he couldn't share that with his friend since she would want to know what they had talked about and that wasn't something he could tell her. "No, not really, but they were very strange."

"They? You had more then one dream?"

Mentally cursing his traitorous mouth he answered her. "Yes, I woke up after the first one and when I fell asleep again I had another."

"Wow, so what were they about?" She sounded really eager to hear about his dreams and when he looked at her he noticed she was staring at him with a disconcertingly hungry look on her face.

"Like I said, they were weird. It's like I was reliving the entire day but not really. It was more like I was looking at whatever was happening to me and was able to pay attention to other things."

"Huh, that is weird. So what kind of things did you see?"

How to answer this in a way she wouldn't get angry at him again? He took a moment to collect his thoughts while pretending to pay attention to the wonderful tasting food. "The thing that woke me up was about Torala." Taking another bite he tried to gauge her reaction to that news. He still wasn't sure how far the mental conditioning thing the sorceress had done on Dawn went and he had no intention of taking any risks there. But he didn't really notice anything strange in her eager face so he asked her a question. "Have you ever seen her eyes?"

"Her eyes? This is about her eyes? I've never noticed anything weird about them."

The strong denial was not what he had expected but he wasn't sure whether it was because of the mindcleansing or the cursed knife. But, he thought, it didn't really matter if the sorceress found out about the eye thing since he planned on asking her about it anyway. "That's right, you've never noticed anything weird about them. In fact I'm pretty sure you've never noticed anything about them at all."

As she gave him a confused look he decided to just go on. "You can't tell me what color they are, can you?" Dawn frowned at that and he waited while she was clearly trying to remember that information. When she gave up with a slightly disgruntled look on her face he explained the reason to her. "Torala never looks directly at you. I didn't notice it either, until the dream, but she keeps her eyes almost closed all the time and usually looks slightly to the left of whoever she is speaking to."

"Really? But I think I would've noticed something like that if it happened."

"Would you? It was only because I was really paying attention to her that I saw it and even then it took me a long time. If what she says about how long she's lived is true, then she must've had a lot of practice at doing it."

"And if she's done it for so long she must be so good at it, that nobody notices." His friend finished, slightly awed. "Wow, that could actually happen."

"Yeah," for the first time since his arrival at breakfast he wondered about Torala's presence, "talking about Torala, do you know where she is? I'd kinda expected she'd be here for breakfast."

"She's somewhere outside the house, although I'm not sure where she is. She left before we returned last night."

And there it was again, that freaky knowing of things she couldn't possibly know. He really didn't like that, it might be a side effect of whatever spell was cast on her and if so he hoped he could convince the sorceress to end it.


They had spent most of the morning and afternoon in the lounge, where Dawn had been reading every book she could get her hands on while Xander had been busy thinking about everything that had happened since their talk with Valen. It was late in the afternoon when he first noticed the two of them were no longer alone in the room.

"You're back."

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Dawn look up from her book, clearly interested in the sorceress as well. Undoubtedly she would be trying to see if he'd been right about her not looking at anyone.

"Indeed I have returned."

"Where were you?"

"That knowledge is not important for now, you will find out at the appropriate time. For now there are other things we can talk about. I told you that I would answer some of your questions today. Why don't you ask them?"

Finally he could get some information about the woman. But what question should he ask first? "Why don't you look people in the eye?"

A small smile appeared at her beautiful face. "I have learned that people prefer it if I don't do that, apparently it makes them nervous."

Okay, considering he already felt nervous just being in the same room with her he didn't think that he'd actually want to see her eyes then. He planned to ask another question when Dawn piped up. "Can't you show them to us anyway?"

What was the girl thinking? He looked at her in consternation and noticed the almost spellbound look at her face while she was once again stroking her knife. Apparently he wasn't the only one to notice this as Torala answered that she wouldn't do it for reasons she didn't want to go into.

Before Dawn could try something else to find a way to look at the sorceress's eyes Xander posed the question he really wanted an answer to. "What is it that you do actually?"

"How do you mean?"

"Well, you've lived for a very long time and you said that long life was granted to you for a reason. What is that reason?"

"You wish to know what I do for a living, no pun intended?"

Xander only nodded his head and noticed Dawn doing the same.

For a minute the sorceress didn't move and appeared to be thinking about what she could tell them, until suddenly she stood up and left the room.

Staring at the door through which she had departed he could only whisper. "What the?" Confused beyond measure he looked at his friend, hoping that she would have any idea of what was going on. Unfortunately this didn't appear to be the case as she was looking at him for the same reason. "Is my breath that bad?" If nothing else worked, try a bad joke had always been his motto and this seemed to be an occasion where that might just be what was needed.

Before Dawn could give any sort of reply however, Torala had returned. She walked back into the room holding a tray containing a carafe of water and three glasses. "This might take a while, so I figured we might as well have something to drink."

The care she took in filling the glasses and handing them over, told him how she really didn't want to tell them this story. Why she was doing it anyway was something he couldn't understand.

"To know my task you must first understand more about the way history works. Both of you are familiar with the speech that Watchers traditionally gave their Slayer, correct?"

After they had indicated that they were indeed familiar with this speech she continued. "If you have ever thought about that speech you will have noticed how it has been influenced by Christianity and humanities current habit of thinking that the universe revolves around them. I have no intention of trying to tell you which part of that tale is true and which is false, however I can tell you that where it concerns the beginning it is not correct.

"The world did not begin as either a simulacrum of what you call hell or paradise, nor did it come into existence in order to create humanity. I do not know much about those early ages myself and would only be able to tell you things that archeologists and their ilk have found out, which naturally would not be completely correct."

She paused here for a moment and Xander took the opportunity to take a drink of the ice-cold water.

"But all that is not really important for you anyway. The most important thing about it is that the story has changed over the years. As it is the oldest tale that you are likely to know it is the best example I can give you. Like all myths and legends it still contains a core of truth, which in this case is centered on the way vampires were brought into the world. But the story has been altered, for example I once heard the temporal variant of a Watcher give the speech to his Slayer in Sparta, about 2500 years ago. In this speech the demons were created by the Titans in order to help them defeat Zeus and the other Olympian gods."

Listening to the story Xander had a little difficulty understanding some of the terms she had been using, but he thought that he understood the global idea of what was being told. "So, the story about the Slayer has changed over time so it would fit with the religion?"

It seemed that he had understood correctly as Torala flashed him a brief smile that made his heart beat faster. "Indeed, although theology is only one aspect that has had influence on the way stories change in the course of history. It is naturally not the only thing that will influence it, as you surely must have learned in school. Philosophies were important, but so were the effects of war and other political tools. After all, history is written by the survivors and it does not matter if they are the ones that won a particular conflict or merely witnessed it from the sidelines."

Wonderful, it seems they were getting a lecture on how people influenced history. He really hoped that she would get to her point soon or he might fall asleep out of boredom.

"Those however are merely the deliberate attempts to color history as people would prefer it to be. Accidental changes can be as dangerous, but are a lot more difficult to detect. One of, if not the, greatest danger to passing along a correct image of history is the way languages change. The word you are most familiar with that has changed considerably is the term demon. I personally dislike the current usage for several reasons, but that is of no importance either.

"Demon comes from the Greek word daemon which originally was used to indicate the act of a god. I do not know when this meaning changed to the current one, but it likely has to do with the way demons were portrayed in those times."

"Okay, that is all wonderful and I'm so happy for you that you can lecture about all this, but what does all that have to do with you?" It seemed as if Dawn was as bored by all this as he was, but apparently she didn't feel the same compulsion not to interrupt.

The sorceress too didn't appear to have expected that outburst, but she recovered quickly nonetheless. "You are correct, I was indeed lecturing. It has been a while since I have needed to explain things and may have gone a little overboard in my attempts to do so."

"Yes you have and not only that, it was boring as hell." This just kept getting better and better, while Xander didn't think either he or Dawn was capable of telepathy he did his best to send Dawn a message not to piss off the very powerful sorceress who, besides being able to kill them, was also the only one who could get them home. It soon became clear however that it didn't work as the girl kept trying to stare down the sorceress. How she thought to do that he couldn't really understand since that kind of thing needed eye contact.

The sorceress didn't appear bothered by these actions and even smiled at his friend. "Very well, I had planned to give you a brief explanation of the connections between different universes, but I figure that is not something you wish to hear either." Pausing for a drink she appeared to look at Dawn who couldn't keep up her perpetual glower and turned to sulking. "Therefore I shall now talk about myself. There is no need for me to talk about when I came into life or anything about my childhood as none of that would be of interest to you. Suffice to say that I did not appear to be anything more then any normal human child.

"It was only later that I found out that my existence had a specific reason and even there I was at first incorrect in my assumption of why my life was necessary. Only when I first met the entity that was responsible for my creation did I learn the truth of the matter."

Well, it seemed as if after listening to that entire tale he was finally about to find out what he wanted to know. He made a mental note to thank Dawn for her interference in the boring tale before he focused his attention back on the sorceress.

"Since humanity was only the second sentient life form to have evolved on Earth it was deemed necessary that an accurate account of their history would be created. It is for that reason I was brought into existence."

The second sentient life form, did she mean demons? He doubted it but if he was right that wasn't something he had expected and it shocked him so much he almost missed the rest of what she was saying. How could anyone just throw a revelation like that into the middle of a sentence? It did explain why she was so negative about that center of the universe thing, but still. Deciding he needed more information about that other race he asked her about it.

"No, I am not talking of what you call demons. They never evolved on this world but instead come from another dimension entirely, you are aware of the Hellmouths which serve as portals between this dimension and theirs."

Deciding to interrupt before she started lecturing about that he asked her. "Okay, but could you tell me about those others then?"

"They are no longer of any real importance to this world as they left it long before humanity started its existence."

That wasn't what he wanted to know, but no matter how he and Dawn tried to get more information, the sorceress did not tell them anything else. In the end he had to give up, temporarily, and while vowing to himself to ask again later he tried asked about her other revelation. "You are some kind of historian then?"

"My work is slightly more complicated, but yes, dealing with the course of history is my most important task."

"Isn't that kinda boring?" Dawn wanted to know.

"History is fascinating as it deals with people and since I always deal with the current situation I am hardly ever bored."


They had continued to question Torala for the rest of the afternoon, only taking a break for dinner. Unfortunately every answer that she gave them would call up two completely new questions so that in the end they still didn't really know anything about her.

Several hours after dinner the subject Xander had been waiting for finally came up when the sorceress spoke up. "Dawn?"


"Why do you think I have made you read during the time you waited for the arrival of you friend?"

As he watched Dawn pondering about this question Xander had a feeling his suspicions about that would soon be vindicated. "I don't know, until Xander mentioned it yesterday I hadn't even really noticed."

"He also mentioned something else yesterday, did he not? Something concerning the dagger you are carrying?"

His friend's reaction to this was to once again grab her knife and glare at both him and Torala. "I'm not crazy."

"I have never claimed that you are. Although the effects of the knife have influenced your psyche this does not mean you have lost your sanity."

This seemed to confuse Dawn about as much as it did Xander, had his information been wrong or his conclusion?

"Oh, good. But what are you talking about then?"

"While your mental capabilities have in no way been diminished, the dagger has exerted a great influence on those portions of your brain that influence your emotions. It has also slightly altered your ideas of right and wrong, but that was not in my opinion a bad thing, you already knew that humans can be as bad or even worse then demons."

"Duh, humans tried to kill me years ago because they were too lazy to think of another way to stop Glory."

"Indeed, but now the dagger has influenced you so that you are more than willing to inflict pain on humans even when it's just in an attempt to gain information."

That reminded Xander of the meeting in the demon bar and he felt a slight twitch on his chest, where the knife had cut through his flesh. He decided however that it would be best if he kept himself out of this conversation, yesterday had already proven that he wasn't the right person for this job. He had allowed himself to be distracted for a moment however and he did his best to catch up with the conversation again.

"…influencing my emotions? And why wouldn't I notice something like that?"

"The influencing is done by the fact that you subconsciously try to protect yourself from the dagger. The mechanics behind it are rather complicated and I am not certain I could explain them so that you would understand. Why you wouldn't notice something like that is because of the dagger itself which prevents this from happening."

"And now you want me to throw away my knife, like Xander." Saying this Dawn glared at him in such a way it caused a shiver to run down his back. Luckily he was saved from having to defend his actions when Torala spoke up again.

"No, while his intentions in that matter were honorable this would not have done you any good. Disposing of the dagger would not even prevent you from getting any worse as it is connected to you. There is only one solution that I can offer to this problem and that might be dangerous."

He had been hoping there would be a solution after she had hinted about it during his dream. Xander sat up straighter and opened his mouth in order to ask what it was, but the words stuck in his mouth when Torala turned towards him and indicated he should be quiet.

"Dangerous how?"

"You will need to go to a temple that is located in the Himalayas. There you must look for a certain artifact that is capable of two actions; it can destroy the bond with your dagger completely and thereby relieve you of its influences. This will also ensure the destruction of the dagger."

"I don't want it destroyed, I want to keep it."

"The artifact will show you how it has influenced you so that you can make a choice based on all the facts. As I said before, there are two options you will have between which you must choose, destroying the bond was the first and the second is completing it."

"Completing it? What do you mean by that?"

"You can choose to make the bond complete, this means that you would transfer a part of yourself into the dagger thereby making it a part of you. This would be dangerous and it has side effects that you might not like. If you so desire however, the artifact will show you what the major consequences are of either choice."

This wasn't what he had expected and he didn't really like the options that had been presented. Xander was certain that Dawn would never choose to destroy the bond, but the talk about side effects didn't exactly fill him with confidence for a happy ending either. "So she has to either destroy the dagger or make it part of her?"


"Isn't there another way to do this? I mean both options sound kinda risky."

But it was obvious to him even before he had posed the question that there was no other way to help his friend.

"What happens if I don't like either choice? If I just want to go on as I'm now?"

"You must choose between the two. The artifact will not allow anything else, if the choice would take you ten years you will remain in there for ten years but you will not be able to leave as you enter."

"Oh." This seemed to have left Dawn lost for words, it was actually the first time since meeting her and Buffy at the airport that this had happened. Every other time he had been in her presence she seemed to have had a definite opinion about something, only now that it concerned her precious little knife was she uncertain.

"You said it'll be dangerous to go there?" Xander wanted information about the situation if Dawn did decide to go and this time he would make sure to get as much as of it as possible.

"Yes, the temple is most likely guarded by an assortment of demons that wish to prevent anyone from having access to the artifact." Predicting his next question she told him. "I am not certain what type of demons you would have to face but I would suggest you arm yourselves well."

That was fairly close to his worst-case prediction, so he was fairly content with the information but there was something else that had bothered him since she had talked about it. "Why do you call it an artifact? Doesn't it have a name?"

"I am certain it has a name, but since it was created by the race I mentioned earlier today I am not familiar with it."

"Wait a minute, you're telling me that it's alien technology?"

"They were native to Earth therefore I do not believe you can call them aliens."

He had to suppress the urge to roll his eyes, it was amazing how literally the woman could be and the worst part was that he didn't know whether it was intentional or not. "Okay, not alien but still created by a non-human race right?"

"Indeed. Unlike the demon races they did have a tendency to create, this artifact is merely one of several pieces they left behind on Earth."

He wanted to ask more questions about the artifact and its origin, but Dawn had reached a decision and vocalized it. "I'll go."

Torala's attention was immediately drawn back to her and Xander thought he noticed a slight sigh of relieve in the woman. "Good, you will not be able to succeed alone so you will have to go together. This however does pose a problem as it has been proven you may not be able to control yourself in his presence." Dawn blanched a little at this and Xander felt the need to curse the sorceress for talking like that. "Therefore I must ensure he will be safe from you and there is only one way to do that properly."

Xander wanted to ask what exactly that would be when he suddenly found himself staring in Dawn's beautiful eyes and hungering for the taste of those sweet lips.


When Xander woke up he knew that last night he had either drunk too much or Anya had decided to once again... That thought didn't make sense, Anya was dead and he knew that he hadn't been drinking, but he did have an enormous headache and his mouth felt incredibly dry. However, combined with his sore muscles and the smell of a perfume that was obviously not his he had no trouble figuring out what the weight on his chest would be.

Still a little drowsy and not bothering to open his eyes he moved his arm to caress the soft skin of the female body on top of him and smiled a little. Obviously last night had been a good night. Trying to figure out who it could be however was more difficult and he frowned in his attempt to do so. When this only intensified his headache he decided it wasn't really important now and was about to let himself fall back to sleep when he heard a moan that sounded vaguely familiar.

Opening his eyes in sudden realization the moonlight enabled him to identify the owner of the brunette hair that lay spread out over his chest. He immediately tore his hand away from his friend but he couldn't stop his first thought from escaping his mouth in a loud whisper. "Buffy is so gonna kill me!"

Chapter 9

This had to be a dream, maybe it was a nightmare send to him by some kind of powerful being he had pissed off, it didn't really matter as long as it wasn't real. Xander felt certain he could deal with a disturbing dream like this, after all he was a man and his imagination could take him anywhere without his consent. However, when several minutes later he could still feel the body sprawled over him he had to reluctantly admit to himself that it probably wasn't a dream.

Once again opening his eyes he looked down again, hoping against hope that it wasn't who he thought it was. But there on his chest dashing his hopes and looking perfectly content was a very naked Dawn. Denial proved to be a powerful tool as he tried to convince himself that she must have just fallen asleep after they had been talking things over. It wasn't powerful enough though since after having lived with Anya for a long time he was intimately aware of just what caused his muscles to ache like this.

He really needed to remember what had happened to make them end up in this situation. Realizing he was staring at the girl, no young woman, who currently shared his bed he quickly turned to look around the room, trying to find something that would make him remember what had happened during the previous night.

When he looked at the door this wish was fulfilled in more detail then he was comfortable with. Those memories caused his face to turn as white as chalk while his body reacted in a predictable manner. As fast as he could without waking up Dawn he looked at other places in the room, but whenever he looked somewhere he remembered what had happened there and it wasn't long before he realized the danger he was in. Danger caused by a protective older sister who was more then capable of doing him harm. "She's going to carve my heart out with a spoon."

As he whispered this he noticed the young woman on his chest waking up. Unlike him however, she didn't appear to have any trouble recognizing her current situation, and the smug smile on her face attested to the fact that she was more then happy with the location she found herself in. Xander couldn't face her yet however, so once again he turned his head away from her and to the side, in another attempt to figure out what had caused this situation to happen.

Delving through his memories of the previous day he reached his last clear memory, one that didn't in any way figure a friend of his with whom he was participating in more then friendly behavior. He could remember how the three of them had been talking before Torala had started about Dawn's knife, he could vaguely recall something about a temple and some kind of device, but it all became hazy after she mentioned something about protection for him. He just knew that magic was somehow involved in this, the details eluded him at the moment, but he was confident they would return once he was able to think about them without any distractions.

Thinking about distractions focused his mind back to the soft body that had molded itself to his and he realized Dawn was trying to continue where they had left off before falling asleep. Realizing this he took hold of her wandering hands and spoke to her in a voice he only now realized was hoarse. "Dawn, stop that, it's the spell talking not you."

As she turned her eyes to him he could see the lust warring with confusion. "But the spell stopped working hours ago."


It had been difficult to convince Dawn that they really shouldn't resume their actions of the previous night, but in the end he had managed it. Standing under a very cold shower he tried to rid his mind of how the beautiful young woman had left his room.

In his attempt to do so he focused on the happy fact that for the first time in a long time she had not been wearing or carrying that cursed knife. This however didn't help since it also made him remember about the lack of anything else she wore. And while he had never before noticed how beautiful she was when angry he had gotten a taste of her temper when he had send her away.

Knowing that he should probably have handled that situation better didn't really help his mood either. He was pretty certain she would make it difficult for him to make it up to her, but their friendship was far too important to be destroyed over some stupid spell. After she had stormed out of his room, naked, no! Don't think about that! After she left, much better Xander, he hadn't been able to go back to sleep and stayed awake until he finally figured he should just get up and take this shower.

So now here he was, finally trying to get rid of the cobwebs in his mind that inhibited his thinking. But there was something else he had noticed, something he had noticed about his friend's body. There were scars, most of her front had been covered in scars. Scars that he believed to be caused by a knife and which were probably the reason she now always covered her body.

Where had they come from? It must have hurt terribly when she was cut there and he didn't even want to think about the state she must have been in after it had happened. With so many wounds it was almost a miracle she had survived. Someone must have really wanted to hurt her, but who could it have been?

Realization hit him then, he couldn't be certain and he'd have to ask Dawn, but the most logical explanation would have been the Faithful. It would explain certain things, hell, it would even explain why Buffy had killed some of them. The one thing about that theory that bothered him the most however was which knife they would have probably used to cut into her. And why would she have wanted to keep the knife if it had just moments before been used to cut her open? But he realized it was unlikely he'd ever get an answer to that question.

He was shivering when he finally left the shower and quickly dressed to regain some warmth. He didn't want to think about the scars anymore though, and focused on other things. He was hungry, briefly toying with the idea of skipping breakfast he decided in the end that avoiding Dawn would only cause him more problems. And besides he was hoping to find their host at the breakfast table.

Thinking about Torala made his blood boil in anger, causing the last vestiges of cold in his body to evaporate, that was one woman who had a lot of explaining to do. He knew that he had to control his temper, but it was hard to do so as memories of the night assaulted him together with the realization that one of his most precious friendships might have been destroyed.

And that was what he needed to concentrate on first. His friendship with Dawn was far too important to be the victim of some meddling old woman that couldn't stop messing with every mind she encountered. He needed to fix that friendship, realizing this however was one thing; actually doing it was a completely different story. Dejected because of this whole messed up situation he sank down onto his bed, at least until the memories called up by the sweet-smelling perfume clinging to the sheets quickly made him get up again.

It was only then that he remembered the entire conversation before…it… happened and he realized that his friendship with Dawn wasn't the most important thing after all. This insight shocked him out of the mild panic he had been since waking up and he tried to collect his thoughts. Getting Dawn sane again was the first order of business, their friendship came second and only after that would he take his revenge on that woman. Happy that had been sorted out Xander decided he might as well face the music and headed for the dining room so he would be able to get something to eat.


The moment he stepped into the room however, all his plans evaporated in a single instant. Dawn had already arrived and, if the sudden drop in temperature hadn't already done the job, the expression on her face made it clear what she thought of him. "Dawn." Xander started, but he stopped when she held up a warning finger.

"Not a word." The venom that went into those words would probably be enough to poison a small country and informed him that regaining their friendship would be even more difficult then he had imagined.


"No, I don't want to hear any excuses, apologies, or anything else about last night, let alone this morning." Xander had to suppress a wince at the tone of that biting comment, it seemed as if he had been right about not having handled it well but he had not expected this level of animosity.

Silently he made his way to the table where he spent the next minutes trying to get some food past the lump in his throat. The oppressive atmosphere that was caused by Dawn's temper didn't fill him with a lot of confidence either and he really hoped Torala would show up soon.

When that finally happened the sorceress walked into the room with a carefree smile on her face and actually had the gal to ask them if they had a pleasant night. Xander, who at that time had been sipping his hot tea, choked on the scalding liquid when he heard this, burning his mouth in the process. "How do you think our night was?" He asked her, the anger in his voice lessened by the fact that his tongue hurt like hell.

"The two of you seemed to be in a good mood before you retired to your bed last night."

"Last night wasn't bad, it was the morning that messed everything up, didn't it Xander?" It seemed like Dawn had decided to enter the conversation and wanted to have witnesses for their next fight.

"Oh dear, I wasn't quite certain about the consequences and had not expected this to happen. But it does not matter as everything else happened as expected and the night's purpose was fulfilled."

Xander didn't like the sound of that. "Really? Then I hope that purpose was worth it because I hate it when people mess with my mind."

"It was worth the emotional problems that now exist between the two of you. I would have preferred if they had not been there, but what is done is done."

He noticed Dawn rolling her eyes at the irritating way of talking the sorceress had before she asked what he wanted to know as well. "And what exactly was this purpose?"

"I thought that would be obvious," a surprised Torala said. "The spell was meant to create a bond between the two of you that would shield Xander from your knife. It can now no longer force you to attack him."

The slow grin that appeared on the young woman's face did nothing to alleviate Xander's nervousness, nor did the angry flashing eyes she turned on him. "Oh, trust me, I don't need the knife to convince me to do that."


It was several hours later that the three of them were talking about what Xander had subconsciously started referring to as the upcoming mission. At the request of Torala, Dawn was keeping her anger in check so the planning could go reasonably smooth. Torala would remain behind so only the two of them would actually go into the temple, and the sorceress had warned them that it would be best if they made sure they had enough weapons on them.

When she had shown them the weapons chamber, which for some unexplained reason she refused to call an armory, his chin almost hit the floor in surprise, and even Dawn had stopped her acerbic comments for a while. Even having seen some of the strange things in the house he hadn't expected the room to be like that. Xander had always believed that an armory was a cramped and rather small room completely filled with weapons, but maybe that was why she didn't call it an armory.

The doors had been unassuming and had not given away anything about what could have been found behind it, although the fact that it was a double door should have triggered something. He didn't know how he would ever be able to accurately describe the room if anyone ever asked. The first thing he noticed was its size.

It was more like a giant ballroom than anything else, at least if you didn't pay any attention to the weapons that seemed to cover every part of the wall. There had been several other doors in the room as well, and when he had asked about them the sorceress had told him they led to practice areas. And indeed, when he later peeked into them he saw rooms ranging from something akin to a martial arts dojo to a shooting range.

Torala had offered them the chance to practice with guns but, realizing that in the short time until they had to go to the temple neither of them would become a proficient enough shot, they had gone for some kind of modern looking crossbows. Xander had stared at a particular crossbow for a while, but the giant apparatus was so strange he had not even contemplated actually using it. The sorceress had later explained to him that he would never have been able to load it all by himself anyway, and since it shot a huge amount of bolts at one time carrying the ammunition would have been difficult as well.

Dawn had initially claimed not to need any melee weapons besides her knife, but in the end she had been convinced to take a short-sword as well. As the sword was created of some kind of metal he had never heard of Xander had at first doubted the wisdom of taking it. After a short, but very to the point, demonstration however he had been convinced and taken one for himself as well. Despite the urging of their host, he had only taken a couple of knives, with silver crosses inlaid in them, to complement the sword before leaving the room with a wistful look.

Even now he could hardly concentrate on some of the things that were being said and instead thought of all those weapons that he would have loved to take with him. His memories of that time at Halloween had completely left him by now, however he did understand it would be suicide to bring along too many weapons, especially if he didn't know how to properly handle them.

He focused back to the ongoing conversation just in time to hear the end of Dawn's latest question. "…step in and I can make the choice?"

"Indeed, but I believe that by now the sun must have risen at the temple so it would be best of you were to go there now."

They knew where to go, what they needed to do once they got there, and what the opposition would likely be. So Xander had no problem agreeing to that and neither did Dawn although, for a moment, he thought he could see a flicker of apprehension in her eyes.


It was cold and Xander cursed whatever monk had come up with the ridiculous idea to build a temple in the middle of these mountains. He couldn't imagine why people believed freezing their butts off would be better for praying then someplace warm where they could visit the beach. Hurrying to the temple he didn't notice any of the demons Torala had warned them might be outside, but didn't exactly mind since he wasn't dressed for a fight in the snow anyway.

Together they crashed through the gilded doors that protected the entrance and aimed their crossbows at everything they could see. No targets presented themselves however, and they took a moment to catch their breath. Inside the temple it was as warm as the sorceress had assured them and he was glad they weren't wearing any of the thick and constricting clothing he had thought they would need. Instead they wore the skintight suits that they had been told would lessen the impact of any blows and give some protection against knives as well. But while their effectiveness still needed to be proven, looking at Dawn, he realized they were more then a little distracting.

Dragging his mind out of the gutter and back to the situation at hand he continued scanning his surroundings, this time looking for the particular design that indicated the passage they needed to take.

It was Dawn who found it and still taking care to look everywhere they walked in the indicated direction. While the lack of humans, and particularly their blood, meant it was impossible for vampires to survive here for long, Torala had informed them that it was highly likely that several kinds of demons inhabited the temple. In Xander's experience this meant that there probably were even more and so he made sure that nothing could approach them unnoticed. They had been walking for maybe five minutes when he first smelled it.

"Wow, what's that smell?" Dawn asked him after she had noticed it as well.

"I don't think we really want to know, but I think we'll find out soon enough."

"One of the traps?"

He only nodded and wondered why anyone would put traps inside their temple, wasn't that kind of thing only supposed to happen in movies? But they were there and according to the sorceress they had 'ended the life of many an explorer'. The two of them continued carefully until they reached a section of the floor that looked a little off.

Stopping a couple of feet in front of it, Xander had no trouble identifying it as the source of the stench that had been their companion for the last couple of minutes. Deciding not to risk walking over it, he picked up a piece of rock and pitched it in the middle of the short section.

Half expecting weapons to appear in order to slice, dice, smash, or even burn the rock he was rather surprised to see it fall it through the floor.

"What the?" Xander exclaimed at the same time he heard Dawn's surprised. "How?"

Looking at each other in confusion, Xander decided to try another rock. Watching this one fall through as well he then tried the different ends of what now appeared to be a hole and discovered that it was only about a yard wide and that it should be safe to jump over. When they were safely on the other side he then put his crossbow on the ground for a moment while he grabbed his sword.

"Xander? What're you doing?"

"We don't know how we're going to leave this place and if we're being followed I don't want to run the risk that we forget to jump." And with those words he took his sword and used it, like Torala had done only hours ago, to carve some grooves into both walls and the floor. Finally satisfied with his work he stepped back and admired his work for a moment. "That should do it."

After this brief stop they continued down the passageway to find what he had decided to refer to as the great and mystical secret chamber that was supposed to hold the mystical artifact which had no name. Slightly smiling at his own, admittedly weak, joke he did his best not to imagine what it was that had caused the smell. Actually doing so proved more difficult than he had anticipated, and he was also aware he wasn't the only one to have trouble forgetting the pit. He couldn't help but notice how Dawn was reacting to the shadows cast by the torches as if she believed them to be alive.

Dawn. She had actually managed to put aside her feelings while they were in here and he was more then happy with that, if only he could do the same. He looked at the young woman in front of him and almost without him noticing it, his gaze dropped slowly down her back admiring the clearly defined curves, until he suddenly snapped his head back to where it belonged and was once again on the lookout for anything that could pose a danger to them.

After half an hour of careful exploration they had encountered only one other trap, but no demons yet. When they had found a room at the end of the tunnel he had at first believed they had arrived, it was only after he noticed it was empty and had several exits that he understood it wasn't what they were looking for.

His sword had once again served as a decorating tool to indicate where they came from before they continued. It was a good thing that all that time watching movies had not gone to waste after all.

But now they had finally encountered what they had been expecting since their arrival here, demons. At first he hadn't noticed them and had believed Dawn had just reacted to shadows again, until he suddenly noticed they weren't shadows.

The black wraithlike creatures didn't make a sound when they attacked but Xander aimed his crossbow and let his first bolt fly. Adrenaline flooded his body and for a moment he almost believed he could see the bolt flying to the demon and piercing its heart. By then however he had shifted his aim to the next target and pulled the trigger again, once more the bolt flew true, but by then the eerily silent attackers had almost reached them.

Letting go of the crossbow he drew one of the knives he had fastened at his hips and stabbed the closest before reaching for his sword. During the entire fight the demons still hadn't uttered a single syllable, for a moment he wondered if they actually were capable of speaking before his attention was drawn to something he really didn't like.

They were getting back up; the three demons he had believed to have killed were standing up from the floor, although the last one was slower in doing so than those he had shot with the crossbow.


"I see it, they're getting back up." A horrific scream interrupted her before she continued, sounding a little shaky. "At least my knife works on them."

By now he stood back-to-back with Dawn and he wearily watched the demons as they closed in. There had to be a way for him to kill them, if he had to rely on that thing to save him he didn't know if he could stand it. On the other hand, he thought while deflecting the claws of one of the things, if it got him out of there alive he would at least be able to live with it. He struck again with the knife he was now holding in his left hand, this time penetrating the throat of the demon in front of him. When it went down Xander felt a momentary surge of happiness, he had found a way to kill them.

Unfortunately he still had several more in front of him and he knew it would only be a question of time before they overwhelmed him. He ducked another strike, but he had momentarily forgotten that Dawn was standing behind him and the demon took advantage of this by striking her. Xander could hear his friend groan in pain before she staggered forward, and with horror in his eyes he saw her trip over one of the demons she had killed. As she went down the other demons fell upon her.

It seemed as if the demons had realized that she was the only real danger and even those who had before faced him now did their best to kill the young woman. This left him uncovered however and he was certain that soon they would find out he had figured out a way to kill them as well. Moving in the direction of the piled up demons he could hear another shriek, indicating Dawn was still able to use her knife despite her current situation. He prepared himself to cut some throats when he was suddenly attacked from behind.

The silent attacker had used its claws to try and carve a piece out of his back, but as he felt the suit take the worst of the damage he let himself fall forward and dive into a roll. Quickly turning around his eye widened in shock as he noticed that it was the same demon that he had 'killed' moments before. There was still a slight silvery line on his throat that indicated the spot his knife had entered.

His shock at the sight lasted only a moment, but in that time the shadowy creature had managed to close the distance once again and swung at him with his claws. This time however Xander was prepared and he lifted the knife in his left hand to block the strike while making his own move with his sword.

The claw was intercepted but the strike was so hard that it jarred him, costing him as his own sword then didn't hit what he had aimed for, and only carved into the beings chest instead of cutting through its neck. Frustrated by his need to help Dawn, who he could still hear fighting behind him, he went on the attack. Both his weapons flashed towards the demon who didn't try to duck as he had expected but instead caught both weapons in its hands.

Trying to yank his weapons free he couldn't help but try and see his opponents face, but all he could see was a black outline. Realizing his current action was costing him precious time, he let go of the weapons and reached for his only remaining knife. Which he never reached as another of the creatures had blindsided him and struck the side of his face hard enough for him to fly through the air until he crashed against the wall.

Sliding down to the floor despair started to overcome him, until he remembered.


Xander had just been pulled into this latest of paintings and was actually looking forward to find out what had happened here. Even awake the painting had intrigued him, as it was one of those rare ones that depicted a scene with demons. When the sensations hit him though, he lost his need for knowledge. The stench of blood and rotting flesh was actually strong enough to overpower the smell, if not the heat, that came from the buildings that seemed to be burning everywhere.

The demon army had only just passed through this part of the city and there were few survivors, most of whom were crying over the loss of those dear to them. He wanted to warn them, tell them to flee, as the demons would return, once they had dealt with the opposition in the rest of the city. But from previous experience he knew this to be useless, he was here only to observe and not to interfere, even if he screamed as loud as he could, nobody would hear or even see him.

So he continued, following the carnage the demons had left behind in order to reach some part of this city they hadn't reached yet. If only for his own peace of mind he needed there to be someone that remembered who these people had been before this catastrophe happened to them. He ran as fast as he could and only stopped when a little girl, no more then 6 years old suddenly spoke to him.

"Are you an angel?"

"You can see me?"

The only indication she could was a slight nod, before she asked her question. "Can you help my mommy and daddy?"

For the first time Xander looked at the bodies the girl had been crying over. It wasn't hard to see that even had the two people had access to the most modern hospital they wouldn't have stood a chance. But for the first time since he had entered the tunnel he had a chance to do something worthwhile, so he forced a slight smile on his face before once again focusing on the little girl.

"Your mommy and daddy are in heaven now." The girl appeared a little confused and for a moment he wondered if perhaps the child had a religion without a heaven. "But there is a way to make them happier in the afterlife, I'll need your help for that though, will you help me?"

The forceful way she nodded her assent gave him hope that she would be able to do this. "You have to run as fast as you can, away from the demons and find another town to life in. You'll have to leave your mommy and daddy but if you make sure that the demons will not get you, they will be very happy, okay?"

The girl didn't seem to like having to leave her parents behind and while he could understand that he believed her life to be more important. In the end it came down to using her believe that he was angel to convince her to leave.

As he watched her run towards the gates of the city, Xander felt like he had finally accomplished something worthwhile in these dreams. And it didn't matter to him that he wouldn't remember it when he woke up. With a far lighter heart he turned back to his destination and once again started to run.

Running through the battle, which was still going on, once again soured his mood however. And it was only when he had left the sounds of battle far behind that he dared to open his eyes again. The first time he had encountered a similar scene he had decided that he should see what was going on, to honor those who fell before the demonic horde. By now however he realized that it wouldn't help those brave people if he stayed to watch how they were slaughtered, the only thing that happened because of it was that the sight would sicken him and he'd throw up.

"It is my duty to stand with them." That sounded like a girl and Xander moved to see who had spoken like that. Passing a corner he saw a teenaged girl and an older man having a heated discussion.

"It is not your duty to get killed in a useless act, these people are doomed and there is nothing you can do about it."

"How can you say that? You are my guide, you have taught me what it means to be a Slayer and now you say I shouldn't do my duty? I may die if I go and stand there, but I will not die uselessly."

"Oh my dear friend, I know it is selfish, but there is nothing you can do and I would prefer it if you survived this day."

The girl understood this sentiment but obviously had another opinion about this all and Xander almost had to choke back a tear at her next words. "My life is unimportant, if I fall today another will be Chosen and she will take up my duties. But my actions here may save the life of many innocents and what is one small life compared to that?"

"It is your life and to me that is the most important one." The man had tears streaming down his face, but appeared determined when he spoke. "But if it is the will of the gods for you to die here today, I will not let you do so alone for I will stand next to you and the bards will one day sing of how we protected the people of this fair city."

"Yes," the girl smiled at that, obviously trying to comfort her companion, "people will always remember us and what we did for them."

At this Xander couldn't stop from almost begging, while like the man he could taste the saltiness of his own tears, he whispered. "Tell me your names, please say your names and I will remember you for as long as I live."

His wish however went unanswered as the girl continued speaking. "So, do you have any good advice to give before we fight?"

Her companion seemed to think for a moment before answering. "Yes, did you notice the shadowy creatures?" As she told him that she did he continued. "They are most difficult to kill if you do not know how, for they must be hit in the stomach with a silver weapon."

"Well, it's a good thing I've got one of those, isn't it?" And she showed him the knife before turning to the battle and grimly stating her last words. "Now my dear friend, we will go and teach them that it is not wise to anger a Slayer and her guide."

This time Xander followed the two of them to the battle and stayed to watch, until he saw both of these brave souls fall before the overwhelming horde. And while he did so he had no intention of stopping the teardrops that continued to roll down his face.


He regained consciousness and saw the shadowy creatures approaching while in his mind he could still see the courageous Slayer as she was torn apart by several of these demons. As anger coursed through his entire body, making him forget about his own injuries, he vowed that this time the good guys would win. With a shout of anger and grief he took hold of his last knife, and jumping to his feet he stormed the two demons before shoving his knife into the first of the two.

When he later tried to remember the fight all he got were flashes, flashes as he ripped his knife out of the first demon that fell to his anger and used it to stab the other one. Flashes as he bent down and grabbed the second knife with his free hand before jumping on top of the pile covering Dawn and, still screaming, rammed his knives everywhere he could, until in the end he had reached the bloody body of his dear friend. Flashes as his anger intensified at this and the demons ran away from him, flashes from his pursuit until the demons suddenly disappeared. Until he finally he returned to the blood-soaked body of his friend.

"Dawn." The word was forced out of his hoarse throat as he fell to his knees beside her. "You can't be dead, you can't be, I can't let you be dead. That would mean I've failed you and I have already failed too many others, I can't have failed you as well."

It wasn't until he could taste his salty tears that he realized he was crying, but even then it only barely registered in his mind. All his focus was on the motionless young woman who lay in front of him, willing her to be alive. Finally he had gathered the courage he needed and he moved a shaky hand to her throat in order to check her pulse. The moment he felt the first heartbeat a feeling of relieve coursed through his body, momentarily banishing all bad thoughts.

"You're alive." Despite feeling like the happiest man on the planet the words only came out as a whisper, before he frowned. "But you are too heavily wounded for us to go on. I'll carry you and we'll return to Torala, we can come back here another time."

Dawn's hand suddenly moved to stop him from rising and he heard her mumbling something, but couldn't understand what she was saying. "What? I didn't quite get that."

He bent over so that his ear was hovering only inches above her mouth and could feel her warm breath as she repeated her earlier words, words that caused Xander to sit up in shock before he answered her. "You can't be serious, Torala said you could only do it when you were healthy."

Once again a mumbling answered him, but this time he could understand her words. "Doesn't know everything, only chance, we go on."

He cursed at her stubbornness but he had known Dawn long enough that there was no chance he could make her turn back. If he'd try to force her he was pretty certain that this time she wouldn't stop at knocking him unconscious before trying again, without his help. Submitting to the inevitable he agreed with her command and helped her stand up.

"Wow, dizzy." The young woman said when she was finally upright, although Xander had to keep her from swaying on her feet.

"Yeah well, I wonder how that is possible with you looking as if you need to spend a couple of weeks in intensive care."

"No sarcasm please, I feel bad enough. But we need to go on so help me get my weapons and we'll move."

Helping gathering her weapons and collecting his own Xander wondered when she had taken command of this mission.


"Wow." They had stumbled through the rest of the temple, luckily not encountering anything dangerous, until they had finally reached this room. There was no doubt in his mind that they had reached their destination, but it wasn't like anything he had expected.

"It's so big." He could only nod in agreement with Dawn's observation, it was big, a lot bigger then he had imagined.

"You know what you have to do?"

"I have to go in and then everything will happen by itself, I hope."

Still uncertain that this was the right thing to do he helped her walk to the artifact, now he at least understood why no one had ever found a name for it. As he looked it over it seemed to him to be made of crystal or maybe even diamond, but for all he knew it was of some kind of material he had never heard of. The only thing he knew for certain was that he could see through it, which of course would be useful as he would be able to see if Dawn got into trouble.

It wasn't until they were mere feet from the artifact that he realized something important. "Uh, how are you supposed to get into this thing?"

Both of them looked to the sides but couldn't spot anything that looked like a door, and looking up didn't help them either as all they could see there was the crystal that kept reaching upwards. "I'm not sure."

Frowning, Xander moved the two of them closer but even when he ran his hands over the smooth and surprisingly warm material he couldn't discover anything that would allow them entrance.

"Xander? What's that noise?"

Turning to his friend he wondered what she was talking about, until he too heard it. His eye widening in realization he tried to come up with the best way to deal with this extra problem. "I think our shadowy friends have called in reinforcements and unlike them, these aren't into the silent thing." He tried to determine where the sound was coming from but the acoustics of the chamber messed up any chance he had to do so.

"You go and prepare while I try to find a way to get inside this thing." Then noticing how torn he was between preparing their defenses and making sure she would get safely inside the artifact she made it a command. "Do it!"

He was already halfway to the entrance through which they had come into the room before he realized she had again commanded him and he had followed. There was something not entirely right about that, but he would think about it later, now he had to find out where the sounds were coming from.

Standing in the doorway he listened hard trying to determine if this was where the demons were coming from, and when he heard what might possibly be called singing, he cursed loudly. Moving quickly to the other entrance he confirmed that as he had feared, demons were coming from there as well.

"Dawn! They are coming in from everywhere, we have to leave now or we'll be to…" Turning around his words petered out as he noticed the young woman had found a way to enter the construction after all, and was now floating above the floor. He swallowed hard when he looked from her to the entrances and back, before whispering. "This is not good."

Chapter 10

Xander didn't know a lot of things about this situation, he had no idea how Dawn had gotten into the crystal thingie, nor did he know what she was doing in there. What kind of demons were going to try to kill him and how many there were of them was a great mystery as well, but it all added up to one thing that he knew beyond a doubt. They were in big trouble.

He tried to calm his fast beating heart as he understood that this was not the time or place to panic. Taking a deep breath he addressed Dawn, hoping against hope that she could hear him. "You take your time, I'll keep them away from you. Although, if you could hurry a little I'd be perfectly okay with it."

Turning away from the disturbing sight of a floating Dawn he took stock of their weapons. Both crossbows were still with them and he had his swords and two knives, that should be enough against an unknown but large number of demons, shouldn't it? "We are so doomed." His voice sounded so defeated that he shook himself, he couldn't give up while his friend's life was at stake.

There had to be a way to make this work, in Sunnydale they often had to with less while facing more dangerous enemies. He wasn't entirely certain he believed that, but it did manage to bring his mind back to where it was needed. The job here wasn't to defeat the enemy, it was to ensure the survival of Dawn and if possible himself as well. He needed to protect the life of a friend and no two-bit army of demons was going to stop him.

Moving to the entrances he tried to determine from which direction most of the demons were coming. And, in perfect accordance with his wonderful stroke of luck these past weeks, that seemed to be from the path where he had spent a lot of time carving the walls. Cursing his luck didn't help, but it sure made him feel better.

Okay, with the weapons he had there wasn't that much he could do but it had to be possible to do more than just sit there and wait for them to come and kill him. His eyes wandered to the only things that offered any chance of him surviving this, but Torala had warned against using it. When she had first mentioned them he hadn't believed it, as that kind of thing belonged in a Rambo movie, not in the real world. But in the end she had managed to convince him to take them along, just in case, but at the same time had warned him of the consequences.

There were twenty of them, twenty crossbow bolts with an explosive head that was capable of blowing apart a two feet thick reinforced concrete wall and he was planning on using them in an enclosed space. Using them might save them from the demons, but on the other hand if things went seriously wrong they might also be trapped in this room without any food or water. He sighed in frustration about his lack of options, and for a moment he thought that maybe the sorceress had been right about taking the guns after all.


Xander had loaded both crossbows the way Torala had shown him, he didn't know what would happen if he didn't do it that way but he had a feeling it wouldn't be pretty. Now he was standing in the middle of the room, a crossbow in each of his hands, hanging on the sides of his body but ready to aim them when it became necessary. Both of his knives in their sheets, the sword hanging on his back and dressed in a skintight black suit he had a feeling he looked like some kind of strange cross between Rambo and a ninja wannabe.

The sound of the demons approaching was getting clearer now and from the way they sounded it was obvious there were a lot of them, hundreds at the least. But the odds didn't matter, there was only one thing he needed to do right now and to him that was the most important thing that could be. A friend was in danger and he needed to protect her. All the fears that had ruled him for the past year were inconsequential compared to that fact, so he didn't pay any attention to them when he spotted the first of the demons.

His mind as clear and calm as it had ever been, he focused completely on the demons that were now appearing. For the moment they only came from one direction, so he pointed both crossbows there and let loose a barrage of bolts. Six bolts in three seconds, ten in five and he continued pulling the triggers mentally counting the shots. With twenty bolts in each weapon and shooting a bolt from each weapon every second meant that he couldn't keep this up for more then twenty seconds, but he was hoping that would be enough.

After eighteen seconds the demons seemed to have realized they couldn't get through that storm of bolts and pulled back out of sight and reach of his weapons. Happy that had worked Xander quickly reloaded the stock of normal bolts in both weapons, and was once again reduced to waiting for the demons to show themselves. He cast a hopeful look behind him, but there was no change in Dawn's situation. Closing his eyes for a brief moment he sent up a quick prayer to whatever deity might be listening, before once again focusing on the threat.

It seemed like both groups of demons were somehow able to communicate and when the second group had reached the entrance they attacked simultaneously. Once again he counted the bolts as they departed his weapons, one to the left and one to the right, two to the left. This time however it wasn't enough, besides the fact that he now only had one crossbow in each direction, the lack of a second eye meant that he couldn't watch both entrances at the same time.

He was still in that strangely calm state when the first demon entered the room, and he had no trouble putting a bolt through its throat before using the switches located by his thumbs. Dimly he heard the mechanisms inside the crossbows change to the other load while the demons kept coming closer and closer. Five of them had entered the room when he heard the soft clicks that indicated he could use his weapons again. He let fly one of the explosive bolts into each passageway, before he dropped the crossbows and took hold of his sword.

The effect was more then he had expected but luckily in a good way. As he had prepared himself for the expected shockwaves he didn't fall down, unlike the demons that were inside the room with him. The way the tunnels suddenly became a blazing inferno however was something he hadn't expected, nor had he reckoned on the heat wave that came into the room with it.

The demons that had been closest to the entrances fared the worst of those in the room, one was vaporized like those that had still been in the passageways and two others suffered severe burns. Those further in the room suffered lesser wounds but didn't come out of it unscathed either. Xander himself was furthest from the entrances and had several demons between him and the blast, but even he suffered some light burns on those parts of his body not protected by the suit.

The sudden heat had left him dazed for a moment, but soon he went to the demons in order to finish them. Apparently their shock had been greater then his as the first two didn't even put up a fight when he moved to cut off their heads. Moving to the next one however, he noticed that it was becoming harder to breathe, but even that knowledge didn't stop him from doing what he had to do.

By the time his sword had cut through the demon's head breathing was steadily becoming a major problem, and he started to check himself for any wounds that might have caused it. Realization hit him at the same time he felt his lungs burning, a sensation caused by the lack of air. Horrified he turned to look at the fires blazing inside the passageways that led to this room. Fires that were sucking all the oxygen out of the room.

While the explosions hadn't caused them to be trapped here, they had signed their death warrants after all. Xander's last thought before losing consciousness was a wish that oxygen would have returned by the time Dawn exited the artifact.


Burning. His longs felt as if they were on fire and he was starting to see spots in front of his eyes, he realized it was only a question of time before he'd faint and eventually die. Between one moment and the next however the pain in his chest suddenly disappeared, and he was once more capable of breathing. Taking a deep breath of refreshing air he opened his eyes, which he couldn't even remember closing, and looked around.

He was on his knees, like the closing of his eyes he didn't know when that had happened, but it didn't matter anymore since he had discovered where he was. There was another Xander kneeling over a wounded Dawn and that meant this could be only one thing. Another of those annoying dreams he was incapable of fully remembering. Sighing he got up and decided to make the best of this opportunity. He set out to discover as much of the temple as he could, but he had barely traveled a couple of meters when he walked into some sort of invisible wall.

Rubbing his head where he had hit the wall Xander wondered about this, he had never before encountered a wall like this and he couldn't understand why it had shown up here and now. Tentatively he tried to find a way to pass it, but he soon discovered this was futile and he stopped his mime act in favor of thinking about the reason for this wall. Could it have something to do with the way his real body was choking to death due to a lack of oxygen? Or was it something else?

Xander thought about what he knew of these dreams, there was always another version of him around, and they were always about what had happened to him that day. He frowned for a moment, those early dreams had always been about isolated events and he had never strayed away from the other him very far. In fact, he had never really left his other self's side until the paintings in the tunnel of history, and now he wondered whether that had been possible because of Torala or her house. After all, she had been able to speak to him in his dreams, something else he still wanted an explanation about.

Thinking this over he suddenly felt a shove in his back and falling down he was slowly dragged forward. He almost started to panic, until he found out that his little theory had just been validated in the strangest way possible. In front of him was the other Xander, helping Dawn walk to the room where he was going to commit accidental suicide. And since the wall was centered on the other him, he was now dragged forward by it over the rather hard ground.

This time around the journey to the artifact seemed to last even longer than before as he was rather restricted in his movements by both the walls and the agonizingly slow pace of the other Xander. He spent the time pondering all the questions that the dreams had thrown up since he first got them, including the most important of those questions. Why had he suddenly started having these dreams? Was it something to do with Torala? Had Dawn's knife caused them to happen? And, of course, what were they good for if he could only remember them in some extreme cases?

He had not yet managed to come up with an answer when they finally reached the large room that contained the artifact. He was forced to watch the entire futile and frustrating attempt to find an entrance before the moment came he had been waiting for. As the other Xander walked to the entrances he went as far ahead as the wall allowed and tried to find out what he could about the passageways they led to. Of course, he already knew what one of them contained but he wanted to find out as much as he could about the other one. This however wasn't nearly enough as the other Xander turned back far too soon and he was dragged back.

He almost screamed from frustration when that happened. This had to be the reason he was having this dream and he wanted to collect as much information as he could, just in case he did actually survive. Once again he wondered how his real body was faring. He remembered reading somewhere that dreams only lasted seconds, but he wasn't entirely certain whether that counted for these strange dreams as well.

Walking back into the room, he didn't stop the scream of frustration as he noticed the other thing he had wanted to find out. Not only had he not found any information about the demons, or the tunnels through which they would come, but now he had also missed Dawn's entrance into the artifact again. Sulking he went to sit in the middle of the chamber, if he wasn't allowed to find out anything around here what was the use of even trying?

"Xander." Did he hear something? There was a soft sound that seemed to come from far away but he didn't know from where. "Xander!"

That had sounded like Dawn, an angry Dawn actually, but he couldn't remember her speaking after she had started doing the floating thing. Turning around he noticed her looking at him, not at the other Xander but directly at him. "Dawn?"

"Finally, I've been calling you for a long time now."

"But how? This is a dream," he pointed at the other version of himself. "See? This is one of those strange dreams I've told you about, so how can you talk to me?" Realization hit him at that moment. "Oh, I understand, I've started hallucinating in my dreams! That must be because of the lack of oxygen."

He could see her rolling her eyes, obviously annoyed at his antics. "Be serious for a moment Xander. While you don't really have as much oxygen as you need right now, that is no reason to overreact, oh wait I forgot, you always do." That last part had come out rather bitterly and he flinched a little at another reminder of his actions that morning.

"I'm sorry about that, okay! It's not like I was expecting to wake up with you after a night of passionate sex."

"And I told you I don't want to hear your excuses!" She glared at him while anger almost seemed to be radiating from her before she cocked her head to the side as if listening to someone. "We don't have time for this, apparently your body will run out of oxygen shortly, and if you die there won't be anyone that can take me back."

"Take you back? What're you talking about?"

"There are several things about to happen, and you must remember this when you wake up." When she cast an almost desperate look behind him, he too turned to look and noticed the other Xander was moments away from launching the explosive bolts. "When he passes out, you'll wake up so we have to hurry. Don't interrupt me anymore. You'll wake up when the artifact starts releasing oxygen. The demons that were left have already suffocated so you don't have to worry about them. Shortly after you have awoken I'll exit the artifact and the fires in the tunnels will be extinguished. I won't be able to walk so you'll have to carry me."

That did not sound good, they had to go a rather long way to get outside, and that was following the route they were already familiar with. But he kept listening as Dawn explained how his explosives had destroyed most of the demons that had been in the unknown passage, leaving it relatively safe for them to go through. Nodding his acceptance a possible plan entered his mind and he asked one question, which she barely had time to answer before…


Air; sweet, sweet air. Gulping in the much-needed oxygen he tried to orient himself while getting to his feet. The fires in the passageways were still burning hot, but there was a constant flow of oxygen that kept him safe from losing consciousness again. Looking around at the demons surrounding him he could see that they were indeed dead, and he no longer needed to concern himself with them. They did spark something within him and he gasped as his mind was suddenly overflowing with memories of his dreams. But he hardly had time to notice them before they had once again disappeared into obscurity, leaving only one memory behind. With more than a little surprise he remembered his conversation with Dawn.

Knowing that time was short he immediately began his preparations. Gathering his weapons he put them where he could easily get to them while carrying a young woman. He hurried through reloading the crossbows, and was barely finished doing so, when the fires started to dim. Turning around he saw Dawn lying on the floor of the room and hurried to her, ignoring the little voice in his head that was disappointed he didn't know how she had gotten out of there. But the flames were almost gone, and he could hear the demons behind it. They might not be certain he was still alive, but he was sure that they wouldn't mind killing him if he wasn't.

After carrying her to their chosen exit he placed Dawn back on the ground and grabbed both crossbows. The flames were almost gone when he fired the same kind of salvo he had unleashed in the other tunnel minutes? Hours? Days before? By the time the bows were empty he had cleared out the tunnel once again. He hurriedly tried to reload the crossbows, but had only succeeded in doing so for one when the flames had disappeared completely and the demons started coming down the other tunnel. Dropping the crossbow he had been unable to reload in time he picked up Dawn and threw her over his shoulder before running as fast as he could.

Behind him Xander heard the demons approaching when they suddenly stopped An eerily loud click indicated that they had indeed found the crossbow and had attempted to kill him with it. He thanked his lucky stars that it had been empty, before he heard the softer sound indicating they had managed to find out how to switch bolts.

Trying to run even harder he felt as if his heart might explode, but he really needed to get out of the way before they pulled the trigger. A demon that had somehow survived his earlier actions went to stand in his, way and he cursed the decrease in speed necessary to shoot it. The demon however looked behind him and, apparently noticing the same danger he had, suddenly turned around and began sprinting away as well.

It seemed so quiet in the temple that even over his own laborious breathing he imagined he could hear it when the demons had pulled the trigger of the crossbow. Not waiting to confirm this he threw himself on the floor, covering Dawn with his body, and waited for the expected explosion. The sound was deafening and the scorching ball of fire, that went far to close over their heads, didn't improve matters much either.

The pressure wave that followed seemed far stronger than the previous one, and once again swept away all the air around him. It was only after he was able to breathe again that he dared to look at the carnage behind him. A wall of flame seemed to block everything from sight but he could imagine how the demons had been vaporized by the explosion and he chuckled a little. "Well, now at least I know what happens when you don't load them the way they should be." Throwing Dawn's limp body over his shoulder he grabbed his, correctly loaded, crossbow and continued on his way.


Allowing himself to slide down the wall Xander admitted to himself he was completely out of ideas. It had been a long time since he had carried Dawn out of the room, and by now exhaustion was starting to overcome him. He didn't doubt that it wouldn't be long before he made some mistake in regards to one of the traps or that the demons would finally find him.

He had not seen any demons since the explosion and with a little luck they believed him dead, but he doubted that would last much longer. If the speed with which they had come after them was any indication the demons were highly organized, and had a way of communication that was irritating in its efficiency. But his biggest problem right now wasn't just that he was tired, or that the demons might be somewhere around. Right now his problem was so pathetic it was just sad, he was lost.

It wasn't his fault of course, but it had still happened. At first his intention had simply been to leave the demons as far behind as possible, but that meant he hadn't paid any attention on where he was going. In the end this had cost him, since by now he couldn't recognize any of the signs that adorned the walls, and were meant to indicate where he needed to go.

Signs? Not that he minded their presence here, but what were signs doing inside a temple and who had ever heard of a temple this size? It wasn't normal for someone to run around a temple for hours without coming to the same place twice. And even the traps didn't make any sense, the only times he had seen traps in temples was in movies like Indiana Jones.

No, he needed to concentrate on the here and now. Philosophizing about the way this temple was built could wait until later, when he could get answers from Torala. The woman was almost as annoying as Valen when it came to giving out information, and he still didn't know what to do about her either. NO! Think of a way to get out of here.

He uttered a long and despairing sigh, before looking at the young woman lying next to him. During the entire trek she hadn't made a sound or moved at all, if it hadn't been for the fact that she was breathing and had a pulse he might have thought her dead. Whatever had happened inside the artifact it seemed to have at least closed her wounds, she still looked like she needed medical attention, but at least she wasn't bleeding anymore.

It was strange how he had only discovered during that dream exactly how much she had been hiding her wounds, and by then it had been too late. Giving her some water might have done her some good; it might have even woken her up so she could tell him what all the signs meant. But they hadn't taken any water or food along expecting to be back rather quickly. Licking his parched lips he made a silent vow never to enter any religious building without at least enough water for a day. And it wouldn't matter whether it was a gigantic temple or an itty bitty tiny shrine that barely fit one person at a time.

But now it was time to think of a way to get out of there. That sign over there, the one that looked like some kind of squiggly thing that was being eaten by a zigzagging circle-like thingie, had to indicate the exit shouldn't it? Or was the exit the curvy triangle with hands that seemed to be fighting with the weird looking cow?

This was so frustrating, back in Sunnydale he had usually looked for demons by comparing the pictures to the description Buffy had given but now he was here where there was no simple picture indicating where the exit was. Why couldn't the monks have acted like the rest of the world and post clearly lighted exit signs? If they had wanted to be different he would have even accepted it if they had made them purple or another weird color.

Closing his eyes he leant his head back against the wall, he really needed to focus and maybe a couple of minutes rest would help him to clear his mind.


It was a sound that awoke him, the sound of demons coming closer in their search for the two of them. Luckily they hadn't felt the need to be silent, and as fast as he could Xander picked up Dawn and silently, but still as fast as possible, made his way into one of the tunnels. A fresh surge of adrenaline had flushed the fatigue from his body faster then the entire contents of a Starbucks would have. He still didn't know where he was going, but he made up his mind to just go with the flow until he found something he recognized.

The demons behind him were slowly catching up however, and he could hear them only a couple of turns away from him. They would catch up with him sooner or later, and when that happened he needed to be ready for them. He walked on until he found a spot that seemed adequate for his needs and lay Dawn down on the ground just behind the bend in the tunnel.

Checking his crossbow he positioned himself in a place that was only barely covered by the light of the torches. Kneeling he sighted down the passageway the demons would have to pass through. He had maybe 30 yards of unobstructed space in front of him that they would have to cross in order to reach him, so he should be able to get some good use out of the crossbow. Not knowing how many demons there were, Xander waited with his first shot until he was fairly certain they were all there, and didn't have a chance to get back into cover soon.

Normally he would have wanted to kill all of them, but that didn't seem particularly doable in this situation. During the altercation at the artifact he had managed to kill several demons with his crossbows, but he had also noticed that some of these supposedly dead had managed to get up to again. And sometimes even continue their attack, before in the end they had been consumed by the explosions.

He was sure that to kill all of the demons he was now facing something like that would be necessary, but he felt that suffocating once on a single day was more than enough. His job right now was to get out of there, and to do so it wasn't necessary to kill everybody that stood between him and the entrance. So when he let his first bolt fly it was of the standard type and aimed at the throat of one the demons. He didn't know whether this was a deadly shot, but it would take the creature out of the fight. Shifting his aim slightly he managed to take down a second demon before they had even noticed his presence.

Once that happened however it became clear that he wasn't the only one with ranged weaponry and he was the only thing that saved his life at that moment was the way he was partially hidden in the shadows. Arrows and knives hit the wall all around him and one arrow even managed to pierce his suit, to become embedded in his left arm. He got the message and decided it might be best to fall back.

Diving to safety behind the bend, he almost screamed when his roll jarred the arrow. With tears in his eye he grabbed hold of it, but when a gentle pull revealed that doing that would take a big hunk of flesh along with it, he decided on just breaking the haft. Unfortunately, having seen that sort of thing done on television didn't really help him in figuring out the dynamics of how to do it with only one hand. When he finally managed to break of most of the shaft he cursed whatever moron had come up with the idea of smart demons.

He looked around the corner and noticed the demons were gone, which could only mean two things. Either they had decided it might be best to take cover as well, which would mean they were at the other end of this particular stretch, or the demons had had decided to come at him from the other direction. As this was the more likely option, he once again took hold of his friend and threw her ever his left shoulder. Doing so jarred what remained of the shaft in his arm and the unexpected crippling pain caused him to go down to his knees for a moment. He really should have convinced Dawn to turn around when she had been hurt, but as they say, hindsight is twenty-twenty. So now he just had to make the best of this situation.

Once he was upright again, Xander started walking as fast as he could down the tunnel. Unfortunately time was his enemy here as his opponents would know the shortest route that led to him, and would undoubtedly be moving to cut of any escape he could make. There was no way he would make it past them if he walked, so gritting his teeth he started running and with every step he took it seemed like his arm was on fire.

When he came to the next room however, his action seemed to have worked and he needed to decide on the route to take. He didn't know how they had been able to trace him before and he doubted he could hide his trail, especially since it his bleeding arm was the local equivalent of a big neon sign. What he could do however was outsmart them.

Since encountering the demons he had been running in a fairly straight line and they would probably figure he would continue to do so. Therefore he chose one of the other possible directions at random and ran through that particular passageway. Once again it wasn't a tunnel that he recognized and he was rapidly starting to lose whatever hope he had left.

The demons knew his general position and would soon be moving in from all directions to confront him, and he was still running around somewhere he didn't recognize. Arriving in the next room he quickly looked around for the exits while sweat had started running into his eye, obscuring what little vision he had left. Wildly blinking he almost missed it, and he had to look again before he truly believed it. There, in front of him, was one of the sweetest sights he had ever seen; unless someone else had decided to start redecorating with a sword he had just found the way to the exit.


Full of restored hope he ignored both pain and fatigue while moving through the tunnel. It wasn't until the next chamber that he recognized where on the route he was, but once he did Xander felt even better. There was only a ten minute walk before he'd reach the exit' and he was confident in his ability to keep going for that long. But since things couldn't possibly go as well as that he soon started hearing the sound of running demons behind him again. Between focusing on that sound, the pain in his arm, and the sweat that kept running in his eyes, he couldn't pay all that much attention to what was happening in front of him.

Demons were now closing in behind him fast, and he risked a cautious look behind him to check if they were in sight yet. When he could see the first of the demons he put in an extra burst of speed in the hopes of outrunning them. It was only then that he noticed the smell, and by that time it was almost too late, as the pit was only several yards in front of him. Having no other choice he didn't slow down but shifted Dawn a little and prepared himself for the jump, and the pain it would undoubtedly bring. He pushed off as hard as he could, and hoped it was enough to offset the difficulty his wounds and Dawn's extra weight brought.

Halfway through his jump Xander knew he had made it and had a moment to feel happy about this before he felt an impact on his back, throwing him off balance. He lost his grip on Dawn but noticed with relieve that she landed on the other side of the hole before he crashed there himself. During his fall he lost his grip on the crossbow, and couldn't immediately see where it had landed.

The pursuing demon had no intention to wait for him to find it however, as it followed Xander over the hole and landed in a graceful looking crouch.

"Uh, hi?" His attempt at friendly conversation didn't appear to be appreciated, and he had to roll to the side before he was skewered by the demon's sword.

Scrabbling to his feet he took one of his knives and made to stab the demon with it, a move that failed spectacularly as the demon easily disarmed him. Moving back a couple of steps, Xander could see the area behind the demon and was relieved to find that no other demons were in sight. The grey demon in front of him however had a scary grin on his face, but when he said something Xander was pretty certain was an insult he had enough.

"You're not the brightest demon are you? Back home they can at least speak English, but even that seems to be too much trouble for you."

It had been uttered almost breathlessly, but while the demon couldn't understand him, it didn't appear to like the fact that his prey was still able to talk back and decided to correct that. Having been able to draw his own sword Xander moved to block the stroke, but was almost hammered into the ground when the swords met.

Besides being a lot stronger the demon also had the advantage of not being wounded and with Xander now apparently at his mercy he had decided to take his time. However, dieing was a part of Xander's plans for the near future, and he looked around to see if there was anything he could use against what increasingly began to look like his executioner.

There was only one thing that might enable him to kill this hulking monster and he tried to position the playing demon so he could make use of it. When he finally had managed this he uttered a wild cry and threw his sword as hard as he could at the demon. This maneuver seemed to confuse it even while it neatly sidestepped the flying sword. Its moment of inattention however cost it dearly as Xander crashed into the demon, feeling the short spikes that covered its armor.

Like all of his plans lately, or at least the ones that seemed to work, this one had been fairly simple but carried a lot of risk. He had carefully maneuvered the demon in front of the pit and crashing into it had been his attempt to push it in. For a moment it seemed to work as the demon was teetering on the brink, but then it seemed to right itself and chuckled at what he probably thought of as the final attempt of the weak human. Xander however was still more or less standing against the demon and hoping that the demon had some similarities to human physiology he copied the move Dawn had made in one of his dreams. When the demon then stopped laughing and moved its hand to its crotch, all that he needed to do was give a little push before that situation was resolved.

Having lost his own sword he secured Dawn's on his back before picking up the crossbow and quickly checking it for damage. When he found the damage to be only cosmetic he let out a sigh of relieve that he had not lost another weapon. He looked around for the lost knife but when he couldn't immediately find it Xander decided it wasn't that important and once more carrying Dawn continued to the exit. There wasn't far to go now, and without any rooms or passages to encounter until he reached the temple doors he believed he might be done fighting for the day.

Upon reaching the room leading to the outer doors he could hear demons approaching from all directions but they would be too late to stop him. Crashing through the doors he made to run to the door that would lead him back to Torala's house when he stopped halfway down the steps.

"Oh come on, this isn't fair."

The despairing wail didn't seem to change the situation however, and Xander had to admit to himself that there was indeed an entire army of demons standing in front of him.

Chapter 11

His arms were starting to shake from the exertion of having to both carry Dawn and now aim the crossbow as well. While earlier on the day he had used two crossbows at once they weren't made to do that, and after the day he had Xander couldn't stop his aching muscles from trembling. But with hundreds, if not thousands, of demons in front of him there was no way he would put either his friend or the weapon down.

"Human!" A large blue-skinned demon bellowed. "It is said that you speak the language of those who live on the island to the west. Is that true?"

They wanted to talk to him? As long as it kept them from attacking he was more then happy to oblige. "If you mean English then yeah, but I don't wear tweed."

That seemed to confuse the creature, but didn't stop it from talking. "You have entered our home without permission and killed several of us. We will not tolerate that and therefore you must die, painfully."

Well, at least the odds weren't too bad. Even as he allowed that sarcastic thought to enter his mind, he heard the doors behind him open telling him that the odds had taken an even worse turn. A quick look behind him however, showed him there were only few dozen extra demons, so the odds hadn't changed much. Now all he needed was a nuke and he wouldn't be the only one to die. "Can't we talk about that? We really didn't plan on killing anyone, but you guys attacked us."

"You want me to believe that you entered our home, armed with weapons capable of killing us but not intending to do us any harm?"

The demon didn't sound as if it believed him and Xander had to admit that it didn't sound very likely if you put it that way. "You wouldn't believe me if I said that was just to clean out any spiders?"

They didn't appear to understand the concept of humor however and a growling went up from the forces arrayed before him. "No." The smile on its face could probably be found in the dictionary when one looked up 'predatory' and Xander really didn't want to find out what the demon had planned for him.

"Oh, come on. Don't you think this is a little unfair? Why don't we fight one on one and if I win the rest will let me go." He forced a cheerful smile on his face, he didn't really believe he could survive a fight like that but it would by him time.

"I think not." Okay, so it didn't buy him a lot of time but some is better then nothing.

"Why not? That would be the honorable thing to do."

"And why would we care about honor? All we want at this moment is to kill you slow and painfully for waking us up."

Waking them up? Oh great, he had really messed up this time. "Waking you up? You attacked us, you must have been awake to do that."

Once again a scary grin appeared on the creature's face. "No, those were just the guards and scouts. We didn't wake up until you started detonating explosives, but enough of this nonsense, it is time to kill you."

The moment it was going to give the order Xander intervened by aiming his crossbow at the demon. "Do that and you'll be the first to go."

"You think that you can kill me by shooting a little crossbow bolt?" The tone of the question was as incredulous as the expression on its face.

Xander meanwhile had realized this was his only chance, especially since the cold seemed to make the trembling even worse. By now his body was almost continuously shaking and it started to come out even in his voice. "Where d-do you think the explosions came from? One shot from this a-and you'll be dead as a dodo."

These demons were smart and he therefore hoped that they didn't want to die anymore then he did. Threatening the head guy seemed to be his best bet when it came to surviving this day. Unfortunately the English speaking ugly creature seemed to have noticed his trembling, and queried the demons standing behind him in a guttural sounding language Xander had never heard before.

When the answer came the demon started laughing, and that send chills running down his back as he realized where he had heard that sound before. The demons before him were from that army in the paintings, the army that had destroyed all those cities. The demonic army that had torn apart that brave little Slayer and her Watcher-type person was now planning to do the same to him. Suddenly he doubted his plan was going to have even the slightest chance of success. "Very well, little human. We will wait before killing you, but if you try to get past us we will tear you apart."

He didn't believe his luck but didn't try to show it, Xander knew he didn't have long before he would be overcome by both exhaustion and cold, and before that happened he needed to be out of there. He carefully continued down the steps, all the while keeping his crossbow aimed more or less in the direction of the demon that hadn't stopped chuckling and seemed to be watching him for a show of weakness.

Once he had reached the bottom of the steps he moved to the side of the temple, and while walking half-backwards and half-sideways wasn't the most comfortable thing to do, it was the safest. After their comment about honor he doubted he would be able to trust them when it came to not attacking him from behind, and even if it wasn't the threat of his weapon that prevented this it sure made him feel better.

"Where do you think you are going? There is only one way out of this valley and that is behind us." The demon still hadn't lost his mocking smile and Xander could barely keep himself from pulling the trigger, but he knew that if he did and, more importantly in his current condition, if he actually managed to hit the creature, both he and Dawn would die.

Risking a glance behind him he saw he was nearly at his destination and dared to give a reply. "Well you know how it is, I just want to see a little more of the world before I die."

"In that case you won't see a lot more of it." Apparently the demon had realized he was planning something and decided that wasn't going to happen. With a roar that seemed to shake the valley the demonic horde started running for Xander.

Not bothering with pretending anymore, Xander turned around and ran the remaining distance to the open door, which apparently only he could see, and threw himself inside. He immediately felt warm, although the shakes hadn't stopped yet and Torala looked at him with what he could only describe as a worried frown. He wanted to ask her what was wrong, but he only managed the first word before the world started spinning and darkness overcame him.


Waking up he didn't need to open his eyes to realize he was in some kind of medical room. Having spent an inappropriate amount of time in buildings focused on the healing arts he had developed something akin to a sixth sense when it came to them, and this room fit the bill. Well, not exactly, that pervasive hospital smell seemed to be missing and this caused him to think about where he might actually be. And why was he here? Fragments of what had happened in the temple came to him and a shiver once again ran along his back when he remembered exactly what he had faced there. But he had lived through it, he made it to the door and returned with Dawn but then, how had he ended up in here?

Realizing there was only one way to find out, he started looking around. In the dim light he could barely make out a figure sitting in a chair next to his bed, and focusing on the figure he could hear the slow and rhythmic breathing that indicated sleep. But why hadn't he heard that when his eyes had been closed? For that matter, who was it?

He tried his hardest to see who it was, but whether because of the lighting or some other strange reason he couldn't make out any features clearly. Thinking about it didn't make it a lot clearer either, unless he was no longer in Torala's house there were only two possibilities and he doubted either of them would sit next to his sickbed.

Xander couldn't think of a reason to worry about who it was however and he tried to see what else was in the room. There wasn't a lot he could see by only moving his head so he tried to sit up. Unfortunately this caused a wave of vertigo, and he let himself fall back on the bed before trying to make some sense of the world again. Preparing himself for a second attempt he suddenly felt sleepy again and, despite his efforts to try to fight off this sudden fatigue, it wasn't long before he succumbed to it.


The next time he woke up, Xander could hear someone next to him, actually this time around he heard an abnormally loud heartbeat. He couldn't really remember ever hearing a heartbeat this clearly, not even when he was trying to do so and it seemed to him that there were at least a couple of feet between the owner of this particular heart and himself.

His mind felt clearer though and he could remember fainting after he had passed through the door, which must have led to his current situation. Maybe the exertion had been too much for him, and combined with those last minutes standing in the freezing cold had led to his passing out. That wasn't a perfect answer, but at least it was an explanation that would work for him until he found out the truth.

"Are you awake?" The sound of the concerned voice was rather unexpected and like the heartbeat very loud, but he didn't react to it. Last time he'd checked, Dawn had been ready to skin him alive if he even opened his mouth, and with the truce over he figured the young woman had returned to that behavior.

He could then feel her soft hands cover his own, and had a feeling that he would be able to make a map out of those hands without seeing them. Every tiny scar and line felt as if they were exaggerated for his personal benefit. Upon realizing he was still in the hospital-like room his nose had immediately tried to protect itself from the expected odors, but now he could clearly smell both the perfume that the young woman next to him was wearing and her own unique scent.

"Please Xander, wake up. You've been sleeping long enough now." It still sounded like a scream, but the desperation came clearly through as well and Xander decided to oblige her request.

Opening his eyes he expected the same dim lighting he had seen the previous time, but instead of that he got harsh light that hurt his working eye. He allowed a scream of sudden pain to exit his mouth and immediately shut his eyes again. That hurt! It was even worse then when he'd first arrived in this messed up house. He noticed Dawn move away, but could hear she hadn't left the room, and when she returned she spoke at a level that was far more normal then her previous words. "It's okay now, I've turned the light down you can open your eyes again."

He was afraid to do so since he had never expected his eye could hurt like that from too much light so he therefore needed to be certain he could trust her about this. Her current behavior wasn't anything like he had expected, but he suddenly realized it didn't matter anyway. There were many things Dawn would do in order to get back at him, but she would never do anything that could hurt his only remaining eye.

Slowly he opened it and let the light filter in and when the giant yellow spot had finally disappeared he turned his head to his friend and noticed she was crying. "Dawnie? What's wrong?"

"I'm just glad you're alright. I was so worried about you."

Looking at her he noticed every little detail about her face and he suddenly got an idea about what could be wrong with him. Slowly turning his head around he looked around the room, noticing every tiny little crack in the wall and every little chip where the wall wasn't completely smooth. "Dawn? Why am I making like the Sentinel?"

That got something that sounded suspiciously like a laugh out of her before she composed herself and answered his question. "According to Torala your senses will be rather strange for a couple of days. Sometimes they will be normal, other times almost non-existent or they will be like now, supercharged."

"Is that what she said?" It didn't really sound like anything the sorceress would say.

"Not literally no, but that is a fairly accurate summary of the boring lecture she gave me concerning your situation."

"She's really bad at the lecture thing isn't she?" He fought a grin at that, if his friend had been listening to those she wouldn't appreciate him making fun of it.

Apparently it hadn't worked because she slapped him and he cried out at the sudden pain. "Oh no, I'm sorry about that. I forgot that you feel everything better as well."

"It's okay, the pain is leaving already. But now tell me, why exactly am I in here? I know I was tired and cold but this Sentinel thing isn't something that can be caused by that is it?"

"No, it was something else." She looked rather unsure about how to go on so he decided to ask something else first.

"That can wait, tell me when you woke up I was kinda worried about you but it seems like you're doing fine now."

"Uh, I woke up about six days ago."

Six days, she had been awake for six days. That meant he had been asleep for that time, but why? "Dawn, I really want to know…" He petered off when he heard the door open and saw Torala enter the room. When he opened his mouth to ask her what was going on he suddenly felt tired again, and before he could do anything he once again fell asleep.


The room started to become a regular place to wake up in and it was getting easier to remember where he was every time he woke up. Remembering the last time he opened his eyes Xander first checked whether his senses were in overdrive again. But besides the rhythmic pacing, of someone who by the sound of it was rather agitated, he couldn't hear or smell anything out of the ordinary. So he took the risk and opened his eyes to total blackness, this time he had no trouble letting out a scream of frustration and he immediately heard the other person walk towards him.

"Xander, are you okay?"

"I can't see anything, is this still the same thing you talked about earlier?"

"The senses? I don't know, can you hear it when I say this?" The last part was whispered but he didn't have any trouble understanding it.

"Yes, everything seems to work fine except that I can't see anything!"

Apparently Dawn had figured something out as she walked away from him and suddenly there was light. "Sorry, I didn't put the light back on after you woke up last time."

"I thought you had only turned down the light?"

"What? No that was yesterday, this morning it was even worse, remember?"

That didn't make any sense, had he woken up without knowing about it? That thought made him panic a little. "I can't remember that. How can I have been awake without remembering it?"

The answer didn't come from his friend but was instead calmly delivered in the strange accent belonging to Torala. "That is indeed the case."

Turning his head to the new arrival in the room he asked her how something like that could happen.

"The symptoms you have experienced have all been caused by the poison you were exposed to."

"Poison? What poison?"

"During your struggles inside the temple you seem to have been shot by a poisoned arrow, most of the poison was prevented from entering your body because of the suit you wore but some of it managed to get into your bloodstream anyway."

"They poisoned me? That must be why that ugly one was laughing at the end, but why would they use a strange poison like this?"

"Both the sensory distortions and the memory problems are merely secondary effects. The poison itself is usually deadly within minutes but, as I have already stated, most of it didn't enter your body." She paused a moment in her narration to let him absorb this. "You have probably felt some of its primary effects during your trek here, but it was diluted enough to allow you to live long enough to reach my home. When you entered I recognized the effects and was able to save your life, after Dawn woke up she started watching over you and informed me when there were any changes in your condition."

He threw a grateful look at Dawn. "Thanks."

"You would have done the same for me." Despite the words she seemed a little strange, he couldn't quite place the emotion that crossed her face but he decided to make sure he'd find out what it was later.

Turning back to the sorceress Xander asked her how long he needed to stay here.

"You appear to be mostly healed and therefore I see no reason why you would need to remain in this room."

"I had one of those memory things only a short time ago but you'll let me out of here anyway?" He asked incredulously.

"Naturally, I do not see any reason for you to remain here, unless you wish to." As he continued to stare at her in surprise, she elaborated. "I am not one of your doctors, in my opinion there is no need for anyone to remain lying down when they can walk again. That is only for those who use your so-called modern medicine, nor will I tell you to take two of these and call me again in the morning."

That got a chuckle out of both him and Dawn, even though it was unlikely the woman had meant it as a joke. When shortly thereafter Torala left the room Xander decided that it was time for him to get up as well. Moving his legs off the bed he suddenly noticed something he hadn't really paid attention to before. "Uh, Dawn?"

"Yes Xander?"

He noticed the glint in her eyes that seemed to indicate she knew what he was going to say but ignored it. "I don't seem to be wearing any clothes."

"I know."

The mischievous glint in her eyes hadn't disappeared and he was starting to get a little worried about it. "Could you get me some then?"

"They're in there." She answered, while pointing to a closet located behind her, not taking her eyes of him for even a moment while a wicked smile joined the glint in her eyes.

"Could you get them for me?"

"Why don't you get them yourself?"

"Dawn, please? I'm naked under here."

She really seemed to be enjoying this as he noticed she could hardly contain her laughter. "I know and there isn't anything I haven't seen yet."

"Dawn!" That last comment had shocked him, and it was only when Dawn burst out in laughter that he knew she had been teasing him.

"You should have seen your face," came haltingly between fits of laughter. She then finally walked to the closet and brought him his clothes before making to leave the room. "I'll be in the lounge, why don't you join me once you are decent?" With another burst of laughter she passed through the door, leaving Xander alone to get dressed.

"Well, at least she seems in a better mood." He commented a little sourly after she had left, but after a moment or two he had to laugh himself at the joke she had played on him.


"Hey Xander, I see you're dressed now."

"Very funny Dawn." He answered her greeting. "Don't you know you shouldn't tease us poor little sick people?"

"Tease? Me? You must be mistaken." The young woman told him with an almost perfect innocent face.

"Yes, you. I'll get you for that you know."

"Really?" She asked while licking her lips that had curved into a hungry smile. "That could be fun, lover."

Once again one of her comments had managed to shock him into silence, but it didn't last very long, and he finally managed to reply. "When did you start channeling Faith?"

"Sorry Xan, but I just couldn't resist that opening," Dawn told him, looking entirely too pleased with herself.

"Right," he told her a little unsure about how to talk to this totally different Dawn. "And that's the only reason?"

"Well, no. I really enjoyed myself that night and wouldn't mind repeating it."


As she once again burst into laughter he wondered why she was suddenly so freely talking about that night when before she had been ready to kill him.

"Oh relax, it was a spell. Neither of us could do anything about it and I realize now that we both overreacted the next morning. Besides I should have tried to stop it when the spell wore off for me."

They both overreacted, well that was true. But if she was talking about it like this she might even accept his apology, which would be a good first step to restoring their friendship. "To be honest, from what I remember about that night I don't think you could have stopped me. But you're not the only one who's sorry, I really shouldn't have overreacted like I did, especially since I know how it feels and I really hope that one day you can forgive me."

"Don't worry about it, no harm no foul, right? I didn't exactly make it easy for you either with the way I acted."

It sounded a little too easy, but who was he to complain? "Thank you, so are we friends again?" He asked opening his arms.

"Friends." The young woman answered letting him enclose her in a hug. "Or maybe more?" She asked before gently biting his earlobe.


"Oops, maybe I shouldn't have done that." Her words were belied by her unrepentant grin however, and Xander wondered where all this had suddenly come from.

Moving out of his embrace she managed to force her face into something that looked like she was really doing her best to remain serious. "I know you're not really comfortable with how I'm acting now, but I can't really help it."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you remember that spell don't you?"

"Dawn, we've been talking about it for the last what? Ten minutes? Of course I remember it."

"Oh yeah, sorry but I wanted you to think about it for a moment." This was once again punctuated by a shameless look that did indeed manage to make him feel something he really shouldn't. "Anyway, this is sort of an aftereffect, but don't worry it will only last for a couple of weeks. A month at the most."

A month of this kind of behavior? He was doomed. There was only one thing he knew for certain about the next month. Someone named Summers was going to be the death of him, either Dawn's action would kill him, or Buffy would do it once she noticed how much those actions affected him. Turning a horrified face back at her he managed to croak. "A month?"

The smile she beamed at him was almost as disconcerting as the perfume he could smell on her as she hugged him. A shiver ran down his back as she forced his head down and whispered in his ear. "Great isn't it? We'll have so much fun."

This wasn't fair, she was his friend, the little sister of another of his friends and she really shouldn't act like this. He finally managed to extricate himself from her arms, which seemed to have a life of their own in an attempt to touch every part of his body, and put some distance between them. Once that had been achieved he finally had time to think this information over, something that still wasn't easy when being watched by someone that did a fair impression of a hunting tigress. "Wait a minute, if this is an aftereffect of the spell why am I not acting like that?"

"Spoilsport." His friend seemed a little put out that he wanted to talk, instead of spending time the way she wanted to, but sat down in one of the comfortable chairs. "I said it was sort of an aftereffect of the spell, but the spell isn't the whole reason. Let me think for a moment how I can best explain this."

As she was thinking it over Xander moved to sit down himself. When she remained silent after several minutes however he began to worry a little and moved towards her to see if she was alright. Bending through his knees so he could look her in the face he noticed she was thinking about something and while it didn't appear as if anything was wrong he grabbed her hand anyway. "Are you okay?"

"What?" The moment he had touched her Dawn had snapped out of whatever she was thinking about and now she turned a heated gaze at him. "Changed your mind after all?"

"No Dawn, I was just a little worried when you spaced out like that."

"Oh, I'm okay. Why don't you sit down next to me? When you are touching me I can think more clearly."

"Somehow I doubt that."

"No it's true, that way I don't have to imagine what skin contact would feel like."

That did it, he ripped his hand away from Dawn and with frustration coloring his voice asked her. "Why can't you be serious about this? This isn't something to make jokes about and there're other things we need to talk about as well."

"This isn't a joke! I'm serious here, and doing my best but it's so hard when all I want to do is..." Cutting herself of she turned her head away but not before he had seen the tears that had started falling down her pretty face.

Knowing he was at least partly the reason for those tears he gently told her. "I'm sorry, I don't know how hard this is for you, but I'd hoped you could control yourself a little better."

A muffled sentence was all the reply he got on that and when he asked her to repeat herself he understood why she had so little control now. "This didn't start today you know. I've been feeling like this ever since I woke up a week ago but, with you unconscious there wasn't any way for me to relieve myself."

"Oh Dawnie, I'm so sorry I didn't realize." He wasn't exactly happy about her choice of words, but figured she had suffered enough. And there was only one thing he could do to make it better for her, no matter how hard it was to do that. "Why don't we move to the couch so you can sit next to me if that's what you need?"

"Thank you." The words were hardly audible, but it wasn't long before he was sitting at one end of the couch while Dawn used the rest with her head resting on his lap.

"So, can you tell me the whole story now?"

"Hmm, sure I can. This feels nice doesn't it?" That last part sounded rather drowsy and when he looked down at her he noticed she had closed her eyes.

"Dawn? Are you asleep?" When no answer was forthcoming he was certain that was the case and he chuckled a little. It was rather ironic, now that she had finally achieved what she wanted Dawn had fallen asleep.


"She has finally fallen asleep?"

The soft-spoken comment snapped Xander out of his own thoughts and made him once again aware of his surroundings. It was only now that he noticed Torala had taken a seat on the other side of the table, on which now stood food and drinks. He wondered how long she had been there, and for that matter how long it had been since Dawn had fallen asleep. "Yes."

"Her self-control was impressive, most people would not have been able to resist the temptation to take what they craved for."

"Was it really that hard for her?"

"It is one of the hardest things imaginable but the difficulty is hard to describe to one who has not faced it. This is also part of the reason for her exhaustion, that kind of self-control will easily tire someone out, but she remained awake and at your side for as long as she could."

"She stayed with me the whole time? Even when it was that hard for her?"

"Yes, partly because of the spell, partly out of gratitude for your actions at the temple, and partly because of her love for you."

"Love?" He really liked Dawn but he wasn't certain how he could deal with it if she was in love with him. His own feelings for her weren't entirely clear after that night, and he first wanted to rebuild their close friendship.

"There is no need to worry, if you disregard the effects of the spell her love for you is one of friendship. Whether this remains so in the future is something that only the two of you can determine."

As he let out a sigh of relief he noticed for the first time how parched his throat actually was. Without really thinking about it he made to reach for a drink when he remembered Dawn's head was still lying in his lap.

"Allow me." The sorceress stood up and placed a glass of juice and some sandwiches within reach of him.

Thanking her he drank and ate a little until the sorceress once more spoke up. "She feels safe with you."


"Dawn, she knows you would do anything to keep her safe, and so she allowed herself to fall asleep knowing you will watch over her."

Looking down at the vision of beauty resting in his lap he smiled while moving some stray hairs out of her face. "She is right about that, there isn't anything I wouldn't do for my friends."

"I am aware of that, and now that you have overcome your own personal demons I take it you will once more oppose those who wish to harm mankind?"

"How do you know?" Xander shook his head, wondering why her knowledge surprised him. "Yes, I now know that I have let them down. They may not always have wanted me to help, but I didn't stop then and I never should have stopped at all."

"Your brief respite has done you a lot of good. Do not belief that it was in any way wrong for you to take a break, in fact I think it would be beneficial for your friends to take one as well. You managed to come to terms with most things that have happened in Sunnydale, something most of your friends have not been able to do."

"You want me to convince them they should take a break? Somehow I doubt I'll be able to do so."

"You and your friends have lived in a war zone for eight years. Combat stress it not something to be taken lightly, and it would be in their best interest to relieve it while they still can."

He had a feeling that the way she said that indicated something was going to happen that he wouldn't like. "What's going on? Is something going to happen?"

"There is no need for you to worry about what may or may not happen in the future. I believe it was Yoda who said the future was always in motion, and I agree with that sentiment. Too often in the course of history things appeared to do one thing, but ended up doing something else. I believe there is something else you wish to know however, why don't you ask about that?"

Realizing he would not get any information from her about this he filed it away to discuss it with the rest of the gang after he had returned. Xander remained silent while thinking of all the questions he wanted to ask the woman seated in front of him, but he knew that most of those would never be answered. Finally he decided on the question he had already asked Dawn and which he believed she had alluded to. "Why am I not affected by the spell like Dawn is?"

"Because you are not the one who is wearing the dagger."

The dagger, he had completely forgotten about the knife and now he was reminded of it he couldn't believe he hadn't asked Dawn about it, after all getting rid of the knife had been the reason they went to the temple. Xander had not seen the dagger since Dawn had entered the artifact and due to his need to escape hadn't really thought about it when she had gotten out of it but that was no valid excuse.

"You mean she still has it?"

"Naturally, she is now fully bonded to the dagger and to her it will feel like part of her body."

"But it still affects her?"

"No." The sorceress seemed close to losing her patience with his lack of understanding, but continued nonetheless. "Her current behavior is in no way connected to her behavioral changes from before."

"Okay, I think. So it isn't a problem any longer, is it?"

"The negative influences of the dagger on her mind have been completely removed."

"That's good, but it doesn't really explain her current behavior."

"As I have already stated, that is slightly different. As Dawn keeps reminding you of the time that I made certain you were protected from the dagger, you will no doubt remember that the influence did not last as long on her as it did on you.

"This was due to the fact that the effect was aimed at the dagger and not at her, however when she bonded with it and it literally became a part of her the effect transferred to her."

"So what you're saying is that you made the knife want me and when it became a part of Dawn the effect went to her?"

"Not entirely correct, but the explanation will suffice." The sorceress answered his summary.

"Do you have any idea how sick that sounds?" Xander could hardly believe it, he was made a sex-object for a knife and because of that one of his friends was all over him. If it hadn't been for the fact that the aforementioned friend was lying on his lap he might have started throwing things, or something else to alleviate his anger. It was this kind of thing that made him wonder why life hated him so much.

"It is not as 'sick' as you think it is, but I can understand why you would think it so. There are things that I need to do, but before I take my leave of you I wish to ask you one question."

"What?" He really wasn't in the mood for this but if it got rid of her he would answer the question.

"When you were informed about the poison you made a comment about one of the demons laughing about it. Did you converse with them?"

"Converse? You know, just a tip, but you might want to update your English a bit 'cause I don't think anyone talks like that anymore." After pausing to think about it for a moment he corrected that comment. "Well, except maybe for Giles but he doesn't count when it comes to talking English."

"My use of language is not important at the moment. Would you mind answering the question?"

"Sure, if that's what it takes to make you stop bothering me." And he then explained about the army that he had encountered upon exiting the temple. At the time it happened he had been almost certain he would die, now talking about it made him relive those same feelings. In order to distract himself he subconsciously began to lightly caress Dawn's head, an action that did indeed manage to serve its purpose.


It was long after the sorceress had left that Xander heard the strange sound, it almost sounded like purring but so far he had not seen any cats in the house. Looking around he tried to find the source but was initially unsuccessful in doing so. Trying to place the sound however he discovered where it came from and it was only then that he found he had been caressing the young woman on his lap.

"Hey, you awake now?"

"Hmm, yes." Dawn answered his question with a lazy grin on her face. "Why did you stop? It felt nice."

"There are some things we need to talk about and I'd rather you didn't fall asleep again."

"Trust me, sleep isn't my intention right now, although a bed sounds good."

"Please try to control your urges until after the discussion."

The fact that he didn't want her to stop completely seemed to catch her off guard. "Why aren't you telling me that I shouldn't come on to you?"

"I spoke with Torala and she explained what's going on with you."

This seemed to satisfy her as she closed her eyes and nuzzled a little more into his light embrace. "Good."

"Dawn! We really need to talk about some things."

She pouted a little as she sat up straight but he hardly noticed it as he was transfixed by how innocent she looked with her hair all tousled from sleeping. This particular look wasn't something he saw for the first time, but he had not seen it for several years, and with her now mature body the effect it had on him wasn't exactly the same..

Dawn seemed to notice this as well if the predatory grin that appeared on her face was any indication and she tried one more time. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather do something else?"

The urge to say yes was growing larger but, like he had earlier told the sorceress, his friendship with Dawn was far too important to mess up. "No, we need to make a decision about what we are going to do about Valen."

Removing the tantalizingly soft finger she had started running over his face Dawn uttered a sigh of disgust. "Now that is one way to kill a wonderful mood. What about the annoying one?"

"You know why we are here and personally I'm fed up with his so-called important mission. You have spent more time with Torala, what is your opinion?"

"Should we talk about that here?" Dawn answered, the inflection in her tone telling him what she thought of that idea.

"I doubt it matters where we talk about it, she's sure to find out about it anyway."

"Okay, you're probably right about that. Let me think. I haven't spent that much time with her, but I do know that if she were the kind of threat he believes her to be, there wouldn't be anything we could do about it."

"That's kind of what I figured, but do you think she is a threat?"

"Yes, she is the biggest threat there has ever been and that includes the First."

"You're serious?"

"Yeah." Xander watched as she closed her eyes before once again resting her head on his shoulder before she continued. "There isn't anything that she wouldn't do to save humanity."

"Okay, you've kinda lost me there. How is that a threat?"

"Maybe I'm wrong but I really believe that if for example humanity could only be saved by killing every U.S. citizen, she wouldn't hesitate in doing it."

"You really think she'd do something like that?" He couldn't really believe anybody would be capable of such an action, no matter what the greater good might be. There was always another solution to a problem, and killing innocents was at the top of his list of things that should not be done.

The way she nodded directed the scent of wild flowers to him and for a moment he imagined how she must have looked while washing her hair. Luckily, that disturbing image disappeared as soon as he focused on her words. "Yes, like I said there isn't anything she wouldn't do to save humanity. Of course, there's nothing we could do to stop her, I don't think even Willow could stand a chance against her. I don't know how they compare in power, but Torala is so much more experienced that she'd probably be able to predict what Willow tried to do before she'd started."

"What do you think we should do then? I can't leave anyone alone that might endanger my friends." While he hadn't expected the extent to which Dawn believed the sorceress would go, she hadn't really told him anything he hadn't already figured out for himself. But he did want to know what she believed they should do.

"There is nothing we can do against her, she's far too powerful. The only thing we could possibly do is try to stop her actions once they happen."

"That's what I thought, but I really hate waiting for things to happen." Running his hands through his hair in frustration he tried to think of better ways to handle this situation. But he had already spent hours doing so and hadn't come up with anything. "At least I don't think she'll do anything anytime soon, so we should have time to prepare, if we only knew against what."

Another nod from the head resting on his shoulder indicated the young woman agreed with that sentiment. "So, we go home then?"

"Unless you want to stay?"

"No, this place doesn't really hold a lot of good memories for me. I haven't apologized yet have I?"

"Yes you have, I think. What for exactly?"

"For making it difficult with the whole dagger thing, I should have believed it when you told me."

"That's alright, you were under the influence of the knife."


The harshness with which that was spoken caught his attention. "What?"

"It's not a knife but a dagger."

"Okay, I didn't know you were so touchy about that."

"I wasn't, until you know..."

"Oh." There wasn't much he could say to that.

"By the way, don't you need to stay here because of the poisoning?"

"No, when I spoke to Torala earlier she told me that I'd probably do the Sentinel thing a couple of more times and maybe the reverse as well but that should only happen after I've just woken up. That shouldn't interfere with my ability to work and since I'm already late for it I want to get back on the job as soon as I can."

"Okay then. So, when do we leave?"

"As soon as possible, I've got to get back to work." Thinking about work he realized that with the tunnel of time and being unconscious for a week, or more, he probably should have started again weeks ago. "If I still have a job, that is."

"Any idea on when that will be?"

"Not really, today?" After she agreed to that they sat in silence for a while until Xander decided to ask another question that had been on his mind for a while now. "Dawn, during that night."

"Yes?" Her tone of voice had once again changed to sultry, but he had a feeling that wouldn't last long.

"I couldn't help but notice the scars on your body."

The silence that followed this statement was telling and he wondered what she was going to say. When she did speak however, it wasn't anything he had expected. "Do you think she'll let us take some of those weapons along? Or maybe those suits, I like the way you look in them."

"Why don't you just answer my question?"

"From how you said those Rambo bolts worked, they must be great against tough demons."

Okay, even he knew when to take a hint. "Fine, but we will talk about it one day."

"Talk about what?" The innocent look might have been enough to fool him, if he hadn't been there for the rest of the conversation.

There was another pressing matter about that night though. One that was important for his continued wellbeing. "Dawn, I've got another question about that night."

"What about it?"

"Could you perhaps not mention it to Buffy?"

"That depends." Oh no, he just knew he was going to regret that question.

"Depends on what?"

The beautiful young woman straddled his hips, and before she bent her face to his ear Xander could see the wicked smile that had appeared on it, which confirmed his earlier prediction. When her hot breath caressed his ears, he couldn't contain the shiver of delight that affected his entire body. When he heard the words her breath carried to him however, his mouth fell open as he couldn't believe her audacity. Only when she lightly bit his ear, again, did he snap out of that shock but he was still only able to utter one word. "DAWN!"


While it wasn't the first time he saw them in action, it still surprised him how well the group fought together. The, once disorganized, group seemed to have come a long way in the time since Sunnydale had been destroyed. He was standing in the cover of the fresh-smelling trees, that surrounded what had minutes ago turned into a battlefield, when he turned to the woman standing next to him.

"And?" He knew the short question would suffice to inform his partner of what he wanted to know, and indeed she didn't disappoint him.

"They're pretty good but I doubt they're good enough yet if what we suspect is true."

Their suspicion, it had been coming for a long time, and now it seemed as if their worst fears might actually be confirmed. "Maybe she wants to talk about something else."

To make him retract those words, all she needed to do was turn her head towards him with a slightly incredulous expression.

"Okay, you're right there isn't anything else she could possibly want, but there's no law against hope."

They continued watching the fight as it played out before them. The group of Slayers, Watchers, and assorted friends had created a trap in order to try and kill this group of demons; who had been terrorizing this neighborhood for the past month. When the demons had gotten word that they might have a chance at taking out three of the Slayers patrolling the Hellmouth, they had jumped at the opportunity. Hours later they had shown up here, where their contact had informed them was the best chance to deal with the Slayers.

Never before had those contacts been influenced by Slayers, so the demons hadn't suspected a thing until it was too late. When they had moved in to kill the bait, the other humans had suddenly appeared from their hiding places, and the battle had started. As he watched, one of the Slayers was hit by a particular big demon and with a hard crack landed against one of the trees across from their position. He didn't see which of those replaceable girls it was, but an angry cry of "Kennedy!" followed by the explosion of what had once been a living demon told him it was the witch's lover.

Looking over the battlefield he searched for several of the people that he personally believed to have some significance in the greater scheme of things. He had just discovered the rogue Slayer, when a noise behind him made him duck. The demon that had tried to surprise the two of them was big, not as big perhaps as the one that had struck the Slayer named Kennedy earlier but still close to eight feet tall. He didn't know whether this particular specimen was a member of the group fighting on the battlefield, but frankly he couldn't care less.

Wondering why his friend hadn't already dealt with this one he looked over at her and found his answer. The demon had not come alone and right now the woman was dealing with the other one. His moment of inattention almost cost him, as he was almost too late in discovering that the fool facing him had enough brains to use a weapon.

Jumping aside, he managed to evade the huge battle-axe that crashed into the ground, only moments after he had departed that particular location. Even this unexpected twist didn't particularly worry him, after all he wasn't going to die at the hands of some pitiful freak of nature, that should have known better than attempt to attack him.

With a smoothness that showed his familiarity with the action he allowed one of his silver-inlaid knives to drop into his hands. His opponent clearly didn't like how calm he remained, under what was supposed to be a dangerous onslaught, and started making more noise than he was comfortable with.

Realizing he needed to finish this, before those on the battlefield would want to know what the noise was about; he dove under the next swing of the huge weapon and ended up behind the demon. Driving the knife through the kneecaps of his opponents was something he had often trained on, and while the demon's skin was of a tough variety, he had no real trouble in succeeding here.

As the foolish monster's legs could no longer carry the weight of its body, it crashed to the ground, keening in surprise and pain. The blood that coated his knife was one of the worst smells he had ever encountered, and he was forced to waste a moment to pushing back the reflex to gag. There was no time to wait however and he walked to the demon that had been nice enough to fall on its chest leaving the back totally unprotected.

Standing next to its head he was soon informed that the demon wasn't completely helpless yet, as one of its massive arms tried to grab his legs. Jumping over the clumsy attempt he landed on the back of the creature and immediately bent through his knees in an attempt to keep his balance. Killing it however was still only the secondary objective, and he had no idea how to achieve that effect on this one anyway. On the other hand, he did know how to shut it up, and he did so by driving his foul-smelling knife through the back of its neck, severing the vocal cords located there.

Judging by the way the demon suddenly went completely still he must have done more than that. Which meant he had probably destroyed part of the peripheral nervous system as well. That ensured the creature was no longer a threat to him, and he might as well wait for his friend to finish off her opponent. She had always been better then him in recognizing the different demonic species, and would undoubtedly know how to kill this one.

A glance in her direction showed him that she didn't need his help, so sacrificing one of his handkerchiefs he cleaned his knife while watching the rest of the battle. When he caught sight of his favorite Slayer he decided to watch her as she fought the demons that were unlucky enough to face her. Noticing the confident way she moved through the carnage, he dwelled for a moment on how different she was now from when she had first arrived in Sunnydale; fleeing from Kakistos only to find herself in an even worse situation. Some of her actions during that time were understandable while others... He shook his head for a moment until he heard his companion calling his name.


"Why didn't you kill this one?"

"I don't know how to kill it fast, and I'm not some butcher that tries different methods when you would most likely know how to deal with it."

"Well, given enough time it will probably die of asphyxiation but unless you think that's necessary I'll speed it up a little."

"I don't care, as long as something as stupid as that doesn't breed, any solution will do."

"I'm sure it would thank you for that kindness had it still been able to speak."

The sarcasm that colored those words made him look away from the riveting sight of Faith decapitating one of her opponents and look at the woman now standing next to the demon. Raising an eyebrow in a way he had copied of Spock when he had first seen the TV character perform it he spoke. "Is something wrong?"

"Is something wrong? Is something wrong?"

"There is no need to repeat my words, twice, you seem upset about something and I doubt it's that fool in front of you."

"My dress, you moron! Look at it, it's ruined."

Looking closely at his usually impeccably dressed companion he did indeed notice a slight smirch on her dress. "I can hardly see it, what's wrong with it?"

"You may not mind walking around dressed like a vagabond, but I have always maintained a standard, and I don't intent to show up at the meeting dressed like this."

Uttering a sigh in defeat he realized he had never stood a chance in this discussion, and decided he might as well surrender. "Very well, we'll leave as soon as the battle is over. That way you should have enough time to change."

"Don't do me any favors."

But he wasn't paying attention anymore, as he was once again scouting the field for the reason he had come here. And now finally he had found them, he had expected to find them where the most demons were, but hadn't counted on the fact by now the demons had recognized them as well.

The two brunettes, one male and one female, seemed to be at the center of a group that was trying to get away from them. It was strange how the demons were more afraid of two relatively normal humans then the overpowered Slayers. Of course, he had always considered the Slayers as mere pawns in a huge and complicated chess game, but for some strange reason the demons had still considered them to be the main threat.

"Have you found them yet?" The blonde next to him asked.

"Yes." Pointing out the two he had only just discovered he continued speaking. "It's most gratifying to realize how the demons have finally discovered that it's not the Slayers they should fear."

A rather un-ladylike snort was his answer to that. "You only say that because you're too young to remember a time before those British fools got their grubby little hands on them. When they still had decent guidance they were a force to be reckoned with."

"I too have seen the paintings, but I have trouble imagining they were ever like that."

"Don't let your preconceptions cloud your judgment Valen, even with only a slightly diminished influence of the Council, the Summers girl achieved more than most of her recent predecessors combined."

"Perhaps but that doesn't mean what I said isn't correct. In the past centuries the Slayers haven't achieved that much, most of the losses on the side of the demons came from infighting or mistakes on their part."

"True," She acknowledged, and he went back to looking at the ongoing battle. So far none of the Slayers, or their allies, had died and the only heavily wounded person on their side was the one he had seen flying earlier. However, from what he could see he doubted that had caused any permanent damage, and with the battle practically over he didn't expect any other casualties.

"Who do you think scares the demons more? The Key or the Seer?"

His friend had to think that over before answering. "I don't think they see any difference between the two. While the girl has a weapon that is more then capable of killing anything she might face, the boy is just plain scary in his determination to protect his friends and kill their enemies."

"Yes, you might very well be right about that. And to think I had a hand in this rebirth of them." Valen pretended to wipe away a tear of happiness. "That just makes me so happy."

The slap he received actually hurt a little, and rubbing the spot she hit him he turned to the woman. "Alice! What was that for?"

"You were being ridiculous, their present situation isn't something you should be happy about. Especially when you consider what the girl's future holds, now that she has bonded with the dagger. Their fates aren't something you should joke about."

"Oh come on, you can't deny she seemed to enjoy the immediate effects. If she doesn't realize there must be some downsides to all that, she shouldn't have survived this long."

"Of course she knows about the effects, that's the whole point of the artifact. Don't you ever listen when things are explained to you?"

"I do listen and I know she knows that you know that I know that..." Another slap cut off that attempt at levity, and he decided to give up and watch the fight. When Alice was worried about her clothes there was nothing that could be done to cheer her up until she wanted to.

"Do you know where they got those suits?" Were the words his friend used to break through the silence, that had endured for several minutes after their disagreement.

"No idea, but they seem to be based on the ones the two of them wore during their sojourn into that temple."

"Well, at least they're trying to prepare themselves for what's to come, even if they're wrong about the source of their trouble."

"Are you certain they're wrong?" He wasn't really paying attention to the conversation anymore but he knew that statement would start her ranting. Meanwhile he thought about what the two children had done since he had sent them on that mission. They had actually managed to instill some discipline in the group, and introduced new techniques and weapons that were based on things they had seen while in Torala's home.

He was also rather fond of the way they had 'appropriated' the money for all of that. It was about time they realized that it wasn't only demons that could be evil. Of course, his personal favorite thing that had happened to them was the little joke he had played on them, and despite what Alice said it was a good one. After all, nobody got hurt, everybody enjoyed themselves and he got a good laugh out of it. What more could anyone desire?

"Why are you grinning like that?" That comment caused him to quickly lose the grin he hadn't even known had appeared on his face. "You were thinking about your stupid joke again, weren't you?"

"Actually, yes." Why should he be afraid to admit to something that he'd liked? Especially the look on the boy's face, when he realized what was about to happen, was one memory that he savored.

A noise that from experience he could translate as one of disgust at his actions was all the reaction he got, and if he was honest to himself he was rather happy with that. She could be rather heavy-handed when it came to putting him in his place, and he didn't want to deal with that before going to the meeting.

He turned his focus back to the fight when he noticed it had ended, and the Slayers were starting to search the surrounding area, which would eventually include their position.

"We have to go."

"Finally." Was the relieved answer he received but then when she noticed him throwing the handkerchief on the ground, Alice had more to say. "Pick that up."


"That hankie, pick it up."

"I used it to clean my knife, I'm not going to pick it up again. Do you have any idea how much it stinks?"

The gaze she then directed at him made him remember that despite everything, she was a lot older than him, and more than capable of hurting him. "Pick. It. Up."

"But why?"

"Our business is improving the world, and as we both know that starts with yourself."

"Oh come on, you know I always skip the first steps of everything I do."

If he had believed the gaze she had directed at him before was bad, the way she glared at him now proved him wrong, and he had to swallow in an attempt to wet his suddenly parched throat a little.

"You know, I just thought about it. The way people are capable of getting fingerprints and stuff from the strangest things, makes me wonder if it might not be best if I took the handkerchief along."

The way she sniffed at that lame excuse made him cringe a little on the inside but he made certain not to show it. As if he would admit he might possibly have been wrong about not wanting to bring the stinking thing along. Bending over, he decided to simply throw it in the first possible trashcan, even if that was inside someone's house.


The meeting. Now that they were so close to actually being there, the nerves he had on first hearing about it came back. This wasn't the normal meeting that was held every decade, that one was still 3 years away, which made this a 'special' meeting. The last, and only other special meeting he had gone to, had concerned the plans of the United States to use nuclear weaponry in their spat with Japan. That had been the first special meeting in over 300 years and he didn't like it that now, a scant six decades later, there was another one.

Valen looked at the woman next to him, now once again impeccably dressed in the dress she had collected from her shop, and wondered how she felt about this. Surely she must be calmer then he was, considering she must have gone to quite a lot of these meetings. But while it wasn't exactly warm the slight way her hands were shaking was out of proportion to the weather. Especially considering the way she was normally able to simply ignore the cold.

"No, I'm not alright." His eyes widened slightly at her words, had she read his mind?

"Nor did I read your mind."

"Then how?"

"While you are adept at hiding your nervousness from others, I can always tell, and the way you looked at me could only mean you wanted to know how I was feeling about this."

"But why are you nervous? You must have gone to dozens of these meetings."

Alice stopped walking and turned to him. "There has never been a pleasant reason for them, and while I personally hope this is about some kind of new and destructive weapon humanity has created, I fear it is what we talked about several weeks ago."

That made his nervousness even worse, that talk was still fresh in his memory, and if all of their suspicions were right it was linked closely to the two people they had just observed, and the things that had taken place during that month in the summer. As he was closely involved in that, he was starting to consider the reasons why it might be his fault.

His friend however seemed to sense this, and tried to lay his fears to rest. "Don't worry, you were working under orders at the time and nobody could possibly blame you for the current situation. Now come on, let's think about more positive things. I couldn't help but notice that you're no longer wearing your bad-taste suit, is that because of the meeting or are you considering an identity change again?"

Grateful for her words, even though they hadn't completely laid his fears to rest, he answered Alice. "Both actually, I ordered a complete set of these suits for my new identity, and decided to wear the first one that was finished to the meeting."

"So why did you decide that you needed a change of identity?"

"You said yourself how determined the two of them are, and while that isn't the whole reason it did play a part." He paused for a moment, licking his lips while thinking how to best formulate his next words. "There are two other reasons for the change, and I'm pretty sure that you'll find one of them ridiculous, but the other is that I have a feeling that it'll be necessary for me to have access to places a vagrant can't access."

"I thought you said that bums could go anywhere without being noticed?"

"Almost anywhere, the top-secret stuff is harder to access."

"Well, I must personally say that I like this new identity. You smell better, you look better and you don't have that annoying way of talking anymore."

"Why, didn't you like that?" was the only thing he said, before ducking under her swing and laughing once he had reached a safe distance.

"Once you've stopped laughing at your own antics, why don't we walk on?" Alice asked him, but he could see she had some trouble herself keeping from laughing as well.

"Alright, but you have to admit it was rather funny."

"Your sense of humor still hasn't evolved to a level where I can appreciate it." She claimed with her nose held high in a manner meant to indicate how much above all this she felt herself. A move that was perfectly executed and told of a lot of experience in doing so, the only thing that ruined it was the way her eyes twinkled in barely contained mirth.

"If you say so milady, will I be allowed to escort you to your destination anyway?"

A light sniff of superiority punctuated her next statement. "While in ordinary circumstances a lady of mine stature would never allow herself to be seen with the likes of thee, I seemeth to have misplaced mine noble escort. Therefore it will be permitted for thee to accompany mine noble person to mine destination, so that thou mayest keep any ruffians that we might encounter from mine person."

Duly impressed with her performance Valen complimented her. "You're pretty good at that. In what region did they speak like that?"

"I'm not sure anymore, and to be honest I think that I've made a couple of mistakes, but that happens when you haven't spoken a dialect for some centuries. By the way, with all this fooling around you still haven't told me what your new name will be."

"Ah, ah, I'm not going to tell you that. You'll find out with the rest at the meeting, that's after all the way it should be."


But the good mood their antics had created lasted the rest of their trip, and Valen thanked whatever deity might exist that he had such a good friend as Alice, to ease the burden of his long years.


"Alice! Valen! Come in, you're still early especially considering the two of you."

"Ha, ha Rufus, you're as funny as ever. Why don't you give us some of that poison you're drinking and shut up?"

They entered the lounge where they were greeted by the others that had arrived before them, while a smiling Rufus did indeed hand them two glasses with whatever concoction he had thought up this time. Carefully sniffing at the glass Valen thought he could detect a floral scent, roses perhaps? And some other things as well, but nothing that seemed especially dangerous and he decided to risk it.

When the liquid entered his mouth he noticed the peculiar taste but couldn't really place it. So far he had not encountered anything that would explain why everyone was looking at him broad smiles on their faces, until suddenly his eyes began to water and he began to sweat incredibly. Spitting the stuff out he grabbed a glass of water, that had been thoughtfully handed by someone he couldn't recognize through the liquid obscuring his eyes.

"What kind of idiot puts red peppers in a drink?"

"I admit, it is something of an acquired taste but really, I didn't expect your reaction to be that extreme. Haven't you had any spicy food lately?"

He glared at his supposed friend before joining the laughter that the rest of the room had indulged in. "How did you come up with a drink as ridiculous as this?"

"Well that is kind of a convoluted story, but if you are really interested I'll tell you." And he spun a tale that indeed proved to be rather strange and twisted concerning a pepper export business he had acquired, several tribes of people in South-America, a particular nasty drug lord and the Columbian authorities. Like all the stories Rufus told about his various drinks, it was entertaining, but didn't explain how he came by it or what went into it.

"That," Valen said while clinking his crystal glass against that of his friend, "was one load of rubbish and we both know it. But it was well told my friend."

"Thank you, now I've heard rumors about something you did to a couple of children during the summer. Can you tell us what that is about?"

A grin split open his face while he reached in his pocket. "I can do better then that, I've brought a recording."

"No! You really shouldn't show them that Valen."

Before he could protest Vyvyan cut her off. "Don't be like that woman, we want to see this."

"It's not British humor so I doubt you'll find it funny. But really Valen, you can't do that. While I might admit there was some humor in it, I don't think it is fair to the kids if you show that to everybody."

"Wait a minute, you've seen it?" That came from Rufus, always vocal in matters like these.

"Yes, but..."

"Oh no, you will not lecture us when you have seen it while we haven't. We will watch it as well. Valen put it on." Vyvyan, always interested in jokes, had the last word.


Xander and Dawn entered the hotel they had stayed in before they had left for Torala's house, while still thinking about everything that had happened to them. He wasn't happy about the fact that they had not been allowed to take any of the weaponry, let alone the suits, with them, but he could understand the sorceress's reasoning. Especially if she knew what they thought of her, something he had no doubt she was aware of. Moving to the desk he asked for the key to their room, when he was summarily informed they were no longer staying in that room.

"What do you mean? You've kicked us out?"

"Not at all," The prim attendant informed him, "but apparently Sir has forgotten he sent his friend to ask if Sir and Madam could be transferred to another room."


"Yes sir, and while it is not in my nature to say so, might I add that Sir's friend was not the kind of person we like to see in this hotel." The look he gave them made it clear that, had they not been capable of paying for a room in one of the most expensive hotels in the city without using it for several weeks, they would have been kicked out for that transgression.

"Let me guess, he showed up looking like a vagrant, probably in a green shirt and some kind of hideous baseball cap?"

"Indeed, Sir remembers his friend."

Valen, what had that annoying creature done this time? Looking at Dawn he noticed her eyes held the same wariness he was feeling, but there was no choice, it was late and if they wanted to sleep it would obviously be in whatever room they had now.

"Okay, please give me the key to the new room then."

After the attendant had handed over the key, he looked at it and asked for directions to the room, which he received followed by a comment that made him suspicious again. "I do wish Sir and Madam to have the most pleasant of nights."

Walking to the waiting elevator he punched in the button for the top floor before asking his friend's opinion.

"I have no idea, but we might be lucky and it's something nice?" Yeah right, Xander didn't need to actually answer that, as he was sure she was having the same thoughts.

Eventually they arrived at their floor, and with great reluctance he followed the young woman out of the elevator. Looking around for their room they walked to it before Xander used the cardkey to disengage the electronic lock. After opening the door, the first thing he noticed was the smell of roses, followed closely by the realization that dozens of candles that had been lighted around the room.

"Move it, I want to see as well."

Walking into the room, he didn't even think about the fact that Dawn would have been more than capable of seeing everything inside the room from where she had been standing. All his attention however, had been drawn to the four-poster bed that was the centerpiece of the room, and the note stuck to one of the posts with a knife.

Still in shock at this sudden strange turn of events he walked to the note in a daze and read it. When he encountered the post scriptum at the end, his eye widened in disbelief but when he turned to Dawn he found her wearing a feral smile, and not much else, before she pounced at him.


"Oh that was wonderful, you'd almost feel sorry for the guy." Vyvyan crowed when Valen had paused the image.

Others in the room agreed with him, Rufus being the loudest. "I agree with that sentiment completely, she didn't look like the type to allow him even a moments rest."

"The poor girl didn't have a choice in the matter." That loud comment by Alice silenced everyone.

"What do you mean?" Arya asked, concerned about the young girl.

"She wasn't in control when it came to that. In order to protect the Harris boy from the dagger Torala had placed him under its protection, and when the girl bonded with the weapon..."

She barely had time to finish that sentence when Chani turned to Valen and asked him. "You didn't?"

He felt a smile creeping over his face when he told her. "I did."

With a shout of glee she ran to him and gave him a hug, one that was soon joined by most of the others in the room. "That's wonderful, I remember when Eventine and I did something similar to a guy in..." The woman looked confused for a moment and looked at her co-conspirator of that time for help which he provided.

"1269 I believe, to that stuffy guy and his wife from Paris."

"Yeah, that's it. Did you remember that?" Chani asked of Valen.

"I must confess that was indeed the inspiration for this particular joke, but there's more to it, which is next on the recording."

"There's more? What are we waiting for? Let's watch it." Rufus told the rest while quickly moving back to his prime viewing spot.

The others all quickly agreed with him, except for Alice, who remained where she was. Somewhere, Valen only now realized, that offered a good view of the screen depicting the recording. When he looked at her in shock he could once again see the mirth dancing in her eyes, and her slow wink confirmed that she'd had no intention to stop their viewing pleasure.

He turned back to the screen intending to let the show go on when Arya spoke up. "Wait!"

Numerous exclamations of disagreement with that request roared their heads, but she simply waited until they had quieted before she spoke again. "We still don't know what was on the note."

This time the sound was one of agreement telling Valen he should really divulge that information. "Okay, I'll tell you. It wasn't all that spectacular but this is what it said." Closing his eyes he recited the short message he had written on the note. "Dear Xander and Dawn, thank you for what you have done. Regards, Valen. P.S. Have fun."

"Have fun? You told them to have fun?" At his confirming nod, Vyvyan roared in laughter. "No wonder he had that expression on his face. He must have realized what was about to happen, even though it was already far too late. You, my friend, are evil and I must admit that I like it. Now show us the rest of what happened."


Entering the posh-looking hotel Faith wondered how the two wayward scoobies could afford to stay here, and apparently her fellow Slayer had the same thought as she queried Willow. "Will, are you sure this is the right place? It doesn't look like somewhere either of them would stay."

"This is where the police report said he was staying." It might have only been her imagination but she had a feeling even Red herself was starting to doubt how right that information was. She wasn't the only one to notice this though, and an argument was started in the middle of the lobby causing all eyes to turn to them.

"Guys? Why don't we ask the nice guy at the desk if X-man and the brat are here? Y'know, the one that looks like he wants to throw us out?"

"She's not a brat." B hissed at her, but having heard that several times already Fath didn't pay any attention to it, and just followed the blonde to the desk.

"And who, pray tell, is your sister?" The way the stuffy suit corrected B's unintentional assumption that everyone knew her was rather funny if you thought about it, which of course Faith did.

"Summers, Dawn Summers. She's here with Xander Harris." The blonde gritted through her teeth, obviously not nearly as amused as Faith was.

"Ah yes, I know Sir and Madam. They just arrived back yesterday and are at present still in their room."

Sir and Madam? How had they gotten this guy to talk about them like that?

"I should have realized you were here for them. After all it is not the first time one of their unsavory friends shows up."

"Unsavory?" That had come from Red and once again she had to contain her laughter. Coming on this trip sure seemed to prove a good idea, just what she needed. This guy sure knew how to push all their buttons, well except for hers but that was just because she had been called worse. At least, she thought so. Not knowing the exact meaning of unsavory didn't help, but she was pretty certain the stuffy suit wouldn't throw words around that might shock the costumers.

"Sir and Madam have not informed me they wanted to remain undisturbed, nonetheless I do believe that would be preferable. I would therefore ask if you would like to return at a later time when I have informed them of your wish to visit." The guy told them before turning to help someone else, someone who, in his opinion, was obviously far more important. If it hadn't been for the fact that she was used to being treated like that she might have feel slighted, but she just followed the others to the chairs located on the other side of the lobby.

"It's times like this that I wish Giles was here, he could have spoken stuffy with the guy and find out where we need to go," B complained before starting to sulk.

"Ehm guys?" Red's lover spoke up.

"Yes Kennedy?" Red, of course, answered when nobody else did.

"I was able to sneak a look at the guys screen and know which room they're in."

That caused all three of them to look at her in amazement before B said what they had all been thinking. "Why didn't you tell us before? What room is it?"

Even when the young Slayer was still protesting that she couldn't have told them sooner, they pushed her towards the elevator which they entered when the stuffy suit wasn't looking.

While the girl pushed the correct button, the top floor Faith noticed, she was thinking about how they had finally found the two missing people. While there had been some kind of message, from some guy that she had never heard of, about borrowing them for a while and not to worry, this hadn't stopped them from doing just that. X hadn't really done any fighting since Sunnyhell had sunk in that hole and she couldn't really see the brat as anything but a brat.

No magical means of finding them had worked however, and in the end it had been both a stroke of luck and some hacking that had located the police report about how her former boytoy had been stabbed by some freak on PCP.

That had confirmed that it was the right guy although there had been no word of B's little sis in the report, which had been worrying. And as at least Xander had been hurt bad enough for a hospital visit, there was always the possibility Dawnie was hurt as well. Which had B riled up far more than could possibly be healthy.

Now a day later they were tired after the flight but had been lucky that the two of them were still in the same hotel. The only thing that nagged her while exiting the elevator and following the others to the room, was why the suit thought they wouldn't want to be disturbed. A peek through an open door gave her an idea however, but that seemed almost so ridiculous she was about to discard it when she heard the moaning coming from the room they were supposed to be staying in. B had heard it too but had drawn a totally different conclusion.

"They're hurt! We have to help them."

"B! No..." But she was already too late as the blonde kicked in the door and she could smell a mixture of roses, sweat and one other smell that was rather unmistakable. Peering past the shocked older Slayer Faith could see something that she hadn't expected to ever see, but before she could comment on it, B too had finally realized exactly what was going on inside the room.

"Xander Harris! What the hell do you think you're doing with my little sister!?"


"Wonderful, absolutely masterful. How did you arrange for them to be found at that time?"

"That, Rufus my friend, is a convoluted story involving three old nuns, a pilgrim on his way to Mecca, a Japanese mechanic, two bus drivers and the big bad wolf but if you really want to know I can tell you."

Laughter greeted this statement and Rufus was more then willing to join in it. "Alright my friend, you can keep your secret but I still think it was a great joke and I congratulate you on it." Raising his glass he then called for a toast. "To friends and the jokes they use to ease the burden of time."

Everyone joined in the toast, laughing once more when it became clear that Rufus had exchanged Vyvyan's drink for one of his concoctions. But suddenly the people inside the room went silent one by one and rose to their feet looking at the entrance. Turning his gaze there, Valen too rose to his feet at the sight of the beautiful vision in the white shimmering dress, their boss had arrived.

"I hope you have all enjoyed this pleasant diversion but the time has come to speak of less pleasant subjects." Torala said. "Please follow me to the conference room."


In the conference room they were all seated around the round table that had seen countless of these meetings. While everybody knew there was only one reason for this meeting this didn't mean that the normal way of doing things would be suspended. Starting with Illusio, the oldest of those who serve Torala, everybody had a chance to speak about anything within their domain that they deemed important enough for the others to be aware of. Valen, as the youngest, would wait until last, but was by no means uninterested in the tales of the others. Only once had he ignored one of the things that had been told during a meeting, and that had almost cost him his life.

When finally it was his turn he rose to his feet, as always a little nervous of speaking so formally to these most illustrious of people. There wasn't much that had happened since the last meeting that warranted the attention of this group, but there was always something. After speaking about the current situation, and how he had decided to handle these things, he then came to his closing statement.

"My friends, I have told you what is going on among those I watch over, but it must be clear to you that I will not be able to do everything I've spoken of in my current identity. For this and two other reasons have I chosen to have a change of identity, one in which I will be what is known as an upstanding member of the community."

"No wonder you look so clean. I thought for a moment that your cardboard box had been leaking during the last rainstorm."

"Very funny, Rufus."

Daneel then spoke up. "What are your other reasons Valen?"

"The second of my reasons concerns the Harris boy and Summers girl."

"You refer to the One who Sees and the Living Key?" This interruption came from Illusio, a rather unexpected event since the enigmatic woman hardly ever spoke up. "You will not harm either of them in any way."

It was clear not only to Valen, but from what he could see to the others as well, that this was not a recommendation but a command. "It has never been my intention to do so, but may I ask why you do not wish harm to come to them?"

"That will be answered at a later time."

Wonderful, that meant the meeting did indeed involve those two children. Not liking this one bit Valen nonetheless continued his speech. "Both of them are rather familiar with me, a familiarity that has been caused by our previous meetings, and they are also rather anxiously looking for me."

"Caused in no small part due to your joke." Alice interrupted.

"Caused in no small part due to the joke I played on them." Valen agreed, deciding not to let her get to him. "I firmly believe that eventually they will find me, unless I take immediate action and change my identity."

When he was silent for a moment Halloran spoke up. "And your third reason, and for that matter your new name is?"

"My final reason and new name are connected. It has to do with a great achievement of humanity, one that wasn't necessary to tell all of you since it will not have any wide-ranging consequences. You are all aware of my habit to watch the science fiction shows that are broadcasted on television. As it is where I got the name I am today using for the last time. One of the best of these shows was summarily cancelled about two years ago.

"At that time the fan community of this show undertook action in order to get this show back in production. Several weeks ago the results of these actions were aired in the form of a miniseries. To honor that achievement I have decided my new name should be Rygel." And with those words he sat back down on his chair.

"Rygel? As in Farscape's Rygel? The muppet?" Came the incredulous question from Passepartout.

"He is not a muppet, just because he is built by the same company doesn't mean anything." Valen defended his choice.

"Bah, semantics."

"Oh come on, Passepartout, just because you haven't changed your name in almost a century doesn't mean he can't. And at least he has chosen someone whose mannerisms closely resemble his own."

"Hey!" He shouted in mock anger. "I'm not the only one who does that Vyvyan."

Before the meeting could degenerate into a shouting match Torala interfered and called it to order. And when she did that, all of those present looked about as anxious as Valen felt. Except for Illusio, who had a thoughtful expression on her face as she kept looking at him.

"My dear friends, while it is always fun to listen to the newest antics of Rygel." It kept surprising him, how she never made a mistake in anyone's new name. "The time has come to speak of the reason you have been called here."

For the first time in his life he saw a flicker of uncertainty on Torala's face, and he knew that his worst fears were about to be confirmed. Fears he saw reflected on his colleagues' expressions, as one after another they looked at the empty chair.

"It has happened."

Three words that confirmed his worst suspicions, three words that would change the face of the world for times to come. It had happened. The only thing that had taken the life of one of their own was back. Nobody needed the confirmation, but Alice asked for it anyway. "They're back?"

"Indeed. The Army has been awoken."

The End