Date written: Sat 12 Apr 2014

Authors: Starway Man and Nodakskip

Emails: theop at hotkey dot net dot au, Nodakskip at aol dot com

Disclaimer: Joss and everyone else (the WB, UPN, ME, and whoever else) own everything related to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Those parts of the story taken directly from the TV episodes belong to the writers in question. Anything else you recognize belongs to its various owners; including the movie Groundhog Day (which belongs to Harold Ramis, Danny Rubin and Columbia Pictures, by the way). No profit will be made from this work, so please don't sue us. It wouldn't be fun for anyone concerned!

Acknowledgments: Thanks to Ironbear and Greywizard for beta'ing this fanfic. And we gotta give thanks to Buffyworld, too, for the transcripts consulted in the writing of this story.

Feedback: As they say, it's the coin of the realm. So please tell us what you thought of it.

Rating: Overall PG-13, but some R-rated stuff like violence and character death is present.

Category: AU, Action, Adventure, Angst, Romance

Authors' notes: This is a Buffy/Angel crossover fic where Cordelia doesn't die after the events of BtVS season 7/Angel season 4, even though some of the events of Angel season 5 do happen. There is nothing of the season 8 comics here, though; and as for the 'ships in this story, well, for those of you familiar with our prior work, it's doubtful you'll need to guess too hard who ends up with whom.

Summary: Cordelia Chase was destined to die young. Xander Harris was destined to be nothing but the Zeppo. But what if that wasn't true? And what happens when you add Ethan Rayne into the mix?

Title: Shards Of Fate


"Everyone forgets, Willow, that knowledge is the ultimate weapon."

(Xander Harris, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER)

"I take crap from no one."

(Cordelia Chase, ANGEL)

"A reason to love and a reason to hate, a reason to know a reason to create, a reason to live the mighty life great, and a reason to leave is all our fate."

(Senora Roy, 2013)


Part One: Exodus

Outside the remains of Sunnydale, southern California

May 20th, 2003

Xander Harris blinked, staring at the newborn crater; which contained the sunken remains of his former home town, the one and only Sunnydale. { Holy crap – I'm still alive! I didn't die. I can't believe I didn't die... }

Standing next to him, Dawn Summers asked what the group what they were going to do next; but the one-eyed man paid no attention to her. Harris was too busy wondering how exactly the group had won their war against the malevolent entity known as the First Evil.

{ We scrunched the First, sure, but – how did we pull it off? By dropping the whole town on top of it? By getting rid of all its minions? Or was it something else? }

Harris honestly couldn't figure out the answer right now, what with the recent fight he had taken part in against the First Evil's Bringers and the über-vampires known as the Turok-Han. Xander suddenly started wondering if he had battle fatigue or something – all he could remember right now was a lot of screaming and running, just before Sunny-hell had imploded and the survivors of the battle had fled the scene in that big yellow school bus. No, wait, there was also...

{ Oh sweet mothering Zeus, Anya... }

Straightaway, Xander forced himself not to think of his former fiancée, who had apparently died just before everyone had had to run for it. He figured that if he focused on Anya right now, he'd fall to pieces right here in front of everybody. And the former construction worker knew that he needed to keep it together for the moment, at least until they made it to wherever the hell they were going to go next.

Which sorta brought him back to Dawn's question just now...

"Yo, people. What now, what's the plan?" Faith Lehane's voice finally penetrated Xander's introspection.

"I don't know. I mean, does anybody have any ideas on what we should do next?" Willow Rosenberg asked.

"Well, we were planning on going shopping at the mall – but I guess that's no longer an option," Dawn's sister Buffy pointed at the crater. Then she sighed. "Anyone's got any ideas, let's hear 'em."

Xander looked around. It was just him, Dawn, Buffy, Willow, Faith and Rupert Giles gathered together. The rest of the Sunnydale survivors were all on, or near, the bus: Andrew Wells, the new Slayers and the badly-injured Robin Wood. { Oh, yeah, geez. Talk about obvious! }

"Some of us need to get to a hospital." Harris gestured at Robin and some of the girls, who were sporting various injuries of various levels of severity. "And, like, pronto."

"He's right," Giles said, taking his glasses off and polishing them with a piece of white cloth he retrieved from one of his pockets. "That should be our first priority. But after that..."

"Just as long as we're not headin' straight for Cleveland, I'm happy," Faith interjected, sending Giles a warning look – after having heard the Englishman say something about another Hellmouth being located there, a few moments ago.

"Los Angeles," Buffy abruptly decided. "I sent Angel there to prepare a second front against the First, if it was needed. It's not, but I'm thinking his hotel should be our first stop after we see to the wounded."

"Good idea, Buffy," Willow agreed enthusiastically. "I've been there, and there's plenty of room for all of us to crash for a while."

"Guess that's settled, then. And, uh, hospital? Closest one is the Channel Islands Surgical Center; had myself a little souvenir visit, during my post-Graduation road trip. Any objections?" Harris asked, looking around.

There were none, and as soon as everyone was on board, the bus doors closed and the vehicle headed south as fast as it could go.


Outside the Hyperion Hotel, Los Angeles

Later that night

Stepping off the bus, Xander examined the hotel building in front of him. A cold chill suddenly crawled up his spine, and he shuddered for some reason he couldn't understand. Somehow, Harris could sense the bad vibes surrounding the Hyperion from the fallen Power named Jasmine and her worshippers, even if he knew nothing about all that – yet.

"What is it?" Dawn asked, as she came to stand beside her friend.

Xander continued to stare at the Hyperion. "I dunno, I just – I don't like this place, for some reason," he answered simply.

Dawn looked at Xander in concern. Ever since hearing that Anya had been killed earlier today, he'd been incredibly withdrawn and quiet. And the first thing he'd said since they'd left the hospital, was that he wasn't happy to be here? "How come you don't like Angel's hotel?"

Xander shrugged. "I have no idea, apart from the obvious..."

Dawn dismissed it as irrelevant for now, before tugging lightly on his shirt sleeve. "Come on. If we stand here much longer, we're going to miss all the excitement."

"Oh, yeah, the big reunion with Dead Boy and his people. This oughta be fun! Not," Xander said cynically.

"Oh, come on! I mean, don't tell me you're not looking forward to seeing Cordelia again?" Dawn smiled, thinking of her former role model from years gone by.

But to her surprise, Xander just sighed. "Gotta admit; mixed feelings on that one, Dawn. Haven't seen my ex-girlfriend in nearly four years – and we didn't exactly part under the best of circumstances, either."

"Huh?"

"Eh, never mind. Just think of it as the disaster that was my road trip after high school, not to mention my evil and sordid past," Xander shrugged. { And seriously, how is possible that twenty-two plus change can feel so freaking old?! }

Smiling tolerantly when Dawn took his hand into hers, Xander entered the main lobby of Hyperion Hotel, just behind the older Summers sister. And to Xander's lack of surprise, Buffy immediately had eyes only for one person.

"Buffy?" Angel said to his ex-girlfriend, looking amazed as all the Slayers who hadn't needed hospital treatment began to mill around in the lobby. "You're here..."

"And you've brought friends," Wesley Wyndam-Pryce said, nodding.

Buffy shrugged. "Yeah. Guess so. We prevented the apocalypse – again."

Angel frowned. "Then, not to be rude, but why are you here?"

"Well, would ya believe that right now, we got nowhere else to go?"

"Faith!" Angel and Wesley said together. But it was their friend, Winifred Burkle, who squealed and ran over to give the dark-haired Slayer a big hug. "Oh my God, Faith! Welcome back!"

"Hey, Fred," Faith reluctantly smiled and returned the hug, before extracting herself from the other woman's embrace. She wasn't exactly big on the whole hugging thing. But then Fred's ex-boyfriend, the black man named Charles Gunn, stepped in and gave her a welcoming hug, too.

Faith squirmed, feeling uncomfortable. "Man, what is with you guys wanting to hug me?"

"You're just so very hug-able?" Gunn smirked, letting go and stepping back. He liked the Slayer, both personally and professionally.

"Yeah, right," Faith smirked.

"So, how'd the apocalypse go on your end?" Angel asked Buffy, ignoring Faith for the moment.

"I sunk an entire city into the earth."

"That's nothing, I ended world peace."

Faith grinned at the ensouled vampire. "Wicked cool, big guy."

For some reason, that statement seemed to snap everyone out of whatever semi-stupor they'd fallen into. Introductions were made before Giles and Wesley started assigning roommates, taking a weapons inventory, and sending the able-bodied girls to help unload the wounded from the bus.

Dawn watched from the background, Xander still at her side. She said to him, "Should we offer to help?"

Harris gave her a half-hearted shrug, not seeing Cordelia anywhere around and briefly wondering where she was. { Probably reading one of her fashion magazines. Or else criticizing someone's fashion sense, with her scathing, caustic, ego-destroying comments...huh, can't believe I've actually missed that! }

"Nah," Xander eventually responded to the teenager's question, before he grimaced. "You and me, Dawn, we're not exactly two of the Super Friends around here, so I figure we should leave all the heavy lifting to the Chosen crowd. Besides – I see a really comfy couch right over there, with our names on it."

Dawn brightened. "Cool. Hey, you think there's a TV in this place? Might help pass the time..."

Xander turned to face her. "Seriously, Dawn-ster? You think Sir Broods-A-Lot actually owns a TV? The guy so stuck in the past that, back in high school, he didn't even own a cell phone?"

Dawn blushed in embarrassment. "Oh. Yeah. Guess I wasn't thinking..."


Xander's temporary room, Hyperion Hotel

An hour later

There was a knock at the door. "Xander?"

"Come on in, Dawn-patrol."

Dawn did so. She found him sitting on the bed, more or less just staring at the wallpaper. "I was wondering where you were. What are you doin' in here, all alone?"

"Didn't exactly feel sociable," Xander exhaled, before turning to face the young woman.

"You've been crying," Dawn stated in concern, able to see the tear track running down Xander's cheek.

"Yeah. Anya," Xander sniffed for a moment. "I held out for as long as I could earlier today, but once I was alone, I just..."

Dawn never hesitated; she ran straight over to her former crush and hugged him tightly. "I'm sorry. Oh God, Xander – I'm so, so sorry..."

"Not your fault, Dawnie," Harris murmured, stroking her hair and comforting her even as she tried to comfort him. "No one's fault, really. Sometimes, these things just happen too fast for anyone to stop it. That Caleb asshole and what he did to me, good example of that..."

The two sat in silence for a few moments, trying to let their emotions settle. And despite his words to his younger friend, Xander had to force himself to not to think of Andrew Wells, the man Anya had died for. Because otherwise – he might have tossed Dawn aside, hunted that nerd down and then brutally strangled him for surviving today's battle, while Anya hadn't.

Okay, maybe Harris had emotional issues right now...

"Oh! Speaking of which – did you know that Anya gave me the sex talk, before I could stop her?" Dawn suddenly asked. As Xander's eye went wide, she elaborated, "Before we headed off for the school, she said that she figured that Mom would have never gotten around to it before she died, Buffy wouldn't be able to do it on account of she still treats me like I'm eight years old, and Willow would gloss over the important bits because she didn't drive stick anymore. I mean, I was like totally flabbergasted..."

Xander chuckled in genuine humor. Somehow, that seemed like such an Anya thing to say and do. "So, she really gave you the Talk?"

"You bet," Dawn answered. "After I stopped stammering, I decided I wanted to know everything, and so she told me. Blowjobs, kinks, vanilla, anal, the works. Oh, don't worry," she hastily reassured the former carpenter, "she didn't mention anything personal about you, or anything about the relationship you two had. She just told me everything she thought I ought to know, for when I finally meet Mr. Right."

{ I'm sure Anya did. } "Sweet Odin, but I miss her so much," Xander choked out.

"Yeah," Dawn whispered, as the tears she'd held back all day finally broke through. "Me, too."


Main lobby, Hyperion Hotel

A short while later

"So, the amulet Angel gave you killed all of the Turok-Han and collapsed the Hellmouth, by channeling a beam of sunlight through Spike?" Wesley asked in astonishment.

"Yeah," Buffy answered wearily. It hurt to think of that now, since at the last moment she had actually admitted to Spike that she loved him. Only for the British vampire to bluntly disagree, telling her that she didn't – but it was nice of her to say it. "That amulet thing burned him alive from the inside, while that laser beam thing-y did what it did. I saw Spike catch on fire before I finally ran for it." She paused. "Barely managed to jump onto the roof of that bus, and it only just escaped from being sucked down into that giant sinkhole..."

"Thank God you made it out alive," Angel shook his head in wonder and fear that Buffy might have been killed. Again.

"Yeah. Oooh! I bet that the authorities will explain away the sudden appearance of a huge crater like that, the same way they'll explain how world peace was briefly established – when Jasmine managed to televise her presence all over the world," Fred said knowingly. "With as big a lie as they can possibly make up!"

Angel immediately looked uncomfortable, as the conversation continued without him. Fred had unknowingly hit on a very sore point as far as he was concerned, with that 'making up a lie' thing; since Angel had done just that, by entering into a deal with the Senior Partners of Wolfram & Hart.

The evil and perverted deal in question had involved removing all knowledge of his suicidal and psychotic son named Connor from his friends' minds, after installing the boy into the Reilly family and giving him the one thing that the Miracle Child truly needed; a normal life, without any memory of being the son of two vampires.

Even if that had meant taking over the L.A. branch of the demonic law firm, and now having to answer to the Wolf, Ram & Hart...

"Yo, Angel? What's up?" Faith's voice suddenly intruded into the vampire's mind. She had just arrived from the second floor of the building, after making sure that all the new Slayers were settled into their rooms.

Angel looked up at her, briefly cursing himself for letting his emotions appear all over his face. { Well, may as well as get this over with. } "There's something I need to tell you, all of you."

"What?" Buffy asked at once.

"My friends and I...we're gonna be moving out of the hotel tomorrow. Don't worry, you can all stay here for as long as you like," Angel hastily reassured the Hellmouth contingent, many of whom immediately began to look nervous. "The place is yours for as long as you need it. It's just that me and my crew, we're heading off somewhere else."

"Well, thanks for that. But where ya going, if you don't mind my asking?" Faith asked, her eyes narrowing. She knew Angel well enough to tell when he was being evasive about something.

"Wolfram & Hart," Fred answered, after the vampire had remained silent for too long. "It's this big, evil law firm. But they totally caved after the last near-apocalypse, and gave us their branch here in Los Angeles. You should see the place! It's huge, even bigger than..."

"Been there. Seen it for myself, Fred," Faith replied in a flat tone. Then she turned back to Angel and said angrily, "Hey! Have you gone completely nuts or what?! You suddenly decided to get into bed with Evil Incorporated? Have you forgotten that these are the same people who've been trying to take you down, since day one?! Or did the demon lawyers cast some sorta spell on you?"

"What?" Andrew asked, looking lost – but no one was paying any attention to him.

"Angel, what have you done?" Buffy demanded, a worried look appearing on her face.

"It's not as bad as she's making it sound, Buffy. Bottom line is, they lost and we won the latest battle in L.A. – after the Beast killed everyone there, they re-staffed the place, and then one of Wolfram & Hart's representatives turned the reins over to us. My friends and I are in charge there now," Angel replied, trying his best to remain calm.

Giles looked uneasy. "Still, Wolfram & Hart? If memory serves, they're a, a pan-dimensional organization run by a cabal of evil demons known as the, the 'Senior Partners'. Their sole purpose is to, to, to, to bring about the apocalypse, before, uh, taking over this dimension. Angel, a-a-are you telling us that you and your friends now work for them?"

"I haven't sold out or anything if that's what you're implying, Giles," Angel sent him a flinty look. "I'm just taking over their facilities, and using them for my own purposes. That's all."

Faith exhaled. On the one hand, she didn't want to stir up a proverbial hornet's nest so soon after arriving here; but on the other, she did think that Angel and his crew were making a big mistake. { Damn it, why can't he see that? That place is gonna make him go evil again, probably straightaway! Geez, all we need now for history to repeat itself is... }

Not bothering to finish off that thought, Faith suddenly noticed a major absence within the group; someone who should have been part of this meeting...wasn't. "Hey, where's Xander?" She frowned, looking around at Buffy, Willow and Giles. "You guys didn't send him off on a doughnut run or something, did you?"

The Slayer, the witch and the ex-Watcher all swiveled their heads in surprise, looking as if they'd only just now noticed that Harris wasn't here. Faith's face darkened, as she quickly understood the situation. "Oh, you've got to be shitting me – you people don't know where my old boy toy is right now?!"

Angel frowned, not understanding the Slayer's sudden anger. "Faith? Why the big concern?"

She turned to him, fists clenched. "Because Xander's ex, that Anya girl, she got killed during the battle today! And now he's all ALONE?! Holy fuck, I hope he hasn't done something stupid..."

"Calm down, Faith," Wesley spoke up. "Actually, I noticed Mr. Harris leaving the lobby a while ago. Just like I saw someone else leave not long afterwards, and head off in the direction of his room. Look around you; who else is missing?"

Willow sighed with relief, as she noticed who else was absent. "Dawn's with him," she told Buffy.

"Wes? Which room did you put Xander in?" Angel asked, he could tell that Buffy was now feeling very concerned about all this. And if she wanted to check up on her sister's whereabouts, she'd want to know where exactly in the hotel to go.

Wyndam-Pryce immediately looked uncomfortable. "Uh, I didn't actually...he, um, inadvertently chose Cordelia's old room, and I didn't think it was worthwhile asking the man to get out and stay in another part of building. Not under the current circumstances, anyway."

Angel didn't look happy about that, but then Faith realized someone else was missing from this little gathering. "So, where is Cordelia? Vision Girl's still recovering from that attack by Angelus?"

{ Angelus? } Buffy instantly knew there was a story there she hadn't heard, and she didn't miss the quick flash of sorrow in Angel's eyes. But then the vampire's face became an emotionless mask, as he drew in a deep, unneeded breath.

"Things sorta took a turn for the worse after you and Willow left for Sunnydale, Faith. Cordelia's currently in a coma; I've set her up in a private hospital, until she comes out of it," Angel replied to the Slayer's question. "If she comes out of it."

Willow was genuinely shocked to hear that. "Cordelia's in a coma? But, but how'd that happen? I mean, the last time I saw her, all she had was a flesh wound – and she was getting better, although she was kinda thirsty for some reason. So, so, how'd she wind up in Coma-ville?"

"That's a long story," Wesley sighed, even though he no longer remembered even half of it. "One which involves a rogue Power birthing itself using her body as a vessel, and draining Cordelia of life force almost completely."

"Oh my Goddess – Cordy's a vegetable?" Willow yelped.

"Who are we talking about, exactly?" Andrew asked timidly, but again no one paid any attention to him.

"Tell me everything," Buffy demanded, and so Angel, Wesley, Gunn and Fred obliged to the best of their ability. Well, everyone apart from Angel did, anyway. The terrible and heartbreaking story concerning Jasmine was quickly recounted, and even though some details were omitted – like who was the father of Cordelia's baby – the tale was still enough to horrify the Hellmouth crowd. Ex-Hellmouth. Whatever.

"We can't tell Xander about this," Buffy decided, as soon as the saga was finished. "I mean, not yet – it's, it's too soon. If he heard about what's happened to Cordelia, right after losing Anya – well, God only knows what he might do!"

"Really? So you're deliberately gonna lie to him, about what happened to his former squeeze?" Faith asked cynically.

"No! Well, I mean..." Willow trailed off, torn between loyalty to her oldest friend and concern about his mental well-being.

"It's for his own good," Buffy said with firm, unshakeable conviction. "I've lost too many people today as it is, so I'm notgonna risk losing anyone else!"

"I agree," Giles said, nodding. "Xander doesn't need to know about all that, at least not right now. Not when there's nothing he can do to, to help that poor girl, anyway."

"Fine. If he asks, just tell Xander that Cordy's on vacation with Groo," Angel suggested uncaringly.

"Who's Groo?" Buffy wanted to know.

"Uh, the Pylean ex-boyfriend. Xander's mentioned him before, Cordy wrote about him in her letters a few times. Yeah, I...I think he'd buy it, at least for a while," Willow said hesitantly.

Unable to stand listening to this anymore, Faith quickly left and went upstairs, taking the steps two at a time. Curiously, no one followed her as the Slayer headed for Xander's temporary room. The young woman was ready to blurt out the truth, as she yanked open the door –

And then abruptly stopped, as she saw Xander and Dawn asleep together on Cordelia's bed. The stress and weariness from the day's events had finally caught up with the two normal members of the group, and they were now sound asleep. Fully clothed, too, a small part of Faith's mind was surprised to note – recalling a certain evening nearly four and a half years ago, where Xander had demonstrated just how eager he was for sex under stressful situations.

Still, that was then and this was now. People change, and Faith Lehane knew that all too well.

{ Gonna have to talk to Xander tomorrow, since the others aren't gonna be in share mode about Queen C, } the dark-haired Slayer decided, as she quietly shut the door behind her. { Because no way I'm gonna be part of that sort of crap... }

Unfortunately, though, it didn't work out the way Faith planned.

She never managed to talk to Xander in private the next day; what with Wood's abdominal wound, and one that had developed life-threatening complications at that, there was simply no opportunity for her to do so. The doctors had had to resection Robin's intestines, sew up a couple of internal organs, monitor him for internal hemorrhaging and infections (the man's bowels had ended up very messy, unfortunately) and keep a very close eye on him.

So what with donating blood and watching over her boyfriend, Faith completely forgot to tell Xander what had happened where Cordelia Chase was concerned –

As in, she forgot completely. Maybe it was the work of a higher power, maybe it wasn't; but either way, over the next few months, the thought never even crossed Faith's mind to tell Xander what had happened where the Seer was concerned.

Not to mention, Harris had his own concerns, which effectively kept him away from Faith as well. Insurance claims, visits to government departments, disaster relief applications, mountains of paperwork...there was also Anya's insurance and will, dealing with the investigators who wanted to know what had happened to her...not to mention the insurance on his parents' house, and trying to find out where his mom and dad were. Plus, Xander had his own ongoing medical care to deal with; it hadn't been that long since his left eye had been gouged out by Caleb, after all.

For his part, Giles started flying back and forth from London to the U.S. a lot as Buffy took roughly half of the Slayers with her to Cleveland, along with Dawn and Xander, as soon as it was feasible for her to do so. There were a number of reasons why the eldest Slayer did that, including wanting to get away from southern California and all the bad memories associated with it. But her primary motive was dealing with the active Hellmouth, which had shifted to Ohio. And thanks to a big bankroll from Angel – something that Xander loudly disagreed with in no uncertain terms, but since beggars couldn't be choosers, his opinion was summarily ignored by the alpha Slayer – Buffy and co. ended up in Drew Carey country, and far away from Los Angeles.

Busy with her invalid boyfriend and now also the de facto head of L.A. operations, Faith kept the rest of the newbies (along with Willow and Robin) with her in the City of Angels. She too disliked accepting money from Angel, not so much because her mentor was offering to help out – but because the source of that money (namely, Wolfram & Hart) offended her greatly. Still, Faith gave in and accepted the financial aid, because, as Angel put it:

"Where are you going to house all of your Slayers, Faith? Don't tell me you and all those girls were planning to sleep in that school bus? Plus, how were you planning to feed all of them? Not to mention yourself? What are you going to use for gas money? And what about the underage girls who should be in school, after the summer's over? Come on, you're being ridiculous and you know it!"

She knew no such thing – but oddly enough, almost immediately afterwards Faith was attacked by a Serpavo demon, with the resultant wounds bad enough to hospitalize her alongside Robin. And not that she believed in karma (at least, not anymore), but the irony of being injured by a client of the law firm while she was using its money? Definitely not lost on the Boston-born Slayer.

Thanks to the demon's poisoned blade, it took roughly a week for Faith to fully recover – but after she did so, and after the huge mess from Sunnydale imploding was finally sorted out, Buffy, Dawn, Andrew and Xander joined Giles in England while she, Robin and the L.A. Slayers took over policing the Cleveland Hellmouth.

And all the while, Xander never even suspected Cordelia was vegetating in a coma...


Two miles south of the Sunnydale crater, southern California

June 3rd, 2003

Bloody and battered, Ethan Rayne fell flat on his face after being shoved into his new cell by the jammy bastards who'd sent him to Nevada for 'rehabilitation', over three years ago.

Up until the year 2000, Ethan had been a very skilled chaos-worshipping wizard from Rupert Giles' troubled past, an enemy of the Scooby Gang, and a magical subcontractor who performed odd jobs for demons and humans alike. He'd liked causing chaos, either for money or his own pleasure. Unfortunately, one of those pleasure-related 'pranks' had involved turning Giles into a Fyarl demon, which had led to his arrest and incarceration by a group then known as the Initiative.

To be honest, Ethan hadn't anticipated being held captive like this for so long. And he also hadn't anticipated being beaten up so badly during his recent interrogation by the new man in charge of this facility; Colonel Martin Ellis, or whatever his name was.

{ Stupid bloody git, } Ethan thought to himself, rubbing his bleeding nose where the military officer had viciously punched him in order to make Rayne cough up information. { And it's only going to get worse from this point on, I can tell. Maybe I'm done for. Maybe my luck's finally run out... }

But at that moment, something like an information dump appeared in Ethan's brain and he gasped in pure shock.

As the previously repressed knowledge spilled into his conscious mind, Ethan couldn't help but admire his own foresight and preparations against disaster. It was his ultimate contingency plan; something for when all hope was lost, something that had been hidden even from himself until he'd needed it.

Curiously, the Wolfram & Hart mages he'd dealt with seven years ago hadn't understood his request, even though they'd done what he'd contracted for them to do. They themselves had had no use for a soul-scraping spell of the type he'd specified. Most of them didn't even have a soul in the first place, and those that did would never purposefully damage their own essence in such a manner.

Under normal circumstances he wouldn't either, but then, Ethan knew this was no normal circumstance. He had to do it; the next time, the olive-clad berk would kill him after losing his temper. Ellis had been that pissed off just now.

"Chaos. I remain, as ever, thy faithful, degenerate son." Ethan got up on his knees and began to pray. "For this world that denies thee, thou nonetheless inhabit..."

He felt the mystical energy swirl around the pit of his stomach, as the spell began. Carefully he pressed his hands together, the palms becoming wet and bloody. Rayne dabbed his right middle finger on his left palm and brought it up to his right eye, smearing his blood onto his right eyelid.

"And the peace that ignores thee," Ethan continued and brought his left middle finger to his right palm and then likewise smeared his blood on his left eyelid. "Thou continually corrupt," he whispered.

"Chaos. Accept this, my willing sacrifice, and deliver thy faithful servant from his bondage. Chaos! I summon thee – and thy will be done!"

Now, the funny thing about magic is that it requires quite a number of things for a practitioner to pull it off successfully. Intent, visualization, and will, for example. Power and belief as well. But most important of all; sacrifice.

That was the miracle ingredient as far as magic was concerned; something without which no spell would work. The mystical cost could vary from all the hours spent learning the craft to human virgin sacrifice itself, but –

All magic required sacrifice of some sort. The greater the sacrifice, the greater the effect; and right now, one hell of an effect (and hence sacrifice) was needed.

Ethan suddenly screamed in agony as a fragment of his soul was ripped away from the main part of his essence, thanks to his spell. He briefly had a vision of a chaos monster, a primordial goddess of the ocean, as a Name flickered across his consciousness –

Tiamat

There was pure agony, as the Chaos deity fed upon the fragment of Ethan's soul. And then, under the auspices of the greater god (whom Ethan had considered asking six years ago to empower his Halloween spell, before screwing up and calling upon Janus instead), Rayne felt like he was rising up, somehow. Even though, at the same time, he wasn't moving an inch. The agony abruptly ceased –

Ethan fell roughly two feet, and hit the ground with a loud thump. "Ow!" he muttered, automatically beginning to look around towards the cell door, to see if his jailers were coming.

Except, he was no longer in his cell. Instead, Rayne was lying on the cold tarmac, almost exactly where the school bus had come to a stop after escaping the destruction of Sunnydale.

Ethan started laughing madly. "It worked? It worked!" He got up, reveling in his freedom. "I'm free! All praise unto thee, o Chaos!"

And as he hobbled off into the night as quickly as he could, Ethan began to plan his revenge on those he considered his enemies...

But curiously, he had no idea where the train of events he had set into motion would eventually lead him – and everyone else on the planet.

TBC...