Mutant Enemy Television, Inc. owns pretty much everything within the Angel/Buffy universe. My use is in no way meant to challenge any established copyrights. This piece is not intended for any profit on the part of the writer, nor is it meant to detract from the commercial viability of the aforementioned or any other copyright. Any similarity to any events or persons, either real or fictional, is unintended.

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XI – Walking the Beat

Janna stumbled over a tree root as she hurried through the woods, intent on finishing a quick sweep of the area in time to make it to Rob Goebel's place. She had been so thrilled that Xander made no objection to her going to the party that she had instantly agreed to his one condition – one full sweep of the state park. A ten-mile route through the dark, and I'm not exactly working with all the time in the world.

The Slayer bent over to re-tie her shoelace when she heard a twig snap somewhere in the darkness ahead. Her breathing immediately stopped as she froze in position, her muscles taut as she strained to hear any additional sound. Suddenly, off to her left, she heard what sounded like an animal – she guessed it was a deer, judging by the amount of noise it made – bolting in the opposite direction from the snapped twig. So I guess I at least wasn't imagining things.

Janna slowly stood and began to tiptoe though the forest, doing her best to avoid braches, leaves, or anything else that might crunch underfoot as she crept toward whatever it was that awaited her. She finally reached a clearing, and just as she was about to leave the concealment of the thick trees surrounding the clearing, she noticed an almost imperceptible hum in the air. She looked around, wishing she could somehow augment her already enhanced nightvision, and caught sight of the same man she had seen during her encounter with the wolves. He was standing at the opposite edge of the clearing, about twenty-five feet away and just inside the tree line. A wooden staff, about six feet long and so gnarled it almost looked like a partially coiled snake, was extended in his right hand as the man muttered incessantly, his indecipherable chant the source of the hum Janna had detected. On would think that being attacked by wolves the size of ponies would convince most people to stay the hell out of the woods.

Janna was about to call out to the man and suggest that maybe he heed the lesson he should have learned several nights earlier when his chant ended with a muffled shout. He lifted the staff into the air and thrust it down, driving it into the soft earth. Blue light crackled out in random directions along the ground, reminding Janna of lightning streaking across the sky during summer thunderstorms.

The man took a long step back and began chanting again. The air around the staff began to shimmer slightly, like heat off a roadway; the shimmering began to ripple inches to the side of the staff, the air appearing to grow solid until a large altar coalesced at the far side of the clearing. The man looked at the altar curiously, then looked toward the center of the clearing, as if he had expected it to appear in the center of the area rather than near the edge. Maybe he summoned the wrong altar, Janna thought, surprising herself with the inanity of the idea.

Janna decided to remain quiet and watch, and she crouched silently for almost a half hour as the man used his staff to etch what Janna could only describe as runes into the front and top of the altar. The wooden tip of the staff glowed red whenever it came in contact with the stone surface, while the altar emitted a ghostly blue light wherever the staff touched it. Each of the runes dimmed after a few minutes, though the man was undeterred in completing whatever it was that he was writing. Janna watched for over ten minutes before she realized she should probably be trying to commit the symbols to memory so that Xander might be able to tell her something about what was going on. She had not been a Slayer for very long, but Janna was intelligent enough to know magic when she saw it, and she was fairly certain that altars appearing out of thin air and glowing mystic runes qualified, in her book.

Despite her best efforts, she found she was unable to remember more than three or four runes at a time, and it seemed that every time she committed a new one to memory, she forgot one of the ones that came before. And of course, that's exactly what Xander warned me would happen last week when I was daydreaming during a runes lesson, she reminded herself, unable to decide whether she was more irritated by the fact that Xander had been right, or that there was no way to avoid admitting it. Her frustration had almost grown bad enough for her to lunge at the mystery man in the clearing when the unmistakable howl of a wolf – far-off but still able to send a chill up her spine – cut through the cool night air.

No sooner had the wolf's call died away than the man's muttering resumed. The altar began to fade from sight, almost seeming to melt into the surrounding darkness, and the man walked quickly from the scene, leaving Janna to wonder what she had just seen.

To be continued………………………………………