Everything either belongs to Joss or it should, no infringement is intended and no profit is to be made. When you get right down to it I'm not really worth suing anyway unless you want a share of an underpaid civil servants wages and it just wouldn't be worth the hassle trust me.
Wolfram and Hart Building – Los Angeles – April 2005
Berith had decided that the staff were unfit and had issued a recommendation that everyone should use the stairs instead of the elevators as much as possible, being the type who tried to lead by example he was of course doing so himself which meant that Lilah, feeling obliged to follow his lead both literally and metaphorically, wished she chose her shoes on a more practical basis than style as she trudged up another flight of stairs on the way from the fifth to the ninth floor.
Unfortunately for Lilah being technically dead didn't mean you didn't get out of breath and Berith was setting a swift pace which was easy for him because he was a demonic deity who could sprint a marathon without undue effort. 'You can teleport and open portals to get around and you don't need to exercise' Lilah noted. 'This is insane' she declared.
'Never expect the troops to do something you won't do yourself' Berith replied.
'This is a law firm not an army' Lilah retorted.
'Firstly Lilah, business is war' Berith replied. 'And secondly, war is our primary business' he noted. 'Don't let the suit fool you, at heart I'm still a warrior not a manipulator, I have you to do the legal trickery and backstabbing, I still like to look my enemy in the eye before I rip his guts out' he declared.
'Most of the staff in this dimension are lawyers or clerical workers, they're not warrior demons like your off-world legions' Lilah pointed out.
'Which is no excuse for being out of shape' Berith stated. 'Illyria and the slayers represented an overwhelming threat because after centuries of inertia you were all flabby mentally and physically' he declared. 'Under my leadership this organisation will be lean and hungry.'
Lilah rolled her eyes as she trudged upwards behind him. 'Thinking of lean and hungry we've got lunch with one of our major clients in an hour.'
'Tamika reminded me earlier, she's a wonder that girl, don't know what I'd do without her' Berith replied.
'Screwed her yet?' Lilah asked with a smirk.
'No' Berith replied.
'So there's still at least two of us in the building' Lilah responded.
'They'll always be at least three' Berith corrected her, 'the chick from Files and Records creeps me out, it's a combination of the eyes and the fact she knows too much about me' Berith told her. 'I like to retain a certain mystique with the ladies.'
'Gwen's not creepy' Lilah responded, 'she's very pleasant when you get to know her' she told him. Lilah had made some efforts over the years to strike up a good relationship with the woman after they first met, knowledge was power and the "human" face of Files and Records was a fair way along the road to omniscience. 'Which doesn't mean I think you should sleep with her' she added seriously.
Berith laughed. 'Okay I'll continue to steer clear.'
'She's seeing someone in accounting anyway, liked what she saw in his personnel file' Lilah told him. 'They were on vacation together when Jasmine's Rock-Demon flunky massacred the rest of the staff' she said. 'I was happy to find a familiar face still here when the Senior Partners resurrected me' she noted.
'Continuity is reassuring' Berith agreed. 'I was pretty happy to find that the city was still called Beirut after me even after I was gone a few millennia.'
'Talking of which we still haven't decided what we're going to do about the Middle-East situation' Lilah reminded him.
'It's doing fine' Berith replied, 'better than fine' he continued. 'Still can't understand why all those idiots who believe in the same God are fighting each other over the details of how they worship him but that's humanity for you' he said, 'great at technology and warfare, total lack of common sense as a group' he opined before stopping and looking around quizzically for a second, eventually groaning to himself.
'What's wrong?' Lilah asked quizzically.
Berith turned to her. 'We've got company' he said, then began to recite a poem.
"As I was going up the stairs
I met a man that wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
I wish, I wish he'd go away"
A figure dressed as a clergyman appeared in a flash of light in front of them. 'Just testing' it said. 'Seer powers not too downgraded because of the shell then' it asked with a chuckle.
'I'd recognise your aura approaching a mile off' Berith replied. 'Damn it I was hoping the upgraded psychic defences would keep you out' he muttered.
'I'm the First Evil boy' the new arrival responded. 'There's no keeping me out of where I want to be' it stated. 'I'll throw you a bone though, this place is one of the top three hardest places for me to get into' it told them, 'have to put some effort in to get past all the mystical barriers, you should be proud of that folks' it told them.
'Let me guess' Lilah interjected, 'one of the other places is Slayer Headquarters and the third is...?'
'You don't know them, well you've kinda had your run-ins but you ain't got a damn clue who was behind it' the First Evil replied, 'just another bunch of second-raters on my list of people to deal with someday if they ever get a clue I'm only playing with them.'
'Still wearing the Caleb look I see' Lilah stated.
The First Evil smiled. 'Black is slimming' he said, indicating his clothes. 'I could look like you again instead?' it offered with amusement. 'Most corpses I appear as ain't already so mobile though so don't go criticising my acting ability and how the hell do you get around on those heels?' it asked.
'You can stick with the current look' Berith told it. 'I'm almost less of a fan of the priesthood than I am of the real you so the outfit helps me focus on how much I dislike your incorporeal ass' he said.
'Hell if that's the case then I've done bought you the best news you're gonna hear all day, maybe all year' the First Evil replied. 'I'm upping sticks, decided to move to a better neighbourhood, but I couldn't leave town without saying goodbye first so here I am' it said.
Berith fixed the incorporeal being with a doubtful stare. 'What are you talking about?' he asked suspiciously.
'I give' the First Evil announced. 'You win, I'm moving out' it said. 'I'm ceding this territory to you' it told them.
'You're what?' Lilah exclaimed.
'I'm leaving this dimension, closing down my operation here and heading for another world where I don't have to deal with Old One's with agendas, slayers packing heat and the other assorted pains in the ass which have made things here so darn unbearable the last couple of years' the First Evil replied. 'It's just not fun here anymore' it said sadly, 'vampires are afraid to go out on the street at night, whole demon clans are switching sides' it said, 'shoot, a couple of days ago I heard that Dracula his-self went into hiding because he heard the white-hats were looking for him' he said incredulously. 'Now I know he's an overrated egotist but I honestly thought that deep-down he had more class.'
'So you're quitting?' Berith queried. 'Since when did the First Evil give up?'
'Since when did Old One's end up as pseudo balance-demons like you, or quasi good-guys like Illyria' the First responded. 'You've got to realise just how fouled-up this whole world is right?' it asked rhetorically.
'It's a brave new world alright' Berith agreed after a pause, thinking about it.
'If we're talking futurist dystopias this dimension is the demon's 1984' the First Evil replied, 'except that it's the damn slayers wearing the boot stamping on our faces and that just ain't right' it stated. 'Hell even if I looked like I was going to beat them you'd step in to level the playing field because all you care about is looking after your own rear end' it continued. 'The prospects here just suck, excuse my French, so I'm heading out to pastures new.'
'I didn't know it could leave this dimension, can it?' Lilah asked Berith.
'Aw hell it ain't easy but I've had some help from one of your clients, guy named Greenway' the First Evil said. 'As soon as my Bringers have rustled up the five Nuns I need for the ritual he came up with I'm taking a trans-dimensional doorway to a new and better life.'
'Well don't let the portal hit you on the ass on the way out' Berith responded. 'I'm still not sure why you're telling us this' he said, 'you usually turn up to taunt or gloat, not deliver good news.'
'You know me too well' The First Evil replied with a smile. 'I do have an ulterior motive for being here you might say.'
'We're shocked' Lilah interjected sardonically.
'Well you see I'm taking my Bringers with me of course, you can't go anywhere without lackeys' the First replied, 'but I also need troops and since my prospects for getting any Turok'Han are limited right now, mores the pity, I decided to get some new soldiers' it said. 'I'm darn grateful to you for arming and training them too, saved me a whole heap of trouble.'
'What?' Berith asked coldly.
'All those Scourge you've been training up for me on Pylea, taught them how to fight the human way, given them all those guns' the First said, 'from what I've heard they're just itching for the chance to kick some slayer tail in one of those sweet dimensions where they don't carry guns themselves' it continued. 'I love those Scourge boys I really do' it said brightly. 'They're just my kinda people you know, they haven't lost the faith.'
'Lilah contact Pylea and...' Berith began.
'Too late they'll have already jumped dimensions by now' The First interrupted, 'why do you think I had their head honcho ask you to portal him out two days back for an inspection?' it asked smugly. 'He was under orders to gather up his troops, steal some of those Trionic Books those Covenant Priests of yours have in those parts, and use them to portal to pastures new' it explained. 'They should be ready and waiting for me to arrive' it said. 'I'm hoping for a parade' it added.
'I might not be able to touch you but I'll hunt those turncoat bastards to the ends of multiverse and tear their hearts out' Berith declared with a growl, his eyes glowing red.
'That's like trying to find a needle in a haystack when you don't have a big magnet' the First replied with a grin. 'You could look for a thousand years and be no closer to finding them' it said. 'Even if you went to Pylea right now the trail would be cold, I told them how to cover their tracks' it told them, 'remember I know everything every witch, warlock, and sorcerer knew that ever died on this world' it said. 'I might be really limited in what I can do like this' it continued, waving its hand through a wall, 'but I do know plenty of tricks.'
'Just remind them when you see them that I've got eternity to look and I'll happily take revenge on their distant descendants instead' Berith declared.
'Now you see that's the Lord of the Covenant I used to know and respect' The First enthused, 'glad to see you haven't gone completely soft' it said. 'Of course in the old days you'd have seen it coming but you really aren't the Seer you used to be.'
'It's not me you prick' Berith retorted defensively, 'the timelines are just too screwed up in this dimension, add in all the static from you, interfering Powers-That-Be, Illyria, Enyo, Glory, slayer aligned witches who are way more powerful than they should be, those Twilight goons and a few other weird fucking vibes I get and it's a miracle I've got any clairvoyance left at all' he declared.
'Keep telling yourself that son if it helps you get through the day' The First Evil responded with a smirk. 'See you around someday maybe' it added with a wink before disappearing.
Berith turned and punched a hole in the wall in frustration. 'Get that fixed' he told Lilah, 'and find out what happened on Pylea' he added. 'I'm going to find Hamilton and talk to the Senior Partners' he said with a sigh. 'They'll pin the whole thing on me' he added.
'You were the one that decided to arm and train the Scourge as a proxy army against the slayers' Lilah reminded him.
The Lord of the Covenant rounded on her. 'Sometimes I wish you didn't know you're too valuable an asset for me to treat like that wall' he told her, eyes flashing red in anger again.
Lilah shrugged, she was just grateful he had the brains to realise that and the self-control not to kill the back-talking reanimated corpse again whenever she was more snarky than a demon-gods assistant really should be for safeties sake. 'You did get your wish though' she pointed out. 'The man you met upon the stairs that wasn't there is going away' she noted.
'Don't push your luck Lilah' Berith warned, you're not that indispensable.'
'Consider me warned My Lord' Lilah replied, trying hard to keep a straight face.
Shadow Valley – California – April 2005
Another slayer went flying through the air as Glory blocked her kick and then simply swatted her aside, the girl landing on one of the crash-mats that carpeted the large training room 'This is fun' the Hellgod declared with enthusiasm as she continued to fight off the half dozen or so girls trying to bring her down whilst perhaps a hundred more looked on.
'She is pulling her punches right?' one of the previous group who had fought Glory asked as she limped painfully over to Buffy.
'Yes, I've been hit by Glory properly and not only have I got the missing tooth to prove it none of you are coughing up blood' Buffy replied, watching the training session. 'She wasn't as good then though' she added, observing the Hellgod occasionally use proper martial-arts techniques as well as brute force. 'Illyria has been training her' she added, 'she never used to move that well' she noted. The hellgod was also dressed more appropriately for the occasion than she used to be too, wearing a leotard instead of an evening dress and with her hair secured back with what looked like a blue ribbon, the latter likely a symbol of her reluctant fealty to Illyria.
Glory used a judo move to flip another slayer away and then simply grabbing hold of two more threw them to the other side of the room. 'Is this all you've got?' she asked the others gleefully.
'What are we supposed to be learning here anyway Chief?' the girl with the limp asked.
'How to fight a stronger opponent by using numbers' Buffy answered, 'and humility, you're learning humility' she added. 'We all need our asses kicked occasionally, it's good for the soul' she said. 'But if you hurt any of the girls seriously I'll scythe you Glory' she called out.
'It's not my fault you slayers are so fragile' Glory replied, letting a girl punch her full-on in the face and laughing when the slayer winced at the resulting pain in her hand. 'Oh come on, I barely felt that' she chided the girl. 'Put some effort into it, you won't even give me a nosebleed if you don't hit me hard enough to break all your knuckles' she said.
'Okay that's enough' Buffy called out. 'Does everyone get the point now?' she asked. 'Just because you're faster and stronger than a vampire doesn't mean you can just "hulk smash" your way out of every fight' she said, borrowing an analogy Xander had made before. 'Sooner of later you'll run into something like Glory here' she continued, 'although maybe with better hair' she added.
Glory glared at Buffy. 'Nobody messes with, or criticises, the hair' she said angrily.
'There you see what I did' Buffy said to the group, 'I made her annoyed to start with' she explained, 'self-control is not a typical demon attribute so play to that' she advised, 'get them riled up so they don't fight smart' she told them. 'If I was fighting Glory I'd play on her vanity, if I was fighting Illyria I'd play on her ego, what I wouldn't do is fight either of them unless I had no other choice and then if I had numbers on my side I'd make sure we all attacked at once' she said. 'This isn't an action movie where you take turns and throw away the advantage of numbers' she continued. 'This is real life with your life at stake' she said then smiled. 'Okay, watch how this is done properly' she announced. 'Rona, Amanda, Caridad let's do this' she said trotting towards Glory, the other three experienced slayers leaving the crowd to do likewise, limbering up as they went. 'Rowena you too' she added.
'Me why me?' the German slayer asked in surprise.
'Because I'm not fighting Glory with only three other slayers' Buffy replied, and you're the only other one who's name I can remember right now, she thought guiltily to herself.
The Hellgod turned and sized up the opposition, smoothly dropping into a martial-arts stance as she was approached by five slayers from different directions. 'If I knock out another of your teeth can I keep it as a souvenir this time' she asked Buffy with a smirk. 'Maybe I could wear it on a necklace like that skinny kid that's fucking your sister does with demon teeth and claws' she continued, 'You should hear him pounding away at her back at the Hyperion, makes the whole place shake sometimes, it's a wonder she can still walk.'
Buffy gnashed her teeth, got her Glory thought joyfully and then to everyone's surprise went on the offensive launching an attack on Caridad first grabbing her and using her as a projectile threw her straight at Rona knocking them both temporarily out of the fight as Amanda, Rowena and Buffy attacked her simultaneously.
Rowena came in from behind, but ignoring blows from both Buffy and Amanda the Hellgod span around and swept her legs out from under her hard enough to send the blond slayer spinning away like something from a Chinese martial-arts movie only without the hidden wires. The impact on her lower leg was also sufficient to ensure she was still badly bruised the next day as Glory turned her attention to Amanda blocking a punch and counter-punching beneath her ribs knocking the wind out of the girl and collapsing her to the floor.
Oh crap, Buffy thought, she's a hell of a lot better at this than she used to be she realised as Glory almost effortlessly deflected another kick which would have shattered human bone and followed up with a kick of her own that Buffy tried to avoid before realising it was a feint as the hellgod continued to move finishing in a hard and deliberating insulting slap to the side of Buffy's face which almost sent the slayer reeling.
'I told you' Glory declared. 'Nobody disrespects the hair and gets away with it' she said triumphantly and then to Buffy's surprise instead of attacking her again instead she reached down to help Amanda back up. 'If I'd taken that fight seriously these five would all be dead because the only thing as bad as overestimating yourself is underestimating your opponent' she told the slayers. 'Buffy here fought me before and didn't think I could have improved my technique as much as I have and I deliberately led her into a trap by not showing my hand when I fought the other girls earlier' she explained. 'As the strongest most experienced of my opponents I also got her angry which helped and then I used the element of surprise by attacking a numerically superior foe instead of trying to be defensive' she said, all those dull lectures about tactics Illyria made her listen to were finally paying off she decided.
Buffy stared at her, holding her hand against her cheek which stung like crazy.
'It's a good day to be beautiful, perfect and immortal' Glory declared happily. 'What's wrong Buffy?' she asked. 'I thought getting your ass kicked was good for the soul?' she added smugly, crossing her arms.
'Has anyone got a cellphone on them?' Buffy asked, looking around.
'I've got mine Ma'am' a girl responded as Rona and Caridad untangled themselves from each other and got back up.
'Call Enyo and tell her to get down here and kick Glory's ass' Buffy ordered, crossing her own arms. 'If you can't get her see if Illyria is busy.'
'That's petty' Glory responded.
'Yes' Buffy replied, 'yes it is' she agreed, 'but on the plus side it'll be good for the soul.'
'I don't have a soul' Glory pointed out.
'I meant mine' Buffy told her.
Downtown – Cleveland – April 2005
The First Evil, still opting to look like Caleb because he had a fondness for the dear departed misogynist psychotic, looked around the cavern. 'You know this might explain why some of the vaudeville acts they used to put on at the Palace Theatre were so bad' he said, 'it's in the Keith Building' he explained to the closest Harbinger, 'that's the skyscraper that's about a hundred and fifty feet above our heads right now' he continued, pointing upwards. Tunnelling in here had taken a while but not near as long as finding the place had.
A muffled moaning sound nearby reminded the First Evil of their guests, five Nuns bound and gagged, unwilling future participants in the ritual that would get him the hell out of this crappy dimension. They were the other reason he had decided to stay in Caleb's form, it had a sort of theme to it the First Evil decided.
Nearby a small group of Bringers lined the cavern wall waiting to carry out the ritual whilst others continued to labour, stacking supplies, weapons and artefacts that their master had decided to take with him. Other than his hooded footsoldiers the only other beings present was a Scourge Officer and three of his men, one of the small number who hadn't gone to Pylea with the rest, being ordered to stay behind in case their new messiah needed some muscle. 'How y'all doing?' the First asked them.
'We stand ready to do our duty Sir' the Scourge officer replied, snapping to attention as did his men.
'Stand easy boys' The First told them with a smile, 'if you want anything just tell one of the Bringers and as long as it's not conversation or a game of I-Spy they'll get right on it' it said.
'Thank you Sir but my troops and I are fine' the Scourge Officer replied. 'Can I ask why you wanted us here?' he queried.
'Needed a pure-blooded demon such as yourself you a special job' The First Evil replied, 'suppose it's only right and proper I tell you the whole story seeing as how you're my new good right arms and all' he said. 'What do you know about the Powers-That-Be?' it asked.
'The higher-beings that aid the slayers and other pro-human organisations and individuals?' the Officer replied.
'Yeah except that's kinda a misconception' The First Evil told him. 'They're not so much pro-human as they've been anti folks like us for the last few hundred millennia because they don't want anyone rocking the boat, upsetting the applecart if you prefer' it said. 'Some of their lackey's call themselves Balance Demon's and that's a more accurate description of what they're about' it continued. 'They fight Evil because they don't want Evil to win, but if Good was going to win they'd help out our side instead' it explained.
'For what purpose?' the Scourge officer asked curiously.
'Basically they're nothing but a bunch of self-serving cowards who look out for number one by making sure that their possible rivals for the ownership of their shiny temples up in the clouds are always at each other's throats and always will be' The First replied. 'They just sit around in white robes, guzzling down the ambrosia while down here in the lower dimensions honest, decent, hard-working, homicidal demons like you work and toil to make it a better world for your hellspawn' it said.
'Spineless parasites' the Scourge Officer declared.
'Yeah, that's them in a nutshell' The First agreed. 'But you, me and the rest of us true believers are going to settle their hash mark my words' it said. 'That's why I'm leading you to the promised land, the land of milk and honey where the human blood will run like a river and the slayers ain't as heavily armed as the ones we've got here' he said. 'There was just one thing I had to make sure to pick up before I left' it added.
'Yes Sir?' the Officer queried.
'Yeah so I hope you've been paying attention' The First Evil said. 'You see when I said about the Powers-That-Be helping out Evil if Good got too strong that wasn't just me guessing' it announced, 'they've done it before' it continued. 'Come on I've got something to show you over there' it said leading off, the Scourge Officer following behind.
The First led him to something obscured by a spare Bringer robe thrown over it. 'Hope you don't mind the theatrics but I thought a grand unveiling was needed in the circumstances' it said. 'Way back about thee and a half thousand years ago the Powers were a mite perturbed because these darn interfering feminists that called themselves "Guardians" decided to help out the slayer' it told the Scourge Officer. 'Now the humans were already dominant over most of the whole world even back then, they were breeding like rabbits and had started to invent iron weapons as well as bronze so for these darn women to tilt the scales even more in favour of the humans was pretty much unacceptable to anyone that wanted balance' it continued. 'So these Ancient Greek dykes who didn't know their place made a very special weapon for the slayer...'
'The scythe' the Scourge officer interrupted.
'That's the very thing' The First told him. 'The damn scythe, the only weapon that can kill any demon' it said. 'Well that was a weapon with an edge so sharp the Power's decided it gave the humans too much of an edge so they went and evened things up again' it explained. 'Now as it happened it was never needed, those slayers mislaid the scythe and it sat near what they ended up calling the Sunnydale Hellmouth for the next few millennia getting dusty' it continued. 'So the Powers, always favouring the idea of balance hid their response near the other hellmouth just in case it was ever needed you understand.'
Not being as stupid as he may have looked the Scourge Officer now stood transfixed at the indeterminate lump under the cloth.
'Go on son, you know you want to' The First told him.
The demon pulled the bringer robe clear and stared. 'It's a scythe' he said, 'a black scythe' he said wide-eyed.
'The demon scythe' The First announced enthusiastically. 'And like only a slayer could draw the red one from the stone where it was embedded back in Shadow Valley, only a pure-blood demon like yourself untainted by human blood can pull that one out of that there rock and use it like it was meant to be used' he said. 'I can't touch it myself and the Bringers used to be human until they saw the light and signed up with the winning team' he said. 'Go on, yank it out of there and we'll christen it properly, those Nuns throats won't slit themselves' he said.
The Scourge Officer reached out and with little apparent effort pulled the black scythe from the stone. As he touched it he felt its power wash through him.
'Now don't go getting too attached' The First advised, 'it's only a loaner until I can carry it myself, there's a few Old One's who have a date with me, that thing and destiny a-coming' it declared. 'Come on son we're one ritual and some blood away from a better future' he said before delivering a sigh. 'You know Angelus would have enjoyed helping out with the Nuns' it told him, 'Nuns were his thing' it noted, 'I always liked that vampire, real potential' it said regretfully. 'Something else to fix I guess.'
'We'll make it right Sir' The Scourge Officer declared, snapping to attention with the demon scythe.
'Yes we will son, yes we will' The First Evil agreed with certainty.
Note from the Author:
The Compelled Series continues in "Compelled to Play for High Stakes".