SOULWORLD IV, prologue -By Philip S.

Summary: It is the year 2057 in the world where all Vampires have souls. 150 years have passed since the Restoration. Some events have long-term consequences.
Spoilers: None, complete AU. You should have read Soulworld I to III for full enjoyment of this story. Disclaimer: Buffy, Angel, Spike, and other characters appearing in this story are trademark Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. The concept of Soulworld, as well as the story and all original characters appearing in it, are trademark Yours Truly.
Rating: Somewhere between PG-13 and R.
Archive: This story will soon be archived at www.shadow-dancing.com.
Title Picture: http://www.shadow-dancing.com/Pics/Soulworld4.jpg
Note: Similar to Soulworld III this story includes some views of the Christian faith that might be taken as offensive. This is in no way intended. This story is purely for entertainment.

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Prologue: About the Disposition of a Book

#

The Librarian walks through the corridors of his home, trying to make sense of the weird impressions he receives from his books. Something is off, that much he knows, yet he can't quite put his finger on what it is that disturbs him so.

The Library itself is infinitely large. It has to be in order to hold all the books. Every book you have ever seen or didn't see is here. Every book ever written, as well as all the books that never existed outside the minds of their authors. There are those that were written by human hand. And those that were not.

If asked, the Librarian will be able to point out a book which explains the complex multidimensional mathematics that create the endlessly curving space his home exists in, but no one ever asks. Those that visit the Library know all they need to know about such things. They have to in order to come here in the first place.

The Librarian does not remember when he first came here or what his life was like before that, nor does he care. He exists to take care of the books and it is a good existence. He walks among the endless shelves, fingers absently brushing over leather-bound books as he does, the tomes whispering their stories to him as he passes. There is no dust here, as the Librarian does not shed skin cells. The Library is filled with dim twilight and the Librarian casts no shadow.

A book is missing. Yes, that is what has bothered him. For an outsider it would have been impossible to tell, but the Librarian knows. One of his books is not in its place. Someone or something must have taken it, there is no other explanation. Things do not get lost in the Library.

Quickly crossing a distance immeasurable to a mere human he arrives at a shelf that rises high into the gloom above him, his eyes travelling across the numerous book backs in front of him. There. An empty space where a book should be. The empty space disturbs him, as it should not be there. It is not right.

There is no such thing as a police he can call here, or anyone else whose services he might employ to find his missing treasure. He does not have any suspects, for visitors to this place are scarce and he does not think that any of them would ever dream of stealing something from him.

Wherever the book has gone, he has no way to find or retrieve it.

The Librarian shrugs. There is nothing he can do about this theft and, though it fills him with a feeling a human being would have called dissatisfaction, he simply returns to his work. Eventually, he knows, the book will find its way back to the Library, as books have a habit of doing. He has all the patience in the world.

Once again looking over the shelf, he makes a mental note which of his books has gone missing. A dangerous one, he knows, one that has been here for a long, long time. One that holds knowledge better kept hidden.

He shrugs once more and goes about his work.

#

With the book tucked safely beneath his cloak, the thief approaches his compatriots, a superior smile on his face. Their quiet competition continues, as they all observe the gleaming orb that is their playing field. Tiny lights flicker inside, looking like stars in a dark night sky, yet the thief knows them to be much more.

His fellow players look at him, as it is his turn to make a move. The expressions on their faces, or at least on the faces of those that have such a thing, range from interested to a kind of arrogant amusement. He knows that most of them do not expect much from his latest move.

He will prove them wrong.

The gleaming orb looms before him and he removes the book from its hiding place, allowing everyone present to take a good look at it before he proceeds. Only a few of his fellow players know what this book is, know what kind of power it holds. Those few who know anxiously await his move.

Slowly, carefully, the thief lowers the book into the gleaming orb. Tiny lights twinkle in the sky, closer observation revealing them to be entire galaxies instead of lone stars. The material world spreads out inside the orb, infinitely large yet so small from this vantage point, and the book vanishes in the darkness.

At first nothing happens and he is aware of a few sounds made by his fellows, those who don't know, as they begin to mock him for his ineffective move.

A ripple begins at the spot where he just put the book. A ripple that begins to spread outward, quickly covering the entire surface of the gleaming orb, warping the shiny surface like a storm passing over still water.

No one is mocking him now. Instead everyone leans closer, watching the effects of his latest move with growing excitement.

#

In a stretch of desert, far away from any sign of human civilization, the Necronomicon Nocturnum appears. It is the year 537 BC and its journey through history has just begun.



1 - A Curious Case of Misplacement

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HELL: Term generally used to describe the place of eternal punishment of sinners in the Christian mythology. The magical sciences actually know a number of demonic dimensions that are sometimes referred to as Hell, both by their inhabitants and by outsiders. Whether any of these dimensions actually has any relation to the Christian Hell is open to speculation.

For related topics see: Demonic Dimensions, Christian Mythology, Underworlds of Myth

Rosenberg Index of the Preternatural, vol. XXVI, September 2057

#

Los Angeles, 2057 AD.

"Office of Wolfram & Hart, how may I help you?" The secretary asked. The image of a dark-haired woman flickered into existence above her desk.

"This is the office of Samuel Morning, good day to you." A pleasant voice was heard from the holographic projection. "Mr. Morning would like to meet Mr. Manners and Mr. Hart today, if at all possible. It concerns a matter of grave importance."

The secretary quickly checked the schedule of two of Wolfram & Hart's senior partners. It was filled to the breaking point, as always these days. There was an ugly legal battle going on with Magitech Inc. over copyright issues, which took up most of their time

The secretary knew, though, that Mr. Morning was one of the selected few clients that would get an immediate appointment if they asked for it, no matter the circumstances. She also knew that unfortunate things could happen to mere secretaries who kept such clients waiting.

"I will inform Mr. Manners and Mr. Hart immediately. Is 10 o'clock to your satisfaction?"

The dark-haired woman smiled, which sent a shiver down the secretary's spine.

"Thank you very much. Mr. Morning will be there at 10."

The image flickered and died as the secretary hurried to inform her bosses of the impending visitor.

#

Holland Manners was a man well over a century old, but due to various magical means he looked no older than fifty. He had started out as a simple lawyer in Wolfram & Hart's special projects division and, through much dedication and hard work, as well as the complete absence of a conscience, had become a senior partner but a few years ago.

Julius Hart, though younger in appearance, was his senior by decades, maybe centuries. No one knew exactly how old he was, only that he was one of the original founders of the firm. Some whispered that he was no longer, or might never have been human, though such whispers tended to fall silent rather suddenly. Employees of the firm learned quickly that it was not the wisest course of action to chitchat about the boss. Those that didn't learn, well ...

Both men sat at a round conference table, dressed in suits that cost more than the average American citizen made in half a year, and had various papers spread out in front of them. The ongoing legal battle with Magitech Inc. was too important to be trusted to anyone else, so they utilized every free second to work on it, even the few minutes of waiting for their client to arrive.

The antique clock ticked to 10:00 when a figure materialized in front of the conference table.

"Welcome, Mr. Morning." Manners rose to greet his client, professional smile spreading on his face without conscious effort. Hart rose as well, though made no move to offer his hand, instead just giving the newcomer a nod. There was nothing to be read on his face.

Samuel Morning was a tall man, long blonde hair tied back in a loose braid, wearing a black suit with red shirt and black tie. His clear blue eyes rested on each of the two lawyers for a moment before he shook the offered hand, nodding back at Hart.

"Excuse me for taking time away from your busy schedule," he said, taking the empty seat at the conference table, "but I have a problem that can not wait, I'm afraid."

"We are here to help, Mr. Morning." Manners said, leaning forward encouragingly. "Please elaborate."

Morning removed several sheets of paper from his black suitcase, laying them on the table for inspection.

"We took notice of this problem only a short time ago." He said as Manners and Hart studied the numbers presented to them. "At first it was just a few minor disappearances, but the numbers seem to be increasing steadily."

Hart nodded, seeing the numbers they were talking about.

"This seems to be something bigger than the usual drift. Any indication as to a cause?"

Morning shook his head. "My best people are working on it, but haven't come up with anything so far. The problem is that we might not have much time. I do not have to tell you, Julius, how delicate the balance is between our competition and us. We can not afford a disruption like this. The consequences could be catastrophic."

Both lawyers knew that Samuel Morning was not a man to exaggerate. His normal working day would give life-long nightmares to most people. Things he regarded as mildly disturbing would easily suffice to send a hundred sane men running like rabbits. Things he termed catastrophic ...

"We will put our finest people to work on this from our side." Manners assured him.

"Do you want us to also approach your competitors about this matter?" Hart added.

Morning leaned back in his chair, looking decidedly unhappy.

"I do not want them to sniff any kind of weakness in us. If you are able to make some discreet inquires, though, ..." His voice trailed off.

"Consider it done." Hart assured them. "If they are experiencing similar problems, we will learn of it. Or if they are the ones to blame for this."

"See that you do." Morning said, rising from his chair. "As I said, time might soon become a problem. We can't allow ourselves to fall behind. If no solution is found soon we will be forced to take drastic measures. You know what that means."

Manners nodded solemnly. Hart seemed lost in his own thoughts for a moment, his neutral expression wavering, then nodded as well, his poker face back in place.

"I expect to hear from you soon." With those final words Samuel Morning vanished into thin air, leaving but the faintest trace of sulfur behind.

Holland Manners sat down again, the curious silence of the other man almost more disturbing to him than the things Morning had just told them.

"What do you think, Julius?" He asked.

The senior partner shook his head. "I think that our problems with Magitech are about to become very small in comparison."

Hart sighed, remembering some of deals he had made in his younger days. Pacts he had struck to ensure himself a long and successful life. He thought of his long and mostly beneficial relationship with the entity called Samuel Morning and how quickly that relationship might change if the situation escalated. As it well could if things were half as bad as Morning had indicated.

"Someone or something is causing souls to disappear from Hell." Hart mused. "I think this could get very ugly."

"Very ugly, indeed." Manners agreed.

#

"They have noticed?" The man asked, as they stood close to the threshold. The normally tranquil and solid surface of the barrier was rippling and churning, gaping holes appearing every now and then. It had caused deep lines of worry to appear on the man's face.

"Morning went to Earth to contact their cronies, Wolfram & Hart." The girl answered. "I felt him cross over."

"I was afraid of this. I guess the others won't be far behind then." He sighed. "Any indication that they have figured out why it is happening?"

The girl shook her head, dark strands of hair falling into her face. "Clueless, the lot of them. They can not see past their own pettiness."

"Their pettiness could easily mean the destruction of everything, my dear. With the kind of power they have at their disposal it does not take much insight to cause a lot of damage. We must act now, while we still have time." Once again he looked at the threshold. "Conditions are anything but perfect, but I have to try and cross over."

"We have to try." The girl corrected him.

"It is very dangerous, as you well know." The man reminded her. "You don't have to come with me."

"Neither of us has to do anything. Yet we choose to, so now we will go and do it."

The man smiled, the girl reminding him so very much of someone he once knew. Someone he was about to meet again, if they succeeded. He had hoped to put this off a little longer, but time was running out quickly.

"Very well then. Let us do it!"

And so the Watcher and the Slayer crossed the threshold.



2 - The Living, the Undead, and the Really, Really Dead

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MAGITECH: Also referred to as Magical Science, Technomagic. General term for hybrid applications of magic and technology, first developed around 2014 AD by Willow and Tara Rosenberg. Early Magitech applications utilized spells hardwired into printed circuits to boost the capabilities of conventional electronics. Modern day applications are very diverse, ranging from electronic spell books to magical containment fields for fusion reactors.

For related topics see: Magitech Inc., Humboldt University Institute of Magical Technology

Encyclopedia Britannica, Edition of 2057

#

"Mr. and Mrs. O'Conner?" The secretary looked up at the two waiting people. "Mrs. Rosenberg will see you now."

"Thanks, Sally." Buffy said, smiling at the not quite human being behind the desk. "Willow still treating you good?"

Sally's whiskers twitched as she smiled back. "She is still a bit cranky sometimes. But I always say there is nothing a few good purrs can not fix."

As if to demonstrate the familiar started to purr so intensely that Buffy could feel it all the way across the desk. She stumbled a bit as every muscle in her body immediately relaxed, causing her to grab her husband's shoulder for support.

"Don't do that when I'm standing up, Sally!" Buffy complained. "You're gonna cause me physical injuries one of these days."

The woman-sized cat just smirked, her slit pupils twinkling, but obediently stopped her purring. "Go on in, she is waiting."

"Thank you." Angel said, clasping his wife's hand. Once again he marveled at how very much the world had changed these last few decades. A creature believed to be nothing but myth just fifty years ago was roaming the offices of corporate America, a corporation that was dealing in magical technology, and no one thought twice about it. Knowing that he himself was partly responsible for many of these changes sometimes kept him awake at night. If, he looked at his beautiful wife, other things didn't.

Buffy and Angel walked through the large double doors leading to the office of Magitech's CEO.

"Buffy! Angel!" Willow happily greeted them as they came in. The top-floor office was flooded with daylight, but the large picture windows were already starting to polarize. After a few seconds Angel could safely follow his wife, who was already caught in a big hug with her best friend.

Willow Rosenberg had celebrated her 76th birthday this year. She looked good for her age, Angel thought, though a small pang of sadness made itself felt when he was once again confronted with his friends' mortal life spans. It wasn't always easy. With Buffy by his side, though, a whole lot easier than it used to be.

Buffy let go of Willow after a long moment, both women smiling at each other. An onlooker would have thought the two to be mother and daughter, or even grand-mother and grand-daughter. Buffy didn't look a day over thirty, the blood bond between her and Angel, while not exactly freezing her aging process, preserved her life at its physical peak.

"Angel!" Willow turned toward him with a fond smile and the two also shared a long embrace.

"You look good, Willow!" Angel complimented her when he let go.

"Liar." Willow brushed her hair back. It had grayed years ago, yet she always colored it back to its original dark red. Her only vanity as far as Angel knew.

"I'm glad you managed to stop by," Willow said, returning to her desk, "I was afraid you'd be God knows where again."

Buffy and Angel had spent a lot of the past few decades travelling around the world, enjoying the perks of being eternally young in a world that offered so much to see. Both still worked part-time for what had once been the Preternatural Investigation Division, a formerly domestic American police force that dealt with preternatural crime.

As the preternatural had become more and more a part of everyday life across the entire globe, the PID had flowered into a worldwide organization supported by the United Nations and it kept even its part-time agents on their toes most of the time.

"We spent the summer in Tranquility after snatching up a few smugglers dealing in demon body parts," Buffy said, "but even seeing the Earth rise every morning gets old sooner or later."

Angel smiled. It always amazed him how quickly Buffy adapted this world's changing faster and faster. To a boy who had grown up in an 18th century village their trip to the lunar colony had been nothing less than unbelievable. And seeing the Earth rise over the curved horizon of the moon, being able to watch it with his own eyes and no fear of the sun, had caused tears to run down his face.

"I'm sure it does." Willow said, smiling as she guessed Angel's thoughts. "We have to catch up on that soon, Buffy, but I'm afraid there is some bad stuff we have to take care of first."

"We heard of your problems with Wolfram & Hart." Angel sat down in one of the plush chairs. He had had his own problems with that particular bunch of lawyers over the years and knew only too well that, behind their squeaky clean public facade, they were rotten to the core.

"Their client stole the stepping disk technology from you." Buffy added.

"That's what we're still trying to prove." Willow sighed. "They are claiming that it's a case of parallel engineering, that their client has been working on the same thing for a few years and just happened to perfect it a few weeks after we copyrighted the stuff. And since 'his' tech differs from ours, meaning that it's cheaper and less reliable, they say we have no legal basis to sue."

In these moments Willow felt her age. The legal battle had gone on for almost half a year now with no end in sight. Stepping disk technology was a quantum leap forward in Magitech, the first teleportation spell suitable for mass transportation. It was worth billions of dollars, which was why this case would probably take a long, long time yet.

"Their client, Magicorp, has made a career out of producing cheap copies of our work, but I won't allow them to get away with stealing this. The stepping disks were the last thing Tara perfected before she ..." Willow's voice broke. It had been over a year now, but the loss was still so fresh and raw. A stupid accident, something that happened even in a world filled with technological and magical wonders. One stupid accident and suddenly Tara was gone.

Buffy quickly went over and took her friend into her arms. "You'll show those bastards, Will." She said, stroking the redhead's hair. "I know you will."

After a minute or so Willow regained her composure, smiling at Buffy. "Thanks. But that isn't the reason I wanted to see you two."

Wiping a stray tear from her face she called up a holographic screen over her desk. "As you know we do a lot of research into psychic areas as well. We have more mediums, clairvoyants, and visionaries gathered under our roof than any other company in the world."

Willow displayed several graphs and tableaus on the screen.

"It started slowly. Some of our psychic people had nightmares. Other experienced visions and prophetic flashes without warning in broad daylight. Still others lost their abilities completely. Only a few here and there at first, but the numbers seem to be increasing. We have full recordings of several people who had prophetic flashes and immediately went stark raving mad. Some clairvoyants have told me that they looked into the future and saw only darkness. Most of the psychics are now antsy and nervous all the time."

She leaned back in her chair.

"It's as if something is brewing. Something very big."

Angel folded his hands, thinking. "Have you discussed this with the people over at Deadman Inc.?"

Hearing Angel refer to the vast holding company that had grown out of the Vampirium by its popular nickname was almost enough to make Buffy grin, but the very serious look on Willow's face dissuaded her quickly. The Vampirium had decided to go corporate in 2018, almost a direct result of the tremendous success of Magitech Inc..

Deadman Inc., as it was jokingly called by the public, was mostly a financial holding, administrating the enormous amounts of wealth the various Vampirium Elders had amassed over the centuries, yet it also dealt in some very specialized fields.

Among other things the Vampirium possessed the largest collection of obscure books and prophecies in the known world.

"I had a long phone call with Darla a few days ago." Willow answered Angel's question. "Some of the more psychic members of the Vampirium have also felt something, yet they found nothing about any upcoming apocalypse or cosmic convergence in their books."

"Any chance of narrowing it down?" Buffy asked Willow. "I mean, 'something is brewing' isn't exactly a lot to go on. Is it another demon ascendance maybe? I remember when Golgotha manifested in New York, there were a lot of people who had nightmares and went crazy before that, too."

Angel also remembered that night. Weeks and months prior to the ascension they had received warnings and hints to an upcoming catastrophe. When the demon finally manifested right in the middle of the city, it had led to vicious battle. A lot of people had ended up dead before they had managed to send the arch demon back where it came from. The aftershocks had given many people nightmares and headaches for months.

"Nothing like that." Willow said. "A few of the psychics have some suspicions, but they are pretty far out there."

"Like what?" Angel asked.

"Well, some of them have had visions of departed relatives and such, so they think ... it sounds rather ridiculous, but ... they think the souls of the dead are returning to Earth."




3 - Ghosts of Watchers Past

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SLAYER, THE: According to legend a preternatural warrior chosen by a higher power to protect the world from Vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness. Throughout recorded history there has always been one Slayer, always a girl. A new Slayer is only chosen when the present one dies.

Magical science has established that the Slayer is a human being enhanced by an as yet unexplained form of magically-induced genetic mutation, causing the girl in question to develop superior strength, speed, endurance, and healing powers.

For a detailed description of the Slayer and its role in history see literary reference: "The Chosen Ones", published in 2006, written by Wesley Windham-Pryce.

Rosenberg Index of the Preternatural, vol. XXVI, September 2057

#

"This is stupid!" Faith said for what had to be the hundredth time.

"You said so before, pet!" Spike reminded her, not exactly in a happy mood himself. "Knowing you, though, I'm sure you will do so again. Many times."

"Bet on it!"

Spike sighed, rummaging through the pockets of his coat for the keys. He was sure he had brought them along. While his fingers kept on searching his eyes were once again drawn to his companion. Not for the first time he wondered why he had kept her around these past decades, then remembered a lot of good reasons why he had done so.

Her looks were just one of the reasons.

Faith didn't look like a woman of 75, that was for sure. She had bloomed from a beautiful girl into an amazing woman and barely changed since then. From her looks alone no one would have judged her older than an early 40, and a well-preserved one at that.

About fifteen years ago, with her curios lack of wrinkles becoming more and more apparent, Faith had finally relented and allowed herself to be checked over by Magitech's medicine division. After much prodding, testing, theorizing, and driving Faith nearly insane in the process, they had discovered why it was that she aged so slowly.

That the Slayer was imbued with tremendous healing powers was nothing new. Spike had seen Faith metabolize what would have been instantly fatal wounds for every other human being in a matter of days. What no one had thought of, though, was the fact that her healing powers also worked on her aging process.

Aging essentially meant the breakdown of cells, causing them to stop replicating themselves properly, imperfections creeping into the cell structure and accelerating the decline of the system. With Faith, though, her healing powers, which only seemed to grow stronger with age, were fighting a vicious and ongoing battle against that process. The doctors were unable to say how old Faith could grow, but told her to start planning her centennial at the very least.

Faith, for her part, didn't much care one way or another. Knowing that she could very well grow over a hundred years old or more hadn't changed her outlook on life or her style of living it. And while outwardly no one would think her as young as that other, truly immortal Slayer Spike knew, Faith made that up by sheer attitude.

Spike shook his head, smiling. He knew her for coming up to sixty years now and, though she had changed, she was still the old brat at the core. And he wouldn't have it any other way.

"Are you going to get that door open any time soon?" She asked him.

Okay, so maybe sometimes. The relationship between them had gone on and off over these past six decades, had varied from being strictly sexual to being just friends and back to mad love. It wasn't the same kind of deep, almost obsessive relationship that Spike had shared with Drusilla for nearly a century, but he was content with that. Dru would always hold a special place in his dead heart and no one could ever replace her.

Finally he found the right key and unlocked the door.

"Quick enough for you, pet?" He asked, making a sweeping gesture at the open door.

"Not nearly!" Faith huffed and walked past him.

The Hyperion Hotel had been abandoned long ago. With Buffy and Angel travelling all over the world, Spike and Faith never staying in one place for long, and Darla taking over leadership of the Vampirium, the place had been empty most of the time anyway. It still belonged to Angel and he made sure that it was more or less preserved, but no one had actually lived here in decades.

Dust had gathered in the place, covering everything like a thick blanket. Both Spike and Faith stopped once they were past the door, overcome with memories for a moment. So much had happened in this place. The attack of the Watchers, fighting Grigori's enforcers, partying after the Vampire Legalization Act had gone through Congress, Buffy and Angel performing the blood bond, a hundred other memorable events, both of the happy and the not so happy kind.

"Place gives me goosebumps." Faith said after a moment, looking around.

"We lived here for nearly twenty years." Spike reminded her.

"Yeah, but Angel always had the cleaning crew go through once a week then."

Spike chuckled, going over to the former Hotel's reception area. Brushing some dust away he found the old computer terminal he had been looking for. The one with the single red light flashing on and off.

"Someone really did trip the old security system we installed here." Spike said, blowing the dust off the terminal. "I was sure it was some kind of bug."

"Why would someone break into this place?" Faith looked around. "Not like we left anything valuable behind when we moved out. Even that old library full of dusty books was removed, right?"

"Angel put it all in storage over at Deadman Inc., yeah." Spike nodded. "Only thing to steal here is dust, dust, and yet more dust."

The security system was ancient, though it had been state of the art when first installed in the early days of the century. Spike shook his head. Here they were, the head of Magitech one of their closest friends, but their old home was protected by an outdated IBM system. Some things just didn't make sense.

"System was tripped somewhere in the cellar." Spike read on the old-fashioned flat screen. "It was six hours ago, though, so I guess the buggers are already gone."

It had been pure coincidence that Faith and Spike had been close to Los Angeles when the Hyperion's security system had gone off. They had originally planned to meet with Buffy, Angel, and Willow over at Magitech for a little reunion, only to change directions when the signal reached them.

"I don't know why we even came here." Faith complained. "Probably just some teenagers getting their rocks off breaking into the spooky old building, nothing else."

"I remember a certain teenaged brat who did a lot of stunts like that."

Faith shot him a glare. "I'll show you all the brattiness you can handle if you don't shut up!"

"Let's check out the cellar to be certain and then get out of here. I bet Buffy, Angel, and Willow are already wondering what's taking us."

"As if. When was the last time you saw Buffy and Angel pay attention to time as long as they're together?"

Spike smiled as they walked down the steps. Certainly his old Sire was one lucky bird. Spike didn't need much convincing that such a thing as eternal love existed. Once again he had to think of Drusilla and how she had been taken from him over eighty years ago now. He still missed her deeply.

Looking at the Slayer walking ahead of him - looking at her rear, to be precise - it wasn't the same. He liked Faith a lot, they had much fun together, but they didn't connect on the same level that he'd had with his black goddess.

Maybe there was but one true soulmate for everyone, Spike thought.

The lower levels of the Hyperion looked, if anything, even worse than the lobby. Thick dust had gathered everywhere, cobwebs hung like curtains, and the air smelled of age and decay. It was funny for Spike to think of this place as old, seeing as he was its senior by over half a century.

The Hotel hadn't aged half as well, he judged.

They passed the holding cell and, once again, Spike was assaulted by memories. Memories of their friend Fred, a Vampire who had made the mistake of becoming addicted to drugs. They had locked him in there to get him through withdrawal. Forty years later this had served as the prison of one Buffy Summers, who had to be taught the truth about Vampires and her own destiny as the Slayer. Now it stood as empty as the rest of the place.

"There is nothing down here." Faith said, some memories of her own rising up when they walked past the workout room. Memories of sparring with Spike, of having sex with him right there on those aged, stained mats. Memories of that shameful day when she, driven by jealousy and flush with her own newly found Slayer power, had attacked and injured Buffy, all in a misguided attempt to win Angel's affection. She shook her head. She wasn't that small and jealous person anymore, never would be again.

"I guess so." Spike said. He looked at the door of the room where, a long time ago, an electronic guardian had watched over the hiding place of the Necronomicon Nocturnum. He remembered the day when Grigori had stolen the book from its bunker in Ireland, nearly causing a disaster. He shook his head. Grigori was long dead, truly dead, and the damn book was long gone as well, destroyed in a nuclear blast. And good riddance.

"Let's get out of here then, so we can ..." Faith's voice suddenly trailed off as something strange registered with her. She had been the Slayer for coming up to sixty years now, so she had little trouble identifying the strange tingling inside her head as that uncanny sixth sense she had. The sense that told her that something supernatural was closing in on her.

Not Spike, that was for sure. Though not exactly normal himself, she had gotten so used to him that he barely registered with her sixth sense anymore. No, it was something else. Something that was closing in on them, fast.

"Is it me or did it just get very cold in here?" Faith asked as she started to shiver. A moment later she looked on in amazement, seeing her breath come out as white fog. The temperature in the room had dropped at least twenty degrees in a matter of seconds.

Spike turned around, sharp eyes looking for any hint of danger. All the while his brain was trying to puzzle out what was happening here. Some kind of supernatural manifestation that resulted in a drastic temperature change. Dusty cellar, sudden wave of cold, a chill running down his back despite his own lack of body temperature, it all added up to one thing.

"Ghosts." A voice behind him said calmly. "Sorry about the dramatic entrance."

Spike nearly jumped all the way to the roof, quickly turning around.

"Bloody hell!" He muttered, only to repeat the words in a much softer tone when he saw what was behind him.

"What he said!" Faith whispered beside him, her eyes widening.

Right in front of them, barely visible in the darkness, a foggy image slowly took shape, growing more solid as they watched. The figure of a man, clad in a tweed suit, adjusting a set of glasses that were just as unreal as the rest of him.

A man whom they had both seen die of cancer nearly thirty years earlier.

"It's good to see you both again." Rupert Giles said. "I would like to say this is a social call, but I'm afraid it is not."



4 - The Completely Unexpected Return of Formerly Absent Friends

#

GHOSTS: The Magical Sciences actually know two different kinds of manifestations that are generally termed 'Ghost'. The first, also called Poltergeist, is actually a psychic residue of strong emotions that has been soaked up by an inanimate object, like the famed haunted house. This residue can manifest itself in a wide range of preternatural occurrences, but there is no guiding intelligence behind it and the residue fades after a number of years..

The other variant of a Ghost manifestation is an actual human soul that is unable to go on after death. Normally following a very traumatic death, the soul needs some kind of closure before it can go on to the true afterlife. During that time the Ghost may manifest all kinds of preternatural powers, having shed all limitations of the human body, but is normally confined to the place of its death and may continually relive the circumstances of the same.

Please note that this latter variant of the ghost is always caused by a soul that has yet to cross over the Ethereal Threshold (see separate listing). The only recorded occurrence of souls actually returning after having crossed the Threshold is the Restoration of Souls of the year 1907, where human souls were called back to inhabit the undead bodies of the Vampire population. There is no record of a human soul ever returning as a Ghost after having crossed the Threshold.

Rosenberg Index of the Preternatural, vol. XXVI, September 2057

#


Buffy's hand reached toward the door knob, faltered, then fell back to her side. Her Slayer sense was tingling like mad and it wasn't because of the Vampire standing behind her. Something was beyond that door, something preternatural, and the problem was that Buffy knew exactly what it was.

Spike had phoned them two hours ago, telling them what, or better who, they had found in the Hyperion.

"Want me to go in first?" Angel asked from behind her, clearly sensing her distress across their link.

"No!" Buffy said, clenching her fist. "I can go through that door."

Angel nodded, knowing that she might need some more time. It certainly wasn't easy for her. He only had to think what it would be like for him if it was his father waiting on the other side.

Rupert Giles hadn't been Buffy's father by way of blood, but in every other way that mattered. He had filled the slot left vacant by the man who had actually performed that biological act, but been a totally unimportant part of Buffy's life apart from that. Giles had been the man she turned to for fatherly advice, the man she had asked to give her away when Buffy and Angel had made their marriage official a few years after the blood bond.

He was the man whose early death had caused her so much pain.

Angel remembered how much she had cried the night Giles had passed away. How she had broken down at his funeral, not able to believe that he was truly gone. Years after that someone would say something that reminded her of Giles and she would grow somber, thinking of him. It had taken her a long time to come to terms with his death.

Now he seemed to be back.

"I can do this!" Buffy resolved and reached for the doorknob, quickly opening the door before her courage could abandon her once more.

The inside of the room was cold as a crypt, Angel observed. A side glance told him that the heater was turned all the way up, but there couldn't be more than five degrees Celsius in that room, probably less.

"Ghosts!" He muttered.

Spike and Faith were there, Angel had felt the presence of his childe the moment they had entered the building. Also present was Darla, not very surprising as they were using a building owned by the Vampirium as their Los Angeles base. Angel communicated silently with his Sire, he could feel her uneasiness almost as well as Buffy's. She, too, had been close to Rupert Giles. She had even offered to make him a Vampire when he was dying, but he had declined. She had mourned his death almost as long as Buffy.

Giles stood in the center of the room, the far wall visible through his transparent body.

"Hello, Buffy." He said. His voice sounded strange, different than Angel remembered. How did ghosts speak anyway? He would have to ask Willow that one.

"Giles?" Buffy asked, as if needing outside confirmation that she was really seeing him.

"I'm so glad to see you again." He smiled warmly.

Buffy slowly walked toward him, the beginnings of tears shimmering in her eyes. Giles waited patiently as she came to a stop in front of him, one of her hands slowly coming up to reach for him, trembling.

Where she expected her fingers to touch the rough texture of his tweed suit there was ... something. Not exactly thin air, but something else, something making the air heavy and cold, like reaching into a thick cloud.

That was all, though. There was nothing solid to be touched. Nothing at all.

"Giles!" She sobbed, a tear running down her cheek.

Angel appeared behind her, closing his arms around her. Giles could just look at her, see the sadness shining in his eyes. He wanted to take her into his arms, tell her not to be sad. Wanted to provide the comfort he had been able to give her so often during the nearly thirty years he had been blessed to spend with her.

Only he couldn't. He was dead.

Angel held his wife as she was softly crying, but looked over her head at Giles.

"What is going on here, Giles?"

"Yeah, will you get to the story already?" Faith added. "Everyone's here, just like you wanted. Now tell us how come you can appear like that, what with being dead!"

Angel gave her a glare, feeling Buffy tense in his arms with Faith's words.

"Just saying." Faith muttered, looking down.

"I am sorry for just dropping in like this." Giles said when everyone was looking at him again. "I would have liked to give you some kind of warning beforehand, but I'm afraid time is something we don't have much right now. Something is going to happen."

"We just visited with Willow," Angel said, "and she told us that her psychics picked up some kind of disturbance. That the souls of the dead are returning to Earth."

"You don't say." Spike added, looking at Giles.

"I should have known that Willow would be the first to notice." Giles smiled fondly. "I have managed to keep some taps on everything that happened after I ... well, went away. I hear Willow is doing quite well for herself."

"She is!" Angel nodded.

"Change of topics, guys!" Faith interrupted. "We were talking about some kind of big bad coming up, remember?"

"Yes, quite correct." Giles said, adjusting his glasses. "Essentially Willow has grasped the situation, this is exactly what is happening. Souls are leaving the ethereal dimensions and returning to Earth. Only a few for the moment, as the Ethereal Threshold is still quite solid, but the situation is only growing worse."

Buffy looked up at Giles again, sliding out of her husband's embrace.

"So what can we expect to happen? A lot of ghosts here on Earth?"

"That is just the beginning." Giles sighed. "The presence of disembodied souls alone could cause a lot of chaos down here, but that is not the main reason we came."

"We?" Angel asked.

"Well, yes. I have a companion who came with me when we crossed the Threshold. She will be here shortly, but wanted to make a visit to an old friend first."

Angel looked at him expectantly, but Giles continued with his earlier train of thoughts. "As I was saying, I am not so much worried about the increasing presence of ghosts here on Earth, but rather what their absence in the ethereal dimensions may cause."

"Such as?" Spike asked. "Are we going to get some pissed-off ethereal immigration officers on our case?"

"Something like that, yes." Giles nodded.

"I don't understand." Buffy said, looking at him.

"What I am saying, Buffy, is that the disappearance of souls is growing noticeable. There are powers in the ethereal realms that will not be happy about this. According to our information Hell has already noticed and is investigating."

Two Slayers and three Vampires stared at Giles, dumbstruck.

"Yes, I'm talking about Hell. I believe they are not too fond of someone or something stealing souls from them. And if they have noticed, than their opposites won't be far behind."

"Their opposites." Buffy said, not quite believing this conversation yet. "You mean ..."

"Yes, Buffy." Giles nodded. "Sooner or later Heaven will notice as well. And then we'll have lots of trouble on our hand. The biblical kind."

#

Eight time zones away, in a retirement home outside London, Wesley Windham-Pryce was slowly getting out bed, stretching his aged bones. 92 years old and he was rather proud that he didn't need any help in getting up or dressing in the morning. He knew that, with the way things were going, he would probably just fail to wake up one morning and that would be it, but he didn't much mind.

Looking back, as he often did these days, he found that he had lived a good life for the most part. Sure, there were quite a few things he would have liked to do differently if given the chance, but everyone had regrets. He firmly believed, though, that he had helped, in whatever small way, to make the world the rather good place it was today.

Walking across his room his eyes were drawn to the aged photograph standing on his desk. The picture of a dark-haired, dark-skinned girl, taken nearly sixty years ago. He closed his eyes, thinking of the most terrible night of his life. Regrets, yes. He knew all about regrets. There hadn't been many nights in the past sixty years he hadn't thought of her, hadn't thought of what he had done.

Angel had once said that Wesley was a good man, who had been forced to make the most terrible of choices. And as a good man, Angel had continued, he would never be able to stop wondering what he might have done differently that night. Wesley hadn't stopped wondering, not in sixty years.

He shook his head. Kendra was dead and there was nothing he could do about it. He had stopped letting it rule his life long ago, instead choosing to do his best to do the job that Kendra should have lived to do. It hadn't been an easy life, but a good one.

He started to shiver when the room temperature suddenly dropped like a stone. Something wrong with the heater? He checked, but the dial still held at a solid 23° Celsius. What was happening here?

"Hello, Wesley!" A voice called out behind him.

Wesley froze, sure that his old brain was playing a trick on him. This voice ... he knew it. He remembered it. The owner of that voice had never, ever called him by his first name, though. And she was dead. This couldn't be happening. She was dead.

Slowly he turned around, the cold no longer even registering. There was something there, something unreal and foggy, he could see the door to his room right through her.

Her.

Kendra.

The girl he had killed nearly sixty years ago.


5 - Trouble in the Higher Reaches

#

ETHEREAL THRESHOLD, THE: Term for the dividing line between the material universe and the so-called ethereal dimensions (see separate listing). Generally speaking it is the place where the souls of the dead pass on to whatever form of afterlife might or might not exist. There is no way known to Magical Science to tell what lies beyond the Ethereal Threshold.

ETHEREAL DIMENSIONS: General term for theorized plains of existence beyond the Ethereal Threshold (see separate listing). According to lore there exist a large number of such dimensions, all of them various forms of the afterlife. Please note that the very existence of these dimensions is pure conjecture. The ethereal dimensions should not be confused with the various demon dimensions that are known to exist, as these are actual material realms.

Rosenberg Index of the Preternatural, vol. XXVI, September 2057

#


"It is confirmed then?" The Throne Director asked, tiredly rubbing his eyes.

"Yes." His assistant said. "There is no doubt."

"Why me?" The director shook his head, feeling a very strong suspicion that the universe in general was out to get him.

"The Repository is our responsibility." The assistant reminded him. "As such ..."

A glare from the director made him fall silent. This was a bad day, he resolved. A very bad day. No doubt it would grow worse still, seeing that he would have to inform his own superiors about this without delay.

Should he send someone else to deliver the bad news? No, the matter was too serious for that, though it would have the advantage of sparing him a personal encounter with the people upstairs. There was a distinct possibility that heads would roll for this and it might just be his.

"I'd better get this over with." He sighed.

His assistant gave him a very neutral nod that nevertheless seemed to say, "Better you than me, buddy". Nodding back, the director stepped out of his office onto the balcony, closing his eyes for a moment to enjoy the soft wind on his face.

Below the balcony the City of the Host spread out in all directions, towering spires and sprawling domes gleaming in the light of the trinity star. The perpetually blue sky above was filled with flying shapes, their proud wings spread wide as they rode the air currents, going about their sacred duties without hesitation. Some of them were singing, their voices filling the air with sweet music.

The city below was, as always, buzzing with activity. There was no night here, never would be, and always more work to be done. The Adversary never slept either, they all knew that.

To the south he saw the sharp glare of the Forge, where weapons of holy war were produced and refined in preparation for the inevitable conflict with the Adversary. Gleaming steel, forged above divine fire, polished to a shine and laid ready for the warriors to put it to good use. Gleaming suits of armor, only waiting for someone to wear them, shone in the light of the trinity star, rows upon rows of them like so many tin soldiers.

Right next to the Forge was the marshalling field, where proud warriors of the Host were going through their training regime, keeping their skills sharp, ready to go into battle at a moment's notice. Seraphim warriors, they all lived for the moment the final conflict would arrive, waiting for their chance to smash the enemy, assured of their inevitable victory by the righteousness of their cause.

Battle, the director thought sadly. Today he would almost welcome it.

"No sense putting it off any longer." He mumbled to himself and spread his wings. Virgin white feathers unfolded from his back, murmuring softly. Catching the wind with practiced ease he leaped off his balcony, soaring into the open sky, basking in the light for a long, peaceful moment.

The Repository, his place of work and responsibility, a giant tower of black glass, quickly shrunk below him. The millions upon millions of pulsing lights flowing inside it merged into a single mass of radiance, shining with the power of Heaven.

A power that was now in danger, it seemed.

If a flying man could be said to drag his feet, the director certainly did so. The flight from the Repository to the Spire normally took less than a minute, yet when he arrived at his destination almost ten minutes had passed. The guardians at the entrance gate eyed him as he walked toward them.

"Greetings, Throne!" One of the guardians said. "You wish to confer with the First Host?"

"Yeah, I guess so." He mumbled back, earning a strange look from his opposite due to his obvious lack of enthusiasm.

"Go in then!" The guardian said after a moment. "They are all assembled."

"Great!" The director nodded his thanks to the guardian and walked through the opening gate of the Spire.

#

"There is no doubt?"

The director shook his head, getting an odd sense of déjà vu as he thought back to his own meeting with his assistant just half an hour earlier.

"We have compensated for the usual drift. There is no room for mistakes. Souls are disappearing from the Repository and moving back toward the material plain. The rate of disappearances is increasing steadily."

He held himself rigid as the seven Archangels looked at him. The First Host. Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Sariel, Raguel, and Remiel. None of them looked particularly pleased at receiving this news.

Big surprise there.

"Any indication as to the cause?" Gabriel asked. The Angel of Death seemed angrier than the others even, the director thought. Maybe she had reason, too, seeing as all those souls she had brought to Heaven in the course of her duties might just be disappearing real soon.

"None so far." The director admitted. "My Thrones are working on it without rest, yet ..."

"It's a first strike!" Uriel, Guardian of the Pearly Gates, announced. "The Adversary must be preparing for the final battle."

"This kind of subterfuge might just be his style," Michael said, thoughtful, "but not even the Adversary would dare temper with the flow of the souls."

Gabriel paced the length of the conference room. "Maybe it is the mortals again. This has happened before, if you remember."

"It was different then." The director said, cursing himself a moment later for opening his mouth. Since he had begun, though, he might as well continue. "It was a single mass disappearance, not this kind of gradual process. I believe we are dealing with something else here."

The members of the First Host looked at him for a long, long time, then Michael nodded.

"Very well. Concentrate all your energies on finding the cause of this! The integrity of the Repository must be regained as soon as possible."

"Of course." The director said, bowing slightly.

"Whether he is to blame or not," Remiel remarked, the ruler of the lower Hosts looking worried, "the Adversary might take advantage of this. We should be prepared."

"We are always prepared!" Uriel thundered, hand flashing toward his sword. "Let him come if he dares. I would welcome it."

"Stop this!" Michael said, his voice causing the six others to snap to attention. "For the moment the peace between Heaven and Hell holds. Until and unless that changes we will not take any direct action against the Adversary. The Thrones will investigate on this side."

He looked at his six siblings.

"Since the souls seem to be drifting back to the material world, though, someone must investigate on the other side as well."

"I will go!" Gabriel announced immediately.

"Why not?" Raphael said mockingly. "I am sure turning mortal cities into salt and raining fire and destruction down on them will get you the answers in no time at all."

The Angel of Death stared at her sibling, the tension between them almost causing the air to crackle.

"This is no time for infighting!" Michael reminded both of them. "For the moment we need to act subtly. There might come a time when Gabriel's touch is called for, but right now it will not do to announce any kind of weakness on our part."

He turned toward Sariel, the messenger. "You will go. Find out anything you can. We know that Samuel Morning manifested on Earth just a short time ago. Investigate! It might be connected!"

Sariel nodded and her appearance changed, wings and celestial armor vanishing to be replaced by a simple business suit, complete with human features.

"I will leave immediately." She announced.

"Good!" Michael turned towards his remaining siblings. "We others must prepare for the worst, should it come to pass."

The Throne director, forgotten by the others for the moment, watched the events unfold with worry. Gabriel looked eager, the Angel of Death looking forward to practice her trade. Raphael was sad, the healer inside him no doubt weeping for the destruction that might follow. Uriel looked arrogant and eager as well, ready to defend Heaven against all attackers.

And Raguel, who bore the Trumpet of Judgement that would announce the final battle, kept his own council.



6 - The Price of Dreams Fulfilled

#

NECRONOMICON NOCTURNUM, THE: A volume of dark magic of unknown origin, containing magics and spells for all major arcana of night and darkness. Best known among these is the spell that worked the Restoration of Souls in 1907 (see separate entry). The Necronomicon is believed to have appeared several times throughout human history, furthering several magical events of notice like the infamous eruption of the Sunnydale Hellmouth (see separate entry) in 1741. Not much else about this book has been unveiled to the general public, only that it was destroyed at some time in the late 20th century.

Rosenberg Index of the Preternatural, vol. XXVI, September 2057

#

"It's really you, Giles!" Willow whispered, a look of astonishment spreading over her face. "When they told me ... I didn't really believe ..."

"I can't blame you." Giles smiled at her.

The group composed of three Vampires, two Slayers, and one ghost had moved their reunion toward the Los Angeles office of Magitech Inc, where Willow was already waiting for them. Giles hadn't said much more after telling them of the impending danger, only that he needed the witch's assistance to verify a theory he had.

A theory on why the dead were returning to Earth.

"I still can't believe we were talking about Heaven." Spike muttered. "I mean, we were talking about that, right? Angels and such. Real ones, with wings and halos, dressed in white sheets. We were talking about friggin' angels from friggin' Heaven."

"Get over it!" Faith mumbled, her eyes never turning away from Giles. Buffy and Angel were standing beside them, the blonde Slayer barely moving from her husband's side. Things had moved very fast for all of them, not leaving them any time to wrap their minds about what was happening.

Giles returning from the dead, bringing a warning of more ghosts to come and a potentially pissed off delegation from both Heaven and Hell right on their tails. All in the span of an early morning.

"I don't believe this." Willow shook her head after having been brought up to speed. "Heaven and Hell, I mean ... we tried for decades to find a way and peer beyond the Ethereal Threshold, but it never worked. And now you just appear and ..."

"Believe me Willow, I understand." Giles interrupted her gently. "Things have happened very quickly, otherwise I would have tried to unveil all this a bit more gently. As it stands, though, we haven't much time. The Ethereal Threshold is not as solid as it used to be and I need you in order to verify a theory I have as to the cause of it."

Angel, his arm wrapped protectively around his rattled wife, had suspicions of his own. It was not in what Giles had said, but in the way the Watcher had looked at him a few times when he thought the Vampire to be distracted. A look of sadness and regret.

Angel had a horrible suspicion that he knew the cause of all this.

"The Ethereal Threshold is a one-way barrier." Willow explained. "Only souls can pass through it and only in one direction. From here to ... wherever."

"One way ticket to Hell!" Faith murmured.

"Or Heaven." Giles added. "Or a million other places. But that is not what's important right now."

Buffy could see Willow reign in her natural curiosity, though with difficulty. Knowing her friend, the old witch would like nothing better than to milk Giles for everything he had learned in the thirty odd years he had been dead and ... Giles was dead. Buffy shook her head. He was here, but he was dead. She wasn't going to get used to this anytime soon.

"You all right?" Angel asked her, sensing her distress.

"I wouldn't call it that." She replied honestly. "I have a very bad feeling about this, Angel."

"I know what you mean."

Giles and Willow started talking about some kind of spell specifics that quickly caused the rest of the people present to lose track of the conversation. Angel tuned out the witch's excited voice and the strange ghostly murmur that had replaced Giles' British-tinged baritone, concentrating instead on his friends.

Spike looked as if he was only just catching up with everything that had gone down. Angel wondered how long his oldest friend would need to start thinking about one particular dead person that could possibly return if Giles was right. One he had lost so many decades ago.

By his side Faith seemed jumpy, wringing her hands and looking for something to do. Angel smiled. 75 years old and still the same bundle of energy that had tried to scratch his eyes out when they had first met over sixty years ago.

Darla stood alone, looking everywhere except at Giles. Angel knew that the two of them had not been the same kind of soulmates that he and Buffy were, yet Giles had been Darla's first love after the return of her soul. Remembering the few times she had spoken of her human lifetime, maybe her first love ever. There had been others since Giles had died, quite a few actually, but Angel knew that one never forgot that first love. Even if one moved on.

"A spell like this will need some preparation." Willow said, dragging Angel's thoughts back to the matter at hand. "I think we have all the necessary equipment here at the LA office, as well as all the experienced witches we need, but you can't work that kind of magic on the spot."

"I know." Giles nodded. "How much time will you need?"

Willow rubbed her forehead, feeling the tiredness already seeping into her old bones.

"We might get things started in a few hours. I have to see who is here to help me with this."

Willow took out her com, calling up Sally to help her organize everything. Giles turned toward the others.

"You might all want to catch a few hours of sleep until Willow gets the spell ready. I'm afraid there is nothing more to be done until then."

For a time no one moved, none of them able to even consider just going to bed now. Not after everything they had learned today.

"What the hell!" Faith murmured, breaking the silence. "Some time in the sack will work wonders maybe."

"Does nothing ever slow you down, pet?" Spike asked, draping an arm around her shoulder. "I know this is all just some excuse to drag me off to bed, you know."

"As if!" Faiths snorted. Together they left the room.

"We might as well try and rest, I guess." Angel said, squeezing Buffy's shoulder.

"There are some rooms for employee's to rest in on this floor." Willow called over from her desk. "You can use those."

Angel nodded. "I'll be along in a minute, beloved. Why don't you go pick us out a room."

Buffy looked at him strangely, not liking the impressions she was receiving across their bond. Sixty years of being linked through their blood had taught her a lot about how to read even her husband's most stoic expressions, yet right now she could not make sense of what she sensed from him.

"Sure." She said slowly. "And then you'll tell me what is bothering you so much, right?"

He smiled, knowing that the time he might have been able to fool her was long past, if it had ever existed at all.

"I will." He promised.

Buffy left, leaving Angel alone with a busy Willow and Giles, as Darla had made a quiet exit some moments earlier. The Vampire turned to face the ghost.

"You already know what is causing this." Angel told Giles. "I think we both do."

Giles looked down, nodding sadly. "I hope this spell will prove me wrong. I pray that it will."

"Let us both pray then." Angel whispered, turning to follow his wife.

#

Faith had apparently slept like a rock, an ability that Buffy greatly envied. Spike seemed a bit more rested as well, though where there had been confusion in his eyes before their little break she know saw a curious mixture of hope and dread.

Angel had remarked to her that he might just be thinking about Drusilla.

Buffy had tossed and turned on her bed, not sleeping more than a few minutes at a time before her whirlwind thoughts shook her away again. She was thinking of Giles, of ghosts returning to Earth. Thinking of all the people she had lost during her prolonged life. Her mother. Some of her best friends. Xander. Cordelia. Tara. So many others that time had taken away. Would they all come back now?

Angel was not the kind to toss and turn, that much she knew. He had just lain down, but his eyes had never closed, not once. They had stared straight ahead, yet seen nothing. Her husband had been lost in deep thought all through their short night (which had been a day, actually) and barely uttered more than a few words.

What little he had voiced about his worries, though, had not furthered her ability to sleep calmly.

When Willow called them to meet her in some kind of large conference chamber, the spell she and Giles had worked out was already under way. About a dozen witches were sitting in a circle, their ages ranging from the very young to those almost as old as Willow. The owner of Magitech was sitting with the others, lost in deep concentration.

"It's essentially a probing spell." Giles whispered to them, not wanting to disturb the magic they could all feel building in the air around them. "Only of the very powerful kind."

"Is this mumbo jumbo gonna tells us what's tearing down the walls between the living and the rest?" Faith asked.

"We hope so, yes. Willow and her coven will probe the Threshold and try to find the origin of its weakening. With the added information I could give her about it she should be able to succeed."

"Added information?" Buffy looked at him.

"I have passed through the Threshold twice now." Giles said. "One picks up a few things along the way."

Buffy waited for him to say more, but he didn't. Turning her attention back to the circle of witches, she could see a faint shimmer of energy in the air above the circle's center. A shimmer that was growing stronger as they watched.

"That which divides!" Willow murmured. "Unveil that which divides!"

"Unveil!" The other witches chorused.

"Secrets of the between, unfold!"

"Unfold!"

The energy began to ripple and churn, a wind picking up inside the closed room. None of the witches seemed to notice, they were all completely immersed in their spell.

"It's supposed to be this way, right?" Spike asked.

"Unfold!" Willow yelled. The energy exploded into brilliance.

A heartbeat later the room returned to normal.

"Willow!" Buffy moved quickly to her friend's side as the old woman collapsed, as did several other witches around the circle. Some remained upright, mostly the younger ones, yet they, too, looked winded and drained.

"I'm all right." Willow said after a minute or so, a sheen of sweat covering her forehead. "Must be getting old. Were times I could churn out a dozen such spells a day."

"You were a real terror, I recall." Buffy smiled down at her.

Willow smiled back, but then her eyes turned to Giles and the smile vanished from her face.

"You knew, right?" She asked him.

"I hoped to be proven wrong."

Buffy looked back and forth between Giles and Willow, her mind refusing to grasp the meaning of their words.

"What did you see, Willow?" Angel asked gravely.

Eyes closing, Willow remembered. "The Threshold. We saw it, saw it all. I've probed it a dozen times in my life, but I never saw it this clearly. It always seemed shrouded in fog, drawing away from our eyes, but today ... it's ... it's beautiful. So very ..."

"What about the disturbance?" Angel interrupted her, his voice brimming with a very uncharacteristic impatience.

"The disturbance, it ... Giles was right, Angel. The Threshold is weakening. It seems to be an ongoing process, too, one that will only grow worse."

Willow rose to a sitting position, her eyes firmly fixed on Angel's face.

"And it didn't start yesterday. Or the day before. The effects became noticeable just recently, I guess, but we managed to trace the beginning of this breakdown. It actually started quite some time ago."

"When?" Angel asked, even though he knew the answer already. One look at Willow's face was enough.

"September 21." She said slowly. "1907."

Complete silence fell over the room as Angel just nodded. September 21, 1907. The day thousands of souls were wrenched from beyond the Threshold by a power not of this Earth.

The day of the Restoration of Souls.



7 - When a Watcher Must Act

#

COUNCIL OF WATCHERS: An organization first founded around the 6th century, the Watchers were the guardians, mentors, and guides of the Slayer (see separate entry). The Watchers not only trained and guided the current Slayer, but also sought out girls that could potentially be chosen as the next Slayer, training them, often from birth, in order to be ready for their mission.

The Watchers suffered a serious blow when, in the late 20th century, the current Slayer broke away from them, no longer willing to continue killing Vampires who were now in possession of their souls (see separate entry for Restoration of Souls). After some unsuccessful attempts at the Slayer's life, the Watchers eventually broke apart as the world came to accept Vampires in their midst. Some cells of this ancient organization reportedly survive, but it is generally regarded as defunct.

Rosenberg Index of the Preternatural, vol. XXVI, September 2057

#

Fifty-nine years now. Fifty-nine years had passed since the worst day of his life and Wesley Windham-Pryce remembered it as if it had happened just yesterday.

In the week prior to that day his entire world had come tumbling down. He had seen things he had never believed possible, had learned things that questioned everything he had believed to be the truth. He had met people - he thought of them as people now - who were anything but the cruel and evil demons he had been taught to expect. He had seen them love and suffer, care and regret, all of it emotions Vampires shouldn't have been capable of.

Wesley had always believed himself to be a man of rationality and wisdom, or as much of the latter as his years allowed, and faced with undeniable facts he had had little choice but to see the truth.

A truth that was to damn him.

He remembered the argument with his Slayer. His Slayer. Kendra. The girl he had been to protect, to guide, to train. They had come to America together in order to fulfill her sacred duty. He remembered the night he had tried to explain to her the things he had learned. Tried to explain how everything she had been taught all her life, from her very birth, were wrong.

She hadn't listened. She had called him a traitor, had suspected he had fallen under some Vampire's thrall. He had tried to reason with her, but to no avail. Thinking back, he probably had to be grateful that she hadn't tried to kill him right then and there.

It had led him to an ugly truth. Kendra would not understand. Too ingrained was her training, too deeply imbedded her believes and opinions. The Watchers had done themselves a pride when they raised her, Wesley remembered thinking. The perfect warrior, never questioning her orders, fulfilling her duty, no matter that it was wrong.

He had loved her, he knew that. Loved her like the daughter he had never had. There had been women throughout the last sixty years, lovers, even a wife he had loved very much before time had taken her away. But never children. How could a man who had killed his only daughter be found fit to have more children?

He remembered that night. Every little detail, every word that was said and not said, every choice made. Without even trying he could conjure up that dirty little flat in his mind, the one where Angel and Wesley had followed Kendra to. A flat that belonged to a family.

A family that had demon blood inside them.

They had arrived but minutes after Kendra, who had already broken into the flat by then. The family had consisted of six people. The parents and four small children, none of them older than seven years. The father, whose face had reminded Wesley of a Kremlac demon, had obviously tried to stop the intruder and paid the price. He had been lying against the wall, bleeding and broken, Kendra with a raised knife above him.

Wesley remembered Angel springing into action, that demonic creature of the night risking its own existence to save six innocents from someone who was supposed to be the champion of good. Wesley had already seen by then what kind of fighter Angel was, but on that day it was not enough.

It had been day outside and the flat had had large windows. Angel had tried to look out for the innocents, Kendra had had no such constraints. The fight had lasted about five minutes, too furious for any of the family to even think of getting past the two warriors, and in the end Angel had gone down, too weakened by the daylight to defeat the Slayer.

The one thing Wesley did not remember was at what moment he had drawn the gun. He remembered buying it shortly before they had gone to America, just in case his duties as Watchers might one day carry him a bit too close to the action. Carrying it beneath his jacket had become habit quickly and so he'd had it with him on that day. He could not remember drawing it, though. Could not remember the exact moment he had made his decision.

With stake and knife in hand, caught in a moment of indecision which of the demons to kill first, Kendra had not heeded his cry for her to stop. She had looked at him, not comprehending that her Watcher was actually aiming a gun at her. He had screamed and screamed, told her to stop, to lay down her weapons.

Kendra had raised the knife and started toward one of the children. Four little children huddled in the corner, their innocent eyes widened in fear.

Some undetermined amount of time later Angel had pried the gun out of Wesley's limp hand, had led the Watcher out of the flat and away from what he had done. He dimly remembered the family thanking him for saving their lives, but he hadn't really listened.

His Slayer had died. By his hand.

"I didn't want to kill you!" Wesley whispered, tears running down his aged face.

Kendra stood in front of him, a ghostly apparition in his dark bedroom. Fifty-nine years and she looked the same he remembered. Just like she had on the day he had killed her.

A part of his mind, the trained Watcher, realized what was going on. The drop in room temperature, the transparent appearance of her, the chill running down his spine, that part of him knew he was facing a ghost.

The rest of him was convinced that, after all these years, he was finally going mad.

"I'm sorry!" He whispered, closing his eyes, hoping the apparition would just go away.

The next thing he felt was a touch of ... something against his cheek. Like a cold wind softly blowing over his skin, a fog swirling against his face. He opened his eyes again and found that Kendra was touching his cheek with one ghostly hand.

"Don't be sorry, Wesley!" She said, her words a strange murmur that seemed to reach his brain without the detour through his ears. Her face showed a sad smile, her eyes shining with unshed tears.

"What?" He couldn't think of anything better to say.

"Don't be sorry for what you did, Wesley!" She told him. "You did what you had to do. What every good man would have done."

"But, but I ..." His voice broke, fresh tears flowing down his cheeks.

"I came back to tell you that I understand, Wesley." She continued. "On that day I couldn't understand. I was not able to understand. But I do now."

Wesley raised his hand, wanting to touch his Slayer, wanting to feel her here, wanting to pretend for just a moment that this was real, that she was alive and well. That he hadn't ...

His hand touched nothing. Only cold air.

"I killed you." He repeated.

"You set me free." Kendra corrected him. "I wouldn't have changed, Wesley. The Watchers did too good a job with me. The only life I would have had would have consisted of more killing. More innocents dying by my hand. You did what had to be done."

"But it ... it isn't fair!" He shook his head. "It wasn't your fault! Why did you have to ... why did I have to ..."

"Life isn't fair, Wesley!" She soothed him, wishing she could brush his tears away. "And it wasn't your fault, either. If there is anyone to blame it's the Council leaders, who refused to change when they learned of the Restoration. All of them are dead by now, Wesley. It's time for you to stop blaming yourself."

He looked up at her, not believing what he was hearing. He had made a good life, he knew, but this one night had always haunted him. Like a perpetual shadow over his existence. One he could pretend wasn't there, maybe even forget for a time, but it never went away.

"I killed you!" He repeated again. "It was my duty to protect you and I failed. I should have been smarter, I ... I should have thought of some way to break that bloody programming they put you through. I should have found another way to stop you instead of ... instead of ..."

A single shot. Kendra falling to her knees, bleeding heavily from where he had shot her in the leg, but refusing to stay down. Getting back to her feet, Slayer stamina stronger than the wound. Raising the knife again.

A second shot. The knife clattering to the floor, the useless arm dropping to her side, blood pouring out of a shattered shoulder. Pain and fury on her face. The second arm, stake still in hand, coming up and at him.

A third shot.

"I should have found a better way!" Wesley sobbed.

"There wasn't." Kendra told him softly. "Please stop blaming yourself, Wesley. Because I don't blame you."

He shook his head, not believing what he heard. This was all some kind of mad delusion. Maybe he was still in bed and dying from a heart attack or something, his brain cooking up some kind of forgiveness scene for him as he faded. This couldn't be real.

"Look at me, Wesley!" She commanded softly. His eyes met hers. "I know how much you suffered, Wesley. I know how much pain this has caused you. How it has darkened your life. And I know how much you did to righten this imagined wrong. How you helped put Buffy, my successor, on the right path. All the lives you helped save."

She smiled at him.

"I also know that you loved me. Loved me like the father I never really had before you."

Again the cold wind brushed over his cheek as the ghost of his Slayer gave him a soft kiss.

"The only thing I regret is that I was not he kind of person in life who could have appreciated that. Just know that I knew, even then, your feelings for me. I'm sorry that I wasn't able to show you how much you meant to me."

She rose to her feet, leaving him sitting on his bed. The room around him seemed to darken even more, the only thing he still saw the image of his Slayer. His daughter.

"I love you, Wesley Windham-Pryce." Kendra said. "I am glad I could tell you that before it was too late."

And the shadow went away.

#

Sometime later that day the nurse found him, slumped over in his bed.

There was a smile on his face.



8 - Faustian Deals and Devil's Advocates

#

ANGEL(S): Figures of Christian myth, reportedly the messengers and warriors of God or a form of higher power. Most often portrayed as having large, feathery wings. While there are several documented cases of demonic creatures taking on an angelic appearance to further their own agendas, there is no reliable sighting of a true angel. While their existence can not be discounted due to their extensive presence in Christian mythology, there is yet to be found definite proof.

Rosenberg Index of the Preternatural, vol. XXVI, September 2057

#

The Archangel Sariel walked through the busy streets of Los Angeles and came to a stop in front of a large office building. She took a moment to study the marble sign standing in front of her.

WOLFRAM & HART
ATTORNEYS AT LAW

She shook her head. Of all the foolish ideas these mortals had come up with over the aeons, this crazy system of courts, lawyers, and laws had to be one of the most ridiculous. Murderers walked free because of technicalities. Innocents were convicted because a witness couldn't tell one man of a particular skin color from another. Lawyers wasting their lives with endless double talk. It gave her a feeling of revulsion.

Especially in this place. The fact that the Adversary had hired lawyers of his own didn't surprise her at all, really.

What had surprised her, though, was the fact that these same lawyers had sent her an invitation to come by their offices. The invitation, delivered by a Valerian Bloodhound demon who had tracked her down and paid for it with his life, contained a lot of double talk, fancy words and phrases. The message hidden in these words was simple enough, though.

We know of your problem. Let's talk about it.

Looking at the building in front of her, Sariel could almost feel the aura of evil that permeated this place. Most of the souls here were promised to the Adversary, mortals having sold away eternity in return for earthly power and pleasure. Only a few specs of goodness were visible here, probably lower employees who had no idea what was really happening in this dark place.

The thought of going into this dark place repulsed her, yet she did not hesitate. It was her mission to find out why Heaven was losing souls and if the Adversary's cronies could give her information, so be it. She was not prepared to believe anything she was about to hear, at least not without a lot of proof.

Occasionally, though, she knew that even evil told the truth. If that truth was evil enough in itself.

#

"Uh, Mr. Hart, sir?"

Julius Hart looked up from his paperwork when the voice of his secretary rang out from the intercom.

"Yes, Margret. What is it?"

"Sir, there is ... well, there is an angel here to see you."

Hart smiled. None of the secretaries was very much bothered by the occasional demon or other monster walking the corridors of Wolfram & Hart, yet the appearance of an angel caused a minor panic, it seemed.

Guilty conscience? He would have to drive that out of them soon.

"Be so kind as to reschedule my appointments for the next hour, Margret. And lead our visitor to my office."

"Uh, of course, sir."

A minute later the door opened and his secretary ushered a very normal looking young woman into his office. The visitor was dressed in fine business clothing, the look on her face professionally neutral. She wouldn't have drawn much of a stare in any given office anywhere in the world, except for the fact that Wolfram & Hart's security wards had picked up on her not quite human nature.

Hart suspected that this creature could have fooled the wards, had she desired to do so.

He rose and offered her his hand, which caused her to stare at the outstretched appendage as if she was facing something very revolting. Instead she walked past him and took a seat in front of his desk. Hart sighed, walking back to his own chair. The main difference, he reminded himself, when dealing with demons on one side and angels on the other, was the fact that demons usually had more patience.

"I received your message." The angel said. "Talk!"

'Consider the point proven, your honor.' Hart thought, amused.

"Thank you for coming here." Hart said, sitting down. "I believe this is a matter that concerns both you and my client."

The angel just looked at him, waiting for him to say more.

"To the point then." He continued. "We know of your little problem, Ms. ... sorry, I did not catch your name."

"Call me Sariel, if you must!"

Hart raised an eyebrow, the only visible sign of what he felt. Sariel, sometimes called Metatron, was an alias for the voice of God, the Archangel that delivered the Allmighty's messages to Earth. Hart hadn't thought twice about facing an angel, truth to be told, but knowing he was facing one of the seven Archangels of the First Host did up the ante a bit.

"Sariel then." He nodded, his face never losing its neutral expression. "As I said, we know of your problem, Sariel. To speak clearly, which I think you prefer, we know that souls are disappearing from Heaven. This is not a state of affairs you are content with, I would think."

The angel's human mask did not move, but Hart imaged he could see a dangerous twinkle in her eyes. Concentrating, Hart expanded his awareness until he was able to catch a glimpse of her true form underneath that mask of flesh and blood.

He averted his eyes immediately, his innards burning even from that one short peek. Looking at an angel's true face was not something to be done lightly, even for someone who had bargained away his soul and conscience a long time ago. The angel was beautiful to behold, though, no doubt about that. Beautiful like Hiroshima. Only to be appreciated from a very safe distance.

"Why was Samuel Morning here?" Sariel asked out of the blue.

Hart quickly adjusted to this shift on conversation. It didn't surprise him that his opposite was aware of his client's visit a few days ago. Heaven and Hell always kept close tabs on each other.

"Client confidentiality, I'm sorry. Suffice to say, though, that your competition is not to blame for your current problems."

"And we can place so much trust in their words, I know."

Apparently the art of sarcasm had not been lost on angels, Hart mused.

"I think if they were to blame and wanted to hide their involvement, they would feign ignorance of the problem, wouldn't you think?"

Sariel said nothing, though her stare gave him the uncomfortable urge to cover behind his desk.

"Sariel, let us be frank with one another. The prospect of souls returning to the material plain is not something either of us is looking forward to. It would hurt you, it would lead to lots and lots of problems here on Earth, nobody is happy."

Her eyes narrowed as she studied him.

"It is happening to the Adversary as well, isn't it?" She said, her lips showing a shadow of a smile. "That is why Samuel Morning came here."

Hart's face gave nothing away. He didn't much mind the angel figuring out what was happening in Hell. If Wolfram & Hart's seers were able to gather that Heaven was losing souls, it was only a matter of time until Heaven discovered the same problem was bothering their opposites.

The very fact that his seers had so easily been able to gaze past the Ethereal Threshold bothered him a lot more, truth to be told. It didn't bode well for the dividing line between worlds.

"Again, client confidentiality. But I am authorized to say that our client also wants this matter resolved. It is bad for business. All our business."

"You are not honestly proposing some kind of cooperation between us, are you?"

Hart spread his hands. "I realize it will be difficult, seeing the history between you and our clients. I just propose a, as you say, pooling of information. Also our client does not want this to lead to any kind of hostility between the two of you. Again, that would be bad for business."

The angel studied him thoughtfully.

"You have sold your soul long ago, Julius Hart." She said, her voice causing a chill to run down Hart's back. "Do you find your arrangement with Samuel Morning satisfactory?"

"With all due respect, but my association with Mr. Morning is a private matter."

"Of course." Sariel rose from her chair. "I will talk to my brethren about this matter, Mr. Hart. We will let you know our decision."

Hart nodded, rising as well, though not offering his hand this time. Sariel turned to leave, only to stop in mid-motion to look back at him.

"Oh, and Mr. Hart."

"Yes?"

"I would appreciate it if you refrained from sending Valerian Bloodhounds as your messengers again. I find them rather disgusting."

With that she took something from beneath her suit jacket and threw it on his desk. Hart needed a moment to identify the object through the blood and gore that was clinging to it. The severed head of the bloodhound.

There was something scratched into its broad forehead. A series of numbers.

"Try my cell number instead." Sariel added, then left in a burst of light.

"Always with the dramatics." Hart sighed, contemplating the mess that covered his desk and spending a moment to wonder how exactly the angel had hidden the huge head inside her suit jacket.

#

"Nice one with the head." A voice greeted Sariel as she stepped outside. "I could have done with a few more subtle threats, though."

Gabriel was leaning against Wolfram & Hart's marble sign, a smug look on her face. Her human form appeared as a black-haired woman, dark curls hiding half her face from view. She was dressed in jeans and a leather jacket, her arms crossed in front of her chest.

"And what are you doing here?" Sariel asked, not really happy to see the Angel of Death here in the material world.

"Scouting the terrain." Gabriel said, sounding as if she might be looking for a nice place to eat at. "News from home, sis! If the current increase of disappearances keeps up we'll have to take matters into our own hand."

"What do you mean?"

"It means we can't allow ourselves to fall behind." Gabriel smiled a knife-edge smile. "If the matter is not resolved soon, Raguel will sound the trumpet."

Her eyes closed as a shiver of anticipation went through her.

"Hell will feel Heaven's fury, sister. There will no place for sinners to hide. Not even here on Earth."

Sariel could not quite suppress the cold chill that was running down her spine.


9 - Looking For Trouble in All the Right Places

#

NEWS-REPORT: Yesterday an as yet unexplained nuclear explosion devastated a large stretch of land in northern Siberia. Judging by the strength of the explosion, experts suspect the detonation of a tactical nuclear warhead to be the cause. Thankfully there are no reports of injured or dead, as the explosion occurred in an uninhabited area of Siberia and prevailing winds are expected to carry most of the radiation out to sea.

Preliminary investigations by the Russian military theorize that the warhead in question was probably a leftover from Red Army stocks that fell into the hand of Siberian separatists, who accidentally triggered it through amateur tinkering.

The investigation is ongoing.

Download from CNN.com, December 9, 1999

#

Siberia, November 2057 AD


"What a lovely place to spend your holidays." Faith complained, rubbing her hands together through the thick gloves she wore. Temperatures had barely reached zero at noon and now, after dusk, were dropping rapidly.

"I don't know what you're talking about, luv." Spike said, looking around the desolate landscape. "I think it has a certain rough charm. Sort of like the surface of the moon."

Faith glared at him, irked by the fact that the Vampire was not particularly bothered by the cold. He did wear a thick winter coat instead of his usual leather one, but only to keep the cold from freezing up his joints. Beyond that he was just fine.

Northern Siberia was a depressing enough place as it was, Faith thought, but this particular spot topped it still. A landscape that, nearly sixty years earlier, had been fused into glass by a nuclear explosion, now once again marred by weather and erosion. There was, of course, nothing left of the only building that had ever stood in this place. The retreat of Master Grigori had been vaporized in that same explosion the Russian authorities were still in the dark about.

Radiation, threatening only to the human members of their little party, was within safe limits if they didn't plan to stay too long. Faith, for her part, certainly didn't, though she feared nobody cared what she wanted.

"I can't believe we're here looking for this damn book." Faith muttered. "I mean, nuclear explosion, remember? Big fireball! Little bits of paper caught right in the fucking middle of it! We're looking for a bunch of free-floating molecules."

"Not necessarily, pet." Spike shook his head. "That bloody book wasn't exactly your garden-variety paperback edition. Lots of magic and stuff. Wouldn't surprise me if it wasn't even scratched."

It wouldn't surprise him at all, no. But Spike couldn't help but hope that they didn't find it. He had left it behind when they had fled from Grigori's retreat all these years ago exactly because he knew that the building and most of the landscape around it would soon be vaporized. The thing was just too dangerous for anyone to fool around with.

He was probably a hypocrite, he thought. After all, the book had worked the Restoration for them, one of the best things that had ever happened to this sorry world, unforeseen long-term consequences or not. Yet the rest of the spells it contained could not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. Or make that anyone's hands, Spike added. The short time the book had been in Grigori's possession had more than proved that to all their satisfaction.

And the current crisis only proved it again.

"Buggered if we find it," Spike muttered to himself, "buggered if we don't."

#

Angel sighed, tiredly rubbing his forehead. Even with the combined influence of Magitech and the Vampirium behind them it had taken nearly a week to convince the Russian government to let them excavate the site where the book had been lost all those years ago. He didn't want to know how much bribe money, string pulling, and threats it had taken to silence all the questions and get all the right authorizations.

It was necessary.

For sixty years he had hoped he'd seen the last of the Necronomicon Nocturnum. And now they had to find it, hoping that it might contain some inkling of how to repair the damage it had caused 150 years ago.

The damage he had caused.

"Stop torturing yourself!" Buffy said softly, brushing her hand through his hair.

They were sitting inside one of the mobile command vehicles they had dropped right in the middle of this desolation, essentially small houses on wheels. Their party contained over a hundred people, most of them Magitech employees, and in this climate they needed the best of equipment to get any work done.
Angel and Buffy sat inside the heated interior, looking at the outside through plastic windows. They didn't feel the cold in here, at least not the cold caused by the weather.

"This is my fault." Angel mumbled, not for the first time. "I should have known that invoking magics of such magnitude would have consequences. I should have learned more first, instead of just rushing in and unleashing a spell that will doom the world."

Buffy embraced him from behind, resting her head against his broad back, searching for words to say. It wasn't his fault. He couldn't have known what the Restoration would cause 150 years down the line. He had saved the world from a race of monsters. It wasn't fair that he had to deal with this now.

Life isn't fair, a cruel voice inside her head reminded her.

She also knew that nothing would make Angel stop blaming himself. His one tragic flaw was the fact that he always felt personally responsible for everything, even the things that were not his fault. She knew how long he had tortured himself over the deeds of his demon, even though he had been completely powerless to prevent them. Ever since giving all Vampires souls he blamed himself for every evil deed any given Vampire might perform.

It had taken her years to lighten him up even a bit. He had such a beautiful smile and she still felt that she saw it much too seldom. Spike had told her a lot about Angel's guilt trips in the century before they had met. They had lasted years, sometimes decades. Since they had been together those had occurred less and less and Buffy had almost been ready to believe that Angel had finally forgiven himself for all the real and imagined wrongs he felt responsible for.

And then something like this happened.

"We'll find the book!" Buffy told him confidently, pouring all her love and warmth into the link they shared through their blood. "We'll find it and fix this."

Even as she spoke the words, Buffy remembered the last time Angel had used the Necronomicon to fix a problem that had been caused by the book in the first place. Acathler, threatening to suck the world into hell. She had almost lost Angel on that day, the book demanding a terrible price for his using it.

Buffy prayed history wouldn't repeat itself.

"I hope you are right." Angel sighed. Feeling his beloved so close to him, feeling her hero's heart beat as if it was his own, it was almost enough to dispel the dark clouds he felt hovering around him. She was his anchor, his daylight. The words he had told her during their binding ceremony 55 years ago were every bit as true today as they were then.

He felt her confidence that he would make it right again, that they would make it trough this together, just like they always did. The Watchers, Grigori, Giles' death, Golgotha, losing her mother, all the large and small crises they had survived together.

He wanted to believe her.

"You have barely slept this last week." Buffy told him. "Lie down for an hour or so at least. I'll make sure everything goes smoothly outside."

Angel nodded, feeling the tiredness in every single bone. He doubted he could sleep, but even a little lie down would probably do him good. Slouching toward the tiny sleeping compartments of the command vehicle, he was barely past the door when he collapsed on the small bed.

God, he was tired.

"A pretty little thing." A voice started him. "You've done nicely for yourself, Liam!"

Angel surged back to his feet. A tall, blonde man stood in one corner of the narrow room, casually leaning against the wall. Angel knew that he hadn't been there a moment ago.

"Who are you?" Angel gell into a fighting pose without conscious effort.

"Is that any way to greet an old friend?" The stranger asked, pushing away from the wall. He was dressed in a black suit and red shirt, his clear blue eyes not even flinching when Angel shifted into Vampire face.

"I don't know you." Angel growled.

"You don't remember. There's a difference." He made a short bow. "Samuel Morning. At your service."

Angel froze. Samuel Morning. Giles had mentioned that name when he talked about Hell.

Which meant that this man was not a man at all.

"What do you want?" Angel didn't drop his guarded posture.

"Just chat a bit." He smiled. "About old times."

Morning stopped a few steps away from Angel, still smiling.

"We were really mad at you, you know? For a time, I mean. This whole business with a several thousand of our precious souls disappearing all at once thanks to your little miracle working, it really irked a few important people. On both sides."

"Is that supposed to bother me?" Angel asked.

"Not really, I guess. We didn't mind much, truth to be told. It was mostly a matter of principle. I mean, losing a few thousand souls doesn't really bother us. That's just small change in the great scheme of things."

The smile vanished from his face. "What is happening now, though, is not. Not nearly."

Something about this false man made the hairs on Angel's neck stand up. The demon inside him howled with pleasure at the stench of pure evil this creature gave off. There was something else, though. Some nagging feeling of familiarity that he couldn't place.

"If you are here to tell me that we need to do something about this, you're a bit late." Angel said. "We are already doing something."

"Yes." Morning nodded, making a show of looking around. "Quite an operation you have dropped down here in the middle of nowhere. You are looking for that book. I hope you find it soon, Liam. Truth to be told we were quite glad when the book was buried during that explosion sixty years ago. It has caused enough of a ruckus as it is."

"Now we need it, though."

"Indeed we do."

Morning's smile returned.

"Of course you realize, Liam, that drastic measures might be required this time around. I mean, it was the forced removal of several thousand souls from the ethereal dimensions that has caused this dilemma in the first place. You know what might be necessary to put it right again, don't you?"

Angel closed his eyes. He had spent quite some time thinking about this possibility these last few days.

"I know, yes."

"Good!" Morning said brightly. "I know you will do the right thing, Liam. That's the kind of guy you are. Or should I say, the kind of guy you have become?"

"What do you mean?"

"Liam, my boy," Morning shook his head, "I thought you'd be smart enough to figure this out on your own. I mean, let's not kid ourselves here! What do you think happened to you in the 150 years between your death and the Gypsy curse?"

He walked closer, a cruel smile on his lips that made Angel take a step back.

"You were a no-good drunken bastard, Liam. You broke a dozen girls' hearts without a second thought. You brawled in bars, you wasted your life from beginning to end, never had a single unselfish thought in your entire existence. Where did you think someone like that would go when he dies?"

Something deep inside Angel resonated with Morning's words. Emotions welled up from deep within, feelings that had no connection to any kind of actual memory or thought, rooted not in the recollections of the demon or any kind of physical experience. Feelings of pain and dread unlike anything he had ever felt before.

Or had he?

"I guess I'll be seeing you soon, then." Morning said, vanishing a moment later.

The faint smell of sulfur that remained behind sent a shiver down Angel's spine.



10 - Dead Men Walking

#

NEWSFLASH: We are receiving worldwide reports of growing ethereal activity. Sightings of ghosts and poltergeists have increased by several thousand percent with no sign of subsiding anytime soon. A press statement by Magitech Research Division has told of an as yet unspecified crisis in the ethereal realm, which is spilling over onto the Earth plain.

Military forces in the United States and the European Union have been put on alert, as there are suspicions this might be a similar occurrence to the Golgotha Event of 2038 AD (see separate reference), where a major demon manifested in New York City.

The authorities advise all citizens to stay calm until more information is available.

Download from Global News Network Omninet, November 16, 2057

#

In London James Gregory, age 81, was visited by his wife, whom he had murdered thirty years earlier. The police had never been able to prove anything, but that didn't save Gregor from the heart attack that struck him down when he saw her face again.

In Frankfurt Norbert Haas strolled across the cemetery to visit his parents' graves, as he did once a month, and had a thirty-minute conversation with a man whose final resting place he had passed on his way in. The man finally took his leave, promising Haas to say hi to his parents.

A Dutch adventurer unearthed a long-lost pirate treasure from the bottom of the Mexican Gulf, telling the press that he had been told where to find it by a ghost with an eye patch and a wooden leg over a bottle of beer.

A biker gang went marauding through downtown Los Angeles, scaring people off the streets even though the bikers tended to just pass through everyone they tried to run over. Their intangibility didn't seem to curb the bikers' enthusiasm, though, and they left a trail of intense cold in their wake, as well as a few people who died from sheer fright.

Helmut Mueller, president of the European Union, tried to call his American counterpart to discuss possible actions to be taken against the increasing chaos. President Chase, though, was busy talking shop with Hillary Clinton, who had made an unannounced appearance in the Oval Office after having died in that very room about forty years earlier.

For most of the human race, the situation seemed to hover somewhere between frightening and just plain ridiculous. The dead returned in droves, but apart from that very unsettling fact everything seemed to stay pretty quiet.

For now.

#

Willow watched with a heavy heart as security guards led the screaming woman towards the medical department. She shouldn't have taken a risk like that. Helena had been one of her best clairvoyants and she had volunteered to try and peer beyond the Ethereal Threshold. They needed to know how many more souls were waiting there, how many more would pour through the widening cracks in the Threshold like so much rainwater through a leaky roof.

Of course they had Giles, a ghost who could pass through the Threshold and just report back to them, but there had been little trace of the Watcher since he had told them everything he knew about the crisis. Buffy had said he went back into the ethereal realm for more information and, Willow thought with a sad laugh, he might just be caught up in the traffic on the way back here.

So they had to try it another way. Never before had any clairvoyant managed to peer beyond the Threshold, though many had tried. But never before in recorded history had the barrier between the living and the dead been this shaky, either. Some of her stronger psychics had already received impressions of something building beyond the veil, but none of them was strong enough to consciously look at it.

Except for Helena. She had broken through, looked beyond it, and gone insane.

"Let me know if you get anything intelligible out of her." Willow told the doctor. "And do whatever you can for her! Money isn't a consideration, understood?"

The doctor nodded, following his patient out the door. Willow returned to her office, taking small, tired steps. Arriving there, she dropped heavily into her seat, trying to remember the last time she had slept. Must have been a few years ago, she resolved.

"You have to take things a little easier." Sally reprimanded her as she walked in the door. Willow's familiar moved with pure feline grace, her long tail standing upright in an expression of irritation. "I don't want to see you work yourself into an early grave."

"I can't rest now, Sally!" Willow said, trying to sound resolute, but not quite getting there. "Research Department is working on a spell to maybe stabilize the Threshold for a time and I need to be there the moment they have it finished. We are desperately short on experienced witches right now and will need my power."

A subdivision of Magitech was the world's largest agency for freelance witches and right now they were bombarded with calls, everyone hoping that a witch might be able to exorcise the ghosts that kept appearing everywhere. Willow couldn't exactly order the freelancers to stay in and wait for something that might come up, not with so many people willing to pay for their skills. As a result money was flowing in like crazy, but it had left Willow short of talent for the moment.

"They'll call the second they find anything." Sally said, moving beside her. "And I promise to wake you up as soon as they do. You have to rest."

"No, I ..." Willow began, but too slow. Sally had already gathered her into a hug and started purring so intensely that Willow feared it would vibrate the bones right out of her. She felt herself melting into the incredibly soft fur of her familiar, every muscle relaxing, her eyelids dropping. Her entire body turned into so much mush under Sally's ministrations.

"You're fighting unfair!" She mumbled, already half asleep.

"Always!" Sally murmured, stroking Willow's hair back as the witch fell asleep in her arms.

Rising back to her feet with Willow securely cradled against her, Sally walked into the small bedchamber next to the office, depositing her precious cargo on the soft sheets. She would make Willow take care of herself even if she had to tie the witch to the bed in order to do it. The familiar had already lost one of her charges. She would not lose the other as well.

Sally sighed, remembering Tara. Witches did not choose their familiars, it was the other way around. Both Tara and Willow had been surprised by Sally's unannounced appearance in their lives, but had grown used to it quickly. The bond between them had been strong, Sally loving the two women with all her strength, vowing to always protect them from harm.

Until Tara had been taken from them by a cruel accident.

"I'll keep you safe, Willow." Sally whispered to the sleeping witch. "I swear I will."

Returning to the office, she found that Willow's phone was blinking.

"Office of Mrs. Rosenberg," she picked up the call, "what can I do for you?"

A holographic image flickered into being over the desk, Buffy's face looking down on Sally.

"Hi, Sally! Is Will around?"

"I just put her to bed. Is it important?" She knew that, despite her youthful appearance, Buffy was Willow's oldest and dearest friend. If Buffy said it was necessary to wake Willow, then she would. Grudgingly.

"No, let her sleep!" Buffy shook her head. "Just wanted to bring her up to date. Angel had a visitor of the creepy kind a few minutes ago. Apparently Hell has figured out that this mess was caused by the Necronomicon."

Sally nodded, being familiar with the matter at hand and the major players involved. Didn't get much more major than this, she thought.

"Is he all right?"

"Yeah. Apparently they just talked. He's freaked, though, and that takes some doing, let me tell you."

"I have some news as well." Sally added. "Willow tried to have one of our psychics look beyond the Threshold to figure out what's happening on the other side. I'm afraid it wasn't exactly a success."

"Good news all over." Buffy mumbled. "Giles hasn't come back either, so we're in the dark. Just great." She paused to sigh deeply. "Okay, I better get back to work. Keep an eye on Willow for me, okay?"

"Always!"

Buffy was about to sign off when something seemed to attract her attention. For a moment she conversed with someone outside the phone's visual pickup.

"What?" Sally heard her ask. "Hold on a sec!"

Buffy disappeared from view, several excited voices rising in the background. Sally was getting worried, even debating to wake up Willow, when Buffy returned a minute later.

"Sally! Do me a favor, okay? Look out the window and tell me what you see!"

"Look out the window? What ...?"

"Just do it, please!"

Confused, Sally nevertheless went over to the window and looked outside. It was a late morning here in California, almost all the way around the world from where Buffy was calling. Sally couldn't image what she was supposed to see here that would get Buffy into such an uproar.

Looking down from the top floor office, she saw only the usual bustle of people down on the streets. Magitech Central, a few miles outside Los Angeles, was a sprawling complex, almost a small city in itself, and people were moving all over, going about their business.

No, Sally realized after a moment, they weren't. Most of them weren't moving around at the moment. In fact pretty much everyone she could see seemed rooted in place, staring upward.

"Oh shit!" Sally muttered, looking upwards herself.

The sky above them had changed. It was still the same steely blue it always was here in California, but now that blue was overlaid with something else. It was as if the sky itself had turned transparent, a blue-tinted window, behind which something moved.

Something like a billion or more twinkling stars.

"Do you see it, too, Sally?" Buffy's voice came from the desk, hailing from the other side of the world. "Are you seeing that, too?"

#

In a padded cell several floors below, the mad clairvoyant Helena laughed hysterically. "They're coming! They're coming! All of them! They're coming here!"

#

Sariel and Gabriel looked up from where they walked in the streets of Los Angeles, taking in the new appearance of the sky.

"We might have less time than we thought." The Messenger muttered.

"Gee, you think?" The Angel of Death replied, looking skywards. Though this situation looked anything but good, there was a gleam of anticipation in her dark eyes.



11 - Sorry I'm Late, But Traffic Was Murder

#

NEWSFLASH: We are experiencing a worldwide phenomenon. The sky over the entire planet seems to have been blanketed with something Magitech Research Division calls a transdimensional interface. The phenomenon is purely visual so far, probing aircraft have been unable to make any kind of physical contact with the moving objects visible in our skies. Also it seems to have no fixed position in space, as we have similar reports coming in from the orbital stations and the lunar colony.

Military forces worldwide are on full alert now and preparations are made to repel any kind of otherdimensional invasion (see separate reference 'Golgotha Event'). It is yet to be determined whether this phenomenon is in any way connected to the mass appearance of ghosts these past two weeks.

The authorities advise all citizens to stay calm until more information is available.


Download from Global News Network Omninet, November 17, 2057

#

"I believe we are facing a problem, Mr. Giles."

"I believe you are correct, Mr. Pryce."

The two Watchers floated in empty space, though it bore no relation to the empty vacuum encountered in the physical realm, and looked at their intended destination.

Not only theirs, as it turned out.

"There are a lot of them." Kendra said.

The Ethereal Threshold loomed directly before them, a silvery barrier that stretched on for eternity in all directions. Giles remembered looking at it a hundred times before, remembered thinking that it looked to him like the surface of a quiet lake, somewhere in the middle of a beautiful forest. On occasion he would see a small part of the surface ripple as the glowing star of a soul burst through it, making its way from the material world into the afterlife.

Those were memories, though. The quiet lake was no more and they were looking at a storm-tossed ocean. The silvery surface rippled and churned wherever they looked, rending and tearing in some spots, only to flow together again a second later.

A huge, pulsing mass of bright lights was hovering directly above the angry surface, millions upon millions of them like so many hungry insects about to descend on a helpless prey. As Giles watched he saw a rend appear in the Threshold, a gap opening in the barrier between dimensions, and immediately thousands of souls dove for the opening, elbowing their way past others in their desperate attempt to get through.

When the rend closed scant seconds later a few dozen or so of them had made it through. The others returned to hovering, waiting for a new opening.

"A traffic jam in the afterlife." Wesley shook his head. "Who would have thought."

Giles looked at his two companions, thinking back to the events of the past week. After delivering his warning to Buffy and Angel, Giles had returned past the Threshold, hoping to gather more information about the developments on this side of the fence. Heaven and Hell would not stand idly by as their souls disappeared and he had to know what they intended to do about it.

He knew that Kendra had wanted to visit her former Watcher, Wesley, during their trip to the material plain. Giles was familiar with the tragic history between the two and understood why Kendra felt the need to speak with Wesley one final time.

What he had not expected was that, upon her return to his side, Kendra would bring Wesley along.

"I often wondered what it would feel like to be dead." Wesley said as they observed. "I certainly never expected anything like this."

Giles nodded, understanding him only to perfectly. The afterlife had certainly not been what he had expected the first time he had crossed the Threshold. Though he had wielded the cross for years in his battle against Vampires, Giles hadn't been much of a Christian in life, or a firm follower in any other kind of religion for that matter. When he had died, he had more or less resolved to just take whatever he found on the other side at face value, voiding himself of most expectations.

That had probably been his salvation.

Looking back to where they had just come from - 'back' being a completely random direction in this place - he could see the angry glare of the realms they had left behind just minutes ago.

The dimension known as Hell glowed a deep crimson, pulsing with the fires of damnation. Even from here he imagined he could hear the screams of those still imprisoned there, though their number was decreasing rapidly. What he could hear for certain was the furious growling of the demons, unlike any demons he had ever encountered in the material world, who were not happy with the current situation.

Heaven did not look much different from this vantage point, truth to be told. The light of the trinity star cast its glare over a world of flashing steel and winged warriors preparing for battle. A call to arms had reverberated between the worlds and Heaven was arming itself for war, just like Hell.

The war to end all wars, Giles thought ironically. So often had that phrase been used. This time it could actually come true, for there would be nothing left afterwards.

"I am amazed that we can see into both Heaven and Hell from here, Mr. Giles." Wesley said. "I would have thought these two realms to be more ... distant from one another."

"They normally are." Kendra explained to him. "But no longer."

"The Restoration spell did more than damage the Threshold." Giles continued. "The power of the Necronomicon Nocturnum cut a bloody swath through a number of different dimensions to reach all the souls it called back to Earth. Heaven, Hell, a number of other places that are normally as separate from each other as the material world is from here. They are all coming closer together."

"There is more than Heaven and Hell over here?" Wesley asked.

"Much more." Kendra said, smiling. "We don't know how many. Probably too many for anyone to count."

Wesley, having seen some impressions of both Heaven and Hell in the short time he had been dead - which was a concept he still had to get used to - had but one answer to that revelation.

"Thank God!" He mumbled.

"We have to go through the Threshold once more." Giles brought them back to the matter at hand. "We have to warn Buffy and the others of what is happening here."

"What can we do?" Wesley asked, looking at the mass of souls before them. "Stand in line?"

"Even with the rapid breakdown of the Threshold that would be taking too long. By the time we got through it might be too late."

Giles cursed himself for not taking this into consideration. When Kendra and he had first crossed over to warn Buffy it had been a perilous undertaking. The Threshold had still been solid then, the rends far and few between, and the news that it was breaking down known but to few.

He hadn't expected things to deteriorate this quickly. Though the actual crossover would be much easier now, getting there was a whole new problem. Apparently the news had spread rapidly and now everyone wanted to go through. Giles gave a sad chuckle. Considering that a large part of these souls hailed from Heaven and Hell, could he really blame them?

"There must be a way to get past them." Kendra said, old fighting instincts still very much alive inside of her. "Maybe there is some method of predicting where the next rend in the Threshold will appear."

"Considering that a few million souls are probably trying to figure out the same thing," Wesley said, "this might not be the solution we should put our hopes on."

A sound attracted Giles' attention. Not a sound as such, seeing as he had none of the physical senses left, but something that registered with whatever senses he had now. It appeared like a sound to him, though.

A sound like the beating of mighty wings.

"Look!" He pointed for the others.

They rose from the steel city of Heaven like great birds of prey, their wings beating at the void. There was a dozen of them, all dressed in battle armor, carrying great swords of fire. War cries echoed as they took flight.

Coming right toward the Threshold.

"Seraphim warriors." Kendra identified them. "Advance scouts for the main host."

The angels quickly closed the distance, the souls parting before them like the sea. These were the ones who had imprisoned them for so long, who tried to keep them away from where they wanted to go.

The souls feared the angels.

"They are going to cross the Threshold!" Giles called out to the others.

"Are they ... is this the start of the war?" Wesley asked.

"Unlikely. They will probably just scout the terrain and prepare for the actual battle."

The twelve angels dove toward the Threshold, where a rent was appearing even now.

"There is our chance!" Giles told the others and, without waiting for them to reply, followed the advancing angels as fast as he could.

"If they notice us," Kendra told him as she caught up, "they will probably not be pleased."

"That's a risk we have to take!"

Wesley was half a step behind them as they flew in the wake of the angels, the winged warriors either not aware of their presence or just not bothered by it. The Threshold loomed before them, the silvery surface churning angrily. The rend was like a wide, gaping wound. Giles imagined he could hear the Threshold screaming in pain.

Then they were through.

#

"I think we should ..." Willow started, only to be startled into silence when three shapes suddenly materialized right in front of her.

"We made it!" Wesley announced unnecessarily.

"Wesley?" Buffy, Angel, and Willow all asked at once.

Giles swept some imaginary dust from the shoulders of his equally imaginary suit.

"I believe we have some news to bring you." He announced to the people present.

"No kidding." Faith mumbled.



12 - Better to Fight in Heaven Than Die on Earth

#

STEPPING DISK: A new form of magical teleportation technology, first developed by Magitech's late founder Tara Rosenberg. In the past magical teleportation has proved very unreliable, especially in the preciseness of the arrival coordinates. The Stepping Disk technology will revolutionize mass transportation, as large volumes of goods and/or people can now be transported to pre-calculated location coordinates with a margin of error that is less than one meter.

While Stepping Disks will not completely replace traditional methods of transportation, due to their large requirements of both electrical and magical energy, they offer a valid and safe means of transportation for time-sensitive deliveries.


Exert from a Magitech Inc. advertisement brochure, May 2057

#

"So they will be going to war?" Angel asked, hoping against hope that he had somehow managed to misunderstand what Giles and Wesley had just told them.

"Heaven is preparing as we speak." Giles nodded. "Hell will no doubt respond in kind."

Silence had settled over the gathering like a heavy blanket. Angel and Buffy, along with Faith and Spike, had just returned from Siberia. The excavation was in full progress, but so far there was no sign of the Necronomicon Nocturnum. And with the new trouble brewing up in the sky they felt that they were needed elsewhere.

They had flown halfway around the world and it was everywhere. Millions upon millions of glowing lights filled the skies from horizon to horizon, brighter than all the stars in the heavens combined. Souls. A virtual ocean of souls just waiting to rain down upon the Earth once the barrier that kept them back finally fell.

"We have woven some spells," Willow explained tiredly, "that we hope will stabilize the Threshold for a little while at least. Considering the magnitude of this, though, I doubt it can really last."

"The Threshold is ripping into pieces." Giles told them. "The only question right now is whether Heaven will go to war against Hell before that happens or after. From what we have seen on the other side, I fear it will be the former."

Buffy shook her head. "I still can't believe this. I mean, we're talking about Heaven here. Aren't they supposed to be the good guys? What about, you know, God? Why isn't he doing something about this?"

Giles smiled sadly. "I am afraid the Heaven we are talking about, Buffy, is not the beautiful place of hereafter that we've heard about in Sunday school. Rather it is the Revelation kind. Plagues, stars falling from the heavens, oceans boiling, this is what we are talking about."

The interior of the room was darkened to the day outside, a necessary procedure with two Vampires present, and in the twilight Giles' ghostly appearance looked every bit as tired and worn out as Willow.

"And I'm afraid that, if there is a God of any kind to be found, he is not in Heaven. Or any other place I ever visited."

"We can not count on divine intervention to save us." Kendra announced. "We must do something ourselves."

"Darla is supervising the search for the Necronomicon in Siberia." Angel paced the length of the room. "Until it is found, I don't know what else we can do. Willow?"

The witch looked up from where she had almost fallen asleep again, Sally hovering around her like an overzealous mother.

"I don't know what other options we might try, magical-wise. My best people are working around the clock, trying to find some other way to stabilize the Threshold. We are also working on some spell that we hope will drive disembodied souls back into the afterlife, but even that would only be a temporary measure if they could just come back anytime it pleases them."

Angel looked at the tired group of warriors assembled here. He had gone through hell with these people by his side. Spike, Faith, Willow, Giles, Wesley and, most important of them all, Buffy. He didn't have many fond memories of Kendra, but knew her to be a capable warrior. Or at least she had been in life.

Of all his friends present here today, three were already dead. Willow, no matter that she had grown into one of the world's most powerful witches, was old and tired. Faith was keeping up well thanks to her advanced healing powers, but the years had marked her as well. Only the immortals among them looked unchanged and that was purely physical.

For a moment he wondered why he had never made an effort to surround himself with new mortal friends. Back during the time when he had first met Buffy there had been many of them. Cordelia, Doyle, Wesley, Kate, Willow, Tara, Giles, Buffy, Faith, all of them mortals. But now that old circle of friends was growing smaller almost every year and there was no one new to replace them.

Angel knew the answer to that question, of course. It was painful to see those friends slip away. So very painful. Looking over at Buffy, he remembered how hard she had cried when Giles had died. Or her mother. He remembered his own tears upon Cordelia's death. Or when Kate had been killed.

Was it any wonder they were not anxious to make new friends among the mortals?

Shaking himself out of his brooding, Angel forced his thoughts back to the matter at hand.

"Giles! What can we expect to happen if Heaven and Hell actually go to war over this?" Buffy asked her Watcher.

Giles took off his glasses and cleaned them, a gesture he realized was completely futile considering his state of being, but one he found calming nevertheless.

"Armageddon, I fear. Despite their own ethereal nature, a war between Heaven and Hell will no doubt spill over into the material world, especially with the Threshold deteriorating. I must admit that I have no idea as to the extent of the power these warriors can unleash, but I have little doubt it will be ... well, apocalyptic in scope."

"I fear he is right." Wesley said. Angel had still not completely overcome the shock of seeing his old friend here, dead. He hadn't even heard of Wesley's demise from the retirement home before his ghost turned up here in the company of Giles and Kendra. Looking at how the latter stood close to her former Watcher, though, it appeared that Wesley had finally been able to lay his ghosts to rest, no pun intended.

"What little I have seen on the other side," Wesley continued, "only leads to one conclusion. A war between these two powers will be a thousand times worse than the coming of Golgotha was. We could be facing a catastrophe of truly biblical scale."

Angel nodded, remembering their war against the greater demon. Back then they had won, barely, and only by bringing together a virtual army of warriors. He wondered if all the warriors in the world would be enough this time around.

"I talked to President Chase on the flight back from Siberia." Angel said.

"And how is Cordy's little toddler today?" Spike asked.

"The little toddler is 53 years old, remember? And the president of the United States."

"I still have that photograph where he nabbed Spike's coat and got mud all over it." Faith remembered with a grin.

"Don't remind me!" The bleached Vampire groaned.

"What did he say?" Buffy asked, smiling at Spike and Faith despite herself. They all needed a little lightening up right now.

"Well, after he got through telling me what a smart woman Hillary was, he said that pretty much every military force on the planet is on alert. I gave him all the information we have right now. He isn't exactly thrilled about facing an invasion from Heaven or Hell. Or both."

"Who would have guessed?"

"Our chances of facing such an assault, should it come to pass, are pretty much nil." Giles called everyone back to the matter at hand. "Our best shot is to make sure that it doesn't come to that."

"Oh, and how are we gonna do that?" Spike asked, throwing his hands in the air. "Knock on the pearly gates and ask politely not to launch Armageddon because it wouldn't fit our schedule?"

Seeing Giles' thoughtful expression quickly wiped the sarcastic smile from Spike's face.

"That was meant to be a joke, man."

"It just might be worth a shot." Angel mused. "I doubt either of them wants to fight a war that will destroy everything. We are looking for the Necronomicon to restore things to order. If we can just convince them to be patient until we find it ..."

"You're out of your bloody mind!" Spike yelled. "I've seen you pull a lot of hair-brained stunts these past two centuries, mate, but this has got to be the stupidest idea you ever had."

"Besides," Faith interjected, "the only guys we could send on this little diplomatic mission would be you three." She pointed at Giles, Wesley, and Kendra. "And somehow I doubt that either Heaven or Hell would be willing to listen to a bunch of dead guys, seeing as all the dead are busy getting the hell out of Dodge at the moment."

"She is right." Giles said. "Neither side would listen to us. It would have to be one of you. Someone who is still alive."

Buffy stared at her Watcher. "You are saying what I think you're saying?"

Giles nodded.

"Is that even possible?" Willow asked. "I mean, we are talking about corporeal beings travelling to a non-corporeal dimension. I don't think I can even begin to grasp the necessary mathematics for this."

"Under normal circumstances, no, it wouldn't be possible." Wesley mused. "But from what we have seen, both here and on the other side, the dimensions are already starting to overlap. It might just bend physics enough to allow ..."

"Are you all nuts?" Spike yelled again. "We are talking about taking a bloody trip to bloody Heaven. Or Hell. Or whatever."

"Yes, we are." Angel said. "The question is, how do we get there?"

Wesley walked over to Willow's desk, smiling regretfully as the aura of cold he projected caused goosebumps to appear on the old witch's skin.

"Willow, I'm afraid I didn't keep myself completely up to date on matters. I .. I heard about Tara, though. My condolences."

"Thanks you." Willow whispered, for a moment considering the irony of a dead man offering his condolences to someone alive.

"I was wondering, though," he continued, "did Tara ever manage to complete her work on the Stepping Disks?"

"What? Yes, I mean ... we haven't gone into actual production yet because of the legal problems, but we have several working prototypes here. Are you thinking ..."

"I am." Wesley nodded.


TO BE CONTINUED

13 - I Will Always Remember You

#

CHAMBERLAIN, DARLA: Born 1588 in Wilshire, England. Turned into a Vampire in 1609 in British Virginia, America. Her Sire was the notorious Vampire Master Heinrich Nest. Darla became the Sire of Angelus (see separate entry) in 1753. After the Restoration of Souls she was by Angelus' side in his quest to help Vampires come to terms with their new state of being. Darla took over the leadership of the Vampirium after the death of Vampire Master Nicolai Alexandre Grigori and is the current CEO of the Vampirium Holding Company (commonly called 'Deadman Inc.').


Exert from 'An Inside Look at Vampire Society', written by Rupert Giles, first published in 2023 AD.

#


Darla looked across the email Angel had sent her, explaining in brief details what they knew and intended to do about it. The entire thing sounded more like a part from some kind of science fiction novel, Darla thought with a wry smile. Then again, with the plains of Siberia lit by the lights of a million and more souls day and night, did it really sound so strange?

Angel wanted to go to Hell, while Buffy would make a trip to Heaven. It figured that her childe would not want his mate to be the one who had to go to the infernal place, though from what Wesley and Giles had told them she wasn't sure that Heaven was in any way a better place.

Heaven and Hell. Darla had thought a lot about these two topics ever since this crisis had begun. She had been raised a good Christian, despite her later career choice, and the existence of the demonic only seemed to confirm her religious beliefs. After the return of her soul she had spent many a day, sometimes months and years, pondering whether a place of eternal damnation might exists and, if yes, whether her place was there.

Now, ever since Angel had been visited by the creature called Samuel Morning, she found herself wondering about the nearly 300 years she had been a soulless demon. Where had her soul been? She had been a whore in life, by the standards of her time she should certainly have gone to Hell. She had never hurt anyone, never stolen, never killed, but did that mean she had been good? Good enough to avoid Hell?

She didn't know. She just didn't know.

Darla left the command trailer and looked out across the desolate landscape. Siberia wasn't anyone's idea of a vacation spot, that was for sure. Especially this place, where Nikolai Grigori had found his end so many years ago. Darla remembered the day he had tried to reverse the Restoration, send all their souls back where they came from, turn them back into soulless demons.

Had he succeeded, would this crisis have been avoided?

Without warning the Siberian cold around her grew colder still and Darla knew she wasn't alone anymore.

"Hello, Darla." Giles' voice called out from behind her.

"Anything new?" She asked him without turning around.

The apparition slowly drifted into her field of vision, Giles' feet never touching the ground. It was strange to see him in his tweed suit here, where the cold drove even the Vampires to wear thick coats or risk freezing up. Stranger still to see the landscape right through him.

"Willow and her staff will need some time to prepare the Stepping Disks." Giles said, his voice even and neutral. "Wesley's plan might just work. We will know in about a day or so."

Darla nodded. "Why are you here? I'll let Angel know the moment we find the book."

"Angel didn't send me here."

For the first time she met his eyes. Giles had been dead for over thirty years, but she still remembered his eyes. They hadn't changed.

"I wanted to talk to you, Darla." He continued. "Tomorrow I will be going to Heaven along with Buffy, so this might be my last chance."

"Talk about what?" She looked away from him again.

Giles took off his glasses. "I know my unexpected return wasn't exactly easy for any of you. I ... I had the opportunity to talk about a few things with Buffy. Some things that needed saying, things we should have said while I was alive. I ... I hoped we could do the same."

"Talk about what?" Darla asked, wrapping her arms around herself. "We have nothing to talk about."

"Really?"

Memories assaulted Darla, memories of sitting beside Giles' bed in the hospital, watching him waste away right before her eyes. She remembered tears, lots of them, most of them hailing from Buffy's eyes, but some from her own as well.

"It was funny, you know?" Darla said. "All these decades ago, when Buffy was all torn up about whether to become an immortal or not, I gave her this great speech on the pros and cons of eternal life. Then she asked me whether I ever considered offering it to you."

Looking up to meet Giles' eyes once more, Darla continued. "I told her no. I told her I was very fond of you, but not enough for eternity."

Giles nodded, understanding. "What we shared wasn't the kind of soul-deep love that some other people we know of have. But I wouldn't trade the years we had for anything."

"It hurt to let you go." Darla whispered, hugging herself tighter. "It hurt so much that I forgot all about my great speech and offered you immortality. I didn't want to lose you."

Giles gave her a smile. "I was tempted by your offer, Darla. Very much so, in fact."

"Then why didn't you take me up on it?"

"I'm not sure I can explain." Giles said, looking out at the desolation. "I just ... it wouldn't have been right for me. I had lived a long and good life, Darla. I was ... I guess you could say I was ready to go on."

Darla closed her eyes, allowing the cold of his presence to wash over her.

"I loved you, Rupert." She said after a moment. "I think you were the first man I ever really loved. There was no one in my life as human and after the return of my soul I needed a century to figure out that I wasn't in love with Angel, at least not like that. Then you came along."

She reached out to touch him, though there was nothing but cold air where his flesh should have been.

"I miss you, Rupert. There have been others these past 30 years, but I never forgot you. I never will."

"Neither will I." He smiled at her.

There was silence between them for a long moment until Darla spoke again.

"Rupert, do you think ... Samuel Morning told Angel that his soul was ..."

"I know." Giles nodded. "Considering who and what he is, though, I wouldn't put too much faith in his words."

"I can't help it, Rupert. I was a demon for 300 years, my soul gone on to wherever it went. What if ... what if I was in hell?"

"So what if you were?" Giles asked calmly. "Neither you nor anyone else who had his soul returned remembers what happened to them during that time. It doesn't matter, because you are not the people you were before you became Vampires."

"Do you really think it's that easy?"

Giles came closer, a cold breeze brushing over Darla's cheek as his hand moved to caress her.

"I know that there are better places than Heaven and Hell out there, Darla. I know that a person as wonderful as you are doesn't have a place in those two realms. Heaven and Hell are not the same as good and evil, not even close. Just remember that. And the only standard you will be judged by is your own."

Darla looked up into the sky, where millions of souls were hovering like so many hungry bees. Maybe it was just her imagination, but they appeared to be more solid, more real than they were yesterday.

"What standard were they judged by?" Darla asked Giles. "What frightens them so that they are trying so hard to get back here?"

"It is a matter of faith, Darla." Giles sighed, looking up as well. "Somewhere deep inside all these poor souls believed that they deserved Hell. Or Heaven. Only the reality didn't exactly live up to their expectations, I fear."

"What about you? Where did you go?"

Giles smiled.

"A good place, Darla. With neither demons nor angels to worry about."

"You think I might get to that place one day myself?"

He moved his arm across her shoulders, a cool wind surrounding her like an icy lover's touch.

"I would like to welcome you there."

Together the Vampire and the ghost watched the soul-filled skies.