14 - All Slayers Go to Heaven

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PAN-DIMENSIONAL MODEL: This theoretic model of the known universe describes the various known dimensions, which are the Earth plain and the 47 so-called demon dimensions that are charted to various degrees. The dimensions are stacked on top of one another as layers in a larger plain of existence, much like the various floors of a large building.

Also described are the so-called between places, buffer zones between the dimensions, which are essentially not places at all but rather a complete absence of space. It is theorized that the Ethereal Threshold is, in fact, also a between place, though it does not simply separate different spatial dimensions but also different states of existence, and that the Ethereal Dimensions are stacked in a similar way as the physical plains.

Further theories suggest that, if the Ethereal Dimensions exist beyond the Pan-Dimensional Model of the physical dimensions, that other, even more different and remote plains of existence might exist beyond them.


Exert from 'A study of space and dimensions' by Jonathan Walsh, published at Humboldt University, 2041 AD.

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There was a strange feeling of displacement, as if someone had removed her body and submerged whatever remained of her in warm water. She felt herself drifting, slowly moving in a stream of searing kisses. Going through the Stepping Disk had caused sensations like someone running his hands up and down her body, taking special care to touch all the special areas that only Angel knew.

These Stepping Disks are going to be a hit, she thought dreamily.

"Buffy?" She heard Giles' voice, sounding every bit as disembodied as she felt. He was somewhere close at hand, but she didn't know how to open her eyes. Did she still have eyes?

"I imagine it must be quite disorienting at first." Her Watcher lectured. "Try to concentrate on yourself, Buffy. You are here. You are real."

Slowly his words pulled her back into the real world, or whatever place she might be in right now. Her eyes were there, or at least she imagined they were, and opened when she told them to. Slowly.

"Giles?" She felt her lips move.

The world around her was composed of gray swirls and a whole lot of nothing, or so it seemed to her. They floated, or maybe they fell, it was hard to tell. There were no fixed reference points, nothing to hold on to with her eyes.

Nothing except the apparition that floated right next to her.

"Did it ... did it work?" Her words sounded strange to herself, like little butterflies fluttering out of her mouth.

"We made it, yes." Giles nodded, a motion that made her a little dizzy just from watching.

Looking around at the gray nothingness, Buffy wasn't so sure this was the right place. Wasn't Heaven supposed to be ... heavenly? Beautiful? Or at least ... something? Instead of nothing. Something strange was going on with her thoughts, they seemed to keep slipping from her grasp like quicksilver.

"This is not Heaven." Giles guessed at her thoughts. "We are in one of the between places. Basically a strip of nothing that lies between different dimensions."

Buffy looked down at herself, seeing her body still in place. Feet, legs, hips, arms, hands, everything was where it was supposed to be. She couldn't see her own head, of course, but she was pretty sure it was there as well.

"Where is Heaven then?" She asked Giles. "We wanted to go to Heaven." After a second she added, "I think."

"Are you all right, Buffy?" He hovered closer, worry clouding his face. Or what was visible of his face. His body was even more unreal here than back on Earth, wherever that was now. He was little more than a silhouette with a glimmer of light surrounding him like a full-body halo.

"A little weird," Buffy mumbled, trying to stand straight in a place without a floor, "as if I'm tipsy."

"I imagine it's the stress of manifesting on this plain. It's not really meant to support physical entities."

Buffy moved her hands over her arms and legs. "I'm physical, ain't I? I feel physical."

"Let's move on," Giles just said, "the feeling should pass as you get more used to this plain."

It was a strange sensation to be taken by the hand by a ghost. Or a soul. Whatever. She saw Giles' fingers wrap around her hand, but there was no physical contact to be felt. Only a tingling, as if a soft current was running over her skin.

They moved, though the space around them didn't change. Buffy couldn't have said in what direction they moved, or what distance they covered. After an immeasurable amount of time something appeared in front of them. It didn't appear in the distance and grew larger. It was just there.

A large gate that seemed made from white pearl.

"We're there."

Buffy craned her neck to look at the giant doors. They were impossibly large, too large to even exist. Something like this should collapse beneath its own weight and could certainly never be moved or opened. Yet it was real. Or as real as anything was here in this place.

"Are we going to knock?" She asked Giles.

"I believe there is no need to." He answered, indicating somewhere to the side.

Buffy looked up, at least she thought it was up, and saw several winged shapes come toward them. They actually did appear to travel in a straight line and come closer at a normal rate. Was this any indication that she was getting more used to this plain or were they getting closer to an actually real place again?

With something akin to a thud one of the angels set down in front of her. It looked like a man, yet not. It wasn't just the large, feathery wings that folded together on his back. Nor was it his sheer size, he was easily a head taller than Angel, and built like a tank to boot.

It was the eyes, Buffy realized. They were empty. Completely, unbelievably empty.

"Mortal!" The angel hissed.

"More or less." Buffy replied smugly. Okay, so she was standing in front of the gates of Heaven. So what? She wasn't the young woman she appeared to be. She was 76 years old and had seen pretty much everything the world had to offer. She was blood-bonded to a Vampire, had saved civilization a dozen times over. She wouldn't allow herself to be intimidated by a big guy with wings and empty eyes.

Not much anyway.

"You have no place here!" Her opposite growled.

"I guess not. But neither do all those pesky souls you happened to lose have a place in my world, do they?"

Giles and she had gone over what she intended to say to the angels a hundred times. Giles had predicted that they would, at best, completely ignore him, so it was up to her. She had to give them the right impression.

"What do you want?" The angel asked after studying her for a timeless eternity.

"I want to talk to you. About what is happening, both here and on Earth. And how to best resolve this situation without burning everything down around our heads."

Again the angel studied her, his empty eyes seeming to look right through her skin and into every single blood vessel and cell. Buffy didn't fidget under his gaze, though. She had been stared at by a demon bigger than the Chrysler building once. This was small change in comparison.

"Very well." The angel said finally. "Michael wants to talk to you."

She didn't ask him how he knew that, figuring that angels probably had some kind of telepathy thing going between them. She simply marked that fact down for future reference and fell into step with the angel as he strode toward the gate.

Interesting thing about a place with no true physical dimensions, she noticed. She had no problem keeping stride with a guy at least three feet taller than she was.

"Do you have a name, too?" She asked him.

"Uriel!" He was spared further comment as the gates drew open in front of them and Buffy got her first glimpse of Heaven.

Despite Giles' warnings she was taken aback.

Childhood stories always described Heaven as a place of fluffy clouds, smiling angels in white togas flying through the air with harps and singing Hallelujah. No shadows or worry to be found, everything white and peachy.

This was not the place from the stories.

Uriel led her along a broad promenade of white-veined black marble and everything around them was sharp-edged, glistening steel, gleaming harshly in the glare of three suns up in the sky. The completely cloudless sky, Buffy added disappointedly. How could there be no clouds in Heaven?

She saw angels, lots of them, though none of them wore togas or carried harps. Most of them didn't smile, either, and those few that did looked like they were thinking of inflicting torture and waging combat instead of singing happy songs in eternal bliss. They filled the sky above her, swords and armor sparkling in the searing light like so many stars, harsh war songs reaching Buffy's ears.

Buffy didn't like Heaven.

"Look there!" Giles whispered to her. He was hovering by her side, his human image almost invisible in the glare of the suns, reduced to little more than a whisper in the wind. She could still see his hand, though barely, as it pointed toward a large building in the distance.

It was by far the largest structure Buffy could see. Seemingly built from nothing but black glass it towered into the spotless sky like a needle piercing the heavens. Something was moving behind the glass, she could just make out the motion. Something that churned and rippled, almost as if it was alive.

"What is that?" She asked Giles.

"I've never been inside Heaven itself," he whispered to her, "I have only seen it from a distance. But I believe that this is the Repository."

They walked closer, their unhurried steps bridging distances that had seemed insurmountable a second ago. The black glass tower grew quickly and, though it did not cast a shadow in the glare of the three suns, Buffy felt cold.

"Repository? Repository of what?"

"Souls, Buffy." Giles said, something akin to a shiver running through his form. "This is where Heaven imprisons all the souls that come here."

Uriel stopped, causing Buffy to start. They had arrived in front of another large door, though not nearly as impossibly huge as the first one. Two guards with flaming swords stood in front of it, but stepped aside before Uriel.

"Present your case, mortal!" He thundered at her as the door swung open. "You have the attention of the First Host."

With thoughts of imprisoned souls still swirling through her head Buffy found herself facing half a dozen grim figures with large, feathery wings, all of whom endowed with those same empty eyes and staring at her as if she was something very unappetizing.

"Here goes nothing." She murmured to herself and walked toward them.



15 - Let All Hope, You Who Enter Here

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FAUSTIAN DEALS: Popular term for bargains struck with demonic entities, named after the character 'Faust', created by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Bargains of this kind normally entail the demonic entity granting wishes to a human in return for the pledge of their soul.

An important fact to remember is that, in almost every recorded case of such a dealing, the human was screwed over by the demon.


From Bagley's '1001 Things to Know About the Supernatural', first published in 2033

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"Mr. Hart will see you now, Mr. O'Conner." The secretary said with a terribly sweet and likeable voice. Angel looked her over once, her scent clearly human, yet with a taint he couldn't quite grasp. Almost all the people in this building carried this taint with them. They seemed to wear it like a symbol of pride.

Being here filled him with revulsion.

"Thank you." He said with a convincing and totally fake smile, walking toward the opening office doors.

"Ah, Mr. O'Conner. Come in, please!"

Julius Hart, senior partner of Wolfram & Hart, rose from behind his dark mahogany desk, his hand out for a friendly shake. Angel took it, waiting just long enough to let the other know that he wasn't exactly thrilled about the experience.

"Thank you for your time, Mr. Hart." He said in his best neutral voice. Three centuries of practice in maintaining a poker face and he suspected he would need every bit of it today.

By now Buffy was on her way to Heaven, he knew. He had stayed at Magitech just long enough to make sure that nothing went wrong with her trip through the Stepping Disk, then went on his own way. Not through another Stepping Disk, though that had been an option they had discussed. He felt that there was an easier way to hold talks with Hell than just manifest right in the middle of it.

Go through the lawyers.

"Please!" Hart gestured toward the plush seat in front of his desk and Angel sank into it with a friendly nod, though he wanted nothing better than to get out of this office as fast as possible. While the secretary outside had carried a tainted scent on her humanity, Hart himself seemed to carry a taint of humanity on something else. Something that was definitely not human any longer, if it ever had been.

"I have to admit I was a bit surprised to hear you call us." Hart smiled at him. "After that unfortunate business between you and our own Mr. Manners a few years ago."

"Water under the bridge." Angel smiled back. "At least for the time being. I am sure you agree that there are more important things to worry about right now than old grudges."

"Certainly. I have, of course, made an immediate call to Mr. Morning. He promised to be make room in his schedule as soon as he could arrange it."

"That was very kind of you."

"Nonsense."

For a moment the two men stopped the idle exchange of pleasantries and sized each other up. Hart knew of the troubles the Vampire in front of him had caused for his firm during the last few decades, though there had never been any kind of direct clash. Angel, for his part, knew that Hart was a dangerous man despite his almost innocent appearance.

"May I ask you a question while we wait for Mr. Morning?" Angel asked after a minute has passed in silence.

"Go ahead." Hart invited.

"Wolfram & Hart seems to have a close relation with the entities that Mr. Morning represents. I have to admit I am curious how that relation has come about."

A knife-edge smile flashed over Hart's features.

"Oh, if you knew how many of the staff here at Wolfram & Hart would like to learn that little story. I hear there are quite a few bets going on as to what the actual tale is."

"A secret then?"

"Oh no, I just like to cultivate a certain air of mystery among my employees. If you want to hear the story I would be glad to tell you. I have to warn you, though, it isn't exactly an epic tale. Quite short, actually."

Angel invited him to go ahead.

"It was in 1918 in France." Hart began, watching Angel for a reaction. The Vampire remained stoic. "I was but a soldier back then. Most of my unit had died in the trenches and I was busy losing my way among clouds of mustard gas. I was pretty certain I would not live to see the next sunrise."

Angel remembered that time only too well. But a decade after the Restoration and it had seemed as if the whole world had gone to hell, as if humanity itself had become all that more monstrous, now that the real monsters didn't threaten them anymore. The trench fighting had been a piece of hell brought to Earth and many a man, mortal or Vampire, had had lost either life or sanity, often both.

"That was when I first met Samuel Morning," Hart continued, "I didn't know what he was back then, of course. He was sitting at a table right in the middle of a desolated battlefield and challenged me to a round of Poker. He told me if I won he would grant me whatever I wanted. If I lost, then I would be damned to serve him for eternity."

Angel nodded. "You lost, then."

Hart broke into a huge smile. "Hell, no! I won."

With a touch of brimstone filling the air a door appeared in the wall beside Hart's desk. The deceptively young-looking man rose from his desk.

"Shall we?" He gestured toward the door.

"After you." Angel nodded back.

They ended up walking through side by side, the door big enough to accommodate them. Angel experienced the briefest touch of vertigo, which was the only sign that they had done more than walk into another room.

"Liam, how good to see you again."

Another office, not looking all that different from the one they had just left. Large desk, chairs, a mini-bar discreetly positioned in one corner, all the comforts of corporate life. Angel's senses weren't fooled, though. They were no longer on Earth or anywhere near it.

This place reeked of evil.

Samuel Morning rose from his chair as they entered, but didn't offer to shake Angel's hand, which he was glad about. The first time he had met this thing that looked like a man Angel had been too surprised to really size him up. Now, though, he was prepared and reached out with every sense he had, natural or otherwise.

He had expected evil. A stench of darkness like so many people in the building they had just left carried around with them. That stench was there, everywhere, it practically assaulted his senses, but now that he paid close attention he also noticed something else.

Underneath that stench of evil there was nothing. Just pure emptiness.

"How goes the search for the book?" Morning inquired amiably as they took their seats.

"We are working on it." Angel said, smiling. "I wanted to talk to you about a different matter, though. Concerning the preparations currently underway for a conflict between you and Heaven."

Morning's smile never wavered, but his demeanor changed. The farce of the friendly businessman fell away almost completely, replaced by cold scorn.

"I am afraid our competition is a bunch of brainless idiots." He said acidly. "Generally speaking they would rather destroy all of creation than take the risk of losing to us. Or anyone else, for that matter."

Angel raised an eyebrow at that last comment, but Morning continued.

"We have no interest in a war, Liam. Certainly not. War is bad for business, especially if there is nothing left after it. At the same time, though, we can not ignore Heaven's preparations. We must be prepared should they attack."

"I understand that." Angel replied. "Yet as you yourself said, a war between the two of you would benefit no one. Quite frankly we on Earth are not looking forward to being caught in the middle of it. You know, and by now Heaven knows, too, that the disappearance of souls is not caused by either of you, but in fact by a spell worked on Earth. You also know that we are doing our best to reverse what was done. There is no reason to go to war over this."

"Between two rational individuals as ourselves, Liam, that is, of course, quite correct. I am afraid, though, that rationality does not rate highly in Heaven. The winged warriors are deathly afraid of losing their precious reservoir of souls, so they figure that now is as good a time for Armageddon as any other. The oldest cliche, you know? If I can't play, no one's gonna play."

Angel was busy thinking about Morning's tone of voice. No matter his talk about rationality and not wanting a war, there was some kind of mild desperation in his words. Outwardly he projected a calm, cool, and collected façade, but things were brewing behind it.

Giles had told them that both Heaven and Hell collected souls like a child did marbles, keeping them prisoner in vast holding devices. Heaven called it the Repository, Hell probably had a fancy name of their own for theirs. What neither Giles nor Kendra knew, though, was why they did it. What did they need the souls for?

"One would think that Heaven wouldn't mind losing souls as long as you or anyone else doesn't get them." He decided to voice his question in a roundabout way. They needed this information. "Why are they pushing for war when they know all the missing souls are moving towards Earth?"

A mildly surprised look appeared on Morning's face.

"Why, Liam, with all the information you seem to have about matters beyond the Threshold, I thought you had already figured this one out."

Studying the thing in front of him, Angel wasn't sure how much of that surprise was an act. He didn't know if Morning knew about Giles and Kendra, or that they were using the Stepping Disks to send Buffy to Heaven. He certainly didn't intend to give any of that information away,

Angel said nothing, just gave Morning an interested look.

"To fill the gap in your knowledge," Morning said after a moment, "Heaven minds losing souls for the same reason we do."

Hart, almost forgotten in the exchange between Vampire and Demon, was leaning back in his chair. He knew the reason, of course, had known since that day on the battlefields of France. It was the reason he was here, the reason he worked with Samuel Morning despite winning that Poker game more than a century ago.

Because, knowing what he did about life after death, he didn't dare die.

Morning gestured and the room around them changed. The one thing that had differed from just about any other office building anywhere on Earth was the distinct lack of windows. Now, though, a large picture window opened in the wall behind Morning, the wall sliding apart like an opening lid.

Angel couldn't help but flinch.

He found himself looking out over a vast landscape, an infinite stretch of ugly desolation with no horizontal curve or any other visible sign that it would ever end. The sky above it was an angry crimson red, pulsing like a vat filled with living blood, mirrored by the numerous fires burning on the ground below.

Sitting right in the middle of the picture was a giant monstrosity of a building. A huge structure that had sprung from a gothic nightmare, twisting up into the crimson sky in a vast mass of spikes, edges, and pulsing veins the size of skyscrapers, topped by an obsidian crown of thorns that seemed to branch out across the visible firmament.

The belly of this beast rested on the ground, spread out over a base of at least a dozen square miles like a fat, well-fed parasite. It glowed from the inside, a glow that Angel was only too familiar with.

Souls.

"Souls are power, Liam." Morning said. "More power than you can even imagine. Why did you think every two-bit demonic entity tries its best to make stupid mortals consign their souls to it? Because it means power. It's a simple game, really. He with the most souls wins."

Angel looked at the obscene structure for a long time, before he shook his head. "That's all? That's what this is all about? A power play?"

"A power play, yes." Morning shrugged. "Granted, it might seem simple to the casual observer, but I don't think you understand the scope, Liam. We are not talking about the few thousand souls you took from us with the Restoration. As I told you before, that's small change. We are talking about billions of souls, which represent a power you can not even imagine."

Looking at the place where that power was contained Angel knew the consequence of what Morning had just said. Knew the consequences of the things he himself had to do.

If they restored the Threshold, if they managed to mend the barrier between worlds and send all the souls back were they came from, they would give Morning and his creatures that power once more.

He threw a side glance at Julius Hart and, for the first time, saw the barest of human emotions flicker across the man's face. Whatever remained human in Hart, it didn't like looking at that thing outside the window anymore than Angel did.

"Heaven will attack before their power runs dry," Morning continued, "and we will have to meet them in kind. There is no other way."

"Unless we find the book first." Angel added.

"I hope you do, Liam. I truly hope you do." A sigh went through Morning's body. "We won't strike first. You have my word on that, however much it might be worth to you. The angels will attack us, though. You can count on that. It's in their nature."

Angel went through the door again and took his leave from Wolfram & Hart after the exchange of a few more pleasantries. He was not really sure how much he had accomplished this day. The things he had seen and learned, though, sent a shiver down his spine.

These powers used human souls as so much fuel for their war machinery, reducing the essence of people to chips on a huge poker table. No matter that many of these souls might actually deserve the fate that befell them, it just wasn't right. That he should be forced to return them to this fate ...

Angel shook his head. No sense in pondering things he could do nothing about. He had the world of the living to worry about right now, he needed all his strength for that.

Giles had said that there were other places. Better places. Angel could but hope that the people he had lost during these long centuries had somehow found their way there.

Remembering that towering monstrosity in the heart of Hell, the alternative was unthinkable.



16 - Nuclear Explosions, Sensory Memory, and Really Old Books

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SEEKERS: Psychics attuned to the specific vibrations of magical energy. Sometimes called Witchfinders or Bloodhounds, Seekers can home in on the emanations of magical artifacts and/or entities from a large distance and follow them to their source. Well-trained Seekers have ranges up to several miles. They are often employed by law-enforcement agencies for the solving of magically-aided crimes or by archeological firms looking to find and unearth magical artifacts.

Seekers are generally uncomfortable in the presence of large groups of preternatural entities and/or strong magical artifacts, as only very few of them have enough control over their abilities to shut them down.


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

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"Echo probing shows several air pockets in this layer here," the geologist told Darla, "apparently formed when the molten rock settled after the explosion. We've put the Seekers on them."

Darla nodded, the geological map of the excavation area swimming before her eyes. God, she was tired. Even Vampires needed sleep and she hadn't gotten much of that as of late. They had been looking for the Necronomicon for three weeks straight now, with no luck.

The environment didn't help much. They had to rotate their mortal personnel in short shifts, as the radiation remaining from the explosion all these decades ago was still too strong to warrant more than a few hours of exposure at a time. It didn't bother the Vampires, but they could only work throughout the night and even they had problems with the extreme cold.

She knew that the only real hope of finding the book under this huge mass of molten rock were the Seekers. Willow had sent them their best, a dozen psychics that worked themselves to the point of exhaustion trying to home in on the Necronomicon. They had to cover a very large area, though, and there was no telling how deep the book might have been buried.

One would thing a magical artifact of such power would be easy to find, Darla thought tiredly. But, as in so many other things, the Necronomicon wasn't conforming to expectations. The area was rife with magical hotspots, remains and echoes of the power unleashed here. The soul magic Grigori's sorcerer had worked, the opening of Acathler's gate, Angel reversing that same spell with his blood, all this had left dozens and hundreds of false leads for the Seekers to follow.

They had half a dozen excavation sites working at the moment where the Seekers thought they might find something. Another ten already stood abandoned, false leads that had left the work crews every bit as disappointed and frustrated as herself.

"Your men and machines are holding up?" Darla asked the chief of the excavation team.

"Certainly. A few loose nuts and bolts here and there, but nothing we can't handle. I am more worried about damaging the book if we finally find it. Blasting through dozens of meters of molten rock isn't exactly gentle work."

"If the book survived a nuclear blast I don't really think there is anything you can do to scratch it." With a sigh Darla sank back in her chair. "Let me know the moment you find anything! We need that book and we need it yesterday."

Her people slowly filed out of the command trailer, leaving her to her own thoughts. Thoughts of Rupert Giles, who was travelling to Heaven with the Slayer by his side. Thoughts of Angel, who was holding talks with Hell and its lawyers. Thoughts of Willow and her Magitech people, who worked themselves into an early grave trying to find some way to stabilize the Threshold. All the people who did everything in their power to prevent the catastrophe that was hanging over their heads in the form of a billion and more glowing souls.

"And it never gets properly dark anymore, either." She mumbled to herself.

Knowing that she would never be able to sleep anyway, Darla took out the work still left on her desk, even here in the remote wasteland. The work of the CEO of one of the world's top ten financial holding companies didn't stop just because that same world was about to end. There was an endless number of papers to sign, contracts to approve, details to check.

She tried to work off a bit of the backlog that had piled up in her workbasket for about ten minutes, only to realize that it was for naught. Her concentration was completely used up by things that had nothing to do with stockholder problems, tax issues, or interest rates.

There was another pile of papers on her desk and she pushed the corporate work aside to look at it. Ever since they had confirmed that the Necronomicon was in fact the cause of the current problem they had spared no effort in trying to learn everything there was to learn about it. Everything that could possibly help them use it again without causing an even bigger problem down the line.

Most of the literature that existed about the Necronomicon had been written by Angel himself, notes he had assembled during the ninety years the book had been in his possession. They also had a handful of obscure references, the same that had originally led Angel to finding the book. Their intensive search had also produced a couple of previously unknown writings about it.

The oldest of references they found was from ancient Egypt, around 500 BC. Plus or minus a century or two. Apparently the book had been in possession of some kind of religious hermit, whose few written notes didn't speak well for his sanity. He rambled on about plagues and demons, giant figures in the sky, playing games with the entire world.

There was a woman in Japan around 100 AD who had apparently invoked the magic of the Necronomicon to banish dragons from the face of the Earth. She had paid for it with her life's blood, which caused a very uncomfortable feeling of déjà vu in Darla, remembering the price Angel had nearly paid for the closing of Acathler's gate.

The third and last reference, the one that had eventually led Angel to an abandoned monastery in the Balkans to find the book, had been written by a monk who had lived in the early 11th century. His words, barely decipherable on the ancient parchment they had found, haunted Darla in the few hours of sleep she had allowed herself.

'Woe be unto him who takes it upon himself to invoke a power the likes only the Allmighty should wield. Woe be unto him who thinks he can do so without consequences.'

What they still didn't know, even after all their research, was the book's origin. Who or what had written it? Who had just abandoned it to be found by this handful of people throughout the ages? Darla knew of the experiments Grigori had undertaken during the short time the book had been in his possession, knew how he had tried to find someone worthy, someone the Necronomicon would accept. Knew that he had failed utterly.

Darla didn't know whether finding the Necronomicon would be their salvation or just one more step on the road to damnation.

Maybe it was both.

#

Holger Bach was a man of 27. He had grown up in a world filled with magic and, though he knew that it had been a very different world just a few short decades before his birth, it was the norm for him. Magic was part of his being, it filled him, gave him a special talent that was so much a part of his life that he couldn't imagine being without it.

He had met his first Vampire when he was seven and still remembered exactly how it had felt. The undead's aura had washed over him like a cool wind, filling his mouth with the taste of rose petals and water shimmering in the moonlight. That same year he had met a werewolf and he had almost fainted when the odor of evergreen assaulted him, accented by the heavy aroma of freshly turned earth.

Holger had studied at the Humboldt University in Germany and by the time he had graduated he knew the taste and scent of just about every preternatural creature that walked the Earth. Sally, the familiar of his boss Willow Rosenberg, had been one of the few exceptions. The cat creature tasted like salty sweat and made his ears ring with the sound of padded feet brushing over plush carpet.

When Ms. Rosenberg had sent him and several other Seekers to Siberia in order to find the famed Necronomicon Nocturnum Holger had expected to feel something familiar. Maybe the same dusty leather smell that surrounded the only surviving manuscript of Nostradamus. Or maybe he would hear the softly singing voices that rang out from the sword Excalibur day and night, even as it rested in its airtight casing in the Tower of London.

This stretch of Siberia was filled with echoes of powerful magic, but so far Holger had gotten little more than a faint scent of old leather, maybe the barest tidbit of jasmin in the air, a sign for soul magic.

So it was the he found himself completely unprepared for the sensations that overcame him when his thickly booted feet touched a very nondescript spot of Siberian rock.

His colleagues later told him that he went completely catatonic for at least ten minutes, maybe more. They told him that tears ran down his face, leaving a trail of ice on his cheeks as the cold embraced them. They also told him that he seemed to be softly glowing in the twilight cast by the souls hanging in the sky, as if their radiance had somehow made its way under his skin.

Holger remembered nothing of that, though. The only thing he was aware of in that one, timeless moment was the simple fact that he found it completely impossible to compare the sensations washing over him to anything else he had or would ever experience. There were no words to describe the smells that crept up his nostrils. No voice on Earth that could sing as beautifully as the one heard in that moment. Never again would earthly food be anything but boring to him.

His colleagues found him, rooted to the spot where he had set down his boot ten minutes earlier, and they could hear him mumble under his breath.

"Oh boy," he uttered, "oh boy."


17 - You Didn't Think It Would Be That Easy, Did You?

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NEWSFLASH: The phenomenon that has filled our skies these past twelve days shows no sign of abating. If anything the lights visible behind the dimensional interface, which appear to be actual human souls, seem to grow more numerous and closer to our own dimensional plain with every passing moment. The governments of Europe and the United States have announced that an extensive investigation is underway in order to understand this phenomenon and deal with it. Spokespersons of Magitech refused to comment on the extent of the firm's cooperation in this matter or the rumors that the family of the famed Vampire Angelus is in some way involved.


Download from Global News Network Omninet, November 29, 2057

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The Stepping Disk glowed a bright gold as it appeared in the exact coordinates they had come in, which Buffy still couldn't quite explain to herself. How did one set coordinates in a place where space was conspicuous by its absence?

The thought didn't have much time to go around her head as she and Giles made contact with the glowing disk, causing their entire world to turn sideways. There was that feeling once again, someone running his hands up and down her body, causing her to shiver in delight as space and time warped around her. Once again she wondered why Magitech had never put this into their advertising brochure.

A second later they were back in a place that was definitely somewhere instead of nowhere. The huge main laboratory of Magitech Central took shape around them, gravity reasserted its hold, and the roaming hands disappeared into the same thin air they had come from. Buffy stood on the now the inert Stepping Disk, shaking away the aftereffects of going where no woman had ever gone before. Not alive, that was.

"Buffy!"

Her husband's voice was more than enough to wrench her back to reality. Before she even had time to see him coming there was the feel of his blood, the pulsing of their bond, and suddenly his arms were around her, pulling her into his cool flesh.

The Stepping Disks had nothing on being in her Angel's arms.

They stayed like that, his arms around her, her head resting against his chest, not needing any words to communicate with one another. Giles, Willow, the many technicians and workers around them, nothing mattered right that moment.

Buffy could feel his worry and weariness running through her veins, as well as his relief to have her back in his arms safe and sound. She caught the extreme revulsion that something he had seen during his own journey had left him with, as well as the rage he felt against someone he felt had done a great wrong. She experienced all these feelings as if they were her own, sharing them, easing the load that rested on her beloved's shoulders.

Angel in turn felt her emotions as well. He knew how deeply disturbed she was by what she had experienced in Heaven, knew how deep her disappointment with that supposedly bright and cheerful place ran. Her relief at seeing him again was a mirror to his own and for a long moment he did nothing but bask in the warmth of her skin, her love. She was his daylight, his blazing fire. That had never changed, nor would it ever.

Reality intruded all too soon.

"Clear the Disk!" The voice of a technician sounded out to them. "Activation sequence has begun. Clear the Disk immediately!"

Giles, Buffy, and Angel did as they were told, a bit confused by the sudden activity around them. Willow and a few of her best witches were standing close to the main controls of the giant mechanism that harnessed both their own magical power and the raging energy of the fusion reactor in the adjoining room.

"Willow, what's happening?" Buffy asked her friend as they reached her.

"We just got a call from Darla in Siberia. She asked us to open the Stepping Disk to her present location."

Angel and Buffy looked at each other. Again no words were needed. Darla was in Siberia for one reason and one reason only. And the fact that Angel's Sire asked to be teleported back here instead of travelling the distance by conventional means could mean just one thing.

"Stepping Disk opening!" The technician called out. Three witches were situated around the golden disk, chanting, even as the air around them vibrated with unleashed power, magical and natural. The Stepping Disk began to glow, burning all the shadows out of the room with its radiance. Buffy shielded her eyes with her hand, but was still able to see three shapes slowly coming into view in the center of the light.

Then the light went out.

"Hi, Peaches." Spike said, standing beside Darla and Faith in the middle of the Stepping Disk, all of them dressed in thick winter clothing. None of them looked particularly happy to be here. Almost as a side note Buffy observed that Faith was busy shaking a brief look of pleasure from her face, but neither Spike nor Darla seemed to have experienced anything.

Maybe the Stepping Disk didn't give dead people a happy, Buffy almost chuckled.

"You have it?" Angel asked, banishing every thought of laughter from his wife's mind.

Spike sighed deeply, then reached beneath his coat.

During the last 24 hours Buffy had been to Heaven, had seen the terrible emptiness in the eyes of creatures she had always associated with goodness and light. She had seen that the hereafter was not a place of fluffy clouds and happy harps. Instead she had found it filled with swords and armor, terrible weapons of destruction, fierce warriors possessed of nothing but the desire to destroy their hated enemies, even if all of creation perished at the same time.

She had seen the terrible perversity of a billion and more souls imprisoned in a tower of black glass and had learned the sickening reason for it. Had learned that the souls of the departed were nothing but fodder for Heaven's huge siege engine, its sole purpose the obliteration of Hell. She knew that the sound of screaming souls would haunt her nightmares for years, maybe decades to come.

All of which paled in comparison to the dread holding her in its grip the moment Spike took the Necronomicon Nocturnum out from underneath his coat, freshly excavated from what should have been its eternal resting place.

"Special delivery." The bleached Vampire joked without humor. "Our one-way express ticket to damnation."

#

The Necronomicon Nocturnum looked incredibly mundane and ordinary for an object of such dark power, Angel had always thought. A simple book, bound in black leather, seemingly untouched by time and decay. The only visible sign of it being anything but ordinary were the strange symbols etched into its cover. Symbols that were disturbing in a way impossible to describe and seemed to change every time he did not look at them directly.

The book rested on the table in front of him and Angel felt that it was looking at him every bit as much as he was looking at it.

They were in one of Magitech Central's conference rooms, all the people he trusted the most. Spike and Darla, his family. Buffy, his wife, as well as Giles, who might as well be his father-in-law. Wesley, his oldest friend among mortals, quite dead himself now, yet still with him. Faith, whom he would always think of as his little sister, no matter that there had been a time she had tried to become more than that to him. Willow, his wife's best friend, as well as Sally, who had become a part of their family during the few short years she had been here. And Kendra, Wesley's daughter-in-spirit, finally reunited with her Watcher, even though it was beyond the grave.

All of them were here. All of them watching him as he studied the book.

Two times before had he opened its pages, subjecting himself to its unknown method of selection. Both times the book had yielded to him, allowing him to invoke its power, where it had burned a hundred other men and women who had tried to do the same. Angel did not know why the Necronomicon had chosen him as worthy by whatever standards it might use. Neither did he know whether he should feel honored or damned because of it.

He took Buffy's hand in his, giving it a loving squeeze as they communicated without words. There was no sense in putting it off.

Letting go of his wife once more, he instead reached out and opened the book.

"Fascinating!" He heard Wesley mutter, but paid him no attention. The book opened under his hand, the pages turning of their own accord, indecipherable symbols flashing past him too fast to follow. He could feel the Necronomicon reach out toward him as it had done the first two times and, for just a moment, seemed to sense something very much like joy from it. The joy of once again seeing a long-lost friend.

"I am not your friend!" Angel mumbled under his breath, too low for anyone to hear. Buffy gave him a look, sensing his emotions, but wisely remained silent.

The Necronomicon seemed uncaring about his feelings towards it and opened, the symbols coming into focus as he concentrated on what he sought. When he had found it in the Balkans 150 years ago he had browsed through the pages with his fingers, too hurried and desperate to realize that they were turning by themselves just as quickly. The second time, with Acathler's gate opening in front of him, he had just opened it and arrived on the right page at the first try without a single clue as to how.

This time, though, he went through the book from beginning to end. His mind filled with things he barely understood, flashing by too fast to do more than glance at them. He read descriptions of terrible powers, of elemental forces, beings too vast too even begin understanding them. He read the things the Necronomicon could do, the things it had been created to do long before humanity had been so much as a blink in the universe's eye.

The Necronomicon contained knowledge and magic about all things that were of the night. Vampires, demons, the fearful things that hid under your bed in the darkest hours before dawn. It described the empty places between the lights and how to traverse them, showed him brief images of plagues and curses, of doors it could open and close, of the powers it was able to invoke and banish.

In the span of a few heartbeats the Necronomicon showed Angel all that it was, all that it had been made for, everything it could do.

And what it could not do.

Angel slammed the book shut, causing everyone present to start. Buffy was by his side instantly, feeling the growing despair inside of him through her blood.

"Angel?" She asked, afraid that she already knew what it was that she felt.

"It's not in there." He whispered. "The Necronomicon can't help us."



18 - The Bittersweet Side of Being As One

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VINCULUM DIES NOCTIS CRUENTOS (Latin, outdated dialect): Translated as 'Day and Night, bonded in blood', referring to the bonding of a Vampire to a living human. Originally created by Vampire magicians around the 5th century AD, its original purpose was to give a Vampire Master control over a human slave, to be the Master's eyes in the daytime. The servant would share the Vampire's immortality and enhanced strength and stamina. The bond was not used often, though, as it was not always the Vampire that ended up the master. Strong-willed humans could just as easily make slaves out of the Vampire bonded to them. There was another drawback to the bond, as both of the bonded would die if one of them perished.

There are rumors of a Vampire-human pair who bonded themselves together as equals, but no concrete information is available on that bonding, if it truly exists.


From Daniel Thornton's 'A Study of Vampires', first published 2029 AD.


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"What do you mean it's not in there?" Faith asked.

"It's pretty self-explanatory, pet." Spike grumbled, his hand shoved down his coat pockets. "Not in there means it's not bloody in there!"

"Nothing at all?" Giles inquired.

Angel shook his head. "There is no mention of the Ethereal Threshold or anything connected with the barriers between worlds. I found several chapters on soul magic, but no clue on how to repair the damage done by them."

A heavy silence settled over the room, all eyes inevitably drawn to the large windows, beyond which the sky was still filled with the brilliant light of a billion and more souls. Fugitives from Heaven and Hell, looking to escape these terrible places, which no one could blame them for, but causing Armageddon in the process.

"There must be something we can do." Buffy said angrily. "I refuse to believe that we can't stop this."

"Maybe this damage can not be undone." Giles shook his head. Ever since he had first noticed what was happening, he had been certain that, together with his old friends and family, they would find a way to stop it. Now, though ...

"No!" Buffy insisted, balling her fists. "There has to be a way. We can't let these ... these winged bastards just come down here and smash everything to pieces."

She turned toward Angel, looking at him with pleading eyes. "Wasn't there anything? Any mention of something that might be of use? Nothing in that entire damned book?"

Angel closed his eyes, allowing his thoughts to go over everything the Necronomicon had shown him in that few short seconds he had opened it. So many spells and curses, powers to be evoked, entities to be summoned. Yet there was nothing ...

Or maybe there was?

Without a word he reached out for the book once more, the tiniest glimmer of hope reawakening in his thoughts. The magical pages opened under his touch, the presence of the Necronomicon again extending into his thoughts, his very soul. Like a cold lover's caress he felt it rummaging through him even as he browsed through the book, fired in by the pleading in his lover's eyes. Both Angel and the Necronomicon were looking for something they wanted. Something they needed.

There! Something was there, just out of reach. Something the book had hidden from him the first time for a reason all its own. Something it was still hiding from him, though not as thoroughly as before. Something that it didn't quite think him worthy of. He could feel it searching his soul, could feel the tendrils embedded there once more.

What are you looking for in me, Angel asked silently. What made you choose me in the first place?

Buffy could feel it as well. The bond between them was wide open now and she felt a strange presence where no one but Angel and herself should be. She could feel his blood thunder through his veins, not driven by his dead heart, but by the power pouring through him. A power that reached out and found their bond.

Found Buffy on the other side of it.

Buffy gasped as her hand reached out without her consent, her body moving of its own accord, and came to lie across Angel's, both of them now touching the book. A flash of fear from Angel ran through both of them like a current. The Necronomicon had always burned everyone that tried to touch it, everyone except Angel. Only Grigori's sorcerer had managed to trick it into working for him by using Angel's blood. The same blood that flowed through Buffy's veins ever since they had been bonded.

Feeling both of them, having both of them touch it, the book judged once more. 150 years ago Angel had touched it, his entire being driven by but one thought. He wanted to create a better world, wanted nothing but that. A singularity of purpose the book had found to its liking. Just like the second time Angel had touched it, looking to save that same better world he had created from Acathler.

This third time, though, Angel was filled with doubt. It had been his using the book that had created this crisis. And even if he managed to undo the damage he had done, would that not damn all these souls now hanging in the skies back to a place he would not wish upon his worst enemy? There was no singularity of purpose to be found, none of that unshakable faith that what he was doing was the right thing.

So the Necronomicon had denied him the knowledge he sought. Had not shown him what he needed to see. Now, though, with his blood-bonded mate by his side, the equation had changed once more.

Angel was filled with doubts. Buffy was not. Not about him, not about what he had done in order to make the world a better place.

For the Necronomicon that was enough.

A light poured out of the pages of the Necronomicon Nocturnum, causing everyone to start back. Angel and Buffy just stood, his hand still resting on the book, her hand resting on his, and they looked at the things slowly taking shape in the air above the table.

"What is happening?" Willow asked.

"It's showing us what we need to know." Buffy and Angel said at the same time, their voices merging into a single one. It felt like they were fused where their hands touched, the Necronomicon's magic deepening the bond they had shared these past six decades.

Images appeared in front of them. Giant figures towering in the skies, hands cradling galaxies and moving them around like children would toys. Fingers that did not even remotely look human traced letters on the pages of a book. No, not one book. Many books. There were more of them.

They saw a figure, a book in hand, read from its pages and the sky ignited, stars forming from nothingness to light the darkness of night. Another figure read from another book and filled the void with life, creating creatures that basked in the light of the stars, embraced the life they had been given. The Necronomicon Nocturnum filled the night between the stars with life of another kind, the kind that hid under the beds of children and came out to eat them when the stars went dark.

Still other books were shown, wielded to create, to form, to fill. They watched creation unfold, orchestrated by figures much too huge to grasp, each of them with a book in hand.

"Oh, dear Lord." They heard Giles whisper.

"Is that what I think it is?" Willow's voice was barely audible.

They watched in stunned silence as the scenes unfolded and their eyes were drawn to yet one more book that the Necronomicon showed to them. They could see it directly before their eyes, a book that looked almost exactly like the one already in their possession, yet different. The strange letters on its cover shimmered and moved, resolving into something they could read.

Then the vision vanished and the Necronomicon closed once more.

"What a light show!" Faith mumbled, star struck.

Buffy and Angel's hand were still touching, the two looking into each other's eyes. Ever since the joining of the bond they had been able to share their senses, their emotions, and too a small degree even their thoughts. They also knew that the bond, theoretically, allowed one of them to control the other, though none of them had ever made use of that.

The Necronomicon had, though. It had forced Buffy to Angel's side, made them both touch the book. It didn't matter that it had brought forth the information they wanted, because for the first time that beautiful thing between them had been used for its original, ugly purpose. A bonding of master and slave, not equals.

It scared both of them.

"Libro Bordi." Giles mumbled the words they had seen in the vision, oblivious to the thoughts churning through Buffy and Angel at the moment. "Book of borders."

"Does that mean there is an entire set of books like the Necronomicon out there?" Spike asked. "Bugger me, I don't like that thought at all."

"Hear, hear!" Faith added.

"It might be a chance for us to fix the Threshold, though." Willow said. "It is a border of sorts, after all."

Buffy and Angel just looked at each other, not hearing the words of the others. The Necronomicon had touched something inside both of them. Had touched the demon, had touched the soul, both of their souls, had touched the bond that entwined them and perverted that bond, if just for a moment.

What has it done to us? Angel heard Buffy's words inside his head, clear and without effort.

I don't know. It was the only answer he could give her.

"Am I the only one to realize," Sally asked, shaking both Angel and Buffy out of their thoughts, "that the vision thing left out the important detail of where to find these books? I mean, we never even figured out where the Necronomicon came from. How are we supposed to find them?"

"It's not on Earth." Buffy mumbled, not quite knowing where that certainty came from. "It's elsewhere."

"That's helpful, really." Faith shook her head. "I mean, how many dimensions do we know of? Ethereal ones aside? That's a lot of room to search for one measly book, B."

Willow walked toward the table, her hand hovering a few inches above the Necronomicon as she closed her eyes and concentrated.

"Holger, the Seeker who found the book, told me that it had a very specific energy signature. Not at all like other magical artifacts. I'm not as proficient as he is in this, but ..."

A shimmer of magic crackled over her hand, then she opened her eyes again.

"I think we could come up with a tracking device. Something to home in on similar energy signatures."

Buffy tried to work up some enthusiasm for this silver lining on the horizon, but had a lot of trouble doing it. Angel squeezed her hand, his love pouring into her through their bond. The same bond the Necronomicon had used against them.

"It will be short-range at best." Willow took everyone's hope down a notch. "I'm afraid we'd still need a veritable army to look for it. It could be anywhere."

"An army that would have to cross dimensional borders in the process." Giles added. "That book could just as well be in any of the demon or ethereal dimensions. Or places beyond even that, considering what we have just seen. Even with all the ghosts present here, as well as the Stepping Disks, I fear ..."

"I think I know where to find such an army." Kendra said, causing everyone to look at her.

"You do?" Wesley asked, surprised.

"With the barriers breaking down like they do," the dead Slayer explained, "it is much easier to cross from one dimensional plain to the next like we have done twice now. If you are a disembodied soul, that is."

"Most of the souls don't seem interested in going anywhere but here, pet." Spike said. "How do you intend to get them to help us look for something that will lock them out again?"

Kendra looked at Buffy, then at Faith. "I want show you a place, sisters. A place where we can find the help we need."

"What kind of place?"

She told them. For a long moment none of them said anything, then Buffy turned to Willow.

"Fire up the Stepping Disk, Will! It seems we going to Slayer Heaven."



19 - In Every Generation There Was A Chosen One. That's Quite A Few.

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THE CHOSEN ONES: There is no dependable information on how many Slayers there have been throughout history. It is impossible to even extrapolate, as the individual lifetimes of the Slayers have varied greatly. Some Chosen Ones have survived their calling for years, sometimes decades, while some died within a week of being called. There is also no indication as to when exactly the Slayer first came into existence, only that it seems to have been long before recorded history. The Council of Watchers, though thousands of years old, is a mere infant compared to the legacy they have chosen to guide.


Exert from "The Chosen Ones", published in 2006, written by Wesley Windham-Pryce.


#


The tingling sensation of going through the Stepping Disk faded and Faith tried to open her eyes. For a moment she debated whether she still had eyes, seeing as they had planned to go to a place beyond the physical, but then banished that thought as nonsense. Easiest way to find out was to simply open her eyes and find out.

She did. Everything around them was a brilliant, virgin white.

"Where are we?" She heard B's voice beside her.

Turning her head she saw them, both Buffy and Kendra, the latter of whom no longer looked all that insubstantial and ghostly here in this place, whatever place it was.

"As you so aptly phrased it," Kendra said, looking around, "this is 'Slayer Heaven'. Though I've come to think of it as the White Room."

Looking at the pristine, spotless white walls around them, Faith shrugged. "Wonder how you came up with that monicker."

"So this ... this is where Slayers go when they die?" Buffy asked.

Her words echoed inside Faith, reminding her exactly where they were. Buffy was a true immortal. Apocalypses and the few things that could actually kill her withstanding she would live forever. Faith would not. She was aging a lot more slowly than normal people, but eventually she would die.

To come here?

"Not all Slayers, no." Kendra said. "There is no such thing as an obligatory afterlife for anyone, we all have some manner of choice about where we go."

She led them along a corridor, also white, toward a large set of doors. White, of course.

"This place, though," Kendra continued, "has ... well, attracted would be the wrong word, but ... let's just say a lot of Slayers have found their way here over the centuries."

"How many?" Faith asked.

Kendra pushed the white doors open, revealing a huge room beyond it.

"About that many." She said, gesturing forward.

The room beyond was at least as large as a football stadium and completely bare, the white walls shimmering in a light that came from nowhere and everywhere. All the room held was a large banquet table, decorated with a simple white tablecloth. The table seemed to stretch on for eternity, no end in sight, losing itself in the white gloom that shrouded the far side of the room.

There were people sitting at the table. People dressed in white cloaks, their faces hidden beneath white hoods. They sat in simple white chairs, hands on the table as if waiting for a meal to be served. Everyone was sitting in the exact same pose, head slightly bowed, unmoving.

There had to be thousands of them.

"Are they ... all of them, are they ... Slayers?" Buffy asked.

"Yes, all of them." Kendra said, a sad note in her voice. "The first and only time I was here I tried to count them. There are at least 4000 of them here."

Four thousand Slayers, Faith whistled under her breath. And here she had thought it a monumental occasion to have three Slayers in the same room, though one of them was dead. Speaking of dead ...

"Why are they all sitting here?" Faith asked Kendra. "Are they waiting for something?"

"You could say that, yes."

Kendra walked forward to the beginning of the table and carefully removed the hood from the first figure sitting there. A wave of black hair spilled out as she did, like an explosion of color in the otherwise monotone room. Faith and Buffy could see a tanned face, Mediterranean features, and a pair of dark brown eyes that opened to look at them.

"Kendra. You have returned." The girl, not older than seventeen or so, spoke without turning her head, only her eyes moving.

"I told you I would, Diana. And I've brought some friends."

Kendra gestured for Buffy and Faith to move forward until they were in Diana's field of vision. Why doesn't she just turn her head, Faith asked herself.

"These are Buffy and Faith," Kendra introduced them, "they are Slayers, just like us. Buffy, Faith, this is Diana. She was the Slayer in the 1920s."

"Hello." Diana said. Her lips didn't move, Faith realized. She spoke to them, but her lips never moved, never changed from that almost-smile they seemed frozen in.

"Nice to meet you." Buffy said after a moment, clearly as confused as Faith herself felt.

"Yeah, what she said."

"You are strange." Diana said after a moment, her voice seemingly moving inside their heads. "You are ... you are alive."

"Last time we checked." Faith said.

"I brought them here from the material world." Kendra said to Diana. "We came because we need your help."

"We can not help anyone." Another voice rang out. "Our destiny has run its course and this is our final destination."

The voice seemed to be coming from the figure sitting next to Diana, a dark-skinned face just visible underneath the white hood. Kendra walked over to drape back the hood, unveiling the face of a young African girl.

"That is Nicky." Diana said. "She has her own opinions on why we are here."

Buffy dimly remembered Spike telling her about a Slayer called Nicky. Wasn't that ... yes, the Slayer who had killed Drusilla, his lady love, back in 1976.

"It was our destiny to fight evil in the world." Nicky continued, her eyes the only thing moving in her face. "We did so and then we died. There is no further destiny for us, so here we are."

"You are wrong." The figure sitting on the other side of the table directly opposite her said. "This is but purgatory. Our true destiny has yet to find us. We are the Chosen and meant for greater work yet."

Other voices rang out on the table, each of them hailing from unmoving lips, set in stone-like faces, only eyes moving to look at them. None of the figures moved, they sat at the table, hands before them, like so many marble statues. But they talked. Loudly.

"As you can see," Kendra told Buffy and Faith, toning out the discussion, "pretty much everyone here has their own opinion as to why they are here and what this place really is."

"Did you ... were you here? At this table?" The thought that her sister Slayer might have been here as well, sitting frozen at this empty table, sent a cold shiver down Buffy's spine.

"No. I visited here once. Shortly before Mr. Giles found me. These Slayers here ... I think they are here because they don't know where else to go."

"What do you mean?"

Kendra looked incredibly sad, looking out across the crowd of unmoving white figures before them.

"All these Slayers here were raised and taught by the Council of Watchers. Just like me. All their lives they were told that they had this sacred destiny to fight evil and they had nothing but that. No hopes, no dreams, no future, only their sacred destiny. The Watchers drilled it into them until the day they died.

"What happens to you after death depends greatly on your expectations. If you are religious and believe you deserve Hell, you go to Hell. If you think you've been a virtuous person, you might go to Heaven or another, similar place. If you ..."

"... expect to spend eternity doing the wild thing with an army of willing, naked studs?" Faith interjected.

"Well," Kendra said, blushing, "maybe there is such a place, too. I have no idea."

"What about them?" Buffy gestured toward the white figures.

"They have nothing, Buffy. No expectations. No dreams of what might happen after their death. The Watchers drilled that out of them. It didn't take with every Slayer they had, but everyone who is here does not know what to do now, seeing as they have never had anything but their sacred duty. So they sit here and wait. They don't know for what, but they don't know what else to do, either."

Kendra sighed deeply.

"I think it was Wesley's killing me that saved me from coming here. I didn't understand in life, but I think in my moment of death I finally did. Understood that there was more than sacred duty and killing the monsters. So I didn't come here. They, though ..." her voice trailed off.

Faith saw Buffy begin to tremble with rage, a rage she felt as well. Buffy was the last Slayer who had been serving the Council, even if only for a short time. Faith herself had never been under their tutelage, but she knew what they had done to these poor girls. They had turned them into programmed killers, filling their lives with nothing but death and destruction, even after the largest part of the monsters weren't a threat anymore.

She remembered the quiet satisfaction on Buffy's face when, years ago, the remnants of the Watchers' Council had finally been demolished. They had thought that these old English bastards would never again be able to mess up the lives of innocents again.

And now they learned that they had ruined their afterlives as well.

"We have to do something about this." Buffy said, her voice filled with resolve. "We have to get them out of here."

"Can we?" Faith asked Kendra. "I mean, if we want them to help us we have to, but ... can we?"

"We can't throw them over our shoulders and carry them out, no. We have to convince them to do it on their own."

"But they can't move, can they?"

"They can't move because they don't know where to go. When I came here the first time I tried to convince Diana and a few others to come with me, but I wasn't successful. I had nothing concrete to offer them, nothing that could maybe replace their sacred duty."

"But now we have." Buffy said, determined.

She walked up to the table, where a few of the figures were still arguing. Most of them had fallen back into silence, though. Faces covered with white hoods never moved, but Buffy could feel thousands of eyes following her as she moved to a spot where she hoped most of them could see her.

"We have come for your help." Buffy told the assembled Slayers. "The world, our world is in deadly danger. And not just ours, all the worlds are. The barriers between the dimensions are breaking apart and it could mean the destruction of everything unless we manage to stop it. We need your help to find a magical artifact that will help us undo this damage."

"Our destiny ..." one of the figures began.

"How long have you been sitting in this room?" Buffy asked them. "How long since the first of you came here? Centuries? Millennia? I can't tell you what your ultimate fate might be, but I can tell you that the world you died to protect needs you now, more than ever before."

"We did our duty." Another figure said. "We killed the monsters, just like the Watchers said. Haven't we done enough?"

"Being the Slayer was never about the Watchers. It wasn't about killing Vampires and beheading demons. I know that is what the Watchers told you, but they were wrong. Being the Slayer is about protecting our world. Protecting our people from things they can't protect themselves from. All of you know what it is like. At one time or another every single one of you stood between the innocents and the forces that would destroy them.

"Some of you think that you are here to wait for something. Maybe you were waiting for this. A chance to protect the world once more. To do what we can do better than anyone else. What we were born to do. Do you want to miss this chance? Do you want to keep sitting here in this room, waiting for another chance that might never come? More, do you want to keep sitting here while the world outside dies, knowing you might have helped prevent it?"

Buffy looked at all the white figures, all of whom were now definitely looking at her in turn.

"I need your help. The world needs your help. You are the Chosen Ones. This time you have a choice, though. This time you are the ones doing the choosing. And I'm asking you to choose now."

Buffy walked back to where Kendra and Faith were waiting, never taking her eyes away from the crowd of white-robed figures. None of them were moving.

"Great speech, B." Faith whispered. "You think they ..."

Faith's voice trailed off as the Slayer called Diana slowly rose from the table. Her face, immobile until a second ago, spread into wonder as she felt her body again for the first time in over a century. The white robe fell away from her body.

"I ... I want to come with you." She said after a minute of quiet wonder, looking at Buffy. "If I may."

Before Buffy could say anything the Slayer called Nicky rose well, her chest rising and falling quickly as she drew air into her lungs, feeling alive again after a seeming eternity in this chair.

"Maybe our destiny has not run its course yet." She just said, shedding the white robe.

"Maybe you are right." Buffy smiled at her.

One after the other the Slayers rose from the table, white robes falling to the ground like so many leaves in autumn. The white room was filled with colors as they emerged, dressed in the same clothes they had worn on their dying day, a wild clash of styles and colors from all over human history. Faith, Buffy, and Kendra looked on, amazed, as they came alive once more, thousands of them, and turned to face them.

"Well," Faith said, grinning, after the silence had lasted for several minutes, "it seems we have an army of Slayers. Now what do we do with them, General Buffy?"

For a moment Buffy felt very small under the expectant gaze of several thousand Slayers, but then she reminded herself of what was at stake, what they had to do, and who they were.

"We're going to save the world." Buffy told them all. "What else?"



20 - When Worlds Collide

#

EMERGENCY NEWSFLASH: Sensor arrays in the United States, Europe, and at least six other countries have registered a dimensional disturbance of magnitude twelve, at least twenty times stronger than the Golgotha Event. There are numerous reports of time distortions and spatial anomalies all over the globe. All citizens are advised to stay in their homes until the crisis has passed. Repeat, all citizens please stay in your homes until this crisis has passed. We will keep you up to date on developments as they occur.


Download from Global News Network Omninet, December 5, 2057

#


It began without warning.

Unless, of course, one considers a sky full of souls a warning, in which case the people of Earth had a two week advance notification of what was about to happen to their world. Some people, like Angel and his friends, a few governments that had put their troops on red alert, as well as an army of over 4000 Slayers that was, at this very moment, ripping through time and space in search of a book, had understood the warning and tried to prepare.

Many people, though, had already gotten used to the lights in the skies and the increasing presence of ghosts had, at the most, caused some mild panic here and there. So most people had, as was their nature, begun to pick up their daily routines again, still marveling at the changed skies, yet no longer as worried as they had been when the lights first appeared.

Some of them had seen something like what was about to happen before. Nineteen years ago, in New York. The greater demon Golgotha had breached the dimensional barriers and manifested on Earth, right in the middle of the city. Those that had been there to see it and lived to tell the tale were among the first to recognize the subtle change in the atmosphere. A creeping sensation of familiarity, of nightmares none of them really wanted to remember.

Only this time it was a lot worse.

From one second to the next the sky split wide open, a gaping rend in the very fabric of space. An invisible sword cleaved the firmament in half and from the ugly, open wound a million and more souls poured into the earthly plain like so many insects, their onslaught widening the crack even further.

Gale force winds picked up as the disturbance grew, weather patterns changing as a result of the huge patch of nothing that had suddenly appeared directly over Europe. Over the Balkans, to be exact, though the significance of this location was lost on most observers. They didn't know that it had been here, 150 years ago, that this crisis had been set into motion.

Millions of people looked up into the skies, seeing the gaping wound, saw the gray swirls of the between place behind it. A huge, pulsing nothing hung above their heads, and without realizing it most of them ducked under its weight, as if afraid the very heavens would come tumbling down on them any second now.

Which was very close to what happened next, actually.

The sound was distant at first, little more than a background noise, almost drowned out by the screaming terror of a few hundred million people. Then it grew louder, rising above the screams and the panic, rising above the howling winds, echoing across the entire globe even as the further dimensional disturbances appeared underneath the wound.

People were about to learn the one major difference between Heaven and Hell.

Heaven couldn't wait.

The barriers between worlds tore apart as Raguel sounded the Trumpet of Judgement and several dimensions that should normally be completely removed from ours suddenly overlapped with the Earth. The violent rupture of the Threshold played havoc with the laws of nature. Things that couldn't, mustn't exist in a dimension of solid, real things came pouring in through the crack, became real. Deadly, devastatingly real.

The towering steel city of Heaven manifested in the skies above Europe, Raguel standing on top of the Repository of Souls, sounding his trumpet. Its howl now drowned out every other sound, caused the people to fall to their knees in agony as blood spurted from ruptured ear drums.

The Repository was crackling with a power that, even now, with so much of its precious energy lost, could make worlds tremble. Lightning streaked across the heavens as the air around the floating city caught fire and an army of winged warriors began to descend from it like so many raindrops.

The land below, the land upon which they were descending, had already changed beyond recognition. The earth moved and ripped apart as dimensions converged and became as one. Fire pits opened up to spew flame and brimstone into the blackening skies, armies hailing from the darkest nightmares of the sleeping mind broke free from the soil and screeched in delight as the angels descended upon them, joining them in furious battle.

Hell came to Earth, just like Heaven had. As the angel's Repository blazed in the sky, pouring its power into Heaven's warriors, the razor-spiked Tower of the Damned emerged from the ground like a cancerous growth. Blazing with the power of its captured souls it spread its night-black crown of thorns over the land Hell took as its own, bringing its legions forth from the shattered dimensional walls.

The Threshold screamed as the unleashed energies assaulted it. More rends appeared, the skies now filled with billions of free souls that sought to escape the carnage descending upon the world they all hailed from. But there was no escaping, no safe place, for the dimensions were being crunched together like so many sheets of paper, compressed into one, and there was nowhere left to run.

Angel met demon in furious combat, the rulers of Heaven and Hell not caring that their conflict was only accelerating the damage done by a single magical spell performed so many decades ago. They were beyond caring, their very existence had led them to this day. Raguel had sounded the Trumpet of Judgement and the final battle had to take place here, where dimensions were crashing into one another.

Imprisoned inside the two siege engines, one in Heaven, one in Hell, billions of souls screamed in agony as their power was unleashed in a battle that could only end in annihilation.

#

"It's worse than I ever imagined." Angel whispered, seeing the images of the surveillance satellites flicker before him. Images of a war beginning that could very well tear their planet to pieces.

A war he had caused by his actions 150 years ago.

"Not yet," Willow mumbled absentmindedly, staring at her readouts, "but it will be."

"What do you mean?"

"Look!"

Angel looked at the screen again and could do nothing but watch helplessly as Hell's Tower of the Damned spewed out power in all directions, lightning bolts of destruction that struck right in the middle of European cities and towns and ...

... did no damage whatsoever?

"What is ...?" He began.

"They are still slightly out of phase with our dimension." Willow told him. "We can already see them, but they are still on a different plain of existence. For the moment."

Angel understood. So a tiny bit of the Threshold still held, separating them from the conflict that had begun seemingly right in their midst. Angels were tearing into demons, flush with power, and the Hell creatures responded in kind. Energies that made Earth's nuclear arsenal appear like firecrackers were unleashed against one another, hailing from the two giant siege engines that blazed like tiny suns.

A giant firework display that was completely harmless. For the moment.

"How long?"

"Impossible to say," Willow said, "especially with all that power they are pouring out. A few hours maybe. A day if we are very lucky."

Angel nodded, thinking. They had prepared for this day, as thoroughly as they had been able to in the short time they'd had. That time had almost run out now. The Book of Borders hadn't been found. Armageddon was but a decimal point of dimensional vibration frequency away.

"We better get the troops moving while we still can." Angel said. "Willow, please ring up President Chase. I'll inform the others."

Willow nodded as she watched Angel walk out of the room, his back bowed by guilt and responsibility. She knew it wasn't his fault, but no one had yet managed to convince him of that. She just hoped that she would have future chances to try and do just that. Considering where he was about to, though, that chance was slim at best.

With a deep sigh she opened her private comlink to the President's office and seconds later the tired face of Liam William Chase, President of the United States of America, appeared on the screen.

"Aunt Willow?" He said. "I guess I know what this call is about."

"Angel wants to get things moving, Liam. We have only a few hours left, I fear."

"I will inform my staff. I hope those Stepping Disks of yours are everything you said they are."

"I'm not worried about them. Only everything else."

The President nodded, understanding perfectly. For he, too, had seen the images of Armageddon commencing.

#

"It's time?" Buffy asked as she saw her husband approaching.

He just nodded, taking her into his arms as they held onto each other for a long moment. No words were needed between them anymore, their bond had become even stronger since the Necronomicon had intruded into it. It scared and comforted Buffy at the same time, but right now she was scared for an altogether different reason.

She felt her husband's determination, his complete resolve to rectify this imagined fault of his. No matter what it cost him. Like so often as of late she remembered the day he had given all his life's blood to close Acathler's gate, the day she had almost lost him.

'Just remember that we are one, Angel!' She sent to him through the bond. 'We'll make it through this together.'

'We will!' He assured her.

Arm in arm they walked down the rest of the corridor and reached the staging area.

"Everything ready?" Angel asked loudly, grabbing the combat gear laid ready for him.

"Bring on the angels!" Faith said with a smugness that was almost genuine, sliding a magically blessed sword into the spine sheath she wore, then strapping two huge guns to her thighs.

"Not to forget the demons and beasties." Spike said from where he stood by her side, loading up his coats with enough guns and ammunitions to supply a small army. All the bullets had runes carved into them, some of them were loaded up with disruption spells and other nasty things.

The Order of Tarakan, the Vampirium's special enforcers, just gave a few grunts to indicate their readiness. They had raided the hastily assembled arsenal provided by Darla's connections to Warwick Enterprises, the world's primary manufacturer of magical weaponry, something Willow had always shied away from. They looked like children who had been given a free pass at the toy factory. Children wearing grim demon faces.

Luke, Darla's blood brother, had gathered the very best of the Order of Aurelius, as well as selected warriors from the ten other Vampire Orders to fill up his ranks. The huge Vampire wasn't a man of many words, so he just gave Angel a short nod.

All in all their army numbered well over 500 people, all of them superb fighters, equipped with the best weaponry money could buy. And this was but the spearhead of the assembled forces, Angel knew. Even now President Chase and his European counterpart were mobilizing their military's finest, their deployment aided by the half dozen Stepping Disks Willow's people had managed to cobble together in all due haste.

Remembering the images he had seen, Angel wondered if they would survive the first five minutes of combat.

"Let's go!" He said, the golden portal of the Stepping Disk opening beneath them.

"Hurry, Kendra!" Buffy whispered under her breath as the disk began to rise around them. "Please hurry!"



21 - No Slaying In the Library

#

EMERGENCY NEWSFLASH: All citizens remain in your homes, do not venture outside under any circumstances. We are experiencing a class twelve dimensional rupture and the planet Earth is being invaded by extra-dimensional entities of unknown origin. All necessary steps toward repelling this invasion are already underway. Please remain calm and wait for further information. I repeat, stay in your homes and await further information.


Download from Global News Network Omninet, December 5, 2057

#

At the latest count neither the number of ethereal nor physical dimensions was stable. They were constantly changing, new dimensions being born even as old ones withered and died, leaves of a lotus flower falling off and to the ground while new leaves grew to take their place. There was no such thing as a fixed trail through these dimensions, no route that would take you the shortest way through all of them.

8,916,100,448,256 dimensions, twelve to the twelfth power, and Kendra was getting a bit tired. Over 4,000 Slayer had split up into small teams to scurry through worlds that were coming closer and closer together, guided only by the spell the witch Willow had given them. It provided, at best, a sense of direction, a feeling of coming closer or moving further away from their intended goal.

The old game of hot and cold, Kendra thought with a wry smile. She had never played it in life.

Along with her three companions, Diana, Nicky, and a Slayer from 18th century America called Jamie, Kendra had moved through worlds and dimensions she had never even dreamed of, much less imagined herself to visit one of these days.

They moved through a dimension that seemed to be an infinite plain of green grass, traversed by small groups of men and women on horseback, who waved to them as they flew by. They crossed through a world that was covered only with water, saw an entire civilization that flourished in its watery depths.

Their spirits were heavy as they visited a dead world circling a black star, where mass graves of dead warriors covered every square meter of the charred ground. The Slayers traversed an iron labyrinth that had a monster at its center, who advised them to move through an iron door nearby. It brought them to a city trapped inside eternal mist, where shadows conversed with each other on how best to escape from here.

Through it all they could feel the rumble of shattering barriers, dimensions moving closer and closer together, and they knew that they didn't have much time left.

Crossing dimensions once more they found themselves in a simple street, snaking along between endless rows of simple stone buildings, none of them more than two stories tall. They started walking, feeling that they were finally getting closer to their goal. In front of them they could see the street making impossible turns, upside, looping into the sky, curving through seemingly solid buildings which had no more substance than the shimmering air. They felt cold.

Walking around a corner into a side street they met a young girl who was looking for her dog. She was strange, her appearance constantly changing, her shadow bearing no relation to the body she wore. A small nightmare was walking by her side and bowed to them, honored to meet the famed Slayers of legend. The girl asked them whether they knew where her dog was and they were sad that they could not help her.

The next block held a little shop that sold needful things and the Slayers were asked by the shop owner whether they would play a small practical joke on the church chaplain on the other side of the street in exchange for a map that would show them their way to a place called the Library. The Slayers did not trust the evil looking face of the owner and declined, walking on instead.

It turned night when they rounded the next corner and strange stars burned overhead, making it clear that they had crossed dimensions once again without noticing. Three moons sped across the sky, fast enough that their movement could be seen by the unaided eye, or were they moving so slow? Several shadows skimmed past them and they paid them no attention.

Kendra got a glimpse of a strange figure, all blades and chromium steel, gutting a man where he stood, and they ran around the next corner.

They spent what appeared to be a week walking through the streets of a city that supposedly called itself Atlantis on a world called Gaia. They spoke to some of the people there and asked them whether they knew where to find the Book of Borders, but the people didn't see them. They were ghosts here again, it seemed, and could do nothing but move on.

Passing through a door set into a free floating statue of an ancient god, they arrived on another street, flanked by high-tech towers reaching up until they disappeared in a sky filled with bright suns from horizon to horizon. They spent some time talking to an artificial man who told them of his own lost journey through dimensions and how he wanted to find a starship called Prometheus. They parted, each wishing the other luck and a good journey.

While walking across the surface of what seemed to be the moon of Earth, the blue planet hanging in the sky like the eye of god, they stopped briefly to stroke a cat that walked across their path. It purred in response and pointed them toward another side street, indicating that this might be the right way for them. Then the cat vanished, its eyes and grin taking a moment longer to fade from view then the rest of it.

They found themselves in another plain city of stone and dusty side streets, the spell that helped them track their goal humming strong in their minds. The Book of Borders had to be near, so they walked up to a man standing at a corner and asked him for the way. By now they were certain that they were far beyond any kind of dimension ever catalogued by humans, alive or dead.

The man took out a street map and studied it. Kendra could make no sense of the twisting streets and warped highways she saw on what she thought was paper. Then the man pointed down the street they had just come from, even though it looked different now. The Slayers thanked the man who looked almost exactly like a man they had met in Atlantis several weeks earlier, only centuries older. The other did not seem to recognize them.

Walking down the street led them to a door made from cold iron, runes carved into them that seemed to be familiar to Kendra. Didn't they look a bit like the ones on the cover of the Necronomicon Nocturnum?

They opened the door and entered the Library.

#

The Librarian became aware that he had visitors. It wasn't that unusual an occurrence, though only a handful of entities even knew of this place's existence, much less how to get here. The Librarian had recently developed a string of paranoia, seeing as one of his books had been stolen only a short while ago. Short being relative to the spans of time the Librarian used to think in.

The visitors had barely entered the Library through one of its more distant and seldom-used entrances when the Librarian began to study them. He was certain they had never been here before. His memory wasn't perfect, unless it came to his books, but he thought that he would have remembered these creatures had he ever seen them before.

It took him but a moment to recognize their nature. Formerly physical beings, now passed beyond the pale into a state of pure quantum energy. Souls, yes, that was what the mortals called this state of being. These were not ordinary mortals, though, as he realized a moment later. They had been touched, all four of them, by one of the higher powers.

The Librarian knew all the books inside his library from start to finish, so it took him but another few seconds (time being very relative in this place) to remember a book that described mortals such as these in intimate detail.

Slayers. His visitors were Slayers.

With but a thought he stood before them, causing them to start back. They were new to the realms he traveled in, that much was apparent, and it was only due to the magic surrounding them that they had been able to find this place at all. The Librarian looked at them, curious to find out what they wanted, as prescience was not one of his abilities.

He waited a while longer until he realized they were trying to speak to him. Spoken words, he thought with the barest hint of a smile. How long had it been since anyone had used the spoken word in his presence? He didn't know. Searching for the long-neglected sense that would respond to this form of communication the Librarian finally concentrated on his hearing.

"... the Book of Borders. Do you know where we can find it?"

The Book of Borders? Could this be a coincidence, he wondered. A book from the same collection as the one that had been stolen from him recently? Yet he was certain that these four spirits were not responsible for the theft. They knew much too little about their own state of being and the possibilities it offered to have accomplished that. Still, there might be a connection.

The Librarian was rather certain that, as he had almost forgotten how to receive information through the spoken word, he would be horribly inadequate in trying to convey information in that way. So he drew one of his more useful books from the folds of his robe and opened it for the Slayers to look at.

The empty pages quickly filled with words, asking them what they wanted with the Book of Borders. He considered asking them about his stolen book, but resolved to first find out a bit more about their intentions first.

"We need it to repair the Ethereal Treshold." The spirit that seemed to be the leader of this small group told him, again in spoken words. "The Necronomicon Nocturnum told us that the Book of Borders would help us."

He had been right, there was a connection. Now that he knew it was easy for him to see that at least one of the four had clearly been close to his lost book. Its aura permeated her own.

The pages again filled with words. Where is the Necronomicon Nocturnum? It was stolen from here.

The spirits conversed among themselves for a moment, speaking too quick for the Librarian to follow. Maybe he should practice the spoken word more often. It might come in handy should he ever find himself in a situation such as this again.

"We did not steal the Necronomicon." The lead spirit informed him after a minute. "We will gladly return it to you, but first we need the Book of Borders to undo the damage the Necronomicon has wrought in our world."

A logical demand, the Librarian had to admit. Someone had apparently delivered his stolen book into the hands of these children, or ones like them, and it had led to chaos. Well, what else could one expect when giving power such as the book represented into the hands of these primitive beings? The question was whether he should really consider giving them access to yet more dangerous knowledge in order to repair the damage already done.

Deciding there was but one way to find out, he drew another book from his robe even as the pages of the one still floating in front of him spelled out another message for the spirits.

Write in this book, then we will see.

A pen appeared in the hand of the lead spirit, who called herself Kendra. She seemed confused for a moment, not knowing what he wanted her to write, but that didn't matter much. As soon as the second book was before her, its empty pages looking up at her, her hand moved of its own accord and began to write.

The Book of Written Truth quickly unveiled her intentions to the Librarian. Spoken words were full of lies, he remembered reading somewhere, but a book such as this could hold nothing but the truth. Lies would not hold on its pages. So the little spirit could do nothing but write the truth and nothing but the truth.

The Librarian was satisfied with what he read.

Without discernible movement they were in front of a large bookshelf, the same one where the absence of one book caused almost physical discomfort for the Librarian. Eleven books in that collection altogether, all of them very old and dangerous. He drew one of the remaining ten from its resting place, checking the cover to make sure that it was the right one. It was a superfluous move, he would never reach for a wrong book, but in this case he found that making sure was the safer way to handle things.

The Book of Borders, as full of ancient magic as the Necronomicon Nocturnum. The four little spirits eagerly awaited his handing the book to them, but at the last moment he thought better. No reason to tempt fate more than necessary.

Carefully he opened the book and found the pages he sought. Yes, these should do. Without any movement on his part three pages separated from the book, torn out by invisible hands without leaving any kind of ragged edge or damage. The Librarian would later be able to fit the pages back into the book and no one would ever be able to tell that they had been absent.

He handed the pages to the four little spirits, all the while the Book of Borders returned to its resting place. The smaller book still hovering in front of him displayed one final message for his visitors.

"Bring back the pages and the Necronomicon as soon as you can." After a moment another word appeared. "Please."



22 - Afterlife, the Universe, and Everything

#

EMERGENCY NEWSFLASH: A multi-national military task force has moved into position to repel the extra-dimensional invasion currently taking place over the Balkans. Information is sketchy, but apparently this force also includes a division comprised entirely of Vampires, led by the famed Angelus.

Hostilities are to commence at any time now. All citizens stay in your homes until the crisis has passed. We will keep you up to date on new developments as they occur.


Download from Global News Network Omninet, December 6, 2057

#

"How close are we?"

"Close enough to smell them. If they smell."

Angel and Spike stood on a hilltop near the gathering zone and looked at the end of the world happening right in front of them. Demons and angels locked in a deadly embrace of power and destruction, the air around them burning, the fabric of space screaming as they tore through it with fire and damnation.

None of it touched the Earth. Yet.

"I don't think we have been here since that day." Angel said, never taking his eyes off the battle. "Never even ventured close."

Their forces were assembling less than a mile away from the overlapping, the point where the dimensions were falling into one another. Sensors showed the convergence zone to cover an area of over one hundred square kilometers, growing larger by the minute. And moving closer to coming in synch with their own dimension as well.

The abandoned monastery where they had found the Necronomicon Nocturnum all these years ago was a few kilometers off to their left.

"This is a really bad time to return to your brood routine, Peaches." Spike told him. "You might want to save that for after we kick their shiny haloed asses back to the pearly gates."

Angel smiled at his childe, but inside he doubted they could. Looking behind him for a moment he watched the assembling army, forces from just about every military of the world, plus some that weren't. In over 300 years of existence he had never seen a military force so large assembled in so short a time. Even as he watched more vehicles and soldiers were pouring in through the shimmering portals of half a dozen Stepping Disks.

Seeing what was in front of them, he doubted it would make any difference.

"Even if we do that," he said, "it won't solve the problem. The pearly gates are coming here, Will. As is just about every other dimension we ever heard of. And a lot we haven't."

The gaping rend into nothingness hung over their heads like an omen of doom, reminding them that the apocalypse taking place right in front of them might yet prove to be the lesser threat.

"We got a few thousand Slayers scouring every dimension imaginable for that other book, remember?"

"And we haven't heard a peep from them since they went on their journey. Our time is running out."

Angel checked the remote unit he carried on his wrist, hooked directly into the orbital sensor grid that was watching the battle in front of them with keen digital eyes.

"We can't afford to wait until their dimensions are in synch with ours. The forces they unleash against each other would reduce the Earth to cinders in a matter of hours. We have to take the battle to them."

It was a desperate gamble they played. The longer they waited, the greater the chance that the Slayers might yet return with the Book of Borders. But they couldn't wait forever.

"Willow's people estimate another hour at best until synchronicity is achieved." Angel checked the readings. "Meaning we have to get moving now."

Spike took a flask from the back of his pants and drained it in a single gulp.

"Here we go, we band o'buggered." He mumbled as he followed Angel down the hill. "Once more into the breach, to kick ass and take names."

At the foot of the hill a small group of people was waiting for them, positioned around a small field table. Buffy and Faith stood close together, checking each other's combat gear for the hundredth time or so. Giles and Wesley, who looked more real than ever before with the Threshold as thin as it was, stood close to them, silently conferring about something. Luke, who would lead their entire compliment of Vampires, including the Tarakans, stood next to them.

General John Reddeck had been put into overall command of the assembled military forces, but only after receiving orders from President Chase himself that he was to follow the orders of the black-clad Vampire coming down the hill right now. Reddeck wasn't particularly fond of taking orders from civilians, alive or undead, but had quickly come to realize that this Angel O'Conner, sometime Marshall for the PID, knew a whole lot more about what was going on here than he did. So he grudgingly accepted the chain of command as it was.

"We're going to move out." Angel said without preamble. "The dimensions are almost in synch, we can't afford to wait any longer. General, your troops are ready?"

"As can be. We will be moving in with as much initial firepower as we can. As we don't know what weapons in our arsenal can hurt these creatures," if any, he didn't say, "we will try and hit them with everything right at the get go."

"Good." Angel nodded. "Our only real chance of winning this battle is to take out their power sources. The Repository," he pointed to the gleaming steel city that hovered in the air above them, "and Hells' Tower of the Damned." The black monstrosity was visible even behind the hills.

"I understand your troops will move in and try to accomplish just that." Reddeck asked for confirmation.

"Yes, General. We need your people to provide as much covering fire as you can muster, so that we can sneak close to those siege engines without having to fight our way through those two armies. With some luck we will be able to ..."

Angel's voice trailed off as his eyes focused on something behind them. Buffy was the first to turn around, alarmed by what she felt across her bond with Angel. The others followed suite, wondering what could possibly ...

An angel stood before them. An angel that looked like he had been through a war. The battle armor he wore was scorched and broken in a dozen places, the skin beneath it raw and bleeding. His formerly handsome face was smeared with sooth and the brilliant white wings folded on his back were stained with blood. So much blood.

Buffy had been to Heaven, had faced the seven Archangels. She recognized him.

"Raphael!" She whispered.

He carried a sword in one hand, a sword that, just like his wings, was stained with the blood of his enemies. Probably some of his own as well. Even as they watched the sword fell from his hand, clattering to the ground.

"This is your fault!" The Archangel whispered, pain evident in each of the four words.

Angel took a step toward him, aware that the sudden appearance of Raphael had attracted the attention of quite a few soldiers, who were pointing their guns at him. No one was shooting yet, though.

"Raphael, we ..." He began.

"I am the Angel of Healing!" Raphael thundered at him, causing the watching soldiers to start. "I was created to ease suffering! To preserve life! But now ... now ..."

He dropped to his knees, weeping glowing tears from his eyes.

"This is all your fault!" He repeated.

Angel gestured to the soldiers to lower their weapons, Buffy and him slowly moving toward the Archangel.

"Raphael!" Angel began anew. "We are trying our best to undo the damage we did. We ..."

Raphael's face shot up from his hands, a condensing smile on his face.

"Oh, you clueless idiots. You think this is happening because of your precious Restoration spell? Yes, of course. You gave us the excuse. The excuse to begin a war that was inevitable from the day you created us."

"We ... we created you?" Buffy asked, confused.

Raphael exploded into laughter, but there was no humor in it.

"You don't even know, do you?" He sobbed between laughs. "You caused all this and you don't even know. Do you think we wanted to be like this? Do you think we asked for it?"

In a lightning fast movement he grabbed Buffy by the shoulders and pulled her in close, bringing them eye to eye. Angel was about go between them, but something made him hesitate. There was so much pain on Raphael's face and he was certain it didn't hail from his many wounds.

"Look into my eyes, human!" The Archangel thundered at Buffy. "Look into my eyes and tell me what you see!"

Buffy was caught in a grip that could crush mountains, but it didn't even register with her right now. She stared into Raphael's eyes, as she had done once before during her visit to Heaven. Now, like then, she saw past the gleam of power and light the angels carried in their eyes. Behind that ...

"Nothing!" She whispered. "I look into your eyes and there is nothing."

Raphael let her go and crumbled to the ground, weeping.

"Why couldn't you just stay content with what you had?" He whispered. "Why couldn't you just go beyond the pale and just be content with nothingness? No, you had to start expecting things. You wanted there to be things on the other side of the Threshold, you wanted glorious worlds on the other side of death, worlds filled with angels and demons, gods and monsters."

Looking up at them, he laughed again. "I hope you are happy with our Armageddon, humans. Is it like you always imagined it? Do we perform to your satisfaction?"

Everyone who had heard his words was frozen, unable to believe what he had told them. Buffy's thoughts were going in circles. Was it possible? That terrible world she had seen during her trip to Heaven, these empty creatures who wanted nothing but war and destruction ... was it possible that they had created them? Had mankind's hunger for a life after death created them?

"We never wanted this." Raphael whispered, all strength gone from his huge frame. "But what choice did we have? How could an angel pass on the opportunity to destroy Hell? How could we not gather as much power as we could in order to do that? How could we not bring about the end of the world if that was what you wanted from us?"

Angel listened and had to think of all the different religions he knew. The Norse Ragnarok, the Revelation of John, the Greek Gods battling the Titans, just about every religion on Earth spoke of a final battle that would bring about the end. Did mankind want it that way? Had they somehow managed to create a self-fulfilling prophecy only through their belief?

No! He would not accept that!

"Raphael!" He knelt down beside the Archangel. "I am sorry if we somehow caused this suffering you have to go through, but right now we have to concentrate on preventing it. I don't care if humanity somehow has brought this down on themselves, but we are going to stop it from happening."

Raphael just laughed. "And how will you do that, human? The final battle has already begun. It can not be stopped. None of us can stop, we don't have the will to make a choice. You never gave us that."

"But you made the choice to come here." Buffy told him. "If everything you said is true you should still be out there, doing your best to slaughter demons, instead of coming here. Why are you here, Raphael?"

The angel looked confused for a moment. "I ... I am the Angel of Healing. You created me ... created me that way. I have to ... to try and ..."

"We are going to stop this, Raphael!" Angel told him forcefully. "And if you can help us we might even have a chance."

"A chance?"

"We are going to destroy the Repository and the Tower of the Damned."

For a long moment Raphael just stared at him, then he exploded into laughter again.

"You are funny, human. I wish you had given us some of your sense of humor along the way."

"I am not joking. We are going to destroy those siege engines, which will rob both Heaven and Hell of their power to continue this war, correct?"

Taken in by the determination on Angel's face Raphael grew serious again.

"Yes, yes it will but ..."

"Can you help us do it?"

The two men, one an angel in truth, the other just in name, looked at each other for long minutes. Raphael, this empty creature, saw a being that was so much more than he could ever hope to be. Filled with dreams, with hope, despite all the self doubt and guilt he also carried with him. It made the emptiness inside himself even more painful that it had always been.

Angel looked at Raphael and imagined that he saw the barest glint of ... something ... inside that emptiness.

"I ... I will help you." Raphael said.

"Good!" Angel offered him his hand and pulled him back to his feet. "With your help we might just have a good chance to ..."

He was cut off when the air around them started to shimmer. Soldiers raised their weapons again, Vampires slipped into demon faces, Raphael reached for his dropped sword.

Without warning more than 4,000 ghostly shapes snapped into existence all around them, spirits in the form of young girls, filling every empty place in the gathering zone, scaring more than a few soldiers half to death.

Kendra materialized right in front of Buffy and Angel, smiling.

"You ordered a book?" She said.

Angel took the three pages she offered him, confused for a moment, but only until they touched his skin. The symbols of the paper moved and shifted as he looked at them, showing him the knowledge they contained.

Buffy gasped as the power spilled through their bond. "Angel?" She asked.

A smile spread on Angel's face as he looked up at his friends and allies.

"We might just win this one yet."



23 - To Storm the Pearly Gates

#

ENGAGEMENT ORDERS:

Mission Objective: Special units comprised of Angelus' Vampires and the spirits that have manifested just now are going after the two siege engines that supply power to the extra-dimensionals.

To aid in that mission all mechanized troops are to lay down heavy covering fire on the warring parties as soon as they have gone through the Stepping Disks. Clear a path toward the main objectives. Retreat is not an option. No prisoners.


Orders issued by General John Reddeck, December 6, 2057, 13:45

#


The Angel of Death was in her element. All around her the battle she had prepared for all her existence was raging and Gabriel practiced her trade. She had lost count of the demons that had fallen into ashes under her searing touch, did not know from how many different creatures the blood on her flaming blade hailed, and she did not care in the least. This was the final battle and if the universe collapsed into smoldering ashes after it, so be it.

If angels were capable of having fun then Gabriel was having a blast.

Legions upon legions of demonic warriors swarmed towards the armies of Heaven and were met with white fire. Gabriel wore a greater demon's severed head around her neck as a trophy, even as her sword sheared through the attackers like a scythe at harvest.

She was quite surprised when the battle lines were suddenly bathed in the fires of exploding missiles.

"Who dares?" Gabriel thundered, looking for whatever demonic attack was coming toward them from their flank.

Half a dozen golden disks burned brightly in the sky. Gabriel needed but a moment to realize that they were portals, allowing access to this convergence of collapsing dimensions from elsewhere. She had taken note that the Ethereal Threshold had ruptured, but only in passing, giving but the slightest thought to the fact that their battle would incinerate the world of mortals the moment the dimensions were in synch, which would happen any moment now.

Never in a million years would she have expected that world to fight back.

Armored vehicles of all shapes and sizes spilled through the dimensional openings, finding track on the scorched ground of Hell, and opened fire. Missiles streaked toward the warring armies, carrying warheads ranging from light ordnance to tactical nukes. Fighter jets and bombers followed, unleashing their own version of fire and brimstone. Thousands of armored soldiers streamed through in the wake of the armor, advancing in orderly formations that were foreign to both the armies of Heaven and Hell, and started shooting. Their ranks were bolstered by several thousand spirits, each of them touched by the higher powers and eager for action.

Nearly a full minute passed before either angel or demon were able to overcome their shock at this new development.

The weapons of humanity, harnessing both the power of technology and magic, tore into the warring armies with a vengeance. Lesser angels and demons vaporized as explosions bloomed like miniature suns. Hailstorms of bullets, enchanted and regular, tore them to pieces where they stood. Bloodstained feathers rained to the ground like so much snow. That first minute of combat the united armies of Earth inflicted fatalities that would have made the most hardened of generals weep.

Then the shock passed.

Gabriel was among the first to counter this new and completely unexpected threat. She was the Angel of Death and humans had learned to fear her long before the written word could tell of her deeds. She had turned human cities to salt, had rained fire down upon Soddom and Ghommora. Never in a million years would she have believed them capable of lifting a finger against the Heavenly Host, but that didn't mean she would let them get away with it.

With but a gesture her power struck at the advancing human army and a hundred soldiers died where they stood, their hearts bursting in their chests. The demons retaliated as well. Hellfire flared, melting battle steel into slag, sending burning soldiers running like human torches. For a brief moment demons and angels completely forgot each other, united against this new threat, but that didn't last long.

Armageddon turned into an three-way battle, even as Gabriel realized that someone or something was moving toward the Repository of Souls.

#

500 Slayers, only two of them alive, moved toward the steel city of Heaven. Several hundred Vampires were by their side, natural enemies putting their enmities to rest in the face of Armageddon. They were lead by the Archangel Raphael, and descended upon the pearly gates like a plague of locusts.

Uriel, who guarded the Pearly Gates even now, was taken completely by surprise. He had only seen his brother, had kept his eyes on the battle taking place below, never even considered the material creatures a threat until they opened fire on him.

His giant frame was torn to pieces in a hail of enchanted bullets, blown apart by grenades that unleashed spells of fire. The Slayers, no less real in this place than any of their physical allies, assaulted the gates even before Uriel fell to his knees, tearing away at it with weapons that were as corporeal as Heaven itself, yet hailed only from their imagination.

Raphael spared but a sad glance at his fallen brother. He hadn't wanted any of this, but there was no way back now. The Pearly Gates broke under the onslaught of hundreds of spirits that didn't put one ounce of belief into Christianity and the few angels that had remained behind to guard the Repository were treated to a sight such as even they had never seen.

An army of humans and spirits that surged toward them through the shattered gates.

Buffy stood at the center of the carnage, flanked by Raphael, Faith, and Kendra. The Repository loomed before them, their objective already in sight, and she drowned herself in what she had dubbed Slayer-mode. Instincts took over, the world around her reduced to allies and enemies, the latter but targets for her to pick off one by one. Angels fell by her side in droves, struck down by her anger, and they moved forward.

"Press the attack!" She heard Luke yell at his troops. "We are almost through!"

There was a defensive line of angels in front of them and hundreds of Slayers crashed into them, breaking them apart in a second. Angelic flesh parted beneath their weapons every bit as easily as human flesh would, angels screamed as they died. More than one Slayer paid for this attack as flaming swords cleaved their ethereal forms in two, sending them screaming into whatever place might await dying souls.

Buffy didn't care, not now. Later she would weep for her lost sisters, but not right now.

"We have almost reached the Repository," Raphael said at her side, "I never thought it was possible to do this, but ..."

His words cut off as something exploded from his chest. Buffy started back, radiant blood spattering her all over. Raphael convulsed as the sword imbedded in his body was savagely twisted, a scream tearing from his lips.

"TRAITOR!" Gabriel thundered, tearing her sword free from her brother's flesh. "Leading our enemies right into the heart of Heaven. Not even Lucifer dared such as this."

Raphael fell to his knees, his wings withering away to nothing. His eyes, not quite empty anymore, swiveled towards Buffy, expressing worlds of sorrow and pain. Then he fell over and moved no more.

"You will all die!" Gabriel thundered. She was dressed in black battle armor, her raven wings spread, her entire form stained with the blood of a thousand slain enemies. The horned head she wore around her neck bounced from her chest plate, while her empty eyes blazed with fury.

"Take her!" Luke screamed, dozens of Vampires opening fire.

The bullets evaporated before they could even reach her. Gabriel struck out with her flaming sword and a hundred Vampires fell into ashes were they stood. Slayers attacked her, but were brushed away like gnats. With a gesture Gabriel caused the Repository itself to strike out, a flaring light sucking the souls of Buffy's sister into the black glass tower as they screamed helplessly.

Buffy saw their attack falling apart right before her eyes and wanted to do something, anything. She began to move, to attack.

Gabriel didn't leave her the chance. Her sword was like a living thing, moving faster than thought, and Buffy didn't even have time to scream as its steel length buried itself in her heart.

The world seemed to come to a stop, Buffy staring directly into the empty orbs of her opposite. Gabriel was nothing but death and destruction personified. Raphael had been created to heal, which had given him just enough sense of empathy with humanity to go past his own limitations. Gabriel had no such thing. She was Death and had come to claim Buffy.

"Thus is the fate of enemies of Heaven!" Gabriel ripped the sword free of her body in a shower of crimson. Buffy fell to the floor, all strength gone, her ears filled with the stillness of her heart as her life's blood ran away from her. The bond was wide open and she could hear Angel scream as her pain hit him.

She tried to shield him somehow, tried to close the bond before it could drag him down into the grave along with her. She couldn't allow Angel to die as well. He was leading the attack on Hell at this moment, the universe depended on him to succeed.

But the bond couldn't be closed. None of what was happening all around them mattered anymore. She was dying and he would die with her. They had failed.

Buffy was on the floor, watching her blood as it ran away across the black marble of Heaven's street, when she felt a hand touch her.

"It mustn't end this way!" Raphael's voice whispered in her ear. "We never wanted this. You have to stop it!"

She wanted to tell him that she couldn't do anything anymore, that she was already as good as dead, but once again things moved too fast for her as Raphael's hand squeezed hers.

Without warning a searing pain shot through Buffy's veins, white-hot metal filling up her body from head to toe. She surged up to her knees, convulsing, as her limbs trembled and her flesh knitted back together in the space of a heartbeat. A heartbeat that returned to her, filling her body with its sweet music.

"I heal!" She heard Raphael whisper past the thundering in her ears. "It's what I was created to do. All I ever wanted to do."

Even as he said it, though, Buffy knew that he was doing more than that. She had never felt so strong, so very much alive before. Power filled her every cell, a power as white and searing as the sun itself. New agony ripped through her back as she felt her skin part; something tore free from her flesh and unfolded with a murmur like beautiful music.

Raphael's sword had fallen to the floor beside him, his body now cold and lifeless. Buffy bent down to pick up the weapon, which flared to life in her hands.

"All enemies of Heaven die!" Gabriel screamed as she tore into the remains of the attackers, Vampires and Slayers helpless before her. Faith was desperately trying to restore some order to the attack, tried to think of something that would help them overcome this force of nature they were facing.

She didn't have to.

"I wouldn't count on that!" The voice made Gabriel freeze. The enemies that surrounded her where now staring past her, looking wide-eyed at something closing in from behind.

Gabriel turned around and stared as well.

"I don't know about you," Buffy said, flaming sword in hand, ebony wings spreading from her back, "but I'm feeling pretty damn powerful."



24 - Hell Hath No Fury Like an Angel Angered

#

Hello, this is Julius Hart. Yes, I did not expect me to call you, either. Listen. It seems my association with Samuel Morning has come to a rather sudden end. How? Well, he basically said that Hell would not require legal services any longer, seeing as the world would soon come to an end. Yes, that is what he said. Anyway, I called because, well, Faustian deals aside, I find myself rather fond of this world. Plus I got a signed contract promising me immortality, which will be kind of moot if there is no world left to be immortal in, correct? So listen closely ...


Phone call made by Julius Hart, senior partner of Wolfram & Hart. December 6, 2057 AD

#


Angel and his army were approaching Hell's Tower of the Damned, having broken through the demon's outer line of defense, when it hit him.

Buffy.

A terrible pain shot through him, a length of cold steel burying itself in flesh that might as well be his own. He dropped to his knees, clutching the wound that wasn't visible to anyone but himself. He heard his beloved scream through the bond, heard her death cry.

"What is it, mate?" Spike was by his side instantly, yet his childe's presence was barely noticeable through the pain, the worry on his face unable to touch him.

"Buffy!" Angel screamed, convulsing, blood gushing from his mouth. Buffy was dying, he could feel her life fading through the bond, her light going out. This couldn't be happening. It was supposed to be forever.

He felt her trying to protect him, trying to close off the bond so he wouldn't die with her. He tried to reach her through it, tried to push his own life into her, willing to die on the spot if only she could live.

Neither of them was successful.

"I am a bit disappointed, I must say." Angel was lost in the pain, but Spike looked up to see a man in a black suit standing right in front of them, between the army and the Tower of the Damned.

"Morning!" Spike growled. He had never met the demon himself, but Angel had told him enough.

"Hello, William. Tell me, if Liam here dies, will you try and lead this little suicide mission to its success?"

Morning looked up, seeing the conflict still raging in the distance. Three armies locked in a deadly embrace, unleashing violence the likes this world had never seen.

Even from here it was clearly visible that the humans and spirits were rapidly losing ground.

"Your big attack is failing, you know?" Morning said in conversational tone. "From Liam's reaction here I'd guess that his beloved Buffy just died, so it's a safe bet the attack on Heaven failed as well. And, sorry, but I can't allow this attack here to succeed, either."

Spike had half a thousand Slayers behind him, three hundred armed Vampires, and only this one demon stood between them and their objective. They could do this. He didn't like the look of smug confidence on Morning's face, but he wasn't about to be intimidated by it, either.

"We'll see about ..." He began.

Suddenly Angel surged back to his feet.

"Peaches?" Spike started back, taken aback by the anger and power suddenly radiating from his Sire. Angel's gaze locked with Morning's and the demon blinked.

"You are wrong on two accounts, Morning." Angel growled. "The attack on Heaven has not failed. And neither will this one."

Morning was obviously surprised, but didn't look any less confident than a moment ago. He smiled at the Vampire facing him, arrogance oozing from his every pore.

"Confidence is all well and good, Liam, but you don't honestly expect me to see the error of my ways and just step aside, do you?"

"Wouldn't dream of it." Angel turned to Spike. "I will take care of this, Will. You take the others and destroy the Tower."

"Are you sure ...?" Spike began.

"I am. Go!"

Morning shook his head. "Better stay, William. This will only take a second."

Angel walked up to him, his blood pounding with the renewed life of his beloved. He didn't know what had happened to Buffy, but he knew that she was alive and well. He felt her live and breathe, felt her fight with a strength she had never had before, and that was more than enough to face Samuel Morning eye to eye.

"You can not defeat me, Liam." Morning said with a condensing smile. "You know that."

"No, I don't. And my name is not Liam anymore."

Then both of them moved and Spike and the others had to avert their eyes. Angel and Morning met in a glare of hellfire, scorching the ground around them. Spike screamed, calling out to his Sire, his friend, even as the army behind him sprang into action. Whatever happened in there, Angel had wanted them to destroy the Tower, was probably sacrificing his life right now to buy them the time they needed.

Slayers and Vampires streamed past the fireball that had consumed Angel and Morning, closing in on the towering monstrosity that had imprisoned so many of their fellow spirits. Spike joined them after but a moment, tearing himself away from the glare.

"Good luck, Peaches!" He whispered, running toward the Tower.

Spike was followed by the growling of the two fighters. One of whom had now shed all pretense of ever having been human. Morning grew in size, his skin turning a crimson red. Horns sprouted from his forehead, fangs grew in his mouth.

"YIELD!" The greater demon screamed, pushing against his opponent with all his unholy strength.

"NEVER!" Angel held his ground. The two were locked against each other, the much larger demon trying to muscle his enemy into the ground and finding that feat impossible to accomplish. Angel wasn't impressed by the hellfire surging around him, didn't yield to the demon's superior strength.

His face was still human, the Vampire face nowhere to be found, and Angel smiled.

"You can't face me!" Morning screamed, desperation creeping into his voice. "I am the Lord of Hell! No soul can face me!"

"I can!" Angel screamed back.

Just before the attack Angel had received a call on his cell phone. A call from one Julius Hart, something Angel hadn't expected. Or maybe he had. Maybe that glimmer he had seen in Hart's eyes when they had both gazed upon Hell's Tower of the Damned had really meant something.

Whatever his true motivation, Hart had decided to break client confidentiality (if there was such a thing after a business association came to an end because of impending Armageddon) just long enough to supply Angel with a few bits of information about Hell and its most prominent representative, Samuel Morning.

He added that he would deny ever having said anything if he were to be questioned, especially if said questioning would be done by demons.

Angel remembered now. No, remembering was the wrong word. Memories were physical, something stored in the brain. He felt it, deep in that place where his soul sat. Feelings of pain and desperation, a century and more of torture and cruel games. He had been here before. He had faced this creature before and existed in unending terror for 150 years before the Gypsies brought him back.

This time, being who he was and knowing what he did now, it was different.

"Been there!" Angel spat into Morning's face. "Done that! Hell holds no power over me anymore!"

"Impossible!" Morning surged with redoubled strength, but still couldn't move Angel. "I know your soul! I know you are weak! You have been mine for over a century, Liam!"

"But I am not Liam anymore!" Angel smiled and forced Morning a step backward.

Morning was powerful enough to smash a world to cinders. His every heartbeat was like a nuclear explosion, he could make the oceans boil with a gesture, could send a million mortals screaming in terror.

"All that strength," Hart had said, "hails from us, though. From the souls Hell has captured, but also from our own fear of him. Remember that we created Hell, Angel. Us mere humans. And what does the good old scripture say about Hell? It can't defeat the righteous. Very naïve, I might say, but that's made-up stories for you. And made-up worlds, too."

Angel had never really considered himself one of the righteous. He had so many things to be sorry for. So much pain and sorrow that he had unleashed upon this world. But things had changed.

Having seen Hell, having learned about the afterlife, had shown him, more than any abstract knowledge he had ever possessed, that his soul was who he was. Not the body, possessed by a demon. His soul had been here, in Hell, if for no greater reason than Liam's believing he deserved it.

He wasn't Liam any more. He wasn't Angelus, either. Those two were parts of him, but that was all they were. He was Angel, a person all his own, and though he didn't know whether he could honestly count himself among the righteous, apparently someone or something else was more certain of it than he.

The hellfire didn't burn him.

"How dare you!" Angel growled at Morning, whose demon face now expressed something he had never known before in his nearly eternal existence.

Fear.

"How dare you come here and threaten my people!" Angel forced him back another step.

"You can't defy me!" Morning yelled, unable to believe that he appeared to be losing this fight. "You have no place here! This is the final battle between Heaven and Hell and you have no part in it!"

"Don't we? Maybe it's time we mere mortals stopped giving you our power. Maybe it's time we stopped imagining your world into existence."

Morning paled.

"We know everything about you!" Angel thundered at the surprised demon. "We know you are nothing but a nightmare we dreamed into being. You wouldn't even exist if we hadn't wanted it so."

The Tower of the Damned shook as explosions bloomed at its base. In the skies above them the steel city of Heaven shuddered. And in a small room half a world away a circle of the world's most powerful witches, led by Willow Rosenberg, were using three pages torn from a book to invoke magic that was older than all the dimensions collapsing in on one another right now.

And a billion and more souls cried freedom.



25 - There Fell a Great Star From Heaven, Burning

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EMERGENCY NEWSFLASH: Sensor grid is registering an eruption of High Magic beyond all established scales. This is no doubt connected with the ongoing battle to repel the extra-dimensional invaders currently taking place in the Balkans. Satellite observation showed numerous explosions in the area before we lost all imagery. All citizens are advised to prepare for backlash effects (click to see a list of known backlash effects for High Magic events) and stay in their homes until an all-clear is given. We will keep you informed.


Download from Global News Network Omninet, December 6, 2057

#

Faith did not stay to watch the battle unfolding in the skies above Heaven, though she suspected she would miss quite a show. Her job, as well as those of her sisters and the Vampires that accompanied them, was to destroy the black glass tower rising into the skies right in front of them and to free the souls trapped within. They were on a schedule here, tedious as it was, and couldn't afford any delay.

Faith's job was to blow something up, which was fine with her.

Gabriel was the Angel of Death. Her touch could kill a thousand men at once, her sword would never miss its mark or inflict a wound that was anything but fatal. Yet today it had failed her. Today one she had discarded as dead had risen and was now facing her in a battle the likes of which Gabriel had never even imagined. The Slayer had been restored by the dying ember of Raphael's healing power, and was given all the strength remaining inside of him. Given his wings, his sword, his link to the near limitless power residing in Heaven's Repository of Souls, and filled with a burning determination to preserve the world she had been born to protect.

And Gabriel, empty of everything but the desire to destroy, found that she had met her match.

In Hell Samuel Morning was driven to his knees by someone whom the fires of Hell couldn't touch. Someone whose soul had been in Hell once before, only to be wrenched from their grasp by a stupid Gypsy tribe. Morning had been certain that he knew this soul, knew the sniveling weakling he had played with for over a century.

Morning found that he had been very, very wrong.

From his office in Los Angeles Julius Hart watched the unfolding events and was quite content with what he saw. Granted, his clients (former clients) were losing the battle, but so were the angels and, seeing as that would leave this world he was so fond of intact, he found that to be a pretty good development. No one knew that he had given Angelus a little help in the matter, so Wolfram & Hart's reputation should remain unblemished. Losing Morning as a client was tragic, there had been many benefits involved in that relationship, but it couldn't be helped.

All in all, Julius Hart was having quite a good day.

The armies of Heaven and Hell, still locked in battle with what remained of the unexpected attackers from Earth, noticed that something was going very wrong. This was supposed to be the final battle. Armageddon. Ragnarok. The Apocalypse. Whichever name one gave it, this was supposed to be it. Yet instead of one of them winning, both sides suddenly felt their power weakening, their strength draining away. Even as Earth's defenders got a second wind and attacked with new vigor the demons and angels turned their heads toward their respective sources of strength, not believing what they saw.

Angels and demons both started to realize that they would lose this battle.

In Magitech Central, California, twelve of the world's most powerful witches were sitting around three floating pages, building up a spell the likes no one had seen since the creation. Magical power was thick in the air, suffusing every cell of their bodies. They barely understood what they were doing here, knew only that the Book of Borders had created the boundaries of the dimensions in the first place and could do so again.

Unleashing the primal power locked in the deceptively mundane-looking pages, Willow and her witches experienced the greatest rush of their lives.

In the Library the shelve which should have contained the eleven book collection that both the Necronomicon Nocturnum and the Book of Borders belonged to, still missing one of its number, could be seen humming and pulsing with power. The ten books, plus their missing counterpart, were connected in ways not even the Librarian fully understood. More, they were alive, or so close to it that the difference was indeterminable. After having rested here in the Library for eons they could sense that, for the second time in what was less than an eyeblink to them, the power they contained had been unleashed to serve its original purpose. Creation.

The books found that to be a very good thing and the Librarian could have sworn he heard them chuckle.

Heaven's Repository of Souls was the first to fall. In their near infinite arrogance the angels had never taken any kind of measures to protect their tower of black glass from attackers. No one would be so brazen as to attack Heaven, they had thought, and even if they did, they would surely be repelled by the righteous power of Heaven's defenders.

Only one of which was still standing right now, or flying rather, deadlocked against an opponent she could not defeat, leaving the Repository defenseless. Explosions bloomed at its base, cracks ran up its towering height like skeletal hands looking to tear it down, the black glass shattered under the strain. Gabriel screamed as the symbol of Heaven's supremacy collapsed and Buffy used that one moment of distraction to drive Raphael's sword home.

The Angel of Death fell from the sky, still screaming, as the Repository burst into a million shards of black glass and the lights of the imprisoned souls filled the skies as they burst free.

Hell's Tower of the Damned didn't last much longer. Samuel Morning was on his knees, helpless before his opponent, and forced to watch the towering monstrosity that held his power be consumed by flames. Its pulsing veins snapped, its razorblade exterior burst open, the night-black crown of thorns it had spread over the landscape Hell had claimed went up in flames.

The dark crimson twilight of Hell was driven away as a billion freed spirits rejoiced.

Morning felt his power fade away, strength collected over thousands of years disappeared in an instant, and Angel's finally killing him was almost an act of mercy.

For the observers on Earth things happened very fast after that. For weeks they had seen their skies filled with the lights of souls, fugitives from Heaven and Hell, looking to escape through the weakening Threshold to the Earth plain. Then the Threshold had ruptured, a gaping rend appearing in the heavens, and the lights had rained down on Earth. The havoc caused by millions and more ghosts had gone almost unnoticed, though, after the appearance of Heaven and Hell on Earth.

The convergence zone, where dimensions had started to collapse in on one another, was almost completely in synch with the Earth plain by the time it erupted into light. The brilliance exploded over half the globe, billions of onlookers had to avert their eyes or risk going blind, and the darkness of night turned bright as day. The network of observation satellites crashed and shorted out, their sensors overloaded by the glare, which was visible all the way to the Luna colony.

Only the slight difference in quantum vibration that yet separated Earth from the battlefield saved the planet from fiery extinction, instead giving it a spectacular but harmless light show. And, incidentally, giving the citizens of Luna the most spectacular Earth rise ever.

High Magic flooded over the globe, power unleashed at Magitech Central, a great wave of energy with billions of souls dancing on its crest. The Threshold, barely more than a shadow of what it had been, drank up the power like starved ground did rain. The gaping rend knitted together in the measure of a heartbeat, the gray swirls of nothingness disappearing from Earth's skies. The power traveled on, reaching into all the dimensions damaged by the power of the Necronomicon Nocturnum, and stitched the barriers back together.

The convergence zone collapsed, the dimensions being wrenched apart again as the barriers between them snapped back up. The survivors of Earth's attack force called a hasty retreat through the blazing portals of the Stepping Disks, even as millions of angels and demons found themselves swept away as the world literally fell apart around them.

Vampires and Slayer spirits ran from the crumbling steel city of Heaven, the black marble streets cracking under their feet. Hell was an inferno of erupting fire pits and air filled with brimstone, razor-sharp fragments of the Tower of the Damned raining from the sky. The engineers of Magitech did their best to open as many of their limited number of Stepping Disks to evacuate the warriors, but everything quickly descended into chaos.

Angel let the lifeless body of Samuel Morning drop to the shaking ground, looking around for Spike and the others. Vampires and Slayers were pouring out of the burning mess that Hell had become in small groups, heading for the nearest Stepping Disk. Angel saw a few familiar faces and shouted at them to hurry, but made no move for safety himself.

"William!" He screamed.

"What the bloody hell you still doing here, Peaches?" Spike was running for all he was worth, fire erupting half a step behind him. "Get your ass into the portal!"

Breathing a sigh of relief upon seeing his childe safe, Angel turned his eyes to the sky. He could just see the second Stepping Disk that had opened near Heaven, evacuating his people from up there. He was too far away to see details, though. Faith was up there. Luke, Kendra. And Buffy. He opened the bond wide, trying to find her that way.

"We need to get moving!" Spike grabbed Angel without slowing down, dragging him along toward the Stepping Disk. "Hell's going to hell, Angel, and I've got the feeling Heaven will follow suite. Our Slayers can take care of themselves and they're gonna kill us if we get killed down here. So move!"

For a moment perspectives shifted, his conscience expanding through the bond, and Angel found himself looking through his beloved's eyes. Buffy was alive and well, no trace of the earlier pain remaining, and heading right toward the golden Stepping Disk, accompanied by Faith and a few others.

Was she ... was she flying?

'Race you back home!' He heard her say through the bond, felt a smile on her lips.

"You're right!" Angel started running beside Spike, the portal coming closer. "Buffy and Faith are safe. And Buffy just dared us to race her home."

"You gonna let her win or what?" The two Vampires poured on the speed and dove into the portal.

Behind them the steel city of Heaven crashed into the burning remains of Hell, even as the two dimensions were wrenched apart again. The last thing Angel felt was the now almost familiar sensation of going through the Stepping Disk. It felt like someone showering him with ice-cold water.

These things are never going to sell well, he thought.



26 - Crossing the River of Souls

#

NEWSFLASH: WE MADE IT!

The eruption of High Magic seems to have died down with minimal backlash effects and the dimensional convergence that manifested over the Balkans yesterday has faded. The authorities report a successful repelling of the extra-dimensional invasion with no damage done to the Earth. We are also happy to report that chaos and uprising in the face of the phenomena of the last two weeks have been minimal. While we are still receiving reports of ghost manifestations all over the globe, the rate of these appearances is decreasing rapidly, so we are positive that things will return to normal soon.


Download from Global News Network Omninet, December 7, 2057

#


Angel studied the old monastery, thinking of times long gone. 150 years and he had never been back here. Not once. He wondered if some part of him might always have known that he would have to pay a terrible price for changing the world the way he had.

It had almost cost him all of creation.

"We did good, mate." Spike said, coming up behind him. He was not just talking about yesterday's battle and Angel knew it.

"Will, if we had known ... if we'd had some way to know that something like this would happen as a result of the Restoration ... do you think we would have done it?"

Spike lit a cigarette, shrugging. "I don't know what you're so upset about. We saved all of creation, brought down Heaven and Hell, made lots of souls happy campers. All in all, not a bad day's work."

"But we came so close to losing it all." Angel reminded him. "So close to bringing about the destruction of everything."

"Sure. But if we hadn't done it, then Golgotha would have torched the Earth back in '38. Or the Nimir would have wasted civilization five years later. Not to mention the millions of people that would have wound up as happy meals on legs. Sure, we caused this by working the Restoration. So what? This was our mess and we cleaned it up. That's what counts, Peaches."

Was it that easy, Angel wondered. Did the fact that they managed to avert the end of the world excuse them bringing it about in the first place? He was the first to admit that bringing down Heaven and Hell was not a bad thing. They had freed billions of souls from imprisonment, an accomplishment he was sure none of them would ever be truly able to grasp, but did that change the fact that it had been his careless use of a magic he hadn't even begun to understand that had brought the universe to the verge of collapse?

He wasn't sure. It would take a lot of time for him, for all of them to wrap their minds around all the things they had seen and done these past two weeks. God, had it really been just two weeks? Somehow it seemed an incredibly short amount of time for everything that had happened.

"Come on, Angel!" Spike said, slapping his shoulder. "We'll be late for the seeing-off party, so let's get going back!"

Angel nodded, giving the old monastery that had been the Necronomicon's resting place for so long one final look, then activated the Stepping Disk.

Two steps later Spike and Angel entered the lobby of the old Hyperion Hotel, cleaned up by some people Darla had hired for an express job, where everyone else was already waiting.

With Heaven and Hell gone the millions of souls that had fled to Earth through the crumbling Threshold were slowly beginning to disappear again, drifting back into the ethereal dimensions one by one. The Threshold was back at full strength, so that once again it allowed but one-way travel between the worlds of the living and the dead. Not even the Stepping Disks were able to punch through it anymore.

Which meant that, once Giles, Kendra, and Wesley left, they would never be able to return again.

"I wish you would stay a little longer." Buffy told Giles, raising her hand to where his chest would be. The cold air sent shivers down her arm, but she didn't care.

Giles smiled at her. "We said our goodbyes a long time ago, Buffy. I am glad that I could take this opportunity to see you again, but our place isn't here any longer."

"I know, I just ..." Her voice broke.

"Yes, Buffy. Me, too."

Angel watched his wife say goodbye to her father for the second time. It would be easier this time, knowing that Giles was going to be okay on the other side, but not by much.

Looking at Buffy, Angel remembered the little shock he had gotten when he had seen her wearing angel wings upon their return to the real world. A final gift from Raphael, she had told him. With the Repository of Souls, the source of Raphael's power, now gone, most of his gift had apparently faded as well. The wings had retreated into Buffy's back, leaving only a faint scar where they had burst forth.

Buffy had brought Raphael's body back from Heaven with her and they would bury him here in Los Angeles.

On the far side of the lobby Faith was chatting with Kendra.

"So you and the other Slayers are going to stay together?" Faith asked.

"Well," Kendra shrugged, "none of them will return to the White Room, that much is for sure. We are not yet sure where we will go, but I'm sure we'll find a place."

"I'm sure you will. And hey, if you should happen to find that afterlife with the willing legions of naked studs ..."

"I'll let you know, Faith. I promise."

Angel smiled. Maybe the thought of over 4,000 Slayers loose in the afterlife should have worried him, seeing as he knew the talent both Buffy and Faith had for getting into trouble, but he was sure the girls would be able to take care of just about anything that crossed their paths.

Giles came over to Angel. "I wanted to talk with you alone for a minute, Angel, before we leave."

"What is it?"

"Well ... shortly before this entire mess started I was busy travelling around the ethereal dimensions. That is how I met Kendra, among others. I also met someone you know. A certain Irish gentlemen called Patrick O'Conner."

Angel staggered back as if struck. Buffy looked up, feeling his distress through their bond.

"Angel?" She asked, coming over.

"My ... my father?" Angel managed.

Giles nodded.

"I met him. We, well, we talked and I told him that I knew his son. There are ... ways for spirits in the afterlife to keep tab on their relatives in the world of the living and your father has watched you, Angel. Ever since the Gypsy curse."

Giles put a hand on Angel's shoulder, a cold wind brushing over his skin, and smiled.

"We ... well, by then we didn't know what would happen, that I would return to the living world, but ... he told me he was sorry that the two of you never managed to reconcile while he lived. And that he is proud of you, Angel. Proud of the things you have accomplished."

Angel didn't know what to say. His father's disappointment in him, the anger between them, it had been part of his life for so long ... to even think that his father would actually ... that he would ...

"I'm sure he would want you to know that." Giles concluded.

Buffy had heard everything Giles had said. More, she could feel what his words caused in her husband. She knew how much of an open wound his father had always been for Angel. Buffy had often felt disdain for the man who had scarred Angel's soul this way, but that didn't change the fact that Angel still, in some small corner of his soul, yearned for his father's approval.

To now know that his father was proud of him ...

Buffy went over and took Angel into her arms, brushing away the tears that rolled down his face. She had never doubted that Angel was someone to be proud of. And now, maybe, Angel would know it, too.

"Thank you, Giles." She smiled at her former Watcher. "Thank you very much."

"Not necessary. I can emphasize with Mr. O'Conner, Buffy. We both have very much reason to be proud of what our children have accomplished."

Angel needed a few minutes to recover, but then he looked at Giles with a smile on his face.

"Thank you, Giles." He said as well. "And ... if you should ..."

"I'll tell him." Giles assured him. "Though I suspect he already knows."

Angel nodded gratefully.

This left but one piece of unfinished business. Angel went into his study and returned with the Necronomicon Nocturnum under his arm, the three pages from the Book of Borders in his other hand. Even now he could feel the power wrapped inside these pages whisper to him, telling him of things he could do with them.

Buffy heard them as well. They had worried a lot over how the intrusion of the Necronomicon into their bond might yet affect them. The Necronomicon controlled all the magic associated with all the creatures of the night. Vampire magic had created their blood bond. So far the only thing they knew was that it had deepened their connection, up to they point where they could actually hear each other's thoughts if they wanted to.

They could but hope it would remain the only side effect.

"Thank you for taking care of this, Kendra." Angel smiled at the Slayer, handing her the book and the pages. Though once again nothing but a shade here in the living world, Kendra had no problem holding them.

"I will bring them back to the Library." She promised. "I hope they will be safe there."

"And good riddance to them!" Spike added, toasting the books farewell with his flask.

"Hear, hear!" Faith toasted as well, earning consenting nods from just about everyone present. Angel would not cry a tear after the Necronomicon, that much was for sure. It had changed the world for him, that was true, but the world had changed enough for his taste.

He would be quite content if it stayed the same, just for a while.

"Good riddance!" He turned away from the book.

"Give our love to our sisters." Buffy said, Faith standing next to her. "Don't get into too much trouble, okay?"

"We will give our best." Kendra smiled at them.

"Slayers always get into trouble, B." Faith shook her head in mock despair. "When will you finally learn?"

"Good bye, Wesley." Angel said to his old friend. "Good journey."

"I think that is a given." The former Watcher replied. "Seeing as we have infinity to choose from."

More words were said, more good byes. There was no fixed hour for any of them to leave, so they took their time. Darla and Giles shared a moment of privacy, speaking words only meant for each other. Willow gave Wesley a message, just in case he should ever come upon Tara on the other side. Sally was by her side the entire time, taking the aging witch aside when the tears rolled down her cheeks.

Only when everything was said did the three spirits take their leave, waving a final goodbye to their living friends.

"Godspeed, my friends!" Angel whispered after them. "May we one day meet again ..."

"... on our way into the light." Buffy finished for him.



Epilogue: About the Return of a Missing Book

#

"Angel?" Buffy murmured.

"Yes?"

They were standing on the roof of the Hyperion, looking out over the cityscape of Los Angeles. The lights below had changed a lot over the decades, but it was still one of their favorite spots. Especially with the sky above them filled with nothing but stars.

Buffy was snuggled into her husband's side, his coat draped over her own shoulders.

"One thing about this entire Necronomicon business still bugs me."

"What?"

"Well, this Librarian guy Kendra met told her that the book was stolen from his Library, right? And we know that it somehow wound up here on Earth later on, a place that's pretty far away from where it was from, I guess."

"You're wondering who brought it here."

"And why. I mean, I refuse to believe that anyone would just loose an object of such power while strolling along the scenery of stone age Earth."

Angel nodded. "I had some thoughts along these lines myself, beloved. And I'm afraid there is no way for us to answer these questions. We are lucky, considering the scale of what we went through, that we came out unscratched the way we did."

"You are not worried that whoever stole the book from the Library the first time will do so again?"

"A bit, I admit. I think, though, that it is safer there than it was in Newgrange. Or underneath Siberia. And if you are right and whoever stole it deliberately brought it here to Earth, maybe it has served its purpose."

"You think someone might have planned all of what happened?"

"Not really no. It was a rather long and unlikely chain of events that brought all of this to pass. I really don't know, Buffy. We can but hope that we have seen the last of the book. I will be a happy man if I can spend the rest of my life without that kind of power around me."

Buffy nodded and for a few minutes they were silent together, just enjoying the view and the feel of each other.

"Angel?"

"Yes?"

"Is not seeing the Necronomicon again all you need to be happy right now?"

Hearing her tone of voice brought a smile to Angel's lips.

"I could think of a few other things as well."

"That's good, because I have a surprise for you."

Buffy took off Angel's coat and closed her eyes in concentration.

"Buffy, what ...?" Angel's voice trailed off as ebony wings sprouted from Buffy's back, unfolding to the sound of a sweet music as the feathers brushed against each other. Two solid masses of raven black half-surrounded the two of them as Buffy opened her eyes and smiled.

"I figured out how to summon them again."

"Buffy, are you sure this is a good ..."

She left him no time to finish the sentence. Wrapping her arms around him, a single beat of the great wings took them both off the roof and into the dark sky above Los Angeles. Angel couldn't help but utter a surprised yell.

"Peaches?" Spike came to the roof a minute later. "I thought I heard ..."

He was cut off by something falling down on him from above. Cursing, Spike struggled until he managed to get it away from his face, quite surprised to find himself holding a pair of pink leather pants. One he was quite sure he had seen Buffy wear earlier.

"What do you know, looks like they're up to some new variations." He did not even try to figure out how these pants might have come to fall out of the sky. Shaking his head he went back inside.

"Faith? Where are you?"

#

"A very interesting place." Wesley said as they left the Library. "I don't think I've ever seen so many books in one spot before."

"Thinking of spending your next vacation here, Wesley?" Giles asked. "I know I would not mind taking some time to study a few of these books."

Wesley thought for a moment, then shook his head. "Not really. I have spent a lot of time in the company of books while I was alive. I think I want to spend my afterlife with other things."

Kendra slid her hand into the crook of his arm.

"Well, if you have nothing else to do, there are about 4,000 Slayers waiting for us. I think we could use a Watcher. Or two."

It brought a smile to both men's lips. The title of Watcher had, for large parts of their life, been something to be ashamed of. It was a remembrance of an organization of narrow-minded old men, who had refused to see that time had passed them by. But maybe there was still a chance to clean some of that taint away. Maybe a chance to undo some of the damage the Watcher teachings had done, especially to these girls waiting for them.

"What do you say, Rupert?" Wesley asked. "Are you ready to be a Watcher once more?"

Giles shrugged. Some day he wanted to return to the place he had spent the years since his death in. The good place he had told Darla about. But after the adventure he had just had, maybe it was the wrong time to settle back down. With an eternity ahead of them, what would a few decades or century matter?

"4,000 teenage girls." Giles shook his head, smiling. "I see myself longing for the 'quiet' times with Buffy."

The two English gentlemen laughed together and, with a Slayer in their midst, walked toward the first challenge of their afterlife.

#

The Librarian was feeling quite satisfied. All his books were back where they were supposed to be. The little spirit called Kendra had kept her word and returned both the loaned pages and the Necronomicon Nocturnum. He had put them back in their proper place with a feeling of deep contentment.

He had some thoughts about possible measures to prevent further theft from his Library, but for the moment he was just happy with the way things were.

There was a nagging thought somewhere inside of him, though, that one of the spirits that had accompanied Kendra this time around was familiar to him. Like a forgotten memory, something from a long time ago.

Time held little meeting here in the Library, of course. Sometimes the Librarian would meet past or future versions of himself between the shelves and they would spend some time comparing notes. Maybe this spirit was someone the Librarian had met a long time ago. Or would meet in the far future.

It might even be from a time before he came here. The Librarian remembered little of his life before coming here, so it was entirely possible. He could, of course, look up the memories of his own life in one of the books, should he so desire. Maybe he would do that. Someday.

For now he had to get back to his work. Taking but a moment to clean his glasses, a habit he found oddly comforting at the moment, he disappeared between the shelves again.

#

The players looked on as the ripples slowly faded, the book he had stolen from the Library now removed from the playing field once more. His single move had changed much, they all realized, had rearranged the entire board in a major way. It was a long time since any of them had seen changes of this magnitude.

He turned to face his fellow players, some of them still looking at the new situation that presented itself now. They had reached a turning point in the game, that much was apparent to everyone. Some players grumbled as their figures had been taken off the board altogether. The course of entire worlds had been altered irrevocably.

All with a single move.

Slowly, one by one, the other players looked at him. Some were happy, some grumbled, but each and every one of them had to recognize that it was a brilliant move he had made.

And so the space above the playing field of the universe was filled with the sound of silent applause.


THE END