One word: sorry. Sorry for the long wait, my dear readers. I had not forgotten you, and I swear I will finish this story. But things have been a bit hectic recently. Turns out I have to move, so I'm knee deep in cardboard boxes... So the wait between chapters might be longer now, I just hope you'll understand. It's not just any move: I'm moving to the UK. Yep. Anyone living there? Ooh, and is anyone going to the Starfury convention in London this September? James and Juliet are gonna be there...

A shorter chapter than the last few, but packed with info... Enjoy!

Chapter Seventeen – All Along The Watchtower

There are many here among us

Who feel that life is but a joke

But you and I, we've been through that

And this is not our fate

So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late

[…] Outside in the cold distance

A wildcat did growl

Two riders were approaching

And the wind began to howl

Jimi Hendrix, "All Along The Watchtower"

"It's not working. I knew I should have bled him out" said Caleb.

"No, it is working. I can feel it. It's just slow. Probably because he has a soul."

"Or because we're not using the right vampire. If you had let me take the other one..."

"No! Too dangerous, I told you before. I am not ready. And I don't like your tone nor your attitude."

"It is not you I have sworn fealty to."

"Maybe not, but my beloved would be angry if did not address me with the proper respect. Do you wish my beloved to be angry with you? More than he already is?"

Caleb growled. "No."

"No, who?"

"No... Your Highness."

_…-=(~/\~)=-…_

Buffy had just finished her reports for the day and was pulling her jacket on when the school bell rang.

"Right on time. Damn, I'm good."

"Well that's something I like to hear."

Buffy turned around. Gayle was leaning against the door frame of her office, her usual ten thousand volt smile gracing her face.

Buffy smiled back automatically. There was something about Gayle Masterson that just immediately made her feel at home. "Me too. You came to walk us home?"

"No and no. Dawn's already gone to a friend's house for tutoring, and she's gonna stay there for dinner. I came to drive you to the Magic Box."

"Huh? 'Drive'?"

"That's right, sugar. Meesa got me a new set of shiny wheels, and they need showing off."

"And why the Magic Box?"

"His Royal Pain has called for a meeting. He's finally decided his translation is good enough."

Buffy's jaw fell. She had completely forgotten about the stone slab that had cost Drusilla her life. Strangely, she no longer felt jealous of the vampiress. How could she be angry at someone for loving Spike? Whoah, Buffy, careful: you're on the slippery slope to adulthood...

"Giles finished? So what does it say?"

Gayle gave her a look.

"Oh, will you two grow up!" Buffy exclaimed.

"What? It's not my fault the dude's acting like an idiot and not sharing! That's why he's called for a meeting! To show off his almighty knowledge and research skills!"

"Gayle, be reasonable; Giles does research, it's what he does!"

"Big know-it-all..."

"Don't make me wave my finger at you!"

"Grrr."

Buffy laughed wholeheartedly and followed Gayle out of the school. A shiny black Italian coupe was waiting for them on the curb.

"Oh, wow! Mama, it's beautiful!"

"Isn't it?" Gayle beamed. "And the engine's a pure marvel: 4244 cc that develops 390 PS at 7000 rpm with a peak torque of 450..."

It was Buffy's turn to give her friend a look.

"It goes fast and it moves nice. See how fast I can translate? Oooh, by the way, how did things go last night with Luuurver Boy?"

The blonde blushed slightly when the events of last night replayed through her mind. "We're definitely back on the luuurve train!"

"Oh, darling, mazeltov!"

"You're Jewish, now?"

"One of my brothers was, it kinda rubs off..."

"You never talk about your brothers! Tell me about them!"

"No, I'd really rather not."

"But I want to know more about you! I'm actually asking now, I'm making an effort!"

"And I appreciate it, but I'm not keen on talking about my brothers..."

"How many have you got?"

"Too many. That's all I'll say."

"Do you have a favorite one?"

"Depends."

"On what?"

"Which one I want to piss off. Get in already!"

Buffy gave up and entered the car. As Gayle was going around it to reach the driver's seat, Principal Robin Woods came out of the building. His heart nearly stopped when he saw the brunette Slayer from afar.

"Mama Chris?" he gasped and ran to the car. Unfortunately, by the time he reached the curb, they had already thundered away. Robin stayed there for a moment, then decided the whole event must have been a trick of the light and started to make his way to his own vehicle.

_…-=(~/\~)=-…_

"Right, I'm glad you could all be here..."

"Giles! Spike's not here yet!"

"Oh, dear, what a shame" he deadpanned. "That darned sun being still up, I'm afraid we'll have to start without hi–" he was interrupted by the shop's doorbell, announcing the smoking blanket and its occupant "– Damn."

Spike shook off the blanket. "Oi, Watcher! You weren't going to start without me, were you?" the vampire chuckled while Buffy ran to him and wrapped her arms around his neck.

"Perish the thought. Now if you don't min– Oh, and the kissing begins..." he despaired as the two locked lips in a passionate embrace.

Gayle sniggered. "Whatsamatta, Watcher? Feeling left out?"

"Have I mentioned lately how much I don't like you?"

"Please! Tell me again! It makes me feel all warm inside."

"Kiddies!" growled Willow. "Play nice or no dessert!"

The two made faces at each other, but otherwise kept quiet.

"Hey!" Buffy noticed. "How come it works when she does that?"

"Former villain privileges. Now last calls for romantic assaults!" She bent down and firmly kissed Tara on the mouth. Xander quickly followed suit and kissed Anya ravenously. That only left Gayle and Faith...

"Dunno about Giles, but I'm feeling left out..." said the latter.

"I know just how you feel, girl. But don't get any ideas." All the males and the lesbians stopped in their tracks to look at her. "And don't you boys get any ideas! Girls, for shame!"

"WHEN YOU'VE ALL QUITE FINISHED!"

Everyone went quiet at Giles' outburst.

"Thank you. Now, if one or several of you superbeings could retrieve the slab from the back room, I would be very grateful." Spike and Buffy started towards said room, but Giles stopped them. "Preferably not you, I'm rather afraid of what leaving you two in a separate room might lead to. Faith, Miss Masterson, if you'd be so kind..."

Once the Rosettagon was carefully laid on the table, Giles took his notebook. "Right, as I have mentioned before, the text is the same in all the different parts of the artifact. We have several ancient human languages, and two demonic ones still in use, but rare. I had also informed you that this part" he pointed at the slice written in the language exclusively made of circles and lines, "was completely unknown to me. However, after considerable research, I can confirm... that it remains a complete mystery. There is absolutely no recorded trace of that language anywhere. I have tried translated it, but the absence of spaces between 'words' makes this task impossible. Therefore, we can only assume its content is the same as the rest. It took me some time, but here it is..." He opened his notebook, adjusted his glasses and cleared his throat...

"When at last the favored children of the Storms should come together, as their blood is shed and their essences become one the Triumvirate shall finally retrieve the way to the Light and the Slayer line finally be destroyed."

A heavy silence followed. The message, though obscure, sent a collective chill down everyone's spine. Anya was the first to talk. "Well, lookee here! It's another grim prophecy! I think it's fair to assume that the future is not bright..."

"Is that it?" asked Buffy. "Is that all it says? All those letters for just one sentence?"

"I'm afraid so. The length of the text and its configuration was what took me the longest to work out."

"'The Slayer line finally be destroyed'..." Tara started, intrigued. "D-does that mean that Buffy, Faith and Gayle are gonna die, o-or that there won't be any Chosen Ones any more?"

"Either way," Faith intervened, "I'm not liking it. At all."

"What's a 'try o' violets'?"

Spike smiled at his girl's innocence. "It's 'triumvirate', darling. It's Latin. It means..."

Willow eagerly raised her hand. "It's a political regime in which three people rule together, as equals. It's happened several times in history, like Julius Caesar, Pompey and Marcus Crassus during the Roman Empire, or the 'three men in a room' arrangement in New York. Even Napoleon started as part of a triumvirate."

"Well done, Red. Couldn't have said it better meself."

Willow blushed. Tara always found it adorable when her girlfriend blushed at praises. She always seemed to doubt she was brilliant. She placed a playful kiss on the redhead's throat.

"So, what," Xander asked, trying very hard to ignore what that display of affection was doing to his libido, "are we expecting ol' Julius to show up, see and conquer again?"

Giles put down his notebook. "It's highly unlikely. But I was just as intrigued as you are about that part. I did hear of a legend, when I was young... and so I looked into it." His face grew somber. "It come from Christian mythos. The original Christian mythos, not the one rewritten to better suit the powers of the Church. Now, we've all heard the story of The Fall, when Lucifer fell from Heaven and became the Ruler of Hell. We also know that he was not the only one to fall, he was followed by several legions of angels, who then supposedly became demons."

Buffy frowned. "'Supposedly'?"

"Yes. In fact, several angels evolved into different kinds of demons, modifying their appearance and powers, while others remained as they were created. They are simply known as Fallen Angels. This is also the title Lucifer is often referred to, although he did modify his appearance, but only slightly."

"The bat wings, right?" Xander beamed.

"Indeed. I believe his intent was to separate himself from the rest; quite like showing his troops who was in charge. But according to the legend I was referring to, he was not the only ruler of Hell..."

The entire gang gasped. Buffy scooted forward, but already she could feel a cold sweat forming in her back.

"Lucifer ruled alongside two others, his favorite siblings, for eons. Then something happened... some major event, but its nature is still unknown. What is known is that following this event, the Triumvirate was no more and Lucifer ruled alone."

"But what about the Succubi?" asked Anya. "We talked about that a while ago, Willow did the research! There's four of them, and they're married to Lucifer!"

"The Succubi rule over the earthly kingdom, not Hell. They never were included in their husband's government."

"But according to that slab, Lucy and Co are planning for a comeback..." Buffy pondered aloud. "And what about that storm business, any word on that?"

"Absolutely none. It could be a name as well as a metaphor."

"Whatever or whoever it is, it has kids. And... 'as their blood is shed and their essences become one'... is it me or does that sound like a live sacrifice?"

"It most certainly does. I also placed a few calls, and there's another worrying detail... There is absolutely no trace, rumor, information, idea, innuendo, reference, link, or connection with any such prophecy anywhere. Nothing. Not a smidgen. I talked about the Triumvirate of Hell, but even that is not certain, it could be any other."

Faith's eyes went wide and she cried out: "Hey! Remember that chick Cordelia's visions? There were three people in them! Three! And all the other demons are afraid of them! That's the link! It must be the Triumvirate!"

Giles took off his glasses abruptly and stared at her.

"Faith!" exclaimed Buffy. "Well done!" She gave the brunette's hand a friendly squeeze.

"Thanks! I can't believe I actually just brought something to the research..."

Xander laughed. "Yeah, sorry about that, babe, the Scoobiness tends to rub off on people..."

Anya stiffened. "'Babe'? Why do you call her 'babe'?"

The boy gasped then swallowed hard. "Err, sure... we boys often call our female friends 'babe', Anya darling, love of my life. Happens all the time!"

"No, no it doesn't! I never heard you call Willow or Buffy or Tara 'babe'! Spike calls Buffy 'babe', Willow calls Tara 'babe'! Giles calls... well, nobody 'babe', because he has no sex life and is in dire need of one, D'Hoffryn knows he could use a few orgasms..."

Giles cleared his throat. "We're getting off subject here, people. I'll summarize: bad prophecy, future bleak, possible apocalypse, options please."

Buffy shrugged. "Simple. We're talking about the Devil: we know someone who knows someone. Spike, do you still have Abby's number?"

The vampire had already whipped out his cell. "On it." He dialed the number quickly...

The number you have dialed does not exist... The number you have dialed does not exist... The number you...

"What the...? It was still working a few days ago!"

The same thought went through everybody's mind. That was bad. That was very, very bad. The King of Hell's wife going missing on the same day that the Slayer finds out said king might be up to something fishy? That could not be a coincidence. And on the Hellmouth, if something is fishy and not a coincidence? Worry.

"Any other ideas?" asked Giles.

Buffy tried to think quickly. "Err... well... Oooh, Caleb!" She ignored Spike's growl. "He arrived in town at the same time as the slab, and he killed Drusilla who brought it to us!" She put her dainty hand on her lover's shoulder in support, and he relaxed, though he was still angry. "that's got to have something to do with it as well!"

Willow joined in: "Yeah, and you said he was quoting the Bible! He could be another Fallen! He could even be part of the Triumvirate! His name might not even be Caleb!"

"Lucifer, Caleb and that mystery woman who melts people" said Tara. "Sounds like an evil association to me."

Buffy was seriously beginning to worry. This was bigger than anything she'd ever gone up against. Even Glory. Lucifer was bound to not only be strong, but according to movies and the few books she'd read on the subject, he was extremely clever, and able to use magic. Oh, and he could fly...

She felt an arm snake around her waist. She turned her head and saw Spike's sapphire eyes looking into her in a manner meant to be reassuring. She smiled at him. How was it that he always seemed to know what she was feeling or even thinking? She knew it should freak her out, but she was beyond that point now. Everything with Spike felt natural and beautiful. And with him, she could conquer the world...

She took a deep breath and turned back to the group. "So the next step would be going back to Rico, I guess. He may have been lying the last time, of have new information."

"Oh, luv, you gonna pimp me out again?" Spike fake-whined.

She swatted his arm. "Fun-nyy. I was thinking of using our girl Gayle's talents. If you did such a good job last time, I think she might..."

Buffy suddenly realized that she hadn't heard or looked at Gayle since Giles had read out the translation. She wasn't sitting beside her anymore, and she scanned the room...

Gayle was standing near the table, staring at the slab, a faraway look on her face...

"G-girl?" Faith waved at her. "You with us?"

"Mmmh? Oh, yes, yes... Tell you what, you guys keep trying to make heads or tails of that thing, and I'll patrol tonight, okay?"

"But," Buffy pouted, "We needed you for enticing..."

"Faith will certainly be more enticing than me, or Spike in Gayle form. Have fun!"

She nearly ran out of the shop before anyone had a chance to say anything. Giles chuckled, but a dark look from Buffy kept him from saying anything nasty. "Aherm, so I believe we have a plan for tonight?"

"Yep. Us remaining sexy Slayers" she knocked fists with Faith, "are gonna go out on the town, see a few bars, use a little violence."

"Ooh, can I come too?" grinned the vampire.

"Wouldn't be a bloodbath without you, Blondie" said Faith, high-fiving him.

That was the second time today that Buffy did not feel jealousy at a moment she usually would've. A week ago, she would probably have shouted at Faith, or waited for a moment alone with Spike to punch him on the nose. But she felt nothing. Not threatened, not jealous, not insecure... Somehow, she knew she had nothing to fear.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the shop's phone ringing. Anya ran to answer it. "The Magic Box, the only place for all your... Okay." She held the phone out to Buffy. "It's for you."

Buffy jumped to her feet, thinking it might be Dawn, having ran into trouble again. "Hello?"

"Buffy, it's Cordelia."

The blonde sighed in relief. "Hey Cordy, what can I do for you?"

"You can start by sending our vampire back!"

A chill went down her spine. "Excuse me?"

"Sorry, that was a little harsh. I'm kinda getting stressed, here... But look, are you gonna need Angel much longer? 'Cos things are getting tough here without him..."

"Cordelia..."

"I know what you're gonna say, that he's a grown-up, like very much so, and that I should be talking to him. But I can picture it from here, he's maybe too afraid to leave you when he knows danger is afoot, but we have our trouble here too, and a lot of it! The demon population is starting to get problematic!"

"Erm, Cordy..."

"I tried to call him direct, but all I get is his voice mail! Has he forgotten to recharge his cell phone again? I swear, this dude has to be dragged into the twenty-first century! Could someone slap him for me?"

"Cordelia! Angel isn't here..."

"Look, I know it's daytime, but wake him up! He's in dire need of a good telling to and I'm just the woman for the job!"

"No, I mean, he's not here in Sunnydale."

"… What?"

"He's left, like a couple of days ago!"

"He can't have! If he had, he would be here!"

"Your logic is faultless."

"Was he going somewhere else first? What did he say before leaving?"

"No, he didn't say anything at all, he just left without even..." realization hit her, "... without saying goodbye. Cordelia, I think something's happened to Angel!"

The whole gang gasped. Then Anya seized Xander's arm:

"Oh my god, you had sex with Faith, didn't you? That's why you called her 'babe'! Oh my, how many orgasms did you get with her?"

_…-=(~/\~)=-…_

A few blocks away, Gayle was running as fast as she could without revealing her nature. She finally came to a small cul-de-sac, and checked it was empty before stopping.

She leaned against the wall to steady herself. She concentrated... darn, she hadn't done this in years! She felt the power flow through her veins. She brought her hands together in a prayer fashion, rubbed them hard and fast, finally opening them in a cupping manner. A blue flame with a golden rim grew from her palms. She stared into it, almost through it...

"Sam!" she called into the flame. "Sam!" she called again, but nothing happened. She growled: "Sam, you get your firey butt right here this instant or I swear – "

"Yes, my dear sis, you growled?"

Sam had just appeared at her side. She clapped her hands and the flame vanished. She pivoted to face him and bore into his eyes, looking furious. "This is your doing, isn't it?"

"It usually is. Just what, exactly, is 'it'?"

"Don't start trying to act coy, Sam, I'm not in the mood!"

"Now, what did we say last time about your tone –"

Gayle stomped her foot in anger: "And don't start you diva act either! May I remind you that we were both in the same sinking boat, you don't get to play mob boss with me!"

Sam was taken aback. He had rarely seen his sister in such a mood, and decided the situation must be too serious to discuss hierarchy. "Allright. What do you wanna know?"

"I wanna know what you're up to!"

"Wow, that might be a bit too vast a subject. Care to narrow it down?"

"The slab! The Rosettagon!"

"...You've actually lost me there..."

"Stop it! You show up the other day, just when an artifact with our language on it appears –"

"Wow, wow, stop right there! Our language? How is that possible?"

Gayle stayed gobsmacked at his reaction. "Oh my god... you really don't know, do you? You actually don't have a clue..."

"No... and it's a really strange feeling, lemme tell you..."

"Oh my god... if you don't know... ohmygodohmygodohmygod..." She started pacing, panting and shaking her hands.

"Okay, now, don't panic..."

"Ohmygodohmygodohmygod..."

"And stop that!"

"Sorry."

"Now, take a deep breath," he waited as she did, "and relax. Whatever it is, we'll face it. I'm here, I'll help you, and who's more powerful than me?"

Gayle raised an eyebrow and almost smiled. "Right here?"

"Oh, dream on!"

"I can still kick your ass anytime!"

"No you can't!"

"Can too!"

"Ah, now you're smiling! Damn I'm good!"

Gayle grumbled a bit, but couldn't hide her laugh.

"Okay," Sam continued, "now tell me what's going on."

Gayle sighed again. "Okay. The Slayer has received an ancient slab of stone a while ago..."

Sam remained still and let his sister tell her tale. "And you say the seventh part is in our language?"

"Yes."

"... this must be the first time it's ever been seen by mortals. Not sure if that's bad or not. What was the text about?"

Gayle sighed. "It's a prophecy, of course. What else could it be on the Hellmouth?"

"Okay, a prophecy. So something terribly vague and unhelpful, but dangerous. What else can you tell me?"

"Pff, it's like a rough draft, didn't make much sense... Something about the Light and the Triumvirate..."

"Which Triumvirate? The Triumvirate?"

"Beats me. Could be."

"That's like ancient!"

"You're telling me..."

"Phew. And what else?"

"Lemme remember... 'the favored children of the ' " She stopped abruptly and sharply sucked in a breath. "OOOOOH!"

"What?"

"Oh my goodness... it's been so long..."

"What has?"

Gayle started laughing and jumping on the spot. "The text! I knew it felt familiar! Oh my, oh my!"

"Sis? You're actually scaring me, and that in itself is a scary concept..."

"It's not a prophecy, it's a prediction! My prediction! Oh, it's finally over..." her voice faltered with emotion on the last words.

"You mean...? Oh, my..." Sam covered his mouth in shock.

Gayle's eyes were rimmed with tears of joy. "I knew it! I felt it! It's Spike and Buffy… they'll bring that cursed Slayer line to an end at last…"

End of Chapter Seventeen

The plot thickens...let me know what you think... I live for your reviews, I do...