Soulworld V
by Philip S.

Summary: It's the year 2038 in Soulworld and an ancient evil awakens deep beneath the
streets of New York City.
Spoilers: This is an AU established in the Soulworld series, no spoilers for the canon. You
should have read Soulworld I to III at the least, otherwise you will understand very little of
this story. Those who have read Soulworld IV (which is set after this story chronologically)
may be a little spoiled already for this one. Just a little, though.
Rating: R
Archive: All earlier Soulworld stories are archived at soulworld.shadow-dancing.com
Disclaimer: The characters of Buffy, Angel, Spike, Faith, Tara, Willow, Cordelia, and Dawn
are copyright Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. The concept of Soulworld and all original
characters are copyright Yours Truly.
Title Picture: www.shadow-dancing.com/Pics/Soulworld5.jpg


NOTE: This story will eventually feature some things that, after the events of September 11,
2001, might not be everyone's cup of tea. This is in no way intended to offend those who
suffered in the attacks, nor is it an attempt to somehow cash in on that catastrophe. I set down
the original concept for this story before September 11 and, though I thought about changing
the location, decided to stay with New York City as the setting. I hope no one will take this
the wrong way.


#


Part 1 - Deep Down Where the Dead Things Are


From the records of the Council of Watchers
The year of our Lord 896

Many lives have been lost, but the evil has finally been vanquished, the great darkness has
been averted. Though the majority of the world will never know how close we came to the
abyss today, those who have fallen here in our cause will be remembered, their heroism will
not be forgotten.

To our eternal sorrow it has proven beyond our power to destroy the tools of the evil ones. We
know what they are for, we know what carnage they would unleash should they fall into the
wrong hands. So it has been decided that, as destruction is not an option, the tools will be
hidden and buried. Brought to a land where neither man nor demon will ever look for it,
bound and concealed by magic at the hands of our most accomplished craftsmen.

We can but hope and pray that it will suffice and that the name of Golgotha will never cause
the children of Earth to tremble with fear again.

#

New York City
December 14, 2035 AD

"It's the damnest thing I've ever seen, let me tell you!"

Daniel Stone was an architect. It was his job and his passion, raising mighty buildings,
defying the laws of gravity, touching the skies. Over the last 15 years he had built office
towers, apartment buildings, shopping malls, everything. His current project, though, would
be his crowning achievement. Soon to be the tallest building in what was still the most famous
skyline in all the world.

It went without saying that there would be unforeseen problems. What he wanted to know,
though, was why they had to spring up this late at night. A Friday night, no less, one for
which Daniel had made plans involving a beautiful female acquaintance of his, along with an
expensive restaurant, lots of flowers, romantic music...

Instead he was here. About 200 feet below ground, at what would become the foundation of
his new building, surrounded by those parts of the building process he really saw no need to
come any closer to than was absolutely necessary. Dust, dirt, almost complete darkness. All
because of a phone call made by the chief worker of the night shift, telling him that something
was wrong with his building's foundations. Something that he thought required his attention
and could not wait until morning.

No, Daniel Stone had better things to do than be here. Unfortunately for him, though, he
would never make it to his date. In fact he would stay down here in the darkness, surrounded
by these things he so detested, for the rest of his life. All thirty minutes of it.

He didn't know that yet, of course.

Also present were two other people, one of whom Daniel really could have done without.
Peter Fountaine from the New York City Department of Construction was the kind of public
official that could be found in every city around the world. Dressed in gray, almost identical
to his skin tone, his religion consisted of forms that needed to be filled out, permissions that
needed signing, and papers that needed filing. Daniel was sure that, as far as Fountaine was
concerned, nothing existed outside the New York City limits and nothing existed inside it
without his permission (or that of his superiors at least).

The other person that had been roused from sleep (or better things) was John Thomas, the
building project's head of engineering. Daniel considered him a friend and was glad that he
was here as well. Shared pain was half the pain, or something like that

All three of them were staring at something very, very strange. According to every geological
survey and echo probing made in advance there should have been nothing below them except
miles and miles of solid rock.

Instead they were looking at a big hole in the ground that led down into complete darkness.

"Some of my boys dropped some pennies down there." The chief told them. "Didn't hear'em
hit the floor."

Daniel knelt down beside the hole, shining his flashlight down into the dark. He didn't see a
floor either. The only thing he did see was a vertical wall, about five or six meters to the right
of the hole, that led straight down. Very straight. The wall was completely smooth.

"This is not a natural formation." He told the others. "Someone did some extensive digging
here."

"No digging was ever done here." Fountaine said. "Not in this depth."

"No one that you have a record of, no." Daniel added. "From the looks of things it was
probably long before the city was built."

Fountaine gave him a very dirty look. Apparently he didn't like being reminded that there was
a time period before public records.

"There was no clue of any kind of past excavation above." John said. "In fact, if I didn't see it
with my own eyes, I'd have sworn every oath that something like this couldn't possibly be
down here."

Daniel nodded. He had been present during the preliminary echo probing of this site. He
would certainly have remembered had they shown anything of this size.

"What do you think, John?" He asked his colleague. "Magic maybe?"

In present times magic was not the stuff of fairy tales and silly stories anymore, like it had
been but a few decades ago. It was a part of the world, a big part, and also a very important
factor in the business. Any business. Workers skilled in magic, vampires with their superior
strength and senses, other supernatural creatures with special abilities, all those were sought
after in this as in any other part of the economy.

And every once in a while someone would run into some magic-related problems as well.
Daniel just didn't understand why it had to be him.

"Possible." John said. "It would explain why this didn't show up during any of the probes.
Still, if we speculate that someone used magic to create this big an underground hollow space,
there should have been some signs. The city did have a Seeker check out this site, didn't it?"

"Of course!" Fountaine sounded offended. It was standard procedure to have a Seeker,
someone attuned to the emanations all magical artifacts produced, check out potential
building sites. There had been a very spectacular case of an office tower that had been built
over an old burial site about a decade ago. The tower had been haunted by dead Indian spirits
for several weeks and over a hundred rich and important people had been struck by terminal
syphilis and some other nasty bugs. It had done a lot to change procedures quickly.

Daniel looked down into the hole again. The smartest thing would be to leave things as they
are. Have some experts check it out in the morning. A Seeker, maybe a witch or two. Or some
vampires. They would be able to see in the dark without much aid. Have them check this
thing out thoroughly to make sure that everything was in order here.

That would take weeks, of course. Probably months. It might even get his project canceled
altogether. He would have to explain to the investors how something like this could have
happened, how they could have missed something this big. There was a lot of money at stake
here and every day that this project didn't go forward would cost him.

All these thoughts went through his head. Daniel wasn't stupid, though. No matter the money,
he really did not want to spend even one second longer down here in this darkness. Certainly
not any further down than he already was. But still, the longer he looked into that hole, the
more certain Daniel was that there was something down there. Something he should find first,
before anyone else could. Maybe something much more important than the money he would
get (or lose) for building this tower.

For a moment he imagined something down in the darkness was whispering to him.

"Let's take a look down below." He told the others. A part of his mind was screaming at him
that he should start running right now, run away from this place as far as his legs would take
him. That part was ignored by the rest, though.

"Are you nuts?" John asked him. "We're not equipped for..."

"I just want to take a look, okay?" Daniel interrupted him. "If this hollow space is as big as it
looks we can't possibly put a building on top of it. We'll just check out how deep this thing
goes."

John was obviously not happy with the idea, but he nodded.

"I need to inform the city department of this." Fontaine said, giving them both dark looks.

"Inform them of what?" Daniel asked. "We don't know what this is yet."

He knelt down again, checking out the wall he had seen earlier. There was no trace of the
bottom or any of the other walls that had to be there. There was something else, though.
Something he was rather certain had not been there the last time he had looked.

"Stairs!" Daniel proclaimed triumphantly, though he was unable to tell what made him so
happy.

#

Fountaine refused to go down with them, as did all the workers except the chief. So after they
made another hole into the floor in a spot where they could then reach the mysterious stairs it
was three of them that went down into the darkness.

The steps looked ancient, yet unused. They were smooth and even, no foot seemed to have
touched them since the moment they had been cut from the stone, and they were of a size that
suggested that the beings they had been made for were at least three feet or so taller than your
average human being. Daniel wanted to count the steps, hoping to get some measure of how
deep they went, but he kept getting distracted. Something was whispering down below, he
was sure of that. Something that was talking to him in a sweet and soothing voice.

"We must be more than 400 feet down by now," John said after a while, "no way can we put
our building on top of this. It would cave in under the weight."

Daniel found himself remarkably unconcerned by John pronouncing the doom of their project.

"I think we have almost reached the floor." He said instead, leading them further down. Their
flashlights still couldn't penetrate the darkness, the only things they saw where the stairs and
the smooth wall they went along, deeper and deeper. It was progressively growing colder.

"Daniel, I think we've gone far enough." John stopped walking, putting a hand on his friend's
shoulder. "We need to have some experts look at this. We're really not the right people to..."

"We're almost down." Daniel interrupted him, shrugging off his arm to go on. "I can feel it."

"Daniel!" John yelled after him as he started sprinting down the stairs. "What's gotten into
you?"

He did not listen. His feet found the stairs beneath him with a grace and surety that Daniel, a
man of quite a few pounds, had never possessed in his entire life. Something was calling him
down, something that pushed all other thoughts aside. One that had sent the rational part of
his mind into a corner, where it hid and whimpered in terror. He knew that he needed to do
something. Something important.

Without warning the stairs ended and Daniel kept on running without missing a step. There
was something ahead of him, something large. Some kind of structure the likes of which he
had never seen before. His flashlight was unable to provide a good look at it, but what little of
it he did see produced a feeling of nausea inside him, his mind refusing to give him a clear
picture for fear of his sanity. He didn't pay any attention to it. There was something else here.
Something poised on some kind of stone altar right in front of the strange structure.

He needed to have it. Now!

"Daniel! What are you doing?" John's voice sounded out from somewhere behind him.

Blindly groping in the darkness, Daniel's fingers found something lying on the stone altar in
front of him. Something that seemed to jump into his hand the moment he made contact. It
was cold metal, but where he touched it there was warmth. Daniel had about half a second to
realize that he was holding some kind of fancy sword. A sword that was starting to glow in his
hand.

Then the thirty minutes were up and Daniel Stone died.

#

After disposing of the irksome creatures he found himself surrounded by as he woke the
Harbinger climbed the stone steps of his prison and reached the surface once more. There
were some more creatures in his way. Humans, they called themselves, he remembered. He
had faced them before. On the day he had failed in his sacred duty.

Looking around he saw the lights of a great city, heard the soft whispers of a few million
fragile little minds. There hadn't been cities like this on this world before, had they? Nor so
many of these creatures. His memory was returning but slowly, but he was quite certain that a
lot of time must have passed since they had sealed him in below the earth.

It didn't matter, of course. Whether a year had passed or a millennium, his duty was the same.
He had a mission to fulfill and fulfill it he would. Grasping the fading thoughts of one Daniel
Stone, the creature who had awakened him, he broke into a smile. Here was just the way to do
it. Things couldn't have been better had he arranged them himself.

"We will build a tower." He said to no one in particular, his voice tinged with a passion he
had stolen from a dying man's mind. "A great and beautiful tower for all to see."

Still smiling he tore himself away from the city he had found himself in. There was much
work to be done. And now was the time to start.

Soon Golgotha would walk the Earth.


###


Part 2 - I Still Got the Christmas Blues For You

Magitech Central
December 17, 2038 AD


Buffy looked around the large ballroom, watched the many people in their pretty dresses,
nursing their drinks, mingling with the rich and famous. The Buffy of another lifetime would
have felt right at home here. Would have been the center of attention if she had anything to
say about it, wearing only the most expensive and fashionable clothing. That Buffy had died,
though. Many, many years ago.

The current Buffy, though very comfortable with most parts of her life, felt out of place here.

Magitech Central, the corporate headquarters of the world's number one enterprise, was
almost a city all by itself. Built at the juncture of several ley lines, constructed from materials
you didn't find in the table of elements, it had in its few short years of existence become the
pulsing center of America's magical economy. Magitech Inc. had been founded only twenty-
four years ago, on this day actually, and these days it held more power than many a nation.

All of that would have worried Buffy, if Magitech's owners and directors hadn't been two of
her best friends.

"Buffy!" She turned to look at the smiling face of one of said friends. "I'm so glad you could
come."

Willow Rosenberg was showing her age, Buffy thought sadly. She was 57 years old, years
that showed in the lines of her face and the silver streaks in her long red hair. Most of the lines
were from smiles, though, and Willow sure didn't seem any less spunky and brilliant than she
had at twenty. Dressed in a form-fitting green dress she looked quite ravishing.

Buffy, though she was also 57 years old, looked no older than a late twenty. There were no
lines in her face, her golden hair glittered in the light of the chandeliers, and the black silk
dress that covered her body from neck to ankles showed her youthful curves. Only in her eyes
could one see her true age.

"You knew I would." Buffy told her best friend, gathering her in a hug. "It's not every day I
get invited to a ball where most of America's Who's Who finds itself turned down."

"Actually it's every year on this day," Willow reminded her, "as I need at least a few real
smiles among the audience. I love my work, but some of the people I have to deal with..."

She made a face that seemed to transform her back into the young witch Buffy had first met
so many years ago. God, the years had gone by so fast. Hard to believe this was already the
24th anniversary of the corporation that Willow and Tara had founded, quite literally, in their
garage back in LA.

"I hear you. Speaking of honest smiles, though, where is that beautiful wife of yours?"

"Oh, Tara is mingling. She would never admit it, but she is much better at this friendly small-
talk stuff than I am."

A dreamy smile spread on Willow's face as she looked across the room to where her blonde
lover was laughing with a few tux-clad elder gentlemen. Buffy knew that smile only too well.
She got it herself every time she looked at her own lover.

"Speaking of beautiful, where is Angel?" Willow asked.

"He should be here momentarily. Darla called him about some Vampirium business. I tell
you, sometimes I don't know whether she runs Dead Man Incorporated or he does."

Dead Man Inc. was the common nickname for the vast holding company that had grown out
of the Vampirium, which had gone corporate only a few years ago, thanks in part to the huge
success of Magitech. Darla, the current leader of the Vampirium, had been named CEO.
Unfortunately (from Buffy's point of view) she liked to frequently consult Angel about a lot
of things that concerned the running of the company.

"I don't think she has much chance to tear him away from your side for any length of time."
Willow said. "I bet he started drooling the moment he saw you in that dress."

"Maybe he did. I was too busy getting my breath back after seeing him in his tux."

The two friends laughed together, interrupted only when a pair of strong arms wrapped
around Buffy's waist from behind.

"Are you laughing about me, Mrs. O'Conner?" Angel asked, planting a soft kiss on her neck.

"I would never dare do that, Mr. O'Conner." She turned around in his embrace to greet him
properly.

"Since when?" He teased, earning himself a mock glare from his wife.

"I'll have you know, Mr. O'Conner, that you are an ungrateful bastard on whom a loving wife
such as I is completely wasted."

"Is that so?" His hand trailed along the line of her body, softly brushing her flesh through the
thin layer of silk. Buffy had to bite down on her lip to suppress a moan. God, that man really
knew how to touch her. It was so unfair that he could make her feel this way with but the
barest brush of his fingers.

"Stop that or I'll embarrass both of us." She said, her voice husky.

"Don't stop on my account." Tara joined them, a big smile on her face. Becoming the co-
owner of one of the world's largest businesses had done a lot to bolster the formerly shy
blonde's self-confidence. A decade or two ago a comment like that would never have made it
past her lips and hearing it from someone else would have caused her to flush a crimson red.

Angel stopped his ministrations, something Buffy really wasn't all that happy about, and
exchanged a welcoming hug with Tara.

"A great party, Tara. Willow." He greeted the redhead as well. "Darla tells me she will invest
yet more money in Magitech stocks as soon as the market opens on Monday."

"Tell her she will get her money's worth. Guaranteed."

The four friends managed to shut out the surrounding party and chat with each other for a
while, catching up on old times. A lot had changed, Buffy thought, since they had all lived in
the same city, the Hyperion Hotel their regular meeting place.

God, she was really turning into an old woman. Not on the outside, of course, but she kept
thinking about the past. About the happy times, as well as the bad. About the friends that
should be here today, but weren't. Kate. Giles. Doyle.

"Get that scowl off your face, Buffy Summers-O'Conner!" A sharp voice interrupted her
musings. "Just because you don't age doesn't mean your face won't get stuck that way some
day."

Buffy looked up to see a regal woman in a silver dress approaching, a cascade of graying hair
trailing down her back. A face of 59 years gave her a scolding look, softened by lips curved
into a smile.

"Cordy!" Willow cheered happily. "You made it."

"Just be glad I did or Buffy here would have drowned in the Christmas blues all night long."

Senator Cordelia Chase had her hand tucked into the crook of her husband's arm. Peter
Chase-Robertson was a man of 66 who had aged like fine wine, still looking quite handsome
in Buffy's opinion. He was not a man of many words, which was okay since Cordy tended to
talk quite enough for both of them. Many people had been surprised that such a quiet and
unassuming man had captured the heart of one of America's leading politicians, but not Buffy.
She knew Cordy good enough to recognize that Peter was just the kind of man she needed.

They were accompanied by their two children. Liam William Chase, aged 34, and Elizabeth
Katrina Chase, aged 28. Liam, in turn, had come with his wife Gabrielle Chase. Buffy was a
bit sad to see that none of their three children were along. Okay, so maybe a formal event like
this was not the right place for three bags of energy between the ages of three and eight, but
she would really have liked to see them again.

"It's nice to see you, too, Cordy." Buffy smiled, greeting the many members of the Chase
family.

"I would say you haven't aged a day," Cordy said, giving Buffy a kiss on the cheek, "but then
again we all know that, don't we?"

Some people might have taken the comment the wrong way, thinking that Cordelia was
jealous of Buffy's eternal youth. Buffy knew better, though. Cordelia had everything she had
ever wanted. Immortality was not among these things.

Inevitably Buffy started thinking about all the things she had ever wanted.

"Buffy?" Angel asked, picking up her feelings across the link they shared. The blood bond
that enabled Buffy to share in his immortality and gave them both the ability to look through
the other's eyes also had a psychic component. They could not actually communicate without
words, but they were fully able to pick up the other's feelings.

Cordelia was right, Angel realized. Buffy was feeling blue.

"I was thinking about Cordy's grandchildren." Buffy admitted, whispering so none of the
others would hear her.

Angel nodded, having expected something like that. They had been together for nearly four
decades now and the matter of children had come up, of course. Angel couldn't have any, that
they had both known from the start. Vampires could not have children, some ridiculous
stories they had heard over the years to the contrary. That alone, though, needn't have stopped
Buffy from having children, of course. There were numerous other ways, including a very
recent development in genetics that would even have enabled a genetic engineer to synthesize
sperm from Angel's own DNA, no matter how dead his body was.

None of that mattered, though, as they had discovered many years ago that Buffy couldn't
have children, either. Neither could Faith. Looking into the Watchers Council database had
shown that all Slayers were infertile from birth.

Which had put an end to any children plans Buffy had ever fostered.

Angel sighed, wrapping his arms around her. Buffy was happy, he knew that. But every now
and then she would long for the things they would never, ever have.

"We'll see them at Christmas." Angel told Buffy, kissing her neck. "All our family will be
there."

Cordelia considered them all family, he knew. Angel was her big brother, just like Spike.
Buffy was the sister she'd never had. Willow and Tara were related somehow as well, though
Angel wasn't sure exactly how. They always celebrated Christmas together and ever since
Liam and Gabrielle's children had joined the family Buffy spoiled them rotten every single
time. By now he was sure that, in the three kids' minds, 'Aunty Buffy' equaled big heaps of
presents.

"I should get another present for Francis." Buffy mumbled, leaning back against her husband.
Francis was the youngest of the three, only three years old. He always called her 'Puffy',
which caused his parents embarrassment without end. She just found it cute.

"You already got him four, remember?"

She nodded, sighing. It was the upcoming Christmas, she resolved. It always got her down
this way.

"Yeah, I remember."

Their musings were interrupted by the buzzing of Angel's com.

"If it's Darla again, tell her I'll take the next flight to Los Angeles and stake her!" Buffy
announced.

Angel took the com from his pocket, looking at the display.

"It's not Darla. It's Bogomiel."

Which was almost worse, Buffy thought. Ernest Bogomiel was the PID's regional director for
the United States. The Preternatural Investigation Division, originally a branch of the United
States' Federal Marshall Corps, had grown into a global organization sponsored by the United
Nations to deal with preternatural crime worldwide.

Bogomiel was also the closest thing Buffy and Angel had to a boss. They both worked for the
PID on a case-by-case basis these days, meaning that he couldn't exactly order them around
like he did his other marshals. He wouldn't call them out of the blue like this if it wasn't really
important, though.

Buffy took out her own com and patched into Angel's as he took the call.

"Angel, Buffy," Bogomiel greeted them as his hologram appeared before them, "sorry to
intrude like this."

Buffy smiled at him. She liked the elderly gentleman that ran all PID activities in America
almost despite herself. He was a real slave driver, but was charming enough that no one really
minded. Some days she was convinced that he was using some kind of magical whammy to
make all his people like him so much.

"What is it, Ernest?" Angel asked. They had all known each other for decades now and
needed no titles between them.

"Something really bad, Angel. When can the two of you be in New York?"

Buffy frowned.

"We're at Magitech, Ernie. Other side of the continent."

"Take the next flight out! We've got a rotten situation in the big apple and I need my best
people there."

"Always with the flattery." Buffy sighed.

"I'm downloading the details into your coms as we speak. Let me know the moment you get
there, okay?"

He signed off, leaving Buffy and Angel a bit confused. Bogomiel had never been among the
most talkative of men, preferring to make his people read the case files he sent them. Still, this
was brief even for him.

"He's worried." Angel spoke what they both thought. "Very much so."

Buffy called up the files and browsed through the summary. Her face darkened with every
word she read.

"I think he has reason to." She mumbled.

Less than an hour later Buffy and Angel climbed aboard an airliner headed for New York,
having made their excuses to Willow and Tara. Neither of them noticed the take-off, as they
were deeply immersed in the case files.


###


Part 3 - Dreams, Murders, and NYPD Coffee


Bogomiel's files were as dry and boring as usual and Buffy quickly fell asleep as the plane
flew through the night across the continent to New York. Angel just smiled as he saw her nod
off. Watching her sleep was one of his favorite pastimes, truth to tell. He gently removed the
notebook that was precariously perched on her lap, the latest file still on the screen, and
spread a blanket over her.

While Angel immersed himself into the case files once more, Buffy started dreaming.

#

"Hello?" Buffy called out, her voice echoing along the empty road she stood in. There were
skyscrapers on either side of her, huge black concrete towers that reached up into the heavens
and blotted out the sky. None of the buildings was lit, everything was dark. Buffy stood all
alone and her breath came out in clouds of white, cold closing around her like an icy hand.

"Why should you care what happens to me?" Someone said. A female voice, young, coming
from somewhere close by.

"Who is this?" Buffy asked, trying to home in on the voice. What was this place? Why was it
so dark here? So dark and cold?

"He is coming!" A dark voice whispered to her, seemingly just behind her back. Buffy
jumped, but there was no one there. Just shadows. Moving shadows. "Soon he will walk the
Earth!"

"As if you care!" That was the female voice again. This time it was much closer.

There was movement, a dark shape running across the street. No, not running. Dancing.
Someone was dancing in the street. A female someone, no older than 15 years or so, long
brown hair trailing out behind her.

"Wait!" Running after her, Buffy couldn't seem to get any closer. "It's not safe for you out
here!"

Something moved in the shadows, something huge and frightening. The darkness parted
around it like a curtain and a nightmare rode toward them on a huge black horse with glowing
red eyes. The rider was clad in dark armor, a huge sword in hand.

"She will die!" He thundered, swinging the sword that glowed in the pale moonlight. "For she
is the last!"

"I won't let you!" Buffy yelled, finding a sword in her own hands. "I won't let you kill her!"

The girl stopped dancing, looking at her. Buffy could see her face now, a face she had never
seen before but which seemed familiar nevertheless. Where had she seen that face before? Or
had she? Maybe she had yet to see it but remembered nevertheless.

"This is just stupid!" The girl sighed. Buffy saw some kind of birthmark on the side of her
neck. Despite the darkness surrounding them on all sides she could see it clear as day. It
looked almost like a small snake that had wound itself around a small star. A five-pointed
star.

Buffy started as the huge black horse came to a stop directly before her, rearing back as the
rider brought it to a halt. Dismounting, the black knight marched toward her, the sword still in
hand.

"He is coming!" He whispered, his face hidden by the black armor. "You can not stop it!"

He brought his sword down and it sheared through Buffy's own like glass. Buffy screamed.

#

"Buffy!"

She came awake with a start, panting heavily as she tried to remember where she was. A
plane? What was she doing ... oh, right. She became aware that Angel was staring at her, as
were most of the nearby passengers.

"Are you okay?" Angel asked, his hand softly brushing her shoulder.

She nodded, swallowing. Her brow was covered with cold sweat and she shivered, still feeling
the cold from her nightmare. God, it had been so real.

"Just a dream." She mumbled, trying to assure her husband. "Just a bad dream."

Angel didn't look convinced. No wonder, she thought, he could probably pick up how
disturbed she was across their bond. Trying to clear her head, Buffy looked out the window.
The plane was rolling slowly across a moonlit landing field.

"We're already there?" She asked. She hadn't felt the plain touch down.

"You slept right through the landing." Angel said. "What did you dream about?"

He had probably gotten some images, too, Buffy realized. They sometimes shared dreams
across the bond, sometimes just caught bits of pieces of each other's nightly fantasies.

"I'm not sure." She told him. "Probably nothing important."

They arrived at their terminal and the people started getting up to collect their luggage. Angel
gave her one last worried glance, then rose as well.

Buffy shook her head again. She couldn't get the image of that young girl out of her head, no
matter how hard she tried. She was certain she knew her. Or would soon know her, at least.

#

A police car collected them from the airport and brought them into Manhattan. It was
approaching midnight and much of the city was covered with freshly fallen snow. Holiday
spirits seemed abroad. Everything was already decked out and made pretty for the upcoming
Christmas and what people were still about this time of night seemed in good cheer.

Buffy frowned. She really wasn't in the mood for cheery people right now.

Neither the cops that had come to get them nor any of the others they met at the police
department seemed very cheery, though. Most of them sported grim and disturbed looks. The
entire department stank of worry, disgust, and anger.

"Marshall O'Conner?" A man in his late fifties came toward them, carrying two coffee mugs.
He wore a badge clipped to the waistband of his trousers.

"Yes." Buffy and Angel said at the same time, smiling at each other.

"Glad you could come. I'm Captain Trenor of the NYPD."

They shook hands after Angel and Buffy each took an offered coffee mug from his hand.
Buffy tried not to grimace as she took a sip. Police coffee probably had some kind of
reputation of badness to uphold. Being a Marshall, first a federal, now an international one,
had given Buffy the opportunity to sample police coffee all over the world. None of it had
been particularly good.

"Director Bogomiel gave us some files on what you have here." Angel said as the two of them
fell into step with Trenor. "The descriptions were a bit vague, though."

So far they only knew that New York, or more precisely Manhattan, had been the site of no
less than eight ritual murders within the last 72 hours. All performed exactly the same way
with the same runes and carvings. The latter performed on the bodies of the victims.

"Gathering information has been a bit difficult so far." Trenor sighed. "As you know the
government hasn't gotten around to approving the necessary funding for full-scale magical
crime equipment yet. At least not for anything smaller than the federal boys. No offense
meant."

"None taken." Angel said. They both knew how seriously ill-equipped most police forces
were to deal with crimes of the preternatural sort. "But are we sure yet these are actual ritual
killings and not just some deranged people on a devil-worshipping trip?"

The emergence of magic and magical creatures into the light of the public had created a long-
lasting wave of trends and manias among the population. Buffy had lost count of the number
of amateur demon-worshippers and Faustian dealers they had had to deal with over the last
few decades. Most of them hadn't been able to so much as float a pencil, much less summon a
demon or work dark magic.

"Quite certain." Trenor said. "We're still waiting for the FBI to send us their Seeker to check
things over, but we improvised by using some of the local talent."

"Local talent?" Buffy asked.

"We have a few witches on retainer, as well as the occasional lent Seeker from the city
department. None of them are really made for this kind of work, but they've given us quite a
few useful pointers in the past. All of them agree that this is definitely something magical.
Black magic."

They entered a staff room that seemed to have been turned into an improvised command
center. There was a large city map on the wall, surrounded by dozens upon dozens of
photographs. Buffy could make out eight red dots on the map, spread throughout the city.

"These are the locations." Trenor said, pointing at the map. "All found within the last 72
hours. We're still trying to determine the exact times of death for the various victims, though."

"How so?" Buffy asked. "Your coroner should have had enough time by now to..."

"That's one of the problems we've had." Trenor interrupted her. "You see ... our coroner hasn't
exactly been able to perform proper autopsies on the bodies yet."

"Can we take a look at them?" Angel asked, able to think of a number of reasons why the
coroner could have had problems. If the victims had been killed in the course of a magical
ritual there was no telling what kind of magical residue might still linger around them. Maybe
the kind that made it very dangerous for anyone to even think about touching them.

"We'll have to drive to one of the crime scenes for that." Trenor said.

"What?"

"We have discovered the first body about three days ago," he explained, "and we're still trying
to take it away from the spot we found it in. So far we've had no success."

Trenor shrugged, his attempt at casualness thoroughly ruined by the haunted look on his face.

"They won't come off."


###


Part 4 - Blood in the Snow


Trenor took them to one of the murder sites, located in a small side alley on Broadway, just a
block away from Times Square. The place was cordoned off and several police officers stood
guard to keep the occasional curious New Yorker from messing up the crime scene.

"This was the first victim we found." Trenor explained as they walked toward the alley. "A
woman called Greta Heinrich. German citizen. We identified her by DNA scanning. We
assume she was over here on vacation, though we have yet to find a record of her coming into
the country. Haven't found out where she was staying here, either."

"Have you contacted her family?" Angel asked, ducking under the police tape.

"She has none, it seems." Trenor read from the small notebook he had along. "Parents died
over a decade ago. No siblings, not married, no children."

Buffy listened to the captain, but only with one ear. Something about this place was sending
her Slayer senses into overdrive, her skin tingling as if bugs were crawling all over it. From
the sensations she received from Angel it seemed he was feeling it as well.

Magic had been at work here. Darkest magic.

When they reached the body Trenor stopped talking, averting his eyes from the scenes before
him. He had seen it before, of course, and apparently had no intention of refreshing his
memory. Looking at what remained of one Greta Heinrich Buffy could certainly sympathize.
She had seen worse in her four decades as the Slayer. Not much worse, though.

The woman couldn't be older than a late twenty, Buffy decided, concentrating on the hard
facts to keep away the revulsion she felt rising inside her. She was nude except for a kind of
loincloth wrapped around her hips, just enough to make her halfway decent down there. Her
chest was bare, giving everyone a good view of what had been done to her.

Greta Heinrich had been crucified. Nailed to the alley wall with steel spikes through her
palms and feet, leaving her in almost Christ-like pose. Almost every inch of her was covered
with some kind of symbols or runes that had been cut into her skin, except for the belly area,
where she had been eviscerated, gutted like a fish. The wall around her was filled with more
symbols, written in blood. Buffy wasn't able to fool herself into thinking of it as red paint. She
could smell the blood, as well as other things that had no business leaving the insides of a
human body.

Which was strange, she thought after a moment, pushing aside the gag building in the back of
her throat.

"You said this was the first victim you found?" Buffy asked Trenor, surprised at how neutral
and professional she sounded. On days like this she worried that her job was burning her out,
robbing her of the ability to feel. How could she look at something like this and be so
professional?

"Yes." Trenor nodded. "I fear our coroner was unable to ascertain how long she might have
been dead at that time. You can see why, I guess."

Buffy could indeed see why the coroner might have some problems with determining the time
of death. 72 hours of hanging nude in a cold alley, snowfall all around, subzero temperatures.
One sure couldn't tell from her looks.

"She is still warm." Angel spoke first, his hand hovering just above the woman's skin. "No
signs of frostbite or even a drop of body temperature. It's like she's only just been brought
here."

Standing close, Buffy could see steam rising from the torn body, snowflakes melting where
they fell on the skin. Somehow that freaked her out more than everything else.

"The blood should have dried up." Buffy inspected the symbols on the wall. That she didn't
have to look at the carved-up body while doing that was a welcome bonus. "No way it could
still be wet after all this time."

Buffy and Angel looked at each other, communicating without words. Something very bad
had happened here. Was still happening, in fact. Both of them were familiar enough with
rituals of this kind to know that.

"Whatever magic was raised here is still active." Angel summed it up. "Keeps the flesh warm,
the blood fresh. For all intents and purposes the body has been frozen at the moment of death,
that's why you can't remove it from here, either."

"That's what our resident witches said." Trenor agreed. "Something about a magical stasis.
Whatever it is, it works pretty good, I'd say. We tried pretty much everything short of blowing
it to bits to get the body down from there. No luck. We even tried to hammer out the entire
portion of the wall where they fixed her up, but all our equipment died on us the moment it
got close to this place."

Angel looked at the symbols on the walls, a sense of puzzlement reaching Buffy across their
bond.

"What is it, Angel?" She asked, stepping closer.

"Some of these runes are familiar, but I can't remember from where. I am certain I've seen
them before somewhere."

Neither Buffy nor Angel had consciously realized that they had been looking at the crime
scene in nearly complete darkness until Trenor got out his flashlight and shone it on the
symbols. Angel flinched back from the bright light, his nearly perfect night vision needing
time to adjust.

"Sorry," the captain said, "thought they might look more familiar in the light."

"We don't need a lot of light." Buffy told him. "Most of our work is done by night."

Trenor smiled apologetically and was about to put his flashlight away again when its light
shone on the crucified woman. Something caught Buffy's eye.

"Hold the light there!" She told the cop. "A little higher!"

With the spot of light directly on the woman's neck Buffy went closer. There, exactly where
she had thought. A small birthmark, looking like ... looking exactly like the one she had seen
on the neck of the girl in her nightmare.

A shiver went down her spine and not from the cold.

"Angel, take a look at this!" She said without looking away. Angel, clearly picking up her
distress, came closer.

"A birthmark." He said, not seeing the significance. "It looks like a snake curled around a
star."

"I've seen that before." Buffy told him. For a moment she was afraid to look up, to look at the
face of the dead woman and see the girl from her dream. Shaking her head she pushed that
thought away. This woman was a lot older than the girl. Different hair color, too. Greta
Heinrich held no resemblance to her at all.

"Where?"

"Remember that nightmare I had on the flight over?"

Angel understood. It had happened only a few times before, but sometimes Buffy's dreams
were more than simply dreams. Sometimes she would dream of things to come. Terrible
things. Both Giles and Wesley had told them that prophetic dreams had been recorded from
previous Slayers as well. Visions that would warn them of coming dangers.

"What did you see in your dream?"

"A girl, no older than fifteen, with this birthmark on her neck. At the exact same spot, too.
She was ... well, she was dancing in the streets and then a black knight on a huge horse came
riding toward her, saying he would kill her. I wanted to stop him, but ..."

Her voice trailed off. Angel put his hand on her shoulder, giving her a soft squeeze. He knew
that Buffy feared the effects both this job and her eternal life might have on her feelings, her
compassion. He, though, could not imagine that she would ever be able not to feel, not to
care. It just wasn't in her character. As was evident right now.

"Captain Trenor?" Buffy looked up at the policeman. "Did you notice this birthmark?"

He leaned closer.

"Can't say I did. We took complete 3D pictures of the body, though. It's probably filed under
the physical details or something."

"We should get back to the station." Angel said. "I assume you have complete imagery of the
other victims as well."

"Certainly."

Buffy nodded. It was just a hunch, but maybe the other victims had this birthmark as well.
The black knight in her dream had said something about the girl being the last. The last what?
The last victim maybe? She shook her head. Too little information to make any educated
guesses.

Angel, meanwhile, was raking his brain trying to remember where he had seen these runes
before. A long time ago, that much was for sure. Before the Restoration, before the Gypsy
curse. The days of Angelus, the Scourge of Europe.

He shook his head, the memories just refused to come. He would have to ask Darla about this.
They had been pretty much inseparable during that time, doing everything together. Maybe
she would remember.

As they marched back toward the police car, blood-stained now clinging to his boots, Angel
couldn't shake the feeling that it was very important.


###


Part 5 - Carving Up the Big Apple


New York City
December 18, 2038 AD


"Now I remember!"

Angel's voice pulled Buffy out of the near-sleep she had fallen into, slumped over on the desk
Trenor had gotten them. Damn, she had to be getting old. A mere forty hours without sleep
(not counting jetlag) and she was worn out. Rubbing her temples she looked up, blinking the
sleep from her eyes.

"What?"

"The symbols." Angel said, looking at the printouts in front of them. "I remember them. At
least I do some of them. They are part of a very basic demonic summoning ritual. Darla and I
did something like that once in the bad old days."

Needing a moment to process the information inside her tired brain, Buffy walked over to his
side of the desk and looked at the symbols.

"So someone wanted to summon a demon?"

"I don't think so." Angel shook his head. "I didn't recognize them at first because these
symbols are always linked to a summoning circle. A pentagram or something similar. Only
there is nothing of the sort at any of the murder sites."

He leaned back, fighting against his own tiredness. The sun had risen a few hours ago and the
daylight, even though the shuttered window kept it safely outside the room they had taken as
their office, was wearing him out.

"Plus, the symbols differ. I'm not sure, but from what I've seen there are at least two different
arrangements, one containing a lot more symbols than the other. Most of which I don't have a
clue about, I might add."

She could hear the frustration in his voice. Part of it was due to the fact that they weren't
dealing with 'just' eight murders anymore. During the last twelve hours the NYPD had found
three more sites, each of them containing a crucified, eviscerated body, surrounded by runes
and symbols drawn in blood.

"What did you want so summon a demon for?" She asked to distract herself from her gloomy
thoughts. "I thought vampires didn't really get along with other kinds of demons back in the
soulless times."

"They didn't." Angel answered, Buffy hearing the familiar undertone of guilt in his voice. No
matter how much time had passed, Angel still couldn't help but feel responsible for the things
his demon had done, no matter how often he professed that he was over it. "We did it mostly
out of boredom. Darla thought it would be fun. It wasn't, though. The demon just piled up a
lot of bodies. Nothing we weren't perfectly capable of doing ourselves back then."

Lots of bodies, Buffy shook her head, her thoughts wrenched back to the present. Eleven
murders so far. God alone knew how many more might be on the way or had already
happened without anyone discovering them. And they didn't have a clue. Not one.

Buffy's theory about the birthmark hadn't led anywhere, either. Two other victims had the
mark as well, on the exact same spot as the first one, too, but the others didn't. Neither on
their necks nor anywhere else. It was strange that three people who seemed to have absolutely
nothing in common except having been murdered all sported the same birthmark, but Buffy
couldn't see how it might form any kind of connection with the other victims.

Running her hands through her hair Buffy paced the length of the room.

"This is leading us nowhere! We have eleven victims, three of whom sport an identical
birthmark, eight of whom don't. They were all frozen in the moment of death, crucified,
eviscerated, surrounded by at least two different sets of symbols and ..."

Angel suddenly looked up sharply, causing Buffy to stop.

"What?"

"Two types of victims." He whispered to himself. "Two types of symbol patterns."

Picking up on his thought Buffy leaned over his shoulder again, beginning to rearrange the
printouts from the eleven victims in front of him.

"You think ..." she began.

"Exactly." Angel nodded.

They both looked across the images again, thoughts and impressions running almost in
parallel through their bonded minds, four hands rearranging the pictures in perfect
synchronicity.

Both stopped at the same time.

"Here's your link." Angel whispered, his eyes widening. "The three victims with the
birthmarks are all surrounded by identical symbol patterns. The remaining eight, those
without the mark, have a different set of symbols."

"So the symbols wary according to the presence of the birthmark." Buffy continued the
thought. "Mark means more symbols. More powerful sacrifice maybe?"

Angel took another look at the information they had gathered on the three victims.

"Birthmarks of this kind can signify that the one wearing it is part of a magically powerful
bloodline. Or carries a curse of some kind. But there is no connection between the three. They
are not related in any way, nor does any of them have a record of magical abilities or past
experiences in that field."

"Just because it isn't in the records doesn't mean it's not there." Buffy reminded him.

"Right!"

Angel sighed again. They had a clue, but he wasn't really sure what it meant. A lot of people
were working on this by now, he knew. Darla had assigned a lot of manpower to going
through the Vampirium database looking for references to the symbols and the ritual. Trenor
wasn't all that happy about including civilians in this, but both the NYPD database, as well as
that of the PID, had come up empty already. Unfortunately the Vampirium's database was
only partly digitized. The rest was rooms upon rooms filled with ancient books, most of them
not containing something as useful as an index, and that meant searching for anything in
particular would take a long while.

Here in the city a lot of cops were out on the streets, hoping to catch sight of the killers by
sheer luck, but Angel feared this was a doomed attempt. Made even worse by the fact that
there were currently plenty of other things to keep New York's finest busy. The city was
experiencing a severe increase in street crime, a trend that had been climbing for the last three
years and had risen sharply these last few months.

Angel had also seen some reports that local asylums and psychiatric hospitals were currently
overflowing. An as yet unexplained wave of mental traumata, nightmares, and psychosis had
washed over the city, leaving experts and amateurs alike without a clue.

Almost as if caused by magic, Angel thought.

"We need to find out what this ritual is supposed to accomplish." He told Buffy. "Or might
already have accomplished."

"You're thinking about the general craziness going on in this city?"

They had made a detour through the holding cells earlier. They had been overcrowded, too
say the least, and many of the people inside them screamed and cursed without break, their
eyes filled with madness and insanity. An almost tangible air of malevolence seemed to hang
over the city, enough to make the hairs on Buffy's neck stand up straight.

"You talked to those witches Trenor has on retainer earlier, didn't you?" Angel asked. "Did
they say anything useful about this birthmark?"

"Same as you." Buffy shrugged. "Could be this. Could be that. I got the feeling they were
every bit as clueless as we are. To tell you the truth, none of them struck me as particularly
experienced."

Angel looked up at her, guessing what she was going to suggest next.

"Think about calling in the pros?"

"There has to be an upside to being best friends with the two most powerful witches on the
continent. Apart from enjoying the perks of corporate life now and then, I mean."

"Trenor will be thrilled about dragging more civilians into this."

They heard shouting from outside. Opening the door, Buffy saw a policeman running through
the staff room and into Trenor's office. Sharpened senses allowed her to her every word. He
was reporting that a patrol car had found yet another victim. Buffy closed her eyes, closing
the door again.

"Somehow I don't think he will object." She said sadly.

"I guess."

Angel walked over to pull her into a brief hug, both of them feeling an almost physical chill in
their bones. Twelve lives extinguished and they still didn't know what for. Only that it was
going to be bad. Or maybe it already was.

"I'll call Willow and Tara." Angel said, letting go of her again. "After that I think we should
try and make a picture of that girl you saw in your dreams. The one with the birthmark."

"You think she's real?" Buffy asked.

"If she is, and if she has that mark, we have to find her. She is probably in deadly danger."

Buffy remembered the image of the black knight she had seen in her dreams, riding toward
that helpless young girl with murder in his eyes.

'She will die!' She could hear the cruel voice in her head. 'For she is the last!'

"I'll ask Trenor to hook me up with their phantom sketcher." Buffy said, hugging herself.
"They should have the whole holographic imaging equipment around here somewhere."

'I'll protect you!' She vowed. 'He won't get you!'


###


Part 6 - Some Days It Doesn't Pay to Always Be Right


A mere four hours after Angel placed a phone call to Magitech Central in California a private
jet landed at JFK airport, having crossed the continent in record time. Anyone not knowing
the people in question might have scoffed at the idea that the leaders of a multinational
enterprise would just drop everything and take off to help some friends at a moment's notice.

Those who knew Tara and Willow would never have doubted it.

Even before the plane touched down Tara knew that something was wrong. She had always
been good at reading auras, receiving psychic impressions. A lot of times she could tell
whether someone had negative intentions without even trying, seeing them radiating outwards
every bit as easily as other people saw colors.

New York city was shrouded in dark red. The entire city seemed suffused with an air of fear
and malevolence, hanging above the skyscrapers like a storm. The wind reeked of dead
things, old death. Tara felt the need to shower, to scrape this feeling off her skin lest it taint
her, too.

Willow was nowhere near as good a psychic, but she was very attuned to the feelings of her
wife.

"What is it, baby?" She asked softly as they prepared to disembark.

"I'm afraid Buffy and Angel didn't call us out of a fancy, Will." She said. "Something bad is
going on here. I can feel it."

"Bad in what way?"

They picked up their tools and bags. Their lives included a lot of business meetings these
days, but it hadn't been that long ago that the two of them had stood in the middle of battle
along with their friends, fighting for their lives. Both were accomplished fighters and, despite
their age, had stayed in shape, not just physically.

The twin swords Firefang, magical blades forged by the Dragons, went under their long coats,
the pockets of which were filled with everything one might possible need for offensive and
defensive spells. They each slung a bag with clothing and more supplies over their shoulder,
walking down the gangway.

"It reminds me a bit of the impressions I received from Angel's hotel once. You remember
how he told us about the paranoia demon he exorcised from there back in the 1950s? Even
decades later it had left a ... a stench of its presence."

She looked at the skyline of the city in the distance. The sun was slowly sinking below the
horizon, dipping the landscape in glorious colors. Tara wasn't fooled by the lovely picture.

"It's like that, only a thousand times stronger. Not so much like something that was here once.
More like something that ..."

"Will soon be here?" Willow finished the sentence, sensing some of what Tara was picking
up.

The blonde just nodded.

#

A limo was waiting to take them into the city, stopping in front of the police department
Angel and Buffy had told them about. The streets were filled with people in the pre-Christmas
spirit, carrying shopping bags aplenty, and about half a dozen Santa Clauses just in this small
area. The deceptively serene picture wasn't enough to distract Tara from the headache she was
getting from the stench hanging over the city.

"It smells of blood." She told Willow as they walked inside. "So much blood."

"Angel said they had a dozen victims so far."

Tara shook her head. "I think they're wrong. Way wrong."

Willow gave her a worried glance, but Tara refused to say anything more at this point.
Picking up all these impressions was one thing, making sense of them was quite another.
Often she would know things, but could not explain how she knew them. Something told her,
though, that there were more than a dozen victims by now.

Much more.

"Can I help you?" The sergeant at the front desk asked.

"Marshalls Angel and Buffy O'Conner are expecting us." Willow said. "We're Tara and
Willow Rosenburg."

The policeman seemed unimpressed by their names, which was surprisingly pleasant, Willow
thought. They had been called the Bill Gates of the 21st century and there weren't a lot of
people these days who didn't know their names, if not their faces. Going about in private had
gotten almost impossible for them.

A phone call later Buffy came down the stairs toward them, a look so tired on her eternally
youthful face that almost made the two witches gasp. Rings were beneath her eyes, her blonde
tresses hanging down limply. Tara visibly flinched when she saw the air of frustration and
despair surrounding her friend.

"Will, Tara!" She greeted them with none of her usual cheer. "Thanks a lot for coming."

Willow banished all thoughts of hugging her friend. This was not a joyous occasion and Buffy
wasn't in the spirit for hugs. She seemed in desperate need of sleep, though.

"Of course we came." Tara said softly. "After what you told us..."

"We found yet more victims." Buffy said without preamble, her voice worn out and lifeless.
"The body count is up to twenty-three now."

Tara closed her eyes, shaking her head. Why was she always right about such things?

"Did you find out anymore about the ritual so far?" The witches and the Slayer walked up the
stairs into the office Buffy and Angel used.

"Nothing. Darla is looking into it, just like the PID and just about every other federal agency
you ever heard about it. Angel was right about some of them being from basic demon
summoning rituals, but that's all we have. No one seems able to make sense of the rest."

"You said something about a birthmark." Tara remembered. "Found on some of the victims."

"Five of them so far." Buffy nodded. "All of them are surrounded by special editions of those
symbols. Identical down to the last brush stroke. If they used brushs."

Buffy's puns sounded tired and forced.

"We should take a look at one of the murder sites first." Willow said as they stood in front of
the map with the red dots. "Maybe Tara can ... Tara?"

Tara was staring at the map, the red dots that signified snuffed human lives standing out like
bloodstains. Something about the image it made caused the hairs on the back of her neck to
rise, but she couldn't put her finger on what it was. Something hovered just outside her grasp,
something she saw but couldn't quite make sense of.

Her eyes trailed over the spots, passing that on Broadway and the one on Fifth Avenue, both
of whom were marked with an 'x', too. Three dots without further marks were situated along
Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, close to the United Nations building. An x'd dot was on
Eleventh Avenue, close to a few others without an x sprinkled among the warehouses near the
harbors.

It seemed like a random collection, scattered over the city without pattern or system. The only
thing that seemed certain was that all murders had occurred in an area that started just south of
Central Park and ended at about 23rd Street.

"Are the ones with the x those with the birthmark?" Tara asked without looking away from
the map.

"Yes." Buffy said, frowning. "Can you make anything of it?"

"I'm not sure." She confessed. "There is something there, but ..."

Her headache kept pounding beneath her temples and Tara closed her eyes to rub her
forehead.

"Sorry. Maybe I'm imagining things. All the fear hanging in the air is giving me a headache.
A big one."

"OH MY GOD!" Someone yelled.

The three women turned around. Angel had walked in the door, followed by a young woman
neither of them had seen before. She seemed about eighteen years old, if that much, jet-black
hair trailing down her back. She was dressed all in black, too, and carried an abundance of
charms and necklaces.

"This is Selina." Angel made the introductions. "She's been helping the NYPD with their
magic-related cases and ..."

"It's really you!" Selina interrupted him, walking up to Tara and Willow with a look of pure
excitement on her face. "I can't believe it."

Tara narrowed her eyes for a moment, reading the girl in front of her. Selina was powerful,
that much she could tell immediately, but the power was mostly undirected, more potential
than actual ability. She might become a very crafty witch some day, but still had ways to go.

She also radiated so much excitement and joy that Tara had to look away for fear of going
blind.

"I'm your biggest fan in the whole world!" Selina rambled, stepping from one foot to the
other. "When they said you'd be coming to help I thought they were making fun of me. But
you're really here. I've got the book you wrote about modern witchcraft. And the one about
the founding of Magitech. And ..."

"Selina!" Angel said, putting a hand on her shoulder.

"Sorry," she smiled sheepishly, "I always do this when I get excited. I was just ..."

"Excited." Tara said, smiling at her. It was hard not to be infected by her cheer. "There is no
need to, though."

"I'm sure this case will be solved real quick now that you're here!" The young witch forcibly
kept herself from jumping up and down. "I mean, I tried to figure this out, but I'm still rather
new at this. The two of you, though, ..."

"Have you been to one of the murder sites, Selina?" Tara interrupted her, now able to sense
some of the impressions hidden underneath Selina's cheery exterior. A flash of horror passed
over the girl's face, giving Tara all the answer she needed. Selina's aura visibly darkened,
weighed down by the memories those few words had brought to the surface.

"Yeah, I did." She said, looking down. "It was horrible. I ... I got sick from the stench and I ...
well, I ..."

"It's okay." Tara assured her. "May I?"

Selina looked at her extended hand, puzzled for a moment, then understood.

"Sure! I would be honored! No problem, you can read whatever you ..."

Tara grabbed her hand before she could fall into a new ramble, establishing a connection
between them. The girl's excitement washed over her like a wave of sunshine, distracting her
for a moment, but then Selina concentrated on the things Tara wanted to see.

A second later Tara regretted grabbing her hand.

Cold! Blood! So much blood! The stench of death, dead flesh! A soul frozen in the moment of
death! Screaming, still screaming! The magic, so dark and cold! Old death! Old fear!
Surrounding her! Suffocating her! So cold! Trying to pull her under, down to where the dead
things were! So much darkness!

Something was looking at her from the darkness. Something with eyes of flame.

Tara stumbled, letting go of Selina's hand. Her stomach heaved as revulsion ran through her
and she barely managed to keep from throwing up the lunch they'd had on the plane. Willow
was by her side in an instant, supporting her when her shaky knees threatened to give out.

"My God!" Tara whispered, looking green around the edges. Her hands were shaking.

"Did I do something wrong?" Selina asked, worried. "I didn't mean to ..."

"Don't worry!" Tara said quickly, not wanting to girl to blame herself. "It was just ... what you
saw ... you're a strong psychic, Selina! Be thankful you don't have enough training yet to
really see all you have perceived there."

Buffy and Angel walked closer to her, all signs of tiredness gone from the Slayer's face for the
moment.

"What did you see, Tara?" She whispered. "What are we facing?"

Tara swallowed, looking over at the city map again.

"I'm not sure." She said, feeling that the picture hidden in those dots was getting clearer by the
second. "Something is going to happen. Something is coming. Something old and terrible. I
could almost see it and ... and ..."

Willow pulled her closer, only now realizing that one of Tara's blonde tresses had turned a
silvery white.


###


Part 7 - The Girl of My Dreams


"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!"

Buffy looked over the shoulder of the police officer who worked the crime computer. Angel
had almost manhandled her onto the couch a few hours ago, forcing her to sleep for a while.
She felt a little better now, though they had found another two bodies during the two hours
she had been out. That, coupled with Tara's violent reaction to Selina's impressions from the
crime scene, pretty much erased all the positive effects of sleep.

Together with Angel and some phantom artists from the NYPD she had sketched a picture of
the girl from her dream before falling asleep and the computers had worked hard to find her
ever since. Now it seemed they had finally managed.

A hologram flared to life in front of her, showing the now-familiar girl.

"That's her!" Buffy said. "I'm sure of it."

"Her name is Dawn Heywood. Born March 3, 2023. Parents Melanie and Henry Heywood.
Looks like the girl is a bit of a troublemaker. She was arrested for shoplifting once, that's why
we have her in the computer."

"Do you have an address? Does she live in New York?"

"Sure does. Here it is, West 23rd Street. Corner of Eight Avenue."

Right at the edge of the killing zone, Buffy thought.

#

Not wasting any time Buffy grabbed Angel and barely ten minutes later their car screeched to
a halt in front of a large apartment building on West 23rd Street, corner Eight Avenue. It was
in the middle of the night, barely a person out on the street.

"This is it?" Angel asked, looking up the building, making a mental note never to let Buffy
drive again when she was this agitated. He loved her, but his wife wasn't a good driver under
the best of circumstances.

"Yeah." Buffy hesitated a moment, looking out the nearly abandoned street they stood on.
Flanked by large skyscrapers, dark night sky above them, it almost looked like the street she
had seen in her dreams. Without wanting to her eyes scanned the nearby side alleys for a
black knight riding a black horse, a huge sword flashing in the moonlight.

There was nothing, though. Just darkness where the city lights didn't reach.

"Let's go!" Buffy said, checking the gun she wore under her coat.

The Heywoods lived on the fifteenth floor of the building, but no one answered when Buffy
rang the door bell. Making their way up to the apartment they found themselves standing
before a closed door with an unmistakable smell emanating from behind it. A smell all too
familiar to both of them.

"Blood!" Angel whispered, drawing his gun.

Buffy pushed down the ice-cold fear clenching her stomach. Was she too late? She had
promised to protect the girl, even it had been in a dream. She couldn't be too late, could she?

Without waiting any longer Buffy kicked open the door, storming inside with Angel half a
step behind her. They had done this a thousand times, each of them knowing exactly where
the other was and what area of the room they had to cover. Business as usual.

Both of them froze two steps beyond the door, though. Froze and stared at the scenery in front
of them.

"Merciful God." Angel whispered.

The stench inside the room was almost overpowering, making bile rise in Buffy's throat. Flies
were buzzing around the sorry remains of what might have been a human being once upon a
time, spread out over the floor like a shattered toy. Every inch of the floor was coated with
dried blood, soaking the cheap carpet.

On the far wall hung a female body, crucified in a pose that was agonizingly familiar to them
by now, surrounded by symbols drawn in blood. The remains of the second body were spread
out beneath it like an offering to a vengeful god.

Angel scanned the apartment for threats, then put his gun away. Whatever had happened here
had happened several days ago, judging by the sorry state the carved-up body was in. They
were much too late. The woman crucified to the wall was like all the others, not a mark of
decay on her. And, judging by the symbols surrounding her, she carried the birthmark.

"Melanie Heywood, I guess." Angel said, looking at the woman's face. There was a lot of
resemblance to the girl Dawn there.

"Is ... is this ...?" Buffy said, gesturing at the remains at their feet.

"I don't think so." Angel tried to assure her. "From what little I can make out this was the
body of a man. Probably the father, Henry Heywood."

Buffy breathed a sigh of relief, only too feel incredibly guilty a moment later. How could she
be relieved when two people were lying dead before her? Two people who were the parents of
the girl she was looking for. She mumbled a brief prayer that Dawn had not seen this done to
her parents. No one should be forced to see something like this.

"Mrs. Heywood has the birthmark." Angel said, having checked the crucified body. "There is
no way to be sure about Mr. Heywood, I fear, but as he hasn't been crucified ..."

"Something different happened here." Buffy said, forcing the rational part of her mind to the
surface, banishing everything else for the moment. "This is the twenty-sixth victim we've
found, but so far no one else has ever been killed at the murder sites. Why do you think they
killed him in this way instead of crucifying him, too?"

She hated herself for the cold and analytical sound of her voice. Some days she almost hated
Angel for the way he was able to deal with things like this so casually. It wasn't his fault, of
course. She herself was beginning to grow casual with these things. Nothing monstrous about
that, just human. See it often enough and even the most gruesome sight ceases to make an
impact on you.

She hated it.

"I don't think Mr. Heywood was meant to be a victim." Angel said. "They were after his wife.
Maybe his daughter. Odds are he was just at the wrong place at the wrong time."

"His own home." Buffy added.

Angel nodded sadly.

#

Half an hour later the apartment was filled with policemen, securing what little there was in
the way of evidence, gathering up the remains of Henry Heywood. Just like with all the others
there was no way to remove Melanie Heywood's body from the wall.

"No sign of the girl." One policeman reported to Buffy and Angel. "Her room is over there,
but nothing seems out of place. She is probably out partying or something."

"I don't think so." Buffy said. Her eyes were drawn to a framed photograph standing on the
table nearby. It showed a happy family, parents and daughter, smiling on a sunny day. "Her
father was killed at least two days ago, maybe more. Odds are she came home and ... found
her parents."

"Then she's on the run." Angel said after a moment of silence. "Frightened and alone. She
could be anywhere."

The policeman took out his com. "No record of any other family in the city. According to the
neighbors she has grandparents somewhere in Georgia, but they didn't know the names or
address. We're trying to track them down. Maybe the girl ran to them."

Buffy shook her head. She couldn't say how she knew, but she was certain that Dawn was still
in the city. Certain that whatever was after her wouldn't just let her leave. Whatever was going
on, it would happen here in Manhatten. And Dawn was part of it somehow.

"We have to find her." Buffy resolved. "And fast!"

#

Dawn didn't know how long she had been running and hiding. Two days? Three days? She
couldn't tell anymore. Her stomach was grumbling, reminding her that she hadn't eaten
anything in quite a while. Her clothing was dirty, the thick winter jacket she wore not enough
to keep her warm in the cold alley she had last slept in.

Something was after her. The same thing that had ... that had killed ... oh, god, her parents
were dead. They were both dead. This had to be a nightmare. Any moment now she would
wake up and the nightmare would be over. She would be back home with mom and dad,
telling them about the good grade she had gotten for her science project.

They were dead! Oh god, they were dead!

Dawn saw something move in the shadows at the end of the alley and started running again.


###


Part 8 - Last Exit Salvation


There was fresh snow falling down from the skies and Dawn shivered, clutching the dirty
winter jacket closer. All around her the people were going about with smiles on their faces,
carrying shopping bags full of presents to give to their kids in a week's time.

Kids that still had their parents.

Dawn stopped walking as the despair threatened to suck her under. She couldn't breathe,
clammy hands closing around her heart. Oh God, her parents were dead. Someone had broken
into their home and ... and ... done that to them. How could one person possibly do this to
another? To her parents? They had never hurt anyone. Why? Why did this have to happen?

"You okay, kid?"

She opened her eyes to look into the eyes of a man who had stopped, looking down at her
with a worried glance. Dawn didn't see the worry, though. She only saw a stranger. A stranger
like the ones who must have broken into her home and ...

"Stay away from me!" She yelled, running down the street as far as she could, leaving a very
puzzled man behind, who shrugged and went on his way again.

Dawn kept running until her feet hurt too much to continue, resting against a cold stone wall.
She had to do something. Go to someone. She was only fifteen for God's sake, how was she
supposed to handle something like this? She wanted her parents. Mommy and daddy would
know what to do. They always knew, even when Dawn had gotten herself into major trouble.
They would scold her, give her a lecture maybe, but they would always ...

Mommy and daddy were dead!

She had lost track of the tears rolling down her cheeks. They were hot when they first fell
from her eyes, but then cooled in the winter weather, freezing on her cheeks. Her small body
was shaking with sobs, a cold far more terrible than the December frost had settled deep
inside her bones.

Made all the more terrible by the fact that she knew something was still after her. The things
that had killed her parents. She had never seen them, but she knew. Somehow she knew. They
wanted her for reasons Dawn couldn't even guess, wanted her dead, wanted to do to her what
they had done to her parents.

She couldn't banish the face of her mother, slack, her eyes still open and so empty. So very
empty. Her mother couldn't have eyes like that. They were supposed to be filled with warmth
and love. Not empty.

"Mommy!" Dawn whispered.

Maybe it hadn't been her father down on the carpet. Those ... those things ... all red and ... so
many things ... maybe her father was out on the streets, looking for her even now. He had
always been there to protect her. She remembered the time a bad man had tried to touch her.
Her daddy had been there to keep him away. He couldn't be gone. He would find her and
protect her. He would ...

He was dead! Just like her mother.

Dawn sagged to the ground, ignoring the cold seeping through the bottom of her pants.
Hugging her knees close to her chest she tried to figure out what to do now, tried to figure out
a way to get past the pain and the shadows that seemed to have closed around her until she
couldn't breathe anymore.

She had dreamed about it. Just the night before ... before it had happened. Dawn remembered
but a few impressions, but she knew that it was related to ... to what had been done to her
mother and father. She remembered something moving in the darkness, something that
wanted to hurt her, kill her.

She also remembered a blonde woman appearing out of nowhere, trying to protect her. She
had never seen that woman before in her life, yet somehow she had seemed familiar. As if
something inside Dawn recognized her or something about her.

"Who are you?" Dawn somehow felt that the strange woman might hear her whispers. "Why
did my parents have to ... have to ..."

Fresh sobs broke from her throat. She had to do something, but she couldn't think. There was
so much pain, so much cold. She couldn't handle this. She was just a kid, a kid who had just
lost ...

"Dawn!" Something moved in the shadows, something that was whispering her name.

"No!" Dawn started running again, not caring in what direction as long as it was away from
that ... whatever it was. She didn't want to know what was chasing her. If she turned to look it
would get her, it would ... it would do to her what it had done to her parents.

"Dawn!" The whispering was closer now, seemingly just a step behind her.

"Get away from me!"

Dimly aware that she was running through yet another alley she looked for a way to escape, to
hide. This thing was surrounding her, boxing her in. Dawn had tried to get out of the city,
maybe head for Georgia where her grandparents lived. She couldn't, though. Every time she
had begun to do something other than run and hide in stark fear the shadows had appeared,
cutting her off, sending her running back into the alleys.

Was there anything to New York but dark alleys? Shouldn't the sun have gone up by now?
Dawn didn't know and she was too scared to form any coherent thoughts at all. The shadows
were after her again and she could hear them whisper, telling her what they would do once
they caught her.

"You are the last," they whispered. "You will open the door."

Dawn didn't know what the shadows were talking about and she didn't care. She didn't want
to know. The only thing she wanted was for them to go away, to disappear and give her back
her parents, restore her to the world she had lived in until everything had been torn away in a
single night. Some small part of her kept hoping that this was all a nightmare, that she would
wake up any moment now, looking into the worried face of her mother who had heard her
trash and scream while she slept. Mom would make it good with a smile and a caress and all
of this would just fade away.

Only it didn't happen. She knew it wouldn't.

The alley ended and Dawn burst out onto the street, some street she didn't recognize. Cars
sped past here, some of them swerving wildly, honking as they tried to avoid hitting her.
Dawn was barely aware of them, didn't even notice that metal death was brushing past less
than an inch away. She only knew that death was behind her, the shadows churning and
wavering as they trailed after her.

"Look out!" Someone yelled and Dawn found herself yanked aside by strong arms. Moments
later a truck thundered over the spot she had been on a heartbeat earlier.

"What do you think you're doing, girl?"

She looked up at the man whose arms were around her. He wore a police uniform, but Dawn
didn't see that. He was just another stranger, one who was holding her for the shadows, which
were coming closer with every passing second.

"Let me go!" Dawn screeched, trying to break out of his arms. "They're coming after me! Let
me go!"

"Who is after you?" The cop asked, looking around for whatever might have frightened this
girl so much. She had come out of the alley across the street, but there was nothing there.
Nothing but empty shadows.

"What's up, George?" A second cop came over from a parked police car.

"Please let me go!" Dawn was crying, pounding her small fists against her captor's chest.
"Please!"

"Something has spooked her but good. I don't know ..."

"Hey, isn't that ..." The second cop looked at Dawn, then quickly ran back to the car,
returning a moment later with a sheet of paper in his hand. A sheet that showed Dawn's face.

"That's the girl everyone is looking for," he told his partner, excitement ringing in his voice.
"The one connected to the killings."

"What?"

Both of them studied the sheet, then looking at the face of their unwilling captive again.
Dawn's struggles had almost ceased, the girl reduced to a shivering bundle of sobs. George
gently lowered her to the ground, trying to make her look into his eyes.

"Dawn," he asked her. "Dawn Heywood?"

"I want my mommy," Dawn sobbed, refusing to acknowledge them. "Please, I want my
mommy."

George sighed, taking her into his arms until she was cradled against his chest.

"Let's take her to the station." He carried her toward their car. "I guess those marshals will be
glad to see her."

Somewhere on the way back to the station Dawn finally fell into troubled sleep, once again
seeing the face of the mysterious blonde woman who promised to protect her.


###


Part 9 - Comes a Horseman


The shadows watched as the girl they sought was brought into the police building. They had
been in this time and place long enough to know everything about it, including the fact that it
was wise to stay out of sight of this world's authorities until their plan had reached fruition.
Had they been able to feel such emotions as frustration it would have irked them that they had
to hide from such pitiful creatures.

As it was they simply reported what they saw to their master. Reported that they had finally
tracked down the last of their prey. Shadows closed around the police station from all sides,
waiting for whatever orders their master would give them.

Their master was pleased and decided that it was time for the hiding to cease.

#

Buffy was almost running by the time she reached the interrogation room, where two armed
policemen were standing guard with grim looks on their faces.

"Marshal O'Conner," she introduced herself by flashing her badge. "The girl is in there?"

"Yes, ma'am. She was brought in twenty minutes ago."

"And you left her in there all the time? Alone? After what she went through?"

Before either of the cops could react to Buffy's shout of indignation she brushed past them
and opened the door.

The interrogation room was little more than a gray cubicle, about five by five meters, with a
table and several chairs standing in the middle. A large mirror on one of the walls allowed
people from the neighboring room to look in without being seen. A lamp above the table was
the only source of light.

A sobbing figure was huddled in one of the corners, a large blanket wrapped around her
shoulders almost swallowing her up.

"Dawn?" Buffy asked softly, walking closer.

The girl's head shot up, showing Buffy a face streaked with tears, eyes red and puffy from
hours, maybe days of crying. The look of fear and terror on the girl's face almost wrenched a
sob from Buffy's own throat.

It was the girl from her dream. There was no doubt about it.

"I ... I know you," Dawn said, her voice barely audible. "Who are you?"

Buffy was confused for a moment, but then shook her head and went to kneel down beside the
child, putting a warm smile on her face.

"I am Buffy O'Conner, Dawn. I'm a marshal with the PID."

Dawn just looked at her, her eyes shimmering with yet more tears.

"I ... I saw you. In a dream." Dawn wiped the tears away with her sleeve. "You said ... you
said you would protect me."

Buffy's eyes widened on hearing this. Was it possible they had shared the same dream? God
knew she had seen stranger things than that in her many years. Not much stranger, though.

"I had a dream about you, too." Buffy put a hand on the girl's shoulder, feeling her shivering.
"We've been looking for you for a while now."

For a moment Dawn looked at her with the barest shimmer of hope in her eyes, but then she
shook her head and looked away, squeezing her eyes shut.

"This is just stupid," she mumbled.

She had said the exact same words in her dream, Buffy realized. In the exact same tone of
voice, too. This was getting creepy even for her.

"It's not stupid, Dawn." Buffy edged closer to the girl, everything inside her screaming to
take her into her arms and protect her from the world, no matter what it took. What was going
on here? Why was she having such strong feelings for a girl she had only just met? "I promise
I will do my best to protect you, but I need your help doing it."

"My help?"

"You ... you know what happened to your parents?" Buffy really didn't want to ask her that,
not after everything this poor child had gone through, but she had the terrible feeling that time
was running out on them. The body count was rising with every passing hour, almost like
clockwork.

Or maybe a countdown.

So far they had miraculously managed to keep the public in the dark about it, but even
without news about the grizzly murders the air of fear and malice that hung over the city was
growing worse. It had led to the first signs of unrest, a sharp rise in petty crime and violence.
The police was barely able to keep the lid on the powder keg New York city was quickly
becoming.

Whatever was going to happen would happen soon. And Dawn was their only clue.

"My parents, they ..." Dawn's voice broke.

"I'm so sorry, Dawn, but I have to ..."

"As if you care!" The girl edged away from her, pressing herself closer into the corner. "They
weren't your parents. You didn't have to see ... to see ..."

Ignoring yet one more déjà vu from her dreams Buffy closed the distance again, softly
brushing loose strands of hairs from Dawn's face.

"I care, Dawn," she just said.

For another long moment the girl just stared at her with anger in her eyes, but then the barriers
broke and three day's worth of sorrow and despair came pouring out of her.

"Mommy! Daddy!" Dawn buried her face in her knees, sobbing.

Buffy finally reached out and gathered the girl into her arms, letting her tears soak into her
shirt, rocking her like she would a baby. Dawn clutched her as if drowning, holding on to the
last solid thing in her entire world.

"They took them away," Buffy could make out between sobs. "Then they came after me."

"Who, Dawn? Who came after you?"

"The shadows. The shadows."

#

Angel was two stories above the interrogation room, but he felt Buffy's emotions across his
link. Her desperate need to help this girl, to keep her safe. Just like her he wondered where
these feelings came from. Buffy was a compassionate woman, he never doubted that, but from
the fierceness of her feelings one would think she was the girl's sister or mother, not a total
stranger.

Just one more thing they didn't understand about all this.

"Any luck?" He approached Willow and Tara, who had taken up camp in the staff room with
the ominous city map. A map that was sprinkled with lots and lots of red dots.

Every dot signifying a snuffed life.

"Not much," Willow admitted sadly, rubbing her tired eyes. "We have managed to identify
about half of the runes used in the murders without the birthmark. Nothing terribly special
there, just basic demonic summoning runes like you already guessed. The funny thing is that
all of these runes normally require a conjuring circle or something to actually make the demon
appear, but there is no such thing at any of the murder sites."

"And the others?"

"They ...," Willow began, only to be cut off by Tara.

"What did you just say?" The blonde witch was staring at the city map again.

"Say about what?"

"About what was missing."

"Missing? Oh, you mean the conjuring circle. Yeah, these runes require a conjuring circle to
make a demon appear, something to function as the doorway between dimensions. Only there
is no ..."

"Yes there is," Tara said.

She had been staring at the map for hours now, trying to see the picture she was certain was
hidden in there somewhere. Now Willow's words had provided the final spark she had been
missing. Now Tara could see the picture clear as day.

"Give me a pen," she told Willow and Angel without turning around.

Moments later someone dropped the required object into her hand and Tara began to draw on
the map. Five straight lines and a circle later she stepped back and a shiver ran down her back.

"Your circle, Willow," she muttered.

Angel and Willow could only stare at what Tara had drawn. A giant pentagram, carved right
into the face of the city.

At the same moment someone began to scream.

#

The sergeant manning the front desk of the police station barely had time to scream when the
doors in front of him suddenly exploded inward without warning, showering him with broken
glass. The last thing he saw was a giant black shape, a huge horse carrying a man in night-
black armor, swinging a glimmering sword.

A sword that connected with his neck a moment later.

"Find her," the Harbinger thundered as shadows poured into the station behind him, blacking
out every source of light in a heartbeat. "Bring her to me! Kill everyone that stands in your
way!"


###


Part 10 - Disrespecting the Law



All the lights in the police station went out at the same time, plunging the entire building into
utter darkness. Even Angel found that his superior night vision barely managed to penetrate
the cloak of shadows that seemed to have fallen over them. Some windows were open, but no
light fell in from outside.

Some floors below there were screams.

"We are being attacked!" He drew his guns, jacking rounds into the chambers in the same
motion. Considering the case they were working on he wasn't quite sure the guns would be of
any use, even with the runes carved into the bullets, but it was better than going barehanded.

A faint glimmer filled the room as Willow conjured a witchlight.

"There is something unnatural about this darkness," the redhead said. "My light should be
much brighter than this."

Angel spent a moment checking on Buffy through their link. His wife was feeling troubled,
her being prepared for battle and worried about the child with her, but that was all. Whatever
was attacking them hadn't reached her yet.

There were more screams.

"Stay here!" Angel looked at the two witches. "Try to figure out what is attacking us! Lift the
darkness if you can! I'm going to check this out."

Willow nodded, Tara already occupied with trying to sense the source of the shadows
surrounding them. Angel gripped his weapons and stormed out the door.

The corridors were almost empty, nearly every member of the NYPD was out on the streets
trying to retain control over a city that was rapidly moving toward an explosion. What people
were there stumbled around in the dark, some of them trying to get flashlights to work. Only
they wouldn't turn on, not one of them.

"The coms are all dead," someone yelled.

Just like the lights, Angel thought. Something was disrupting all working technology in this
building. Angel was quite familiar with such spells. It was one of the reasons why he had
never switched to using any of the more modern, electronic handguns. His old Winchester
Magnums were antiques, but they worked just fine and didn't care about spells that disrupted
electronics.

He heard another scream, much closer this time. Though he had a hard time seeing anything
in the thick darkness that rippled all around him he did make out a large shape coming toward
him, its heavy footsteps making his ears ring.

Did the shape carry a sword?

Instinct made Angel duck at the last second, something sharp brushing past his head so close
that he felt the air move. A few strands of his spiky hair fell to the ground, neatly severed.
Dropping to the ground Angel fired several shots in the direction where he had seen the large
figure disappear.

The bullets flared as they hit the walls, bursting into light as the spells they contained were
released, and at least one of them hit something other than the wall. For a split second Angel
saw a large, armored shape stand out in a flash of magical light, then everything went dark
again. An inhuman grunt filled the corridor and something heavy toppled to the ground.

The darkness around him seemed to grow lighter.

"Felt that, didn't you," Angel whispered to himself, carefully edging closer. It was just a gut
feeling, but this had been far too easy to be over already.

There was some light falling in from a nearby window, street lamps finally penetrating the
shadows. It was enough for Angel to see his enemy for the first time. A large, armored figure,
no way to determine the gender underneath the black steel that encased it from head to toe. A
large, intricately carved sword rested in one of its hands, the shiny blade stained with freshly
spilled blood.

There was a hole where Angel's bullet had gone in. Right in the throat.

Angel couldn't make out any signs of life. From this close he should have heard the heartbeat,
should have made out the sound of breathing. There was nothing there, though. Either this
creature was dead or something very much inhuman. He suspected the latter.

Keeping his gun lined up on the armored head Angel nudged the figure with his toe, which
produced no reaction at all. Angel became aware, though, that someone was moving toward
him from behind. Someone very much alive and with a heartbeat that was doing flip flops.

"Marshal O'Conner," he heard the familiar voice of Captain Trenor call out. "Is that you?"

"It's me, Captain. What is the situation?"

The captain came to a stop a few feet away, panting hard. "I am not exactly sure. Something
attacked us. We've got at least three men down, probably more. Some of the people a floor
below said something about shadows attacking them, creatures made from dark mist trying to
choke them. Only it all stopped about a minute ago."

Which would put it at the same moment Angel had shot down this black knight.

"This isn't a shadow, captain." Angel gestured at the form lying at his feet. "Whatever it is,
it's very much substantial. Almost took my head off with that sword."

A moment or two before Trenor knelt down to take a closer look something inside Angel
cried out for him to stop the cop. He was too slow, though. A movement caught his eye,
something that flashed in the light of the street lamps. It brushed past him, armored fingers
letting go of a sword that was suddenly filled with a life of its own.

"Captain, look out!" Angel jumped back, trying to line up on the moving blade, but
everything happened much too quickly.

A heartbeat or two after the sword left the hand of the prone figure the black armor around it
vanished, leaving behind the body of a slightly overweight man in his late thirties, unseeing
eyes staring up at the ceiling, blood seeping from a bullet wound in his throat.

Trenor had a moment to shrink back from the perceived movement, raising his hands to
protect his face from something that moved much too fast for him to see clearly. Something
that flew right into his open hand, his fingers closing around it out of reflex.

"What the ...," Trenor managed, then he fell silent.

Angel could only stare as darkness spread from where Trenor had reflexively caught the
sword, surrounding his body in a matter of seconds, solidifying a moment later. Only seconds
had passed when an armored figure stood where Trenor had knelt, looking at Angel from
inside a black helmet with eyes of red coal.

"Good shot," The Harbinger growled, stolen lips spreading in a smile beneath his helmet.
"Want to try that again?"

The darkness grew thicker once more and fresh screams sounded out around them as the
shadows came alive again with deadly intent.

#

Selina almost ran right into Willow's unsheathed sword when she barreled into the room,
slamming the door behind her, looking like all of hell was but one step away. Which probably
wasn't that far from the truth, Willow thought.

"You guys won't believe what's going on out there!" The young witch was panting, all awe
forgotten as she was shaking with fright.

"Get back from the door," Willow yelled at her, standing protectively in front of her wife who
had retreated into a trance. Tara was going to bring down the darkness that was boxing them
in and she depended on Willow to defend her while she did that.

And it looked like Willow would get ample opportunity to do that any moment now.

Selina dove for the floor as the door exploded behind her, shadows seeping into the room
behind her. They were almost impossible to make out amidst the prevailing darkness,
featureless shapes that rippled and churned as they flooded forward, their malevolence almost
tangible.

"Stay down, Selina!" Willow raised her hand and muttered a word of power. Light spilled
from her palm, pushing back the darkness, surrounding herself, Tara, and Selina with an
unearthly glow. One of the shadows reached out with something that almost looked like a
hand, only to flinch back as if burned, small contrails of smoke rising where it had touched.
An inhuman screech made Willow's ears ring.

"Witches," one of the shadows hissed.

"Smart guy!" Willow thrust forward her sword, the dragon-forged blade penetrating the spell
of protection she had put up around her friends. The metal tip touched the nearest of the
shadows, igniting it like a candle as dragon fire spilled across the dark shape, which screeched
even louder than before as it was devoured alive. Or maybe not alive, Willow couldn't tell.

For a moment she thought she saw a human shape somewhere inside the darkness, but it
vanished before she could be sure.

The other shadows drew back, making the witch think for a moment that they might actually
be safe. She had to rectify that opinion, though, when the shadows spread out over the walls,
covering it like black paint. The entire room seemed to shudder and plaster rained down on
Willow's head.

"This is not good," she murmured. A moment later the ceiling came down on them and Selina
screamed.

#

Buffy had no idea what was going on outside, but her Slayer sense was screaming at her.
Something wicked this way comes. She had learned a long time ago to trust her instincts.

She felt as Angel reached out to her across their bond, trying to ascertain her safety. For a
moment there was nothing except the two of them, soothing emotions spilling into one
another until she couldn't tell where she stopped and he began. Then they parted once more,
having made sure that neither of them was in mortal danger at the moment.

Dawn was still in Buffy's arms, shivering in fear.

"That's them!" The girl curled deeper into Buffy's embrace. "When they come the lights go
out. I know it's them."

"The shadows you mentioned?" Buffy gently caressed the girl's hair, hoping to relax her
some. "What are they?"

"I don't know! I don't know! They killed my parents! These things and ... and the large one.
The one on the horse."

The horse? Buffy had seen a black knight riding on a black horse in the same dream that had
shown her Dawn. As pretty much everything else from her dream had already come true ...

A scream rang outside.

"We should get out of here!" Buffy pulled Dawn to her feet.

"I'm not going out there!" Dawn tried to shrink back into the corner. "*They* are out there!"

"Which is why I don't want to face them in a room with just one exit."

Not waiting for further protests Buffy pulled Dawn along, kicking open the door that led into
the corridor. The first things she saw were the two uniformed cops who had stood guard over
Dawn just moments ago. Something was holding them up in the air, choking the life out of
them.

Something made from darkness.

"The girl," a hiss echoed through the corridor. "We have found the girl!"

"Dawn, run!" Buffy pulled her along, running down the corridor as fast as her feet could carry
her. A moment later, realizing that Dawn would never be able to keep up with her, she swept
the girl up in her arms and ran with every bit of speed she had.

The shadows were but a step behind her. "The girl," they kept hissing, more and more of them
appearing from the walls and floors.

"She must not escape!" A new voice thundered through the corridor, seeming to come from
everywhere at once. A voice Buffy had heard before. From the lips of the black knight she
had seen in her dreams. "She must die! She is the last!"

Buffy didn't stop, didn't dare turn around. She could feel them snapping at her heels, could
feel ghostly hands snatching at her back. Her entire being was reduced to but one thought.
Flight. Get Dawn to safety. Nothing else mattered.

"BRING IT DOWN," the black knight's voice thundered once more.

'Buffy, run!' Buffy felt Angel across their bond, willing her to escape with such fierceness
that she could almost hear the words inside her head. The entire building shook as if a giant
fist had struck it, the walls creaking all around her, protesting as an incredible force tore them
apart.

Buffy didn't slow down, just barreled right through the steel door that was one of the
building's side entrances, nearly taking it of its hinges. Her feet touched the concrete of the
street and kept going. A thunderous screech followed her as the entire police department
folded in on itself, caving in like a house of cards.

'Angel,' Buffy screamed out, throwing a look over her shoulder, her steps faltering. Reaching
through the bond she searched for a sign of her husband.

'Run!' The connection was faint, but she could hear him. He was alive, or as close to it as he
ever was.

Shadows were seeping from the wreckage where the dust had only begun to settle. Buffy took
but another moment to compose herself, realizing that Angel was probably safer right now
than the shaking girl in her arms. A building coming down wouldn't kill him.

She spared a thought to Willow and Tara, all the other people who had been in there. Then
she started running again.


###


Part 11 - Things You Can Find Among the Wreckage

New York City
December 20, 2038 AD

#


Spike was not a happy camper.

There were numerous reasons for that actually. One was the fact that it was the middle of the
day, meaning that good little vampires should be in bed, sleeping the sleep of the dead. Only
that wasn't exactly possible at the moment, seeing as there were places he needed to be.

Said place being in the middle of New York City. As far as big cities went New York was
quite a good place for a vampire. The tall buildings cast plenty of shadows for the undead to
move around in even in brightest daylight. Still, Spike didn't like New York. Mostly because
the place held a lot of bad memories for him, but also because the city stank. Stank of fear and
malice.

The reason for Spike to be in a place he hated during a time he normally slept at could be
summed up in one word. Angel. Once again his poof of a sire had gotten himself into plenty
of trouble. Trouble that a certain vampire master called Darla thought he would need help
with. And, seeing as Darla was the head of the Order of Aurelius and Spike's grandsire, the
job had fallen on his shoulders.

Not that he wouldn't have come even without orders from Darla. Angel wasn't just his sire,
he was also his best friend. The two of them had gone through hell together, had changed the
entire world by working the Restoration of Souls. The moment he had learned that Angel was
involved in that freak collapse of a police building in New York he would have been out the
door and on his way here. That was, if Darla hadn't told him to come here first.

So here he was, smack in the middle of New York at noon, standing in the shadow of a
skyscraper, and wondering what to do next.

The collapsed police building was about a hundred meters away from him, surrounded by lots
of policemen, rescue workers, reporters, and the obligatory crowd of spectators. From what
Spike had heard they had dug up only very few bodies yet, which was mostly due to the fact
that there hadn't been a lot of people inside when it happened. New York's crime rate was at
an all-time high and most policemen didn't even have the time to sleep, much less rest their
feet on their desks.

Of the people who had been inside, though, four were Spike's friends. Willow, Tara, Buffy,
and Angel. None of them had been found yet.

Spike could have helped with that, of course. He shared a bond with both his sire and his
sire's blood-bonded mate. If they were in there he would find them. The only problem with
that little scenario was the daylight which surrounded the wreckage on all sides, not a shadow
in sight. Spike couldn't exactly sniff out the locations of his friends while bursting into
flames.

He hated sunny days.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" The angry voice sounding out behind him was painfully
familiar to Spike. Turning around he found himself looking at a dark-haired woman that, even
after all this time, still managed to get his blood in an uproar. Though not in a good way right
now.

"Faith," he sighed. "Just what I needed to make my day."

It was hard to believe that there had been a time when the two of them had been inseparable.
A time when Spike had thought that maybe Faith could take the place of Dru in his heart.
Faith wasn't Dru, though, never would be. Maybe that had been the reason for their
separation. Or maybe they had just gotten fed up with each other after being together for
nearly two decades.

Faith still looked mighty fine, he had to admit. They had just found out a year or so ago that,
due to the superior healing powers that was part of her being the Slayer, Faith was aging at a
very slow rate. She was in her fifties, but certainly didn't look the part.

"Just answer the question, Spike!"

"I'm not here for you, if you're asking, pet. Has more to do with the fact that the big poof got
himself into trouble again." He nodded toward the remains of the police building.

Faith paled. "Angel was in there? Is he all right?"

"That's the big question, isn't it? To return the favor, what are you doing in the big apple?"

Faith and Spike had been in the bodyguard business for a few years, mostly working together,
but after a while that hadn't been fun anymore. These days Spike was pretty much doing his
own thing; need for cash sometime drove him to work for Darla and the Vampirium. Last he
had heard of Faith was that she was keeping herself above water by working as a preternatural
bounty hunter.

"Had some business here in New York." Faith kept looking at the wreckage. "Lots of creepy
crawlies around here as of late. These last few weeks things have gotten worse and worse, but
I can't figure out why. I've been having a lot of weird, Slayer-style dreams. The last one was
about some kind of girl trying to escape from a collapsing building. When I woke up and
heard about this building coming down, well ... here I am."

Spike gave her a worried look. Unlike Buffy Faith had never been much interested in the
more arcane parts of being the Slayer. If these dreams got her this worked up something bad
was going on. Something really bad.

"It wouldn't be much of a problem for me to sniff out Peaches among the wreckage," Spike
told Faith, "there is just that little issue of daylight."

Faith nodded.

"They found someone alive," someone near the wreckage shouted, causing spectators and
reporters to converge on the source of the shout like a plague of locusts.

"Get your ass over there, Faith," Spike yelled at the Slayer. "If they're digging out Peaches
the sun's gonna fry him."

Without even so much as a scathing retort Faith ran toward the place where her keen eyesight
could make out several rescue workers pulling someone out of the wreckage. She leaped over
the assembled crowd and the police barricade without slowing down, several stunned
policemen looking after her with their mouth's hanging open.

Faith skidded to a stop just in time to see two paramedics lift a body on a stretcher. A female
body.

"Willow!" Faith was by her side in a moment. "Are you all right?"

"Get behind the barricade," a cop yelled at her. "You're not authorized ..."

"It's okay," Willow interrupted him, looking up at Faith. "She's a friend."

The witch's voice was barely more than a whisper and she looked extremely tired, but Faith
could see no visible wounds. A moment later two more figures emerged from the freshly dug
whole amidst the rubble, one a young woman Faith didn't know. The other woman, though,
the one leaning heavily on the younger woman's shoulder, was another matter.

"Tara," Faith went over to them. "You were here, too?"

"Good thing she was," the woman beside her said with a tired grin on her face. "The two of
them kept the rubble from smashing us into paste with a force field."

Tara gave Faith a smile. "Willow's quick thinking saved us. Otherwise ...," she shrugged,
leaving the sentence unfinished.

"Will she be all right?" Faith turned to look at the paramedics that were treating Willow.

"She seems unhurt," one of them said. "Just worn out a lot. Probably fatigue from maintaining
a protection spell for so long. They were under there for twelve hours or so."

Willow was already fast asleep, Faith saw, so she turned back to Tara.

"Where are Angel and Buffy?"

Tara closed her eyes, a sad expression on her face. "I have no idea. Angel left us about five
minutes before the building came down, looking to investigate what was going on. Buffy was
some floors below, talking to that girl she saw in her dreams."

Girl from her dreams? Faith frowned. Had Buffy seen the same girl she had seen? It was
certainly possible. Whatever power sent those prophetic dreams to the Slayer might just
deliver them in stereo to the both of them.

"Spike is over there in the shadows," Faith pointed toward the nearest building. "He could
probably sniff them out, but there is that slight problem with the daylight."

"I think I can do something about that." Tara looked at the young woman at her side. "If
Selina here can maybe lend me some strength. I'm afraid I'm a bit worn out myself."

The younger witch beamed at her.

#

Ten minutes later Spike was scrambling across the ruins of the building, protected from the
sunlight by a black cloud that always hovered exactly two meters above his head, casting a
pool of darkness about ten meters across. Under normal circumstances he wouldn't have been
too keen to trust his life to a spell done by two very tired witches.

These weren't normal circumstances, though.

Angel was alive, that much he was sure of. No one could really put the bond between a sire
and his childe into words, but Spike would have felt it had he died. So, following that logic,
Buffy had to be alive as well. Because of the bond they shared the death of one would also be
the death of the other.

Faith was hovering at this side the whole time, anxiousness coming off her in waves. The
entire area had her instincts screaming 'Bad Mojo' without break. These last few weeks she
had been here in New York she had sensed that something worse than the run-of-the-mill
critters were plaguing this place and now she was sure. From what little Tara had told her
about what had happened inside the police station it was something she had never seen before.

Living shadows. No, certainly not part of her résumé.

Spike suddenly came to a stop and narrowed his eyes, looking down at the wreckage they
were currently scrambling over. Faith herself felt a soft tingle somewhere inside her belly, the
one that normally said 'here be vampires'.

"Peaches is down here," Spike yelled over to the rescue workers. Not waiting for them he
started digging with his bare hands, shortly joined by Faith.

Even before any of the workers could get to them across the treacherous terrain they had
managed to lift away several large boulders, revealing the body of a certain black-clad
vampire.

"You sure took your time," Angel squeezed out through a ribcage busted in several places.
His left arm was smashed and broken, as were both his legs. A human being would have been
dead instantly. As it was the vampire was just hurting. Quite a lot.

"Don't be such a wimp, peaches!" Spike knelt down to check him over. "Must be getting old.
Since when does a building collapsing on top of you slow you down?"

"I'll have you know I was well on the way to digging myself out."

A couple of paramedics arrived, looking a bit reluctant to step beneath the magical cloud
above them. Seeing Angel, though, all thoughts of dark magic vanished, replaced by a flurry
of activities.

"He's a vampire," Spike reminded them as the started lifting him out of the hole. "Make sure
he stays out of the sun!"

The paramedics just nodded, not stopping in their work. Having to treat vampires was still a
rare occurrence, mostly because the undead could heal most wounds without any help, but it
was part of basic training these days. They knew what to do.

"Where is Buffy, peaches?" Spike hovered over his injured friend as they carefully loaded
him onto a stretcher. "She still under there?"

"Never was," Angel managed, every word an effort. "She got out along with Dawn."

"Dawn? Who is Dawn?"

"I can fill the two of you in," Tara interjected. "Let them take Angel to the hospital."

Spike nodded, stepping aside. Tara made sure that the black cloud remained above them until
they reached the ambulance and Spike was safely into the shadows again.

Angel spent most of his concentration on keeping the pain he experienced out of the bond to
Buffy, instead just letting her know that he was safe now. He also knew that Buffy and Dawn
had gotten away from the shadows, whatever they had been, and were now hiding out for the
day.

The last thing he saw before he allowed unconsciousness to take him was the rescue workers
digging yet another body from the wreckage. The body of one Captain Trenor, torn and
broken, no black armor on him anywhere.

Then everything went dark.


###


Part 12 - It's Always Darkest Before Dawn

New York City
December 21, 2038 AD

#


Buffy sat on the windowsill and stared out into the slowly lightening darkness that lay over
the city, letting the cool air wash over her. There was fresh snow on the streets again,
sparkling like thousands of little diamonds. The second-longest night of the year was almost
over and soon the sun would rise once more, giving everyone the illusion of safety and
happiness, at least for a little while.

Not her, though. Buffy was more than old enough to know that most evil things didn't care
whether it was dark or light, they found their prey regardless. Still, it was in this hour, just
before dawn, that she usually felt most at peace. The Slayer inside of her, still attuned to the
hours of its primary prey, was slowly going to rest, while the human she was, always would
be, was waking up for the day. It was as if these two sides of her personality passed each
other, one heading for work, the other heading towards sleep, and gave each other a brief
handshake before they went on.

The only problem was that today peace eluded her. She had a strong suspicion that it had
something to do with the girl tucked into bed not five feet away from her, sleeping a very
troubled sleep that left her sweating and clutching the sheets.

Once again Buffy tried to make sense of the strange feelings she had for this girl, whom she
had never met before yesterday night. Her eyes fell on the strange birthmark visible on
Dawn's slender neck, glistening with her sweat. Why did she wear this mark? What did it
mean?

"Every member of my family has it," she remembered Dawn saying when they had first taken
refuge in this hotel room. "On my mother's side, I mean. Always the same, always in the
same place. My mother said it meant our family was blessed."

Tears had risen to Dawn's eyes saying this, thinking off her mother.

Buffy sighed. She didn't like this, hiding out in a hotel room for the second night in a row
now, doing nothing. Well, not quite nothing. She was taking care of Dawn, protecting the girl
from whatever evil force was after her, but she wasn't really accomplishing anything. She still
didn't know why these shadows or the black knight wanted her. They had said she was the
last. The last of what?

Then there was Angel, who had nearly gotten killed, just like Willow and Tara. By now she
knew they were all right, but a lot of other people were not. Nearly thirty people had died in
that collapsing building and she didn't know why. They were still finding fresh ritual murder
victims and she didn't know why. The city was going more and more crazy around them with
every passing second and still they didn't have a clue.

The only time Buffy had left Dawn alone in the last 24 hours had been when she had spotted a
man chasing a woman through the street below, catching her and intending to rape her. Buffy
had hurried down and beaten him up, probably a little more than she should have. There was
violence hanging in the air and even she couldn't escape it completely.

What had shocked her, though, was the fact that she hadn't been the only one who had seen
this guy chasing after the woman. Hadn't been the only one who had seen him almost rape
her. No, there had been other people. People leaning out of the windows on both sides of the
street, watching, but none of them doing anything to help. Just watching, some of them with
smiles on their faces. Smiles that sent chills down Buffy's spine.

Something was happening to this city and its people, something terrible, and they had no idea
what.

The knock on the door didn't surprise Buffy. She was on her feet in a heartbeat, hurrying
toward the entrance and throwing her arms around the person standing on the other side as
soon as the door was open. Angel just hugged her back, relishing her closeness.

"You shouldn't be up," she admonished him a minute later. "You're still hurting."

"I don't think we have the time to wait for me to heal all the way." He followed her inside,
closing the door behind them. "Any more sightings of these shadows?"

They had briefly spoken on the phone yesterday evening, directly after Angel had come out of
his unconsciousness and the worst of his wounds had healed. Buffy hadn't given him the
address of the hotel she and Dawn stayed in, though, knowing that he wouldn't need any
directions in order to find her. Also they had not been sure whether these shadows might not
have some way to listen in on them.

"Not a peek," Buffy said, looking over at Dawn again. "And thank God for that. I don't think
she could have taken another night like that."

Angel looked at the sleeping girl, saw her shiver in the throes of some nightmare. His heart
went out to hear, even more so because he could feel the fierce protectiveness radiating off his
mate.

He motioned for Buffy to join him in the adjoining kitchen, wanting to be safely out of
hearing range of the girl, just in case she should wake up. Even while he had been in the
hospital there had been some new developments. Things he didn't want Dawn to hear just
now.

"So what's new?" Buffy sat down in a chair, rubbing her tired eyes. She had barely slept at all
these last two nights.

"Nothing good." Angel sat down beside her, pulling her against him, resting her head in the
hollow of his shoulder. "About two minutes before the police station was attacked Tara
figured out the pattern we have been looking for since day one. The pattern of the murders."

Buffy looked up at him, feeling how worried he was.

"Someone is carving a pentagram into the face of the city, Buffy. A vast conjuring circle that
stretches from the southernmost tip of Central Park down to 21st Street and across the entire
width of the island."

"My God," Buffy whispered.

"It get's better," Angel said, his voice grim. "We had policemen check out the entire length of
the circle, as well as the length of the five lines."

Buffy knew, even before he said it. She could almost see it in his mind.

"More bodies, Buffy," he said, his voice shaking, "many more. Most of them are underground
so we never found them, but they are there. Hundreds of them, all crucified and eviscerated.
Someone ... arranged them as some kind of perverse ... connect-the-dots game and built a
pentagram out of their bodies."

There was rage flooding across their bond, terrible wrath focused on whatever monster could
have done something like this. Buffy felt her hands shaking with fury of her own. The same
someone who had done this was now after Dawn, wanted to do to here what he had done to so
many others.

Angel visibly gathered himself before he continued.

"There is some good news as well. Darla called Wesley and he spent a few sleepless nights
browsing through the old Watchers Council database we captured back in '21. And he found
some things."

"Things?" Buffy felt a tiny ember of hope flare to life inside her.

"Darla wouldn't go into details over the com. Wesley is on his way here, he'll arrive at JFK in
about," he checked his watch, "ten minutes and has all the info with him. From what Darla
could tell me he found some kind of prior appearance of both the runes we've seen at the
murder sites and those shadow creatures. He also found something about these birthmarks."

Buffy turned her head to look at Dawn, the sleeping girl's head just visible through the door
to the bedroom.

"Does he know why they are after her?"

"I hope so. Whatever their reason, though, we have to make sure that they don't get her. I've
talked to Bogomiel just a few minutes ago. He'll arrange transportation out of the city into a
PID safe house in California. We'll get the details as soon as he knows them."

"Good," Buffy nodded. "Let's hope these things can't track her all the way across the
continent."

Again she was feeling torn and confused. The thought of Dawn getting out of this city where
every shadow seemed to be intent on killing her was a relief, yet at the same time the thought
of being parted from her caused her almost physical pain. And she would have to part with
her. She couldn't leave Angel and the others until they had found some way to stop these
things, whatever they were, whatever they wanted.

"Good," she repeated.

Angel felt her confusion and didn't know what to do about it. He could only hope that his old
friend Wesley might have found some answers to that as well. Maybe once they knew what
the girl's birthmark meant they could figure this out.

"The sun will be up soon," Angel told Buffy, massaging her tired shoulders. "We're meeting
the others in thirty minutes. Spike and Faith are in town, too, by the way."

"Spike and Faith?" The thought of her sister Slayer and her husband's best friend almost
managed to distract her for a moment. "Are they back together then?"

"I wish," Angel sighed, giving her the barest hint of a smile. "They are constantly bickering.
I'd doubt they'd stop even in the middle of a life or death battle."

Buffy snuggled deeper into Angel's side, closing her eyes for a moment to rest.

"When do you think they'll figure out that they're still madly into one another?"

"Soon, I hope. Otherwise they're going to drive me insane."

"Buffy?" A tired voice sounded out from the bedroom, causing Buffy to be on her feet and by
Dawn's side in an instant.

"What is it, Dawn?" Buffy gently touched the girl's hand. Tiny fingers curled around her
hand, holding tight. Dawn looked at with sleepy eyes, eyes which suddenly focused on
something behind Buffy and widened in fear.

"Stay away," she screeched, drawing the blanket up to her nose.

Buffy looked behind her, only to see Angel emerge from the shadows. She quickly turned on
the bedside lamp, once again remembering that not everyone could see in the dark like she
and her husband could.

"Don't worry, Dawn," Buffy calmed the girl. "It's not one of the shadows. This is Angel, my
husband."

Dawn still stared at him with eyes full of fear. Slowly, doing everything to appear harmless,
Angel sat down on the bed beside her, reaching out with his large hand.

"Glad to meet you, Dawn," he said softly, giving her his half-smile that was known to make
females of all ages melt into their socks. It was only made that much more devastating by the
fact that, even after all this time, Angel still seemed to have no clue as to its effects. Buffy
loved that smile.

Hesitantly Dawn reached out her own hand, shaking his.

"You ... you're Buffy's husband?"

"I am that lucky," he told her.

She looked at him still, holding on to his hand a moment longer before she let go.

"You're cold."

"I am a vampire, Dawn."

For a moment Buffy wasn't sure that telling her this was a good idea. Despite the fact that
humans and vampires had coexisted for nearly forty years now there were still a lot of people
that eyed the undead with a healthy dose of wariness and even fear.

A moment later Buffy realized that Dawn was not one of those people.

"A vampire? Really? Can I see your demon face?"

Angel chuckled, then slipped into his vampiric features. There had been a time not too long
ago when he would never have done something like this, especially not in front of a child.
More than any other vampire Angel had been ashamed of what he was, blamed himself for
things that he had had no control over.

Buffy was very happy that those days were in the past.

"Cool," Dawn said, seeing her husband's second face.

"We'll have to get going, Dawn," Buffy told her. "We're meeting some friends of ours in half
an hour and then we'll get you out of the city."

Dawn's face fell, memory of why she was here and what had happened returning to her.

"Okay," she said, her voice filled with sadness and fear. "Where are we going?"

"A safe place, Dawn. Far away from the shadows."

Five minutes later Dawn was dressed and, with Angel and Buffy each holding one of her
hands, they walked out into the predawn twilight to meet their friends and get some answers.


###


Part 13 - Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Golgotha, But Were Too Terrified to
Ask


Wesley was the last to arrive at the agreed-upon gathering place, where everyone else was
already waiting, some rather unkind words about New York taxi drivers still on his lips.
Seeing as the shadows had already shown their complete lack of interest in remaining
inconspicuous, even to the point of attacking a police building, Angel and Buffy had decided
not to involve the New York police again for the moment. Better to stay hidden for the time
being.

They were gathered in a breakfast inn several blocks away from the edge of the pentagram
carved into the city, almost empty thanks to the holidays and the current unrest that held the
city in its grip. Most citizens preferred to stay indoors as New York slowly went mad around
them. They had quickly taken over the backroom of the inn and paid the waiter a hefty
amount of money to make sure that no one disturbed them.

Angel went forward to greet his old friend. 73 years of age had turned Wesley's hair all gray
and introduced lots of wrinkles to his face. His handshake was still firm, though, just like his
voice.

"Thanks for coming, Wes," Angel led him toward the others.

"Certainly no problem," the old man smiled, looking over at the others. His smile could not
hide his troubled thoughts, though, nor was it able to lighten the dark mood of those already
present.

Buffy sat at the table they had gathered around, Dawn held close to her side as she waved at
him. She was aware of the worried look the former Watcher gave the young girl, wondering
what he might know about her.

Faith and Spike sat as far apart as the table allowed, occasionally throwing stares at each
other, otherwise ignoring the other's existence. Willow and Tara had positioned themselves
between them, the two witches looking tired and somewhat bruised, nursing huge cups of
steaming coffee.

Eight hours of flight, not counting jetlag, had tired Wesley quite a bit so he was glad to finally
sit down, accepting the tea Angel handed him. After enjoying a few sips he took several
sheets filled with notes from his traveling bag, spreading them out on the table.

"I guess we should go right to the point," he told the others, all of whom nodded.

"Darla said you found something about the runes," Angel invited him to begin.

"Yes, quite. I found some old references in the Watchers Council database. It appears that the
Council encountered them in the year 896, back in the old country. Encountered, I might add,
under the exact same circumstances as here in the present."

He looked briefly at Dawn, debating the virtue of going into gory details in front of a child,
but Buffy made no move to take the girl away from the table. Sighing, he continued.

"There was a series of murders back then, seemingly identical to the ones here in New York.
The same modus operandi, the same runes."

"Which runes," Buffy interrupted. "Birthmark or non-birthmark variety?"

"Non-birthmark," Wesley continued, "for reasons that will become apparent very shortly. It
appears that the Council and the Slayer of that time got involved in these murders when it
became apparent that dark magic was involved. Also one should note that murders didn't go
unnoticed quite as easily back then as they sadly do now."

"Lot less people around back then," Spike supplied.

"Yes, that too. As I was saying, the Council and the Slayer got involved. They encountered
creatures that they described as 'shades of death', which appear to be identical to the shadows
Darla told me about."

"Did they also record how to fight them?" Buffy absentmindedly stroked Dawn's shoulder.
"None of us really had the chance to try and destroy them back at the station. Except Willow
that is."

The redheaded witch looked up. "They don't seem to be too fond of fire. Or light."

Wesley nodded. "That is what the records indicate as well. Fire was used as the primary
weapon against these creatures. They never appeared during the day, it seemed, except in
deepest shadow."

"What about that other creature," Angel asked. "This black knight."

Wesley searched through his notes for a moment, then produced a drawing which he showed
to Angel.

"Is that him?"

The drawing showed a huge figure in black armor, one steel fist holding an intricately carved
sword. Nothing could be seen of its face except the eyes, to whom the artist had given an eerie
glow.

"That's him," Buffy and Angel said at the same time.

"This," Wesley pointed at the drawing, "is the entity called the Harbinger."

"Harbinger of what?" Tara looked up from her coffee. "I tried to get a sense of these creatures
when they attacked us, but I found nothing but darkness and cold. What are they?"

Wesley shuffled around his notes, gathering his thoughts.

"The Watchers were never quite sure, it seems. Apparently the entity itself was the only
source of information they had. At several times this Harbinger referred to someone or
something called 'Golgotha', which would soon walk the Earth and bring fire and destruction
to us all.

"The record-keeping Watcher, a gentleman called Frederic DuLac, theorized that this
Golgotha might be some kind of powerful demon that the Harbinger tried to summon through
the pentagram he was building. I fear they recorded no more information on that. There is
some more about a lot of people having nightmares at that time, widespread unrest breaking
out, but nothing concrete. They stopped the Harbinger from accomplishing his task before it
could fulfill it."

"Stopped it how?" Buffy inquired.

"The records are rather lacking on that topic as well, I fear," Wesley admitted. "They only
recorded that it cost a lot of people their lives. The Slayer was aided by a large number of
knights, an army if you will, and many of them died in the battle. There are some references
that the sword of the Harbinger was captured, thereby preventing him from continuing to
fight."

"That would make sense," Angel added. "When I fought this thing I first took it down. Then
the sword jumped into the hands of Captain Trenor and seconds later Trenor was clad in that
black armor and attacked me."

"It might be that the Harbinger is actually the sword, not the man," Wesley nodded. "Some
kind of magical artifact that possesses those it touches."

He thought on that for a moment, then shook his head and went back to his notes.

"Anyway, after the battle was over the Council tried to have the 'tools' of the enemy
destroyed. Those tools being the Harbinger's sword and something else which they called 'the
Ring of Fire'. There is no further description what the latter is, only that all efforts to destroy
both it and the sword failed."

"Obviously," Spike rolled his eyes. "Armor-boy wouldn't be swinging anymore if his pig
sticker was shrapnel, would he?"

"What did they do with these tools?" Willow leaned forward, eager to hear more.

"They buried them," Wesley read from his notes, "in 'a land where neither man nor demon
will ever look for it'."

"The new world?" Faith proposed sarcastically.

"In all probability. They did more than bury them, though. It seems they did not have full
confidence in no one ever finding these tools, therefore they bound them."

He put another drawing on the table, everyone leaning forward to study it. It showed a circle
of twelve cloaked people, their hands outstretched, obviously engaged in some kind of ritual.
Buffy and Dawn both gasped when they saw the symbol drawn in the middle of their circle.

"That's my birthmark," Dawn pointed. "How come ...?"

"I was getting to that," Wesley assured her. "As I was saying the tools were bound. Twelve of
the world's most powerful white sorcerers cast a containment spell, which was to make sure
that no one would ever be able to find and use these tools again."

"So what happened," Faith asked. "Spells ain't what they used to be?"

"Even the most powerful of magical spells is subject to the forces of entropy. It has been more
than a thousand years since this spell was cast, Faith, and even magic such as this weakens as
time goes by. From all I have heard I would assume that a part of the containment spell failed,
maybe due to a tectonical shift or something similar, leading to some unfortunate man
discovering the site where the sword and this mysterious ring were buried."

"He touched the sword and the Harbinger took him over," Angel continued the thought.

"That is one possible scenario, yes."

"It doesn't explain why Dawn carries this mark, though," Buffy interjected. "If this symbol is
in some way connected to the sorcerers who bound these monsters in times past, then why
does Dawn have it? Why these other people? Why are they killing everyone who wears it?"

Buffy felt Dawn shiver in her arms and drew the girl in tighter. Wesley shared a long look
with Angel, clearly stating that he would prefer not to say this in front of the girl. Angel
looked over at Buffy.

"Buffy, maybe you should take Dawn and ..."

"No!" Dawn jumped up from where she sat. "These ... these things killed my parents. They
are trying to kill me, too. I have a right to know what they want from me."

Buffy rose to touch her again, slowly drawing her back onto the chair, then looking up at
Wesley.

"She is right. Trying to hide the truth from here at this point will only make things even more
difficult then they already are. Whatever it is, I doubt it can be more terrible than what she has
already gone through. So tell us!"

For a minute or two Wesley felt every bit his age, the years and the many terrible things he
had seen pressing down on him with a near unbearable weight. He looked into the large eyes
of the frightened girl sitting across the table and sighed deeply.

"The sorcerers knew," he finally continued, taking another sheet of notes from the pile in
front of him, "that their spell would fail sooner or later. That was something they did not want
to risk. In order to prevent that they used this symbol here, the same symbol Dawn carries on
her neck, to preserve their magic across time."

"Meaning," Faith prodded him.

"In layman's terms, they bound the spell to their bloodlines. Every offspring of the twelve
sorcerers who cast the containment spell would carry this mark and, through their very
existence, maintain the integrity of the magic that binds the sword and the ring."

Angel nodded, paling as he understood. "So the Harbinger got free when part of the spell
failed, but in order to break it completely ..."

Everyone looked at Dawn.

"If we are to believe these shadow creatures," Wesley said slowly, his voice grave, "then
Dawn is the last living descendant of the twelve sorcerers. As long as she lives the spell will
hold."

For a long moment no one said a word, most of them turning their eyes away from the young
girl that looked at the aging ex-Watcher with fear in her eyes.

"You ... you mean ...," Dawn stuttered.

Wesley couldn't meet her eyes.

"It won't happen!" Buffy tugged Dawn close to her, protectiveness radiating off her. "I won't
allow anyone to harm you, Dawn, I promise you that."

"We will get her out of the city at once," Angel resolved. "We're not waiting for Bogomiel.
These creatures never come out during the day you said, right?" He looked at Wesley.

"Not according to the Council's records, no."

"We have about eight hours of daylight left," Angel told everyone. "Buffy, Faith, the two of
you get Dawn safely out of town, as far away from New York as you can."

"No prob," Faith smiled at Dawn. "No shadow demon will get his hands on you with the
Chosen Two to guard you, shorty."

"Chosen Two?" Dawn looked at her, confused.

"Long story, I'll tell it to you on the way out of Dodge."

"The rest of us will try to find the place where the sword and the ring were buried," Angel
continued. "Willow, Tara, maybe you can find a way to restore this containment spell. If not
we'll find another way to make sure that whatever is still down there stays down there. Any
questions?"

Angel looked around the table, everyone shaking their heads.

"Good, let's get going!"

As Angel went forward to pay their bill Wesley walked up to him, leaning in close.

"Angel, there is something else. I did not want to mention it at the table, but I think you
should know."

"What is it?"

"The Council apparently foresaw the possibility that someday someone would try to hunt
down the descendants of the wizards and try to kill them in order for the Harbinger to be
freed. So in order to prevent that from happening ..."

His voice trailed off as he threw a pointed look over to where Buffy was fidgeting with Dawn,
pulling on her jacket.

"You mean ..." Angel began.

"I mean, Angel, that the Slayer will do everything to protect Dawn. She can't help it because
it is part of her heritage, magically imprinted into the very essence of what she is. Faith will
feel it as well before too long."

Angel looked at him.

"So you're saying that, should it come to a fight, we can't count on either of them to watch
our backs, not when Dawn should also be in danger."

"That too, but I am actually more concerned over what it might do to the two of them should
the worst come to pass."

Angel watched Buffy as she cared for Dawn, felt his mate's emotions across their bond. Was
all of that just because of some magic cast over a thousand years ago? He doubted it
somehow, but it didn't make much of a difference.

They had to protect Dawn. No matter the cost.


###


Part 14 - New York Bridges Tumbling Down


Buffy, Faith, and Dawn took Faith's sports car, her pride and joy, which would get them away
from the city much faster than anything else would at the moment. By the time they had left
the breakfast inn they had heard that, due to the ongoing rise in crime and violence New York
would be put under martial law come nightfall and both airports had closed down. National
guard units had already moved into position, preparing to put a lockdown on the city

A seven o'clock curfew would also go into effect, which left them about seven hours to get
Dawn beyond the city limit. Unfortunately quite a few other people also wanted to leave the
sinking ship.

"Move your fucking junk heap out of the way," Faith yelled at the car in front of her, hitting
the horn repeatedly.

If the situation had not been so desperate the dark-haired Slayer might have been amused. She
had seen a lot of changes during her lifetime, had seen the world change almost beyond
recognition, but some things remained the same, no matter what. It did not matter whether a
car ran via combustion engine or fusion cells, drove on wheels or floated, some people still
should not be allowed to drive.

"Move it," she yelled again with no more effect than before. A long line of cars stood in front
of her, all the way across the arc of the bridge, shimmering in the sunlight, and did not move
an inch.

The rearview mirror showed her Buffy and Dawn, both of them sitting in the back, the blonde
Slayer barely taking her eyes off the girl. This might have creeped Faith out, if not for the fact
that she found herself drawn to the girl as well. There was something about Dawn that just
screamed at her to protect the little bit, no matter what.

Faith had never seen herself as the maternal type before, which added some creepiness to the
situation after all.

A few cars behind them she saw the black Mercedes with the polarized windows that served
as Angel and Buffy's transportation during their time in New York, allowing the vampire to
move around in daylight. Vampire-style cars were still a niche market, but you could rent
them in just about every large town. Angel would follow them until the city-limit, making
sure they got out okay.

Which probably meant that he would be stuck here on Brooklyn Bridge, right in the middle of
a traffic jam, along with them for the next couple of hours.

"Anyone got playing cards?" She turned to face Dawn and Buffy. "Looks like we'll be here
for a while, girlfriends."

"Great," Buffy mumbled. "Right out in the open."

"It's daylight, B!" Faith made a grand motion to encompass the blue winter sky above them.
Somewhere beyond the ceiling of the car, that was. It was the main reason why they had not
taken one of the tunnels over to Jersey, deciding to drive over to Long Island instead. "Wes
said they never come out during the day and we still got plenty of time left to get out of here."

Buffy nodded, but did not seem convinced.

#

There was darkness all around him, the cool shadows soothing where they touched him. The
Harbinger closed his stolen eyes for a moment, relishing the proximity of his master's power.
Soon it would be done. Soon his master would walk the Earth.

Finally his work on this world would be finished and he could go on.

The ring was in front of him, its presence lighting the darkness of their underground prison
with beautiful fire. Reaching out his armored hand the Harbinger stroked across the ragged
surface of the barrier, the magical spell that had imprisoned him here in this tomb for so long,
that still imprisoned the ring, kept it beyond his reach.

"Not much longer," he whispered.

It was time for the next step. The darkness around him swirled with his servants, the wraiths
gathering to his bidding. So far they had done good work, had found and eliminated all those
whose lives sustained the barrier. All except one.

"The girl," the wraiths whispered all around him.

They had failed to capture the girl. She had escaped from the death trap the police station
should have been, had been spirited away by someone who interfered in their matters.
Someone the Harbinger thought familiar for some reason. Something about that blonde girl ...

It did not matter. Whoever she was, whoever else might be helping her, it would not make a
difference much longer.

The Harbinger thrust his sword into the ground, felt the power ripple around him. His master
had made him strong, a strength that even a thousand and more years of imprisonment had not
diminished. Only the smallest part of it was still closed to him, remained out of reach behind
the accursed barrier, but not much longer.

A soft glow surrounded him as the wraiths drew closer.

"Our master's shadow has touched the world," he intoned, the wraiths whispering the words
along with him as flames sprung from his sword.

"In darkness and fire we will walk tall!"

Behind him the ring glowed with a dark radiance all its own, waiting for the moment the
barrier would fall.

"Let his enemies tremble as night falls."

Soon now. Very soon.

#

Faith and Buffy felt it at the same time. Something had changed in the atmosphere around
them, something that made the hairs on the back of their necks stand up straight. Two pairs of
eyes darted around, searching for the source of the danger. There were only the other cars,
though, stuck here on the bridge just like them, drivers honking and cursing, no shadows in
sight.

"Something is wrong," Buffy spoke out loud.

Faith still searched for any possible threat when she noticed something strange. There was a
shadow on the passenger's side of the door, a shadow cast by her arms as she rested them on
the steering wheel. Only the shadow began to fade, its outline growing fuzzy.

Where did the sunlight go?

"We have a problem, B!" Faith looked out the window, searching for the place where she
knew the sun had to be. Only it was not there anymore.

"My God!" She was not sure who had said that, but it summed up her own feelings quite well.

A dark cloud was spreading over the sky where the sun should have been, a midnight black
spot of darkness growing larger with every passing second. A cancerous growth that was
blotting out the heavens.

"What is that," Dawn yelled, clinging closer to Buffy. All around them people were looking
out of their cars, staring at the skies with fear evident on their faces. The light was failing all
around them, shadows growing longer as the darkness spread over them like a dome.

A dome that was coming down on them faster and faster.

"Turn the car around!" Buffy's yell broke Faith out of her stasis. The darkness in the sky was
moving, she realized, moving directly toward them.

Faith hit the pedal for all it was worth and threw the car into a sharp turn, skidding over onto
the nearly empty lanes that led back into the city. Directly ahead of them was Angel's car, the
vampire having realized as well what was going to happen any moment now. Some other cars
tried to turn as well, but people had begun to panic now.

Cars crashed into one another, people screamed, the bridge shook with the thunder of running
feet, screeching cars.

The darkness slammed down right in the middle of the bridge, a solid wall of black that
immediately cut the steel and mortar in half. The entire structure screamed as it was sliced
apart, drowning out the people's screams. Steel cables snapped and cut through the air like
whips, crushing helpless people where they stood, flinging cars right off the bridge.

"Faster," Buffy yelled as the road began to crack beneath them.

"I am going as fast as I can," Faith gritted through clenched teeth, slamming the pedal right
through the car's floor.

Dawn clung to Buffy, pressing her face into the Slayer's shoulder as the world around them
was reduced to screams and thunder, the car shaking and roaring like a wounded animal.
Behind them the bridge broke away into the river, hundreds of cars and people tumbling down
helplessly. Faith had drawn up beside Angel's car and they, as well as several other cars who
had turned around in time, managed to stay ahead of the crumbling structure by a hair's
breath.

"We won't make it," Dawn screeched as the car lurched and seemed to float freely for a
moment, only to hit solid ground a moment later. Faith stepped on the brakes with all her
strength, bringing them to a screeching halt right beside Angel's car.

Angel climbed out and ran over to them, the sunlight completely gone.

"Are you all right?" He looked inside, checking on all of them.

"Just peachy!"

Faith climbed out as well, having to force her fingers to release their death grip on the steering
wheel. They had made it off the bridge and back onto the island. As had Angel. As had about
five or six other cars.

The bridge and all the other cars that had been on it were gone.

"I guess leaving New York is out for the moment, isn't it?" Faith looked out across the river.

A wall of solid blackness stood where she should have been able to see Long Island. The dark
waters of the river washed against it, the remains of the bridge sinking beneath the waves
even as they watched. The black wall seemed to stretch the entire length of the river,
vanishing from sight as it curved around behind the sky scrapers.

The dark skyscrapers. Not a single light was burning in them.

"Why haven't they turned on the light yet?" Dawn looked around, shivering in the cold that
had descended on them. Faith could clearly see her breath as she exhaled.

Angel took out his com and worked the buttons for a moment, then sighed and put it away
again.

"I don't think they can."

The black wall stretched high above them, forming a dome that shut off the entire island from
the outside world, blocking out the sun. Not a single light burned anywhere in Manhattan and
when Faith tried to restart her car the engine did not make so much as a sound.

"We're in trouble," she muttered.

"You don't know the half of it!" Buffy's comment caused Faith to look up. The darkness that
had descended over the island was near absolute, only a very dim gloom that seemed to
suffuse the air all around allowed them to see anything at all. At least those of them with near-
perfect night vision. Every normal human would probably be completely blind.

Which meant that they would not be able to see the literal army of moving shadows that was
advancing on them right at this moment.

"Trouble," Faith repeated numbly.