"My name is Nishihiro Nishikawa, Miss Chase."

The Scooby Gang stared at the newcomer, not sure what to make of him. The air around him seemed to crackle with power. Buffy ripped herself violently away from Angel and stalked determinedly towards their new visitor.

"I don't know what you've done with Xander, or where you're keeping him, mister, but you better start talking fast or I'm.."
"Or you'll what, child? Hurt me?", he interjected. "You seem to be quite good at hurting those that care about you, do you not?"

Buffy growled in anger, her right hand flashing out, intent on grabbing the intruder's throat. In her mind, she could clearly see what she was going to do. Grab this strange guy, slam him around a bit to let him know what a pissed off Slayer is capable of doing, then question him and go and get Xander from whatever prison he was in. Suddenly however, Buffy's hand seemed to be flying away from her intended target while her forward momentum was stopped as if by an invisible wall. Next, the air was knocked from her lungs in a loud whoosh, her whole back burning with pain. Before Buffy could determine what exactly had happened, her whole front smashed into something solid, nearly knocking her unconscious.

From the vantage point of the others in the library, the sequence of events before them was nothing short of frightening. The old man seemed to effortlessly bat away Buffy's outstretched arm as simultanuously, his right hand touched her sternum lightly with devastating effect. Buffy's upper body seemed to stop in mid-air as her legs continued forward, causing them to loose grip with the ground. As Buffy's body rose to an almost horizontal position, Nishigawa continued his thrust, driving her into the stone floor of the library, hard enough to crack several of the tiles underneath her. Yanking upwards, he released her, the momentum carrying Buffy forward towards the doorframe as his left hand slammed into her shoulderblades increasing the force of impact. Each action was done with a minimum of movement and to the trained eye with the minimum of power, yet the effect was devastating.

Buffy's nervous system was on overload as pain receptors fired, screaming in protest of the abuse heaped on them. Higher brain functions were overloaded to the point of shutting down and only the driving need to know what happened to Xander was keeping the Slayer on her feet. Then, before much needed air could be inhaled, the world tilted yet again as Buffy was unceremoniously yanked backwards, twisted into a spin and pushed away. Before her mind could comprehend what had happened, Buffy slammed into something soft and pliable and fell back to the floor on top of whatever broke her momentum, her mind fighting to stave off the beckoning of unconsciousness.

Meanwhile, seeing Buffy being manhandled like a rag-doll, prodded the others into action. Angel charged forward, his broadsword arcing downward, aimed at Nishikawa's upper leg. Before his swing had even passed the halfway mark, however, Angel's sword was ripped violently from his hand and went flying back into the weapons locker. As if on cue, the stakes, swords and axe held by the Scoobies disappeared from their hands, reappearing in the weapons locker which then shut and locked itself, the key disappearing in a shimmer. Shocked gasps from Willow and Cordelia punctuated the silence that followed; Oz just raised another eyebrow while Angel nervously swallowed.

"It is unwise for one as inexperienced as yourself to wield such deadly weapons."

The Scooby Gang and Angel unconsciously took several steps backwards. Whoever this old Oriental was, he was a major force, one they wouldn't be able to defeat without proper preparation.

After several halfhearted tries, Buffy was finally able to push up from the floor, leaning on her arms and looked behind her, noticing...

"Giles? What happened?"
"A little lesson in patience and humility, Slayer."

Buffy turned towards the voice, her eyes growing wide as she saw their visitor floating in the air, kneeling in a Lotus position. The other Scoobies all had fallen back, forming a semi-circle around Nishikawa, as he floated there, a serene look on his wrinkled face. Buffy pulled herself to her feet, dragging Giles with her. Scowling, she was about to step back into the fray, but thought better of it, turned around and placed Giles' glasses on correctly. Having made sure her Ex-Watcher's glasses were sitting on his nose correctly, she then turned back to the scene in front of her, ready to violently get the answers she was seeking.

"You are quite a handful, Slayer. No wonder the Council isn't too keen on you."
"I'm not too happy with them myself but let's get back to what just happened here. I was about to get some answers from you."
"No, you were about to go postal, is the term, I believe?"

Nishikawa tutted as he wagged a finger from side to side.

"Often, one gets more done with a drop of honey, then with a bottle of vinegar, child."
"Great! More Chinese fortune cookie talk! Give me a good reason why I'm not kicking your ass right now!"

Pretending to think of a reason, the old man rested his head on one hand while the index-finger of his other was softly tapping his lips.

"How about that I'll be showing you every corner of this lovely school? As in slamming you INTO every corner of this school. Slowly. Repeatedly."

It was brought in the same kind of voice one would use when ordering breakfast. Soft, disinterested and with a bit of sleepiness added for effect.

Buffy gulped, audibly, taking the implication at face-value. Old he may be, but he definitely knew how to fight, as her sore body and numb nerves could attest to.

"Now, let's all take a few deep breaths and continue our conversation, like civilized beings. Truly, you can be such barbarians at times."

Slayers aren't know for patience. Buffy probably more so then any other Slayer in history. All this inane chatter from this seemingly old man was beginning to grate on her nerves. She wanted answers and she was going to get them, if she had to beat it out of him. The Slayer stepped forward. Or rather, tried to lift her right foot and step forward. It didn't lift. When she tried to look down at what was holding her there, she couldn't move her head.

"Uhm, guys! I can't move!"
"Yes, Buffy, we all seem to be stuck", Giles added, his quiet tone belying the deep fear he felt.

Hearing the affirmative murmurs from the others that they were stuck as well, frightened Buffy Summers more she'd ever been frightened before. Never, not when she'd been prophecied to die by the Master's hand, not even when Angel had turned into Angelus, not even the thought that Xander was somewhere being tortured by the man in front of them, never had she felt such a chilling fear as she did now. At least during those moments, she knew she still had a chance. She knew that she wouldn't go down without a fight. Now however, she was as stuck as a bird in an oilslick and just as vulnerable.

"Jeeze Louise, Nishi! That's one neat trick! It's like that old Wax museum in Prague, all those life-sized statues that look so real.", Whistler said as he walked around the still forms of the Scoobies. "Of course, the guy who ran it was just throwing real people into those vats with wax and putting them up. Sick bastard, that one was."

"Indeed. When you're finished scaring our audience, Whistler, may I be permitted to try and explain to them what events have transpired?"
"Hey, by all means, be my guest. Just remember to use small, preferably single syllable words so they can understand. Not too bright, you know? I think it's got to do with the whole teenager thing, ya know? Short attention span and all that."

"HEY!", Willow loudly objected, angrily glaring at the Balance Demon.

"Sorry, Red. You say somethin'?"

"Whistler", the deceptively calm voice of Nishikawa rang out, like silk-covered steel.

"Yeah, yeah, alright! Don't get yer kimono all twisted ina knot, man. I'll just be invisible here."
"Thank you, Whistler. That would be most appreciated", the floating man said, as he slowly looked at each individual in the library.

"As Mr. Whistler stated earlier, Alexander's kind, our kind, does not stay dead very well. And before any of you start ranting, allow me to explain. If after that you have questions, I will answer them. Is that acceptable?"

Buffy wanted to say something, wanted to say that whatever lies he was going to feed them, she wouldn't believe them. She wanted to tell him that she'd beat the truth out of him, the moment her invisible bonds had disappeared but she couldn't. Somehow, even her vocal cords seemed to have been restrained.

"Uhm, Nishi, I think ya might wanta let the Slayer have 'er voice back? Just a thought."
"Of course, how silly of me. Old age and all that, you understand? They say the mind is the first to go."

Suddenly, Buffy could feel the restraints on her vocal cords vanish, leaving her throat dry. Using them only caused some unintelligeble grunts and groans to come out and it took several swallows before she was confident enough to use her voice again.

Taking several deep breaths to calm herself, the blonde Slayer turned her eyes forward, looking daggers at their adversary. Buffy's patience, a trait that was limited at the best of times, had completely worn thin due to the events of the last 24 hours and it came out in her voice, the only part of her body that was able to respond to her own will.

"Enough! Who are you? Or better yet, WHAT are you? What do you know about what happened to Xander?"

"As I said before, I am Nishihiro Nishikawa. As for what I am, I am no different from any other human", he stated calmly, looking Buffy straight into the eyes.

"Oh, of course! You're human! Why didn't we think of that? Oh wait! Because humans can't return from the death and kick a vampire's ass around the room without even lifting a finger to do it", Cordelia said with scathing sarcasm, managing to suppress the quiver of fear in her voice. Buffy on the other hand, had a sinking feeling that the old Oriental man had spoken to her directly.

"Yes, Miss Chase, humans are capable of many amazing feats. Have you ever seen the Warrior Monks of Shao-Lin as they bend steel rods and spears with their throats? Certain humans, given the proper interplay of circumstances and training can achieve amazing feats. Especially, those that are awakened."

"Awakened?", Giles asked, the term sparking a sudden long-forgotten memory.
"Indeed. And all thanks to you, Miss Summers."
"Me? What did I do?", Buffy asked in indignation.
"You allowed your selfishness to override your higher duty which caused the abduction of your friends and the deaths of young mister Harris. Because of that, we had to step in sooner than we would have wanted."

The tone in which the statement was delivered was cold as ice and cut through the Slayer's heart and soul like a knife. Feeling the lump in her stomach becoming bigger, Buffy lashed out.

"Look, I know the way I was acting was wrong, but give me a break! I had died! I came back to my senses! And no way was Xander dead, alright! When I came back he was alive!"
"I'm afraid he WAS dead, Slayer. He died before it was his time. He died without having the mental and physical preparation for his awakening. Because of that, we had to intervene."

Willow paled even further at Nishikawa's words, her eyes growing large.

"A- Awa... Awakening? You... you resurrected him?"
"No, my dear, we didn't.", Nishikawa said in a fatherly tone as he turned towards the young redhead.
"He awakened. His lifeforce... His soul... His primal essence is what resurrected him, but without the neccesary discipline, without being prepared for the consequences. As it was, we reached him in the nick of time. An unsupervised death and subsequent awakening could spell disaster."

The Scoobies looked up at that...

"Unsupervised death? You were planning on killing him?", Willow screamed, trying to jump forward, ready to tear into the old man. Luckily, she was still rooted into place by whatever spell had been cast.

"Will. Relax. Let the man explain.", the young guitarist said softly as he tried to turn his head enough to look at his girlfriend. When he was certain that she had gotten her anger under control, he shifted his gaze to Nishikawa.

"So. Explain."

"Why thank you, young man. Not many young people today are so concerned with niceties towards senior citizens. Now, as I was saying, Alexander was not supposed to die that day. His death was to happen on his twentyfirst birthday, as was his awakening. As luck would have it, I was here to observe him until the fourth full moon of the Winter's Solstice. Then I was to contact Alexander and begin his training in order to prepare him for the Awakening Ceremony. Had I not been here to step in immediately, the consequences could have been dire."

"What consequences?", Wesley interjected.
"The consequences of a Nephandi turning."

"Dear God, no", came the quiet exclamation from where Giles was standing.

"Giles?"

Buffy looked confused at her ex-Watcher, as his features seemed to change from quiet determination to abject fear. Suddenly, his body sagged, seemingly collapsing in on itself. The former Watcher staggered backwards, hitting the nearest wall, sliding down in a heap. It was as if a dam had broke as everyone else suddenly got the use of their body back.

"Giles?", Buffy repeated again as she kneeled next to him, placing a small hand on his shoulder, the lump in her stomach now feeling more like a boulder. Whatever it was that the term meant, it was more then enough to cause Giles to lose it, something she'd never seen him do before. It was probably one of the most frightening experiences she'd ever witnessed, next to Angelus' return and Xander's death and sudden resurrection.

"The Nephandi. The Darkness....", he murmured as his hands held his head, the tone of his voice sending shivers of fear through everybody.

"Who or what are these Nephandi?", Oz asked.
"They are the Darkness, the Destroyer. The harbingers of the ultimate Evil."
"Ultimate... evil?", Cordelia said, swallowing.
"I ... I... don't understand... what would they want with Xander?", Willow asked as she looked at the mysterious visitor.

"To have him join their side, of course. Rupert?"

Nishikawa looked intently at the ex-Watcher, who finally met the man's gaze. The distress on the Englishman's face was clear for all to see.

"There were.... a few myths I heard when I was younger. About the Nephandi.... and those that stand between them and total destruction... Dear God in Heaven!"

Giles buried his face in his hands again, willing the events of the last 24 hours to be nothing more then a bad dream. With a deep sigh, their visitor picked up the explanation.

"As I've said, the Nephandi are the harbingers of the ultimate Evil. Older then the First One, their menace only surpassed by that of the Devil himself. He who is the Ultimate of Evil. Their one goal in this dimension and every other is to destroy the light. To destroy the Metaverse and everything surrounding it."

"Metaverse? Isn't that something from that B5 show? Or was it Star Trek?", Cordelia said, looking a bit lost.

"You're not far off, Miss Chase. The writers did occassionaly provide glimpses of it. Think of reality as a tranquil pond. Smooth surface, nothing disturbing it. Then, throw in a stone. What happens? Ripples form, moving outwards. These ripples represent every single decision someone makes. Each decision has its consequences. Another stone in the pond, as it were. However, just as each decision has a particular outcome, so does every problem have multiple ways of being resolved. Different decisions for the same problem, leading to different outcomes."

"Forks in the road. One reality, one decision made, changes that reality and turns it away from the original reality, becoming its own reality. Every decision for resolving a particular problem will create another reality in which that particular decision was chosen", Oz stated, his voice calm.

"Essentialy correct, Mr. Osbourne. This reality we are in now, the main reality, is but one of an infinite number of realities, co-existing next to each other. All suspended within the Metaverse. All surrounded by the Darkness. The Darkness is the natural state of the Metaverse, meaning that reality as you know it, is nothing more then an unstable imperfection that must be destroyed for the Metaverse to be perfect once again. Would the Darkness succeed, it would mean the end of all reality, total Oblivion. That is the reason for existence of the Nephandi. To bring about the perfection of the Metaverse. To bring forth Oblivion."

"So, these Nephandi characters are trying to bring forth the Apocalypse, right? Well, been there, done that, got the bruises to show for it", Cordelia said with an imperiousness she didn't quite feel right then.

"So you have indeed, although you've only faced some minor Nephandi minions."
"Minor! You call the Master Minor? Acathla? You call Mayor Wilkins minor?", Buffy shouted. "He's planning on ascending to First Circle Demon status and you call that minor? Please!"

"Slayer, neither First Circle Demons nor the Acathla's of this world are comparable to the evil what is out there, just waiting to destroy us all. It is a waste of our time and resources to fight such minor beings. It is also the reason why we created the Slayer."