Chapter One-The New Guardians
"Where have they gone?"
The demon was on one knee, panting and battle-weary. He didn't know how to answer.
"We…we don't know."
His master hissed and hurled a chair into the wall, shattering it. The demon ducked the pieces and tried to continue.
"We were not the only ones there. When our portal opened into the house, another had formed outside."
No answer could be given; the demon bowed his head, shamed.
His master snarled. "Our seers cannot find her. They can feel creatures in other dimensions, and still, they cannot find her. Where did this portal lead?"
"I…I don't know."
His master's face grew still. It was not a pleasant look. "Go back to the house. Take our witches with you. Have them touch every floorboard, every tree, every brick-have them find traces of that magic, and have them tell me where she's gone!"
"Right away, your Greatness!" The demon, thankful to still have his head, ran out the door.
The fire crackled and popped. The rest of the caves had grown quiet. Slowly a sneer turned into a grin…turned into a laugh…turned into a promise:
"We will find her again. Birds have to fly…slayers have to fight. She won't stay hidden for long. We will find her."
Buffy was sitting at the end of a long wooden table when Faith walked in. The air in the castle was chilly and damp, but various tapestries along the walls kept the heat of the few fires from escaping. Still, Faith had grabbed a hooded sweatshirt from their hosts' stores of clothing for a bit of added relief from the cold. She tucked her hands in the pockets as she crossed to Buffy.
Buffy sat with a hand propping up her head, rubbing her temple. She hadn't changed clothes, Faith noticed. She must have showered and put them right back on. The brunette could guess why; they still hadn't been told anything specific about what was going on. She won't accept anything until she accepts where it came from… Not Faith. She grew up unable to afford such high morals. Hers were more along the lines of "get it while you can." She zipped the sweatshirt up and leaned against the table next to Buffy.
"I don't want to miss this."
Faith nodded slowly. "You're wigged out. Don't blame you."
Buffy took the brunette's hand and gently stroked it with her thumb. "I don't know who the good guys are anymore."
Faith squeezed her hand in a gesture of solidarity as the others came through the door; she immediately popped up to stand next to Buffy, arms crossed.
Dawn, arm bandaged, came running across the room to hug her sister. Willow, Kennedy, and Xander were right behind her.
Faith's brow furrowed. "Where's everybody else?"
"Robin went to get Andrew," Xander said. "He's still a little woozy from getting knocked around by that demon. Giles is on his way."
"Buffy, this place is amazing." Willow could barely contain her excitement. "Mystical barriers like I've never seen. They overlap and interweave…and the libraries have scrolls thousands of years old, sealed in glass tubes. I think half of them were written in blood…"
Xander raised his eyebrows. "Nothing says 'authentic' like blood scrolls."
"Or the ones in the back that are written on human skin…"
Kennedy clapped her hands together. "Okay! Buffy, Faith-are you all right? Do you need anything?"
Buffy frowned. "I'd just really like to know where we are and what all of this is, actually. Do any of you know that?"
The gang looked a little sheepish. Willow shook her head. "We don't. Giles wanted to wait until you were here so he could tell us all at once."
"But you must know something…do you sense anything?"
"Well…" Willow paused. "I'm getting a lot from this place, but the overriding feeling is that it's safe. There's some good, there's some bad…but nothing's really threatening."
"Besides," Xander said, "Giles…?"
Buffy didn't say anything.
Faith straightened up. "How did you get here? What happened at the house?"
"Turns out there were a few portals that opened at the house that night. Giles knew they were coming and opened up an escape one for us. But because we had no way of knowing that, I was trying to close it."
Buffy blinked. "The portal in the yard?"
"But there were…there were demons trying to get through!"
"Apparently, they were trying to get out so they could fight for us. I didn't know until I saw Giles on the other side. But then it was too late-we just had to get everyone out. Then there wasn't a lot of time to ask questions; Deanna and I had to get to work finding you."
Buffy looked lost and, Faith would bet, hurt at being left out of the loop on this place. Before they could get into it, Giles and Deanna walked in.
It would be more accurate to say that Giles walked in; Deanna seemed to drift. She smiled warmly at the brunette slayer. Faith wasn't sure how to respond. Everyone settled around the table, except for Faith, who remained standing.
Giles cleared his throat. "Yes, well…I'm so grateful that you've all made it. I know it wasn't easy, and you all have many questions; I'm going to try to answer all of them as best as I can."
Robin entered with Andrew. They silently acknowledged the others, then slipped into seats at the far end of the table.
"For those of you who haven't met her yet, this is Deanna. She's a member of one of the world's most powerful covens, and because of our spell she's now also a slayer, which makes her quite a unique and valued member of our group. She was most helpful in contacting you when it became too dangerous for us to communicate by normal means."
"Faith's vision," Buffy said. Her eyes never left Giles' face.
"Giles," Willow interjected. "Where did all this come from? Where are we?"
Giles leaned back. "At the moment we're between dimensions, in a kind of neutral zone."
"A metaphysical Sweden. Nice."
"Indeed, Xander. And it's Switzerland."
"We created it," Deanna said. At her words, the table grew still. Kennedy was the first to stir.
"What do you mean, 'created' it?"
Deanna looked to Giles, who took off his glasses. "It was decided that we needed a safe zone. No one can be harmed here-not humans, not demons. We needed a place to come together, to share information, each side without fear of the other." He paused and took in their confused faces. He sighed. "Let me start again:
"You all know I have always kept allies that the Council did not know of. Very powerful ones, I might add, ones the Council would have viewed as threats. When I was first fired as Buffy's watcher, I started to be in much more frequent contact with them. I sensed a change was coming. The problems we encountered with the Council in handling a rogue slayer, their inability to accept information when it came from a vampire with a soul, their strange 'tests' for Buffy, trying to keep her in line…all of this confirmed my fears. The Council was not changing along with the world; they couldn't accept our new world for what it was."
"And what's that?" Faith asked.
Giles was quiet a moment. "Grey. Not all demons are evil. Not all humans are good. It was time for new definitions of good and bad, and time for a new guardian-one that could stretch into multiple worlds."
Willow shifted uneasily in her seat. "I dunno, Giles…this sounds kind of…" She trailed off.
"So what is good, then?" Kennedy asked. "Who are we fighting for?"
Giles smiled. "Balance. There is either balance, or there is chaos. The Alliance is made up of humans, witches, demons, and various other beasts who agree-good cannot exist without evil, and vice versa. Anything that tips the scales one way or the other will lead its world into chaos until the balance restores itself."
"Funny," Buffy said. "I never thought of too much good as a bad thing. Call me crazy."
Giles put his glasses back on. "Evil certainly feels the same way, you know. But the universe will fight to right itself-it will remove the good as it removes the bad."
Xander leaned back in his chair. His head was full. "Ok, Giles, I'm example guy. As in, I need one."
"Fine. The spell we cast to give power to the slayers."
"That was a good."
Giles sighed. "Yes."
"And the bad is….?"
"Not all of them wanted to be called," Giles said quietly. "And still others are not using their newfound powers for good. That is what balanced our spell."
They were all silent, taking it in. Faith shifted uncomfortably. Buffy was right…who are the good guys?
"So what do we do, Giles?" Buffy asked. "Do we sit back and do nothing, for fear of cosmic consequences? Do we let evil be evil, because we need balance in the world?"
"Of course not," Deanna said. Her eyes flashed. "We fight for our side. We fight the good fight. But we have teams keeping surveillance-we look for large energy buildups, signs that something is coming that could create chaos for years. No ones wins in chaos."
"It sounds like no one ever wins at all," Faith observed.
"And that is the world," Giles declared, standing up. "That is life-the battle between the good and evil. And if it is ever actually won, chaos will reign and this world will end."
More silence. More tension in the room.
Xander sighed. "I never thought I'd say this, but I miss high school."
Faith was disturbed; she could only imagine how Buffy was feeling. She understood what Giles was saying, and she supposed it made sense-the ebb and flow of good and bad, the constant currents, the movement… and if something's not moving, then it's stagnant, still, and it decays. She could buy that. But it made it even more difficult to be motivated to 'fight the good fight' when you knew it wasn't ever going to be won-not by you, not by those after you. Never.
"I'm sure you're all thinking it's pointless," Giles continued. "It may seem that way at first glance. But we're talking huge mystical disturbances, powers that are entirely unnatural. We still save the innocent; we still protect what's good."
"Calling all slayers to action wasn't big enough?" Willow asked. "You're sure?"
"As I've said, it's righted itself. Besides-as we found out, we didn't actually 'create' new powers from nothing; that could have tipped the scales quite a bit. But what we actually did was share Faith's. Which…brings me to our next point."
Faith sat on the armrest of Buffy's chair and tried to stay calm. Nothing else about me…please…nothing else…
"The reason we were unable to be in contact the last few days was because of a new threat that we believe is large enough to do some damage. I couldn't stay in our world and had to retreat here."
Giles hesitated. He began again, slowly.
"The demon world is very aware of the spell we cast with the scythe. It sent ripples throughout multiple dimensions. But…we are not the only ones with powerful seers and witches. A very…ambitious…sect started organizing different species, forming an army with one goal: to capture the scythe."
Dawn frowned. "That's who attacked us at the house."
"But…why? The magic with the scythe is done. It's just a weapon now."
"But it's not," Deanna said quietly. Her gaze fell on Faith. "Far from it. These demons realized as we did that the new slayers all shared Faith's power, but she hadn't died; the power hasn't actually 'passed on.'"
Kennedy threw up her hands. "Meaning?"
"Meaning," Giles said, "that it's not permanent. They could reverse the spell and take all the slayers' new powers away."
Faith felt a ball of ice start to form in her stomach. She glanced at Buffy, but the blonde wouldn't look at her; she was studying Giles furiously.
"How?" Willow asked.
Giles and Deanna exchanged a look.
"The scythe is the connection between Faith and the rest of the slayers," Deanna began. "If this sect were to sever that connection…then the slayer line would end."
"How?" Willow asked again.
Faith felt the ball of ice grow larger-she already knew.
Giles sighed. "By using the scythe to kill Faith."