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This story is No. 3 in the series "Perception". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Harry Potter has fielded and led vast armies, manipulated intergalactic wars and raised mankind to the heights of first ones but he did not actually exist until a chaos mage had sabotaged a Halloween on the hell mouth.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Harry Potter > General > Action
Television > Babylon 5
kunglouFR18660,73041218,15024 Nov 0614 Jun 07Yes

How Deep the Hellmouth Goes

6. How Deep the Hellmouth Goes
Title: Chaos on the Hellmouth
Author name: Kunglou
Author email: AU
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Harry Potter had fielded and led vast armies, manipulated intergalactic wars and raised mankind to the heights of first ones but he had not actually existed until a chaos mage had sabotaged a Halloween on the hell mouth.
Disclaimer: I do not own either BTVS or Harry Potter and claim no rights to the copyrighted material. I am making no money off this story.

Author notes: Massively AU, OC, HP: A matter or Perception/BtVS/Bab5

If you are unfamiliar with the perception series I really recommend that you read the first two pieces for this piece to make sense. Keep in mind that Xander was possessed, his memories merged with the more dominant personality of Harry’s.
Oh and for those that noticed - I have intentionally messed with the timelines. If Buffy was shown in 2001 instead of 1996 the dates would have matched. From this perspective I hardly think I am messing with the continuity too much. Besides, there are technological and social reasons for this.

Ch6 – How Deep the Hellmouth Goes

“Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way round, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.”

- Adolf Hitler


Jenny Calendar tapped furiously at her keyboard, occasionally pausing to glare frustratingly at her computer screen. The moonlight shone strongly through her classroom window in a testament to the late hour. The later she worked, the more frustrated she became. Gypsy tricks and knowledge of magic and demons aside, working in a public building on the Hellmouth, after dark, was not a good idea.

“That’s an understatement,” she grumbled to herself. “More like a death wish – Particularly with the beast Angelus loose.”

The work she was doing however was crucial to her clan’s survival and future growth and she would do much, risk much, for that. When Angelus lost his soul, she knew that it was only a matter of time before the self proclaimed Scooby gang found out about her gypsy heritage and in turn, her clan’s history with the beast.

While normally she would not have cared, she had recently been thrust into a position of authority within her clan. Everyday, another member trickled in to take their place in Sunnydale and its surrounds as part of a greater clan presence overseeing their interests on the Hellmouth. It was, then, her role to ease their relocation and mask the sudden influx of skilled labor into the small town so as not to raise suspicion. The last thing the Kalderash needed was to attract attention to themselves from either the demons that plagued the area, or the Council that had staked out jurisdiction over the area.

They had not survived as long, nor gained the reputation that they had, by being obvious in their movements or activities, and the clan would not stand aside and allow an increasingly irreverent club of old men in England sole control over the most active Hellmouth in the world. It was too dangerous for the world and it would embed the council’s power among their tight nit demon hunting community for centuries.

Neither of which was acceptable to her or her clans elders, it was arguable who was more qualified for the role anyway. It was for this reason that she was currently working late in a public building on the Hellmouth.

When the Slayer and her Watcher found out who she really was, and likely reported her presence to the council, all her work at ingratiating herself with the council’s watcher and its present slayer would be wasted, their most likely action would be to cut ties with her. That would lead to the small amounts of intelligence that she had managed to glean from them to dry up as well.

The source of information aside, her discovery had the potential to threaten the others of her clan by drawing attention to their actions. It would be a disaster.

“Not gonna happen,” Jenny growled, striking the keyboard with increased fervor, willing the screen to change.

No, she needed to offer them something to placate them for when they found out about her history and misdirect them from the others of her Clan. As much as she valued her own life and ambitions, she was expendable, as were most of her clan members at her position. Considering that most of the Scooby gang were still hormonal teenagers, she had found just the thing to provide a distraction. The watcher would be guided by his slayer as he was wont to be.

When she had obtained the original script of the curse which had given the Angelus a soul in revenge for his brutal killing of the favored daughter of a clan elder, she had grabbed it and immediately started work on a translation. Jenny had known that it would become useful one day.

On the day that they discovered her history and links to Angelus’s past, its use would become apparent.

In fact, she was surprised that they had not discovered her origins already. Not that she was complaining, it just gave her more time to translate the curse so that she had something more concrete to offer the group. She doubted that anyone had the skill, experience or power to cast it safely so she was not worried about offering it to the group.

Giles may have had it once, but he had long since lost his edge to old age and lack of practice. She doubted that the slayer would be remotely effective in any situation that did not have the enemy standing dumbly in front of her and the other hangers on seemed useful in collecting snacks for their research parties – but little more. Jenny smirked, “only the redhead has any sort of potential, and I am already leading her on a path that can only end with the clan. She may yet prove a very valuable asset to us and our activities on the Hellmouth.”

Jenny glanced out at the full moon worriedly, allowing her smirk to falter before hitting a few more keys in rapid succession. She was so close to having the curse translated but maybe she was pushing her luck. After dark on the Hellmouth, anyone else and she would doubt their sanity.

Sighing in frustration and shaking off the deepening unease she felt, Jenny turned of her computer, after staring at it longingly for a second, and got up to leave. She would be no use to her clan if she ran into a few fledglings on her way home.

Checking her alarm wards as she locked the door, it took her seconds to realize that her wards were gone. Jenny momentarily froze in fear, she had not noticed them being tampered with or breached and yet the wards she had craftily and in her opinion cleverly placed - had disappeared. Fingering the wooden stake, that she always kept in her pocket, with nervous tension she slowly walked along the suddenly frighteningly empty and deadly quite corridor of the local public High school.

It should not have been possible to take her wards down without her noticing SOMETHING, if it were then the alarm wards would have been useless as alarms. In fact the wards were the equivalent of a glass bottle balanced precariously on a ball; any tampering would shatter the glass, immediately notifying her of the tampering.

Shivering at the echo of her footsteps along the marbled floors, Jenny picked up her pace and started a steady jog towards the nearest exit. Something was wrong, she could feel it, and on the Hellmouth that was BAD.

“This is not happening,” she whispered fiercely to herself angrily. She just had to push it and stay after dark even knowing everything that was happening.

“Jenny, there’s no need to run, I am an old friend to the clans after all.” Jenny shivered at the singsong tone of Angelus’s voice as it echoed over her heavy breathing and rapid footsteps. The exit was just around the corner she thought in desperation, her heart pounding through her chest in raising panic.

“Actually, there probably is.” Angelus chuckled evilly, she couldn’t tell where he was nor did she care as she turned the corner and poured on the speed towards the double doors exiting the school.

“Jana, can I call you Jana, I believe we have some catching up to do and I would love for you to be a message to darling Buffy for me.” Jenny shook her head in helplessness and fear as she saw the chains that wrapped themselves through the door handles, blockading her exit.

Heart pounding she still tried to crash through the doors, testing the chains. They didn’t give and she turned around to see the beast casually sauntering towards her, cigarette hanging from his grinning lips. His yellow eyes and Vamperic visage chilled her soul.

“After the routine and quite satisfying torture session, satisfying for me of course,” Angelus visibly gloated as she sprinted back the way she came and took another corner. Frantically searching for a way out, her stake had long been abandoned. For a fledging she may have attempted to take it down, with her magic, maybe even if there were two. But there was no way she was getting that close to a master vampire, especially not one with Angelus’s history and reputation.

“After all, I have decades to make up for.” Angelus’s voice neared with a frightening and unstoppable inevitability.

Jenny bashed vainly at another barricaded exit before darting to another. The school took on a maze like quality as her breathing echoed in her ears, almost drowned out by the beasts chilling taunts. She knew well what he was capable off and knew that her death would be excruciatingly painful if he caught her. “When he catches me,’ she thought helplessly as she allowed her hysteria to completely control her actions.

“Well isn’t this just pathetic.” Jenny froze at the deep grumbling voice that cut through her panic and hysteria and left her wondering about the distain and disgust that dripped from the new entrants tone.

“A member of the Kalderash, running from a ‘has been’ minion.” Jenny crouched deeper into the a corner as a hooded figure stepped out of the shadows and approached them at a deliberate pace, seemingly unafraid of the Master Vampire he faced.

“Who are you calling minion buddy,” Angelus snarled. Flicking the bud of his cigarette to the side and stepping forward aggressively Jenny watched in fearful fascination as the beast growled a deep boastful growl in an attempt to intimidate the approaching figure. His dark trench coat hid all but his height, even his face was hidden under the shadows of his hood. It could have been human or demon. If the figure was human, she doubted their sanity.

“In fact, this little Hollywood opera has begun to get too painfully clichéd to watch further. Angelus, with your lack of imagination, I am surprised someone hasn’t taken you down sooner.”

The figure stopped in the middle of the corridor and mockingly chuckled at the snarling vampire, “oh wait. They have.”

Jenny almost couldn’t watch, she assumed that whoever it was that was taunting the vampire knew what they were doing and how vicious and powerful the beast was. It was thus reasonable to assume that they were more powerful or insane, perhaps both, either way her fate hadn’t necessarily changed from near messy and painful death. Her situation had the potential to get far worse, it was like trying to decide who she preferred to kill her.

“That’s it buddy, you’ve just earned front row seats to this little opera and then I am gonna enjoy taking you apart piece by piece, VERY slowly. Your screams will be a pleasant reminder of this night.”

Jenny was glad that she was staring so raptly at the confrontation before her, because she was sure that she would have missed it otherwise. The beast lunged, almost too fast for her eyes to follow, a bestial roar echoing down the schools corridor was the only warning. It was what she expected from a vampire of his age and power. The next moment the vampire was caught in a vice like grip by a very human hand and slammed against a brick wall with enough force to chip the ceramic.

“Leave, find your message elsewhere. I have business with the Kalderash tonight.”

Jenny shook her head a little at mention of her clan and her fear returned as did all hope of escape while the two combatants fought. At least with Angelus she could be assured of death with no remaining involvement of her clan. She doubted that the beast even knew that they had not only survived but thrived in the centuries he had languished with a soul.

No, perhaps it was better that Angelus won this one, her death would be a necessary consequence of keeping her clan safe.

“Now that was just rude of you pal,” Angelus quipped as he broke out of the humans grip and slammed a fist into the hooded figures face knocking him down. Before she could get a look inside of his hood or before the master vampire could follow through on his advantage, a concussive blast threw her and the vampire away from the figure, slamming them both into a wall, allowing the trench coated figure time to stand.

“Leave,” he commanded again in a deeper more powerful voice. As a techno-pagan she was sensitive to strong magics, even if she could not wield them, and his command reeked of the strongest magics that she had ever felt. This time she was not surprised when Angelus paled slightly and dove out of the nearest window. He didn’t even bother vowing vengeance as he was wont to do against enemies. Warlocks as strong as this one felt were not to be taken on without meticulous planning and overwhelming numbers.

“What…?” Jenny stammered as he turned his focus on her. Huddled in the corner in fear, until his mocking words about her clan came back to her and she forced her back to stiffen. Kalderash did not cower and even facing down this imposing figure, one that had apparently scared the master vampire Angelus with a look, she would do the clan proudly.

“You realize that he will probably go after the watcher now that you intervened.” She asked as she again contemplated running. ‘No,’ she mentally shook her head. From the brief fight earlier it is obvious that he is a magic user and he singly faced down a master vampire. Running will be even more fruitless than it was for Angelus.

“Of course,” Jenny shuddered at its deeply voiced and amused quip. IT was AMUSED! Surely it was no normal human to be amused at the Watchers probable fate, as vengeful as her clan was rumored to be, she would not have wished that on her worst enemy. Particularly after Angelus’s original target had been snatched from him. Giles would suffer deeply before he died.

“Come now Jenny, or should I call you Jana, surely if the increasingly irrelevant old men in England sent him here, they would have ensured his protection?” Jenny paled at his words, he had echoed the words of her uncle weeks ago – how. It should have been impossible to eavesdrop on her conversation like that, just like her alarm wards disappearing tonight. Whoever this was, was powerful and he or she knew of her clan. She could not afford to piss him off.

So polite, she thought threw gritted teeth. “Who are you?”

“Perhaps you have heard of me, demons around here are calling me the Holder of the Hellmouth.”

Jenny paled further, this…. This could be VERY bad. She had more than heard of him, she had seen the type of enemies he seeming regularly tangled with. Including a silver ringed squad of Teraka.

“But enough about me, lets talk. I think that we can reach an agreement that benefits us both. At least in the short term, beyond that – who knows?”

Jenny shakingly stepped forward and gestured towards the direction she had just run hysterically from. Her office may not provide any protection but being in a familiar place would calm her nerves while she negotiated terms with … She doubted whoever this was that they were human after all.

“Call me Harry, Jana.” Jenny forced a smile as he anticipated her question and hoped that her clan accepted the necessity of what she was doing today; otherwise it would end very badly for all of them.

*****

Jack sat slumped calmly in the back of the military helicopter that had picked him up as soon as he had finished his rescue mission through the Stargate. ‘Failed rescue mission,’ he thought with frustrated disappointment. ‘He had not,’ Jack thought with a deep cynical chuckle and a brief look at his CO seated next to him, ‘even had time to finish his report. Paper work is so over rated anyway.’

In fact he was still in his dirty fatigues, not even given the opportunity to change, and even though he appeared unworried – it was only a façade that he had developed over a long involvement in the Air Force Special Tactics that allowed him to appear so unconcerned.

Glancing again at Major General Hammond, who was sitting stiffly next to two very alert and heavily armed guards, who were carrying what appeared to be the latest in suppression weaponry, and they looked trained in their use. He could not help but wonder how events had come to this. When he was a young man, still idealistic in many ways, the Air Force had recognized his natural leadership and seemingly tactical genius which had made him stand ahead of his graduating class.

His academic excellence only added points in his favor among his superiors, even if he disliked drawing attention to his interest in academic pursuits. It did not fit in well with the military culture that he was becoming immersed in, and while secretly he acknowledged the advantages that it gave him over his allies and enemies alike, it was a well kept secret to those that hadn’t seen his file. As his career advanced, less and less people had access to that file allowing him increased control over the style he presented.

After finishing officer school, he was quickly co-opted into the Air Force Special Tactics and eventually an elite commando unit that served as the jagged end of America’s foreign policy of the day. Sometimes they were successful and sometimes they were not. Sometimes wars and greater military skirmishes were avoided and sometimes the political fallout seemed unavoidable.

As his experience and training grew, his missions gradually became blacker, more secretive and borderline illegal – Hell laws were written for those other people of society, the ones that had a picket fence and a family waiting at home, not men like him where borders were simply lines on a page.

Of course, he also had one of those, but he put it out of his mind and did his job, followed orders and he liked to think that he brought his own morality to the job, skirted the orders he knew he could get away with and completely re-defined others as necessary. Thereby making an unpleasant job slightly less so and earning the loyalty of his peers in the process.

It gave him a very cynical and real politik view of the world, where policies and world events were not shaped in parliaments, not driven by the ballet box, but by invisible puppet masters in back offices. Unseen, where only the projection of force ruled the day. That view also gave him the flexibility of thought he sometimes needed to complete some of those missions, knowing that who he was reporting to today would not necessarily be who he reported to tomorrow.

He was at the top of the world, it seemed nothing could stop him, and there lay only upside towards the future. He had a family waiting at home, a son he was proud of, some of the best mates he could wish for and the most challenging and often satisfying work he could imagine. Of course, not all ops were the same and sometimes he lost good friends, but he always tried to put that behind him, it was part of military life.

Then it had all come crashing down. Nature did what changing administrations couldn’t have, he got old, his body slowed down just a little and he got captured, left behind for dead by his team, he doubted the outcome would have changed if he had been captured by the Russians, the Iraqis, or the Libyans. Tortured in a shit hole prison for four months before he could make his own escape back home.

It had simply been that one mission too many and even though he had sworn that it would never happen to him – it had. It had hurt that his team had left him behind, and it had changed forever his belief that one should never leave a man behind. Sometimes the mission trumped all and it became a numbers game.

Torture did not help the natural degradation of his body and to this day his knees were stuffed, the body could only weather so much punishment – even if the mind was more than willing to go on. He had had some of the best anti-mind control training America could give him, his mind was more than willing to keep on going but his body was no longer up to the challenge of being on the jagged edge.

It had been the end of his black ops days.

Life went on though, and he went back to work. No longer at the jagged edge but still, someone of his experience, flexibility of thought and security clearance was rare, at least among those still alive and it wasn’t like they could get rid of him. He knew where too many bodies were buried.

Too knowingly cynical of the political and military process to chew out and he had never stopped learning. He was very difficult to get rid off, as more than a few superiors had found out to their careers encumbrance.

Then nature decided to take him down another few notches.

‘Awww Charlie,’ he thought with despair. The pain still there, even after all those years. His son was taken from him – shot with his own gun, and it was too much. He had retired, thinking only of a lake with no fish and living one day at a time. His body and mind had still not completely recovered from his capture and months of torture and his son’s death had broken him. On some days he still believed he was broken.

That had been the end of his Air Force days.

At least it had been before he had been approached about a job suitable to someone of his background, experience and security clearance, approached by someone who had actually been able to look through his file.

His retirement was starting to wear thin, he was intrigued and he decided that dying of old age was not something he wanted after all. One last mission – he would go out in a blaze of glory that no one would ever hear about before he became incapable of going on missions at all. He had been proud of his career and his family, both were gone and he admitted to feeling slightly suicidal at the time.

And what a mission – aliens and other planets. Jack shook his head. He considered himself a simple man, wanting simple things but honest to god aliens. It boggled the mind, but it had probably saved his life. Restoring some of his drive, some of his smashed self worth. It was something he would not have ever imagined when he was still in officer’s school.

“Sirs, we are landing.”

Jack nodded at his guards wondering at their presence, their alertness. Were the guards informed about the threat that the SGC had faced off world? Why were he and his CO being summoned? And by who, after all, there were only so many people that out ranked a major general? At least their guards were not MP’s and they remained respectful of their rank, so it was unlikely that they were actually under arrest but the speed and seriousness of their summons was concerning.

They had been told nothing. In fact he had not heard any news since he had stepped through the gate for the second time, this time on a rescue mission. Major general Hammond had not been communicative and with the guards as alert as they were, he didn’t blame the big man.

Had someone finally taken his report seriously, his threat assessment of the aliens through the gate had only seemed to increase after his latest mission. Their weapons, man power and space craft – honest to god space craft – left anything on earth way behind. He knew the required technological level for some of the things that he had seen and it was not looking good if they decided to fly those honking ships to earth and set up orbit.

The jolt of the chopper hitting the ground shook Jack out of his deep thoughts and painful reminiscence of days gone by. “Sirs,” the guard gestured to another escort. His CO, and he leapt out and watched as the Apache took of. ‘An AH-64A/D on escort duty, never thought I would see the day,’ Jack shrugged unconcerned, sneaking another look at the major general before followed his escort. Both were as alert and well armed as their guards on the trip over. ‘At least they were polite,’ he thought ‘still doesn’t tell me why we’re here though.

Jack scanned what at first appeared to be a deserted grassy field, but his experienced eye caught more than one camouflaged soldier crawling around – sloppy that, not to mention the nests that dotted the sight in interlocking fields of fire and kill zones. He could hear faint rumblings of jets in the distance, probably enforcing a no fly zone, why the hell were they being dropped into the middle of some rookie training.

Holding his tongue as they approached a large netted tent, he knew from experience that the camouflage would render it almost invisible from the air, Jack instead focused on counting the number of soldiers that he spotted circling their position.

‘If they had been my boys,’ he thought with a dark glare at one of the more visible soldiers ‘I would have had them drummed back into basic for such sloppiness.’

“Sirs, the president well see you now.”

Ok now he had to admit that threw him. The president – what the hell was going on? Why wasn’t the big man on capital hill, the Whitehouse? Even his ranch? Some grassy field in the middle of some training exercises was the last place he expected to find the man.

Unable to hold his tongue any longer, as soon as he entered, ignoring the other people in the tented area, after all he only recognized one of them, he blurted out what was at the top of his head. “Mr. President, with all due respect, but what the HELL is going on? I spotted at least seven bodies marking our position and another four nests and those guards have some of the most expensive equipment that I have seen issued to a mission, any mission.”

“In fact,” he stopped and had a real good look around. The computers, the techies, the large screens displaying real time streaming data, he was in a damned C’n’C. A hell of a high tech one for a field base, in fact even those in the depth of the pentagon would love to have half this stuff. What the hell had happened while he was off world for the president to be camped in the middle of a field like this one?

“Colonel O’neill,” he just winced at Hammonds roar. Clearly his new CO was as straight laced as his career indicated – that was both good and bad. He could work with him, he hated the corrupt and power hungry CO’s that cared little for their team, but his history and cynical nature would make it difficult to work with someone as buy the book as this one seemed to be – not everyone saw the world as he did, as he had been trained to see it as the case may be.

Any further dressing down however was interrupted by the president’s dark chuckle that broke into a rumbling laugh. “That’s quite alright George, how else did you expect him to react. I know that you were uncomfortable with this little exercise but considering what we both know, I thought it necessary to test him a little before full disclosure.”

Jack looked carefully at the clearly uncomfortable general beside him, something was going on and if it were a decade ago he would be expecting a potentially suicidal and very illegal black op. The still alert guards, and the man standing silently behind where the president was seated, a man he now recognized as a senator- though he couldn’t for the life him remember from where –and his CO, it didn’t make sense.

He would not be debriefed in front of so many witnesses, it would make the whole concept of deniability laughable. Particularly with so many civilian witnesses.

The only thing that prevented him from demanding further answers, despite his CO’s displeasure at his borderline insubordinate decorum, was that he could feel those answers coming anyway. “Kinsey, I believe you owe me a drink. I’ve been keeping an eye on that bottle of scotch you’ve been hoarding for the last twelve years. His evaluation of the situation will be very useful.”

“Yes Mr. President, I expected him to miss more than two.” Jack suppressed a wince. He had been out of the game far too long if he had missed two of his watchers. Lucky it was only training, he would have been dead otherwise, but that still didn’t answer his questions – Hell he didn’t even really know where they were.

“Jack,” the president turned his attention back to him carefully, deliberately put three folders onto the table that separated them. ‘Another test?’ he wondered silently as he watched the man, scanning the reactions of all those in the room. He had been in far too many combat situations where the smallest hint of trouble quickly became a lethal threat; a good situational awareness had saved his life more than once.

“While you were off world, the Whitehouse was hit.”

A chill ran down his spin as the president suddenly had his full attention. He had some friends on protection detail, they would not have gone down easily, if at all. Jack stood their, silently imploring the President for more details.

“We still don’t know who it was, why, or even quite how. But whoever it WAS ghosted in, massacred every man woman and child, left a calling card burnt into my damn table, in the oval office no less, and ghosted out. Me? He left alive, as a sign of his power, mercy or threat. It could be any of them. We just don’t know.”

Still focused on what the President was saying and suppressing the shock and grief he felt at his comrades almost certain deaths, internally he started running through people or organization he was even remotely familiar with the could have done something like that. He had tangled with some very capable people in the past but in the end he felt that none of them really fit the profile he had been given. In fact, few of those he did know would have clocked up such a body count – such a waste.

“It is why I am constantly moving between different sites, and why the country is on DEFCON 3, before we know more we have no way of anticipating a next move or even knowing what to expect as a next move.”

Jack kept his silence, noting that the major general next to him was not in the least surprised. Considering it had happened while he was off world, he expected the brass to be up to date, so he wasn’t remotely surprised at his CO’s lack of reaction to the attack.

“In front of me are three folders. In the first is what we know about the attack; analysis, pictures, timelines, the usual.”

The president’s hand moved slightly to the right, “in the next two are our best guesses as to who is responsible and probable threat assessments. This one is what we know about the go’uld – you should be familiar with it, most of it is your work.”

Finally the man’s hand rested on the third folder, “and this one is yet another project that you WILL be unfamiliar with but which potentially yields just as much thread to this country as the other one.”

Jack barely had to think as he picked up the first folder, test or not, he could not very well comment until he had a little more idea of what he was looking at and what they, whoever they were, were capable off. Already he could eliminate the go’uld though; the little snaky buggers had a god complex. If it had been them the world would already be either bowing to their new god or fighting for its survival, suffering under a mass invasion.

Flicking through the photos of the attacked Whitehouse, the brief timeline’s and condensed analysis, he tossed the folder back on the desk and reached for the third folder, bypassing the second all together. He was certain that it was not the go’uld’s that were responsible. It was too meticulous, too subtle. Their style would probably be to bombard the Whitehouse from orbit and broadcast to the world cities that their god had arrived.

They would no doubt have the technology, but from what he had seen, they would never demean themselves to using it in such a way. And what was with the call sign, some kind of three headed dog with a snake tail? ‘The world is older than you know and it’s history far darker.’ Who the fuck came up with that shit.

Still, he had to admit, his exposure to the go’uld was less than ideal.

Opening the third file, he couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow and look askance at the president. Vampires? Aliens and now vampires, the world went to hell in a hand basket while he was away.

“So Colonel, your thoughts?”

Jack just nodded, carefully wording his response, his first thought was that some sort of hoax being pulled by the president and his advisors – not that he would ever admit such a thing, and, with what he had seen on his last mission, he would not rule anything out. “Why me Sir, if you’ve seen my file,” he waited until both the senator and the president nodded in confirmation, “you know that this is not really my area of expertise.”

“On the contrary Jack, can I call you Jack?” The president asked as he leaned forward, not waiting for a response before he continued. “This is so far from anyone else’s ally it lands firmly in yours, now, what are your thoughts Colonel?”

Knowing a command from his commander in chief when he heard one, Jack just sighed and tossed the third folder that contained the sparse information on the proposed Initiative op and the Vampire threat back onto the table that it had come from.

“It is clear that we are blind, we lack credible information about either threat. Information is key in this ca...”

“Mr. President, we have a missile launch from the south pacific – its Indonesia Sir.” A weedy voiced technician interrupted him from the side. On the large screen, a satellite image of the region and the tracked missile started streaming real-time, replacing the multiple images that had previously been displayed. “Tracking point of origin and estimated trajectory.”

Lance thought back to one of the last conversations he had with his long time friend and political advisor, Dave. Before he was mercilessly put down like a dog – with as much respect. ‘A flash point for Islamic radicalism he called it – Damn, that’s the last thing we need.’

A conflict with the most populous Islamic nation in the world is one of the reasons we got out of the Middle East and made ourselves independent of their oil in the first place. Military build up or not, the commonwealth of Australia does not have the forces to subdue a rowdy Indonesia – Nuke them maybe, subdue them, not a chance in hell.

Jack just groaned in exasperation and a deepening realization that this was no hoax and just how serious the situation had become. It seemed that like it or not, he was once again being thrust into the jagged edge of US foreign policy, it was starting to become obvious why he had been summoned.

“It is braking up in the upper atmosphere, tracking debris…. And we have lost it sir. Sorry.” The monitor flicked back to the multiple streams of data is had been displaying as they lost the missile.

“Find out what you can, do hourly satellite sweeps of the area if you have to. I want to know who launched it, why and how they even got it. I expect to know the serial number of the electronics, and that debris that is no doubt scattered across the island chain by now, by yesterday. I am having enough problems with the Europeans and Chinese without this showing up.”

“In fact get the Australians on the bell, if they have not woken up already, this in there back yard and we cannot afford any kind of escalation that will disrupt our trading routes with one of the few firm allies we have.”

Lance Jackson growled before refocusing his attention on Jack. He could see that any patience the president may have had before, had long since vanished with the news of a missile launch from southern California.

“Now Jack you were saying.” Jack could clearly hear the strain in the president’s voice and could hardly blame him. It reinforced their need for reliable information about both threats, a need for reliable information years ago.

“Mr. President, we need information. I found evidence, on my latest mission off world, of a library of destination points, which also means a multitude of possible invasion points. That’s if they don’t just ship a few million troops over. We just don’t have enough information about their capability for a proper threat assessment, let alone an effective way to combat the threat. We need boots on the ground.”

Jack could see it now, a command of combat teams, establishing a military presence throughout the galaxy, stripping resources and technology to fortify their world and advance themselves far enough to stand up against any threat. They would not even have to disturb the natives, after all there was enough uninhabited planetoids to go around. Daniel would be devastated but with the precarious situation America sat in – it could not be helped. Diplomatic and cultural exchanges would have to be reprioritized when more information was made available.

“As for this other threat, we don’t even know if they are the threat we think they are. Information is even more precious. However chances are that we face a potential war from within and without, or we will within the next few years and we need to prepare ourselves for that.”

Jack watched as the president sat back with a thoughtful frown on his face as he thought about what Jack has told him. It was what he would do if he were facing two unknown and potential vastly superior threats. The senator next too him looked entirely too pleased with the situation for his liking and he itched to wipe the smug smirk of the politicians face in light of the apparent seriousness of the situation.

“I have been advised as such, your reaffirmation is welcome Colonel. It is for that reason that I am granting you both field promotions. Congratulations.”

“General, you have earned your third star, and I want you to head up a group that will coordinate both projects and keep me informed. Is that clear, INFORMED. The lieutenant will give you the details. DISMISSED.”

Jack watched in stunned surprise as the general next to him lost his stiff, uncomfortable look. Saluted and walked out with one of the guards. Clearly he had been worried about the outcome of this meeting, perhaps he should have voted for this guy after all. Jack had personally fully expected a week of committees dominated by pencil pushers before a decision of this magnitude was made.

“Jack, your new rank of Brigadier General will let you take control of the SGC. Put your vision into practice, work with General Hammond. I want this threat dealt with before it blows up in our collective faces. DISMISSED.”

Sauntering out, Jack couldn’t help but grin smugly at the senators pallid expression, clearly he had hoped for control over both projects. ‘Yes, perhaps I should have voted for him after all,’ he thought, already planning significant changes to the command. At the back of his mind however, he noted that Kinsey was the most likely candidate to head up the initiative and he doubted that the straight laced and new three star general would be able to control someone like that.

*****

Wandering randomly around the streets of Sunnydale after dark was an experience he had come to enjoy. Even though he could monitor every aspect of the small town, in real time, through his carefully concealed observation bugs, from multiple angles if he chose, nothing could compare to the cool, moist air and the darkly malevolent mystical feel that tickled the senses of anyone sensitive to it.

The curruptingly raw and darkly cloying feel of magic which came from the Hellmouth oppressed the entire town and only got stronger as you approached the mouth of Hell that was based beneath the local High school library. It spoke to him of the ultimate truth, of the survival of the fittest, where only the strong flourished and the weak – well there was little place for the weak in Sunnydale.

Humans and other weak creatures were huddled under their beds or crypts and only the truly powerful ever purposely troubled him anymore as he wondered the streets of Sunnydale. His reputation and the subtle feel of power that he give out to those sensitive to the same magics as the hell mouth, ensured it. That left him time to plan, ponder and scheme.

He had been doing little else recently, as he played the foolishly weak and idiotically naive high school student that lacked even the power or drive to contribute to the group of soldiers that he hung out with. ‘Too weak to contribute to a group of inexperienced and barely trained child soldiers at that,’ he thought with disgust He felt weaker just contemplating the distasteful role.

Harry snorted in disgust at the necessity of disguise, but that time was coming to an end. He could feel it in the air. His time of planning was almost over and things were coming to a head, if only he was ready to seize the opportunity. But then, when had he ever been completely ready – he would seize the opportunity, face the challenges that he would not doubt face and he would triumph regardless of his readiness, which is what he had always done.

Stretching his aura out to embrace the dark magics of the Hellmouth, Harry grinned in dark anticipation. The last remaining Teraka assassin was out there somewhere, and as soon as he was put down then he would worry about Angelus and his little buddies poorly thought out plan.

The drones that he had embedded into Angelus had analyzed enough of the residual should magic that he thought he may have been able to force a stable opening of the Hellmouth, but Angelus had stumbled across something that had changed his priorities - a demon that could, reportedly, open a gate to hell without relying on the fixed location of the Hellmouth.

Harry smirked at the potential of such a technology. He would be able to build a powerbase across dimensions. Once the master vampire actually worked out how it worked, he would be ready and waiting to take the answers from him, properly thanking him for his unwitting services. Harry’s eyes gleamed at the thought. He doubted the vampire would survive his appreciation.

Rubbing his jaw absently in phantom pain, any damage had long since been healed, he considered Jenny Calendars words the night before when he had undoubtedly saved her life from a very messy end in order to negotiate with her clan.

She had been absolutely correct when she had said that Angelus would go after the watcher. It was exactly what he would have expected the psychopath to have done in order to send the slayer a very clear message and it was what the master vampire had done.

It had been obvious, when he considered that the man would have been the only one in Sunnydale who would have likely had the answers to Angelus’s dimensional portal problem. Harry had already scoured the digital library of demonology that he had aquired and was displeased at finding it incomplete.

Buffy and Willow had been frantic all day at knowing that he had been kidnapped by the master vampire. Not that they had actually considered skipping school to find the man, never mind that he was probably being brutally tortured as they sat in classes. In fact, Harry knew the watcher was being brutally tortured.

“Not only weak, and naïve, but stupid as well,” Harry sneered to himself as he thought about their actions. “The Kalderash are welcome to the redheaded witch. Hah witch they call her. Not even powerful enough to light a candle under her own power.”

They still thought it was a game, even Buffy, with her near death experiences and the death of Kendra and her first watcher still did not get it, the reality remained surreal and the line between Angel and Angelus blurred. He expected her second watchers death to strike to the core. The harsh wake up call when they found what was left of his body would do them a load of good, they would either strengthen and rise to the challenge or break - and he had no use for broken tools.

It was amusing watching them fall apart without the guidance of the older reformed chaos mage. The negotiations that he had undertaken with the Kalderash the previous night prevented her from interfering and stepping in to help the Scooby gang and that suited his plans perfectly.

He knew that they had received notice and been sent a meeting place and time and without someone spelling out to them that this was in fact a WAR and not a game, they would no doubt learn a very important lesson on how the world worked – and that too suited his plans.

As much as all of his plans had gone smoothly that night, it galled him that Angelus had managed to land that blow, it should not have been possible, he was stronger than that better. Or so he had thought.

He should have been stronger and faster than that, but the weak muggle body just refused to strengthen as fast as he would like, despite CSE’s efforts. In fact, without his reliance on his magic and CSE, he would be pitifully weak and insignificant amongst the dangers of the Hellmouth. He couldn’t help shuddering at the thought.

Still, he would ensure that Angelus died for the affront.

“You know he would not have had the chance, even as weak as you are, if you had just taken him out with all the weapons in your arsenal, or used me.” CSE appeared beside him smugly, replaying the moment his face hit the concrete floor in slow motion within his mind – Harry would never be able to forget that moment. CSE would not let him and for good reason, that mistake could have gotten him killed.

“CSE, I NEVER show what I am fully capable of, to my allies or enemies. The only people who know the limits of my power are dead, and I intend for it to stay that way. More than one ally has later become my enemy, all alliances are by their nature transient. It is a lesson that I learned through pain and blood a long time ago in my war with Voldemort. I make sure that I only make a mistake once.”

“No. People are either with me or against me. There is no grey area in between for alliances.”

Once, only once, had he allowed himself to give a little bit of trust to an ally during wartime. He had been relatively new to the wizarding world and CSE and he were still exploring their limits. When they had betrayed him it had been a bitter lesson in the conduct of conflict and in a wider war, and one that had shaped his thinking from then on. Not even Xander’s weak, emotional attachments that had threaded their way into his personality could change that. After all, he viewed everyday as a war against his enemies, a challenge to be overcome.

“Besides, I am more interested in the probes we launched earlier today. Were we right?”

His strike against the Whitehouse had fulfilled his plans beyond his expectations. Not only had it drawn their attention to the threat that the supernatural posed to their world. But it had destabilized the superpower and laid the foundations of future plans within plans that he knew would bear some VERY positive fruit in the future.

The heightened alert in which they held their forces was just candy since it had allowed him to properly assess their capability far more rapidly and with far greater efficiency than it would have otherwise been possible.

It boggled the mind that as splintered as humanity was, that someone had not taken over a lot sooner. Harry just smirked, ‘it will just make things ever more effortless.’

It was too simple to find a flashpoint that would splinter humanity further, there existed hundreds of potential flashpoints around the world, just waiting to be exploited. It was just like his attack on the Whitehouse, kicking over that anthill had resulted in economic, military and foreign policy uncertainty.

Finding a religious flashpoint in Indonesia, and exploiting it by launching his probes from a major city street, would exploit the religious flashpoints that existed there, sending ripples across the world and further isolating the US and its allies. ‘Such a silly idea, religion,’ Harry chuckled in anticipation to the confusion that would no doubt follow. ‘Praying for strength instead of seeking it - I probably would have taken a shot at it eventually anyway.’

But the launch of his probes was far more important than merely kicking over the preverbal anthill in some backward mud plane or dabbling further in the foreign policy space of Superpowers. No, he had by no means forgotten the threats out in the wider galaxy, threats that in his mind far outweighed any supernatural struggle that filled the cracks of society on earth and the probes were the first step in any potential defenses that he would later build.

As lax as humanity had been in designing and constructing planetary defenses, and as technologically backward as they were, a scout ship from a middling power could have annexed them long ago. A reliance on nothing but staying hidden amongst the stars was a poor defense, particularly when they insisted on emitting as much electromagnetic pollution as they could.

Harry shrugged, unconcerned. If they had managed to stay off the radar for as long as they had, then he had the months he needed to ramp up some proper defenses. Beyond that, once he had solved his labor issues, a fleet was well within the realms of possibility.

He had finally managed to build his base up enough such that the construction of inherently magical electronic devices could be manufactured with ease. The passive techno-magical devices would quickly disburse themselves among the gravitational eddies of the solar system and provide real time streaming of any potential external threats.

The probes inherent magical nature made it impossible to further overlay muggle repelling charms without inhibiting their function. Not that he was too worried, the so called missile launch would only draw more attention the multiple threats out there and could in no way be linked back to him.

“After our strike on the Whitehouse, US forces have only intensified their alertness. Economic volatility is at an all time high and electronic chatter has just started moving off secure networks allowing me to monitor and change data to our advantage. Harry, as we suspected the launch of our probes sparked frequent satellite sweeps of the area and I have found mention of a military op in planning that plans to base themselves here. The Initiative.”

“It seems that they have discovered rudimentary knowledge of the supernatural and between you message on in the oval office and the launch, which they mistakenly noted as a missile launch, they are planning further actions.” Unmentioned was the large body count. This was war and the message he had burnt onto the president’s desk and the ease in which he breached their defenses were far more noteworthy in his mind than a few dead bodies.

Though the ruthlessness that he had used was just as valid in pointing out the potential costs inherent in failure, it was not an option.

“It was inevitable that the most active of the seven Hellmouth’s would draw attention once a rudimentary knowledge of the supernatural was obtained.”

“Rudimentary,” he snorted in wry amusement “that will just get them killed.” Still, rudimentary was better than complete blindness, but he saw a few more bloodbaths in the future before the US gained much more knowledge than that. Setting up a base here though, in territory he had claimed, that was not on.

“Whatever, see what you can do to delay their deployment will you CSE, mess with their computers, their logistics, hijack a nuke, whatever it takes. I still need time before I can claim this town, hell this state, as my own before I directly confront the US military. When I do confront them, I want to do so from a position of strength and I want them to have a thousand other things to worry about besides ceding me some territory.”

Harry chuckled in dark amusement at the way his plans were unfolding as he continued his random wanderings among the dark streets of Sunnydale - Violently and chaotically, but still according to all of his carefully crafted plans.

He grunted in satisfaction, breaking his last train of thought, as a silent alarm was tripped. He had been waiting for that particular alarm to be tripped for a while now. For such a secretive and elite assassination organization as the Order of Teraka, and one that relied almost completely at remaining unseen and unnoticed, it had surprised him that the rings they wore, were overlaid with some very identifiable, albeit lowly powered, charms work.

He had compared the bronze and the silver rings from the collection he had been acquiring. ‘Elite assassins, they don’t know what one is. If I had my power back, I would strike fear into the heart of the organization and tear the walls around the bloody remains of any guild member who presumed to stand in my way,’ he thought with annoyance. Only his weakness allowed them to be the slightest threat, and their constant knowing at his plans was a constant reminder that he was far from what he had been.

The charms that overlaid the rings were an incredible oversight, and one that he had exploited mercilessly. As it was they had proved a distraction as they stole what little time he had to build up his former strength.

Despite the ease at which he had found the other assassins through their rings however, the last silver ringed assassin of Teraka had remained hidden for far longer than he was comfortable with. In a town that he controlled, no piece of information should have remained hidden from him for so long. Then there was timing of the blip, it was suspicious and he would have be careful, less he become entrapped. He no longer had the strength that he was used to and for the assassin to reappear just as Angelus’s plans were reaching fruition, was at best, an unhappy coincidence.

The fact that the remaining member of the hit squad, that had been tasked with taking him out, had managed to remain hidden and disguise the rings signature indicated that he was by far the most lethal, the most dangerous, and potential the most disrupting to his future plans out of the trio of assassins.

Still, he never let a challenge to his authority and power go unanswered and when he could not politically outmaneuver, manipulate events that would lead to an enemies down fall, or just assassinate a challenger unseen, direct combat was always an option.

Allowing a feral grin to spill out from underneath his hooded trench coat in anticipation to what would no doubt be a fight for his life, he allowed his magic to relax into his surroundings, mingling with the dark energies of the Hellmouth. A shimmer surrounded him as CSE seeded the surrounding air with millions of metallic, nanites, willing to instantaneously follow his commands in both attack and defensive actions.

The last surviving assassin was close to Sunnydales industrial park, near where he had been monitoring Angelus’s little gathering with his former buddies. The time had arrived to end the games he had been playing once and for all.

The time was now.

In fact he would have just enough time to conclude his business before the school children arrived to play. It was perfect. He may not have been completely ready, but he could feel in the depths of his magical core, that time plans and counter plans were over and it was time for Harry Potter to re-emerge. One way or another.

Conscious of a trap, Harry studied the area around the assassin for any sign of reinforcement or unusual magical residue. He couldn’t detect anything untoward, his observational bugs swarmed the area – with the Hellmouth obscuring everything, they would need to be careful not to miss even the most minor magics. Satified that he had not missed any pre-laid traps, he switched his examination onto the assassins remaining team member, looking for any hint as to what he had planned...and found him surprisingly disappointed.

The man was unspectacularly average. Neatly cropped hair, brown eyes and cleanly shaven, he lacked any visible scars or demonic disfigurements – in fact, he was slightly overweight as if from a sedentary lifestyle, and aside from the silver ring that adorned his left hand Harry would have had a hard time picking the assassin from the crowd.

Rather than putting him to ease, it put him in an even more alert state. This man was clearly good at what he did and became whoever he needed to be at the time, a seemingly perfect assassin. Harry snarled darkly, he had met and killed more assassins in his lifetime than the order had on their payroll. It was an integral component to the society he had set up, both within and outside of the family structures.

This average looking man would have to be hiding something spectacular to have called him out so confidently.

Regardless of the man’s clear challenge, and there being no sign of this being a trap, Harry aperated almost a block away and walked the remaining distance. Keeping a very close eye on his surroundings, almost in disbelief at the man’s arrogance, he strutting the final distance confidently towards the waiting Teraka member, he could not afford to show any hint of weakness, this would be no shadow play.

They were beyond that now, he had won that round. No, this was the pride of Teraka, an order that had never failed, against Harry Potter, great war and religious leader to his people. The fact that he was severely weakened did not come into it.

No – the only consideration was that this man clearly felt confident enough to challenge him such an arena, clearly the man knew something that he did not and that made him decidedly uneasy. Only one would walk away from this conclusion and he was used to ruthlessly exploiting the smallest mistakes. Still, he had to wonder what made this average looking man so overwhelmingly confident.

“So, you have stopped hiding, perfect – that will make this go much quicker.” Harry’s tone was arrogantly measured, all his sensors magical and technologic, on a constant watch for a trap. The other penny to drop, but he showed none of his uncertainty.

Nor did the assassin, he just stood there. Stoically.

“I have worm. My colleagues were weak - not worthy of the silver ring, and you have proven challenge enough to be able to face me when you meet your end. I can assure you, you will not leave this place.” Harry had to suppress a shiver at the chilled quality of the Assassins voice, it was as cold as a dementors and held as little life.

But it was the thickness, the oily blackness of the magic that rolled off the being that caused him to reconsider his original plans of simply magically and physically overwhelming the silver ringed assassin. Even his own was not as steeped in darkness and to his senses, his magic and that continuously roiling off the Hellmouth, shied away from the Assassins magical aura.

Judging from the way the mans magical repelled any other source of power, it was likely that any warding or traps laid by the man would have gone undiscovered anyway. CSE’s nanites screen, as imbued by his own magic as they were, proved ineffective in the face of the disturbing figures dark power.

He had only rarely encountered such a thing and each time it had proven a very dangerous encounter. His magical power would become next to useless in this context and his weak muggle body a dangerous hindrance. But, having encountered such a situation in a handful of cases in the past, and having survived them. He had a solution, if he had time to initiate them.

It was often the case, being so rare, that beings with such a power became over reliant and confident in their dark power. For a lesser opponent, it would not matter – they would quickly overwhelm all in their way. From what he had seen on this world, none existed with the power to overwhelm this assassin.

Then, he had never faced Harry Potter, he would have to overcome this threat with his own power and cunning, disavowing his reliance on CSE and his wealth of magical knowledge and the challenge would be a delicious foreplay to the confrontation that he knew was coming, if he survived.

“I see you have power of your own,” this time it was Harry the stood impassively, quickly running through a potential plan to a ridiculous margin of error, as the man smiled a cold and calculating smile.

“Maybe you have never encountered anyone stronger and felt confident that you never would, your magical power is impressive. I have seen you take down those other fools that carried the silver ring with it quickly. I have studied your limits and now I have little doubt that you will die.” Harry studied the man carefully, the dark assassin’s magic seemed be growing thicker, blacker and if the man HAD watched his fights with the other two assassins then he certainly knew of some of his favorite tactics – he was right in saying that none of them would work against him in this fight.

Anything created by his magic was worthless in the face of his dark power – but the assassin was foolish to think he had seen all of what Harry was capable of and he wasn’t suicidal enough to try to use his power against such an enemy.

“But the Order of Teraka is OLD. It knows mysteries that have long been lost, to me your power means little. To those, whose power I channel, it means even less.”

Harry shook his head, and ordered CSE to recall all the nanites – in this fight they would be useless and he would need the energy if this conflict became prolonged. ‘Why did they always want to gloat’ he thought in annoyance and disgust at the man’s gloating arrogance, ‘time was a wasting, gloat after I’m dead assassin.’

Deciding to hurry things up a little and put his plan into action, Harry conjured a giant whip of flame and watched as it easily sliced through the brick, steel and bitumen alike, igniting the surrounding wooden structures and even melting the stone on which the stood with it’s intense heat– but left the average looking man standing unharmed – as expected. The magic that had gone into conjuring the superheated stream of air, became nullified upon contact to his dark aura.

Secondary flames started to engulf some of the neighboring buildings, adding smoke and heat to the battlefield which only aided him in a prolonged engagement. CSE would ensure that his blood remained oxygenated, and his thoughts clear and unconfused from smoke inhalation. This assassin did not have that advantage, his blood would quickly become poisoned, his lungs choked and his thoughts muddled. Time was once again on his side.

“As you seem so keen to die, I will oblige you.”

Harry slipped away happily as the man’s retaliatory magical strike shattered the two warehouses that had previously been located beside where he had been standing, merely adding more fuel to the inferno that would soon engulf this entire district. As expected, the assassin gave chase through the maze of the industrial sector, following Harry’s lead, thinking that he was running him down.

In this fight, his magic was useless as a primary weapon and as thickly as the man’s black power surrounded him, he did not like the thought of getting close enough to take him on physically. His two largest advantages had been stripped from him, but as much as the assassin had lambasted him about over reliance on magic, he had fallen into the same trap. The power that he had boasted to channeling, had allowed him to neglect other areas of offensive and defensive capability.

‘Now this was a fight he would relish in the years to come,’ Harry thought in delight as he narrowly avoided being blasted to his constituent atoms, even as his destructive follow up failed to penetrate the mans magical defenses. He would have enjoyed watching anyone else being flayed alive by the flurry of conjured blades from an unexpected direction.

Unnoticed by the man was the way the blades scattered the debris and guided the spread of the growing fire. Already Harry could feel the back drafts, and differential in air pressures as the fires sucked as much air as it could to fuel itself. It was just as he predicted.

His strength, cunning and ruthlessness matched against a foe that, he freely admitted, held more magical power than he would, at the rate that CSE was rebuilding his core, for years to come. In fact, he doubted that the man would have been so easy to lead around the battle field if he had been a little more ruthless and a little less sadistic. He was enjoying playing with a seemingly helpless victim too much for his own good.

By the time he realized that his poor victim had teeth, it would be too late. He would be trapped in blistering heat, and the air would be sucked from his lungs. The man would die an agonizing death of being burnt alive.

‘Stop enjoying this so much and put this arrogant bastard down,’ CSE yelled from inside his mind as a stray piece of debris took a chunk from his face, missing his eye by millimeters. CSE would eventually heal it, without a scar, and was merely vocalizing his annoyance at this fight taking so long – but the inferno was almost ready. The dark assassin almost just where he wanted the man.

“I will enjoy roasting you alive with all the powers at my command,’ the assassin laughed heartily, effortlessly shattering another building in his path as Harry slipped another corner.

It was over almost as soon as it started, despite his power and the assassins overwhelming magical advantage in stripping Harry of his most powerful tools. The man had grown lazy and over-reliant on his often overwhelming magic. Once he had started to breathe in noxious fumes, it became merely a dangerous game of cat and mouse. No longer a challenge.

It was a disappointment and one that he hoped he could take out on Angelus. Despite all the man’s boasting, he had been almost easier to take down than the others.

“It is over,” Harry stopped, turning to face the average looking and slightly overweight man. He had not escaped unscathed either as the flames encroached from all directions. The man’s clothes were steaming dangerously and his face was covered with a layer of ash and his reddened skin could be seen sharply through the black and white ash.

Harry knew that they were both a sight as they stared at each other in the middle of the inferno.

“Yes it is.” The assassin agreed as he drew deeply on his dark power. The channeled magics boiled dangerously at his unstable emotions. “There is nowhere else to run.”

Harry just smiled disappointingly. For all the man’s destructive power, he had been lead around by the nose, confused and disorientated by the smoke and flames. He was even giving Harry the few seconds he needed to build an unnecessarily powerful attack, as if Harry would just stand and take it.

Pitiful.

Harry aperating out as the flames converged on their position, the small clearing that they had sought away from the flames reached flashpoint. Harry new that any air would have vanished in an instant as the very stones burned from the intense heat, sucked away by the hungry flames and pushed aside by poisonous and superheated gasses . A deadly environment, quickly created by nature not magic, and so not taken out by his magic’s, the assassin would not even have had the breathe to scream.

Already he could feel CSE working to heal his wounds from the chase and Harry had to admit that once again, his lack of strength, had almost become critical. The chase, mere child’s play, had almost entirely stripped him of most of his reservoirs of energy.

Time – he was out of TIME and he still had Angelus to deal with.

Snarling animalisticly, Harry took of in the direction of the hideout that he knew they were holed up in. The fire might jump to their building and he wanted to catch them before the scattered. Already he could hear sirens in the distance. One way or another tonight would finish it.

He could feel it.


*****

“Aarggg, why won’t it come out?” Angelus cried out in a rage, fruitlessly tugging at the sword that wedged itself into the chest of the demon Acathla.

The master vampire’s actions just caused Spike to reflect. ‘How things had changed,’ he thought childishly as he stared blankly at the body hanging from the rafters of the warehouse that had become their newest lair. The body’s neck was bent unnaturally around a leather noose and a pair of reading glasses were fragmented and embedded into the man’s eyes.

Even if the man had wanted to answer Angelus cry, he was far beyond that now.

Spike dragged a deep breathe through his cigarette and glanced forlornly at his undead lover Drusilla. She was singing almost inaudibly to her self as she made a necklace out of what was left of the mans fingers and toes, he had watched as they had slowly been detached from the man through the course of the day. His cries of pain, went unanswered to his end.

No-one noticed tortured screams in Sunnydale, and even if they did happen to notice screams – in the industrial park where they had set up, they would have been fearfully ignored. Too many deserted Warehouses shielded from sunlight.

“I should have turned him when I had the chance, just so I could have torture the British bastard some more. Why didn’t you answer?” Spike watched as Angelus turned his frustrations on further mutilating the watchers body.

Turning his gaze from his recently returned Sire, Spike couldn’t help but sulk a little. He had been relegated to little more than the weak little fledgling minions that lounged around their lair uselessly. ‘No bloody pride,’ Spike thought with distaste as he watched them waste away their undead lives. They didn’t even have a taste for the greatness that was possible for their kind, or the power available to them.

‘Relegated to minion,’ Spike thought depressingly, lighting up another cigarette – his third in a row. ‘I’ve had just enough of it, Angelus can sodding well go crawl back under the rock he came from.’

All his plans, his power, had been effectively taken from him. He hadn’t felt this useless since they had rampaged through Europe, with Darla, as the Scouge, and then he could take his frustrations out, without consequences, on the cattle that filled the land. He could indulge in a bit of wanton slaughter.

Now, he couldn’t even do that – a bloody Slayer infested the Hellmouth, not to mention this damned Holder, and he wasn’t careless enough to want to take either one of them on without careful planning.

“That Holder of a Hellmouth, you will get yours. I’ll make sure of it,” Angelus’s rage was building, Spike noted in concern. It would be just a matter of time before he was unwillingly dragged into something suicidal. He liked to think that he had grown in cunning and power since those days of Europe. Suicidal was not how he described any of his plans lately, and he wasn’t about to restart.

The holder was definitely on his stay clear off list. He didn’t delude himself in thinking that there wasn’t anything bigger or badder out there.

Yet Angelus clearly had little fear of the blond Slayer, capturing and torturing her watcher was an invitation to be hunted down. Maybe the master vampire knew something he didn’t. Spike smirked, while he had two slayers under his belt, Angelus had one notched on his bedpost. Now that, would gain him boasting rights in the demon community for decades.

As for this self proclaimed ‘Holder of the Hellmouth.’ No one knew what his angle was.

Spike’s eye was drawn away from the pacing and ranting Angelus and back to the stripped carcass that hang from the ceiling, noting the half dozen iron spikes driven through the body at points that he knew where carefully chosen to deliver maximum pain and minimum damage. Prolonging the pain.

He liked a spot of torture as much as the next vampire, but what he had witnessed through the day. Spike shook his head, Angelus had been in a rage like he had rarely seen and the watcher had paid for it. Rather than calming him down however, his Sire was even more enraged. To the end, the British watcher had not given up the information that Angelus was certain that he had held.

He was tough, and he never seen it like. Maybe he hadn’t known.

‘Nahh,’ thought Spike with another long drag, ‘he had known something and hadn’t given it up.’ Not many could stand up to an enraged Angelus like that and as soon as he finished his cigarette he would take back his warehouse. It rankled that a mortal had done what he feared to, then again, he didn’t want to be tortured to death either and Angelus was almost berserk by now.

Spike lowered his cigarette for a minute, catching a hint of wood smoke, before shrugging and taking a long drag. He was probably just smelling his own cigarette.

Thus far, Angelus’s rage and savagery combined with his discovery of Acathla, had allowed him leeway in taking over but now his gambit with the watcher had failed. He had failed, and The Judge had probably fully recovered from his dismemberment by now. Not even a few vamp minions could stand up to The Judge if he decided enough was enough and master vamp or not, Angelus would not stand up to a demon like The Judge. Immune to his primary power or not.

“How the mighty have fallen,” Spike watched as the Judge stepped closer to the ranting master vampire from where he too had been watching Angelus’s raging. It seemed that the blue skinned demon too, had run out of patience and was ready to make his own play. He was comfortable watching, there would be a greater opportunity after any fight between the two, and after all, no-one in their right mind took on a bloody berserker Angelus’s and lived about it.

“While I was not conscious as you would deem it, even I had heard whisperings of Angelus’s ruthlessness, savagery, power.” The Judge’s booming voice drew the attention of the minions to the latest power play in the group. Spike had little doubt who would win the scuffle and as much as he wished to see his basted Sire humiliated after he had pushed him and his plans aside, he was sure that this was not a fight he wanted to interfere in.

Slowly moving closer to Drusilla, Spike eyed the sewer entrance towards the back of the warehouse. If things spun out of control, he would make sure he could quickly escape.

“Now, despite no stink of humanity on you – I am disappointed. You are weak, and you ally yourself to weakness.” Simultaneously, all of Angelus’s fledgling minions, who Spike had dismissed in distaste lit up in flames as their humanity was rapidly burned from them. Their screams and the ease in which The Judge had flamed them sent a shiver down his undead spine and he moved closer to Drusilla and the sewer exit. He definitely did not feel up to the heat, there were still too many people to kill and plans to bedevil.

In fact, Spike would have already fled, but Drusilla was still humming to herself contently in the corner, playing with her necklace of fingers and toes. It had been her birthday after all.

This was bad.

Spike watched as Angelus slowly turned to face the blue skinned demon, snarling more like an animal than a human. His demon felt closer to the surface than Spike had ever seen in a vampire, master or fledgling.

So engrossed in the approaching conflict, Spike missed the smoke that started to drift under the almost closed roller doors of the warehouse, and the slight increase in ambient temperature.

“Do you think,” Angelus crouched low as if ready to lunge, “that my minions matter anymore than your thicker demonic blood. I will see you dismantled for another six hundred years.”

Angelus lunched at The Judge, clawing for the eyes and teeth lashing for the Blue skinned throat. But The Judge had been old before Angelus been born and easily matched the master vampires formidable strength and savagery with a hearty laugh.

With a pained snarl, Angelus was flung helplessly at the demon he had felt would help him such the world into hell. Landing heavily, blood splattered over from a shattered eye socket and flattened nose, over the sword causing it to twitch. Seizing the opportunity, Angelus yanked the sword out of Acathla, not even bothering to notice the demon start to draw breath, and held it before him in an aggressive stance.

The Judge just stood unconcerned by the development as the dust of an army of fledgling vampires swirled at his feet.

“Blood magic, why does it always have to be blood magic.”

The open roller door shuttered and groaned as it slammed into its tracks, allowing Spike, Angelus and The Judge to see the raging inferno that surrounded the warehouse, unnoticed until now. Now open, Spike could feel the air being suckled out of the enclosed space and the thick black spoke rolling in. He was glad vampires did not need to breath, being dead and all.

“The poor bastard probably didn’t know after all.” Spike stared at the suicidal figure that had just interrupted the fight between a berserker Angelus and The Judge. His trench coat was ripped and torn as if having just survived a war, just to smolder and smoke dangerously from the heat of the inferno. A large bloody gouge was missing from his face just below his right eye and piercing green eyes starred mockingly at the mutilated corpse of the Slayers watcher.

“Well, if it isn’t the white knight himself, or should I call you doughnut boy now Xander.” Angelus, lowered his sword, saluting mockingly, and Spike stepped back in surprise, why would….? Something was seriously wrong here.

‘What wasn’t wrong?’ he asked himself worryingly. A mouth of hell was opening up at their feet, his Sire had gone berserk on the Judge and now Xander had just walked in, unconcerned at the overwhelming odds or the watchers tortured corpse, confident.

“I prefer Holder of the Hellmouth now actually,” ‘Yes, definitely time to disappear.’ Spike thought getting ready to club Drusilla and cart her off. Still, his deeper instincts told him to stay, watch, witness what was about to unfold. Something was about to shake the dimensions and change things forever.

“You, the holder? Don’t make me laugh boy.” Spike watched fearfully as a silvery sheen descended from the air, engulfing the three figures, distorting his view. Angelus’s just stood their, ignorant of the danger.

“Heh – let me just take care of The Judge and I will be right with you Angelus.” Despite his proclamation, Xander remained still, staring at the master vampire, appearing to ignore the blue skinned demon altogether. Spike, moved deeper into the shadows, disguising himself in the thick smoke that had filled the warehouse, if this was indeed the holder he had been hearing so much about, then anything was possible.

“Don’t be foolish boy, I can smell your human taint from here and no weapon forged by man can ever harm me.”

Spike blinked in surprise, human taint; did that mean he was mortal? Was the Holder in fact Human?

“Who said anything about Human forged demon?” Spike shivered again in uncertainty and fear, the cruel smirk that graced the boys face was unholy. Then the screaming begun.

The Judge who had been so indifferent to Angelus’s berserker rage, screamed in an agony filled voice. Spike still couldn’t see any movement from the Holder, and the mouth to hell grew wider. Instincts or not, he would need to flee soon. Still, he had to admit that the extent to which that attack had strained him was increasingly hard to tell from his view through all the smoke.

“Impressive,” Angelus grunted and stepped closer to the pair as The Judge’s cries grew fainter and the demon stumbled, his skin stripped from his flesh, and bones seemingly disintegrating within his body, removing the support that his frame required to stand. Was this the power of the Holder? Spike reinforced his view that The Holder was definitely on his off limits list.

“Yes, CSE can be quite creative.” Xander smirked at the master vampire who still bore the wounds from his fight with The Judge. Spike glanced down at what remained of the blue skinned demon. A smear on the concrete. If he could do something like that to a demon of the Judges power with such seeming ease, then no one was safe, despite Angelus’s bravado.

Glancing at Drusilla, and at the still growing gateway to Hell, Spike made a decision. Angelus had gradually gotten closer to the Holder, no doubt in an attempt to surprise him with that massive sword he had ripped out of Acathla. Spike was convinced that Angelus’s action would be in vain.

No, he would send them both to hell and then he was getting as far away from Sunnydale as he could.

In a reminder that he too was a master vampire, Spike rushed the two combatants, silently and visibly shielded by the thick black smoke that had been created by the burning industrial park, and body slammed them both into the gateway. Only Angelus looked surprised as they both disappeared into the gapping maelstrom of demonic energy. Xander actually looked amused as the vortex closed after them.

And that amused smirk would haunt him for months.

A thud sounded as the rafter that held the mutilated corpse of the watcher burnt through, reminding him it was more than time to leave.

By the time, Buffy and Willow struggled through the flames at the edge of the inferno in a belated attempt to rescue their watcher, it was all over.

The sound of retching could be heard over the roaring flames, and they barely made it back out again – without the watchers body. Things would not bee the same again.

*****

“The damage to the game is almost irreversible,” announced a disembodied voice that sounded like both a man and a woman speaking almost in synchronicity.

“Our suspension of the rules have not had the expected effect.” The voice continued. The game board that the voices had been monitoring for time immeasurable was pitted and cracked. The red and blue spheres that had previously danced and maneuvered with an intensely bright clarity were now masked by a black growth.

“We may need to destroy the pieces to restore the game.”

“Did you really expect the suspension of the rules to restore the game to what it was and has been since the beginning?” A dark whisper hissed in mockery. “Were you that naïve, to have been out played so easily?”

A deep chuckle boomed through the plane that had been constructed for this very reason. “Your power was in its ascendancy when you forced this game upon us. You so called ‘powers that be’, failed to see the evil and chaos in the world, in humanity. This game is the epitome of Order. We are glad to get rid of it.”

“Your rules were a farce, and now it is ended. The game has changed and the conflict that is coming will not be fought through oracles and proxies. You have forgotten, and it is time to remember what it was like to take a direct role in events.”

The dark hissing chuckle grew to a hearty gale as the game board broke apart. The red and blue colored pieces scattered and mingled, loosing their former color. “Without the game board, both of our Champions will be cut adrift and the Chaos generated will prove me RIGHT. After so long you will witness.”

“What of them? They will interfere.” The duel voices, identified as the powers that be, spoke out. Emotions such as anger, and loss meant little to beings of power such as these. “You will not win, the bet is still ongoing even as both our millennial long plans are disrupted.”

“Like you, they have their own interpretation of the universe, they will not interfere as long as the bounds set when even WE were children, remain.”


“And I will watch your prideful downfall. It is ever thus.” A third mocking voice entered, this time ignored by both sides.

And so, the plane that had monitored and manipulated thousands upon thousands of generations of mortals, simply, ceased to exist. Without the purpose that it had been created for, the powers that had previously sustained it disappeared.

Everything that was, that had been thought to be, changed.

The End

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