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

Summary: Part 3 of ToF Trilogy- What if Glory wasn't the hell God that was driven out of her hell dimension, but rather the two gods that opposed her? Buffy and crew are about to find out first hand how two lesser hell gods aren't necessarily better than one.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Pretender
Harry Potter > Buffy-Centered
LisetteFR1522146,09471819,64914 Aug 0328 Sep 03Yes

Chapter 5


Sacrifice Par Amarth: Chapter 5
by Lisette

Legalese: See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.

O o O o O o O

"So you remember that thing Dumbledore said about us never getting our groove back?" Buffy asked as everyone settled into the many chairs littered around Jarod's office. By unspoken agreement, Buffy and Harry were once more sitting on the large, black leather couch, side by side and drawing strength from each other in the simple brush of their shoulders. On either side of them sat Giles and Sirius, large, over-stuffed leather chairs drug in as close as they could so that their knees were touching, even as Jarod and Miss Parker sat a little further back in their rather lopsided circle. "Well, he was a little off on that mark - as in no where near the target - like continents off," she continued, shrugging her shoulders simply as a deep silence fell over the room.

"Good lord," Giles murmured, his breath catching in his throat as he automatically pulled his glasses from his nose and began to polish them furiously on the hem of his sweater. "You mean that... that you... and he..."

"We've, uh..." Harry began as Sirius' gaze narrowed on him in a mix of wonder and disbelief. "Well, Buffy and I have been getting better for a while now. We're not back to full strength, by any means," he quickly stressed. "Buffy's getting stronger, but she's still not that much stronger than I am-"

"And Harry's quite capable of floating pineapples," Buffy interrupted with a bright smile that seemed at odds with her earlier unease, "but I wouldn't ask him to work on a Volvo or anything," she finished with a small smirk as Harry rolled his eyes at her description. But as the heavy silence thickened, the small slayer quickly strove to explain what Dumbledore had either been unable or simply unwilling to do so himself. "Giles," she murmured, eyes drifting until they locked with her watcher's incredulous gaze, "we left you all back in July because we needed to find out who we were. We needed to find Buffy and Harry again. And we did." Sharing a small, brief smile with Harry, Buffy quickly squeezed his hand before turning once more to her watcher, her other hand reaching out until it was entwined in Giles' weathered grip. "I was Chosen to be the Slayer and that's something that can't be undone by anything. I can't just stop being a slayer anymore than Harry can stop being a wizard. You can't separate the Buffy from the Slayer anymore than you can separate the Harry from the wizard. It's who we are."

"B-b-but shouldn't Dumbledore have known this?" Giles stammered, wide eyes quickly turning to Sirius for support - for some way to explain this to him. While a part of him had been secretly thrilled to learn that Buffy was no longer the slayer - that she could be safe, protected, and live the kind of life that she had always deserved to live, another larger part of him had mourned the part of her that he thought dead and gone forever.

Buffy as the Vampire Slayer, the Chosen One, was a force to be reckoned with and a great champion for the world in the fight against darkness. While he may have been slightly biased seeing as how she was his slayer, he was never afraid to admit that in his opinion, she was one of the finest, if not the finest slayer that had ever been. She was powerful and dedicated to the cause and a stunning creature to watch in battle. She was beautiful and when she moved against an opponent, he found it quite obvious that this was something that Buffy had been born to do. And while she had struggled with her destiny for many years, when she had finally accepted her fate, she had accepted it with all of her heart and that acceptance had made her even more determined and an even greater warrior... which made it all the more heartbreaking to see her fall so far after Voldemort's defeat.

After the battle she had been nearly as lost and as broken as she had been when she had been liberated from the Centre's hold - but even then she had never truly lost a part of herself. Oh, she had lost dearly from that escapade: her mother, her home, her own mind, for a time - and most sad of all, whatever innocence that had survived her calling was gone forever. But she had never truly lost herself. Yet when faced with the consequences of Voldemort's defeat - what she had lost in that battle was a part of herself and Giles had secretly wondered if she would ever be whole again. And now, it seemed she was - a fact that his brain was desperately trying to come to turns with.

For a moment, Giles' question remained unanswered as Sirius looked to him, to Harry, to Buffy, and then back to Giles - before turning back to Harry once more. For Sirius, there had never been any secret joy at what fate had done to James and Lily's son. For a wizard, to suddenly face life as a muggle or a squib was a brutal fate and he had mourned for Harry's loss very deeply. He had put on a brave face for Harry and tried his best to see the bright side of the matter, such as the fact that at least Harry was still alive, but once Harry had left on his soul-searching trip with Buffy... well, Sirius had fallen apart. His depression had been deep and had it not been for Remus and Harry's occasional letter, he doubted that he would have been able to pull out of it - which made the ensuing months of Harry's disappearance all the more difficult. But to have him back, and still a wizard... Sirius was also having problems getting his mind to work straight.

"Perhaps he already did," Harry supplied for his godfather with a simple shrug. "Maybe he wanted for us to realize that who we are has never changed - not really."

"Could this have something to do with why the headmaster was unable to locate them?" Giles murmured, forcing his overloaded mind to focus on the smaller details rather than the overwhelming realization that Buffy was fine. She was fine, she was whole, she was safe and once more, she was the Slayer.

"No," Sirius disagreed, his mind whirling. "If anything, that should have made it easier," he countered, his battered mind trying to lethargically sort through the puzzle. "Remus told me that something kept blocking Dumbledore's attempts to find them."

"But if not their returning strength, what?"

As both adults lapsed into a puzzled silence, Buffy slowly turned until she was meeting Harry's concerned gaze. Sighing, she watched him nod and, taking a deep breath, she then proceeded to voice both of their unspoken fears. "I think that there's something wrong with us," she murmured, her words a whispered testament to her confusion - but so startling in the silent room that instantly all eyes were locked on her small form. More importantly, they locked on the tears that were glistening in Buffy's eyes as Harry quickly draped an arm over her shoulders.

"I don't know what's going on," Harry added, frowning as he tried to sort through his jumbled thoughts and emotions, "but I feel like something is wrong," he admitted with a helpless shrug as he took up the mantle of trying to explain something that neither of them understood. Sighing, the lanky teen ran his free hand through his unkempt hair, his eyes darting around the office, flitting over Jarod and Miss Parker, Giles and Sirius, before finally landing on his hand that lay resting in his lap. "I don't know why we haven't stayed in touch and why we just disappeared. To be honest, neither of us really questioned it until we received the howler. Lately, though," he added, his voice dying as he finally lifted his gaze and locked with Sirius' confused eyes. "Lately something has been driving us to keep moving, to stay together, and to stay away from all that we know - especially from Sunnydale and everything related to it. Even now I still feel it. My instincts are telling me that we shouldn't be here. That we shouldn't be seeing you. That we're putting ourselves in danger by being here with you," he finished, wishing he could take back his rushed words at the stark pain that radiated from Sirius' bent form.

"But that's ridiculous," Sirius returned, his voice sounding much higher than normal. "I'm your godfather - I'd never hurt you."

"I know that," Harry quickly agreed, gritting his teeth in frustration as his free hand clenched into a tight fist. "But the feeling is still there. It... it feels like we're endangering something by being here... endangering Buffy," he murmured with sudden realization, his words coming quicker now as his eyes flashed to the slayer beside him in confusion. "Sirius, I need to stay with her, protect her - keep her safe and hidden."

"How... how long have you felt this way?" Giles asked, his eyes drifting back and forth between Harry's frustration and the fear and confusion that Buffy seemed to be fighting. And instinctively, Giles knew that it wasn't some threat known only to them that frightened his slayer in a way that not even Lord Voldemort himself had been able to, but rather the obviously unknown problem - the unknown thing that had caused the two teens to act against their very nature for so long. How could Buffy fight an opponent she didn't know where to find?

Harry shrugged his shoulders, suddenly extremely weary and feeling every bit of the long journey that they had undertaken to get here - felt with a sinking heart every unknown fear that had been lurking far beneath his subconscious mind. "I don't know," he muttered, his voice sullen and bleak as he turned his green eyes angrily to the hand that was clenched so tightly in his lap.

"Well, I think it's obvious that whatever happened, must have happened while they were in Switzerland," Jarod volunteered, having quietly followed the conversation from his arm chair a little beyond their circle. "That's where they were supposed to meet up with their friends, right?"

"Yes, but what happened?" Buffy returned, growling in frustration. "I don't remember anything wrong - nothing's happened!"

Sighing, Giles quickly pinched the bridge of his nose as he tried to sort through the jumbled mess of information that they had been given after so many months of false hopes and leads. "I don't understand," he admitted, shaking his head curtly as he focused on the two teens. "Where have you been these past two months?"

Harry shared a quick glance with Buffy before shrugging his shoulders helplessly. "All over," he admitted, realizing the truth behind that statement. "We - we haven't stayed in the same place for over two or three days since we left Switzerland."

"Why did you pull all of your money from your muggle bank accounts?" Sirius asked, watching as a look of confusion twisted his godson's features.

"Because... because it was just easier that way," he murmured, as though realizing for the first time how odd that statement was. How odd their actions had been.

"And how have you been staying out of the computers for so long?" Giles returned, his unease deepening as the questions seemed to further unnerve the teens, instead of aiding them. "Willow hasn't been able to find a single mention of your names in reservation lists or passenger details in months."

"We haven't been using our real names," Buffy admitted, for the first time wondering why they would do such a ridiculous thing. "Before we left Switzerland we picked up several fake passports and have been using those because... because it's safer this way," she murmured, wide green eyes pleading with her watcher to help her understand their strange actions.

But Giles had nothing to offer his slayer save more of the many questions that had troubled his thoughts for the past two months. It always came back down to one simple admonishment set in the simplest of questions. "Why didn't you contact us?"

"I don't know," Buffy whispered, her voice cracking beneath the strain of her words, tears glistening in her eyes. "I know we should have contacted you earlier - especially when we started getting our stuff back, but... but I don't know why we didn't. I'm sorry," she whispered, obviously just as frustrated by her vague answers as everyone else.

Sensing a situation that was quickly deteriorating and obviously getting them nowhere, Miss Parker slowly stood from her leather chair and smoothed her tight skirt over long legs. "Well, I, for one, could use something to drink," she muttered as she turned and headed towards a small bar that was set against the far wall. "Jarod, where do you keep your scotch?" she asked, arching an eyebrow at the man that continued to stare at the two teens as though a new puzzle had been dropped in his lap - a new and very disturbing puzzle. When he didn't answer, she rolled her eyes in annoyance and helped herself to a bottle of water before making her way back to the group; a group that continued to look as though someone had just run over their favorite pet - repeatedly.

Frowning, Miss Parker decided that she had enough of this little visit down the rabbit's hole and tried for a little reality. "So let me get this straight," she stated, eyes drifting over the assembled group. "You two skipped town about two months ago and have been on the run ever since - but you don't remember why. You're still a wizard and you're still a slayer," she continued, pointing at each teen in turn even as she forced herself to give name to the odd title, "and the best reason you can come up with for your erratic behavior is-"

"We don't know," Buffy repeated, her voice more firm this time as she straightened imperceptibly under Miss Parker's narrowed gaze. "All I know is that something is wrong - that there's something going on that I should remember," she added, a hard edge lining her voice as she realized the full implication of her words. After Lyle and Raines' perversion of her mind and the ensuing violence that had followed, the thought that someone had once more done something to alter that which should have been hers alone... to think that someone had played God with her mind and her memories once more... it was enough to make even the most laid back of slayers want to kill something - and then kill it again. "We don't know and that's what we need you to figure out."

O o O o O o O

Faith made her way carefully through the factory, Celeste moving quietly at her back. Even though the older slayer would never admit it, she had been worried about bringing the kid along - especially when their particular task called for breaking into the factory beneath the bright light of day. As she had skirted the fence, still broken from her run-in with the biker vamp the night before, she had fully expected the security guard, or one of his friends, to start blowing their little whistles at them before they alerted the cops to their illegal entrance - or even worse, drawing their guns. When that hadn't happened, and even stranger, they had encountered no resistance whatsoever in making their way into the factory, Faith found her muscles growing tighter as she threw her senses far and wide about her, just waiting for the other shoe to drop. It was easy - far too easy and that made Faith nervous. And if there was one thing that Faith didn't like, it was being nervous.

Scowling, Faith quickly drew her attention back to the long, concrete stairs that she and Celeste were slowly making their way up. The bottom floor of the building had been deserted and the only footprints to be found on the dusty floor all headed in the same direction - and that was towards the gaping maw that stood before them.

"Faith, look," Celeste murmured, the tall girl moving past the older slayer and lightly running her fingers over the jagged metal that used to be the hinges of whatever door had guarded this place.

Frowning, Faith felt her nerves tingling as she forced herself to bite back her anxious words for the kid to stay beside her. Celeste was a slayer and had just as much right to go traipsing through an abandoned factory to look for clues as she did. Then again, as Faith took in the twisted metal that used to be the large metal door, laying just a few feet beyond the jagged opening, she began to reevaluate her earlier estimates. Whatever took that door off was strong. As in really, really strong.

"Kid, we better-" Faith began, only to forget what she was saying as she realized that the girl was no longer beside her. "Celeste!" she hissed as she angrily spun around and watched as the tall girl sprinted across the room and slid to a stop before a single chair that sat before a large, grimy window. A chair that held a man, bound to the wood with tight ropes, that looked like he had been used as one of Faith's punching bags for God-only-knew how long. "Celeste!" she hissed again, hurrying after the girl as her eyes swept desperately around the room. For as smart as the kid was, apparently she had missed the fact that the man's face and body were decorated by blood. Fresh blood.

Seemingly oblivious to Faith's angry concern, Celeste quickly went to work on the ropes, the man's hazy brown eyes blinking at her through a stream of red blood. "T'inquiéte pas," she whispered reassuringly, trying to smile for the beaten man. "We found your Dagon Sphere - it was yours, was it not?" she asked, trying to keep up a litany of words in hopes of distracting the man from the agonizing pain that he had to be suffering. But all of her attempts at distraction seemed a moot point to a man whose eyes never quite met hers - a man who was already lost to the world around him and hidden in his own private hell.

"Faith, who would do such a thing?" she asked, drawing her eyes away from the man and cursing vehemently in French at a particularly stubborn knot - only to freeze as she realized the stupidity of her actions. As she reached out and snapped the ropes with the slightest of pressure, she nearly hit herself as she remembered the strength that she was still getting used to.

"I'm guessing that they did," Faith returned evenly, her eyes alighting on something that wasn't old machinery or dusty crates. Straightening, the dark-haired slayer frowned as she took in the man and woman that were casually ambling in their direction. They both looked to be in their mid-twenties, the woman standing around 5'10" and slender, a gauzy white skirt and blouse hugging her perfect curves and causing her porcelain-colored skin to glow under the dim lighting, her long, curly red hair falling in ringlets down her back. The man, however, was what really drew Faith's attention - and what caused her frown to immediately turn upside down. He stood around six feet tall, slim with short black hair that framed his face in small curls, and eyes that seemed violet-colored in the bad lighting. With high cheekbones and a straight nose, he looked aristocratic - or else like the hottest guy to ever grace Faith's sight. Grinning seductively, her eyes traveled slowly up the black pants that hugged his long, lean legs and slim hips, to the loose shirt that was buttoned over his chest and showed off two nicely toned arms, before finally settling on the hard, violet-colored eyes. "And hello, gorgeous," she murmured appreciatively, unconsciously running both hands over her own leather clad curves.

"Why Ser," the guy murmured in return, his voice deep and ringing - sounding so beautiful that Faith was quite sure that she could sit and listen to him talk dirty to her all day long, "it looks as though someone is trying to make away with our Monk," he chuckled, his long-lashed eyes glancing dismissively at the two girls that flanked the beaten man.

"So it would seem," Ser agreed, a large smile lifting her red lips as she spent a little more time taking in the two girls. One was young, more girl than woman, and close to her own height with raven dark hair and wide blue eyes. This one hovered protectively over their monk, her pale hands clasping reflexively on the man's shoulders as her eyes turned to the older girl beside her. Following her gaze, her eyes met the brown-eyed gaze of the other girl, this one more woman than girl, and slightly shorter than the other - but with eyes that seemed hardly frightened or wary of their presence - eyes that invited danger with a strange relish. A puzzling combination that Ser immediately found appealing. "And while you've just ate, I'm starving - and they'll do nicely," she finished as the man began to walk towards the girls, a slow smile lifting his lips.

Straightening, Celeste began to edge nervously away from the two strangers while still trying to keep between the pair and the man that was lolling in a near unconscious state behind her. While this Ser and her male companion hardly looked like they could be very dangerous, the proof of that false hope rested in the twisted wreckage of the metal doors and the bloodied man behind her. There was also her watcher's final warning: anything that goes unnamed is usually an object of deep worship or great fear, maybe both. She wondered which they had received in the beautiful packaging that stood before them.

But while the kid was filled with a deep fear and respect for what they faced, Faith, of course, took a vastly different look at the situation. "How did you know that I was itching for a fight?" she asked, a cocky grin plastered across her painted lips as she strutted forward, focusing on the guy as they began to circle one another - each appraising the other. When he gave no answer, she shrugged noncommittally and continued with her musings. "So what are you?" she continued, eyes narrowed as she took in the eyes that were indeed the most beautiful shade of violet that she had ever seen. "Because you're obviously not a vamp," she added as the man circled through a patch of dirty sunlight that was streaming through the large window. "Demon?" she asked, considering the idea for the briefest of moments before quickly discarding it. If this guy was a demon, Faith quickly decided that Buffy's thing for the unnatural had a bit of reason after all. "'Cause whatever you are," the slayer continued, eyes narrowing further as she finally listened to what her senses had been telling her all along, "you're definitely not human," she finished as she quickly danced forward and landed a vicious right cross on the guy, putting all of her impressive strength behind the blow - only to stagger back, her aching hand cradled in the other's embrace and brown eyes wide in shock.

"Why Dahm," Ser called out, her beautiful voice echoing in the factory as Dahm slowly wiped a small trickle of blood from a split lip that immediately began to heal, "I do believe that she drew blood."

"She's strong," Dahm admitted, his eyes raking over Faith's figure, obviously intrigued, even as the brunette continued backing away until she drew even with Celeste.

Sighing, Ser rolled her eyes impatiently. "We don't have time for this," she muttered, casting both girls a scathing glance. "The time is growing nigh-"

"There is time enough for this," Dahm quickly interrupted, a slow, predatory smile lifting his lips as he licked the remaining blood from his chin.

"Fine," Ser snapped, waving irritably at the group as she stepped back against the far wall. "Just don't kill them. I was being serious when I said that I was hungry," she pointed out, her tone biting as she sat back to wait with an air of exaggerated patience. Yet Dahm merely grinned wolfishly at the girls, ignorant of Ser's display as he began to advance upon them once again.

Frowning, Faith felt all of her earlier mirth disappear under a wave of cold, hard fear - not for herself, of course, but for the kid and the battered man that was looking more dead than alive at this point. Somehow Faith had gotten them into this position and she knew that both would be counting on her to get them out of it - something that suddenly, she wasn't quite sure that she had the skill to do. She had hit the guy with everything she had only to watch him heal before her very eyes. In Faith's book, that didn't equate a whole lot of good.

"Stay here," she muttered, turning narrowed eyes to the girl that stood beside her before finally moving forward, meeting the guy a few feet away to renew their dance - a dance that Faith already suspected wasn't going to go in her favor - not after the way the guy just rolled off of her blow. Then again, as a slow grin lifted her lips, Faith realized that there was at least one thing she was sure of - if they were going to dance, Faith was going to lead.

Once more Faith and Dahm began to circle each other, one part of the slayer's mind registering the fact that the woman seemed willing to stay out of the fight - and honest enough with herself to realize how lucky she was with that small bit of fortune. Faith had a sinking feeling that she was going to have her hands full as it was just tussling with the guy that circled before her.

For the briefest of moments the dark-haired slayer struggled to form a plan of attack - any kind of attack as her ego continued to battle with the shock of having her best punch pushed to the side. It wasn't every day that something like that happened. Actually, that had never happened before - but any such planning was quickly thrown to the side as Faith felt her grin lift even more. Planning was more B's thing, anyway. For Faith, the fun had always been in the ass-kicking. And with that thought to bolster her, the slayer got down to doing what she did best as she launched herself forward in a series of hard punches, Dahm moving forward to meet her and blocking everything she threw his way. Frustrated, Faith quickly ducked low and swept her leg out, hoping to throw him off balance and cursing herself as the guy merely jumped over her leg and used her own distraction to kick her, mid-air.

Grunting, Faith found herself flying back, sliding across the rough concrete floor in a cloud of dust. Grimacing, she quickly hopped to her feet and jumped forward with a hard kick that snapped the guy's neck back - a kick that would have broken the neck of any vampire, but which caused her current opponent to stumble a bit before reclaiming his balance. Yet even as he finished stumbling Faith was already moving forward with another series of punches and kicks that left her winded and her hands numb and her feet bruised - and Dahm none the worse for wear.

"My turn," he said simply, smiling enigmatically at her before catching the next fist aimed for his face and using her arm to swing her into a nearby concrete support beam - a beam that shattered beneath the force of her weight being slammed against it. Unable to hold in her cry of pain, Faith stumbled to her knees, blinking back tears of pain as she struggled to her feet - only to catch a punch low in the torso that echoed with the unmistakable dry crack of breaking ribs. Gasping as a white-hot agony rippled up and down her side, Faith went down hard and didn't think that she'd be getting back up again any time soon. Wrapping one arm around her injured side, the slayer slowly lifted her head, watching through a curtain of brown hair as Dahm casually stepped closer - and then arched his back in a show of pain before flying into another cement support beam, reducing it to yet another pile of rubble.

Confused, Faith watched Dahm's trajectory for a puzzling moment, watching as the man staggered to his feet and reached his arm behind his back, his features twisting into a grotesque mask as he ripped a bloody, long serrated knife from his back - a very familiar knife. "I told you to say out of this," Faith ground out between agonizing breaths as Celeste's concerned face blocked her view.

"And watch you get beaten to death?" the girl questioned as she helped Faith to her feet. "I think not," the French girl murmured as Faith pulled away, a small grimace twisting her features as both watched Dahm admire the blade before casually tossing it aside.

"The young one is strong as well," he stated, rather unnecessarily as his narrowed eyes focused on the two girls. "There is much power is these two."

"Good for them," Ser muttered as she admired one perfectly manicured nail beneath the weak light. "Though I doubt they taste any different," she added as Dahm renewed his attack - this time fighting both girls at once.

Biting back a groan as her broken ribs shifted, Faith pushed her pain away and reached for her hidden weapons, drawing the blades quickly and tossing one to the kid before twirling the other expertly in her hand. "Let's do this," she murmured as she focused on her opponent, ducking and twirling as best as she could and launching an attack whenever he was distracted enough by Celeste's movements to leave an opening. But even as she landed the occasional hit and the knife caught flesh a few times before it was knocked away, Faith refused to delude herself into thinking that they stood a chance. She was injured and Celeste was young - something that ordinarily wouldn't have been that big of a problem. Despite these relatively small obstacles, they still should have been any demon's worst nightmare. If one slayer was deadly, two slayers were unstoppable, no matter what injuries they sported. But this guy was something different. Something deadly.

Gasping as another hit sent her careening back against a far wall where she collapsed in a world of agony, Faith slowly, painfully pulled herself to her feet in time to see Celeste go flying back in the air and through another cement support beam, the girl landing painfully in a crumpled pile next to the monk even as the building began to tremble.

Grimacing, Faith staggered to her feet and shuffled over to where Celeste was slowly getting up as the floor bucked beneath their feet. "Kid, you okay?" she asked, biting the words out as Celeste wiped a trickle of blood into a smear of red across her chin. At the girl's small nod, Faith slowly turned, her eyes locking on Dahm as he casually flexed his hand before starting in their direction. They were running out of options. Sighing, the dark-haired slayer was about to meet him to continue their little dance when the beaten man moaned piteously behind them.

"Faith, we need to get out of here," Celeste quickly murmured, her small hand wrapping around Faith's wrist and holding her back with the strength of a slayer. "They are too strong and the building is collapsing. We need to get him to safety," she urged, watching as a myriad of emotions flashed across the older girl's face - all verging from her obvious reluctance to run from a fight, to the more prudent understanding that Celeste was right. The small nod was all that Celeste needed as the young girl turned quickly and lifted the battered monk into her arms, ignoring her own body's loud protests.

"Hey," Ser called out, her melodious voice hard and cold and her perusal of her nails forgotten as her gray eyes narrowed on the two girls. "My dinner is trying to make off with my monk," she stated, anger coloring her voice.

"Our monk," Dahm corrected, violet eyes narrowing on the red-haired woman. "Or have you forgotten already?"

"I forget nothing," Ser countered as she pushed away from the wall, her voice dropping into a menacing whisper.

"Neither do-"

"Let's get out of here," Faith whispered as the building trembled beneath them, the two beings oblivious to the danger and lost in their angry threats against one another. But even as she looked to the door and the only exit from the room, Faith felt that hope crumble as the two beings unwittingly met each other before the door, their eyes locked on one another and their angry words growing louder as the building began to shake.

"Faith, we must get out of here!"

Ignoring Celeste's frantic cry, Faith's eyes desperately swept over the room, looking for another door - any other door seeing as how their entrance was definitely not going to work as an exit - especially not with the shape they were in and the quickly deteriorating state of the building. Swinging about, Faith began to curse when her eyes fell upon the large window that continued to let in a dusty pane of light. Frowning, she considered her options for the briefest of moments before her decision was made for her. With the sudden silence Faith knew that the little squabble was over, which meant that their time was up.

As the floor jerked beneath her feet, Faith quickly launched herself at Celeste and tackled the girl and the monk that she was holding, all three flying back and crashing through the large window behind them in an explosion of shattering glass. All too quickly the ground rushed up to meet them as Celeste turned so that she cushioned the monk's fall, Faith rolling to absorb the impact and springing lightly to her feet - and stumbling again as her ribs protested the movement. Grimacing, Faith hobbled over to where Celeste lay, the girl groaning quietly from her spread eagle position on the cracked pavement. "Come on, no time, no time," Faith muttered as she grabbed the monk by the arm and began dragging him away from the factory, Celeste limping after her as the building gave one final shudder before collapsing upon itself.

As an explosion of dust and debris rained upon them, Faith stumbled against the fence that lined that property, her lungs closing and causing her to fall as she tried to breathe the thick air. Wheezing, she tried in vain to control her ragged breaths, one arm wrapped protectively around her stomach as her eyes sought out Celeste's, assuring herself that the kid would live. And while the younger slayer was liberally covered in a fine coating of dust and grime, blood marring her pretty features, Faith was relieved to see that she didn't look on death's door... though the same couldn't be said for the monk that they had gone to all of that trouble to save.

"My... my journey is done, I think," the man whispered, his first words to them leaving his lips amidst a strangled breath.

"No, you are safe now," Celeste quickly countered, her eyes going wide as she looked to Faith desperately, as though begging her to do something to help him. But it only took one look for Faith to see that the man was beyond her help. Perhaps beyond anyone's help, now.

Ignoring Celeste's words, the man's tired brown eyes met with each of the girl's in turn, his gaze pleading with them to understand. "You must... you must..."

"Must what?" Faith snapped, rudely interrupting the stammering man and ignoring the kid's shocked glance.

"The key... you must help to protect the key."

"What key?" Celeste asked as she glared at the older slayer, as though daring her to rejoin the conversation.

"Many more will die if you... if you do not keep it safe," the man wheezed, his eyes beginning to look glassy beneath the dying rays of the afternoon sun.

"Who will die? I don't understand," Celeste murmured, her words a quiet plea as Faith's eyes narrowed upon the man.

"The key... the key is energy. It's a portal.... opens the door."

"The Dagon Sphere?" she returned, blue eyes growing wider at the implications of the man's words. The text hadn't mentioned anything about the orb being able to do that. She had thought that it was merely a tool of protection.

"No," the monk quickly denied, his eyes slipping shut for the briefest of moments before opening once more. "For centuries... it had no form at all. My brethren, it's only keepers, then... they found us," he murmured, his eyes drifting back to the ruined factory. "Dahmascus and Serantine... they came and we... we had to hide the key... made it one with one who could protect it... made the Slayer the Key."

"The Slayer?" Celeste murmured, her eyes growing wide. "But there are two-"

"Three," the monk corrected with a small, blood-stained smile.

"Buffy?" Faith broke in, her eyes growing wide as a deep, nameless fear began to freeze the blood in her veins.

"She's the key," the monk agreed, nodding slowly as he thought back to the small, fiery blonde girl and the powerful, dark-haired boy that he had not seen in over two months. He had initiated the spell then, the spell that would combine the girl and the key into one... and he had sent them on their way. He had tried to lead the beasts away from her, to keep her safe... but in this, he could do no longer.

"You made Buffy this key?" Faith repeated, her fear beginning to be replaced by a burning anger. Eyes narrowing, Faith made to grab the man by the throat, wanting nothing more than to throttle him for answers and to condemn him for doing something to the girl that she had come to care for as a sister. The girl that had disappeared two months ago. But, as always, Celeste was there to act as her reason as the taller girl quickly grabbed Faith's reaching hands and forced them back to her side.

"We knew the Slayer could protect...that others would help keep her safe," the monk murmured, his voice growing weak and his words soft. "You must keep her safe," he added, his final, whispered words before his eyes slid shut for the last time, leaving the two girls in thick silence.

Trembling, Celeste watched as the man's chest rose for the last time before falling - and when his chest didn't rise again she felt the tears burn in her eyes. Intellectually, she knew that there was nothing more that she and Faith could have done for the man. There was nothing that they could have done against creatures such as the two that they had faced. Dahm and Ser. Dahmascus and Serantine. Feeling her tears dry and her weakness change into something deep and hard and... primal, Celeste found a strength that had been hiding deep down within herself for so many months - and drew upon it. While there was nothing that they could have done for this man, there was something that they could do for Buffy. Their third slayer.

And when Faith finally forced herself to her feet and pulled Celeste up beside her, the dark-haired slayer was surprised by the determination that shone in the younger girl's eyes. The strength and light that shone from those blue eyes was the strength and light of a slayer. A real slayer - not the Council's puppet.

Unable to resist the small grin that pulled at her lips, Faith threw her arm around the taller girl and allowed her to support her battered figure as they began to limp their way towards the street beyond. They had work to do, people to contact, research to be done, and most importantly, they had a slayer to find. And later... later they had some ass to kick... if they could only figure out how to do so without getting their asses kicked instead. And she knew just the person to contact to help with that problem.
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