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Summary: A new breed of warrior will be reborn from the legends of old, as a man with the weight of worlds on his shoulder battles for redemption and another will begin his journey. Once again Sunnydale will become the epicenter of Good against Evil.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Star Wars > Xander-CenteredspartanFR1815174,6481711274,9833 Mar 0916 Oct 13No

Chapter 12 Looks like a Rescue...kinda

AN: First I want to thank everyone who has been patient with me regarding this story. I know I can take a long time to update but I like to think the quality of the story is worth it. That being said...this piece was harder than most. It was actually finished about 3 months ago, but I was never happy with it, so I swallowed my pride and asked a few friends for some feedback. Best choice I ever made, let me tell you. I want to give a big Thank you to James, better known as Lightning_Count. I'd also like to give a big thank you to Psychosama and Chris O. Without the feedback from you 3 I dont think this piece would have been all that great despite my obvious talent. Lol!


Chapter 15
Looks like a Rescue...kinda


The Streets of Sunnydale.

Anakin soon found the trail to end at what appeared to be a port or harbor for seafaring vessels. Having come to grips with this worlds primitive technology he was not surprised by it in the least. These people sailed their oceans much as the more advanced cultures of his time sailed the stars. Large cargo containers and barrels were strewn around in an almost haphazard way, but Anakin kept his guard up with his senses outstretched. He’d seen his fair share of creepy, poorly lit docks in his life, and he’d bet a bottle of Ardees that demons weren't the only ugly creatures lurking about.

Yet as he neared the end of the pier he realized that he owed someone, somewhere, a bottle of tea. Not even a whisper in the Force. Guess the vampires were actually good for something after all.

Standing on the edge of the pier he frowned in frustration as he observed the ship slowly fading in the distance. He could feel Buffy Summers aboard. She was groggy and weak but still alive, he just needed to get to her, but how? Swimming was out of the question; the boat was too far away and he would likely not make it before it hit Open Ocean.

Anakin grumbled in annoyance then he scanned the harbor before his eyes settled onto a small motor boat that was making its way past the docks, headed to the far shore. Slowly, a smile made its way to his face as an idea began to form in his mind.

****

“Sir, the Slayer is secured in your private stateroom. Her restraints are electrified as you ordered. The guard team watching her reports she is already beginning to stir, sir.” The demon reported with some trepidation.

The Colonels lips twitched ever so slightly. “Remarkable. She should not have been awake for many hours yet. She is clearly stronger than any Slayer we have faced to date. It makes no difference. Once we clear the harbor buoys make for best speed to the dimensional breach. We have a Slayer line to end.”

At once sir!”

The Colonel, the commander of this battalion of the Scourge, gazed out into the pitch black waters of the ocean and smiled in self-satisfaction. While they had failed to get their primary target this time, they would be back for him later, after they had tortured the necessary information out of the Slayer of course. It was always considered an amazing achievement to kill a Slayer, but to capture one alive? This would be a first for his organization. And he had something very special planned for her indeed.

Something that wouldn’t fail to impress his superiors. A smile came to his grotesque face. Something that he was sure would assure his rise to further power and glory. Why, this might be enough to earn him his own legion...

“You have the bridge,” he snapped at his subordinates, “I am not to be disturbed unless it is absolutely vital, do you understand?”

The demon at the radio snapped to attention and saluted, “Yes sir!”

With that the colonel spun on his heels and headed to his cabin, his smile widening with each step. His work was not yet finished. Time to confront the beast in his den.

*****

By the time Anakin reached deck level he already had a basic plan, while the ship was decidedly ancient to his eyes it still followed much of the same basic logic of many vessels from his time and place. Very similar to KDY designs in particular. He’d guess a mixture of long standing cultural conditioning combined with form leading function.

It was a cargo vessel, large and grimy with a tall superstructure at the back and holds beneath the deck. He could feel the engines thrumming through the metal pinpointing their location near the back, again common with the far more advanced starships he had lived beside. He guessed that the top of the superstructure would contain the bridge and that would be his first target, followed by the engine room and then a sweep of the cargo bays.

He made his way quickly and quietly into the structure of the ship easily evading detection, climbing the metal stairs toward the red lit room at the height of the ship's tower. He could sense several beings within, none of them human. Edging to the door and peering in he noted they were indeed demons, the same ragged faced humanoids from earlier confirming his intuition. They wore uniforms and seemed comfortable with technology, albeit mechanical rather than digital. That level of organization seemed somewhat unusual, from all he'd learned cooperation among their enemies was very rare and a distinct advantage for those who waged war in the shadows.

He debated his next move, considering his exact strategy. He could attempt to sever the controls, disable the steering, maybe seal the doorways. There were any number of clever and subtle tactics open to him, but they were all fairly boring.

Though he did have an idea for something entertaining, and while he didn't expect a peaceful solution, his code demanded he at least try. After all, he thought with a smirk, it’s what Master Obi-Wan would have wanted...

He opened the door and strolled in as if entering his own home, giving a nod of greeting to the several surprised demons.

“Good evening,” Anakin said in the most over the top Coruscanti accent he could manage, the one he’d traditionally reserved only for when ‘imitating’ Obi-Wan in his youth, “Earlier tonight you kidnapped a friend of mine, female, blonde, about this high.” He indicated with his hand. “I've come to collect her, so if you wouldn't mind handing her over and then surrendering your weapons we can all get out of this in one piece.”

The demons simply looked at him in utter silence.

“As a member of the Order of Jedi Knights it is my duty to negotiate a settlement wherever possible and offer the choice of resolving peacefully any...”

There was a click as the demon behind the ships wheel pulled a Walther pistol and aimed it at Anakin. Two of his compatriots pulled out machine guns while a third pulled out what Anakin recognized as a shotgun.

It was almost enough to make him laugh really. If he’d cared about such things, and had received a credit for every time some laser-brained sleemo came to the ‘realization’ that Jedi logically must be weak against projectile weapons, he’d have a small fortune. It was an error he’d corrected, a lesson he’d taught many a time... often very quickly and in an extremely final manner. After all, it just wouldn’t do to give them a chance to figure out something, well, marginally effective. Even so he braced himself ever so subtly in the Force.

“I caution you to make...”

The demons fired, and Anakin centered himself in the Force and let it wash over him like a comforting blanket. Calling upon a very old Jedi trick, he formed a bubble in the Force that subtlety manipulated the trajectories of the bullets. He simply stood in barely hidden amusement as everything behind him was subjected to a hellish fusillade of fire that by all rights should have turned him into something resembling ground bantha. But then again, when the Force was your ally, by all rights was an extremely flexible concept...

Well, at least from a certain point of view.

He raised an eyebrow as the demons looked warily at each other, then drew one of the two polished vibroblade swords from across his back, the shining blade singing with each gentle movement. He knew he had to say something, it was a tradition, his mind finally grasping something he'd seen with Xander, some movie he had been very enthusiastic about.

“You have chosen... poorly.”

*****

“Ugh.”

Buffy slowly awoke to find herself face to face with a rather smug looking demon dressed in a uniform that looked like it came out of a Hugo Boss catalogue. Slowly she shook the cobwebs out of her head and looked down at her wrists. She was wearing a suspiciously light looking pair of manacles that connected to the wall of the room.

Slowly she looked up to the demon and cocked her head. “You... you’re... not serious, right?” she lifted her wrists, “I mean really? Is this really the best you’ve got?”

The demon simply sat back and chuckled, “Go ahead Slayer, test your bonds. I insist.”

Buffy sneered and pulled her wrists apart, intending the snap the metal cable holding them like a piece of old yarn. She didn’t expect what came next. A shock of pain ran down her body, from one arm to the other, locking up her muscles and pulsating through her body like someone was literally pumping electricity through her veins. Through the fog of pain, she thought she could hear someone screaming, though in retrospect she’d realize that someone was her.

After what seemed like an eternity, the pain stopped and left her frazzled but still cognizant, she looked down to them again, and wondered aloud, “What the hell was that?”

“That is the latest in our technology,” the demon gloated, “Those manacles can contain even the strongest and most vicious half breeds. Creatures far stronger and more resistant to injury than the likes of you, Slayer. Test your bonds again, if you’d like, but I rather you didn’t. I need you intact... for now.”

Buffy glowered at him. “Oh great, and here comes the evil villain plot. I swear, if this in any way involves a wedding, I’ll fight my way through the pain and rip your head off.”

The creature before her actually recoiled in disgust at the thought. “No! Absolutely not! Disgusting!”

“Hey!” Buffy snapped, actually feeling a little offended, “You’re not exactly a catch yourself.”

He snorted with contempt.

“No Slayer, nothing so puerile. You see...” The demon wearing Colonel's rank considered as he examined a number of knives, clamps and saws laid out on a table. “If you die another Slayer is called, but what if you don't die?”

Buffy sighed heavily, leaning on her manacles to support her weight to a thick metal girder in the Colonel's stateroom near the bow of the ship.

“Wow, what an original idea, I think at last count only, hmm, yep, everyone ever already tried it.”

“But how many of them actually had their own Slayer chained up?” The Colonel asked as he ran his fingers along the sharp edges of the knife he was holding.

“Only the really dumb ones, the smart ones figured out early on that this was a seriously, seriously dumb idea.”

“You won't be so smug when we get back to my dimension. Time works differently there, depending on where we go a day there is a year here, longer. We can remove the Slayer from the world for centuries, imagine that.”

“You don't watch TV do you?”

“No. I have no desire to indulge in the childish distractions of an inferior race.”

“So you've never seen those shows where some guy, he's usually a greedy scientist, cooperate asshole, or a Major Dumbass... like the rank... brings monsters into the safe haven, sets up some fool proof method of containing them,” she said, lifting her bound wrists, “And then the monsters get out and murderize everyone in extremely gory and extremely photogenic ways. I personally call it the ‘Raptor Effect’. You know, after Jurassic Park?”

“Save your useless...”

“Because right now you are living that movie, barbeque face. You’re at the scene when the Raptors get loose, in Dawn of the Dead when the zombies get inside, or that really icky part in Aliens where the Facehuggers almost get Sigourney Weaver and that little girl. Only this time it isn't the icky creatures that are the monsters, they're the victims. I'm the monster, and you were even kind enough to open the door for me.”

“You don't frighten me girl.”

“But I do! I really do.” Buffy said simply, “You’re staring in your very own horror movie, and you’re playing the dumb blond who...”

On the desk beside him a telephone buzzed, cutting her off.

“Go ahead,” Buffy said dismissively, “Oh, we’ve got plenty of time.”

He grabbed the phone in irritation.

“I said don't disturb me.”

“Sir, we may have a problem...”

He glanced over at Buffy, the tiny blonde replying with her most smug and self-satisfied 'I told you so' look.

xxx

Anakin dropped thirty feet in a flutter of black clothing landing on the engine deck with a clank of metal tipped boots. He fell between four demons, the monsters at once moving to attack wielding wrenches and metal pipes quite capable of crushing human bones. It was of course utterly pointless.

Anakin kept his feet on the ground, he was surrounded which he welcomed, it meant he didn't have to go and chase after his opponents. The Vibroblade arced in the dirty room, whistling as he cut it in short controlled motions around him, each cut a fraction of a second long, glinting ahead and around him as he remained totally still save for his sword arm.

All five people stood utterly still for a long heartbeat, Anakin in the center with the four demons in a circle around him. He waited for a moment, and then as one the demons collapsed and fell into heaps on the ground, victims of one his prototype blades.

Glancing quickly around he weighed his options, there was a single engine driving a large propeller that pushed the ship along, a reasonable enough design for its age. Anakin needed to disable this vessel, even with the bridge crew wiped out the vessel was still moving and could be retaken after he left, that wasn't something he considered helpful even if he had disabled most of the bridge controls.

He smiled and looked over at the machine with the eyes of one of the best mechanics of his time. The engine was a simple affair, the kind of simple but reasonably reliable internal combustion engine that could be found on just about any primitive planet in the galaxy. They were robust, hard to break, easy to repair, but like everything they had their weaknesses.

He closed his eyes and sought out weak points in the machinery, testing resistance with the Force. He smiled slightly as he found what he was after, the metal shaft running from engine to propeller. With some effort he twisted, bending the metal cylinder enough so that it tore free with a massive crack. The engine was still running but by bending the shaft Anakin had dislodged the propeller, the several tons worth of spinning blade ripping into the aft hull of the ship and tearing massive rents in the steel skin of the vessel.

Water instantly began to pour in, the massive engine screeching as gears sheared and pistons seized up. The propeller stopped moving as the engine shook itself to pieces but by then the damage was done. Several minutes from now this ship would be underwater which didn't leave Anakin much time.

Anakin grimaced. Whoops...he had forgotten about the water thing.


xxx

“Problem? What kind of problem?” The colonel snarled into the phone, “And be quick about it, because I swear, if this is a waste of my time I will skin you alive and roll you in sal...”

At that precise moment the ship lurched hard to port, throwing him to the deck with an almost girlish cry of surprise, taking the receiver of the phone with him as the cord miserably failed to support his weight.

Buffy reacted instantly, gripping her manacles tightly as she braced against the sudden heaving of the deck.

“So, somebody mentioned problems?” She asked sweetly, in the kind of holier than thou tone that older people so commonly used when asking teens about their life’s problems.

The colonel sneered and clambered to his feet, lifting the phone to his ear and yelling, “Report!”

He paused for a moment then repeated himself. “I said report!”

Buffy could only laugh. “I tink you bwoke it,” she said in a childish voice, her face twisted into an impish grin.

The colonel paused to look at the phone. Then he glared at her for a moment, before picking up the wire and plugging it back in.

“Somebody report! And for your all sakes this better be good!”

“Don’t worry,” Buffy said in a counseling tone, “I’m sure things are about to get a whole lot worse.”

Again, he glowered at her, and again, she laughed. Only this time it was honest. Before she’d been blustering, but now, now she could feel her hope flair like the rising sun. Her friends were coming for her. How they knew she had been captured was something she could figure out later. What mattered was that they were here, now. And they were coming for her.

xxx

Anakin moved forward, sometimes ripping the large metal doors by their hinges, other times just crumpling and ripping them from his path like foil. For the average Jedi such heavy use of telekinetics would rapidly drain them, but he was far from the ordinary Jedi and such expenditures of energy rarely bothered him.

His senses told him Buffy was somewhere forward, roughly narrowing down her location though it was difficult with the interference given off by the demons and their unusual presence in the Force. It was still something he was learning to filter and deal with but fortunately did not affect his combat skills.

He moved swiftly through the narrow confines, his enemies knew he was here, they expected trouble, but right now had no real idea exactly how much trouble Anakin was bringing with him. Normally, he’d let them come to him and use the ships design to funnel them in a manner that would negate their advantage in numbers. But with Buffy at their mercy, taking his time was not a reasonable option.

But as he moved through the corridors he couldn’t help that nagging sense of doubt growing in the back of his mind. He was reminded of the last time he tore down a set of narrow passageway looking for a young woman. At once his mind slammed shut as he recoiled inward, his senses and focus turning away from the here and now toward the memory that haunted him so many nights.

A door opened ahead of him, snapping him out the memory as the Force screamed in warning. He immediately charged forward applying a significant amount of the Force ramming his shoulder into it, slamming the steel door into the demon behind it, feeling the skeleton give way under the immense power. He yanked it open to step over the falling body, two more surprised demons facing him. They snarled and rushed forward, unarmed. Two seconds later their headless forms joined their broken comrade.

Alarms began to sound as the Scourge realized this was a full on attack cutting down Anakin’s options. He thumbed the activation stud of his vibrosword again and steeled himself, stealth had never really been his thing anyway. Feet stamped down the corridor ahead of him, harsh voices barking orders and threats, the click of weapons being prepared. Battle was now upon him, in a few moments he would be in the thick of the action once again. He knew he could beat them, his great fear was what might emerge at the other side of the carnage. The Dark side was a part of him, it always would be, and as he fought these monsters he would be fighting a second even more intense battle within himself. To battle evil without becoming evil, to harness violence without surrendering to it. To wage war without becoming defined by it. And already he was not off to a great start.

He went into battle Anakin Skywalker and swore to himself that is who he would still be when it ended.

He advanced, a steady walk, not a run, not a sprint. He was the incarnation of power, a slow moving bulldozer destroying all in his path. His every motion was one of power, control and focus, his sense were alight and aware of every tiny detail, every fleck of peeling paint on the walls, every dirty oil stain on the deck, every creak of the steel hull as it settled in the water. It was the perfection of war, the exhilaration which tempted him to embrace it, to allow it to command him instead of him commanding it.

A team of 5 demons cut him off at a T section. The first two demons charging forward into his path with melee weapons poised to strike while the three remaining demons held back at the T section as they lined him up to shoot. The demons were playing smart, hoping to keep his focus on the immediate threat of the two charging demons while the three hanging back remained unmolested to take perfectly aimed shots. These demons operated as a team, there was a sense of coordination in their tactics and movements, and Anakin sensed they were clearly willing to sacrifice their own members in order to achieve victory. Fanatics...zealots...madmen! Yet another reason he had to end this swiftly.

Drawing from the Force Anakin created a small wave of Force energy that slammed into the three demons hanging back, knocking them off their feet and their weapons from their grip. The tactic was nothing more than a distraction and would take only a few moments for them to regain their footing and their aim. But a few moments was all Anakin needed, for in that time he went from facing a coordinated team of 5 demons working in concert to dealing with them piecemeal where they couldn't unite their efforts and combine their strengths.

He struck in that moment with a swiftness that that seemed at odds with the slow lumbering stride of only moments ago, and the two demons facing him were clearly taken by surprise by his incredible speed. The first demon fell dead before he even realized what was going on, the second one managing a brief gargled shout as the vibroblade scythed him in two. Cries of rage and indignation were barked as Anakin turned to the three Scourge remaining. They had regained their footing and were ready for him as they raised oily rifles and opened fire. They were slug throwers, old but with a lot of kick but nothing outside his experience. He lunged, two of the bullets missing while he caught the third on his blade deflecting it with a sharp ping. The vibroblade wasn't quite good enough to deflect it back at the firer, at least not without more practice, but it kept him intact.

They didn't get a chance to fire a second time, The Jedi Knight was amid them as they frantically moved to work the bolts of their weapons; his speed like nothing they had ever seen before. Calling on the Force he tore the rifle from the rearmost demons hands and shot it forward to bayonet the first demon ahead of him. As the weapon impaled the demons body and lodged it into the bulkhead Anakin was already in motion as he spun away from the demon while stabbing backward; catching the demon in the sternum. He withdrew his blade at once and spun toward the third demon with a sharp upward swing to remove its head from its body. It was to the demons credit that it reacted quickly enough to block his strike with its weapon. Fruitless though, as his vibroblade was able to cut through wood and steel with only a little more difficulty than it was flesh and bone.

The two now dead demons hit the deck at the same time while the demon impaled into the bulkhead stared in horror and shock for a moment before its face and body went slack. All in less than 4 seconds.

Satisfactory.

Beyond them the corridor opened up into the main cargo hold, a large area piled high with boxes, crates and barrels containing whatever materials the Scourge required. Moving through here was the quickest path to Buffy so he did not hesitate, walking confidently into the bay, boots clanging on metal announcing his presence. He did not care, let them come, let them attack in whatever numbers they liked. His path was set and none would stand before him.

And come they did.

The Scourge accepted the challenge and threw themselves into battle, some armed with spiked clubs, knives and the rare sword, others with handguns and rifles. With open space to maneuver they elected to swarm him from all sides hoping to overwhelm him.

It was all for naught.

Anakin cut through them all like the embodiment of wrath, a harsh reckoning for their demonic misdeeds. The blade sang with a whistle as he cut down demons by the handful, weaving in and out of position, keeping mobile, slicing with the speed and precision only an experienced Jedi Master could employ.

He was a completely out of context problem for the Scourge, nothing had prepared them for such an opponent. Their capture of the Slayer had made them overconfident, arrogant, and that emotion was now beaten from them and poured out on the deck with their vaunted pure, demonic blood.

He simply cut through everything in his path. Bodies, weapons, it did not matter. The vibrosword did not cauterize like a lightsaber, so the blood flowed like a deluge, marking his clothes and face with the grisly evidence of his work. He strode through the Scourge, his long coat billowing behind him, eyes locked forward, giving no concern to the trail of death in his wake.

It was not the first time the universe had seen such a thing from him, and it would not be the last, only today it was those who deserved his wrath who lay dead in his footsteps and not those whom he’d once sworn to protect. But at the back of his mind his doubt only grew.

He shook off the thought and continued forward until he felt something in the Force guide his attention to a set of cables and fuse boxes, clearly a central power panel or conduit. With a flick of his wrist, the panel crushed inwards, exploding in a shower of sparks as the ship was plunged into darkness for a few moments before the emergency red lighting kicked in.

Anakin turned resumed his march forward intent on finding Buffy.

***
“What exactly is the ‘it’?” The Colonel yelled down the line.

“I don't know but it’s in the hold and its killing everyone!” The voice called back. “We're not even slowing it down!”

“Pull yourself together!” He snapped. “We're not savages, we are pureblood Demons! You have heavy weapons in there?”

“Yes...yes sir!”

“Then break them out and annihilate this invader! Use everything!”

He grunted and slammed the phone down.

“Why do I have to think of everything?!”

“Tough at the top huh?” Buffy grinned smugly as she leaned back against the bulkhead.

“Shut up girl!” The Colonel backhanded her across the face for her witty remark.

Suddenly the entire ship was plunged into darkness, the sounds of machinery and activity dying away leaving only empty silence in its wake. A silence interrupted by an ominous pop.

“Fine, you don't want to hear my selection of well-crafted puns that’s your loss. Anyway, looks like you're going to be busy so I'll just let myself out.”

“You're not going...”

The red emergency lights activated, and the Colonel felt his stomach rise into his throat. Standing before him, rubbing her wrists was a smug, and entirely unrestrained Buffy Summers.

“Uh oh.”

“Pro-tip, the Star Trek handcuffs are cool and all but when it comes to restraining super heroes, you can’t beat the classics. If there was going to be one, I’d suggest good old iron manacles. They’re tough, they’re heavy, and they’re a bitch to break. Though admittedly electrifying them was a nice touch, but you might want to consider some kind of fail safe.”

She slowly advanced.

“Now, from the snazzy outfit you’re obviously a Nazi. And you’re a demon. Which makes you a Demon Nazi, and that’s like evil times evil with a side of just plain wrong. I mean they don’t even have a word for that kind of evil. So, even without the ‘whole kidnapping innocent and beautiful maidens and taking them to your rusty old boat to do oh so nasty things to them’ thing, your future isn't looking that rosy right now, but since I’m the good guy, I'll let you chose if it’s gonna be quick or...”

The Colonel of the Scourge tried to pull his gun, but fast as he might have been he wasn't as fast as a cheerfully pissed off Slayer itching for some payback. She covered the ground between them in less than an instant and simply slapped the pistol out of his hand so hard it all but shattered on impact with the wall.

“Okay, then” she said cheerfully, with a terrifyingly bubbly smile on her face, “Painful it is!”

****

Anakin sidestepped as a hail of bullets chewed up the deck, the Jedi using some crates for cover. The Scourge had rallied and were mounting a smarter defense, setting up kill zones in his path with automatic weapons. Because of the volume of fire and the immediate threat, he didn’t have time to focus on deflecting them, which meant he’d have to do this the old fashion way.

He centered himself and stepped out, the machine gun chattering again. He used the Force to deflect the barrel, causing the incoming stream of lead to miss by a wide margin. Then clamped down, crushing the steel like a paper tube and causing the weapon to split and misfire pelting the demon using it was shards of metal. He advanced quickly to finish the job, cutting down another five Scourge in moments, avoiding their gunfire until he got close enough to end them.

It would have been easier just to unload on them with lightning, a strong telekinetic wave or choke the life from them but he held himself back. Killing directly with the Force was a quick way to leave oneself open to the Dark side, it was too much of a risk.

On and on they came, almost an endless sea of them yet Anakin was not deterred. But as he cut through them his movements became less efficient and crueler by the moment. Several times, without even thinking, he struck to maim rather than kill outright, and then left them alive but unable to act, that they might watch, so they could wallow in their agony and despair as he butchered their comrades by the core. It served no real purpose save that a dark part of him found it entertaining.

He could feel their mounting dread as they began to realize just how overmatched they were, yet they came at him none the less. His impassive face slowly twisted into a sneer of rage and disgust as a begrudging respect for their courage slowly morphed into contempt for their stupidity.

Was it some sense of nobility that drove them? Discipline? Some sense of twisted demonic honor? Anakin did not know, nor did he care. He was growing more and more disgusted by the moment. Enraged they tried to keep him from his prize. And he was afraid of what tortures they would have subjected Buffy too when he found her. Had he his wits about him he would have realized what was happening and recoiled as if had been burned. Yet, perversely he was so focused on killing with his blade that he was ignoring the warnings from the Force; pleading with him to stop this madness he was once again descending into.

Good….good, Anakin…..

That ghostly echo managed to pierce the fog of his mind in a way nothing else could. The shock and horror of dawning realization causing him to cease all action in that moment as he struggled to regain some semblance of balance in the Force. What few Scourge left alive in the holds at that point wisely decided to regroup and try a different avenue of attack.

He was alerted by a small team of demons yanking a tarpaulin off an oddly shaped bundle at the far end of the cargo bay. He watched fascinated disbelief as the demons unveiled a platform mounted by four large and dangerous looking automatic cannons, a cluster of weapons they quickly rotated to face him.

“Oh, you have got to be kidding...”

He was cut off by a ripping sound as the cannons opened fire, each gun spitting out high caliber explosive shells one after another. This wasn't something he could deflect, the shells ripped up the hull in a series of explosions hurling shrapnel and fragments in all directions.

Anakin leapt out of the way, the gun following him, turning crates into matchwood and filling the air with splinters and fragments. He ran at full speed, kicking off a crate to launch himself across the bay, the gun crew just a fraction of a second behind him tearing the inside of the ship apart without a care. Several demons were caught as Anakin dared about the cargo bay, the gun turning them into mist and smears on the wall.

He ran sideways along the inner wall, the Force aiding his acrobatics as he got closer, the gun crew no less determined to kill him even if it meant shredding everyone and everything in the ship. Explosions followed him, the gun clanked new shots in one after the other, the whole bay was deafeningly loud as screams mixed with the heavy gunfire.

He made a final jump, cartwheeling overhead and timing his attack so he ended up spinning over the cannon, upside down with his blade whistling. He closed his eyes and let the Force guide him, a few short cuts as he passed by inverted ended the threat, cutting apart the gun and its crew.

He landed perfectly in a crouch, long coat settling around him, bloody sword point down on the deck. He stood slowly, the only living thing left in the bay, a clatter of debris falling from where the last salvo of gunfire and shredded it with explosive rounds. There was a brief moment of peace as the dead settled and their weapons spoke no more. Anakin took a deep breath, relishing this moment of peace then steadied himself, and opened his eyes to reveal Buffy stood before him, mouth wide open in shock.

“What the spongebob did you do?”

“Oh, Buffy, hello again.” He managed a smile, slightly surprised and disturbed for having not felt her presence this close till now. “I'm here to rescue you.”

“Uh... Well... um... Hi?” Buffy flushed scarlet with embarrassment and looked at the pipe for a second before attempting to hide her improvised weapon behind her back.

Behind him half the roof collapsed with a massive crash, the Jedi wincing slightly.

Buffy frowned and leaned forward. “Anakin, what did you do...”

This time it was the Jedi’s turn to blush. “Nothing.”

“Nothing,” she repeated.

“Yes,” Anakin started, feeling very much like he was once again a young teenager having to explain why what should have been a simple task turned into a complete debacle. A task of which he was well acquainted. “They were the ones who... overreacted.”

“Overreacted...”

“Yes,” he nodded, “After I provided more... resistance... than they could manage my foes clearly decided that if they could not stop me with conventional means then they’d try something more... un-conventional.”

“Like...”

“An anti-aircraft gun.”

Buffy paused for a moment, slightly agape. “Wait. Seriously?”

“Yes.”

“Like to shoot down jets?”

“Yes.”

“An anti-aircraft gun.” she shook her head. “So besides starting World War Three, what was the plan?”

“Plan is probably a bit formal, I wouldn't say it isn’t so much a plan as a really good intention.”

“Not that I don't mind a little demon slaughter, I've been known to sponsor related events, but we usually try to keep it low key. We're probably going to have the entire Coast Guard out here in like ten minutes.”

“I don’t believe that will be a problem.”

Buffy blinked. “Why not?”

“Because in ten minutes this ship will be at the bottom of the ocean.”

There was an awkward pause between them as Buffy processed that fact.

“Yeah. Okay. That’s kinda... yeah.”

Anakin nodded “We need to leave.”

“Uh huh. Very much. Like nowish.”

“Before we go.” Anakin drew the second Vibrosword from his back and handed to Buffy who took it and looked it over with practiced eye before smiling in appraisal.

“Nice sword. What's this button do?” She pressed the small blue button elegantly and seamlessly built into the hand guard and the sword ever so subtly began to hum in her hand.

“It is called a Vibrosword. It uses subsonic vibrations to oscillate the blade...”

“Parlez vous anglais?”

Anakin sighed. Teenagers. ”Push the button and it can cut through practically anything.”

Buffy’s eyes lit up and her smile turned into a feral grin of delight, “You are so not getting this back.”

Anakin nodded with a grin he couldn’t quite suppress having expected that to be the case. Oh well, he’d make another one for Xander later, as he had intended to give him this one tonight. The Force apparently had other ideas.

“We should probably go.” Anakin insisted.

Buffy nodded, “Oh, right. Lead on then.”

They moved back the way they had come through the shattered corridors and demon bodies littering their way until they both spotted danger ahead of them.

“Demons!” Buffy warned.

“I see them!”

“Demons with rocket launchers!” She quickly added. “That is so cheating!”

“At least it’s not an anti-aircraft piece.”

A quartet of Scourge dropped down with shoulder launched rockets. It was too crowded to dodge the weapons and he couldn't simply block them with his sword. Nor could he jump aside, that would leave Buffy alone.

Time slowed to a crawl as he pulled Buffy in beside him and opened up to the Force, dropping the usual guards and barriers and just finding a place to immerse within it. This was something he had not wanted to do, not yet, not with the scars of the past still raw. There was a danger the Dark side would assault him, overpower him, especially with the echoes of so much carnage and death dealt by his hand, but he was out of options.

Let the Force flow through you Anakin….Let it work for you

Obi-wans voice seemed to reach out from a vast distance, echoing across space and time. And in that moment he knew what he had to do. The impending danger seemed so inconsequential as time lost all meaning in that moment when Anakin closed his eyes and turned his focus inward. As he drew in a deep breath, so too did he call forth his fears and anxieties, his rage and his grief. He pulled them forth and coalesced them, binding them into an almost physical object in his mind’s eye. Then he trapped and contained it in a bottle of pure will power. This he realized was the seeds of the Dark side within him. So potent, so quick to put down roots and grow. But in this moment he held the power over them, and like a gardener pruning his garden of weeds, so too did he prune them.

Trust in the Force Anakin!

Inwardly Anakin smiled. He had to trust in the Force completely, giving himself over without reservation or hesitation. He exhaled forcefully, purging the seeds of the Dark side from his being. It would not leave him totally, the Dark side always left a mark, but its power over him had been vanquished in that moment. And with their banishment the barriers to his connection seemed to melt away as if they had never been.

He felt its familiarity as the Force called to him. Not a tidal rush of power and energy, but a slow, yet instantaneous envelopment of his self as he sank into its endless depths.

It was like conversing with a dear old friend who was happy to reconnect. He remembered the face of Qui-Gon Jin during that first instruction about the Force.

Always remember, your focus determines your reality...

He had not understood then, as he so rarely did the importance of that first lesson, but now. Now he understood, and he intended to never forget and to pass on that knowledge to his student.

More memories came in a blur, yet he saw them all. Images of long training sessions with Obi Wan reassuring him, reminding him of the simple joy of learning about the Force and the galaxy, the innocent age before it became clouded. Images of their many adventures across the galaxy together as they fought back to back and side by side as two halves of a greater whole. The companionship and bonds of brotherhood between them.

He saw images of Padme as she once was, smiling at him and professing her love. As the images washed over him so too did the Force in all its glory. Its energy coursed through his veins, through the pores of his skin, permeating his entire being as he gave himself over completely, and by doing so, in that moment, truly becoming an instrument of the Living Force. His aura literally shining with its pale blue light.

The rockets were easily diverted, casually even, but they had to go somewhere and even though they were deflected away from Anakin and Buffy they still hit the cargo in the bay. One of them finding a store of vehicle fuel.

In a second the entire inside of the ship turned to pure flame, an explosion of light and heat that melted the Scourge from existence. Anakin held it back, sensing Buffy sheltering beside him in equal measures afraid and enthralled by the tumult around them. He manipulated the heat and the flame, commanded the storm through the Force, let it spin and flow around them like a liquid tornado of flame and then outward through the bowels of the ship to hunt down the evil taint of the Scourge wherever they resided.

He could do it consciously, only by being at one with himself and the Light side could he manage this. He had taken that last step toward connecting with his old self, to beat his fear and finally bring the Force in all its purity back into his life. His recovery was by no means complete, but he had taken a massive step in the right direction.

He resided there in the eye of the firestorm for lifetimes, his open connection to the Force a living reminder of all he had once been and all he could yet be. He lifted the fire up, a tall funnel that rose up through the deck and hundreds of meters into the sky, a tornado of light and heat at his command. He focused its power, made it more intense, let it burn itself out in seconds instead of hours and then, mere moments later, it was done and night fell again.

He and Buffy stood in the charred insides of the ship, the embers glowing, both silent for a long moment as they processed the information.

“That was...” Buffy began. “It was just...”

“Yeah, I think I might owe you an explanation or...”

“That was so frickin cool!” Buffy broke into a huge smile. “Can you do it again? Like in the middle of a Vamp nest or something? Because whoa!”

“I...well with enough fuel.” Anakin replied, blushing slightly at her praise.

“You are totally a wizard, Anni. Giles is definitely going to want to hear all about this.”

“I'm not exactly a...” Anakin paused as a wave of Nostalgia jolted him. He hadn't heard that nickname in a long time. It brought a slight smile to his face, but now was not the time to dwell on it. “We better talk later, because I do not wish to explain this to the Coastal patrol. I have a boat.” Anakin offered.

“Oh, you can't levitate us home?” She looked a little disappointed. Anakin frowned for a second; that was actually something he might be able to look into. For now though he was more than a little drained.

“Probably best to play it safe.”

“Okay, Boat.” Buffy blinked. “When did you get a boat?”

“Interesting story, that. Once we’re back on land I’ll tell you about it over an ice tea.”

“So how do you know it’s still there?”

Anakin smiled “They’re not going to be getting very far without the keys...”

They climbed down to Anakins boat and it pulled away into the night, the Scourge's ship settling in the water and smoking.

“We probably don't want it rescued do we?” Anakin asked. “I mean I reckon all the demon bodies are incinerated, but you know.”

“Yeah, secret calling and all that jazz.” Buffy nodded. “Can we do something? No wait, are you going to do something wizardy and awesome again?”

“Let me see.”

He visualized the ship in the Force, the old metal, the straining hull as water flowed in. It was seriously weakened, and he had smashed most of the watertight compartments. With a little pressure in the right place...

With a loud squeal of twisting metal the ship began to sag in the middle until the structural supports popped one after the other, the weakened metal beams giving way under Anakin's manipulation. The spine of the vessel broke, the two halves separating and allowing water to pour in. Within twenty seconds it had vanished under the waves, a field of bubbles and frothing sea the only relic of its passing.

“Awesome. I mean Awe. Some.” Buffy grinned, slapping his arm. “You don't keep that sort of thing to yourself! You're a Wizard Anni!”

“I...”

“Can you turn Snyder into a frog? Or make the Bronze not suck on Sundays?”

“We, we better talk to Giles about this. It's complicated.”

“Okay.” She settled down, then immediately started grinning again, eyes sparkling brightly. “Can you make the school vanish under a mountain of ice?”

“Giles.”

“Hmm.” She shrugged. “Actually I had these ideas for Giles' apartment, and with magic he can't really stop me. What do you think of Fuchsia? Would that drive him mad in two days or three? Oh and can you make a car appear for me? I've been looking at brochures and I've narrowed it down to sixteen types...”


****

WolfRam and Hart
Los Angeles Branch

The steel and glass buttress stood silent in the blackness, the bright lights of the city reflecting only dimly in the tinted glazing. An evening breeze sweeping in of the sea rustled leaves along the sidewalks, wafted away the day’s heat and blew ripples across perfectly manicured grass. And yet, never a whisper or gust touched those dark and silent walls. Some power hung over that place, unnoticed by the passersby, which left the black obsidian, cream tiles and shaded glass of the Wolfram and Hart offices untouched. In the light from the nearby street-lamps the building’s silhouette rose darkly above the sidewalks, casting jagged menacing shadows across the perfect green lawns around it.

The impression given by the building and the main entrance was sophisticated and professional, evocative of successful practice. Law Firms in LA were a dime a dozen, but successful firms were something else. Wolfram & Hart’s reputation, whenever their rivals came to speak of them, was one of respect tinged with wary caution. The quiet talk of offices and bars hinted at dubious dealings, secretive clients and of more than the odd deal with the devil. But within that sophisticated and expensive façade, deals with the devil were old news, something the junior lawyers handled. For the rising stars there were other much higher risk games to be played.

Lindsey McDonald was just such an individual. It hadn’t been easy; climbing the corporate ladder had required a sharp mind and an eye to capitalize on unexpected opportunities. Opportunities that did not exclude the sudden and/or violent death of a colleague or superior. Such was the daily life of the demonic law firm, a true Dynasty of Evil. But it was an evil Lindsey knew he could deal with. He knew the game and played it well. His opponents in the company, including those would had suffered his displeasure, would say too well.

An unfortunate by product of the small print in W&H’s employee contracts meant that the firm never really let a small matter like a violent beheading in the boardroom serve as an excuse for being late for work. This had the...unfortunate effect of causing rivalries between employees to endure beyond the grave, the messy consequences of which tended to annoy the demons responsible for housekeeping. Junior employees were not unknown to comment, with dark humor, that Lindsey’s relatively minimal body count was perhaps a symptom of his success. It was after all so much harder to remain professional with a rival after you have violently inserted a blunt object into their skull.
Other more knowledgeable individuals refrained from quietly commenting that the corporation’s Golden Boy in fact manipulated other employees to do his dirty work, avoiding by proxy any of the accompanying trouble. Or for that matter a whooping great bill from housekeeping.

Lindsey had, so general office talk went, become the corporations golden boy despite or perhaps because of the myriad of curveballs thrown his way. This latest challenge however, which thankfully few of his opponents save Lilah knew of, also presented him with an opportunity. It was an opportunity which surprise surprise could not be ignored. ‘Wasn’t it always’ he thought with dark humor as he crossed the street and walked up to the entrance of W&H.

The crux of the problem was that a growing number of WolfRam and Hart’s revenue streams, and clients, were disappearing or drying up in Santa Barbara County, in Sunnydale in particular.

This situation had it been generally known within Wolfram and Hart’s LA office would have caused concern for many of the older or more senior employees. History showed that such a disappearance of revenue and contacts in an area usually preceded the emergence of a rival firm or other hostile power. Lindsey’s worries were closer to home. He was, unfortunately, the individual responsible for Wolfram and Hart’s operations in the Santa Barbara and Sunnydale area and had been for the last year and a half.
This appeared to be yet another of those very rare occasions where literally stepping into a dead man’s shoes didn’t appear to be paying off.

Lindsey was suddenly exposed, and he did not care for the unaccustomed feeling. He would have been more confident if Lilah Morgan hadn’t been prowling around like a hyena looking to sharpen her claws on his office chair. He hadn’t yet dared be thankful that thus far only Lilah was perhaps aware of just how exposed he was.
In Wolfram & Hart, such thoughts had the unfortunate habit of being overheard, mental shields or not. As he stepped up to the tinted plate glass doors of Wolfram and Hart he did his best to clear his mind of incriminating thoughts and hoped no-one would question his presence outside his usual office hour.

The automatic doors slide open before him, treating him to a blast of cold air conditioned air. As he stepped into the large lobby he heard the doors slide shut behind him, cutting off all the noises of the city instantly.

Crossing the wide expanse of brightly lit lobby he used his employees pass to pass through the barrier to the elevators. Pushing the button for the 9th floor, he leant back against the mirrored wall of the elevator, composing his thoughts for the real challenge.

The first eight floors of the building, served by the ground floor lobby, were occupied by entirely human employees. These people went about their everyday lives much like the employees of any other legal firm in LA. They started work at eight, they left at six, they took their holidays, they complained about their clients, they fiddled their expenses and they paid their pensions. They were, in every sense of the word, normal.

The remaining five floors were occupied by an entirely different type of employee, serving clients who could rarely be described as normal. Those who worked on the lower floors were aware of they acted almost exclusively as a cover story, a façade of normality behind which the firm’s darker dealings were conducted on the upper floors.

Few of the ‘normal’ workers were aware the upper floors of the building were occupied by their own firm and not leased by an ultra-discreet firm of accountants with an international client base. Those that learnt the truth, rarely lasted long enough to tell anyone about it.
The integrity of this disguise was maintained partly by the design of the building, which neatly separated the occupants of the two separate areas and partly by the powerful intangible defenses around the upper floors. Completing the defences of Wolfram & Hart’s real base of operations for the west coast was an obscene electronic and mystical security system, which kept an ever vigilant watch of everything that went on inside the grounds. Not to mention of course the psychics, mages and a small army of security guards demonic and human armed with automatic rifles and other less conventional but equally deadly weapons.
As the doors slid open in front of him, Lindsey did his best to hide his slight intake of breath, before he stepped out into the smaller expanse of the building’s second lobby on the 9th floor. Even at this late hour, there were receptionists on duty and employees passing to and from various departments. Business never slept.

Lindsey crossed the second lobby with brisk and purposeful stride. Reaching the stairs to executive country he began to climb, his mind intently focused on thoughts of an upcoming liaison with the attractive secretary of one of his fellow partners and rivals. In his experience, the mystical defenses of the lobby didn’t give a damn about morality, merely loyalty. He had learnt long ago to shield his true thoughts from the firm’s psychics and security with a plausible cover story.

Passing through the double doors into the corridor leading to his office, he felt a barely perceptible pressure subside from the back of his mind. Confident that he had passed safely through the mystical defenses of the lobby area, he walked the familiar fifteen paces to his office door and let himself in. Switching on the lights he sat down at the desk and switched on his computer. As he waited for it to boot up he rolled his chair over to a sideboard and pressed the button on an expensive coffee maker.

A few moments later the rich aroma of coffee had spread throughout the office, as Lindsey clutched the cup in his hands and studied various pressing documents on his monitor. He sat there for almost an hour, until the clock on the wall ticked over to half past eleven at night. As he finished all that needed to be done with the last document in his in tray for that day, Lindsey leant back in his chair and stretched.

Just then, there was a tap at the door. Lindsey gazed at his watch and grinned.
Walking over to it he pulled back the catch, and pulled the door open. A tall dark haired woman entered, wearing a long pale coat over what were clearly evening clothes. She smiled at him, and pushed him back gently into the room with one hand. After Closing the door behind her, and making sure it was securely fastened, she leant back against it and smile. The smile and the look in her eyes promised much.

Lindsey smoothly stepped forward, taking the long coat she eased off her shoulders and tossing it carelessly at a chair. At his gesture she moved into the office, stepping over to the couch and drinks cabinet. As he asked her what drink she want she stepped close to him, her body pressing against him as she surveyed the drinks on the tray atop the polished wooden cabinet.

Enjoying the sensation, Lindsey was deliberately slow to move away, selecting a bottle of expensive red wine and two glasses. Smiling her approval, his guest took the crystal glass, holding it delicately in one expensively manicured hand. Pouring his own glass, Lindsey raised it to hers, the crystal chinking as they touched. After they shared a drink he gestured to the couch. He watched appreciatively as she sat, enjoying the ply of the evening dress over her long limbs. Sitting beside her they began to talk a little. Lindsey chatted animatedly, the compliments flowing profusely from his silver tongue.

After precisely five minutes, he saw his guest shiver slightly. A minute or so after that, as she bent forward to kiss him, he saw her eyes widen in panic. Hurriedly catching around the shoulders as she toppled forward, he enquired concernedly if she was ok. She gazed up at him silently, her face a picture of shock, her long hair glowing gently in the spotlights. Within seconds she was unconscious.

Lifting her carefully, Lindsey laid her back on the couch. The dress gaped as he arranged her long limbs, revealing tanned skin and dark lingerie beneath the fabric. As he dimmed the lights and pulled on his jacket he looked back at her still form regretfully. Closing the door gently he stepped out into the corridor, mind focused on his real errand that evening.

Stepping out along the corridor, he strode deeper into the building, passing door after door marked with the names of colleagues and rivals. Every so often he saw the glow of light from within an office, or passed people and routine security patrols in the corridor. He was especially glad to see two doors dark and silent. Lee was off ‘wining and dining’ a new potential client, while Lilah was handling a developing situation in San Francisco concerning a previously undiscovered coven of witches. Passing the heavily guarded portals of Holland Manner’s office, he was relieved to see the offices inside dark and empty. The head of the office and his wife were making an appearance at a Charity auction downtown that would keep him tied up until the early hours.

Taking care not to hurry his pace, he continued on and pushed the call button for the elevator at the end of the corridor. It came, opening silently as always, and he stepped inside.
He pushed the door close button, and waited calmly for them to slide shut. When he was hidden from the scrutiny of the corridor cameras, he inserted a key into a latch on the control panel and turned. The key glowed red, and then nine additional unmarked buttons materialized out of the bare metal of one wall. Lindsey carefully selected one, and breathed a sigh of relief when the car began to descend. Confident that he was at last safe from scrutiny; he leant back against the wall of the elevator car and tried to ignore his beating heart.

***

When the elevator door slid open several minutes later, Lindsey stepped calmly out into the room beyond. Before him stretched the vast expanse of a sub-basement, one of several which did not appear on the building’s planning application. Each folded into a unique dimension; they sat beneath the conventional basement, existing only when called into being and accessible only by those with the right key. This one was the mystical equivalent of a safety deposit box, one of several repositories for artifacts accumulated by W&H over the millennia and kept for if and when they might be of use.

Lindsey had learned of this one and obtained the right key less than a week before. He should not have it, but he had managed to conceal the theft for now. He had learnt enough during the theft to understand its use, and hoped to return it shortly before its absence was discovered.

A sudden noise to his left made him freeze in mid step. He turned slowly, and felt a shiver run down his spine. Apparently keys were not the only security the vaults’ possessed. Of course. That would be too fucking easy.

It was not inconceivable that a hostile or rogue individual might gain possession of a key and learn the secret of its use, and so W&H had added an extra level of defense. An unsleeping guardian dwelt each vault, a dark creature, a nameless terror. In a bizarre touch, it apparently sat at a desk, with a desk lamp.

It sat before Lindsey now, dressed incongruously in a suit and tie. Outwardly human, coal dark eyes surveyed him with an icy dispassion. Its eyes moved from his face to the key in Lindsey’s hand.

When it spoke its words grated, the harsh inhuman voice conflicting with the familiar form it wore. “Greetings employee, this is Vault 7. Please locate your required item and sign it out with the Guardian. Any attempt to remove an item without approval or registration will lead to immediate dismissal.”

Despite his very real fear, Lindsey nearly snorted. The damn thing was playing a recorded message, from somebody with a dark sense of humor, or none at all. Slipping the key inside his jacket pocket he stepped carefully forward, forcefully ignoring the Guardian behind him, and surveyed the vast expanse of boxes and shelves ruefully. He hadn’t expected it to be so large. His unwitting alibi would only sleep for so long, and to search this space could take a lifetime. He looked in vain for some form of archive system; some sign or map showing how the vault’s contents were arranged and categorized. He saw none.

He cast his mind back to the single file he had extracted, at great personal risk, from Holland Manner’s own computer system. Until that hazardous step, his discreet search had been fruitless. The term ‘Sith’ was unknown to any of his usual contacts. It was not a type of demon, not the name of any group known to contacts whose memories covered most of human history, not the name for any branch of magic or occult he could discover.

His confidence and interest in the search had over the weeks often begun to dissipate, only for his memories of that encounter to spur him on again. He couldn’t explain what drew him on, or why his unusually strong sense of self-preservation had yet to kick in, despite several extremely reckless potentially fatal actions. As his search had continued, based only on a feeling and the images from Manner’s mind, his curiosity had grown to match his frustration. What could be so obscure or secret that even his not in-extensive network of contacts knew nothing of it?

In the end, his search had led him to the contents of Manner’s own computer. Days of planning, resulting in twenty minutes frantic and terror filled search, had revealed a single record of an artifact to which the term ‘Sith’ was tentatively attached. No description, no picture, merely a box number.

Swallowing a curse, Lindsey strolled forward down one of the corridors between boxes. Gazing at the nearest, he saw the box numbers were a completely different format to the one he sought. At that he did swear out loud, and broke into a jog down the aisle, guessing the box he sought must be in an entirely different section. Forty frantic, exhausting and fruitless minutes later, he came to a halt deep within the vault. It seemed to stretch on forever, with no trace of a back wall. He had dared not move beyond where the elevator doors were still just visible, for fear of getting lost in the warren of passageways between stacked high crates and shelving. The dark specter of the Guardian still sat at the desk, a reminder that even if he found what he sought, he would still need to get it past the guard.

Sweating, he leant against yet another crate, lungs clamoring for oxygen, ignoring the splinter of the rough wood beneath his palms. His collar felt tight and he scrabbled with his fingers to unbutton it, tearing loose the button in his haste and pulling the tie free. Shoving the expensive material in his jacket pocket along with the key, he rested against the crate and collected himself.

Involuntarily he touched IT. The power, the illusive Force he had channeled that night. Despite his attempts to understand it, to harness it, it unfailingly slipped between his fingers. It came uncalled for at times, but never with any control or pattern. He had come to semi-hate it, as much as he longed to learn more about it. He feared it too, feared it would come to him in the office, in front of the others.

It came to him now, a strange yet familiar sensation, into which he on a whim poured all his worry, frustration and anger. The crate he rested against shuddered beneath his hands, a jagged ‘crack’ appearing in the wood of one panel. He leapt back in shock, mind reeling at the sudden sensation of power and something darker which touched his mind. He looked hurriedly back at the Guardian. It was too far away to be sure, but he could feel those ebony lifeless eyes on him, and shuddered.

In sudden fear he turned and ran deeper into the vault, dodging in an out of the stacks, all thought of staying in sight of the elevator long gone. He gave no thought to direction, aiming only to get as far away from the Guardian as possible. He ran for what must have been a quarter hour, constantly looking over his shoulder. When at last he staggered to a halt, his hair was plastered against his forehead with sweat and his legs felt like jelly. Tentatively, he touched IT again. He nearly staggered, as a rush of heat and sudden energy seemed to fill his veins. He blinked and took a step back from the crate he had been leaning on.

As if a switch had been thrown, the energy left him, dropping him to his knees. Clutching at a crate, he pulled himself back up and as before, suddenly, the power filled him. Not understanding, he looked down in bemusement at the crate he was leaning on. It looked just like all the others; presumably a deliberate approach he suspected was part of the vaults security. His eyes went automatically to the number. It was not the one he sought.

Pushing himself angrily away from the crate, Lindsey was about to give it a frustrated kick when a blow like a speeding car smashed into him from the side. For a split second he was flying through the air, before he slammed painfully into the cold concrete of the floor. The breath was knocked out of him by the impact, and before he could recover he was lifted bodily off the ground and thrown against a crate. His head connected with the wood, and for a second he saw only white light. When his view returned, he saw the suited figure of the Guardian standing over him.

It gazed down at him, face expressionless, black eyes fixed unblinkingly upon him.

“Halt. You have attempted to access an artifact without following proper procedure. You will be detained by the Guardian until security arrives. Please be aware that any attempt to resist will result in immediate termination of your employment”

Lindsey scrambled backwards away from it in a panic, pulling himself to his feet using a nearby crate. He watched panicked as the Guardian approached. He would have to fight it, and didn’t think he could. He back away further, looking around frantically for someone to use as a weapon. He seized the only thing that came to hand, a clipboard someone had left behind on one of the shelves. Unthinkingly he threw it at the advancing Guardian. It bounced harmlessly off the creature’s chest.

At the pitiful assault the creature broke into a run, moving faster than it had a right to. Before Lindsey could even turn to run it had him, and threw him through the air once more. He slammed shoulder first into yet another crate, the wooden slats giving way at the force of the impact. A cascade of packing chips and small objects poured out, a number dropping painfully onto his face.

In desperation he picked up a number of the heavier ones, throwing them at the approaching Guardian. Most missed. A larger crystal like object slammed into the creature’s chest, before dropping to the floor with an audible THUD. The creature continued unconcerned, reaching down and lifting Lindsey off the ground effortlessly with one hand. It held him up by the throat, shaking him slightly. A number of packing chips dislodged by the movement dropped out of Lindsey’s hair and jacket onto the floor.

The creature surveyed him expressionlessly, then turned towards the elevator, holding Lindsey away from its body like a bag of trash to be thrown out. Expecting to be carried the whole way to security, and wondering if he’d have passed out from suffocation by then, Lindsey was surprised to be dropped to the floor after just a few paces.

“Identify yourself,” came the pre-recorded guttural challenge of the Guardian standing over him.

Rolling over, Lindsey saw an indistinct figure in a black cowl standing between them and the door. It turned to face them at the challenge, and appeared to examine them wordlessly.

“Identify yourself.” The challenge was repeated. When there was no response, the Guardian stepped forward, scattering objects before it underfoot as it advanced. The robed figure, apparently oblivious or uncaring, leant down to pick up one of them.

Lyndsey craned his eyes, but couldn’t make it what it was. The Guardian apparently did, for it stopped and repeated its earlier message.

“Any attempt to remove an item without approval or registration will lead to immediate dismissal. You will be detained by the Guardian until security arrives.” At this the Guardian stepped forward, reaching for the object in the figure’s hand. Its fingers closed upon it, and then it seemed to freeze.

Lindsey watched from at their feet, stunned and bruised from the beating he had taken. The robed figure took the object back from the Guardian’s unresisting figure, and stepped back. It spoke then, a few short words in a strange language. With a dismissive gesture of one hand, the Guardian fell abruptly to the floor, like a puppet whose strings had been cut.

The robed figure gazed down at the object in its hands, and then looked up. It seemed to Lindsey that it looked directly at him, but he could not be sure. Then it vanished suddenly. The object it had held dropped to the floor with a clatter, falling to its side on the floor.

For what seemed an age, but could only have been a minute or so, Lyndsey lay there on the cold floor. Then with a groan, he hauled his protesting body upwards, clinging tightly to yet another crate as he rose unsteadily to his feet. With a wary look at the still figure of the Guardian, he hobbled over to where the unknown object lay. Reaching down to pick it up his attention was caught by a broken piece of the crate it had come from. He blinked, reading the number upon it. He lifted the splintered piece of wood up, turning it in his hands. He groaned, recognizing the number he had been looking for. He had not initially recognized it because some dumbass had only stacked the damn crate, and consequently the number stamped upon it, upside down.
Casting the wooden piece aside, he leant down and picked up the object that had rolled across the floor.

The moment his fingers closed about it, a surge of the strange energy he had felt before flooded through his veins. It lasted for just a second, but he didn’t need the number on the crate to tell him this was what he’d been looking for. Cradling it in his hand he examined it briefly. It wasn’t very big; a man could hold it easily in one hand. Apparently made from some crystal-like material it was a pyramid like shape. One end was perfectly smooth, forming a flat base, while the other tapered towards a point. Its surfaces were decorated with a strange pattern of dots and lines like hieroglyphs, but there was no discernible text or markings he could see.

Slipping it into a surviving pocket of his battered suit jacket, he looked warily at the still form of the Guardian. Was it dead? He needed to get out of the vault, but he couldn’t risk the Guardian identifying him. At the thought of escape, he hurriedly checked another pocket and was relieved to feel the weight of the elevator key still wrapped inside his tie. He looked around for inspiration about how to deal with the Guardian. Where was a battle-axe when you needed one?

His eyes fell on another broken crate, a product of the Guardian’s tender treatment of him earlier. Pulling apart the broken panels, he saw the hilt of what appeared to be a sword. Aware that most things in the vault weren’t what they seemed, he ripped a large piece of piece of torn lining from his jacket and wrapped it around his hand. Carefully tugging the handle loose in a flood of packing chips, making sure to not touch the bare metal, he discovered a sturdy looking short sword with a blood red jewel on the pommel.

Tugging it loose from its sheath and giving it a testing swing, he eyed the still form of the Guardian speculatively, a ferocious grin on his face.

An exhausting twenty minutes later he was slumped against the wall of the lift, wondering how he would explain the state of his suit and jacket to anyone he met upstairs. As he made his way along the office to his corridor, hurrying to reduce the risk of being seen, he checked his watch and saw he had been gone just an hour and a half. Making his way at last to his office, he opened the door and slipped inside. Slipping his trophy for the evening into a wall safe, he took off his ripped jacket and hung it behind the door.

Freshening up briefly, changing into a fresh shirt he kept in case of emergencies, he crossed to the sofa where his alibi still slept. Checking his watch, he waited the last few minutes, rehearsing the story he was going to tell her. As her eyelids began to flutter, he took her hand and bent over her, planting a concerned expression on his face. He ran an eye once more down her lithe figure, and hoped the rest of his evening would be as successful.

****

The End?

You have reached the end of "The Chosen Ones" – so far. This story is incomplete and the last chapter was posted on 16 Oct 13.

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