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Gods, Gates and Keys

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Summary: In 1928, the Watcher's Council discovered a strange ring in Giza. Now, Buffy's looking for a research project to keep her little sister busy and out of danger. Surely, looking into some ancient metal ring can't be that dangerous. Right?

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Stargate > GeneralWaveletFR151153,583611525,0181 Apr 121 Jun 12No

Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten

Again, the faint ripples of forcibly twisted space time blew over Illyria's skin like a gentle breeze, and the once and future God-King smiled thinly. It was just as she had surmised. Attenuated as her senses were, if she concentrated on feeling the distortions in space time, detecting the activation of one of the worms' Astria Porta was a simple matter.

The Astria Porta itself was, naturally, of little consequence to a being who had walked worlds beyond count and once live seven lives simultaneously. However, limited as she was by the pathetic shell of Winifred Burkle, it would serve as a clue, and, if necessary, a gateway.

While an Astra Porta was only of small note to Illyria, the tool which had recently traveled through the worms' pathetic ring was of far greater import. She had felt it, less than a week ago, when the power of the Key had stretched out to encompass this entire world, and her senses had tracked that power when it withdrew from the world to a thin skein of twisted space time, joining this world to another.

The Old One had suspected the worms' device then, but many beings and artifacts existed which might have taken the Key into the void through that skein, and she did not know if the worms' device might have been moved, even were it responsible for the Key's appearance. With such tenuous evidence of the Key's location, rather than departing immediately, Illyria had chosen to wait, immersing herself in meditation in hopes of receiving conclusive proof of her supposition. The muck who inhabited this world were impatient and small-minded. If they had found and once made use of the worms' Astria Porta, then they would most likely soon do so again, confirming her hypothesis.

Thus, when, after an interminable delay, Illyria had finally felt the ripples in space time she recognized as signifying an Astria Porta's activation, she could not help but smile. Then, as she felt the Key itself flitting between the worms' rings, her smile widened into an expression of the purest pleasure.

The muck, fools that they were, had placed the instrument of her return within her grasp. Once more, she would wield powers unimagined by the pitiful inhabitants of this worthless world. Her former guide had taken away Illyria's power, sealing it away in a pocket dimension which she could not access in her present state. Moreover, even if she could regain her ancient might, her current shell lacked the capacity to contain more than a fraction of her former majesty.

However, with the Key in her hands, every dimension would be at her fingertips once more. There existed higher planes, ones normally barred to her kind, where she could rid herself of Winfred Burkle's shell and its myriad limitations. Fortunately, for one who held the Key, no plane was inaccessible. Finally, after her interminable imprisonment within the cramped, little world of the muck, Illyria could return in all her glory. Then, once more, even the Gods would bow before her.

In a small corner of Illyria's awareness, the pathetic remnants of her shell bleated futilely. At one time, when her guide still lived, the residue of Winifred Burkle had been stronger. At times, loathe as Illyria was to admit, those remnants might even have guided her actions. Since then, however, what little remained of the shell had suffered one crippling grief after another.

First, the guide had died. Even now, that loss still cut her deepest. Then the muck known as Gunn had fallen in battle against minions of the Wolf, Ram and Hart. Shortly after that same conflict, the half-breed known as Angel had vanished. Eventually, only the half-breed Spike remained at her side. With each loss, the shell's meager influence upon Illyria grew less, its will battered, as it drowned in the offal known as human grief.

In some small matters, Illyria still suspected that her shell affected her actions. She was reluctant to slay the muck which populated this world without reason, and, when she stole, it was generally from those the shell would have considered villains – vampires, demons and violent criminals. Even so, she was undeniably less like the muck than she had been when her guide lived. She suspected that her guide would have disapproved, but only when the shell's influence was particularly strong could she find it in herself to care.

She was not one of the muck. The pain she had experienced in her attempts to understand the muck – dispossession, loss and abandonment – was more than sufficient to prove to her that desiring a place amongst them was foolish in the extreme. What she needed was not to understand the muck, but to once again ascend to a state beyond their comprehension. The Key would be her instrument in this endeavor.

Not bothering with packing any of her meager possessions, save for a wallet containing a little more than ten thousand dollars, Illyria shifted into the form of Fred Burkle, dressing in cream trousers and a white dress shirt. She rarely wore the late Fred Burkle's form these days, but the convenience of traveling to her destination in an airplane easily outweighed the indignity of having to act as if she were her shell. There was only one minor indulgence she planned upon allowing herself during this journey.

“Half-breed, I am leaving. You may accompany me.”

“Right, right,” Spike replied from their apartment's couch, where he had lain in order to watch one of the muck's television programs.

The bleach blonde vampire had bleated endlessly about his boredom with her meditation in recent days, claiming that he was in need of a good scrap. Of course, she cared nothing for his concerns, but, even so, with luck, their coming trip would put an end to his pathetic complaints.

“I keep telling you, Blue Bird, if you want to make new friends and influence people, that attitude of yours is going to need just a mite bit of changing. I know that back in the old days, the whole 'I am a God: kneel before me' shtick worked out pretty well for you, but it just doesn't have the same cache in modern times. A bloody shame, I'll grant you, but that's just how it is.”

“I have no need of friends among the muck, half-breed, and I will rip the beating heart out of any who dare defy me.”

“And that's why I'm the one who always gets stuck paying the rent and going to the bloody store. The things I do to keep you from murdering half of New York City. I deserve a bleeding medal.”

Illyria had settled in New York due to its size, importance and the abundance of criminals whom she could kill within its underworld, but that was before she had been gifted with a simple method of returning to her true form. The city's connections to various dealers of dangerous and potent magical artifacts were irrelevant now. The warlocks she had sought out in hopes that one might be able to return her true powers were meaningless. Her path was clear.

Fortunately, Winifred Burkle's passport had not yet expired, so booking a flight from New York to Buenos Aires should be a simple matter. Spike had, at some point, apparently acquired an illicit passport as well. She remembered precisely where the worms' Astria Porta had been in her time, and, if the muck who now inhabited this planet had moved it, then she would simply force those nearest to its former site to reveal its new location. One way or another, she would have the Key and the Astria Porta. Then, once more, all of existence would tremble before the might of Illyria.

“Anyway,” Spike began, walking over to stand beside Illyria, “where are you planning on going? Is it going to be another night of vampire hunting, or maybe a few drug dealers? I'll admit, the pickings here are a bit slim compared to Sunnydale or LA, but, still, I can't say that I'd mind getting back into the action.”

“Neither.” the God-King replied impassively. “You will book the two of us a flight to Buenos Aires, as soon as possible.”

The half-breed blinked incredulously a few times.

“Argentina? And why the bleeding Hell d'you want to go there?”

“It is no concern of yours, half-breed.”

“Right,” he scoffed. “You want me to move with you to bloody Argentina, and you're saying that 'it is no concern of mine.' You're even expecting me to book the flight.”

“That is correct.”

“Well, I'm telling you that it bloody well is my concern. What would I even do in Buenos Aires? There might not be a single decent game of kitten poker in the city.”

“We will not remain in Argentina for long,” Illyria intoned.

“No? So where's the next stop on your royal blueness' mystery tour, then: the Horn of Africa?”

“From Argentina, we will proceed by boat to Antarctica.”

“Antarctica? What are you? Mad? I'll freeze my bollocks off out there! If you want to take a vacation, at least pick some place warmer than the arctic circle.”

Illyria peered at Spike, the alien expression in her eyes seeming chillingly incongruous on Fred Burkle's features.

“Have you finished your mewling, half-breed? I have answered your questions, and wish to depart swiftly, so you should begin the task assigned to you.”

“The task assigned to me? Are you bloody serious? You could at least tell me why you've suddenly decided to take us on a trip to the coldest place on Earth.”

Illyria peered at Spike more closely then, assessing his trustworthiness. He had never betrayed her before, save for when he had joined her former guide and Angel in futilely trying to save the shell from her. Even so, to trust him with the truth of her plans would be lunacy. Spike was a champion of the muck which had polluted this world. If he learned that she intended to cast off the shell and rule all of existence once more, he would surely take action against her. In fact, it might not be wise to bring him with her at all, but Illyria knew that his presence would quiet the shell, reducing its inane bleating to the point where it could be ignored. She also knew that, loathe as she was to admit it, a part of her besides the shell would miss her pet vampire. He was amusing and, at times, even useful. Illyria would never regret regaining her former glory and casting off the cage in which the fool Knox had imprisoned her, but, if she would even slightly miss anything in her present, unsightly existence, it would be Spike. Perhaps, she could offer him a tiny kernel of the truth.

“When the worms ruled this Earth, they left behind an amusing artifact. I have decided to retrieve it.”

“An artifact, huh?” Spike replied, ignoring her reference to the so-called 'worms.' “What's it do?”

“You will see upon our arrival. Now,” she raised an eyebrow challengingly, “will you see to our journey, or will I have to arrange matters myself?”

Wincing at the thought of an airport strewn with the corpses of clerks, security guards and pilots who had 'defied' Illyria's will, Spike surrendered to Illyria's inevitable triumph. In all honesty, he was lucky that he had gotten that much out of her. Blue Bird must be awfully excited if she was letting so much slip.

“Fine, fine,” Spike conceded, pulling out his cell phone. “One trip to the coldest place on Earth coming right up. But this artifact had better really be something, Blue. I mean it.”

Illyria simply stared at the vampire impassively, her eerie lack of expression seeming even more disconcerting on Fred's once highly expressive features than it would upon her usual visage. However, far beneath her frigid exterior, the Old One felt a faint feeling of euphoria stirring deep within her true self. Soon the Key would be in her hands, and then all of existence would tremble before the might of Illyria once more.


* * *


When Dawn opened her eyes, her back aching mildly after her unpleasant landing, she was in an empty, hilltop clearing. Forcing herself to her feet with some effort, the young woman turned her head left and right, and then looked behind her back. Her surroundings were pleasant, as she had been promised. Lush green grass covered the hilltop, occasionally overlaid by colorful fallen leaves, and, beyond the hilltop, a dense forest extended in every direction. However, pleasant as her surroundings were, she immediately spotted two serious omissions from the locale to which the Powers That Be had transported her. There was no Stargate in sight, and she was not wearing any clothing.

The clothing thing was annoying. Couldn't the God-like beings who had transported her here have at least provided her with a t-shirt and some denim jeans? She was not exactly asking for the height of fashion here. She was just a bit uncomfortable being stuck on some strange planet au naturelle. What was she supposed to do: find some leaves to play dress-up as Eve in the Garden of Eden? She bet that the stupid Powers were just getting their jollies from ogling her goodies. Perverts. Even so, compared to her Stargate issues, matters of dress were strictly secondary.

The coordinates which she had been guaranteed would take her from this world to Earth had been emblazoned into her brain with such force that it felt as if they had been sewn onto the back of her eyelids, yet, without a gate, they were utterly useless. What was going on? She had been promised a working Stargate, and, as many horrible things as Buffy and the Scoobies had said about them over the years, Dawn had never heard of emissaries of the Powers outright lying before. Of course, they almost always omitted details, they often set their champions up for a fall, but they always spoke at least some version of the truth. So where the heck was the gate? There was supposed to be a Stargate right in front of her. Could Team Higher Being have somehow gotten their directions wrong? Was that even possible?

Dawn looked up towards the sky above her, shaking a fist.

“Hello! Powerful Do-Nothing guys! This was not the deal! Where's my Stargate, you jerks?”

The clear, blue sky remained impassive, showing no reaction to Dawn's impassioned demands.

After a few more moments of staring at the sky above her angrily, Dawn brought her hands back to her sides, and looked around the clearing in which she had landed more carefully, grumbling all the while.

“Stupid jerk-faces. Never making a deal with you again, freaking Powers That Con.”

Her second look around the area provided little more information than her first glance at her surroundings had offered. Dawn's survey detected nothing which resembled civilization in her immediate vicinity. If she were on Earth, she would guess that she had been transported into the middle of a particularly large and beautiful national park, but she somehow doubted that she had been dropped off anywhere nearly that convenient by The Powers That Screw People. At the very least, provided they were not poisonous, Dawn doubted she would starve, as many of the trees around her seemed to have various fresh berries growing on their branches. Of course, considering her luck, all the trees would probably be guarded by alien, berry-guarding tigers or something.

Whatever. Berry-guarding tigers or not, she could not just sit on top of a hill forever. She should probably see if she could find any people – even alien people – who could give her directions to the nearest Stargate, if this stupid planet even had one. Buffy was going to be so pissed if she had gotten stuck on some alien planet with no way home.

Rather oddly, instead of having to stumble through thick brush, Dawn quickly discovered that the hilltop she had landed upon was connected to a number of lightly trodden paths through the nearby forest. This was encouraging, as it both implied that she was likely not alone on this world and provided her with an easy means of retracing her steps back to the hilltop upon which she had appeared, if necessary.

She was not quite sure what she was looking for, other than any sort of sentient being who might be hanging around the area, but Dawn supposed that she was better off being familiar with her surroundings than ignorant of them, particularly considering that she might be stuck wherever this place was for a while.

Realizing that she had no idea what she might encounter here, Dawn was keeping a careful eye on her surroundings, letting her eyes dart watchfully from one tree to another, and periodically sparing a glance for behind her back, just to make sure she was not being quietly stalked. She did not have the superhuman situational awareness of a slayer, but Dawn had lots of practise and had trained with the best, so she was fairly confident that she would spot anything trying to sneak up on her.

Thus, Dawn was understandably startled when a small child, dressed in a raggedy, purple and white robe appeared out of thin air before her eyes.

Instinctively jumping backwards in shock, Dawn fell naturally into the loose stance years of training had drilled into her. Just because whatever had just popped up in front of her looked like a kid, did not mean that he was actually a child. Watchers were taught first and foremost to be wary of illusion and deception, and, while she was far from a fully trained watcher, she had learned the basics; disguising oneself as a child was the oldest trick in the book.

Of course, most demons pretending to be kids actually tried to look like normal kids, or at least more normal than this kid. In addition to his raggedy, purple and white robes, the seeming boy also had quite possibly the most ridiculous haircut Dawn had ever seen. She would probably have called it an afro, but whatever lunatic on LSD had dressed the kid had apparently decided to festoon his hair with a wide variety of leaves and twigs. She had seen hippies before, of course, but, even for one of them, this kid seemed to be taking 'being in touch with nature' a little bit too seriously.

Cocking his head slightly sideways, as he peered up at Dawn's face inquisitively, the boy said, “Nefrayu,” pointing at himself.

“Um,” Dawn began uncertainly, uncomfortable with her nudity around this weird, little, supposed kid, and wondering just how he had managed to pop out at her without her noticing him. Popping out of nowhere definitely seemed more demony than normal, but demon or not, she had been looking for sentient life forms, and she supposed that he did fit the bill. Of course, provided he really was a little boy, running into his parents would have been better, but she would take what she could get for now.

“Hi. I'm Dawn,” the young woman exclaimed, giving the boy a little wave.

Tactically, it made sense to treat him as an innocent child until she received evidence to the contrary. If he was a demon, she could hopefully lull him into a false sense of security. On the other hand, if he really was a little boy, then she would likely have more success with him and his parents if she did not start out their relationship with threats or open suspicion. He did not seem to take any particular notice of her nudity, which was a little bit odd, but she was not exactly inclined to draw attention to it herself.

The boy's brow furrowed for a moment, before he pointed to himself again, saying, “Nefrayu,” once more. Then he pointed his index finger at Dawn. “Himadawn?”

“No. I'm Dawn,” she carefully enunciated.

“Nimedawn?”

Oh, great, Dawn thought to herself. Apparently, she and the kid were separated by a language barrier. Maybe he spoke whatever language the Abydonians spoke.

Dawn repeated her introduction in Abydonian, but the boy simply continued looking confused. She then proceeded to try a few more languages before finally giving up. It looked like she would have to go back to basics.

“Nefrayu,” Dawn said, pointing a finger at the boy, who was apparently named Nefrayu. She then gestured towards herself with the hand she had just been using to point at Nefrayu. “Dawn.”

“Dawn,” the boy intoned seriously, pointing at her. “Nefrayu,” he then continued, pointing at himself.

Dawn nodded in response, and the child broke out into a proud grin, pointing at her and repeating her name a few more times. At least they shared some basic body language. However, if she was going to have to learn an entire language from scratch in order to communicate with whomever this child belonged to, she might be stuck here much longer than she had hoped. Her first few days here were also likely to be fairly tedious.

Dawn sighed. She had hoped to figure out where she could find a Stargate fairly quickly, but communication would probably be an important part of accomplishing that goal. If she had an entire language to learn, she had best get started.

Dawn pointed at a tree and said, “tree.”

Seeming to understand her intentions with surprising ease for such a small boy, Nefrayu pointed at the same tree, and repeated a different word back at Dawn. Carefully trying to memorize the sound of the word Nefrayu had enunciated, Dawn pointed at a different tree and repeated Nefrayu's term back at him. Nefrayu nodded and copied her, pointing at the new tree.

Well, at least that seemed to suggest that Nefrayu was actually giving her the word for tree, and not simply indicating a particular spirit associated with a particular tree, as sometimes caused confusion in understanding less advanced cultures than her own. Sighing again, Dawn pointed towards the ground at her feet.

“Ground.”

She suspected that this was going to be a very long day.


* * *


High above the city of Los Angeles, having risen from the ashes of seeming defeat as it always, inevitably did, business proceeded as usual at Wolfram and Hart.

The fall of the circle had been a setback – and a significant one – to the Senior Partners' plans for this dimension, but it was hardly decisive. In time, a new circle would be gathered, just as potent as the old. All that would be required for its reformation was that powerful, evil beings walk the Earth. With hundreds of slayers now buoying the forces of good, in time, the balance would demand that terrible beings beyond count rise to oppose them. Wolfram and Hart only needed a handful of such beings in order to accomplish its aims. The deluge the Senior Partners anticipated soon would easily meet their needs.

In the long run, Angel's little rebellion might even prove beneficial. In the aftermath of Angel's strike, the ensouled vampire had cut himself off from the handful of his allies who remained alive. Without his comrades by his side, slowly and subtly twisting the champion's moral compass would be far easier. No matter how hard he fought to stay on the right path, a being like Angel, who lived in shades of grey, could always be slowly pushed down the path to perdition, provided that he isolated himself from any who might question his decisions.

The Senior Partners' recent setback meant that Wolfram and Hart's next planned apocalypse would likely need to be put off for at least a decade – more than sufficient time to twist a lone vampire to their ends. Provided he continued to walk his present, solitary path, the Senior Partners were confident that Angel would be their instrument by the time he was needed. If not, then isolated from all who might aid him, Angel would be put down like a dog. Either way, the elder of the ensouled vampires was no threat to the firm at this time.

By contrast, Illyria's survival was of significant concern to the Senior Partners. In her original form, Illyria was powerful beyond measure – strong enough to banish Wolfram and Heart from this dimension if she ever rose again. Moreover, since the death of Wesley Wyndham-Pryce at the circle's hands, she harbored a vendetta against the Wolf, Ram and Hart, which she might even pursue across dimensions. If she ever returned to her true form, in time, she might threaten the firm's operations in every dimension. Thus, The Special Projects Division had been tasked with subtly undermining the former God-King – surreptitiously making certain that her every avenue to regaining her former glory was barred. Unfortunately, the recent appearance of the Key, which had suddenly been revealed after the Powers had hidden it from mystical detection for countless aeons, disrupted all their plans.

While it was true that Illyria's present course would not take her to the Key, as Wolfram and Hart was aware that it was the Chappa'ai formerly buried in Giza – not the older gate in Antarctica – which had recently ferried the Key between worlds, allowing Illyria to gain access to the power of any Chappa'ai would not be helpful for the Senior Partners' long term plans. An Illyria no longer bound to this world would be an Illyria who could act outside of Wolfram and Hart's control.

The universe held many sources of great power which Illyria might someday use to regain much of her lost might. There were even races with the technology to undo what the mutari generator had done to the Old One and stabilize her new, human shell. Wielding her full powers, even if she were limited to human form, Illyria would be nearly unstoppable, and if she learned to ascend with her full might intact, then no power in this universe would be capable of opposing her. Thus, the Senior Partners had decided that urgent action would be required in order to thwart Illyria.

Recently risen from Hell in order to help deal with Illyria one way or another, Lilah Morgan sat across from Nathan Reed, the competent and reliable lawyer having been granted full control over the Los Angeles branch after Angel's abrupt departure.

“Lilah,” Nathan offered genially, adjusting his spectacles absently, as the glare of his office lights shone off his bald pate. “It's good to see that you're doing well, if a bit surprising, considering your untimely, well, you know.”

“Come now, Nathan,” Lilah replied, raising an eyebrow. “You know as well as anyone that perpetuity really means perpetuity around here, so I can't see why you'd be surprised. After all, it was either going back to work here for a while, or spending some more time being roasted in the fiery depths of a particularly unpleasant Hell dimension. Which would you pick?”

Nathan continued smiling, offering Lilah a pleasant nod.

“I'd make the same choice as you, of course. I'm just surprised that the Senior Partners would choose you as their new liaison. From what I've heard, they usually prefer someone a bit less human for the position.”

Lilah shrugged, seemingly unconcerned with the Senior Partners reasoning.

“I guess I must just do good work. Now, on the subject of work, The Senior Partners are very interested in hearing what you have prepared in order to deal with Illyria.”

Nathan gestured towards the large stack of papers on his desk.

“Well, as you can see, Special Projects has been working day and night on this problem since the Key's reappearance. We have a number of important senators and defense officials in our pocket, so anything from having her stopped by security to having her airplane suffer a mysterious crash is on the table.”

Lilah rolled her eyes.

“You do recall that part of your job is keeping Illyria pointed away from Wolfram and Hart, don't you? Unless you have some information I lack, no one at the firm knows of any surefire way to kill Illyria permanently, and, lacking that, the Senior Partners want to avoid further stoking her ire towards Wolfram and Hart. After all, a thousand years from now, they probably figure she'll have forgotten all about an old Qwa'ha Xahn, but she's not likely to forget an attempt to murder her. The big boys upstairs also would prefer that she not be able to easily link her difficulties to us, which means most of the traditional legal snares should be kept as last resorts, as well. I think they’re looking for something a bit more unconventional from us.”

“Alright then, Lilah. What would you suggest? If we aren't going to try to kill her, and you would prefer to avoid causing her the sort of legal difficulties which would inevitably draw her attention to Wolfram and Hart, how do you intend to get in her way?”

Lilah smiled thinly, and pulled out her cell phone, punching in a number which she had memorized long ago.

“I would suggest that we do what Wolfram and Hart has always done, Nathan.”

“And that is?”

“Taking advantage of human greed.”

Lilah held up a hand, indicating that she desired quiet, and then spoke into her phone.

“Yes. I understand. Could you tell Senator Kinsey that it's from Wolfram and Hart? I'm sure that he will be willing to speak with us. Yes. I'll hold.”

Nathan mulled over the politician Lilah had chosen for a moment. The Senator was an important client of theirs, as he played a leading role on the Senate Appropriations Committee: the body responsible for deciding which government programs deserve additional or reduced funding in any given year. He also was responsible for providing the NID – the powerful civilian organization charged with providing oversight to top-secret military operations – with high level, political cover.

Over the years, the National Intelligence Department had shifted from being a fairly benign organization, which ensured that the United States' black operations did not exceed their mandates, into an extraordinarily well-funded hive of villainy and corruption, which served the most ruthless and amoral corporate interests in the world, justifying virtually any crime in the name of American National Security. They were Wolfram and Hart's favourite kind of patriots.

Apparently, just as Lilah had anticipated, Robert Kinsey was more than willing to speak with her. Adopting a far more genial tone than she would ever use among the cutthroat employees of Wolfram and Hart, Lilah charmingly addressed the powerful senator.

“Thank you, Senator Kinsey. I'm delighted that you're willing to speak with our firm on such short notice. We just feel that Wolfram and Hart has located an opportunity which you will not want to miss. Yes, yes, of course this is a secure line. Anyway, senator, as it happens, some of our people at Wolfram and Hart have recently stumbled upon a quite remarkable piece of technology, which, we believe, would interest your friends in the National Intelligence Department. Come now, senator. You know that we can't reveal our firm's sources. However, we can tell you that this matter is rather time sensitive. For a find of this magnitude, we’re not sure that we can trust our operational security. Senator Kinsey, have you ever known our firm to lead you wrong? No. I can't say exactly what it can do, but I can tell you that there are reports that the British government may be investigating a similar device using Watchers International as a cover. Yes. I'll have all the information we have sent to you immediately. All the best, senator. Goodbye.”

As Lilah ended her call, and closed her cell phone, Nathan Reed was drumming his fingers on his desk absently.

“Are you sure that was wise, Lilah? If the NID cannot manage to keep their hands on the second Chappa'ai, then it could be of significant benefit to humanity and little benefit to the Senior Partners.”

“True. But this should keep the gate out of Illyria's hands without her suspecting our involvement. We might even manage to cause Summers and her band of dogooders some problems by pointing the NID in their direction. The Watcher's Council's new strength is a minor concern, after all, so it cannot hurt to trip them up where we can. Finally, I think that you're underestimating the NID's potential for mischief. This is big picture thinking, Nathan. It's why I'm liaising with the partners, while you're still stuck pushing paper in a local office.”

“I was under the impression that your reassignment had more to do with your untimely death.”

“Like I said, Nathan, you have to look at the big picture. At this firm, swung the right way, an untimely death is just another opportunity for advancement.”

Nathan raised an eyebrow.

“So you're saying that you weren’t at all inconvenienced by dying?”

Lilah shrugged, absently tugging on the scarf covering her neck.

“Well, I could have done without the scars, but things could be worse. Have you seen what happened to some of the other employees who were in Los Angeles during the Beast`s rampage? At least I can manage with just a scarf. Most of those people would need a hazmat suit to hide all their mortal wounds. Anyway, we’re getting a bit off topic here. In addition to taking any further steps necessary in order to subtly thwart Illyria, the Senior Partners also want you to talk to the Mexican government about granting permission for the investigation of a Mayan temple.”

Nathan nodded.

“Do I need to handpick one of our teams of archaeologists for the expedition?”

“No. Apparently, Doctors Kleinhouse and Cole have already applied for permission to perform the investigation. All you need to do is make sure that their request is approved within the next forty-eight hours, so they can get started.”

The CEO of Wolfarm and Hart's Los Angeles branch nodded his assent. He had no idea why the Senior Partners were interested in a Mayan ziggurat, but, unless he wanted to end up in a body bag, it would not do to question those in charge.

“I'll see to it right away. Is there anything else?”

“No,” Lilah replied, standing up from her chair in front of Nathan's desk. “Just make sure to keep track of Illyria's movements. I don't want her to catch us by surprise. You know that if this all falls through, they won't bother with a holding dimension; every Wolfram and Hart employee in this branch will probably be going straight to a Hell dimension for a few centuries worth of punishment.”

Nathan smiled at Lilah genially.

“Then I guess we'll just have to be sure not to fail.”

The End?

You have reached the end of "Gods, Gates and Keys" – so far. This story is incomplete and the last chapter was posted on 1 Jun 12.

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