Gaiana’s breathing was labored. She would heal in time, but for now, even the simple task of sitting up took most of her strength. The dragons had insisted she rest, but she had guarded the temple and its treasure for too many years to let someone else hand over the contents.
When the door to her room opened, Gaiana’s tired eyes focused on the figure just inside the doorway. Her breath caught for a brief moment. The Key was in Ærworuld at last.
Looking at the young girl housing the power of the Key, Gaiana could see her aura dancing and swirling around her in a brilliant green. This young girl would one day help save Ærworuld. Gaiana rejoiced in the knowledge, and smiled.
“Come closer my dear. I have waited a long time for this day.”
Stepping into the room, Dawn let her gaze travel over the woman on the bed. Her hair was white, and her eyes a pale blue. She gave off a sense of peace and love, but a steely glint flared in her eyes. She was a priestess and a warrior, and no one would ever mistake her for being weak.
“My Lady,” Dawn spoke softly, while trying to copy the formal curtsies she had seen in various movies. Her words were unsteady, and her bow a little clumsy.
“No need for such formalities. Besides, it is I who should bow to you, Lady Key,” Gaiana said with a kind smile.
“You wanted to see me?” Dawn asked as she wrung her hands together before her.
“Yes, I’ve got something to give you.”
Beckoning her closer, Gaiana undid the clasp on the case in her lap. Pushing the lid up, Gaiana revealed two golden rods set into plush velvet. To Dawn it looked like the ends of the rods screwed into each other. There were also two small bags resting inside the case.
“So what’s the deal with the shiny sticks?” Dawn asked, confusion lacing her words.
“They are for you and the Father,” Gaiana said, her voice kind and patient.
“Really?” Dawn asked as she picked up one of the rods. It was cool and heavy in her hand. Putting it back, Dawn picked up one of the small bags. “What’s in this?”
“Open it and find out.”
Taking one of the bags, Dawn opened it and let the small ring fall out onto her palm. It was a simple gold ring, a green stone in the center.
“Hey, cool!” Dawn said. Reaching forward, Dawn picked up the other bag. Inside she found another ring, this one with a clear stone in the center. “Oh, pretty!”
Looking up, Dawn asked with a kind smile on her face, “How come I get the feeling you didn’t call me here just to hand over some pretty jewelry?”
“No, I did not,” Gaiana said, returning her smile. “The rings will identify who you are to those who do not know you. However, they are not what is important.”
“So, one of these is Spike’s?” Dawn asked as she eyed the two rings.
“Spike?” Gaiana asked before her confusion cleared. “Oh, you mean the Father, of course. To answer your question, yes, one is for the Father, while the other belongs to you.”
“So, you called me here to give me some gold sticks?” Dawn asked as she raised her eyes from the ring now gracing her ring finger.
“Those sticks, as you call them, unlock the doors to a library full of scrolls and books,” Gaiana said. “Things that were written millennia ago. Things many believed to be lost to the ages.”
“Holy crap!” Dawn said as she picked up one of the keys. “The library Liana mentioned. Those scrolls could tell us how to defeat Ktulu. This is so awesome!”
“They could,” Gaiana answered. “That is why we have kept it hidden for so long. We knew that if the Dark One’s servant ever found the library’s location it would be destroyed.”
“Knowledge is power,” Dawn said with a sage nod.
At Gaiana’s blank look, Dawn explained further, “It’s a saying back home, though I can’t remember where it originally came from. I bet Spike would know.”
“The Father is wise then,” Gaiana said.
“Yeah, he is,” Dawn replied as she looked at the ring now adorning her finger. “Though a lot of people seem to miss that.”
“He is underestimated?”
“But this Spike is the Father,” Gaiana said, a frown marring her face. “He should be respected…”
“Pfft!” Dawn said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “For the most part he likes it that way. Keeps people guessing.”
“Besides,” Dawn said with a cheeky grin. “If everyone knew how smart Spike really was, then my sister‘s mentor would make him do more research.”
Sighing, Buffy looked out over the landscape. The snow reflected the moon’s light creating an unearthly blue tinted glow, like a perpetual twilight.
Spike had been gone for nearly three weeks and Buffy felt like she was slowly going out of her mind. Thanks to their skillfulness at putting their foot in their mouths, Buffy and Spike had barely gotten any time to speak to each other. Sure, their last conversation had been promising, but Buffy knew they were a long way from being okay. There had been so many wrongs committed…
On top of missing Spike, Buffy also had to contend with the fact that everyone seemed to be taking up every waking moment of her sister’s time. It wasn’t fair. Although, no one had been outright rude except for Liana, and Buffy was beginning to see that she was basically rude to everyone, they had made it clear that it was Dawn they were interested in.
Dawn made sure to include Buffy in almost every meeting though, often looking to her for guidance, and no one outright ignored any idea Buffy had. They would often consider if any of her suggestions would work, sometimes combining it with the strategies they already employed. It helped sooth some of Buffy’s feelings.
The soft knock at her door had Buffy turning around. She thought maybe that it was Willow or Xander looking for company. Dawn was off in another meeting with King Aneirin, though Buffy suspected this one to be a bit more on the social side of things.
She was surprised to see Faith standing in the doorway.
“Faith,” Buffy said as she turned to fully face the door. “What are you doing here? Not that you can’t be here, but…”
“Why am I here?” Faith asked, a grin on her face.
“I couldn’t sleep and I saw your light on,” Faith said with a shrug. “So, why are you still up?”
“Honestly,” Buffy said with a slight shrug. “I’m feeling a bit, well...”
“Useless,” Buffy corrected. “Though restless does come in a close second.”
“Ah,” Faith said as she came to stand next to Buffy. “So this is a pity party of one then huh?”
“What?” Buffy said, shocked. “No. It’s just there’s not much for us to do here.”
“Right,” Faith drawled, her disbelief clear.
“Faith,” Buffy snapped, her eyes narrowing.
“No, I get it,” Faith replied. “You’re feeling useless because you’re not the big hero of this world.”
“That is not it at all!”
“Then why have you spent most of your time since Spike left sulking and hiding in your room?” Faith countered.
“I haven’t…I’m not hiding!”
“Right, and Angel doesn’t brood.”
“If the only reason you came in here was to insult me, then I think you should leave,” Buffy said as she turned her back on Faith.
“I didn’t come here to insult you,” Faith growled, her eyes narrowed. “I just find it irritating that the moment you’re not the star of the show you turn all poor-pity-me. You really need to get over yourself, B.”
When Buffy gave no reply, Faith snorted in disgust and stalked out of the room. The door slammed shut behind her.
The attacks were brutal and surprising. They were systematic in their approach, taking out a few of the people inside and then the buildings themselves.
The reports started to come in at around three am, and Giles had been coordinating research with search and rescue missions. Slayers and Watchers from all over were now either busy clearing out what was left of the buildings, or heading towards Los Angeles. Kennedy and Riley’s men patrolled the city in a steady rotation. They had already stopped three separate attacks, but the groups of demons seemed to be getting bigger and stronger. More and more lizard demons were showing up and a few were even heading the attacks.
The phone rang, cutting into his thoughts.
“Rupert Giles,” Giles said, his tone brisk as he kept leafing through notes. “Yes, I know demonic activity is rising…yes I know…how many this time? I see.”
Sighing, Giles took off his glasses. Placing them on top of a stack of paper, he began to rub his tired eyes, all the while listening to the voice on the other end of the phone.
“Change of plans,” Giles said, interrupting the speaker. “Bring whoever can be spared. This is bigger than we thought.”
Camped for the night, Nikias ran a wet stone over his blade, honing the already sharp edge. Every stroke pulled at his almost healed shoulder, but the fearful whimpers from his guest were too tantalizing to pass up.
“Hello Nikias.” The voice sounded from behind him and Nikias turned and watched as the conduit emerged from the surrounding shadows. “Playing with your food again, I see.”
Halting his motions, Nikias growled at the interloper.
“I do not eat mortal flesh,” Nikias said, disgust lacing his words. Casually, he reached over and snapped the scout’s neck, silencing the terrified man’s whimpers. He could always find another one to play with later, and this one had started to smell. “Besides, I thought you were not a part of this battle.”
“What can I say,” the girl said as she shrugged her shoulders. “Ktulu changed his mind when he learned what we knew.”
“And what is that?”
“The Father and our Souled-One will both be in Wygar.” A smile spread across the girls face as she gazed smugly back at him. “If we are careful, we can take out two birds with one stone, as the mortals like to say.”
Grinning, Nikias nodded his head in agreement. “Tell me what you’ve got planned.”
“Our scouts have spotted the Dark One’s followers flying over the city,” Hendrick said, reporting to his king.
“So they are coming,” King Leof sighed. Opening the door to his office, Leof caught the attention of a passing soldier. “I need you to send for General Krile.”
As the young solider headed off, Leof closed the door once more before turning to face his advisor.
“Do we know how many are headed this way?”
“No, sir,” Hendrick answered.
“That is unfortunate,” Leof grumbled. Stalking over to the table, he leaned forward, eyes intent on the map spread out before him.
“Now where exactly did the scouts spot this insidious army?”
Pointing along the southern region of the map, Hendrick answered, “They come from the direction of Kersh, following the Kyl’es Mountain rang…”
“That is weeks away! We should be able to meet them halfway, and prevent them from reaching Wygar all together.”
“I wish we could, my Lord,” Hendrick offered with a sigh. “I believe they are using some sort of magic to cover their movements. We have not been able to spot the army itself, just the remains of their camps. They have even left a few gifts for us. They want us to know they are coming.”
“Damn it!” Leof slammed his hand on the table. The impact rattled the table, knocking off papers and pens. “And our Priest’s magic has been unable to detect them?”
Another growled obscenity and Leof rammed his fist into the tabletop once more. Before he could continue his rant, a sharp knock at the door rang throughout the room. Trading a look with his advisor, knowing Krile hardly ever knocked when summoned, Leof opened the door.
As he expected, it was not Krile standing before him but a young page. His face was flush and he was breathing heavily. With one hand against the doorframe, the boy faced his king.
“Your Highness, there is a man at the gate. He claims to be the Father of the Key.”
“What!” King Leof cried. “Bring me to him.”
Following the young page through the castle’s corridors, they quickly arrived outside and made their way to the main gate.
“Who dares to claim the title of Father of the Key?” Leof asked, his gaze raking over the crowd.
“That would be me.”
Looking past his General, Leof spotted a thin man with light brown hair that faded into an unnatural blonde. His sharp blue eyes raked over the gathered crowd and his taller companion stood slightly behind him. Their clothing gave no indication of where they had come from, nor did they seem to have any identifying markings.
“And how am I supposed to know if what you say is true?”
“Well, mate,” the man said with a slight shrug of his shoulders. “I could always camp out here and freeze my ass off while waiting for King Gunnarr to arrive, or I could give you this.”
Pulling his hand from beneath his cloak, the odd man held out one slim hand. He held a small rolled up parchment, the wax seal still intact. Stepping forward, Krile took the scroll and quickly handed it to King Leof.
Checking the seal, Leof gently opened the scroll and read its context.
“Krile,” Leof spoke quietly as he raise his eyes to meet his General‘s. “Open the gate, and let the Father and his companion enter.”
“By the Gods, he is the Father!” a nearby soldier exclaimed. Stunned, the visitor watched as several of the gathered crowd dropped to their knees before him. A shocked exclamation of “Bloody hell!” had King Leof bringing his gaze back to the man at his gate.
“It’s Spike,” the man explained. Looking over the crowd, he spoke again, this time loud enough so all could hear him. “I may be this Father bloke you’ve been waiting for, but to me, I’m still just Spike.”
“Well then, Spike,” King Leof acknowledged. “Welcome to Wygar.”