Chapter 1: Gate Crasher

Sunnydale, California, August 2000

"More mashed potatoes, Riley?"

"Thanks, Joyce, but I couldn't eat another bite. My compliments to the chef," Riley said with a grin.

Joyce cleared her throat and beckoned her head to Buffy. Riley looked over, gasped theatrically, and said, "She cooks too?"

"Yep. Cook, slay, leap tall buildings at a single - well, two or three bounds anyway."

Willow giggled. "She can do tall fences at one bound, though." After a glance from Tara: "What? I've seen it."

Joyce glared at her daughter. "Is that how you were able to break curfew so easily all those times?"

Buffy ducked her head as she nibbled at the last of her salad. "Yeah. I'd go out, save the world, then do a standing jump to my window. That or the gymnastic thing. But I was under strict adult supervision."

"Honey, Giles doesn't count in that regard."

"Why not? He's an adult. Okay, the one time you really got to know him you were both adolescent-minded..."

Joyce flushed. "Wait until you have a child of your own, Buffy. I guarantee you she'll have you tearing your hair out."

Riley frowned. "Huh?"

Tara matched his frown. "I'll second that huh?"

Buffy looked at her mother, then put on her best cat-ate-the-canary smile. "This was a couple of years ago. The Mayor was setting up for a demon sacrifice, he needed the whole town out of commission, so he contracted out to Ethan Rayne - you met him, Riley, he's the one who turned Giles into the demon that time - anyway, Ethan managed to get the whole town flooded with this candy that turned everyone into teenagers. And with Mom being a wild child, and Giles being rebel-without-a-clue, one thing led to another and-"

"Who wants dessert?" Joyce broke in.

"-and we're having tiramisu. I'm in, Mom."

"Me too," Willow chirped.

Riley and Tara smiled and nodded. "So where is Giles anyway? And Xander?" Riley asked.

"Xander's off with Anya somewhere. Giles said that he'd be by later; he thought he'd figured out why the demon population's grown so quiet the past few weeks," Buffy said.

"Gee, you think it might have something to do with the carnage in the Initiative?" Willow asked with a bit of razz in her voice.

"I dunno. I mean, things kinda picked up after we took Adam down, and then all of a sudden it dropped off the radar. The past week or so I haven't seen a thing." Buffy frowned. "Not even Spike."

Tara got up to collect dishes. "Sounds ... sounds like it's a good thing. You know, gift horses and all that."

"Yeah, but I don't want to get caught off guard, you know?"

Tara nodded.

And screamed as the door to the house got blasted off its hinges.

Two vampires lunged at the door, bouncing off the threshold. Buffy and Riley jumped aside to scramble for weapons; Buffy came up with a poker from the fireplace, Riley pulled out a baton that he snapped open with a flip of his wrist. Willow jumped to get Tara out of the way, and Joyce shrieked and jumped back into the dining room.

The vampires stepped back, and two demons came in, each bearing a long, elaborate staff with a flared end and an odd grip halfway down. Behind them came a third demon, carrying an odd device in its hand, and something that looked human - if very oddly dressed.

Riley jumped at the first demon, drove it back to the door, only to be beaten back by the second. Buffy drove the second demon back with a roundhouse kick to the face, knocking it into the stairwell.

Then the third demon raised its device. The thing snapped open like a cobra preparing to strike, and spat a bolt of blue fire at Riley - who went down like a ton of bricks.

Joyce took one step to try and drag Riley out, only to be tagged herself as the device shrieked and spat fire again. Buffy jumped to help her mother - and suddenly every nerve in her body was aflame. Slayer strength to the rescue, she thought. Right now I'd be unconscious ... instead of wishing I was.

She collapsed, twitching, trying to will her legs to move.

Tara muttered something under her breath, gripping Willow's hand, then shouted out, "Ignis inciende!"

One of the demons burst into flame, catching one of the vampires outside in the fireball; the demon dropped its staff, jumped out to roll on the lawn, while the vampire tried to do the same, losing the race and disintegrating into dust.

The demon with the zapping device turned it on Tara; an electronic shriek, and Tara was down.

Willow stood up, grabbed the fire tongs, and swung at the thing; senseless, mindless, she threw the tongs, catching the demon in the throat.

Then the other staff-wielding demon leveled its staff at her.

The narrow end of the staff split open with a buzz of electricity.

Willow put up her hands to defend herself...

...and the staff spat out a flame-colored bolt that slammed into her chest, sending her flying back into the fireplace with a crash.

Buffy moaned - she wanted to scream but she couldn't get her mouth to work right - and watched as Willow took one step forward, coughed once, twice ... a trickle of blood came from the corner of her mouth ... and she fell face first to the ground.

The human-looking creature stepped into the house. It looked over at the bodies strewn all over, paying special care to Willow's crumpled form. It nodded at the door-

-and Spike came walking in.

"Bring her," the man-creature said, its voice harsh and guttural, and Spike nodded solemnly.

"Yes, my lord Kheper," Spike intoned, without the slightest mocking tone, and gently picked Willow's broken body up.

That did it. Buffy surged, got back to her feet unsteadily, and reached for a stake. "You're dead," she rasped. "You hear me? You're dead."

Kheper strode to her and raised a hand, and Buffy found herself transfixed. "I will decide who dies," he said. His eyes flashed white, glowing eerily. "Life and death are the province of your god." His hand was glowing - actually it wasn't the hand itself, but a glowing jewel in a ribbon-like bracelet that entwined the palm of his hand - and Buffy felt as though her head were ready to explode.

"You will understand in time," Kheper said. He nodded to the demon with the snake-like thing in its hand, and it spat blue fire at her again.

Buffy screamed this time, and whether her voice faded from the pain, or it was just her consciousness fading out, she didn't know and didn't care.







**procession - a young man - eyes glowing - symbol of the sun at his back**


**Spike - and Willow - Willow with a hole in her chest - "What looks alive is not always alive," Spike said - Willow looked up and the hole in her chest was healed, closed, whole again under the burn - "Death isn't always forever," Willow said**

Buffy looked, and the desert was at war. She looked and saw someone fighting a creature with an eagle's head - it was the First Slayer - no, Kendra, no, it was Faith, wait, it was Buffy herself off in the distance-

-and then it was the First Slayer again, brought before the golden bright young man with the jewel in his palm, and he was anointing her, no, killing her, breaking her mind apart and his eyes were flashing-

"Know the power of your god," he said, and then the desert erupted in flame.

Buffy looked up to face a ... man? It had the stylized head of a cobra, carried one of those killing staffs, but the head was metal-

-it opened, sliding back like a visor, to collapse into a collar around the man's neck. So he was a man, only huge. He looked down at her, and the sun glinted off a gilded oval on his forehead, creating a halo around his ebony shaved skull.

"False god," he said, and suddenly he was in normal clothes, but still with the golden brand on his forehead. "Dead false god."

Then there was Giles, thank God, only there were two of him, and one wasn't Giles, she must have been thrown by the glasses...

Giles-but-not-Giles said, "You have to understand that the power they have, they stole."

Then Giles-really-Giles said, "The power you wield is yours by right."

Golden-forehead-guy loomed over her, and he sounded an awful lot like Giles as he said, "Buffy? Buffy?"


It was Giles, really Giles, and everyone was hovering around her. Mom, and Riley, Tara, Xander, Anya-


"Thank God you're all right. You've been unconscious nearly fourteen hours, Buffy."

"Wow," Buffy answered. "It was weird. I had this dream, Giles - the house got stormed, everyone was getting bug-zapped and this Egyptian-looking guy walked in, and he had Spike wrapped around his finger, then it got real weird, I was in Egypt, it just ... wow. Will, you're okay, right?"

Nobody spoke.

Buffy counted faces, and her heart turned to ice.

No Willow.

"Buffy ... the attack was real."

Buffy blinked. "But Will ... she's okay, right?" she asked, her voice cracking.

Giles blinked back tears. "They killed her, Buffy. Willow's gone."