"Are you quite sure that you're going to be up to this, Rachel?" asked Giles. "It's only been a few days . . . "
"Giles, a few burns doesn't make me an invalid," snapped Rachel. "Stop it with the over-protective caveman act, will you? I'm just about healed anyway."
"You looked like you'd been hit by a lorry when you came back from dealing with that man," said Giles. "I don't think it's terribly out of line to expect you to actually rest after such an experience."
Rachel waved his concerns away. "I wasn't that badly hurt, Giles, just tired. It'll take more than a single Sith to keep me down for long, believe me."
Giles looked highly sceptical. To be fair, she probably hadn't looked so hot when she stumbled back to the library after disposing of Malak's corpse. That slash down her front had been pretty nasty looking and she'd had a few other minor nicks and scrapes that she hadn't even noticed till someone had mentioned them to her - and then they'd stung like all hell. It certainly hadn't been the best day of her life, that's for sure.
"Look, I'll be alright, Giles," said Rachel in a softer tone of voice. "I got hurt, yeah, but it wasn't that bad, and it wasn't any worse than I've had in the past. I'm a Jedi, Giles, and sometimes we get hurt. That's just the way things are, same as it is for Slayers."
"That doesn't mean I have to like it," said Giles.
"I don't expect you to," said Rachel with a small smile. "That just wouldn't be you. Now go to work. The last thing we need is for you to get into trouble there too."
"Yes, well . . . I suppose you're right," said Giles. "Just you be careful."
"Aren't I always?"
Giles just stared at her and Rachel shrugged her shoulders. It was hardly her fault that trouble seemed to seek her out. "Hmm. Well, don't forget the meeting at the library to discuss the information you retrieved."
"I won't," said Rachel. "Now go, you old mother-hen, you."
And after a bit more umming and ahhing, Giles finally left and went to work. Rachel found herself torn between irritation and amusement. Here she was, former Lord of the Sith and Jedi Knight, being mollycoddled by a middle-aged librarian because of a few fairly minor wounds. It was truly ridiculous. Malak would have roared with laughter if he was around . . . Malak. For a moment she felt a pang of grief but it quickly passed. Malak hadn't really been her friend in a long time.
She winced as she lowered herself into the classic meditation posture. She'd neglected to warm down after her duel with Malak and her muscles were giving her hell for it. Ah well. She closed her eyes and slipped into the warm currents of the Force, allowing it to wash over her and soothe away her aches. With that done she moved her focus deep within herself, observing the lines of energy within her own body.
Her energy was moving freely throughout her body now, with the groin chakra unblocked, but there was still a strange concentration of energy around the heart chakra. She'd thought it was blocked like the groin chakra last time, but now that she looked closer she saw that it wasn't blocked at all, it was filtering the energy that moved through it, changing it in some way. Perhaps if she could tweak that . . .
She reached out with her sense and for several moments observed the way the energy flowed through then filtering power. Hmm. Yes, it was twisting the energy slightly, it was almost unnoticeable but close observation showed the ever so slight modification of the energies flowing through that point. She focussed in closer on the energy streaming through that point . . . that was it! Masculine energy in, feminine energy out.
She reached into the bundle of energy that was altering her energy flows and tweaked it. It took a few attempts to find the right spot but then she felt a change ripple over her. It was a damn strange feeling as some parts grew and other parts shrank, but it passed quickly. And then Xander Harris sat there in overly tight Jedi robes. He couldn't help but smile. Damn but it was good to get back into his own body. Strangely not as good as he'd anticipated but still there was a sense of relief.
He moved to get up and immediately winced. Bloody hell but female underwear did not work for a male body, not one bit. Instinctively he reached back to his heart chakra and massaged the energy back into its previous form, and then transformed back into Rachel. Much more comfortable. Now to find some clothes and give the group a little surprise when she showed up to the meeting. She still had some jeans and shirts leftover from before Hallloween if she remembered right.
It hadn't been difficult to sneak into the library. If you can cloud a Sith Lord's senses to the point where you are near invisible to them, then eluding normal people are a walk in the park. Eluding people who blind themselves to anything even slightly out of the ordinary like the Sunnydale crowd . . . well, that's even easier. The old proverb held true, 'there's none as blind as those who will not see'. They had a very similar proverb in the Star Wars universe and it was something her first master had impressed upon her at every opportunity. Which was slightly odd when he thought about it as she had allowed her own physical sight to atrophy in favour of seeing through the Force.
He waited just outside the library till everyone was there and no-one was facing the door before he entered, till they were thoroughly engrossed in conversation about the contents of the books he'd retrieved from Malak.
"Hey, G-man," said Xander, carefully inflecting his voice to exactly match his old speech patterns. "What's the what?"
The look on their faces - classic. They were all just gaping at him as if he'd sprouted a tail and started calling himself Jabba. Xander mentally patted himself on a job well done as he strolled around to an empty chair and plonked himself down in it.
"What?" he asked. "You'd think you'd never seen me before."
"I haven't," said Wesley dryly.
"Point to the stuffy brit," said Xander. "We got anything useful from those books, then?"
"He's gonna turn himself into a giant demon and eat us all, or something," said Faith. "And not bad, Darth."
"How big is 'giant'?" asked Xander. "Ten metres tall?"
Giles coughed. "More like sixty by the sounds of things," he said. "And the most likely candidate for him given what we know is a giant snake."
"Well, shit," said Xander with feeling. "I don't think a stake's gonna cut it this time."
"What about those ray-guns?" asked Buffy. "And are you really back to being Xander-shaped?"
Xander shrugged his shoulders. "Blasters might work. Depends on how well-armoured the demon is and how much magic he'll have protecting him," he said. "And, yeah, I'm back to being Xander-shaped, but I can be Rachel-shaped when I want to be."
"That's great, Xander!" said Willow, coming out of her shocked stupor. "I mean you have to be really happy to get your body back."
"Yeah, I am," said Xander. "But I'm kinda more worried about becoming a snake-snack than anything right now."
"The books are somewhat less detailed when it comes to how to actually kill the ascended demon, unfortunately," said Giles. "And the only other reference I've found to ascension was rather . . . grim."
"I vote for pretty explosions," said Buffy.
Xander sat back and thought about if for a moment. "Well, thermal detonators are always an option, I suppose," he said.
"I am loathe to make use of weaponry that powerful," said Giles. "The collateral damage would be staggering."
"Less than the collateral damage from having a giant snake eating the town," said Xander. "That would make for a real bad day."
"I think Darth has a point," said Faith. "Blowing a few buildings up won't be anything near as bad as some monster out of a Godzilla movie getting loose."
"What about this thing in the newspaper with the murdered professor?" asked Buffy. "There's something weird about that."
"I-" said Giles, before he was cut off by Xander going rigid.
"Something dark approaches," he said. "Something very, very dark."
A moment later, a pleasant looking middle-aged man in an expensive looking suit walked in through the library doors, Mayor Wilkins. It took more than a moment for Xander to reconcile the overwhelming sense of evil coming from the man with his non-descript appearance. It was just bizarre. The Mayor took a book from the pile on the table and flipped through it before stopping approximately halfway through.
"The beast will walk upon the earth and darkness will follow. The several races of man will be as one in their terror and destruction," he said, quoting from the book. "Aw, that's kind of sweet. Different races coming together."
"You never get even a little tired of hearing yourself speak, do you?" asked Buffy, looking distinctly narked.
The mayor chuckled and then looked at Giles, "that's one spunky girl you've raised," he said, almost as if he was one parent talking to another. "I'm gonna eat her."
In one smooth motion, Giles grabbed a fencing sword from the library table and slammed it into the mayor's chest. The mayor staggered back a few steps from the force of it, but seemed otherwise unaffected. He opened his mouth to say something but was cut off by a blast of telekinetic force that threw him across the library and bounced him off a wall.
"You'll find that that's something easier said than done, demon," said Xander, rising to his feet and adopting a loose stance. "I already killed your pet Dark Lord. I figure that you're next."
The mayor was quickly back onto his feet, seemingly unaffected by a blow that should have shattered his spine. "Well, now. Such violent outbursts, and around children, too," he said. "Such a poor example you set, Mr. Giles."
"See demon, kill demon," said Faith. "Seems like a pretty good example to me."
The mayor ignored her, his attention now firmly on Xander as he pulled the sword free from his chest and wiped it down with a hankerchief. "You . . . you're such a disappointment," he said. "You had such potential after what happened that Halloween, and you've thrown it all away to be a do-gooder. Such a terrible shame. You've even discarded the body, I see."
"As if running some backwater little town like Sunnydale would be enough to tempt someone like me," snorted Xander. "Be serious."
The mayor just shook his head and sighed. "Ah the impetuousity and arrogance of youth," he said. "You might have been the big fish in your dimension, but here . . . well, your friend was easy enough to control."
Xander's lip curled up at corner as he fought down the rage but he didn't say anything more, he just let his cold glare speak for him. It was all he could do not to tear the man apart and fry his remains with force lightning. The bastard might not be killable but he could still make him feel pain.
"Get out," said Buffy, looking supremely pissed off.
"I smell fear. That's smart. Some of your deaths will be quick, if that's worth anything. Well, see you all at graduation," said the mayor. "You don't want to miss my commencement address. It's going to be one heck of a speech."
And with that he turned on his heel and strolled out of the library as if he didn't have a care in the world. Bastard. As the library doors closed, Xander spoke, "he dies. He dies painfully."
"Woah there, Darth," said Faith. "Dark Side, much?"
Xander closed his eyes and with a supreme effort of will allowed his emotions to flow out of him and into the Force. "You are right, Faith," he said. "I just don't like the idea of my friends being used against me like that."
"Buffy, Faith, I think it would be wise for you to investigate this professor's home," said Giles, looking at the newspaper. "There's just something not quite right about him being murdered so close to the ascension."
"So the demon was killed by a volcano?" asked Xander, as he walked through the cemetery with Faith.
"Yeah," said Faith. "Some wicked big eruption from what Jeeves said."
"Well, I suppose it's a start," said Xander, as they exited the cemetery. "At least it proves that it can be killed."
"Yeah," said Faith. "Quiet night, huh?"
"I guess the vampires are all resting," said Xander. "Getting ready for the big party tomorrow, I suppose."
"Huh," said Faith. "A monster straight out of Godzilla on one side and a vampire army on the other. Sounds like fun."
Xander shrugged. "If you're gonna die, it might as well be a good fight, and this is going to be one hell of a fight." he said.
"Yeah," said Faith. "We'll go down swinging if nothing else."
"Damn right," said Xander. "And I've got something set up so that even in the mayor wins, he won't survive much longer."
"Thermal detonators scale up nicely," he said. "And they're pretty easy to make. I've buried a twenty megaton bomb in a park near the school. There won't be much left of Sunnydale but a smoking crater."
"Shit, Darth," she said. "That'll kill everyone in Sunnydale!"
"If we lose, they're dead anyway," said Xander. "At least this way their deaths will mean something."
"That's cold, Darth," said Faith. "Real cold."
"Nothing I haven't done before," said Xander. "And really, it's necessary. We can't let something like that loose on the world. The damage it could cause before the military mobilised to stop it . . . it would be catastrophic, and it could theoretically open the hellmouth too."
"Well, if it opened the hellmouth it would go from being the big fish to being a big fish," said Xander. "It might not want to share its territory. Some demons are like animals when it comes to stuff like that."
"Makes sense, I suppose."
They both fell silent at that and Xander continued to absent-mindedly follow Faith through the streets of Sunnydale. Faith was right, really, it was cold to plan to use a weapon of mass destruction like he was, but it was necessary. Really, it was. Still, he had a real queasy feeling in his gut whenever he thought about it. Sacrificing a hundred thousand people to save millions more was treading close to very familiar and very bad territory that he'd visited as Revan.
Xander blinked. He recognised this part of town. Why were they going to Faith's hotel? He asked her as much, "Faith, uh, why are we going to your hotel?"
"Look, Darth," said Faith, "if I'm gonna die tomorrow fighting some giant demon, then I'm damn well gonna enjoy myself the night before. Get it?"
"Uh, yeah," said Xander, he face slack with surprise. "I think."
Faith just laughed. "Ah, you'll get it soon enough."
Xander staggered home several hours later and collapsed into his bed before promptly falling into a very deep sleep. He could run a marathon without much difficulty with his training and the Force as his ally, but Faith had outdone that quite handily.
"So am I crazy?" asked Buffy.
"Nah," drawled Xander. "It's actually one of your better plans, I think. Better than my doomsday device blowing Sunnydale to atoms plan anyway."
"What?" asked Buffy, looking utterly baffled. "No, scratch that. I don't think I want to know."
"Definitely not, B," said Faith. "Believe me. It's the stuff of nightmares."
"Right, well," said Buffy, looking deeply nonplussed, "do you think you can do it, Xander?"
"I can give you all the bombs you'll ever need give time," said Xander. "But I'm no demolitions expert. You'll need someone to plant them in such a way that they don't level half of Sunnydale."
"Ah," said Wesley, "I may be able to help there. The use of explosives was covered in one of the courses I took at the academy."
"Great," said Buffy. "But that's not all. Xander, I'm going to need you to get the students ready for battle too. I figure you're best qualified for that with the whole Halloween thing."
Xander nodded. "I can do that, but I'll be cutting things fine with making the bombs and sorting out a battle strategy. I'll need help."
"That's where Angel comes in," said Buffy. "It's the best you're going to get."
"Wonderful," said Xander flatly. He looked at Angel, "you so much as look at me funny and I'll make the rest of your very short life deeply miserable."
Angel just nodded.
Buffy didn't look overly impressed but she just ignored it. "Now we need some sort of weakness . . . something we can exploit to lure him into the trap.
"Xander," said Willow. "He's really messed up the mayor's plans with the books and the Sith thing."
"It'll have to do. Now . . . "
Xander ended up sat at the back of the audience in the section for guests and other non-students. He was also in his 'Rachel' form. Too many questions would be asked for him to be Xander just now in public. So she was sat there in loose clothing concealing all the weaponry she was carrying, and she was bored out of her skull listening to some idiot with a soul darker than midnight rambling on about Sunnydale and school and all sorts of stupid nonsense.
He got to a part about graduation before the eclipse stage of the ascension kicked in and he started convulsing in pain on stage. Rachel was on her feet immediately and barking out orders, "flame units, ready! Blaster units, ready!" she called out. The parents were looking at her as if she was a complete lunatic but immediately the front two rows of the audience were on their feet and drawing a variety of very nasty looking weapons.
"Melee units, draw weapons and to assigned positions!" she called out as the mayor's skin started to ripple as his body contorted, and the rest of the student population was on their feet and drawing a variety of wicked looking medieval weaponry. The parents looked about ready to break and run at this point, and Rachel couldn't blame them, but there was nothing that could be done for them. Snyder was yelling something or other at her but she paid no heed.
The mayor's body convulsed one last time and then it exploded outwards as the final physical transformation took place. Rachel's eyes were firmly fixed on the mayor as he transformed but she could feel a small army of vampires showing up to trap them in with the new-born demon.
"Blaster units, aim!" she cried out, and the units immediately aimed their weapons. "FIRE!"
A volley of red blaster bolts streamed out from the second row of students and slapped against the demon's skin. The damage was limited - a few burn marks, was all - but from the way he reared back, it was accomplishing the real goal of keeping him from feeding. And then the snake lashed out with impossible speed and devoured Snyder. Ah, well. Acceptable loss. He was probably in on it anyway.
She saw the mayor begin to coil, ready for a strike at the students. "Flame units, suppression fire!" she called, and the front row immediately opened up with their home-made flamethrowers, keeping the gigantic demon at bay. It probably wouldn't hold him for long - those home-made flamers were pretty lacking in both power and fuel - but it would have to do.
"Blaster units, continuous fire!" she barked and the air was suddenly thick with the smell of ozone as blaster fire ripped through the air. The repeated impacts did a pretty good job of driving the mayor back and away from his food sources, keeping him from reaching his full power and having powers beyond the physical.
By the time she'd reached the front of the audience, the blaster fire was beginning to slow down as the jury-rigged power cells ran dry. She hadn't had time to properly recharge them so they couldn't output anything like their proper levels of power. As the fire tapered off to nothing, she ignited her lightsabre and with a flick of her wrist she hurled it into the air and dealt a glancing blow to the snake-demon's head before summoning it back into her grip. The snake shot her an absolutely venomous glare and hissed at her.
"Hey, moron," she yelled. "You want me? Come get me!"
And with that, she was off, running with Force enhanced speed through the corridors of Sunnydale High School as the mayor smashed through the doorways behind her. This had seemed like a much better idea when they'd just been talking about it. She skidded round a corner and vaulted over a bannister, only two steps ahead of the mayor, before slamming through the doors leading into the library. She didn't so much as break her stride as she continued running and jumped out through the library window. A moment after she jumped out of the window, the building behind her exploded and the sheer force of it knocked her flying through the air before she made a rather solid impact with the concrete floor.
"That was fun," she gasped as she levered herself back up onto her feet.
As Rachel limped around to the front of the school, and to join up with the rest of the group, she saw Wesley being loaded up into an ambulance, whinging all the while about the pain. Quite amusing really. The group had gathered on a small field over the road from the school and they all looked healthy if somewhat the worse for wear.
"Everyone made it then?" asked Rachel as she approached them.
"Everyone seems to have made it out of the battle in once piece," said Giles, "though we're not sure about Angel."
"Can you use your mojo to see if he's still alive?" asked Buffy with a hopeful expression on her face.
"Detect a single vampire on the hellmouth?" asked Rachel incredulously. "I don't think so."
Buffy grimaced and went back to scanning the crowds, searching for Angel, moving off quickly a moment later. Rachel just shrugged.
"Are you all right?" asked Giles. "That was quite an explosion."
"I'm a little sore," admitted Rachel. "But nothing too bad."
"Well, that's the most fun you can have without having any fun," said a disgruntled looking Cordelia, surprising Rachel who hadn't seen her approaching.
"How about the part where we kicked some demon ass?" asked Willow as Oz stroked her hair. "I didn't hate that."
"That part fucking kicked ass," said Faith. "Take that, demon. Teach ya to mess with us."
"Hear, hear," said Rachel.
"You guys want to take off?" asked Buffy, coming back to the group. "I think we've done pretty much all we can."
Cordelia nodded. "I'm for it."
"Are you OK?" asked Willow, looking at the worn looking Buffy. Rachel supposed that the fight must have been tougher than she'd expected.
"Yeah. I'm okay. - I could use a little sleep though."
There was a general chorus of agreement at that. It had not been the easiest of years even compared to the normal Sunnydale fare.
"If someone could just wake me when it's time to go to college, that'd be great," said Buffy, sitting on the bench next to Willow.
"Guys take a moment to deal with this: - we survived." said Oz.
"It was a hell of a battle," said Buffy.
"Not the battle," said Oz, who got a few incredulous looks at that point, "high school."
They, as a group, turned to look at the school, except for Faith who just shook her head, and for a moment there was quiet.
"We're taking a moment," said Oz, and the group turned and looked at each for a little while, Willow and Buffy got up from the bench. "OK, we're done."
Oz put an arm around Willow as they walked off close together. "Why do demons even come here any more? I mean, don't they know . . . " said Willow.