Time And Again
by Mark Wilson

After the Sky God, An, had carried off the Heavens,
After the Air God, Enlil, had carried off the Earth,
After the Queen of the Great Below, Ereshkigal, was given power in Kur.
After the first days when everything needed was brought into being,
After the first days when everything needed was properly nourished,
After the first days when man was given stewardship of the land.
After heaven had moved away from earth,
After earth had separated from heaven,
After the name of man was fixed.
In a time of plenty, In a time of bounty, In a time of vast harvests,
In a time when bread is baked in all the homes across the land,
In a time when bread is tasted in all the homes across the land.
Ereshkigal shall grow weary of the world below,
The Queen of the Great Below shall tire of Kur,
The Dark Queen shall long for the world above.
The galla demons of the Underworld will gather in her halls,
They will gather, who know no food, who know no drink,
Who eat no offerings, who drink no libations,
Who accept no gifts.
The demons will gather about Ereshkigal's throne,
The small galla gather at the throne,
The Dark Queen shall gather her demons to her,
And to Neti the Gatekeeper she shall speak:
"Come, Neti, my chief gatekeeper of the Kur,
Heed my words,
Unbolt the seven gates of the Underworld.
Then, one by one, as my host approaches each gate,
Open the gate wide and let the host pass.
Let the host pass upwards.
Let the host pass outwards towards the Earth."
To protect the Earth,
To protect the land,
To protect Sumer,
The powers shall call The Guardian to Sumer.
He shall come from the North
He shall come from the West,
To Sumer the Guardian shall travel.
Unknowing he will come, and in Sippar he shall ask,
"Why have I been summoned to these lands?"
But none shall answer him.
In Kish he shall ask,
"Why have I been summoned to these lands?"
But no answer shall he find.
In Nippur he shall ask,
"Why have I been summoned to these lands?"
But will hear only silence in return.
In Uruk he shall ask,
"Why have I been summoned to these lands?"
But the people will stand mute before him.
Finally to Ur he shall come and before the Temple of the Moon,
The answer he shall find. The Champion he shall find.
Then as the light of golden Utu is hidden from the people,
Nanna-Sin shall speak unto his priests saying:
"Beware my children, Ereshkigal grows weary of the world below,
The Queen of the Great Below grows weary of Kur,
The Dark Queen longs to walk the Earth.
"She has gathered the galla, her small demons, in her halls,
And she has spoken to Neti the Gatekeeper,
Bidding him unbolt the seven gates of the Underworld,
And open the gates wide letting her hosts pass.
The galla shall swarm up out of the gates of Kur,
From the depths they shall rise,
Into the lands of Sumer the galla shall come.
And the demon Namtar shall lead them,
And the demon Ashak shall show them the way,
And Nergal, the ambusher, will follow after them.
The galla, the demons of the underworld, shall swarm the lands,
The galla are demons who know no food, who know no drink,
Who eat no offerings, who drink no libations,
Who accept no gifts.
Like mist they shall be before the soldier's bronze,
Nor shall the farmer's copper pick-axe harm them,
Nor stones from the shepherd's sling drive them away.
The soldiers they will gash with axes,
The farmer's fields they shall burn,
From the shepherd's churns they will pour out the milk.
They will tear the wife from the husband's arms,
They will tear the child from the father's knees,
They will steal the bride from the marriage home."
The priests shall hear the words of Ashgirbabbar and tremble,
They shall hear the God's words and despair,
On hearing the words they shall know fear.
But the Devine Father will see their fear and speak comforting words:
"Fear not my people, for the Gods are prepared.
Behold, the Guardian is here in your hour of need.
Rejoice the Champion has been found and she shall save you.
"And my daughter Inanna shall guide them,
The Queen of Heaven and Earth will aid them,
The First Daughter of the Moon shall arm them.
"To the Guardian she shall give the sky metal,
From the sky metal he shall forge a weapon,
To the champion the blade shall be given."
-- from The Demon War Prophecies, Sumer c. 3200 BCE

Shady Hill Cemetery -- Sunday, 7th September 1997

Buffy was bored. The bright three quarters lit, gibbous moon shone down upon the still loneliness of the empty graveyard. The cold light clearly delineated row after row of grave stones undisturbed by any newly arising vampires. No demons lurked amongst the shadows behind the scattered mausoleums. Everything was perfectly peaceful.

Buffy sighed. Three nights patrol alone with absolutely nothing to fight. She could feel the frustrations building up inside her with nothing to release them on. Of course, it did not help that Angel seemed to have pulled another disappearing act. She had thought that everything was going so well. After he confessed his jealousy for the act she had put on dancing with Xander at the Bronze, she was sure they'd resolved the awkwardness between them. But now he'd vanished and she was not as confident.

So she was trudging through the graveyards searching for something evil -- and preferably not too slimy -- to beat up in the hope of taking her mind off her pathetic love life. But as so often happened when she actually WANTED something to fight all the evil creatures of the world were nowhere to be found.

No new supernatural threat had raised its ugly head in Sunnydale since she and her friends had put a stop to Chris and Eric's little build-your-own-girl scheme last week. Oh, and wasn't that a big success! she thought to herself. Another burnt down school building to add to my record. Guess I should be grateful that at least this time the fire was an accident and the building was abandoned rather than in regular use.

At first Buffy had been a bit worried that the fire investigators might start asking some awkward questions once Daryl's remains were discovered. So she had asked Willow to keep an eye on what reports and evidence were being filed in the Fire Department's and Sunnydale Police Department's computer systems. So far, they were not reporting anything other than the missing remains of the exhumed cheerleaders. They even seemed to be treating the fire as accidental rather than arson, with one report rambling on at length about lack of maintenance, faulty wiring, the improper storage of highly flammable chemicals and for some strange reason, mice.

When she had listened to Willow's recounting of Cordelia's big thank you speech to Xander on Friday morning, Buffy had been amused to hear that he had just blown it off in a completely self-absorbed and clueless rambling on his dateless status. Perhaps there was hope for Cordelia yet. After all if she could unbend enough to thank Xander, of all people, for saving her life then maybe she wouldn't feel compelled to make snippy comments to Buffy or her friends whenever their paths crossed. Yeah, and wasn't that a flying pig I saw earlier! Buffy thought with a snort. She did look kind of cute with her face all smudged though. And getting to ride on top of her like that would sure have been more fun that getting pounded on by the NFL's answer to Frankenstein junior.

Whoa, I did not just think... Buffy shook her head vigorously as though to dislodge the unwanted thoughts. Nah! It must be the boredom. No way am I imagining what it would be like to feel my body pressed up against her firm...

"Arghh!" Buffy exclaimed aloud in disgust. "I so need a good slay! Where are the vampires when I really need them?"

"Why right behind ya darlin'," a new voice said in an exaggerated Western drawl.

Buffy whirled around to face the newcomer and could not help laughing out loud. "You have no idea how ridiculous that cowboy hat looks on top of your game face do you?" she asked cocking her head to one side. Watching as the vampire turned a bright red with rage, she answered her own question. "No, of course not. What with you being reflectionally challenged and everything."

The cowboy charged furiously, growling low in his throat, the curled talons on his out-stretched hands grasping for her throat. Buffy merely side-stepped and gave him a hearty kick in the back side, as he stumbled past, sending him crashing face first into a nearby grave stone. "Oh, come on. You can do better than that surely. How am I meant to work off my frustrations if you make it this easy for me?"

The vampire staggered to his feet and brought his hand up to wipe at the slow trickle of blood seeping from a shallow cut above his right eyebrow. Looking at the red-black stain on his fingers he snarled at the Slayer and swung with all his might towards the Slayer's smirking face. With a snort, Buffy simply leaned back slightly, letting the fist swish past her. Then shoving the seriously off balance vampire with her foot, she sent him sprawling across another grave.

Pulling a stake from the waistband of her pants and twirling it lightly in her fingers, Buffy put her left hand on her hip and looked down at the fallen vampire in disgust. "I can't believe I'm going to say this," she told him. "But you're making this way too easy."

"Why ya lil' bitch! Wait till I get my hands on you. I'll rip your head off and..." he yelled, leaping up to attack once more, only to stop with a stunned look on his face as he ran right into the business end of Buffy's stake. "Sh..." he started to say, before bursting into a cloud of ash.

"And another one bites the dust." Buffy smiled with satisfaction. Now why does that phrase sound familiar? She shrugged dismissing both the thought and her recent foe. Well I guess that's my duty done for the night. What little there was of it. Time to go home I guess.


Sunnydale High School Library -- Monday, 8th September 1997

With her friends gathered around the table in the library before classes the next day, Buffy was recounting her graveyard encounter with a certain amount of relish.

"I know that vamps often have really dated fashion senses, but this one really took the biscuit. I swear he even had snake skin boots. It was just so ridiculous, a style critique from Cordelia would've made him run away in shame, I tell you!"

"He didn't sound like the sensitive type to me, Buff" said Willow. Bright highlights catching in her long red hair as she shook her head emphatically. "He'd more likely try to skin her to make himself a matching belt."

"Eww! That is one visual I really didn't need." Buffy complained screwing up her nose. "Speaking of the annoying one, has anyone seen her since that Weird Science business last week?"

Giles looked up from the book he had been studying with a frown. "Now that you mention it, I don't think she showed up at school today."

"That's odd," Willow said. "She didn't seem to be hurt or anything. You don't suppose anything's happened to her do you?"

Xander snorted from the other end of the table. "Hah! It's probably nothing. After all what could possibly have happened to her on her way home?"

"You're kidding right!" Buffy demanded in surprise. Her blonde hair swirling about her shoulders as she turned to confront him. "We've been back at school less than three weeks and I've already had to rescue her twice. I spend more time rescuing Cordelia than the rest of you put together! Something is ALWAYS happening to her. Plus you know what she's like. She'd accept a lift from the Devil himself if he was driving an expensive enough car."

Xander looked away from her glare hanging his head. "Sorry, that was stupid alright, but Queen C just gets under my skin. It's not like I really want anything bad to happen to her." He paused a moment with a thoughtful look on his face. "At least not unless I get to watch."

"Xander!" Willow exclaimed thumping him on the arm.


"Enough, children" Giles said wearily. "I think we should at least check to see if anyone has heard anything before we assume the worst."

"Good idea. I've got History next. If Cordelia isn't in class I'll ask the teacher if she's heard anything," volunteered Buffy. Then with a slightly malicious smile she turned to Xander. "Since you've got a free period Xand, why don't you find Harmony and ask her if she knows where Cordy is?"

"What! No. No. And I say again, no." Xander jumped up waving his arms in agitation. "Why don't you ask me to do something safer? Like run naked through the graveyard at night with a sign marked 'Food' around my neck."

"I'd pay to see that," Willow muttered too quietly for anyone to hear. Or so she thought until she saw Buffy staring at her with her mouth hanging open.

"Ah, um, well..." Giles said taking his glasses off and polishing them intently for a moment. Pointedly ignoring Xander's outburst he continued, "I'll check with the school office and see if Cordelia called in sick today."

"Quit the dramatics Xander. It's just Harmony. She's a pain but she's not dangerous."

"Fine," Xander moaned. "But you are all going to owe me for this. And don't say I didn't warn you if I end up with my brains dribbling out my ears from having to listen to her mindless yammering!" And with a last glare around the room he stormed out.

Buffy and Willow shared an amused look at their friend's antics, before getting up as well. "See ya later Giles, but first the dreadful fate that is history class awaits us."


That morning the gang questioned everyone they could think of who might have known anything about Cordelia's whereabouts, but nobody had seen her for days. And strangely nobody seemed to be worried much either.

Harmony told Xander that Cordelia's parents had left for a vacation and that perhaps she had gone with them to "... like, get over the shock of almost getting cooked in that fire, ya' know?" Ignoring a daggered look from Harmony for interrupting her, Aura mentioned that Cordy had failed to show up for a shopping trip they and a couple of their other friends had arranged for Saturday. Nor had she appeared for their arranged date at The Bronze that evening either. But everyone had heard a version of what had happened at the game and knew Cordelia was not always the most reliable person when it came to keeping appointments, so the girls weren't really too surprised.

Giles' questioning of the school secretary revealed that there were no notes or messages asking for Cordelia to be excused from school but the secretary was unconcerned. "Those rich bitches often disappeared for days when the fancy took them."

Catching up to Chris between classes, Buffy learned that he had seen Cordelia heading back towards the locker rooms after speaking with Xander and Willow by the fire trucks, probably to clean up and change out of her cheerleader's uniform. So Buffy went in search of Joy, finally cornering the older cheerleader in the locker room, hoping she might know something, anything, that might give some clue to where Cordelia had gone after that. But Joy hadn't seen or heard from her either. And more worryingly still, Joy pointed out that Cordelia's sports bag and clothes were still where she'd left them that night and that her car was still in the car park.

When the gang regrouped in the library at lunch, they told Giles what they had learned. After hearing all the negative reports, he quietly phoned around the local hospitals to see if she might have been admitted. Then with a sinking feeling in his heart he asked Willow to hack into the Coroners Office's files to check who had turned up in the morgues recently. Thankfully Willow found nobody matching Cordelia's description. By then lunch had ended and they reluctantly split up to go to their afternoon classes.


Sunnydale -- Monday, 8th September 1997 -- Later that night

Meeting in the library again after classes they spent a couple more hours searching but with no further clue as to what might have happened to the cheerleader, Xander and Willow reluctantly left to go home. Buffy was all for doing the same herself but Giles cautioned her that just because things looked quiet was no reason for her to slack off on her duties. After all they had no idea what new evil might be quietly brewing away beneath Sunnydale just waiting for the perfect opportunity to burst forth upon an unsuspecting world.

Buffy had reluctantly agreed and was on yet another eventless patrol through some of Sunnydale's many cemeteries and even more frustrated than ever.

All this tension and worry can't be good for me, she thought as she trudged through her third cemetery of the night. And I'm not even getting the catharsis of a good fight. She stopped suddenly in her tracks as she realised what she'd just thought. Giles is such a bad influence on me. I can't believe I knew a word like that, but I'm certainly not letting Giles or the guys know. I'd never live it down. Besides, life's much easier when they expect to do the heavy thinking and leave the muscle work to me. Smiling to herself at her duplicity (another Giles word), Buffy started forward again.

As she peered casually at the moonlit graves to either side of her, she pulled a stake from her jacket and began tossing it back and forward swirling it around her fingers in a casual display of skill that did not even register on her conscious mind. Her hands thus occupied her mind drifted back to musing on the current situation in the town.

I really wish I could relax and enjoy the peace and quiet, she thought with a sigh. But it's kind of difficult when I keep thinking of this as the lull before a storm. Then add in the worry that Cordelia might have been kidnapped as part of some evil world threatening plot, which Giles will no doubt find out about with only moments to spare, and which I will have to stop and well relaxing just isn't on the cards tonight now is it and am I babbling in my head now? I am aren't I? And it's not half as cute as when Willow does it. When she gets that wide eyed look and starts waving her hands about like crazy, I just want to hug her and stroke her back and run my hands through her long silky hair until she calms down. Then maybe our faces will start to drift towards each other and she'll wet her cute little rose bud lips and ...

"Arghh! This is getting me nowhere fast. Face it Buffy you're not going to find the big brewing evil this way so why not call it a night and go home to bed?" she muttered to herself. Stuffing her stake back inside her jacket and turning towards the street.

But the Slayer had only gone a few strides before she felt something stirring behind her. Whirling around, Buffy came face to face with one of the largest vampires she had ever encountered. God, this guy must be almost seven feet tall and he's built like a bull as well. How the hell did he creep up on me? I wasn't THAT distracted surely?

The massive vampire let out a deep belly laugh on seeing her surprised expression. "Oh, I might be evil little girl, but I've always preferred to think of myself as dashing or mysterious. Brewing just sounds so," he paused waving his massive hands in front of him as he searched for the appropriate word. Then his lips curled back in a twisted smile as the answer came to him, "alcoholic. And I much prefer to keep my wits about me."

"Oh great," Buffy moaned. "A comedian. Isn't that just the perfect end to the day. I mean, how could this get any worse?"

As soon as the words left her mouth, Buffy felt it had been exactly the wrong thing to say, a feeling that was quickly borne out when a new voice spoke up from her left.

"You just think you've got it bad. We have to put up with his attempts at humour all the time." The whining voice was a perfect match for the thin, weasel like character that Buffy's quick glance showed her before she refocused most of her attention on the much more dangerous looking giant in front of her.

"Watch your mouth Nigel," the first vamp growled. "This tiny, little girl is barely enough to share as it is. Much more of your lip and you'll be going hungry tonight."

Buffy glared at him, pulling herself up as tall as she could, although that only seemed to emphasise the difference in their heights. "Oh, I am so going to hurt you for that," she snarled. "Have you never heard the phrase 'The bigger they come the harder they..."

"Hit?" asked the giant. Lashing out against her chin with a lightning fast pile driver of a punch that Buffy saw almost too late. Despite managing to ride the blow, Buffy's jaw felt like it had been hit by a wrecking ball and she could taste blood in her mouth as she moved cautiously around the two vampires.

"Nice one Brian," Nigel shouted encouragingly. "That'll teach her to watch her smart lip."

Brian however, looked less sure of himself. The girl had taken his punch and although it had knocked her over as he had expected, she had turned the fall into a roll and was now back on her feet and looked as ready to fight as ever. That worried him. Brian had not survived for over three centuries by underestimating his opponents, and this girl was not acting the way a human should when faced by a couple of large vampires. Then it dawned on him. "You're the Slayer?"

Seeing the larger vampire's hesitation, Buffy rushed forward and launched a quick combination of punches and kicks that would have left any normal person a broken wreck on the ground. But although Brian staggered and grunted from the pain of the strikes, he did not look like he was going down anytime soon, and Buffy's limbs felt like she had been hitting a tree rather than a mere vampire. A tensing of his massive shoulder muscles warned her that another punch was coming and she quickly dived out of the way, putting some space between her and her much larger opponent.

A darting glance to check what the other vampire was up to, made Buffy's heart leap into her throat as she saw that he had now been joined by another three tough looking vamps. Oh boy! she thought. I really need to be more careful what I wish for. I'm going to be really lucky to get out of this in one piece, unless Angel shows up soon -- preferably, with the US Cavalry for backup. Fortunately they seemed content to watch the fight for now, and even seemed to be making bets on how long she would last.

Buffy feinted a kick towards Brian's groin, before dropping to the ground and trying to sweep his feet out from under him, but he read her intention and neatly jumped over her leg. Ducking and rolling out from under the slashing side kick he tried to direct at her head as a follow up, she suddenly found herself in the perfect position to drive her fist up between his legs.

"Yeow!" she screamed, shaking her hand in pain. Damn! What the hell is this giant wearing? Metal underpants?. That felt like hitting a brick. In her distraction the vampire caught her a solid kick to the ribs sending her crashing into the wall of the van Hauptmann crypt. He charged after her, trying to follow up on his advantage. Buffy evaded his lunge, putting a couple of gravestones between them as she held one hand to her aching chest, wincing slightly as she felt a damaged rib shift beneath her touch. Think Buffy! You can't keep this up much longer! she silently admonished herself.

The other vampires were now spread out in a loose semi-circle blocking her most likely paths of escape and watching her with all the intensity of cats playing with a mouse.

Brian charged in again, trying to grab her and Buffy once again stepped aside avoiding him. But this time her foot slipped on a patch of grass still damp from the light rain shower that had passed over Sunnydale in the afternoon. Stumbling and off balance, Buffy dropped clumsily to one knee. Brian roared in triumph as his hands closed around her biceps, lifting her to her feet and pushing her back up against the mausoleum once more.

"Say goodnight Slayer," he gloated. His fangs starting their decent towards her unprotected neck. "You just ran out of luck."

Buffy strained against his grip but was unable to move. She could feel his hair brushing her cheek and knew she did not have much longer. Just as she was resigning herself to dying again, the night was suddenly rent by a line of bright light appearing out of nowhere between two rows of tombstones, directly behind Brian.

As quickly as the light appeared, it was gone. Leaving behind a widening gap in the very air of the graveyard, the edges glowing a lurid purple, so dark as to be almost beyond the range of human vision, even a Slayer's. When the portal reached about a metre in width, a slender, black clad woman dived through, rolling quickly to her feet and drawing a bright, lethal looking sword from the sheath strapped across her back in a single smooth motion. Barely pausing to look around, she continued the drawing motion in a flat, clean sweep that separated Brian's head from his shoulders before he could begin to react to the newcomers presence.

Staring at the brunette through the falling dust that was all that remained of the vampire who had just come so close to killing her, the Slayer felt her mouth drop open in amazement.

"Hi, Buffy!" the swordswoman said cheerily. "Mind if I cut in?"

Buffy's mouth worked silently for a few moments before she managed to squeeze the word out past her disbelief.



Temple of Inanna, Uruk, Kienger -- Autumn 2533 BCE

nin-ju nam-mah-zu kur-kur-ra ka-tar-zu ga-si-il
a-ra nam-gur-ra-zu me-tec hu-mu-i-i
za-e nam-dijir-zu a-ba e-da-sa
jarza-zu-ce a-ba-a mu-un-na-sig-ge
an gal ki-aj-zu muc-am-zu he-eb-be
dijir gal-gal-e-ne ur-zu he-bi-ib-huj-je-ne
barag za-gin nam-nin-a tum-ma tu-tu-zu

Despite the familiar sounds of the hymn drifting in through the open doorway, Ibbi-Nansh was troubled. In all the thirty-two years he had lived within the temple, there had never been so many signs and omens, so quickly, all centred around the same person. And he had no idea who this woman might be. It would have been bad enough at any other time, but now with his father's recent death and his subsequent assumption of the role and duties of En (high priest), he was finding it difficult to think straight.

nij gal-gal-zu nij zag nu-sa
nam-mah-zu me-tec hu-mu-i-i
ki-sikil inana za-mi-zu dug-ga-am

A polite cough from one of the senior priests dragged him out of a momentary daze. Gathering his scattered thoughts he scanned the small gathering of the temple elite. "We must be vigilant. All the signs tell us this stranger will play an important role in future events, but beyond suggestions of sorrow and a long journey they give us no details."

"These omens could be connected to the misfortunes that accompanied the New Year festivities last month," Anepada suggested, rubbing his shaven head pensively as he watched his younger cousin in sidelong glances. "Your father's seizure following the sacred marriage ceremony suggests ill for the coming year."

A few grunts of agreement from the other priests greeted Anepada's suggestion, but Ibbi-Nansh frowned. He missed his father, it had been painful watching his father's health fade while he could do nothing but pray to the gods to lend strength to the old man. And indeed watching Ibbi-Sin's performance at the ceremonies it had seemed his prayers had been answered. For the first time in years his father had mounted the priestess-avatar with an almost youthful vigour, but it had been the last of his strength and mere days later he had passed into the shadows.

But, no, it did not feel right. Despite Anepada's talk of misfortunes at New Year, everyone had agreed -- at the time -- that the ceremonies had gone more perfectly this year than at any time in living memory. It seemed unlikely that his father's death could be connected with such a successful celebration. The more Ibbi-Nansh considered it, the more he thought that perhaps the goddess had decided to honour his father for his long devotion by allowing his final service to her, to be a truly memorable one.

"Perhaps," Ibbi-Nansh said finally, his scepticism causing the word to drag slowly from his mouth. "But whatever her destiny may be, we would not get so many signs if the goddess did not want us to search for her, or to prepare us for her coming. We must gather all the information we can. Ask at the other temples if they have had similar signs. Send novices to Ur and Eridu; Larsa and Bad-tibira; Lagash and Isin; Shuruppak and Umma; Adab and Nippur; Kish and Sippar to ask at the temples for further news." Pausing for a moment, he swept the room with a decisive gaze. "We must be ready for whatever is coming."


Restfield Cemetery -- Monday, 8th September 1997

The two girls stared at each other for a long moment in silence. Buffy was amazed at the change in her -- Was friend the right word? -- well, classmate anyway. Cordelia had always been poised and confident, but now there was something about the look in her eyes and her stance that said she was also very, very dangerous as well. Then of course, there was the very sharp sword held casually by her side and the long dagger in a silver trimmed black leather sheath strapped to the outside of her left thigh. Those did not exactly project an air of vulnerability.

Still as stylish as ever, but this is way out of her normal look and since when did her taste in accessories include lethal weapons. Definitely not Vogue here, she looks like she just stepped off the cover of some magazine for Dungeons and Dragons geeks. Buffy thought to herself. Her eyes flicking up and down Cordelia's toned body as she catalogued the different parts of her ensemble. Those tight leather pants are very daring, with the lacings all the way up the outsides of her legs showing generous stretches of perfectly tanned skin. And I really like the belt. Silver links inlaid with some sort of polished black material. Jet? Ebony perhaps? Hmm, pretty whatever it is. Buffy's eyes lingered for a long moment at Cordelia's waist. She doesn't expose this much perfectly toned stomach very often, and I wonder where she got that short top. It's beautiful. Just a hint of cleavage outlined in a sort of complicated swirling design of silver embroidery. The silver tipped laces tying the neck closed just naturally drawing the eyes down to where the cross belt from her sword sheath presses the material back between firm, shapely breasts...

Bad Buffy! I've got to get my mind out of the gutter. I am so not ogling another girl here, Buffy frowned as she realised where her thoughts were going. I like men! Big, strong, muscly men like Angel! Not trim, curvy, soft skinned girls with shiny dark hair that I just want to run my fingers... Arghh, this can not be happening to me.

For her part, Cordelia was basking in the feeling of being back in Sunnydale once more. Staring at Buffy she finally allowed herself to believe that she had made it home again. That she might be safe, her ordeal finally over.

She was a little surprised at the intensity of her feelings towards the blonde. If you had asked her before, Cordelia would honestly have sworn that Buffy and her friends were just barely tolerated acquaintances. Fellow classmates whom she sometimes helped because of a feeling of obligation for the number of times they had saved her life. But after what she had recently gone through, she had come to realise they were the closest things to real friends she had in Sunnydale.

Who knows how long they might have stood there just staring at each other, but the girls' thoughts were rudely interrupted by a series of low growls before they truly had a chance to fully process them. The remaining vampires had finally shaken off the surprise of seeing their leader cut down so abruptly and begun moving to avenge him.

Cordelia pivoted gracefully to face them, bringing her sword up into a high guard position. Damn, Buffy thought angrily. I can't believe I forgot about the rest of the fang gang. I am just so off my game tonight. She took a step forward and pulled her last stake from the hidden pocket she had sewn into the back of her jacket. Shoulder to shoulder, they faced the cautiously approaching vampires, sizing up their remaining opponents.

If Cordelia was in any way intimidated by the thought of taking on four virile looking vampires then no sign showed on her face as she flashed a confident grin in Buffy's direction. "Now, this is how I remember Sunnydale. All the boys eager to dance with me."

The vampires were forced to split into pairs to pass either side of the portal which, still slowly growing, hung in front of the girls like a gaping wound in the night.

I hope Queen C really knows what she's doing. If she's bluffing things could get very messy. "We're still outnumbered here," Buffy said with a hint of exasperation. "And I don't think they're planning to ask us to the prom somehow."

"Well, it's not like any of these losers are good enough for us anyway. Still, it's not quite the welcome home party I've been dreaming of."

Circling to the far right of the group Nigel had fewer obstacles in his path and so was just a little ahead of his partner in getting into fighting range. Knowing that he would not be facing the Slayer, he expected an easy victory. He dashed forward with claws extended, hoping to close on the brunette before she could bring her sword to bear on him. But a quick flick of its tip towards his face forced him to stop in his tracks and jump backwards.

Thinking he saw an opportunity while the brunette was occupied with his partner, the other vampire lunged forward, only to scream in agony as her razor sharp blade sliced across his middle. Clutching at his stomach with both hands trying to prevent his insides from falling out, Johnny staggered backwards away from the fight. Facing her sword alone now, Nigel suddenly found himself feeling a lot less confident and looked nervously across to where his colleagues were fighting the Slayer in the hope of maybe getting some help from them.

His hope was in vain. Buffy had not waited for the two vampires to reach her before launching a barrage of hard fast punches and kicks against first one and then the other. The lighter haired of the two tripped backwards over a tombstone landing gracelessly on his backside, while his companion staggered back wiping blood away from a broken nose and glaring balefully at the approaching blonde Slayer.

"Now this is much more like it," Buffy enthused. "I've been dying for a good slay for ages." Pirouetting gracefully her foot smashed into the jaw of the still standing vampire in a spinning kick that sent him tumbling away from her just as the first vampire regained his feet and charged. Barely pausing, Buffy slammed her foot back at full extension into his stomach, doubling him over in a perfect set up for her to follow through with a powerful uppercut to his chin. Stooping over his dazed body, Buffy plunged her stake down into his unprotected heart.

The other vampire lurched to his feet, trying to take her from behind while he believed her attention was still engaged in finishing off his colleague. But he was mistaken, and even before the first vampires dust had settled, Buffy swivelled on her heel and struck up towards the second. His jaw dropped open in surprise and the last thing he saw, staring down in disbelief, was the stake plunged into his chest. Then there was nothing but dust drifting on the light breeze.

Yeah! That's more like it. Nothing like a successful bit of violence to blow away my frustrations. Maybe now my thoughts will stay with Angel where they belong.

Nigel was beginning to feel a little worried. The short dagger he carried about with him was useful during the rare run-ins he had with other demon species, but it was just not long enough to reach the brunette beyond the metre of shining steel she was wielding with such lethal precision. He was bleeding from dozens of minor cuts where she had managed to slip past his guard and only his superior vampire speed and quick reactions had allowed him to avoid any major injuries so far, but she had come frighteningly close on several occasions.

Seeing that the Slayer had finished off her side of the fight, things were looking bleak for him. Especially as he could not expect any help from Johnny, the final vampire, who was still slumped up against a crypt some distance away. Moaning pitifully while trying to keep his guts from spilling out through the slice in his belly. His shirt was already soaked by his cold dark blood and it was starting to form a pool on the short cut grass below him.

Watching the calm, almost effortless way Cordelia was herding Nigel around, Buffy decided there was no need for her to get involved and she could take a breather and enjoy the show.

Cordelia's calm was deceptive however, this vampire was just a little too careful to let her get in a decapitating blow and finish him off. Okay she was wearing him down, but she was tiring too, and very aware that it would take just one little slip in her concentration to give him an opening to attack her. If that happened things could get bad very quickly. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the portal hanging there, forgotten by all the fight's participants and in a flash of inspiration, she realised how it could be used to her advantage.

Slowly turning around Nigel, she manoeuvred until he was directly between the portal and her. Then she suddenly launched a lightening fast barrage of slices and lunges. Nigel panicked and leapt back away from this sword wielding nightmare. Striking the portal edge on, he barely had time for a single scream before the powerful forces holding open the rift in space and time tore him into a billion brightly glowing pieces that swirled once around the perimeter of the portal before disappearing forever.

Letting out a relieved sigh, Cordelia carefully wiped the sword clean with a handful of leaves before returning it to the sheath on her back.

That was amazing. Buffy thought as she strolled over to join her friend. It was almost like she was dancing. Like a professionally choreographed cheerleading routine. Although more dangerous and with blades instead of pompoms...

Her internal babbling stopped abruptly when Cordelia turned towards her and wrapped the surprised blonde in a tight hug. "God, Buffy. You can't imagine how glad I am to see you again," she said close to tears.

"Jeez, Cordelia. Exaggerate much. You've only been gone a couple of days," the Slayer said, wrapping her arms tightly around her taller classmate and trying hard not to let her mind dwell on the feel of the brunette's body pressing up against her. Despite her best intentions, and the slight twinge from her ribs, she was unable to resist letting her hands rub up and down Cordelia's back. Hmm, her skin is just as soft and smooth as I imagined it and what's this? She paused surprised as her upper hand encountered a hard object right between Cordelia's shoulder blades. Another knife?

Cordelia pulled back a bit to stare Buffy right in the eyes. "For you maybe, but it's been a lot longer on my side of things."


"Yes, longer. Come on Buffy, you didn't think I learned to use a sword like that overnight did you?"

"I hadn't really thought about it," Buffy admitted. "The whole sight of you with a sword was surprising enough that I just didn't consider the implications. So how long have you been gone? And where?"

"Now that is a looong story that I am not looking forward to telling," a suddenly sadder and more subdued Cordelia replied. Her eyes haunted, she looked around as if missing something. "And much better told in comfort and to everyone together. It's going to be hard enough to tell once. I really don't want to have to repeat it."

When she caught sight of the Slayer pouting sulkily at her because of the lack of a straight answer, she had to smile. "And don't make those puppy dog eyes at me. Unlike Giles, I am immune."

She laughed as Buffy's pout melted into a scowl of frustration and impulsively hugged her again. Feeling Buffy's initially stiff response melt after a few moments. "Don't worry Buffy," she murmured in the blondes ear. "You won't have long to wait." A momentary confusion clouding her deep hazel eyes, Cordelia asked in a quiet voice, "Eh, what day is today?"

Buffy gave her a strange look. "You really don't know do you?"

"Nope, not the slightest idea."

"Well it's Monday. You disappeared last week."

"Oh!" Cordelia looked nonplussed for a moment. "I really thought it would be longer that that -- Will, I guess it doesn't matter, I'll tell everyone about it tomorrow at the library." She seemed to hesitate a moment before continuing in an even more sombre tone. "But just now there's much more important things to think about."

Pulling back in sudden concern, Buffy looked her in the eyes. "What do you mean? What's wrong?"

"Do you know how long it's been since I had a real shower?" Cordelia asked her eyes twinkling merrily as she pasted her most innocent look on her face.

"You, you, you ..." Buffy swatted at her arm in mock anger.

"Oww! Be careful Buffy. You forget your own strength sometimes."

"Sorry," Buffy muttered pouting again, "but you had me worried there. That was not funny."

Turning her back on the unrepentant swordswoman, Buffy stomped over to where the final vampire, Johnny, was still staring down at his blood covered hands and moaning quietly. He glanced up at her approach and snarled defiantly. But Buffy merely stared down unimpressed. "You're really a pretty pathetic excuse for a vampire, you know. One little cut and you curl up crying for your mommy. It's not going to kill you after all. You should be fighting on regardless or at least have tried to escape while we were finishing off your buddies. It wouldn't have done you much good of course," she smiled, "but it takes the fun out of slaying when you make it too easy for me." When the vampire just glared at her, she sighed and plunged her stake into the demon's heart put an end to its agony.

Well that's over now, she shrugged, feeling oddly let down. Trust one lame-ass vamp to really ruin the mood.

Watching the way the Slayer's shoulders hunched in on themselves, Cordelia felt a sudden need to comfort her. Reaching out quietly, she began to gently massage some of the tension out of her friend's back and neck.

Hmmm nice, Buffy thought as Cordelia's strong talented fingers went to work on the knotted muscles. But the contact did nothing to help her escape the swirling confusion of her thoughts and jumbled emotions. She just did not know why Cordelia was suddenly affecting her this way. It was not like she had never noticed that the other girl was attractive before. She would have had to be blind to miss it. But she had never considered it important. Especially when compared to how annoying the cheerleader could be. I'm just missing Angel, that's all. Once I see him again, things will get back to normal. Yes a hard, manly chest against my cheek, that's what I want. Not soft womanly curves melding up against my body while slim fingers...

Groaning in frustration as her thoughts once again ran away from her, Buffy pulled away from Cordelia's gently kneading fingers.

"Is something the matter Buffy?" Cordelia asked in concern.

"No, nope, nothing wrong. What could be wrong?" Buffy babbled, trying desperately to come up with some way to explain her frown that would be less embarrassing than admitting what she had just been thinking. "Everything's peachy. In the green. A-OK. Top of the world."

"Okay, okay, enough. I get the picture already," Cordelia laughed. "Since when did you start channelling Willow?"

With a flash of inspiration, Buffy saw a safe path to lead the conversation down. It was a bit of a stretch she admitted to herself, but with any luck Cordelia would not question it. "It's been very quiet lately. You know supernaturally, cause Daryl doesn't really count cause that was more science and less demony. And Oh God I'm babbling again. But anyhow and now I'm set upon by five, stronger than usual vamps." She paused drawing a deep breath. "Well, that last one was a bit of a wimp, but still, doesn't that strike you as a little odd?"

"I don't know Buff. I'm no vamp expert. But why worry. They're dust. We're alive," Cordelia flashed a broad thousand watt smile at the Slayer. "I say we party."

"Cordy, Cordy, Cordy," a new voice sighed with a resigned tone. "When are you going to learn that worrying about the details is what keeps you alive longer?"


Restfield Cemetery Sunnydale -- Monday, 8th September 1997

Buffy whirled to face the red haired stranger who was stepping through the, now three metre wide, portal, and dropped into a fighting stance. His accent sounded foreign, and although Buffy could not quite decide from where, it did seem vaguely familiar.

Cordelia just sighed. "But that's what I've got YOU for." She paused and visibly collected herself before turning to look at him with her hands planted firmly on her hips. "What took you so long?" she asked, a hint of annoyance creeping into her voice. "We've been fighting for our lives here."

"I think you must have destabilised the gateway jumping through it while it was so small," he replied shrugging nonchalantly. "It wouldn't let me pass until just now. You really should think before diving into the unknown."

Smiling slightly at the withering stare Cordelia sent in his direction, he dropped the two bundles he was carrying at her feet and stuck out his hand towards the still uncertain blonde. "Hi Buffy. Nice to meet you."

"H-how do you know my name?" the Slayer stuttered in surprise.

"Oh, you get used to that," Cordelia said with a dismissive wave. "He's no one."

"Huh?" Buffy looked back and forward between the two feeling none the wiser.

"Cordelia," he said wearily, giving Buffy an apologetic smile. "She means my name is Nevyn. Which means 'no one' in ancient Celtic." Buffy still looked confused, but shook the offered hand. "Don't worry Buffy. There's a perfectly simple explanation for all of this."

"Hah!" Cordelia scoffed. "Nothing about this whole situation is simple. Now can we save it for the morning please? I'm suddenly feeling very tired and I think I'll skip the party and just go home and take a nice long, hot, shower."

"And how do you plan to get into the house?" Nevyn asked her over his shoulder.

"What do you mean, how do I plan to get in. It's my house."

"Well there's the little matter of your parents being away on vacation and you not carrying any keys," he said patiently.

"You know I hate it when you do that!" Cordelia snapped waspishly.

"Do what?" Nevyn asked innocently.

"Remind me of the something I've overlooked and leave me feeling foolish."

"Like I've told you many times before Cordy. When you pay attention of the little things in life, the big problems tend to sort themselves out."

"Oh please! Spare me the homilies. Since you're so smart, how do you suggest I get in?"

"Well that's easy," Nevyn replied grinning mischievously. "You just need to ask Giles to pick the lock for you."

"What?" both girls exclaimed in complete surprise.

"Did you say Giles?" Buffy asked in a tone that suggested she would have been less surprised if he'd told her the Pope was secretly a woman. "We are talking about the same person here? English librarian, a bit stuffy, wears a lot of Tweed suits."

"There's a lot about Giles you don't know," Nevyn continued unruffled. "He wasn't born wearing Tweed you know."

"Well no I guess not," admitted Buffy. "But lock picking?"

Nevyn just smiled.

"Fine!" Cordelia said after a moment. "I know better than to argue with you when you get like this, but have I told you how aggravating it can be?"

"Only about a million times Cordy."

Scowling Cordelia scooped up one of the bundles Nevyn had brought through the portal before turned the full intensity of her glare on him. "Well! What are we waiting for? Let's go to Giles'. I need my beauty sleep."

"Sure Cordy," Nevyn said soothingly, picking up the other bundle. "Lead the way." At her surprised look he said gently, "I don't know where Oakpark Street is. I've never been to Sunnydale before. Remember?"

"Arggh!" she growled and stormed off towards the street, but after barely half a dozen paces she suddenly stopped, shaking her head ruefully. "What am I thinking? There's no need to involve Giles. All my stuff'll still be in the locker room right where I left it." She shot Nevyn a huge grin, "See sometimes I do remember the little things. I guess we're going to the school instead."

"Err, guys!" Buffy called after them. "What are we going to do about this portal thingy?"

"Umm," Nevyn stopped a slightly puzzled frown creasing his forehead. "You know I haven't the least idea. In the past, portals have opened, I've stepped through and then they've closed again. It's always been a little annoying that I don't know why or how they open, but I've never really thought too much about it." His frown deepened as he stared at the deep purple boundary that marked the portal. "That's odd in itself. You'd think I would be more concerned about who or what was controlling them. But it's rarely crossed my mind."

"Not quite the answer I was looking for," Buffy said. "I guess we'll just have to guard it until..." She trailed off abruptly as the portal suddenly flared brightly before contracting once more to a glowing slit and disappearing. "Well, that takes care of that I guess," she continued after they shared a moment of stunned silence.

"Good," Cordelia said. "Can we get going now? This bag isn't getting any lighter you know."


Sunnydale High School -- Tuesday, 9th September 1997

The tide of students crowding into the school corridors parted magically, according Cordelia her due deference, as she strode purposefully along head held high. Beneath the studied expression of bored superiority, she was a roiling mass of conflicting emotions. Being back in this world, back in high school, still felt very strange - wrong even. And whenever her thoughts drifted towards the ordeal that awaited her when she reached the library, she became distinctly queasy and hurried to find something else to think about. Luckily, she encountered none of her followers and the few people who tried to speak to her, or gave her odd glances, she just ignored, determined not to allow herself to be side-tracked. She was almost certain that Buffy, Willow and Xander had all arranged to take free study as first period on Tuesdays, so they should be there when she arrived.

Pausing outside the swing doors that led into the library to gather her courage, Cordelia could hear Buffy's familiar voice recounting the events of the night before. Curious, she motioned Nevyn to hang back briefly so she could listen, with some amusement, to the surprised reaction Buffy's tale was receiving.


"Wh-what? CORDELIA saved YOU? Cordelia with a SWORD?"

"Yup, I'm right there with you Will. You could have slayed me with a feather." Noticing her other friend seemed a bit spaced out, Buffy waved her hand in front of his glazed eyes. "You still with us Xander?"

"Hanging on your every word Buff," Xander said, blinking rapidly and shaking his head as that would dislodge the image of Cordelia in the tight black leather pants with laced sides which Buffy's long lingering description had painted so vividly in his imagination. "So do you think she'll wear the same outfit today?" Seeing the looks on his friends' faces, he quickly tried to cover. "I mean, can you imagine how Snyder would react if she actually wore a sword to school?"

"Never happen Xander," Buffy said confidently. "Have you ever seen Cordelia wear the same thing twice? She'd die of shame." Buffy's face fell slightly as her thoughts turned towards Principal Snyder. "Although it would be nice if someone would distract the rodent's attention. He's been majorly down on me recently."

Huh! You're one to speak Buffy, Cordelia thought scowling in annoyance. How your mother can afford to keep up with your wardrobe is beyond me.

Realising that she was dithering outside the library mostly as an attempt to delay the coming conversation, Cordelia took a deep breath and tried again to gather her scattered nerves. Pasting an imperious expression on her face, she pushed the door wide and marched in. She barely glanced at the startled trio before throwing herself down into the empty chair nearest Buffy. Nevyn quietly took a seat at the other end of the table.

"Hi everyone," she greeted them with a fake smile. "You're all staring at me with your mouths open. Now I know I'm home."

"Well, that proves she wasn't away attending charm school," Xander quipped after a moment's stunned silence.

Cordelia gave him a withering glance before refocusing her attention on Buffy. Seeing the slightly hurt look on the Slayer's face, she continued in a friendlier tone. "Sorry Buffy, it's just I'm really not looking forward to this conversation. Ya know?"

"Yeah, sure Cordelia. We forgive you don't we guys?" Buffy looked at Xander and Willow for support.

"Hmm, oh, yes," Willow said as she stared distractedly at what Cordelia was wearing. Slightly faded jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt were a long way from her usual look. It's not fair. How does she do it? Willow moaned internally. She should look at least a little bit frumpy, but somehow...

"Yes, well," Giles paused uncomfortably before settling into the last vacant chair, next to Nevyn. "Perhaps we should start by learning a bit more about our guest here?"

"Who are you?" Xander blurted. "Where have you been hiding Cordelia? And why couldn't you keep her there?"

"Hey!" Cordelia complained, jerking upright and starting to rise to her feet, but she stopped when Buffy laid a gentle hand on her arm and shook her head slightly.

Nevyn sighed and sat back in his chair, letting his head slump forward for a moment before answering. "I wish I knew who I am, but I don't. I have no idea what my real name is, or when and where I was born."

"You have amnesia?" Willow asked surprised.

"Yes. The first thing I can remember is waking up in a cave, a full grown man, looking much as I do now. I had not one single memory of anything I might have done before then. And although many years have passed since then I still don't."

"That must be terrible," Willow sympathised. "I wish there was something we could do for you."

"That's kind of you Willow, but I've gotten used to it. And it's not as if my mind was completely empty of memories. I could remember books and movies, but not when I read the books or where I watched the movies. Facts, figures and tons of useful information, but nothing about who my family might be or what they looked like."

Nevyn's face was briefly clouded before he shook off the mood and continued. Ticking off the points on his fingers as he made them. "That was a really strange time, cooped up inside the cave for years, decades maybe, while I studied the vast and varied range of books I found stored there. Part of me hoped to find some small fact or turn of phrase that might unlock my lost memories, but nothing came to me. The books were many and varied, ranging from maths and science to weaving and metalwork and even magic.

"Those I found dificult to believe at first, but gradually I found that magic was indeed real and that I had some ability to work it." He paused again in contemplation, his mind turned back once more to consider those early days.

"Finally one day after I had learned everything the books could teach me I awoke with the desire to see the world outside. Looking back it seems strange that I never noticed I was confined to the cave, but at the time, it didn't even cross my mind."

"Leaving the cave I found I was in a mountain valley in the lands of the Silures people of what is now southern Wales around the year 500 CE."

"CE?" asked Xander.

"That's common era, many scientists and text books prefer it to AD, but it means essentially the same thing," Nevyn answered automatically.

"You're fifteen hundred years old?" Xander asked, not really believing it. "What are you?"

"Human I think, and no I'm not that old, but I am a lot older than I look. I don't look any older now than the first time I can remember seeing my face in a mirror. I guess like Buffy, you could say I'm just a slightly different kind of human."

"Different?" Giles asked looking at him sharply.

"Well, as I've just said, I don't age. I'm also a bit faster and stronger than is normal," Nevyn stated matter-of-factly, "I can't remember ever being ill and I heal almost immediately from any wound."

"You sound like one of those immortals from the film Highlander," Xander piped up, ignoring the quizzical looks everyone gave him.

"Funny you should say that, I've thought so myself, but I've never run into anyone who seems determined to cut my head off, and if I've ever met another immortal like myself I haven't felt any cramps or other supernatural signal."

It looked like Nevyn and Xander were about to launch into a long discussion, but Buffy was getting bored. "Okay fine, but what does any of this have to do with Cordelia?"

"I was getting to that, although I think it would be better if Cordelia tells you her own part of the story." Knowing how much his protégé was dreading this, he gave her an encouraging smile. Cordelia shuddered slightly, smiling weekly at Buffy when the blonde laid a gentle hand on her arm. "Anyway, the locals had a legend about a wizard trapped inside that cave, so my emergence caused quite a stir. Then I spent the next fifty years helping the Britons fight the Saxon invaders, under two successive High Kings. When the second died in battle, I attended his burial at Glastonbury Tor and then decided to get as far away from any painful reminders as possible. Several weeks later, I was approaching the fort of Caer Luel, which is now called Carlisle, when a portal opened right in front of me. Well, as you might imagine I was a bit startled, but I felt a strange peace settle over me, and I stepped through without really thinking about it."

"Since then, I have been through thirty-two portals including the one that brought me here."

"But I still don't see what this has to do with Cordelia," Xander said a bit confused.

Nevyn looked at the nervous brunette, "Are you able to talk about it?"

Cordelia gulped visibly and leaned a little further towards Buffy's oddly comforting presence. She looked uneasily around the group before nodding hesitantly. Drawing a deep breath she began to speak in halting phrases...


Sunnydale High -- Thursday 4th September 1997 (Flashback - Night)

The fire had been put out, and the initial frantic activity had calmed considerably. The flashing red lights of the emergency vehicles still played across the faces of the firemen, police and onlookers as Cordelia slowly picked her way over the tangle of fire hoses to the ambulance where Xander and Willow were standing chatting.

I can't believe I'm going to do this, she thought. But he did just save my life and he seemed so dashing -- not really like Xander at all.

"Xander?" she began, feeling hesitantly for the right words. "I just wanted to thank you for saving my life."

God! This is even more painful than I thought it would be.

"What you did in there was really brave and heroic, and I just wanted to tell you if there was anything that I could ever do to..."

But Xander cut her off before she could finish. "Do you mind? We're talking here."

I should have known better, Cordelia huffed internally and rolled her eyes at the boy's blindness before turning away. That does it! I'm going home.

With so many people standing around rubber necking, it was a bit of a struggle to make her way towards the locker rooms, so Cordelia decided to take a diversion around the back of the gym building where there would be nobody to slow her down. Striding along briskly, she noticed nothing untoward until a hand on her shoulder suddenly sent her stumbling sideways.

Her foot caught on a stone and she threw her hand out to stop her fall. But it passed straight through the space where the wall should have been. Cordelia cried out in surprise as her fall continued un-arrested.

The darkness which closed in around her was absolute. A black velvety darkness undisturbed by the slightest hint of light or the tiniest sound. Cordelia was aware of time passing, but she had no sensation of movement or direction any longer. Even her breathing and heartbeat were silent. In fact she was no longer able to sense her own body. Was she still breathing? Was her heart beating? Was she even alive any longer? She did not get long to think about how strange her rising panic felt unaccompanied by the usual physical symptoms, before the darkness around her splintered with dazzling light and physical sensation returned.

She cried out in relief at being able to feel her body once more, but the cry turned into one of distress as she struck the unseen ground hard, driving the breath from her lungs and the sickening crack of her right arm breaking was dreadfully loud in this new place's unnatural silence.

The smooth floor was extremely cold under her hand as she slowly pushed herself into a sitting position. The movement brought a sharp complaint from her chest, suggesting that she could add at least one broken rib to her tally of injuries. Hissing through her teeth, Cordelia carefully lifted her broken arm to cradle it in her lap before turning her attention to the world around her. Unfortunately, she could see nothing to take her mind off the pain.

She was sitting on a smooth white surface that extended away from her in every direction. There was no sign of any walls or horizon and indeed she could not tell where the featureless floor merged into the equally featureless "sky" above her. The place was almost painfully bright, flooded with white light that seemed to come equally from all directions. The air around her seemed quite warm, but the floor was as cold as ice, dry and totally texture-less beneath her palm. The pounding of her heart and the harsh rasp of each pained breath were abnormally loud in her ears without the quiet background of everyday sounds to mask them.

,Now what? she thought, continuing to scan the emptiness for some indication of what she should do next. Well, at least with all this light I don't have to worry about being attacked by vampires. Her attempt to cheer herself up fell completely flat as she became aware of the small red spots disturbing the pristine whiteness of the floor below her. Steeling herself for the worst, she shifted her gaze to her broken arm. The growing red patch staining the yellow sleeve of her cheerleading top was alarmingly large already. When she gently peeled the material away from the wound she had to fight down the urge to vomit at the sight of the jagged piece of bone poking out through the skin of her forearm. Oh god! That's going to leave a scar, I just know it.

A disturbance in the air caused Cordelia to look up and she was startled to discover that a figure had appeared beside her. Despite squinting her eyes, Cordelia could discern nothing about the stranger beyond a vague sense of flowing robes. Her eyes just would not seem to focus on the figure and she could not tell if it was a man or a woman. Or, she thought with a sudden sinking feeling, if it's even human at all. As the figure just stood quietly beside her making no threatening movements, Cordelia felt her initial alarm fade slightly to be replaced by a rising irritation that it was not making any move to help her with her injuries.

"Well?" she asked finally. "Are you just going to stand there all day? I'm injured here!"

There was still no response from the figure. Despite not being able to make out the being's face -- or even tell for certain that it had one -- Cordelia got the definite impression that it was staring straight at her. After another long moment of silence the figure slowly raised an arm and reached towards Cordelia who found herself rooted to the spot. Even as it approached her cheek, she still could not make out any details beyond a vaguely hand shaped blob at the end of an equally vague arm.

Her cheek tingled at the point of contact then she felt a shimmer of energy race out across her skin leaving a spreading numbness in its wake. A deep resonant tone echoed within her mind forming the words Your true self will be revealed. Confused by this strange statement, she had only a moment to worry before she felt her senses fading and she slipped away into unconsciousness.


Temple of Inanna, Uruk, Kienger -- Midwinter 2533 BCE

All through the cooler autumn months the signs had continued to come thick and fast, but the priests were no closer to discerning their deeper meaning. Although they strove to conceal it, many of the priests were becoming concerned. Not even Palakin, the eldest among them could recall talk of another time when they had received so many portents and for so long of an upcoming event.

Only their temple was receiving the signs. The novices they had sent to enquire of the temples in neighbouring cities all reported that they were getting no unusual omens at all. They had even sent one novice seventy danna (750 km) up the Buranun ('great river') to the city of Mari.

Nor did there seem to be any reason behind the signs. The weather was mild and gentle. With slightly more rain than usual and the river running high, there was plenty of water to ensure the fields were well irrigated. And the crops and herds were flourishing.

The political situation was also settled. The current truce, which had put a stop to the almost ceaseless warring between the many city states of Kienger, showed no sign of breaking any time soon. Even the raids of the eastern desert nomads were greatly reduced in number.

With midwinter almost open them, the temple should have been focussed on preparing for the festival of renewal that would light the way through the longest night of the year. Instead, extra ceremonies and sacrifices were being performed almost daily, seeking new auguries and oracles that might give them a better idea of what to expect. The archives were being scoured for any scrap of tablet that might contain some useful reference to a past prophecy or a time when something similar had happened in the past.

But for all the effort, their best predictions remained infuriatingly vague. The most they could say was that the woman would be a stranger from a far land, she would arrive shortly after the harvest and that her arrival would herald a time of great danger and change.


A long time ago, in a land far, far away...

Waking up began as a struggle. Cordelia strained and battled but found nothing to fight against. As she reached the groaning stage the fog began to lift. She was a little cold but not too uncomfortable. Bright sunlight shone through her still closed eyelids and warmed her skin. A light breeze was gently stirring her hair and whispering through nearby plants. She could hear a stream burbling away quietly nearby, perhaps the same cold water her fingers were dangling in. Blearily batting at the small insects that were buzzing irritatingly near her face, Cordelia suddenly sat up straight in surprise as what she was doing registered on her conscious mind.

What the hell? she stared at her hand in disbelief. Twisting and turning her arm to look at it from all angles. There's not a mark. It WAS broken -- wasn't it? Or was that a dream? Gazing at the unblemished tawny skin, she could feel a broad grin spreading across her face. But something odd was tickling at the edge of her awareness and she frowned a little as she tried to get her still muzzy brain to work. I can't see any injuries. Why do I think something's wrong? Cocking her head this way and that she surveyed her body. No, nothing wrong. Not a mark on my skin anywhere. Wait a minute -- since when have I had an all over tan...

With a small shriek, Cordelia curled up hugging her knees to her chest. Oh my God! Oh my God! OH MY GOD! I'M NAKED! Where're my clothes? A quick frantic glance confirmed that she was alone and she took a deep calming breath. OK think Cordy. You're alone, nobody's going to see you. Slowly uncurling, she took a couple more deep breaths feeling the pounding in her chest subside. "And well, even if someone did, I've got nothing to be ashamed of. I am beautiful after all."

Feeling more or less composed once more, Cordelia took a longer look at her surroundings. She saw nothing familiar at all and there was definitely no sign of her clothes.

She was sitting on a sandbar jutting out into a small river surrounded on all sides by tall banks of reeds. The sand around her totally undisturbed. Not even a single footprint breaking the pristine surface. Seeing nothing threatening around her she relaxed further. Was I just talking to myself? Well this day just can't get any more disturbing.

Standing up to try and get a better view of her surroundings proved futile. She still couldn't see anything beyond the three to four metre tall reeds.

Suddenly, Cordelia jumped out of her skin as a group of birds erupted from the reeds nearby, chorusing out alarm calls as they flew. Faintly she heard the sound of voices, male voices, coming closer. Cordelia thought about running, but where? And would the noise attract their attention anyway and make them chase her?

She strained to make out what they were saying, but the language they were speaking (although pleasantly melodic) was totally foreign to her. The rustling in the reeds was coming steadily closer and Cordelia fought to suppress a startled squeak when a dog suddenly poked its head through the stems virtually right in front of her. The dog yipped excitedly as it rushed over to examine the slowly retreating girl, but she was releaved to see it seemed to be quite friendly.

Cordelia stopped backing away when she felt the sand turning wet beneath her feet and crouched down, reaching out a hesitant hand to gently pat the happily tail wagging dog. The act of stroking the animals fur was very calming for the worried teen and her breathing and heart rate had almost returned to normal when the dog's owners arrived.

Four boys, not even Cordelia's age, burst out of the reed bank with a suddenness that made her flinch away in surprise, overbalancing and tumbling into the river. The boys had obviously been out hunting, but they quickly tossed down their spears gabbling excitedly to one another on seeing just what their dog had found for them this time. Looking around for someplace to escape while trying futilely to cover herself with her hands, Cordelia began backing away deeper into the cold river. She really did not like the way they were all looking at her, and although they were all shorter than her, the small loin cloths each boy wore revealed leanly muscled bodies and slightly olive sun bronzed skins.

One boy was a little older, perhaps fifteen, and he gestured for the others to spread out to either side while he lunged straight for the now seriously worried brunette. She tried to dart to one side, but one of the younger boys easily intercepted her and pushed her back towards the leader. As he grabbed her arm, Cordelia tried to kick out at him, but he blocked her ineffectual blow and pulled her in tight against his body. She could feel hands stroking her skin in places they had no right to be, and the rising excitement of the boy holding her was becoming ever more obvious as her hips were pressed firmly against his.


Sunnydale High Library -- Tuesday 9th September 1997

"... and then, th-the-they ..." Cordelia broke off sobbing and laid her head on Buffy's shoulder when the blonde scooted her chair even closer. Her own eyes bright with unshed tears, Buffy pulled the crying girl into her arms and looked over her head, meeting the concerned gazes of everyone gathered around the main table in the library.

>From the moment Cordelia had, haltingly, started relating her story it had been obvious to everyone that she was finding the telling painful, although she had seemed to find Buffy's hand gently rubbing her shoulder, and the encouraging looks the blonde gave her, some comfort. But as the story progressed she had become more and more withdrawn and now she had broken down completely.

Xander's face had shifted through many expressions during the last few minutes. From surprise and speculation at Cordelia's description of his bravery of the other night, to a quiet lust at the thought of her lying naked on a river bank and had now settled into a mixture of sympathy for her pain and embarrassed fury at the thought of those boys' actions. No, not boys, he thought, animals. Sure, Cordelia must have looked sexy as hell standing there naked... For a brief moment his mind drifted back into fantasy, but he gave himself a disgusted shake. But to do THAT to her. There's no excuse.

As Willow leaned up against him, he gave her a gentle hug. Offering comfort to his oldest friend who's face was scrunched up in empathetic horror as she stared at the crying girl. The girl who before today she had always considered one of the bane's of her life. But Willow had a very caring heart and seeing the way Cordelia was torn up inside was doing the same to her.

"I...I'm s-s-sorry," Cordelia mumbled, tears flowing freely down her cheeks. "I th-thought I was over this. It's been years." Taking a deep shaky breath, she wiped her cheeks with a trembling hand. "This isn't like me," she continued, her voice a little steadier than before. "I'm Cordelia. I'm not a sniveling whiny little cry-... It's j-just not me!" she finished wistfully, burying her face in Buffy's hair again as the tears overwhelmed her once more.

"Shhh, it's OK Cordy, you're safe now. Nobody's gonna hurt you while you're with me." Buffy murmured into her friend's ear, shamefully trying to ignore the way her skin was tingling from the feel of the taller brunette in her arms. Oh boy, I was expecting demons, maybe a vampire or two. I could have coped with that. But this -- this is worse. They were human but they did THAT to her. How does anyone deal with that? I feel almost helpless. How could Cordelia act so normal last night?

Buffy's gaze finally came to rest on the two adults at the far end of the table. Her Watcher was uncomfortably polishing his glasses, staring off at nothing, a pained expression on his face. But Nevyn met her gaze levelly and nodded slightly confirming beyond doubt just what had happened to Cordelia.


Sunnydale High, Girls' Restroom -- Tuesday 9th September 1997

Cordelia's shoulders shook heavily and her face was sunk between her heads as she huddled in the toilet stall, still sobbing dejectidly. Why does it still hurt so much? They say time heals all wounds. Surely, those horrors should be far enough in the past? I almost never have the nightmares now. Not like in the beginning when I woke screaming almost every night. She gave a deep shudder as she remembered the way she used to sit bolt upright, yelling at the top of her voice and flinch away from anyone who tried to offer her any comfort. But time had moved on, as it's prone to do, and she had thrown her energies into everything that was happening around her, distracting herself, not letting herself brood on what had happened to her. Eventually, she had begun to sleep almost normally again. Of course, Nevyn said I never really dealt with the trauma, just buried and ignored it, hoping it would go away. Maybe he was right, but it seemed to be working. Why do I still feel so dirty?

Gradually, as she calmed down and her sobbing eased, she became aware that Willow and Buffy were crammed into the stall with her, hovering sympathetically over her, as they had been since she had dashed here from the library. Lifting her head finally, she saw it had been Buffy who had been soothingly stroking her hair. Both girls' faces were streaked with their own tears. Willow, eyes wide with shock, was hugging herself tightly, her head shaking back and forth slightly trying to deny what she knew was true.

But it was when she looked into Buffy's face, that Cordelia got the biggest shock. The deep emerald eyes were full of pain and misplaced guilt as tears rolled unnoticed down her cheeks, her lips moving in an endless almost soundless repetition of "I'm sorry, so sorry."

Not trusting herself to speak, Cordelia lifted a trembling hand to wipe the tears from Buffy's cheeks. She's crying for me, she thought in amazement. After all the cruel things I've said to her, to both of them, she corrected herself, she still cares. Somebody HERE actually cares what happens to me. A slight smile ghosted around her lips and was echoed a moment later by the blonde. With one final sniff, Cordelia gave herself a shake and scrubbed away her tears with the backs of her hands. "God, I'm pathetic. It's a good thing Harmony and the rest of my so called friends can't see me now."

The other girls immediately began babbling out protests, but she barely listened, she had heard it all before from other people.

"Can we get cleaned up now," she asked after letting them run on for a couple of minutes. "We should get back to the library and go on with the story before I lose my nerve completely."

"Perhaps it would be best if I continue the story from here?" Nevyn asked hesitantly after the three girls rejoined the others in the library. On receiving nods from a few of those gathered around the table, he drew a deep breath and locking his gaze on Buffy once more, slowly began. "I first met Cordy several days later. I had just finished a long trip made with only the vaguest hints of what I was to do when I got there and was in a bit of a bad mood ..."


The City of Ur, Kienger -- 9th March 2532 BCEL

A few heads turned as the stranger trudged up to the city gate, a large pack slung over one shoulder. Although he never considered himself tall, most of the natives stood well short of even his 175 cm (5'10'') and with his red hair, paler skin and strange clothing he stood out from the dark haired swarthy natives. Nevyn was used to the looks however and paid no attention to them. His recent wanderings across much of the ancient world had accustomed him to the fact that his appearance drew peoples attention and he rarely noticed any longer.

His mind was focussed instead on the same problem that he had been gnawing away at for months. Why had he felt compelled to leave Egypt and travel to Sumer? Watching the construction work being carried out at Gaza had been fascinating. Actually seeing the pyramid rising from the desert sands as workers laboured year after year to lay the layers of huge stones one atop another was a dream come true for any student of ancient history, and Nevyn had studied longer and more intensely than anyone he knew.

But no! The first pyramid was barely half finished when he felt 'the call' and was compelled to leave egypt and travel up the Mediterranean coast to Ugarit from where he crossed to, and travelled down, the Euphrates river. Once he reached the flood plains, and began travelling through Sumer itself, he had entered each new city with the hope that this was where the dreams were calling him, but each time he was disappointed. Each time he would awake the next morning to the knowledge that he must travel further south. Now here he was, months later, at the southern most city of Ur, right on the shore of the Gulf. And the really annoying thing was that he still had no idea why. Just once, I'd like a dream that actually laid out what I'm supposed to do and the reasons behind it clearly and unambiguously. Is that really too much to ask? But no, Ithe best I ever get are vague portents and irresistible urges to go somewhere or do something.

Shrugging his shoulders to get the sword to sit more comfortably across his back he snorted at the foolish nature of his thoughts. He should be used to nothing making sense after all these years, but it still irked him that he did not even know who or what the beings were who directed his actions.

As he came out of the shadow of the gate he noticed the people all along the broad boulevard that led into the heart of the city staring up into the sky and pointing.

"U-gu ud-de," someone shouted in panic ("the sun is vanishing").

Glancing up he immediately saw what had caught their attention. The sun's disk was not it's usual perfect circle. Today a small black sliver was eaten into the left edge. Well, well. An eclipse. I guess I'm finally in the right city and just in time for the show by the looks of it. Probably still got about an hour to go till totality. Hopefully I'll find out what I'm here for by then.

As time wore on and more and more people began to mill about on the streets in panic, Nevyn realised that he would just have to go with the flow. With his pack stored in a room at a merchants' hostel near the gate, he gradually followed the main crowd of people towards Nanna's temple in the centre of the city.

The steps of the temple platform were crowded by groups of common men and small clusters of the more wealthy, all jostling for position to place their pleas before the priests outside the sanctuary at the top. The commoners gave way easily before the armed scowling stranger as he strode up the stairs, scanning the crowd, looking for some clue as to why he was here. The sun's disk was almost completely covered now, and it was starting to grow cold. Perhaps only five more minutes until totality.

He had almost reached the entrance of the sanctuary compound when he heard a familiar sounding voice crying out between sobs. "No, please no -- Let go of me! I'm an American citizen -- Please, someone help me -- Please don't hurt me again, I'll be good, I promise. -- I want to go home!" Nevyn stopped dead in surprise. That was the last language he had expected to hear spoken in this setting.

I know that voice. But what the devil is she doing here? he thought, staring at the girl, dressed only in the short skirt of a slave, who was being dragged through the entrance by a well dressed citizen and two young teenagers who were probably his sons. She must be why I'm here.

Reaching the entrance at last, the merchant stopped before the shaven headed priest bowing slightly in greeting. "Holy One, I am Gadasama a cloth merchant of this city. On a fine day last week, my sons and a couple of their friends were out hunting in the river marshes when they found this mad girl wandering naked. Since she is obviously one touched by the Gods and destined to serve as a holy handmaiden, I have brought her here on this day of omens as an offering to the temple."

Nevyn felt like covering his face with his hands and groaning. He would have to act fast. If the priest accepted her into the temple he was going to have a hell of a time getting her out again. With the girl's looks, which the priest was eyeing appreciatively; the story the merchant was telling; and the eclipse which would be seen as a momentous sign of something important about to happen; it was unlikely that she would be turned away. They needed pretty girls to participate in the ceremonies and to act as avatars by which the devout could demonstrate their devotion to their gods. Unfortunately the duties meant that the girls tended not to stay pretty for all that long and fresh new faces were always welcome.

Looking around him, Nevyn counted at least two dozen armed soldiers. Most of them carried stone tipped spears or axes, although a few had copper or even bronze knives stuck through their belts. While Nevyn was confident that both his skills and the quality of his weapons were far superior to anything the locals had, it was never wise to provoke a confrontation if it could be avoided. Unfortunately, his magic did not seem to work very well in this world, and would be of little help. Perhaps luck would be on his side and he could get them out of this without bloodshed.

Pushing through the last few people between him and the group at the entrance, Nevyn shook the merchant roughly by the shoulder and shouted at him in the local Emegir dialect. "Unhand this girl. What have you done to her?"

The whole party turned to face him, the merchant taking a couple of steps back at sight of the armed foreigner glaring ferociously at him. Her free arm pressed across her chest in a futile attempt to conceal her breasts from the sight of all the strangers around her, the girl seemed to shrink even further into herself, her voice dropping to a plea. "Please, don't hurt me. I don't want to be ra... hurt again. Oh please, let me wake up now. Tell me this is just a dream."

Switching languages, Nevyn spoke softly and soothingly. "It's okay Cordelia, I'm here to rescue you. I won't let any of these people hurt you."

"Oh thank god! You speak English. I've been so afraid an..." she paused confused. "Do I know you?"

"No. We've never met, but I know who you are, and I'm going to get you out of here."

The merchant's two sons had moved to stand in front of their father, blocking Nevyn from reaching out to him again. Seeing their support and looking around at the guards who had moved to block the temple entrance, the merchant drew in his faltering courage. Squaring his shoulders he confronted the glowering stranger.

"This girl is touched by the gods I say. She heals faster than is humanly possible. When my sons found her in the marsh, she fought like an animal, but look there is not a mark on her now. Only the Gods could heal her so quickly. Look at the sky! Surely this is a sign that she has been chosen."

Suddenly all the frustrations of recent months bubbled over inside Nevyn and he snarled loudly, his knife appearing so quickly in his hand, the merchant had no idea where it had come from. Squeaking in panic, the fat man quickly stepped behind the priest, dragging Cordelia with him.

"This is your last warning merchant. The girl is under my protection. Release her now!"

Although unsettled by the sharply gleaming, naked metal pointed towards him, the priest's pride prevented him from backing down. He was after all, standing on the very portal of his god's home. How dare this barbarian challenge him here. "Put your weapon down stranger, before I call the guard on you. I will decide matters here."

Nevyn stared at the priest for a long moment, watching the beads of sweat forming on his brow and the worry in his eyes. Then he sighed and the knife disappeared again. "For now Holy One, but if this beast continues to hurt her I will not hold back next time. You may judge me afterwards, but that will not prevent me from striking first."

The merchant dropped Cordelia's arm like it burned him. "Who are you calling a beast stranger? I am a respected merchant in this city. Why should we accept the word of a, a, -- zilulu, a vagabond like you? This girl was found wandering alone and unclothed nearly half a day's travel from here. Why should we believe this girl is under your care?" The merchant was feeling more confident now that the priest had stepped in. " You do not look much alike."

Nevyn glared briefly at the merchant, giving a small tight smile when the fat man cringed away again, before turning back to give the priest an assessing look. He seemed fairly ordinary. Short like most of his countrymen, slightly flabby from an essentially sedentary life and his head was shaved as a mark of his calling. His flounced kilt was made of plain white linen and the felt cape undecorated save for a small moon sigil at the collar. But more than appearance, Nevyn was trying to get a measure of the man's character. Many of the priests Nevyn had met in this world possessed an ability to see through any lie or deception. It would be safest to assume this priest was such a one.

Picking his words carefully Nevyn replied, . "Forgive me Holy One. My manners have deserted me. I am known as Nevyn the Guardian. Although most recently come from Kemet, I have spent many years dealing with savages in the northlands and I forget sometimes that things can be done differently here in civilisation. This girl has been placed in my protection. I can offer no proof other than my ability to understand her speech which none other here can do, but I will not leave without her. I would prefer to settle this peacefully, but if I must fight then many here shall never see Utu's light again."

And just as Nevyn finished speaking the last sliver of the sun's disk was swallowed up and darkness settled over the temple and the city. A wail arose from the crowd gathered in the square below the temple as the last of the light died. The guards, dignitaries and others on the temple platform were all shifting nervously now. Casting glances all around and up at the starry sky. The merchant and his sons were on their knees begging for mercy, but Nevyn was impressed to note that although still sweating uneasily, the priest was maintaining a tight grip on his emotions and refusing to let anything except calm show in his face.

The priest glanced upwards, swallowing nervously as he saw the faint misty streamers stretching outwards from the black hole in the sky where the sun had been. "This is unprecedented. I must consult my brothers and seek guidance from my god."

As though on cue, the doors of the temple began to swing open, spilling bright silvery light across the group outside. As the doors swung fully open, the source of the light moved forward out of the sanctuary, finally being revealed as a tall glowing figure who bent slightly to step through the doorway. With gasps of superstitious awe, the people fell flat to the flagstones, prostrating themselves before their god, until only Nevyn and Cordelia remained standing.

"Nan-na im-ma-ra-e an-ki-a u-ga-ga," the priest cried out in wonder. ("Nanna comes forth, shedding light on heaven and earth.")

Recovering from his momentary surprise, Nevyn bent deeply from the waist and nudged Cordelia where she stood staring open-mouhed beside him. "Bow," he hissed, and after a brief hesitation she did so.


Sunnydale High, Library -- Tuesday 9th September 1997

"Wow! You met a real live god?" Willow asked her eyes wide as saucers, looking back and forward between Nevyn and Cordelia where they sat at opposite ends of the library table.

Nevyn merely smiled indulgently, but although Cordelia had pulled together much of her lost composure, she was still riding an emotional rollercoaster and her tone was a bit waspish when she answered the redheaded hacker. "Well duh! Nevyn had just threatened to slaughter his way through the temple's guards and priests right on his very doorstep. No Sumerian god was just going to sit and watch that happen."

Xander reared upright, opening his mouth to defend his friend, but the end of period bell rang before he could speak.

Jumping up quickly tugging on Cordelia's arm, Buffy announced, "I never thought I'd say this, but 'Saved by the bell.' Come on Cordy, we need to get to biology class." The warning glare she sent in Xander's direction made him close his mouth with a snap.

The two adults watched as the students departed. "Well, umm, I, uh, don't know where to start," Giles admitted, absently cleaning his glasses. "This is all so much to take in. Th-the time-scale alone. Coming four and a half thousand years into the, uh, future..."

"Hmm, maybe not. Over the years, I've come to the conclusion that the portals don't just connect different points in space and time, but different dimensions as well."

"Alternative universes?" Giles asked. "A-are you sure?"

"Yes and sitting here in this library with all of you was one more proof."

"What do you mean?"

"I've seen this place and all of you before -- as fictional characters in a TV show."

"On television?" asked Giles in surprise then looked thoughtful for a moment. "I do recall something called the, uh, Heinlein Conjecture..."

"Exactly!" Nevyn exclaimed feeling a little relieved. "Most of the places the portals took me matched mainstream history, but every now and again I would encounter something from fiction. Either a book I'd read or a TV show or movie I'd watched."

"So you're saying that Heinlein was correct and that what people believe strongly in one universe can become real in another?"

Thank god for an educated audience. Explaining this to Cordy was much harder.

"Yes! The many worlds principle is a generally accepted part of quantum theory. As is the fact that the observation of an experiment determines its outcome. From there it's only a small step to saying that something becomes real only when it is observed and then that imagining something can make it real as well."

"I'm not sure I'm quite ready to accept that," Giles said hesitantly.

"Well, think of it this way. Take all the demons, vampires and supernatural creatures you have to deal with as a watcher. Now you could say that the myths and folklore are vague distorted accounts of encounters with the real monsters. Or, you could say that centuries of belief in the myth and folklore by millions of people created a universe in which the monsters were real. Then a television show which built upon those myths developed a devoted audience who added a final shaping to this universe, giving rise to specific institutions like the Watchers' Council and to people like yourself and Buffy."

Giles still looked unconvinced. "I'd need some sort of proof. It's not that I doubt your sincerity," he added hastily, not wanting to offend his guest. "But this is rather a lot to accept on trust."

"Of course. Let me think about it."


Sunnydale High, Girls' Restroom -- Tuesday 9th September 1997

Cordelia stared at her face in the restroom mirror. Their biology class had just finished and somehow it seemed natural that she and Buffy had drifted back to the restroom together.

"I can't do it Buffy."

"What do you mean?" Buffy asked with a cock of her head, from her perch on the counter beside the brunette.

Cordelia continued to stare into the mirror in silence for a long moment before finally answering the blonde with an emphatic gesture towards her reflection. "Look at me, what do you see? Do I look different to you?"

"I see you," Buffy answered puzzled. "You look sadder, but still the same Cordelia."

"How old do I look?"

Now Buffy was really confused, "You're sixteen. The same as I am."

"And that's what's wrong! I've been gone four and a half years. I'm twenty-one, but I only look sixteen. I haven't aged at all -- and maybe I never will. I'm always going to look sixteen."

"And this is bad how?" Buffy's brow furrowed in bafflement.

"I'm never going to grow up. People will always look at me and see a child. How will anyone ever take me seriously? Respect my opinions? Trust me with responsibility? I should be half way through college by now, but here I am back in high school, trying to pretend that I still fit in."

The brunette was almost in tears again, but Buffy was at a loss as to how to react. Isn't that what most people dream of? Perpetual youth, perhaps immortality. How can I, of all people, understand what Cordelia is feeling now? I'm The Slayer. I probably won't live all that much longer. Now her gloomy thoughts were starting to make her depressed as well. Hell, I'd be dead already if Xander hadn't resuscitated me. I just don't think about growing older. What's the point?

"Must I pretend that nothing has changed," the brunette continued, tears welling up in her hazel eyes, "pull the mask back on and become Queen C again? I don't think I can do that. It's not who I am any longer."

Hopping down off the counter, Buffy pulled Cordelia into a gentle hug. Gently she stroked Cordelia's long dark hair as the taller girl's face burrowed into her shoulder. "You will find a way," she soothed, very aware of the caress of Cordelia's ragged breathing against her neck. "You're Cordelia Chase. You can achieve anything you set your mind to."

Her eyes glistening, Cordelia lifted her gaze to meet Buffy's and smiled sadly as the Slayer gently brushed a tear from her cheek. "Thank you. It..."

Just then the door to the restroom swung open and Harmony, Blue and Aphrodesia walked in. "Oh, my god!" Harmony exclaimed stopping so suddenly it looked like she had walked into a glass door. "I don't believe it! And with this freak!"

"What the hell do you mean Harmony," Cordelia demanded swinging around to face the trio of gawking girls.

"Well, I know you were feeling a bit down after breaking up with Pete, but come on, HER?"

"You're nuts Harmony! Cordelia was upset and I was comforting her," Buffy explained as Cordelia stood gaping at her 'friends' with her mouth working soundlessly.

Harmony smirked briefly at her companions. "Oh yes, we saw you 'comforting' her," she snickered making quote marks in the air in front of her as she said so.

The loud smack of Cordelia's palm striking Harmony's cheek shocked everyone in the room to silence and the three popular girls backed nervously away from the furiously trembling brunette.

"Harmony," Cordelia hissed through clenched teeth. "If you EVER breath a word of this hair-brained theory of yours to anyone else ..." She left the threat hanging in the air between them, glaring at the trio of girls until one by one they dropped her gaze.

Grabbing hold of Buffy's hand, Cordelia practically dragged the blonde out of the room and down the corridor towards their next class. And it was fortunate for the three girls left behind that she did not see the speculative looks they shared after she left.


Sunnydale High, Canteen - Tuesday 9th September 1997

The little that remained of the morning had passed uneventfully and now Buffy and Cordelia were looking unenthusiastically at what passed for food in the canteen.

"Well," Cordelia said finally, looking down at the slop on her plate. "I'm pretty sure I must have eaten worse with Nevyn, but I can't quite remember when."

"Yeah," Buffy agreed her nose wrinkling in disgust. "Maybe if we close our eyes it might actually taste edible"

"Or we could just take this as a sign that we're supposed to diet today."

"If we didn't live on the Hellmouth I'd say that was ridiculous, but."

Pulling out a seat, Buffy sat down next to Willow who was morosely prodding at her food with her fork while trying not to notice the way Xander was shovelling the disgusting mess into his mouth. Though Xander stopped in surprise with his fork halfway to his mouth when Cordelia took the other free chair at the table.

"You're sitting with us?" he asked. "I thought the queen never lowered herself to associate with the freak squad in public."

"Wow Xander, I thought even you would have noticed I'm a bit different by now," Cordelia answered pleasantly. "But don't worry. I'm not associating with you, I'm just sitting here to prevent Harmony from being murdered."

"Huh? What's Harmony done to irritate Buffy now?"

"Hey!" Buffy objected. "Why do you assume it's me that's feeling homicidal towards Harmony?"

"Err, well umm, because you know her?" a very confused Xander asked lamely. "But if it's not you then how does Cordelia sitting here stop her murder?"

"Because, it keeps the whole length of the room between me and that dirty minded little bitch. So I have a better chance of making it through the meal without smashing her stupid smirking face straight through a wall," Cordelia told him in deceptively sweet tones.

"Okay, I'm confused. Isn't she supposed to be your friend?"

"Maybe before. But now, the less I have to do with that vacuous tramp and the rest of those sheep the better." Her voice had risen stridently and a hush settled across the canteen as everyone stared first at Cordelia and then at the 'sheep' she had just spoken of so disparagingly.

Feeling uncomfortable under all the stares, Cordelia pushed her untouched plate away from her and stood up. "I guess I'm not feeling very hungry after all," she said quietly. "I think I'll just head to the library."

Buffy sadly watched the brunette walking away, guiltily aware of the way her gaze had automatically drifted down to rest on the swing of the brunettes hips. Why did Harmony have to spoil things? Now Cordy's probably going to go back to avoiding me again just to prevent anyone taking that nitwit's rumours seriously. With a heavy sigh she pushed her virtually untouched plate towards Xander, who pounced on it eagerly. Well, maybe I should go talk to her. Find out where we stand.


Pushing through the library doors, Cordelia ignored the 'Closed for Indexing' sign Giles had set out to discourage students from coming in. The Watcher had been joined by Miss Calendar and they were staring intently at some images flickering in the air above Nevyn's open hands, but looked round in alarm when the door banged open. Cordelia scowled slightly when Giles immediately looked away again with a relieved sigh. Although Jenny's smile of greeting mollified her slightly.

Looking more closely at the scene Nevyn was currently projecting, Cordelia was surprised to see that it was unfamiliar. She had thought that Nevyn had shown her all the episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that he was willing to reveal. But this one clearly showed Giles sitting drinking tea with an older man she had never seen before.

"Who's that?" she asked.

"Eh, oh, ah, - well - his name's Quentin Travers," Giles said after a long hesitation. "He's a senior member of The Watcher's Council."

"Oh, that would explain the tweed and the tea then." Turning to Nevyn she asked, "How come I've never seen that clip before?"

"Well it hasn't happened yet in this world. And if it does happen it won't be for another sixteen months or so."

"This has to do with your reluctance to talk about the future doesn't it?" she asked shrewdly.

"Of course. I've explained this to you before. The more I speak about people's futures the more likely they are to try and change something. And each time something is changed it makes my knowledge of what happens afterwards much less certain. So, I try to limit my revelations and interference to only the most critical events, where what I know can make an important change."

"Yeah, so you've said before, but I still think you do it mainly to keep an air of mystery about yourself." She teased. "And to annoy the hell out of me of course."

"Oh, but of course," he smirked, glad to see she had recovered enough to enter into some light banter with him.

"So, how come you were showing Giles a bit of his future then?"

"I needed proof," Giles said. "Something that could only have come from the TV show and not from being spied on in real life."

"And besides," Nevyn said a touch defensively. "With the sound muted, that scene doesn't reveal anything significant. It should be no surprise to Giles that he will meet Travers again someday. Now he knows he'll have tea with him. What a huge revelation that is!"

Giles scowled at Jenny when she laughed along with them. "Oh, come on Rupert. You've got to admit you're a bit of a predictable fuddy-duddy sometimes."


Buffy barely noticed Willow following her as she left the canteen. Her mind was too wrapped up, in trying to figure out just why Cordelia was affecting her so strongly, to notice her shy best friend quietly tagging along behind her. She just couldn't get over the fact that she liked Cordelia. A couple of weeks ago she just wouldn't have believed that was possible, but now she found herself eager to be with the brunette.

Hell! I need to be honest with myself she thought with an audible snort, not noticing the worried look Willow was giving her. I can't keep my eyes off of her, and all that day dreaming I was doing when I was supposed to be listening to the teacher, Mum would have kittens if she knew half the things that were running through my mind. Not that I'm sure some of them are even possible! Since when did I start having naughty thoughts about other girls, wondering what it would be like to kiss one? Would it feel different, softer perhaps, than kissing a man? And Xander wasn't the only one drooling a little at the thought of Cordelia naked on the river bank.

Without even noticing, she slowly came to a halt in the middle of the corridor. Staring off into space, she didn't even notice the stream of students rushing past her on their way to the courtyard and some fresh air to take away the smell of lunch.

God, I'm so confused. Does this mean I'm gay now? What will my friends say? Will Willow even want to talk to me again? What about my parents? And I- I'm not sure Cordy feels the same way. She seemed kind of disgusted when Harmony hinted at it in the restroom. Damn! What if she thinks I'm some sort of pervert and never wants to be near me again? I'll be even more of an outcast at school than I am now. Can I handle that? No friends, everyone looking at me funny, my parents trying to 'cure' me.

"... you OK Buffy?" Willow's concerned voice finally penetrated Buffy's growing panic attack. "You're breathing awfully heavily and you look kind of frightened!"

"Oh Willow. I'm so scared. I just don't know what's going on inside my head lately. An-and I'm scared of loosing you."

"What! I'm not going anywhere."

"But you don't like Cordy," Buffy said in a soft child like voice, "and I want to be her friend. But if I get friendly with her will that mean you won't want to be my friend anymore?"

"Shush, Buffy," Willow gently gathered the trembling slayer into her arms. "I'll always be your friend. You can't get rid of me. It's kind of a forever kind of deal. We Rosenbergs are like limpets when it comes to our friends. We'll always stick with you, no matter what. You know that right?"

Gently stroking Buffy's shoulder length blonde hair, Willow peered into her eyes to see if her words were helping. When Buffy swallowed slightly and gave a shaky nod of her head, Willow decided it was time to try and lighten the mood a little. "Besides, she doesn't seem to quite as obnoxious as she used to be. I might just be able to stand being in Queen C's company for - oh - say ten minutes at a time. Provided we don't try and over do it."

Seeing the weak smile her attempt at humour brought, she grinned widely. "Now let's get you cleaned up. Don't want anyone thinking I've made you cry."


Ereshkigal's Hall - March 2532 BCE

Deep in the dark, dusty vaults of the Netherworld, Ereshkigal shifted irritably on her throne. Throughout the hall, the clustered galla demons watched their mistress nervously, fearful of becoming the next target for her increasingly short temper. The Queen had called her far flung servants to the central chambers in preparation for the invasion of the lands above, but the greatly increased overcrowding among the lower level demons caused a lot of squabbling and fights which annoyed her greatly.

Now, whenever the deathly white waxy skinned face turned their way, the demons would freeze in their tracks and wait trembling until she looked away again. The dull black featurelessness of her eyes heightened their nervousness because it was impossible to tell exactly where she was looking and whenever the slow turning paused, every galla in her field of view would prostrate their short spindly bodies on the ground, quaking visibly in terror. Several small crisped corpses, some still smoking, littered the floor in evidence of what would happen to the next creature to incur her wrath.

The few casualties so far, however, had done little to reduce the size of the horde and each of the fifteen upper level demons who would lead the attack had more than a hundred galla under their command. Despite the thick air of fear, the room also buzzed with excitement. The time was nearly here. Soon the moon would be full again and the gates to the surface would open. Then the conquest of the human lands could begin.


Temple of Inanna, Uruk, Kienger - 9th March 2532 BCE

In the pale light just before dawn, Ibbi-Nansh woke with a start from yet another nightmare vision of demon armies. His recurring dreams had to be tied into the signs and portents which continued to disturb the peace of the temple and they deeply worried him. With each passing month he had become increasingly convinced that a demon war was in the offing and he had even found an 800 year old prophecy that might be relevant.

The other priests were not entirely convinced of his interpretation however, since the single copy of the prophecy he could find was a badly eroded tablet and almost indecipherable. Indeed, large parts of the text were in such poor condition they were completely unreadable.

Worse still the Lugal (18), Gilgamesh (19), was using the dissension amongst the temple elite as an excuse for ignoring the issue. although the En knew that it was not his place to question his ruler's actions, he couldn't help thinking that Gilgamesh and his great friend and brother warrior Enkidu were spending far too much time away at various hunting lodges. After all, Gilgamesh's mother was a goddess and his father a demi-god, he should be taking the warnings much more seriously.

Ibbi-Nansh gazed out the window into the brightening sky and shivered slightly at the sight of the morning star Ninanna shining so brightly in the east. With the goddess of war so clearly looking down upon the world, such dark thoughts must be considered, and the correct observance of the temple rites be still more important to all. Yet the city's rulers ignored him and even some of his own priests were more concerned with arguments over the allocation of the taxes levied from the winter grain harvest than with their holy duties.

Shaking his head sadly Ibbi-Nansh wondered if their lack of religious fervour was perhaps a reflection on his own running of the temple. Would it be different if his father were still alive? Snorting in self-disgust he dismissed the thought. Dwelling on might-have-beens was a particularly pointless exercise to his way of thinking. Better to get on with the task at hand. He needed to cleanse himself and put on his robes for the ritual celebration of the dawn.

To be continued...