THE SISTERS OF PARADOX

TITLE: The Sisters of Paradox
AUTHOR: Robert A. Black / bbovenguy@mindspring.com
DISCLAIMER: All things Buffy are the creation and property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy Productions, the WB Network, etc. Certain guest characters are property of the BBC.
RATING: PG
TIME CONTEXT: Set between the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes "Superstar" and "Where the Wild Things Are."

| Parts 1-3 | Parts 4-6 | Parts 7-9 | Parts 10-12 | Parts 13-15 | Parts 16-18 |

Part Thirteen

If Willow had thought things through a little better, she might have mentioned that venturing down into the Sunnydale Mission at night was something they should reconsider. It was true that after more than three years of hanging out in cemeteries at all hours, she shouldn’t be bothered by dark, scary places any more. It wasn’t even as dark as the cemeteries, since no one at UC Sunnydale had bothered to turn off the archaeology team’s work lights after the Anointed One chased them all away. But there was something about the Mission and the spirits of the long-dead Chumash who had suffered so much there that gave her a wiggins bigger than her years of experience could overcome.

She glanced over at Tara, walking beside her with the potion. Not only had Tara done far less monster fighting, she was also more sensitive to spiritual forces around her. And yet there she was, staying by Willow’s side, a bit hesitant but showing no sign of backing out. Willow had seen that kind of strength in Tara a few times before, and seeing it again boosted her own hope that they could somehow make their plan work.

Buffy, naturally enough, was the first to reach the entrance to the side chamber. She peered through, then stepped inside and waved for the others to follow. By the time Willow was inside the chamber, Buffy and Riley were already searching for the Anointed One. Xander stepped through behind Tara, took one last look behind them, then went to search as well.

The stone winged figure of the temporal demon was still there and still frozen. The Sisters of Paradox had not yet arrived to release it. So far, so good. There was only one small problem.

"Hey guys?" said Xander. "Does anyone remember where we left the Anointed One?"

"I don’t get it!" Buffy exclaimed. "He’s not here! Did we miss something?"

Willow and Tara looked at each other and shrugged. "You don’t suppose the temporal demon thing wasn’t really important to Faction Paradox after all, do you?" Willow wondered.

"Then why go to all the trouble to show it to us?" Riley countered.

Xander thought for a moment. His eyes widened as he said, "Gee, maybe it was to make sure we’d go down into this chamber that only has one door so it would be easy to trap us. Good thing we didn’t fall for it."

Willow heard Tara gasp at the thought, and felt her pulse quicken at the same time. Buffy hurried back to the entrance of the chamber, just in time to meet the two Faction Paradox Cousins as they stepped through.

"Good evening," said one of the Cousins. Willow thought it was Cousin Lawrence, but she couldn’t tell for sure. After a moment’s thought, she decided it really didn’t matter much.

"We’re so glad you answered our invitation," said the other Cousin, who may have been Cousin Miles.

"You didn’t have to be so elaborate," Buffy quipped as Riley and Xander rushed to her side, blasters drawn. "Miss Manners says plain white stationery always works best."

"We have no time for frivolity," said Cousin Lawrence. He looked over at Willow with a gaze that shot straight through her. "The moment we have been planning for is at hand."

Willow felt herself slowly backing away from the Cousins. It was almost a reflex action, one she could barely control. After a few shuffling steps, she felt Tara at her side, pressing against her gently to steady her. Tara’s hand slipped into her own, and she could feel the tingling electric-current feel of Tara summoning the magicks to help them. She gave Tara’s hand a squeeze, reassured by their bond, then brought her other hand up to help Tara hold the flask and the potion inside it.

"I wouldn’t get too confident yet," Buffy said to the Cousins. "We know all about your Sisters of Paradox. You need them to wake up the winged monkey you’re keeping in here. Do you really think we’re just going to let them do their thing when they arrive?"

Cousin Miles gave Buffy a cryptic smile. "The Sisters will fulfill their mission shortly," he replied. "The Spirits have guided us well. We shall not fail."

Cousin Lawrence was still staring at Willow. No - now he had turned his attention to Tara. He seemed puzzled. "Who is this girl?" he asked. "The Spirits did not tell us to expect her."

Willow felt Tara shuffle back slightly, and for a moment the tingle of the gathering magicks faded. She gripped Tara’s hand tighter. "Leave her alone!" she commanded. "I’m the one you want. Leave her out of this!"

Now Cousin Miles turned his cryptic smile on Willow. "Child, your idle demands will have little effect on your destiny. But as for your companion..." He trailed off and looked behind him briefly before continuing. "We cannot allow random elements to interfere with the will of the Spirits."

The two Cousins stepped away from each other to let a small glowing figure enter the chamber and pass between them. Willow gasped as the Anointed One looked their way, his fangs bared.

"You will not harm Miss Rosenberg," Cousin Lawrence instructed, "but the other girl must be eliminated. Let nothing stop you."

The Anointed One nodded his understanding and started forward. He hadn’t even made it two steps before Buffy delivered a kick that sent him crashing against the wall. The Cousins made no move to stop her. They didn’t need to stop her. The Anointed One was only on the ground for a moment before he was up and moving again.

As Buffy struggled to keep the Anointed One at bay, Riley brought his blaster around and leveled it at the Cousins. Xander followed suit. "Call that thing off," Riley ordered, "while you still have a voice to do it with."

"A hollow threat, Mister Finn," said Cousin Miles. "Killing us will do nothing to stop the vampire."

"Maybe," Riley replied, "but it would make me feel better."

"Hey!" Buffy called out between punches. "How about you guys..." Another punch. "...pointing your machismo..." Another kick. "...over here for a while?"

The Anointed One was falling with every blow, only to scramble back to his feet undamaged every time. On the other hand, the fight was starting to take its toll on Buffy. Her clothes were scorched in several places, and Willow could only imagine how her hands must be feeling.

Riley and Xander brought their blasters around and hit the Anointed One in a perfect crossfire. The small vampire was pinned against the wall again, but only as long as the charges on the weapons held out.

Only one thing was going to make a difference now. The Anointed One was going to wear them all down unless the potion could break the Faction’s barrier around him. Somehow, the Cousins had forced the two witches into doing the very thing they had come to the Mission to do.

Willow didn’t have time to think about the irony of their plight. She had to focus her mind on the incantation that would energize the potion. As she concentrated, she could feel the tingle of the magicks start to work from her hand back to Tara’s. Soon their power would combine and build beyond anything either girl could muster on her own.

Whatever was going to happen, it was going to happen soon.

******

If Willow had thought things through a little better, she might have realized that venturing down into the Sunnydale Mission alone at night was something she should reconsider. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn’t be caught dead doing it, because in all likelihood she would soon be caught dead if she did. But these were not normal circumstances. Her entire world was on the line. Her last desperate chance at ending this nightmare lay in stopping the red-haired girl.

There was no way she could accomplish anything by charging into the Mission ahead of Buffy and the others. Instead, she waited in the shadows until she saw the group pass by. Just as she was about to come out of hiding, though, she saw another group approaching the site. It was the two Cousins from Faction Paradox, and much to Willow’s surprise, they had the Anointed One with them. Wasn’t he supposed to be in the Mission already?

There wasn’t time for Willow to think the matter through. It made no difference, anyway. Regardless of what the Faction was about to do, she had to stop it.

She waited just long enough for the Faction to enter the Mission, then scrambled down the ladder herself. As she reached the bottom, she could see the glowing figure of the Anointed One standing just in front of the entrance to the chamber where the temporal demon was kept. She ducked into a shadow and tried her best to be inconspicuous as she approached the chamber herself. It would do no good, after all, if the Anointed One spotted her and killed her.

As Willow drew closer, she could see the figures of the two Cousins standing just inside the entrance. She was about halfway across the Mission when the two Cousins stood aside and let the Anointed One pass between them. This was it.

Willow didn’t bother with sneaking across the Mission any more. Everyone was probably too busy to notice her, anyway. She hurried out of the shadows and up to the chamber. The Cousins were still standing just inside, and for a moment Willow feared that they would strike her down on the spot. Fortunately, they kept their backs turned to her, too preoccupied with whatever was going on. Reassured, Willow poked her head through the entrance and looked inside.

What she saw convinced her that the worst had happened. Buffy, Riley and Xander were locked in a hopeless battle with the Anointed One, while the red-haired girl and the blonde witch stood by, holding their flask between them. The potion inside was beginning to fill with bright sparkles, swirling around and bouncing off the glass.

The red-haired girl had sold them all out. She was willing to do the Faction’s bidding and leave all her friends at the mercy of a vampire they couldn’t kill. And there were the Cousins, watching it all with satisfied smiles.

And what was she, the real Willow Rosenberg, going to do about it? Actually, Willow didn’t exactly know. She just knew she had to do something. Figuring that the direct approach was probably best, not to mention all she had time for, she braced herself and prepared to charge into the fray. She had to make her chance count, because she had no illusions about getting a second one.

******

The time was near, perhaps only seconds away. The chamber around them was fading from Tara’s conscious mind, pushed aside as the incantation grew. She could hear both her voice and Willow’s voice inside her head, intoning the ancient words in unison. She felt like both her blood and Willow’s blood were flowing along with the magicks through the link between their hands, mingling with each other, each building the strength of the other. It was a sensation she would never get tired of feeling.

Through her other hand, Tara felt the power flowing into the flask, energizing the potion. It was going to work. The energy the potion was receiving would be more than enough to break the Faction’s enchantment. The magicks swirled around and surged forward to the point where they would be ready to strike.

And then suddenly, all hell broke loose.

A shriek sounded in Tara’s ears. It was something like a cross between a war cry and a terrified scream, coming from some distance away. Willow must have heard it, too, because suddenly the connection between them was interrupted. Tara struggled and tried to concentrate on keeping the potion stable. There was no telling what it would do if all the magical energy they had pumped into it suddenly became uncontrolled.

The confusion quickly brought the rest of the world back into focus, just in time for Tara to see a new figure charging straight at them from across the chamber. It was the brown-haired girl, the Willow from the other universe. What was she doing? Had the stress of losing her world driven her insane?

Unfortunately, there was no time to answer those questions. The brown-haired girl ran headlong into Tara, knocking her to the ground and breaking the magical connection. As she fell, Tara could see Willow struggling to keep her balance - both literal and magical - while keeping the potion steady as well.

Tara hit the ground and rolled once before she bumped against the wall. She looked up in horror as she saw the brown-haired girl attack Willow, struggling to grab the flask or at least knock it out of Willow’s hands.

"Don’t do that!" Tara shouted. "You don’t know what will happen!"

Too late. The brown-haired girl grabbed the flask with both hands, at the same time that Willow still had her two hands on it. It was as if the brown-haired girl had rubbed her shoes on a carpet and then touched a doorknob, except that instead of static electricity, a discharge of powerful magic exploded into the chamber.

And then things got really interesting.

Tara wasn’t sure if anyone else saw it or felt it. There were a lot of times when it seemed like the rest of the world was oblivious to things she could see and feel plainly. For a brief instant, the entire universe turned inside out, warping and twisting under the forces that had been unleashed. Then, just as suddenly, everything snapped back into place. Willow and the other Willow were thrown to the ground as the flask exploded between them. Bits of glass and droplets of the potion went flying in all directions, many of them landing on the paralyzed temporal demon, the ring of strange stones around it and the copper strips connecting them.

Then things got even more interesting.

The room trembled, knocking everyone who was still standing to the ground. The droplets of the potion seemed to multiply and flow together, until the entire statue and surrounding stones were covered in an eerily glowing thin membrane.

"The Spirits be praised!" cried Cousin Lawrence, getting back to his feet. "The Sisters of Paradox have succeeded!"

"WHAT?" cried Buffy.

Willow and the other Willow looked at each other in horror as they realized what they had done.

"That which was taken away has now been restored!" cried Cousin Miles. "Let the Age of Paradox begin!"

The room trembled again, and the glowing membrane seemed to seep into the frozen demon. There was no doubt now about what was going to happen.

Sunnydale was facing imminent destruction. Again.

******

Part Fourteen

Giles was going to have so much explaining to do, Buffy thought grimly. Assuming anyone lived through the night.

Somehow, Willow and the brown-haired Willow from the other universe had turned out to be these "Sisters of Paradox" they came to the Mission to stop. And somehow they had unleashed the demon they were trying to keep paralyzed.

But that wasn’t all. Something else was happening. Something that appeared to surprise even the Cousins of Faction Paradox. The temporal demon wasn’t the only thing coming to life. The nine green stones that surrounded the demon were rising up out of the floor and reforming in a glowing green haze. The copper strips that had run along the floor were lifting into the air until they reached the demon’s neck. They hung there like a set of leashes connecting the demon to the glowing green rocks that were no longer rocks.

Someone touched Buffy’s shoulder and she turned quickly, hands ready to fight. In all the chaos, she had momentarily forgotten that there was an unkillable vampire in the room. But the hand on her shoulder belonged to a very worried Riley. The Anointed One was as transfixed by the demon’s awakening as everyone else.

"Buffy, I think we should get out of here," Riley urged.

Buffy shook her head. "Not yet," she replied. As long as she had a choice, she wanted to stay and find out exactly what they were up against.

By now, the nine green stones had expanded in the mist and transformed themselves until they settled in the shape of nine demonic-looking creatures. Each one was only about four feet tall, but they all had muscular builds that made them look like formidable enemies. They had troll-like faces, with stubby horns on their heads. The copper strips that were now dangling from around the temporal demon’s neck attached themselves to bracelets on the smaller demons’ arms.

By the time the smaller demons had fully materialized, the temporal demon was awake and looking around the chamber. It seemed puzzled by all the strange faces looking at it. For their part, the people in the chamber all looked back with terror. All except the Cousins, who seemed both overjoyed and confused by what had happened.

Finally, the nine smaller demons gathered in front of the temporal demon. One of the nine seemed slightly taller than the rest, and it was the one who stepped forward. "Who has done this?" it asked. "Who has reversed the enchantment that held us captive?"

Cousin Lawrence stepped forward. "We are of Faction Paradox," he said. "The Spirits called to us, and guided us to this time and place to win your freedom."

The leader of the demons looked back at its comrades. They appeared to be having some kind of silent conference. Finally, the leader turned back to the Cousins and smiled, revealing a mouth full of sharp teeth. "You have done well!" it exclaimed. "We are the very Spirits who called to you. We walk the time winds, in the ways of the endless ones. Even from our place of imprisonment, we were able to stretch out our minds along the asynchronous paths, to the ones who would not limit themselves to the Laws of Time."

Cousin Miles looked puzzled. "It was you?" he asked. "But... forgive my doubts, Spirit, but you do not look like the loa who guide our Family."

"What does that matter?" exclaimed the demon. "You answered our call nonetheless. And now you shall be the first to receive the reward we bring to the world!"

"Reward?" said Cousin Lawrence as his eyes widened.

"What reward?" said Cousin Miles as his face took on an eager expression.

"The reward of asynchronicity, of course," said the demon. "You of all beings should welcome it!"

With that, the nine demons stepped aside. The temporal demon came forward, looking at the Cousins for a moment, then it reared up and began to flap its wings. Suddenly there was a gust of wind through the chamber swirling around and picking up the ancient dust. The wind twisted its way toward the Cousins and wrapped itself around them. As it did, the Cousins suddenly went rigid, as if electric shocks were being run through them.

"What ... are... you... doing?" cried Cousin Lawrence. Or perhaps it was Cousin Miles. Buffy suddenly couldn’t tell.

"You are two identical twins, separated by alternate histories," the leader of the small demons replied. "And so our gift to you is your reunification."

The wind howled and wrapped itself more tightly around the Cousins, pushing them together. Within seconds, they were being pushed into one another, there bodies suddenly trying to occupy the same space. They screamed in terror and agony, until finally there was a flash and they were gone. The wind faded to nothing, allowing the black capes of the Cousins to float to the ground, the only testament to their annihilation.

"Buffy," said Riley. "Now I really think we should get out of here."

******

Willow watched in horror as the temporal demon and its nine smaller companions turned to face them after dispatching the two Cousins. The temporal demon’s wings drooped slightly, as if it was exerting itself too much after just waking up. The other demons had no such problem.

"And who shall be next to receive our blessings?" said the leader of the small demons.

Willow gasped. If the demons had a thing for people from different universes, it meant that she and the brown-haired girl would be next on their list. They had to get away before the demons realized it.

"Actually, I have something for you to receive," quipped Buffy. With that, she brought her fist around for one of her better punches - and missed. The demon had simply flicked aside faster than Willow could see.

Xander and Riley were both at Buffy’s side, firing their blasters at the lead demon. The electrical bolts shot out toward the creature, but as they reached it, they suddenly warped aside and struck the back wall of the chamber. The demons merely smiled.

Willow gulped. Now they might be in trouble.

Or maybe not. Just then, Tara returned to Willow’s side and took her hand, restoring the magical connection between them. Inside her head, Willow suddenly found herself imagining a large bulldozer pushing a huge mound of earth in front of it. She looked into Tara’s eyes and saw the power that burned deep within them, just as she had seen that first night in the laundry room, when the Gentlemen were chasing them. She smiled and nodded her understanding.

Without a word, the two witches locked their eyes on the pack of demons and raised their free hands, pressing their palms away from themselves. The nine demons suddenly flew back and crashed into the temporal demon, sending them all piling into a heap against the far wall of the chamber.

Willow smiled, but only for a moment before her head started to spin. The spell had worn her out, and now it was all she could do to slump against Tara’s shoulder, even as Tara was slumping against her.

Fortunately, Buffy had a perfect follow-up in mind. She grabbed Riley’s blaster from him and pointed it up at the ceiling of the chamber. A series of quick blasts sent a cascade of rocks crashing down on the demons’ heads. Probably not enough to kill any of them, Willow guessed, but enough to keep them occupied long enough to escape from the Mission.

"Now we’re leaving," said Buffy.

"Where’s the Anointed One?" asked Xander. Sure enough, the vampire had disappeared in the confusion.

"We’ll deal with him later," Buffy replied. "After we’re done with these guys."

The brown-haired girl didn’t need to be told it was time to leave. She was already heading out of the chamber. Willow and Tara hurried to follow, with Xander coming over to help them. Riley and Buffy brought up the rear.

As they raced across the Mission, Willow could hear snarls and growls and the crashing of rocks as the demons worked themselves free. She only looked back when she reached the ladder. Nothing had come out of the chamber yet, but she knew the demons weren’t far behind.

By now there were shouts coming from above them. As Willow climbed the ladder, she looked up and saw a familiar figure reaching out to help her to the top.

"Giles!"

"Come on, quickly," Giles urged. Willow scrambled out of the excavation site, and in the dim light she could see Sam, Sarah and Anya standing next to him.

"We came to warn you," Giles said urgently. "The Sisters of Paradox..."

"We know," Willow replied tersely. "We found out the hard way."

Giles gave Willow a sympathetic look, quickly understanding what had happened. Meanwhile, as Riley scrambled out of the Mission, he looked off toward the nearby buildings and whistled loudly. By the time Buffy appeared at the top of the ladder, bringing up the rear, a detachment of Initiative commandos had come running up to the scene, led by Riley’s friends Forrest and Graham.

Buffy glanced around at the crowd that had gathered and looked at Riley with a slightly annoyed expression. "You called in reinforcements?" she asked.

"Had them standing by, actually," Riley confessed. "We might need them against what’s in there."

"They’re probably going to be useless against what’s in there," Buffy snapped. She turned away from the commandos and went to Giles instead. "There’s not just one demon," she told him. "There are ten. The one we knew about, and nine little ones who are really into Maurice Sendak. We’ve got to figure out how to..."

Before Buffy could finish, a gust of wind blew debris up out of the excavation site, scattering it around them. The sound of several angrily snarling demons accompanied it.

"They’re coming!" the brown-haired girl cried.

"Okay, step back!" ordered Forrest. "We’ll handle them. This is what we came here for."

Buffy grabbed the commando’s blaster as he swung it around. "Trust me," she said. "This isn’t going to do any good."

Forrest ignored her. Buffy reached out to grab him as he walked past, but Giles stepped in her way.

"Leave them, Buffy," said Giles. "We don’t have time to make them listen."

"Giles, you haven’t seen what these things can do," Buffy replied.

"It doesn’t matter," said Sarah as she came up beside Giles. "They’re military. They can’t resist shooting at something, no matter how futile it is. I’ve seen it more times than I’m allowed to tell you about."

Another blast of wind came from the excavation site. Everyone but the Initiative soldiers fell back. Willow reached for Tara’s hand, not to cast a spell this time, but simply because she felt like holding it. Tara’s hand clasped hers eagerly. Obviously she’d been feeling the same way.

With a final gust, the temporal demon rose from out of the Mission, carrying the nine smaller demons along by their copper strips. The soldiers opened fire immediately, the electrical bolts from their weapons crackling across the night sky. Every one of them missed. No matter how good a shot each soldier was, the demons never seemed to be in the paths of the blaster fire.

The temporal demon flew forward, forcing the soldiers back. It set the nine smaller demons on the ground and then settled behind them. The soldiers regrouped and fired again, but their marksmanship was no better than when the demons had been in the air. The blaster fire simply bent around the demons, just as the shots from Xander and Riley had done in the chamber.

Something told Willow it was time to think about leaving. Tara sensed it, too. In fact, almost everyone not in uniform, and even a couple who were, started to inch away from the gathering of demons in front of them.

The leader of the smaller demons looked up at the temporal demon, and the temporal demon howled in reply. It stood tall and spread its wings, ready to begin flapping them again.

"Get away from them!" Buffy cried. "Get away now!"

Forrest looked back at Buffy, then turned to his troops. "Fall back!" he called. Evidently, either he had seen enough to be convinced that Buffy was right after all, or the time they’d wasted shooting at the demons had been enough to satisfy his military ego.

But it was too late. The temporal demon swept its wings forward, blowing another gust at them. The winds swirled around the soldiers, who panicked and broke ranks in a mad scramble to escape. Willow watched with horror as the winds took effect. Many of the soldiers began to age rapidly. Those on the edges of the winds managed to get away looking like fifty or sixty year olds. Those who had been at the front collapsed where they stood, white-haired, wrinkled and frail. A scream from the brown-haired girl turned Willow’s attention to the other half of the Initiative unit, where the soldiers were aging in reverse. Some were reduced to small children, floundering around in uniforms that were suddenly far too big. Poor Graham became an infant again and fell to the ground in a pile of clothing.

There was nothing they could do. No way to stop the demonic force in front of them with what they had available. They had to get back to Giles’s apartment and regroup somehow. But to do that, they had to get away.

"Run!" shouted Giles. As if he needed to.

******

Sarah Jane Smith was definitely too old for all this running around.

When she was Sam’s age, Sarah had spent plenty of time running from one hideous creature or another that was bent on destroying her and everything around her. But that was a long time ago. Now she was roughly twice Sam’s age, and even though she had done her best to fit an exercise routine into her busy life, she still wouldn’t be able to stay ahead of the time-manipulating demons for very long.

Fortunately, adrenaline was very good at making up for all the years that had gone by. For a while, anyway.

They raced across the UC Sunnydale campus, trying to keep to the academic buildings where there weren’t likely to be many bystanders at such a late hour. The demons followed them determinedly, even though Buffy, Riley and the Initiative soldiers who could still fight had split off in several directions, taking pot shots with the blasters in an attempt to divide their pursuers’ attention. Giles was leading them toward the woods that bordered the campus. With luck, the demons wouldn’t be able to follow. There was only one potential flaw in the plan. In the dark of night, the woods were just as dangerous to humans as they were to demons.

Sure enough, they hadn’t even left the range of the campus lighting when Sarah heard the sounds of twigs snapping and a person hitting the ground. Willow - the brown-haired one from the alternate timeline - had tripped and fallen, and now the demons were closing on her rapidly. She screamed in terror.

The only people close enough to reach Willow before the demons did were the other Willow - the red-haired one from this timeline - and the blonde witch Tara. The red-haired Willow stood still for an instant, staring at her opposite number and the approaching menace, then went charging back. Tara cried out and hurried to keep up.

By now, Sarah and the others were racing to Willow’s aid as well, but it was obvious that they would be too late. Just as the red-haired Willow knelt down to help her counterpart, the demons crashed through the edge of the woods and reached them. The temporal demon stood up again and drew back its wings, ready to unleash a new horror on the defenseless girls.

And then, a miracle happened. The temporal demon stared down at its prey for a moment, then lowered its head and its wings again, stooping down as if to get a closer look. It seemed bewildered, if it was possible for a demon to feel that way. For their part, the two girls stared back, rooted to the ground by their fear.

"Willow!" cried Xander, breaking the silent tension of the moment. Sarah wasn’t sure which Willow he meant. Perhaps Xander himself wasn’t even sure, or perhaps he meant both of them. Whatever the case, he went charging toward them, his blaster raised.

"Xander!" shrieked Anya. "Stop!"

"Don’t do that!" Giles shouted, joining her.

But Xander would not be stopped. He dashed past the two Willows and placed himself between them and the demons in a desperate attempt to drive the creatures away. The temporal demon reared back in surprise, then flicked out one of its wings angrily. The wingtip struck Xander in the face. There was a bright flash, and he vanished.

Anya screamed. Both Willows screamed as well.

The smaller demons simply looked confused. As one, they turned to the temporal demon and begin pulling on the copper strips that were attached to the collar around the temporal demon’s neck. The temporal demon reared back, pulling on the copper strips itself. The tug of war continued for a few seconds, then finally the leader of the smaller demons gave an even stronger pull on his copper strip. The temporal demon stretched out its wings, and the entire demonic group vanished into the night.

Anya ran to the place where Xander had been standing, screaming his name. The red-haired Willow got back to her feet and reached the spot at the same time. As the two of them knelt down on the ground, Sarah went to join them, trying to see what they were looking at.

Xander’s blaster was lying in the grass. The clothes he had worn lay next to it, and there was something moving inside them. Anya reached out, grabbed the bottom of the shirt and lifted it up tentatively, clearly dreading what she might find.

A small furry face popped out of the shirt and chattered at them. Anya gave a yelp and jumped back. A monkey-like creature crawled its way out of the discarded clothing and stood up on its hind legs, looking at them all and chattering again. Sarah thought the creature looked like pictures she had seen of small early primates who had been hiding in the trees during the last days of the dinosaurs.

"Xander?" the red-haired Willow said tentatively. "Is that you?" She reached out her hand, trying to touch the creature’s body lightly.

The creature would have none of it. Chattering even more loudly, it jumped back from Willow’s hand, then turned and ran off into the darkness. One way or another, Xander was gone.

******

Part Fifteen

"Why are we here? Why aren’t we out saving Xander? We shouldn’t be here! We have to go back out and save Xander!"

Anya had been in hysterics all the way back to Giles’s apartment. Giles couldn’t blame her. After the havoc the demons had wrought, they were all close to the breaking point.

"We’re not going to do Xander much good if we’re swinging from the trees with him," Buffy replied curtly. She had rejoined them almost immediately after Xander, or whatever he had become, ran off. "We... we just need to think. We have to find a way to beat these things."

"Oh, you’re a fine one to talk," Anya snapped. "Some Slayer you are. Where were you when that thing was attacking Xander?"

"Right behind it, trying to draw it away from you, in case you didn’t notice," Buffy shot back.

"How could I notice something that was working so badly?" Anya cried.

"That’s enough!" Giles barked. He sensed the edginess in Buffy’s voice, the defensiveness masking her true feelings. He knew Buffy took every victim she couldn’t save personally, and he was sure she was being many times harder on herself now because the victim was Xander. She hardly needed an ex-vengeance demon adding to her misery.

Everyone in the room was staring at him silently, expecting him to think of something. He wished he knew what it was. "Look, we came back here because a bit of research could turn up just the thing we need," he said at last. "We have to find out everything we can about temporal demons, so let’s get to it."

With that, he turned and stalked off to his kitchen. Ordinarily he liked to be tense during a crisis, but this time he was already too tense. He needed a cup of tea, or at least he needed to make a cup of tea to keep himself occupied until his mind stopped racing.

Giles had faced more varieties of demon than he could remember, but what he’d seen out on the UC Sunnydale campus was unlike anything from his past experience. The winged temporal demon must have come from a higher plane of existence than the terrestrial hybrid creatures they usually encountered. That would explain the amount of power it had, and the ease with which it had dispatched anyone who went against it. Simply getting close to the creature would be difficult, let alone defeating it.

"I know we’re facing a temporal demon, but do you really think you’re going to find any answers by reading the future in your tea leaves?"

Giles looked up and saw Sarah standing there watching him. He bristled at her remark. "I would think you’d appreciate any attempt to resolve this matter while you still have time to make your deadline," he replied tersely.

Sarah frowned apologetically. "I suppose I deserved that, didn’t I?" she said. "Sorry, it’s my bad habit again. I kept some rather dubious company back in my impressionable youth."

"Actually," said Giles, "it’s not too different from what I’d have expected from Xander about now."

Sarah’s expression darkened further. "I’m sorry about what happened to him," she said. "It’s been a while since you lost one of your own, hasn’t it?"

"Xander may not be himself at the moment, but I wouldn’t consider him ‘lost.’" Giles was surprised by his own insistent tone and softened it as he added, "Although you do have a point. It hasn’t been nearly long enough."

"It never is," Sarah agreed with a grim nod.

Giles looked out into his living room, watching as the group began going through the research books. "The difficulty this time is that I’m not sure the Watchers know very much about this kind of problem," he said. "Temporal demons and temporal spells are rare, especially since they have a way of erasing themselves from existence."

"That’s what I was coming in here to tell you," said Sarah. "I have a few resources of my own. Ones that could be useful against this kind of enemy. At least they might give you a chance."

Giles raised a curious eyebrow at her. "Tell me more," he said.

******

Willow flipped through the pages of the book at a furious page, wishing there was some way to draw its knowledge out by sheer force of will. It was no good. The words kept blurring in front of her eyes, transforming into the image of Xander being struck down by the temporal demon.

"Here are the books you wanted," Tara said as she returned to Willow’s side. "Sorry it took me a while, but I, uh, I’m still getting used to there being s-s-ssso many books."

Willow looked up long enough to catch Tara’s gaze, and in that moment she saw the worry lurking in Tara’s eyes. She found herself wondering how things must look through those eyes. How she must look. She had been so absorbed with the thought of saving Xander that she had jotted the book titles down and all but shoved the list into Tara’s hand. Yet Tara had gone and found every one without a complaint.

"Thanks," she said, reaching out to put a hand on Tara’s knee. "I’m sorry I’ve been the not-really-here girl since we got back, but..."

"I-it’s okay," Tara assured her. "I understand. I know how much Xander m-m-mmeans to you."

Willow could only smile, momentarily unsure of what to say. That seemed to be happening a lot when she was around Tara these days.

"There’s something else," Tara continued. "Just before the demon attacked Xander, I felt something. I felt it - the demon, and what it was thinking."

"What did you feel?" Willow asked in amazement.

"I’m not really sure," Tara replied. "I’m not sure the demon even knew. But it had something to do with you and... and the other girl. It was almost like seeing the two of you gave it... hope." She hung her head down slightly as she added, "I don’t know if that makes any sense..."

Willow gave Tara’s knee a quick squeeze before picking a book off the stack Tara had brought and handing it to her. "There’s only one way to find out," she said. "Welcome to the world of researching at Giles’s place."

Tara smiled, taking the book almost eagerly. Willow smiled back. She didn’t know how much of a lead Tara had given them, but it was better than nothing.

******

"I found them! Look at this!"

Giles looked up from his book. The brown-haired Willow had jumped up from her seat, pointing frantically at a page in the volume she was searching through.

"You found the temporal demon?" Buffy asked, coming to the other Willow’s side.

"No, but I found the other ones," the brown-haired girl replied. "They’re not temporal demons at all."

By now Giles had reached the other Willow as well. He took the book from her as the rest of the group gathered around them. Sure enough, the picture on the page looked exactly like the smaller demons that had been with the temporal demon.

"They’re called mimesis demons," Giles read. "They’re considered agents of chaos, and they further the spread of chaos in the world by adapting the powers of other demons for their own use."

"Sort of the copycat killers of the demon world," said Sam.

"Something like that, yes," Giles replied.

"They must have captured the temporal demon back when the Chumash lived here," said Buffy. "That would explain the copper strips. That’s how they control it."

"Then maybe the temporal demon doesn’t want to hurt anybody," said the Willow that Giles knew. "Maybe it’s just doing whatever the mimesis demons make it do."

Giles frowned. "What makes you think that?" he asked.

"Well, Tara thought she felt something," Willow replied, "when the temporal demon didn’t attack us. Uh, before it attacked Xander, I mean."

Giles considered the possibility. Tara had shown a gift for perceiving mystical activity before. Perhaps she was on to something. "What were you sensing?" he asked her.

The blonde witch lowered her head shyly. "It might have been nothing," she said.

"I don’t think so," said Willow. Looking at Giles, she explained, "She thought maybe the demon wanted to get something from us. Maybe it wants us to free it."

"Oh, right," Buffy scoffed. "Why would we want to do that? We’d just be letting it go destroy Sunnydale by itself."

"No, no... maybe not," Anya countered. For the first time since Xander was attacked, the ex-demon was showing signs of hope. "If this demon’s anything like the ones I remember, it probably doesn’t care about our world. They, uh, kind of look down on it, actually."

"So freeing it might be just the answer we’re looking for," Sam concluded.

"It might very well be," Giles agreed. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Willow give Tara a pleased smile. Tara blushed.

"Okay, but if that’s the answer," said Buffy, "how do we do it?"

"I don’t know," Giles admitted. "But it’s certainly worth looking into." He handed the book to Willow, and the two witches quickly began to read through it. As he did, he thought he saw the other Willow frown at him, but he was too preoccupied to tell for certain.

"Giles, that might solve one problem," said Buffy, "but we still have to get to the temporal demon if we’re going to free it. I don’t think the mimesis demons are going to like the idea."

Before Giles could reply, there was a shrill ringing sound in the apartment. Sarah reached into her purse and pulled out a cell phone. "I think I might have a solution for that right here," she said.

As Buffy and Giles watched, Sarah turned the phone on and spoke into it. "Hello?" she said. "Yes, this is Sarah Jane Smith. Thank you, I’ll hold." She gave a quick smile before turning her attention back to the voice on the other end. "Sergeant Zbrigniev! So good to talk to you again... Yes, I do realize you’re on maneuvers this week, but I have a bit of an emergency..."

******

Spike carefully made his way across town, heading for Willy’s Bar. He was hardly the favorite customer there, but at least it was someplace the Annoying One probably wouldn’t go, and he couldn’t stand being cooped up with the Scooby gang any longer.

He still had to make it to Willy’s Bar without running into the Annoying One, though. Since it looked like Faction Paradox’s plan was happening that night, Spike figured the little vampire would be busy, but he still wasn’t taking chances. He kept a sharp eye out for any sign of an attack.

Sure enough, the attack came, just as Spike expected. What he didn’t expect was that he would be attacked by a pack of strange demons that materialized from out of nowhere.

It wasn’t much of an attack, either. One minute they appeared and bore down on him, and the next minute, before Spike could even prepare to defend himself, they simply brushed past him. And as they did, the world suddenly began to spin. The streets of Sunnydale blurred before his eyes, then seemed to stretch and twist themselves into new shapes. When his vision finally cleared, Spike found that he had left Sunnydale far behind.

He needed a few moments to get his bearings before realization hit him. He was on a dark, gas-lit street, with a cold fog hovering just above the ground. In the distance, he could hear horse-drawn carriages rolling along cobblestone streets. Even the smells confirmed what the sights and sounds were telling him. Somehow, the demons had sent him home. Back to old England, where he had grown up.

The sound of an approaching carriage sent Spike into a darkened alley. No sense attracting attention to himself with his twentieth century clothing, after all. Especially since the bloody chip in his head would keep him from defending himself.

Or would it? A new idea suddenly popped into Spike’s mind. If he really was back in the past, would the chip still work? How could a chip that hadn’t even been invented yet control his actions? The demons may have just given him the freedom he had been longing for all these months.

As Spike was still pondering the matter, he heard the sound of footsteps coming from the other end of the alley. Perfect. Some stupid bastard was out walking where he shouldn’t be walking. He’d make an ideal opportunity for Spike to test out his theory.

He crept down the alley and quickly found his prey leaning up against the wall of a pub. The excitement of possibly getting to kill and feed again was almost too much to bear. Spike could feel his face shifting well before he would need the use of his fangs. He could almost taste the fresh blood on his tongue. If the chip was still working, it surely would have picked up on his thoughts and stopped him by now, but it didn’t. He was in the clear.

The victim’s back was still turned when Spike reached him. It was almost too easy. No longer able to hold back his bloodlust, Spike didn’t even bother to knock the man senseless, but instead sprang upon him and buried his fangs in the man’s neck. When the pain in his head failed to appear, Spike bit even harder, sucking the man’s blood out with a vicious force few vampires were capable of. The poor bugger never had a chance.

And yet, in the midst of Spike’s glee, one small voice in the back of his head told him something was wrong. His feeding frenzy almost drowned the voice out, but as his victim’s blood began to run dry, the voice became more insistent.

Something about the man’s blood tasted familiar. Too familiar.

Puzzled, Spike finally drew back from the man’s neck and let the body fall to the ground. It hit with a thud and rolled over, finally letting Spike see the man’s face in the dim gaslight.

It was his own face.

Somehow, the demons had sent Spike back to an exact time and place where he would encounter himself, before he had become a vampire. In his eagerness to feed again, Spike had unwittingly killed himself.

But... if he just killed himself, then he wouldn’t be alive when Angelus and Drusilla arrived to make him a vampire. And if he’d never been made a vampire, he would never have been in Sunnydale for the demons to send him back in time. But if he’d never been sent back in time, he couldn’t have killed himself. But if he’d never killed himself, then he would have been alive when Angelus and Drusilla arrived...

Spike’s mind started to spin. Then he realized that it wasn’t his mind spinning - it was everything around him. A whirlwind of paradox was blowing all around him, and suddenly he found himself dying and not dying, over and over again. It was a closed loop. He couldn’t escape. The whirlwind would continue to spin, faster and faster, until it consumed him.

Bloody hell. Just when he thought there was nothing worse than that blasted chip, along had come something worse.

As the whirlwind spun faster, Spike did something he never did. He threw back his head and screamed in terror. At least there was nobody else around to hear him.

******

Back in Sunnydale, in the year 2000, the mimesis demons and their prized possession continued on their way. The demons smiled among themselves. There were so many more people living in this time period than there had been when they had first arrived. So many more people would experience their gift of asynchronicity. Their work had only just begun.

End of Part Fifteen

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