Faith read the fading letters on a rusting water tower through the box car’s corrugated steel wall: Sunnydale, CA. For some reason, the name piqued her interest as a hundred other similarly displayed small towns had not. And as luck would have it, she could feel the train slowing. A definite sign, she felt.

She stood and stretched, cat-like, brushing dust and straw from the seat of her black leather pants. She threw a look over her shoulder. “What d’ya think, Annie… one more stop?”

In the dim depths of the car, the tip of her companion’s cigarette glowed red. “L.A.’s only a couple hours away,” the blonde, whittling a piece of wood with a very large knife, said through a cloud of smoke.

Faith lifted the latch and slid the heavy door easily with one arm. “Yeah, but I get a good vibe from this town. Plus I’m gettin’ too cooped in here to last another couple of hours.” Faith closed her eyes and let the warm sunshine wash over her face comfortingly.

Annie watched as the sun caught the highlights in Faith’s dark locks. But her voice didn’t reflect the surge of affection she felt. “Use your head, Faith. We’re going to L.A. to get lost. You wanna stop in some dink town where their one
cop knows everybody by face and name?”

The pretty brunette was feeling too good to be cowed. “Hey, one cop, two of us,” she smiled. “He doesn’t stand a chance.”

Annie flicked the butt of her cigarette over Faith’s head and out the door, tucked away the knife, then climbed to her feet. She wasn’t as tall as Faith — and Faith wasn’t particularly tall — but there was enough threat in every gesture and movement to make men twice her size nervous. But Faith stood her ground, hands on hips, and finally the blonde turned her look on the backside of Sunnydale’s sprawling suburbia, sliding by beyond the chain link fence at the edge of the trainyard.

Faith turned to follow Annie’s gaze. She ran her hands down the sides of her own white sleeveless T-shirt in a caress. “Don’t tell me you don’t feel it. This is something new.”

Annie grabbed the reserve smoke from behind Faith’s ear and held it in her lips, then felt the pockets of her red leathers for a lighter. Finally she returned to the rear of the car for her jacket. “Well if we’re goin’ in, let’s do it before sundown,” she said.

The train settled to a stop and hissed angrily. The brunette jumped from the car and planted both boots into the trackside gravel. She turned to her companion as the other followed her down, bags over one shoulder.

“It’s a new town, B,” Faith smiled.

Buffy Anne Summers at last cracked a smirk. “Want, take, have.”

*   *   *   *   *

Wesley Wyndham-Pryce pushed open the door to the Runes and Wicca to find Alexander Harris, as usual, heads together over the counter with its proprietor — and his blushing bride to be — Willow Rosenberg. The henna-haired witch popped a quick wave.

The young soldier zipped up a duffel bag on the counter, then turned a crooked smile over his shoulder at him as he approached. “Hey Wes.”

“Hello, Xander, Willow.”

“Where’s the She-Devil?” Xander looked past him, curiously.

“The, ah—” Wesley looked confused. “Oh, she’s parking the car.” He placed his palms on the counter. “I need to see Mr. Giles right away.”

Willow gestured at the clock. “It’s a little early for Ripper to make an appearance.”

“Ah, yes, well…” he flummoxed. “It’s terribly important.”

“It usually is,” Willow shrugged.

“Not everyone in this town needs to sleep until sunset, you know.”

“If they did, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you.”

Wesley looked chagrinned. “True enough.”

“Is there something we can help you with, Wes?” Xander asked, as the shop door opened a second time.

“There have been some foreboding portents.”

“If I had a dime for every time there were portents,” Anya said as she stepped up to the Watcher and slipped a hand in the crook of his elbow.

“…you could pay the parking meter in front of the store?” Xander asked.

Anya frowned. “But we’re friends. It seems wrong to charge your friends for parking.”

“Yes, we’re friends,” he gestured between the two of them, then repeated it in the direction of the door. “Just like the parking meter and the city are friends. If you get another ticket they may deport Wesley.”

“What kind of portents, Wes?” Willow encouraged.

“The book kind, or the Willy the Snitch kind?” Xander added.

“Both, actually. There is some evidence that a portal may be on the verge of opening.”

“A portal?”

“An entranceway to the demon dimension.”

“Like a Hellmouth?” Willow asked.

Anya chimed in. “Smaller than a Hellmouth, bigger than a breadbox.”

“Yes,” Wesley agreed. “They’re more common than a Hellmouth, and tend to cluster around Hellmouths, but because of their size only minor demons can come through.”

“Well that’s not too bad,” Willow said hopefully.

“Aside from the Mayor, all you’ve ever seen are minor demons,” Anya corrected.

“But still bad in it’s own way,” the witch sighed.

Wesley continued. “Typically they can only be opened from this side, and are usually guarded with wards and seals, but when the general level of demon energy on this side of the portal becomes high enough, the barriers weaken.”

“We haven’t noticed any increase in demon activity, though,” Xander frowned.

“Nothing particularly acute. But there has been a steady increase.”

“He’s been charting it,” Anya whispered loudly.

“It’s something the Slayer is supposed to counteract when she arrives—”

Xander snorted. “Not the Slayer again, Wesley.”

“Xander, I’ve been reading the Pergamum Codex, and it says—”

“Read whatever book you want,” Xander said angrily. “Kendra died two and a half years ago, and no one is coming to replace her.” He grabbed his duffel. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a duty shift in half an hour.”

Willow jumped up on her elbows on the countertop, leaning forward. “Kisses.”

Xander’s angry look softened quickly, and he touched her face as he pressed his lips to his fiancée’s. “Have them take you home if Rip’s not up.”

“Yes, dear,” she smiled at him sweetly.

He gave Anya a nod, then his frown faded back in as he regarded the Watcher once more, and started toward the exit.

“Xander,” Wesley offered, “Codex aside, the demons at Willy’s are nervous… something is coming.”

The dark-haired soldier paused for just a moment. “This is Sunnydale, Wesley.” He met the Watcher’s eyes. “Something’s always coming.” Then he pushed open the door and exited into the dusk.

*   *   *   *   *

Angel felt the sun slip below the horizon in his bones. He felt it like a great weight rising from his chest, right before he opened his eyes.

Or maybe that was just Cordelia rolling off of him.

He turned his head to look at her — the long dark hair spilling over the covers and around her head, her guileless sleeping face, half-buried in the pillow — and afforded himself a rare smile. Then she frowned in her sleep and shifted uncomfortably. The sheet slipped down her naked back, and his smile melted away again.

They stared him in the face, accusingly. Yet he couldn’t look away. Angel reached out a hand, and traced a finger down one of the razor-thin white lines, not touching lest she wake. In a few more years they’d fade away completely. If she tanned less deeply they wouldn’t stand out as much, but she refused to let them decide for her. Or maybe, some part of him said, she wanted to be sure he wouldn’t forget how they got there, forget his part in it. But he would never forget, and that would be cruel, and though Cordy was always blunt, she was rarely cruel.

He moved his hand away, and instead drew the backs of his fingers down the back of her arm, a touch she loved and a gesture uniquely theirs. She smiled briefly through the frown, but then her brow furrowed again. He leaned down and kissed the back of her hand gently.

“That better not be an ‘I’m in the mood’ thing,” she murmured, “because your Hellmouth is giving me a major migraine.”

Angel pushed back against the headboard. “Did you have a vision?”

She turned over on her back, putting the pillow over her head. “No, just a general ick.”



He slipped from the bed and padded towards the bathroom. “Are you working tonight?” he called back through the door.

Cordelia looked towards him, then shielded her eyes from the stark glare of the bathroom lights. “That’s me, Bronze-O-Girl, nine ’til closing. And after my last session at Sunny-Tail Sun Tan, I almost match that description.”

Angel sat on the edge of the bed, Tylenol and glass in hand. “I’m sorry about all that, Cordelia.”

“What,” she frowned, sitting up on her elbows, “you didn’t not pay Daddy’s taxes. Besides, I’m over the whole, ‘I’m embarrassed for my old vapid friends to see me working’ thing.” She washed the pills down. “Anyway, if I don’t like their attitudes, I can throw them out,” she smiled. “I still rule the only hangout in Sunnydale.”

He looked down at his hands. “I meant… you should be going to college, having a normal life. One that involves actual sun, not a tanning booth.”

Cordy reached up gently, taking his chin and turning his face to meet her eyes. “Hey, when my boyfriend becomes Mr. Nine to Five, I’ll change my schedule.” She drew him down into a soft kiss. “Now hand me my robe, boyfriend.”

Retrieving the satin garment from the chair where she’d thrown it, he saw her wince as she began to swing her legs out of bed. She had to steady herself. “Are you all right?”

“What?” she asked distractedly. “I’m fine.”

Holding out the robe, he touched her shoulder. “Are you sure? Maybe you should stay in bed.”

Cordelia snatched it from his hand, frowning, her voice sharp. “No, I’m not staying in bed.” She stomped towards the bathroom, then thought better of the stomping.

“It’s strong, isn’t it?” Angel said. “Whatever you’re feeling.”

“It’s annoying, that’s what it is.” She squeezed toothpaste on her brush. “You want to give me a normal life? Take these psychic… things… out of my head.”

“You should take Rupert up on his offer,” he suggested gently. “Teach you the mental disciplines to control them.”

Cordy looked at him askance. “Yes, because Ripper is the model of self-control.”

Angel leaned against the bathroom doorframe as she rinsed and spit, watching her, and couldn’t help a small smile. He loved her fire. “He’ll be there tonight. You should talk to him.”

“I should get my shower. I don’t wanna be late; I have one too many demon-fighting sick days as it is.”

Angel glanced at the clock. “You have two and half hours.”

“Please,” she drew back. “I have primping to do!” She dismissed him with a wave. “Away, away.”

She closed the door on him. He walked to the window, drawing back the heavy curtain and looking out on the shadowed houses of Crawford Street.

It was strong, whatever she felt. He was sure. Because the demon in him felt it too.

*   *   *   *   *

Daniel Osbourne, better known to the world at large as Oz, was restless. A not-uncommon condition for him, just usually it came later in the month, around the time of the full moon.

He’d been trying all day to read, but the page in front of his eyes looked extraordinarily familiar. If he had to guess it would be that he’d read the page before. Say, an hour ago, just before he’d gotten himself a sandwich. He flipped ahead through the book. Sure enough, he’d picked the book back up and started on the same chapter he had this morning. True, with James Joyce it was sometimes hard to tell the difference, but this was ridiculous.

Setting the book aside on his bedside table, Oz stood and stepped over to pick up his guitar. He didn’t bother with the amp; he wasn’t much interested in the sound. He could think better with it in his hands, and closing his eyes, he picked at the strings, trying to get ahold of the feel.

Oz was a werewolf living on a Hellmouth. As his mentor was wont to tell him, that was a unique opportunity for feel.

The notes vibrated under his fingertips. He opened his heart to the sensation. Deeper and deeper he went, as the pitches flowed out almost randomly from the instrument. Somewhere in them was a resonance, a beat that pulsed in time with the energies of the Hellmouth. He listened for the forces, as Ethan had coached him, the mystical movements in the ether. He could see the moon in his mind’s eye, currently rising almost one quarter full over Djakarta, Luzon, and the South Seas. Closer to home, he could see the ley lines, the bands of magical energy flowing through the Earth. In his mind he was seeing them from above, looking down on a landscape shading into dusk, with these great glowing streaks crisscrossing and riding along the land. As he approached Sunnydale in his vision, they bent into a pattern of spokes and rings, like a giant spiderweb lain across the terrain, its center the ruins of an old, crumbling school building.

His pulse quickened as he swooped down from the virtual sky in his head. His fingers plucked faster at the strings, and unconsciously the nails on his picking hand
lengthened and hardened. The notes were more coherent, and with a part of his brain he knew he was playing a song now, though he couldn’t recall the name.

In his vision he could see the bright glowing sparkles of life energy, shining through the windows of the suburban houses like the glow of a winter night’s toasty hearth fire. And other, more unsettling sparkles as well, these wandering the streets and hiding in shadows, hoping to prey on the brighter lights. Before his attention was drawn away, he saw two brilliant beacons moving together through the streets, drawing the magic of the ley lines out into whorls and spirals in their wake.

But his hands had started to strum chords now, heavy, minor-key sounds. There were other vibrations thrumming through the ley lines, as if the spider itself was shifting and tensing, preparing to make its way outward in search of some trapped prey. He turned and turned, a great ominous sensation stealing through his bones.

And then he realized the song in his ears was one of hers, and he shook himself awake, barely catching the guitar before it fell from his lap.

Oz put the instrument back in its stand and stood. He looked at the clock, and then went to clean up and change. He needed to get out of here for awhile, and the Bronze was clearly the best choice, given that a band very different from his own “Dingoes Ate My Baby” was playing. He needed to get something else in his ears.

Because he could still hear Veruca’s voice in his head.

*   *   *   *   *

In one of the twelve cemeteries that graced the City of Sunnydale, those self-same vibrations provided their own soundtrack for a flickering column of light some distance below ground. Atop one of a hundred elegant mausoleums rose a spire into the cool night. Centered within a multitude of open-air windows, a bronze framework held a patchwork of mirrors, positioned to catch any and all stray light from without, and reflect it down a vent to an awaiting chandelier. Six precisely aligned and variously tinted crystals bounced the illumination to a broad crescent of cheval glasses bound in the wall of a great underground chamber. From there the lights converged to the space above a heavy stone dais, inscribed with runes ancient and powerful, to twinkle and dance as the sky wheeled far above.

A visitor to this underground chamber would probably think many things about the playful column of flickers and shadows. They’d comment on the serene beauty, or maybe how their resemblance to fireflies invoked a childish thrill in them.

It’s doubtful they’d realize these giddy sparkles were the lock on the door of Hell.

Well, then again, they might just. For if they approached the chamber’s front wall more closely, spent time examining the hundreds of mirrors aligned about its graceful arc, they’d soon see more than themselves within. For the ley lines were muddled here, and creatures fearsome and dark played behind the glasses’ flat gaze.

The mirrors were enchanted. Each pointed at the sealed gate, and each reflected those things that lurked just beyond that gate in a dimension full of demons, darkness, and despair. Standing before the half circle, one could watch deadly shadows run from one glass to another, if one knew how to look.

Yet on this particular night beneath Sunnydale, no special wisdom was necessary to see a ghostly pale face that began to peer out from behind the leaded glass. It was a pretty face. Or had been, a hundred and fifty years before. Before many things, but especially before the mind behind the face had been entered, first by madness, then by death, then by a cruel, evil un-life. A pretty face that belonged, once, to a young girl named Drusilla.


I: Arrivals