[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] Ongoing...
 

Episode Two - Puzzle Box

'Drew, behind you!'

Andrew Kowalski spun and plunged his sword deep into the heart of the demon creeping up behind him. The demons had taken up residence in Weatherley Park, weaving a nest of cobwebs amid the tree branches. They were like lizards with butterfly wings and really, really big teeth. I had no idea what they were, but I figured Wesley could look them up in his books later if he was that interested.

'Thanks, Dawn,' Drew called over his shoulder as he pulled his sword out of the demon's chest, trailing blue slime over the grass.

I nodded to him, then ducked down as a demon swooped over me. I swung upwards with my mace - I had sworn off using bladed weapons - and smashed the demon's jaw up through the top of its skull.

Janice and Chrissie were in the thick of the action too. Holding hands, they chanted softly, an oasis of calm at the heart of the buzzing storm. Then they turning towards the demons and spoke a single word. The demons paused, then turned in mid-air and flew as far and as fast as they could away from the witches. In their panic, many of the demons collided with the trees and, stunned, fell to the floor where Drew and I could finish them off.

* * *

Much later, when we had finally finished dealing with the pest problem, the others walked me back to my place. Unfortunately, Lydia and my dad were still up and Dad, spying me through the window, opened the door before I could find my key.

'What on earth have you been up to?' he demanded, eyeing the blue gunk that clung to our clothes.

'Paintball,' Drew offered.

'Late night paintball,' Janice clarified.

'Very intense,' Chrissie agreed. 'And tiring.'

Picking up on my cue, I yawned theatrically.

'Well, I'd better get some sleep,' I said. 'See you guys tomorrow.'

Then I hurried upstairs leaving Dad staring open-mouthed in my wake.

* * *

Willow Rosenberg sat cross-legged on the grass. She could hear the babbling of a brook somewhere in the distance. A butterfly fluttered past her, tickling her nose with its wings before moving on. A fawn cantered happily over the field before coming to a halt in front of her. Willow reached out and stroked the fur on top of its head.

'Thought I'd find you out here,' Tara said.

'I like it here,' Willow replied. 'It's peaceful. And it never seems to rain.'

'Oh, it rains,' Tara promised her, 'but only if you want it to. We are on the borders of Paradise after all.'

'You know, I still can't quite believe it,' Willow said. 'That I'm here, I mean.'

'Well, here you are,' Tara said simply.

'I guess so,' Willow said, chewing on her lower lip. 'But what if it's all a dream. Like, what if it's all some new kind of punishment for all I've done and I think everything's okay again, but really none of it's real.'

Tara wrapped her arms around Willow and kissed her.

'I'm real,' she said.

'Mmm,' Willow said, enjoying the moment. 'Convince me.'

Tara was only too happy to oblige.

'You sure you'll be okay here by yourself?' Tara asked, much later.

'You've got to go?' Willow asked.

'The group's meeting again,' Tara explained. 'I have to be there.'

'Can't I come too?' Willow pleaded.

Tara shook her head. She didn't try to explain. Willow didn't need to be reminded that the reason the group had to meet at all was because Willow had royally screwed up the grand plan by bringing Buffy back. No, that wasn't fair. Tara was as much to blame for not talking her out of it and even with hindsight, she had a hard time believing that Buffy's resurrection was so wrong. Unfortunately for Willow, Tara wasn't the one she had to convince and, so long as the others held her responsible, Willow remained excluded from the group.

'I won't be long,' Tara promised.

She walked away, the grass soft against her bare feet. Before long, and with hardly any sense of transition, Tara was walking along a cool marble corridor. Angels were everywhere, going about their business, and a gentle, calming hum filled the hallways. One angel fell into step beside her. Tara smiled. Lairel was one of the group.

'You received the summons too?' Lairel asked, stroking his beard.

'Yes, I did,' Tara replied. 'What do you suppose it means?'

'I really haven't the faintest idea,' Lairel confessed, 'but it must be important. It is becoming increasingly dangerous for us to meet like this. If the others were to find us.'

'Don't talk that way,' Tara scolded him. 'Yes, we're risking a lot, but it's worth it, isn't it?'

Lairel looked away, embarrassed.

'Yes, yes,' he agreed. 'You're right, of course.'

'You don't suppose it could be about Zauriel, do you?' Tara suggested. 'Do you think he's finally back?'

'No, child, I do not,' Lairel said. 'If he was, then I am sure we would already know of it. No, I believe we may have to consider Zauriel one of the lost.'

* * *

I could have told them where Zauriel was, but nobody had thought to ask me. He was holed up over the disused quarry.

Having turned up in my bedroom one night badly injured and babbling about 'war in heaven', I didn't have much choice but to take him in. That said, I couldn't keep a man hidden in my room indefinitely, angel or otherwise, so we had to come up with somewhere for him to stay. It was Zauriel's idea to use the tower overlooking the quarry. Apparently he had hidden there recovering from his injuries once before. The Scrappies and I took turn watching over him.

It was my turn to pay him a visit. He had been looking a lot better on my last time over, though his left wing was still in tatters, so I decided that today would be a good day to ask him the questions I had held back when he had collapsed on my bedroom floor.

'Hey,' I said. I had to duck to get through the small doorway that was the only entrance to the tower.

'Greetings, Dawn,' Zauriel replied.

'How's the wing?' I asked.

'Getting there,' Zauriel assured me. To be honest, it didn't look any better than when I had last stopped by, but I guessed he knew best.

'It irks me that I sill cannot fly,' Zauriel continued. 'My companions will be worried about me.'

I sat down on some rubble that was against the curved interior wall. Sunlight streamed through the doorway like a curtain, separating the two of us.

'What were you doing,' I asked, 'the night you were attacked?'

'I…I can't remember,' Zauriel confessed. 'Everyday I wrack my brains for answers, but my injuries have clouded my mind. I see pieces, but I cannot grasp the overall pattern.'

'Kind of like doing a jigsaw without the picture on the box,' I suggested. 'Why not tell me what you've got and we'll see if we can figure it out together.'

'You are a good person, Dawn,' Zauriel said. 'I cannot believe the world will fall while its fate lies in your hands.'

I shivered. All this talk of my alleged destiny made me distinctly uncomfortable. Buffy was the one chosen to save the world. I was just the kid sister. Okay, so it annoyed me like crazy, but I was finding that it sure beat the alternative.

'Just tell me what you remember,' I said.

'There was a room,' Zauriel said, 'a great vaulted chamber. I was skulking in the shadows.'

'Spying?' I suggested.

'Perhaps,' Zauriel agreed. 'There were others there, other angels. And there was a machine, vast and terrible.'

'What did the machine do?' I asked.

'I do not know,' Zauriel said. 'Maybe I have forgotten. Maybe I never knew. It is so hard.'

'Take you time,' I cautioned.

'Now I'm holding it in my hand,' Zauriel said. 'The machine. No, part of it. A cube, but it unfurls, like a flower in bloom.'

'You stole part of the machine?'

Zauriel shook his head.

'It is blank. In one image I am watching the machine. In another I am holding it. There is nothing in between.'

'Go on,' I pressed.

'I am in flight,' Zauriel said. He choked. 'It is painful, remembering how it feels to be aloft, while still being tied to the earth.'

He flexed his tattered wing feebly.

'I'm sorry,' I offered.

'I am not alone,' Zauriel continued. 'They are pursuing me. And they are armed and…And that is all I remember.'

'And what about the box?' I asked. 'What happened to the part of the machine you took with you?'

Zauriel got up and began to pace frustratedly.

'I don't know,' he protested. 'I don't know. I don't know.' Then he stopped. 'No, I remember digging. I can feel sand beneath my fingernails. I had to hide it, lest they catch up with me so I buried it, buried it deep.'

'But where?' I asked.

Zauriel just shook his head.

* * *

The next time I went to visit Zauriel, I took Ruth and Helena with me. Ruth was Helena's roommate at the foster home. She was also a geology student and caving enthusiast. I was hoping that maybe some description in Zauriel's accounts might strike a cord with her.

Zauriel sat with his back to the wall and his head in his hands. Helena, Ruth and I stood.

'I can hear water,' Zauriel was saying.

'From the sea?' I asked.

'No,' Zauriel replied. 'I mean, yes, I can hear the sea, but this is different. This is coming from inside the cave.'

'Describe the cave,' Ruth said.

'Dark,' Zauriel said. 'Enough room to stand upright in, but not enough room to spread my wings. And green. Lots of green.'

'Is there anything just outside the cave?' Ruth asked. 'Like a rock formation or something?'

'Yes, there is,' Zauriel said, looking up. 'How did you know?'

'Does it look like a bunny rabbit?' Ruth continued, making bunny ears with her fingers.

'Yes, yes it does,' Zauriel told her.

Ruth stepped out of the tower.

'You know where it is, don't you?' I said, stepping out into the sunlight after her.

'Uh-huh,' Ruth confirmed, lighting a cigarette.

'Do you have to,' I complained, waving away the smoke.

'Yeah, I do,' Ruth shot back. 'That's why they call it an addiction.'

There wasn't a whole lot I could say to that.

'So where is it?' I asked.

'Place called Whistler's Cave,' Ruth replied, 'but you'd better hurry if you want to find what you're looking for today.'

'Why's that?' I asked.

'Because the cave gets cut off at high-tide,' Ruth replied.

* * *

The three of us scrambled down on to the beach, Ruth leading the way.

'I still say we should have gone back for torches,' Helena said.

'There wasn't time,' I insisted. 'Besides, Zauriel said he buried it near the entrance.'

'And how are we going to dig it out?' Helena continued. 'We haven't even got any shovels.'

I didn't bother to answer that. After all, Helena was right.

I could feel the saltwater spray on my face. In the distance, I could see a bunch of guys trying (and failing) to surf on the waves crashing down on to the beach.

'Down here,' Ruth called and I hurried after her, my feet being sucked down by the wet sand. Sure enough, Ruth was standing at the entrance to a cave and, just outside the cave was a rock with bunny ears.

'So, where do you suppose he buried this box?' Helena asked.

'At a guess, I'd say here,' Ruth suggested, pointing at the hole in the ground.

'Someone got here first,' I said.

'You don't say,' Ruth quipped.

'But who?' Helena asked.

'Oh, I've got a pretty good idea,' I muttered.

* * *

Before she and Xander had left town for pastures new and (relatively) demon-free, she had promised us that we would like the new owner of the Magic Box. I can only assume that that was meant to be a joke, albeit not a terribly funny one.

'Ethan Rayne!' I told Wesley incredulously on the night I found out. 'They put Ethan Rayne in charge of the Magic Box!'

'So it would appear,' Wesley conceded.

He and Halfrek had been enjoying a quiet night in before I intruded and there was a half-empty bottle of wine on the table. Or should I think of it as a half-full bottle? Or is that just glasses? Whatever.

'But…but isn't he supposed to be locked up?' I protested.

'Perhaps he escaped?' Wesley suggested.

'Or perhaps they let him out,' Halfrek put in from where she was lounging in an armchair. 'Just a suggestion.'

'Unfortunately, we can't contact the Initiative to find out one way or the other,' Wesley pointed out, lifting his wineglass and taking a sip.

'Buffy and Willow knew how to contact Riley,' I said, 'but they never thought to tell me.'

'You could always ask this Ethan character,' Halfrek suggested.

'No,' I said.

Wesley agreed with me.

'I've never met the man in person,' he said, 'but I've heard enough stories from Rupert to make me doubt that we could take his word for anything.'

'So what are we going to do about him?' I asked.

'Do?' Wesley echoed. 'I'm not sure there's anything we can do.'

'But…but he's an escaped prisoner,' I said. 'Can't we report him to the police or something?'

'Even assuming he did escape,' Wesley responded, 'which, as Halfrek has pointed out, we don't know for sure, he wasn't locked up by the police. He was locked up by a secret government agency we have no method of contacting. And, while I agree with you that he is probably up to some form of mischief - it is his style, after all - we can hardly do anything without proof. He could be here for completely innocent reasons, however unlikely that may sound.'

'So I'm just supposed to let him set up shop here?' I said. 'That doesn't seem right. Not after all he's done.'

'I know and I sympathise,' Wesley said, 'but for now, all we can do is watch and wait.'

* * *

Screw that. Ethan Rayne was in town. A magical artefact was missing, an artefact we needed. It didn't take a genius to put two and two together. But I wasn't going in there without backup. Ethan was known to fight dirty and I didn't fancy my chances on my own. So I persuaded Trix to go with me.

Trix had been keeping very much to himself of late. He seemed lost ever since losing Anya to Xander. He had talked about leaving town, trying his luck elsewhere, but for some reason he stuck around, getting more and more morose and broody. At this rate he would soon be giving Angel a run for his money. Still, there was no denying that Trix was the strongest member of our little band so he was the one who drew the short straw and got to accompany me into the lion's den. Or lion's magic shop. Whatever.

'I really don't know what you're talking about,' Ethan was saying.

He was looking down on us from behind the counter, a smug smile plastered across his face.

'So it's just coincidence that you arrive in town at the same time this box just disappears,' I mocked.

'Well, I suppose it must be,' Ethan replied, 'given that I have nothing to do with it.'

Trix went to the door, locked it, and flipped the sign so it now read 'closed'.

'Now this isn't exactly friendly behaviour, now, is it?' Ethan protested. 'I'm trying to run a business here.'

'And we're just supposed to believe you've turned over a new leaf after all you've done?'

Ethan pursed his lips.

'Well, since you put it like that, no, I suppose not,' he agreed. 'But whether you believe me or not doesn't change the fact that it happens to be true.'

'Yeah, right.'

Trix grabbed hold of the front of Ethan's shirt and dragged him down to the counter.

'Now why don't you just tell Dawn what she wants to know?' he suggested.

'Because I don't know anything,' Ethan shot back. 'Violence really is unnecessary. I'd help you if I could, but I can't.'

'Can't or won't?' I hopped up onto the counter and sat beside Ethan. 'We've got all day.'

Trix tipped back his cap with his free hand to expose his horns.

'All right, all right,' Ethan said, 'I'll help you.'

Trix let him go and Ethan pulled away, straightening his crimson shirt.

'So where is it?' I demanded.

'I don't know,' Ethan replied.

'Trix,' I began.

'No, wait,' Ethan protested, hands raised in surrender. 'I really don't know, but I know some people who might.'

'I'm listening,' I said.

'There are some Geranthi demons hiding out near the docks,' Ethan explained hurriedly. 'Nasty little buggers, but they've got a soft spot for magical paraphernalia. Had to put a warding circle around this place just to keep them out.'

'You're boring me,' I said.

'Look, if the Geranthi don't have your item, their bound to know who does,' Ethan continued. 'Trust me.'

'That's a joke.'

'What have you got to lose,' Ethan pointed out. 'If I'm wrong about the Geranthi, you'll only be back, right?'

* * *

'You okay?' I asked Trix as we stepped outside.

'Sure, why wouldn't I be?' Trix replied.

'Well, you hardly said one word in there,' I explained. 'Where was the sarcasm and quippage?'

Trix grunted.

'Didn't want to intrude on your hard-boiled interrogation technique,' he said. 'Looked like you were enjoying yourself.'

'Yeah, it was kind of fun,' I admitted with a half-smile.

'You going to need me when you go after these Geranthi things?' Trix asked.

I thought for a moment, trying to concoct a cunning plan and failing miserably.

'Nah, we can probably get by without,' I told him.

Trix nodded thoughtfully.

'That's good,' he said. 'I've got things to do.'

Then he turned and stalked away without another word.

* * *

'I'm worried about Trix,' I confided to Janice as we crept down towards the docks. 'He's so broody.'

'His girlfriend dumped him for another guy,' Janice pointed out. 'You can't expect him to be all happy-clappy right away.'

'I guess,' I conceded, 'but that was ages ago.'

'Ages ago,' Janice repeated, raising an eyebrow. 'Sure.'

I pulled a face.

'Okay, so maybe I'm being unreasonable here,' I said, 'but can you blame me for wanting to cheer him up.'

'Not a bit,' Janice agreed, 'and when we're finished demon-bashing, we can work on a brand new mission called making Trix happy again.'

'Now you're mocking me,' I replied.

'True,' Janice confessed, 'but that doesn't mean I'm not willing to help out. I don't like the thought of him moping either.'

'That the place?' Drew asked, catching up with us.

'So I'm told,' I replied.

The boathouse didn't look like much, but Wesley's demon contacts had all agreed that this was where the Geranthi were hanging out.

'Drew and I will go in first,' I said, outlining my plan. 'Janice and Chrissie are backup.'

'Not to mention heavy artillery,' Drew added.

'I'm hoping it won't come to that,' I said. 'We just want to talk to them.'

Drew took several practice swings with his word as we approached the boathouse, jumping about like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean. Subtle he was not, but fortunately the Geranthi appeared not to have posted a lookout.

Chrissie paused on their climb down the hill.

'You okay?' Janice asked.

'Sure. Just a little worn out,' Chrissie explained. 'I'll be fine in a moment.'

'We can stop here,' Janice decided. 'We're close enough to see their signal if there's trouble.'

I eased open the boathouse door and the rusted hinges squealed in complaint.

'So much for the element of surprise,' I muttered.

A boat was moored at the far end of the boathouse, bobbing gently up and down. There was no sign of the Geranthi.

'I suppose we have to go on the boat,' I said.

'A boarding action?' Drew replied. 'Avast me hearties, splice the main-brace and…whatever the rest is. '

'That's the last time I take you to the movies,' I told him, stepping on to the ramp that let up to the deck.

The ramp swayed beneath my weight and I stumbled back. Drew put an arm around my waist to steady me.

'Careful,' I warned. 'What would Chrissie say?'

'It's not what she says that worries me,' Drew replied, removing his hand. 'It's what she might do.'

I flashed him a grin, then had another go at climbing the ramp. This time I was ready for the movement and easily scrambled on to the boat.

'What's that smell?' Drew complained, wrinkling his nose.

I shrugged. Noxious odours were one of the occupational hazards of demon hunting.

I opened the cabin door and recoiled. The smell was much, much worse inside, but that was hardly surprising. The cabin was packed with dead demons. I assumed they were Geranthi, but it was hard to tell given the way all the bodies had been gutted like fish.

'Another dead end,' Drew muttered behind me. 'Sorry, bad choice of words.'

He unhooked his camera from around his neck and began taking pictures of the scene in the cabin.

'What are you doing?' I wanted to know.

'It's evidence,' Drew responded. 'Like in CSI. Wesley might be able to tell what did this to them once he sees the pictures.'

He had a point, I supposed, but it still bothered me that he could react so calmly and clinically while my guts were trying to escape.

Then he jumped back.

'Something moved,' he said.

'You imagined it,' I assured him.

'No, something definitely moved,' he insisted. 'I think something's alive in there.'

Steeling myself, I peered into the dark cabin. A scaly mole peered back at me, its eyes twinkling in the darkness.

'Don't hurt me, don't hurt me, don't hurt me,' the mole said, words tripping over one another in their haste.

'We won't hurt you,' I promised it. 'We aren't the ones who did this.'

The mole studied me for a moment, then said, 'No. They had wings. And big-big swords.'

I didn't like the sound of that.

'Why did they attack you?' I asked.

'They wanted a box,' the mole explained, 'but we didn't have it. Not any more. So they got deep-deep mean. And they attacked us with hot-hot swords, but I hid and they couldn't find me, not even with their sharp-sharp eyes. And now everyone dead-dead. Everyone but me.'

'I'm sorry,' I said.

The mole nodded and there was silence for a moment.

Drew tapped me on the shoulder.

'Don't forget why we're here,' he reminded me.

I swallowed. He was right, but I hated having to interrogate the demon under these circumstances.

'About the box,' I began gently.

'Wish I had never seen bad-bad box,' the mole replied. 'Brings nothing but death.'

'You said you didn’t have it any more,' I continued. 'What happened to it.'

'I lost it,' the mole sobbed, 'in a fool-fool game of cards.'

* * *

The Fish Tank was full of noxious demon smells, as befitted a bar that catered to Sunnydale's more supernatural element. On this visit, I couldn't smell any of them. I couldn't get the scent of dead Geranthi out of my nostrils.

'You don't have to come along,' Clem was saying. 'I can handle this on my own, you know.'

Clem had been trying to talk me out of this trip since I'd asked him to take me earlier that evening.

'I know you can,' I assured him, 'but I still want to tag along.'

'But...but…' Clem seemed to be struggling with something.

'What is it?' I pressed. 'Whatever it is, you can tell me.'

With his floppy ears, Clem looked like a kicked puppy.

'I don't want you to see through there,' he said. 'We play poker. For kittens.'

'I know,' I told him. 'I can't say I approve, but I promise not to freak out over it.'

Clem still looked uncomfortable. I squeezed his arm - or several folds of skin, anyway - reassuringly.

'Listen, big guy, we know there are other people looking for this box as well,' I said, 'and I don't want any of us going anywhere alone. Besides, if you leave me out here, who's going to protect me.'

'Oh, very well,' Clem conceded reluctantly. 'But don't say I didn't warn you.'

He opened a door behind the bar and led me through to the back room.

Three demons were already sitting around a table.

'What's this?' one sneered. 'You bringing snacks now Clem?'

Clem opened his mouth to retort, but I stepped forward before he could say anything. I picked up the deck of cards, cut them and then shuffled the deck the way Trix had taught me. Personally, I didn't see how it was any better than the way I normally shuffled cards, but it was flashy and it definitely impressed this crowd. While they stared at me, jaws around their ankles, I pulled up an extra chair.

'So, deal me in,' I suggested.

* * *

I wasn't a great card player, but, thanks to long evenings in with Drew and Trix and Clem, I wasn't half bad, either. Clem, however, was great and, before long, he had the second largest collection of kittens at the table. I made a mental note to make sure that each and every one of my winnings went to a good home.

The three-eyed demon, who didn't speak, but who, so the others told me, was called Gregory, was scowling.

'What's up with Gregory?' I asked the demon on my right.

'He's out of kittens,' the lizard-like demon explained.

'Well, that's too bad,' I said loudly. 'Of course, we don't have to play for kittens, if Gregory happened to have something more interesting to offer.

Gregory swallowed the bait, reached into his leather satchel and plonked the box down in the centre of the table. It didn't look like much. It was just a wooden cube with some strange, vaguely oriental writing on it. But there was more to it than that. It was like it gave out waves of raw magic.

I looked at Clem and he winked at me.

Half an hour later we walked out of the Fish Tank, Clem with an armful of kittens and me with a wooden box in my pocket.

* * *

As I traipsed up the hill the formed the north edge of the quarry, I looked up at the stars. It was a clear night and this far outside town, the electric lights didn't interfere with my ability to enjoy the view. I wondered if Buffy was up there somewhere looking down at me. Would she be proud of what I was doing or would she be thinking how much better she would have done it?

It was a good thing I was looking up because otherwise I might have missed the light at the top of the tower Zauriel was calling home. It was a brief flash and at first I thought I might have imagined it. Then I began to feel an unpleasant sensation, like a heavy eel coiling and uncoiling inside my stomach.

I could have turned around, ran back to town for help. But Zauriel was already injured. Who was to say he would be able to hold on until I got back. So instead, I quickened my pace and ran up the slope, scree scattering in my wake.

There were two of them. Each was over six feet tall, but their bulk made them seem shorter. They were dressed in thick black armour, lacquered and shiny, and at first I assumed that the bull-like heads on their shoulders were just the design of their helmets and not the angels' actual features. I was sure they were angels. Sure, the fact they had wings didn't mean anything, but seeing them standing next to Zauriel it was clear, despite the differences in appearance, that they all sprang from a common root.

It's hard to explain. It's like regular people are like lamps, with their light muted by the shade. With angels, there was no shade and they 'glowed' brighter than normal people did.

I dragged my attention away from them and looked to Zauriel. He looked even worse than he had when he fell through my bedroom window, broken and beaten. One of the bull-headed angels held a sword to his throat, so close that it was already starting to draw blood.

'Who are you?' I asked them.

'You know who we are,' the sword-wielding angel replied, his voice echoing over the quarry.

'What do you want?' I continued.

'You know what we want,' the angel said.

'You want this?' I asked, taking the box out of my pocket and holding it up.

'Do you want this?' the angel echoed, lifting Zauriel up off the ground.

'You followed him here, didn't you?' I deduced, my brain working furiously trying to come up with an option that didn't end with both Zauriel and I dead.

'We followed that,' the angel explained, pointing at the box,

'That's why you killed the Geranthi,' I reasoned.

'If that's what you call those creatures,' the angel replied with a shrug. 'They were in our way.'

'But they didn't have this, did they?' I taunted him.

'No, they did not,' the angel agreed, an edge to his voice, 'but you have found it for us.'

'That's right,' I crowed. 'So what's the deal here? Zauriel for this box?'

'Don't,' Zauriel choked. 'Don't give it to them, Dawn. I'm not worth it.'

'You will give us the artefact,' the angel said. 'There is no deal.'

I looked at Zauriel and he shook his head so slightly as to be almost imperceptible.

I winked at him.

'You want it,' I shouted at the angels, the wind blowing my hair into my face, 'go fetch it.'

Then I threw the box down into the quarry.

The angels moved as one, launching themselves into the air with a single beat of the vast wings before disappearing below the lip of the pit. I caught Zauriel as he collapsed, too weak to support his own weight.

'Oh Dawn,' he moaned softly, 'what have you done?'

I didn't reply. I didn't know.

Zauriel leaned into me and together we dragged ourselves over to the quarry's edge. At the bottom of the pit was a lake, into which college boys liked to dive in warmer weather. My throw had been really pathetic and the box, pursued by the angels, was going to fall well short of the lake. Instead, it the wall of the quarry and bounced.

The impact must have jarred something loose within the object because now it started to open up, like a clockwork music box. I had to shield my eyes as a beam of pure white light shot out of the box and straight up into the sky. The beam struck both of the angels and…

And I don't know what happened, not really. One second they were there, the light imprinting a negative image of them on the back off my eyelids, the next…the next they were gone. Not even a feather remained to mark their passed.

The box continued to roll and, as it did so, it folded back in on itself. When it finally came to rest, bobbing gently at the edge of the lake, it looked no more threatening than a child's building block.

* * *

I knocked on the door to Wesley's kitchen. The door was ajar and swung open as I struck it.

'You'd best stay that side of the door for now, Dawn,' Wesley warned me. 'We don't know if it's entirely safe.'

He was sitting at the kitchen table and, in the centre of the table, was the box. Zauriel had fished it out of the water once we were sure it wasn't going to delight us with another light show and I'd brought it straight here. Surrounding the box were several open books, Wesley's reference material while he tried to figure out what this thing was.

'Any clues?' I asked.

Wesley shook his head.

'There's nothing in any of my texts about this at all,' he confessed, 'and I'm loathe to try and conduct a physical examination given your own experience with the object.'

'So we're no better off than we were before,' I complained.

'I wouldn't say that,' Wesley said, rising from his chair and filling the kettle at the sink. 'We have something that the other side wants. That has to count for something.'

'But we don't know what it's supposed to do,' I continued.

'Hmm,' Wesley responded as he switched the kettle on. 'I have a nasty suspicion.'

'Well?' I prompted.

'Zauriel said they had declared war in Heaven, correct?' Wesley replied. 'And one group of angels - the enemy? - is building a machine, of which this box is an important part. Now what does that suggest to you?'

I suddenly felt very cold. I already knew what Wesley was going to say.

'I think they're building a weapon.'

 

 
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