They were only feet from the exit when the Voraxis demon opened the portal. Lightning cracked through the air, evaporating a couple of vampires who were trying to escape through the portal, but several others made it. The storm was getting worse and the foundation started to crack from the force.

Almost everyone had made it out of what was left of the Initiative. Only Buffy, Giles and the Scooby Gang remained. Giles could barely hear Buffy over the explosions and sound of buckling concrete. "Giles, how do we stop it?"

"Once the demon passes through, it will close by itself!" Giles shouted in return. It was then that the Voraxis demon got hit by one of the same lightning bolts it had released. Buffy turned back to Giles, "What were you saying Giles?"

Giles' reply was to the point. "Fuck."

Buffy's mind went into overdrive. There was really only one thing to do. "If I take what's left through, will that stop it?"

"No Buffy, you can't. You'll be trapped on the other side. We may never get it open again."

"We don't have any choice Giles. It's getting bigger. Besides, a bunch of vamps got through. We can't take the chance of them taking over a peaceful dimension. It could come back to bite us. Literally. Take the others and get out of here."

Xander heard everything Buffy said. She was too important to lose. He was just 'Donut Boy', so he was expendable. While Buffy was arguing with Giles he grabbed his bag full of ammo, added a couple of stakes from Buffy's stash and slung his M-16 over his shoulder. Xander headed for the portal at a dead run. Barely slowing down, he scooped up what was left of the demon's head and jumped through the portal. The last thing he heard was Willow and Buffy's scream. "Xander! No!" Then everything went black.


Wintermoon K'Sheyna lay on his back, staring up at the stars. His bond birds, K'Tathi and Corwith, rested on a log near him. It had been a long day and it wasn't over yet. Since his brother Darkwind, Darkwind's mate Elspeth, Firesong K'Treva and many others had stopped the Mage storms, all of Wintermoon's time was spent hunting changed creatures.

Wintermoon was tired. He had been hunting for weeks without a break. Tomorrow he would be returning to K'Sheyna Vale. It would be good to be home again. As he started to drift off, he felt the unmistakable surge of an unstable gate going up.

Wintermoon was on his feet, bow in hand, before the first surge had died. He arrived at the gate terminus in time to see several strange looking men come through the portal. Wintermoon aimed at the closest and shouted a warning in the trade tongue. The change child, for that was all it could be, ran right at him, snarling. Wintermoon hit him with a heart shot and was stunned when the creature exploded into dust.

Before he could get another arrow from his quiver, the second was on him. Wintermoon dropped to his back and planted his feet in the creature's chest. Using it's momentum against it, he threw it up and over. Quickly rising to his feet, he drew his hunting knife. Corwith and K'Tathi swooped on two of the other creatures, trying to distract them from their bond mate. One of the creatures jumped into the air and caught Corwith in one hand. Laughing, it brought the owl to it's fangs.

There was nothing Wintermoon could do. The creature he was fighting was too fast and too strong. Trying to maintain his distance from his opponent, Wintermoon mentally braced himself for the pain that would come when Corwith died. Giving his bondbird one last look, he was once again stunned when the creature holding Corwith exploded into dust.

He had been so involved in the fight that he hadn't noticed the young man who crossed through the gate, or the fact that the gate had closed. The stranger ran to Wintermoon and shoved a pointed stick into his opponent. He then handed Wintermoon the stick and pulled another from a bag slung over his shoulder, but the other change children had fled.

Xander felt a shocking coldness and then he was on the other side. The last fading light from the portal allowed him to see a vampire pluck an owl from the air. He didn't even stop to think, he ran to the vamp and staked him before he had a chance to kill the bird. When the dust cleared, Xander saw a man, with hair Oz would have been impressed by, fighting a vampire off with just a knife. Xander ran towards the vamp and staked him. He gave the other man his stake and pulled a new one from his bag. He was glad he'd brought spares, but all of the other vamps had bugged out.

Xander saw the man run to the owl he had saved. A second was hovering over it, protecting it. The man was very gentle as he picked up the wounded bird. The man smiled at Xander in thanks. He smiled back and then his world went black again when he passed out.


Cradling Corwith in his hands, Wintermoon went to the young man's side. It was too dark to see any injuries, so he tucked Corwith into his tunic and picked up the young man to carry him back to his camp.

Wintermoon laid the young man on his bedroll next to the fire. Pulling Corwith from his tunic he checked his bondbird over. He was fine except for a few ruffled feathers and a strained wing. Calling to K'Tathi, he sent him out to hunt for the wounded bird while he checked over their unconscious guest.

Wintermoon removed the heavy bag and odd looking stick from the stranger's shoulders. He pulled off his coat and the odd thin shirt from under it. It took him a moment to get it over the young man's head without jostling him too much.

He found small cuts and several large bruises decorating his chest, arms and back. There was some swelling under one eye, a cut on his lip and a deep one on his chin. That one would need stitches. Wintermoon was no healer, but he'd been on his own long enough to learn the basics.

Once he had cleaned and stitched the cut, he bathed the rest of the injuries. The young man never twitched. He was obviously exhausted. Wintermoon covered him and went to pamper his bondbirds while he waited for the other to awake.


Xander was having a really strange dream. He had carried a demon's head through a portal like it was a football, saved an owl from a vampire, and then saved a man dressed like an Indian, with a punk hairdo, from another vampire. Xander groaned when he tried to sit up. He felt like he'd been hit by a truck. "That's it, no more cold pizza before bed. My life is strange enough. I don't need weird dreams too."

A deep voice, speaking a language he couldn't understand, finally forced Xander to open his eyes. Seeing the 'Punk Indian' and two owls staring at him, Xander said, "This is not a good."

Xander stared at the man sitting across the camp from him. "Uh, Hi. How ya doin'? Oh, that sounded good Harris, why not convince the nice man that you're a total loser."

Wintermoon listened to his 'guest', but didn't recognize a single word. He wished he were a better mindspeaker, then language wouldn't be a problem. An idea caused him to send out a call to Corwith, who was resting in a nearby tree. The young man seemed concerned about the young owl last evening, he'd gone out of his way to save him from the change child. Maybe Corwith could get through to him. Wintermoon desperately needed information about the change children they had fought.

Corwith landed silently on Wintermoon's outstretched arm. Pulling his bondbird close to his chest, he scratched his head while asking him to talk to their guest. Corwith was amazingly eager, he wanted to thank him for saving his feathers from the 'bad man'. Wintermoon gave him a light toss and he drifted over to Xander. Landing in front of the bedroll where the his rescuer sat, he walked up his leg with an odd little waddle. Owls were not known for their grace while on the ground.

Xander reached out a hand to touch the bird, but stopped before he could. He looked up at the bird's owner with a question is in eyes. The man nodded yes, and waved a hand at the owl. Xander decided that meant he had permission and touched the owl on the head.

Corwith hooted with distress when his mind was swamped with images he didn't understand and feelings he did.

Never enough food, no love, no help, no bond. Lonely. Always fighting, trying to survive. Ugly monsters trying to kill him, kill the others. Parents bad as monsters, always hurting with fists and words. Running through gate, not knowing to where. Worthless, ready to die to save others.

Wintermoon hurried to Corwith's side when he felt his distress. As soon as he touched the young man's shoulder he too was overwhelmed.

Xander didn't know what was wrong, but he knew he was the cause. Again. He gently moved the owl out of his lap and backed away from the man. Once contact was broken, he seemed to be okay. "Important lesson Harris, don't touch the natives. They're allergic."

Wintermoon was sadden by what he'd seen and felt from the boy. No one should have to live like that. Carefully, he reached out to touch the boy's hand. Prepared this time, he didn't become lost.


Xander shook his head when he heard the voice, "Oh great, now I've gone crazy. What else can go wrong?"

/Not crazy, my name, it is Wintermoon K'Treva/

Xander finally understood what was happening, clearing his mind, he thought of his name as hard as he could.


Wintermoon winced when that voice screamed in his head, he was amazed by how easily they were communicating.

/There is no need to yell, I can hear you. What is your name?/

Xander blushed and tried to think calmly, /Sorry. I'm Xander. Can you tell me where I am?/

Wintermoon guided them back over to the bedroll so they could sit in comfort.

/We are in the Pelagiris Forest, not far from my home./

/Okay, that didn't help much. What country are we in?/

/Country? We are in the lands of the Tayledras./

/What is a Tayledras?/

/I am./

/Let's try this. What planet are we on?/

Wintermoon looked totally confused. /What is a planet?/

/I'm a long way from home, aren't I?/

/I believe so, Xander. We will go to my vale. Maybe some of the elders there can help you./

/How long will it take us to get there?/

/A few marks, if we move quickly./

/How long until nightfall?/

/Many marks Xander, why?/

/Those vamps from last night can make more of themselves. But they can only come out at night. Sunlight kills them. We need to find them and destroy them before they multiply./

/The elders need to know of this. We will break our fast and then leave./

/I don't have any money for food or anything./ Xander truly began to panic. If he couldn't get back to Sunnydale how was he going to live? He didn't think there were too many jobs for pizza boys here. He'd have to find a place to live too. And clothes, all he had was what was on his back. Did it get cold here? Would he freeze when winter came?

Wintermoon picked up on his distress and tried to reassure him. /Xander, you saved my life and that of my bondbird. I will help you in any way that I can. There is food a plenty to be found and hunted here. And I will sponsor you before the elders, you can make a home among my people. I would not leave you here to fend for yourself./

Xander gave Wintermoon a weak smile, /Sorry for freaking out. I didn't mean to lay all that on you. It's just a little much to handle, you know?/

/You did not 'freak' me out. You are understandably upset. I doubt I would do so well if I found myself so far from home and unable to speak the language./

/Yeah, how are we speaking anyway? I mean, I know we're talking in our heads, but why can I understand you? And how are you doing this anyway? Is it a spell?/

/I am not doing it, you are. I am not a strong mindspeaker with humans. With animals, yes. Language does not matter when mindspeaking, or I would not be able to speak to my bondbirds./

/What do you mean, I'm doing it? I'm not a telepath or a witch!/

/I do not know where you gained the ability, Xander, but most are born with it. Most of my people can mindspeak to an extent, and all can speak with their bondbirds./

/Wintermoon, you keep saying 'bondbird', I know you're talking about your owls, but what does bondbird mean?/

Wintermoon called Corwith and K'Tathi to him. K'Tathi landed on the outstretched arm and then moved up to the padded shoulder, making room for Corwith to land.

Indicating the bird on his shoulder, /This is K'Tathi, and the one you saved last night is Corwith. When they were still fledges, they and their parents chose me for the bond./

Wintermoon struggled to find a way to explain such an elemental part of his life in a way Xander could understand.

/They are my friends, my companions. They help me hunt, and guard my back. They are larger than ordinary raptors and much smarter. They are my brothers, my people call them Wingsibs./

K'Tathi and Corwith showed their pleasure by fluffing up their wings.

/All of my people have bondbirds, but not all owls. There are many breeds, eagles, owls, falcons, and hawks. All are special. They are why others call us what they do./

Xander was curious, /What do they call you?/

Wintermoon laughed out loud, and in his mind, Xander liked the way that felt.

/They call us the Hawkbrothers./


Xander and Wintermoon ate some jerky and what Wintermoon called 'travel biscuits. Xander called them hockey pucks, and then had to explain. Wintermoon laughed again, Xander really liked it when he did that. It actually 'tickled' in his head.

They broke down camp, Xander helping as much as he could. He'd never really been camping before, sleeping in the yard on Christmas didn't count.

Mindspeaking was getting easier for both of them. They no longer had to be touching to hear each other. This was a good thing since Xander didn't have enough breath to actually talk. He'd thought he was in pretty good shape, but the pace Wintermoon was setting was brutal. The Hawkbrother didn't even have the decency to break a sweat while Xander was swimming in it. The M-16 and bag of ammo were getting heavier with every step. Xander finally had to stop.

/Wintermoon./ He called. /I gotta rest for a minute./

Wintermoon immediately turned back to his young friend. /Are you all right Xander?/

/Yeah, I'm fine. I just have to catch my breath./

/I am sorry, I was not thinking of your injuries. We will rest here until you feel better./

Xander smiled up from where he was sitting. /Wintermoon, I don't think we have a week to spare. I just need a minute./

Wintermoon handed him a water skin and watched as he drank deeply. He was liking this young man more and more. Xander didn't complain, but neither was he foolish enough to push himself to the verge of collapse.

/How much farther do we have to go?/

Wintermoon sent up a call to K'Tathi and waited for a reply. /We should reach the outer markers within two marks. But it is still some distance from there until we reach my Vale./

Xander groaned but got back on his feet. /Let's get going then. But I have to tell you, after we dust those vamps, I'm going to sleep for a week./

Wintermoon gently pushed Xander back down to the ground. /Rest Xander, I have sent K'Tathi ahead to my brothers. They will bring mounts and we will ride the rest of the way. It will cost us no more time./

/Uh, Wintermoon, I don't know how to ride a horse./

Wintermoon smiled broadly, /Do not worry Xander, these are not horses./

Xander hung his head, /Why do I get the feeling I'm going to be sorry I asked? Okay, if they're not horses, what are they?/

Wintermoon smiled and took a seat next to Xander. He explained about the non-humans living inside and out of the vale. The dyheli, who were to be their mounts, the hertasi, the lizard people who cooked, cleaned and generally took care of their Hawkbrother friends.

Anyone catching sight of the pair would have seen two men, one young and one not so young, sitting in the forest, listening to the trees grow. The silence was broken by an incredulous shout. "Gryphons!"

Wintermoon grinned at Xander's reaction. He didn't think he'd smiled this much in years. /You know of Gryphons?/

/Yeah. Well, kind of. They're myths where I'm from. Half lion and half eagle. They were the guardians of royalty and you really didn't want to piss them off if you wanted to keep your face attached to your head./

A horrify thought occurred to Xander. /Huh, you don't have any dragons here do you?/

/We do have ice drakes, but they are usually only seen in the far north. We haven't had a problem with one of those in a very long time. Well before I was born. But there are other things here that are very dangerous. You must never go into the forest alone./

/Don't worry. Until I figure out how to get home, you're going to have to pry me off with a stick./

Corwith glided in and landed on Wintermoon's arm. He tilted his sideways, staring into his bondmates eyes. /Others come. Go home now?/

Wintermoon ran strong fingers through the feathers covering the owl's head and laughed when he leaned into the caress, blissful expression in his eyes. /Yes little one, we can go home now./

Wintermoon rose to his feet gracefully and tossed Corwith back into the air. Turning, he extended a hand to Xander to help him to his feet. /My brothers come, we will be in the Vale very shortly./ Wintermoon thought for a moment, unsure if he should say anything. But he owed Xander a great deal, and he didn't want the boy to be frightened. He'd been through enough.

/Xander. When we go before the elders, there will be many questions. Some will seem intrusive. They are not meant to harm. We seldom allow strangers in our lands, and precautions are taken for the good of the clan. Do not worry, I will be with you./

Xander was nervous, but determined not to show it. /Hey, I dealt with Snyder, I can deal with your elders./

Wintermoon tilted his head, looking a great deal like Corwith when he did so. /What is a Snyder?/

Xander grinned and told Wintermoon about the nasty little man who'd given him so much trouble in High School. Wintermoon burst into laughter at Xander's stories and his description of the obnoxious little man. So the scouts, when they arrived, were treated to the sight of Wintermoon, tears running down his face, laughing helplessly. They looked at each other in shock, neither had ever seen Wintermoon do more than smile slightly.

Xander spotted them first and stiffened, but relaxed slightly when he recognized their resemblance to Wintermoon. Laying a hand on his new friend's shoulder, he nodded his head at the approaching pair.

Wintermoon, still trying to breath, called out to the scouts. "Welcome. It is good to see you again."

Shadowstar and Winterlight slid off the dyheli they were riding and walked closer to Wintermoon and the young man beside him. Winterlight, the leader of the K'Sheyna scouts spoke first. "Heyla, Wintermoon. How was the hunt?"

The smile left Wintermoon's face. "Hard. There are many more changed creatures than we had originally thought. We shall speak of it before the elders. Plans must be made." Winterlight nodded his agreement.

Shadowstar had been studying the stranger standing beside Wintermoon. She wasn't sure she liked what she saw. A tall young man, muscled, his face covered with various bruises and cuts. But it was his eyes that bothered her. They were dark, almost black, and they appeared much older than they should. She wondered what had happened to age him so, and if he had brought it to the clans with him.

Wintermoon saw Shadowstar studying Xander and didn't really like the expression on her face. Speaking to both of the scouts, he said, "This is Xander. He does not speak our language, but is a powerful mindspeaker. He is lost, far from his home, I'm taking him before the council of Elders. There are things they need to know and plans to be made."

Pointing to the two scouts, Wintermoon made introductions. /Xander, this is Shadowstar and Winterlight, scouts of K'Sheyna Vale. They will escort us to my home./

Xander nodded his head in greeting, but didn't take his eyes off of the two studying him. /Didn't their parents reach them that staring is rude?/

Wintermoon sighed to himself, he had a feeling this was not going to be a pleasant journey. /They do not mean any insult. As scouts, it is their duty to protect the clans. As I told you, we do not often allow strangers among us. They will not harm you./

/Yeah, fine. But can you get them to stop staring at me? They're giving me the creeps./

Wintermoon sighed again, it was going to be a long day.


Xander made the journey to K'Sheyna Vale in absolute silence. Perched uncomfortably on the narrow spine of the dyheli mare he was riding, he stared at the forest ahead, refusing to look at Wintermoon or the others. Winterlight was leading them while Shadowstar covered their back trail. Xander didn't feel comfortable with either of them. Not like he did Wintermoon. But the easy comradery they had shared seemed to have been forgotten, at least by Wintermoon.

Xander had tried once to speak to him when they first mounted up, but other than telling Xander not to use the dyheli's horns to steady himself, he'd had nothing to say. Xander had learned the hard way when to keep quiet, and he was going to do just that.

Unbeknownst to Xander, Wintermoon was under a mental assault from fore and aft. Winterlight and Shadowstar using their bondbirds to plague him with questions. Xander, of course, being the worry behind those very questions. Shadowstar was convinced the young stranger would bring them trouble, while Winterlight was willing to wait until he could hear what he had to say before making any judgments.

Wintermoon, while endlessly patient with animals and children, had never had too much of the same control around adults. He was a scout, but answered only to the elders, not Winterlight. Being the only hunter bonded to owls afforded him a small amount of special consideration. Especially when there was any hunting or tracking to be done at night. While others were as capable, their daylight loving bondbirds put them at a serious disadvantage. He was on the verge of telling the other two scouts what he thought of their endless questions when they were greeted by the outlying sentry to the Vale. Mentally sighing in relief, he urged the dyheli he was riding closer to Xander to speak with him.

/Xander, we are now inside the Vale markers. The entrance is just ahead. Once inside, stay close to me. The Elders have already gathered, we shall go them first./

Xander, his feelings still hurt, refused to look at Wintermoon. /Yeah, fine. Whatever./

Wintermoon didn't know why his young friend was acting so cold, but decided the questions could wait until they were inside.

Moments later they passed through the veil into the wonder that was K'Sheyna Vale. Xander tried not to stare, but he'd never even dreamed something like this could exist. Plants grew everywhere, flowers of every color and description releasing their perfume into the air. Several people stood waiting for them. At least Xander thought they were people. The scouts were easy to recognize, their clothing and hair enough like Wintermoon's to mark them.

But the others..., Xander had only ever seen anything like them in comic books. Xander thought this is what the high court elves of the Sidhe must have looked like in the fantasy books he'd read in high school. Long, flowing white hair and costumes in a riot of colors. And everywhere there were birds. Sitting on padded shoulders, or drifting by on wide spread wings. They were all staring at him intently. He flushed with embarrassment, not used to being the center of attention.

His unease was forgotten as soon as he slid off of the dyheli he'd been riding, physical pain taking it's place, the muscles of his legs and lower back burning. Sheer stubbornness was the only thing keeping him on his feet.

Wintermoon moved to Xander's side quickly. He knew the he had to be in pain, both from his injuries and the unaccustomed stretching of muscles caused by riding. He got a grip on Xander's arm, helping him to stand. He got a small smile in thanks, but Xander still wasn't talking to him. Wintermoon felt Xander stiffen in his hands and looked up to see Iceblade heading towards them. /Xander, that is Iceblade, leader of the mages and one of our Elders. He will not harm you./ Xander nodded in acknowledgment, but didn't take his eyes off the man approaching.

Iceblade smiled at the young man with Wintermoon, liking what he saw. Although young and obviously nervous, he met his eyes without hesitation. Those dark eyes slipped away for a second and then returned, keeping track of the others surrounding him.

Iceblade stopped before them, extending his arm to Wintermoon. When it was clasped by the familiar hand he pulled the scout into a rough embrace. "Heyla, it is good to see you again my friend. You have been gone too long." He pulled back from the hug, smiling at the sheepish look on Wintermoon's face. "A message would have been appreciated occasionally, but no matter. You are here now. And brought a friend with you I see." Iceblade raised a brow in Xander's direction, waiting for an introduction.

"This is Xander. I met him last night. Actually, he saved Corwith and myself from 'vampires' he had followed through a gate. He does not speak our language, or the trade tongue, but can mindspeak."

"An interesting tale, one I'm sure all would like to hear. Come, the Elders are waiting."

Leading them through the Vale to the Elders waiting at the Heartstone, Iceblade's mind was racing. They had all felt the gate go up, something none of them had the power to do any longer. And this young stranger had no power, he could not have put up the gate. The 'vampires' perhaps? Could they be mages? Iceblade took a deep breath, and forced his mind to clear. Speculating got him nowhere, he would wait until the questions could be asked.


Xander sat next to Wintermoon in front of what he called a Heartstone. They were surrounded by what appeared to be the entire population of K'Sheyna Vale. Xander had the feeling that the next few hours were not going to be a whole lot of fun.

Iceblade stood in front of the assembly and waited for silence. Once the murmurs had died down, he explained their reasons for the gathering.

"Today, Wintermoon has brought before us a stranger. One whose tale has bearing on the safety of our Vale. He does not speak our tongue, so I would ask you to hold your questions until the tale is told." Several nodded while the rest remained silent.

Wintermoon asked Xander to begin, he would translate for the others.

/Begin where?/

/How did you come to be in the place where you found the gate?/

So Xander told him about Adam and the Initiative. And how the Slayer had defeated him with a little help from her friends. It took several minutes for Xander to explain what the Slayer was and even longer to explain Adam, but Wintermoon finally understood enough to tell the others.

/We had almost made it out when a demon opened the portal to escape. Lightning started coming out of the opening, but a bunch of vamps made it though. Giles told us that the only way to close the portal was for the one who had opened it to go through. But then the demon got hit by the lightning. There wasn't a lot left of him. Buffy was going to bring his remains through, but she's too important to lose. So I grabbed the demon's head and ran through the portal. You know what happened after that./

Wintermoon passed on all that Xander had told him. The clearing erupted with shouted questions. It took Iceblade several minutes to restore order. Iceblade and the other Elders conferred and then Iceblade came to sit in front of Xander. "Wintermoon, we think it would be better if I could speak to Xander directly. There are many questions and we fear what will be lost in the translation. Could you explain this to him?"

"I will try." /Xander, Iceblade thinks it would be better if he could speak to you directly. Many things do not translate well./

/I don't know. Remember what happened the first time you tried to talk to me? I don't want to hurt him./

/This will not be the same. Iceblade is an experienced mage and a powerful mindspeaker. He will not be overwhelmed. He will link directly to your mind, and see your memories for himself. Do not worry, he will not seek things of a personal nature./

/Uh uh. No way. I'm not going to let a complete stranger loose in my head. There's already too many things running around in there. Couldn't you do it?/

/I am sorry Xander, but I do not have the ability. I give you my word, he will not harm you./

/I'm more worried about me hurting him. No, they have to find another way./

Wintermoon looked at Iceblade, "He is not comfortable with the idea and will not allow a stranger to go through his mind in such a manner."

One of the younger mages, Autumnwing, had been silent until now, but could no longer hold his tongue. "What does he fear we will find Wintermoon? Perhaps he is working with the creatures and is simply here seeking a way to breech our defenses."

Angry murmuring could be heard throughout the clearing. Most agreeing with the mage. Xander may not have understood the words, but he understood the tone of them well enough.

/What did he say about me Wintermoon?/ /He wonders if you are perhaps working with those creatures./

Xander, tired and hungry, had finally had enough of this interrogation. His anger allowed him the strength to broadcast his mindspeech so all could hear.

/You think I'm working with the vamps? How stupid are you? You want to know what's in my mind? Fine. Go ahead and look, but if what you find bites you in the ass don't come crying to me. I tried to warn you./

Autumnwing was more certain than ever that the young man had something to hide. His bravado merely a cover for the destruction of his plans. He crossed to him and laying one hand on his head, dropped his shields. With a thought he set up a reflection so all could bear witness to what he might find.

Several gasped in horror. The descriptions of the events doing little to prepare them for the reality. Autumnwing dug deeper and deeper, determined that he was right. He knew the stranger was hiding something. Unfortunately, he found it.

They saw the solder, residing in the place where the conscious and unconscious mind meet. He tried to stop Autumnwing from proceeding, but his skills on the battlefield were no match for the mage.

Behind him, they saw darkness, ringed in steel. Something was hidden inside that cage, Autumnwing let it loose.

There were no hidden plans or conspiracies, but a beast. Fangs and claws, driven by a terrible hunger. They witnessed the possession and the young man's fight to control it. They also saw the lie. The beast had never left him, it was comfortable where it was and could not be driven out. So he caged it. Trapped it in a steel cage and covered it in darkness so it could not find it's way free. Until Autumnwing broke down the barriers.

Xander stumbled away from the mages and Wintermoon. He had to get out of there before he completely lost control.

Wintermoon tried to reach his friend but Iceblade held him back.

/Wintermoon, stay back. I don't know how long I can control it. I have to get out of here before I hurt somebody./ Xander felt the hyena ripping through his mind, trying to take over. He fell to his knees, screaming in pain. His eyes went completely black and his mouth twisted into a snarl. Wintermoon could not believe his eyes. Then, for a second, his friend looked up at him, /Wintermoon, you can't let me hurt anyone. Promise me./

/What would you have me do?/

/Kill me./ All the humanity in Xander's eyes faded away. Wintermoon drew his hunting knife, hating what he had to go.

Iceblade grabbed Wintermoon's shoulder and leaned forward to whisper in his ear. "Hold him off while we try to contain him." Wintermoon nodded his understanding, hope rising in his chest. He didn't want to repay the debt he owed for his life by ending Xander's.

Xander/Hyena kept his eyes on the man before him, dismissing the others as prey, not threat. He crouched down, preparing to attack at the first opportunity.

Wintermoon slowly moved closer, keeping Xander's attention off of the mages. He was unprepared for the strength and speed of Xander's attack. He lost his grip on his knife as they rolled on the ground. It took all of his considerable skill to keep Xander's teeth from his throat.

Wintermoon drove one knee into Xander's ribs, knocking him away. Xander/Hyena rolled with the blow, ending up on his hands and knees. He lunged forward before the threat could regain his feet.

A mage blast struck him in the chest, pushing him back down. He rolled sideways and leaped up at this new threat. His hands landed on the woman's shoulders and he snarled into her face. She smiled at him but all he could see were the stars in her eyes.

Wintermoon used the seconds respite the mage blast afforded him to grab his knife out of the dust. He glanced at the mage at his side expecting to see Iceblade. He staggered back a step in shock when he realized the Star-Eyed stood beside him. He watched as Xander leapt at her, snarling. He saw the smile on her ageless face and felt the young man's whimper in his head when he collapsed.

Kal'enel kept a hold on her newest warrior as he fell, easing him to the ground. She sat in the dust with his head in her lap, idly brushing her hand through his hair. She looked up at Wintermoon as he knelt beside them. Seeing the worry on his face she spoke softly. "Did you think I would harm him after I went to the trouble to bring him here?"

Wintermoon stiffened in shock at her words. "Your pardon, Star-Eyed, it is not my place to question you. But please, why did you open the gate? Many evil creatures came through with him."

She sighed, it was time to tell them the truth. "Gather around my people, for I have a tale to tell."

"I did not open the gate, I merely redirected it's destination. Many things have changed, and we must change with them. Or we will die. The changes wrought upon the land by the Mage Storms are much more sever than you know. There are many more changed creatures than you realize. Most of them never seen on this world before. You have neither the skills or knowledge to fight them. Even I would find them a test for my strength. And they must be fought or they will take over the land."

She looked terribly sad for a moment, and cupped her hand around Xander's cheek, healing the bruise that marred it. "This young one, he has fought these creatures for years on his own world. He has the knowledge and the skills we need. We will aid him in what ever way that we can."

Iceblade had to ask, "Star-Eyed, could not one of our people be trained? Why an outsider?"

There was no anger at his presumption in her voice, "Because he is not of the people, he can serve all of the people. The Karsites, the Valdemarians, and our own people. All will give him aid, but will not interfere with what he must do."

Autumnwing found the nerve to ask about the beast. "What of the beast that possesses him?"

Kal'enel smiled, "It seeks only to protect, but he fights it's influence. I believe I can merge the two so the conflict is gone between them. The other, the warrior, he causes many problems. His knowledge we need, but his attitude is causing the beast pain, and so it lashes out. But not to worry, I know how to handle them."

Xander stirred slightly, he was beginning to awaken. Kal'enel watched carefully, she had caged the beast, but needed to talk to Xander without it's interference. The first few moments should tell if the cage in his mind could withstand it's fury.

Xander yawned and stretched, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He was suddenly wide awake when his pillow moved unexpectedly. He found himself surrounded by Hawkbrothers, one of them, a woman, was sitting in front of him. He'd obviously been using her as his pillow. He started to apologize, but then he got a good look at her eyes.

He scrambled back and got to his feet. Wintermoon came to him and placed one calloused hand on his shoulder. /Xander, this is the Star-Eyed, she is our Goddess./

Xander swallowed hard, /I've been using a 'Goddess' for a pillow? Oh shit, I'm dead./

Kal'enel hid a smile, the comic look of shock on the young man's face mirroring his thoughts exactly. /Do not be afraid young Xander. I in fact did not mind being used so./ Her face suddenly grew serious, /But I do have a boon to ask of you./

Xander felt his heart sink, he knew he wasn't going to like this. /Yeah, um, what did you want?/

/Merely to speak with you. There are many things we need to discuss. Not the least of which, how you came to be among us./

Xander shrugged, /I'll tell you what I know, but it isn't a lot./

/It is more what I need to tell you, young one. If it pleases you, could we go apart from this place? Much of this is private, and you may not want the others to know of it yet./

Xander nodded, /But, could Wintermoon come? He's already looked in my mind, I don't think there's anything you could say that would shock him./ Xander decided to tell her the rest of it, /And, uh, no insult intended, but every time a beautiful woman wants to talk to me alone, she usually ends of trying to have me for lunch or something./

Kal'enel nodded, the compliment not lost upon her. /Of course, Xander. He too has a part to play in this. Come, let us go./

She led the two men out of the clearing and into the shaded gloom of the darkening Vale.


They had only walked for a few minutes when Kal'enel stopped beside a small stream. She sat on the mossy bank and gestured for them to join her.

Xander plucked nervously at a small hole in the knee of his jeans. /So..., um, what did you want to tell me?/

/First, what has Wintermoon told you of our troubles here?/

/He told me about the Mage Storms and the change children, if that's what you mean./

Kal'enel nodded, /Yes, that exactly. But the problem is far greater than he knows. Many people have become what you would call demons. And not just here in the Pelagiris, but scattered all across the land./

Xander was quick to volunteer, no one should have to live with demons, or die because of them. /I'll help you all I can, but I'm not really a very good fighter. Maybe it would have been better if Buffy had come through instead of me./

Kal'enel smiled, but still felt sadness at the young man's opinion of himself. /You are stronger than you know, and her destiny is there. You have the skills and the knowledge we need to fight back the darkness. That is why I brought you here./

/Whoa, 'you' brought me here? I thought the demon opened the gate?/

/The demon did open the gate, I merely changed it's destination./

/Do I want to know where I would have ended up?/ Kal'enel shook her head solemnly. /Didn't think so. So, why did you choose me? I'm not really a very good fighter, and you're a Goddess. Couldn't you take care of the demons yourself? Or at least tell you people how to kill them?/

/They are many rules that we Gods must follow. I can only protect my people, those who follow a different God or none at all would be helpless./ Kal'enel leaned forward earnestly. /But you Xander, you are not of this world and owe no allegiance to any one God or king. You would be able to serve 'all' people. And for the same reason, myself and the other Gods would be able to aid you more directly than one of our worshipers. There is also the matter of your special gifts./

Xander was now totally confused. /What gifts? I don't have any gifts./

Kal'enel smiled slyly, /Oh, but you do. You have the skills and knowledge granted you from your two guardians. The beast can allow you the ability to see in the darkest night, to track the smallest of signs with ease. The warrior's knowledge of weapons and strategy can prove to be invaluable. We just need to give you access to their gifts./

/Okay, that could help. But there are a lot of different kinds of demons. And what kills one usually just pisses another off. I don't have any of Gile's books, and since you've never had this problem before, I don't think you'd have any that would help either./

/You do not need those books. You already have all the knowledge you could ever need. Every word you've ever read, or fact you have learned concerning demons and their ilk, is still residing in your mind. You need merely recall them./

Xander scratched his head, trying to hide the embarrassed blush staining his cheeks. /Yeah, well, my recall isn't that good. Any of my teachers would be more than happy to tell you that./

/I think you will find I am a much better teacher than those you knew before./ Kal'enel rose to her feet, and helped Xander to his. /But for now, I have given you much to consider. You must be hungered and in the need of sleep. Rest your body for now and allow your thoughts to do the same. I will return on the morrow. But until then, a small gift from me./

She laid her hands on his head and he felt a wave of dizziness pass over him. When it was gone he realized there were new words floating in his mind. He closed his eyes for a moment to let them sort themselves out. He opened his eyes and smiled at her in thanks. "Thanks Kal'enel, all that 'mindspeech' was giving me a headache."

She smiled at the sound of his voice. Deep and soft. And so very young. "You are welcome young Xander. I shall see you with the dawn."

Xander turned to Wintermoon, "Dawn? Like when the sun comes up?"

Wintermoon turned curious eyes to his young companion, "Yes, dawn is when the sun arises. Why?"

Xander sighed, "Because I am so 'not' a morning person."


Wintermoon led Xander to the Vale's community kitchen. There was always food of some sort left out for those who did not care to or were unable to cook for themselves.

They loaded up large bowls with a wide variety of items and sat down to eat. Wintermoon was slightly amazed at the sheer amount of food Xander managed to put away but refrained from teasing him. Xander's ego was fragile at best, even lighthearted teasing could wound him.

Several other scouts came in searching for food after they finished their patrols. Wintermoon spotted several people he hadn't seen in weeks. "Xander, I need to speak with some of the other scouts. They may have information we will find useful. Will you be all right alone for a time? I will not be far."

Xander paused eating long enough to answer, "Sure, go ahead. This food is really good, can I go get seconds?"

"Of course. Please eat your fill. I shall return shortly." Wintermoon went to renew several old acquiantences while Xander made serious inroads in his dinner.

Midway through his second helping, he felt eyes staring at him. Glancing up from under long lashes, he was surprised to see a little girl peeking at him from behind a pillar. He smiled at her and went back to his meal. When he looked back up she had moved several feet closer.

He kept a close eye on her while appearing to be involved with his meal. Her appearance bothered him. Her clothes were ragged and stained, and she was too thin. He guessed she was 5 or 6, too young to be wandering around on her own. No matter how safe the Vale was. She finally made it to the edge of his table. He saw her looking at one of the cookies resting next to his plate and offered it to her.

She took it shyly and moved a step back to eat it. Before long she was back, but this time she was staring at Xander and not at his food. We wiped his mouth on his sleeve and smiled at her. "Hi, I'm Xander. What's your name?"


Xander's brows drew down and he replied with a question. /Ghost?/

The little girl's eyes grew wide and she stepped up until she was leaning on Xander's leg. /Yes, Ghost. You can 'hear' me?/

Xander shrugged, /Yeah, no problem. So why is your name Ghost?/

/Because I float around and no one can hear me. They say I'm like a little ghost./

/Oh. Where are your parents?/

/They died. The monsters got them, and they took my voice. I can only speak in my head now./

/I'm sorry about your parents, but I'm sure some of the other people here can hear you. They hear me okay and I just learned how to mindspeak yesterday./

/I tried when they found me, I can hear them, with my ears too. They just can't hear me. Can I stay with you a while?/

Xander held out his hands and she allowed him to pick her up and sit her on his lap. He fed her most of the rest of his dinner while they talked.

Both were unaware of the fact that several others had gathered in the dining hall when word had spread that the little Ghost had made a new friend. They watched in disbelief as the child they had tried to reach for so long took to the outsider and he to her.

When Wintermoon finally returned Ghost was comfortably leaning back against Xander's chest as if she had known him all her life. Wintermoon spoke quietly, not wanting to disturb the child. "Xander, if you will come with me I shall show you were you may sleep. Kal'enel will be waiting at dawn."

The mention of sleep suddenly made Xander very tired. "Yeah, that would be good. I'm beat."

/Ghost, I need to go to bed now. Where do you sleep?/

/Here sometimes, or under a bush in the Vale. Are you really going to see the Star-Eyed tomorrow?/

/Yes. She brought me here so I could fight the monsters. We have lots of monsters where I'm from and she thought I would be able to help./ Xander saw no reason to hide the truth from the little girl. She already knew first hand what he was talking about.

/Will you kill them all?/ she thought sleepily.

Xander hugged the little girl closer. /I'm sure going to try./


Xander picked up Ghost and followed Wintermoon to the guest sleeping quarters. He tried to put Ghost down in the room next to his, but she wouldn't release the death grip she had around his neck. /Want to stay with you./

/Okay honey, calm down. You can stay with me./ "Thanks Wintermoon, guess I'm gonna stay in here with her. She doesn't want me to leave."

Wintermoon smiled at the pair. "It is good she trusts you. We found her three moons ago, her parents had been killed, we aren't sure by what. The strongest of our mindspeakers tried to reach her, but her mind is blocked."

"I don't have any trouble hearing her. She says her name is Ghost and that she lost her voice when 'monsters' killed her parents. Do you think they were attacked by change children?"

"It is very possible. Can she tell you what the monsters looked like?"

"I'll ask." /Ghost, can you tell me what the monsters looked like?/

/They looked like men at first. But then their faces changed and their teeth got very long and pointed. My mother pushed me out the window and I hid in the rocks. They found me, but they couldn't reach me. They left before the sun came up. I went home but Momma and Daddy were dead. The others came that same day and brought me here./

Xander brushed the tangled hair off her face and tucked the blankets in around her. /Go to sleep, Ghost. I won't go anywhere, I promise. Want to come with me in the morning to see Kal'enel?/

Ghost nodded shyly and drifted off to sleep. Xander turned to Wintermoon to tell him what he had learned. "It sounds like her family was killed by vampires. Guess the ones I followed through the gate weren't the first ones here after all. You'd better tell your friends about this. Tell them to always travel in pairs if they have to be outside the Vale after dark. And they should start carrying stakes like the ones I have in my bag. They have to put the stake in the vampire's heart, or cut off it's head. If they're really good shots, try to take them out with arrows. The farther away you can kill a vamp the better."

"I shall do as you say Xander. Now you should get some sleep. I will come for you before dawn to take you to the bathing pools. You will have time to bathe and break your fast before we met the Star-Eyed."

"Sounds good. I guess I am kinda grungy. Can I borrow some clothes? These are the only ones I have with me."

"Mine should come close to fitting, we are almost of a size. Later we shall see about getting some new ones made for you. You will not feel like such an outsider if you look like the rest of us."

"Thanks Wintermoon, for everything. I'm glad you were the one I ran into when I came through the gate." The last was broken by a huge yawn, the day's events finally catching up with him.

"You are very welcome Xander, now try to sleep." Wintermoon left to find the scout leaders to pass along Xander's advice while Xander settled down next to Ghost.

He tossed and turned, being careful not to disturb the little girl sleeping so peacefully beside him. He was about to give up the hope for some sleep when Wintermoon returned to check on them before he retired.

"Heyla, Xander, you should be sleeping."

"I know, I just can't get my brain to shut up long enough."

Wintermoon sat at the head of the bed and stroked his hand through Xander's hair. "Rest, I shall keep watch." Xander's breath slowed and deepened, he feel asleep thinking how nice that hand felt. He slept soundly throughout the rest of the night while Wintermoon kept his silent vigil.

At an hour before dawn, Wintermoon roused the two amidst much grumbling and rubbing of sleep filled eyes. Wintermoon took them to the bathing pools, allowing Xander to go in alone while he and Ghost went to round up some food and clean clothes. Ghost didn't want to leave Xander, but he finally managed to convince her that he wouldn't be comfortable undressing with them there.

They took their time, allowing Xander his privacy, and returned to find him wrapped in a towel, sleeping beside the water's edge. Ghost giggled and splashed water at him, making him sputter and cough. He caught her laughing, /Just wait, little girl. I'll get even later./ Ghost just laughed harder. Neither man made issue of the fact she could laugh out loud. They decided she would talk when she was ready and not before.

Xander went behind a bush to change into the clothes Wintermoon had brought for him. Incredibly soft doe skin pants and a laced up tunic over a cotton shirt. They fit like they had been made for him. He joined the others and modeled for them. "Well, what do you think?" Ghost smiled and clapped her hands, /You look very nice Xander. Much better than you did before./

/Thanks, I think./ "Well Wintermoon, how do I look? Good enough to meet with a Goddess?"

Wintermoon was having a hard time hiding his reaction to Xander's altered appearance. He swallowed hard and managed to reply. "You look very well Xander. I'm sure Kal'enel will be impressed." All the while the primitive part of his brain was telling him that Xander looked good enough to eat, wearing his clothes. He choked down the rest of his own meal while Xander and Ghost ate their own.

The sun was just breaking over the trees when they met Kal'enel in the clearing. She looked quizzically at the little girl and raised a brow in question. Xander glanced down at the tiny hand clutching his so trustingly and made his decision.

He looked Kal'enel in the eye, all doubts gone. "Let's do it."

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