The grand house located in Trillium's high-class residential district no longer displayed the "SOLD" sign on its front lawn. From the outside, the dwelling was equally innocuous as its neighbors and exuded nothing that would cause it to be the object of attention to a casual passerby. Inside, however, it painted a different picture.
As the pale fingers of an early sunrise crept over the horizon, a myriad of busy vampires tackled the business of general housekeeping. Some diligently polished furniture while others wielded brooms with an energetic ferocity. A few, who had apparently not been assigned any menial chores that morning, had gathered in one of the larger rooms, performing Tai Chi in synchronicity. Further along the expansive hallway, still more of the house's inhabitants inventoried the contents of wooden crates and checked supply lists. In virtually every area, the walls were peppered with charts and contoured maps, together with a smattering of aerial surveillance photographs.
From a landing overlooking the foyer, a tall and somewhat rangy vampire watched the hubbub below for a moment before descending the staircase. His uniform was essentially the same as that of the workers, except for a ribbon of slim gold braid decorating the lapels and cuffs of his jacket. As he walked the halls, the individuals he passed respectfully deferred to his presence. He paid them little mind as he moved through their ranks with the stealthy grace of a panther, but the dark, penetrating eyes missed nothing.
Arriving at a room toward the rear of the main floor, he stopped at the open door and looked inside. Here, the age of modern technology had all but erased the sedate elegance exhibited by the rest of the house. Several monitors had been connected to a vast variety of systems and server racks littered the area. In the center of this computer haven, tapping expertly at a keyboard balanced on her knees, sat one lone female. She seemed young and almost pixie-like in an eccentric way, perched cross-legged upon a stool with her dark brown hair layered close to her head as though it were a skullcap. The man's formality waned a little as he watched her at work. Intent on the task before her, the girl didn't look up as he entered, but it was evident she was well aware of his approach.
"Oringo," she greeted cordially. "Hey. Been a while. Just get in?"
"Last night," he told her crisply, legs astride and hands clasped behind his back. "I spent some time acquainting myself to our new home."
The girl's fingers flew over the keys as she nodded her approval. "Mm, good idea. Did you get German for dinner? I hear it's good. Little salty for my tastes, but ..." She shrugged her slim shoulders.
"Local, I think," responded Oringo. "Filling, but not satisfying." An expression of disappointment clouded his prominently-etched features. "It hardly fought back."
The girl chuckled. "See, that's how I like it best."
Through disapproving eyes, set in a strong face that wore its undiluted African heritage with much pride, Oringo regarded the girl soberly. "All that fast food isn't good for you. Besides, the hunt is half the fun."
"I have simple tastes," she returned nonchalantly. "I'll just keep the half where it tastes good."
Oringo shook his head in defeat. "So Oracle, what ar—"
"It's not 'Oracle' any more," came the swift rebuttal. "It's 'Keres' now."
Confused, Oringo ran a hand over his hair, cropped and obviously utilitarian in style. "What?"
"My name," she clarified. "I changed it to Keres. From the Greeks, eh?" Her blue eyes sparkled. "Bloodsuckers, personification of death, that whole thing?"
"But you just changed your name to Oracle last year," Oringo pointed out with a frown of frustration.
"I know, I know," affirmed Keres, "but it didn't really sit right. It's eternity. You gotta have just the right name." She tossed a chagrined look in Oringo's direction. "Plus, I sort of stole it from Batman. The Matrix did too," she hastened to point out, "so—"
Oringo's lips twitched into something of a sneer. "Louise." The girl visibly grimaced at the considerably less impressive name. "This conversation grows banal." His tone was clipped and verging on aggravation.
Displaying a flicker of apprehension at his stern reprimand, Keres quickly returned to her project and wisely allowed the issue to drop.
Oringo moved closer. "What are you working on?" The question was asked with overt calm.
Keres' apprehension turned to fear.
"Just, you know ... assignments," she muttered, head bent over the keyboard.
The huge sigh she received in response made it clear that Oringo's patience had been stretched to the limit. "Keres," he began, speaking her name with exaggerated emphasis as though conveying a concerted attempt to be reasonable, "your value to this campaign is unquestionable. Your ability with these machines is truly brilliant. And, in truth, I rather like you." He paused briefly before delivering his warning. "Don't make me fickle."
"It's for her!" the girl blurted in a miserable rush of explanation. "She has me trying to hack into the Watcher's Council systems!"
Oringo seemed genuinely stunned and concerned by the announcement. "What? Is she trying to bring the Slayers on our heads? What reason did she give?"
In a large upstairs room, its many windows stripped of any form of drape or curtain, a figure with eyes lightly closed sat in the depths of meditation, heedless of the sunlit shafts that glimmered upon the floor. She had abandoned her red cloak for a traditional kimono of saffron silk and her features were as still as a statue. Adorning the walls were even more maps and charts similar to those found throughout the house, including a zodiac wheel of elaborate design and a celestial graph of the heavens. The most impressive of these ornamentations, however, was an immense map of the United States. A heavily-outlined triangle connected three locations, all in the topmost northeast quadrant. The center of this area had been clearly designated with a marking that resembled the sun being obliterated by the moon. A smaller map of Trillium was also present. It too exhibited assorted markings, but presented no apparent pattern.
Keres' voice was faint and muffled, but still somehow audible. "She didn't. But it's not too hard to figure out."
As it journeyed across the sky, the sun intensified through the upstairs windows and began to snake its way toward the saffron-clad figure. Still, the girl appeared oblivious to its path. From below, the sounds of gainful employment grew louder and threatened to shatter the serenity, but it was an empty threat. Unmoving and tranquil, the girl remained focused in her contemplation.
Alone in his office, Giles had decided it was time to reorganize. He stood before a shelf containing a selection of personal items, including a framed photograph of Buffy, Willow and Xander. He moved the picture to one side and out of the way, filling the now empty space with a small collection of reference books.