Disclaimers in Part One Continued in Part Two, Part Three , Part Four, Part Five, Part Six , Part Seven, Part Eight
and Part Nine
“Now they’re just dead …”
Buffy whirled, but the owner of the voice skittered away into the shadows, leaving only an echo of bitter laughter behind. She could have given chase, but urgency called her away; there was something she needed to do, someone she needed to find – and somehow she knew she was running out of time. She tightened her grip on the dagger and went on walking, stepping over the corpses that littered her path. Somewhere up ahead could see a patch of light; the angled impact of the moon, shining through an upper window and painting shades of tined grey across the floor.
A pack of hunched and snarling figures were gathered in that lunar spotlight, slender creatures wrapping in animal skins and painted with arcane symbols that swirled across gleaming flesh. They were crouching around one of the corpses, ripping the dried flesh from its bones and squabbling over their trophies, grabbing and snapping and then darting away to chew down on a stolen prize.
“Death is their gift,” the voice mocked again, a sardonic edge to its almost familiar tones. “Instinct and hunger, filled with primal rage … no-one to guide them, no-one to care …”
Buffy stabbed at the source of the noise, but the darkness simply swirled away, retreating from the silver gleam of her blade.
“How are the mighty fallen. How base the nature of the beast. What is a Slayer without her Watcher – when he is just the savour for their feast?”
She stabbed again, angrily, cutting through shadow and smoke – but the voice slipped away again, leaving nothing but laughter in the dark.
“This is wrong,” she protested, and found herself the focus of a whole slew of gleaming eyes, the painted Slayers staring at her with desperate, hungry eyes.
“Feed us,” they demanded, a hiss of need and pain. “Lead us. Join us …”
Buffy shivered, backing away before their slow creeping advance. Just beyond them there was a stair case – a sweeping, elegant rise of marble that rose out of the dark and twisted and turned almost like a living thing. That was where she needed to go. “I’m not a beast,” she declared, tightening her grip on the dagger. “And my Watcher still has blood in his veins …”
She took a run and a leap, twisting over the heads of the painted Slayers who yammered and reached up to snatch at her as she passed. Fingers marked her pants, and tore at her shirt, but she landed on her feet and went on running, eluding their grasping hands to race up the marble stair case, two steps at a time.
Xander was waiting for her on the first landing, rising from a casual lean against the balustrade to put out a hand and stop her before she plunged into the gap between the angled turn and the next rise. “Easy, there, Buff,” he grinned, “Long way down if miss your step.”
The hole was deep. Hellmouth deep. Vapour drifted out of it, ice cold and clammy.
“Thanks,” she smiled, already trying to judge if she could jump the distance. “I gotta … “
“I know.” His grin widened. “Been waiting for you to figure it out. Took you long enough. But I think there’s still time. I’m working on the repairs, you know? Fixing things. Take the bridge. I built it for you.”
She looked, and found there was a narrow walkway running from one side of the gap to the other; it a fragile looking thing, little more than a couple of planks and a support rope – but Xander had built it. She knew it would be sturdy.
“Thanks,” she said again, giving him a quick hug before setting off at a run. “The Slayers are right behind me. Don’t let them eat you up!”
“I won’t,” he called after her. “Not if you find what you’re looking for …”
She reached the other side of the bridge and went on running, up the steps and then onto the second landing. Ahead of her the stairs were swallowed by an inky darkness, ominous and menacing. Willow was there, sitting cross legged in mid-air, her eyes filled with light and streaks of white dancing through her hair. A feral Kennedy crouched beneath her, draped and painted like the Slayers on the floor below.
“You have to hurry,” the witch said softly, looking through her, not at her. “There is still time, but not even I can hold back the future forever. There has to be a balance, or everything will fall. I woke so many – but only to ignorance. They need the light of knowledge to show them the way.”
“Is the light failing?” Buffy asked, fear clutching at her, tightening round her heart.
“Not yet. And it won’t – not if you hurry. Yours is the hand that carries the torch. Find the fire.”
Willow’s hand curved out in a dramatic gesture; a globe of light flew from her fingers and pierced the darkness above the steps. It landed with a soft ringing sound and then began to bounce – upwards, a pool of illumination moving through the dark.
“Helps to have a Key,” Dawn grinned, waving her through. “I don’t think he wanted to lock you out, you know? You made it really hard for him.”
“I know.” She paused to hug her sister then spun away, knowing she didn’t have much time left. “Thanks.”
Up and up Buffy ran, rising out of the dark until she arrived, breathless and dizzy in front of a pair of huge wooden doors, barred and bolted as if to keep in some hideous beast.
“You won’t like what you find in there,” the voice told her scornfully. “It’s too late, anyway. You’ll never find him.”
“You’re wrong.” She didn’t need to look to know him now; Caleb was leaning against a nearby pillar, his arms folded and a look of arrogant confidence painting his face.
“Am I? You left him behind, didn’t you? Left him to be swallowed up by the chains and the dust like all the rest. Why come back looking for him now?”
She gave him a measured look. “Because,” she said, stamping her foot against the weight of the doors. “He needs me.” Another stamp, harder than before. “ Because,” stamp, “I need him.” Stamp. “And together.” Stamp. “We.” Stamp. “Save.” Stamp. “The world.”
The doors burst open in a shatter of splinters, their weight swinging back to slam against unseen walls. Beyond them lay a paper strewn office, files and books scattered across every surface and stacked high from floor to ceiling. In the middle of it all was an old and deeply scarred desk, piled high with ledgers and old fashioned journals. Blood oozed out from the pages to pool across the surface of the desk and drip, thickly, into the pile of the carpet below.
Demons were lurking among the paper work, distorted figures with wings and claws and horns, some stuffing filing cabinets, some opening them to randomly strew their contents across the room.
Behind the desk was a window – one that looked out on the First Slayer’s desert. And seated at the desk was one of the Shadowmen, carefully using a large quill pen to scribe scratchy words into an open journal.
“Name,” he demanded sharply. Buffy walked forward to stand in front of him, frowning at the gory display.
“Buffy Summers,” she said. The Shadowman stared at her for a moment, then reached to drag a different journal from the pile.
“Living or dead?”
“Living.” The scythe was in a display next to the window. Blood tainted its blade.
She was getting a sharp look. “You’re sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. I was dead. But I got better.”
“Nobody gets better.”
He stared at her a moment longer, then sighed and wrote a line in the new journal. Halfway through his pen spluttered and – without even looking round – his hand darted about and jabbed the nib into what looked like the arm of a demon, sitting on the floor on the other side of the desk. The demon grunted. The quill came back with fresh blood on the nib and the Shadowman completed his line with a flourish.
“Reason for petition?”
“I’m looking for my Watcher.”
She got another hard stare.
“They’re all dead.”
“Slayers are being reassigned,” he said, his pen hovering over the page. Blood slowly dripped down and blobbed onto the paper. “You could ask for anything. Money. Influence. More power.”
“I don’t want any of those things. I just want my Watcher.”
He snorted and wrote something else down. Once again the ‘ink’ ran out halfway across the paper and he refilled it with another savage jab. This time the demon’s grunt held a note of pain.
“What are you doing?” Buffy asked, trying to decipher the bloodstained letters that he was scrawling across the page.
“Everything has to be recorded. In triplicate. Then it has to be signed. Authorised. Counter signed. Checked for accuracy. Reviewed. Then you might get your case heard. If you’re lucky.”
“This is ridiculous.” She reached out and swept the desk clear of books and paper, sending the piles crashing to the floor. “I don’t want my case heard. I’m just here to find my Watcher. So where is he?”
“This is most irregular,” the Shadowman protested. “The Watchers are all dead – dead or reallocated in the system. We are restoring the order. Recreating the purity of the Slayer line …”
Buffy leapt up and over the desk, kicking out with both feet so that the dark skinned figure went flying. He crashed through the window and onto the sand of the desert far below. The sound of shattering glass filled the room as her hand slammed down onto the case containing the scythe; she grabbed and lifted, spinning round to take on which ever demon attacked her first.
“Hey,” Buffy said, hunkering down in front of it and reaching to tip its head up so it could look at her. “I don’t suppose you know where my Watcher is ..?”
She tailed off. Familiar eyes were staring at her in abject misery, his equally familiar features twisted into the distorted visage of the Fyarl.
Buffy screamed. She put back her head and she howled with rage. With one hand she slashed down with the scythe, parting steel as if it were butter. With the other, she lunged forward, slashing out with the dagger, scoring through hardened hide so that the demon lifted its head to howl with pain.
Weapons clattered away on either side. She reached in with her bare hands, clawing her fingers so she could pull away the Fyarl skin, revealing smoother flesh beneath. Piece by piece, ripping her own fingers to bloody shreds, she tore the demon away from the man, stripping him back to humanity until he fell, naked and shivering, into her welcoming arms …
Continued in Part Eleven