managed to get back to this ... many apologies for taking so long!)
He was nowhere and everywhere,
his senses dancing through infinity and his self-awareness written in vast distances, endless spaces and eternal depths. There was no up and no down, no heat or cold, no sound or silence, no light or dark – just existence, surrounding him, possessing him, making him one with everything and somehow still defining himself as himself. He was centered, motionless – yet moving at incomprehensible speed, eternity streaming away in every direction, and forever rushing in from every side. He was flying, even as he fell. He was spinning, and yet was still. Was awake and dreaming: ripped into every eon of time, yet held – suspended – in the space between one heartbeat and the next.
It was a heady experience. For a long moment – although that no more than a microsecond in the pulse of infinity – he was lost in the intoxication of eternity, immersed in an ocean of brilliant sensation, drowning in past, present and future – and then the moment passed, and his mind instinctively began to seek points of reference, searching for a point of anchorage in the midst of this seething sea of sense and sensation.
It took a while to focus; internal and external awareness vied for attention, offering knowledge, both of himself, and of the universe that was himself. The centre of his being sang to him with siren voices, begging him to look deeper, calling on him to reach nirvana at the very heart of his soul … but there were other voices calling on him too – the voice of duty, the demands of conscience, the assertions of faith and the certainties of love. He accepted inner revelation and turned his attentions outward, seeking a different kind of centre; the brilliance of those souls to whom his life had been given, and for whom his heart had chosen to beat. His perceptions slowly focused on a single spark of light. A spark that – given close attention – contained the entire universe, an intricate pattern of stars and silences, woven like beads on an infinite loop of filament. And within that
lay a different universe altogether, a universe of infinite reaches and immeasurable power. The two were intricately linked, one formed from the other, yet held separate from it by a construction of thought, intent and belief. In one, the tides of eternity would have swept him away, no more than a whisper in infinity.
In the other, he was still Rupert Giles. Watcher. Warrior. Force Adept.
And with that thought, he was there …
“The guests are starting to get restless.”
Xander glanced into the main body of the room. Robson and some of the other Watchers had organised the guests into makeshift work teams – a third on watch, a third resting, and the remainder working on strengthening their makeshift barriers. There’d been remarkably few injuries from that first furious and flurried attack – testament to the skills and reflexes of Slayers and Jedi Watchers alike – but there was no guarantee they could continue to hold off a determined assault. Ethan might
have been joking with that last Slayer standing
crack, but Xander doubted it. After all, they were already one man down …
“Let them,” he decided. “Robson and the girls can handle it. We
have a chaos mage to catch.”
Willow frowned thoughtfully. “And then what?” she asked. “It I had time, I could probably figure this out. Work out which thread does what, which one to pull, which ones to unravel. But we don’t have time. It’s less than an hour ‘til midnight, and I don’t know where to start.”
Out in the atrium Buffy was fencing with Robin, dancing with him, a look of furious concentration on her face. She was learning the weapon the way she’d always learnt to use a weapon – with determined speed and enviable ability. She was also learning to use it – not the way a Jedi, would, anchored in the balance of the force –but as a Slayer, the sabre merely acting as an extension of her reach and will, driven by the kind of instincts a Jedi would never possess.
“Ethan had that – crystal thing,” Xander recalled, watching his friend as she flipped and twisted, testing Robin’s Jedi skills with lighting moves.. “I’m guessing it’s some kind of key. A way outta here. And you know what I think?”
“I think the bastard meant to twist Giles to the dark side and then hightail it back to the real world, leaving us to face Darth Ripper in an endless replay of Revenge of the Sith.
With real lightsabers and no end credits. Least … not until all of us were dead.”
Willow nodded slowly. “Makes sense. Well - makes no sense, but … yeah. Strike at the heart of the new council, exile us to fanboy fantasy land, and create chaos and consternation out in the real world. Sounds like Ethan Rayne to me.”
“You can say that again. But,” Xander pointed out with a grim smile, “it means there is a way out of here. And if we track Ethan down, and get hold of the crystal …”
Understanding dawned in Willow’s eyes. Her smile was slow, considering the possibilities with grim confidence. “… then I
can use it to reweave the world ...”
“Okay,” Buffy declared, stepping back and powering down her lightsaber with a flourish. “Think I got it now.”
Robin Wood nodded, breathlessly. He was sweating and struggling for breath, driven to the edge of effort by Buffy’s last attack. Andrew echoed the nod, his head bobbing with eager and anxious agreement. Mace Windu was renowned for his sword skills – and Buffy had been more holding her own in the last flurry. Actually she’d been outclassing him with ease, pinch close to kicking his butt, despite his mastery of the Force. A Jedi’s skill lay in being able to feel the Force and direct it, sliding into the harmony of existence and using the focus of their will to weave event within it, creating a true resonance that enhanced and fed their power. The Sith used darker emotions to dominate and control, imposing their will without regard to the dissonance that followed their demands. In that sense, Buffy had been right; it was the darker part of herself that she called on, a primal power centred in her emotions rather than in reason and awareness. But where the Sith imposed, a Slayer was exposed
– open to the deeper resonances of the primal universe, reflex and instinct reading its patterns, riding its stormwinds, becoming part
of it. Andrew had been able to feel the way she moved through
the Force, accepting it, using
He’d thought his own new found awareness was pretty cool.
But in this world the Slayer’s gifts were simply awesome.
The Sith Lord didn’t stand a chance.
“Willow?” Buffy turned to throw a commanding look at her friends. “I want you to stay here and keep working on those threads things of yours. If we don’t reach in Ethan in time …”
“We will.” Xander sounded both determined and confident. Andrew wished he could say the same. There were little butterflies dancing in his stomach, swirls of anxiety that he kept trying to suppress. A Jedi wasn’t supposed to be nervous. Here he was, caught in the recreation of a world he’d longed to be part of for years. After a lifetime of being nothing more than a tag-along geek, despised by the world and only being really sure of himself when he was summoning a demon or running a dungeon, he’d finally, finally
become a kick-ass Jedi, complete with all the cool trappings. Lightsabre. Artificial hand. Sensitivity to the Force. This was a world he could be confident in.
This was supposed to be fun.
And it had been. Right up until the moment when the bad guy had strike down his mentor and his friend – and said mentor had been of the coolest
and said the words and everything
– and then … nothing. All sense of his Master had vanished, wiped from the world as if he’d never been there. He’d clung to stubborn belief – was clinging to it now, in fact – but it didn’t change the way he was feeling inside. It was very similar to the way he’d felt the moment he’d realised that Jonathon was dead and that he’d been deceived by the First.
Empty. Hollow. Abandoned.
It had been his idea to give the ball a Star Wars theme. His insistence that had pushed for authenticity in costume and character. His
suggestion that, since he was planning on going as Anakin, there could only be one possible role for the man he already considered as his Jedi master.
Rupert Giles was dead, and it was all his fault …
“Dawn, see what you can do to help.” Buffy was in full command mode, exuding the kind of authority that had people leaping to obey without thought. “Xander, Robin – You’re with me round up half a dozen of the girls, the best we’ve got. The rest had better stay on guard here.”
Andrew half lifted his hand to volunteer, then let it fall again. She probably wouldn’t want him tagging along, no matter how kick-ass he might have become. He wasn’t exactly sure how much help he’d be, anyway …Use the Force, Andrew.
His head went up in startlement, Had he just heard ..?
Nobody else seemed to have heard anything unusual. Willow had started to talk to Dawn. Xander was pointing at Slayers, and Robin was nodding at his choices. Buffy was moving across to the entrance to the atrium, clearly eager to leave, impatient at the time it was taking for her troops to join her. Oh, good lord,
the voice in Andrew head muttered with familiar complaint. Don’t just stand there, you pillock. Give me a focus point. Buffy’s too angry to hear me …
“Right,” Buffy growled, nodding her acceptance of the girls that Xander and Robin had brought to join her. They looked like a good group, most of them being just a little younger than she was. She knew most of them by sight, and some of them by reputation – the Russian Slayer, for instance, had recently dealt with an entire vamp nest without back-up and with only an icicle for a weapon. And the Porto Rican girl had taken out a full grown Thchosias Demon barely a month after the fall of Sunnydale. “We’re going to have to move fast, and we’re not taking any prisoners. Pair off, watch each other’s backs. Take out every droid that tries to get in our way, and make every shot count. And when we catch up with Ethan? He’s mine. Get it?”
They murmured their assent, supporting her determination with grim faces. There’d be time, later, to understand what that meant, to accept the quiet empathy of her fellow Slayers and recognise their right to share her grief. But not now. Right now that grief was the fire that filled her with righteous fury, and she wasn’t about to surrender it to anyone.
She wasn’t expecting any, but she wasn’t entirely surprised when Xander raised his hand.
“Umm – small point?” He looked a little sheepish at having to raise it. “I think
we might be on an imperial battle cruiser and they’re over a mile long. Anyone got any idea where Ethan is?
”Oh shoot …
Buffy’s determined heart sank like a stone. She turned and stared down the hallway that lay beyond the damaged door. Droid debris littered the floor and burn marks spattered the walls. There were doors leading off to either side, some open, some shut tight.
And the passageway looked as if it went on for miles …
Andrew bounced up beside her, wearing a broad I know something you don’t
grin. Buffy glowered at him, feeling her anger flare anew. She barely stopped herself wiping the smile off his face with her fist.
” she growled.
“Where Ethan is. Well – how to find him,
“Yeah, right,” Xander scoffed before she could think of a suitable come back.. “Because you’ve memorised the floor plans of every imperial starship ever built, right?”
“Well, yes …” Andrew really was grinning. A sudden shiver ran down Buffy’s spine. Almost as if someone had just walked over her grave … “And that might help, but I’ve got a much quicker way.”
“Like what?” Robin’s drawl was soft, but the anger in it was unmistakable. “Andrew, this isn’t a game.”
“No,” Buffy realised, her stomach starting to do odd little flip-flops. She’d suddenly thought of a reason as to why Andrew might be grinning like that. “It’s not a game. It’s real. Ethan made it real
“Yeah.” Andrew almost laughed. “The Force is with us. So’s he.
Flip flops turned into a sudden and desperate clench. Buffy’s eyes jerked in the direction Andrew was pointing, not quite sure she wanted
to see. The corridor still stretched into the depths of the ship, empty of everything expect an ominous swirl of smoke; nothing had moved, nothing had changed …
Slayer’s gasped. Robin swore. Buffy blinked.
And as her sure and certain anger swirled away into uncertainty and doubt, a familiar figure shimmered into view, faint and translucent against the high-tech backdrop. Oh my god.“Giles …”
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