Buffy felt completely exhausted – physically and mentally. She had no sleep for more than 24 hours and post-adrenaline rush effects didn't help her current state at all. Sharp pain in her chest indicated that one of her ribs could be broken, but all of it was irrelevant now. After all she was used to physical pain, but the same thing couldn't be said about what she experienced deep inside now. She couldn't even begin to compare it to physical pain, because there was just nothing to compare in the first place. The pain of loosing her mother forever just simply wasn't there.
It would come later, but the last three days in search for Dawn, which culminated in her mother being hospitalized, followed by shocking revelation that she was loosing not only physical ties to Dawn, but their emotional ties as well, had robbed her off terribly in mental department.
So there she was standing by the deathbed of her mother, looking down at her body, trying to grieve, but not being able to, wanting to cry, but tears just wouldn't come out, blaming herself for her death in a desperate attempt to feel something, anything, but it wouldn't work, despising herself for feeling nothing, but her concience wouldn't care. Pain would come later, just not now.
It took Willow to stop her keep trying and leave the room with the body and Cassandra to help her stop thinking and succumb to the healing power of sleep, something she will be grateful to them for the rest of her life. Meanwhile Giles after some consideration did everything in his power to accelerate the release of Joyce' body and preparations for burial, Cassandra's Voice taking care of everyone he couldn't “handle” one way or another. It seemed to be a right thing to do at the moment if only for the reason that it allowed them to keep their options open. He didn't fail to notice the other aspect of Cassandra's Voice however. Apart from healing effect it had on people, it could have been used for entirely different purposes, for example to turn them into Cassandra's puppets ready to do anything she wished or to make them forget a thing or two. He wondered about the extent of this ability and control Cassandra had over it, but he would worry about the danger being manipulated later. He had promised to himself that everything will be ready when Buffy awakes and was intending to keep his word no matter what.
The ceremony took place late in the evening of the same day on one of the countless Sunnydale's cemetries and was finished just before the sunset. Buffy seemed to be more or less content with it , changing only a detail or two, not because they were out of place, but for the sake of getting more involved with the whole thing, trying to make it feel more personal.
When everyone was present including Spike who lurked in the shadows of a near by crypt, Cassandra took over the role of cleric.It just didn't feel right “to persuade” someone against his will to participate in something like this and it also allowed Giles to simply grieve with the others. She had spent more than one lifetime being priestess of various dieties especially in the first several centuries of her life and was more than familiar with her duties even though she never favoured them for personal reasons. It just brought back too many painful memories from the distant past.
Buffy and the others didn't object and were not disappointed with her performance. Slayer was finally able to cry for the first time since the death of her mother. The waves of pain assaulting her one after the other felt all too real and personal now.
After everything was said and done only Buffy and Cassandra were still standing there by the grave. The former was visibly more calmed and at piece with herself, while the later was drown in one of the more intense flashbacks from her past, staring at the grave with an empty look.
“You know what” Buffy said bringing Cassandra back to her senses. “I heard what you, Tara and Willow said about Dawn last night” She stated as the matter of fact. “Slayer's hearing”, she explaned simply.
“Let me tell you a story” Cassandra replied suddenly, turning her eyes away from Buffy back to the grave. “Once very long time ago in the Bronze Age there was a girl dwelling in the desert, leading nomadic life with the tribe of her foster father. She was chosen one day to become the healer of her tribe, dedicating her life to serving the Gods, just like her father, Hijad” she pronounced the name with affection.
“She was still learning the ways of her art, helping her tribe to endure nomadic lifestyle they led. Until one day her world ceased to exist and she was dead with the rest of her tribe, slaughtered by the swords of four masked monsters riding on horsebacks. But she didn't stay dead for long.” Cassandra paused.
“You live as long as I wish it' he said to her, but she didn't believe him at first and then he killed her again and again and again.” Buffy could almost feel the pain in Cassandra's voice.
“But...” Cassandra continued, now with bitter sarcasm in her voice “...he always brought her back to life or so she thought. She has even tried to escape from their camp if only to die in the desert. But he always found her with ease and was there to revive her in time, amused by her futile attempts to escape him in death. The other slaves were calling him Death so one day she started to believe that he was a God, Her God, albeit ruthless and merciless, but a God nonetheless. And the Gods were to be obeyed and venerated. It made her feel special you know, that from all the slaves he had chosen her to serve him and to share his bed, so she served him well and Her God was pleased. He had stopped forcing himself onto her and there was really no need for this anymore, for she had submited not only her body to him, but her mind as well. He had even pretended he cared for her” Cassandra said with sarcastic laugh escaping her lips.
“Ultimately she had even forgotten he had killed her father and left his body rot in the desert. The father she loved and mourned so much, but never got a chance to give a proper burial” she finished with a hint of guilt and regret in her voice.
Buffy who was listening to Cassandra with attention and growing dread made an effort to ask a question:
“Why are you telling me all of this?”
“Because I want you to understand what kind of a...” Cassandra briefly paused hesitating to use the word “...man is with Dawn right now and what he is capable to do to her mind. He is the most skilled manipulative bastard you will probably ever meet in your life and is more than sufficiently proficient at screwing up other people's heads” she pressed the point looking Buffy straight in the eyes now. “So whatever happens, do not blame Dawn. She will need you more than you can imagine” she said emphatically.
“And I need her” Buffy whispered, her eyes full of tears again. Cassandra just softly embraced her in response.
“She is after Dawn now, you know” Buffy said not leaving Cassandra's arms. “I mean Glory. I don't think she knows yet, but I have this strange feeling that she will find out. We must not waste any time.”
“I know” Cassandra softly replied letting her go “ We must care for the living first and then honor our dead”.
“There will be a hell to honor” Slayer swore by her mother's grave, her face taking a completely different expression this time.
Dreg was choking with fear. The demon was certain that he would be lucky to cheat his way in one piece out of this dire situation, he suddenly found himself in. He had volunteered to locate Slayer' sister, wishing to earn his master's favor and now was cursing himself for being so “careless” with what he wished. He should have known better, he should have learned from his mistakes, but it was too late now.
“What do you mean 'you can't find her'?” Glory hissed at the demon slowly walking in circles around him, forcing unpleasant associations of cat and mouse into his mind. “You still possess that picture I gave you, don't you?” She asked with undisguised threat behind her question.
“Of course I do, your eternal sublimity” Dreg was quick to dismiss her suspicions, with a trembling hand demonstrating medallion with photo of Dawn inside in support of his words. “She is just warded by very powerful magic or the place where she is hiding is” he added with weak voice. He really didn't want to go into THAT territory.
“Then break through it” Glory scolded him, as if he was a clueless idiot.
Dreg risked a quick glance at Jinx, whose caricature of a face wore an expression of predator smelling blood and didn't dare to lie.
“It's just a caster needs to remove one of his.. eyeballs during the ritual, if he wants to succeed” he confessed with terror, expecting to meet the butt-end of Glory's eternal sublimity and rightly so. Beast stopped moving and awarded him with amused look and a strange spark in her eyes, promising nothing good.
“Well that don't allow this... minor... inconvenience to stop you from serving me, my lumpy friend” she said with sadistic smile crossing her pretty face.
“It is not that you are going to need it, if you fail to please me, anyway” she made a deadly point and after few moments of silence, allowing her words to sink in, was back to her usual playful self.
“So.. you need my help ripping it out?” her voice full of hope wouldn't take “no” for an answer.
Dreg was too terrified to response, while Jinx licked his lips in anticipation.
The flight form Sunnydale to Seacouver was going to take a little bit less than three hours. The preparation for a journey has took even less than that and could be considered basic at best. Scoobies were just too preoccupied with the ceremony and their grief to care for anything else. So when it was time to depart, they were out of steam and forced to rush things. Also the fact that Giles, Xander, Willow and Tara desperately needed some sleep didn't help their cause at all.
Buffy was the only exception of the whole lot of them. In cool blood, fancy slaying outfit was discarded in favor of more loose and practical outdoor gear. She was obviously the only one to really listen to Cassandra's advise to consider more practical clothes. Methos and Dawn in the vision hadn't left an impression of people taking a picnic trip. They were up to some serious amount of travel. A pair of plain looking traveling boots on Slayer' feet instead on something more fashionable and to her tastes better than anything demonstrated how serious she was. Elegance be damned, she still have retained her natural grace to compensate for it.
What concerned weapons she was armed to the teeth. Her change in gear allowed to extend her already formidable arsenal. She could swear she had gained one more kilo or two from all the additional daggers and throwing knives safely hidden on her. It was going to take some time to get used to a slight shift of balance. She had also her old trusted crossbow to worry about, which she planned to carry on her back, not talking about a sword she was bound to pick up eventually. Buffy didn't forget her favorite stake to complete the picture. Hunting vampires or not, Slayer and stake were supposed to be inseparable and it was a good way to keep Spike in line, though she didn't really plan to revise her no-stake pact with him.
The rest of the group wore more casual clothes, but obliged to bring more practical foot-gear. Spike, who managed to book the last ticket on jet thanks to Buffy's benevolence, had on him only his usual clothes and wicked looking black blade, which in Cassandra's skeptical opinion was more suited for torture and intimidation purposes than actual fighting. Witches brought with them only what they needed to locate Dawn and the key ingredients for the most common spells they practiced. While watcher and Xander managed group's scarce supplies which consisted of some food, water and bolts for Buffy's crossbow. Each sported a sword and Giles brought one for Buffy's as well. Cassandra did a mental check to get them something more solid at first opportunity and even considered looting Duncan's dojo at Seacouver. Highlander stayed in Paris nowadays anyway. Although watcher and and boy were thinking in right direction, their swords were just ugly and of mediocre craftsmanship. The sword they brought for Buffy was actually pretty decent, but such an accomplished Slayer like her just deserved something more elegant and deadly than what they had to offer.
Of all the Scoobies only Anya decided to be original by bringing a rather intimidatingly looking assault rifle with crapload of ammunition to everyone's utter shock.
“Do not point that bloody thing at me” Spike was first to regain his senses, mostly thanks to the very same reason that made him unhappy.
“Don't worry, I don't know how to handle this boy yet” ex-vengeance demon tried to assure him with a silly smile.
“That's exactly what I am worrying about, Anya!” her smile faded in an instant.
“And what do you care? It is not that it's going to kill you anyway” she defended her right to bear arms now.
“It still hurts like a bitch!” Spike protested.
“That's your surprise?!” Xander cut it, obviously not impressed as well. “Geez, Ann
have you seen yourself in the mirror? We are rescuing Dawn, not joining the god damn rebels in Mozambique!” he complained more pissed off with the fact that his girlfriend was patting infamous AK-47 instead of one of the rifles on American Military Service. And the Scoobies just didn't use guns! On principle!
“Well yeah, but isn't kinda stupid to go after Pale Ryder with sword? I mean you are going to loose that saber of yours in first 5 seconds of fight!” Anya turned her eyes to others for support.
“This is not saber, it is scimitar” Xander retorted, quickly realizing he couldn't hope to win that particular argument.
“She still has a point” Giles could only humbly agree with Anya's reasoning, regreting he never really got proficient with any kind of fire arms.
“Yeah” Buffy agreed with her watcher and regarded one of her favorite toys with critical gaze. “That thing makes my crossbow to look so.. obsolete.”
“Maybe, but swords still won't hurt” Cassandra reasoned. “Methos values his neck above anything else. Sword is good demonstration of intent”
“Geez, Ann one would expect you at least to support good ole Uncle Sam” Xander muttered with disappointment.
“She was born 800 years before U.S. were founded” Willow pointed out smiling, better than anyone knowing the real reason behind her best friend's distress.
“Well I am still not carrying that box of illegal, communist ammunition” Xander stated with disgust.
“Fine” Anya rolled her eyes, grabbed the box with both hands and headed towards the door, leading out of Magic Box.
Tara who remained silent through the whole exchange couldn't restrain her natural curiosity anymore:
“Am I the only one wondering where did she got her hands on that rifle?” she asked carefully, being the first one to actually call the “thing” by its name.
Anya halted in doors and replied with dignity:
“I run business on hellmouth. I've got connection for God's sake.”
“What connections? What business? We don't do guns!” realization finally dawning on Giles.
“Oops” Anya realized she compromised herself and with a sheepish grin tried to explain “well you don't, I do.. you know .. just occasional bit of freelance here and there..nothing serious... guns for townsfolk, kittens for Spike..”
Vampire glared and Anya realized she had compromised not only her activities, so before she could spill anymore beans quickly disappeared behind the doors.
“Kittens?!” Buffy cried out looking completely dumbfounded and glared at Spike.
“I.. will help Anya to load ammo into the van.” Spike tried to evade, rushing towards the door with a Slayer on his tail, and then both disappeared as well.
“Well, I guess we are ready to go” Giles removed his glasses, shaking his head. “Oh and when we get back, remind me to fire Anya”