Illyria grabbed Dawn's arm. “This is pointless! Let us move on, over the bodies of these fools if need be! The chattering one can lead the way, drawing their fire, while we kill those she hasn't driven insane.”
Dawn managed not to roll her eyes. The worst thing was, she knew Illyria really wasn't joking. She was completely serious, especially the part about Eve drawing the fire of anyone they encountered. The young girl hadn't endeared herself over the last year and a half with Illyria, primarily because she liked to talk. A lot. Even Dawn occasionally thought that Eve should stop talking and she, herself, was still a teenager. To Illyria, it was like fingernails grating on a chalkboard. Her fury when she'd arrived at Dawn's doorstep an hour ago, only to have the door answered by Eve had been almost funny in a death and dismemberment sort of way.
“Relax, Illyria. Just be patient for a moment. They're sending for General Hammond. If you act like a normal person, instead of a crazed God of the Primordium, they might even let you in without anyone getting killed.”
“Bah! Such rudeness should not be borne. At the very least they should offer us refreshments.”
Dawn soothed. “I know. I know. I'm sure they are just about to.”
“Gee, Lyri, jonesing for a Route 44 Cherry Limeade already? We just got you one on the way here. You drink so much of those, I'm surprised you don't need to pee again.” Eve stepped right into it, ignoring Dawn's frantic gesture to zip it up. Does the girl have a death wish, Dawn wondered as she saw Illyria go from astonishment to embarrassment to rage in two seconds flat. It was probably a new record for Eve in her eternal quest to annoy the Old One.
Illyria hissed, “Do not call me that. Also, I do not 'jones'”
Eve gave her an innocent, but calculating look. “Yes, you do. Besides, Buffy does,” she pointed out helpfully.
“Buffy Summers can defeat me nine out of ten times on the field of combat. You, however, cannot. Until you can, I will not
bear that name from your lips.”
Eve rolled her eyes. “Whatever,” she huffed. “I'm going to head over and talk to Ray. At least he doesn't have an enormous stick up his ass.”
Shaking her head, Dawn watched Eve walk over to talk to the corporal. Turning to Illyria, she had a moment of disquiet at the calculating expression in her eyes. As Illyria started to speak, Dawn shook her finger in Illyria's face. “Uh uh. Don't even think it. Buffy would be very pissed off if she got back and found you had broken her favorite Slayer.”
Illyria snorted, looking almost amused at Dawn's tone. “That such a one as Buffy Summers tolerates those such as that girl around her astounds me. Even her obvious worship does not make up for how tiresome she is. In my day, I would have had her flayed to death, revived, then flayed again. That way, she would have served at least as entertainment.”
Eve fidgeted. She was extremely bored and wanted to do something, anything to allay it. It didn't help that Lyri was being such a bitca. Eve giggled for a second as she remembered Willow telling that story about Xander, to his loud, comedic denials. Xander was the funniest, nicest guy she had ever met. Eve really missed him. Worse, she was bored.
It had been almost interesting, being threatened with having her spine removed. But since she figured Lyri wasn't going to risk it even with Buffy not around, Eve didn't really take the threat seriously. Still, if she tried, Eve was going to tickle her with the new magic shortsword that Willow had finally sent her. She should
have gotten it months ago. Just because she'd used her regular sword in a mock fight indoors with Sandy and broken a few things, they had held it up. Okay, twenty or so things. But still, it wasn't fair.
Eve wandered back up to Ray for the fourth time. He really is cute, she decided thoughtfully, conscious of a fluttering in her stomach as he gave her a quick smile, then went back to staring at Lyri. For moment Eve wondered if he was interested in Lyri, but decided it was unlikely, since she was usually giving off a pretty good impression of an ice cube. At the moment she was staring at some bushes off to one side, head cocked as if listening, while occasionally nodding her head. Even without being all blue, Lyri really knew how not to fit in, Eve decided. She wondered if Lyri's so-called 'Green Song' was better than Green Day, but somehow doubted it.
Growing bored with watching the cute corporal, Eve wandered over to Dawn, who gave her a warm smile. At least Dawn's cool, Eve thought, even if she does rag on Buffy a lot. But since Buffy had commanded it, that was okay with her. Besides, outside of Buffy, Dawn spent the most time with her, earning the title of surrogate big sister. Too bad she isn't a Slayer, Eve mused. Then we could play catch with my belt knife. She gave Lyri a thoughtful glance, but shook her head silently. She was far to likely to throw the knife too hard and Eve didn't particularly want to be shish-kabobbed today. Or any day for that matter.
Then Eve caught sight of the General hurrying their way. Yay! She jumped past the startled guard and threw herself into his arms, hugging him and accepting his return hug as her due. Turning woeful eyes up to him, she announced, “General Hammond, I'm bored. And hungry.”
Kind eyes twinkled at her as he said, “Well, we can't have that. Let me just talk to Dawn and I'm sure we can find you something to do, Eve. And eat.”
She let him move toward Dawn, trailing behind him. Maybe they'll me dial the Stargate, Eve mused, if I ask really, really politely.
George looked from Dawn to the other young woman, Winnifred Burkle. Fred for short. Despite her sweet smile and pleasant manner, Fred gave off an odd vibe. Dismissing the thought, he asked, “What brings you here, Dawn? Buffy and the others are currently unavailable. I know you are aware of the reason.”
Dawn gave him a such grave look that it made him wonder what was going on. She explained, “General Hammond, Fred is the reason I'm here. That we're all here. She has to talk to Buffy, like right now. She ported in from Cleveland just over an hour ago because of how urgent it is.”
George frowned. “Can you explain what the urgency is, Dawn? Your sister is undergoing her last training mission and I would hate to interrupt her unless absolutely necessary.”
Before Dawn could reply, Fred announced, “This is a waste of time. Let me see the one called Buffy Summers or suffer my wrath, mortal.”
George narrowed his eyes. He knew that tone. “Dawn, what's going on? Is she a Goa'uld?” He whispered the last word, despite being out of earshot of any of the base personnel.
“You will not
compare me to one of those slithering vermin. I am Illyria, God of the Primordium. I have lived seven lives at once. I was a god to gods. Goa'uld. Bah. For amusement, I used to destroy those pathetic parasites by placing them into lower beings, then setting them ablaze to see how far they could run. That they have developed even a vestige of sentience since then I find ridiculous.”
George sent Dawn a look as 'Illyria' wound down. Dawn gave a little nervous laugh as she announced, “General, Fred is also Illyria. It's a long story...”
“The shell's soul was consumed in my rebirth.”
“Or not. Anyway, Illyria's an Old One. Kinda a demon queen. I know, I know, Illyria. But he doesn't know what the Primordium is, so let me tell it, 'kay? Anyway, she's been working with us since LA, about fifteen months ago. She's one of our big guns, when she's not sparring with Buffy.”
George felt the first stirrings of anxiety. “She spars with Buffy
Illyria gave him a look of contempt. “Do not sound so amazed, mortal. I am more than a match for Buffy Summers. I...”
Even interrupted with, “Lost nine out of the last ten bouts with Buffy. Right, Lyri?”
Illyria made a frustrated move towards Eve, who danced back. To Dawn, she said, “Are you sure we cannot let her lead the way into this fortress? I am sure she will not suffer much as she helps clear the way for us before perishing. Even if she does suffer, it is well deserved.”
“Hold on. No one's leading the way into the SGC unless it's me. I don't know what the situation here is, but I want a complete briefing right now, or you're not going anywhere. Is that understood?” George gave each of them a stern look, making sure they understood. Dawn and Eve nodded vigorously. He turned to the one called Ilyria.
She sneered at him. “You speak in the commanding tones of a king, but you are merely a lackey of this pathetic empire and their maudlin, tiresome ramblings of equality. You shall remove yourself from my path so that I may travel to Buffy's side using the Astria Portia.”
George turned to Dawn. Tersely he asked, “You told her about the Stargate?”
Dawn quickly shook her head at his angry expression. “No way. She already knew about it. She...”
“I predate that pathetic construct of a misbegotten race. Those you call the Ancients are far beneath me. They constructed pitiful toys to try to duplicate what I did once did with elegance and grace. If I hadn't been killed by treachery, they never would have been able to imprison my brethren. I would rule here today. It is a great tragedy that I have been reduced from what I once was and must depend upon their sad, pitiful relics for travel where before I journeyed where I would by my will alone. I tire of this facade.” As she spoke, she changed. Gone was the sweet visage of Fred. “Illyria” wore a strange red leatherish suit. Her hair was blue with her skin tinged the same color. Altogether, she looked dangerous and strange.
George's mind reeled. Illyria claimed to be older than the ancients. He stared at the ice blue eyes that had replaced the warm brown ones of the woman who she had apparently killed by being born. Or reborn. It sounded like an interesting, if tragic, story. George was about to reiterate his ultimatum, when he spotted Dr. Daniel Jackson hurrying their way. Finally, George thought. Daniel probably was asleep when the Airman came to rouse him.
Daniel hurried towards where General Hammond had requested his presence. He saw Dawn and Eve as well as another young woman who stared at him through strange, icy blue eyes, her manner despite her slight stature that of an empress addressing her lowliest subject. And was that a leather catsuit? He chided himself for his odd thought. Daniel quickly said his hellos. “Good morning, General Hammond. Hi, Dawn, Eve.” To the other young woman, he held out his hand and said, “I'm Dr. Daniel Jackson. It's nice to meet you.”
She stared at his hand as if it was diseased, until he finally withdrew it. “I am Illyria. Touch me at your peril.” Illyria gave him such a thorough look that Daniel felt like she could have stated how many teeth he had. Turning to Dawn, she announced, “I will keep this one. He has a look of at least minor intelligence that I have sorely missed since Wesley's death.”
Daniel blurted, “Excuse me?” at the same time as Dawn quietly remonstrated with Illyria, “You can't own people, Illyria. I know that Buffy explained it to you. Plus, Daniel does important work here.”
“It cannot be as important as serving me would be. I will make him my Qwa'ha Xahn. I find myself in need of one again now that my powers begin to return.”
General Hammond, who appeared to have been listening with increasing frustration, angrily said, “You will not threaten Dr. Jackson, Illyria. I don't know what you are used to, but if you persist in this behavior, I'll have no choice but to place you under arrest. Do you understand me?”
Daniel watched the icy blue eyes focus all of their attention on the general. Before she could do or say whatever was on her mind, Dawn stepped between her and General Hammond. With her back to Daniel and General Hammond, she had her face close to Illyria's and spoke urgently in a very low tone. After a moment, Illyria finally nodded stiffly. Dawn turned back to them.
“Please forgive her. She's worried about Buffy. Giles sent her to warn Buffy about a possibly intervention by the Powers. One of our more talented seers received a vision of a dangerous problem with Buffy's mission.”
Daniel blurted out, “What problem?”
Dawn turned gray eyes his way. “The Powers may be influencing one or more of the Goa'uld to attack. They are abandoning their stance of neutrality in order to try to return things to how they once were.”
General Hammond wearily shook his head. “Maybe you had better come in and tell us exactly what is going on, Dawn, Ilyria. Please, follow me.” He paused, and then with a more genuine smile, told Eve, “Also, we need to get this young lady some brunch.” He grinned as Eve squealed and ran ahead.
Daniel waited for the women to precede him, but Illyria lagged behind Dawn and General Hammond, then fell into step behind him. He was conscious of her gaze as he walked beside her back into the Mountain.
“...so you can see, General, just why we need to get a warning to Buffy. If the Powers have influenced the Goa'uld to attack, all of them are in grave danger.” Dawn was proud of the way she had explained the situation. Hopefully, they would let her and Illyria through the Stargate to follow Buffy.
General Hammond nodded and said, “I understand now, Dawn. But why did Dr. Giles send Illyria instead of one of the others? From my understanding both Willow and Xander are core members of your group.” It went without saying that they would also be far more diplomatic than Illyria had been thus far.
Dawn could feel the tension from Illyria who sat to her right. The only thing keeping her from going on a tear had been Dawn's threat to have Buffy beat her senseless if she threatened their relations with the U.S. Government. It was less the threat of pain that would result from such a beating, than the resulting humiliation, that had kept Illyria quiet up to this point. How much longer even that threat would keep her in check was a question that Dawn hoped wouldn't come up.
“These days, Xander goes where Willow goes and vice versa. And it just isn't a good idea for Willow to be away from the school right now. She's manning the defenses there in case there's an assault by the Powers. She the only one who could hold them off if need be. So they drafted Illyria who had just gotten back from Indonesia.”
Daniel, who wore an interested look on his face, asked, “Illyria. What language is that name from? I can't place its origin.”
Illyria turned her gave towards him and said in what was a pleasant manner for her, “The language has no name, fool. It is the first language, that of the Primordium.”
Daniel looked both excited and a bit insulted. “I have heard that term once before. It was in an ancient Mesopotamian text. Some kind of ancient god cult. Are you a member? Is it still alive today?”
Dawn closed her eyes in dread, then opened them in disbelief as Illyria, instead of ripping Daniel's head off in a spray of blood, actually continued explaining to him. “Listen carefully, mortal. You should know this for your future duties. I am Illyria, God-king of the Primordium. I was the ruler here until I was defeated through treachery long before the rise of those you call Ancients. Later, my essence and that of my brethren was imprisoned in the Deeper Well. I was freed by an unworthy being who sought to be my Qwa'ha Xahn. He arranged for the sacrifice to be infected with my essence so that I could be reborn. Thus was the shell consumed in my rebirth. I will answer one more question only right now. Think carefully.”
Daniel who looked pole-axed by the revelation that Illyria was ancient beyond measure. He started to speak, stopped, then finally asked, “How old are you, Illyria?”
She looked neither disappointed in, nor approving of, his question. “This world has circled its star sixty-five million times since I last walked its surface. Do not ask me another question if you want to live.” This last was a warning as Daniel started to speak again. To Dawn's relief, he restrained himself, although visibly struggling for control.
Not so, General Hammond, who said, “Why should I let someone such as yourself through the Stargate? You have shown no loyalty to any of us, or to our nation. I see you as a danger to everything that I hold dear, with your threats, talk of ruling, and contempt for our laws and all of us personally.”
Dawn hoped that Illyria would stick with the script they had gone over during the drive up here. Her hopes were dashed though as Illyria gave the General a frigid glance and merely said, “I do have loyalty. I am loyal to Buffy Summers. I obey her in most things.”
Hammond shook his head. “I heard the things you said about Buffy. How can I believe you?”
Illyria coldly stated, “You imply that I would lie or deceive, mortal. I do not lie. Ever. Deception is for those weaker beings who must practice it. I will explain to you about my loyalties to Buffy Summers because you are not to blame for your innate stupidity anymore than any other lowly creature. Buffy is my brethren. Her nature is as mine. Like myself, she is increasing in power. Unlike myself, the limitations placed on her shell are far greater than mine. I regret that fool who resurrected me did not choose a Slayer for my vessel. Then all of you would worship me instead of her.”
The room was quiet for a moment, then both Daniel and General Hammond began to practically shout questions in reaction to what Illyria had just said. Dawn put her head into her hands and hunkered down, trying to ride out the storm. Why did I think I would be able to control Illyria, Dawn wondered in misery?
Jack finally made it to his feet. He grabbed Vi and asked, “Why aren't you cutting Teal'c and the others loose?”
She looked perplexed. “They're Jaffa.”
Jack sighed. “Look, Vi, you seem like a nice girl. But you need to pull your head out of your ass right now. These Jaffa are here at our express invitation. They were hand-selected by Teal'c and Master Bra'tac. I trust them completely even if I have my reservations with the Free Jaffa as a whole. Plus, half of them died during the attack. So cut them loose, starting with Teal'c. Don't make me tell you again.” This last was said in Jack's 'command' tone, which usually got results.
Vi looked at him for a long second, then nodded abruptly and complied. Jack shook his head and turned to Teal'c, who was already rising to his feet, showing none of the effects of being bound that Jack had. “How you feeling, big fella?”
“I am fine, O'Neill. What has happened?”
“I was just about to head out and find out for myself. Care to join me?”
She looked up at him from where she lay and shook her head. “Sir, I need another few minutes before I'm going to be able to walk around. Go ahead. I'll be fine here.”
Jack smiled and said, “Suit yourself.” He spotted Master Bra'tac also getting up. The old warhorse appeared to be as good as new. “Master Bra'tac, how are you?”
Bra'tac gave Jack a quick glance, “I am well. I witnessed your discussion with that young female. I take it she is one of these Slayers that you wished me to observe?”
Jack nodded. “Yep. Walks softly, but carries a big stick, if you know what I mean.”
“I do not, but I am sure I will find out.”
Jack walked to the flap of the tent and walked out, with Teal'c and Bra'tac right behind him. He stopped, stunned by the sheer amount of carnage. Bodies and pieces of bodies were scattered everywhere. A group of young women straight ahead were attempting to clean blood off themselves. Seven pairs of eyes turned towards him with laser-like focus. Then Jack realized it wasn't him that they were looking at, but rather Teal'c and Bra'tac. For the first time, he was struck by a sense of just how dangerous these girls were. The looks they were sending the Jaffas' way weren't remotely human, more like that of a predator sizing up its next kill.
Bra'tac smiled, apparently unaffected by the looks he was getting. “This handful killed all of these Jaffa? They are formidable warriors indeed, O'Neill.”
Yeah they were, Jack mused. Too formidable. Nothing in the testing they had done indicated that the Slayers were so powerful that they could take on eighty Jaffa with minimal weapons and not lose a single casualty.
Jack watched as one of the Slayers walked towards them. Her name was Rose, he thought. She stopped in front of him and stared at the two Jaffa, her eyes cold and dangerous. Jack decided to get this dealt with once and for all. “What are you doing, Rose?”
The attractive seventeen year old girl turned her eyes from Teal'c and Bra'tac to Jack. “They're Jaffa.”
Jack sighed. “So?”
“They killed Beth and Autumn.”
Jack stopped, perplexed. He saw Autumn standing over by the others. There was no mistaking her for anyone else, dressed in the shortest shorts and skimpiest top Jack had seen in some time. So much for following uniform protocols he thought wryly. She was staring at them icily as well, but exuded sexuality even giving a death glare. And Jack was pretty sure that was Beth just off to her right. He waved towards them, causing Rose to give him an irritated look. Finally, when she didn't say anything, Jack bit the bullet and stated, “They look fine to me, Rose.”
She nodded. “Now they are. Buffy fixed them.”
Jack was perplexed. “Fixed them how?”
Rose stared at him and finally said, “She resurrected them.”
Jack was stunned. He could comprehend someone being resurrected. But it usually came with a big, gold coffin. In a doubtful tone, he asked, “They were dead? Really dead?”
“And Buffy brought them back from the dead? Without a sarcophagus?”
She looked confused. “I don't know what that is. Buffy used her power to heal, then resurrect them. She saved them both. That's what she does.”
Jack silently whistled. Just how powerful is that girl, he wondered. Which reminded him. He didn't see Buffy anywhere. “Just where is Buffy, by the way?”
Rose gave him a cool look, then nodded towards Autumn and Beth. It took Jack a second, but then he got it. They were standing on either side of a figure on the ground, guarding it. A figure that now that he was actually looking, appeared to be Buffy.
“She's resting. Saving Beth and Autumn exhausted her.”
Jack nodded. “Yes, I can see that. I'm sure those pesky resurrections tend to take it out of you. So who's in charge right now?”
Rose nodded towards the other Slayers. “That would be Molly.”
Jack turned towards the two Jaffa. “Gentlemen, let's go talk to Molly.”
As they started to walk towards the girl, Bra'tac spoke in a quiet tone, “O'Neill, you did not lead me to believe that these Slayers were this powerful. When I first learned that they had triumphed over Morrigan's Jaffa, I thought, as I am sure you did as well, that they had used guile to separate and destroy them. But I can clearly see from the placement of their bodies, that these Jaffa were killed in a straight up fight. By edged weapons, no less, against energy weapons. How exactly did that happen?”
Molly, whose back had been to them, turned and asked in a ringing voice, “Why don't you ask me, gramps? That way I and the others can stop pretending that we can't hear everything you're saying...”
Graham heard Molly's less than dulcet tones as he walked by the startled threesome of Colonel O'Neill, Teal'c, and Bra'tac. He was on his way to check on Buffy. As Graham walked towards Buffy, he saw Autumn's aggressive stance visibly increase as she registered his approach. She was like an attack dog reacting to an intruder. Or maybe an attack saber tooth tiger, he thought, as suddenly she was directly in his path, having moved almost too fast for him to see.
Graham stopped in front of her. Gently, he spoke to her, “Autumn, please let me check on Buffy. I am worried about her.” He watched the danger in her eyes fade to confusion. After a moment, Autumn stepped aside. Graham suppressed a sigh of relief. Never let them see you sweat, he thought to himself. That philosophy applies to aliens, demons, and Slayers. Carefully not doing anything to push any of the Slayer buttons he knew about, Graham slowly knelt down next to Buffy. Autumn followed and knelt across from him, with Beth at her back, both girls' complete attention focused on him. But he still remained calm. Hell, if he could remain cool in the middle of a nest of Chellar demons, he wasn't going to let a seventeen year old girl bother him, Graham thought, ignoring the fact that said girl could break him in half.
Graham examined Buffy gently, but thoroughly. Her color and breathing was good. Her pulse was slow and steady. He gently raised an eyelid and saw the pupil's response. Buffy appeared to only be deeply asleep. Graham felt his breath leave him in a heart-felt sigh of relief. He looked up to meet Autumn's eyes. She had lost most of the icy anger that had dominated her face and was now showing a more vulnerable side. Very faint traces of tears glistened in the corners of her eyes as she stared at him, then looked back down at Buffy, then looked back up at him. Graham didn't know what she saw in his face, but it obviously caught her attention. Putting it out of his mind, he focused his attention back on Buffy.
Autumn stared into Graham's eyes across Buffy's supine form. She wanted to look away from the raw emotion she saw there as he found out that Buffy was all right, but for a moment, couldn't. Finally, she tore her eyes away from his, and looked down at Buffy, once again making sure she was okay. Her sense of relief was so intense, she nearly vomited. Then she looked back up to see Graham's eyes still focused on her face. As he looked back down towards Buffy, she turned her full attention to him again, only this time not a danger to be faced.
He really was pretty, she thought almost absently. It had been the first thing that she had noticed about him and it still held true. It seemed odd that he wasn't vain about his looks. With his thick lashes and sensual lips, he was one of the best looking guys Autumn had seen in some time. Out of all of the SGC soldiers, Graham had been her first choice to sleep with, and it was because he was one hot guy. She still felt an intense physical attraction towards him, even if she didn't act on it now. Autumn liked boys a little more than girls, although anyone seeing how she acted towards both probably wouldn't know that. She tended to be equal opportunity when it came to hitting on people.
Since high school, Autumn had slept with anyone who she wanted and who wanted her. But now things were different. Now there was Buffy, who she loved. Who she didn't deserve. Trying to distract herself from thoughts of Buffy, she focused her attention once again on Graham. He had wormed his way into her thoughts more and more. And she didn't know why. Other than the fact they both liked Buffy, they had nothing in common. It wasn't his looks, Autumn decided, trying to pin down what else it could be. There was some other quality he possessed that drew her, maybe the same thing that drew Buffy.
That's when it hit her and she knew. The quality that Graham possessed that drew Autumn was strength. Not physical strength, he was just human, after all. Instead, he possessed a strength of character that showed in so many ways. Like the way that he had just stood up to her without flinching, when most men would have quailed in her presence. Graham exuded a deep calm and a quiet strength that were part and parcel of who he was. And she found that attractive. Very, very attractive.
Autumn wasn't looking for a protector. She was a Slayer after all. But maybe, just maybe, she wouldn't mind having someone to talk to about the really hard stuff, the stuff that mattered. Someone she
didn't have to always be worrying about.
Averting her eyes from him, Autumn was aware that Graham could be that person. There weren't any obvious weaknesses in him, no character flaws that made him one of her usual one night stands. Hell, he'd even kicked her out of his tent, when all he'd needed to do was keep quiet and she would have showed him one mother of a good time. That was what she did, after all. Autumn still didn't even know if he'd been even tempted to give in. If he had, he'd given her no sign of it.
None of the men in her life had that about them, she decided regretfully. Willow's Xander had it, and she had liked him a lot. But no one who was sane would be tempted to poach on something that was Willow's. And she was sane, if only barely. Thinking about it, Autumn wondered if it was those same qualities that Graham possessed that also attracted Buffy, that made Xander one of her best friends. It made sense if it was.
The contact she and Buffy had gone though a few weeks ago hadn't been completely one way. Buffy had gotten the lion's share of the information exchange, there was no doubt about that. Autumn knew that Buffy had looked deeply into several of the more difficult periods of her life. But she had, in turn, caught a couple of glimpses into Buffy's life. Fragments, really. Still, she'd seen Buffy's pain at her father's abandonment, her tears when she'd sent Angel to hell, and her slow, bitter misery when her romance with Parker Abrahms had turned into a one night stand. Autumn hadn't let on about what she'd seen, but it was something she thought about often since then. The two of them had so many things in common. Autumn understood that what Buffy needed more than anything else was someone she could count on
no matter what the circumstances. No matter what happened. Buffy needed a refuge where she could be, maybe not weak, but just... Buffy. In a way, it was something they were both looking for.
The depth of her thoughts surprised Autumn. She wondered if she was finally growing up. Not that it mattered. The someone Buffy needed wasn't her. Autumn knew that instinctively. How could it be when she, herself, was so inconsistent? It didn't make her want Buffy any less, but Autumn knew she could give Buffy up if it meant her happiness. She loved her after all.
Staring into Graham's eyes, Autumn made a silent wish from the heart. She closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them to an unchanged world. She wondered if there was a God, would grant her just one prayer?
George finally managed to get himself cooled down. He already regretted his loss of control. He stared across the table at the three girls. Eve looked amazed and thoughtful, as if she was trying to remember exactly what he'd said and how he'd said it. Dawn looked uneasy and worried, which she should, he thought grumpily. Illyria looked... like a cat that had just drained a saucer of milk and was currently cleaning its whiskers of the remnants.
“What is happening with...” Dr. Jackson trailed off as he noted George's look.
George gathered his thoughts, then began, “Sorry, Dr. Jackson, but I think I need to handle this one myself. But please do save any questions you have for the end.” Turning to Dawn, he asked in a relatively mild tone, “What exactly is the real story behind Buffy and the Powers, Dawn?”
Dawn looked at turns stubborn and scared. She was silent for a couple of minutes, then finally got out, “I don't really know. No one does. It's all been conjecture. Even Buffy doesn't know...”
George turned to Illyria. “You have something to add, Illyria?”
She gave him a look that if wasn't exactly approval, at least wasn't complete contempt and nodded. “I do. Dawn Summers does not truly realize what is happening, but I know.”
“And what do you know?”
“I will tell this tale in my own time and at my own pace. Dare to interrupt and I shall rend you from this world. Now listen.”
“A very short time ago, fifteen or twenty thousand years at most, three thieves gathered together to infuse the essence of a demon into a girl, thus creating the first Slayer. That is but a part of the story. These thieves, once Guardians of the Deeper Well, had taken secrets with them when their term of service was over. They used those secrets to summon the sarcophagus of an Old One, Sepheira of the Hunt, she who was most powerful of all my brethren after me.”
“Using clever spells handed down from the days of the Primordium, the thieves stole a portion of Sepheira's essence, though not enough to trigger her resurrection. They then returned the remainder to the Deeper Well, imprisoning her once again. They imbued that stolen portion into a mortal human, giving her many of Seheira's minor abilities; strength, speed, healing, ability with weapons, enhanced senses. They thought it would end there.”
“Fools. Pitiful fools. They should have known that you cannot abuse us so. Over time, Sepheira grew stronger, the lives sacrificed to her providing power upon power. So many sacrifices, so much power. While she grew strong, the seals to her prison weakened, but so puissant was its original might, that even then she could not break free.”
“Then came the First Evil, that pitiful harbinger from a lost age. Weak, pathetic creature, I abhor what it has fallen to. I should hunt it down and utterly destroy it... but I digress. Buffy Summers decided she would do what no one has ever done: Empower all of those who could become the Slayer. This provided a boost of power to Sepheira. In one fell moment, she was given the reins of power beyond even a god. She would be able to rival myself at the height of the Primodium.”
“So she waited, stretching out her powers, testing her bonds, trying to discover when she would be free. The so-called Powers know what is happening. They wish Buffy Summers to stop the course which she had taken, reverse the spell that was cast by the Red Witch, and send the sleeping god back to sleep.” She chuckled harshly. “What is worst of all is that they are all wrong. Sepheira, the Powers, Buffy Summers. Each of them are imbecile children, sitting in the dark, without any understanding of truth.”
She stopped. There was a stunned silence from their side of the table. After a moment, Daniel raised his hand. At her nod, he asked, “May I ask a question?”
Illyria almost rolled her eyes at him. “I just gave you permission, fool. If I were going to kill you, I would have done so as soon as the first word left your mouth..”
Ooookay, he thought. Carefully, Daniel said, “You called them all fools. You imply that none of them know what is really happening. What is truly happening, Illyria? What is going on with Buffy Summers?”
Illyria's eyes grew strange and distant, all humanity leached from them. For a moment, Daniel though she wouldn't answer. Finally, though, the words dragged themselves from her lips, as if through the sheer power of their nature. “Fools. The lot of them, fools. Sepheira believes that she will usurp the shell of Buffy Summers when she is reborn. The Powers believe this to be true as well. Buffy Summers suspects, but will not admit the truth. It terrifies her.”
He was getting close. Electrified, Daniel asked. “What truth, Illyria? What terrifies Buffy?”
Illyria's look grew strange. In a stilted voice, she whispered, “When Sepheira frees herself from her prison, there will be a resurrection. It just won't be hers. She
will be the one consumed as Buffy Summers ascends to godhood. She will be the living embodiment of an Old One, here in this world. She will possess all of our powers and will be invincible.”
Daniel heard General Hammond clear his throat, then ask, “How invincible is invincible? How powerful will she be?”
Illyria stared him straight in the eye. In a more matter of fact voice, she stated, “To lay me low, those treacherous curs needed to damage me despite my personal shields. To do so, they redirected a large piece of iron and nickel, which you refer to as an asteroid, to strike me, while holding me in place with all of their power. I was only able to slay a few dozen before being struck with sufficient force to crack the crust of this world. I survived the blow, but was weakened enough for my physical shell to be destroyed by puissant magics.”
Daniel whispered, “How large an asteroid?”
Illyria's expression grew thoughtful. “Fred would have referred to it as an extinction-level event. The object was perhaps two hundred miles across. But because it struck me, most of its force was wasted against my shields. The minor remnant only killed two thirds of all life on this world.”
Eve had listened with interest as the discussion heated up. So Buffy was becoming a god. That was so cool! Buffy totally deserved it. Eve wondered how she was supposed to behave around a god who was also her surrogate mother. Probably by eating all of her vegetables, she decided with a frown. Then she had a thought. “Hey, Lyri.”
The blue-haired Old One only turned her head partway towards Eve, who rolled her eyes. “Sorry. Illyria, may I ask a question?”
Icy blue eyes stared into Eve's as Illyria turned the rest of the way towards her. She gave Eve a stiff nod. Excited, Eve blurted out, “So when is Buffy going to become a god? And do I need to like pray to her, like to God God? I was just wondering.”
Illyria considered, then announced, “Buffy Summers will come into her power in but the blink of an eye.” There were several quickly indrawn breaths at this revelation. Then Illyria finished with, “ If she does not fight it, in a mere twenty or thirty years, she will be the master of this world. If she struggles against her fate, it might take her a hundred years.” Those same breaths went back out in a hail of sighs of relief.
Well, that changed things, Eve decided. The odds were that she wouldn't even be alive in twenty, let alone a hundred, years, which sucked majorly. Ignoring the relieved looks on the faces of everyone in the room other than herself and Illyria, Eve wondered how she could get Buffy to become a god sooner.