Rorrit!k squatted on the ground staring at the tantalizing sight of the human buildings just a quarter mile away. He felt more than heard the slight sizzling sound as saliva ran from his razor sharp fangs to strike the ground, blackening the grass. Rorrit!k's thoughts were consumed with his compensation for killing the Witch and her Slayers. Soon he would feast on human flesh. He'd already decided that for his twenty humans, he would stick with mostly children with the occasional slightly older virgin female thrown in for spice. While their flesh was sweet, true power would come from binding and torturing their souls. Not enough to challenge the Powers and stay here in this reality, but perhaps enough to delay his return and harvest still more power. In the end, who knows? Perhaps he would be able to feast for a long, long time.
Rorrit!k's companion to his right shifted. It was his sole-surviving pod-brother, Ririrk!t. Out of all of the Grathant!k that had devoured their mother upon their birth, the two of them alone had survived to this day. A combination of luck, skill, and intelligence had enabled them to survive when far more powerful members of their race had not. The two of them only stood nine feet tall at the shoulder, barely medium height for their race, and weighed only four thousand pounds apiece. But by working together, Rorrit!k and Ririrk!t had not only survived, but thrived, becoming well known enough that others had begun coming to them to get things done. The capper had been when the Powers had come to them to destroy this enclave of Slayers, along with the Red Witch.
Rorrit!k's drooling became more pronounced as he laughed internally at the stupidity of the so-called Powers. He would have done what they asked for free, the idea of killing Champions for the side of light being more than enough compensation for him. Luckily, Ririrk!t had been smarter and had demanded sustenance in return for doing the Powers bidding. Thus the twenty human lives and souls to feast upon. That he had obtained the same terms for each of the five hundred Grathant!k surrounding the human dwelling was unbelievable.
The penetration of the first set of wards had happened easily, just as they had been promised, with no one the wiser. But Rorrit!k could already tell that getting through the next set would not be nearly as easily. Or rather it would be easy, but someone would know they were coming. Not that it mattered, he thought. They would be across the intervening space and into the buildings, killing and eating, long before there could be a measured response. Still the stink of powerful magic dominated the air, making some of his brethren nervous. Weak fools, he thought. You wouldn't find him jumping at shadows. Not on the first day of their striking back against the Slayers.
Ririrk!t raised his hand into the air next to Rorrit!k. Rorrit!k did the same, and quickly, every Grathant!k followed suite. When Ririrk!t's hand slashed downwards, Rorrit!k was moving almost before it completed its full movement. As he bounded forward at lightning speed, Rorrit!k couldn't stop the anticipation of the feast ahead from coloring his thoughts. Still, he couldn't help but wondering why the corners of the buildings ahead of him were rising. Dismissing it as some human oddity, he continued forward.
Xander rolled out of bed in a tangle of his and Willow's limbs, as the alarm presaging a full-scale attack thundered through the school. The wards had been breached on all sides of the buildings which meant it was big. And from the severity of the noise, something nasty was about to hit them.
He wasted no time in tapping a coded phrase into his phone before he gave Willow a quick kiss, grabbed his pants, and headed out the door of his room. Whatever was coming was about to learn the severity of their mistake of attacking the Jenny Calendar School for Girls.
When the new Council had decided that it was a good idea to put their new headquarters in Cleveland, it had been up to Xander to locate suitable quarters for them. He had searched high and low for a building that would suite their purposes. Those purposes being first and foremost to have a sanctuary for Slayers that would be proof against any attack. Xander had despaired against finding anything suitable when he come across the Dwight D. Eisenhower School for Boys. It was a private boy's school that had gone bankrupt as a result of the belt tightening that had occurred after the stock market adjustment of 2000.
The school had gone unoccupied for a number of years, its combination of a large acreage (5,000) with the relatively small buildings of the school itself making it just too expensive. But Xander had deemed it perfect for the needs of the Council. Especially with the conversation he'd had with Willow on how to make their home secure.
The first order of business had been for them to map the place completely. Xander had followed Willow as she cast some odd little spell over the entire structure, one small piece at a time. It had taken her a week, but in the end, she had finished. Then it was up to him with the demolition. Rigging military-grade C-4 all throughout the structures, Xander had blown the entire thing to kingdom come, depending on Willow to mask their actions from the surrounding area with a glamor. It had worked like a charm with no one from the surrounding area any the wiser.
Then it had been time to rebuild. Xander had been doubtful when Willow had told him what she had in mind. While he liked the idea of a virtually impregnable fortress for their home, the only problem was that to create it, Willow would need to inscribe her spell into every single stone that went into the construction of the new buildings. And that would take literally years.
Trust Willow, in her usual inimitable manner, being able to figure something out. Instead of inscribing each stone, she had instructed Xander to get a large load of rock from a single quarry. Not an easy task, but with the relatively deep pockets of the Council behind him, not an insurmountable one, either. He'd found what he was looking for in Nelson Granite, a Canadian company that specialized in granite blocks and building supplies. Specifying that all the granite came from a single location hadn't even resulted in them batting an eye.
From there, it was almost anticlimatic to see Willow chip a tiny piece of granite off of a single block and through the magical laws of similarity and contagion, using that same small piece to inscribe the binding spell into the every single block. That had wiped Willow out for an entire day, nothing really in comparison to the following week, when she used the previous magical mapping along with the binding spell on the granite to rebuild the entire school in one day. That magical spell had put Willow to sleep for a week, while Xander brought in various contractors to do all of the interior finish work.
Only three months later, they had a fully finished school. Xander'd had to pay a little extra here and there to a few of the subs because some of them felt the place was haunted. Willow had explained the occasional odd sound and movement as residual magical leakage from the power of the spell that had been used. Xander hadn't cared one way or the other. Despite the “hazard” pay to the subs, he had still come in under budget for the basic construction.
It was only once the “specials” he had come up with were installed, had the project exceeded its budget. Giles had almost fainted when he had seen the final numbers on those
. He was going to be glad that he'd finally okayed the budget for them, however, if the attack on the school was as intense as Xander thought it was, based upon the magnitude of the alarm. And from the ripping sound of them firing, it must be.BBBBBBBRRRRRRIIIIPPPPPP!
Xander finally arrived at his station, high up on the fourth floor of the school, right above the front entrance. He stopped in front of a high tech panel with more than a dozen fifteen inch video screens surrounding a forty-two inch display. Xander hurriedly turned the system on. After a moment, it came on-line giving Xander a real-time look at the exterior of the school. He gazed out into hell.
Rorrit!k cursed the very existence of the Powers as well as humanity in general and these humans in particular as he somehow avoided another burst from the enemy's weapons that cut another of his brethren in half. As acidic blood splashed all over the ground, sending up clouds of smoke as it ate into everything it touched, Rorrit!k ducked behind a decorative stone statue.
Not that it offered much protection as many of his brethren had already discovered. Already hundreds were dead, torn apart by swarms of high velocity projectiles. If Rorrit!k hadn't seen it with his own eyes, he never would have believed it. The idea of a Grathant!k being injured by a “gun” was ridiculous. His hide was thick and tough, able to stand up to a variety of weapons, both natural and mystical. There was no creature that a Grathant!k truly feared. But then they had never faced something like this before. BBBBBBBRRRRRRIIIIPPPPPP!
Rorrit!k had been hit just in passing by three projectiles, a glancing strike on his foot. The first had merely flattened as it hit, unable to penetrate his hide. The second had hurt as it cut even his ridiculously tough integument. The third had burned him badly as its mystical energy had been expended on him. Even now, he limped, his natural regeneration slowed by that same mystical energy. Now he truly understood how a full strike from these could cut even one of his brethren in half. BBBBBBBRRRRRRIIIIPPPPPP!
Another Grathant!k died, but this time he'd been struck in the back. Rorrit!k realized that his brethren were starting to run. Raging in his heart, he decided that discretion was the better part of valor. Turning he ran also.
He ducked and juked side to side as he ran, having seen what happened to anyone who took a straight line. Then the sounds of the guns ceased and an eerie stillness filled the air. With dread mounting in his hearts, Rorrit!k turned and looked back towards the human dwellings, just in time to see a white star begin its ascent towards the heavens. The Witch was finally making her appearance. Rorrit!k stopped running and stood still. There was no escaping his fate. What fools he and Rririrk!t had been. Staring up at the raw magical might she possessed, Rorrik!t realized nothing short of the Senior Partners or the Powers themselves could even begin to stand against her. That was his last thought as a bright white light filled his vision and then there was nothing.
Xander watched as the Phalanx 20mm cannon destroyed yet another demon, easily cutting it in half with a one second burst. So far, they seemed to have accounted for two-thirds of the attacking demons. None had made closer than two hundred yards away from the house. Grinning like a fool, Xander grabbed the small joystick mounted on his instrument panel. Pressing the button for cannon four, he targeted a particularly large demon still trying to attack despite missing a leg. Lining up the crosshairs of the weapon's targeting computer on the demon, Xander pressed the red button on top of the joy stick, watching in a kind of stunned disbelief as the demon simply disintegrated.
Note to self, Xander thought. Do not press the red button more than one second. Instead, he'd held it almost five seconds, turning the demon into kibbles and bits.
When Xander had envisioned a defense for what he considered the most important place in all of the world, he wasn't satisfied that it simple be magical in nature. That was what had cost the old council their lives. Instead, he wanted a layered defense that included both powerful magic and the latest high tech weaponry. And that was exactly what he'd gotten.
Xander had worked hard to first locate, then purchase the four MK 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapons Systems that he had in turn, mounted on each corner of the school. They'd been a difficult black market acquisition. The latest model would fire forty-five hundred rounds per minute of 20mm ammunition. Currently, Xander was using a mix of Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) rounds, either depleted uranium or tungsten penetrators, and HE rounds. Each had been “tweaked” by Willow while still in their drums, making them extra nasty to any supernatural beasties they hit.
Guided by radar that again had been tweaked by Willow, the Phalanx system was the most deadly defense that Xander could devise for close in attacks. Well, except for one more thing. Xander had been sweating it, hoping he wouldn't have to use his failsafe defense. Luckily, he hadn't. The Phalanx was performing even better than he'd expected.
Noting that the demons had stopped advancing and were actually starting to retreat, Xander got up after first locking down the system. It was Willow-time. Xander hurried out the door to watch his girl work.
Willow rose into the heavens, her connection to the earth sundered. At least her physical connection. Nothing could sever the connection that had literally been burned into her very being. She could feel everything
that lived, walked, ran, or crawled. All existence was at her fingertips. Willow could also feel the enormous magical reservoir of the earth herself. A reservoir so filled with the magic of life, that its sheer volume beggared the imagination.
The blots of darkness that moved around her, demons from outside the world, wounded the earth in small ways just by their existence. They were unnatural, evil being a word that didn't mean anything to the earth. That very unnaturalness worked to undo the existence of the earth, just as Willow worked to shore it up. Willow could feel mounting anger in her heart as every footstep damaged the earth. White magic began to pulse within her, growing ever greater as she prepared herself to end this.
Pulling in more and more magic, Willow could feel everything, from the Slayers all around the world to Xander as he hurried towards the courtyard from his control room. Thinking of Xander brought a feeling of happiness to her heart as she considered how much she loved him,but with a shake of her head, her resolve strengthened. Willow was here for the earth, the mother of all, to destroy the cancer that tried to eat away at her heart. Towards that end, she unleashed all the magical power that she had absorbed into one immense blast that radiated outwards.
Rorrit!k wasn't the first Grathant!k to die as Willow's magic blasted outwards. That honor went to one of his lesser brethren. But soon enough the magic struck each of them, tearing apart their bodies and ripping them into their constituent parts, leaving nothing. But the magic didn't end there. It swarmed outwards, seeking more and more of the enemy. Where it found them, they died instantly. Where none were, the injuries of the earth were healed, the grounds of the school seeming to flow back into harmony, even the granite statues somehow becoming whole.
In moments, where there had been chaos and destruction, hundreds of bodies torn into bits, now there was an empty park, pristine and perfect. But despite everything, there seemed almost a thirst for more, as the park drank the lifeforce of all of the Grathant!k. A strange and fell silence came over the world.
Willow hung motionless in space above the school, her senses extended to their fullest extent, seeking more of the enemy. She found nothing. All of them had been consumed, their bodies and life forces fuel for the earth. It was because she was seeking so diligently, searching with such dedication, that she felt it.
Willow felt a touch on the fabric of the world. A delicate touch, the fingers of a true artiste's brush putting the finishing touches on a masterpiece. But call it what you will, make whatever metaphor you chose, Willow knew what it was: the Powers were coming.
Drawing in more and more power, Willow prepared herself for her final battle. She always knew this day could come. It had been a possibility since she had first discovered vampires and demons existed. It had become more certain with each passing day that something, someday, would end her existence. She just regretted that it was today.
More than anything else, Willow wanted to take Xander into her arms one last time and tell him she loved him. That she would miss him. Nevermind that he was unlikely to survive her by long. She loved Xander more than she ever had while crushing on him back in high school. More even than she had loved poor, doomed Tara. And she would never see him again. Willow grieved in that moment.
The next moment, all thought was gone as she drew in still more power. She could feel the earth in a way that she had never before, even the tiny plankton in the vast oceans sang to her. There was a song from all living things, a vast opera that explained the meaning of life. Illyria had once tried to explain it to Willow. She'd called it the Green Song. But even Ilyria's understanding of it was incomplete. Of all things living on the earth, great and small, only Willow was privileged to hear the opera in its entirety.
She knew she was blazing like a star in the sky, brighter even than the sun which was cresting the horizon. Willow burned with such energy that soon the veils that hid the school from the outside world would fail. Yet she continued to draw in more power. More power than she'd touched at any time in her life, except once. Almost, she equaled the raw energy she'd shaped once before. Almost. Still, filled with the power of a god, Willow prepared herself for the battle ahead.
Xander shielded his eyes as he stared up at Willow blazing in the heavens. That blast of light had momentarily blinded him, leaving him with spots in front of his eyes. That it had done the job, Xander had no doubt. Willow had tried to explain to him once exactly what it was she would do in the event of an attack by demons. He tuned her out once she'd started in on quantum states of matter and the fluctuating energy states of dark matter. Xander had no idea what that had to do with demons, but he trusted his Willow knew what she was talking about. He also knew that should he look over the grounds surrounding the school right at that moment, there wouldn't be a single demon alive. And everything would look completely normal, not a blade of grass out of place.
Which made him wonder why she hadn't come down. Glancing at his watch, Xander noted that it had been nearly five minutes since the blast that killed the demons. A tiny sliver of worry wormed its way into his heart. A worry that only grew as he realized that the increasing ease with which he could read the dial of his watch wasn't because of the rising sun, which was still shielded from his sight by the surrounding buildings, but instead because Willow was continuing to brighten as she seemed to be drawing in more and more power.
What is she doing, Xander wondered? The only thing he could think of was that it had finally come to pass. The Powers were coming, in all of their strength and glory. As powerful as the defenses of the school were, as strong as Willow was, Xander knew it was just dust in the wind in comparison to beings who would be considered to be gods by most.
For the first time, he felt helpless. Nothing he had could even touch the beings who were about to destroy his world. Willow would be the first to die, followed by all of their charges here. Still, he would do what he could. Gathering the shreds of his courage, Xander began to give orders. Soon, the courtyard was filled with all of the inhabitants of the school who lived there. Every one of them grasped a knife in their right hand as they stood in a large circle around Xander. As one, they raised the knives and set them against their left wrists. And waited. Please, Willow, don't make me do this, Xander prayed, as he watched the youngest person there, Megan, look him trustfully in the eye as she awaited his instructions.
Willow could feel their approach. Beings of infinite radiance began to gather around her. She could just barely perceive them as the power that permeated her being placed her, not on their level, but on a level where she could just touch them. She had continued to gather her power as they approached. She knew her light had long since burned through the glamor that shielded the school. It wouldn't surprise her to know that she could be seen half a world away. Reaching deep within herself, Willow gathered what at any other time of her life would be near infinite power, and flung it outward.
Willow had never even conceived that she would be able to defeat even one of the Powers in a straight up contest of strength. Instead she had devised a plan to attack their hold on the universe by attempting to drive them out of phase with it. It involved changing certain quantum energy states of their being, but it was all that Willow could envision being able to accomplish.
Now, seeing the effortless way her power was deflected and absorbed, Willow realized that she had never stood a chance. It was just as well she had hoarded some of her strength for defense as their counterattack roared down upon her.
The explosion that hit Willow rocked the city spread out beneath her, shattering windows and shaking even the largest buildings. Somehow she was able to attenuate the stroke, absorbing some of it, deflecting other parts of it, until finally, it was over, and she lived still. Power guttering, like a candle-flame in a high wind, Willow barely held herself aloft. She'd never survive another attack of even a fraction of that power.
Willow's connection to the earth was frayed, but unbroken. She could feel the earth laid out beneath her, endless power to be had, if you were willing to pay the price for it. Just beneath her, sat over one hundred willing sacrifices, while spread out around her were millions more. Willing or unwilling, they were hers to do with as she pleased, the earth willing to give her most gifted child anything she desired. But with even one such sacrifice, she would be giving up a part of herself. Too many, and she wouldn't be Willow anymore.
Willow's favorite series of books had always been the Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. Her favorite part of the entire series was when Frodo offered Galadriel the One Ring and she felt its siren call, remembering the ambitions of her youth. She refused the One Ring, accepting as her fate that she would diminish to make way for the dominion of Men, content to merely be Galadriel.
Willow smiled a blindingly happy smile. She, too, would diminish, end, content to merely be Willow. As that thought finished in her mind, she lost consciousness.