Can the Slayer essence only spread so far before it circles back on itself? Are we doomed to live our lives over again until we learn what we need to pass on?Disclaimer:
BtVS belongs to Joss Whedon, the movie The 300
based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller is the property of Warner Bros and The 300 Spartans (1962 movie) is the property of 20th Century Fox..Author's Notes:
This is an AU that looks at reincarnation. Several things will come to light, regarding the Slayers. I've meshed together the the movie storyline and actual facts pertaining to the 300 and the Battle of Thermopylae
, that The 300 movie either brushed over or left out completely, but was better depicted in The 300 Spartans circa 1962 version and lovely wiki.
I know I am deathless...
We have thus far exhausted
trillions of winters and summers,
There are trillions ahead, and
trillions ahead of them.
(Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, 1st (1855)
A body lay unmoving in a darkened room. Machines forced the lungs to inflate and deflate while others beeped to monitor the weak heartbeat. Bandages wrapped around the small head, hiding the once beautiful features of the original Slayer. She laid there broken, possibly dying, and her friends didn't know how to help. They stood outside the ICU, looking through the glass, watching her fight for her life, or so they thought.
Nysa had faced many horrors during her training as the Chosen Daughter of Artemis. The mythological beasts created by the gods weren't the only creatures that stirred in the night. Foul monsters some say had wandered the Earth even before the gods, and came from the deepest pits of darkness, with evil for breath and malice pumping through their veins rather than blood. Nightmares come to life that walked the night and could pull a man's soul from his body by thought, claw or fang. They found a use for their prey as food, slave, progeny, or worse still - example. She had trained for the duty she fulfilled each night, since she was a child.
A sad smile lifted her lips as she thought about her childhood. It brought her homeland to mind. Sparta. It was more than just a city she called home. Spartan laws and beliefs helped shape her into the woman she was today. Sparta was famous for its soldiers, but its women were equally fierce and proud.
Her father, Teleclus, had wanted a son. He loved her and her older sister, Delias, but a Spartan man needed sons to carry on his name, send to battle for the glory of Sparta and to allow him the same honor. It didn't help that the gods had chosen his daughters. Her sister had the sight and went to live with the priestesses at Delphi at a young age. Artemis marked her and she would join into the goddess' service with the visit of her first moon cycle.
Her father went before the assembly and obtained her the right to enter the agoge. The rigorous education and training regime, normally reserved for every young Spartan male was deemed worthy for one marked by the goddess. King Leonidas himself had accompanied her father in escorting her to the school's gates. It was a good day.
The training was hard, meant to cull out the weak. When it came time to leave for Helios to start her training under the goddess' care, she wore her scars proudly. Her only regret was not getting to participate in the krypteia rite of passage. Nysa had looked forward in proving her stealth and combat skills. King Leonidas and Queen Gorgo had wished her well and reminded her that Sparta would always be her home.
Nysa remembered arriving at the temple at Helios. She, like any good Spartan, worshipped the goddess Artemis. They revered the goddess whose very name encompassed everything a Spartan held inviolate - health, strength and vigor. She was also their patron goddess of education. Spartans held knowledge in the highest esteem.
She had resigned herself to a life without men. But, was pleasantly surprised to learn Artemis valued a keen mind, whether it lived within a man mattered little to the virgin goddess. It lightened her heart to learn, although many bore her mark, only a few would become her living embodiment. Those not selected had the unexpected opportunity to find a suitable husband after they completed their commitment to the goddess or to continue in the goddess' service. Nysa had hoped the goddess would pass her by, but the Fates had already woven the tapestry of her life. Children for the honor of Sparta were not part of it.
On her sixteenth birthday, she became the embodiment of Artemis' spirit on Earth, her chosen warrior filled with the goddess' power. She grew faster, stronger and gained heightened senses; everything needed to fulfill her allotted purpose, her duty to her goddess - protect the innocent from the evil that roamed the darkness.
Trusted men and women, dedicated to Artemis, followed her. They protected and guided her while she carried out her sacred duty. Artemis visited her through prophetic dreams, guiding her with visions and portents.
Nysa journeyed toward Delphi to see her sister. Delias' powers of sight had grown stronger over the years. On her eighteenth birthday, she became the 'Oracle'. Five years had passed since then and her powers seemed only to strengthen with each passing year.
Ten years had passed since they had parted. Nysa hated that duty, rather than pleasure, brought her and her sister back together once more. She had missed watching her sister's beautiful face light up when she smiled, or the way her large blue eyes blurred when she lost herself in her world of visions.
She worried about the evil surrounding Delias, a far-reaching evil, one that reached into the very heart of Sparta. Artemis spoke to Nysa through dreams. The goddess told her evil had corrupted the Ephors, Sparta's five elected judges meant to ensure even Sparta's kings upheld the laws.
Xerxes, the King of Persia, intended to take up his father's quest to conquer the world. His armies had marched across Egypt and Babylon, and his greedy eyes had turned toward Greece.
He had vast numbers available for his armies. Strange weapons filled his armory, and creatures unknown to our lands stood ready for battle. He used whatever means necessary to win, including magic. Rumors ran rampant regarding Xerxes' messengers visiting every kingdom throughout Greece. They came offering peace. The small price required was the honor of calling Xerxes their lord and master, and they could keep their kingdoms, in name only, of course. Because, Xerxes was a giving god.
King Leonidas had answered the offer in true Spartan form. He gave the messengers a beautiful death as his answer, whether they wanted one or not. Determined to stop Xerxes, Leonides wanted to assemble the army and take a stand at Thermopylae where there was a small easily defensible pass.
He went to the Oracle at Delphi for guidance, with the Epochs following close in his wake. The Epochs waylaid the Oracle and interpreted her message to suit their own desires, before relaying it back to the waiting King. They used the quickly approaching Carneian festival along with the distorted message from the Oracle as their reasoning for vetoing Leonidas' request to assemble the army.
Worst still, they didn't tell the Spartan king the words meant for him alone.
Nysa snuck into her sister's chambers, knowing time was working against her. She crept closer to the large bed with sheer draperies. The soft breaths and shifting materials told her someone lay inside hidden from view. Her keen vision revealed the exact moment her sister realized she was there.
Delias' slender body sat up and turned toward her younger sister, her large blue eyes luminous in the dark.
"Artemis' daughter, Spartan sister, you've finally come."
Crossing the short distance, Nysa drew back the draperies. There sat her beautiful sister, Delias. She gazed down into those eyes that saw into far off worlds. Her hand came up to cup the beloved face of the sibling who had left her life too soon.
"Yes, sister, I'm here. I've come to hear the words meant for King Leonides, words you spoke two days ago. They didn't reach his ears as you intended. Artemis sent me to carry your words to him."
A serene smile crossed Delias' lips. Long, dark hair fell down her back, giving her face the appearance of a pale moon rising from a dark cloud. The midnight blue eyes dulled as the sight overwhelmed her with its power.
Her voice came out in a soft whisper, "The lion does not need the words; he knows what he needs to do. If the goddess feels he should have this reassurance, I give it freely."
She whispered them into her sister's ear then pulled back to stare into the womanly face that had replaced the little round faced girl, she had cherished.
"Know this, daughter of Artemis; your fate will not end at the Hot Gates. The goddess' gift will cycle through time. Her warriors are chosen, their numbers known to her and her alone."
Her body wilted like a flower back down onto the soft mattress. Nysa sat on the bed, brushing the dark hair away from the pale face.
"I'll remove those who threaten you, sister. Live in your hazy world where the darkness can't enter. The Fates wove my skein on the day of my birth, and whether I die in this battle or another, death will forever snap at my heels."
She bent forward to place a soft kiss on the smooth, pale brow. Slipping from the room, she melted into the shadows, searching out and extinguishing those inside the temple walls who didn't belong. Her shadow raced away from Delphi, heading for Sparta and the Ephors.
They had too much power and too many months left in their year of service to leave them alive. The evil they could spread during that time was unimaginable. Her feet moved swiftly over open fields, hills and streams. She ran swiftly through the day and night, never pausing to eat or sleep.
Time raced against her as those working to bring about the downfall of all she held sacred worked in conjunction. King Leonides needed to hear the words meant for him. His actions could determine the future of all Greece. Yet, her sacred duty called for her to remove an even greater threat nestled within the heart of Sparta - the Ephors.
How could she provide Leonides the information he needed and remove the hidden threat of the corrupted Ephors?
Her mind whirled with confusion as the scenery passed by until she suddenly found herself standing on Sparta's outskirts. She crept into the city, and headed for Artemis' temple, which stood next to the school she had once attended. Entering the temple, she went directly to the large statue of Artemis Orthia. She bowed formally, before going down on her knees and lowering her head as her lips slipped into a silent prayer. Nysa thanked the goddess for watching over her during her long journey. Standing with a liquid grace, she went to find the high priestess.
Each temple, no matter how large, lavish or simple, had the same basic design; a large antechamber for public celebrations and ceremonies, with bathing quarters directly behind. The high priestess' private chamber, which was large enough for private ceremonies, lay to the left of the bathing room. Cooking, eating, storage and sleeping quarters for the other priestesses, acolytes and servants took up the remaining open area to the right. This was where Nysa headed, knowing the high priestess would be there this time of day, or would soon arrive when alerted of her presence.
She stepped into the busy room and all noise stopped. Her dress and the mark clearly defined on her bare shoulder announced her place among Artemis' Chosen Daughters. Servants and acolytes alike rushed forward to assist her.
They practically carried her over to a long table over-flowing with fresh fruit, flat breads, water and wine. Towels and bowls appeared, along with a multitude of hands to clean her hands and face. The high priestess entered the room, followed by a matronly woman Nysa had seen leave as she arrived. She started to rise from the table, when the high priestess motioned for her to stay seated.
"Eat, Daughter of Artemis, you look weary from your journey. The bathing chamber awaits you upon your pleasure. I am Athis," she said with a rich, deep voice.
She stood straight and proud before the chosen warrior of her goddess. Athis couldn't imagine the life this young girl had led, yet she didn't envy her. No doubt, the goddess walked beside her, guiding her through the night as she fulfilled the destiny the Fates had woven for her. She much preferred serving Artemis here within the temple walls where the evil and darkness didn't enter.
"We each serve as the Fates demand."
A soft voice intruded on her deep thoughts, startling Athis into looking back down at the speaker. She found herself caught within a pair of emerald eyes. They were unusual in their coloring. Spartans and Greeks alike had predominately brown eyes, with blue eyes showing up whenever the trait somehow became dominant from some long ago ancestor. She couldn't ever remember seeing green eyes, and never such a deep color. They were startling and seemed to see much more than normal eyes should.
"Do not worry. I don't have the sight, that's my sister's gift. Your face told me your thoughts."
She nodded to her helpers then easily moved up and away from the table. Her lean muscles were stiffening from sitting too long after the abuse she had put them through the last few days.
"Please, come and keep me company while I bath. Share with me news of Sparta. It's been a long time since I've been home, and I long to hear what has transpired during my absence."
The high priestess nodded and waved an arm, indicating the tall, lean woman-child should follow her. They walked the short distance in silence, preferring to keep their conversation private. The older woman waved the bathing attendants out, shock showing clearly on their faces, along with disappointment.
The two women shared a knowing smile as Nysa started to undress. She dropped her outer cloak, followed closely by her weapons, short tunic and under dressings. Moving over to the shelf built into the wall, she sat down and allowed the warmth from the tiles to seep into her tired muscles. She prepared herself for the cool waters about to shower down on her when enough steam built up in the next chamber.
"You said you used to live here. Who are your people?" Athis' curiosity got the better of her and she wanted to know more about this strange child of destiny.
Nysa's lips curved into a soft smile. Her eyes remained closed as she answered, "My father is Teleclus and my mother was Iaera. I left Sparta as a child of twelve years. Please, tell me the news. I've heard rumors, but would rather hear from one who knows the inner workings of my homelands."
She heard the pipes as they started to fill, and tried not to tense her muscles, knowing the cool waters would stimulate her skin and start the bathing process.
"The Gerousia (Spartan senate) led by the Ephors, went to confront King Leonides and 300 of his men where they had assembled outside the city. They threatened to imprison them for going against the mandates of the council and even the Oracle's words about when to march against Xerxes, saying Sparta dare not bring down the wrath of the gods along with the Persians. Our good king merely smiled and told them, he had gathered no army, just a few friends, who like himself, felt in need of some exercise. If their exercise took them toward the Hot Gates, the Oracle said nothing about that, and it broke no laws; they were after all free men of Sparta. Queen Gorgo sent him off with shield and helm, like a good Spartan wife, with our young prince standing by her side. The dining clubs are ripe with gossip about when the Gerousia will break and send the troops Leonides wanted from the start. To a man the assembly can't walk the streets without someone coming up to them with a request to join our good king."
The news equally gladdened and saddened her. Her king had found a way around the Carneian festival's traditions forbidding the army from leaving Spartan territory during the festival, and Spartan rulers couldn't declare war. But, time before the festival started was short, otherwise he would have to wait nine days for the festival to officially conclude. She wasn't sure he could last that long, with only 300 Spartans and several hundred Helots along to protect their backs. Nysa sent up a silent prayer to Artemis, hoping Leonides had somehow gotten word to his allies and they would send him the reinforcements he sorely needed.
Cool water shocked her from her morbid thoughts. It shot through small holes in the pipes, raining down on her body, drenching it and washing away the dirt and grime from her long journey. When the water ran out, she stood and shook like a wet dog.
The high priestess laughed at her antics. "Come, the steam is ready," the high priestess said with a smile. "It will revive you, and then you can tell me what brings you to Sparta."
She felt refreshed after her time in the bathing chambers. The hot steam had sweated the impurities and stiffness from her body. She had gratefully sunk into the large bathing pool to soak, and later swam several laps to finish off the entire process.
Rising from the warm waters, she allowed the bathing attendants, who Athis had finally allowed inside, to dry and then wrap her in a large piece of cloth. She followed a young Helot to the high priestess' private quarters. Entering the chambers, her eyes automatically assessed the new surroundings. It wasn't a conscious act. Her finely honed warrior skills simply took over, looking for signs of danger while noting the exits, sizing up the inhabitants, memorizing the layout and every article, no matter how small, for its possible use as a weapon. She approached a high table, where scented oils stood nearby and dropped the cloth before climbing onto it. Laying down face first, she closed her eyes, while her senses remained on high alert.
Athis dismissed the slave then moved to stand beside the table. She smelled the oils until she found the one that best suited her subject. She chose a mixture of sandalwood and amber with a hint of citrus then let the rich oil pool into well-worn hands. Those same hands started at the base of Nysa's spine, slowly working their way up one vertebra at a time. When they came to those joining the head to the shoulders, they spread out, delving into the still damp hair to massage the scalp. A deep moan from the supine woman brought a smile to Athis' lips. Her fingers continued to work their magic, releasing the tension just beneath the surface and easing the soreness from the overworked muscles. After massaging Nysa's entire body, she stepped back to wipe her hands. Artemis' Daughter had evaded her questions earlier and she hadn't pressed. She hoped the younger woman would feel more inclined to confide in her after having some time to relax.
Having worked among young women for many years, Athis took another approach and asked, "May I help you with whatever brings you to Sparta? I may be the high priestess here, but first and foremost, I am Artemis' servant."
Nysa lifted her head. Her dark green eyes staring hard at the high priestess, whose words though heartfelt didn't fool her. She gave her a soft understanding smile.
"Thank you for your offer. Artemis is blessed to have you in her service." Choosing her words carefully, she continued, "Know this. The days ahead will bring to light many things. Through that light, our beloved Sparta will learn darkness has crept close to home. Don't let the people lose heart. Let them know the gods are with them." She saw the confusion cloud the normally wise eyes. "All will become clear in the days to come. Remember the light will clear away the dark."
She sat up, swinging her legs over the table's edge. "May I rest here while my clothes and weapons are seen to?"
"Please use my sleeping chambers. No one will disturb you. I will bring your things to you once they've been cleaned."
They nodded to each other. Nysa stepped off the table, walking toward a sleeping area secluded behind screens. She lay down, forcing her body to relax and dropped into a light sleep.
A shadow moved through Sparta's streets, darting between buildings and homes, evading the passing guards as it continued on its strangely winding path throughout the capital city. It had started its journey at the city's center, but wound back and around, as if it followed a drunkard's steps. Moonlight gleamed overhead, wafting down to cast additional shadows, providing the lone figure company to dance among on its journey. Feet crept across stone streets, creating no sound as the figure passed through. It moved by homes where those inside slept soundly, little knowing what dangers walked about at night.
Stopping before a home, larger than the last, the shadow slipped inside without disturbing those within or without. It moved more surely now, prowling closer as the moonlight shining through the roof opening gleamed off the metal of a sword in its hand. The shadow silently moved toward the master's chambers. Moonlight filtered down, catching the ghostly intruder in a loving caress, revealing the oval face, green eyes and dark hair of Nysa, the Chosen Daughter of Artemis.
Her face showed no emotion as her long, lean body moved with smooth, predatory grace intent on completing allotted task. This was the last. The other four Ephors lay dead in their beds. She entered the room, stepping toward the bed where a man lay surrounded by four young women. The women had numerous bites and scratches covering their bodies. They whimpered even as they slept. Her lips compressed into a moue of distaste, regretting she couldn't kill her intended target with more prejudice. The sharp blade separated head from body, breaking the glamour hiding the demon that had crawled inside the last of Sparta's Ephors.
A repulsive creature, with grayish skin, stooped and wrinkled body, rotten teeth, bald head and enormous protruding eyes replaced the sleeping man. Her lips turned up into a feral smile. The Ephors deserved to meet Hades this way. It seemed only proper they should live out their days in the Underworld, forever stuck in the guise they had sold their souls to gain.
She left the house, dancing back through the shadows until she came to the outer walls. Crouching down, she pushed off from the ground, leaping up and at the wall while pumping her legs. Her body flew up several feet, using the momentum to literally walk up the wall. She grabbed onto the top ledge, hoisting her body the rest of the way; from there it was a simple matter of dropping down the other side.
Nysa knew she had far to go before she slept this night and was thankful for her respite at the temple. She had completed one part of her journey, while another had just begun.
Leonidas remembered standing on the cliffs, watching as the storms tossed the Persian ships. His men had cheered as the fragile wooden husks shattered against the rocks. The tempest created by Poseidon's wrath with Zeus' furious thunderbolts showing his added displeasure tore the Persian fleet apart. He stood silent and strong, immovable as the cliffs beneath his feet, a shining example of Spartan reserve braving the harsh elements without faltering. Their Hoplite comrades-in-arms had joined them as they shouted for the gods to blast the devils from the sea.
Although the gods had destroyed many ships upon their arrival on Grecian shores, he knew their number counted as barely a fifth of Xerxes' mighty army of over 300,000. His own 300 crowded around him, with the Arcadians close beside them. Mantinean, Teagean, Corinthian, Phlius, Orchomean, Mycenaeans and even their own emancipated Helots sprinkled through the crowd trailing down the cliffs. Their numbers didn't swell to compare to Xerxes' huge contingencies, but altogether he had counted 4000 Peloponnesian ready to push back the threat to Greece's freedom.
They had survived the first day with the 300 still in tact. Thousand of Persians died with little loss to their own numbers, thanks to their vantage point. Tomorrow would bring more of the same, with the added threat of "the Immortals." Xerxes was sure to send in his elite unit. Let them come; they'll meet Spartan spear and shield and sword.
"Spartans, we have another chance for glory tomorrow. Gather the dead, see to the wounded and get some rest," his deep voice roared the orders.
Captain Artemis, ever present at his king's side, motioned for the Helots to carry the wounded to safety. A group of soldiers set about ensuring the enemy scattered about their camp were indeed dead, while others stacked the bodies, creating a veritable wall in their already limited fighting area. A feral grin spread across his lips at the sight of that particular construction. The way his king's mind worked never failed to amaze him. Yes, let those Immortal devils come. We'll test their name - then send their blackened souls to Hades.
Nysa moved closer to a small fire. She chased after King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans, with them always just out of her reach. Each place she passed on her journey showed they were at least a day or more ahead of her. She had hoped to catch them, since she could move much more quickly than 1200 men. It seemed this was not to be. Pulling her cloak more securely around her body, she fell into a light sleep, planning to rest for only a few hours before starting for the Hot Gates. She stood high above a valley, where as far the eye could see, Grecian soldiers stood ready for battle. Lined at their forefront, leading the way with their dark red cloaks and bronze shields, Spartan soldiers had gathered like exotic birds. They worked the men into frenzy, before they started across the battlefield in a glorious wave of human flesh and steel.
Shouts rang out, "For Leonidas, for the brave 300, for freedom."
Everything faded to black, except the moon that shone down on her head. The silvery moonbeams grew brighter, until they practically blinded her. Drawing her hand up to shade her eyes, she saw a shape in the distance. It approached, becoming only slightly clearer the closer it drew.
Nysa squinted, seeing the hazy outline of a stag standing beside a woman in flowing robes with crisscrossed straps for a quiver and bow between her breasts. Artemis, her goddess, had come to speak to her in person, drawing her spirit here to this dreamscape. The goddess had visited her dreams many times. Her presence was always soothing and her voice warm as she spoke of important events or impending dangers. She remembered waking from these occurrences feeling loved and protected. This was different. Never in her wildest dreams could she imagine the goddess coming to her in person.
"Ease yourself, my daughter. Do not fear me, I mean you no harm. You have served me well. I come to ease your mind and offer you a boon."
She swallowed hard, trying to figure out what she might have done or would do to have need of a boon. "A boon?" her voice quivered slightly as she asked.
The goddess of the hunt smiled at her chosen warrior, understanding how confused the young woman must feel. It saddened her that this one's thread was so short. The Fates had decreed it so, and only they knew each soul's true journey, every weave in and out of the loom, when each knot needed tying off, and when it was time for the final cut.
"Once you relay the Oracle's words to Leonidas, I will release you from your duty to me."
"I won't be your chosen daughter anymore? Have I offended you? Done something wrong?" She fell to her knees, prostrating herself before the goddess. "Please, what have I done?"
Tears blurred her vision, blinding her momentarily as her body filled with the deep cold of abandonment and fear. Warmth filled her, when two strong hands lifted her as if she weighed nothing and cradled her close. The goddess rocked her like a mother soothing an injured child.
Nysa startled awake. Goose bumps raced over her skin as her dream's impact crept into her consciousness. Jumping to her feet, she kicked dirt on the fire, gathered her things and took off at a fast jog for the Hot Gates. Her face set in a determined mask. She never gave Sparta children to continue its glory. As Artemis' words echoed in her mind, she vowed to do her part to see Sparta had its chance at freedom from Persia.
She crested a small hill, coming to a slow halt. Her eyes surveyed the standards flying from the tents erected near this outermost edge of the Hot Gates. She counted no less than seven, flying proudly in the light sea breeze. Thank the gods. Word reached our Peloponnesian brothers and they answered
Renewed strength rushed through her veins as she hurried toward the sound of battle. What she saw when she arrived at the scene was startling even to one who fought the darkness. Silver masked soldiers dressed in black swung deadly swords at anything that moved. This didn't disturb her. It was the beast they pulled and prodded, for beast was the only fit description. Standing nearly eight foot tall, with shoulders the length of her legs, its massive body though flesh seemed near indestructible from the attacks it swatted away with ease. These silver-faced soldiers pointed their beasty like a hound on the hunt and it went after its target time and again. Its enlarged bald head, protruding teeth and general appearance brought to mind the ancient tales of ogres.
The Spartans fought the Immortals with the inherent drive bred into them. They pitted their spears and swords against the Immortals' mystique. Leonidas went after the beast, intent on removing the threat to his men. His shield protected him from a near fatal blow. Falling from the impact, he came up with his sword and pierced the beast's side, eliciting a horrific howl. He leapt back to his feet, ready to finish the monster, but stopped to watch in shock as it pulled his blade from its flesh, seemingly unharmed.
Taking advantage of the situation, the beast swung at Leonidas, planning to cleave him in half. The sword started its downward path, when a body came hurtling through the air straight into the beast. Leonidas felt the tip score his forehead and cheek. He quickly grabbed his shield, used it to broadside an Immortal, took his sword and slit his throat. His focus went back to his previous quarry, which he found engaged in a battle with a - woman.
Nysa saw the beast about to kill Leonidas. She couldn't let it happen. Today wasn't his day to die, at some demon's hand. He deserved a beautiful death. Pushing her legs to go faster, she quickly crossed the distance and launched her body at the enemy feet first. It shoved the creature backward and kept the blade from its intended path. She used the momentum and the creature's own unsteadiness to topple them to the ground. They landed with a resounding thud and a loud growl from the angry beast. Its arms and legs flayed about as it tried to get back to its feet, but Nysa had other plans. She darted back and forth, avoiding the flying limbs, lashing out at them with brutal kicks and blows. Grabbing the sword from its hand after one such blow, she used it to sever the large head from its body.
Turning back to Leonidas, she shouted, "My king."
He was already staring at her even as he fought the Persian devils around him. She threw his sword back to him, which he caught before twisting to the side to stab an Immortal. Arcadian soldiers rushed the field, hacking and slashing at the Immortals. The Spartans withdrew, leaving the remaining kills to their comrades.
Seeing the skirmish was over, except for the stragglers, Nysa maneuvered around the body-strewn area with her focus on one person and one goal - Leonidas and the Oracle's words. Her presence was like waking from a startling dream. Men, trained soldiers, slowed as she passed, trying to determine whether she was real or a figment of their imaginations, freezing them in place. The sea breeze became still and stagnant and the incessant gulls went silent. All eyes watched as the lithe female form approached the Spartan king. She went down on one knee, placing her right arm across her chest in a show of honor and fealty. They heard her speak in a proud, clear voice.
"My king, I ask that you allow me the honor to stand beside you, here at the Hot Gates."
Spartan soldiers gave a resounding shout. They had witnessed this woman's prowess during the battle, along with her timely rescue of their beloved king.
Leonidas stared at the dark head bowed in supplication. When the woman tilted her face up to meet his, he knew he had seen those eyes before, but in a much smaller face. They had filled the small face of a soldier's daughter born with Artemis' mark. His dark eyes glanced toward a bared shoulder, seeing the same mark proudly displayed. He put out a large hard which she took, allowing him to pull her upright.
His booming voice filled the Hot Gates with his answer. "Spartans, friends, we've received a gift from the gods." He turned her around to face the still frozen, gaping men. "Artemis' Chosen Daughter wishes to join our fight. Let Xerxes send his worst and we will beat them back until the Hot Gates turn cold."
Killing the Immortals and Nysa's appearance had renewed their faith. Strength filled their bodies as the call for battle rushed through their blood.
The shouting reached such a fevered pitch that Xerxes, who awaited the triumphant return of his Immortals, leapt from his throne with an unholy roar. His anger rose to dangerous heights, sending his generals shrinking back in terror.
Barbarian troops marched onward, pushing forward in a seemingly endless line of soldiers. No matter their numbers, the gate funneled them into its narrow pass where Spartan shield and blade, along with their Greek brothers waited. Xerxes' men saw their deaths in flashes of scarlet and bronze, swooping down on them like great carrion. Their eyes grew wide with fright when they noticed a woman warrior among the Spartans. She fought like the personification of Death itself. They tried to retreat, pushing against the soldiers still trying to enter, injuring their own men in an attempt to flee the scene.
Mythical warriors and mighty numbers had failed. The generals sent for their magic casters, strange creatures with hidden faces, who created fire with their gnarled hands. They sent fire flying toward the Hot Gates where it destroyed the earth, shaking the ground where it landed.
Using his bronze shield as protection, a Spartan soldier darted over the quaking earth, zigging and zagging in a drunken path toward the casters. He had noticed the magic came from a strange looking gourde with an attached wick . A caster lit the wick and prepared to throw the empowered gourde. Reacting instinctively, the Spartan ran forward, snatching the hissing object from the enemy's hand and threw it against a pile of similar gourds. He pivoted and had already started running back toward the pass when the explosion knocked him off his feet, but he quickly regained them and continued back to Hot Gates' waiting embrace. His quick thinking had annihilated the casters and surrounding soldiers.
Outnumbered nearly a hundred to one, it mattered not; the Persians fell by the thousands, while the Spartans and their Greek comrades stayed relatively unharmed behind their wall.
A furious Xerxes disciplined his generals for their failures. The monstrous creatures, he brought from the darkest corners of Asia, trampled forward wildly enraged from the smell of blood and fear that tinged the air. Lashes drove them toward their king's enemy. The large animals couldn't maneuver through the narrow pass and tumbled down to the sea and rocks below, becoming more food for the gulls. Watching his beasts topple over like dominoes, only fueled Xerxes' temper.
Nysa danced among the Spartans. Her blade joined their spears as they pushed the Persians back, time and again. She slipped through the groups, always appearing among the heaviest fighting. Her strength and stamina endless as she jumped about, seeming to dance among the dead bodies. She leapt, twisted and spun about in an intricate show of gymnastic prowess and power. Her movements slowed as the others looked about counting their numbers to reassure themselves they remained 300 strong.
Spartans dispatched the last few stragglers, and took a well-earned breath. Captain Artemis turned to gaze at his youngest son. He had showed great bravery and ability on the field this day.
Captain Artemis called out, a smile lighting his face as words of praise formed on his lips, "Astinos, my son."
Father and son exchanged proud smiles across the bloodstained ground. The Captain's eyes grew wide with horror as a lone rider galloped through the pass straight at his son.
"Astinos!" he shouted in warning, his feet already moving, even though he knew it was too late.
Astinos turned to search for the danger, but was defenseless against the sharp edged sword already pressed against his skin. It sliced cleanly through the young Spartan's neck. His head toppled to the ground as the rider passed him.
"No!" Artemis screamed in horror as he watched his son's body crumple to the ground. A terrible rage filled him. He went crazy with bloodlust, moving out of formation, intent on killing Persians, all Persians, even Xerxes himself.
It took three men to wrestle him down before he got himself killed. His howling screams of agony echoed across the battlefield, scaring the enemy more than the Spartans' fierce fighting skills. The day's fighting was over, and it was time to regroup, see to the wounded and bury the dead.
Each contingent returned to their encampments to rest and prepare for the fighting that would resume tomorrow. The Spartans gathered to compare wounds and retell stories of the day's battle. Hope filled the air, the hope they might actually defeat the Persians.
Leonidas smiled at his men with fatherly pride, but his attention swung back to his unexpected guest. She leaned casually against the stone wall, cleaning her weapons. Her lips twitched upward in a half-smile at the men's boasting. He watched her slow, steady movements as she wiped the blood and gore from her large sword. It should have overpowered her with its length and breadth, yet he had seen what she could do with it. There was no doubt who was the master.
Nysa felt his eyes on her. Setting her weapon aside, she rose to her feet and walked over to stand before the Spartan king. Her large green eyes caught and held his somber brown ones. They nodded in greeting, their eyes going to the men when the rowdy laughter hit a high note. Turning back, they shared a smile, before moving away to talk privately.
"King Leonidas, I'm glad this day still finds you well," Nysa said formally, unsure how to broach the subject behind her true reason for being here.
"And I, you, Daughter of Teleclus." His smile broadened when he saw the shock cross her face over him remembering their past meetings. "Come child, did you think I could forget you? You were the first girl-child admitted into the agoge in Sparta's history."
Her lips broke into a huge smile. "Those were good days. Thank you for standing with my father before the Gerousia. Your words helped ease my entrance. I hear your son will enter soon. May he break even his honored father's scores."
Leonidas' eyes gleamed with fatherly pride. "Yes, he will do great things for Sparta."
"You leave large footsteps for him to follow. I bring news to aid you in that goal." She saw the interest light his eyes and quickly continued. "The Oracle had words meant for your ears. Artemis sent me to ensure they found their way to you." Closing her eyes, she repeated the words her sister had whispered to her only days ago. The strength of bulls or lions cannot stop the foe.
No, he will not leave off, I say, until he tears the city or the king limb from limb.
She heard Leonidas' heart rate increase with fear or excitement she wasn't sure. Peeking up through thick lashes, her green eyes slowly opened to see the Spartan king's reaction. The dark eyes that met hers had filled with a renewed sense of purpose. Large hands reached out to grasp her smaller ones, bringing them up to the finely chiseled lips to place a brief, grateful kiss on her palms.
"Thank you. Thank the goddess and the Oracle," he said, his deep voice lowering to a whisper.
Dawn came early the next day. The evening brought bad tidings that changed the earlier high hopes. A traitor named Ephialtes told Xerxes about the mountain path guarded by the Phocians, who fled when Xerxes sent men to scout out the truth of the matter. The Greek leaders met to decide how to proceed. Leonidas refused to leave. Spartans did not retreat or surrender. He had started this battle and he would end it. The Thespians, numbering 700 strong, decided to stay, as did the emancipated Helots. The others left with the king's blessing. Leonidas sent a Spartan soldier, who had lost an eye, back to Sparta to report. He simply requested the soldier recount what had happened at the Hot Gates and the brave 300. Leonides acknowledged his Spartan's heroic acts the only way he could - posthumously.
Xerxes' forces would surround them when the fighting started. Leonidas had decided to take the fight to them. Giving each man, or woman, a chance for a beautiful death, he planned to lead them out past the wall. Horns blared. Whips cracked. The earth shook from the army of a thousand nations marching toward them.
"Spartans, loyal friends, we march forward for freedom, for Greece."
Nysa clutched her sword as she stood among her Spartan compatriots. Her blood heated in anticipation of the coming battle. She felt her muscles tense as the Spartans placed their helms on their heads.
Leonidas lifted his spear, pointing it toward the narrow pass that had sheltered them from the larger Persian numbers.
"Spartans! Show no mercy. For tonight, we dine in Hell!"
The excitement his words brought pulsed through them. They moved out in the famous phalanx formation, marching pass the Hot Gate into the battlefield. Nysa got lost in the fighting. Persian soldiers quickly surrounded them and she concentrated on nothing but the heady rush of battle. Her hands, feet and sword lashed out with equally deadly accuracy. The strength that came with her gift made her body a living weapon.
Leonidas remained always within her line of sight. The Spartan king fought with a vicious abandonment, knowing he wouldn't survive this day. He intended to leave this world in a blaze of glory taking every Persian he could along with him. His Spartan soldiers were not far behind as they hacked and slashed with their heavy bronze shields and long deadly spears. They seemed to feel no pain, faltering, falling, only to pull themselves up to kill one more man. A pained cry went up when Leonidas fell, the mighty lion taken down by the jackals.
Nysa saw it happen. She had started working her way toward him, but for every man she killed three more took his place.
When her king went down, she pushed with everything she had, refusing to allow Xerxes' men to take Leonidas' body. Her muscles ached as she shoved against the living wall of flesh standing between her and her goal. She threw bodies out of her way as if they weighed nothing until she finally saw him. The remaining Immortals fought over the honor of taking Leonidas' head back to Xerxes. Nysa gave them a feral smile as she shoved them away, taking up a stance over his body. She brought up her sword ready to kill anyone who tried to come near the body. And come they did.
Buffy floated in a sea of black. She didn't know what was happening. One minute, she was living another person's life; no, that wasn't right. She was another person. That still wasn't right either; she was another person who was still her. She was someone else; someone named Nysa who lived long ago, another Slayer. What was this all about? Why were there only 1000 Slayers activated? Shouldn't there be more? What did Delias say to Nysa, to me? The numbers known to goddess and will cycle through time. Does that mean there's a limit to the number of Slayers? We reincarnate? How many lives have I lived? Is that where those weird dreams about Lothos came from?
Have you forgotten me so soon, daughter?
"Artemis? It was real. You're the source of the Slayer Line."
Understanding flooded her consciousness. "The First tried to trick me into allowing the darkness inside me."
"Yes, but you passed the test. It's time to come home, child. This thread has spun its final weave and you've completed the tapestry of your life. You've done all the Fates have set before you, and I've come to take you home.
Light broke through the darkness, a beeping sound shattered the quiet and pain lanced through Buffy's body.
Dawn was the first to notice the change. "Something's happening. Call a doctor," she squealed, her voice hitting an impossibly high note.
Xander started running down the hall only getting half way when, the staff came barreling toward him. He plastered himself against the wall to keep from being run over as they raced into Buffy's room. His steps slowed on their return journey, as if fearful they might lead their bearer toward some horrible sight when he once more peered through the looking glass.
Faith stood off to the side never taking her eyes off her sister Slayer. Giles wrapped an arm around Dawn and Willow as they watched the medical staff crowd around the small body. They blocked the view keeping the anxious observers from seeing what was happening. The door opened and the doctor stepped out. He wore a strange look on his face almost as if he wasn't sure what do or say.
"Miss Summers is awake, and insists on speaking to you - all of you." He raked a hand through his hair, before continuing. "She's very weak. I'm not entirely sure how she's even awake, to tell you the truth."
Dawn disengaged from Giles and moved toward Buffy's room, but the doctor blocked her way. She glared at him ready to shove him aside to get to her older sister. He gave her an indulgent smile that didn't reach his eyes.
"I'm allowing this, although it's unorthodox, with the understanding you'll not let her get too excited and won't stay long."
"We agree," they said in unison.
If it were under any other circumstances, they would have laughed at the occurrence. But, this was no laughing matter and these circumstances had become all too familiar.
Dawn rushed by him, slowing only when she neared the bed, where Buffy lay looking small and broken. Giles came over to stand beside her and slipped his hand into hers. Willow and Xander joined them, completing the Scooby circle. Faith went to the other side, with them but still not part of the group.
"Buffy, can you hear us? The doctor said you wanted to talk to us," Giles said, his voice wavered slightly, but he seemed the only able to speak.
The normally strong hands trembled as they pulled the oxygen mask away from her face. She tried to smile, but couldn't quite do it.
"Take your time, dear girl, we'll wait," he said.
"No. No time," she gasped.
"You have plenty of time. The doctor said not to tire you out; that means you're getting better. Just have to wait for your Slayer healing to kick in, and then it will heal you right up and if it doesn't, you know kick in soon, then I'll perform a healing spell that will kick it in the pants then it will kick in and it will be a whole big kicking thing."
Xander put his hand over his best friend's mouth to stop her babbling. His dark eye saw what the others wanted to deny. He hated that even with one eye he was still 'The One Who Sees.' Slayer healing couldn't fix Buffy, not this time. They needed nothing short of a miracle, and he didn't think they had time to find a magic vase on E-Bay.
"Not dark. Lie." Her breathing grew labored. "First set trap. Numbers fixed, recycled." She gulped, her mouth suddenly going dry.
Giles dropped Dawn's hand, placing ice chips in her mouth from a nearby glass, giving her the much-needed moisture to continue. His brow furrowed as he tried to decipher her cryptic words. He gazed into the fevered emerald eyes that begged him to understand what she was trying to tell him.
It scared him that he might fail his Slayer in her hour of need, possibly her last and final message to him. He felt his heart constrict at the realization he would outlive his Slayer, his daughter emotionally if not physically. Giles wasn't sure he could survive losing her, not so soon, not like this. How could it have come to this? She wasn't even supposed to have gone with Xander to look for the activated Slayers. But, there was no stopping Buffy once she got something in her head. If only we had known it would lead to this. If only. Two simple words that held such a heavy meaning.
Buffy started to speak again. Giles worked hard to keep from crying as he saw the toll it was taking on her to force the words out through chapped and broken lips.
"Tell them." She paused.
The machines whined, beeping loudly as her heart rate rose to an alarming rate. The doctor rushed in, with a nurse close on his heels to shove the Scoobies aside as he checked her pulse. The nurse reset the machine, motioned for everyone to move back and give the doctor room to work. Her face was set, but her eyes were sympathetic. They heard Buffy's voice hoarsely override the doctor.
"No," she said. "I have…to…no…time." More whispering wafted their way and they heard her softly reply. "Yes."
The doctor reluctantly moved away from the bed. He looked at each of them letting his expression tell them what his patient wouldn't allow him to say.
"Don't tire her out," he said cryptically and stepped out of the room.
Giles quickly went to Buffy's bedside, taking her hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. "Buffy, dear girl, we can come back later when you've rested." His eyes pleaded with her to stop and use her strength to recover, to stay with them.
His shoulders slumped as he watched her work hard to swallow. The others watched in dumbfounded silence. They didn't know what to do or were afraid that if they broke the tenuous balance their house of cards would come tumbling down, sending her away from them all the more quickly. So, they continued, doing what they had always done in one way or another, following the two who had always led them - the Slayer and her Watcher.
Buffy closed her eyes, grasping for the words to tell her family what she needed them to know. "Love you. Sorry. Lots of things." Her eyes wandered around, lighting on each one of them. "Faith. Up to you. Lead them. Not dark, light all of us, always. Other a lie, remember - promise."
Faith took a deep breath and said, "It's all five by five, B. Don't worry about anything. Just do what you need to do."
The original two Chosen Ones stared into each other's eyes, understanding passing between them.
She squeezed Giles hand with what remained of her strength. He winced, but didn't try to remove his hand. The pain was nothing compared to the damage occurring to his heart.
"Just rest, Buffy. You've earned it." He took a faltering breath before saying the words he knew she needed to hear as well. "It's okay, just close your eyes. You don't have to say more. We understand and we love you, too." He turned back to the others, who stood frozen in place. "Don't we?"
They came alive at his words and responded. "We love you, Buffy."
A soft, weary smile ghosted across her lips. It melted away as her eyelids closed as if they were too heavy for her to keep open any longer. The air in the room grew heavy, with the only sounds coming from the beeping of the machines, Buffy's labored breathes and the collective sighs everyone released when she took another one. Their sighs were short lived when the alarms went off on the machines and the next breath didn't come.
Dawn clutched her heart as though it had physically broken. Her large blue eyes filled with tears that soon spilled over to slide down her cheeks. She watched the doctor silently step into the room and turn off the machine. Anger consumed her when he didn't even try to revive her sister. Her hands clenched at her side, and she started forward, unsure whether she planned to verbally or physically assault him. She felt a hand on her shoulder stopping her and she looked up at Giles.
"It isn't his fault, Dawn. There's nothing he can do to bring her back. All we can do is let her rest in peace and try to understand the message she worked so hard to pass on to us."
Peace. It encompassed her, filled her with happiness and a sense of completeness she had only felt at one other time in her life.
"Welcome, daughter, we have been waiting for you," Artemis said as she walked forward to pull Buffy into her arms.
Artemis elegantly gestured toward something behind Buffy. She turned around and her eyes widened with shock that quickly turned to joy. The people she had lost during her life were standing there. Her mother had an arm around Celia; Tara, Jenny; the list seemed endless as her eyes wandered over their faces.
A tall slender figure with large fathomless blue eyes stood next too a lithe dark haired woman who stared at her with intense emerald green eyes. It was Delias and her past life self, Nysa. This was amazing, wonderful and frightening all at once. She slowly walked toward the people who had left her for a higher plane. They welcomed her with open arms.
She had finished her journey, and had finally come home. ~The End~