Temple of Doom
Staring down at her dinner, Ami absently poked it with her fork. After a long day at the hospital, at the end of a long week, she hadn't been in the mood to cook and had resorted to throwing some kind of semi-edible frozen entree into the small microwave in her apartment. As she chewed, her thoughts kept returning to Buffy Summers.
She wasn't quite sure what to make of Buffy. They'd met for coffee several other times in the past two weeks and had even managed a picnic lunch at the beach the day before. There was an underlying shyness to the dainty blonde when it was just the two of them that seemed at odds with how she'd seen her act while secretly observing her as she made her rounds of Sunnydale. It was almost as if she were two different people, one of whom hunted monsters.
She'd intentionally stayed out of Buffy's way at night, since that first cemetery meeting. It'd taken that long to figure out a pattern to her nightly activities. The path she took around the city appeared random but actually wasn't. It varied gradually over time. Ami wondered who the genius who'd thought it up was, if it wasn't Buffy herself.
Tonight she was going to join her, hopefully for her entire patrol.
She found her in one of the newer cemeteries. Even at night it gave an impression of being a restful place, unlike some of the others with their ominous looking tombs and mausoleums.
She stayed back, respectfully letting Buffy have some privacy.
"Sometimes, I wonder why the good die so unexpectedly," Buffy said, her voice carrying to Mercury. Turning to her, she motioned for her to join her. "You wanted to know about that energy blast?"
"Yes," Mercury said.
"This is Tara," Buffy said, squatting down and gently running her hands over the letters on the tombstone. "I wouldn't call her innocent. She'd seen to much before we even met her for that to be true. But she was a good person. Even though her darkest deed wasn't done with the purest of motives, forgiving her was easy."
Mercury knew she was missing something, as she listened to Buffy's soft voice from across the grave. There was something more than the sorrow of a lost friend in her voice.
"But her death almost ended the world," Buffy said. "Something that would have horrified her."
"How?" Mercury asked.
"How far can you walk in those?" Buffy asked, pointing at Mercury's high heeled boots.
"As far as I need to," Mercury said.
"Okay. Have you been to the public high school yet?"
"Not inside," Mercury told her. It had shown up on her scans but hadn't really stuck out.
"Not much to see, if you ignore the portal to Hell in the basement," Buffy said. "But it's really where everything begins."
"Hell?" Mercury asked, wondering if she was being literal.
"Well, to a hell dimension," Buffy clarified. "No one has ever gone into it to find out which one. We're usually too busy trying to keep it closed."
"Is it guarded?" she asked, thinking of the Time Gates Pluto guarded.
"Not normally," Buffy said. Standing up she brushed dirt from her pants.
"No?" Mercury stared at her in shock.
"Nope. What did Xander call it? Oh yeah. We're reactive, not proactive." Shrugging, she started walking away from the grave.
"That doesn't seem sufficient," Mercury said, following her out of the cemetery.
"Apparently, we have sole authority over the area," Buffy said. "Learned that a few months ago," she added, frowning. "But we don't have anyone to spare to keep a constant watch on it. Or at least not someone I trust."
"The Sunnydale chapter of the Council of Watchers," Buffy said, stopping in front of the dark high school. "Ancient secret order. Blah, blah, blah. Not the most exciting bunch. Mostly librarians sitting around drinking tea and researching prophecies and such. Almost no budget for field offices."
"We usually have some kind of warning if there's going to be an attempt to open it," Buffy said. "Happens at least once a year. It used to be easier to keep an eye on it when we were in high school," she murmured. "If you want to see it, we'll have to come back later when I can borrow a key."
"Yes," Mercury said, quickly scanning the school. "Energy, but not a huge amount," she murmured to herself.
"Not sure what your gadgets can detect," Buffy said, "but the last gang who came to town and got all sciencie about the mystical mojo got killed by their own science projects. Well, most of them."
Looking up at Buffy, Mercury frowned. "I am not sure I can explain it in your language," she said. "Most people who have attempted to study the abilities of myself and the others call it magic. But it is not. It is ritualistic energy manipulation that your science is no advanced enough to understand. The energy here... It is still energy but different in some way. I can measure it but have not been able to discover it's source."
"You're the brain in your gang, aren't you," Buffy stated, with a small grin. "That's why you're in Sunnydale."
Mercury could feel herself blushing. It was true that the others took a less intellectual approach but they all had their strengths.
"Hey, not a problem. We've got our own brain, though she's kind of on R-n-R right now. Somebody on the team has to make with the understanding of the complicated issues so the rest of us can get things done." Buffy nodded at some private thought. "A couple more stops and then you'll have your answer. More or less."
"This was that rare apocalypse," Buffy said, pointing at a twisted pile of steel beams bathed in harsh florescent light. "It could have happened anywhere. The Hellmouth had nothing to do with it other than being a big evil magnet. Sunnydale just got lucky." She didn't think Mercury needed to know why. "Evil Hellgod wanted to go home, so she had her minions build a tower and they opened a portal."
"Big glowie thing. Very messy cleanup, or so I'm told, what with the being dead and all," Buffy said nonchalantly, very proud of herself.
"Dead?" Mercury raised an impeccably trimmed eyebrow at her, much to Buffy's delight.
"It was a thing," Buffy told her. "Got better but definitely not recommended as part of a sound mental health plan. Especially if your so called friends are too busy patting themselves on the back to help you deal with the resulting issues."
Mercury cleared her throat, obviously wanting to ask a question but, from Buffy's experience with her so far, was too polite. She wondered if all Japanese super-people were the same.
"Sorry," Buffy said. "It isn't fair to the gang for me to be so bitchy when they can't defend themselves. I'm sure they thought they had good reasons for bringing me back. An adult would be happy to be here and not 6 feet under."
"We've had some experience with our own deaths," Mercury said.
"That's right! Anya did say something about reincarnation," Buffy said. "Anyway, the reason this place is important in your guided tour? It's sort of the middle of the story. The library was the beginning, where Willow first learned about magic. This is the first place that she did magic to Tara instead of with. The Hellbitch stole something from Tara and Willow took it back. I think it tainted her somehow."
Mercury thought about what she'd learned so far, as they continued walking. There was something missing from Buffy's story.
"Doesn't look too special, does it," Buffy stated, stopping in front of a small house, the only light coming from the porch. "But the trigger for your thing happened here."
"Tara," Buffy said. Still talking, she started walking again, at a slightly faster pace. "Willow was her girlfriend. They had completely different ideas about magic. Tara grew up with it. She once said it was a part of her." Buffy stopped at the bottom of a driveway. "We want to go up there," she said, pointing at a moonlit bluff off in the distance, behind the mansion at the other end of the driveway. "Kingman's Bluff."
"And Willow? How did she view this magic?" Mercury asked when they reached a path behind the crumbling mansion.
"Just another tool," Buffy said. "She learned it to help me. And because she was curious. She couldn't resist the challenge of learning something new."
They were both silent as they climbed the path towards the top. Mercury assumed Buffy had some kind of special vision. The only reason she was able to keep up was due to her visor.
"And this would be it," Buffy said, waving an arm at the empty clearing at the top.
Mercury looked around, puzzled. The far end of the bluff was distorted. It was like looking across a wall of heated air. Taking her computer out of its subspace pocket, she tried to adjust her visor to remove the distortion. The sky was starting to lighten with the approaching dawn before she admitted defeat.
"What is it?" she finally asked Buffy, who was leaning against a tree on the edge of the clearing, casually twirling a pointed wooden stick. Standing up, she joined Mercury in the middle of the clearing.
Holding out her right hand, palm up, she said, "Hand, without the glove please."
Putting away her computer, Mercury reluctantly removed a glove. Looking Buffy in the eyes, she firmly grasped the woman's dainty hand.
"Now look," Buffy said softly, pointing towards the distortion.
Turning her head, Mercury could now see a large, looming temple, built in a vaguely familiar style.
"We couldn't destroy it, so we hid it," Buffy said. "Well, someone hid it for us until we can figure out what to do with it."
"It is very old," Mercury said, pointing her computer at it with her free hand. "And contains a large amount of dark energy."
"That would probably be because of Proserpexa," Buffy said, pointing at a large statue on the temple. "This isn't the first time someone tried to use her temple to end the world. Not sure if it is actually possible. The last time an earthquake buried it and her worshippers instead."
Frowning, Mercury looked down as her computer started beeping. "It's the same style as several temples built by a people who disappeared before the founding of the Moon Kingdom," Mercury said.
"So there are more of them out there?"
"Possibly. I will need to research it," she said.
"Well, if you can find a way to turn it off or de-evil it, that would make me happy," Buffy said. "One less apocalyptic artifact in my town the better."
Mercury turned back to Buffy, releasing her hand. "I will keep you informed."
"Good. Let's go back to the house and wrap this up. I could use some coffee."
Mercury sat on the porch, legs crossed, hands in her lap, as she listened to Buffy. Watching her brought up dim memories of sitting around a campfire with the Princess and the other Senshi, as old warriors told them tales of the Senshi who had come before them.
"It's a simple story. You've already heard parts of it," Buffy said. "And you've probably heard stories like it before."
"A hero wanders into town. A shy, powerless girl learns the world is bigger and scarier than she thought.
Learns that the hero is flawed, like all such heroes. Becomes one of the hero's most trusted companions and learns magic to help out. Enjoys the feeling of power that magic gives her. The superiority it makes her feel.
The girl meets another girl who does magic. A girl who was even shyer.
They fall in love.
During the annual apocalypse, the new girl is hurt, and our Girl uses powerful magic to fix her. She likes the feeling it gives her.
The hero dies but the Girl refuses to accept this and delves into deep, dark magic to bring the hero back. The Girl's success makes her arrogant. She becomes addicted to the feeling that using so much power gave her.
No relationship is perfect, though the Girl and New Girl seem that way to their friends. They have the Usual ups and downs. During one of their downs, the Girl, in her arrogance, fixes things with magic. She makes the New Girl forget their argument. She tries to fix the hero the same way, to make her forget dying.
It backfires, as things tend to do, and the Girl and New Girl break up. The Girl eventually reaches bottom, cleans up her act and she and the New Girl get back together.
Soon after, an enemy of the hero, she didn't have many, tired of having his plans constantly foiled, tried to kill the hero. His first shot missed the hero, the second didn't.
But that first shot hit an innocent bystander. The New Girl died in the Girl's arms.
The Girl went insane with grief and after fixing the hero absorbed a lots of dark magic, which, as you've probably noticed, is very plentiful around here. Her former mentor tried to stop her by dosing her with white magic but it didn't work.
The Girl avenged the New Girl using very dark magic but vengeance didn't make her feel better. The white magic backfired. The Girl felt the pain of the whole world, not just her own . So, she pulled Proserpexa's temple out of the ground and tried to stop everyone's pain by ending the world.
Fortunately, she was stopped before she could do it."
"Any questions?" Buffy asked, sitting down on the porch.
"The girl who died, that was Tara?" Mercury asked.
"And it was Willow who tried to end the world."
"How did you stop her," Mercury asked.
"I didn't," Buffy said. "Love did."
"But her love was dead," Mercury said.
"But there were others who loved her in other ways," Buffy said. "Her best friend, someone who'd been by her side since she was five, managed to reach out to her and stop her."
"Where is she now?"
"With a coven we work with," Buffy said. "Recovering."
"Is she a threat?"
"Not now," Buffy said. "I won't say never, but she was never truly evil. They tell me she'll never be the same. Channeling that kind of power changes a person."
"Okay," Mercury said, standing up to leave.
"Just 'okay', no demands that she be brought to justice or be punished?" Buffy asked defensively.
"It is tragic," Mercury said, speaking softly. She wondered who had been so unreasonable about Buffy's friend to cause this reaction. "But the world didn't end. It is not my right to judge what someone else did for love. The Princess would have scolded her and then hugged her," she added.
Buffy frowned at her. "You aren't what I expected," she said, tilting her head slightly.