Based on the creations of J.R.R. Tolkien and Joss Whedon. Who'd a' thunk it?Chapter 1
Buffy moaned as she slowly regained consciousness. As she shifted where she lay, pain lanced through her body, and she gasped. She struggled to open her eyes, but her lids felt heavy. Slowly, her eyes blinked open, and she felt a stab of alarm when all she could see was a blurry green mass above her. Wherever she was, there was very little light, and she blinked several times, attempting to bring her vision back into focus.
This wasn’t the first time she had ever been knocked unconscious, and Buffy knew from experience to stay still, in case she had any serious injuries. She was pretty certain she had several, including a big dent in her head, possibly caused by a troll hammer. Her temples throbbed, and she felt nauseated for a moment. She closed her eyes and made herself take deep breaths, and waited for the feeling to pass.
At last she opened her eyes again, and her brain registered the sight of the tops of huge trees looming high above her. She felt the ground beneath her, lumpy with roots and grass and leaves. She chanced to move her head slightly to either side to confirm her suspicion that she was lying in some sort of dense forest.
Checking her limbs by flexing the muscles, and moving them around a little, she ascertained that no bones were broken, and she lifted her left arm across her chest to roll to her side before attempting to sit up. That accomplished, she took a moment to rest. She wasn’t quite ready to try to figure out just why she had woken up in the great outdoors, or how she’d come to be unconscious, so she quieted her mind, and concentrated on sitting up.
Little by little, she pushed herself to a kneeling position, and breathed a sigh of relief, when no sickness or pain overtook her. Suddenly, her stomach seized up, and she doubled over, gagging, as she vomited up the contents of her stomach.
“Eww,” she coughed when the sickness finally abated. She wiped her mouth, and her forehead, and swept her long hair back behind her shoulders as she took a few cleansing breaths to slow her rapid heartbeat. “Sighed in relief too soon, I guess,” she muttered to herself, and she sat back on her butt and scooted away from the mess on the ground. Pushing down the panic that was starting to rise, she elected to make sure all her mental faculties were present and accounted for.
“Name, Buffy Anne Summers, check. Age: twenty. Occupation: Vampire Slayer, for which I don’t get paid of course, but anyway… City of residence: Sunnydale and I don’t think I’m anywhere near there, by the looks of it.”
Buffy took in her surroundings once more, noting the gnarled bark, and the twisted trunks and limbs of the trees. “Where in the holy heck am I?” she inquired of the Fates as she leaned back onto a tree. This forest was like no other she had ever seen.
The air was close, so close, she felt as if she could easily suffocate. Moss grew on the looming trees and on the forest floor. Buffy started to feel apprehensive, as if she were being watched. A menacing presence seemed to hang overhead, and she shifted uneasily in her spot on the ground.
“Wherever this is, I so don’t want to be here,” she muttered as she looked around her with wide eyes, expecting to be set upon at any moment by… well, by something icky.
“Damn, and I don’t even have a weapon!” Buffy whispered fiercely, and she heard a low, angry and inhuman growl that seemed to come from nowhere in particular and made her blood run chill. “Oookay, that’s not a nice sound,” she surmised frightfully. Buffy had faced countless unimaginable evils in her short life, and she couldn’t believe that a bunch of trees was wigging her out this much. But instinct told her that unfriendly eyes observed her, and she rose from her seat slowly; ready to take defensive action.
Buffy cautiously walked a few paces forward, trying to find a break in the trees so she could tell how deep within this forest she was. She couldn’t surmise the time of day, either, and although there was a little bit of light, which she was thankful for, she could not get a glimpse of the sky. She had no idea how she’d gotten here, nor what she had been doing prior to arriving, but the good news was, her memory of everything before that was intact. Well, if you can call being ripped out of heaven and waking up six feet underground in a box a fond memory. Buffy shook her head, determined not to let this thought drag her down as long as she was in this strange place. Once she got home, she’d let herself sink into self-pity, adding this little adventure to the long list of everything crappy that had ever happened to her.
“I could set a world record, that’s for sure,” she grumbled, as she made her way through the thick vegetation. She stumbled on a root, and caught her balance on, what else: a tree. “Trees, trees, and more trees,” she sighed. “What I wouldn’t give for a machete to whack these branches out of my way, or a nice, big battle-axe. I’d do some serious choppin’ then build myself a little fire-” she stopped abruptly, as once again she heard a deep bellow, almost like a foghorn resonate all around her. The menace in the air grew palpable, and Buffy shivered. Something told her she should stop talking about hacking down the flora. This forest had some very-not-normal vibes about it, and she wouldn’t be surprised if she found that she was making it angry.
“Um, nice trees, pretty trees,” she called out, placating. “I would never harm a tree. Yep, I’m a tree-hugger.” Where had the notion that the trees could hear her come from, she wondered? Somehow, though, it made sense in a warped sort of way.
“Happy trees; make your trees happy trees,” she quipped shakily as she trudged ahead, until she was finally rid of the notion that one of the plants would reach out a gnarled hand-like limb, pluck her off the ground, and eat her for dinner. Ever since she’d seen “Poltergeist” as a child she’d had trouble sleeping in a bed next to a window with a big tree outside. And she’d thrown away the clown doll she used to love for good measure.
The Slayer decided to explore a little. After all, she couldn’t very well stay where she was with no food or water source. Who knew how long she would be here? She couldn’t expect to leave here the way she came; however that was. That was the burning question, of course. She had a hunch that she may have been patrolling the cemeteries prior to waking up here. Perhaps she had been knocked unconscious and transported to this forest for some nefarious purpose. Although as to why an enemy would simply strand her in the wilderness, Buffy was at a loss to say.
Looking around for a discernible path, and finding none, she played ‘eenie, meenie, mynie, moe’ until she chose a direction in which to go. Picking up a few stray twigs, she laid them in a pattern on the ground to mark the area so she would recognize it if she accidentally went in a circle.
“Here goes nothing,” she chirped somewhat doubtfully, and set off through the trees to her left.* * *
After what must have been hours later, Buffy, exhausted, came upon a small clearing with a stream running through it. She sobbed in relief. This wasn’t a way out of the wood, or an answer for all of her nagging questions, but it was reprieve from the endless hiking and hunger that was wearing her thin. She had only found a few bushes with berries, but was hesitant to try them. For all she knew, if the plant-life in this forest was hostile, the bushes could make their berries poisonous on a whim. In any case, even with slayer strength, she felt she couldn’t have gone on much longer, but she didn’t want to stop until she’d at least found water.
Collapsing to her knees, she drank greedily from the stream and splashed water over her sweat-soaked face. She brought out her legs from underneath her, and started to lean back against a mossy trunk, but stopped short, unsure if the little songs she’d made up during her trek about her love of all things green had fooled these testy trees. She felt slightly ridiculous for thinking inanimate objects had feelings, but then again, her life was just that bizarre on a regular basis anyhow.
Buffy sighed. Her life right now, at best, was sucky. She had died four months ago to save her sister and the rest of the world, and had finally found peace. She knew it had been difficult for her friends to accept the finality of her death, and that Dawnie had taken it especially hard; but she had known perfect peace at last, and it had been cruelly wrenched away from her. She had confessed only to Spike, of all people- er, vampires that she had been in a heaven, of sorts. His company was all she could tolerate lately. Even being with her sister, she felt guilty, knowing where she’d rather be, instead of with her. Dawn had been so happy to have her back, and Buffy couldn’t bear to reveal the truth to her. With everyone else except Spike, she had to pretend that everything was okay, hence the “Thanks for rescuing me from hell,” speech she had spouted out of obligation. She’d had to tell them something, so she appeased them with bullshit, instead of screaming and raging at her friends for what they’d done.
“Thanks for pulling me out of heaven guys,” she quipped sarcastically to whoever was listening. “It was just so boring there, you know? Feeling all safe and warm and loved and tranquil. Who needs that when you can have a life like mine? Broke, unemployed, undereducated with a teenage sister to raise all alone, and a flooded basement. Not to mention all the nightly slayage and all that goes with it. Yeah, I’m a real happy camper.” Buffy’s resentment boiled over, and she seethed with anger.
Adding to all of the above, Buffy still had nightmares about coming to life in her coffin: trapped and unable to breathe, having to claw her way to the surface. She doubted they’d ever go away. She would wake up, sweating and hyperventilating almost every night. She’d cried out in her sleep a few times, alarming the household; but she’d let them assume they were nightmares about her experiences in ‘hell’. As if. Buffy shook her head in derision. How could her friends assume that she’d gone there? After what’d she’d sacrificed? Buffy wasn’t religious, nor did she claim to be a paragon of virtue, but why would she ever be sent to hell? The walls of all
the dimensions, not just the hellish ones were being torn down that night. Not to mention the fact that her body had remained on Earth, unlike Angel, who’d gone body and soul into Alcathla’s mouth. How could they even compare the two situations? They were like apples and oranges.
Buffy’s stomach growled, and she vowed not to think of any metaphors involving food for the time being. She was hungry, weary and lost, but she couldn’t help feeling a little grateful for the respite from pretending, and trying to just make it through the day without going insane from the anguish and guilt. Guilt. There it was. She felt guilty that she was so unhappy and angry with her friends for doing what they’d thought they should. They loved her after all, didn’t they? And Dawn hadn’t had anything to do with her resurrection, and didn’t deserve her resentment. Her little sister needed her desperately. Their mother had died and their father was AWOL, and now Dawn had her sister again.
Overwhelmed by her conflicting feelings, Buffy sighed sorrowfully and leaned back against the tree, no longer caring if it got mad. Her breath had started to come in short pants, and her eyes filled with tears long unshed. They spilled down her cheeks as Buffy realized that she hadn’t even so much as cried since she came back to life. Was she so wooden and dead inside now that she was incapable of human emotion? A sob burst out of her throat, and she fought for control. Screw it!
She thought. I don’t need to control myself here. There’s no one around to care.
The Slayer let loose and wept her torment. Her sobs echoed through the dense wood, and she began to lose all control as she screamed in rage, and tore at the ground with her hands. She clawed at the moss and dirt, bringing up clumps and throwing them wrathfully. She stood up and her paroxysms continued. She wanted to tear all of her hair out and rake her nails down her face until she drew blood; she wanted to feel anything but the pain she was feeling now.
It seemed like she’d been crying for a good part of an hour before she collapsed, worn out, in a heap. Little whimpers and moans escaped her lips as she tried to catch her breath. At last, she drew in a shuddering mouthful of air, and a strange calm came over her. She lay down on the forest floor, closed her eyes and drifted into a dreamless sleep.