“Whaaaaaat the fuuuuuuck?” Hadley whispered, peering into the house from behind Buffy, bringing her a little too close for comfort to Buffy’s neck.
If Buffy could’ve unglued her tongue from the roof of her mouth, she probably would’ve echoed Hadley’s sentiments. Instead, all she could do was stare at the bizarre sight in front of them.
Or, maybe below
them would be more accurate.
A set of white marble stairs, much wider than the door for some strange reason, led down about fifty feet into a cavernous room - somewhere around the size of three football fields, Buffy would guess, but round. The ceiling stretched into a golden dome far above them, about fifty times higher than the roof of the tiny little house they were supposedly inside of.
And if that wasn’t weird enough, there was the sprawling carnival that took up the middle of the huge room for extra-bonus wiggyness.
From where they stood, Buffy could clearly make out the Ferris wheel and a carousel, a dozen or so game booths, some house shapes that could’ve been any number of attractions, maybe “haunted” houses or mirror mazes, a few little roller coaster-y things and a handful tents with who knew what inside. She swore she could even smell popcorn and those sweet roasted almond things.
But unlike every other carnival Buffy had ever seen, this one was utterly empty and still. All of the rides were dark, lit only from the ambient light somehow coming off the golden dome above them.
“This is so against international coven rules that it’s not even funny,” Amelia said, pushing past Buffy to stand on the first stair and sounding more impressed than chiding.
“What, you’re not allowed to put carnivals in your house?” Hadley asked.
“No, you’re not allowed to mess with dimensional space like this. Either she’s expanded this spot in our dimension or she’s added her own pocket dimension. Neither are cool according to the international laws of magic.”
“How come?” Buffy asked, following Amelia down to the first step with Hadley behind her.
“Makes it too easy for people to figure out witches and magic are real. There’s no way to explain something like this away if someone came across it. Maybe the vamps want to be out in the public, and I know the Weres are thinking about it too, but the whole burned-at-the-stake thing makes most of us a little leery about coming out of the proverbial closet.”
Having almost been burned at the stake once herself, Buffy could definitely see the reason in that.
“FERN!” Hadley suddenly yelled. “WE’RE LOOKING FOR A WITCH NAMED FERN! YOU IN HERE?”
Buffy cringed while Amelia looked around in excitement. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) the sound was oddly absorbed instead of echoing around the vast space.
“Well, I guess we start looking then, huh? She has to be here somewhere,” Amelia said, staring down the stairs.
Actually, the witch didn’t
have to be there somewhere - they hadn’t actually seen her, so it was possible she wasn’t even home. But they’d come this far, it’d be silly to back out now. Plus, Buffy had to admit she was kinda curious about the creepy carnival, so she followed Amelia without comment. Hadley, too, looked interested in finding out what was going on down below - a big improvement over her usual apathy or sneering, allowing Buffy to actually see the family resemblance between her and Sookie for once.
Like some strange optical illusion, the carnival seemed to grow the further down the stairs they got. When they finally stepped from marble to the dark, dirt floor, the carnival was the size of a small city. And now that they were closer, Buffy could see that the rides were freakishly out of proportion and had strange angles. The Ferris wheel, for example, had looked normal from a distance, but up close she could see that while each of the ten cars were painted different colors, like a normal Ferris Wheel, they were a lot smaller than normal while the spokes holding them were way too long.
“This place is eight different kinds of fucked up,” Hadley said, her voice pitched low.
Amelia gave a nod of agreement, but once again her lack of self-preservation outweighed her common sense and she went wandering further into the carnival. She paused by a tent with a tiny door and a really tall, kind of twisting spiral top (tents totally weren’t supposed to be able to do that…), nudging the box out front that contained a creepy looking animatronic gypsy lady’s head and torso with her foot.
“Think I should wish to be big?” Amelia asked, turning to grin at them over her shoulder.
Buffy tensed, waiting for the thing to come alive and say “Wish Granted”. But her faded, peeling face remained still and Amelia didn’t shoot up to fifty feet tall, so Buffy cautiously let out the breath she’d been holding.
“You are so fucking stupid,” Hadley told Amelia seriously. “I’m going to laugh when you die, just so you know.”
Amelia’s indignant reply was cut off by a sound behind them. The first they’d heard beside their own voices since they’d come inside, so each of them jumped slightly and whipped around. Buffy was sure she was going to see the uber-evil clown from It come out of a tent, laughing about how “We all float down here”, but to her great relief it was just a handful of vampires.
There were five of them standing at the top of the stairs by the front door, looking around in the same awe Buffy and Co. had shown just minutes earlier. It wouldn’t take them long to recover and spot the small group below though…
“Crap, the witch must have security from the king,” Hadley muttered. “We can’t let them leave here - they might be able to link us back to Sophie.”
“Let’s lure then further in, try and find a better spot for a show down,” Buffy suggested, worried about being able to protect Amelia and slay in a head-on fight. She’d like to find a safe hidey-hole for her to hang out in for a while.
“You two go that way,” Hadley said, pointing to the Ferris wheel. “I’ll loop around and try to surprise them.”
“What? Why?” Amelia asked suspiciously.
“Because you and your fucking heartbeats are like gonging dinner bells, that’s why. There’s no way to sneak up on them when they can hear you, dumbass.”
“Oh,” Amelia said slowly before giving a shrug. “Right then.”
Buffy in the meantime was eyeing their surroundings in suspicion. There was something really
off there. Something besides the obvious anyway. Whatever it was, it was sending her Slayer senses into overdrive. She looked around them as they made their way toward the Ferris wheel, more concerned with what was giving her the wiggins than with the vamps that had just shown up. Vamps she knew, vamps she could handle. But whatever was here was making her all tingly in not so pleasant ways.
“You realize she’s probably just going to ditch us right?” Amelia said.
“I doubt it,” Buffy answered distractedly. “She didn’t have to be here at all to begin with. And she could’ve left any time but she hasn’t. I don’t think she’s going to choose now to leave, not when there’s a fight about to happen - she seems like she’s more than ready to kick the crap out of someone.”
“Why do you think she’s here then?”
“I think there’s something going on at home she doesn’t want to think about.”
“Like someone trying to kill her?”
“No, something else…” Buffy said.
She really thought it was whatever was going on with Sophie-Anne and Hadley that had her here with them and not the threat of being murdered. And that
Buffy could relate to, having come here to escape thinking about her own romantic entanglements.
Pushing Hadley’s problems from her mind, Buffy navigated by a few more buildings and came out in a little open area in front of the Ferris wheel. It was even bigger up close, its oddly long spokes holding the its multicolored cars twice as far from its center as a normal Ferris wheel. The blacked out windows on the cars made Buffy eye them warily, not liking not being able to see inside them.
Hearing some distant sounds carrying from the direction they’d just come from, Buffy turned her back on the wheel and watched for any incoming, not wanting to get caught off guard. Behind her, she heard Amelia climbing the wooden platform that led to the bottom car.
“Don’t mess with that, Amelia,” Buffy warned. “Who knows what kind of booby traps she has on this place.”
Amelia, of course, didn’t listen at all and Buffy was treated to the metal of the door handle clicking open seconds later. Buffy whipped around and opened her mouth to ask her what the hell she was doing, but her voice got caught in her throat when she saw what was in the car.
“Holy shit!” Amelia yelped, slamming the door closed again.
Buffy forced her jaw to close from where it had almost unhinged itself and rolled her tongue around in her suddenly dry mouth.
“Those were dinosaurs,” Amelia whispered, eyes wide on her purple face as she looked back at Buffy. “Dinosaurs, Buffy! What the hell?!”
She was right. Those were definitely dinosaurs. Much like when they’d opened the door to the house and found this huge carnival inside instead of two bedrooms and a kitchen, the inside of the car wasn’t just two little benches - it was a sprawling, green world with huge leathery looking dinosaurs wandering around. Buffy swore she could still smell something swamp-y and humid.
A sudden rumble and whine came just before the wheel started turning, making Amelia step back cautiously. But it only moved until the next car was level with the platform, then stopped again. The little yellow bubble with its blacked out windows seemed much more sinister now.
“They’re other dimensions, right?” Buffy said, her eyes roaming up around the wheel to take in the other cars.
“That would be my guess,” Amelia said. “I mean, that’s why we’re here - because she apparently has the know how to block someone from them. Stands to reason she’s some kind of expert.”
That left Buffy wondering just the heck the King of Kentucky needed a dimension hopping witch for…
Her worries on that were shoved to the side as she watched Amelia reach for the handle of the new car.
“What are you doing?” Buffy hissed, stepping up on the platform and yanking Amelia back by her shirt.
Amelia jerked out of her grasp and gave her a dirty look. “I’m looking for Fern, obviously. That’s what we’re here for, remember? To find Fern and ask her how to un-purplize me? And about your thing, too? You think we should just stand around and wait for her to show up? Or for the vamps to come eat us?”
At the mention of the vampires, Buffy cast a wary eye around them again. She was sure they would’ve seen the massive Ferris wheel turn, almost like a big neon saying “HERE WE ARE”, so where were they?
A flash of movement by a ragged black tent at the corner of her vision caught her attention and she whipped her head towards it, but couldn’t see anything out of place. Distracted as she was, she wasn’t really paying attention to Amelia and the Ferris wheel.
Not until she heard the bone rattling roar behind her, anyway.
She jerked back around to see the open door of the yellow car with something huge and furious looking back at them from way too close. Beady black eyes and hang-y jowls were vaguely noted as its huge, toothy maw gaped at them, little dangly tonsil things vibrating in the back. Huge ropes of slimy spit were flying out of its mouth, covering Amelia and catching Buffy fully in the face as she took it in over her shoulder.
“Close it! Close it!” Buffy yelled in between spitting and wiping at her eyes.
Amelia slammed it closed seconds later, then promptly slipped in the huge puddle of monster drool and fell on her ass.
“I don’t think she was in that one,” she said, blinking up at Buffy with wide eyes.
Buffy gave her a flat look as she scooped goo off her face and out of her hair. It was hard to be mad when Amelia was the one that took the brunt of the spit bath though. She looked like a kitten that just got licked by a giant, drooly dog - all slimy and shocked as she was sprawled on the ground.
“Hey! You’re not purple anymore!” Buffy said, pausing in her scooping to take in Amelia’s goopy but normal colored face.
Amelia’s eyes roamed over Buffy’s face and she grinned back. “You neither! We did it!”
Amelia scrambled for her feet, slipping and sliding and falling once more before getting to a stand about as steady as a newborn foal.
She raised a hand in the air, a rope of opaque slime as thick as Buffy’s wrist sliding off it to plop on the ground.
“Uh, maybe later…” Buffy said, taking a step back.
Amelia made a pouting face, but that quickly morphed to alarm as the Ferris wheel started groaning behind her. She stumbled over next to Buffy, both of them backing off the platform when instead of rolling to the next car, the spokes of the wheel started bending.
“Gogogogogo,” Buffy said, shoving Amelia toward the side of some Haunted House looking thing as one of the cars from the top sudden arced down to land on the ground next to them.
They watched from their relatively safe spot as the spokes kept bending until all the cars were on the ground. Then, with a horrendous screech, the middle broke free of its restraining base and rose up until it the whole thing resembled nothing so much as a big metal spider. Confirming this mental image, it took a lumbering step forward, it car-foot making the ground shake slightly as it landed.
“Well, that’s going to make this a little harder,” Amelia mumbled before darting out into the open.
She grabbed at one of the stationary legs and yanked the door open, revealing a forest with winged monkeys.
“Amelia, what are you doing?!”
“We still need to find her!” Amelia yelled, grabbing for the moving handle of the next car.
“She could be in any of those,” Buffy argued, darting out next to her and watching the legs warily. Luckily they moved slowly, giving them plenty of time to get out of the way.
“Just because we can’t see her when we peek in doesn’t mean she’s not in there,” Buffy continued. “Plus, we’ve got company…”
Appearing by the backside of one of the small roller-coasters, two vampires paused to look up at the lumbering Ferris wheel with wide eyes before darting toward them. Buffy stepped in front of Amelia, thankful when both the vampires focused their attention on her instead of following the Sunnydale Rules of Engagement - waiting their turn patiently or attacking whoever else was close by.
She took a glancing blow from the blond vamp on her right, and gave the other a kick to the ribs while her eyes scanned the area for their buddies. She couldn’t protect Amelia like this. She had to get them somewhere less open, somewhere Amelia could have a chance at hiding or at least making it harder to be a snack.
A building behind the still roaming aracno wheel o’ death caught her eye. After giving one vamp a disorienting triple punch to the face and kicking the other one so that he barely missed getting squished by the nearest car, Buffy grabbed Amelia’s wrist and dragged her toward the House of Mirrors. The Ferris wheel kept wandering in the other direction, much to Buffy’s relief - it would kinda ruin her bid for safety if the building they chose ended up getting trampled…
She shoved Amelia as soon as they reached the entrance, sending her stumbling in amongst the first group of mirrors and making her give Buffy a half annoyed, half worried look over her shoulder.
“Go!” Buffy barked, waving her off. “I’ll take care of these guys, you just keep yourself alive.”
She barely got out her sigh of relief when Amelia actually listened before the two vamps were on her. She let the one take her down, drawing her stake at the same time and jamming it in his chest as she hit the ground on her back and rolled them both into a backwards summersault. Really, it was his own fault, he should’ve been more careful. When she jumped to her feet to face the other vampire, she found herself faced with image after image of herself instead. She didn’t think the first vamp’s hit had taken her that far into the mirror house, but she couldn’t see the entrance anymore.
More wary of her surroundings now than the threat of the missing vampire, Buffy turned in a slow circle, taking in her own reflection again and again. She spared a brief moment to lament the Faith-like leather look she was sporting, along with her monster-drool-dampened hair. What she wouldn’t give for a shower and some comfy sweats right then…
She took a few steps further into the maze (at least she thought
it was further in), glancing behind her again as she went.
When she faced forward again, Rasul was staring back at her from a mirror.
Or it had
been a mirror… Hadn’t it? Hadn’t she just seen herself in that space a second ago?
“Rasul,” she said, lowering her stake and resisting the urge to rub her eyes. “What are you-”
That was as far as she got before he backhanded her.
She crashed into the mirror behind her with a bone rattling thud, sinking to one knee in disorientation for a second since she’d been expecting to crash through
the damn thing instead of just kind of bouncing off of it.
“Hello, Buffy,” Rasul said cheerily, his booted feet approaching at a leisurely pace.
Buffy’s eyes swept up from his feet, taking in his usual black tactical pants and matching tee. It wasn’t until she reached his face that her mind realized what was happening here.
“You’re not him,” she said, relief coloring her words. The clothes and the voice were right, but those cold, cruel eyes weren’t Rasul’s.
“Are you so sure?” He growled with a smirk.
She came out of her crouch swinging, catching him off guard with a right hook before he skipped back out of reach.
“Hell yeah, I’m sure,” she said, certainty lining her words like steel.
He laughed then, an awful parody of her friend’s mischievous amusement.
“Denial is a girl’s best friend,” he sing-songed lightly before sneering condescendingly. “It’s really a wonder you’ve survived this far with all that you simply refuse
to see. The old saying about god favoring children and fools must actually have some truth to it.”
He (and his twelve freaking reflections) took a step toward her. She took two back, trying to find somewhere a little more open, a little less damn distracting
, for this fight. It made things hard enough that whatever this was was wearing Rasul’s face, did she really have to see him from a different angle everywhere she looked, too?
“Look at you, trying to run away from what’s right in front of you again
,” NotRasul said with a headshake of disappointment as Buffy took another step back. “I think it’s time for a wake-up call, Buffy.”
He darted forward, grabbing her shoulders and slamming her into another mirror. Dark eyes drilled into her own, cold and ruthless, but damn, they really were the exact right shade. Even the tiny scar just under his left ear was there. The particular spicy musk that was Rasul’s and Rasul’s alone caressed her senses, freezing her in place as doubt started digging its boney fingers into her chest.
“Friends tell each other the truth, right? That’s how you think of me, right? Maybe I should just let you keep thinking that,” he said, cocking his head slightly and giving her a pitying look. “Let you keep thinking that you and I are just best buds. That every time I look at you I’m not imagining fucking you into the ground. That whenever we’re hanging out or watching a movie, I’m not really thinking about what it would be like to be devour you, feel you inside and out, to taste your blood while I pound away...”
Buffy’s breath stuttered as he nuzzled the side of her face. NotRasulNotRasulNotRasul
, she reminded herself, trying to push away the doubts and the questions. Shaking hands shot up and shoved him off of her. He hit the mirror across from her and just smiled, just leaning back and hooking his thumbs in his pockets as he went on.
“And it might be really
cruel of me to tell you it’s inevitable you’ll turn to me. That things with Northman couldn’t possibly work out because he’s falling in love with you-”
“Shut up,” Buffy said, nails biting into her hands as they clenched into tight fists.
“And we all know what happens when someone loves Buffy, right?” He sing-songed again. “You’ll run. You always run. You’ve already
started running, you just haven’t realized it yet. And when that other shoe drops? And you realize that you
? That’s like the ultimate kiss of death, isn’t it? And here, in this place, where you don’t even belong
? But you just keep on going with your blinders… Sure everything’s going to work out just fine
. It’s only right that I, your friend
, clue you in.”
He cocked his head questioningly, a nasty grin playing at the corners of his mouth.
“What do you think, Buffy? Should I tell you all those things? On the other hand, maybe ignorance really is bliss…”
And so Buffy did the only thing she could right then - she punched him in the face.
Not!Rasul fell back laughing. “Maybe not, then.”
She didn’t have time for whatever game was going on here. This wasn’t Rasul, she knew that - that made him potential dust.
“No, please, go on,” Buffy said, pulling out her stake. “In fact, you making your last words all about me makes me feel downright warm and fuzzy.”
She took a step forward and instead of backing away, he stepped forward to meet her, grin melting into a sneer.
“Going to stake me, Buf? Then whose chain would you jerk around? There’d only be Northman, no one to play him off of. No one to make you feel more important that you really-”
Buffy’s booted foot to his gut cut his words off.
“I changed my mind, Chatty Cathy, enough talk,” she growled, following up her kick with a left hook.
NotRasul didn’t even take a second to recover, just grabbed her arm before she had time to pull it back and yanked her off her feet. After a moment of weightlessness, she hit the ground and rolled twice, springing to her feet, stake at ready.
From the corner of her eye, she saw something not her and not NotRasul. Risking a quick glance, she was flooded at relief at the sight of Amelia. That relief fled as a man stepped into view, staring down at her friend with contempt.
“-never be anything without me and my name.”
She barely caught the words and the half defiant, half stricken look on Amelia’s face before NotRasul was distracting her with a kick that almost took her head off.
“Okay, that’s it,” Buffy huffed, dodging to the side and springing to her feet. “I have stuff to do.”
“I’ll give you something to do,” he leered, eyes tracking down her body.
Buffy didn’t bother to answer, that look on Amelia’s face driving her forward with a purpose as she traded a flurry of blows with Not Rasul. The Slayer in her, glad to be let loose for a moment, took less than a minute to find a fatal opening.
The sound of her stake sinking in with a squelch was surprisingly loud and she found her own eyes widening and staring into his. The shocked and betrayed look on his face was like a stake to her own chest, leaving her breathless and panicked with “what-have-I-done”s for a second. She took a reflexive step back, stake coming free as she went with a gush of crimson. He fell to his knees, coughing out a hurt “Buffy” along with a mouthful of blood before crashing face first to the floor. The mirrors gave Buffy a view of his body from every angle, including two with accusing eyes staring back at her. It’s not him
, she told herself harshly turning away and wiping Mr. Pointy off with slightly shaking hands. He’s at home in New Orleans. This is NOT him.
Done scolding herself and locking what she’d just done away in a box to be dealt with some time when she wasn’t
wandering around a witchy fun house of death, she forced herself to ignore NotRasul’s body so she could get back to Amelia.
Except Amelia wasn’t there anymore.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” she breathed in irritation, throwing her hands out slightly.
Running her hands along the walls of mirrors and glass, Buffy wandered further into (or maybe out of? Her sense of direction was sketchy when she wasn’t
dealing with a mirrored maze) the building. Five minutes later she was standing over NotRasul’s body again, tapping her foot in irritation. As she turned to try a different direction, she was surprised to see Hadley in the same spot Amelia had been in earlier. But instead of the man Amelia had been talking to, Hadley was face to face with Sophie Anne and a little boy.
Sophie Anne’s lips were moving, but she was talking too quietly for Buffy to make out the words. She didn’t need to hear them to know they were cutting though - all she had to do was look at Hadley’s face. She looked completely heartbroken. The little boy standing with Sophie Anne stepped toward Hadley and tugged on her hand with one of his tiny ones, saying something and looking up at the dark haired vampire with a sad expression that had Hadley dropping to her knees in front of him.
Whatever was going on in this freaky mirrored nightmare maze was so not good. She needed to get all of them out of there now
“Hadley!” Buffy yelled, banging on the glass separating them.
When Hadley didn’t so much as twitch, she pulled back her foot in a fit of anger and kicked the stubbornly unbreakable glass as hard as she could. All that managed to accomplish was making her leg go numb for a few seconds. Cursing, she spun toward an opening in the mirrors to the left, trying to find another way through. She rushed around her own reflection once, twice and on the third turn smacked into something just as hard as the mirrors and glass but decidedly more lumpy.
Shaking out her disorientation, she stumbled back a few steps and looked up. And up. And up.
Right into Eric’s furious gaze.
Fangs flashed and a growl echoed off the walls around them. Then he attacked. *******
Eric stood at the entrance of the house, eyebrows climbing as he took in the massive space and the wandering metal beast below. The air reeked of magic, making his lip curl back in distrust. A witch obviously lived here - a very, very powerful witch. He was having his doubts as to the truth of the rumors of Buffy being here even more now. What would she be seeking out a witch for? That red-headed friend of hers was already obscenely powerful, she had no need to look any further for whatever she needed…
He debated just turning and leaving as he watched the last of Vasquez’s men disappear into the bizarre carnival below. The last thing he needed was another run in with a witch.
The thing that stopped him was the realization that Vasquez might be reckless, but he wasn’t stupid either. He wouldn’t have gone down into the witch’s territory without reason. He must’ve seen something, perhaps whomever they were chasing, and decided it was worth the risk.
With a long-suffering sigh and thoughts of somehow planting a tracking device on Buffy the next time he saw her, he cautiously followed the steps down. The metal giant was slow and cumbersome, not an immediate threat, so he mostly dismissed it from his mind in favor or more pressing matters - like the remains of one of Vasquez’s men he found just beyond a fortune telling booth. Eric’s mouth tightened as he warily took in his surroundings again, two vampires were dead already, he didn’t want to be the third.
Weaving his way through the tents and ramshackle buildings, Eric avoided the meandering Ferris wheel with ease while keeping an eye out for any sign of life. It wasn’t until he was passing the House of Mirrors that something caught his eye - a foot, visible just beyond the entrance.
The building, just like all the others, bled the stench of magic, making him reluctant to go in. He stopped in the doorway, close enough to identify the body as another of Vasquez’s men but not stepping fully inside. Just as he was ready to turn back, he caught another scent. Faint and almost buried under the oppressing smell of magic, it was still enough to make him stop in his tracks, eyes closing in vexation.
So, she really was there then. He wasn’t sure if he should be relieved this wasn’t a complete waste of time or furious over her reckless actions and secrecy. Stepping fully inside, he felt magic wash over him, making his skin tingle uncomfortably. Her scent seemed stronger inside, but also more spread out - impossible to follow.
He moved silently through the maze, disliking the way his reflection gave away his whereabouts to anyone in the vicinity. Buffy’s smell dispersed the further in he went, replaced with the increasingly heavy scent of magic. A crash and the sound of scrambling came from somewhere to his left and he stilled. A moment later another of Vasquez’s men came careening around a corner, so busy looking behind him that he ran right into Eric and the stake he’d leisurely pulled from his pocket.
Eric barely spared him a glance as he stepped by his falling body, yanking the stake free as he went. The now dead vampire had obviously been running from something and whatever that was was Eric’s immediate concern. But as he stood there and listened, there was nothing. Moving forward cautiously, he went around the corner, braced for anything, but again, there was nothing but his own reflection staring back at him.
He had no doubt there was something sinister in there (besides him, that was) - anything a witch poured this much power into was obviously, as Buffy would say, “of the bad”. His lips quirked slightly at the thought of her. Damn if wasn’t looking forward to seeing her, even if she’d caused him eight kinds of hell this evening.
He got his wish when he rounded the next corner.
There, leaning against a mirror with her shoulder, one leg crossed lazily over and picking at her nails with a wickedly curved dagger, was Buffy.
“Well, well, look what the cat dragged in,” she said without even looking up, her voice slow and completely unsurprised. “Stalking’s a really unattractive quality, you know.”
He smirked as he approached, amused that she’d said exactly what he’d been thinking she’d say. She certainly was a sight to behold, wearing a pair of red leather pants and a black corset – something he’d readily admit to having wished to see her in numerous times. His mouth watered as he leaned in over her, resting an arm above her head and looking down at her gleaming blond hair.
“If you’d simply told me what you were-”
Eric stopped suddenly as a wave of pain crashed over him. His eyes tracked away from the top of Buffy’s head to his stomach, where her dagger was now jutting from his stomach. Slowly, her eyes turned up and met his own shocked ones. Well-known green was obscured with flecks of yellow, remembered in snatches like a nightmare from the time he’d fed her his blood the first time in that graveyard.
“I’m so sick of you and your needy, clingy bullshit,” she said coldly as she twisted the blade in his stomach before punching him in the face.
He stumbled back, hand flying to his stomach as the blade was wrenched free. It wasn’t so much the wound that bothered him – it was nothing more than superficial for a vampire – it was the complete shock and, though he was loathe to admit it, betrayal
he felt that had him so disoriented in this turn of events.
“Aw, look, you’re like a pathetic little puppy, left out in the rain,” she cooed, running a finger through the blood on her blade before bringing it to her mouth and licking it off erotically. “Too bad I was always more of a cat person.”
She came after him with a speed that shouldn’t have been surprising, since he’d seen it before, but still managed to take him off guard. The blade she was wielding made two more deep slices before he started fighting back. This was different – this wasn’t the animalistic version he’d seen at the graveyard. That had been something dark and ruled by instinct. This… This was still Buffy, but… not
. A cruel smile tilted her lips on one side, cold eyes staring back at him as they traded blows.
The smell of her, though… And the familiar freckle under her jaw…
She took advantage of his moment of inattention grab his arm and pull him forward while she drove a knee into the stab wound. His other arm shot out at her throat, but she was already spinning behind him, hand still wrapped around his wrist in an iron grip.
“You’re underperforming. What’s the matter, lover? I thought you liked it rough?” She purred in his ear, twisting his arm up with a snap. This isn’t Buffy.
The thought was just as jarring as the breaking of his arm. However she looked or smelled, this wasn’t her. Buffy never called him ‘lover
’. That was a favorite phrase of Eric’s, not hers - one that he’d dropped early on because of the look it caused her to get. There was some connotation with the word that caused her pain - she wouldn’t use it so easily.
He surged upward and back, using his height against her and ignoring the pain as the bones in his arm grated together. She stumbled back, releasing her grip on his arm. He spun to face her, but she just stood there with this maniacal grin on her face. How could he have ever thought his was his Buffy?
“Who are you?” He asked, yanking his already healing bones back in position while keeping his eyes on her.
“Who am I? Wow, that’s pretty insulting,” she pouted. “Oh, I get it… You think I’m not me? Because I hurt you? I thought you liked that? You do keep coming back for more, after all.”
She moved toward him slowly and he countered by sliding to the left, causing them to circle each other in the small space.
“Maybe it’s time I use this,” she said thoughtfully, pulling a stake from her pocket. “And put this silly little game of ours to rest once and for all.”
Eric stayed quiet. Engaging this… thing
was pointless. It was some conjuration formed by the magic in this place, using his own mind against him.
Seemingly reading his thoughts, she gave a nasty smile.
“Makes you feel better, huh? Thinking I’m someone else? Because you think I care about you?” She laughed. “The way I try to ditch you every time you turn around wasn’t clue enough to what’s going on here, Eric? I just wanted a good fuck every once and a while. That’s it. I’m so sick of you hounding me like some pathetic, desperate loser.”Hounding
her?! That was just-
Eric shook his head. He shouldn’t be listening to any of this – it was absurd. And this wasn’t Buffy. Sure, he liked to know where she was, what she was doing, who she was with, what she was wearing, what she was thinking - but that didn’t mean he was hounding
His inattention was rewarded by a very sharp stake flying at him.
He moved just in time – the pointed wood sinking into his shoulder instead of his heart. He snarled as he yanked it out and sent it skittering across the polished floor away from them. He needed to end this now. She might not be his Buffy, but she was still dangerous. If he wanted to get out there in one piece, he needed to take her down quickly.
The following fight was dirty and fast – if it had been under any other circumstances he would’ve enjoyed it immensely. As it was, Buffy’s mocking laughter, cutting remarks and lethal blows were anything but fun. Currently, he was staring up at the mirrored ceiling as his broken ribs knitted back together, trying to convince himself that thinking he’d be stuck in this hell-hole, fighting Buffy’s doppelganger forever, was irrational.
When he didn’t hear footsteps stalking toward him, eager to take advantage of his splayed position on the ground, he glanced to where he’d been kicked from. The other Buffy was gone. Raising an eyebrow, he climbed to his feet, taking in all the mirrors warily, hoping to catch sight of her. But there was nothing…
He moved silently through a few turns, watching the mirrors intently so he wouldn’t be ambushed. The scuffing of shoes behind him had him whirling around, crouched and ready for an attack, but again there was nothing there. Irritated, he turned around again, hoping he’d eventually run into the exit and be able to abort his battle to the death with the look-a-like of the woman he- The woman he was sleeping with.
His annoyance spiked suddenly. He hated that this thing
had managed to make him question what was between Buffy and him. That it had managed to feed seeds of doubt into what he’d been so sure of before. With a growl, he turned the next corner.
Only to have said monstrosity run right into him.
It looked up at him with Buffy’s wide eyes, now more green than they were before – most likely in a new attempt to throw him off. He felt his lip curl up in fury, a snarl ripping out of him as he launched himself at her.
The fake Buffy had changed tactics – it was more defensive than offensive this time around. Most likely hoping to take advantage of any doubts or reservations he had about killing it while it looked and acted more like the real Buffy. Eric kept up his assault though, determined not to let any kind of sentimentality trip him up. Not that it seemed to be helping any. Her moves, while only in defense, were somehow stronger and less predictable. Just when he finally thought he had an opening and snatched for her throat with his hand, she surprised him by throwing herself into a backflip, her foot catching him in the chin and sending him careening backwards where he slammed against a mirror and stumbled, falling against a corner and losing sight of her while he tried to regain his balance.
She was gone when he righted himself.
He let out a tight growl while he rubbed away the lingering ache of his jaw realigning, eyes searching for her among the mirrors. There was nothing but his own blood flecked image staring back, though.
It suddenly occurred to him that maybe the only way to get out of there was to kill that thing…
He set off again with new purpose, determined to find and end whatever it was impersonating Buffy. *******
First NotRasul and now NotEric? This place was seriously pissing her off. Buffy rubbed at her sore ribs and wiped a dribble of blood from her split lip – NotEric was not screwing around. She shot another look behind her, making sure he wasn’t creeping up on her. When she turned back around, she came face to face with the first not mirror or glass wall she’d seen in there – a wooden door.
The way it appeared from nowhere didn’t faze her, it seemed like everything in there liked to disappear and reappear where and when ever it wanted. She approached it cautiously – while she was happy for some new scenery, she didn’t trust anything in there. Looking closer at the out of place wooden door didn’t really make her feel any better – weird symbols and terrifying images were carved along its surface and the handle was shaped like a screaming face.
Buffy reached out slowly, hand closing over the strangely warm door knob and turning it slowly, sure she was making a mistake but somehow not able to stop herself either. Inside there weren’t any winged monkeys or dinosaurs or drooling beasts, luckily. The entire room was pitch black except for the very middle where a glass enclosed pedestal sat, lit from an unseen spotlight source above. Curious, Buffy stepped into the dark room, eyes locked on the stand and the little golden object sitting in its center.
The pedestal itself was engraved much like the door had been with strange and disturbing sigils and images, even the glass had barely visible, opaque writing all on it. And there, nestled in the center was a tiny golden cufflink shaped like a goat.
Buffy snorted at the randomness of it and leaned closer for a better look, resting a hand slightly against the glass as she peered down at it. Yep, it was a goat. A kinda evil looking little goat with horns…
Shaking her head, Buffy backed out of the room, a little mad at herself for having wasted time there. She had just closed the door tightly behind her when a sudden wave of vertigo hit her. She swayed slightly and closed her eyes, willing her stomach to calm down. Things tonight had been crappy enough without adding puke to list.
When she opened her eyes she was standing outside the house of mirrors. And she wasn’t alone - Amelia was sprawled on the ground to her left and Hadley was half kneeling to her right.
“What the hell kind of mind fuckery was that
?” Hadley whispered, staring out into nothing.
“The kind meant for people wandering places they aren’t meant to be,” a high-pitched slightly accented voice said from behind them.
Buffy and Hadley spun around; Amelia just kind of flailed and rolled over on her stomach before scrambling to her feet.
“Now, would you like to tell me why you’re wandering around in my home, or shall I kill you first?”
Both Hadley and Buffy’s brows scrunched up and they glanced at each other. Kill them ‘first’? Buffy shoved that weird word choice out of her mind and instead took in the woman that must be Fern. A good four or five inches shorter than Buffy, she was practically shapeless in layer upon layer of clothing. Festively adorned in floaty skirts of different lengths, brightly colored shirts, dangling necklaces and bracelets almost up to her elbows, she had this homeless-hippy chic thing going for her. Straight, dark hair was cut into a blunt bob at her ears, accentuating delicate features and dark eyes – which were currently glaring at them.
“Um, well, we were looking for you, actually,” Buffy said.
“Looking for me, or looking to steal
from me,” she sneered before turning to her left and yelling, “Will you SHUT UP!”
Oh, just freaking great
. She should’ve known the witch would be off her rocker – she did
have a multi-dimensional carnival
inside her house after all…
“We weren’t stealing from you!” Amelia blurted, taking a step forward.
Buffy cringed a little as Fern’s undivided attention fell on Amelia. From next to her she heard Hadley mutter fatalistically, “That’s it, we’re all gonna die now…”
“You’re a witch…” Fern said with a head tilt.
“I am,” Amelia said, puffing up. “And I have to tell you how impressed-“
“You’re the one that set my roof on fire.”
“Uh- well, you see, I didn’t take into consideration the dimensional wards-“
“So, not a very good witch then,” Fern said, dismissing a slumped Amelia and looking at Hadley.
“And a vampire, and,” her eyes ticked to Buffy and her head tilted slightly. “…what are you?”
“I’m Buffy,” she said with an innocent shrug. “And I came to ask you for some help with Wolfram and Hart.”
Fern’s lips pulled back from her teeth and Buffy almost expected her to hiss.
“What do you know of them?”
Buffy hesitated, suddenly realizing that having Hadley here was a mistake. She really didn’t want to go blabbing about how she was from another dimension in front of Sophie Anne’s girlfriend, even if they were having issues right then. There was no guarantee that they wouldn’t get back together and Hadley would run her mouth.
Buffy looked back at Fern, realizing that her gaze had drifted uncertainly to Hadley, who was looking at something to the left with her head cocked. Fern, though, hadn’t missed her tell and with a wave of her hand Hadley and Amelia’s eyes rolled up and they collapsed.
“Hey!” Buffy barked, dropping to her knees next to Amelia.
“They’re fine, just unconscious. You didn’t wish for them to hear this part did you? Though why you decided to bring them in the first place when you wanted to be so secretive is beyond me.”
“I didn’t really decide to-“
“Hang on,” Fern said, holding up a finger. “THEN KILL THEM!”
Buffy’s eyes widened. “I’m not going to kill
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Fern snapped, looking off to the left. “I’m busy! Take care of it! Now what did you want?”
Buffy looked at her blankly until Fern raised her eyebrows. “Well?”
“Oh, you’re taking to me now?”
“Yes,” Fern breathed with an eye roll. “Tell me what you know of the Wolf, the Ram and the Hart and why you think I can help you.”
“I’m actually not originally from this dimension,” Buffy said hesitantly, not liking telling this crazy witch she didn’t know her business, but not having a plausible lie either.
“That much is obvious,” Fern said with an impatient hand twirl. “Get on with it.”
“Where I’m from, Wolfram and Hart are a big problem – and they have their sights set on a friend of mine. I heard that the witches here did some kind of spell that kept them out and, well, I was hoping you could tell me how to do it.”
“And how did you know to come to me
“I didn’t. Yours was just the first name I came across,” Buffy said vaguely, not wanting to get Amelia’s mentor in trouble.
“So fate, perhaps,” Fern said thoughtfully. “What do you have in your pocket?”
The random subject change caught Buffy off guard and she dug into her pocket without really thinking it through, pulling out her ring a second later. She regretted it immediately at the way Fern’s lit up upon seeing it. Her fingers twitched with the urge to close over the ring as Fern stepped close, eyes riveted to the lightly gleaming object.
“Oh yes, now this, this was made by a true witch. Why on any earth would you chose this one
,” she wave at Amelia. “To accompany you if you had access to such talent?”
“I need that spell,” Buffy said flatly, stuffing the ring back in her pocket. She didn’t want to hear this woman insulting Amelia or digging about Willow. She was tired, sticky with monster spit, and sore from getting her ass kicked by two NotPeopleSheCaredAbout. Time to move things along.
“And I’m not talking about this to a novice,” Fern countered. “If you want the spell, then the one that made that ring will have to come meet with me to get it.”
Buffy tensed. “I don’t think-“
They stared at each other a moment – Fern unmoved and unblinking, Buffy gritting her teeth.
“She tried meeting with some witches here already,” Buffy admitted grudgingly. “They wouldn’t talk to her.”
“I’m not other witches,” Fern said with a slightly feral grin.
That much was obvious. Buffy didn’t really want to bring Willow back into this at all, let alone putting her in the path of someone as freaky as Fern. But did she have any choice?
“Fine, I’ll see what I can do,” she said, needing time to think. “Can you wake them up so we go now?”
She looked at Buffy a moment longer before waving her hand. On the ground, Amelia and Hadley stirred.
"I have a question..." Buffy asked as the two started sitting up. "The house of mirrors... That wasn't..."
"A security measure. Whatever you’re trying not to think about the most is what manifests. It's funny how people can fight through fire and monsters, but they’ll crumble when faced with themselves," Fern said with a shrug, watching Amelia and Hadley get up.
“What the fuck,” Hadley grunted, staggering to her feet. “Did that fucking witch just-”
“Fainted!” Buffy blurted. “You just fainted. Amelia, too. At the same time. Fainted.”
Hadley’s face twisted into a snarl, but just as she was about to say something that would probably end up with all of them turned into blobs of jam, something dark and low to the ground darted out from behind a nearby tent and came rushing at them. Buffy tensed, ready to fight, but it just slid to a stop at their feet.
“Oh my god…” Buffy breathed in horror at the thing staring up at them.
It was one of those tiny wolves from earlier – with one major difference. This one had a human face. A very familiar
“Holy crap,” Amelia said, eyes wide, “Is that… Jake
The thing gave a morose yip.
Hadley’s hand snatched him up by the scruff of his neck, leaving him dangling in front of her face as she studied him.
“You sorry shit. You did this on purpose, didn’t you? Thought you might be able to turn again if you got bitten by another Were. Well, you got your wish,” Hadley snickered nastily. “Being a vampire doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?”
Buffy couldn’t seem to tear her eyes away from the sight of a tiny version of Jake’s face on the little fluffy wolf body. She’d seem some seriously wiggy stuff in her day, but this totally took the cake. There might be nightmares…
“I have an additional condition,” Fern said suddenly, then nodded at Jake. “I get to keep him.”
Buffy opened her mouth to argue – she couldn’t just add
conditions. But before she could, Hadley said “Okay” without missing a beat and just handed Jake over.
“Gotta take one for the team – you know how it is,” Hadley said, giving the wide eyed Jake a shrug as she backed away.
“Hadley! You can’t just-”
“What am I
going to do with him? I’d have to buy a leash and a collar and what if he’s not housebroken? I’d lose my security deposit with Amelia.” Then she added under her breath for Buffy’s ears only, “And do you really want Amelia
trying to change him back? He has a better shot with the crazy one than the incompetent one.”
Buffy sucked in a breath and then just let it back out with a whoosh when she realized she didn’t really have an argument. Maybe if she decided to let Willow meet with other witch, she’d ask her to check on Jake, see what she could do. A bunch of girls on motorcycles with a freaky dog-man wouldn’t be very inconspicuous…
“Fine,” Buffy sighed. “But you’d better take good care of him.”
“Of course I will,” Fern cooed, snuggling Jake to her chest.
With that disturbing image burned into her brain, Buffy and her two partners in crime left the Carnival of Crazy – Amelia informing Hadley along the way that she lost her security deposit when she got fire bombed. *******
Eric cursed violently as he ran for the exit, a pack of snarling minusculus lupi in hot pursuit. He’d used up too much energy in healing during his foray in the mirror maze to waste on flying until it was absolutely necessary.
He could see Vasquez running just as hard to his right.
Just minutes earlier he’d found himself dumped unceremoniously outside the maze along with Vasquez and another vampire. They’d barely gotten over the disorientation of the sudden change of venue when the furry little terrors came zipping around a corner, barreling at them in eerie, determined silence and taking out the third vampire before they had much of a chance to do anything at all. Vasquez and Eric had ignored each other in favor of running – until now.
“You’re the one from California,” Vasquez said as they burst out of the front door into the night air, recognition flashing across his face. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Instead of answering, Eric lunged sideways, one hand grabbing Vasquez’s arm and the other swinging his stake downwards - he couldn’t allow him to leave this place after having seen him. Vasquez was quick though and managed to dodge sideways enough that the stake sunk into the center of his chest instead of into his heart. Eric didn’t waste a second bemoaning his bad luck though, instead he kicked low and hard, hearing a satisfying snap as Vasquez’s leg bent in the wrong direction and he dropped with a howl. Eric barely had time to launch himself into the air before the wolves fell on the other vampire in a feeding frenzy.
He flew unsteadily toward the main road, hoping to find that Vasquez had left his keys in the ignition – he didn’t think he’d be able to fly more than a few miles in his current condition. As he brushed over the tree tops, he berated himself for the night’s events. He shouldn’t have ever come here. It was a complete waste of time. And worse than that, he could still hear the words of the Buffy look-a-like echoing in his ears.
He’d been a fool in more ways than one… *******
Inside the small room concealed in the maze of mirrors, a symbol etched into the glass flickered, light streaks of blue dancing over its curves and lines as the oil from a single fingerprint smudged its edge. It flashed one final time, almost in desperation, before turning black.
Elsewhere, in a Hell dimension far, far away, three sets of black eyes snapped open in surprise.
“Well, I do believe things just got more interesting,” a soft voice said as he tapped long elegant fingers against a conference table.