She was whole.
That was the first thing she noticed. Just before she noticed she was underground again. Creatures seemingly ripped from the very rock and soil of the earth were attacking her and Dawn. What was this? What was going on? She looked down at her hand for the lightsaber that she had been training with for years now, and saw not the weapon that never ceased to amaze her with its capabilities, but the ancient metal predecessor that felt comfortably heavy and balanced in her hand. Taken aback, she wondered exactly how she was going to fare against what surely seemed would blunt her blade before it could bite into their earthen flesh.
Dawn stood there, casting about for a way for her and her sister to escape the chamber that threatened to surely be their tomb. She dodged and weaved about the limbs that swung in her direction and her sister’s with enough force to separate their heads from their necks in one stroke, should they ever make contact. And she seemed to be running out of ideas.
She was resolved.
Not one of those unnatural limbs would so much as come within five feet of her fragile and helpless Dawnie. She charged into their midst with the promise of death in her eyes and terrible purpose in her heart. They swung, she ducked and countered. Chunks of earth came away with each stroke, each thrust brought down one, then another of the offending beasts to crumble into fragments upon impacting the floor of the cavern. She sensed the dark power that shaped these abominations, and it drove her to cut down and smash each and every one that crossed her path or dared to come between her and Dawn. She sensed their purpose as well, to crush and grind both their bodies beneath their clay feet. The blood would naturally soak into the earth and become once again what it had been shaped from in ancient times, when the first man and the first woman rose from the depths of the Darkness Before, during the reign of the Old Ones.
She was alarmed.
Not one moment after the last earthen monstrosity had perished beneath her blade, a greater number of the foul beasts emerged from the walls of the cavern and bound themselves to finishing the task that the ones before had been given by She who was Shadow, yet dwelled In the Light Above. She deduced, then, that Willow had summoned these creatures to finish what the collapse of the earth into this cavern could not. She had chased Willow’s fireball from the Magic Box to the graveyard where she had spied Jonathan and Andrew, and had charged into them to knock them out of its deadly path. Instead, she and Dawn had fallen into the cavern below, and before Xander could return with the means to extract them from the cave-in, the two geeks had run away as fast as their legs could carry them. Andrew had even mentioned something about Mexico just before they took flight from the combat zone.
Just a small part of her had wished then that Willow’s fireball could have impacted into them and put the cowards out of her misery, but it was only a small part, and the part of her which was the Slayer had most emphatically denied her that satisfaction, citing the ancient rule that the Chosen must never allow the living to come to harm, no matter what the motivation. There was no time, however, to debate the issue in her mind, as first one, then more of the earth monsters began to emerge and throw themselves at their prey.
These thoughts had only briefly passed through her mind before Willow’s voice entered her mind, in some sort of lame and thoroughly repulsive attempt to console her as she made ready to destroy the entire world. Giles’ borrowed magic from the Coven of Masters had reached for the last shred of goodness and remorse that seemingly remained in the dark sorceress, and once she had begun to feel the pain of every soul in the world, she decided foolishly to end their suffering by ending their lives. But she misinterpreted that Chosen wished for no more noble end than to fall in battle and sacrifice their lives to make a difference in things. And so they kept coming, score after score of the creatures, and soon she found herself cut off from her sister. In a panic, she called out to Dawn and looked her way, just in time to see her tuck and roll beneath a monster’s lateral swing, pivot on her feet and cleave through attacker with another sword that had fallen in with them. She recognized the blades, then, as belonging in the now-ruined Magic Box, and as having been taken by the geeks in an almost certainly futile effort to defend themselves against Willow’s efforts to destroy them.
She was surprised.
Dawn had been keeping something from her. Turning toward her, she said “What? You think I never watched you?” She could only smirk as she and Dawn pressed their backs toward each other and lopped off anything that came within reach of them. Perhaps there was some slim hope of getting out of this in time after all. Then maybe she and Dawn could get out of that accursed hole and get to Willow. They could save the world from her grief-driven insanity. But more importantly for each of them…
They could save Willow from herself.
It was not a surprise, then, that they suddenly ran out of monsters to kill. The song of battle still raged in her heart, having reached a crescendo only moments before the end of their onslaught. She shivered with the thrill of combat, the adrenaline rush still flooding her tissues like an icy torrent of power and terrible purpose. She had no words to express her surprise.
But Dawn did. “It’s over, Buffy. It’s over. They’re gone, they’re dead…” Buffy could only nod her head in agreement and relief. It was time to go to Willow.
Then Dawn turned slowly to Buffy. “Now it’s your turn….”
She was frightened.
“What?” She barely had time to register her shock and surprise as her sister’s appearance changed. The hair darkened from russet brown to a deathly black. Skin bleached from rosy pink to chalky white, and the veins appeared there as black tattoos like lightning bolts. The lips’ colour deepened to a rich, bright crimson, and the chocolate shade in the irises of her eyes burned away, shifting from brown to orange and finally to an angry red with large yellow centres surrounding the pupils. And all of this happened in mere seconds.
She was burning.
Suddenly the world became flame. She was on a precipice overlooking a vast valley, and lighting was striking her again and again. The thing that looked like Dawn was generating the energy to hurt her and burn her. She was screaming her retribution into Buffy’s tortured flesh. The lightning, the fire entered her and took everything that was hers, replacing it all with blinding, unimaginable agony. It took her ears, melting the eardrums and the sensitive cochleae. It took her skin, robbing her of her classic beauty and the pleasure of touch. The only caresses now were light and agonizing heat. It took her tongue, her palate, her voice. The song of battle could no longer pass her charred lips. It took her heart, sending her into cardiac arrest. It took her lungs, incinerating the trachea; she was now bereft of breath as she was bereft of her voice. The powerful bellows could no longer give voice to her terror. The fire took her eyes, separating the cornea from each iris and fusing the delicate rods and cones that formed the retina within. Everything took on an angry red cast and began to dim. And yet….
She was screaming.
Suddenly the red that had become her world was laced with numbers and schematics. If she could have screamed louder, and longer, she most certainly would have. Equipment and instruments exploded or smashed themselves into the walls surrounding her especially constructed sleep chamber. She looked around in panic. In her sudden moment of wakefulness, she had called upon the new power that she wielded and flailed about in confusion. And then she remembered where – and what – she was.
She was awake.
Data scrolled across her head-up display, giving her a precise picture of just what her nightmare was doing to her. The ventilator on her chest quickened its pace, scraping the raw nerves inside her chest even more brutally than before. She slammed her gauntleted hand against the inner wall, causing an impression in the metal at least half an inch deep and pinching the glove in more than several spots. She regarded the dent she had put in the wall, then at her own artificial hand. Instead of bone and blood vessels, the alloy and composite pieces, so carefully assembled like the parts of a watch, served to grasp implements and rupture limbs and organs. The low growl that started in her throat, just below her vocoder, was more ominous in its aspect by reason of the vocal aid’s functionality, and before long gave way to a snarl that did not abate readily, even after she had stormed out of her quarters and made her way to the training room with her lightsaber. All those in her path scurried away from her in full on panic mode at her approach. They knew far better than to provoke Buffy Summers in such a state of mind as she was in currently.
Buffy Summers was angry.