I don't own anything. Buffy and Pathfinder are not owned by me. Nor are the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. They are owned by rich, talented people. I'm a nobody. Please don't sue me. The Source of the Darkness
Pain. It was the first thing that she noticed as she bounced along the dirt, the impacts jolting her awake. Terrible, overwhelming pain. Forcing her eyes open with nothing but willpower Buffy desperately focused on her surroundings. She quickly found the source of her pain. She was on fire. It explained a lot really. Such as the excruciating, burning pain.
Buffy took control of her roll, gritting her teeth to ignore the agony as she rolled over and over to smother the flames. Keeping her momentum, she rolled right up onto her feet, taking stock of her condition as she did. For a moment, the tiny part of her that was just Buffy and not the slayer really wished that she hadn't.
Her right arm was simply ruined. It was black everywhere, except where the skin had cracked to reveal the white of bone. If she were in Sunnydale, she would guess, even with slayer healing, that she would lose her arm. Whether her last few healing potions could save her limb, Buffy had no idea, and no time to contemplate it either. Forcing her tearing eyes to blink clear, she finished her quick examination, relieved that none of her other burns were nearly as serious, and that she had at least put out the flames.
Looking up, Buffy saw the source of her injury. Standing on the wall near the gates was a woman wearing a hooded cloak, obscuring all of her features, her pale hand held out towards the slayer, still smoking. Coming through the gate were a three men, four women, and two children, all with pale skin and glowing red eyes. A circle of dirt between herself and her foes had been scoured clean by the fire magic that had burned her, and scrambling to her feet at the edge of it was a slightly singed Kendra, who stumbled backwards until she was slightly behind Buffy, her strangled gasp letting the slayer know that her friend had seen her arm.
Buffy stood still for a long moment, taking deep, even breaths, calling up everything that Giles had ever taught her about pain management, and every piece of bitter experience more than six years as the slayer had given her, until finally she forced her sluggish mind to ignore her arm, letting her think clearly. It only took her moments to realize what was happening. “Annika,” she said, her voice perfectly flat.
On the wall, the beautiful vampire pushed back her hood, revealing a perfect grin ruined by her long fangs. “Buffy. I said that we would meet again.”
“Yeah. And I said when I found you I would rip out your ribcage with my bare hands.”
Annika laughed throatily. “There's the savage that I remember! Although I think you will find that you only have one hand now.”
Buffy paused, her mind desperate to scream and gibber for a moment until she forcibly suppressed her horror. She was the slayer. Her arm would be fine. She would slay. End of story. “You killed Petros.”
Kendra stiffened in shock, her eyes wide at the revelation. “She...”
“Oh yes,” Annika answered grinning. “I considered turning him, but I didn't want you to be ready for me. After your performance that day, I decided that it would be far better to be somewhat less obvious with how I baited my trap.”
“You did something to the Warden's ghost.”
“That was inspired, even if I do say so myself. By removing his spirit, I knew that the inmates would eventually overrun the town. I followed your career very closely after our encounter, and I knew that, with Ravengro in danger, you would dive right in and wear yourself out.”
Buffy nodded, her face carved from stone. “And your minions?”
“I had enough eyes and ears in town to know when you were getting close to venturing forth to the prison. I simply turned a few farmsteads so that I would have enough support to bring you down. You should be honored that I went to this much trouble just to get my revenge.”
“I'm feeling something. It's not honored.”
She chuckled. “I remember what that was like. That righteous fire to destroy evil. We truly are far more alike than you can imagine. Let us avoid this unnecessary unpleasantness. You are gravely wounded, and even if you were not, you are exhausted from your efforts clearing Harrowstone. I have all of the advantages. If you surrender, I will give you immortality. If you do not, I will simply hurt you first.”
“If we're really so alike, you know my answer.”
“Yes,” Annika said, her voice almost wistful. “I suppose I do.”
Buffy slowly drew her new sword, the motion awkward as she was forced to use her left hand, the side that it was sheathed on. “Run,” she said quietly, not taking her eyes off of the vampires for an instant.
“What?” Kendra sputtered, shocked.
“You promised to do what I said. Run.”
“I won't leave you alone to die.”
“I don't plan to die again. But I can't protect you from this many at once. They can slip past me and get their kill on with you.”
“'I don't want to leave you. You're my friend... and she killed my father.”
“If you don't, they can just take you hostage and we'd both be screwed.”
“I have an idea that could help.”
“Fine. But if you get killed, don't come crying to me.”
Buffy slowly stepped forwards, her eyes locked with Annika's glowing orbs. Once she was halfway between the vampires and Kendra, the glow intensified, filling her sight, trying to invade her mind.
“No,” Buffy said, her voice as hard as steel. The red glow receded, pushed back by her iron will. “This won't be like last time. No drugs. No surprises. I know what you are. I know who I am. I'm the slayer. You're the slayee. That's the way this is gonna end.”
Annika snarled, her beautiful face not transforming like the vampires from Buffy's own dimension, but the sheer malignancy of her nature was still obvious from her expression, her genteel veneer stripped away by her inhuman malice. “I'm going to enjoy breaking you. Your screams will be my music for centuries.”
“Ooh, scary words from the dead girl that's about to get a whole lot deader. Remind me shiver later.”
“Kill her!” Annika shrieked, her red eyes burning with insane hatred, before she visibly brought herself back under control. Sneering, she began to chant a spell, her fingers moving with deadly grace as she built her magics.
The nine weaker vampires, only days old, charged forward, slavering like rabid dogs let slip from their leashes. Buffy gripped her new sword with her working left hand, bringing the perfectly balanced blade in front of her in a classic guard position. She knew that Kendra was vulnerable behind her, and so she had to rely upon a tried and tested strategy that she always used while patrolling with others; if the slayer made herself a big enough target, then no one would take the time to attack her friends.
Buffy stepped forward to meet the pack of vampires. The first to arrive was a middle aged man with a large paunch and heavy, thick fingered hands. He lashed out blindly with his limbs, snarling and spitting as he attacked. Buffy flicked her blade casually, its magically sharp edge cleaving flesh and bone with ease, the vampire's arm flying away from the melee from the elbow down, blood spraying freely. Swiftly reversing her swing, Buffy chopped off his other hand as well.
The handless vampire snarled and swung its left arm at her again, its expression transforming from hungry to stupefied as it finally noticed that it was missing half of its limb, the undead nerves severed so cleanly by her sword that they hadn't even registered the hit. Buffy locked eyes with his confused gaze for only a moment before she severed his head from his shoulders, turning him into a cloud of mist that flew away to the north, towards Ravengro.
Returning her eyes to the remaining vampires, she stiffened, as everything seemed to slow down as she locked gazes with her next foe. Striding towards her without a care in the world was a black haired version of herself. She had red glowing eyes and black veins visible under her porcelain skin. When they met gazes her copy sneered contemptuously, revealing small fangs.
“What... how...” Buffy stuttered, her sword wavering.
“Hello, me. I forgot just how stupid I used to be.”
“If you're supposed to be vampire me, at last you aren't as skanky as vamp Willow,” Buffy said, her eyes roaming the battlefield. Everything had seemingly come to a stand still, the vampires charging at her barely moving, Annika pointing at her with a look of gleeful hate on her pale features. Turning her head, she saw Kendra chanting and spreading silver dust around herself in a loose circle, all falling so slowly that she could count the individual grains of precious metal as they fell to the grass. “Whoa. Trippy.”
“What can I say. Even dead, we really are still pretty,” her double said, looking down at her outfit, which was a twin of Buffy's own, except all in crimson. “And we were made for red leather,” she said, running a hand down her hip.
“Okay, kinda skanky. And really, are you trying to pull off the seductive thing on yourself? 'Cause that's just weird.”
“I always did like to joke. As long as I'm quipping, nothing's wrong. Well, except me. Everything about me is wrong.”
“You can say that again,” Buffy said. “You're a vamp.”
“Not just that,” she answered, grinning cruelly. “I was wrong way before Annika changed me. Do you really think that all you got from being torn out of Heaven by black magic was a suntan? You might like denial, but even you aren't that blonde.”
“Shut up,” Buffy said, tightening her grip on her sword.
“Ooh, struck a nerve? We both know that whatever clawed its way out of that grave wasn't what our so called friends put into it. The freak show we put on with Spike, neglecting Dawn, ignoring our friends. We were already a monster even before I was turned. Hell, Willow's little dark magic trip? Do you really think she could have done that if you hadn't just left your 'big gun' all alone when she needed you the most?”
“She killed Dawn!” Buffy shouted, forcing herself not to step back.
“Awful defensive their Buff. Afraid of the truth? You let her go bad. Dawnie's blood is on your hands. Not that its so bad. I mean, god, was she whiny! Now that she's all power having, though? How do you think I got so strong? After I drained Annika, I called up my sweet outer god of a little sis, and she topped me off with the good stuff. I have more power in my pinky that Darth Willow had in her whole magic addicted body.”
“No...” Buffy choked.
“Yes. We've been monsters for a very long time. Embrace it. It feels so good
to be bad.”
Buffy looked around desperately, wanting to look at anything but her evil mirror. The vampires had barely advanced two feet from where she had last seen them, and Kendra was still casting her spell. Looking up, she saw Annika was still pointing at her. Then, like a bolt from the blue, her eyes widened, as everything suddenly made sense.
“Wait. Why would you be here?”
“My power is beyond anything you can imagine. I used Dawnie's little gift to travel through time. I was curious what it was like, when I was turned.”
“Please,” Buffy said, rolling her eyes. “I'm not that blonde. Annika casts a spell, then everything slows down and you show up, telling me this stuff? You are not real. I am not
Sneering, the illusion of herself faded away, and everything sped up again. Buffy tightened her grip on her sword, baring her teeth at her foes. As the next to reach her, an older woman wearing a blue floor length skirt and a white peasant blouse, attacked, Buffy wasted no time on finesse, simply swinging her blade with every bit of power she could, her sword cleaving her foe in two, both halves tumbling past her before turning to mist. Spinning, Buffy swung her sword in a blinding arc, the weapon taking off two heads with a single stroke.
I'm pissed,” Buffy said, strolling to the first of the child vampires. It looked up at her with an innocent expression on its face, although the lie was made obvious by its hateful, glowing red eyes. Buffy barely blinked as she removed his head, turning him to mist. “More mind games? Is that the best you've got?”
In reply Annika held her right hand out in front of her, cupped as though she had something in it as she began to chant. A tiny spark appeared in her hand, which grew into a sphere of flame a little over an inch in diameter. Pulling back her hand, she through the small ball of flame at Buffy. The other vampires had all glanced at her preparations and then scattered, running away as fast as they could. Buffy was no fool, taking that as a sign as she immediately put her slayer quickness to the test.
The ball of flame flew with remarkable speed, and even sprinting Buffy didn't manage to completely clear the blast zone before it detonated, the fire blooming into a massive spherical blaze that torched the grass in a perfect circle. Buffy dove at the last moment, avoiding serious injury, turning the maneuver into a tumbling roll to put out the superficial flames the edge of the blast had started in her clothing. Gathering herself, she spent a long moment suppressing the agony jostling her right arm had put her in, before kipping to her feet, her sword raised defensively.
Buffy glanced around the battlefield, her experienced eyes sizing up the situation in moments. Annika had begun chanting once again, both of her hands held out straight, making small gestures while she built her spell. Kendra was working on another spell of her own, a wooden disc held in one hand while she gestured and incanted. The other vampires were slowly circling the slayer, waiting for an opening to attack.
Rather than wait and see what else Annika had up her sleeve, Buffy suddenly charged forward, the abruptness of her action taking one of the female vampires completely off guard. She was an overweight woman dressed in a cheap brown dress, her pudgy hands held like claws as she readied herself for Buffy's attack. Buffy kept an eye on Annika as well, and, when she pointed both palms in her direction, the slayer dove into a forward roll, tumbling to her feet just past the shocked vampire, twin lines of flame passing through the empty air where she had started her dive. Turning to face the last male vampire, she simply ignored the woman she had left behind. When the vampire tried to turn to pursue she slid in half, her upper body unconnected to her lower, before both halves turned into mist.
Kendra had not been idle, her first casting having been her most powerful protective spell, its magic able to hinder even the power of a vampire, including her ability to control Kendra's mind. Finishing that, she had pulled out her wooden disc which she had painted with concentric rings. Having cast her second spell, true strike, she could see probabilities unfolding before her. Looking at the vampire, she was shocked at how capable she was of defending herself. She was a blur of possibilities, attempts to strike her likely to be stymied by a combination of unholy speed and centuries of experience. Fortunately, her magics would give her the edge that she would need.
Pulling out a wooden dart and wrapping it with a rhubarb leaf and the dried stomach of an adder, Kendra cast her next spell, her concentration on her opponent absolute. The dart began to glow green, and with a throwing motion she launched her attack, the glow transforming into a rough arrow which sped through the air towards the powerful vampire sorceress. As her true strike spell had shown her, the vampire was incredibly skilled, easily noticing the incoming magic and casually beginning to dodge. Fortunately, she acted exactly as Kendra's magics had predicted, her motion putting her into the deceptively angled path of the acid arrow spell.
Annika howled in pain and outrage as the glowing green magic struck her stomach, spreading outward for a moment before transforming into a powerful acid, eating away at her. She screeched and staggered, kicking at the stone wall she stood upon, her vampiric strength shattering the rock. Finally, after long seconds the acid stopped burning, and she straightened up, the gaping wound exposed. Even from her distance, Kendra could see her damaged internal organs, as well as the bottom of her ribcage. The vampire locked gazes with her, the red glow of her eyes filling the diviner's vision for a moment, before it simply slid off of her, repelled by the defensive spell she had cast at the beginning of the fight.
The remaining three vampires, an older man with a bushy mustache, a small woman with long brown hair, and a girl of eight who was obviously their daughter, circled Buffy warily. They had seen her cut through two thirds of their company with contemptuous ease, and so they had avoided pressing combat with her. Having been a family before they had been turned, they still worked together well, the adults darting in and out, their irregular attacks, while unskilled, were fast and coordinated enough to keep her from inflicting more than scratches to them. Whenever she sought to press the attack, the child, who stayed behind her, would jump in, forcing her to back off to defend herself.
The vampires had been more surprised than Buffy when Annika had started to scream, and Buffy had taken advantage of that to remove one of the mother's hands before she had been forced to back off once more. Annika in her rage was nearly foaming at the mouth, and she began to cast another spell, her attention focused on Kendra. “You know, if you back off right now, I won't be forced to do stuff you won't unlive to regret,” Buffy said with forced calm, as she looked for a way around her attackers to stop the vampire sorceress.
“Ah, we just wanna play!” the child vampire cooed, her voice sweet as she jumped at Buffy's back, fangs bared, only to be met by a back kick which sent her flying.
Kendra immediately recognized the spell the angry vampire had begun casting. She had seen it used on Buffy just a few moments before, and she had identified it as the powerful spell called phantasmal killer, which used illusions of ones greatest fear to cause death. It was also most likely the spell that was used to kill her father, since the vampire had shown a propensity for fireballs and other flashy magics, instead of those which used which slew without leaving a mark. Unwilling to risk her protective magics ability to aid her against such a powerful attack, she immediately began to cast her own spell in response.
Kendra finished her casting first by a fraction of a second, pushing her hand forward as though shoving something invisible at the vampire, her motion releasing a nearly invisible magical shockwave which met the forming killing spell before it could completely coalesce. The magics contested for a moment, but in the end Kendra's dispel succeeded, the nearly formed structure of the phantasmal killer breaking down, the magic falling to pieces. She had learned to do that from the Splatter Man's spellbook that morning, and she found it to be far more satisfying to do, compared to when he had used it to strip away her shield spell.
“Get her!” Annika shouted, pointing at Kendra before turning her attention back to Buffy, waving her hands as she cast another spell. Her finger began to glow red, before four bolts of energy flew from her and streaked unerringly towards Buffy, striking her in the side while she chopped an arm off of the last male vampire, the pain distracting her and stopping her from going in for the kill. Buffy swung her sword in a blind arc, the move forcing the child vampire to stop her attack or risk being beheaded, buying her time to recover and defend herself.
The mother vampire had slipped away from Buffy when Annika gave her order, and she ran towards Kendra with a hungry snarl on her face. Seeing the threat, the diviner pulled a leather loop from a pouch and chanted quietly, waving it up and down as she did. Before the vampire could reach her she left the ground, floating straight up into the air, swiftly leaving her enemy's reach by dozens of feet.
Annika repeated her spell while Buffy, no longer facing three opponents, twisted suddenly and charged the tiny vampire, thrusting quickly, taking her through the heart. Buffy grunted and stumbled into the child's mist as it discorporated, four red missiles striking her in the back before she could recover. Spinning, she swung her blade wildly, her attack opening up a deep cut on the male vampire, although he leapt back too quickly for her to finish it off. She pursued, but he kept his distance, staying close enough to keep her from ignoring him and going after Annika, but far enough away that she couldn't slay him.
The vampire sorceress sneered at Kendra as she prepared her crossbow, quickly performing her own dispel, her magic breaking the diviner's levitation spell, sending her plummeting to the earth. Before she had fallen more than ten feet, however, Kendra spoke a single word of power, her descent arrested as she began to drift to the ground at a painfully slow rate. Raising her crossbow, she fired one of the magical bolts that she had found in the guard captain's office, but Annika knocked it out of the air when it reached her with a contemptuous flick of her wrist.
Buffy noticed Kendra's slow descent towards the vampire waiting for her on the ground and used the traction her magical boots gave her to abruptly change directions, charging towards the mother vampire, who barely had time to turn her head before it was separated from her shoulders. Stopping her run by planting her right foot before her, she pivoted and swung backwards with her blade in a single motion, disemboweling the last vampire minion, turning him into mist as he hit the ground.
Looking up, Buffy dove to the dirt, grunting in pain as she narrowly avoided another line of fire from Annika. Unfortunately, the vampire had not only targeted her, as Kendra shrieked in pain as the flames burned her side, setting her dress ablaze. Jumping up to grab her friend, they both shouted in pain as the slayer wrapped her body around the diviner's side, smothering the flames but aggravating both of their burns. Hitting the ground, Kendra's eyes were glazed and she was losing consciousness as Buffy stood over her. Looking up, she focused her glare on the vampire, who smirked at her from the wall.
“No one else left,” Buffy said, slowly stalking towards her foe. “Just you and me.”
“This has been coming for a long time,” Annika agreed. “However, the stage needs one more thing to be properly set.” She reached into her dress and pulled out three small vials. “Don't come any closer.”
“Or what? You'll try to kill me?”
“No. I will kill your little friend. I have time enough to throw another fireball before you reach me, which is something that she would not survive.” Buffy stopped, glaring at the vampire. “Good girl. You can be taught. I am impressed, though. You two managed to clear Harrowstone, and still had the strength to kill my minions.”
“Guess they just don't make minions like they used to,” Buffy said, her tone light but her eyes screaming murder. “Or at least you don't.”
“Charming as always. Now then, I anticipated that you could accomplish this, and so I came prepared. I have three potions which will give me the edge I need. Your skill is truly remarkable, and so to give me the advantage I procured a portion of heroism from a wizard I dined with.” Showing her fangs as she grinned she downed the first potion, tossing the glass vial over her shoulder when she did.
“Hey, no fair taking a water break without letting me. And isn't that doping?” Buffy pouted as she considered her options. Kendra was immobile and too far away to protect, and after watching Annika bat away a crossbow bolt, she had no intention to throw her last undead bane arrow.
“If you promise to be a good girl and let me drain you once I beat you, you can have your last mortal drink. After this, you'll get nothing but blood.”
Buffy reached into her bag of holding, fumbling around awkwardly with her left hand after planting her sword in the ground, coming out with her last two healing potions.
“This,” Annika continued, holding up another vial, “is a potion of haste. You are faster than I, or,” she paused, drinking it, “you were.”
“I don't need to do drugs to beat you, so I'll stick with medicine,” Buffy said drinking them, both. She felt the the soothing warmth of the magic fill her body, heating up her many wounds as it tried to heal her. Concentrating, she grit her teeth against the pain as she managed to twitch a finger on her right hand, the burned flesh cracking slightly as she did.
“Finally, you have strength greater than any vampire, and with this potion, so do I,” she said, drinking the final vial. Tossing her cloak aside, she reached behind her back and pulled out a heavy mace. It was over two feet long, the haft made of solid iron wrapped with black leather, and its head was a round ball with thirteen short flanges protruding from it. Holding the weapon up for a moment, she then swung it down, the blow shaking the ground, causing the section of wall she stood upon to collapse entirely. As she landed on the grass she continued unfazed, “and this I took from a foolish priestess of Besmara. It is a Mace of Terror, called Strifebringer.”
Buffy held up her own sword. “This sword was thrown at my friend by a ghost, after sitting in a pool of stagnant water for fifty years. I call it... Mr. Shiny.”
Annika's jaw dropped in shock. “Mr. Shiny!! No. That's just stupid.”
“My sword, and I named it Mr. Shiny.”
“Just for that, I'm going to beat your bones into powder before I turn you. Hopefully, with a few centuries of work I can knock the rest of the stupid from your empty head!”
Buffy pouted, “meanie.”
Howling in outrage, Annika charged, missing Buffy's sly grin at having successfully provoked her foe into attacking blindly. Even with the healing potions, she knew that she was seriously wounded, and would need every edge she could get to win.
Buffy barely got her sword up in time to block the vampire's first blow, her speed so great that she missed the follow up, the weapon crashing into her stomach so hard that she flew backwards, the air driven from her lungs, her vision dimming. Gasping for breath as she hit the ground, she barely raised her sword in time to block the next blow, the flat of her blade slamming into her chest with bruising force as she was unable to stop the attack completely.
Annika gripped her weapon with both hands, raising the mace as Buffy rolled to the side, barely escaping the earth shaking hit, rolling back the other way a moment later to dodge the followup, suddenly feeling far greater empathy for the targets of games of whack-a-mole. Flexing her entire body, she kicked both feet into the vampire's thighs, causing her to stumble back, before she flipped to a standing position in a single motion.
Whipping around, Buffy swung her sword with her turn, but found her attack blocked by the mace. Jumping back, she was forced completely on the defensive, giving ground steadily as her opponent laughed while swinging her weapon nearly invisibly fast. If she hadn't fought Glory she would have been completely overwhelmed, but even with her magic potions, Annika wasn't in the hell goddess' league in speed or strength, and after a few moments Buffy took her measure. She couldn't counter, but she could defend herself and wait for her less skilled opponent to make a mistake.
Buffy was soon bathed in sweat, unable to wipe her face while being constantly pressed with only one fully functional arm. As she gasped for breath, her left hand going numb from the ringing impacts of parrying her foe again and again, she was relieved to see the vampire slowing down. Drifting back an extra step to dodge her next attack by a hairsbreadth, Buffy lunged into her opponent's guard, her blow opening up the vampire's side deeply enough to expose more of her ribcage. The vampire jumped back, hissing in pain.
“Cheaters... never... prosper...” Buffy gasped, her sword unwavering despite her exhaustion. “Your potion... wore off.”
“Potions of haste don't last very long. But you won't last much longer.” Annika growled, before holding up her mace. “Strifebringer, subdue!” Before Buffy's eyes Annika transformed. She seemed to loom larger and larger, a malignant being of pure shadow that towered over everything. The very grass seemed to wilt under her odious presence, and all of creation held its breath in fear as she stepped forward. Buffy froze, overwhelmed by the sheer menace exuded by the vampire, her reactions slowed just enough for her to be nearly helpless for a crucial instant.
Buffy tried to defend herself, stumbling back and raising her blade, but she wasn't fast enough, the mace clipping her hand, the glancing hit numbing her fingers, knocking the sword from her grip. As Buffy blinked, her opponent returned to normal, the aura of doom that she had exuded no more, but it was already too late. Annika swung her mace again, hitting Buffy's chin despite her attempt to dodge, the blow rattling her teeth and filling her mouth with blood, causing her to see stars.
Buffy screamed a moment later as Annika dropped the mace, grabbing her left arm with a crushing grip and digging her sharp fingers into Buffy's other side, her index finger wrapping around one of Buffy's ribs to hold her in place. A cold, numbing sensation swept over Buffy's body as the vampire drained her life force with her cruel grip, as she slowly leaned down, licking Buffy's neck. “I win,” she said triumphantly.
Buffy spat at the vampire, her bloody spit striking her cheek. “A savage to the end,” the vampire snarled, biting her throat. She began to drink.
Buffy's life passed before her eyes. She had fought many enemies, saving lives and even the world on numerous occasions. She had done it all with friends by her side, and she missed them terribly as her life began to fade. Her sister, Dawn, who she had died for. Her mother, who had passed too soon. Xander, the brother she never had. Giles, her second father. Angel, her first love. Spike, the pain in her ass, but still one of hers. Tara, who was always ready to listen. Anya, who could make a sailor blush. Kendra, her newest friend, who she had just gotten close to. And Willow. Her best friend. As she stood, dying, she acknowledged that despite everything, she missed her Wills.
She didn't want to die. It was almost a surprise how strongly she wanted to live, knowing as she did what came after. But she wasn't ready to go yet, and there was no way that she would let some two bit vampire do her in. Gritting her teeth, Buffy forced her right arm to move. Just a twitch at first, then another, and then she grabbed something from her belt. Every movement was blinding agony, as flakes of skin and flesh fell off with every twitch, but finally she raised her arm.
The bane arrow sank into Annika's eye with no resistance, the wound gaping larger and larger until her head nearly split in two, before she burst into mist. Buffy collapsed through her foe, gasping for breath, her right arm falling uselessly limp as she grabbed her bleeding throat with her left. She watched her enemy slowly drift away to the north, back towards Ravengro.
Buffy staggered to her feet, sheathing her sword and throwing the vampire's mace into her bag of holding. She looked at the cloud of mist for a moment, and then back at Kendra, who still lay where she had left her. She was torn. If she left, she could follow the vampire and deal with all ten of them once and for all. If she stayed, she could make sure Kendra was alright. She hesitated for a long moment, and then she began to move.
She hated herself, but she couldn't let Annika get away. The last time she did, and the vampire had killed dozens of people to set the trap she had stumbled into, including her friend Petros. Kendra had been felled by fire, and wasn't actively bleeding. She was breathing well and was seemingly only falling unconscious when she had left her. Buffy could only pray to anything listening that she would survive long enough for Buffy to mark the vampires' nest and come back.
Buffy had never been so tired, or so injured. She was numb, her body pushed past all limits as she staggered on, her eyes locked on the cloud of mist as it drifted through the night sky. Stumbling over a rock, she whimpered in pain, before forcing herself to her feet. She would not
let them get away.
She kept moving, each step a lifetime of effort, each movement an impossibility, yet one she forced herself to do over and over again. Reaching into her bag, she pulled out her spear, leaning on it like a crutch to keep going. One foot in front of the other.
One foot. Then the other.
The ground rushed up to meet her, but she never reached it.
Looking over, Buffy saw Kendra supporting her, gently wrapping her left arm over her shoulder as they walked. “Hey,” Buffy said, her voice a croak, before she returned her eyes to the nearly invisible vampire.
“I would ask if you were alright, but I suspect I know the answer,” Kendra said gently.
“Sorry,” Buffy mumbled, her lips numb, making it hard to form words.
Kendra smiled at her gently. “I know. And I don't blame you. If you had checked on me, she would have gotten away, and we would be in the same situation tomorrow. You made the right call.”
Kendra reached into her pouch and pulled out a vial. “This is my last healing potion. I drank my other ones, but I thought you could use this.”
Kendra chuckled. “You can't even form complete sentences. I'm still sore, but nothing critical. On the other hand, the undead looked healthier than you do right now.” Opening the vial, she held it to Buffy's lips, and she drank it, the warmth barely beating back the terrible numbness, its departure bringing back the pain that she had been to injured too notice. Buffy groaned, before pushing it away. She would not
“Let's hope they aren't too much further. Even as scrawny as you are, I don't relish carrying you, and I can't see her in the dark.”
“Thanks. And sorry.”
“And I already said, it was the correct decision,” Kendra said firmly.
“It might be, but... Three years ago, Willow was captured by the Mayor. We had the key to stopping him, and we traded it for her.”
“It's not the same situation. I might
have needed aid, while she was
being threatened. Even if I had died, I still wouldn't have resented you for your choice.”
“Still... who am I becoming? I was afraid being the slayer was making my heart turn to stone.”
“Fighting evil makes you hard. Heroes do it so that others don't have to. But I've seen you. Deep down, you still care, still love. You're a good person. You've just learned to make the hard calls when you need to.”
Buffy stayed quiet for the rest of the trip, until finally they stopped at a small farmhouse at the southern edge of Ravengro. The mist flowed through the cellar door, disappearing into the darkness. Opening the door, the two women staggered into the basement, Kendra pulling out and striking a fresh sun rod as they did.
The room was small and unfinished, and lying in the dirt along the far wall were nine cheap pine boxes, and a single well carved coffin. Pushing open the first lid, Buffy saw the fat vampire, his body whole as he lay as if dead. Buffy pulled out a stake and rammed it into his heart.
Moving from coffin to coffin, Buffy made short work of the minions, pretending to ignore the way Kendra flinched and looked away when she staked the children. It hurt her somewhere inside to do it, but she refused to let their appearance stop her. They were evil. She was the slayer. She slayed.
Finally, she reached Annika's coffin. Pushing the top off, she saw that, unlike the others, her red eyes were open, although she did not move. “She killed Petros. Do you wanna stake her?”
Kendra stood beside the coffin, looking at the undead sorceress for a long moment. “No. She isn't worth revenge. This has to be done, but she's just another vampire. Stake her.”
Buffy nodded, pulling out her stake. “No...” the vampire hissed, her body twitching slightly, her arms struggling to rise.
Buffy placed the wood against her chest, smiling at her coldly. “You're right. She's just another vamp.” She drove the stake home, and watched clinically as the vampire struggled to pull it out for a moment, until she went limp.
Slowly the two women dragged the vampires outside to await the sunrise, and by the time they did the sky was slowly turning gray. Buffy sat on the farm's porch, examining her ravaged arm. “Don't worry,” Kendra said. “If you can move it at all, then I'm certain Father Grimburrow can heal it.”
“I can move it, but I don't want to,” Buffy said, twitching a finger and wincing in pain.
The two sat quietly for a while, until Kendra finally broke the silence. “I've decided what I'm going to do.”
“Yes. I'm going to sell the house. This was painful, and terrifying, and generally quite awful, but after this experience, I cannot simply return to reading books and writing papers. I want to get out and do something with my life.”
Buffy smiled. “Cool. You'll do great.”
“Thank you. And I want you to see it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I'm going to go with you,” Kendra said with quiet resolve.
“If you go to my world, you might not be able to get back.”
“I know. But if I leave Ravengro, I may not ever return to it either. This way, I leave home with a friend, instead of alone. Besides, I want to see your world. It sounds fascinating. Petros mentioned something about... TV?”
Buffy just smiled, as the first rays of the sun peeked over the horizon, setting the vampires ablaze. Author's Notes
This is the last full chapter of this story (an epilogue follows), which has been based upon the adventure, the Haunting of Harrowstone. I said long ago that Annika would return, and she has (with a vengeance).
Annika used the spells fireball, phantasmal killer, scorching ray, magic missile, and dispel magic. Kendra cast magic circle against evil, true strike, acid arrow, dispel magic, levitate, and feather fall. That is a lot of magic. Plus, Annika used potions of haste, heroism, and bull's strength, and she had a Mace of Terror (which is now Buffy's).
My sister, shinysylver (http://shinysylver.livejournal.com/), helped me think of what Buffy's phantasmal killer imagery would be. That spell conjures an illusion of the most terrifying creature the target can imagine, which then touches them, giving them a heart attack from fear. Buffy's was an evil Buffy, one who had come back wrong, fully in the darkness like she had last seen Willow.
Only the epilogue remains! It's been quite a ride, hasn't it?