Aftermath: Impeccable Patterned Deployment
A/N: Sorry for the shortness, but this is what I refer to as an Aftermath: Chapter. It's something I started with Sunnydale Chronicles, and it's a half-length chapter dealing with the aftermath of a major battle. For Sunnydale, I used them to mark the end of a Story Arc. Here, I'm using them to deal with the end of any major battle/arc/turning point. –Willow–
Noise. That was the first thing she became aware of. She tried to open her eyes, but something dripping into them, and she began blinking furiously to clear her vision. She tried to speak, but pain bloomed in her chest and jaw, and she gasped in agony, and the pain flared again. Her every breath brought pain. Words behind the noise sounded, vague and meaningless, and a warmth began to flow through her, and the pain in her chest died down to a tolerable dull ache. She tried to speak again, but her mouth wasn't moving right. More noise, and this time she heard some words.
“-terrible accident-called parents-gonna be fine”
“Don't try to speak-”
“-lucky she's alive-”
“Oh, God, Willow!”
“Ma'am, please, don't grab her-”
“-massive organ damage-pierced lung-”
“-recover, but it'll be a long, arduous process-” “Leave.”
Silence. “Oh, little one. I regret that this was necessary. But you would never have aided us of your own accord. And, alas, we need your aid most desperately. I'm afraid this is going to hurt quite a bit, even moreso than if you sought the power yourself. But the power will, I think, be worth it in the end. You don't even need to seek your Essence. Just...try to stay sane, won't you?”
A pause in the warmth flowing into her veins, and then- Fire.
Pain, burning agony blazing through her. She tried to scream, but her mouth felt like it was wired shut. She tried to thrash in agony, and suddenly realized she was immobilized. She tried to cry, but the tears were imprisoned. She was locked inside this blazing torment, and absently she wondered if she'd died and gone to hell. –Buffy–
It had been two days since the fight with Drusilla. She hadn't seen Xander yet, but Angel assured her that he was fine, and she trusted Angel. Even after hearing the truth about Darla, she trusted him. Any vampire who could earn an Exaltation deserved as much. No, what was worrying her was the girl lying immobile on the white hospital bed before her. She hadn't heard about the accident until over fourteen hours after the fact, when Angel's contact called him and asked him if Willow had given him the message.
A blur of panic later and they'd arrived at the hospital, where Willow was lying unconscious in intensive care, fighting for her life. Buffy was somewhat glad she'd arrived late, she didn't know if she could take seeing Willow before she'd been bandaged up. As it was bandages and casts covered her entire body, and she'd heard a doctor saying that it was nothing short if a miracle that she'd survived at all. She'd heard words like concussions and contusions and compound fractures and punctured lungs, and the last one had sounded especially bad. Ruptured stomach sounded almost as bad, and these were all injuries Willow had suffered trying to help her and Angel, and despair welled up inside Buffy. Four weeks. That was how long she'd been going to Sunnydale High. That was how long it'd taken her to draw immense evil down on the unsuspecting heads of the people of the town. That was how long it had taken her to horrifically, perhaps permanently, injure her two new friends who'd only wanted to help her.
“Buffy,” came Joyce's soft voice behind her, her mother placing a comforting hand on her shoulder, “It's time to go home. You can see Willow tomorrow.”
Buffy reached out and squeezed Willow's hand, but didn't answer. Her mother gently tried to pull her away, but Buffy didn't so much as budge.
“Buffy, honey, visiting hours are over,” Joyce tried again, as gently as possible. She could only imagine what Buffy was going through-
“She can't hear you.”
Joyce started and turned to see Angel standing in the doorway of the room.
“What do you mean? Of course she can-” Joyce frowned, but Angel was shaking his head.
“It's an Exalt thing,” he explained quietly, “She's having trouble coping with Willow's injury. For Solar Exalted, failing to save a friend is tantamount to hurting them yourself. With Xander's injury, followed by Willow's, she's suffering a Breakdown.”
“Then I need to-” Joyce began, eyes widening at the implications, but Angel was talking over he again.
“There is nothing
you can do,” Angel stated flatly, “She'll be like this for the next day or so. She won't eat, drink, sleep or move until she snaps out of it.”
“Do you seriously expect me to just leave
my daughter here like this-”
“You don't have a choice,” Angel said calmly, “She doesn't want to move, and there is simply no way you can move her. Besides, these episodes are important for Celestial Exalted. It's a form of catharsis. You really need to stop thinking about your daughter's well-being in human terms-”
“What other 'terms' should I use, then?!” Joyce demanded angrily, the nerve of this man, “My daughter is human
, in case you hadn't-” but a brilliant silver light flashed in the room, making her shield her eyes, and when she opened them, a bright silver disc was shining on Angel's head as a soft silver glow filled the room.
“No,” Angel said coldly, and Joyce was suddenly nervous, faced with this mighty being, “She isn't, not anymore. Nor am I, for that matter. Buffy and I are Celestial Exalted. We are more than mortal, more than human. We are the Chosen of the Gods. She is a Lawgiver, Chosen by The Unconquered Sun himself to set the laws of right and wrong that mortals are bound by. I am her Steward. In her absence, I
determine right or wrong, good or evil. We are Exalted. Your standards, your laws, your right, your wrong, your good and evil, they simply don't apply. Your daughter does not yet understand this fact, but I
do. Your status as her mother, much as it pains me to say this, is detrimental to her well-being. She still sees you as an authority figure, and, for a Solar Exalted, that
is deeply unhealthy. Your daughter needs your support, your love, you acceptance, but not your dicipline, or authority, or even your wisdom.”
Pitiless golden eyes met her gaze head on.
“Joyce, please, for your daughters sake, step down.
Let me guard her. Go home, and care for the daughter who needs your guidance.”
“Who do you think you are-” Joyce tried one last time, but suddenly the Exalt was in front of her, towering over her.
“I am the last remaining Steward of Creation,” came the cold response, “And it is my divine duty to guard Buffy from all sources of harm. Even ones that mean well. Go home,
Joyce. Dawn needs you. Buffy doesn't.”
Something seemed to switch off inside Joyce, and her anger died down. The strength she'd been using to defy the Lunar before her was gone, and finally she saw the truth in his words. She didn't understand it, no mortal truly could, but she accepted
it, which was just as good. She nodded quietly, kissed Buffy on the cheek, and left. Angel pulled up a chair and sat down next to Buffy, his warm silver glow enveloping her.
“Thank you, Angel,” she whispered softly. Angel smiled and squeezed her hand.
“Don't mention it.” –Hall of the Dead– “Do you feel better, little one?”
a powerful, sensuous voice asked, and Drusilla opened her eyes. A beautiful pale goddess stood over her, smiling down in affection. Drusilla smiled.
“Yes, Mummy,” she answered obediently. The Lover Clad in Raiment of Tears stroked the Abyssal's face. “I'm glad to hear it,”
she said lovingly, “I almost lost you. If Caleb hadn't brought you to me when he did...”
“Caleb lost his leg,” Drusilla grinned mischievously, and the Deathlord nodded tolerantly. “He lost more than that,”
she grinned, “Especially once we lost the Cathedral.”
“The nasty shadow took it back,” Drusilla pouted, and the Deathlord raised an eyebrow. “You saw that, did you?”
she asked, interested.
“Oh yes,” Drusilla nodded seriously, “Granddaddy shows me everything
when I'm sleeping.” “Did Granddaddy tell you anything about the Jade Prison?”
the Lover queried eagrely. Drusilla nodded.
“It's in the dragon's tummy,” Drusilla informed her, and the Deathlord frowned. “What dragon?”
she asked. Drusilla thought about that.
“Where's Miss Edith?” she responded, “She's the one who talks to Granddaddy, she'll know about the dragon.”
The Lover sighed and produced the doll. Drusilla looked at it for a moment, apparently listening intently. After a moment, she spoke.
“Miss Edith says a big dragon, who serves a bigger one. It has tentacles, and it ate the Jade Prison up, yumyumyum!” “Thank you dear,”
the Lover sighed irritably, speaking with the Neverborn was confusing at the best of times, having their messages relayed through Drusilla was truly a nightmare, “You've been very helpful.”
“Granddaddy also says if you lose him the prison, he'll take your skin,” Drusilla added with a smile. The Lover grimaced. That one, at least, was clear. –Caleb–
“I've got to say, Mr. Caleb,” the ghost grinned as it dragged the blazing hot knife down Caleb's torso, the Abyssal gritting his teeth as he tried not to scream, deliberately ignoring the use of his former name, “I'm a big fan of your work. I was following your career prior to your Exaltation, and I haven't seen such exquisite
attention to detail since, well, me.”
Caleb grimaced as he tried to smile, wishing he wasn't hanging by his arms from the ceiling; the rat bastard was twisting the knife into his gut now.
“Well,” he managed to say, groaning in agony, “That's a heck of a compliment.”
“It's the honest truth!” the ghost assured him, “I mean, masquerading as a priest for that long,
you were killed after, what, a decade? Pretty impressive. And you were killing little girls, too! Nothing attracts attention like the raped corpse of a twelve-year old, but you evaded suspicion all the way to the end!”
“Until the parents found me out, beat me within an inch of my life and tossed me into a furnace, you mean,” Caleb pointed out cheerfully, eyes bulging in pain as the Ghost began dripping hydrochloric acid into his wounds.
“Too much horror movies, that's their problem,” his torturer said, shaking his head, “No creativity of their own.”
Caleb nodded as his eyes rolled back into his head, desperately trying not to scream.
“Listen, Caleb,” his tormentor went on conversationally, “I admire your self-control, but I'd really appreciate it if you'd start screaming soon. If the Lion thought I was going easy on you, well, he'd be pretty angry.”
“That's-” a hiss of pain, “-exactly why-” gasp, “-I'm not-” moan of agony, “-doin' it.”
“Too bad,” the Ghost said insincerely, “Because he said if you didn't react, I could start taking stuff.”
“Wait, what-” Caleb began, alarm bells going off in his head, and the Ghost grinned evilly as he jammed his acid-covered thumb directly into Caleb's right eye. –Giles–
In the dark hallways of Sunnydale High, late in the night, none walk the floors. However, a palpable sense of power and destiny is in the air, flowing from the library, where a certain Chosen of Secrets sits and meditates on The Shape of the World. Clouded eyes examine the patterns of Fate running through the Sunnydale Hellmouth, seeking answers about the war yet to come. The Vizier's potent mind and vast knowledge of scrying Charms gave him the ability to See much further than most, if not all, of his brethren. Giles knew he was lacking in the ways of war by the standards of even Terrestrial soldiers, but he made up for this weakness with a vast and dangerous knowledge of the Occult, as well as an immense array of potent Secrets about the Exalted, all of which gave him his unique brand of power.
It was this
power he used to See far more than he should have been able to. Facts and images ran through his mind as the Charm came to its end, and he Saw what was to come. A Shadowland will be made of the Hellmouth. Three Deathlords will fight on these grounds. A Celestial Exalt, shredded by the power of the Jade Prison shattering. The Celestial Exalted will wage war. A terrible secret will be revealed.
The terrible light faded from Giles' eyes, and he blinked several times, and looked down upon te paper he had been writing his visions on.
Then he swore violently.
“All out of tea, Ripper?” came a voice from the shadows behind him. He gritted his teeth in annoyance.
“Leave,” he ordered shortly.
“No, not until you tell me what you saw.”
“Look for yourself, I'm not telling you a damn thing, traitor!” Giles snarled.
“We all have our strengths and weaknesses, Ripper. Mine are in the martial arts, yours are in Seeing what is to come.”
“You betrayed us, Wesley” Giles hissed sharply, “You and your entire damn faction!”
“You betrayed your Lords,” Wesley retorted angrily, this time in his true voice.
“They were mad!”
Giles shouted, sick to death
of this millenia-old argument.
“They could have been reasoned with!” the Wesley yelled back.
“Once they'd killed all
of the Dragon-Blooded, maybe!”
“Just tell me what you saw!”
“Go to Hell!”
The two men were now face to face, the shadows which had concealed Wesley were gone, leaving Chosen of Endings visible to all, seething with righteous anger. Giles wanted nothing more than to show the arrogant berk just where he'd gotten the name 'Ripper,' and unmake him from within. “Fine!”
Wesley spat, “We'll go on without you. But all we
want to do is help her! What you
to be doing.”
“I've been helping her just fine-” Giles began coldly, but Wesley's derisive snort cut him off.
“No, you've been manipulating her, lying to her and undermining the people who actually give a damn!”
Wesley said bitterly, “I've
been giving her the information she needs, free of cost and strings, and going into battle by her side.
I saved her friend, Xander, even after
an Abyssal broke every bone in my body,
and then I took him to a place which could heal his extensive injuries. You
provoked her Lunar Mate into attacking you.
Who do you
think helped her more? Hmm? Think about it, Ripper.”
The shadows once more swallowed the Chosen of Endings, and Giles was left alone with just his thoughts and the harsh words of the rogue Sidereal for company. –The Hellmouth–
Far below Sunnydale High, far beneath its winding basement, deeper down then even the Master's lair, there is a place where no light has ever touched. Within the sealed cavern that the Master calls his home, there is a tunnel that extends into this darkness, a darkness so pure and ancient that even the vampires fear it. To tread this tunnel is to invite death and madness, for the path is, by its very nature, treacherous. Whispers seek to draw the traveler to his doom at the bottom of any number of hidden pits. Rocks hide in the blackness, seeking to trip the unwary into falling down the winding, descending path.
Should one successfully navigate this tunnel, one exits into a place once known as μαύρη Εκκλησία: The Black Cathedral. It is a dark, foreboding structure, forged of purest shadow, its spires stretching into the dark heights of the seemingly infinite cavern it inhabits. This ancient Manse was, in the days of the Primordial War, a great stronghold of the Ebon Dragon. After the victory of the Solar Exalted, the great manse lay dormant for an Age, patiently awaiting the return of its one true master.
Then, the unthinkable happened: The Solar Exalted fell, slain and imprisoned by the Sidereals and the Dragon-Blooded, each Circle imprisoned in a small prison of purest jade, and each Jade Prison locked away in a place where none would dare to tread. When the Sidereals were seeking their hiding places, they found the Sunnydale Hellmouth, and the dark Manse hidden within, and they believed that they had found the perfect hiding place. Bound once by the remoteness of the Cathedral, Bound twice by the Hellmouth's Guardian, and Bound Thrice by the Sorcery of the Sidereal Elders, they believed that the Jade Prison was secure, and they left it there, cast away into the darkness for all eternity.
Only now, there was Light in the Darkness. A sickly green glow illuminated the most ancient temple of The Shadow of All Things as a single figure strode into the Black Cathedral's main hall, walking up to where it's shadowy Heartstone held the structure together.
“So easy a thing, to simply take this Stone and flee...” it murmured, and behind it, the Shadows coalesced into a black mirror of the youngest Solar Exalted
“If you don't mind drawing my ire, that is,” the cold voice spoke, a chilling parody of Buffy's normally bright and cheerful tone.
The figure smiled in the shadows.
“Welcome home, Master,” it greeted, “Your defenses are, indeed, as woefully decayed as you feared.” “Can they be fixed?” the Shadows asked, their voice now the soft, Russian timbre of the figure illuminated by the deathly green light.
“Certainly, certainly,” the figure nodded, “But it shall take time. The Guardian has slumbered far too long, influenced, I think, by the Solars within its gut. It will take time to wake it, and the natural defenses are in even worse shape. Can the Defiler-” “No.”
The figure nodded, the terrifying, eldritch nature of the command seemingly of no consequence to the being. “I will not be indebted to that Obsessive-Compulsive whore,” the Shadows spat in a quieter, more mundanely hateful tone, “Do it yourself, or not at all. The loss of the Jade Prison, while irritating, is largely inconsequential to the greater Plan. The Reclamation will come to pass, despite the meddling of my wayward child, and it will be, for the most part, by my hands, without the aid of my accursed siblings.”
“And the Slayer?” the figure questioned, and the Shadow paused at that. “It is a...complication,” they admitted, now speaking with the voices of a thousand screaming children, a truly unnerving sounds, “But ultimately, I think, a beneficial one. The Dawn will steal it from the clutches of my foes, and it will be ours, as will all things, in the end.”
“And the Deathlords?”
A chilling laugh echoed throughout the chamber. “Be sure to pay attention to them,” the Shadows chuckled, “I've seen what they're planning, along with the corpses of my old siblings, and it is going to be highly amusing.”
“As you command, Master.” “Oh, do lighten up, Victor,” the Shadows admonished, now speaking with a cultured British accent, “Always so dour. So business-like. You need to learn to love your work, otherwise, what is the point, hmm?”
“I will endeavor to be more upbeat in the future, my lord.” “You are hopeless, Victor.”
“As you say, my lord.” –???– “Now I see it.” “See what, my lord?” “Very clever, my dear, very clever indeed. Such power, in that little concoction of yours. She is the Catalyst, then?” “You've found me out, then.” “My dear, clever as you are, you are but a talented amateur before me. But I have to admire your work. You kept all attention from me, maintaining my neutrality, while at the same time implicating Walker for the attack on the girl. Very impressive, indeed.” “I live to serve, my lord.” “Do not patronize me, child. Do not assume I know nothing of your...other activities. I know who awakened the Solar, and I know where your loyalties lie. But you are yet useful to me, and so I tolerate your infidelity. But I will not tolerate condescension.” “My apologies.” “Accepted. Now, what have you learned?” “The Lion believes that the Jade Prison is the Heartstone of the Manse. The Lover is adrift in a sea of riddles; the Abhorrence of Life and her Deathknight have confused her terribly. Eye and Seven Despairs believes whatever the Lion does, and the Dowager is preoccupied with the Well. The Bishop is still dead, and the Bodhisattva is readying his forces. I believe he plans to take the Jade Prison while the others fight over it.” “I see. And where does the Jade Prison actually lie?” “Within the stomach of the Behemoth beneath the Black Cathedral.” “How do we seize it?” “I don't recommend we try.” “You have ten seconds to explain the rationale behind that position, starting now.” “We would lose the war with the others, fighting the Bodhisattva would alert the warring factions, and I believe that the Dawn will take the Jade Prison, no matter what we do.” “Where does this information come from?” “The Loom of Fate.” “...Very well. We are neutral, for the time being. It will unnerve the others, at least. Allow them to waste their time, planning for my eventual action, and costing them precious resources. In the meantime, continue searching for the other prisons. I want more than this single Shard for my armies.” “As you will, my lord.” –Somewhere in South America–
Warmth. That was what he felt. Warmth, and happiness, and contentment. And comfort. Everything was very comfortable. His face twitched a dark memories flickered through his mind, but the warmth drove them back, far back into his brain. Words were being said, people talking, but he couldn't make anything out. He wanted them to be quiet, so he could rest.
“-was Wesley thinking-
“-past work speaks for itself-”
“-Dawn considers him a friend-”
The last sentence was shouted, and Xander groaned, turning over, muttering nonsense to himself The voices were quiet a moment, before resuming the conversation, in hushed tones.
“-be in our debt-”
“-her powers are based
in the manipulation of others, do you really-
“-based on convincing with honesty,
a whole different-”
to a Solar-”
“-myth, and anyways, we aren't-”
“-lie, and you know
“-twisting the truth, it isn't the same-”
“-to a Solar, yes it is-”
, can you just-”
“-on, I've got to replace the drip-”
A few moments later, a burst of warmth rushed through his veins, and Xander Harris was asleep once more. –End Chapter– When you guys review, telling me the good and bad about the story, that gets me thinking more about the next chapter, and then I want to write it. Also: Victor sounds like Bane from the new Batman movie, but more Russian.