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Ascendent Sun, Burning Moon

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Summary: A lost soul, striving to redeem himself, and the world with him. A long foregotten teacher, fufilling his purpose. And the one girl in all the world who can save us all.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Games > Fantasy > ExaltedInDrkFR1818106,27643910,96712 Sep 1227 Feb 13No

Solar Hero Style

A/N: Here we are. The final stretch of the First Season. The beginning of the end, the end of the beginning.

A/N2: Everything that is incorrect about the Canon Exalted metaphysics is entirely intentional. All errors with metaphysics are a result of the fusion with the Buffyverse. All errors with the Buffy metaphysics/magic system is a result of the fusion with Exalted. I am aware that not everything in this story is factual according to canon. I don't need to be told about it. Also, this isn't in response to anyone(s) in particular. My ideas-taster just advised me to start putting up warnings whenever I change something huge.



–Willow–

The colors, she realized, were ganging up on her. They had to be. The voices wouldn't lie, would they? And, besides, look at all the glowy green and pink and purple and gold and silver and weirdness-she-couldn't-describe. The fire still burned, really, really painfully, but she was getting used to that. Things were a lot simpler, here in Hell. There wasn't anything to do, aside from burning and watching the colors. The voices were very helpful with that, especially Alice. The Red Queen wasn't nearly as nice. She kept poking Willow. Alice, though, mediated disputes with the colors. She was pretty sure Purple had stolen her credit card, and Gold wanted to ask her out. Green was in love with Pink, and Pink liked Gold, so it was pretty awkward there, but Alice was good about keeping them in line. Still, she was pretty sure that Pink and Purple were in on stealing her Eggos.

Did she have Eggos? Were Eggos real, or was that something she'd dreamed? Was anything real? Was she real? Or was she still in the car, and this was some elaborate, drawn out death, eternally dead and dying, but aware and in pain, a twitching, rotting corpse, being eaten alive by maggots-

Where had that come from? Green was back. She hated Green. She was pretty sure Green was why she was here, feeding her the fire and colors, and she wanted to be free, free FREE-

The colors were watching her. She wanted some privacy, her burning skin was very sore, and she wanted a shower, but there wasn't any water in Hell. She wondered why she was sent here. She couldn't remember doing anything that bad...

Buffy was talking again, even though Willow couldn't understand her words. Willow wasn't sure why she could hear Buffy. Gold said she was a hallucination, but Gold liked her, so maybe he just wanted her attention. She hoped she couldn't hear Buffy because Buffy was dead, too. That would be awful. She liked to think that she could hear Buffy because Buffy was talking to her grave.

Sometimes, though, she felt like Buffy was holding her hand, and her strength and warmth overwhelmed the fire, but not for long, and not often. She was probably imagining it.

Power, surging, potent power, tied to her soul, the pain vanishing in this rush of pure magic-

The pain abated as she watched the world with newly awakened perception. She saw the power flowing through the world, through her, she understood what was happening, she knew that she was now-

Enlightened.

Then, the fire returned, full force. Her eyes snapped open, and through her wired jaw, she screamed.

–Buffy–

Buffy sat beside Willow's bed, holding her friend's hand, chatting randomly about her day, about the new Charms Giles was teaching her, about Xander being safe, if hidden, about school, about every little thing she could think of. Honestly, she really hoped that Willow wasn't conscious, but if she was, Buffy was determined to give her something to listen to, something to hold on to from within her coma. She wouldn't allow her friend to suffer anymore than she already had, not if she could help it.

Suddenly, the grip on her hand tightened and Willow's body convulsed, jerking and twitching like the comatose girl was having a seizure. Her eyes shot open, meeting Buffy's shocked gaze, and she heard Angel calling for the doctor in the background, as Willow screamed. She could see blood staining the bandages around Willow's mouth as the girl tried to force her shattered jaw open, her thrashing shaking the support keeping her legs suspended in the air, her one good hand clutching Buffy's with all her might, and had Buffy not been an Exalt, she might have suffered some damage. As it was, she watched in paralyzed panic as Willow muffled howls tore her healing jaw apart, causing more pain, and more screaming. Willow's doctor rushed through the door and Angel grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her free of Willow's death grip.

“Buffy, let them do their job,” he muttered, hauling her out. Buffy suddenly snapped back into awareness, and only Angel's vastly superior strength prevented her escape.

“NO!” she screamed, blind panic at the thought of her friend in pain clouding her judgment, “She's in pain, she's hurting, she needs me!”

“Buffy, listen,” Angel pulled her into a bear hug, pinning the struggling Solar to his chest, “She needs her doctors right now, not her friends! You've done everything you could. Let the professionals take over now.”

Slowly, reluctantly, Buffy calmed down, her Lunar Mate's soothing tone piercing her frenzy, and she clamped down on the screaming desire to go help her friend, and allowed herself to realize that she couldn't do anything productive right now. The stress tore at her insides, stretching her self-control, but finally, she closed her eyes to the sight of Willow's pain, and allowed Angel to pull her away.

“Come on,” he said softly, “Let's go do something relaxing. See a movie, or something.”

“I actually have an essay do tomorrow,” Buffy said after a moment, not noticing the adoringly exasperated look Angel gave her.

“I still don't understand why you go to school, let alone bother to do your homework,” He shook his head, smiling.

“Because I don't have to,” came Buffy's quiet response, and Angel didn't have any comeback to that.

“Well, do you need any help?” he asked instead.

“That depends,” she said, finally smiling, admittedly a bit forced, but Angel would take what he could get, “What do you know about the Great Depression?”

“Well, I was living in New York for the first half of that decade, and in Florida for the second, so quite a bit, actually,” he grinned, and Buffy's smile widened.

“Good, you can do it, while I watch T.V.”

“That kind of defeats the point, don't you think?” he asked with a raised eyebrow. Buffy gave him a full-blown grin now.

“I go to school to feel normal,” she explained seriously, “and having your genius cradle-robbing boyfriend do your homework is a very normal thing for a teenager to do.”

“I'll take your work for it,” he responded dryly.

“Good, but you need to start soon, because it's due tomorrow.”

“Okay, now you're just trying to mess with me.”

–???, Hospital–

“I am not here,” she said, and instantly the various doctors crowding the girl's bed wrote her out of their sights and memories. She walked through them as though they were but shadows, and took her concoction out from the girl's I.V. and replaced it with the proper bag. She flicked her bag into the nothingness of Elsewhere, and paused for a moment to stroke the girl's sweat-soaked red hair.

“You are destined for great things, child. Someday, you might even thank me. Of course, it's vastly more likely that your Solar friend will kill me, but a woman can hope, can't she?”

The screaming and thrashing died down as the sedative from the drip finally found it's way into her veins, and within moments the girl was unconscious, and the doctors began their work to repair the damage. A thought and a brief flare of Essence from her robbed them of their thoughts and purpose, and she drove her hand down into the child's chest with all of her considerable might. Glowing grass-green light flared, and the child's bones began to knit, her internal injuries healed and her bruises faded. The wires in her jaw unwove themselves and wriggled out of her cheek and down to the floor, and the bloody exit-wound shone as the healing Essence ran through it, regrowing skin and flesh and summoning shards of bone together and reweaving them into a whole. The casts fell off of the girl's form, even as she summoned a robe to cover the girl's modesty, and the horrendous bruising on the girl's arms and legs and torso faded and became pale skin once more. Splints fell to the floor, and bones righted themselves as she made her will known to the world.

This girl's Fate was not that of a crippled mortal. The Green Lady required her whole and untarnished by scars and imperfectly healed bones. And it took more than mere physical limitations to defy her will. When at last the girl was whole again, the Green Lady removed her fist and light tapped the girl one on her forehead, once on each eyelid, once each over her mouth and throat, and twice over her heart. Essence flared, and the painful memories of the child's coma were banished from her thoughts, purged by the Green Lady's power. Only the barest memory of the torment of the Celestial Cocaine would remain, the foggiest memories of pain and colors, only recalled when she desired it.

Let it never be said that The Green Lady harmed needlessly. She did what she had to do, no more, no less. A massive presence appeared in the room, a dark weight settling on her shoulders, pushing her down with its mere presence.

“My dear, I do think you are going soft.”

“By whose standards, though?

“Since when do you heal the mental scars of children?”

“Since I require her sane for our goals.”

“Methinks the Lady doth protest to much.”

“Don't you have an island populace to terrorize?”

“I'm not actually here.”

“Fine. I was done here anyways.”

“You are far to sensitive, my dear. I was only jesting.”

“And I am playing along. You do so love besting people in your little games, and I just can't stand to see you get disappointed when I beat you.”

“You are lucky you are so amusing, my dear. Had anyone else said that to me, their lives would be short and their deaths slow.”

“Had anyone else said it to you, I would not be here right now.”

“That...how is that pertinent?”

“How is it not?”

There was a heavy pause, and a massive presence vanished from the room. The Green Lady smiled.

He really was too easy to manipulate.

–Giles–

A tired Giles sat at the great round table in the library, surrounded by stacks and stacks of books. Notes surrounded him; hurried translations, possible interpretations, origin sources, possible prior completions. He'd been up for nearly thirty-two straight hours, working through the weekend, desperately seeking to somehow avert the catastrophe that he knew was coming. But he could not. The true prophecy was before him, alongside the false one, the one that had forced the Bronze Faction's hand into training Buffy, rather than killing her outright, lay before him, an ancient prediction, passed unto one of the few remaining Gods that would deal with the Sidereals in return for its aid on some unknown mission, forcibly ripped from its mind as it died not a century prior. There was no doubt. In its dying moment, the god had taken its revenge, and, Giles knew, this was the price they were paying for their prior knowledge of Buffy's Exaltation. He looked at the incomplete version once more, cursing their error.




Summer's light shines bright

As the shadows swallow her

Damned souls rise again



Giles cursed that ancient, unknown god for its treachery. Deciphering instructions given in riddles was something the Sidereals were long trained to excel in, due to their dealings with the denizens of Malfeas. However, the same practice was not true of the long-gone gods. They could speak the truth, indeed, the Sidereals had compelled it to. So, it obfuscated the truth in a way that could only harm them. Recently recovered from the ancient records, dating back to the Great Contagion, was the true prophecy, hidden amongst so much useless knowledge, forgotten until now.

Buffy Summers will fight the Deathlords in the Sunnydale Shadowland while their forces ravage the town.

It, like all correctly done Sidereal prophecies, was remarkably clear. A clearly stated secret, given unknowingly to a god in return for a favor, secretly recorded and transcribed, as all such transactions were. That form of cheating was, perhaps, why the Sidereals were so despised by all honest spirits. Giles sighed as he discounted the reasoning behind it. The why of it didn't matter so much anymore.

The god was dead, by Sidereal hands, and its trickery could not have come at a worse time. The cause of the whole incident was when one of their younger members had returned from a Potential-seeking mission to Albania with horrific injuries and a shattered mind. The young Chosen of Journeys had been screaming about a Hellmouth and the Slayer, dooming the coming Light to lifetimes in Hell, before dying in front of them as his brain leaked out his ears and nose.

In their horrified panic, upon both the death of one of their own and of the Hellmouth and its relation to a Slayer, they sought out all remaining gods who held their long-lost secrets related to such things, and stole them back. Only, to their great cost, the one that they were searching for had been hidden, not lost.

And then the damned god had given them a haiku, technically truthful, as forced by their Charms, that they believed explained everything. They had used their most powerful charms to find the Potential who was most related to the prophecy, and saw Buffy Summers Exalt. And in their arrogance, they assumed they had 'solved' a riddle that had never been.

Now they were woefully unprepared to face the coming invasion from the Underworld, and Giles had a choice to make. The Dragon-Blooded, the closest thing to an Exalted army left in this modern world, was scattered into groups of five and ten and twenty, securing the various vampire-infested locations and demon hotspots across the globe. The Bronze Faction numbered only fourteen Sidereals, as the Chosen of Journeys had yet to reincarnate, and only five of those were more than a century old, and they, too, were spread far and thin, seeking out Potential Slayers and destroying particularly dangerous demons. The Prophecy was accurate within a month, and Giles knew he would have less than that, now that the price was apparent.

He could try to rally the Bronze Faction to the Hellmouth, and hope that they formed up in time to do more than die in droves at the hands of the Deathlords. Or, he could call Buffy, Angel, and Wesley, and share this new knowledge. They could pool their resources, and attempt to find a solution together, like in the days of old.

Giles sighed. The 'choice' wasn't any such thing. He was a Sidereal, and he would do what was right, no matter the cost. He focused his Essence on finding the quickest possible path to his next appointment.

In one hour: Tower of London, Quentin Travers, Re: Preventing Apocalypse.

–Xander–

“Hey, wake up,” Xander turned over, grumbling at the person currently poking him and disturbing his sleep, “Seriously, kid, wake up. You've been out for almost a week now, and we're getting worried you're gonna start to atrophy soon.”

“Graham, I've seen his grades. I don't think he knows what that word means.”

“Alright. Hey, kid, if you don't sit up and start walking, I'm gonna blast you with ice.”

Xander buried his head under his pillow, not fully comprehending the words being said to him.

“Kid's stubborn. Alright, blast him. Careful, though.”

A burst of wind tore the sheets off of his warm, comfy bed and chilled him to his bone. He felt like sharp needles were poking him, and he felt ice forming in his hair. He instantly rolled out of bed, onto the hardwood floor and away from the chilly wind. The noise of the flurry died down, and Xander, now hyper alert, stood up, shivering, and met the eyes of his attackers.

Two men in black, almost gem-like armor were grinning at him. One was a tall black man with a shaved head, and the other was a slightly shorter, but still tall, pale-skinned man with fair blond hair in a crew-cut.

“Well, well, well,” the blond man grinned, “Looks like sleeping beauty finally woke up.”

“Wh-who are y-you?!” Xander demanded through his chattering teeth, “A-and what the h-hell w-was that?!”

“I'm Graham,” the blond man introduced, still grinning, “And this is my buddy, Forrest. We're gonna be your minders for the duration of your stay here in Teotihuacan-”

“Tee-o-tih what now?” Xander queried, blinking in confusion, and shivering violently again.

“Dammit, Graham, you froze the kid's brain!” Forrest reprimanded playfully, and raised his hand. There was a brief, almost imperceptible, at least to mortal eyes, flash of orange and red light. For Xander, though, the flare was bright enough that he had to avert his eyes, and suddenly the cold was gone, replaced by gentle warmth flowing through his veins.

“Tee-oh-ti-hwa-can,” Graham pronounced slowly, ignoring Xander's questioning look at Forrest, “and it's a hard word, so don't feel too dumb. Forrest just likes being a prick to the new guys.”

“Fair cop,” Forrest admitted, “But really, kid, don't take me seriously. We all mess with each other here. It's so damn boring, we'd all go crazy otherwise.”

Xander nodded, closing his eyes for a moment as he absorbed this new weirdness.

“Okay,” he said at last, “Okay. I've got the name. Now, where am I, and why am I here?”

Forrest blinked in confusion.

“Oh, yeah,” Graham said in sudden realization, “Wes brought him in out cold, remember? Cassidy was supposed to brief him a few days ago, but she didn't want to wake him.”

Forrest smacked himself in the head.

“If I didn't have the utmost respect for her,” he sighed, “I'd have some pretty insulting things to say about her right now.”

“Anyways,” Graham said loudly, “We really need to fill you in on some stuff-”

“First off, what do you know about the Exalted?” Forrest cut in, and Graham gave him a dirty look at the interruption.

“Um,” Xander blinked as he tried to remember Giles' briefing, “My friend is a Solar? And Giles is a Side-reel?”

“Sid-ear-eel,” Graham sighed, clearly irritated, “You have no idea how many people make that error. Anyways, Sidereals are the bosses. You should have been briefed by them. But instead, you've gotta settle for us foot-sloggers.”

“I don't-” Xander began, but Forrest cut him off.

“We're Dragon-Blooded, Terrestrial Exalted,” he began rapidly, “We're the foot-soldiers of the Celestial Exalted, the Sidereals, and, at least in these parts, the Solars. Judges are out on what we owe the Lunars. There's a lot more of us, and instead of messing with reality like the Siddies, or just being ridiculously awesome in every way like the Solars, we throw fire balls and acid and drown people from the inside out and stuff.”

“You're what we call an 'Enlightened Mortal,'” Graham interjected, “You've been given a minor form of the Essence-Channeling powers that we Exalted use to do our jobs, and as the closest Exalts to your level, you'll be under our tutelage, along with the rest of the newbie Terrestrials.”

“Okay-” Xander started to say, but Forrest was already talking again.

“However, instead of learning to throw fireballs, we'll be teaching you the only thing you're really capable of learning right now-”

“Terrestrial Martial Arts,” Graham finished with a vindictive grin at Forrest, “So, now that you've gotten a woefully lacking introduction from us, we really need to be heading out, right now.”

Suddenly, a knock sounded on the door to the fancy room.

“Forrest, Graham, Her Redness says get your rears in gear, she doesn't have all day!” came a voice from outside.

“And there's your reason, now get moving!” Forrest said hurriedly and grabbed Xander by his arm and began hauling the confused teen out the door.

–Hall of the Dead–

It was a grand sight, in a certain, horrifying way. The massive armies of three of the greatest Deathlords were arrayed before the grand manor of the First and Forsaken Lion, who stood upon a grand pedestal over looking his forces. The massive, nine-foot tall figure clad in blackest armor stood between his two compatriots. On his right was a terrifyingly beautiful woman, clad in form-fitting soul-steel chains, whose intention seemed to be more provocative than combat-effective, who had a great barbed whip at her side, and a hideous serrated Daiklave across her back. On his left stood a tall, heavily muscled man with pale, deathly blue skin and long, gray-white hair running down his back. Piercing orange eyes glared out from the bloody, seemingly freshly-flayed skull that was his signature battle-mask. His hands were clasped over the hilt of a massive grimcleaver forged of blackest soul-steel, a weapon almost as large as him. Blood-red robes flowed down over his body, while a black breastplate of soul-steel covered his chest.

Just below them, in-front of the podium, stood the two Abyssal Exalted serving these ancient Ghosts. A beautiful woman, clad in an outfit identical to her mistress, stood beneath the Lover, smiling absently and humming the Wedding March to herself. Next to the raven-haired beauty and below the First and Forsaken Lion stood a tall, dangerous looking man dressed in long, dark preacher's robes. One blue eye seemed to burn with religious fervor. The other was an empty socket burning in a very literal sense with black fire that licked at the blackened flesh around the eye. Short, well-combed brown hair, alongside his clean robes, seemed to mock the profession he had one held with its clean contrast to the aura of pain and death he exuded.

Standing just apart from the two Abyssal Exalted was the favored servant of the final Deathlord present, a Sidereal woman, clad in robes of emerald, with a small emerald diadem crowning her flowing white hair, stood beneath her lord, overlooking the thousands of Ghosts, their hushed whispers echoing in the dead air. Then, the First and Forsaken Lion drew his massive blade and stabbed it into the soul-steel podium with a clang, and the crowd fell silent.

“Servants of the Underworld,” the terrible voice boomed, “Today is a glorious day! Today, we strike out against the realm of the living, for the glory of the Neverborn! Today, we shall seize the Jade Prison within the Hellmouth of the town known as Sunnydale, and we shall take the Solar Exaltations within! Our might will be doubled, and the treacherous Yozis, the Yozis who sabotaged out capture of the Third Prison in ages past, the Yozis who, rather than allow us our rightful victory, shattered the Prison and returned that Circle to life, will watch in envy as we gain five new Abyssals for our cause! Five new Abyssals to serve the cause of OBLIVION! Today, we march upon the Black Cathedral of the Shadow Of All Things, and we shall steal its demise out from under it! We will kill all that step in our path, and soon, the world of the living will be OURS!”

A resounding cheer from the mouths of the mixed ghost and vampire armies echoed throughout the valley that the Deathlords had placed their mansions in, and the Lover stepped forward.

“My children,” she began lovingly, “My brother speaks true! Today, we cast aside the civil war that has plagued our beloved home for so long! No more shall we plague each other with petty treachery and deceit! We stand, UNITED! Our lords have given us their blessings, and we cannot fail! Together, all shall bow before us, and all shall know oblivion!”

Another chorus of cheers echoed, and as it died down, the Walker stepped forward.

“No rousing speech I give will say anything that my siblings have not,” he said quietly, his voice carrying perfectly through the silence, “Know that our victory today shall mean a better tomorrow, for all of us, as the living scream beneath our blades, and beg us for death. Do your duty, and do it well. Lion, would you do the honors?”

The First and Forsaken Lion nodded and stepped forward, thrusting his blade into the air.

“ONWARD! To the Hellmouth, and VICTORY!”

–Xander–

It was really a very pretty location, Xander realized. He was standing in his tee-shirt and jeans, with to a bunch of guys in armor, so that was a little awkward, but otherwise, it was a really nice location. It was a sunny little grove by a running river. Trees and green grass stretched along the winding path back to the massive Aztec pyramid-thingy, and a sweet, flowery smell was blowing in alongside a nice, warm breeze. They were all facing the river, with Graham and Forrest standing a few dozen feet in front of them, conversing with a somewhat-short, scarlet-haired woman in body-armor. She nodded a few times, and then walked over to them.

She was beautiful, Xander supposed, but he was having a hard time thinking of her like that. An aura of palpable sternness radiated off of her, and he found himself automatically standing up straighter as she approached.

“Alright, maggots!” she snapped out, “As I'm sure you can see, we've got some new blood today! You!” she snapped, pointing at him, “Name and purpose for being here, now!”

Xander automatically snapped into a salute, standing perfectly straight.

“Ma'am, Xander Harris, Ma'm! Ma'am, I don't know why I'm here, Ma'am!”

“You don't?!” she yelled, “You've got no idea why you might be here?! Well?! Answer me when I ask you a fucking question!”

“Ma'am, I'm here because that's where I woke up, ma'am!” he responded, his brain panicking as it sought out an answer that seemed to be eluding it, hiding from his mind like a roach from the sunlight.

“Wrong, maggot!” the woman yelled back, “You're here because you're a useless waste of space, and you, like a sinking ship, are dragging down everyone you care about! You wanna change that, don'tcha?!”

“Ma'am, yes ma'am!” Xander shouted immediately, without thought. Any other answer was unthinkable when presented with the woman before him.

“There's your answer, maggot!” she yelled, and then stepped back and addressed the group at large, “You're all here to become useful! You're all here to learn to contribute to the War! 'What War?', you might be wondering? Well, Harris here's got some personal experience with that! Harris! Tell them about how Drusilla Keeble nearly tortured you to death!”

There it was. The thought that he'd been trying to find. Vague pictures of a dark dungeon and burning pain flashed before his mind's eye.

“You can't, can you, Harris?” the woman said, in a much softer tone. Xander shook his head, wondering why he couldn't remember something so important.

“Two weeks ago, Harris was kidnapped by the Abyssal Exalt known as Drusilla Keeble,” the red-head explained, an extremely serious expression now set on her face, “Drusilla was one of the most powerful vampires in existence before her Exaltation at the hands of The Lover Clad In Raiment Of Tears, and she is now known for torturing her victims to death over a period of days. Xander here was her prisoner for approximately six hours, and suffered her personal attention for almost a full hour before a combined force of the Dawn Caste Solar, the last Lunar Exalted and our own Chosen of Journeys, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.”

The woman had the full attention of her audience, all twenty recruits, Xander included, watching her with wide-eyed attention.

“Our own Cassidy Willicker, along with the two other Chosen of Serenity, deemed his memories too traumatic for him to live with, so she sealed them away, in the back of his mind. Even trying, he'll only recall vague images of his time at Drusilla's hands. That is the kind of evil you'll be facing. Harris looked that evil in the eyes, and he escaped with his life. That's more than most who've faced Drusilla can say. And the only reason he did was because he is friends with Buffy Summers, the current Dawn.”

Several gasps sounded at that, and Xander was distinctly uncomfortable to have all of these Exalts staring at him with awe.

After a brief pause, the elder Terrestrial continued.

“Harris is not an Exalt. He is not even, by technical definition, a heroic mortal. He is a fifteen year old boy, caught in the crossfire between Exalted. Had the Bronze Faction been the one to save him, he'd have just been dumped at the nearest hospital. We hold ourselves to a higher moral standard!” she turned back to stare at Xander, “Harris! You arrived here a mortal teenager, but you're gonna leave here a proud student of the Terrestrial Martial Arts! Cassidy, the Chosen of Journeys to whom you owe your continued existence, performed a new procedure on you during your coma. I trust you remember a lot of warmth and colors?”

Xander nodded. The woman smiled coldly.

“That'd be the Celestial Cocaine combined with some home-cooked Thaumaturgy!”

Xander blinked in surprise at that. He opened his mouth, but the terrifying red-head was talking again.

“You've got enough juice flowing through you now to put you on the level of a very, very weak Terrestrial! But it's enough for our purposes. You'll find that using too much of your newfound power will give you one hell of a headache. It's better than the alternative of having to force your mind to do what you want every time you want to blow someone up with your fists! Now, punch that river in half!”

Xander blinked again, sure he'd misheard her.

“What-” he began, but suddenly she was in his face, fury in her eyes.

“Lesson one for working under my command, maggot: When I tell you to do something, you fucking do it! Punch that river in half, NOW!”

Xander's mind went into what he would eventually come to dub 'panic-mode'. Without thought, he ran over to the river, and then blanked out, trying to find a way to punch it in two.

“Don't think about it, maggot! Just DO IT!”

Then, Xander saw. He saw the beautiful lights surrounding him, the colors running through the world, the blue aura surrounding the river, the blazing red power surrounding the red-headed woman, and he knew what he had to do. He drew back his fist and drove it into the water lapping at the river's bank.

A flash of light burst through the air and with a roar of water a wave of force split the river in two, leaving a two-yard pathway between the separated walls of water. Then, it all came crashing down in a wave of roiling water. Xander stood, open-mouthed, as he realized what he'd just done.

“THAT is exactly what I'm talking about, maggots!” the woman was screaming behind him, “Not even an Exalt, and he does it on his first! Fucking! Try! You've got no damn excuses, now, the rest of you: Start punching that river!”

–The Master's Lair–

The Master sighed as he paced his prison. The Dawn Caste had slain all of his followers, and Drusilla had taken all of the new arrivals with her when she left. He was well and truly alone now. The walls binding him in this chamber were stronger than ever, and even the awful darkness beneath the Hellmouth was looking inviting now, as compared to this dull prison.

Suddenly, his nostrils twitched. He smelled...something. Sickness. Death. Hatred and poison and rotting, twisting flesh. Green light filled the room, and he turned around, hope and dread warring within his chest. A tall, muscular man stood in the middle of the room, dressed in a fine black suit, green fire glowing on his hands.

“Greetings, Heinrich,” the figure said in a surprisingly soft, Russian voice, “A pleasure to meet you at last.”

Wariness bloomed within his mind. No one still living should know that name. How had-

“Oh, Heinrich, do not be so arrogant. There is little that can be hidden from The Shadow Of All Things.”

Red eyes narrowed.

“What do the Yozis want with me?” he demanded, something wasn't right here-

“It is not what the Yozis want, Heinrich,” the stranger said, a smile in his voice, “It is what the Shadow Of All Things wants. And he wants you removed from the Hellmouth.”

Hope began to grow again, alongside deep suspicion.

“That is quite generous-” the Master began, but the stranger cut him off.

“You will not think so in a moment. Goodbye, Heinrich.”

The stranger threw out a hand, and a flash of green, sickly light flared, and the Master screamed as his flesh rotted and wasted away, as the fluid boiled within his eyes and his body melted and burst into dust. Heinrich Joseph Nest was no more.

“It is done, my Lord,” Victor said, satisfaction evident in his tone as he lowered his hand, allowing the green fire to die away. Shadows gathered and solidified into the shape of a young girl, perhaps eleven or twelve, but spoke with the voice of a withered old man, talking over an echo of an ancient darkness without tone or even sound that was recognizable as sound. If the black, cold depths of space were audible, that would be the undertone of the old man's voice.

“Very impressive, Victor,” the Shadows spoke, “How mighty you are, to slay a single vampire, with only your vastly superior power and the element of surprise on your side.”

“I am pleased you think so, my Lord,” Victor said, apparently with all sincerity.

“Victor,” the Shadows sighed in exasperation, “I appreciate toadying as much as the next Yozi, but part of Toadying is living by the nature of your patron. The constant respect, the absolute loyalty, the infinite reliability, the utter lack of betrayal, I just don't feel like your getting into the spirit of the thing.”

“My Lord, did it never occur to you that the lack of betrayal is a betrayal of your, and by extension my own, very nature? You yourself are known to do it, so it must have. Unless you simply wanted me to admit it?”

There was a silence so absolute that one might have believed that time itself had stopped. Then, a sound like a million damned souls, howling in chorus to their eternal agony, filled the chamber. The Ebon Dragon was laughing.

“Oh, Victor, I should never have doubted you.”

“Thank you, My Lord.”

“Truly, that was the most amusing thing I have heard all evening,” the Shadows laughed, speaking now with the monotone voices of a thousand men and women, “And I heard the Deathlords swearing to work together peacefully.”

“That is quite a compliment then, my Lord.”

“Come, Victor, let us return to Malfeas. The show will be starting soon, and I have our Akuma setting up the viewing stage as we speak. We won't want to miss this.”

“As you will, my Lord.”

–Wesley–

Wesley ran through the streets of Sunnydale in a blind panic, ignoring all barriers and physical limitations, ignoring his Anima flaring out, terrifying the people of Sunnydale. None of them mattered in the face of what was coming. He'd barely managed to escape the Underworld undetected, and he knew how very little time he had left. He had to find Buffy and Angel. They were the only ones who could help him now. His missive had been sent, but it would be at least twelve hours before any Terrestrial reinforcements showed up, and by that time, all would be lost.

The Deathlords were coming. The mere thought sent chills running down his spine. Soon, they would march out from the Shadows beneath the Hellmouth, out from the Black Cathedral, and several thousand ghosts and vampires would be loosed upon the world. Sunnydale would fall in minutes, slaughtered without hope of resistance. The human armies could, perhaps, eventually contain the hordes pouring out from the Underworld, but not the Deathlords themselves. Wesley didn't even think that he, Buffy and Angel could. Which is why he wasn't planning to try. He needed the other two Celestial Exalted to help him get to the Black Cathedral. Their only hope was to stop the invasion before it happened-

Suddenly, a terrible, screaming wail filled the air, a cry of pure rage and hatred coming from the deepest pits of Hades. Horror welled up in Wesley as he stopped in the middle of the road. Off in the distance, from the direction of Sunnydale High, shadows were swirling through the air, screaming in mindless hate and pain, and the air itself was suddenly colder and heavier. A massive wave of nothing expanded from the school like the blast wave of an atomic bomb, and Wesley watched in horror as everyone, all the men,women and children in the open air, screamed and died as that wave touched them. Wesley summoned his Essence and armored himself against the deathly wave, and felt its energy crashing against his defense like the ocean on an ancient cliff.

The howling faded, and Wesley was still as the evening sky turned black. The sun faded away, and Wesley knew that he was no longer in Creation. The shadows expanded, swallowing everything, pulling it greedily towards the abyss. A terrible laughter, like razor blades craving away at the edges of the soul, filled the air, and Wesley shuddered involuntarily. He knew that sound, far better than he would have liked. It was the laughter of the First and Forsaken Lion.

Wesley saw people stepping out of their cars and shops, looking up at the sky in terrified awe. Wesley opened his mouth to tell them to go back inside, but he was too late. Blurred shadows rushed out through the streets and solidified in puffs of black smoke. Pale, golden-eyed men and women with sharp fangs and demonic faces were appearing in their dozens, leering at the terrified humans.

Then, the first vampire leapt out and tore into the throat of a young man, and the slaughter began. Wesley closed his eyes to the violence and willed himself to disappear into the shadows. The vampires paid him no heed as they fed, and Wesley resumed his run to find Buffy and Angel. The mortals were, tragically, irrelevant in the long term. The only way to save as many as possible was to find Buffy and Angel and end this as quickly as they could.

He could only hope he found them before the Deathlords did.

–Buffy–

Screams echoed through the dead, black air as Buffy ran out into the street, Angel hot on her heels. They'd felt the sense of death and despair settle over the city, she'd seen people falling dead out Angel's window, and she knew that something terrible was happening. But this...this was beyond anything she'd seen.

The sky was completely covered by black, evil-looking clouds, casting a dark shadow over the town. The air itself seemed tainted with gray as it sapped the life and color from the world. Vampires, dozens of them, roamed the streets, accompanied by pale, armored figures wielding huge war axes. Hundreds of people were fleeing from the monsters, only to be cut down as vampires appeared in the middle of the crowds with bursts of smoke, tearing into throats and drinking deep of the life's blood of the town. The armored corpses were wading through the crowds, hacking and killing indiscriminately. Rage welled up in Buffy's chest and hate filled her eyes as she gathered her Essence, preparing for war.

Then, her gaze found one particular vampire, lifting a screaming child into the air, bearing his fangs as he prepared to end the young boy's life, and something inside Buffy snapped. In a blur of movement, she was there, pulling the child free of the vampire's grasp and punching her fist through the foul thing's skull, killing it instantly and reducing it to a pile of ashes.

Then, the killing really began. Buffy shone with golden radiance as she moved with perfect grace through the fleeing crowds, tearing victims from the grips of their attackers and slaying vampires and ghosts alike.

An axe came crashing down from behind her, and her hand shot out behind her, catching the weapon and ripping it from the grasp of its wielder. The War Ghost had a moment to be surprised before she decapitated the vampire in front of her and then spun around and cut the ghost in two, tearing through armor as though it were paper. Something rushed up behind her, and she spun around, cutting a vampire in half from his shoulder to his hips, leaving the screaming creature alive for a few brief moments before its heart fell out of its body and it burst into dust. By the time this happened, though, Buffy was already gone.

There was nothing fancy about the girl's movements as she hacked and slashed her way through the crowd. There was no finesse to her technique, no death-defying acrobatics. She moved with perfect economy of motion and force, using exactly what was required to kill, no more, no less. Blades cracked and shattered on her skin on those few occasions when her foes managed to strike her, leaving small cuts and light bruises behind before the avenging angel killed them in their turn.

The simple beauty and grace in her fighting struck a stark contrast to the style of her Lunar Mate. Angel was weaving and ducking through the crowd, striking from impossible angles and appearing where he could not possibly be. Victim after victim was seemingly teleported away from their attacker in a blur of movement, only for the monster to be disemboweled from behind at an impossible distance. Glowing silver claws met ghastly fangs and soul-forged axes in brutal combat, and all fell before the unrelenting fury of the Burning Moon. Opponents who tried to break away from the fight quickly found themselves out-maneuvered and killed before they realized what was happening.

Within minutes, the entire one-hundred strong undead force attacking the street had been slaughtered. Very few mortals died, and all of the many survivors had already fled. The two Celestial Exalts were left standing in the street in front of Angel's upscale apartment building, not even breathing heavily.

Then, a loud, slow, mocking clapping sounded. Buffy and Angel spun to see the source of the noise, and both of their expressions narrowed in surprise and hatred.

Striding slowly, arrogant towards them were Caleb and Drusilla. Caleb looked no worse for wear after Wesley's assault, except for a burning black fire where his right eye had been. Drusilla looked disturbingly well, considering the damage Buffy knew she had done to the bitch.

“Now, that's what I call a party!” Caleb exclaimed cheerfully, while Drusilla grinned madly, long, bladed chains extending from her back and arms as she walked. Buffy didn't bother to respond, or even curse. She simply ran at the Abyssal Exalted, Angel following at her side, intent on killing these abominations.

Drusilla blurred as her chains lashed out at Angel, who ducked and weaved between the slashing blades and delivered a punch that sent Drusilla flying through a store window, the Lunar roaring after her. Caleb merely grinned as Buffy closed with him, and then his arm blurred as his fist impacted with her rib cage, stopping her in mid-leap and sending her flying back, her chest exploding with pain. It felt like every rib had shattered in her chest and sent the shards flying through her chest muscles, shredding meat and tissue in an inferno of agony. She bared her teeth in rage as Caleb blurred again and was suddenly in front of her.

She back-flipped away from the Abyssal, catching her foe on the chin with her heels and landing easily on her feet, absently wondering where her axe had gone. Caleb grinned at her and clenched his fists, and suddenly sharp bone spines sprouted from his knuckles, and suddenly he was punching and she was dodging, the pain in her chest forgotten in the rush of combat. A fist grazed her cheek, opening up several shallow cuts where the spines struck skin, and Buffy threw a punch that could have dented solid steel, but that Caleb simply knocked aside as he closed in to knee her in the groin.

Pain exploded between her legs as the blow crushed sensitive skin against bone and muscle, and Buffy gasped in agony, giving Caleb the opening he needed to jam his fingers in her eyes. She howled in pain and jumped back as her eyes flooded with tears. The pain was startling and severe, and she rolled blindly to her left as she heard Caleb approach.

“You're fighting well, little lady,” her foe praised mockingly, and Buffy's heart leapt as she heard Angel scream in agony somewhere in the distance, “But you're just not on my level. I've been an Exalt for coming on ten years now, and I'm afraid I'm just better than you!”

Caleb's last words were hissed as he drove his fist into her ribs, and Buffy felt like a grenade had gone off in her gut. She felt the force of the blow shatter her ribs and shred her muscles, felt, actually felt as the energy from the blow tore apart her intestines and ruptured her stomach, and the agony was unbearable-

Then Caleb's head exploded. Buffy watched in agonized shock as her blurry vision was somehow able to see his eyes burst out of his skull, as his skull itself crumbled and shattered into itself, as his brain was smashed and crushed by the force of the blow that had destroyed the Abyssal's head, and she saw the barest expression of surprise on Caleb's face as the shattered shards of bone tore out of his face and shredded the skin. The Dusk Caste Abyssal fell to the ground, well and truly dead. Buffy blinked the tears from her damaged eyes, and was able to make out a blurry silver figure standing in front of her.

“Buffy, are you alright?” came Angel's voice, and Buffy managed to smile as she shook her head, and then vomited. She heard Angel's muttered curse of horror, and she was able to make out chunks of flesh and blood in her stomach contents, and she felt a burst of fear as she realized just how badly Caleb had hurt her.

“Christ, Buffy, you need help,” Angel said softly, as he reached down to pick her up, and then stopped as footsteps approached faster than should be possible, and a familiar British voice spoke.

“Don't worry, Angel,” came Wesley's voice, “I've got her.”

A light kick struck her back, and instantly the pain in her guts faded away to a dull ache. She felt her ribs numb and then repair themselves as healing Essence ran through her.

“Buffy, look at me,” came Wesley's voice again, now in front of her, and she turned her still blurry gaze to the Sidereal, barely able to see his figure before her.

“Damaged lenses, possible cornea damage,” he said flatly, “Nothing I can't fix.” He then lightly slapped her face, and Buffy felt the strangest sensation of the blur in her vision being knocked out of her eyes. Her vision returned to full clarity, and she blinked a few times to get the oily sensation out of her eyes.

“Wesley, what's-” Buffy began to ask, but Wesley cut her off, anticipating her question.

“The Deathlords are invading,” he said flatly, “There is a Jade Prison, a device that holds five Solar Exaltations, hidden within the depths of the Hellmouth. They've turned Sunnydale into a Shadowland, a piece of the Underworld, in order to properly invade. Given enough time, they'll make a permanent base here. There isn't a military force alive that could stop them if they are allowed to hold Sunnydale and get the prison. We've got to stop them, tonight.”

“How?” Angel demanded, “Where are they-”

“Beneath the school,” Wesley interrupted again, “Within the Hellmouth itself. They're searching for the Prison as we speak. We need to move.”

“What about the townspeople?” Buffy asked, “They're defenseless!”

Wesley shook his head.

“They're dead anyways if we don't stop the Deathlords. The best thing you can do now is get to the Hellmouth and end this while we still can.”

“But-”

“He's right, Buffy,” Angel said quietly, “I hate it, but he's right. Every minute we debate, more people are going to die. We need to stop this while there's still a Sunnydale to save.”

Buffy felt like she was being torn in two. She knew it was her responsibility to stop the Deathlords from getting the Jade Prison, no matter what, but her heart cried out for her to help the town she was growing to love. In the end, though, she knew she had no choice. To Angel and Wesley, her dilemma appeared only as a split-second of hesitation.

“Lead the way,” she said finally, and hoped that she could be forgiven for leaving these people to die...

–To be continued...–
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