A/N: Welcome to this, my newest story. This will take my focus for some time, but I assure readers of my other stories that Sunnydale Chronicles had not been abandoned. It is on indefinite hiatus, but I hope this will prove equally, if not more enjoyable. I don't own Exalted (Whitewolf holds copyright), or Buffy (Joss Whedon owns that, so far as I know). That really should be obvious... –L.A., 1994– She ran through the burning building, choking on the thick black clouds of smoke. Her eyes itched as the heat evaporated the moisture on them. Her vision swam and her head grew light. She could hear the screams of the monsters that she had trapped in the gymnasium, the ones that had killed her friend, that had tried to kill her sister. She could hear crashing sounds as the roof fell down in places. She could hear voices calling her, but none made sense. She heard her sister crying, coughing as she pulled her along, refusing to let go of the eight-year old's hand. She stumbled as a sudden burning pain struck her shoulder, driving her to her knees, heard a young girl screaming, tried to cry out, but could only whimper in pain. A voice in the distance, calling out her name. She tried to peer through the smoke, and saw big men in heavy clothing and masks running towards her, stopping as a massive chunk of burning roof fell in front of them. Her sister screamed again, and another crash and something hit her in the back, pinning her to the ground. Pain blazed, and she realized that she could smell herself burning. She tried to struggle, but she couldn't feel her legs. Her vision grew darker, and the screams and cried grew more distant. Her eyes closed, and she realized that she was going to die. Not today. I see your power, your compassion, your conviction and your valor. I see what you can do, if only you had the power. I see the power fated for you, and reject such atrocity. I see the misery it will bring you, and I cannot abide it. You are destined for great things, and it is only right that you be given great power. But one so young should not be so burdened. I see the pain you suffer, and I know that I must act. Rise, Young One. I see your soul, and I remember what hopes I once had. Rise, my Child. Greet the new Dawn. Rise, Lawgiver. Restore what was shattered so long ago. Rise, Lightbringer. Dispel the clouds that gather over Creation. Rise, Buffy Summers. For you are Exalted! Her eyes shot open, and strength surged through her body. The pain was gone, and she could feel her legs again. She stood up, and the burning roof simply fell away from her. She turned and picked up the child behind her as though the girl weighed no more heavily than a kitten. She walked through the burning flames, and neither she nor the child were hurt. The firemen before her watched with shock as she walked past them and towards the broken doors that were once the east exit for the school. She walked out into the cool evening air, and the crowd that had gathered outside the school watched in stunned awe. She walked to her tearful mother and handed the child over. It was only then that she saw her reflection in a nearby window. She was shining as bright as the new day, a brilliant golden glow coming from her skin. A golden circle ringed with dashes aimed outwards formed the image of a bursting star upon her brow. Her long golden hair flowed down past her shoulders, perfect despite the flames that had just moments ago been eating it away. Her skin was a perfect golden tan, unmarred by the fire that had nearly claimed her life. She turned her gaze from her image and saw her sister sobbing hysterically in the arms of her mother, who was staring at Buffy in shocked disbelief. Buffy knew that she should say something, anything, but- –1 Year Prior–
“Enough,” a crisp, authoritative voice spoke, and three pairs of eyes snapped open at once. As the first stood up from his meditative pose, shadows obscuring his face, his fellows looked to the him, the one who had spoken, in silent question.
“I've found her,” the man confirmed, “But there is going to be a...complication.”
“What do you mean?” one of his colleagues asked, standing up. In the dim, candle-lit room, it was hard enough to see what the man looked like, but even in daylight one wouldn't see much. Than man was completely and utterly forgettable. Eyes simply passed over the man's face, writing him out of memory as soon as he was seen. The man in the shadows sighed in response to the query.
“She is not the Chosen One,” he answered irritably.
“Impossible, all the signs point towards-” the second responded, before being cut off by the first.
“She should have been, but something intervened,” the first explained, “One year and one day from today, she will Exalt. As a Solar, apparently.”
The second was silent a moment. Then-
“Are you sure?” he asked, disheartened and disturbed. All of the prophecies pointed towards this girl. No other potentials fit. If they were forced to move against her-
“I saw it from her eyes,” the first answered wearily, “There can be no mistake. She is not the next Slayer.”
“What do we do then?” The second asked. The first turned his gaze towards the so-far silent third.
“What do you think?” he asked, meeting the third's blank gaze. The third man was as forgettable as the first and second, with no appearance to call his own. After a moments pause, he spoke.
“I think that she is definitely the one you're looking for,” came the reply, “The Prophecies are very clear on that. There is no other living human girl that matches the criteria.”
“How do you explain the Solar Exaltation?” the second half-asked, half-demanded. The third turned a blank gaze on the second.
“Solar Exaltations are not inherently evil,” the third lectured, much like a teacher to a student who has asked the same question several times and gotten the same answer each time, “They are inclined towards evil acts, certainly, but good Solars have existed,” a pause, a thoughtful look, “Perhaps I should rephrase: Solars have existed which could control their natural inclination towards corruption and chaos. Indeed, I have uncovered ancient lore that refers to them as “Lawgivers”, which implies to me that they were not always the monsters that they became-”
“What should we do about this?” the first interrupted, clearly irritated by the lecture. The third didn't react to the outburst.
“I would advise that we proceed with open minds and guarded souls. This girl is the one from the prophecy, so killing her should be a last resort only. We should attempt a meeting shortly after her Exaltation. She will likely be confused, and having someone there to explain things should help immensely with the prevention of a god-complex.”
The first nodded approvingly.
“Very well, then. The task is yours. I trust you have a persona to fit?”
The third smiled and bowed. As he stood, he was suddenly recognizable. Lines of age had just begun to crease his face, and intelligent green eyes, flecked with hazel, looked out from behind bookish, circular glasses. On his head dark brown hair was combed smoothly and professionally, and a gray tweed jacket and pants, perfectly clean and free of creases, adorned his figure, all together creating a very respectable image.
“Hello,” he said in a very well-educated British accent, “Rupert Giles, Librarian and Scholar. It's a pleasure to meet you.”
–1902, New York, 5:25 A.M.– He sat atop one of the larger buildings, staring out at the horizon, willing the sun to come sooner. A bitter smile graced his lips. He'd spent the better part of a century and a half in the darkness, reveling in it. And now he couldn't stand to wait half an hour for one last glimpse of the dawn. Pain gnawed at his insides, but he ignored it. Pain was his art. Inflicting it, mostly, but there was little he could not endure. A man's face, contorted with agony as this fresh hell was unleashed upon him. He closed his eyes, willing the tears not to come. Pain he could ignore, but not this. Not the guilt, the endless remorse, reliving his past, seeing the faces of his thousands of victims everywhere he went. This was the one thing he could not endure any longer. Four long years of this hell. But it was no less than he deserved. He could still remember what had brought him here... A young woman's broken, naked form, unmoving but still alive. Soft prayers and pleas for deliverance were all that left her lips, even as he placed the glowing brand upon her back. The last week had broken her. Without the thrill of a response, he was bored. A smile worked its way onto his face, cold and pitiless as the blackest depths of space. Perhaps it was time to take her home... The young woman, kind, intelligent, chaste and beautiful. Everything he had despised. He had taken a special interest in her, in breaking her completely, for the sole crime of being what he wasn't, what he had never been: pure. A muffled cry escaped him, and he covered his face in his hands as his composure broke. Sobs wracked his body as he cried. He couldn't believe everything that had happened. All the pain, the suffering, he grief and misery he had caused. He deserved to die. The face of everyone you have killed-our daughter's face-will haunt you, and you will know true suffering! The gypsy's voice echoed in his mind, and he looked up at the horizon. Light could be seen beyond the clouds. Dawn would be coming soon. Dawn, and a merciful release from his torment. Please, have mercy, take me, leave her, take me instead! He closed his eyes, willing the voices away, and knowing that they would remain with him forever. His resolve to wait on the rooftop began to waver. He yearned for the mercy that the sun's light promised him, but he knew that he couldn't take it. He was beyond mercy, beyond redemption. He didn't deserve to die; death was too good for him. He deserved to serve out his punishment: An eternity of guilt, of remorse. An eternity of penance, because he could never do enough good to outweigh the suffering that he had caused. With a sigh he stood up to leave. He would live, and he would suffer. It was only right that he take his punishment. With all the evil he had done, he couldn't help but take the opportunity to do at least one good thing, no matter the pain. “An admirable sentiment,” spoke a soft, beautiful voice. He spun around, turning to face the newcomer. A beautiful woman walked towards him, illuminating the rooftop in a silvery glow. Her skin was pale and perfect, and for a moment he thought her naked, before realizing that she lacked any features beyond shape and pure, silvery light. “I see your pain,” she whispered softly, and a powerful echo of her words rang within his mind, “And I see the pain you have left behind you. But I also feel your power. You are a warrior, a champion. Your death here would be a waste, and you know this.” A silver hand reached out and cupped his cheek. “It takes a rare being indeed to endure what you have, and a rarer one to turn down peace in favor of continued battle,” at this point the featureless face seemed to smile, “We are alike, you and I. We cannot give in, cannot surrender, no matter the cost, no matter the pain we must endure. You fight a war within yourself, a war for your very soul, and it will consume you. One day, redemption might find you, but that day will be a long time in coming. Decades of hardship and loneliness await you, but you will endure, because you know that you must.” He looked at the woman in brief hope at the mention of redemption, before coming to his senses. “I think you have the wrong person,” he said quietly, “No redemption awaits me.” “You are wrong, Child,” the woman said softly, “Redemption is possible, but the path before you is a wasteful one. Almost a century of penance before the opportunity is granted. I have seen your fate, and I want to change it. You are a champion, and your redemption should be worthy of you. I will break your curse, and I will show you the path to true redemption. It is one paved with struggle, but you will persevere, because it is what you do. Temptation will lurk around all corners, but fortitude will deny The Shadow Of All Things his final victory. Those that seek to destroy you will see your bravery, and they will fear you. Your enemies will try to break you, but you know what is right, and that knowledge will see you through. Your inner darkness will try to corrupt you, but your concern for the innocent will be your shield. I have seen your Fate, my Child, and you are my child now, and the world will remember you long after your passing.” A brilliant light burst on the rooftop, bright and white as the full moon itself, and he felt power coursing within him. The demon that raged within its confines screamed as the power scoured his soul clean, and he felt reborn. A bright silver disk shone on his forehead, and he knew now what needed to be done. “Go forth, Steward, and protect this world. Guard it from that which would destroy it, and keep it safe until its true masters return. Defend this forsaken world, and remind they who have forgotten me of my presence!” “Go forth, Warrior of Luna, and know that from this moment forward you-” and here the light blazed brighter than he would have thought possible, and for the first time he could see eyes on the woman's featureless face, blazing balls of molten silver that seemed to stare into his very being and fill him with strength- “Are Exalted!” –End Chapter–
I hope this sets the scene for what is to come. I know questions abound, but rest assured that everything will be explained. Please review, and tell me what you think, and I promise that Chapter One will be coming soon.