I don't own anything. Buffy is not owned by me. It is owned by rich, talented people. I'm a nobody. Please don't sue me. Dark Ritual
“Watch yourself,” Buffy called sternly as she flipped over her foe, her iron knife digging into its back. She had her long blonde hair tied back in a loose pony tail, and was wearing her Slayer uniform: black pants, blue long sleeve shirt, brown combat boots, and a utility belt loaded with weapons and supplies. Everything a Slayer might need in the field. She was very glad she had at least taken the time to shower and change into a clean uniform, even if she still hadn't had time to sleep.
“Yes ma'am,” Jenna, a young Slayer, said, dodging the enemy coming at her from behind. She was a round faced brunette dressed in the same fashion as Buffy. Like her leader, she was also armed with an iron knife.
Buffy looked around for a moment, her eyes narrowing as she saw one of the enemy swooping down towards Xander. He had been spending too much time alone lately, especially since Renee had died, and she had decided that he needed some field time. It wouldn't do for him to get out of touch with the slaying. Running forward she somersaulted through the air and took the enemy attacking her friend to the ground with a powerful downward slam of her heel, knocking it out of the air with ease. It fell to the earth and began to scream.
The creature had the body of a pale woman, with spindly, clawed arms where its legs should be and feathered black wings for arms. When it hit the ground it shrieked, revealing toothless gums as it shriveled away to nothing. Looking up, she grimaced as she saw the numbers still circling them overhead, although she smirked when she saw the one she had just stabbed lose its struggle to stay airborne and touch the ground, screaming as it too died quickly.
Xander looked up from where he had been reloading his crossbow. “Thanks, Buff.”
“This is not what I pictured when you said there'd be some slaw,” Buffy said, shifting her grip on her dagger as she tiredly eyed the circling attackers. She may have been the Slayer, but even she had some limits to her endurance, and her overfull workload was bringing her towards hers.
“Sluagh,” he corrected as he fired another bolt, hitting one of the creatures in the wing joint, sending it spiraling to the earth where it died on contact. “And did I not say there was a flock? Because they look pretty flocky to me, flying up there all numerous.”
“Well, I for one am going on the record in support of only one kind of slaw henceforth. The kind with cole, and only then when served with chicken. Bucketed chicken.”
“I have to agree there, these really do leave a lot to be desired. Almost as bad as that sweet and sour haggis.”
Before Buffy could reply she had to set herself as the remaining sluagh decided to attack. They swooped down on the three demon fighters, cawing like angry birds as they came, long, clawed legs braced to slash at them as they flew past. Just as they entered attack range, disaster struck.
A great keening wail arose from a nearby copse of trees, the sound rattling their bones and chilling their spirits. In the sound, Buffy could feel the moment that she had died, so long ago falling off of Glory's tower. The world grew darker, and it took her several long heartbeats to realize that it wasn't simply some artifact of her affliction, but rather the result of a swiftly rising fog that obscured vision and blotted out the stars.
Only years of experience and well honed instinct let Buffy dodge to the side, stabbing upwards with her iron knife as she did, clipping a wing and sending another sluagh ploughing into the earth. Xander fired his crossbow and dove to the ground, combat honed reflexes carrying him to safety despite the painful, disorienting wailing. Jenna was not so lucky.
As the wailing died away to nothing, Buffy stared in horror as the Slayer under her command fell to the ground in a spray of blood, unmoving. Clutched in the claws of the sluagh that had struck her was a wavering, ephemeral version of the girl, which screamed soundlessly as she writhed in the monster's grasp.
“Buffy! That's her soul! Stop it!” Xander shouted, his ears still ringing from the sourceless wail.
“I know,” Buffy said, her voice clipped as she ran to a large tree, jumping into the air and rebounding from its trunk. Flipping through the dense fog she wrapped her arms around the demon, pulling it off balance and pinning one of its wings to its side. It plummeted earthward, striking the ground hard and withering away underneath her. The spectral version of Jenna slowly faded away.
Across the meadow, Xander crouched over the Slayer, his hands pressed to her gaping wounds trying to stem the flow of blood. A moment after Buffy struck the ground the girl suddenly gasped, twitching as her eyes focused. “Sir? I...”
“Shh,” he said. “Don't talk.”
Buffy gritted her teeth and ran at a sluagh that sought to hit Xander while he delivered first aid, her blade savagely tearing its side open. Snarling, she rebounded off of a tree to deliver a powerful kick to another, riding it to the ground to cushion her fall. Just as she hit the earth she found herself stumbling as the sourceless wailing arose again, deafeningly loud, making her teeth rattle and her mind flit back to the sensations she had felt when she had died.
Before she could waver, Buffy took a glance at Xander as he frantically worked to save one of her Slayers. She had trained the girl, a sweet kid from Ohio who wanted to be grade school teacher, and now she was bleeding out on the grass, her very soul in peril if Buffy couldn't kill the last of the sluagh. Glaring at their blurred outlines as they circled through the fog, Buffy bared her teeth angrily. They didn't stand a chance.
Xander continued his ministrations. Jenna's injuries were bad, but if Buffy could deal with the demons – and with his quick glance revealing her beating one into the ground with another, he knew she could – he could call in a medical team and she would pull through.
“I'm sorry,” Jenna said weakly once the wail died down again.
“Hey now!” Xander said. “Nothing to be sorry about. These'll barely leave a scar.”
“No... I'm sorry I let you both down.”
“Impossible. You'd have to like, swoon over Lestat, or try to drown Buffy in a fountain or something before we'd be upset with you. Buffy wouldn't have picked you if you weren't good. You in no way let us down, do you hear me missy?”
“Yes sir,” she said, smiling slightly.
Buffy finished off the last of the sluagh, carefully scanning the area as her spidey-sense continued to scream at her despite seeing nothing. Before she could check on Jenna, she finally saw something coming through the fog.
At first it was simply glowing blue lights, flickering in the mist. She then heard the muffled thump of hooves and a hollow rattling. Finally, the source of the lights came into view.
It was a large wagon, painted black, being drawn by a team of six great black horses, whose tails were so long that they swept the ground behind them. The strange thing about the animals, was that they had no heads, simply stumps where their necks ended. The lights on the wagon were candles that burned with eerie blue flames, and which used human skulls for candle holders. The wagon in general had human bone accents, in particular thigh bones forming the spokes of its wheels, and finger bones as decorative beadwork. Covering the bed of the wagon like an awning was a great, worm eaten, black funeral shroud.
Driving the wagon was a tall, headless figure dressed all in black. The missing head was tucked under its right arm, and it had waxy flesh of a sickly pale green color. Its mouth stretched from ear to ear with a disturbing grin, and its huge round eyes darted about quickly, looking everywhere at once. In its left hand it held an incredibly long human spine, which it cracked like a whip to encourage its headless horses.
At the back of the wagon, under the protection of the awning, was a large, elaborately carved throne. The figure sitting on it was a pale woman of surpassing beauty, with long, straight silver hair and pale blue eyes. She sat tall and proud, and wore a long dress made of condensed mist. Sitting on the back of her throne were three songbirds, which sat calmly despite their gruesome surroundings. Arranged before her on the floor of the wagon were three ancient women, all as hideous as the one on the throne was beautiful, all wearing plain gray dresses.
Buffy set herself into a combat stance as the horses pulled to a stop. The woman on the throne smiled at her coldly. “Surrender, mortal, and I will not harm you.”
“Right,” Buffy said sarcastically. “I so believe that.”
“As well you should,” she offered regally. “I am Clionadh, and I have no need to trick lower beings such as yourself. Do as I command, or suffer.”
“Sorry, Miss Clio. I've never been good at 'following commands'.”
The grinning face tucked under the headless coachman's right arm snarled at her, and the dark figure swung the spine he griped in his left hand at her face, directly towards her eye, with inhuman speed. Raising her left arm she grunted in pain as the bone whip wrapped around her limb, opening a bloody gash. Gripping the cold weapon with a grimace of distaste, Buffy heaved with all of her considerable might, pulling him from his seat, sending him crashing to the ground.
Buffy gave him no chance to recover, running forward and landing a crescent kick to his wrist which knocked the handle of his whip from his hand even as he climbed to his feet. Discarding the gruesome weapon, Buffy punched him hard in the side, before half spinning to bury her iron knife in his heart. She was surprised when he simply backhanded her, splitting her lip and sending her reeling.
Buffy smoothly drifted back from his next attack, darting in behind it to launch a full strength punch at his head. Her fist sunk into it easily with a sickening squish, meeting no more resistance than if she had punched a round of moldy cheese. Pulling her hand back, covered in rotten green flesh, she barely managed to block his next punch, the hit powerful enough to leave a deep bruise even on her arm.
Before she could consider her next tactic, the women entered the fray. The first old woman opened her mouth and let out a sound like two heavy wooden boards being clapped together with great strength. The next sang a beautiful, wordless tune with a deep tenor voice that rattled their bones. The third made a terrible sound that seemed to be a mix between a woman screaming in torment and a dying owl. Finally the woman on the throne opened her mouth as well, releasing the high keening wail that had so effectively distracted them while they had been fighting the sluagh.
Each voice was maddening in its own right, but together, as some form of damned chorus, it was too much for even the hardend Sunnydale veterans. Buffy staggered about, dizzy and disoriented, barely blocking the probing hits of her headless opponent, only experience and instinct saving her from several telling blows. Xander had by then finished binding the unconscious Jenna's wounds, and he managed to crawl away from her before losing his lunch on the ground. Looking up dazedly, he frowned as he watched his best friend begin to take a serious beating.
Xander dug around in his pockets with shaking hands, before finally pulling out the pocket watch Buffy had bought him for his birthday after becoming the Head Watcher for her organization. Unable to stand, he crawled towards his friend as quickly as he could, finally holding it up to the creature's damaged head when he was close enough.
The monster gave an outraged roar, before it turned and ran, disappearing into the thick fog. Looking at a swaying Buffy, he grinned as the women stopped wailing. “Glad you splurged for the nice one, Buff.”
“Huh?” she asked, looking vaguely at him. Her eyes were unfocused, and she saw two of him, holding up his pocket watch.
“Gold. Dullahan flee from gold.”
“Oh,” she said, shaking her head, trying to pull herself together. Reaching down, she grabbed him by the back of his shirt and hauled him to his feet, before drawing one of her combat knives from her belt. “Someone's been studying. So, I'm thinkin' banshees?”
“Banshees,” Xander agreed. “They don't usually get all with the violence, though.”
“Someone should tell them that,” Buffy complained. “How is Jenna.”
“I stopped the bleeding, but it's bad. If she weren't a Slayer, she wouldn't make it.” He reached up and touched the communicator in his ear. “Hey, this is Xander. We've got a Slayer down, in need of medivac, pronto. Hostiles still present.” He paused for a moment, before lowering his hand to reload his crossbow. “We've got choppers incoming.”
“Then let's finish this before they get here. I don't want to risk our medics.”
“Finish this?” Clionadh said. “That does sound to be acceptable.”
Taking a deep breath, all four banshee began to scream, but as they did they slowly climbed down from the wagon, moving ever closer to the two demon fighters. Xander was the first to succumb, collapsing to the ground with blood pouring from his ears. Buffy managed one last charge, only to stare in horror as her dagger shattered inches in front of Clionadh, torn apart by the intensity of her keening. She had only moments to contemplate that before everything went black.
* * *
Buffy was in a deep, dark place. Slowly, with great effort, she pushed herself towards consciousness. Her first reaction was to regret doing so. Her head hurt. Had she been drinking? Between her beer experience in college, and her Spike inspired experiment with drunkenness after her resurrection, she had avoided drinking. Had she fallen off the wagon?
Dimly, past the drums pounding away in her head, she heard a smooth voice chanting. It was a pleasant soprano voice, the liquid syllables blurring together into a beautiful song. She could listen to it for hours, she decided woozily, wondering where she had gotten the CD. She finally realized that something was dreadfully wrong when she tried to shift her arm and failed.
Snapping her eyes open, she saw the three elderly banshees and the headless dullahan each holding one of her limbs, keeping her pressed to the grass, unable to move. She couldn't tell how long she had been out, the fog still laying thick all around her. Turning her head she could see Xander laying unconscious nearby, a tight knot in her chest loosening as she saw his chest slowly rising and falling. The other Slayer was nowhere to be seen.
Looking up, she saw the beautiful banshee standing over her. She was the source of the musical chanting, and the hair swiftly rose on the back of the Slayer's neck as she realized that it was some sort of mystic ritual, and she was laid out like a sacrifice. Buffy twisted and jerked, trying to free herself, but she was still weak and disoriented from the banshee's attack, and the creatures holding her were quite strong.
A flickering green glow began to light up the clearing, but no matter how much Buffy craned her neck she couldn't locate the source. Whatever was shedding the light was slowly coming closer, and from the sound it made as it moved she could tell that it was large, but walked quite lightly. Concentrating, she shivered at the feeling her spidey-sense gave her. Clionadh was extremely powerful, and her servants holding Buffy down were no slouches, but whatever had entered the clearing was in a league of its own.
Clionadh leaned down and placed a familiar crystalline sphere over Buffy's heart. The Slayer tried to move again, struggling against the hold, but nothing she did could free her. A warm, languid feeling began to spread outward from the Orb of Thesulah being held to her. For a moment she felt as though someone else were there, holding her in their arms, filling her with love. A single tear escaped her eye as she lay, overwhelmed by the sensation.
Then, a pull began at her heart. She gasped, as something seemed to pass through her, filling her completely before being forcefully ripped through her body and into the Orb, which began to glow. She stared at it, wide eyed, as Clionadh finished her spell.
“It is done,” she said. “I have taken it.”
“You have done well, O Queen of Banshees,” a rumbling voice said from the direction of the green light. “Truly what you have accomplished could only be done a goddess of love. Take the soul to Dun Bhaloir. And remember, leave her alive. I have plans for her.” The green light slowly faded away.
Clionadh sniffed in annoyance. “Impudent beast.”
“What... did you do?” Buffy forced out.
The Banshee Queen gave the Slayer a superior look. “You wish to know, girl? This Orb now contains the soul of the one you love in your heart. Think of it, little Slayer: your love has now brought Angelus into this world twice over!”
Buffy lay still for a long moment, overwhelmed. If Angelus had truly been let loose once again... then she couldn't afford to lie around.
Reaching deep, Buffy snarled, and with a surge of effort, pulled with her entire body, using every ounce of strength she possessed. The creatures holding her limbs crashed into each other, collapsing into a thrashing pile on top of her, until she kicked them all off, flipping to her feet in an instant. Spinning, she chopped her hand hard into the Banshee Queen's throat.
Clionadh staggered back, holding the Orb in one hand and her neck with the other, gasping for breath. Buffy quickly laid about her, delivering punishing blows to the rising banshees, sending them back to the ground, before punting the dullahan so hard that he flew through the air a dozen feet into a tree, smashing into it with a shower of splinters.
“Freeze, Slayer,” Clionadh rasped, “or I will break his neck.”
Buffy stopped, glaring angrily at her foe as the banshee held Xander by his throat. “I'm warning you: you won't get away with this,” she promised, her voice glacial.
“I rather think I will,” Clionadh said, trying for smug but failing due to her injured throat. She slowly walked into the fog with her hostage, disappearing in moments. “Good luck, Slayer. You'll need it.”
Slowly the fog lifted, and Buffy realized what her enemy had meant. “I don't think I'm in Kansas anymore.” Author's Notes
Sluagh were spirits of the damned who took the form of black birds and flew about in flocks, stealing souls. They were unable to touch the ground. I obviously changed their appearance, but a flock of birds was kind of tame, so I made them more demonic. I had Buffy and Jenna wielding iron knives since some stories have sluagh be a kind of fairy, many of which were vulnerable to iron.
I didn't have to do much to the dullahan. They are really creepy already, and that whip strike was aimed for the eyes – they whip them out of peoples heads who dare to look at them. I based the banshees on several different stories – they are from all over the region and the tales about them are inconsistent, so I used a little bit of everything. Their leader was Clionadh, the Banshee Queen, goddess of love and beauty.