Just like to say thanks to Catlimere, Claddagh, Goddessa, Bluezero, Onlimain, ZephyRS and Manic for giving such positive and upbeat reviews. Thanks guys! As a reward two chapters at once!
She was running. Some small part of her knew she was dreaming but the rest of her was there. Running. Feet hitting the ground, arms pumping in counterpoint to the straining beating of her heart and the gasping sound of her breath. On either side above and behind she could feel the presence of others, other slayers, ordinary humans, animals, even vampires. She didn’t know where they were running to or what from. All she knew was that they had to keep on running. Keep on running or it would be the end of everything. Then with a wrenching suddenness she was pulled abruptly upwards, suspended above everything like a marionette, helpless to act, watching with horrified inevitability as the thing she had been running from, the gaping, grey nothingness overwhelmed them all and rolled on, unimpeded. It left nothing in its wake. Nothing at all. No bones, no corpses, just dull, sterile earth, without even a blade of grass. And somehow she knew that this land would never bear fruit again. That whatever had happened had sucked the very ability to bear or sustain life from the earth, leaving behind this barren and grey wasteland.
Her vantage point changed again, pulling her further out, until she was suspended high over the planet, forced to watch as the greyness speedily overwhelmed the lush blue and green orb, the palette of luminous colours fading to undifferentiated grey and brown. She knew she was screaming, shouting, pleading, every muscle and sinew screaming an incoherent no, but she couldn’t hear herself. All she could hear was the death shout of the planet itself, billions of voices raised in a cry of abandonment and despair, echoing and reverberating through her head so she could only clasp her hands over her ears and scream even louder for it to just stop. But it went on, and on, and she was bombarded by images as those she was tied to were pulled under one by one. Xander trying to gain his girls a second more of life by throwing himself In front of them as the greyness sucked them under, the terror and frustration on the baby slayers faces as they faced this enemy that they even they could not fight and vanished, lives flickering out like moths in a flame. Willow and Kennedy, the red haired witch’s eyes as black as ebony as they fought together with spells and blows, overwhelmed within minutes by the sheer enormity of the task, swallowed by the grey, hands clasped to the end. Dawn, Andrew, even Giles taken in seconds, their faces matching masks of despair and terror, lives snuffed out while the grey rolled on regardless. And all this time she was forced to watch, suspended above the maelstrom as everything and everyone she knew and loved died horribly, bit by bit. And all the time she could hear them screaming.
After an interminable period it ceased as there was nothing left to consume but Buffy still hung above the now empty planet, sobbing and retching.
For an endless moment she hung there, alone in the dark and then she became conscious of a soft blue light at her shoulder. Twisting in the vacuum that was space she turned to see that the light emanated from a softly glowing figure that was standing watching the dead Earth with an expression of infinite compassion. A figure that she recognised.
The being that used to be Tara McClay turned and smiled at her gently.
“Hello, Buffy. It’s good to see you again.”
The blond Slayer wiped angrily at her eyes with a hand and took a few deep breaths, trying to still the torrent of emotion that was still pouring through her system.
“It’s good to see you too. But I could have wished it was in better circumstances.”
She gestured angrily to the devastation below. “Was this really necessary? Couldn’t they have just send Whistler again?”
The other woman smiled briefly. “Well, considering that last time he appeared you threatened him and then proceeded to basically ignore him…” she shrugged. “The Powers thought that someone a bit more familiar and less…” she hesitated, and Buffy watching let bare the slightest hint of a smile.
At Tara’s nod she smiled wryly. “At least they’re learning. Took them a while though.”
She turned back to the devastated planet below and her face hardened. “But I can’t say I approve of the floor show. This was cruel.” She regarded the other ex-Scooby with narrowed eyes. “And unnecessary. A message would have been sufficient.”
Tara shook her head gently and gestured to the devastated Earth. “Buffy this was the message. I’m just the messenger. The Powers needed you to see exactly what will happen if you don’t take heed.”
Buffy scowled at her. “So –another apocalypse? What’s new with that? Every potential apocalypse could lead to the end of the world and the Powers don’t sent me nightmares for each one of them.”
Tara regarded the grey below her with infinite sorrow for a moment before looking back at her old friend.
“This one is different.”
Buffy raised a sceptical eyebrow. “Different how? Pretty much all the apocalypses I’ve been involved in have some form of world ending as the ultimate goal.”
“Technically that’s not quite true.” Ignoring the blonde’s look of disbelief Tara continued on. “The ultimate aim of most of the apocalypses you and your predecessors have stopped has been the end of the world for humans. That is the aim of the overthrow of the human race by something else. Either by vampires or cults or other organisations. But none of them involved the absolute ending of the world.”
Buffy frowned. She didn’t quite get the distinction. Seeing her confusion Tara gestured down at the planet. “The end of the Earth itself. Gaia. The mother goddess.”
“You mean the planet? You mean this is a literal floorshow?” She gazed down at the greyness, even more horrified than before. “I thought the Powers were being….” she gestured abstractly, “metaphorical or something.”
Tara shook her head and looked at her intently. “Something big is coming Buffy. Something that is not of this earth, not of our dimensional plain. And if it gets it’s chance it will drain this entire planet of every scrap of life it has.”
Buffy shook her head in furious denial and gestured at the ruin below. “How can I fight something like that? How can you tell this is coming if I’m only going to fail?”
Tara came closer and reached up to take her friend’s face in softly glowing hands, staring into her eyes intently. “You can fight this, Buffy. You can. And you can win. You’re our Champion. Earth’s Champion.”
Buffy closed her eyes against the softly glowing face of her friend for a minute. She was so tired of fighting all the time. She knew she was the Champion and it wasn’t as if she had any choice. But she was so tired. Two small tears of exhaustion leaked from under her eyelids and she felt the gentle warmth as Tara wiped them away, and for a second allowed herself to lean against a strength other than her own. But then she sighed in mingled resignation and acceptance, feeling the familiar weight of the burden settle on her shoulders and opened her eyes to meet Tara’s sympathetic face. She smiled ruefully.
“I guess there isn’t anyone else?”
At Tara’s sympathetic head shake she signed again. “Well I guess those are the breaks. What do I have to do?”
Tara’s smile was radiant and she reached up and placed a glowing kiss on her friend’s forehead, leaving it tingling, like a benediction.
“Just remember, you are Earth’s Champion. Gaia’s chosen. And that in all of Slayer history there has never been a record of a Slayer been made into a vampire. Slayers can’t be possessed.” She caught Buffy’s look of confused scepticism and smiled even wider, gently shoving her away. “Ask Giles if you don’t believe me.”
The gap between them was widening now and Buffy felt herself being pulled inexorably away. Straining, she reached out to Tara, but the gap was too big. The other girl just stood and smiled at her, a hint of mischief in her eyes. “Tara, wait! I don’t know what to do!”
The other girl was only a tiny speck in the distance now, but Buffy could still hear her voice as though she was next to her.
“You’ll know. Just remember this place.” Suddenly an image slipped into her mind, a road leading to what looked like an armed bunker, surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by guards. She frowned as she desperately tried to commit the image to memory. She could feel it slipping as she was pulled back to her body, but before she was pulled into unconsciousness again, she heard a quiet laugh from her old friend and what felt like a whisper in her ear.
“And Buffy? Trust in love.” And with that last whispered aside she was gone. Buffy frowned even as she fell back into slumber. Cryptic much? Tara had rather obviously been taking lessons from her bosses.