AN: So, hurrah, next chapter is up. Many thanks to Ponder, who beta read it.
Willow was heading out to work when she noticed something that had been niggling at her all day. Something that had been building ever so slowly in the air, but had now reached the edge of her awareness.
She shivered and rubbed her arms as if she were cold. It wasn’t the temperature that was putting her so on edge, though. It was the sheer discordant magic that permeated the air. She was surprised the others didn’t seem to feel it. Surprised that she hadn’t felt it before.
It was humming at a pitch just below hearing, but it made her teeth ache furiously. It was compressing the air around her, smothering her, choking her –
“You alright, Will?” Xander asked, peering at her nervously. He’d just come back from work and was resting on the couch.
She grimaced in a parody of a smile and tried to find her jacket. “Yeah. But I say tomorrow. Get some sleep. You’ll need it.”
“Tomorrow?” Xander repeated nervously. “No need to get carried away, Willow. I mean, I know you’ve got a bad feeling about this and all –“
She cut him off. “Not just a bad feeling. God, can’t you feel all the magic in the air, Xander?”
He paused, tried to see what she was talking about. Xander had never had much affinity for magic, but magic seemed to have a natural affinity for Xander.
“I… I think I can.” He gulped. “This is going to be bad, isn’t it? Maybe you shouldn’t go to work. Take your own advice. Get some sleep.”
She smiled thinly and shook her head. “This is dark magic, Xander. I’m not going to let my defenses down around it.”
At work she was jittery and high strung. She raised zombies too strongly, with an almost lifelike perfection, and set them to rest too strongly – they wouldn’t be rising again anytime soon.
Yet even with that, her power burned the inside of her fingers wanting out, out, out and she had to resist the temptation to just let it flow. She’d need it all soon, she knew, but that didn’t change how much she want to push back the foul, tainted air around her.
Anita was dreaming.
She knew she was dreaming, knew that only in dreams could she visit the place that The Mother of All Darkness slept. And it didn’t make any difference.
She was terrified.
She stared down on the sleeping body, encompassed in the large bed of darkness and was afraid.
She watched, still as any vampire, as the body rolled and whimpered, and was afraid.
She observed as Mother Dearest yawn, stretching skin, showing teeth and fangs, and was afraid.
Anita watched her face as she woke and as eyes of a colour she couldn’t name opened, and was deathly afraid.
Waking up screaming was so cliché, something that was only acceptable in Hollywood.
Anita did it anyway.
The Council gathered in silence, less like powerful vampires, and more like puppets under the control of something far more powerful than they. The rippling rolling waves ensnared them; if they had wished to leave, it would have been impossible, though the thought didn’t even occur to them.
Where could you go when the Mother had woken?
The Queen of Nightmares, Morte d' Amour, Belle Morte, The Traveller, The Dragon and Padma, the Master of Beasts, all ancient, powerful vampires, were caught within her grasp as surely as flies in a spider web.
And just as doomed.Come
, she whispered, that terrible, ghastly sleeping beauty, rising from the cursed, hidden chambers that had housed her for all eternity. We feast soon.
And they came. All her children, pulled by her impossibly irresistible power. Pulled to Shift, though there was no moon. Pulled awake to life, though it was day.Come
, she whispered. And they came.
Then they began to move.
The sun didn’t rise that morning. The vampires didn’t go to sleep and die. The Mother had woken up.
“Hallelujah,” Dawn said, “the apocalypse has come.”
Faith smacked her over the head. “Stop being so melodramatic and get your stuff. Willow says we’re heading to the Circus.”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Why the Circus? It’s not like we can do anything there that we can’t do here. In fact, I bet they don’t even have TV there.” She gestured to where the TV was blaring.
“… worst storm in living memory!” the windblown reporterd shouted at the camera, holding a microphone in one hand and her hood down with the other. “… no atmospheric support… must be magical! ... witches disagree … too much power!... reporting from Paris!”
Faith snorted. “They’re not telling us anything that we haven’t already guessed. We won’t need reporters to tell us when she gets to Saint Louis. It’ll be fairly obvious.”
Grouped in the Circus of the Damned (and the Scoobies thought the name was suddenly much more appropriate) they all felt it as the Mother and her vampires approached. The way they traveled had little to do with space and time and everything to do with magic. They simply moved. A wave of foul magic washing ahead of them, converting and destroying. They faced no resistance. Mine Key,
whispered that terrible voice, thundering across the world into the waiting ears of the defenders.
The Scoobies paled, but didn’t explain. The vampires and werewolves within the Circus were fighting the pull to the Mother and the Council, but they wouldn’t be able to resist much longer.
“We need to do something,” Willow stated.
“That’s pretty obvious,” Buffy said dryly, “but I’m assuming you have an idea as to what?”
Willow flushed a little. “Well,” she hedged, “maybe. We need to defeat her magically, to stop her Calling the weres and controlling the vampires. Otherwise, we’ll be so outnumbered…” she trailed off. That didn’t need explaining.
Nobody argued. “But I can’t do it alone.” She looked at Dawn, then at Buffy. “I’ll need all the help I can get.”
Dawn nodded. “I’m in.” Buffy didn’t argue, there wasn’t the time for it, but she didn’t look happy about it. They all looked expectantly at Anita.
“Oh, what the hell,” she muttered. “I’m with you.”
Willow nodded with more confidence now that they had a plan. “Right then. We’ll go and set up the circle.”
She grabbed her bag and they headed down into the depths of the Circus to find an empty room well out of the way. They were almost at the door when Anita doubled over as though she had been punched in the stomach.
Buffy rushed over to her. “Are you okay?” she said anxiously, reaching forward to help.
“Back off,” Anita barked, straightening. Her eyes glittered strangely. “They just got a hell of a lot closer. I… I’ll be with you in a second.”
Then she fled the room to find Jean-Claude. This was not a good time for Belle Morte to be playing her little games.
“There is no way for us to win, ma petite,” Jean-Claude whispered into her hair. The aurder, brought to life by the presence of Belle Morte, had been sated in both of them, but he had not released her yet. In truth, she liked lying in his arms in the red silk of the bed, it was comforting.
“You’re giving up?” Anita asked, disbelief plain in her voice. She had yet to see Jean-Claude surrender, even when the odds had been higher than she could have believed.
“Non, ma petite,” he sounded pained and she knew he was lying. “But you have felt her power. The only way we could win was if the Council stood beside us.”
“But they don’t,” Anita finished for him. “They stand beside her.” She said it without bitterness because she hadn’t expected anything else.
Drawing herself out of his arms she looked him in his incredible blue eyes. “We will beat her,” she said firmly. The trouble was, she didn’t know how.
The three witches didn’t bother with fancy spells. They simply drew a joining circle, held hands and delved deep into their magic. It was a simple sharing of magic, but on such a scale that it made them all very nervous.
“Here we go,” Dawn murmured. Anita smiled tightly as she joined them in the circle and Willow started chanting the words that she knew by heart. The other two joined in, copying her. Unearthly light came from the witches, staining skin, eyes and hair as the magic in the room swelled and grew and pushed itself outside. It plundered the world and searched for the Mother of All Darkness and brought itself against her.
The three witches gasped in effort as they fought the tidal wave that was the Mother of All Darkness. Unconsciously, her magic had been destroying the earth as she moved, even as it raised zombies, woke vampires and called the weres, but as the three attacked her, she swatted at them. A god swatting a fly.
Like a blanket their power stretched over the entire earth, covering the darkened sphere with magic on a scale it had never seen before and would hopefully never see again, in a magical struggle for power that rivaled all battles before it.
In the room beneath the Circus of the Damned, Anita began to scream. The others didn’t stop chanting though it was plain that the effort was taking its toll on them. The pure magic encasing their bodies evaporated their sweat but could do little to quell the shaking or stop the blood that ran from Willow’s eyes and nose.
Their chanting continued until Dawn cracked and threw her head back, her screams of pain battling Anita’s and drowning out Willow’s feeble chanting. The normally red-head didn’t last long on her own and with a single scream of rage and pain bound together she pulsed with power – one last blast that was all they could manage. But it was enough. And the raging tide of magic quieted, the vampires and weres and zombies shook themselves free of her control.
Then the three collapsed unconscious, magic gone and power drained.
Edward lined up his target. Her movement made it difficult, as did the mass of creatures that were drawn to her like deranged moths to an over-bright flame, but the magic haze had vanished and he was the best. This would be easy.
He peered through the scope. He flicked the safety off. He smiled a tiny, dead smile. He pulled the trigger. The gun coughed.
And Death rushed into the night.
The silver bullet whistled through the night and buried itself perfectly between those inhuman black eyes. The back of her head exploded in a fine red mist.
Then it all went wrong.
The Mother turned, her flesh moving like molded clay, regenerating before his eyes, pulsing and then fitting like it had never been damaged. She looked at him, seeing him despite the night, the chaos, the distance, and snarled.
And Death rushed into the night.
“Please, Asher! We can talk…” Buffy pleaded. He swung around and glared at her.
“You do not understand.” With a rough jerk he pulled the hair that covered his face aside, exposing his scars to her. She had seen them before, seen all of them, but now she was forced to look at them and it was his brutal use of them to prove his point that made her jerk back. “These were made with holy water. One drop after the other. Constantly. There was no break. No salve or balm to ease it. You have no idea the pain I felt. Every time you look at me, I am back on that table, awaiting the next drop. Every time you touch me, I fear that I will feel the same burning pain.”
She jerked back, stammering uselessly. He was cold in his rage, and in its own way it frightened her as much as it hurt her.
“There is nothing you can say that will make this any better.”
That made her angry. “Oh, like this is my fault?” She shot back. “You’re not the only vampire that’s ever bitten me, you know. You’re just the only one that thinks I’m poison. And besides, we don’t have to have a relationship based on… based on blood!”
“Based on blood?” He laughed bitterly. “You think this is such a trivial matter? You think that this is a small factor that we could ignore? There is so much that we cannot share with each other.”
“Because feeding you was obviously top priority in my mind when we started this damn thing!” She nearly yelled at him. “What happened to the ‘I love you’? Huh? What happened to the goddamn emotions?”
He said nothing.
“You know what? I don’t know why I bother. Fine, if that’s what you want, then this is over.” Buffy stormed off, furious and hurting. Asher watched after her, just as hurt, but refusing the urge to cry. It was better this way.