act 3



Fade In:


Citadel Plain – Continuous

“Open fire!” Faith shouted over the screeches of the armada diving towards her.

“Maces!” Creed bellowed. “Mages hold fire!”

The Black Ops team brought their weapons to bear and heavy assault rifles and Francesca’s mini-gun roaring to life, spitting metal into the sky. The other slayers opened fire with crossbows loaded with explosive-tipped bolts. Creed’s demon army un-slung their burning censer-maces and swung them, sending a hail of flaming missiles soaring up into the horde of winged monsters rushing down at them. Goaded on by the grim demons mounted on their backs, the creatures held their course, even as the air filled with fire, and the screaming bullets, bolts and magic began to strike them out of the sky.

“Mages! Death!” Creed roared to his troops, who swung their weapons again and again, sending bolt after bolt into the descending horde. At the last moment, the demon mages unleashed their magic, sending fire, lightning and freezing cyclones hurtling into the sky, smashing at the monsters. Faced with the sudden onslaught, the beasts reared back and away, breaking in either direction seconds before they would have reached the army. But even as they soared up again, their riders regained control of them and steered them around, closing in now from both sides as they dived again.

“Redirect fire!” Faith warned. “They’re coming back!”

One of the beasts, which had pulled out of its retreat quicker than the others, was already swooping over the heads of the army’s left flank, near where Haley and her team of slayers were stationed. The demons continued unleashing their weapon fire until the last moment, when the massive creature’s claws raked through their ranks. Tearing through shields and armor, it left only the maimed and dying in its wake.

“Forward!” Haley shouted as the monster passed them, laying a trail of thick black smoke in its wake. The slayers and demons sprinted forward, out of the path of the fog, but the few demons who weren’t quick enough were caught, and screamed in agony as their flesh began to dissolve in the toxic brew.

“Jesus!” Gwen swore, staring across at the trail of devastation. Her eyes snapped forward as a shriek alerted her group to the approach of another monster, bursting from the clouds directly ahead of them.

“Can you hit them at a distance?” Jhiera asked.

“Yeah, if I’m pissed off enough,” Gwen snarled, raising a hand. A bolt of lightning leapt from her fingers, stabbing at the oncoming creature’s outstretched head and neck. “Guess I am,” she added with a small smile. Sara stood beside her, her arm encased in an organic-looking gauntlet that roared a stream of fire. Sara’s blast took one of the creature’s wings off and sent it crashing into the ground.

“Time for that glove of yours,” Gwen said over her shoulder to Andrew.

“Yeah, I guess it is,” he muttered, and then pulled the Hand of Mynhegon from its wrappings. Closing his eyes, he thrust his arm into it, then doubled over in pain as the razor-tipped vanes ringing its end sunk into his upper arm.

“What?” Gwen asked, half-panicked. “It went wrong?”

“No, it just hurts like hell,” Andrew said through clenched teeth.”Come on, get up,” he muttered fiercely to himself. “Get up…It can’t hurt as bad as the D&D movie, and you survived that…argh!”

With a strangled cry of pain he thrust his arm into the air. The clouds above parted to disgorge a massive bolt of lightning that speared down and crashed onto his relatively tiny form.

“Andrew!” Jeff shouted, leaping out of the way as electricity wreathed Andrew. But then the bolts finally flowed back onto his arm. As Andrew watched in shock, the energy coalesced into the form of a great bird of prey, its wings, talons and beak composed of crackling lightning.

“Jinkies,” Andrew murmured in stunned awe, as the lightning hawk turned and gazed at him expectantly. A cry from nearby drew his attention back to the battle raging around them. A flying beast had just torn through the hide of a lumbering ground creature, sending the broken carcass toppling onto its demon handlers, the huge crossbow mounted on its back falling apart in a pile of splintered wood and shattered stone Andrew extended his gloved hand toward the airborne attacker.

“Um…kill?” he ordered. The hawk leapt from his hand and soared towards its target as the monster beat its wings to gain height for another pass. The lightning raptor left a trail of electricity in the air behind it as it swept upward. In one quick pass, it tore straight through its target’s neck, leaving the severed head, the spasming body and the creature’s stunned rider to tumble down to the ground.

“You know what?” Gwen asked, as the hawk circled around and flew back towards its perch on Andrew’s hand.

“Wh…what?” he asked, barely able to speak.

“From one lightning enthusiast to another,” she said with a grin, “that was genuinely cool.”

At the head of the Council army, Faith whipped her head around in fury as the horde of creatures wheeled and dived again and again. Each tore at her forces with its claws and unleashed its cargo of acidic smoke wherever it passed over humans or demons on the ground.

“Advance!” she shouted into her radio suddenly. Creed stared at her in shock. “All firepower units advance!”

“We’re under attack!” he protested.

“They keep banking into the clouds,” Faith explained quickly, pointing ahead of them to where the Citadel’s protective layer of thunderstorms reached from the ground miles high into the sky. “So we can’t shoot ’em while they regroup for another charge. Look, half our people can’t hurt ’em, they’ve got no ranged weapons. If we move our guns forward, either the dragons attack them, and not our ground troops, or they’ll have to fly over our guns, and we open fire into their bellies. Forward!” she added in a shout. “Black Ops, watchers, stay with the army, all other units advance now!”

Hearing Faith’s command, Kennedy turned to Tephros and his mages.

“Now’s the time,” she said grimly.

“You are sure?” the demon mage asked. Meeting Kennedy’s resolute eyes, he nodded. “This may cause some initial pain,” he warned.

“Not as much as those winged bastards will,” she muttered. She crouched down and gently debarked the tiny dragon that had taken roost on her shoulder, growling skyward. “Be good baby,” she said softly. “Mommy’s just got to go kick some ass, okay? You stay here, I’ll be back soon.” The dragon made a reedy whine, then nodded.

“All right,” Kennedy said, straightening up. “Gimme your best mojo.” She closed her eyes as the circle of demons around her reached out and placed their hands against her shoulders, then gritted her teeth and cried out in pain, as a fierce crimson glow began to light her from within.

Cut To:


Earth – Watchers Council – Lobby – Same Time

Buffy came down the stairs to meet Althenea as the witch hurried in the front door.

“We’re on alert,” Buffy said. “Four more tremors since they started, I’m not taking any chances.”

“I wouldn’t either,” Althenea agreed. “I wish I’d been here earlier. If I’d been able to get a feel for the earlier quakes, the conquest ones…I don’t think these are dimensions being moved, but I’m not sure what they are. The Presidium’s spell that Dawn told us about is causing these, I’m sure. Why, I don’t know.”

“Where’s the rest of the Coven?” Buffy asked.

“Still out in the grounds,” the witch replied, “where the portal was cast. it’s the best spot for trying to get a message through to Vor, not that we’re having much success. I just came back to help Skye collect supplies for more rituals, then we’ll both go back out and keep trying.”

“Buffy,” Tracey said, hurrying over from the front desk. “Becca’s doctor said she needs Becca to come to the hospital for the delivery, something about insurance and lawsuits. She said the hospital’s equipment is state of the art, couldn’t be better –”

“Fine, but their anti-demon defenses are non-existent,” Buffy said, crossing her arms. “If these tremors turn into an invasion…does she know about us? Council, demons, all that?”

“I checked her entry in the database before I called her,” Tracey said. “Nothing there, she’s just an ordinary civilian.” Buffy nodded, and frowned in thought.

“If you’re thinking of bringing her in,” Althenea said, “you’d have to tell her, at least the basics. She’d have no reason to come willingly otherwise.”

“And I’m not having someone Becca’s not familiar with touch her,” Buffy said. “Alright, we tell her. I’ll take responsibility.”

Joint responsibility,” Althenea insisted. “As acting head of the Coven, I’m agreeing.”

“Okay,” Buffy agreed. “Tracey, tell Macmillan she’s in charge of the watchers until I get back. Al, keep at the spell stuff. Are there any Coven trainees you’re not using already?”

“A couple, they should be in the Coven Room,” Althenea said.

“I’ll take one,” Buffy decided. “A bit of magic should be a more non-threatening demonstration than me bending an iron bar in half. Tracey, can you get me the good doctor’s address?”

“I’ll transmit it to your car’s GPS,” Tracey called from the front desk.

“Cool,” Buffy grinned. “We can do that?”

“It’s a different Council to the old days,” Althenea smiled.

“No kidding,” Buffy said, impressed. “Man, I can’t believe those old Council creeps left me to flip burgers. Remind me to tell Giles and Willow they rock when they get back.”

Cut To:


Vor Hell Dimension – Presidium Citadel – Panopticon – Same Time

There was a burst of gunfire. A crack as a bullet hit the wall. Willow felt the spray of blood against her, but didn’t open her eyes.

“No,” she said quietly.

Again, the burst of gunfire, the crack, the soft spray.

“No,” she repeated. Again the sequence played itself out, and again she repeated her denial – again, and again, endlessly. Meanwhile the Lover stalked around the simulacrum room, inspecting it in minute detail.

Finally she came to stand by the window, with the slits of manufactured sunlight playing across her face. As the gunfire repeated itself for the hundredth time, she waved a claw, and the bullet froze into visibility. It hung in mid-air, a few inches from its accidental target.

The Lover quickly crossed the room to Willow and stared at her, as she breathed quickly and anxiously. She stared across at the motionless figure by the window, then at Willow again, then in an instant her impassivity dissolved into an expression of rage and she grabbed Willow, spinning her around, holding her from behind and whispering fiercely into her ear as she swung her to again face the image of Tara.

“Open your eyes!” she hissed.

“This isn’t real!” Willow shouted.

“This is real!” the Lover countered. “This is the most real day of your miserable life, this is your world in a heartbeat! This is what you’re fighting for! Look at her!

Willow’s eyes opened and sadly regarded Tara’s frozen form.

“She’s what I’m fighting for,” Willow said quietly. She turned her head and glared at the Lover. “Her, everyone like her, all the people your armies are killing, right now! You look at her! If you think your Goddess-damned Presidium is a good cause, you look at her and think what your Presidium would’ve done to her if she stood in your way!”

The Lover snarled and the bullet blurred into invisibility again, spraying Willow with fresh blood.

“Stop this!” Willow screamed.

“You stop it,” the Lover hissed quickly. “You’re the one who wants this, who wants the world as it is, with its evil and chaos and death and war and hatred and misery – stop fighting me and this ends! All of it, it all ends. No fighting, no killing, no souls battered down, struggling just for some feeble defense against a fate that doesn’t know or care they exist. Your kind hopes and prays for a heaven, as you live in the squalor your gods have given you. We will bring heaven to all souls. Peace…perfect peace…” She seemed entranced by her own words for a moment, then grabbed Willow’s head between her hands and forced her to look forward as the events played again, the bullet and the blood.

“This would never happen,” she whispered. “No violence, no anger, no loss…” She shook her head, then shoved Willow forward and shouted, “Why are you fighting for this!

This is you!” Willow shouted back. “You’re the violence, you’re the anger! Your armies have killed people like her a million times over! You might as well have killed her yourself! Killed all of them yourself! Stop showing me this!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. The image of the room shattered like glass, splintering into shards that faded from being even as they flew outwards. Willow felt a final spray of blood on her back and turned without thinking.

Behind her, already fading, the image of Tara was changing, or rather vanishing slightly quicker than something else hidden inside her. Willow glimpsed dark-patterned, leathery skin and black-within-black eyes. From the patch of blood staining the gray rags wrapped around this new body, a cruel-looking, barbed spear-point was protruding. It was gone in an instant, almost too quick to see.

Willow shook her head, as if trying to clear it, then stared at the Lover, who in turn was staring at the space vacated by the illusion, frowning, almost in incomprehension.

“Who was that?” Willow asked. The sound of her voice snapped the Lover back from wherever she had been.

“You don’t understand,” she said. “But you will. You must, eventually.”

“I’ve never seen that creature before,” Willow persisted, moving closer to the Lover. “Who was it?”

“Listen to me, Willow Rosenberg,” the Lover said, ignoring her question. “Everything you fear, everything you dread, everything you have seen in the nightmares you wake up screaming from – all of that can be gone. Do you understand?”

“Who was it?” Willow asked again. “What kind of demon? Who killed it? When?”

“Everything you have dedicated your life to,” the Lover went on, “can be achieved. Evil can be defeated – not just for a day, but forever. No more patrols, no more searching for answers, for defenses. No more worrying if you will save people in time, or guilt when you arrive too late. This is everything you want, everything you hope for. Your friends, your Council, would never understand, but you…you are so close, Willow.”

“Why do you care?” Willow shot back. “You’re killing me anyway, remember?” The Lover opened her mouth to reply, then hesitated.

“We are alone here,” she said at last. “You and I, all alone. We will not be disturbed. No being outside this chamber can see within it, I have made sure of that. I have even foregone my unity, the bond I share with my kind, for a while. No one can reach us here.”

“There’s not even cell phone coverage?” Willow shrugged. “Well that sucks…Is there a point to this?”

“No being has ever merited such treatment,” the Lover sneered. “You should feel proud.”

“Pride leads to downfall. So kill me and be done with it,” Willow shot back with a frown. The Lover sighed.

“As one being to another, I say this to you,” she said quietly. “Your death…may not be inevitable. In our entire history, there has never been a being capable of joining our circle, of becoming like us – the pure. Our combined powers are such that the very strands of fate are visible to us – we can see what will be. We know we are alone, that there has never been, nor will there ever be, another being who can assume our awesome responsibility. Not even you. That is what we know.” She paused, studying Willow’s face.

“And?” Willow asked.

“That is what we know,” the Lover repeated. “But…I believe we are…in error. You altered the fate we had constructed, once, when you defeated the Engineer. Everything then was known to us, the effect of all your friends and allies, even you…so we thought. But you defied us. You chose a path we had not foreseen. The rest of my kind are certain that, now, your fate is irrevocably locked into the path we have chosen, that there can be no more unforeseen paths.”

“But you aren’t?” Willow asked, watching her adversary carefully.

“I believe you are capable of joining us,” the Lover said. “I believe…you can rise above your kind. Become one of us. Not simply stand aside and allow our purpose to proceed, but be one of the chosen ones who will make the dream of an existence without evil a reality.”

“And the others?” Willow asked.

“As I said, at this moment we are alone,” the Lover replied. “I do not promise their acceptance. But if you can understand…truly understand what I exist for, what my life means…perhaps.”

“If you trust me so much, then tell me one thing,” Willow said. “Who was that?”

The Lover turned from her with a snarl and swept her arms out on either side of her, sweeping into being the battlefield outside the Citadel.

Cut To:


Citadel Plain – Same Time

“Kennedy?” Rowena asked, as the prone slayer stirred. “She’s coming to!” she called out. “Matheson! Where’s the medic?”

“Sasha said someone took some of that fog on her arms,” Robin said. “Matheson said he’d be back as soon as he could…”

“Oh jeez,” Kennedy grumbled, as she coughed and forced herself up onto her elbows.

“Are you alright?” Rowena asked. Kennedy’s dragon nuzzled her side, looking worried.

“Yeah, you’re not rid of me yet,” the slayer muttered. Rowena closed her eyes and sighed in relief. She then ran her hand down the back of Kennedy’s head before resting it on her shoulder. “What went wrong? What’s going on?” Kennedy asked.

“Mia, she’s okay,” Rowena said into her radio.

“Faith and the others have moved forward,” Robin said quickly. “They’re firing up into the dragon creatures when they swoop at us. So far it’s kept them from mounting a solid attack, but they’ve started trying to flank us. Tephros said their enchanting spell worked…do you feel okay?”

“They call that ‘worked’?” Kennedy exclaimed. “That’s it, I’m definitely never doing this again…”

“Do you feel any different?” Jeff asked. Kennedy got to her feet and took a few steps, getting her bearings.

“Don’t know,” she shrugged. “One way to find out, I guess. Hold onto Larry for a moment, will you?”

“Huh?” Jeff wondered.

“This,” Rowena said, lifting Kennedy’s pole-axe with some difficulty and heaving it in Jeff’s general direction.

Kennedy was already sprinting forward, pausing only long enough to snatch up a chain lying in the wreckage of one of the ballistae.

In front of her, ahead of the main body of the Council army, slayers and demons scrambled about, trying to keep themselves in the paths of the flying creatures as they wheeled through the air and swooped in towards their would-be targets. Creed, standing alone, hurled a heavy hand-axe at one of them as it passed overhead. He gave a satisfied snarl as it lurched off-course and beat its wings. One of the wings was injured and could only move in a painful, jerking motion.

“Nice shot,” Faith said, winding a rope around her waist and shoulders as she appeared at his side. “Now gimme some room.”

“What do you intend?” the demon leader asked. “What is that weapon?”

“This?” Faith grinned, holding up the grappling gun she was carrying in addition to the Scythe. “This is my Batman impression. Keep clear!” Creed backed away as Faith turned to face the next attacker, a larger beast than the rest, steered by a black-skinned demon with huge horns jutting from its forehead.

“Hope I don’t get any body parts ripped off,” she muttered to herself, kneeling down in the monster’s path. She fired straight up as it passed overhead, then immediately slapped a switch on the motorized descender holding the end of the gun’s cable to her and was yanked into the air.

“What the hell is she doing?” Robin yelled, staring across the battlefield as the tiny figure flew into the air, trailing behind the creature. “Is she nuts?

Faith held on like grim death, whipping around on the end of the cable as the creature she was tethered to wheeled around to gain altitude. If the grappling hook sticking through its leathery wing troubled the beast, it didn’t show.

“Crap,” she yelled, as the creature gave a whine. The tether stuck and jerked her forward. Slinging the Scythe through the straps on her back, she began to climb the cable, her muscles bulging against the strain of pulling herself along the wildly flailing line.

The monster’s demon rider turned and, seeing her, pulled a stout rod from the robes hanging from its waist and sent a blast of green flame hurtling back in her direction. Quick as a flash, Faith drew the Scythe and swung it, deflecting the bolt of magic off into the tormented sky. The demon pulled the reins of its beast sharply in an attempt to throw Faith off. Its mount reared up, almost stationary for a moment, before diving again to pick up speed. Faith was snapped around on the end of her cable and fell again, but she swung the Scythe and snagged its blade in the edge of one of the beast’s metal armor plates.

“Hey, flyboy!” she yelled, hauling herself up onto the creature’s back and holding its dorsal spines with one hand to keep herself steady. The demon turned again and did a double-take as it saw her advancing. Then, once more, it reached for its weapon, but Faith leapt the last few feet and cleaved its head clear from its shoulders in a single blow.

“Okey-dokey,” she grinned savagely, kicking the headless corpse aside and grabbing for the reins. “Who’s yer daddy now, huh?” She gave the reins a heave, turning the beast sharply to one side before it could reach the safety of the thunderclouds.

“Not bad,” Kennedy muttered, staring up at the distant creature as it darted about, fighting Faith’s pull on its reins. She looked down to see another monster swooping down towards her, flying low in a gap between the slayers’ explosive crossbow bolts on one side and the hail of magic from Creed’s demon mages on the other.

“Come to mommy,” she whispered, swinging the chain like a lasso. The flying demon swooped over her head, almost close enough to hit her with its talons. She hurled the looped end of the chain into the air, snagging one of the forward-swept horns on the creature’s wing.

“Come on!” she yelled, hauling with all her strength on the chain. The massive demon halted abruptly, almost tearing its own wing off. It tumbled end over end and smashed into the ground with a deafening crash, pulverizing its rider beneath it. Kennedy lost her footing as the ground shook beneath her, then got to her feet again and surveyed the beast’s remains.

“It’s working!” she called to the distant group of figures ahead of the Council army.

“I don’t think your girlfriend owns the crazy title exclusively anymore,” Rowena said to Robin, as they watched Kennedy haul the dead monster’s wing off and hurl it into the air, smashing a second one from the sky.

High above, Faith wrestled with the reins of her newfound mount.

“Come on, you stubborn son of a bitch,” she growled. The creature turned in the direction she pulled, but then dipped down and flipped over, trying to unseat her.

“Hey!” she yelled, hanging on to the crude saddle with one hand. “Bad dog!” She swung the Scythe and buried its blade in the side of the creature’s thick neck. It gave an ear-splitting screech, but when Faith pulled on its reins again, it righted itself. The monster followed her direction, with only a little struggling, when she steered it towards its fellows, who were still swooping in and out of the range of the fire from the ground.

“Dah dah-dah dah dah!” Faith yelled, approximating “The Ride of the Valkyries,” as she wrestled the creature into a swoop over the head of another. She gripped her saddle with both hands as the beast jolted underneath, its claws tearing at the back of its target. Then her mount was flying free, and Faith looked over her shoulder to see the other monster spiraling down, riderless and spilling blood.

“She’s in danger,” Jeff said suddenly on the ground, grabbing Robin’s arm.

“No kidding,” Robin replied, waving a hand in Faith’s direction. He watched Faith’s progress anxiously as she executed a crude barrel-roll over another creature, knocking its rider from his perch with the Scythe as she passed upside-down over it.

“No, she will be in danger!” Jeff insisted, getting Robin’s attention. “She’s going into the cloud, they’ll catch her when she comes out.”

“Ro, cover for me!” Robin shouted. He picked up a rifle and raced forwards into the no-man’s-land beneath the flying beasts. “Faith!” he yelled into his radio. “Don’t go into the clouds! Xander, get over here!”

“Say again?” Faith shouted, above the roar of the air rushing past her and the screeching of her mount. She ducked to avoid a fireball that whipped past her head, then hauled on the reins to bank her creature sharply around to avoid another beast hurtling towards her, talons bared.

“Robin!” she tried again. “What did you – damn.” She broke off as the radio went dead. She looked around, but saw she was suddenly cut off from everything, surrounded by thick, blue-gray clouds that sparkled with distant lightning.

“Okay,” she muttered, pulling slowly on the reins. “Let’s just turn around and get back into the open, huh…oh…” Her face fell as she emerged from the cloudbank on the other side to see ranks upon ranks of demon soldiers waiting below. Huge insectoid creatures towering over them, wickermen marched slowly behind, teams of demon slaves pushed armored towers and gigantic bows and catapults were mounted on the backs of massive beasts of burden.

“Robin!” she yelled, hauling her creature around and back into the clouds behind her, just ahead of a volley of burning arrows and crossbow bolts. “Robin, there’s another wave coming! Ground troops! Robin? Damn!” She twisted around in the saddle at a screech from behind her, then yelped in shock as she burst back into open air and right behind her came two more flying demons, swooping in faster than her beast was moving.

“Faith!” she heard Robin’s voice from her radio as it crackled back into life. She reached for the Scythe, but the first attacker was almost on top of her. A thin pillar of smoke shot up from beneath, and a missile slammed into the monster’s underbelly, tearing it open. A hail of gunfire sent the other spinning down with its wings in tatters. Faith gaped at the suddenly clear space behind her, then looked down to see Robin and Xander directly beneath her.

“Thanks!” she yelled.

“Someone’s got to watch your back!” Robin’s voice crackled from her radio. Faith laughed and hauled her mount into a dive at another of the creatures, readying the Scythe to strike.

“You did good,” Dawn told Jeff, as they watched the aerial battle play out.

“Yeah,” he admitted hesitantly. “I guess so.” He turned as Lieutenant Matheson hurried over to him.

“Sorry,” the soldier apologized. “A couple of bad injuries – where’s Kennedy?”

“Over there.” Rowena pointed to where Kennedy was standing atop the wreckage of a ruined catapult, in the act of hurling a huge beam of wood. The flying beam punched through a flying demon’s wing and sent it crashing to the ground.

“Oh,” Matheson said blankly. “So, she’s okay…does that kind of thing happen a lot?”

“You get used to it after a while,” Dawn shrugged. She hesitated a moment, then asked: “What’s the damage?”

“No casualties yet,” Matheson replied. “Some wounded – some of the sub-terrestrials have done some kind of spell on the badly injured, five of them, and it seems to keep them stable. If we clear the field, they’ll make it, they just need treatment. Other minor injuries. Our allies took casualties from the first strike, dead and injured, but I-I don’t know how to help the wounded ones –”

“It’s okay,” Rowena assured him. “They’ve got their own medics.” Matheson nodded distractedly, then listened to his radio.

“I have to go,” he said. Rowena nodded as he hurried off.

High above, Faith wheeled around for another pass. She spotted a likely target in a creature just pulling out of a retreating climb, moving slowly as it prepared for its next dive. She aimed her mount at it and kicked it into a swoop, Scythe ready, when all of a sudden a blast of fire flashed in front of her eyes, blinding her for a moment. She felt the creature lurch beneath her, then start to fall. When she recovered a second later from the dazzling blast, she saw its neck now ended in a bloody stump, the head completely sheared off.

“Faith!” Robin yelled in horror, seeing her beast falling out of the sky.

“Come on!” Xander shouted, tugging at his arm. “It’s coming down here!”

Faith saw the two tiny figures scrambling to get out of her way, but she and the body of her huge mount were tumbling so fast that there was no time.

“Robin, get clear!” she yelled. She leapt out of the saddle and grabbed hold of the huge muscles of the creature’s wing, slicing the Scythe through the nearest joint. The wing jolted and tore, and the creature veered off to one side, away from the two men beneath it.

“Faith!” Kennedy shouted, as she saw the slayer and her mount crash into the ground. A massive cloud of dust was thrown into the air as the huge corpse rolled and skidded to a halt, carving a great furrow in the earth behind it. A screech from behind made Kennedy whirl around, just in time to see one of the largest of the flying demons swooping straight at her. She reached blindly for a weapon, anything, to defend herself, but came up empty.

“Oh well,” she said with a tense grin, tightening her fist, “it worked for Lara Croft and the shark…” She drew back her fist to strike, but then something whirred over her shoulder and darted up beneath the huge creature’s neck, causing it to shriek in pain and break off its attack. Kennedy watched in confusion as the beast beat its wings to gain height, while at the same time it seemed to be trying to curl up, reaching its talons towards its own neck. Then the flying creature straightened and the slayer’s expression turned to shock as a tiny shape fell away from it.

“Baby!” she yelled, racing forward so fast she blurred. With a final leap, she caught the falling body and held it close, curling protectively around it as she hit the ground and rolled to a halt.

She gingerly opened her arms and looked down to see her tiny dragon stirring, an angry-looking gash in its back. The dragon looked up at her mournfully, then made a content sound and nuzzled her chin.

“Oh God, baby, you’re hurt,” Kennedy said. “Is it…are you okay?” The dragon grimaced, but nodded. “Oh my God,” the slayer exclaimed, hugging her tiny cargo as gently as she could. She stood up, then looked across the battlefield to where the body of Faith’s monster was lying, twisted and mangled, amid the mound of earth it had carved up in front of itself as it crashed.

Faith hauled herself upright with some difficulty, staggering for a moment until she got her bearings.

“Robin?” she said to no one, looking around.

“Faith!” Xander called from behind her. “Help!” Faith whirled around and struggled over the huge, mangled corpse.

She arrived at the same time as Vi, sprinting forward from where the main body of slayers was stationed, fending off the remnants of the aerial assault. Xander was cut and bruised, but otherwise unharmed, but Robin was half-buried, lying on his back with dirt strewn over him and part of the monster’s massively thick tail pinning his legs.

“Ace?” Faith asked, skidding to a halt and kneeling beside him. “Ace, you’re okay, right?”

“Ow,” he said, looking down and grimacing in pain. “I’m…” he struggled a bit, while Vi and Xander scooped earth away from him. “Can’t move my leg…”

“It’s stuck,” Vi reported. “The tail’s on top of it, I can’t –” She broke off and tried again to heave the massive thing up, but with no success.

“Let me try,” Kennedy said, appearing by her side. “Hold her for me, okay? Gently.” Vi nodded and took the injured dragon, while Kennedy crouched down and took a firm hold of the tail.

“Son…of…a…bitch!” she grunted as she hauled on it, managing to lift it a few inches. Robin let out a pained yelp.

“Oh god,” Vi murmured, crouching down to peer beneath the tail. Faith and Robin both looked and saw one of the tail’s dorsal spines spearing straight through Robin’s calf, into the ground beneath.

“That’d explain…the pain,” Robin gasped.

“I can’t…hold this thing…much longer…” Kennedy warned through her teeth. Vi added her support, while Dawn skidded to a halt beside them.

“Slayers!” Faith shouted back towards the battle line. “More slayers, we need help here! Get a medic!”

“Let it go,” Robin said.

“What?” Faith, Vi, Kennedy and Xander said at once.

“Let it go!” Robin insisted.

“We have to get you out of here!” Faith protested. “We don’t have time – there’s a whole army on its way, I saw it! We have to regroup at the ridge, we can’t leave you here!”

“My leg’s not going anywhere, anyway,” Robin said, shaking his head. He reached for Faith’s hand and guided it to the Scythe lying beside her.

“What?” she said again, this time much quieter.

“You gotta do…what you gotta do,” Robin said with difficulty.

“We’ll get you out,” Faith protested.

“There’s no time!” Robin insisted. “Faith…”

“I don’t think we can get his leg out of there,” Vi said quietly. Faith looked at her, shocked, then at Dawn.

“You can do a spell, right?” she asked. “Get him out?”

Dawn sadly shook her head. “I don’t have that kind of power,” she said. “I’m sorry…”

“Faith,” Robin said, “be brave, baby…this is how it has to go down, I need you to do this.”

“I can’t,” she cried.

“You’ll be saving my life,” Robin pleaded. “Do it, baby.” Faith closed her eyes, tears streaking her cheeks, then leaned down and kissed Robin firmly.

“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” he grinned weakly. “You damn well better not leave me out here where I can’t get any more of that.” Faith laughed and cried together, then looked at Dawn and nodded.

“Do it,” she ordered. Dawn put a hand against Robin’s hip and concentrated, then nodded.

“Faith,” Robin whispered. Faith leaned down to hear him. “Stay alive,” he said, and closed his eyes.

Faith gripped the Scythe, looked at Robin, at the faces around her, then at the distant cloud wall, creeping ever closer. As she watched, dim figures began to loom out of the fog, the first rank of the army, stretching from one side of the plain to the other.

“God dammit,” she swore, and swung the scythe.

Black Out


End of Act Three

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