Vor Hell Dimension – Battlefield – Continuous
“Good God,” Giles said in dismay, staring at the colossal creatures as they slowly strided forward through the swarming ranks of warriors around them.
“All watchers, pinpoint weak spots on those things, top priority!” Rowena ordered. Then she turned to Giles. “I’ve never even heard of anything that size,” she said in an undertone.
“Faith would say ‘the bigger they are, the harder they fall,’ I’m sure,” the older watcher replied. “I very much hope she’s right.”
“Watcher Giles!” a voice came from below them, further down the slope. They turned to see Tephros clambering up towards them as quickly as he could.
“Do you know what those things are?” Giles asked. “How do we kill them?”
“Bastions,” the demon mage replied. “Command beasts, created by the Presidium, only for their personal use. We face two! Even your slayers cannot defeat such monsters!”
“We’ll see,” Giles said. “What can you tell us? About the creatures, or the Presidium demons?”
“The closest is the Destroyer,” Tephros replied. “Six of the Presidium we call the Circle – the Engineer was one such, the Destroyer is also. The other is the Flayer, the Presidium’s Warmaster. More powerful than the Destroyer – the Destroyer’s armies have never been defeated, only delayed and stalled in holding actions, and those of the Flayer, not even that. To face the two at once is…disaster!”
“How long do your mages need to break the Presidium’s magic?” Giles demanded.
“Progress is slow!” Tephros said in frustration. “Their magic is legendary – even knowing what I knew before, until now I would not have believed such strength possible!”
“Keep trying,” Giles said grimly. “We don’t give up.”
“We may never succeed,” Tephros said.
“Can you say for sure that we have no chance?” Giles demanded. Tephros looked away. “Right then, we will keep trying, even if we have to spill our own blood. We will not surrender to these butchers!” He reached for his radio. “All slayers, all fighters. Unleash hell! Everything we have!”
“You heard the man,” Xander said further down the slope, turning to Kail who stood beside him. “Tell me which of the big guys aren’t magically protected. We’ve only got a limited number of these things, and right now we can’t afford to waste any.” He pulled a missile launcher from its case, opened it to its firing configuration, lifted it to his shoulder and flipped the safety off.
“Biggest targets we’ll damage,” he said. “And make sure none of our people are nearby.”
“There,” Kail pointed. “That Klendath – destroy its head. It explode if weapon contains as much fire as you say.”
“Hello big bug,” Xander said, taking aim. “Is it that time of year again?”
He fired, sending the missile streaking over the heads of the thousands of demons locked in combat. Among them, Vi looked up to see the projectile strike the massive insect-demon’s head just as it began to spew flame. This started a chain reaction which blew the creature apart from the inside, showering burning debris over the Presidium troops around it.
“Ha!” she yelled. “That’s my man!” She ducked as a massive warrior demon, split very nearly into two pieces, flew out of the crowded melee and over her head.
“Oh, it’s you!” she called, seeing Kennedy emerge in its wake, swinging her poleaxe. “How’s it going?”
“Good!” Kennedy replied. “You?”
“Surviving!” Vi shouted back with a grin.
“Keep it up!” Kennedy nodded.
A demon reared up behind her, lunging at her with a huge steel mace. Kennedy calmly caught the weapon and tore it in half with one hand before spinning her weapon’s trailing flail-head into her attacker’s chest. Something made her look up to see a tiny shape launch off the nearer Bastion creature, a female figure with wings spreading around her.
“Faith!” she called into her radio, as she and Vi both plunged back into the fray. “I’m getting a bad need-to-slay-her vibe from the flygirl who just took off from lumbering beast number one. What can you tell me?”
“Hang on!” Faith called back from a few hundred yards away, in the middle of her own melee. “I gotta find Creed! Would you get out of the way!” she shouted at the Presidium troops pressing in on all sides. She thrust out the Scythe at full stretch and spun around, splintering shields and armor and sending a dozen heads toppling to the ground. Regaining her footing, she faced the lone survivor, who was staring at her in horror.
“Better start running,” she warned. The demon charged her instead, in a panicked frenzy, and she rolled her eyes. In a moment she split it in two, from crown to crotch, with a single stroke of the Scythe.
“Told you,” Faith said to the collapsed corpse. “Creed! Yo! Big guy!” She heard a roar from nearby and saw a heavily-armored demon being hurled out of the press, colliding with a catapult and smashing its swing arm in two.
“Ah, there you are,” Faith grinned, readying the Scythe for the demons ahead of her.
Back on the hillside Bonnie stood nervously by the unconscious wounded slayers and watchers. She looked up sharply as Kadin skidded to a halt in front of her.
“Can you use a crossbow?” the demon hunter asked.
“What?” Bonnie asked. “Uh…I guess –”
“Good, take this,” Kadin said, pushing her bulky gas-powered crossbow into Bonnie’s arms and dropping a backpack at her feet. “I can do more damage if I don’t have to keep stopping to reload. Spare cartridges are in the bag. Later.” She drew two swords from sheaths on her back and sprinted back into the battle. Bonnie looked after her, then sighed in resignation and eyed the old brass and steel weapon.
“That’s the business end,” Dawn said, coming up behind her, pointing one end of the crossbow.
“No problem, here,” Bonnie said in resignation, holding the weapon out to Dawn.
“Already got one,” she replied, holding up her repeater crossbow. Bonnie looked at her incredulously.
“You’re letting me have a functional weapon?” she asked. Dawn shrugged.
“On one condition,” she said. “We’ve got wounded here who may need protection. If you run away before that bag is absolutely empty of ammo, I’ll make sure the brief remainder of your life is a living hell. Oh, sorry, two conditions. You don’t use that weapon on any of us. Deal?”
“Yeah, sure,” Bonnie said dejectedly. “It’s not like the brief remainder of my life’s going to be much good anyway.”
“That’s the spirit,” Dawn said dryly. She glanced back at where Jeff was lying, unconscious and bandaged around his stomach, then left Bonnie to her gloom.
Earth – Watchers Council – Infirmary – Same Time
“You’re doing great,” Dr. Abraham said. “Just try to relax, we’ve got a little way to go yet.”
“Oh, great,” Becca said, lying on the bed and gritting her teeth. “What kind of idiot designs a human body that can’t give birth without hurting this much?!”
“Actually,” Skye said brightly from her bedside, “I read somewhere that it’s because of the larger skull, to accommodate our brains. So basically, we trade off easy births for being smarter.”
“Fascinating,” Becca said, dripping with sarcasm and sweat in equal measure. “Right now, I’d be willing to give up higher education.”
“Contractions are coming as expected,” Dr. Abraham said. “No more than an hour to go, I’d say.”
“An hour?! I liked it better when it was just ‘a little way to go’,” Becca complained.
Vor Hell Dimension – Battlefield – Same Time
“We are committing our last reserves,” Tephros said gravely, as he, Giles and Rowena studied the increasingly desperate battle around the Bastion. It continued its slow, inexorable advance.
Further down the slope, where Tephros pointed, a few dozen brown-skinned demons were drawing their weapons. Giles and Rowena glanced down, and both grimaced as the demons began calmly slicing their own chests, backs, arms and legs, drawing long, shallow cuts from which blood spilled freely.
“Ick,” Rowena muttered.
“Scarmen,” Tephros explained. As the watchers stole glances in between observing the battle and relaying advice to the slayers, the demons literally covered themselves with their own blood. Strangely though, the fluid seemed to begin clotting almost the moment it had seeped from their skin, building up in solid ridges as new flows of blood covered the hardened plates from earlier cuts. Those who had begun the ritual first were already armored from head to toe, and gathering up their heavy swords and axes for battle.
“Scarman blood-armor is almost impossible to shatter until it sheds,” Tephros explained. “But they cannot remain active for long after such a thorough blood-letting. If we had committed them at the beginning, they would already be dormant. Now we have no choice.”
“Okay,” Rowena said to herself. “Makes sense…Ick regardless.”
Presidium Citadel – Panopticon – Same Time
“It began centuries ago,” the Lover said quietly. “And generations, parent to child…our ancestors were a coven, of sorts. Dabblers in black magic. We, who survived them,” she gestured around vaguely, “we know only a little. We were young when the last to precede us were taken from us.”
A shadow of an image formed in the Panopticon chamber, highlights and motions only. An impression of underground, people moving furtively, black eyes vanishing in the dark. Willow stared at the half-formed memories.
“We know they were once of Earth,” the Lover said. “They were brought here by accident – a spell mishandled, a chance occurrence, some such thing. This place, here,” she looked down. “This is where we were to build our paradise, our Citadel. It was a violent place then, ruled by demons. Cruel and capricious. They made a sport of hunting us.”
The images stirred, became fast-moving, desperate. Ghosts of sounds drifted through the air: the hurried footfalls of people running, breath coming in ragged gasps, the strange braying of unearthly hounds.
“Only the strongest survived,” the Lover continued. “Those who could hide, and who could defeat the creatures that found them in the wilderness. They bred…their children were stronger. Born with black magic in their blood. You know how such power changes a person.” She glanced at Willow. “The blood slows, the heart fades, lungs draw shallow breaths…the power becomes the heartbeat, the air, the warmth. The body slowly changes, as the mind becomes more and more alive, more vital. You become a creature of magic itself. You took the first step, once.”
An image of Willow appeared, dark-haired, dark-eyed, black veins reaching around the sides of her face. Willow nodded sadly.
“Can you imagine,” the Lover said, “the experience of being born to that…almost godhood?”
“I wouldn’t want to imagine that,” Willow shuddered. The Lover looked at her sharply, and frowned.
“We were,” she said. “The power passed from parent to child, always combining, growing stronger. And on, and on, we do not know how long. Generation after generation born to the power, honing it. Until at last, there came a generation strong enough to stand, to stop running when the hunt came.”
“You,” Willow said quietly.
“No,” the Lover shook her head. “No…we were children then. We knew nothing of the battle that raged between our parents and the demons. Only what came after…after the demons won. They found us, butchered our bodies, buried us under what remained of our parents.” Willow’s head dropped into her hands.
“But we were stronger,” the Lover said flatly. “We could not be killed so easily. From those graves, we dug our way out, we twelve who lived. We were…changed. Reborn, from a womb of suffering and cold soil and flesh. We reached out to each other, and joined. We became what we were always destined to be, a single magic, united in a single cause. To end evil. Not just for ourselves, not just in our time, but forever, for all souls and for all time.”
“My Goddess, that’s it, isn’t it?” Willow breathed. “Praesidium…shield…But can’t you see what you’re doing?”
“We are achieving our aim,” the Lover said. “It comes at the cost of great suffering, for us all. Do not suppose we have become blind to that. But paradise will prevail, in the end.”
“But you’ve become demons!” Willow protested. “You’ve become the ones who slaughter parents and children! Don’t you see?”
“Of course I do!” the Lover snapped. “Don’t think to turn me with facile logic. I have remained true to our purpose for centuries! I have killed, defiled, destroyed and I know what I am! I am human, and humans are no different to the demons we detest so much. We are creatures of evil – we cannot help but destroy.” Then her voice suddenly became more placid as she spoke. “There are no virtuous ones, no paladins worthy of following…only evil, whether it rages or lies dormant. None of us deserve salvation, or to be spared the brutality of our own souls. Not I, not you.”
She paused, and took a breath.
“But we are not defined by what we are,” she went on. “We are defined by what we achieve. We are beings of darkness, as are all, but we shall turn our darkness to a higher cause. When we achieve dominion over all things, and recreate creation, then there will be good. We alone can accomplish this…even if the cost is our own souls.”
She glared down at Willow.
“No soul in this world is worth saving,” she said in a low voice. “There is violence in every last one. But we will change that.”
“No,” Willow said quietly. “I won’t let you.”
“You have no choice,” the Lover replied calmly.
Battlefield – Same Time
“Ken,” Faith called into her radio, “you there?” A massive crash came over the radio, and Faith looked up to see a huge Klendath collapsing and bursting into flame, as its legs buckled beneath it.
“Yeah,” Kennedy’s answer came a moment later.
“Enjoying yourself, Slick?” Faith asked, giving a grim smile.
“Magic ain’t so bad,” Kennedy replied.
“That flying chick is something called a Fallen,” Faith told her. “Creed says it’s the one that led the demons who crashed our party in the catacombs. He says it’s unbeatable. His words.”
“Unbeatable magic, or unbeatable really, really good?” Kennedy asked.
“Latter, I think,” Faith said.
“She’s mine,” Kennedy snarled. “I’ve been looking for a one-on-one that’d be worthwhile.”
“Go fetch,” Faith grinned. She raised the Scythe for another round of fighting, but was denied a target when Andrew’s crackling lightning-hawk swept in front of her, tearing through anything it touched.
“Having fun there?!” she shouted over her shoulder, sprinting through the gap in the fighting.
Ahead of her, almost level with the first of the giant Bastions, Kennedy drew to a halt in an open space and glanced back at the trail of demon bodies in her wake.
“Goddamned Night Cult,” she grumbled. “Why can’t you guys just run away when you’re outclassed?” She looked up, catching sight of the Fallen soaring above her, and cupped her hands to her mouth.
“Hey bitch!” she yelled at the top of her voice. “Come get some!” The tiny figure halted in mid-air and peered down through the layers of smoke rising from the battle. Kennedy grinned as it dropped down towards her in a series of descending swoops.
“That’s right,” she said to herself. “I may have the collar, but you’re gonna get the spanking…”
She backed away a few steps as the Fallen landed in front of her, her fleshy wings folding behind her. She drew her two swords and stared at Kennedy, with mild disgust evident in her face.
“What manner of being are you?” she asked.
“Want to know so they can put it on your tombstone?” Kennedy asked in reply. “Kennedy. Two ‘n’s, like the president. Don’t ask for a last name, your death’s going to be painful enough already.”
“You fool,” the creature spat. “I slaughtered archangels while you and your kind fled like the groveling creatures you are!”
“Want to put your money where your self-mutilated slut-queen mouth is?” Kennedy taunted.
The Fallen snarled and swung both her swords, which Kennedy blocked, spinning her poleaxe hand over hand and sending the flail end slashing at the demon’s head. She ducked, drew back and lunged again and again. Kennedy parried each blow and struck back.
“It’s only fair to warn you,” Kennedy growled as they exchanged blows, lightning-fast, “there’s a very good chance I’m invincible right now.” She kicked to gain room and swung her weapon, striking sparks off the Fallen’s wing-frames.
“You trust your petty magics to save you?” the demon asked. She ducked and kicked out with both legs, hanging in mid-air effortlessly as she did so.
“Actually, yeah,” Kennedy replied, leaping over the attack. “Plus I’m a natural optimist. And I’ve got a dozen slayers behind you with real big crossbows.”
The Fallen spun around, swords ready, only to find the ground behind her empty. Kennedy smashed the head of her axe into her skinless back.
“Man, that was dumb,” Kennedy proclaimed. She advanced with her weapon spinning, building up speed. “How’d you get to be in charge of an army – you do the nasty with the boss or something? Guess it really is not what you know but who you…” The Fallen rolled out of the way as Kennedy’s flail-head smacked into the ground where she had lain and rose into the air. “That sucks,” Kennedy sighed.
“No trickery can save you,” she snarled. “Your weapon cannot kill me.”
“I bet it can when I’m swinging it,” Kennedy said. “Want to find out?”
The Fallen swooped at her, evading the swing of her axe, and laughed as her sword cut into the slayer’s shoulder, drawing blood. She drifted high into the air, tracing the bloodied tip of her sword over her chest and thighs, leaving streaks of bright red against her pale skin.
“Oh boy.” Kennedy grinned up at her. “Now you got me mad.” She gripped her weapon tightly and took a deep breath. “Come on magic,” she whispered, “I don’t like you and you don’t like me, but don’t let me down now.”
Slowly, to the Fallen’s astonishment, Kennedy rose into the air, drawing level with her.
“How is she doing that?” Giles exclaimed, watching the duel through his binoculars.
“The Kudlak magic,” Rowena said. “It must be – she’s the equal of whatever she takes on, so long as she accepts it.”
“Go Slick!” Faith yelled from the battle below.
Not far away Mia looked up, beyond the horde of demons charging among her squad, falling to sword-strokes and precise gunfire, and saw Kennedy in flight.
“Go get ’em,” she said, with a sad, proud smile.
“Can’t run,” Kennedy said, as she drew level with the Fallen. “Can’t hide. Time to die.”
“Impressive,” the Fallen sneered. “But inadequate. I can kill you as easily here as below.”
“No, you can’t,” Kennedy said, as the two of them rose higher, above the smoke of battle. “You know why? I. Do. Not. Lose.” She swung her poleaxe back, readying it to strike. “That means you die, bitch.”
The Fallen snarled and lunged forward, wings folding back as she charged, and swung both swords together at Kennedy’s head. Kennedy merely smiled, waiting for her, and at the last moment swung her weapon with blinding speed, smashing through the Fallen’s swords, shattering her arm, and tearing through her chest. The Fallen stared at Kennedy in horror for a split-second as her lower body fell away. Then she tumbled down to the distant ground, entrails spilling from her shattered body.
Kennedy watched her go, then raised her hand to her face at a trickle of wetness on her upper lip. She wiped at it, then peered in puzzlement at the blood on her fingertips.
“Might’ve overdone it a bit,” she admitted faintly. Then she began to fall.
Battlefield – The Flayer’s Bastion – Same Time
“Advance,” the Flayer ordered. “This goes too slowly. I will end this war now.” The huge Bastion took an earth-shaking step forward toward the distant battle lines.
Battlefield – Same Time
“Break!” Creed roared above the din of the battle. “Clear the path!” Shouts echoed out as his demons relayed the order, but dozens were still locked in combat, unable to escape as the Destroyer’s Bastion advanced and crushed them beneath its mammoth claw.
Faith and the half-dozen steel-armored demons she was fighting were thrown from their feet by the earth-shaking impact. She scrambled to her knees and hacked at an exposed back, hauled herself upright by the leverage of the scythe buried in the demon’s body, then hauled it free and used it to dispatch the others as they struggled to gain their bearings.
“Vi! Mia!” she yelled into her radio. “Have you found her? What’s going on?”
Mia grimaced as she unloaded a clip into the ranks of demons in front of her and fell back amid the confusion to reload.
“We’re cut off!” she shouted. “That…thing’s between us and where she fell!”
“I see her!” Vi’s voice sounded from the radio.
On the far side of the Bastion, Vi ducked and weaved through the press of demons, swinging the troll hammer left and right blindly, not even stopping to see whether her targets were dead or merely pushed out of her way. Nozomi followed behind her with two of her slayers, fighting a desperate rearguard.
“She’s down!” Vi shouted, skidding to a halt and dropping to her knees beside Kennedy’s prone form. “Come on Ken, wake up,” she muttered, searching for a pulse. “She’s not breathing!” she yelled, panic rising in her voice. “I can’t feel a heartbeat!”
Nozomi and her slayers raced over, taking up position around the two slayers and fending off the demons trying to reach them, as Vi began CPR, searching desperately for any sign of life in her fallen comrade.
“God,” Faith whispered, staring out across the bristling battlefield, “not her…” She looked around at the situation on the battlefield. The mammoth Bastion bore down on them. Untold thousands of Presidium warriors pressed the ragged Council force back up the hillside. Huge Klendath demons and towering wickermen cut wide swaths through the Council army’s ranks. among their ranks, while the Flayer’s Bastion slowly advanced toward the desperate melee, its master watching impassively as the slayers and demons slowly fell back, fighting for every inch of ground.
The ground shook as the Destroyer’s Bastion took another colossal step forward. Then blasts of light leapt from the huge siege weapons mounted on its back, carving trails of explosions through the fray, killing Presidium and rebel demons alike.
“Rockets!” Faith yelled. “Blast those things off its back!” She turned to see the distant figure of Xander raising a launcher, then a missile streaking out towards the Bastion. At the last moment, the crew of the fire-wreathed siege bow he had aimed for swung their weapon up and let loose a stream of energy that detonated the warhead before it could complete its journey. Blasts of fire, lightning and gunfire streamed up out of the battle at the enormous creature, but the attacks were either intercepted or simply absorbed by the beast’s hide.
“Just a little help,” Faith whispered to herself, staring up into the sky. “Come on, we’re on your side here, right? Give us something, would you?”
“Faith!” Vi’s voice came from the radio. “I’ve got a pulse! She-she’s breathing!”
“That’ll do,” Faith said, smiling faintly and closing her eyes. She opened her eyes again and took in the battle at a glance.
“Vi,” she ordered, “you got backup out there?”
“Yes!” the slayer replied.
“Give ’em Ken, tell ’em to get her back here,” Faith ordered. “You’re in command. Take care of my girls.”
“Where are you going?” Vi asked in confusion. Faith looked up at the huge Bastion, raining magic down into the stricken army.
“I’ve got a demon to slay,” she said, switching off her radio.
Presidium Citadel – Panopticon – Same Time
“Why did you bring me here?” Willow raged.
“To serve a purpose!” the Lover shouted at her. “To sacrifice! To die!”
“Then kill me!” Willow challenged. “You’re lying! You want me here, you want to change what you are! You want me to help you, so damn well let me do it! You’re killing people out there. Stop wasting time and make up your mind!”
“Be silent!” the Lover yelled.
“Or what?” Willow shot back. “Some part of you wants to stop this – it’s why you’ve been watching me all this time, it’s why you brought me here, to see me yourself, instead of killing me right away. It’s why you let me lead the others here.”
“To what purpose?” the Lover demanded.
“To put your Presidium on a knife-edge,” Willow said firmly. “So you could decide. That’s why you’re not part of your unity now, isn’t it? So the others wouldn’t know what you’re thinking? Part of you wants to accept that I’m right, that your way of destroying evil is wrong!”
“And what if the other part is stronger?” the Lover challenged. She and Willow stared at each other silently for a moment.
“Show me,” Willow said, at last. “You said this place can become any part of me. It can do the same for you, right? Show me the part of you that wants help.”
“Why should I listen to you?” the Lover asked. “You would do anything, say anything, to save your friends. You want only to preserve them.”
“You’ve been watching me all along,” Willow countered. “You know that’s not true. You know I’ll help you if I can. Remember everything you’ve seen, everything the Council has done. That’s what I want.”
The Lover frowned in thought.
“Let me help,” Willow offered.
The air moved around her, and two more figures faded into being. One was a small girl, not even a teenager, her face dirty, her hair matted and her eyes dull and hopeless. Behind her was another Lover, but this one even more inhuman. Her eyes were black, her face more angular and her features crueler, colder. Her hands, sharp-nailed claws, were on the girl’s shoulders, holding her.
Willow slowly approached the pair, and knelt down in front of the girl.
“Hey there,” she said gently. “Can you come with me?”
“Will you help me?” the girl asked in a tiny voice.
“I’ll try,” Willow offered. She tentatively reached out a hand and placed it over the shadow-Lover’s claw, slowly lifting it off the girl’s shoulder.
“Can you come with me?” she beckoned the girl again, as the other claw fell away. The girl nodded and took a few steps forward, into Willow waiting arms.
“That’s it,” Willow said softly. “It’s okay, you don’t have to be afraid. Not any more.”
The girl nodded and leaned forward, resting her head against Willow’s shoulder. A motion from the Lover caught her eye and she looked up warningly, glaring as the Lover took a halting step forward, her expression unreadable. Willow shook her head, but then there was a soft, wet sound, and she frowned.
The girl pushed her away, and held up a bloody dagger. Willow collapsed to the floor, weakly clutching at a huge, bloody wound in her stomach.
“I won’t let you hurt me,” the girl said without emotion, while the Lover and her darker shadow looked on inscrutably.
Battlefield – Same Time
“What happened?” Dawn asked, as Nozomi carried Kennedy over to the rows of wounded and set her down on a stretcher.
“She’s stabilized,” Lt. Matheson said, following in the Japanese slayer’s wake. “But her vital signs are very weak.”
“Was it the magic?” Rowena asked. “Did she try for too much?”
“Her body may not have been physically able to cope with the stress,” Matheson replied. “I don’t know…this is way out of my league.” He looked around and spotted Bonnie. “You! Watch her, if there’s any change I need to know at once!”
“Me?” Bonnie asked blankly, but Matheson was already gone.
“We need everyone,” Rowena said to Dawn.
“Guard them,” Dawn said somberly to Bonnie, before turning and following Rowena back down the hill, with the handful of injured but awake slayers in tow.
“What?” Bonnie said. “Am I wearing a ‘trust me’ shirt or something?” She looked around, seeing no one to hear her, and sighed as she lifted her bulky crossbow. Behind her Kennedy’s dragon, with a bandage holding its wing, curled up next to her, laid its head on her chest and whined softly.
Rowena and Dawn arrived where Giles was waiting with Tephros. Several slayers in various states of injury took up station around them, relieving the unharmed slayers who sprinted forward to join the battle as it neared the hillside.
“We’ve lost three slayers,” Giles said grimly. “And contact with Miss Raiden, though it may be that her radio has ceased working.”
“The god-engines,” Tephros said, pointing, “there.” Rowena followed his gaze to see a group of large, dinosaur-like creatures with arcane, multi-ringed devices strapped to their backs. As they watched one of them suddenly whirred to life, its rings spinning blindingly fast, letting loose a massive blast of lightning into the brawl in front of it. There was a flash where it hit, but then another bolt of lightning shot back along the same path, blasting the machine to pieces.
“Looks like Gwen,” Dawn agreed. “Ken’s out of it, but stable.”
“Where’s Faith?” Rowena asked.
“There,” Giles said dourly, pointing to the nearer of the two Bastions.
Faith swung the Scythe overhead, burying its blade in the massively-thick hide of the creature’s leg and hauling herself further up. Ignoring the ground rushing past beneath her as the Bastion moved its leg, she continued to climb, using the Scythe to gouge out hand and footholds.
She heard a shout from above and looked up to see a team of demons on the platform above her swiveling a huge siege bow down to point at her. She tensed and swung the Scythe as it fired, shattering the steel bolt and reflecting its magic back up. The deflected blast smashed through the weapon and sent debris and demons tumbling to the ground far below. She gave a little laugh as a length of thick, black rope coiled out of the smoke and fell to hang beside her.
“Must’ve finally earned a bit of good karma,” she said. She took hold of the rope with her free hand and used it to pull herself up, half-scrambling, half-striding up the Bastion’s shoulder.
She arrived on the wreckage of the siege bow platform and took her bearings. Along the huge structure covering the Bastion’s back, dozens of demon crews were firing enormous weapons down into the battle. More of the spinning god-engine weapons were crackling with energy, discharging at the command of demon mages, and rank after rank of demon warriors, encased in segmented steel armor, were waiting. Above them rose the command tower, from which the Destroyer, arrayed in an ornate version of the armor his troops wore, was barking orders at his subordinates.
The Presidium lord looked down at the sounds of fighting from among his troops and spotted the comparatively tiny figure of the slayer, dodging and weaving. Faith smashed warriors out of her way, sending weapon crews and mages scattering for cover as she demolished everything in her path. He snarled and lifted a heavy morningstar, with writhing bands of dark magic coruscating around its spiked head.
“Slayer!” he bellowed. The demon warriors scrambled away, as Faith looked up at him.
“Meet your doom,” the Destroyer said calmly, raising his weapon above his head.
“You first!” Faith shouted back. She grabbed a huge ballista, abandoned by its crew, hauling it around and wrenching at the severed demon hand still grasping the rod of obsidian jutting from its back. Then she fired.
The blast tore through the tower, obliterating it in an instant. Debris and bodies were tossed high into the air to shower down on the main ranks of the Presidium army almost a mile away, while the remains of the structure crashed down the side of the Bastion.
From his own parapet, the Flayer watched as his comrade’s command tower was torn from the back of its mount and spotted a tiny shape tumbling through the air, blazing with energy and roaring in fury as he fell.
“Fool,” the Flayer snarled. He turned his attention back to the shattered wreck of the Bastion’s platform and gazed at the tiny form of the slayer, still brandishing her enormous weapon on its back.
“I will deal with this one,” he said, drawing two vicious maces from the stores of arcane weapons at his sides. He stepped off the tower of his command beast and drifted forwards, floating effortlessly down toward the ground and the battle raging ahead of him.
On the Destroyer’s Bastion, Faith watched the creature’s huge claws thundering down as it began to rampage, crushing everything in its path.
“Think stepping on people is funny?!” she shouted, leveling the huge ballista at the back of its neck. “Have some pain!”
Those below watched in awe and horror as explosions broke out on top of the gigantic beast. Faith fired again and again, blasting through layers of armor and flesh. The Bastion stilled and raised its head to roar, then fire leapt from its mouth and eyes and it began to topple slowly sideways, as, one by one, its legs buckled lifelessly beneath it. With an earth-shattering crash, the huge beast hit the ground. smashing a cloud of dust into the air and dispatching a shockwave of displaced rock and dirt. The shockwave rippled outward, sending half the battlefield scrambling for safety, as they were thrown from their feet and tossed around like leaves in a storm.
The sounds of battle slowly resumed around the mountainous corpse, as the combatants regained their bearings and resumed their struggle. Vi raced forward, smashing dazed and unfortunate Presidium warriors out of her way. Haley ran beside her, along with Andrew, his eagle perched on his gauntlet and glowing less brightly than before.
“Faith!” Vi shouted, drawing short as she reached the sheer wall of dead demons rising up out of the battlefield. Hearing a cough from above, she looked up, then yelled in relief and exultation as Faith appeared, bruised and battered, her arms and face scratched, but alive.
“Can I get a hell yeah?!” she shouted down.
“Hell yeah!” Vi shouted in reply, as Haley laughed.
“Hey Andy!” Faith called. “What do you say?” Andrew lifted the lightning-hawk into the sky for a moment and cupped his hands to his mouth.
“That still only counts as one!” he shouted up to her. Faith laughed, then slumped and fell over the side of the collapsed Bastion. Vi and Haley both raced forward to catch her, the three of them collapsing in a heap as Andrew looked on.
“Get Matheson!” Haley yelled. “She’s hurt bad!”
“Faith,” Vi said, “come on, you won. You’re gonna be okay.”
“Oh yeah,” Faith nodded weakly. “Gimme fifteen minutes… and I’ll go do it all over again…”
Earth – Council Infirmary – Same Time
“Goddammit!” Becca panted. “I swear to god…Agh! If Rupert wants another baby…he’ll damn well carry it himself!”
“I’m pretty sure he’s not set up for that,” Skye said, standing beside the bed and wincing as Becca’s hand mangled hers.
“Find a spell for it!” Becca insisted.
“You’re dilating well,” Dr. Abraham said calmly. “The baby’s on the way. You’re doing great.”
“Just relax,” Buffy said, holding Becca’s other hand. “Remember, deep, steady breathing.” She smiled soothingly as Becca stared at her. “Try thinking of a happy place, somewhere calm and tranquil –” Becca’s fist rose up and connected squarely with her jaw.
“What?” Buffy asked. “What’d I do?”
“It’s your damn watcher who knocked me up!” Becca growled.
“Well I certainly didn’t tell him how to do it!” Buffy protested. She grabbed Becca’s hand again. “Okay, scratch the happy place…um, try thinking of…okay, think of the first evil vampire I find when I go out tonight to unwind from all this, right? I’m really going to go to town on his dusty ass, try picturing that.”
“Yeah,” Becca said, taking deeper breaths, “yeah, that works…uh, sorry.”
“No big,” Buffy shrugged.
“Agh! Uh…” Becca panted. “I’m…not crushing your hand…am I?”
“All in all, I’d rather not let go of your hand again at this point,” Buffy said.
Vor Hell Dimension – Presidium Citadel – Panopticon – Same Time
The Lover watched the distant battle as the remnants of the demon and slayer army were pushed back around the fallen Bastion, fighting all the way but steadily succumbing to sheer weight of numbers. A tremor shook the Citadel.
“Starting to… get through?” Willow asked. She still lay on the floor where she had fallen, breathing with difficulty, her face almost colorless.
“No,” the Lover said calmly. “Their magic is strong, but not strong enough. Not against our full might.”
“You could tip the balance,” Willow suggested. “Make…a difference…”
“You’re dying,” the Lover said sadly. “This is not your concern. Not any more.”
“Must…be a pain in the butt…for you,” Willow coughed.
“No,” the Lover shook her head. “No…you were undone by my power, even though I did not will it. Our destiny is whole again. We are whole again.” She turned from the battle and looked at the woman lying in front of her.
“If it is any consolation,” she said, “it is no longer necessary to destroy your soul. You succumbed in a way we had not foreseen, a strange chance…twice you have eluded the fate we planned for you.” The Lover knelt by Willow, looking sadly down at her.
“That is a victory, of a kind,” she offered. “If that soothes you, be at peace.”
“I will be,” Willow said with difficulty. “What about you?”
“I?” the Lover asked.
“Nothing’s changed,” Willow pointed out. “You’re still fighting yourself…You still will be, after I’m gone. All the reasons you wanted me here will…still be inside you. You’ll still be a prisoner here.”
“A prisoner?” the Lover asked quietly.
“I understand,” Willow nodded feebly. “I didn’t at first…but I do now. I know what it takes to…wield dark magic. To be filled with it…and not… live in. Or you’d end up just a husk…floating on the ceiling…being eaten away by it. You had purpose…you controlled the power…you did all this…” She looked around at the darkened Panopticon.
“We have a sacred purpose,” the Lover agreed.
“But you know now you were wrong,” Willow argued. “You know…” she paused, coughing up blood, then continued. “You know you’re failing.”
“We will succeed,” the Lover said gently.
“You can’t succeed,” Willow replied. She shook her head weakly, then closed her eyes.
End of Act Five