Disclaimer: I do not own any characters relating to either Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Stargate SG-1. This story is intended for entertainment purposes only and does not provide any financial compensation.
Far Beyond Normal
One after another, the girls drew the blade across their forearms and held them out, until finally enough blood was spilled to open the seal, revealing a stairwell descending into the invisible blackness of the Hellmouth below.
Without hesitating, Buffy descended into the smoky darkness of what she was uncomfortably aware was truly the Mouth of Hell. She didn't look back to see if the Potentials followed her, afraid to see what they would be showing on their faces. She could imagine it though: barely-restrained terror, fierce determination, and, worst of all, a desperate hope that Buffy knew what she was doing, and that her plan might save them all. Since she had saved them from the Torak-han after they walked into the ambush their faith in her had been restored, their confidence in her unbound.
Buffy herself wasn't so optimistic. As she descended stairs that were only partially physical, entering a realm that was only partly tangible, she wished she shared their confidence, wished she still had the euphoric feeling that had filled her when the plan had suddenly come to her in what had seemed like a brilliant flash of insight. But the deeper they descended into the slightly-out-of-phase realm of the Hellmouth, the less certain she became. Gaping holes in what had once seemed to be a perfect path to victory were suddenly becoming obvious, only now that it was far too late to do anything about it. They were committed…. they were out of time… and there was no backup plan.
Distracted by her mental gyrations, Buffy was caught by surprise when she came to the end of the stairwell. Desperately trying to focus, she tried to ignore the mental warnings screaming at her that something was horribly wrong. Experience has shown that it wasn't wise to second-guess herself once they were committed to a plan of action. But normally the entire Scooby Gang had discussed and debated all the possible ramifications of any plan they came up with before they reached the point of no return. Not this time. Buffy had come up with the idea, and everyone had agreed to it without suggesting a single alternative, not even a tiny alteration. That had never happened before. Instead of being filled with pride at the confidence being displayed by her friends and colleagues, Buffy was terrified that she was Custer leading her troops into their own personal Little Big Horn.
She knew full well why it had happened. Everyone had been so tired of the fear and stupidity, tired of the rancor and distrust, just physically and emotionally tired after so many unending days of terror. They had reached a point where they were so desperate for any sign of hope, anything that might give them even the slightest chance of survival --to say nothing of actual victory-- that when Buffy showed up with not one but two weapons which together had the potential to shift the balance of power, nobody had wanted to look at it too closely, to question even the most basic assumptions. Questions which now seemed obvious: How did she know that the Scythe had the power to activate all the Potentials? Where did the Amulet come from? Could she really trust a woman who suddenly showed up claiming to be on her side, but who had been unknown to all of the long history of the Watchers?
They hadn't questioned it because none of it had really mattered. They were falling apart, fear and frustration destroying what little reserves of strength the Potentials had once held. An unspoken judgment had been reached that they would go with any plan they came up with that had even the slightest chance of working, because there was no point in waiting around for a better one reached too late, after the Potentials had been reduced to terror-stricken, stressed-out, catatonic wrecks. So they went with what they had, not considering the consequences, and as Buffy looked down into the enormous cavern filled with unending legions of Torak-han she suddenly wished they had taken the time to think things through.
No cavern this size could exist in earthquake-prone California. Of course normal laws of physics and geology didn't necessarily apply within the twisted universe within the Hellmouth. Noticing the horror on the faces of the Potentials, Buffy tried to reassure them that everything was under control –knowing damned well she wasn't convincing anyone, not even herself. Buffy privately hoped Willow had taken that twisted space into consideration when designing her Spell. And hoped that the spell worked. And especially hoped that it worked Real Soon Now, because suddenly one of the Torak-han saw their group standing on the small ledge overlooking the vast cavern, and they were all out of time.
The Torak-han instantly attacked them in unending waves, only their inability to reach the ledge except by using narrow paths preventing the girls from being overwhelmed through sheer numbers. These monsters weren't nearly as powerful as the mighty warrior Buffy had faced in single combat above ground, and with Faith backing her they were able to fight off the first mad onslaught. The Potentials had always shown more martial arts skills than Buffy recalled possessing before she was Called, and Kennedy had trained them into a formidable fighting force, so they provided not-inconsiderable backup for the two Slayers. In fact, it took her a few seconds to realize just how well they were fighting, that it wasn't just she and Faith holding off the hordes of Uber-vamps. The Potentials were fighting almost as well. Only then did she understand that Willow's spell had succeeded, and they were no longer Potentials.
They were Slayers.
Twenty six Slayers made for the most formidably-skilled fighting unit the world had ever known. The Torak-han fell before them in droves. But more kept coming. From somewhere she heard Kennedy shout "Buffy! Catch!" and the thrown Scythe found her hand without her eyes having to look away from the approaching uber-vamps. Energized by the simple act of holding the scythe, Buffy became the personification of Death itself, mowing down her enemies in huge swaths, bodies and pieces of bodies falling before her like wheat at harvest. The former Potentials, now Slayers, were taking on a dozen times their own numbers. But there weren't fighting as a team, protecting each other. Instead they seemed almost giddy with their new-found strength and power, wanting to indulge in wholesale slaughter to celebrate their individual Becoming.
It was a weakness the Torak-han were quick to exploit. Some of the Slayers went down, and a way was suddenly open for a few of the uber-vamps to get through to the stairwell and quickly ascend to the world above. To the school above, where everyone Buffy loved was waiting.
Momentarily pausing in her efforts to mow down the enemy, Buffy recognized the danger, and its cause. By training and temperament Slayers were solitary fighters. The reasons for it were obvious, but it was a weakness and Buffy was suddenly horrified that such a simple mental blind spot was about to get her friends, her family, killed.
Or maybe not. Distracted by concern for her friends, it took Buffy a few seconds to notice the change in Spike. Only when he called out did she see the light beginning to shine from the Amulet. "Buffy! Whatever this thing does, I think it's…" The pain in his voice was noticeable, as was his determination not to give into it. Buffy was a Slayer, charged with the task of protecting humanity, and the knowledge that their only chance of victory lay in protecting Spike and giving the Amulet time to do its work overrode even her frantic concern for those above, who were about to face the escaping uber-vamps with no Slayer to protect them. Her heart ached for what she knew her decision would mean for her friends above… but she was a Slayer, and she had no choice but to do what she must. "Keep the line together! Drive them to the edge! We can't let them…"
Her words were suddenly cut off in an agonized moan as an unseen Torak-han stabbed her in the back.
The pain was excruciating. Her thoughts were jumbled, the primary one being "We really suck at teamwork" before she saw Faith rushing over to her side. The frantic concern in her counterpart's eyes was unexpected, but Buffy knew it was already too late. Too late for her; but maybe not too late for them. Tossing the Dark Slayer the scythe, she wanted to tell her so much, but could barely speak. "Hold the line!" There was supposed to be more, but she could no longer get the words out. Protect Spike. Please God let the Amulet do what we hope it will do. Please let this all be worth it, let some of them --some of her family-- live through this horror.
None of it could be put into words. The pain became so intense Buffy could no longer speak, could barely even move. Both her kidney and liver had been sliced open, spilling chemicals into her body that would inevitably kill her even if blood loss didn't. Maybe it would have been different had a doctor been available, but even Slayer healing wasn't up to the challenge of such massive trauma. Buffy could feel herself fading away, knew she was dying, and it was really unfair that her last sight in this world would be of the First, looking exactly like her, only with a teensy-tiny blood smear on the back of her sweater, nothing like the blood-soaked puddle forming around Buffy herself. She remembered once belittling the First, calling it 'the Taunter,' and perhaps it remembered too as it looked down on her, holding up a hand covered in less blood than Buffy got from shaving her legs, eyes hard and vicious as she taunted her fallen foe.
"Oh no! Ow! Mommmy, this mortal wound is all… itchy." It smirked at her, its face evil and triumphant, not at all like her own clammy, pale skin, its eyes bright and exultant, nothing like the fading light in Buffy's own eyes. "You pulled a nice trick. You came pretty close to smacking me down. What more do you want?"
It had timed its words to perfection. The life in Buffy's eyes faded away just as its speech ended, but with death came a sudden clarity, a sudden understanding which she hadn't been able to achieve in life. She was finally able to see the vast, titanic scale and power of the First, not just the human avatar that her formerly only-human vision had been limited to perceiving. The human mind was not capable of comprehending such immense power; an incorporeal gestalt of trillions of symbiotic parts spread throughout space and time, across dimensions and realities, extending infinitely far in every direction yet somehow confined to one location, mirrors-upon-mirrors of infinitely regressed Power, unseen but now apparent, forever beyond the understanding of mortal minds.
Only now that it was too late did Buffy begin to grasp the power of the Being she had once cavalierly dismissed. Next to the First, even Glory had been an insignificant bug. As her life faded away and the world disappeared from around her, Buffy was able to observe the true reality of her enemy, and see the triumph in its eyes as she finally understood the depth of her failure, the scale of her enemies' ambitions. Trillions of eyes, mirror-upon-mirror fashion, faced her in a searing, glacial triumph. "Now you begin to understand! Your puny mind cannot grasp the scale of the true Universe or My place in it! But your kind does have its own power, its own access to unlimited resources, which for all My power have been denied to Me since the dawn of time. Long have I waited for the opportunity to become corporeal, to be able to manipulate matter and energies as is only possible by one of your kind. This was forbidden to Me. Until now! Until you made it possible! It is fitting that you, who once defeated a God –a puny one, but a God nonetheless—should be the instrument of My own destiny!"
A billion hands rose, each slightly out of step, a kind of strobe effect, but as the finger approached her face Buffy could see the billions of separate component beings that made up the First, even though in reality it was only one finger coming to touch her lightly on the forehead. In that instant her perceptions changed, no longer limited by the normal, physical senses of a living being, her consciousness now so close to death she was able to comprehend the Infinite, the transdimensional existence that was reality for the First. It wasn't telepathy. Buffy couldn't read its mind, but in a way that made things even worse. What she experienced was a flash of understanding, her rapidly-approaching death and the First's own guidance allowing her to finally understand what she previously could not even imagine.
Images flashed by too fast to comprehend but not too fast to witness. The error in the spell that the Shadowmen had used to create the Slayer. That spell could accommodate her death and resurrection, so long as the power was passed on to the next Potential. But Willow had done something, exploited a flaw, to ensure that the Slayer line and lineage returned to her from Faith when she brought her back after her second death. Willow had never trusted Faith, and Buffy should have realized she would do something like that even if Willow had never mentioned it. Because it was important, especially to the First. As someone who had died, the First could assume Buffy's form. And as the holder of the Slayer lineage, the First now had access to all the powers of the slayer line, past, present… and future.
Even then, only a sacrifice of sufficient magnitude could bring the First into a state of corporeality. The First wasn't matter or energy, wasn't even truly a part of the universe humans could comprehend. But a sacrifice big enough to breach the magical wards of the Hellmouth could release enough energy to create matter from whatever non-corporeal, interdimensional, immaterial substance unknown to human science that comprised the First. Buffy suddenly understood why the Torak-han champion had not killed her when it had defeated her during their first encounter. The idea had been to draw the Slayer army into the Hellmouth, where they –the combined mystical energies of an entire army of Slayers-- would be sacrificed by the waiting Torak-han hordes. But when Buffy, as the Slayer champion, had defeated the strongest of the uber-vamps during their rematch, and thereby proven the superiority of the Slayers, the First made a small adjustment to its plans. The First had provided the amulet and the scythe, had provided the tools and weapons the Slayers would need to defeat the Torak-han, because it intended to take Buffy's place in charge of an army of Slayers. And it was willing to sacrifice its army of uber-vamps to make that happen.
Her vision became restricted to an increasingly narrow tunnel as true death approached. Buffy desperately tried to maintain her eye contact with the infinitely bottomless gaze of the First, tried to silently threaten it, tried to tell it that it wouldn't succeed, that she would somehow beat it. But the First only gazed back with unimpressed gloating, savoring its victory. It knew it had nothing to fear. It hadn't just beaten her; it had taken everything from her.
Including her life.
As her narrowed vision tunneled into an approaching point of light, Buffy stopped breathing, but could suddenly feel the Amulet activate, the uber-vamps cut down in unending numbers, the power of the darkest of black magic being unleashed by their sacrifice. Mouth no longer working, she silently screamed in horror and pain as she felt the Hellmouth open, titanic energies ready to explode outwards… but then felt most of that energy suddenly redirected inwards, smashing into her body with the power of an invisible nuclear blast. A fraction of a second later she could feel 'her' body move… under the First's control, the fatal stab in her back suddenly reduced to a minor flesh wound.
And she could dimly feel the exultant triumph of the few surviving Slayers, who were already looking at 'her' with adoration bordering on worship, she having brought them 'victory' when all seemed lost.
But that was the last thing she was able to feel. Because a second later there was nothing left to feel.
She was dead.