Holiday on Helarth
Chapter One ~ Under the Moonbow
"I love you."
"No you don't, but thanks for saying it."
It hurt, knowing he didn't believe her when she finally had the courage to say the words. And yet, she couldn't blame him for not believing. She gazed at him, doing her best to hold in the tears threatening to spill over. Suddenly, the trance Buffy and Spike were in shattered as a loud explosion shook the already trembling ground beneath them. Their interlocked hands wrenched apart as they struggled to get back their footing.
"Now go!" Spike said with authority.
Almost-Buffy almost jumped to obey him, but if she was going, so the hell was he. It took less than a second to get the amulet and chain up and over his head. Still gripping it in one hand, she got a fist full of leather duster in the other and raced towards the stone steps a few feet away. The relief she felt over Spike not resisting her was short-lived. Halfway up, the steps began to crumble.
She stumbled and they both fell into a heap, holding onto each other for dear life. Buffy still clutched the amulet in one hand, and now it lay draped across Spike's back. She got a good look below the stairs and her heart dropped at the yawning abyss of blackness where the ledge he'd been willing to die on was just a few seconds ago.
Their eyes met and they both knew.
This was the end.
The anguish on Spike's face was too much for her to bear. She knew it wasn't for himself. He'd been willing to burn to ash with the amulet still around his neck. No. This was all about her.
"I'm not afraid of death, Spike." Her voice was hard to hear over the roar of destruction around them.
"I wanted you to live."
Buffy rested her head on his shoulder. "It's okay."
Another big jolt hit the stairs and the chain slipped from her grasp. With a gasp, she turned her head to watch it as it fell. They would follow it down any second now. The amulet began to glow a phosphorescent green and the air shimmered and warped around the glow as it spread across the darkness.
She didn't have time to marvel at the sight, because the steps beneath them gave way.
They fell into the open space, trying to hold on to each other, but it was no use. The sheer force of free falling pulled them apart just as they reached the section of glowing air. There was a loud whomp as a massive weight of pressure squeezed the air out of Buffy's lungs before, to her utter amazement, she hit solid ground much sooner than she was expecting to.
Buffy opened her eyes and blinked a few times, trying to get her double vision to go away. Or, should that be quadruple vision, because she was seeing four full moons? They were arched across a starless sky, almost like a rainbow—a white, beautiful glowing moonbow. She shook her head, but her vision wouldn't clear.
Attempting to sit up was not a good idea. As her stomach pitched and rolled, Buffy went still and fought the urge to lose what little she'd eaten before the battle. She had no idea how she'd ended up outside, or how it had gotten so dark. She must have been unconscious for a very long time.
The feeling that things weren't quite right started to build inside her gut as she took in her surroundings. No crickets sang out, not even a hint of a breeze could be felt, and it was altogether too quiet, even for deserted Sunnydale. And the four moons hadn't fused into one for her yet.
She turned her head and searched the area on both sides, not finding anything remotely familiar about the terrain, and even more worrisome, there was no sign of Spike. A rustling noise behind her put her on alert, but with her stab wound it hurt too much to move. In a flash, Spike's face covered two of the moons.
"Buffy? Are you…" He grimaced and struggled to talk while he knelt beside her. "You okay?"
"I think so. You?"
He was too busy looking her over to answer. While he did a thorough inspection, she relaxed against the ground, all the tension leaving her body. He was okay. She was okay. They were going to be fine. As he reached for the bloodstained area on her shirt, she gripped his hand. Their eyes met, his furrowed with concern.
"We did it, Spike. And we made it out alive."
"Will be fine in a few days." Buffy tried to sit up, but a sharp pain at the site of the wound made her lie back down. "We need to find Giles and the others. Someone can patch me up. Some antiseptic, a few stitches, and I'll be good as new.
"Give us a minute." Spike stretched out beside her, propping his head up with his elbow. "I think I was burning from the inside out. I don't think I'd even have the strength to help you up yet."
The casual way he posed beside her could not mask the pain etched on his face, and she started to worry. With her lips pursed, she reached out to touch his face. He closed his eyes and leaned into her touch.
"Tell me you're going to be okay."
Spike looked up at the sky, avoiding her. "I'll be fine. But things aren't adding up."
"Please tell me you don't see four moons up there."
"It's an incredible sight, isn't it?" he said with wonder.
"It was daylight when we went under the school." Buffy frowned and bit her lip. "How long was I passed out, and how come you didn't burn to a crisp out here before it got dark?"
He shivered, glanced around, and pulled his duster tighter around him. "You're not going to like my answers."
"You're scaring me, Spike. Just tell me."
"You were out for all of two minutes, if that." He gazed around at the terrain, ignoring the shocked expression on her face. "And it was dark when we got here."
"Where is here?"
Spike let his eyes shut for the briefest of moments, before he stared right at her. "Not exactly sure, but I'd say we're not in our own dimension."
"That's crazy!" Buffy sat up, in spite of the pain.
He followed suit, though he did it more slowly, easing his way up. "How do you explain the moons?"
"I…" She shook her head.
"We should find some shelter. Who knows what sort of nasties inhabit this place or how quickly night turns to day."
Stunned by the idea of not being in their own dimension, Buffy could only nod in agreement. Words would not form for her. They managed to help each other to their feet and cautiously made their way across unfamiliar, desert-like terrain. It was dark, but with the light of four full moons, it was more than bright enough to see shapes and small rocks amongst the fine sand at their feet. Small rolling hills were off in the distance, but there were no twinkling lights to indicate populated areas. They clung to each other for support and strength of mind.
Buffy glanced at Spike as he kept watchful eyes on the scene around him, and she swallowed hard. She was glad they were together, but she'd feel better if they weren't so battered and exhausted. In their present condition, they wouldn't be able to defend themselves against an enemy. At least not for long.
Spike stopped suddenly, almost causing her to stumble.
"Sorry, love, but look at this."
Just to the right, they could make out a pattern in the ground. It was as if someone had made a brick-like path flush with the sandy earth. Instead of bricks, though, the path was hard packed dirt, a shade darker than the sand around them. Before she could even make a comment about not being in Kansas anymore and following the dirt brick road, a moving shape got their attention.
They gripped each other tighter, both trying to push the other behind for protection. A hundred yards away, the dark shape seemed to be coming up from the ground where the path disappeared. The creature gasped and stopped when it noticed them.
As it moved cautiously towards them, Buffy noticed a familiar shape in the weapon now being held aloft, ready to strike. It was her scythe! Glints of red and silver shined from it in the light of the moons.
The bald creature fascinated Buffy. It halted at a safe distance, taking them in, its deep red skin like leather and the brown shorts and top not much of a covering at all. Its bare feet were like those of a human. Upon closer inspection, it was clear by the almost human facial features and its shape that it was female.
It finally spoke, and though Buffy couldn't understand the language, it was clear by the creature's tone that she was demanding to know who and what they were.
"What's she saying?" Buffy asked Spike, knowing that he was fluent in many demon languages.
"Beats me. 'S a language I've never heard before."
They both jumped when the creature's eyes widened to twice their size, and she began to speak English with a heavy Scottish accent. "You speak English!" Her eyes narrowed as she leaned forward a bit. "Come closer."
"Lower your weapon first." Buffy pointed at the scythe, wishing she had it in hand. "And I believe that belongs to me."
The creature chuckled, even as she lowered the scythe to her side. "I doubt that vera much. This has been in my possession since I came into maturity." Her expression changed as, together, Spike and Buffy moved forward. "I don't believe it! You're from Earth, aren't you?"
"Yes," Buffy said, frowning. "And where is this?"
"This is Helarth. At least that's what Laird calls it. Before he came, it didn't have a name."
Spike leaned in to Buffy and whispered, "Laird means lord in Scots." To the demon, he said, "Can you take us to this Laird?"
The creature looked off to her left and then to her right, before she shrugged at the vast emptiness. "I'm supposed to be patrolling right now, but—"
"Patrolling!" Buffy got a little closer and the demon lifted up her scythe. "Why?"
"I'm a Slayer. It's what I was born to do." She turned and began walking briskly back to where she'd come from. Over her shoulder, she said, "Laird Duncan will want to know about you two. Follow me."
Buffy and Spike still had to support each other to walk and the going was slow. Before their eyes, the creature, who called herself a slayer, disappeared, but as they approached the spot where they'd last seen her, they saw the gaping hole in the ground and followed the angled path down into the bowels of Helarth.