Unbidden the Day
Copyright June 2010
Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.
Acknowledgment: Special thanks to HonorH, for help with Japanese terminology in Part 2. Any mistakes are entirely my own.
The battle had spilled outside the hospital, though 'battle' wasn't the best term under the circumstances. Glorificus — Glory — was simply too powerful. Years fighting alongside the Slayer should have accustomed them to the seeming incongruity of supernatural speed and superhuman strength being housed in a deceptively petite, feminine frame, but Glory was well beyond all their reference frameworks. Nothing harmed her, nothing truly caused her pain, and nothing slowed her down. She couldn't be beaten, couldn't be stopped: only harried, distracted, delayed.
Xander had delayed her by bringing the fire hose to bear. With all her strength, she still weighed no more than the average anorexic runway model, and the stream of pressurized water had bowled her over, robbed her of her footing, blinded and disoriented her. All of which had lasted for as long as it took her to tear out enough wall, flooring, and support structures to eventually destroy something that fed the water. After that, much running.
That was okay. Getting Glory outside had been the main aim all along.
After some prompting, Willow and Tara had produced a refinement of an ordinary glamour spell, and they triggered it now. As Glory emerged from the latest wreckage she had produced, still shaking water from her eyes and several steps beyond pissed off, there were suddenly dozens of them, multiple versions of Buffy, Xander, Willow, Giles, Tara (for some reason, the spell refused to include Spike), darting in all directions, squealing and tripping over one another, gesticulating and shouting for attention. Glory ground to a halt, looking around in exasperated bewilderment, unable to pick out her prey from the clamorous doubles that flooded the parking lot.
Captain Morgaine Ainesreath, watching through an IR scope, did not have that problem. She tracked the 'Scoobies' by their heat images, and — seconds before they reached safety — barked into her comm, "Engage." The mortars thumped in instant response, the ex-Initiative troops were superbly trained and had adjusted with brusque professionalism to the unexpected change of mission and change of commanders. As always, Ainesreath's timing had been dead on the mark: Xander, the last of the core group, reached cover a tenth of a second before the mortar barrage began exploding around a still confused Glory.
"Shot centered," Ainesreath announced through her comm. There hadn't really been any doubt, but you made sure of these things. "Fire for effect!"
A mortar team that knows its business can wreak slaughter on a horrendous scale. Artillery is more devastating, missiles more surgically precise, but nothing better combines the two for versatile, quick-readiness, on-the-spot destruction. With the right application, six mortar tubes and their crews can wipe an area the size of a football field clear of any life larger than a cockroach. Ainesreath had eight tubes firing, and even as the first explosions tore into Glory with stupendous impact, she was already commanding Captain Graham Miller, "Ready the AT-4 teams."
Miller snapped a salute — "On it, ma'am!" — and began issuing orders into his own comm. Technically he out-rated her, both by time in service and by time in grade (for that matter, he'd gotten private assurance that he was on the short list for Major), but this was a woman whose achievements and sheer command presence had light colonels listening respectfully. He watched her as he confirmed placement of his teams, and as she watched their target. Blue-black hair cascaded to her shoulders beneath the rakish beret, defying any attempt to confine it; eyes paler than Antarctic ice surveyed the field of fire with pitiless appraisal. Yes, he would gladly follow this woman into hell … and was, perhaps, doing exactly that right now.
"Tubes off!" Ainesreath commanded. "AT-4 teams, relay fire!"
As Miller passed on her order, he saw what Ainesreath had already picked out through the savage chaos of the mortar barrage: slammed about like a pinball by the concentrated concussive force of the mortar shells, Glory was essentially unharmed. Her clothing had been torn away, even her shoes obliterated, but her naked skin showed no marks, and as the echoes of the last blasts faded away, he thought he heard laughter.
Then the rockets began to hit. The AT-4 had replaced the Light Antitank Weapon (itself a replacement for the venerable bazooka) almost a generation previously, with greater accuracy and immensely more destructive force. Ainesreath had correctly predicted that Glory might prove impervious to mortar fire; now, it was time to see if she fared as well against something designed to punch through tank armor.
She did, as it turned out. Ainesreath had called for relay fire, so that each AT-4 team took its shot in succession, rather than the massed fire that the mortar crews had laid down perfectly but to poor effect. Again, Glory was smashed one way and another, too light to resist the detonations that couldn't seem to pierce her skin … but the third rocket missed, these things were made for use against vehicles and two consecutive hits on a single individual attested to the consummate skill of the former Initiative soldiers, but the instant's respite was all the recovery time Glory needed. She caught the fourth rocket — caught it, in one dainty hand — and then threw it back with a wrist-flick impossibly quick and powerful, and suddenly everything was going to hell, she moved with a speed the eye couldn't track and three teams were snuffed out before anyone could react.
"Abort!" Ainesreath ordered, both into her comm and to Miller. She turned to reach for the weapon she had stowed as a last resort — and was now resorting to it, which meant they were thoroughly screwed — still shouting, "Abort! Withdraw, fall back, reform and exfil! I'll keep her occupied, but GO!"
"Captain!" Miller protested. "Ma'am —!"
She turned to him, and those pale, fierce eyes struck him mute. "Follow your orders, soldier!" she raged. "Do it NOW!"
Miller nodded and stumbled away, momentarily clumsy as he tried to blink away tears. To lose Captain Ainesreath like this — Morgaine! — but this was combat, and he wouldn't dishonor her by refusing her command on a battlefield.
Ainesreath took a prone position, readied the M82A1 Barrett .50-caliber sniper rifle. She switched her comm to the PA setting, and called out, "Glory! I'm the one you want, hellbitch! Come and get me!"
The PA echoes rolled away, and then Glory's reply came. Teasing and snotty at the same time, trademark Glorificus. "And where might you be, soldiers' whore? You call me out, but you're still hiding."
"Meet me in the middle of the parking lot," Ainesreath said, still through the PA to mask the source of her voice. "We'll settle this face to face."
"While you still have a face, you mean." And just that quickly, Glory was in the center of the lot, peering about for the owner of the taunting voice. She didn't look menacing at all, just naked and tousled and impatient. "Getting bored here," she announced. "Come out, come out, wherever you are —"
Ainesreath cut the comm, said, "Here," in her normal voice, and fired the Barrett as Glory turned toward the sound.
The woman (or woman-shaped whatever-she-was) had been unfazed by everything brought to bear against her. Ainesreath knew, however, that no armor can be impenetrable at every point. The Barrett was the most powerful non-explosive man-portable precision weapon in any military inventory anywhere, and Ainesreath had chosen to gamble her life on the effectiveness of nearly 15,000 foot-pounds of energy delivered, in a single instant, against the center of Glory's left eyeball. Let's see her bounce back from this —!
Unfortunately, that was exactly what happened.
Then pain, much pain, shattering pain, delivered in a very brief time, not skillful but brisk and relentless and unendurable. Then the end of pain, and thought, and life.
~ – ~ – ~
Damn. I really thought that might work.
~ – ~ – ~
The sitting room in Rupert Giles' apartment had been the scene of many extraordinary gatherings over the years, but had never before held so remarkable a visitor. "I cannot fully explain to you how I came by this information," she was telling her spellbound audience. "Some parts of it are from sources who insist upon confidentiality, and others rely on prophecies whose provenance and underlying meaning I haven't the time to explain. Be assured, however: Glorificus will make an appearance in that hospital, in roughly the area I have described, just before ten o'clock this evening. This gives us an opportunity to prepare for her, as you have had no possibility of doing until now."
Giles shook away the fascination that made it difficult to think clearly (Buffy and Amy, he saw, were likewise enthralled, and — disconcertingly — Xander and Willow wore near-identical expressions of awe and yearning; understandable, but still rather embarrassing), and framed a careful reply. "Given the result of previous encounters, one would anticipate that our best use of this warning would be to avoid the area for so long as she occupies it."
The Honourable Rosamonde Camilla Blackpoole-Travers, her hair like russet wheat in its thick single braid, fixed him with eyes of so bright a green as to render her gaze almost luminous. "A prudent course," she acknowledged, her voice holding a husky timbre that made Giles think longingly of the guitar upstairs: he would never dare suggest such familiarity, but he ached to hear that voice in song, to accompany it to the best of his limited ability. "Against this foe, however," she went on firmly, "prudence will not carry the day. We must be bold, seize the chance fate has brought."
From any other speaker, such a statement would have been greeted with marked skepticism, if not severe doubt, but the visitor's mien and résumé — which Giles had confirmed for the others, knowing it from avid gossip among his contemporaries — commanded attention and respect. Descended from generations of Watchers (the oldest families intermarried almost as habitually and determinedly as royalty, so that she was not only Quentin Travers' grand-niece but also a distaff relative of Wesley Wyndham-Pryce and of Giles himself), Rosamonde Blackpoole-Travers had rejected the family calling and struck out on her own path at an early age. Almost immediately, however, her genius at ancient and demon languages, and her unparalleled intuition at gleaning the meaning of notoriously obscure prophecies, had the Council of Watchers regularly seeking her aid. That she had come here, unsolicited, to offer her services in the current crisis was … overwhelming.
"You have a plan," Willow said, eyes all but devouring their visitor. "I know you do. I just know." Beside her, Amy Madison nodded eagerly; any small doubt regarding the newcomer's qualifications (Tara had raised brief dissent, before falling silent) had been dispelled when the emerald-eyed scholar had supplied Willow with the incantation that summoned the scroll holding Amy's cure. The now de-ratified witch was still somewhat nervous and given to starts, but seemed to derive a calming effect from the charisma radiating from her deliverer, which same charisma gripped them all. "What do we need to do?" Willow went on. "Just tell us what to do."
"Very well," Rosamonde said. Even at her ease, she projected a formidable authority, but a gracious smile softened that edge, made her seem less forbidding if no less regal. "As Mr Giles has indicated, Glorificus' physical capabilities are simply too daunting for any direct force we can bring to bear. There is precedent for dealing with such entities, however. Don't worry, Buffy —" A nod, and an extra note of warmth in her voice, and pleasure and gratitude blossomed on the Slayer's face. "— you shall have a role to play, but it shall be primarily diversionary, to keep Glorificus occupied and unaware. The main effort must come from our three enchanters, with some support from Mr Giles and of course under my guidance."
They nodded their understanding and agreement, even Tara, and Giles cleared his throat. "What, erm … what do you propose?"
Again he found himself pierced by that near-luminous gaze, and hoped he wasn't sweating or (worse) blushing. Lord, how could such severe professional attire, not at all suggestive in itself, cling so alluringly to a woman? A small tilt to the corner of her mouth made him wonder if she could read his unseemly thoughts, but she spoke evenly. "Centuries ago, an enchantment was effected to shift the entire race of Granok demons very slightly out of phase with this material reality. Their martial abilities were undiminished, but they could no longer be applied against the human peoples the Granok had thought to conquer. With a very minor adaptation, the ritual which accomplished this can be used to work the same result upon Glorificus. She will remain, in a sense, but will no longer be able to reach us, to affect us in any way —"
She went on, describing the ritual, describing the process, describing the tactics by which it was to be applied. She spoke with the pure, unwavering certainty of one who knows her subject and knows her own competence, for whom the correct path is clear and beyond question. Not that any of them would have dared dream of calling her to question …
Nine hours later, dying with a crushed chest, Giles blamed no one but himself. Banished from one realm, Glory seemed to have developed some type of internal resistance to having such an action repeated upon her, and had reacted to the attempt with instant, untrammeled savagery. Buffy was lost under a pile of rubble, Willow and Amy were dead … He didn't know the fate of the others, nor had he leisure to consider the matter, for from where he lay he could see Glory humming gaily, "I love me, I love me lots, I love me …" while she tore off Rosamonde's arms and legs, in sequence.
The fallen woman gave no cry under the treatment, though those lambent eyes showed the enormity of the torment being inflicted, and with his last breath Giles cursed himself for failing her.
~ – ~ – ~
~ – ~ – ~
"Don't have to take her word for it," Spike told the assembled group. "I've heard of 'er myself, all kinds of rumors back when I was still sloggin' through the backwaters of Europe with Angelus and Darla. The Sunwalker, they called her: not human, not vampire, both 'n' neither. She didn't mess with vampires, long as they left 'er alone, an' they bloody well learned quick enough to do exactly that." He hooked a thumb at the woman he had brought to them. "Well, this is her now. In the flesh, or whatever you want to call it."
They all regarded her with interest, curiosity, and some wonder. She wore a simple, straight-line gown that would have looked natural during the Renaissance or any age thereafter, for some things are so eternal as to never be fully out of style. Her hair was a bright cloud about her face, cornsilk shot through with streaks of titian, so that she might almost have worn a rose-gold halo. Her eyes were enormous, dark and depthless, her lips as red as the most perfect winter cherries. Her complexion was flawless, and so pale that only the faintest flush attested that this was a living woman and not some ivory goddess. She returned their gaze with absolute, unruffled equanimity, an ageless patience.
"Human and vampire?" Buffy asked doubtfully. "How can she be both?"
"Well, she is, okay?" Spike replied, with — even for him — unusual belligerence, as if he felt some protective instinct toward this new presence among them. "Vampires can recognize other vampires, even better'n most Slayers. This one 'ere, she's got that vibe … but at the same time, I can hear 'er heartbeat if I listen close. Slow, slower'n any human, but strong. I'm tellin' you, this is her."
"I've heard of her," Anya interjected. "I mean, we laughed about it in demon circles, thought she was the vampire version of the bogeyman. But the stories were remarkably consistent, now that I think of it. Starting about … six hundred years ago?"
"Yes," the newcomer confirmed, for Anya had directed the question to her. "Sunwalker is the name vampires gave me. In my first life, I was Amarantha Ariadne Xenakis. My people were wiped out by Kakistos and his followers; I saw the slaughter, but as one who had been sheltered from the world's harsh realities until that time, I knew of no means by which to fight them. They tried to kill me, too, and turn me, but I had been the favored child of my clan, gifted with many protective enchantments; the attempt failed, and I became what I am. They feared this, as something new and unknown, but feared also what I might further become if they succeeded in ending my life, so they kept me as a captive for more than a century. I was their plaything, subjected to endless degradations, foulness beyond your ability to imagine …"
Her voice shook at the memory, a heart-rending tremolo; then her chin came up, and she continued with a new forcefulness. "But they could not break me. Eventually I escaped, and set out to live on my own terms. I found that, by mixing the blood of animals with holy water, bolstered by a blessing of my own devising, I could maintain my strength while keeping my appetites under control. That also made it difficult for any vampire to fight me, for I could burn one with my touch if I but wished it. As their name for me attests, I can move about in the day — though I will admit that the brightest sun so hurts my eyes that I prefer to remain indoors — such that I essentially have a vampire's strengths without the weaknesses. I taught them to fear me … and then, satisfied that they would not dare disturb me, I withdrew into centuries of study."
"Huh?" Xander said. "Study what? Wasn't this before … you know … schools?"
Yes, Xander would want to know. Beautiful woman, part demon (or the next thing to it), of course it would catch his interest. Spike glared — Back off, Droopy Boy! — but without any visible effect.
"I am not truly a vampire," she told him, with a smile of such sad, haunting sweetness as to soften the stoniest heart. "But neither am I fully human. I have spent five hundred years searching for a way to return to the world of the living. To welcome the sun as a warm companion, rather than merely to endure it. To bear children, and grow old next to my love, and die alongside him in the due course of days. Only you who live with death can know the true fullness of life, and I would have that again."
"Yes, well …" Giles paused, and automatically removed his glasses, pulling out his handkerchief to begin the comforting routine of polishing them. "You're welcome among us, of course. We can always use effective allies, though I fear we've little to offer in return —"
"I do not seek your aid," the halfling woman told him. "I came to offer mine. I know the enemy you face; I know the Beast has returned. And, if such can be done, I would help you to vanquish it."
"Wonderful idea," Buffy said (oh, great, now Xander and Spike were making faces at each other, didn't men ever grow up?), "but we're not so solid on the 'how' of that. Glory has comprehensively kicked my ass every time I've met her, and I think the only reason it hasn't been worse is because she hasn't really been serious about it yet. If you happen to be carrying any handy Beast Kryptonite, haul it out, I'm on top of that action."
"The Beast is powerful, yes," the newcomer said. "But it is also arrogant, and not quick of wits. I am strong as any vampire, but not stronger; even together, we could not prevail in force of arms. If we were, however, to set a trap instead, lure the Beast to ground of our choosing and then open a vortex to carry it away from the lands of men —"
Opening the vortex was, indeed, as straightforward a task as Amarantha Ariadne Xenakis had promised. Controlling it, different matter. Glory clung to one of the trees in the park where they sprang the trap, then drove her fingers into rock in the surrounding ground to drag herself away from the voracious dimensional whirlpool. Buffy, unanchored and unprepared, was sucked in within the first moments, and the others — Xander, Giles, Willow, Tara, Spike — as the insatiable suction continued and grew. Last of all was the halfling vampire-human Sunwalker who, as she lost her final handhold and was pulled in by the vortex, could be heard shouting words that did not at all seem to have originated in the Renaissance, but rather in some more recent (and considerably less refined) era and locale.
~ – ~ – ~
Son of a bitch.