Chapter 33

"Where are we?"

"The Bronze." Buffy replied. Faith turned, Buffy was standing behind her, looking in the other direction. The brunette followed her line of sight. Buffy was watching the band on stage play their set.

"Uh… there's no music."

"Yeah, that usually happens."

"What?"

Buffy explained, "A lot of my Slayer dreams start off here. I'm not sure why, they just do. And it's always really packed full of people, with a band playing really loudly in the background, and everyone rocking out and enjoying themselves." She paused, a small frown on her face, "But the sound is always filtered out, so I can see people enjoying themselves but I can't join in. Alone. It's kind of a theme."

"That's deep."

Buffy rolled her eyes, "I try."

"So… this was your dream then. Willow's spell worked?"

"I guess so. I don't… I don't feel any different."

"How does this work exactly? Are we the dream, are we watching the dream, or…?"

"Oh, right, because I have vast amounts of knowledge in this area. How should I know? Come on, it started over here."

Faith sighed but followed the other Slayer as she led them towards the couches by the back. She was surprised to find that her leg was not ripped to shreds like it should have been. "Hey, look. I can walk."

"You want an award for that observation?"

Faith gave her a sceptic look, pointing to her leg.

"Well that makes sense," Buffy answered.

"Wanna fill me in on why?

"It's a dream. You're always the perfect image of yourself in a dream. You wouldn't dream that your leg is all ripped apart. It could happen in the dream, but it wouldn't be something you carry over when you first fall asleep."

Raising her eyebrows, Faith said, "Again. Deep."

Reaching the couches at the back, Faith noticed they were new. Well, new to her anyway. She was pretty sure they weren't orange the last time she was here. But then, it had been a while since she'd been at The Bronze, so it was likely the furniture had changed. Especially in a town known for demon attacks.

Or it could just be that the couches were the wrong colour in Buffy's dreams. Apparently anything was possible.

"So, what are-"

"I don't know why you're asking me, I told you I don't know how any of this works."

"Right. Sorry." Faith glanced around; no one in the club was paying them any attention. Casually, while Buffy flopped down on one of the couches, Faith strayed towards the edge of the dance floor where a group of girls were standing. She waved her hand in front of one of the girls' faces, but received no reaction. "B, check it out. We're like ghosts."

"Glad you're enjoying yourself."

"Oh, hey, cool."

"What now?" Buffy asked in a huff.

"I see you."

"That's marvellous, Faith."

"No, B. I see you. Over there." She pointed. Another Buffy was walking purposefully towards the couches, seemingly not noticing the other two Slayers.

Buffy leaped up off the couch as her dream-self began to sit down on top of her, still not aware she was there. "This is weird. I guess… I guess that's me?"

"No shit, Blondie."

"Shut up. I meant, I guess that's me from the dream, how I was seeing things? So… we're just bystanders in the dream now. We can't interfere?"

"Cool. So what happens next?"

Buffy nodded towards the back door, where none other than Caleb had strolled in. The Buffy on the couch tensed, glaring at him, as did the Buffy standing next to the couch.

"Evenin', little lady."

"What do you want?"

"Just passin' through. Big and busy place like this, figured there'd be some nice, fresh meat to bring back to the castle. Gotta feed them dragons."

"This is so weird."

"Faith, shut up and listen!"

The dream-Buffy had stood up and was now facing off with the preacher. "Get out of my town," she growled.

"All in due time, my dear. First, I've got an army to feed. Say, would any of those nice little girls of yours like to come by for a visit? Say hello to the minions of my Lord and master?"

"Sick pervert."

"You're a feisty one, aren't you?"

"Get out."

"Now, now. That's no way for a lady to behave. You should be more respectful."

"Bite me."

Caleb tisked, "I will enjoy watching you burn in hell. Now then, move along so I can continue searching."

"Searching for what?"

"Mind your own business, girl. This has nothing to do with you. Well, now, that isn't right. It has everything to do with you, but I plan to find it first. My quest is for the power of glory that will lead my Lord to triumph."

"Why do you call it your Lord. The First is a demon, not a God."

"I serve the beast as if it were my Lord and master. I pledge myself, body and soul, to its cause. And my Lord? It will crush you."

"How, exactly?" Faith mumbled. "We can't exactly touch it."

"Faith, wait and see what I – me – she – has to say."

"That's were your wrong," the dream-Buffy insisted. "It can't crush us, it can't even touch us. How exactly can it take over when it's no more than a big, ugly ghost?"

Caleb smiled a wicked smile, "Oh, you'll see, my little lady. When the time is good and ready, my Lord will take form, will take on its true and proper shape, with me as its servant, and you all will die."

Faith could see the dream-Buffy growing agitated. "Not going to happen," she growled.

"Oh yes it will."

"Get out," she yelled as she sprung forward, shoving the man in the chest. He staggered back into a coffee table and fell backwards.

He lay sprawled on the floor, blood suddenly gushing from his eyes, ears, and nose. In a raspy, blood-choked voice he threatened, "We'll bring you down. You haven't yet seen the last of our power. It will devour you."

"That's a lot of blood," Faith commented. "Most people I know don't bleed like that after they fall. You must have superpowers or somethin'."

"You're loving this, aren't you?"

Faith shrugged, "I'm not hating it."

Together they watched as the dream-Buffy turned away from the dying image of Caleb and bumped right into a Bronze-goer balancing three plastic cups in his arms.

The dream-Buffy leaped backwards, avoiding the spilling liquid, "Oh, God, I'm so sorry. I didn't even…" The blonde's eyes had landed on the pool of water at her feet. The liquid seemed to be seeping up from the floor, as the puddle was already much bigger than the amount of spilled liquid would have made. "Oh!"

"What is it?" Faith asked.

Buffy indicated they should move closer. "Look," she said, standing next to her dream-self and looking into the pool of water covering the floor of the club. Peering into the liquid, a blurry picture was beginning to take shape.

"The übervamps," the brunette stated, looking at the image of the inside of a cavern filled with the ancient and bloodthirsty vampires.

"Yeah, its confirming the army they have down there. In case, you know, I didn't get that from the last dream. Come on, I'm moving again."

It took Faith a few seconds to understand what the other girl had said; the dream-Buffy was leaving the club. The pair followed the second Buffy to the back door of The Bronze, where the blonde girl was easily weaving in and out of people in order to get outside. Faith had a really strong urge to see just how far her ghost status went, wanting to try walking through one of the club-goers, but held back when she saw the impatient look Buffy was giving her.

The two stepped through the doorway. Faith was expecting it to be dark out and there to be a cool wind blowing, as was usual after a night of Bronzing, but she was met with the opposite. The sun shone brightly overhead and there was a gentle, warm summer breeze blowing.

They were standing inside an orchard. Faith had to remind herself that this was a dream, anything could happen, and not to question the sudden disappearance of the club they had been inside seconds ago.

Faith glanced around as she followed behind Buffy, who was following behind the dream-Buffy. It was an orange grove. All the trees had ripe oranges hanging off the branches and there was a distinct citrus smell in the air.

The brunette Slayer had never been inside an orchard before. Her mother had never done the family picnic to the apple orchard thing when she was a kid. Not that Faith really blamed Lara. Looking around, the place wasn't all that interesting.

She jogged a few steps to keep up with Buffy, noticing that the ground was not grass and dirt but in fact sand.

Kind of an odd place to grow oranges. But whatever. Buffy never claimed to be normal.

"B," she said, reaching the other girl. Buffy had picked a fruit off one of the trees and was nibbling it while following her double. "So… what's with the sun-fruits?"

Buffy looked sheepish, "I like oranges?"

Faith blinked. "Enough to dream about them?"

"I honestly have no idea."

The trees around them were beginning to become sparse, and within another few minutes the orange grove gave way to sandy surroundings. It looked like a desert. Gently sloping hills of bright beige sand. Faith brought a hand to her eyes, shielding them from the glare.

"Africa? Really? You dream about oranges and Africa?"

"What makes you think it's Africa? It's a desert, not the savannah."

"Dunno. Just felt like its Africa. There's desert in Africa."

"Right."

"Well, we're meeting up with this First Slayer chick, right?"

"Yeah," the blonde replied.

"And she was like, the first girl to be a Slayer?"

"Does the name imply nothing to you?"

"And she was demon-afied like, a hell of a long time ago?"

"Yes!" Buffy said, exasperated.

"Then, you know, wouldn't it make sense we're in Africa? Isn't that like, where the human race originated and all?"

Buffy stared at her openly, clearly shocked with Faith's logic.

"What?" Faith replied, rolling her eyes. "I went to school at one point in my life. Just because it wasn't recent doesn't mean I'm a complete idiot."

"Sorry," Buffy said. "I'm just… not used to you being so… perceptive." She gestured around herself, "I've been here before. I never really thought about where it was; it was just always the place where I met with Sineya."

Faith nodded further ahead of them, "Looks like you found the jackpot."

The dream-Buffy was coming up on a campfire. A small smear of colour against the sand, the flames of the fire licked upwards like dancing mystical spirits. The red and orange colours clashed against the faint blue of the sky, and the loud cracking of the wood feeding the fire could be heard echoing in the emptiness around them.

When they reached the other Buffy, she was staring intently into the fire, her body relaxed and unmoving.

"You hear that?" Buffy asked.

No. Faith thought stubbornly, but paused to try to hear whatever Buffy was hearing. All she could hear was the hissing flames and pops as the logs burned away. Pushing that away, she listened further.

Screaming.

The brunette caught Buffy's eye and nodded her head slightly. Buffy smiled sadly, "Voices, screaming."

"They're the ones we have not saved."

Faith jumped, but both Buffys turned slowly, not startled by the stranger's appearance.

The First Slayer spoke only to the dream-Buffy, "Stretching from your generation to mine, their spirits live in the fire. They are the reason we fight."

Faith took a moment to take in the woman's form. She was dark-skinned, with black, tangled, dreadlocked hair. She had flecks of black and white war paint covering her face and arms, and was staring intently at the dream-Buffy, her eyes like black pools of lost knowledge. Her arms and legs were well-muscled, and she stood crouching slightly, shifting her weight from one foot to another; a fighter's stance.

And in her hand she tightly gripped the mysterious red weapon. It was the same as Faith remembered; red and silver hilt, with a sharp blade on one end and a wooden stake at the other.

Despite her ragged appearance, the First Slayer's voice had a musical quality to it when she spoke, "They are the ones we live for. The ones we die for."

The dream-Buffy huffed under her breath, "Bringing up death again, huh? Great." she mumbled. Then louder she addressed the Slayer, "Why are you here again?"

"To bring you the knowledge you seek."

"O-kay," the double drawled, "And what is the knowledge I seek?"

"You wish to understand your power; where you came from, why you came from."

"Uh… no, I don't. I already did that; learning where I came from. Not a pleasant experience."

"It was necessary."

"They nearly killed you!"

"Who?" Faith whispered.

"The Shadow Men, the guys that made her the Slayer."

"It was an honour to live and die for my people. To protect them, as you protect yours."

"What if I can't protect them? What if all this isn't worth it?"

"The fire speaks to you. It calls to you with the voices of death. The fire does not overtake the land, so your battle has not been for naught."

"The First, it's building an army."

"An army of power."

"Exactly, it has power we don't understand. Power we can't fight. How are we supposed to stop it?"

"You cannot stop the darkness until you understand the true power you wield."

"Which is?"

"It cannot be told, only discovered. Your power is not yet focused, trained, understood."

"Huh?"

"Your mind is not yet focused where it should be. You bring with you into battle love and death; not yet strength, power and will."

"I have will; I have lots of will. I have a very strong will to survive, thank you very much."

Faith raised her eyes at her companion, clearly unimpressed with the blonde's choice of words. Buffy shrugged her shoulders in mute response.

"You lead an army, something no other has done before you. You have defied your destiny."

"I told you before; my world is different from yours. Now, it isn't all about the hunt, about the kill. I'm a Slayer, but I'm not alone. I don't need to be alone to-"

"This is where it ended," Buffy whispered next to Faith.

"You are ready to fight the oldest of old," the First Slayer interrupted the dream-Buffy, "the darkest of dark without the weapons of the Slayer. You do not let the loneliness of our kind break your spirit. But you do not understand the power given to you, the power you have taken and changed for yourself."

Buffy furrowed her eyebrows, "The power I changed?"

"The power I changed?" the dream-Buffy asked.

"You defy the hunt, the death, the true nature that is your destiny. You change the power you wield."

Faith nudged the blonde, "Ask her if she thinks we can beat The First."

"It doesn't work like that Faith."

"Well what am I supposed to do? You're supposed to help me, aren't you? You're supposed to impart your ancient wisdom or whatever"

"You do not ask the correct questions."

Buffy mumbled, "It's not like I know what questions I'm supposed to ask."

"Well it's not like I know what questions I'm supposed to ask," the dream-Buffy huffed in the same manner as the real one.

Faith snorted in amusement, enjoying watching Buffy and her double have the exact same reactions to the First Slayer's words.

"The beast of the dark comes to destroy humanity, and you watch without motivation."

"And what's that supposed to mean? I have motivation."

"You have not yet taken hold of the power given to you, inherited to you. It is part of your dowry as protector, yet you leave the power unnoticed, unwanted."

"Oh my God, this is getting nowhere."

"Hey, it isn't my fault you can't understand what she's tellin' you."

"Oh, because you have so much insight. Do you understand what she's telling me… her… whatever?"

"Not really."

"Take hold what is yours."

"I don't know what's mine; I don't understand what you're saying."

"You do not comprehend."

"That's what I said!"

"The focus of your power, the truth of it, this is how you will gain success. You need to discover the power that is yours and belongs to you."

"Like some kind of Super Slayer?"

"What, you mean like some kind of Super Slayer?"

"You change that what is your nature. Yet you do not recognize it to be your own. Become aware of those around you, that which has changed through the line because you still walk. You have learned to embrace yet defy your gift of death. Now you must embrace and defy the source of your power."

The world around Faith began to blur. Dark spots began appearing in the sky overhead, as if the dream was being shredded from the outside in. Dark pockets overtook the sky above her, growing larger and larger.

The ground shuddered deep beneath, causing three of the four Slayers present to stumble and look around in confusion, trying to regain their balance. The First Slayer stood proudly now, no longer hunched over. Her knuckles began to lighten, showing how tightly she was gripping the weapon in her hands.

"Your stay is overdue."

The sand under Faith's feet began sifting despite the absence of wind. The few trees and shrubs in the distance started to shake, their forms losing their clarity. They began to blur as they moved, first slowly but growing more and more jerky, as if pieces of a strip of film were missing. They slid to one side, some merging into each other as the world swirled violently. Colours began fading and running into one another as the darkness took over.

"What's going on?" Faith asked hesitantly.

"The dream's over," Buffy said, looking around wildly, trying to follow as one tree crashed into another only a short distance away from them.

"So what happens now?"

"I-I don't know. Just… just let it happen I guess."

"Not really comfortable with the idea of becoming smeared paint."

Buffy's mouth opened to reply, but her words never made it past her throat as everything around them suddenly erupted with darkness.