A/N: Thank you, everyone who has kept with this story. I am very grateful for your patience and perseverence. I hope you enjoyed the ride. This is the last part and I hope you like the ending. Much as I relish checking my stats to see how many people have viewed and visited, I would also love some reviews to keep for posterity. With special thanks to Sarah Mclachlan and her Mirrorball album and Philip k Dick.
Pawns of Prophecy
Buffy and Michael met Faith at the start of the avenue leading up to the Mansion. The two slayers looked towards the building. Explosions were still rocking the town behind them and they were both relieved to see their haven still intact. They then noticed upwards of ten vans parked on the grass verges outside.
"It would appear my colleagues have turned up," Michael offered as an explanation.
"Let's go and welcome our guests then," Buffy suggested. More explosions shook them. "And what is going on!"
They looked down on the town. The view offered by the small hill that Angel's former home stood on showed scores of fires out of control in Sunnydale. Plumes of smoke rose in long twisting tails undisturbed in the calm night. However, such was the number of fires they were still able to smell the ruin being inflicted on their home by the sea.
"Apparently our guests are responsible for the firework display," Faith revealed. She had overheard some of the new arrivals speaking.
"You're making a mess of my town," Buffy directed to the one organising the Watchers.
A fifty-something man turned towards the Slayer's voice. He was dressed in a finely cut suit and had a puritanical look to his face; his features chiselled with a zeal that spoke burning books and intolerance. Buffy realised then they would only be reluctant allies at best and friends never. "We've only hit known places haunted by demons," the Watcher gave as his excuse for the Armageddon being inflicted outside. He looked down on Buffy as though looking over imaginary half rimmed glasses.
"Did you have to take out the Bronze? That was our best club. Hell, it was our only club."
"It was infested like most of the rest of your town."
"Granted," Buffy agreed good-naturedly. She was not going rise to the bait. "But they always stood out in a crowd there; fashion sense only having reached the mid 80s. I could always pick them off easily as a result. Now you're going to have scores of teenagers hanging around street corners with nothing to do, which I assure you is not much of a pay-off."
"Always assuming any street corners are left after tonight," Faith added from behind.
"The place was infested, just like that damn bar they liked to frequent."
"Willy's Place?" Faith demanded. "You bombed Willy's? I was only there an hour ago."
"Then we were an hour too late, weren't we?" The Watcher smiled viciously.
Faith lunged at him. Five of his colleagues went for their weapons, but were beaten to the draw by Gunn and ten of his hunters levelling crossbows at them. They formed a line either side of the brunette.
"That's enough!" Buffy shouted. Faith stood back and the face-off between allies eased. "You will show Faith the respect a slayer deserves!" She levelled at the Watchers. "Actually, a bit more respect for me wouldn't go amiss. Now," she smiled widely, "welcome to Sunnydale. If you will excuse me, I have to see to some matters, but I will chat to you later." She turned to Gunn. "How did it go tonight?"
"Bad," he responded. "It was a trap. Scores of demons. We only just got out and lost twelve doing so."
"Buffy." She looked round at hearing Willow's voice. "We lost Cordelia and Wesley," the Wicca revealed distressed.
Buffy took her by the shoulders. "What do you mean?" She turned to Gunn. "What does she mean?" She demanded sounding desperate.
"Cordelia went down…Wesley went to check on her…he didn't stand a chance."
Faith ran from the room.
"I loved the way you jumped to Faith's defence," Amy squealed from behind. "It was so cool. It gave me goose bumps."
Buffy looked at the witch; a mix of curiosity and horror on her face. "You're an un-complicated girl, Amy," she said.
"Is that sarcasm? I've missed sarcasm so much. Everything is so real. I'm psyched to be back."
"We were talking about Cordelia! She's dead, Amy," Willow tried to instil some respect back to the scene.
"I hated Cordelia. So not much bothered really."
Buffy found Faith pacing up and down in one of the other rooms. The brunette looked ready to explode or break down. Buffy wasn't sure which side she'd fall and what would be worse. "Faith, Calm down!"
"Not gonna happen. Faith….."
"What right had they to do that?" She questioned cryptically. "What right had they to defend me?… ..I don't deserve it….. I'm not worthy…"
"That's enough! It's bad enough I have to stop others from talking like that. You are a slayer!"
"Buffy, I tortured Wesley and practically concussed Cordelia! Now they're dead and I get an honour guard. And Giles, your mother…"
"Please, Faith that's enough. I know the role call."
"Why are you all so nice to me?" Faith pleaded.
"'Cos we know it annoys you so much." Buffy smiled.
Faith accepted her friend's attempt to change the mood. "Every time I come into contact with the Council I wonder if we've allied ourselves with the right side. I swear I got on better with Spike."
"Yeah? Well with Spike it's very much what you see. I wonder if we'll run into him."
"He was at Willy's this evening. I left him there just over an hour ago." Faith revealed quietly.
"Oh, I see," Buffy realised. "I'm kinda glad I didn't have to kill him."
Buffy laughed. "Sentimental slayers. We don't stand a chance."
Buffy strode up to the senior Council member again. She had calmed Faith, debriefed Gunn and comforted Xander. Now it was his turn. "Oh, Giles," she said to herself, "Just when I need you most." She approached the Watcher. "Thank you for coming," she offered.
"You're welcome, young lady." It would appear he had decided to be conciliatory too. "These are momentous days."
"No kidding." She afforded a bitter smile. "Why didn't you bring…..Marti? Why didn't you bring the girl with you?"
"We were unsure of the risk. Which as it turns out was wise; your town is….."
"I know, infested. Hence the bombing. You attacked Willy's bar, I understand."
"That place was a haven for demons."
"It was neutral ground for us."
"Neutral ground! There is no Geneva Convention in our line of work."
"We got plenty of leads from there - Willy was human, and not all demons are…demons. I mean, just because something doesn't look…."
"I've heard enough," the watcher cut her off. "Let us agree to differ. What is important is that we defeat the horde gathering here. Then we can secure the children and guard over the Hell Mouth."
"I thought the idea was to close it for good."
"Yes yes, that's what I meant. Now I must see to my colleagues. We have brought more than enough provisions and you are welcome to share our rations."
Buffy watched him walk away. She suddenly felt very uneasy.
The Scooby Gang with Riley, Anya and Amy gathered in the bedroom reserved for Gunn's hunters.
"What would be the point in not closing the Hell Mouth for good?" Xander asked.
"My thought exactly, but he definitely said guard over it, and he said secure the children when they meet. Both statements are counter to why we are here. Where is the boy, by the way?" Buffy asked. She had not thought about him since getting back from her patrol. Willow pointed to the next room.
"They plan to maintain the status quo," Faith added.
"Of course!" Xander realised. "You and Buffy can retire happily, but with no Hell Mouth and all monsters banished, where does that leave the Council?"
"Surely they wouldn't cling to power by keeping it open. That's monstrous!" Willow found it hard to fathom such
"Precisely. So we will have to make sure the children meet when and how we want. The prophecy must be fulfilled," said Buffy. "Which means we need a contingency plan. I propose we arrange a place for us all to meet up if we get
scattered. In the meantime, Willow, Anya and Amy can smuggle Joss out tomorrow."
"Hey!" Willow resented the plan. "Don't send me to the rear. I've got every right to play my part."
"Yes, and that will be protecting Joss. I can't think of a better group to protect him than two witches and an ex-vengeance demon."
The first attack on the mansion came the following night.
Buffy stood at a window in a top floor room, watching the fires burning in Sunnydale. More had been added since the blitz inflicted upon it by the Watchers. She guessed the demons were now torching at will; making the town ready for when they wedge open the gates of the Hell mouth. Her confusion at the absence of National Guard troops was answered when Amy said she felt a veil had been laid over Sunnydale. Apparently they could all massacre each other as violently and loudly as required and no-one would notice. At least no one from outside the town boundary, that is.
She had taken advantage of the lull after the first attack to despatch Joss with her friends as planned. They had left at dawn via the secret passageway. They had to go now in case their enemy discovered it, which they were bound to. After all, no vampire home would be worth it's salt without a secret passageway. Fortunately their getaway hole was not a sewer; such an escape route would have been the first place the demons would have looked for.
She heard Xander clear his throat and turned round to meet him. She took a few moments to regard her friend. He had changed so much over the years. He was no longer the awkward 16-year-old seeking her attention. She wondered what it would have been like had she accepted his invitation to the Spring Fling that first year. Now he was older, wiser, experienced in so many things that life had thrown at him. Cordelia's death had added another coating to his hard surface: a layer that was outwardly tough, but she knew her White Knight could still be felled very easily.
"Did you speak much to Willow before she left?" She asked him.
"Yes. I still hated to see her go….and Anya of course."
"Are you worried for them?"
"Of course, except Amy that is; she seems more capable."
"Did she seem slightly….?"
"Crazy? Yes. But two years as a rat would probably addle my brains as well."
"She seems calm about what's going on around us. Perhaps that's the deal we have to make to cope."
Xander looked at Buffy. She had lost the resolve she once had to live a normal life. To strive for it. He felt he saw more of Kendra's devotion to her work and Faith's cynical attitude in her eyes and actions. No longer the teenage warrior; shopping by day, slaying by night. The last vestiges of the Buffy he used to know had disappeared when Giles was killed. She now took it upon herself to lead and guide and fight. It scared him; Kendra had been like an automaton, programmed to slay, and Faith was an emotionally-drained being who had burnt bridges behind her and lived to kill for the meaning it gave to her existence. Buffy had always been different. Giles had learnt to accept and rejoice in his 'different slayer' as much as the Council had grown to despise the independence she wore like a uniform. He left her there.
That night a violent storm hung over Sunnydale. Long jagged bolts struck the town and sheet-lightening lit it up as bright as day. But no rain fell. The sentries looked out of the windows and those outside roamed the grounds of the mansion nervously. The lightening afforded them brief views of their surroundings but left them constantly night-blind in between flashes. One bright flash lingered nearly two seconds. It revealed an advancing mass of bodies. The alarm was sounded and the rain finally came.
Thirty defenders, led by Riley, joined the guards outside. They were confronted by a larger number of demons. A Watcher to Riley's right fell to the ground; a wide serrated knife embedded in his chest. The defenders charged the attackers. Riley took out two with left and right wide swings of his sword and wounded two more with a pistol held in his left hand. He tripped over a dead body and rolled over expertly before leaping back up to shoot a vampire in the face. A fellow defender finished it off with a thrust to its heart.
The ex initiative soldier saw a Watcher be taken down but still live. He went to assist. Dodging the swing of an axe from a one horned demon he ploughed sword first through three others trying to reach the downed colleague. Something grabbed his leg. It pulled on it hard causing Riley to land flat on his front, his mouth filling with mud. He twisted himself round onto his back, which caused his trapped leg to protest under the strain. He bent his free limb back to his chest and pushed it fall force forward and up, catching his attacker in the throat; breaking its windpipe in the process. It gargled sickly and released its grip. Riley stood up. He winced at the soreness of his leg and shouted in dismay at the mutilated remains of the Watcher he had tried to save moments earlier. That was the last thing he saw.
To the attackers Riley was just another dead mortal. They walked over his body, ten then twenty then fifty then too many to count. Buffy watched them from the window. She had stopped counting at thirty.
"Buffy!" Xander called from the passage. "They've breached the outer defences!"
She giggled manically at the cliché, but then held herself in check as though some in-built safety guard against insanity had clicked into place. "Riley's dead," she stated calmly as she approached Xander.
"I know." He rubbed his eyes and then dragged his hand down his face slowly as if it would wipe away the fatigue. He looked at Buffy. At that moment she was suddenly framed in brightness from the lightening behind her. Of all the moments to pick, he thought; she never looked more beautiful or vulnerable. For a frightening second he wondered whether he loved her just for that vulnerability. It was after all her most human aspect.
Buffy reached the doorway and became the Slayer again. "Let's get out of this tomb," she decided.
"Oh, thank you. I was so hoping you'd say that."
"Watcher, we're leaving," Buffy declared.
"No argument there. I take it we can exit the same way you smuggled out the boy."
There had been a violent row when the Council had discovered Joss gone. They were all forced to work together now out of shared adversity. Without the enemy at the door, however neither side was in any doubt they would be at each other's throats. Michael was the only Watcher Buffy felt comfortable with. He had mysteriously disappeared after Willow and the other women had taken Joss
Xander moved one of the sofas positioned in front of the open fire. He then rolled back a large rug to reveal a standard-sized trap door; the type of thing you would expect to find in any mansion once owned by a vampire. "Make sure you put your arms tightly by your side then jump straight; it's quicker than climbing down." Xander instructed. "Don't worry; there's a mattress at the bottom to break the landing."
Several defenders set about lighting fires around the door and windows to temporarily deter the attackers.
"Buffy! Will you hurry up," Xander shouted from the bottom of the escape shaft. He and Buffy were the last ones to leave. Faith had taken the last contingent of Watchers just before.
"Okay okay, don't fuss," she chided, amused by his nagging. "Are you standing clear?"
"Duh! Much as I would like you on top of me, from a great height is not my preferred method."
"Xander, that's so crude!"
"Will you get down here, woman!"
Buffy put her arms by her side and leapt into the hole. She landed on the mattress and smiled at her companion who was waiting impatiently. "Hello," she said. Xander sighed dramatically. "I see the others wasted no time in getting out," she noted.
"Yeah! How about us saving what little we have and mimicking them."
They started to make their way forward when an explosion from above slammed them to the floor. They pulled themselves up slowly as though the pressure released still rested on their backs. Once standing, however they started to run. Buffy tripped up. Xander turned round when he realised he was far ahead of her. He shone his torch back and had a bright beam hit his face from hers in return. He gave her a withering look.
"Oh shut up," Buffy responded. "I'm a girl; I'm supposed to trip up at inopportune moments."
They exchanged smiles but were interrupted by the roof caving in over Buffy and blocking the gap separating them. Xander held his smile for a microsecond before the event registered. He then frantically tore at the debris; ignoring the cuts to his hands and arms. He shouted his friend's name, but got no reply. Faith appeared at his side. He looked up at her: tears creating meandering lines in the earth caking his face.
"We've got to go!" Faith shouted gripping his arm.
"But, Buffy's behind there!"
"There's no way we can move that much rubble and…..she's probably under half of it." Xander glared at her. "You can hit me if it will make you feel better," she responded. "But it won't change matters."
The younger slayer and her companion rejoined the group of Watchers in the glade of trees at the exit to the tunnel. The Council leader was one of them. One of their number approached from the edge of the trees. "There's a van parked by the road. We can get it started."
They all made their way through the trees until true enough they found a white van parked on the grass verge. Unnoticed by Faith or Xander the Elder signalled to his comrades. They were thrown against the side of the van and found themselves facing six revolvers.
"Now," the Watcher declared. "We need to find the boy. Perhaps you can enlighten us as to his whereabouts."
"Fuck that!" Faith spat.
The man fired two shots. Xander shouted in dismay as he saw Faith clutch her stomach and stagger backwards to the side of the van. She looked down at the blood seeping through her fingers. She then glared at her murderer. Hatred stared him in the eyes rather than pain before she crumpled to a kneeling position. Her head dropped forward. The Watcher pushed her onto her side with one foot.
"That has been too long in coming." He turned his attention to the young hooligan standing in front of him. "Are you going to be more helpful?"
"Yes yes…I…I'll take you to the boy, just please don't shoot me," Xander stammered convincingly.
"My dear boy, I'm not a violent man. This…" he gestured to Faith's body, "was justice. She was a killer. A dangerous animal that needed putting down. Come now, you can drive."
Xander edged round the side of the van and got in the driver's seat. The Elder got in alongside, the others piled into the back. He then drove them in the opposite direction of Buffy's planned meeting place.
Buffy climbed the hotel staircase. She was weary from the journey to their arranged meeting place. She sat on a step to catch her breath and coughed violently. Blood splattered the wallpaper since she needed her arms to wrap around her ribcage to lessen the sharp-pointed pain. She knew ribs were broken and probably some other internal workings damaged beyond repair. Calmly she realised she was slowly dying. For the first time she cursed her slayer strength; it was prolonging the end rather than preventing it. However, she had to concede that it had got her this far.
Buffy had woken up hours earlier to find herself still in the tunnel. She had been laid out on her back, one arm flung out wide, the other across her chest. The latter had offered some shield against the weight of debris strewn over her. The former gave her the ability to slowly extricate herself. She had managed to push the largest obstruction off her front. The release of its weight had caused her to scream in agony as her lungs grasped air into her body causing her ribs to contract. The effort to stand had been worse. The slow climb up the escape shaft worse still.
She had half-hoped to find the route blocked or the ruined mansion still full of the enemy. She had been unlucky on both counts and was forced to choose to continue or kill herself; no one and nothing would make the choice for her. So she had decided to proceed to the meeting place they had arranged barely hours earlier. She didn't know who would be there to meet her, but used the determination to get there as comfort.
The hotel was dank and cold. A musty smell pervaded; testimony to poor heating and worse ventilation. It was cheap and remote enough for a meeting place, however. The manager/concierge had been surprised when she had handed over enough money for a whole week's occupation. She judged that it would be enough time to discover whether anyone had survived or not. He had looked vaguely worried as though she were mad to want to spend more than one night. Perhaps, she thought, it was haunted and she would demand her money back as reward for lasting the week.
The key met resistance when it came to perform its role. Buffy came close to snapping it in half; her slayer strength still capable of over compensating. Fortunately, the lock surrendered and she pushed the door open. She couldn't help smiling when she surveyed the room: the bed had a coin slot to one side that allowed it to vibrate. The mirror on the ceiling above added to the effect. A mirror ball suspended from the ceiling by the light completed the tackiness. No wonder the manager had been curious, she thought.
Buffy laid herself down. Her back let out an aggrieved spasm at having its posture changed, but relaxed when it realised it no longer had to support her body frame. She lay there looking up at the mirror. Her reflection dared her to cry.
It had turned dark again outside when Buffy realised she had slept all day and into the next evening. The glare from a neon light, across the road from the hotel, made a long shadow of the wardrobe by the window. She felt fever-hot and realised her clothes were drenched in sweat. She struggled to her feet, then to the window. She lifted it open. The breeze struck cold on her wet skin, but she allowed it to catch her hair and lift it back from her neck, welcoming its caress like a lover. She was momentarily lost.
She turned from the window and found herself amidst a light show; the night wind was causing the mirror ball to rotate. The facets of glass trapped the neon and played dozens of spots of light across the walls of the hotel room. Buffy tried to concentrate on one facet as it progressed on its orbit. Her vision misted and delirium took over….
There he was again: wandering the streets of Sunnydale at night. She only ever saw him at night, when the vampires roamed. His dark coat, that covered him to his boots, increased the enigma that was Angel. She had only been in Sunnydale for a few weeks, but he had confronted her more than once. His sporadic visits were building a mystery of a man. Or not a man: she knew he contained a demon. He wore the burden in his eyes like a guilty cross, worn to remind him that he was lucky to be alive. She felt his hesitation and doubts whenever he held her in his arms. He was so beautiful; a beautiful fucked-up man. He turned around and looked in her direction. He looked at her despite the fact she wasn't really there, just dreaming. His eyes appeared sad and yet demanding at the same time, demanding to know why. Why what? The sword she had plunged into him appeared and a vortex emerged behind him and he was sucked backward. Buffy gasped and stared for a long moment at the space that had been occupied seconds before. A car sped pass the entrance to the alley. Its headlamp briefly glared as it bridged the gap between the buildings. In the flash of light Buffy found herself still watching one small facet of glass orbit the room.
"That's great," she uttered. "Now I'm having nightmares. Why can't I bloody die quickly like everyone else?"
She was dragged out of her self-pity by a knock on the door. She turned round. It opened to reveal Joss standing there. She stared at him for several seconds, willing him to disappear like Angel moments before. "Hello, Auntie Buffy," the boy said as if to convince her he did exist.
"Willow?" she asked quietly.
"She's dead," he replied betraying no emotion.
Buffy put a hand to her mouth and staggered back to the wall. She didn't register the pain the impact caused. She shut her eyes and lowered herself to the floor, her legs curled up to her chest. Joss walked up to her and laid a hand on her shoulder. She struck out at his arm. "Don't touch me! You bastard. You don't care do you? I've lost everything to save a fucking monster!"
Joss didn't flinch at the tirade directed towards him. He tilted his head and regarded the slayer curiously. "The truth would be the same how ever I say it."
"You're no better than a robot," she whispered. "A clinical inhuman with one intention programmed into its mind." She had wanted to say that for so long. Now she had let loose, she felt no better for it.
The phone rang. It rang several seconds before Joss handed it to Buffy. She had not registered it until then. "Buffy, is that you?" the voice on the other end asked. "It's Michael."
"Hello, Michael. I'm hoping it's good to hear your voice." Her own was fragmented by quick breaths to lessen the pain and keep her conscious.
"I have Marti. Do you have Joss? Buffy…..are you okay?"
"No I'm not OK, I feel like I've lived through the last act of Hamlet. Yes I have Joss"
There was a pause. Buffy just made out a relieved sigh from the other end of the line. "That's good. We'll come to you."
"You don't know where we are."
"Marti does; she can sense Joss."
"That's a neat trick…Michael, hurry wont you. After all these years fighting, I would hate to miss the Promised Land." She hung up the receiver.
Michael entered the room. He saw Buffy lying on the bed and knew straight-away that he was too late. Joss stood by the window looking at the neon light. The Watcher sat on the bed and looked down at the slayer. "Don't worry, Michael," Joss said from behind. He turned his head to look at the boy and noticed that Marti had bridged the gap between them. "She will see the Promised Land." The Child of Light and Child of Dark linked hands and all was put right.
The adult Gaya, or Gaea as she preferred to be called, appeared in the fountain court. She held a baby asleep in her arms. She saw her daughter waiting for her. "Hello, Tara."
"Hello, mother. I've come to say goodbye."
The older woman sighed. "I shall miss you. You were the best."
Tara smiled affectionately. "I bet you say that to every Spring that comes along."
"Probably, but I mean it every time."
"Anyway, my successor will be a fine replacement," Tara said gesturing to the baby.
"Who, little Faith here? Oh yes, she will be wonderful. You chose her well." Faith's eyes opened and the baby yawned before closing them again.
Tara sat at the table in the library of Sunnydale High. She watched as a girl entered through the swing doors and approached the checking out desk. Another girl sat behind helping out the librarian.
"Hi," the first girl spoke up. "I'm new. I was told to come here to get the books I'll need."
"Oh, yes…..right...um welcome to Sunnydale High. How come the new school?" She asked as she logged on to the computer to type in the new-girl's details.
"My dad's company moved here, so my parents decided to relocate to save him having to commute every day."
A middle-aged man appearing from the office behind the desk interrupted her. "Err….I've got to…. got to take these books to the computer room," he stuttered. "The students will need them you see….you will be alright here on your own?"
"Yes, fine." The assistant librarian responded. The man exited.
"He was…...strange," the new girl observed.
"He's English and…..." she leaned over the desk and whispered, "and he's got a thing for our new computer teacher." She leant back guiltily fearing she had gone too far. "Don't tell anyone I said that."
"Don't worry, your indiscretion is safe with me. So tell me, what is Sunnydale like? I'm Buffy, by the way," she held out her hand.
The other girl reciprocated. "Hello, I'm Willow. It's not so bad. If you want, I can show you around at lunchtime and introduce you to my friends."
"I'd like that, thank you."