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Mind Over Matter

 

Project Paranormal

Author: Becks

Season 1

Part 11

 

**

 

Summary: Reality is crumbling rapidly in to chaos, and Buffy finds herself battling more than one type of demon.

Disclaimer: Not mine, etc etc. Buffy and Angel aren’t my creations.

 

 

**

 

 

Mind Over Matter

 

 

Hope.

Hope is a real thing. Every person carries hope deep inside their mind, but not everybody may access it. The human mind is a safe, to which each individual carries the key, deep inside themselves. Only one who has total power over this key may open and access their safe at any time. The majority of people never discover what lies inside them; not from ignorance, or stupidity, but a simple lack of self-discipline.

 

We spend our whole lives, racing to keep one step ahead of our own minds. And only the truly self-aware can move in time with the mind, and not fight it.

For most of us, we are our own demons.

 

Submerged in shadows, the vampire named Angel turned his head just slightly towards the door as a hand rapped softly upon it. For a long moment, he stared at the back of the door as if he could see through it, and then turned his head away again.

 

“Angel?”

 

Another long moment of strained silence passed, during which Angel wrestled forcefully with himself before levering up off the chair and going to open the door. On the other side stood Buffy. Angel could see immediately that the toll of the slayers was showing on her face. There were deep purple shadows under her eyes and she seemed a little pale, but she managed a small smile.

 

“Angel, what are you doing? I haven’t seen you for ages.”

 

“I’ve just been up here,” Angel said dully, knowing full well that wasn’t what she had meant. He stood back slightly and she walked in.

 

“Angel, we got back three days ago and I haven’t seen you since. You just came up here and locked yourself in – “

 

“Yeah… well.” The vampire turned away. “Maybe I’m not very safe to be around right now.”

 

“Angel.” Buffy walked around him to face him, and gently touched his arm. “Listen to me. We do what we have to, and sometimes it’s not ideal but it’s what we have to do! If you hadn’t drunk from her – you and the other slayers may well have been dead now and Angel, I need you. I don’t want you hiding up here, I need you on the front line with me.”

 

Angel felt a painful wrench deep inside his stomach, and cast around for a flaw in Buffy’s speech. “Giles?”

 

“Giles is with me on this. Maybe he’s not rolling out a party for your actions but he understands, Angel. I think he understands why you did it.”

 

“Why do you need me?”

 

“Why do I need you? Angel – something is happening to us! Something is happening here and I need you to be with me in this. Something’s happening to me. If anything happened to me...” Buffy swallowed, “I want to know that you’ll be there to carry on what I can’t. Promise me you’ll help us.”

 

Angel didn’t look at her. “All right.”

 

Out the corner of his eye, he saw Buffy nod. She did it too quickly, and Angel did not need to look to know what he would see in her face.

 

“The girls… they’re frightened, Angel. They think they’re going to die. And I … I can’t tell them that they’re right. I can’t tell them that they came here to die. That they left their families and friends for this. Angel, I don’t know what’s going to happen but I know there’s an apocalypse coming, and they’re in the middle of it, and they…” Angel looked away as he heard her swallow again, “Most of them won’t get out.”

 

“I know.” Angel said softly, and he finally turned towards her as outside, rain started to lash the windows. “I already knew that. Buffy, you haven’t done anything wrong, and we… you… don’t know what will become of the girls. They might survive.”

 

“Well what if they do? What then? They go home and pretend nothing happened?” She looked up at him. “I don’t want them to turn out like me.”

 

Angel wondered if he should hug her; awkwardly, he began to reach out for her, but Buffy was looking away. Angel was about to touch her when Buffy, staring at the nearest window, whispered “Angel?” And the vampire looked too, and saw that the rain was not rain, but thousands upon thousands of locusts, streaming against the windows and bouncing off in to the gathering darkness outside.

 

*

 

“Just a little further.”

 

“No – listen, I should be going home now.”

 

“What, you aren’t married, are you?”

 

“N-no – I just –“

 

“Come on, this’ll be fun.”

 

Helplessly, the young Yorkshire man named Ronnie allowed the feisty girl to tug him up a short hill, away from the main village, away from the comforting lights of civilisation, in to the cold darkness. Trees leant in on either side, bowing over to form a sort of archway over the dirt track on which they were following. Here and there, the track was studded with roots, thrust up through the earth to catch out unsuspecting hikers. Ronnie stumbled, and once again requested that they slow down. The girl gave no reply but to chuckle and pull him onwards. He was just beginning to wonder if they would ever stop, when the girl came to an abrupt halt and yanked him over to the side of the road.

 

“Here will do.” Grinning, she kissed him. Ronnie returned the kiss – dare he not? – but asked nervously,

 

“Where are we?”

 

“Out of the way, and that’s all that matters.”

 

“Well. Hey.” Ronnie stared hard at her through the dark. “Can I at least know your name?”

 

“Faith.” The girl leaned forward to kiss him again, but suddenly froze. Ronnie continued to stare at her for a moment before beginning, “What – “

 

“Shut up.”

 

“Okay.”

 

A light breeze was whipping up around them; Ronnie felt his hair lifting up on top of his head, and he saw the girl’s dark locks dancing across her face. Still, she seemed to be on the alert for something; she was looking intently in to the darkness, and now if he really strained his ears… he thought he could hear something… it sounded like marching… marching?

 

“Come on,” Faith muttered, looking towards the direction of the sound. “Time we got gone.”

 

“But what – “

 

“Just move! Come on!”

 

Faith began to drag him back down the dirt track; Ronnie stumbled in the deep mud lining the side of the path and fell flat on his face in the mud; the ground was reverberating slightly; Faith’s strong hand grabbed his wrist and yanked him up and as she made him start running again, he turned his head and saw, just for a second, what looked like a massive army – an army clad in red and silver, carrying red shields emblazoned with a large gold star – heard the clinking and snapping of thousands of armour-plated soldiers – “what the hell - ?”

 

“Just run,” Faith shouted ahead of him, pulling him onwards, and she gave a wild laugh, “This is just like bein’ back in Sunnydale!”

 

*

 

A huge cloud of dust rose in to the air, as with a sharp snap, Rupert Giles slammed the book shut and bent forwards to put his head in to his hands. Research, research, and yet more damn research had proved fruitless, time and time again. Giles could make neither head nor tail of what was happening, and he was finding it increasingly harder to tell his distressed Slayer so, every time she came to him with her face begging for answers.

 

Even more distressing was the fact that he was fast running out of contacts to consult; people in the know were becoming harder to track down, and turned out to be very unhelpful when cornered. Giles had resorted at last – and against his better judgement – to borrowing Buffy’s old laptop computer, and sending out pleading emails to correspondents across the world.

 

Now, his fingers tapped the keyboard as he brought up the Internet, and went to access his email. Two new messages, the screen announced. Trying his hardest to remain pessimistic towards their contents, he brought up the first of the two.

 

It was from an old friend who lived in Scotland; the email contained nothing of the remotest help, but simply apologies and promises of research from the man on the other end. With a sigh, feeling gloomier by the moment, Giles clicked on the second email and began to read, squinting slightly through the musty light of his desk lamp.

 

Rupert,

Yes, I’ve come to be aware of the problems you’re experiencing. We’ve had it here. Nothing too tragic, but a few freak hailstorms, that sort of thing. Now, I find it increasingly unlikely that a great evil force would pick on Westbury. In general, great evil forces have better things to do.

 

From what you’ve told me, you’ve experienced an earthquake, demonic activity, and – from just receiving your latest message – a swarm of locusts? I understand you live in that area, I would advise that you keep a close watch on the return of the Eagle, old man. Right about now, they would be of a helpful indication.

 

You also mention that you are host to a large amount of slayers? Extraordinary in itself… I would keep them safe, Rupert, old man, slayers would be invaluable of course to a coming apocalypse.

 

Will write with any news.

 

The message trailed off in to the contact details of the sender, and Giles sighed and closed that message too. Coming, or already here, Giles thought. Just as he was shutting down the laptop, vaguely mulling over the email, he heard a door slamming, and the next moment Faith, muddy and wind-swept, came crashing in to his office.

 

“Come in,” Giles said, raising his eyebrows. His sarcasm was lost on her.

 

“Giles, something very freaky is going on around here. I was just attacked! By an army!”

 

Giles gave her a look. “An army?”

 

“Yeah, an army! Lots of guys marching with spears and shields! Army! What the hell is happening?”

 

Giles continued to look. “A corporeal army?”

 

“Yeah, were you expecting a ghostly one?”

 

“As a matter of fact, yes.” Giles was now looking rather worried; he was about to explain when there was a quiet knock and Buffy walked in.

 

“Is everything okay? Giles -?”

 

“Ah, Buffy… Faith was – “

 

“Just attacked by an army!” Faith interrupted, as if Giles were incapable of remembering what it was she had said, “I had this really sweet guy – well – actually – but anyway, we were just starting to, you know, and then this great red and silver army comes at us –“

 

Giles, who was busy clicking on the computer throughout this ungrammatical sentence, now turned the screen towards her to display a picture of a man dressed in a red-and-silver armour, bearing a red shield. “Was this soldier like the ones you saw?”

 

“Yeah, right on.”

 

“I assume you encountered the Ridgeway ghosts.”

 

“Well these weren’t ghosts, mister –“

 

Giles quickly held up a hand to silence her. “The Ridgeway ghosts are associated with times of national crisis. They are a ghostly army – a Roman legion, to be exact – who put in an appearance when the country is at unrest. Presumably they are connected to the apocalypse – and I’d imagine that the apocalypse in turn made them corporeal – you may have noticed that strange things are afoot. As to how this happened, I can’t say, but I don’t think they’re anything to worry about.”

 

“Did you know this would happen?” Buffy asked quietly.

 

“I suspected the ghosts would make an appearance, yes. A friend of mine agreed as much – he warned me to watch for the return of the Eagle. The Eagle is the symbol carried by the Roman legions.” Giles sighed, and stroked Aristotle, who had just sprung lightly on to his lap. “Their appearance – and their corporeal one at that – means that we have a very large problem on our hands. Not with the ghosts themselves, but because they only ever appear when something is dramatically wrong.”

 

“Giles – “ Buffy began.

 

What it was she was about to say, Giles would never find out; for at that moment Aristotle began to hiss, and he shrank back against Giles, all his fur sticking up all over. Outside, they heard the horses screaming from their stalls; and suddenly the room began to shake. Aristotle flew from Giles’ lap and fled from the room.

 

The whole room seemed to be tipping sideways, as if a giant had grabbed the house and was shaking it on one side. Ornaments slid off shelves and smashed; paperwork poured off Giles’ desk like water and Giles himself nearly fell on the floor as his leather seat started sliding. Buffy had leaped across the room, and she seized his wrist and yanked him in to the doorframe. Faith thundered off down the corridor, and they heard her bellowing at the slayers to get in to doorways. One of the girls was screaming. Buffy squeezed her eyes shut – Angel was all alone in his little flat – but he would have the sense to get in to a doorway, he would be all right – and suddenly, as quickly as it had started, the shaking and rattling stopped.

 

Breathing hard, they straightened up in the doorframe, clinging uncertainly to the walls. Giles’ office was a complete mess. Paper was all over the floor, his chair was on its side, the floor was white with dust from the ceiling and everything seemed to be covered in smashed fragments from the ornaments. Giles mouthed wordlessly, staring at the utter mess in his study; Buffy slowly moved away from the door and went to try and gather up some of the paper from the floor. Picking up a letter from amidst the debris, she glanced at the first line, which read, Something very strange is happening in Westbury!

 

Buffy laughed.

 

*

 

The earthquake had struck the grounds of Giles’ home at large, and not just the house was affected; the ground was cracked in places, and the stables had half-caved in. Rafters had snapped from the ceiling and fallen across the back of Celoso, who was practically white with dust, and was making a lot of noise in protest. The girls, always happy for a chance to attend to the horses, were trying to get them out of the wrecked stables, while Giles was still looking a bit shocked, staring at the outside of his house with his mouth partly open. The damage looked worse than it actually was, but still, damage was damage; the main wreckage was to the interior, with a few cracks in walls and a lot of mess, but here and there, damage was visible to the outside as well; tiles had slipped from the roof and the front door was hanging on one hinge. The main damage though, it seemed, was to Giles’ morale. He was no longer safe in his own home, and he knew this was effecting his slayer as much as anyone. He was carefully avoiding looking over his shoulder; he knew he would see Buffy and Angel, talking quietly away from the main group of girls, who were clustered around the stables, accompanied by a rather frustrated Faith.

 

“So everyone was all right?” Angel was asking.

 

“I think so. I mean – the slayers are a bit shaken – “

 

“That’s understandable.” Angel looked at her closely. “What about you? Are you all right?”

 

Buffy avoided meeting his eyes. She knew they would tell her what Angel was thinking, and right now, she didn’t especially want to know. “I’m fine. Just… I don’t know what to do for the best now. They aren’t just slayers. They aren’t weapons of war, they’re… girls. They’re young girls.”

 

“Buffy… whatever you do, I know that… you’ll be making the right decision.”

 

“What if I don’t? I feel weak, Angel. I can’t protect them anymore.”

 

“Buffy, the right decision is the one that feels right, in your heart. Any decision you make, will be made with the right intentions. That much I’m sure of.”

 

A hand tightly clutched at Buffy’s heart. “I wish I could be sure of something. I wish – “

 

“Oh my God!”

 

They both whipped around; it seemed to have been Rona who had shouted. The girls were quickly backing away from something – which looked oddly like a large spiral of dusty grey air, winding upwards from the ground. Sarah and Nadine were holding on to the horses, with the intention of releasing them in to the paddock, but they had frozen in place and were staring at what was now clearly a tornado, which was becoming larger and more ferocious with every second. Next second, Faith was grabbing the girls and yanking them back out of the way; a huge spiral of swirling dust and air towered over the house, screaming in a whirl of trapped air – Sarah ran backwards, dragging Windsor with her, but the younger Celoso suddenly reared, breaking the rope from Nadine’s hand, and bolted forwards. Nadine, without thinking, leaped forward to try and seize the horse back –

 

“Nadine!” Buffy jumped forward but Angel seized hold of her, shouting something about staying away from the tornado – Buffy struggled furiously, even though she knew she was too late. Celoso had broken around the tornado, mane whipping in to the air, and galloped flat out across the grounds, but Nadine had thrown herself close to the danger in her attempt to seize the horse. Now, Buffy, Faith, Angel, Giles and the slayers watched as she tried to run, and was plucked from the air like a kitten. She was whipped backwards in to the very heart of the tornado and eaten by the air.

 

Pulled in to the midst of the mystical tornado, the girl suddenly found herself staring in to something huge, glistening yellow – the eye of the storm. The gigantic yellow orb blinked lazily down at her, suspended inside the very tornado. A scaly dark lid flickered closed over the yellow eye, its slotted black pupil focused on her the second it reopened. She began to be pulled upwards towards the eye. She was about to be eaten by a living, magical tornado.

 

If I’m going, this bitch goes with me!

 

With the reaction and speed possessed only by a slayer – even when held in the spinning clutches of a storm – Nadine kicked outwards and smacked the side of her foot in to the eye. She pummelled it relentlessly. Blood streamed down and was whipped sideways in to the churning air. Finally, with a last, defeated shriek of air, the tornado was suddenly sucked upwards. There was a bright blue flash of light, and tornado, and girl, were sucked in to the sky. Once the flash had died, there was nothing there but night sky, as if nothing had happened. Nadine had been swallowed by the sky.

 

Left in the wake of the tornado, stood everyone else, all looking very windswept, and completely stunned. Celoso had completely disappeared; the stable block was gone, snatched away by the tornado. Windsor reared up, rather late, and galloped off in search of his companion. Nobody even noticed. They were all staring at the ripped grass, where the only memory of Nadine remained, as a bloody dark stain on the ground; the only indication now that she had ever stood there.

 

*

 

The muddy, battered, wet police car pulled in gently to the kerb. Bordered on one side by a line of trees, it sat, beaten and smeared, on the roadside. Inside, Officer Moore sighed and listened to the stream of urgent calls coming through on his police radio. Westbury had suddenly gone rather mad, the young man thought wearily. He had just seen in the distance what had looked like a bright blue flash in the sky – following what he had mistakenly thought was a tornado. He laughed at himself. A tornado, indeed. It must be someone letting off fireworks or something. Yes, that would be right. But the flooding… he’d had to drive through foot-high water to get here, and now it seemed to all be gone. He must be cracking up, he thought.

 

A branch snapped somewhere in the expanse of trees next to his car, but he didn’t look up; must be a walker, or a cat or a fox or something. What was going on, he wasn’t sure. Listening to his radio, he heard – to his immense disbelief – what sounded like a call about a woman who had snakes pouring out of her kitchen tap. He shook his head. These people must be insane. Perhaps there was some silly festival or something going on. Yes. Weirdos United. He chuckled.

 

And screamed.

 

There was a giant red eye looking in at the window of his car. As he yelped and scrambled to start the engine, a large scaly arm smashed against the glass, and several fingers supporting lengthy black claws groped inside the car for his arm. Moore batted at the arm while stamping the accelerator; the car shot off, and it dragged the thing for a few seconds before it released the car, and tumbled away in to the darkness. Staring in the rear-view mirror, he distinctly saw what appeared to be a scaly, hunched black monster, slinking away in to the trees.

 

Shaking his head, staring at the smashed window, Moore pulled over again next to a small corner shop. Peering at the window of this shop, he spotted a poster which read:

 

PROJECT PARANORMAL
We’re here to deal with all your problems – problems you can’t take anywhere else.

Nothing is too strange for us.

Don’t be afraid – give us a call!

 

It then listed a number. Moore fumbled for a phone. Nobody answered his ringing, but he left a message, stating that there was a scaly thing in the woods, and that the world had gone insane.

 

*

 

Martha didn’t dare to ask what was going on because, rather intelligently, she didn’t really want to know.

 

She was in one of the slayers’ rooms, where some of the girls slept, trying to clear up the mess from the earthquake earlier. She knew something had just happened to one of the girls, but what, or to whom, she didn’t know. Giles had rushed in a minute ago, babbled something about a storm and horses, and rushed off again.

 

Martha was a rather simple, kindly woman, and she pitied the slayers immensely. She saw the battles of their lives from the sidelines, every day, and she considered the worst battles but to be, not those of demon and sword, but that of having to tell yourself that you would never again see your family. That you were just a soldier in some bigger battle you could never understand. Because all that these girls were, were minions to the Powers That Be – higher forces – Fate – whoever. Martha considered that whoever decided their fate should be thoroughly ashamed.

 

She picked up some of the girls’ things that had fallen on the floor; with a small smile, she picked up a copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets, and then found a little dusty teddy bear. For some reason, a tear nestled inside the corner of her eye as she straightened his little bow and brushed dust from his furry head. They were just girls who had been taken from their homes and plunged in to a world of monsters and magic. They didn’t belong here. They put on brave faces but they had nowhere to go. No one was home. Martha sniffed, and tucked the teddy up in one of the beds.

 

Picking up the book again, she went to the cupboard to put it away. After straightening up again, she turned around and froze. Squatting on one of the beds – and it certainly had not been there before – was a very large snake, and it happened to be staring right at her. It was mottled brown and had a rattle tail. How it had got there, Martha had no idea, and she was sure none of the girls kept rattle snakes. It raised its head a bit, and then began to slither towards the edge of the bed with the clear intention of approaching her. Martha quickly clambered on to another bed, scrambled across it, and ran to the door. She had just jumped out and slammed the door shut; the snake was so close behind her she nearly shut its head in the door. Hearing it hissing angrily behind the door, Martha hurried outside.

 

“Mr Giles!”

 

He was standing holding on to one of his horses, looking perplexed, but turned at the sound of her voice.

 

“Mr Giles – there’s a very large snake in the girl’s room – “

 

Giles frowned. “A snake?”

 

“Yes, Mr Giles, a great big rattle snake. What would you like me to do?”

 

Giles looked at her for a moment, before lowering his voice. “Martha, I think I’d like you to leave. Just for a few days. Why don’t you and John go to… visit your family? Frankly, I’d feel happier knowing you are safe- “ Safer, he thought, “- with your family.”

 

Martha looked startled for a moment, before nodding. “Oh – of course. Yes, Mr Giles. Thank you.”

 

With that, she hurried away back in to the house. Giles was starting to consider evacuating all the girls – perhaps he could hire somewhere in town. This house clearly was not a safe place for them anymore, if ever it had been, and Giles wanted to protect them and make them safe. With a mind to discuss it with Buffy, he looked around for her, and saw her a moment later walking towards him.

 

“There’s a message on your phone Giles,” she said, before he had a chance to say anything. She looked extremely pale, and there were dark circles under her eyes. Buffy had spent the last hour trying to console the girls – and berating Faith for her insensitive “that’s life” attitude – and it was showing. Yet another slayer lost on her clock, and Buffy looked on the point of collapse. She spoke with a flat, rather cold voice, as if all personality had been stripped away. “Something about a demon in the woods. I can deal with it.”

 

“Take some of the slayers with you, Buffy.”

 

“No. I don’t want to get them dead.”

 

“And I don’t want you fighting alone.”

 

“So, Ill take Faith.”

 

“I need Faith here,” Giles said. “I need one of you here. Either send Faith with some slayers, or take some slayers with you. Or Angel.”

 

“Can’t,” Buffy said dully. “In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s all daylighty.”

 

“Ah. Yes. Right.”

 

Buffy sighed in defeat. “I’ll take some slayers. I guess a workout could take their mind off Nadine.” She sniffed slightly and rubbed her eyes. “Rona and Sarah, I can take them.”

 

“Be careful, Buffy.”

 

“Always am,” she responded softly, and she marched off to find the slayers. Giles watched her go, and saw Faith in the background, talking quietly with Cali, the Spanish slayer. She had probably been closest to Nadine. Judging from the amount of head shaking she was doing, she didn’t understand much of what Faith was saying to her, but Giles watched her with a great pity inside his heart. The poor girl must have very little idea what was going on; she didn’t even speak their language. Moving his attention to Faith, Giles noticed for the first time that she too had shadows under her eyes like Buffy, and looked drained and tired. Giles had no idea what was happening or why, and it was driving him crazy.

 

Giles patted the distraught Celoso, and started to consider where best to move the girls to.

 

*

 

A light, very British drizzle was falling by the time Buffy and her two slayers reached the forest. Buffy was carrying a long sword (under a cloth to minimise the risk of being arrested) and Rona and Sarah carried daggers and stakes, since the caller might have seen a vampire and not realised it – it was funny what people thought they saw in times of panic. As they entered the cool cover of the trees, Buffy warned them to stay close to her and walked through the foliage.

 

If Buffy had been up to her full strength, she would have heard something following them.

 

“Any sign of it?” Rona whispered after a moment.

 

“No,” Sarah responded, staring around, “It must be around some- ahhhhhh!”

 

Something hunched, black and scaly with glowing red eyes had pounced on her back like a cat; she screamed and immediately dropped to the floor. Buffy snapped her leg around in a roundhouse kick and booted the demon from her back in to the trees. After a second it scampered back, running on all fours – long, lanky fours – and made another attack on Sarah, snapping its long wolf-like jaws. As Sarah tried to stab it with her dagger, it reared up on to its hind legs. It now stood at around six foot high, and Sarah seemed to freeze, her dagger held in mid-air, mouth open slightly. Buffy flew in from the side and smashed at the beast’s side, but almost carelessly, it snaked out a scaly arm and sent her flying, as if it were swatting away a bug. With a battle cry, Rona came at it from the other side and rammed her blade in to its ribs. Emitting a deafening shriek, the monster swung at her and hit her in the kidneys; springing from its back feet, it landed – again cat-like – on Sarah’s chest and slammed her down. Its claws lazily knocked away her weapons. Buffy was hastily jumping to her feet, but Rona got there first; eyes blazing with determination, she grabbed the demon about the neck and pulled.

 

“Get off her, bitch!”

 

Rona succeeded in yanking the monster away from her friend, but only for a second; it snapped its jaws again, drooling saliva on to the floor, and shoved her away. Then it staggered – Buffy had kicked it from behind and the beast was slammed momentarily to the ground. As Sarah got to her feet, its red eyes locked hungrily on to her. Before Buffy could seize it, before anybody could move, the demon had leaped forwards. An ugly snarl contorting its face, it punched its fist in to Sarah’s stomach.

 

The girl bent forwards, mouth wide open in shock, eyes staring. Rona screamed. The scaly fist had come out through Sarah’s back and there was a spray of blood that spattered an arc across the trees behind them. Even as the creature pulled its bloody fist from her, as she crumpled to the floor, it looked towards Rona. Rona stared at Buffy for help but oddly, Buffy was on the floor too – Rona didn’t allow herself time to think about what she was doing – suddenly furious, she screamed and ran at the monster, snatching up her dagger – it reared up again and as she ran at it it’s black claws grabbed her throat and twisted. There was a loud snap as Rona’s neck broke and her head flopped limply on to her shoulder. But the demon dropped her, growling in pain – her last second of life had been spent, ensuring she took the demon with her, and her dagger was sticking in to its heart. Clutching its chest, it staggered back and it, too, fell to the floor, inky blue blood spilling down over its scales.

 

Unconscious, Buffy lay alongside a dead demon and two dead slayers, unaware that, elsewhere in Westbury, at the home of Rupert Giles, Faith was even now passed out on the floor, falling amongst the rubble left in the wake of so many tragedies.

 

*

 

It was still raining. It never stopped raining these days, or so it seemed. The moon, once bright and giving, was now darker somehow, withdrawn, as if it too was fearful of the earth. Perhaps it was just his imagination, but night was no longer the party hour it had once been. All this night could bring, was Buffy.

 

Angel had watched from his flat as Faith had been carried indoors; he knew she was all right, but Buffy had not returned from the hunt, and neither had the other two girls. While Angel didn’t wish to see them hurt, he couldn’t care much for their disappearance. He wondered what he might do if he found Buffy dead. The vampire tried to crush that thought beneath an optimistic outlook, and hurried on in to the woods.

 

Something growled from the trees and an owl screamed sharply in to the night, but nothing attacked him – he was, after all, traditionally the hunter as opposed to the hunter. Angel paused; he could smell blood, some human, some not. He tracked left, walked on for a moment, and then stopped dead.

 

There was some dead scaly thing on the floor with a knife in its chest, and around it lay Rona and Sarah, clearly dead. Sarah’s eyes were still open and glazed, staring up at a sky she could not see. Angel swallowed hard, for sitting beside her was Buffy. The slayer was hugging her knees and rocking back and forth, staring at the moonlight dappling across the floor.

 

“Buffy?”

 

She didn’t look up.

 

“Buffy.” Angel walked around her and crouched down beside her. “What happened? Are you all right?”

 

Buffy slowly nodded her head, but did not offer an explanation.

 

“Buffy?”

 

“They’re dead.”

 

Angel glanced at the dead girls. His unbeating heart clenched inside his chest. “I know. Buffy, you can’t stay here. You can’t help them anymore.”

 

“But I should have saved them.”

 

“I know you did everything you could. This is a war… people will die.”

 

“Not where I’m from,” Buffy said softly. A breeze blew between them and lifted her hair against her back. “People don’t just die.”

 

“Buffy. Look. Giles is moving the girls down to the church hall, he says they’ll be safer there. He sent me to come and get you, we should go down there.”

 

“Why? So more can die? There’s no point.”

 

“We’re trying to keep them safe.” Helplessly, the vampire picked up her hand, and after a moment, Buffy looked up at him. “We do what we have to, remember? Come on. Come and walk with me.”

 

He tugged gently at her, and finally Buffy responded to him and allowed herself to be pulled to her feet. They walked together through the trees; trees that rustled softly in the breeze. Angel would come back to bury the girls, but for now, his only concern was for Buffy. At times like these, the living had to come first.

 

*

 

Giles rubbed his temple with the flat of his left hand, his right hand in his lap holding his glasses. The move to the church hall had gone off smoothly, but the girls, in an attempt to mask their fear, were holding raucous games and Giles had a splitting headache; thus he’d shut himself away in a room off the main hall, to await the return of Buffy and Angel. By the time he had begun to worry, it was dark enough to send Angel out; while he felt uncomfortable having anything much to do with the vampire, Giles knew that, with Faith feeling under the weather, Angel was the most capable to bring Buffy back.

 

He hoped the girls would be safer now; it had seemed that the paranormal events had been focusing on his house, and a move of location had seemed the best idea. There was a sudden knock on the door; praying it would be Buffy, Giles replied immediately, “Come in.”

 

It wasn’t Buffy, but Faith; she perched on the edge of the desk and said, “Bit mad out there, thought I’d come crash in here.”

 

“Yes,” Giles said blankly. He chewed the end of his glasses. “In fact, it’s a good thing you did, I have a matter of some urgency to discuss with you.”

 

“Oh? Fire away.”

 

“Shortly before we moved the slayers, I received a phone call, from Cleveland. It seems that the hellmouth there is reopening. And after the…loss of Nadine… it may be a good idea for you to attend to the hellmouth here.”

 

“You want me to leave? Now, in the middle of the apocalypse?”

 

“The apocalypse is spreading worldwide, Faith – as I’ve just told you, it’s in Cleveland for a start. I need you to hold down the fort, so to speak, from there. We’re all here, and not all the trouble is. Please understand.”

 

There was a long moment of silence; after a minute, Faith shrugged. “Okay. Yeah. I can get a flight tomorrow, I guess.”

 

Giles allowed himself a small smile. “Thank you.”

 

“Faith! Giles!”

 

Faith jumped off the desk and raced out in to the hall; Giles followed her, but the girl had stopped dead in the doorway and Giles nearly ran in to her. He quickly sucked in his breath. The slayers were all bunched together in the middle of the hall; the walls were bleeding. As if someone had gashed them open, blood was pouring down the white walls, deep scarlet splashes spilling on to the floor.

 

“What the hell…?” Faith uttered.

 

 I don’t understand, Giles thought, I thought they would be safe here –

 

And then something clicked at the back of his mind; a phrase he had read in an email, a phrase that he had pay no attention to, a phrase which now, he saw, held the answer.

 

You also mention that you are host to a large amount of slayers? Extraordinary in itself… I would keep them safe, Rupert, old man, slayers would be invaluable of course to a coming apocalypse.

 

Extraordinary… invaluable… of course.

 

The slayers.

 

The supernatural occurrences…his house… the house had had nothing to do with it. It was the slayers. Excitement, and then terrible fear flooded through him like ice. Everyone was looking at him, hoping he would have an explanation for the bleeding walls, but there was only one person Giles wanted to see now – and not more than a second later, as if summoned by his thoughts, she came in, looking cold and tired, the tall vampire coming in behind her. Buffy had barely stopped to look at the walls before Giles said loudly, “Buffy – in here, please. Quickly.”

 

Buffy glanced back at Angel, but then followed Giles; he led her in to the little room off the hall and shut the door. “Are you all right?”

 

“Yeah… I freaked out a bit, I guess.”

 

“Rona and Sarah – “

 

“Dead,” Buffy said quickly.

 

Giles sighed deeply, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Buffy – I can’t be absolutely certain, but I think I may know what’s causing the disruptions.”

 

“What is it? How did you find out?” Obviously thirsty for answers, Buffy approached him, looking cautiously eager.

 

“A mixture of research, and a hunch, basically. I believe that… the slayers are what’re causing the problems.”

 

Buffy’s face changed faster than a set of traffic lights. “How -?”

 

“Not on purpose, I’m sure. But Buffy… Willow’s spell changed the world. She called on slayers who were never meant to be called on. There shouldn’t be so many slayers. I believe that their power is throwing the normal functions of our reality off balance. Whenever a slayer dies, their power is channelled back in to – “

 

“Me. That’s why I’ve been ill lately – “

 

“Yes. Precisely.”

 

They stood there, staring at each other; after several minutes of tense silence, Buffy muttered, “What are we going to do?”

 

“I’m not sure. We need to take away the slayer powers.”

 

“Should I tell Faith – or Angel -?”

 

“No. Not yet. I’d like to look in to this more thoroughly.” Again, Giles rubbed his face, exhaustion making him look far older than he should have looked. “Try to act normally around the girls, if you can. The walls are most likely harmless, by the way – they can be cleaned…”

 

“Right.” Confused, Buffy took that as her cue to leave, and did so; but a minute later she returned, and with a shrug, held out an envelope to Giles. “Here – Elaine says she found this among Nadine’s stuff… she wanted you to see it.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

Giles took the slim paper and sat down behind the desk. Buffy left, shutting the door behind her. Carefully Giles opened the envelope and unfolded the slip of lined paper inside. It was covered in untidy, personalised scrawl, and his heart jerked in his chest as he realised what he was holding.

 

Mom,

I’m sorry I didn’t write for a while – things have been sort of hectic here. That is one way of putting it, actually. I feel like I’m not living my life anymore.

 

But I don’t want to be a drag. I wanted to see how you were. I hope this gets to you – I don’t get a lot of time to get out and do my own thing, so I might not get this mailed. I don’t know. Guess it depends.

 

I hope you aren’t disappointed in me. I never wanted to leave you like that, but I promise I will come back, real soon. I’ll see you again. The waiting is all you can do, right? I know, and I’m waiting too. Waiting for the day when I can come home.

 

Nadine.

 

*

 

Hope. Sometimes, it’s all we, as human beings, can lay claim to.

Everyone has their own safe, and everyone knows how to open it, even if they are not aware of such profound knowledge. To control one’s own mind is something that only the wholly unique can touch upon. For the things we cannot do always make that which we can do, harder.

But for the most part, the safe does what it is designed to do. In the very depths of human despair, hope is all we have.

Sometimes, we come to realise that we truly have nothing left.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Author’s Notes:

This story focused not on monsters and ghouls, but on people, and the human mind pushed to its absolute limits.

The ‘Ridgeway ghosts’ are a real phenomenon – although they are generally less corporeal!

Some websites I used to research my ghosts are as follows, and are worth a look:

http://www.weymouth.gov.uk/main.asp?svid=7&svaid=294&svapid=1351

 

http://www.livius.org/le-lh/legio/legions.htm

 



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