Ashes, Ashes, They All Fell Down
With a flutter of wings it landed on the twisted branch of dead tree. Cocking its head to the side it examined the surroundings. Graves stretched across night blackened grass, the gates far beyond sight. That was fine though, there were other gates to be opened here. To be opened tonight. That was why it had come after all.
Raising its head a bit it took in the night sky. Over eons of duty it had experienced storms the likes of which mankind had never seen. Usually nights like these, with gates to be flung open, there was a storm. A cry of protest maybe from the heavens, but not tonight. The air was cool, the sky clear, no moon was overhead and so it was quite dark. This was fine too though, it had brought storms of its own.
Small it was, black as well but old. So old...old enough to have known the watchmaker at the beginning. Given a task it was and that task it would do. Tasting the air it made sure it was in the right place, at the right time. Pain, a slight tinge dancing along the senses, like a foul scent just along the edges of perception. It really didn't have to do anything, the gate would be opened elsewhere. Simply by being it was enough, for now.
Taking wing briefly it fluttered to a grave stone. Not the gravestone of its interest. That was two over too the right. No, this headstone was chosen because there was a savory looking bug to feast on. It didn't get to eat as often as it liked. Oh yes, the the souls it consumed, those taken by vengeance, those were fine, but after an eternity or three...well...all things like a little diversity from time to time.
It made short work of the bug. Ruffling its feathers a few times it stared at the grave two down to the right. It was almost time. Lifting one leg slightly it half opened its wings and struck the wind...once...twice...three times. That was enough.
Beyond sound and sight it heard and saw a gate swing open.
She'd be here soon.
Maybe there was another bug to be had beforehand?
Eyes open, eyes shut. Didn't make any difference, she couldn't see anything. She moved her hands in the dark slowly. Unsure of her surroundings. It paid to be cautious in totally unknown situations. Her hands didn't move far...less than three inches up before she hit an obstruction. Sides were the same. She was boxed in, she couldn't move, couldn't get out!
Trapped! She was trapped! She had to get out, it was more than panic, more than instinct, it was a directive.
Fingers curved into claws and tore at the soft material that smothered her, held her down. Soon it gave way to something stronger, something harder, but this didn't stop her efforts. She could feel it crumble underneath her assaults and if her fingers were bleeding, well...she couldn't see it and she certainly couldn't feel it so that was alright.
She pushed up. She had to get out, she was going fast, but it wasn't fast
enough, she had to get out, up, out...now...had to go, had to move. It was pushing
at her, from inside; a ceaseless, merciless drive. It was building inside with a
terror and voice of it's own and if she didn't get out in time she would scream
and scream and scream and never stop screaming...but she'd still be trapped.
And a girl clawed through silk, and wood, and earth with bare fingers that bled, healed, and tore open again to bleed some more. Just the girl, the wood, the earth, and the blood, in the dark.
It took wing briefly yet again to land on the headstone it had come for. All across the planes, endless realities with a million souls burning for release. Spheres floating each one alight with more flames of hate and pain and grief then there were starts in all of heavens creation. Out of all these fires, a countless number of red, sweet cravings for vengeance, it had come here. To this miserable little mudball. It had chosen her out of them all. Not because hers was the brightest, no there were others whose full fury could have set worlds alight.
But hers was simple. It could work with simple. Pain, not rage. That was its focus. Pain, with teeth and claw that grabbed souls and held them back, yet at the same time the soul had to want to leave. Most were stuck in loops of reliving the events of their entrapment over and over again. Mere phantasms, no, it couldn't help them. But she, she struggled against the shackles. She wanted to use it, her pain, as a weapon. It liked weapons. So it would give her a chance to utilize her agony, she would have her time, as it's weapon. Also the bugs here were quite delicious.
Rapping the headstone with its beak once or twice it listened. Yes, there she was.
As the earth split from the pressure beneath and a white hand, bloody with torn nails, scrabbled at the crumbling ground for purchase, as red hair broke the night air and long closed eyes drank in the sight of the distant stars, as lips opened and let loose a scream of pain, like the first cry of a newborn infant, as all this happened it opened it's beak, spread it's wings and let free a cry of it's own.
Oh yes, it had brought storms.
'Free.' She thought. 'I'm free.' Collapsing to the ground she wept freely. She wasn't sure why, just it was something she had to do. She didn't know what had happened, who had taken her, why they had taken her, or even who they were.
'That's okay.' She mused. 'Buffy will take care of them.'
That was interesting. She was pretty sure she knew a Buffy, was even more certain that said Buffy was very important to her. As she was to this Buffy person. However... she couldn't remember who Buffy was, why she was important, or...for that matter...who she herself was.
Sitting up, resting her weight on her arms she looked up into the night. 'Where...where am I?' She thought scratching her head. She glanced around.
'Great. The cemetery. Must be...' She glanced behind her, seeing where she'd come from. Her thoughts froze in her mind. It was odd, she knew where she was, and she knew what she beheld meant, but at the same time any personal recollections seemed to be...missing.
"A...a...grave?" She squeaked. The earth was torn apart, a great gaping maw through which splinters of a coffins hood, and the shredded silk lining of it's insides were scattered about the mound of dirt.
She was gasping now, one hand clasped to her chest, she felt like her heart was going to hammer through her ribcage, it was only after a moment thought she realized...her heart wasn't beating.
Hunching forward her fingers flew to her face hoping to deny her worst fears. But when she touched her brow and teeth she found the skin unmarred. Smooth and soft, her teeth were unchanged as well. Now she was really confused.
'What...the heck?' She wondered. 'I'm not a vampire, that's good news. But...'
She rolled over on her knees and scrambled across the grass to get a closer look at the headstone.
"A prank." She mumbled. "This has to be a prank of some sort, yeah that's it. Some joke that got a little out of hand."
She ran her fingers over the smooth stone. There was almost no light to read by but her eyes were adapting fast. Overhead a black bird watched with feigned interest. It knew what was happening, it was always like this at the beginning.
By touch she found the carved words, in the dim light, and following the pattern with her fingers she could make them out.
'W..' She spelled out in her mind. 'I...L...L...O...'
'Willow.' She hummed. That sounded familiar. She kept going.
'R..O..S...E...N...' Numb hands stopped. A numb mind stopped.
"Rosenberg," she whispered. "Willow Rosenberg."
Falling back on her butt she slowly crabwalked away from the headstone. "But...but...but I'm Willow Rosenberg." She said feebly.
She didn't know how she knew. But she did know.
"I'm...Willow Rosenberg," she said again. "And...and...if I'm Willow Rosenberg and I'm here to say I'm Willow Rosenberg, than that means I can't be dead, so the headstone is wrong, and I'm right so...so...who's grave...and...oh...no. No no no. I'm right and it's reality that's incorrect. That doesn't make any sense!"
It cocked its head to the side again, staring at the girl intently. This had never happened before.
Well, they always were confused but it had never seen anyone being so confused...like this. Rarely did 'something new' happen to it.
"So...so...I'll go to Giles. He'll know what to do." She pulled herself to her feet and turned to leave. She was pretty sure the exit was this way.
Now. It decided. It would happen now.
Without warning, and without sound, yet all across reality the crack was heard, her back arched, mouth open in a silent scream. Arms stretched out of their sockets, eye blazing forward, a tearing shriek of agony whipped across her mind.
I'm not worked up." Willow denied innocently, as she was a hair's breadth away from the Slayer. "Yet."
She collapsed into a ball.
I wish I remembered last night. I bet it was great." Willow said, shyly, a little embarrassed at her boldness.
The girl's hands spasmed.
"I'm going to have a baby." Willow whispered.
Another convulsion sent her body tumbling down the slight incline.
"You want me to give my baby up for adoption?!" Willow cried.
Pulling herself to her knees she wrapped her arms around her belly. A low moan escaped from her throat.
"Friends and Family, I am pleased to present to you Buffy and Willow Rosenberg-Summers. You may kiss the bride."
It watched her suffer. This was old territory now, but necessary.
Willow blinked, before a seductive grin moved over her lips. "Do you want some more?"
She flopped over onto her back, staring, yet not seeing, into the dark above.
"Do...you...trust...me?" the Slayer sounded out again, waiting for a response.
She lay on the black grass, underneath a glass sky. Nearby a black bird watched her burn. Overhead dark clouds quicky gathered. Neither of the dark pair noticed, the bird as it didn't care, the girl, because she was lost within.
"That's okay," Willow said, smiling in relief as her wife got closer. "Just hurry up and untie me so we can get....BUFFY!!!"
"No." The girl whispered to herself.
"Looks like I killed you this time, B."
"Buffy." She whispered.
"I may be dying." Buffy choked on a mist of blood, looking directly into the deep brown eyes. "But I'm taking you with me."
The brown eyes smiled. "Wanna bet?" With a turn and a twist Faith tossed the blonde Slayer over her hip to slam into the concrete floor. "Check this out B, you're gonna love it."
Faith bent over to pick up the knife, still wet with blood. Faith licked the blade with the tip of her tounge, smearing a track of the crimison liquid over her lips.
"Just in case Red never told ya B." She smiled a bloody grin. "You taste great!"
She turned her attention back to Willow who was curled up in the corner. "Don't go nowhere Preggie-Red, party's just gettin' started y'know?"
"Buffy." Willow whimpered. "Get up Buffy, please. Please get up Buffy."
Fighting a crismon haze that was threatening to cloud her vision Buffy stretched her hand in Willow's direction. "Wi..Willow." She gasped. She could see Willow. Scared and alone, coming up behind her was Faith. Taking her time, striding across the concrete with a cocky grin and sexy swivel of the hips.
"Buffy." Willow moaned and reached out her own hand. They were so close. Centimeteres. Despite all reality to the contrary the Redhead believed if she could just touch Buffy's hand, everything would be okay. That everything could be okay, if only she could reach her. "Buffy. Help me."
A spiked heel drove through the top of the Slayer's hand pinning it to floor. "Ah ah ah." Faith clucked her tounge. "No rest for the weary. Sorry." Buffy glared at the dark Slayer through clenched teeth.
Faith blew her a kiss.
She looked back at Willow. Bending over she wiped the flat of the blade across the wiccan's cheeck. "Now then Red. Where were we?"
The girl bolted upright off the grass. Hands pressed to her temples she shook her head, trying to block out the images. "No. No. No. No...."
Darker heavens than had been there a second before rumbled, and chain lightning lept from sky to sky, to ground. The sky was lit up for only a breath of time, yet her eyes were not shut and she could see.
The bird glanced at the screaming girl, it's charge. It's mission. It's eyes turned heavenward as a fresh bolt tore a jagged streak across the sky. Showtime.
Unseeing, uncaring, unheeding. The rain had come upon the tail of the storm, great sheets of water that blinded her, or would have, if she'd been looking where she was going. Hurtling down the streets cars swerved around her, horns blaring but she didn't hear them or care. Locked inside her head she was, as the last seconds of her former life were hammered home with the grace and subtlety of a hammer.
With a final incoherent shriek she fell to her knees on the yellow double line, marking the median of the road. Her hands fumbled at the front of the dress she had been buried in. Jagged, hooked fingers tore through the soaked material, coated with grime and muck. Buttons went flying as she rent the fabric apart. With impeccable timing a fresh shriek of lightning tore across the sky leaving rage in it's wake. From the flash of illumination the appearance of a grotesque, puckered scar was clear. It ran along the base of her belly, just above the beginning of her pelvis. In a wicked, twisted, concave arc, like the smile of hell it laughed at her. It marred her flesh, corrupted her smooth belly.
A belly, she realized at that instant, that shouldn't have been smooth. That hadn't been smooth the last time her hands had rested on it.
A final hoarse scream, a protest, a denial of what was all too obvious shouldered it's way past her lips to be lost in the peals of thunder that shook the heavens.
"GIVE ME BACK MY BABY!!!"
Had her rage and pain been palpable, a living, coherent thing, it would have been flung outward in a wave that would have left the earth barren for miles in all directions, sent trees and dirt and cars around like toys. As it wasn't...
He had had a long day. The boss had been a real bastard, his wife was dealing with 'that time', and to cap it off thanks to his son's instance at playing his 'music' at teeth rattling levels of volume he hadn't been getting much sleep. Now this storm...
"Perfect ending to a perfect day." He yawned. "Never seen it this bad."
He reached for the cup holder and the lukewarm cup of coffee that rested there. He only took his eyes off the road for a second. Really.
His head bouncing off the air bag was his first clue. The echoing crunch of metal and bone was his second. Instincts kicked in and his feet drove the break down with all the force he could muster. As tires shrieked and the rear of the car came around in a vicious fishtail he could hear the rolling thumps of whatever he had hit bouncing across the roof. There were a few dents that marked its passage too.
She hadn't seen it coming. One second she was screaming, the next a blinding sheet of noise and light hammered into her side tossing her up and over. She rolled across the steel metal as it passed underneath. Her mind, ever helpful, informed her of what was probably happening.
'A car.' She thought. 'I got hit by a car.'
The tumbling slowed down to a crawl, though happening in an instant, it seemed to take forever.
'I got hit by a car,' she repeated internally. 'Well...that's good. That means I'll die. Again. Maybe...maybe Buffy and...our... maybe they'll be waiting for me.'
The edge of the roof came upon her and time sped up so she hit the pavement with a jarring thud. Fresh pain crawled across muscles and limbs, those that hadn't been shredded by the tearing metal that had collapsed around her thighs. The pain was good though. It was here and now, not from the past, now she could deal with it, or it could deal with her.
She rested her head on the asphalt waiting for the darkness to close over her, to take her somewhere else.
Pounding footsteps, splashing across the fresh puddles of water disturbed her rest.
"Oh Jesus. Oh Christ. Oh Jesus," a voice said. "Are you alright?"
'Scuze me,' she thought. 'I'm trying to die here.'
"Young lady? Are you hurt? Can you hear me? Say something! Anything please!" The voice was desperate and reluctantly, she opened her eyes.
"Oh thank God." He was young. The man, around his late twenties but he seemed far older. Tired lines marked his eyes and circled his mouth, his eyes seemed a little lackluster.
"Don't thank God," she croaked.
"What?" He stopped his nervous pacing.
Pulling herself so she was sitting upright she examined herself. There wasn't a bruise anywhere, and other than the pain already feeding on her, her fresh wounds were not even a memory.
"Don't thank God," she repeated. "He doesn't deserve it."
She slowly got to her feet. 'I'm a little woozy,' she thought. 'But I'm fine. Why?'
"Excuse me," she said and brushed the man aside.
"Hey where ya goin lady? The cops are gonna be here any second, we gotta tell em' something!" The man's arms were flung out helplessly.
She turned her head slowly and he saw her eyes. He hadn't before. He really wish he never got the chance. Wherever she was, inside, it made all the hells on earth look like a picnic. He'd never come face to face with such as this. Few living had, and those that did never forgot.
"I..." Her mouth hung open for a second and she blinked a few times.
"Ma'am?" the man whispered respectfully. "Can...is there anything I can do? Can I help you somehow?"
She tried to remember how to smile. She really did. A lifetime of manners, even after being dead, did not abandon her easily. But she couldn't. She simply couldn't.
"No one can help me, thank you." She shook her head slightly. "Excuse me, I really have to be going." She took a shuffling step.
"Where?" the man asked quietly.
With a sigh she turned and faced him one last time. "To find out why I can't die."
She ambled off into the night, the storm had passed but the rain still fell.
The man couldn't be sure why, but he was pretty confidant that if he dared to taste some of the water on his cheeks, it would have been salty. He made a promise to himself to hug his son and kiss his wife, to make sure they knew how much he really loved them, just as soon as he got home.
She moved through the night, going nowhere. Just away. The rain fell, the wind howled, but she didn't feel the cold or hear the air. She was going.
It followed from above. Along the night winds, it didn't need to move its
wings much, the currents were more than capable of carrying its light, but
She finally weakened, and, leaning heavily against a tree, allowed herself to slide down it's trunk till she sat upon the muddy floor of the woods. It lit upon a nearby branch and peered down at her. There was no time for this, she had to use her pain, harness it, become a weapon or it would have wasted its efforts. It opened its beak and cried into the night.
Her head came up wearily as she looked for what had made the sound disturbing the quiet of the forest. She saw, perched overhead, through the gloom of the rain, a large black bird. It's wet feathers reflected what little light fell through the canopy. It held a presence, a sense of majesty, midnight plumage and midnight eyes. A beak as black as it's feathers completed the appearance.
"You..." she said quietly. "You're not a normal bird are you?"
She wasn't surprised when it nodded in an awkward way. Bobbing its entire body in a gross caricature of a human expression.
"And you know why I'm here."
Again a nod.
"And why I can't die?"
For a third time it nodded.
"So." Fresh tears began to leak around her eyes, over white cheeks, as pain again forced itself to be made manifest. "Tell me why I'm here. What am I supposed to do? Why did this have to happen? Why can't I DIE!! Tell me...please...please tell me.."
It did nothing, merely stared at her with old, old, black eyes.
She crumpled completely to the earth, sprawling, loose and weak, crying, occasionally screaming as again the memories of what had been, and could never be undone, assaulted her.
And it rained.
On the Girl.
On the Crow.
On the Earth.
* * * * * *
Author's Notes: In case you haven't figured it out, this is, for all intents and purposes, an altverse of an alterverse. Hey, it's fun. Really. The Universe in question is the Sappho's Scoll series by our beloved Shyfox. The point of divergence is, naturally, Five By Five.
What happened you ask?
End of Story.
Or is it?
I know this crossover has been done before. Probably done LOTS. But now...now it's my turn.
Much thanks to Shyfox who gave me permission to do this. Now...
Welcome to my Hell.
Disclaimer: All the BtVS belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. The Crow belongs to J.O. Barr