They all sat in uncomfortable wooden chairs around the room, and a podium was facing them, awaiting a speaker. Before the tension could rise anymore, a sharply dressed woman entered and stood behind the podium. She seemed nervous.
"Thank you all for coming. For some of you, I realize it was quite a long trip to take, so I shall get right to the point. Due to recent developments with our rogue, active slayer, the occurrences around this complex, and Mr. Travers," she cleared her throat, "disappearance, we are forced to make some tough decisions.
"So now I will allow our founder to address you."
There were shocked gasps all around. Nobody in the room had met the founder. They'd heard of him, of course. Tales, rumors, but only those higher up had been in his presence. This must have been serious.
The lights shut off. It didn't look like they'd get to see him. Like good employees, they just sat still, and waited patiently. And blocked all other thoughts out of their heads. Such as, why does he need the lights off? A few seconds later, his voice was heard.
"As was already mentioned, recent developments have forced me to make a decision. You have all done more than admirable jobs here. Especially during this time of crisis. But things are changing.
"It has become more and more obvious that this institution is losing its influence. And the only person who is at fault is not in this room. She is across the ocean, turning her back to us. She will suf�" He trailed off. "But I digress."
"As of right of now, the Council is no more. You are all to return to your respective contents, countries, and homes. Thank you for your service." The expected commotion did not come, and the founder, if he had lips, would have smiled at his success. "On second thought, seeing how your world will be reclaimed tonight, it would be rude of me to make you travel again."
Now there was commotion. People shuffled around, trying to understand what was going on, but also trying to leave. The air had suddenly become very�unclean. And then, red eyes appeared in the darkness. After a moment, the lights switched back on, and the room was completely empty.
"Tonight, I rejoin my brethren at the Mouth of Hell." The voice said.
On the roof of Giles' house, two people were fighting. The intensity was high, the focus clear. They were giving it their all. A streak of blond rushed a steak of red. Arms clashed. Legs were swung. And blocked.
A Slayer flipped over a Wicca, and the redhead tried to sweep her leg for the trip. It missed; the blonde grabbed her opponent's arm, and flipped her over on her back. The redhead countered with a flip of her own, and then jumped up, using both feet to kick the other fighter in the chest.
"That's enough for now." Giles said.
But they didn't hear him. Buffy grinned, jumped up and kicked. Willow stuck her palm out calmly, and stopped her in midair. Willow smiled, and let her partner go. The Slayer knew she was going to fall, so she used all her momentum to tackle Willow to the ground on her way down.
Buffy leaned over her, out of breath. "Draw?"
"We're all about equality."
She helped Willow up, and they shared a quick kiss.
"I've never known sparring partners to do that after a session." Giles said.
"Well we're not just sparring partners." Willow said, smiling.
"No I suppose not. You're both ready."
"Glad you think so, Giles." Buffy said.
Then, Xander, Oz and Cordelia, came up to the roof, large maps in hand.
"How'd it go?" Cordelia asked.
"Well, they're all sweaty, so�" Xander started, but stopped when he saw the glare.
"Went fine. How about you?" Buffy asked.
"Think we figured out the best way to go in." Oz said.
"Even though all the sewers look exactly the same." Cordelia added.
"Are we sure we want to do this?" Willow asked. "I mean�you read the note."
"It's a risk we have to take. Wesley would have wanted us to attempt this." Giles said.
"Think of it this way, Will. If you think we have a problem now, if Angelus does this ritual thing�well I don't really want to think details." Xander said.
"They're right. But we're not losing anybody. Anybody." Buffy said clearly.
They were all silent for a few seconds, thinking about what was coming tonight. What they'd have to do.
"Maps?" Oz asked.
"Maps." Giles agreed.
"Aneas cerilis, I give�" Angelus said, practicing the ritual in the dimly, candle-lit lair.
He had tied Wesley up in the corner. The Englishman had been quiet, which was good, because any distractions�would have made him very unpleasant. It was bad enough he was in a cramped space with Hell's rejects lurking about, but a panicky ex-watcher on top of that, would have been too much.
"Is that the ritual?"
He was his own jinx. "You're quick. And before you ask, you wouldn't have found the step by step instructions. A thousand watchers working their asses off wouldn't have been able to find it. Sketchy overview probably, but beyond that�so don't feel bad."
"And why not?"
"Because it was never published. It's not in any prophecy books, spell books, nothing. This was given to me directly."
"Did I mention I hated people who asked too many questions?" As he said that, the cloaked figure appeared in the room. "Why don't you ask him yourself?"
"Ah so this is the one It wants."
"It?" Wesley asked.
"He doesn't seem very threatening."
"He's got knowledge. That makes him threatening enough." Angelus said.
"Knowledge is a dangerous weapon. I remember now. You're the one who returned the Slayer to full health."
"I merely provided -"
"He defends himself as if I care. How I miss the mortal world."
"Well, sir, if you'd let me run the show, maybe I could get you here tonight."
"I'm sorry, am I interrupting?" Before Angelus realized the error of his words, he felt himself being pulled. Strongly. "I may want to walk the Earth and the higher lords may want freedom, but if your tone doesn't get more respectful, I will return you here. And they will not question my actions. Understood?"
The vampire nodded, and the force pulling him, stopped.
"Who are you?" Wesley finally asked. The figure pulled the cloak down, and the Master's face looked at Wesley. "It's really true."
"I sense fear. Fear! It's been so long. It'll be quite a battle. And a victory. Too bad you won't be around to see it."
"Your executioner is on the way at this very moment. You should feel honored. It has been around since the beginning. I'll leave you, Angelus."
The Master vanished, and Angelus turned sharply to look at Wesley. "Not a word."
But he wasn't going to say anything. He was going to die. Talking would have been pointless.
"Giles, we're taking all your weapons." Buffy said. "Every last one."
He nodded and went to gather them up.
"Should we get a stockpile from our friendly neighbor military base?" Xander asked.
"One of these days you're gonna get caught you know." Cordelia said.
"No, there isn't time. Buffy and I are the ones who are supposed to really do this anyway. You guys shouldn't be putting yourself in the battle. If it opens, it won't just be vampires." Willow said, slipping into the co-leader role nicely.
"I have to back her up on that."
"Of course you do." Xander said, sighing at the blonde.
"At the risk of losing part of my masculinity, helping from a safe distance sits well with me." Oz said.
Giles continued to empty out his trunk, as he listened to the planning stage. He was scared, and he'd admit that freely if asked. But once again, he had to admire the willingness of this close knit group. Friendship had to truly be the force that could conquer all. Love was powerful too, but put together, it was an unbeatable combination.
After this was over, he briefly wondered if he should tell Buffy and Willow what was in store for them. In talking with the Goddess and doing a little reading, he had found out that the Great Slayer and Sorceress' bond had one more�surprise attached to it. But he shook that thought away. There were other things to worry about first.
"So what's the plan, Superchicks?" Xander asked.
"Will, Giles and I are going to going sewer hunting. I don't know how long it'll take to reach the Master's cave�anything could be�which is why we're leaving we're leaving in forty-five minutes. That should give us lots of time to get there.
"Hopefully Will can whip up something so Angelus doesn't know we're own our way. If we do make it in time, she and I will really, really hurt Angelus, dust him, burn the ashes�"
"And while your doing that?" Cordelia asked hoping to break her friend's tangent. Even though she did want Angelus dead too.
"Giles will get Wesley in the clear. If we don't -"
"Then you guys will be waiting across the street from where the school used to be." Willow continued.
"Before you blew it up. Right?" Cordelia added, grinning.
"Can we skip that? So you'll be there with supplies cause that's where the baddies are gonna be, and we'll meet you there."
"We give you the goods then split." Oz stated.
"Right. Giles, where do you think the safest hiding spot will be?" Buffy asked.
"The Bronze is closed tonight." He offered.
"Perfect. Then, can you round up people on the streets and take them there?" Willow asked.
"Wait. How'd you know the Bronze was closed tonight?" Buffy wondered aloud.
Giles ignored the question, which was probably the best choice for all concerned. "Of course I'll go with them, but�are you sure you want to handle this alone?"
"I think I finally figured out what got Buffy so worried every time she slayed with us. If you guys are in the middle of it with us, I would screw up because of worry."
"And this isn't an every day life or death situation." Buffy went on. "This is it. The Big One. Getting rid of the demonic hole in the ground. And distractions would be bad. I'm not saying -" Buffy cut herself off.
"No offense taken." Giles assured her.
"Ditto. Their three friends echoed.
"And besides, this is our -" Willow began.
Buffy, Willow and the rest of the gang walked to the rubble that was Sunnydale High. It was a pitiful sight really. The school that had held them captive for three years was barely able to hold dust. However, reminiscing on old times was not the point of the excursion.
"Stay hidden across the street." Buffy told Oz, Xander and Cordelia. "We'll drop into the sewers about four blocks down. Even though that still doesn't make much sense."
"Because Buffy," Willow sighed, feeling as though this was the fiftieth time she was explaining it, "if we go down this close, Angelus will have the advantage."
"How?" Giles asked, genuinely curious.
"All the energy right here is strong. But it's not the good kind. And it's not just Hellmouthy energy. He's protected by something. The further away we are the better chance the 'he won't be able to tell we're coming' spell will work. And we might still have the surprise element on our side."
"Guess we should go. Be careful, guys." Buffy said.
"You too." Oz said.
"Come back, okay?" Cordelia said.
"We will." Willow said.
Xander hugged the both of them, and then they were off.
They reached the manhole, and were proceeding to lift it off. Well, actually Buffy and Giles were. Willow was in the process of reciting a spell.
"All done. Protection/vamp radar-canceling spell." Willow said.
"Willow I realize that you can do almost any spell with relative ease, but if we come to the point where you have to destroy the Hellmouth, I'd advise you to not expend too much energy." Giles cautioned.
"I'll be okay. I won't mess up."
"I didn't mean to imply -"
"I know you didn't."
"Ready?" Buffy asked.
With that, she jumped down. Giles helped Willow to lower herself, and then climbed down. Their legs immediately became submerged. Only it didn't feel like water. Buffy flipped on her miniature flashlight, and directed the beam.
Giles was the first to comment. "Good Lord."
They were standing in blood. A sewer wide river of it. The walls of the tunnel also looked slick and not your typical sewer structure. Buffy lighted one of the walls, and saw slithering things moving around.
Then she saw the form moving in the blood river. It was almost like, like Hell had started to reshape everything. Including starting to populate the world with its inhabitants. She was starting to rethink being down here, but she knew she didn't have a choice.
Then the form started to come closer.
"Will? Remember when you said Angelus had something protecting him?"
"Well I think it's more like a lot of somethings."
"Did either of you notice that one of those somethings is heading this way?" Giles asked.
"Uh huh." Willow repeated again.
"Any ideas?" Buffy asked.
Waiting to see if the world would end was a very nerve-racking experience. The three slayerettes were happy to follow the safe orders, though. If they happened to see people walking by, they told them it was probably a good idea if they stayed inside. And the good thing was that most of the residents recognized them, and knew there was probably trouble coming.
So, like good "wanting to remain ignorant of the obvious" people, they went back to their homes. And Cordelia, Xander, and Oz were left trying figure out something to talk about.
"This is�fun. Aren't you guys having fun?" Xander tried.
"There's been no death, that's a check in the positive column, but fun is stretching it." Oz said.
Cordelia wasn't really paying much attention to the two males. She was too busy thinking.
'Just ask him. Quick and fast like a Band-Aid.'
When she finally focused, and was ready, she realized Xander was standing in front of her.
"I've thought about it, and if we get through this�"
"It'll be just you, me, and the Big Apple Core."
Her face was glowing. "Are you serious?"
"Serious about starting a life? Yeah. And I wanna do it with you."
She crushed him in a hug. "I love you."
His eyes went wide. "You�we�you do?"
"Just cause I don't say it every five seconds�"
"I�love you too. It's just that we haven't really said that to each other before."
"We were just scared to commit. I've never committed to anyone before."
"I've never been in a position to commit to anyone before. Feels good."
"It does, doesn't it?"
They smiled at one another, and turned to face Oz.
"Congrats." He said.
"Thanks." Cordelia said.
"We have to get you set up, Oz." Xander said.
"Nah. I'm in no rush."
"You know, you gave Willow up pretty easily." Cordelia realized.
"Can't fight fate. Besides, she did show me that there are still nice girls in the world. I'll get my shot. Right now she's happy. That's all that matters."
"Yeah. Think they're enjoying what they're doing right now, though?" Xander asked.
"How can they not? They save the world. That�s what they do." Cordelia said.
They all tried to get up against a wall to get some sort of leverage on the thing that was submerged and moving towards them.
"It's times like these that I wonder why the world just can't save itself." Buffy complained.
"Where is it?" Giles asked.
"Start moving, but stick to wall. Maybe we can avoid it."
"You know what this reminds me of?" Willow asked.
"Yeah. When they went in the sewer and there was all that negative slime flowing underneath the city."
"How is this helping?" He wondered.
"It helps us not panic."
"Reminds me of something too. Remember in StarWars when they were in the giant trash compactor, and that thing pulled Luke underwater?" Buffy asked.
"It's about to happen to me." Buffy said trying to pull her leg.
Willow tried to reach for her, but Buffy was pulled under the blood, and dragged across to the other side.
"Buffy!" She took a deep breath. "You have a blade, right?"
"Yes." Giles said.
"When you see the thing, use it."
She closed her eyes, and the blood slowly separated. Beneath it, a demon that kind of looked like a large fish with tentacles, and an even larger set of jaws, held Buffy in its grip. It was pulling her toward its mouth.
Giles, seeing the strain it was putting on Willow, wasted no time. He jammed the blade through the demon's back, and it howled, freeing Buffy. He helped her up, and Willow stopped, the blood filling the tunnel once again.
"Is it dead?" She asked.
Buffy, covered in blood, reached her arm underneath, and pulled the creature to the surface. She grabbed one of its tentacles, and crushed its throat. "It is now. You okay?"
"This place is filled with an evil vibe, and it's kind of draining. But I'll be okay."
"How's she supposed to close the Hellmouth if one minor-type spell makes her tired?" Buffy asked Giles.
"But how will I know what to do?" Willow asked.
"You just will. You'll have to trust yourself."
"I don't like this. We should�let's get moving." Buffy said.
They started to walk again.
"Your clothes are -" Willow started.
"I know. The demons will pay. Oh, they'll pay."
"Do you feel that, Wesley?" Angelus asked, having situated and prepared everything necessary for the ritual. All that was left was waiting for the right alignment, which was in a little less than two hours. "That chill?"
He did feel it. And he didn't like it. "What's your point, demon?"
"Demon? That's kinda rude. I thought all Englishmen were courteous. At least they used to be. Before I fed."
"I only speak the truth."
"I guess you are. Do you want to know that chill was? It means it's close."
"Now you're demanding. I don't like this at all. But, seeing as how you're going to die instantly when it arrives, I'll explain. How's your history?"
"I'm talking before countries. Before people. Before good. Before demons."
"There was nothing then. Joined land masses, myths, legends."
"Heard the myth of the First Evil? Hell's first creation in this dimension?"
"Before sin, before hate, before anger, -"
"Yeah, and the list continues. Well, here's a surprise. It's not a myth. When the leaders in Hell heard about this place, they conjured up the most destructive force imaginable. And let it loose. But it got bored.
"So, the always fashionably late good guys finally decided to try and play catch up, so Earth wouldn't experience the same fate as all the others. They created people, animals, plants to try and counteract the evil."
"Everyone was slaughtered."
"You catch on fast. It grew. It got stronger with every life it took. Along with its masters they punched a hole into the Earth. A gateway. So demonic creations, flesh and blood creatures could come through."
"Right again." Angelus crouched in front of Wesley. "And that's when the good guys stepped in again. They created one person. A girl who would grow up to be the first Slayer."
"She closed the Hellmouth after a long battle. She was pure good, and light. She had a child to which she passed down her slayer abilities. The race continued to grow, although because they were born through reproduction with normal human males, the race lost some of its strength after every generation."
"With all these demons running around, and the creation of vampires; because some demons mixed their blood with their victims, it was only a matter of time before someone was going to get the idea to try and formally train all these slayers.
"The First Evil was a God to the newer, lesser demons, but then its masters told it to find a way to keep a watch on the fighters. To gain control. The first man who stepped forward was a decent man, honest. He had been keeping written records on the demon species', and made a habit of observing slayers and their abilities.
"The man wanted to start a place where slayers would come to train, to learn. He did. For purely good intentions. And then the influence of the First Evil got to him, drove him to the brink of insanity. But by then, the institution was already built, and the First Evil had gained control. And then it went into hiding. No one knew what to do."
"He handpicked successors, didn't he? Figureheads. While he retained total control through his influence and through fear."
"Watchers were trained, a council formed, and soon it became the unwritten law that all slayers had to work through the Council."
"But why stay inactive for so long? From what you've said, this being likes to kill."
"He was a creation of higher beings. Their orders were to remain dormant until the proper time came when the Hellmouth would be reopened. He had to follow them. And the only way it would succeed is if they had control of the fighters on Good's side. Ying and Yang. Everything goes in a cycle. It's Evil's time again."
"And together Buffy and Willow have somehow attained the level of skill and purity the original Slayer had. Through love."
"Doesn't matter. It shouldn't to you, anyway. Cause guess what? The First Evil's free now, and he's coming home. End of history lesson."
They were close now. Less than a half-hour before Angelus would need to perform the ritual. They were also close to the lair too. It felt like the air was trying to choke them. That's how they knew.
"Does anyone else�feel cold?" Willow asked, shaking a little.
Buffy and Giles nodded. Their fear was growing rapidly. It started in the pit of their stomachs, and kept growing through their bodies. And this was supposed to be the easy plan.
They turned around when the coldness increased, and caught a glimpse of something that looked like a big, dark cloud. But there were two glowing, red�they looked like eyes, in the center of the mass. They didn't look human.
Before they could get a better look, it passed right through them and continued on its way. Buffy and Willow nearly collapsed, as the entity seemed to weaken them. And leave them with a thought in their heads.
'HOME. AND YOU WILL BE REMOVED FROM IT.'
Giles rushed to their aid, but they struggled to regain their composure, and stood up. "Are you two all right?"
"What was that?" Buffy asked.
"It seems familiar somehow, but -"
"Hurry. Let's follow it." Willow said, trying to walk faster.
She was too distracted to know how Buffy was reacting to what just happened, but she felt violated. And she didn't like it.
"You are his chosen, Vampire?" The First Evil asked, when it came into the cave. Almost like a gust of wind.
"Yes. Everything's set. Welcome back."
"I can feel the energy. It's our time again." It "turned around" and faced Wesley, who was in the corner. "Finally I get to see the face of the mortal that aided the deserters. Punishment must be carried out. Have you anything to say in your defense?"
"What will that accomplish?"
Its eyes settled on Wesley, and then it felt something powerful, strike it. Both it and Angelus turned towards the distraction. Willow stood there, and a light emanated from her palms.
"You. What are you doing here?" Angelus growled, angry.
"Were you not aware that they were near, Vampire? Is this a problem?"
"This is one half of your two enemies, you know."
"Actually, it's both." Buffy said coming in and standing next to Willow.
"I'm aware of who they are. They are of no concern to me, but they seem to be troubling you."
"Making friends with fog, Angelus? How nice." Buffy glanced at Willow, and then rushed the vampire.
Willow continued her magickal assault on what she dubbed 'the Evil Fog'. And then it entered her head.
'Are you truly unaware of what I am, Sorceress? Allow me to show you.'
Images bombarded her. Death, destruction, disease, demons, power, all the things the fog had, or was capable of. And then she learned what it was. The First Evil.
'You are strong. Stronger than I have ever seen. But do you think you can destroy me?'
'Not trying to. Right now, I'm trying to keep you busy. And it's working.'
Buffy was engaged in battle with Angelus, and Giles took the opportunity to run in and try to free Wesley.
"Oh thank God�" Wesley was breathing heavily. "I don't subscribe to any religious theory really, but I'm thinking about considering it. It's so evil�"
"Let's get you out of here."
Buffy backhanded Angelus in the face, and moved to elbow him, but he grabbed her arm and twisted it behind her back.
"Nice try, lover."
"I'm not done yet." She head-butted him, and he let go. She faced him. "All I have to do is break a few candles, and step on a few herbs, and the Master's screwed."
"Try it, and oh, take a look at the redhead."
Buffy looked at Willow, and gasped. The First Evil was wearing her down, and she was slowly sinking to her knees. She tried to make a move to go help, but Angelus got her in a chokehold and started to squeeze.
"Sad, isn't it? By the looks of you, you must of went through hell," he tried not to laugh, "to get here. All for nothing."
'Willow, it's time to share.'
'Are you sure?'
'Don't think, just do it.'
This time, Buffy did elbow him, directly in the chest. Then she grabbed his arm, and flipped him over. She felt Willow borrowing some of her strength, some of her energy.
"Giles, now would be a good time for you two to go."
"Right. See you above then."
Giles and Wesley ran out of the lair. Willow began to stand up, becoming steady, and matching the First Evil's attack. Thanks to Buffy.
"The traitor must be punished." It said, noticing Wesley's hasty exit. "But I know the objective. He will have to wait. Get up, Vampire. The time is here. I will deal with these two."
Angelus got off the ground, and stood in front of a mixture of herbs. Doing his best to block out his need to hurt Buffy, he started to chant.
"I don't think so." Buffy said, as she moved to hit him. But she didn't. She got flung back.
"He is under my protection now, Slayer." The First Evil said.
"Lords of Hell, your time is now. The time for your reign in this dimension is here. Bring forth your minions, and join me. Netis barice, open the gateway to this world." He held an herb and cross in his hand, and it started to smoke. "Aneas cerilis, I give you my pain. I use an instrument of hurt to bring you through.
"I also sacrifice," He grabbed a knife and slit his already damaged palm, "my blood. The blood of Hell. It flows from me freely to bring you across."
Willow and Buffy tried to stop him, but the First Evil was incredibly strong, and the tremors started. They collapsed, and huddled over one another.
"Your first child is present this night, awaiting your arrival. He has followed your orders, as have I. Sateeis Madan; the barrier is at its weakest. Send your soldier through, so he may lead your army in destroying this world. COME! Good will be ended this night. COME! Take your rightful place! COME!"
What could be considered a full-blown earthquake was happening now. Rock from the cave was breaking and crashing to floor. They all felt the ground shifting. The candles shook and fell. There was a loud rumble, which continued getting louder.
Buffy and Willow looked at each other, and stumbled out of the cave. Their enemies were distracted, so they ran. A couple minutes later, the rumbling stopped.
"It is open!" The First Evil yelled with joy.
Angelus looked around. "Where'd they go?"
Up on the surface, Xander, Cordelia and Oz all collapsed on top of one another. The ground was cracked, car horns going off, and fire hydrants were spraying water everywhere. They were surrounded by dust.
When it cleared, they saw that what had remained of the school had vanished completely, and a large hole was emitting bursts of dark, black energy. And standing just outside it, was the Master.
"The world is ours!" He yelled into the night.
"Wait." She said as Willow turned around.
She initiated the kiss, and Willow quickly followed, reciprocating it. It conveyed everything they felt. For each other, their fears, their love, all of it. But it was all multiplied a thousand times over. And mostly, feelings for the future were conveyed in the connection of their lips.
"I love you, Willow." Buffy said when they broke apart.
"I love you too, Buffy."
With those words, they began the climb. Mentally, they told each other one thing.
'Don't die on me.'
They reached the surface, and found themselves directly beside the Hellmouth, and nowhere near their friends or the weapon supply. They also realized that they were standing a few feet behind the Master.
Buffy nodded to Willow, and the redhead started to make a run for their friends. This got the Master's attention, but Buffy distracted him.
"Hey!" She yelled.
He turned around. "How I've waited for this moment."
"You're supposed to be dead."
"And as I recall, so are you."
Out of the large entrance to Hell, rose the three-headed, long necked, gigantic monster Buffy knew all too well. It had reared its ugly heads three years before, bursting into the library during the Master's last attempt at world destruction. Now, he looked up at it, and spoke.
"I beheld, and lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of Heaven fell unto the Earth.
"For the great day of his wrath has come," He looked at Buffy, "and who shall be able to stand?"
"Where'd you learn that?"
"And that's why I don't go to church."
She charged him.
Willow ran as fast as she could across the street. She saw her friends huddled together, and was relieved to see Giles and Wesley there too. When they saw her, they all got up.
"You're all right." Giles said.
"Well, I'm breathing still. I don't know if I'm all right."
"Where's Buffy?" Xander asked.
"Back there. Which is why I need -" Oz tossed her the bag of supplies. "Thanks."
Wesley stepped to her. "Thank you, for coming -"
"We like to keep our friends alive. It's what we do." She smiled at him. "It's probably a good idea for you guys to go now."
"Are you -" Cordelia started.
They looked at her face, and decided further argument would be a bad idea. They all ran towards the Bronze.
'I'm coming, Buffy. Hang on.'
"Sorceress!" The First Evil's voice boomed. Willow looked around, but wherever it was, it was hiding in the night. "Do you care for them?"
Now she was angry, and she punctuated her words clearly. "Don't. Go. Near. Them."
"Come. We have a battle to finish."
Willow hesitated, and looked back towards the Hellmouth.
'Go, Will. I'll be all right.'
'I'll be back.'
She took a deep breath, and started to run after her friends.
Inside the Bronze, the two Englishmen and the three slayerettes, had gathered up anyone they happened to come across and herded them inside the building with them. Then they got what they could, which was basically everything not nailed down, and barricaded the doors.
"Now what?" Xander asked.
"We wait for them to come get us." Cordelia said, and then realized how it sounded. "I meant Buffy and Willow, not�"
Giles smiled at her and nodded in understanding. "They will. And they'll be fine. They're more than prepared."
"And I sense a 'but' because�" Xander trailed off, expectantly.
"Anything can happen. But as Mr. Giles' said, they are more than -" Wesley started.
"Prepared. Yeah, we got it." Cordelia finished for him. She had been in the club just a little over five minutes, and she was already on edge.
"What's going on?" One of people they brought in with them, asked.
Apparently she wasn't the only one on edge. The kid looked young. Probably just out of junior high. If the high school were still standing, he'd most likely be starting his freshman year.
"You just move here?" Cordelia asked him.
"From Sacramento. What's it to you?"
"No. This place is a hellhole."
They all looked at the kid, and then Xander finally spoke.
"You're not wrong."
It was quiet for awhile after that. Nobody could think of much else to say. What could they say? Outside these walls a battle was beginning, and two of their friends were fighting for the world. And their lives. The Bronze was usually an escape. Not today.
Now, the anxiety level was rising. Worry was increasing. Emotions were festering. There was no music to help them forget, and the club was practically empty, so that meant they couldn't hide among the masses. It was dead.
Eventually, Oz broke the silence when he felt a chill course through his body.
"Oz?" Giles asked, noticing his slight shake.
"Anyone else feel cold?"
"Well now that you mention it -"
Oz cut him off. He was sure there was something here. "Someone hit the lights."
Xander was a little confused, but he got up off the couch he was sharing with Cordelia, and ran back to the main power box. He flipped the switch, and along with lamps they had already turned on, the main lights came on, illuminating the entire building.
They all finally saw what Oz had felt. The First Evil was hovering over them, its red eyes piercing.
"Quick, werewolf. Very quick. You didn't think you would be safe, did you?" It said, looking at Wesley. "We have unfinished business. The Sorceress will be here any second."
The Master stopped her charge effortlessly by grabbing her by the front of her shirt when she was close enough to his reach. He held her up in the air, and then threw her behind him; Buffy landed on her feet, and turned to face him once again.
"Nice try, but it'll take more than�" She trailed off when she saw that her shirt was stretched out. "Look what you did! It's impossible to un-stretch a shirt! And it was a gift�"
She moved to punch his face, but he brought his arm up to block her. She grabbed his arm with her free arm, and twisted it behind his back. She stood behind him now, a firm grip on his arm. He brought his head back into her face, and she got stunned a little.
"It is pointless. I'll just continue to return."
"Oh I don't know. There's plenty of ways to kill you. One of them's bound to work."
She got a stake out from her sleeve, and slid underneath the Master's legs. She gripped both his legs, and made him lose his balance. He fell on his back, and she rolled on top of him. Wasting no time, she brought the stake down into his heart, and dusted him.
Pleased with herself, she stood up. Then the Master's ashes were gathered up into the air, and he started to "rebuild." The ashes turned to bones, the bones gathered flesh, and all Buffy could do was stare as he was brought back to life.
"Hell has entered this world. With its influence, I will always come back to this plane, this form."
"Best two out of three?" She asked.
Then she felt a hand grab her neck, and she was thrown backwards.
"He's got an army to run. Let's finish it." Angelus said, a gleam in his eyes.
She flipped up into her fighting stance, and beckoned him. "Ready when you are."
As they started to fight, she wondered how much longer she could keep going.
'Where are you, Willow?'
'I'm still here. I'll be there soon. Promise.'
Willow was met with more resistance than she expected on her way to the Bronze. Demon after demon. They weren't very difficult for her, but they just kept coming. Like they were following her.
Right now, she was trying to avoid being flayed. A winged demon was currently spraying a wave of flame in her direction. The only thing she could think was that Hell wasn't big on originality. She had managed to block its attacks so far, but she couldn't get on the offensive.
"I don't have time for this." She said to herself.
She rolled out of the way of a blast, and realized she'd have to make a run for it. The Bronze was straight ahead. So, she ran. And to give herself less space to cover, she propelled herself into the air, and towards the Bronze's front door, just missing the demon's dive for her hair with its clawed feet.
Trying the handle for the door, she found it jammed.
Giles tackled Wesley down and out of view of the First Evil. Xander and Oz rushed over and pulled the two men up.
"The stage! We can get out the back!" Oz yelled.
Cordelia was trying to get the others to follow them, and for the most part they did. Except one. The one from Sacramento stood frozen in place.
"Come on!" She screamed at him.
But he didn't move, and the First Evil took advantage of that. In the next second, the kid was ash on the floor. They all kind of drew in a breath as they made it to the stage. As they moved to go behind it and out the back door, the First Evil was in front of them.
"Valiant effort. Truly."
Wesley stood in front of the group. "It's me you want."
It laughed, echoing through the club. "A worthless self-sacrifice."
Before it could do anything, the chairs and other furniture barricading the front door were flung out of the way, and the door flew open. Almost like she was gliding on air, Willow came into the room, her expression angry.
"I told you not to go near them." Light flew from her palms, and the First Evil was not prepared. The light sliced through it, and it's foggy composition shattered. "I know you're still here. I don't have time to -"
"But I have all the time I need." Its red eyes appeared once more, attacking Willow with a stream of its dark energy. Just as before, Willow dropped to her knees deflecting his attack. "You're out of options, Sorceress."
"If you draw energy from her, you risk her life."
"All my life people have been sticking labels on me. Geek, Nerd, Hacker, Research Girl, and now I'm by some weird twist of fate I'm a pretty strong witch. And if you're going to label me, get it right."
Willow's eyes started to glow, a blue energy field appearing around her small frame. She began to push back the First Evil's attack, and overpower him.
"It's the Great Sorceress."
Her blue stream continued to fight, and the blue energy surrounded the fog-like form of the First Evil. In a blinding light, and horrific scream, it vanished. Just as everyone was starting to get up, the winged demon flew in, and Willow directed her head towards it.
It stopped dead in its tracks, and then exploded. Willow got up, and her friends walked towards her.
"Is it over?" Cordelia asked.
"You should be safe until it's over. It's protected."
"Where are you going?" Oz asked.
"To help Buffy."
She left immediately.
"I've never seen anything so�" Giles trailed off.
"She kicked ass." Xander said.
Angelus had steered Buffy closer to the Hellmouth and he was quickly wearing her down. Her scuffle with the Master had worn her down more than she realized, and Angelus was just there to finish her off. She was holding, though.
"Give it up, lover."
"And inflate your ego even more? No. You want me dead, you're gonna have to work for it."
A barrage of punches was thrown at her, and she blocked. High, low�again and again.
She tried to kick his mid-section, but he caught her foot, and pushed her down. She was lying right at the edge of the Mouth. All he had to do was push her over, but he wasn't done yet. He kicked her in the stomach, repeatedly.
"You don't die easily, I'll give you that. But now it's just you, me, and Hell. No Angel, no swords, nothing. What's left?"
"Me." Willow said from behind him.
He turned around to face her, surprised. Buffy wasted no time. She rolled onto her back, and jumped up with both feet, kicking him in the chest. He rolled backwards a couple feet, and she was right there when she came to a stop.
She crouched down over him, and proceeded to mangle his face.
"Always," Punch. "Have to," Punch. "Make a big," Punch. "Production." Punch, punch, punch. "Should've just killed me." Admiring her work, she saw that she had drawn blood.
"I'll remember that next time."
"Oh, there won't be a next time. Ever again. The Master may have rejuvenation thing going, but you don't." She pulled a bottle of holywater out of the inside of her jacket. "Now, what do the good guys do before killing a long time arch enemy?"
"They make it last." Willow supplied.
"Thanks, Will. She's smart. It's why I love her." She uncorked the bottle. "Now, this is for Miss Calendar," She poured a little onto his chest, and his shirt was eaten away, "This is for Giles," She poured some more, to which he winced, "This is for Xander," She went down lower, right over his groin. He screamed now. "That was always a weak spot for you wasn't it, Angelus? But wait. There's more."
Willow walked over to him, and she handed Buffy the bag of weapons.
"Get up." She ordered him. He didn't budge. "Never mind. I'll do it for you."
She stuck out her hand, and lifted him into the air. He stayed there, struggling against invisible restraints. Meanwhile, Buffy retrieved the ax they had brought along.
"I've never tried a fire spell before, so be patient with me." She saw Angelus' eyes go wide. "Let the fire of light torture this being. Show him true pain."
A small flame ignited on Angelus' leg, and he was right to scream. It traveled to his other leg, and up his torso, over his arms, up his chest�and came to a halt. It just kept burning. Willow lowered him closer to the ground, and Buffy walked up to him, ax in hand.
"Will, you wanna give me hand with this?"
They both grabbed the handle, and pulled back.
"And this is for us." They said together.
The ax sliced through his neck, beheading him, and turning him to ash. They let the ax fall to the ground, and Willow hugged her immediately.
"Way to use the Force." Buffy said, breathing heavily.
"I was worried�that you weren't�okay�"
"I am now. Thanks. Let's go finish this." They broke the hug, and Buffy saw Willow's eyes bugging out of her head. "What is it?"
Willow pointed, and Buffy turned around to find herself staring at the multiple heads of the very large what she could only call, "The Hellmouth Creature". And its tentacles reached out, up from underneath the ground, and picked up the two of them into the air.
"That poor child." Wesley said, remembering the kid's death.
Xander was pacing, Cordelia was trying to pick the lint off of one of the couch cushions, and Oz just sat quietly, stoic as usual. Giles was still amazed at what Willow was able to do. It was quite a feat destroying the first creation of evil on Earth.
"He didn't listen, he got toasted. Plain and simple." Oz said. The looks they gave him were ones of shock. They couldn't believe he had said that. And a part of him couldn't believe he said that either.
"I can't stay in here. This is driving me crazy." Xander said.
"And what do you think it's doing to the rest of us? Making us happy?" Cordelia asked.
"I'm just saying that it's not right that they're facing it alone."
"Of course it's not right. But it's the best -" Giles began.
"It's what a coward would do."
"Like you're one to talk!" Cordelia said angrily, defending Giles.
"I think we all need to calm down�" Wesley tried.
"Says who? You're the biggest chicken here. If it wasn't for Buffy and Willow -" Xander said.
"You think I don't know that?"
They were all too busy fighting to realize that Oz was shaking over in the corner. It began more and more violent, until he yelled out.
Everyone shut up, and turned their attention to him.
"Oz, are you all right?" Giles asked.
"Fine. I think Xander's right. We should go."
"There, see? At least someone in here's got guts."
"And they'll be all over Sunnydale if you go out there." Cordelia said.
"She's right." Oz said.
"His knowledge makes all of you incredibly easy to manipulate. It's very enjoyable to watch."
"Oz?" Xander asked.
"Not anymore." Wesley said, backing away.
"This creature has evil in him. A deeply, savage beast which he tried to keep buried. But the evil is only held at bay. It was a struggle for him, one he was ultimately doomed to lose. It made my entering very effortless. It welcomed me. I am him. He is no more."
"But Willow -" Cordelia started, disbelieving.
"Simply forced me to find a host." Oz's eyes glowed red, and he grabbed Wesley by the throat. "Our friends are waiting."
"Can't you work some mojo on this thing?" Buffy yelled to Willow.
They were getting more and more crushed by the second, and they were each getting pulled towards a different sat of snapping teeth.
"It's shielded. And the crushing of my body makes it hard to concentrate. Gotta figure out where the heart is and do it the old fashioned way."
"Can you float something up here? Preferably something sharp?"
"I think so." Down on the ground, a sword floated, wobbling, slowly up towards the tentacle that held Buffy captive. "You're gonna have to grab it, I can barely keep it up."
Buffy reached her arm out, and the tentacle squeezed her chest more. Her breathing was getting labored. "You are so dead when I get outta this."
"Who? Me?" Willow asked losing her grip on the floating sword.
"No�big ugly mutant octopus thing." She grabbed the sword, just as it was about to fall, and sliced the tentacle freeing herself. She fell onto the creature's large body, which was kind of slimy. "Gross."
'Hang on, Will. Just gotta find the heart.'
'Hanging's no problem. It's the staying alive part.'
The creature's body was huge. It had grown, well, a lot, since the last time they had seen it. So she had to crawl on it, and stick close, so the creature couldn't get to her. She knew she when she was getting close to heart, because she felt the vibrations of a really loud thump. She started having a hard time staying on it.
She raised the sword, and plunged into its flesh. The shriek it emitted was indescribable. It let Willow loose, and Buffy slid down the creature, and to the ground. Willow lowered herself down slowly, stopping her plummet.
She ran over to Buffy to make sure she was all right.
"I'm in no rush to do that again."
Willow was looking at the still screaming creature. "Where you stuck it�it's leaking�"
More accurately, it was oozing a green fluid, and where Buffy pierced it, the hole was getting larger.
"I would run."
That was a good idea, because the fluid increased, and the creature began to implode, the fluid flying everywhere. They ran behind a car, and watched as a little of the fluid landed on the trunk, and started to melt the metal.
By the time it was over, the creature was a pile of dead flesh in the street.
"Why do the biggest things have to be the most disgusting?" Buffy asked.
"Makes you appreciate vampires."
"We have to go get the Master."
"Where'd he go?"
"Just follow the path of massive destruction."
They saw the Master standing in front of the multiplex, Sun Cinema. He was surrounded by a cadre of vampires, and was directing the demons and the destruction. It was like watching a conductor direct an orchestra. Only an extremely evil orchestra, and one that didn't use instruments.
"They're doing everything he says. Like they can't act without him." Willow observed.
"Well, that is his army, and he is�their leader. That's it."
"You get rid of the leader, the army can't function, right?"
"Right�but you said he was unkillable. That his body went from gone to put together."
"Then you have to stop him from doing that."
"Me? How do I stop it?"
"I just kill the things. You're the witch."
"How'd I know you'd say that?"
"Stakes between us?"
"Four each. They're long, so they'll be reusable."
"Okay, once the Master goes blowing in the wind it's up to you."
"Destroy the Hellmouth and stop the Master."
"I know. Job sucks, but what are you gonna do? Can't fight fate. Ready?"
Willow nodded, and they proceeded to run towards the demon convention.
The First Evil, in the form of Oz, led the group to the battle that had just erupted. He had carried Wesley by the throat the entire way. He knew they wouldn't dare attack him. It would be a risk to their lives, as well as the rightful owner of the body he now inhabited. Humans were so easily controlled with the right methods.
"Watch. Your friends are quite the team."
Buffy was fighting her way to get to the Master, and Willow was handling his protectors. The way they moved, so in sync but separately at the same time, was fascinating to the First Evil. And usually when something fascinated him, it meant that it had to be stopped.
"So why aren't you stepping in to distract them?" Wesley asked, choking out his words.
"Am I not squeezing hard enough?" He tightened his grip. "Momentarily."
He watched the Slayer finally reach the Master. He wanted to laugh at the title. She had a fire in her eyes. A dangerous determination. He guessed the old vampire wouldn't last very long, his attention having been elsewhere, and he was right. Within minutes the vampire was dust.
As his particles gathered into air, preparing for reanimation, the Sorceress, Willow, started to chant. The words just seemed to come from her, like they weren't her own. And she was able to concentrate on her task, because all the demons were frozen in their place. He knew if the Master wasn't revived soon, they would die, and the light would forever destroy the vampire's ashes.
It was time to finish it.
Willow's chant formed a ball of energy around the Master's ashes. They couldn't break free or reach the Hellmouth to reform. She had to keep a constant eye on it however, to keep reinforcing the ball.
"Keep it up for another minute or so, Will. Then the Hellmouth is the only thing left." Buffy said to her.
'You can do it.'
"Well done." Oz said, coming into their view. The gang was behind them.
"Oz? What're you doing here? What are any of you doing here?" Buffy asked.
"Just wanted to see if you could use some help."
"No�" Willow said quietly.
'What is it?'
'He's not Oz.'
Buffy studied him. He did seem different. Darker. Then she saw a flash of read pass over his eyes.
"We don't need any help."
"You sure? She looks strained."
"She's fine." A force pulled Buffy to Oz then, and she couldn't stop herself. "I don't want to hurt him."
"And that is why you'll lose."
He backhanded Buffy to the ground, and ran to Willow.
"Fight him, Oz." Willow said. "Please."
"He can only return if I let him. I don't plan on doing that."
He flung Willow into a lamppost, and she slid down to the sidewalk. The Master's ashes broke free of her spell, and began to float towards the Hellmouth. Wesley stepped in front of Oz.
"Let him go."
"Why would I do that? You are going to be dead in a manner of seconds."
Buffy and Willow began to get up.
"I can be of use to you. Go! Stop the Master."
The two girls just stood there watching, not sure what to do.
"I offer my body as a host in exchange for his life."
"I can not enter a creature that is not touched by darkness. I could, but I don't have time to fight for control. Which is why I chose this one."
"I shall accept you willingly. No resistance."
"No!" Willow screamed at him.
"Go! Now! You're running out of time!" His eyes pleaded with them.
They looked at their friends, then back at him. They mouth silent 'thank you's' and reluctantly ran to the Hellmouth.
"Why would I give up his body for yours?"
"I have�more knowledge. Knowledge is power. If you're going to be on this plane, you'll need all the knowledge you can get. The Sorceress' spell might not have destroyed you, but you're reliant on hosts now. Think about it."
"What's he doing?" Cordelia asked Giles.
"Fulfilling his duty to the cause. Just as he was trained to do." Giles said sadly, but also in admiration. This man was braver than he gave himself credit for. And he knew he couldn't stop him. Giles saw a knife on the ground that was dropped during the battle, and picked it up.
"What are you doing?" Xander asked.
"What he'd want me to do."
"Yes, I suppose you're right." Oz's voice said.
"Then let us get it over with. Shall we?"
Oz's body started to spasm and a thick mist traveled into Wesley's body. Giles approached the two men, waiting. He saw Wesley look at him, confirming what he had intended to do. The next second, Wesley's body was in the middle of a spasm, and Oz's body dropped to the ground.
And Giles raised the knife.
By the time Buffy and Willow reached the Hellmouth, the Master's ashes were already reforming.
"There's no time! We have to destroy it now!" Willow said.
"Grab my hand."
Buffy did, and looked at her. "Do you know what you're doing?"
"Just chant with me."
"Trust me. Remember Giles said I'd know? Well, I know."
Willow closed her eyes, and Buffy did the same.
'Banish this rupture in the name of all things pure.' They chanted in their heads. 'In the name of the Moon, Sun, stars, and sky. In the name of the Earth and all its creatures. Banish this evil gateway from this place. Correct the balance between the Heavens and the Dark.'
The two of them raised into the air, and stood above the Hellmouth on a cloud of light. They stuck their arms out, and felt energy start to pulse through them.
'With all that we are, with all that we've been chosen to represent, we destroy this darkness. Our talents have joined. Our friendship, our love, our souls, our bodies are one. May this darkness be gone! '
They're bodies nearly transparent, and they floated 'into' one another. They became enveloped in light, a large streak of it, pounded into the deepest recesses of the Mouth. The demons trying to get out were instantly vaporized. The ground started to rumble. The Hellmouth broke free of its confines on Earth, and went into the sky.
From the inside out, light penetrated it, and eventually it exploded into a bright blue light. Buffy and Willow found themselves back on the ground. They helped each other up, smiling. They walked over to where the Hellmouth was just a few mere seconds ago.
"It's solid." Buffy said.
"Oh yeah. We're bad."
They were all in Giles' house a couple days after everything was over. Well�not Wesley.
"So he's really okay?" Willow asked, standing behind Buffy, her arms around her.
"Yes." Giles smiled. "Whatever you two did, it got to the First Evil before it could take control of him."
"It was like this freaky light. It went into him, and then he was fine." Cordelia said.
"He saved my life." Oz said.
"I can't believe he went back to England to try and rebuild the Watcher's Council. But�if he anybody he can do it, he can." Buffy said.
"We're having a going away party. Wanna come, G-man?" Xander said.
"I think I spent enough time in the Bronze to last me a life time. I'll see you before you're off."
"You better." Cordelia said.
"Will, I have to do something."
"When don't you?" Xander asked.
"Open affection is a good thing." Oz said.
Buffy stuck her tongue out. Willow went to receive it.
"Okay, ladies. You can kiss on the way. We're losing time." Xander ushered them to the door.
They all went out the door, and Giles smiled.
"They did it." The Goddess said, appearing in the room.
"I never doubted them."
"Nor I. And it wasn't just them. It was all of you."
"I know. But they're the ones who suffered to put us all in a position to help."
"The two of them have lots to accomplish yet. Good times as well as struggles."
"Should I tell them?"
"What good would it do them?"
"They could prepare."
"They have a few years to go before it sets in. And even if you told them now, you can't prepare them for this. It's something they have to experience together."
"You would know, I suppose."
"My knowledge is limited. I only know that as long as they have one another to love they'll be fine. For lifetimes to come. Why don't you go join them? The days continue to come. You should enjoy them. Worry about the future later."
"I think -" He turned around to face her, but she was already gone. He smiled and headed for the door. "I think I will."