Spiegel Im Spiegel
Part Six: The Orphaned Forest
The two women walked together down the sprawling, four lane highway. The
traffic was some seven years late in coming, and the world was deserted
around them. The pavement had split, and was riddled through with cracks,
full of waving, tall grasses. There was no sound save their footfalls in
the broken asphalt, and the eternal sound of wind rustling in the
The barren peace of the empty world around them was a strange contrast to
the violence with which they'd escaped their enemies. And they'd moved on,
taken the wilderness road, that wound through the dark and into the next
populated cluster of hovels and homes, where they could stay a while. They
would travel down the highway, and into the wilds.
In the distance was the spidery silhouette of a giant, ancient oak tree.
It burst from the ground, rising through the middle of what was once a
frenzied hub of movement. The remains of the median strip split and
crumbled all around its trunk.
It looked like it had been there forever, its heavy bark twisting up into
branches tall in the sky, with its dead, winter leaves clinging to them.
They moved in the wind, and some were captured by it and ripped away,
carried in swirling circles through the turbulent air. Its bark hummed
with an otherworldly beauty.
It was like a myth had crashed through the pavement with magical, timeless
And indeed it had-- when the brilliant light had mingled its reality with
the world around her, leaving it behind. Standing alone, it was an
orphaned forest. A few dozen crows called to each other in rasping,
mournful croaks from their shelter within its branches.
"Now who put that there...?" Buffy said, breaking the silence, a slightly
whimsical smile on her lips, looking up at its vast, soaring arms. The
question cut her even as she said it. They both knew the answer.
Maggie smiled at her softly, stepping over a root. The vampire knew the
girl next to her, more than she may have expected. She knew that Buffy had
been there at the last, been part of what happened. Even though she had
never said so. She could read it in her eyes, how she gazed too long on
the dead remnants of what had been, or sometimes on a person they'd meet
that must have reminded her of someone she'd failed in the time before.
She knew also that when Buffy looked at her closely, when she'd watch her
as she moved, that she too reminded her of someone past and gone. Buffy
was watching her now, quietly, with that look in her eyes. They continued
to walk, lost in their own thoughts.
She was quiet. Very quiet. But she understood that. Maggie liked her.
She liked her as a fighter-- for her daunting tactical sense-- for her
strength as an ally, for the trust she could give her without fear of being
compromised. And she liked her for her sadness-- for her sense of loss and
gravity. And she liked the quiet, thoughtful silence that communicated
everything about her pained companion, all while saying nothing at all.
They were two small figures, dwarfed by the straight ribbon of highway
around them, and the oak tree-- the living past, the sprawling, powerful
mass of strong arms. Maggie let her hand trail against its rough trunk as
they passed, and felt a vague kinship with its age.
They continued on in amicable silence as the highway rose up a gentle hill.
And Buffy was still looking at Maggie, watching her walk down the broken
road beside her.
It was about two years after the destruction first took place when Willow
materialized from the darkness and appeared before her.
Buffy had been cutting through an alley quietly, alone. And suddenly, the
shadows seemed to rise from the corners of the bricks-- they moved and
twisted, and formed the familiar and beloved shape.
"Hi Buffy," she said softly, a little smile curving on her face. It was
pale from lack of sun-- white and glowing out of the darkness that
surrounded her, that seemed to cling close to her and engulf her in its
Yes, her face was very pale from sunless days, and it made Buffy wonder how
differently she must look herself. For a girl who had once preened and
primped like a fantastical, brilliantly colored parrot, she hadn't looked
in a mirror for a long time.
Willow stepped out of the dark and towards her friend. Buffy gasped.
Willow's hair was very long, hanging in soft locks to her waist. It was
streaked black, breaking through the red, tingeing it with something murky
and dark. Her eyes were slightly shadowed-- different than Buffy
remembered. And she stood smiling before her, a bit sadly-- a bit
strangely. Something unsettled rose in her stomach, danced there and
And she pushed it aside and wrapped her arms around her friend with a
frantic sort of affection. She hadn't realized until she had her in her
arms how much she'd ached for the familiar, lost friends of her childhood.
And she pressed her close and embraced too the relief that came with it.
Her skin was cold to the touch.
"You're thinking about something," Maggie said. It was more a statement
than a question.
"Yeah," she said. She wondered vaguely if all vampires were as direct-- as
forthright as those she'd known well. But Maggie was never offensive,
respected Buffy's distance. Buffy respected hers in return. Perhaps it
was just the difference of a female temperament, or the fact that Maggie
wasn't trying constantly to sleep with her. Spike hadn't let her keep any
distance, and even Angel had spoken for her emotions often. But Maggie was
Buffy liked her. She liked her quiet.
Buffy remembered how Angel had tried to contact her, right after it had all
happened. He was with Faith, and they wanted her to join them. But she'd
sent the messenger away, and had never gone to look for them.
And she wondered to herself where Spike had gone. She wondered if he
blamed himself for what happened, or if he'd shrugged it off and embraced
the chaos he'd loved so much. Perhaps he was still in love with her. But
whatever had happened, he had a way of seeing things that made her want to
ask him what he'd made of it all.
But she wouldn't see any of them again-- her human friends were almost
certainly dead, and perhaps the others were, too. So she traveled
randomly, sometimes in groups, and now she traveled with Maggie.
There was a time that it wouldn't have seemed right. But it didn't much
matter now, those questions of morality. And it was good, in its way, to
have someone around she could trust in a fight, someone capable who wasn't
very emotionally demanding-- someone who wouldn't try to make her feel more
than she chose to about anything they saw or did. A distant kind of
friendship, wrought from brawling together, surviving the world, and a
mutual respect for each other's considerable physical strength.
"Just thinking, well... that things are different. In the world."
Maggie chuckled softly, "And I hadn't noticed..."
And there was silence, as they scaled the swelling hill, approaching its
crest. Maggie chuckled to herself once more, turned her head to Buffy, her
light hair falling loose around her face. Soft. Everything about her face
looked young and soft. Almost vulnerable. And yet, when she was angry,
she'd seen her in the throes of some of the most horrific violence she'd
"We still have this wonder of American Infrastructure..." She gestured to
the broken pavement around her, an ironic, friendly glint in her eye.
"And we still have seasons," Buffy countered, the cold wind stroking her
"Sort of..." It was cold most of the year, but it grew warmer, sometimes.
A black, nighttime summer.
"Yeah, sort of..."
"We still have slayers, apparently. Think that little girl knew what she
was talking about?"
"I don't know..." Buffy responded. Perhaps Faith had met her end.
"It wouldn't have to be a real slayer, though-- I mean, it wouldn't have to
be the chosen one," Maggie said, her brow furrowed as her thoughts flowed
out, "Most of these people wouldn't know what a slayer was. Maybe it's a
description... not a title."
"Well you should hope so," said Buffy, "So she might not come around and
kick your ass."
"She could try..."
"Think I'd have kicked your ass?"
"You could try," Maggie replied, her laughter ringing gently around them
both. It sounded light and warm.
"It's strange," Buffy said, her voice quiet, musing, "That someone would
try to fight it all off, now that it's all gone to hell..."
And they trailed to silence again.
"Birds!" Maggie exclaimed, breaking through Buffy's thoughts, "We still
have those. There are still all sorts of birds and squirrels and
animals... lucky thing too."
Buffy ignored the veiled reference to Maggie's diet. Humans were sometimes
hard to come by, now. It was something they never spoke of, and they
always hunted their food separately. She shrugged the thoughts off, pushed
them to the back of her mind where they faded away to the background again.
"There's still-- oh!"
Buffy's voice caught in her throat as she crested the hill. The highway
broke off, the overpass that continued it thrown down, collapsed into the
abyss before them. Beyond that, the world stretched out in an immense and
Rolling hills, spinning out into the misty horizon, all covered in ancient
trees like a mossy carpet. An old growth forest, fallen into the middle of
the interstate. The sound of the wind moving through their venerable arms
was like ocean waves, and the dusky orange glow on the horizon illuminated
them, making the dry and fluttering leaves twinkle with dim light.
Wind whipped passed her cheeks, throwing oak leaves by her, dry and dead,
into the air all around. One caught in her tight braid a moment before
hurling itself into the distance. And suddenly she heard a flurry of
plaintive cries behind her, and the beating of a hundred wings. A murder
of crows flew past in the wind overhead, soaring headlong into the airy
space above the living woods, moving as of one mind into the plutonian,
shady expanse. The wind that flowed over her smelled brisk and alive with
This was an otherworldly forest, perhaps from the same world as the old,
orphaned oak on the broken highway road. The buildings of her own world
rose in tired shells through their branches in places, tired hulks fighting
through the mass of trees. But mostly it was a sea of grey arms and brown,
dying leaves, moving in air and pulled with force into the wind.
And she looked down below her feet, where the grassy hill shot down into
the woods, away from the collapsed overpass, its concrete pillars rising
superfluous and lonely into the open air. The easiest path down was worn
into the grass, a small, dirt path leading to the dark and forest roads--
and all that lay beyond them.
Maggie was motionless beside her, paralyzed by the sight. Buffy had said,
once, that vampires couldn't love. But she was wrong. Maggie was in love
with beauty. She sought it out, made it with her hands and her violin with
as fine a skill as she made death.
Time passed by, but they did not move. It was time to go, but they simply
stood together a while, looking silently out on the strange and empty glory
of the wilderness.
Continued in Part Seven: May Queen