All About Spike
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Spiegel Im Spiegel
By Fallowdoe

Part Fourteen: The Foundation Crumbles

Buffy walked between the tombstones absently, thinking.

The forest was changing-- thinning. The brush grew smaller, the trees farther apart. And between them, an ancient cemetery began to sprout from the earth. The stones were worn down, most were broken to pieces. The amorphous, limestone stumps filled the ground around her. Most of the names were illegible.

Beside her, a tree root broke clear through the chest of angel, splitting the statue in half. The roots covered the base in clinging tendrils, like the alien, sucking tentacles of a sea creature. The angel's face was still serene-- still fighting along-- even while it fell apart into faceless, empty nothingness. Its hands were still clutched together, where the fingers were melting into one, amorphous object. Its identity was crumbling with its features.

Buffy could relate.

She stopped and reached out to touch the thing. A piece crumbled off in her hands, left a trail of white powder across her gloves.

Soon the forest would be behind them, a distant memory of blue spaces, shadowed light, and tall branches. The memory of living things moving in the wind-- birds calling in mournful, rasping voices.

One fluttered down at that moment, and landed on the angel's robed shoulder.

It regarded her a moment. One wanderer to another. But their worlds only crossed-- they weren't the same. She thought a moment of a life in the sky, moving on cold currents of wind, soaring over the trees that would seem small from the height-- the world below like a train set-- where the giant expanse of forest was simply a place to land and rest before taking to the clouds again.

And she wondered if it was aware of itself-- if it had memories and attachments, or if its animal mind was too narrow to pinpoint those details.

And in that moment the bird sprang from the angel, and soared into the air. It flew high and higher, and she followed its progress up into the sky, where it landed again on the very top of the bell tower of the ruined church that sprung from the ground like an ancient mountain or solemn, sleeping giant.

Gothic. Like those spider-web trees. She walked over a swell in the ground, and headed for the church. They'd stayed there to sleep. It had been good to wake up and see walls around her again. It broke the agoraphobic expanse of the trees and made things feel more grounded.

Far above the woods, in the arched, glassless window of the tower, Maggie crouched, a tiny figure, staring off into the distance.

And suddenly, it wasn't a vampire on in a gothic window, but Dawn up on her tower. And the image of her sister hung in her mind's eye, frozen in time and space and removed from everything else. It impelled her forward, suddenly, as if she wasn't in that woods at all, as if she were back on that ugly construction site.

She burst through the ruined doors of the church, and up to the east, past the worn alter. And the vision swam away, faded from her eyes. And she was just there, again. Just Buffy. The arched entrance to the shadowed, murky stairwell stood before her.

And the birds rode the currents of the wind high above her as she began to climb up the uneven stairs.

---

They were on the move.

Their quick, darting progress through the trees brought them well past the highway spaces pilgrims walked and into the eerie remnants of a vast and rambling churchyard. One paused, clinging with flexible, sensitively clawed fingers to the tip of an obelisk. It looked like a spidery gargoyle come alive, with its distorted features evocative of humanity, but forever removed and alien from human life and thought.

It clung to the top of the pale, white monument, and took in the air. The scent was getting stronger.

With white, willowy arms and pale, rubbery movements, they leapt together through the night, charging forward with bestial grace. Occasionally, they would communicate in the guttural, low frequency noises that broke the silence together with the impact of their powerful, arachnid legs and lupine claws on the wood and stone.

The pack would find the two hunters soon-- the predators that threatened the hunting of their territory. And this pack of creatures, the long- nosed, short-necked creatures, were all the more strange for the oddly human visages, the nagging similarity that suggested that, in the dimension they called home, these were what humans were, and would always be.

And they had a plan, as ancient and ingrained in their blood as the instinct to feed.

They knew they could wait for the two strong fighters to separate, and they could take them one by one.

One by one, when they fed. They always separated to feed. Which was ridiculous. Any pack animal knew it. And these two hunters, the smell of predatory power pouring off them in waves, they traveled together, like a pack should. But they were separate. Eternally disconnected from each other in some fundamental way. And that would be their undoing.

And the otherworldly predators moved as one through the trees, strong on the scent of their hunted.

---

She darted up the stone stairs, crumbling from where they split apart in the cataclysmic death. One floor and then another, and yet another went past her as she leapt forward with agile grace.

The cold faded from her bones as she moved, and she left the trees behind her, with the weighty pressure of the earth, as she climbed into the sky. The stairwell was dimly lit and dust filled. Shafts of light pierced mistily through the stonework where small, pigeon hole windows stood. Old bird's nests settled close to the tired, wooden support beams.

And she felt calm, suddenly, as she ran, as she moved up the stairs. The world slowed around her. This is what she had always done and what she would always do. She wasn't Buffy anymore, as she ran, she was just movement. The air rushing past her cheeks was pure solace.

And she came to a place where the stairs suddenly crumbled away, and the gargantuan church bell had fallen into the landing, imbedded into the crumbling stonework. An entire wall of the tower had fallen away at that point, and she could look back down into the roofless sanctuary, its stone floor scattered with fallen stones. She could see their own bags and equipment there, crowded around where they would make their campfire.

She pulled herself up on the stonework, vaulting up from the neck of a gargoyle on the outer wall and up to the half-demolished bell chamber. She landed soundlessly.

The breeze was stronger here, where the tower was nothing but delicate gothic stonework, slowly falling into decay. It pulled at the dark whisps of her hair, fallen from her braid, brushing them cross her flushed cheeks.

Maggie sat in a gothic arch, that dwarfed her with its size. She stared into the distance absently, blonde hair spilling over her back, tangled by the wind.

At the sound of Buffy's feet shifting on the stone, towards her, Maggie turned.

Her face was contorted, her white fangs glowing against her pale skin. Her eyes shined a golden yellow.

And they were full of tears.

"Hey..." she whispered, turning back to watch the landscape. Buffy avoided the gaping holes in the stone, and made her way carefully against the outer walls to her. As she sat down beside her friend, the expanse of the eastern sky stretched out beyond her vision.

She could see the space beyond the forest, where the lace of branches trailed away to nothing.

And there was sky-- a large, mighty sky painted like a renaissance fresco in half-lit oranges and deep reds. Rimming it-- as if the space between heaven and earth, were the carved faces of rolling hills. They were alive with golden grasses, vast and timeless, nodding together in the moving winds like ocean waves.

She heard a strangled sound from her friend, who had turned to wipe a small hand against her monstrous face.

And Buffy suddenly remembered that little sampler in the violin case. She'd read once that girls used to make them to practice the sewing they'd need in adult life. If they made it that far.

She wondered how long it had been, after Maggie embroidered it, that she had died. Looking at her, it couldn't have been more than a few years. Since the destruction, Buffy had aged. She looked the older of the two.

"Are you ok?" Buffy asked, softly, her voice unsure and tentative. They rarely talked about their thoughts or motivations. Buffy had always felt there lay a path to trouble, and had avoided it. But somehow, above in the sky, it seemed to matter less that the girl next to her fed on blood and death. And she felt a wave of peace move through her as she settled comfortably against the gothic arch.

Maggie smiled, the gesture strange and discordant through her carnivorous teeth.

"Yeah... it's just that..."

Her voice trailed off, and she gestured to the expanse of moor land. A herd of wild horses ran across it in the distance, a small rush of shapes moving through the grass.

"It's beautiful..." Buffy whispered. She couldn't get that sampler out of her mind. Mary Magdelene Neville.

Mary.

"Why'd you drop your first name?" Buffy asked on an impulse. Maggie turned away from the landscape, to her friend, her hair rimmed in gold half-light.

"I don't know..." she said, "I didn't, at first. But it just didn't fit anymore-- it went on too long. Like I wore it out."

Buffy nodded. It made sense to her. And Maggie continued, her voice still tremulous, though her tears had faded away.

"You get to--- well, when you get to be around as long as I have, things change," she said, "Things that don't seem like they could ever change. Names and places and countries and language-- everything that was certain just isn't so sure anymore."

Buffy remembered the pilgrims around their fire, telling the legends of their post-modern hero. And for so long, that name was hers. It had meant her. But she wasn't Slayer now. It'd been usurped. The world had moved past her when she threw down her cause like a long suffered burden.

It sent a stab of pain through her that was almost jealousy. It was true. Things change, things that seem set in stone. Roles and status. People.

The foundation crumbles, the rock erodes.

"I don't know if you need to live forever to get that," Buffy said softly.

Maggie chuckled, and shook off her vampire's face. She was just a girl again, her blue-green eyes rimmed red and swollen.

"I guess not," she replied, calmly, "I guess not..."

And Buffy smiled. They sat together in combinable silence, taking in the glory of the cloud-strewn sky.

"It's good, Buffy, you know that? All of that out there, it's still good..." Maggie sounded like she was just talking to herself, to the air around her that spilled over their faces in cold, flowing waves, "It's still beautiful... still full of life."

And Buffy was listening to the dead creature extol the beauty of the living world, among the ruins, as the dragon's wings came into view.

The webbed membrane suddenly shrouded the space around them like a tent, and the dragon's body made sharp impact with the stone of the bell tower, as it sped out into the plains.

The stone shook, pieces falling into the trees below. They clung tightly to the walls, desperately clingining so as not to fall. They could see the rippling, dark scales in detailed relief they were so close.

Roaring, screeching sound tore at their ears, echoing through the hills. And its wings beat as it sped away at full strength into the grassy fields.

The world was still again. The women stared. Maggie rose to stand, shakily, staring intently at the receding creature. Buffy stood with her, framed in the archway.

It soared over the distant, grassy hills, swift and twisting in the air. The wild horses ran from it as it dropped low, skimming the herd. Missing, it swooped down for another pass.

Buffy cringed as its roar filled the air again. She'd heard that sound before... she'd seen the shadow of these wings before...

The noise of it could be heard moving in the air, muted as the direction pulled away from them, and roaring when it carried on the wind. The orange light rolled off its black wings, its dark scales, as it stalked and hunted- - as it moved with violent determination among the horses, and seized one in its claws. A savage shake, and the thing lay still in the sharp talons.

And it dropped it like a doll, and went on chasing the herd where it raced across the hilltops, swiftly thinning its numbers.

Buffy whispered out her horror.

"Holy mother of--"

A hand touched her arm.

"Stop it..." Maggie whispered vaguely. Their eyes were still fixed on the sight pulled from a thousand legends. Grendel and gargoyle-- the mythic Beast. Enemy to man, lonely wanderer of the dark places.

"What...?" Buffy asked, her eyes still on the nightmare monster. Her mind reeling, racing with the memories of coming to consciousness on that stair on Glory's tower, a whirlwind of confusion and pain and light and the sound of that roar-- the screech of that *thing* as it was born in the glowing green radiance and soared away.

Maggie responded, her tone distracted, watching the living shadow tear the herd to shreds with deliberate, systematic savagery.

"Don't swear in church..." she said.

---


Continued in Part Fifteen: The Lady of Heorot

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