All About Spike
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Spiegel Im Spiegel
By Fallowdoe

Part Sixteen: Peace on Earth

There was something hunting her. A group of somethings, moving silently through the trees.

The misty half-light surrounded Buffy in a silent fog. There was murky blueness all around her, closing in on her in a damp, congested blanket. She could see the outlines of the tombstones, see the trees faintly in front of her. Shadow-things, insubstantial grey silhouettes. She had gone out hunting, and now she was hunted.

She cursed her eyes that she could not see through the foggy predawn glow.

A movement startled her to her right, and as she spun to follow it, it receded again into the greyness. She caught glimpse only of a white, spidery leg-- a glow of thin white hair. And then nothing. The silence maddened her senses as she clutched helplessly at her crossbow.

A soft, guttural clicking broke the silence in rapid patterns, tossed back and forth, closing in around her in a circle. Her stomach knotted and her blood ran fast in the old way, and she knew what was coming.

As the first sprang into view, its face a twisted parody of mouse-like humanity, she spun and landed her foot on its chest. She directed its body into the several that followed, leaping out of the mist and collapsed like fallen pins under the weight of their packmate.

She took the opportunity as she heard others moving from behind her, coiled and sprang over the mass of flailing, arachnid limbs, and bolted over the mossy, forest floor. They followed close behind, the sound coming in violent rustling movements from above her in the trees. They cared nothing for stealth now, though she knew now that they had been silently tracking Maggie and her for days. Small twigs clad with dead leaves sprinkled down as they darted back and forth, keeping swift and daunting progress with her flight.

She leapt over a tree trunk as the tombstones grew more numerous around her. She ran past the angel, divided in half by the sucking roots. Suddenly, one of the surreal creatures landed on the statue, crumbling it to pieces with the force of its spring. Like a rubber thing, all muscles and coiled strength, it volleyed itself forward onto an obelisk rising ahead of her, and sprung for her with crushing force. The obelisk shattered in half, the sound breaking the gloom like icicles falling from a gutter.

She was on the ground now. She cried out as the sharp claws tore at her flesh. And there were others, their weight falling on her. And the world was nothing but moving legs and soft, soft white hairs and blinding pain.

Her crossbow lay broken on a stone beside the skirmish, and she struggled with their arms, holding them back as they fell over each other and stole her breath with their weight. She could feel their breathing on her skin. Gaining purchase with one leg, she broke the spiders-arm spindle that had jutted powerfully from the mob towards her chest. It flowed with black blood.

But these hunters that challenged her didn't know their folly. She was the very spirit of the hunt, held that spirit in her blood and birthright-- a birthright that had always been, since the earliest age. She was determined and strong, and moved in archetypes and legends, and had embraced that power in glorious victories and the one, terrible, aching defeat. And she celebrated and lamented it all in blinding, physical energy.

She hunted.

She had known since she was fifteen years old that whole worlds shook with her choices.

In a burst of strength, she forced herself upright, springing with her legs to her feet, throwing the mass down. And she drew her blade, and two of them were gone before they could recover. Her hands flowed with the black blood, and something primal stirred in her heart.

Bursting over the hilltop, her hair thrown back as she tore through the air, she grew nearer to the old, gothic stone walls of that ruined church. Ghostly it rose to her sight in the distance-- the stone giant of the forest, sleeping silently in its churchyard.

The music that she could suddenly hear startled her at first-- soft and high and plaintive, twisting through the air as she turned to her attackers once more. Maggie, in the ruins, among the broken fragments of the pews, playing a sweet and simple melody. The world seemed to slow in its pace and her soul flooded with calm at the sound. Her bruised and bloody brow caught her hair in thin wisps as she whipped her face around to meet her captors. Her eyes glowed a soft and determined green.

And in the fraction of a second it took to turn, she wondered at her determination to survive, when she cared so little for what happened to her. But she realized it then-- she wanted to live. She wanted to live and be Slayer and fight her battles.

She took a chance of losing her blade, and threw it. It landed cleanly to the neck and the creature fell. And she turned to the others, down to her hands and her feet and the speed of her mind in the fight.

The quiet melody came back to her on the wind as she broke into the fold. The Ashokan Farewell. She knew it from those times in summer that Giles would take out his guitar and sing for them all. When they sat on the porch and looked into the trees and could smell neighbors barbecuing and sense the heady, perfumed evening setting over everything in a gentle, soothing mantle.

The same melody floated gently over the hills now, hanging over the trees. And it was pure and perfect, and very quiet under the sounds of savage violence among the tombstones. She threw one up against a stone with the force to break its legs, and it withered to the ground, defeated.

And she was down to only two, and could feel her victory coming, when a second wave spilled over the hill and from the trees above her. And still the music played. And its sweetness became dread in her heart, the bottom dropping from her confidence as she saw herself quickly becoming surrounded once more. Alone-- she knew she would someday die alone by the hands of some inhuman creature. It was the way for her. And she was in danger, but somehow the possibility of her death seemed distant and remote. There was too much in her-- wordless energy that suddenly sprang forth from her that still wanted to find its expression.

The music was gentle and insistent, and she realized even as she ran towards the church that she was not alone at all. She broke through the line of the hunting creatures, and ran at full speed for her friend.

---

Maggie heard the noise before she saw them, and abruptly stopped her tune in mid-note. It never reached its tonic, never found its conclusion, and hung empty and unanswered in the air a moment before it faded into nothing. She put the violin down gently, and rushed towards the cries she recognized from long familiarity as Buffy in the fight.

"Buffy!" she cried, running down the long, central corridor of the ruined church, shattered pews surrounding her among the shattered remnants of stained glass. Plaster crumbled from the stones, decorated still with strange, vine-patterned frescoes depicting ancient symbols and faces with unseeing, distant eyes.

The light was swelling around them the brightest it would ever be in their world, and the pale blue of it fell over the shape that flew through the arched doorway to fall sprawling on the ground.

It was a thing she could only describe as a grotesque combination of recognizable creatures. But they had become unrecognizable and strange in this different, alien form. Others burst through the shattered glass windows and she found she had no time to dwell on the thought.

"Buffy!" she called again, looking for her. She couldn't hear her anymore, and was alarmed that she may be in danger.

And Buffy rolled in the door, grappling with one of the creatures and Maggie found herself toppled over by one of them, recovered from its fall.

And they fought with the same familiarity they always had, working their way among the pews. And Maggie reached the alter, vaulting herself over the alter freize and seizing their weapons bags. She threw Buffy another knife, which she caught with deft speed and put quickly to use. Buffy stayed the creatures at the end of the pews nearby, and Maggie had time to wind her crossbow.

And when she attacked, it was with the inhuman precision wrought from two and a half centuries of long practice.

---

Buffy drew a small group of the creatures to the side, clearing a path for Maggie's arrows. They came fast and clean, and the numbers shrank with alarming speed. Buffy focused on the ones in her strangely intimate corner of this great space, painted through with fading plaster, the Latin inscriptions mingling with the eerie, lyrical images falling away into nothing around her.

She threw one away and sprung on the other, dodging a swipe of its claw as it reared up on its back legs. Ducking low, she rolled along the stone and found herself inside its guard, and struck clean.

And the one that leapt towards her fell like a crumpled doll, shot through from Maggie's altar-bower.

And the sound of scrabbling claws filled the air as the rest began to flee. They had conceded the territory, and in small numbers tried their escape. Maggie stood to watch them go.

But Buffy was in the hunt, and seized the one closest to her before it could flee. With a great cry, she captured it by the neck, and broke the primitive spine in the same motion she flung it through the air.

The sound of splintering wood filled the ruins. And then there was silence.

It lasted seconds, but stretched out forever in her mind. Maggie, standing at the edge of the alter, was frozen in place. Her eyes were, just in the moment, unbelieving, horrified. But they were also full of betrayal and hurt and a strangely child-like, agonizing desire to set back time and undo what had just been done.

Buffy was breathing hard, but as her blood slowed she began to realize what had happened. She felt like she was floating, she couldn't feel the ground beneath her.

The violin.

And after that single moment's hesitation, Maggie darted forward in a frenzied blur. She threw the body carelessly away where it fell.

She reached out, touched the shattered sound board. Stroked the loose stem as the snapped strings danced against her fingers.

She was looking down, and her shoulders shook a second, a small, strangled sigh escaping her lips.

When she looked up, she locked on Buffy's gaze. Her eyes were filled with a cold and bitter spite. There was nothing in her at all but that chilling, exacting and evil anger. There was nothing but passionless rage, for the rest of her had shattered away.

Buffy couldn't find her breath to speak. So she did the only thing she could think of to do, and ran away.

She leapt over the scores of grotesque and mangled bodies on the floor, and landed in a full sprint. Seconds later, she heard the sound of Maggie snarling in a deep, lupine growl, and following soon behind.

And she passed under the arched, gothic doorway of the church as she fled into the dim and murky cemetery grounds that stretched beyond them.

Painted above that archway was a fresco she never saw, of three words she never read. They stood lonely and unknown there for years after, until age and weather finally faded them away.

'In Terra Pax,' they read.

---


Continued in Part Seventeen: To The Flame

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