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       Part 32       

The following parts of this story have ideas from beyond "Into the Woods" story line I started with, and use a lot of "Checkpoint" up to "Tough Love thrown in as my mind adapted to how the season has been going, and to help me get unstuck finally from my writers block in this story, and the Angel series too.

Part 32

        
        Instead of the hellish landscape she had been waking through Buffy‘s awareness had some how shifted again, and she was surround by water, or at least some liquid all around her. The unknown voice spoke once again:

By water shall all which is old and useless
Be dissolved and washed away,
With water, pure, and magical,
Does new life arise once more,
By water shall thy soul be tested....

        Buffy swam upward through warm liquid to reach the seemingly distant surface. She came up sputtering, catching a tortured breath as she broke through into the open air. She opened her eyes, adjusting to the dim light, and looked around—it was another cave—ohh, joy! Again she was offered choices. On the shore were three tunnel openings in the wall of the cavern each burning with a different colored light within. This time the choices were gold, purple, and aquamarine. Tough choices, but somehow the opening with the aquamarine light one felt right, so she swam towards it.

        Pulling herself up on the rocky shore, Buffy wiped her face off, and shivered in the cool air of the cavern wishing for a towel not only to dry off, but to cover herself with. This wandering around naked was getting very annoying. Not that she was a super prude, or anything, but it did make her very self conscious, and aware of her body in ways she hadn´t noticed before. Since there wasn´t any towels, or whatever to dry off with, she ignored as best she could the cooling wet liquid dripping off her hair, and body, and entered the brightly lit tunnel.

        Once inside the floor, and tunnel walls appeared to be grayish white stone, polished smooth this time with no hidden crawling, slimy nasties coming from out of nowhere to assault her, or freak her out. Still she carefully walked forward, all her senses on alert. She went onward for what seemed like a long time in the featureless tube, almost despairing that there was ever going to be an end to it. Or what this portion of the test meant if anything. She had not realized she was slowly climbing upward until she came out abruptly into another vast, and vaulted rocky chamber. Coming out of the tunnel finally, she found herself standing upon a narrow platform slightly above the unseen floor. The upper part of the cave was shroud in darkness, while the lower portions of the cavern were lit with blue tinged lights that seem to come from no recognizable source. The floor of the chamber was hidden in cool heavy mist, and fog that swirled, and moved of its own accord, moved by unknown breezes, and forces.

        "Okay, now what? Okay, where´s the gotcha? I know there´s got to be a gothca?" she asked aloud, looking upward, and all around her suspiciously, hoping she´d get an answer. She really was hating this wandering around with no seeming purpose, or point to the exercises or places she found herself in.

        In response to her request, she guessed, the mists parted, and revealed a raised platform like an altar in the center of the chamber. It was made out of carved, unknown clear crystal shot with gold, reminding her of the crystal she had been holding before she got into this mess. One the altar lay the tanned and black stripe painted figure of a short, yet compact young woman with dark dreadlocks. "Oh, great—her again,"´ Buffy said to herself as she recognized the First Slayer from her dreams.

        Seeing that the First was just lying there, and not making a move to get up Buffy went over to her. The First seemed to be sleeping, and Buffy wasn´t sure whether to wake her, or not. Their previous encounters had been far from pleasant before. Then she felt a presence approaching from the other side through the thick fog. It was a vampire, her still working senses registered. The mists parted as Markus approached her where she stood by the still sleeping First.

        "I see you finally showed up. About time," Buffy told him, noting he was a naked as she was, and trying to ignore that he wasn´t half bad looking for a vampire after all. De-uglied be reminded her a lot of Dracula, almost too much and that did bother her. But she had Spike to get back to somehow, and as good looking as this guy was he wasn´t Spike, and there were going to be no touching, or anything else between her, and Markus.

        "It wasn´t yet time. You had to see first, understand—do you?" he asked facing her across the sleeping First.

        "Not really. So you´re going to do the cryptic bit too—just once I´d like to get straight answers from someone!," she grumbled ,and saw a slight smile from him. "Look Markus, so far the only thing that makes sense is the history lesson—so this is it? This really hasn´t been that big of a deal. I´ve been there, done that, and seen lots worse. This test is designed for new slayers, not old. What I´ve experienced so far this trip hasn´t impressed me that much," Buffy told him impatiently, folding her arms across her chest, and keeping the altar between them.

        "Yes, I´ve noticed that," Markus smiled at her, amused at her modesty. "I have been with you all this time unseen, but still aware of your reactions, and emotions. You have a very strong will to survive, and great courage. Already in your life you have seen, and experienced more than other slayer to date, and still you do not bend, or give into despair because the fighting never stops for you—there will always be new challenges, new threats that you need to meet in order to protect the ones you love and your world," Markus said pleased with her.

         ‘Okay, I must be doing something right,´ she thought to herself hearing the satisfaction in the vampire´s voice. "I got that too. That is why I am doing this because I have to face a real honest to goodness God when I come back to my world. If I have any hidden powers, or whatever, I ‘need´ to know what they are. Since you´re acting like the expert here—do I have hidden powers, and abilities so I can fight this Hell Goddess going by the name of Glory?" Buffy asked, hoping he´d tell her, and hoping that this whole test thing meant something.

        Sighing, he just grinned, and shook his head. "Sorry, that is for you to discover through this quest. This is all about learning about yourself. There are no quick, and easy answers," he told her truthfully.

        Buffy looked disgusted, and sighed, "Well it was worth a shot. I just want to get out of this, and back home to my life, my time. I do hope that is going to happen?"

        "That too, is not for me to say. Your counterpart is also going through her own tests in your time. Time, and the awareness of space, and reality is fluid, Slayer, like this place-- that does, and doesn´t exist around us. Is it real, or not, or is it only a product of our minds? It´s not your body, or your physical presence in the timeline that matters, but your consciousness, your essence that does. For your placement in a set time, and place within a set body is for the experiences that you are there to learn from. You are a special being, more special that just being a slayer as are those you call your friends who surround you in your reality. You have been together with all of them before in different lives, and in different times, but never like all of you are together now. And it is because of the threats you have faced, and will face," he explained carefully.

        "At least that´s something. I had always felt that was the case, but it´s good to hear I wasn´t wrong," Buffy said, relieved on one level to know that she, and her friends were together for a reason, and it wasn´t sheer chance. Though as interesting as this was she wanted to be doing something besides just standing there talking. Though it didn´t look like that was going to happen as she heard Markus continue.

        "You always knew the truth, but you were never sure whether to believe the truth, or your intuitions. Because you still fight what you are, and refuse to believe in the reality of the what you call the ‘supernatural´ world. For all that you see, and are confronted with, you still want to call it sheer imagination, or ‘craziness´ because it runs totally counter to the way you think the world should be. You try to frame your perceptions in normal, mortal terms, but you cannot. You still wish to be as blind as the rest of the simple, mortal humans that daily refuse to see the truth, and know that their reality is really the false one. What you, and your friends do see, and deal with is not the only the real, true world. There are other dimensions, other realities, other beings that live, and die besides just mortals," he told her truthfully.

        Buffy shook her head, frowning, and giving him a sour look. She was not really wanting to hear this crap as she called it again. "But it was so much better when I didn´t know all of this was real, and thought demons, and vampires, and Hellmouths were only something that some weirdo writer, or whatever had made up. I didn´t want to believe in good, and evil, forces like the Powers That Be, or crazy gods out to rule my universe."

        "But you have to now , don´t you? You can´t deny that all of it isn´t real any more, can you?" he asked, lifting a dark eyebrow, daring her to counterdict him.

        "Yeah, I guess so," she said grudgingly, shrugging her shoulders. She shifted a little as she tried to find a more comfortable position to stand. ‘God, she was getting bored--. Was he ever going to quit talking?´ she wondered.

        "You´re still trying to deny it to yourself. Only by accepting, and embracing the truth will you be able to fully fulfill your destiny," he told her, dismayed that she was still resisting.
  
        "There´s that damned word again—‘destiny´. I really get sick of hearing it. You know what really bothers me is the way all of us slayers are forced into our roles—no choice, no way of quitting the job, or being able to walk away from it. Our only reward, and peace from this endless killing only comes with our final deaths. Then there´s what all this killing does to us inside—the numbing of emotions, and feelings. I have fought for, and been lucky to hang on to my family, and friends, and their love. I know the other slayers have rarely been granted that chance because of the rules of the Watcher´s Council. They have been the ones isolating slayers from humanity until all the slayer has is the slaying, and killing, and that isn´t right. The rules really suck, and are stupid. I didn´t follow any of the rules, and hey look—I survived they didn´t. So what the hell good are these damn rules, and the Watchers good for except to make the other slayers, lonely, miserable, and die earlier than me," she told him with great satisfaction.
        
        He laughed. "I quite agree with you, Slayer. You have made the Council start questioning their methods which is good, but there is much resistance to change, and tradition within the ranks. You are a problem because you do not bow to their wishes, and methods, and have a higher success rate than the average slayer. There have been few in the long history like you, and those too were those that went outside the rules, and did it their way with support from others," he told her.

        That got Buffy´s attention. "There have been others like me?" she asked, surprised.

        He nodded. "A few through history, but their records have been carefully hid, or edited so that few Watchers know that that there have been independent slayers. Your Watcher came upon the forbidden texts, and saw that it was possible for a slayer to exist outside of the normal rules, and the Council itself."

        "Okay, that explains a lot. But the other slayers taking this test, do they find out all this too?" she asked wondering why the vampire before her was being so forthcoming with information.

        "No, not really. Each test is individual, and on a need to know basis. You, because you are more aware of things, are allowed greater access to the truth—the real truth."

        "Which is? Because I know we haven´t reached the bottom line yet. This is all been filler am I right?" Buffy questioned, and saw a surprised, and pleased smile on the other´s face. This one was sharper than she gave the impression she was.

        "Very perceptive of you. You have been shown that you, and I are kindred. Still you fight that it is so. You must embrace that fact, feel it, know it, and accept it, within your very being. You have had glimpses of your true nature, when you have allowed the hunt to become what it truly is. You have seen, and felt it when the Master bit you. When you let Angel bite you to save his life. When you tasted Dracula´s blood, and now with Spike you share, and exchange blood with him in true intimacy, and love. Few slayers have had such close personal contact with their mortal enemies before except within the confines of this ritual, or by accident, or it was their final death," Markus told her.

        "So we´re finally coming to the blood part of this thing—I was beginning to wonder," Buffy shot back.

        "Yes, it is time. If you can not see by the end of this that which you deny to yourself then you will never truly understand the truth, and never reach your fully potential," he warned her, then added, "are you not aware of what you are bathed in, what you had to swim through to reach this place?" he asked, making her aware of her body once again..

        "It was just water wasn´t it?" Buffy asked, afraid to look now at her body aware that now she suddenly felt sticky, icky, different somehow.

        "Was it? Look again," he commanded, and she held out her arms, and saw that she was coated in blood, it had dried to her skin, painting her like the First was painted, and then she saw too that what she had taken for dark paint was blood too. They were alike, identical. "You wear yours well," he told her, breaking her daze.

        "So I´m covered in blood. It´s no biggie, and it´s washable," Buffy countered not letting the symbolism get to her.

        "Is it really? Do you ever truly get all the blood washed off of your hands, and soul?" he questioned.

        "I dunno, do I ?" she asked, not taking the bait.

        "But isn´t true that you do not count what blood you shed as meaningful blood, important blood because it is not mortal, or human? Demon, and vampire blood in your mind is evil blood which is okay to spill, is it not? Because by all you have been taught by the ignorant mortals who call themselves Watchers and objective observers, it is not living blood. When you kill a demon it is ‘not´ a living, aware being that you are killing—so it´s okay—am I right?" he questioned with a raised eyebrow, his eyes dark, and glittering in the dim light of the cavern..

        "Yeah, I guess," she answered cautiously, becoming unsure all of a sudden.

        "Have you not found out since you started slaying that not all demons are evil, that they can be individuals with their own strengths, and weaknesses just like the human mortals you protect?"

        "Yeah," she grudgingly admitted, with Whistler, Angel, and Spike coming immediately to mind as well as several others that she had run into, and let live after getting to know them like Harmony, and Drusilla. "So, what are you getting at?" she shot back defensively, becoming very uncomfortable with this conversation.

        "Just the simple truth, little Slayer. You are finding yourself having to make more, and more judgment calls on whether, or not a particular demon, or being should live, or die. Things are not so black, and white anymore, they are gray most of the time—aren´t they? Yet, you still cling to black, and white definitions, live those definitions. You still cling to the party line that all demons are souless. Truth is, little slayer, they do have souls every last one of them otherwise they could not exist, or move around. There is the appearance of death, and there is truly dead. There is life, and there is death—those are absolutes. Vampires are not absolutes because they do live, have needs, feelings, and consciousness same as any mortal. They have been transformed, changed from mortal functioning by something as simple as a virus that requires that the person be drained of their blood, weakened, before the virus can infect them, and produce the changes you see in them, as vampires. It isn´t even magic, just pure, and simple biology at work. Just getting bit will not infect a healthy human. It only works when there is almost total blood lost, and the mortal is near to what you call death," Markus explained.

        Buffy was frowning at him, not happy he was giving her a real scientific explaination for vampires. She had never been prepared that there might be one. It did throw her whole world view off. "Right, you´re trying to tell me it´s a virus causing this? It´s not a demon taking over? Because that´s what you guys believe happens," she protested, not wanting believe him.

        "That was the easiest explaination to believe given the level of science in the past. Today this can be verified by medical science. I believe those you call the "Initative" know the truth. As have other scientists that could see such things as viruses in the blood," he explained.

        "Maybe, but I still have doubts. Then what am I? Why does my blood cure vampires, or intoxicate them?" she asked, still skeptical. She had also begun to wonder if Riley, and Dr. Warsh had known this all along, and not deemed it important enough to tell her.

        He grinned. "Because your blood is not human normal. The reason you are ‘chosen´ is because your blood is the result of an aberration in your cells. It has natural antibodies to the vampire virus. When a vampire is sick, or weak your blood can revive, and repair the damage to the vampire. In a healthy vampire it is like if someone overdosed on sugar giving the vampire a high, a real rush so to speak like a narcotic does—it is actually too much for the vampire to handle, and process even in small amounts, so that they get drunk so to speak, or crudely become super horny depending on the circumstances," he explained, and saw her blush at the knowledge. "Your blood could even be used to create a cure for vampirism."

        "You´re kidding aren´t you?" she asked shakily, haven´t not expected that.

        "No, I´m not. It is possible. You were targeted for capture by the Initative to test out that idea, but fortunately Adam, and your group destroyed them. Still be aware that they have not forgotten about you, or the other slayer. While she was in prison they tested her for use in their programs," he warned her, and saw her eyes narrow dangerously, flashing fire.

        "They´re going to use Faith as a guinea pig?" Buffy asked alarmed, hoping that she remembered this bit of news if this conversation was really taking place.

        "They already have without her knowledge, or the Council´s. They are now very interested in you two based on the results from her," he warned.

        "But she´s free, she´s out of prison with a new Watcher, and working with Angel. And I destroyed the Initative completely—didn´t I?" Buffy asked worriedly.

        "Just the visible facility there in Sunnydale. The Initative still exists in a modified form, and is still doing its work elsewhere. The project was too important to be let completely go of by your government, and other interested parties. As long as demons exist, so shall it," Markus told her, warning her that there still might be trouble from them in future.

        "Ohh, great. I so not needed to hear that they were still going, and a danger to everyone," Buffy said trying to calm herself down.

        "And you will retain the knowledge from this conversation, so you may act upon it as you see fit in the future," he reassured her.

        "That´s good," Buffy sighed in relief, then she looked over at him sensing that conversation was not all they were there for. "So now what? This is it? We just stand here and talk?"

        He shook his head, "no, now you merge with her for the next part of this."

        "Okay—how?" she questioned, looking at him puzzled.

        "Lay down next to her on the crystal," he instructed..

         She shrugging her shoulders deciding to trust him after all. As per his instructions Buffy climbed up on the altar, and did as he asked. Then she lay there watching him as he made mystic gestures over her, and the First as he began intoning:

        "Spirits of past, present, and future merge your servant with her past. Make them as one so that she may see, and feel what she is, and will be," he told the strangely now charged air surrounding them, then he vamped out, and bit into his wrist, slashing it open with his sharp teeth. Before she could react, or guess what he was about he thrust his bleeding wrist to her mouth. "Drink," he commanded.

        Startled, Buffy did so, becoming almost half crazy from the smell of it, and the wanting to taste it--she had to have it even though part of her mind was screaming--NOOOO! With an eagerness she couldn't not understand, she latched on to his wrist and greedily took his thick, ancient blood into her mouth, swallowing it like she was some over eager fledgeling. Her head was immediately flooded with images, sensations, and feelings as she also felt herself merging somehow into the body of the First at the same time, and being aware of her own mind being taken over, and submerged by the primate needs, and urges of the primal, savage slayer. It was a more intense experience than the earlier one when she had just been just a pinpoint of awareness on a cosmic scale being shown the true nature of the universe she protected. There she was dissociated from her body, just a mind. Here she was aware of everything. It was like she was within her own body, yet alienated from it too.

        Buffy found herself outside on a hillside standing in warm sands under a midnight sky sprinkled with stars. She recognized the place from her dream of the First. Before it had been bright daylight when they had met, now it was night, the time of the hunt. She half expected Tara to be there with her cards giving her mystical advice. Buffy looked around to be sure. No, there was no one, she was alone. Or was she as she registered the presence of another close by. She looked around her for something to use as a weapon, and found a broken off piece of a wooden stick with a sharp end. It was not the greatest stake, but it would do. Keeping low she quietly crept forward trying to locate her prey.

End Part 31

 

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