Avatars by Kirayoshi

Disclaimers; Joss Whedon owns them, plots out their lives and keeps trying to convince us that there is chemistry between Buffy and Riley. We of course know better. I'm just having fun, don't sue me.
Author's note; This is my take on the various reports on Season Five; god-like adversaries, Tara's secret, Dawn's secret, that sort of thing. So call this one an Alternate Universe, because I would not claim to know the mind of Joss. Oh, while this isn't a dark fic, or overly angsty, it does get pretty intense. At least that's what I'm going for. And yes, this will be a Buffy/Willow story. Eventually.
Spoilers; "Hush", "Goodbye Iowa" and general Season Five
Feedback; Do I have to ask? Jim_D_Means@prodigy.net
Summary; Ancient forces that have opposed each other since time began have chosen human champions to fight their battle. To the death.

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AVATARS

By Kirayoshi

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Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
Having tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if the world should perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate,
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great,
And would suffice.

--Robert Frost

Prologue;
Setting Up The Game

"The battle begins anew, Tiamat."

"So it does, Marduk."

"Has your avatar been put in position?"

"It has. And yours?"

"Is ready."

"So let us begin the game anew, my eternal enemy."

========

December, 1999

She was doing the will of her deity, that's all that mattered.

Never mind that she felt attraction for the young woman whom her god had chosen to be his champion, that didn't matter. She was an avatar of Marduk, that is all that mattered.

The game was being readied. The pieces must be prepared.

She could only hope that Thespia wouldn't try to interfere again. She couldn't understand Thespia's obsession with the Lower Beings. They were beneath her master's notice. Not worthy of a god's time.

However, the rules of the game had forced her to take the flesh of a mortal. She had assumed control of this shell of flesh, with all its negative attributes; the need to eat, to excrete, to respirate, to bathe, to maintain constantly a shell that would only last a mere century on the outside. Hardly worth the effort.

But her waiting in this gross frame would soon be over. She had found the vessel. The champion. The avatar.

An unassuming shape, not attractive by the narrow and prejudicial standards of these contemptible microbes that dare to call themselves sentient. Short hair, bright red. A skinny body. A face that was too expressive, lips a trifle too wide, eyes a shade too green. Hardly whom she thought her master would choose.

Then she looked at her for real. Not fooled by sight, she saw her for real. She saw her true form, her aura, her inner self.

A powerful one, she was. And more so than even she herself thought. If she were allowed to mature, to learn to control her powers, she would be formidable among her people.

No wonder her master had chosen her. And small wonder that this battle would be the last. When it was over, only her master would be standing, of that she was certain. And once that happened, the microbes, the Lower Beings, these gnats that infested Creation, would be swept away in a purifying fire.

She saw her take her seat at a meeting of these gnats, as they spoke of Goddesses, of powers, of magic. Her contempt for these Lesser Beings grew with every word. What did they know about power, about the true magic of her Gods? Soon, they would see power. And that power would be the last thing they ever saw.

After the meeting, she made her move. She approached the red-haired human, and offered her hand, as she had seen people do in greeting before.

"Hi," she said to the future avatar. "I'm Tara."

"Willow," the avatar answered back, shaking her hand.

========

January, 2000

Riley Finn died of injuries sustained when he faced the cybernetic nightmare called Adam.

But no one knew about his demise.

Not his fellow officers within the Initiative, not the doctors who labored to keep him alive, and certainly not his girlfriend, Buffy Summers, who waited patiently for news of his progress.

The moment his soul was wrenched from his body, another soul entered it. The other soul was Discord, the servant of Tiamat the Destroyer. Tiamat had come, as he had come a thousand times before, to lay waste to this pitiful world.

And what wonderful toys these pitiful humans had seen fit to leave him! An arsenal that could destroy a hundred Earths, terrible weapons with a fiery breath that would do the gods justice. Tiamat was always amazed at the capacity of this species to destroy themselves.

Tiamat would be happy to help them to that end.

Discord slowly knit the damaged body of Riley Finn back together, and bolstered it so that this aberration Adam wouldn't be able to damage it again. Discord then rifled through the dead man's memories in order to find the name of Tiamat's Avatar, the one who would take the essence of Tiamat and become his champion. Yes, Discord chuckled to himself. This one would be a most excellent avatar. Stronger than any human alive, agile, swift and cunning. A true destroyer. A Slayer.

As 'Riley' recovered from his injuries, he noted his friend Forrest at his bedside. "Forrest," he breathed to his former friend, who smiled back.

"Hey, Finn," he gave him a firm handshake. "How ya doing?"

"I'm fine, but I gotta know." Riley smiled, as he asked, "Where's Buffy?"


Chapter One

Destiny's Dawn

Halloween, 2000

"Hey, Mom, what do you think?" Dawn Summers bounded down the stairs in her costume. A bright lime green tunic and knee-high dress with a wide black belt, green socks and black mary-jane shoes. She posed hopefully for her mother, who nodded politely.

"Very nice, Dawn," Joyce said as she appraised her younger daughter. "Uh, who are you supposed to be?"

"I'm Buttercup!" Dawn announced, as if stating a self-evident truth.

"Oh, Buttercup," Joyce nodded approvingly. "I loved 'The Princess Bride', especially that scene where Buttercup followed Wesley down the hill and into the Fire Swamp--"

"Uh, Mom," Dawn stared at her mother as though she had sprouted antlers. "What are you talking about?"

Joyce looked at her daughter quizzically. "The Princess Bride," she answered. "But, now that I think of it, I don't recall Buttercup wearing bright green."

"Mom," Dawn shook her head, wondering yet again if she was adopted, "I'm Buttercup from the Powerpuff Girls! Geez, hop on the clue train!"

Joyce laughed at her daughter, and consoled her, saying, "Sorry, honey, it's this thing called the Generation Gap. Don't worry about it, sweetie. You'd hate it if I were cool anyway, I'm your mother."

"All right, Mom," Dawn yielded the point. "When's Buffy getting here?"

"Soon, dear," Joyce answered as she went back to clearing the dinner dishes. "She and Riley will drop you off at your Halloween Party before going to theirs."

"Oh," Dawn said without enthusiasm, and wrinkled her nose in distaste. Joyce caught the tone in her daughter's voice, and asked, "Is something the matter?"

"Yeah, Riley."

"I don't see your problem, Dawn, I like Riley. He's a good man. Buffy likes him."

"Yeah," Dawn complained, "but she has no taste. Didn't she used to date a vampire?"

"Now Dawn," Joyce scolded her daughter. "I want you to be polite to Riley Finn when you're with him. He's going out of his way to take you to your party. I don't want to hear Buffy saying that you mouthed off to either of them. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, Mom," Dawn answered. "I'll be good." The last thing she needed. Her sister playing spy on her. Geez, but why did she still fawn over that dweeb Riley? I mean, she could have that hottie Xander if she wanted, all she'd have to do is pry him away from that slut Anya.

She would have continued on that line of reasoning for several seconds if the universe hadn't chosen that moment to turn her life inside out. Her head suddenly reeled, vertigo assailed her senses, and the visions came--

--Some punk poseur, being attacked, killed by -- Buffy. Buffy stood over her victim's remains, like an animal having made the kill. Like some terrible beast of prey, savaging a gazelle. She wasn't human, she wasn't--

"Dawn!" A worried Joyce shrieked as she rushed to catch her fainting daughter. "Dawn, honey, are you okay?" Dawn lay limply in her mother's arms, between waking and dreaming.

The only sensation she could feel was a plea from some unknown and unknowable source. "Now," the plea cried out to her heart. "It is beginning now."

========

"So this is what 'William the Bloody' is reduced to," the pathetic shell that had once been Spike, the scourge of the Slayers, muttered drunkenly as he ambled his way through the streets of Sunnydale. "Stuck in this dead-end armpit of a burg, damn chip still keeping me from killin'." He took a swig from an old bottle of Jack Daniel's, laced with A negative. He had just raided a local blood bank, unable to draw from the living after what the Initiative had done to him. "Gods, I hate my unlife!"

"I can fix that for you," a voice startled the inebriated vampire. Spike spun on his heel, only to find Buffy Summers standing in front of him, crouched and ready to attack.

"Oh, lookee here," Spike laughed bitterly. "What are ya gonna do, Slayer-girl, kill me? You can't kill me, girlie-girl, you have that nasty conscience that keeps you from killing the helpless andUNGH!" He was cut off in the middle of his drunken rant by a pile-driving blow from Buffy's shoulder. Without speaking, she grabbed him by the lapels of his jacket, and threw him against a building. Before Spike could defend himself, the Slayer grabbed his neck in her left hand, and held out her right hand, her fingers like claws. She drove her free hand into Spike's chest, and tore out the vampire's festering heart, displaying it before Spike's terrified eyes.

The grisly sight of his own heart was the last thing Spike saw before he immediately decomposed into a pile of ash. The heart disintegrated as well, and Buffy Summers snarled as she inhaled the vampire's dust.

Her eyes, normally a smoky hazel, flashed with unearthly fire. Her features contorted into an animalistic grimace, and she howled out her victory to the night sky.

"Very good, Buffy," the voice of Discord complimented his avatar. The savage Slayer growled with approval as her master emerged from the shadows. "You have done well. You have killed the helpless. You have crossed the line you vowed never to cross. There is no going back. From this day forward, my avatar, you belong, body and soul, to Tiamat." He summoned Buffy to his side, and she meekly ran on all fours in a loping gate to his hand.

The thing that had once been Riley Finn smiled. The Primal Slayer, the avatar of Tiamat was loose upon the world. Soon, the fate of mankind would be sealed.

========

"I wanted to thank you again, Xander," Giles announced as he hoisted a small amplifier into the back of Xander's car, "for helping me get my equipment to the Espresso Pump."

"No problemo," Xander grinned as he noticed Giles carrying his guitar case. "So, how's the Giles Unplugged deal going?"

"Well enough," Giles answered as they headed back to his townhouse. Giles located his sheet music books. "Care for some tea before we take off?"

"Don't mind if I do," Xander agreed. "Say, you take requests?"

"It depends," Giles eyed Xander warily. "What did you have in mind?"

"Well," Xander said with a slight edge of anxiety. "I was thinking of bringing Anya over for a latte later tonight, and I wondered if you could play 'Change the World' by Clapton?"

Giles smiled at Xander's selection. "I believe I could manage that. Always did have a fondness for old Slow-hand. I think that can be arranged." Grabbing his music, he opened the door, only to be greeted by two familiar faces.

"Willow, Tara," he greeted the two witches. "What brings you here? I thought you two were attending a Samhain festival tonight." As he spoke, he found himself regarding Willow's face with growing concern; her normally animated features were frozen in a hard mask. Not her world-famous and much feared 'resolve face' but a blank expression that forced all emotion out of her face. Tara also seemed transformed, darker somehow. And Rupert Giles' mental defenses suddenly flared.

"Rupert Giles," Willow intoned. "You have in your possession the Sword of Gilgamesh. You will bring it to us now."

"Uh, Willow?" Xander greeted his childhood friend uncertainly. "What's the up? You don't need no steenkin' sword--UGH!" Xander found himself thrown backward, impacting suddenly with the far wall.

"You will bring the Sword of Gilgamesh to us now." Willow declared passionlessly. Tara simply glared behind her. Then she stepped forward, her eyes glowing pale white. She grabbed Xander by the scruff of the neck, and demanded, "The sword, Rupert Giles, or I will snap this one's neck."

"The sword is here," Willow interrupted as Tara held Xander's body aloft. Tara dropped Xander like a sack of flour, and followed Willow's pointed finger. Willow was pointing at a padlocked rifle cabinet. Tara concentrated, and the padlock snapped open. Removing the broken padlock, Tara opened the cabinet doors, revealing a number of formidable swords. Some simple, some ornate, others arcane. Tara scanned each blade, finally selecting one specific sword. Holding the sword in front of her, she intoned, "The Sword of Gilgamesh." Handing the blade reverently to Willow, she declared, "You will wield the sword against your eternal nemesis, my avatar." Willow bowed toward Tara as though she were standing before a mighty king, preparing to be knighted.

"I cannot allow you to remove that blade from these premises," Giles shouted out, grabbing a crossbow from his mantle and aiming it at Tara. "The Sword of Gilgamesh is too dangerous for anyone to handle!" Tara ignored Giles' statements as if he were a flea before her. She held the blade aloft and gave it to Willow.

Taking the sword in her hands, Willow answered, "I will slay our eternal foe, the avatar of Tiamat. Marduk will once again be sovereign of this world. And that which displeases him shall be rendered dust." Willow took Tara's hand in her own, and the two wiccans promptly disappeared in a shower of light.

"Whoa!" Xander shouted. "Willow! Tara!"

"They're not here, Xander," a terrified Giles answered. He feared not for himself, but for Willow and Tara. It was clear to him that the two witches had tapped into some terrible form of primal magic, and this power was controlling them. He immediately dropped his sheet music, and told Xander, "I'd better tell the Espresso Pump that I won't be available tonight. My apologies, Xander..."

"Hey, don't sweat it, G-man," Xander smiled ruefully, "I won't be resting until we find out what happened to Willow." While Giles plunged into the research mode, Xander tried to contact Buffy on the phone. "C'mon, Buff, quit playing tonsil hockey with Ry-Krisp and answer your damn phone!"

========

"NOW!" her heart cried out to her. "Be who you truly are!"

Dawn Summers rose from the sofa and said to her mother, "I must go."

"Go?" Joyce asked. "Are Buffy and Riley here?"

"I must stop the avatars," she stated tonelessly.

"Dawn, what are you talking about?"

"I am not Dawn," she answered. "I am Thespia."

At this, Joyce looked quizzically at her daughter. "I thought you were Buttercup."

"This discussion can serve no purpose," she said, as she prepared to go. "I must stop the avatars."

"All right, Dawn," Joyce shouted. "Where in the world do you think you're going?" She took Dawn's arm in her hand, to restrain her.

"Remove your hand, Joyce Summers."

Joyce blinked, unbelieving. "Young lady, I am still your mother, and I still insist on a modicum of respect."

"You are not my mother," Dawn breathed as she brushed Joyce's hand away from her.

At this Joyce grew livid. "Oh, you are so grounded, Dawn Summers!" She grabbed Dawn by the shoulders, trying to gently restrain her.

Dawn's eyes glowed a neon violet, and she regarded Joyce with the expression of a deity whose worshippers had displeased her. Her body crackled with an unearthly energy, with an impossible strength. She shot Joyce a venomous look, and Joyce suddenly felt a disquieting fear of her own daughter. She slowly removed her hands from Dawn's shoulders, and backed away quietly.

Dawn simply looked at Joyce, no emotions at all registering on her face. "Joyce Summers," she spoke tonelessly, with just a hint of sadness, "I regret any distress that I have caused you, but my deception was necessary. I must go now, or else you world is lost. Farewell, mortal, we shall not meet again." Dawn closed her eyes, and in a flash of light, disappeared.

Joyce stood alone in her living room, shocked at what had happened. Her heart was heavy with grief, with worry, and with the realization that nothing she knew was right. The first time she felt this way was when Buffy revealed to her that she was the Slayer. At the time, she was certain that she had lost her daughter for good. Now, she was losing her other daughter, and she didn't understand why.

All she knew was that the fates had taken Dawn away from her. And nothing would ever be the same in her world again.


Chapter Two

Here There Be Dragons

Anya twisted a lock of hair around her finger, dejectedly looking around the stock of Giles' magic shop. She wondered if Xander would have minded her first choice of costume for the party tonight. He had said that the theme was historical figures, and Lady Godiva was a historical figure, right? She later rejected the idea; remembering the cute way that Xander would hyperventilate whenever she attempted to display her naked body in public. Oh well, it's a good thing that Willow wasn't using that Joan of Arc costume she wore last year. A few alterations, and it fit quite well. And she'd have just enough time to get home and try it out.

She had agreed to wait for Xander here, but she found the surroundings boring. Giles had been thrilled earlier this week when he received a new shipment of celtic paraphernalia, which was now occupying a spot near the front door; books on Irish legends, tarot cards, Celtic crosses, all lining the shelves in an orderly fashion.

Anya found most of what humans called magic to be indescribably dull. As a former demon, one who lived for over a millenium, she knew what true magic was about. She had access to artifacts that could give a man his fondest desires, or cast him to the pits of hell. Or, as was often the case with humans, both at the same time. She had long ago decided that what humans regarded as magic was merely conjuring and sleight of hand. Smoke and mirrors.

Which is why she was constantly amazed by Willow, although she'd never admit that to anyone else. When she first met her, she recognized her as a vessel of great power. That was why she tried to recruit her to help locate her pendant, the one which gave Anya her demonic powers. Willow didn't know it then, but she was powerful. And now that she and Tara had become orgasm friends, her powers had grown almost exponentially. She was on the verge of becoming one of the mightiest people on this planet, and Anya had started to regard her with something akin to awe. All that power, inside such an innocent vessel.

The front door was opened suddenly, disturbing the windchimes which hung from the ceiling in front of the door, causing them to clatter against themselves in a merry music. Giles and Xander burst in, Giles heading for the back room, Xander for the phone. "Xander," Giles instructed, not even noticing Anya at the counter, "keep trying to raise Buffy, I'll start pouring over the codices."

"On it, G-Man." Xander picked up the phone and started dialing.

"We need to save the world again, Xander?" Anya asked in a bored tone of voice.

"Yeah, something like that," Xander said.

Anya puffed a lock of hair out of her face. "So, no sex tonight?"

"You know the rules, Anya," Xander answered, slightly irritated. "First we save the world, then sex. I'm funny that way, I tend to get performance anxiety if I'm worried about impending Armageddon."

Anya nodded, accepting Xander's statement. "I'll go help Giles find what he's trying to find." She slipped into the backroom, leaving Xander manning the phone.

After a few futile minutes of calling Buffy's number, only to get her answering machine, Xander decided to call her mother. But the second he put the handset on the cradle, the phone rang. Xander picked it up immediately, saying, "Magic Emporium, Xander speaking."

"Xander! Thank God!" Joyce Summers cried on the other end of the phone.

"Mrs. Summers?" Xander asked. "Hey, I was just about to call you. You wouldn't happen to know where Buffy is, would you?"

"No, Xander," she answered frantically. "I've been trying to get her on the line, and I just keep getting busy signals!"

Xander grimaced as he heard her. "Yeah, we've been trying to call her too. We've only gotten her machine. Something wrong, Mrs. S?

"Something's very wrong, Xander. Is Mr. Giles there? I need to speak to him."

"Sure, Mrs. S." Cupping the mouthpiece with his hand, he shouted toward the back room, "Giles! Buffy's mom wants to talk to you."

"Mrs. Summers?" Giles poked his head out of the door, and beckoned for Xander to give him the phone. "Rupert Giles here."

"Giles, something terrible happened. Dawn disappeared."

Giles thought for a second before responding; "Are you saying that she's missing?"

"I'm saying that she's disappeared! She was here one second, gone the next! A flash of light, and she was gone! I kept trying to call Buffy, but--" The rest of her statement was drowned out by a fit of hysterics.

"Joyce, please, calm yourself. Something like that has happened to Willow and Tara. We're trying to contact Buffy, and I'm trying to research what's happening. I assure you that we'll get to the bottom of this."

"I hope so," Joyce answered weakly. "I'm just scared for Dawn."

"I understand," Giles said. "I have to ask, however, did Dawn say anything before she disappeared?"

"Uh, she said she wasn't my daughter, she said she was someone called Thespia."

"Thespia," Giles repeated. "I see. That at least gives me something more to go on. I have to get back to the research. I promise you that I will contact you as soon as I have news."

"Thank you, Giles," a desperate Joyce said. "Good luck."

"Brave heart, Joyce," Giles tried to console her. "We'll find her." He replaced the handset, and headed back to the books. "Willow said something to me a few months ago," he thought aloud, "about her efforts to contact the goddess Thespia with Tara. She wasn't successful, but--"

A sudden flash of white light broke his concentration, and he rose to his feet, thunderstruck. The figure that emerged from the radience was a familiar face and form, but there was something wild about the set of her dark hair, something unearthly in the gleam of her eyes, an alien knowledge resting on her brow.

"Uh--Dawn?" Giles hazarded a guess. Hearing Dawn's name, Anya stepped out of the back room, to check up on Buffy's sister. Anya had been aware of Dawn's adolescent crush on Xander, and was prepared to make sure that it didn't progress any further.

"Rupert Giles," the young girl declared, "you must aid me. The avatars are on the loose."

Giles stared hard at Dawn, uncertain what to make of her declaration. Xander, ever to the point, asked, "Avatars? Aren't they a new brand of luxury cars?"

"The avatars of Marduk and Tiamat," Dawn said tonelessly. "They have been called to the mortal world. And their war will spell the doom of all life."

Her words hung over their heads like a Sword of Damaclese. Giles' brow furrowed in concentration. He recalled Willow declare herself the avatar of Marduk, and that her enemy was the avatar of Tiamat. What was the connection with what happened to Dawn?

He addressed Dawn solemnly, hoping she could shed some light on the matter. "You call yourself Thespia. Am I right?"

"You are correct, mortal," she said simply. "I am the servant of the Powers That Be."

"May I ask why you have taken the form of the Slayer's sister?"

"The slayer has no sister," Dawn answered. "I have created this fiction to better travel in the physical world."

"Hookay," Xander shouted. "This is getting freaksome, Dawn. What's going on here, really?"

Dawn regarded Xander with the manner of someone facing a mosquito who had dared to bite him. "I am Thespia!" she shouted at him, and some unknown quality in her voice, some uneartly aspect of her facial features, some terrible gleam in her eyes, made Xander tremble. Even Anya, who had seen much that was fearsome in her centuries of life, cowered before the young goddess. For there was no doubt in any of their minds, that was what they were dealing with.

"Thespia," Giles asked quietly. "How have you done this thing? Why do you appear before us as a human named Dawn Summers?"

"I regret the necessity of deceiving you," Thespia answered, in a voice as clear as a dream of forever, "but it was required of me to assume a shape that would go unnoticed around the Slayer. I created the identity that you call Dawn Summers, and inserted myself in your world. I affected the time stream, permitting my birth in a physical body, so that I may better monitor the progress of the mortal called Buffy Summers and her destined soulmate, Willow Rosenberg."

Anya raised an eyebrow at this revelation. "You mean that the powers that be have an interest in Buffy and Willow becoming orgasm partners?" Giles and Xander covered their eyes at this statement, embarrased that Anya would ask such a direct question of a goddess.

If the goddess was offended, she didn't display it. "I fear that there is more to it than that. They have been singled out for a terrible destiny. They have become the avatars of two dark gods, Marduk and Tiamat. And they now prepare to face each other in battle, to the death."

"Whoa!" Xander interrupted. "No way Buffy's gonna try to kill her best friend!"

"She is no longer Buffy," Thespia answered, "any more than her friend is Willow. They are now the avatars of the gods. Marduk and Tiamat sent their messengers to the physical world to mold and manipulate them over the past year, and now their transformation is complete."

"Hey," Xander asked suddenly. "For those of us who missed a few pages, mind filling us in on who Marduk and Tiamat are?"

"Sumerian dieties," Giles explained, shifting into full Watcher mode. "Marduk was an giant man, representing order, while Tiamat was a hideous dragon, who delighted in chaos. According to Sumerian custom, they frequently warred against each other, uncaring of the fates of the mortals who labored on the earth that became their battlefield."

"You are correct, mortal," Thespia agreed. "Their battles have shaped the surface of your world many millenia ago. It was the will of the Powers That Be that I be appointed custodian of the balance. To insure that Order and Chaos stayed evenly matched."

Xander blinked, disbelieving at what she had said. "Hey, but we fight for order here. Right? I mean, chaos is bad, right?"

"Is it?" Thespia challenged. "Order can be stasis, or fascism. Chaos can be freedom or creativity. Without one, the other has no strength. Without either, the balance is lost."

Anya's face shot up with understanding. "It's like when that Toth demon split you in two, Xander," Anya explained. "One of you was suave, the other one was scruffy. But if one of you died, the other one would die as well." Thespia nodded approvingly at Anya's statement, pleased that she understood.

"And order and chaos are about to face each other," Giles intoned, "in the bodies of Buffy and Willow..."

"And should either side win," Thespia finished Giles' sentence, "the world is doomed."

========

The littered ash of a hundred vampires who dared to cross her lay strewn in her wake. She stalked along the sidewalk, unseeing, uncaring. Several people walked near her, or around her, only to be pushed aside without thought or remorse. Two people suffered broken arms, one complained of whiplash, shouting that the attacker would hear from his lawyer. She didn't notice.

The thing that was once Buffy Summers walked on, only one purpose; the place of the battle. The field near the abandoned high school, which was destroyed when a demon tried to kill the student body during graduation. The avatar was compelled to travel to this destination, and to kill any demon, any vampire, any being dead or alive, who dared to prevent her from reaching her goal. Each demon or vampire she slew, its energies were absorbed into her body, strengthening her.

Behind her, Tiamat's servant, Discord, watched with glee as Buffy cut a swath of destruction in her wake. Yes, this is what the master wanted. This is what his god planned for the world, once his avatar defeated the champion of Marduk. The thing that occupied the decaying flesh of Riley Finn marked the Slayer's progress, knowing that soon the final battle would commence.

========

"Is there any way of stopping this battle?" Giles asked Thespia.

"Indeed," Thespia answered, grateful that these mortals were able to understand the peril that their world was in. "My purpose in this world is to end their battle. But the gods have ever thwarted me in my cause. Their servants were powerful influences."

"Servants?" Xander asked.

"The ones whom you call Riley Finn and Tara. Riley Finn died several months ago, in a battle with an atrocity called Adam. As his soul fled his body, that space was taken by Discord, the servant of Tiamat. Through the Slayer's affections for Riley, Discord was able to sway her, speaking to her heart through dreams, through their physical contact. It was the same with Tara, although she is very much alive. Her mind was taken by Marduk's servant Entropy. Through the bond of love and magic forged between Willow and Tara, Entropy was able to manipulate Willow Rosenberg into being Marduk's avatar."

"But how do we stop them from fighting?" Anya asked. "I mean, they're friends normally, maybe even in love with each other--" Xander glared at Anya, who only shrugged her shoulders. "Geez, Xander, those two have been hot for each other for so long, I'm amazed none of you noticed!"

Giles and Xander stood, jaws agape, not believing Anya's statement. Thespia however looked at Anya, saying, "She is correct, mortals. Their love for each other, along with the growing powers they possess as Slayer and Wiccan, these are the reasons they were chosen as avatars. As Buffy's powers as a Slayer have grown, Tiamat knew that the battle was coming. And when Willow succeeded in casting the 'I Will It So' spell, Marduk knew that he had found his champion."

"But if they battle, the world is doomed?" Giles asked.

"Should Tiamat win, he will scorch the Earth with eteral fire. Should Marduk triumph, he will encase the world in a new ice age. Either way, all life will be extinguished."

"And if it ends in a tie?" Anya asked.

"Do you recall your legend of King Arthur?" Thespia asked. "Arthur Pendragon fought to the death with Mordred. Both slew each other, bringing about the fall of Camelot."

"Are you saying that Arthur and Mordred were avatars of Marduk and Tiamat?" Giles hazarded a guess.

"They were," Thespia nodded. "This battle has taken form in the past before. Each time, precipitating a terrible period in human history, a new Dark Age. But this battle, they mean to finish their war. And both Marduk and Tiamat desire the right to destroy this world and reshape it in their own image."

"But can they be stopped?"

"They can, only by acknowledging their love for each other," Thespia answered. "Marduk and Tiamat have always observed one rule in their battles; their avatars must be linked by friendship, brotherhood, or love. Their first battle set this standard. And that is how your world may survive.

"The first avatar of Marduk was the Sumerian king Gilgamesh. He was the ideal of Sumerian civilization, the consumate warrior and leader. You recall the legends of Gilgamesh, Giles?"

"I do indeed," Giles answered. "He faced a wildman named Enkidu, and they fought savagely for many days. But in the end, they learned to respect each other, and put aside their hostilities. They became companions and friends for the remainder of their lives together, for the remainder of their days. When Enkidu died, Gilgamesh mourned greatly for his fallen comrade."

"Precicely," Thespia answered. "As it was with Gilgamesh and Enkidu, it must be with Willow and Buffy. Divided, they are easy prey for Marduk and Tiamat. United in their love, they are powerful enough to face any threat. We must find either Willow or Buffy, and force them to remember their friendship, and to recognize the love they share. That is why they took the forms of Riley and Tara; not only to put them under their control, but to make them fall in love with them."

Giles shook his head; demons and vampires were one thing, but gods and dieties were entirely different. But he had to deal with this, if he was to help save both his world, and the two women who had become surrogate daughters to him. "Very well, Thespia," he said. "How do we find them?"

"I'm thinking that's not gonna be a problem," Xander said, as he glimpsed out the window. Giles, Anya and the diety in the child's body joined him at the window. In the distance, they saw a cloud of acrid grey smoke, and over the cloud, an enormous figure, composed of hideous green light. The light took the shape of a bloated dragon, five necks branching off from its massive body, five snarling heads glaring at the town below them, their smiles revealing terrible teeth, their eyes flashing hellish fires.

Thespia looked at the sight, her face paling. "Tiamat," she whispered. "He is here."


Chapter 3

Entropy Ascendant

Not for the first time, Joyce Summers sat alone at her dinner table, writing checks to pay her bills, and ask herself when it all went wrong.

Was it when she and Hank had started fighting in Los Angeles? When she first suspected him of having an affair with his secretary? Was it when her oldest daughter started getting into trouble at Hemry High School? When she was expelled for burning down the school gym? When they moved to Sunnydale after the divorce, and Buffy started getting into more trouble?

Or was it that terrible night when she witnessed her oldest daughter shoving a piece of wood into another man's chest, and watching the victim turn into a pile of ash? That one night when everything that she knew about her life was turned inside out. And her own daughter was in the thick of it.

She didn't know what to do then, as demonstrated by her practically kicking Buffy out of the house ("You walk out that door, don't even think of coming back!"). When Buffy didn't come back, when she ran away, Joyce fell into a pattern of simple tasks, paying bills, compiling grocery lists, anything to fill the empty space that Buffy should have occupied. She blamed Giles, she blamed Buffy's friends, she blamed Hank, she blamed everyone for what had happened to Buffy. When she should have taken a look at herself. At how she had misjudged her own daughter.

She saw that now. How she had always argued with Buffy about her grades, her anti-social tendencies, her lack of responsibility. Lack of responsibility? If anything, what Buffy had was too much responsibility. The Slayer. The one person in all the world who would hold back the darkness. Draw the line against all that was evil and say, "This far and no farther."

And now, she knew that her daughter was in it again. Both of her daughters. If Dawn really was her daughter. After seeing her in her true aspect, as Thespia, she couldn't be sure of anything that was hers anymore.

All she knew was that she might never see either of her daughters again. And there was no way for her to tell them that she was sorry. Sorry for all the times she grounded Buffy when she was busting her butt against some undead fiend. Sorry for never fully understanding how much it hurt her when Angel left town. Or how it hurt Dawn to see Xander with Anya. And sorry for never telling either of them how truly special they were.

She looked out of the dining room window, wondering what kind of monster might be lurking under the sill outside. Maybe that foul Brit, Spike. She got up from her chair to make sure the latch was secure. That's when she saw it.

A huge five-headed dragon creature, spitting fire from its five mouths, towering over the surrounding houses. Joyce blanched at the sight of the monster, more terrifying than anything any Hollywood production could ever envision.

She looked back at the table where she had left her checkbook. Suddenly, her water and electric bills seemed trivial. Her daughters were out there, facing that monster. And in this moment of epiphany, she knew where she had to be.

She grabbed her coat and purse, and ran for her car. Buffy was out there, going up against that thing, and Joyce could no longer stay safe on the sidelines. However she could, she had to help her daughter.

========

A red haired Wiccan sat silently, meditating. She didn't know who she was, or what she was, nor did she care. She was doing the will of Marduk, that was all that mattered.

She sat atop a pile of corpses, amid the remains of what was once a seedy little dive called "Willy's". She held in her left hand the skull of Willy the Demon, former proprietor of the establishment. Until ten minutes ago, Willy had maintained the rundown dive, thriving on a regular clientele of demons and vampires that lived in and around Sunnydale, serving all their drinking needs. Occasionally, the Slayer would visit, grilling either Willy or any of his regulars for information on the whereabouts of whatever demon or vampire she was hunting.

That was until ten minutes ago.

Then the redhead came in. Willy recognized her, a friend of the Slayer. Not dangerous in and of herself, but the word among the demon community is that if anything ever happened to Willow, the Slayer would be displeased, and whoever had harmed Willow would wind up much dead.

Willy didn't recognize the blond standing next to Willow. He didn't have time for a second look.

Suddenly the redhead drew a sword, and went to work. With terrifying efficiency, she hewed her way through the crowd of regulars, killing with each sword stroke. Some of the tougher demons stood their ground, only to be felled like dry wheat at the harvest.

Willy holed up behind the bar, cowering like a scared baby. His fear didn't save him from the vengeance of her blade. She was not the sweet innocent she was reputed to be, but the incarnation of wrath, of righteous rage. She leapt over the bar, holding the blade high over her head, her eyes boring into Willy's head like laser beams.

Willy sat trembling before the twisted visage of the young wiccan, not caring that he had wet his pants in fear. "Please," he groveled before the warrior woman. "I have a family to suppor--" He was cut off mid-syllable as Willow cleaved his head off of his shoulders.

She knelt before the newly slain Willy, cupped her hands under the demon's flowing blood, and drank deeply as though from a mountain stream.

The blond smiled as her creation did her work. Yes, grinned Entropy. The avatar of Marduk has done what is necessary. She has slain her fill of monsters, and drank of their blood. Now, all there is for her to do is face Tiamat's avatar, and forever decide the destiny of this world.

Entropy and her servant were startled by the sudden sound of the door swinging on its hinge. They craned their heads toward the doorway, and saw her, the young teenager who was the current reincarnation of their shared nemesis.

"Entropy," Thespia addressed the woman who, in another life, was named Tara McClay, "I would have words with you."

Entropy spat on the floor in front of Thespia. She didn't pay any attention to the two men and the young woman who followed her at a distance. Entropy was clearly enraged at this godling who dared to challenge her.

Thespia regarded Entropy and her slave with an air of calm condescension She looked almost like a displeased parent, whose children had rebelled against her.

"Entropy," Thespia said with the voice of a loving, but scolding parent. "Haven't you learned from our last confrontation? This world is no longer your domain, it is man's."

"Man's domain?" Entropy snarled, holding her servant back with the most tenuous of leashes. "More like man's cess pool! You defend these maggots who infect our world? You're very funny, Thespia."

"They are my children, Entropy, as you are. As Discord is. As your masters, Marduk and Tiamat are. And when my children misbehave, I must correct them."

While this strange conversation between deities took place, Xander confronted the woman he knew as his best friend. "Hey, Willow, you wanna talk some sense to your girlfriend? She's talking about the end of the world here, andUNGH!" Willow, still under thrall of Marduk, moved toward Xander with impossible speed, the Sword of Gilgamesh in her hand, and grabbed him by the back of the neck. Pressing the flat of the blade against his jugular vein, she hissed at Thespia. "Hey, bitch! Stay out of our way, or he bleeds."

Xander's eyes were big as baseballs, unable to accept that this was Willow Rosenberg, the girl who grew up with him all these years in Sunnydale. He looked at her face, and saw nothing of the sweet young woman, the hacker, the spellcasting buddy of his. Willow was gone, and only the will of Marduk remained. In the depths of his heart, Xander Harris knew despair.

Thespia, however, was not so easily deterred. "No, Willow Rosenberg. Do not go further down that path. You have only killed demons thus far, soulless things. But once you take human life, there is no turning back. Do not blindly follow this false goddess."

Willow gazed at Thespia, anger coloring her eyes. "I must do as my goddess dictates."

"She is no goddess, Willow Rosenberg, as you are no servant of Marduk. She is using you to bring about the end of mankind. Is that what you want?"

"It is what must be, Thespia," Willow answered plaintively, as though reading holy writ without comprehending the meaning of her words. "I must finish what Marduk started. Mankind is corrupt, mankind is evil--"

"Evil?" Thespia raised her voice, authority shining from her youthful brow. "Evil is abandoning who you are to blindly obey the enemy of your heart. Evil is surrendering your identity to another. Evil is killing that which you love most."

Willow shook slightly at Thespia's words, her grip on the Sword of Gilgamesh weakening. She still held the point of the sword against Xander's neck, pleading with the goddess before her. "I must do this, Thespia. You know what lurks here, la Boca Del la Inferno, the Hell mouth? I used to believe that I could help defeat the evil, but Entropy showed me the truth. The evil is around us, it cannot be defeated!"

"You are wrong, Willow," Thespia answered. "You have defeated the evil, every day of your life. By living you life, by never allowing the evil to defeat you. By siding with your world's champion against that evil." Thespia stepped closer to Willow, her small hand smoothly alighting on the side of the blade, and pushing it away as Willow stood, transfixed by her measured words. Xander slipped out of Willow's hand, and rushed to where Giles was standing. The two men looked on in awe, aware that what they were seeing was nothing less than a confrontation between powers beyond any they have ever known. Between gods.

"Buffy, Willow. Remember Buffy," Thespia continued, as Willow's resolve continued to weaken. "Has she not taught you anything? She knows that she must die, probably at an early age. And the evil she fights will outlive her. But she still strives on, because she knows the cost if she does not. And you know as well. That is why you chose to follow her when you could have made a better life for yourself elsewhere."

As Thespia spoke, Willow felt as though the goddess was looking into her heart, her soul. A tiny flicker of memory of the woman she was before her corruption by Entropy emerged, of a time, long ago, when she said something to her friend. "I think it's worth doing. And I don't think you do it because you have to. It's a good fight, Buffy, and I want in."

"Buffy," Willow whispered, as the sword fell out of her suddenly nerveless fingers and clattered to the ground. "My goddess, Buffy." She squinted, as though shaking off the effects of a powerful drug. She glanced around furtively at her surroundings, as memories of what she had done flooded her. "Oh...my...goddess..." she gasped. "Where...what..." Her eyes rested on the blond who led her here. Where she once saw the one she loved, she now saw an enemy, and her eyes misted red with anger at what she had done to her. "YOU!" she screamed at Entropy. "You took everything I ever believed and twisted it around! You turned me into a monster, a pawn in your war! NO MORE!" And she lunged toward Entropy, only to be thrown against the back wall by the irate deity.

"I am disappointed in you, my puppet," Entropy shook her head, little more than annoyed by Willow's act of rebellion. "You had so much promise. And now the world will go to Tiamat. But you and your friends will not live to see that day." She raised her arms over her head, her hands glowing white with unearthly energy. She prepared to smite the humans who dared to stand against her, only to have Thespia stand between her and her prey.

"Not this time, Entropy," Thespia answered serenely. She held up her right hand, and the energy that Entropy was controlling was suddenly drawn out of her and into Thespia's hand. Entropy screamed, a keening howl of defeated rage, as her essence was slowly dissipated. Finally, her howls receded, fading into the ether like a terrible dream, and the body of a young woman named Tara McClay collapsed to the floor like a discarded marionette.

Willow landed on her feet, gasping for breath. Xander ran to support her, asking, "It's really you, right, Willow?"

"I think so Xander," Willow answered shakily. "Although I can't quite be sure. After what Tara made me do--Goddess, I can't believe I fell for her! I hope Buffy can forgive me."

"That may be academic," Thespia answered. "I fear that the spell that binds your friend will be much harder to break." Willow nodded solemnly, not bothering to ask why Buffy's sister was suddenly speaking like the Oracle of Delphi. Before she could process any more information, she heard a groaning from the floor.

Tara arose groggily, cradling her head in her hand in pain. Willow instinctively rushed to comfort her. Giles nodded, saying, "Entropy has fled her body, Willow. She is herself."

Willow knelt beside Tara, holding her gently in her hands. "You okay, Tara?"

"I th-think so," Tara stuttered. She looked at Willow quizzically, and asked, "Do I know you?"

Willow looked at her once-love sadly; clearly she had never really known the true Tara. And she probably never would. "I'm just a friend. We met at a wiccan meeting." That was all she could say to her. Whatever they had together was over. Worse, it was a fiction, created by an evil god to sway Willow into the god's service.

Tara shook her head in frustration. "I wish I c-could remember you," she said nervously.

Willow smiled at Tara. "Don't worry, friend. I'll remember for both of us."

Helping Tara to her feet, she said to Giles, "Can you help her get home?"

"I can do that. But what about you?"

Willow faced her friends and the goddess Thespia, her 'resolve face' firmly in place. She understood without knowing why what she had to do, who she had to see. "I'm going to find Buffy. I know now why I was such an easy mark for Entropy's seduction. Entropy knew that I had found my true love, even before I realized it." She didn't quite expect to hear these words coming from her mouth, but as she spoke, she knew that every word was true.

"Buffy," she intoned. "She is the one I love. And I have to confront her, to tell her of my love, and pray that she will listen."

"It is the only way to free her from Tiamat's enslavement, Willow Rosenberg," Thespia agreed.

"But if it doesn't work?" Xander asked meekly.

Willow closed her eyes, fear chilling her to the core. "I pray that it doesn't come to that," Willow answered, anguish catching in her voice, "but if it does, I must use the Sword of Gilgamesh against her. I must kill her, else she destroys the world for Tiamat."

Xander, Giles, Tara and Thespia stood by in silence. There wasn't anything more to say. Willow was right. She had no choice; Buffy was enslaved by evil, and would fulfill the will of evil to the end, which would be the world's end. And only Willow, with her love for Buffy and the Sword of Gilgamesh, held the key to her salvation.

Tonight, Buffy Summers would live free, or die.


Chapter 4

Chaos Theory

When Willow Rosenberg was a child, some of her favorite bedtime stories came from Aesop's fables. There was one in particular that she remembered, The Scorpion and the Frog.

A scorpion wanted to cross a river, but he couldn't swim. So he asked a frog if he would carry him across the water to the other shore. The frog scoffed at the scorpion, asking, "Why should I risk my life to help you? You would sting me as I carried you, and I would die of your poison."

The scorpion answered, "That would be foolish of me, friend Frog. If I stung you while we were both in the middle of the river, I would drown as you sank. You have my word. I will not sting you."

The frog reluctantly agreed to carry the scorpion across the river. But halfway across, the scorpion did indeed sting the frog.

"Why did you sting me?" the frog cried as he began to sink. "You promised you wouldn't sting me, and now you have doomed us both."

"I am a scorpion," his doomed passenger answered. "It is my nature."

Now, Willow pondered what was Buffy's nature.

Ever since her altercation with that vampire who claimed to be Dracula, only a month or so ago, Buffy had become more focused on finding out what it meant to be a Slayer. Dracula had said that there was a darkness within the Slayer. Was it that darkness that drew Tiamat to her? That caused her to be held sway by Tiamat's evil?

Considering how Willow herself had been swayed by Marduk's pawn, by Tara, Willow didn't have much room to argue. No, not Tara, Entropy.

She realized now that she didn't know who Tara was, would probably never know Tara. Who she saw, Entropy had wanted her to see. The real Tara had no memory of the love Willow had for her. The love that was meant for another. She realized that now.

Entropy had diverted Willow from her true love. Buffy Summers.

And now, Willow feared, she had realized this truth too late. Buffy was enslaved by Tiamat, and if she finished her task, she would succeed in destroying all life on Earth in the fires of Hell.

It fell to Willow to face her beloved. To talk to her, reason with her, bring her back to herself. Or, failing that, to kill her.

As Giled drove Willow, Xander, Anya and Thespia(formerly known as Buffy's sister Dawn) to the final site of battle, Willow prayed fervently to the Goddess that it wouldn't come to that. For if it did, she knew that she'd only have one choice, to fall on her own sword.

"Okay, Buffy," she whispered to herself. "Either we both pull through from this, or we both go. Don't let me down now." Thespia alone heard her vow, and said nothing. She also prayed that Buffy could be saved. Without the light that was the Slayer, the darkness that would follow would be unbearable.

========

"Excellent," the animated corpse of Riley Finn grinned hugely as he surveyed the damage caused by his pawn, the human once known as Buffy Summers. The corpses of a hundred humans lay strewn in her path, all guilty of only one crime; they dared to cross the path of the Slayer.

All that was Riley Finn died many months ago; the soul that brought the body to a mockery of life was that of Dischord, the servant of Tiamat. For more millenia than the human mind can fathom, Tiamat and Marduk had played this game. That's all it was between them, a game. But whichever side won the game, humanity would pay the forfeit. The prize for their game was the right to end all life on Earth.

Now, the preperations have been made. All that was left was for them to wait. Soon, Marduk's avatar would enter the circle, and the final battle would begin. The one called Willow, Dischord mused. A fitting choice, the best friend and secret love of Tiamat's avatar, Buffy Summers.

The final site had been chosen by fate; the nexus of demonic energy directly over the Hellmouth. The two combatants would draw on that power as they fought each other. Whichever one was able to command the greater share of that power would defeat the other, and the contest would be decided.

He scanned the athletic field outside the remains of the school. Tiamat loomed huge over the battlefield, his ten fiery eyes glaring balefully out of five hideous heads. The terrible dragon could be seen from anywhere in Sunnydale, but would only stand by and watch. And assure that no one would interfere in what was to happen.

Soon. Soon the final war between Marduk and Tiamat would be settled. Between order and chaos. And when chaos won this night, the world would be remade in fire, in fury, in death.

A sudden movement caught Dischord' attention. He glanced right, and saw a vehicle swerve and stop on the field. A miserable mortal, he thought, as the driver got out of the car. On closer examination, Dischord recognized the person in question; Joyce Summers, the mother of Tiamat's avatar. Yes, he smiled. She should be allowed a place of honor, to witness her daughter's final victory.

"Buffy!" Joyce shouted to her daughter. She saw the pile of corpses on which she stood, and blanched. Did she cause all this death? This destruction?

Joyce stood as close to Buffy as she could without touching the dead bodies. "Buffy, what's going on? What have you done? Why is all this happening?"

"Ah, Ms. Summers," Dischord greeted her, smiling. "How good to see you."

"Riley," she turned to the servant of Tiamat, not knowing what he was. "Would you talk to Buffy? Something terrible's happening, and I know that Buffy's in the center of all this."

"You are wrong, Ms. Summers," 'Riley' said. "This isn't terrible, it's wonderful. Your daughter has been chosen by Tiamat to be his avatar. She will defeat the avatar of Marduk, and bring about a new age."

"A new age?" Joyce gasped at the corpse of Riley, growing more hysterical. "What are you talking about? My daughter's standing on a mountain of dead people, my younger daughter's claiming to be a goddess, and you're acting like nothing's wrong! What are you--"

"Goddess?" Dischord raised an eyebrow at the word. "Your daughter's a goddess? Which goddess?"

Joyce desperately grabbed at this potential lifeline. "Uh, she said she was called Thespia. But what--" Before she could continue, 'Riley' grabbed her throat and started to squeeze.

"That was not what I wanted to hear," he snarled at Joyce, who grew more fearful as the countenance of Buffy's boyfriend turned more demonic. Not like a vampire's, that literally changed, but something else. Something that came from his inner self, and placed his features in a more hellish cast. With one terrifying moment of clarity, Joyce realized that this man, whom she trusted with her daughter's heart, was nothing less than the Destroyer. The evil one. The Anti-christ, for want of a better word.

'Riley' tossed Joyce onto the ground in a crumpled heap. "She'll upset what is to be, Master," Dischord addressed the mountainous form of Tiamat. "She champions these puny mortals, she would prevent us from bringing about their destruction." The god-being glared at Dischord with one of its heads, while another head scanned the horizon. Without the awkwardness of speech, it spoke to Dischord. And Dischord nodded serenely. "Yes, Master," he breathed. "It is too late for her. She cannot stop us at this stage of the game." As he spoke, another car sped toward the site, toward destiny. "She is here." Dischord harrumphed. "Is this the chariot of one touched by a god? How pathetic."

Giles, Willow, Xander and Anya jumped out of the car, accompanied by a young girl, a pre-teen. Dischord looked at the child closely; not fooled by eyesight, he saw her as she truly was. Thespia. Mankind's champion. He looked at the red-haired one. Buffy's beloved, Marduk's avatar. But now, Dischord could see, she no longer bore the mark of Marduk. Thespia had gotten to her. She was herself again.

How disappointing, thought Dischord. The match goes to Tiamat by default. And so the world dies and is reborn in fire.

Willow carried the sword of Gilgamesh, which, according to Giles, was the only weapon that could stand up to Tiamat's pawn. Buffy's already prodigious strength had been augmented incredibly by Tiamat's power. With the sword of Gilgamesh, Willow stood a slim chance. Without it, she couldn't face Buffy and live.

Xander and Anya rushed to where Dischord had dropped Joyce to tend to her. Giles stood back and spoke to Thespia; "Is there nothing you can do to intercede?"

"This is Willow's play, Rupert Giles," Thespia answered. "Only she can achieve victory this night. Only her love can save Buffy and the world now." Giles nodded, unhappy that he could not aid the two women who had become like his own daughters.

Willow approached Buffy nervously, sword in hand. Dischord suddenly leapt in front of her, leering menacingly. "You're not going any further, Willow Rosenberg. I won't let you prevent what we've started."

"Riley," Willow grimaced as she spoke the name. "I should have guessed. Tell you what, I'll go save the world, then I'll grab a shovel and come back for you, 'kay?" She moved forward, only to be pushed back by Dischord.

"Fine then," she glared at her opponent. "Screw the shovel." She held out her sword, preparing to defend herself.

Dischord sneered, and extended his right hand. Eldritch energy flew from his fingers, connecting with its target. Willow shuddered as the energy coursed through her, then she instinctively raised the sword. The energy now flew to the sword as though attracted to it, and Willow now understood. The sword was a capacitor, capable of absorbing arcane energies like a sponge and storing them like a battery, to be released under its wielder's control. Willow grinned with that realization. She knew how to fight Tiamat now. But first, she had to deal with the god's underling.

She saw the look of doubt in Dischord's eyes, and made her move. Quickly, she swung the sword in a wide downward arc, aiming for the shoulder. The sword slashed cleanly through the joint, severing the arm cleanly. The first thing Willow noticed was that there was no blood flowing from the wound.

Dischord stood still, unfazed by Willow's attack. He knelt down, picked up the severed limb, and touched the severed end to the wound. Within seconds the arm reattached.

Xander and Anya watched as they stood guard over Joyce. Xander whistled at the sight. "Good trick. You do bar mitzvahs, Captain America?"

He held up the newly restored arm for Willow to see. "Ouch," he leered. "You can't kill me, little mortal. I'm already dead."

"Thanks for the info, asswipe!" Willow swung the sword again, in several strokes, dismembering Riley's corpse, first the arms, then the head. The headless body stumbled across the field, as the head tumbled off of his neck.

Willow tripped the body, and as it fell, she neatly hacked off the legs. She then tossed the severed limbs away, muttering, "Eww, ick, ick!" with each one. Xander, still observing the fight from a distance, commented in a thick British accent, "All right, we'll call it a draw."

"You cannot win," the severed head of Riley Finn spoke hoarsely from the nearby field; evidently it still possessed some of its vocal chords. "Tiamat! Send your avatar! Destroy your enemies!"

The five-headed dragon stirred, its central head gazing angrily on the battlefield. Suddenly, Buffy awoke from her stupor, and charged at Willow, sword in hand.

Willow held her sword at the ready, preparing to confront her friend, but not to attack. Buffy swung her sword in a wide arc, but Willow instinctively summoned the power of the Sword of Gilgamesh. Instantly, a force field was erected in front of her, and Buffy's blade bounced off of it like a rubber ball. Buffy hacked at the sword mindlessly, and Willow concentrated, using her sword to absorb the kinetic energy of each of Buffy's impacts, to strengthen the shield.

"Buffy," Willow pleaded with the woman in front of her. "You have to shake Tiamat's influence. He's put the whammy on you, he's got you under some kind of spell." If the Slayer understood any of Willow's words, she didn't give any indication. She simply pressed her attack on Willow's shield. Willow feared that she would tire out too quickly, literally working herself to death.

The Slayer then stopped trying to break the shield, and pointed at Willow with the sword. "Coward," an unearthly voice issued from Buffy's lips, as her face contorted into a hateful grimace. "You hide behind your shield, afraid to face me! Come out of there, avatar of Marduk, and face me as it was intended!"

"You want me to face you, Buffy?" Willow challenged. With a gesture of her hand, she dropped her shields. "I will not fight you, Buffy."

"There is no Buffy," the blond shrieked. "I am Chaos! I am Tiamat's avatar! You and I, we were destined to face each other on this battlefield. We will battle this night, to decide the fate of humanity!"

"Oh, yeah," Willow chided, holding her blade in a defensive stance. "Some choice, either frozen by Marduk or roasted by Tiamat! Me, I've got a better choice. Join me, drop Tiamat's influence, and fight for humanity, as you always have!"

"NO!" the Slayer screamed. Willow thought her voice sounded like someone had their foot on her reverb pedal. "Humanity is evil. Corrupted beyond all redemption. I was a fool to defend these beasts. It is right that humanity should perish!"

"It is not right, and you know it!" Willow shouted. "These are not your thoughts, they are Tiamat's. The Buffy Summers I know, she would never let her despair win out. She has fought the greatest evils to ever walk the earth, she's never given up on that battle! Even when she was forced to fight the man she loved, she never allowed that terrible event to break her. She never allowed her despair to completely overwhelm her."

The Slayer lunged at Willow, intent for the kill. Willow dropped back, recalling some basic self-defense moves that Buffy had taught her last year. She pushed the Slayer off of her body with her legs, and the Slayer landed squarely on her feet, crouching catlike in front of Willow. "No, Buffy," Willow insisted. "I will defend myself, but I will not fight you."

"Then you will die!" The Slayer lurched at Willow, who still stood before Buffy, sword in hand.

"Fight it, Buffy," she soothed. "Remember who you are. The Chosen One. The Slayer. The good guy!" The Slayer slowed in her pace, but still advanced. "You're not the servant of Tiamat. You've never served anyone before. You've always fought against authority. Remember the Council? Their damned Cruciamentum? When they sent Wesley to take over as your Watcher? When you turned your back on the Council?"

Buffy stopped, and Willow recognized the look of recollection on her face. "They're in England," she whispered, recalling what she had said before. "I don't think they'll know which way I'm facing."

"Yes, Buffy," Willow answered hopefully. "You fought them, fight Tiamat. Fight its control of you, Buffy. I know you, you can do it. I know you, Buffy."

"Do you?" The voice was pleading, desperate. "Who am I?"

Willow gazed at Buffy's face, keeping her eyes affixed on Buffy's eyes, her voice level and clear. "You are Buffy Summers. You are my best friend. You kept me safe from all that the Hellmouth could throw at you. You gave me confidence when I was afraid. You told me I was beautiful when I didn't believe it. And you told me that so many times, I had no choice to believe you. Whatever I am, I never would have been without you. Not to mention that without you, we'd all be dead or worse long ago." She could feel the tears well in her eyes, and thought she saw Buffy's eyes glisten with unshed tears. "You're the most important person in my life, Buffy. I love you."

Love, Thespia had said. That was the key, the one thing that neither Chaos and Order could counter. Love was Chaos and Order at one in harmony. Chaotic in its emotions, its conflicting passions, its combined storms and calms. Orderly in its simplicity, in its matching of two who were meant to be together. And it was her love for Buffy that Willow now wielded as her most potent weapon against Tiamat.

And her weapon was effective. Buffy looked at Willow, as though she had never seen her before. She reeled as though she were to faint. Willow rushed toward her, steadied her in her embrace. Buffy shook violently in Willow's arms, like a wet animal. She then looked at Willow's eyes again, seeing the warmth and love in their jade depths.

"W-W-Willow?" Buffy gasped aloud, and Willow could hear her voice clearly. It was her Buffy, not Tiamat or Chaos but Buffy. "Oh, God, Wills, what have I done? I could have killed you--I wanted to kill you--oooh Willow---" Buffy sobbed quietly in Willow's arms, as Willow held her, her embrace becoming Buffy's tether, anchoring her to the world. She turned her face to Willow's once again, she smiled at the redhead and said, "I love you, Willow Rosenberg."

As Willow rejoiced to hear these words from Buffy's lips, Thespia walked up to them, and standing beside them shouted to the dark god; "Hear me, Tiamat! And you, Marduk, you are never far from the scene of the battle! Behold now the final result of that battle! Your avatars have defeated your plans! They have, by their love, proven the worth of their race!"

Buffy looked at Willow, stunned. "Is that Dawn?" she asked. "My kid sister?"

"Uh, yes and no," Willow hedged. "I'll explain later."

"You have decreed that this night should be your final war," Thespia continued to address the two gods not as their equal but as their superior, "that this place be your final battlefield! Be assured, dark gods, that I shall hold you both to that vow. You will never trouble mankind again, not so long as I live!"

Tiamat's heads shuddered, and a terrible keening wail issued from its many mouths. "Uh oh," Buffy whispered to Willow. "Very large monster has a mad on."

"We'd better start evacuating," Willow answered, as the two of them started to back away. Buffy called out, "C'mon, Dawn! Let's get you out of here pronto!"

Dawn stood her ground, between Buffy and Tiamat. "You will leave this plane, Tiamat!" she commanded the dark god, and Buffy was shocked by the unshakable authority in her sister's voice. She slowly understood the power that Dawn seemed to possess.

But whatever power Dawn held, Tiamat was more than equal to the task. Fireballs began to shoot from its many eyes, raining down on the field. Xander and Anya immediately helped Joyce to her feet and the three of them ran to Giles' van.

Before they could take three steps, a fireball engulfed them. They didn't even have time to scream. Within seconds, their charred remains were all that was left.

Buffy, Willow and Giles witnessed the butchering with horrified eyes.

"Mom--" Buffy gasped.

"Xander--Anya--" Willow whimpered. And still the rain of unholy fire fell around them. She looked away from the carnage, from the pile of ash that had once been three people. Her eyes landed on the Sword of Gilgamesh, the sword she had discarded in her battle with Buffy. With a terrible finality, she knew what she had to do.

She broke away from Buffy's arms, and ran toward the sword. Before she could grab it, Tiamat turned one of its heads toward her. Buffy saw the glow in its eyes, and immediately screamed for Willow to stop. Too late, the fireball split the ground in front of Willow, sending up a wave of dirt, rock and sod twenty feet into the air. Buffy jumped at Willow, grabbing her in mid-flight and pushing her out of the way.

It was already too late. Buffy quickly examined Willow's injuries. Willow had been hit by a ton of rock at a hundred miles an hour. Her erratic breathing, the deep lacerations on her head and arms from flying shards of rock, the terrible purpling of her forehead, all pointed to the same terrible reality. Whatever Tiamat had thrown at Willow, she wouldn't live long.

"Giles!" she screamed as Giles rushed to her side. "Get her to a hospital, NOW!"

"N-no," Willow groaned, her voice as ragged as she looked. "The Sword--of Gil-gam-m-mesh -- only thing that can(Unggh!)kill Tiamat--"

A grief-stricken Buffy glanced at Giles. "I'll look after her," her Watcher promised. "Go."

Buffy took the sword from Willow's limp fingers. She glanced back at her beloved, fearing that it would be the last time she looked upon her. Then she turned toward Tiamat, righteous rage in her eyes, her lips curled in a hateful sneer. With the Sword of Gilgamesh in her hands, she charged toward Tiamat.

The dragon fired again at Buffy, but the Slayer was ready for the attack. She dodged to the side, running in a zig-zag pattern, narrowly averting each fireball. When she got close enough, she took the sword in her right hand. She had one shot, and she was going to make it count.

"TIAMAT!" she shrieked, her voice carrying all the rage and despair she ever felt in her life, "And I mean this from the bottom of my heart--" She gripped the hilt of the sword.

"GO--" She held her arm back.

"TO--" She threw her arm forward with all of her strength.

"HELL!" She released the sword.

The sword sliced through the night, end over end, until it plunged directly into the dragon's hideous heart.

The beast cried out with the last of its breath. Before it could fall to the ground, it disintegrated, a huge cloud of stardust descending over the field like a snowfall. The remains of Riley Finn, robbed of the semblance of life given them by Dischord, decomposed rapidly. A gentle stillness settled over Sunnydale.

Buffy stood on trembling legs, before turning back to Willow and Giles. Seeing how still Willow lay, Buffy rushed toward them, despite the protesting of her tired legs.

When she reached them, she looked at Giles with a questing gaze. Giles looked at her with sorrowful eyes. "I'm sorry," was all he said. All he had to say. He then touched the face of the fallen wiccan before him, and gently closed her eyes.

Buffy shook her head, whispering, "No, no, no, it can't be, no. I stopped it. I killed Tiamat. She can't die. She said she loved me. She can't die. No!" She started to press against Willow's chest, initiating CPR. She started to breath into Willow's mouth, trying to inflate her lungs. She tried to remember her CPR classes; fifteen compressions to two breaths. As she worked, Giles tried to stop her. "It's too late, Buffy," he spoke as gently as he could. "There's nothing that any of us can do."

"Shut up, you bastard!" Buffy sneered at her mentor. "I just lost my Mom and my friends, I'll be damned if I lose Willow!" She tried again to start Willow's heart, to get her breathing again, but as the agonizing minutes dragged on, her strength faltered, her own breathing was uneven and labored.

And the corpse of her beloved lay before her, pale and lifeless.

And across the field, the only sound that could be heard was the Slayer, weeping for the loss of her mother. Her friends. Willow, the love of her life.

She would not be comforted.


Chapter 5

Return to Innocence

 

Love ---- Devotion.

Feeling ---- Emotion.

The battle was over. Tiamat, the dark god, was slain.

Buffy Summers, the Chosen One, the Slayer, had done her duty yet again. Fought the good fight, battled the big bad. Saved the world against unimaginable evil.

But at what price?

Joyce Summers, her mother. Xander and Anya, her friends. All three consumed in Tiamat's fire, until naught but ash remained.

And Willow Rosenberg, the woman who, just a few minutes ago, pledged her undying love to her, saving her from Tiamat's influence, lay dead in her arms.

Giles stood at her side, prepared to offer what little support he could, though his own heart was close to breaking. Over the years, he had come to regard both Willow and Xander as surrogate children. Watching them both die, his grief threatened to consume him. He summoned all his will power to hold down his grief. He knew that Buffy needed his support, as much as he needed hers. They were all they had left.

As Buffy still wept, the goddess Thespia approached her and placed her small hand on Buffy's shoulder. The pressure on her shoulder didn't even register to Buffy. A small clear voice spoke to her, "You have saved your world once more. Tiamat is vanquished, and with him Marduk. They were not so much seperate beings, but different aspects of the same entity. Without one, the other would die. Your world is safe."

Buffy said nothing, she only wept for her fallen family.

Thespia removed her hand from Buffy's shoulder. "This will pass, Buffy Summers."

"How can you say that?" she cried out. "They're dead! They're all dead!"

"It was not meant to be this way," the goddess spoke in soothing tones. "Tiamat and Marduk transgressed the will of the Powers That Be by bringing you and Willow to this battle, making you their avatars. That is why I was sent here."

Buffy lifted her head, uncaring of the tear tracks on her face, and looked into the eyes of the person she once believed to be her sister. The depth of her eyes, accompanied by their warmth and serenity, amazed her. "Who--who are you?" she stammered.

"I am Thespia," she said calmly, and her calmness seemed to transfer to Buffy. "This reality was not meant to be, Buffy Summers. These tragedies were not meant to happen." She placed her hand over Buffy's forehead, and the Slayer's eyelids became heavy. She began to drowse off, and Giles beside her began to feel sleepy as well.

"That is right, my friends," Thespia smiled. "Let this world become nothing but a bad dream. Sleep, and when you awaken, your world will be as it was meant to be."

The Slayer and her Watcher began to sleep. And as they slept, reality faded away around them.

And Thespia began her true work. To reset the world and make it right.

Don't be afraid to be weak,
Don't be too proud to be strong,
Just look into your heart, my friend;
That will be the return to yourself,
The return to innocence.

November, 1999;

Willow hoped to meet Tara in the lounge after their encounter with the Gentlemen. After Tara had linked with Willow, their increased wiccan power had allowed them to move a vending machine in front of the door, blocking the Gentlemen from them. After that incident, she had hoped to get together with this new friend, to talk shop a little more. She cared for Buffy, she always would, but Willow looked forward to meeting someone who understood magic like she did.

But as the minutes became hours, Willow came to the realization that she had been stood up. Feeling a little let down, she got up from her lounge chair, and headed out to the Espresso Pump.

As she left, a young woman watched her walk away. Tara McClay looked longingly at Willow, but said nothing. As attracted as she was to Willow, Tara knew that the redhead's heart belonged to another. She had seen her with her roommate, Buffy. She could see the sparks between them. Maybe someday soon she and Willow could be friends. But first, Willow had to find her true love.

And if you want, then start to laugh,
And if you must, then start to cry.
Be yourself, don't hide,
Just believe in destiny.

January, 2000;

Willow heard the door open, and turned away from her computer to see Buffy standing in the doorway. "Hey," Willow greeted her roommate and best friend.

"Hey, yourself," Buffy answered, waving slightly.

Willow immediately saved the document she was working on and turned off the computer. "What is it, Buffy?"

Buffy sat down on her bed, her head looking at her hands as they clasped in her lap. "Riley didn't make it," she said simply.

"Oh, Goddess," Willow sat beside Buffy, and placed her arm around Buffy's shoulder. Buffy leaned into Willow's embrace, and let her friend comfort her. "I'm so sorry to hear that, Buffy," she soothed. "I know how much you cared about him."

"You did," Buffy questioned. "I'm not so sure I did care that much."

"Huh? What happened to 'when he smiles I smile'?"

Buffy dabbed lightly at her eyes, and answered her friend. "I guess I liked him and all, but after I learned about his involvement with the Initiative, I guess I didn't trust him that much. When I found out that he pushed you around like that, that was the final blow. I was going to dump him for that." She shook her head. "I guess that's all academic now."

Willow said nothing, she just held Buffy a little longer, allowing this contact to bond them further. There would be time enough to deal with the Initiative later. Now, her dearest friend needed her.

Don't care what people say,
Just follow your own way.
Don't give up and lose the chance
To return to innocence.

April, 2000;

Buffy sat alone in her dorm. She looked at the clock on the wall for the tenth time in the last hour. Ten forty-three. Exactly three minutes since the last time she checked.

She wasn't sure how she would react the next time she saw her roommate. Would she even be her roommate anymore? Buffy had to admit it to herself, even if she never said it aloud to anyone else. She was hopelessly, madly, ass-over-teakettle in love with Willow Rosenberg. And now that Oz was back in town, she knew where Willow's heart would take her. Away from her.

She heard the door open. She turned around, and saw Willow standing before her, a large candle in her hand, its flame dancing brightly, setting off a glow in her face. "Hey, Buffy," she greeted her brightly. "No light in the window? I brought a candle, see, it's extra flamey."

"Willow," Buffy answered, surprised to see her. "I thought you'd be with Oz."

"Why?" Willow asked simply.

Buffy turned her head away from Willow, ashamed of what she was thinking. "You don't need to look after me, Willow. You should be with the one you love."

Willow placed the candle on the desk, letting its flame illuminate their bodies, as she took Buffy's face in her hand. "I am, Buffy."

Buffy blinked, not believing what she heard. "You mean--"

"I mean," Willow answered, smiling as she brought her lips to Buffy's. They kissed slowly, softly, but with building passion.

Breaking the kiss, Buffy glanced at the candle. She leaned toward it, about to blow it out. She then backed off, saying, "No, let it burn. I want to make love to you by candlelight." Willow grinned at the suggestion, as she took Buffy in her arms again.

That's not the beginning of the end.
It's a return to yourself.
A Return to Innocence.

Halloween, 2000;

"Okay, Mom, I'm coming down," Buffy called from upstairs. Buffy had moved back to her old home when Joyce wasn't feeling well. Tonight, however, Joyce had assured her that she was feeling better, and that Buffy should take Willow to the campus Halloween dance. Joyce, for her part, had grown used to the idea of her daughter being in love with another woman, and the fact that the woman in question was Willow put Joyce's fears at ease. She liked Willow, and could see that Willow cared deeply for Buffy. As far as Joyce was concerned, that was all that mattered.

Joyce stood at the foot of the stairs as Buffy descended. Her white dress shimmered in the light, and the tiara on her head was the perfect touch. "Behold," Buffy anounced, "the Princess Buttercup!"

Joyce looked lovingly at her daughter. "I've never seen you looking so radiant," she declared. "I hope Willow appreciates the look."

"I wouldn't worry about that," Buffy answered as the doorbell rang. "You should see her costume." Joyce chuckled as she opened the door.

Willow entered, showing off her black leather tunic and pants, complete with a mask that covered the upper half of her head. "Hey, Mrs. Summers," she smiled at Joyce, then approached Buffy. "Come, my lady Buttercup, 'tis I, the Dread Pirate Willow!"

"With pleasure, my sweet Wesley," Buffy dimpled as she took Willow's hand.

"Wesley?" Willow asked. "I thought he was in L. A. with Angel and Cordy." Buffy groaned at the reference to the former Watcher. "We're out of here, Mom," Buffy announced. "I'll be back by eleven."

"Buffy," Joyce assured her, "I'll be fine tonight, and you haven't been with Willow since you came back here. Go ahead and spend the night, just call me when you get to her dorm, so I'll know you made it okay. I've been feeling better, I can do without your nursing me for one night. Go, have fun. Just spare me the details."

"Thanks, Mom," Buffy went over to kiss her mother on the cheek. "Love you."

"Love you too," Joyce nodded happily to her daughter. "Take care of her, Willow."

"I always do, Mrs. Summers, 'bye," Willow answered as the two lovers left for the party.

"Say, Wills," Buffy asked her love, "are we meeting Tara at the dance?"

"Yeah," answered Willow. "She and Amy'll be there. Dressed as MIBs."

"Heh," Buffy chuckled as she recalled the happy day last month when Willow and her friend Tara finally found the spell to turn Amy from a rat back into a human. Since then, Amy and Tara had become close. No word from either whether it was love, but the signs looked good. Buffy looked at Willow's eyes, and sensed that she held no regrets for the way things turned out. Tara was happy. And so were they.

As Buffy and Willow reached the Student Union Building, they didn't notice that a young woman with dark brown hair and a green skirt was watching them. The young girl nodded as she saw the happiness that radiated from the two women.

It was right that they didn't see her, she thought. It was just as right that they had no memories of that terrible night. The night when both Buffy and Willow were turned into cold-blooded killers by evil gods, when they were sent to destroy each other, when Buffy watched helplessly as her mother, her friends and her love were killed by Tiamat. The work was done. Tiamat and Marduk would no longer plague humanity, their eternal war was at last over, called a draw. Now it was mankind's turn to take the world and make it their own.

As Buffy Summers pulled Willow Rosenberg to her for a brief but passionate kiss, the goddess Thespia couldn't help but smile at the sight. One last time, she stole a glance at the Slayer and her destined soulmate. She knew that this world was in good hands.

Before she departed for more ethereal realms, she smiled and said, "Ya done good, sis."

FINIS

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