Chapter Eight: Confrontation
"Mike's here!" Kennedy shouted. She ran into the kitchen. "She just pulled up."
"Then we're ready to go," Faith said. "Willow? Deanna?"
"Faith," Xander said. "Faith, I should be there..."
The slayer grabbed his arm and pulled him aside. "I need you here. If Rachel wakes up and there's no one here she knows...I need you to stay, for her. We promised she'd never be alone."
"I know, but..."
She tightened her grip. "I need this from you, Xander. Please."
He hesitated, then put a hand on her shoulder. "Ok." To his surprise, the slayer gave him a quick hug, pulling away as Mike came in the door.
"She upstairs?" Mike asked, breathless.
"Yeah," Faith said. "Xander's gonna stay with you too. You should be ok here."
"But don't you guys need any more..."
"No time," Faith shook her head. "Willow?"
Willow took a breath. "Here we go."
Waves crashed against the rocks as massive tentacles churned the dark water. Buffy's lungs burned with the need to take a breath. She was ten feet below the surface, hiding under a rock formation; her right leg was almost useless, twisted (and probably broken) when the creature ripped her from the beach and hurled her into the ocean.
She closed her eyes, overcome with dread. I can't stay here; I have to breathe.
She waited until a giant arm swept past her, then pushed off with her left foot as hard as she could. After what seemed like an eternity, she broke the surface of the water and gasped; the icy air filled her lungs for a glorious second before she was knocked under again. Disoriented, she reached out; she felt rock above her and pushed away.
She was no longer moving fast enough; the creature wrapped a tentacle around her waist and pulled her out of the water. She cried out from the pressure squeezing her body, punching her captor as best she could. It made no difference.
The slayer's heart ached. Faith...I'm so sorry. The thought of dying under such useless circumstances filled her with despair as she waited for the final moment when the beast would drag her under...
But it didn't come.
The creature seemed to be waiting for something. Buffy slowly turned her attention to the beach.
A large group of vampires had gathered. As the beast slowly started bringing her to shore, Buffy saw the crowd part; revealing their leader.
Buffy clenched her jaw and braced for the worst. However, she was no longer filled with despair; she now had purpose, focus, a goal:
I'm going to kill that son of a bitch once and for all.
The creature dumped her at Azteroth's feet; the vampire cackled and knelt down to her level. "So, my dear," he rumbled. "You see you are not the only clever one after all. When you are as old as I am, a year is no time at all to wait for something you want." He reached out a hand and traced the scar on her cheek. "And what I want is the rest of what I only got to taste a year ago."
Buffy sat up as straight as she could. "I think you'll find this bite harder to swallow," she spat.
Azteroth laughed. "So confident, even without the other one to give you a fighting chance." He stood up. "She'll come, of course. But the best part of that is..." He kicked the slayer in the chest; she fell to the ground. "You don't need to be alive for that to happen."
Buffy stayed still.
"The first time, at the hospital, I underestimated you and your little...‘Alliance'. The second time though...you got lucky. Very lucky." He turned to the other members of the sect and laughed; the whole group laughed with him.
"But we are lucky too, my dear. We learned. We learned where we could get our hands on this fellow, for one." Azteroth gestured to the beast churning the ocean behind them. "He certainly helped narrow our search. But...we also learned which of you has the scythe."
Buffy didn't say anything.
The vampire smiled. "This ends today. Faith will come for you...for what's left of you, anyway. And when she does, we will take the scythe, split her in half, and everything you've sacrificed will be for nothing. All those who came before you will have died for nothing. The slayer line will be destroyed, and your legacy will be one of failure."
Azteroth knelt down, grabbed a handful of her dark hair, and yanked her around to face him. "What do you think of that?"
"I think you talk too much." Buffy said. She took both fists and punched him in the throat.
The leader of the sect stumbled backwards as his minions rushed forward to avenge him. Buffy stayed on the ground so she could use her good leg to fight. She managed to trip two vampires before a third hauled her to her feet; they started shouting and using her as a punching bag.
"Enough!" Azteroth roared.
The vampires stopped immediately and backed away from the slayer.
"Bring her to me."
Two of them grabbed the slayer by her arms and dragged her to their leader. Azteroth stepped even closer to her and put a hand on either side of her head.
Suddenly Buffy's whole body felt like it was on fire. She felt the vampires release her as the pain became overwhelming and she lost consciousness.
"What the hell is this?" Kennedy said.
She'd materialized with Deanna a few seconds after Willow and Faith; her girlfriend was manipulating an energy field above a beach full of vampires.
Deanna rolled up her sleeves. "It's the sect," she growled before she ran to Willow's side. "Do you feel her?"
"She's there," Willow said. "Unfortunately I had to suspend her like the rest of them, so try to get her fast. Also...it looks like we're going to have bigger problems."
Faith looked at the water. "Oh. Shit."
An enormous beast was reaching a tentacle towards the energy field, but two others were reaching for them. Willow clenched her teeth. "Deanna?"
"I can handle it," the slayer-witch assured her.
"What is that thing?" Faith asked.
"It's an Umibozu," Deanna said as she raised her hands. "A psychic water demon that drowns other mystical beings to absorb their power." Her hands started to glow. "Very rare, very powerful; it explains how they found her...though an Umibozu is not something most other demons want around."
Faith ran a hand through her dark hair. "Azteroth's ego is too big to consider that. He only cares about getting to me and Buffy."
"And reversing the spell that shared your power," Kennedy growled.
"We've got to go, now," Faith said. "Willow? Deanna?"
The beast had moved further out and was thrashing angrily against Deanna's magic.
"You're secure," Willow said. "But hurry."
Faith and Kennedy raced down the beach, jumping over the bodies of vampires held in suspended animation. "Don't waste time staking until we have Buffy! Then kill anything that isn't us."
"That should be easy to remember."
The spray blowing in from the ocean ice; it felt like thousands of needles on their skin. Faith started to feel anxious. "Do you see her?"
The beast in the water released a howl of pain as Deanna's magic hit it full force. Its tentacles had been moving through the air as the creature strained to get closer to shore, but they started to fall.
"Look out!" Faith yelled, knocking into Kennedy from the side and throwing them both onto the rocky ground. Faith covered her fellow slayer as a massive limb crashed into the beach next to them, throwing rock and debris into the air; it rained down all around them.
Kennedy coughed and looked up at Faith. "You ok?"
"Fine. You?" Kennedy nodded, and Faith put a hand on her back. "C'mon."
The dark slayer jumped up and raced across the beach. Kennedy followed.
The vampires started to stir.
"Willow?" Deanna called nervously.
"I know, I know...there are too many to just keep them suspended, but if I do anything more than this...Buffy's still down there..." And Kennedy, Willow added silently. And Faith.
She clenched her teeth. Hurry, Faith.
"There!" Faith leapt over a rock and darted past the bodies on the ground to kneel at Buffy's side.
Kennedy was a second behind her, but when she saw the slayer's body she froze. "Oh god..." she breathed, her eyes widening at the obviously broken leg, the cuts, the bruises...
"Kennedy!" Faith barked, snapping the younger slayer back to her duty. "I need your help here; we don't have a lot of time."
"Right...what...what do you need me to do?"
Faith tenderly lifted the fallen slayer in her arms, taking a moment to kiss her on her forehead before looking at Kennedy. "I need you to keep our path clear."
"Here they come!" Deanna yelled.
And not a moment too soon, Willow thought anxiously. The vampires were almost totally awake. And the creature...
"I can hold it until they run back past the tentacles, but...but then I'm not sure." The slayer-witch shook her head in frustration.
"It's all right," Willow assured her. "Just keep focused." Beads of sweat were on her head from the strain of her own magic.
Faith, carrying Buffy, ran ahead of Kennedy when she saw the witches. Suddenly a vampire dove at Kennedy from behind a rock; she fell onto her back and the vampire started punching.
"No!" Willow cried. By the time Faith got to her with Buffy, the spell was undone; they were out of time. The vampires were rising, remembering, and looking for them.
"I'll save Kennedy," Deanna shouted at Willow. "You help Buffy."
Willow was deeply torn, but Deanna was already racing down the beach. Faith collapsed in front of the redhead and gently laid Buffy on the ground. "Willow, she...she's gonna be ok, right? It's mostly your spell, right?"
Willow watched Deanna plunge a stake into Kennedy's attacker, turning him to dust. "Yeah...Yes." She forced herself to tear her attention away from the beach. "Oh...Buffy...Faith, she's so...but, yes, it's..." She closed her eyes briefly to regain control of herself. When she spoke again, she was calm. "I can fix this. She'll be fine."
She could see the relief as it swept over Faith; but then the dark haired slayer looked over her shoulder at Kennedy and Deanna. They were battling vampires with stakes and magic, but it was pretty obvious they were about to be outnumbered.
"It'll take me a minute to re-open a portal," Willow said. "Leave Buffy with me; get the others, and we'll get out."
Faith looked pained. "They'll follow us, Willow. If it were any other demon, I'd...but it's not. It's Azteroth. It's the sect. And that...water demon thing they've got...They were able to find us the minute we stepped outside of the safe zone you created, which means they already knew we were somewhere in the northeast. If we open a portal now, they'll trace us. They'll find everybody else. It could take years to safeguard another place against attack, and until then Rachel, Xander, Dawn...everyone would be in danger. We can't do that." Faith looked down at Buffy. "We gotta fight. This ends here."
"Faith, you know that's what they want. They used Buffy to lure you here because they want you to fight them!"
Faith raised an eyebrow. "That's what they think they want."
On the ground, the wounded slayer stirred. "Faith...?" Buffy whispered. "Are you..."
"I'm here, I'm right here." Faith leaned over to kiss her love. "You keep still, B; everything's gonna be just fine."
Willow's eyes widened; the Umibozu had broken down the last of Deanna's mystical barriers and was reaching towards the fight on shore. Enraged, it swept the beach with four tentacles, knocking over half the vampires before dragging another third of them into the ocean. Their weapons lay abandoned on the beach; Willow saw Kennedy and Deanna trade up to battle axes. The redheaded witch gave them another moment's advantage by sending out an energy pulse that knocked the rest of the sect to their knees. "Faith!"
Faith gave Willow a nod before turning back to Buffy. "Battle's heating up, B. I gotta go take care of some vamps."
Buffy was finally waking up and was able to push herself onto her elbows. "If Willow...numbed my leg I could..."
Faith laughed softly. "You're sitting this one out."
Buffy stared at the scene in front of her: Willow was visibly drained but throwing all the magic she could at the beach; Deanna was fighting three vampires while trying to keep away a fourth; Kennedy was trying to dodge the sea monster that couldn't decide if it was going after her or more vampires.
Buffy blinked back tears. "I have to fight! This whole...this is all my fault!"
Faith gripped her arm like a vice. "Don't start with that crap, or you'll never stop. Shit happens, Buffy, and it happens to us. If Azteroth didn't find you here, he would have found us, found Rachel, in Vermont. Only a matter of time. So we gotta stop him here, Buffy, and that doesn't leave any time for regrets."
The ground shook; the beast brought its tentacles down as hard as it could on the rocks with a deafening CRACK. Everyone on the beach staggered and fell as the creature made another sweep, dragging more victims into the icy depths. Buffy could see that Kennedy had fallen.
So could Willow.
Before the witch could take off into the fight, Faith ran to her. "You take care of my girl, and I'll take care of yours. I promise you, Willow; they're both gonna make it out of this."
Buffy could see the pain on her best friend's face. She hated it. She hated that she had put her friends in danger when vanishing for the last two years had been about saving them all. She couldn't dwell on her thoughts for long, because Willow and Faith were at her side again.
"I can fight," Buffy insisted.
Faith held her face in her hands. "Not today." She kissed her deeply, as though they'd been separated for months, not hours. Buffy was confused by the ache she could feel radiating from her lover.
Faith broke off the kiss and turned to Willow. "Promise me you'll keep her safe."
Willow locked eyes with the dark slayer. "Always."
The exchange was small, but suddenly Buffy had a sinking feeling in her stomach. She looked from Faith to Willow and back again. "What...what do you..."
"No regrets, B," Faith said, her hands still on Buffy's face. "You made my life." Before Buffy could react, Faith stood up and ran for the battle as fast as she could.
As she reached Deanna, Faith could hear Buffy screaming for her; if she hadn't already blocked the emotional part of their bond, she knew she wouldn't be able to fight.
She pulled a vampire off Deanna's back, broke off a piece of driftwood, and staked him. "Where's Kenn?" Faith yelled.
Faith looked where the witch was pointing. "Oh, no..."
Kennedy was losing the fight with a tentacle that was determined to pull her into the ocean. Faith staked two more vampires as Deanna took out three. "There's too many!" Deanna cried. "We'll never get to her!"
"I will. When she runs to you, get her out. I'll follow."
Faith made a break for it, shoving vampires to the side as she made her way to her friend. Kennedy was in the water, chopping at the beast with her battle ax whenever her arms were free enough to do so. In spite of the creature, more vampires were starting to swarm around her.
Faith clenched her teeth and realized what she had to do. We might be outnumbered...but you're about to be outgunned.
She climbed onto a rock and shouted an enchantment into the sky. There was a clap of thunder as the scythe appeared in her hands. She gripped the cold steel and knew they would win. She turned her attention back to Kennedy.
But before she could reach her, Faith felt a blow to her back that sent her reeling. She spun around.
"Finally," Azteroth sneered. "Faith. So foolish, so hot-headed...so predictable. No matter where you hide or what magical protections you use, we knew you wouldn't stay away."
Ten vampires came from behind him to encircle her.
"And bringing us the weapon for your own destruction so willingly? We certainly thought we would have to beat it out of you; I must say I was looking forward to that."
Over the battle, over the waves, over her own heartbeat, Faith could hear Buffy scream her name again. She closed her eyes.
The vampire grinned. "That's right; your fatal flaw. Hear her cries. We knew you would come, because she is your weakness!"
"You're wrong." Faith's eyes flew open. "She is my strength."
She released the barriers holding back her connections with the others. In an instant, love, loyalty, and power from every slayer was reflected back to Faith and channeled through the scythe, sending out a burst of white heat in every direction. Most of the vampires caught fire and started to scream.
Faith cared about only one.
She could see Azteroth holding his burned face and trying to stop the fire from spreading. She ran to him and kicked him to the ground. "We're finished here," she said coolly, and with one swing took off his head.
Kennedy sputtered, choked, and dragged herself out of the water, tossing her battle ax to the side. What the hell? Not that I'm complaining, but...
A flash of light and heat had come from the beach. Whatever it was, it had caused the beast to release her momentarily, and she was grateful for that.
Faith came running towards her. "Are you alright?"
"Good enough, I guess." She suddenly noticed the scythe. "Aaaaand...where did this come from? And why the hell is it here? That's exactly what they need to kill you!"
"And that's why I'm giving it to you. Here." Faith thrust the powerful weapon at Kennedy and glanced at the ax on the beach. "That any good?"
"Sure, if you haven't already gone eight rounds with that Umibastard." Kennedy squinted down the beach. "Are there fewer vampires now?"
"Fewer, but not few. You and Deanna can take them though." Faith gestured at the scythe. "Use that."
Kennedy folded her arms across her chest. "And where are you going to be? Or am I not worthy enough to know the whole plan, Mrs. Had-the-Scythe-the-Entire-Time?"
Faith smiled wryly. "I'll fend off Umibastard and give you some time." As if on cue, the waves started to churn once more. Faith helped Kennedy to her feet. "Make sure you get the scythe back to Willow and Buffy."
Faith picked up the battle ax and waited for the creature. She looked back at Kennedy. "Go!"
Kennedy reluctantly turned and ran towards Deanna, feeling the hum of the scythe the entire time. What power, she thought. Her brow furrowed as she thought back to the flash of light. Did Faith do that?
A vampire jumped in front of her. On instinct, she swung the scythe and cut him in two. She raised her eyebrows. "Sweet."
"Kennedy!" Deanna shouted. "Where's Faith?"
"She's buying us some time, told us to get..." Kennedy trailed off as she grew aware of screaming. "Is that...Buffy?"
The two slayers looked to where they'd left Willow and Buffy. The slayer was straining against her best friend, shoving her, hitting her. Willow's pulses of magic kept knocking the slayer back. "What the hell is wrong with her?" Kennedy said angrily. She felt Deanna's hand on her arm. She gave her a puzzled look.
"That," Deanna whispered.
Kennedy turned around to face the water.
The beast had pulled Faith from the beach, through the water, and up into the air. The dark slayer was holding the battle ax, but seemed to be waiting for something.
"What is she doing?" Kennedy said as the blood drained from her face.
She barely heard them calling as she clutched her weapon.
The creature was rising out of the water, exposing horrifyingly bulbous eyes and an enormous mouth lined with suckers and teeth. It raised her up. She held her ax over her head. She didn't tremble.
The beast let go. She fell towards the gaping mouth.
"Choke," she growled.
Deanna grabbed her arm and pulled. "We have to...Kennedy, we have to get to the others."
There was a bellowing from the ocean; the beast rose up even higher, tentacles flailing, some reaching towards its mouth, others towards the shore. Huge waves crashed onto the rocks. Kennedy and Deanna held each other against the push of the frigid waters.
"What did she do?!" Kennedy cried.
A sudden energy seized them both, filling them, holding them, overwhelming them. Kennedy released Deanna and leaned on the rocks, gasping.
The beast bellowed once more before lunging its entirety towards shore. Tentacles, eyes, and teeth collapsed onto the rocks. A huge stench emanated from the carcass.
"I feel...stronger," Kennedy said quietly. "A lot stronger." She looked back at Willow and Buffy. The witch was holding the slayer tightly against her. "But that means..."
"Faith's power passed on." Deanna stared at the enormous dead monster on the beach.
Buffy clutched Willow as though she were holding on for her life. She had never felt so broken or empty. "She's gone," she gasped. "Willow, she's gone."