I sleep. I eat. I kill.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
Once the big arena event passed by, I was pretty sure that our days were numbered. Sure, there were a couple hundred girls in the camp. But I figured that at three to five girls a night, I'd be stood there alone after a couple of weeks.
And on that note, I guess I was pretty grateful when I found out that the big arena events only happened on the weekends.
It's funny, you know? The world, as far as I knew then, had been taken over by demons. And despite the fact that there were no banks, no shopping malls, no post office and no jobs in general, they still saved the big events for the weekends.
Like they had so much to do during the week. Does evil really take a weekend break? Or does evil save it all up for the weekend?
In either case, Friday nights have always been the big teaser event. A few young slayers, a few big weapons . . . just enough to get the demons riled up. Saturday was always reserved for the big event. The day when they would pit the original slayer against a mob of scared and desperate girls, or when they would pit me against an up-and-coming girl who had promise as a true fighter.
That was ridiculous, of course. They knew that no matter how good of a fighter any of those girls became, she'd still be no match for me. Not only was I more experienced, but I had something to live for too.
Every Saturday I was brought out of the tunnels and paraded around the arena. Demons would cheer and snarl and shout, like I was one of them. I was the reason they kept coming back: no one could promise a kill like I could.
And every Saturday, just as I was telling myself it was time for me to stand up and refuse to fight, that I was tired and wanted it all to end . . . they'd show Dawn on the big screen. She'd plead for me to help her, and I'd go to that place in my mind where I didn't think about what I was doing. Where my actions became automatic, and the only thing on my mind was getting to Dawn, saving her and whomever was left standing, and fixing everything.
I don't know how much I believed I could actually do that, but it was a good distraction from what I was physically doing, anyhow.
The truth was, though, that after several months of fighting, the inevitable began to happen: they started running out of girls. New clans came and went like always, and each time they visited, they had fewer and fewer girls in their camps.
I knew that the era of the slayer was coming to an end.
I had to make my move. I couldn't just sit back and wait for an opportunity any longer. If they were going to fight us until there were none left, I had to act.
It was late one night when I put my plan into motion. Actually, there was no plan. I was going over the wall, consequences be damned. The scavenger demons that used to linger just outside the perimeter of the fence had long since moved on; girls were no longer brave enough to try to make a run for it.
They knew their fate was to die in the ring. Sixteen months of the same thing over and over convinced them of that fact.
The only thing that I was sure of was that I couldn't share that fate with them. No matter how much they had changed me into someone no one else would recognize . . . I was still Buffy. The slayer. And I wouldn't let the slayer line end just like that.
Like clockwork, my guard Dervin came to check in on me midway through the night. Over the months, I think we became accustomed to one another. He was less brutal to me than other guards were. He tried to take care of me, in a messed up sort of way. And I didn't give him a hard time. Like I said before. . . I acted complacent while I plotted and planned and waited for my opening.
The torch that burned in the corner of my chamber kept the room just barely illuminated; it was dim enough that he couldn't see my determined face as I pretended to sleep.
When I heard him shuffling up to the bars, I started to put on the performance of a lifetime. I began thrashing around on my cot like I was trapped in a nightmare like none other.
Sure, nightmares were a normal occurrence.
In fact, they were so normal that Dervin took sympathy on me and would often open my chamber door and wake me. Guess he thought that he was doing me some kind of favor by waking me up.
Sure. Nothing quite like waking up from one nightmare to find yourself trapped in another.
I knew that part of me should feel bad about what I was going to do. Any of the other guards would have stood and laughed as I lay there whimpering. But not Dervin. He cared, for some odd reason.
As he neared the cot, I gripped the small shard of mirror that normally hung on the wall in my hand, not even flinching as it cut into my weathered skin.
“Wake, slayer,” he said in a gruff but quiet tone, careful not to draw the attention of the other guards. “You dream again.”
When I felt his hand on my shoulder, I let the slayer take over. My eyes opened and I grabbed onto his shoulder quicker than he could process the events. I moved so quickly, in fact, that he didn't even feel the mirror shard pierce his throat until he saw the blood pouring down the front of his chest.
He stumbled backwards and crashed against the wall before slowly sliding down it into a seated position. I leapt up from the cot and took my fighting stance, waiting for some type of reprisal.
There was always some type of reprisal.
But Dervin just sat there and looked up at me with shocked eyes, one hand holding tight over his throat in an attempt to stop the blood flow.
There was no stopping it, though. I sliced right through his jugular vein. He had seconds left, maybe a minute if he was lucky.
He gurgled, straining as he tried to speak. I shook my head, scared that the other guards would come running at his warning. And then I froze. I looked down and noticed that his other hand was rested on his hip, gripping tight to an aerosol bullhorn that was attached to his belt.
I didn't notice that before because . . . why? It didn't matter at that point. He was going to use the bullhorn to alert the guards to the situation. My luck was over.
“I . . . I . . .” Dervin sputtered, blood pouring out of his mouth now, “I thought you would . . . n-never do it.”
I didn't understand. He didn't think I would kill him? I just stood there, looking both panicked and puzzled, waiting for the cavalry to come a-runnin'.
But then he surprised me. He reached behind the bullhorn and grabbed a small iron ring that was latched onto his belt.
It had keys on it.
“Go,” he sputtered, using the last of his strength to hold the key ring up to me. “Quickly. Don't . . . look . . . back.”
He gasped a few times and shook violently before he was eventually still, his hand falling away from his throat to let the blood seep slowly down his chest.
I looked down at the key ring that lay in his lap. I'm not sure what came over me, but it was almost like I couldn't move for a moment. I was paralyzed by something, either fear or happiness, but I didn't have time to think about it then. I had to get out of there, and fast.
Taking one last look down at Dervin, I grabbed the key ring and made my way to the door, peeking cautiously around the corner to make sure the coast was clear. I could hear some vamps and demons chuckling in one of the rooms down the corridor, but the corridor itself was clear.
I took a deep breath before stepping out of my chamber alone for the first time in nearly sixteen months. Alone. A blessing yet a curse all at the same time.
Slowly and cautiously, I made my way down the corridor, ducking and stepping past doorways as I went. Just as I was about to pass one room, I glanced inside and realized what it was: the weapons room.
As much as I knew I had to get out of there as quickly as possible, I also knew it would be better for me to have something to protect myself with.
Making sure first that the room was empty, I stepped inside and closed the door part way, leaving only a sliver of light from the torch outside the door to illuminate the room. I felt around in the near darkness, looking for my weapon of choice. My long sword. After a moment or two of fumbling, I felt the cool metal of the blade set upon a table, set aside just for me. The blade itself was gritty and sticky, surely not cleaned since the last time it was used.
Not cleaned since the first time it was used.
I flinched when I realized how many lives it had taken, how much blood it had spilled. But I would make up for it. I'd make up for it all.
On the chair next to the table was a piece of my armor - the left shoulder and arm guard. I slipped it on carefully, making sure not to let the metal clang together. With my sword in my hand and as much protection as I could find in the shoulder guard, I made my way towards the door, ready to make my escape.
Just as I moved to open the door and slip out, I heard voices in the corridor. I moved back into the darkness of the room just as two guards made their way down the corridor, laughing raucously at their own jokes.
`Why did the slayer cross the street? To be eaten by the Nargok demon!'
I stayed hidden in the darkness of the room until I heard their voices fade into nothing. Only when I was sure that my slayer hearing was attuned and there was no one in the corridor did I make my way out of the room.
The corridor seemed to go on for ages, but I just kept sneaking along until I came upon one of the courtyards of the general population. Using the keys that Dervin gave me with his dying breaths, I opened the door that was acting as the only barrier between myself and the courtyard.
I could tell that there were guards up on the second level, but they were too wrapped up in their own conversation to see me creeping along the darkened south wall. Being careful not to step into any light, I crept along the wall until I came upon the tall barbed fence. There were still articles of clothing tied around it in some places, but they were all tattered from the weather now.
Still, they served as perfect places for me to grab onto the wires without getting my hands cut up.
I looked down at them to find that they were covered in dried blood. Mine and Dervin's.
For a second, I almost felt bad, but . . . I cut off the feelings. The only thing feelings were going to do was get me killed. And I had to be strong. I had to be the slayer.
With as much stealth as possible, I began to climb up the barbed fence, grabbing onto pieces of clothing when able and just gritting my teeth and bearing the pain when there was nothing but sharp barbs to cling to. They ripped my skin again and again, but I felt no pain. Only determination.
Once I reached the top of the fence, I paused and looked over my shoulder at the darkened camp behind me.
I repeated my mantra over and over again. `I'll make up for it. I'll make up for it. I'll make up for it.'
One last look and I leapt into the darkness, grimacing slightly as my feet landed hard on the ground on the other side. My first taste of freedom and it was painful. The heavy shoulder guard and sword added to my weight, but it was the guilt that weighed on me the most.
Of leaving everyone behind. Of never being behind them in the first place. Of not doing something sooner.
Of not winning the fight in the first place.
But I remembered what I was fighting for, who I was fighting for, and I found my strength again. Sword in hand, I ran. Into the darkness. Into the unknown. Into a future that I wasn't sure held a place for me. But I ran.
I must have gotten about three miles before I started to feel something coming over me. Something . . . not quite right. Something powerful. Something magical.
Before I could stop and try to get my bearings straight, a blinding white light struck me like a bolt of lightning. It didn't go though me; it coursed again and again throughout me before tossing me to the ground.
I lay there shaking, in pain, and scared. Before long, another white light came shooting toward me, hitting me straight between the eyes.
And then I slept. For how long, who knows.
But it was the first time I didn't have nightmares in as long as I could remember.
I'm not sure how long I was out for. Maybe a few minutes or so. But when I came to, I wasn't laying on the ground where I had fallen.
I was being carried.
And not like a princess, either. I was tossed over someone's shoulder, the blood rushing to my already swimming head as I dangled limply. As weak and confused as I was feeling, I still had some fight left in me.
With as much strength as I could muster, I twisted my body, trying to jolt myself free. But whoever was carrying me obviously had other plans.
“Stop your wriggling,” came a gruff voice as two strong arms gripped tighter around my legs to keep me from squirming.
As if that would stop me. Instead, it spurned me on. I used everything I had then, wriggling and squirming as much as I could. It actually worked; after a few moments, I felt my body hit the hard ground as I was finally dropped.
I rolled to my stomach and got to my knees, ready to make my escape, even though I was still disoriented and pretty woozy from whatever had happened to me before.
But before I could even get a few feet away, I felt a heavy, cloven foot make contact with my stomach, sending me spiraling through the air and into a stone wall.
I lay there gasping, my arms instantly clutching around my stomach to shield it from any further blows.
I heard another voice, just as gruff as the first, but much more annoyed sounding.
“Show her what happens to slaves who escape,” he said and snorted, chuckling as the rest of the group - five or six of them - surrounded me.
And then I realized my fatal mistake. I was still clutching my stomach.
Before I could even think about moving my arms, a foot kicked me hard in the face.
The last thing I remember before passing out was smiling as I nearly choked on my own blood, relieved that it was all finally coming to an end.
Of course, things never end quite that easily.
I wake slowly to the sounds of new noises . . . noises that I haven't heard in ages.
There are people talking.
The sun burns my eyes as I open them for the first time, in . . . well, I'm not sure how long. Still, it doesn't take long for me to realize I'm not back in my cell. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm not at the same place I was at before.
I use my arm as a shield from the sun and look around, noting that I'm in some type of large outdoor camp. There are girls wandering about, and from the tingles that I'm getting, I'm guessing that they're slayers as well.
They don't look like scared little girls. Not like the ones that I . . . encountered. I watch as they walk around confidently, talking to one another like it's a regular social hour.
I take my time looking around, feeling out the situation. Large camp, about seventy or eighty girls in sight. Cinderblock shortwall with high barbed fences. Six guard posts, four of them with two in each post, and two unmanned. Demons, not vamps. No demons in the immediate vicinity . . . sterile bandages and cots all around me. I'm thinking I'm in an infirmary of some sort, which doesn't make sense at all because there's no brutish demon around serving as a doctor, pouring alcohol into open wounds and stitching them up with a dull needle.
Cautiously, I slip my free hand off of the cot and try to feel how close I am to the floor. If I'm close enough, I can roll under the cot and make a plan. After a moment or two of feeling around, I feel something cold and warm hit my hand. Is that . . . a tongue??
I snatch my hand back and sit up quickly. Of course, that isn't the smartest of moves, seeing as that I took quite the beating last time I was conscious. A load groan escapes me as my arm clutches around my midsection. Several shallow breaths later, I'm counting my broken ribs with my fingertips. Four, five, six . . .
And then I remember the tongue. I immediately look down at the spot I had just touched on the ground, only to find a small gray dog sat there looking up at me, his messy hair almost completely covering his eyes.
He pants a few times and lets out a small bark, causing several of the girls to look in our direction.
“Quiet, Toto,” I say, my voice unfamiliar to my own ears. I flinch, not having realized that the simple sound of my own voice could cause me pain. After a moment, I look up from the furry dog and see a girl coming my way, adorned in a white jacket with deep pockets and a stethoscope around her neck.
“Oh yeah,” I say under my breath, “we're definitely not in Kansas anymore.”
She walks casually up to my cot and looks down at the dog, smiling as she addresses it.
“Quiet, Saucey. This one doesn't need you harassing her. Go find your momma,” she said and smiled as the little dog scooted off excitedly.
Okay, exactly what kind of twilight zone did I wake up in? I know I'm in a camp. I know there are demons here. But puppies and doctors? Oh yeah, I defo got clunked pretty good on my coconut.
Finally she turns her attention to me and her smile softens as she sits on the cot next to me, pulling it forward so that she's closer.
“I thought you were a goner,” she says as she takes my wrist and checks my pulse.
“Well,” I begin, my voice scratchy and hoarse, “if it makes you feel better, I feel like I'm dead.”
She chuckles at me but gets quiet again after a moment so that she can pay attention to what she's doing. After a warm breath on her stethoscope, she places it on my back and listens.
A moment later, she continues, “You can breathe now.”
When I realize I'm holding my breath, I exhale loudly. She laughs, but I can't really find the situation funny. It's awkward and uncomfortable. I haven't had an actual conversation in longer than I can remember, and I have no idea where I am or what I'm doing here.
Even more . . . I don't know what this place is. Am I free, or am I still in hell?
“I'm willing to bet you have some questions,” she says, and I nod slowly in response. “Right. Well, up until about a year and a half ago, I was a Med student. Then one day, I'm at the hospital, suturing a little girl who fell off her bike and split her chin open, when I pass out cold . . . BAM, just like that. I come to and . . . I'm different. I'm . . . strong, and alert, and very aware that I'm part of something . . . bigger.”
“You're a slayer,” I say rather than ask.
“Got it in one,” she says, smiling. She continues to check over me as she fills me in on things. “So, I'm standing there strong, feeling on top of the world, ready to take it all on . . . and then the TV reports start coming in. Gangs of - things - walking around and causing chaos. One large gang turns into two, two turns into ten, and ten turns into . . . well, you know how bad it gets.”
I nod, feeling relieved yet a bit scared at learning how things had all went down.
It was all my fault. How could it not be? I failed . . .
“After about a day or so, the TV cameras went off,” she continues. “And then the whole world seemed to shut down. The United States was up and in ruins . . . demons running through the streets, killing people and burning things down. When they finally found our hiding spot in the hospital, I fought. It was the most natural thing I ever did. But there were too many. I'm not sure what happened to the others - I think you and I both can assume what happened - but I was beaten and brought here. And I've been here since.”
I look around, still curious to exactly where I was.
“And what exactly is `here'?” I ask.
She tries to smile, but I can see the pain that she's hiding. After all this, she's still trying to be strong.
“This . . .” she begins, but she stops for a few moments as she looks around and tries to find the right words. “. . . this is hell, I think.”
I look around and can't help but scoff at that.
“This is like a five-star resort compared to where I was,” I say bitterly. “You want hell? I can tell you about hell.”
She sits back on the cot and shakes her head no, putting her stethoscope easily back around her neck.
“I've already heard the tales,” she says. I raise an eyebrow at her, wondering exactly how she knows anything about it, and she quickly continues, “You're not the only one who was transferred here. After all of the new slayers were called, they started shipping girls around in a frenzy, trying to make room for them all. We got several girls from the camp you were in, along with . . .”
“Whoa, wait . . . what?” I interrupt after I realize what she had just said. “New slayers? What do you mean `new slayers'?”
She smiles sadly at me and tilts her head to the side a little.
“What's your name?” she asks me, and for a moment, I'm not sure that I can say it. That I can bring myself to say that name of the person I had disassociated myself with as much as possible.
“B-Buffy,” I answer quietly.
“Okay, Buffy,” she begins, scooting closer to me, “close your eyes; tell me what you feel.”
I look at her questioningly for a moment, but decide to trust her for some odd reason. Try as hard as I may, I still can't feel a thing two minutes later.
“Focus, Buffy,” she says. “Listen to the slayer. What is she telling you?”
After a moment, I open my eyes and look at her, frustrated.
“She's decided that hell pretty much sucks and is on vacation in Tahiti. Mind telling me what I'm supposed to be feeling here . . . .?” I say, waiting for her to fill in the blanks.
“Diane,” she says, “but you can call me D. It's a nickname I've earned here, being the Doctor and all. And what you're supposed to be feeling . . . is the buzz of hundreds of new slayers that have been called. It just happened a few days ago. We don't know how, but . . . more were called, and they're being found and sent into the camps one by one.”
“They have the scythe,” I say quietly before looking up at her. “They're using magicks, really powerful magicks. That's how we called the slayers before, when we . . .” lost, I try to say, but it doesn't come out. As beaten down as I've been, I still can't admit defeat aloud. It hurts too much.
“It doesn't matter now,” Diane says and stands up, dipping her hands into her pockets. “These girls have been called, and they're here to stay. Only thing we can do now is help them. Show them what it means to be part of the slayer family.”
Immediately, I avert my eyes and stare at the ground. Slayer family. Yeah right. Does she know that I pretty much decimated my family with a big longsword? I'm afraid that if I look up at her, she'll know.
“Buffy,” she says softly, trying to get my attention. “I know what happened in your last camp. And no one can blame you . . . you did what you thought you had to do.”
I take a chance and look up at her to see if she's looking at me with disgust, but all I see is compassion and concern. She smiles softly at me and continues.
“But that's not how we do things here. And as much as you're used to being on your own, that's really not going to work. Not here.”
I frown and stand up, feeling a bit cornered in now.
“I can take care of myself,” I say and try to walk away, but I don't know where I'm going to and I'm still not strong enough to walk on my own. The guards must have broken my right ankle too when they found me that night. Stupid mystical white lights giving away my location.
“I'm sure you can,” Diane says as she hurries over and grabs my right arm, keeping me upright. “But things aren't run here the way they were where you used to be. Come on . . . take a walk with me.”
Slowly but surely, we walk around the camp as she shows me the ins and outs of the place, as much as she can in the restricted areas.
She explains that yes, slayers are often pitted against slayers, but that it's generally more of a free-for-all here. Vamps, demons, beasts - a veritable cornucopia of bad guys - all hop in the ring with the slayers. Giving the slayers a common enemy, besides one another, had forged a strong bond between them. They were family. They protected one another.
And when one of them would die, they would mourn and remember.
Just the thought of it all was almost too much for me to handle. I was supposed to form bonds with these girls, only to have to kill them later? Or to watch as they helplessly die at the hands of some random demon that wouldn't have stood a chance with us before?
Though I was deep in thought, I still managed to listen to Diane as she explained the different areas of the camp, along with several rules that had been established. The demon clan that ran the place didn't interfere with the slayers much. They provided food and basic materials. They let the slayers take care of one another after fights. Hell, they even provided some very rudimentary medical supplies.
Yeah, this place was definitely feeling like the Ramada Inn.
But then she takes me to the inner workings of the place: the arena. The last leg of the tour.
It' s a bit bigger than the arena I had previously been in. There's more seats, and the arena itself has been doctored to hold all sorts of special items . . . columns, cages, fire pits . . . the works.
The pain from my broken ribs and my banged up ankle is almost too much to bear now, but I want to see it all. I need to know where I am and what I'm up against so that I can start making another plan.
Slowly, we walk into the arena where a few girls are working out and practicing. There are a few girls taking lessons from an older girl on combat technique and evasive maneuvers. There are a few girls in another area, doing push-ups and sit-ups and general working out.
And then there's one girl sat across the arena, stretching and doing some martial arts stances. I watch her as she works out with ease, Diane talking to me the whole time in the background.
I know I should be paying attention . . . my life could depend on something that she's saying. But I just can't seem to focus on anything but that one girl.
After only a few moments, when the girl starts walking across the arena in our general direction, do I start to feel the tingles. Not a vamp, and not a demon, but something different. Something familiar.
I start to feel faint as the familiar feeling washes over me, causing me to feel more than I have in over a year.
My eyes widen when I finally realize the source of the tingles. The girl stops moving mid-step as she finally looks over and notices me and Diane.
That smirk. Oh god, no.
And then there's darkness as my legs give out from beneath me and I fall hard to the ground yet again.