“There is no journey,” she says flatly, “there is just within. So my path is where none’s beaten.”
She pauses, feeling the weight of her words and her choice.
“And for truth, I choose the trickster.”
The leaves rustle behind her, and she smiles.
“So how do we start?” she asks, closing her eyes.
It starts with a girl. No matter the ending, every story starts with a girl.
Willow opens her eyes, meeting the First Slayer’s glare.
“Guh!” she says, scrambling backwards, crab-like, in an effort to be anywhere but where she currently is.
Sineya snorts, a quick exhalation of air that the First Slayer somehow imbues with haughty derision.
“Hey!,” Willow exclaims. “Not sure that kind of mockery is called for. You did try to kill me in my dreams, so kinda feeling justified in my decision to get away. You know, quickly.”
Sineya doesn’t respond. She just stares, her gaze going through Willow and into the far distance. Willow looks up and then around, following the First Slayer’s unspoken directive.
The world is on fire.
Bodies lie in heaps under crumbling masonry and twisted steel – remnants of buildings and cars just as dead as the humans they once sheltered. The low moans of zompires, shambling undead parodies of vampires created after the loss of magic, echo across the blasted landscape. This isn’t the world she knows, but it is undoubtedly her world – a ruined crater, a shell of the life that used to be before the loss of the Seed of Wonder.
“How did this happen?” she asks Sineya quietly. “Is this the future?”
“It’s Neverland, love,” a familiar voice replies quietly. “A dreamscape for the magically-challenged.”
He doesn’t step out from behind anything, or stride out of the chaos and confusion around them. He just is there – a haunting presence at her elbow, all smirk and duster. He is at once himself and completely unknown – leaner then he is in the waking world, eyes bright with a malice she no longer expects from him.
“What are you doing here, Spike?” she asks cautiously.
Dreams are tricky. They have power but no substance – the solidity of the waking world has no place here. That’s a deadly combination and one she has no interest in experiencing again.
“A powerless witch alone in here?” Spike sneers lightly. “Thought I’d keep you company.”
“But I thought Aluwyn…” The last time she had crossed from the waking world, it had been Aluwyn waiting for her. She looks around, craning her neck for a flash of scales.
“You think your serpent girl gets past her?” Spike asks with an air of incredulity.
He gestures to First Slayer, who stands between them and the horde of undead, watching them with hooded eyes.
“So you’re my guide?” She can’t keep the disbelief from her voice. It should be Saga Vasuki standing at her elbow, teaching her truth with a forked tongue.
“Yeah,” he tells her flatly, thrusting his hands into his pockets. “That’s me. Undead Dreamtime Tour Guide.”
“So you’re here because why?” Willows asks. Even to her own ears, the question sounds cranky. But her last connection to this world, her last connection to Aluwyn, is gone and she doesn’t give a damn how cranky she sounds.
Spike chuckles and the sound echoes, sending up a chorus of answering moans from the zompires.
“A conduit,” he answers cryptically. “Isn’t that what I always am to you lot? A convenient tool against the monster of the week?”
Willow frowns. There it is again - a Spike that looks and sounds familiar but from ages ago. This isn’t the vampire who risked everything to save them from the First Evil or Twilight, the one Buffy trusted against the Master Reborn – the Spike they all trust almost instinctively now. This is the Spike of Sunnydale cemeteries, all hollow bluster and epic narcissism.
“Of course,” he continues, almost genially, “ ‘S not the monsters out there that caused the problems, is it? Those poor buggers are just the real Big Bad’s castoffs, aren’t they? Bits of dead flotsam and jetsam trailing in the wake of the Destroyer.”
She slumps, biting back a groan. “Seriously? This is your evil plan? This? You dragged me all the way through a prophetic dream for the chance to snidely insinuate that Buffy is trouble?”
“It’s a familiar tune with you lot,” he says with a shrug. “Let's see: great power, reckless endangerment of others, self-righteousness about it…”
She wathes as he ticks off the points on his fingers – each one resulting in finger dropping, leaving only the first and middle finger still pointed upwards in a V.
Willow snorts. “Newsflash, Spike: that’s not news. I was there when Buffy destroyed the Seed. I know exactly how it happened.”
“And I have the scars to prove.” The words tumble out, and for a moment she remembers the long, terrible fall and the sick sensation in her stomach as the magic left her body. She flinches, an involuntary sense-memory of the harsh impact.
“Being old news doesn’t make it less painful, yeah? Doesn’t fill that hole inside you where magic used to live? Too bad there’s no way for you to get that mojo back.” Spike’s face contorts as his demon face emerges, face gleeful in victory.
Her hand flies in the air, an instinctive reaction to all her hurts. If she had her magic, she thinks, she’d conjure a tiny little ball of sunlight and watch him burn. But she has no magic and no muscles and all she can do is stare at him in impotent fury.
“Brawling never was your thing,” he observes slyly. “Not even when you were something more than Buffy’s sidekick. Barely even that now, yeah? Probably best if you don’t...”
But she’s not listening anymore. Her eyes are following the movement of the zompires now. The pattern of their lurching gait is being disrupted by…something. As she watches, the First Slayer beckons and Willow suddenly puts all of the pieces in their place.
This isn’t her dream. It never was. This is Buffy’s dream – a Slayer dream. Spike was right, which is a sentence she can’t believe is floating around inside her brain right now. Aluwyn could never have made it to her in this dream space.
She strides forward, instinctively moving to the answer she knows is waiting inside the horde of zompires.
“Go ahead, “ Spike calls out. “ Run away. There's a word for endangering lives for your own selfish need, love. Evil.”
She hears him but it doesn’t stop her. She’s not that girl anymore and she knows that this is where her path lies. She’s not endangering the innocent for magic. She’s giving the world back the magic that was stolen by the recklessness of others.
The world needs magic.