Bianca had been through a lot in her short life. She grew up apart from her mother, she got through her father's death, she learned she had a half sister, and she discovered, and shared, that she was gay. The levels of strength she developed because of these trials and tribulations were probably what got her through her evening with Spike and company without fainting. After all, this was California, weird things were reported here every day. Those weird reportings weren't supposed to include vampires and strange otherworldly councils, however.
"Vampires?" Bianca said.
"'T'sall right, Love. They're gone." Spike said.
Rain's eyes narrowed at Spike's choice of pet names.
"They shouldn't have existed in the first place!" Bianca yelled. "That's it, I'm over this, you can all figure each other out later, I want someone to explain everything to me right now. And I mean everything!"
"Whoa." Tara said.
Buffy rubbed her forehead, eyeing Drake and his friend. Rain moved closer to Bianca. "I've already told you all I know."
"You didn't tell me about the vampires." Bianca said.
"Would you have believed me?"
"That's not the point."
Rain nodded. "I've never lied to you Bianca. I'm not about to start now."
Buffy interjected. "Willow, Tara, I think we should take Bianca back to the dorm. We can explain everything to her there." She then turned to Drake. "Which one of us is it? Which one of us in the champion?"
Drake lifted his chin.
"Oh hell, it's not fair to keep it a secret. It's all of you." Rain said.
Drake glared at Rain.
"All of us?" Willow asked.
"Yeah. Your whole group. We don't know much about you, we were only sent to protect you, what we do know we gather from simple observation." Rain said.
"Enough, Rain, you've said too much!" Drake yelled.
"Oh put a sock in it." Buffy told him. She turned to Rain. "So who's the Tribunum?"
"That I don't know." Rain answered.
"Why does it have to be so secret? Why are you so afraid to tell us anything?" Willow asked Drake.
"We are not to take active parts in the Champion's life. However many champions there may be." Rain answered instead.
"But why not?!" Buffy yelled. "Don't go all cryptic on me, I hate that. Give me a straight answer."
Rain's eyes narrowed. "I don't do cryptic. I'm giving you straight answers, I just don't know much, I'm new at this."
"How did you get involved with them?"
"They approached me."
"Sasha. It was her wasn't it?" Bianca said.
Rain nodded. "I swear, she's just a friend."
Bianca nodded back. "I believe you."
Rain heaved a huge sigh of relief.
Drake spoke up again. "I knew it. I knew you'd be too great a risk and you've proven me right. You're out, Rain, out! Anonymity was vital!"
"Why?!" Buffy yelled back.
Drake looked at her, his eyes a little wide.
"You don't know, do you?" Willow suddenly rejoined the conversation.
All eyes once again turned to Drake.
He glanced at the third Crusader then said, "No. I don't. I only do as I'm told."
Buffy nodded. "All right. You and your friends can leave but Bianca is staying with us."
Drake glowered at Rain, then he and his friend got into their car and sped away. Rain looked at Buffy. "Can I catch a ride?"
A half hour later Bianca sat in Willow and Tara's dorm room on her bed next to Rain. Willow and Tara sat on their bed and Buffy paced.
"So Sasha is higher in the ranks of this little club than Drake is?" Buffy asked.
"As far as I can tell, yeah. If there are ranks." Rain answered.
"Does she answer to anyone?"
"Not that I know of."
"So she probably has direct contact with this Tribunum." Buffy scowled.
"What do your necklaces mean?" Tara asked.
"Oh, the three metals symbolize our, uh, ideal virtues. Gold is strength, silver is generosity, and bronze is wisdom"
"So those don't symbolize the Tribunum itself? Because you have three metals doesn't mean there are three of them?" Buffy asked.
"I don't know. I know that traditionally a tribunal was a speaking place, I'm not sure what a tribunum is."
Buffy nodded and continued pacing.
Rain shyly looked at Bianca and took her hand. Bianca gave her a slight smile and kept their hands joined.
"So now what?" Willow asked.
"We go to find this Sasha." Buffy said.
"I'm sure Drake's gotten to her first." Rain replied.
"Why all of us? I assumed they chose one champion, why are we all this champion? And why is this Tribunum choosing a champion when the Powers That Be already do?" Buffy rattled off her questions. "I'm the freakin' Chosen One! I don't need them making me their champion too!"
"Chosen One?" Bianca asked.
"For every generation there is a Chosen One." Willow said.
"Buffy's a slayer." Tara added.
"I slay vampires. Like those guys that attacked you. Like Spike." Buffy said.
"How come you haven't slayed Spike?" Bianca asked.
"I ask myself that every day." Buffy muttered.
"Spike has a chip in his head that won't allow him to hurt humans." Willow said. "Right now he's harmless towards us so Buffy can't find it in her heart to kill a defenseless creature. Even if he is a vampire."
"So you kill vampires. And Willow and Tara help you?" Bianca asked.
"Yes, as do Xander and Anya." Buffy replied. "You're taking this rather well."
"I don't think it's really hit me yet." Bianca said.
"Well that's why the Tribunum chose you." Rain spoke up. "You're fighters of good."
"But who is the Tribunum to be choosing champions to go out and fight?" Buffy asked.
"I think we're missing the point." Willow said. "The Tribunum didn't choose you the same way the Powers That Be did by telling you you're going to fight. Instead they kept it hidden; forming an unknown support group. You fight of your own choice, they just try to help. That's why Drake said anonymity was vital."
Buffy scowled. "They should just stay out of my way."
"That's a little hypocritical isn't it?" Rain asked. "Your friends fight along side you even though you're the Chosen One. Who are you to say who should and should not take a stand?"
Buffy wasn't used to being argued with. She was about to get into a tirade when Willow said, "Yeah, I guess that makes sense."
Buffy deflated with a loud exhale. "What do you mean it makes sense?"
"I know you were against us helping you at first. You were the Chosen One, meant to work alone, yada yada yada. Xander and I had to force you to let us help but wasn't it worth it in the end? Primal dreamscape slayer confirmed it. She was mad because you had friends when you were supposed to be solitary. You broke the code. Not to mention the whole Faith fiasco; talk about unorthodox. Two slayers at once. You're like the antithesis of what a slayer is supposed to be but you still have those solitary instincts. That doesn't make them right, however." Willow raised an eyebrow to Buffy.
Buffy sighed. "So I'm just supposed to let them follow us around? Put themselves in danger?"
"It's not your choice to make, Buffy." Willow answered. "I'm guessing that's why the Tribunum kept itself secret; because it didn't want to make that choice for you. It chose a champion that had already chosen herself. Or themselves, as the case may be." She looked to Rain who shrugged.
"Makes sense to me." She said.
"So now what?" Tara asked.
Buffy squared her shoulders. "Now we go find Sasha and meet this Tribunum."
"Wait, who's Faith? Is there another slayer?" Bianca asked.
"Buffy died once and another slayer was called but then Buffy came back to life so now there are two slayers." Willow said.
Bianca knew that the next day everything she was learning this night was going to truly be real and she'd have to deal with it. Buffy had died and Willow sounded so blasé about it. "Where is she now?"
Instead of answering Willow looked to Buffy.
"She was in jail, now she's living and working with another friend of ours, Cordelia, down in LA." Buffy said. Her expression was a cross between sadness and anger.
Bianca noticed Willow looked a little odd as Buffy said this. Buffy opened the door. "Are we going?"
"What about Xander?" Willow asked. "We should call him and let him know what's up."
"Call him and tell us to meet him at Sasha's." Buffy said.
Willow nodded and called Xander's apartment. He and Anya hadn't left yet and after Rain gave him instructions, he agreed to meet up with them.
"Sasha lives near the campus in an apartment." Rain said. "Make a left at the light."
"So, Anya. What's up with her?" Bianca asked. "I'm guessing `boomin'' isn't a usual term she uses."
Willow snickered, "No, she's an ex demon. Vengeance demon, actually, so she has a lot of knowledge about demons and dimensions and magic, she just hasn't figured out how to be a human yet."
Bianca's eyes went a little wide. Rain seemed startled too. "So Buffy's a slayer, Willow and Tara are witches, Anya's an ex demon. What's Xander?"
"Xander's just a guy." Willow said. "The best guy, my best friend since forever."
"That's all? He doesn't practice magic or have cool martial arts skills or demon knowledge?"
"Yup. He's just a guy."
"Is that normal? Is being cool and having powers usually a girl thing?" Rain asked.
Buffy laughed, "Well, the being cool part is, I think. As for powers, no, unfortunately."
Buffy pulled in an apartment complex at Rain's directions and parked the car.
"Drake's here." Rain said, pointing to his car.
"All the chickens . . ." Buffy muttered.
"Hey." Xander and Anya walked up having parked a few spaces down from Buffy. "What's happening?"
"We're about to go meet up with Sasha who's the head Crusader." Willow said.
"Crusaders? We're meeting with Crusaders?" Anya asked.
"You know them?" Buffy asked, surprised. She hadn't had a chance to share the information Giles had given her with the others but she hadn't expected Anya to know much about this considering how hard it had been for Giles to get any information whatsoever.
"Well, not personally, but I've heard of them. They've only been in operation the last couple hundred years working for the Tribunum."
"What do you know about the Tribunum?" Willow asked.
"Oh, you hear things. Beings to like to think they're bigger than they are. Powers That Wannabe really. They're rather secretive, though, so I don't know much more than that. Our paths didn't cross often." Anya looked around expectantly. "So are we going to go find them or can I go home with Xander and-"
Xander put his hand over Anya's mouth and whispered in her ear. She rolled her eyes and nodded, staying silent.
"This way." Rain led them out of the parking lot and through the maze of buildings to where Sasha lived. "Are we all going up?"
"We all deserve answers." Buffy said, starting up the stairs. At the top she knocked on the door Rain pointed to.
"Who is it?" came a voice.
Buffy was about to punch through the door when Rain said, "It's me; Rain. Let me in Sasha."
A series of latches were undone and the door opened to reveal a girl not much taller than Buffy with dark hair, dark skin, and Indian features.
"You brought them here?" she asked Rain.
"I had to. I couldn't answer all their questions."
"You weren't supposed to answer any."
"See?" Drake came up behind Sasha. "She can't be trusted."
"Let's hear her side of it first." Sasha moved back to let the others in. They walked down a short hallway that turned into a nice sized living room with a kitchen off to the side. Another doorway led to what Bianca assumed to be the bedroom, or bedrooms, she wasn't sure which.
"So." Buffy wasn't much for preamble. "What's the Tribunum?"
Before Sasha spoke Buffy raised her hands. "And I want straight answers, not that same tired line of, `I can't tell you anything.'"
"The Tribunum is a council of twelve. They aren't demons, exactly, but they aren't human either. Usually they wear robes with large hoods so one never sees their bodies, only their figures."
"You actually see them?" Bianca asked.
"Yes. In order to give me orders they take me to their plane so I can converse with all of them. I'm one of their many confidants, their organizers, who control the groups they have set up around the world." Sasha sat down, inviting the others to do so.
"So there are more groups of Crusaders?" Buffy asked.
"Yes, but they don't call themselves that. That's our name for our group. Or chapter, if you prefer." Sasha waited for another question and Buffy waited for her to continue talking about the Tribunum.
"Why was secrecy so vital?" Willow asked having grown tired of the silence.
"Because we don't want to interfere. The Tribunum doesn't tell us why you're the champion or what you do. All we're told is to make it easier for you. Granted it's a little difficult to help when you don't know how to but I think they're afraid we'd get in your way if we knew too much."
"How does the council choose a champion?" Xander asked.
"We don't know. They just tell us who the champion is."
"How can I speak with this council?" Buffy asked.
"You can't. They call to you; you don't call to them. Your new friend, however, may be able to help you." Sasha looked to Bianca.
"What?" was all Bianca could say.
"Is she a seer?" Willow asked.
"A seer? You mean like Cordelia is for Angel?" Xander asked.
"Oh, I'm sorry." Anya patted Bianca's shoulder. "Headache medicine's come a long way, though, be thankful for that."
Bianca looked at Anya like she was crazy. "What's she talking about?"
Sasha shrugged. "All I know is the council showed you to me the last time they spoke with me. Perhaps they approve of you being an addition to their team of champions."
"Hey, we are no one's team, all right? Least of all do we belong to your Tribunum." Buffy said.
Sasha ignored the comment and the venom in Buffy's voice. "I feel I should warn you of something else, though. When they showed me Bianca, they also showed me someone else. Someone I believe you're familiar with."
Buffy's eyes narrowed. Her gut told her whom Sasha was going to name.
"Someone is massing a great army below the city. She has only just begun but if she is not stopped now she won't be."
"You're not saying . . ." Willow trailed off.
"You know who it is." Buffy said. "It's Glory. And we're going to stop her."
Bianca's skin crawled at the mention of this name. She couldn't say why but she just knew that her world was going to be turned completely upside down by the end of this weekend. Should she survive it at all.
“So who’s Glory?” Bianca asked.
“Another demon. She’s stuck in this dimension and is trying to find a way out of it,” Buffy said.
“And you think she’s massing a great army to do so?”
“Only one way to find out.” Buffy stood and walked to the door. She felt an arm on her shoulder.
“We’re a part of this too, now. Whether you like it or not, we’ve been given jobs to do,” Sasha said. Buffy turned to look at her. Sasha’s dark eyes and firm _expression brooked no argument.
“Glory is beyond powerful, there’s a chance some of you won’t come back.” Buffy directed this comment at Drake. On some base level she could tell Sasha could handle herself. Where that came from, Buffy didn’t know, but she also didn’t feel like thinking about it at the moment. Drake, on the other hand, was simply a helper. A mindless soldier along the same lines as Riley. Now she really didn’t want him there.
“We can handle ourselves.” Drake said. Yup, Riley.
“It’s your choice. I can’t stop you.” Buffy looked at Sasha again. There was something there, Buffy couldn’t put her finger on it, but her spidey senses were tingling.
“All right, then, it’s decided.” Sasha turned back to the others, “I’ll take you to where they showed me.”
Bianca felt a hand in the small of her back. She turned slightly and heard Rain say, “You don’t have to do this. You can go back to the dorm and stay safe.”
“I can’t let you go and not go myself.” Bianca turned and put a hand to Rain’s cheek.
“I don’t want you to get hurt,” Rain said.
“Nor do I want you hurt. I’m going. Sasha saw me there, I need to be there.”
Rain nodded. Buffy was already leading the way down from the apartment back to her car. Bianca and Rain followed Willow and Tara out the door.
Once again, Bianca marveled at how well she was taking all this. She looked at her watch and couldn’t believe it was only midnight. She felt she’d been in Sunnydale for a week, not two days. She looked around at the group of people she was with, feeling a wave of contentment wash over her. That struck her as funny considering they were about to go to battle with some demon named Glory of all things. She thought back to her mother and friends in Pine Valley. She knew this was where she belonged. All her mother’s ideas of a grand school studying fashion were now officially unimaginable.
“We’ll split up, take separate cars, and follow Sasha to where ever it is we’re going,” Buffy said. She turned to Sasha, “Where are we going, by the way?”
“It’s under the burned remains of the high school,” Sasha replied.
“What about weapons?” Willow asked.
“Pit stop at the magic shop. We can tell Giles what’s happening too.” Buffy opened the door to her car while Willow, Tara, Bianca, and Rain climbed in from the other side. Xander and Anya climbed into his car and Sasha took her crusaders in hers.
Ten minutes later found them in front of the shop.
“Grab what we need and hurry, I’ll call Giles.” Buffy said. Anya let them into the shop and they quickly moved to the training room to load up. Bianca was handed an ax and a sword. Rain looked very uncomfortable holding a mace but the others seemed to take it all in stride.
“Are we ready?” Buffy asked.
“Is Giles coming?” Willow asked, handing Buffy a sword while walking towards the front of the shop.
“Yes.” Buffy looked determined. Bianca felt a shiver of fear travel up her spine. Buffy and her friends were obviously powerful but they were all afraid of this Glory. They were also still alive, though, so that boded well.
“The burnt remains of the school, that’s the high school you showed me earlier?” Bianca asked.
“That’s the one. It’s a popular joint, even after being burned down,” Willow replied.
Bianca’s hand found Rain’s, who squeezed it in return.
“Wills, is there any kind of spell you can use, you know, protection or something? Especially for the newbie scoobies?” Buffy asked.
Willow turned to her girlfriend, “What do you think, the armor of Achilles spell?”
“Is everyone wearing good shoes?” Tara asked.
Bianca’s eyes widened. She watched as Willow and Tara faced each other, performed a mirrored movement of their arms, and spoke in words Bianca was sure weren’t used in any current language and felt a tingling sensation overtake her body.
“All right,” Buffy said as the sensation ebbed, “Let’s go.”
Buffy, being the unspoken leader, led the way out to the cars and the group drove themselves to the high school.
“Look, you two have never fought before, let alone fought demons, so why don’t you just hang back as much as you can and let us handle the rest?” Buffy asked.
“We still don’t know what the Tribunum’s reasons are for wanting Bianca there,” Willow said.
“I’m sure we’re going to find out,” was Buffy’s reply.
“You know how to kill a vampire, right?” Tara asked.
“Oh, that’s right. It’s simple, either decapitate them or stab them in the heart with a stake,” Buffy said.
“Or burn them with fire,” Willow added.
Simple, Bianca thought, yeah, right.
All too soon they pulled up in front of the school. It looked much more ominous at night than in the day. Bianca felt a trickle of fear run up her spine.
“Should we split up? Search in groups?” Xander asked.
“I doubt it’s going to take much searching to find an army of vampires,” Buffy replied.
“What happens when we do?” Bianca asked.
“Well, uh, we’ll fight and you stay in the background. Try to avoid a confrontation if you can.”
“I’m sure the reason for your presence will present itself,” Sasha said to Bianca.
“I hope so because I have no clue why we’re here or what exactly is going on,” Bianca said.
Giles finally pulled up and jumped out of his little red sports car.
“Where is she? Do we know yet?” he asked.
“We were just waiting for you so we could go in and find out. Did you bring anything useful to fight her with?”
“I didn’t have much time to grab anything but I did bring this.” Giles hefted what looked to Bianca to be a large hammer.
“All right, then, here we go.” Buffy strode purposefully towards the school’s front doors. Bianca figured Buffy wasn’t one for sneak attacks.
The crusaders moved into a defensive diamond around Bianca.
“What are you guys doing?” she asked.
“Protecting you. The council wants you here for a reason, therefore, you need to be here. Alive.” Sasha said.
“Just go with it, Binks. Please,” Rain said from her right.
Bianca knew she was the least experienced of the group but she still didn’t like the idea that she was more important and deserved special protection over the others. She hefted her ax and tried to remember what few karate moves she could from the classes she had taken as a child.
They entered the school, the noises from the outside suddenly diminishing to an eerie silence. Bianca stared down the hall in front of her, fear sending sharp twinges all over her body. Moving as one, the group headed towards the end of the hall.
“Where would they be?” Bianca asked.
“Oh, probably the basements, if there were any. There are some open chasms to the bowels of hell down there. I’m sure it’s their favorite spot,” Buffy replied.
“Is she serious?” Bianca whispered to Rain.
At the end of the hall Buffy cocked her head to one side, listening. Sasha left her spot at the head of the diamond and stood next to Buffy. Buffy cast her a sidelong glance. Sasha motioned to their right with her head and asked, “What’s that way?”
“And to our left?”
“Classrooms, the quad, and stairs down to the basements and boiler rooms.”
Sasha looked down that hall, at the fallen beams and blackened ruins of the high school. Many spots for an ambush. She looked at Buffy, who nodded back, and both started down that path. Giles began muttering under his breath. Bianca couldn’t tell what he was saying but she thought she caught, “Always the blasted school,” in there somewhere.
Anya suddenly said, “As much as I like being human, sometimes I wish I were a demon again.”
“Lovely sentiments, Honey,” Xander replied.
“Hush!” Buffy hissed at them.
They found a door with stairs leading down.
“Here we are.” Buffy leaned her head in, straining to hear anything from down below.
“Anything?” Willow asked.
“Yup. I hear people down there. Whether they’re of the demon variety or not, I don’t know, but either way they shouldn’t be here.”
“Well, let’s go clean house then,” Xander said.
Moving into a single file line, Buffy lead the way, followed by Sasha, down the stairs. Below, the school basements, which had consisted mostly of storage and boiler rooms before, now was one great cavern of unstable support beams and rubble.
“This is all the school sits on? Why hasn’t it been cleaned out and rebuilt?” Willow asked.
“Who can understand school bureaucracy anymore?” Giles asked. “It’s probably considered a waste of time and too much attention on what is still a sore spot to many.”
“I hear voices. Much more distinct than before,” Buffy said.
“If this is Glory’s newest hangout, where are all her evil munchkin minions?” Xander asked.
“I was wondering that myself,” Buffy replied.
“Munchkin minions?” Sasha asked.
“Ugly little gnomish things. They serve Glory.”
Bianca began to imagine a variety of horrific shapes this Glory must take. By the time her mental image had grown to a behemoth with eight firey eyes, ten arms, the antlers of a deer, and steam coming from her mouth she could hear the growls of the army.
“Rain,” she whispered, reaching out to find the hands of her friend in the dark.
“I’m here, Binks.” Rain took Bianca’s hand and moved closer to her.
“Wills, think you can give us a little light?”
Willow stuck her hand out and said, “Illustrare.” A very small ball of light appeared in front of Buffy, lighting the way enough for them to see but not enough to alert anyone of their presence.
As they moved closer a distinct voice wafted out to them.
“Don’t you see? All grouped together like this, we can’t be defeated. I am your leader and you have to do what I say.” Pause, “That’s just how it works, Lummox. No, we aren’t a gang, we’re an army. An invincible army, I might add.”
“No way,” Xander said.
“It can’t be,” Willow added.
“Well, ain’t this a kick in the head,” Buffy remarked.
“We’re invincible because I say we’re invincible,” the voice continued, “Come on, with all of us together there’s no way one little slayer and her team of half-wits can stop us.”
Bianca moved with her group to a pile of rubble that they were able to peak over and get a decent view of the army ahead of them. Bianca wondered how many people had to be banded together to be considered an army. Before her she saw perhaps two hundred beings gathered together, facing a blond woman who was trying to convince them they were an invincible army under her leadership.
“That’s Glory?” she whispered.
“Ohhh no. This is even better. That’s Harmony,” Willow said.
Glory? Harmony? Bianca thought, Who names these people?
“Harmony is the blond badass who’s massing a great army?” Xander asked incredulously.
“Apparently,” was Buffy’s stunned response. She stared at the scene in front of them, caught between the desire to run out and kill all the demons she saw and the desire to bust up laughing because Harmony was trying to lead an army of two hundred demons and not having much luck.
“Who is Harmony?” Bianca asked.
“Wait a sec. Is this the blond you saw in your vision?” Buffy asked Sasha.
“Yes, that’s her. She appeared much more ferocious in my vision.” >
“I’ll bet. Is this a test or something? To see how well we fight while laughing our heads off?” Buffy asked. “Why does your Tribunum see this as a huge threat? Granted, we have to stop them, but anything Harmony does eventually backfires and blows up in her face.”
“I don’t know their reasons, only that we must act,” Sasha replied.
“Who is Harmony?” Bianca asked again.
“Someone we went to high school with. She suddenly woke up and discovered she was a vampire one day and has been a point of ridicule and hilarity ever since,” Xander answered.
“Ah,” was Bianca’s reply.
“Umm, Buffy?” Willow said.
“Wassup Wills?” Buffy turned to her best friend.
“I think we may have discovered why the Tribunum thought Harmony was so dangerous.” Willow pointed towards the army.
“Oh my goodness,” Giles finally jumped into the conversation.
“This is how we will be invincible, my lowly minions, with the potion derived from this ancient flower!” Harmony held up what looked like a vibrant, healthy, blood red rose. Blood red because it was actually bleeding.
“What is it Giles?” Buffy asked.
“The Damascus bloom. Its secretion will give the drinker the strength of a hundred men, extended life, and will set the drinker into a berserker mode from a temporary madness. I don’t know what it will do to a vampire, but legend has it that even Dracula sought its powers, and we all know how powerful he was without it.”
“Well, we’ve figured out why the hell we’re here, now we just need to figure out what the hell we’re going to do,” Xander said.
“First, we must get the rose away from Harmony before she gives its blood to her little minions,” Sasha said.
“I’m with crusader girl. I say we rush Harmony, grab the rose, and kill anything that gets in our way,” Buffy said.
“Giles, how do we destroy the rose?” Willow asked.
“I’m not entirely sure. I believe that someone under the berserker spell must do it. It’s kind of a safeguard. Obviously if you’re temporarily insane you’re not thinking clearly enough to do it and once you’ve come out of the madness, you’re on a power trip, a high if you will, and aren’t going to want to destroy the drug that’s given you your powers. At least, that is the greed that has kept it around so far.”
“There is more to the legend, though,” Sasha said. “There is one who can take the potion and not go insane. The madness is simply the evil in one’s own heart times a hundred but one of a pure heart, one without evil, can take the drug and not go insane.”
Everyone turned to Bianca.
“Hey, who said I was a pure heart?” she asked.
“You’re the purest heart I know,” Rain replied.
“That has to be why the Tribunum wanted you here,” Sasha said.
“But if I’m a pure heart and don’t go berserk how can I be in the berserker mode to destroy the rose?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Buffy said. She walked up to Bianca, “I don’t like this any more than you do but we’re under a time constraint here. We’ll get the rose from Harmony and then get out of here. If you choose to, you can take the potion and try to destroy it. Only if you choose to. We are not going to make you do anything you don’t want to.”
“All right, people, here we go.”
“Saddle up, lock and load,” Xander hefted a large crossbow, matching Willow’s, who was aiming hers at Harmony’s hand.
“I’ll shoot the rose out of her hand and then we charge, got it?” Willow asked.
“Go Wills,” Buffy said.
“Aim well, Honey,” Tara added.
Willow fired and hit Harmony’s wrist, forcing her to drop the rose.
“Go!” Buffy rushed forward into the confused fray of demons.
“Slayer!” was heard throughout the cavern as the horde began to run in all directions. The Scoobies and the Crusaders had their hands full with the demons who were actually trying to fight. Willow and Tara held hands, combining their magic to created a whirlwind which moved to throw demons aside, into walls and each other.
Xander fought, with Anya by his side, shooting first with his bow then swinging a sword back and forth trying to hack off what demons limbs he could reach.
Buffy kicked, punched, and stabbed her way through the demons coming towards her, moving slowly but surely towards Harmony, who by now had figured out what was happening and was trying to get to back to the rose, which she had been shoved away from in the throng of escaping demons.
Sasha led her crusaders, still in a protective diamond around Bianca, shouting orders and keeping them together. Bianca felt helpless, afraid to use her ax lest she hit one of her own people, yet wanting to get out and do something. She saw demons of all shapes and sizes, some that looked vicious and some that looked rather cuddly. Rain swung her sword, slashing a demon’s chest open but leaving her side exposed for another who rushed her with is horns. Bianca screamed and swung her ax down on his head but not before he had hit Rain.
“Aaack!” Rain yelled as she fell to the ground clutching her side.
“Rain!” Bianca dropped her ax and pulled her friend inside the diamond still being held by the other crusaders.
“That is very painful,” Rain said.
“Shh, don’t talk, let me look,” Bianca pulled Rain’s shirt up, looking at the gash in her side.
“What’s the verdict, Doc?” Rain asked.
“I think you’re going to need stitches, but I don’t think you’re going to die or anything.” Bianca said.
“As long as I don’t bleed to death or something.”
“Don’t say that! He just cut you, he didn’t gorge you.”
“Rain, if you die on me, I’m going to be seriously pissed,” Bianca held her hand firmly against the wound.
“No chance of that, I’m thinking. How’s the fight going? Can you see anything?”
Bianca looked around, trying to see through the fray to where she remembered the rose falling. She saw it, laying on the ground. She also saw both Buffy and Harmony heading for it. She wasn’t sure who would reach it first. The fighting seemed to be slowing down, many demons having run away or been killed, many of those disintegrating.
“Rain, can you keep pressure on your wound?”
“Where are you going?”
“I can see the rose. I have to get to it before Harmony.”
“She’s trying to get to it but she’s fighting along the way. I think I can slip through.”
“No, Binks, let them do their job, stay where it’s safe.”
“I can’t let everyone fight for me and hide behind a rock. I have to fight too, Rain.”
“Bianca . . .” Rain touched Bianca’s cheek.
“I know, Rain. I know. I’ll be back.”
“If you get killed I’ll be seriously pissed.”
Bianca grinned, grabbed her ax, and headed into the fray. She pushed pass Sasha, who watched in horror as her protectorate tried to join the fight.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Sasha asked.
“I have to get to the rose!”
Sasha slew the demon she was fighting and moved to step in front of Bianca.
“Don’t try and stop me!” Bianca yelled.
“I’m not going to. I figured you’d like a hand.” Sasha replied. She proceeded to lead Bianca through the fight towards the rose, the two hacking through demons moving as fast as they could.
Bianca saw Buffy get waylaid by a group of large, drooling, horned demons who were actually working together. She also saw Harmony duking it out with a very angry Anya, a dazed Xander laying nearby. That meant the rose was still where it had fallen.
“We’re almost there, Sasha, keep going!” Bianca hit a demon on the head and swung around to sweep another who had been going for Sasha’s legs. Finally, they seemed to reach the eye of the storm. A lull seemed to have been created around the rose, Buffy, Harmony, and Bianca reaching it at the same time. Buffy, Sasha, and Bianca locked gazes, each understanding what had to be done. Buffy and Sasha ran for Harmony, who shrieked and ran for the rose, racing against Bianca who was also racing for the rose. Buffy and Sasha both collided with Harmony at the same time, the three of them flying backwards, away from the rose. Bianca grabbed the flower and suddenly realized she had no idea what she was supposed to do with it.
“The blood!” Giles shouted at her, “You have to drink it!”
That thought utterly grossed Bianca out. She locked eyes with Rain, held the rose to her lips, and took a few drops. The effect was immediate. Her vision turned red, her blood boiling in her veins. Everything in her body screamed for her to reach out and rip apart the first object she came in contact with.
From across the room, Rain watched with her heart wrenching. She could see the change overcome Bianca instantly. Her eyes turned red and her body emitted an aura of electric rage.
“Pure heart, Bianca, I know it’s you,” Rain said.
Everyone, Scoobie, Crusader, and demon alike, turned to watch Bianca try to control the rage.
“Hey, that’s my Damascus bloom!” Harmony shouted.
Bianca spoke, her voice taking on an unnatural pitch, “The Damascus bloom belongs to no one. It was created in darkness, by empty words full of ill purpose. It is ruled by nothing and can only be destroyed by its opposing force.”
“And what is that?” Buffy asked.
Instead of answering, Bianca let out a howl, falling to her knees still clutching the rose.
“Giles, what’s happening to her?” Buffy asked.
“I believe she is fighting the rage. It would appear we were correct. She is the one who can destroy the rose.”
“How?!” The Scoobies shouted.
“I don’t know!” Giles shouted back.
“She must crush it, she has to tear it apart,” Sasha said. The fighting had ceased, whatever demons remaining had run away, Bianca’s berserker rage being more than they wanted to deal with. Harmony was the only one that remained.
“Do you have any idea how much that stupid thing cost me? I had to sell my entire collection of Prada shoes on E-bay!” she yelled.
“Okay, that’s enough out of you. First you were funny, then annoying, and now, you’ve actually managed to become dangerous. So, without further ado-” Buffy pulled out a stake and shoved it through Harmony’s unbeating heart.
“Not fair!” were the last words out of her mouth before she disintegrated.
“And somehow the world’s a brighter place anyway,” Buffy said.
Willow and Tara moved closer to Bianca, standing in front and behind her, chanting to create a circle of protection in case the berserker rage overtook her.
Bianca’s mind was filled images, too fast to really understand. She could hear voices, dimly, as if through a static wall. She thought she heard Buffy and Giles and something about crushing. That didn’t make sense, she wasn’t crushing anything. She was crushing a person, though, Rain. That had moved beyond crushing, though, into something even better. At least she hoped so. Wait, she was rambling, she had to hold onto that. The other voice wanted to talk again, wanted to use her to do and say things that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, something about ill purposes. Ill meant bad.
Crush, crush, crush . . . crush what? Crush a bug? That didn’t sound right. Crush a flower? Flower. That sounded better. What flower? What was in her hand?
Bianca let another howl out before bringing her hands together and crushing the rose between them. Its thorns bit into her fingers and palms, the petals crunching, the blood mixing with her own, dissolving as it fell away from her hands. She pulled the petals off the bud, broke the stem, ripped the flower into pieces and tossed them away from her. She collapsed into a heap and slipped into darkness.
“You have done well, child.”
Bianca heard whispers.
“You are the Pureheart.”
Whispers meant she was conscious on some level.
“You will help in the fight against the darkness.”
Pins and needles. Her body was waking up and didn’t seem to like it.
“We will call on you again. For now, accept our gifts and our blessings.”
Bright light, bright light.
“Binks? You awake? Wake up, Honey, please?” Rain knelt over Bianca.
“Rain, we need to get you both to the hospital, now,” Sasha said.
“I think she’s coming around.”
“Rain, you’re bleeding has slowed but hasn’t stopped. Hospital, now.”
“Unh.” Bianca was indeed waking up.
“That’s it, Bianca, wake up. Come on,” Rain helped Bianca sit up.
“What happened?” Bianca asked.
“We will explain on the way, right now Sasha’s right, we have to get you two to a hospital,” Buffy said, “And I will pick both of you up personally and carry you there if I have to so move.”
Bianca’s brain was sluggishly coming back to life, “Rain? Hospital? Yes, you were hurt, you have to go!”
“Wow, she’s a quick healer. When they’re vocal, you know they’re doing better,” Anya said.
Buffy and Willow helped Rain and Bianca off the floor. The entire group made their way up and out to the cars, the school having long since been abandoned by Harmony’s army.
“We should get hazard pay,” Xander said.
“Do you think they have insurance for this sort of thing?” Willow asked.
“Well, they have insurance for alien abductions, why not demon hordes?” Tara replied.
“There’s a business venture. I’m sure it would actually do well here in Sunnydale,” Willow said.
“That is a thought . . .”Anya trailed off.
“You have a magic shop to help run, Honey, no insurance scams for you,” Xander put his arm over his girlfriend’s shoulders. “
Scam? I would run a legitimate company. Anya’s Demon Insurance. We can afford your horde.”
The others put out a collective grown.
Buffy walked with Sasha, trailed by the other two crusaders, “You fought well, Sasha. I was impressed.”
“I had a job to do and I did it.”
“Your people did all right as well. I’ve heard one can measure a teacher by her students. They’ve been taught well.”
“Thank you. I’m very proud of them.”
Buffy caught Sasha’s gaze and held it, “I have a feeling this won’t be the last time we work together.”
Sasha smiled, “I would have to agree with you.”
Neither was unhappy with that prospect.
Bianca was able to walk on her own after the initial disorientation. She helped support Rain as they followed the others.
“That was pretty amazing, what you did,” Rain said.
“Just as amazing as your protecting me. You got stabbed by a demon horn for heaven’s sake.”
“I want to protect you Bianca.”
“We’ll protect each other. The Tribunum spoke to me while I was unconscious. They said they were going to call on me again but I would receive gifts and their blessings in the meantime.”
“What do you think that means?”
“I don’t know but I think it means that I’m definitely going to be around for a while.”
Rain leaned in and kissed Bianca, “I certainly hope so.”
Bianca sat stretched out on her bed, “It’s a fine dorm, Mom. I want a joined room, I’ve made friends, that’s the point of college, remember? If I lock myself away in a single then I’ll never see people. I’m having a blast. You’re making that up, I don’t sound depressed, you just wish I was,” Bianca laughed, “All right, all right, I was kidding, I know you don’t wish I was depressed.” She covered the phone with her hand, “Hey, that tickles, stop it!” she hissed.
Rain smirked and delicately wiped the smear of toe nail polish off Bianca’s toe.
“I love you too, Mom. Oh, and Rain says hello.” Bianca held the phone from her ear as her mother ranted on the other end. Rain was surprised that Bianca had even told Erica about her, but pleased as well that Bianca wasn’t afraid of it. Bianca covered the phone again, “Mom says hello.”
“I’ll bet she does,” Rain muttered.
Suddenly the door burst open with Willow and Tara bouncing in.
“Mom, I gotta go, my friends are here, we’re going out. Just to a club, nothing major. No, Mom, it’s not a gay bar, I promise. No, we don’t have fake ID’s. Yes, I’ll be careful. Okay, love you, Mom. Buh bye.” Bianca hung up the phone.
“I like your mom,” Tara said, sitting at Bianca’s desk.
“She’s a hoot all right.” Bianca smiled down at the happy faces Rain had drawn on her toes, “Is Buffy on her way?”
“Yup, then it’s off to the Bronze.”
Two seconds later, Buffy walked in the door, “Hey, we all ready?”
“Yup,” Willow and Tara spoke in unison, then giggled and kissed each other.
“Aren’t you supposed to say jinx when you speak at the same time?” Rain asked.
“Oh, probably, but this is more fun,” Willow answered as she walked out the door.
“I kind of have to agree,” Tara said, blushing, as she followed her girlfriend.
“Where’s Sasha?” Buffy asked.
“She’s meeting us there,” Rain answered, her eyebrow raised.
“Oh. Well, come on, you two.” Buffy walked out the door.
Bianca stood up, slipped her sandals on, now that the polish was dry, and reach out for Rain’s hand.
“Say pasta.” Bianca said.
“Huh?” Rain asked.
“Just say pasta.”
“Pasta,” Bianca spoke at the same time, then kissed Rain. “They’re right, that is more fun.”
Rain grinned and followed Bianca out the door and down the hall to join their friends.
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