"Life is to be lived, not controlled, and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat." – Ralph Ellison
Suffice it to say, I think that we were all a bit more than shocked when we lost the battle against the First. Seven years of fighting the good fight to lose against this entity that we couldn't even see or touch. Failure was likely inevitable, but we had no choice but to fight or die.
I know you probably have a few questions, and I probably have some explaining to do. But honestly? I don't know what happened. One minute we were kicking ubervamp uberass, and the next minute newbie slayers were getting plowed down like weeds.
The last thing I remember seeing before I got run through with my own sword was the last bit of the slayer army being backed into a corner and surrendering. Faith was beaten unconscious and left for dead atop a pile of bloodied corpses. Spike was burning up in a corner somewhere, believing until the very last minute that the amulet was going to somehow miraculously save him.
I can't really tell you the fate of anyone else because, well . . . I just don't know. It's been over a year since I've seen or heard from any of my friends and loved ones. Actually . . . sixteen months, eleven days, and eight hours if you'd like to be precise. I've tried to get info out of some of the other slayers that I've come in contact with, but the answers are always the same. No one knows anything for sure.
After the battle, it took me about four days to come out of the coma that I seemed to have been in. Yeah, blood loss . . . it does crazy things to a girl. While I was knocked out for those few days, I'm pretty sure I had some slayer-dreams. Or visions. Whatever you wanna call them, they all had the same message: Dawn was alive. My friends were alive. At least most of them were, anyhow. I'm not sure how I got the messages, but I'm pretty sure that's what pulled me out of my slumber. I knew that I still had a duty to do: I had to save them. I had to make things better.
But the world I woke up to was not the world that I remembered. Ninety-six hours and the fate of the world had been completely turned around. The bodies of humans littered the streets like debris along a highway. Houses burned, land scorched . . . the world that I had known had turned into a burnt-out shell of what it used to be.
All because I had failed at what I was meant to do.
Those humans who had survived the first wave of massacres went on to become slaves to the several ruling demon clans that existed. The First was the power source behind the whole scene, but now all of the big and nasties had stepped up to stake out their part of the spoils. Unlike many of the other survivors, I remained in what was left of California, trapped in a war between the ruling demon clans in the area.
I belonged to a clan of vampires at first. They didn't have any human slaves . . . they just had this big horde of Slayers. It seemed really odd at first, because they weren't killing a single one of us. As far as slaves go, we were kept fairly comfortable. Apart from the odd beating or taunting, they pretty much left us in our cells and let us interact together. Not once did they try to feed from us or turn any of us. Right away, I knew that something had to be up. Vamps just don't pass on Slayer-blood when they have a live stock of it locked up beneath them.
After a few hasty escape attempts that resulted in my solitary confinement and more bruises, cuts, and broken bones than I can count, I stopped trying to run away. Even if I did . . . where would I go? There were no freedom fighters, no renegade humans that were trying to take back what was theirs. They were all dead, or slaves, or . . . I don't even know. There were others with fates worse than slaves, but that's not what's important now.
What is important was that there was no escape. If you managed to dupe your guards and get out, you faced miles and miles of harsh landscape and demons running around all willy-nilly, only to find yourself running into the arms of another less friendly demon clan.
So, I sat tight. I tried to regain my strength. I used every ounce of resolve and perseverance that I had just to NOT break down when I had to think about my family and friends. If I was ever going to stand up and fight, I need to be strong. I needed to be patient. And I needed allies.
About three weeks into my stay at the Chateau Craphouse, as I liked to call it, I finally began to work my way through the camps, assessing the girls there and determining who would be best to align with.
Yes, they were all slayers. But . . . some of them were so young. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old, plucked from their everyday lives because Willow called them early. I wish she had never done that spell. That . . . is my biggest regret. They weren't ready. They had no warning. And it's our fault that they're dying now.
I was surprised to see how many of us they had thrown in the camp. Originally, I believed that there were about twenty of us, but was soon to find out that number was only in our sector of the camp.
When I walked outside our sector for the first time, I literally fell down onto my knees and just let the tears run as I gazed upon the hundreds of newly-called Slayers that filled the place. Bunks were so full that some girls had to sleep on the dirt in the middle of the open.
Bloodied clothes hung from the stone and barbed-wire walls that were sixteen feet high, serving as a sign to people on both sides of the wall; it told the demons that were roaming nearby to stay close, the fresh slayer blood on the clothing tempting them closer and closer every night. And for us, it warned that we could get over the fence, but we probably wouldn't survive what was waiting for us on the other side.
After the initial shock wore down, I stood and began to scout the camp for familiar faces and capable bodies. A thirteen year-old girl that was crying for her mother wasn't any use to me. I needed strong people. I needed fighters. I needed . . .
I turned around upon hearing a hoarse voice call my name to come face to face with Kennedy.
Now, I know that she and I had never had a good relationship, or been close, or had even liked each other for that fact. But in that moment, we clung to what was familiar and found ourselves in a tight embrace as we chuckled and cried and laughed.
"I never thought I'd say this, but it's good to see you Kennedy." I laughed out, wiping some tears from my eyes.
"Likewise," she agreed, trying to calm herself down. "I've been walking around this place for days trying to find some familiar faces. All I keep finding is scared girls and horror stories."
We moved to sit on a large stone in the middle of the yard, hopping up on it and trying to get as comfortable as possible in the hot midday sun.
"So, no one we know then?" I asked, deflated. I was hoping that I'd find a few of the girls we had fought the First with. At least I was aware of their capabilities and personalities.
"A few here and there. Rhona is in Bunker 2 with Chao-Ahn. I saw Vi a few days back along the fence." She looked down at her hands and got real quiet then.
"Ken?" I asked quietly, trying to make her continue.
"She was wrecked, Buff. A real basket-case. She was talking about going over the wall. I . . . I didn't try to stop her. I just walked away and went back to my bunk."
We both got quiet for a few minutes, just letting all of the new information sink in.
"Hey, it's not your job to babysit, Kennedy. We're in a rough situation here. Take care of yourself first and your friends later. You can't help them if you can't help yourself."
I know, that really doesn't sound like ‘Buffy', huh? I'm sure that if Willow or Xander was there, I wouldn't have been singing the same song. But the fact was, they weren't there. And I had to focus on keeping myself alive so that I could help them. End of story.
I was pulled from my thoughts when Kennedy spoke again.
"No, you don't get it, Buffy." She raised her shaky arm to point up at a bloody shirt hanging from the fence. "That was hers. She . . . she hopped the wall and got killed, and I didn't do a thing to stop it. I just let her die."
She looked like she wanted to cry, but the tears weren't falling. The body can only hand so much trauma and pain before it starts to shut down.
I sighed and rested my hand on her leg, trying to offer a bit of comfort.
"Kennedy, listen to me. I know you want to help people, and you don't want anyone hurt. It's the slayer in you. But you can't take responsibility for everyone here and the decisions they make. If you did, you'd find a whole lot of dead people, and a whole world of hurt just waiting for you. For the moment . . . learn to live for yourself. Keep yourself safe. Help others when you can. But do NOT take their pain and misery unto yourself, or you'll never make it outta here alive."
I knew I had a bit of the old Buffy left in me. Sergeant Buffy. Pep-talk Buffy. Positive-in-the-face-of-danger Buffy. She was still there. She just needed to be prodded a little.
Kennedy and I spent a few hours together, not really talking so much, but just observing. We watched the guards around the perimeter and at the gates. We learned their patterns. We searched through the girls to find which ones had taken on natural leadership positions. We pretended not to take notice of the guards watching us from the towers and snickering with twisted grins on their faces.
When the sun finally started to fall and the even more dangerous night began to fall upon us, we took our leave and promised to meet at the same spot the next day.
The whole night was spent thinking not about what-if's and maybe's, but about what could be done to turn things around. I had been pessimistic up until then. I had told myself that I wouldn't try to escape anymore because there was no hope.
But something about my meeting with Kennedy gave me hope. I got to put on the leader-shoes again, and it felt like that's what I was supposed to be doing. I knew that I could lead those girls, as long as I had help. Kennedy, Rhona, Chao-Ahn . . . it wasn't a bad start. It still looked pretty hopeless, but . . . at least I knew I wasn't in it alone.
It was the first glimmer of hope that I had felt since the fall.
The next day, I met with Kennedy in the middle of the yard again. She brought Chao-Ahn and Rhona, and we all just sat in silence for awhile. We knew Chao-Ahn couldn't understand a word that we were saying, but she was happy to just be around people that she was familiar with. We tried to talk a bit about the possibilities of a plan, but it seemed that the guards were paying too much attention suddenly. They never really cared before, but we saw them leering down on us from the towers and from across the yard.
I knew something was up when I saw Nikolos, the head of our clan, make an appearance amongst the guards. When I noticed that he was paying particular attention to us and only us, I hopped up from the stone and walked across the camp, hoping that the girls would catch on and do the same.
See, I was pretty sure that if he saw us bonding, he would cry conspiracy and we'd be in for a whole world of hurt. I could take it, but I didn't want the girls getting hurt at my expense. So I abandoned our plan for a coup right then and there and decided that I'd have to do it on my own.
I wouldn't put hundreds of lives on the line again. Not after it ended up so badly the last time I tried.
It was just after sunset when we were all settling in for bed when we heard loud sirens blaring. To say that it was startling is an understatement, cos the camp was used to being pretty much left alone for the most part. The guards started running into the bunks and ushering us all out and through a large tunnel in the side of the one wall.
They were pretty much just your average everyday demons and vamps, but . . . there was something really ferocious about them. Maybe they were just really bitter cos there was a full pool of slayer blood at their fingertips and they couldn't even take a little taste. Nikolos' orders.
I thought maybe it was because there was a bit of humanity left in him. After all . . . rumors spread in the camps. We knew for a fact that the non-slayer camps were much more brutal and harsh. Compared to them, our time was like a walk in the park.
But as always, I was wrong. It only took time to prove that to me.
When we came out the other side of the tunnel, I noticed that we weren't underground at all. We were in the open. The wide open. As the lights flickered on around the perimeter, a familiar place was lit up in front of our own very eyes.
McAfee Coliseum. Home of the Oakland Raiders.
Dread filled me as I heard hordes of demons start to yell and shout as we walked out in our tattered and bloodied clothes, looking very much like deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck.
I knew that things were about to get a whole lot worse.
I tried to be calm and help the girls that were crying and upset, but I quickly found that I was being ushered to a different area by the guards . . . right out to the middle of the arena. I threw a few elbows and punches, but it only drew their wrath. A few kicks to the ribs later, I found myself huddled in the middle of the arena with Kennedy, Chao-Ahn, Rhona, and a few other random girls from the camp. The tough ones.
The crowd roared as Nikolos appeared on the one balcony, smiling and waving at the masses and masses of demons before him. He held up his hand and the crowd fell silent, waiting for him to speak.
A huge smirk appeared on his face, and I instantly knew I was wrong about him. There was no humanity in him. He was the cruelest one of them all.
"Welcome to the Coliseum!" He shouted and the crowd roared again, louder than just a moment before. "I have a lovely treat for you, kiddies. I know you've been waiting patiently, but we're finally ready. Let the games begin!"
The yelling and stomping was so loud that I thought the place would cave in. So loud, in fact, that I didn't even hear the clatter of the swords and daggers that fell just before our feet.
My eyes met Kennedy's just after we both noticed the pile of weapons. I couldn't have heard her even if she had tried to speak, but we both knew what was going on. Even poor Chao-Ahn knew what was going on.
I held my arms straight at my sides and refused to look at the weapons again. Kennedy and I stood next to each other, looking at the guards with defiance. We were not going to fight them for their own pleasure. There was no way that this horde of demons would let us kill their brethren without retaliating or lashing out in some way.
A guard grabbed me and threw me to the ground, causing me to land just next to the pile of blades.
"You will fight, by order of Nikolos." He yelled.
I stood up and spit at him, the defiance clear in my actions as well as in my words.
"You will fight, by order of Nikolos. You will fight or you will die." He repeated.
Again, I shook my head.
"No, I won't fight you. I won't fight any of your friends either."
I was taken aback when the guard and those surrounding us started laughing raucously.
"Stupid cow," he commented, "you will not fight my friends; you will fight your friends."
He held out his hand and pointed towards the groups of girls in the center of the arena, their faces becoming more and more pale by the second. Realization quickly sunk in: they didn't want us to fight them; they wanted us to fight each other.
I spun around to face the guard again, suddenly feeling strong. You can take away a person's freedom, but you can't take away their choice. Or so I believed then. They couldn't make us fight it we refused.
"Are you kidding me? You expect me to fight these girls . . . my friends? NOT gonna happen."
The guard grinned evilly as he laughed plainly at me.
"You will fight, or you will die."
I swallowed hard, my jaw clenching tightly.
"And these other girls?" I asked as I indicated the few hundred other girls waiting in the wings.
"They will fight, or die."
I laughed at the tears fell from my eyes.
"This has gotta be some kind of joke. What you're essentially telling me here is . . . kill or be killed. Forget friendship. Forget sides. Forget alliances. Dismiss what we know, and kill each other so your demon hordes can get their jollies on? NO. I won't fight. Neither will they."
I kept my gaze locked on the guard who was still looking at me with a sick grin on his face.
"Maybe you should talk to your little ‘band of friends' before you go making their decisions, cupcake." And just like that, all of the surrounding guards were laughing as well.
I turned around to see what was going on, only to find that the group of girls had already grabbed their weapons and were waiting in fighting stance. Not waiting for me, but for some sign that this was real, and that they would really be fighting to defend their lives from their so-called peers.
I looked directly to Kennedy who was wielding the largest sword of them all. She looked scared, but she was ready to battle nonetheless.
"Kennedy, please don't tell me you're serious. Put down the sword."
She chuckled nervously.
"You're the one that said it, Buff: take care of yourself first, take care of your friends later."
I chuckled bitterly, tears still falling from my eyes.
"And from that, you got, ‘protect yourself and kill your friends?' Kennedy, what kind of insane troll logic are you using here?"
"Don't let my brand of logic stop you here, Buffy. Pick up your weapon and show me that my logic is flawed." She leaned down and got the last short-sword and tossed it over so that it lay at my feet. "Show me that there's another way to do it."
But I didn't know how. I wouldn't kill these girls, but I wouldn't let them kill me either. Not when I was still clinging on to that last ray of hope that our situation wasn't completely helpless. That I could lead them, and maybe get out of this hellhole and make some changes.
I was so wrapped up in my confrontation with Kennedy that I failed to notice the bustle of activity that had broken out around us. The few girls that had been led out to the center with us were now engaged in one-on-one battles, knowing simply that if they did not fight, the guards would kill them, and that if they did not fight, their peers would kill them.
It was survival of the fittest at its most dark and desperate level. Kill . . . or be killed.
I watched in horror and awe as the young girls fought sloppy and ruthlessly, not yet in tune with their slayer strength but knowing fully well that they had to fight or they would die anyhow. A few bodies lay around the arena now as the group got smaller and smaller, the cheering and yelling so loud that I could hardly think.
I managed to stay outside of the fray long enough, keeping the blood of these innocent girls from spilling on my hands. Kennedy had jumped into the fray, but only to make it look like she was fighting. She was putting on a show. Because in the end, she knew that it had to be her and me. She was either being really brave, or she was planning something really stupid.
And as always, stupidity won out.
As soon as Kennedy took out Rhona, the last girl standing, she turned to me with a lost look on her face.
"Their blood is on my hands, Buffy." She managed to get out. I was just barely able to hear her with my slayer hearing.
"You coming for mine now?" I asked, stepping up to her and gazing down upon her. I kept my eyes on hers as she took a step towards me, but then I surprised her. I threw my sword down and held out my arms. An invitation for her to finish her job.
It was her call now. Would she kill me?
Tears fell from her eyes like a river as she got real close to me, speaking in a tone as soft as a whisper.
"That wasn't part of my logic or my plan, Buffy." She explained sadly. I frowned at her and she continued. "Their blood isn't on your hands . . . it's on mine. I can't live with that. And that's okay, because I can't lead them either. Not like you can."
I furrowed my eyebrows at her, wondering just exactly what she was saying.
"Kennedy, I . . ." my words we cut off as I felt her slip the handle of her sword into my hand. I looked down at my hand in shock, in complete disbelief of what she was expecting me to do.
"You told me that ‘you can't help anyone if you don't help yourself first'. Here's your chance, Buff. Lead them. Make things right. I can't be the girl to do all of that. It has to be you. Tell Willow I love her when you fix this. Now . . . just do it."
I shook my head no, tears falling from my eyes.
"Kennedy, there has to be another way. I can't . . . I won't . . ." I tried to continue, but my voice was lost in the loud boos coming from the audience, wanting to see the last bloody killing.
I watched Kennedy as she took a step back and opened up her arms, waiting for me to strike one final blow. But I couldn't do it. I'm a slayer, not a murderer. Or at least I was. I don't even know anymore.
All I know is that I looked up at Nikolos when he ordered that I finish her off, and by the time I looked at Kennedy, she had lunged forward and impaled herself on the sword in my hands.
The crowds cheered and sirens rang out in the night, and I cried and fell to my knees as a couple hundred scared girls watched on in utter fear as I became crowned the champion Gladiator of the night. The one girl that had walked out of the arena alive. The last slayer standing.
And the one girl that they knew could kill them all, who held their very fate in her hands.
But it was all for nothing. Kennedy's sacrifice . . . it meant nothing. She spared me so that I could lead the other girls in a revolt. But in essence, she squashed any chance of that ever happening. Cos there was no way I could be friends with those girls and take them under my wing if I was going to be made to go out and kill them every night.
I made a hard shell of my heart as I knelt in the middle of the cheering arena with Kennedy's bloodied and lifeless body at my knees. I would not lead these girls. There was nothing I could do to save them. One by one they would kill each other, and many of those lives would be at my own hands as the reigning champion.
The last glimmer of hope that I had to get out of this place and turn the fate of the world around fizzled out that day, and I became what I am today.
The gladiator. The killer. The deadliest girl in the coliseum circuit. When they put me in the ring . . . I never lost.
All of my hope was gone. Faded. But little did I know that it would only take one person to help me find a little faith . . .
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