Have you ever stood and looked at yourself in the mirror so long that your eyes blur and you can't make out your features anymore? Your eyes -- once bright and lively are now sad and dark, filled with all of the pain of your sins. Your skin pale and dirty, your lips dry and cracked.
You try to squint, hoping that you'll be able to see a shimmer of the girl that you once were. All you see is the devil that they created. The monster that you were forced to become.
You think for a moment that it's only a trick of the light. That if you had a proper light bulb instead of dull white candle light and burning torches, you might be able to find a hint of innocence left there.
But when you pull the candle closer and you stare more intently at the mirror, you see your features start to shift. Your teeth grow to sharp fangs, your eyes cover in black oil, making them look like obsidian pools, and your skin turns to scales, showing the true monster that resides in your hollow body.
And then you wake up, sweating and screaming from within your solitary cell, your hands running over your cheeks and lips to see if the monster remains. You're sure that you feel neither fangs nor scales, but your mind won't let it go. In a panic, you run to the small 4-inch mirror shard that a guard has smuggled in for you and put your hands to your face. You feel your skin, soft and dry. You feel your teeth, flat as ever. Your eyes, though sallow and dark, are your own.
When the tears finally spill onto your cheeks, you fall to the ground and weep. The sad truth is that you're not a monster. You're a pathetic shell of a girl who used to be a warrior of the good, who saved lives and fought for what was right.
But anyone else would tell you that, though you still are a girl on the outside, you've become a monster on the inside. The things that you have seen, the things that you have done . . . no girl would do. No warrior for the cause of good would do.
So you wipe your tears from your face and you steady your breathing . . . one breath, two breaths; long, slow exhale. You stand up and shake it off, because you can't be weak. Weak people die here, and you can't die. Not when your sister, your friends . . . are waiting for you to save them. Not when they need you to save them so that you can save the world.
And just like that, you become a shell again. A robot. You follow your orders. You do as you're told and you don't make waves.
Inside though, you're waiting. Always waiting, always watching for that one chance when they drop their guard, for a hole to appear in their defenses. That's when you'll strike. That's when you'll make your move.
But they never do quite drop their guard, and their defenses never falter. They are many, and you are one.
Sixteen months pass and not a thing has changed. You are their prisoner, and you haven't come a step closer to breaking them. To breaking out. To breaking free.
With a sigh, you steady yourself and walk back to your cot and sit on the edge. They'll be coming for you soon; come to collect their monster to do their bidding.
You sit and wait, closing your eyes so that you don't have to look at your harsh surroundings for a moment longer than you have to.
You don't sleep, but you're well aware that you're stuck in a nightmare nonetheless.
It's been over sixteen months since the day I woke up in this hellhole. Over sixteen months since the day that they tossed me into center stage with my . . . friends . . . and made me a murder. Though, in all reality, I wasn't a killer that day. Kennedy forced events.
I didn't become a killer until about a week after that.
After the first night, the guards decided that they didn't like my little act of defiance. They knew that I was the original slayer; that I should have been the best and deadliest fighter out there. And when I didn't perform for them? Well, they got a little bit snippy.
I was sent out of the arena with a dislocated shoulder, a face I could barely recognize for the swelling and bruising, and more cracked ribs than I could even start to count.
And really, they're such great guys. They gave me a whole week to heal up and prepare myself to go back into the ring.
I guess that my first little excursion in the arena was only a small taste of things to come. Nikolos wanted to see how things would go, how the crowd would react, how much bloodlust he could create among his minions.
And yeah, they were thirsty for slayer blood and wanted to see it spilled. Often.
Maybe it was some kind of vengeance for the demon population. For thousands of years, the slayers have been killing demons and foiling their evil deeds.
I guess now that they had the descendents of the original slayer, they were going to exact their revenge in the best way they knew how: they wouldn't kill us and tear us limb from limb; they would sic us on each other and let us take care of their dirty work.
In essence, it was the evilest thing that they could have done to us.
Instead of letting the younger girls duke it out while I was on the mend, they decided to keep the coliseum shut down during that time. They let the anticipation build, let the word get out.
Nikolos wanted all of the demons there that the place could fit. He wanted it to be an expo that would attract thousands.
And basically, I was the main attraction.
Sure, there were other girls. All slayers, all preternaturally strong, all inherently good.
But they weren't me. They weren't the slayer.
I was almost relieved that Faith had likely died in the big battle. There was no way that she would have sat by and took their orders. She would have fought them, and they would have done worse things to her than killing her.
In my mind, she had it easy, wherever death had led her.
Nikolos . . . he knew that I had been the slayer for seven years. He knew how many of his brethren I had wiped out. Now it was time for him to watch me kill mine.
So, I was given a week to heal and to cope. I'll admit that it was a complete mindfuck, for lack of a better word. How exactly does one come to terms with the fact that she'd be killing people for sport? That Kennedy, scared and helpless and hopeless, made the biggest sacrifice so that I could survive and lead.
Or maybe she knew that our fate was to die, and she just wanted it to end fast so that she didn't have to go through prolonged suffering.
Maybe she wanted me to live, and suffer.
I couldn't come to terms with it. I cried, and I struggled with myself, and I said that I couldn't do it. That I'd let them kill me before I'd take a life. I couldn't go out there day after day, night after night, and murder these girls for the sake of myself.
I knew that it was the big night' when I heard the demons begin to filter into the coliseum around dusk. Many had been there all day long, the hazy sunlight not an issue for them. Once the sun went down, the vamps came out to play and Nikolos was ready to kick off the events.
It was such a sick feeling . . . my skin crawling, my slayer senses tingling . . . the slayer in me wanted to dance, but I had to rein her in. I knew that the first time I'd raise my hand to a guard or any demon there, I'd be taken out. And as stupid as it sounds, I had to let Nikolos know that I wasn't willing to fight before he killed me. It had to be on my terms.
My situation may have changed, but I was still the same old Buffy then. Things were always on my terms.
The guards gave me some ridiculous armor to change into, but it could barely be called armor at all. It basically looked like a metal bikini of some kind. Try to wear it at the beach though and you'd sink like a fashion-challenged stone.
I tried to hand it back to the guard; I told him that I was fine fighting in my tattered jeans and top that looked like rags hanging on my body, covered in dirt and blood, but he insisted that I change.
By order of Nikolos.
And then he insisted that he stay in my holding cell while I changed.
Not only did they want me to fight the other slayers, but now they were going to stand around while I changed?
I was angry, and sad, and confused, but mostly . . . I was humiliated.
There weren't many people in my life who had made me feel powerless, and who held it over my head and watched with a smirk as I clung to what was left of my dignity.
After a very embarrassing struggle with my clothing and the armor, I was finally dressed as they wanted me. I looked like one of those gladiators that you see in the movies. Picture Russell Crowe in that movie . . . you know the one I'm talking about. Now make him a girl and give him armor that barely covers his body . . . and bam, you have me.
I don't know how they could even call it armor; I was more exposed than I was covered. Maybe some young slayer would get lucky and catch me off-guard. There was no way I would survive a wound to my mid-section, especially if I was supposed to use my slayer healing as my only means of first aid.
The only bit of it that made sense was my wrist guards. The metal clung tightly to my forearms, ensuring that I wouldn't lose my hands in battle. Cos, as amusing as it may appear, I'm sure that a one-handed slayer wouldn't provide much entertainment if she couldn't hold up the heavy weapons with only one hand.
I'm pretty sure that they didn't want me to die though. They wanted me to stick around so that I could entertain them for endless days. And they wanted me to feel the pain of my actions each and every day. They wanted me to hate them; hell, they just wanted me to hate. Because as long as I had an emotion as strong as hate strong in me, I would fight.
Then they would never be bored.
The guard ushered me out of my cell and up the long corridor that led to the coliseum. Once out in the arena, I could see just how many demons were there. It was appalling. But even more appalling was the fighting that was already going on.
The bodies of several young slayers lay strewn about the arena. A few of them lay crying as they died slowly, their attacker not having the heart to completely finish the job.
Along the sides of the arena, slayers sat tied to a long bench which was anchored in the ground. They were forced to sit there and watch as they awaited their turn.
My stomach lurched as I looked upon it all. Before I could even walk the last few steps out of the corridor and into the arena, I crouched against the wall and wretched again and again, pouring out the remaining contents of my nearly empty stomach. I hadn't eaten much that morning, so it was mostly stomach acid that burned my tongue and lips as it passed. My eyes watered, and I wasn't sure if it was from the pain or if I was crying.
I was really only sure of one thing at that point: I wanted to die. I wanted it to be over; I didn't want the blood of those innocent girls on my hands. I felt completely and utterly hopeless and I was ready to just give in. To give up.
But I didn't have time for self-pity. I was being yanked out by my hair before I could even get to my feet.
I looked up towards one of the balconies as I stumbled along with the guard, the same balcony that Nikolos had stood on the last time. As I thought, he was sat there surrounded by a gang of vampires, all of them hooting and hollering as two slayers fought in the middle of the arena.
When Nikolos spotted me, he stood up and walked to the edge, smirking the whole time. He said something to one of his guards, who punched some buttons on a console in front of him. A moment later, Nikolos's image appeared on the giant screen under the scoreboard, pulling the attention of everyone in the arena from the fight to the screen.
Immediately, the crowd roared, cheering him on.
The two slayers in the ring were pulled back to the bench, pure terror etched on their faces. Sure, they were spared for now. But for how long? How long did they have to cherish what was left of their lives? Unsure what to do and who to turn to, the two girls clung to one another, forgetting for a moment that they had just been trying to kill each other.
"Tonight is a special night," Nikolos began, pausing to let the crowd cheer at his words. "Tonight," he continued, "we get to see some real entertainment. Last week was just a paltry taste of what's to come. We've found the best of the best. The cream of the crop. And tonight, we will see her in action."
The crowd cheered again and I couldn't help but tremble. He was talking about me. I was the big reason that the coliseum was completely packed.
Nikolos held up his hands to silence the crowd and he waited until you could hear a pin drop.
"Slayer!" he called, looking down to me. "Are you ready to show us a good time?"
The crowd cheered yet again.
I kept eye contact with him and gritted my teeth, seething with so much hatred for him. When the crowd began to quiet again, I turned my head and spat before I met his gaze yet again.
"Do whatever you want to me . . . I'm not fighting. This place, this outfit," I said and paused to indicate my meager armor, "it's a joke. You're going to kill us anyway, so just get it over with. I'm not playing your games so you can get your rocks off."
The crowd began to boo and laugh, taunting me from all angles. Nikolos just stood and chuckled.
"I think she needs some motivation," he said with a smirk, his eyes never leaving mine. He nodded his head and his guard began to press the buttons on the console again.
I saw something flicker from the corner of my eye . . . the large screen . . . but I continued to glare daggers at Nikolos.
"Buffy . . ."
Oh god, I thought. Please, no. I remember feeling my heart sink in my chest. I didn't want to believe it could be who I thought it was.
But when I turned my head toward the screen, I fell to my knees as I realized that the voice belonged to whom I thought.
"Buffy, please . . . you have to get me out of here," she pleaded. She was on some type of live feed television.
My eyes watered as I looked at her. She was amazingly unhurt, untouched, but I could see how scared she looked. How much she needed me. There were guards standing behind her, not touching her, but smirking and chuckling as she talked. They had been holding onto someone . . . I strained my eyes to see whom. When I saw a flash of red hair from under the one guard's large meaty hand, I realized who it was.
"Dawn! Willow!" I cried out, wanting nothing more than to jump through the screen and save them. Dawn looked fine, but Willow was . . . she was a mess. I could see bruises in different stages of healing all over her face and arms. There was dried blood on her shirt, though I couldn't tell where it had come from.
A few months later I found out where it had come from, but I'll get into that at another time.
I couldn't help but panic. If something happened to Willow, what would happen to Dawn? Who would look after her?
I stood and turned to Nikolos, anger etched across my face. I'd found my strength again.
"Let them go," I said, my jaw clenched.
Nikolos laughed, causing the entire crowd to laugh along with him.
"Interesting request, but I think I'll pass," he said with amused look. "But," he continued as he stepped forward and grasped onto the handrail, "I'll let them live. Maybe. Would you like to see them live?"
I'm not stupid; I knew what he wanted. What he was holding out for. He would let them live if I followed his orders; if I fought. But if I refused . . . I couldn't even think about what would happen if I refused.
I took a deep breath and glanced back at the screen. Dawn was still stood there, a look of panic on her face.
I had to save her. I had to save Willow. We had to regroup. I kept thinking that if I could only get to Dawn and Willow and Giles and Xander and Anya, we might stand a chance. We could come up with something brilliant to change the outcome of this . . . hell. We had done it before, and it seemed to me to be the only option at the time.
God knows it killed me inside, but after taking one last glance at the screen, I dropped my head and closed my eyes. I tried to find my strength. My will to survive.
And I nodded my head.
Nikolos laughed and the crowd cheered, stomping their feet in anticipation of what was to come.
"Let the real games begin," Nikolos said loudly, his voice echoing over the crowd.
I kept my eyes closed as I heard footsteps and scampering around me. I tried so hard not to lose it. Over and over I told myself that it was for the greater good. That I could save the world if I could only get out of there.
And if getting out of there meant waiting for an opening while I had to commit certain . . . acts . . . I thought I could justify it in my mind.
It was only a few moments before I heard the clanging of falling weapons before me. I opened my eyes and looked over them, my stomach churning when I noticed that several of them were already bloodied.
There were weapons there that were designed to inflict pain, some to maim . . . and some that were meant only to kill.
I remember reaching into the pile, my hand trembling as I tried to avoid getting blood on my hands.
Blood never washes off, you see. The blood itself does, but not the memory of it. Never the memory of it.
There was a longsword in the mix, sharp and unused, and I pulled it slowly from the pile. The sound that the metal made as it scraped against the other metal weapons made my head hurt, sounding very much like it was piercing my very soul.
When I looked up, I noticed that the guards had brought five new girls out into the arena and untied them. As soon as they noticed that I had chosen my weapon, all five girls made a mad dash for the pile, trying to find the best of what was left. I stood completely still and didn't move as they passed me, unafraid that they would hurt me.
They couldn't hurt me.
I was the best. Giles had trained me that way. I was fluent in the art of physical combat, and after seeing Dawn and Willow . . . I had something to live for. I had a plan.
There was no way that I would die willingly at that point.
When one of the girls lunged at me, I easily stepped out of the way. The other four girls looked on in terror as the girl swung at me over and over again, missing me every time as I easily stepped backward to avoid her lunges. I didn't raise my sword once. I didn't need the shield that a guard had tossed my way. I easily stepped over it as the girl continued to unleash her fury upon me.
I wasn't angry at her; she was trying to survive. Maybe she thought she'd have an easier time with the other girls if she took me out first.
After sidestepping her advances over and over again, I finally felt myself nearing the edge of the arena. I could hear the snarling of the demons as they got closer and closer to me. At that point, I was more afraid that they could hurt me while my back was turned toward them than of the girl who was swinging a mace wildly about, trying harder than ever now to hit me with it.
The only time that I raised my sword was when I felt my back hit the wall. By then, the girl was so tired from swinging the heavy mace about that she didn't even notice my sword.
I won't tell you exactly what happened . . . I can't, because I've blocked it out of my mind . . . but I can tell you that she died quickly, easily, and in as painless a way as I could manage.
There are pretty much two areas on the body where damage will cause almost imminent, immediate death: head and heart. That's where I always went for.
I was later told that my whole life I'd gone for the heart and the head, but again, I'll have to tell you more about that at another time.
As the young girl's lifeless body slid from my sword and onto the ground, the crowd cheered louder than I could have imagined. I didn't know her name
I didn't know any of their names.
But it was done. I was a killer. Still, I was trying to convince myself that it was for the greater good at that point.
They made me into a monster. Just like they were.
I stood and watched with vacant eyes as two demons came shuffling out of a side door and moved the body onto a sheet, then scurried away with it back through the same door. I couldn't even let myself think about what was going to happen to her body.
As it was, there were four more girls who stood in the center of the arena. They watched the whole display with wide eyes, fear evident on their faces. When I started to slowly walk toward the center again, one of the girls panicked and ran toward the side of the arena. She jumped up over the side, hastily trying to escape.
But she had jumped right into the arms of a blood hungry crowd.
I blocked out the sounds of her screaming as I approached the center, my body doing what it needed as my mind drifted off to a different place.
To this day, I'm still not sure what happened. I remember blood, and I remember tears. The blood belonged to the girls, but the tears were my own.
When I finished what I had to do, my mind came back from whatever happy place I had sent it to. I looked around the arena and into the crowd, watching with disgust as they cheered and cheered.
Like before, Nikolos stepped to the edge of the balcony.
"I've spoken with Khayet, who tells me that his clan will be joining us in the months to come," he spoke to the crowd. "I expect that we'll be in for some real treats, kiddies. Do remember to join us again."
I soon found out that Khayet was the head of another clan, filled mostly with warmongering demons. They'd have more slayers, I was sure. More people to kill.
More sin to commit.
As the crowd began to filter out of the arena, I was led back to my cell by the same guard as earlier. He seemed less aggressive then. His grip was less firm, his words were less harsh.
When he let me into my cell and told me he needed to collect my armor, he left me to undress while he disappeared into the corridor somewhere.
I slowly peeled the bloodstained armor from my body, noting that it felt ten times heavier with the weight of my crimes on it. A moment or two later the guard Dervin returned with a large bowl full of water and a clean rag. He didn't say anything to me; he simply took the armor from the dirt-covered floor and left, locking the door behind him.
For several minutes I sat in the pale candle light, naked except for my underwear. I watched as the blood on my skin and the tears on my face dried in place.
From that point, I told myself that I wouldn't cry anymore. Not for something that I was forced to do; not for something that might save us all in the end.
I remember placing the bowl of water on a little stool and squatting in front of it, using the rag to wipe the dried blood from my skin. The water quickly turned bright red and I couldn't bring myself to use it to wash my face.
Before I climbed onto my cot, I walked to the wall and looked into the small shard of mirror that Dervin had given me days before.
I looked like me. There were tear stains on my face, but I still looked like the same girl. Same old Buffy.
Nevertheless, I wasn't the same girl. I had done something that I found unforgivable when done by someone else at a previous time. I wondered if I'd ever forgive myself, the way that I thought I'd forgiven her.
But then I realized that forgiveness wasn't something that could be given by the guilty.
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