Chapter Twenty One

The three robed figures watched Faith as she anxiously looked around, breathing heavily and bordering on a state of panic.

She blinked her eyes hard trying to take in her surroundings. She didn't seem too awed by the massive gray marble columns that towered along the perimeter of the circular room, nor by the meticulous bronze and jade carvings that lined the walls. In fact, she seemed to look right through them all as if she were searching for something.

The robed figures knew exactly what she was looking for . . . her coven and her warrior. But, they couldn't let her see them . . . not yet.

As a part of the process, the figures had used a cloaking spell so that the Hollow One -- Faith -- would not be able to see or interact with her coven and warrior, and vice versa. They all happened to be in the same room, but they were only able to see and hear what the tribunal members wanted them to.

The middle figure, an aged man with a short gray beard and white eyes, stood up to get Faith's attention.

"Hollowed One, come forward," his deep voice boomed in a powerful but gentle manner.

Faith hesitated, her eyes darting between him and various points in the room.

"Child, do not fear. Your coven is safe, as is your warrior." Faith immediately focused her gaze on the man, and he continued. "It is not time for them yet. They are here, but they do not see us, and you cannot see them. Not yet."

"Wait . . . what do you mean, my coven?" Faith asked.

The man chuckled.

"Your coven, child. Surely your coven was responsible for powering the gateway. Only strong sources of cosmic power could fulfill such a requirement. Who else could take on such a task?" He asked disbelievingly.

"Umm . . . I've got some news for ya, Pops." She pointed at herself, "I don't have a coven cos I'm not a witch."

"What?" He asked suspiciously. "That's impossible. This tribunal is only for the descendants of Enid and her coven. Surely a descendent would be as powerful a witch as Enid was if not more so, especially after her visit to us."

"Enid?" Faith asked. Then, a realization hit her. "OH! You mean that Witch-princess chick? Nahh, I ain't her descendent. I may act like a real witch sometimes and I've been called a royal pain-in-the-ass, but a Witch Princess I'm not."

The man paused, taking in what she'd just explained.

"If you are not a descendent of Enid nor of her coven, I am afraid that we cannot help you, child. Our powers are too great to be used on a mere mortal."

"She is not just a mere mortal," one of the other robed figures, a middle-aged female, spoke up. "I can smell her power. Not a witch, not a demon . . . but not a mere mortal. Child . . . what are you?" She asked with a gentle smile, standing up to join the bearded man.

"I'm a Slayer, and I have a name so you can lay off with the child bit. It's Faith."

The third remaining figure, a strong young man with an angry face, stood up and engaged Faith.

"Faith? Such a strong name for a girl with such a lack of it," he said bitterly, then turned to his fellow brethren. "This is a waste of our time. She is trivial, barely worthy of our presence, let alone our efforts. Let her rot," he said angrily before turning around and heading back towards his seat.

"Balthazor, hold your tongue!" The female yelled out, instantly getting his attention. "You do not speak for the remaining factions of this tribunal. You will wait for our judgment before you decide to condemn this girl!"

"Ilaya, do you not see that this cause is not worthy of our efforts?" He spat back at the female, his voice full of venom. "She is a Slayer. Another will be called to replace her. I sense no great loss of power here, nor do I foresee a shift in the balance of good and evil without her." He turned towards the aged man. "Magnus, surely you must agree with me."

The aged man thought about it for a moment.

"I'm sorry, but I do not. We cannot simply dismiss this child due to her lack of a so-called higher status. She is a Slayer; a defender of good. True, another can be called. But, read her, Balthazor. Look deep into her. She is an innocent in this. She deserves a chance."

"I . . . SEE . . . NOTHING!" Balthazor answered, seething with anger.

"Look harder," Magnus answered. "She was robbed of her free will and used as a tool for evil. She lacks part of her soul not because of her own doing, but because of the doing of a dark being."

"I already know all of this," Balthazor cut in. "Perhaps you are the one who should be looking deeper into her, Magnus. Do you not sense the curse? Do you not see that it is not in our hands?"

"That's rubbish. Both you and I know that we can work around a measly mortal curse. Our powers are greater than that, brother. It is our purpose for being," Magnus replied.

Faith watched the exchange between the three figures in awe and confusion. She got the basic gist of their conversation: Magnus and Ilaya were willing to at least listen to her and possibly help; Balthazor was being a real bastard about the situation and he wanted to simply discard her. She remained silent, not wanting to further upset the situation.

Balthazor sighed, knowing that his fellow brethren were correct. Still, he was not going to give up that easily.

"I'll entertain your thoughts for a moment, Magnus. Suppose we want to help this girl. We cannot do it out of the so-called goodness of our hearts. That's not the way this works; not in the past, and not now. A sacrifice must be made; something must be lost in order for something to be gained."

"Whoa whoa whoa," Faith cut in, not liking what she was hearing. "A sacrifice? I don't think so. In case you guys haven't heard, I gave up the killin' a long time ago. Nothin' but good deeds left in me these days."

Ilaya stepped forward.

"That is not the type of sacrifice that we speak of, child. As all things in life, nothing comes free. Something must be forfeited or surrendered in return. Love, innocence, power, soul, emotion . . . something must be exchanged."

Faith thought about it.

"Well, soul: I already seem to be lacking part of mine. Emotion: I've never been a real emotional gal as it is. Power: it's not mine to give; it's the essence of the slayer, not of 'Faith'. Innocence, well . . I lost my innocence a long time ago. And as for love . . . I only just found it. I'm not willing to give it away. Not for anything. I'm sorry, but I can't."

"See!" Balthazor spat. "She can save herself with a small sacrifice and yet she will not do it. As I said . . . she is not worth our time."

Faith couldn't help it. Before she could stop herself, her hand was in the air, waving her middle-finger at the young man.

"If this child will not help herself, we cannot help her either," Balthazor added while shooting daggers at Faith, who was giving him the cockiest grin she could muster.

Ilaya stifled a laugh that was trying to escape after witnessing the interaction between the two.

"Perhaps she doesn't have to make the sacrifice herself," Ilaya stated to her brethren, then turned her attention to Faith. "I believe it's time that we call on your friends."

She raised up her arms and then lowered them, seemingly lowering the cloaking spell that had been placed.

In a flash, Faith saw Buffy and the others appear in the same room, all looking rather frantic. The group looked shocked as Faith and the robed figures appeared suddenly as if out of thin air.

"Faith!" Buffy shouted, instantly running over to the brunette and throwing her arms around her in a tight embrace. "Oh my god . . . we thought something bad happened; you were gone for so long," she said into Faith's shoulder as she buried her face against her.

Faith instantly responded, wrapping her arms around the obviously frightened girl.

"It's okay, B. I've been right here the whole time." She pointed at the robed figures. "These guys made a cloaking spell so we couldn't see each other or somethin'. Said I couldn't see you guys 'til it was time. I guess it must be that time right about now."

Buffy made no move to even look at the tribunal members. Instead, she pulled back from Faith just enough to look into her deep brown eyes, ignoring the presence of everyone else in the room with her. She gave Faith a tender smile and studied her face over, making sure that she was unharmed. She froze just a little when she saw small remnants of a blood trail coming from her nose. Faith picked up on her fright right away.

"It's nothin', B. I feel fine. Much better now that you're here." She gave Buffy a small grin and moved her hand to brush a few strands of blonde hair from her face.

Their moment was broken when they heard a scoff.

"You must be joking!" Balthazor yelled, his voice once again angry. "You're in love with your warrior?! This has gone from sad to ridiculous. I've had enough!" He turned to face his brethren. "Magnus, Ilaya. This does not deserve our attention. I will not become the object of ridicule amongst our peers for helping this waste of a person. I refuse to help her."

He turned his back away from Faith and her friends, thus shutting them out.

Faith's eyes shot down toward the ground, obviously feeling completely defeated. She hated the young man who wanted so badly to condemn her. She thought that if she had to continue looking at him she would do something stupid.

Buffy noticed Faith's look of defeat and she finally decided to stand up for her and to do what was right. She had let the girl down in her past by not helping her the first time she was in trouble. She wasn't going to stand by and watch her slip away again.

Through clenched teeth she began to speak, looking up defiantly at Balthazor.

"Yes, you will help her."

The words had caught the three figures' attention, causing them all to look her way. Buffy continued.

"You will help her because she deserves it. Because she came here in good faith to ask for help; something that was never easy for her to ask for. Because you have the power to. And because if you don't? Things are going to get a LOT worse than simply dealing with the loss of a Slayer."

"Really?" Balthazor asked, amused at the defiance of the small blonde before him. "And pray tell, how exactly do you mean, little girl?"

"Because you won't be dealing with the loss of one Slayer. You'll be dealing with the loss of two," she said very matter-of-factly, staring at the figures in front of her.

"You're a Slayer as well?" Ilaya asked.

"The original."

"So you will end your life if we do not help this girl?" Magnus asked, slightly confused.

"No, I won't kill myself. I don't believe in that. But turning away from slaying? That I would do."

"You would simply turn your back on your calling?" Magnus asked. "Turn your back on what you're meant to do?"

"In a heartbeat," Buffy quickly replied. "I've always said that I'd love to live the life of a normal girl. This would just give me the perfect opportunity to finally take that option. And besides, you don't seem like one to talk. Isn't it the three of you right now that are turning your backs on your calling? Seems to me like you made that decision just as easily."

The entire gang sat there wide-eyed and open-mouthed at Buffy's little act of defiance. They knew that she was a tough girl, but her act was almost beginning to convince even them.

"We are not turning on our calling, Slayer," Ilaya answered. "We are simply evaluating the situation from a higher standpoint. We must take into the consideration the balance of good and evil. If we . . ."

"Sister, stop this," Balthazor cut in. "We do not have to explain ourselves to these mortals. We are higher beings! Acts of defiance such as this should be punished, not rewarded! Even still, the loss of two Slayers is not enough to tip the balance. Another Slayer will be called. The world can do without these two."

He glared at his brethren, trying to make them understand his point. However, not much time was given to ponder his explanation as another voice cut in.

"Yeah, maybe the world can withstand the loss of two Slayers, but can it withstand the loss of the vampire with a soul?" Angel asked, stepping forward from the background.

Immediately, the three robed figures turned their heads to meet the source of the voice.

"Angelus," Magnus murmured.

"Actually, it's Angel now, but I'm glad that you've heard of me. That means that you've heard of the prophecies; that I'll be a key player in avoiding numerous apocalypses. That the balance in the fight against good and evil may lay in my very capable hands."

The three figures remained speechless, obviously knowing the importance of Angel in the affairs of the world. He continued.

"You refuse to help Faith? I refuse to fight another day. I retire and let the world pass me by while I sit on my Lazy-Boy and watch TV. If anyone deserves a second chance, it's Faith."

Balthazor scoffed.

"If you think you can intimidate us into helping this girl, you are sorely mistaken, we . . ."

"Oh, we're not done yet, nancy-boy," Spike said, stepping forward. "You ever hear of William the Bloody? The Scourge of Europe?"

The almost-frightened stares of the robed figures confirmed Spike's question.

"Yeah? Well, that's me. See, I've been a nice lil' boy lately on account of this chip in my head. But that doesn't mean I'm good." He pointed at Faith. "I've known lots of people that deserved death and I gladly bestowed it upon them. But this bird doesn't. I might not be able to hurt a fly, but I can gather an army of vamps and demons alike that would bow before a master vampire of the Order of Aurelius. You don't help her? I'll gladly get my naughty on. An army like that under my control would have a bleedin' good time altering the balance of good and evil."

"You're bluffing," Balthazor said defiantly, not wanting to appear powerless in the situation.

"Try me," Spike said with a smirk, crossing his arms across his chest.

"Try us too," Willow stepped forward, dragging a nervous-looking Xander with her. "Do you want to cross the path of a warlock and a witch scorned? Giles always told me I couldn't play with the dark magicks, but I've just been itching to give them a try," Willow stated, trying to sound as confident and cocky as possible.

"I can sense your power, witch," Ilaya stated gently, then looked skeptically at Xander. "But I sense no power from him."

"It's a cloaking spell!" Xander blurted out in true Xander fashion. "The best way to beat your enemy is not to let them know that you have power. Oh, I've got power, alright. I've got power coming out of the wazoo. I'm just keeping it hidden. It's the ace up my sleeve."

He wasn't sure his little ruse was going to work, but he didn't think that they would call his bluff.

"That's a nice move, Warlock," Ilaya stated with admiration, obviously falling for his scam.

Xander smiled nervously.

"Oh, and let's not forget the vision-girl here," Cordelia stated, casually walking up behind Faith and slinging her arm across the girls' shoulder. "Seems that your cousins, The Powers that Be, like to give me visions so that I can help the helpless. To me, Faith is helpless. If you can just turn your back on her and not feel bad about it, then I figure I can do the same thing. I'll get some Extra-Strength Tylenol to block the headaches and I'll learn to tune to a different channel. Think of all the innocents lost . . ." she trailed off, pretending to deeply think about it.

Buffy chuckled, growing even bolder at the assistance offered by her friends.

"So, it seems that you have a little bit more to consider now, don't ya? Let's recap. If you don't help Faith, you lose two perfectly broken-in Slayers, one highly prophesized Vampire with a soul, and one link to The Powers that Be. You also get a new and improved Big Bad master vampire, and a witch and a warlock that like to dabble in the black magicks. I think that you may begin to see a big shift in that balance of good and evil. Plus, we've got more troops at home. Another powerful wicca, an ex-Vengeance demon with lots of connections, and worse of all: a whiny teenager with a penchant for nagging and getting under your skin. This could be the easiest, or hardest decision you could ever make."

The three robed figures remained silent, completely blown away by the display that had just happened before them. They stood there under the defiant glare of the group before them.

After a few moments passed, Magnus finally stepped forward.

"I have made my judgment, and I am prepared to announce my decision to my brethren of this tribunal."

Buffy tightened her grasp on Faith's hand. Cordelia, on the other side of Faith, did the same thing.

"It is my belief that the balance between good and evil would be monumentally thrown off if our help is not given. Therefore, my contribution to this tribunal is that we shall help this child."

He smiled warmly at Faith.

"I concur," Ilaya stated, smiling just as sweetly.

Balthazor scoffed.

"You give in too easily, brothers." He paused. "Fine, I concur as well. But there is still the issue of sacrifice."

"Sacrifice?" Buffy asked, sounding nervous.

"Yes, sacrifice. Something must be surrendered for something to be gained."

"So it's not a blood thing then. We just have to give something up, right? Kinda like Lent, and giving up chocolate or something?"

"Or something," Balthazor answered. "Love, innocence, power, soul, emotion, humor, hope . . . it must be something meaningful. And this is a special matter: A forfeit shall be required from each of the sources. The warrior, on the other hand, must surrender something to the Hollow One; a gift that cannot be returned or refused."

He looked towards his brethren, waiting for their approval.

"Yes, I must agree. This is a special case, and special measures must be taken," Magnus stated and Ilaya nodded in agreement. He turned towards the group. "Are you prepared to give something up for this child?"

After a moment or two of thought, the entire gang slowly nodded in agreement.

"Are you willing to accept that though it is not certain, your forfeit may be permanent and you may never have it back again?" Magnus asked.

A few scared looks were exchanged, but again, the group nodded affirmatively.

"Excellent," he said with a gentle, knowing smile. It was almost as if he was hiding something. Ilaya smiled in the same manner. Balthazor simply looked on in contempt.

As if on cue, Ilaya stepped behind a large marble alter and pulled something out from behind it. When she walked forward, the gang saw that she was holding a large crystal orb.

"Please come forward one at a time. State what you will surrender, then place your hand on the orb."

Cordelia stepped forward.

"I give my power."

She stepped forward and placed her hand on the orb. A large blue light was pulled from her body and now lay swirling within the orb.

Xander stepped forward.

"I gave my first innocence of a sort to Faith a long time ago, so I'll gladly give it up again."

He placed his hand on the orb and a white light was pulled from his body, intermingling with the blue in the orb.

Willow stepped forward.

"I give my power."

She placed her hand on the orb, and a similar blue light escaped from her as it had with Cordelia.

Spike stepped forward.

"I can't believe I'm doing this soddin' thing. Alright . . . I give up my immortality."

He shot a smile at Faith before placing his hand on the orb. A huge red burst of light flew from him and into the orb.

Faith gasped. She couldn't believe that he had done that for her. She knew that they shared some things in common, but she didn't realize that he had felt so closely bonded to her.

Finally, Angel stepped forward.

Quietly, he stated, "I give the permanence of my soul."

Before he could put his hand on the orb, Faith shouted out, "Angel, no! I can't let you do that. It's finally yours, for good. Pick something else, please."

He gently smiled at her.

"Consider it a gift," he stated as he quickly placed his hand on the orb before Faith or anyone else could stop him. A brilliant green light emitted from his body and crossed into the orb.

Ilaya smiled and walked with the orb towards a short marble column. She placed it down gently then returned to stand next to her brethren.

Suddenly, all eyes focused on Buffy.

The blonde slayer turned towards Faith and took both of her hands into her own. She looked down at their enjoined hands, then back up into Faith's deep brown eyes.

"Faith . . . I don't know what I can give that will mean anything to you, but I'm going to give you something that means something to me. I think it's been yours for longer than I realized, so I guess it's only appropriate that I give it to you formally."

She paused, giving Faith a gentle, loving smile.

"Faith . . . I give you my heart."

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