Boris, Doris, & Faith

Author: duane at

Chapter 5 - Part 1

The vampire dust comment had been meant mostly as a joke, but it was turning out to be true. As Rebecca, Kelly, and I headed in the direction where I got the strongest vampire 'sense', we ran into a steady stream of vampires. In the next thirty minutes, we must have dealt with at least twenty more. All of them continued to be 'newbies', and since they were only attacking in small groups of three or four, Kelly and I managed to dispatch all of them before any got close to Rebecca. Rebecca had done well in the initial wild melee, but there was no point in pushing her luck any further unless it became absolutely necessary; this was clearly work for slayers.

My vampire 'sense' led us steadily further and further underground. At first we passed through rooms related to the museum above: more storerooms, a boiler room, a small machine shop, and several workshops for the behind-the-scenes tasks needed to keep a major museum functioning. Finally, we reached a door leading to an old, long disused railroad tunnel for delivering coal back at the end of the nineteenth century. This tunnel headed in the general direction of the waterfront and was the probable route used by the ones who had taken out O'Hare's men the night before.

After walking down this tunnel for about five minutes, we came to a large opening torn through one of its walls. The opening was definitely recent. My vampire 'sense' really started to jangle and even Kelly commented on the strange feeling she was getting from this opening.

Stepping through, we abruptly left the world of modern man behind. For the first half mile we traveled through a series of natural caves and tunnels. The ground was very uneven, but definitely trending deeper and deeper underground. The height of the ceiling varied from barely four feet to more than twenty. It was fortunate Rebecca had stashed a penlight in her fanny pack back in the armory room on the plane.

After nearly twenty minutes in the dark passage and only one attempted ambush by vampires, a faint glow became visible in the distance ahead. As we approached the light, the ground leveled out. Then we stepped through another shattered wall and stood transfixed.

We were in a huge chamber, which was obviously not natural. And just as obviously, it was not manmade. No human mind could have possibly been behind the design of this room with its impossibly curved crystalline arches or the strange, giant, light-emitting globes suspended from the high, vaulted ceiling. These twenty foot diameter globes put forth a light that wasn't orange and wasn't purple, but some unnamable color somewhere between.

Nor could any human mind have been responsible for the forty massive winged statues aligned directly below the globes in this football field-sized room. The creatures depicted by these statues were unlike anything I had ever seen before, and between practical experience and Giles' large collection of demon-lore books, I have seen a lot of different creatures. Towering over us, they were all fourteen to fifteen feet tall standing atop six foot high plinths. The little voice that lives in the back of my head was shouting that these statues were not some grandiose exaggeration, but life-size depictions. Life-size. Just being inside this vast chamber was causing my body to ramp up to a whole new higher level of combat-readiness, which even a rolling thirty minute battle against fifty vampires hadn't achieved. Some truly primal sense of fear was being triggered by the mere presence of the statues before us.

"What is this place?" whispered Rebecca. For the first time since I met her, the seemingly unflappable secret agent sounded shaken.

Turning to look at her, I was startled by other girls' appearances. When I had looked directly at the glowing globes they seemed to emit some unearthly, orangey-purple glow. But now I realized they had some strange, almost anti-black light effect. Where a normal black light made white clothing fluoresce, this light had the opposite effect; somehow my black jeans and jacket and Rebecca's protective vest seemed to shine with an impossible brilliance. And the effect of the light on the appearance of skin tones was down-right scary. I mean, the girls' faces and my own hands had taken on a ghastly gray hue like the flesh of a three-day-old corpse. It is sad to say, but in my unfortunate vocation, I have seen enough three-day-old bodies to know.

Trying to shove the primal urge to run into the back corner of my mind where it belonged, I took a step forward and forced myself to speak at a quasi-normal volume. Although it wasn't until my heart rate finally fell back below the two hundred beats a minute only a hummingbird could possibly sustain that my voice stopped squeaking.

"I . . . I think . . . I think these are the . . . ancient ones."

"Who?" asked Rebecca still barely whispering, although she and Kelly had stayed up with me as I moved further into the chamber.

The term 'ancient ones' had just popped into my head. Now I racked my brain for where it had come from. It must have been some conversation with Giles or Buffy or some other of the Scoobies. Who else had I ever met who would have talked about something like this? Angel?

"They . . . were a race . . . who had dominion over the world . . . and many of the other planes . . . long before man arrived on the scene. When their race departed this realm, some of their fallen members were left behind . . . and supposedly they are the source of all the modern demons . . . including the vampires."

"Fallen members?" asked Kelly, as we stared at the giant winged creatures. Her voice was sounding no less shaky than Rebecca's or my own. "You mean like . . . angels?"

We had reached the first of the statues and continued to gaze up. It was impossible to tell under the strange lighting what the black material used in the statue was; it didn't look quite like metal or stone or wood. The creature had two arms, two legs, and a head, but it wasn't just the addition of widely spread wings which prevented it from being mistaken for human. No, all of the proportions were subtly wrong and the face . . .

From a distance the statue had evoked an instant feeling of fear, but now fear wasn't quite the right descriptor. No, the primary sense was one of overawing power. Under this insane lighting, it was somehow horrific and beautiful at the same time and I had the sudden, almost overwhelming feeling I should fall to my knees and bow my head before it. And this was only a statue. The little voice in the back of my head was once again speaking; asking if this was my body's response to a mere statue, what would be its response to meeting the real thing?

"Maybe," I answered to the suggestion of angels. Suddenly I found myself wishing some of the Scoobies were here. Had the hell-god Gloria caused this sensation? Were these ancient ones an entire race of hell-gods?

For some indefinable period of time, perhaps a minute, perhaps an hour, perhaps a lifetime, I stood enraptured as I gazed up at the statue. Only slowly did I realize Rebecca had wandered off, while Kelly stood next to me with the same awed expression I am sure my face had been showing.

With an extreme effort I managed to drag my attention away, just in time to see someone walk up to where Rebecca stood by another nearby statue. As I watched, she began a conversation with the man and her body language indicated she knew who he was. After thirty seconds of conversation, my senses abruptly started to tingle as the man's face transformed. He was a vampire!

Rebecca made no move to get away or even raise her sword as the vampire stepped forward and quickly sank his elongated canine teeth into her neck.

Feeling like I was moving in slow motion, I raced over. I had mostly seen the creature from the back and had recognized his transformation by the change in my 'senses'. When I reached them and used my terrible strength to tear him away from Rebecca, I got my first good look at his face. And it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The intellectual side of my brain knew this was a vampire, but my heart and soul cried out that he should be feeding from me and not Rebecca. What was the lighting in this space doing to me? What was the original purpose of this chamber?

It took every ounce of my strength and all four years' worth of experience as a slayer to overcome my incredible feelings of desire and force my body to raise the well-used table leg and slam it through his chest. When his body exploded into the classic cloud of dust, my head seemed, at least for the moment, to clear of the effects of this room.

As I grabbed the wavering Rebecca and slapped my left hand to her badly ravaged throat in an attempt to staunch the rapidly spreading stream of blood, I instantly realized many more vampires were arriving in the area. If we didn't quickly get out of this chamber with its deadly light, it was going to be the end for us.

Using my slayer voice I called out. "KELLY, WAKE UP. WE HAVE TO LEAVE. NOW!"

I hadn't noticed how quiet this chamber was until my voice rumbled out and then came echoing back from the far wall. At least it had its normal effect on the vampires and they all froze in their tracks. Kelly shook her head for a moment and then seemed to realize where she was. Immediately she raised her battleaxe into a ready position and raced over.

Rebecca was still caught in the near hypnotic state a vampire's feeding produces as her knees started to buckle from shock and blood loss. Keeping my left hand clamped to her throat, I swept her up into my arms and searched frantically for a way out of this chamber. The majority of the vampires were near the entrance we had used, so it was most definitely out. Across on the far side of the chamber was a large grand opening. Whatever lay beyond was a lot darker than this room and if it meant getting out of whatever light these globes were emitting, I was all for it.

Kelly caught up just as I started to run. "What is happening to us? What's wrong with Rebecca?"

Rebecca's deadweight wasn't a huge hindrance to my running, but the fact she is six or seven inches taller and trying to keep a firm grip on her throat were. I found myself shifting her body around a little, trying to find a less awkward position.

"She was bitten by a vampire. We have to get out of this room. The light in here is having some strange effect on our minds. I think this room must have been originally used to subjugate slaves and prisoners to the power and the will of the ancient ones. Whatever you do, don't look into the faces of any of the vampires in here. Instead of their usual ugly butt-faces, in here they look impossibly beautiful. It must be because the demons which possess the vampires are descended from the ancient ones."

Kelly gave Rebecca a sidelong glance as we ran, and I could understand the fear and concern in her expression. It was less than an hour since she had first learned vampires and demons were real and now Rebecca had been bitten.

Even burdened with a heavy battleaxe and an inert body, it took us less than eight seconds to cover the hundred yards to the exit. As soon as we were out from under the terrible orangey-purple light, it felt like my brain, body, and soul were finally once more my own.

We found ourselves in a long ornate corridor that had to be at least thirty feet wide with a tall, sixty foot high barrel-vaulted ceiling. The ceiling was an intricate trellis work of polished silver through which shone a thankfully benign pale blue light. The main corridor we were in was straight and so long it faded into the distance. However about every two hundred feet smaller side corridors branched off.

I could feel the vampires were still on our trail. We needed to quickly find a secure spot where we could stop and see to Rebecca's wound. Picking the fourth cross-corridor at random, I turned and sprinted down the right passage.

This hallway was lined with doorways on both sides at about forty foot intervals. Selecting the fifth one on the left, I ran up intending to kick the door down. But as I approached, the door smoothly and quietly slid open. Not pausing to consider what magical or mechanical device was controlling the door, I ran inside with Kelly right on my tail.

The door had been at least seventeen or eighteen feet tall and now we found ourselves in a room also furnished on a giant scale, as though the intended occupants were fourteen or fifteen feet tall. A shiver ran down my spine as I realized this room was for use by the creatures on the pedestals. The statues had been life-size.

It had to have been thousands of years, hell, maybe millions of years, since the ancient ones had been in residence, but this room looked ready for immediate use. No moldering, decaying furnishings or odors of rot and decay, everything in this room looked pristine and new.

I spared only a moment to glance at the decor as I focused on finding a spot where I could put Rebecca down that would leave us hidden from a cursory inspection if the vampires opened the door. Though this whole facility was old beyond imagining, this room felt surprisingly like a grand, oversized hotel suite. Perhaps it was just the lack of personal mementoes, did ancient ones carry photos of their families?

The room was large and open, forty feet wide and at least fifty feet deep. At the back was an open loft area, but without visible stairs. Of course, for winged creatures, stairs were not much of a necessity. Suddenly, I wondered if we would eventually have trouble getting around in a facility which was designed for a dominant species which could fly.

However we could worry about that later. At the moment, none of the furniture would give us much cover to hide. The room had five benches, all of which had tall spindly legs leading up to seats five feet above the ground. None of the couches had backs, but then chair backs would obviously get in the way for creatures with big wings.

Seeing a couple of doorways in the back wall, we ran to the nearer one. Like the entrance door, this door also slid open at our approach. Inside we found the giant demon equivalent of a modern bathroom, all white and shiny, but their answer for a sink was built into a counter above my eye level. If the situation wasn't so deadly, this suite would have seemed almost humorous like we had suddenly been thrust onto the set from the movie, 'Honey, I Shrunk the Kids'.

Once we were clear of the doorway, the door to this bathroom slid back shut. Gently, I lowered Rebecca to the floor with her back propped against the wall next to the sink.

Setting aside my table leg and Rebecca's sword, I quickly pulled off my jacket and then stripped off my tee-shirt. The tee was the first thing I could think of to use as a bandage for her neck. Tearing it into strips, I handed Kelly a couple and she climbed up onto the counter, which was the only way we could reached the tall sink. She waved a couple of the strips under the faucet. Just like in a modern restroom, a stream of water magically appeared.

As I tried to wipe the worst of the blood from Rebecca's neck before applying the bandage, the cold, damp cloth started to bring her back around.

"What . . . what happened? . . . Where are we?" Rebecca mumbled, as her eyes started to clear.

"We are in Cleveland. Well, deep under Cleveland, actually," I began, trying to keep my voice calm and soothing.

"I remember . . . ah . . . giant winged creatures," said Rebecca slowly.

"Those were just statues, nothing to be afraid of."

"Why does my neck hurt? Oh my god, Kevin was a vampire," said Rebecca, as her voice started to sound a little panicky. Although she must still be pretty groggy or she would have made the connection of the two sentences she had just said and would have been much more panicky.

"Who is Kevin?" I asked, trying to keep her distracted until I had time to finish tying the strips I was using to hold the compress in place.

"Kevin Stearns. Last year I spent six hours of one very long night in a surveillance van with him during a stakeout of a suspected al-Qaida safe house." Then she paused for a moment before continuing in a nearly hysterical tone as her hands reached for the just completed dressing on her neck. "Kevin was a vampire. And he bit me!"

I had to grab her wrists with almost slayer strength to keep her frantic hands from tearing at the protective covering.

Suddenly, her flailing movements ceased. She looked at me with just a hint of hysteria still in her eyes, but her voice was dead calm. "Am I going to turn into a vampire, too?"

Kelly was watching me intently also, as they waited for my declaration.

Seeing she was in control, I released her hands and sank back on my haunches as I shook my head. "No, you are not going to turn into a vampire, at least not from this bite. You will only turn into a vampire if he drains enough of your blood to stop your heart; then it almost always a sure thing. Or if you both exchange blood, you can turn when you die, even if your death is not at the same time, however the longer the time which passes between the exchanges of blood and actual death, the lower the odds of turning. If you don't die until ten years after the blood exchange, the odds of you turning into a vampire are down to maybe one in fifty. But to answer your question again, this bite is not going to turn you into a vampire."

Both Rebecca and Kelly let out a sigh of relief at this explanation and Rebecca gave a slow painful nod of her head.

Using my chin to point at her bandage, I continued. "The vampire's saliva contains an anti-coagulant to help the blood flow freely. This means your wound is going to be unusually slow to stop bleeding and very slow to heal. We will need to watch the bandage carefully until we get out of here."

Rebecca gave another slow nodded, but I could tell she was barely listening. The events back in the great hall must still have been going around and around in her head, as she started to mumble to herself. "As soon as Kevin started talking I knew something was wrong with him. I knew at some instinctive level this was no longer the Kevin I had known, but I couldn't bring myself to do anything. Then after his face assumed that ugly vampire countenance, and even though I knew he was going to kill me, I still couldn't bring myself to kill a friend. I have never killed anyone before tonight. I couldn't imagine anything worse than having to kill someone who once was a friend."

Barely above a whisper, I answered. "There are worse things than having to kill a friend."

Chapter 5 - Part 2

Oh, there are most definitely things worse than having to kill a friend.

I have never told anyone about the two years between my parents' disappearance and the death of my first watcher in Boston at the hands of the vampire Kakistos. When I have needed to address this time it has always been done with half-truths or outright lies. Only Gib knows parts of this story and even he doesn't know the worst bits that turned me from the innocent Dana into the bad-ass Faith.

After my parents' disappearance I stayed for a brief time with Gib, but he wasn't family and with all of the traveling his job required it wasn't a situation that could ever be permanent. So, ultimately I ended up with my only close living relative, my Mother's sister, Katherine Lehane. At first it was hard, difficult and awkward. Kate was a lot younger than my Mom. Actually, at twenty-three she was closer to my age of thirteen than my Mom's on the fateful day I arrived at her apartment.

Kate was only six months out of college at the time with a degree in Journalism. She had started her first 'real' job as a reporter for the Pittsfield Gazette in Pittsfield, Massachusetts three months earlier. Now, suddenly her life was almost as disrupted as my own. I mean, she was at that time in her life when she should have been enjoying all the fruits of her hard work in school, both in career terms and letting loose with a little partying. Instead she found herself saddled with someone who fell somewhere between a niece, a little sister, and a daughter.

And I was not someone who was easy to be around at the time. No, my safe little life with two loving parents had been ripped apart without warning and without any explanation other than an unsatisfying comment about 'National Security'. I was scared, angry, and lost and in the beginning I took everything out on my only available target, Kate. Sometimes looking back I wondered why she didn't just throw in the towel and turn me over to the Berkshire County Human Services department after the way I treated her with my endless hours of crying or screaming.

It was during those first dark days with Kate that Faith was born. Oh, the dark, 'seen everything, done everything' Faith I would be at my arrival in Sunnydale wouldn't exist until well into the future, but it was during this time Kate gave me the nickname. It started with her holding me and saying, 'You have to have faith things will get better,' when I was in my darkest moods.

Kate loved famous quotes and always seemed to have an appropriate one on the tip of her tongue. For a while in the earliest days of our living together she would leave little 3x5 note cards on my dresser or on the mirror in the bathroom with famous quotes involving the word, 'faith'. For a long time these note cards were my only memento of Kate and the time we spent in Pittsfield. But like everything in my life, these too were eventually taken from me, as they disappeared sometime while I lay comatose for months after the fight to the death with Buffy.

At least I still remember one of my favorites, a short verse by Robert Browning:

You call for faith:

I show you doubt, to prove that faith exists.

The more doubt, the stronger the faith, I say,

If faith o'ercomes doubt.

Anyway, eventually we got through the worst of it and I began to accept that my parents were really gone and this was now my new life. Perhaps it was a blessing Kate's job was in an almost rural area and life was so different from Washington D.C. We spent lots of weekends hiking in the surrounding Green Mountains and the first winter I even learned to ski.

We spent almost two years in Pittsfield and by the end I was almost the happy person I had been before the loss of my parents. I had friends at school. I had been on a couple of dates. Life was starting to feel like more than just something to be survived. Those years had been good for Kate, too. She had gotten her name on the byline of several investigative articles which reached the attention of the major newspapers and several job offers rolled in. Kate had no desire to spend her whole career in a small backwater town and since I would be leaving for college in a couple of years anyway, she ended up accepting an offer from the Boston Globe.

I was sorry to leave my friends at school, but I could see how much this meant to Kate and so I tried not to make too much of a fuss as we packed our belongings and moved back to the big city.

But things started falling apart almost as soon as we reached Boston. I can't believe the Globe would give what was effectively a rookie, the assignment Kate began working on. Of course, Kate was always a go-getter and most likely she started the investigation on her own time. When we arrived, Boston was in the midst of a string of disappearances. It seemed to be in the news almost every day. With twenty people missing in less than two months, it was the biggest local crime story since the Boston Strangler almost forty years earlier.

Most of the disappearances occurred at night in the area down by the docks. As I am sure you can guess the start of the disappearances coincided with the arrival of the old, master vampire, Kakistos. Not that we knew anything about vampires at the time. No, everyone naturally assumed this was the work of some poor, deranged human. And Kate was hell-bent on getting the story and the one responsible.

Night after night she visited the waterfront bars frequented by dockworkers and merchant marines looking for leads on the disappearances. Finally, one night, barely five weeks after our arrival in Boston, she never came home. Usually she didn't return until long after I had gone to bed, but every morning she would be there to see me off to school. But that morning when I woke up I knew in the pit of my stomach the rest of the apartment was empty.

I clearly remember it was a Thursday. Not just any Thursday, no, it was the Thursday which happened to coincide with my fifteenth birthday. Kate had promised a special surprise after school and I had checked the paper the night before and knew 'Goo Goo Girls' were playing in Cambridge all week. Kate had seen them in Buffalo during college, she had all of their CDs, and she always talked about taking me someday to a concert. So I had gone to bed really excited.

But seconds after I woke all thoughts of concerts were forgotten as I somehow sensed something was terribly wrong. I jumped out of bed and ran to her room, but the bed was empty. I raced around all four rooms of our apartment not finding any sign of her. Eventually, I ended up slumped on the floor of the kitchen, my legs pulled up tight to my chest. It couldn't be happening again. It was like my thirteenth birthday and losing my parents all over again, as I knew in my heart I would never see Kate alive again.

I spent hours huddled in the corner of the kitchen with no idea what was going to become of me. I was in a strange city without any real friends. I didn't really know anyone to call where Kate worked. If I called the police and reported Kate missing, what would happen to the just turned fifteen-year-old me? I had seen enough TV to know I didn't want to get sucked into the Boston juvenile system. So the hours of the day slowly passed and I couldn't imagine how my life could get any worse, but of course it got much, much worse.

An hour after dark someone started pounding on the door. I was still sitting on the floor in the kitchen in a daze and it wasn't until Kate starting calling my name that I even noticed the noise. Startled, the adrenaline pumped through my body as I surged to my feet and raced to the door. It never occurred to me to wonder why she didn't just let herself in.

I ripped open the door and there she stood. At first glance she looked about the same as always, maybe her medium brown hair was a little more disheveled and a couple of extra buttons on her blouse were undone. I was so relieved, I let slide the subtle hints that something was wrong. I mean, shit, Kate had been the whole center of my life for the past two years and I thought I had lost her forever.

Throwing my arms around her, I pulled her into a tight hug. Between my sobs I barely got any words out. "Kate, Kate, Kate. . . . . . You scared me so much. . . . . . Where have you been?"

Kate didn't return my hug, but just stood there. "I met some new friends, Dana. Friends, I would like you to meet, too."

Kate hadn't called me Dana in months and she made no mention of my birthday. It should have set off alarm bells in my head, but I was barely listening to her words. She hadn't left me! It wasn't going to be like with my parents. I just continued to slowly rock as I hugged her.

When I didn't respond after a few seconds, Kate pried my arms free. Pushing me back to arm's length, she tilted my head back until I was looking into her eyes. "Dana, you need to go change. You can't go out in your pjs."

I glanced down and noticed I was still wearing my pink floral pajamas from the morning. Nodding, I looked back up at Kate's eyes and finally noticed their feverish glow. I had seen a similar look before on the faces of kids at parties, the kids who took drugs. But I couldn't believe Kate would be doing drugs, she had always been such a straight arrow. The one time Sara, my wildest friend back in Pittsfield, brought some marijuana to our apartment; Kate had grounded me for a month.

Grinning with relief, I turned and headed towards my bedroom. I had only gotten about four steps when Kate called out.

"Dana?"

I turned back to find Kate still standing out in the hall.

"Kate, what are you still doing out there? Come help me pick out the right thing to wear."

Looking back, I realize what I took for a smile on her face when she stepped into the apartment was actually a smirk.

When we reached my bedroom she helped me pick out what to wear: black jeans, black leather jacket, and one of Kate's old Nirvana concert tee-shirts. Then she added dark eye shadow and dark lipstick, which with my naturally pale complexion resulted in a complete 'Goth' look. When I made a last minute stop in the bathroom before we left, I found myself staring at what almost seemed like a stranger reflected in the mirror. I think that evening I perhaps subconsciously understood the final few pieces of the 'Faith' jigsaw puzzle were about to fall into place and the last vestiges of the 'Dana Tasker' my parents would have recognized were slipping away.

After about a twenty minute drive, we reached one of the seediest parts of the waterfront, a place where before that night I would have been grounded for life for visiting. The street was lined with cheap bars, and for the first time ever I saw what had to be actual hookers standing near the corners.

Kate led me to a bar called 'Patrick O's', although surely the name was a hold-over from the long ago days when this had been a respectable, working class Irish neighborhood. Inside, the air was a thick blue haze. The noise was horrendous as people shouted to be heard over the house band which was playing some old Metallica tune. A few people were out on the postage stamp sized dance floor, but the majority were clustered around the three grungy pool tables.

Kate never paused as she strode straight through the bar area. I meekly followed along trying to stay close enough to be Kate's shadow. At fifteen I had never been in a real bar before and I certainly never expected my first one to be a dive like this. My outfit and appearance may have made me look a few years older than my true age, but I still looked by far the youngest of anyone in the place. A number of the men were leering at me in the most frightening way, but Kate never slackened her pace as she moved relentless towards a doorway at the back.

We passed into a hallway which helped attenuate some of the noise from the band and the bar crowd. Kate walked up to the third and final door on the left side of the corridor, pushed the door open, and stepped through. I had no real choice but to follow.

The room, while surprisingly large at about twenty by twenty feet, was just as dingy as the rest of the establishment. The walls were covered with avocado green wallpaper which had to have been out of style for at least fifty years. The room was furnished with a couple of old, battered couches that looked like they had been salvaged from a dump. It also had a much abused wooden dressing room table from which the expected mirror had been removed. All in all, the room gave the impression of being or having been the band's break room.

The room was already occupied by four other people, two couples all in their early to mid twenties. As we stepped into the room, they all turned to stare at us for a moment. It only took that moment for it to register in my mind that the man from the first couple and the woman from the second couple had the same feverish eyes Kate was exhibiting.

"It's about time you got here, Kate," said the first man. "You don't know how hard it is to just sit here waiting to feed."

"Sean, you know the offerings must go to the Master before it is our turn," answered Kate.

I had no idea what they were talking about, but words like 'feeding', 'offerings', and 'the Master' were sending chills down my spine.

"I can't wait," said the other woman with the feverish eyes. Suddenly, as I watched in horror, the woman's face transformed into a hideous mask with hard, inhuman ridges across her brow, huge yellowish eyes where the irises seemed to enlarge until not a hint of the whites remained, and, most scarily, upper teeth so long and protruding they extended well past her lower lip while her mouth remained closed. But her mouth didn't remain closed for more than a couple of seconds as she quickly turned to her male companion and sank her elongated teeth into his exposed neck.

"Gail, stop!" shouted Kate and Sean, almost in unison.

Before Gail responded a sickly, sweet metallic odor seemed to permeate the room. At the time I didn't recognize the smell, but now after long years of experience, I know it was the smell of fresh blood.

The smell quickly overwhelmed what little self-control Kate and Sean possessed. After only a couple of seconds, Sean's face too had assumed the classic 'vampire' mask and then he lunged at his young blonde companion.

My attention was forced to Kate as she moved closer to me. Like the others, her face too has taken on a demonic appearance.

"Kate, please," I said at barely a whisper, as I slowly backed away until my back was against the wall.

But Kate gave no response, no explanation or apology, just maintained a steady approach to my trapped position. I couldn't move my gaze away from her hellish, blood-lust filled yellow eyes. They were so incredibly hypnotic.

The little part of my brain that was still functioning was stuck in a loop saying over and over, 'this can't be happening, let me wake from this nightmare. This can't be happening, let me wake from this nightmare. This can't be happening, let me wake from this nightmare.'

However it was happening and Kate finally reached me. As she turned her head to reach my throat, I could no longer see her eyes and they lost their hold over me. All I was left with was the smell of her fetid breath. It was the worst thing I had ever smelt in my life. How had I not noticed this back at the apartment or during the drive here?

I braced myself for the end. Then just as her fangs touched my neck for the fatal plunge, it happened. The Powers That Be choose that instant to bestow my slayer gift. Perhaps at the second Kendra died I was in the greatest need of all the potential slayers. Or perhaps it was a cruel joke on their part to throw me into to deep end to see if I would sink or swim knowing if I didn't survive the next few seconds they could always just give the gift to the next potential slayer waiting in line.

Regardless of what motivates the Powers to decide which candidate is selected, on this occasion they selected me. Instantly, it felt like a bolt of lightening had struck my body and a massive electrical charge was surging through me. A convulsive reflex shook me and without thinking I shoved Kate away from me with all of my strength. Kate flew across the width of the room and slammed into the far wall with sufficient force to cave in the drywall. She slid to the floor, momentarily stunned.

This action was enough to attract the attention of the other two vampires away from their feeding. Although the way their victim's bodies slipped lifelessly to the floor, they may have been finished anyway.

Sean was the first on his feet and came charging towards me. Almost of its own volition my body stepped away from the wall and then spun into a round house kick. My foot connected with his face and the sound of his shattering jaw filled the room as his body careened off to crash into the dressing table which shattered under the impact.

I was never into anything like martial arts when I was growing up. The closest thing I had ever done was a couple of years of ballet lessons back in D.C. So I was just as surprised by the round house as Sean had been.

Therefore after seeing how easily I had tossed Kate across the room and then the blow I had delivered to Sean, you would have expected Gail to be a little more cautious. But she raced in just as recklessly as Sean had. It wouldn't be until I had a lot more experience that I would understand the demons controlling newbie vamps didn't fully understand the real world and would do stupid things.

Without even thinking about it, as Gail reached me I threw a hard right cross and drove her to the floor. For a moment I just stood there staring at the havoc I had wreaked against these three people. No, I couldn't think of them as people, they were some kind of monsters. Still, this had been the scariest moment in my life since being on top of the skyscraper back in Miami when I was just a little kid, but this time I wasn't behaving like a frightened little girl. My body was almost vibrating with power.

However I didn't understand what was happening to me or what I was up against. You should never pause in a fight with vampires and let them recover. No, you fight hard and fast until they are all nothing more than dust. But I didn't understand at that moment what they were. Oh, I had seen the fangs and the bites on the necks however the new reality my life was entering hadn't yet sunk in.

The three vamps were all back on their feet and arrayed in a row before me. Abruptly, they all charged at once hoping to overwhelm me by weight of numbers. My hands and feet were a blur and in twenty seconds I was again the only one standing. But I didn't get off scot-free this time, I was sure at least a couple of my ribs were cracked. I could still move and fight, however it was becoming obvious I couldn't win without a weapon. And that's when a scene from an old Dracula movie popped into my head. A scene where Van Helsing, played of course by Peter Cushing, pounded a stake through Dracula's heart. It was finally clear, even to me, that these monsters were vampires and if I was going to win I needed to find a stake.

The first wood I saw in the room was the shattered dressing table and I made my way over to it. Well, fought my way over would be more accurate. By the time I reached it I had taken a blow to my left knee that should have crippled me. It hurt like hell, but I was still moving. I grabbed a broken leg which had a sharp end and spun around thrusting it towards the nearest exposed chest. This chest happened to belong to Gail and she got a shocked look on her face just before she burst into a cloud of dust. Although the expression on my face may have been even more shocked than hers at what the stake had done to her. In the movies staked vampires always died so much slower. And the good guys always had to use a big mallet to pound the stake home while I shoved it into her chest with my bare hands.

For a moment I lost my focus staring at the dissipating cloud of dust. But I was quickly brought back to the reality of the situation when I was grabbed from behind and tossed across the room. I landed hard and what little was left in my left knee failed completely as it buckled and pitched me to the floor. I turned it into a roll and made it to the far wall where I slowly leveraged my way back upright.

I stood there breathing hard; the pain in my left knee was unbelievable. Of course it only somewhat overshadowed my broken ribs or the side of my face where my right eye was almost swollen shut. Still, this incredible power throbbed through my body and as I clutched my stake, no way was I ready to give up and die.

Sean grabbed an old wooden coat stand from the corner and came in swinging. I tucked my stake into the back of my pants and raised my hands to defend myself. As the heavy shaft came whistling in, I staggered a half step closer. Pivoting to my left, I caught the end of the rack with my left hand and then continuing to turn I used a right forearm strike to the center of the shaft to snap it in two. Then completing my rotation I ended up facing Sean with the outer half of the coat rack in my left hand. Sean's expression was almost as shocked as Gail's as his own improvised weapon rammed through his chest.

As his body disintegrated, I let the weapon drop to the floor and turned my attention to Kate, or the creature who had once been Kate.

For some reason she looked even more demonic than either Sean or Gail; I am sure it was the fact I had spent every day for the past two years with her. I mean, we had spent hours before the mirror together as she taught me the fine art of subtly applied makeup. I had come to know every feature on her face, from the small mole above her right eyebrow to the twenty seven freckles across her high cheekbones. This sudden travesty of the Kate I had known made my heart ache. Although I hadn't yet accepted in my head what I was going to have to do, in my heart and soul I think I already knew.

"Kate, please don't do this," I pleaded.

Kate slinked forward like a hooker from a bad movie giving one more indication that my Kate was lost, even if her body was still standing in front of me. She gave a big toothy grin, but it merely looked pathetic around her long fangs and deformed brow.

As I sagged back against the wall, I carefully pulled out my stake and hid it along my forearm. It was time to end this and put us out of our miseries.

"I love you, Kate," I said with a shake of my head. Then lowering my eyes, I continued. "Do what you have to do."

Kate stalked forward licking her lips in anticipation.

Whispering, "I'm sorry," I abruptly used an underhand swing to drive the stake through Kate's heart.

A shocked look crossed her face and then, for just a fraction of a second, I thought I saw the old Kate before her body, too, burst into a cloud of dust.

The raw, as yet vaguely understood, power of the slayer seemed to drain from my body as quickly as a staked vampire can turn into a pile of dust. I crumpled to the floor as the enormity of the situation started to sink home.

I had just killed Kate. My aunt. My guardian. My best friend.

All day I had thought she was gone forever. Then she returned as a monster and I was forced to kill her. What had I done to deserve this? First my parents were lost and now Kate. Was I the real monster, somehow causing bad things to happen to everyone I loved?

The tears which had been building up all day finally burst forth. Kate was really dead and I was totally alone. I lay there on the floor for a long time sobbing, just me and the two lifeless, drained victims of the vampires. And so passed my fifteenth birthday.

Chapter 5 Part 3

Buffy always complains about hating birthdays and how bad things always seemed to happen to her, but on the whole I would have to say my birthdays have been worse. On my thirteenth birthday I saw my parents for the last time. On my fifteenth birthday I was forced to kill my aunt Kate. I spent my sixteenth birthday hunting down and killing four of the Mayor's former 'associates'. My seventeenth birthday was spent in a coma. My eighteenth and nineteenth birthdays passed in prison.

As we sat there on the floor of the bathroom of some ancient demonic hotel suite, all the thoughts of birthdays past reminded me of my rapidly approaching twentieth birthday. What new disaster was about to befall me? Would I ever be free of the birthday curse? Now that I was working so hard to be a force for good, would the Powers reward me with a true happy birthday? It would be a wonderful birthday gift to be reunited with my Mom and Dad. Was that too much to ask of life?

I was pulled from my morose musings by a question from Rebecca.

"Faith, this place is incredible. Was it like this in Sunnydale, too?"

I looked at her and her eyes were clear. Now that she knew the bite wasn't going to turn her into a vampire, it was amazing how quickly she was able to put it behind her and focus on the current situation. Was it a result of her secret agent training? Or was she a good agent because she had some natural gift in this area?

"No," I shook my head. "Sunnydale had nothing like this that I ever saw or heard about. But then Sunnydale's hellmouth was extremely active for something like a hundred years. The amount of destructive magic used by the countless demons and other creatures who tried to gain control is almost unimaginable. Perhaps Sunnydale housed a facility like this a hundred years ago, but by the time I arrived it was just a maze of destroyed or partially collapsed tunnels and ruins."

"Archeologists will have a field day down here," Rebecca continued as she reached up to adjust her glasses before she slowly got her feet under her and worked her way back upright.

I grabbed her arm to steady her during the moment it took to regain her balance. "That may be true, assuming of course they survive down here long enough to achieve any results."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, assuming we are able to clear out this current infestation of vampires, the hellmouth will just attract another group of demons within a few weeks. Back in Sunnydale there was a constant influx of creatures wanting to use the power of the hellmouth to take over the world, or end the world, or do something involving the world. Sometimes it got to the point where we just stood back and let the monsters duke it out and then we would finish off any survivors.

"On the other hand, if the archeologists did find a window between the various groups of demons, there would still be the problem of the hellmouth subverting their minds. It is very dangerous to spend extended periods of time near the hellmouth. I mean, the effects we saw back in the statue chamber were just a small sample."

Rebecca looked at me with a questioning expression. "What effects are you talking about? I didn't notice anything. At least once I got past the shock of seeing a chamber like that buried under a major city. Why hasn't anyone ever stumbled across this place in the past couple hundred years?"

I barely heard the last part of Rebecca's comments. How could she have not felt the effects of that chamber? "Wait, go back for a second. You didn't feel anything when we were up close to the first statue?"

Rebecca shook her head and from her expression it was obvious she had no idea what I was talking about.

"Kelly, how about you?"

"Oh, I definitely felt something; it's just hard to explain. Ah . . . it's like if you took all the best things about Leonardo diCaprio, Orlando Bloom, and Jude Law and rolled them into one person . . . and then that person was standing in front of you and said, 'Kelly, more than anything in the world I want you to have my child.' My stomach was filled with butterflies, my knees went weak, and other things, well, you know," and Kelly started to blush furiously. "I said it was hard to explain, but looking at that statue was sort of like that, only more."

That wasn't quite the way I would have described the feeling, but I had been around the block a few more times than Kelly, probably a few hundred more times. But the point was the statue had a strong effect on Kelly, too. So why not Rebecca?

"What about when Kevin transformed? Anything unusual then?" I asked.

"Ah, not really. Oh, when his eyes turned all big and yellow it was impossible to look away, but otherwise he seemed just like the other vampires we fought on our way down here."

So, when Kelly or I were close to a statue, we were overwhelmed by its mere presence. And when I was up close to Kevin he seemed like the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Whatever was causing the effect in that room, the lighting or something else, it affected slayers but not a normal human. Was the unknown source which provided our special abilities somehow tied to these creatures? Suddenly, this place seemed like it might provide answers the Watcher's Council never could about the origins of the slayers. However, at the same time, this place suddenly felt even more dangerous than the Sunnydale hellmouth. What if we stumbled onto something which even more drastically affected Kelly and me? That could dangerously affect our options down here. It means when we are down here, we need a mixed force of magically enhanced and normal humans to safely cover each other's backs. With Rebecca in a weaken condition, it was time we started to focus on getting out of here and calling for reinforcements.

I bent down, picked up my leather jacket off of the floor, and slipped it back on over my black sports bra. "It's been quiet for a few minutes. Hopefully, we have lost the vampires for the moment. I think it is time we start thinking about getting out of here." I looked Rebecca in the eye. "I think we need to assume there are no longer any survivors from your people down at the docks. If the master vampire has turned at least fifty people in the past two days, he is not making any attempt to be low profile. If he feels that in control of the situation, I don't think he is going to be keeping prisoners unless there is a very special reason. No, he is busy turning everyone he can get his hands on. The scope of things suddenly feels a lot bigger than when we first entered the museum. We need to get out of here with the intel we have gathered and get some reinforcements."

Intel? Wow, only a few days around these people and I was already using 'spy-talk'.

Rebecca was nodding as she motioned for her sword. "Yeah, it is definitely time we regroup. Any idea how to get out of here?"

"No. All I know is that I am not going back into the statue chamber unless it is the absolute last resort."

I cast one last look around this ancient demon dwelling, trying to burn the details into my memory in case they might provide some useful clue to Giles and then I headed for the door.

We hiked for over an hour trying to locate another exit from this giant buried facility. We had managed to avoid the vampires, but our path seemed to be taking us further and further underground. The scale of the place was unbelievable as we passed through one magnificent chamber after another.

Rebecca had been holding up surprisingly well considering the blood loss and the shock to her system from the vampire attack. But she was beginning to stagger a little and the last six hundred step flight of stairs had left her more winded than it should have considering it had been downhill. It was definitely time to pause for a break.

I took the first passage leading off from the main corridor we had been following. I don't know if the Powers were guiding my choice or if it was random chance, but ten steps down the passageway and my vampire sense went nuts! There were vampires ahead, and not just newbies. Our search for an alternate exit had instead led us to the master vampire.

Without even thinking about it, I moved to one side of the passage and pressed my back tight against the wall. Rebecca and Kelly quickly followed suit. Slowly I edged forward towards where this passage opened into another large chamber perhaps 100 feet further ahead. My sense of dread was steadily growing as we approached, particularly as I noticed the faint hint of an orangey-purple tinge to the light ahead. Was this going to be another room filled with the dreaded statues?

As I reached the large chamber, I realized this passage let out onto a gallery which circled high above the main floor. And like many of the other places in this facility, this gallery was designed for creatures that could fly. It was about fifteen feet wide, but there was no protective railing of any kind; you could just walk straight ahead and step off into the abyss. I edged around the corner onto the gallery and moved along the inner wall far enough so Rebecca and Kelly could join me without being silhouetted against the passage. Then I dropped to my knees and crawled to the edge of the gallery to look down.

The main floor of the chamber was circular and must have been about two hundred feet across. It was surrounded by seven tiers of galleries and we were on the fifth one up. As with most everything else down here, this chamber was sized for the giant winged creatures which meant each tier was twenty feet tall and we were about one hundred feet above the floor. The ceiling of the chamber was giving off the light blue glow we had found throughout the facility. The orangey-purple glow I had noticed from the passage was coming from a giant sphere similar to the ones we had seen suspended in the original statue room. This globe was hanging below the level of our tier and to one side of the main chamber. From our current position I could tell there was another one of the giant winged statues directly below the sphere, but all I could see was part of a wing and an arm. If we wanted to get a clear view of the statue we would have to move about a quarter of the way around the perimeter of this gallery. But I had seen enough of the other statues for the time being and felt no strong urge to get a better view of this one.

Besides, there were other more interesting things clearly visible from our current position to hold my interest. The most important was the great seal embedded into the floor and covering the entrance to the hellmouth. I could feel the power, the evil emanating through the seal even though it looked to be fully intact. The seal was about thirty feet across and like in Sunnydale it was fabricated from some dark ebony-colored metal. Unlike Sunnydale, the magical protective locks had never been disturbed; they continued to glow a bright incandescent gold which was almost painful to look at. The locks were in the form of sentences inlaid into the surface of the dark seal. The sentences were in at least four distinct styles or languages. I couldn't actually read any of them, but they all felt almost like they were on the tip of my tongue trying to get out. Was this another aspect of the slayer heritage?

But the hellmouth seal was something which barely registered in my peripheral vision as my whole attention was drawn to the master vampire standing between the great seal and the giant statue. Oh, there were fifteen to twenty newbie vampires down there, but I could sense the power of the master. Bathed in the orangey-purple light of the globe, she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Tall, majestic, even from a distance I knew she was taller than Rebecca and that she would simply tower over me. Her pale, ghost-white skin was perfectly complemented by her shoulder-length jet black hair. From the high angle of our gallery and the distance of at least two hundred feet from our current position I shouldn't have been able to make out her eyes, yet I knew they were a light silver with an almost mirror finish like you find on the special contact lenses for the Halloween season. All of the vampires I have ever met have dressed in dark colors, the better to blend into the night. But not this one, she was dressed all in silver and gold.

I could feel the arousal coursing through my body. It wanted to throw itself from this balcony and run to her. Beg her to take me, to use me. I struggled to hold my body in check, but couldn't help the small whimper which escaped my lips. I so wanted her, needed her.

It took every ounce of my inner strength to force my body back from the edge of the gallery until the vampire was lost from my sight. Once I could no longer see her, the effect diminished enough so I could once again remember who I was and where I was. And I was just in time to see Kelly starting to rise to her feet, her eyes showing the feverish glow of someone out of control.

Quickly, I grabbed her by the waist and pulled her back from the edge. She began to struggle and it took all of my strength to hold her while I clamped a hand over her mouth to keep her from giving us away.

"Kelly, Kelly," I whispered urgently in her ear. "Take deep breaths. You are in control. Take deep breaths."

I continued to whisper and cajole her for almost a minute before the light in her eyes faded a little. Finally, she sagged and then nodded she was okay.

As I had been struggling with Kelly, Rebecca had crawled over. Now, she whispered with the fear in her voice up additional notch or two, "What is the matter?"

I motioned Rebecca up until our three faces were almost touching. As a residual effect from the vampire, the close female contact almost pushed my hormones back over the top. Fortunately, enough of the orangey-purple light was leaking over the edge of the gallery that Rebecca's and Kelly's flesh looked half dead. I guess I am never going to be attracted to the undead like Buffy.

Swallowing hard, I answered. "Did you see the master vampire down there?"

"You mean that ugly creature with the cloven hands and feet and the straggly black hair?"

"Yeah, only under the light or energy or whatever that globe is emitting, to us slayers she looks like the most desirable creature who has ever existed. From this far away I can barely control the urge to jump from this balcony and run to her and beg her to take me. It was like this back in the chamber of statues with Kevin, but she is many times more powerful and desirable than a newly turned vampire. If I get any closer to her under this light I won't be able to save myself.

"Rebecca, since it doesn't seem to affect you, you need to go back and watch what she is doing."

Rebecca glanced from me to Kelly and then back again before nodding and crawling back to the edge.

She had only been there for a few seconds when I started to hear the sounds of chanting coming from the floor of the chamber. And just like with seeing her, the vampire's voice was almost enough to overload my senses. As I sat there in a daze, I vaguely wondered if this is what Ulysses experienced when he was tied to the mast of the ship and heard the Sirens.

The chanting went on for several minutes before a brilliant green burst of light came from below completely overwhelming the orangey-purple light from the globe and even the pale blue light from the ceiling. The green light held steady for several seconds before slowly fading. When it was gone, the light returned to the state it had been in before. What was the meaning of the light? Had the vampire's chanting in combination with the flash of light broken the seals on the hellmouth? Surely if it had, I would sense the difference like I could feel when the First had broken the seal on the hellmouth back in Sunnydale. But the feeling of chained and controlled evil coming from it felt the same. Had the vampire failed in its attempt to open the hellmouth?

The chanting stopped and after several more minutes of agonized waiting, Rebecca slipped back from the edge of the balcony and crawled back over to us.

"What happened?" I blurted out, unable to hold my patience for one second longer. At least I had kept the volume down to almost a whisper.

Rebecca was looking a little more shaken than she already was from all of the events during this long, hard night. "I think . . . I think . . . I think the statue moved."

The statue we had seen down on the floor had been the farthest thing from my mind. "What do you mean - the statue moved?"

"The vampire was facing towards the statue as she was chanting. As she came towards the end, she pulled a large green crystal from the sleeve of her robe. She raised it high into the air and at her last word the crystal emitted a bright flash of green light. While the crystal was glowing the strange light from the globe seemed to go dim and that's when I saw the statue's wing move. I am sure I saw it."

"The vampire was facing the statue?" I asked not immediately grasping the situation. "Not towards the hellmouth seal?"

"Yeah, she was definitely facing the statue."

What was going on? Why was she trying to animate a statue? Animate. Oh my god, what if that wasn't a statue. What if none of them were statues? Shit, shit, shit. What if all of the statues were really ancient ones and the strange orangey-purple globes were somehow keeping them in suspended animation? Shit, shit, shit. Why would she want to bring back the ancient ones? Stupid question, Faith. All demons are, by definition, crazy.

"But after it was all over, the globe thingy is the same as before?" I asked. "The vampire failed, right?"

Kelly interrupted. "Faith, what are you talking about? What is going on?"

I turned my attention from Rebecca to Kelly. "I don't think the giant winged statues are really statues. I think they are the ancient ones and I think the globes are somehow keeping them frozen in time."

I could see Kelly turning this over in her head. But she hadn't experienced the world of dark magic before tonight. All she had experienced were a bunch of easily defeated newbie vampires. She hadn't been around an active hellmouth for years like I had. And neither had Rebecca.

"A long time ago the ancient ones ruled the world. I don't know what stopped them, but if they come back it could mean the end of the world as we know it."

They obviously could see the seriousness in my face. Both of them turned a little paler.

"But the globe is still glowing and the creature has stopped moving. Everything is still going to be okay, right?" asked Kelly.

I shrugged. "For now. Maybe. But what if the vampire tries again?"

"It just emphasizes the importance of getting out of here and getting help," said Rebecca trying to get us pointed forward again.

And that's when it happened. That's when I received my first true slayer VISION. I know Buffy has received a few, but it had never happened to me. What did it say about the situation when the Powers felt I couldn't just muddle through on my own without direct intervention? Now I was really scared.

The vision didn't help my fear factor any. No, suddenly I had never been more afraid in my life.

The vision was of my mother.

In the vision my mother was dressed in a black evening gown, all slinky and sexy. However the gown was torn and filthy like she had been wearing it for days. She was unconscious and stretched out on a marble slab in what looked like a dungeon with chains hanging from the walls and the lighting provided by blazing torches.

Three other women, who also were wearing ragged, lived-in clothing, were arrayed on similar slabs. I didn't recognize any of these three women, yet there was something very familiar about their faces. I just couldn't quite put my finger on it.

The four slabs were arranged in a cruciform pattern and in the center stood a slender, older man with a gray goatee wearing a coarse dark brown robe. The man was chanting in some strange language that sounded very similar to what the vampire here had just been using. As the chanting rose in pitch, the man lifted a large clear crystal. At the final word of his incantation, a scarlet mist, matching the color of the crystal, started to rise out of the bodies of the four women and spiral inwards. When the mist touched the crystal it was quickly absorbed and slowly it turned darker and darker until it was a shade of scarlet that almost looked black.

And then the vision turned very scary. As the man lowered the crystal, I was forced to watch my mom's body and those of the other women slowly collapse in on themselves. The vision was of my mother's death!

As abruptly as it arrived, the vision ended. I was left there gasping for breathe as I could feel the tears rolling down my face. After years of believing my parents were dead, I finally received a glimmer of hope they were still alive. Now, after three days of ever increasing hope, all of my dreams were being dashed. Why had I been give this vision? How could watching my mother die possibly help me?

As I sat there with my back against the wall of the gallery, I clasped my arms about my upraised knees and started to rock. Even though I hadn't seen my mother in almost seven years, it was like she had been briefly returned to me and then ripped away; much like Kate had been briefly returned to me before it was revealed she was really just a vampire.

As though from far away I heard someone whispering my name, but it wasn't until Rebecca used her hand to raise my head that it fully registered.

"Faith, what is it? What's wrong?"

"I, ah, I just had a vision. A slayer vision. It was of my mother being sacrificed in some demonic ceremony. Rebecca, my mother is dead!" And then my tears turned into silent sobs.

Rebecca wrapped her arms about me and held me. I squeezed her back tight, maybe too tight.

After a minute or two, Kelly quietly asked what a slayer vision was.

I loosened my hold on Rebecca and rubbed my eyes. "Sometimes the Powers give the slayer visions of the future to help her defeat her enemies. My friend Buffy, who has been a slayer a couple of years longer than me, has received several. But this is my first. Why did it have to be of my mother's death?"

"Faith," began Rebecca with her typical analytical response. "If the vision is of the future, then your mother isn't dead yet. Maybe the vision is trying to warn you that you must do something to prevent her death. Maybe it would help if you describe it in detail."

The vision had been so vivid; my mother's death had prevented me from seeing the true meaning of the vision. Of course, the Powers were warning me it was necessary to save my mom as part of the greater task of defeating this latest evil. Once the logic was clear, I was able to calm down and describe what I had seen.

When I finished talking, Kelly spoke up. "Faith, I think I was given a vision or a set of visions or something, too."

Rebecca and I turned to look at her.

"What did you see?" I asked, hoping it would clarify my own vision.

"It is all very confusing. It was like I was given two different visions simultaneously and they are sort of jumbled together."

"Just do the best you can to describe what you saw," said Rebecca in a soothing tone.

"Both visions start the same way, the beautiful vampire we just saw is once more standing before the statue or, I guess, frozen creature down below. Again she is holding the large green crystal. This time at the end of the incantation, the glowing globe over the creature goes dark and stays dark. The creature gives a couple mighty flaps of its wings and then lightly floats down from its pedestal. When it lands, the vampire drops to one knee and bows its head.

"The strange thing is, although there's nothing different about the chamber or anything, I for some reason have the strong impression it is Christmas time," concluded Kelly with a small frown as though she was still trying to figure out where that impression had come from.

"It must be the Winter Solstice, which is four days before Christmas and the most powerful day for dark forces in the entire year," I responded. "Perhaps that's why the vampire failed in its attempt tonight."

"But why give me a vision now, if the Winter Solstice is almost seven months away?"

"Because my parents are trapped in a Hell-dimension, a place where times runs about one hundred fifty times more slowly than here. They were kidnapped and taken there almost seven years ago, but from their perspective only a little over two weeks has passed. We thought we had about a year in our time frame or almost two days in the Hell-dimension before the window of opportunity with the inter-dimensional doorway would close. However your vision says we have to complete our rescue mission and get back here to Cleveland in less than seven months. Or put another way, we have less than a day on the other side to wrap things up."

I shook my head for a second before continuing. "We know this vampire has ties to Romania where the doorway to the Hell-dimension exists, but how does the rescue of my mother tie in?"

Kelly got a peculiar expression on her face. "Your parents were kidnapped seven years ago?"

I nodded.

"My mom also disappeared seven years ago."

I stared at Kelly for a minute and then it clicked. "Did your mom also have red hair and maybe a small birthmark on her neck below her right ear?"

Kelly gave me a startled look. "Yeah, how did you know? I was only seven when it happened, but Dad still keeps a family photograph on his dresser and the birthmark is clearly visible."

"Because I think she was one of the other women being sacrificed with my mom in my vision. And knowing that, I now understand why all of the women looked sort of familiar. The other two women are also mothers of new slayers I knew back in Sunnydale. That's the answer. For some reason it is important the energy being channeled into the crystal is coming from the mothers of slayers. And until five days ago, there have never been four simultaneously active slayers. That is why they have been holding my parents; they couldn't perform their ceremony until the other slayers were activated."

Now it was Kelly's turn to almost go into shock. "You mean my mother is alive?"

"I think so." Grinning, I turned to Rebecca. "I think you just got another volunteer for the mission to Romania and the Hell-dimension."

I could see the wheels turning in Rebecca's head as she tried to figure out how she was going to explain this latest turn of events to Trilby.

I turned back to Kelly to find a goofy smile on her face. I am sure my expression when Gib first told me my parents might still be alive hadn't been much different.

"Kelly, you said there was more to your vision?" I asked.

Slowly her smile faded and her expression turned more serious. "Yeah, it was right after the vampire knelt before the creature that the vision seemed to split in two. It was sort of like watching a movie under a strobe light. I was getting a one or two second flash of one version and than a second of the other.

"In one version a man with a gray goatee enters the chamber and walks up to the others. After the vampire rises, the three turn towards the great seal over the hellmouth. The vampire raises her green crystal and the man raises a dark, almost black crystal. The creature starts chanting some words and then a beam of light stabs out from both of the crystals. The beams merge and stream across the golden lettering on the seal. As the beams sweep past, the lettering slowly and steadily starts to disappear. The vision ends just before the last of the gold lettering is wiped out."

Kelly paused for a moment to look at me before continuing. "In the other version of the vision, you and a different man run into the chamber instead of the man with the goatee. After pausing inside the entrance for a second, you lift a large clear crystal into the air. Quickly, the vampire climbs to her feet and raises her green crystal. Brilliant beams of light pour forth from the crystals. When the beams connect a blinding flash of light encompasses the entire room. And that's when that version of the vision ends. I have no idea if anyone in the chamber survives the blast because the blast is extremely powerful," she concluded with an apologetic shrug.

I turned Kelly's words over in my mind. The clear crystal I am carrying must be the same as the dark crystal the man is carrying in the other version of Kelly's vision. So I have to retrieve the crystal before the man uses it on my mom and the others. Well, duh, like I am going to let him use it to suck all of the life force out of my mother. No way, ain't going to happen.

Then my mind turned to the mysterious man with me in the chamber.

"Can you describe the man with me in your vision?"

"Hmmm," said Kelly as she closed her eyes in concentration. "He looked about forty and he was extremely well-built. He had the biggest chest I can ever remember seeing."

Well, that brief description certainly would fit my dad. I suddenly wished her vision had also included my mom safely back from the Hell-dimension, too.

At that point things suddenly got quiet as both Kelly and I sat thinking about our long-lost parents. Finally, after a couple of minutes Rebecca tugged lightly on our sleeves.

"Come on guys, time to get moving. This information doesn't do much good down here and we still don't have any idea how to find an exit from this place. Let's go."

Kelly nodded and then paused to pull me into a tight hug. After a few seconds, she pulled away and crawled to the passage out of this tier and followed Rebecca around the corner.

I took a moment to sweep my gaze one more time around this ancient, rough-hewn chamber. Suddenly, what had started as a simple rescue mission for my parents had grown into something more. Of course, being the slayer seemed to mean every situation ended up flirting with an apocalypse. At least, if Kelly's vision was true, the next time I saw this chamber my father would be at my side. My Dad at my side, boy that sounded good.

TBC

Author's Note:

Wow, over fourteen months since my last update. Is that some kind of record? (And not the good kind of record.)

What do you think? Is the story heading in an interesting direction? Do you like the interludes filling in some of Faith's missing years?

Do you want another chapter in the near future, or are you happy to wait another fourteen months? If you're not excited to see more, I will just go back to my on-going Smallville saga. So take a minute or two to drop a review, interesting comments will more likely cause a quicker update.

Have a great day,

Duane