"Willow, wake up! You're going to be late!"
Those words piercing through her fog clouded mind, Willow Rosenberg let out a horrified squeal and shot up out of bed, looking at the alarm clock on her nightstand and surprised to find that it was five minutes past eight.
"Oh, no! I'm going to be late for school!!"
Fumbling out of bed, she made her way hurriedly into the bathroom, discarding her clothes as she went until she had arrived fully nude in the shower, emerging from it only after a few minutes of bathing herself and drying off to the best of her ability given her haste. Thankfully, a neat pile of clothes had been laid out on the toilet seat for her. Dressing quickly, and silently thanking her mother for being nice enough to do that for her, she reached for her backpack, which liked the clothes had been brought by her mother to the bathroom for her, and made her way into the kitchen.
"Mom, why didn't you come check on me when I never got up in time for breakfast?"
Her mother, as calm and patient a woman as Willow had ever known, looked absolutely flustered that her daughter would even ask such a ridiculously obvious question. "Willow, you can't expect me to be able to check on you every day and wake you up. You've got to start learning to be more responsible. And besides, you wouldn't sleep that late if you didn't spend all night on the internet chatting with your friends." Planting her hands on her hips, she added, "When are you going to grow up and accept some responsibility for your actions?"
Willow would have liked to argue with her mother about that, but she also knew that she didn't have the time, so she simply grabbed her lunch bag from the counter and made her way out the door. Hopefully if she ran quickly enough, she would be able to get to the bus stop before it arrived.
Unfortunately, her hopes were soon dashed as, having made her way halfway down the street at an all out run, she saw the all too familiar shape of the bus passing right before her eyes.
Sighing, she slumped against the wall of a nearby building, determined not to make a spectacle of herself. It wasn't the first time that this had happened to her, and she knew for a fact that it wouldn't be the last. But in this instance, she would at least try to make an attempt to be calm about what had just happened and not act like the crybaby that her supposed best friend Cordelia Chase often said she was.
But no matter what, she couldn't help it, and soon the tears began to flow. She told herself that what she was doing didn't make her as much of a crybaby as Cordelia thought she was. After all, everyone had their ups and downs in life. It just seemed that her life was much more down than up. But at least she was good in school…well, not as good as she wanted, but it wasn't like she failed a lot of tests, just one on the average…every week. But she wasn't flunking out. That was something to be thankful for. And she had a good heart, truly caring about the people she was lucky to call friends.
Even Cordelia, despite the fact that she was mean to her more often than she would care to admit, though Willow noted that it usually wasn't without a good reason, and almost always because she truly had Willow's best interests at heart. And as much as she complained about it, it wasn't like Willow was ungrateful about it. After all, it was truly a sign of the friendship that the two of them shared.
And Cordelia, for all of her teasing, never let herself forget how grateful she was for that friendship. There were few others in town that would treat her as Willow did, often considering her to be particularly strange, spreading rumors around town that she got visions and spent all of her time at an old hotel communing with the dead. But Willow had never played towards the crowd, and had made a rare effort and tried to be friends with the girl. And as surprised as she was at her rather uncharacteristically bold attempt to do so, she was equally surprised to find Cordelia easily relenting, telling Willow later on that of all the people she had known in her life, the redhead was the only one who would be friendly towards her without any hint that she was condescended to.
Letting go of the past, Willow was about to prepare herself physically and mentally to make the long distance run she would need to make in order to get to school on time, when she heard the sound of voices somewhere nearby. Voices that she couldn't recognize, yet voices that sounded as if they were being mean to someone.
Hearing the tone of those words immediately put her on edge. She had often heard words shouted at her and at others in a similar manner, and if there was one thing she couldn't stand, it was seeing the helpless getting picked on by people who truly should know better.
Running towards the sound of the voices, she saw a group of school aged children attacking what appeared to be a rather large cat. Her ire instantly raised, Willow ran towards the kids, flailing her arms about to catch their attention.
"Hey! Leave that cat alone!"
The kids, looking up from the cat to find someone much larger than they were coming at them, immediately scattered in different directions. As they ran around the corner, Willow found herself left alone with the cat. Now that the kids had gone, she was able to get a better look at it. Getting down on her knees, she gave it a cursory glance. From a distance, it didn't appear to be anything other than an ordinary run-of-the-mill black housecat.
But up close, she was able to pick out an interesting, and quite distinctive, feature: a golden crescent moon affixed to its forehead.
Reaching out with one finger, Willow gently brushed it across the crescent moon; thinking that there was no way that it could be real. But after several moments of rubbing her fingertip against it, she had to accept the fact that it was a permanent marking. But what was strange was that, although there wasn't any evidence of the crescent moon being affixed to the cat by glue, tape or some other adhesive, there was also no real evidence that this was a tattoo or some other marking to the cat's forehead. For all appearances, it was as much a part of the cat as her fur and tail were.
And she couldn't quite tell, but it almost felt as if the cat was using it to…call out to her.
Willow chuckled slightly, realizing the impossibility of what it was she was thinking about. As she did, her head found itself looking down at the wrist where she had hastily strapped her watch mere minutes ago, and immediately became aware of how late she was truly going to be if she didn't head off to school right now. Getting to her feet, and hoping that the suddenness of her action didn't frighten the cat, she rounded the corner and ran down the street as fast as she could.
Seeing the young woman depart, the cat walked towards the edge of the street, looking down it at the departing figure with a glance that, were she a human being, would almost be described as curious. She had definitely felt something from this young woman. When she had brushed her fingertip across her forehead, the cat had picked up something from her. Something that felt almost familiar.
But the cat realized that what she felt could mean anything. She could be the one she was looking for, but it was just as likely that she could be an enemy.
She would have to follow this girl and learn more about her in order to be sure one way or the other.
"You're going to be late again, Willow. Snyder's going to have your head if he finds out."
"Then I'm just going to make sure that he doesn't, Amy."
Willow had ran all the way to Sunnydale High School, finding her best friend Amy waiting at the steps for her. The pair had then made their way inside, trying the best they could to get to their homeroom class without drawing the attention of the rather stern authoritarian of the school. It would be bad enough that Ms. Calendar was going to chew them out for being late, but Snyder was in a whole other league. They certainly did not want to face his wrath.
"This is the seventh time you're late this month, Willow," Amy hissed through clenched teeth. "And you know that Snyder's just looking for any excuse he can get to have you suspended. Do you really want to give it to him?"
"Of course not," Willow huffed in reply. "But you know what they say, Amy. You're only in trouble if you get caught."
Willow and Amy, at hearing the voice, paused and slowly turned around. Sure enough, the rather assuming figure of Principal Snyder was standing in the hallway behind them. He began to walk towards them, withdrawing a small notebook and pen from his breast pocket.
"I guess this means we're in trouble," Amy muttered.
"That's one detention slip for you, Miss Madison," he said, handing a piece of paper to Amy before writing another one and handing it to Willow. "And I do believe that's eight for you, Miss Rosenberg."
"I know, Mr. Snyder," Willow said, her voice that of a hushed whisper. "It's just that…my alarm clock…"
"I don't want to hear it, Miss Rosenberg," Snyder said, cutting off Willow's argument, one she knew wasn't about to count a great deal. Then, in a much softer tone of voice, continued, "I know that you have a lot of potential Miss Rosenberg, but you need to stop using it so irresponsibly. When are you going to realize that the only way you are going to succeed is to take charge of your own life and make something of yourself?"
Willow sighed and allowed herself to be taken down the hallway towards her class, knowing that no matter how much she tried to convince herself otherwise, Snyder, much like her mother had been, was right. The only way she was going to make something out of her life was to take it into her own hands and make something useful out of it.
But what could she really do about it? There was nothing that spectacular about her. There was nothing that set her apart from the rest of the school. For that matter, there was nothing about her that set her apart from the state, country or world, for that matter.
She was nothing more than a mousey little geek. What did it matter if she didn't get good grades nor had cool friends? Who would really care?
The morning had passed by rather uneventfully. Ms. Calendar, her homeroom teacher, had, as expected, not been impressed to find that Willow had been late for class again. Willow had tried to apologize, but hadn't been able to find the words she wanted to say that could make things better. And to put the icing on the proverbial cake of badness that this day was fast becoming, she had been given back her last Math test to find that she had gotten a thirty five.
"Mom's going to kill me," she whispered as she made her way to her desk, watching as Ms. Calendar walked up to Winifred Burkle, the school's resident genius, and was not entirely surprised to watch her say that the slim brunette had gotten the best mark in the class. Winifred took it all in stride, saying that it was no great accomplishment on her part, but Willow knew that the young woman must be enjoying every minute of it.
There was also the introduction of a new student to their class, one Anya Jenkins, whom Willow could see was nothing but the living perfection of beauty, and thus was someone that wouldn't take notice of her unless she happened to get in her way by accident.
All in all, a perfectly normal day for a perfectly normal girl.
"I don't know what I'm going to do, Amy," Willow moaned, sitting with her back to the wall of the school, her test paper in hand.
"Calm down, Willow," Amy said, taking the test from her friend's hand. "It's not like it's the end of the world or anything." She then got a chance to look at the test, and her face visibly contorted into one that mixed surprise and shock.
"I know," Willow snapped, snatching the paper back from Amy's hand and letting it drop to the ground as she buried her face in her hands. "I thought I had studied enough to prepare for that test because, hey, you know me. Math's one of my favorite subjects. But then when I get in there and got handed the test, it was like getting handed a French test when you had spent all of your time studying for a Spanish one. What was I supposed to do?"
Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a young man with black hair and inconspicuous clothing emerged from around the corner. "Hey, Willow. I heard you did pretty badly on the latest Math test. If you want, I could tutor you and make sure that you're ready for the next one."
Letting out an exasperated groan, muffled as it was by the fact that her face was still buried in her hands, Willow made her frustrations pretty well known to the newcomer. Willow Rosenberg getting tutored by Jonathan Levinson? How embarrassing would that be?
Amy, apparently thinking along the same lines, walked up to the newcomer. "Get a clue, Jonathan. Willow doesn't need to have her brain overloaded with any more stress right now, especially when it comes from the likes of you. What she needs to do is calm down and try not to let this situation eat away at her too much." Walking back to Willow, Amy grabbed her by the hand and dragged the redhead to her feet. "And I know just the thing that can help. Come on."
Willow allowed herself to get dragged to her feet, letting out a sigh. "OK, Amy. But wherever it is you're taking me, don't expect me to enjoy myself."
Jonathan watched the two girls depart and shook his head. They would rather go off on some little adventure than study? What was wrong with them?
"Sometimes I just don't understand girls."
The place was enshrouded in darkness, the only sound the faint dripping of water somewhere in the labyrinthine cave which had been her home for countless millennia. The throne in which she sat had been carved out of the stone wall, and was an impressive sight to behold. A sight that, due to the angle in which it rested relative to the surrounding area, would instantly cause any who wished to be in her presence to feel submissive and subservient, a design influence intended to make sure that those who did wish to speak to its occupant, or even to be in her very presence, never once questioned who was truly in charge.
Yes, this place had been her home for countless millennia, but that would soon be coming to an end. And if there was one thing that pleased Faith more, it would be to bring revenge to the descendants of those who had placed her here.
Looking down from her throne, she saw the four individuals whom she had summoned, each of then on one knee out of respect to their Queen. They were, at one time in the distant past, the most loyal friends and guardians of Earth's Crown Princess, Endymion. But she had used the magicks granted unto her by the great Queen Metallia to usurp her dominant will over of their minds and bring them under her control. They, like her, had been sealed away after the battle which should have been her crowning achievement. And they, like her, had waited long to exact their revenge.
Of course, had she not taken the precaution of keeping them under her spell for all of these centuries, they would have turned on her almost immediately, their loyalty to their former Mistress, despite what she had done, as unshakable as the stone walls that surrounded her. Thankfully, her control over them had never wavered in all of this time, and thus they remained as she had made them: her most loyal warriors and the instruments through which her revenge would be enacted.
"Come forward," she spoke in a hushed whisper, though in this place, even the most quiet of words carried with it the weight of an anvil.
The four approached their Queen. Their leader, a deathly pale man with long dark hair, wearing the clothing and sword that signified his rank among the others, spoke, "All is in readiness, my Queen. We have put into motion the first of our attempts to gather the energy of the people of Earth for your purposes."
"Very good," Faith mused, a wicked smile on her lips. "In the meantime, we must also divert our attention to finding the Mystical Silver Crystal. Its energy will help us immensely." Looking at her four subordinates, Faith broke out into a smile. "But which of you is worthy enough to be entrusted with this task?"
"Let me, my Queen," one of them spoke up. "I shall do my task for the simple pleasure it would bring to you, and not to further my own ambitions."
Faith gave the man a cursory glance at the man, whose dark hair was cut short, perfectly framing a rather ordinary face that would appear to be attractive only to the most shallow and vain of women. His style of dress indicated that, among the four, he was the least in rank. And she knew that his power matched that rank. Yes, Xander certainly would accomplish the task for the love of his Queen, but his talents were clearly not suited for a mission of this importance. Finding the Mystical Silver Crystal was of utmost importance to her, and was not a task to be handed out to her least experienced General.
"No, let me, my Queen" said another of the men, his long red hair and feral countenance giving him the appearance of a fearsome predator, his style of dress indicating that he was superior only to the one who had first spoken. "With all due respect to my comrade, his power pales in comparison to my own. I shall be able to find that which you seek within days, whereas my comrade would require months, perhaps years. But, like my brother, I too shall do this in honor of the one that I serve faithfully."
"No!" came the retort from the one whom had yet to speak, his platinum blond hair tied in a ponytail and dressed quite casually, at least in comparison to his comrades. He too wore the uniform of the others, but did not go to the trouble of decorating with useless adornments or unnecessary pieces. It was clearly a statement of his modesty towards the one he served, his deeds rather any trophies choosing to speak for themselves. "Oz may have some power, my Queen, but I have been trained by the great Angelus. You know of his strength and his prowess. He has served you faithfully, as have I. Allow me to prove my worthiness to you and our cause by giving this task to me."
"Spike is correct, my Queen," Angelus spoke, giving his comrade an appreciative glance. "However, I would be remiss if I did not point out that for all of his talents, he lacks my…patience. It is for that reason that I would like to recommend myself for the task of locating the Silver Crystal. It may take some time, but rest assured that I shall find it."
This comment brought about a retort from Spike. "With all due respect, my friend, we have not the time for patience. You heard our Queen yourself. She wishes the Crystal to be found now, so it must be found now. And since I clearly have all of your skill and none of your restraints, I do believe that would make me most suited for the task."
"What you would call restraint, my dear Spike, I would call caution," Angelus responded.
"Caution did not help us on that glorious day so long ago," Xander pointed out. "In fact, it was the suddenness of our attack which brought about our victory."
"Yes, Xander," Oz snorted. "A victory that cast you, me, our Queen, and all our followers to this barren wasteland for countless centuries."
"But at least we succeeded!" Xander responded.
The argument between the four continued for several more minutes, and Faith allowed them the opportunity to banter between themselves. Although she was irritated when they argued, there were times when it pleased her immensely. It kept them at the top of their games, and ensured that none of them could fully trust the others. There was the anomaly that Angelus had seen fit to teach Spike all that he knew, but in the end, even that served her purpose. It made Spike powerful, Angelus cautious, and herself amused.
Gradually, however, she came to be annoyed at the proceedings such as they were and, raising a hand, sent a burst of energy into the wall directly above the heads of her underlings. Nothing powerful enough to cause the cave to collapse around them, but enough to catch their attention, and bring it back to the place where it truly deserved to be.
"Enough," she stated. "The four of you are my most powerful warriors, you all know this. Any one of you is worthy of this task, but I still require our current operation to gather energy to be monitored." Chuckling slightly, she gestured towards Xander. "Xander, my dear, will you see to that?"
"Anything to please my Queen," Xander responded, bowing her heard in respect, though it was obvious from his body posture that he was greatly displeased with being handed a task that he presumed to be beneath his exaggerated abilities. Faith didn't particularly care about how he felt, knowing that once she gave him a task, he would complete it to the best of his ability.
"And Spike will assist you."
Both Xander's and Spike's heads turned to look at one another, then towards Faith. "With all due respect, my Queen, I do feel that my talents would go to waste assisting Xander. He clearly isn't worthy of either this task or your love. I do believe that my skills would be of better use finding the Silver Crystal for you."
"And I do believe that I have made up my mind," Faith stated flatly, bringing the argument to an end before it had a chance to even begin. "Spike, you and Xander shall handle the task of gathering the energy while Angelus and Oz begin preparations to find the Silver Crystal. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, my Queen," came the response from all four of them.
Faith's eyes sparkled with intense passion, a passion that was tainted by the ferocity with which that passion came. Her warriors would accomplish their tasks without fail, she knew. And with their help and the power of Queen Metallia at her disposal, the Earth would quickly fall under her heel.
And there was no one that would be able to stop her.