I fight as if my very life depended on the outcome of this battle. I fight only vaguely aware of how close to the truth that statement really is. My life does indeed hang in the balance during this fight; not only mine, but the one that I love with all of my heart.
It's our love that keeps me going. It's our love that gives me strength. It's our love that makes me fight so valiantly against the enemy poised to kill us both.
It's our love that gave that enemy cause to attack us. It's our love that made this possible.
It's our love which sparked the end of days.
"She doesn't deserve this," I think to myself. "Neither of us deserves this." I shake my head as the absurdity of my words becomes all too clear to me. When we agreed to keep our love a secret, even from the ones sworn to protect us, we knew very well the problems that would happen should our love become known. We've had this coming.
"Well, it doesn't mean I won't fight to delay, and perhaps even prevent, the inevitable."
I stare into the eyes of my opponent, a deceptively beautiful young woman whose beauty, accentuated by her long dark hair and hazel chestnut eyes, is tempered by the wildness of that hair, and the cold rage simmering in those eyes, rage that promised that she would not rest until I was struck down dead by her own hand.
An event that, I'm loathe to admit, is more than likely, despite my best efforts, to occur sometime within the near future.
I do my best to stave off her advances, but I know that, with the battle having gone on so long, it would only be a matter of time before I made a mistake she would be too happy to exploit; a mistake which would lead to my death.
"I will not fail her," I told myself. "I won't!"
I blocked a downward strike that would have bisected me, the force of the blow driving me down to one knee. My other knee gave out moments later as my strength began to ebb at the weight pressing down against me, the combination of that and my fatigue driving my ability to defend myself down to marginal levels.
And then it happened. The mistake I knew I would make. The mistake I feared I would make. The mistake that led myself to easily have my blade knocked away and, laughing in triumph, allow my opponent to bury hers within my chest.
I felt pain at the action, but only for a moment, for it quickly faded to be replaced by a numbness, as if with the stabbing, a vital piece had been knocked away from the foundation of a building, causing the rest of the structure to collapse in amongst itself.
It hurt like hell. But what hurt worse was the fact that I had failed. I had failed to protect the Princess, and in doing so condemned her to join me in death. Turning my head to look at where she stood, I struggled to find the words to express my sorrow.
I collapse to the ground, my strength to live flowing from my body like water rushing down a stream, the surrounding area losing focus as I plunged headlong into darkness, the only thing I could perceive the inhuman sound of my opponent's laughter.
And the wail of grief from my beloved.
Tara awoke with a start, her heart racing as she gripped the sheet with a vice like strength that came to her readily from the adrenaline coursing through her as the memory of the nightmare came back to her.
No, it wasn't a nightmare. It was a memory.
Settling back down on the bed, her heartbeat slowing down as she recovered her wits, Tara leaned over to one side to take a look at her alarm clock. "6:30am?" She let out a breath in exasperation. "Most normal people are already awake by now, having breakfast and generally going on about their business without having to needlessly worry about things." Lowering a hand to rub the spot where, in her dream, she had been skewered, Tara half smiled and came to a rather sobering conclusion.
"Then again, I don't have the luxury of doing that, do I? And I'm not exactly normal, aren't I?"
The smile on Tara's face widened as she realized that most people, especially people her age or younger, had a point in their life when they felt as if they weren't normal. Usually it happened in their teenage years, lasting for some time before, as they entered adulthood and realized their place in the world, that sense of detachment faded and they became, more or less, functional members of society.
For Tara, that moment had begun when she was six years old, and persisted throughout the whole of her life, leaving her with the very real feeling that she wasn't, nor would she ever be, a functional member of society.
Of course, it didn't help that for the most part of her adult life, she had spent much of her nights as a costumed vigilante; her actions borne out of her desperation to find that which she hoped could bring about the key to solving the mystery of who exactly she was and how she came to be here at this place and time.
And why she had, despite her misgivings, gotten involved with a relationship with Willow.
Tara had eventually found the answer to that question, learning that she was important to her in more ways than she had imagined. "Who would have thought that I would have found both my past and my future in someone so dear to me in the present?"
The image of her girlfriend appeared in her mind's eye: wispy, auburn hair framing an innocent and cheery face that was capable of a wide range of emotions. When that face showed sadness, you could not help but be touched. It was also capable of giving the most expressive and most heart warming of smiles. It was, in short, the image of the perfect woman.
It was also an image that went completely against the one that she had gotten to know Willow by over the course of the past three months: the blonde, pigtailed form of the Sailor suited Soldier of Love and Justice, Sailor Moon, sworn to defend the Earth from the forces of the Dark Kingdom. More than that, she was the reincarnation of Princess Serenity, heir to the ancient Moon Kingdom and keeper of the Mystical Silver Crystal.
The Mystical Silver Crystal, which was the very thing she herself had been looking for.
And all it had taken was once again being stabbed by a female warrior working with the enemy. This time, however, it was due to the actions of one of Willow's friends, having been brainwashed by the enemy into working against her. During her stay, Tara had told Willow that she would work together with her and the rest of her friends in finding a way to get her back and put an end to the threat that the Dark Kingdom posed to Earth. But while Willow had readily agreed to her help, the others were less than happy for her assistance.
It didn't really surprise Tara all that much. It had been her assistance, after all, that had driven a wedge between Willow and her friends and led to Fred being captured in the first place. And knowing now that it was a secret piled among other secrets that, had they been avoided, could have prevented so much trouble, it wasn't difficult to sympathize with their position and realize that it was going to take them all a while to get used to things.
Sighing, Tara got out of bed, stretching out her stiff joints and kinks as she moved to the bathroom, coming to another inescapable conclusion. "I may not be normal, but I certainly have to act like it."
Emerging from the bathroom twenty minutes later, a towel wrapped around her body, Tara sifted through her dressers to pick out the clothes she would wear that day. Normally choosing to wear flattering tops and long hemmed skirts, she instead chose to wear a pair of denim jeans and a tank top that not only heightened her obvious assets, but gave her the overall look of a truck driver, rather than a voluptuous woman.
"Why not?" she thought to herself as she put the shirt on. "I act like one at night, I might as well dress like one during the day."
Moving to sit down on her bed, Tara reached over to the nightstand and picked up the remote to her TV, intent on watching some of the morning news. She was about to turn on the TV when she began to hear the faint sound of a piano playing somewhere nearby.
It was not the first time she had hear it, either. It had been mere days after Willow had gone back home after spending her winter break here that she had first heard it. And at least once a day ever since. It was strange, certainly. But what was stranger was the fact that her nightmares had begun almost at exactly at the same time.
Getting off the bed, Tara followed the sound of the music to the living room, finding in the center of the room a large grand piano. She briefly wondered where it had come from when she noticed something even more disturbing. Sitting at the head of the piano, hands moving over the keys with the skill of Mozart himself, was a figure clad in white and silver, a figure that turned to look at her now and smiled.
The single word conveyed a familiarity between the two of them that was clearly obvious to him. And while, much like when she had first encountered him, she was certainly familiar to him, the feeling certainly was not reciprocated on Tara's part. All she knew of this person was the fact that he was one of the enemies' servants; and that he, along with three others, had attacked downtown Sunnydale three weeks ago. In the time since, despite learning all that they could ever hope to use against herself, Willow and her friends, they hadn't made a move against them.
So why was he confronting her now in this fashion? "Only one way to find out," Tara thought as she cleared her throat. "Who are you?"
The smile on the man's face widened a fraction as he chuckled slightly, his hands never leaving the piano keys. "I'm surprised you haven't figured that out by now. Then again, I can't really blame for you for that. I've been trying to figure out the answer to that question myself. And if I can't come up with an answer, I certainly can't expect you to do so."
"So what exactly do you expect me to do?" Tara asked, her patience and willingness to go along with this game already wearing thin.
"Remember," the man whispered, the tempo of the music he was playing picking up. "Just...remember."
As the music grew in loudness and intensity, the piano and the man playing it began to fade from sight, leaving Tara alone in the living room, her only company the melody that continued to play long after the source had disappeared.
And the memories that music brought to the surface of her mind.
Spike drew a breath and let it out slowly, opening his eyes as he did so. He had hoped to make a connection to the Mistress this time, but he had failed to do so once again. Looking up at the ceiling, he sighed, knowing that after a lifetime of confusion on both of their parts, he couldn't expect things to right themselves within days.
He would continue to try, however. He had to make that connection to the Mistress, and by association, to make the two halves of his personality, the courageous and honourable warrior that served the Mistress and the psychotic emotionless war machine that Faith had manipulated him into, become one.
But it was dangerous to do so out in the open. Only through this way could he hope to accomplish his goals. Faith needed to know that he was still under her control. And there were others that could hamper his best efforts.
Much like the one who had just entered the room. "What are you doing?"
Spike turned to look at the newcomer, not at all surprised to find that it was Angelus. The expression on his face telling him all he needed to know. "I'm doing something that doesn't concern you."
"You're trying to contact her, aren't you?" Angelus asked, moving to begin circling the piano like an albatross circling the vulnerable carcass of a wounded enemy. Knowing that there was no way to answer that question without Angelus making him pay for it, Spike decided to give his comrade a reason to do so.
"So you've recovered your memories, as well? I would have thought that you strength of will was such that not even the energies of the Crystal would have manipulated your mind. Then again, if Faith could corrupt your mind as easily as she did, perhaps your mind is not so strong after all."
Spike knew his words would bring a reaction from Angelus, and so he was not at all surprised to feel the other's hand on the back of his head mere seconds before it was sent violently into the piano keys, the impact producing a loud, discordant note that reverberated throughout the room.
"You insolent fool," Angelus spat as he loosened his hold on Spike's head and allowed him to right himself. "What is it that you hope to accomplish by doing this?" When Spike did not answer him immediately, he turned to leave, getting halfway across the room before he got an answer.
"I think it might be a good idea for her to be made fully aware of the seriousness of the situation." Angelus stopped and turned back to find Spike standing defiantly before him, his eyes boring deep into his own. "Especially if you plan to kill her."
"It has to be done," Angelus replied. "She was responsible for what happened in the past, and must be stopped before it could happen once again."
"All the more reason to reawaken her memory fully," Spike countered. "If you truly believe that the Mistress must die, she should be made fully aware of why that must be so." An uncomfortable silence followed this before he added. "It is curious, though. You were once considered to be the most loyal of us. What would make you want to so willingly break your vow to protect the Mistress?"
Angelus knew the answer to this question, seeing in his mind's eye the image of his comrades dead at the ruins of the Moon Palace and himself discovering this and howling in grief and rage at seeing them dead. He was not at liberty to share this information, however, and so said instead, "Perhaps what I seek to do is another form of loyalty. And I won't allow anyone to stay in my way." Withdrawing his sword in one fluid move, he brought it up against the side of Spike's neck. "Not even you."
Spike wasn't at all fazed at the thought of having his life ended at the hand of the man who had trained him. In fact, he was disgusted by the way his leader, his teacher...his friend was behaving. It was not the man that he had once known.
"You changed," he whispered.
Angelus held his gaze on Spike and his sword to his neck for several more seconds before sheathing it and turning to leave. Spike stood where he was for some time afterward before he returned to the piano and began to play once more.
"I will help you, Mistress," he thought. "And in doing so, perhaps help all of us."
"This is where I belong. This is where I should be."
In the time since Faith's declaration that his services were no longer needed in her mission, Oz had kept mostly to himself, wondering what it was that he had done in order to earn the scorn of his leader. It hadn't taken him long to figure out what the answer could be: his failure to secure the Crystal. And now she had abandoned all hope in seeing her mission to restore the power of Queen Metallia succeed, instead choosing to place all of her trust in the hands of a brainwashed Soldier and one that would act as her shadow, being her eyes and ears in the human world.
"I should be that shadow!" he thought, drawing his sword and looking at his reflection in the polished blade, growing disgusted at what he saw there: the face of a failed warrior and a failed companion.
Letting out a guttural roar, Oz got to his feet and began to strike out at the walls around him, sending sparks and stone chips flying everywhere. Spinning on his heel to strike the wall behind him, he found his strike halted by someone standing in front of him. Once the anger he felt at this faded, Oz realized who it was, and willed his body to complete the motion he had started, seeing in front of him the one who was the living embodiment of all that troubled him.
"You are enraged," Sailor Mercury said.
"No kidding," Oz snarled, wrenching his sword free of Mercury's grip and throwing it to the ground, the nose from the act echoing throughout the chamber. Slumping against the wall and sliding to the floor, he blew out a breath, expecting the former Soldier to ridicule him much like Faith or one of the others would have done were they in her position.
"You have so much rage within you. So much sadness."
Oz looked up to find Mercury looking back at him, her expression of emotionless curiosity now tinged with sympathy and understanding. "I know what its like to have feelings of anger towards those I considered friends. They all acted in their own self interests, never bothering to realize the damage they were doing to me until it was too late. I've always felt alone, but never so than prior to that moment."
She walked over to Oz's sword and picked it up by the blade. Moving back to where the young man sat, she held it out to him. "I don't like being alone. No one should have to be that alone."
Reaching out, Oz hesitated before wrapping his hand around the hilt of his sword. Watching as Mercury walked off, he turned his attention back to his weapon, looking once more at his refection in the blade before letting out a snarl and tossing it aside.
"Being pitied by a Sailor Soldier! How embarrassing!"
Faith closed her eyes in an attempt to blot out the headache she was feeling, but all it managed to do was remind her how this headache was the result of how badly things had gotten so out of control recently.
It was all supposed to have gone so well. After God only knew how long of being imprisoned in this place, she had finally managed to manipulate events that would see her released from this living nightmare and have things set on the path that would see her on the path to her rightful place as ruler of Earth.
And then, just as quickly as things had started to go right, it had all gone horribly wrong. Her warriors desire to please her and bring about that which she wanted had led them all too quickly to fight and bicker amongst themselves, a rather unavoidable side effect of the spell she had enacted on them after they had been resurrected. And then the Guardians of the Princess had made themselves known, meaning that now her plans for world conquest had become even more complicated.
And then her life had plunged directly into the abyss when the Princess had made her appearance when, during the last battle between her warriors and the Soldiers, the mysterious stranger who had been assisting the Soldiers had been dealt a fatal blow. Overcome with grief, she had unleashed the powers of the Mystical Silver Crystal; its light washing over all of those present, not only healing the one who had been injured, but shaking her control on the Shitennou, which had already showed signs of deteriorating given Angelus' actions against her.
He was the one who had been most affected by that incident, his memories of the past no doubt having reasserted themselves. Spike may have also been affected, she could not be sure. He was behaving rather strangely, at any rate, but that was nothing worrisome. As long as he kept his disobedience to a minimum, she was content to leave him be. Xander and Oz did not appear to be affected, which did not surprise her. Their competition for her affection was such that it blinded them from anything that would distract them. If they had been affected, their desire for her would no doubt be stronger than any memories they managed to recover.
This meant that when it came to attacking the Sailor Soldiers and the Princess, Faith had to resort to two others. Mercury was certainly capable of doing so, and had not appeared to be affected by the energies of the Crystal, meaning her hold on the former Soldier was stronger than it was on the Shitennou. It didn't really surprise Faith to know this. The seeds of distrust and hatred for her former comrades had already been implanted in her mind. All she had done was cultivate and nurture them, allowing them to blossom to the form she wished them to be.
No, Faith did not have any fear of imparting unto her the task of eliminating the Soldiers. And even if she were to fail, there was one she had sent to wait in the wings, picking her opportunity to work her way into the Soldiers' lives and embarrass them to the point where their defeat would be easy. In this way, she would do what she had always done: turn a defeat into an opportunity for victory on another front.
"Soon," she thought as she let out a breath and visibly relaxed. "Soon I will have the power of Metallia and the Silver Crystal in my hands. And with their combined power, there will be none to stop me from getting what I want."
A small smile formed on Faith's lips, only to change into a grimace as her headache flared up again. She shut her eyes to fight against the pain, hearing as she did so the faint sound of a piano playing somewhere nearby.
"And what I want most at this moment is to find out who is doing that and rid myself of his presence forever."