"You want to do something."
The question - no, it wasn't a question at all, but a statement of fact - came at Willow from all direction inside of the white void she found herself in, her only sense that she was not in freefall the feeling of the ground beneath her feet. The voice sounded familiar, and yet she couldn't put a face to it. Its tone, however, was crystal clear to her; taunting, condescending and petulant. Whoever it was clearly saw great pleasure in taunting her over this issue.
"You want to help her, don't you?"
"Yes!" Willow shouted into the open air.
"But you can't." Again, it was not a question, but a statement of fact. "You've seen what Faith can do. You know what length's she'll go to in order to cause us pain. There's nothing you can do to stop her, and you'll just end up dead if you try."
"But I have to try!" Willow insisted. "I just can't sit here and watch as Tara goes off on her own all trying to be noble!"
"You don't have to, though. You can save her."
The response to that question came in the sound of falling footsteps, and an approaching body that Willow could see coming towards her. Despite the brightness of the area, the figure was in complete shadow, and it wasn't until she was mere feet away that she saw who it was, letting out a small gasp as she recognized who it was.
It was herself. Or, to be more accurate, it was Princess Serenity. Whom, after a moments pause, started forward again.
"Let me take control."
Willow tried to move, but found herself rooted to the spot. As her other self made contact, she arched her back, trying with all of her limited strength to resist the intrusion. To her surprise, she found her resolve weakening in light of what Serenity had said. It was true that she had no idea how to save Tara, and was too weak to do anything. But perhaps with Serenity's wise and guiding hand, she might be able to do so. She immediately relaxed and let her take control.
The moment she did so, she immediately regretted it. Her will and self control were unceremoniously thrown aside, and replacing them was the greatest concentration of negative emotions she had ever experienced. Anger. Hate. Fury. Resolve. They all ran through her as easily as blood, and they all gave her the power she needed to save Tara.
It was ironic, really, that it would not be her that was to do it.
In her chamber, Metallia slumbered, growing increasingly disgusted by the lack of progress Faith had made towards fully restoring her power. In all honesty, it wouldn't surprise her in the slightest to find that she was doing this to stall as she plotted to find some way of harnessing her power to her own advantage. It was that determination and willingness to manipulate others that had caused her to seek the woman out and use her as the avatar through which she brought about the Moon Kingdom's destruction.
It was an attitude that would no doubt ultimately lead to her own end, and Metallia would have no greater pleasure than to bring that about, but it was also an attitude that had led to the incessant squabbling between her and her warriors, and which forced her, at present, to capitulate and, for the time being at least, put her fate in the hands of a untrustworthy individual and her equally treacherous underlings.
"When the Crystal is mine, I will have the power to crush all those who stand in my way," she mused. "I will have no further need for Faith or her machinations. I will be free to act on my own, and then she will know what true power..."
Her train of thought came to an end as she felt an enormous rush of power infuse her being. Letting out a roar, she could feel herself gaining strength by the moment. At this rate, it would not be long before whatever it was returned her to full power.
But just as she cusped the edge of that hill, whatever it was that had happened faded, and as it did so, she could feel her power recede slightly. She retained some of what she had gained, but not enough for her liking.
There was only one explanation as to what had happened. This had happened once before, but not to this extent. Unlike now, it had only been a minute development, but its occurrence had coincided with the locating of the Crystal.
"The Crystal. The Princess is using the Crystal!"
Everyone watched in stunned surprise as, following Willow's bold declaration, she started forward, her body undergoing a startling transformation as she did so, her body becoming engulfed in a bright light. No one was more surprised than Faith, once more angered that ultimate victory had once again been snatched from her grasp. Turning towards the Soldiers, she let out a throaty snarl.
"What's going on here?"
"We don't know anymore than you do," Fred snapped back.
Cordelia turned to Anya. "I'm betting one of us does." If Anya registered the comment, she showed no sign of it.
Willow came to a stop after walking a few meters, the light that had enveloped her fading as she did so. However, the person that stood there bore only the most superficial similarities to Willow Rosenberg. She was still clad in her Soldier uniform, but it had taken on a more regal appearance, laced with silk and pearls, her tiara now a string of beads with a ruby at the center, and a small crown perched on her head.
It was far from a dress style suitable for a superhero, let alone a teenager. It was, for all intents and purposes, more suitable for a Princess.
"I said stay away from her!"
Tara was now not only unsure about what to do, but what was going on. Faith, noticing her hesitation, looked in her direction. "Endymion, what are you doing?"
"Something's wrong with Willow," Tara responded, clearly torn as to what to do. "I have to..."
"You will do nothing!" Faith screamed, turning to the one flanking her. "You four, stop her!"
Raising their weapons, the Shitennou brought them forward, bolts of energy emerging from their tips, all of which were aimed in Willow's direction. Cordelia noticed, to her surprise, that Willow was utterly unfazed at this.
Whether Willow heard her or not, Cordelia had no clue. The next moment, the ground erupted in a series of explosions that sent a cloud of dust and smoke into the air. She bit down a choke and tried not to cry, then looked up in surprise as the smoke cleared, revealing Willow standing exactly where she was, looking no worse for wear.
"Willow!" Buffy shouted. Ignoring her, Willow raised her arm, an expression of barely restrained anger on her now pale face as her Moonlight Stick appeared in her hand, only to morph seconds later into a different sort of weapon; a sword with a sterling sliver blade and a pink grip upon which was inset a very familiar jewel.
"The Crystal," Faith breathed.
Willow brought the sword up and drew a pentagram in the air, rearing back as she was finished and, with the precision and skill of a professional baseball player, used the sword to send the collected energy towards the group, knocking them all off balance.
Faith, clearly having had enough of this, raised her hands, and from them erupted a spectacular destructive force of energy she knew would be enough to finish off the girl. She was thus equal parts surprised and fearful when her attack was effortlessly deflected aside, causing more damage to the surrounding Earth and sending more gravel and dirt into the air. Her distress and concern more evident now than it had been before, she turned once more to Tara. "Endymion, put a stop to this now!"
Tara allowed herself a brief smile; despite her growing concern about Willow's well being, she had to admit that she was in control of the situation, and seeing Faith clearly distressed and losing her temper was bringing a sort of perverse pleasure to her. "Why should I?"
Faith's smile, which had dropped from her face, returned with a vengeance as she raised her hand. "Because she's not the only one I can harm."
Tara followed her arm and watched in surprise as Oz brought his weapon down, blade pointed towards his chest. Her surprise soon turned to horror when, as quick as a blink, he impaled himself on the sword and collapsed to the ground. She soon noticed that everyone in the immediate area showed signs of surprise and shock at the act, even Faith herself, which was the second thing she didn't expect to see.
The first was Willow's total lack of reaction, which soon became something to be concerned about. In all the time that she had known the redhead, Tara had never known her to be anything but emotional about everything that happened to her, even the most ridiculous and silly of things. She recalled vividly the time when Willow had told her about the time she had broken a yellow crayon in kindergarten, and spent the whole of the following weekend locked in her room crying.
Willow was a vibrant and emotional person. And that was not who she was now. And that someone needed to be stopped. A single life, even if it was an enemy, was too much to pay for her safety. She started back towards Willow, noticing her mood improving as she got closer. Then, as they were mere meters apart, let out a startled yelp as Willow embraced her and delivered a passionate kiss.
As she parted, Tara found a smile on her lips. "Oh, Endymion. I've missed you so much. Now stand aside, and let me deal with these ones."
Tara swallowed. "No."
This was clearly not the response Willow was expecting. "What?"
"Willow...Princess, you need to stop this."
Willow's demeanour immediately told Tara that she had no understanding of what she had just been told. "Why should I?"
"Because...because people are going to die if you don't," Tara responded.
Willow tilted her head, clearly failing to grasp that most simple of concepts. "The only people who are going to get hurt are those who keep you from me."
"And what then?" Tara found herself asking. "Once you've finished with them, who are you going to go after? Some mugger who tries to rob me in the streets? Someone who makes me stay overtime at work? Even your friends?" She knew what she was saying was painful, but it needed to be said. "Princess, what you're doing is wrong. If you have to go to such lengths in order to protect me, I'd rather go willingly with them. Please, let me do this to protect you."
Willow's face broke out into a pained expression at those words. "Is that what you want?"
"It's not about what I..."
"Is that what you want?!"
Tara stood firm, realizing now how similar what was taking place here was to what had taken place on the Moon so long ago; and having seen how badly things had turned out afterward, she was determined to do the right thing now.
"Listen to her! It's the only way to save us all!"
"But I can save her. I have the power to rid ourselves of all who stand in the way of our happiness."
"Yes, but you heard what she said. Do you really think that, after you do that, she's going to want to stay with us? I've known Tara for a long time. She would never condone what it is that you're doing, even if it was to save her life. If you do this, you'll lose her forever."
"I'll also lose her forever if I do nothing. Have you thought about that?"
"Of course I have. That's why I'm going to do something about this. Let them take Tara, and let me have control again. Then, I'll figure out a way to get her back, hopefully without having to go all goth emo scary again. It's not a good look for me."
Willow let go of Tara's hands and took a step backward. As she did so, the blonde smiled faintly, glad to see that reason and sanity had taken hold of her. A split second later, Faith's howling laughter pierced the silence.
"You fools. You think you may have won now, but in the end, it all comes down to who has the power. With Endymion in my possession, I now hold the power over the Princess. She won't dare try to stop us now." She snapped her fingers, and in the next instant she, Tara and the Shitennou were gone.
Willow stood where she was, staring off into space at the point where Tara had been, her face wracked with pain and guilt, her body beginning to glow, reverting to her civilian form. A moment after that, she collapsed to the ground.
"Willow!" The others rushed to her aid, hoping that she was alright. As she moved to pick the fallen redhead up, Cordelia looked back towards Anya, who hadn't moved to help her fallen leader. The look on her face was blank and impassive. Slowly, she turned and walked away.
"Why?!" Cordelia found herself shouting to her back. "Why did you do it?! Is this because of the past, too?!" Anya continued to move, apparently unfazed by her words.
"TALK TO ME, GODDAMNIT!"
At that, Anya finally paused, and Cordelia, for a fleeting moment, found herself wondering, nay, praying that she would turn around and try to explain why she had done what she had done. She would even have accepted some sort of cryptic comment designed not to tell the whole truth, just as long as it meant that she was truly affected by what had happened.
But just as quickly as she stopped, she started off again, and did not look back.
And Cordelia Chase, finding herself without the two most important people in her life, began to wail.