Title: Sacrificial Nature
Author: Robyn the Snowshoe Hare
Part: 1/3
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Not mine

Dedication: For Sam.

Thanks to Petronius for the grammar-check.

~*~*~*~*~

"How do I kill her?"

The harsh words cut through the silence of the magic shop. As soon as he recieved the call from Buffy, Giles closed the store. Anya's vocal protests about lost revenue died in her throat the moment that Buffy stalked through the door. For one of the first times as a human, Anya realized that now was truly the time to stay silent.

The focus of all her attention was on the former Watcher, who inwardly trembled at the expression on his protégé's face, an expression that promised a swift death to any who opposed her. As the younger Scoobies attempted to fade into the background, Giles swallowed convulsively in a throat that had suddenly gone dry.

"Her name." Coughing slightly, Giles mentally berated himself for allowing his voice to crack as it hadn't since he exited puberty. Consciously stilling the trembling of his hands, he forced himself to meet Buffy's eyes as he continued. "The prophet Deborah wrote in the third century that 'unnamed evils draw their true power from their obscurity. To name an evil is to force a claim upon it, stripping away its power and bringing about its death."

"What's her name?" came the response in a tone that could freeze blood.

Giles couldn't match her burning gaze, and allowed his eyes to drop. "We don't know.... it isn't written."

The silence that followed was the worst yet. The final seconds that tick down before the explosion of a bomb could not be any more terrible. Giles felt his heart clench in his chest as he sought to keep the truth from his face.

"Where do I find it." Softly spoken, it nevertheless was more a command than a question. Twice only had he ever deceived her, and he had sought to do it a third time. Once more only, but by now she had learned the signs of his deceit. Still, he refused to tell her, and even as his spirit quailed beneath the steel of her glare, his jaw remained firmly clenched.

The silence stretched on and on... Giles wondered vaguely how none of them were yet bleeding from it.

It was Tara who broke first, though the others were only moments behind. "You need to ask the Oracles!" the gentle wicca cried. "Beneath the-"

"I know where they are." Buffy said shortly, and spun on her heel to walk swiftly out the door. Behind her, everyone leapt to their feet and chased after her, calling out for her to wait.

"Buffy, stop-"

"You don't know-"

"The risk! The risk!"

"It's-"

The slam of the door was their only answer. In the quiet that followed, only one voice was heard.

"Oh, bloody hell."

*****

Tunnel systems snake their twisted paths beneath the entire city of Sunnydale. A vampire can cross from one end of the town to the other without ever having to dare the kiss of sunlight, and in the darker sections, human sacrifice has been carried on for generations. During her five years in Sunnydale, Buffy had acquired an almost unparalleled knowledge of this underground metropolis, yet even she rarely ventured into the tunnel system without the aid of her painstakingly constructed maps. The almost uniform appearance of all the tunnel passages made even simple trips dangerous, and more than once she had stumbled upon the remains of creatures who had died not from any blow or spell, but merely from hunger and thirst.

Tonight, however, Buffy needed no map as she traced the oldest tunnels down to the deepest levels. Every step that she took had been imprinted upon her memory four years ago, when she followed a child vampire down these dark passages to meet her death.

As she stepped into the sunken church, the relentless drive that had brought her thus far faltered for a moment as her gaze was drawn to the shallow pool where at one time her life had ended. A sudden noise surprised her into leaping backwards, but it was a rat that showed its face and not The Master.

Taking deep breaths, she slowed her racing pulse. Slowly, she walked down to the edge of the pool, and knelt upon the spot where the fangs of The Master had once ripped into her throat.

"I seek an audience," she whispered, but the acoustics of the fallen building echoed her voice across every wall. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them....

....she was kneeling in a hall of white marble. The damp chill of the sunken church was replaced with a sudden dry warmth that forced her to blink several times. At the end of the hall, an oddly familiar man lounged in a marble chair, toying with a chessboard.

"Come before us, Slayer."

Rising, she slowly walked down what seemed like an impossible long distance. Though she would've sworn that only she and the man were present in the hall, soft feminine whispers floated behind her. Gritting her teeth, she refused to look at anything except the throne.

Finally reaching her goal, she looked up at the man on the throne, and was again struck by his familiarity. Short dark hair fell around an average face, and something in the expression on that face made Buffy reevaluate her initial classification of this figure as a man.. he was still more of a boy, perhaps seventeen at the oldest. The dark brown eyes, however, were utterly alien.

An odd little smile played around his mouth as he observed her confusion. "Recognize this body, Slayer?" he asked.

It was the smile that brought the memory rushing back, the first person in Sunnydale whom she had failed to save. "....Jesse?" he nodded, and clapped mockingly. "Is this supposed to be a joke?" she asked angrily.

"Perhaps... and perhaps not." Jesse shrugged lightly. "Perhaps you should view this form as a warning about the knowledge that you seek."

"A warning or a message? If I'd gone after Jesse that night, I might've saved him before they had a chance to turn him."

"Ah, this is true. And, yet, the world is still standing, isn't it? The absence of one mere boy has not ended it." Those alien eyes urged her to listen, but Buffy ignored them.

"I need the name of the creature that's calling herself Glory."

"Weighty knowledge indeed." he murmured. "Just remember that a warning was given while you still had a chance to turn back and lose nothing."

"Tell me the name." Buffy stared at him, as unmoving as stone.

"Nothing comes without a price." Rising to his feet, Jesse made a shaking movement that reminded Buffy of a dog shaking water from its fur, and just as easily, the form of Jesse was cast aside. What remained was a bronze-skinned creature dressed in a smoothly folded toga. It had wings, but not the double-feathered set that was common among angelic pictures. A hundred leathery appendages fluttered restlessly from its back. The slitted orange eyes were almost as sharp as the huge scythe held casually in its left hand.

Buffy took an involuntary step backwards at the sudden appearance of this creature, but one step was all. Taking a deep breath, she met its eyes and said, "What price?"

It appeared to consider her for a moment, tapping one long finger against the blade of the scythe. "For this case.... your right eye."

For just a moment, Buffy didn't quite understand. Then, the idea sunk in and her face drained of all color. "My.... eye?"

"We've made this deal once before, you know." the creature said blithely.

"Can I... can I have some time?"

"No. It must be now."

A long moment passed.... and then Buffy nodded.

Gravely, the creature shook her hand, sealing the deal. From deep in the folds of his toga, he retrieved a scroll. Handing it over to Buffy, he said mildly, "If I give you another warning, will you ignore it as you did my other one?"

"Possibly." Buffy answered truthfully.

"There are reasons that that name is not written anywhere in the mortal realms. To even utter it would rip the tongue from your mouth. And even after that sacrifice, she would not be defeated. All that that name would do was strip away all the illusions that she has cultivated... she would be returned to her true form, and killable, but you yourself would be incredibly weakened." One look at Buffy, however, showed him that his words were having no effect. "How can you be willing to make these sacrifices, knowing that victory is not assured or even likely?" An expression of bafflement had crossed his ageless face.

"Dawn is my sister." Buffy said simply.

"She isn't, and you know it. What you perceive as your sister is merely a disembodied force that has been given form and substance. Shadow and dust, nothing more."

"She is innocent," was the unbending response.

"So was this one!" With a wave of his hand to accompany that uncharacteristic cry, the figure of Jesse once again appeared. "This one was innocent, and harmed no one, yet his death did not bring about the end of the universe. And neither will the death of Dawn! The Nameless One will kill her, and then return to her own universe. Only one life need be lost." For a long moment, the creature regarded Buffy with bright orange eyes. "All I ask is that you consider," with a long finger, it gently toppled the figure of a pawn on the chessboard, "a strategic loss."

The expression on Buffy's face was fathomless as she slowly turned to go, the scroll held tightly in her hand.

"One moment, Slayer," the creature called gently. With a gentle flick of his wrist, the huge scythe blurred and became a precisely honed scalpel. "There's still the matter of payment."

End Part One

Part Two

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