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Release

by Ann
Rating: PG

Disclaimer: I don't own anything except for the plot line and a few characters I made up.
Author's Notes: My sincerest apologies for how long it took to get this short update written. Also, I was thinking of getting the help of a Beta. I usually manage by myself to an extent, but I'm starting a whole new school routine so I don't have as much time as I'd like. If you know my little series quite well and would like to help, I'd be incredibly grateful to hear from you. Thanks to everyone who waited patiently for this. But here it is finally. Character thoughts are displayed in //...//
Feedback: I love getting it. If you like what you read, let me know and I'll write faster! :)

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PART ONE

--The Fortress--

"Sir, the slayers are still on the run."

"So what are you waiting for? Send more after them! I want both slayers to be disabled. We've only weakened one."

"Yes, my lord."

*****

--Buffy's POV--

I rush over to Faith as soon as I see her move. She struggles for breath and I gently push her so that she's lying on her side. She claws at the dirt with her fingers as she struggles to suck in as much air as possible. I can feel the burning tears run down my cheeks and blur my vision. Thank God she came back to me.

She starts breathing slowly and I can tell she's trying to calm her body down, but she still can't get rid of an occasional shiver that jolts her frame. I can't help but let out a sob as she turns slightly and looks at me. Though she can barely hold an expression, she still manages to smile softly at me; just through her eyes. She reaches up and tries to soothe me by stroking my face gently. I hold her hand in mine and my breath hitches from my tears.

//Don't you ever do that again, Faith. Don't leave me like that.// She just smiles at me. I wonder why she doesn't say anything back to me but I guess it's just because she's too weak.

A roar in the distance steals my attention. It's something big. And heavy. It's the thing that has really been chasing us. My eyes dart from Faith to where that creature's roar is coming from, and I let out a whimper. What do I do?!

*****

--Faith's POV--

I wheeze as my heart resumes its heavy thud inside my chest. This never gets any easier.

I've calmed myself down as much as I can but my body is still in a state of panic. I look up at Buffy holding me and I'm only slightly surprised that she stayed with me.

I begin to remember how nice it is just being in her presence. The bitter coldness of the swamp is taken away from her single touch. I want to stay with her forever. I make this pledge to myself before I begin to slip into unconsciousness. I feel so weak...

//Faith... We have to... Plea... Wa...up...//

I force myself to snap out of it as I can faintly hear Buffy. She's saying... something. I can't...

*****

--Buffy's POV--

Oh God. She's not getting up. I need her to wake up. That thing's coming closer. It's too fast. I can't out run it, not while carrying her. We'd both be hurt. I don't want to be hurt. Please, no more pain.

No more...

*****

--Faith's POV--

A warning siren goes off inside my head and my eyelids snap open. Something's wrong. I suddenly feel so cold.

I let out a groan as I struggle to lift myself from the dried mud. I nearly fall back down as the blood rushes from my head. Breathe Faith. You've done this before. But it feels so much more painful this time.

As my eyes finally begin working properly, I scan my body quickly for injuries. I'm worried when I don't find any. Why does it hurt so much? I stumble forward without purpose when I realise what was bothering me.

... Where the hell is Buffy?

*****

--Meanwhile in the material realm--

"Step lively, Mr. Matthews. Your associates and the Master is waiting for you. You don't want to keep them waiting do you?"

Deacon spluttered a reply as he was dragged through the small, darkened tunnel. He had never visited the underground office before. He didn't even know it existed.

He had put up a struggle as he was kidnapped from his motel room just a few hours ago. It wasn't the best decision. This... thing, was pumped full of black majicks. It swatted him down like a fly. He woke up later to find himself being dragged down this tunnel by his wrists. The knot grew tighter and tighter the more this creature tugged. They were going too fast. Deacon was almost flying through the tunnel behind the creature.

The council had been taken over. Every resource, every defence the council had in their possession was snatched away by this new force. But it wasn't new, was it? The Hostis Humani Generis had been around longer than humans.

This creature dragging him down the tunnel was a mere foot soldier for the real opponent. He had never seen the 'Boss' or 'Master' in person. But his late partner was able to show him a likeness of the Boss. Deacon shivered once more. That face... He closed his eyes in an attempt to shut out the awful image. But it was still there. That face looking at him through the darkness. His dreams would forever be haunted, and now he was going to meet the boss face to face. Deacon vowed he wouldn't open his eyes in its presence.

"We're here!" The creature finally came to a stop and Deacon flew forward knocking its back. The creature spun around and growled deeply at him, and Deacon quickly shuffled backwards as much as his tortured body could go. "You should be careful Mr. Matthews, you don't want to come into direct contact with our kind too much. You don't know what you could catch!" The creature released a high pitched squeal of laughter and walked towards a set of large double doors. Deacon winced as he imagined the meaning behind the creature's taunts. "Over here, Mr. Matthews!"

The creature outstretched a hand toward Deacon and he suddenly found himself being pulled towards it with an invisible force. He skidded over the sandy ground and came to a stop beside its feet.

"Now, Mr. Matthews, you must behave yourself in the presence of the Master. He has powers you could never even begin to understand. Disobey him in any way, and the next time you wake up you could find yourself in our homeland. What's that translated into English...? Oh yes... Hell."

Deacon did his best to frown at the creature in anger, but failed and instead only succeeded in giving a look of pure fear. The creature squealed in delight again and placed its palm on the door. A light instantly illuminated the dark tunnel and the doors shuddered at they rumbled open.

"I do wish you the best of luck, Mr. Matthews. I would like to see you again one day." The creature paused, its eyes suddenly focusing closely on him as it moved closer. Its voice grew low and threatening. "I would love to be the one to change you."

Deacon only stared in horror as the creature licked its lips in anticipation, then turned away, swiftly disappearing down the tunnel.

Tears of confusion rolled down his face as he turned back towards the door. He was knelt down on the ground with his hands still bound together. The menacing glow of the entrance beckoned him to step forward. He shook his head in an attempt to ask for mercy, his sobs becoming louder. He could hear screams coming from the entrance, screams of unspeakable pain and torture. The screams grew louder as he could see a dark cloud coming towards him at an incredible speed. Deacon cried out in horror and tried to scramble away back down the tunnel. The large shadow of darkness grew closer as he tried his hardest to escape its grasp. But that thing was too fast. And he was only able to release a muffled cry as the dark hand engulfed him, pulling his soul through the doors, leaving an empty, souless body lying trembling at the entrance.

*****

Buffy had left her... Buffy had left Faith alone to take care of herself. That was the smart thing... At least this way Buffy wouldn't have to worry about dragging Faith's pathetically weak body through the swamp. But despite repeating this reason over and over in her mind, she couldn't avoid the tears that slid down her face.

Faith spluttered as yet more mud gargled in her throat. She dropped to her knees as the impulse to vomit overcame her body. She spat out the thick fluid and thumped at her chest. Her lungs were still filled with so much mud...

//Come on, Faith. You can do this. Get up you moron.//

Letting out a moan, she hoisted herself into an unsteady standing position. The sudden headrush caused her sight to fade into blackness and she collapsed once more from disorientation. She didn't try to get up this time. Instead she was content with lying on the soft moss which surrounded her. She tilted her head up and looked at the vacant night sky. The sound of her own breathing and blood pulsing through her body was slowly driving her insane.

The peace of being a lifeless, numb being had been such a relief to the noise and fear of being alive.

Fear...

She could feel it. Her heart beat faster and faster as alarm bells rang in her mind. Something was coming after her. It wanted to hurt her. It wanted to kill her again. Should she just let it? She didn't have any reason to live anymore. Would this mean she wouldn't come back this time? God, she hoped so.

Masses of trees and plant life seemed to bleed into one another as she turned her head, her struggle to focus bringing her close to unconsciousness. The fear in her heart did not relent however, and she was forced to stay awake. She became completely silent, and she hoped her ears still worked properly...

THUD...

Shit. She could have been deaf but she still would have felt that. The ground vibrated as the fantastic thump hit the soil. There was nearly no way to tell how close it was, the sound was just so deafening.

THUD... THUD...

Faith groaned as the vibrations rattled her ribcage, reverberating in her lungs. She rolled onto her stomach and tried to lift herself. She could only manage crawling as she made for a thick cluster of trees.

//Whatever the hell it is... It won't be able to follow me through here.//

She pushed through the razor sharp thorn bushes with her bare hands. Lines of fresh blood appeared everywhere as the feeling of blades scraping over her skin became unbearable. She grit her teeth and fought deeper into the jungle. Her full night vision slowly returning to her.

Completely covered in horrific scratches, she finally spotted a small ditch in the mud. She crawled over to it quickly and peered inside. She was only half surprised to find a pair of glowing white eyes staring back at her. Faith hissed at the creature and with a new-found brutality, shot her arm in and tore it from the hole. The tiny wolf-like creature yelped as it was thrown high into the air, landing several yards away in a crumpled mess. Faith paid no attention to it at all, she knew it would get up and walk away in a matter of time. That's only if some other thing hadn't devoured it by then.

Lifting her head one last time, she listened. And a piercing roar ripped like thunder through the forest. She let out a shaky breath, and quickly dove into the ditch, praying that the creature would pass her by without discovering her hiding place.

She had barely been in there for more than a minute when a nearby tree was ripped from the soil. Then another one, and another one was gone. Soon this thick group of trees was being torn apart like a bunch of weeds. Faith found herself whimpering and frantically clawing at the dirt beneath her feet, forcing herself deeper underground.

Soon the trees were cleared almost completely, and all that lay in the area were their splintered remains. Taking a huge risk, she peered out ever so slightly, and took one look at the monstrous fiend before returning to her digging.

The demon was knelt down on all fours, yet it was still roughly the size of a small house. Smoke seemed to seep from its jaws and Faith figured that this thing breathed fire. Almost like a brutal looking bull in appearance, it waved its horned head from side to side, stomping its hooves into the mud. Its eyes glowed a dull, bloody red and thick, black fur covered its body.

In her current state, Faith wouldn't even be able to run from this thing, let alone put up any kind of fight. She tried not to breathe as she heard the creature smell the air. It knew she was here.

*****

--Meanwhile in the material realm--

Angel stood on high ground, far above Sunnydale and its inhabitants. He stood where he and Buffy once stood over a year ago, when he had tried to burn himself to nothingness in the sun. The sun didn't rise that morning, so he was saved. But he believed in his heart that Buffy would have taken him to shelter even if the sun did rise. She would have saved his life.

He just prayed he could do the same for her.

The stinging sensation of tears grew behind his eyes. He shook it away, irritated. Although thankful for his human soul, he loathed the awful feelings of sadness, guilt... and love, which came with it.

He still loved Buffy. He would never stop loving her. It was a secret he kept to himself, but everyone knew despite everything. They could only look at him with great pity whenever her name was mentioned. He wished they wouldn't do that, but on the other hand, he understood why. He could feel his dead heart become full of sorrow when he heard her name, when he pictured her blonde hair, when he imagined her smiling face... smiling at him.

He loved Buffy, and he would never stop loving her.

He kicked the dirt beneath his shoes as he made his way down the hill. He strained to keep his mind blank. He tried not to think of her. Suddenly, he found himself thinking of the other slayer. He had originally spared little thought for her, as did everyone else. All their thoughts were concentrated on bringing back Buffy. To hell with Faith.

He frowned at their apparent disregard for her safety. After all, she had never done anything wrong. It had been made clear that she had never killed Finch, instead taking the blame just to protect Buffy. A smile grew as he realised she had found a friend in Buffy. But then, everyone did. She was like this amazing ray of light which drew everyone towards her, and in her they could find some sort of salvation.

He clenched a fist as his desperate attempts to take his mind off Buffy were once again ruined. He thought back again to Faith. He hoped she was coping alright, wherever she was. But it didn't matter either way... Buffy would take care of her.

*****

--The Fortress--

"My lord, it has been reported that one of your more impressive minions has found one of the slayers. She's hiding from it right now in the Aquarial sector."

A grotesque smile spread across the creature's face. "Is it Rorofan?" His servant closed his eyes for a moment, his fingers trembling slightly.

"... Indeed it is, my Lord. He has an awful temper. I'm sure he will make short work of the weakened slayer."

"And what of the other one? Where's the other slayer?"

"That's an interesting one, my Lord. She's nowhere to be seen. It appears that she has... run away."

The creature raised an eyebrow. His slave looked on in confusion, when slowly, a low rumble of a laugh could be heard. It became louder and louder and soon the poisonous sound echoed throughout the immense castle.

"Excellent..."

...to be continued...

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