She was so beautiful and small.
Like a glowing speck in the distance of his vision.
A glowing brilliant light flowed from her like water. Crystalline, perfect water pouring over river stones in the long-ago sunlight.
He remembered it perfectly, but distantly. He'd gone over it a thousand times in his mind, and as if it were made of old, delicate paper, each time wore at the edges, creased and softened it. It was a million miles away and immediately, ever-present at the same time.
And forever, forever the soft current of that shining figure was pulling and calling and straining so softly in the mist of his memory.
The world went quiet and the sunrise, just hinting at the corners of the sky, seemed to freeze in place. And ever since, the light had never grown brighter in the sky than at that moment-- the eternal, twisting moment that lived with him and inside him like a virus.
It was as if time, as he had understood it, stopped in that second, when all the worlds converged together, breaking and shattering in the impact with forceful, terrible power.
And she had been so beautiful in that moment, the moment before she dissolved into that flowing glow, falling from her like trails of water into the air.
She was so high above him, that when he came to himself, lying on the pavement, all he could see was that beautiful light that ended the world they had known forever. Ended an innocence he had come to know with a tentative sort of intimacy. That he had discovered to be strangely, perfectly beautiful. Sometimes, when he woke, he couldn't admit to himself that she was dead. It ached within him, sometimes, dull and silent, and the weight of his responsibility, of his failures to her broke his heart again.
It wasn't what happened afterwards that did it. Deaths couldn't mean much to him, after everything he'd been. But she was small, and innocent, and he knew her. That meant everything.
And he could remember lying beneath the tower. He was transfixed by that tiny glowing shape so high above him, and, dazed from his fall, didn't entirely understand its import-- he didn't see the mad god's horror rending the very fabric of the dull world around him-- of the sober, asphalt and concrete reality around him.
His vision was clouded from the impact of his fall, and he felt himself moving, twisting and shifting. He thought it was the spinning, swimming pain in his head. Not the asphalt beneath him.
But it had really happened.
And the little glowing figure stood on its tower entirely alone. The creature that had cut her vanished, his task complete. Her skin glowed pale and bright, the faintly green hue spilling out into the sky around her, falling in glowing green trails down her ankles and down, down into the air below her, ripping the space apart beneath her feet.
And the pavement beneath him began to buck and thrash violently, and he was suddenly thrown from where he lay in an eruption of earth, thrown across the pavement to land against the iron leg of the tower. He tried to move, and his broken ribs screamed agony as he shifted, ignoring the pain. And in that moment, he saw a small, familiar figure on the roughly made stairs just above his head. Crumpled and unconscious, breathing shallow gasps, her blonde hair strewn out around her in her empty sleep. Her forehead was bruised and bloody.
And then the world blurred again, the pain overcoming him. And as the world darkened around him, the dull certainty of what had happened fell on him, suddenly, like that darkness.
"No..." he whispered, desperately. Painfully, as if what he said mattered.
It was all he thought before he faded, fell away into the darkness of his mind.
The memory hung over him like a heavy fog as he walked across the dull landscape.
Spike walked across a grassy plain, its earth smoothed into gently sloping hills by the constant, harsh wind. The long, tedious years-- or what would have been years before-- had worn the space down, filled in some of the sickly rifts with rubble and earth and sand. It was dry and cold, and fitful snowflakes hit his cheeks in the gusty breeze. Frost clung to the tall grass at his feet.
He could instinctually feel the soft, supernatural hum in the air, the quiet reverberations of arcane power, unnatural to this world in which he walked. His innate, vampiric senses burned strongly in his veins, making him aware of the rifts and fissures in his world, sewn together by impersonal, green light. Bound by supernatural force that called to the forces within himself. He was stronger since it happened, that same supernatural power doubling the strength of his body and his instinct. It was the same power that made the feeble grass grow without sunlight. That hung the earth in its suspended animation.
As the grass waved thin and strange and brown, moving against his legs in the cold wind as he walked, he let that instinct wash over him, let himself feel the presence of that energy. Sadly, he let it flow over his mind with the memories of how it was released, and who had held it close once. Who had bound it together in human form for a brief time. And then was gone.
The cold night was breaking, and the sun began to rise. But only just began. It hung in place, softly, where it stood in the sky. Time froze at that moment, and would reverse itself to blackness at the day's close, and again cycle back to the halfling-dark of the eternal, early-morning gloom. The physical laws of their world were assailed, encroached upon by a thousand thousand different dimensions and different laws.
A ruined world. And the unwavering strength of the Key Inhuman was incorporeal-- hovering in power over it all.
It created a shaky equilibrium, a pale shadow of a world, in which none truly lived, but a small few had the strength to survive.
They had failed.
And he survived. He walked through the plain, his crossbow strapped to his back with his quiver of arrows. His knife in his boot, a scabbard at his side. The tired leather of his duster moved against his ankles as he walked, rustling smoothly in among the dry grasses.
He had a purpose, a purpose he'd learned long ago. From her. From her sister.
He headed towards the next settlement, a small disturbance in the grass, insignificant in its vast, silent movement. Set adrift in the dry, dancing waves of a golden ocean.
All alone, a dark figure in the faint, diffuse light.
Continued in Part Two: Traitor's Gate