DISCLAIMER: I don’t own any of the characters from Gargoyles or BTVS and don’t make any money off of this, so don’t bother suing. This is just for fun. This story takes most of season five into account.
SUMMARY: Glory is in Sunnydale making life miserable for the Slayer and company. Joyce has died and Dawn, the Key, is in great danger. A choice needs to be made. What if a different choice had been made? Thanks to StorySeeker for the idea and the beta-read. As always, feedback is appreciated.
Buffy threw the last of Glory’s minions through the store’s front window; it was broken anyway. They were beginning to gather again though. The last one was proving particularly persistent. "Oh great," she muttered watching the scab covered demon pick itself up, "it’s the energizer demon." A glance at her watch proved that she was running out of time. Gotta wrap this up
. Dawn was at risk. This was a diversionary tactic, she was sure of it, which meant that Glory might be close to finding her little sister. The scab guys had never been so determined before.
Did Glory actually know or did she just suspect? It came to the same thing, they had realized. She would kill Dawn and Buffy couldn’t allow that. Her attacks had grown more frequent as Glory became certain that Buffy knew where the Key was. The utmost care had been used in concealing the truth. No mention of Dawn’s status was made after they realized that the scabbed demons were keeping them under surveillance, and Willow and Tara had been working overtime on protective charms for the entire group. They had even staged a conversation about finding the Key before Glory when they knew they were being watched. It hadn’t worked. One had to give Glory credit. She might be crazy, but she wasn’t stupid.
It had been especially rough over the past month since their mother had died. Dawn was a basket case, still not comfortable with the idea of being the Key she now had no mother, and a sister who was too busy keeping her alive to properly grieve. Buffy, at least, could take out her frustrations on Glory’s henchthings. Dawn had no such outlet.
Buffy sighed as she darted out the backdoor and began the almost routine task of throwing off the pursuing demons. They probably knew where the group was staying, but she still didn’t want to arrive with a group of demons on her heels.
The current crisis was almost enough to make her nostalgic for the Initiative. Almost. When Adam had been shut down the previous year, it seemed certain that the covert ops group was going to disband and the soldiers, Riley included, would be reassigned elsewhere. But her boyfriend had made a case for keeping a small unit in Sunnydale to keep an official eye on the Hellmouth and continue, albeit in a limited fashion, the demon research. Riley, Forest Gates, Graham, and a handful of others had been assigned there with an even more limited group of scientists tasked to do research. Rather than looking for ways to control demons though, these men were seeking the best way to destroy them.
Riley had been hard pressed to talk his superiors into providing that much. He had noted, somewhat cynically, that if the government still believed there was a chance of controlling the demons the group would have a much larger budget and staff. Riley had even accepted Spike’s help in keeping a lid on things. It almost made Buffy smile when she realized how low the proud soldier had sunk if he were accepting help from a vampire.
Gates had continued to be a thorn in her side, but they had reached an understanding of sorts. For a time, it had worked. Buffy had had a little help in keeping Sunnydale safe, for most of the summer they had been struggling along, attempting to justify their presence in Sunnydale to their superiors, but that had ended after the first confrontation with Glory.
A small patrol had been redirected to investigate several disappearances near a warehouse. The night watchman at the mostly empty building and two men who lived in the neighborhood had failed to return home one night and it had seemed likely that a vampire nest had been established in the building.
She still remembered the night vividly. It was the night everything had started to go to hell.
THREE MONTHS EARLIER
Dawn didn’t belong. She was some kind of threat, a demon, monster of some sort. Buffy couldn’t be sure, but she knew that Dawn wasn’t her sister. She hadn’t known what she would see when she cast the revelation spell, but that hadn’t been it. Dawn had been something she took for granted, just her annoying little sister, bane of her existence. Now it seemed Dawn was a menace in far more literal sense than the Slayer had ever suspected.
She needed answers. There was only one place she could think to get them. Somehow her ersatz sister was connected to the glowing sphere she had found two weeks before. Could Dawn be the ‘great evil’ it was intended to ward off? Was that the reason that she hadn’t done anything violent to Buffy or her mother, because the sphere was in the house? She had warned Dawn against harming her mother, but she couldn’t act until she knew what she was dealing with. What is she?
Buffy shoved her speculations aside and increased her pace. It had already been half an hour since Joyce Summers had left the house. She had to find answers and return home before her mother got back from her meeting. She couldn’t allow whatever Dawn was to be alone with her mother. Just the thought caused her to break out into a sprint that probably shattered several Olympic records, and brought her to the lot the building stood on in under three minutes.
Once there, she proceeded more cautiously. There was no telling what was inside the building, but she remembered Riley mentioning sending a patrol to check out a possible vampire nest. There was no sign of them, but that wasn’t surprising. The soldiers were heavily into stealth. She probably wouldn’t know they were there until the fighting started. Speaking of stealth and fighting,
Buffy moved through the shadows until she reached a side door. It was open and there were signs in the dirt that several men wearing combat boots had already entered the building. Buffy wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or not. On the one hand, it would be nice if they had control of the situation and she could simply question whatever monsters were in there. It was a strong possibility though that they would simply kill whatever non-human they found in there, and that would make questioning him, her, or it difficult.
Trading some of her stealth for speed she climbed the stairs to the second level. A burst of automatic fire made her pause for a second and then redouble her pace. A profanity in a female voice she didn’t recognize and a sickening thud preceded her emergence onto the main floor. She glanced into the room and found a strange scene before her.
There were two Initiative soldiers lying in crumpled heaps on the floor. It was clear from the odd angle of the neck that one of them was dead. A third, Gates she realized, was dangling from the hand of a young woman. She was holding him by the throat and asking him questions.
"I don’t really have anything against you. I just want what’s mine." She patted his cheek in a patronizing fashion. "Why is that so hard for everyone to understand?" A pleading note crept into her voice. "If you just tell me where it is everyone will be sooo happy!" Gates made a few inarticulate noises. "Oh! Of course. I’m sorry." She shifted her grip. "Now. What were you saying?"
"Don’t know what you’re talking about!" The woman pouted and shook him.
"Are you sure? Cause that would mean I don’t have any use for y-." Buffy tackled her. The woman went down hard, but was up again at once. "Hey! You can’t just go around hitting people." She proved her point with a backhand that sent the Slayer flying. She stood watching as the Slayer climbed to her feet, and then, in a second she was standing before her. Buffy met her with an uppercut that lifted the woman off her feet. "Not bad. Hey! I just realized." She caught Buffy’s next punch and held her arm in place easily. "You’ve got super powers. Tell me, can you fly?"
This time Buffy hit the ground considerably harder and much farther away. Struggling to her feet she watched her opponent, who looked human but obviously wasn’t, approach at a more normal pace. Forest hadn’t been idle during this. He had recovered and worked his way toward something Buffy had noted only briefly when she entered the room. A man in the brown, rough cloth robes of a monk was tied to a chair. He was watching through eyes almost swollen shut, as the Initiative agent quietly made his way to him and cut him free. Time to go on the offensive
, Buffy decided. Moving as fast as she was able, she threw herself forward and swept her opponent’s legs from under her. The woman was up so fast it almost looked like she had bounced off the floor, only to be met with a vicious series of kicks and punches that didn’t do much more than irritate her. Buffy dodged as best she could, knowing that she had to keep the woman, or whatever it was, focused on her while Forest got out with the hostage.
They were almost to the door when the woman grabbed Buffy’s ankle in mid-kick and gave her another toss. It was at this point that she noticed. "Hey! That’s my monk!" Buffy managed to get to her feet only to find that her left leg refused to support her. It made intercepting the woman difficult, and fighting her impossible. A review of her options was cut short when Forest shoved the monk towards her and dove for the gun dropped by the dead agent.
"Get out of here." He opened fire with the weapon on full automatic while moving between Buffy and the monk. Buffy took a moment to look back and forth between Forest, the demon woman, and the monk. Bullets staggered her, but she didn’t go down, this decided Buffy. She grabbed the monk under the arms, held him against her, and ran for the window. Forest continued to fire, but the woman’s voice was clearly audible over the sound of the gun.
"You RUINED my dress!!"
With an extra burst of speed provided by something, she refused to call it panic, Buffy shoved off with her good leg and crashed through the second floor window.
The monk had died a few moments later of the injuries Glory had inflicted. Before he died though he had told her the truth about Dawn. The building had collapsed at some point. Buffy had called Riley to let him know what had happened, and had promised to come in after she had taken care of something. Then she had limped home and apologized to her sister.
Her sister. The idea was no longer strange to her. She loved Dawn. Dawn was her sister no matter where she had come from, and that was all there was to it.
Unfortunately, the incident at the warehouse had been just the beginning. What was left of the Initiative folded within a week. It had been a struggle for Riley to keep his superiors convinced that their presence was justified. Support had been waning all summer despite the successful eradication of five nests and a grand total of 83 vampires dusted. The deaths of three agents in what appeared to be an accident was all that was needed for someone in Washington to recall the handful that were left. A total of six bodies had been found in what was left of the building, including the three agents. There had been no sign of the creature she later learned was called Glory.
Riley had managed to stay for a while, but the stress had taken its toll on their relationship. Buffy’s decision to hide the truth about Dawn had been the last straw, and he had departed two weeks after the others, bound for somewhere in Central America with his old unit.
She hadn’t had long to mourn that relationship though, before other worries asserted themselves. Her mother’s illness, Spike’s infatuation, the Watcher’s Council with their bullying tactics, and Dawn learning the truth about herself all conspired to keep her from properly moping. Glory had been just an occasional thorn in her side for a time, but she had become more persistent of late, convinced that Buffy knew where the Key was. It was almost as if she was getting desperate. In the last week, her friends had had two close calls with the hell god. Each time they had escaped more by luck than skill or strength.
Four days before, Glory gone to the Magic Box, intent on using her friends to pressure Buffy into giving up the Key. It was sheer luck that Giles had seen her coming and had had time to prepare. A book of spells, stowed behind the counter in case of emergencies had provided the answer. This particular book focused not on destructive force or raw power, which would have been worse than useless against Glory, but on clouding the perceptions of others. It contained spells for the creation of illusions and glamours ranging from simple cosmetic changes and spells to divert attention to complex spells that could keep an enemy lost and confused for hours.
What Giles required was a relatively simple illusion to distract Glory while he and Anya had slipped out the back. A few words of Aramaic and the use of the appropriate charm had created the illusion that they remained at the counter even as they were actually making their escape. Anya had only just gotten out of sight in the back room when Glory barged into the shop. Focusing on the illusory pair, she began to rant at them. Anya overheard enough before slipping out the back and into Giles’ car to know what Glory intended. Fortunately, the two of them had been long gone before Glory discovered the deception. Anya was also gratified to discover that she had not chosen to take out her ire on the shop.
Xander had had a similar encounter two days later. None of them had dared to show their faces on the streets since. Glory was, they felt certain, getting desperate, but they had no way of being sure because, although they now knew who and what Glory was, they still had no idea of what the Key was or why Glory wanted it.
This frustrating line of thought was interrupted by her arrival at their current hideout. Glory had shown up at the Summers’ house once too often, forcing them to leave. This can’t go on
, Buffy thought bleakly as she entered the crypt and quickly made use of the hidden entrance to the tunnels. Spike met her as she rounded the corner, vampire visage showing. It fell away when he saw her. "Oh. There you are. Sorry about that," he said contritely. Buffy had jumped back slightly when he had popped out at her. "Dangerous neighborhood this." Buffy nodded, swallowing her heart. "Xander’s at the docks, the witches are fetching some magic stuff from their dorm, and Anya and Giles are doing research at the shop." He saw her expression and raised a hand to forestall any objection or rash action. "Don’t worry. They’re taking precautions. No one will know they’re even there." He led them back to a small stretch of natural tunnel where Dawn waited.
"You okay Dawn?" Her little sister nodded, but she looked miserable and frightened. "Don’t worry, Giles is working on something special. We’ll be safe soon." Buffy tried to sound confident, but the words sounded forced and hollow. Dawn expression didn’t change, not to pout or even to roll her eyes, and Buffy took it as a measure of how exhausted her sister really was.
"Do you really think Glory suspects me?" her sister asked in a small voice.
"I don’t know, but I’m not taking the chance. Even if she doesn’t suspect you, at this point she’s more than willing to use you or any of the others to force me to give up the Key." Shaking her head and sighing heavily won concerned looks from the other two. "I still don’t know how Glory figured out that it…" she broke off, looking uncomfortable.
"That it was turned into a human?" Dawn finished. "Its okay Buffy. Its strange, but y’know, gotta deal with it." She attempted a smile that didn’t fool Buffy or Spike. "So, um…" she cast about for a new topic. "What’s this ‘something special’ Giles is working on?"
Buffy took the offered exit. "He thinks there’s a place where we can hide from Glory. A place she can’t get to."
"You mean we’re running away?" Dawn sounded shocked at the idea. Buffy had never run from anything. She had certainly never allowed any of the threats she had faced to drive her into hiding before. Her big sister smiled tiredly.
"It’s the best way Dawn. Glory is getting desperate. Giles thinks that means she doesn’t have much time to do whatever it is she wants to do with you." She gave her little sister an apologetic look as Dawn winced. "Sorry. I don’t know how else to-" Dawn waved away the apology. "Anyway," she continued. "We think that if we can stay out of her reach for long enough our problems with her will be over. Or at least," she amended, "her time to use the Key will have passed." No one looked happy with the ‘solution,’ but they saw the sense in it.
Willow watched Tara put items back into the box she’d carried into the dorm room it seemed only the day before. They’d been unofficially sharing the room, spending more nights together than apart, for more than a month. Now they were both packing their essentials. Charms, talismans, books, and potion ingredients were all going into the box for a quick get away. If Giles could find the spell they needed then they could all be safe from Glory. We should be doing normal things!
Willow ground her teeth in frustration. It wasn’t fair! They shouldn’t be running for their lives. We should be attending the multicultural fair at the park, studying for exams, planning for romantic dinners followed by lots of snuggling
. There were times when Willow envied the ignorant people of the world, the ones who didn’t know what lurked in the shadows and got bumpy in the night. Such moments were rare as Willow firmly believed that knowing was better than not knowing and ignorance was definitely not bliss. But there were days….
"That’s everything," Tara said, interrupting Willow’s rather gloomy train of thought. "We should go." She noticed her girlfriend’s expression and frowned. "What’s wrong?"
"We’re running away from a crazy hell god. Isn’t that enough? Oh, wait! This crazy hell god also eats brains! Can life get any better?" Her tone sounded bitter, almost whiny, even to her ears and she was glad that Tara, Tara who always understood her so well, was the only one to hear her outburst. She always knew what to do to make her redheaded girlfriend feel better. This time was no exception.
Setting down the box, Tara pulled her into a hug. "Oh baby, I know it looks bad right now, but we’ll get through it." Willow clung to her tightly, needing the reassurance and very much wanting to believe that they would ‘get through it.’ Suddenly Tara stiffened. "If we run," she added tensely, her eyes fixed on something outside the window. Turning quickly, she took Willow by the hand and pulled her out the door.
A ripping crunching sound followed them out. They hadn’t even reached the end of the corridor when something blew by, and Glory was in front of them. "Where are you going so fast?" She pouted. "A girl could get the feeling she’s unpopular." Neither responded. "Not feeling talkative? That’s okay. I’ll just take my Key and be going." She grabbed Tara by the arm and took off, or tried to.
Both witches spoke at once, a single word and Glory stumbled, dragging Tara to the ground with her. Tara hit the floor hard, opening a small gash in her forehead. "That wasn’t nice," Glory pouted getting up and dragging Tara with her, nearly wrenching her arm out of the socket in the process. At the sound of her lover’s cry of pain Willow’s eyes narrowed in fury and the words to another spell leapt from her mouth before she realized what she was doing.
Glory’s head snapped back with a force that would have snapped a human’s neck like a twig and lifted her off her feet and flung her back. Fortunately, in her surprise she had released Tara’s arm. Before she could rise Willow spoke again, invoking in soft tones the names of several powerful gods. Her voice rose as she finished the chant. "…by your second star, hold mine victim as in tar."
Glory’s attempt to rise was halted at an awkward moment that left her with no leverage and very few options. "You’ll pay for this witch!" the hell god promised as she struggled to push off the floor where she lay with one knee bent and one arm supporting her, the other uselessly outstretched towards her prize. Under other circumstances, the scene might have struck Willow as funny, but she didn’t linger to watch Glory struggle. Instead, she grabbed Tara’s uninjured arm and made for the dorm room and the exit Glory had unwittingly provided.
As they fled, Willow gave a despairing thought to the other residents of the dorm and fervently hoped that Glory would be in too much of a hurry to take her frustrations out on anyone else. Willow selected a car at random and started it with magic. "Willow," Tara protested, focusing past the pain in her arm and head.
"I know, baby, but this is an emergency." Tara nodded reluctantly as the stolen car sped away. "Did Glory say she’d come for her Key?" Tara nodded. "I was afraid of that. You know what that means?"
"She thinks I’m the Key," Tara answered bleakly. "Oh well, better me than Dawn, I suppose. If she’s chasing me…" She broke off, unable to finish. Neither had any illusions about what would happen if Glory caught her and learned the truth. Both knew that Glory would kill her or take her mind. Tara honestly wasn’t sure which would be worse.
"Yes Willow, I see… No, that is unacceptable. You know Buffy would say the same. Meet us at the docks as planned. We depart at sunset…. I’ve found references to the spell, but not the spell itself. I may have to call in a favor to get what I need." He listened a moment longer. "Yes. I’ll see you then."
He hung up the phone and looked down at the book in front of him grimly. It was time to face facts. The incantation he needed was not in any of his books. It was almost time for desperate measures, but he had one last option before he was forced to call in that favor, or rather to beg a favor. It would have to wait until Anya left the shop, though. Telling Buffy or any of the others what he intended was out of the question. Even under these circumstances Buffy would not allow Giles to place himself in debt to one of the Third Race.
He shoved that thought aside. Maybe it wouldn’t come to that. Casual references in conversation with detective Maza, a friend of the Gargoyle clan that lived in Manhattan had led him to believe they had a connection of some sort with members of the Third Race. His only hope, and it was a dim hope at that, was that one of them knew the way.
Checking his preparations once more he shoved his worries to the back of his mind. It was time to be practical, he would probably have to make contact himself, and hope that the person he had chosen would be accommodating, and that when the time came to repay the favor that the Fay wouldn’t want too much. There was little he could offer; he would just have to hope that his request amused the trickster.
He called out to Anya. "I think I’ve found something." Anya climbed down the ladder carrying more books.
"Good, because there’s nothing in these as far as I can tell." She set the books on the table for Giles’ perusal. "I may read all of these languages, but that doesn’t mean I understand half of what they’re talking about." Giles considered the titles and sadly shook his head.
"No. There is nothing of use in these." He tapped the second one in the stack. "This one contains references to the Third Race, but not the incantation we require." Anya’s shoulder’s slumped and Giles patted her comfortingly. "I have a lead, but its time for us to be going. I need you to head to the docks to meet up with Xander and prepare the boat."
"By prepare you mean-"
"Rent if possible, steal if necessary. Let’s not borrow trouble." Anya nodded, gathered a few items they had prepared for the journey and headed out. As soon as she was gone, he set about mixing the ingredients he had set on the shelf behind the counter, out of sight. Had Anya seen them or the scroll he was consulting she would have known instantly what he was doing. Getting the Fay’s attention wasn’t that difficult, but convincing it to help would be another matter.
Once certain that he was prepared, it had been a time consuming and delicate process, he went to the phone, hoping that he would not have to cast the spell. The clock told him that it would be well after dark in New York and the Gargoyles would be awake. Double-checking the number, he began to dial.
The phone rang three times before someone reached it. Goliath picked up the phone hesitantly. "Hello?"
"Yes, ah, hello. My name is Rupert Giles. I’m trying to reach Elisa Maza or Lexington." Goliath frowned. He didn’t recognize the voice or the name. Neither Lexington, nor Elisa would have given out the number without consulting him.
"How precisely do you know them?" Perhaps they had mentioned it and he was simply not placing the name.
"I met them when they visited Sunnydale. I’m Buffy’s Watcher. Is this by chance Goliath?" Now he remembered.
"Yes. I remember. Elisa is not here, but Lexington is near. Wait a moment." He set down the phone and went to find the small web-winged Gargoyle. The most obvious place to look turned out to be the right place.
Lexington glanced up at the sound of the door and then back at the monitor screen of his computer. He typed rapidly for a few seconds and then turned his full attention to the clan leader. "Hey Goliath. What’s up?"
"You have a call. Rupert Giles wishes to speak to you."
"Giles? Why would he be calling?"
"Perhaps you should ask him," Goliath suggested, and Lex jumped from his seat and headed for the phone. Goliath followed, curious as to the reason himself. The human had sounded distressed.
A brief conversation ensued followed by a lengthy silence during which Lex’s eyes glowed briefly at several points. "All right," he said finally. "I’ll ask, but I don’t know if he can help. Hang on." Setting down the phone he turned to Goliath. "They’ve got a big problem in Sunnydale Goliath. Big enough that the Slayer and her friends are running. Leaving town." His tone was incredulous, even though he and Buffy had their friction he still had trouble believing that she was fleeing from something, abandoning her protectorate. Goliath noted Lexington’s tone and realized that the young warrior was truly disturbed by the news.
For his own part, Goliath had not known what to make of the Slayer during her two brief visits to New York, but the idea of the young but very able warrior fleeing from anything seemed strange indeed.
"What is the nature of this threat?" Goliath, equally startled, wanted to know.
"He says that a hell god called Glorificus is trying to get her hands on some mystical key. They’ve tried, but they can’t do more than slow her down." Lex shook his head in wonder. "A hell god? Could it be one of the Third Race?" Goliath frowned. Glorificus was not a name he had heard before, but he had only met a handful of them. Titania, Oberon, and the rest might be indifferent to the younger races, but he did not believe that they could be classified as hell gods.
Perhaps it was one of Madoc’s supporters. He stopped speculating long enough to ask the reason for the call. "They want the spell to get to Avalon," Lex said in a worried tone, one that Goliath knew was justified. "They want to go somewhere that Glorificus can’t follow them. They think they can wait her out. There’s some kind of time limit for this Key’s use."
Avalon. Goliath held out his hand for the phone and Lex handed it over. "Rupert Giles, this is Goliath. I’m not sure that you realize what you are asking for. Avalon is not a place you would be welcome."
"I have heard stories of the Third Race’s, ah, capricious nature, but we really have nowhere else to run. We need to go somewhere that Glory cannot follow. Avalon is our best hope."
"Those stories you refer to are not exaggerated in the least. Oberon cares nothing for the problems of lesser creatures. At best you will be turned away."
"Even that might by us some time," Giles insisted. "We need to delay Glory long enough that she misses her opportunity to perform the ritual. I do not believe that Glory can reach Avalon. She might not even risk it." He paused briefly. "I would not be asking if the situation were not grave. We can barely slow her down, a-and if she performs this ritual the entire world could be placed in terrible danger. Please. If you know the way you must aid us." The desperation in the Watcher’s voice was clear, but still Goliath hesitated, disturbed at the idea of sending anyone to such a dangerous place. Oberon could destroy them as easily as a human or Gargoyle might swat a fly, and he was certain that Giles did not realize what he was getting himself into.
"Very well," he agreed reluctantly. "I do know the spell, but I do not believe I am doing you a favor by sharing it."
"I understand completely Goliath, but I must risk it."
"Very well. Then listen closely. It is a simple incantation…"
Giles looked over the small group assembled in the shadow of the dockside warehouse. It was shortly after sunset, and the delay vexed everyone, but it had been unavoidable. Glory’s ‘hobbits with leprosy’ as Buffy called them were everywhere, making it difficult to move in secret. When the sun had set the tension level went up as everyone knew it meant that the demons would be on the streets in even greater numbers, bolder in their movements. Still, they were ready.
"Everyone is present then? Good we can proceed." They all nodded. Willow and Tara held hands; the redhead had not let her girlfriend out of her sight since the attack two hours before. They, like the Slayer, looked scared but determined. Dawn just looked scared.
Xander and Anya stuck close together, their eyes turned outward looking for any sign of Glory or her minions. Both of them nearly jumped out of their skins when a body hit the ground a few feet away. One of Glory’s minions lay on the ground eyes staring sightlessly toward the sky. By the angle of its neck it was obviously dead. A moment later another dead body hit the ground.
"Chip or no I’ve still got it, eh?" Spike gloated. "He never knew what hit him!"
"Geez!" Dawn breathed while thumping her chest as if to get her heart started again. "Did you have to drop him on us like that?" Spike’s grin faded and he looked momentarily shamefaced.
"Sorry niblet. Didn’t mean to scare you." He looked at the others, none of whom seemed overjoyed to see him. "Don’t all thank me at once." He held up a cell phone. "Lotta religious types would probably envy this guy," he said wagging the phone at them. "How many people have their god on speed dial you suppose?"
"Thanks Spike," Buffy offered, the words coming with less difficulty than she had expected. "We’re about ready to go."
"Great! Where we goin’?"
"What do you mean ‘we’ paleface?" Xander demanded glaring at the vampire. "You’re not going with us."
"Yes," Buffy said, "he is. Aside from me he’s the only one strong enough to fight Glory."
"B-but Buffy," Giles protested, "if this works we’ll be going somewhere where she can’t follow."
"Are you certain of that?" Giles opened and then closed his mouth. He wasn’t certain at all, and if he were wrong the inhabitants of the island would be less than pleased with him. Finally, he sighed.
"Whoever is coming we’d best get a move on." They turned to the small cabin cruiser that Anya had somehow wrangled the use of and boarded quickly with a minimum of grumbling from Xander, something Buffy was grateful for. Spike stayed at the stern, keeping an eye on the dock as the boat started up. He did not glance away when the engine started, but he still almost missed her arrival. He barely had time to shout a warning before Glory flattened him. Buffy was there seconds later.
"Going for a moonlight cruise with your bloodsucker boy-toy? How roman-" Spike’s blow to the bridge of her nose would have killed a human. She caught his next blow but was focused on him just long enough to miss the hammer Buffy brought down on the hand that gripped the rail. The rail bent beneath the blow and Glory cried out even though the blow didn’t even break a nail. The next swing took her under the jaw and knocked her back.
With her hold broken, the boat surged forward. Giles, at the helm, began to chant as the boat moved out into the harbor at a speed that violated maritime law and common sense.
"Vocate venti Fortunate
Ex rege Oberonis
Et hic navis fluctum regate
Ad orae avalonis"
Xander had joined Buffy and Spike in the stern and fired a flare gun at Glory. The hell god contemptuously swatted it out of the air, or tried to. The flare exploded on impact with her hand in a blinding flash. As the light faded, a mist began to form around the vessel. It quickly hid the shore from view, and the dock lights faded.
"Did it work?" Xander asked. "Are we gone?" He was still pointing the empty flare gun at the spot where they had last seen Glory, convulsively squeezing the trigger.
"Some more than others," Spike smirked.
The dock shook and cracked under Glory’s petulant stomp. "No! That’s not allowed! You come back here!" She turned away and walked back towards the shore. Her temper flared at the sight of her dead minion. She kicked the corpse, while swearing creatively. It couldn’t be what she thought. She couldn’t have heard the words she thought she had. Stopping in the shadow of the building she concentrated, something that was difficult when she was hungry. The words had been Latin, definitely a spell. Frowning fiercely she tried to remember word for word, and slowly the words and their translation came back to her.
"Come, winds, safely
from the kingdom of Oberon
guide this ship through the waves
to the shores of Avalon.
"Avalon." She spat out the word like a bite of rotten fruit. "Terrific." In the old days she wouldn’t have given the so-called Third Race a second thought, but with her power tethered she would have to take precautions before going there. The realization and what it meant infuriated her and she gave her dead minion an especially vicious kick that sent the remains halfway across the harbor.
She calmed herself with an effort. Time was running out and there were things to do. The sound of running feet caught her attention as dockworkers came to investigate the commotion. She frowned at the distraction for a moment, then smiled. First thing’s first. I’m hungry.
The mist swirled around the boat, and nothing was visible beyond it no matter how Buffy strained her eyes. "I don’t see anything. Shouldn’t we still be able to see the harbor lights?"
"If the spell worked correctly," Giles assured her, "no."
"So we’re going to Avalon, huh?" Xander broke in. "That place where Cin-an-ev came from?" Giles nodded and Buffy looked away at the mention of the Fay’s name. "And this was our best option?"
"Time passes differently on Avalon. For each hour that goes by there, a day goes by in our world. If my calculations are right Glory only has a short time before she has to have the Key for… for whatever purpose she needs it for. It would be best if we could go undetected while we’re there. If not… We may have to hope that Lord Oberon is in a good mood."
"Hope?" Xander said incredulously. "Um, it might surprise you, but I’ve done a little reading about Oberon and the Fay."
"And?" Dawn prompted. He looked up at Dawn and tried to say something encouraging, but Anya answered first.
"The words ‘snowball’s chance’ come to mind."
The gathering of mist on the water drew their attention and, as one, they frowned in irritation. Setting aside their pleasures of the moment they moved toward the shore. The irritation turned to open dislike as the gasoline driven craft moved toward the shore. It was the first time a vessel not moved by natural means had dared to approach Avalon.
Several humans were visible on the deck of the small craft, none of which seemed sanguine about being there. In fact, they looked quite frightened at the sight of their reception committee hovering effortlessly above the waves. At least, one ventured, it indicated that their visitors had some sense.
A sound of displaced air and a whisper of magic caught their attention and one of them diverted a fraction of her awareness to identify the Fay that had just arrived on the shore behind them. Raven. She silently shared her knowledge with the others.
Giles stopped the boat and moved to the bow to speak to the figures that awaited them. "I am Rupert Giles of-"
"We care not who you are," the dark-haired female began.
"You are not welcome here," the one with silver hair continued.
"You must leave," the final sister concluded. "No magic may enter here save Avalon’s own."
‘We sense the magic the witches bring with them," the dark-haired one again.
Willow and Tara stepped forward at Giles urging and removed the few objects they had managed to bring with them despite their hasty departure. They presented the objects and set them on the deck, almost as an offering. The objects burned to ash, though none of the three had moved. Tara winced at the loss of her mother’s necklace, but there was too much at stake.
"Please," Giles began again. "We only require sanctuary for a few hours. This is the only place that could be safe for us. The only place she cannot-"
"Meaningless chatter!" Silver-hair’s eyes narrowed in irritation. "Depart now and you may keep your lives."
"Don’t be so hasty ladies," an amused sounding voice drawled from the beach. They turned on him with mild irritation.
"This does not concern you."
"Seek your amusement elsewhere Raven, and leave us to our duties."
Raven rolled his eyes. "So melodramatic. Come now, a moment of your time. I’ve had a thought."
"A thought?" One of them, Giles wasn’t sure which as they had turned away, spoke with something resembling astonishment.
"Truly a remarkable event," another added dryly.
"This isn’t going to happen is it?" Buffy whispered.
"Patience," Giles advised.
Raven refused to rise to the bait, and reluctantly the three moved toward him and they conferred quietly. As one, the three vanished and then reappeared a few moments later. They approached the boat again. "Lord Oberon has decided to hear your plea," one began.
"It may serve to amuse him," another spoke, sounding dubious.
"Follow." They turned away and began to move toward the palace. The makeshift crew hastily dropped anchor and followed as quickly as they could. The one they had called Raven leaned against a tree smiling at them smugly. Buffy took an instant dislike to him, being strongly reminded of Cin-an-ev.
With an effort, they managed to keep up with the their guides and entered the palace somewhat out of breath. Gargoyles stood guard at the entrance to the throne room and both eyed the visitors with open curiosity. They weren’t the only ones. Word had apparently spread and many Fay had come to learn what the new arrivals were doing on Avalon, or more likely, Giles realized with a suppressed shiver, what Oberon would do to them.
The crowd in the throne room made way for them and they caught their first sight of Oberon. Giles caught his breath. The Fay lord was every bit as regal and intimidating as the tales had led him to expect. What had not been adequately conveyed though was the utter disdain he saw in Oberon’s expression. His face might as well have been carved of granite for all the emotion he showed as he waited for their party to come before him.
"What, pray tell, is this?"
"These mortals seek asylum on Avalon, my lord."
"Indeed?" Oberon sounded bored as he looked over the group. He scowled when his eyes fell on Spike. "You dare bring a vampire before me?"
"He’s harmless," Buffy surprised herself by speaking up.
"He is vermin," Oberon stated with finality. He barely spared the impertinent human a glance, but that was enough to catch his attention. He looked back and then looked closer. The girl was Fay touched. A spell of unusual complexity was woven throughout her being. And she was a Slayer.
"Why," he asked, "does a Slayer speak on behalf of a vampire?"
"He has a chip in his head, that zaps him if he even tries to hurt a human. He can’t feed and he can’t hit. Other vampires don’t want anything to do with him, so basically… no one wants him around." This won her a hurt look from Spike.
"A fitting punishment for a vampire," Oberon observed, a rare note of approval in his voice. It was something that he himself might have devised. He continued to look them over. He stopped at Anya next. "Anyanka."
One by one the group turned to stare at her. Anya looked uncomfortable, especially under Xander’s direct gaze. "It was a long time ago!"
The Fay queen turned and raised a sculpted eyebrow. "Another tryst husband? I thought I knew about them all." There was a sound of muffled laughter from the audience, Oberon glanced up, and it died immediately.
"You are over pert my queen," his tone was mild, but carried a warning note. Titania gave a slight smile. Oberon didn’t see it, as his eyes had never left the decidedly odd group before him. Perhaps, he mused, there was potential for entertainment here after all.
He quickly passed over Giles and Xander and came to rest on Dawn, who stood bracketed by Tara and Willow, both of whom looked very much like bodyguards despite their efforts not to. Though he betrayed no reaction he was truly startled by the… potential the girl seemed to possess. She was not a witch and gave no outward evidence of power, but the feeling of her was like that of a great river surging against a dam. There was a puzzle here to solve, and Oberon loved puzzles.
The glance he spared the girl was of only slightly greater length than he had granted the two human males. He was certain that only Titania knew him well enough to detect his interest in her. He moved on with the proceedings while maintaining his demeanor of utter boredom. "It is a diversion I suppose. Tell me why you seek asylum here? And why should I grant it?"
He fully intended to grant them leave to stay for a short time, long enough at any rate to discover the girl’s true nature. It wouldn’t do to be seen as soft though, and though he would admit it to no one he was curious as to why a group containing two powerful witches, a sorcerer, a vampire, and a Slayer would need asylum.
Giles stepped forward and began the story. Oberon listened patiently to an obviously edited account. He was both offended and mildly amused that the mortal believed he could deceive the lord of the Third Race so easily. He held his temper with an effort as it was clear he was trying to protect the girl who was looking about her with saucer sized eyes, taking in the wonders of his throne room.
"I have heard of this Glorificus," Oberon nodded. "She is indeed a threat… to mortals." He considered briefly. "You say you do not know her intentions?"
"But you believe her time is running out?"
"My research and her behavior indicate that the time to perform whatever ritual she needs to perform is running out. I believe we can wait her out. That’s why Avalon is the perfect place. She cannot come here and the ah, time difference should solve our problem for us."
Oberon frowned as he considered the possibilities and the risks. Glorificus was a formidable enemy, but news of the manner in which she’d been overthrown and had her powers stripped had reached even Avalon. Oberon had been somewhat amused by the demon-god’s fall from power. She had overreached herself and paid for it. Her current circumstances had been a source of bad jokes for some time among them. Irony was something that the Third Race understood well.
After a suitable pause, he nodded. "Very well. You may stay until dawn, but you must be gone at daybreak, linger not a second longer." With that, he dismissed them, leaving them to their own devices as he rose from his throne and left the room.
Titania smiled at them. "You have been accorded a rare gift. Do not waste your time here, and do not remind Oberon of your presence." She smiled. "You’ve managed to amuse him, but do not… ‘push your luck.’"
"We won’t," Giles assured her for the group. "Thank you." He bowed deeply and led the group out of the throne room. Once the doors had shut behind them, they looked around the hall that seemed to stretch endlessly in both directions.
"You heard the lady," Xander said smiling. "Let’s look around." There was a general agreement, but Giles warned them against wandering off and getting into trouble. He was as curious as the rest, but, as usual
, he reflected wistfully, I have to be the adult.
He glanced at the only two members of the group that were older than himself and suppressed a sigh.
Dawn stuck close to Buffy and Spike stayed near them both, not liking the idea of them wandering about without someone to watch their backs. The island made him nervous. Magic seemed to radiate from the native’s in waves, and the look Oberon had given him didn’t help matters. The vampire hovered protectively near the Slayer and her little sister even as the others spread out into a looser grouping, each stopping to gawk at new wonders as they made their way through the palace. They never strayed to far from each other though, by unspoken agreement. Always they stayed within earshot of the rest of the group.
The sound of combat attracted Buffy’s attention. She made her way into a small courtyard where several gargoyles were training under the direction of an older human. She watched for a time with a critical eye toward technique. The human noticed the small group and called for a rest. "Come lads, we have guests. Let us not be rude." The accent leant a rough edge to his voice that Buffy found she liked. He was about Giles’ age and smiled affably as he approached. "I had not heard o’ new arrivals on the island. I’m Tom, Guardian of the clan."
"Buffy Summers," Buffy replied wondering why a clan of Gargoyles would need a human Guardian. "This is my sister Dawn." She introduced the others as the gargoyles that had been watching the practice match gathered round.
"Its been a while since there’s been any other humans on the island ‘sides me and Katherine. What brings ye here?"
"Long story," Buffy allowed a small, rueful smile. "Let’s just say we needed a safe place."
"Safe?" One of the Gargoyles, a muscular male with dusky gold skin and back curved horns like a ram’s. "Oberon barely tolerates us
. I wouldn’t have thought he’d welcome any outsiders." Buffy shrugged. "Well I’m glad he did. We get no news of the outside world here."
Willow and Tara drifted slightly away from the conversation. The Gargoyles made Tara nervous, and Willow found herself keenly aware of her girlfriend’s moods. She offered a reassuring smile but didn’t try to draw her back into their company. Instead, they wandered to the edge of the courtyard, looking for a new topic. There were wonders aplenty to see, even in as mundane a place as a walled-in courtyard. Willow found herself being unexpectedly drawn by Tara toward an archway and through it. She thought to protest and glanced back at the others, but noticed that the group was drifting apart anyway.
Tara pulled her by the hand as she led her way through the stone hallways. Willow frowned slightly, realizing that her lover seemed to be following a sound only she could hear, and her manner discouraged interruption. Staying with her to protect her was the best Willow could do. Finally, they stopped outside a door, and Tara opened it without knocking or hesitating.
Xander found himself sitting next to Spike watching Buffy and Gabriel, the clan’s leader. Normally, he would have been irritated by Spike’s commentary, "poetry in motion she is," but he found himself too distracted by sight of Buffy sparring with a gargoyle to be paying the vampire any real attention. Giles was doing the Watcher thing coaching Buffy on her form while Dawn was looking bored. Anya was talking to one of the Fay; an Asian looking woman who chatted amiably and soon led the ex-vengeance demon off somewhere. Renewing old acquaintances
, he thought dismissing the matter. It might have bothered him more to see her going off with one of the male Fay, but he had long since gotten used to Anya’s demon acquaintances turning up occasionally to say hi. He turned back to the match.
Buffy dropped and swept, attempting to knock Gabriel’s feet from under him, but he easily jumped over and Buffy had to roll quickly aside to avoid being pinned when he came down. Both scrambled to their feet and circled warily.
"You’re good," Buffy commented. Gabriel smiled at the complement. The girl was an able warrior and, had she been a gargoyle, would have been quite attractive. Even for a human she was eye-catching. He noticed one of his rookery brothers, Cyril, watching her, and his smile turned rueful. Poor Cyril fell in love at least once a week, and their exotic human visitor was, Gabriel realized, just his type. Cyril caught his eye and there was an eager look there that bordered on pleading.
"Gabriel is one of my best warriors," Tom said from the sidelines, oblivious to Cyril’s attention. The guardian had been the one to suggest the sparring match after learning that Buffy was the Slayer. He had told the tale of a Slayer he had met years ago during one of his trips to the outside world to check on Goliath and his clan. Finding himself in Africa rather than Scotland, he had been drawn into a fight between a Bantu Slayer and an undead priest that had formed his own tribe of vampires. The story had both humans and gargoyles riveted.
That tale had quickly led to others of past battles and discussion of fighting styles, then to a sparring match.
Gabriel who had been naturally curious about the new arrivals was the first to notice that there were fewer than there had been. There were only four present. Three sitting on a low wall watching them and the young woman he was sparring with. He idly wondered where the others were even as he called a halt to give Cyril a chance to ‘get acquainted’ with the Slayer.
Dawn wondered what was making the light. She had been following it for some time now, but couldn’t get close enough to discern a source. Twice she had almost given it up and gone back to Buffy, but when such thoughts entered her mind the light grew a little brighter and she realized that if she sped up, just a bit, she could catch it. Once she knew, she could turn back and return to Buffy before she’d known that her sister had left.
Her brow furrowed in thought. Hadn’t she already been gone awhile? Dismissing the notion with a shake of her head she put on a little burst of speed. She’d just left after all.
They entered a private chamber to find a man with silver hair sitting in a large old-fashioned wing chair staring into the fireplace. He didn’t glance up when they entered. The look of intense concentration on his face stopped Tara when the closed door hadn’t. Willow glanced at her in confusion and then tried to draw her out of the room before the Fay noticed them.
"Wait." The voice stopped them. "Don’t run off. I’ll be done in a moment." He hadn’t glanced up from the fire, and he didn’t seem to be doing anything but staring into it.
After a short time, he looked up and smiled at them. "It has been a long time since one of you came to me."
"One of… who?" Tara shook her head, as if emerging from a daze.
The man smiled. "I can understand your confusion. The pull is somewhat hypnotic, other concerns drift away."
"What are you talking about?" Tara asked nervously. She wasn’t even sure how she had gotten there and had no idea who the man in front of her was, if man was the right word. "You’re Fay aren’t you?"
"Of course," he smiled easily. "Relax child. I’ll answer your questions as best I can."
Oberon watched the girl’s progress through his palace curiously. Directing her with a simple will-o-the-wisp, he found himself vaguely disappointed that she was so easy to manipulate. What resistance there was centered around her sister. Oberon spared a thought for the Slayer, an anomaly to be sure. It would be easy enough to discover the nature and source of the enchantment on her, but it was effort he didn’t care to expend. Dawn, however, interested him.
There was power in the girl, great power, and he wanted to know its source. One could never tell when something truly interesting and perhaps even advantageous might drop into one’s lap. The power was not of the Third Race. That much had been easy to determine. It was also obvious that the power was beyond her reach. It was not something Dawn could access or use any more than a grimoire could cast its own spells. She did not use magic, she was magic.
Oberon considered different ways to plumb the girl’s secrets as he watched her wander into his next test. She was a puzzle. More than that, though, she could be an opportunity.
Buffy and Cyril seemed to be getting on well, much to Spike’s displeasure. The horned oaf was clearly smitten and Buffy was smiling at him as they sparred and conversed. That they did both at the same time annoyed him, as he remembered the easy back and forth he and the Slayer had had even when they were trying to kill each other. That was his ‘thing’. How dare this… this… Spike ground his teeth, muttering darkly. Xander glanced over at him, smirking.
The vampire cast him a venomous look, weighing the pleasure of wiping the look off the carpenter’s face against the pain it would cause him. He had almost decided it would be worth it when he remembered Dawn. She would be upset if he started pounding on the idiot, so Spike snuck a quick glance to see if the Slayer’s sister was watching. Then he looked again, at first with annoyance and then with growing alarm.
"Buffy! Where’s Dawn?" The Slayer spun on her heel and looked about frantically. She was sure Dawn had been sitting there just a moment ago. Spike and Xander moved quickly to locate the missing girl only to discover that Anya, Tara, and Willow were also gone.
"Did anyone see them leave?" Buffy turned to the Guardian in growing alarm.
"Not I," the man shook his head. Gabriel cut him off before he could continue.
"Ophelia, Cyril, Geoffrey, spread out and help our guests find them." He turned back to Buffy. "Don’t worry my lady. The palace is safe. I’m sure they’ll turn up soon with no harm done."
Glory waited impatiently in the prow of the boat while her minions labored to get the vessel underway. It was a ridiculous way to travel, but it was the only way to get to Avalon with her power restricted. Once again, she cursed the traitors who had banished her. That she had been planning to destroy them and seize control of their dimension for herself was beside the point.
She glanced back at her minions when the boat finally began to move. "About time!"
"Your pardon oh Glorious One!" Jinx whined. "All is in readiness for the voyage. Rest assured, the Key will soon be in our grasp."
"It had better be," she snapped in a tone that sent the scabby little toad scurrying away, "time is running out."
Gabriel organized his clan with admirable speed. He himself stayed with Buffy as the others searched. Giles and Xander went one way in search of Willow and Tara as well as Dawn. The others split up, Spike heading off on his own, following a hunch.
He had seen the way that Oberon’s eyes had lingered on Dawn, and he recognized the look. Oberon was subtler to be sure, but a very similar look used to grace Angelus’ face when he’d found a new obsession. Some of the things Angelus had done to his ‘obsessions’ had caused hardened soldiers to toss their cookies. He silently vowed that no harm would come to Dawn. The thought of what it would do to Buffy if she lost her little sister tore at his heart.
He knew that that image, the idea that he could actually feel anything for Buffy or Dawn, would probably wring mocking laughter from Xander and Giles, but he didn’t care. "Bugger ‘em," he muttered as he made his way toward the throne room.
"I’ve gone by a variety of names, but I think Baldur is the one you’re most likely to recognize." He gave a slight wince at the memory that evoked. It had been a foolish wager, and he had only accepted it after becoming very drunk. He had to admit though, that even had he been sober he might not have anticipated that holly tipped spear.
"B-baldur? Y-yeah, I’ve heard of you," Tara tried hard not to stammer, but the stranger made her very nervous. "Why…"
"You were drawn to me, my dear because blood calls out to blood."
"Many human’s who possess a talent for magic can claim some distant relationship to the Fay." Both girls stared at him in shock. "Oberon’s children are a lusty lot. They’ve sewn their seed far and wide," he smiled ruefully. "Very few take any interest in their offspring, though."
"Do you mean that y-y-you are related to me?" Tara barely got the words out.
"At some point in your family line," he confirmed. "That is why you were drawn to me." He frowned thoughtfully. "No real way of knowing how far back it was." He sighed. "There’ve been so many. There is a… vulnerability about your race that I find very endearing."
The two witches glanced at each other, unsure how to take that. So matter-of-factly did he speak that Tara had to think on the implications for a moment before blushing. In an effort to cover her embarrassment, she tried to move the conversation forward, not daring to look at Willow; not sure she wanted to know what her lover thought of this development. "So why am I here?" Tara asked. "Are humans with F-fay blood just drawn to… uh,…"
"To your ancestors?" he asked in amusement. "Not exactly." His condescending manner was beginning to rankle Willow. It gave her something to focus on besides the revelation that one of Tara’s ancestors wasn’t human. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that, but she did know that it wouldn’t change the way she felt about Tara. "Most don’t bother to seek out their children, let alone their descendants. Keeping track of such things is a hobby of mine, though. You wouldn’t believe how many actual children Oberon has."
"Living in a glass house aren’t you?" Willow asked archly. Tara glanced worriedly at her lover; concerned over the reaction this would provoke. To her surprise though, Baldur only laughed.
"Too true, my dear. I do, however, take an interest in my descendants, at least enough of an interest to check up on them when I meet them. I never expected to meet one here, though."
Oberon waited patiently for the girl to arrive in the garden. He had, after much consideration, arrived at a decision. The girl’s true nature was concealed, protected by a powerful enchantment, and although he could break it by brute force, it might damage the girl and make her power unusable. It was clear from the Watcher’s tale that he didn’t know the nature of the power, so it was probable that the girl was also ignorant as to her true nature.
That could be changed, though. While he could not break the enchantment that protected her without risking losing her entirely, as it was the enchantment that gave her human form, he could alter it. He could put her power under her conscious control. It should tell him all he needed to know and with the proper guidance, guidance only he could provide, she could become a tremendous asset to him.
The light of the wisp and the sound of pursuing footsteps brought him out of his reverie. He smiled in anticipation and then marshaled his features into an expression of surprise as the wisp entered the garden and, at his silent command, circled away from him and then, as if by coincidence, came close to pass behind him.
Dawn saw Oberon look up in surprise and then in mild irritation as the light circled the garden and headed for a different archway. The garden was large enough that she was finally able to get a clear look at it before it could vanish around another corner.
It was nothing more than a hovering ball of light. The compulsion to follow it vanished when she got a clear look at it. That and Oberon’s presence stopped her in her tracks. He looked irritated. With a gesture, he dispersed the light and glanced at Dawn. She began to back away, afraid he would do the same to her. Instead, he smiled.
"Don’t be alarmed child. It was only a will-o-the-wisp. Some of my children find them amusing." The disdain in his tone made it clear he did not. "Where is you sister?" That stopped Dawn’s retreat. Where was Buffy? Where was she? How long had she been gone?
"I-I better go find her." She turned to go but stopped when she realized that she had no idea where she was. "Um…"
"Do not be concerned child. I’m sure your sister will be about, probably looking for you." He saw Dawn wince. "The wisps are somewhat hypnotic. Your sister can hardly blame you for being lured away." Dawn seemed relieved. "She is very protective, even more so than I would expect." Oberon carefully urged the girl to talk, a slight compulsion combined with a spell to calm her.
"Yeah, well, I’m kinda all she has left with mom gone." Oberon nodded.
"Understandable." Dawn edged closer, feeling more at ease. Outside his throne room the Fay king wasn’t nearly as intimidating. "This must be difficult for you, uprooted from your home by Glorificus."
Dawn stiffened, becoming wary. "What do you know about her?" Dawn asked. "Do you know what she wants?"
Oberon made a dismissive gesture. "It is of no consequence. She is mad, and her motivations are irrelevant to me." He gave her a reassuring smile. "And to you as long as you are on my island." Dawn returned the smile.
"Thank you. She really scares me. So strong."
"You don’t need to fear her," Oberon replied.
Dawn gave a brief snort of laughter, and then paled slightly when she remembered whom she was talking to. "Sorry, but its easy for you to say. You’re not the one she wants to shove into a magic lock and twist." Now that, Oberon thought, was interesting. Magic lock? He reinforced her compulsion to speak. "I just wish I wasn’t so helpless. I’m supposed to have all this power and I can’t even do anything to protect myself. I have to rely on Buffy and the others, and they can’t do anything against Glory. Not really." She frowned. "Well once Willow and Tara did this really cool spell that sent her away. For a while, before she came back I got a kick out of wondering about all the icky places she might have wound up. Like maybe she popped into someone’s septic tank." She grinned at the image that created, and Oberon smiled as well, careful to play the indulgent, benevolent host. In truth, the child’s prattling was rather irritating, but she did have a vicious streak in her that he liked. "Or maybe she just showed up in midair a mile above town, like those old roadrunner cartoons she’d just hang there for a second and then look down and…" she let out a low whistle and mimed something being dropped from a great height.
Oberon chuckled. "Amusing, but it must be frustrating for you."
"Yeah," Dawn sagged. "I hate being helpless."
"There is no reason to be."
Dawn frowned, thinking for a moment. "I thought about asking Willow to teach me magic, but as powerful as she is even she can’t do much to Glory. That spell I told you about? It took a lot out of her and she’s been studying for, like, years."
"You said it yourself child. You have a great deal of power, perhaps enough to counter Glory if it were used against her. I felt that power in you when you came into my throne room."
"But I can’t use it. It’s not like I can…" she fumbled for words for a second before giving up, "use it. I-I don’t even know what it’s for."
"Hmm." Oberon gave a show of considering the possibilities. "Perhaps I can help you find out."
"When I saw you in the throne room I saw something I thought I recognized. Something I couldn’t quite define." Baldur smiled thoughtfully. "I suspected a connection between us so I cast a simple spell. A call that only one of my blood could hear."
"Well… ‘hear’ I am," Tara joked rather nervously. "Um, so... you were just curious? I mean its good to know I guess, but…" Tara trailed off, uncertain as to how to proceed. What do you say to an ancestor, a not-human ancestor, who just pops up to say ‘hi’?
"I admit that at first I was merely curious. Not only are you a descendant of mine, but you arrive in such strange company." His smile faded and he sobered. "Then your Watcher friend mentioned Glory. I am… familiar with her."
"Do you know anything about her that might help us?" Willow asked eagerly, her earlier irritation forgotten. "I mean we spent days researching her and found nothing."
"That’s not surprising. As old as Glory is, she’s not accumulated much of a reputation outside her small circle, and she has never encouraged interest in her history or her weaknesses."
"So she does have weaknesses." Tara sighed with relief. "We were starting to think she didn’t have any."
"Oh she has weaknesses, especially now." At their expectant looks he sighed and continued.
The mists began to thin and Glory leaned forward eagerly, watching for the first sight of the shore. It wouldn’t be long now. She’d have the key and her way home. The Fay didn’t worry her overmuch as she knew their weaknesses, and was prepared to exploit them.
"There! Oh sacred Glorious one, we have arrived." Glory actually smiled as the mists cleared to reveal Avalon.
"Get ready," she snapped. "There’ll be a reception committee."
Buffy had admirable stamina for a human, Cyril thought as he led the way at a brisk pace through the palace corridors. It was not a surprise to him that the Fay had been of no assistance. The first one, a dark skinned man with eight eyes had very helpfully sent them on a wild goose chase into the orchard. There they had found a dryad who suggested they drag the moat.
They had returned to the castle and learned from the Gargoyles on guards that Dawn had not left the castle. Over the next half-hour Cyril watched the Slayer’s temper grow ever shorter as they searched the palace without success, and the corridor’s tendency to rearrange themselves without warning, rhyme, or reason didn’t help matters. They had never done that before the Fay returned and Cyril had concluded that it was their landlord’s idea of a game, watching the humans and Gargoyles wander helplessly about before finally asking for help.
They emerged on a balcony over a 150-foot drop that Cyril was at a loss to explain as they had been following a corridor off the main entrance hall. Buffy pounded on the ornate stone rail with a growl that would have done a Gargoyle proud. She spun on her heel. Cyril outdistanced her, hoping to head her off before she could do something she would regret.
He was angry himself, but he knew the Fay better than Buffy and knew when and when not to push. Still to appease the Slayer he was prepared to push a little. "You said we would find Dawn down that corridor," he glared at Raven fiercely. Buffy was approaching rapidly, and he hoped that she would calm down when she saw that he was confronting the Fay who had pointed the way to yet another dead end.
"You will," Raven assured him mildly. "All you have to do is wait." Other Fay who had gathered to watch the fun groaned at the poor joke. Buffy didn’t laugh either. She didn’t even slow down. There was a shocked silence as the trickster hit the ground several feet from where he’d been standing and lay still. Then the laughter started in earnest, following the infuriated Slayer and her gaping Gargoyle companion down the hall.
"I think I’m in love," Cyril murmured as he sped up to keep pace with her. Buffy shot a look at him and he swallowed hard, realizing she’d overheard him. An aborted explanation/apology was cut off when she turned away and chose another corridor, apparently at random.
Spike found her in the corridor just outside her private chamber. "Hang on a moment." His tone stopped her in her tracks and she turned to face him, a cool expression settling over her features. She did not speak, only stared at him expectantly. Spike slowed as he approached her, realizing he was on thin ice just being on the island, he certainly didn’t need to antagonize the queen.
"Dawn is missing," he began without preamble. "The others are searching, but haven’t found her yet."
"I suggest you find her before sunrise," Titania said smoothly and turned toward her door.
"If you don’t think this concerns you, yer mistaken."
"Explain." His tone gave her pause; she had sensed the girl’s potential and had been dubious about allowing the group to stay on Avalon.
"Dawn’s a lot more than she seems. I’m guessing you know this." Titania nodded. "And Oberon knows this too?" Titania frowned slightly, nodding again. "I saw the way he looked at her in the throne room. The pointy-eared set don’t corner the market on scheming you know. I could practically hear the gears grinding."
"Curb your tongue parasite," Titania warned mildly. "My husband’s ‘schemes’ are not your concern."
"No, Dawn is my concern. Now where are they?" Making demands of her was risky to the point of suicidal, but it was necessary.
"Why do you care vampire? Why does a soulless creature concern himself with a girl he would normally consider nothing more than food?"
"I made a promise to a lady," Spike answered tersely, not bothering to elaborate. "Thing is, that power you sensed in Dawn? It’s not something anyone should be fooling with, not even your hubby, maybe especially not him." He didn’t want to reveal too much, but when Titania seemed unmoved by his vague warning he realized he had to become specific. "Have you ever heard of the Order of Dagon and what they guard? The Key?" This got a reaction. Titania’s eyes widened slightly in a barely controlled expression of shock.
"That child?" she managed after a moment. Spike nodded. "That’s why Glory wants her," she mused, regaining her composure and thinking quickly. To her knowledge Oberon was unaware of the Key’s existence or Glory’s interest in it. He considered demons and their dealings beneath his notice. It would not be the first time that his arrogance had led him into trouble.
"Glory killed the monks who were guardin’ the Key, but before she finished them off they hid it. Worked some mojo to make it into something different to hide it. So they made it human. Made it the safest thing they could think of, the Slayer’s baby sister."
"Do you know what the Key is?"
"No. We haven’t found anyone who can tell us."
"That would be very bad," Tara whispered.
"You have a gift for understatement child," Baldur informed her with a slight smile. "Oberon does not know of the Key. I’m not sure that even he could protect Avalon if it were activated."
"So he’d probably want to destroy it if he found it," Willow surmised, careful not to let the Fay see how the notion alarmed her. She couldn’t let that happen, not to Dawn, but she had no idea how she could oppose someone as powerful as Oberon. "It would be safest."
"Not necessarily. He might try to harness the power of the Key for himself." His statement was met with incredulous looks.
"You’re kidding right?" Willow demanded. "I mean he’s already the king of a people who are worshipped as gods how much more power does he need?!"
Under different circumstances he might have found that funny. Clearly his descendant and her friend knew nothing of Oberon or his appetites. Nothing was ever enough for the king of the Third Race. Baldur regarded them gravely. "Oberon remains power hungry despite his position."
"Could he control the Key?" Tara asked. "I mean it sounds like a doomsday weapon. Tearing down all the walls between dimensions… it…"
"I believe he could, and would if the opportunity presented itself." Not as fond of mincing words or playing games as his cousins, Baldur had always been, by the standards of his race, unnervingly direct. It was a tendency that had caused some strain with his fellow Fay, but served him well in his dealings with the younger races. "You have the Key, or you know where it is. That’s why you had to flee to Avalon." The two girls traded worried glances. "I strongly suspect that is why Oberon let you stay, because he’s aware of the Key and wants it for himself."
"B-but you said he doesn’t know about the Key."
"He doesn’t, to my knowledge, but he is attuned to the island and is immediately aware of any magical… potential, entering his domain, no matter how well it’s hidden. He may not know its nature, but if its here you can be sure that he’s aware of its presence. Any magic not of the Third Race’s making will set up a disturbing… resonance I suppose is the word you would use. That disharmony is one of the reasons that mixing magic can be so dangerous."
"The Key…" Tara broke off and glanced at Willow.
"You needn’t tell me anything," Baldur assured them. "But be aware of the risk; the risk the Key itself poses and the risk of losing it to Oberon."
"We should get back," Willow said suddenly. "We need to tell Buffy this stuff about the Key. She needs to know." Both witches headed for the door, but Tara remembered her manners and turned back.
"Thank you. It was very nice meeting you." She then turned and followed Willow out.
"The pleasure was mine," Baldur said to the closed door. He wondered if he should be worried about the Key’s presence on Avalon. Oberon was arrogant, but he wasn’t stupid. Surely even he would know when to leave well enough alone. Wouldn’t he?
Glory strode toward the palace, now confident that the Fay artifact she carried was sufficient to conceal her presence, at least for a time. The cloak she had stolen from that halfling in Greece nearly three thousand years ago worked as reliably as ever.
Glory snorted disdainfully when she thought about the ‘hero’ she had taken it from. The fool had never realized its full potential. It was not merely a cloak of invisibility as he had believed. It rendered the wearer undetectable by any means, even to members of the Third Race. That and the other surprise she carried should keep the Fay from bothering her while she retrieved her Key.
She walked blithely past the two gargoyles guarding the main gate and into the palace proper.
The sisters withdrew from the beach and the wreckage of the demons’ craft. Despite the iron weapons they had carried the creatures had proved no real threat. Still Oberon would not be pleased to learn that demons, no doubt drawn by Avalon’s latest visitors, had attempted to land on the island.
"Feh!" Selene remarked. "They even make ugly fish."
"They will not trouble us again," Phoebe responded, "but we must inform Lord Oberon at once. More may come." They willed themselves to the palace, drawn by their king’s presence. It was always possible to sense him, and it was usually possible to sense his mood. A good thing, as Oberon was mercurial, and it was not always safe, even for his most loyal servants, to be in his presence. In transit they took passing note of a disturbance, apparently caused by the Slayer, and silently added it to the list of reasons the interlopers should be sent away, or simply destroyed, immediately.
Oberon was in the garden. They appeared near him but held their peace when they saw what was happening. The youngest human stood before him, eyes closed as Oberon wove a spell about her. The look of intense concentration on their king’s face surprised them. It took a task that would daunt any three of his children to truly tax Oberon’s power. They held back, watching curiously at first and then with growing trepidation as they felt the girl’s latent power surge.
Like the others, the sisters had seen the girl’s potential and had been hard pressed not to object openly when Oberon had allowed the group to stay. They dared not question their king’s decision publicly, but they had tried to speak to him privately after he had left. Oberon had brushed aside their counsel as foolish worry and sent them away. Now, they understood why.
The potential they had all sensed was being manipulated, being slowly and carefully brought to realization. The three traded nervous glances and backed away slowly. It was difficult to tell precisely what was happening, but judging by the play of energies and stresses on the spell that kept the girl’s power in check, the process was nearing completion.
Carefully. Carefully, Oberon manipulated the spell. It was of unusual complexity for a spell cast by humans; both powerful and subtle, but it was not beyond his abilities. He would have been offended by the idea had someone suggested that anything was beyond his power. Privately he had to acknowledge that the task presented him with a rare challenge. In order to reshape the spell, it was necessary to understand every aspect of it. The vessel’s shape and integrity had to be maintained, not for the sake of the girl but because altering it might mean losing control of the power entirely. It was a slow, difficult process, but he could feel it working. He had had to negate any physical effects, which would have mostly entailed the child reverting to a previous state, raw energy as far as he could tell. It was also necessary to take her mind into account as he was working with a living, thinking creature. Making the power available to her meant making the memories of her previous state available. To prevent psychological trauma that could render her useless or even dangerous to him, he had to soften the blow of those memories, place them at a distance so that she could access them but not be affected by them. That was the trickiest part.
With his delicate work nearing completion several things happened at once. He had felt the arrival of the three a moment ago, and had noted with satisfaction that they had had better sense than to interrupt. A pity, he reflected, that not everyone demonstrated such wisdom. His concentration was broken by a strident female voice and an uppercut that would have done serious structural damage to his palace.
"Get away from my Key smurf!!" Glory seemed to appear out of nowhere. It took Oberon a moment to shift his focus and realize that the hell god was discarding one of Arachne’s creations, a cloak that he vaguely remembered having ordered destroyed thousands of years ago. He focused on Glory, his wrath building rapidly.
"How dare you?!" Oberon shrugged his way free of the wall he had been knocked partially through and advanced on her as she grabbed the child by the arm. Before she could secure her grip though she was knocked away by another female form. Oberon widened his focus and felt several groups converging on the garden. The Slayer was already there, pounding on Glorificus with a ferocity that would have frightened most mortals and not a few immortals. Glory seemed more annoyed than injured though and took a wild swing, knocking the Slayer away only to be tackled by one of Oberon’s own honor guard.
The Gargoyle loosed a battle cry that would draw the entire population of the castle to the garden. The garden was open to the sky and a glance upwards showed several of the clan already responding to the disturbance. The two witches entered by another route quickly followed by the rest of the Slayer’s party. Individually, neither Glory, the Slayer, nor any of her companions posed any true threat to Oberon or his plans, but the situation was, he realized, quickly getting out of hand. Then she arrived. He felt the barest whisper of Fay magic and didn’t even need to look to see who it was.
"Perhaps, husband, this was not the wisest course of action," Titania suggested mildly. The vampire was with her, which only added to Oberon’s annoyance.
Quickly surveying the scene, Spike spotted Dawn standing in the middle of the maelstrom apparently frozen in terror. A glance to her right showed him Glory barreling through the ranks of the newly arrived gargoyles like an American linebacker running for the goal. With a roar of his own he ducked under one of Glory’s blows and lifted her off her feet. There was an indignant squawk from the hell skank and Spike quickly flung her away before she could get a grip on him. He could never say afterwards whether, on some level, he had planned it or if it was just lucky chance that Oberon was in his line of fire.
Dawn didn’t see the chaos around her. She only dimly heard the cries of pain and other sounds of violence. Memories overwhelmed her. Memories of a life, if that was the right word, so different that it was beyond her comprehension.
The memories were hers, and yet, they weren’t.
Familiar, yet utterly alien.
And with the memories came knowledge.
She knew what she was,
She knew her purpose.
Dawn screamed, and Avalon screamed with her.
TO BE CONTINUED