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Fates of Love: Queen of the Alexions

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Fates of Love". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Fic from cmdruhura, part of the Fates of Love universe. Xander meeting Diana was a turning point in both their lives. However, they never realized how much trouble they could find together. So, it’s Buffy’s time once again to solve her friends’ mess

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
DC Universe > Justice LeagueBigHeadFR13165,677133817,42428 Mar 0728 Mar 07Yes
CoA Winner
Title: Fates of Love: Queen of the Alexions
Author: cmdruhura
Rating: Teen, for now.
Parts: ?/?
Disclaimer: Any characters that you recognize are most probably not mine. I receive no profits from this. It is just for fun.
Feedback: Constructive Criticism desired.
Beta: BigHead, GreyWizard

Summary: Xander meeting Diana was a turning point in both their lives. However, they never realized how much trouble they could find together. So, it’s Buffy’s time once again to solve her friends’ mess.

AN: Thoughts are placed between double slashes (i.e. //This is a thought.//)

AN: Ancient Greek is between #’s.

AN: Unheard part of a conversation – “*****”

---------

The coastal guards kept vigilant watch from the tree line over the nighttime sea, even though the ship was well over the horizon. Its predicted course would bring it twenty miles closer than any other ship had approached in many, many years. The reason was known to all. The ship was trying to skirt around a storm to keep its passengers from being inconvenienced. The guards kept a wary watch, anyway.

An hour before the closest point of approach of the ship, the relief guard arrived. However, the current guard remained at their posts until an hour after the ship had passed the closest point of approach. It never varied its course and speed while it passed by.

Two hours later, with yet another hour to go before relief, the ranking guard for the beach area that would be nearest the course of the ship saw a black object floating in with the incoming tide. At first it looked like it might be some driftwood and was given little attention. However, as it at last was washed up on the beach, the guard realized that the assumption was wrong. The dark object rose up and walked inland a few more feet where it began to place equipment, including a small underwater scooter, into a pile just above the high water mark, while the person stayed in the surf zone.

The guard reacted and shot an arrow towards the figure that landed as intended a few feet in front of the pile.

“Whoa there,” the figure said loudly, though there seemed to be no surprise indicated in the tone used. “Is that anyway to treat visitors?”

The guard recognized the language as a derivative of English and shouted out in the same language, “This is a private island! You are trespassing! You must leave!”

“That might be a problem since the ship I came in is gone and I dunno if I can swim fast enough to catch up,” was the calm reply. “Besides, I came a long way to have an audience with your Queen.”

The latter statement really put all sixteen guards covering the beach on a higher alert than the appearance of the stranger had. It was bad enough she had managed to come ashore on an island that supposedly was hidden from sight and other detection methods, but to boldly announce a desire to have an audience with the Queen of said island when a stranger shouldn’t even know it had a Queen upped the level of concern to downright catastrophic in one giant leap.

“Stay where you are!” commanded the squad leader with a tinge of fear and dread. “Come no further onto the beach!”

The figure had steadily been removing equipment and items from its person throughout the confrontation so far until the guards could see that the figure was dressed in a scuba suit. After the last set of commands from the voice in the trees, the figure removed the hood of the suit and unzipped it to reveal an obvious feminine form in a bikini.

“I really don’t think that is as much of a problem as you might think it is,” said the short, youngish looking, blonde female. “By the way, even though I doubt you will believe me, I am here alone.”

It took a few seconds for the guard to recover from the surprise. During which time the female intruder finished removing the scuba suit.

“It does not matter,” shouted out the guard. “You must leave!”

“I don’t think so,” came the reply as the intruder started to walk onto the beach proper.

Suddenly the air was filled with arrows, all headed directly for the intruder. Even as they continued to fire, the guards had a hard time believing what they were seeing: arrows were being snatched or swatted out of the air. Others were dodged and avoided with seeming ease.

As the squad leader notched another arrow and began to pull back the bow string, something whizzed through the air and cut the string and nicked her right arm just above the elbow. Turning quickly to see what it was, she saw her own arrow sticking in a tree not too far behind her.

“Hold!” she cried out and turned to see the intruder easily dodge the last of the arrows in flight. Due to their proximity to the intruder, the squad leader felt a little satisfaction that discipline among the rest of the guard was still excellent since any arrows that would have been loosed after her command would not have been that close yet.

Drawing her sword, the squad leader walked forward. She handed her now useless bow and quiver of arrows to the nearest of her group, whom she saw also had a cut bow string. She then made her way onto the beach where the intruder stood, clutching about ten arrows, five in each hand.

As she approached, the intruder dropped the arrows and said, “You know, shooting and possibly killing a potential source of information might be frowned on by your superiors. Considering they might like to know how I know what I know.”

The squad leader flushed with anger and embarrassment because it was her arrow that had started the volley. Here, she had been proud of her unit’s discipline when it was her own that had been less that adequate. Had the intruder been male, her actions would have been justified due to the threat he would have posed to the inhabitants of the Island. But with a female intruder, capture and interrogation would have been the proper course of action.

“You will come with us to our Captain,” said the squad guarder. “She will decide what to do with you once she has heard your explanation for being here is.”

“Actually, the Queen is the only one I will be explaining my presence to, but we can start out with your Captain,” replied the intruder. “By the way, since it will probably take some time to get to your Captain, would you mind if I changed my clothes? I’m sure the path is a bit rocky and the night air is kinda cool.”

When she saw that the squad leader was looking at her as though she had lost her mind, the intruder said, “You can check out the clothes. They’re in the water-proof bag just to the right of the rest of my gear. That’s my right, by the way.”

“Yram! Enna!” the squad leader called over her shoulder. “Check her bag and the rest of her gear! Lyrpa! Retrieve the arrows! Esor! Promethean Protocol!”

Facing back towards the intruder, she ordered, “You! Move further away from the pile!”

The intruder rolled her eyes and casually moved ten paces further from the pile of gear. The squad leader moved with her, placing herself in a position to defend the two guards checking the intruder’s gear, if needed. The third guard that came from the trees busied herself with gathering the arrows furthest away from the intruder’s position. Whatever command the fourth guard was to carry out apparently did not require her to leave the protection of the trees.

While the bag was being searched and the arrows recovered, the squad leader took a closer look at the intruder. The black bikini seemed to be the only clothing worn by the intruder and from her perspective, it did not appear that she could conceal anything much larger than a grain of sand beneath it without it being noticed. She noted two necklaces, each with a pendant attached. It might be possible to form a two foot chain if they were attached and the pendants might then be used as some kind of weighted flail but they did not look heavy enough to do much damage to her or the other guards’ armor. One pendant she recognized from her studies as being a symbol for some religion practiced by the world outside the Island. The other was about 3 inches long and seemed to be a replica of some kind of weapon. It had an oddly shaped blade on one end and the bottom of the haft was pointed. Again, unless the blade was sharp and both it and the pointed haft coated with poison, it was an unlikely choice for any weapon the intruder might be able to use. Of course, from the skill the intruder had already demonstrated, there was a possibility she might not need weapons. Even so, the squad leader believed that sixteen armored and armed warriors should still be able to handle the intruder should close combat occur.

Soon the squad leader’s musings were interrupted when one of the two guards searching the bag and equipment came over to her with the bag and another item to show her what had been found.

Upon seeing the one guard pull out a white garment from the bag, the intruder spoke up, “Hey! Careful with that! That’s my ‘Meet with the Queen” dress. I don’t want it all rumpled up so that I look frumpy when I meet her. First impressions are important, you know. It’s the other clothes that I plan to wear for our little hike.”

The squad leader’s anger at the intruder went up another notch as she couldn’t believe that the intruder was still talking as though she was in charge. She had half a mind to tear the gown to shreds and throw it into the surf. She refrained from doing so, though. It would be a petty gesture and she would not further disgrace herself by taking such an action. Instead, she checked over the other clothes in the bag. She found a pair of dark blue, sturdy cloth pants; a black, long-sleeved, pull-over shirt; a pair of dark brown, treaded boots with laces; a pair of dark tubes of cloth that might be used to cover the feet before putting on the boots; and finally, a magnificent pair of sandals which she surmised went along with the gown.

After checking the pack over and finding nothing more, she examined the other item the guard had brought with her, a rather large knife in a sheath. The handle seemed to have a nonslip grip that would make it very useful in the water.

“And what is this for?” she asked the intruder as she held up the knife, although she was fairly certain of what the response would be.

“A girl has to have some type of protection,” came the curt reply. “There are fish out there that are not swimmer friendly. I needed something to discourage any of them of the idea of getting some payback for all the fish dinners I’ve eaten over the years. By the way, if you had been paying attention at the time, that was the first thing I took off once I came ashore.”

Thinking back to what she remembered of the intruder’s actions once she had begun removing her equipment, the squad leader conceded that it was possible that the first item removed was in fact the knife and its sheath since the first item removed had been from the intruder’s left forearm. The size of the knife and the straps of the sheath would have allowed it to fit there with little interference to mobility of the arm, if any.

Taking all the clothing from the bag except the gown and sandals, the squad leader took them to the intruder and tossed the bundle to her when she got close enough.

The intruder caught the bundle and was about to set them on the ground when she stopped and stared at the squad leader, but not at her face.

“Is that dried blood?” she asked pointing to the squad leader’s right arm. “I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt. Was anyone else injured?”

Now the squad leader was confused. The intruder seemed to be sincere in her concern at having caused any injuries. Nothing about this encounter seemed to be going along the lines that one might think they would. It was very confusing.

“It’s nary a scratch,” she told the intruder. “No one else has reported any other injuries.”

“That’s good,” the intruder replied in a relieved tone. “You should still get that cleaned up. Infections are quite deadly if not dealt with quickly.”

“It will be tended to prior to our departure,” the squad leader replied, again surprised at the intruder’s attitude and concern for her welfare.

“Oh. By the way, you might want my name when you send a runner ahead,” the intruder said cheerfully as she pulled the shirt over her head. “I’m Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.”

This statement really caught the squad leader’s attention. She was high enough in the ranks to have the opportunity to spend time at the army’s headquarters and so had heard conversations about what the Island’s intelligence gathering had found out about what was happening with their exiled Princess. Everyone already knew that she had aligned herself with that male dominated organization of heroes, but what few others were privy to was that she had also started to have a romantic relationship with a man that was associated with some sort of female warrior society. The job of this society was apparently to protect the world from demons - in particular, vampires. If the intruder’s claim was true, then it was very possible that she might end up with an audience with the Queen.

The thing was, a runner had already been dispatched to the regional commander when she had told her second in command to initiate the Promethean Protocol. The runner would inform the commander of what had occurred up to the time she left and the commander would then dispatch reinforcements to all guard posts in her jurisdiction and relay the information to the other area commanders who would do the same for their areas. Therefore, unless she sent another runner with word of the intruder’s identity, the area commander would not know it until she brought the intruder to the commander.

The Promethean Protocol also called for dispatching runners to the sentry posts on either flank of hers to inform their squad leaders of the situation and requisition two guards from each to reinforce her guards while she escorted a prisoner under guard to the area commander. This would result in all three areas of concern being covered by 14 guards each since a normal prisoner detail would be her and four guards. However, considering the intruder’s skills and her claim, she would be taking six guards with her. This would leave 12 guards to cover the beach until the reinforcements arrived. Whether the intruder, Buffy, had spoken the truth about being alone didn’t matter. Island security had been breached and until proven otherwise, the proper increase in defenses needed to be put in place. The squad leader decided not to send another runner.

While the intruder continued to change clothes, the two guards that had inspected her gear moved it from the beach into the tree line. It would be forwarded to the area commander’s position once reinforcements had arrived and further guards could be spared for that duty. The squad commander kept the bag with the gown and sandals, plus the knife with her.

As Lyrpa picked up the last of the arrows near the squad leader’s position, she was told by the squad leader to inform Esor that six guards would make up the escort detail instead of four and that Lyrpa was to be one of them. Lyrpa acknowledged the order and slipped back into the relative safety of the trees.

Seeing that the intruder had finished dressing, the squad leader said, “Move towards the trees and make no sudden moves.”

Buffy rolled her eyes and started up the beach as directed.

“By the way,” she called over her shoulder. “I gave you my name. It’s only polite for you to give me yours. Or should I just call you ‘Hey, you’?”

Although not intending to engage in too much conversation with the intruder, the squad leader silently agreed that it might be a good idea to acquiesce to the request.

“My name is Assiram.”

At the point they entered the tree line, they were met by six other Amazons, including Lyrpa.

“Lyrpa, you will be her guide,” said Assiram.

At this, Lyrpa removed her belt with the sword and dagger attached to it and handed it over to one of the other Amazons. Once this was done, one of the other Amazons handed Lyrpa a piece of cloth and she went and stood behind the intruder.

Assiram spoke to Buffy, “You will be blindfolded and Lyrpa will be your guide. You are to keep at least one hand on her shoulders at all times. Any attempt to remove the blindfold, deviate from where Lyrpa leads you, or try and attack anyone will have severe consequences for you. Do you understand?”

“Hey, no problem,” came the reply. “I already told you I was here to see your Queen. I expected to have to jump through a few hoops to be able to do that so you’ll have no trouble from me.”

Although the intruder’s speech pattern was strange, Assiram determined enough of what was said to be certain they understood each other. She nodded to Lyrpa to proceed.

Lyrpa put the blindfold in place and tied it snuggly but not too tight. She then moved in front of the intruder and guided the intruder’s right hand to her right shoulder.

Lyrpa knew why she had gotten this duty. Of the Amazons present, she was the shortest and therefore the intruder would have the least difficulty of maintaining her hand on her shoulder as they marched to the area command post without fear of stepping on the heels of her guide. She still had four to five inches on the intruder, but was closer than the ten to twelve inches the others would have. Even though she believed the intruder really did desire an audience with the Queen and would therefore be cooperative and less of a threat, she was not too thrilled being unarmed, despite the need to take such a precaution to prevent the intruder from having possible access to a weapon.

Once she was satisfied all was in order, Assiram headed out on the path that lead deeper into the forest. Two guards abreast followed her, then Lyrpa and Buffy, one in front of the other. Two more guards abreast followed them and a single guard brought up the rear.

Thirty yards in, they came to a fork in the path and Assiram took the right-hand one.

After following Lyrpa for nine feet down the right-hand path, Buffy said loud enough for all to hear, “It’s a shame you’re taking the scenic route while I’m blindfolded. I understand there are some lovely wild flowers to be seen along this path.”

A whispered, #How?# from behind Buffy was the only indication of surprise all the Amazons felt in response to the implication that the intruder had more knowledge than should have been possible. Assiram, herself, had nearly missed a step upon hearing Buffy’s pronouncement. As it was, she was at least thankful that the intruder would not be able to count the number of reinforcements that would be traveling down the other, shorter path, as they passed by if they had gone that way instead. She also had to agree that the flowers that they would pass along this way were very lovely to see. The rest of the trek to the area command encampment occurred in silence.

----------

Assiram had just completed her report to the area commander on the incident at the beach and the supposed identity given by the intruder. To say the commander was a bit skeptical about the intruder’s agility at capturing and evading arrows being shot at her would be the height of understatement despite her having some knowledge of the purported skills of Vampire Slayers. The intruder, who was several yards away under heavy guard, looked almost child-like next to the much taller Amazons. It didn’t seem possible for Assiram’s claims to be true. Assiram called for Lyrpa to confirm the events and report on the number of arrows she recovered from the beach.

#I collected 52 arrows from the beach,# she told the commander. #From what I gathered from the other guards, at least 15 arrows had been hurled back at our positions, resulting in 7 cut bow strings.#

The commander looked from the two guards in front of her and over towards the still blindfolded intruder, who appeared to be doing some kind of mime routine where she would point in a direction and then flash some type of hand sign with her fingers. She watched this occur several times before calling her second-in-command over and ordering the guard on the intruder doubled. Granted what she had been told bordered on the impossible, but she knew the two who stood in front of her and they were not given to practical jokes or flights of hyperbole. Given that and the identity claimed by the intruder, she decided to err on the side of extreme caution.

#Assiram, you and your detail will continue with the prisoner to headquarters,# said the commander. #They will want to get first hand reports from all of you.#

She then added with a sigh of resigned exasperation, #You can remove her blindfold as well. I doubt that it is the deterrent it is suppose to be.#

At this the intruder raised her hand towards the commander and made an ‘O’ shape with her thumb and index finger.

At Assiram’s questioning look, the commander added, #While we’ve been talking, she has been indicating the number of troops encamped here and their positions relative to where she is. She was even compensating for those moving around. And despite the distance between us, she has probably overheard and understood everything we’ve said.#

While Assiram had some inkling that the intruder had some enhanced senses due to the earlier incident about the path taken to the command camp, it still amazed her to realize that the young woman could understand her conversation with the commander since they were speaking ancient Greek. This was obviously a very interesting and quite possibly dangerous, young woman.

Assiram and Lyrpa saluted the commander, then headed towards the intruder and her larger contingent of guards. While Assiram removed Buffy’s blindfold, Lyrpa retrieved her belt with sword and dagger from the guard that had been carrying it for her. They then formed up with Assiram in the lead, three guards abreast, three guards either side of Buffy, three guards behind, followed by a single trailing guard. Lyrpa was the guard to Buffy’s immediate left.

They took the most direct path to the headquarters building in the city since there didn’t seem to be any need for subterfuge anymore. Buffy seemed to be delighted to view the various wild flowers seen along the way and enthusiastically commented about them as they came into view. Assiram began to think she was leading a nature hike instead of escorting a prisoner to be interrogated.

----------

Once they arrived at guard headquarters, Buffy was put into a windowless room and left alone for about an hour. Instead of sitting in one of the chairs present, she placed herself in the Lotus Position on top of the table and settled in for some meditation time

At the end of the hour, Buffy decided she was bored and said in a normal tone of voice, “My escort should have told you that my purpose for being here is to see your Queen and my name is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What I have to say to the Queen, I will only say to her, but since I will need witnesses as well, it should be done in an open forum. Therefore, you can have as much security as you want to ensure her safety since I know you don’t trust me. So the sooner you set up the meeting, the sooner you get some of your questions answered.”

Outside the door stood the Commanding General of the Guard, the Chief Interrogator, and Squad Leader Assiram, along with the four soldiers guarding the door. They had been just about to enter the room when Buffy began her soliloquy and heard what she said. The General and the Interrogator looked nonplussed at the coincidence of the situation.

#I told you, she appeared to have very good hearing,# said Assiram by way of explanation to what just occurred. #She heard us coming and is attempting to pre-empt being questioned by telling us that she will only talk to the Queen. It’s the same attitude she displayed back at the beach.#

The Interrogator turned to the General and said, #Although this is the first I’ve heard her speak, it is my expert opinion that unless we resort to coercion or torture we can spend all day in there trying to get her to tell us anything and we will fail. She has told us all she is going to at this time. Therefore, as she said, the fastest way to get more answers is to arrange what she wants. You probably won’t get all the information you want, but you will definitely get more than you have now and with a lot less difficulty.#

The General replied, #I will advise the Queen of the situation.#

----------

The Court Chamberlain pounded her staff of office on the floor from her post next to the open door to the throne room. All conversation stopped as she made her announcement in English, “My Queen, Buffy the Vampire Slayer requests an audience to address a matter that she claims must be uttered to you in open forum and with no prior knowledge allowed of the topic to anyone.”

Queen Hippolyta just nodded her consent since that much had already been conveyed to her. She was quite curious as to the reason for the young woman to brave such perils to speak to her. Especially in such a formal and public manner.

Buffy walked into the throne room with an easy, but purposeful gait. The gown and sandals that she had brought with her looked very chic and totally unrumpled, thank you very much. Of course, the maids that had laid it out while she took her bath had seen to it that there were no unsightly wrinkles to mar the beauty of the gown and Buffy had graciously thanked them for their efforts. Buffy also took note of a very prominent guard detail lining the path to the throne as well as to each side in front of the dais the throne set on.

Buffy stopped 30 paces from the dais holding the throne and did a bow that would have made any samurai proud. Buffy wasn’t sure if Queen Hippolyta knew about the distinction of the type of bow she did, but it fit her purpose without giving away anything about her mission too early in the game.

“Queen Hippolyta. Citizens of Themyscira. I bring greetings from a kindred group of female warriors called Slayers. We fight the demons and darkness that plague the world. I have come to request a boon on behalf of one who cannot.”

At this last sentence, Buffy was interrupted by Queen Hippolyta herself.

“Who is it that you come on behalf of?” she asked, fearing the answer.

“I come on behalf of your exiled daughter, Diana,” came Buffy’s response.

“I will hear no boon on her behalf from anyone,” replied Hippolyta tersely over the collective gasp of the assembled Amazons.

“She was aware that you would probably respond that way,” came Buffy’s calm reply. “That is why I, as a representative of a group similar to the Amazons, have come to invoke the Trials of Athena.”

To say that the assembled Amazons were stunned would be an understatement. The Trials hadn’t been invoked for centuries and even then were only used to settle major disputes between various Amazon factions as an alternative to open warfare that would leave both sides too weak to withstand the incursions of men into their territories. The winner of the Trials could request anything and the losing faction would be honor bound to grant the request. Because the members of the Greek Pantheon were the patrons of the Amazons and often took sides in disputes involving them, they too would be bound by the winner’s request as it might pertain to how they interacted with the Amazons.

Queen Hippolyta finally found her voice and said, “Before I choose a champion for the Trials, you must prove you do indeed represent the Slayers and they are alike enough to the Amazons to allow you to invoke the Trials.”

“Actually, you don’t need to appoint a champion,” stated Buffy. “You, yourself will be the one to face me.”

Queen Hippolyta stood up quickly and yelled in anger, “How dare you dictate to me in my own land!”

“I’m not,” was Buffy’s calm reply. “The rules of the Trials dictate that the challenged tribe must field a warrior of equal or higher status to the challenging representative.”

Buffy took a deep sighing breath before continuing, “Since I’m Queen of the Slayers, only you can face me or forfeit the challenge.”

Since they decided to go with this approach, Buffy had been fuming with being nominated Queen. However, none of the baby Slayers that had been consulted had opposed the idea, since she already had the job of ruling over them, at least in what concerned Slayer matters. Faith, the only one who could have really said anything, laughed instead and said ‘good luck, my Queen.’ Plus, it was the only way to assure who the Amazon champion would be.

Buffy’s last statement got the assembled Amazons murmuring amongst themselves again. The Court Chamberlain took it upon herself to restore order by banging her staff on the floor.

Queen Hippolyta gave a brief nod of thanks to the Chamberlain before speaking.

“You still need to prove your status as both representative and Queen before the challenge can be answered.”

“Then it would be best to have an independent source give you proof,” said Buffy. “Celesta(*), would you be so kind as to present my bona fides to Queen Hippolyta?”

The shocks being given the Amazons by the small blonde just kept them reeling more and more. She had just requested the presence of the Goddess of Death to back up her claim. It wasn’t even a summoning but more of a request one might make of a friend. The most shocking thing of all was that the Goddess appeared as requested.

The Goddess with her candle appeared next to Buffy and bowed to Queen Hippolyta.

“Greetings, Great Queen Hippolyta. I am pleased to be present on business different from the one I usually engage in,” the Goddess said by way of introduction.

Although startled by the Goddess’ sudden appearance, Queen Hippolyta quickly recovered and replied, “Your presence is appreciated, Goddess. Can you please prove our guest’s claims? ”

“I will do what I can,” stated Celesta to Queen Hippolyta before continuing in a slightly raised voice. “I say to you all that Buffy is indeed Queen of the Slayers. While she neither sought nor wanted that title, as she neither sought nor wanted the mantle of Slayer itself, she acknowledges it and does her best to live up to the responsibility of both. The Greek Pantheon does also acknowledge that the Slayers constitute a type of sisterhood similar to the Amazons and that the Trials of Athena apply.”

Buffy was as shocked as everyone else at the last bit if information. She knew that an independent verification of her claim of being a Queen would be required as a step to allow her to invoke the Trials and it was decided that appealing to one of the Greek Pantheon would be the best strategy. She had not tried to contact any of the Greek Pantheon prior to setting out on the mission for fear that it might leak to the Amazons. The gods and goddesses of the GP were not known for always agreeing on how things should happen. Diana had indicated that Celesta, as the Goddess of Death, would probably be the most amenable to Buffy’s request for aid given Buffy’s unique history. It made Buffy’s mission easier that now she didn’t have to argue that she could indeed invoke the Trials. Even though she was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, neither was she going to believe that the GP didn’t have their own agenda in play or that they might call in a favor someday. As Xander might quote from one of his favorite SCI-FI books: TANSTAAFL or ‘There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.’

Again, Queen Hippolyta recovered her wits quickly and said, “We thank you for your information and will fulfill our obligations under the Trials. Is there anything we can do for you prior to you returning to your normal duties?”

“I would like a few minutes to speak to Queen Buffy,” said Celesta, catching sight of a slight wince from the petite blonde at the use of her title and name. “Since she deals with death almost every day almost as I do, I would appreciate having a small chat with her.”

“Certainly,” responded Hippolyta. “Would you like to be shown a room?”

“No need,” said the Goddess as she waved her hand and the air around her and Buffy shimmered briefly before returning to the way it appeared previously.

Although nothing looked out of the ordinary, the assembled group could see both the Goddess and Queen Buffy, but despite seeing their mouths move, no sound was heard.

“You are taking a huge risk in what you have undertaken,” said the Goddess. “The door may not revolve this time if you fall.”

“Believe me when I say, I know,” replied Buffy a bit sadly. “It was discussed and argued a lot before I left. However, the consequences are too great to not at least try.”

“The Pantheon agrees,” said Celesta, which explained to Buffy somewhat why she had made her previous affirmation of the Slayers status. “However, old pronouncements, dictates and promises that never took into account the possibility of change prevent them from doing much of anything about it.”

“Just great,” sighed Buffy. “I get to put my ass on the line again to pull someone else’s chestnuts out of the fire.”

“While that may be true now that you know, that was not the reason you chose to do this in the first place. You chose to do this to help a friend. It is for that reason that the Pantheon decided to back you to the extent that they have. However, all they could do is get you in the race, you must face the Trials on your own, just as Queen Hippolyta will.”

“Yeah, well at least that is out of the way,” said Buffy. “I thought I might have to channel Matlock or Perry Mason to convince them that I could invoke the Trials. You saved me time and effort, when all I asked for was to establish a basis for my arguments.”

“They have not really done you any favor, you know,” cautioned Celesta. “You still face a difficult task that could cost you dearly once again.”

Buffy just sighed and said, “Considering what my sister and Faith have promised to do to me if this whole deal goes South, it won’t matter if there is a revolving door or not. They will find me and do it anyway. You’ll also have to take in to account what Willow will do. Giles, Xander, and Diana will also put their two cents worth in, as well. Between them all, I could end up yo-yoing for quite sometime.”

The Goddess actually smiled at that thought.

“You have a point,” she said. “I may have to recommend to Hades that he take Persephone away on vacation until the whole thing settles down, if, as you say things go ‘South’.”

“Yeah,” chirped Buffy happily. “You can suggest to him that he put all the guys that annoy him in charge while he is gone. I can pretty much guarantee that by the time he returns, they will either no longer be around or they will be less annoying.”

At this, the Goddess giggled like a school girl and said, “That sounds like a great idea. The thought of their suffering at the hands of your friends would take the sting out of traveling, which he hates to do under any circumstances. However, I think it would be better all around to avoid it happening.”

“I agree,” said Buffy solemnly.

“Well, I must go,” said Celesta. “I’ll see you later.”

“Yeah,” replied Buffy a bit glumly. “Unfortunately, I suspect it will be sooner rather than later.”

The Goddess only nodded as she disappeared and the air around Buffy shimmered again. Since she could now hear the murmuring from the crowd in the room, Buffy assumed the silence barrier was gone. The Queen and several others were looking at her expectantly, so she asked, “When do the Trials start?”

“They will start tomorrow, Queen Buffy,” replied the Chamberlain, causing Buffy to wince once more. “There will be a banquet in your honor this evening as befitting a royal guest.”

“Thank you,” said Buffy. “In that case, I would like to return to my quarters so I may meditate and prepare for this evening.”

“You will be taken to different quarters as befits your rank,” stated Queen Hippolyta. “An appropriate gown for the banquet will also be provided.”

Buffy thought of protesting that it wasn’t necessary, but decided that a little pampering prior to getting down to the nitty gritty probably wasn’t such a bad idea. Having to watch out for her usual speech patterns was hard enough as it was.

Instead she just repeated the samurai bow of one equal to another to Queen Hippolyta and said, “Thank you. You are most kind. Till this evening.”

She then turned and left the throne room with her escort to her new suite of rooms.

Once she had gone, the Chamberlain again rapped her staff on the floor for attention.

#Squad Leader Assiram has been summoned to appear before the Queen,# she intoned, switching back to Ancient Greek.

Assiram entered and approached the throne. She also stopped 30 paces from the throne and bent to one knee.

#Squad Leader Assiram reporting, Your Majesty,# she said with head bowed.

#Stand,# was Queen Hippolyta’s reply.

Once she had risen, Queen Hippolyta continued, #In the report you provided to the Guard Command, you indicated you committed a breach of protocol in dealing with Queen Buffy upon her arrival on the Island. This is a serious charge to have made against yourself. You could be stripped of your rank and even permanently removed from serving in the guard.#

#I know, Your Majesty,# Assiram stated. #But I should have attempted to take her into custody instead of firing upon her once I had identified her as female. The rest of my squad simply followed my lead.#

#While it is true that is the standard protocol, I also understand from the reports of the rest of your squad, as well as your own, that you opened fire only after she refused to follow your commands and continued to come onto the beach.#

#That does not excuse my breaking protocol,# was Assiram’s reply.

#I was not offering excuses,# thundered Queen Hippolyta. #I was merely ascertaining the facts to properly analyze what happened.#

Thoroughly chastened, Assiram wisely decided not to speak again.

#Now, when you opened fire on her, did you know for certain that she was alone as your report says she told you?#

#No, Your Majesty.#

#So as far as you knew there could be others, possibly even men hidden in the waters just off the beach and she was just a diversion?#

#That was a definite possibility, Your Majesty.#

#That being the case, when you and your entire squad opened fire on her, you not only gave away your positions to her, as evidenced by her being able to cut your bowstrings with your own arrows, but to any unseen intruders still in the water.#

Assiram’s eyes widened in shocked surprise at the implications of what Queen Hippolyta had just said. If Queen Buffy had not been alone, the security of the Island would have been placed in even more jeopardy than she had thought at the time.

Before Assiram could react on her sudden impulse to offer her resignation from the guard and accept any other punishment for such blatant mishandling of the situation, Queen Hippolyta asked, #Is massed fire at a potential threat to Island security a standard procedure?#

Because of the turmoil in her mind, it took Assiram a couple of seconds to realize she had been spoken to and a couple more to recognize the question enough to provide an answer.

#Yes, it is, Your Majesty.#

#Did your squad possess any means to detain Queen Buffy other than through direct confrontation with potentially deadly use of force?#

#No, Your majesty.#

#How long had you and your squad been on duty prior to Queen Buffy’s appearance?#

#About four hours, Your Majesty. With another hour to go before our relief was scheduled to arrive.#

Queen Hippolyta gave a short sigh and said, #While you may have violated protocol, Assiram, you are not at fault for failing to achieve the goal of the protocol. The protocol itself and its associated procedures need to be reviewed to improve them as needed. You will assist the review board being set up by the guard commander to provide first hand knowledge of what was done right and what was done wrong in this instance, dealing with everything from the possibility of being able to make earlier detection to both lethal and non-lethal methods to be made available for detaining intruders that make it to the shore. We were lucky this time in that Queen Buffy was alone and not intent upon our destruction. We must be ready when that is not the situation.#

#Yes, Your Majesty. Thank you, Your Majesty,# came Assiram’s reply.

#You may wish to hold your thanks, Assiram,# said Queen Hippolyta. #You may find dealing with the bureaucracy of the review board more arduous than a two hour training session in full armor on a hot day.#

#Yes, Your Majesty.#

#One more thing,# said Hippolyta. #Since you and your squad have had first hand experience with Queen Buffy, you are to be her personal escort during her stay on the Island. Go make up a rotation schedule and provide a copy to the guard commander when you report in for the review board schedule.#

#At once, Your Majesty,# said Assiram bending to one knee again before rising and leaving the throne room.

With a shift of her eyes, Queen Hippolyta caught the Chamberlain’s eye. The Chamberlain then rapped her staff on the floor and said, #This concludes this morning’s session. In light of the Trials having been invoked, notification will be given when the next session will be convened.#

The assembled Amazons all stood and bowed to Queen Hippolyta, then made their way out of the throne room. When the last of them had left, the Chamberlain closed the doors and made her way to the Queen.

#You lied to Assiram and the rest when you said Queen Buffy is not intent on our destruction,# said the Chamberlain in a low but clear voice. #She has invoked the Trials and if she wins it could very well mean our destruction depending on what the Boon she seeks is.#

#It was not exactly a lie,# replied Queen Hippolyta truthfully. #But it is a hope that I have because it is on behalf of Diana and despite the strain in our relationship, I cannot believe she would ask anything that would harm us.#

#That may be so,# said the Chamberlain. #But as Celesta pointed out, Queen Buffy is a dealer in Death which goes along with her full title as Queen of the Slayers. I get a sense of foreboding with that symbolism when it comes to any Boon she might ask. It also concerns me that she was not only able to evade the arrows fired by sixteen expert bow-women, but that she was able to use those same arrows fired at her to cut seven bow strings. When it comes to the third Trial, she could prove quite difficult for you to defeat.#

#You doubt my ability?# asked Queen Hippolyta.

#I am merely pointing out that the skill level to achieve such a feat is remarkable, and that we do not know if that is typical of what she is capable of or if she had to really exert herself. She is, quite literally, an unknown quantity, and it is my job to be concerned about your welfare. Thus I need to make sure you are aware of what you do and do not know about any upcoming situations.#

#You are right, my friend. We are venturing into the unknown here and must be wary. But for now we need to prepare a proper banquet for our guest before we face off as foes on the morrow.#

----------

The dinner was fairly elaborate with many differing dishes available to choose from. Buffy was tempted to try every one of them, but reined in her impulse to over indulge so as not to look like a glutton. Sure, her Slayer metabolism could handle it but it would not look seemly to eat like a pig at a formal banquet where she was the guest of honor.

She was seated next to Queen Hippolyta and the Chamberlain, with other officials of the Amazon government in attendance as well. Little was said during the meal itself even though Buffy had some things she needed to convey to Queen Hippolyta as part of the set up for her mission. She felt it best to wait until everyone was well fed and more relaxed.

Finally, as the desert was being served, Buffy turned to Queen Hippolyta and said, “Donna knows nothing about my being here. Only Diana and five members of the Council know. We made sure we did not talk with her about anything that might be used by me in the course of this mission. While we consider it important, we made sure that her position within the Amazon community was never placed in jeopardy. I will forfeit the Trials here and now if what I have said is not true.”

The assembled Amazons were all quite stunned at Buffy’s avowal. It took a few seconds for Queen Hippolyta to respond.

“Thank you for your assurances,” she said. “It was not necessary to add what you did about the Trials. I would have taken you at your word.”

“I know, but I felt it best to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind.”

Queen Hippolyta nodded in understanding. While it was true that she would have believed Buffy’s statement without needing the oath she added to it, there might be some who would always wonder since Donna had not yet returned to the Island. She herself had not ventured to ask, for fear of the possible answer that would require her to exile another daughter, but now, thankfully her mind was greatly relieved at the news. Still, she was not going to call Donna home until after the Trials were over. Depending on the rules of engagement for the last Trial, she did not want her daughter to witness the confrontation between her and Queen Buffy.

“On a different topic, how much do you know about Slayers?” asked Buffy.

“Not much,” replied Queen Hippolyta. “When we learned that Diana had come into contact with a group that included female warriors, our archivists searched our records for information. They found legends of a single female warrior that fought against the Darkness and received guidance from a group of men but nothing concerning a group such as yours.”

“Well, until I came along, that was it,” said Buffy. “When one Slayer died, another was called. But a few years ago, an imbalance in the war between the Light and the Dark occurred that allowed the forces of the Dark to try and wipe out the Slayer Line by killing all of the Potential Slayers so that, when the current Slayer was finally killed, no new one would arise. They killed many Watchers, people who trained and provided intelligence for Slayers, thus crippling the Light even further by eliminating those who might aid the new Slayer if not all potentials were killed before the current Slayer was. My Watcher, Giles, became aware of this and managed to save some of the Potentials and brought them to me for protection. Unfortunately, as with any war, I was unable to protect them all and we had several casualties leading up to the final battle.”

Buffy paused at this point and Queen Hippolyta and the rest of the assembled Amazons could tell she was suppressing whatever guilt she felt, justified or not, for her failure to protect those in her care.

Finally Buffy continued, “Things were bad. Really bad. We had only a few victories and many setbacks. I was given a vision of what we were to face in the last battle – thousands of enemies against forty or so of us.”

The looks of those around the table were a mixture of amazement, shock and incredulity.

“How in the world did you overcome such impossible odds?” asked the Chamberlain.

“Magic and a shi…whole lot of luck,” was Buffy’s reply, corrected before she ended up cursing in the Royal Palace. “The magic came in two forms: a spell cast by my friend Willow that would activate all the Potentials in the world, and an enchanted necklace worn by a Champion. The luck part came in that there was no guarantee that either the spell or the necklace would work . We had no idea how the necklace was actually activated or what it would do. Plus, the spell to activate the Potentials and make them Slayers had to work in order to buy time for the necklace to do its thing and Willow wasn’t all that confident that she could pull it off.”

Queen Hippolyta interrupted and asked, “Why activate all the Potentials in the world when there was no way to gather them all together to help you with your battle? Wouldn’t a spell to just activate the Potentials you already had available be simpler for your friend Willow to do?”

“Actually, a more limited spell, with boundaries, would take more time to develop,” stated Buffy. “Also, Willow wasn’t all that confident in her abilities to do such a precise spell. So, it was easier to just go for the whole shooting match.”

She continued, “You see, in order for us to have any chance at all, we had to engage them at a choke point where they would have to come at us in numbers we could have some semblance of a chance to hold off. Even that wouldn’t work if the Potentials were not given the strength and skills of a Slayer. Our opponents were just too powerful for ordinary people, let alone teenage girls, to go up against for more than a second.”

Buffy heaved a sigh and continued, “There was also another reason to try and empower all the Potentials in the world. We might lose. In fact, the odds were that we would lose. While the number of enemies that could face off with us would be limited to the dimensions of the choke point, those that fell would be replaced by fresh troops almost immediately while our forces would have no respite and no replacement. Eventually, we would be overrun.”

While some of the assembled Amazons seemed confused by her statement, Queen Hippolyta and the ranking members of the Amazon military who were present nodded solemnly in understanding.

“Exactly what would empowering all the Potentials in the world have to do with your losing?” inquired one of the confused Amazons.

“Thermopylae,” answered Queen Hippolyta before Buffy could say anything. At this everyone understood the reason.

“That’s right,” said Buffy, glad to have been able to catch the context since she had seen the movie. “And I had only an army a tenth the size of what the Spartans had, while the enemy numbered more than the Persians. If we didn’t win, our actions still needed to buy time and resources for the rest of the world to mount some kind of defense.”

“There is a portion of the U.S. military that knows about the things that go bump in the night that I had already informed about what was happening. However, under the Rules of Balance that both the Light and the Dark must adhere to, I could not let them directly assist us without exposing them to the machinations of the First Evil. The risk of the people controlling nuclear weapons being influenced or tricked into using them to further attack the Slayer Line, along with the collateral damage to the rest of the world, was not something I could risk. The Slayer Line had to completely fail in its mission, therefore placing the world population at direct risk before the Rules would allow technology, which might not work anyway, to be used for defense to make up for the difference in strength between the demons and mankind without enabling the Dark to use similar methods against humanity. I’m sure contingency plans were put in place in case we failed.”

Buffy continued, “In addition, to prepare for a continued mystical element in the fight for the Light, I had also contacted a friend who also dealt with the supernatural and had him prepare a second front if we failed. Having hundreds, if not thousands, of Slayers around the world, even without formal training or actual knowledge of the supernatural, would still be an asset to try and stop the Darkness if it got past me and mine. It would give them a chance at survival and maybe the survival of the human race as well. The downside to empowering them was that if we won, then they would be pulled into the shadow world that I lived in, most probably against their will as I was, and it would be on my shoulders for making the decision that altered their lives. Just like it was the responsibility of the Shadow Men when they made the First Slayer, quite possibly under similar circumstances. It wasn’t fair and I know how cruel it is, but, in the end, it was necessary.”

Queen Hippolyta nodded in understanding. Her heart went out to the woman beside her who had to deal with having only bad choices available at such a young age and then having to choose one based on what was necessary for the greater good at the expense of the individual. The similarities to her decision concerning Diana made her sympathies all the more poignant.

“Anyway,” continued Buffy. “The spell to activate all the Potentials worked. After a fierce battle, the necklace did its thing, destroying our enemies and closing the Hellmouth. My friends and I then set out to locate all the girls who I had condemned to a life I never wanted myself, so that they could be at least trained to defend themselves and their friends and family, even if they did not want to actively participate in the direct battle with the Dark. We finally decided to formalize a sort of ruling structure for the Slayers, based on a concept quite similar to the one you have here, Queen Hippolyta, however the formal method of succession is not necessarily hereditary. At the moment, it goes by age through all the Slayers that fought and survived the Battle of the Hellmouth, but we’re tuning it so the most apt to rule is the one who actually does it. Kind of a constitutional monarchy where most of the rules are made by representatives of the Slayers, Watchers and Magic Users rather than dictated by the ruler.”

“Another thing we try to accomplish is to keep these young girls out of the hands of the governments they are citizens of,” said Buffy. “The possibility of exploitation or even experimentation is a real danger that weighs heavily on my mind. Having seen the results of it on some demons, I am always on the look out for ways to protect these girls from ending up in some lab somewhere or turned into spies and assassins. There are factions everywhere that would feel no qualms at all in using these girls for their own ends, even among the governments that are aware of our purpose. Since it is my fault that there are a lot more Slayers for such groups to try and get their hands on, it is my responsibility to protect them to the best of my abilities.”

“I can tell from your story that you are a caring and insightful person,” said Queen Hippolyta. “Both traits will help you rule wisely.”

“That may be,” said Buffy. “But there are times I long for the good old days when all I had to do was to blow up my school to stop the latest apocalypse,” she said with a wishful smile on her face.

Queen Hippolyta raised a questioning eyebrow at this.

Buffy noticed and said, “Actually, the first time it wasn’t an apocalypse and I only burnt down the gym to kill a bunch of vampires. The second time, we did blow up the school during our graduation to get rid of the Mayor who had turned into a giant snake demon. The last one closed the Hellmouth and started out with the school but ended up taking out the whole town. Giles says the next time an apocalypse is centered anywhere near a school, he’s not going to let me near it because he’s afraid I might end up taking out a whole country, if not an entire continent.”

Queen Hippolyta and several other Amazons smiled at this.

The Chamberlain said in a serious tone, “That sounds like a reasonable precaution.”

Buffy turned towards her and said, “Hey!”, although the twinkle in her eyes said she wasn’t offended.

All the Amazons at the table just laughed.

Still chuckling a little, Queen Hippolyta spoke to those assembled, “Since the Trials will start early tomorrow, I believe Queen Buffy and I should retire for the evening and rest. I bid you all good night.”

As everyone began to take their leave, Queen Hippolyta turned to Buffy and said, “A light breakfast will be served about an hour after sunrise. You will be escorted to the throne room an hour after that. Until then, sleep well.”

“You too,” replied Buffy. “See you in the morning.”

Buffy and her escort then left the dining hall for her quarters.

----------

[Trial of Arts]

The next morning Buffy was once again ushered into the throne room. This time, Queen Hippolyta was not seated on her throne but stood at the bottom of the dais with the Court Chamberlain standing in front of the throne on the dais. On a pedestal in front of the Chamberlain was a clay bowl. Buffy took up the position opposite Queen Hippolyta.

The Chamberlain rapped her staff on the floor three times to call the proceedings to order.

“The bowl in front of me contains two slips of paper. They contain the two greatest artisan skills that Athena possessed – weaving and metal work. Queen Buffy, please reach into the bowl and select a paper that will decide which will be the Trial of Arts.”

Buffy did as asked, hoping that it would be metal work since she stood a better chance with that than with weaving. Without looking at it, she handed the folded paper to the Chamberlain.

The Chamberlain unfolded and read the paper. She held the written side up for the two combatants to see what was there as she announced the results, “Weaving.”

Buffy’s face fell a bit at the announcement. The Trial of the Arts had been the only one she could practice prior to setting out on the mission. Her strength had actually helped her with her metal work, but the weaving had been a near disaster. Willow had tried to cheer her up by telling her that she was safe from claiming to be better than Athena like Arachne had and therefore shouldn’t have to worry about being turned into a spider.

The Chamberlain then picked up the remaining paper from the bowl and showed that it did indeed have ‘Metal Work’ printed on it.

The Chamberlain then turned towards Queen Hippolyta and asked, “What shall you weave?”

Queen Hippolyta had seen Buffy’s face fall at the selection and surmised that weaving was not something she excelled at since the culture she grew up in did not necessarily teach such skills to their children. Therefore, she decided to select a simple object, knowing that the true complexity would be the pattern to be woven into the object anyway.

“I choose a three foot by four foot banner,” she said. “It shall depict Athena’s symbol, the owl.”

Buffy nodded her head to Queen Hippolyta to acknowledge the selection of a simple rectangular piece of cloth, but her eyes still showed apprehension about having to weave the intricacies of the feathers on the owl pattern.

The Chamberlain led the two queens from the throne room to a nearby chamber where two looms were already set up. Near each loom were several spools of different colored thread. Also in the room were six other women that the Chamberlain indicated would be the judges, along with herself, should there be a tie vote.

While they both began stringing the initial longitudinal threads for the banners, a real owl on a perch was brought into the room. Obviously, Buffy thought, it was to be the model for the owl pattern on the banner, thus making the choice of threads used very important since they would have to match the model. Sighing slightly, Buffy concentrated on the task at hand, thankful for the fact that this trial was not a timed event that she would have to rush through. Granted, taking too much time to complete the task might count against her, but as long as she completed in a reasonable amount of time, she could set a pace that would give her the best chance of doing a competent job.

Queen Hippolyta was also progressing at an even pace to ensure she did not make any mistakes that Buffy might be able to take advantage of. She even slowed down a bit when she saw that Buffy was being very deliberate and meticulous with her preparations. Since this was not a race, she knew she could take a bit more time to ensure her banner came out the best.

----------

Around noon they both stopped to have a light lunch.

The looms were positioned in a way that neither could see the front of the other’s banner, but Buffy knew she was about a fourth done with her banner, and could tell from the back of Queen Hippolyta’s loom that she had done almost double that in the same amount of time. Buffy knew that the main reason for that was that she had taken more time to compare thread colors against the live model to pick out the ones she would need. She had also had to redo some rows when she discovered that she had gotten some colors reversed from where they should have gone. While she wasn’t sure they would count having to redo some rows against her, she was certain that having those colors in the wrong position would, in addition to throwing off the pattern she was trying to copy of the bird’s wing.

When they stopped again for dinner, Queen Hippolyta was almost done and Buffy was at about the two-thirds point. It took Buffy until 10:30 that night to finish while Queen Hippolyta had finished three-and-a-half hours earlier.

As soon as Buffy finished, the judges went to examine each piece of work. Three went to Queen Hippolyta’s and three went to hers. After about twenty minutes, they changed around. At the end of another twenty minutes, they conferred for ten minutes and then rendered their decision.

----------

[Trial of Wisdom]

The Court Chamberlain stood just below the throne facing the two contestants.

“Queen Hippolyta has won the first trial,” she announced. “The next trial will take place tomorrow morning, starting at sunrise. There you will face the Trial of Wisdom in the form of a maze. You will be sequestered together tonight while the Maze is made ready. Two identical mazes are being prepared such that the pathways are identical. Identical traps will also be placed within each maze. Some traps are only meant to be a nuisance and slow you down, while others can be quite deadly. You will need to use your wits to avoid or circumvent the traps to make it to the other side of the maze in the quickest time. The person to traverse her maze the fastest will be declared the winner of the trial.”

“Queen Buffy,” Buffy tried not to wince at the Chamberlain’s address even though she knew it would be pro forma for the situation. The title still made her uncomfortable and even worse, it sounded silly. If only Buffy had been a nickname for Elizabeth instead of her actual name. Of course, then Giles would complain that it would be confusing for her to be addressed the same as the Queen of England. Why couldn’t queens be addressed by their last names? Queen Summers sounded so much better.

Not aware of Buffy’s internal musings, the Chamberlain continued addressing her, “Since you lost the first trial you will be given the choice of which maze to enter. As I said, they will be identical but the choice will still be yours.”

Buffy nodded her head in acknowledgement.

The two Queens were then escorted to a dwelling on the far side of the city, well away from where the mazes were being erected. They were instructed to remain within sight of each other at all times to ensure that neither of them received any communication as to the structure of the mazes being built. Again, a pro forma of the situation, as Buffy knew Queen Hippolyta would be the first to declare the trial forfeit if someone tried to tell her anything about the maze or its traps. And with Buffy being the outsider, no Amazon would consider telling her anything anyway.

Due to the lateness of the hour, they both just did some basic washing up and retired to the beds provided.

Though she lost, Buffy was happy that at least one judge felt she had outdone Queen Hippolyta. She had even received compliments from three of the judges who voted against her on catching a particular detail of color shading in the owl’s face near its left eye, which Queen Hippolyta had missed. Unfortunately, her slowness had worked against her to some extent, as did her having to redo various rows when she caught mistakes she had made. Their decision had been fair, but it made it very important for her to win the next trial or things were going to be a lot harder for her to carry through on her mission.

----------

They were awoken before dawn and given a light, but filling breakfast. Each was also provided with a standard tunic. Considering that there were going to be traps in the maze, Buffy decided it was best to wear that instead of the outfit she had brought with her in order to save it for when the third Trial took place.

Once they were dressed, they were escorted to the mazes where the Chamberlain awaited them.

The walls of the mazes were about ten feet tall and made of wood. The maze itself was opened at the top. The entrance to each maze was in the center of its part of the structure.

Once they arrived the Chamberlain spoke, “Queen Buffy, since you lost the first Trial, you are allowed to choose which maze to traverse even though both mazes are identical.”

Buffy just shrugged and said, “I’ll take the one on the right.”

“Please move to the starting point indicated for your mazes,” said the Chamberlain to both contestants.

Once they were in position she continued, “When I give the signal, you will enter your maze and traverse to the other side as quickly as you can, avoiding any traps that you encounter to the best of your ability. Identical traps are in each maze and are not only found along the correct path, so you may have to face a trap a second time if it is along a dead end path. The witnesses are already in place on the other side of the mazes and I will travel there myself by horse once you have started on your way. The other witnesses to the start will remain here until the Trial is concluded. Since there is a possibility of not being able to finish due to injury or even being hopelessly entangled in a trap, you are being provided with a signaling device that will allow assistance to be dispatched to your location. This will, of course, result in your failing the Trial. However, it will not be an automatic win for your opponent, in that a winner has to completely traverse the maze. Therefore, in this Trial, both of you could lose. There is also a time limit to this Trial. If you do not exit your maze by sundown, your signaling device will automatically be triggered and you will have failed the Trial, even if you have mere inches to go.”

Buffy and Queen Hippolyta were given small ball-shaped objects that clipped to their tunic belts. The switches were covered so they could not be depressed accidentally.

Buffy spoke up after receiving her signaling device, “I hope the rescue squad has a map of the maze and knows how to avoid the traps, cause some injuries are time critical as far as treatment is concerned.”

“Not to worry, Queen Buffy,” said the Chamberlain. “They do indeed have maps of the mazes and will normally come across the top of the maze to get to whoever is in trouble to save time and avoid the traps.”

Buffy’s brow furrowed briefly but was replaced shortly by a sly smile.

“Cool,” was all she said.

Although the Chamberlain did not know for sure what Buffy’s comment meant, the tone indicated that the answer to her question was satisfactory.

“Are you ready?” asked the Chamberlain as the Sun peeked over the horizon.

“Yes,” came the reply from both queens.

“Go!”

Each contestant sprinted towards the entrance of her own maze.

Queen Hippolyta stopped briefly once inside the maze to decide which of the three paths available to her to try first. A long shadow flitted along the top of her maze but was gone too quickly to try and make out what had made it. Not that it made that much of an impression on her mind as she decided to go down the left-hand corridor of the maze.

----------

Three hours and fifteen minutes after entering her maze, Queen Hippolyta emerged from the exit. Her tunic was torn and soiled, her hair had fallen out of its bun, she was soaking wet, there were several visible cuts and bruises, and she was just a bit exhausted by the effort of getting by the last few traps. However, her exhaustion in no way diminished her surprise at seeing Buffy not only being here ahead of her, but looking exactly as she had prior to entering her maze. The young blonde was also under heavy guard.

Pulling herself together as much as possible to present at least the air of royal demeanor, Queen Hippolyta advanced on the group surrounding her opponent and said, “What is the meaning of this?”

The Chamberlain bowed to her Queen and replied, “When I arrived here to witness the finish of the race, Assiram, who was in charge of the guards assigned to watch this side of the maze, informed me that Queen Buffy came from over the top of the maze three hours and twelve minutes ago rather than through it. I placed her under guard on suspicion of violating the rules of the trial and awaited your arrival, in order to have a determination made.”

Buffy interjected, “Nobody said you had to go through the maze. Just to traverse it, get past the traps, and get to the other side first. The fact that I traversed over top instead of through should have no bearing on the fact that I got here first.”

Despite the young girl’s bravado, Queen Hippolyta could see the worry in her eyes. The rules for the final trial hung in the balance on who was declared the victor of this one.

Hippolyta turned to the Chamberlain and said, “Think back through all official briefings on this trial. Did you at anytime mention having to go through the maze?”

The Chamberlain’s brow furrowed as she did what her Queen commanded, knowing that the Queen herself would be reviewing what she had heard spoken. Her initial thought was that she must have, but pushed that thought away so she could objectively carry out her orders. She had never let her personal opinions or feelings influence her job before and she wouldn’t let them do so now. She recalled the meeting yesterday and the start of the trial this morning, both with perfect clarity. The shocked expression that came to her face as she did her mental review for the third time told the story all too plainly.

Bowing her head, she addressed Hippolyta, “I am sorry my Queen, but Queen Buffy is correct. There was no mention of having to travel through the maze in any of the formal or even informal instructions given. I mistakenly assumed that it was implicitly understood. Her traversal over the top of the maze is within the spoken guidelines given to you both. She has won this trial.”

The assembled Amazons were stunned to silence by the pronouncement. It was inconceivable to them that this outsider could best their Queen in anything, let alone a Trial of Wisdom. One non-Amazon was anything less than quiet, though.

“Yes!” shouted Buffy, jumping and throwing her fist in the air. However, she immediately looked contrite and embarrassed for her overt display when she noticed everyone looking at her. She had known it was a gamble when she thought of it upon hearing how any needed rescues would be handled, but it was the only way she could be sure to beat Queen Hippolyta to the other side of the maze. Sure, it was a technicality, but people got off on those all the time. So, she figured, why not her?

Queen Hippolyta gently spoke to her Chamberlain, “There is nothing to be sorry about. I had the same opportunity to come to the same conclusion as she did. Her solution is a fine example of using her wits to triumph and in keeping with the Trial of Wisdom.”

Queen Hippolyta looked over at the young girl again and saw relief in her eyes. The Queen understood since she was somewhat relieved as well. The next trial would not have to be a death match.

----------

[Trial of War]

When Giles and Diana had first described the Trials of Athena, Buffy was concerned about her ability to triumph in any of the three contests that made it up. She said that Dawn would have a better chance of winning the first two dealing with art and wisdom, while admitting that only she would be able to even come close in the third, which dealt with the aspects of war, specifically single combat. Of course, the problem was that she really needed to win at least one of the first two in order to control the rules of engagement for the third. If one opponent won both of the first two contests, then the only way the loser of those contests could win the overall Trials was to kill her opponent; the winner of the first two contests could decide whether to kill or spare her opponent. If they each won one of the two contests, an opponent could yield when offered the chance and still live. Of course, if the combatant did not yield, the contest would end when she was dead or had somehow reversed her fortune and been able to kill her opponent or force her to yield, instead. You only got one chance to yield though; after that, only death would decide the match.

The possibility that she would not win either of the first two trials had plagued Buffy quite a lot. She had discussed it several times with Diana before finally deciding to undertake the mission. Of course, Xander and the others had waded in with their opinions as well but it had been her conversations with Diana that had finalized her decision.

[Flashback:]

“Diana, I’m not sure I can win either of the first two trials. And if I can’t, that means the only way to win the right to have the Boon granted is to kill your mother. I’m not sure I can do that, either, especially without telling her what she would be dying for. If a life is to be sacrificed, the person being sacrificed should know why it is important.”

“Buffy, I’m not sure how to advise you. I know the consequences of not getting the Boon granted and they are grave and that is why I have reluctantly agreed that this mission is necessary. However, I am not comfortable with knowing that anyone should have to die to ensure it happens, least of all my Mother. But the chance must be taken.”

“If you were able to invoke the Trials, would you be able to do what had to be done to get the Boon?”

The silence following the question dragged on indefinitely until Diana finally spoke, “I don’t believe I would know the answer to that until the moment came when the decision had to be made. I doubt you will, either.”

Buffy only nodded in agreement.

[End Flashback:]

The fact that both she and the Queen had won a contest each meant that everything was in the position that Buffy needed them to be in to obtain her goal. Now she just needed to abide by Slayer Rule Number 1: Don’t die!

----------

They returned to the throne room from the maze for the formal declaration of the winner of the Trial of Wisdom. Queen Hippolyta refused to delay even to clean up.

Again, the Court Chamberlain stood just below the throne facing the two contestants.

“Queen Buffy has won the Trial of Wisdom. The next Trial is that of War and will be single combat. Since each of you has won a Trial, a fight to the death is not mandated. Instead, the opportunity to yield when faced with imminent defeat may be offered. The offer can only be made once; after that, only the death of the combatant that refused to yield will allow the offerer to be declared the winner. The offer and answer must be made loud enough for the assembled witnesses to hear to be considered binding. The Trial will take place in the arena at noon tomorrow. You will be escorted to the armory later this afternoon to select your armor and weapons.”

“Excuse me,” interrupted Buffy.

Once she got everyone’s attention, she continued, “I would like to use my own weapon for this Trial.”

“You wish to use a stake?” asked Queen Hippolyta incredulously.

“Not exactly,” replied Buffy.

Before anyone could make any other comments, Buffy reached up and removed the tiny ax pendant she wore.

“Magnificar!” she said in a commanding tone.

The tiny ax began to grow. It continued to grow until it was about three feet long and looking very deadly.

While everyone stared at her in shock, Buffy said, “This is the Slayer Scythe. It was forged long ago, specifically for use by the Slayer. Although I am familiar with how to handle various types of swords and other weapons, this is the one I am most comfortable with using. Also, I am not used to fighting in armor and respectfully decline to wear any. Although I am not averse to having a pair of forearm guards as they will not have too much impact on my ability to move around. And will give me something to deflect weapon blows without getting cut. Other than that, I will just wear my travel clothes.”

“Are you sure?” asked a worried Queen Hippolyta. Without armor, Buffy would be in danger of more severe injury and even death.

“Yes,” was Buffy’s reply. “If I’m to have a fair chance, I need to be able to fight as I was trained and am used to. I have fought foes that wore metal armor before and even some demons that had natural armor, so it’s not like I don’t have some experience in that regard. So you needn’t worry that you will have an unfair advantage. All I ask is that you let me fight like I know how and you do the same. Gear up like you would if you were going to war.”

The Chamberlain looked to Queen Hippolyta for some indication of her feelings on the matter. At first, Queen Hippolyta wasn’t sure how she felt and so only had a confused look on her face. She had thought to offer Buffy the opportunity to meet each other with quarter staffs to minimize the possibility of death, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized that Buffy had stated what the Trial of War was really about: Buffy fighting the way she knew best and herself fighting the way she knew best.

“You are correct,” stated Queen Hippolyta. “We should fight in the manner that we are most comfortable with for this to be a fair contest. You may use your Scythe and have your pick of the best forearm guards in the armory. I will wear standard battle armor with sword and shield.”

Taking this as her cue, the Chamberlain said, “It is settled then. Adjourn to your quarters to refresh yourselves. After lunch, you will be escorted to the armory to select your equipment. The arena will be available to you later this evening at separate times for any practice you wish to arrange, although no sparring with live opponents will be allowed. Make arrangements with the armorer if you wish to use practice dummies.”

----------

When Buffy was escorted to the armory, she tried several different types of forearm guards, from half, to three-quarters, to full forearm coverage. She determined that the weight of the three-quarters coverage guards provided the least impact to her agility for the most protection.

She also arranged with the armorer to have two practice dummies set up when it was her turn to practice. Both would be rigged out in the standard Amazon battle armor, but one would have the sword in its right hand and shield in its left, while the other would have the opposite configuration. She knew she could probably ask Queen Hippolyta herself which way she would be fighting and get an honest answer, but Buffy felt it would be best to be prepared either way, anyway.

In the interest of being fair, Buffy also assisted the armorer in turning a long-handled ax into an approximation of what her Slayer Scythe looked like. It wasn’t exact since most of the Scythe’s haft was metal, except for the stake at the end, while the ax’s haft was all wood. The armorer measured the metal length and marked it on the ax with some silver cloth. The locations of the leather hand grip and spiked haft ring were also designated on the faux Scythe.

Buffy also let the armorer do some practice exercises with the real Scythe. The woman was suitably impressed with its balance and versatility.

When Queen Hippolyta came by to pick up her armor, she was shown what Buffy and the armorer had cobbled together and an explanation of what the representations were. The armorer did not mention handling the Scythe and Queen Hippolyta did not ask for a professional opinion of it.

However, as Queen Hippolyta left the armory, the armorer said, #Good luck on the morrow, my Queen.#

That bit of well wishing told Queen Hippolyta what she already guessed. Buffy’s weapon was, at the very least, a match for a sword and shield when handled by someone used to wielding it. She would study the mockup in more detail during her practice time.

----------

Buffy didn’t even bring the Scythe to her practice session. In fact, she spent the entire time examining both practice dummies from every conceivable angle. Including flat on her back from directly below. Assiram and the rest of Buffy’s escort were at a loss to determine exactly what she was doing to prepare for the combat the next day. Therefore, even if someone did ask them about how Buffy’s practice went, they could honestly say they weren’t sure.

----------

Queen Hippolyta’s practice time was divided into studying the mock up of the Slayer Scythe and setting up the practice dummy to hold it in various positions and configurations. She determined that although the Scythe could be held like a sword, it was only good for stabbing in that situation since there was no edge on the haft. The wooden stake at the end of the haft could probably penetrate her armor if it were magically hardened, but if not, it would still be deadly the same way if it caught on an unarmored part of her body. She could also upset the balance of the weapon if she could cleave the stake off with her sword. Of course the spiked haft ring and metal haft itself could cause injury from puncture and blunt trauma if swung in a slashing motion when held like a sword. The metal haft itself could be used defensively to ward off sword strikes.

When held so that the blade of the scythe was the main offensive weapon, she would have to be careful not to let her sword or shield get hooked and pulled from her hand. The head itself was thick and would add force to any blows delivered, whether the blade or the side of the head was delivering the blow. Therefore, even if her armor was not penetrated, it would likely be dented at the very least. Even her shield could be damaged if hit with other than glancing blows.

Remembering the talk with her Chamberlain about the speed and agility Buffy had displayed upon her arrival on the Island, Queen Hippolyta determined that the outcome of the next trial was indeed in doubt. She determined that her initial goal would be to injure Buffy in some manner that would negate both of those advantages. A secondary goal would be to remove the stake as a threat and in the process make Buffy’s weapon more difficult to use. She could then concentrate on wearing Buffy out to the point where she could force her to yield. While this strategy was simple, the execution would prove to be much more difficult. However, it made sense and gave her confidence in being able to achieve victory.

The thing was, since Queen Hippolyta did not really know Buffy, she could not see the fatal flaw in her strategy. She would learn about it only after it was too late.

----------

The next day the Sun shown brightly, with nary a cloud in the sky. It was going to be hot and get hotter when combat started at noon. Even so, the arena began filling up with spectators shortly after the Sun rose. By noon, it was standing room only.

Buffy spent the morning in deep meditation after having a light breakfast. At eleven, she dressed and made her way to the arena with her escort. While she waited in a small room near where she would enter the combat area, she did a few warm-up exercises and fighting moves in preparation to the coming battle. Assiram and Lyrpa, who had already witnessed Buffy’s speed and agility first hand, were even more impressed with how she handled the Scythe and felt a bit of trepidation for the outcome of the Trial of War. To their minds, their Queen would have to be very, very careful in order to be victorious.

Queen Hippolyta started to get ready about an hour before Buffy did. Since she would be wearing armor, the extra time was entirely reasonable. At the room assigned to her at the arena, her maids helped her first with the light bottom tunic, then the padded over-tunic that would deaden impacts made to the armor itself. A skirt of metal plates that reached to just above her knees came next. Shin and ankle guards were also donned at this time. Next came the breast and back plate armor that would protect her upper torso. Three-quarter forearm guards followed. She then grasped her shield with her left hand and sword with her right. Finally, her plumed helm with nose guard was placed on her head and the chin strap cinched tight.

Once fully kitted out, she too did some warm-up exercises and simple fighting moves to prepare herself.

They both moved into the arena field when signaled by the fanfare of horns. Each entered from opposite sides and made their way to the center where they first bowed to each other, using the bow Buffy had made upon first meeting Queen Hippolyta in her throne room.

“Nice sword,” Buffy said with a slight smile, noticing which weapon Hippolyta was currently holding, the engraved Pax shining clearly in the noon sun.

“It’s a very good weapon, I must admit,” the Queen said, a small smile on her face.

“I’ll remember to pass your praise on to our weaponsmith next time I see him,” she replied jovially.

And then they turned towards the Royal Gallery where the Chamberlain stood. Rapping her staff on the stone floor of the gallery caused the entire arena to still in perfect silence.

“The third and final Trial shall begin at my signal,” she intoned loud enough to be heard by the entire assembly. “While this does not have to be a fight to the death, a combatant who refuses to yield when offered can only be defeated through death. A combatant rendered unconscious will be revived and given a chance to yield with further combat denied her if she refuses. The offer to yield can only be made once, so be sure your opponent is helpless before making the request or you may force a death match.”

As instructed in a briefing that morning, both replied in unison, “I understand.”

“Prepare yourselves,” stated the Chamberlain.

With that they both bowed to the Chamberlain, then to each other before taking a couple of steps away from each other and getting into battle stance.

“Begin.”

The combatants began a slow dance of circling around each other while making feints to test each others reactions. Of course such relative inaction could not go on for too long, and eventually, Buffy made the first real attack. She made a feint to Queen Hippolyta’s right side with the Scythe blade as she had done a few times before that would attack her opponents legs and was countered as before with a shift in the position of Queen Hippolyta’s shield downward in that direction. But instead of drawing back into a ready stance as she had done before, Buffy twirled in place bringing the Scythe from down low to over her head and aimed for the slight opening in the defenses of Queen Hippolyta’s head. Buffy had moved so fast that Queen Hippolyta was barely able to reverse her shield’s direction and position it to take the blow. The force of which not only numbed Queen Hippolyta’s forearm and was felt all the way to her toes, but actually bent her shield where the blade of the Scythe impacted it. Between the straps on the shield used to hold it and the bend, Queen Hippolyta’s left arm was now pinned to the shield. The only way to extract her arm if she needed to would be to cut one of the straps and make the shield difficult to wield. Fortunately that was not necessary at this time but she would have to remember that if it did become so. Queen Hippolyta drove Buffy off from following up on her attack by sweeping her sword out towards Buffy’s currently unguarded left side. Buffy’s speed allowed her to dodge the blow but moved her out of position to press her attack. Although no blood had been spilled, Buffy had scored the first effective hit of the match. Both combatants knew, however, that it was the last blow that really counted. They resumed their wary circling.

The crowd had watched the initial exchange with baited breath and gave a collected sigh of relief for their Queen’s escape. However, their concern for her safety and ultimate triumph increased tenfold based on Queen Buffy’s seemingly effortless attack and evasion. For those that were able to detect the dent in Queen Hippolyta’s shield, they realized that had the blow hit her in the head, even with her helmet in place she would most likely be rendered unconscious at the very least and actually killed as the worst outcome. Death match or not, death could still make an appearance.

As it turned out, Queen Hippolyta was the one to actually draw first blood, when she managed to cut Buffy’s left thigh during a flurry of sword attacks. However, it was very shallow and not long enough to be other than an annoyance to the petite woman. In fact, it seemed to push Buffy into a flurry of attacks of her own that culminated in her sliding under Queen Hippolyta’s shield and using the blade of her Scythe to cut the straps holding her breast and back plate armor together on her left side. This would make them shift during quick movements and possibly hinder her in various situations as shown when she did a tumble roll in an attempt to evade the attack where the straps were cut and she was pinched by the two pieces of armor catching some skin on her side as they flapped during the roll. As inconvenient as that was, it was preferable to having her left arm cut off as it might have been if Buffy had sliced upwards more with her Scythe. With no armor on the underside of her upper arm she could have had several major arteries severed at the very least if Buffy had thrust the tip of the Scythe up four more inches.

Over the next forty minutes, each combatant made numerous cuts on the other. Most were not serious but cumulatively, they were taking a toll on each of them. In Buffy’s case, it wasn’t so much that the blood loss was sapping her strength, it was actually her accelerated healing that was working against her. It wasn’t a critical concern at the moment, but the longer the fight went on, the more it would affect her speed and strength.

During a lunging thrust by Queen Hippolyta, Buffy actually somersaulted over her opponent’s shield and thrust the stake into the gap between the breast and back plates that had been created when she cut the straps earlier and opened wider from all the movement during their combat. The crowd gave a collective gasp when they saw this as they expected their Queen to receive a possibly fatal wound. As it was, Buffy’s aim was angled more forward than the crowd expected and instead of stabbing directly into Queen Hippolyta’s side, the stake skirted along her ribs and into the base of her left breast. The point actually ended up traveling further into the breast than Buffy had intended because Queen Hippolyta had initially attempted to twist her shield back to protect her side and nearly caused the stake to punch through it completely. The increase in pain motivated her to reverse her direction almost instinctively and use her twisting momentum to not only dislodge the stake from her body but also to attack Buffy with her sword. Buffy was able to ward off the sword blow with her right forearm guard, but like the force of her own earlier blow to Queen Hippolyta’s shield, the sword blade caused the guard to buckle and there was a loud snap as both bones broke.

Both fighters were now in serious trouble. While Queen Hippolyta’s injury did not directly affect any major muscles, it was bleeding quite heavily and movement of her left arm and the pressure from her breast plate would send pain shooting through her. Buffy, on the other hand, could no longer effectively use her right arm, as to do so would risk further internal injury to both the bones and muscle tissue around them. This would make blocking attacks on that side difficult. However, unless there was substantial internal bleeding associated with the broken bones, Queen Hippolyta’s injury would be the more telling over the long run. Both fighters knew this and that put Queen Hippolyta on the clock to defeat Buffy before blood loss took its toll.

Queen Hippolyta knew that Buffy’s current weakness was that she could wield her Scythe effectively with only her left hand. This would affect her ability to block blows to either side with the Scythe’s haft because it would pivot around wherever her hand was. If she tried to use two hands to hold the Scythe during a block, her broken right arm would be further damaged. She would need to exploit these weaknesses in Buffy’s defense rapidly to if she were to achieve victory in the short time she figured she had before blood loss put her at Buffy’s mercy.

Buffy began circling Queen Hippolyta just out of reach, knowing that stalling was her best chance at victory. She knew she just had to force her opponent to exert herself while avoiding too many direct encounters to get Queen Hippolyta to the point where she could attack successfully. However, since Queen Hippolyta knew this as well, her reaction to many of Buffy’s feints were less energetic than Buffy would have liked. So she decided to try and take advantage of that fact by launching a real attack and maybe cause her opponent more damage. She had been twisting and turning the Scythe with her left hand such that it would be difficult to tell what direction she might swing it from and during a rotation where the head was on her right and would naturally swing back to her left, she shifted her hand back to the top of the haft spike ring to give her added reach and aimed for Queen Hippolyta’s shield where she had dented it earlier in an attempt to return the favor of a broken arm.

The thing was, Queen Hippolyta had been counting on just such a move and was able to catch sight of the hand shift. She was thus able to change the angle of her shield enough to avoid a direct blow from the blade, while twisting her body around so that she faced Buffy’s exposed left side with her sword descending with an overhand strike. Buffy proved just how quick she was by shifting to her right when she saw what was going to happen, thereby avoiding a blow to her unprotected head. However, her upper left arm did not fare as well. The sword point caught her just below the shoulder and ripped down her arm to her elbow where it hit bone. Buffy’s Scythe fell to the ground from her now nerveless fingers. Even with her right arm broken, Buffy reached over and grabbed the two sections of her left arm to try and close the wound.

While it was not the outcome she had been looking for, Queen Hippolyta was satisfied with the result just the same. Her intention had been to hit Buffy in the head with the flat of her sword and hopefully either render her unconscious or stun her enough to incapacitate her. Disarming her, in both senses of the meaning, put Buffy in the same boat as her when it came to blood loss sapping strength and gave her the advantage of being able to avoid further severe injuries from weapon blows. With any other opponent, Queen Hippolyta might be tempted to ask that they yield now that Buffy was weaponless. However, she knew that Buffy was strong and had the kick of a full grown horse, as she had felt earlier in their fight. Also, until the effects of blood loss set in, Buffy still had her superior speed as well. The fight still had a ways to go yet.

The clock was ticking for both of them now. Queen Hippolyta had been losing blood longer but the rip down Buffy’s arm was bleeding out quicker. Buffy needed to get her Scythe back but with both arms injured she wasn’t sure how she would be able to wield it effectively even if she did. It would have to be a guaranteed winner to warrant the damage she would do to herself if she tried something.

For her part, Queen Hippolyta stayed near the fallen Scythe and only ventured out a few feet to feint attacks against Buffy that the Slayer was able to easily dodge with her still intact speed. Buffy was also using her speed to rapidly circle her again in a possible attempt to make her dizzy as she had to shift her stance to keep her in view. Buffy stirred up dust clouds every so often that she would try and direct at her to either mask her movement or just trying to get dust in her eyes long enough to make an attack run.

During one of Queen Hippolyta’s feints, she had moved about a foot further out than previous times. It was during this feint that Buffy stirred up a large dust cloud that moved towards her face and Queen Hippolyta saw a dark shape dash towards her left side as she raised her shield to deflect some of the dust and stones sent in her direction. It was the move she had expected. Instead of trying to move to her left to intercept Buffy, Queen Hippolyta instead twisted around to her right and slid her shield from her now unpinned arm and used the extra momentum to hurl it at her opponent. Buffy was moving too quickly to dodge and the combination of her own speed and the shield’s speed caused the impact with her left thigh to be devastating. Her leg bent at an angle it never was meant to and she stumbled to her hands and right knee with a howl of pain so shrill many had to cover their ears for fear they would pop and bleed. She was stopped just three feet short of her Scythe.

Queen Hippolyta cautiously but quickly approached her fallen foe from behind and grabbed her by her hair, her sword pulled up close to her opponent’s throat.

“You must yield,” gasped the tiring Queen of the Amazons. “Your Boon will not be granted and my daughter’s exile will not end nor will I accept her marriage to your associate.”

Buffy choked back another cry of pain from having her hair pulled and gasped out her reply, “Do you really believe your daughter would let someone risk death for such selfish and trivial reasons?”

Queen Hippolyta was doing a good imitation of a Goldfish as she spoke again, “But, you said ...”

“I said that I came on behalf of one who could not to request a boon,” interrupted Buffy, still panting heavily and grimacing against the pain. “I never said that the Boon was about her.”

“Then what Boon is worth your life?” asked Queen Hippolyta.

“Can’t tell you ‘til I win,” was Buffy’s choked but clear reply.

Everyone who heard was shocked at her words. It was clear to all that she was defeated and they could not rationalize her attitude.

Queen Hippolyta’s frustration at the situation made her even more incredulous at Buffy’s demeanor as she exploded, “But you will die if you don’t yield!!!”

“Been there. Done that.”

“What!?!?!?!?!”

Tiredly, Buffy just murmured three words, “Celesta, splainy please.”

As before, it only took a simple request for the Goddess of Death to manifest herself so all could see her. Queen Hippolyta had been sure the Goddess had been in attendance all along since even in non-death matches, accidents could happen. It amazed her that any Goddess would respond so quickly to such a simple entreaty.

The Goddess’s voice was clear enough for all to hear, “To put it simply, Queen Buffy has died before. More than once in fact. One time, it was mere minutes between her death and resurrection, and with another, there was a four month gap between the two events. As such, she does not fear death as others do.”

Even though she was as amazed as the rest of the assembled Amazons, Queen Hippolyta managed to ask, “Does that mean she will rise from the dead and continue the Trial if I kill her?”

“No,” was the Goddess’s sober reply. “Even I do not know if the Fates will allow this to be her final death if she falls today. I only know that if she does fall, I will personally escort her to the Elysian Fields, where she will know the peace she has earned many times over for as long as the Fates allow.”

“However, it is not the Fates that will decide her immediate future,” continued the Goddess. “You have asked her to yield and she has refused.

“To win the Trials, you must kill her.”

Queen Hippolyta’s eyes widened in horror as she looked down at the helpless young woman before her as she and many of the assembled throng realized that to kill Buffy now would not be an act committed in the heat of combat, but an execution. It had never occurred to her that Buffy would not yield when clearly placed in a no-win situation. Queen Hippolyta was confused as to how to react. She did not want to kill the young woman for she had come to admire her. Also, the thought of killing Buffy without at least knowing the Boon the young woman was going to ask, felt wrong. Was the Boon of such a nature that that she would seek some way to spare her or was it something that would make Queen Hippolyta feel justified in killing her? But regardless of how knowing the Boon might affect her judgment, to win the Trials, she had to kill Buffy. The conversation she had with the Chamberlain about Buffy’s not intending to cause the destruction of the Amazons came to her mind. Queen Hippolyta thought how Buffy’s death might cause that regardless of what the Boon she sought was. Although all Amazons would understand Buffy’s refusal to yield was the reason for her death, it would reopen the divisive debate about many other Amazon laws and traditions as her earlier exile of Diana had done. Possibly to the extent of causing a more permanent rift among various factions within the Amazons.

Queen Hippolyta looked down at the young woman. Buffy’s eyes were closed so she could not see what emotions she might be feeling at this moment. Her sword was under her chin and held just a hair’s breadth away from the vulnerable throat of her opponent. Despite the blows struck against it in their battle, she knew the edge was still razor sharp and would slice through Buffy’s neck so quickly that there would be almost no pain. She could see the word PAX gleaming up at her from the sunlight reflected from the blade. After many moments of silent, but frenzied debate in her head, Queen Hippolyta made her decision. Sending a silent prayer to Athena about not failing the Trial of Wisdom for a second time, she quickly carried out her decision before she could change her mind.

Stepping around Buffy, Queen Hippolyta knelt on both knees and placed her sword pointing at her own throat with the hilt towards Buffy.

“I surrender,” was all she said.

The assembled Amazons were stunned to silence.

Buffy’s head had lolled forward until her chin was on her chest once her hair was no longer being held to keep it up. It took her a few seconds to raise it back up so she could look at her opponent. She had earlier again grabbed her upper left arm with her right hand despite the broken right forearm to try and stem the flow of blood from the wound. Slowly raising her left arm, she took hold of Queen Hippolyta’s offered sword and held it wobbling there pointed at the exposed neck when Queen Hippolyta took her hands away.

Buffy suddenly jabbed the point of the sword in the dirt and said, “I accept.”

Eyes awash with relief, Queen Hippolyta asked, “What is your Boon?”

“After my nap,” was Buffy’s reply as her eyes rolled to the top of her head and she pitched forward unconscious.

It was a very frustrated Queen Hippolyta that caught the young woman before her face impacted the ground. She still didn’t know if she made the right decision and with Buffy’s very grievous wounds, she may never hear it from her and have to wait for her successor to find out.

Suddenly, the two queens were surrounded by several Amazons that Queen Hippolyta recognized as the healers and caretakers who were on standby to tend to injuries after the end of the Trial. Her own personal physician, Dr. Iris, was among them. As the others gently moved Buffy from Queen Hippolyta’s arms, Dr. Iris attempted to examine her Queen, but was rebuffed.

#Leave me be and tend to Queen Buffy,# she said to her doctor and friend. #She has won the Trials but has not yet stated her Boon. As such, her survival is of the utmost importance to every Amazon beyond anything else. In essence, she is now Queen of the Amazons until her Boon is known. Therefore, until you are completely certain that she will recover, you will expend all your efforts towards her care. I will not receive anyone to tend to my own wounds until that goal is reached.#

#But, Your Majesty ....,# Dr Iris tried to protest.

#You have your orders!# shouted Queen Hippolyta.

#Attend your Queen!# she added pointing to Buffy. #I will retire to my rooms and tend to my injuries myself. My maids will help remove my armor and bring me water and bandages only.#

Spying Assiram and the captain of her own guard nearby, Queen Hippolyta went to them and said, #Captain, you will place guards at my chamber door and allow only my maids entry until such time as Assiram reports to you that Queen Buffy is out of danger and will survive. Is that clear?#

#Yes, Your Majesty,# was the Captain’s reply, although Queen Hippolyta could see she didn’t necessarily like her orders. Queen Hippolyta also knew that the Captain would not disobey those orders, either.

Assiram saluted Queen Hippolyta and set about summoning the other members of her squad that were present to guard Queen Buffy while she was cared for by the healers. She found it hard to believe the events that had taken place since she first laid eyes on the petite woman. The young blonde had successfully invaded the Island and conquered the Amazons, all because Assiram had not been able to stop her at the beach. Only after they learned what the Boon was would history, and Assiram herself, be able to decide if that was a good or bad thing. She picked up the Scythe before following the unconscious form of her charge as Buffy was carried from the arena to the House of Healing.

As all this was going on, Celesta shimmered out of sight without anyone noticing. A smile graced her lips at the fact that things did not go south for Buffy, after all.

----------

Queen Hippolyta made her way back to the palace and her quarters. Her maids just barely made it back before her, having been in the crowd at the arena. As she entered her room and the Captain of the Guard, along with four other guards, took up their stations outside the door, she noticed that there were already several basins of water and folded cloths on a low table set next to a low bench. The maids began undoing the straps to her armor as she moved towards the low bench. Her helmet and armored skirt were removed even before she was halfway across the room. The breast and back plate armor came off once she was seated on the bench. The two maids on her left gave out horrified gasps when the bloodied outer tunic was revealed with the gaping hole from being stabbed with the stake on the end of the Scythe still seeping blood. Both the outer and under tunics were quickly removed, leaving Queen Hippolyta naked except for the panty shaped bottoms that are worn with short skirted tunics.

As one maid attempted to wash away blood from Queen Hippolyta’s side, she was stopped when Queen Hippolyta said firmly, #I said I would tend my own wounds until such time as Queen Buffy has been tended to and is out of danger of death.#

The maid’s face showed grief and sadness, but she handed the wet cloth to Queen Hippolyta. Instead of wiping blood from herself though, she placed the cloth over the wound in her breast and held it there, using her left arm to do so. The renewed pain from the pressure caused her to wince and emit a small pained groan. When she saw how quickly the cloth turned red, Queen Hippolyta realized that she needed some help after all.

#Miriam,# Queen Hippolyta spoke to her head maid. #You and Espeth may stay to bring me fresh water and linens as needed. The rest of you are to return my armor to the armory and then you can take turns bringing me news of Queen Buffy’s condition every half hour. Otherwise, you are to return to your other duties until you are summoned.#

Having witnessed Queen Hippolyta’s exchange with Dr. Iris, the maids reluctantly, but quickly, did as they were ordered.

By the time the last of the departing maids left, the cloth she had been holding to her wounded breast was saturated with blood and she exchanged it for a fresh cloth. She repeated the cycle three more times before she felt the bleeding had subsided enough to have a strip of cloth tied around her chest to hold a thick bandage against the wound. She then set about cleaning and dressing the other cuts and scrapes she had received during her battle. Most of them were shallow but bloody cuts that had stung when made but did little damage to the underlying muscle. Even other stab wounds were not as deep as she had believed they were when she had received them. These observations caused her to review and analyze the fight in a methodical manner not allowed her as a participant reacting to the fight’s ebb and flow. She repeated the process several times to ensure she was drawing the correct conclusions from her analysis. Once she was satisfied with her conclusions, she decided that regardless of Queen Buffy’s yet unspoken Boon, she had a lot of explaining to do as well, because Queen Hippolyta did not like it when she was manipulated by others the way she was now sure Queen Buffy had manipulated her.

----------

It was about twenty-five minutes after receiving her fifth report on Buffy’s condition from her maids that the Captain of her guard knocked on the door to her chambers.

#Come in,# Queen Hippolyta said as she reclined on her couch trying to find a comfortable position where her injuries wouldn’t be aggravated and cause her more pain than she already felt.

The door opened and the Captain said, #Dr. Iris is here and avows that Queen Buffy will indeed recover and all appropriate measures have been taken to ensure that outcome. She desires to inspect how well you have remembered your training in tending and dressing wounds. Assiram is here and has stated that she believes Queen Buffy will indeed survive and is in no danger of death.#

Queen Hippolyta let out a small sigh, acknowledging that she was aware that the Captain was only restating the words that Dr. Iris had used to show her irritation at Queen Hippolyta’s earlier refusal of medical treatment.

#Dr. Iris may enter,# replied Queen Hippolyta wearily.

As Dr. Iris swept into the room, Queen Hippolyta noticed the very sour look on her face and knew that regardless of how well she had tended her own wounds, she would receive no compliments from the obviously angry doctor.

Without any preamble, Dr. Iris began speaking as she entered Queen Hippolyta’s chambers.

#Queen Buffy is almost as bad a patient as you are. She regained consciousness about ten minutes ago and was most insistent on leaving the House of Healing. She said something about hospitals being unsafe because they were always full of sick people. She also mentioned that as a Slayer, she healed much faster than normal people. There was evidence to support her claim in that many of her more minor cuts and bruises faded away while we were treating her broken bones and suturing the gash on her arm. I told her she would be taken back to her quarters but first had to drink some fruit juices to keep her from becoming dehydrated and to give her body some nutrition to fuel her healing. She drank five glasses and is now sleeping.#

#You drugged her?!# stated Queen Hippolyta, her eyes going wide with shock at the doctor’s somewhat devious actions.

#As I said, she was showing signs of being a difficult patient and in keeping with your instructions to ensure her survival, I did what I thought prudent since I wanted to be able to observe her for at least the next twelve to fourteen hours to verify more thoroughly her advanced healing rate. If I am satisfied, at that time she can be moved back to her quarters to complete her recuperation.#

#You know she will be quite angry with you, don’t you?# replied Queen Hippolyta.

#Of course. But she will at least be alive to be angry,# was Dr. Iris’ response.

During the exchange, Dr. Iris had been examining Queen Hippolyta’s lesser injuries. Most of the cuts and bruises were on her arms and legs, which the doctor was able to examine easily since Queen Hippolyta had changed into a fresh short-skirted tunic and panty bottom. The doctor frowned and tutted every so often during the examination. She then applied an antiseptic salve to the cuts after ensuring that Queen Hippolyta had cleaned them properly.

Finally she said, #You seem to have done an adequate job on these minor injuries but it is that stab wound to your side that I am really concerned with. When it happened, I was sure she had punctured a lung even though you did not seem to be exhibiting any such signs when I saw you at the end of the fight nor during this examination.#

From Iris’ statement, Queen Hippolyta realized that the doctor did not know the true nature of her most severe injury and neither would most of the other Amazons who witnessed the fight. While everyone would have seen her get stabbed in the side, none probably were able to see the angle which the stab was made. So far, only her maids would have seen where the wound really was.

#The wound is not really in my side, Doctor,# said Queen Hippolyta as she slipped the shoulder straps of her tunic off her shoulders causing it to pool around her waist as she sat on the couch.

Only her professional manner that she had developed over the years enabled Dr. Iris not to gasp out loud at seeing the placement of the bandage and deducing the implications of that placement. She gently removed the binding cloth and pulled back the padded cloth from over the wound. It stuck a little around the edges of the wound and Queen Hippolyta shivered with the small stabs of pain that resulted from the separation of cloth and skin. Once fully uncovered, it was obvious to Iris that the wound was indeed serious, despite not being exactly where she thought it had been from witnessing the fight.

#We should really go to the House of Healing to tend to this properly,# Dr. Iris said to Queen Hippolyta. #I need to check for splinters and then you will require suturing to properly close the wound so that scarring is minimal. You’re lucky Queen Buffy missed your side with that stab. From the looks of this wound, you most certainly would have had your lung punctured and a couple of ribs broken as the stake pushed between them.#

Although she did not correct the doctor out loud, Queen Hippolyta was sure Buffy hadn’t missed and had hit exactly where she wanted to with that stab. It was a non-critical wound other than for blood loss. It also had minimal effect on her ability to attack and defend.

Dr. Iris re-cleaned the wound and placed a fresh bandage on it using the supplies left by the maids. When she was done, she instructed Queen Hippolyta to follow her to the House of Healing. Queen Hippolyta did as she was told, due to the fact that it was the right thing to do and because Dr. Iris was allowing her to go there under her own power and not insist she be carried there. She would also have the opportunity to check on Buffy personally.

----------

Knowing that Queen Hippolyta would want to look in on Queen Buffy before having her wound tended to, Dr. Iris led her directly to where Queen Buffy was sleeping. There were no less than four Healers in the room, who were monitoring her rapid healing while Dr. Iris had been away. Queen Hippolyta stood by her bed while Dr. Iris got an update from the Healers. Queen Hippolyta thought how child-like and innocent Buffy looked at the moment. Her face seemed to look even more care-free than what she had seen at the banquet that first night. To look at her now, she found it hard to believe that the young woman had maneuvered her into losing the Trials simply by forcing her to choose between killing her or surrendering to a defeated foe. Her musings on the fight while awaiting the arrival of Dr. Iris caused her to believe that that was exactly what had occurred and it even gave her time to figure out a reason why such a dangerous option had been taken. What frustrated her now was that she still didn’t know if she had made the right choice or not. Looking at the young woman caused her heart to say ‘yes,’ but her head still worried about the ramifications if she was wrong.

Dr. Iris came over and examined Buffy herself to see what healing had taken place since she had been gone. When she was done, she guided Queen Hippolyta to an adjoining room and did a more thorough exam of the injured breast and did indeed find and remove four splinters from it. Once she was satisfied there were no more splinters, she sutured the wound closed and re-bandaged it.

Once she finished with the re-bandaging, Dr. Iris said, #I may have to have Queen Buffy moved back to her quarters sooner than I thought.#

Queen Hippolyta gave her a quizzical look.

#Based on the rate of her healing, I believe her body is burning through the sedative I gave her at an accelerated rate as well,# she explained. #Since I don’t want her to do anything strenuous for a while so that her broken bones don’t get broken again, which might happen if she gets agitated about still being here, I will have her transferred to her quarters in about four hours. I or one of the senior staff will stay with her, along with a few Healers until she awakens. She will need lots of food available to replenish what her body is using to heal her. We will need some fruits to start and the kitchen should be prepared to provide whatever else she might desire.#

Dr. Iris then added, #You should also eat and drink something to keep up your strength. I also want you to rest as much as possible. If you don’t, I won’t give you the topical anesthetic you need to keep the pain in your breast to a slight twinge instead of a hot coal.#

#You would deny your Queen relief from pain?# asked Queen Hippolyta.

#Per your own orders, she is my Queen,# retorted the Doctor, pointing towards the sleeping woman. #You are just another stubborn patient who needs to be reminded to follow doctor’s orders.#

Queen Hippolyta blinked in surprise, but then said, #You are enjoying this situation far too much.#

#Every once in a while, there are some enjoyable moments with this job,# came the reply.

#Fine,# said Queen Hippolyta. #But I do need to be informed when she awakens, so we can conclude the Trials. In the meantime, I will also need to talk to the Chamberlain a bit before I rest. I will do so while I have something to eat and will make it brief. Will that satisfy you?#

#Yes,# said Dr. Iris. #I will stop by with the anesthetic after dinner so you can rest without pain.#

----------

Buffy’s first sensation was of warmth and softness surrounding her. Unfortunately, this was followed by aches and pains from all over her body. This caused her to remember how she had gotten those aches and pains. The Trial of War. Had she won? It was a bit fuzzy as to what happened at the end. She had to think. She had to know. Queen Hippolyta had used her shield like a Frisbee and broken her leg. The major ache from her left thigh was providing ample proof that that was true. Her head being pulled back and a sword placed at her throat was the next thing she remembered. A rapid run through of the rest of the Trial sped through her brain, culminating with Queen Hippolyta’s surrender and Buffy’s acceptance. Things went black then and the next memory was of being in some kind of hospital and an obvious doctor type telling her she needed to drink some juice to keep from dehydrating and give her body energy to heal. Then blackness took over again.

Buffy bolted upright and heatedly said, “She drugged me!”

A bit of vertigo told her she should have moved more slowly, but it delayed the rest of her diatribe long enough for her to hear a voice off to the side of her bed.

“Ah, you’re awake,” said the voice.

Buffy looked toward the voice and saw the doctor person from before and spat out, “You drugged me!”

“I merely persuaded you that you needed rest to promote the healing process,” said Dr. Iris, standing just outside the reach of the bed’s occupant.

“You drugged me!” Buffy restated.

Dr. Iris shrugged a bit and said, “Some forms of persuasion are more useful than others. Plus, as you can see, I kept my promise to let you return to your rooms after you drank your juice.”

Buffy stared at the woman with her mouth agape.

After a few seconds, she sighed releasing her anger with it and said, “That you did. Thank you. I’ve had bad experiences in hospitals and try to avoid them as much as possible.”

“I gathered as much during our brief chat earlier,” said the woman. “However, I was charged with ensuring your survival and needed to take precautions that you wouldn’t jeopardize that by doing things until your body was ready to do them again. It just wouldn’t do my reputation as a highly skilled doctor any good if I was to let the new Queen of the Amazons further injure herself because I released her from care too soon.”

Buffy’s imitation of a Goldfish returned as she tried to form coherent sounds when her brain realized what the doctor had said.

“Wh...wh...what do you mean, new Queen of the Amazons?” she finally managed to sputter out. “Queen Hippolyta isn’t dead, is she?”

Buffy’s voice was panicked as she said the last.

“No,” replied the doctor. “It is just that you passed out before you could tell her your Boon and, to impress upon the whole Amazon Nation that your survival was paramount to every Amazon, Queen Hippolyta declared you Queen of the Amazons until such time as you make your Boon known.”

“Is she out of her cotton pickin’ mind?” exploded Buffy. “It was bad enough when I had to become Queen of the Slayers. I don’t need the headaches involved with being Queen of the Amazons as well!”

Since Dr. Iris had been present during Buffy’s initial audience with Queen Hippolyta, she remembered Celesta’s comment about Buffy not seeking out her title as Queen of the Slayers. She was, therefore, not too surprised by the young woman’s outburst. She even found it a tad bit amusing.

Apparently, Buffy had noticed the slight smile on the doctor’s face as she suddenly said, “You know Doc, as Queen of the Amazons I might decide that sneaky, underhanded doctors who slip mickeys to their Queens might need to be taught a lesson involving honey and some ants.”

From the look on Queen Buffy’s face, Dr. Iris determined it was possibly not an idle threat even as she had to make an educated guess as to what a ‘mickey’ was.

Taking that as her cue, she suppressed her smile and said, “Well, as entertaining as you might find that to be, it won’t remove you from your new responsibilities. However, the quicker you let me check you over so I can declare you fit to go to the throne room and officially conclude the Trials by making your Boon known, the quicker you can relinquish the title.”

“Fine,” huffed Buffy. “But I still might order up some honey and ants.”

Dr. Iris examined Queen Buffy and was impressed with the amount of healing that had taken place in such a short time. She was just finishing up when Queen Hippolyta arrived, having been summoned by one of the Healers while Dr. Iris dealt with a newly awakened Queen Buffy.

“Thank Hera you’re alright,” said Queen Hippolyta as she entered the room and moved towards the bed where Buffy sat.

“Not to worry,” said Buffy. “It takes more than a couple of broken bones and severe blood loss to keep this Slayer down.”

“Yes,” responded Queen Hippolyta. “Celesta stated that apparently even death isn’t enough to stop you.”

“Well, until all the Potentials were made Slayers, dying was the only way I could get any respite from fighting the assorted Hellmouth badness,” said Buffy.

Although Queen Hippolyta knew Buffy was stating it as a joke, she realized the truth behind the statement as well. Even the strongest of warriors would fall eventually if engaged in near continuous battle every day with no rest or relief.

“Now about this dirty trick you pulled on me,” continued Buffy.

“Dirty trick?” asked Queen Hippolyta in surprise. “If you’re referring to throwing my shield and breaking your leg, there was ...”

“No,” interrupted Buffy. “Not the shield thingy. Once I lost my Scythe, I noticed you were moving your shield around in a manner that indicated your arm was no longer pinned and were therefore getting ready to use it offensively. I was expecting a torso shot instead of one to my leg, though, so that did surprise me. I’m talking about your making me Queen of the Amazons. Do you have any idea how much I could mess up trying to do your job? What were you thinking? I don’t remember hitting you in the head and addling your brain.”

Queen Hippolyta smiled a bit at the young woman’s tirade. When she had made her decree about Buffy’s status within the Amazon Nation, it was just a spur of the moment thing to impress upon Dr. Iris and the others how serious she was to ensure Buffy’s survival. The fact that Buffy apparently thought it had been done intentionally and seemed to cause her some distress and worry appealed to her sense of irony. After all, as winner of the Trials of Athena, Buffy could very well declare herself Queen of the Amazons and it would become fact. Queen Hippolyta now knew from Buffy’s reaction that she didn’t have to worry about that being Buffy’s Boon.

“Actually,” said Queen Hippolyta. “I consider it justifiable revenge for making me choose between killing you and surrendering. Being put in that position alone made me angry enough to choose killing you. You’re just lucky that I was curious enough to want to know your Boon and confident enough in Diana’s judgment to believe said Boon would not result in harm to the Amazons.”

“I understand your anger about being put in that position,” said Buffy, lowering her gaze to the blankets on the bed. “It was because you might do the same thing when asked to yield that it was decided for me to go with that strategy. Despite how important the Boon is, more important than my life or yours, I wouldn’t know what decision I might make until actually faced with the choice and I couldn’t afford to leave it up to a split second decision on my part. While I have made some before, they usually involved sacrificing myself in some way - not someone else. It would be especially hard if I had to make the decision without you knowing why.”

“What would you have done if you had not won at least one of the first two Trials and the only way to get your Boon was to kill me?” asked Queen Hippolyta.

Buffy raised her head, looked her right in the eye and said, “I would have fought you and made the decision when the time came. I would then live, or die, with the consequences.”

Queen Hippolyta could see that Buffy spoke the truth. If Buffy decided to kill her in order to get the Boon granted, she would. But until the moment of truth occurred, even Buffy would not know for certain if she would kill or not.

Satisfied with the answer, Queen Hippolyta asked, “Would you please tell me what your Boon is?”

Again Buffy looked back down at the blankets on her bed and said, “If you don’t mind, I would really like to only have to go through the whole spiel just once. So I need to do it at the formal declaration of my victory.”

Frustrated but understanding somewhat, Queen Hippolyta faced the door to the chamber and said loudly, “Assiram! Captain Mede!”

The door opened and Assiram and the Captain of Queen Hippolyta’s guard entered.

“Send runners to the Chamberlain and have her convene the Final Forum for the Trials immediately,” she commanded, the fact that it was near midnight did not concern her.

“Your Majesty,” spoke up Dr. Iris. “While Queen Buffy is fit enough to attend the Final Forum, she is not allowed to walk or even stand up for the next day or so. She will have to be carried into the Forum on a litter.”

“Hey,” interjected Buffy. “That’s not dignified, and why can’t I walk or stand? My Slayer healing has everything under control.”

“Queen Buffy,” said Dr. Iris with exasperation. “The femur is the largest bone in the body. It takes longer to mend than other bones and despite the accelerated healing rate you possess, it has not had time to properly build its structure to where it needs to be, in order to support you. Even if it does somehow support you, you risk it healing with a bend in it and would have to have it re-broken to fix it. I don’t think you want to do that, now do you?”

“No,” pouted Buffy. “But does it have to be a litter? Don’t you have some kind of gold plated wheel chair? That wouldn’t be too bad.”

Queen Hippolyta interjected, “We have no chairs on wheels, gold plated or otherwise. However, I do have a white and gold chariot.”

Turning to the two guards still in the room after having passed on Queen Hippolyta’s previous orders, she said, “Captain, have my chariot made ready. Have a high stool with ample support for Queen Buffy’s leg placed in it facing forward. Assiram, you will be her driver when we enter the throne room for the Forum.”

This time the two guards did leave the room to carry out their orders.

“Well,” said Dr. Iris. “Since this is going to take some time to get everything ready, I want the both of you to eat something while you prepare for the Forum. It wouldn’t do to have you faint from hunger during the Forum.”

Seeing Buffy glare at her, Dr. Iris added to her, “You need not worry about the food or drink being drugged this time, Queen Buffy. And it is not because of your promise of honey and ants. I am just as curious as everyone else as to what Boon you are going to ask and would only delay that revelation if I thought your life would be endangered in the attempt. It is not, as long as you don’t need to over exert yourself.”

Since Queen Hippolyta had not been present for Dr. Iris’ initial talk with Buffy, she did not understand the reference to honey and ants, but suspected that there was an interesting story associated with it. She would ask one or the other about it later.
----------

The next hour was very hectic. Buffy did eat something, but only after witnessing Dr. Iris taste it. Once she had proven to Buffy’s satisfaction that she wasn’t being drugged again, Dr. Iris went to the stables and checked out the stool Buffy would be sitting on in the chariot to ensure it gave proper support to her leg.

After she had eaten, the maids that had been attending her, helped her wash up and also fixed her hair. She was able to get into her gown and sandals that she had brought with her with little difficulty. She still had to be carried by litter to where she could be seated in the chariot but the corridors were cleared so only Assiram and the four guards carrying the litter were witnesses. Once she was properly seated, Assiram handed Buffy her Scythe, which she noted had been cleaned up since the battle. Buffy laid the Scythe across her lap.

At Dr. Iris’ insistence, another guard besides Assiram, who would have to concentrate on directing the two snow white horses pulling the chariot, was in the chariot to make sure Buffy did not fall from the stool. Lyrpa got this honor and the other fourteen members of Assiram’s squad formed an honor guard around the chariot. Once formed up, they made their way to the door of the throne room where they awaited the Chamberlain’s introduction.

Even through the closed doors they could hear the Chamberlain call the court to order and invite the contestants into the throne room. The doors opened and Assiram urged the horses forward. Buffy and her escort entered first and Queen Hippolyta followed behind. They took their places in front of the dais as they had done before with Buffy, in the chariot, on the left and Queen Hippolyta on the right. Buffy’s honor guard moved so that they were all on her left.

Once in position, the Chamberlain again rapped her staff on the floor before saying, “Queen Buffy has won the Trial of War and thus is the victor of the Trials of Athena. She may now voice her Boon and the Amazon Nation is honor bound to grant it. Queen Buffy, what is your Boon?”

Buffy signaled Assiram to turn the chariot around so that she would be facing the majority of the assembled Amazons when she spoke.

“Queen Hippolyta,” started Buffy, nodding with respect towards her. “Noble Amazons, the Boon I seek is not for me but for you. My friend, Alexander Harris, who is the fiancé of Princess Diana, has another name. It is ‘The One Who Sees.’ While he is not what some would call a true seer, he does have the ability to notice things that others do not always see. In this instance, what he sees causes him to fear for your future. He has seen the technology of the world beyond your Island being used to deal with things that are mystical in nature. While the successes of these endeavors are few at the moment, the very fact that it is being done at all points to potential dangers for the Amazon Nation. You are all aware that the ship I came to the Island from was forced to get closer to your Island than it normally would due to a severe storm. Some of you have probably guessed that the storm was not a natural coincidence. You would be partially right. Another friend of mine is a very strong Wicca and she enhanced a naturally occurring storm and maneuvered it to where the ship would have to move closer to your Island. The thing is, it could have just as easily been a completely natural storm and the result would have been the same. It could have also caused the ship to actually come within sight of the Island. With the number of cruise ships that now ply the waters around the Island, it is very probable that accidental discovery of the Island can occur within ten years or less. Satellites that detect and track such storms are becoming more sophisticated and the possibility also exists for them to somehow detect the Island despite the wards to prevent that. As I said before, technology in the world beyond the Island is being developed to deal with mystical aspects, whether by design or even by accident. These endeavors are not confined to governments alone, but include businesses, small groups and even single individuals. There is no guarantee that these endeavors are for the benefit of all. The Amazon Nation and your Island are also known to the world outside and there are some that would wish to exploit either, or even both. I and my friends know that you would resist such if it was to occur, but weapons exist that could kill every Amazon and leave the Island fairly untouched. While there are some allies you might be able to call on to try and avoid such a scenario, there is little that could be done under the laws of the world outside, because under those laws, the Amazon Nation is not recognized as an independent and sovereign nation. The very isolation that you have kept up for centuries as a way of protecting yourselves, is now the very thing that jeopardizes your continued existence. You can no longer afford to hide from the outside world but must become a part of it if you wish to continue your culture and way of life. The world has changed and you must change as well, to adapt to those changes or you will cease to be, just like the plants and animals that fail to adapt when their environment changes. It is because steps needed to be taken now and not debated over a prolonged period of time that it was decided to invoke the Trials of Athena instead of just making the danger facing you be known. Also, to ensure that the Amazon champion was someone whose actions we had a chance of predicting, I became the only choice as challenger. This is not to say that the outcome was never in doubt, just that if things went as we hoped, that both Queen Hippolyta and myself would have the best chance possible of being alive at the end of the Trials.

“Therefore, the Boon that I ask of you is to allow me and the Watchers’ Council which supports me to use our influence with the governments of the outside world to assist you in immediately establishing the Amazon Nation as a fully independent and sovereign nation that is recognized by the majority, if not all, of the nations of the world. I acknowledge that this will not deter all possible aggressors, but it does give you a better possible future than you face now. Gaining this recognition does not mean revealing yourselves openly to the rest of the world, although you may wish to do so before accidental discoveries occur, since you would then control the conditions under which such revelations occur. I reiterate: the Boon is that you allow us to assist you now. We will not dictate to you how you handle recognition or make treaties. We already know you constitute a sovereign nation and only wish to get the rest of the world to recognize that as well.

“We ask nothing else of you.”

The silence that descended after Buffy’s speech, stretched on interminably. Queen Hippolyta and the assembled Amazons were busy thinking about all that they heard and about what granting the Boon would do. Queen Hippolyta agreed with the assessment that debate would have been long and possibly inconclusive if they had just been made aware of the coming problem. She herself would argue against formalizing contact with the outside world, let alone seek official recognition from it. However, change was being forced upon them and many Amazons would be unhappy about that. Now, with an uncertain future facing them, many agreed that the wording of the Boon permitted them to still have control in the new direction they would have to travel.

Buffy was the one to break the silence as she addressed Queen Hippolyta directly with a slight scowl on her face, “I have made my Boon known. You may now resume your throne.”

Queen Hippolyta ascended the dais and stood in front of her throne. Assiram maneuvered the chariot so that Buffy was now facing the Queen.

“The Amazon Nation acknowledges your Boon and will do what is required to fulfill it,” said Queen Hippolyta solemnly. “However, there is another matter that must be addressed. A very serious matter.”

The last was said with an even more grave voice. The attention of all assembled became very intense.

“Your Boon did not address the issue, nor did you while you had the authority to address it. Therefore, it is up to Amazon Law, which you have stated yourself as recognizing when you recognized our sovereignty, to decide the issue,” continued Queen Hippolyta.

Buffy’s face showed some worry as she tried to figure out what she might have missed that would require the application of Amazon Law. Queen Hippolyta’s face was completely unreadable but her tone of voice made it sound very dire indeed.

“The issue that I speak of is your unauthorized and unorthodox method of arrival on the Island.”

Many Amazons present gasped at the pronouncement.

Although she had enough decorum not to say it out loud, Buffy was mentally saying, ‘SHIT!’ and kicking herself. She’d forgotten all about that minor detail, which had suddenly become a major detail. What she wasn’t sure of was exactly what options Queen Hippolyta might have under the circumstances. What she was sure of was that she would have to acquiesce to what ever was decided or it would taint what they were trying to accomplish with the mission in the first place.

Her life really did suck at times.

“Assiram,” commanded Queen Hippolyta. “Queen Buffy is to be returned to her quarters and kept there under house arrest until this issue is ready to be adjudicated.”

Both Assiram and Buffy nodded in acknowledgement of the order, neither willing to trust their voices, although for different reasons. Buffy, because she was basically still too stunned to believe she could say anything intelligible. Assiram, for fear she would give voice to the unfairness of the act against a noble warrior and caring person who risked death to address a problem that the Amazon Nation had apparently hadn’t realized it had. Just as she had not realized the problems with the protocols and procedures that dealt with strangers suddenly appearing on the Island. Intellectually, she knew Queen Hippolyta was following the proper procedures, but she had come to admire the petite woman and did not wish her harm.

As Assiram turned the chariot around, Buffy handed her Scythe to Lyrpa believing it inappropriate for a prisoner to be armed. They then left the throne room with her escort just as they had at the beginning of the ceremony. The process of getting her back to her room was again the reverse of how she had gone to the ceremony.

It was while she was on the litter that she spoke to Assiram.

“You will only need two guards. I promise I will not try to escape.”

Assiram just nodded. She was sure that even without guards present, Queen Buffy would not break her word.

When they got back to Buffy’s rooms, they got her placed back into bed, although in a seated position as Buffy requested.

Assiram said, “Lyrpa and Yram will be right outside the door if you need anything. Your Scythe will remain with whoever is posted outside your door.”

“Thank you,” replied Buffy, although a bit distractedly.

There was silence for a few seconds and then Assiram spoke, “I’m sorry ....”

Buffy quickly interrupted, “You have nothing to be sorry for. It was my own oversight. I could have addressed it as part of the Boon or even issued pardons to myself and all those who faced discipline because of the way I arrived on the Island while I was the virtual Queen of the Amazons before stating my Boon. That is, if I had thought about it. Queen Hippolyta is doing the right thing. I’m sure someone would have brought it up if she hadn’t.”

Buffy’s words fully amazed Assiram and made her admire the blonde even more. The fact that even in her current predicament, she would think to include others who might have been in trouble for her invasion as part of any clemency she might have given herself made the Guard Leader proud to have met her.

“Queen Hippolyta has already addressed the issue concerning my squad and myself,” Assiram said to Buffy. “I have been assigned to a committee to review and potentially revise the protocols and procedures regarding incursions like yours.”

“My sincere condolences,” said Buffy. “I would find it easier to face death than deal with bureaucratic nonsense like committees and paper work.”

Although it was spoken in a joking way, Assiram knew that the condolences were genuine.

“Rest well, Queen Buffy,” she said as she left the room.

Buffy yawned a bit as the release of tension from the mission made her admit how tired she really was. Granted, the wrinkle of her legal problem left her with a little apprehension, but still in all her mission was a success.

Even though it was late, she decided that it was essential to let get the news of the success to her friends so they wouldn’t worry. So she composed herself and began concentrating on her breathing to start her meditation. It only took ten minutes to get into the meditative state needed to send out a mental burst that she and Willow had set up before she left. Willow’s mental ‘receiver’, as she referred to it, was already set up to look for the burst and then Willow would use her magic to fully establish the link. Xander had likened it to opening hailing frequencies. Buffy and Willow had both swatted him upside the head for that remark, but didn’t do it too hard since Andrew hadn’t been around when he said it. He was, however, promised painful dismemberment of vital and precious body parts if he ever again made that comment where Andrew could hear it.

----------

Willow sat up abruptly in bed, a buzzing in her head awakening her. She immediately took two calming breaths and murmured a small chant, closing her eyes.

//Buffy?//

//Everything is alright. No one died. I won and told them the Boon. I figure the details of how to go about granting it will be worked out over the next few days.//

//How are you?//

//Couple of broken bones and a bad gash on my arm along with the associated minor cuts and bruises, but healing fine. Queen Hippolyta is in better shape but will, of course, take longer to heal.//

//Everyone will be glad to hear it.//

//That’s why I ‘called’. You’ll get more info later, but tired now.//

//OK. You rest and we’ll talk later.//

Willow bounced out of bed with a smile on her face. She grabbed her robe and put it on as she headed off to get up the others.

Everyone in the know had been staying at the Cleveland site since the beginning of the mission, even Diana. She had used the excuse of providing extra training for the baby Slayers against foes that might be more powerful than a Slayer as an excuse for her presence. She had even enlisted her sister, Donna, to help as a way to keep her away from the Island while Buffy carried out her mission. Donna would not be one of the ones Willow would be awakening as Diana would need to be the one to explain things to her, probably in the morning.

Willow quickly gathered up the other five in the know and had them come to the conference room. Since she had not been able to keep the grin off her face, everyone was expecting good news. She didn’t disappoint them.

“Buffy just ‘called’,” beamed the jubilant redhead. “Both she and Queen Hippolyta are alive and well, although both have some non-life threatening injuries from the last Trial. Buffy has told them the Boon. She expects to learn how they plan to abide by it over the next few days. That’s all she told me before signing off to get some rest.”

The relief showed on everyone’s faces. The tension of waiting and worrying over the last few days just washed away. Buffy’s gamble had paid off. They all went back to bed and rested much easier.

----------

Once Buffy had left the throne room with her escort, Queen Hippolyta assigned various groups of Amazons to research what might have to be done to work with Queen Buffy’s organization to achieve recognition of being an independent and sovereign nation. She also charged them to begin defining topics that might need to be addressed by treaties with other nations in the world outside the Island. Once all the assignments were made, she dismissed everyone except the Chamberlain.

#I noticed that you did not assign anyone to look into the possible options for dealing with Queen Buffy’s arrival on the Island,# said the Chamberlain. #Does that mean you have already made up your mind on how to deal with the issue?#

#Of course,# replied Queen Hippolyta. #I intend to pardon her, - eventually, as she can be considered a diplomatic envoy as well as a visiting head of state.#

#Then why didn’t you do so, instead of placing her under house arrest?#

#Because that young woman needs a break from her duties,# came Queen Hippolyta’s reply. #Queen Buffy herself joked that the only time she gets to rest is when she dies, but I could tell there was a lot of truth in her joke. Even Celesta mentioned that Queen Buffy has earned the right to a peaceful rest many times over. From her stories, I have deduced that she has been in almost constant battle every day since her middle teens. The fact that she is still sane and not completely suicidal is a testament to her inner strength, but even inner strength can carry you only so far. Responsibilities she didn’t want have been thrust upon her and something inside her won’t let her ignore them. She needs time away from those responsibilities so that she can return to them with a renewed vigor. If I thought I could get away with it, I would keep her here for at least a year; as it is, I will try to stretch it out as long as I can. Maybe six to nine months.

“By invoking and winning the Trials, she has forced us to address a growing problem that we have completely ignored for too long. I am just going to return the favor by forcing her to step back from the burdens she has borne too long without giving herself time to just be herself. Trading places with Atlas would be a vacation compared to what she has faced and will face in the future. Not that I think Atlas is actually stupid enough to make such a trade. Besides, I think having her here to spar with some of our warriors will improve their skills against someone with her fighting style. The only reason my left arm is still attached is she wasn’t out to kill or maim me. She will also learn from the experience and pass it on to her charges to improve their chances of survival. Thus, a mutually beneficial exchange takes place that will cement our relations with each other even more.#

#That doesn’t mean she is going to like it,# said the Chamberlain.

#I didn’t like being forced to fulfill her Boon,# Queen Hippolyta shot back. #I would have preferred realizing the need on my own and then doing something about it. I would like to think that it doesn’t take having one of my breasts skewered and then being forced to decide if someone lives or dies to recognize potential threats to our people and way of life. As it is, we will both just have to take our medicine and deal with how it tastes.#

#Could it also be that you find something in her that reminds you of another somewhat free spirited young woman?# asked the Chamberlain.

#It’s late and we have a busy day tomorrow,# was Queen Hippolyta’s only reply.

Receiving her answer, the Chamberlain just said, #Good night, Your Majesty.#

Each left for their respective bed chambers.

----------

The next morning while Buffy was eating breakfast, Assiram entered her room, stood next to her bed and waited for Buffy to acknowledge her presence.

Still uncomfortable with the formality of queenship, beyond what she had been used to even in high school, Buffy said with a sigh, “Assiram, unless I am involved in a conversation, when you have something to say to me, just say it without making me ask. Despite the title, I am a simple young woman who prefers directness as much as possible. I don’t deal with cryptic all that well.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” said Assiram.

Buffy would have objected to the address but figured it was better than being called Queen Buffy, as that still sounded way too strange and silly.

Assiram continued speaking while Buffy had that thought.

“Queen Hippolyta is sending an emissary to meet with Princess Donna and inform her of what has happened. Since Princess Donna is already known to your people, she will be the one to inform them of your success in the Trials. She will also be taking a leading role in the effort to gain recognition by the world outside as it will be good training for her future duties in the Amazon government. Which of your people should Princess Donna speak with to facilitate the talks? Also, if you wish to send any messages to your people, you should have them ready by noon for the emissary to take them.”

“Rupert Giles and Willow Rosenberg will be the primary contacts with my people that will be involved with arranging recognition,” stated Buffy. “I would indeed like to send some messages to my people. Could you have some writing material brought in to me?”

“I will fetch some, Your Majesty.”

Buffy thanked Assiram who left on her errands. She then finished her breakfast and thought of what to say that she hadn’t already relayed to Willow mentally last night.

She figured a letter explaining the legal problems she currently had was in order, since she had managed to hide that from Willow to allow them to enjoy the knowledge that she was alright and that the mission was a success. That way, she would be able to explain the situation and assure her friends and family that there was no need for alarm or panic. At least, she hoped there wasn’t.

When the writing materials arrived she ended up writing personalized letters to each of those who knew about the mission, plus a letter that would contain an overview of how the mission went from beginning to end for the official Watcher’s records.

Assiram reentered the room just before noon with a cloth pouch. Buffy placed the letters in the pouch and Assiram then closed it with a metallic band that was crimped over the top of the pouch. She then gave Buffy a signet ring and poured melted wax over the edges of the band. Recognizing the significance from her memories as Lady Elizabeth, Buffy pressed the ring into the cooling wax. The impression made was a miniature Slayer Scythe with a crown over it. Buffy looked at Assiram in surprise.

Seeing Buffy’s look, Assiram said, “When you said you would be sending letters to your people, I took the liberty of showing the Scythe to a ring maker so that the seal on the pouch would be uniquely yours.”

“Thank you, Assiram,” said Buffy. “I will treasure this gift always. Please let the ring maker know how much I appreciate it.”

Having been around Buffy for as long as she had, Assiram was not surprised to be thanked for the signet ring. However, she was surprised by the comment that it was something to be treasured. Granted the ring maker had done an excellent job in such a short time but it was, after all, just a plain metal ring, not even gold or silver. The emotion in Buffy’s voice had indicated that it didn’t matter what it was made of because it was the gift itself that made it precious to her.

“I will do that Your Majesty,” she replied as she picked up the pouch and left to deliver it to Queen Hippolyta’s emissary.

----------

Diana and Donna were alone in the conference room. Xander had tried to convince Diana to let him be there for moral support but she insisted on talking to Donna alone saying it was a sister-thing. Having experience dealing with Buffy and Dawn issues, Xander and the others acquiesced, but were standing by just in case they were needed. Diana promised them she would try to keep the damage from the expected explosion from her sister to a minimum.

The explosion from Donna came but only after she had allowed Diana to spell out the mission and its outcome.

#How could you endanger Mother’s life like that?# screamed Donna.

#Buffy’s life was also in danger. Possibly more so,# replied Diana emphatically without raising her voice.

While that statement brought Donna up short a bit, it did not significantly reduce the anger she felt. While she liked the petite fighter and did not wish her harm, the emotional ties to her mother were far stronger.

#The question still stands,# she said glaring at Diana.

Taking a deep breath, Diana spoke, #Mother, and others, would have resisted the idea that it is necessary to obtain recognition by the outside world now. Even with proof provided to them that accidental discovery could take place at any time. The issue would at best be debated for years and the odds were that it would only be taken seriously once discovery had already occurred. By then, the situation would no longer be one Mother could control. In order to get allies in a short time, she would have to grant many concessions that she otherwise would not make. She would be negotiating from a position of weakness instead of one of strength. You know that Mother would gladly risk her life if it meant protecting the Island and the Amazon Nation. What she faced in the Trial of War was probably better odds than in a possible confrontation after discovery.#

#That would only be true if Buffy was able to win at least one of the first two Trials,# interrupted Donna. #That was a big gamble on your part. What would have happened if Buffy had to kill Mother in order to win the Trials?#

#Even Buffy didn’t know the answer to that question,# was Diana’s soft response. #She even asked me what I would do were it my decision to make.#

#What did you say?# asked Donna, shocked.

#I told her that I wouldn’t know the answer until the very moment the decision had to be made. She agreed with me, even though she knew how important it was to get the Boon granted. Buffy was fully aware of the risks involved concerning both the decision to kill or not, as well as being killed herself. It was her plan and it was very thoroughly thought out and argued about before being implemented. We all believed the fate of the Amazon Nation was at stake if nothing was done immediately, and the Trials were the only avenue that gave us any chance of affecting change right now.#

#Buffy did leave me a large sealed envelope to be opened in the event she did kill Mother,# continued Diana. #In it are letters to everyone who knew about the mission. The Trials do not permit official retaliation for a death resulting from them, but personal vengeance could still be claimed by a relative. As Mother’s daughter, Buffy would surrender herself to you for judgment because she already knew what I would do. The letters would explain her decision to everyone should you have her executed and instruct them to take no retaliatory action.#

#Did she tell you that?# asked Donna.

#No,# replied Diana, looking her sister in the eyes. #But it is what I would do if I had invoked the Trials and had to kill Mother to get the Boon granted.#

Silence reigned for several heartbeats.

#I still find it hard to believe that Buffy beat Mother in any of the Trials,# said Donna, deciding not to dwell on something that didn’t happen. #No offense meant but she didn’t strike me as being artistic or as wise as Mother. Also, even though she is a capable fighter, I believe Mother to be the better warrior.#

#Buffy didn’t tell Willow if she won one or both of the first two Trials so I can’t really address those much. I do know that she showed a good ability at metalwork so she might have won the Trial of Arts. I know Buffy herself was really dreading the Trial of Wisdom so odds are, she won Arts. As for the Trial of War, her strategy for winning that, assuming a non-death match, was to lose.#

Diana had to stifle a giggle at the puzzled look on her sister’s face.

#How in Hades could she win by losing?# asked a completely lost Donna.

#Simple,# said Diana. #She would refuse to yield.#

#B...b...bu...but that would mean that Mother would have to kill her to win!# shrieked Donna.

#That’s right,# was Diana’s reply. #We were counting on her not being able to carry through on that to force her to surrender to Buffy.#

#That’s crazy,# said Donna. #Mother would not hesitate to kill if she thought that person endangered the Amazon Nation.#

#True,# said Diana. #But Mother would not be sure Buffy posed such a threat and because of a spell by Willow, Buffy could not reveal the Boon unless she won; thus, Mother would be faced with the dilemma of killing someone without having full knowledge of the reason she should do so. We were all betting that she couldn’t do that.#

Donna thought about that for a bit and said, #Okay, I agree that Mother would tend to not want to kill someone who does not appear to be a threat to the Amazons, but why would Buffy run such a risk instead of going all out to win against Mother. Again, not that I think she would have won but wouldn’t that have had the better chance of achieving the same goal? I mean, if she was losing she could still use the same gambit, but if she was winning, she wouldn’t have to trust in what Mother might or might not decide should Mother be winning.#

#There are two flaws in Buffy trying for the win. One is that it might force Mother to go all out as well and consider going for killing blows instead of just disabling ones. The second is that Mother might also not yield and thus put Buffy in the moral dilemma instead,# said Diana. #Also, you haven’t really seen Buffy do much other than spar. In an all out fight, she is one of the most dangerous opponents anyone could face. Her tactical ability to innovate both attacks and defenses during a fight puts her on an even par with Mother. Granted, Mother would probably be armored and Buffy wouldn’t, but Buffy has fought armored foes before and would be using her agility to great effect. Therefore, luck would play a major role in the fight along with skill if Buffy really tried to win instead of making it look like she was trying. By only appearing to fight full out, Buffy would be able to control the flow of the fight more easily and orchestrate the desired outcome.#

#So you’re saying that Buffy threw the match?# asked Donna.

#Not so much threw the match as set up conditions for the desired outcome to occur,# was Diana’s reply. #Besides, it would only matter if Mother won the Trial, which she didn’t.#

#When Mother finds out she’s been played, she will not be happy,# said Donna.

#Mother will not let her feelings interfere with implementing the Boon,# said Diana. #Although, I do believe she will still let her displeasure be known towards those she feels deserve to know about it.#

Donna looked pensive for a few moments and then sighed.

#What?# asked Diana.

#I was trying to decide if I should go back to the Island or stand in front of a fast moving lava flow,# was Donna’s reply.

#Buffy would have already told Mother that you had no fore knowledge of her mission so you won’t need to worry about her being angry at you,# Diana said.

#Small comfort as she’ll still probably be a pain to be around for quite some time,# retorted Donna.

Suddenly, Donna went still, reached up and touched the side of her tiara. After a few moments she said, #I’ve been ordered to rendezvous with a courier who has some official documents for the Council. No further explanation given at this time.#

#Given the circumstances, it is probably Mother’s first contact to implement the Boon.# said Diana. #I’m not sure if Buffy told Mother she already got a message through last night about the outcome of the Trials.#

#Well I’ll know more once I get to the rendezvous,# said Donna. #I have to leave now to make it at the time indicated. I’ll try and let you know if it turns out something else going on.#

#Safe travel, sister,# said Diana as she hugged Donna.

----------

When Donna got to the rendezvous, she saw Mede, Captain of her Mother’s guard, already there.

#Hail, Princess,# greeted Mede, saluting her.

#Hail, Captain,# replied Donna, returning the salute. #How is Mother? Was she hurt badly during the Trial of War?#

#How did you know?# asked a surprised Mede.

#Apparently Buffy was able to get a short message through to her friend Willow last night and Diana filled me in this morning prior to receiving the summons for this meeting,# replied Donna. #So, how is Mother?#

#Your Mother is well,# stated Mede. #She suffered only one major wound in addition to several minor cuts and bruises. However, Dr. Iris was able to tend to everything and your Mother is tending to her duties with no restrictions.#

#What about Buffy?# Donna asked, now that she knew her Mother was doing fine despite some concern about the major wound mentioned by Mede.

#Queen Buffy faired worse in the Trial,# said Mede. #She suffered a broken arm and a broken leg. Also, her left arm was laid open from shoulder to elbow. Dr. Iris also attended to her injuries and she will recover, but is confined to her bed for the next few days despite how fast she appears to be healing.#

Donna paled a bit as she realized just how much danger Buffy had put herself in, in an effort to do what she thought needed to be done to help the Amazon Nation. It did not dim her curiosity about something though.

#Which of the first two Trials did Buffy win?# asked Donna.

Mede fidgeted a bit before answering, #The Trial of Art was a weaving contest of a simple banner with an owl on it.#

Hearing this, Donna was puzzled because she knew her Mother was an excellent weaver and to have lost doing such a simple piece didn’t make sense. Then she heard the rest of Mede’s statement.

#Although one of the judges sided with Queen Buffy’s effort, the majority declared your Mother the winner.#

In surprise at the implication, Donna sputtered, #Y...y...you mean Buffy beat Mother in the Trial of Wisdom!?#

Lowering her gaze to the ground, Mede answered, #The Trial of Wisdom involved identical mazes with traps in them to impede the progress of the contestants. The stated condition for victory was to traverse the maze in the fastest time. The intent being that it would indicate who was clever enough to not only find the correct path through the maze but also who could avoid the traps the best. Your Mother made it through the maze in a very good time even though it was evident from her appearance upon exiting the maze that she had had some difficulty with some of the traps. On the other hand, Queen Buffy had crossed over the top of her maze and took roughly three minutes to get to the other side.#

#B...b...bu...but that’s cheating!# shouted Donna.

#Actually, Queen Buffy pointed out that there had been no mention of having to go through the maze during any of the briefings on how the Trial was to be conducted, just that it was necessary to traverse it. Both your Mother and the Chamberlain concluded that she was correct. Therefore, Queen Buffy was declared the winner.#

Donna was dumbfounded. Her mother, one of the smartest and wisest people she knew, with centuries of experience had lost the Trial of Wisdom to a woman in her twenties on a technicality that she had somehow noticed and her Mother had missed. She now understood better her sister’s statement that Buffy had a keen tactical ability to innovate when necessary. It also reinforced Diana’s argument that the existing mindset of the Amazons to stay hidden as a means of defense against the outside world might not continue to be the best thing to do. New ways of looking at things would need to be used to address issues and avoid stagnation.

Attempting to bring Donna back to the business at hand, Mede handed her a letter addressed to her. Donna took it and read it.

Donna,

This is to inform you that the Trials of Athena have been invoked and the result is that the Amazon Nation is obligated to work with the Slayers and Watchers Council in order to obtain legal and official recognition with the outside world as a sovereign and independent nation. You are to take the lead in this endeavor and handle as many of the negotiations as you feel competent to handle alone, based on the preliminary conditions and issues contained in the addendum to this letter. You may contact me or the Chamberlain for clarification on anything that may come up if you are not certain which options should be pursued. You may request contingents of Amazon negotiators to assist you when dealing with specific nations or for specific needs. Under the terms of the Boon, the Slayers and Watchers Council will only assist you in setting up talks that should result in recognition. It will be up to you to convey our desires as to what this will entail based on guidance and directives sent to you. Listen to their opinions on how to proceed in the various negotiations, but make up your own mind as the situation dictates. According to Queen Buffy, they already acknowledge our sovereignty and, therefore, should not try and dictate policy for us. Amazon policy can only be voiced by an Amazon. Whatever you agree to will be binding on the Amazon Nation, so take care and watch your words. The addition, or omission, of a single word can make a big difference in the outcome, as has been demonstrated to me very recently.

I realize this is quite a burden to place on your shoulders, but your unique knowledge of the outside world and your standing here on the Island make you the logical choice to present our case to the world.

I know that you will do me and the Amazon Nation proud.

All my love,
Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons

Donna was stunned at the responsibility being given her. She would have dashed off a response to her Mother stating that Diana would be a better choice, except for the phrase ‘your standing here on the Island,’ which explained why that couldn’t happen. It galled her that Diana couldn’t speak for the Amazon Nation because of her exile, even as she was honored that their Mother was confident enough to let her do the job.

She quickly scanned the additional sheets of the letter for the issues, instructions, and concerns that she was to address in negotiations. Once she finished, she returned her attention to Mede.

#Inform my Mother that I humbly accept the charge of overseeing the upcoming negotiations,# said Donna. #I will send a report after my initial meeting with the appropriate representatives of the Slayers and Watchers Council as to how they suggest I proceed. Let her know that I also wish her and Queen Buffy a speedy and complete recovery from their wounds.#

#I am honored to convey your message,# said Mede as she handed over two message pouches.

Both were addressed to the Rupert Giles, but only one had the Amazon Royal Seal affixed to it. The other seal she didn’t recognize at first and had to look at it more closely before she was able to make out the silhouette of the Slayer Scythe with a crown above it.

Seeing her looking closer at the second seal, Mede said, #That pouch contains personal letters from Queen Buffy to her people. The first one contains letters from the Queen to Mr. Giles and Miss Rosenberg.#

#I’m surprised Buffy had a signet ring,# said Donna. #She normally forgoes anything that makes a show of her status as Queen of the Slayers. She and the others down played it so much that I didn’t even know about it until recently. In fact, I believe that if it were up to her, she’d do away with the title entirely.#

#Celesta intimated that when she confirmed to your Mother that Queen Buffy was recognized by the Pantheon as being able to invoke the Trials,# said Mede.

Donna’s eyes went wide and said, #The Goddess of Death appeared and confirmed Buffy’s rights to the Trials! How did that happen?#

#Queen Buffy merely asked the Goddess to do so,# replied Mede, still a bit in awe herself that such a thing had occurred. #It was a simple request and not even a summoning. She did the same thing during the Trial of War when the Queen had her sword at Queen Buffy’s neck. She simply asked the Goddess to explain why she didn’t fear death when the Queen expressed shock at Queen Buffy failing to yield when asked. Although it is hard to imagine it happening, I can see that if one has died and been resurrected more than once, that death would not be as frightening as it might be, even if there were no assurances that resurrection would take place after the next death.#

Donna was in even more shock than being given the point position on gaining recognition for the Amazon Nation. No one at the Council had told her anything about Buffy having died and being resurrected. Diana hadn’t even told her that.

#Does that mean that if Mother killed Buffy, that Buffy would be resurrected?# asked Donna angrily, thinking that if it was true then Buffy hadn’t really been in the same amount of danger as her Mother.

#Oh no,# replied Mede. #Celesta said that neither she nor Queen Buffy had any idea if her death during the Trial of War would be Queen Buffy’s final death or not. It would be up to the Fates to determine that.#

Donna’s anger faded as she realized that Buffy was indeed taking a chance of not coming back from the dead. Thus, she was facing the same possible fate as her Mother in the Trial. Albeit with a potential for resurrection based on past experience.

Getting back to the subject of the ring, Mede said, #It was Assiram who arranged for the signet ring to uniquely identify the contents of the pouch as coming from Queen Buffy. She and her squad are Queen Buffy’s security. They were also the guards that first confronted her upon her arrival on the Island.#

Mede had been told to specifically not mention Queen Buffy’s current status to Princess Donna at this time, so she did not mention that the security was that for a prisoner and not as an honor guard. A letter to Mr. Giles from the Queen explained the situation and also informed him that it should be kept confidential until resolved.

Mede continued, #When they tried to drive her away, they ended up opening fire on her. Somehow, Queen Buffy not only dodged or deflected every arrow shot at her, but she managed to grab several of them and hurl them back at her attackers, cutting a total of seven bow strings. She did this and only inflicted a small cut on Assiram’s upper arm. None of the other guards were injured.#

Donna thought of the skill required to accomplish such a feat and decided that Diana hadn’t been exaggerating about Buffy possibly being a match for their Mother when it came to combat. It was then that she suddenly realized something Mede had said about the fight.

#Captain Mede, you said that Mother had a sword to Buffy’s neck and that Buffy refused to yield,# recapped Donna. #If that is so, how did Buffy win the Trial of War?#

Mede looked down and fidgeted a little before trying to speak. That act alone confirmed to Donna that what Diana told her about Buffy’s strategy was, indeed, what happened.

#I...I...I don’t know for certain why the Queen did what she did,# said Mede. #But, I believe that she could not bring herself to kill Queen Buffy, whom I think she came to feel friendship for. Therefore, she chose to surrender to her instead of killing her.#

#Mother knows she was maneuvered into surrendering, doesn’t she?# asked Donna.

#I believe so,# said Mede. #Queen Buffy’s failure to yield in the face of certain death was too blatant not to be deliberately done to force your Mother into such an awkward position.#

#So, exactly how upset is Mother?#

Mede smiled and said, #It’s not too bad, yet. So far she has just been terser in voicing her commands, but I think that is because she is trying to focus on designing a suitable payback for Queen Buffy that will put her in the hot seat. However, the longer it takes to figure something out, the more likely she is to let her frustration be felt by others.#

#I guess that means staying in the outside world and taking point on getting the Amazon Nation officially recognized as a sovereign nation isn’t such a bad thing, after all,# said Donna with a slight smile.

Mede returned the smile.

#Your Mother might still call you home for an official briefing, and as I said, I believe her mood can only get worse until she has achieved payback. You might end up in the middle of a storm.#

#I’ll just have to hope the storm passes before I return then,# said Donna.

#Well, I must return and finish implementing a new training program for the Queen’s Guards,# said Mede. #So I bid you good luck and farewell, Princess.#

#Let me guess,# said Donna. #Bowstring cutting?#

#Eventually,# replied Mede. #For now we’ll work on grabbing blunted arrows out of the air and using them to force the attackers to take cover. The ones that didn’t have their bowstrings cut by Queen Buffy spent more time dodging returned arrows than they did firing new ones. A useful tactic on its own.#

With that the two Amazons went their separate ways.

----------

Upon returning to the compound in Cleveland, Donna met with those in the know of the mission to Themyscira. She presented the letter that gave her the authority to speak for the Amazon Nation. She then handed over the sealed pouches to Giles.

“This one contains letters from my Mother. The other contains letters from Queen Buffy,” said Donna with a semi-formal voice.

“B has got to hate having to hear that all the time,” snorted Faith, obviously referring to Buffy’s title.

“I think she dreaded that aspect of the mission more than either of the first two Trials,” said Dawn.

“I find it strange that ordinary people would object to being addressed by their first names, unless by friends, yet royalty insist on using their first names with their titles,” said Xander. “With all the other formality that goes with being royalty, it would make more sense to also use last names with the title. Then Buffy wouldn’t have such a problem since Queen Summers doesn’t sound that bad.”

“Quite,” said Giles. “I’ll see about having the Coven whip up a portal to take you back a few millennia, so you can rectify that inconsistency.”

“I retract my observation,” Xander quickly replied.

“I thought you might,” said Giles dryly.

“Let’s see what we have here,” he continued as he opened the pouch from the Amazon Queen.

Inside the pouch were two letters. One addressed to him and Willow. The second was addressed to him alone and marked ‘CONFIDENTIAL’. It was also stuck to the inside of the pouch and did not fall out when he up ended the pouch to empty it. Only he saw it remain there. Putting aside the mystery letter for the time, he opened the first one and read it aloud.

Dear Mr. Giles and Ms. Rosenberg,

As my Daughter, Princess Donna, has probably informed you, Queen Buffy has been triumphant in the Trials of Athena and stated her Boon that you and your organization assist the Amazon Nation gain official recognition as a sovereign nation by the world outside Themyscira. While I object to the method chosen to alert Myself and the Amazon Nation of the threat posed by not having such recognition, I none the less admit that based on the evidence and possibilities Queen Buffy provided, such a threat does indeed exist and that it has been overlooked for far too long.

I request that you confine your involvement to only arranging meetings with the appropriate governmental agencies and providing recommendations supporting recognition. After all, if we are to be recognized as a sovereign nation, we must act like one when presenting our case for recognition. Princess Donna may ask your advice but will have to make up her own mind whether to follow it or not based on the agenda and issues I and the Amazon government will be providing her.

Queen Buffy will be sending her own messages to you in a separate pouch. While I believe she will be informing you of how her mission went, I wish to give you my perspective on some of the highlights of her time with us. Since she arrived on the Island uninvited and unannounced, she was initially placed under arrest. When she let it be known that she would only explain her presence to me in open forum, she was brought under guard to such a session. It was there that she invoked the Trials and beckoned Celesta, Goddess of Death, to confirm her identity. The Goddess did more than that. She also confirmed Queen Buffy’s right to invoke the Trials as the Greek Pantheon has acknowledged that the Slayers constitute a similar sisterhood to the Amazons. With her identity confirmed, Queen Buffy was provided with the appropriate amenities for a visiting dignitary of her rank. The Trial of Art was a weaving contest and although Queen Buffy showed some skill and a good eye for detail, she lost that Trial. The Trial of Wisdom was to traverse identical mazes with identical traps in the shortest amount of time. Queen Buffy won that Trial by realizing that no one had ever said that one had to traverse through the maze to avoid the traps and get to the other side. She traversed over the top of her maze. The Trial of War was, of course, single combat between us. Queen Buffy was using the Slayer Scythe she had brought with her and had cleverly hidden in plain sight. She also took advantage of some forearm guards provided to her. I chose standard battle armor with sword and shield. During our battle, I suffered only one major injury, although Queen Buffy had several opportunities to inflict disabling and even lethal blows, but deliberately did not do so. I realize now that those missed opportunities were part of her strategy to influence my actions when she refused to yield. Queen Buffy’s first serious injury was her right forearm which was broken blocking a hard blow from my sword. This limited her attacks to being delivered by her left handed. A while later, I was able to open a gash on her upper left arm from shoulder to elbow and thus make her drop the Scythe. I then broke her left leg with my shield as she attempted to retrieve the Scythe. Placing my sword to her neck, I demanded her to yield, which she refused. To say I was stunned would be an understatement. It was then she called upon Celesta to explain why death did not frighten her. Learning that the young woman before me had died and been resurrected on more than one occasion was quite a shock. But no more so than realizing that I would have to execute her to win the Trial. I recognized the ploy for what it was but it was too late to avoid it. My anger for being maneuvered in such a manner made me want to kill her just on that basis alone, but her tactic of deliberately not dealing potential death blows when she had the chance, and thus winning the Trial that way stayed my hand. That, and the knowledge that the Boon was being made by her only because Diana couldn’t make it. I trusted that any Boon Diana might request would not harm the Amazons. It is nice to know that I did not fail the Trial of Wisdom a second time.

Once Queen Buffy accepted my surrender, she collapsed before she could tell me her Boon and I directed Dr. Iris, the best doctor on the Island and my personal physician, to tend to her. In fact, I was so concerned for Queen Buffy’s safety that in the heat of the moment, I declared her Queen of the Amazons until she was able to tell us what her Boon was just to emphasize to every Amazon how important her life was. The combination of Dr. Iris’ and the other healers’ efforts, in conjunction with her own accelerated healing, allowed her to be well enough to formally announce her Boon later that night. Dr. Iris wants her to rest for a few more days to insure her complete recovery and the proper setting of the broken bones. My own injuries have also been tended and while I do not require bed rest, Dr. Iris has had me cut back on my normal daily routine till I properly heal.

If you have any other issues that you believe I and the Amazon Nation should address, it would be in both our best interests to take less extreme measures to bring it to our attention. I cannot guarantee a favorable outcome next time should you try a repeat of this tactic.

Sincerely yours,
Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons

Despite the temptation to interrupt with questions or comments, everyone managed to refrain from doing so until Giles had finished reading the letter. Then the dike broke and the flood of words spurted forth.

“Buffy won the Trial of Wisdom???”

“The Greek gods see the Slayers as Amazons?!?!?!”

“Buffy was made Queen of the Amazons!!!!! Cordy is going to be so pissed.”

“Buffy got the Goddess of Death to go to bat for her. Wicked cool!”

“Looks like you’re back to number two, Donna.”

After the initial round of overlapping statements, Giles rapped his knuckles on the table. Everyone stopped speaking and looked at him.

“While I agree that the account of Buffy’s exploits in carrying out her mission are interesting and deserve some discussion, the purpose of this meeting is to begin the process of getting the Amazon Nation recognition and we should focus on briefing Princess Donna on how we intend to help her with that as well as hearing from her any instructions she has that we might need to know about.”

“But Giles,” whined Dawn. “Buffy won the Trial of Wisdom. Surely that is a sign of an impending apocalypse. Or possibly, evidence that she has been possessed or is a clone. Maybe someone put the Buffy-bot back together.”

“Dawn,” said Giles with a sigh. “While I have come to terms with your right under the Rules of Engagement for Sibling Rivalry to belittle your sister’s accomplishments, I can assure you that Buffy can be quite brilliant at times. Especially during times of crisis when she has to perform in order to win the day. I am certain that the need to win the second Trial forced her to come up with the tactic that she chose. Furthermore, I will deny with my dying breath as ever having said that.”

Dawn pouted until Giles added the last with a twinkle in his eye.

“You’re just afraid her head would swell up more than usual and pop,” said Dawn saucily.

“Which is why anyone telling her what I said will have to clean up the mess,” said Giles in as serious a tone as he could while smiling.

“Giles,” interrupted Willow. “We need to investigate why the Greek Pantheon declared the Slayers an Amazon-like sisterhood. I’m sure it helped Buffy with establishing her right to invoke the Trials, but those guys aren’t known for doing things out of the kindness of their hearts too often. That went way beyond just confirming that Buffy is Queen of the Slayers as the plan called for. They may want some kind of future favor.”

“You have a good point,” said Giles. “You and Dawn can begin to look into that once we conclude this meeting.”

“I’d like to help,” said Diana. “I should be able to help make contact with those that bestowed their gifts on me and get less than cryptic answers in return.”

“Thank you Diana,” said Willow. “That should be a great help.”

“Well then,” said Giles. “Shall we see what Buffy sent?”

Not waiting for a response, he just proceeded to open the pouch Donna had indicated came from Buffy. He noticed the Scythe on the seal but didn’t comment on it. He also made sure not to damage it when he opened the pouch, so it could be preserved as the historical symbol that it was.

Several letters fell from the pouch when up ended. There were none that stuck to the side of the pouch like from Queen Hippolyta. All but one were addressed to specific individuals and marked CONFIDENTIAL. He handed them out to their respective addressees. Everyone at the table got one, including Donna and Diana. Because CONFIDENTIAL was written on each, no one opened their letter at this time despite their curiosity.

Giles opened the letter marked FOR ALL.

For the most part, it reiterated what was in Queen Hippolyta’s letter about what happened, although in some greater detail for the Watcher Archives. In addition to describing the Trials themselves, she told about her reception on the island, the initial meeting with Queen Hippolyta, and the state dinner given in her honor. Buffy also voiced her concern about the true motives of the Greek Pantheon in declaring the Slayers an Amazon-like sisterhood. She added what Celesta had said about ‘old pronouncements, dictates, and promises’ not taking into account a changing world as a possible starting place for research. She emphasized several times that neither her nor Queen Hippolyta’s injuries were life threatening and both of them should recover with no problems. In fact, she swore that it was Queen Hippolyta’s own craziness that was responsible for her being declared Queen of the Amazons and there had been no head trauma that could otherwise account for such lunacy. She also indicated that she might hang around the Island a bit after healing to discuss some things with Queen Hippolyta – Queen to Queen.

After reading Buffy’s letter, they discussed a possible sequence of meetings that would need to take place for recognition to be achieved. First would be talks with the US and UK governments, which should be the easiest countries to begin the process with. Then would come China, France, and Russia as the other main representatives on the UN Security Council. They would look at other countries for individual recognition as desired by Amazon areas of interest but those five would be vital for gaining recognition by the UN, which was the ultimate goal. The meeting was then adjourned so Donna could review the presented sequence in light of her instructions from Themyscira and have time consult some more with home if she desired.

As they got up from the table, Donna asked Diana, “What did you mean when you said I was back to number two after Giles read Mother’s letter?”

“Have you forgotten what Amazon Law says about the line of succession?” Diana asked back.

Donna looked puzzled and said, “But nothing has changed. Because of your exile, I come after Mother and then you would come after me if I had no heirs.”

“Donna,” sighed Diana. “You come after Mother only if there are no other surviving former Queens. Mother declared Buffy Queen and, last we heard, she is very much alive.”

“Oh dear lord,” said Giles as the meaning of Diana’s statement sunk in.

“ B’s gonna freak,” said Faith.

“You can’t tell Buffy,” stated Willow. “She’ll have every available Slayer and Witch packed off to the Island to make sure your Mother doesn’t even get so much as a hang nail to avoid being named Queen again. There won’t be anyone left to fight the bad guys.”

“Does this mean that I have a chance to become Queen of the Amazons?”

The question brought everyone up short and they all turned towards Dawn and stared at her in wonder.

“I mean, I’m out of the running of being Queen of the Slayers, ‘cause, not a Slayer,” she said by way of explanation. “But since Queen of the Amazons seems to be more along the lines of family relations, I wanted to know if I was in line for the job.”

Chuckling a little, Diana said, “You might, if Buffy actually accepts it should the situation arise. However, I believe she will abdicate in favor of Donna unless there is no other choice. Just like she felt she had no other choice but to become Queen of the Slayers. And that would mean that something really bad has happened, which I don’t think you want.”

“Drat,” said Dawn frowning. “There would have to be a downside to planning a Palace Coup.”

Everyone laughed as they left the room to take care of their regular duties and to find somewhere to read the letters that Buffy had sent them. Diana, Willow, and Dawn agreed to meet in about an hour to begin their investigation into the motives of the Greek Pantheon.

----------

Xander and Diana made their way to his room and went inside.

Once they were alone, Diana said, “Xander, when Giles finished reading Mother’s letter, you indicated that Cordy would be pissed. Were you referring to Cordelia Chase?”

“Yeah,” was his simple answer.

“Isn’t she...”

“Yeah,” he quickly responded, albeit a bit sadly.

“Then how?”

“Cordelia might be in heaven, but she’s still Cordelia,” replied Xander.

Seeing Diana’s confusion, he continued, “You see, senior year, she and Buffy both ran for Homecoming Queen. Buffy was bummed out about how the Slayer gig was messing up her life and wanted to do something normal. Cordelia made some remark about Buffy not being Homecoming Queen material or something like that and that ticked Buffy off. Having formerly been the Cordelia of her old school before being Called, she decided get back in form and try to beat out Cordelia for the crown. They were so focused on each other that they forgot about the other contestants and ended up losing to two other girls that received tying votes. Each of them continued to believe that she should have won. A couple of years later, Cordelia gets pulled into a demon dimension and after a somewhat harsh start, ends up being made a Princess because of her visions. It was all a ploy by the local demon priests to rob her of those visions and then sacrifice her, but she was a bona fide Princess. She didn’t get to gloat all that much because that was the time Buffy died and we unknowingly pulled her out of heaven four months later. Buffy was too depressed at the time for any gloating to be effective. Now, in a matter of a few weeks, Buffy has been declared Queen of the Slayers and Queen of the Amazons, while Cordelia can only claim being May Queen and Princess of Pylea. This puts Buffy one up on her and, thus, she is up in heaven right now, throwing one hell of a fit because she is Cordelia Chase and she deserves to be queen based solely on that fact alone. While it may sound conceited to some, that was the way she was and those of us who really got to know her beneath the façade she presented to the rest of the world wouldn’t have it any other way, despite the occasional grumblings to the contrary. Of course, she is also probably proud of how much Dawn emulates her when bugging her big sister.”

“You seem awful sure she’s in heaven,” said Diana.

“After the fiasco with Buffy, we checked,” said Xander seriously. “If it turned out she wasn’t, Buffy was planning on mounting an expedition to find her and take her there. Rivalry notwithstanding, she had earned it and none of us would have stood for anything less.”

“Of course, Willow insists Cordy got into heaven because all the hell dimensions took out restraining orders against her after they found out what she did while Princess of Pylea,” he added smiling.

At Diana’s curious look, Xander added, “That’s a story for another time. Now let’s find out what tales of heroic deeds the Buffster wishes to regale us with.”

With that, Diana moved over to the chair at his desk while he remained on the bed. While they would probably let the other read what was in their own letter, since Buffy had marked them CONFIDENTIAL, they would read them privately first to be sure.

----------

[Buffy’s Letter to Xander]

Dear Xander,

You so owe me Mr. One Who Sees!

‘Oh Buffy, the Amazons are going to have a problem if they don’t get themselves recognized as a sovereign nation. How ‘bout you popping over and force them off their duffs while we still have time. You’ve stopped apocalypses, so this shouldn’t be too difficult.’

Ha! If it weren’t for some of my old cheerleader skills, I’d have been a pin cushion within five seconds of stepping on the beach. They then take the scenic route back to their headquarters and blindfold me. How am I supposed to admire the scenery blindfolded? Then the Trials start and I end up with weaving instead of metal work for the Art project. I suck at weaving. So, I have to spend a night of fretting and worrying how I’m suppose to win the Trial of Wisdom so there doesn’t have to be a death match. I got lucky on that one, thankfully. Let me tell you, Queen Hippolyta is tough and tricky. It wasn’t any picnic controlling the fight so that she would be able to realize that I was purposely avoiding lethal or severe strikes when I could have made them. Also it wasn’t any fun getting my arm and leg broken, either. They also had to use real stitches to hold my arm closed where she cut me while it heals.

Therefore, I expect a continuous supply of Ben & Jerry’s for the foreseeable future. I’ll let you know what flavors later. I also call ‘dibs’ on movie night selection for the same time period.

You made a good call. It was the right thing to do. Never doubt it, regardless of anything. Take care of Dawn until I return.

Love,
Buffy

Xander couldn’t help but wince at Buffy’s descriptions of her injuries despite having already heard about them from Queen Hippolyta’s letter to Giles and Willow. Her written tirade of the dangers she faced really tore at his heart because she was in danger because of him. He had originally voiced his concern to them in order to get their help in researching ways to address the problems that would arise due to the Amazon’s lack of formal recognition as a sovereign nation. Buffy had been the one to actually find the reference to the Trials of Athena and come up with the initial plan for her mission.

While he had been against the idea from the start because of the possibility of someone dying, it surprised him that Diana didn’t dismiss it out of hand and encouraged him to at least debate the issue, instead of just digging his heels in. The arguments had been many, very loud, and at times vicious. In the end, he reluctantly agreed it was the best chance to avoid a possible disaster because regardless of the outcome, the Amazons would be made well aware of the danger and, therefore, might address the issue in time themselves. In fact, it had been he who ended up pointing out that Buffy had to be made Queen, for real, in order for the plan to work, since Hippolyta’s actions regarding the use of lethal force when Buffy would refuse to yield were the only ones that could be predicted with any type of accuracy.

He was glad things worked out with minimum permanent damage done. He figured he should buy some more Ben & Jerry’s stock so he could get back some of the money that he would have to spend to satisfy a hungry Slayer from their dividends.

The ending of the letter seemed a bit off to him but he decided to concentrate on the positive results that had been achieved. Seeing nothing overly personal in the letter, he decided to let any one of the others who wanted to, to read it.

----------

[Buffy’s Letter to Diana]

Dear Diana,

First, let me say that I love your Mother. She reminded me so much of my Mom that I had a hard time putting that out of my mind during the Trials. I found that if I just thought of her as Queen Hippolyta, instead of your and Donna’s Mother it helped. I also saw why it was important to follow your advice in how to deal with her when the time came so she would choose to spare me.

You were right about Celesta being of assistance. It was a shock to hear her say that the Greek Pantheon considered the Slayers a sisterhood similar to the Amazons. It definitely made my mission easier. I also believe she was instrumental in causing your Mother to decide to surrender to me, instead of killing me in the Trial of War. Her explanation of my previous deaths and resurrections made a big impact on all who heard it.

Your Mother is an awesome warrior. If it weren’t for your sparring with me, it would have been a lot harder for me to control the fight as much as I did. By the way, I know for certain that I did not hit her in the head in any way, shape, or form, and thus cannot explain why she thought it was a good idea to name me Queen of the Amazons until I told her what the Boon was. At best, I contribute it to the shock of losing. Anyway, not to worry about it, since I was unconscious for most of my ‘reign’ and therefore didn’t mess up the job too badly.

I know you were torn about the plan, but your help was invaluable to it succeeding. Thank you again for your help and I am sorry to have put you through such a trying time.

Your Friend,
Buffy

Diana smiled after reading the letter. Her friend and Mother were both safe, if a bit battered. The Amazons were on the road to ensuring their peace and safety. And Buffy had abided by her promise not to ask for Diana’s exile to end. Forcing the issue would have been the wrong way to go about reconnecting with her Mother and by not asking, Buffy’s and the Council’s integrity in respect to recognizing Amazon sovereignty would be demonstrated in a definitive way. Her Mother would recognize this and be able to use it as an example with any conservative groups that might try and drag out the process of recognition by the outside world.

----------

[Buffy’s Letter to Donna]

Dear Donna,

Your Mother and the Amazons are wonderful people who just needed a wake up call to a potential problem. I was just the alarm clock. Which is ironic, since I know I’m not a morning person.

I wish to personally apologize for deceiving you, but we could take no chances that you might fall under suspicion of being involved in my mission. Even if all you did was to confirm my identity. That is why we had to ensure you were away from the Island at this time. I even openly swore to your Mother that I would forfeit the Trials if what I said about you not being involved in my mission in any way wasn’t true. We had purposely avoided talking to you about the Island so that you would not be accused of giving out information unknowingly. I hope you can forgive me and the others for what we did but we saw no other course of action that would address the problem now and avoid a prolonged debate that would only end once actual discovery had occurred, which would be too late. I am glad that events occurred where I was not forced to take your Mother away from you in order for my mission to succeed. Again, I apologize for our deceit and endangering your Mother.

Your Friend,
Buffy

Donna was touched by Buffy’s personal apology and the concern for preserving her position among the Amazons, miffed about the whole situation but touched. Having heard about how Buffy’s own Mother had died and the effects on Buffy and Dawn, she felt certain that Buffy would have had at least some emotional conflict when it came to harming, and possibly having to kill, anyone’s mother, let alone that of a friend.

----------

[Buffy’s Letter to Dawn]

Dear Dawn,

I know the descriptions of my injuries have worried you, but I am fine and healing well. I’ve received good care from the healers here and my Slayer healing is doing its standard bang up job. The head doctor here is being overly cautious in insisting on bed rest while my leg finishes healing to ‘her satisfaction’. She at least knew enough to let me return to my rooms in the palace rather than keep me in their version of a hospital. She’s sneaky, too. The first time I woke up after the fight, she slipped me a mickey in some fruit juice she gave me to drink because she thought I would try and do too much too soon and undo all her ‘exemplary treatment of my injuries’. I promised her an outing with some honey and ants the next time she tries anything like that.

Really, I’m fine. There are some things that I need to still work out with Queen Hippolyta, so it may be a bit before I get back.

I also want to thank you for letting Willow copy your knowledge of Ancient Greek into my head, making it so I could at least understand what was being said around me. I’m hoping to keep it longer than the French memories I got that one Halloween, but it has really helped out on this mission. Again, thank you.

They make a pretty good bow here and I was thinking of maybe getting you one complete with a quiver of arrows.

I miss you. Be sure you mind Giles, Xander, Willow, and Faith till I get back.

Love,
Buffy

Although she was certain that Buffy was indeed recovering from her injuries rapidly like she always did, she also felt that there was something Buffy wasn’t telling her or the others. The thing was, she wasn’t sure what it might be, either. She hoped the others would offer to let her read their letters so she might get a more complete picture as what could be amiss. Even if they didn’t offer, she would still ask about the letters to see if she could get clues from what was said, as well as what wasn’t.

----------

[Buffy’s Letter to Willow]

Dear Willow,

Thanks for the spell that kept me from revealing the Boon until I won the Trials. Queen Hippolyta reminded me so much of Mom, that I would have had a hard time not telling her what I was putting her life at risk for.

I figure Giles will put you in charge of looking onto the motives of the Greek Pantheon. Ask Diana for help if she doesn’t think to volunteer first. Sorry, but I don’t have anything else to add to what was in the letter to ALL on the subject. Although Celesta might be called upon for some info, I think she is constrained in what she might be allowed to reveal. She did good by me, so don’t push too hard if you ask something she can’t give you an answer for. I don’t want to get her in trouble or lose her as a possible source of future intel.

Sorry I didn’t make contact after each of the first two Trials, but having lost the first one, I didn’t want to worry everyone about my chances to win the second. And after the second, I was too wound up to get into the right trance state to make contact.

We did a good deed and even managed to keep anyone from dying while doing it. We need to keep this in mind when things don’t always go our way in the future. This was a good victory.

Take good care of Dawn till I return.

Love,
Buffy

Willow chuckled to herself at Buffy’s insight into Giles’ possible actions. They had been together so long it was hardly any effort at all for anyone of them to figure out what any other of the original four Scoobies might do in a given set of circumstances.

She briefly wondered why Buffy explicitly asked her to look after Dawn till she returned, since she would do that anyway, but put it down to having to be away from her for so long. Glory may be long gone, but the compulsion to protect Dawn that the monks gave Buffy was as strong as ever, maybe more so.

----------

[Queen Hippolyta’s Letter to Giles]

Dear Mr. Giles,

Unless Queen Buffy’s letters give you instructions to the contrary, I ask that what I write here is to be kept strictly to yourself for the time being. As I explained to Queen Buffy after she had stated her Boon, she overlooked addressing the issue of her arrival on the Island, both as part of the Boon and during her brief term as Queen of the Amazons. This places the burden of deciding the issue on my shoulders. There are conservative factions on the Island that will rightly point out that Queen Buffy violated the very sovereignty of the Amazons that she professed to acknowledge when she made her Boon known by invading the Island. And ‘invading’ is the correct word since Queen Buffy represents a foreign power that has succeeded in not only invading the Island but conquering the Amazon Nation via the Trials of Athena. This is the view that they will present if given the chance. Knowing this, I have attempted to mitigate the situation as much as possible by placing Queen Buffy under house arrest. She voluntarily surrendered her Slayer Scythe and even promised the squad leader overseeing the troops assigned to guard her that she would not attempt to escape. This tells me that she realizes the extent of the problem caused by not addressing the issue herself.

The thing is, the very fact that she didn’t address the issue works in her favor as does her acceptance of her arrest. Her actions at invoking the Trials and the wording of her Boon can be seen as being more pure as to intent when viewed under the following circumstances: First, she asked nothing for herself. Next, the Boon itself has minimal impact on our sovereignty. Then there is the strength of her integrity as demonstrated by the fact that she appears to be willing to face the consequences of her actions instead of avoiding or running away from them. There is also the fact that because of her rank, I will be her sole judge. The preceding factors will allow me to justify to all Amazons not sentencing her to some of the more extreme punishments called out under Amazon Law.

Therefore, it is vital that you do not interfere with what must take place. Unless Queen Buffy requests it, no one from your organization should come to the Island at this time. The fewer things available to provoke the conservatives, the more leeway I have with resolving things in a mutually satisfactory way.

Now I have an idea of how I would like to handle the situation, but I need information from you before I finally make my decision. I want you to send me the complete and totally unvarnished biography of one Buffy Anne Summers. It doesn’t matter if there are things that she would prefer nobody else knows beyond those that already do, or that promises were made to keep some things secret. Whatever you know, I need to know as well. Once I have evaluated what you send me I will know how best to proceed.

Sincerely yours,
Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons

Giles was stunned. How had they overlooked such a crucial element of the plan? After all, Queen Hippolyta had been forced to exile Diana even though it was her efforts that saved the Amazons. They hadn’t even discussed what Buffy’s unorthodox arrival might mean under Amazon Law. Now Buffy was caught up in a legal quagmire that she had to abide by or totally undermine the Council’s efforts on behalf of the Amazons. As for Queen Hippolyta’s request for Buffy’s bio, he was ambivalent about granting the request. There were too many examples of Buffy at her worst mixed in with the good stuff to make him feel comfortable about it. He decided to read what Buffy wrote before coming to a final decision. Hopefully, she wouldn’t try and hide her problem from him.

[Buffy’s Letter to Giles]

Dear Giles,

Good News: I’m alive. Queen Hippolyta’s alive. I won the Trials and told the Amazons the Boon.

The following is for you alone.

Bad News: There’s a possibility that my arrival on the Island might be considered trespassing and a violation of Amazon Law. This puts Queen Hippolyta on the hot seat to do something about it. I can’t see any way to get out of the problem without undermining confidence in the Council by the Amazons. Therefore, you are to TAKE NO ACTION. In order for the Amazons to trust us implicitly, we must let this be settled according to their laws and I must submit to whatever punishment they decree.

Although I’m sure Queen Hippolyta likes me, aside from being angry over being played, I don’t know how much leeway she will have in handing out a sentence. Even so, I intend to plead guilty to whatever they charge me with and throw myself on the mercy of the court.

The only other person I am telling this to is Faith. I’m telling her because she will only back off from doing anything if I ask her to. We both know she hates the idea of being in charge, even though she isn’t half bad at it, and that she will do most anything to avoid being put in charge. Her threats of what she would do to me if I got killed on this mission being great examples.

The others can’t be told until after a verdict and judgment have been made, and maybe not even then, depending on the judgment.

I repeat, unless Queen Hippolyta has informed everyone, you are to keep this between you and Faith. Your Queen commands you.

Take care of Dawn.

Love,
Buffy

Although he now wore contacts, Giles kept a pair of glasses on his desk that he could clean when he thought or, in this case, fretted. He was really going to town on them right now. The two letters had his mind racing. He was glad in that Buffy hadn’t tried to hide this from him. He also appreciated that she had also provided him someone he could discuss the topic with. He desperately needed to talk it out in order to come to grips with the situation and that required someone other than himself to be present to be effective.

Even though Buffy hadn’t given reasons why she excluded the others, he had his guesses. Telling Xander meant Diana would find out and she would blame herself for not having thought of it, since it was a similar situation that got her exiled. Telling Willow would mean Xander would find out, because Willow couldn’t keep anything from him for long. Dawn couldn’t be told, because even though the younger Summers would deny it, she tended to get jittery when her sister was on a mission. It normally didn’t get too bad unless Buffy was out of communication for more than a week. Finding out that something might keep Buffy away longer needed to be put off for a long as possible.

His thoughts were interrupted by a solid but polite knock on his door.

“Come in, Faith,” he said, while being thankful that having a child had probably mellowed her to the point that she hadn’t just flung the door open and start swearing.

----------

[Buffy’s Letter to Faith]

Dear Faith,

The fight lasted fifty-six minutes and thirteen seconds. I believe that makes Dawn the poll winner. I was hoping to at least make the hour mark, but things got fast and furious at the end after I took my one good shot at giving Queen Hippolyta a bloody but relatively non-disabling wound.

Now that that is out of the way, the following is to be kept secret from everyone but Giles, whom I have told in his letter. He will know that you know.

Queen Hippolyta has had to place me under arrest for trespassing on the Island. You are to do nothing about this. Our help is being accepted based on the fact that we already recognize Amazon sovereignty. My abiding by their laws in this circumstance will go a long way to proving this to those Amazons that might still resist change despite the dictates of the Boon. Hopefully, this will be resolved in a few days, once I’ve recovered from my injuries and Queen Hippolyta makes her decision about my punishment.

I’m telling you this because I trust you to keep a lid on things. Especially, once my punishment is known. My hope is that the punishment is something that will be relatively unremarkable and the majority of the group won’t even know anything about it. However, I am also a realist and like to follow the saying ‘hope for the best but prepare for the worst’.

On that note, please be sure to take good care of Dawn.

Love,
Buffy

If it weren’t for the fact that her daughter had just gone to sleep, Faith would have at the very least raised her voice. As it was, she didn’t even mutter a single swear word, although several hundred zipped through her brain in under a second. Buffy was in trouble and had basically told her to let her go it alone for the greater good. Of course, exactly how deep into it Buffy was wasn’t clear because she had no idea what type of punishment Buffy might face and because of Buffy’s orders, she couldn’t ask the resident expert what they might be. Granted, Giles might be able to find out through research but that might take a while.

She kissed her daughter on the forehead and left the nursery. Nodding to the two Slayers on duty outside, she headed off to Giles’ office. It had been Buffy who insisted on the guard detail even though the building had the best technological and magical security that could be devised by Willow and Andrew. She had told Faith that she was taking no chances on her god-daughter’s safety. It did give Faith some peace of mind even though she still had a mother’s concern about her child when she was away from her. For now, though, she needed to find out how to help her Sister-Slayer despite being told to do nothing.

She arrived at Giles’ office and knocked.

----------

After much discussion and general ranting, Faith and Giles reluctantly agreed that in light of Buffy’s assertion to Giles that she was going to plead guilty to the charges laid against her, they were going to have to wait until they knew what Buffy’s sentence was going to be before they could formulate any plans. Giles would still try to determine what punishments might apply and hide his investigation as research into how to assist Donna with her mission to get the Amazons official recognition.

They also agreed to comply with Queen Hippolyta’s request for Buffy’s bio, faults and all. Buffy would hate it but based on her stance on dealing openly and honestly with the Amazons, they were sure she would accept their decision.

----------

It was 3 a.m. when Giles was roused from a sound sleep to be informed that a messenger from Queen Hippolyta had arrived to see him specifically. It had been a couple of days since they had learned that Buffy had won the Trials. Knowing Buffy’s healing rate, he presumed that it was possible she could have been fully healed and, therefore, been fit to face the charges levied against her. He dreaded that the messenger had news of Buffy’s sentence.

Four Slayers escorted the messenger to Giles’ office. They hesitantly left when he dismissed them. The messenger handed over a baton-like object that Giles recognized as a scroll tube.

“I am to await your reply,” said the messenger.

Giles took the tube and unscrewed the cap in order to remove the scroll inside.

After reading the message once, Giles wasn’t sure he had read it right so he read it again. And again. And again. It wasn’t until his sixth read through that he acknowledged to himself that it said what he thought it said. Of course, the smile that replaced the worry on his face had shown up about the third reading. Suppressing a chuckle, he took out a sheet of paper and wrote three words on it before rolling it up and placing it into the scroll tube and sealing it. He then handed the tube back to the messenger and signaled for her escort to return and see her out.

Shaking his head, the smile still in place, he made his way back to his room to try and get some rest before informing the others of what was going to happen later that day. Glad that he would be very far away from soon to be hurricane Buffy.

----------

The messenger made good time and arrived back on the Island just before dawn. She was taken directly to Queen Hippolyta’s quarters where she handed over the tube and then left.

Queen Hippolyta opened the tube and read the message it contained. At first glance, she thought it was some kind of ominous threat. But then she remembered a time when Diana had talked to her about how it had initially been difficult for her to understand the slang in the outside world and this phrase had been discussed as one of the examples. She decided that while there might be a bit of truth in the ominous nature of the message, there was also a bit of humor involved in it as well.

She sighed a bit as she reread the potentially apt, ‘It’s your funeral.’

----------

Three days after winning the Trials and finally declared fully healed, Buffy, dressed in her ‘Meet with the Queen’ attire, was escorted into the throne room by Assiram and her squad. She stopped thirty paces from the throne and they took up positions along the wall either side of her. Assiram was carrying the Slayer Scythe.

The Chamberlain then rapped her staff on the floor three times.

“The Court of Judgment is called to order,” intoned the Chamberlain. “Queen Buffy is accused of various violations of Amazon Law.”

Turning to Buffy, she continued, “Queen Buffy, do you acknowledge the jurisdiction of this Court to pass judgment on your actions under Amazon Law?”

“Yes.”

The Chamberlain then said, “You are to enter a plea to each individual charge after I pronounce them. First, that Queen Buffy arrived on the Island of Themyscira without invitation of Queen Hippolyta or the Amazon Government.”

“Guilty,” replied Buffy in a strong, clear voice.

“Second, that Queen Buffy failed to leave the Island of Themyscira when instructed to do so by authorized guardians of the Amazon Nation.”

“Guilty.”

“Third, that Queen Buffy assaulted said guardians to include inflicting injury, however slight, when they attempted to deter her from encroaching further onto the Island of Themyscira.”

“Guilty.”

“Fourth, that Queen Buffy did willfully and with forethought invade the Island of Themyscira with the intent to conquer and enslave the Amazon Nation by invoking the Trials of Athena.”

“When you phrase it like that, you make it sound like a bad thing,” whined Buffy.

Queen Hippolyta and the Chamberlain both raised eyebrows at that.

Seeing this Buffy simply said, “Oh.” Then reluctantly added, “Guilty.”

Queen Hippolyta arose from her throne and walked to the edge of the dais to stand directly in front of the petite woman who was trying to look like she wasn’t at all nervous about what was happening.

“Queen Buffy, you have pled guilty to all charges against you,” said Queen Hippolyta. “Do you have any mitigating factors, other than you did what you thought was in the best interests of the Amazon Nation, to present before I pronounce judgment on you?”
“No, that pretty much covers it,” said Buffy trying to make her voice light and airy to cover her nervousness.

“By your own admission, you are guilty of the charges and, therefore, the mitigating circumstances will have no weight altering that fact,” said Queen Hippolyta. “You are found Guilty by this Court.”

There was a collective gasp from the assembled Amazons at their Queen’s announcement. It was all Buffy could do to keep her knees from buckling even though she half expected it. After all, she knew Queen Hippolyta had had to exile her own daughter rather than go with her feelings. Amazon Law might not give her a choice in dealing with her, either.

“As part of my preparation for determining your sentence, one of the letters I sent to your Mr. Giles contained a request for your complete history, official and unofficial. I informed him that the more I knew about you the more I would be able to judge you better. I finished reading the information provided last evening.”

Buffy paled at this. There were some things that she didn’t want others to know about, beyond those that already did. There were also things that she would like to forget herself. She was getting a sinking feeling about what was going to happen next.

Raising her voice to ensure all those assembled could hear her, Queen Hippolyta said, “This young woman has been fighting the Darkness on an almost nightly basis since she was fifteen years old.”

Another collective gasp went through the crowd at the implications of that statement.

Queen Hippolyta continued, “She has attempted to maintain some semblance of normality, so as not to become consumed by her duties. However, she still has been so overwhelmed at times that she has tried to run away from her calling, but invariably returned when she realized she could not in good conscience deny doing what was right. By her own admission, she can only truly lay down her burden through death. Yet even this has been denied her so far for any length of time. Even though through the years she has had help in her fight, other duties and responsibilities have been placed upon her during that time as well, which have just increased her burdens. While she has known the support of friends and family, she has also experienced the sting of being let down by them as well. She herself has even let them down on occasion. But she and they have come through that crucible, and in the end, their bonds are stronger than ever because while the loss of faith in each other points out their fallibility, their renewed association points out their underlying strength of character that is to be admired. Each would sacrifice their life to ensure the safety of any of the others and their friends and family. It is this type of bond that I believe allowed her to conceive and participate in the plan of coming here and invoking the Trials of Athena that could have resulted in her death. Not that she was seeking to die, but that she considered the possibility of dying to be a trivial detail when compared to assisting her friends avert a coming calamity. But dying, no matter the cause one may die for, should never be considered trivial. I believe that facing the possibility of death on an almost daily basis has hampered her ability to appreciate that fact. Since she came to the Island in the belief that it would help the Amazon Nation with a problem we have failed to realize we had and did not consider asking anything for herself, I intend to help her in like manner.”

Now Buffy really had a sinking feeling about things. Especially given the look that just appeared on Queen Hippolyta’s face. It was a mischievous grin that would have done Satan himself proud.

“The nominal penalty for trespass is exile. But while exile from Themyscira would be considered severe for an Amazon, since this is not Queen Buffy’s home, it would not have the same impact on her. Therefore, I have decided that she is to be exiled from the rest of the world,” intoned Queen Hippolyta.

Buffy’s eyes had grown wide as she intuited what was to occur just seconds before it happened. The assembled Amazons were shocked into silence.

Queen Hippolyta continued, “However, as Queen of the Slayers and as a Warrior of the Light, it would be a disservice to the people of the world to deprive them of your ability to carry out your calling permanently. Therefore, Queen Buffy, you are hereby sentenced to spend the next six months to a year confined to the boundaries of Themyscira. You are not to be allowed to participate in any fighting against the Forces of Darkness unless directly attacked or granted permission from myself during that time. You will be allowed to train so as to maintain and possibly even improve your fighting skills, but most of your time is to be spent relaxing. You will spend no more than an hour a day on any administrative chores your position as Queen of the Slayers may impose on you. You may even study Amazon culture and government to assist you in governing your own tribe. This sentence is imposed for your own good, the good of your people, and the good of the world you protect. You need a rest if you are to properly do your job and since there are now others to shoulder the burden while you take a break, this is the perfect opportunity for you to do so.”

When Buffy shook off her shock and looked like she was about to say something, Queen Hippolyta added, “If there are other Slayers that require time away from the fight in order to maintain their best chances for a long life, they will be allowed to vacation on Themyscira as well.”

That took all the air out of the bluster that Buffy was about to voice. The chance of her girls having a safe place to unwind was something she didn’t want to jeopardize by throwing a fit. She did, however, give Queen Hippolyta a look that promised some kind of payback in the future for her and those she suspected of going along with such a sentence back on the Council. She took a moment to compose herself because it was important that she show respect for the Amazon’s sovereignty.

When Buffy did speak, it was with a controlled and solemn voice, “Your mercy and concern for my well being are appreciated, Your Majesty. I reluctantly acquiesce to your sentence and will abide by its terms. I also thank you for your invitation to war weary Slayers, but I also wish to point out that their Watchers would need such respites as well. You might want to see what arrangements would be possible to allow the men that assist us to have a similar safe haven to vacation to.”

Queen Hippolyta and the Chamberlain had both seen Buffy’s look of promised revenge. While each was certain that any actions that Buffy took would not result in full blown combat like the Trial of War, anything short of that would probably be fair game to the young queen. For her part, Queen Hippolyta realized that it would not be dull with Buffy around and that she should be on her guard for most anything. The Chamberlain just thought that they were going to be living in ‘interesting times.’

“I promise to look into that situation,” said Queen Hippolyta to Buffy’s request. “Assiram and her squad will continue as your escort. While you will be free to travel anywhere on Themyscira that you wish, you will be accompanied by at least two members of the squad any time you leave your quarters here in the palace. We can discuss other issues such as communications with your people later.”

She then nodded to the Chamberlain, who banged her staff on the floor three times.

“The Court of Judgment is now adjourned,” intoned the Chamberlain.

Buffy bowed to Queen Hippolyta and then exited the throne room with her escort. She figured that as punishments went this wasn’t all that onerous. However, a gilded cage was still a cage.

----------

Giles talked to Faith after breakfast to fill her in on what Queen Hippolyta had conveyed to him her intentions towards Buffy were. Faith pretty much agreed with the sentiment that Giles had sent back. Since it would be impossible for the others to not hear about his late night visitor, Giles had to gather the other principals in the know to brief them, although he was not planning on full disclosure just yet.

“As the rumor mill has probably informed you by now, I had a visitor last night. I received a message from Queen Hippolyta about some issues that she intended to address today about Buffy’s mission to the Island,” said Giles once everyone had settled down. “We will receive an official communiqué later today that will tell us exactly how the issues were resolved. Buffy, herself, in an earlier message instructed me that we are to accept Queen Hippolyta’s decision for resolving the issues.”

Other than Faith and himself, only one other person at the table did not have a puzzled look on their face. Concerned, yes, but not puzzled.

Before anyone could ask what issues Giles was talking about, Diana said, “Buffy’s on trial, isn’t she?”

Though it was more of a statement than a question, Giles reluctantly answered anyway to clear it up for the others, “Yes, she is being tried for trespass and other related charges associated with her arrival in the Island. The message delivered last night stated Queen Hippolyta’s intended sentence for Buffy, who has also previously indicated to me that she would plead guilty to any charges in an effort to show our full commitment to Amazon sovereignty.”

Everyone, including Donna, but not Diana, Giles, or Faith erupted into overlapping statements that Giles didn’t even try to make sense of as he just held up his hand to signal calm as he said, “There’s more.”

Quiet was restored quickly as the assembled people waited for more information.

“I have made copies for each of you of the proposal that Queen Hippolyta sent me concerning her solution to the problem. I was going to give them to you later after receiving the official communiqué. Please read it before you jump to any conclusions,” he said as Faith handed out the copies.

As she read her Mother’s message to Giles, the worry faded from her face and was replaced with a wry smile.

“I don’t believe Mother knows what she is letting herself in for,” said Diana.

“That was roughly the sentiment that I sent back to her,” said Giles flatly but with a twinkle in his eye.

The moment was shattered by Dawn muttering, “Notfairnotfairnotfairnotfair!”

Giles looks at Dawn sternly and says to her, “I believe it to be eminently fair, young lady. Your sister has not had an easy time of being the Slayer and with everything that has happened to her over the years, she needs a place that can offer her, and other Slayers, a worry-free vacation.”

“But that’s just it,” whined Dawn. “When I got caught doing something wrong, I got grounded and sent to my room. But Buffy is being told to go lie on the beach of a tropical island and work on her tan. How can anyone in their right mind think that is fair?”

“I gotta agree with Dawn on this one,” said Willow. “Not that the trip to England and working with the Coven wasn’t enlightening and all after my Dark Willow episode, but it was cold and damp with no tropical fruit drinks to be had anywhere.”

“Ladies, ladies,” interjected Xander. “While on the surface it may seem like the Buffster has been given a sweet deal, you must remember that there will be no cute cabana boys to serve said tropical drinks. Therefore, her enjoyment of the situation will not be as great as it could be unless she has been influenced more by our Willow here than we believe. This will be a real hardship on her to be away from any male companionship for up to a year. Plus, she really did put her life on the line to help the Amazons, so I don’t begrudge her some stress-free time away.”

“I still say it’s not fair,” pouted Dawn while Willow turned various shades of red.

“I’m sure Mother doesn’t intend to cut Buffy off from the outside world completely,” said Donna. “Plus, I’m sure that there will be some provisions worked out for visitation and communication.”

“Actually,” said Diana. “Since Hope has been blessed into the Amazon Nation, Faith can make arrangements to visit Themyscira with her and include a small entourage as befits the mother of an Amazon and Princess to the Slayer Line.”

“Whoa! Hold on there,” said Faith. “While I like the idea of being able to take Hope to Themyscira and be able to check up on B, there will be no calling me Princess. I already told B that when we got to discussing the succession issue. Nope. Not gonna happen. No sir.”

“If you visit the Island, you may not be able to avoid it, if Mother knows that you are Buffy’s successor as Queen of the Slayers,” said Diana. “While she can be personable and approachable outside the palace, she tends to be fairly strict in adhering to protocol when it comes to official functions. You would have to use your title then or Mother would be offended.”

“Just great,” sighed Faith.

Concerned, but partially placated, they all went their separate ways to deal with their normal duties after agreeing that until it became necessary, the real reason behind Buffy’s stay on Themyscira would be kept between just them, although Faith would be allowed to tell Wood this time.

----------

After the meeting Xander took Diana by the hand and led her to his room. After closing the door, he took a talisman from the wall and hung it on the door. Diana knew that this essentially made the room sound proof but from the look on his face his intentions weren’t what they usually used the talisman for.

“You’re obviously not picturing me naked,” she stated. “So, what do you have on your mind?”

“To your knowledge, has the sentence of exile ever been associated with a time limit before?” he asked her.

Pondering his question, she eventually answered, “No.”

“So when your Mother exiled you, there was no mention of how long it would be for?”

Diana gasped at the implication of Xander’s question and answered with a hushed, “No.”

Seeing that she had caught on to what he was getting at, he quickly said, “I think it’s too early to say if your Mother is thinking that far ahead or not. I mean, Buffy would have to finish out her sentence and have no one challenge the time limit constraint before it could be used as a precedent.”

While the hope that had swelled in Diana’s heart damped down a bit at Xander’s caution, it did not go away entirely. She could easily see her Mother using this opportunity as a stepping stone to an eventual end to her exile. But even if it wasn’t on her mind now, when the time came, she might be able to suggest it to Donna to bring up the subject for discussion at the very least. But Xander was right; Buffy had to finish her sentence without challenge to the time limit before anything else could be considered. Still, the hope that she might be able to return home someday made her feel just a bit more alive. Since the talisman was in place, she decided to show Xander just how much she appreciated his giving her that hope. She’d find some other way to thank Buffy for her part later even though it hadn’t been a stated goal of her mission. As she started to undo Xander’s belt, she briefly wondered what traits, other than the obvious ones, Buffy would like in a cabana boy.

----------

Buffy spent the rest of the morning pouting. She was furious at what she was being forced to do. And it wasn’t even as though she was being forced by Queen Hippolyta or the other Amazons. It was her own promise to herself to abide by whatever sentence was imposed on her that was doing it.

//Why couldn’t they just kick me off the Island?//

//Because that wouldn’t be a real punishment,// replied the annoying voice in her head.

God how she hated that voice. It was that voice that reminded her of her duty every time she got fed up with her life as a Slayer. It was that voice that chided her into returning to the fight as a way to honor the fallen instead of allowing her to wallow in guilt for having stolen their lives from them and dragging them into the darkness of her world. And now that blasted voice had changed its tune in that instead of telling her to return to her duties, it wanted her to sit back and stay out of the fight. At the very least, she had expected the voice to be consistent instead of always being right.

She would have pouted longer but Queen Hippolyta invited her to lunch where they would finalize the remaining conditions of her exile.

----------

Lunch was light but satisfying. Buffy managed to maintain her diplomatic front (Giles would be so proud of her). The minutia of the rules concerning her exile were hammered out. The most difficult thing was convincing Queen Hippolyta of the necessity of Buffy having real-time visual communication with her sister. Queen Hippolyta bought the explanation that since their mother had died, the sisters had found it vitally important to their mental well-being to periodically be able to verify that the other was still alive and well by at least sight, if not actual touch. While the explanation had the ring of truth to it, she was certain there was more to it that Buffy wasn’t saying. However, recognizing the need for some secrets not to be shared and seeing the pleading look on Buffy’s face, Queen Hippolyta agreed that something would be set up so that Buffy and Dawn could hold a private video conference once a week for up to two hours. However, Buffy was only allowed to inquire about past Slayer related activities that had already been resolved as far as work related topics were concerned. There were no restrictions about their personal lives.

Queen Hippolyta even indicated that Dawn might be allowed to come to the Island and visit Buffy in person at some point during her stay. Buffy appreciated that greatly and thanked Queen Hippolyta profusely. Buffy told her she would coordinate something around Dawn’s schooling and let her know when she would have free time.

Buffy knew that Queen Hippolyta was curious about the hidden reasons for her and Dawn to be able to see each other and not limited to communicating by letter, or even just voice, but Dawn’s uniqueness was something that everyone in the know would die to keep secret. She knew that by playing the ‘family’ card that there would be no need to explain further. The fact that Queen Hippolyta missed Diana was plain to see for anyone with eyes, so her sympathy for that type of argument was guaranteed.

At one point during their discussion of the details, Buffy asked, “What happens if something comes up that requires my presence back home?”

Apparently having expected the question, Queen Hippolyta responded immediately, “If you recall, as part of your sentence I stated that I could give you permission to engage in combat with the Forces of Darkness. If it is essential that you participate in some battle off the Island, you will be granted parole to do so. However, not only must you make up the number of days that you are gone from the Island, but you will also add an equal number of days to your sentence as a deterrent against abusing my good nature. By the way, I reserve the right to impose additional punishments against you, if you allow yourself to be killed on any such outings.”

“Jeesh,” hissed Buffy. “Have you been talking to my sister or Faith? They threatened me with all sorts of dire consequences as well if I died on THIS mission. Man, I can’t catch a break for anything.”

“Actually, you already have,” said Queen Hippolyta more solemnly. “That is why you are my guest for the next six months to a year. I know that during your stay you will continue to worry about the lives of those you are responsible for, but they are capable people and you need to have some time where your own life isn’t in constant danger. Those that lead from the front need such time away from the fight more so than those that lead from the rear, if they are to maintain the equilibrium needed to continue doing their job. You also need this time to learn the skills you will need to properly organize the Slayers as a sisterhood that can thrive after you have finally laid down your burden. From your biography and what Celesta said, you only became a leader by default, with no real training in the complexities of leadership. You and the Council have done fine so far, but more needs to be done and I believe you will find that the Amazon Way is a good example to begin building your own unique Slayer Way, since not everything will be applicable to your circumstances.”

When they discussed Queen Hippolyta’s offer of vacations for war weary Slayers, it was decided that requests would need to be forwarded to the Island two weeks or more ahead of the desired arrival date. The minimum number of vacationers would be two at a time and the maximum for the first year would be eight at a time. The maximum allowed would then be reviewed at the end of every year.

The last detail they worked out was arranging for a contingent of Slayers to come to the Island to retrieve the Scythe. Not knowing what might crop up during her stay on the Island, Buffy wanted to make sure Faith had their most powerful weapon available in case it was needed. The visiting delegation would be limited to six, to include one magic user. Buffy explained that in order to mask the Scythe’s power signature during transport, a witch was needed to cycle through a series of spells as they moved. The miniaturization that had been done to allow her to bring the Scythe to the Island did the same thing, but could only be accomplished by a full coven and took several days to accomplish. While time wasn’t really an issue at this point, a swift journey was more prudent. Donna would escort the group to a rendezvous with an Amazon ship which would bring them to the Island. They would spend the night and return home the next day following a reverse process. The Slayer team would also bring some personal items for Buffy from home.

They drafted a joint letter to Donna and Giles for the trip to the Island to take place in two days. The letter also explained all the conditions of Buffy’s exile and the Slayer vacation policy.

Once that was out of the way, Queen Hippolyta took Buffy to the market place to pick out some Amazon style clothes to supplement her wardrobe. The shopping therapy made Buffy’s day just a bit brighter.

----------

Buffy and Queen Hippolyta were at the docks watching the bireme carrying the escorts for the Slayer Scythe arrive. Buffy was a bundle of nerves as she already knew who they were. She hadn’t revealed the telepathic communication technique she had available to her to Queen Hippolyta yet, deciding to keep it in reserve for emergencies.

This time, it hadn’t been her that initiated contact anyway. But that was why she was more stoked than she would have been not knowing. When her Slayer eyesight spotted the flash of red standing on the prow of the ship, she literally began jumping up and down while waving and shouting.

Although appalled by Buffy’s lack of decorum, Queen Hippolyta is also amused by the natural exuberance of the young woman as her eyes lost some of their aged look and become sparkling pools of true joy.

After the ship docked and the gangway was extended, Buffy rushed forward, grabbed the first woman stepping off the gangway and swung her around while giving her a big hug.

“Whoa there, Buffy,” said the redhead as Buffy stopped twirling and held the slightly dizzy woman up. “Don’t you know it’s not safe to spin people like that who have just gotten off a small boat ride over the ocean?”

“I’m sorry Wills,” said Buffy standing back a little but still holding the redhead’s shoulder. “Did you get sea sick? I thought you had a mojo that prevented that.”

“I do,” replied Willow with a grin. “But a Slayer twirl has the possibility of even overcoming that.”

Seeing the smile, Buffy playfully swatted at Willow’s shoulder resulting in a slight tap, and says, “You’re just pulling my leg. Besides I’m happy to see you and am willing to risk it as long as you give me fair warning. You mess up my new gown and I might have to find a new best friend.”

Buffy stepped back and modeled the dress she was wearing. It was ankle length, with a single shoulder strap and a blend of light blue and white vertical streaks, with a wide gold chain belt.

Willow gave a low whistle of appreciation that Buffy acknowledged with a nod.

“I like what you guys are wearing as well,” said Buffy admiring the various Greek-like outfits worn by Willow and the others in order to adapt to the ambiance of the Island.

Buffy then greeted the others in the delegation with hugs and back slapping. Once that was done, she lead the group over to where Queen Hippolyta and the rest of the welcoming party were waiting. The visiting delegation bowed when they stopped in front of the Amazon delegation.

“Queen Hippolyta,” stated Buffy. “I would like to present my best female friend, Willow Rosenberg, Wicca Extraordinaire.”

Willow stepped forward and bowed again, before stepping back.

“Next we have Slayers Vi, Rona, Shannon, Roberta, and Angela,” continued Buffy, with each stepping forward and bowing upon hearing her name.

“The first three are third, fourth, and fifth in line for the title Queen of the Slayers, respectively, in addition to being Sunnydale survivors. The last two are the top graduates of the Slayer Academy for their respective classes. Each also leads a team of Slayers, Watchers, and Magic Users in their fight against the Darkness. They are among the elite of the Slayers actively fighting,” added Buffy.

“We are honored by your presence and welcome you to Themyscira,” said Queen Hippolyta, who bowed in return. Since Buffy had indicated that only the upper echelons of the Council knew about the true reason for her having to remain on the Island, Queen Hippolyta and the rest of the Amazons would go with the cover story of Buffy being a liaison to the Amazons as part of the effort to gain recognition as a sovereign state for the Amazons. Which to some extent would be true, in that while Buffy was there, she would very well act in that role. She would also act as a type of ambassador and familiar point of contact for any Slayers that came to the Island for a vacation free from demon worries.

“Though your stay with us will be brief, I hope that we can make it memorable,” continued Queen Hippolyta. “We’ll give you what Queen Buffy has dubbed the 50¢ tour on the way to the palace where you will spend the night. Once you have refreshed yourselves, a more complete tour of the city can be arranged if you want prior to tonight’s banquet. Your return trip will leave shortly after breakfast tomorrow.”

She and Buffy then lead them over to some waiting chariots. The visiting delegation was escorted to three near the one that Buffy and Queen Hippolyta boarded. They paired up and stepped up behind the drivers, as did the rest of the Amazon contingent. They then made their way back to the palace with Queen Hippolyta pointing out various sights along the way.

Once they reached the palace, Willow and the others were shown to rooms near Buffy’s so they could refresh themselves. Willow made her way to Buffy’s room instead of going to the one she and Vi were sharing. She let out an appreciative whistle like earlier upon seeing the size and décor of Buffy’s suite.

“Faith is going to be jealous,” said Willow. “Her cell was smaller than your closet.”

“It is nice,” replied Buffy with a sigh. “But I still can’t get over the fact that it is a cell. In fact, the whole Island is a cell. I know I need to stick it out, but it still rankles me that I have to stay here for at least the next six months. Maybe a whole year if Queen Hippolyta wants to push it.”

Putting her hand on her friend’s shoulder and looking her in the eye, Willow said, “Just like with Faith and her incarceration, the only thing keeping you here is you. If she could do it under worse conditions than this, then it should be a breeze for you. It’s not only important for you to do this to maintain the trust of the Amazons in the Council, but also because she’ll never let you live it down if you don’t.”

“She told you to say that, didn’t she?” stated Buffy.

“Yup! Although she didn’t think you were going to be quite this comfortable.”

“It’s not all that much,” said Buffy nonchalantly. “Donna’s is bigger than this and she’s only a Princess.”

“I can see that you are making several sacrifices and are suffering greatly,” said Willow mockingly. “I’ll make sure to inform Dawn of all this as she is under the impression that you lie around the beach all day and work on your tan.”

Before Buffy could reply, there was a knock on the door.

“Enter,” said Buffy.

Two Amazons entered, carrying a large trunk.

“Put over by the window, please,” said Buffy when she saw them.

“Thank you,” she said once they had placed the trunk where she wanted it. They then bowed and exited the room.

“So, what prezzies did you bring me?” asked Buffy in her little girl voice.

“Well,” said Willow. “Not too many clothes since you would be all out of synch with the local fashions. Mostly sleepwear and robes. A couple of workout outfits and running shoes. Your favorite soap and shampoo, plus some feminine products that you would be more comfortable with than what is used here. And of course ...”

She didn’t finish her sentence but instead opened the trunk to show its contents to Buffy.

“Mr. Gordo,” squealed Buffy as she grabbed the pig that was sitting on top of everything else in the trunk. Buffy then hugged Willow and kissed her cheek.

“There’s another trunk with your weapons in it, but I had that sent to the armory,” said Willow.

“Thanks,” replied Buffy. “Good thinking.”

“I’ll be setting up your office equipment tomorrow morning before the transfer ceremony,” said Willow. “You’ll have secure internet and phone service running off solar power. As per your sentence, it will only be available for sixty minutes a day, unless you enter the emergency code that I will leave with Queen Hippolyta. And no, your minutes do not rollover.”

Putting on a fake pout, Buffy said, “Some friend you are. Can I at least use it to play games, listen to music, and maybe watch some movies?”

“Yes,” said Willow heading for the door. “Well, I better go get freshened up for dinner. See you later.”

“Bye.”

----------

The banquet was similar to the one Buffy had attended when she got to the Island. There were war stories told by all, but those told by the Slayer contingent dominated the conversation. Very few embarrassing stories were told. It would require more time for each group to be comfortable with each other before that would happen. Still, a good time was had by all.

There was a brief bit of ceremony the next morning in the throne room. Willow and the Slayers entered, followed by Buffy, holding the Slayer Scythe, with her ‘honor guard’. Each group stood on opposite sides of the dais, facing each other. Buffy then stepped to the middle of the room at the same time Vi did. Buffy silently handed the Scythe to Vi with only a slight nod exchanged between them. They then returned to their respective groups. They then filed out of the throne room to the chariots that would take them back to the docks where they would take the ship back to the outside world.

Once the ship departed, the majority of the Amazon delegation returned to the city and their regular duties. Queen Hippolyta stayed with Buffy who stared out to sea even after the ship slipped over the horizon. While no tears fell, her eyes were quite moist. It was ten minutes after the ship disappeared that Queen Hippolyta put her arm around Buffy’s shoulders and guided her back to the waiting chariots.

As they walked Queen Hippolyta pondered how to cheer the young woman up. She was positive that, intellectually, Buffy knew she hadn’t been abandoned by her friends. However, she was also certain that it would be impossible to not feel somewhat abandoned under the circumstances.

Queen Hippolyta knew she needed to get Buffy involved with various activities to distract her from her loneliness but wasn’t exactly sure where to start. Training and studying would be part of what she would be expected to get into, but she was determined that Buffy make time for play as well. However, at the moment she didn’t know what recreational activities Buffy might be interested in, especially since there was no male companionship available. From what she had read of Buffy’s history, that would have been the ideal solution to distract her from what she was feeling. Whether or not Buffy might be inclined to take a female lover was, again, something Queen Hippolyta did not know, so she was disinclined at the moment to arrange social situations where Buffy would be able to at least look for someone she might become interested in. She knew the age difference would not be a factor, given Buffy’s previous dating habits.

//Oh, well// she thought. //Guess I’ll start with something silly.//

As they neared the chariots, Queen Hippolyta stopped and turned to face Buffy.

“How about a race back to the palace?” she asked.

“I don’t know how to drive a chariot,” said Buffy.

“I was thinking about a foot race,” replied Queen Hippolyta.

“In these gowns?” said Buffy incredulously.

“Think of them as a mutual handicap.”

Buffy got a sly grin on her face and said, “OK. GO!”

With that, Buffy took off down the road laughing at the startled Amazon.

Quickly chasing after the speedy Slayer, Queen Hippolyta thought, while age and wisdom normally would defeat youth and impetuousness; it didn’t always appear that way at the beginning of the battle. After all, if winning the race had been her goal, then her being behind could be seen as a bad thing. However, the fact that Buffy was no longer feeling bad about her friends’ departure meant that Queen Hippolyta had already gained her victory. Of course, that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to try and beat Buffy back to the palace. After all, one can’t have too many victories.

----------

The three women sat cross-legged in a triangle, with their knees touching. The only illumination in the room from the single candle in front of them.

#Celesta, Goddess of Death, we beseech thee to come before us and grant us knowledge,# intoned the red-head.

#Grant us knowledge,# echoed the other two.

All three then threw the powdered ingredients into the candle’s flame.

#My, how formal,# spoke a voice from behind the red-head.

The three women look towards the voice and see a dark-haired woman in a long flowing dress, holding a lit candle.

“Greetings, Diana, Daughter of Hippolyta, Princess of Themyscira,” she said. “And to you Willow, Student-Daughter of Hecate. It is especially good to see you, Eos Kleis. You appear to have adjusted quite well all things considered.”

Willow gaped at the Goddess when she greeted Dawn.

Diana looked puzzled.

Dawn just looked miffed and said, “Do the words ‘Secret Identity’ mean anything to you?”

“Considering you use ‘MojoedLockpicker’ for your online ID, you don’t have much of an argument,” said the Goddess, smiling.

“I can explain that as a carryover from my klepto stage,” replied Dawn, huffily. “Your calling me ‘Dawn Key’ in public is much more blatant. And, ewwww, that sounds so wrong in English.”

“I would hardly call the three of you ‘public’ since Princess Diana is the only one present who doesn’t already know about you,” said Celesta. “Besides, now Xander has one less secret to keep from her.”

Diana was still confused about the details not mentioned yet but was still able to draw a conclusion.

“Why does the Pantheon want me to know about Dawn?” she asked even though she didn’t really know anything unusual about Buffy’s sister.

“I’m afraid that you will have to wait until a later time for that information,” said the Goddess a bit sadly.

Then turning to face Dawn, said, “All I can tell you at this time is that it will not be like what happened with Glorificus and Diana will need to know all about you. Besides, considering Princess Diana’s origin, you might find several things in common.”

With that the Goddess disappeared and Willow finally found her voice.

“So not what I was expecting.”

“Dawn . . . ” started Diana only to be waved off by the young woman.

“I know,” interrupted Dawn. “I don’t have to explain if I don’t want to. I thank you for the sentiment but you are about to become family and this is a family secret, although I am the only one who decides who to tell since it is primarily about me. Besides myself, only four people alive know this secret: Buffy, Willow, Giles, and Xander. Not even Faith knows and that’s primarily because we’d have to tell Robin as well and the fewer people who know this, the better.”

Taking a big breath, she continued, “According to all records anyone can get their hands on, Dawn Summers was born in 1986. However, I didn’t exist as Dawn Summers until the fall of 2000. Prior to then, I was a ball of green energy called The Key, which had the power to open portals between dimensions. The problem was, there was no way to control which, or how many dimensions the portal would open to, so it would open to all of them. A crazy hell-goddess named Glorificus, or Glory as she liked to be called, who was exiled to Earth with only a fraction of her powers needed the power of The Key to get back home. If it weren’t for the fact that the process would kill me and possibly let all hell loose on Earth, we might have been inclined to help her on her way.”

“Anyway, Glory was hunting for The Key which was being guarded by a group of monks and she found them. To protect The Key, they decided to hide it before Glory’s final assault. But they didn’t just hide it, they provided a guardian for it as well. Someone who would fight against impossible odds and even die if necessary to keep The Key safe. The magic they used created all the proper records and altered everyone’s memories to coincide with the first 14 years of my life. But even their magic wasn’t strong enough to just turn me from energy to flesh without a template, and since they were sending me to the Slayer for protection she got picked for that as well. Even my memories were variations of what Buffy went through during her first 14 years. They altered enough so that I would look different and have some different likes and dislikes from her, but I’m basically a magical clone of one Buffy Anne Summers, but with brains, height, and beauty instead of brawn and a sucky destiny. I try not to think about it too often, because I end up contemplating the fact that I’m probably older than dirt, look to be in my early twenties, yet am less than 10 years old. Talk about confusing concepts.”

“Well that explains what we have in common,” said Diana. “Having been carved from clay by Mother and having life infused into the statue by the Gods makes us have similar origins as far as not being ‘born’ in the normal way of things.”

----------

Although she still insisted she wasn’t a morning person, Buffy had started a routine where she would rise before breakfast and go for a quick run of six to eight miles. Of course this meant two of Assiram’s squad had to go with her. After the first day, they had learned it was best to not wear armor if they wanted to keep up with her. Even then, if Buffy was feeling playful, she would occasionally put on a brief sprint at full Slayer speed and really force them to work up a sweat while she didn’t produce drop one. Of course, she made sure they never lost sight of her because she didn’t want them getting into trouble. Plus, they were getting better at keeping up as they stretched their abilities.

She had been on the Island for about a month and today’s run had taken them over to the arena where Buffy could go flat out and where her escort, Yram and Enna, would have the choice of trying to keep up or just stay in one spot and watch her as she raced around the track. They had started out doing the former, but soon settled for the latter.

She ran for several minutes until some Amazons came into the arena and began setting up some equipment. At that point, she jogged over to her escort and began some cool down exercises that they joined her in doing. Buffy watched the activity while she worked out. She noticed that their weapons handling skills were good, but the instructors were clearly not satisfied. While they didn’t rant and rave like drill instructors in the movies, they did criticize almost every move made by the trainees. On occasion, they would also demonstrate their point with a very intense spar that would leave a trainee with some bruised skin and possibly a bruised ego as well.

While it was obvious that the instructors were better than the trainees, Buffy wasn’t sure why they were being so harsh in their criticism of the trainee efforts, which she evaluated as being as good as, if not better than, the skills of some of the better Slayers.

“What’s with the advanced training,” Buffy asked her escort.

Seeing only the one group training, Enna responded, “That’s a basic refresher class for Amazons not currently on active duty to ensure they keep a minimum competency skill level, not advanced training.”

“Really?” stated Buffy incredulously.

“While every Amazon is a warrior, their primary function in the Amazon culture is that of artisan, shopkeeper, entertainer, administrator, or other non-martial occupation,” explained Enna indicating the trainees. “Therefore, they do not practice as often as those of us serving in the army do. Once a year, they must re-qualify with sword, bow, and lance. If they fail to meet minimum standards, they enter training until they pass. This group apparently needs more practice with the sword.”

Buffy was in awe. The trainees were obvious operating at a higher skill level than the majority of Slayers going through the Academy, if not all of them. While she was sure that she and Faith could probably defeat even the instructors one-on-one, having the Baby-Slayers as competent as the trainees she was seeing would be a huge step in ensuring their survival. As it was now, only when the Baby-Slayers sparred against Faith or herself did they really stretch their limits and work up to the next level. The only other time that occurred was when they fought a demon or vamp that was tougher than they were, and that could lead to disaster if they made a mistake. Sparring against other Baby-Slayers wouldn’t necessarily result in improved fighting skills. Sparring against even the worst of the trainees that she was currently watching would, however. She was going to have to speak to Queen Hippolyta to see what could be arranged.

As she turned to exit the arena, Buffy saw Captain Mede of Queen Hippolyta’s guard enter opposite from where the remedial sword training was occurring. Behind her came several others of the guard who began setting up sixteen two-foot wide and seven-foot tall wooden barriers. Buffy grinned as she immediately recognized what was about to take place. She had heard about Captain Mede’s new training scenario and she also knew that so far none of their attempts to reproduce her feat with the arrows had panned out. Sure, using their bracelets, they were all able to deflect the arrows fired at them. But only three had ever been able to even snatch one arrow out of the air, and none had been able to hurl even that back at an attacker with any type of accuracy. Mede was not one of those three.

Since Mede hadn’t seen her yet, Buffy moved back into the shadows and motioned for her escort to join her. She wanted to see what would happen. Mede hadn’t come to her and asked for a demonstration and Buffy wasn’t sure if it was out of pride or whether Queen Hippolyta had not allowed her to. Either way, with the opportunity to see first hand what Mede was trying to do was too good to pass up.

After witnessing four tries by Mede and three others of Queen Hippolyta’s guard, Buffy got up from her vantage point and made her way over to the Captain while the blunted arrows were being picked up. Nobody had been able to snatch a single arrow and those that tried, ended up with chalk marks on their armor where a blunted arrow had struck.

Buffy and her escort managed to get within twenty feet of Mede before she noticed them. When she did, she immediately came to attention and bowed.

“Good morning, Your Majesty,” said Mede.

“Good morning to you as well, Captain,” replied Buffy with a short returning bow. “How’s the training coming?”

“Your exploit has set a high bar,” said Mede. “It will take some time to reach it.”

“I’m sure that you will,” said Buffy. “Perhaps a practical demonstration would be helpful?”

Mede didn’t hide her surprise at the suggestion as well as she would have liked to, but replied, “That would undoubtedly help but are you sure you wish to risk it? The arrow heads may be blunted, but will still sting if you are hit.”

“I appreciate your concern for my well being,” said Buffy. “But if you recall, I was able to accomplish it the first time when the arrow heads weren’t blunted and not even get scratched. Besides, I won’t be the one doing the demonstration. Get things set up and I’ll be right back.”

With that, Buffy took off across the arena towards the remedial trainees and their instructors, Yram and Enna doing their best to keep up with her, while a confused Mede stood there, dumbfounded.

As her escorts caught up with her, they both noticed the smile on Buffy’s face. They and the rest of Assiram’s squad had come to know and fear that smile. It was the one she got when she had decided to make them stretch themselves on her morning runs and occasional spars. Buffy was definitely up to something and they were glad it apparently wasn’t going to be them it was aimed at this time. Poor Mede, they thought.

When they came to the remedial training group, an Amazon turned to them that Buffy assumed would be the head trainer. She bowed and greeted her as Mede had, “Good morning, Your Majesty. To what do we owe the honor of your presence this morning?”

“With your permission, I would like to borrow one of your trainees for a demonstration I wish to provide for Captain Mede and the Queen’s guard,” said Buffy, giving a short bow of her own in return.

“Anyone in particular you want or would anyone do?” asked the trainer.

Buffy pointed to a tall Amazon with reddish brown hair showing from beneath her helmet and said, “I believe she will do nicely.”

The trainer called out, “Ju-Li, front and center.”

The Amazon in question immediately moved to the small group and stood at attention.

Buffy spoke up before the trainer did and said, “Ju-Li, I need to ask you a few questions to see if you are the right person to assist me in doing a demonstration for Captain Mede. Please step over here for a moment.”

Buffy and Ju-Li moved over to one side where Buffy spoke to her in low tones that no one else could hear. At one point, Ju-Li’s voice raised enough to be heard when she said, “What?!” Although she returned to hushed tones, it was obvious that she apologized to Buffy for raising her voice, as well as the questioning tone of it. Yram and Enna both were able to make out from Buffy’s demeanor that she was waving off the apology. The conversation went on for a bit longer and then Ju-Li began removing her armor as Buffy returned to the head trainer and her escort.

“Ju-Li will suit my needs just fine,” she said to the head trainer. “Thank you for your cooperation.”

Once Ju-Li was down to her short skirted tunic, she joined Buffy and her escort and they made their way back to Captain Mede’s location. The head instructor, knowing that any more training would have to wait until they could focus on it instead of the unknown demonstration Queen Buffy was going to have Ju-Li participate in, signaled for every one to follow along.

As they arrived back where Captain Mede was waiting, Buffy said, “Captain, this is Ju-Li. She has volunteered to assist with the demonstration.”

“Before we start, I wish to make sure everyone understands what is going to happen,” said Buffy in a voice loud enough for all present to hear. “Ju-Li is going to move through a gauntlet of arrows that she will dodge, deflect, and SNATCH out of the air. Of those arrows that she is able to grab, she will also attempt to hurl them back at those firing at her. Each archer will fire a maximum of five arrows, unless I or Captain Mede call ‘HALT’ before then. Everybody should move back so the demonstration may begin.”

Turning to Ju-Li, Buffy said, “Start fifty yards from the ‘tree line’ and begin to move towards it, when I signal. The archers will begin firing as soon as you take your first step.”

Once everyone was in position, Buffy said, “Go!”

Ju-Li took her step and the air was immediately filled with arrows from sixteen archers behind their simulated trees. Every one of the watching Amazons was amazed to see that Ju-Li was moving through the fusillade with very little effort and that in addition to dodging and deflecting the arrows, she had actually managed to snatch several out of the air. Of those, she had grabbed, she tossed three back at her assailants. Yram and Enna had seen Buffy do this first hand and were still suitably impressed with Ju-Li’s results. Especially when one of the returned arrows hit the bow hand of one of the archers causing her to drop her bow. The other two returned arrows caused the archers that they were thrown at to flinch back behind cover.

It was during the fourth volley that Buffy called, “Halt!”

Once all arrows still in flight had come to rest, Buffy rushed to Ju-Li and began checking her right shoulder. Ju-Li had been off balance after her last returned arrow and had been hit in the shoulder before she could get her arm up to block the arrow.

“You shouldn’t have made that last toss,” said Buffy as she looked over the impact point. “You lost track of the rhythm and pushed it. Two more beats and you would have been clear.”

Ju-Li was about to respond when Buffy continued, “However, up to that point you were doing great. All-in-all a very good demonstration for not having time to rehearse.”

Ju-Li smiled at the praise and said, “You are too kind, Your Majesty. I just followed your instructions and it was amazing that I really could see the rhythm represented by the arrows and could dance with them. I would never have thought about it that way before.”

“You’re probably going to have some pain in that shoulder for the next day or two, but I don’t believe the bone is broken,” said Buffy after examining Ju-Li’s injury. “Best check with a healer to be sure, though.”

Turning to Mede who had gone over to check on her injured archer, Buffy said, “How’s her hand?”

“It appears to only be bruised on two fingers,” responded Mede as a healer that someone had summoned arrived to officially check out the injuries.

Ju-Li let out a sigh at hearing that. She knew injuries during training were not uncommon, but it was good to know that neither of them had anything seriously wrong with them.

Once the healer had checked over both Amazons and declared no broken bones were present, Buffy called everyone together to clarify to everyone why Ju-Li had been able to do what the Queen’s guard could not.

“Ju-Li is normally a dancer,” began Buffy. “Now dancers, acrobats, and where I come from, cheerleaders have taught their bodies to respond to rhythms or cadences. For professionals, this results in a type of muscle memory that allows them to respond to even unfamiliar rhythms easier than others. The normal military training you conduct teaches a different type of muscle memory using the repeated drills that you do. You are all used to deflecting projectiles with your bracelets and the muscle memory that allows you to do that is not really suitable for snatching arrows out of the air since that places your hands in a less than optimum position to grab the arrow. But it gives you the fundamentals that can be adapted by someone who has also learned to improvise, like professional dancers who deal with different choreographies for different performances. As I observed earlier during her training session, Ju-Li has blended some of her dance skills into the martial skills being taught by her trainers. This ability to blend the two disciplines is what told me she had the ability to recreate my encounter with the arrows. The thing is that it can be applied to other combat skills as well. But you need to get the basics down before you try it with armor on. That just adds one too many variables to try and compensate for when you’re just getting started. Incorporate some dance and/or acrobatics to your training regime and then come back to this in about a year and you’ll find it a lot easier. But don’t just do things by rote; you need to be able to improvise as the rhythm changes.”

Captain Mede and the trainers thanked Buffy for her observations and recommendations. They assured her that they would look into how best to incorporate such changes in the training regimen in the very near future. Buffy again thanked and congratulated Ju-Li for her assistance in the demonstration, before she and her escort left to get cleaned up.

----------

[Buffy’s talk with Ju-Li]

“Ju-Li,” started Buffy quietly. “The first thing I want to know is, are you an acrobat or maybe a dancer?”

“I’m a dancer, Your Majesty,” replied Ju-Li. “My troupe entertains at many functions and presents many exhibitions.”

“Does this mean that you do many different styles of dance when you perform?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. We try to blend many styles to keep our performances fresh and new.”

“Good,” said Buffy. “You are ideal for the demonstration that I wish to conduct. You have heard of what happened upon my arrival on the Island and that Captain Mede has been trying to duplicate it?”

“Yes,” was the hesitant and slightly worried reply.

“I want you to show Captain Mede how it’s done,” stated Buffy.

“What?!” said Ju-Li in a raised voice.

Instantly realizing she had raised her voice to royalty, Ju-Li began to apologize, “I’m sorry, Your Majesty. I didn’t mean to...”

Buffy cut her off, “No need to apologize. I realize what I said was quite shocking, but just hear me out. If you don’t want to do it when I finish, I guarantee there will be no adverse repercussions. You have the right to refuse and no one will think badly about you because of it.”

Ju-Li just nodded and let Buffy continue.

“Captain Mede doesn’t realize that the reason I was able to do what I did was because of specific muscle memory from my time as a cheerleader. Like dance, cheerleading has a rhythm to it. The arrows represent that rhythm. As a dancer, you are trained to respond to the rhythm, only you must use your eyes instead of your ears to determine what that rhythm is. I could tell by the way you did your sword drill and then your spar, that you had the ability to move your body to the rhythm of the action of each. Yours was the smoothest moving form in the group, including the instructors. That’s why I chose you for this demonstration. I’m positive you have the ability to pull this off. I wouldn’t put you in a possible situation where you would be hurt or humiliated. Besides, when you pull this off, it will be you that is the instructor instead of the trainee. So when the demonstration begins, just flow with the rhythm and you’ll do fine.”

The last bit made Ju-Li smile. Not only did Queen Buffy believe in her ability to do the demonstration, she would be able to show that dance could be used for more than just entertainment and contribute to the defense of the Amazon Nation. This was a great opportunity being given her and she did not see how she could turn it down. No matter how scared she was of being put in the spotlight. She was normally in a supporting role in their productions. She remembered seeing the Trial of War in the arena and how Queen Buffy had moved with such grace and style that it reminded her of some of her troupe’s more intricate dance routines. So obviously, the elements of dance could be incorporated into combat skills. Now it was going to be up to her to prove that to the rest of the Amazons.

“I’ll do it!” stated Ju-Li.

“Alright,” said Buffy. “Get your armor off since that is how everyone will have to start. Once they have the basics down, they can begin to add the handicap of armor. You must crawl before you can walk. You didn’t become a dancer without learning the basics of position.”

Buffy then returned to the head trainer to let her know Ju-Li was her choice.

----------

In addition to her early morning run, another part of Buffy’s routine was lunch and dinner with Queen Hippolyta. Lunch was normally just the two of them, although there were occasions when other Amazons joined them. Dinner was more formal and was rarely just the two of them.

It was during lunch that day that Buffy broached the subject of getting the Slayers some training by the Amazons.

“Lyta,” started Buffy, using the agreed upon nickname, both having vetoed ‘Hippo’, that was used when it was only them present. “I’ve been observing the Amazon martial training methods, looking for things that might be incorporated into Slayer training. Any technique, method, or weapon that can help the girls have long lives is something that I am in favor of. While I have observed some useful techniques things, there is one thing that I can’t readily provide or adapt for.”

“What is that?” queried Queen Hippolyta.

“The opportunity to stretch their abilities by being able to safely spar with opponents that are faster and stronger than they are,” replied Buffy. “Faith and I have tried to provide that challenge but with only the two of us and the limited time available that we can spend with each Baby Slayer, it doesn’t amount to much of an improvement, if any. Plus, with Faith having to take it easy while she was pregnant, that left only me and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to provide the experience for everyone. Even trying to train just a few to reach Faith’s or my level and have them train others would still leave too many at risk for too long. I’ve observed that the least trained Amazon is still better than the majority of the Baby Slayers. Therefore, I would like to arrange for each Slayer class to spend at least three months training with the Amazons. At first, just here on the Island, but I would also like to arrange for some instructors to teach at the Slayer Academy itself, once you have received enough formal recognition as a sovereign nation such that we don’t run afoul of immigration laws and work permits. This would allow entire teams to receive the benefits of training with your Amazons, instead of just the Slayers.”

“Your idea has merit,” responded Queen Hippolyta with a slight smile. “And considering your demonstration with Captain Mede this morning, it is possible that the Amazons would also benefit from the training.”

“I do hope that I didn’t cause her too much embarrassment by having a trainee accomplish what your guard could not,” said Buffy sincerely.

“Her embarrassment came not from Ju-Li’s accomplishment, but from not making the connection to dance skills herself,” said Queen Hippolyta. At Buffy’s questioning look, she continued, “Of the three members of the guard that had been able to grab arrows fired at them, all had some dance training in their background. They just hadn’t used it for a few centuries. Mede said that if she had checked their records to see if they had any qualities in common, she might have made the connection herself.”

“Maybe,” said Buffy. “But I bet it would have taken her longer to accept the possibility of it being true. And then there is still the issue of starting out a new regimen in full armor. For this type of thing, you really do need to get used to it without armor before you try it with. At the Academy, we have each new class start with ten mile training runs in just shorts, tops and sneakers before we transition them to regular clothing and then weighted backpacks to build up their stamina and endurance gradually. The same rule applies here: step-by-step increments will lead to quicker achievement of the goal for the entire group. I’m guessing that it’s been a while since new training methods have had to be incorporated here on the Island and that would explain why the concept was overlooked.”

Sighing, Queen Hippolyta responded, “I hate to agree, but your guess is correct. It has been some time since training methods were reviewed and updated. I’m afraid that your arrival on the Island has stirred up more issues that we have ignored than just how we deal with the outside world. Some may see this as too much change, too quickly.”

“I’m truly sorry, for causing you additional problems,” said Buffy sincerely. “I don’t think we realized how much of a hornets’ nest would be awakened either, because we were so focused on the main problem and not possible ripple effects.”

“Don’t worry about it,” replied Queen Hippolyta. “While gradual change may be easier to handle, history has shown that it sometimes takes a good shaking up to even get the ball rolling. We will survive this.”

“Yah,” said Buffy a bit glumly. “I know what you mean. It took the Old Council being blown up by the minions of the First Evil to try and get back to the idea of really supporting a Slayer, rather than thinking of her as an expendable and replaceable tool. As much as I didn’t like a lot of them, I truly didn’t want them all dead. Especially since we could use their help with all the new Slayers.”

“You said you didn’t want them ‘all’ dead,” stated Queen Hippolyta. “Does that mean there were some you did?”

“There were a few Council members and operatives that rubbed me the wrong way that I’m not as sorry about their deaths as I am the others,” answered Buffy quietly. “But as long as they didn’t do anything to hurt me and mine, I could have tolerated their continuing to exist.”

“I understand,” said Queen Hippolyta, resting her hand on Buffy’s. “I have encountered such people as well. I found that those that have died did not make me feel glad at their passing.”

“Well, enough melancholy,” huffed Buffy. “So, you intend to think over my request?”

“As I said, it has merit in that I believe both groups can learn from each other and therefore improve the quality of each,” said Queen Hippolyta. “I will discuss it with the Assembly and Chiefs of the Army to see what can be worked out and how soon.”

“Thank you on behalf of the Slayers whose lives this will prolong,” said Buffy.

Once again, Queen Hippolyta was reminded that the thoughts of the young girls put in harm’s way because of her decisions was never far from Buffy’s mind. It filled her with pride that one so young knew how to take responsibilities and assign high priorities for facing the consequences of one’s actions. It also made her heart ache at the same time at the loss of innocence that went along with such actions. However, since she had just granted Buffy a request, Queen Hippolyta figured now was the time to bring up a topic that Buffy might otherwise try and avoid.

“So,” started Queen Hippolyta casually. “What can you tell about your relationship with my daughter’s fiancé?”

It was a good thing that Buffy didn’t have any food or drink in her mouth when she heard the question or it would have been spewed all over. As it was, her response was sputtered out.

“Relationship?! Th...there...there is n...n...no relationship between me and Xander!” stuttered Buffy, color rising to her cheeks. “We’re just friends! That’s all we’ve ever been! Nothing more...ever!”

Buffy’s reaction was not the one Queen Hippolyta was expecting. Maybe cautious inquiries as to what information was being asked for or possibly even generally vague but glowing accounts of his character, but not red-faced shock. However, her mind did a quick analysis of Buffy’s reaction and she realized she had phrased her question without taking into account how Buffy might interpret the word ‘relationship’. Even though friendship was a type of relationship, its use in the outside world had apparently narrowed the way it was perceived. From Buffy’s flustered response, it was obvious that it now meant something of a more intimate nature. In fact, the way Buffy had insisted that there had never been anything more than friendship between her and Alexander, it sounded more like she was trying to convince herself as much as she was trying to convince her. This brought up the possibility of learning more about Alexander than she might have otherwise if she played it correctly. Then she might be able to figure out what to do about Diana’s involvement with him.

Deciding to use Buffy’s misunderstanding of her question, Queen Hippolyta said, “So, in all the time you’ve known and worked with Alexander, you’ve never become romantically involved?”

“No!” said Buffy just a little too quickly, so she added, “While it’s true that he had a crush on me at one time when I first arrived in Sunnydale, I never encouraged him.”

“Why not?” asked Queen Hippolyta. “Was there something wrong with him?”

“No. Of course not. It’s just that Willow was interested in him at the time and I didn’t want to be the ‘other woman’ in their relationship; even though he was oblivious to Willow’s desire for him and wouldn’t have seen it that way, Willow might have,” babbled Buffy.

“So if Willow hadn’t been interested in Alexander, you might have been inclined to enter into a relationship with him?”

Buffy was getting real uncomfortable with the direction of this conversation. The ebb and flow of their interaction with each other over the years had never seemed to synch up and invariably left both of them in a quandary on more than one occasion. This was not a topic that she had spoken to anyone about ever ,and now the Mother of Xander’s fiancée was trying to pump her for details of that interaction. This was not of the good.

Deciding to nip this in the bud with a half truth, Buffy replied, “I was sort of interested in someone else at the time, so I don’t think anything would have happened, anyway.”

Although she could tell that Buffy was hiding something, Queen Hippolyta could also hear the ring of truth in what Buffy said since the history provided by Mr. Giles mentioned Buffy’s infatuation with Angel, the vampire with a soul. It was doubtful she would get any further information from Buffy at this time, so she let it drop and moved the conversation back to Buffy’s thoughts on what type of training she might expect the Amazons to provide to her Slayers.

----------

It had been two and a half months since Buffy’s exile had begun. The USA was the first country to extend official recognition to the Amazon Nation. Considering the costumes that Diana and Donna wore, it would have been political suicide to have opposed such a move. Because Great Britain was undergoing a change in government after some financial scandal, recognition by it and other Commonwealth partners was proceeding more slowly than one would normally expect. The fact that it would occur was not an issue, just how quickly it would happen. The Russians and the Chinese were moving along methodically and would eventually provide recognition, too. The French were being French and nothing was going to change that any time soon. Other current members of the UN Security Council were also being wooed in preparation for applying for recognition by that body as well. While not going as smoothly as the Council or the Amazons would like, the effort was making progress.

Arrangements had also been made for the first group of Baby Slayers to begin training on the Island in another month. There were three Slayers and one witch vacationing on the Island as part of their recuperation from injuries incurred while surviving a particularly difficult raid on a demon conclave being guarded by Tarakans. One Slayer, a witch, and three Watchers died in the assault, and they also lost two of the forty-three hostages/sacrifices. The four who came to the Island had made sure that the bodies of those that fell were brought out along with the living, despite their own grievous injuries. None of the Tarakans or the demons they were guarding survived. They had been on the Island for two weeks already.

Queen Hippolyta arranged for a series of messengers to deliver the hand written letters of condolence that Buffy wrote to every family that had suffered a loss as well as her letters of praise and encouragement to those that survived. She also spent several nights in Buffy’s quarters, just holding her while she grieved. While it was a bit difficult to believe that the petite woman she was giving comfort to like a mother to her child was the same fierce warrior that had defeated her in combat not long ago, it also heartened her that it was because it meant that Buffy was someone who cared passionately for those she considered family.

On the day that the four had arrived on the Island, Queen Hippolyta brought them and Buffy to the main courtyard of the palace. In the courtyard, there were two obelisks where before there had only been one. Buffy had seen the first obelisk many times and had often sat on a nearby bench and read the names of the Amazon honored dead that were written there. While normal old age and many other natural causes wouldn’t cause an Amazon to die, they could still be killed via physical means. Most of the names were from a time before they came to the Island, but there were still some from after, as well.

The new obelisk was blank but Queen Hippolyta stood in front of it and said, “The Amazon Nation humbly asks that you allow the names of your honored dead be engraved here as a perpetual reminder to us of the sacrifices your Sisterhood and those that help you have made to the safety of the world.”

Buffy and the others were awed and deeply moved by the request. Looking to the others, Buffy got solemn nods of agreement.

“We are grateful for your offer and grant permission,” said Buffy, bowing in gratitude. “This tribute to our fallen comrades is very much appreciated.”

----------

It was agreed that the names on the obelisk would include those who had fallen since Buffy had first been called. A new tome would be added to the Amazon library containing a chronology of all Slayers and their Watchers as far back as could be determined for those that preceded her calling. In some instances, there would only be dates of service and a location, instead of a name that was no longer known. Much had been lost when the old Council headquarters had been blown up.

Two weeks later, there was an official unveiling. It was a very emotional event for Buffy to hear the names being read by the Chamberlain, especially since the list started with Merrick. The one that really choked her up, though, was the inclusion of her mother’s name.

Seeing Buffy falter a bit at hearing her mother’s name, Queen Hippolyta motioned for the Chamberlain to pause while she spoke, “Queen Buffy, while your Mother’s passing was due to natural causes, she helped mold who you are and provided you with the support you needed to carry out your calling. Her contribution to your cause was just as heroic as those who have fought on the front lines.”

It was all Buffy could do not to break down from the overwhelming gratitude she felt for Queen Hippolyta. Not trusting her voice, she just mouthed, “Thank you.”

The chamberlain then continued reading the rest of the names, finishing up with the five latest casualties.

While their eyes were moist both from renewed grief at hearing the names brought up, as well as feelings of pride at the honor being bestowed to those named, Buffy and the vacationers managed not to let any tears fall.

Once the reading of the names was finished, Buffy gave a small speech thanking Queen Hippolyta and the Amazon Nation for offering this tribute to those that fought the Forces of Darkness. Queen Hippolyta then got up to deliver the closing statement.

“My fellow Amazons and honored guests,” she began. “There is just one final detail to address in the dedication of this monument to those who have fallen in the battle against the Darkness. That is to give it a fitting name. Since there are names of non-Slayers inscribed here, calling it the Slayers Memorial would detract from its true nature. The same would be true if it were called the Council of Watchers Memorial. Something is needed that reflects what it really stands for. I will tell you what I see when I look at this obelisk: I see the names of those who died in defense of this world. I, therefore, propose that this obelisk be called the Alexion Memorial which is derived from the Greek word for ‘Defender’. I also wish to suggest that Queen Buffy change her title from Queen of the Slayers to Queen of the Alexions, as it would project a more positive image when being introduced as an ally of the Amazon Nation to the countries in the outside world.”

When the applause for Queen Hippolyta’s statements had ended, Buffy rose from her chair and said, “Your name for the Memorial is both apt and gratefully accepted. Your suggestion for changing my title will be forwarded to the Council for discussion, but I personally like it for our public image should we need one. Much of what we do is still behind the scenes by necessity.”

“There is one more detail before we end this ceremony,” said Queen Hippolyta. “I have a personal gift to present to Queen Buffy.”

With that said, Queen Hippolyta raised her arm to point to the rear of the gathering. The Amazons standing along the direction she pointed in parted and a veiled woman walked sedately forward through the throng until she stood in front of Buffy with her head bowed. She handed a folded paper to Buffy, who opened it and read, ‘SURPRISE’.

Looking up as the woman in front of her raised her head and whipped off the veil, Buffy blurted out, “Dawn!”

Buffy then grabbed her sister in a hug and began swinging her around like she had Willow when she had arrived to pick up the Scythe.

“Breathing...problem,” gasped out Dawn, at which point Buffy relaxed her grip and set her sibling down.

“Serves you right for surprising me like that,” retorted Buffy. “You weren’t scheduled to be here for another two weeks.”

“I got exemptions from finals in all my classes, so I arranged for an earlier arrival with Donna,” said a smiling Dawn.

“Exemptions!” exclaimed Buffy. “I never got exemptions from any of my tests. I’m so proud of you, Dawnie!”

More hugging ensued, while those assembled quietly dispersed to give the two reunited sisters some privacy.

When they finally noticed the last of the Amazons leaving, Buffy and Dawn turned and walked towards the Alexion Memorial. Silently they just stared at the one name so special to both of them: Joyce Summers, Loving Mother.

----------

It had been three days since Dawn’s surprise arrival and the two sisters were currently walking back from a swim at a secluded glade with a waterfall fed pool. As they moved along, giggling at each other’s antics, Buffy suddenly shivered as though cold. But it was a warm day and no wind.

“What’s the matter, Buffy?” asked Dawn only a bit worried.

Buffy just shrugged and replied, “Nothing.”

Looking doubtful, Dawn said, “Come on, Buffy. Something’s up. So spill.”

Looking sheepish Buffy said, “It’s nothing really.”

Dawn gave her a raised eyebrow.

“It’s just that every so often as I get fully relaxed here, I get that old Sunnydale vibe,” relented Buffy. “I think it’s just my subconscious keeping me from getting too comfortable here when I should be back home doing my job.”

Dawn looked at her thoughtfully and said, “It could be that.”

A few seconds later she continued, “Or it could be the Hellmouth they have under the Island.”

Buffy did a double take, then started laughing.

“Good one there, Dawn,” she said, swatting at her sister playfully. “You almost had me there. Hellmouth under the Island, indeed.”

“Buffy,” said Dawn, interrupting her sister’s laughing, a serious look on her face. “I’m not kidding. There’s a Hellmouth under the Island.”

She then added, hesitantly, “Didn’t Giles tell you?”

Buffy stopped laughing and pondered whether Dawn was trying to draw out the joke or if she was truly serious. Still thinking that Dawn was trying to pull one over on her, but having the niggling suspicion in the back of her mind that maybe not, Buffy asked, “Just how would Giles know that there is a Hellmouth under the Island?”

“Xander told him about it,” was Dawn’s response.

“Xander!” screeched Buffy. “So does that mean Diana told him?”

“Not directly,” said Dawn, becoming a bit afraid of her sister’s reaction. “Back when Xander was up in the Watchtower because Diana had been hurt, he got into a discussion with Superman about what went on in Sunnydale and it being a Hellmouth. Superman knew about a Portal under the Island and asked Diana if it was the same thing. Diana said that it was, in a way, and he then suggested that having people who had some practical experience with dealing with Hellmouths should help guard it. However, since there were no avenues of communication open at the time, there wasn’t much to do about it. Xander did ask Giles to investigate, to see what we might find out about its nature, in case something happened and the Slayers had to get involved. That’s where I came in because of my knowledge of Ancient Greek. There wasn’t much more than what Diana was able to provide. The Portal is to Tartarus, The Pit of Lost Souls. The Greek Pantheon has charged the Amazons with guarding it. It was opened recently by a madman, and closed only after the intervention of the Justice League. Even though the intervention saved the Amazons, and probably the world, it was a violation of Amazon Law for the League to be here, like your arrival, and that is why Diana was exiled.”

Buffy’s face went from surprise to furious during Dawn’s explanation as she realized this was just too detailed to be a spur of the moment joke by her younger sibling. That meant that it was true and nobody had bothered to mention it to her. NOBODY!

Seeing her sister’s reaction, Dawn also came to the realization that Buffy had no prior knowledge of the Hellmouth under the Island. That put her at ground-zero of the impending explosion.

“Honest, Buffy. I thought you knew,” squeaked Dawn, in an attempt to not become the focus of her sister’s wrath.

“You thought I knew that I was being forced to take a vacation on a Hellmouth?” said Buffy in a calm, controlled, and very scary voice, made even scarier because of the calmness and control.

“Yep,” gulped Dawn.

“Fine,” hissed Buffy. “Contact Giles and get copies of everything you guys found out about this Hellmouth. I want to know as much as possible before I go see Queen Hippolyta.”

Mentally, Dawn was thanking every higher being that she could think of that her sister had apparently decided to believe her and not make her into a Dawn-shaped smear on the ground.

However, before she could scamper away from the still fuming Buffy-cano, Buffy added, “And be sure to ask Giles and Xander which Hellmouth they plan on having me spend my next vacation on, okay?”

Dawn just nodded before darting towards the palace and Buffy’s office computer to carry out her assignment. A small part of her brain found it interesting that while she was currently on a tropical island, the air temperature seemed to have dropped to where she would feel warmer standing at the South Pole in her birthday suit on a day when there was no Sun in the sky. She vowed that even though Giles and Xander were not present, that they would be made fully aware of not only Buffy’s displeasure but her own for being put in the present situation.

As Dawn sped off, Buffy turned to her two escorts, Lyrpa and Esor.

Her face softened and her voice took on a pleading tone, “Could you please not mention this to anyone for a while? It’s important that I get up to speed before I go and talk to Queen Hippolyta. If it truly is a supernatural threat to the world, then it sorta falls under my jurisdiction, as well as the Amazons’. I need time to get my facts straight so I can figure out if there is a problem or not. I don’t want to ‘cry wolf’ when there isn’t one.”

Esor replied, “I will relay your request to Captain Assiram when we submit our reports, but we will not discuss it with anyone else.”

Buff knew that at the end of each shift, her off-going guards filed a report to Captain Assiram of what she did during their shift. It was basically a formality to show that Buffy was indeed abiding by the terms of he exile should anybody ask questions.

“Thank you,” said Buffy sincerely.

----------

Thirty minutes later, Buffy was ensconced in her office where she planned to use her entire allotted hour, if necessary, to bring herself up to speed on the Hellmouth below her feet. Dawn had been fairly accurate in her recap earlier about what was known about this Hellmouth. There were some additional details about why the Amazons got stuck with the guard detail and how the Portal had been breached and ultimately closed again. The information even included an after action report by Xander, recapping his discussion with Superman and Diana, which was standard procedure for making the Council aware of who knew about the things they do. Buffy found herself agreeing with the Man of Steel’s assessment that more was needed than just physically guarding the Portal, and that the Slayers and Watchers were where the needed expertise would need to come from. Now, she just had to hope Queen Hippolyta would see it the same way.

----------

Meanwhile, at a posh restaurant in Gotham, Xander’s cell phone rang. The caller ID told him that Giles was calling so he answered it.

“What’s up G-man?” greeted Xander.

“*****”

Xander’s face went pale from what he was hearing and his dining companion noticed.

“Xander ....” started Diana only to be interrupted by his raised hand.

“Is she mad?” asked Xander into the phone.

“*****”

“OK, I admit it, it was a dumb question. So, is she going to ask?”

“*****”

“I see. Well, keep me posted. Bye, Giles.”

As he put his cell away, Xander could see Diana looking at him in a questioning way. However, being mindful of their public surroundings, he was taking his time to formulate what to tell her and how, while maintaining Council security. Diana was cued into this fact just because it was taking him some time to say something to her.

Finally, he said, “Buffy just found out about the door in your Mother’s basement and where it leads.”

Diana’s eyes went wide as she replied, “She wasn’t told before this?”

“I thought Giles had told her, and he thought I had,” he said. “Therefore, when the trip was being planned out, we didn’t bring it back up, so she could concentrate on other things without distracting her.”

Diana shook her head and said, “And you had to ask if she was mad?”

“Actually, I was asking about Dawn, since it was her who called Giles to let him know about Buffy. I wouldn’t have even asked about Buffy. Being around Buffy when she receives bad or upsetting news is not very pleasant. According to Giles, Dawn indicated she thought she saw icicles forming on the palm trees.”

“Sounds like it is lucky for you and Giles that Buffy won’t be back from her trip for a while.”

“I tend to think that will mean she has more time to plan out her revenge,” said Xander glumly. “You don’t happen to know of some strong and beautiful woman who might protect me from whatever she comes up with, do you?”

Looking thoughtfully, Diana said, “I’m not really sure if you deserve protection. You and Giles did mess up and deserve to own up to your responsibilities.”

“But Buffy has a tendency to arrange for auditions with the Vienna Boys’ Choir or dog callers association,” shot back Xander. “That could interfere with some future plans I have.”

“That does put a different light on things,” said Diana, a slight twinkle in her eye. “In that case, I suppose I could try and negotiate some kind of bargain with her on your behalf as to what is and what isn’t allowed. That way, you can face the music like a man.”

“You’re all heart,” said Xander, with just a hint of sarcasm.

“True, but you still messed up.”

Xander could only nod.

----------

Dawn begged off joining Buffy and Queen Hippolyta for lunch that day, saying that she had found an interesting book in the Amazon library that she wanted to get back to. Sure, it was a lame excuse, but Dawn still wanted a little more apart time from time-bomb-Buffy. Granted, she thought Buffy was overreacting a bit, but she could see where the shock of finding out about a Hellmouth literally under her feet would give Buffy flash-backs to all the times the Sunnydale one had tried to kill her, and the two times she did die while on a Hellmouth. So, even though she wanted to be there when Buffy and Queen Hippolyta discussed the issue, she preferred being at a safer distance from any unexpected actions taken by her sister.

Although she was anxious to address the Hellmouth issue with Queen Hippolyta, Buffy waited until after dessert before broaching the subject.

“Your Majesty,” started Buffy, which alerted Queen Hippolyta that the young woman was about to discuss something formally, since Buffy didn’t use her nickname. “I just learned today that there is a Portal to Tartarus under the Island.”

Although it had not been posed as a question, Queen Hippolyta answered as though it was, a bit of concern in her voice wondering what Buffy’s intent was, “Yes, there is.”

“I wish to post my own guards.”

“Wh...wh...whatever for?”

“From what I have been told, Tartarus is also called the Pit of Lost Souls. Lost souls tend to not be very nice beings. That makes the Portal a Hellmouth. I have every Hellmouth on Earth guarded by at least three Slayer Teams. Except for this one. I have already instructed my people to put together three all female Slayer teams. They should be ready within two weeks. I would like you to arrange for their transportation to the Island.”

“There is no need for that,” said Queen Hippolyta a bit defensively. “I assure you that it is well guarded already.”

“I am aware that the Amazons have been charged by the Greek Pantheon to guard the Portal and have no intention of replacing your guards, but your security has already been breached once and closing it back up has cost you dearly,” responded Buffy, seeing Queen Hippolyta wince when she mentioned the cost. “My people are specifically trained to handle both the physical and mystical security involved with guarding Hellmouths.”

Buffy saw Queen Hippolyta bristle and strike a more regal posture, indicating that her attempt to point out that a Slayer team could help improve the security of the Portal had instead been perceived as a negative criticism of the Amazons’ ability to handle the situation on their own. Therefore, she was expecting Queen Hippolyta’s next words.

“Your concern is noted but I repeat, there is no need for you to deploy your teams to the Island to guard the Portal,” said Queen Hippolyta in a voice that would brook no argument.

“Very well,” replied Buffy with a bit of resignation. “I regret that I will no longer be able to join you for lunch or dinner as I will be spending the remainder of my sentence camped out in front of the Portal. Please excuse me while I arrange for a tent and cot to be set up there.”

“You can’t be serious!” exclaimed Queen Hippolyta as Buffy started to stand up from the table.

“Serious! Serious!” said Buffy emphatically leaning on the table and looking Queen Hippolyta square in the eye. “I’ll tell you how serious I am. One of the options I considered before deciding on my little camping expedition if you turned down the teams, was to invoke the Trials again and cede the first two to you.”

To say Queen Hippolyta was shocked would be an understatement and a half. Buffy had just admitted to considering having a death match over this issue. Taking a good hard look into Buffy’s eyes, Queen Hippolyta did not see the fragile young woman that she had comforted over the loss of some of her people. She didn’t even see the skilled warrior that had fought her in the arena. No, what she saw was the She-tiger poised to protect her young. A dangerous beast that would attack anyone and anything that endangered those she was sworn to protect. Even those she would normally call friend.

“But part of your sentence forbids you from participating in the fight against the Forces of Darkness,” reminded Queen Hippolyta.

“Who’s fighting the Forces of Darkness?” quipped Buffy back. “I’m just parking my butt in front of a guarded inter-dimensional portal. As long as it stays closed, there won’t be anything for me to fight. However, my sentence also allowed me to act in self-defense if the Forces of Darkness attack me. I will consider anything coming out of said Portal to be an attack against me and react accordingly.”

“I forbid you to go anywhere near the Portal,” said Queen Hippolyta.

Sighing, Buffy said, “Then I will pitch my tent as close as I can. The three Slayer Teams will be stationed just outside your territorial waters if you do not grant them permission to come to the Island. It’s not the optimum way to guard a Hellmouth but guard it we will! Now, please excuse me. I still need to arrange for a tent and decide whether to evacuate my people or not.”

With that, Buffy left a stunned Queen Hippolyta sitting there.

She was still sitting there when Dawn came in a few minutes later.

“I take it that things didn’t go too well,” she stated as she approached the table.

A bit startled out of her contemplation, Queen Hippolyta replied, “She didn’t get what she wanted, if that’s what you mean?”

“Yeah, I kinda figured that from the way she stalked out of here and headed towards her room,” said Dawn. “I know she probably came across as a bit demanding, but Hellmouths are a sort of pet peeve to her. Living for seven years on the Sunnydale Hellmouth where she died twice and came close to dying too many times to count, tends to make her a bit sensitive about how they should be dealt with. If it was up to her, she’d find a way to close them all down. But, in addition to the possible wholesale real estate destruction involved, she knows that they actually are needed to some extent to keep the world from getting too far out of balance because strange as it seems, too much good could mess up the world almost as bad as too much bad. That’s why the Hellmouths are guarded to keep them from being opened and to keep the evil that tends to gravitate to them to a minimum manageable level. So, did she go with the ‘You will allow the Slayer Teams to guard the Portal or else’ approach?”

Queen Hippolyta opened her mouth to replay, but paused when she realized that ‘Yes’ was not the answer. Instead, she said after some brief thought, “Not exactly. While she did state she wanted to post her own guards, she did not demand it. When I told her there was no need she informed me she would camp out in front of the Portal for the remainder of her sentence. When I forbade her to be anywhere near the Portal, she said she would camp out at the closest point that I would allow her to approach it. She also indicated that there would be three Slayer teams off the coast of the Island that would respond to any breach. So while there are ‘or elses’, none of them threaten the Island or the Amazon Nation.”

“Of course not,” said Dawn, much to Queen Hippolyta’s surprise. “Buffy’s whole mission here has been about Amazon recognition as a sovereign state. She is not going to take any actions that could be interpreted as violating that premise.”

“But she said she had considered invoking the Trials again and ceding the first two to me, thus forcing a death match!” exclaimed Queen Hippolyta.

“She considered it, but didn’t do it, did she?” asked Dawn.

Calming somewhat, Queen Hippolyta replied, “No, she didn’t. Not even after I forbade her plans to camp in front of the Portal.”

“Buffy believes you are making a mistake by refusing Slayer Teams to help guard the Portal,” said Dawn, who continued before Queen Hippolyta could respond to her statement. “Regardless of whether you are or not, that is what Buffy believes. She has therefore adapted her strategy to work within the constraints you have placed on her, while still being able to carry out her goal concerning the Portal under the Island which is to guard it to the best of the Council’s ability. You can expect every Council operative, be it Slayer, Witch, or Watcher, that comes to the Island for training, will be charged with being on guard duty for the Portal whether they are near it or not. Whether there is a Slayer Team on duty in front of the Portal or not. The question is not whether or not the Council will guard the Portal, but rather how close the guards will be allowed to the Portal as they stand guard. That is the only part of this that you control. The further away, the more difficult the job is, but we never expect things to be easy, anyway. We will adapt as we always have. It’s just that being where the Hellmouth will open has been useful in stopping any breaches that might occur from getting out of control.”

Silence reigned as Queen Hippolyta processed all that had happened since Buffy announced her knowledge of the Portal. Yes, Buffy had been somewhat forceful about having Slayer Teams guarding the Portal, but she had never defied Hippolyta’s authority or the rules of her exile. Yes, she had stuck to the exact ‘letter of the law’ so to speak, which had been annoying, but well within her rights. Hippolyta just hated to admit the Amazons might need help. But Buffy herself had admitted that her Slayers needed help from the Amazons in the form of training and had not been afraid of asking for it. In fact, Buffy hadn’t mentioned the training agreement at all during their discussion of the Portal. Dawn’s previous statement also seemed to indicate that unless Queen Hippolyta herself canceled the training agreement, the Council would still be sending its operatives to the Island for training. And Hippolyta knew why, too. Buffy had told her that she would do anything that could give her Slayers an edge at staying alive.

Finally, Queen Hippolyta asked, “Did your sister send you to talk to me?”

“Nah,” Dawn replied. “I was waiting down the corridor opposite the one leading to her rooms. Since she stalked off towards them as I expected if things didn’t go well, she didn’t see me. I figured that if things went wrong, I might try my hand at smoothing them out.”

At Queen Hippolyta’s questioning look, Dawn continued, “As I said earlier, Hellmouths are a sore subject for Buffy, and there was a good chance she might not express herself properly when getting permission for Slayer Teams to help with the guarding.”

“You’re a very intuitive young woman,” said Queen Hippolyta. “You’re also correct that I cannot prevent Slayer Teams from being assigned to guard the Portal, only the distance from which they have to do so. Therefore, you can go tell your sister that she doesn’t need to find a tent to stay in, because I will allow the three Slayer Teams to augment the Portal’s Amazon guards. She, however, is still forbidden to go anywhere near it. I don’t need my Island sinking into the waves because she decides she might want to close it and be done with it.”

“There is that to consider,” said Dawn with a grin. “Especially if she decides that by sinking the Island, she can get out of the rest of her exile as there wouldn’t be any place to be exiled to. It’d be the perfect solution: no more Hellmouth, no more exile. She’d kill two birds with one stone.”

“Oh dear Hera,” exclaimed Queen Hippolyta. “She’d do it too. I can see it appealing to her sense of whimsy. You’d better get going before she thinks of it.”

Dawn looked at Queen Hippolyta with an odd look on her face and said, “Buffy wrote that you reminded her of our Mom and that it made it hard to challenge you to the Trials. She was right. I can see a part of our Mom in you as well.”

With that, Dawn left to find Buffy and tell her the news. This left Queen Hippolyta alone again, feeling somewhat happy and sad at the same time. The happiness came from having both Buffy and Dawn see aspects in her that reminded them of someone they loved that would add some closeness to her relationship with them, while the sadness came from missing her own daughter. But if she was patient, it might not be too much longer before that could be corrected, as well.

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“So,” said Buffy as Dawn entered her suite. “Did ‘Good Cop’ do any better than ‘Bad Cop’?”

Dawn gaped at her sister and asked, “H . . how did you know?”

“There was a slight breeze from that end of the corridor and you are wearing a rather distinctive perfume,” came her sister’s reply. “Mine!”

Shaking off the shock of her sister’s knowledge of her visit with Queen Hippolyta, Dawn said, “In fact, it did. The Teams can come to the Island and augment the Amazon Guard. You, however, are still banned from going anywhere near the Portal.”

“Worried about having to tread water, is she?”

“Big time,” was Dawn’s reply, smiling.

“I guess having the reputation for large scale property damage had to come in handy some time or other,” Buffy sighed.

“Well, telling her you’d thought about invoking the Trials again and forcing a death match shook her up more,” said Dawn. “When I first entered the room, she was barely breathing and was a bit pale. Her condition probably allowed me to present my case though, as I could tell she truly wanted to understand your motivations.”

“I need to apologize to her for saying that to her,” replied Buffy. “I had promised myself not to bring it up because I didn’t want to appear to be threatening her to get my way.”

“An apology would be good, but as a Queen, she knows that there are times when one must contemplate actions that they never intend to follow through on because they need to know what lines they won’t cross and why,” said Dawn. “They also need to know what changes might occur that will make them change their minds about crossing those lines.”

There was a long moment of silence where Buffy looked away from Dawn and fidgeted nervously.

“Dawn, I . . .” started Buffy.

“It’s alright,” interrupted Dawn. “I know you considered letting me jump before you realized you could close the portal yourself. How could you not, with me begging you to let me jump? So there is nothing to apologize for, you hear me?”

Buffy smiled a sad smile as she embraced her sister.

“I hear you,” she whispered, holding back the tears the memory invoked. “I hear you.”

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Buffy requested and received permission to meet privately with Queen Hippolyta before dinner that evening.

“Your Majesty,” began Buffy after being let into Hippolyta’s private suite. “I wish to apologize for my outburst at lunch today. I let my emotions get the better of me and said some things in the heat of the moment that I regret saying to you.”

“Was your statement about considering the Trials a lie?” asked the Amazon Queen.

“No, Your Majesty,” replied Buffy. “But it was inappropriate of me to voice it in the manner that I did, as it might be construed as trying to apply inappropriate influence on your decision. I should have used a different method of expressing the depths of my concerns on the subject.”

“I accept your apology,” said Hippolyta. “And I appreciate your honesty, as well. I sometimes forget that despite your age, you are a battle hardened leader of your own group of warrior women and, therefore, contemplating martial solutions in addition to diplomatic ones has a part of any decision making process you might employ. Just as they are both a part of mine.”

“You are my equal, Queen Buffy,” she continued, emphasizing her title. “But this afternoon, I treated you like an impertinent child trying to involve yourself in things I felt you had no reason to. You made a simple request, but rather than telling you I’d at least think about it first, I shot it down without any thought whatsoever, based solely on the fact that I have not truly acknowledged your station in relation to myself. If I treated the Head of State of one of the countries we are trying to get recognition from that way, it might lead to not being able to get that recognition at the very least and a state of war at the very worst. You have proven time and time again with your words and actions that you recognize Amazon Sovereignty, yet I have not fully extended the same to you. Therefore, I extend my deepest apologies to you for that, Your Majesty.”

Queen Hippolyta then bowed to Buffy as one equal to another.

Buffy returned the bow and they then departed for dinner.

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Lunch the following day was the three of them, as usual.

After dessert was served, Queen Hippolyta decided to broach a subject her conversation with Dawn had reminded her she wanted to discuss. The fact that both Summers’ girls were there made it an ideal time.

“Yesterday,” she began, facing Buffy. “As Dawn was departing to let you know I had changed my mind about augmenting the guard on the Portal, she mentioned that she agreed with the assessment of me that you had written to her about. That I reminded you of your mother.”

Looking down a bit shyly, Buffy responded, “It’s true, Lyta. I see many qualities of our Mom in you. I have since I arrived.”

“Donna mentioned in one of her early letters to me that you had made the same claim in a letter you sent to Diana right after the Trials,” she replied. “Would you please tell me about her?”

Buffy and Dawn both hesitated and this told Hippolyta that it was still an emotional topic even though the woman died several years before. Buffy’s biography that Giles had sent her had touched on some things dealing with Joyce Summers, but she was curious about what traits she might have in common with her.

Buffy hesitantly asked, “What would you like to know?”

“Just tell me what you remember,” she replied. “Whatever you’re comfortable with. But I would like to get to know the whole woman. That means the bad with the good. This is basically the same request I made to Mr. Giles about you when I was deciding how to handle your sentencing for invading the Island.”

The remainder of the afternoon was spent reminiscing. The early years of Buffy and Dawn growing up in L.A. Buffy’s calling and the troubles it added to her parents’ marriage. Buffy’s commitment to the sanitarium. The divorce and move to Sunnydale. The opening of her own gallery. Joyce’s attacking Spike with a fire ax and saving Buffy’s life without knowing about the supernatural at the time. Buffy’s banishment and return. The zombie attack. Her reluctant acceptance of and ultimate pride in Buffy’s calling. The MOO movement, complete with attempted burning at the stake. The quick glossing over of the Band Candy incident by just indicating that she and Giles had reverted to teenhood. Her kidnapping by the vampire for Buffy’s Cruciamentum. Faith’s holding her hostage. The brain tumor. And ending with the devastation of finding her dead and then having to tell Dawn about it.

Hippolyta saw many parallels with Joyce Summers to her own life. The most prominent being the anguish suffered after banishing her child. All-in-all, she considered being compared to Joyce Summers was a compliment of the first order.

Remembering their mother made both Buffy and Dawn a bit wistful and they passed on going to dinner that evening, opting instead for a light dinner in Buffy’s quarters.

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Buffy remained on high alert for another ten days. So did her escort, which was doubled. As well as the guards at all access points to the cavern where the Portal was. A perimeter designating the closest distance Buffy was allowed to get to the Portal was also established. As part of her morning routine, Buffy would walk around the perimeter, just one foot outside it. Queen Hippolyta sweated bullets while she did that.

Finally, the three all female Slayer Teams arrived and things went back to the way they were before Buffy found out about the Portal. For the most part. Her comfort level never really got back to the pre-knowledge state.

Three days before their arrival, Buffy briefed Queen Hippolyta and the General in charge of the Amazon Portal Guard on the composition of a Slayer Team, as well as the identities of those who would be coming to the Island based on information that she received from Giles. Each team consisted of a Senior Slayer, four Junior Slayers, a Senior Watcher, a Junior Watcher, a Witch, a Medic, and an Armorer. Since the Council had had to come up with all female teams, there were actually more Slayers than the usual five per team, as they filled in some of the support positions. The Slayers in the support positions were still certified competent to carry out the duties of those positions. As it was, only the three Senior Watchers, one Junior Watcher, two Witches and two Armorers were not Slayers.

The lead Team was led by Roberta, who had been part of the group that came to fetch the Scythe. The Junior Watcher on her Team was another Slayer along with the Medic. Niobe, a Slayer from Angola, headed the second Team where the Medic, Junior Watcher and Witch were Slayers. The Senior Watcher for her Team was a survivor of the First’s attack on Council Headquarters, Lydia, who had been part of the contingent that had been with Travers to test Buffy during the Glory episode. Hoa, a Slayer from Viet Nam, was in charge of the third Team and the Medic and Armorer were Slayers.

It was decided that only two Teams would be directly guarding the Portal while the third Team received advanced training with the Amazons. At the end of a month, the training Team would move on to guard duty while a guard unit would move on to training. Also, this first set of Teams would begin to rotate off the Island in the fourth month and were staggered at two month intervals thereafter, such that subsequent Teams spent only six months away from home, with two months of that training with the Amazons.

Each Team on guard duty would be responsible for twelve hours each day. The Senior Slayer would be on duty for six hours and the Senior Watcher for the other six. The rest of the Team would be grouped into pairs that would each be on actual guard for three hour shifts. When not on actual guard duty, the rest of the Team would be in nearby accommodations on Ready Alert for the entire twelve hour shift. At the month end change, the night shift would move to training, the day shift to night, and the training Team to day shift.

The Team Leaders had drawn straws to see which would be staying the shortest and which the longest. Hoa’s Team ended up with only a four month stay, so they started out with training to ensure they got two months of it. Niobe’s Team would stay the longest with eight months and start out with the day shift.

However, all that had to wait for the day after their arrival, in that they all had to attend a welcoming feast that evening, first.

Although a bit surprised at Lydia’s presence on a Slayer Team, Buffy realized the necessity of having someone of her experience on Niobe’s Team. Putting together three all female Teams as quickly as they had could not have been easy and keeping a balance of experienced personnel on each Team would have been the most difficult part. Of course, the fact that Niobe’s Team had three extra Slayers on it would compensate for Lydia’s reduced fighting capability due to her prosthetic left foot and left forearm.

Travers’ body had shielded her from most of the blast, but she had lain trapped in the rubble with his dead body atop her for more than 56 hours. When she had been found, they had had to amputate her foot and arm to get her to the hospital in time to save her. She would have died there in the rubble if they had taken the time to safely free her, otherwise.

When Giles had told her about Lydia still being alive, along with two other Watchers who had been present when the building blew up, Buffy had personally gone to visit her, and the others, and request their aid in putting the New Council in order. Granted, the woman had questioned Xander’s ability to be an effective part of the group, but the fact that Lydia had cautiously and politely raised the point shortly after Buffy had made a rather pointed argument about not wanting to be interrupted, showed that she had some moxie. And that was something the newly called Slayers were going to need many examples of. It didn’t hurt that Spike had had several good things to say about her as well. Of course, Buffy knew that Spike was a bit biased since Lydia had done a thesis on him which stroked his ego. Still, her knowledge was an asset to Niobe’s Team.

Since, for the most part, the members of these teams were already veterans, the training they received would be more refinement and stretching of abilities. Students from the Academy would get that during their third month of training. The training for the non-Slayers would focus on building up their endurance using Amazon techniques, as well as improving their skills with both ranged and close up weaponry.

Since the Slayers Teams used tactics and weapons not employed by the Amazons, some of the training would be taught by Buffy or one of the Senior Slayers, and include Amazons as students. Individual and group sparring sessions were also conducted between the two groups, giving both sides experience with developing tactics to counter the other group’s strengths and exploiting their weaknesses. Neither side held a lead in victories for very long, as each adapted very quickly to changes in fighting methods.

Even some of the more conservative members of the Amazon military reluctantly agreed that the fighting capabilities of the Amazons that trained with the Slayer Team were markedly improved.

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The first group of Slayers from the academy arrived two weeks after the three Slayer Teams charged with guarding the Portal. The 25 girls that stepped off the bireme included six who had opted not to actively fight the Darkness. Just because these girls were Slayers, didn’t mean that Buffy, or the Council, was going to force them to fight if they didn’t want to. It was hers and the Council’s responsibility to ensure they knew had to cope with their powers and take care of themselves, though.

Buffy had explained to Hippolyta the reason for having them in the first class, even though they were not going to be active Slayers, was to improve their self-defense and evasion skills. Just because they weren’t going to go out and look for the bad guys didn’t mean that the bad guys might not go looking for them. Therefore, they needed to be able to protect themselves, and their loved ones, more so than those who would be assigned to Teams.

Not that they were going to leave those girls out on their own. They were given contact instructions so that they could call for help, should the need arise. Also, Teams that operated near them would know who they were in case they needed to be told about bad guys to be on the look out for.

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It had been two months since Dawn had arrived on the Island but Buffy felt like it was much shorter. And today was the day Dawn would return to the outside world so she could prepare for her next semester. Buffy was having a hard time not showing her sadness over Dawn’s departure.

Hippolyta had observed the closeness that the sisters had shown each other during Dawn’s stay and it had given her a better understanding of Buffy’s need to be in contact with her sibling through more than just voice or correspondence. But she also had detected an undercurrent between them that she didn’t remember seeing between siblings before, even identical twins. When she had happened to comment on their closeness and Buffy’s protectiveness, they both attributed it to Buffy having to raise Dawn after their Mother’s death. While the explanation made sense, it also felt like they were repeating a rehearsed script when they told it.

She didn’t think they were lying. But she wasn’t getting the whole truth, either. The fact that something about their relationship seemed familiar to her, but undefined was the real problem. She felt she should be able to name it, and therefore understand the two of them better.

The send-off at the pier was quite tearful, with Buffy not giving a hoot about decorum or propriety.

A foot race was not going to cheer her up this time.

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It was the first day that Niobe’s Team would be training and Buffy had been looking forward to it. Over the preceding two months, the Amazons had learned that the one consistent weak link in the Slayer Teams was their non-Slayer members. This wasn’t to say that they were helpless or incompetent, but that they would be less difficult to deal with one-on-one than a Slayer. Today would prove to be an interesting day and Buffy made sure she was there to watch it.

The exercise was a simple ambush using only non-ranged weapons. The Amazons would be the attacking force.

As expected, the Amazons attempted to take out the non-Slayers first so they could then double up on the Slayers. The Amazon that attacked Lydia, who was armed with a wooden Roman Gladius, got a rather nasty surprise when attacking from Lydia’s left, her supposedly weak side because of the prosthetics. Instead of having to shift her stance, Lydia just swiped out with her artificial arm which suddenly had a spike protruding from between the middle knuckles of her artificial hand that blocked the blow from the attacker’s wooden sword. Then using the sword in her right hand, Lydia delivered a ‘killing’ blow to her attacker’s torso. She was now freed up to assist one of the other non-Slayers on the team. The ambushers ended up being routed with a ‘loss’ of six of their comrades while the ambushees suffered only three ‘minor injuries’.

The After Action Report conclusion reminded everyone to ‘Expect the unexpected’ and ‘Treat every opponent as a threat, regardless of how vulnerable they may appear’.

Also during the debrief, Lydia explained about her unusual weapon to the Amazons. It had been Andrew who came up with the idea, even though everybody had vetoed his request to call the project, Weapon-X. While the prosthetic arm, itself, could be used for both defense and offense on its own, Lydia had wanted something that would permit her to be assigned to a Field Team rather than just being stuck doing research. She said she wasn’t all that comfortable always being stuck inside. Andrew had overheard her expressing her desire one day and he happened to comment on how cool it would be to put a weapon in her artificial arm.

Since most Slayer related weapons were made for stabbing, a spike seemed to be the most logical weapon. The one used in the ambush exercise was the training version that had a blunted tip. The combat version was made of titanium with a sharp point. In addition to having various religious symbols engraved on it, it also had three spiral inlays. One of wood, another of silver, and the third of cold iron, which just happened to be the three most common materials that can be used effectively against many supernatural foes. The last three inches tapered into a double sided blade.

It wasn’t too hard to convince the Amazons who had participated in the ambush from keeping quiet about Lydia’s little surprise so the next group will have the chance to demonstrate how well they handle the unanticipated.

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Buffy and Hippolyta had just finished lunch. Buffy could tell that Lyta was up to something by the smile that kept appearing on her face throughout the past couple of days. Considering her six months of exile were up the following day, Buffy had a sneaking suspicion the smile was related to that. It was very similar to the one Hippolyta had worn when first pronouncing her exile.

Deciding to take the bull by the horns, Buffy said, “Alright. Spit it out, Lyta. Why are you grinning like a well fed cat with feathers lying all around?”

Hippolyta simply replied, “I’ve decided to extend you sentence another month.”

“What!” Buffy nearly shrieked. “Why would you do that?”

“Because you continue to meddle in Amazon affairs,” was the calm reply.

Buffy just gaped at her for several moments before narrowing her eyes and asking, “This is about the Portal, isn’t it?”

Hippolyta just smiled as she drank her tea.

The next day Buffy appeared before Hippolyta in the Throne Room for the formal declaration of her exile being extended for a month. Continuing to ‘Meddle in Amazon Affairs’ was the reason given. The fact that this just gave her longer to more effectively do just that was missed by the Amazons that were less than thrilled with having to establish greater ties with the World of Man and were delighted in having her ‘punishment’ extended.

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At the end of the seventh month of Buffy exile, Hippolyta didn’t even come up with a good excuse to extend it another month. She just said, “I like your company.”

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Buffy awoke with a start. A deep sense of dread filled her and she could not tell what caused it. She didn’t remember dreaming anything, Slayer related or not. Her senses told her that there was no threat anywhere nearby. However, she knew something was wrong somewhere.

Instead of bothering Willow, who might be asleep herself, Buffy went to her computer and accessed the Alexion Threat web page to see if something had suddenly popped up there. Nothing was listed above a level 2.5 on the Sunnydale Apocalyptic Scale.

She then initiated video conferencing with the Duty Desk in Cleveland. The Slayer on duty was Yvette from Quebec. Having learned her lessons the hard way about keeping things to herself, she explained her feeling of unease and requested a briefing on the current night’s events.

According to Yvette, only one patrol was still out and had just reported they were on their way back in. There was a research session going on in preparation for a potential mystical convergence that would occur in three weeks. The only other thing of note was that Faith, Hope, and Robin were on their way in from the airport, because they had just gotten back from New York City where they had been helping Donna deal with some U.N. contacts.

When Yvette mentioned Faith’s name, Buffy felt a shiver go up her spine. She told Yvette to contact Faith immediately.

Buffy waited impatiently as Yvette called Faith’s cell. Over the video link, she could see Yvette’s brow furrow as the call was not being answered.

Just before Buffy could tell her to try Robin’s cell, she heard the emergency alarm sound on the status board where Yvette was.

Yvette immediately punched the alarm silent, which also opened the speaker phone to answer whoever was calling in.

“Status,” was all she said.

“Traffic accident,” came a steady but forced voice. “East 9th and Carnegie. Marsha and I mobile. Unable to assess condition of the Virtues at this time.”

Buffy’s heart froze. The ‘Virtues’ was the code name for Robin, Faith, and Hope.

Yvette, looked shaken but responded, “Acknowledged. Dispatching ERT immediately.”

Buffy could see on her monitor that the Emergency Response Team had already assembled in response to the alarm.

Before Yvette could relay the location to the Team, Buffy shouted over the link, “Teleport authorized! Full medical package! Code authorization Bravo One Alpha!”

Buffy saw a Senior Slayer named Joan, apparently the Team Leader, move into camera range to verify who was speaking. When she did, she turned back to her Team and said, “Lulu, can you handle taking Abby and Rhonda with you to . . . .?”

“East 9th and Carnegie,” provided Yvette.

“No prob,” came the reply.

“Grab the package and we’ll meet you there as soon as we can,” called out Joan as she and the others moved away from the Duty Desk.

As they left, Buffy continued to speak to Yvette, “Contact Willow and update her. Tell her to contact Wonder Woman and have her bring Xander. Activate the Situation Room and transfer me there as soon as it’s manned.”

Buffy barely heard Yvette’s acknowledgement as she fumed over being unable to be there so she could do something other than sit and worry.

Her focus on her helplessness was interrupted by a voice behind her querying, “Are you alright, Your Majesty?”

Turning, Buffy saw Yram just inside the door. Concern was written all over her face, apparently alerted by Buffy’s shouting.

“There’s been an automobile accident,” Buffy replied, trying to calm the anxiety she was feeling. “My Sister-Slayer, Faith, and her family were involved. I’m waiting on word of their condition.”

“Inform the Queen,” said Yram to whichever other member of the guard detail was outside the door.

“There’s no need to disturb her,” said Buffy.

“You said Princess Faith’s family was involved, which means her child, Hope, does it not?”

“Yeah.”

“Then Queen Hippolyta will want to be here when you learn of her condition since she is an Amazon,” replied Yram, then added tenderly. “Besides, I think you might need some of her strength to aid you during this time.”

Sighing, Buffy said, “Thank you. You’re probably right.”

By the time Hippolyta arrived, Buffy’s call had been switched over to the Situation Room, where Rona was apparently in charge.

“Any updates?” queried Buffy once the switch had been made.

“Marsha, Jan and Rhonda are trying to gain access to the back of the car so Abby can check on them,” was Rona’s reply. “Lulu says Marsha and Jan both look pretty banged up but they insist on helping. Since neither of them appears to be gushing blood, Abby decided it was best to let them. Joan and the rest are about three minutes away. Willow has been notified, but is currently in England. She agreed to contact Diana and Xander. We’ve already contacted the nearest hospital and put them on alert. Security forces are being dispatched there, pending their arrival.”

Rona stopped briefly and brought her hand to the earphone she was wearing.

“Lulu says she is only getting two life signs from the car,” gasped out Rona.

Buffy and Hippolyta both went still with shock.

Rona continued, “They’ve made an opening so Abby can get in.”

It seemed as if the whole world held it’s breath for the next several heartbeats.

“Abby just handed Hope out to Rhonda,” said Rona. “She’s crying but Abby says no serious injuries. Faith is unconscious. Robin’s dead. Broken neck.” Rona was almost whispering as she finished speaking.

Suddenly, Rona’s face switches from sadness to confusion.

“Report!” she shouts out. “Dammit, what’s going on?”

Buffy and Hippolyta were concerned about Rona’s actions but refrained from making their own inquiries of her.

“Lulu, what the hell is going on?”

Getting frustrated at having to wait for info to be relayed to her, Buffy called out to Rona, “Patch me into the Emergency Frequency!”

Rona hit a few buttons on her console and the overlapping of shouted voices came over the computer speakers.

“This is Buffy,” she shouted. “Someone tell me what is going on! Now!”

“Lulu here,” came a response. “Jan just slugged Marsha and knocked her out.”

“Why’d she do that?” asked Buffy more confused than ever.

“The driver of the other car finally crawled out the window of his car and began threatening to sue for the damage done to his car,” Lulu responded.

Before Buffy could ask about what the guy was thinking, talking that way, Lulu continued, “He’s drunk and doesn’t appear to have a scratch on him. Marsha lost it and was about to swing on him when Jan hit her. I think she broke Marsha’s jaw.”

Knowing that Joan was monitoring the frequency, Buffy said, “Joan, are you on scene yet?”

“Just pulling in,” came the reply.

“You are to keep a lid on things!” she ordered. “You are to personally see to it that that man is not harmed in any way, shape, or form. He has already taken enough from us. Make sure the bastard doesn’t take anything else!”

“Yes ma’am,” came the reply in a tone that suggested reluctant understanding, with just a hint of wistfulness that she didn’t.

“Rona,” said Buffy. “Connect me to Willow.”

Again, Rona pushed some buttons on her console and soon the speakers on Buffy’s computer were producing the ringing of a telephone.

“What’s the update, Rona?” came Willow’s voice.

“It’s Buffy,” Buffy said, and continued before Willow could respond. “You need to put D’Hoffryn on notice that he is not to allow any of his agents to grant any acts of vengeance in connection with the accident or I will personally redecorate Arashmaharr with his entrails.”

“Why?” asked the surprised Wiccan. “What happened?”

“The driver of the car that hit Faith’s was drunk and doesn’t appear to have suffered any injuries, and even though Hope is OK, Faith is unconscious and Robin is dead,” explained Buffy somberly. “The other driver began to rant about suing over the damage done to his car and Marsha went to take a swing at him. Jan stopped her by knocking her out.”

“But Marsha is one of the most level-headed Slayers we’ve got!” screeched Willow. “She never loses her cool!”

“Which is why you need to make sure D’Hoffryn keeps his people out of this,” was Buffy’s reply. “As I told Joan, this bastard has taken enough away from us. I won’t allow him to be responsible for us losing anyone else.”

“Contact Diana and see if she can expedite Xander’s and her arrival,” continued Buffy. “Faith and Hope are going to need him. Having him focus on their well being should distract him from doing something rash on his own. Tell him . . . Tell him what I said about not losing anyone else.”

“I will,” said Willow quietly. “Bye.”

“Bye,” responded Buffy and breaking the phone connection.

Bringing the link to the Situation Room again, Buffy said to Rona, “What’s the current status?”

“Cleveland PD and Emergency Services are on the scene. Faith and Hope are being transported to the hospital, along with Marsha. Her jaw is broken. Some of Joan’s Team are providing escort and Susan’s Team is already at the hospital waiting for them. The driver of the other vehicle is under arrest. Witnesses have him swerving around cars stopped at a red light and shooting into the intersection where he hit the Virtue’s car on the rear driver side door, where Robin was sitting. They figure he was doing in excess of 50 MPH and that there was nothing Marsha could have done to avoid him, because she couldn’t have seen him due to the stopped cars blocking her view until the last second. The car was flipped over and landed on the roof, crushing it. It was that, combined with the initial impact that made it difficult in accessing the rear seats. Abby believes Faith threw herself over Hope and shielded her with her own body which kept Hope from being injured. Jan is coming down from her adrenalin high and fretting about having hit her older sister.”

“Rouse the Counselors and be sure Jan is among the first ones seen,” said Buffy. “Send out a standard alert to the other sites to inform them of what’s happened and to have their Counselors available as well. Robin and Faith taught a lot of girls. I’ll leave the connection open so you can give pertinent updates as you receive them. Keep everyone concentrating on our people and our mission.”

With that, Buffy set her computer to standby mode.

After a few moments of silence, Hippolyta asked, “Do you want to go? I can grant you leave if you like.”

It was several moments later that Buffy finally answered softly, “If Xander or Faith ask me, then I will, but I don’t think I can be there right now.”

The fact that Buffy’s hands were balled into white-knuckled fists, was all the explanation Hippolyta needed. She could see that Buffy feared she would do what she had ordered her people not to do. What one young woman had already prevented her own sister from doing. What she herself, felt like doing.

“What will happen to the man?” Hippolyta asked.

“Although there have been some recent instances of drunk drivers being convicted of vehicular homicide and given stiff penalties, for the most part they are given just a slap on the wrist and told not to do that again,” said Buffy with anger and resignation in her voice. “Even repeat offenders get off way too lightly. We’ll just have to see if the authorities can obtain some form of justice this time. But whatever happens, we can’t get involved nor seek revenge, no matter how much we may want to.”

Hippolyta put her hand on Buffy’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“I need to tend to something,” she said to the young woman. “Will you be alright ‘til I get back? I won’t be long.”

Buffy gave a weak smile and said, “Go ahead. It’s not like I can do much, anyway.”

“On the contrary,” was Hippolyta’s reply. “You have done a great deal. You have provided great leadership during a time of crisis even without being physically present. You provided guidance as needed and your decisions will be carried out because they respect you and know you are looking out for their interests. Thus, they can focus on their jobs, which will enable them to get through this crisis as well.”

“I’ll be back shortly,” she added before leaving the room.

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Hippolyta walked into the Amazon Communication Center, with its various monitors showing news from around the globe. It had been set up because Hippolyta had determined that the Amazons needed to know how the nations they were trying to gain recognition from were viewed via the media which could shape opinions with how news was presented. It also provided a means of communicating with the outside world through technology that world was familiar with, while keeping Amazon technology, such as the telepathic radio, secret.

She went to one of the privacy rooms and used the phone there to make a call. Several minutes later, she left and returned to Buffy’s quarters. They did not leave until word reached them that Faith was okay and had regained consciousness.

---------------------------------------------------------

It had been two days since the accident. Robin’s funeral would be in another two. Faith had regained consciousness the day before. Xander had been there when she woke up and broke the news of Robin’s death to her. Hope had only a couple of bruises from the car seat harness because Faith’s body had kept her from any serious injury, at the expense of a rather nasty gash along her own back. Both Hope and Faith had been able to check out of the hospital the previous evening and return to the Cleveland compound, where they were both currently resting.

Xander and Diana were sitting in a court room to witness the arraignment of the man who had caused the accident. He had been so drunk that it had take most of the previous day for him to sober up. It turned out that he was a prominent businessman and was able to keep from being locked up in a cell by having his lawyer arrange for him to be kept in a private room at another hospital for ‘observation’.

When he came into the court room, he was impeccably dressed and didn’t seem to be worried at all.

Although there was nothing showing on Xander’s face to indicate he was seething inside, the fact that his grip on her hand was rather strong gave Diana a good indication of what Xander wanted to do. She felt a similar impulse, but hid it better.

As the bailiff called the case by reading the charges of driving while under the influence, driving with a suspended license, assault with a deadly weapon, battery, and finally vehicular homicide, Xander’s grip became tighter still.

The man, Jonas Simmons, of course pled ‘Not Guilty’ to all counts. Xander did not react to this, as he had expected nothing else.

When the subject of bail was brought up, a man sitting in the back of the court room stood up before the prosecutor could say anything and said, “If it pleases the Court, I would like to speak on this matter.”

“And exactly what would the Assistant U.S. Attorney General for the Sixth District wish to share with the Court?” said the judge, who apparently recognized the man.

“It has come to our attention that one of the passengers in the vehicle struck by Mr. Simmons’ has dual-citizenship and the other government has requested that we ensure justice is served.”

“Is the U.S. Government claiming jurisdiction of this case?” asked the judge.

“No, Your Honor,” was the reply. “We believe the State of Ohio very capable of adjudicating this case. We will, however, be filing amicus curiae briefs as we deem the situation requires.”

“Starting with this one,” he continued as he handed a bailiff a document, “that argues for remand on the grounds that Mr. Simmons’ record of ignoring driving restrictions and failure to get even counseling for his alcohol abuse makes him a definite threat to public safety.”

The judge read the document given him by the bailiff and said, “Mr. Simmons, your lawyer can set up a hearing to challenge the validity of this brief, but for now, you are remanded into the custody.”

Banging his gavel, he said, “Next case!”

Xander could barely keep the small smile from his lips as he watched the shocked man being lead away by one of the bailiffs.

He looked at Diana who appeared to be just as surprised, and pleased, as he was.

“Apparently, Mother has decided to exert some influence,” she whispered to him as they left the court room.

He simply nodded, knowing that even with having the U.S. Government involved on the prosecution’s side, it was far from certain that full justice would be achieved. However, they were definitely off to a good start to his way of thinking by wiping the smug look off the man’s face.

---------------------------------------------------------

The day of the funeral, word was received that Simmons’ lawyer managed to get a judge to reverse the remand decision and get bail set. The prosecution did manage to get it set at two million dollars, at least. He also had to surrender his passport and wear a tracking device attached to his ankle that would periodically report his location to a private company contracted to monitor such devices. Unless the device indicated the subject in a prohibited area for that person, the records of their movements would be kept confidential.

After the funeral, Faith contacted Donna and arranged a trip to Themyscira for her, Hope, and Hope’s baby sitters/body guards. She needed to focus on Hope and being able to watch her grow up. If she stayed in Cleveland, something might happen that would prevent that.

Marsha had to stay because she was the driver of their car and the prosecution needed easy access to her. Jan wasn’t going to leave her sister, even though she was barely speaking to her, despite her jaw having healed. Faith had already talked to both of them before leaving and affirmed that Jan had done the right thing by stopping Marsha from punching the guy out, but that Jan might have used a less drastic approach first, like tackling her.

Xander returned to Gotham to continue his training right after Faith left. Bruce noticed an increased intensity to Xander’s workouts and was glad that the young man was focusing his anger constructively.

---------------------------------------------------------

A week after the accident, it was a small and somber group that assembled at the docks. The bireme, with its black sail, arrived without fanfare.

Buffy met the dark-haired woman who descended the gang plank and carefully hugged her so as not to disturb the sleeping bundle she carried.

“Queen Hippolyta, this is Faith and her daughter, Hope,” said Buffy by way of introduction, deliberately not using Faith’s title as Princess.

“Our sincerest condolences on your loss,” said Hippolyta. “If there is anything I, or the Amazon Nation, can do, just ask.”

“Allowing us to come here and your efforts to ensure justice is served are more than sufficient, and greatly appreciated, Your Majesty,” said Faith, sincerely but quietly.

She then introduced the six other young women who disembarked after her.

“This is Mary, Anne, June, Carmen, Sophia, and Mae-Lin. They look after Hope when I’m busy with other things and she is comfortable with them.”

“You are all welcome,” said Hippolyta. “Come, let’s get you settled into your quarters.”

The ride to the palace was quiet, but Queen Hippolyta still pointed out some of the sites on the way to be polite and not let silence reign.

Faith and Hope were placed in Buffy’s room, at Buffy’s insistence. She had moved out to an adjoining room the day before. The others were paired up and given the rooms that the delegation that retrieved the Scythe had had.

Even though it was understood that the Slayers that came with Faith and Hope were there to not only baby sit Hope, but to guard her as well, Buffy arranged with Hippolyta and Assiram to have half of Assiram’s squad assigned to Faith as her Honor Guard since Buffy’s ‘exile’ was still not common knowledge with the lower ranks. Esor, Assiram’s second in command, would head Faith’s contingent.

---------------------------------------------------------

The banquet to celebrate Faith and Hope’s arrival would take place two days after their arrival to give them time to settle in.

The evening of their arrival was spent with Buffy doting over her god-daughter and comforting Faith. Buffy even let Hope play with Mr. Gordo when she started to fuss in her new surroundings. From the way Hope was clutching him, Buffy wondered if she’d be able to get him back.

Their first full day on the Island, saw Queen Hippolyta spending most of the morning getting acquainted with the newest Amazon and her mother.

---------------------------------------------------------

A week after Faith’s arrival, Buffy and Faith entered the Throne Room, escorted by Assiram and her squad. They stopped 30 paces from the throne where Queen Hippolyta sat. Once in place they bowed to her. Hippolyta stood up and moved to the edge of the dais.

“Queen Buffy,” she began, smiling a little at the flinch Buffy was still not able to hide upon hearing her title and name. “While I would like to have your presence here on Themyscira for a longer time, both because I believe you could benefit from it and I enjoy your company, the world and your people need you.”

“Although your successor, Princess Faith,” Hippolyta continued, seeing the Dark Haired Slayer shudder at her title and name, “has pledged herself to serve the rest of your sentence in your stead, I have decided that your term of exile is complete. You are free to leave whenever you are ready.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” replied Buffy. “I expect it will be an additional week or so before I will depart. I wish to assist Princess Faith in acclimating herself into her role as Ambassador and Headmistress of Training for the Alexions here on the Island.”

Buffy grinned at Faith’s near scowl when she called her ‘Princess’.

“Let us know when you have a firm date so your departure feast can be scheduled,” said the Amazon Queen. “The Amazons accompanying you will need to be informed, as well.”

Assiram and seven of her squad would be going to the World of Man to help train Slayers at the Cleveland site. The rest of the squad would remain and make up Faith’s and Hope’s Honor Guard in addition to the six Slayers. Ju-Li and her dance troupe were also going, but they were actually going to spend more time on a cultural tour of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico than training with the Slayers, though there would be some of that as well. Three representatives of the Amazon Council were going to help Donna with negotiations with some of the more reticent nations about granting recognition.

“Just remember, Queen Buffy,” continued Hippolyta, in an oh so serious tone. “Should you desire to visit us again, it would be in your best interest to arrange it through proper channels.”

“Not to worry,” quipped Buffy. “Traveling that far underwater is not really my cup of tea. It brings up several past incidents that are not all that pleasant to remember.”

Hippolyta just nodded as she herself remembered that Buffy’s first death was from drowning.

With that, Buffy and Faith bowed to Queen Hippolyta, then turned and left the Throne Room followed by their Honor Guard.

---------------------------------------------------------

The banquet was over the top, as usual. The Alexions and Amazons were having a very enjoyable time. Even Faith had a pleasant time, though she left early to feed Hope and put her to bed.

It was around three in the morning when the two Queens found themselves alone in one of the balconies of the Palace.

Buffy was looking out at the clear sky full of stars. While the vastness made her feel small, it was not an unpleasant feeling.

Hippolyta came out and just stood next to Buffy, also gazing at the sky.

Finally Buffy spoke, “You’ve got to wait till the full year is up, don’t you?”

Although a bit surprised by the question, Queen Hippolyta responded with a sigh, “Yes.”

“When you do it, she won’t come home to stay, ya know.”

With a heavier sigh, Hippolyta said, “I know.”

“How’s the house on the Island of Meeting coming along?”

“It should be ready in another week,” was Hippolyta’s reply.

Ostensibly, the house, a mansion really, was for visiting or vacationing males from the Alexions, as they had taken to referring to all members of the Watchers and Slayers Council.

“That should make it easier for her to visit for more than a day or two,” said Buffy.

“One can but hope so.”

“He’s a good man, you know?” said Buffy. “A good person.”

“Then why did you let him get away?”

“Timing and fear,” was the calm reply. “Neither of us seemed to recognize the overlap of the times that we were both not involved with someone else or recovering from said involvements. Other things distracted us from being able to recognize those times, and they were normally so short a duration that if awareness ever did come, the opportunity had already passed. I think the beginning of my freshman year in college was the longest period when something might have had a chance of starting, but for those two to three days, neither of us spotted the opportunity.”

“The fear came mostly from me,” she continued. “I felt that if I let him get too close, he’d end up leaving me like so many others. You may not have noticed, but I am not the most self-assured person around, despite the image I try to project. I need him in my life more than most anyone other than Dawn. Granted, for the most part, that fear was baseless, but I wasn’t as smart as I am now to realize that.”

“You could let him know that.”

“Nice try,” laughed Buffy. “He knows I need him, but even if I was crazy enough to try for a closer relationship, right now I would fail and lose him forever. Diana holds that special place in his heart and soul. My place there is special, too, but different, just as it is with the others he deems his family. There is no conflict with how each of us fit within him and we all know it, so there is no jealousy between us. Just the occasional wistful dream of ‘what if’.”

“Besides,” she continued, staring off into the night sky once again, her voice becoming quiet and sad. “Diana can give him something he deserves that I can’t. While Hope is his by biology, she is Robin and Faith’s daughter and that is how Faith will raise her. He should have a child he can raise as his own with the woman he loves.”

Hippolyta’s face reflected the shock she felt from Buffy’s revelation.

“Are you sure about your condition?” was the only thing she could think of to ask.

“The Devon Coven did a kind of check up spell on me and several other Slayers that had been splattered with some demon blood tainted with the AIDS virus a couple years back,” said a subdued Buffy. “While it turned out that we were in no danger of infection, the spell did clue them in to that fact. The spell also determined that the reason was mystical in nature. ‘Til now, they and I are the only ones that know.”

Hippolyta knew without being asked that Buffy expected her to keep it secret as well. What she didn’t immediately grasp was why Buffy had told her in the first place. It took a few moments to realize that the topic of their conversation had not changed, despite the mention of Buffy’s problem. However, since she knew Buffy was championing Xander’s cause with Diana, she was puzzled as to why she might be bringing up a possibly damaging negative incident.

“How was he involved?” she finally asked.

“In a supporting role with absolutely no knowledge of the overall ramifications,” replied Buffy still looking at the sky. “The resurrection spell that Willow used to bring me back from my second death wasn’t fully explained to him, Tara, or Anya. I don’t think Willow even knew that there was more to the ‘sacrifice of the innocent’ than just using the blood and heart of a fawn in the ritual. The true price of bringing me back was the loss of the chance at the only immortality humans can truly achieve, which is through their children. Therefore, Dawn and the Slayers are my only Legacy.”

Hippolyta moved behind the petite woman and enfolded her in a hug. She knew Buffy would not cry. The tears had already been shed long ago, despite the ache that must still be in her heart.

They stood there together while the Amazon Queen contemplated the gift Buffy had given her and why. With this information, she could rend Xander and her daughter apart. His guilt over the consequences of his actions, even though they were unknown to him at the time, would destroy him. But as much as she railed against Diana’s involvement with him, she did not seek his destruction. The young woman she held in her arms had more reason to seek that end and had not done so. She could not go against that decision because it made her realize that even the smallest action she might want to take to interfere with his and Diana’s relationship would result in her losing what she hoped to gain.

Finally, Hippolyta spoke, “You’ve made your point. I will stop trying to meddle with Diana’s and Xander’s relationship. I will even make an effort to talk with him when they come to visit in order to understand him better.”

“Now, let’s go see if we can find some ice cream, shall we?” continued Hippolyta, hoping to clear away the melancholy Buffy must be feeling after reliving such a sad memory.

Buffy turned around, hugged the older woman, laid her head against her bosom, and said, “Sounds good to me . . .Mom.”

Queen Hippolyta’s breath hitched. While she had bonded with the young woman embracing her fairly deeply over the months of her stay on the Island, and in fact she had unknowingly looked upon her as a daughter even before she knew that Buffy and Dawn had found traces of their mother in her, for Buffy to acknowledge the bond left her speechless. That Buffy would bestow that title on her outshone being Queen of the Amazons and was on a par with the feelings she felt when Diana and Donna became her daughters.

She also now felt she could understand what Diana was facing with Xander. Even if they lived to be a hundred, Buffy and Xander would die long before She or Diana would, barring accidents. But despite the potential sorrow of that time, she could not envision not having the young woman as her friend, peer, and daughter for how ever long they may have. Her life would be poorer if she let that opportunity pass to avoid that inevitable loss.

As they walked back into the Palace in search of frozen creamy goodness, Buffy said with a slightly cheerful tone, “By the way, all the paperwork is done for putting me behind Diana and Donna for the Amazon Throne, so you don’t have to fear me taking over and causing Amazon society to crumble, since I figure if it gets so bad that they make me Queen, there won’t be much left anyway.”

“Don’t sell yourself short,” said Hippolyta. “You would be the best choice to resurrect the Amazons from the ashes. After all, you’ve had a lot of personal experience to guide you.”

“Watch it, Lyta,” Buffy said with mock menace. “Since my exile is over, I could still pop in and say ‘Good-bye’ to your Portal before departing tomorrow.”

“No, you can’t,” said the Amazon Queen, chuckling. “The decree banning you from going near the Portal is still in effect and won’t be able to be rescinded even if you assume the Throne.”

“Spoil sport,” said Buffy, pouting, as they meandered down the corridor.

Later that day she would be heading back to her world. Hopefully, better prepared to survive the never ending fight against the Darkness and better able to help those who fought with her survive as well. But right now, Buffy just wanted to enjoy the company, and love, of her new mother-figure.

That, and review her plans for making Xander and Giles pay for not letting her know about the Island’s Hellmouth. The thought of their pain and anguish as she took her revenge warmed her heart.

The End

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