“Have I told you just how glad I am to finally have you back with us, Xand?” Buffy commented as they relaxed with a mega-chocolate laden dessert and small glasses of cognac after finishing their meal.
“Yeah, you might have mentioned it a time or two, Buff,” Xander grinned back at her as he took a sip of his digestif.
"You know, thinking back about the way you were always worrying about me when I was out doing the Slaying, and the way it seems like I was always worrying about you getting hurt,” Buffy reflected as she took a small sip from her own snifter, “it almost feels the way it would if we were both normal people and you were my boyfriend and we were going out together.
“Unfortunately, neither of us ever got any of the benefits that usually go along with an arrangement like that,” she noted, seeing a slightly puzzled and uncertain expression appear in her friend’s eyes at her comment.
“Do you think you might be interested in us correcting that problem?” she asked as casually as she could, trying to not let the semi-queasy and unsettled feeling in her stomach manifest in her voice as she anxiously awaited his answer.
The hooded expression that seemed to immediately shift across his eyes made her quail inwardly even as she tried not to let her concern show, as she worried that Xander was most likely thinking that she was interested in him now only because she had discovered that he had been the soul animating her first love.
All Buffy could desperately hope for at the moment was that Xander would remember the fact that she and Angel had most definitely broken up and that each of them had unquestionably moved on after their somewhat – spirited – confrontation over Faith in the year following their graduation.
Any feelings she had retained towards the ensouled vampire afterwards had been solely ones of friendship and nostalgia for what they had once shared. The fact that all her subsequent attempts at finding someone to share her life with had gone down in flaming wreckage was more an indication of her inability to recognize and make the best choices, possibly augmented by a subconscious desire to punish herself for the mistakes she'd made earlier in her life, rather than any inability to let go of her adolescent infatuation with a being nearly two and a half centuries her elder.
Fortunately, however, it appeared that Xander did realize exactly that, and the fact that she was apparently entirely sincere in her hope to explore and perhaps enhance the possibilities inherent in their current relationship, too, since his lips curled up at the corners with one of the smiles she'd grown to love so much and he nodded as he told her, "Well, I guess I wouldn't be completely hostile to seeing how things could work out between us, Buff," as he reached across the table to take her hand in a gentle but firm grasp.
Buffy smiled with relief as the giddiness in her stomach vanished and the previously unrecognized fist clamped around her heart disappeared upon hearing his answer, and she tried to cover her relieved reaction by picking up her glass with her free hand and taking a small sip of her cognac while trying to figure out exactly what she should do next.
Well, aside from the idea of just immediately jumping up, grabbing hold of him and dragging him back to her suite and showing him just how much she cared about him in the most physical way possible, that is.
It would never do to have the management think they were trying to skip out on the bill, no matter how much she might want to get out of here right now.
'Cause this place was really quite nice and she wouldn't mind coming back here again with Xand, and she still had to take care of the check for dinner.
"Hey, Dawnster. How's everything going for my very favorite Key in all the world?"
"Oh, not too bad, Xand," Dawn pushed up her sunglasses and smiled up at him and Buffy from the chaise lounge, positioned near the shallow end of the in-ground Olympic-sized swimming pool, that she was currently lying on. "You guys finally decide to join us for some sun and pool time?"
"Yeah, days as nice as this don't come around nearly often enough, so we thought we'd take advantage of it to get some sun," Buffy agreed with a smile as she dropped her towel and bag on the small table between to the two lounge chairs the new arrivals had chosen.
The royal blue bikini her sister was wearing certainly seemed to meet with Xander's approval, to judge by the appreciative glances he kept giving her, Dawn noted with a smirk as she looked over both new arrivals.
"I was beginning to wonder if you might be still a little bit allergic to sunlight, Xand, since it seems like no one's seen hide-nor-hair of you for the past day or so," she commented, apparently idly. "Not since you guys left for dinner Friday night."
"No, I'm fine as far as that as that goes, Dawn," Xander shook his head in disagreement with her observation.
"I've just been occupied with some personal stuff, that's all," he noted with a small smile as he glanced over at Buffy, who favored him with one of her own.
"And I was wondering if maybe you'd decided to become some kind of recluse, too, Buff," she added with a glance at her sister.
"I've been taking care of some personal stuff of my own that came up at the last minute, too, Dawn," Buffy nonchalantly explained her apparent absence as she looked over at her sister.
"Okay, I was just wondering, that’s all," Dawn shrugged as she were actually indifferent to the two’s comings and goings.
"Some of the guys are trying to set up a water polo game for later this afternoon, Xand," she then noted casually. "Think you'd like to sign up?"
"I don't know, Dawn," he shrugged a bit uncertainly as he dropped bonelessly into the chair next to Buffy. "I'm not sure that it'd really be all that fair for whatever team I'd be playing against, even if they do have Slayers on them.
"Ever since I got exposed to that stuff that Coach Marin was using on the swim team junior year, the water's been almost like a second home to me.
“Especially when you consider what I had as a first home," he noted parenthetically.
"Anyway," he noted, "since then, I can swim a *lot* faster than most people. Even Slayers.”
“Yeah, Dawn, don't you remember? After the swim team disbanded, when we checked to see if there were any aftereffects of that stuff the Coach used on the team, it turned out Xand not only broke all of the school records for speed and distance, but a couple of the existing Olympic records, too,” Buffy casually reminded her sibling as she sat down on her own chaise lounge.
"And since I know I can also hold my breath for at least ten minutes now, I'm not sure that it'd be fair for me to be playing on a team with those advantages," Xander added parenthetically.
"Wow, I bet you're really enjoying the fact that Xand doesn't have to come up for air very often, huh, Buff?" the brunette commented as she gave her sister a lascivious grin Xander would swear she must have stolen from Faith.
"What?!" Buffy exclaimed, her cheeks almost instantly flaming to a bright red color as she stared at her sibling with a wide-eyed mixture of shock and the least bit of embarrassment.
"Huh?" Xander chimed in, staring dumbfounded at the younger brunette while trying to mentally process her comment and failing.
“Dawn! I can’t believe you just said something like that!” Buffy exclaimed, while at the same time, it seemed, she was also trying not to grin self-consciously at the surprisingly insightful observation
"Well, if it's not true, just say so, Buff," the younger brunette demanded with a smug, self-satisfied expression at the way she'd managed to shake up her sibling and her one-time crush.
"Yeah, I thought so… Lucky bitch."
"Hey, Will, if I'm not interrupting anything apocalyptic or anything, you got a minute or two to answer a couple questions?"
"Sure, Xand," the semi-legendary 'Red Witch' smiled up at him as she looked up from her perusal of a Mesopotamian translation of an oral recounting by a group of Fyarl demons of a clash between several Deevaks and a previously unidentified species that seemed to corresponded to a demonic equivalent of the Ferengi trading federation from ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.’ "This isn't anything big. I’m just checking up on a reference I remembered seeing in one of Giles' old texts about a possible medical use for Fyarl mucus.
"What'd you want to talk about?" she asked as she marked her place with one of the pages she'd been making notes on.
"A medical use for Fyarl snot?" her visitor stated in a clearly dubious tone of voice along with a small shudder of revulsion as he checked out the subject matter Willow had been reading. "Don't tell me what it is, okay? 'Cause I'm pretty sure I don’t want to know anything about it. Ugh!
"Anyway," Xander then immediately continued on, ignoring the topic of their previous conversation with a small shiver completely and moving on to the one he'd dropped by to discuss with her, "I've been doing some reading about various spells that allow an object to absorb magic energy that's directed at it, and I've got a couple questions about whether you can merge several of these different spells together so that you can make something that will absorb any kind of energy in the area around it," he replied, as he laid a neatly organized page of notes down on the table in front of her.
"From what I've been able to determine from theses texts, it's possible to enchant an object so that it can increase in size and actually get harder and tougher by absorbing and incorporating the energy of any spell that might be aimed at it or used near it, right?" he stated, as he watched her effortlessly review the information he'd so painstakingly complied from the various reference books he'd consulted over the course of the past several weeks.
"Yeah, it's fairly easy to do that with any number of spells," Willow nodded, a bit absently as she considered the feasibility and practicality of integrating the various spells noted into a single object, as well as trying to determine any potential incompatibilities that might exist that would preclude such an effort.
"The problem you run into when you actually try to make something like that, though," she pointed out as she looked up from his notes, "is that after a while, a lot of the minor by-products the spells create start to interact, and you end up with a lot of unwanted and potentially dangerous side-effects.
"What, exactly, did you want to accomplish, that you're adding all of these spells together?" she inquired.
"Well, I had this idea –"
“Hey, Dawnstar, you got a minute to talk?” Xander asked as he stuck his head around the door jamb as he knocked on the Assistant Chief of Research’s office door.
“Sure, Xand, if it’s really only gonna take a minute,” the gorgeous brunette nodded as she looked from the several ancient-looking volumes spread out on her desk and the counter behind her.
“Stacey’s team asked us to verify that translation she got from that Eidola clan last night, because she’s still not completely sure about the whole ‘trusting the group that was trying to kill you last week in order to stop a potential apocalypse and save both of you next week’ thing they’ve got going on right now,” she explained as she paused in her work for a moment. “And Giles asked me to check over the accuracy of Merriam’s translation, since she’s still working on her Master’s in Etruscan.”
“Okay, I’ll make it quick, then. It’s no real biggie,” he said as he slipped inside her office and leaned back against the wall.
“I was just wondering if you could maybe help me out when you get some free time with a little something I’ve been working on the past couple weeks,” he went on. "It should only take a couple hours of your time, and there's no particular urgency about when it gets done.
“You see, I need to get some special packages I’ve made up delivered to some specific areas without anyone around there knowing that they’re there…”
The glowing green portal shimmered into existence in the middle of what appeared to be a vast stretch of arid and desolate prairie land, and two women clad in what looked to be a blend of light body armor and form-fitting BDUs stepped through.
Each held a Steyr TMP submachinegun in one hand and an edged weapon in the other – a massive war axe in the larger woman's right hand, while the smaller redhead held a katana in her left hand – and they carefully and thoroughly surveyed the area around them before the larger woman gave a hand sign and they were joined by a similarly attired and equipped couple – a strikingly beautiful brunette and a tall, dark-haired man carrying a large duffle bag.
Checking out the area around them, he nodded approvingly at the sight of a small outcropping a short distance away.
"Okay, that looks like as good a place as any to start," he declared as he began heading in its direction, accompanied by the two women who had first emerged from the portal, while the brunette remained on alert by the dimensional gate.
It took the man only a few minutes' effort to accomplish his purpose while both women stood guard, and then the three rejoined the brunette.
"Okay, Dawnstar, the first one's up and running," Xander announced with a small smile. "Only forty-nine more to set up and then it's dinner for the three of you ladies and your escorts at the restaurant of your choice."
"That's fine with me, Xand," the Key grinned back at him. "Just remember, I already warned you – I'm planning on seeing just how high your card's limit is set at."
"Well nothing personal, Dawn, but I really doubt that you can run up a dinner bill that's gonna come anywhere near my card's limits. Remember, I did take your sister shoe shopping last month, and Buffy didn't even come close to hitting it."
"Oh, good," the Key smiled widely.
"I love a challenge."
“Hmm, that’s odd,” Weirbok, Patron of Scorned Men, murmured to himself as he watched the world seem to flicker uncertainly around him for several moments after he had stated, “Wish granted!” to the angry young man seething in front of him as he glared at a couple dancing a short distance away.
The energy flowing through his focus hadn’t responded as readily as it normally did, and there had definitely been a recognizable time lag between his command and the actual implementation of the jealous youth’s desire for vengeance.
“Ah, that’s better,” he smiled to himself as screams of horror and disgust abruptly began echoing through the room from the bystanders now staring at the two eviscerated corpses lying in the middle of the dance floor.
Offices of the Faculty of European Studies
Gavril Caldararu looked up at the knock on his door, to find a tall, dark-haired young man standing just inside his office.
"Are you Gavril Caldararu?" he asked in a harsh, somewhat archaic-sounding German dialect as he gave Caldararu a measuring glance.
"Yes, I am," the Rom noted as he returned the evaluation he was receiving.
His visitor clearly wasn't a member of any of the clans, despite his general resemblance to the stereotype most mahrime held of the People, since he hadn't recognized him immediately and he was also staring at him with a mixture of what he'd best describe as a mixture of controlled anger and grim satisfaction.
"What was it you wanted to see me about?" he asked, beginning to feel the least bit uncomfortable with the way the newcomer was watching him – as if the mahrime were some sort of predator and he were its prey.
"Well, Clan Chief Gavril Caldararu, my name is Alexander Harris," the man introduced himself as he moved further into Gavril's office and closed the door behind him.
"And I've come to collect on a debt of blood and honor I'm owed by the Kalderash," he declared as a very nasty, feral-looking smile took possession of his face.
"I'm sure the elders of your clan still tell your people stories about a vampire named Angelus…"
The justice demon Preseamondee frowned in puzzlement as she surveyed the scene around her.
This wasn’t at all what she had envisioned when she had decided to grant the young mother’s wish against the fool who had run over her child during his frantic attempt to evade capture by the local authorities.
True, the callous bastard was now writhing in unending torment as hellfire continued to roast his instantly healing flesh, leaving him to suffer eternally.
But she had intended to send him directly to one of the hell dimensions – not have the fires of hell spring up around him in a five foot square area that was now apparently completely impregnable and unapproachable by anyone or anything.
Oh well. Regardless of what exactly what had just happened, justice had been served.
"Excuse me, but I'm not sure that I heard you properly, Xander," Giles said as he stared at the young man sitting in front of him.
"You’re telling me that the Kalderash have changed their minds and have decided to volunteer their services to the Council, effective immediately, and they are not only willing to act as liaisons for us with the other tribes scattered across the continent, but will also provide personnel and access to tribal histories to help us research the local history of any area we might be interested in, should we determine we would require such assistance?" the older man summarized his fellow Scooby's report.
"Yep, all that and they'll also be willing to help us out if we ever need help researching old magic or identifying any artifacts or relics we might run across," Xander added.
"That's an astonishing turnabout in attitude for the Kalderash to make," the former librarian stated thoughtfully. "Especially since the last missive they sent us essentially told us to go to hell, and included very specific directions as to how to get there."
"Well, I guess the secret to successful negotiations is in exactly how you make your presentation, big guy."
“My Lord, I regret to inform you that it appears that it appears that there have been some – incidents – occurring lately with some of your agents’ performance in the course of their assignments,” D’Hoffryn’s second-in-command, a four-horned, purple-hued and veiny-skinned demon, announced in a voice that carried severe undertones of worry and apprehension.
“What are you talking about, Norfrelik?” D’Hoffryn demanded, his forehead furrowing with disapproval at the news.
“It seems that a growing number of our ‘justice’ demons have been reporting that they have been experiencing various degrees of difficulty implementing some of the more – ambitious – wishes that the recipients of their largesse have expressed,” was the response the demon lord received, which caused him to frown all the more.
“Exactly what does ‘experiencing difficulty implementing their clients’ desires’ mean?” the demon lord growled menacingly as he glowered at his assistant.
“The accounts we’ve received have indicated that the demons involved report that they were unable to accomplish the full scale of the wishes requested due, apparently, to a lack of adequate power to draw on.”
“What in the name of Darkness do you mean, ‘a lack of adequate power to draw on’?” D’Hoffryn roared in outrage.
“All of my minions are capable of channeling the full resources of this dimension if it should be required in the course of their duties!” he bellowed. “Whoever is claiming to have experienced problems granting wishes must be either incompetent or an idiot!”
“My lord, *I* am one of the ones who have recently experienced difficulties while attempting to grant a wish,” Norfrelik informed him with a tooth-baring grimace that would have had any lesser demon wetting themselves with fear.
“Are you usually in the habit of assigning overall supervisory responsibility for your minions to an ‘incompetent or an idiot’?”
“Do you, Buffy Summers, take this man, Alexander Harris, to be your lawfully wedded husband, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, honor and cherish, all the days of your life?”
“And do you, Alexander Harris, take this woman, Buffy Summers, to be your lawfully wedded wife, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, honor and cherish, all the days of your life?”
“Then by the power vested in me as a duly authorized minister by the state of Ohio, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Congratulations, guys.”
“Thanks, Dawnstar. It’s nice to see there are more advantages to you being a minister than just being able to bless holy water.”
“Yeah, thanks, Dawnie. We both really appreciate your doing this for us.”
“Any time, guys. It’s nice to see you two finally got your heads out of your butts and realized what the rest of us have known for years. Right, Giles?”
“While I would never have phrased my words quite so – eloquently – as you did, Dawn, I do agree that I, too, am quite pleased and happy to see the two of you taking such a significant step forward in your relationship.”
“Giles is right, guys. It’s so great to see the two of you making such a major decision to start sharing your lives together even more than you’ve been doing so far and does this mean that we’re going to be seeing little Xuffies and Banders running around in the future or haven’t you made any kind of decisions like that yet ‘cause you certainly don’t look like you’re pregnant Buffy although I guess it’s entirely possible that you are and just haven’t started showing yet and I think I better shut up now before I embarrass myself even more.”
“Whoa, Red, I think maybe you better throttle back on any more of the champagne tonight! Just ‘cause B and X have decided they want to start sharing the sheets on an official basis doesn’t mean B’s decided she wants to start cranking out a bunch of ankle-biters just so you can be a witchy-godmother, right, guys?”
“Thanks for all the advice and best wishes, guys, and no, Willow, I’m not pregnant, but thanks for asking.”
“Personally, I think we still should try to practice as often as we can, Buff, so that we can be sure we’re doing everything right, once we do decide it is the right time.”
“Ow! What was that for?”
“You’re being a pig.”
“I already knew that.”
“Ow! Stop doing that, woman!”
“Ha! You missed!”
“Ow! Buff, tell your sister she’s not allowed to hit me.”
“And tell Faith that, too!”
“I didn’t want to feel left out!”
“What in the name of magic is that thing?”
D'Hoffryn’s surprised exclamation was met by the entourage around him with a variety of shrugs and disclaimers of any possible relevant knowledge regarding the massive, spinning silver disc that the Lord of Arashmahaar was currently glaring at. Nearly thirty feet high, the object appeared to be a simple solid disc approximately sixty feet in diameter, dark silver-grey in color, and somewhat tapered at its outer edge
“No one knows, my lord,” Eurydon, Patron of Unreciprocated Lovers, finally replied, as one of the beings responsible for the discovery of the mystery object. The withered and desiccated corpse of the other being who had stumbled across the massive artifact was sprawled off to one side of the group where it lay partially beneath the rapidly spinning relic.
“Graloch and I had noticed that there was an almost total lack of available manna in this area, and that it’s become extremely difficult to use any sort of magic in the area, so we came here and were looking around to see what might be responsible when we found this – thing,” Eurydon explained as he alternated staring at the object under discussion and his lord and master.
“Graloch had started examining it and he had just reached out and touched it, trying to figure out what it was, when he suddenly screamed and he just, just shriveled up, my lord,” he went on.
“From what I saw happen, it looked as if all of the energy in his body was instantly sucked out of him and then he just dropped to the ground – dead.”
The look D’Hoffryn gave him made it clear that the head vengeance demon did not find that statement satisfactory in the least.
“Find out what that thing is and how it came to be here in my domain,” he growled angrily. “And find out how to destroy it, too.
“Don’t do anything else until you’ve accomplished that,” he ordered before teleporting out.
Or at least trying to.
It took the demon lord nearly a full twenty seconds before he could draw in and focus enough manna to accomplish his intent, and the look of anger and displeasure visible on his face as he was doing so made Eurydon glad he wasn’t going to be anywhere in D’Hoffryn’s vicinity for at least the immediate future.
“We have discovered nearly two dozen artifacts similar to the one Graloch and I stumbled across, my lord,” Eurydon informed D’Hoffryn upon entering the demon lord’s throne room. “There may possibly be more of them in some of the less traveled areas of the world – something I am having several of the lower echelon minions checking out now.
“Several of the discs are even larger than the one you saw and, after extensive testing, all I can really say about them is that all of them appear to be absorbing any manna in their vicinity and using it to grow even larger,” he continued. “I am also unable to say whether they are actually artifacts manufactured by someone, or whether they are simply some previously unknown form of life that has evolved to feed on manna.
“And I have yet to determine any method of destroying them. Every method I’ve used in an attempt to destroy them has simply been absorbed by the discs without any damage being done to them, whatsoever.”
“Who dares summon the Lord of Arashmahaar?”
The arrogant tone of the words spoken did not match up well with the haggard and skeletal-looking figure standing in the center of the pentagram inscribed on the floor of the darkened chamber.
“I do. And I gotta say, you certainly look like shit, Big D,” came the mocking response from one of several figures standing in the back of the room among the shadows.
The voice sounded familiar for some reason and it took the demon lord a minute to recognize exactly where he knew it from.
“Harris?” D’Hoffryn asked, disbelievingly, as he squinted into the darkness.
“Yeah, it’s me,” Xander nodded his acknowledgement of the identification as he moved closer to allow the demon to more easily recognize him. “It’s been a while since the last time we saw each other.”
“You have a lot of nerve to even think of summoning me here, mortal,” D’Hoffryn declared haughtily as he drew himself up into a semblance of his old arrogance.
“Oh, I just wanted to check in with you for old times’ sake. You know, catch up on things, see how everything’s going with you and yours. And like I just said, you look like shit, D. Almost like you were starving.
“What seems to be the problem? Not getting enough energy back home to keep you and your fellow parasites at the top of your form?” Xander asked, a seemingly indifferent expression on his face.
“How did you know that? Who told you that?” D'Hoffryn demanded, his eyes abruptly riveted on the man who seemed to know more about the demon lord’s situation than he would have believed possible.
“Nobody’s told me anything about anything, D,” Xander smirked as he sneered at the demon.
“Nope, nobody’s said anything to me about whatever it is that’s sucking up all the magic back in your home dimension so that there’s not enough energy left over to sustain you and all those other leeches that hang around you like flies around a cow’s ass,” he said.
“YOU! It was YOU, wasn’t it? You’re the one responsible! What did you do, Harris??!! Tell me! What did you do to my kingdom?” D’Hoffryn bellowed as he threw himself forward at Xander, only to find himself smashing up against the invisible wall of the summoning pentagram.
“I’m showing you what true vengeance really is, asshole,” Xander declared as he stared the howling demon in the eye.
“You call yourself the Lord of Vengeance, but you’re really nothing but a vicious parasite who’s spent their entire existence doing nothing but trying to destroy the things created by beings you know are your betters,” he said as he bared his teeth in a smile forged from the deepest, coldest depths of space.
“I’m the one responsible for the problems you and your minions have been experiencing for the past five years,” he informed D’Hoffryn with fierce delight. “Those discs those incompetent suck-ups of yours found have been specially created to absorb any kind of magic around them, as well as any magic or physical energy that's used against them to destroy them.
“And by the way, those idiots only found about half of the discs I scattered around your dimension,” he added casually, making the demon lord pale even further. “I hid nearly two dozen of them in various caverns and grottos deep under the surface that I discovered when I first was planning this out.
“Anyway, getting back to what I was saying, the more energy each disc absorbs, the bigger it grows, and the bigger it grows, the more energy it absorbs,” he explained, his smile growing ever larger as he spoke. “So what’s going to happen is that eventually all of those discs are going to become HUGE and will be absorbing all of the energy Arashmahaar produces.
“And since that energy is what provides you with your power, Big D, it kinda looks you’re screwed, doesn’t it?” he concluded speaking, a satisfied smile on his face.
“You bastard,” D’Hoffryn whispered, his normally cerulean-tinged skin now an ashen grey.
“Yes, I am,” Xander amiably nodded his agreement. “And now that you know what’s really been happening, and who’s responsible, you can head on home and think about the fact that it was a weak, powerless mortal who’s managed to destroy you and that empire of vengeance you’ve created, and think about the total futility of everything you’ve been doing to try and save yourself and your empire.”
The look of hatred and hopelessness on the demon lord’s face was everything he could ever have hoped for, Xander decided as he watched D’Hoffryn’s shoulders slump in defeat.
“Oh by the way, Big D,” he called as one of the figures behind him began murmuring the spell to return D’Hoffryn to his home, “the discs will all shut down and stop absorbing energy if the right command is made.
“And it’s a very simple command, too,” he said. “Just three little words that I know you’ll never be able to make yourself say.
“Just wanted to make sure you knew that,” he added as the demon began to fade away.
“Buh-bye,” he waved mockingly.
“Do you think it was smart to tell him that, Xand?” Willow asked worriedly as she, Buffy and Dawn stepped up to stand beside him.
“He really is a genius in his own right,” she noted. “Now that he knows there’s a way to shut the discs down, he’ll be concentrating all his efforts on figuring out what the command is.
“And that hint you gave him is going to make it all that much easier for him to figure out what it is,” she said, her concern evident in her voice.
D’Hoffryn’s mind was working furiously as he rematerialized in his now decrepit and ramshackle throne room.
That fool Harris had made the hopefully fatal mistake of admitting to him that there a command existed that would make the discs cease operation. If – no, when! – he figured out what that command was and shut down those thrice damned artifacts that had been sucking up every last erg of manna this dimension produced for the past five years, he’d be able to start regenerating his own power.
And once he had regained a sufficient level of power, he knew that, with a sufficient amount of effort, he’d eventually be able to tap into the manna stored in those discs that arrogant mortal had somehow created and hidden in his home, which would then provide him with a level of power even superior to what he had previously produced.
And once he’d done that, then he’d hunt Harris down and make sure he spent an eternity suffering like no one else had ever experienced before! He’d spend decades – centuries, perhaps – torturing everyone that arrogant little human had ever cared for, and make him watch every second of it as he did so.
But first, he needed to figure out exactly what the command was.
Harris had said it was three words that he believed the demon lord would never be able to utter, he recalled. Given the way that arrogant little shit Harris’ mind worked, that almost certainly meant a phrase that he thought D’Hoffryn would never *choose* to say, rather than one that he would be *unable* to say, he concluded after a moment’s further consideration.
And given Harris’ own arrogance, it most likely had something to do with him or his little group.
Another moment of intense contemplation made the demon lord smile with triumph as he deduced what the command had to be.
“I’m sorry, Harris,” he declared loudly, as dreams of the vengeance he would wreak on the mortal once he regained his power filled his mind.
“Actually, we’re planning on that, Wills,” Buffy told the witch as she slipped her arm around her husband’s waist and leaned into him.
“Yeah, Will,” Xander agreed with as he curled his arm around Buffy and rested his hand atop her swollen abdomen. “We want that bastard dead and gone beyond any possibility of ever coming back. We don’t want there to be even the slightest chance of him or any other vengeance demon coming after any of us in the future.
“We want to be completely certain that none of those bastards are ever going to be able to threaten our family,” he stated firmly.
“So, yeah, I told him that there’s a command word to shut down the discs,” he said.
“But it seems that I somehow forgot to mention to him what else will happen the instant the discs stop working. Newton’s laws can be a real bitch…”
A fraction of an instant after those words left D’Hoffryn’s lips, each of the fifty manna-absorbing artifacts Willow had helped Xander craft five and a half years earlier – artifacts that had been soaking up every speck of manna created by the dimension and storing it away – stopped what they were doing.
Another fraction of an instant after stopping, every one of the discs simultaneously explosively released every bit of the manna they’d accumulated over the course of their existence. An equal and opposite reaction, if you will.
The effect on D’Hoffryn and every other demon attuned to Arashmahaar – demons whose basic magical structure was intended to absorb and channel manna – was instantaneous.
The suddenly unleashed magic surged outward to fill every vengeance/justice demon existent throughout the multiverse, with results similar to that of the fate of balloons intended to be filled by your standard tank of helium and which were instead attached to nozzles connected to reservoirs normally used to inflate dirigibles.
Every vengeance/justice demon smiled with delight for a fraction of a second as they felt their bodies nigh-instantly re-empowered to their maximum capability by the abruptly released energy, only to then realize that the surging manna continued to pour into them in an irresistible flood, stretching them to their very limits and then beyond.
Long before any of them could even consider how to react to this unexpected development, D’Hoffryn and all of his minions felt, for the briefest fraction of an instant, their bodies bloat with the power surging through them before then exploding into a miasma of subatomic particles so miniscule as to be essentially undetectable.
In Arashmahaar itself, the instantaneous release of the stockpiled manna ravaged the areas surrounding each of the discs out to a distance of seventy-five miles, transforming the landscape into a glassed-over and devastated ruin.
That fact was somewhat superfluous in the overall scheme of things, however, since nothing living survived anywhere in the dimension, a fact eventually discovered after the passage of several months when several of D’Hoffryn’s former business associates decided to investigate the ongoing absence of the demon lord and found only a lifeless and desolate environment incapable of supporting any form of life.
News of Arashmahaar’s destruction spread quickly throughout the various local groupings of the multiverse and rumors and questions concerning who or what might be responsible proliferated like weeds in the spring.
No being ever stepped forward publically and accepted responsibility for the destruction of an entire dimension and the genocide of its inhabitants and, probably because of that, the story of Arashmahaar spread further and further afield as time passed, eventually coming to stand as a cautionary tale to the more overly ambitious and bloodthirsty species sprawling across the various levels of Creation.
Rumors sprang up sporadically linking Earth and Arashmahaar’s ultimate fate, but were generally dismissed as mere conjecture or fantasies on the part of whoever suggested them, but an impartial observer would have eventually noticed that the wiser demons seemed to avoid any plans involving the small planet. Especially since those that didn’t, didn’t seem to survive long enough to complain about it.
Meanwhile, the Harris family grew and prospered as most families do, with Xander and Buffy Harris reveling in the ever-increasing multiplicity of generations they presided over.
While vengeance might be best when served cold, life was best lived with passion.