"I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias
I love this quote. When I was younger my mother used to tell me, "The only thing constant in this world is change, sweetie". She was trying to tell me that I would grow up soon and be able to do all the things that I wanted, but I took it to heart. It's now one of the guiding forces in my life.
Disclaimer: For the the last time...I know nothing about the pig in the bathroom!!!
"I'm not pouting," claimed the obviously sulking slayer.
"Sure you're not, B," Faith chuckled.
"It's pick-on-Buffy-day, isn't it?" Buffy groused as they walked back into the campus ahead of the rest of the slayers. The others on the in team had been eying Buffy and muttering. They obviously didn't know what to make of the older slayer coming back to life. Much less coming back so much more powerful than all of them. There was bound to be some resentment and questions once they started wondering where she had been for the past five years.
"I got to say, Red," Faith interrupted her musing; "I really like this whole method of transportation a lot better than being crammed in a C-130. Those things kinda suck for long distance. Why didn't we do this stuff before?"
"I couldn't do it before, Faith," Willow admitted. "I've gotten a bit of a power boost lately."
"Oh?" Faith cocked her head and then nodded, "Cool."
Willow smiled, that was the wonderful thing about Faith. She just accepted things and moved on, no questions asked. Unfortunately, the rest of the Council might not be so accepting. After a bit of rest, sewing up a dimensional tear could take it out of a girl, Willow had literally transported over thirty people from the middle of the Mexican wilderness to the Cleveland suburbs with absolutely no preparation or materials. Buffy wasn't the only one that was going to be receiving looks after people started figuring that out.
"I don't think I could have done it if they weren't mostly slayers," Willow cocked her head and mused, "It's not necessarily the distance traveled that makes teleportation so hard, but the weight carried. Somehow the slayers are lighter than regular humans, even magick users. Maybe it's cause I'm using slayer power...?"
"I'll leave the theorizing to you and the Watchers," Faith quickly waved her off and continued into the foyer of the building. "I'm just a point and shoot girl."
"All hail the conquering heroes," Dawn greeted them dryly from the staircase. The younger Summers was elegant and refined as she waited with one hand on the banister. Then she abandoned her pose and rushed down to Buffy and Willow, engulfing them in a hug that reminded Buffy how young she still was.
"Don't ever scare me like that again," Dawn sniffed and whispered in their ears, "I've got enough problems with the mini-slayers. I don't need you two adding to them."
"Love you too, brat." Buffy hugged Dawn back fiercely.
"Let's get everyone inside and checked over." Giles walked down the stairs that ran into the foyer behind Dawn. "Dr. Pratchett wants to give everyone a look over, just in case."
"You heard the man," Faith yelled at the gathered slayers, who had immediately groaned. "Drop your gear and go get poked by the doc."
"I'll go keep an eye on them," Lucky offered as they reluctantly began to shuffle out. "This looks like it's gonna take a while."
"You sure?" Faith asked.
"Yeah," Lucky nodded, "This is a Sunnydale thing. Besides, I'll make you tell me about it later."
"My office?" Willow asked Giles as Lucky walked off to take care of the girls.
"Xander is already there." He eyed both the witch and the slayer. "I believe you two need to explain a few things."
"I feel like I'm back in high school," Buffy muttered as they made their way up the stairs. Giles was in front of them with Dawn and Faith trailing behind. "Like I'm being sent to the principal."
"I never got sent to the principal," Willow gloated a little.
"You're on thin ice right now, missy," Buffy sulked and crossed her arms. "Don't push it by mentioning your non-detentiony status."
"Don't worry, my little career criminal," Willow drew Buffy in by a hand on her waist and kissed the side of her head as they got off the stairs and went down the hall, "I still love you. Even if you are a repeat offender."
They all walked into Willow's big office and began to arrange themselves, Dawn falling down next to Xander on the couch and Faith sliding into a high back chair, crossing her booted feet on the low table. Giles watched from his matching chair. They were all facing Buffy and Willow who chose to remain standing, hands linked together.
"Now I feel like I'm on American Idol, waiting to see who's gonna be eliminated," Willow whispered after a few moments of staring.
"Oooh! I wanna be Kara DioGuardi, the new judge!" Dawn raised her hand in the air excitedly.
"And leave me as Paula Abdul?" Faith snorted, "I don't think so!"
"Why don't we get back to business, hmmm?" Giles interrupted.
"I think we all know who's gonna be Simon...," Dawn stage whispered, causing Faith to smirk and even Xander to crack a grin. Buffy and Willow tried and failed to hide their giggles when Giles just sighed and cleaned his glasses.
"Oh, come on guys," Willow sighed and dragged Buffy over to the love seat, "It's still us. We're just a little more than we were before, that's all."
"But how much more?" Giles asked, slipping his glasses on again. "You'll forgive me, Willow, but our last experience with you gaining considerably more power was not a pleasant one."
"Giles!" Buffy growled.
"No," Willow laid a hand on her arm, "he's right. I haven't exactly handled power well in the past. But I'm not the person I once was, Giles. I'd like to think I've grown up a little."
"That is true," Giles acknowledged, "You have grown up considerably in the past six years. And frankly that's one of the few things that's keeping me from panicking completely."
Xander snorted, causing everyone to look over at him. "Sorry," he coughed, "I was just trying to imagine what a panicking Giles would look like. Totally inappropriate," he shrunk back from the glare Giles sent him, "I realize now the error of my ways. Bad mind, bad!"
"Why don't we explain as much as we can," Buffy said after hiding her grin from the offended Brit. "Then if you have any questions, you can just ask. We'll try to answer what we can, just realize that this stuff is still relatively new even to us."
"Fair enough," Giles nodded, "please begin."
"You wanna do it," Buffy asked Willow, "You're much better at the 'splainy thing than I am."
"Okay," Willow agreed and turned to her friends, "Apparently this all started a long time ago, back when the Slayer was first being made. See, the Shadow Men didn't tell us everything...,"
Buffy sat back as Willow explained what had happened to them. It was interesting to study her friends as they absorbed the information. She could smell the faint haze of magick and old blood surrounding Giles, overlaid with the musty scent of old books. His posture was alert and focused, centered entirely on Willow's explanation, obviously interested. Dawn was focused as well, but her mind also seemed to working on something else at the same time. Her eyes flickering a bit as her intelligent mind raced along.
Buffy had always thought it a little unfair that Dawn had seemed to get all the brains, even though they were technically made of the same stuff. Not to mention the height. Maybe it was the essence of the Key that still permeated her being. Back when she was just a normal slayer, Buffy had never been able to notice a difference between Dawn and any other human. Now that she was the Original she could sense a low, powerful vibration that seemed to emanate from her sister. It was a little on the wacky side and she wondered what Willow saw when she looked at her. She'd have to remember to ask her some day.
"So now you're some kind of omega-level mutants, like Jean-Grey or something?" Xander asked, bringing Buffy back to the present. Apparently explanation time was over.
"Kinda," Willow cocked her head at the reference, "Actually, that's a pretty good reference. Only I'm the one that can manipulate matter, not Buffy."
"Yeah, I didn't get any of the neat magickal tricks," Buffy grinned. Xander actually seemed to be willing to converse with her today, wonder of wonders.
"But all the power flows through her," Willow told them, "Imagine she's like a spindle, taking all the raw power and spinning it down to a thread that I can work with. It's kinda neat how they managed that actually."
"Fascinating," Giles murmured. "Though I'm not quite up on the reference of the omega-class...whatever, I believe I understand. You can manipulate matter at its basic atomic level exponentially, yes?"
"Basically," Willow nodded, "Any witch or sorcerer can do it, but it's very hard and usually requires a lot of preparation and power. Most people simply don't have the power available to do it on a large scale and even if they did, their bodies couldn't handle it. They'd burn up. The PTB's managed to change me enough that I could handle it and now, with Buffy's help, I have access to the power."
"So," Xander asked, "you guys are joined at the hip now or something?"
"No choice really," Buffy nodded, "For it to work we almost had to be tied together. Not that that's a bad thing."
"Yeah," Willow agreed coyly, "I think I can live with it."
"So what was all that about coming back undercover?" Xander asked, narrowing his eyes and shifting uncomfortably at their display of affection. "Cause as far as I can see, you didn't do much. If you just wanted to come in and save us at the last minute, you could have stayed away."
"Xander...," Dawn started.
"No, it's okay," Buffy told her., "He makes a good point. I had two reasons for that. I knew something was coming and I knew I would need Willow's help to stop it."
"You knew that those guy's would be coming after the baby slayers?" Xander growled.
"How?" Faith interjected, "None of our girls even got a hint of a slayer dream!"
"Who do you think gives you those dreams now, Faith?" Buffy cocked her head and an odd look came into her eyes.
"What the hell, Buffy?!" Xander jumped up, "We lost girls during those raids! If you knew it was coming, why didn't you just warn us and let us stop them from getting the girls in the first place?!"
"Slayers die!" Buffy snarled out, shaking her head and sending her hair flying. They just didn't understand. "It's an inevitable thing," she tried to explain. "I can't stop it from happening. It's their purpose to stand in between the demons and the rest of the world. I only get glimpses of the future. There isn't just one path, there's millions. For every decision that's made, a dozen new futures pop up."
"Believe it or not, Xander," Willow took Buffy's hand in hers and tried to clarify, "What happened, even though there were deaths, was the best possible path. If Buffy had alerted you to what the Magnolia Corporation was doing, what would you have done?"
"Sent a team after them," Dawn said immediately. "Shut them down hard."
"And they would have been waiting for you," Buffy told her, "I saw it! Every path I sent you down, hundreds, possibly thousands died! Until I came across this. This one, tiny, possible future."
"It's like the PTB's said," Willow said, "There are forces on the other side that are constantly working against us. Just like us, they try to manipulate the future to their own purposes. The question is, who's better at it?"
"So it's like some weird, long-running chess game?" Dawn asked with wide eyes.
"More like weiqi," Buffy answered, squeezing her head, "There are infinite moves and possibilities. It makes my brain hurt sometimes. I'm just glad Willow's here now, 'cause she's much better at the logical stuff than I am."
"Poor baby," Willow petted Buffy's head.
"Stop with the visuals!" Xander demanded, throwing up his arms. "I've got enough problems wrapping my head around the fact that you two are..." he made some weird hand gestures. "I don't need images of it running through my brain."
"You always asked for details when I was dating women before," Willow narrowed her eyes at her best friend.
"Yes, but those girls weren't girls named Buffy!" Xander spat, "You weren't sleeping with someone who ran out us!"
"Look!" Buffy finally snapped. Her patience worn thing. She'd suppressed her annoyance just because Xander was who Xander was. To her, he smelled so comfortably normal. The only one in the room that was just himself, with no outside influences. She loved him, but the insults were getting a little tiring. "I'm sorry you're not comfortable with me and Willow being the way we are, and I'm sorry that you feel I abandoned you, but that's the way things are. We love you Xander, we always will, and I'm willing to sit down and talk anytime you want to. Until then, just deal with it!"
Dawn looked over at Buffy. It relieved her a little that Buffy had snapped at Xander, it was what the old Buffy would have done. Since she'd been back, Buffy had been acting so mature and enlightened, it had been really wiggy. Dawn loved that her sister had grown up and all but she'd been wondering if all that Original stuff the Shadowmen had shoved into her had driven her wacky.
"I believe we are getting off topic," Giles rallied them back like he always did. Sometimes he felt like he was herding cats. "All of this is fascinating, but it does little to help us with our problem. We need to identify the real masterminds behind the Magnolia Corporation and shut them down for good. I trust you have no objection to our going after them now?"
"No," Buffy shook her head, "The future is a blur. Both sides are in a state of shock from the events and are planning. It's up to you guys now."
"Why don't we just send B and Red in to stomp the hell out of them?" Faith gestured at Buffy. "Not that I want to give you all the action, get me, but you're like Superman now or something. Why not use it?"
"We're limited in how much we can do now," Willow shook her head. "In actual fact, we're not even supposed to exist on this plane of existence any more. The regular slayers are supposed to deal with any problems that crop up here. The only time the Original is allowed to take corporeal form is to deal with major demons who break through the dimensional barrier."
"So why...?" Dawn reached over and poked Buffy in the arm, who frowned at her. "Cause you seem pretty solid like to me."
"Technically, this is considered a training period," Willow told her, "The PTB's have some sort of treaty in place that allows us to get used to our new powers. It'll last about the length of our regular mortal lives and then we won't be allowed back."
"Well that sucks," Faith scowled.
"Why?" Xander asked, "Immortality and infinite powers...sounds good to me."
"Bullshit," Faith snorted, "Think about it. Their gonna be fighting for forever! It'll be like being back in Sunnydale, no backup, all on your own. No friends and no rest. You gotta understand, X-man, being a Slayer alone...you start looking forward to the end. That whole 'death is your gift' shit wasn't a joke."
They were all silent for a moment after Faith's rant, remembering the time in Sunnydale, especially the period surrounding Glory. How Buffy had seemed almost happy to fling herself off of the platform. How when she had come back she had seemed to hate living and all she'd wanted to do was go back to Heaven. Now, neither she nor Willow would get that chance for a long, long time.
"I must say, brother," Zeak said as he rested his chin on his fist, "this was quite an unusual outcome. You were right, that Buffy girl was an unexpected hazard. I'll give you credit for that." There were a series of muffled shrieks and other noises from the only other person in the room.
"Oh, don't be so silly," Zeak said, "Of course you deserve this. You might have been correct about the slayer, but if you had simply done your job right and gathered up enough girls we would have had three rituals and not just one. As powerful as they are, I doubt the slayer and the witch could have been in more than one place at the same time!"
He walked over to Titus as he hung upside down, dangling from the ceiling by a rope that had been soaked in holy water. It wouldn't kill him, but it would burn slowly through his skin. An itching, festering pain. Zeak reached out and put his finger of Titus's chest, frowning as it burned a small hole into his brother's flesh.
"I'm of two minds on how to deal with you," Zeak told him. "Of course, I'm always of two minds on how to deal with you...you know that. The demon wants to kill you, Titus. It wants to rip your heart out and crush it like a grape. But then, it always wants to kill you...and everything else for that matter."
Zeak frowned again and used magick to spark a small bit of flame in his hand, then snuffed it out again with a jerky movement. Titus struggled some more within his bonds, causing him to sway back and forth a bit.
"That's why I'm in charge, you know," Zeak's voice was almost contemplative as he compulsively began creating fire and snuffing it out, the flames taking different shapes as he paced back and forth. "When I made that deal so many years ago to become a vampire, it allowed me to keep my soul and thus my real personality. The other villagers were stupid to be so afraid. If you approach it right, being undead isn't that bad. Vampiric demons are stupid little things really. They're very cunning, but they lack the self-control and intelligence to actually do much harm. They usually go crazy with bloodlust the first few years after creation, get noticed, and get themselves killed off."
"But you know that, don't you, brother?" Zeak ignored the muffled screams coming from Titus as drew his fingernail down Titus's leg, causing it to bubble and bleed. "You weren't strong enough, you're soul got taken away and all that's left is the demon. I had to be strong enough for the both of us. So that I could take care of you like I promised mother."
Titus moaned and finally drooped in his bonds, his body a mass of oozing wounds and burns. Zeak ignored this as he continued, caught up in his own world.
"The magick made me stronger," Zeak muttered, remembering the first time he'd figured out that he could actually work magick. Crouched in the fetid alley with the tattered and molding book, a knife, and the prostitute. She'd been screaming just the way Titus was, the sound muffled behind the gag. "But it wasn't enough! I couldn't handle the type of power I wanted, the type I needed!" Then he'd found out about vampires. It had been a wonderful find, and a plan had begun forming in his mind.
"It was so simple really," Zeak told Titus, "The demon would provide the power and keep my body from destroying itself and I would provide the intelligence and the magickal gift." He'd tried to do the same for his brother, but Titus just hadn't been strong enough. "And now I'm left with you," Zeak looked over at the figure hanging like a slab of meat.
It wasn't really his brother, he knew that. But it was the only thing he had left and he had promised his mother.
"I'm glad the witch appreciated my spell," Zeak abruptly changed the subject. He didn't want to think about his brother like that. "I did go to a lot of trouble to get it set up. I must say that their approach to defeating it was rather novel. I would never have anticipated them actually bringing the chaos demon over to this side of the barrier and then defeating it. It seems both the slayer and the witch have gained considerable power. Power doesn't mean everything, though."
"It should be fairly easy to step into plan C," he muttered, rubbing a hand along the bristles of his chin. "We'll just drop the Magnolia front, they found it anyway, and move on..."
"PAY ATTENTION!" Zeak roared suddenly, leaning down and slapping his brother violently across the face. Titus grunted in pain. "This is why you're so weak! You never pay attention. You never learn. I'm sitting here telling you how to defeat the slayers and you're ignoring me!"
Zeak whimpered a bit, "Oh brother," Zeak sighed, "I suppose I shouldn't expect more from you. You're just being yourself, after all." He snapped his fingers and Titus found himself swaying on his own two feet, the rope gone. The injuries on his body remained, however.
"You need to keep those," Zeak told him as Titus looked up at him, "Maybe they'll remind you not to be so stupid next time. But you're still my brother, Titus, and I'll protect you. Now come along and I'll tell you what we're going to have to do to defeat the slayers now."
"Y....Y...Y..You g..g..got a p.p.p..plan?" Titus asked as he limped along with his brother out of the door.
"Of course, I have a plan! It's all about thinking ahead, brother. They may think they have won, but this was merely a little skirmish. The Final Battle is a ways off and we have all the time in the world to plot and plan, to make them fall." Zeak smiled and Titus shuddered a little. His brother's eyes were glowing red again. "But let's go get you something to eat first. You've got to be hungry after all that....and we have all the time in the world..."
"It's not gonna be all that bad," Buffy interrupted everyone's horrible thoughts with her abrupt comment. "Yeah, we'll have to fight and stuff, but we won't be alone. That's what really matters. I'm not alone anymore." She smirked over at Willow, "But if I don't get my reward kisses, I'm not sure how long this relationship will last."
"You're such a baby," Willow kissed her lightly on the lips while Xander groaned and Faith and Dawn smirked. Giles just set about polishing his glasses.
"That's it?" Buffy demanded indignantly, "One measly little peck? Our souls have been joined together for eternity and all I get is one little peck? Can't we move this along...?"
"Oh no," Willow smiled and shook her head, getting up to leave, "If I remember correctly you said you were courting me. That involves dating and romance and...and gifts, lots of gifts."
"Romance? Gifts?!" Buffy trailed after her toward the door. The rest of the Scoobies followed, interested in hearing the rest of the conversation.
"Yeah," Willow mused, "I want gifts. Like roses...or...or those little tiny, candied hearts that they give out on Valentines day that say things like "I Love U" with a U instead of Y-O-U, you know? I want some of those..."
Their voices trailed off as they walked out the door and Giles just groaned, "How the world has survived this long, I'll never know!"
weiqi(Chinese): also known as Go is a strategic board game for two players. It is also known as igo (Japanese) or baduk (Korean). Go is noted for being rich in strategic complexity despite its simple rules.
The game is played by two players who alternately place black and white stones (playing pieces, now usually made of glass or plastic) on the vacant intersections of a grid of 19×19 lines. The object of the game is to control a larger portion of the board than the opponent. A stone or a group of stones is captured and removed if it has no empty adjacent intersections, the result of being completely surrounded by stones of the opposing color.
Placing stones close together helps them support each other and avoid capture. On the other hand, placing stones far apart creates influence across more of the board. Part of the strategic difficulty of the game stems from finding a balance between such conflicting interests. Players strive to serve both defensive and offensive purposes and choose between tactical urgency and strategic plans.
So we've come a long way in the last 35 chapters (wow, that's a lot) and we've had some good times and some even better ones. I hope you've enjoyed the tale so far (yes, there will be more, i've got plans for at least two;). I will be going back and cleaning up and making a few changes to the story (mostly fixing mistakes that people along the way have noticed) but the overall storyline shouldn't change.
I'd like to thank all the people that have been both following and reviewing the story. It's you guys that keep me going when I don't want to sit down and write anymore (my fingers are tired!:(
I would also like to send a special shout out to Whedonist for being my Beta and thus enduring all my whining, missing of deadlines, and general allaround crankiness. You da' bomb!
Willow - looks around forest- What are we doing here, Buffy?
Buffy - I wanted to introduce you to someone who taught me a lot while I was training.
Willow - I thought Master Shin lived in China. We're in Oregon.
Buffy - points to a chattering squirrel - No, not Master Shin. I want you to meet Mr. Tails.
Willow - stares wide-eyed - What the...?
Ta-da! I leave you with another favorite quote of mine.
"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery."
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan