Chapter One - Prologue
BTVS, its characters and the world it depicts isn't mine. It belongs to Joss and all those other people who helped him make it a reality.
'Dungeons and Dragons' isn't mine either. That was a wonderful idea thought up by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, and is currently owned by Wizards of the Coast.
The campaign world this story is set in, however is
mine - as are most of the various characters who live there.
This is something of an experiment, as I will be trying to adhere to D&D rules (2nd edition mostly) in writing these tales - which means having to keep stats on all the characters, their spells and their magic items, as well as rolling dice whenever combat is initiated. I am, however, likely to exercise a certain amount of DM's discretion on occasions. It's my world, and the gods are on my side ...
Bath, Somerset, England - in the world overseen by the Powers that be ...
Rule number one is ‘don’t die’ – which is pretty easy to remember, although equally easy to break, given the variety of vampires, demons and evil sorcerers lurking in the kind of places she tended to visit these days.
Rule number two is either ‘don’t let Dawn out of your sight on a Tuesday’ or ‘don’t step too close to strange portals, especially when you don’t know where they lead.’ Since it wasn’t Tuesday, the presence of the howling, lightning filled, swirly light in the middle of the room was something of an inevitability. As the group that had summoned it hadn’t even known they were summoning anything, let alone risking the end of the world, the situation was well out of hand; she and Giles were therefore busy breaking rule number two in order to prevent the possibility of rule number one being broken for the entire citizenry of Bath – not to mention potentially applying on a global basis.
Which would not be good, whichever way you looked at it …
Andrew had been the one to alert them, shuffling into the Council’s library to sheepishly admit that, in his hurry to get to his regular gaming group the previous evening, he’d accidentally picked up a couple of highly dangerous volumes along with his usual gaming resources – and that neither book had been in his briefcase when he’d unpacked it that morning. Giles had cursed and started checking his catalogues to identify what was missing. Willow, who wasn’t even officially in the country, let alone meant to be working (she was less dropping by for a casual visit
, and more hiding out with Giles after a bad break-up,
)had started dowsing the local maps to see if she could locate any unexpected magical hotspots. When the first pulse of energy had washed over the city, it had taken all three of them unawares.
It hadn’t been directed, malevolent
energy, like the opening of a hellmouth, or the summoning of some ultra big-bad. It had just been energy
. Raw, chaotic, and totally uncontrolled. All of Willow’s shields had snapped up the moment it had touched her. Giles had somehow managed to redirect the attack into the book he was holding - which had instantly transmuted itself into a flutter of a papyrus winged butterflies – and Andrew had just as instantly collapsed into a shivering heap, overwhelmed by the shock. There’d been several Slayers in the building – mostly trainees, but one or two experienced seniors – half of whom had dropped unconscious, while the other half had been incapacitated by nauseating migraines.
Ten minutes later - while Giles was still checking that no-one was seriously hurt and Willow was staring frantically at the map – the second pulse had hit. This time Willow had been ready for it. She’d caught the power, channelled it into the office’s wards, and used to raise a barrier to deflect any further attacks.
“It’s localised. But growing,” she’d been able to identify, trying not to imagine the impact of further bursts of power, each stronger than the last. She’d have been able to protect the Council buildings – for a while at least – but the rest of the city (and beyond that the whole of England ) was more than even her skill and power could achieve. Psychic sensitives, the magically inclined and anyone with a supernatural taint would be going down like nine-pins. Bigger pulses would take out the less sensitive members of the population – and after that, reality itself could start to break down …
“Ten to one it’s Corvian’s Sigil
,” Giles had explained, nodding when Willow had pointed to the University campus as the epicentre of the magical earthquake. “Some of that’s in relatively modern Latin. If they’ve read any of it out loud, started misquoted passages …”
“Can we counter it? Reverse it?” she’d asked, shivering from the raw impact of the forces she’d had to work with.
Giles had had to think about it, diving for other references on his shelves. “If I can get to the book … and if you can shield me while I work … yes, I think so.”
It was a slender chance – but then, slender
was better than none, and since the alternative was to try and evacuate the area and pray that the chaos storm eventually burnt itself out … well, that wasn’t an alternative at all, really.
So they’d left hasty instructions with a still whoozy Andrew, jumped into Giles’ car and headed towards the campus, hoping they could get there before things got completely out of hand. There’d been no time to call in any help, or even let anyone else know what was happening; Willow had had to focus on deflecting the pulses of power so that Giles was protected enough to drive – and Giles had been busy breaking speed limits and avoiding swerving drivers who didn’t have a really, really powerful witch sitting in their passenger seat making sure they weren’t going to pass out.
Fortunately they hadn’t had to go far – although by the time they reached the student halls that were at the centre of the storm, the walls of the building were beginning to pulse in synchronicity with the energy bursts that were tearing through them. They’d both plunged in regardless. Giles had raced up steps, charged along corridors and slammed open doors until he’d found the right one. Willow had stayed hard on his heels, keeping them both protected as best she could – and then they’d stumbled on the swirling, dancing lightshow, which looked a lot like a smaller version of the portal Glory had tried to open, back in Sunnydale.
And was just as dangerous.
Portals usually go somewhere
– but this phenomenon seemed to be more like a rip in reality, a tear in the fabric that wove dimensions together. She’d thought to find the pulses of energy surging in from the other side, like blood pumping from an arterial wound – but the force wasn’t coming through
the tear – it was coming from the tear itself, surges of power and magic being released as the tensions of ordered existence slowly stretched and snapped, exposing something that felt raw and wild and somehow primal
. As if the materials from which space and time had been made still swirled and danced between the ordered weaving of worlds and dimensions.
The room itself was a mess; books and papers were swirling round it in all directions, some of them being sucked into the swirling hole in … well everything
… while others fluttered around its edges like flies caught on flypaper. The air smelt of ozone, and there were at least three unconscious figures lying on the floor – the students, Willow realised, probably knocked out the moment the portal opened. It didn’t look as if anyone had been dragged into the rift yet.
But then the day was still young …
Giles paused to assess the scene – and then closed his eyes in a moment of pained realisation. The book they were looking for was among those swirling round the very edges of the portal, pages fluttering in the rising wind. Other detritus jostled against it, battered notebooks, thin hardbacks with lurid covers, and half empty ring binders adding to the confusion. There was only one way to get it – and that was to step right up to the vortex, reach into the chaos, and pluck it out of the air.
Which – after a world-weary glance in her direction that clearly said I’m getting too old for this
– was exactly what Giles did.
Willow bit back her instinctive cry of protest and alarm, and focused on keeping them both shielded as best she could. It was easier now that she’d realised that the energy originated in their own dimension; she reached down to anchor her connections to the Earth and out
to redirect the flares of power away from both the rift and the man currently standing right in front of it. Not all of it bounced away from her shields. There was enough force behind each pulse to push a percentage of it through; she caught most of it, using it to reinforce her stance, but the rest reverberated around the protected space, setting her teeth on edge and her body trembling. Giles’ face was creased in concentration as he hastily flicked through the battered tome, but Willow knew he was feeling it too. They had to hurry. She couldn’t keep this up forever, and here – right at the heart of the storm – the forces that swirled around them were both unstable and unsettling. They were born from the breakdown of reality. Who knew what kind of damage they could do?
“All right.” Giles had found what he was looking for. He glanced up and threw Willow what was probably meant to be a reassuring smile – which it was, in its way. She wasn’t fooled though. He’d found something, something that meant saving the world, but – as usual – there was a price to be paid. They were going to do this. Surviving it?
Probably another matter entirely.
Giles flicked over a page, then back, checking the words and probably double checking the syntax with them. It wouldn’t do to get the counter working wrong. Not with the world unravelling barely inches from where he stood. “This doesn’t look too difficult ....”
She could see his hands trembling, struggling to keep the book steady. There was a limit to the amount of power she could deflect; his face was worryingly pale and his head, like hers, was probably pounding in time with the pulses. The text was probably dancing in front of his eyes. It said a lot for his strength of soul that he was still focused and on his feet.
“Oh?” she asked, shuddering as another soul shaking assault flared out around them. Neither of them could take much more of this. “What’s the catch?”
He looked up and met her eyes. His were haunted, and somehow they managed to convey horrified apology, weary acceptance and grim fury all at once. “It’s just a few words and a focused direction of will. Stop the tearing, reweave a little of the breach and the natural patterns of existence should reassert themselves quickly. The rest will close up in seconds. Leave a little .. thinning of the walls perhaps, but … nothing worse.”
He drew in a deep breath. “The reweaving? Has to be done from the other side …”
She knew why he was angry. She was angry herself – angry that the entire fiasco had been caused by foolish inattentiveness and innocent play. There was a reason that Giles tried to keep books like the Sigil
locked up behind spell strengthened glass – and not just because eager, curious minds, overconfident in their abilities, might be tempted to reach that little further than their knowledge or skill would safely allow. She’d been lucky – more than lucky in some ways, despite the high price she’d paid for her irresponsible impatience – but some books were just plain dangerous
; the spells and rituals they contained were the magical equivalent of tactical nukes, and reading them without proper preparation or long hours of study and meditation was equivalent to setting them off in their own launching bays.
She understood his world-weary acceptance too: Giles might occasionally harbour thoughts of a quiet retirement with long days spent in a sunlit library with little more to worry about than making his next cup of tea – but he wasn’t the sort of man to sacrifice the safety of world in favour of his own comfort or the pursuit of personal dreams. He’d learnt the consequences of that
the hard way, and he’d been trying to make up for his youthful lack of judgement ever since. Save himself, or save the world? No contest – and not one moment of that decision would be concerned with justifying it with pride or delusions of chosen destiny. He’d just get on with what was necessary. The way he always did.
It was the apology she didn’t get. Because right now there didn’t seem to be anything for him to apologise for
. And certainly not to her.
“The other side?”
He nodded, turning to stare into the depths of nothingness that raged beyond the ragged rip in the world. “There’s a theory,” he murmered, “that Corvian was a traveller from another dimension. That the Sigil
was his guide book – a way to move between the planes of existence. Open a doorway, step through – and then close the hole behind you – leaving you in the world that lies on the other side …”
no world on the other side.” Willow stared at him, the knots in her stomach tightening with sick inevitability. “There’s just … nothing …”
Her voice trailed away as she put two and two together and came up with hopeless odds and an equation that couldn’t be solved by replacing x
with one. The rift could be closed – if the spell were cast by someone standing on the other side of it. But there was nothing to stand on on the other side – and if the spell caster were busy focusing on making
something to stand on, then they wouldn’t have the focus needed to cast the closing spell …
Giles had looked so horrified – and so desperately apologetic about the whole impossible situation. If he’d been able to make that selfless sacrifice alone, he’d have probably just turned and walked into the rift without a word of explanation – because, next to saving the world, protecting the people he cared about came top of the list. He’d never willingly sacrifice her
. Unwillingly, perhaps – and with a great deal of grief and guilt – but it would never be a conscious choice, putting his own life ahead of hers. Any more than he would give up Buffy, or Xander, or Dawn … or even Faith or Andrew, for that matter.
Of course, if he had, she’d probably have screamed, and used her power, and pulled him back
– because there was no way she’d be able to let him go like that. But it wasn’t a matter of choice, or willingness.
Neither of them could close the breach alone.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “This has gone too far to close in any other way …”
Her mind raced, trying to defy his words, deny his conclusions. There had
to be another way. Why couldn’t they weave across the tear from this
side? Or hammer a mystic patch across the breach, the way Xander used to board up broken windows ..?
While she struggled for solutions the rip tore open a few more inches. Power flared in protest. Reality pulsed and flexed.
Willow and the world shuddered with pain.
“Okay,” she said, stepping forward to slip her arms around his waist. Standing that close she could keep her shields around them both with little effort, leaving her free to focus on more important things. “I’ve always wondered what lies on the other side of the world.”
She’d feared he might push her away, might try and protest her choice – but Giles simply lifted his arm and pulled her close, wrapping her in a cloak of warmth and sorrow, one woven with gratitude and regret. “Good girl,” he offered softly. “Ready?” She looked up as he looked down at her and she smiled.
“More than ready. And hey - you’re the Watcher. You do the word weaving thing. Leave me to worry about where we stand …”