Nightmares and Dreamscapes
NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES
Four figures made their way across what could charitably be called a ‘wetlands’. Most people would call it a swamp and wonder what in the hell anyone would be doing in a place like that in the middle of the night.
“Tell me again why we’re here X?”
“Well according to the sources I’ve found, there’s a graveyard near here that contains an opening not unlike the Hellmouth. And when you enter, there are cave paintings that talk about both the beginning and ending of the world.”
“And you know this how?”
“Well the first time someone entered the support person was Randolph Carter.”
“No Faith, his father; but from what he said and wrote down, we should be able to deal with whatever is down there.”
“That’s why you’ve got all this crap?”
“What the hell is all this Xander?”
“I’ll tell ya in a second, let me find the door first then I’ll fill you all in.” After that he consulted a rather moldy bit of parchment and started off in a new direction; oblivious to the complaints that followed him. Very soon they came to the gates of a cemetery that looked like it was a thousand years old. The smell of the place was of rot and decay, and some odd underlying smell; to Oz it almost smelled like the stones themselves were rotting.
“Why in the hell would you put a cemetery here,” Faith asked, “anyone buried here would be soup in a month.”
“Maybe when it was started this area was dry,” Dawn replied, “and the swamp just kind of grew.”
“This is it,” Xander yelled, interrupting their discussion. He was standing in front of three large stones lying on the ground. The stones were huge, like you’d expect to find at Stonehenge and they were an oddish blue-grey color.
“Cool, so is it door number one, door number two or door number three,” Dawn asked in her best ‘Game Show Announcer’ voice.
“Well according to the stories it varies, but from what the Undertaker’s dad salvaged it looks like we open the middle one this time of year.” They broke out the crow bars and jacks and with a little slayer power they had the center stone lifted. What they saw was a stairway leading down into the earth. It was exactly the kind of stairway you’d expect to find there, slimy, moldy and covered in some sort of ooze.
“Shit, these are my favorite boots X.”
“Sorry Faith, send a bill to Carter when we get back.”
“So what kind of crap can we expect to run into, I’ve gotta assume that there’s something down there that doesn’t want us to see what’s on the walls?”
“Well that’s where it gets freakier than normal. All Carter’s pop was doing was listening; he said that the other guy just couldn’t describe it, like it changed all the time. So I’m thinking its something like the blob, only with teeth and a lot smarter.”
“So swords and guns are pretty useless.”
“That’s my guess on the matter.”
“So what does that leave you?”
“Hot and cold,” Oz answered.
“Yep, that and explosives.”
“Damn X, what is it with you and blowing up shit.”
“What can I say Faith, the Fourth of July was always my favorite holiday.”
“Yeah, well it looks like we’ve got enough to orbit Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
“Most of this isn’t explosives.”
“Yeah, then what the hell is it?”
“Well, we’ve got two flame thrower’s, one for me and one for up here; two liquid nitrogen sprayer’s, one for you and one for up here and then some assorted grenades and satchel charges, all of which go with us.”
Faith’s eyes just kept getting larger and larger as Xander rattled off all the firepower they had. “What the hell are you expecting down there?”
“The worst, that way I can’t be unpleasantly surprised.”
“I guess, so what are Pip and Wolfy supposed to do while we’re strolling through hell and taking pictures?”
“Hopefully nothing, but they’re gonna listen in and come running if we need help or close up the entrance if we’re screwed.”
This last bit sobered up Faith a lot and she fitted herself out without saying anything else. “Ready when you are,” she said.
Silently Xander nodded, gave a wan smile to Oz and Dawn and followed Faith down into the earth. Whether it was a trick of the light or some property of where they were, Xander and Faith were soon lost to the dark, so Dawn and Oz turned on the radio to follow their progress.
“Jesus Christ what the hell is that smell, damn Harris, say something the next time ya crack one off like that; my mouth was open and everything.”
“Nice try Faith, but can I just point out that you’re in front of me, and the air is coming at our faces; so if anything I should be bitching about you fouling the air.”
“But it couldn’t have been me.”
“Cause I’m a girl.”
“Girls just don’t do stuff like that.”
“She’s right you know,” Dawn mentioned to Oz, “we don’t do stuff like that.”
Oz didn’t answer, but he did raise his eyebrow skeptically at the young brunette.
“WHAT, that’s all you’ve got to say ‘I’m a girl and girls don’t fart’. That’s your whole argument for how this disgusting damn smell couldn’t come from you?”
“Yeah, ya buying it?”
“Not really, now clam up; it’s getting lighter in here.”
For about a minute and an half all that could be heard was the sound of footsteps, the muted clank of the flamethrower and breathing. Then Xander started talking quietly. “OK we’ve got a large chamber with a lot of pillars, well lit but I really can’t see how and nothing else in sight. It looks like the writing and paintings are along the walls between the pillars. Faith, you start taking pictures and I’ll keep watch.”
For a few minutes all that was heard were quiet instructions and the clicking of the camera. Suddenly, “Faith, we’ve got company.”
“Two O’clock from where you’re standing; Christ what is that thing?”
“Wait Xander, is that . . . . . that thing is moving, what is it, huh, just what the hell is that?”
“Nothing I’ve ever read about or seen, but it’s fast. Get ready to hose it if this doesn’t work.” Then there is the sound of the flamethrower, Xander cackling (sounding very Hyenaish) and a bellow that isn’t really categorizable. It is something like a human’s scream, the bellow of a wounded buffalo and the groaning of a tree that is coming down, only more so. “Shit, it’s stung but it isn’t slowing down, hit it Faith.” This time there is the sound of the slayer’s war cry, followed by the bellowing sound again.
“Now that slowed it a little, but it doesn’t seem to hurt it. What are we gonna do X, if we run that thing’s got us for sure on those stairs.”
“Working on it, can you buy me about 30 seconds?”
“I’ll try, what you got in mind?”
“Something to do with my specialty.”
“Oh crap, well don’t be too long.”
“And don’t take stupid chances.” Then again the sound of the slayer’s war cry rings out, as well as the bellow, but the bellow sounds closer and closer.
“Thirty seconds are up X, what you got for it. Shit is that your fuel tank, and it’s leaking. Please tell me you’re not thinking what I know you’re thinking.”
“Fine I won’t tell you, now dump that damn tank and get going.”
“I go when you go Harris.”
There’s a lot of muttering with the word stubborn being repeated more than once. Then, “bombs away, OK Faith, make tracks.” There is the sound of running feet, and another sound, like slithering in the background, but it is getting louder. Then, an explosion, and a bellow that sounds a great deal more like something in pain rather than something that is just pissed off.
Dawn and Oz felt the ground shake and saw numerous bubbles rise in the swamp around them. Everything went quiet.
“Think ya killed it?”
“Wanna go back and see?”
“Fuck no; I’ve seen all of it I ever want to.”
“Right there with ya babe.” Then it was just the sound of running feet.
“Get ready to knock out the supports,” Dawn heard from below. Then, suddenly, as if they were just conjured there; Faith and Xander were outside the tomb or whatever it was, breathing heavily. She and Oz jumped into action and with a couple of well placed hits, knocked the supports out and watched as the door (for lack of a better term) closed with a ponderous finality. As it closed the ground seemed to bulge a bit, but soon there was only silence and four figures in the moonlight.
Dawn walked up to Xander, who was bent over, hands on his knees; trying to catch his breath, “what was that?”
“No idea Dawnie, I’ve never seen anything like that in either Giles books or the University’s. We had some sort of description from what Carter’s father left, but it was far short of the reality.”
“Can you describe it?”
“No, I really don’t think I can, it was evil, and smart and fluid and changing and . . . . . . .” his voice drifted off and Xander just stood there, eyes glassy.
“Here Pip, I managed to snag a picture with the digital I was carrying as a backup.” Dawn reached out and absently took the camera that Faith was offering, her eyes still on Xander. Truth be told she was a little freaked out at how bad he was. Then she looked at the picture.
Dawn Summers could speak eight languages like a native, and read fifteen more but none of them possessed any adjectives that could describe what she was seeing. As she tried to focus on the image, her head started swimming, and soon she was adding the contents of her stomach to the surrounding swamp. “That is just obscene, in every sense of the word,” she gasped out once she could again speak.
“Tell me about it, and that was the still version, you should’ve seen it moving.”
“No thank you, this was bad enough,” Dawn declared, waving the camera.
“Can I . . . .” Oz began.
“NO,” three voices answered back.
“Then we probably ought to be getting back,” he suggested.
The four of them piled back into their rented SUV and started back towards the hotel they were staying at. Oz took it upon himself to drive; the other’s seemed too out of it to be trusted. He considered his three companions, friends that had known each other for years, and yet they seemed to have no trouble letting him into the circle of their friendship. They trusted him to control his other half, ‘even under extreme circumstances,’ he thought as the light of the full moon poured in through the windshield. He had found something with them, something that he hadn’t even known he’d been missing. He had found a purpose. He resolved right then and there to take Xander up on his offer, to teach about what went bump in the night, and more importantly; to make sure that the world stayed spinning under their feet. With a small smile on his face he drove through the silent night.
In the back, Xander was leaning against the door and feigning sleep. His adrenalin was bleeding off and he was finally reacting to what had happened below the graveyard that night. His mind refused to think about the monster, shying away from that train of thought like a skittish colt; instead it focused on the glimpses he’d had of the writing and the pictures on the wall. They had been monstrous, and utterly inhuman; appropriate considering that they had been put there long before humans had even been a species. The alien-ness of the things that he had learned seemed to grow in his head; soon he could feel his body start to tremble in an involuntary fear reaction. Xander tried to keep it under control, and he did; but just barely.
Faith was freaking out; quietly, but she was freaking out. There weren’t many times in her life that she’d run into anything that she felt she couldn’t kill one way or another; and that had comforted her. Yeah, she might not win the first time out, but she knew that if she had a bit of time she could figure out a way to beat anything she’d run across; until tonight. Faith figured that if she had a year to plan and the full support of an armored division then she might have a slight chance against what they’d run up against tonight. Her mind wouldn’t or couldn’t even focus on the thing, it just created a feeling in her mind of being both huge and invulnerable; and this scared her. One of the things that had made becoming a slayer bearable for her was the notion that nothing could hurt her like the way she had been hurt early on in her life. But now she knew that there was at least one thing out there that could take everything she could throw at it and then blot her out of existence as easily as swatting a fly. She leaned against Xander; she had been amazed at how calm he had been down in the cave. And his calm, business-like demeanor had enabled her to do some of the things she had done, like willingly facing that thing; she snuggled into his side. Then she felt it, his muscles were trembling, and not out of fatigue but fear; she could tell the difference. It occurred to her that he had been just as terrified down there as she had been, but he hadn’t let it affect him until later; in the mean time he had trusted her to buy him some time while he worked out a way for them to get away. In effect Xander had trusted her to not just leave him there and run, saving herself. Considering what they’d been up against, Faith thought that was probably the bravest thing she’d ever seen.
The shower was done and he was ready for bed, Xander just didn’t know if he could sleep. Scratch that, he was pretty darned certain he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He had remembered jumping when he had opened the door to his hotel room, the door swinging open on the dark and scared him more than he would willingly admit. He had subsequently turned on every light in the room and then locked the bathroom door before showering. With a grimace Xander realized that he was gonna be acting a bit freaky for some time to come. He was debating turning off some of the lights before trying to sleep when there was a knock at the door. He jumped again, and even gave a little yelp, well maybe a manly gasp; and went to the door. What he saw surprised him.
“Faith,” he said, opening the door.
“Hey X, can I talk to you for a sec?”
“Sure,” Xander replied, stepping back into the room with the usual Sunnydale invite. “So what’s up?”
Faith didn’t answer at first; her eyes were busy scanning the room and relaxing a little when she saw all of the lights on. Taking a step she turned and looked at him. “I was wondering if I could sleep here tonight?”
Xander looked in her eyes, there was a need there, yes; but it was a different need than he’d seen there before. This was a need for comfort from something you couldn’t quite deal with, and couldn’t talk about. He knew the look well because it had been in his eye as he was drying off from his shower. He was also flattered, he had never seen Faith this openly vulnerable before, he doubted that many people had; but she trusted him enough to be like this. “Sure Faith, just hang on a sec so I can snag a pillow and a blanket and I’ll take the couch.”
He started to move, but she stopped him with a palm in the middle of his chest, she looked scared. “That’s not exactly what I had in mind Xander.”
Xander looked at his friend again, obviously she was more effected than he thought, he also took the time to notice what she had on; she was wearing an old pair of sweats and a Ramones T-shirt. Xander figured that if Faith had seduction on her mind she’d have worn something that showed a bit more skin. Relaxing a little he smiled at her, it was tired but genuine, “sure Faith, I figure I could use a little company tonight as well.”
His smile grew as she relaxed, “you want me to turn out the lights?”
“Most of em,” Faith replied, not taking her eyes off Xander, “but could ya leave one or two on,” her voice faded, “you know.”
“Yeah,” Xander husked out, “I know.” Silently he put out most of the lights as she climbed into bed; he soon followed her. They felt a little awkward at first, but then they reached for each other at the same time and somehow that seemed to break the tension they were both feeling. With little snorts and sighs of contentment they snuggled with each other and slowly dropped off to sleep. It was not the most restful night that either one had ever had, but it was more than they had expected.
Alistair Wyndham-Pryce wasn’t a happy man. It was ironic, he realized, that the source of his current displeasure was a man he had barely known and who certainly didn’t know that Alistair was back in the United States. That the man was also a legend in his profession simply added to the irony. Feelings, Alistair decided, rarely made sense. He sighed again as he watched the bustle of activity around him; slayers that would just glare sullenly when he asked them to do housework were now engaged in an orgy of cleaning without one word of protest. It just wasn’t fair.
Before he had even arrived in Cleveland Alistair had realized that being the Watcher to follow Xander Harris wasn’t going to be a walk in the park; the man had set the bar of expectations incredibly high. Still, Alistair had hopes. But after two months there were signs of only grudging acceptance from most of the people there. Fortunately that wasn’t true of Buffy; however, the rest of the slayers seemed to regard him as some sort of interloper, and not someone who was in it for the long haul. Not to mention the fact that he still got the old “Xander wouldn’t do it that way” at least twice a week; it was bloody annoying. It was as though he was in a constant state of comparison, and it felt like he was always coming out second best. Given all that, maybe it was only natural that he was less than thrilled with the fact that Alexander Harris and friends were coming to Cleveland House for Thanksgiving.
“Don’t pout, it gives you wrinkles,” said a voice at his elbow.
He turned and looked down at the golden hair of the Senior Slayer, “I wasn’t pouting.”
“No you were brooding, which is worse,” she held up a hand to forestall his protests, “trust me, I know brooding. Now was it the usual ‘they worship Xander but won’t give me the time of day’ reason?”
Alistair jumped as he heard this; he had thought his personal feelings in this matter had been well guarded. With her California Cheerleader ways it had been very easy to dismiss Buffy as an air-headed ditz, slowly he was learning that this was a cover, a false front she used to make people underestimate her; but he still forgot from time to time. “Something like that.”
“Well stop it, when you look like that it just makes the girls realize they’re getting to you. Just be yourself and they’ll come around. Oh, and none of that macho stuff when Xander shows up, like trying to break his hand with the handshake or anything like that.”
“Why not, would you pummel me if I did?”
“Nope, wouldn’t have to. If Xander didn’t do it himself then Faith would.”
“Are they together,” he asked with some surprise. In the three months he had been at Cleveland house he had observed the great friendship that existed between Faith, Dawn and Xander. But he had believed that if any two of them would form a relationship beyond friendship it would have been Xander and Dawn.
“I’m not sure, but from what Dawn told me if they’re not then they soon will be.”
Suddenly concerned for the emotional stability of his charges he asked, “how will that go over here, do you think? All of the girls seem to have a crush on him to one degree or another.”
Buffy considered the question, “it’ll be OK, but only because it’s Faith. If it was someone from outside then she’d be toast within five minutes, but they all know Faith, or more importantly, they’re all scared of Faith.”
“That I understand,” Alistair said with a smile, “when I was here I made a suggestion to Faith and she told me to shut up or I’d need a flashlight to find my testicles.”
“Yep, that’s Faith; the queen of subtlety.”
“An excellent and succinct description Buffy, I’ll make a watcher out of you yet,” said a familiar voice.
The two looked up, one with a smile and one with a rather stony and formal expression. “Giles,” Buffy exclaimed and wrapped her arms around her old Watcher in a bear hug.
“Yes, wonderful to see you as well Buffy, but if you don’t take your arms from around me I cannot properly greet Alistair.”
“Oops, sorry Giles, it’s just been so long and . . . .”
“I’ll be sure to make time to catch up later, but for right now could I ask you to supervise the clean-up while Alistair shows me to my room.”
“You’re staying for a while?”
“At least a week.”
“That is so great, see ya Giles,” and with a final hug she was off.
“There are times that I wonder if she ever grew up,” Giles observed to his young counterpart.
“Indeed,” Alistair replied. “I was just thinking something along those lines myself. About how you think you know her and then suddenly you see a facet that you never even suspected of existing,” then shaking the older man’s hand, “it’s good to see you Mr. Giles.”
“Thank you Alistair,” he replied and they began to move deeper into Cleveland House.
“Your room is this way,” Alistair said over his shoulder, “I trust it was a pleasant trip?”
“As pleasant as flying can be. You would think that I’d be used to it after all the time I’ve spent on an airplane, but I still can’t stand it.”
“Sorry to hear that; have you considered purchasing a jet? The council could afford it and at least that way you wouldn’t be seated next to a sweaty fat person that always has to go to the bathroom.”
“Yes, I’ve considered it on more than one occasion, but in my mind that smacks too much of the old council and their way of doing things. No, I shall just put up with the airlines and have the money spent in better ways.”
They had arrived at one of the guest rooms and Alistair opened the door. “I trust you’ll find everything satisfactory.”
“Thank you Alistair, I’m sure I will,” Giles said as he moved into the room. “Now, if you will be so kind as to shut the door, I’d like to speak to you in private.”
“Certainly sir,” the younger man replied with some nervousness evident in his voice.
Seeing this Giles gave a chuckle, “nothing to be scared of Alistair, just an observation and a couple of questions. First off, I believe your family would be proud of how you’ve turned out, especially your father and Wesley.”
“Thank you sir,” Alistair said, blushing at the praise.
“So, how are you fitting in here?”
Alistair sighed, the flush feeling that the compliment had brought faded away like magic, “its slow going sir, every time I feel I’ve started to make progress something will happen to remind me that I’m still at square one.”
Giles gave a rueful chuckle. “Yes, Xander’s fan club can be quite the force, can it not.” The chuckle turned to a full blown laugh at Alistair’s look of incredulity, “you would not believe the time I’ve had to spend dealing with Slayers who wanted him as their Watcher, or Slayers who wanted to be transferred because their Watcher didn’t measure up to Xander. Tell me Alistair, you were here for three months; what is it that makes him so good?”
Alistair absent mindedly sat down as he contemplated the question. He had considered this many times, and wanted to get his thoughts in order. “Honestly I can’t say sir. It seems as though he goes out of his way to ignore everything that being a Watcher is supposed to be about. He embraces the unorthodox rather than the traditional, he was a decent researcher while I was here but openly eschews magic and he is very open with the Slayers; explaining rather than ordering and bending over backwards to accommodate them.”
“But what inspires such loyalty; is he giving up leadership for popularity?”
“No sir, he made some rather difficult and unpopular decisions while I was here.”
“So you have hints but no conclusions?”
“That is correct sir.”
“Then please allow me to enlighten you.”
“You know what it is.”
“I do, but I must confess it took several years and a chance observation by a psychiatrist to bring it all into focus; mostly because it is so simple. He loves them, each and every one; and everything he does is designed to make their lives as normal as possible given their circumstances. We were having a rather vigorous debate on patrolling and such when he told me ‘they’re girls that happen to be slayers, not slayers that happen to be girls’.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither did I at first, but if you think about it, it becomes clear. He treats them as girls, not tools, not weapons, not as expendable assets; but as girls and they love him for it.”
“So you’re saying I should change the way I treat them.”
“Possibly, but I do caution you, do not try to be Xander, there is only one of him; thank God, but you may want to incorporate some of the things he does into your dealings with the Slayers.”
Alistair was silent for a moment, thinking about what he had been told, an oddly petulant look on his face.
“Was there something else,” Giles asked.
“Well,” Alistair started, “I suppose that I’m uneasy being asked to emulate someone who walked away from his duty. If he was truly that good he’d still be a watcher now wouldn’t he?”
Alistair had been unprepared for what had happened. One moment he was talking and Giles was sitting in his chair; the next he found himself being held against a wall and kindly Mr. Giles his boss was nowhere to be seen and Ripper (a character he had only heard of) was fixing him with an Arctic glare. “Alexander Harris is the finest Watcher I’ve ever known, regardless of my feelings for him as a friend. What he is doing now is even more important and he only undertook it with the greatest reluctance because it took him away from so many people that he loved. As I suggested, pay attention to him while he is here; and then if you have any questions about his dedication I would warn you to share them only with me because if you told anyone else I doubt you would walk away from that conversation. Do we understand one another?”
Alistair simply nodded and with that he was released. He sank down into a chair to think about what had just happened and what had been said; unfortunately he didn’t have much time to think as the sound of feet pounding down the hallway broke in. This was followed by two quick raps on the door and then Buffy was poking her head in. “Guys, we’ve got a situation; the two witches say that something’s coming right into the front hall.” And with that, she disappeared, headed back the way she had come.
Giles just quirked his eyebrow at the younger Watcher and together they headed for the weapons cabinet.
They were gathered in a semi-circle facing one corner of the entry hall. “Do we have any idea what to expect,” Buffy asked.
“No,” Melinda, the stronger of the Wiccas, answered, “just that it’s very powerful and it feels odd.”
“Odd, how?” Giles asked.
“Well, it doesn’t really feel like magic, it’s just odd, and powerful.”
Just then the corner of the room started to glow, it wasn’t bright but it was noticeable. The glow increased, but never got to the point where it was unbearable; then it winked out and left four figures standing in front of the assembled slayers and support people. There was silence until finally the tallest figure of the four spoke up, “hey guys, what’s the dire?” He checked his watch, “we’re not late are we?”
Buffy spoke up, “Xander you fuzz-brain, why didn’t you say you’d be traveling by magic.”
“Cause I didn’t Buff, it’s not magic it’s science, well kinda. What’s with the freakage, I said I’d be here at One, and its One.” He looked around nervously, “could you ask everyone to put their lethal implements away?”
“I told you they’d spazz out,” Dawn said with a grin.
“You never said they could feel it coming,” Xander said, sounding indignant.
I didn’t know they could,” Dawn replied; “but I did tell you about the light in the corner didn’t I?”
“Yeah you did Pip,” Faith said as she fished out a five and handed it to the younger woman. Oz didn’t say anything but he looked vaguely disappointed as he handed Dawn a five as well.
As this was going on, Xander eyed the room and finally said, “well, isn’t anyone happy to see me?” The resulting sound was deafening in the enclosed place and Xander soon found himself buried under some very excited young women.
Trying to hide the smidgen of jealousy that had the avalanche of girls had sparked; Faith sauntered over to Buffy, who was already talking animatedly to Dawn. “What d’ya say B, do we want to save him or just clean up what they leave behind.”
Buffy looked at the laughing pile, “we should probably dig him out; if we don’t he won’t be able to carve the turkey.”
The three young women laughed and proceeded to extract Xander from the pile of slayers. “Oh for God’s sake,” Buffy finally said to the protesting girls, “he’s gonna be here all day so he’ll have time to catch up with all of you. And as Senior Slayer I claim first dibs.” She delivered this with a superior grin and a cold look that said ‘discussion is over’. “So Xander,” she asked while leading him away, “what’s it like being a teacher?”
Soon dinner was served and the conversation kept light, well light for slayers. That is to say that ambush tactics, weaponry, first aid and interesting kills were the subjects touched upon. But soon the dishes were cleared and the junior slayers were shooed away and the business portion of the evening started.
“Exactly how did you arrive here Xander,” Giles asked.
“It was something that I found in the files my predecessor left. It’s kind of like a Mandala, but it doesn’t draw on earth magic but rather is entirely physics based. Our best guess is that the lines somehow warp perception and create a point to point transport system. Now when we started most of them were for places on other planets, but with a lot of work from Oz and Dawn we were able to refine it so you could travel to any given point on the planet.”
“How is that possible,” Buffy asked.
“Again we’re not entirely sure but you remember Marcie don’t you; perception shapes reality. If you perceive space as being warped, then your perception could warp it.”
Buffy turned to her sister and asked, “So how did you and Oz figure out where these things would take you?”
“Well, we drew them and went.”
“What, you just went through hoping you wouldn’t end up in the middle of a shooting gallery or something like that,” Buffy exclaimed, her voice rising the whole time.
“Don’t freak out Buffy, we had worked out what we thought were the critical parameters and tried to aim for safe places. Sure it didn’t always work that way, but it mostly did. Anyway we’re both fine and as a result we’ve got a way of getting anywhere in the world instantly.”
“So where have you been lately?”
“And what was so interesting down in Florida?”
The others sat back and watched the two sisters volley questions and answers back and forth. “This really creepy old graveyard in the middle of a swamp.”
“What was in a place like that?”
Dawn turned to Xander who took up the story. “Giles, what would you say if I told you I had pictures of a series of frescos that told the complete and true story of the creation of the universe.”
Giles, who had been cleaning his glasses, dropped them and stared gape mouthed at Xander. Next to him Alistair muttered, “That sounds familiar, why does that sound familiar,” to himself. Finally Giles found his voice, “you were in the antechamber of Hastur?”
“I suppose,” he answered over Alistair’s gasp of surprise.
“What do you mean ‘you suppose’ do you mean to tell me you didn’t know what you were getting into when you entered the place?”
“No Giles, we simply didn’t know the name of the place. We had a description from the journal of the father of the current president of the University. So we took what I thought were appropriate measures and went in for a look.”
“Who the heck is this Hasty guy you’re talking about,” Buffy wanted to know.
“Hastur is the name given to one of the old ones. Beings that supposedly existed before the universe was created; existing outside on some other plane then moving to this plane once it was created?”
“Why,” Faith asked.
“No one knows for sure,” Giles replied, “suffice it to say that a being of that power is insanely dangerous to approach.”
“Then why go there,” Buffy asked.
“Because a being that powerful has access to knowledge that we can only dream of; the place that Xander and Faith went to has the history of this planet written on the walls. And when I say that I do mean the entire history, from beginning to end. Supposedly there are other rooms, but no one has ever spoken of them as anything other than vague hints.”
“Did you get a look at the frescos,” Alistair asked, no longer able to hold back.
“About a third of them,” Faith replied, “then we had to high-tail it out of there because of some screwed up invulnerable monster.”
“You met a guardian,” Giles asked in wonder, “what was it like?”
Both Xander and Faith were silent for a long time, then Xander spoke up, “it was the kind of thing that the First would see in its nightmares. I can’t describe it any better than that.”
“If it helps I took one look at Faith’s picture of it and threw up,” Dawn added; then she pulled a disk out of a folder. “We put everything on the disk, the guardian is the last picture, be sure and look on an empty stomach.”
At that moment Buffy was tempted to twit her sister about Dawn’s reaction to a simple picture, but then she noticed the haunted looks on both Xander and Faith’s face and kept quiet. The meeting, such as it was, broke up after that with Xander and Faith stating that they were going for a walk to clear their heads; Oz, Giles and Alistair went to view what was on the disk, leaving Buffy and Dawn alone.
“Are they as together as they act,” Buffy asked, indicating Xander and Faith.
“I think so,” Dawn replied, “this whole thing shook them both up pretty badly. I know they’ve spent every night since then sleeping together and even then sometimes I can hear them scream in the middle of the night; and it’s not the good kind of screaming if you know what I mean. So I think they’re getting to be all coupley, but both of them are so closed at times it’s hard to tell.”
“So do you like working at Miskatonic?”
“Yeah I do, I miss the slayage and everything but I made the right choice.”
“Having Oz around doesn’t hurt either, does it,” Buffy asked with a knowing grin.
“No more than having a Watcher you’re falling hard for,” Dawn shot back with a grin of her own.
A/N The opening scene was based on Lovecraft’s story “The Statement of Randolph Carter”. Hastur was also a creation of Lovecraft’s and figures into the whole Chthulu mythos. I have modified these things a bit because I’m an arrogant snot like that. But as always, I have no proprietary claim to any of these creations.