Disclaimer: The Buffyverse characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights to them remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episode, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television show. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER ©2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. The works of Robert E. Howard, including the Conan stories, are in the public domain according to United Kingdom copyright law. In the United States the copyright is claimed by Conan, Inc. and by Paradox Entertainment Inc.PrologueKnow, O Prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars – Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming West.
Hither came Tara MacLay, tawny-haired, sleepy-eyed, flowers in hand, a witch, a weaver, a lesbian, with occasional mild melancholies and sometimes a little mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under her sandaled feet and then apologize profusely and try to repair them.
Let me tell you of those days of high adventure…- - - - -
Tara lay sprawled on the floor. Her light blue top was marked by a red stain surrounding a ragged circular hole nine millimeters across. She wasn’t breathing.
“Come on, baby,” Willow sobbed. She put her hands on Tara’s chest, trying to remember what she had heard about performing CPR, but she couldn’t remember what to do. All practical thoughts had been driven from her head by the shock. If it had been a matter of magic...
A red glow lit her eyes. She lifted her head and howled out a command. “By Osiris,” she called, “I command you! Bring her back.” The room went dark. A swirling cloud of blue-gray vapor gathered just below the ceiling. “Hear me, Keeper of Darkness!”
The clouds formed into the shape of a massive face with a stern expression. Lightning flickered around it as it spoke in a deep and booming voice. “Witch, how dare you invoke Osiris in this task!”
“Please,” Willow begged, “please, please bring her back.”
“You may not violate the laws of natural passing,” the face reminded her.
Willow’s eyes opened very wide. “How? How is this natural?”
“It is a human death, by human means,” the cloud pointed out. “You raised one killed by mystical forces. This is not the same. She is taken by natural order. It is done.”
“It can’t be!” Willow’s face contorted. “You have to bring her back.”
“I do not have to do any such thing,” the ghostly presence told her. “Do not presume to command me, witch.”
“I beseech you,” Willow pleaded. “Please. I’ll do anything. Pay any price.”
The flickers of lightning ceased for a moment and the cloud’s features grew less distinct. They reformed in a somewhat less menacing form. “Any
“I know there are always consequences,” Willow said. “I don’t care. I’ll pay any price to get Tara back.”
“You ask for what is undreamed of,” said the figure of mist. “I cannot return her to the here and now. It is beyond my power in the circumstances.” It became clearer, more solid in appearance, and the lightning flashed again. “Hmm. ‘Undreamed of’. An age undreamed of? Perhaps there is something that I can do after all.”
“Not to the here and now?” Willow’s eyes were still oozing tears but now her brow was furrowed in concentration. “So, to the there and then? What does that mean?”
“You opened a gateway a year and more ago,” the Keeper of Darkness reminded her, “and banished one through it. I can… divert your loved one to that destination.”
“To the Land of the Trolls?” Willow’s eyes opened wide. “They’d kill her!”
“The alternative is that she dies now,” the envoy of Osiris pointed out. “It would not be to the Land of the Trolls, witch. Your aim was awry. The troll went to Hyboria, to the Age of High Adventure, and prospered there. Shall I send Tara to join him in that realm, restored to life, or remain here and perish irrevocably? Decide quickly, witch, for once she passes the Veil of the Dead and faces judgment there can be no diversion.”
“I’ll be able to bring her back from there, right?”
“It may be possible,” the Keeper said, “if you penetrate the mysteries. Choose quickly, witch.”
“How long do I have?”
“Before you must choose?” The Keeper paused for a second, as if calculating, and then spoke in measured tones. “Twenty-eight seconds.”
“What? I need time to think.”
“I make not the rules,” the dark envoy stated. “Choose. Fifteen seconds.”
“Okay!” Willow stood up and shouted loudly. “Send her to where Olaf went! Do it.”
A blackness swallowed the room, blotting out all light for a moment, and the Keeper’s voice boomed out “It is done.” The darkness cleared and Willow could see again.
Tara’s body had vanished.