Toil and Trouble
For all that had happened in his short, but admittedly exciting life, Xander had never ridden (or drove) a limousine before. He was feeling rather like the goofy, awkward, high-school teenager that he could so clearly remembered being as he continued pushing buttons causing a chunk of the roof to retract, or the hidden coolers to reveal their bubbly goodness, and the small television mounted by the blacked-out divider that kept the driver from listening in on any conversations to flash on and off. Idly, Xander wondered what the big button in the center did. Ejector seats, or a turbo engine, maybe?
"Would you stop." Cordy sighed with exasperation as she placed one well manicured hand over his own calloused one, halting his the button-pressing mania, but judging by the amused gleam in her eyes she wasn't too upset with him. "We have serious business to discuss, and you're acting like a little kid!"
Talk. Right. Xander tried to refocus, like he did when Buffy was in her 'war-monger' moods or Giles went off on a Twilight tangent. It was harder, and the designer suit that seemed to accent just how much cleavage he wasn't seeing didn't help much. She was so alive
. He remembered when Willow mentioned that something bad had happened to her, that she had been possessed, and the last time he had seen the socialite Cordelia had been pale and washed out in a bed. Dead to the world. Then she actually did die, with not even a body to mourn over.
He blamed Angel for that. Blamed the vampire for many things, because even when your heart is in the right place... road to hell, baby.
"Wha-what?" Xander blinked and subtly pinched his leg. Cordelia rolled her eyes, arms folded beneath her breasts, and huffed.
you need to get papers for your girls, the Unseelie are not exactly welcome in the States, too much bad press over the centuries, and when they finally work out what those blood tests mean everyone and their dog is going to throw a fit about it. Then there's you
, doofus. I was hoping I could swing that new zombie rights legislation in our favor... but rumor control is going to be a bitch unless I can find a way to work it right." She peered at him through narrowed eyes. Xander recognized that look, and his heart stuttered half in nostalgia, and half in fear. He never thought he would see that look on her face again. It was the look she got right before trying to drag him to the mall for a make-over so he would look half way respectable.
Xander held his hands up in surrender. "Cordy, CORDY! Slow down. What are you talking about? What do fairies and zombies have to do with anything? Just use your evil lawyer mojo to magic stuff. Isn't that what Angel did?"
Cordelia shut her mouth with a click, suspicion glittering in her eyes. "Angel? Who in the name of Prada is Angel?"
Xander's mind slowed to a crawl. For one beautiful second, the world was a a shining and wonderful place. Cordelia didn't know who Angel was. Back in his world, just about anyone who was anyone had heard of the vampire, be it for his reputation as one of the sickest and evil minds to ever walk the earth, or as one of the most annoying thorns in the side of the Dark. "No one. No one important. Now, you were saying about the fairies?"
"They prefer the term 'Fey'." She scooted closer, proffering several files containing identification examples, and Xander wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Our seers saw your coming in conjunction with the Dawn, but annoyingly we weren't able to pinpoint the exact time, and we've had other problems cropping up..."
As Cordelia continued explaining way more than he wanted or needed to know, Xander grinned. He could just imagine the look on Buffy's face when he told her that Slayers were the bastard children of the Unseelie, the Court of Air and Darkness, which in some circles translated into Shadow, and leprechauns in particular. After all, everyone knew leprechauns weren't real.
Though that did explain a few things about Hank Summers.
Dawn woke with a yawn, uncurling from the pile of animal skins that served as a bed. It was more than she'd had for a while, and she'd felt bad about kicking Grawp out of it, but the other giant had insisted. Careful not to hit her head on the roof, Dawn crawled out of the cave into the morning light filtering down into the clearing. The blue-fire lanterns were still lit, leading Dawn to assume that Grawp didn't have any ability to turn them off, but except for the lanterns and a few stray piles of brick-a-brack the place was empty.
Dawn sucked in a deep breath. It was cool, fresh, clean air. Cleaner than what a Californian city girl was used to. Not even the Slayer HQ had the crisp atmosphere that seemed to permeate the morning air, as thick as it usually was with construction and the ozone tang of misfired magic. "Grawp?" Dawn called hesitantly. There was no answer. She swallowed, mind going back to the previous nights adventures and the things
that had attacked her. She tugged at her dress nervously, and then grimaced as the memory of betrayal overlapped chattering mandibles and glittering eyes. The giantess ripped a few errant branches from a felled tree and used it as a bench while stretching out her legs and flexing her wrapped hand.
Echos of pain flashed along her skin. "Death by a thousand paper-cuts." Dawn grumbled as she began unwinding the now ruined cloth. The skin looked red and irritated. She hoped it wasn't going to get infected. It would be just her luck to survive an army of Hellspawn only to be abandoned in the woods and die from germs
of all things. "And yet so typical."
She slapped absently at an itch on her arm and glanced at the sky. It was early. Probably around eight, or nine. Few hours to noon.
Dawn's nose twitched as she fought the urge to wail. Tears the size of small animals leaked from her eyes, and peered around looking for water. Her throat felt too dry, and her skin was clammy. Dawn could imagine what she looked like, dress all ripped, tear and blood stained, and hair a mess. Everything was so, so awful
. Nothing ever goes right! The first boy she crushes on see's her as a sister, the first one she goes on a real date with turns out to be a vampire, then the disaster that was college, and now Grawp was missing! Possibly eaten by vengeance bent things
"Not that I'm dating him." Dawn sniffled to herself while wandering through the forest, keeping a close eye on her bearings so as not to get lost. "And I thought Jean-Claude liked me, too." Her eyes drifted to her scabbed up hand, and her uninjured one drifted to her abdomen. Everything had been so sudden and hectic and if she really thought about it the vampire had seemed just as surprised by his slayer's actions as Dawn herself had been.
And the Traveler had been pissed. Like, royally. The two of them had been buzzing around like angry, undead bees. So maybe, maybe it hadn't all been one big trick?
Shaking her head and resolving just not to think about it, Dawn broke the treeline, and her breath caught in her throat as she found herself staring out at a lake surrounded by a mountain range. The sun peaked out from behind a green mountain, big and yellow and happy, causing the water to sparkle as funny looking ducks called to each other from across the lake.
Something itched at her side, and Dawn frowned scratching at it. Did this place have giant mosquitoes in addition to giant spiders?
Dawn was dragged from her musing with a yelp as something sharp jabbed at her ankle, and the youngest Summers girl hopped to the side with a snarl and the urge to stomp.
"Who are you, Giantess? For what reason have you come to our territory?"
"My name is Underhill, and I seek the Prancing Pony. My business is my own." She quipped back, but from the blank and slightly confused expression on the centaur's face, he didn't get the reference.
Though he very much wanted to run in the other direction, as far and as fast as inhumanly possible, Snape swallowed his fear and entered the Dark Lord's chambers. Voldemort sat on a throne made of bone like some pagan god, stroking the head of his familiar, with a smile on his face that said: I know a fuckload of things you don't know. "Ah, Severus. I trust your preparations for the coming school year are going smoothly."
"As smooth as can be expected, My Lord." The potions master answered with a low, sweeping bow. "The Defense Against the Dark Arts position-"
Voldemort cut him off with a gesture. "Dark Arts, Severus. True wizards have no need of defense against our birthright."
"The Dark Arts position is, as usual, having difficulties being filled and the Muggle Studies Professor hasn't sent in her acceptance letter, yet."
Silence descended, and the Dark Lord's red eyes stared off into the distance. He looked particularly pleased with himself, Snape thought as he reinforced his shields. "I do not believe Miss Burbage will return for another year." Snape suppressed a shiver. Charity had been one of his few fellow teachers at Hogwarts he had liked. They ate lunch together. Exchanged Christmas presents. One of the few that understood how important it was to not dress like a color-blind moron when leaving the Wizard community. "As for the Dark Arts, I believe the Carrows would be excellent at reigning in a few of the more willful students."
Snape inclined his head. The Carrows were vicious, yes, but also cowardly. He would have to work extra hard to make sure they didn't totally destroy the children... but then that was probably what the Dark Lord intended. To build anew, you must first eradicate all signs of the old way. Make them terrified. Feed them lies, and in a generation or two it would be considered truth. Such was the nature of the Wizarding World.
"However, Severus, I did not call you here merely to discuss our dear alma mater." Deceptively thin fingers drummed along a skull. A bone-handled wand twirled in one hand as Nagini slithered up the chair, glaring at Snape. "After you first brought me the incomplete prophecy, I took an interest in others, and while the Potter boy and his little friends destroyed a good number of them... many survived. It was in the aftermath that this
was found." Like a stage magician, the Dark Lord produced a small crystal ball in his free hand. Gray smoke whirled within, and with murmured word an image was projected into the room of a washed out young woman in a dated peasant gown under a heavy robe. She spoke, and it was in the harsh, booming voice of a seer in the Beyond."When the moon is in the Seventh House, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, a new Dawn shall rise. Death will flee, returned from whence it came, and spun from nothing into human form the Key will restore the throne of old..."
"My Lord?" Snape questioned, as what felt like a bezoar formed in his stomach.
"Our people in the Ministry claim that the gateway to death has fallen, Severus." Voldemort leaned forward, smiling. "My victory is at hand." He frowned suddenly, and Snape tensed as the wand in the Dark Lord's hand sparked. "However, age has dulled the rest of the message. As I understand it, Sybil Trelawney remains at Hogwarts?"
"That is correct, Lord."
"This prophecy was made by her ancestor, Cassandra Trelawney." Ruby eyes burned into anger, and Snape bit down on his tongue to keep from crying out as what felt like a hundred whips flayed at his skin. "While I believe this tells of my Ascent, for I was spun from mere wisps of memory back into flesh." He gestured toward himself, "I do not intend to be led astray by an incomplete prophecy, again. Dear. Severus. You shall take this to Trelawney, and you will order her to put all her energies into studying it. Understood?"
"O-of course. My Lord."
Dawn was withholding her opinion on the centaurs. Sure, they were majestic creatures of legend who had some kind of minty-smelling poultice for her wounds, and they looked freaking cool, but they were also a paranoid bunch. At least they had really, really good beer. Or mead. Whatever they called it. She sat on the edge of their little encampment, surrounded by bow-wielding half-men, but the barrels of oak distilled drink that sat with her made for a happy Dawn.
She sipped at her barrel, sweet and somewhat hickory tasting, and considered her answer. "I wouldn't say it's your forest. A forest doesn't belong to anyone really, aside from itself."
An aged female centaur holding a battle staff, long white hair spilling over her shoulders and concealing her bare breasts, nodded regally. "You are wise, for your age and species. It is refreshing to see such sense in one not of the herd."
Dawn decided that was supposed to be a complement. She shrugged. "Comes and goes. I really didn't intend to come here, you know. It just kind of... happened." She shifted uneasily. "Have you seen Grawp?"
"You speak of the Keeper's brother?" Augur asked with the barest tilt of her head. "Is he your mate?"
Dawn was pretty sure her cheeks were doing the perfect impression of a bonfire. She sputtered, and the old centaur smiled knowingly as she drank from her own mug of beer. She nodded. "While we do not pretend to understand matters of the heart, it would be... difficult... to raise the children of such a union in a single forest." Ah ha. They wanted her gone, but they were being nice about it. "Also, the stars have told us that now is not the time to be making foals."
...come again? Did these people subscribe to the same newspaper as Drusilla? "What?"
"We try to avoid human affairs." The woman frowned, her tail flicking at a fly as Dawn frowned herself and scratched at her shoulder. Damn mosquitoes. "But there is a coming war, it would be best if you took your paramour and fled. Perhaps to the Mother Land?"
Dawn narrowed her eyes. Did she have some kind of flashing sign over her head telling people she was weak or something? That she needed to be protected? "If there's a war on, I'm going to fight!" Once she figured out what side she was supposed to be on, anyway. Her outburst caused several standing centaurs to reach for their bows, so she calmed herself by chugging the remainder of the sweet, sweet nectar. Somehow, Dawn's reaction seemed to satisfy the old centaur.
"Bane shall escort you back to the little giant's clearing. Do take care, one cannot trust the word of a Wizard. All the magic tends to scramble their brains."
When Jean-Claude woke, it was to a fierce all-consuming hunger in his belly. His body ached from the energy expended to fight, and then heal, and once he was more himself he would marvel at the fact he had survived yet again
. It appeared the luck was a lady he had seduced long ago.
But all that took a back seat as his stomach twisted, and his ears picked up the soft tattoo of beating, living hearts. He ripped free from his bindings, heedless of the inhumane visage he presented, and ignored the screams as his senses zeroed in on the heat across the room. A cat. He grabbed the man in a white-knuckled grip and bit down, hard, cracking bone and causing a whimper as he drank the magic-rich blood of the lycanthrope.
He was only dimly aware of his meal waving off help. The pit in his stomach filled, slowly, and other senses tickled into the foreground as the oh-so-pressing need to feed was temporarily sated. Jean-Claude blinked, blue eyes dimming into something more human, but no less dead, and he could feel his bond-mates. So they, too, had survived? Except, something was off
about his link to his human servant.
Anita was almost always a bubble of seething, burning cold energy. Now though, it was muted, and instead of anger concealed under barely stable control was a weeping wound of pain and sadness that threatened to sweep Jean-Claude away. He withdrew, both from Anita's psyche and the wereleopard, Zane he now recognized, before he lost himself to it. The power flow was different, too. But she was in the building. Hurt, but alive, and he would have a serious
discussion with her about attacking neutral parties in the middle of negotiations. It would be a wonder if the entire Council didn't declare war on them on principle alone.
"Hey, uh, are you-" Zane slurred, and Jean-Claude noticed he had taken quite a bit more blood from the young cat than was strictly healthy. He handed the boy to a waiting, and wary, nurse before turning around to locate the rest of his triumvirate.
Zane was lowered into a wheelchair. "Shit happened." Jean-Claude glared. His hunger may now be under control, but he could have easily taken more. Far more. The blue haired lycan winced. The nurse handed him a cup of water. "Everyone started fighting, then this flying pirate god showed up with some ninja chicks looking for Dawn, who could be anywhere from the center of the sun to Alaska for all I know. At least when the cops arrived they were able to peace-through-superior-firepower things under control. Richard is being processed, and Anita-" The leopard stopped, pain that had nothing to do with the psychical on his face.
Jean-Claude fancied he could taste ash in his mouth. Anita couldn't be dead, while he might have survived Richard certainly wouldn't have, and he could feel her... or could he? The vampire spun on his heel, marching down the hospital halls following the metaphysical lead to his Human Servant. He came to a door, expecting to see her broken body laid out, and halted in shock.
"It is... not possible..."
Green eyes fluttered open, staring at him, and the machine in the corner announced the world something that should not be.
But then he remembered blood, potent with a power beyond understanding, spilling out, and maybe it was...
The very alive, very human, man nodded to Jean-Claude in acknowledgment through a pain beyond understanding.
So what had happened to Anita?
A/N- Spelling mishaps from the previous chapter have been corrected. Also, I need to go laugh maniacally in a corner for a bit...