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Summary: It seems that the Scoobies family histories are more complicated than they had believed ...

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Games > FantasyGladiusFR181053,4101610229,2628 Aug 1218 Jan 13No

Part 8

Disclaimer: Surprisingly, neither the characters of BtVS or the
themes of 'Scion' belong to me. Instead, they seem to belong to Joss
Wheadon and White Wolf, which seems very unfair to me.

Rating: MA15+(mostly for violence, language and occasional sex)

Spoilers: Beginning of Season Three for BtVS, just background info
for 'Scion'

Oz seated his girlfriend in the back of the van on top of a piece of equipment, and knelt in front of her, holding her hand. “I had a visit from a relative of yours today,” he said without preamble. Before she could respond, he continued. “Guy named Quirinus. I think he’s your dad’s nephew or something.” Willow nodded in recognition at the name.

“Anyway, he told me that your old man is worried. About me. About the wolf. The curse … it gets worse over time. Eventually, the wolf takes over. It’s not just a matter of getting locked up a few nights a month: every time I change is another piece of my humanity gone.”

Willow was barely aware of the tear trickling down her cheek. She had never understood why people thought Oz wasn’t a good communicator: she could feel the fear and pain behind his carefully chosen words and his stoic manner.

“There’s no cure for lycanthropy. Once a werewolf, always a werewolf. There’s no going back. But I don’t want to have some animal walking around wearing my face.” He reached up and wiped at her face with his thumb, and Willow sniffed as she scrubbed at her eyes.

“So I had to make a choice. And it was the second easiest I’ve ever made.” he smiled. “The easiest was whether or not to ask you out the minute I had the chance. This one … took maybe a second.”

He took her hand in both of his, and looked into her eyes.

“I, Daniel Richard Osborne, do solemnly swear allegiance to Willow Danielle Rosenberg, and through her, to her father, Hephaestus, and thus to the Dodecatheon. I reject the Titans and all their works, and dedicate myself, my blood, and my soul, to the service of the gods, and the destruction of their enemies.”

Willow felt the magnitude of the moment, and understood, deep in her ichor-laden blood, that these were not simply words. Oz was binding himself to her, and already she felt a change in him. A shadow that she had only unconsciously been aware of was suddenly lifted, and as he blinked in surprise, she knew that he felt it too.

A tingle in her left hand drew her attention, and she looked down in surprise to find that she was holding an object she had never seen before. Opening her hand, she was amazed to see a pair of metal rectangles attached to a slender chain. Without looking, she knew that they read ‘Osborn, D.’

Instinctively, she gently let go of Oz’s hand, and took the chain with both of hers. Leaning forward, she slipped the chain over his head, and let the dog tags dangle against his heart. Filled with love and wonder at the actions of her boyfriend and gratitude at the efforts of her father and cousin, she gently kissed Oz on the forehead before launching herself into his arms.

“I’m not their wolf anymore,” he whispered, holding his demigoddess close. “And I never will be. I’m yours.

“To the ends of the World.”

*** *** ***

“They also got her husband’s hair wrong, he’s supposed to be a redhead,” said Xander automatically, his native geekiness coming to the fore for a moment.

“Oh, it is. And he’s got a marvellous beard, too,” agreed the valkyrie. Lowering her boots to the floor, she closed the comic and placed it on the desk with the rest, and stood up so that she faced the young Vanir. With the slight heels of her boots, she stood barely two inches shorter than his own six foot, and she stood like a soldier. She looked to be in her late teens, perhaps a little older, but her blue eyes held the look of someone who had seen far more than any adolescent should.

“My lord,” she said, and the playfulness had left her voice. Lifting her right fist to before her heart, she bowed her head and slipped with practiced ease to kneel on her right knee. “My name is Ria Gudrunsdottor, servant of the Aesir and chooser of the slain.”

Xander blinked, then looked shame-faced at his sword. Embarrassed, he sheathed Fafnir and bowed to the redhead. “Alexander Harris of Sunnydale, son of Sif. Um, at your service,” he finished, somewhat awkwardly.

The warrior woman smiled, and stood as gracefully as she had knelt. “I fear that may be somewhat reversed,” she said, “As I have come here to place myself in your service.”

“Um, what?”

The valkyrie laughed, and was suddenly relaxed, the formality of the moment gone as quickly as it had arrived. “I’m sorry, Alexander. I’m afraid I’ve made a bit of a hash about this whole thing.” She shook her head, as if shaking off embarrassment. “Anyway, your lady mother decided that you could use a little help down here, so she sent myself and a few of my sisters to have a look around.” She grinned. “I fear that the demons of this town are having something of a rough night: the girls don’t get to come to Midgard often, and I think they’re enjoying the opportunity to blow off a little steam.”

Xander opened and closed his mouth a few times, before shaking his head. “No, I’m the one who’s sorry.” gesturing for her to sit again, he willed his sword to fade away and took his own seat on the edge of his bed. “Welcome to Sunnyhell, hope you enjoy the stay. And thanks for the save today.”

Ria smiled. “It was no great hardship.” Her voice softened. “I simply regret that we could not have saved the thralls. Once a giant uses its etir on a mortal, there is simply nothing you or I could have done for them. Slaying them quickly was the most merciful option available.

“As for my stay, that depends entirely on you.”

Xander blinked. “Um, what?”

The valkyrie nodded. “My sisters will be returning to their duties after tonight, but I shall remain behind. Lady Sif decided that you required a guide, a tutor and an extra blade.”

Xander couldn’t help the flare of resentment. “So mom thought I needed a nursemaid or something?”

“Not at all,” Ria reassured him. “I am to teach you about the Aesir and their allies, and about their foes, to advise you on the use of your powers, and, frankly, to train you in the use of that sword.” She smiled somewhat ruefully. “You displayed great promise earlier today, but your technique requires … polishing.”

Xander felt the anger fade, and shook his head. “But … I mean, I don’t know a lot about, you know, what goes on up there,” he gestured vaguely upwards. “But don’t you have a lot more important things to do than hang about me?”

Ria paused for a moment, obviously considering her reply. “Let’s just say that I’m on light duties for a while. The war … even for immortals, sometimes one needs some time away from the front lines.” But then she brightened. “But don’t sell yourself short, young scion. Your post is important, and the World depends on you and your friends. Serving you is no hardship, I can assure you.”

Xander wasn’t exactly used to the concept of being ‘served’, especially by a beautiful, youthful looking immortal. And while he appreciated his mother’s thoughtfulness in sending someone to teach him how to get a handle on his divine abilities, something told him that he might be required to do some fast talking before Cordelia accepted the situation.

This could be tricky.

*** *** ***

Dinner turned out to be a relatively pleasant affair. Tony Harris actually sat at the table with his son and the red haired visitor, and talked. Ria had introduced herself as a friend from school, and Xander’s dad had been remarkably polite. The two non-mortals traded embarrassing stories of growing up over spaghetti, and Tony threw in a few references to his early courtship of Jessica.

After dinner, the two ‘teens’ made their excuses, and headed off. “Wow,” wondered Xander aloud. “He was almost - strike that. He was a dad tonight. “I … I’m kinda not used to that,” he admitted.

Ria nodded. “I see some of what Lady Sif saw in him, I believe,” she observed. “There is a strength there. Wounded, perhaps, but healing. And I have never know the Lady to love a weakling, or a fool.”

Xander nodded, and the two walked in silence. Dark was falling in Sunnydale, and most normal people took that as a sign to get indoors before they got eaten.

Neither could be classed as ‘normal’ by any stretch of the imagination.

After a few minutes, Xander broached a subject that had been weighing on his mind for a while. “So, you know my mom, right?”

The valkyrie smiled. “I have had that honor for these last few centuries, yes,” she allowed.

Does taking words like ‘centuries’ in stride make me jaded? idly wondered Xander, but he pressed on. “So I guess you know her husband. Who is Thor, right? Big hammer, big beard, big temper?”

She nodded. “All three are legendary in nine worlds.”

Xander hesitated before asking his next question. Come on, Harris, suck it up! “So my mom married my dad, while already married to the god of freaking thunder?”

It wasn’t until he saw the bemused expression on her face that he realised that he had shouted that last bit.

Ria laid a comforting hand on Xander’s shoulder. “A valid concern from your perspective, I think. Come,” she beckoned, and led him over to a low slung, sleek car with a glossy black paintjob that he almost swore hadn’t been there a moment ago. It had curves, predatory lines, and seemed to be accelerating just sitting there. Xander wasn’t really surprised when the passenger door popped open to allow him to enter.

Inside was a combination of high-tech and comfortable. The seats were leather, the seatbelt was a five-point harness, and the dash featured more lights and dials than your average jet. “I’m thinking this isn’t stock,” he quipped as the redhead took her place behind the wheel.

“Good bet,” she smiled back. Then she grew serious again. “Xander, it’s alright. Trust me, Thor is not about to smite you down. Or your father, for that matter. It would be, at the very least, hypocritical of him.”

Xander blinked. “So I guess the big guy has sown some oats of his own, then?”

Ria laughed, a remarkable pleasant sound from the warrior maid. “You could say that. Xander, among immortals … things are not as simple as with mortals.” She flailed mentally for the right words, but gave up. “Basically, in terms of divine marriages, mortals don’t count.

“Gods don’t see things the way mortals - or even lesser immortals like those of us who serve them closest - do. Your mother has been married to Lord Thor since before Europeans colonised this continent. Their love is one of the most profound relationships in the Overworld. But that didn’t stop her from falling in love with your father, or with any of the other men she has loved over the centuries. And loving Tony didn‘t make her love for Thor any less.”

Xander frowned. “So you’re saying, what? That gods have open marriages?”

Ria nodded. “It’s a little more complicated than that. Remember how long I said Thor and Sif have been married? Now think about how long they’re going to be married. Immortal, you know? To the gods, living a few decades with a mortal barely counts as a fling. Add in that the gods come to the World as avatars – fragments of their selves, almost a separate person, and you can see why relationships with mortals are no big deal, and even welcomed as a little spice in the marriage. Now, if Thor had decided to sleep with another goddess, that would have been a whole other matter.” She grinned. “Lets just say that you inherited your temper from both sides of the family.”

Xander nodded, but then had a thought. “Hold on. What about Zeus? I mean, he was fathering demigods across Greece and Hera got majorly pissed about it!”

The valkyrie raised an eyebrow. “They teach Greek mythology in school?”

He shrugged. “TV. The chick of the week on ‘Hercules’ is usually a hottie.”

Ria stared at him a moment, then banged her forehead against the steering wheel. “Teenagers,” she muttered. Then she sat back and shook her head. “That had nothing to do with the nature of divine marriages: Hera’s just a bitch. Always has been.”

*** *** ***

The Bronze was jam packed with teens. It was the last night before summer was over and school started again. The lights were low, and the dance floor was packed with couples and small groups dancing, making out and generally struggling to deny the inevitability of a return to Hell … um, high school.

One body on the dance floor was alone: Willow Rosenberg stood near the stage, swaying gracefully, her attention firmly focussed on the band’s base player. From time to time their eyes would meet, and her resulting smile changed her from merely pretty, to devastatingly beautiful.

Still, not everyone was so enthused.

“Oh, my, god,” came a familiar voice from behind her, and Willow sighed before turning around.

Gwen, Aura and Aphrodesia, three of Cordelia’s disciples, stood as if in formation, with the tall brunette Gwen flanked by the other two girls, the dark skinned Aura and Aphrodesia the redhead. Gwen was the one who had spoken, and Aphrodesia had her hands over her mouth, purposefully failing to conceal her giggle. Aura simply stood with one hand arrogantly perched on one hip, one eyebrow arched in an expression of complete superiority.

Once upon a time, the attention of these three girls would have intimidated Willow into red-faced flight. Their beauty, confidence, their clothes and the way they moved, were all as if specifically designed to her in search of a wall to flower on.

That time was over.

“What’s this? Did little Willow decide to get all dressed up in big-girls clothes?” continued Gwen in a childish, sing-song voice.

Willow was dressed more maturely than was her norm: black leather pants and a green silk blouse that matched her eyes and contrasted nicely with her hair. Her three-inch boots were also Cordelia approved, and according to the looks Oz had been giving her during his performance, very fetching.

She snorted. “Screw you, Ditchik,” she said, then turned back to watching her boyfriend play. Behind her, she could almost hear the astonished looks on the three popular girl’s faces, and the identical thoughts that must have been going through their minds: She can’t say things like that. Can she?

“Hey, don’t you turn your back on me, Rosenberg!”

Willow turned back around, a smile on her face. “Oh, I’m sorry, did you actually have something remotely intelligent to say? History suggests otherwise,” she snarked.

The taller girl hissed in fury. “You little tramp,” she snarled, glancing over Willow’s clothes. “Who told you that you could pull that look off?”

“I did,” said Cordelia, breezing past the trio to greet Willow with an a light kiss on the cheek. “And she looks great - oh, I see you ignored my advice regarding the hair,” she said, vaguely indicating Gwen’s very short haircut. “Pity. Anyway, it took Harm and me ages to get ready, but I think it was worth it, am I right?”

Cordelia pulled back to indicate her outfit, a dark purple dress of crushed velvet, with a deep neckline and with a diagonal hem, cut halfway down the thigh on the right and just below the knee on the left. Leather boots laced up to the knees added four inches to her height, and she finished it off with an ornate and slightly abstract crucifix pendant nestled in her cleavage.

Harmony appeared on Willow’s other side, wearing white leather pants and a deep blue turtleneck sweater, perched on high-heeled sandals.

“Totally,” agreed Willow, brushing a hand over Harmony’s shoulder.

As the other Cordettes looked on in confusion, Cordelia stared Gwen straight in the face. “Face it, Gwen, you’re just jealous you couldn’t pull off that look.“ She took in all three. “Look, ladies, new term, new rules. Things have changed, and a lot’s going on. Long story short? I’ve called a ceasefire. Willow, Xander and, God help me, Buffy when she gets back, are off the menu. They’ve got our,” she waved at herself and Harmony, “support, and are therefore no longer targets.”

Gwen reared back and prepared to launch herself back on the offensive. “Hell with that, Cor. Just because you’re dating that loser Harris -”

A commotion near the entrance drew their attention. Cheering, hollering and whistling filled the crowd, which parted to allow a couple to pass through.

I’m gonna kill him, decided Cordelia, calmly and reasonably. Demigod or not!

Xander Harris looked slightly bemused by the acclamation of his fellows, but raised a hand in recognition. Dressed in black from head to toe, his open necked buttoned shirt was threaded with silver, his belt was studded and his boots were near mirror finish.

But most of the attention went to the woman on his arm. Her auburn mane tied into a long ponytail, she wore a strapless black dress, very low in front to display her considerable charms and clearly backless down to the base of her spine. The dress almost reached the ground, but her long strides displayed a slit almost to her hip, bright red open toed shoes strapped up her calf, and heels that couldn’t have been less than six inches.

She was stunning, with understated makeup apart from the bright lipstick that matched both hair and shoes. She continued to smile as the duo approached the group, and the crowd’s attention returned to the band, apart from a few guys (and some girls) still admiring the newcomers.

“Hey, ladies,” Xander opened, gracefully detaching himself from the woman with a gentlemanly bow. “Cordelia, Willow and Harmony? May I introduce Ms Ria Gudrunsdotter, a distant relative who just arrived in town? Cousin Ria? The most important woman in my life, Cordelia Chase,” he glided over, slid an arm around Cordelia’s waist and kissed her cheek, ignoring her fiery glare, “and two good friends, Willow Rosenberg and Harmony Kendal.” He pointedly ignored the other girls.

The newcomer smiled brightly. “I believe we met briefly this afternoon,” she said, “But we simply didn’t have time for formal introductions, so I’m glad to finally have the chance to meet you.”

Harmony frowned. “Huh? When did we -” she broke off as Willow jabbed an elbow into her ribs, then whispered fiercely in her ear. “Oh. Ooooh,” she said, before smiling brightly.

“Yeah, lovely to see you too. So I suppose you’ll be heading home now?” asked Cordelia with an arched eyebrow.

Ria laughed, a musical sound. “Not quite. In fact, I’ll be sticking around for a while. Cousin Xander has only just been reacquainted with his extended family, it would be a shame to abandon him so soon. So I’ve decided to move to Sunnydale for the foreseeable future,” she said, with a wink to Xander at the word ‘foreseeable’.

“Fantastic,” said Cordelia, and her experience at politics paid off: you could barely hear the grinding of teeth as she smiled at the valkyrie.

*** *** ***

“What the hell, Xander!”

“Woah, Cor,” he said, holding up his hands in surrender. Having been dragged off to one side while Ria simultaneously charmed Willow and Harmony while intimidating the hell out of the other Cordettes, Xander knew that he was in trouble. “Look, I didn’t know she was going to be here tonight! I mean, I didn’t expect to find her in my bedroom -”

“In your bedroom?” Liquid nitrogen would have frozen at her tone.

“Hey!” and here he frowned. “Cordelia, seriously. One, she’s about a thousand years older than me. Two, she’s specifically here on my mom’s orders. And three - most importantly - she’s not you.

“Look, mom basically sent Ria here to be like my Watcher, sorta a female, super-powered Giles. She’s here for info, training and backup. That’s it. Besides,” he grinned. “History shows I’m partial to brunettes, not redheads.”

“Oh yeah? What about Buffy?”

He blinked. “Er, Cordy? I thought girls were supposed to be the ones to pick up on things like hair dye.”

She paused a moment, then nodded. “Point.”

“Anyway, reading between the lines, I think she was sent here for some R and R,” he continued, glancing at the valkyrie. “I think she’s been on the front line for a while, and even immortals can burn out.”

“So they sent a superhero with PTSD to the Hellmouth?”

Xander shrugged. “Apparently vampires, demons and the end of the world is a holiday compared to fighting the Titans up close and personal.”

*** *** ***

“Oh, yes, I’m only here to drop Xander off, really,” said Ria with a smile. “I’m not exactly dressed for this kind of party, you know.”

Willow nodded. Then she had a flash of inspiration. But people who have dismissed Xander as a hopeless looser for years saw him walk in dressed so good with this woman on his arm. By tomorrow morning, the whole school will be talking about it, and people will start taking him more seriously.

“I’m actually going to a work function. A fund raiser or something?” She shook her head with a rueful smile. “I don’t really pay that much attention to that kind of thing. I’m more in HR, you know? Recruitment, headhunting even.”

“Oh,” nodded Aura. “Mom says that’s a vicious line of work, especially for a woman.”

“What can I say? I seem to have a knack for it.”

Willow found herself liking this woman more and more.

“Plus the company car is bitching,” said Xander as he and Cordelia rejoined the group arm in arm, with Cordelia appearing much calmer than before.

“It is something of a beast,” agreed Ria, smiling. “And on that note, I have to go. Ladies, it’s been lovely, and I hope to see you all again soon. Bye, Xander,” she waved, gliding away with the eyes of many a teen following hungrily.

When the valkyrie was gone, Cordelia kissed Xander gently on the lips, then whispered in his ear. When he nodded, she stepped away and faced the Cordettes. “I was serious before, girls,” she stated. “Things have changed, and it’s getting serious. We don’t have time for that petty stuff anymore.” When they just looked at her blankly, she shook her head. “Look, we’ll talk about it tomorrow at school. But believe me when I say you should enjoy tonight.

“You’re going to remember it as the last carefree night of your life.”

*** *** ***

Buffy shuffled her feet in agitation. After a light dinner, the Matriarch had invited her to participate in an Amazon ritual that evening. Apparently only Amazons were normally allowed, so she felt honored to be invited, and felt obligated to attend. After all, her hosts had been wonderful: she was well rested, well fed, surrounded by other women devoted to the battle against the forces of darkness. So she now found herself at the entrance to the house shrine, wearing the light cotton tunic and leather sandals that she had been given to wear, wondering if the invitation had been some kind of Amazon hazing ritual …

“Buffy, my dear, I’m glad you came!” said Valerie as she came up behind the former Slayer, making her jump slightly. Damn, still getting used to the new senses, she fumed. Behind the Matriarch followed Lilly and Patricia, all three dressed identically to Buffy, except that Valerie’s tunic and sandals were trimmed in gold.

“Yeah, I er, guess it’s the least I can do, right?”

Patricia smiled and laid a hand on the smaller blonde’s shoulder. “We are honored to have the daughter of Artemis here as we celebrate her,” she said, before striding through the entrance.

“Niece,” Buffy whispered fiercely, but just shook her head to hug Lilly. She might be determined to keep Joyce Summers as her mother, but there was no point in offending her hosts.

Valerie ushered the two inside, and once again Buffy was awed by the pitch black sky pierced by pinpoints of stars and an enormous, full moon, the beautiful forest around her, and the wondrous feeling of the closeness of her patron.

Dozens of Amazons were clustered around the entrance, more than Buffy had realised were in residence at the mansion, and she realised that many must have arrived recently from other properties. Wow, this must be a pretty big deal for the Sisterhood, she realised.

“My Sisters,” called the Matriarch, and she paused as the crowd cheered loudly, hands and fists raised in greetings and acknowledgment. She held up a hand, and silence fell again. “Sisters,” she continued, “Tonight we honor the Goddess, great Artemis, and all the goddesses of the Amazon people. We give thanks for the gifts they have given us, and the trials they have guided us through!”

To the echoes of further cheers, she pointed to where Buffy and Lilly stood. “We welcome among our number tonight a child of the Goddess, a Scion of Artemis herself, Buffy, once the Slayer! Here also is Lilly, who has asked to be counted among our number! Both have been set upon by strife, my Sisters, both have faced the fire and the flame and I say they have been tempered! What say you, Sisters? Will they join us this night, and in the nights to come?”

The cheers and hawk-shrieks of the crowd of Amazons was almost literally a wall of sound, and the Lilly felt her cheeks burning in embarrassment at being the center of attention. Buffy just smiled and stood her ground. Wow, smell the estrogen in the air! We are women, hear us fricking roar, she thought, somewhat amused, but also warmed by the cheers. She had fought in the shadows for years, and had never demanded accolades or recognition …

… but she had to admit it felt damned good.

Remember, Buff, like the little guys used to say, you too are mortal … sort of.

“So we begin,” cried Valerie, “Sisters, let us run, and glory in our nature, and praise the goddess! Praise Artemis!”

So much for equality of worship,throught Buffy idly, as the crowd began moving further into the forest. Almost against their will, Lilly and Buffy followed, breaking into a jog as the Amazons picked up the pace. If all the goddesses the Amazons worship are equal, it seems that one goddess is a little more equal than the others. Then again, she mused, exchanging a grin with Lilly as they started to run amidst the laughter of the Amazons, My Auntie Art is pretty damned nifty!

Buffy was newly empowered with strength, speed and endurance beyond mortal ken, and Lilly was not exactly Olympic athlete material. But that night both managed to run their fastest, tireless with the rest of the Amazons. Filled with the simple joy of shared exertion, Buffy didn’t really think anything was amiss with Lilly and Patricia on either flank, both keeping pace with her. Later she would look back and wonder if Artemis might have had something to do with it, if the ritual gave the participants the gift of sisterly equality.

At the time, as she leapt over a fallen log, Buffy just thought it was a lot of fun.

Glancing at Lilly, Buffy saw the exhilaration on her face, and wondered at the childlike glee she showed as she ran, and Buffy couldn’t help but grin back.

A commotion nearer the front of the pack drew Buffy’s attention, and she forced her way to the fore, only to see the majestic stag she had witnessed before leap into view, take one look at the band of Amazons, and took off like a rocket.

Shouting with excitement, the Amazons picked up the pace.

Cool, thought Buffy, finally getting it. It’s a race: first one to touch the stag wins, I think. The Greeks were into that ‘worship through sport’ with the Olympics, right? Amazingly, ancient history was suddenly a useful class. Whoud’ve thunk it?

On they ran, through scrub and thickets, through creeks and streams, down game trails and across clearings, always just behind the beautiful creature. Time after time, the Amazons had it cornered … only for it to leap in an unexpected direction and the race was on again!

Finally Patricia elbowed her way to the front of the pack, and with a mighty cry of triumph, threw herself forward, and landed on the stag’s broad back, sending both hurtling to the ground.

The Amazons plus two came to a halt, drifting into a circle around the Amazon and their quarry, and a cheer arose as Patricia forced herself to her feet, fist clenched and held high as a sign of victory.

thought Buffy, finally feeling the first hints of exertion kicking in, her legs and side starting to burn as the … whatever it was started to fade, returning everyone to normal. So now we let the stag go and -

Before she could finish the thought, Patricia moved over to the stag, who was just struggling to its feet, and grasped the antlers solidly. “For Artemis!” she cried, and the assembled Amazons cried back in a thunder of piety:

“For Artemis!”

And with an expression of extatic joy, Patricia heaved her muscular shoulders, and forcibly twisted the fallen stag’s head almost the full way around, and with a sickening craaack, like a green branch breaking, she snapped it’s neck. It didn’t have time to make a sound. It barely twitched a leg.

Or not, thought Buffy numbly, her expression blank, and she sank to her knees, tears starting to run down her face. The most beautiful animal Buffy had ever seen was now just a piece of meat.

All around her, the Amazons moved into amiable activity, producing knives to butcher the carcass, chatting excitedly as they started a fire, surrounding a beaming Patricia to congratulate her success.

She was barely aware of first Lilly, then Valerie, settling down next to her and wrapping their arms around her as she quietly wept.

*** *** ***

The party ran down, the band got tired, and management announced that the Bronze was closing. Eventually even the most enthusiastic partygoers admitted defeat, and the club emptied. The Cordettes had left hours earlier, and now Xander, Cordelia, Harmony and Willow were joined by a weary but happy Oz, guitar case in hand.

“Ria said her friends would cover the town tonight, so we don’t have to worry about patrolling,” said Xander as they walked to the parking lot. “But we should get back to it tomorrow night.”

“Cool,” said Oz, arm around his girlfriend. “Meet in the library at lunch? We can check in with Giles, see if he’s got any info on Buffy.”

“Wouldn’t it be great if she just, you know, showed up at school tomorrow, like nothing happened?” asked Willow wistfully.

“She kinda got expelled,” pointed out Cordelia. “Also there’s the whole ‘wanted by the police’ thing. I’m pretty sure she’s not going to be in class anytime soon.” Surprisingly, she actually sounded a little sad about that.

A little.

“I wonder what she’s doing right now?” asked Willow.

*** *** ***

Kneeling in an impossible forest, the scion of Artemis wept for a stag, wept for her mother, wept for herself.

I just want to go home, she realised.

Note: Okay, that's all I have so far. Part 9 is in the works, and has been for a while: hopefully adding these to tthfanfic will get my creative juices flowing again. Thank you all for reading, and all the feedback you've been giving: it's really encouraging.

Hope to have more posted soon.

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