I don't own anything. Buffy is not owned by me. It is owned by rich, talented people. I'm a nobody. Please don't sue me. A Dark Forest
Ratatoskr, with Buffy and Willow clinging to its back, emerged into a clearing in the middle of a vast, dark forest. Towering over their heads were great evergreen trees climbing hundreds, or even thousands, of feet into the air. It was cold enough for their breath to fog, and the trees and ground were covered in a thin blanket of snow. The sun was low in the sky in the distance, although it wasn't so low as to be dark quite yet.
Buffy dismounted the giant green squirrel, followed by Willow, who smiled and thanked the strange creature before it disappeared. The Slayer took several deep, bracing breaths, her spidey-senses reeling unpleasantly, giving her a headache and no useful information. Svartálfaheim had had a steady buzz to her senses that kept her from feeling anything useful, but the dull roar of Jotunheim was an order of magnitude less pleasant.
Willow smiled and picked up a pair of pinecones from the ground, muttering a quick incantation over them. They began to glow, until a flickering blue flame surrounded each of them, although they didn't burn her hand. “Here we go,” she said brightly. “This'll keep us warm. This place is no California. Heck, it's not even Scotland!”
Buffy eyed the conspicuous magic dubiously, before taking her pine cone with a sigh. While she didn't like Willow's casual spellcraft, she wasn't about to turn down something to take the edge off of the chill. She may have spent the previous year and more in Scotland, but she was still a California girl at heart, and the dimension that they were in was even colder than the mission that she had run in Saint Petersburg the previous winter.
“So, creepy forest, big trees,” Buffy said. “This is gonna be so much fun, I can tell.”
“Yup,” Willow agreed. “Two city girls, alone in the woods in a hell dimensiony place. What could go wrong?”
At that moment, a great howling arose. The call echoed from tree to tree through the forest, and was soon answered by other cries around the area. The heavy woods muffled the sound, making it difficult to pick out exactly where the cries were coming from, but it was obvious that the wolves were scattered all around them.
The two women exchanged a look, before Buffy rolled her eyes. “Well, at least this won't be boring. And for the record? Don't tempt fate with sarcasm.”
Willow nodded in agreement, before conjuring another tracking spell. “Find the brother of Eitri,” she told it. The mote of green light bobbed for a moment, before moving towards the forest. The two women followed it into the trees, the snow of the clearing crunching under their boots.
The great boughs overhead were so thick that even with the blue flames in their hands it was difficult to see any great distance. The soft loam underfoot had little snow, with only the occasion flake drifting down onto their heads. Even their footsteps were muffled as they moved through the dense trees, and the world grew steadily darker as the sun invisibly set.
After a little under an hour a wolf howled again, this time from behind, and with a hungry edge to it that had been absent from the earlier call. The two women exchanged looks as wolves began to cry eagerly all around them, although still some distance off. Despite themselves they began to move more quickly, Buffy fingering a knife and Willow gathering power.
It was ten minutes later when the first wolf arrived. It was larger than a horse, with thick black fur and red eyes that glowed in the dark. It came bounding out of the trees along the path that they had taken, howling and snarling, with drool foaming at the corners of its fanged maw.
Buffy reacted first, spinning around at its hungry cry, her knife already tightly gripped before she even finished her spin. She could tell at a glance that the wolf, if something so large and fell could possibly be called simply a wolf, had picked out Willow to be its prey, bounding towards the witch before she was even aware of its presence.
Buffy answered the wolf's snarl with one of her own as she jumped between it and her friend. Bracing herself, she raised her knife as the predator changed trajectories and lunged for her instead, its fangs bared as it flew towards her throat. They came together with a great crash, tumbling over and over again as the huge animal knocked her flying, its great mass easily overcoming her supernatural strength.
Buffy rolled with her fall, one hand wrapping around the beast's furry throat to keep its teeth away from her own neck, while her blade stabbed upwards into its gut. They bounced and tumbled, predatory gazes locked on each other as long claws scraped her side, countered over and over again by fierce steel thrusts. Finally their motion came to stop with Buffy sitting astride the dying beast, its spittle turned red and bubbling from repeatedly punctured lungs.
Buffy climbed to her feet, ignoring the slowly dying wolf and her own sluggishly bleeding wounds as she took in her surroundings. All around them in the dark bright red eyes gleamed hungrily, as the pack of wolves slowly crept closer, eager for the rich meal that they could smell before them. Buffy slowly shifted closer to Willow, her grip on her blade slick with blood, her eyes slowly moving from shadow to shadow as she watched the enormous creatures circling ever more tightly around them.
Willow picked up another pinecone from the the ground, and then spoke a single word in a dead tongue. The pinecone burst into a great flame, white hot and brighter than a flare, before she tossed it into the trees at one of the larger wolves her spell had illuminated. The flame burst into a great blaze, consuming the wolf from snout to tail, its last pained howl trailing off almost immediately as fire took its lungs.
The gleaming eyes and dim shapes that only a Slayer could see between the trees withdrew quickly, leaving the two women standing in an empty clearing. Only the dead wolf next to Buffy and the campfire sized blaze that remained of the other gave any sign that they weren't alone in the woods. Despite the sudden silence both women remained on edge, ready for anything.
The only response was a sudden howl, greater and deeper than any that they had ever heard before. The cry was a challenge, and some primal part of Buffy, some instinct driven by the Slayer need to be the apex predator, called for a response almost before she could think about it. When the wolf howl died off, she answered with a cry of her own.
Her own shout was deafeningly loud, full of contempt and wrath, declaring her dominance for all to hear. A moment later all of the remaining wolves howled, but they suddenly lacked the confidence that they had had before. The deeper, lead wolf did not respond.
Willow looked at Buffy, her brow creased with concern. “What was that?”
Buffy shrugged, wincing slightly as the motion pulled at her many scratches. “Seemed the thing to do.”
“The thing to do
?” Willow asked incredulously. “You... you acted like... like...”
She trailed off as Buffy's eyes met hers. “Look, that call? Don't ask how I know, 'cause knowing this is pretty wiggy, but that call was that wolf saying 'I'm the alpha'. Which he's not, not when I'm around. I'm the Slayer. The
Slayer. No wolf, no matter how big or demony is going to push any Slayer around.”
“You've never acted this way before...” Willow said, her voice trailing off uncomfortably.
“You're not the only one who can change. I checked the records, when we cracked some of the backup vaults open. I'm the oldest Slayer ever. And every year? I don't just get more skilled, though that too, but I'm getting stronger, tougher, faster... and more Slayery. And in the past? I'd have hid it. I tried so hard to deny I was anything but normal, whatever that is. If it meant pretending to be like everyone else, even if it hurt, then I would. But you know what? Being the Slayer is normal now. I can act like a Slayer, and that just means I'm like all the other Slayers.”
Willow smiled slightly. “I'm happy for you.”
“Huh?” Buffy sputtered.
Willow grinned. “What? Just 'cause we're fighting doesn't mean I don't love you. In a friendy kind of way, 'cause even if you are experimenting with impressionable young lesbians, you so aren't on my list. Anyway, I'm glad you've found yourself. Denying who you are is always of the bad.”
“Thanks Wills,” Buffy said, blushing as she realized that she had underestimated her friend so badly. They really did need to talk things through. She opened her mouth to tell Willow about her experience in the future, when she was interrupted by more wolf howls.
“We probably should get moving,” Willow said. “I don't know about you, but I'm a bit tired, and I don't want to have to fight an army of giant wolves out in the open.”
“Yeah,” Buffy agreed. “We should find a place that we can build a good fire and get some rest. Just 'cause I'm top dog, doesn't mean I want to fight a pack.”
The two women moved warily, keeping their eyes peeled, until they found a small rocky ledge that they could huddle under, out of the snowfall. It would also make it impossible for them to be snuck up on from behind, and with a large fire they might be able to rest unmolested. Moving quickly, they gathered a pile of fallen branches and placed some in front of the overhang, and with a quick spell Willow lit a brightly burning fire.
Willow leaned back and soon fell asleep, her many uses of magic that day having tired her out. Buffy yawned and sat next to her friend, leaning close to the fire and keeping her eyes peeled for the possible return of the wolves. Even with the fire, she was sure that they would return eventually.
Hours slowly passed, with Buffy feeding fresh wood into the fire as she struggled to stay warm in the cold watches of the night. Every once in a while she would see gleaming red eyes in the dark, or a shadowy shape just behind the closest trees. To keep herself awake she grabbed a large branch and pulled out her knife, before slowly carving a set of stakes. It was more difficult than she had been expecting, as the wood, despite having fallen from an evergreen, was the hardest she had ever seen. It took a significant amount of her Slayer strength to even whittle at it with her steel combat knife.
When the attack came it happened so suddenly that Buffy actually froze for a moment, before a lifetime of experience and training took over, sending her to her feet while throwing her newest stake all in one motion. The sharpened wood sailed through the air, taking the closest wolf in its huge red eye, sinking all the way through the socket and into the beast's brain. It fell like a puppet with its strings cut, dead too suddenly to even make a sound.
With the vanguard wolf dead, the others began to bark and howl, and Buffy jumped forward to meet the first, her dagger taking it off center in its chest as she crashed into it, sending them to the ground with the Slayer on top. She reared back and stabbed again and again, before standing to meet the next closest.
The next attacks came from her flanks, as the wolves, having seen how quickly she had managed to dispatch the first few, decided to switch tactics, snapping at her in quick hit and run strikes. Buffy was pushed to her limits keeping her three horse sized attackers at bay, employing kicks and controlled slashes with her knife to hold off enemies relentlessly seeking to hamstring her. Eventually she realized that she had to change tactics, throwing her dagger into the head of the wolf in front of her, before spinning and diving on one at her right, wrapping her arms around the surprised beast, and jerking its head to the side with a bone breaking crack.
The fire suddenly flared up brighter than the sun, with huge sparks of white flame bursting off of it and flying in every direction. Where the sparks struck trees or ground they simply burned out, but when they touched wolves they stuck and burned, ignoring any attempt to be put out as they slowly spread, killing the beasts and consuming them utterly. Buffy finally blinked her eyes clear enough to see Willow standing behind the fire, her hair white and her arms in the air as the flames continued spewing white sparks of death.
The alpha wolf, which still hadn't shown itself, howled its deep cry once more, and the surviving wolves turned and ran, fleeing their fiery doom. Buffy pushed herself to her feet, pulling her dagger from the skull of a wolf that she had killed before slowly walking back to Willow's side. The campfire slowly died back down to normal levels, and with it the witch's hair returned to its normal shade of red.
“What a wakeup call,” Willow said, smiling at Buffy. “You okay?”
“Fine,” she replied. “Neat trick.”
Willow shrugged. “Fire is easy to manipulate. I could have done something like that, but simpler... probably before facing Adam. I didn't actually learn it until I spent time with the Coven, but still, not too hard. Do you think they'll be back?”
“Oh yeah,” Buffy said nodding. “The leader still hasn't tried his luck. Probably give it a try when we're all settled down again.”
“Great,” Willow huffed. “How am I supposed to settle down when I know more are coming?”
Buffy smirked and sat beside her friend. “Then you can take watch for a couple hours. Even Slayers need a little shut eye.”
Willow watched incredulously as her friend immediately fell asleep. She shook her head, unable to believe that Buffy could do that so easily when they were in such danger. Looking around, she shivered with more than the cold as she saw the red gleaming eyes in the darkness, and although she couldn't see them clearly, she thought that she saw black patches darker than the night slinking between the trees. She suddenly wondered how she had fallen asleep in the first place.
After a couple of cold, lonely hours, Buffy woke up with a yawn. “How long was I out?”
“Almost three hours,” Willow said, her voice hushed. “You could sleep more if you want.”
“Nah,” Buffy said, standing and stretching with a huge yawn. “Slayer stamina. That's enough sleep.”
Willow frowned. “I don't have to sleep. I know this spell, well, you shouldn't do it all the time, but every once in a while it doesn't hurt to go without.”
Buffy had been feeding the fire, but she paused when she heard that. “You don't need to. I don't get much more than that a night normally, anyway. 'Sides, you should save your strength for when we really need it.”
“Maybe,” Willow agreed with a yawn. “Still, if you need more sleep...”
“I'm fine,” Buffy insisted. Willow finally nodded and leaned back against the stone wall at the back of the ledge, although it was some time before her breath evened out and she slowly dozed off. Buffy smiled at her friend, although it seemed that every time they talked, she found a new use of magic to be concerned about.
Buffy spent most of the night sitting beside Willow, keeping an eye on the woods and occasionally adding more branches to the campfire. When she would get too cold she would stand, stomping her feet slightly before taking a stroll around the camp area, her every sense on alert for any attack. She didn't expect them to launch a raid while she was up and on guard, but better to be safe than sorry.
When the attack did come it happened without warning. Just as the sky had begun turning gray with the false dawn, the dark furred wolves came bursting out of the trees, bearing down on the two women. Buffy jumped to her feet and pulled her dagger, ready for anything.
Anything except the sheer scope of the creature that appeared out of the forest. The alpha wolf was a wolf the same way that a sabertooth tiger was a cat. Like the others it had black, bristly fur, glowing red eyes, and a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. Unlike the others, it was nearly twice as large as an elephant, with a mouth capable of swallowing a person whole.
For all of her experience, Buffy couldn't contain her involuntary gasp as she locked gazes with the monster's uncomfortably intelligent eyes. It snarled menacingly, before howling a bone rattling challenge. From the deepest, most primal parts of her being, Buffy responded in kind.
Then the other wolves were upon them. Buffy leapt forward to stab one wolf in the head, but even as she pulled her knife free the others swept past her, intent on attacking Willow instead, while the alpha bore down on her, growling like a tractor engine. Buffy looked down at her tiny weapon, and then back up at the creature, which had fangs longer than a sword. “I'm gonna need a bigger weapon.”
Willow had been pulled to consciousness by the attack, hopping to her feet and gathering power even as she opened her eyes. Like Buffy she had been stunned for a long moment at the sheer impossible scope of the creature before them, before bringing herself back under control as she watched the furred wave of attackers bearing down on her. She had initially begun preparations for another offensive spell, but when she saw the beasts simply ignore Buffy in favor of attacking her, she desperately raised a defense.
The campfire exploded, and in its place stood a wall of white flame, stretching in a thick arc from one side of the rock shelf to the other. The first wolf had too much momentum to stop itself, and simply plunged into the fire, coming out the other side as a blackened form which crumbled into ash as it slammed into the rock wall beside Willow. The other wolves began to circle and growl as she contemplated her next move.
On the other side of the wall of flame, Buffy prepared herself as she slowly sheathed her dagger. Reaching out with her right arm, she concentrated on the thin magical link that always existed when she was close to Willow, pulling in power from her friend as she prepared herself. Buffy's eyes turned black, and she felt power flowing, but unlike in the past the magic moved easily, quickly coalescing into a six foot sword of glowing, dark green energies.
The alpha wolf bit down at Buffy, and in response she slashed up with the weightless weapon, scoring a deep cut along its snout, forcing it to pull back with a pained snarl and a gout of thick blood. Buffy didn't hesitate, jumping into the air with a flip so that her feet landed horizontally against a large tree, bounding upwards again so that she was at head level with the titanic beast. Gripping the ephemeral sword two handed, she slashed hard, but the wolf was faster than she had expected, ducking out of the way in time to lose only an ear to the deadly attack.
Buffy hit the ground with a roll, before suddenly being batted to the side by the giant wolf. Bouncing and skipping along the ground, she took control of her roll at the last moment, bouncing to her feet and slashing up in time to sever the wolf's left forepaw. It howled in pain, rearing back for a moment, before plunging downward, fanged maw wide.
Buffy saw her opening and took it, leaping into the mouth of the beast past its teeth and onto a tongue the size of a bed. Landing in a crouch, she stabbed upward before the wolf even had a chance to snap shut its jaws. Blood flooded down onto her as the creature went rigid, before falling to the ground, twitching slightly.
The ground shook with the alpha wolf's impact, and the others backed off as it died. Willow lowered her fire wall, her eyes wide as she saw the dead creature, blood pooling around its mouth as Buffy climbed out, her clothing stained red. The Slayer took one long, feral look at the remainder of the wolfpack, before locking her gaze with the largest still living.
The wolf stared at Buffy for a long moment, before twisting its head to expose its throat. The other wolves all lowered their gazes, and whimpered pathetically. After a long moment the larger wolf crawled forward on its belly, until it reached Buffy. It whimpered slightly, before nudging her with its snout.
Buffy shrugged and petted it. After a moment it backed off, and one by one the wolfpack came up to her, letting her pet them before joining the others in a loose circle around the clearing. Willow, bemused, walked out to her friend. “What... what is this?”
“I think I'm the alpha now,” Buffy said, her expression somewhere between bewildered and smug. Suddenly she grinned. “I wonder if Dawnie would like a pet?” Author's Notes
Járnviðr mean “iron wood”, and it's a forest where troll women lived. They were supposed to give birth to giant wolves. Norse mythology has a number of wolves in it, including the giant Fenrir, which is rather famous. Despite the sheer scope of the beast Buffy just slew, that was not actually Fenrir.
I've always liked stuff that explored a bit of the primal side of being the Slayer. It won't be a huge thing in this series, but an ancient apex predator of the supernatural probably should have some instincts that could take some getting used to, like in early Season 5 when Buffy kept feeling a strong urge to sneak out at night and slay, and was unable to rest until she did. She asked for training to get a better control over her Slayer nature, which implies some things that I think are interesting. Hence the alpha thing, here.
The magic weapon from Willow comes from the Season 8 comic, as does Buffy's mystical connection to Willow, which allows her to perform basic magic using her friend's magic.