Author’s Note: Effusive thanks to all reviewers who answered my request for what kinds of gifts might be given to the New Council from the Justice League. Contributors included the following: wadewilson, tjack, dogbertcarroll, sandi, ordieth, Genuka, dragonbard, valandar, bobboky, xionchen, and dcarson. I hope you enjoy how these suggestions were used in the following chapter. Once again, thank you very much, everyone!
Looking around the room, Xander Harris contemplated how it’d once more been proven that all of humanity could be divided into just three groups when it came to dealing with the wrapping paper of their newest presents: the Shredders, the Savers, and the Indifferent. (He’d really wanted to keep up the alliteration, but Xander couldn’t at the moment think of any word that started off with the letter ‘s’ and had to do with a total lack of interest. A short while later, he came up with ‘so-so’, but it was far too late then.)
Buffy and Dawn were naturally Shredders, given how a small cloud of paper particles still hung around both of these young women as a result of their enthusiastic ripping into minuscule scraps the protective coverings of the items Xander had handed over to them during the past few minutes.
The exact opposite reaction had been shown by Giles and Willow for the same period. When they’d been given their own presents, the mature man and the girl he’d known ever since Sunnydale performed the identical painstaking actions, as if these were previously rehearsed. With scrupulous care, steady fingers opened the folded ends of the wraps and then coaxed out the gifts concealed within, leaving behind completely intact the wrapping paper so that it could be retained for reuse or as a memento. Xander, along with everyone else in the room, resignedly waited for two prime examples of Savers to finish their fussy task so that the subsequent present could be delivered to the next person in line.
Which was Faith, thank God. This Slayer had made a quick and efficient grab, rip, and gloat over her revealed totally bitchin’ piece’a loot from boytoy’s li’l trip to that weird-ass comic book universe. Ignoring the discarded gift wrappings now lying on the den floor of Xander’s apartment where she was standing, Faith happily spun in her hand several times the impressive-looking spiked mace, testing its balance, weight, and reach. Her wide grin abruptly turned into a puzzled expression at how oddly this weapon felt in her grip. It wasn’t a bad sensation, just a bizarre one, as if it was a good deal lighter than it really should be.
Glancing up at where Xan was sitting in his corner armchair and smirking at where the others were settled in the den couches, Faith called at him, “Yo, Xan, what’s this thing made of, anyways?”
His own sudden grin stretching from ear to ear, Xander cheerfully responded, “It’s called Nth metal, Faith. En-tee-aitch, with a capital ‘N’. Your mace comes from Hawkgirl’s homeworld Thanagar, and Shayera Hol told me it’s one of the spares she brought along with her. She also asked me to say she hopes it’ll be a great help in dealing with all those supernatural monsters you usually go up against.”
“Huh,” Faith commented, shifting her attention from Xander to more closely eye the mace she was holding. Faith eventually announced to everyone there in a quite thoughtful tone, “I’m gettin’ a kinda strange vibe from it, guys. Not bad, see, but like…it’s ready ta get ta work.”
From where Willow was seated on the other couch, this witch dryly said, “Yes, I’m sure. On the other hand, Faith, that mace is making my skin itch even from here. It’s obviously some sort of magical disruptor. Aside from how hard you can hit someone with it, I’m betting it’ll also totally ruin any magic attached to whatever you’re fighting. From what I can tell without a closer examination, even a casual swipe with it against any vamp that ordinarily wouldn’t scratch them will instantly turn them into dust without needing a stake or chopping off their heads.”
Faith at once perked up at hearing this wonderful news, giving a fond pat with her left hand onto the mace head. She looked again to where Xander was, asking him hopefully, “Ya got any other terrific details ’bout my latest toy, Xan?”
“Well, I asked Shayera if it’d help you fly like she can.” Xander sympathetically shrugged at how Faith’s eager face fell when he continued, “She said sorry, but no. The best that could be done was to make it a lot lighter, so that it won’t be so hard to carry for when you go on patrol. Other than that, it’s practically indestructible even with Slayer strength. And like Wils said, it’ll work great against all kinds of magic. Hawkgirl took down Solomon Grundy using her own mace, and he was a zombie who could go one-on-one against Superman.”
Sneaking a peek at where Willow seated next to her now had a very sour expression upon this red-haired witch’s features, Dawn interjected a note of caution, “Faith, it’d be a real good idea to be careful with your mace around Willow and the rest of the coven here. Keep it away from them, that kind of thing. Am I right, Wils?”
“Yes,” grumpily admitted Willow. She cast a more calmer gaze at where Faith was staring back in worry at her, telling the Slayer, “I’m sorry, Faith, but no matter how useful it’ll be, that mace still gives me the absolute wiggins. It’s just like, uh, carrying around a live cattle prod merrily sparking away at fifty thousand volts and how everyone else at the Academy would react to this. Like Dawn said, do your best to never let it touch anybody with magic on our side. I’ll warn the coven, and the protective wards we set up at the Academy and other New Council places will be adjusted so you can bring your present in and out of them without blowing all our hard work into flinders.”
From where she’d been delighting over her magnificent samurai sword from none other than Richard Dragon himself, Buffy sitting by Giles on the other couch absently wanted to know, “How come that didn’t happen when Xander got back? I mean, he had Faith’s present when Mister Fatey and Zamma sent him here, right? So, why didn’t that make the wards go poof-- ”
Beaming at her friend mangling other peoples’ names just like old times, Willow now in a much better mood interrupted Buffy, “It was a very elegant casting, one of the best I’ve ever seen. Xan and everything he was carrying were shielded so well that their magic and ours didn’t interfere with each other. Now that he’s here though, the presents he gave us will react normally to our dimension if they’ve got magic in them.”
Willow looked over again at Faith. “Practicing with your mace in one of the workout buildings or elsewhere on the Academy grounds is perfectly fine. Just wait a few hours until you leave here past the wards; that’s when we’ll be done modifying them.”
“No prob,” Faith shrugged. She courteously laid her mace down along the bottom of the den’s opposite wall as far away from Willow as possible. A slightly wry smile flickered across her lips when Faith heard the witch sigh with relief. From out of the corner of her eye, Faith also saw how boytoy also seemed to find this kinda funny. The small box in Xander’s lap then caught her attention.
Impulsively, Faith tossed off, “So, izzat what ya got there the last present, Xan? Who’s windin’ up with it?”
Even Giles was diverted by that from his exhaustive study of the large tome he was holding. For the past several minutes while the others had been chatting together, the preoccupied Englishman instead watched in utter fascination as the book’s blank pages adding themselves in between the covers from out of thin air were then overlaid by text just as mysteriously being written upon the previously bare sheets. In crisp, comprehensive detail, long-lost secrets of the ancient world’s most unknown cultures were being revealed to the former British Museum associate.
This was due to the book’s innate enchantments shared by the two other volumes also being clutched by Willow and Dawn. These three tomes were personal gifts from Doctor Fate. Now that they were in the home dimension of Xander Harris, all of them were magically absorbing into themselves different historical information from throughout thousands of years up to the current era. As already noted, Giles’ present would show him the true facts of humanity during their struggles towards civilization.
Willow’s own gift was gathering into it the sum total of magical knowledge which every witch, wizard, and other mages on Earth had learned over the millennia. Given that Doctor Fate’s powers were unique to this dimension, it was no wonder that any attempts by those previous spell-casters to keep their secrets hidden from others who might use their own magic to steal them totally failed in this case. Willow had already squealed with glee and then nearly fainted in horror at some of the things she’d skimmed through. All the information in her progressively-increasing book of knowledge was clearly going to have to be investigated later on over how to either best use it or make absolutely sure nobody ever learned about the really alarming stuff.
Lastly, Dawn’s tome was also growing fatter by the moment due to the formerly vanished languages spoken and inscribed by now-extinct tribes who’d once lived throughout the world being added in full detail to her book. It wasn’t just seeing in there the gone-astray communications of these peoples with their vocabulary, syntax, and grammar that was set down which mainly excited someone who’d recently gained from Oxford University their doctorate in linguistics. Most thrilling of all for Dawn was having the chance to read the treasure of songs, philosophies, laws, orations, jokes (including some of the dirtiest yet still very hilarious she’d ever come across), stories, and rules for living. She could spend her entire life totally engrossed in the book, but that wasn’t solely what Dawn was already planning for in the future. It’d take a good deal of effort and discretion, but there were ways to convey what she now knew throughout the entire linguistics community without her new knowledge being summarily rejected or disallowed because Dawn couldn’t back up her sources.
However, all that was to happen much later. For now, Giles, Willow, Buffy, and Dawn joined with Faith in mutually awaiting Xander’s reply to this Slayer’s question. Except that instead of opening his mouth, that man just grinned at them while casually flipping open the lid of the box in his lap, to then glance down at this. Following Xander’s gaze, the others in the room saw this small wooden container’s contents, which looked like nothing but…black dust?
Completely filling up the box to its rim, this strange substance then had Xander entirely plunge his left hand from fingertips to his upper knuckles into the box. The dust didn’t overflow but rather smoothly moved to cover the part of his hand now embedded in this, which was next quickly withdrawn from where it’d been placed. Still watching in their increasing puzzlement, the rest of the room now saw that instead of being covered with clinging dust, Xander’s hand was unsoiled save that on his ring finger at this moment, he indeed possessed a plain black ring there.
Clenching his fist to then bring up his left hand to chin level and displaying what he was now wearing, a smirking Xander declared in his most boastful tone to them all, “Nanite armor.”
As if those words had in fact been a signal, the black ring on Xander’s left hand abruptly shifted from its former solidness to then spread out with equal speed in a near-liquid rush of dark substance which covered the man’s entire hand. Next came in a blur of action (which even the two Slayers there weren’t quick enough to distinguish from the whole process) the complete swathing of Xander in what definitely appeared at the end of this into being clad from helmeted head to booted toe in skin-tight, metallic armor of a mostly midnight hue but with hints of grey and purple shading around the joints and along the lines of the muscles.
From where he was jovially regarding his gaping friends through a clear full faceplate, Xander guffawed to them all, “Oh, yeah! Can’t be described as anything else but priceless, the expressions you’ve got now!”
The sound of his voice had easily carried through the protective covering of what was now over Xander’s visage, which was next accompanied by their comrade’s continuing laughter as Faith and the others maintained their pole-axed attitude in staring at him. Eventually, Giles was the first to recover and demand in a strangled tone, “What the devil is
Second Author’s Note: We’re coming down to the final lap! Maybe one more chapter to go (and yes, the information of what exactly Xander did in Arkham Asylum will be revealed then).
Further Note: If you’re curious about the mention of Richard Dragon in this tale, he’s probably the premier human martial artist in the DCverse. That hero never became widely known despite a few short runs of his own title, but RD has more than held his own against the Batman a few times when they’ve encountered each other. This impressed the Dark Knight enough so that RD was brought in to train others in the Batfamily, including Barbara Gordon’s escrima lessons after her paralysis from the Joker‘s attack. So, naturally, it’s quite possible for RD to learn about an unusual visitor to Barbara who’d mentioned another young woman having a serious fondness for pointy, stabby, and slicey things.