Midsummer Nights and Mythological Creatures
The world surrounding Xander faded back into view as the blue glimmer faded. He found himself standing in the midst of a darkened forest, a small clearing lit by a waning moon. He shivered slight breeze blew by him, though the night was actually quite warm.
He barely had time to take in the darkened details of the woods when the sounds of heavy footsteps approached him through the woods.
Xander was no fool, though he wasn’t the most well-versed in matters of classical schooling. He ducked low behind a bush, breaking off a long branch to use as a stake.
He shook his head slightly, wondering what the hell had happened to the library. He’d obviously had a spell cast on him, but he still needed to figure out what it had done.
Of course, he rather hoped that Willow would be able to figure it out right quickly and get him back before he ever had to work it out himself.
Six men walked into the clearing. The first one was studying a scroll of some sort, apparently oblivious to the world around him. Four of the others peered into the darkness, looking nervous. These five all wore cotton-spun clothing in an old style, simple, undyed clothing that blended well with their surroundings.
The sixth was something else entirely. He was wearing a ridiculous pair of blooming shorts over what appeared to be tights, topped by a somewhat puffy jacket and a wide white ruff about his neck. He was skipping ever so slightly, apparently not bothered in the least by the late hour or the dark trees. Xander peered closer at the man. If he had had the floppy hair cut and close-trimmed goatee, he would think he was Shakespeare.
Xander sighed. Apparently he’d managed to land in the middle of some Shakespearean play rehearsal.
Which, in some sense, he had, though the actors were not yet in costume.
The man in the ruff stopped dead center in the clearing, placing his hands on his hips and raising his chin. “Are we all met?”
Scroll-guy looked up for the first time, and smiled. He was missing a few teeth. “Pat, pat: and here’s a marvellous convenient place for our rehearsal. This green plot shall be our stage, this hawthorne-brake our tiring house–and we will do it in action as we will do it before the duke.”
*Man,* Xander ducked lower beneath his bush. *These guys must really love their art. Either that or all the wacky poetry rotted out their brains.*
“Peter Quince!” Mr. Puffy-Shorts, still posing mid-clearing, raised a grand gesture toward Scroll-guy.
“What say’st thou, bully Bottom?”
Xander blinked. This scene was growing somewhat familiar. Mr. Puffy-Shorts, or Bottom rather, puffed out his chest even further, if that was possible, then seemed to deflate slightly.
“There are things in this comedy of Pyramus and Thisby that will never please. First, Pyramus must draw a sword to kill himself; which the ladies cannot abide. How answer you that?”
One of the other four, a heavy set man with a full beard, stepped forward. “By’r lakin, a parlous fear.”
*What?* Xander was having more and more difficulty following the conversation, but something about it nagged at him. It was eerily familiar. Especially the name Bottom.
Another of the four, this one whip thin and nervous looking, spoke up. “I believe we must leave the killing out, when all is done.” His two companions, a boy-faced man about Xander’s height, and a dark-complexioned man with a wildly overgrown beard and mustache, nodded.
Mr. Puffy-Bottom, as Xander had redubbed the man, grinned at the other men. “Not a whit: I have a device to make all well. Write me a prologue, and let the prologue seem to say we will do no harm with our swords, and that Pyramus is not killed indeed: and, for the more better assurance. . . .”
*More better?* Xander shook his head. *Even I know that’s wrong. And does he really have to use so many words?*
“. . . tell them that I, Pyramus, am not Pyramus but Bottom the weaver: this will put them out of fear.”
Xander shook his head and stood. The men were obviously harmless, and might be able to give him an idea of what was going on. That is, if he could manage to translate what they were saying.
Peter Quince, aka Scroll-guy, was still talking. “We will have such a prologue, and it will be written in eight and six.”
Mr. Puffy-Bottom was almost bouncing in his excitement. “No, make it two more: let it be written in eight and eight.”
“Er, hi!” Xander waved. The six men in the clearing all jumped and spun, Bottom jumped the highest. “Um, where are we?”
The heavy set man turned back to Quince. “Will not the ladies fear the lion?”
The thin man nodded again. “I fear it, I promise you.”
“Hello?” Xander stepped further into the clearing. “Look, I know I’m interrupting something, but I’m a bit lost. Are we anywhere near Cleveland?”
Wild-Beard and the boy exchanged glances. Wild-Beard mouthed “Cleveland?” and Quince, looking put out, turned to Xander.
“Well met, gentle sir. I fear we know not of this fief of which you speak, but if will allow us to complete our play without further interruption, we shall set to our best foot and find you your home forthwith.”
Xander nodded. “If that means ‘stop interrupting us and we’ll get back to you’, then, um, can you point me in the direction of someone with the time to help?”
Bottom approached Xander and bowed low. “Forgive dear Quince. He is well intentioned and indeed the best of us all, barring my good self, but he is like a pin point on the matters close to his heart.” Bottom offered a hand. “I am Bottom the weaver. My compatriots in this, the most dramatic of arts are Peter Quince, Tom Snout, the tinker,” He gestured to the heavy set man, “Francis Flute the bellows-mender,” this the boy-faced man, “Robin Starveling the tailor” the thin man, “and Snug.”
Wild-Beard waved cheerfully.
“I’m Xander. The carpenter and sometimes Slayer-helper.”
Wild-Beard, Snug, Xander corrected himself, frowned. “Lysander? Sirs, I did pass old Egeus at noontime; he spoke of Lysander and his daughter in some unhappy terms.”
“Er, no, that’s Xander, not Lysander. I don’t know Egeus or his daughter.” Xander raised his hands. “I really just got here.”
“If we may continue, friends?” Peter Quince was starting to get rather antsy. Bottom turned, his voice at its customary bellow.
“Indeed, Quince! Let us repair to our task. Xander, feel you welcome to sit aside our platform and enjoy the fruits of our labors!”
“He means for you to sit and watch, sir.” Snug smiled.
“Oh. Um.” Xander glanced around. These fellows were so far his best hope at finding his way home, though that hope did look somewhat dim. “Sure.”
Bottom turned away from Xander and back to Quince and the others. “Now, masters, you ought to consider with yourselves–to bring in (God shield us!) a lion among ladies is a most dreadful thing. For there is not a more fearful wild-fowl than your lion living; and we ought to look to’t.”
The heavy set man, Snout, scratched his chin. “Therefore, another prologue must tell he is not a lion.”
Snug looked fearful, and ready to object, but whatever he had to say was drowned out by Bottom, who started gesturing manically. “Nay, you must name his name, and half his face must be seen through the lion’s neck, and he must himself speak through, saying thus, or to the same defect: ‘Ladies,’. . .”
Snug continued to open his mouth to contradict Bottom, but was continuously drowned out by the other man’s pseudo-intellectual fervor.
“. . . or ‘Fair ladies–I would wish you,’ or ‘I would request you,’ or ‘I would entreat you, not to fear, not to tremble: my life for yours. If you think I come hither as a lion, it were pity of my life. No: I am no such thing: I am a man as other men are’. And there indeed let him name his name, and tell them plainly he is Snug the joiner.”
Xander doubted whether or not Bottom could tell anyone anything “plainly”.
The discussion continued in this vein for quite a while longer, as the players pondered how best to acquire moonlight and a wall in their playing space. At the mention that a man should have to play wall, Bottom and Quince turned toward Xander.
“Oh no!” Xander stood. “No, no, no, I’m not an actor. No way.”
“Gentle sir, it is not for our own sakes that we ask this favor of you: it is rather that the Duke and his fair Hippolyta will be wed four nights hence, and have requested of the townsfolk a jovial time for their entertainment.”
Bottom seemed about to suggest to Quince that HE should portray the wall, as well as, apparently, all other roles in the play, when Xander spotted a diminutive form skulking in the bushes behind them. Xander’s eyes widened as he caught sight of a pair of horns. He sidled toward where the demon crouched.
“Um, maybe you should get to rehearsing? I’ll watch from, er, over here,”
Quince nodded absently and instructed his players about in the space. Xander crept closer to the demon as it watched Bottom speak his opening lines and depart into the bushes.
“A stranger Pyramus than e’er played here!” The demon vanished into the bushes after the hapless Bottom, swiftly losing Xander. He groaned softly under his breath, then scanned the rest of the trees. Odds were against that demon working alone.
Flute, the boyish man, took center stage, apparently massacring his lines. Quince, growing more agitated, corrected him and called out into the bushes after Bottom. Xander winced. He was pretty sure that they wouldn’t be seeing the loud man again.
Oh, but he was indeed wrong.
“As true as truest horse that yet would never tire.”
And Bottom came flying from the woods, his head transformed into that of a donkey. Xander fell backward to the ground and the human words issued forth from the animal head.
“If I were fair, Thisby, I were only thine!”
All five of the other players fell into a panic, and ran off into the trees, leaving Xander alone with Bottom. And the small demon.
“I’ll follow you:” the demon cackled. “I’ll lead you a round, Through bog, through bush, through brake, through briar; Sometime a horse I’ll be, sometime a hound, A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire, And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn, Like horse hound hog, bear, fire at every turn.” With that, the demon bounded off into the woods after the others.
Bottom seemed to have taken no notice of this. Or, for that matter, of his transformed head. Xander grimaced as the man strode up and down the clearing, singing terribly. He had finally realized what was so familiar.
“Crap, you people weren’t performing Shakespeare, you ARE Shakespeare.” The librarian’s parting words echoed in his brain. “I’m trapped in the play. Oh, I am SO screwed.”
Xander squinched his eyes shut, and failed to notice the swirling blue glimmer that suddenly surrounded him as the environment around him faded into black on white text and faded from existence.
Willow watched the crowd of slayers chasing the now panicked blue demon down the street. That would show the Tasi’goth to attack THEIR town. She turned back to where Buffy and Dawn stood, quietly discussing the tactics the young training slayers were using. She grinned. The last several months had been a lesson in “strength in numbers”. The new slayers were adjusting well to their powers, as Buffy and Faith took great relief in their new roles as teachers. Willow herself only seldom accompanied the groups on their outings, only coming when something, like the Tasi’goth demon, a rare species that little was known about, might require her magical skills.
Xander had spent his time training with the slayers, stating that it was about time that he learned how to fight properly. He was doing incredibly well, too. Willow glanced back at the group of slayers, hoping to catch her childhood best friend in action, but he was nowhere to be seen. She shrugged, figuring that he was doing his other duty, serving as the public relations officer to the new and improved Scooby Gang, and was coming up with some explanation for the librarian. Willow headed inside to find him.
The librarian stood in front of the check out desk, a smug grin on her face.
The room practically radiated with magic. Willow frowned. Xander was still missing.
“Miss?” Willow approached the librarian, assuming an innocent air. “Have you seen a man about, yay high, black hair, big axe? I wanted to talk to him.”
The librarian glanced over at Willow, a look of contempt on her face.
“Oh, you knew that ignorant young man? I’m afraid he’s no longer with us.”
“What?!” Willow felt the power swell within her, but squashed it down. Not only was that a sure way to upset the delicate balance of her own magic, but it clashed against the unstable spell residue that filled the room. “What happened to him?”
“He’s. . .” the librarian cocked her head, “studying. He had a great deal to learn about literature.”
Willow’s eyebrows drew together, and she allowed her sight to twist in order to study the magic in the room. It was fractured and jerking, centered around the librarian and a spot about three feet from her. “What did you do?”
“Nothing he didn’t deserve.”
Willow grabbed the woman by the throat. “What. Did. You. Do?”
“The books!” The woman gasped, now recognizing the signature of power that surrounded the Wiccan. “He’s in the books. He’ll be fine, I just wanted to teach him–“
“Shut up.” Willow turned toward the stacks, noting the pile of ruined books on the floor. “Which book?”
When Xander opened his eyes again, he was once again in a clearing in the middle of the night. The Shakespearean players, however, were absent. The moon was shrouded in heavy clouds, and all around Xander were what looked like circus cages, laid out in a careful circle. He hugged himself and shivered, trying to figure out which of the bard’s plays included such a dark scene. He was beginning to wish he’d paid more attention in English class.
Several feet away stood a youthful man in a dark blue magician’s robe, complete with pointy hat. He was fiddling with the lock on the cage in front of him, cursing darkly to himself. A moment later, he could hear a high, scratchy woman’s voice berating the man.
“Ho-ho!” It cried. “Some magician! Some magician!”
A magician, even if he weren’t a terribly powerful one, was exactly what Xander needed. He rushed forward, even as the rake like man opened the door to the cage and let the creature within step out.
Xander froze, his eyes going wide. The creature, while being generally horse-like, was easily the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. It’s body was more that of a deer than a horse, it’s neck almost absurd in it’s length and slenderness. It’s mane and tail fluttered gently in the wind, and it’s large eyes peered into the darkness at the other cages. A small, translucent gold horn pocked out of the middle of its forehead, paled by the glimmering light of the long, silver spiraled horn that grew from nearly the same spot.
Xander knew, from years of research through Giles’ books, that unicorns, unlike the forces of darkness, were entirely fictitious.
And seeing the ethereal being striding from cage to cage, releasing a torrent of worn, battered, mundane animals from their captivity, he dearly wished that they weren’t.
Xander tore his eyes from the creature as she peered into what appeared to be an empty cage. He shivered, and turned his gaze back to the magician.
Who was currently being throttled by a dark thug.
*Crap!* Xander bolted forward, toward the struggling magician, as he felt the wind pick up.
The clouds split overhead, revealing a blood-red harvest moon, casting a sinister sheen over the whole nocturnal carnival. Xander stopped short again as the two battling men turned as one in horror, to stare somewhere behind him. Xander spun, dreading what he was going to see.
It seemed to made entirely out of brass and gold, an enormous bird-creature with a hag’s face above the sagging, bare human breasts. It’s wings spread and closed again, sending another terrible gust of wind over the carnival. Xander began to slowly back up.
“Harpy!” Xander screwed his eyes shut, both to defend them from the horrible sight of the creature in the last cage, and to try and remember what the books had said about defeating a harpy.
Of course, the harpy described in Giles’ books was a great deal smaller than this one, and spent its time fowling up men’s food, rather than seeming to grow larger by the moment, flashing permanently bloodstained claws.
The unicorn approached the horrid creature with a prancing gate, a perfect contrast of silver beauty and gold terror. Xander felt himself grow small and false in the face of them.
The harpy struck out at the unicorn with her claws, and Xander nearly screamed. He started forward, determined to protect the perfect creature from her dangerous sister.
The harpy ascended into the air, then dropped again, straight for the unicorn. Xander lunged forward, knowing he would be too late, only to watch as a small scratch appeared in the unicorn’s flank and the harpy veered ever so slightly to the side.
To where a withered woman stood, shaking her fist in the face of her own destruction.
“Not alone!” The woman cried as the harpy swept toward her. “You never could have freed yourselves alone! I held you!” And then she died, torn apart by the creature’s claws.
Xander swallowed thickly as the harpy took once more to the air. He noticed his magician and the unicorn walking slowly away from the site, as the harpy attacked the thug. He turned to run after the departing pair, who seemed to be his only hope for release from his literary prison, but the harpy soared over head, nearly scalping him, and the force of the wind drove him to the ground.
Xander’s head bounced off a rock, and the world dissolved into darkness, peppered with brief flashes of silver and gold.
Additional Disclaimer: The first book is, obvioulsy, _A_Midsummer_Night's_Dream_ by William Shakespeare. Or, since we're talking books and not simply stories, we'll say it was within a copy of the_Complete_Works_of_Shakespeare_. The second is _The_Last_Unicorn_, by Peter S. Beagle.