BtVS by Whedon and Mutant Enemy. Discworld and denizens by their author, Sir Terry Pratchett.
Second rune draw, for use in dismantling writer's block: But death occurs only because there has been life in the first place. Without life, there is no death, and without time, there is no life. More generally, then, the Ear rune signifies the unavoidable end of all things in time. -- Nigel Pennick, 'The Complete Illustrated Guide to Runes'
... That's... oddly appropriate for this fic.
Sometimes when you expect something to happen, it is more likely to happen. It's one of the ways the world works.
I understand that if I'd arrived, say, a year later, I would have found the couch in Giles' house occupied by a certain blond vampire with a habit of monopolizing the TV. If that'd happened, I'd have been exposed to Earth soap operas. That might have led to some fairly strange relationship-minded conversations. As it happened, 'Spike' was out of the country (and still an enemy) so the television was free.
Xander found a channel with cartoons. A few seconds into the show, he asked me to sit beside him. After making sure I was comfortable, he jumped up and began to bustle around the small kitchen, making popcorn.He did say he wanted to give me the full TV experience, before I went home,
I thought with a sigh. Oh well.
I looked over my shoulder at him, for a bit, before turning back to the TV.He is rather cute, maybe if I'd met him sooner... Might have been nice having a boyfriend who was fairly reliable, or one that wasn't a fundamental force of nature, or even one that would exist whether I believed in him or not. Although he does have rather
strange taste in moving pictures...
I winced as a cat on-screen had his tail shoved into a fire. You'd think that would hurt.
The cartoon cat kept on talking like nothing had happened, while the pain visibly traveled up his body, taking several seconds to reach his brain. 'Yee-Ow!'
Xander plopped into the couch beside me, carrying the finished snack, just as I was exposed to the 'running off the cliff' gag for the first time.
"You'd think they'd catch on a lot sooner," I said, as the canine looked down and very quickly lost his footing. "Or at least reality would."
"It could be a metaphor, or a warning against focusing too much on yourself at the expense of others, or even the artists going 'nude-nudge, wink-wink'," Xander said, with the appropriate motions. "We not only created these characters, we made the world too. This is how we remind you of it... Or something like that."
I stared at his unexpected insight for several seconds, until he blushed slightly.
Covering for himself, he changed the subject. "You don't seem so surprised about the tech itself. I mean, according to what Faith said, you guys just barely invented the telegraph."
"It's not a matter of technology that keeps us from making shows like this on the Disc," I said. "They tend to thin reality and there's a lot of stuff out there trying to force their way in..."
"It's probably also a matter of taste... Oh my," Giles said, approaching the couch just as someone on-screen lit a round bomb and shoved it down the cat's throat. "Speaking about the Disc, I'd thought you might like to flip through a few of the books while you're waiting for us to finish preparing."
"Thank you, but, no," I answered kindly (and firmly) as an explosion rocked the screen. "If I want to eavesdrop, I'll go to my grandfather's library."
"Oh. Very well." As Giles turned away, I could barely hear him mutter the phrase: "Though I expect these books would be safer..."
I decided that he had somewhat of a point and that I was slightly interested in the 'footnotes' as he had called them, but I'd been having a rough day and was a bit too stubborn to back down.
Eventually, the preparations were made.
I flicked the vial I was supposed to carry into battle. "So, what kind of potion is this?"
"It's not a potion," Willow said. "It's a spoken spell. One of those weird demonic languages that's actually liquid."
"Try being only able to speak in ruby and quartz," Amy chimed in, quite happy to have helped with the alchemy. "Those things can hurt on the way out."
The assault on the lot this time was better planned. Our battle formation was a line with the heavy hitters on the sides and the magic users in the center.
A few steps into the seemingly empty yard we were attacked by most of the remaining host of Harbingers. They were too busy using their weapons to notice how we, by moving our center back and closing in from the sides, had forced them into a rough circle.
Too busy too notice, that is, until a forcefield went up with the nine Harbingers trapped inside.
As the witch-in-training and her more advanced counterpart began to fill the sphere with a flammable gas, Giles walked around it with a stick and pigment, carefully layering a ritual circle into the ground.
Descending on ropes into the cavern, Faith and Buffy held themselves steady a foot a so in the air and began prodding the ground to check for traps. Finding none, they landed and turned to face the two Harbingers that were loudly chanting further down the tunnel.
With a shout of 'Lassos away!' the Slayers sent their snares in the direction of the table. I winced as the chanting was cut off in strangled squawks which, when the Slayers started pulling, were quickly followed up by the sound of muffled explosions and falling rock until the battered, burnt and bruised Harbingers were pulled into the light of the hole, their struggling bodies having manage to set off the tripwires and pressure plates lining the tunnel. Once they were brought up to the surface and shoved into the glowing green force bubble with the other prisoners, the magic users started the ritual meant to turn the ex-cultists human again. Giles broke off from his part of the spell to give a stern warning about the gas and that if the prisoners tried any spoken fireballs, once they'd been changed back, they'd be the ones exploding.
Considering the next bit was against something immaterial, it was agreed that I and my scythe would handle it alone, so I started shimmying down one of the ropes.
The way was clear, until First Evil appeared in the black-haired form of Jenny Calendar, hanging from the other rope. "Good work taking away my earthly support," the apparition snarled. "But given the right motivation I can always make more. You're fighting a battle you can't win against an enemy you can't defeat. Believe me, Death's Granddaughter. I will consume you."
"Shove it," I said, brushing past the image and continuing my short descent.
I quickly found the spellbook. It was right where our captive James had said it would be, on the ground by the ceremonial table. I picked it up and tucked it away inside my coat.
"Coward," the First Evil taunted, again appearing before me. "I know all about you. I've eaten the memories of all of your fans whom have died over the past five years. You should be ashamed of yourself, not living up to their hopes and dreams." The sneer deepened. "Running away home, to safety, when you're the only one here who could ever hope to lay a hand on me..."
"The first time you jumped me, I wasn't prepared. The second time, I was barehanded. This time," I drawled, withdrawing my scythe and extending it to the full length. "I'm armed."
With a savage grin spread across my face, I, Susan Sto-Helit, schoolteacher, stepped outside of time in a shadowy cavern in a world foreign to me.
I half-expected the black-haired form standing before me to draw a sword and advance, but the feminine disguise abruptly shifted to a nightmarish clawed form that nearly filled the room.
It took a swipe at me but, taking a step back, I intercepted the blow with a blade that could slice the air itself.
Unexpectedly, there was a flash of light.
When it cleared, we were standing outside the shattered cabin of the 'eaten' Death in a place nearly devoid of colors beside black and deep black.
The hulking monster staggered in a small amount of shock. Recovering quickly, it leaped towards my much smaller form.
In that second of free time I'd put myself into battle position and my scythe, suddenly tiny compared to the evil mass in front of me, was raised to meet it. As it flew towards me I moved my weapon in a great attempt to slice the evil being in two.
Who knows, if the swing had connected it might even have worked...
The very land of the dreamlike place around us rose up and plucked the monster out of the air.
As the protruding pieces of earth slowly resolved into giant hands, they forced the First Evil on its back, like the insect it currently resembled, and held it firmly to the ground.
"Thank you, Grandfather," I muttered, shouldering my scythe for the moment so I could uncork the spell bottle.
A vile hiss filled the air as the liquid made contact. The beast snarled angrily as it unwillingly was warped and distorted into a less tangible form.
The ground beneath me roiled ominously, as if a giant monster was stirring in its sleep. It literally rippled, but nothing broke the surface, and things were calm again.
When the First Evil lost its internal struggle, it became an evil-looking mist. Out of the great dark cloud, a small portion suddenly condensed and fell -splat- to the ground, leaving a gaping hole behind.
The newly-formed, near liquid mass shook, writhed and resolved itself into the skeletal form of a skeleton.
Despite the heavy black cloak wrapped around it, the bony being was shivering, as if it was wracked through with some unnatural chill, or suffering from strong emotion.
It shook its skull, as if trying to clear its thoughts, then struggled to its feet.
It looked around aimlessly for a second, but when it noticed me it seemed to grin faintly, although it was a skull and could hardly do otherwise.
It took a haltering step in my direction, then weakly sank to its knees.
My scythe, forgotten, fell from my fingers to the blackened ground beneath our feet.
I ran to the strange apparition and kneeled in front of it. Soothing words fell from my lips as I reached out to touch a shoulder bone.
It looked up at me, kindly, and accepted my comfort, but only for a moment.
Bony fingers moved like lighting and cut three deep furrows down the side of my face. I had been marked there already, from birth, but I had no idea that it would hurt this terribly.
I fell back in pain and shock as the pale figure - in appearance so much like my Grandfather - rose to tower above me.YOU ARE A FOOL
it shouted deeply. "You came to this place and saw an emptiness because it was here, but your expectations colored it. This place looks like this only because it's a reflection of your mind. You looked at this place and saw the house of a has-been, of a Death who was and might be again. Let me assure you, that image was the house of a never-was."
I scuttled away, but it did not hesitate in its approach. It spoke in light mocking tones so unlike the ivory figure I knew and loved.
"The ground beneath our feet is the shell of my prison. That," it sneered, pointing at the cloud still hovering above. "And this pitiful form," it said, pulling at its cloak. "Are merely my Avatar. Which you have momentarily dispersed. I am merely the dreams of a much greater force. Can you hear it stir with wakefulness?"
The ground rippled again, violently enough to knock me off my feet, and I knew that my fanciful impression had been right on the mark.
"When this universe was young and the energies that might have birthed your Grandfather were free, I consumed them. They have given me much strength, they've allowed me to drive a wedge into this reality..."
The thin form of the skeleton somehow erupted into a figure twelve-feet tall. It drove its bony arms deep into the ground on either side of my suddenly prone body, pinning me in place as the skull began to grow.
"Think of the misshapen figures warming themselves at the candle of your world... I assure you, when I devour you and use your power to break the seal of my prison, this world will suffer far worse than those things could ever imagine. Your power is a twin to mine, it calls to me, allows me to touch you... It is most ironic, the fault that lies deep inside yourself, that kept from seeing things here as they truly were. Your mind came to this place, saw the emptiness and molded in a way that would reflect reality, but also let you interpret it wrongly. In the end, you defeated yourself."
The last ripple had tossed my scythe so it lay just out of arm's reach. It was all I could do to brush the tip as the grinning mouth above me opened up wide and slowly, oh so slowly, began its descent in order to swallow me whole.
My mind racing, I latched onto two things. First, it was talking way too much. It must have wanted me afraid and off-balance... All the previous attacks had been geared towards that and, I was sorry to admit, it'd pretty much succeeded. That probably meant it wasn't able to consume me unless I was in the right frame of mind, although considering the oncoming teeth
I wasn't about to discount gratuitous physical damage...
Then there was something the thing had said...
Something about the place molding to my expectations.
The place would have been the home of Death, had there been one living free...I
The 'spirit' of my Grandfather hadn't made those hands.
The ground was the seal of the First's prison. It may have caused the ripples in its struggles to wake up and join its Avatar on this side of reality, but it hadn't made the hands that had helped me...
I had let myself fool myself into seeing signs of my Grandfather's absence as signs of his presence here, though here he'd never been 'born'.
That had created the abandoned house. That had channeled the unformed energies into my scythe.
The land was reshaping itself to my wishes, conscious or not.
So here, as if it was a dream, I could have the land do anything.
Stopping the futile attempt to retrieve my scythe, I sunk my hand deep into the loose earth I was laying on.
I pulled out a very large clump of dirt, about twice the size of my head.
The loose bits fell away, to reveal a large black round bomb, exactly like the 'cartoon' one I'd been shown. The brightly sparking fuse was already lit, in a very unrealistic manner.Thank you, Xander,
I silently thought as I shoved my creation into the gaping maw of the being above me.
It stopped its motion and looked at me, curious.
I barely had time to get out of the way before the twisted thing exploded.
Not waiting to see what remained after the dust settled, I squinched my eyes shut and... concentrated.There is bare ground here, all around the site of my Grandfather's house, and that is wrong... For there should be... "WHEAT."
I opened my eyes and saw the rolling golden straw, exactly as I had imagined it. Exactly as I had recalled it from my memory of home.
It filled the half-imagined space from horizon to horizon.
The dark cloud of the First Evil's Avatar was broiling in the sky above me, trying to reform.
The wheat began to sing, a soft sweet lullaby.
The dark cloud dispersed widely, the bits sleepily sinking to the ground.
I smiled and turned to leave but, suddenly, some stands of wheat began to darken and die, their song turning sour.
Before I could do anything, Demon Binky flew in from elsewhere, bearing bright sparks of light.
The glowing orbs flitted over to tend to the dying wheat. In their radiance, the darkened plants healed, but as soon as they had cured one stand another started to die. Showing signs of intelligence, the pale blue spheres gathered to discuss and rearrange themselves accordingly and I realized what they were.
As I watched this flurry of activity, Demon Binky trotted over and nuzzled my hand.
"Thank you," I said, petting his bony head. "I don't know where or what those souls came from, but I have the feeling this reality owes you a lot. Listen," I stated, holding his head firmly and turning it to face me. "I have the feeling that if I stayed here forever I could preserve this balance and keep the First Evil asleep, but this isn't my world and I have to go home."
After a bit, during which it studied me carefully, the burning horse sadly nudged my coat. I nodded and pulled out the book that had brought me to this reality.
Resting my back against the horse, I worked my way through the thick volume, focusing mainly on the seemingly relevant bits. Around us, the wheat sang its mostly cheerful song.
When I had finished and I was mainly resolved to my course, I walked over to the lone umbrella stand that looked so out of place among the rolling fields and slid my folded scythe carefully into it. Things were off balance in that world enough as it was and I wasn't about to make further holes, although I would miss having a weapon of my own...
Sighing, I mounted Demon Binky and headed back to 'Earth'. Back to the empty lot, armed as I was with the book that would take me the rest of the way home.
I was somewhat heavy of heart, but what else could I do? If not the rest of the Discworld, my students needed me.
It just goes to show...
Sometimes things happen you expect to like. Sometimes the world works out.