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Once Around the Realms or a Carpenter's Holiday

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Summary: PostChosen. Xander and company get wisked off to the Forgotten Realms and other fictional universes.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Games > Dungeons and DragonsthuleFR13769,455258633,0913 Aug 0618 Sep 06Yes
CoA Winner

To Jalanthar

Xander/Dawn pairing developing


I do not own Buffy, or anyone else mentioned in this story.




"We should move," Alenon said. "Where there are ten orcs, there are
more."

"Let them come," Dawn said. She had her dagger out and was striding
around, brandishing it. She went stomping off down the trail.

"What's gotten into her?" Xander said.

"Ah, she told me," Alenon said. "A friend of hers, named Boromir,
was slain by orcs. She wishes to avenge his death."

"That was a movie," Xander said. "Or a book," he sighed at Alenon's
puzzled look. "Never mind, we'd better get after her." They
shouldered their gear and headed off after Dawn.

There was a flashing light and a zapping sound from up the trail. An
orc came running towards them, its arm encased in ice. It yelped as
it saw them, and yelped again when Xander's axe struck it at the
neck. The head tumbled off. He blinked. That hadn't happened
before. Maybe the practice was helping.

Up ahead came the sound of some one squealing in fear, an oddly pig
like sound. Dawn was visible through the trees, pointing at someone
with light flashing from her hand. They stumbled into a clearing and
Dawn threw a small orb of something at Xander, who ducked. The orb
struck a tree and splattered, with a sizzling sound.

An orc fled through the trees, and Alenon sent an arrow streaking
after it. The orc stumbled and fell. Giles examined the sizzling
mark on the tree.

"Interesting," he said. "The acid spell?"

Dawn started to walk off through the trees without answering. Xander
caught her arm. "Hey slow down," he said. "We're a team remember."

She turned to him, her face angry and tight, and her eyes flashing.
Suddenly she burst into tears and threw her arms around him. He held
her and made comforting noises.

"It's just, I'm tired and dirty, and the forest goes on and on. I
want Buffy and I want my friends."

"I know Dawnie. But we're going home. It won't be long now. And
Buffy'd want you to be strong, and I know you can be." He continued
like this for a while, until she'd cried out and pulled away. She
smiled at the others.

"Sorry guys. I'm not usually such a big wimp."

They all murmured reassurances, including Beth who stepped forward
and slipped her arms round Dawn. They talked for a moment, and then
went on holding hands. Dawn stopped by Xander and kissed him on the
cheek as they passed him.

He was suddenly conscious that Dawn's clothes had mostly shredded and
she was wearing ragged jeans, a bra, and not much else. Their jeans
were mostly all that was surviving, although Giles' tweed was holding
up well, a fact Xander found mildly annoying.

Giles stepped up and smiled at him. "Lovely day," he said.

"Uh, yeah," Xander muttered. "Looks like no rain, for a change."

"Brilliant girl," Giles continued. "And absolutely beautiful. But
she's high-spirited. She'll need someone steady and reliable." He
looked off down the trail and smiled. "Well, something to think
about when we get back home." He clapped Xander on the
shoulder. "We'd best keep moving, don't want to fall behind." They
pressed on through the forest.




That night Xander sat up with Giles on his watch. When the others
were asleep, he turned to the Watcher and spoke softly. "Okay,
Giles, what's going on? Why is Dawn casting spells like that?"

"You've worked healing magic," Giles said.

"Okay, that too. What's up, and when are we going home?"

Giles sighed. "Traveling between dimensions as described by Chalmers
requires knowledge of both worlds involved. I'm not familiar enough
with this world to guarantee an accurate passage. I can open a
portal now; I'm just not sure where it would lead. Chalmers himself
opened faulty gates about 30% of the time." He leaned against a
tree. "I'm hoping this Alustriel can give us some help. Or at least
that with time and practice I can gain some confidence with this
magic system."

"Okay, but what about Dawn's magic? And Beth keeps turning into
animals."

"These universes," Giles said, "and I'm speculating here, have
certain rules. When outsiders enter the world, it alters them, tries
to fit them into the laws that govern the universe. You see this
with the language. We're changed so that we can speak it. The more
rules oriented a universe is, the more likely it is to alter the
visitor. And this seems to be a very rules oriented place. I
suspect that the longer we stay here, the more we will be changed."

"So Dawn is supposed to know magic here? And Beth is supposed to be
an animal?"

"Not precisely. Who would you be, if you'd been born in this
world?"

"I don't know," Xander shrugged. "A carpenter I guess. Hopefully
one with two eyes."

"Your self esteem issues are a constant irritant," Giles said. "You
should consider therapy when we return. But leave that aside, who
would I be?"

"A wizard," Xander said. "I guess, with all the books and studying
you do."

"And that is what I am becoming. For instance, I was trained in
potions, magical remedies and such, as a watcher. Of course, I was
trained in a modern laboratory. But when I think back on the
training, I remember being in a medieval alchemist workshop, with all
the crude tools common to that era. I currently remember both sets
of memories but the true memories are fading. I suspect in time,
I'll only remember the alchemist workshop."

Xander mulled this over. "We have to get back. We're becoming other
people. We'll lose ourselves if we stay."

"I believe the major personality traits will remain in place, but
yes, we should seek to return home before permanent changes have
occurred." Giles hesitated. "There's another consideration. I
understand this game has a vampiric nature? You kill and then absorb
the victim's energy?"

"Not exactly," Xander replied. "You get experience points by killing
stuff and solving problems, and you spend that on becoming more
powerful."

"A distinction I suppose," Giles shrugged. "Still, who would we be,
given that structure? We've defeated any number of vampires and
demons, several master vampires, a god, the primal force of evil, how
many of these experience points would we have?"

"A lot," Xander replied. "But we didn't do that, Buffy did. We
watched."

Giles sighed, "Therapy as I said, but I'm not sure this universe
agrees with you. I'm gaining knowledge of increasingly powerful
spells. Dawn is showing a similar growth in power. You yourself are
showing a sharp increase in battle skills." He smiled at Xander's
expression. "You've always been good with weapons, but one doesn't
normally master the sword or the bow as rapidly as you have. Have
you any new memories?"

"I actually got some archery practice in on the side," Xander
said. "Didn't want to tell you guys, or make a big deal about it."
He thought about Giles' words. "I think I can ride a horse. I think
I can ride one very well. And I know how to take care of them." He
blinked. "Horses are a lot of work."

"I'm concerned about Dawn," Giles said. "I've been limiting myself,
trying to understand these new powers. But she seems to cast on
instinct. She may try too much and endanger herself." He shook his
head. "There is also Beth who seems to prefer animal to human
form."

"It's Halloween all over again," Xander said. "I'll keep an eye on
Dawn and Beth. You should talk to them though."

"I have, and I will again," Giles said. "But I rather think you have
more influence on Dawn than I do. Stay close to her and try to keep
her from doing too much. I'll concentrate on finding out what's
happening to us."

"And getting us back home," Xander said. He brushed something that
had fallen on his shoulder. It was sticky. "Hey, what is this," he
said.

"Webbing," Giles said. "It's coming from the giant spider that's
moving up behind you. Perhaps if you were to roll sideways?" Xander
threw himself to one side as Giles cast a lightning bolt.




"Nothing," Buffy sighed, tossing another case file aside. "Was this
all of it?"

Vi and Rhona nodded. "There wasn't much left at the nuthouse, but
we boxed everything." Vi indicated the boxes and case files
scattered about the floor of the Cleveland Slayer house. The other
slayers were picking through them, but no one seemed to be having any
luck.

"Maybe Will could try scrying again," Buffy said.

"No," Kennedy replied firmly. "She can't find them and it just makes
her sick." She looked at Buffy. "If you push her too hard, she
won't be any help at all."

"I'm not pushing Willow," Buffy said, sounding a little uncertain.

"Wow," Willow said, from where she working on the computer. "That
place has quite a history." The others crowded around Willow, who
seemed to be looking at old newspaper articles.

"What?" Buffy demanded. She glared at the slayers crowding
around. "Hey, clear out of here." She was ignored or given some
pointed looks.

"Weapons drill in the backyard," Faith called out. The girls groaned
but dutifully filed out the door.

"Thanks," Kennedy said to Faith as Faith went to lead the others.

Buffy looked at Faith and then Kennedy. She frowned. "Thanks
Faith," she said.

Faith grinned at her. "Don't worry B. Xander and Giles will bring
the squirt home safe."

Buffy nodded at her, and then turned to Willow. "Spill, Willow," she
said.

"Multiple disappearances of senior staff," Willow
said. "Disappearances and reappearances. Lots of money flowing in.
Looks like they were donating heavily to charity and making the
social scene." Her fingers flew over the keyboard. "Looks like they
were using the money to hush up some scandals, but I can't find out
what. Ooo, one guy had a wife who was set to be in the Olympics when
she suddenly dropped out."

"What event?" Kennedy asked.

"Archery," Willow said. She pulled up a grainy newsprint
photo. "Wow, she's pretty," she said. "Mrs. Belphebe Shea. There's
no mention as to why she dropped out." She typed some more. "Here's
the head guy, Reed Chalmers and his wife." The photo showed an older
man, a thin bespectacled scholarly type. He was dressed in a tuxedo
and it looked like he was attending some sort of function. His wife
was a slim brunette…

Kennedy and Willow whistled simultaneously. "What," Buffy
said. "She's pretty, so what?"

"Was she in the movies or something?" Willow asked.

"No," Kennedy said. "I'd remember if she was. Look at those eyes."

"Florimel Chalmers," Willow said. "There're lots of pictures of
her." Kennedy laughed.

"What?" Buffy said. "Pretty, cute figure, so what?"

"I can't really explain it Buffy," Willow said.

"Florimel, Belphebe, I know those names," Kennedy said. She shook
her head. "I can't place it, but I've heard them before."

"The entire senior staff disappeared," Willow said. "On 6/24/1965.
There was an investigation but no trace of them ever turned up. Wait
a minute, there was one person left. A Gertrude Mugler. I'll see if
there's any more on her."

Buffy watched Willow working the keyboard. She smiled and laid a
hand on her friend's shoulder. "Kind of like old times," she said.

Willow smiled at her and looked back at the computer. "Yeah, missed
you."

"Missed you too," Buffy said.

"Don't go away so much," Willow said. "Hey, she's still alive.
Here's the address. Hmm, pretty upscale. Guess that's our next
stop."

"I'll call and find out when we can meet her," Kennedy said. She
picked up the phone and started dialing.

"Um, I thought Willow and I would go," Buffy said. Kennedy and
Willow looked at her, then at each other.

"We'll all go," Willow said, smiling brightly.




"Ugh," Dawn said. "Double ugh." The giant spider lay dead on its
back in the center of the camp. The fight had been short but
sticky. A leg twitched, hopefully a spasm. "The monsters here are
so creepy," Dawn complained.

"I don't know," Xander said, pulling the webbing out of his
hair. "It sort of looks like Momma Bezor."

"Yes," Giles said. "It's possible it belongs to a related species."
He bent over the spider and began examining it. Its body was perhaps
10 feet in diameter.

Alenon bent over the spider and began skinning it.

"What are you doing" Beth asked.

"Spiders are excellent eating," the elf replied. "This should keep
us going for several days."

"I'm not eating that," Dawn declared. "No bugs, not me."

"Actually shellfish are the closest thing we have to giant insects,"
Giles said. "So perhaps we should give it a try." He'd finished
examining the spider and had found a small bag stuck in its fur. He
cut it open, spilling out several red gems. He examined them and
sighed. "This is what I mean," he said, holding one gem
up. "Garnets, flawless and expertly cut. What on earth would a
giant spider in the middle of a wood be doing with such things?"

"Maybe it liked them because they are shiny," Beth said.

"That's birds," Giles replied.

"Maybe a gem merchant got lost and the spider ate him," Xander
offered. Giles stared at him.

"The gods made the world, Wizard Giles," Alenon said. "It's not for
us to question their ways." He was carving steaks from the spider's
body. The meat was white and firm, almost rubbery.

"Spider, the other white meat," Beth said.

Xander laughed, "That's a good one Beth," he said. She smiled shyly.




Midmorning the following day saw them approaching a break in the
trees. There was a cool wind coming up. It seemed to hint of snow.
That we don't need, Xander thought.

"Ah, open country," Alenon said, walking towards the opening.

"What?" Dawn said. "What do you mean open country?"

"This is the end of the High Forest," Alenon called, his voice
muffled through the trees. Dawn gave a glad cry and rushed forward.

"I liked the woods," Xander said to Giles. Giles shrugged in
response and they hurried after Dawn.

As the trees fell away, they found themselves looking down into a
large valley. Green grasses led down to a river. It looked like a
big one, grey and cold and moving fast down the valley, to the west
and out of sight. Beyond the river lay a mountain range to the
north. It was huge, dark and massive, with great snowcapped peaks
that thrust among the clouds. It looked impassible.

"Wow, those some big mountains you got there," Xander said.

"We aren't crossing those are we?" Dawn asked.

Alenon laughed. "The Nether Mountains? They are foothills really.
You should see the Spine of the World. But no Dawn, we will not
cross them." He pointed to the river. "We head to the Rauvin from
here. Jalanthar lies on its banks. We'll take boat from there and
ride in comfort to Silverymoon." He smiled at Dawn. "Your walking
is almost over, little one. We shall be in Jalanthar by nightfall,
where food, hot baths and warm beds await us."

Dawn beamed under the elf's gaze, and a happier party soon moved away
from the woods and down the gentle slope towards the river. Behind
them, the greenwood extended east and west as far as the eye could
see. There were wildflowers in the grasses and the occasional spring
bubbling up. Off in the distance, a herd of deer watched them
warily.

Xander found himself looking off into the distance. Along the tree
lines were some dots in the sky, distant birds probably. Alenon
followed his gaze and cursed in that strange, musical language he
sometimes used.

"Enemies approaching," he said, nodding towards the dark specks.
They seemed to be growing larger. "We must find shelter. The forest
is too far." He pointed to a small stand of trees. "Run!" he
shouted.

They were about half way there when it became clear they wouldn't
make it. Alenon brought his bow out, and knocked an arrow. Everyone
else seemed to get set as best they could. Xander pulled out his
axe.

The things came in, eight of them. They were birds? Big black
birds, like ravens only huge. Men were riding them, grim faced men
with long wild hair and fantastically tattooed faces. The men were
screaming and waving swords and axes.

Xander noticed Beth was gone, replaced by a badger. This was a much
larger and tougher looking badger, which he thought was a good
thing. Everything seemed to slow down, Alenon was pulling his bow,
and Giles was shouting something. The ravens made sweet targets as
they glided in. Xander itched to get his fingers on a bow. Suddenly
the elf was shooting and a rider was toppling from his bird. Giles
finished shouting and the world exploded in fire.

Fireballs really are balls. Giant balls of fire that just explode in
the air and hang there before fading out. This one was a midair
burst, centered on the ravens. The ones on the edges swerved away,
but the three center ravens came though, two silent masses, and one
screaming horribly. They plowed into the ground and the screaming
one stopped.

Suddenly a giant bird and rider were on Xander, a mass of wings,
beaks and swords. He ducked desperately and swung. The man grunted
and the bird was suddenly gone. Xander glimpsed Alenon shooting and
badger Beth wrestling with someone.

The bird and rider came back at him, out of nowhere. But the man was
slower this time, blood running down his arm. The bird struck Xander
with its beak, but the man swung high. Xander got his axe in under
the man's arm. The axe struck deep, crunching through bone, and came
loose with a spray of bright red blood. The man looked sick as his
eyes met Xander for a moment, before the bird leapt away.

There was a crack of a lightning bolt. A bird was on Dawn, burnt and
screaming as it attacked her. Xander got behind it and swung at the
base of its neck. The light avian bones broke easily and the bird
was silent.

Everything was silent. There were some birds fleeing in the
distance, black specks again. Xander couldn't tell if they had any
riders. There was a pile of dead bodies in front of Giles. Badger
Beth was looking at Alenon, her claws and muzzle bloody.

"Yes," Giles said. "Well." He removed his glasses and started
cleaning them.

There was a gash on Dawn's side, and Xander put his hand on it,
without thinking. His hand glowed for a moment, and she gave a
little squeak. The wound was gone.

"Thanks Xan," she said. Alenon had begun looting the bodies. Xander
joined him in the work and after a moment, Giles did as well.

"Odd," Giles said. "Even a week ago I'd have hesitated to do this."

"Yeah, me too," Xander said. "Funny how it seems normal now."

"Trash, trash," the elf muttered to himself, as he sorted the bird
men's belongings.

"Who were those guys," Xander finally asked.

"Uthgardt barbarians," Alenon said. "Raiders mostly. Odd as this
isn't this tribe's territory. Ah," he held up a gold coin. It
showed a flaming bird with batwings. "They work as mercenaries as
well. It appears the daemonfey continue their interest in Dawn.
This is their symbol."

Dawn looked up from where she was talking to badger Beth. "Not more
key crap," she said. Her voice had a nervous edge.

"We'll be safe out of their reach very soon," the elf reassured her.
He resumed sorting the loot. He picked up a very large sword and
swung it. He sheathed it and handed it to Xander. "This is a decent
weapon, at least for now. Though there's a good axe around here
somewhere if you'd rather stay with that."

Xander hefted the heavy sword and shook his head. "I'll give this a
try." They found and bagged the usual treasure including a ring
Alenon thought was magical. Giles took this to study.

Dawn wasn't having much luck with Beth. "You need to change back
sweetie. The fights over. You're safe now." The badger was having
none of this, and shook its striped head firmly no. Xander and Giles
joined in, to no avail.

Finally, Alenon went to the badger and spoke to it softly in that
singsong language of his. After a bit of this, the badger shimmered
and a blushing Beth appeared. The party continued walking to the
river, Alenon and Beth bringing up the rear and talking quietly.




Xander sat at the bar and looked around the tavern, trying not to
grin like an idiot. The Crowing Cockatrice of Jalanthar was a
ramshackle place of untreated stone, dug half into the ground and
really little more than a large covered hole, but it was a tavern. A
real live D&D tavern. At a table in the corner, several mysterious
cloaked figures were talking quietly. Mysterious cloaked figures!
Xander felt a grin about to break out on his face and took a drink of
the warm sour ale to stop himself. He made a face. At least it was
better than that fermented honey syrup the bartender kept pushing.

Giles was next to him, talking to some farmers, who were complaining
about the difficulty of plowing muddy fields with orcs shooting
arrows at them.

"Yes, that does sound troublesome," Giles said. "But surely you're
aware that the forest floor is littered with gold and silver coins?
I'd think you'd find that a more rewarding endeavor."

The farmers stared at him dubiously. "There's monsters in there
sir. Oh, it's fine for a great hero like you, but we'd never dare go
to such a terrible place."

Dawn and Beth arrived, looking clean and fresh from their baths and
wearing the new clothes Alenon had found them. Dawn was wearing a
low cut blouse and tight breeches with some sort of lace up leather
corset. Beth wore something similar.

"The new clothes fit perfectly," Dawn said. "What do you think?"
She turned slowly, modeling her outfit.

"It looks great," Xander said. Hadn't women worn more clothes in the
Middle Ages? This didn't seem right.

"Are you sure?" Dawn said. "I want your honest opinion." She turned
again. Some of the other guys were watching. Xander glared at
them. Surprisingly, they looked away.

"It's great Dawn," Xander said. "Really. But, uh, are you sure it's
sturdy enough?"

Giles looked over and frowned. "Alenon got you those? What was he
thinking? You look lovely of course, but these are cold climes.
Also, we don't wish to attract attention. I'm afraid they won't
do."

"These are the standard clothes, Mr. Giles." Beth said. "We
checked. All the traveling women wear them. They come with heavy
cloaks for the cold."

Giles looked around the room. Many of the women at the tavern were
wearing variations of the outfit. He sighed. "Well, we do need to
blend in. I suppose it isn't any worse than typical teenaged
attire. But we should buy extra cloaks." He muttered something into
his tankard.

Dawn sniffed, and then wrinkled her nose at Xander. "Your turn," she
announced. "Baths are downstairs, first door on the left."




The baths were pretty primitive, but better than a cold stream.
Xander felt a lot more human as he headed back to the common room,
clean and in new clothes. He kept playing with the sword belt,
hoping he was wearing it right. Despite this, he got stuck in the
door, closing it on his sword as he came into the room. After a
brief struggle, he got it free and headed over to the table the
others had moved to.

"My hero," Dawn said with a smile.

"You look very nice Xander," Beth said.

"Thanks Beth," he said, managing to sit without banging the sword.
Giles excused himself and headed for the baths. Dawn watched him go.

"So, you guys are like guarding us, hunh?" she said.

"It's kind of a strange place, Dawnie," Xander said. "We just want
to be sure you're safe."

"You guys are loving this," she accused. "Being the big strong men."

"Maybe a little," he admitted. "We don't get much chance at Slayer
Central."

Alenon arrived and sat down. He had a tense look, though he hid it
well. "The boat is arranged and should be ready to leave tomorrow
morning," he said. "Unfortunately I won't be able to accompany you.
But I've arranged for a trustworthy river guide to take you the rest
of the way." He smiled reassuringly. "You'll be in excellent
hands. I may be able to join you in Silverymoon later."

"What? What do you mean you aren't coming with us?" Dawn demanded.
Beth looked alarmed too.

"Is something wrong?" Xander asked softly.

The elf lowered his voice and leaned closer. "I can't really say,
but there is trouble coming. The guards expect something soon. All
this is confidential of course, but your group should be well clear
of town as soon as possible."

"We can help," Dawn said. "We want to help, don't we Xander?"

"It isn't our fight, Dawn," Xander said regretfully. "I'm sorry but
we need to focus on getting to safety."

"I can't believe you're saying this," Dawn said. "Alenon helped us,
but you aren't going to help him?"

"Xander has responsibilities, Dawn," Alenon said. "He has to see to
his duty first,"

"Thanks," Xander said, feeling like the worst sort of heel.

"What do you mean?" Dawn demanded. Her eyes flew wide in
comprehension. "Because of me? Because I'm here, is that what
you're saying?"

"Dawn, I have a responsibility to Buffy," Xander began.

She cut him off, her voice rising. "How dare you! I'm 18. I've
been 18 for two months! You can't treat me like a child anymore."
Her eyes flashing, she stood up, knocking her chair over. "You think
I'm still `little Dawnie' but I'm not," she said loudly. "You don't
speak for me. I make my own decisions." She stomped out of the
room, slamming the door behind her.

"Excuse me," Xander said, rising to follow her.

"Of course," the elf said inclining his head. "I'll keep Beth
company until Wizard Giles returns."




"Communists," Gertrude Mugler pronounced, "the lot of them."

"How shocking," Kennedy said.

Gertrude Mugler was a very old woman who lived in a large mansion
near the lakefront. She kept a number of servants, a plethora of
knickknacks and many cats. She'd seen them for tea, and had glared
at them suspiciously as it was served. Several cats patrolled the
room, meowing occasionally.

"What do you mean communists," Buffy said, clunking her teacup down
with a noisy clatter. "We want to know about the disappearances, not
their politics." She wilted under Miss Mugler's severe gaze.

"I don't see why I should tell you anything," Miss Mugler sniffed.

"I'm sure Buffy didn't mean to interrupt," Kennedy said. "We're all
very grateful for your time. How did you learn that they were
Reds?"

Miss Mugler beamed approvingly at Kennedy. "So nice to meet a well
mannered young lady," she said. "But it was obvious. All those
sudden trips. And the gold. Who deals in bulk gold really? Not
honest people I can tell you. And those foreign women. The English
girls, the French girl, that Irish girl. They even had an Arabian
dancer in there at one point. Well, what else could have been going
on?"

"You must have been terribly frightened," Kennedy said.

Willow kept staring at Kennedy. Ever since they'd arrived at the
mansion, Kennedy had gotten all weird. The brash and mouthy slayer
was suddenly gone, replaced by this poised and elegant young lady.
She looked and even sounded differently, her voice suddenly calm and
controlled. The whole thing was very strange.

"Hah," the old lady said. "You'd think that, but I knew just what to
do. I confronted them, let them know I was on to them," she smiled
in memory. "When they offered to buy me off, I knew I had them. Oh,
I let them buy me off, but then I reported them anyway."

"How clever," Kennedy said. "You must be very brave."

The old lady beamed at her again. "It was a very different time, my
child. The Reds were everywhere. Drastic action was called for."

"Uhm, in Cleveland?" Willow said. Miss Mugler glared at her and
then turned back to Kennedy.

"Was there anything else, my dear?"

"Well, this background has been wonderful," Kennedy smiled. "But if
Dr. Chalmers had actually left any papers, we'd love to see them.
Our psych professor would be so impressed if we could include actual
research notes."

"Well, it is confidential," Miss Mugler said. Kennedy smiled
winningly at her. "Oh I suppose it doesn't matter," she
continued. "Dr. Chalmers disappeared first, and then Dr. Bayard
tried to seize his papers. Of course, I couldn't allow that. As
administrative head it was my responsibility to keep the research
notes secure." She laughed suddenly, struck by a sudden thought.

"You'll never guess what happened then," she said. "This teenaged
boy appeared with Dr. Shea, and he claimed to be Dr. Chalmers. Can
you imagine?"

"No," Kennedy said. "They couldn't have been serious."

"Oh they were," the old lady said, chuckling. "The boy kept sticking
his chest out and talking in a deep voice. `Nurse Mugler, I have
overdone my rejuvenation spell. I know this is unusual but I must
insist you release my papers to me.'"

"Rejuvenation spell?" Willow said.

"So, they were doing spells," Buffy said. "They were a bunch of
wizards, weren't they? Its okay, you can tell us, we'll believe
you."

Miss Mugler stared at Buffy. She turned to Kennedy, "What university
did you say–."

"Buffy's a special student," Kennedy said. "With special needs."
She emphasized the last two words.

"Ah," Miss Mugler said knowingly. She gave Buffy a pitying
glance. "Well, they were always going on about their rejuvenation
spells. Communist propaganda of course. I ignored it." She looked
sad for a moment. "It was that nasty redheaded girl, that Belphebe.
When I think of how she led my poor Harold astray…" her eyes
watered. Kennedy caught her hand and patted it.

After a moment, the old lady sniffed and reached for a box of
tissues, which Kennedy handed to her. She dabbed her eyes and smiled
at Kennedy. "I'll have my girl fetch Dr. Chalmers' notes," she
said.

"We'll only need them for a little while," Kennedy said. "I'll bring
them back as soon as we've finished.

"Such a sweet girl," Miss Mugler sighed.



Outside, Kennedy was suddenly her old self again. She drove while
Buffy and Willow began looking through the boxes in the back seat.
Willow kept sneaking glances at her. Kennedy caught her looking in
the rear view mirror and smiled at her.

"Poor Willow. You don't know anything about me do you?"

"I want to learn," Willow said softly.

Kennedy gave her a half smile. Buffy looked up at them and frowned.




Dawn had stormed off angrily, but there was very little of Jalanthar
to storm through, so he soon caught up with her. The sun was setting
and a there was deep chill in the air. This place was much colder
than Cleveland.

Dawn glared at him as he caught up. "I can't believe you," she
hissed.

"Beth is still a minor," he reminded her. "We shouldn't risk her
life either."

"Beth is a kidnapper. A kidnapper!" She kicked him.

"So you admit you're a kid," he grinned. He dodged her swing.

She caught herself and frowned. "I'm disappointed in you," she
said.

"I know," he sighed. They stomped along through the frozen ground
together.

Houses in Jalanthar were dug into the ground, and lined with brick
and covered in sod. They looked like little mounds, almost like a
large prairie dog town. Doors were open as people were settling in
against the evening. Xander and Dawn got some curious glances as
they walked among the mounds.

"I thought this place would be more romantic," Dawn said. "Like a
ren faire or maybe like Hobbiton, with the houses in the ground."

"They had a nicer village, but it got burnt out a few years ago,"
Xander said. "The big cities are supposed to be like that. But this
place is poor. It gets attacked a lot too."

"Yeah, they seem like refugees," Dawn said. "It's tough to run out
on them." She shot Xander a sideways glance.

"Yes it is," Xander quietly agreed. He spotted something and
smiled. "Hey, Dawn," he said, "Look at that." The next mound looked
taller and rounder than the others. It had little round windows at
even intervals and a small flower garden by the neat round door. A
tiny woman, perhaps three and a half feet tall, was calling to some
children who were about half her size. The tiny children had been
playing and stumbled unwillingly into the house. The little woman
caught Xander and Dawn staring at her and gave them a suspicious
look. She went in and pulled the little round door firmly shut.

"Wow," Dawn said. "Was that…"

"Yep," Xander said. "I believe it was."

"Xaanndeer," Dawn said, drawing his name out with a hint of her old
whine.

"We'll talk to Giles," Xander said. "We need to leave but maybe you
big spell people can do something before we go. Magic up some help
or something."

They heard horses neighing off in the distance. It was getting dark
fast, but they could make out some wagons coming down the Sundabar
road from mountains. There were some people moving among them and
guards from the town were coming out to meet them. There were raised
voices. Dawn and Xander walked over curiously.

The wagons were crammed full of people, and there were more walking
along side. They were talking to the guards, something about an
attack up near the pass. There were families, wagons full of
frightened faces. The guards were shouting. Some of the people
shouted back.

A little girl walked beside a wagon, with an obviously broken arm.
She was leading several even smaller children. Xander reached out
without thinking and touched her arm. His hand glowed briefly and
she gasped, lifting her now healed arm.

Suddenly people were crowding around him, pulling at him. People
were shoving injuries at him, pushing children towards him, trying to
pull him towards wagons.

"Enough!" he shouted. They all pulled back, looking
frightened. "Okay, form a line," he said. "Dawn, if you could look
them over, pull out the worst ones?"

"Yes, Dr. Xander," she smiled. The next hour or so was a confused
mess of screaming children and sobbing people. The injuries seemed
to get worse as it went on. One woman shoved something into his
hand. She was gone in the crowd before he could give it back. He
stuck it in his pocket and kept on going.

He felt drained by the time he was through it. He kept thinking the
healing magic would wear out, but it didn't. Finally the guards
called time. They'd arranged some shelter and moved the people on
through. The major injures were healed.

Xander slumped exhausted to the ground. Dawn sat down beside him.

"Playing doctor with you isn't at all like I'd thought it'd be," she
said.

"Ugh," he said. "I hate doing magic. I'm afraid I'll turn someone
into a toad or something." He pulled out the object the woman had
handed to him. It was a metal disk, about 4 inches in diameter, with
a chain, like a pendant. There was a woman's face on one side. She
had bright red hair swirling around. The other side was blank.

"What's that?" Dawn asked.

"I dunno," he said. He stuck it back into his pocket, and slumped
back against the mound again.

"Hey," Dawn said. "No sleeping on frozen ground. Let's get you back
to the inn." He mumbled a reply, but she kept pulling on him until
he finally got up and began walking back with her.




Willow sat at the dining room table, which was covered in sheets of
notepaper, files, folders and journals. "Parallel world theory,
schizophrenics, Rhine ESP research, Jungian archetypes, I don't get
it. What's the connection?"

"Maybe you're trying too hard," Buffy said. "How about a donut?"
She held out a plate.

"Thanks Buffy," Willow said, taking a donut. "It's like we're
missing the central journal that pulls it all together. I can see
the parts, but not how they fit."

"You'll get it Will," Buffy smiled encouragingly. "You can figure
out anything." Willow smiled at her and turned back to the
journals.

Kennedy took a donut off the plate and bit into it. "Hey, these are
great," she said. "Almost as good as sex," she grinned at Buffy.

There was a high pitched scream from upstairs. "Now what," Buffy
said looking up. A second scream rang out. Footsteps pounded on the
stairs. Suddenly Andrew was there. He waved his hands at them.

"I found them," he gasped. "They're stuck inside the computer." He
panted. "You've got to come see." They followed Andrew up to his
poster covered room and looked at his computer screen.

"What," Willow said. "An ad? Andrew, we don't have time for this."

"What is it?" Buffy asked.

"An ad for a new book series," Willow said. "The role playing
company cranks out books based on the game." She turned to
Andrew. "We're very busy right now Andrew. We don't have time to be
bothering with you."

Andrew was spluttering and waving his arms. "Read it, read it," he
squeaked.

"Hot chick on the cover," Kennedy commented. "Hey, she looks kind of
familiar."

"It's Dawn!" Buffy shouted. "Dawn's on the cover of that book!"

"Read the summary," Andrew spluttered.

"'The Sunrise Sorceress and her companions battle to protect the
Silver Marches…the one-eyed warrior…Wizard Giles…' Willow
stopped. "What is this? Andrew where did you find this?"

"On their website. It's a new trilogy coming out next month."
Andrew was hugging himself. "They're stuck in the book. They're
stuck in the book."

"This is some sort of coincidence," Willow said slowly. "It's the
only sane explanation."

"Don't go Scully on me, Willow," Buffy said. "It's too late for
that."

"That's Dawn," Kennedy said. "'Sunrise Sorceress,' sounds like a
drink. What's this `Year of Rogue Dragons,' they're talking about?"

"It is Dawnie," Willow said. "Oh look, she's got this cute little
witch's outfit, and she's casting spells. Isn't that sweet?"

"It's this year's Big Event," Andrew said importantly. "Every so
often they have these Big Events and all the writers write about it.
This year, all the dragons are going crazy and attacking everywhere
at once."

"Holy desperate marketing ploy Batman," Kennedy said.

"What, dragons are attacking?" Buffy said. "But it's just a story,
Dawn's safe right? Willow? She's safe isn't she?"




13 Tarsakh, Year of Rogue Dragons
(1373 Dale Reckoning)

Xander awoke suddenly, his heart pounding. He was clutching the
metal disk for some reason. He hadn't taken it to bed. It was
almost pitch black in the room he was sharing with the others. He
could hear Giles snoring softly, on the bed across the way. The
small window gave off no light, it was still night. Why was he
awake?

A flash of light came from the window, and a second later a crack of
thunder. He was on his feet in an instant and peered out through the
window's shutters. He could hear screams now, and shouting, and the
smell of smoke. Some of the buildings nearby were burning.

"What is it?" Giles asked from behind him.

"An attack, I think," Xander replied. He pulled the shutters slowly
open, stepping back into the shadows of the room. The fires were
burning clearly, and there was an occasional flash of lightning over
the town. "Do you think that lightning is from enemy wizards?"

"I'm not sure," Giles said. "Perhaps–."

A great lizard shape flew suddenly past their window on giant bat
wings. It was huge, massive, and bright blue. It flew around the
corner and out of sight.

Xander was back by his bed, pulling his shirt on and buckling his
sword belt. "Okay, you guys stay here. I'll go out and see what's
going on. Bolt the door as soon as I leave." He found the metal
disk still in his hand, shrugged, and hung it round his neck.

Dawn and Beth were huddled together on the far bed. Dawn
frowned, "That's so not going to happen. We're coming with you
guys."

"No," Xander said, using his `Dad' voice again. "You'll stay here
and lock the door. I'll be right back." Lightning cracked and the
inn shook. The walls creaked. How sturdy is this thing, he wondered.

Dawn was standing and pulling her cloak on. "I'm going to help those
people Xander. You can either let me come with you, or I'll go off
on my own." Her eyes were steady and she seemed serious.

Xander glanced at Giles, who smiled and shook his head
ruefully. "She is her sister's, ah, sister. There's little point in
trying to keep her from danger." Badger Beth was already on the
floor by Dawn's side, glaring fiercely at Xander. The building shook
again from another hit. Great, the bigger building was a target.

"All right," he said. "We'll all go. I'm on point though, and stay
close together." The room door was jammed stuck, and he had to force
it open. There were people peaking out of the other rooms, looking
frightened. Suddenly they were all out and clustering around him.

"It's all right, everyone stay calm," Xander said, knowing it wasn't
true. Downstairs, a crowd of frightened guests were pushing and
shouting. Many seemed to be in shock, huddled on the floor and
trembling.

"Shut up!" he yelled. And they did. He grabbed the
innkeeper. "What are you supposed to do when you're attacked?"

"The cellar," the innkeeper babbled. "There are tunnels."

"Then do that. Everyone follow the innkeeper," he shouted.

Soon the guests were all filling off downstairs and the inn was
emptying. "I don't suppose you'd care to join them," he asked Dawn.
She shook her head firmly.

"Interesting," Giles said. "You seem to have some calming affect on
people. They were panicking, but when you arrived they stopped."

"I don't suppose it works on dragons," Xander said. He pushed the
door open. Beyond, Jalanthar was aflame. Plumes of smoke filled the
sky. Blue shapes flew about and lightning crackled from them,
striking the ground. People ran past in little group, in no apparent
direction.

Xander drew his sword and muttered under his breath. The sword
glowed for a brief moment, and then it seemed lighter and better
balanced. A dragon crashed down across the way, chasing after one of
the fleeing groups.

"Do you have any idea what you're doing?" Giles asked.

"Absolutely not," Xander replied. He raced out of the door and
charged the dragon.

TBC…
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