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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 DragonsthuleFR13769,455258633,7153 Aug 0618 Sep 06Yes
CoA Winner

Chapter One

I don't own Buffy or any of the characters from the show, or the Forgotten Realms or any other crossover that might show up.





It was early afternoon in the slayer household and Xander answered
the ringing phone. "Ms. Summers? Is Ms. Buffy Summers there?" said
an officious sounding voice.

"Buffy's not here, she's still in Europe," Xander said. "I'm
watching her place while she's away, can I help?"

"It's her sister Dawn," the voice said. "This is her school office.
Dawn is sick and needs someone to come get her."

"I'm on the pick up list," Xander said. "I'll be there in a few
minutes." He hung up and stuck his head out the door. The junior
slayers where drilling in the backyard, being led by Faith. "I'm
going to get Dawn," he called out. Faith nodded to him and returned
to the drill.

Cortland High School was a boxy shaped affair on the outskirts of
Cleveland. It was near their house and well away from the Hellmouth,
but seemed vaguely claustrophobic to Xander. Well, at least it
wasn't on the Hellmouth, which put it one up on Sunnydale High, also
it still existed, which was another point in its favor. Xander
sometimes wondered if Sunnydale High, epicenter of the sinkhole,
couldn't have somehow been pulled through the Hellmouth, and might
still exist, in some strange hell dimension, with little demon
children running up and down the halls. He pushed the thought from
his mind.

Xander parked his car and headed for the office. Once inside the
school he must have taken a wrong turn and found himself wandering
about. A pretty blond woman was getting a drink from the fountain
and he asked her where the office was. She offered to walk him
there. Her name was Lisa Armstrong and she taught English as well as
doubling as the school librarian. She didn't look much like Giles,
Xander thought, giving her an admiring glance.

It turned out that she taught Dawn in fourth period and knew her well. Xander found
himself answering some close questions about Dawn's home life, and
was relieved when the office came into view.

Dawn was waiting for him at the office. She was lying on a couch
with a cold compress on her head and a lost look on her face. She
jumped up and threw her arms around him as soon as she saw
him. "Xaanndder," she wailed. "It was awful. There were these
weird guys and chanting."

The school nurse interrupted. "Dawn had a dizzy spell and fell
down. She's bumped her head a bit but should be alright now." She
gave Dawn a forbidding look. "Dawn's an excitable girl and sometimes
her imagination gets the best of her. See that she gets some rest,
Mr. Summers and she should be fine."

"I know what I saw," Dawn said.

"Of course," Xander said. "Lots of rest. I'll make sure she gets it
ma'am." He gave Dawn a reassuring smile and steered her out of the
office.

"Xander," Dawn pouted when they got outside, "don't you believe me?"

"Of course I do Dawn," he said. "But I also know the `everything's
normal at school' routine and I don't want to mess with it. What
happened?"

Dawn opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it when Ms. Armstrong
fell in beside them. "Are you alright Dawn?" she asked.

"I'm fine," Dawn nodded. "I was just dizzy, Ms. Armstrong, but I'm
fine now."

Lisa Armstrong smiled at Dawn. It was a very nice smile Xander
noticed. "I'm glad Dawn. Is Mr. Harris your legal guardian?" she
asked.

"Xander," he told her. "No, her sister Buffy is Dawn's legal
guardian. She's in Europe at the moment and I'm watching out for
Dawn."

"I ask because I noticed that six other girls at school have the same
address as Dawn. I wondered if you were with a group home."

Xander sensed a trap. "Not officially," he smiled. "We're all
Sunnydale survivors. You remember the terrible tragedy in
California? Well, with all the horrible destruction and loss of
life, we survivors have kind of banded together. Of course, all our
records were lost in the sinkhole, but we've been trying to survive
as best we can. We don't like talking about it because of the
terrible pain of the tragedy."

"Yes, I'm so sorry about that," Ms. Armstrong said. "But most of the girls
are minors. You're in contact with their legal guardians of
course?"

"Sure," Xander smiled. Dawn was looking uneasy. "Principal Woods
took care of all that when the girls enrolled in school. You should
find legal guardianship papers in their files. He was their principal
at Sunnydale High. He's making sure they finish up their high school
education. I can have him call you if you have any questions." He
smiled.

"Oh he's staying with you?"

"Well, he's in Europe at the moment, but he can call if there's any
problem with the paperwork."

"I've reviewed it and it appears to be in order. I'll double check
though and let you know." She smiled at Xander. "I didn't realize
the girls were all Sunnydale survivors. I could set up some group
sessions, give them a chance to talk about what they're going
through. It could be helpful." She looked at Xander
carefully. "You wouldn't object to that would you Mr. Harris?"

"That sounds like a great idea." Xander said. "Let me know when you
need them and I'll make sure they're there." He smiled at
her. "Anything to help the girls."

She smiled back. "I'm glad you're feeling better Dawn." They'd
reached the van and Xander and Dawn piled in. Ms. Armstrong waved
from the curve as they drove away.

"Well," Xander said. "Any idea what that was all about?"

"She's been asking questions," Dawn said. "Last week Dana had a
black eye from training and a few days later Vi had a big bruise on
her arm where a vamp tagged her on patrol. Ever since, Ms.
Armstrong's been pumping us for information. She's not buying the
whole martial arts school idea."

"Wow, a concerned teacher," Xander said. "We aren't in Sunnydale
anymore."

"She's really nice, Xander. I hate lying to her."

"Yeah, she does seem nice. Well, we won't lie too much. It really
is a martial arts school. We could invite her over to see the
place. That might calm her down."

"That'd be great," Dawn smiled. "You think she's nice?"

"Maybe," They were driving past a boarded up estate. A high stone
wall surrounded grounds and led to a barred and rusted iron gate. An
old sign read `Garedin Institute of Mental Health.' He eyed it
suspiciously. "You guys are staying away from that place right?"

"The old nut house?" Dawn asked. "Sure but Faith and Kennedy checked
it out and said it was safe."

Xander shook his head. "An abandoned nut house next to a high school
near a hellmouth? It's got to be haunted. You guys stay way clear
of it."

Dawn nodded.

"So what happened?" Xander asked.

"I was walking over to PE and I got this dizzy feeling as I was going
down the hall. I felt like I was called towards this door. It was
like the game club or something. Anyhow, I heard like chanting
noises, and I opened the door, and it was all these geeks, but they
were dressed up in robes and they had candles, and they were all
chanting. I was still dizzy so I started yelling at them, and they
started yelling back and I guess I fainted. Next thing I know I was
in the nurse's office."

"Wow that sounds serious. Did you recognize any symbols or words?"

"Are you asking my expert opinion?" Dawn smiled.

"Well you've been research girl for awhile now."

"It looked like low grade occult stuff. The candles smelled scented
and they had an Ouija board in the corner."

"That sounds pretty harmless, but we'll talk to Giles when we get
back," Xander said.

"I think its okay, the principal was yelling at them for lighting
candles and scaring me. They looked like a pretty harmless bunch of
nerds to me."

"I hope you're right," Xander said.

When they got home and spoke with Giles, he agreed that it seemed a
harmless incident. The principal had called and offered assurances
that the students were being punished. The young slayers assured
Xander that they'd watch Dawn and make sure she was safe and look out
for the strange ritualists. And the matter seemed to rest.




Two weeks later Xander was pulling the van into the school parking
lot. He has almost forgotten about the incident until the girls
began piling into the van. No Dawn. They waited. No Dawn. The
girls began talking all at once. No one had seen Dawn since lunch.
Wait, someone had seen her in the hall at 5th period, or maybe not,
they weren't sure. Xander made a joke about Dawn getting a new
boyfriend, no one laughed.

"Everyone stay here, I'll go check her classroom," Xander said. Vi
climbed out of the van with him.

"If there's trouble you need Slayer back up," she said.

Xander smiled. "High school's a rough place, Vi, but I got through
it once before. If the jocks try to give me a wedge I can call 911
on my cell." Vi looked at him doubtfully. "Stay in the car, Vi," he
said. "I'll be right back." He turned and headed into the school.

The office didn't have any information about Dawn. She hadn't
attended her last class. The teacher had no idea where she was. Two
other students had also skipped class but the teacher wouldn't give
their names. The office was more cooperative, admitting that a
number of students had gone missing, including Dawn and the group of
cultists she'd broken in on. The school thought this indicated Dawn
was involved with some sort of gang. Xander returned to the van,
shaking his head in frustration.

He called Giles on the way and explained the situation. He and
Kennedy were leaving immediately for the school. Xander hung up as
he got to the van. "Okay," he said. "Vi, you're with me. Marie,
drive the van back home." He tossed Marie the keys.

"How will you guys get back?" Marie asked.

"Giles and Kennedy will be here in a minute. We'll ride back with
them." The girls' eyes grew wide at this news.

"This is a situation," Vi announced. "I'm the senior Slayer here so
I'm in charge."

"I can kick your butt, Vi," someone shouted from the back seat.

Lisa shouted, "I'm oldest so I'm senior Slayer." The energetic teen
slayers began throwing punches and kicks, attempting to demonstrate
their superiority. The van rocked dangerously. A foot kicked
through a window, shattering the glass.

"That's enough!" Xander roared, using his best Dad voice. The
Slayers broke off their battle, looking at him sheepishly. "Vi,
you're with me. Marie, put Lisa down and drive the van home. The
rest of you settle down and buckle up. And no bleeding on the
seats!" The Slayers began to obey him, settling into their seats.
Marie threw him a mock salute as she drove the van away. One day,
Xander thought, the Dad voice will stop working. What will I do
then? He pushed the thought away.

"I'm the only Slayer here, so I'm in charge," Vi said.

"Sure Vi," Xander agreed. He began walking towards the fence that
bordered the old insane asylum. Vi hurried up behind him.

"Shouldn't we check the school?" she asked. "The bad stuff is
usually in the basement there right?"

"That was Sunnydale High, where the Hellmouth was in the basement.
Here it's more generalized, and I'm betting on the abandoned
nuthouse." He paused, having arrived at a section of the fence that
had been kicked in. The ground beyond had been disturbed. It looked
like a number of people had passed through the opening recently.

"Hold it," Vi said. She drew a stake and charged through the
opening, stopping on the far side and warily studying the
surroundings. "Okay, its safe," she said.

Xander sighed and pushed his way through the opening. On the far
side and down a bit, a section of the asylum stone wall had crumbled
away. Beyond it lay the ruins of what once might have been an
attractive lawn, leading up to a large stone building that just
seemed institutional. Xander stopped and checked the overgrown
bushes by the crumbled wall. He reached in and pulled out a
student's backpack. It was Dawn's. Xander slung it grimly over his
shoulder.

He began making his way across the lawn. Vi sprinted ahead and then
returned. "There's a side door that's been kicked in," she
reported. Xander nodded. Vi ran around behind the asylum and then
returned. "It doesn't look like there's anyway to get in the back,"
she said. Xander nodded. She ran back to the fence and looked out.
She ran back. "Kennedy and Giles still aren't here," she said. She
pulled her stake out and twirled it in her hand. Xander had arrived
at the side door. He looked around.

"Say," he said. "This place would be great for our school, and I bet
we could get it cheap, too."

Vi frowned. "I don't want to live in a haunted nuthouse," she said.

Xander pulled a flashlight out of his pocket and shone it into the
asylum interior. He stepped in cautiously, shining his flashlight on
the floor. The dust had been kicked up, leaving a trail to the
interior of the building. He began following it. Vi bolted past him
and ran ahead down the hall, and then back to him.

"We need to stay together here," Xander said.

Vi nodded. "Don't worry Xander I'll keep you safe," she said.

"Thanks," Xander said dryly. They moved down the corridor into the
darkened interior of the asylum. They soon came to a large junction,
what may have once been the lobby. The floor had collapsed, forming
a large hole at the center of the room. Xander shone the flashlight
on the floor and followed the tracks in the dust that skirted the
edge of the hole and continued down another corridor. He shown his
flashlight down the hole, it collapsed into what looked like a
basement.

"That's the basement," Vi said. "That's were the evil always is."
She jumped into the hole. Xander sighed and shown the light on Vi,
she had landed in the center and was looking up at him.

"Forget something?" Xander asked.

"Xaannderr," Vi whined, sounding Dawn-like for a moment. He tossed
the flashlight down to her. "Thanks," she said. "Stay there where
it's safe. I'll check out this evil basement." Xander nodded and
watched Vi picking her way through piles of debris for a few moments,
then continued on down the far corridor. There wasn't much light,
this far away from the windows, but his eye was adjusting.

A large door lay ajar at the end of the hall. A bluish glow emanated
from the far side of it. Xander crept close and peered into the
room. It looked like some sort of lecture hall, but all the tables
had been pushed away to create space in the center. A pentagram lay
within a circle with candles lit at the cardinal points. At the
center of the pentagram, floating a few feet above the ground was a
shimmering disk of energy, perhaps three feet across. There were
books and papers scattered around the room, with one large book
occupying the lectern. Strange runes were painted on the walls;
these seemed to flicker with blue fire. But the room was empty.

Xander pushed the door open and stepped in. Nothing changed. He
stuck his head into the corridor, "Vi get over here," he yelled. He
opened his cell phone and called Giles. "Where are you?" he asked.

"We're pulling into the parking lot now," Giles said. "Where are
you?"

"We're at the old asylum." Xander said. Vi came racing up. "Take a
look at this," he said. He took several pictures of the room with
his cell phone and sent the images to Giles.

"Good Lord, that's a portal," Giles exclaimed. "Don't do anything
until we get there."

"Okay, hurry up," Xander said. He hung up the phone.

"That's the source of the evil," Vi exclaimed.

"That's the ticket to wherever they took Dawn," Xander replied. "Is
it getting smaller?"

Vi studied it for a moment, and nodded. "It's shrinking faster too.
It will disappear soon."

Xander studied the portal with a concerned look. "Vi," he said
suddenly. "Giles and Kennedy are in the parking lot. Go get them
and bring them here fast."

"What about you?" Vi asked.

"I'll be fine," Xander said. "Just hurry up and get Giles, he may be
Dawn's only hope." Vi left at a fast run, using slayer speed to blur
away. Xander held his thumb up to the portal and looked at his
watch, trying to estimate the rate of shrinkage. It was now
noticeably smaller than when he'd entered the room, barely large
enough for a person to squeeze through. And it was shrinking fast.

He took a step back, eyed the portal carefully and then ran forward,
diving through the shining disk.




"Xander sent you to get us?" Giles asked.

Vi nodded. "'Cause the disk is shrinking."

Giles swore and began running across the lawn towards the
asylum. "Idiot, stupid idiot," he was muttering. Vi jogged with
Kennedy, easily pacing the frantic Watcher.

"I'm not a stupid idiot," she complained.

"It's Xander," Kennedy said. "He's always doing dumb things." Vi
nodded in agreement.

Vi led them to the room with the glowing runes. The portal had now
shrunk to about 3 inches in diameter. Giles studied the portal and
the runes on the walls. He went to the book on the lectern and began
reading it. He shook his head, muttering under his breath.

"Where's Xander?" Vi asked.

Giles grabbed the book and headed over to the portal. "I'm going to
try and open this," he said. "I may be able to recast the spell from
the far side. You two get back to the house and call Willow. She'll
be able to reopen the portal from this side."

Kennedy caught Vi's eye and inclined her head towards Giles. Vi
nodded in silent agreement. Giles began chanting. After a moment,
his hand began to glow and streamers of energy flowed off it and into
the portal. The portal began to grow. Giles' face clenched in
effort as the portal slowly expanded to the point where a person
might slip through it. He stopped chanting, steeled himself and
moved towards the portal.

Kennedy and Vi ran towards the portal simultaneously. They leaped
through the air towards the small opening, colliding into each other
about a foot before the disk and both fell heavily to the ground. A
half second later Giles jumped through the portal, which glowed and
then snapped shut.

Kennedy leaped to her feet and glared at Vi. "What was that? You
were supposed to stop Giles."

"You said you were going to stop Giles," Vi said. "That's why you
nodded towards him."

"That was a signal to you," Kennedy said. She shook her head in
frustration. "Crap, we lost all three of them. Willow's going to be
pissed."




Xander fell through darkness, tumbling head over heels. A chill wind
buffeted him strongly. It was icy and seemed to cut through his
clothes. He was falling towards another disk, this one larger. He
tumbled through it and blacked out.

When he awoke he was lying face down in grass, and he had the
sensation that he'd recently struck the ground hard. He climbed to
his feet and looked around. It was a large clearing, almost a small
plain, surrounded on all sides by a dense forest. The trees were
huge, like sequoias. The plain was all tumbled mounds and
outcroppings of ruins, like a city had been buried. Xander was
standing by a circle of standing stones, like the ones he'd heard
were common in Europe. These were carved however, covered with
demonic faces, grinning skulls, and odd-looking runes. The effect
was very sinister. "Oh this isn't good," he said.

He began walking through the earthen mounds. A statue was half
buried in one of them of a really nasty looking demon. He heard a
moan from up ahead and sprinted around the next mound. Near the
forest, on the edge of the clearing, someone was lying on the ground
moaning. He raced up to the person. It was one of the kids, the
cultists from the school. He'd been stabbed repeatedly in the
stomach. Xander knelt beside him and lifted up his shirt examining
the wound. It was fatal, and lifeblood was spilling out.

He knelt by the boy's face. "Can you hear me?" he said. The boy's
eyes flickered open. "Where are we?" Xander asked. "Where's
Dawn?"

"Playing a game," the boy croaked. "It was a game. They needed a
key." He closed his eyes for a moment and then opened
them. "Thirsty," he gasped.

Xander looked around frantically. There wasn't any water in
sight. "I'm sorry," he said. "Is Dawn okay?"

The boy attempted to smile, "Need key, don't need me." His eyes
closed again. They didn't reopen.

"Xander," a voice called quietly behind him. Xander turned and
looked up at Giles.

"What are you doing here?" he said.

"That's my line," Giles said. He knelt by the dead boy and checked
for a pulse. Then he sighed. "Did he say anything about Dawn?"

"They're playing a game and they need a key," Xander said. "Doesn't
make any sense except the key part." He looked up. "Looks like they
entered the forest here. A bunch of people." He got up and moved
towards the forest.

"We should wait," Giles said. "Willow will reopen the portal soon.
If we wait, we can have a force of slayers to rescue Dawn with."

"That's great," Xander said. "You stay here and organize the rescue
party. I'll scout ahead and see where Dawn is." He started off into
the forest.

Giles opened his notebook and wrote, `Willow, Xander and I are well.
We left in pursuit of Dawn. Will return here as soon as possible.'
He tore out the page, folded it and tucked it in the dead boy's
coat. Then he started off down the trail after Xander.

They'd walked from what felt like early afternoon into mid-afternoon
without break. The forest of huge trees continued
endlessly. "Giles," Xander said. "Some of these trees are as big as
sequoias. But they aren't sequoias are they?"

"No," Giles said. "Although they are redwoods. We're in a different
universe, Xander. One very like our own, with air and forests and
trees but different varieties. You'll also notice the sun has
changed position. We're further north than Cleveland."

"Where do you think we are?"

"I have no idea. Wesley reported to the council of his adventures in
Pylea. It's apparently a dimension close to ours. He encountered
forests there. Perhaps that's where we are." He stopped and
examined the tracks by a stream. "They are about an hour ahead of
us. I believe we are gaining on them."

"I can't believe you know how to track," Xander said.

"Being a Watcher isn't just sitting in a library reading books,"
Giles said with a smile. "There are many ways to observe." He
pointed to a small sneaker imprint. "Dawn," he said. "She's walking
well and appears to be healthy."

"Thank God," Xander said. "Hey," he pointed to another track in the
mud. A large clawed foot.

"Yes," Giles replied. "Rather nasty looking fellows." He rummaged
through his knapsack. "Here, you can carry this." he said. He
pulled out an axe and tossed it to Xander.

"Thanks," Xander said, swinging the axe with a practiced hand. "What
are you going to use?" Giles opened his coat to reveal an ugly
looking automatic. "Wow," Xander said. "Better not let Buffy see
you with that."

"Buffy is in Italy," Giles said. "If she were here I wouldn't need
it."

The pair continued walking rapidly through the forest. Xander eyed
the descending sun uneasily. "Do you think we'll catch up before
nightfall?"

"I'm not sure," Giles said. "We can't track by night."

Xander quickened his pace. Dusk was settling in, and the sound of
running water came ahead, when Giles signaled for them to stop. He
pointed silently ahead. Xander nodded and the pair left the trail,
creeping quietly forward. Used to stalking vampires, the pair were
silent as they slipped through the trees. Soon they saw a flicker of
firelight ahead.

There was a scream from the camp. Xander began to move forwards,
until Giles grabbed and blocked him. "A male voice," he
hissed. "Calm. Dawn needs us to do this right." Xander nodded and
settled in behind the older man. The screaming died off into quiet
sobs, followed by guttural laughter. Xander clenched his axe
grimly.

They crept forward until they could make out some details through the
trees. There were things in the camp. Maybe ten of them. They
looked human but disfigured, lumpy, and far too hairy. They were
dressed in some sort of armor and carrying swords and spears. Dawn
sat by a tree in the center of the camp. The other teenagers from
the school sat with her. They seemed to be tied to the tree. They
looked terrified.

"We wait for full dark," Giles whispered. "There'll be a sentry, we
need to kill him quietly."

Finally full dark settled, which in the dense wood was dark indeed.
Giles pulled Xander close and pointed to the sentry. Xander
nodded. "Take the sentry," Giles whispered, "and then move into the
camp. Kill as many as you can. As soon as the alarm is raised, I'll
start shooting. Now go."

Xander slipped through the trees, picking his way in the darkness.
It wasn't so very different from hunting the Sunnydale underbrush.
He saw the sentry ahead, tensed, and moved forward. He rose up
suddenly and stepped forward swinging, driving the axe into the
sentry's neck with a meaty thunk. The…thing collapsed, gurgling as
it sank to the ground. Xander pulled his axe free and froze. That
hadn't been quiet. It has seemed quite loud. But the camp was
still. Giles ghosted past him, urging him forward with a look and
sharp nod of his head. The two entered the camp.

Xander ran to the left and swung at the first figure as it lay in its
blankets. The axe bit home with a satisfying crunch. Behind him,
Giles fired twice and the camp exploded with yelling.

The figures climbed to their feet and snatched up weapons. They were
horned and hairy, larger than him and hideous in the firelight.
Xander swung his axe desperately and sunk it deep into a hairy neck.
The axe stuck and he yanked desperately at it. Behind him, Giles
continued firing and then cried out in pain. This isn't working,
Xander thought in growing horror.

The two figures swung at him with swords. He ducked one but the
other sliced his side. He wrenched his axe free. There was a tall
figure standing by Dawn. Giles fired again. Xander chopped into his
first opponent, and ripped the axe out savagely as the second one
swung wildly at him, slicing his shoulder. The first figure fell and
Xander stepped over him driving his axe into his second opponent's
face.

Dawn shouted, "Giles!" But Giles was frozen, standing stiff? Xander
took a step towards Dawn and the shadowy figure standing next to her
when the figure gestured and a crackling bolt of electricity shot from
his hands and into Xander. Xander screamed and fell.

He looked up to see the tall one bathed in fire, which was coming
from Dawn? The tall one turned and struck her and she fell down.
Somehow, Xander was on his feet and racing towards the pair. The
tall one was handsome, with elegant features marred only by his horns
and glowing red eyes. He gestured at Xander and bolts of light
flickered at the young man, stinging but not stopping him. Xander
swung his axe wildly but hit something. The handsome demon seemed
mostly cloak and shadow. Suddenly Giles' pistol fired twice, and the
demon collapsed. Not so tough, Xander thought.

Dawn jumped up and tried to run to him, but she was chained. Xander
looked around, the camp seemed still. Giles was walking through a
cluster of dead bodies. Well, a girl chained by Dawn was screaming
hysterically, but there weren't any hairy guys moving. He ran to
Dawn. "Are you alright?" he asked.

"I'm fine Xander but you're bleeding. Sit down." She started
pulling at his shirt, which did seem red and wet.

Giles arrived. "That's all in the camp. Dawn where there any
others?"

"No they were all here. Oh Giles, it was awful! Where's Kennedy and
Willow?"

"Not here," said the Watcher, looking back up the trail. He turned
and smiled to Dawn, "But they should be along soon."

"Dawn what happened?" Xander asked. "Did they hurt you?" He felt
suddenly light headed.

"I'm fine," she said, sounding strangely bitter. "They needed a
key. It's the other kids who were…" She shook her head. She was
pressing his shirt against his side. "Giles this looks bad."

"Dawn," an oddly melodic voice spoke. Another prisoner chained to
the tree leaned forward into the firelight. He wasn't a high school
student. He was dressed differently and looked older. "If you bring
your friend to me, I can help him. I think he needs help."

"Alenon," Dawn said, looking at the stranger hesitantly, "he's like
my brother."

"And I am your prisoner," the stranger said, holding up his chained
wrists. "Let me help your brother. I've nothing to gain by hurting
him."

"What do you need?" Xander heard Dawn saying, but it was far away
and concerned some one else. He closed his eyes and drifted into
darkness.

When he opened his eyes, he was lying on his back, looking up at the
sky. The moon was full and huge, larger than earth's moon. A trail
of stars followed it. The sight stirred a memory in Xander but he
couldn't place it.

Alenon, the stranger, was leaning over him. He was pressing his
hands against Xander's chest and chanting softly. His hands glowed.
He looked… odd somehow. He had long blond hair and handsome
features. He looked vaguely like the handsome demon they had
killed. He almost seemed too handsome, his form eerily perfect.

Dawn watched frightened. She looked at Xander and tried to smile,
and gave his hand a squeeze. Xander felt warmth and a tingling
sensation over his chest and strength flooding back. He sat up
apparently and fought a wave of dizziness. Alenon put a hand on his
shoulder to steady him. "You'll need a minute to get your strength
back," he said. "Rest here for awhile."

"Thanks," Xander said. He looked at the stranger again. "You're an
elf, aren't you?"

"Yes," Alenon smiled. "Rest now." The shackles had been removed
from the prisoners and Alenon went to where Giles was going through
the camp. Xander sat with Dawn, suddenly conscious that he was
shirtless and covered in blood and dirt.

"Wow," she said, staring after Alenon. "Just like Orlando Bloom. I
knew there was something different about him."

"How did you meet him?" Xander asked.

"He was already a prisoner of the hobgoblins when they grabbed us,"
Dawn explained. "They hated him worse than us, kept beating on him.
But the feyr…faer…the tall guy with the horns wouldn't let them kill
him."

"What is this all about?" Xander asked.

"The gamers were doing magic, trying to contact something that would
teach them spells." Dawn explained. "They hooked up with something,
something from this world that agreed to help them. But they
couldn't really connect until I stumbled onto their meeting. The
thing sensed that I could open a gate or something. Anyhow, it got
them to kidnap me and drag me through this portal. We were supposed
to go meet this thing, and I guess they were going to sacrifice me.
They weren't too clear. I'm not sure they'd thought the whole thing
out themselves. They were just jazzing on the whole key thing."

Giles came over and knelt by Xander. "Feeling better?" he asked.
Xander nodded. Giles looked up at the trail. "Kennedy and the
slayers should have been here by now," he said softly. "Willow must
not have been able to reopen the portal. We should return to our
arrival site and do what we can to open it on our end."

"Giles, Alenon is an elf," Dawn said. "Isn't that cool? It's like
we jumped into the Lord of the Rings. Say, that's not what happened
is it?"

A memory clicked in Xander. Elves, hobgoblins, he looked back up at
the moon. It was large, near full, and on either side, a trail of
motes followed it looking almost like tear drops. "Oh my God!" he
gasped. "The Tears of Selune, I know where we are!"

Alenon walked over. "We should leave this place," he said. "The
sound of battle and smell of blood may attract night predators.

"Selene?" Giles said. "The moon goddess? I'm not familiar with any
tears she may have shed."

"The Tears of Selune," Alenon said. "In the sky." He jerked his
head towards the moon. "But we should leave."

"Where are the other kids?" Xander asked. Dawn suddenly turned pale
and stared at the large stewpot lying by the fire. The other girl
from the school, apparently one of the gamers, burst into tears and
sobbed hysterically. Dawn moved to comfort her.

"Sorry," Xander said. He looked at the stew pot. On the ground near
it, lay bones and litter. One looked remarkably like a human
shinbone.

"It's best not to speak of it." Alenon said quickly. Even he looked
grim. "Let us quit this vile place." He nodded to where the
hobgoblins had piled their gear. "I have found my own possessions
there," Xander noticed Alenon was now wearing a sword and carrying a
large bundle. "The rest is goblin trash save this," the elf produced
a dagger. It was large, almost a short sword, with gold work on the
handle and small jewels in the hilt. He presented it to Dawn.

She took it eagerly, "It's lovely," she said. She drew the dagger
and turned it, admiring the sheen in the firelight. Xander felt a
flicker of irritation at the elf but tried to ignore it. Getting
Dawn to safety was what mattered.

"Thinking we should get moving then," Xander said. "We can't get
back tonight but we can get away from here."

Giles nodded. "Yes, well, it's been a pleasure Mr. Alenon but I fear
we've kept you too long. I must get these young people back home and
I'm sure you've important matters to attend to."

The elf smiled. "I am tasked to report on all strange matters that
occur in this area, and your group is strange indeed. I can travel
with you openly or follow after you in secret. Since I must watch
you, perhaps you might wish to watch me? I do not think you can
elude me in these woods."

"Put that way," Giles said, "it makes perfect sense. Please join
us." The strange group assembled itself and moved off through the
forest, the way they had come.

They traveled for about an hour, Alenon leading the way. He seemed
to have a knack for finding his way in the dark and old memories of
Xander's told him this would be true. The large moon helped, it was
about a quarter bigger than Earth's moon and was near full.

When they reached the stream Alenon turned them upstream and led them
about a 100 yards off the path. He stopped and looked around. "You
may rest here," he said. The group slumped to the ground exhausted.

Giles whispered to Xander, "Wake me in two hours." Xander nodded,
glancing at the moon. Giles joined Dawn and the other girl, Beth, on
the ground and slept. Alenon sat and leaned against a tree, watching
Xander with a faint smile.

After the others had dropped off to sleep he said, "Thank you for the
rescue."

Xander looked at him. "Actually we came for Dawn."

"I know," Alenon said. "But you freed me anyway. Thank you."

"Sorry about our not trusting you yet but…"

Alenon nodded. "Trust is rare this far north, I understand. Still,"
he looked at Xander curiously, "can't you see that you can trust
me?" He put a strange emphasis on `see'. Xander looked at him
blankly. "And you didn't heal yourself," the elf continued. "Do you
know how to work healing?"

"I can't do magic," Xander said.

"I could show you if you like." Alenon said. "It's a handy thing."

"We're going to be leaving tomorrow, so we probably won't have time,"
Xander said.

"Ah," the elf replied, "but if for any reason you don't leave, think
about my offer." His eyes seemed to shift, looking at something
faraway. After a while, Xander realized he was in some sort of
trance. Xander watched the moon, and listened to the forest night.
When the time came to wake Giles, he slumped off to sleep eagerly.

Xander awoke to early morning light and the crackling of a fire. He
sat up still sleepy. The others were already up; Dawn and Beth were
huddled about the fire that Alenon was tending. Giles was studying a
book. Alenon gestured towards a bark strip, on which lay some nuts,
berries, and roots. "The others have eaten, you are welcome to what
is left."

"Thanks," Xander said. He was starving, but he headed over to the
stream and splashed the worst of the dirt and blood off himself, and
drank some of the water. When he felt a little more human, he sat by
the fire and helped himself to the food. He smiled at Dawn who was
still comforting Beth. It seemed odd; Beth was one of the cultist
kidnappers, but looking at her it was hard to see anything other than
a terrified teenager. "How is she?" he asked.

"She's doing okay," Dawn replied. She patted Beth
reassuringly, "she's going to be fine," she said. Beth smiled
timidly at Dawn.

"Xander," Giles said, putting his book down, "you said something last
night about knowing where we are? Something about Selene's Tears?"

"I think so," Xander said. He looked at Beth, "Faerun?" he asked
her. She nodded and ducked her head. Alenon watched them
curiously. Xander turned to Giles and explained. When he was
finished, the Watcher wore an expression of astonishment.

"A Dungeons and Dragons world," he said thoughtfully. "A world
created by gamers. And perhaps, say, Andrew, would be a god in such
a world."

Alenon snorted. "This is Faerun, but I know of no gamers or Andrews."

"The main world seems to be run by the company and their stable of
book writers." Xander said. "The gamers themselves wouldn't have
anything to do with it."

"Tony, my boyfriend," Beth said shyly, "was mad because they didn't
know anything about what he'd gamed. Just the novel stuff."

"That would fit the theory in this book," Giles said, holding up the
book he'd been reading.

"That's the magic book Tony found!" Beth exclaimed.

"Yes," Giles said. "I found it on the lectern at your ritual site
and guessed its importance. It contains the research notes of the
head psychologist at the Garedin Institute. He apparently developed
a theory that schizophrenics were accessing alternate universes. He
wanted to find a means of transport across dimensional lines to allow
the schizophrenics to reintegrate with our world. Brilliant work,
decades ahead of his time." Giles sighed and handed the book to Dawn
who'd been trying to peek over his shoulder at it.

"The Mathematics of Magic, by Reed Chalmers PhD." Dawn read the
title aloud.

"He tried to travel to other worlds?" Xander asked.

"Oh, he succeeded," Giles replied. "He and his colleagues traveled
to a number of alternate worlds."

"Tony said there were lots of spells in the book," Beth said.

"That's the fascinating part." Giles said getting visibly
excited. "They traveled to worlds in which they encountered
practicing magicians. Chalmers had to explain what they were seeing,
so he developed an independent system of magic based on
mathematics." Giles shook his head in admiration. "He had no
knowledge of the occult, beyond a cursory reading of the Golden Bough
in his college days. But he developed an entire system of magic, a
quite powerful one too, essentially from scratch."

Xander turned back to Beth, "You used that book to open the portal
here, didn't you," he asked. She nodded and then hid behind
Dawn. "Giles," Xander said, "If that book opened the portal to here…"

"Yes," Giles nodded. "I need more time to study it. And I'm not
sure about some of these equations. But with time, I believe I can
use this book to send us home."

"I thought Willow was going to open the portal and bring us home,"
Dawn said.

"That was the intention," Giles replied. "But the fact that we
aren't surrounded by slayers right now, implies that it hasn't
happened."

Alenon had been listing and abruptly said, "I would speak." They all
turned to look at him. "This place where you came from. The arrival
point, as you call it, is a place of vile evil. For centuries it was
a land of darkness, and a place of fear and terror. It was called
Hellgate Keep, because there the gates of hell swung wide."

"Two years ago, it was destroyed by champions of the light, and they
placed mighty wards on it to prevent the evil from ever returning. I
was astonished when the fey'ri brought me there to take Dawn and the
young ones prisoner. They should not have been able to reach the
site. Now you wish to return there and cast spells of portal
openings." He shook his head. "I will go with you for I owe you a
debt. But remember this is a place of demons, undead, and black
magic. Cast your spells with care."

They all stared at the elf in silence. Finally Giles spoke. "A
hellmouth. It fits. We left our world on a hellmouth and arrived in
another world, also on a hellmouth." He looked at Alenon. "Quite
right. It's very dangerous working magic on a hellmouth and we'll be
careful." The elf nodded, rose and abruptly began clearing the
camp.

The little group gathered their gear and moved out. Alenon again led
the way, followed by Giles, Dawn and Beth. Xander brought up the
rear. The morning forest teamed with life, birdsong and the buzzing
of insects. A cooling breeze came up, bringing wood smells and musty
earth smells. Spring, Xander thought. It's beautiful. I wonder
what summer will be like. But I won't be here, he reminded himself.
He was surprised to find a touch of regret.

The path before them closed, they met an impassible wall of trees.
Alenon studied this for a moment, and then led them aside, scrambling
down a hill and then up another slope, and then they were back on the
trail. They continued for a quarter mile and then ran into another
wall of trees.

"What's happening?" Giles asked.

"The wards are coming back up," Alenon said. "They're gaining
strength rapidly. We must hurry." He led them through a dizzying
path of twists and turns, finding openings in the trees and shrubs.
At several points they crossed the old trail, but that was the only
reference point in the confusing undergrowth. Finally Alenon pointed
towards an opening in the trees. "Run!" he shouted. They sprinted
towards it and emerged into the small plain.

They collapsed on the ground, panting for breath while Alenon
surveyed the surroundings. Dawn leaned over to Xander. "He makes
Orlando Bloom look like a girl,' she whispered admiringly.

"Dawn, Orlando Bloom does look like a girl," Xander explained. She
hit him.

"This way," the elf called. They got up and trooped after him. He
led them past several mounds and then back to the stone circle. They
passed the demon statue, still half buried in its mound. Xander
thought it was grinning at him.

Giles looked about the plain. "This must have been a city of
demons," he said.

"A city from hell," Alenon said. "Work quickly, there are other
guardians who may appear."

Beth ran to the fallen body of the boy and burst into tears. Giles
examined the boy and then turned to Xander. "They haven't been here,
see to the lad's grave." Xander began digging, using his axe
clumsily, and then a stake borrowed from Giles' equipment bag. The
ground was soft and he made some progress. Dawn and Giles worked in
the center of the circle, sometimes calling out in a strange
language, sometimes moving about the circle silently.

Alenon silently joined Xander and the two made progress on the
grave. Beth sobbed quietly by the boy and then stopped, cried out,
and watched them.

Giles made a glowing light effect, moving from his hands around the
center of the circle and then connecting with Dawn's hands. The
light pulsed and then faded. He sighed and walked over to the
others, Dawn quietly following. "Nothing," he said. "There's some
kind of powerful ward here, it prevents any sort of portal spell. We
can't begin to break through. I imagine this is what's blocking
Willow."

"Giles, are you getting stronger with the magic?" Dawn asked.

"It seems that way," he replied. "You're working the flows more
easily too. I think magic here is stronger and more easily
accessed."

"I can see the energy," Dawn said excitedly. "It weaves together
like a net and makes shapes. It's really pretty."

"I haven't seen anything like that," Giles said. He looked at her
puzzled. "Dawn were you standing next to a tree?"

Dawn turned and looked at the cluster of large trees standing behind
her. "No," she said. "They weren't here a moment ago!"

Alenon looked up from the grave and gasped. "Oh no," he said, racing
forward.

The tree nearest to Dawn roared and swung its branches at her. She
screamed and ran forward. The other trees moved in swing huge
branches like great clubs.

Alenon knelt before the trees and began speaking to them in a strange
singsong language. The trees stopped and suddenly faces were visible
along the center of their trunks. They paused to listen to Alenon,
and then roared back in the same language. They appeared to be very
angry.

"They're Ents," Giles gasped. "Real Ents."

"No," said Xander who was now standing next to him. "They're
Treants. Ents were copyrighted." Giles stared at him. "By the
Tolkein people," Xander said.

The Treants were advancing in a threatening line. "They want us to
leave," Alenon said. "They'll kill us all if we don't. They aren't
listening to me." Alenon pointed to the dead boy, and spoke again in
that musical language. He seemed to be pleading with them. The lead
Treant paused and waved a branch. The boy was gone, replaced by a
grass-covered mound with a sapling growing from it. Beth screamed.

Alenon sighed. "My last excuse," he said turning to them. "I may
not fight them. They were tasked by the lords of light to guard this
place." A Treant roared at Xander and charged him with thunderous
earth shaking strides. He swung great limbs at him and Xander
skipped frantically sideways trying to avoid him. "Hide your axe!"
Alenon shouted. "It enrages them." All the Treants were roaring
now. "We must flee," Alenon said to Giles, shouting to make himself
heard.

"Yes," Giles said. "I rather agree. Into the woods everyone."
Alenon lead them into the woods, with Giles and Dawn close behind
him. Xander dodged another angry Treant, and grabbed Beth from where
she sat by Tony's grave. He sprinted after the others.

The next hour was a nightmare chase through dense underbrush, chased
by roaring sentient trees. They ran and ran and hid, exhausted, and
then ran some more. The trees seemed to be everywhere. Finally,
they clumped together in a small clearing, scratched, bruised and
exhausted.

"They could have caught us," Giles said. "They were herding us."

Alenon nodded. "They won't kill unless it's necessary. They are
tasked to guard the keep and that is what they do. They'd have
killed us all if we'd stayed though."

"So they won't keep after us?" Xander asked.

"As long as we stay away from the keep," Alenon said.

"So now what." Xander said. "Do we need to be there to get back?"

Giles shook his head. "I believe I can use this book anywhere. The
circle is our only contact with Willow, but as neither she nor we can
open the gate, there's little point in returning there."

"I thought we'd be back today," Dawn said sadly. "It seems like we
should wait for Willow and Buffy to find us."

"You felt those wards Dawn," Giles said. "I don't believe she can
break through them." He turned to Alenon, "Could we find this place
again if we left?"

Alenon smiled. "It's a well known place. Hellgate Keep is listed on
many maps. You'd have little difficulty finding it again. But where
will you go?" He looked at them for a moment. "You should come with
me," he said.

"Ah, and why should we do that?" Giles asked.

"I think we can trust him, Giles." Xander said. He blinked,
surprised at himself.

"I am in service to Alustriel, High Lady of Silverymoon,” Alenon
explained. "She is a mighty mage, who has cast portal spells and
wandered distant planes and worlds in the manner of which you speak.
She is also known for her goodness and wisdom. She can help you if
anyone can. Also, the North is a very dangerous place and you seem
unused to travel in the wild. I'm not sure you would do well on your
own."

"Silverymoon is supposed to be a good place," Beth said hesitantly.

"Alustriel," Xander said, dredging up old memories. "She's one of
the Seven Sisters right?" he asked Alenon. The elf nodded. Xander
turned to Giles. "They're like superheroes in Faerun. They run
around rescuing people. She should be very helpful."

"Hmm," Giles said. "And all this is from that game you played? Not
much to go on."

"We don't really have a choice Giles," Xander said.

"I suppose not," Giles sighed. "Thank you Alenon, for all your
assistance and your offer of help. We'd be most happy to accompany
you there. How far is it, anyway?"

"Three weeks, and you're welcome," Alenon said.

"Three weeks!" Dawn wailed.

"A short journey," Alenon looked puzzled. "Much of it by river. It
will be easy traveling most of the way, assuming the orcs haven't
pushed south of the river."

Xander moved to Dawn and laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder. She
jumped into his arms and began crying. Beth looked stricken. Xander
stroked Dawn's hair and told her it would be alright.

"She's just tired," he told the others.

"Rest here," Alenon said. "I'll see if I can find some food." He
vanished into the undergrowth.

"Hobgoblins, Ents, and orcs," Giles laughed. "And an elf guide. A
pity Andrew isn't here." He blinked. "I can't believe I said that.
I must be tired too."




At the sanitarium, in the portal room, Willow sat in the center of a
glowing circle, chanting softly. She glowed and the runes on the
walls glowed with her. She raised her arms slowly and the glow
intensified, turning to blue fire.

Fizzle zap. The glow popped. Willow was thrown out of the circle
and into the far wall. Kennedy hurried to her and helped her up.
Willow had a nosebleed.

"Shit," Willow growled in frustration. "There's some kind of barrier
at the far end. It's super powerful; I'm not getting any where."

"Is there some way around it?" Kennedy asked. She was tilting
Willow's head back and stanching the nosebleed.

"Maybe," Willow said. "Looks like its research time though. We
need to figure out where they went."

"Great," Kennedy sighed. "Buffy's flight gets arrives in three
hours. She'll start screaming at us as soon as she clears customs."

"Hey," Willow said. "You're doing everything you can." She gave
Kennedy a reassuring hug.

Andrew was looking at the markings on the wall. "Hmm, I know these
runes."

"Cool," Kennedy said. "What demon language are they in?"

"Not demon," Andrew said. He stopped before a symbol that looked
like a frown with dots on either end. He knelt studying it for a
moment. "I know where they went," he said. He stamped his feet in
frustration. "They should have taken me. It isn't fair that Xander
gets to go and I don't."

"Where are they?" Kennedy and Willow asked simultaneously. Andrew
told them.

"Wow," Willow said. "That's kind of cool."

"A nerd paradise." Kennedy said. "Buffy's going to explode."

"It's better than a hell dimension," Willow said. "And we don't know
for sure anyway. It's just something to check out. Good call
Andrew."

Andrew beamed. He clapped his hands excitedly, "So when do we launch
the rescue expedition?"

"You're volunteering for field work?" Kennedy shook her head in
disbelief. "This place sounds too dangerous for you." Andrew
spluttered and began to swell.

"Let’s pack up and get Buffy," Willow said, forestalling
Andrew. "We've got lots of stuff to do."




The party moved quietly through the green shadows of the forest.
They talked a little at first, but then fell into a silence as the
effort of the day's march fell on them. Bird song and the whistling
wind through the trees, and the musty mold smells of a dense forest
surrounded them. Alenon had a gift for picking an easy passage and
the going was not too difficult.

Giles studied the magic book at every stopping point with a growing
excitement and intensity. "This is extraordinary," he would mutter
to himself.

Dawn eyed the book jealously but Giles showed no signs of sharing
it. She took to sitting by herself at stops. She seemed to be
meditating or looking inward. Xander questioned her about it, but
she told him she was studying the weave, that she could see magical
energy now. This struck Xander as a bad thing, but when he told
Giles, the Watcher just shrugged and said there wasn't any harm in it
and to leave her alone.

Alenon led the party, picking their way through the underbrush.
Giles followed him, and then came Dawn and Beth, Beth always staying
next to Dawn. Xander brought up the rear, his axe at the ready. It
gave him a sort of quiet position in the group, which he found he
enjoyed. At clear areas, Alenon would drop back to him and question
him. The elf seemed convinced that Xander belonged to some sort of
order. Alenon belonged to one and had marked Xander as a kindred
spirit. He was sure Xander had gone through some sort of initiation
but had not realized it. Xander privately thought the elf was
insane.

"An oath of protection," Alenon said. They were resting by a
stream. The wood was well watered if anything. "You should have
sworn an oath to protect innocents and fight evil. Do you remember
that?"

"Sorry," Xander said. "No oaths of any kind, except for the usual
swearing. Oh, wait, I swore to hate Cordelia once. We pricked our
fingers and smeared the blood together. Me and some friends."

"Blood oaths are significant." Alenon said. "What manner of evil is
a Cordelia?"

"She was sort of a dark lord," Xander said. "She ruled the school
and oppressed people. Everyone was frightened of her."

"You and your friends banded together to combat her evil reign,"
Alenon said approvingly. "That must be it. I take it your battle
was successful."

"Actually no," Xander said. "We sort of got her to work with us, and
she became not evil. She still ruled the school but she helped us
fight the evil, and she was fair to everyone after that."

Alenon nodded thoughtfully. "A great victory indeed. Your band
should be commended."

"I guess," Xander said. "That's the only oath I ever swore though."

"It's enough. But why do you not pray? It is the source of our
power."

Xander sighed. Alenon had been on this like a dog worrying a
bone. "I told you, the only god I ever met was a nasty piece of work
who tried to murder all my friends. Not interested."

"That may work in your world," Alenon said, "but here all must follow
the gods or be sealed into the wall of the faithless to suffer agony
for all eternity. I would not have you pray to this Glory or any
other god of darkness, but better that than the fate of the
faithless."

"I'll take my chances," Xander said.

"Think of the gods as symbols of goodness. To mediate on. Or great
teachers. After all, many of them were mortal once, and they made
many mistakes and make mistakes even now. But they symbolize
qualities, ideals that we can strive towards."

"I'd like to try it," Beth said softly.

Xander blinked, surprised to see the quiet girl so far from
Dawn. "It could be dangerous," he told her. "You don't want to get
mixed up in some strange magic."

"I think I'm insulted," Alenon said. "It's an opening of the mind
nothing more, and no harm will come to the girl. Of course if you're
afraid…"

Xander grinned. "I'm not that easy," he said, "but I don't want to
be rude. If Beth wants to, I'll join in. We'd better tell Giles
though, or he'll freak."

The Watcher was extremely skeptical but agreed to allow the trio to
meditate together as long as no magic was involved and he could
watch. In short order, Xander, Beth and Alenon were sitting cross-
legged in the grass by a small stream facing each other. The elf
murmured for a while in his own tongue and then switched into
English, telling them softly to relax and open themselves to the
world.

Xander closed his eyes and listened to the bubbling of the stream.
He felt like he was drifting. He remembered Giles explaining how
they weren't speaking English but only thought they were because of a
side effect of Chalmer's gate spell. Giles had talked about parallel
vectors of understanding and symbol equivalencies and the sun was
warm and the brook gurgled softly. It was laughing, laughing at him,
with a soft melodic laugh. Xander turned and saw light and sky and a
figure in the distance. Green eyes flashed merrily and a cloud of
flame red hair covered his vision. He felt like he was falling.

"Xander! Xander!" He was lying on the ground by the stream; Dawn
was shaking him and shouting his name.

"Hey," he said. "What was that?"

"You fainted," Giles said, "and you fell down. Calm down, Dawn.
He's fine." Dawn gave him a searching look and let him go.

Alenon sat as before, his eyes closed and an expression of serenity
on his face. Beth lay on the grass beside Xander. She stirred and
sat up, with a goofy grin on her face. "I saw a unicorn," she said
smiling. "And a lady with a bow, walking in the woods."

"Meliekii," Alenon said. "A great and powerful patron of the
forests. You are honored to be chosen by her." He turned to
Xander. "And what of you my friend? What did you see?"

"Red hair, green eyes, laughter," Xander said. "Does that mean
anything? Maybe it's
Willow trying to reach me. But why would she be laughing? And her
hair isn't that shade."

Alenon blinked and shook his head. "Sune, goddess of love and
romance." He sighed. "I'd hoped I could give you some guidance. We
elves know Meliekki well and many other human gods. But Sune is a
stranger to me. She's perhaps the most human of human gods. I know
some orders follow her, but she's a fickle patron."

Dawn laughed. "Goddess of romance?" she grinned.

"It's not funny," Xander said. "Oh wait, it is funny. I think
you're mistaken Alenon, I've had terrible luck in the romance
department."

"Terrible bad luck," Dawn chuckled. "Epic cursed bad luck."

"I know Sune is interested in unusual love relationships," Alenon
said. "Have you ever had a romance with someone surprising or
unexpected?"

"Someone or something," Dawn was laughing. "Some species. Animal or
vegetable, but not mineral, at least not yet." Giles was laughing
too. Xander glared at them. "We've given Xander a primates only
rule," Dawn giggled. "No cat girls, no insect girls, we've had
enough of them. We were going for an apes only rule, but frankly
we'd be happy with a cute little lemur."

"I was wrong," Xander said. "It's not funny."

"I was going to send Xander's picture," Dawn gasped, "to Koko the
talking gorilla, because…I thought…" she couldn't continue, laughing
too hard.

"Oh no," Giles chuckled. "Xander would never date within his own
order."

"Most of my dates," Xander said, "have been demon hybrids with lots
of human ancestry."

"Ancestry," Dawn chortled. "Think of the children."

"Hey," Beth said, "there's stuff in my head." They looked at
her. "Stuff I didn't know before."

"What sort of things," Giles asked, looking concerned.

"Magic," she said softly. "Spells, healing, other things." She
looked about her strangely. "I think…" she trailed off. Standing
she stretched out her arms. The air about her shimmered and a lovely
swan stood in her place.

The swan squawked and flapped its wings awkwardly. It fell heavily
to the ground. Everyone jumped up shouting. The swan ran around
squawking and flapping its wings. It ran into a tree, shimmered
again, and Beth was lying by the tree.

Xander checked her. She seemed fine, just passed out. Without
thinking, he placed his hand on her head and asked for healing under
his breath. Who ever he asked must have heard him as his hand began
to glow. The glow spread over Beth and then faded as she opened her
eyes. She grinned at them. "Wasn't that great?" she asked.

"Good Lord," Giles said.






"A role playing game," Buffy said slowly.

"Yeah," Kennedy said. "At least that's our best guess. Willow's
trying to scry them so we should know more soon."

Buffy wheeled on Andrew and glared at him. "This is your fault," she
snapped accusingly.

"Ah, no," Andrew said, backing up and waving his hands in front of
him. "I wasn't even there, honest. I didn't know anything about
it."

"He really wasn't there," Kennedy said. "I don't think he's
involved."

"They should have told me," Andrew said indignantly. "Evil role
players are my department. If I'd been informed, none of this would
have happened."

"Hey," Kennedy said. "Giles and I were right there, and Xander's
just as big a nerd as you are."

"I doubt that," Andrew said putting his hands on his hips.

"Nerds and magic," Buffy said. "That's too big a coincidence. I'm
watching you Andrew."

"Guys, I'm getting something," Willow said. They stopped arguing and
moved around the table where Willow sat, facing her scrying bowl.
Candlelight flickered off the dark water and the shimmering light
glowed over the bowl, forming strange shapes in the light. The
shapes slowly resolved into figures, walking through a greenwood.

"That's Dawn," Buffy squealed, "and there's Giles."

"Where's Xander," asked Andrew.

"He's in the rear," Willow said softly. Her face was beaded with
sweat and tense with strain.

Buffy leaned over the bowl. "Dawn, can you hear me?"

"It doesn't work that way," Willow said softly. "They're in that
world, Andrew does this look familiar to you?"

"No," he said. "The whole place is like mostly forest. So walking
in the woods is pretty generic. But you found them, right?"

"For now," Willow said. "But there's resistance. This is really
hard." The image started to fade out.

"No!" Buffy shouted, grabbing the bowl. The image was gone. Willow
collapsed in her chair.

"But you found them," Buffy said. "You can get them back now right?"

Willow sighed. Kennedy held her. "I don't know Buffy," Willow said
tiredly. "They're moving away from their arrival point. I don't
know if I can track them."

"Why would they do that?" Buffy asked.

"I think they arrived on a hellmouth." Willow replied. "There's
wonky magic at the arrival point, wards and stuff, it's a mess. The
whole things a mess," she said angrily.

"Willow," Buffy said pleading."

Willow smiled reassuringly. "I'll fix it Buffy, just need to rest up
a bit."



"Did you feel that?" Dawn asked, stopping suddenly in the woods. The
others stared at her.

"Some sort of magic affect," Giles nodded. "I felt it. It's gone
now."

None of the others had felt anything. They waited a bit and then
moved on. Alenon announced that they were nearing the edge of the
forest. This was welcome news, as the endless trees had grown
tiresome to the party. But they all walked on.

They were in good shape with plenty of food and water. The absence
of bathing facilities and fresh clothes were becoming a problem.
There was only so much you could do in a cold mountain stream. And
their clothes were beginning to fall off. Alenon expressed surprise
at the shoddy quality of their clothing, but it hadn't been meant to
stand up to outdoor living. Still they pressed on. The elf assured
them that there were villages ahead where they could resupply.

Alenon took to training with Xander each evening after making camp.
They were surprisingly evenly matched, which astounded Xander. He'd
expected the elf to completely outclass him, but the daily training
at the slayer school and his experiences on the Hellmouth stood him
in good stead. They twirled back and forth in brisk fashion.

The only point where Xander was outclassed was at archery practice.
He explained that he was used to the crossbow, which Alenon scoffed
at as an inferior weapon. So Xander tried his hand at Alenon's bow,
a marvelous weapon of wood so polished that it seemed to glow with an
inner light. Alenon let him shoot several times and then stopped
him.

"You've never had any training with the bow have you?" He asked.

"Nope," Xander agreed. "I’ve practiced some on my own, but no training. Lots of crossbow work though.”

"And you're good with a crossbow," Alenon said. It wasn't really a
question but Xander nodded.

"You have an exceptional eye," Alenon said. "No offence meant. But
you're a natural archer. You could master this weapon with
practice. About the axe I'm not so certain." He picked up Xander's
axe and examined it, swinging it and holding it. He examined it
closely. "Whoever this China is," he said after a moment, "he's a
poor weapon smith."

"That's actually a country," Xander explained. "And they're supposed
to make good weapons. That may not be their best work."

"Let's hope not," Alenon said. "Have you ever tried a hand and a
half sword?"

"Nope," Xander said. "I've never even heard of one."

"You're very quick and strong. That combination is largely wasted on
an axe. You've the speed to handle a sword with precision, and the
heavy sword would allow you to bring your strength into play. You
could actually try that new two weapon style, but that takes years to
master. Why did you choose the axe anyway?"

"Well, when we were first fighting I wanted a weapon that I could use
without any practice. So I just picked up the axe and used it like a
club. Later I picked up some tricks with it, but I never actually
chose it or anything. It's just what I know."

Alenon sighed. "So you were sent into battle with no formal
training."

"I sort of volunteered," Xander said. "And I picked up stuff fast.
It wasn't that bad. We are training the new kids, and they have
better equipment."

"Training your warriors is an excellent idea." Alenon
agreed. "Still, I think you'd be better with a sword. I can trim a
branch of the right general heft and weight, for you to practice
with. You can buy proper equipment in Jalanthar."

"That's the first village, right? How long until we get there?"

"A ride, if our luck holds."

A ride was ten days, Xander remembered. A lot of this was coming
back to him.

"The thing is we don't have any money. From what I remember, the
Realms are pretty gold oriented, and we haven't got any."

The elf shrugged. "Your group has valuable skills. You'll probably
have all you need before we get there, but I can loan you funds
against the crown of Silverymoon. You'll have money before we get
there."

"We'll have money before the village? But we're in the woods, how
will we get money out here?"

Alenon smiled, "You and Dawn know much of our world, but some of our
ways you've forgotten." He wouldn't say anything beyond that, no
matter how Xander pressed him.



They fought the ogre about noon the next day. They were marching
down the trail, and the thing was just standing in a clearing,
staring at them. It charged. Xander missed the first part of the
fight, as he was bringing up the rear. When he got there, Giles and
Alenon were shooting at it, bullets and arrows flying. Dawn sent a
stream of lights from her hands shooting into the ogre, which
screamed in pain. Beth was gone, but there was a large badger racing
towards the ogre.

Xander rushed in swinging. The ogre was ugly, really ugly, and
smelly too. Slow though, and obvious with its swings. He hit it
and hit it again. Alenon was there, slicing with his sword, and the
badger was biting and clawing. Xander had never thought of badgers
as fierce animals, but this one fought hard.

The ogre fell. Xander wasn't really surprised when the badger turned
into Beth. They backtracked the thing to a sort of den in a
thicket. It was mostly rags, bones, and bits of weapons, but there
were gold coins scattered in the rubbish. When they sorted it out,
it made a pile. Alenon found a small vial containing a greenish
liquid, which he pocketed.

They counted the money out. "It's 300 of these gold pieces," Giles
said. He hefted it. "At least 5 pounds of gold." He studied the
coins, "I've never seen this make before."

Alenon examined them. "Ammarindar," he said. "It's an old dwarf
kingdom. You find a lot of their coins in the High Forest."

"This doesn't surprise you?" Giles asked. "Coin hoards like these
are common place then?"

"It's not a bad haul," the elf shrugged. "But there'll be more
before we see Silverymoon."

"That's right," Xander said. "You just wander around, and all the
monsters are carting this stuff. You just sort of pick it up as you
go."

"What an extraordinary world," Giles said. "This place could be a
useful resource."

"There's lots of demons and vampire lords running around too," Dawn
said.

"Well there's nothing new in that," Giles replied.



Xander actually felt sorry for the orcs. They'd stopped to eat, and
about ten of the things came trooping down the trail. Their little
pig snouts were lifted in the air, sniffing the breeze. Xander had
always had a soft spot for orcs. He felt they'd drawn a bad hand in
the D&D world. He'd raised his hand in a friendly greeting when they
drew their weapons and charged.

The ogre had been strong but slow. Orcs were weak and slower. They
went down like bowling pins. At least it was quick. Giles threw a
lightning bolt at one, and it was just gone. Nothing but a black
spot where it had been.

Giles and Xander began looting the bodies. It still seemed odd, but
they were getting used to it. The orcs had a mix of gold and silver,
much less than the ogre but still a considerable amount


"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.

TBC…
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