Mind = Blown

You probably already know what I’m about to tell you. But if, like me, you’ve somehow made it this far in your life without finding out, allow me to change your life forever.

You know how you’re driving an unfamiliar car, you pull into a gas station, and you can’t remember which side the tank is on? And you have to get out and check, or else play the odds?

Ahem.

There’s an arrow that tells you.

The Champion of the People has done his work for the day. Ladies and gentlemen, you’re welcome.

Copyediting: Descent Into Madness

As I recently mentioned, I’m studying to be a copyeditor. Of course, to be a copyeditor, you have to be a little bit crazy. But just how crazy are we talking here?

Let’s take a journey.

The latest issue of Time magazine has an article about the capital of Yemen. Here’s how they write it: Sana‘a.

S-a-n-a-(apostrophe)-a. Right?

Not exactly.

The apostrophe (  ) is the same character as the right single quote, which is distinct from the left single quote (  ). Time magazine’s spelling uses the left single quote. Mixing these up is a common error, especially if the apostrophe comes at the beginning of the word, as in ’tis. MS Word automatically (but wrongly) renders this as ‘tis, which means that unless you’re picky enough to notice and correct it (show of hands? anyone?), that’s how it’s going to be.

Of course, all this assumes that you’re talking about smart quotes ( ‘ ’ ) and not the unidirectional quote. If you’re using the latter, then left quote, right quote, and apostrophe are all the same, and the issue is moot. But a publication like Time wouldn’t be caught dead using unidirectional quotes in its printed works.

Anyway.

So Time used a left quote instead of an apostrophe. Was it an error?

At first I thought it must be. I couldn’t imagine a situation where using a left single quote, without its mate, in the middle of a word, could possibly be correct. But every appearance of Sana‘a contained the same “error,” and besides, what word processor would supply a left quote for an apostrophe in the middle of a word? Maybe something else was going on.

I consulted, of course, the Chicago Manual of Style. Not because I thought Time was using it – they appear to favor AP style, with some variations I presume are based on an in-house style guide – but because it has an awful lot of good information about stuff like this.

CMOS didn’t let me down. It turns out that transliteration from Arabic has no universally accepted method, which is why you’ll see Sana‘a in some places and Sanaa in others. But when transliterating Arabic, you can run into two characters, called the hamza ( ʾ ) and the ʿayn ( ʿ ), which are probably hard to see on this page unless you zoom in. Because these characters are unusual, many publications use the left single quote for the ʿayn, and the right single quote for the hamza.

So presumably, the “proper” rendition of the city name – according to this transliteration system – would be Sanaʿa (with the ʿayn), which Time chose to render as Sana‘a.

Whew. So no mistake after all.

Crisis averted – on to the next word!

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 13 & 14

Standard Disclaimer

This is fan fiction of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, which were created by Joss Whedon. If you like, you can read my thoughts on the ethics and legality of fan fiction.


[Start reading story from beginning]

[Go back to chapters 11 & 12]

Chapter 13

T-minus four days, and so much left to do. So many questions still unanswered.

Of the eighty-seven demon species on her shortlist, which were most likely to show? How long was the manifestation likely to last? Should her witches concentrate on defense spells, or offense? With three major forces – the witches, the Slayers from the Watchers’ Council, and Zeta Black – none of whom was likely to take orders from the other two, how should they organize themselves?

Willow had been battle planning all morning in the first-floor conference area, which they’d turned into a makeshift War Room. She was on her way back to her office when Margaret, her secretary, stopped her.

“Ma’am, there’s a Bill Morrison from the Peace Village NGO, here to see you.”

“I asked you to clear my calendar.”

“He doesn’t have an appointment. He just showed up.”

She walked away. “Have him talk to Phil, he can handle it. I don’t have time.”

“Ma’am?”

Willow stopped, tried not to sigh too loudly. “Yes, Margaret, what is it?”

“Sorry, it’s just…he flew here from Kazakhstan to see you specifically. He flies back tonight. If you don’t meet with him, I think it could damage relations with Peace Village.”

Willow rubbed her temples. Peace Village was the only major NGO on the ground, caring for refugees, at the Kazakh-Chinese border. They had been courting the Foundation for membership for almost a year now. And Willow did want a presence in Central Asia as part of their long-term strategy.

“All right. Send him in. Twenty minutes, that’s it.”

She was in her chair, trying to massage the stress from her shoulders, when he entered.

“Dr. Rosenberg.”

She stood up. “Please, call me Willow.”

“Right. Bill Morrison, CEO of Peace Village.” Big grin. They shook hands and sat down.

Unusual-looking fellow. Ragged T-shirt and jeans, almost insultingly casual. Mop of chestnut hair. Arms and face browned by the sun. Strangest of all, a silvery pair of aviator sunglasses, which he was evidently planning to leave on.

She pushed aside her misgivings and tiredness, switched herself to business mode. “Pleasure to finally meet you in person, Bill. As you know, the Maclay Foundation has been reviewing your application for some time. We’ve done a great deal of research on your organization, and I have to say, I’m impressed. You’re doing good work out there.”

“Awfully kind of you.”

He had an odd accent, too. Somewhat like a Kazakh native (though he was obviously Caucasian), but mixed with something else.

“To tell you the truth,” he continued, “I’ve done a fair bit of reading on you, Crimson Goddess.”

Willow frowned. Who had he been talking to? “That is a very unofficial nickname, and one I don’t approve of.” She tapped some keys on her desk. “Now, according to your last report – ”

“Why?”

“Sorry?”

“Why don’t you approve of people calling you Crimson Goddess?”

She looked up. “Well, among other things, I’m not a goddess.”

“Oh, no. No, indeed, that’s true.” That insolent grin was back. “As it happens, I’ve met a goddess or two in my time, and they didn’t have a tenth your power.”

“And as you’re no doubt also aware,” she said coolly, “I’ve lost most of my magical capacity. May we get back to business?”

“The burnout, yes, I’ve heard. Very sad. Still, you’ve trained a loyal personal army of the strongest witches in the Western Hemisphere. I imagine that takes the edge off, no?”

Willow was rapidly getting annoyed. “It’s not an army, it’s a college, and they are students. And I am a student, too. We all learn from each other.”

His grin vanished. “Oh, spare me the false modesty, Doctor President Rosenberg. It doesn’t become you. Shall I go down the list?” He sat back and propped one leg on the other. “Inventor of the oscillating quantum transistor, without which the modern computer would not exist. Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Winner of the Turing Prize. And, let’s not forget, celebrated war hero.”

She ground her teeth. “Is there a point to this?”

“Total net worth: officially, $2.1 billion. Unofficially, about five times that.”

Her eyes widened. He had done his research. “Look, I don’t know where you’re getting this information, but – ”

“And shall we talk connections?” He seemed to be enjoying himself. “A direct line to the CEO of Wolfram & Hart. An address book that reads like a Who’s Who of Silicon Valley. Highly placed contacts in the Watchers’ Council. Personal friend of the living incarnation of an Old One. Back-door access to every intelligence database worthy of the name, foreign and domestic, supernatural and otherwise. And, oh yes, nearly forgot. Former college roommate of the Dragon of Zeta Black.”

He furrowed his brow, as if thinking of something for the first time. “Why, little Willow, some might call you the most powerful woman on the planet. What does a person do, I wonder, with that much power?”

She racked her brain, trying to figure out his game. Was he a spy for somebody? No, he wouldn’t reveal himself like this. Blackmail? Surely he wasn’t that stupid.

Willow opted for the direct approach. “Why are you here, Mr. Morrison? It’s obviously not about the Foundation.”

“Ah, yes, the Foundation. Full name: the Tara Maclay Memorial Foundation. A fitting tribute to a truly remarkable young woman. How did she die, by the way?”

She stood up slowly. Voice tight with anger. “I can snap my fingers and have a dozen witches here within seconds.”

“Would those be the same witches who are just students, and not your personal army?”

“Mr. Morrison,” she growled, “I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, but…”

“This must be your famous emotional self-control. Tell me, how’d that work out for you when Tara got shot in the heart?”

“You’re trying to provoke me,” she said slowly. “It’s not going to work. Now, I’ve run out of patience. Whatever you were trying to do, it’s over. So why don’t you fly back to Kazakhstan, or wherever you’re really from, and tell your employer that – ”

He tilted his head. “Bored now.”

Her breath caught. Her heart forgot to beat.

“Who are you?” she whispered.

“I told you,” he said. “My name is Bill Morrison.”

He took off his sunglasses.

“Or, if you want to be proper about it: William.”

She studied his face. The eyes – the cheekbones – even the accent, changed but familiar.

No. It couldn’t be.

“Spike?”

“Well, now.” He put both feet on the ground and clasped his hands together with mock severity. “That is a very unofficial nickname, and one I don’t approve of.”

“But…” Her head was swimming. Trying to think, and failing. “You’re human.”

“Look who’s talking.” He grinned. “Fancy a pint?”

Chapter 14

Two o’clock on a Tuesday. No surprise the Winking Wizard was deserted. They got a mug of Guinness each, plus a bowl of peanuts for Spike, and found a table in the back.

He took a swig of the dark stout and lowered his mug with a satisfied sigh. “Say this for the bloody Irish, they don’t leave a bloke thirsty.”

Now that he’d revealed who he was, Spike settled back into old mannerisms. The Kazakh accent dropped, and he reverted to his familiar English dialect. Willow couldn’t take her eyes off him. Tan skin, unbleached hair, no longer wearing the leather jacket, and subtly but unmistakably older – yet it was him. Definitely him.

Human. That must be why the locator spells had failed. They’d been looking for a vampire.

“Start at the beginning,” said Willow. “I want to hear everything.”

Spike began shelling the peanuts. “Well, I was born William Pratt, in London, 1852. Wrote my first poem when I was eight years old. Something about bifocals. My mother had it framed, but two years later…”

He broke off when he saw her expression. “Well, fine,” he muttered. “Didn’t want to tell it anyhow.”

Tossing a peanut in his mouth, he started over.

“The year was 2018. Wolfram & Hart was under new management, Dracula was a pile of dust, and Buffy’s righteous quest to off my kinsmen was in full swing. Back when she was still working for the Watchers’ Council, mind. Me and Buffy, you know, we’ve always been a little off-again, on-again.”

Understatement of the century. Willow just nodded.

“So we were off again, but still fighting on the same side. And that’s when she captured Drusilla.”

“Oh,” Willow said quietly.

Spike wagged a finger at her. “My reaction precisely. She didn’t even tell me, you know. I got it secondhand. From Xander, of all people. So anyway, naturally I went to see the old gal. She sired me, after all.”

Another peanut.

“After knocking a few heads, I found her tied up in a basement. She had information, you see, or someone thought she did. Doesn’t matter. Buffy had been…hurting her.”

He took a long drink and sighed.

“Dru was out of her gourd, and she’d racked up more victims than the Inquisition,” he said. “She deserved every bit of it, and worse. But I couldn’t…you understand? I couldn’t just leave her like that. She was singing, Willow. Dusty old white dress spattered with her own blood, and she was singing to me.” Spike was shaking his head. “I couldn’t just…I had to…you understand, don’t you?”

Willow nodded, a lump forming in her throat. “Yeah. I understand.”

“I staked her. Buffy found out, of course. She was livid. Said people would die because of the intel they’d lost. We got into it. Finally she told me, if she ever saw me again, I was dead.” He shrugged. “A bloke can tell when he’s not wanted. I left. Last time I ever saw her.”

“Spike. I’m sorry.”

He waved away her concern. “Not the first time she’s said that sort of thing. So I wandered a while, killing time, more or less. And then I heard about this shaman in Kazakhstan who could turn a vampire human. Shanshu Prophecy in action, I suppose. But there was a price. There’s always a price, you know.”

“I’ve heard rumors to that effect.”

“I can’t kill anymore.” He gestured. “Or, well, I can, but then it’s curtains for me too. Sort of the cosmic equivalent of a chip in the head.”

“I don’t understand,” said Willow. “Why did you want to be human?”

“Oh, right. Would you care to be a vampire these days?”

“Uh-huh. That’s part of the reason.” She leaned her chin on her hand. “Why else?”

Spike didn’t answer right away. He rolled a peanut between his thumb and finger, back and forth, back and forth.

“I was tired of killing,” he said. “When you’re a vampire, you always think about it, even if you’re not doing it. You always drink blood, even if it’s not human blood. I was tired of watching my friends die. Tired of war. Ready for peace. That shaman’s price, you know, it was a pretty cheap bargain in the end.”

“That’s why you started that organization,” said Willow. “Something to do besides killing.”

“Mm.” He tossed the peanut back in the bowl. “Even got married.”

“Oh! Spike, congratulations.”

“Yep. That’s what everyone said, right up till the divorce. Lasted all of seven months.”

“What happened?”

“Zoe, she was a lovely girl, but…” Spike shrugged. “She wasn’t her.”

“Her who?” He gave her a look. “Ohhh. I see. Her.”

“Never got married, did you, Red?”

Willow sipped her beer. “No.”

“Anybody long-term? Serious? Special?”

Kind of a personal question, but after all he had told her, she’d allow it. “I’ve been with a number of women. All special in their own way. But if you mean, anyone like Tara? Not really, no.”

“And why would that be, do you suppose?”

She thought it over. She wanted to give him a good answer. It seemed important somehow.

“I don’t believe in soulmates,” she said. “But if I did, then Tara was mine.”

“Figured as much.” He tilted his mug in her direction. “So now here we are, thirty years later. And if anything happens to Tara Maclay – again – what would the most powerful woman on Earth decide to do next?”

Willow studied a little scratch in the surface of the table. “I won’t turn to the Dark Side again, if that’s what you’re asking. I’ve learned that lesson very well, thank you.”

“Not worried about your darkness anymore, Red.” He gave her a sad smile.  “I’m worried about your light.”

[Chapters 15 & 16 coming soon…]

Friday Link

Ever wondered what English sounded like in Shakespeare’s time? What about Chaucer’s time (Middle English), or Beowulf‘s (Old English)?

No? You’ve never wondered that?

Well, either way, this guy has you covered.

Oddly, the author doesn’t say anything about how anyone knows the pronunciation of Old English. I’m sure linguists have ways of guessing, but given the relative scarcity of tape recorders in the eleventh century, I’m not sure how close they can really get. Still, it’s an intriguing glimpse into the past.

Have a salutary weekend!

Copyediting for Fun and (Maybe) Profit

The lack of posts this week isn’t because of depression or laziness. (I am lazy, of course, but that doesn’t happen to be the reason.) Rather, I’m studying to be a copyeditor.

What the hell is a copyeditor (and why does Chrome insist, with enormous irony, that it’s not a word)?

A copyeditor reads a manuscript carefully, checking for the “little” things: grammar, spelling, punctuation, style, word usage, biased language, consistency, clarity, tightness of expression, etc. Sometimes fact-checking is included too. This is in contrast to a substantive editor (or just “editor”), who is more concerned with the big picture: large-scale structure, pacing, which sections are interesting and which aren’t, etc.

A copyeditor can work on almost any kind of text where details matter, including novels, non-fiction books, magazines, newspapers, scholarly papers, and all sorts of websites.

I used to be a computer programmer. It’s what I went to school for. So why in the world would I want to be a grammar guru?

For one thing, I’m doing it already, whether I want to or not. My internal editor automatically yells at me when I come across language errors in anything I’m reading. I’m doing the work anyway, so I might as well get paid for it.

Also, it’ll make me a better writer, and I won’t have to spend as much time wondering about the little things. Is it A.M., AM, or a.m.? Should I use “toward” or “towards”? Does the question mark go inside or outside the quotation marks? Is it “I feel bad” or “I feel badly”? Are sentence fragments “wrong”? (By the way, the answers are, respectively – they’re all correct, “toward” is American and “towards” is British, it depends on the sentence, it’s “I feel bad,” and sentence fragments are perfectly acceptable in formal writing if used sensibly.)

Besides, programming and copyediting aren’t all that different. Both require a careful eye for small textual details while staying mindful of the larger purpose. Both require a technical understanding of syntax and semantics. Both are populated by professional geeks.

Most importantly, this stuff is actually fun for me. Reading The Chicago Manual of Style, scouring Grammar Girl’s website, finding out which rules are legitimate and which (like “don’t split infinitives”) are nonsense, learning the difference between “confidant” and “confidante” – I really get a kick out of this stuff.

The question is: can I get paid for it? Stay tuned, Hypothetical Reader!

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 11 & 12

Standard Disclaimer

This is fan fiction of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, which were created by Joss Whedon. If you like, you can read my thoughts on the ethics and legality of fan fiction.


[Start reading story from beginning]

[Go back to chapters 9 & 10]

Chapter 11

A young, dark-skinned woman in full-body camo gear was escorting Willow on a path through the Sri Lankan jungle. The woman refused to give her name, so Willow was mentally calling her Alice. This ‘Alice’ carried a duffel bag in one hand and a strange-looking weapon in the other.

“What is that thing, anyway?” said Willow. “Is it a spear or a gun? It kinda looks like both.”

Alice ignored her.

Soon they came to a clearing. A few rugged, dark green tents. A handful of other women in camo moving around. Alice approached the nearest and called out, “Ma’am!”

This new woman – short blond hair, blue eyes, improbably muscular – looked like she’d stepped out of an ad for some kind of dietary supplement. We’ll call you Olga, Willow decided.

“Ma’am, I found this civilian out walking in the jungle. She…claims…that she got lost from a tour group.” Alice’s sour expression showed her opinion of that story. “I’ve searched her, she’s clean. And I confiscated this.” She lifted the duffel bag.

“What’s in it?”

“I was…” Alice cleared her throat. “Unable to open it.”

“You were unable to open a duffel bag.” Olga crossed her arms. “Do you require zipper-related training, Ensign?”

“No, ma’am,” Alice said stiffly. “I believe the bag is enchanted, ma’am.”

“So we might have a witch on our hands.” Olga studied Willow, taking in her khaki jacket and pants, fuchsia boots, and smiley-face fishing hat. “Although she doesn’t really look like one.”

“Hey!” said Willow. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Frankly, she was shocked that neither of them recognized her. The lost tourist routine had just been a joke, but Alice had taken her seriously. How famous did a witch have to be?

“Who are you?” demanded Olga. “What are you doing here? What’s in the bag?”

“My name is Willow Rosenberg.” She searched their faces for a sign of recognition. Blank. “Seriously? What do they teach you people in school?”

“Ms. Rosenberg,” said Olga, “this is a serious matter. You’ve walked into a Sri Lankan government military base. Seeing as we’re eighteen miles from the nearest village, I very much doubt you were part of a tour group. So why don’t you cut the crap, save us all some time, and tell me the truth.”

“Gladly,” said Willow. “The truth is, your cover story is even worse than mine. A Sri Lankan military base? Made up entirely of female soldiers? With those accents? Please.”

Olga scowled. “We value diversity.”

“Oh. And here I thought you were Zeta Black, the most elite special ops team in the world, all Slayers, commanded by one Buffy Summers.” She lifted a hand. “About yea tall? Blond hair, sorta grumpy? I really need to talk to her, if you don’t mind.”

Olga and Alice exchanged grim looks. “Nobody talks to the Dragon,” said Olga.

“The Dragon?” Willow giggled. “Do you all have code names? Are you two, like, Hobbit and Chupacabra?”

Growling, Olga backhanded her.

Willow licked blood from her lip and rubbed her jaw. Her grin turned wolfish, insolent. “Hey, that hurt,” she said. “You should really use your words to resolve conflict.”

“What’s in the bag?” Olga shouted.

“A rare artifact. It’s called Nun’yah.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Well, it’s Nun’yah business.” Willow laughed harshly at her own joke. “Do…do you get it? It’s like I’m saying ‘None of your…’”

Olga raised her weapon, preparing to strike.

“Lieutenant!” someone shouted.

They all turned toward the new voice.

“Stand down,” said Buffy. “She’s a friend.”

Chapter 12

The tent was big enough for a round plastic table, half a dozen folding chairs, a chest bristling with scary-looking weapons, and a sleeping bag that lay right on the bare dirt. Willow took off her hat and made herself comfortable on one of the chairs.

Buffy didn’t sit down. “Well,” she said. “If you were anyone else, I’d ask how you found me.”

She had the uber-commando look down to a science. Black everything: boots, pants, knee guards, fingerless gloves, jacket, all black. Willow suppressed a small grin – apparently, at this level of badass, camo wasn’t required. Blond hair short and practical. The old scar, a thin white slash down between her eyes to the corner of her lips.

Like a jungle cat sizing up her prey.

“Guess I should’ve called ahead,” Willow said. “The welcome committee was fresh out of hospitality.”

“I’m not surprised. Olga has an impressive resume, but charm isn’t on it.”

“Olga? Her name is actually Olga?” Willow burst out laughing, saw Buffy’s expression, cleared her throat discreetly. “Never mind. Long story.”

Still Buffy was studying her, as if surveying enemy terrain. “Your lip is bleeding. Why didn’t you defend yourself?”

Willow ran her tongue over it and tasted blood again. “You know my magic is weaker now.”

“I also know that in twelfth grade, you killed a vampire with a No. 2 pencil, so don’t give me that ‘poor helpless Willow’ crap. You let her do that. Why?”

“Guess I wanted to see just how much she was willing to hurt an unarmed civilian.”

Buffy snorted. “We both know you’re neither of those things.” She fingered the long wooden stake holstered at her hip, as if to show that she had her weapons, too. The hilt of a sword peeked over her left shoulder. Black, of course.

Willow leaned back, trying to get comfortable in the metal folding chair. “So how long’s it been since your last vamp kill?”

“About six months. But we’re getting close here. We got a positive read on the scanners just this morning. I bet we take him in the next day or two.” Calm as a weather report. Overcast skies, with a 60% chance of impalement.

“Uh-huh. And no offense, but, um…two dozen Slayers with high-tech weapons? Isn’t that a little bit overkill for one vampire?”

“There used to be millions of vampires. We estimate there are only a dozen or so left in the world, and they didn’t survive this long on their good looks. These things are either very clever or very well-connected. Often both.”

Buffy smiled, a lean, grim smile without warmth. “Actually, it’s funny. You remember Harmony Kendall? We finally got her a couple years ago. Can’t believe she made it that long. Found her shivering in a hole at the edge of the Kalahari Desert, covered in rags, so filthy I almost didn’t recognize her. Probably hadn’t fed in a month. So much for Little Miss Prada.”

Despite the heat, Willow felt cold and a little sick. “That’s funny to you, huh?”

Buffy’s smile slipped. “Something you want to say?”

“We went to school with her, Buffy.”

“No, we went to school with a young woman who was murdered by a vampire on Graduation Day. The thing my team killed was a monster. That’s sort of why we hunt them, remember?” She crossed her arms. “Or maybe you don’t remember. I guess your warrior days are pretty much behind you, aren’t they?”

Willow collected herself. Didn’t take the bait. “I’m not here to criticize you. I just worry about you sometimes. You’re the strongest woman I know, you can do anything you want, and here you are crawling into caves, chasing a handful of starving vampires. I mean, God, Buffy, it’s been twenty years. Almost half your life on this. When is it over? Are they still that much of a threat?”

“Yes!” Buffy shouted, slamming her fist in her palm. “You don’t get it, do you? It only takes one, Willow. Exponential growth – you’re the math whiz, you have to see it. We miss just one vampire, the whole goddamn thing starts over again. You, the Watchers’ Council, nobody understands. It only. Takes. One.”

The Slayer took a couple deep breaths, eyes shut.

“Enough chit-chat,” said Buffy. “You want me to come to Sunnydale, right?”

“That’s right.”

“No.” She scratched her cheek. “Anything else?”

Willow leaned forward, hands together. “You know your mother will be there.”

“I said goodbye to my mother a long time ago, which, frankly, is none of your business.”

“None of my business. Right. I guess I wasn’t there, crying beside you, at her funeral.”

Buffy didn’t answer.

“Dawn will be there too. Still alive, last I checked.”

No answer.

“I suppose, no point in mentioning that your mom’s immortal soul could be destroyed forever. You abandoning her, and your friends, I guess that’s none of my business either.”

Buffy growled and flipped the table. It clattered against some chairs and came to rest on the dirt.

Willow remained where she sat. “Temper.”

“This isn’t about my mother, or me, or Dawn,” Buffy seethed. “Just like always, it’s all about Willow. You want to see Tara. That’s what this is, right? One last kiss? Sorry I almost deep-fried the planet? Love you, sweetie. Be with you soon, sweetie. Happy tears. Right?”

Willow measured her words quietly. “The thought had occurred to me.”

“So you organize your mission, and I’m supposed to feel guilty if I don’t tag along.” Buffy was yelling at her now. “Well, guess what? I’m on a mission of my own. Have been for some time, as a matter of fact. While you and Xander and Dawn are living your quiet, comfortable lives, I’m still out here, finishing the mission. You know, the one we agreed on? Together? Because, last time I checked, it wasn’t actually finished. So don’t you tell me about abandoning my friends!”

Willow stood up. Don’t get angry, she reminded herself. Keep your voice quiet. With an effort, she managed. “This mission you’re talking about. Is it the same one where I burned out most of my power, killing the Senior Partners for you? The one where you’re commanding a team of Slayers that I created by myself? This is the mission where I didn’t contribute? Just want to clarify.”

They stared each other down.

“Are we done here?” said Buffy.

“No. You’re coming to Sunnydale. And you know why?”

“Oh, this ought to be good.”

“Because if you do, you can have what’s in the bag.”

Buffy glanced at the duffel bag. “Let me guess. A year’s supply of guilt, and a coupon for a free lecture?”

“Not exactly.”

Willow knelt, opened the bag, pulled apart the packing foam. She took the item inside and held it up for Buffy to see.

The sarcasm died on Buffy’s lips. Her mouth fell open. Her eyes, jaded and calculating, softened into awe. Willow imagined that Gentile kids on Christmas morning looked pretty much the way Buffy looked right now.

It was the Scythe, of course. Not a very good name – it was closer to an axe. At one end of the handle, a gleaming, wickedly curved, red and silver blade. At the other end, a wooden stake, enchanted so as never to break or rot. An instrument of death.

What talons were to an eagle, what claws were to a tiger, that’s what the Scythe was to Buffy.

Not a Slayer’s weapon. The Slayer’s weapon.

“How?” said Buffy.

“After that greenmarrow demon stole it in ’06, it bounced around the black market for a few years. Finally ended up at Wolfram & Hart.”

Buffy tore her eyes off the Scythe and looked at Willow in surprise. “And you stole it?”

“Didn’t have to. I talked to Charles and he gave it away, free of charge.”

“You’re kidding. He would never…” For the second time in sixty seconds, Buffy was stunned. “The favor you had, for killing the Senior Partners. You called it in.”

“No big. They didn’t have anything else I wanted anyway.” Willow thought it over. “Except for, like, eight thousand other things.”

She held it out to Buffy, who took it after a moment’s hesitation. Buffy closed her eyes and exhaled as the power coursed into her. She moved slowly through half a dozen fighting forms. Again, but faster. And again, so quick now that the Scythe flickered and flashed around her like a scarlet ghost.

Willow smiled. “Should I leave you two alone?”

Eyes open. Still drinking in her new toy. “You’ll give this to me if I go to Sunnydale? Help you fight off the monsters?”

“You and the rest of Zeta Black. Yes.”

“And what happens if I ignore you and keep it anyway?”

Willow’s smile never faltered, but her answer was delicate as a black widow’s web.

“Try it and see.”

After a long moment, Buffy threw back her head and laughed.

[Go on to chapters 13 & 14]

Friday Link

This one’s kind of random: the etymology of “OK.” Apparently, use of the word can be traced to a single newspaper article on March 23, 1839. After that, its rise to popularity came courtesy of Martin van Buren. An interesting read, if you’re into weird things like that.

Have a great weekend.