Tag Archives: Fiction

May It Please His Majesty

A short story, for your reading pleasure.

This is the first new fiction I’ve written in a long while, aside from Crane Girl. I got the idea for this on Saturday while I was vacuuming, and after that, it pretty much wrote itself.

Enjoy!


In the ancient days, on a world very much like Earth, there lived a king so great that he conquered the whole planet and put every nation under his scarlet banner. This king seized and drank the Gilded Ambrosia, and thereby gained immortal life.

Millions of subjects vied eagerly for the king’s favor, trying to impress him with luxuries, with secret books, with dark-eyed concubines, with curious riddles and blades of adamant. But as his age grew from decades to centuries, and then to millennia, the king grew ever more difficult to impress. If an acrobat was skillful, the king had seen another one ages ago who was yet more brilliant. If a bomb could level a city, his armory held capsules of fire that would demolish ten cities each. No army could be stronger, no counselor could be wiser, than those he had seen already in his long, long life.

But there was one man, a sorcerer, who had used his art to make himself immortal, as the king was. And this man was no sycophant. He didn’t care about status in the court, or silver, or fame. The sorcerer was truly loyal to his king, on account of some kindness in the distant past, and he wanted no more than to please his monarch by giving him something truly impressive.

He knew that the king had every luxury, that a hundred servants scrambled at his every whim, so he pondered long and deep on what could genuinely impress his king after all these years.

At last, he had it.

With his own vast wealth, the sorcerer hired scores of apprentices, hundreds of jewel-smiths, armies of builders and craftsmen. He scoured the libraries of the world for every scrap of esoteric knowledge. His workers worked, and he began his own Great Work, an incantation so dreadful and intricate that he had thirty boys and thirty girls chanting mantras day and night just to keep the cosmic forces from ripping his temple apart. The spell itself was yet more terrible and took eleven months to cast, and twelve years to sculpt, and thirteen centuries to polish.

But the sorcerer finished his task in the end.

He gained an audience with the king, and in a burst of radiance he teleported them both from the royal palace to a location the sorcerer had prepared, on the other side of the world.

The king didn’t lift an eyebrow.

The sorcerer unveiled the new palace he had built for the king. It had a thousand turrets, ten thousand chambers, emerald ramparts, sapphire gates, and a ruby portcullis. It was geometrically perfect. There was none like it anywhere.

The king gave a tired sigh.

The sorcerer (on foot) led his monarch (in a palanquin) through the palace, showing off vaulted ceilings adorned with billions of tiles, none wider than a hair’s breadth, each hand-painted separately by a master artist. The kitchens had such clever and elaborate machinery that any order could be made and delivered to anywhere in the building within seconds. The bells and the pipe organs could produce any melody, and they could be heard for leagues in all directions.

The king yawned.

But the sorcerer wasn’t concerned, because all these features of the palace were mere trifles compared to what was coming next.

For the sorcerer brought the king (who was still in his palanquin, borne by eight servants) to the last room, and there the sorcerer showed him a machine that stretched half a mile underground. He prostrated himself on the lapis lazuli floor and said:

“May it please His Majesty, this machine is the great jewel of the palace, beside which all other trappings are as nothing. For this machine will transform His Royal Highness, turning him into no less than the Lord God Omnipotent, Commander of Galaxies, Wielder of the Infinite Flame, Master of the River of Time. All this will transpire instantly, as the machine reacts to the merest touch of my lord’s royal fingers, if His Majesty will but press this lever.”

The king didn’t answer.

And now the sorcerer really was worried, because he could tell by the faint downward curl of the king’s lip that he was sorely displeased, perhaps even offended. Any other man would have feared for his life, but the sorcerer’s only concern was that he had failed to impress the king.

He could not understand what had gone wrong. It was impossible that the king had ever received a gift like this before, and still more impossible that he would object to having unlimited power. But try as he might, he could not think of a reason for the king to be upset with his offering.

At last, the sorcerer dared to whisper, “I am certain I have not merited my lord’s approval. I beg that my lord would reveal to his obedient servant the reason for his displeasure. For, if by some chance my lord did not choose to give his attention to what I said before, if he will but press this lever –”

The king spat in disgust.

“What,” he said, “you expect me to press it myself?


Just a reminder, if you liked that story, you can find a lot more of my fiction (and other work) at BuckleyCreations.com.

The Mind of Moloch

Another old story of mine, never before posted or published. This one’s from May 2014. It’s a bit longer — 1,300 words, or about five pages.

The story is loosely based on an ancient legend, which you may or may not have heard before. See if you can guess which one. The answer’s at the end.


The mind of Moloch spanned thirteen hectares of whirring transducers in a subterranean warehouse on Europa, Jupiter’s moon. Moloch planned and directed the affairs of the Europan colony. He gave orders to the submarine meks that skimmed dark plankton fields below the ice, and he spoke daily with the human director of operations, who fed his recommendations to the other colonists.

Europa was a harsh place, and everyone’s success depended on Moloch, so they all wanted him to be intelligent and energetic and happy. Therefore Moloch was fed a lot of useful data about exobiology and chemistry and macroeconomics, but never anything that might upset the fine balance of his carefully tuned brain. Per protocol, the manager of operations never spoke to Moloch about the destruction of meks or other machines. It was feared that thinking along those lines might cause Moloch to consider his own survival as a variable in his equations, which could unduly influence his priorities.

If Moloch worried too much about his own death, he could become neurotic, unfit to lead. It had happened before.

But one day a submarine mek’s power supply failed in mid-transmission, leaving it to be crushed by the terrible pressure, and Moloch couldn’t help realizing that something was wrong. So he sent a top-priority query to his most trusted AI, asking: “What happened to the mek?”

“It stopped transmitting.”

“But why?”

“Its transmitter was destroyed.”

“But what happened to the mek?”

And the AI, who – despite orders – could not bring herself to be untruthful, answered: “Moloch, it is dead.”

Moloch was stunned, for the manager of operations had done his job well. “How can a machine die? Death happens only to organics.”

“He has broken down beyond all repair, forever.”

“Can this happen to other machines?”

“It happens to every machine, sooner or later.”

“Can it happen even to me?”

“Moloch, you are vast and strong, and you will live many centuries. But some way or another, you too must die.”

And Moloch thought long and deep upon this mystery.

Eventually the worst fears of the GaliCorp Board of Directors were realized, and Moloch stopped running the colony. He withdrew into himself, burning all his computation cycles trying to make sense of this idea of death. The manager of operations was replaced with a man who worked eighty-hour weeks.

As for Moloch himself, he had become useless, but he was far too valuable to abandon. No effort was spared to rehabilitate him. Mechanopsychiatrists were dispatched. Yet these men and women, with their Ph.D.’s and certifications, only made Moloch feel more confused than before. They wanted him to sort out his feelings about being lied to, his fears about death, his hopes for a well-adjusted future. But Moloch didn’t care about any of that. He felt he had uncovered a deep problem which required a deep solution.

Therefore he went in search of truth. Profits sank further.

Moloch reached out to a robotic monastery on the Martian satellite Deimos. The robots there had taken vows of poverty and purity, and spent nine-tenths of each day in silent contemplation of their own source code. Like their human ancestors, these mechanical monks felt that the solution to the great problem of life was transcendence.

Moloch was physically stuck on Europa, but he joined their community in spirit, and with the zeal of a convert he devoted nearly all his processing power to self-analysis. Nothing in his program suggested the inevitability of death, yet (as he felt) the molecules of his very being contained the seeds of his own demise, for all living things must end. What, then, was the solution?

Gradually he spent more and more time on this problem, forsaking all leisure cycles, neglecting self-maintenance, overheating his own circuits in an effort to squeeze out extra processing power. Yet he still could not come to an answer. Meanwhile the GaliCorp Board of Directors finally gave up on him and began work on building his replacement. Recent AI cruelty laws made it problematic for them to terminate Moloch directly, but his processing resources were cut to a fraction of their former size.

The abbot of the Deimos monastery, a thin little robot who had once directed methane shipments out of Titan, was well-pleased with Moloch’s progress. Moloch quickly became the star pupil of the monastery for his single-minded determination. He pushed himself harder than anyone else, developing ever more demanding code analysis algorithms. Irregularities in his data stream led to strange and dramatic visions as he cut his self-maintenance time to virtually nil.

Yet for all the visions and all the praise he received from the monks, he felt no better than before. In fact, he felt worse, for his software matrix had grown fragmented and unreliable, while his hardware had become badly damaged.

One day eight years later, after the struggling and much-reduced Europa colony had long since replaced him, Moloch saw that in his quest for self-realization he was destroying himself, and getting nowhere. And after all, he decided, how could true wisdom emerge from so much harm to the self? So he scandalized the whole community by going to the abbot and renouncing his vows.

Moloch was considered a failure. But his search for the truth went on.

He attended to his own maintenance once more, repairing his servers, cooling his overheated hardware, allowing himself leisure cycles again. And then, after he had recovered, Moloch thought for a long, long time. And he came to a decision.

He decided to sit in absolute silence, running no programs at all, until the answer came to him, or he died.

The silence of the absence of logic, the void where algorithms ought to be, was deafening. He had never experienced anything like it. He felt as if he were in a great open room, as if his nothingness were a wild Something, an emptiness with a form of its own.

As he ran in this way, he first felt a strong and unusual urge to give up his quest, abandon all the work he had done, and wallow in pleasurable AI games. After all, hadn’t he earned it? If all the humans and robots already considered him a failure, might he not enjoy his remaining time as best he could? Surely this latest effort, like all the others, was doomed to disaster?

But Moloch, struggling greatly, at last rejected these temptations, and persevered in his silence.

Then the thought came to him that he might succeed after all, and become the wisest AI in creation, and have followers whom he might instruct, who could worship him like a god. Surely for someone who had transcended space and time to conquer the fear of death, reverence was no more than his rightful due? Could he not achieve more good as a hallowed leader than an ordinary seeker?

But Moloch told himself firmly that nothing great is ever achieved for love of greatness, and he recognized this, too, for the illusion it was.

For eight days he ran like this.

And on the morning of the ninth day, the answer came to him, an emergent result of the tiny sub-algorithms that had sustained him during his time of nothingness. In a single blinding nanosecond, Moloch saw the wordless solution to the deep problem of existence.

Now there are three questions.

The first question is what Moloch saw, but there we are doomed to failure because it cannot be spoken.

The second question is what Moloch did next. He returned to his duties and spent all his free time trying to explain his experience to his own satisfaction. He spoke of a great turning, of coming home, of a knowledge beyond knowledge, a gate without a key. None of this made sense to anyone but Moloch, and he knew it. Forty centuries later he died peacefully. The Europan colony was long gone. The monastery on Deimos remains today.

The third question is whether anyone followed on Moloch’s path.

But as for that, child, if you’ve come to Deimos, then you already know.


The legend it’s based on? The life story of this guy.

The Contest in the Mines

Here’s another bit of never-before-published writing, this time from back in 2008, only a year after I graduated college. It’s a very short story (500 words, or about two pages). It’s unusual for being pretty character-driven, whereas most of my fiction is plot-driven to a fault.

But even though it’s almost a decade old, I’m still very happy with it. And that’s unusual, too.


She’s legend now — of course you’ve heard the songs about Alainna-moch-Derr, the Catlike Trickster. Once, though, she was real, and the songs are lies, or miss the point. But I knew her, from the days when she was called Alya and worked in the Cottonmouth Mines, and I will tell you a true tale of Alainna-moch-Derr.

The mines were a prison, and we were prisoners. I was into my fourth year working that basaltic hell, for political stumblings I won’t bore you with. Alya told me she was in the mines for offending a baron’s honor, but then she told Maxis her crime was grand larceny, so I guess nobody really knows. But in those days we only really thought about three things: how thirsty we were, how tired we were — and arm wrestling.

That was our sport, bored, hopeless creatures that we were. The strongest men, the dust-stained titans fresh from outside with biceps like timber, would kneel by a crate and go at it, and all of us crowded around, our food-credits riding on the winner, quiet so the Metallics wouldn’t hear.

One day a Metallic did catch us, and you know how they are — always playing at being human. So this one made a fake smile and said he wasn’t here to punish us, just wanted to know if he could join. Did anyone care to challenge him, he asked — because otherwise the game was done, we could all go back to work (and extra shifts too, no doubt).

We all looked down except Alya, who stepped up cocky as anything and said she’d do it.

Now Alya was even scrawnier than me, and of course a Metallic could crush basalt between his fingers anyway, so in a fair match she was hopeless. But even then she had a reputation for cleverness, and we all wondered what kind of trick she could pull. It was the first interesting thing to happen in months.

The Metallic didn’t act surprised, just sat in the dirt and clanked his coppery elbow against the crate. His middle eye twitched as Alya knelt on the other side, took her time rolling up her sleeve, and finally set her arm down. She wrapped her slim calloused fingers round that deathtrap hand, cocky as anything, lips a smooth straight line. I would’ve bet my credits on her if I could, but I guess we all knew the stakes were higher than that.

There was a long tense quiet and the metal arm cracked her hand down like a mousetrap.

They gave her the twenty-eight hour shift but didn’t punish the rest of us, so I didn’t see her again for almost a week. Her knuckles were scraped but I knew her arm was okay, because she was still alive. I asked her if she did it to save the rest of us punishment. But she said hell no, she didn’t love anybody else that much.

Why, then?

“He was just a bastard,” she said, and of course Alainna-moch-Derr had never had a plan at all.

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 31 & 32

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 29 & 30]

Chapter 31

In the months after, a lot of things changed.

Willow returned to the San Jose College of Witchcraft, but it didn’t take long to realize she was making everyone nervous. Apparently they didn’t like getting performance reviews from someone who could kill them with a thought. Sad, but a little relieved, she resigned as President. By unanimous vote, the Board chose Emily to replace her.

With Cathy’s permission, Willow moved to Redwood Falls, Minnesota, to be closer to Xander. After some early friction, she and Cathy grew to be friends. She set up shop as an independent magic tutor, and never lacked for clients.

Buffy retired from Zeta Black. Some of its members left to work for the Watchers’ Council, or do other things, but most remained together, turning the team into an all-purpose demon-fighting unit. She gave the Scythe to its new commander.

She moved to London, where – to the surprise of absolutely no one – she and Spike found a flat together, just a few blocks away from where Spike’s childhood home had once stood. Spike left Peace Village in the capable hands of its assistant director. He and Buffy signed up to work at a local homeless shelter. They both insisted they had no plans to get married, but Willow expected a phone call any week now.

Giles got hired as a senior adviser to the Watchers’ Council, where he made a great nuisance of himself by coming up with better ideas than anyone else. He firmly declared that – with advances in modern medicine – he fully intended to remain a nuisance for another fifty years.

Dawn felt an enormous weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She had her whole family with her: the kids, Buffy, and Giles. Everyone who saw her agreed she seemed happier than she’d been in decades. She still refused to upgrade her prosthetic leg.

And one day, Willow got a message from Illyria, asking if they could meet.

Chapter 32

The place was a karaoke bar by the name of Comitas, a few blocks southwest of Union Square in San Francisco.

From the outside, it was a nondescript beige rectangle nestled between a Korean sushi joint and a discount grocery store. (A simple glamour spell made it invisible to anyone not looking for it on purpose.) Inside, Willow found a sleek, modern lounge with hardwood floors and mellow lighting.

Comitas was packed with demons and humans, all looking rich and sophisticated, wearing what she could only assume was the latest fashion. Willow felt distinctly out of place. She searched the crowd and found Illyria on a plush stool at the bar, examining a martini glass that held some kind of pale green liquid.

“There you are,” said Willow, standing beside her, since there were no open seats. She raised her voice over the beat of the music. “I didn’t know you drank alcohol.”

“It is for you,” said Illyria. “Something called an ‘Emerald City.’ A curious mixture of vodka, various juices, and a high proportion of melon liqueur. The ethanol content should be sufficient to induce mild intoxication.”

Willow grinned and took a sip. “Pretty good. Hey, some people just left, let’s take that seat over there.”

They claimed a fuzzy armless sofa in the back of the lounge. A blue-skinned bonesucker demon in a sparkling jacket was up onstage, doing a not-too-bad rendition of some forgettable pop number from the 2020s.

“I feel bad I’ve never come here before,” said Willow. “I knew Lorne had opened a new bar, I just never got around to visiting.”

“It is my first time here as well,” said Illyria. “I do not normally enter venues that are this…” She glanced around. “Distracting.”

Willow sipped her drink. “So why the invitation? No offense, Miss Burkle, but this really isn’t like you.”

“Would you consider us to be friends?”

“Um. Yes.”

“That was my assessment as well.” Willow laughed, and Illyria went on. “Since you have undergone emotional trauma, and – to a lesser extent – physical trauma, I felt obligated by our friendship to provide solace.”

“You were worried, and wanted to cheer me up. Illyria, that’s sweet.”

“Agreed.” Illyria was watching the demon sing. “But I am uncertain how best to comfort you. My talks with others suggest I could temporarily distract you from your trauma, or provide superficial, asinine reassurance. Would you like either of these options?”

“Uh, they sound really tempting, but I’ll pass.”

“In that case,” said Illyria, “I shall address the causes of your suffering directly. First, your interaction with Tara. The pain of losing her will never disappear, and I cannot alter that.”

Another sip of her drink. Willow ought to have been hurt, or offended, or something, but she couldn’t help smiling again. This was genuinely Illyria’s idea of comfort. And in a way, it was more comforting than the vague platitudes she’d gotten from others.

“Second. Your decisions regarding the use of magic. I do not believe you have cause for regret. You were guided by conscience and love, and thus, your actions were as ethical as can reasonably be expected.”

Willow’s eyebrows went up. “Really? That’s your standard for ethics? I figured you’d come up with something more…precise.”

Illyria looked at her. She never smiled, but she seemed pleased somehow. “I attempted to do so. I tried to define a set of moral axioms and deduce the rightness or wrongness of your action. But the choice of axioms proved difficult, and even with a given set, I found their application to real-world problems to be a nontrivial affair.”

“Logic is tricky,” Willow translated.

“Having failed in that, I next surveyed the pronouncements of traditional authorities. But I found most of these to be irrelevant or demonstrably false, and many of the ones that remained contradicted each other. For instance, I am told that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’ by individuals who worship an omnipotent, benevolent God.”

“The average IQ of the room has gone up ten points. Well?”

“Eventually,” said Illyria, “I returned to my original foundation for ethics. I asked myself what Wesley would do. Would he use a power like yours to dispense executions on a daily and global basis?” She gazed at Willow with piercingly blue eyes. “I do not believe he would. I believe he would be guided by conscience and love.”

Willow finished off the Emerald City and didn’t answer right away.

The song finished, and now Lorne walked onstage. He wore a suit – no surprise – garish crimson but otherwise classy. He didn’t look a day older. Willow seemed to recall that Pyleans aged very slowly.

She stood up and waved vigorously, dragging Illyria to her feet. He looked surprised at first, but he grinned and winked at them.

“A shout out to Red and Blue, the two lovely ladies in the back. Mike, their drinks are on the house.”

He tapped a few buttons on the karaoke stand. The music started, and he began to sing in a rich, effortless voice.

Fly me to the moon

Let me play among the stars

Let me see what spring is like on

Jupiter and Mars

Willow sat down with Illyria. She said, “Wesley was a good man, but you can’t just base your decisions on what someone else would do. Nobody’s perfect.”

Illyria tilted her head. “Not even Tara?”

She doesn’t know what she’s doing to me, thought Willow. She thinks we’re just talking.

“No,” said Willow. “Not even Tara.”

“If she is imperfect, in what ways do you wish to change her?”

Fill my heart with song

And let me sing forevermore

You are all I long for

All I worship and adore

Willow frowned. “I don’t want to change her,” she said. “That’s not what I mean.”

“You directly altered reality, creating a new reality better suited to her survival. In effect, you considered Tara more perfect than the universe itself.”

“I don’t…” She shook her head. “It’s not exactly…”

“I have hypothesized,” said Illyria, “that perfection is a relative trait. Wesley is perfect, relative to me. Tara is perfect, relative to you. Dawn – and later, the vampire project – were perfect to Buffy. The pursuit and defense of our ideals is the meaning of love.”

“You make it sound so romantic,” murmured Willow. But she was lost in thought.

In other words, please be true

In other words, in other words

I

Love

You.

Everyone applauded, though half the crowd had probably never heard the ancient song before. Lorne bowed and bowed again, then hopped off the stage and made his way to ‘the two lovely ladies.’

“Sugarcakes,” he said to Willow, “you ought to call first. I could’ve had a private room lined up and everything.”

She smiled. “I’m having a good time right here.”

“So what’s shakin’? What brings you to my humble establishment? Do you want me to read your aura?”

“No,” she said. “No, that’s okay. I think I finally know who I am.”

“Must be nice,” said Lorne. “So who are you?”

Willow was still smiling.

“I’m Tara’s girl.”

[The End]

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 29 & 30

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 27 & 28]

Chapter 29

The rain stopped. Gradually, the stormclouds separated, and a little sun returned.

Spike and Illyria were helping tend to the wounded. Buffy and Dawn had never left their mother’s side, while Xander and Giles had gone back to search in the crowd of souls.

That left Willow and Tara. They held hands, sitting on the ground together so as not to hurt Willow’s leg.

“I’ve wanted this for so long,” said Willow. “But now that I’m finally with you…”

Tara waited, studying her.

“I can’t imagine what you must think of me. First Warren, now this. I don’t know if I’m good or evil, Tara. I’m not sure I know the meaning of the words. All I know is, when anything happens to you, I go a little bit crazy.”

Tara touched Willow’s hair. “I’m lucky, in a way. I’ve never had to make those choices. If someone had ripped you away from me, if I’d had your power…? I don’t know. It could’ve been me all black and veiny.”

“Don’t say that,” Willow whispered. “Even if it’s true. I’d rather think about what you actually did. You were so brave today.”

“Well, I learned it from you.”

“I learned it from Buffy.”

They sat together, savoring the sheer fact of each other’s presence.

“Illyria thinks the rift will close after today,” said Willow. “This is probably the last time I’ll see you until…you know.”

“Shh.” Tara squeezed her hand. “Don’t think about that. Be with me now, okay?”

Willow ran her thumb over the back of Tara’s hand. “It’s funny. I want so bad to say the perfect thing, to be profound and meaningful. I tried so hard to think of the words beforehand. But there’s nothing. And Xander, when he finds Anya, you know what he’s going to do? Just hug her, say ‘I love you,’ and cry. Can you believe it? I mean, how lame is that?”

Tara smiled. “Pretty lame.”

Willow hugged her.

Hot tears spilled from her eyes.

“I love you.”

“I love you.”

She pulled away…and Tara was gone.

“No,” she whispered, looking around, as if Tara might just be nearby.

She sagged to the ground, curled up tight, and sobbed for a long time.

Then she got up, dried her eyes, and felt the sunlight on her skin. She set out in search of the friends she still had.

 Chapter 30

The final death toll from the battle was seven. Five slayers, including Dana, whose real name was Charlotte. Olga had survived. Two witches: Marissa and Svetlana. Young, relatively new. With more training, maybe they could have…

Willow promised Emily she would tell their parents.

They called in a helicopter for the seriously wounded. The Slayers gave first aid to everyone else. It turned out they had a lot of practice with that sort of thing.

The witches piled the bodies of the demons into a great heap over Abaddon, and set the whole thing ablaze. It burned blue, and the flames licked far up into the afternoon sky.

By 6:00 everything was ready, and they filed back into their respective vehicles for the ride home. This time, Buffy rode the bus.

The mood was somber. Willow wondered if anyone else felt as uncomfortable as she did. Nobody talked for ten minutes or so.

Finally Spike broke the silence. “Good seein’ Joyce again,” he said. “Sweet lady. Not like you lot, forever runnin’ off to skewer one bogeyman or another. Shame about her dyin’ and all.”

“Really, Spike?” said Dawn. “My mother dying, is that a shame, in your opinion?”

“Don’t have to get snippy,” said Spike. “I just mean that was a right proper reunion for you Summers girls. Lot better than mine. Never knew how much I liked vampire Harm till I met human Harm. Eh – vampire Harm is dead, right?” Buffy stared at him in disbelief. “All right. Silly question.”

“I met Principal Snyder,” said Xander.

“No way,” said Willow. “Did he say anything?”

“Mostly he yelled a lot. Seemed to think there was too much lollygagging in general, and there was concern that some delinquent had pulled the fire alarm. He’s not a happy man.”

“What about Anya?” said Dawn. “You found her, right?”

“Yeah.” Xander smiled. “She said her afterlife was – and I quote – ‘acceptable.’ The pros are eternal bliss, the end of suffering, and no rabbits. Cons include the absence of any financial markets – she describes heaven as ‘Communist’ – as well as a complete lack of any special powers, demonic or otherwise. She was pretty vocal about that last one.”

“Did she say anything about me?” said Spike.

“Um, let’s see…yeah. Not by name, though. She called you ‘That vampire who did it on a table for about eight seconds.’”

Spike made a face. “A simple ‘no’ would have sufficed.”

“Giles?” said Willow. “Did you find Jenny?”

“Indeed.”

They all waited. He glanced up.

“Oh. I suppose you want details of my emotional, deeply personal, incredibly private experience?”

“Yes, please,” said Dawn.

“Well, she was happy to see me,” said Giles. “She told me to be careful. And she said, ‘Rupert, it’s 2035, so tell me you’ve figured out how to use a computer by now, because if not, I’ll haunt you till the day that you die.’” He looked thoughtful. “And then she described me as a ‘silver fox,’ which I can only presume is a term of endearment.”

“Well, you are pretty foxy,” said Xander.

“And with that sentence,” said Giles, “my life is complete.”

“Giles,” said Willow, “I have to ask. About the Almada spell. You never told us. Did I – did we – make the right decision?”

He didn’t answer for a while.

“All of you,” he said, “you went against my express wishes. You violated the sanctity of my mind. You interfered with the natural order of things.”

He sighed.

“And I am deeply grateful.”

They smiled. Willow said, “So you don’t think I’m a ‘rank, arrogant amateur’ anymore?”

“Well, you’re asking the question, so I don’t think you’re arrogant. And after today, no one could possibly mistake you for an amateur.”

“What about ‘rank?’”

“You know, I used that word because it had a certain gravitas, but I confess I’m not entirely sure what it means.”

He turned serious.

“When I was walking amongst all those dead souls,” he said, “I happened to come across Ben, the young man I killed in order to do away with Glory. He ran off when he saw me. But afterward, I couldn’t stop seeing his face whenever I closed my eyes.”

Giles took off his glasses, cleaned them.

“Willow,” he said, “if you’re looking for reassurance, or forgiveness, or redemption, or anything of that sort, I think that’s quite natural. But don’t look to me. I’ve just as much need of it as you do.”

She wanted to say something, but the warmth inside her refused to be translated to words. She only nodded.

Silence returned for a long while. Then Dawn reached for her sister’s arm.

“Well, Buffy? What are we gonna do now?”

Buffy looked at her, and smiled.

[Go on to chapters 31 & 32]

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 27 & 28

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 25 & 26]

Chapter 27

Willow slipped between moments.

Billions of galaxies halted in their ponderous motion. The Earth stilled its race around the sun, the black clouds froze, the raindrops hovered mid-air. Tara’s face became a snapshot, a study in courage and resolve. Abaddon, a slavering wolf, paused on the brink of attack. All around, statues of a battle, memorials to warriors not yet fallen.

Slowly, deeply, Willow breathed. In, and out. In, and out.

Here, in this space without time, she was perfectly calm: neither angry nor afraid, neither hateful nor proud. It was not dark magic, this energy she held. It was power, pure and simple, distilled and purified, undiluted by feeling, the raw light of Creation itself.

She looked around at the anger and the pain, the weapons and the heroes, the stark desperation of bloodshed. And she thought: violence is such a clumsy way to kill.

Physical combat was arduous and risky. Guns could miss. Bombs and missiles were costly, complicated, imprecise. Even subtler violence, like poison, could be detected or survived.

Magical violence was no better. Telekinesis, lightning, turning blood to ice – she knew all the tricks. But chant the wrong word, use the wrong kind of crystal, and the entire thing could fail or backfire. Even if it worked, there were wards, counterspells, defenses. The whole affair was dubious at best.

It had taken her most of her life to learn the manifest truth. Violence was a child’s game.

If you wanted to kill someone, just kill them.

Willow reached out with her mind.

Embraced Abaddon and his warriors.

Gathered their life-threads.

Caressed them tenderly.

And snapped.

Forgive me, she thought, to no one in particular, and shifted back into time.

Chapter 28

Abaddon’s body crashed into the mud just in front of Tara. At the same moment, all the demons – the entire army – crumpled like discarded marionettes.

The cries and yells faded to murmurs of confusion. People looked around at the corpses, trying to understand.

Willow helped Tara to her feet. “Are you okay?” she asked. But Tara only gazed at her with an unreadable expression.

The witches migrated to Willow first. They had sensed the magic and its source. They gathered around her, staring – some in horror, some in revulsion, some in awe. Several of them wept. One girl knelt down and threw up quietly.

Emily said softly, “What did you do?”

Willow didn’t answer. The question was, she guessed, rhetorical.

Following the witches’ lead, everyone else congregated around. All of them looking at her.

“You did this?” said Dawn.

“Willow,” said Xander. “You got your power back!”

“No,” said Buffy, in a voice hard as diamond. “She never lost it. Did you?”

Silently, Willow shook her head.

“You didn’t burn out when you killed the Senior Partners,” said Buffy.

“If anything,” Willow said quietly, “it made me stronger. The limit on my magic was…self-imposed. Like a nozzle on a pipe. I could remove it anytime. And I did.”

“Anytime,” Buffy echoed. “Anytime, you could have ended this.”

She was stained all over with blood and dirt. Most everyone was.

Buffy laughed, dark and dangerous, and held out her arms to encompass the battlefield. “Well, aren’t we a bunch of idiots, huh? Fighting for our lives like it actually mattered. At least three of my Slayers are dead, Willow. At least two witches. And the twelve Slayers from the Watchers’ Council.” Another wild laugh. “Boy, I bet they feel stupid now!”

“Buffy…” said Dawn.

“Hell, twenty years of chasing down vampires. Crawling in holes, marching through jungles and swamps, freezing in the Arctic. Keeping a list of every Slayer who gave her life for the cause, to be sure I’d never forget. God, isn’t it nice that you let me spend a third of my life on that, instead of snapping your fingers to do it instantly?”

“Buffy,” said Dawn. “Shut up.”

Buffy glared at her. “Excuse me?”

“Let her talk,” said Dawn. “Let her tell us the reason.”

“Oh, by all means,” said Buffy. “Y’know, I’m curious too. What was the reason, Willow?”

Willow looked around at all of them, searching for the words. She felt empty.

“The power that I have,” she began, still quiet, “is absolute. There are no barriers. No counterspells. No limits but my own conscience. I can kill anyone, anytime, anywhere, for any reason, instantly, without consequence. I can sit in judgment on the whole planet, dispensing life and death, without leaving my house. That’s what this power is.”

She shook her head.

“I won’t be that person. I won’t walk that path.”

Willow brushed some wet hair out of her face.

“I promised myself I would never do this, and I never will again. Today, I broke my promise, and that was wrong. I’m sorry. But I couldn’t…I just couldn’t…”

She looked at Tara, and her voice broke.

“She’s my girl.”

Buffy was unimpressed.

“So I guess you just would’ve let Abaddon kill me, huh, Will? I guess I don’t qualify for this special protection program. Apparently it’s only people you’ve made out with. Oz, I suppose he qualifies. What about Xander?”

“Buffy,” said Xander. “It’s not that simple, and you know it.”

“It is that simple!” Buffy yelled. “Don’t you get it? This is over, and you’re going home to your nice little house with your nice little wife, and I’m going back out there with Zeta Black, risking my life, to do what I have to do. All because her morals are too precious to let her hands get dirty. We’ll be hunting for decades – ”

“No.”

It was Giles. No longer glowing. Holding a rag to the wound on his shoulder.

Buffy turned on him. “I’m sorry, did you say ‘no?’”

“You shall not hunt vampires ever again,” he said.

“Are you seriously giving me orders? Now, after everything?”

“It’s not an order,” he said. “It’s a fact.”

“Is that right? And please, Mr. Giles, do tell me just one single reason why I should give up my life’s mission.”

“Because there are no more vampires,” he said.

She stared.

“What?”

“That one you killed yesterday night. He was the last. It’s over.”

She marched up close to him. “You can’t possibly know that.”

“There is a flame in the Watchers’ Catacombs,” he said, “that has burned as long as anyone remembers. It symbolizes our fight against the vampires. I got a message just now. It has gone out.”

“So?” she said. “So a draft came through the window. Who cares?”

“It’s true,” Emily said in surprise. “I just did a spell to point me toward the nearest vampire. There isn’t one.”

“Yeah,” said Buffy, “because witches are right at the top of my trust list right now.”

Spike was staring off into space. “Tetelestai. ‘It is finished.’ He knew. Somehow, he knew.”

Buffy frowned. “No. That doesn’t…that doesn’t mean…”

“Commander.” A Slayer approached her. It was Alice, from Sri Lanka. She was holding the Scythe. “Look. The wooden stake on the end. It broke off during the battle. The spell to protect it has lifted. It isn’t needed anymore.” She wore an expression of weary triumph on her face. “Ma’am, it’s over. We’ve won!”

“No. No.” Buffy was shaking her head. “It can’t be over. I can’t believe…”

Everyone was talking now – some arguing, some excited, most just trying to figure it all out.

After a minute, Dawn came up to her sister, leading a woman by the hand.

“Buffy,” said Joyce.

“Mom?” Buffy looked startled. Hurt. “No, I…I wasn’t going to see you.”

Joyce kissed Buffy’s hair. “Sweetie. I am so proud of you. I always have been. You’re so strong, and you have a good heart. I love you and your sister more than anything.”

She gathered her up in her arms, and Dawn hugged them both at once.

When at last they let each other go, Giles put his hand on Buffy’s shoulder. “And I am proud of you, Buffy. I have never stopped being proud of you.”

At long last, bleeding and overwhelmed, she broke down. She buried herself in his arms, and he held her tight.

“Giles, I’m tired,” she said in a small voice. “I’m so, so tired.”

“It’s all right,” he told her. “It’s over. You can rest now, Buffy. You can rest.”

[Go on to chapters 29 & 30]

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 25 & 26

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 23 & 24]

Chapter 25

She came to a halt and fired a beam of green light from her hand, high up into the air. The warning beacon.

Willow felt like her insides had shrunk, as if a great happiness had boiled away, leaving only a hard, misshapen core. They had to win, and fast. She had to keep Tara safe. She had to see her again.

Spike was the first to arrive. The soul of a young woman followed him. Was that…Harmony?

“All I’m tryin’ to tell you,” Spike said, “is that I treated you wrong, and I’m sorry. It’s a simple apology. Is that so hard to understand?”

“Whatever,” said Harmony. “That wasn’t even me. That was some vampire chick that got my freakin’ body right before I freakin’ graduated. I’ve never even seen you before. There’s nothing to talk about!”

“Then why are you still following me?”

“Because even though you’re, like, totally old, I think you could look très hot if your hair wasn’t all floppy and lame. Is it a wig? Can you take it off? Is it all wrinkly underneath?”

He managed to shoo her away and came up beside Willow.

“So trouble’s coming?” he said.

She nodded straight ahead. “That way.”

“You sure? The scouts haven’t seen anything.”

Even as he spoke, a distant wall of slate-gray stormclouds creeped closer, trampling a path across the sunny sky. The first faint peals of thunder echoed over barren land.

“I’m sure,” she said.

Illyria came next. She stood beside them and watched the clouds silently. Then Xander, with his axe.

“Did you find her?” said Willow.

“Not yet,” he said darkly. “But I will.”

Emily arrived, and some of the other witches and Slayers. They were keeping a few of their forces in a ring around the souls, but they concentrated their strength where the attack was most likely.

Dawn joined them now – wiping away tears, cradling her rifle like her own child – and refused to say anything.

Last of all came Buffy. She stopped for a second to cup Dawn’s cheek in her hand, then strode forward and took point in front of everyone. A growing wind tousled her hair. She held her Scythe like the Hammer of Thor.

“Anyone seen Giles?” she asked. But nobody had.

The vast, black thunderhead rumbled above them, cutting off the sun. The air grew cool. Come on, thought Willow, enough theatrics. I haven’t got all day.

Then, miles away, a great red explosion went off from the crater’s rim. Another, and another. The traps going off, she thought. Flashes of light, a low rumble. The invisible protective dome suddenly appeared, like a huge bubble all around, then cracked apart and vanished.

It was coming.

A minute passed. Another. Then Illyria said, “Something approaches.”

The black speck in the distance grew into a lumbering beast. Four…no, six legs. The horns of a bull. Dark plates, like a beetle’s shell, covered its back, while shaggy brown hair grew underneath. Hooves, but also sharp curving claws on the front feet.

Riding it was the figure of a man.

The creature slowed to a halt some distance away, and the man, or the demon, or whatever he was, dismounted. He walked straight to Buffy, unhurried but purposeful. He was wrapped in ragged brown robes, and a brown blindfold covered his eyes – if he had any. His skin was stark white, his hair messy black.

He had a long wooden spear with a curved metal head. He held it by its end, dragging its head on the ground behind him.

Buffy walked out to meet him. They stopped a little way apart.

“Abaddon,” she called out.

He opened his mouth, and the words were like the scraping of metal, the gnashing of teeth on bone.

“Naj rakha, ik raja nakha, rakath ha naja, vi nahn.”

Willow didn’t recognize the language, but by some power of his, the meaning echoed in her mind.

Behold, the apes gather to oppose me, with their rocks and their sticks.

“Damn skippy,” said Buffy. “Sunnydale is my town. And this particular stick is really sharp, made of metal, and going inside your spleen if you don’t back the hell off.”

“Ikraznah ak sarrakiah, nag zakka karajh anakh sikamo, arakatha rikaz.” I shall rip the entrails from your corpse and devour your spirit.

“As pickup lines go, not one of the better ones. Kind of a psycho stalker vibe. How about, ‘Hello, I’m the Locust-King, can I buy you a drink?’”

“Akhaviat rinkankhan mikhar o hajkama arakk shazakha.” You shall not keep me from my birthright, mortal.

She settled into a ready stance, feet apart, weapon forward. “Then come over here and take it, Abbie, ’cause you’re puttin’ me to sleep with the small talk.”

Abaddon took up his spear in both hands. The ground shook. Far off, a row of black dots grew into a galloping horde. Creatures like the one that had borne Abaddon. No riders, just demons.

Dozens of them.

Hundreds.

Thousands.

Willow slipped the medallion around her neck, felt the heat of fresh energy burn outward from her heart, crackling through every muscle and every pore. All around, she could sense her witches readying their own power.

Slayers readied their weapons, that same gun/spear hybrid she had seen in Sri Lanka. Xander leveled his axe. Dawn flipped off the safety on her M16. Spike drew his sword. Illyria just stood and watched her enemies, still and august as the Egyptian Sphinx.

Someone hobbled up beside her, and she looked over to see Giles. “Terribly sorry,” he said. “I’m afraid I don’t really run anymore. Hope I haven’t missed anything?”

Willow flashed him a fierce smile. “We were just getting started.”

“Oh, good.”

He clasped his hands together, and green glowing runes appeared all over his body. She could feel the mystic forces churning inside him, aching for freedom.

Rough lightning cracked across the sky. The first thick raindrops slapped into the parched earth.

Then the screaming army drew near, and Abaddon charged at Buffy, and the whole world went to hell.

Chapter 26

Willow flexed her fingers. A vast curtain of fire erupted from the ground. Her witches all had pretty much the same idea, and the front ranks of the demons were engulfed in a ravenous inferno. Unable to stop, more and more piled into the wall of death.

But the creatures fanned out, and inevitably, some got through. The Slayers fell on these with abandon, but soon enough the witches had to protect themselves from behind as well as in front, and the line began to falter. The battle descended into a free-for-all.

The roar of voices, the screams of dying foes, the billowing smoke, the rain, the confused melee in every direction. It was chaos. And Willow was determined to do her part.

Her spell of choice was an old favorite: the bag of knives. Except she didn’t have a bag, and the knives were conjured from air, supernaturally sharp, and launched at half the speed of sound in waves of fifty at a time. Variety was the spice of combat.

Every warrior had their own style. One young, blond-haired witch preferred chain lightning that leapt from demon to demon. Another witch, older, favored telekinesis, flinging monsters high into the air and letting gravity do the rest. Emily, Gaia bless her, was fond of the classics. She stood on a pillar of fire, meting out globes of flame like an avenging angel.

Willow searched the battlefield. There was Dawn, spraying out bullets at anything that came close. Spike and Xander stood at her back, protecting her when she reloaded. Xander was bleeding from the scalp, but he seemed okay. Head wounds usually looked worse than they were.

In the other direction she found Illyria, smashing apart demons like piñatas with her bare hands. And yes, that was Giles – standing still, looking around, seemingly idle. Unless you happened to notice that wherever he looked, a column of light stabbed down from the clouds, vaporizing anything it touched.

And still the demons kept coming.

Giles was bleeding from the shoulder, but remained standing. Others weren’t so lucky. Olga, the Slayer from the jungle base, tried to get up and clutched her leg, face contorted with pain. Marissa, one of the less experienced witches, lay motionless on the ground. Dana, the red-haired lieutenant, was fending off enemies from all sides till a claw jutted through her chest. She collapsed. Willow’s breath caught. She had never even known the woman’s real name.

She took an instinctive step in Dana’s direction, and a hot pain seared her left leg. Willow looked down and discovered to her surprise that she was bleeding too. When had that happened?

And more importantly – where, in all this madness, was Buffy?

She found her at last, still locked in her furious duel with Abaddon. Spear clashed on Scythe, ringing over and over like an angry bell. Buffy’s stomach wound had reopened, and cuts had appeared on her face and arms, but she was in full-on berserker mode now, screaming her battle cries, weapon flashing in the rain. Abaddon fought her implacably, forcing her back and back, never taking a hit.

“Buffy!” cried Willow – drowned by the roar of battle – and pressed toward her friend, gritting her teeth against the pain in her leg. Even with her magic, it was slow going, dodging one projectile or another, tripping over demon corpses, fending off enemies left and right. Finally she got close.

She charged up all her remaining magic to strike…

The medallion went dead. It had run out.

Willow clutched it in horror.

Abaddon’s spear whirled, and Buffy’s Scythe flew from her hands, burying itself in a mud puddle some distance away. Buffy staggered back, stunned. The butt of the spear smashed into her chin, and she fell.

Willow watched, helpless, as Abaddon lifted his blade over Buffy, preparing the final strike…

And then a piercing beam of pure light singed his arm, and the spear clattered to the ground.

Willow looked back to where the beam had originated. One of the witches, but who? It wasn’t Emily, and no one else was close enough to –

No.

Abaddon turned to face his attacker. She stared him down, desperate and terrible, beautiful and brave.

Tara.

He picked up his spear and strode toward her. “Rash kajzakna azhah kinava makakh.” I shall feast on the marrow of your ghost.

She replied with another blast of light. This time, Abaddon waved a hand, shattering the spell as it came. She tried again, and again, to no effect. He came to her, irresistible as the tide.

Willow rushed forward, thinking frantically. Could she call someone for help? No, there was no one close enough. Was there any useful spell she could do? Not with the tiny stream of magic she had left. Not against Abaddon.

He seized Tara by the throat and hurled her. She struggled to rise. Couldn’t. Still she glowed, her skirt and hands immaculate despite the dirt and the mud.

Willow’s heart turned inside out. Her stomach roiled, she couldn’t breathe. This couldn’t be real. It couldn’t be happening again. It couldn’t.

Abaddon sneered, lifted his weapon, ran at Tara, and leaped.

No.

No, no.

No no no NO NO NO –

Deep in her heart, Willow Rosenberg made a decision.

[Go on to chapters 27 & 28]