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.


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




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?”


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 – ”


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.


“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.



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 –


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


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 –

Deep in her heart, Willow Rosenberg made a decision.

[Go on to chapters 27 & 28]

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 23 & 24

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 21 & 22]

Chapter 23

8:30 next morning. T-minus five hours.

Willow emerged from her tent into the cool desert air. Her phone alarm had gone off half an hour ago, but she’d already been awake. Hard to sleep on a night like that. She had on blue jeans, sneakers, and a long-sleeve shirt. Battle gear ought to be comfortable, right?

“Hey, Xander,” she said, as he came to see her with a battle axe slung over his shoulder. “Isn’t that the one that was hanging on your wall in Minnesota?”

He patted the axe’s handle. “Yep. Me and this baby go all the way back to Brazil.” He swung it around a few times. “I figure, your magic is mostly gone, Spike’s a pacifist, and Dawn and Giles aren’t really fighters. Somebody’s gotta protect you guys. Don’t worry, you just stay in one of the tents, I’ll keep the monsters away.”

“Oh. Well, that’s nice of you,” said Willow. “But actually, I’m going to use this.” She pulled a tear-shaped medallion from her pocket. “It’ll make me stronger. Not as strong as I was before, or even as strong as Emily, but hopefully enough to be useful.”

“Shouldn’t you, um, wear that more often?”

She shook her head. “They’re extremely rare, and once I put it on, I get maybe five or ten minutes of juice before it runs dry. Been saving it for a special occasion. I think this qualifies.”

Spike came out of a nearby tent, wearing the same clothes as last night. He looked around and joined them.

“Wasn’t that Buffy’s tent you just left?” said Willow.

“Um…” He smoothed his disheveled hair. “Could have been.”

“Well, was she in there?”

“Didn’t notice.”

“No more questions,” said Xander, “I don’t want to know. Spike, I was just telling Willow that I’ll watch your back during the battle. You know, since you’re all done with fighting these days.”

“Oh, well.” Spike laid a hand on a short sword that hung from his hip. “’Done’ is a strong word. I s’pose I could help out a little, fight the good fight and all that. Peace, uh, gets boring sometimes.”

“But if you kill anything, you’ll die,” said Willow. “Are you planning some big heroic sacrifice?”

“Uh, no, not really.” Spike drew the sword, revealing a straight forest-green blade, worked with intricate filigree. “Got this toy from a goblin in Belarus. Shoots out little sparks of lightning that’ll paralyze most kinds of demon. Not a kill, technically.”

Dawn ambled over, holding a big gray suitcase. “What’s new, kids?”

“Spike slept with Buffy,” said Willow.

“Already?” said Dawn. “Listen, how does that even work? She’s still mega-strong, and you’re not anymore. Wouldn’t she, like, break you?”

“Not that it’s any of your business,” said Spike, “but I happen to be very adaptable.” He rubbed his back, grimacing. “And if you know any good orthopedic surgeons, tell me about them after the battle. Assuming we’re both still alive.”

“Listen, Dawn,” said Xander. “I was thinking, you and Giles probably aren’t big on this battle stuff anymore. I just want you to know, I’m here to protect you from…”

Dawn opened her suitcase and pulled out a machine gun.

“Holy crap,” said Xander. “What the hell is that?”

“Colt 603 M16A1 fully-automatic assault rifle. Oldie but a goodie. I got it from a guy in Wyoming after the whole vampires-cutting-off-my-leg thing. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy when I sleep. Like a teddy bear.”

“That wouldn’t have killed the vampires,” said Xander.

“No,” said Spike, “but speaking as a former vampire, it wouldn’t have been a day at the bloody spa, either.”

“You had this in London?” said Willow. “You can’t even carry a pistol over there.”

“Huh,” said Dawn. “Guess it never came up.”

Giles joined their little group. “My, is that a Colt 603?” he said. “Those are getting harder to find.”

“So Giles,” said Xander, “do you have a special pendant you’re going to wear for the battle? Some kind of electric sword? A military-grade firearm, perhaps? Maybe a rocket launcher, for old times’ sake?”

“Ah, well, if so, it’ll be quite a surprise to me.”

“Okay. So, I just thought, if you want, I could keep you safe during – ”

“I will, however, be wielding an immense volume of sorcery on behalf of the coven in Devon, England. They lent me their power once, when Willow was – ehm – not herself, and after a phone call last night, they have agreed to do so again.”

“Oh, come on!” said Xander, throwing up his hands. “So just anybody can be a magic superhero now?”

“Yes, anybody,” said Giles. “So long as they are a world-class magic user, a proven warrior, a lifelong friend of the coven, and agree to do battle with a beast who could annihilate the world.”

“Man…” Xander examined his own weapon. “And all I have is this stupid axe.” He polished the blade with his sleeve. “Still…I guess it is pretty sweet, as axes go…”

Buffy showed up just then with her gleaming red-and-silver axe. “Everybody got their weapons?”

Chapter 24

1:34 PM. T-minus two minutes.

Willow stood three hundred yards away from the giant red ‘X’ spray-painted on the dirt. She glanced at the digital display on her wrist every so often. “I really thought Abaddon would’ve attacked by now.”

“Evidently, he’s waiting for the souls to appear,” said Giles.

Willow and Giles stood together with Xander, Dawn, and Spike. Buffy and Illyria were a ways off, talking about something.

Xander nodded in Buffy’s direction. “Is she really not going to see her mom?”

“Doesn’t want to reopen old wounds, she says.” Dawn stuck out her tongue. “Buttface.”

“Speaking of wounds,” said Xander, “is she going to be okay for battle? She still looks a little banged up from last night.”

Spike raised his hands defensively. “Hey, if anything, I made her feel better than – ”

“He meant the vampire fight, dumbass,” said Dawn. “She’ll be fine. Slayers heal quick.”

“Thirty seconds now,” said Willow. “Everybody get ready. Remember, we don’t know how much time we have, so hurry.”

“Yes, I shall hobble as rapidly as I can,” said Giles.

Willow’s heart quickened. Her palms were sweating. “This is it. This is it. Six…five…four…three…two…one…”


“Well, it’s hard to be precise,” she said. “The timing can vary by as much as forty seconds in either – ”

A vast crowd of people appeared. No flash of light, no roll of thunder. They simply existed, where a second before had been empty desert.

Willow looked around in surprise, then sprinted into the throng.

So many, far more than she imagined. And so loud! Everyone talking at once, hard to pick out individual voices over the din. She pushed past men and women, adults and children. Most looked more or less modern, but she saw her share of top hats and poofy dresses, mustachioed gentlemen and flappers. Everyone was solid enough, she quickly confirmed, but everyone also had a slight, whitish glow. Probably the excess energy from crossing the Empyrean Veil.

“Tara!” she yelled, and when that proved to be hopeless, she used a little stream of magic to amplify her voice. “TARA! TARA!”

Now and then she recognized someone. There was Larry, who’d picked on Xander in high school, killed in the battle on Graduation Day. He was searching his pockets, apparently having lost something. And there was Cassie, the kind young woman with precog abilities who had died of heart failure.

“Cassie! It’s me, Willow! Have you seen Tara?”

But Cassie didn’t hear, and was soon lost in the crowd. Just as well, Willow realized. Cassie and Tara had probably never met.

A minute later she came across two men arguing – one wearing a priest’s uniform, the other, a suit and tie.

“Look around you,” cried the priest, “it’s an abomination! These whores, these filthy sluts…”

The man in the suit chuckled. “Hello from the Department of Redundancy Department. And my goodness, such language from a clergyman! Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

Mayor Wilkins and Caleb. Willow felt sick. She veered aside, still making her way through the horde of people. “TARA!”

She was just reaching the far end of the crowd when a voice to her left called out, “Willow?”

Willow turned. The woman running toward her…

She was about Willow’s own age, long amber hair, a lavender skirt that nearly swept the sand. A necklace with some kind of gem. Lovely pale skin, intelligent blue eyes. On her hand, a wedding ring…

It couldn’t be. But it was.

Tara, as she would have been. If she had lived.

“Oh, Tara!” Willow cried, and they threw their arms around each other, holding each other tight, kissing over and over, saying each other’s names again and again, like a litany against pain.

Willow whispered into her ear, still not daring to let her go. “I’ve missed you,” she said. “I’ve missed you every day. Oh, darling. Oh, my dear, sweet angel. You don’t know what it was like.”

“Yes, I do,” Tara said, stroking her hair. “I watched you. Time is different, in the place I was. There isn’t a past or a future. Everything’s perfect and complete, nobody hurts, nobody hates anybody or dies. I wish you could see it. You will, you will see it. But I watched you all along, Willow. Everything. Everything. We’ve never been apart.”

They separated at last, only to look at each other again. Tara glanced down at herself. “It must be strange, to see me this way. But this is how I feel. This is who I feel that I am.”

“It’s perfect,” said Willow. “It’s even better than – ”

Suddenly Tara’s head snapped to the right.

Something was wrong.

“He’s coming,” she whispered.

“What?” Willow was shaking her head. “Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no. Not now. We aren’t done. We need more time. We need – ”

Tara took hold of her and leaned close. “Time will come after,” she said urgently. “But now you need to go.”

She stepped back and pointed. Willow looked at her.


Willow stumbled back, turned, and tried to outrun the wind.

[Go on to chapters 25 & 26]

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 21 & 22

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 19 & 20]

Chapter 21

The vampire had Italian features and a Dracula haircut – the Bela Lugosi Dracula, not the real one. He wore a black three-piece suit and a black tie. Manacles bound his hands and feet. A Slayer flanked him on either side.

As Buffy approached, he bowed. “Black Dragon,” he said, with a slight Italian accent. “It is an honor to meet you. I am Giosuè Adami. I have traveled from Rome to meet you.”

“Didn’t ask, don’t care,” said Buffy, stopping about ten yards away. Despite Giles’ grumbling, the whole group was gathered behind her, plus a few of her Slayers. “How did you get past our defenses?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t. I have been waiting inside the crater for some time. A crevice in the rock kept the sunlight away.”

“Must’ve been just outside our scanner range,” the red-haired Slayer muttered. “My fault, ma’am. I’m sorry.” Willow decided to call her Dana.

Buffy nodded, never taking her eyes off the vampire. “What do you want?”

Adami bowed again. “I respectfully challenge you to single combat.”

She crossed her arms. “Yeah, that’s not really how this works. See, my goal is to kill vampires, not play little gladiator games with them.”

“I came here,” said Adami, “because I do not wish to die cowering in a hole, like so many of my brethren. If I must die, I wish to die with honor.”

“Vampires don’t have honor.”

“Perhaps. But you do. Though you play general and give orders, you have the heart of a warrior. You move pieces on a map, but you would rather be one of them.” He smiled, foxlike. “You wish for a fight.”

“Do I, now?”

“I think,” said Adami, “it is long since you truly fought a vampire. I think you miss it. The taste of the fire of battle. No lieutenants to do your bidding, no technology to hide behind, no advisors to hold you back. Just your bare hands, a wooden stake, and the foe you were born to kill.”

Buffy stood silent. Her right hand curled to a fist and opened again. A desert breeze swept by and was gone.

Dana leaned close to her commander. “Ma’am,” she said quietly, “with all due respect, please tell me you’re not seriously considering this.”

“What she said,” added Willow. “Buffy, he’s just playing with your emotions. Psych 101. He’s obviously trying to manipulate you.”

Buffy kept studying the vampire. “He’s doing a pretty good job.”

“This could, of course, be a trap of some kind,” said Giles.

“Maybe, but it doesn’t feel like it. And you know what? He’s right. It’s been too long since I fought a vampire.” She looked around at them all. “Come on, I did this a thousand times back in Sunnydale. You can’t tell me it’s suddenly too dangerous now. And if anyone says a word about my age, they’re walking home.”

Xander shook his head. “You’re insane,” he said, “but that’s not exactly news. If you have to do this, Buff, then please be careful.”

Buffy faced the vampire again. “You do realize that even if you managed to kill me, my Slayers would rip you apart?”

“They’d have to get in line,” muttered Willow.

“Then I would die,” said Adami, “with more glory than most vampires have in all their lives.”

Buffy nodded at his guards. “Go ahead, unshackle him.”

One Slayer produced a key while the other held a cross in his face. He laughed. “That relic doesn’t frighten me, child. A man who died and rose from the grave after three days. Any vampire can relate.”

Having removed the manacles, his guards backed away. He rubbed his wrists. “I had a knife,” he said. “One of the women took it.”

“Give it to him,” said Buffy.

“Commander!” cried Dana.

“I have a stake,” said Buffy. “It’s only fair.”

Adami was given his weapon, a long, serrated hunting knife with a leather grip. He cut the air, this way and that. Buffy waved her companions back to a safe distance.

Just the two of them.

Chapter 22

They circled like animals in the light of the full moon, Adami brandishing his knife, Buffy with hands raised in a fighting stance, stake holstered at her side. Rumor of the battle spread quickly among Slayers and witches alike. The off-duty ones arrived by twos and threes, forming a sparse ring around the action.

Tension was electric. Willow could see it in the audience, in their nervous motions, their determined faces. She could feel it in herself, her shallow breathing, the tightness of her legs. This contest had the feel of something more than human, of two titans brawling for the dominance of some primeval country.

Willow, Xander, Giles, Dawn, they had never – would never – enter a battle like this. They fought for survival, for justice, sometimes for love or rage, or even for power.

Buffy was fighting to fight.

She attacked first, a wicked spinning jump kick that Adami barely ducked. They fell into the brutal ballet of combat, blocking punches, dodging kicks, Buffy always keeping just out of range, somehow, of the flashing arcs of the knife. Her heel pounded into his chest, and he went sprawling.

Buffy smiled as he got up and dusted off his suit. “Aren’t you a little overdressed for a knife fight?”

“I am headed for a funeral,” he grinned. “Besides, I heard you like black.”

Adami fell on her again, using his larger size to his advantage. His great right fist connected with her midsection, her face. She stumbled back. He swiped with his knife. A thin red line grew on her stomach.

Dana started forward with a cry, but Giles caught her shoulder. She turned on him furiously.

“She would never forgive you,” he said.

After a moment she nodded, shaking, and stepped back.

“I can smell the blood of your heart,” Adami crowed. “It is intoxicating. Soon I will taste it.”

“I can smell the styling gel of your hair,” Buffy shot back. “It is disgusting. Soon I will throw up.”

Growling, she leaped on him, landing a hard chop to his neck, then kicking the blade from his hand. Before he could react, she pounced on it, got up, and launched it far out into the desert.

“Sorry,” she said. “I have a thing about knives. I don’t like them inside me.”

Without the threat of the knife to separate them, their fight descended into a brawl. She kicked him down, he swept her legs out, they rolled over and over in the dry dirt. He ended up on top of her, smashing her face, again, again. She drove the heel of her hand into his throat, and he rolled off. Her elbow crunched into his nose. He kicked at her knife-wound, she stumbled back.

Blood poured from Adami’s nose, over his lips, down his neck. His suit was filthy with dust. Buffy had gashes on her cheeks and the beginnings of a bruise over one eye, and her stomach wound was still bleeding. They stood apart, recovering.

Come on, thought Willow. Finish this already.

Adami spat his own blood on the sand. “You are out of practice, Dragon. All this trouble over a single vampire? Your idleness has made you weak.”

“Your face has made you ugly,” said Buffy.

“Do you know, I can trace my lineage back to the Master? They say he could trace his all the way to the Source, the very first vampire.”

“Yeah, and I’ve met the first Slayer. We gonna compare family trees, or we gonna fight?”

“Each vampire sires the next by killing,” said Adami. “Each Slayer empowers the next by dying. Two great chains of death, both stretching back to time before history. We are not so different, you and I. Two predators. Opposite sides, but the same creature, in the end.”

All remnants of humor drained from Buffy’s face. With a wordless roar, she flew at him for the last time. Blow after blow fell like hail on her enemy. It was all he could do to block them. She pushed him back. Back. Landed a strike on his face. His solar plexus. A kick to his knee. An elbow to the stomach.

She had him face-up on the ground, now, too weak to defend himself any longer. She pummeled him, over and over, as everyone watched.

Finally she grabbed her stake and set the point down over his heart. Bleeding and limp, he gazed at her.

“Any last words?” she said.

Slowly, Adami looked back up at the stars. He cried out with a terrible voice, something that sounded like:

“Te telle stai!”

“Sorry, bud,” said Buffy. “I don’t speak Italian.”

She turned him to dust.

The Slayers, the whole audience, erupted in applause. Buffy stood up, stake in hand, arms high in triumph. Willow cheered and clapped along with everyone. Only Giles remained silent, a look of worry on his face.

Buffy came back to her friends. The rest of the circle gathered behind her. Everyone spoke at once.

Willow: “Buffy, that was incredible – ”

Xander: “You’re hurt, we have to get you to a doctor – ”

Dawn: “Oh my God, I can’t believe – ”

Bleeding, sweating, still breathing hard, Buffy brushed past everyone, grabbed Spike, and planted her mouth on his. He clutched her tight, not even looking surprised. Their lips didn’t separate for a long time.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” muttered Giles.

“Maybe I could get another eyepatch and cover both eyes,” said Xander.

Willow said nothing. She thought it was kind of sweet. In a violent, disturbing sort of way.

At last, Buffy let him go. Spike caught his breath.

“About damn time,” he said.

Buffy went to Giles. “What were those Italian words he said?”

“They, they weren’t Italian,” said Giles. “They were Greek. And actually it was just one word.” He cleared his throat. “Tetelestai. ‘It is finished.’”

“The last thing Jesus said on the Cross,” said Willow. They all looked at her. “What? I’m Jewish, not illiterate.”

“A flair for the dramatic,” said Xander. “And a bit of an ego.”

“Well, whatever,” said Buffy. “We all need to get some sleep. Big day tomorrow.”

They walked back to camp together. But despite the smiles and excitement, Willow couldn’t help but notice the gears still turning silently in Giles’ brain.

[Go on to chapters 23 & 24]

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 19 & 20

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 17 & 18]

Chapter 19

Illyria spoke up again. “Do you regret what you did?”

A weight settled in Willow’s stomach. Tell the story, get it out, and be done, that’s all she had wanted. “I’m sorry?”

“You destroyed a star,” said Illyria. “You committed the premeditated murder of multiple sentient beings. You drastically reduced your own abilities. You put twenty-one other witches at risk. And you toyed with Lilah’s soul. These are morally questionable activities. Do you regret what you did?”

“No,” said Willow. “I did what I had to do. It was the right decision.” All around, her friends nodded.

“I agree,” said Illyria.

“Oh. Well, um…good?”

“So why will you not perform the Almada spell?”

Wow. And she’d thought it was awkward before. Willow’s heart thumped as she searched for the words to respond.

“Someone help me out,” said Spike. “What’s this Almada business?”

“The Almada spell,” Giles chimed in. “A magical means of reversing certain types of otherwise incurable mental illness.”

“Wait,” said Spike. “There’s a spell that can cure him? What’s the catch? Why haven’t you done it?”

“Giles told us not to,” said Willow. “While he was still…himself. He thought it was wrong. Too much like cheating death, meddling in dangerous forces, intruding on the sanctity of the mind.”

Spike snorted. “Okay. And? People say stupid things all the time. Doesn’t mean you punish them by holding their sanity hostage. I don’t even like the guy, but what he’s got, I wouldn’t wish on a dung demon.”

“Spike!” Willow snapped.

“He’s right,” Buffy said quietly.

“I am?” Spike looked over in surprise. “I mean, damn right I’m right.”

“I never understood why you didn’t cure him,” Buffy said. “It wasn’t my decision, so I kept my mouth shut. But I always thought it was wrong to leave him that way.”

“That is my assessment as well,” said Illyria.

“Pretty much,” said Dawn.

“What, all of you?” Willow felt like her skin was getting tight. “Xander, come on, tell them.”

“Sorry, Will, but I vote with the majority. I get what you’re saying, but you’re overthinking it. There’s a disease, there’s a cure. He’s our friend. What else matters?”

She wanted to hide, to run away, but they were all waiting for an answer. She had to give them an answer.

“It’s not up for a vote,” she said roughly.

“Will – ”

“No, Xander, listen. All of you, listen! This has happened before. Don’t you get it? We had this same debate over resurrecting Buffy. Everyone told me to be careful, but what did I do? I ripped her out of heaven. I did that. Giles called me a rank, arrogant amateur, and you know what? He was right.”

“But here I am,” Buffy said quietly. “Because of you, Willow. I don’t wish I was back in the ground.”

“When Tara died,” Willow went on, “you all know what happened. I did what I wanted, whatever I wanted, because I could. This is about self-control. It’s about respecting the universe. You don’t just wave away the things you don’t like. That’s not a path you want to start on.”

“I get it,” said Dawn. “But we’re not talking about ripping anybody’s skin off, Willow. We’re trying to heal him. If one of our lab techs found a pill that would cure Giles, you’d give him that. How is magic any different?”

Willow was shaking her head. “No. No. I’m not explaining it right, I realize that, but none of you understands. None of you has carried the kind of power that I have. Not even you, Buffy.”

“I have,” said Illyria.

Willow blinked in surprise.

“I was a god among gods for longer than the age of the cosmos,” said Illyria. “I murdered trillions of innocents for pleasure. And when I took over this shell, I killed Winifred Burkle, an intelligent human being.”

Spike smiled sarcastically. “You’re, um, not really selling the argument, Blue.”

“I did these things because I lacked a conscience,” she continued. “But I acquired one from Wesley, and from the leftover fragments of Fred’s mind. When Charles Gunn was captured and made to suffer, I ripped a hole between dimensions and brought him back, even though it was the fate he chose for himself. I do not believe I was wrong.”

Head tilt.

“Do you?”

Willow sighed.

It was getting late. Her head hurt, and they faced a battle tomorrow. She wanted to go to bed. The issue had waited ten years. Surely it could wait till morning.

But there, sitting on a rock, alone among friends, squinting at the fire and whispering to himself, was all that remained of Rupert Giles.

She owed him a decision. That much, at least.

“Emily,” she said.

The younger woman jerked, startled. She’d been quiet all this time. “Ma’am?”

“You were there when we killed the Partners. You understand power. Now you’re stronger than me, and you’d be the one to cast the spell. Tell me. What do you think we should do?”

Willow thought Emily would hesitate, defer, try to wiggle out of answering. She should have known better. Emily’s reply came swift and certain.

“I’m game if you are,” she said.

The fire crackled quietly.

After so many years of self-restraint…could she really have been wrong the whole time?

Maybe, sometimes, using the power took more humility than rejecting it.

“All right,” she said. “Let’s bring him back.”

Chapter 20

They gathered in Buffy’s tent, the entire campfire group. Dawn seated Giles on a folding chair in the center. The rest of them stood before him in a semicircle, Emily at the middle, Willow beside her. Two lanterns provided an eerie light.

Emily produced a small tablet and tapped the screen a number of times till she found what she wanted. “Here it is,” she said. “Almada.”

She lowered the device. “Not going to lie,” she said, “this spell makes me pretty nervous. It’s really complicated, it could go wrong in a hundred ways. You’re all sure you want me to try? If it fails, it could do nothing, or we could even…lose him.”

It was Dawn who answered. “We’ve already lost him.”

“Do it,” said Buffy.

“You’ll be fine,” said Willow, wondering if the butterflies in her stomach were in everyone else’s too. “And I’ll be right here to help you.”

“Okay,” said Emily. “Here we go.”

She lifted the tablet and read from the screen, chanting in a low voice.

“Ante leves ergo pascentur in aethere cervi…”

A sudden wind tugged at the tent canvas, shaking the structure. Giles’ mouth fell open. He looked around, startled.

“…et freta destituent nudos in litore pisces…”

A cloud of glowing specks gathered and swirled over his head. He gazed up, eyes widening with terror. Panting. Hyperventilating. “The text is corrupted,” he gasped. “The volumes are misnumbered. Out of order. Out of order. I cannot…I cannot locate the original…”

Dawn bit her lip in worry. Willow set a hand on Emily’s shoulder, watching the spell’s invisible lines, offering what support she could.

“…ante pererratis amborum finibus exsul…”

Wind howled and whirled in the tent now, blowing at their clothes, their hair. The cloud of light over Giles grew brighter. He tried to stand, but some hidden force seemed to push him down. He screamed. Dawn was shouting something, drowned out by the wind. Xander had his arm around her.

Still Emily’s chanting continued, deep and clear somehow despite the whirlwind.

“…aut Ararim Parthus bibet aut Germania Tigrim…”

The glowing nebula filled all the air above, nearly blinding them. The lines of magic, which only Willow and Emily could see, curled and twisted around each other, pirouetted and dived.

The air shrieked. A wide gash ripped across the top of the tent. Giles screamed again and again, his gaunt face resembling a skull in the ghostly light. Dawn tried to run toward Emily, but Xander held her back. Buffy just watched, still as a rock, hair flying in the gale.

“…quam nostro illius labatur pectore vultus!”

The wind died instantly.

Quick as a blink, the cloud of light rushed into Giles’ mouth. His eyes flashed yellow and dimmed. His screaming stopped. Silence. He hunched over, quiet and limp.

Dawn leaped forward and knelt beside him. “Giles,” she whispered. “Giles, are you okay? It’s me. It’s Dawn. Do you know me? Giles, please. Are you okay? How do you feel?”

“No one…” he mumbled.

“What? What are you saying?”

“No one offered me a marshmallow.”

Dawn shook her head. “I don’t…”

“I should have liked a marshmallow,” he said quietly. “Nobody offered me one. Even a madman likes a candy.”

Buffy crowed with sudden laughter. “Giles,” she said. “You’re back? Are you back?”

He looked up now. All around the tent, seeing each one of them. “I feel I might be,” he said, “only I’m not sure where I’ve been.” His gaze turned to the Slayer. “Buffy, what’s going on? What’s happened to me?”

“Oh, Giles,” she whispered, and they all rushed together then, laughing and crying and talking all at once, hugging each other, hugging him.

Finally Dawn shooed them away. “Give him some room,” she said. “Everybody, just give him a second.”

Giles was frowning. “I’m not sure anyone has answered my question.”

“You were…sick,” said Dawn. “A kind of dementia. It’s gradually been getting worse for the last ten years. You were sort of, well, in your own world. We felt like we’d lost you. Do you remember any of it?”

“Well, yes,” said Giles. “More or less. A bit patchy. But, uh, well then, how did I…recover?”

Dawn opened her mouth to answer, but closed it again.

“We sort of, um…” Xander trailed off.

“I did it,” said Emily. “I cast the Almada spell on you. I know it goes against your wishes, and I’m sorry, but – ”

“No,” said Willow, “it was me. I mean, Emily did cast the spell, and she did a fine job, but I take full responsibility. It was my decision.”

“Like hell,” said Xander. “We all chose this. We all decided together.”

“Even me,” said Spike.

Giles got a pained expression. “You let Spike vote?”

“Well, that’s a fine how-do-you-do,” said Spike.

Giles glanced at him, did a double-take. “You’re human.”

“Yeah, that’s right. Which means you lot can’t just off me whenever you feel the urge. You’d have, eh…” He searched for the word, then snapped his fingers. “Qualms.”

“You’d be surprised what I’m willing to do,” said Buffy.

Spike leered at her. “No, I have a pretty good idea.”

“One more word – ”

Giles looked wearily at Willow and Emily. “I don’t suppose you could bring the dementia back?”

Just then a tall, red-haired Slayer entered and found Buffy. “Commander, I have news.”

“Not now,” Buffy snapped.

“But Commander, we’ve captured a vampire.”

“Lieutenant, I told you – !” Buffy paused as her brain caught up to her mouth. “A vampire? Here? In the middle of the desert?”

“It approached us with a white flag, ma’am. It wanted to be captured. It’s asking to speak to you. We can kill it if you like, but I thought you should know.”

Buffy nodded slowly. “All right, thank you, Lieutenant. Sit tight for now. I’ll be out in a little while to examine it.”

“Ma’am.” The Slayer left.

“You’re needed,” said Giles. “You ought to go now.”

“We just got you back, Giles. I can’t leave you already.”

“You don’t have to.” He stood up. “We shall go together.”

“Giles!” said Buffy. “It could be dangerous. Besides, you’re…”

“I’m what?” said Giles. “Too old? Too feeble? Rubbish. You are my Slayer, and I am your Watcher, and we shall investigate this matter together. Xander, Willow, you’re with us. The rest of you, stay here and try to keep out of trouble. Come on, everyone, I’m not getting any younger!”

He walked out of the tent.

“Well, you heard the man,” said Buffy, and followed him out. Willow and Xander looked at each other.

“Screw that!” said Dawn. “I had to wipe drool off his chin, I’m not taking his orders now. I’m going to go see a freakin’ vampire!”

“If she’s going, I’m bloody well not staying here,” said Spike.

“I also wish to observe,” said Illyria.

“Fine,” said Willow. “Less talking, more walking.” They all followed Giles together.

Emily brought up the rear. “So, yeah, you’re welcome, everybody! Difficult spell, very dangerous, healed a beloved friend? No problem. Happy to do it. Your gratitude is my reward! Anyone?”

[Go on to chapters 21 & 22]