the bunny warren v. Faith

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With an Alien People Clutching Their Gods - Chapter 2
The Ways Deep and the Weather Sharp

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: After Buffy’s death, the Scoobies face a new threat, and one of Glory’s minions devotes his life to the worship of his new goddess. Set during the summer between Seasons 5 and 6 of BtVS.
Rating: PG-13.
Feedback: Please. E-mail Mikelesq@aol.com
Spoilers: Up to the “Bargaining,” Episode of Season 6.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer” characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like. The title, chaper titles, and lines quoted are from T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi.” Thanks to Estepheia for the plot bunny.

“How do we even know they’ll show?”

“We don’t, Xander,” Giles whispered as he, Xander, Anya and Tara crouched behind a hedge. “But we know that this is the tomb of Iparthus, and if these vampires are looking for it, they’re bound to turn up sooner or later.”

“Well, it’s been two nights, and so far, nothing,” Xander complained. “Meanwhile, there are a lot of other places we could be patrolling.”

“He’s got a point,” Anya said. “How do we know this talisman is even worth it?”

“The undead don’t organize simply to go antiquing,” Giles said.

“Where’s Willow?” Xander asked. “I can’t see her.”

“You’re not supposed to see her, Xander,” Giles said. “Hence the crouching. She’s on the other side of the tomb, with Jinx. With us covering the sides, Spike and the Buffybot should be able to handle anything that comes from the front.”

“I don’t like leaving Willow alone with that...thing.”

“She’ll be fine,” Tara said. “Besides, it was her idea. She figures that we can cover more ground magic-wise if we each cover one side of the mausoleum. She’s got Jinx with her for muscle.”

“Speaking of our latest compatriot,” Giles said. “How is the research on him progressing?”

“Nothing solid,” Xander admitted. “There wasn’t much on Glory, and her minions didn’t get a whole lot of press, either. So far, nothing on how to kill them.”

“I tried to get some information out of him,” Anya added. “But he hasn’t mentioned anything helpful. I’ll tell you something: Glory did just about everything you can think of to her minions. Dismemberment, branding, beating, you name it. We were talking about this one guy I cursed back during the ‘Frisco gold rush. I buried him in giant gold nuggets. Well, Jinx told me that Glory once crushed a minion under an entire....”

“Wait a minute,” Xander said. “You compared notes?”

“Well, sort of,” Anya said. “I mean, we were coming at it from different angles, me with the inflicting and him with the suffering. But I’ve never really had a chance to chat with someone who’s been on the receiving end. Gives you a whole new perspective, really. Did you know that, if you stick a hot poker into a guy, it actually hurts more when you pull it OUT? See, I always thought that the searing metal would kill the nerve endings after awhile, but as it turns out....”

Giles sighed as Xander began to argue the ethics of torture shop talk with Anya.

Behind a bush on the other side of the tomb, Willow sat with her legs crossed. Her eyes were closed as she muttered an incantation under her breath.

“I’m not sure I approve of this strategy,” Jinx said. “I feel that I should be at Buffy’s side, protecting her most wonderful....”

“Shut up,” Willow admonished. “I’m trying to do a spell to search for the vampires. Besides, Buffy wants it this way.”

“Oh, of course! I did not mean to suggest that my own wretched thoughts are worthy of consideration by Her Greatness. Please, take one of these twigs and shove it down my most ignoble throat for daring to....”

“No! Ick! Jeez, what’s with you? Cut it out with the mutilation offers, already.”

“I apologize,” Jinx said. “I only meant...well, it has been a...difficult adjustment. Her Splendor and her followers have...strange ways of working.”

“What? We’re not trying to kill and destroy as much as you’re used to?”

“Well, that’s part of it. But there’s so much argument. It seems that no one can ever agree on a clear course of action.”

“We’re not like Glory,” Willow said. “We’re a team. We work together.”

“But with no leadership? I remember how Glory marvelled at the Slayer’s focus, her ability to marshal forces to her aid. I must admit, I do not yet understand how she was able to do so without taking command.”

“Well, she did,” Willow said. “Take command, I mean. But now...well, Giles takes care of most of that now.”

“Really? He doesn’t seem to.”

“Well, he directs the research. The outside stuff...um, we’re still working out a system.”

“A system,” Jinx repeated. “Interesting.”

“I’ll admit we’ve been a little...well, everyone does argue a lot over what to do.”

“I have noticed,” Jinx said. “It reminds me of what happened right after Glory disappeared.”

“Really?”

“Oh, my, yes. While Glory led us, we were a force of greatness. Once she was gone, there was nothing but confusion and dissension. Eventually, we all went our separate ways. It was impossible for us to stay together in such a state.”

“Huh. You know, that is kind of like what happened when Buffy died.”

“You must be happy to have her back, then. Now, she can lead you again.”

“Um...yeah.”

A silence passed, until Willow said:

“Hey, Jinx? Can you keep a secret?”

“Not from the Most Perfect One.”

“No, no, not from her,” Willow said. “Tell her whatever you want. But, I mean, from the others?”

“Oh, the other minions do not concern me.”

“Uh, right. Listen, there’s this...project...we’re working on. And it’s REALLY important that everything goes right. That’s the kind of thing where it would be okay to take charge, wouldn’t it?”

“Have the others agreed as to a leader?”

“Yeah, actually, they picked me. It was kind of touching, really. I mean, I was so excited I just hugged the plaque, and I still haven’t been able to get all of the glitter out of my sweater, but...well, I’ve been trying to just keep it business as usual.”

“The others selected you to be their leader?” Jinx asked.

“Yeah.”

“So, they feel that they need a leader?”

“I guess.”

“Well, if you do not lead them, who will?”

“Hmm,” Willow said. “I never thought of it like...hey, wait! Keep it down, someone’s coming.”

Willow and Jinx crouched lower as footsteps rustled by. Willow peeked up, and saw six vampires walk down the path toward the tomb, one in the lead as the others followed.

“This had BETTER be it,” the lead vamp grumbled.

“It is,” another vamp replied. “This time, it’s for sure.”

“You’ve been saying that for a week,” the leader shot back. “And we’ve got nothing to show for it but a bunch of worthless trinkets.”

The group stopped at the entrance to the mausoleum. The leader snapped his fingers, and two of the vamps ran to the double doors. Each grabbed a handle, and pulled the doors open.

“Alright,” the leader growled. “Let’s see what’s inside.”

“Knock, knock!” a feminine voice called from inside the mausoleum.

The vamps exchanged puzzled glances.

“Oh, no,” Willow muttered under her breath.

The Buffybot walked out of the tomb and said:

“You’re supposed to say ‘Who’s there?’ That’s how it works!”

“Slayer!” the lead vamp shouted. He turned to run, but saw that the Scoobies had surrounded the group.

Spike emerged from the mausoleum. He morphed into vampface, and said:

“You might want to come quietly, mates. We’ve business to discuss.”

The vamp leader’s eyes narrowed. All of the Scoobies stood ready to act. He searched their eyes, and noticed a fierceness in all of them...except for Tara. He saw no fierceness in Tara’s eyes. There was resolve, and courage, but no fierceness.

The leader slowly began to raise his hands, and his companions followed suit. Then, seeing a moment of relief in Tara’s eyes, he leapt toward her.

“Ancile!” Tara gasped, staggering backward.

A pale green circle of energy materialized before Tara. The leader ran into the mystical shield, grunting from the force of the impact against his body. He fell to the ground, disoriented.

Tara concentrated on maintaining the shield between her and the vampire, but before the rest of the Scoobies could react, the other vampires sprang at Tara from either side, outside of the protection of the magical barrier. Outnumbered and surrounded, the vampires realized that overcoming one of their attackers was the only hope they had of creating an escape route. Xander grabbed one of the approaching vamps before it could reach Tara, while Anya smacked the vampire about the head with a baseball bat. Another disintegrated as Giles fired a crossbow bolt into its chest.

But a third vampire slipped by.

The magic shield dissipated as the vampire wrestled Tara to the ground. She screamed as the vampire bared his fangs, ready to strike.

“Tara!” Willow cried. Her hand dropped to her side, and then shot forward as she shouted:

“Fulgor!”

Sparks flew from Willow’s fingers as a blue bolt of electricity arced from her open palm and struck the vampire between the shoulder blades. The vamp screamed, paralyzed by fear and pain and shock. His denim jacket sparked into flame as he collapsed on top of Tara. The flames engulfed the vampire, until he disintegrated. Giles ran to Tara’s side, throwing his jacket over Tara to smother any fire that might have remained.

Willow surveyed the scene. Anya had drawn a stake from her pocket, and was plunging it into the chest of the vamp in Xander’s grasp. Spike was pummelling a vampire he’d wrestled to the ground, and the Buffybot had kicked another against a tree, and was beating him into submission with a series of blows to the face. Jinx ran to the Bot’s side and began punching the vamp in the ribs.

That left the leader, who had taken advantage of the confusion, and was now running at full speed toward the woods.

“Willow!” Giles called. “Are you...?”

“We need one alive,” Willow growled, taking a few steps forward before screaming:

“Conglacio!”

A white wind burst out of Willow’s mouth, sending a narrow cone of frost at the fleeing vampire. Only steps away from the forest’s edge, he froze, literally, in his tracks as a thick coat of ice covered his torso and legs. He fell to the ground, flailing his arms in vain.

“Got him?” Spike asked, staking the vamp beneath him.

“Got him,” Willow muttered.

“My turn!” The Buffybot exclaimed, tearing a branch from a nearby tree and staking the vamp in her grasp.

“A most splendid dispatching, my goddess!” Jinx exclaimed.

“Thank you!” The Buffybot replied. “I really made my POINT!”

“Tara!” Xander exclaimed, turning to face her and Giles.

“I’m fine,” Tara said, struggling to sit up. “He caught me off guard, but I’m fine. My clothes smell like pool hall, but other than that, I’m okay.”

Willow forced her her fisted hands to open, took a series of slow, deliberate breaths, then said:

“Let’s find out what was so important.”

She stormed off past the Scoobies, in the direction of the fallen vampire. Giles stared at Willow, then made eye contact with Tara. There was fear in Tara’s eyes, a fear that had nothing to do with her near miss with her attacker. Tara swallowed hard. She said:

“Look, I’m fine. G-g-g-go help Willow.”

Giles slowly rose to his feet, and then turned to catch up with Willow, gesturing for the others to follow.

“Hell of a trick from Red,” Spike said, crouching beside Tara as Giles, Xander and Anya went after Willow. “I’m glad I wasn’t anywhere near when that hit.”

“You mean like Tara?” the Buffybot asked.

Spike tried to think of a way to answer that, but before he could, Tara said:

“She saved me. She had control. She wouldn’t have done the spell if she didn’t have control.”

Spike turned to Tara to reply, but noticed that Tara hadn’t been looking at him, or at anyone. Her eyes stared into the endless darkness beyond the graveyard.

At the edge of the cemetery, the vampire clawed at the ice that surrounded his legs. Small chips flew into the air, but he was nowhere near freeing himself as Willow approached, scowling down upon him.

“Alright,” Willow hissed. “Talk.”

“Screw you,” the vampire mumbled.

“Confringo,” Willow uttered.

The vampire wailed as he felt a sudden pressure surround the index finger of his left hand, forcing it backwards until the bone snapped.

“Talk,” Willow repeated.

“I don’t know anything,” the vampire gasped through clenched teeth.

“Confringo,” Willow said again.

This time the vampire’s thumb twisted until the bone shattered. He screamed as Giles, Xander, Anya and Spike arrived at Willow’s side.

“She’s crazy!” The Vamp exclaimed. “Make her stop!”

Willow fell to her knees, grasped the vampire’s shirt and growled:

“The only one who can make me stop is you. Now, what were you looking for, and who sent you to look?”

The vampire trembled in Willow’s clutches. Finally, he said:

“Look, it’s called The Medallion of Reynaal. A guy hired us to find it. He called himself Orad. He’s a Prythh demon. I swear, that’s all I know!”

Willow released her grip on the vampire’s shirt, arose, and said:

“Stake him.”

Willow turned and began walking back toward the tomb.

Giles, Xander and Anya exchanged uneasy glances, then Giles drew a stake from his pocket and drove it into the heart of the vampire, leaving nothing but a dusty mist and an icy mold of the vampire’s lower body.

The three of them turned and trotted to catch up with Willow.

“Uh, good job with the interrogation,” Xander said. “I mean, it was a little extreme, but....”

“I didn’t do anything Buffy wouldn’t have done,” Willow said, no hint of emotion in her voice.

“She’s right,” Anya agreed. “Buffy never hesitated to play rough with the vampires. Did that come out more sexual than I intended?”

“I certainly would hope so,” Giles said.

“What are the rest doing?” Willow asked.

“Spike’s with Tara,” Xander replied. “She’s OK. She just needs to catch her breath.”

“And I think Jinx is paying the Buffybot more compliments,” Anya said.

“Well, we got what we needed,” Xander said. “We know what we’re looking for, and who’s looking to get it first. All in all, I’d say we did a pretty good....”

“Pretty good?!” Willow shouted, stopping and turning to face the others. “We’re blowing it!”

“Will, calm down,” Xander said. “Look, the plan was to get a couple of the vamps trapped in the mausoleum, split up the group, make them easier to take down. Sure, the Bot had a little glitch, but eventually....”

“Eventually one of us is going to end up dead!” Willow interrupted. “And it’s not just the Buffybot! I’ve had it! I’ve had it with Giles burying his nose in a book every time something gets tough. I’ve had it with Anya following you around like a puppy dog. And God knows I’ve had it with you and Spike arguing. The Tracy-Hepburn routine you two have going on? Not funny anymore! The vampires are better organized than we are! Something’s gotta change!”

Willow turned and stormed off toward the mausoleum.

“Well, that was judgmental and aggressive,” Anya observed.

“She’s upset,” Xander said. “Tara got hurt, and she’s upset.”

“I was upset when you sprained your wrist,” Anya said. “And I didn’t scream and carry on. When you got hurt it was scary, and distressful, and it was your good foreplay hand, but I managed to keep a civil tongue.”

“I think Xander’s right about Willow,” Giles said. “And while she may not have been as...eloquent as we may have liked, Willow has a valid point. We do need to work on our focus.”

“I think we’re doing splendidly,” Anya said. “Especially given that we’re suddenly Slayer-less. And I hate to be the one to say it, but things have never been easy, even when Buffy was alive.”

“Ahn,” Xander sighed.

“Well, it’s true,” Anya said. “I know it hurts everyone to think that Buffy wasn’t perfect, but she wasn’t. Sure, the demon slaying was easier, but even when she was alive, we all argued and screwed up, and Buffy argued and screwed up right along with us. I miss her. I really do. But we can’t beat ourselves up because we can’t be Slayers, and Willow was way out of line.”

“Willow’s always been...well, gifted,” Giles observed. “Her studies, her computer work, her witchcraft...she always managed to excel, and much more quickly than others. Impatience is a common character trait for overachievers. It’s natural for someone who’s used to seeing difficult enterprises come easily to become frustrated when other things, well, don’t.”

“She’ll be fine,” Xander said. “We’re all adjusting. Just give her time.”

The three walked the rest of the way back to the tomb in silence.


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