A Gift by Starlight

by Mina Martin


Chapter 8: ichor, wrinkle, caterpillar


Early Spring of 2005 – outside the Citadel, Scottish Highlands


The air in the Scottish Highlands was the cleanest, purest air Dawn Summers ever had the pleasure to breathe in. She was used to southern California air; greasy smoke near the boardwalks and beaches, trash and refuse between alleys, car exhaust from the most traffic-jammed city in America. City air. But here, there was just something about the blades of so many different grasses, and the spikes of bright thistles, and the leaves of the rare few trees near the Citadel, and the whistle of the wind through them all that was like poetry through her lungs.

That was the only thing she was still enjoying about her current predicament, because this was the never-ending camping trip from HELL! Stupid thricewise curse. Dawn would never again take for granted clean clothes fresh from the dryer, easy microwave cups of mac-n-cheese, or, y’know, toilets with toilet paper. She might even, and she was totally serious about this part, never again make fun of big sis Buffy for being shorter than her. Being a freakishly large and literal giant kind of took the wind out of that particular sisterly teasing.

This was worse than every single time she’d been kidnapped by a demon. Minus a few scabby minions of a certain hell goddess that proved if the Devil didn’t wear Prada, his blonde counterpart sure liked Carolina Herrera.

Whatever happened to the good ol’ curses – boils everywhere, pianos and iron anvils always falling near your head, you keep turning and turning your flash drive over but it never plugs in? No, Dawn had to wrong someone who’s idea of a bad time was re-enacting “Honey I Blew Up the Kid,” and he did not give her Keri Russell’s part.

She made her way to the clearing she’d found days ago, that was big enough for her to comfortably lie all the way down in. “Fee Fi Fo fudge this.”

She didn’t say fudge. And she wouldn’t think of Kenny. The only person to get her joke about bad copper as her ice-breaker to their Intro to Archaeology class. The deadest of all ringers for Jesse McCartney. The boy who was her first real boyfriend. Was, being the word. Nope, wouldn’t let him invade her thoughts at all.

By now she was too irritated to be grateful that the clothes she’d been wearing at the time had sized up with her. After living in them for weeks (washed in a river one piece at a time, for even in remote Scotland an Attack of the 50 Foot Naked Woman was sure to draw unwanted attention), Dawn entertained a recurring fantasy about how she was going to burn the outfit once she was normal again. It began with a simple trashcan bonfire, but lately it starred water guns that sprayed gasoline, a ceremonial ripping of the fabrics, a very illegal number of fireworks, and a dedicated chant to a newborn minor Chinese god begat by the world’s latest and greatest counterfeit fashion industry.

It was a great distraction from the fact that she’d never be normal, no matter what size she was.

Instead of being at Berkley like a normal girl making her way in the world, she was stuck. Here, and this high, and this alone, because even alone was better than sitting around in the barn where she was forced to listen to her big sister’s I-Told-You-So’s.

Instead, Buffy and Xander and all the baby slayers were living up their best life in the Citadel, aka a magical cross between Unseen University and Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, while Dawn got to stay outside all day and talk to almost nobody ever and also sleep in the dirt sometimes. Poor little Dawn Summers. She’d always be the tagalong kid sister, whether it was her mom or supernatural forces or her own fool self, trying to shove her into a group she wasn’t naturally a part of. Messing things up.

A flock of birds flew overhead. It sounded larger than normal.

Dawn brought up a leg like she was doing yoga or calisthenics – and slammed it back down on the earth with a BOOM that sprayed dirt clods and made a hollow under her heel the size of a coffee table.

What else was there to do besides get lost in her own thoughts? It would be months until the next Harry Potter book came out. Xander and Andrew kept trying to get her to watch some All-Star Battle sci-fi show they were hyped about, no thank you.

She was in the middle of thinking through a comparison of which northern European food was subjectively worse (annnnnd in this corner, Sweden’s surströmming! Annnnnnd in this corner, Norway’s smalahove! But wait - what’s this? It’s hákarl from Iceland, WITH A CHAIR!) when she felt a sensation that didn’t belong. She felt something like – waves?

There was a terrible noise that served as an obvious alarm and the ground moved beneath her like an earthquake, but it was the waves that passed through Dawn and seized her attention. They felt like waves of energy, like magic or electromagnetism or déjà vu. Like ripples in a pond, but scaled up to tsunami-size.

No, not ripples. Like rips.

Well, that had to be her over starved imagination working overtime. Earthquakes could happen in the British Isles, couldn’t they? Nothing like what she had to fear living in her childhood home over the San Andreas Fault, but maybe she was just feeling it differently because of her size. An earthquake could be entirely natural and not at all an omen of something, right?

“You need to get going.”

Dawn shrieked and kicked up a wheelbarrow’s worth of topsoil in a panicked scramble. Where had – who – out of nowhere

The was a man – a boy? – there was a guy standing a few meters away from where her huge, freakishly head had been laying, all la-dee-dah no care in the world totally relaxed and sneaking up on a GIANT during a freaking freaky EARTHQUAKE, what was wrong with this dude?

Who are you?!” she shouted, at a volume that would rattle birds from their trees, if she’d been in a forest and not a moorland.

He was about her age, a basic white guy in ordinary jeans and a t-shirt. He had a strong chin that made his face look long, but also a nice jawline to go with it. There was a Xander-like appeal to him, friendly and kind of cute. And he looked past her completely, at something intangible or invisible or impossible.

“I’m nobody too,” he said. “The fringe is getting caught in the zipper. You wouldn’t remember me; I could’a been a gumshoe. But maybe you will, if you’re ready to get going.”

Another tremor rumbled through, and this time the waves passed through her like a ghost with a warning, a memento and a harbinger of something all at once that left her shivering, completely unrelated to the brisk temperature.

And it likely either originated away from her, in which case it might be headed towards the Citadel, or it came from there in the first place. Neither option was of the good.

When she looked back the young man had vanished. This was giving her major Alice in Wonderland vibes, of the creepifying kind. Less Disney and more Don Bluth.

“Crap!” Dawn got to her feet and started power walking to the Citadel, like the literal Giant Dork she was. She was too heavy to properly run, not now that it was early springtime. The frozen ground of winter could bear her heavy footfalls, but the thawed earth turned to unstable soil (or mud, if it had rained) under the thumps of her feet. Kind of like she was some kind of too-heavy construction equipment, if construction equipment sometimes tripped over their own giant feet and got stuck in the mud, and cursed in southern Italian. The noise wasn’t helping - the occasional oddly-pitched whines that sounded like someone trying to play a lullaby on a chainsaw. She yelled back some noise of her own: “Crap, crap, crap!”

What remained of her family was in the Citadel.

There were shimmers in the distance, beautiful glowing slivers of rainbow that appeared and disappeared with the noise. Like oil slicks. They were mesmerizing, actually, and Dawn found herself turning her head to look while walking as fast as she could over ground that couldn’t always hold her steady, even without the occasional tremble of the earth that made her stumble like she was drunk.

Coming up on the southwestern walls, she saw that there were creatures rushing the Citadel. Dawn could make out a horde of humanoid attackers, upping her anxiety levels every meter she got closer. They were climbing the stone walls, trying to push their way in through windows, fighting the baby slayers who were holding them off despite being outnumbered. But how? The Citadel had some pretty sweet defense magic set into the very stones and mortar, the kind that sliced and diced and also the thing where you cut into a potato like a delicious 3-D version of paper snowflake garlands, in organic peanut oil and salt. So what kind of creatures could-

One of the baby slayers did a magnificent 270-degree swing with her weapon, taking down at least three of the intruders and full-on decapitating one of them. Dawn saw the headless horde member flail for a second, and then continue fighting same as ever.

Ah, zombies. Well, that had its pros and cons.

She almost didn’t hear the horn blaring until the last second.


Dawn skidded to a stop which, in her condition, still kicked up a lot of dirt. “Hey, guys!”

Buffy, Xander, Giles, and Willow – yay, Willow was back! – were piled in one of their all-terrain jeep vehicles, moving at a speed that gasoline plus combustion physics alone couldn’t reach, thanks to Willow powering the way. She was sitting in the driver’s seat, and magically driving by gesturing emphatically over the steering wheel. She also didn’t stop the jeep, as it drove further away at an angle from both Dawn and the Citadel.

Dawn was rooted in place, pulled in two directions at the same time. Should she follow them? Or was she needed to go on a roaring rampage of zombie-stomping revenge? See, there was Dilys, leaping off the tower edge with a large weapon in each hand into the thick of the invading horde, because Gimli was her spirit animal. Dawn swore she heard a distinctive Welsh battle cry. Who wouldn’t want to get in on some of that?

Dawn! Follow us!” said Willow - maybe? Dawn couldn’t really tell who yelled, she was too freakishly big to hear people when they weren’t standing on her shoulder or using Xander’s megaphone, especially when they were so close to a battle raging. Everyone was the size of a Stacey barbie doll.

Something that looked like a cloud shot out from the jeep and went past Dawn’s head, where it further materialized into a wispy, white rabbit. The rabbit wiped a paw over their face, then started running away on air from Dawn. It followed the same path as the jeep.

“Oh! Oh, I get it!” She started speed-walking after the rabbit. Hopefully wherever the rest of the Scooby gang were going, it wasn’t far – the jeep was going a lot faster than Dawn, even if she could still see them the further away they drove.

Giles threw the vehicle’s satellite phone out the window. He’d tried calling a few contacts, but the dial-tone never stopped even when he’d completed a number. And then sand had started pouring out of every little crevice, far more than could’ve ever fit inside the phone even if had just been an empty plastic casing.

“Is somebody going to bring me up to speed now?” he said, almost shouting. Pre-set charms on their automobiles so nobody could secretly listen in also worked to muffle outside noise and make it easier to hear each other, but they were still up against the roar of the engine and the occasional, all-consuming death-metal noise with no source. “Are these earthquakes happening all over the world? Because as you know, they’re normally hellmouth specific.”

The two other people still awake in the jeep both answered ‘yes’, one tired and one flustered. “I can’t believe you used the ‘as you know’ line, Giles,” Xander said.

“Well I’ve simply never heard of anything like it! Or at least happening so quickly. And why is Buffy unconscious?”

“Amy Madison made a surprise visit, cast some sort of sleeping curse on her,” said Xander. He sat in the back, keeping a secure hold on his friend. “She’s also the one that set the zombie army on the Citadel. Why are we leaving, shouldn’t we have stayed to help Faith defend it?”

“No, that was the right call,” said Giles. “Without Buffy or you there she was the logical choice to lead the slayers. The zombies could start chasing us if they aren’t occupied.”

“Yeah, but where are we going? Off to see the Wizard? How’s he going to stop the death metal earthquakes and shiny spots and people disappearing?”

“Hello, witch, not wizard,” said Willow. “Except I can’t do it alone.”

She was trying to do multiple things at once: power the jeep, drive the jeep, avoid weird murderous rainbow potholes along the way, keep the rabbit illusion going 50 feet above them in the air for Dawn, and she’d pulled off a guiding spell even though there weren’t any actual woods around to be dense and murky. So she was also following the little glowing green guide point that stayed about a foot in front of the windshield and sometimes buzzed in a different direction like it was a drunk firefly.

The driving was unquestionably the hardest part, she would never again question Buffy’s questionable driving skills when this was over, no questions asked.

“Do what alone? What do you know?” Giles asked. He knew she’d just come from her witch’s journey with knowledgeable, extra-dimensional beings as her companions and teachers.

“Reality is being torn apart,” said Willow, restating the obvious. Ooh, and she should’ve asked Giles to do the white rabbit spell. Too late now. “It’s not like a normal apocalypse, like, oh we’re having an End of the World Party, you bring the fire and brimstone, you bring the death and destruction, and I’ll provide the mass subjugation of any remaining human beings.”

“As long as someone brings the dip,” said Xander.

“I couldn’t see exactly how or what caused the first rip in space-time, but we’re partially responsible. As in us, the OG Sunnydale Scooby-gang.”

Giles, in the shotgun seat with both hands braced on the dashboard, fully turned his head to her. “Come again?”

The jeep soared over a slight hill, and because of their speed went airborne for a few moments, then crashed down again in a way that jostled the squishy human bodies inside way too much for anyone’s taste. Xander kept a stabilizing hand on the back of Buffy’s neck to protect her.

“Ahh! They did not go over anything like this in driver’s ed, sorry guys!” Willow apologized. “It’s, I don’t know, it’s related to something we did, but I have no idea what. We haven’t done any Major Magicks-related shenanigans lately, have we? I haven’t, I promise, it’s all card tricks and wobbly pencils from me.”

“Not it,” said Xander. “I can’t do it while holding Buffy, just mentally picture and acknowledge me holding a finger to my nose faster than you two.”

“Perhaps something related to us raising the Citadel?” Giles theorized. It was the most recent major bout of magic they had performed since that last day in Sunnydale. Then again, it could be something small and unnoticed that had grown exponentially into this, though he couldn’t imagine how. Xander didn’t really use magic, and Willow had learned her lesson about using magic recklessly. So had he, for that matter.

Maybe one of the new slayers had done something? No, none of them were a member of the illustrious ‘Scooby-Do’ group. He’d never watched the blasted cartoon on principle. Frankly, he didn’t want to know which one of them was supposed to be the Great Dane.

“Well, hang on to your thinking hats, ‘cause we may have to take a trip down memory lane to solve this,” Willow said.

“How so? And are we getting a sendoff from the Lollipop Guild?” Xander wanted to know.

Willow frowned. “It also could be something we did a long time ago, and not recently at all. Apparently, some other reality-altering apocalypse was building up, something called Twilight-”

Neither Willow nor Xander saw Giles blanch deathly pale at the name.

“-and that was the crack in the world that let this other mess slip in. Also, Giles, I think your friend Ethan is working his tricks for the other side?”

Damnit!” Giles exclaimed, and he hit the dashboard. The glove compartment popped open and all kinds of paraphernalia spilled out, including a coupon for Thom’s Tandoori Takeout and a tiny instruction booklet for the iPod Shuffle. He struggled over the lurching ride to push the compartment door shut, once, twice, he lost count. Ever a sign he should never take up betting or gambling of any sort.

“Is it my turn to ask a question now?” asked Willow.

“Go for it.”


Giles simply pushed at the bridge of his glasses, every time the shaking of the vehicle pushed them down his nose and threatened to chuck them off his face entirely.

Xander looked forlornly at Buffy’s sleeping face. “Of course you’re not awake for this part. Traitor.”

Towering above the rest, Dawn was the first to see what they were all heading towards: an enormous, ornate circle on the ground, with lots of people rushing about around it. The white rabbit stopped, and divebombed straight down into the middle of it, vanishing in a puff of white smoke when it hit the ground.

“Woah,” she said, for the second time that day.

Willow drove until the last possible second and then slammed on the brakes. The wheels churned up deep furrows of thawing dirt that sprayed all over of them, and the lurch of the vehicle almost threw them out entirely. Xander spit out some dirt, and his  theoretical muscles grumbled at having to pull Buffy out of the near-ditch made by Willow’s parallel parking skills. Why couldn’t he be the unconscious one, and she the pack-mule?

“I understand the part about having to drive like we’re in The Scottish Connection,” said Giles. It was too dangerous to make portals by now – if anyone actually managed to create one it would probably open to the center of the Earth. “But what exactly are we here for?”

“To find an escape raft. Apparently we’ll know it when we see it. We can’t save the world from the inside-out, it has to be the other way around,” said Willow. In fact, they could see lots of people and stuff and action going on ahead of them, but none of it made sense, even as they got closer.

“I’m pretty sure The Powers That Be and some other players have been working behind the scenes to set things in motion, getting things ready for us in the very little time anybody had to prepare, because they’re leaving it to us to save the world.”

She grimaced. “And since they normally don’t give a hoot and a half about humans, I think that tells us just how bad this is. What is the half, anyway? Just an oot? If we survive I resolve to find out. Find oot? Maybe the half is Canadian.”

“So, uh, just a thought here,” said Xander. “We’re getting on a raft to find a bigger boat, right? By that I mean, we left Faith and all the girls at the Citadel, and really everyone else on Earth, but we’ll be back in time with some kind of deus ex machina before the entire planet is torn apart, right? Before a global ‘rocks fall, everyone dies’ situation?”

No one answered him.

“Great,” he said. “Just so we’re clear.”

The land was mostly flat ahead of them, a vast and pristine clearing of grassy earth untouched by humans. Still too cold, bleak, and remote to build or live on, even for the hardiest of Scottish folk. Or at least that’s how it seemed. For thousands of years complex spells from another kind of folk had kept others away from places like this.

Now, the Scoobies – the original four, plus Dawn - could see various people running around in a hurry, all of them wearing what could be generously described as old-fashioned but extravagant clothes. There was a woman in a neon-green doublet over leather breeches, another in something exquisite that Marie Antoinette might have worn but for the skirt length that was more in line with one of those annoying Sexy Halloween Costumes, and a man who looked like one of the chimney sweeps from Mary Poppins but with glitter instead of coal dust. Even with tremors still happening every few minutes, with the accompanying head-banger noise and odd lights in the distance, they all ran about very nimbly, making no sound over rocks or brush.

They were doing so in a strange pattern that reminded Giles of his grandmother’s round loom knitting. Dancing in and out and around of a large circle, at least six and a half meters in diameter. They were adjusting, adding, or taking out things in a huge ring of things.

“Hey,” said Xander. One of the most used ingredients on the circular outline were mushrooms. “Is that-”

A man appeared among them, not out of nowhere but simply faster than their human eyes could detect. “There you are.”

It really shouldn’t be possible to startle so much in one day. It couldn’t be good for any of their hearts. Xander almost dropped Buffy. “Gyaah!”

“Oh, ah, greetings,” said Giles, not looking into the handsome man’s eyes. “May the Sun ever shine upon you.”

“Formality? In such peril, when linear time is precious and fleeting?” The man blinked once. “This new Watcher’s Council might be worthier than the last after all. Come, then – we have held to our end of the bargain. The power to breathe it to life is your responsibility.”

He turned and walked at a human pace in a strange zig-zag pattern to show them the way towards the circle. Staying on the path made them dizzy, while straying from the man’s unmarked route made the air smell enticingly sweet; a haze of floral aromas like the fresh apricot pie of oleanders, or the tropical citrus and coconut of gorse. Willow had to stay behind Xander and sort of push him the right way, until all their ears popped and then they arrived just a few meters away from the thing.

Dawn had no such trouble. Her feet were big enough that anywhere she stood was somewhere on the path. So she took one giant step towards it.

“Okay, we have to step in a fairy ring?” said Xander. “Even I know that’s a no-no.”

Big enough for even Dawn to jump into – which, actually, wasn’t even close to the largest fairy rings ever found and recorded, they could grow in the scale of hundreds of meters – the outline of the ring/circle made less sense the more they studied it.

The fairy ring was made up of far more than simple Marasmius oreades mushrooms; they saw rough and unpolished crystals, flat river stones with the same symbol carved into all their sides, pieces of burnt parchment to carry ‘letters’ from a language older than Pictish. There were dozens of roses and no other kinds of flowers, from Gallic to Juliet to ones no human had ever seen before, in all colors of the rainbow. There was a used pair of dancing shoes at 5 o’clock, an antique tuning fork at half past 8, and a large glass flask that looked empty yet had the corked opening permanently shut with superglue instead of wax. There were enough mushrooms poking through or growing over the stuff to make a bowl of Cream of Mushroom soup that could feed Dawn, a few metal pens or wands, and also... a lot of random glitter. Everywhere.

There were things buried underneath the ring outline as well, though none of them knew it.

“That is a fairy ring, right?” Xander double-checked.

“I believe so,” said Giles. He tried to shake off some glitter that had gotten on his shoe, to no avail.

“It’s our escape raft,” breathed Willow, cataloging the items and talismans, the meanings and their arrangement, finally understanding. The size was for Dawn, but the type was for all of them. “Well, more like the exit door that you open before jumping down the floaty plastic tube that shoots out from the plane to get to the raft. We need to leave and see this from an outside perspective in order to fix it.”

“We’re going to owe them a favor for this, aren’t we?” Giles sighed.

Willow grinned. “Well – only if we succeed and don’t get erased from existence. Since, you know, in our line of work being dead sometimes isn’t enough to get out of a deal. Which is a super rough deal. At least marriage has the ‘death do us part’ escape clause, but now that I think of it, not enough employee contracts do.”


Giles put a hand to her shoulder.

“This kind of – device, I should say – they have left it to us to power it up for our journey. Probably because they can’t actually do it themselves, though they’ll never admit it.”

One of the folk stopped not far from them, put his hands on his BeDazzled stable belt and glared at them. They pretended not to notice, hey don’t mind just a couple of stupid humans here.

“But the amount needed to see it done is – well, even if we’d had time to prepare, it’s staggering, it’s just – it’s utterly enormous! Are you prepared to pull this off? I will help however I can, if chanting in Latin or shaking a gourd will help.”

Willow, their resident super-witch, the very one who singularly cast the Activation Spell and spoke great change into existence that last day in Sunnydale, made a wan smile. They were worried about her dark side coming out, always and forever a risk when she lost herself to deep magic.

“It’s okay. I’ve got this.” Willow didn’t elaborate, not when the folk probably had super-hearing.

Even if they’d had time to prepare, or had time to find some ancient legendary object of power, or bring all the covens of Western Europe with them, it likely still wouldn’t be enough for what needed to be achieved here, now. But that was okay.

Because she didn’t need to be enough. Willow only had to be just enough to carefully draw on great power of a different kind, one that was actually kind of perfect for this specific situation. You didn’t have to beseech Fulgora, temperamental minor Roman goddess of lightning, if you lived next to the Hoover Dam and had working knowledge of hydroelectric power. Destiny had a wall of red tape trying to smother them – but lucky for the Scoobies, they had a magical rocket launcher that could cut through it all.


The folk running around glared upwards at the boom of Dawn’s voice.

Willow floated herself up to Dawn’s eye level. “Hi, sweetie! Why are you a giant?”

BFG, meet BBG – Big Bashful Giant. Dawn’s face turned a noticeable shade of red, and she turned it into her shoulder. The typical kind of speaking she did when feeling crankypants - with a lowered voice and super sarcastic tone because Nobody Cared, the kind that always made Mom go, ‘What was that?’ – ended up being very good for talking to Willow without blowing her away. “What, Buffy didn’t tell you everything I did wrong the second she saw you? I don’t want to talk about it with her around. Why is Xander carrying her anyway?”

“Because, lucky for you, she’s totally unconscious at the moment.”


“No, no, she’s just sleeping! It’ll wear off soon.” She hoped.

Suddenly, none of the folk were running anymore. They were all standing far outside and around the massive ring, save for a few that had stepped up with something in their hands. Down on the ground Giles narrowed his eyes to try and see better. Were those-

BlackBerries. The technology, not the small, dark fruit. They were definitely holding BlackBerry phones. Jenny would have loved that, as much as she would have loved teasing him about it, look who of all beings have embraced 21st century technology, Rupert! Join the party already. Say you’ll be my plus one. I wonder if the fruity name has anything to do with their acceptance – what do you want to bet they use Apple Macs and not PCs?

There would always a part of Giles that wanted Angel, the great nocturnal hero of late, to just be turned evil again already. Giles had the resources now. He only needed the excuse.

Up at Dawn’s height, Willow put her serious face on, and cast the same quieting spell around them that was on the jeep. The noise around them softened, and it would be even harder for the folk down below to hear, if by chance any were. They were working hard on completing the ring, but the folk could probably multi-task like type-A perfectionists on ADHD medication and energy drinks laced with espresso.

“Ok, Dawnie – I have to do something you’re not going to like, but I promise I’ll make it quick and painless.”

Dawn’s eyes, huge even when they were normal sized, turned the size of beach balls. She took a half step back, thankfully without smooshing any of the folk underfoot. “Why do you sound like every monster of the week that needs a sacrifice to their elder god?”

“What? Oh, no! No human sacrifice needed today, ix-nay on the eth-day! Yeah I can see how that came out wrong. I just mean it’ll all be over soon.”


“Goddess, my bedside manner is as good as my driving today. Okay, Dawn - I just need to take a little bit of your blood to power the ring.”

“Oh. Hey! No, come on!”

“I know, I know! I’m sorry! But it’s the only thing powerful enough to power the ring and get us to safety, especially with this kind of time crunch.”

As if on cue, a reality quake rolled through, sucker-punching everyone’s brain through their ears and all the humans lurched in place from the world destabilizing, even Willow as she floated midair. “See, time is definitely getting Cap’n Crunchy here. I’ll disguise it as a special magic battery of my own making.”

Dawn’s huge puppy-dog eyes had no visible effect on Willow. It wasn’t exactly a big deal anymore that, you know, very-sometimes-only on special occasions like when Pluto was in retrograde and the stars aligned and the Dodgers went back to Brooklyn, well, that her blood had the ability to open doors to other dimensions and fracture reality. No biggie, not anymore. The hell goddess who wanted to bleed Dawn dry was long dead, the specific time and place and circumstances to reach into that magic were long past, and also Dawn had gotten into enough scrapes to know that her blood wasn’t doing anything special at all anymore.

Point was, she had dud blood. For the most part. Obviously, she probably shouldn’t do any dark magic that required a blood sacrifice, just in case. Willow and Giles hadn’t ever given her a clear answer, and that was just fine with Dawn. This was the only thing in the world she didn’t want to know more about.

“Why do I have to be a human pincushion!” Dawn protested. “I thought all that stuff didn’t work anymore, faded out, went the way of the dodos! What does that ring even do? Can’t you at least turn me normal-sized first?”

Willow shook her head to the negative, and her arms hung awkwardly by her sides. “It will open a special portal for us-”

“This isn’t fair!” Dawn yelled, and stomped her foot. She just barely missed stepping on one the pretty folk running about below.

Your mother is a fraggin’ aardvark!” they shouted at her with two fingers up.

“Yeah, same to you!” said Dawn. “Willow, please?”

Willow cringed, and then tried, “Help me Obi-Dawn Kenobi, you’re our only hope?”

Dawn closed her eyes and breathed through her nose. This was stupid, and also her tween crush on Xander had not transferred a similar love of Star Wars at all. But. If Buffy could risk her life all the time to save the world, Dawn could at least do this. Plus, not doing it would mean yet another thing everyone would hold over Dawn’s head, yet one more thing that proved she couldn’t hack it in Buffy’s world.

Well, she wasn’t the annoying, useless little sister anymore. “Fine,” she said, and brought up her giant hands to cup together.

This was not how she imagined her reunion with Willow going.

“I’ll use a numbing spell, you won’t feel a thing,” said Willow, and she floated over to land in the middle of Dawn’s palms.

“I want a cute band-aid in return. None of that off-brand plastic crap.”

“Deal. Once we go through, you can have a dozen Hello Kitty band-aids.”

Behind Dawn’s curved fingers Willow crouched, to hide from anyone watching below, and she pressed her own hands to the mound on Dawn’s palm that was all the way under the pinky finger, right above the wrist, the one called the Mount of Luna in palmistry.

This would be the true test of her magical ability – to push past circumstances and timing, to play the ancient string game with countless threads and make figures the same as primeval children and theoretical physicists and Vera Frenkel did, to be the conductive conduit and manipulate with the flow of time and nature, not against it out of a need for control.

It was easier to accomplish than she would have thought, and Willow physically shook off the slight compulsion to keep playing, move up to harder figures, add more and more rungs to Jacob’s ladder because now she knew that she could.

“All done!”

Dawn looked back; Willow had disguised the collection of her drawn blood as a glow-y blue mass, hovering above her own small witchy hands. That was – well, disturbingly similar to the conventions of a maxi-pad commercial. But at least Willow hadn’t made it glow green.

“Here, you’ll know this one,” said Willow. “Episkey! No need for a band-aid at all. I’ll still get you some Hello Kitty stickers once we’re safely on the other side.”

Ok, that got Dawn to smile.

The cut healed in a snap, and she remembered how Willow and Tara would sometimes use spells from the Harry Potter books. Sure, the complex ones wouldn’t translate to real magic, but things like Wingardium Leviosa and Lumos were fun cheats. The couple had even taken Dawn, 14 years old in a black bathrobe and brandishing one half a pair of chopsticks, to a midnight release of Goblet of Fire.

Dawn had never seriously tried to figure out when she really arrived in Sunnydale – the only thing in the world she didn’t want to know more about – but that night at the bookstore was probably one of the first real nights in her life, and it was one of the best ones too. Before Mom and Tara and Anya and Spike and even Riley were gone.

When was the last time before today that Willow had tried a geeky spell like that? Well, Dawn remembered that too, and it was a memory all too real. It was that last day in Sunnydale, the final fight at the California hellmouth, the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

* * * * * * * *

Dawn’s chosen outfit for the fight of her life: a cute midriff-baring top that literally showed she wasn’t ashamed of the scars on her stomach or her wrists anymore, and her most comfortable jeans and boots.

Naturally , the only hit that ended up drawing blood went right to her frontal bone, almost where her hairline met her forehead.

The battle seemed to take forever, and it was over all too soon at the same time. Fighting in real life was never like how it seemed on TV, not really. Adrenaline was the only reason she’d been able to run fast enough to catch the literal last bus out, holding a sword that felt like it weighed a ton, blood streaming down the front of her face like she was sobbing it out from her eyes, not yet knowing if her sister was still alive. Knowing that so many of the girls she’d joked with and consoled and played Truth or Dare with only the night before, had to be dead.

There was nothing medical on the school bus besides some gauze and knuckle band-aids from the tiny first aid kit. Dawn was up and moving and didn’t want to take anything from the new baby slayers, some of whom looked a lot worse off than she felt. But when Dawn passed Willow, the already-exhausted witch sat up a little and grabbed Dawn’s arm. She pointed at Dawn’s forehead, and intoned, “Se parakaló, Aceso! Voíthise aft– voíth– aw, screw it. Episkey!”

The throbbing at the front of Dawn’s head snapped away, and even the sticky blood on her face and shirt faded away. Her face was still wet; the spell hadn’t touched the tears on her face. Turns out you might cry when fighting for your life, for your friends’ and family’s lives – from the agony of being wounded, from exhaustion or frustration, from despair at death reaping over and over again.

She moved past everyone to reach the back of the bus and pressed her face against the glass of the back door, and it started to speed away. Anyone already dead had to be left behind.

“Come on, come on,” she muttered under her breath, calling out to her sister as if Buffy had any way of hearing. It was a normal, sweaty-forehead-to-the-window-glass situation, and if Willow hadn’t done that magical healing Dawn’s blood would’ve clouded over the whole glass pane. She briefly and morbidly longed for the mess of it, as the physical thing that linked her Buffy. As if their shared Summers blood would call out to each other.

She searched for any sign of Buffy as they drove off without her. The more abandoned buildings and trees and powerlines that collapsed into a deep and growing sinkhole behind the bus trying to escape it, rubber wheels shrieking in effort, the lower Dawn’s heart fell into her stomach.

Would her sister’s life be the cost of so much good done in one afternoon? Sharing her power, actually destroying a hellmouth? The only other portal of hell in recorded history to be destroyed was the one on the China/Korea border that had needed a volcanic eruption of 7 on the VEI scale to take it out, circa 946 AD. Naturally, the lake that formed over the vanquished hellmouth took the name 天池 – Heaven Lake.

Looking for the people and things that went unnoticed was part of how Dawn ended up a Junior Watcher type of girl. She could swing a sword and incant in ancient Sumerian, she was totally a proven and valuable member of any supernatural crime fighting group she came across.

Of course, when Buffy did catch up to them she had a similar head wound, scathed but not beaten, like a true heroine. And Dawn could’ve matched her. Instead, little sis looked like she’d taken a brisk stroll around the neighborhood, not at all like she’d just fought for her life with a freaking longsword in an abandoned high school against an army of ubervamps. Could’a, would’a, should’a. Felt like that was the story of her short life.

* * * * * * * *

Out of Dawn’s thoughts and in the real world, Xander shifted Buffy’s sleeping body in his arms.

Willow floated out with her ‘magic battery’ and did some pretend arm waving around it. She let it fall to the very center of the fairy ring like the white rabbit, then landed next to Giles and Xander.

The blue glow stretched to the circumference of the ring, and started moving through the curved line of roses and fungi and skipping stones. Kind of like it was twirling through the ring line, or a much bigger version of those circles that showed a webpage loading.

“I’ve never heard of a fairy ring that used inorganic objects,” Giles observed.

“Desperate times call for-”

Willow was cut off at the shriek of birds in the sky. There were what seemed like multiple flocks, flying and swarming into each other. The noise, which should have been a cacophony, was mild relief compared to the otherworldly grinding that kept happening every few minutes. She thought she might have heard a seagull somewhere in there.

Xander’s arms starting full-on shaking from holding Buffy for so long. “To heck with it,” he said, and switched to a fireman’s carry.

Giles felt the eyes of the folk upon them all, and also on the dangerously hiked-up hem of Buffy’s nightgown so clearly on display. “That’s a bit uncouth, Xander.”

Xander swung around with enough sudden force that Buffy’s ankles smacked Willow on the side of her head. “Ow, what even?”

“Do you want to carry her from now on?!” exclaimed Xander. “By all means, I’m just a poor little human man who don’t know nuthin’ much about this here magic, you big, strong, strappin’ Watcher, you! Why sure, you go ahead and take care a’ your little Slayer girl, you sure know best!”

“I understand the sass, but not the Southern part,” said Willow. “The Southern part leaves me confused and perturbed.”

Giles desperately wished for a paracetamol.

The light of the energy started rushing faster and brighter through the ring, and sometimes stopped a point on it – like at the 3 o’clock or the 10 o’clock point – and lit up extra bright. Then one of the folk would chant, “Comharradh aon, air a chòdachadh!

Xander craned his neck as much as he could with Buffy on his shoulders; he thought he could see symbols light up on the flat stones as the magic passed through the outline of the ring near him. “What’re those things on the stones?” There was a simple symbol on them, of curved lines but also pointy-V shapes. “Chevrons?”

“Runes,” Giles said absently. Then he peered closer. “Wait...”

“No, not runes,” said Willow. “It’s the same symbol on each stone. Oh, I know this one, it’s very common, it’s a- a-”

“I see now, a triquetra,” said Xander.

Giles and Willow stared at him.

“You know, the symbol from the show Charmed?” he went on.

They stared some more. There may have been an eyebrow raise. Another world-quake rumbled through, low-pitched and high-pitched at once and unsettling, shuffling the ground and churning the air, and their expressions didn’t change at all. They didn’t consciously recognize that the spaces in between the all-encompassing noise of reality being unraveled had become silent but for their own actions – the sound of their voices, the scuffles of their clothes as they moved. The noise came too often for them to realize that if they concentrated, they could hear their own heartbeats by now.

“What?” said Xander. “I live the magical feminist reality with slayers, but I can’t watch a TV show about the same thing with witches? It’s interesting to see how they get magic only half-right, but fight with the same pluck, charm, and humor as us Scoobies.”

Willow nodded thoughtfully. “And I’m sure it has nothing to do with Alyssa Milano wearing very skimpy outfits on a weekly basis.”

“Does she? I watch it for the plot.”

“Really? ‘Cause that’s why I watch it.”

Giles coughed and Xander let out a semi-faux scandalized, “Will!”

Comharrad seachd, glaiste na àite!

There was a wail as if from a hundred banshees, shrieking and keening, a sound that would have gone to marrow of their human bones if they hadn’t already been deadened over the last hour by the constant noise of the reality quakes ripping apart the universe. The area of the inside of the ring flashed and then concaved into a whirling, watery vortex.

It wasn’t a fast vortex. It was actually quite slow for a swirly energy thingy, and it looked like it had the naturally bioluminescent water of places like Halong Bay or Sam Mun Tsai Beach. It was quite beautiful.

But only for a moment.

Gravity began to lose its meaning and authority, and the ground they stood on undulated and fractured apart. The air around them warped and rocks and matter started flying about, never mind the birds – ones still alive trying to fly, and ones dead being tossed about like pebbles in a whirlwind. The light of the Sun and magnetism of the Earth were losing their existence so that it was suddenly harder to breath or keep balance or see in the normal light spectrum.

Deep rifts in both the ground and the sky formed, churning larger and larger to devour matter and energy, and instead of opening to a dark abyss there was an oil-slick coloring of new nothingness. Some of the folk started popping out of sight back to their home realm. But some of them tripped and fell into saturated, colorful rifts, the disintegration of reality too strong even for their natural grace to outstep. Their bodies and even their screams underwent some strange and terrible version of sizzling spaghettification. If they could’ve, the humans left behind would have averted their eyes, but it was far too late for that.

The ring shuddered, but held its shape and the gate within – for now.

“Help!” cried Xander, but he couldn’t hear his own voice. Buffy slipped down from his grasp and they started to fall towards a gleaming rupture. Giles and Willow both ran to him and tried to help pull him away. Between the quaking and feeling like they all had inner ear infections, all they managed was to huddle and scream and hold on to each other. By twisting and stepping to avoid the rainbow rips, they got pelted with clods of earth instead, sharp rocks and leafy twigs, and Giles was hit in the upper back by a terrified mole rat. Also, glitter was getting in everyone’s mouth.

It made it easier for Dawn to reach down and scoop them all up.

She held them up high. Being so much bigger left Dawn less dizzy, but the ripples going through her body left her nauseous. The rainbow rips grew bigger as she watched. She couldn’t see the Citadel in the distance any more. The fairy ring was right in front of her. Rocks and grass were going around like a tornado, but the vortex wasn’t sucking anything in. Even the petals of the roses were holding on tight.

“WHAT NOW?” she asked.

Jump in the ring!” shouted Willow, magic fueled by panic the only reason Dawn could hear her now.

“BUT WHERE ARE WE GOING?” Dawn asked, unaware that Giles could’ve throttled her for asking a question at a time like this.

The stones of the ring started to rattle, and its light flickered.

Where did the gate go? A hell dimension, another time period, a 2-dimensional planet? But if the world was dissolving around her, and Willow said it was okay, then it’s what she had to do and oh, okay, she needed to stop babbling so much in her own head and get moving NOW, didn’t she?

NOW, NOW!” Willow screamed. Xander also screamed but not any words, and Giles closed his eyes. He had one hand on Willow and the other on Xander, and at any moment he simply wouldn’t have the strength to hold on anymore. The chunks of earth and sky and space and reality were getting smaller, not bigger, but that meant it hurt more when they struck Dawn. Like all the junk in outer space that pelted satellites.

Dawn took a step forward off the last piece of earth remaining under her feet, and took a leap of faith into the blue vortex.

She’d always wondered if she could do it just like Buffy.

Just before he passed through the surface of the vortex, and beneath the universal grinding, no one heard Giles wonder aloud with what he hoped wouldn’t be his final, ridiculous words: “Isn’t Finola Hughes in that charming programme?”

* * * * * * * *

to be continued...

* * * * * * * *


Author's Notes:

Hi everyone I finished Stranger Things season 4 and I'm not okay! :D Send me lots of comments to distract me and make me feel better!

Dilys is played by Nicola Coughlan, just FYI. (Can you imagine if the 90’s teenagers that ended up being reincarnations of an ancient magical moon kingdom were a certain set of Derry girls? I beg of you, o great internet, somebody write that fic for me.)

Anybody catch the slight change in BtVS canon? It’s very very relevant to the plot!

String games – like England’s cat’s cradle or Japan’s ayatori – can be found in various cultures around the world, going back thousands of years.

Also – Tide detergent is CRAP. Don’t let the funny commercials fool you. Buy literally anything else from the EWG list.

Check back soon for the final 'part' of Chapter 6, aka Chapter 10!

return to Index / go to Chapter 9

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury