Disclaimer: Joss Whedon and his corporate affiliates own "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". Storm Constantine owns the "Wraeththu Mythos". I own neither of these properties and am writing this story for fun, not profit.
Distribution: Anywhere! But ask my permission first.
The Mystic Muse: http://mysticmuse.net
Spoilers: Seasons Six, Seven and Eight of Buffy. The Wraeththu Mythos generally.
Feedback: Yes. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Author's Note: This is a crossover with the Wraeththu novels by Storm Constantine. The Wraeththu are a race of magical hermaphroditic posthumans. There are two main variants: the majority hara (singular "har") and the minority parazha (singular "parage") who represent the masculine and feminine aspects respectively. Hara and parazha cannot take aruna (sex) together as this has detrimental effects on the local continuum. For BtVS, this story happens about 50 or 60 years after the events of "Chosen". For the WM, a few years after "The Ghosts of Blood and Innocence". Season Eight of BtVS is to be considered to be canonical but never happened in this universe. Genres: Hurt/Comfort and Fantasy.
Site Administrator's Note: If you are not familiar with the novels of Storm Constantine or with the Wraeththu universe, read this Wikipedia article first. It gives a good overview that will aid your reading:
Pairing: Buffy/Willow/Faith, Tara/Dawn
Summary: The reunion of certain Scoobies in a Wraeththu-dominated world.
The hara who live in Vizantio are not nice people. They don't like parazha, that's for sure. I'm a lot taller since inception* but still pretty tiny. And the essence of the Slayer, and my humanity, were burned away long ago and... Oh, stop making excuses, Bethany! Cut to the chase! They beat me senseless and took my stuff. Bastards! So I was lying in a filthy alley, almost as gross as the ones in LA that was, going from semiconsciousness to 'Ow! They broke my fucking ribs!' when I felt somehar gently open one of my swollen-shut eyes. Couldn't see much, all blurry. They had red hair whoever they were. Couldn't miss that.
"Wow, harsh!" they exclaimed, "Shar, get the wagon to the head of the alley and I'll put him in back."
"I think that's a parage, Ara. So it's she**." said somehar else. Shar, presumably.
"You're the expert! Seems silly to use gendered pronouns when we're all hermaphrodites." mused Ara, "Why don't we use Spivak pronouns? It would make much more-"
"Shut up, Aravah! I'll get the wagon. Back in a sec."
Right, I thought, sorting this all out. Shar is possibly parage and Ara, Aravah could be har. As soon as this went through my mind, Aravah gingerly started to gather me in his arms. He had a half-familiar scent. Then my much abused head made its presence known. I puked all over him. Bethany and concussion are unmixy things. At this point, my brief period of lucidity ended. I started to lose consciousness, with the unexpected memory of strawberries lulling me into darkness. About time, too! I hurt.
* Inception is the act of transforming a human into Wraeththu.
** The convention used in the Wraeththu novels are that hara are referred to by 'he' and parazha by 'she' although all Wraeththu are both female and male.
CHAPTER TWO: SHAHAR
Author's Note: :: :: indicates telepathic communication.
Ara and I got our robbery victim up the stairs and into the bathroom. Considering how small she was, she was surprisingly heavy. I froze, suddenly, as I felt Kerith's spirit briefly touch mine.
::Shar, I'm back from Immanion. Tell Aravah I want a long and detailed discussion with him::
The tone of cold rage in her mind voice chilled me.
Ara looked at me. "Was that Kerith?" he asked.
"Yuh-huh. You get our guest in distress clean and dry. Tend her wounds and put her to bed. I'll run interference with Kez."
Ara looked down distastefully at the rescued stranger. Blood and ordure covered her. "Oh, whoo-hoo. Good for me," he said flatly.
"Kerith is so utterly beyond pissed at you. You really would much rather do clean-up, I think."
"But, Shahar-" he whined.
"Aravah! Kez hasn't forgotten what you did to her and she has never forgiven you. If you weren't the only other family I have left, she'd have gutted you by now."
"Kerith isn't the only one with a grievance," he said darkly. "I thought she'd died in my arms, for Aghama's* sake!" Ara hugged himself. Tears shone in his green eyes.
To be honest, I had questions, too. But my chesnari** was kind of intimidating so I hadn't forced the issue, yet. I remembered too well all those long, bitter hours in the dark, standing watch over her supposed corpse. Teen Dawn was still inside me, somewhere, as Mom Tara was in Kerith. One day, I would loose a full scale guilt assault on her and get my answers. I embraced Ara, then went downstairs to await Kerith's arrival.
* The Aghama is the progenitor of Wraeththu and also their chief dehara (god).
** 'Chesnari' is a close lover or significant other.
CHAPTER THREE: EMUNAH
Where the hell was Beth? I'd been loitering in this damn dive for longer than I liked. I was about to go look for her when I overheard this...rodent bragging to his pals.
"...musta broke its ribs by the sound. Women shouldn't become Wraeththu. Stansta r eason - aaah fuck!"
I'd grabbed a fork from a nearby table and punctuated his sentence and his hand. I then hauled the shocked har up by his hair and smashed his face into a wall.
"There are four major torture groups. That was sharp and blunt. You don't wanna meet hot and cold. Now, where'd ya get that crucifix?"
Bethany and me have matching crosses. It's a Chosen Two thing.
"You're just one har. There's four o' us.- he blustered, "We'll fucking kill you, if you're lucky. Nohar lays a hand on me without payback."
Implied pelki*. Charming.
"Bring it on! I got mad skills. And that was before I joined up. It's a har's life in the Varrish army." Or it was.
Magical training among the Varrs** had been shit but I learned the true meaning of the term 'command presence' from them. I infused my aura with menace and grinned at them.
"Captain Emunah har Liathan har Varr, by your command." I made a mock salute.
The Rodent and his pals actually properly looked at me. I still like the leather and the knives. Well maintained, razor-sharp and very visible knives. Suddenly, I was alone with my unwilling informant. Yeah, be the best! Reckon it was my dimples that spooked 'em.
"Take that cross off. It's my sister's. Now show me where you left her."
The Rodent led me to an alley. Beth wasn't there but I felt the traces of her presence. I also smelt strawberries within the reek, which was weird. Anyways, I could track her through the ethers from here. As for the Rodent, I made him lie facedown, broke his arms and trampled him into the slime.
* 'Pelki' means rape.
** The Varrs were a warlike tribe of Megalithica (North America).
CHAPTER FOUR: KERITH
My nose twitched with distaste as I rode into Vizantio. This was a mining town. It served the Rust Mines to the east, and it stank. Man made one of his unsuccessful bids for dominance. He was a vicious creature. I'd never have ordinarily bought such an intractable beast, but the way he had snapped at Aravah's face and nearly kneecapped him, had been heart-warming. For a time, Aravah's fear of horses had been rekindled. This had delighted me. I had discovered disquieting intelligence in Immanion. If Aravah would not give me a satisfactory accounting he was going to spend a little quality time with Man until he did. Our progress, and train of thought, was arrested by a mass of hara clustered at the entrance to an alley.
"What's going on?" I asked one of the crowd.
"One of the Soroka's been deaded, tiahaar*, he replied. "They say 'twas a Varr what done it."
Ah, I thought, yet another gangland killing. But Varr? Vizantio was within the Gelaming** sphere of influence. Nohar would be reckless enough to claim such a thing. Well, nohar with any common sense, that is.
Eventually, we managed to reach home. I saw a raven-haired har waiting outside the house. He turned dark amber eyes towards me which narrowed as he frowned, obviously trying to place my face. For my part, I did not recognise him though I knew, somehow, that we had met. For a few moments we gazed at each other. Suddenly there came a cry from the bathroom window.
"WHAT THE FUCKING HELL!"
* 'Tiahaar' (plural tiahaara) is equivalent to sir or ma'am.
** The Gelaming are a powerful tribe. They are the Wraeththu equivalent of a superpower.
CHAPTER FIVE: ARAVAH
Author's Note: This chapter incorporates my drabble "Drizzle". There is one character death which may be a cause of jubilation for some. # indicates a flashback.
I heard the sound of water running in the kitchen. Shar cleaning herself up. Her cooking still verged on the alchemical, even more so than when she was a teen. Which was why she kept a change of clothes down there. Our poor, battered parage had been propped up on a chair. I took a washcloth, wetted it, and began to bathe her face. Her nose was miraculously unbroken. It was an excellent nose. She stirred and opened her eyes. I could see them properly, now. Green with an inner circle of golden-brown. I felt the blood leech from my face, my heart quicken painfully as I panicked.
"Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" I babbled. Then I was back in Carmine City*.
#I'm exhausted. No more mojo from me, Willow Rosenberg, tonight. Likely never again. Took out the hienama**, though. That's something. Screaming Uigenna*** hara charge us. Kennedy kills two. She grapples the last. They bite, scratch, stab each other. Their corpses fall onto me. Slayer and harish blood drizzles into my mouth. I swallow reflexively. Don't want to choke to death, do I? Too numb for grief or horror. Just one bitter pang. Kennedy not good enough for me huh? HUH? Fuck you, Buffy! Barely have strength to witness and remember. When the sun at last rises, don't even have that#
I snap back to the present and yell out something. Joy was mingled with anger. This parage was my dearest, most beloved friend. This was Buffy.
** A hienama is a Wraeththu priest or shaman.
*** The Uigenna were the first Wraeththu tribe. Renowned for their ferocity.
CHAPTER SIX: BETHANY
I awoke to euphoria and felt deeply calm. It occurred to me that I ought to open my eyes, wiggle my piggies, call out something. But, as Spike used to say sometimes, I couldn't be arsed. Drugs - don't ya just love 'em? I heard two voices speaking quietly nearby, Emmy's husky tones and the contralto of my rescuer from earlier. What's his name, Aravah.
"D'ya reckon we'll have more of the old gang turn up?" Emunah asked.
"No," replied Aravah sadly, "Shar told me that Giles died three years ago. Pneumonia."
"Great Aru*! He musta been a hundred at least!"
"At least," Aravah agreed. "As for Xander and Oz? I know deep down they were lost, long ago. The best I can hope for is to know what happened to them."
I feel detached sorrow at the news of Giles' death. So how does this Aravah know about the Scoobies? Oh. OH! A memory of red hair and the scent of strawberries in the alley. Of briefly rousing as my face was washed by gentle fingers, seeing astonished emerald eyes. Willow? Is Aravah, Willow?
Emmy sighs. "I can tell ya about Xander, Red. I saw him die."
Aravah began to sob. His weeping tore into my heart. I never could bear Willow being in pain. I struggled from my languor and uttered a groan.
* Aru or Aruhani is a Wraeththu dehara. He is a force of destruction and creation.
CHAPTER SEVEN: EMUNAH
Perhaps, you know, I could have broken the news to Red more gently. But there's NO gentle way of saying stuff like that. Aravah started bawling and I took him in my arms, murmuring Aghama knows what, stroking his hair. Becoming Wraeththu really brought out my feminine side. Who'da thought? Bethany groaned. Ara and me rushed over to her.
"Hey." I said, clasping her hand.
"Thirsty." she croaked back.
Ara poured some water from a carafe into a glass as I sat Beth up. After she had drank, she reached out and caressed Red's face.
"Will? Is it really my Willow?" she said with wonder.
Aravah nodded and pressed Bethany's hand to his cheek. His eyes were tearing up again. I felt jealousy gripe in my belly but I kept my trap shut. This was the love of his life and he hadn't seen her in many long years. Anyways, he could no more consummate that love than I could. Beth was a parage, we were hara.
"How d'ya get so beaten up?" I asked.
"I had a really shitty day," Bethany said, "They had an almost perfect one."
"Almost perfect?" questioned Ara.
"I was supposed to end UP dead, not left FOR dead. Crap! Some rat-faced bastard took my cross!"
"It's safe." I assured her, drawing it from my pocket and giving it to her."
"Did you get the vermin? Did you hurt him?" asked Ara fiercely.
"Yeah. Broke his arms and made him suck muck."
Red beamed at me, kissed my cheek. "Good for you, tiahaar!"
I dimpled at Ara and blushed. Not something I'd normally do but it'd been a strange day.
"Emmy," said Beth, "You gotta tell him about Xander."
I lost my glow immediately. I didn't want to tell that story, I really didn't.
CHAPTER EIGHT: ARAVAH
Author's Note: I don't like this chapter much. It's definitely filler :(
Emunah's face had lit up when I kissed him. Such a sweet smile! Now that light was gone, like the flame of a doused lantern. During the last days, he and Xander had become close. I needed to hear the tale of Xander's final moments. But it could wait. I had waited over half a century, already.
"The sun'll be up soon. "I said. "Then we'll have breakfast. You can tell your story, after. We all can." Yeah, Kerith had some explaining to do.
With Emmy's help, I checked Bethany's injuries. Shar was a skilled herbalist and Kerith was highly proficient with agmara* healing. Her ribs had knitted together and the bruising was all but gone. When we had dwelt in vanished Sunnydale, how many times had I tended the Slayer's wounds? I'd missed her. I'd missed her so much. More than I had Tara. More than I had truly realised.
"OK. Beth, here, is good to go." I said, glancing at Emunah. His expression brightened.
Then I pretended to frown. "You've got me calling her by her initial now. You're a bad influence on me, tiahaar."
Emmy rolled his eyes. Nohar with any occult training could escape the Hebrew alphabet. Why was I flirting with him? I'd hated Faith. Was it because I had this inexplicable anger towards Bethany?"
"Hey," grumbled Beth, "I make the bad puns around here. Ooh, bacon!"
I could hear the sound of Kerith downstairs in the kitchen and smell the tantalising aroma of frying bacon. She always made breakfast when she was here. Time to make our ablutions and head on down.
* Agmara is ambient magical energy.
"Make me pancakes, Kez." I said.
Kerith gave me a level turquoise gaze and arched an eyebrow. In the eighteen months of our renewed acquaintance, I hadn't asked for breakfast pancakes, not once. Suddenly, she grinned at me with that adorable, lopsided smile. My heart jumped joyfully as I recalled our aruna of the night before.
"Funny shapes or rounds?"
"Funny shapes!" I replied promptly.
I felt guilty putting the whammy on Kez with the evil nostalgia mojo. But the more I could get us back into the swing of the Tara and Dawn act, the easier it would be to wheedle out the answer to a pressing question: how was Kerith still alive? Saying "I didn't die" just wouldn't hack it. She had stubbornly refused to elucidate this answer. Also, Tara had reconciled with Willow before her apparent death yet Kez hated Ara. I had asked Aravah if he had resurrected Tara. He denied it. Well, he would, wouldn't he? But I had believed him. Ara's confusion and hurt at Kerith's chilly despite was genuine.
Aravah came into the kitchen with our two guests. Bethany and Emunah, Buffy and Faith as was. Shorter inceptees often gain in height. My sister's stature was as it always had been. She was the tiniest Wraeththu, parage or har, I'd ever seen. Beth's face whitened with shock when she saw me. Emmy had to stop her falling to her knees. Ara had an expression of deep chagrin on his face. Somehar had forgotten to impart important information.
"D-d-awn?" Bethany stuttered.
My sister, still dragging a miasma of high melodrama with her. Oh, this was gonna get old, real soon.
CHAPTER TEN: KERITH
Author's Note: Beginning with the next chapter, I'll be filling in the back story for each of the characters.
Bethany was starting to regain some colour. She was seated at the kitchen table, Emunah rubbing her back, Aravah stroking her blonde hair, Shar squeezing her hand. I held myself back. Buffy had been an enthusiastic accomplice in Willow's betrayal of me those many years ago in Sunnydale. I had no comfort to give her. There was one more introduction that needed to be made. For somehar so truly brilliant, Aravah could be an idiot.
"Bethany, Buffy, do you recognize me?" I asked.
She searched my face. I look much as I did when human: golden hair, blue-green eyes, high cheekbones, full lips. I'm taller. My face is stronger now, more androgynous.
"Are you, are you Tara?"
"I'm called Kerith, now. But yes, I was Tara."
"Can breakfast be salvaged?" asked Shahar. "We really do need to eat."
I turned to my chesnari. "The bacon's ruined, the coffee's doubtless stone-cold. But I can make those pancakes you wanted."
"And after breakfast, we must tell our stories. You included." said Shar.
"That is so not up for discussion." I informed her icily.
"Kerith doesn't have to tell Shahar a damn thing," she rejoined, "But TARA owes DAWN an explanation, don't you think?"
"You. Died. Kerith." said Aravah. "You. Died. In. My. Arms."
"I've never died in my life!" I yelled in exasperation. "Why do you persist with this, this crap?"
"Because it's true." said Bethany quietly.
The softness of her voice quenched my anger.
"OK." I said resignedly. "But I'll go last."
They all looked at one another and gave nods.
"Right," said Shar brightly, clapping her hands. "Let's make with the breakfasty goodness!"
CHAPTER ELEVEN: BETHANY'S TALE, PART I
We were all of us feeling a lot better with a full tummy. I know I was. We sat in a cosy lounge, wine, beer, coffee, tea or iced water in front of us. Within twenty-four hours, I'd been pureed by fists and boots, rescued by my sister and my best friend, both of whom, sidebar: I thought had perished. Then I meet with my best friend's ex, also supposedly deceased, who was now my sister's sweetie. Just like old times; welcome to my life, pre-inception. I watched them: red, black, blonde and chestnut heads gazing at one another. I imagined civilisations rising and falling within the long, uncomfortable silence.
"Emunah's the name of a tribe up in Jaddoyoth*" remarked Shahar suddenly. "But you knew that, right?"
Emmy scowled at Shar. This had been a sore point since we'd arrived in Florinada**. "Hara keep saying that all the fucking time. I was calling myself that before those upstarts did. It ain't funny no more so shut the hell up! OK. Who's going to spill first?"
"I will." I said. "Are we sitting comfortably?"
"Then begin, already!" snapped Shahar.
I drew my knees up to my chin, grasped them, took in a deep breath.
"Riley, Sam and Graham. Satsu, Leah and Rowena. Me. We all got into Duwamish*** a couple of days before it fell. And this is how it all went down there..."
* Jaddayoth comprises the Romania, Ukraine and the Transcaucasus.
** Florinada comprises north-eastern Greece and western Anatolia.
CHAPTER TWELVE: BETHANY'S TALE, PART II
Author's Note: Bethany will break off the narrative at times to speak or react to the other characters. This is indicated by [ ].
First we had to reach Duwamish. That was kind of tricky. We were in Japan on the wrong side of the Ocean of Fire*. The were no international flights to Megalithica, or anywhere else for that matter. We had no other transpo. But Aiko did. She and her squad had taken a South Korean sub from some vamps. She wasn't gonna let us have it. We had no allies here. There was plague in Alba Sulh**: Giles and Dawn were missing. Vi and her squad had drowned when the mega-tsunami hit Neovik***. And Carmine City? We'd lost the best fighters in the Slayer Army there. We were so screwed.
["What happened to Kennedy and Rona?" I asked Aravah.
Ara glared at me. "Kennedy died saving my life. I don't know about Rona."
Ouch! I'd never felt warm fuzziness towards Kennedy. I thought I'd hidden my dislike pretty well. Not well enough; my Hemery High social skills had lost their cunning. And my Wills could always see through me.]
Satsu was furious. I thought she was going to go all O-Ren Ishi and that I'd see Aiko's head staring up at me from the floor. Instead, Satsu spoke to Aiko in Japanese. Didn't understand a word. It was vehement and intense but ever so softly spoken. Eventually, Aiko caved. She agreed to have the sub take us to Duwamish. But there was a fee for the ferry service. I had to give her the Scythe. For safekeeping, you understand?
["She did have a point, Beth." said Emunah.
"Yeah, I guess. OK, granted, that was one of her motivations. But she knew I wouldn't be coming back to reclaim it. Aiko was already queen of her local faction of Slayers. She just wanted the, uh, 'crown' to go with it."]
Anyway, I handed the Scythe over though I so could have pinned Aiko to a wall with it. Like a butterfly. But we now had a ride home.
* The Pacific Ocean.
** Great Britain.
*** New York.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: BETHANY'S TALE, PART III
Author's Note: In this and later chapters, I'll be referring to events mentioned in the RPG "Wraeththu: From Enchantment To Fulfilment" by Storm Constantine, Gabriel Strange and Lydia Wood.
We were back in Megalithica within the week. This was the sitch as we'd known it then. Uigenna demons had taken over the Space Needle. The Duwamish PD tried to recapture it, had been handed their collective ass. When we got into Duwamish we found that the military had been called in. An old acquaintance, Colonel McNamara, was in command. He was not pleased to see me, not at all. But I had saved most of his men when Adam made his play for the Initiative so he knew I had my uses. He intended to storm the Space Needle at dawn of the day after tomorrow. I'd had the Slayer Dreams of Doom since Carmine City fell. I knew this would be my last fight. That evening Satsu and I made love for the last time and-
["You were sleeping with Satsu!" Aravah exclaimed angrily.
Why did I blurt that out? "Yes. Satsu was in love with me. She never pushed, though. We weren't going to save the world, not this time. So I figured the hero, and Satsu was certainly that, should at least get the girl. Also..."
I looked deep into hurt, indignant green eyes, making sure my next words conveyed my meaning.
"Also, I wanted to get close to you, Will. To understand the whole lesbian thing. I thought you were dead. It was too late to ask you. Satsu was there. And I needed comfort."
Kerith looked at me sharply, puzzlement in her expression. What the hell was her deal? She was tangibly hostile to Ara and had been giving me the hairy eyeball since she'd made herself known. Aravah still looked unhappy but he nodded and indicated I should go on.
I drank some water. "Now, about the battle..."]
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: BETHANY'S TALE, PART IV
McNamara made two assumptions. Firstly, that the Uigenna had no professional training, that they were basically a mystically souped-up street gang. Secondly, that they were all concentrated at or near the Needle. Boy, was he wrong! Uigenna warriors exploded from the sewers like locusts seething in a field of crops. Tracer fire struck at us like lightning from the surrounding skyscrapers. They moved so fast. We were surrounded. I'd never fought Wraeththu before. The reports I'd read...
["You never mentioned how beautiful they were." I told Aravah. "You never said how terrifying."
"What could I say?" said Ara. "You really had to face them in battle to understand."]
I was later to learn that they had incepted military personnel among their number. Manticker, the Uigenna leader, hadn't been shy about taking their advice. When I was a child I saw a pack of wolves in Yellowstone Park. He had that same, lean, loping grace. McNamara had detailed me and the other Slayers to lead a sortie on the Space Needle. Manticker reacted swiftly, blazing through the soldiers with us like a wild fire through prairie. Satsu managed to score a slash on his chest. He howled in rage. It was like watching the Tasmanian Devil in action as Satsu, Leah and Rowena fell to him. I was so scared. I felt wet warmth trickle down my leg. I, I fled.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: BETHANY'S TALE, PART V
[Shahar was aghast. "You wet yourself?"
"High ranking hara from tribes like the Uigenna or the Varrs were fucking scary." Emunah told her. "For instance, I never could look Terzian straight in the eye. And Manticker was one of the legends."
"Terzian?" questioned Kerith. "You were a Varr?"
"Yeah." replied Emmy. He turned to me. "Get on with your yarn, Beth."]
One thing you've got to understand. The Slayer part of me was fearless. It would never back down, never. If a fight ever went sour, I always had to grab it by its metaphorical scruff so I could escape. Not this time. This time, the Slayer made the decision for me. I sprinted for the tower. Everyone and everyhar who got in my way got slayed.
I didn't regain my control over the Slayer until I got atop the Space Needle. To the east I saw the sunrise light up the Cascades. When the sun cleared their peaks, Manticker was there. There was one other har with him who had this extraordinary hair like a lion's mane. For some reason, I thought of Scar from the 'Lion King'. I knew despair. How could I defeat this terrible Amazon? When Manticker closed the range I could smell booze on his breath. This fucking monster had just killed seventy people not to mention three Slayers. And he had been drunk! Suddenly, I was enraged at such, such recklessness. Plus, I'd peed in my pants! What we knew then of the Wraeththu was that they were like evolved vampires. I recalled Spike telling us all once that blood was the life. For some reason this memory prompted me to make a desperate rush at Manticker.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: BETHANY'S TALE, PART VI
I pulled a fancy move I hadn't employed since my cheerleading days. Mainly, 'cause it was a damn fool thing to do in a fight. As I'd hoped, the manoeuvre took Manticker by surprise though his knife found my left shoulder. But my teeth were at his throat and I bit through his silky skin and into the hard muscle beneath. He snarled and fell to his knees. He struggled back to his feet with me still wrapped around him. I realised, then, that this was as good as it was gonna get. The shoulder wound was weakening me. I was already feeling the effects of Manticker's blood. I'd counted coup, perhaps given him something to have a nightmare or two over. Time to make my patented swan dive and leap from the top of the Space Needle.
[I paused. Drank some of Emmy's beer. It had gone flat in the summer heat.
"What happened?" asked Ara. "You couldn't have fallen over five hundred feet. You'd have been all raspberry jelly."
I grinned at him. "Nah. No Wily Coyote-ness here. I was beginning the althaia*. I barely had strength to make it to the edge and topple over. And I'd certainly have become the proverbial fruit-based conserve if my jacket hadn't snagged on the observation deck's safety grid."
"And the har with Manticker." said Aravah excitedly. "That was the Lion of Oomar, wasn't it? That was Wraxilan."
"Yeppers. It was, indeed."
Manticker and Wraxilan somehow got me inside. They took me into a private room. Far as I ever discovered, nohar else knew about this. Manticker ordered Wraxilan to tend to me while I transformed into Wraeththu. Bet the Lion of Oomar loved that.
* The period of transformation from human to Wraeththu. Generally lasts three days.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: KERITH
Bethany stopped speaking and peered inside Aravah's cup. There was no coffee to be seen so she drank the remainder of my wine, instead. I'd wondered why Bethany had no inception scar. Now, I knew. Harish or paragine blood hadn't been transfused into her veins. She had torn Wraeththudom from somehar's throat, from fabled Manticker the Seventy, no less. It was typical of the woman she had been.
"Well, I'm all talked out, for now." said Bethany. "Who's going next?"
What Bethany had told us about Satsu had troubled me. Something just wasn't right, there was a discrepancy here. I'd intended to speak last but I had to relate my account a lot sooner. But we could not do this, now.
"Emunah," I said to the raven-headed har. "You said you were Varrish a little while ago. Please tell me you didn't make that fact public property."
He looked defensively at me. "I mighta mentioned it. Saying you're a Varr has great intimidation value, ya know?"
"It's just that a local thug's been found dead. Rumour already has it that a Vars was responsible."
"Killed him, did I?" said Emunah. "Didn't mean for that to happen."
I arched an eyebrow.
"OK, I reckoned his untimely demise was a possibility. A. Pos. Si. Bi. Li. Ty. But I figured his friends would rescue him. 'Sides, he hurt Beth."
"I'm sure it was an accident." Aravah said soothingly.
I felt spite curdle in my guts. Aravah would condone murder if his precious Bethany was the beneficiary.
"An accident? Like the flensing of the late Warren Mears, I suppose?"
I felt shame as soon as I said it, clapped my hand to my mouth. Aravah looked stricken. Shahar and Bethany glared at me. Damn. We really didn't have time for this.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: EMUNAH
Author's Note: Fun fact, tigers like catnip as much as moggies do.The name of the tavern is the title of a story by fruitbat44 which can be found on the SapphicSlayer fanfic archive. I thought it would make a great name for a low dive.
I used to enjoy potential train wrecks like this one. Hell, I'd pour gasoline on the flames and munch popcorn as it burned. Don't like these situations so much now. Not when it involves the people I love, anyway. I froze and a jolt of fright went through me. What the fuck! I loved Red as well as Beth? When did that shit happen? I hadn't seen him for decades. The most I remember feeling for him was hatred and contempt as I held him at knifepoint, waiting for the Scoobies to hand over the Box of Gavrok. I'd been so screwed up when I was human. Well, that was a realization and no mistake! But I'd puzzle out my feelings later. The rest of the gang were holding a staredown fest and didn't notice my reaction. Ara was hurting and Bethany was pissed.
"So this har I whacked. Was he like a local big shot?" Everyhar was glad for the distraction.
"Describe him to me." said Kerith.
"Looked like a rat. A botched inception, maybe?"
"Sounds like Norge." Shahar said. "Not the Don Corleone of Vizantio but his superiors thought him useful and loyal. There'll be a world of hurt for the perpertrator. Were there many witnesses to your misplaced proclamation of Varrish pride?"
"I was in the Sea and Three Stars."
Kerith sighed. "Norge belonged to the Soroka and that tavern belongs to them. We are in so much trouble."
"Thìs kind of crap follows you everywhere." Beth glowered at me. "Like, like a tiger jonesing for catnip. Oh, well. I should be used to it by now."
"Ara and me'll organise the packing." said Shahar briskly, snatching her tea to safety from her parched sister.
CHAPTER NINETEEN: BETHANY
I could hear the thump and clatter from upstairs as Aravah and Shahar got everything sorted out. Emmy had my six. Time to ask Kerith some questions.
"You've been drowning me in an ocean of hate since you clapped eyes on me. You hating on Willow I can understand, maybe. But why me? You blame me for your death, is that it? And you're alive! How is that possible?"
Kerith gave me a cool gaze. "Was this Satsu the first woman with whom you were intimate?"
Not what I expected as a reply. "She was the only woman I ever got a chance to sleep with. You were listening earlier, yeah? She died and then I got incepted. No more women for me. Or guys for that matter." Not if I didn't want my sexual secretions to dissolve them from the inside out, anyway. Some sick puppy Wraeththu got off on that kind of pelki. Not me. I'd kill humans out of necessity but never for fun.
"Are you quite sure?" Kerith's eyes were angry. There was a sneer in her voice.
For a few moments I wondered what she was getting at here. Then the penny dropped into the other shoe which tripped the switch to the light bulb. "Hamnoo? You're accusing Willow of cheating on you? With me? She was so into you! Yes, I loved her, still do, always shall. But I'd never have come between her and you. Or anyone that she loved. Even that bitch, Kennedy, who I KNOW was abusing her. Why, I made your damned family packing because of her love for you!"
While I was all indignant and obliviously ranty, Ara and Shar had come back into the room.
"The hell she did!" snarled Aravah. "Kennedy NEVER hurt me. Fuck you, Buffy Summers!" He backhanded me in the face. It was a hard blow and I bit my tongue. I could taste blood in my mouth.
CHAPTER TWENTY: ARAVAH
Bethany whimpered in pain. Emunah looked at me fiercely. I thought he would strike me. But he turned back to Beth and led her to the couch. I felt like weeping but held back the tears. Even with my new, amazing, harish physiology (well not that new. I'd been Wraeththu for over fifty years now), I still looked like an explosion in a snot factory when I blubbered. I took a deep, hopefully calming, hopefully sufficient breath. Then I began to pace.
"Why do you think that? You really think Kennedy was cruel to me? You never said at the time. Well, whoopee for me if Kenn really had been into spousal abuse. You were always bristly around her. I thought it was 'cause of her part in the never-to-be-mentioned-throwing- Buffy-out- of-the-house thing, ya know? You didn't come to our wedding in Buenos Aires. That hurt. But it's pretty clear why. You. Were. All. Jealousy. Girl"
I stalked over to her and my finger jib-jib-jabbed into her chest. "So 'fess up! You were jealous. Enough of this frakking fantasy about Kennedy the big, old Lesbo Bluebeard. Go on, speak!"
"I-" Beth began.
"Shut up, tiahaar! Don't wanna hear it. Know the real reason I tore you out of Heaven? Because I missed you. Tara and me were happy. I'd have got over your death. We should've taken Dawn and left Sunnydale. Left for good. But no, I summoned Osiris and gave you one more opportunity to fuck up our lives!"
Shahar touched my arm. "That's enough, Ara. We're in danger and have to leave. Do this later."
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: SHAHAR
Author's Note: Warning! This chapter contains harm coming to cute, fuzzy animals and references to cannibalism.
We were camped out in the Vesh, a large, deciduous forest astride the border between the land of the Ferike* and Florinada. It had been nearly a week since we'd fled Vizantio and so far, fingers firmly crossed, there had been no pursuit. Perhaps the Soroka's reputation for vicious reprisal had been a bit of a fib. No harm in being paranoid; I liked my ouana-lim** where it was, thank you very much. Emunah had earlier snared what he fondly insisted was a rabbit but which I was pretty sure was a hare. If he could cook the tough, gamey thing he was perfectly welcome to try and gag it down. I myself had caught a brace of hedgehogs. Cover them with clay and stick 'em in the fire to bake. Easy-peasy. When the United Kingdom had fallen it had not taken long for Giles and I to go from 'aw, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle' to 'them's good eating.' We'd eaten dogs, cats, rats, pigeons and in the extremely severe winter of that year a couple of guys who intended to rape us, kill us, eat us. Possibly in that order. For your information, one tasted like pork, the other like veal, and neither of them like chicken.
"I think," I announced, "That Kerith has something to tell us."
I turned my gaze to her. "Haven't you?"
Kez looked glumly down at her lap, avoiding my eyes. "All right." she said reluctantly. "I'll begin with the time just after Buffy's resurrection..."
* A tribe of Jaddayoth, famed as scholars and artists. They dwell in the regions formerly known
as Bulgaria and Wallachia.
** The Wraeththu male generative organs.
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: KERITH'S TALE, PART I
Author's Note: This story has gone better than I had any reason to expect. Thank you, all of you.
As soon as we saw Buffy that first time, with her torn hands and lorn expression, my heart misgave me. Something was wrong. Something more than digging herself out from her own grave would account for, traumatic though that would have been in itself. Buffy's aura, which had been a beacon in a verdant wilderness, was now a guttering candle amid desolation.
["I've seen one other aura like it," I told the others. "In Immanion*."
"Pellaz." deduced Shahar. "You thought Ara had given Thiede the Osiris spell."
"Aravah did tell us he'd been one of his servants. Who knows what secrets Thiede could have wrung from him? As I could see for myself, Pellaz is perfect. Aravah had no hand in HIS r esurrection. The Gelaming and the world would have been in deep peril if he had. But it is somehar close to the Tigron**."
"It was Vaysh." whispered Aravah. "Thiede used the spell on him."
Bethany looked horrified and angry. She was about to speak but Aravah interrupted her. "Later. When it's my turn."
"I'll hold you to that, Aravah Rosamonte." she promised coldly.]
Willow and I had been growing apart since before Glory stole my sanity. I'd always been mistrustful of those who had my love, envious of those who held more power, always awaiting the day when I would be abandoned or attacked. I had so much love for Willow and so little trust, fearful of her greater craft. I displayed my inner aggression with silent, nagging glances and shy coyness. Less diffidence would have served me better. Two days after Willow dragged Buffy back to hell on earth, I caught them both rutting in our bed.
* The capital of Almagabra, the land of tie Gelamimg. Located near Vlorë in the former Albania.
** Title of the two rulers of Immanion. Pellaz har Aralis is one of them.
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: KERITH'S TALE, PART II
[I paused in my account, scanning Bethany and Aravah narrowly with my mundane and etheric senses. They were both, as Shahar would often say to me, gobsmacked. Save for the circumstances, their expressions would have given me great amusement, so comical were they. Bethany had encrypted her aura making it nigh impossible to read. Aravah, who these days had meagre magical capability, was an open book. His aura told me that he was truly astounded and amazed at my revelation, too astonished to utter even a single syllable of babble.
"Well," said Bethany slowly, "That has certainly flabbered my gast. So that's why..." She shook her head. "I just can't process this. That so didn't happen." She met my eyes. "But you're telling me the truth. And when I say that I've never slept with Willow, that's the truth, too."
Bethany unmasked her aura as she said this. She was not lying. I almost wondered if I had misinterpreted what I had seen that day. But no, Willow's fingers had been delving into Buffy's core. I had the wet sounds of sex. There had not been mistaken. It had looked just how it had seemed.
"This doesn't make sense." grumbled Emunah. "You say that B and Red were doing the deed and yet they say they weren't-"
"And none of you are telling whoppers." Shar finished for him.
"Perhaps," suggested Aravah glumly "Somehar or so-someone has been playing with our memories." He ducked his head guiltily. "Unfortunately, I know an ideal candidate."
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: KERITH'S TALE, PART III
"Ara, let's wait until Kez has finished. We need all the facts before we pin the tail on the donkey." Shahar said.
"This next part will be awkward for me." I told her.
She squeezed my forearm. "I understand."
"You don't. It's difficult because I did something I'm deeply ashamed of."
I steeled myself, gave a deep sigh and continued.]
Buffy and Willow did not see me, so engrossed were they in each other. I kept my silence and withdrew from the bedroom. My love for Willow turned to frost as my heart to stone, shivering it into dust. I went to the Magic Box. There was a spell in this old Welsh grimoire...
["Y Gwynt a'r Glaw*," hazarded Aravah, "With Garner's footnotes?"
He smiled weakly. "I knew it well."]
I had to wait until my next menses before I could use the incantation. I took the petals and thorns of a rose and the talons and feathers of an owl, added my hair, my spittle and the blood from my veins. I caused myself to vomit to get bile and squeezed a few drops of menstrual blood from my body. I cast out from my soul all the qualities that were cherished by all, even my father and brother, but which I now despised, infusing them into the potion. As I recited the rune, my hair and eyes turned as red as murder. Finally, it rose from the cauldron, a shadow of myself. I laid a geas on this, this fetch to leave Willow when she needed me most, to return and then die in her arms when she thought herself forgiven.
* Welsh for 'the wind and the rain.' This tome is the author's invention.
Author's Note: Warning! Character death.
There was a long, awkward silence as we all tried to take in what we'd just been told. I was deeply shocked but not entirely surprised. I'd always known that Tara was bitter as well as sweet. She'd been less guarded with me, I'd been only a kid back then. A horrible suspicion came to me.
"There's a copy of Y Gwynt a'r Glaw in the library at Kyme*. I've seen that spell. It needs the blood of an innocent to work. Did you, did you kill someone, Kez?"
"Miss Kitty Fantastico."
Could this day get even worse? "I never did see the body. I believed you when you said the crossbow killed her. Did she suffer?"
Kerith looked up towards the forest canopy, away from our collective gaze. She said without inflection "I boiled her alive in the cauldron. She died in agony."
Emunah went white and vomited his meal into the fire. Told him it was a hare. Bethany's face turned cold. Aravah's expression was neutral but there was a flicker of understanding and a glimmer of compassion in his eyes.
I was empty and numb inside. Tears flowed down my cheeks. "Why? Why her?"
Kerith kept her gaze upward. "Because I needed to destroy something Willow and I both loved. To focus my ill intent upon her. Miss Kitty was the next best thing we had to a daughter of our own." She looked at me suddenly. "You were the obvious choice but I could never have done that to you Dawnie."
I touched her cheek gently. "I love you Kerith but right now I do not like you."
I turned my back on her and retrieved my urchins from the fire. The hedgehogs had baked to char.
* A city of Alba Sulh in the north of the former England.
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX: ARAVAH
Shahar had turned in for the night. I thought I could hear the faint sounds of muffled crying. Bethany was holding back Emunah's hair as he puked. He'd managed to give himself food poisoning. Quite a feat given the ferocity of the Wraeththu immune system. I was sitting by Kerith, thinking of something to say.
"You were right to leave me," I ventured, "Whatever the reason. I abused your duplicate, you know."
"I more than know," she replied, "I remember. When the fetch perished I got back all its memories and the portion of my soul I gave it. That was...unexpected. I thought I was done with being kind, being understanding, being loving." She sighed. "I was never fully restored. The balance of my personality was changed forever."
I tried to reassure her. "What you did was bad. It was worse. I was much eviller but I got forgiven. Shar will come around. She really loves you."
"You took little hurt from your foray into dark magicks." she said bitterly. "You are still much like Willow. But me? I violated the Rede, went against all my mother's teachings. Unlike you, I KNEW better."
"I did know better! I-"
She interrupted me. "Not really. You never internalized the ethics of magic. You never got the time or space to do so. There was always some crisis on the Hellmouth that required an immediate magical expedient. To a degree, you were an innocent. And that saved you."
Before I could argue this point, Bethany came over to us. "Emmy's really not well." she said urgently. "Could you take a look at him?"
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN: BETHANY
Aravah and I hovered anxiously as Kerith examined Emmy. Ara frowned, reached out and rubbed something off Emunah's cheek.
"Eep!" Ara yelped. His hand was covered in blood and pus. "That's not dirt!"
"Don't touch him!" snapped Kerith. "Shahar!" she called. "Quickly, now!"
Shar came up to us. Her eyes were swollen from weeping. "What's the what?"
"Emunah's ill. I need you to look at what's left of that animal Emunah ate."
"CSI: Florinada? Ferike? OK, on it." Shahar went to salvage the mostly uneaten carcass.
"You two," commanded Kerith, "Fetch as much water as you can and heat it up."
We hesitated. "Go! Shar and I have got this."
As Ara and me set about our errand, I said "You've been very calm about what Kerith told us earlier. I mean she as good as told us she made Warren shoot at us that day."
Ara shook his head. "No. Warren chose to try and kill you of his own free will. The, I guess we could call it the Tarabot, though it was more of a golem really and-"
I kissed him to still the babble. I could taste strawberries and wild honey, cinnamon and myrrh. His face lit up with that megawattage grin I remembered so well.
"I WAS straying from the point. What I mean is this: if there'd been a thunderstorm when it was the Tarabot's time to die, it would have been hit by lightning. The spell used whatever was handiest at the time. It could've just fallen downstairs, ya know? A tragic accident."
He gazed intently into my eyes. "I felt as strongly for you then as I did for Tara. I'd have made damn sure that Warren got his. Whichever of you he hurt."
We finished the rest of the task in silence as I mulled things over.
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT: KERITH
I had found Bethany and Aravah's presence distracting so I had sent them off with some busywork to get them out of the way. Still, hot water was always useful. I studied the flow of agmara within Emunah. This was not good. The long ago process of inception which had made Faith har was unravelling, unknitting. He was dying.
"Oh, Great Aru!" Shar exclaimed from behind me. "How could he become so poorly so quickly?"
I ignored her question. "What did you find?"
"Well, I was right about it not being a rabbit. But it's not a hare or any other kind of lagomorph. Two upper incisors, scrotum behind the penis, which has a bone by the way. It's a rodent. I think the original species might've been dormouse. Maybe."
"Any sexual abnormalities?"
"How d'ya know? Yeah, a dead-end vagina. No uterus."
Bethany appoached us, carrying Aravah in her arms. I could see that he was in a worse state than Emunah. Aravah was literally falling apart. I shuddered as a nail dripped from one of his fingers. A quick etheric inspection established that he was still alive. But only just.
"What's wrong with him?" asked Beth. She was frightened.
"It's a disease. One tailored to harish physiology."
"Using wildlife as carriers." Shahar surmised. "A biological landmine. Humans made it, right?"
"Yes." I confirmed."Done out of pure malice. A gift for future Wraeththu wayfarers."
I guess they put Wraeththu DNA into the bugs. Hence the evil woodland mutants."
"Is this gonna happen to us too?" asked Bethany.
"No, Beth." I assured her. "Parazha differ just enough from hara to not be affected."
"So what are we gonna do, then?" she demanded of me.
"I have this really bad idea." I told her.
CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: EMUNAH
"Emunah's awake." I heard Kerith say.
I opened my eyes. The light from the fire was dazzling. I felt hot, cold, dizzy and nauseous. My skin was raw. Beth came into my field of vision.
"Hey, Emmy." she greeted me. "How ya doing?"
"Zero by zero." I told her. "What's wrong with me?"
"Kez says you picked up some bug. You're real sick." Bethany took a breath. "In fact, you're dying." Her eyes were wet.
"Your inception's reversing itself." said Kerith. "Grissecon* isn't feasible; we don't have the proper combination of essences and knowledge. I could summon help but it's unlikely you'd survive the wait."
"So there's nothing you can do, then?" I asked her.
"We've got something that might work." said Bethany. "Basically, we re-incept you. Kerith knows of an interrupted inception that got fixed that way, but..."
"Ara's ill, too." said Kerith. "So we'll have to use paragine blood. You're both hara so this is unknown territory."
I wailed with frustration and dismay. "Red's got the germ, too? Fuck!"
"He's got it worse." said Shahar, coming into view with a transfusion kit. "His original inception was imperfect. The energy centres in his soume-lam** are malformed. The one's in his ouana-lim never formed at all."
"Do you consent to this procedure?" Kerith asked.
"Hell, yeah!" I replied. I grabbed Bethany's hand, squeezed it. "I wish I'd jumped your bones back in Sunnydale. Willow's too."
"Why didn't you?" asked Beth.
"It would've been wicked fun. But I didn't want to ruin our friendship." I told her with total seriousness.
Bethany frowned. I gave an inner sigh. She still had no sense of humour. None at all.
* An act of ritual sex magic.
** The female generative organs of Wraeththu.
CHAPTER THIRTY: SHAHAR
Kerith came out of trance. She'd been conferring with a colleague in distant Shilalama*. She blinked her eyes.
"So what did Zack have to say?" I asked her.
"I misrembered the details of Terez's case." she confessed. "They did use grissecon to heal him, but as we couldn't do that..."
"We'd have done what we did, anyway." I finished for her. "Hey, Beth!" I called. "How're the patients?"
"Emmy's not awake yet. Ara's still going through althaia." she replied. "Oh! I think you might wanna see this."
Kez and I exchanged worried glances and made our way over. Emunah had taken a week to fully transform. Bethany was cleaning the post-inception gunk from her.
"Well, I'll be!" exclaimed Kerith.
"What?" I asked impatiently.
"Emmy's a parage now."
Beth looked at Kez anxiously. "Is that bad?"
Kerith quirked an eyebrow. Grinned. "No, I think it's good. It's better. She'll be conscious in a few hours and I think Aravah will come out of althaia sometime tomorrow. I wouldn't be surprised if she's a parage, too."
I flicked my eyes sideways at Bethany, smirked at Kez. "Do newly incepted parazha need aruna to set the change?" I asked her.
Kerith caught on immediately. "No, not normally" she said with the most considered judiciousness. "But I see no reason to take chances. Are you volunteering for this honerous task, Shar?"
"Like hell, she is!" yelled Beth. "That's my job!" Then she noticed us both laughing at her. "You bitcas!" she groused and burst into laughter, too.
* The chief city of the land of the Roselane which is located in the region straddling the border between the former Russia and Kazakhstan.
CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE: ARAVAH
Author's Note: ~ indicates character thoughts.
My face snuggled into Bethany's breast, my thighs wrapped around her hips, my hands stroking her back. Listening to her heart beat, the exhalation of her breath. This was one of the three places in the world I wanted to be. Oz and Kennedy would have brought the tally to five. I could hear the ecstatic cries and moans as Kerith and Shahar took make-up aruna together. That was a bittersweet thing for me. But Kez was happy so I would bear it. I could feel Emunah's presence nearby as she-
"Where do you think you're going, missy?" I asked Emmy sternly as she tried to sneak off.
Emunah froze and turned slowly to face us. "I..." she faltered.
"I don't understand exactly what's between you and me, but I do know your place is with us."
"She's right." said Beth. "Come here, my love."
Emmy smiled, full dimple parade, and moved into the circle of our embrace. Who knows how long we were like that, holding and being held, just being. I wished, then, that we could have had this long ago but I realised that in Sunnydale the proper time and season would never have come to pass. Love seldom prospered on the Hellmouth. Besides, we'd been all of us fools: Buffy with her aloofness and rampant ego, Faith with her fear and bravado and anger, me with my clingy insecurity and jealousy.
"Ara." said Bethany. She hesitated. "We still have Kennedy between us."
~Yes, we do, don't we?~ I thought to myself. ~Damn you, Beth!~
CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO: EMUNAH
I haven't had many moments of pure peace over the years. But since my inception I've learned to appreciate that kind of tranquility and I cherish it when I get it. So imagine how I felt when Beth opened her big mouth.
"Dammit, Beth!" I snapped at her. "Why? Why do you pull this crap? Why won't you just be happy, for once? Why'd ya keep looking down the gift horse's throat to count the Trojans?" I despised myself for the whineyness in my voice.
"Watched 'Troy', have we?" she asked sarcastically.
"Read the 'Iliad', actually." I replied shortly and was about to lose it when Ara placed a finger on my lips. "Hush!" she ordered.
"Bethany's always been like this." explained Aravah. "She's got this sort of nunnish penitence thing which no amount of love or understanding or aruna is gonna get rid of. It's just the way she is. She'll pretty much have to be seduced into any kind of intimacy, arunic or otherwise. Loving Buffy is hard work." She grinned at me. "Worth it though, Emmy, don't ya think?"
Ara looked directly at Beth, pinning her with the infamous Resolve Face. "Now to the issue at hand. Bethany, Kennedy never deliberately hurt me. Why do you think she did?"
"You were eating all the time. You got really fat." Beth answered. "You kept being sick."
"Oh!" Aravah realised. "Bulimia. You thought I was bulimic and that Kenn was responsible for that."
"Well, sorry to disappoint you but that was due to all the Hellmouths closing and the nature of magic changing. What? You didn't think that wouldn't affect me? But you knew this. I distinctly remember telling you back then, 'cause it was one of the rare occasions when I explained something to you that your eyes didn't glaze over."
Ara suddenly pounced, kissed Beth and put her hand down the front of Bethany's pants. Beth made this high-pitched squeal.
"Ha! Knew it!" cried Aravah triumphantly. "Shoe-sale noise!"
CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE: BETHANY
Author's Note: I've never written a sex scene before so I hope it works.
Aravah took my head in her hands and shared breath* with me. The bitterness of myrrh had gone, replaced by the scent of apple blossom. Feelings and memories flowed from Ara into me; of her with Faith, with Oz, with Tara, with Kennedy, her with me. Love and nostalgia, affection and hate, lust and sadness flooded through me. This was why I always feared intimacy and why I always wanted it to go on forever. I felt Aravah's hand in the folds of my soume-lam, her fingers stroking the energy centres inside. Imagine having seven combo clitores and g-spots inside your vagina. That's how it is for me, for us Wraeththu.
Ara hesitated. "Oh, that's never happened before!" She was looking down at her erect ouana-lim.
I remembered what Shahar hold told me when Aravah and Emmy had been sick. "You've never been ouana**, have you? Always soume***."
Ara nodded. Then she shivered with delight. Emunah was beside her, licking her neck. "Let Beth guide you round the curves." suggested Emmy. "You be ouana for her, soume for me."
I can't recall the getting undressed part or how we mutually arranged the geometries of aruna but suddenly we all fit together. Emunah kneeling, clasping Aravah's breasts from behind, penetrating her. Me, impaled on Ara, my hands caressing Emmy's back, fingering Aravah's nipples. Emunah would thrust upwards, I would push downwards, a see-saw of ecstasy. Aravah was mewling and sobbing and wailing with pleasure. ~Let this never stop.~ I thought.
* A kiss of mutual visualisation.
** In the context of aruna, the male role.
*** In the context of aruna, the female role.
CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: KERITH
Author's Note: The last chapter! The story will be continued in "Bringing Blessed Balm".
Shahar and I were in a desert, one I had visited, long ago. Then, it had been sunlit but now it was dark. Stars swarmed and danced in the sky, the moon waxing and waning so swiftly that it seemed to pulsate.
"Where the hell are we?" asked Shar in wonder. "Certainly not Kansas."
I smiled. "Judging by the plant life, I'd say somewhere in southwestern Megalithica. But it's not, of course."
"Well, duh! I've never seen this realm before but it feels familiar." Shahar's eyes widened. "It feels like Buffy."
"That's because I dreamt this once." came Bethany's voice from behind us. "I thought I'd lost this place for ever."
Both of us turned and saw Beth, Ara and Emmy. Then a har with a shaven head walked by us, stopping to announce sadly "No more milk. No more cheese." before leaving.
Bethany grinned wryly. "The Cheese Man is now a Cheese Har. Figures." She frowned. "He didn't have any cheese."
"I think this was always a real place." I said to her. "But now we can see it more clearly."
"We're all still in aruna , aren't we?" she said.
"Yes." I replied."I think this is your Cauldron of Creation*."
"She doesn't dwell here any more." Beth's face became distant. "Her duty has been ceded."
"She?" Emunah queried.
"Sineya. The First Slayer."
Shar pointed with her hand. "There's a building over there." We followed her gaze. A wooden, white painted house appeared out of the shifting light.
"It's, it's home." said Bethany and suddenly we were outside her old bedroom. Tara was there peering through the half-open door. Buffy and Willow were sitting close together on the bed. The room was poorly lit. Tara looked so desolate. I felt rage and sadness. I wanted to confront Buffy and Willow, I wanted to save my younger self from her folly. Desire became intention, intention became reality. Now we were there in truth.
Tara jumped with apprehension. She opened her mouth, to scream I thought, but instead she addressed me. Her eyes were full of tears. "Momma?"
* The part of the Wraeththu where conception takes place and souls and other energies can enter and leave the world.
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