Endings and Beginnings
ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS
DISCLAIMER: I don’t own the characters of BTVS or W.I.T.C.H. and I earn no profit in writing this.
Will was getting tired again, and knew she would have to rest soon. For a length of time she couldn’t begin to guess at, she had been moving through a dense forest without a sign of civilization, human or otherwise. It had been several hours since she’d even seen a trail, which made the trek all the more difficult. The terrain had varied between clearings with brush so thick it was near impossible to force her way through, and places where the trees grew so close together that their upper branches, even at noon, allowed too little light to get through to support any plant life beneath them, and Will was reduced to feeling her way through the darkness. She wanted very much to stop, but couldn’t. It was hard to concentrate as it was. Questions about what was drawing her on, where she was being drawn to, and why seemed to evaporate before she could properly pose them. Physical exhaustion didn’t help matters. The pull was strong, but it wouldn’t keep her on her feet for too much longer.
Something up ahead caught her eye. A small stone building became dimly visible through the trees, a building that Will knew she just had to reach. Her fatigue momentarily forgotten, she pushed forward through the underbrush and onto a patch of relatively clear ground. There was a small stone house with a thatched roof not a hundred yards away.
The green stone around her neck seemed to pull at her almost physically, now, and she stumbled toward the door of the small house. That door opened, and the fog lifted a bit as her goal came into sight. The Mage smiled in welcome.
“Ah, Will. We have been very worried about you.”
“M-mage?” Will blinked and shook her head, trying to clear her mind. “What happened? I-I was with Aldarn, making plans to go to Kandrakhar when…” She broke off and shook her head. “I’m not sure.”
“You disappeared, Will. We were frantic with worry, believing that the sorceress had captured or slain you.”
“Well… I was attacked, but I managed to get away. Then…” She glanced down at the Stone of Threbe. “The Stone! You used this to find me and lead me here!”
“Yes. A drastic step, perhaps, but we had no idea what had become of you. The Stone offers protection while it guides the one to whom it is sent.” Will moved to take it off. “No. While you wear it, our enemies are kept at bay. Until we know more about what happened, you should keep it.”
“I… suppose,” Will sighed. “Can’t wait to get rid of this thing, though. You have no idea how…” she struggled for a word and finally settled on “unpleasant
it is being ‘guided’ by this rock. I feel like I’ve been walking for days! How long has it been, anyway?”
“Almost three days since you vanished from Heatherfield. The sooner we discover the truth about our enemy and the attack on you, the sooner you will be able to return home safely. I believe a simple spell of revelation will answer many of our questions.”
“Spell of revelation? Okay then. What do you need to do?”
“I will require the Heart of Kandrakhar. It has been with you the entire time and will have…perceived things you did not.” She held out her hand, and Will removed the Heart, tangling the chain with the chord from which the Stone of Threbe hung. She removed both and separated them. The Stone was snatched out of her hand, causing her to jump back, clutching the Heart. Both whirled to see the Stone fly through the air and slap into the outstretched hand of an unfamiliar redheaded woman.
“Revelation? Sounds good to me.” She raised her free hand and muttered a few words of Latin. There was a bright flash of light, and in its wake, illusions were stripped away. Will gasped as she recognized the hag from her dreams. “Back away from her, Will. Leave this ‘sorceress’ to me.”
“Hey, don’t leave us out,” a familiar voice called. Will looked around for Hay Lin, but didn’t see her. The hag looked around as well, trying to identify the source as she backed away from the unknown witch. Snatching the Stone of Threbe in the manner she had should have been impossible. For that matter, approaching her hideout undetected should have been impossible. Whoever the stranger was, she was powerful. Her retreat ended with a startled exclamation and a loud thud. She looked up from where she lay on her back, and saw Hay Lin flicker into existence. The small Asian grinned from the position she’d taken, kneeling behind her.
“I’ve always wanted to do that,” Hay Lin smiled brightly before vanishing again and moving away. “Will! How ‘bout giving us a makeover?”
Gathering her wits, Will raised the Heart. “Guardians unite!”
The usual fireworks subsided leaving herself, Hay Lin, and one other in guardian form. Will stared. So did Nerissa.
“What? How?” The old sorceress stared at the second Will as she clambered to her feet, at a loss to explain how that had come about.
“Remember me, Nerissa,” the second Will demanded. “You killed me.” Nerissa stared at the identical Guardians for a moment, then decided to sort it out later. Raising the Heart of Meridian, she lashed out in several directions at once with bolts of lightning. The Guardians dodged, one of the Wills shouting to the strange witch. “Look out!”
The warning proved unnecessary. An invisible shield turned the bolt away harmlessly. She smiled at Nerissa and spoke a single word. “Thicken.”
The former Guardian’s eyes widened in shock as the air congealed around her. She struggled against it but found that she was stuck fast. Drawing on the Heart of Meridian, she sent a pulse of raw force spreading outward like a ripple. The jewel crackled and glowed with power, and the encasing substance seemed to shatter, sending her enemies tumbling across the clearing. Hay Lin fetched up against a tree and was knocked unconscious. The two Wills hit the ground farther away. Both were conscious but had had the wind knocked out of them. Not a threat for the moment. “A fine spell,” she allowed, advancing on the strange witch who looked up at her, shaking her head to clear it. Her shield spell had offered her some protection, but not enough. “I’ll have to remember that one.” Again, she lashed out with lightning. Again it was turned aside.
“I’ll admit you have raw power,” the stranger said, glaring up at her, trying to catch her breath. “Lots of it, but its not yours. You’ve stolen it from someone else, and that makes all the difference. Probably why you’re so clumsy with it, too.”
Nerissa glared at the impudent young witch. Clumsy? How dare she? “You have no conception of my power. With the Heart, I-” Even as she raised the jewel she caught a motion from the corner of her eye. A small female foot, sheathed in an Earth-made running shoe came down on her wrist like an axe and Nerissa screamed as she felt the bones break. The Heart of Meridian flew in one direction even as she was sent flying in another.
She forced herself to her feet, despite the horrible throbbing in her jaw. “You’ll pay for that.” Nerissa glared at the girl who had just scooped up the Heart.
“Not so tough without your jewelry, are you?” Danielle smirked at her. “We’ll be returning this to its rightful owner, now.”
“I think not.”
“Danielle! Look out!” Mina shouted, rushing forward.
Nerissa called the Heart to her, leaving a surprised Slayer empty handed as it vanished before her eyes. The lightning bolt the ex-Guardian threw caught her square in the chest, blasting her off her feet. Nerissa immediately had to ward off attacks from the two conscious Guardians and the witch.
More trouble materialized in the form of an arrow passing inches in front of her face. She turned to see Aldarn with Matt and another unfamiliar human girl by his side, leading a company of guards through the forest. She quickly assessed her options and came to the conclusion that there was nothing to be gained from fighting. The chance to acquire the Heart of Kandrakhar was gone. Her guise as the Mage had been ruined, meaning she could no longer spy on the Council. Even the Stone of Threbe was lost to her. With a growl of irritation, she teletransported away.
Maria screamed in frustrated rage as she reached the edge of the clearing and put on a burst of speed that had her at the place Nerissa had stood in barely a heartbeat ago. “Where is she?!”
“Gone,” Will answered in a voice that was almost a growl. “She always does that when the odds turn against her.”
Maria wasn’t listening. She had already rushed to Danielle’s side. The younger Slayer still wore the surprised expression she’d had when the Heart of Meridian had vanished from her hand. Maria collapsed next to her sister Slayer, who looked even smaller in death than she had in life.
Susan had hung back, just as Mina had asked, but she had gotten close enough to see what was happening, and she had seen everything. She had seen Nerissa murder a child. She had seen her own child lash out viciously with the same impossible seeming power that Nerissa possessed. Finally, she had seen Maria, yet another child, begin to mourn a loss she should never have had to suffer.
Glancing around the rapidly filling clearing, she realized that, aside from Willow, she was the only human adult in the area, and she wasn’t sure she should count Willow. The self-proclaimed witch had not displayed adult responsibility. Children should not be doing this. This has to stop.
That, however, could wait. Calling to her girls, she approached them at a stumbling run. It suddenly didn’t matter how Mina had come to be or what they would do next; it only mattered that both were alive and well. Sweeping both into a hug, she clung tightly with no plans to release them in the near future.
“Um, mom?” She heard one of them venture after a moment. “I love you, too, but I can’t breathe.”
Upon being released, Will stared at her mother in mute incomprehension. “What are you doing here? How-?”
“I saw you disappear on the street, and Maria and Danielle were nearby. I…we… kind of put things together between us.” Deciding that explanations could wait, she began examining the girls for injuries. Both squirmed and offered half-hearted protests, glancing at the guards around them who were studiously ignoring the reunion as Aldarn gave orders that the place be torn apart for any clue to where Nerissa might have gone or what her next move might be.
Yan Lin appeared in the clearing a moment later, having regained her ability to teletransport, and rushed to Hay Lin who, with Matt’s assistance, was just getting to her feet. The old Chinese woman gave her granddaughter a hug and turned to survey the scene. Susan glared at her, muttering, “and I’m still the only rational adult here.” The girls she still held close heard and gasped.
“That’s not fair, mom! You don’t know the whole story.”
“She will soon enough.” They all turned to see Willow and Maria approaching, the Slayer’s cheeks tear stained, but her gaze unwavering. “I want to know everything, too. Tell me about your war. Tell me about Nerissa.”
“Maria,” Mina began hesitantly, but the older girl cut her off.
“Slayers have a tradition of revenge.” Her tone and the look in her eyes brooked no argument. “She killed one of us today. That can’t go unanswered. Your enemy is now our enemy.”