Malandanza - August 08 2001
“Does this remind you of anything, Nighthawk?” Willow asked playfully. Xander spun his wooden stake in his hand as he continued walking then smiled and turned to her to respond, but caught Anya’s disapproving glare. This was the moment.
Anya, Xander and Willow had taken up patrolling together since Buffy’s demise. Giles had already left for England and Tara was still experiencing flashes of incoherence after her brush with divinity, although the episodes were becoming less and less frequent. At some point during the nightly patrols, without fail, the camaraderie would melt away and Willow and Anya would begin fighting with Xander as the reluctant arbiter. After of month of these petty disputes, he had become fairly adept at recognizing their beginnings.
“Why did she call you ‘Nighthawk’?” Anya demanded.
No matter whose side he took, he would be in trouble, so Xander was trying a new tactic tonight – feigning ignorance. He would reply to their loaded questions as if they had been asked in earnest. “It was a code name,” he replied evenly. “A few years ago, Buffy was away for the summer and we sort of took up the slack while she sorted things out – patrolling and such.”
“Just the two of you?” Anya asked suspiciously.
“All of us,” Willow supplied helpfully. “Giles, me and Oz, and Xander and Cordelia. Didn't Cordy come up with your name, Xander?”
“She is referencing events that happened before I met you – again,” Anya said sullenly. “She does this intentionally –“
“Sorry, Anya,” Willow interrupted in a tone that belied her words, “I forgot that I was supposed to erase everything not pertaining to Anya from my mind. I’ll stick to Anya-centric anecdotes from now on – like the time you ordered the vampires to kill me.”
Ignorance wasn’t working. The basic problem was that Anya refused to accept that Willow was part of his past and Willow refused to believe that Anya was part of his future. He would have to try to make peace between them.
But they had stopped – stopped arguing and stopped walking – looking straight ahead. He followed their gazes.
They had assiduously avoided it since the funeral – not consciously, of course. But somehow they never seemed to get around to it during their patrols.
Not that it was particularly grim or foreboding. There were twelve cemeteries in Sunnydale, five of which were in current use. In recent times, much of the former business had dried up and the competition between competing funeral homes was brisk – each trying to outdo the others in creating a friendly environment to lure in the remaining clientele – or their survivors. With its whitewashed walls, carefully manicured lawn and profusion of flowering plants, the cemetery looked about as foreboding as a golf course.
From the outside, anyway.
Once inside, no amount of whitewash could disguise the tombstones.
“We should probably check things out,” Xander suggested, although he made no move toward the gates.
“Do we need to?” Willow asked. “We haven’t seen any vamps tonight. Things have been pretty dead lately – good dead, not bad dead – dead in the non-ambulatory sense of the word.”
“Maybe the vampires are hiding out here,” Anya suggested. “Using Buffy’s grave as a sanctuary because they know we're afraid to go near it.”
“You’re so morbid,” Willow snapped, ”And we’re not ‘afraid’ to go in – it would just be, you know, disrespectful to start fights on her grave.” Her voice wavered – none of them had set foot inside the cemetery since the funeral. Willow continued thoughtfully, “Although it would have a sort of irony to it – vampires clinging to the slayer’s grave for protection.”
“We should probably check,” Xander repeated absently.
“We could peek over the walls and see if everything’s okay,” Willow suggested. “We wouldn’t have to go in unless something was wrong.”
“We have a plan,” Xander said. The three of them hesitated a moment longer, none of them wishing to take the first step, before cautiously advancing to the low wall of the graveyard and peering over the edge.
“Nothing,” Willow sighed with relief.
“Nada,” Xander agreed.
“There!” Anya shouted and pointed. Xander’s gaze involuntarily followed his girlfriend’s finger – directly to Buffy’s grave.
Light and movement – there could be no doubt. Someone – or something – was tampering with the slayer’s final resting place.
The interlopers were gone by the time Xander reached the grave, but evidence of their presence abounded: still-burning votive candles, fresh flowers, runic symbols traced in chalk and a profusion of small brown objects… He bent over to examine one as Anya and Willow, a little slower at vaulting the wall than he had been, joined him.
“Stuffed animals,” he said, holding one of them up to show the girls. “Of the hedgehog species. Hedgehogus plushus, I believe.”
Willow took one from his hand and peered at it. “Linnaeus would be proud,” she said with a frown.
They walked slowly and quietly out of the cemetery – through the gates, this time. Anya carried one of the hedgehogs with her, turning it carefully over in her hands.
“I-it must’ve been Dawn,” Willow said, abruptly breaking the silence. Xander nodded. He had been thinking the same thing. Buffy had collected stuffed animals when she was younger and even after becoming the slayer she had continued this hobby, albeit somewhat erratically. She had purchased a hedgehog on a whim and had named it “Mr. Pointy,” after her lucky stake. Somehow, Mr. Pointy had ended up in Dawn’s possession. At Buffy’s funeral, Dawn had left the toy at the graveside. Now there were twenty or thirty of the stuffed animals scattered about the grave. “I-if she only brought one of them a day to the cemetery,” Willow continued, “she would’ve needed to be here almost every single day since the, uh, death. It’s not healthy.”
“No it isn’t,” Xander agreed.
“Still, it’s nice that someone was visiting, leaving flowers and other remembrances,” Anya remarked in her usual off-hand manner. “I know Xander and I haven’t been there since the funeral.” Xander and Willow exchanged guilty looks.
“That’s, umm, a lot of hedgehogs,” Xander commented uneasily. “I wonder where she gets them? It’s not like there’s a huge hedgehog market in Sunnydale.”
“They appear to be hand-made,” Anya said. “I haven’t seen craftsmanship like this since the 15th century. Old World quality. Plus, no ‘made in China’ tags. It looks like it’s made from real fur,” she continued, “probably cat.”
“Cat!” Willow exclaimed.
“Even more disturbing,” Xander said. “Can you imagine Dawn spending hours sewing these things together? And I don’t even want to think about where would she get the cat fur – what am I saying? Dawn can’t sew! Remember that Halloween when she tried to make her own costume? She ended up in tears and Buffy had to give her the Little Red Riding Hood costume she was going to wear and went costumeless…” he trailed off. It was another false memory.
“Maybe those old people she’s staying with help her,” Anya suggested. “It would just be like them to make their own hedgehogs instead of supporting the domestic hedgehog market. People like them cause recessions,” she remarked darkly. “They might even raise their own cats.”
“Forget the hedgehogs for a minute,” Xander said. “What about the symbols? Black magic or vampire graffiti?”
“There are generally two reasons people do magic by a grave,” Anya said. “The first is to try to bring the person back, or, at least, establish communication with them. The second is to make sure they can’t come back. Warding rituals and curses and such.”
“That lets Dawn off the hook,” Xander mused. “She doesn’t know any magic.” Neither Xander nor Anya noticed Willow blanch at the remark. “It just doesn’t make any sense. We should stake out the grave for the next couple of nights, try to catch whoever’s responsible in the act.” For the first time that night, Anya and Willow agreed on something.
“In the meantime, I’ll consult my library,” Willow offered, “see if I can find a match for the symbols.” Anya glowered at her. The unity had not lasted long – Willow’s 'library' was a collection of books left to her by Giles before he returned to England – a collection that Anya had thought should have been left to her. Now whenever Willow mentioned her library, and she seemed to mention it with surprising regularity, Anya sulked – and afterward complained bitterly to Xander about the injustice in the world.
It did not take long for the stakeout to achieve its results. The following Friday night Xander and Anya discovered the culprits: Glory’s ex-minions. A dozen of them had been nestled around the tombstone, chanting and genuflecting when Xander disrupted the ceremony – they fled, but Xander captured one. The interrogation was not going well – for ten minutes the captive minion confessed freely, but each confession left Xander more puzzled than the last. Then there was the disturbingly obsequious manner and the fanciful titles that the minion used for both Xander and Anya.
“Indeed, my most spectacularly beneficent master, your humble servants have been preparing the way for her magnificent return,” the minion prattled.
“Glory’s return?” Xander demanded.
“Certainly not, oh numinous one,” it wheedled ingratiatingly. “She was no true deity; merely a pretender sent to try our devotion and lead us astray. No, I speak of the Holy One, She of the Golden Hair and Sacred Hammer, the Slayer of Gods whose ineffable name may only be spoken by her most Faithful Disciples.”
The minion bowed before Xander in an expression of pure ecstasy at the sound of her name. Xander blinked blankly at Anya.
“I think I get it,” Anya said. She pulled Xander aside and whispered to him, “Suppose you worshipped a god – but then someone killed her. What would you do?”
“I don’t know. Become an atheist?” he whispered back.
“Right, or kill yourself or find a new god – a more powerful one.”
“If you’re looking for a more powerful god, what could be more natural than looking to whoever killed your old god?” she asked. Xander didn’t understand. Anya said bluntly, “They worship Buffy now.”
“But she’s dead.”
“Yes,” she said patiently, “but they seem to think that she will return. More importantly, they think we are her disciples.”
“You and me, of course. Probably Willow, Tara, Giles and Dawn as well – maybe not Dawn; they know she’s the key. Maybe Spike.”
“What do we do about them? We can’t let them keep having their weird prayer meetings at Buffy’s grave.”
“So tell them to keep a distance – they should do whatever you say – try it.”
Xander turned back to the minion. “Listen to me…” he began.
“I attend your most sacred words,” the minion replied, bowing and scraping. “I am your unworthy servant.”
“Um,” he continued, “yeah, okay – I don’t want you coming near Buffy’s grave again.”
“Can this truly be your command?” the minion replied in shock. “Is this not just a test? Have I displeased you? Have we not offered the appropriate sacrifices of flowers, fragrant candles and false hedgehogs? Please, have mercy and slay me at once if my sins have been so severe that I am to be banished from the sacred shrine!”
“Slaying won’t be necessary – just stay at least fifty feet away. And tell your friends it goes for them, too,” Xander commanded.
“Only the disciples may approach closer,” Anya added, her voice began rising, “You have not yet proven your worth. Now, begone!” The minion fled in terror and humiliation.
“That was fun,” Anya remarked, beaming as she turned to Xander. “It’s been a long time since anyone has bowed down to me in obeisance.”
“We’ve got to do something about this,” Xander said quietly.
“What do you mean, ‘Why’?”
“I mean, why do we have to do anything about this?” Anya asked him. Xander looked stunned. “What’s wrong with having a group of faithful minions doing our bidding? They could help out around the store when you’re at work – lifting the heavy boxes, sorting the inventory in the back room – and we wouldn’t have to pay them! Plus, when we move into a house, they could help with the yard work,” she added. Xander appeared unconvinced. Anya continued, “And think about Dawn – they could help protect her! Wouldn’t it be better to have them as willing slaves instead of mortal enemies?”
“We should talk about this with the others.” The excitement faded from Anya’s face, replaced by a sort of sullen petulance. “He said they were ‘preparing the way’ for Buffy’s return. Any chance they can actually bring her back? And why would that be a bad thing?”
Anya shrugged. “Resurrection magic has always been around – not surprising when you consider how obsessed humans are with death. Most of the time, people wanting to bring someone back are unskilled in such matters and use whatever spell they happen to find first. Results are typically disappointing – rotting zombies, soulless simulacra – but these things happen when amateurs meddle in magic. Now a professional, with, say four or five months to prepare and a cult to help with the rituals shouldn’t have as much trouble. It’s possible. She might not be exactly like the Buffy we knew – death tends to change people – but she’d still be Buffy.”
Xander lapsed into thoughtful silence. They walked on for time. “The titles were kinda cool,” he finally admitted. “What does ‘numinous’ mean, anyway?”
~ to be continued ~
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