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Chapter Twenty-Six: Breaking the Chains

THE REALM OF ARASHMAHARR

-Anya-

One moment, the Patron Saint of Women Scorned had been staring straight into the face of evil, mentally reaching for the spiritual signature of a suitably vengeful friend... and the next, she'd found herself staring into another face entirely. One much less welcoming. And more problematic to deal with.

"Oh, my dear Anyanka," D'Hoffryn said, shaking his head with a grave expression as he turned to pace a circle around her. "You've been a naughty girl, haven't you?"

The space around them was dark, lit only where she was standing, as though she had arrived on a vast stage. But if she was a player, where was the audience? The only other person present was the Lord of Arashmaharr; it reminded Anyanka of the last time she'd visited his realm, cheeks streaked with tears and the skirts of her bridal gown rumpled beneath her on a chair. Only this time, she hadn't asked for an invitation.

"What is this?" she objected. Didn't he realize she was in a hurry? "This isn't where I meant to go. Why did you bring me here?"

"You honestly need to ask?" The blue, horned demon made a tsk'ing sound, reaching up to stroke a hand over his long, pale beard. "Every time I check in with you lately, you claim to be exploring exciting new fields of vengeance-- excuse me, justice. But what do I find when I take a closer look?

"A preference change. A simple relocation. And a bit of wound transference, to name a few of the 'highlights'. Pathetic. The curse on those arrogant young men to make them preemptively feel the effects of their intentions upon their victims was inventive, I'll grant you that; but tame in comparison to your former heights of glory. Worryingly tame. Where was the blood? The delightful cruelty you were always so well known for? And worst of all, the punishment you granted the one who hurt you: a maturity hex. Really, Anyanka? You could think of nothing better?"

A shiver of uneasiness shot down Anyanka's spine at his dismissive tone; she quelled it ruthlessly, tipping her chin up in defiance.

"Yes, well. Every man I cursed is one less out there scorning women, isn't that what I'm supposed to be doing? And anyway, you let Halfrek get away with calling it justice."

It might sound like she was trying to make excuses, but it was the truth. Most of the men she'd cursed had clearly been guilty, and were unlikely to repeat their mistakes. Even Jonathan; he might not have been the type to scorn women on his own, but he had followed his little friends' lead right up until the malicious one's girlfriend had died of it, and would never willingly submit to the authority of a man like that again. So he counted, too. Really, he was lucky Buffy had been so explicit about the other two's final punishment! It wasn't as if Anyanka was entirely pursuing her own agenda, just... trying to prove she didn't have to be evil just because she wasn't human anymore. What was so objectionable about that?

She'd gotten a little too used to having free will, she supposed. She'd forgotten-- or been trying to ignore the fact-- that she was answerable to a being who actively seduced angry, hurting young women at the darkest points of their lives. Justice wasn't exactly a key plank of his agenda. That probably should have occurred to her before.

"Halfrek hasn't lost any of her creativity with the change in terminology," D'Hoffryn chided her. "You know, what pains me most isn't the jaunty white hat you've put on to dazzle your little band of heroes; it's the fact that you aren't even trying anymore. One would think you're playing me for a fool; that you came to me with crocodile tears to steal the power of the Wish for the Slayer's use. Is it because of the boy? Do you still believe you love him? Even after what he did?"

The mocking tone in his voice made Anyanka want to cringe; it made her feel a little like an insect trapped under a magnifying glass. She'd actually done that to a particularly persistent stalker once, not long before meeting Xander.... all right, so D'Hoffryn wasn't exactly wrong about the fact that her attempts at justice tended to be a lot less painful than inspired vengeance. But that had been the point!

Another time, she might have properly groveled, tried to convince him that he had nothing to worry about, held onto the power a little longer. But she couldn't afford to show that much weakness. Or think too much about Xander's... Xanderness. Not when she had much more important things to be doing.

"You're issuing a warning. I get it. I'm sorry; I must be a little rusty. But can we have the rest of this conversation later? It's just, there's this man out there who's really in need of immediate vengeance...."

"And you know just the person to wish it upon him, I suppose," D'Hoffryn drawled, mockingly. "Let me guess. The Slayer, perhaps?"

"What does it matter? He's going to pay. As painfully as possible. If you'd just let me...." She reached with the senses she used to teleport to her callers' sides again, then winced at the feeling of running headlong into a brick wall.

"Ah, ah, ah. Not so fast, my dear. This is not an offense that can be brushed off with a mere warning. You're a big girl. You understand how it works. The proverbial scales must balance-- and you've thrown them sadly in the Slayer's direction of late."

Balance? Something about that word tickled at the back of Anyanka's scrambling thoughts-- and she gasped as she remembered Wesley's explanation about the prophecy. The prophecy of the Rule: the balance the four Chosen were prophesied to uphold... in the same verse that predicted the un-anchoring of the Hellmouth. Which would soon be moving to England, if Travers kept going like he was... because of the very same spell that had kept Anyanka trapped in Faith's bedroom with her almost-corpse for hours.

"If I have, it's because you've been falling down on the job," she rallied, tossing her hair back over her shoulder as a surge of triumph buoyed her up. "Or hadn't you noticed that someone's managed to reconstruct a magic-exclusive internally-focused shield matrix?"

That finally got D'Hoffryn's attention; he froze mid-stride, turning to stare sharply at her. "You are lying."

"Not about this." She made a scoffing noise. "I was trapped behind one for hours; why do you think I'm in such a hurry now? Imagine my surprise that not only did you not manage to burn all copies of those spells out of existence as you claimed to, you're holding me back from punishing the man who rediscovered them! I think the other lords of Arashmaharr would be surprised about that, too. What do you think?"

"Are you blackmailing me?" he replied indignantly.

Anyanka pressed her hands into tight fists to keep them from shaking as she stood her ground. It had been more than a thousand years since D'Hoffryn had found her, since he'd taken her in; she had to be mad, going directly against him after all that time. But she'd changed; mortality, and the immediacy of caring that came with it, had changed her. She'd caught it like some exotic human virus, hanging around with Xander and his friends, and even after she'd shed her human form again she couldn't shake it.

She felt an unexpected pang of sympathy for Spike, and felt her nerves settle at the reminder that she was still a part of the group. Even without Xander. It had been stupid of her to bare her throat to the demon lord at a moment of weakness and expect him not to take shameless advantage.

"Yes," she said, tipping her chin up again. "If that's what it takes."

D'Hoffryn stared at her a moment longer, then chuckled. "There's my vicious girl. It's almost enough to make me forgive the rest of it-- almost. One wish, then. Just the one, before I revoke your power. And if the threat of these trap spells disappears with it-- I'll clear the slate and call it even."

Anyanka swallowed at that, remembering how good it had felt to get her power back after three years without. How terrified she'd been at the start of those three years, stranded in a world a millennia and a continent away from the one she'd grown up in, with only the social skills that had gotten her scorned in the first place to rely on. She'd be human again. A failure, again. She wouldn't be-- well, inhuman-- if that didn't give her pause.

"Just one?" she replied. "Didn't you hear what I just said? Even you weren't able to eradicate the threat of these spells the last time they wreaked havoc, with all the power at your command, and you think I can do it with one wish?"

"The Anyanka I taught and trained could have. The one I see before me? Well. Think of it as a challenge."

The lesser of two possible evils, then. "And if I fail?"

"The fates will require a sacrifice," he continued in a sinister purr. "The life and soul of a vengeance demon should do nicely."

On the other hand, she would know what to expect this time. She'd done it once. She could do it again. Right? The thought made her insides quiver disconcertingly, but he was giving her no choice. Well, he was; but it was a choice she had already made, and couldn't bring herself to change now, no matter how alarming the consequences.

"Nothing like a little pressure," she smiled tightly. "Now, if you don't mind? I really must be going."

"More so than you know," D'Hoffryn smirked, making a gesture of dismissal. "I wish you luck!"

Anyanka noticed that he hadn't said what kind of luck... and then the significance of his other comment hit. She'd forgotten that time didn't always pass at the same rate in Arashmaharr as in the outside world.

"Oh, bunnies!" she swore. Then she quickly gathered her will, focused on the brightest point of vicious anger among the group she'd come to call friend, and reached for that emotional beacon.

This time, it worked. D'Hoffryn disappeared... and she found herself standing on the sidewalk in the shadows of a half-collapsed building. At least a couple of hours had passed; it had been not long after moonset when she'd left Travers behind, with a couple of hours yet to go before the sun joined it. The sky was still lit with streamers of color, but those were swiftly fading now, leaving the far-off twinkling of stars like diamond dust in their wake.

No Slayers shared the sidewalk with her, or even slayers-to-be. Just two slightly blood-stained, dust-spattered nontraditional Watchers. Who, from the looks of things, were far from where she needed them to be.

"Giles! And you! What are you doing here? Don't tell me-- no, I mean, it, don't!" She threw up a hand as Giles' expression registered, as dark and ominous as a thundercloud, aura spiking with green. He might actually wish for something unprompted this time if she let him speak, and she didn't dare waste it. At least they were already ready to go; pushing things with an extra teleportation spell would tempt fate as it was.

"Let me just take this party somewhere a little more... ah. Here we go." She got a fix on the Slayers specifically this time, and slid through the shadows to yet another location.

The teleportation was even more of a strain with passengers; a vengeance demon's version of the spell was optimized to transport one person, and it took a lot more of her personal energy reserves to bring both Giles and Rayne along with her. She wouldn't be getting any more where that came from, either. But what the hell. It wasn't as though saving it up was going to do her any good. They faded back into existence in the hall of another building that seemed to be undergoing reconstruction-- perhaps there was something to their insurance company's balky insistence on raising their business insurance rates back in LA-- at the hands of the friends she'd been trying to reach all along.

The three of them appeared in a room outfitted something like a dormitory; bunk beds marched in rows across a space that seemed bigger than the entire interior dimensions of the Magic Box. The walls and ceiling had been finished in an off-white plaster, concealing whatever the original structure might have been; some sort of cellar or basement, probably, from the lack of windows and the staircase visible through a pair of shattered double doors at the far end of the room. A wide crack ran across the ceiling, shedding dust; it cut across a track apparently used to section off part of the room with a folding temporary wall, but the stout wooden beams spaced throughout as ceiling supports were still largely intact.

One of the walls in the anteroom area was accessorized with chains and shackles. Fortunately, the restraints were empty; whatever had been done to the Potential Slayers to keep them there hadn't necessitated keys and locks.

Half the beds were still occupied by drowsy young women, ranging from toddler-sized to a little older than Dawn. The rest of the girls were scattered throughout the aisles, a few even rallying around Faith-- Faith!-- at the front. A golden-eyed young man Anyanka could barely recognize as Wesley fought at Faith's side against a group of armed Watchers, but even with his help the Slayers didn't seem to have the upper hand. Her friends were deadly within arm's reach, but someone on the other side had brought a gun to their swordfight; at least five people sprawled motionless and bleeding on the floor, and the room echoed with yells and sobs.

"My God," Giles breathed beside her. He made as if to step forward; Anyanka had no doubt that if Rayne hadn't still been gripping his hand, he probably would have hurled himself willy-nilly in the direction of the Slayers.

But Rayne pulled him back-- and turned in her direction, giving her a piercing look. "You brought us here and now for a reason," he said, accusingly.

More noise was coming from the stairwell area; Anyanka couldn't see Buffy, but she could hear her and several of the other Scoobies. Some heavy duty spell-slinging was going on in that direction. That was probably where Travers was, and Wesley's former father; she'd hoped to be able to cast her last wish right in their teeth, but strictly speaking, it wasn't one hundred percent necessary.

"Yes, I did," she replied, then fixed her gaze on Giles. "So make it count."

His brow wrinkled, and a little welcome sanity returned to his eyes. "Anya. What on earth...?"

"C'mon, Giles. We're kind of in a hurry, here! Don't you just wish...?" She made an open-handed gesture. "I advise creativity. And thoroughness. You'll only have one shot, so get it right the first time."

Giles stared at her, hesitating, then glanced toward the other end of the room just in time to see a wave of purplish magic pour through the open doors. It picked up the wooden fragments like a fistful of darts, casting them toward the combatants regardless of their affiliation. Faith and Wesley both reacted instantly, trying to position themselves to shield each other, but neither quite managed; they ended up tangled together, clutching each other's arms as splintery shrapnel sprayed Slayers, Potentials, and Watchers alike.

Everyone in the line of fire suddenly sprouted quills like porcupines; another of the Watchers went down, clutching his throat. Faith had changed her shirt since Anyanka saw her last, but it was nearly as red now as the other one had been, ruined with bloodstains. She swore, then strode to the wall where the shackles hung and pulled a chain free with vicious force; Wesley pulled a splinter from his arm, then turned toward the unseen spellcaster, gesturing with a flick of bloody fingers.

But whatever he'd tried to do, it failed; Travers walked unopposed through the doorway, holding a familiar young woman-- that helpful Watcher, glaring and disheveled now-- before him like a shield.

Faith's hands clenched on the heavy chain, but she checked her swing, taking up stance again next to Wesley.

Giles cleared his throat, fury and protectiveness radiating from him like heat-- but oddly enough, without green sparks this time.

"I wish that every person who freely played a part in Travers' plot to subjugate the Slayer line never be able to approach within a hundred miles of anyone connected to any Slayer in any way, ever again," he called out, voice raised to carry over all other noise in the room.

Travers flinched, horror dawning in his expression as he caught sight of them. "No-- wait!"

Too late. Anyanka grinned, feeling her face shift into the familiar demonic lines. Perfect. The wording should include most of those who'd reconstructed the trap spells, too. But Giles hadn't specified what 'connected' meant, and there were only so many options for removing that many beings the specified distance from every eligible vestige of humanity. In deference to the principles she'd defied D'Hoffryn for in the first place, she would rather not kill, but....

Well. No one had said they had to stay human.

She let the power of the Wish expand out of her in a draining rush. "Done."

Travers vanished. The chaos carrying from the rest of the building quieted. Lydia clutched at her arm, a slight edge of hysteria to her laughter.

And then one of the stressed support beams gave, and the house began coming down around their ears.


Index | CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN >>
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The Lesser Men Saga: A B:tVS/A:tS Season 6/3 AU

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