"Oh no, it got you too," Willow moaned.
"What got us, desu?" Suiseiseki asked, looking at the chaos surrounding them and moving closer to her father, who reached down and gently stroked her hair, calming her.
"Listen, you aren't who you think you are," Willow said urgently, "something happened and everyone turned into their costumes. You dressed as a doll maker and Dawn as your creation."
Rozen considered that, everything seemed slightly off, like the dimensions weren't quite right, but he'd assumed it was just a brief moment of jamais vu and would quickly pass. Looking down at his hands he realized the truth of her words.
These were not his hands.
These hands were younger and had calluses that his did not and a plethora of small imperfections that spoke of a history he did not share. The fact that he was wearing his beloved daughter Suiseiseki's ring on his left hand, marking him as her contractor… "I'm not Rozen," he said, confused as to how this could have come about.
"No, you're my best friend, Xander," Willow told him before turning to Suiseiseki, "and you're Buffy's little sister, Dawn."
Suiseiseki examined herself. "Was Dawn a Maiden as well?"
"No, she was your average teenage girl," Willow replied. "You turned into a doll just like all these monsters did."
"Monsters turned into dolls, desu?" Suiseiseki asked, confused as she didn't see any of her sisters around, nor any dolls for that matter.
"No, the kids turned into their costumes which were monsters while yours was of a doll," Willow explained. "We've got to find out what's going on and figure out how to reverse it!"
"I'm a real girl?" Suiseiseki asked, eyes wide.
"A real teenage girl," Willow agreed. "We have to find Buffy, she'll know what to do."
A scream broke out, and although there actually were quite a few people screaming, this one had volume.
"Buffy!" Willow yelled in a panic and started running towards it.
Suiseiseki followed in bounding leaps covering dozens of feet effortlessly with Rozen quickly following, stumbling the first couple of steps before finding his balance and easily keeping up, though he found himself having to dodge around things that Willow ran through.
"How are you doing that?" Suiseiseki asked curiously.
"I dressed as a ghost," Willow called back over her shoulder as she finally found the source of the screams, what appeared to be a medieval lady in an elaborate blue and white dress was surrounded by small devils and goblins who were barring clawed hands at her to make her scream, for their amusement.
"Get away from her!" Willow yelled, the red head running through the monsters and scaring them off.
"Please be calm, we are here to help," Rozen told the cowering noble.
"Please don't hurt me, my father will pay handsomely for my safe return!" she exclaimed.
"It got Buffy too," Willow moaned.
"Yeah, she doesn't look like she's going to be much help, desu," Suiseiseki said.
"A living doll?" the noble woman said in shock.
"I am Suiseiseki the gardener," the doll said proudly, "one of Rozen's maidens."
"You are… amazing," the noblewoman said in wonder, forgetting her fear.
"A ghost gets screamed at but a living doll gets 'amazing'?" Willow asked in disbelief.
"The legends talk about how only the greatest of skill and purest of heart can bring life to their creations," she explained apologetically.
"Yeah, and I've heard very few happy ghost stories," Willow admitted, seeing where she was coming from.
"I am Rozen and Suiseiseki is one of my greatest creations," he introduced himself. "And who might you be?"
"Oh, pardon my poor manners," she said, scrambling to her feet and curtsying. "I am the lady Elizabeth of Summerfield and I am in distress."
"It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance," Rozen said, offering his arm. "Shall we take you somewhere more secure?"
"Thank you, kind sir, I would be most appreciative as would my father," Elizabeth said, taking his arm.
"Buffy's place is closest, you'll be safe there," Willow said. "Once you're all safe I can go to Giles and he can figure out what's going on!"
"And Giles is?" Rozen asked curiously as Suiseiseki bounded forward, scattering a number of small monsters by smacking them with her gardening trowel.
"Where did I get this and where's my watering can, desu?" Suiseiseki asked in confusion, before using it to knock out a large green man with bolts in his neck. "Oh… I like it!"
"Giles is our school librarian and Buffy's Watcher," Willow explained before realizing they wouldn't know what that was. "He is a scholar who researches strange happenings and how to stop them."
"And a… ghost is assisting him?" Elizabeth asked cautiously.
"Everyone turned into their costumes," Willow said slowly, willing for her to understand, "and I was dressed as a ghost."
"And it killed you?!" Elizabeth exclaimed, wide eyed.
"No, I just stood up out of my body," Willow replied. "It was still breathing when I left to get help."
"Then shouldn't we be retrieving your body?" she asked.
"No time," Willow said, "we have to find a way to end this spell before one of the children gets killed."
"For all your slatternly ways, you have a noble heart," Elizabeth told her, eyes moist.
"Um… thanks," Willow said awkwardly, knowing that Elizabeth was referring to the clothes Buffy had made her wear and decided she was going to tease her about it later. "And we're here," she said, turning to walk up the drive.
"And this place is safe?" Suiseiseki asked while looking around for something else to try her trowel on; hitting things with it was surprisingly satisfying.
"Most of the fighting is in the streets and you can lock the doors and windows while I get Giles," Willow explained, bending down to retrieve the key from under the mat only to find her fingers passing through it. "Can someone grab the key? I can't really touch anything right now."
"Allow me," Rozen said, releasing Elizabeth's arm and lifting up the mat to retrieve the key, before unlocking the door at Willow's direction.
"This is quite nice, though a tad small," Elizabeth noted as they entered and Willow gave instructions on how to turn on the lights.
"Magic?" Elizabeth asked nervously.
"Science," Willow replied, "hundreds of years more advanced than your own. I wish I had time to explain but I must go."
"Go right ahead, we'll be fine," Rozen assured her.
Willow didn't pause, turning and running through the wall.
A scream rang out from outside and Suiseiseki rushed over to the door. "I'll be right back, desu."
"Be careful, dear," Rozen said.
"I will, father," she promised as she reached up and opened the door before darting outside.
"Will she be okay?" Elizabeth asked nervously.
"Suiseiseki is one of my greatest creations," Rozen assured her, "and while normally a lot more shy and nervous, there is little I've seen that could truly harm her here."
"How does one gain such skill?" Elizabeth asked. "I've seen clockwork automatons and marvelously intricate timepieces, but… to give life in such a way?"
"Love and care," Rozen told her with a smile. "Skill can be achieved through perseverance and hard work, but in the end, it is love for your creations and care in the work that yields such results."
"How are you a doll?" a female voice demanded as a young woman in a damaged cat costume entered the living room followed by Suiseiseki who closed and locked the door. "And why do you seem familiar?"
"Be nice kitty, I just chased off the doggy that was bothering you and I'm really not fond of dogs, desu," she replied.
"Xander, Buffy," Cordelia greeted them, "what is going on?!"
"I'm given to understand that everyone has turned into their costumes, although that doesn't seem to be the case with you," Rozen replied. "Nevertheless, I believe introductions are in order. I am Rozen, a simple doll maker, this is the Lady Elizabeth Summerfield, and the one who came to your aid is my child Suiseiseki."
"That… explains some things," Cordelia said slowly, already moving past freaking out and forcing herself not to panic. "I'm Cordelia Chase and I know you three by other names."
"Buffy, Xander, and Dawn," Suiseiseki agreed cheerfully, pleased she'd barely had to draw any energy from father to deal with the dog man, "the red haired ghost named Willow told us."
"Willow is dead?!" Cordelia exclaimed in shock before taking a deep breath. "No, Willow can't be dead because even if you don't recall who you are right now you'd be upset, possibly homicidal, and something definitely would be on fire. Willow… dressed as a ghost, didn't she?"
"An astounding leap of logic, but quite correct," Rozen agreed.
"Buffy are you okay? Its total chaos out there," Angel said as he entered through the dining room.
"They aren't themselves right now," Cordelia quickly said, "they've turned into the costumes they were wearing, as has most of the population." Normally, she'd have complained and acted like a spoiled rich girl, perhaps even flirting with Angel to annoy Buffy, but the riot going on outside convinced her it was too dangerous to fall back into her usual role.
"He's… not right, desu," Suiseiseki said nervously, her fingers tightening on the handle of her trowel.
"And might I inquire as to whom you dressed as?" Rozen asked, suddenly standing between Angel and the young woman.
"I didn't dress as anyone," Angel said, finding himself taking a step back, shocked at how fast Xander had moved.
"He always dresses that way," Cordelia assured them, feeling the rise in tension and trying to calm things down.
"You've been offered guest's rights?" Rozen asked intently.
"Um… yes," Angel replied, wondering why he was feeling so nervous under Xander's gaze. "I assist in the protection of those that dwell here and am allowed to visit."
"Curious," Rozen said softly as he examined the vampire in front of him, seeing a spark of consciousness that was completely foreign to any blood demon he'd seen before.
"He's a friend," Cordelia spoke up.
"Still not right, desu," Suiseiseki muttered.
"Dawn?" Angel asked in disbelief.
"Also me, according to Willow," the doll acknowledged, trying not to show how excited she was at the possibility of being a real girl.
"When Buffy is herself again, she's going to be… upset," Angel said with a wince.
"Dawn's been turned into a doll, if she doesn't turn back, Buffy's going to go ballistic," Cordelia said bluntly.
"I hope we turn back," Suiseiseki said, "I've always dreamed of being human… I just can't bring myself to harm my sisters."
"Collecting all your Rosa Mystica was just one path to becoming human," Rozen assured her, kneeling down to stroke her hair, "and you've all grown and blossomed through the struggle."
"So… you didn't mean for us to hurt one another, desu?" Suiseiseki asked hopefully.
"No, dear one, I knew you would all grow past that goal and your gentle natures would not allow you to truly harm one another," Rozen assured her.
"Then… how do we become The Alice, desu?" she asked, confused.
"There is no one path," he told her, "and each of you will find your own way in time. When you become The Alice you can wake me and I'll answer any questions you have, but of course by then you'll probably know all the answers."
A green clawed hand burst through the small window in the door and Suiseiseki leapt across the room and smacked it with her trowel. "You are interrupting a touching moment between a father and his fragile young daughter, don't make me come out there and thrash you, desu!"
There was a yelp and whatever monster it was withdrew its arm and fled.
"Um…" Suiseiseki blushed and avoided everyone's eyes.
Rozen laughed and held his arms open. "I think my fragile young daughter deserves a great big hug for demonstrating how protective she is of those she cares for."
Suiseiseki crossed the room in a blink of an eye, wrapping herself in her father's arms. "It wasn't too… brutish?" she asked softly.
"It was a very feminine response," he assured her, "and shows you are well on your way."
"To becoming The Alice, desu?" she asked hopefully, snuggling into her father's arms.
"To whomever you wish to be," he told her, "but yes I imagine The Alice would be every bit as fierce in defense of those she loves."
Lady Elizabeth pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes, touched at witnessing such a heartfelt moment between father and daughter.
Angel turned away, feeling like an intruder, and heard a noise in the kitchen. "Something's in the kitchen."
"I've got it!" Suiseiseki cried out and zipped across the room to vanish into the kitchen. There was a thwack and a thud, before she returned, pleased with herself. "I took care of it."
Angel peeked in the kitchen. "Someone dressed as Dracula, looks like he'll be out for a while. I'm going to lock the doors and windows to make sure no one else can get in."
"You definitely take after your sister," Cordelia said, amused.
"My sister beats up monsters, desu?" Suiseiseki asked curiously.
"Yeah," Cordelia replied, "she has some big destiny as the Vampire Slayer and goes around saving people with Xander and Willow."
"She sounds nice," Suiseiseki said, trying to imagine herself as a human girl with just a single sister.
"She's tolerable," Cordelia said with a shrug. "Way too intense at times but has an excellent sense of style and is very knowledgeable about shoes."
The three exchanged confused looks while Cordelia turned on the TV.
"What is that?" Elizabeth asked as Cordelia flipped through the channels.
Angel returned to find Cordelia explained the plot of a soap opera to a fascinated audience. He watched with some amusement, trying to enjoy the moment as he waited for Giles and Willow to either break the spell or call him back seeking assistance. Giles had seemed pretty confident he could handle it, but had warned him that The Night of Masks was chaos magic so even when broken there might be… side effects.
Hopefully Xander would regain his memories and Willow and Dawn their bodies, because if the mage's spell harmed her friends or her little sister, Buffy was going to have to be restrained from doing serious harm to him.
Ten Minutes Later
"An obvious villain such as himself should be easily recognized by his actions and dealt with," Lady Elizabeth said firmly.
"That's because we get to see him plotting in secret and taunting the hero when no witnesses are around," Cordelia told her, "when in public he acts like the perfect gentleman. Of course that just makes it all the more satisfying when he screws up and gets his just desserts."
"It'd be a poor tale if he didn't, desu," Suiseiseki said, glaring at the man on screen.
"Occasionally the villain will realize he's wrong when one of his schemes goes too far and he'll either have to ask the hero for help or sacrifice himself to stop it," Cordelia explained. "I find those stories a lot more satisfying than just seeing the villain foiled and jailed."
"Those would be-" Lady Elizabeth began before freezing in place for a moment and ripping the wig off her head. "That was awful!" Buffy exclaimed. "It was like watching a movie. I was in my body, but I wasn't in the driver's seat!"
"It's okay," Angel said, trying to calm her down, "Giles said he knew the mage who cast the spell and that he'd take care of things. The spell's been broken and everything's back to normal."
"That was… strange," Xander said, closing his eyes and rubbing his temples.
Angel let out a relieved sigh even as Angelus cursed, feeling Buffy calm down, as the demon had wanted to enjoy someone's suffering and if Buffy had gotten angry enough to track down and cripple the mage she'd have been depressed for weeks, spreading the pain to all those that cared about her.
"M-My hands…" Dawn said softly as she examined herself and found that she had not returned to normal when the spell had broken. She was still a Rozen Maiden.
Angelus reveled in her anguish. It was almost enough to make him forget he was chained to Liam's soul for a moment.
Buffy's anger quickly turned to horror, but Xander's only grew as he saw Dawn's pain. It fed on itself, growing stronger and stronger until Angelus was sure the boy was going to have an aneurysm. As Dawn's tears fell on her hands and she began to sob, Xander shoved aside his anger like it was simply an errant thought, before picking her up and cradling her to his chest.
"It's alright, we'll figure out how to fix this," he promised. "Remember, we're in this together."
"Together?" she asked.
Xander held up his left hand, showing her the rose themed ring. "We have a contract, whatever we go through, we do it together."
"Together," she agreed, throwing her arms around him and holding him tight, burying her face in his chest to shut out the world except for the two of them, thankful she wouldn't have to deal with this alone.
"I'll fix this," Buffy swore. "We'll find the mage who cast the spell, I'll have a word with his kneecaps, and we'll make this right!"
Angel was sure it wasn't going to be that simple, but he was also sure that neither teen would welcome hearing that at the moment. "Let's find Willow and then go talk to Giles."
Angelus shuddered. There was something wrong with that boy.
Typing By: Abyssal Angel