based on scene by Prince Charon
His clan were Gypsies, proud of their heritage. However, since the Nazis killed more gypsies than Jews during their reign of terror, their power in Europe had largely been broken.
Vengeance was still owed for that.
With the power of the gypsies in decline, the remaining families had been forced to seek allies, and they had found them beside them in those same extermination camps. Found them, and died beside them. But among those few who had survived the alliances remained, and the bonds grew deep among those who still honored those treaties.
The Rosenberg family was a powerful and widespread clan of Cabalists, very valuable allies to the gypsies, but even among the strongest and wisest clans (which the Rosenbergs were not) there were always the rebellious few, the foolish, those who knew a little and constantly misapplied that knowledge.
One pair of those resided in Sunnydale California, the mouth of Hell itself.
The parents were perhaps less unwise in their foolish choice of location than some might suspect, spending very little time in their domicile, dropping by only to perform rituals drawing on that source of power, then getting back out of town, answering their fears of both known and unknown dangers.
But still that tremendously irresponsible couple, flirting with danger and daring the mouth of hell to bite them, had no excuse to expose their daughter to that kind of peril.
So many people who knew a little, and imagined they knew it all, caused such problems! Ignorance was no protection against demons! That applied only to Fey creatures, and you wouldn't find many of them on an active Hellmouth!
No, leaving their only daughter to dwell alongside demons and vampires with no knowledge to protect her was tantamount to murder. But the foolish pair insisted that they were right, and their elders were wrong, and so left Willow to fend for herself alone at one of the most dangerous places on Earth.
But, by the ancient rules, they were her parents and the rest of the clan could not go directly against their wishes concerning their child. That was absolute, and because of ancient laws they could not directly transgress it.
So, the mage had been asked by a much older and wiser member of the Rosenberg clan to look in on that foolish couple's daughter and see if anything could be done to improve her situation. And he had done so, taking time he could hardly spare and visiting under guise of wanting to see her Junior High graduation ceremony.
The lonely child had been pathetically grateful for the company and attention, furthering his disgust for the negligent treatment given her.
His report to her clan was her situation was desperate, just one more sheep among the fold, only the other sheep there to protect her from the wolves that hunted the night. It was only a matter of time before they found her a more convenient target than some others. That was all that was protecting her life now, other prey was still more convenient to the hunters.
But that would change next year as she entered High School.
The greater Rosenberg clan could do nothing, and her parents would not, stubbornly insisting on their misapplied belief that innocence and ignorance were a perfect shield that would serve to protect her more than adequately.
The stubborn fools.
There were comparatively few universally applied rules of magic, and that was not among them. If you wanted to play around in fairy courts innocence was indeed a near perfect shield. But the Fey were not destroyed by sunlight, either, nor was a line of salt sprinkled around your bed going to hold a major demon at bay. Different rules applied to different creatures, and to insist on treating one type as another was only courting death, like wearing perfect desert survival gear in the middle of an arctic wasteland, or winter gear on the bottom of an ocean, or scuba gear out in the middle of the blazing Sahara sun.
If it was only their own lives they were asking to be destroyed that would be one thing, but this... they left their daughter unprotected while spending practically no time in the danger zone themselves.
If they were members of his clan a Gypsy Curse would already be in effect on the negligent parents. Children were too precious by far to the vastly diminished clans to risk on such foolhardy games. But by the treaty he could not grant them the curse they so richly deserved, as it was not a member of his clan they were foolishly trying to destroy.
As the situation stood, this was a purely internal matter for the Rosenberg clan to deal with, and they could not respond appropriately because by those ancient laws parents had the right to decide the treatment of their children.
These parents were just being damn fools about how they did so.
However, though direct intervention was impossible, that did not mean that nothing could be done. By asking only that a friend from another, unrelated clan look in on her, the Rosenberg elder was already one step removed from direct intervention. It was an important step, but not enough for the gypsy mage to intervene by directly affecting Willow Rosenberg himself.
They could not ask that he do more, but the mage, having seen the need, was not about to stand back and do nothing. They could not ask, but he could volunteer. The trouble was he had no time to spare from his own projects, and to some extent, as an ally, he was bound by the same laws regarding the rights of the parents to decide the life of their child.
Not as tightly bound, however. So, while he could not snag the girl and drive her to a safe haven, as she deserved, he could intervene in her life so long as he did not do so directly.
That meant no granting her beneficial enchantments or magic weapons, no guardian spirits could be summoned to watch over her, and nothing could be said to the girl directly as that would go against the parents' directly stated wishes that she remain ignorant, and thus, in their minds at least, safe.
But he wasn't going to leave her unprotected, and so since he couldn't do it himself nor directly enable her to defend her own life, would do what he could to buff up the one person most likely to be there when she needed protection - her best friend.
Entering the Harris residence was depressingly easy. There were no wards at all, despite the house's proximity to the Hellmouth. Just a cheap lock that yielded to a simple opening charm. You would think that in a town as dangerous as this one some portion of the population would know how to protect themselves. But no, they were behaving like cattle, just walking bags of meat as far as the nightlife was concerned. There wasn't even a hero operating on the Hellmouth to reduce the danger, certainly nothing so simple and practical as a mage dispensing household wards.
You'd think that everyone who lived here was asking to get killed.
The mage set some of his own, but they were only temporary, and would fade after a week, at most. He felt some guilt for what he was about to do, but he could not remain on the Hellmouth, knew that he would not be able to convince the young girl's parents to take her to safety, and yet could not leave her entirely alone and unprepared for what was to come.
He stepped around the drunken and unconscious forms of Mr. and Mrs. Harris, casting Gentle Sleep spells upon them, to prevent them from interrupting his work, then, having researched all he needed to know before even entering the house, and able confirm by what he could see from their auras, followed that up with a curse.
A Vengeance Curse, a fairly minor one, but his clan specialized in those in all of their varieties, and from what he knew, bolstered by what he could see evidenced in their auras, they more than deserved it. So he cast it on behalf of their son, that they would remove their own ability to harm him, and try to do so in such a way as to restore to him equal value for as much of the damage they'd done to his life as possible.
Favor for favor. Balance was a key element of so much magic. Having done a good deed for the Harris boy, he could expect his spells to enable him as the Rosenberg girl's protector to be that much more effective.
The mage nodded, pleased with this effort, and entered the bedroom of the son, who was sleeping restlessly. The first spell that he cast on Xander did not so much rouse the young man from sleep, as waken him just enough to put him in a hypnotic trance, while the second would help in memorization.
Right, first thing's first.
"Xander Harris, you are not your father," said the mage. "You will not become your father, because you have chosen not to be, and your will is far greater than his could ever be. Do you understand?"
"Yes," said Xander.
"You are a very intelligent young man, when you choose to think. You will do so as part of your regular routine from this point onward, and stop second guessing yourself without cause," said the mage. "Do you understand?"
"Yes," said Xander, again.
"Good," replied the mage. "I am going to do several things that you may find odd or distressing, but they will help you to keep your friends alive. You do want to protect them, don't you?"
"Yes," said Xander, with conviction.
"Excellent," said the mage, pulling a thick scroll from under his jacket. "You will start off by mastering this." He handed him the scroll, entitled 'Ars Memoriae', a definitive work on memory and the techniques of more efficient use of the human mind, oddly enough written by a long lived but not particularly strong telepathic demon who had found humans fascinating and studied them the way an entomologist studied insects.
It was, despite that, a very informative text, and one could never know the unusual origin of the author from the contents. This being the mage's own copy, he'd long ago had a friendly summon with an entirely different mental structure remove the traps that would have tried to entice a human reader to become an experimental subject of the now long-dead author.
In a trance, and with the memory spell helping, Xander was able to memorize the scroll in about a minute. He lowered it with a simple, "Done."
"Very good," the mage nodded, retrieving and rerolling his scroll. "Have you selected a memory palace?"
"Yes," the mesmerized teen stated blandly.
"Build it," the mage commanded, "Then order your mind."
The teen blinked once, a long, slow process while his pupils flitted about madly as if in high speed REM sleep. Then his eyes snapped open, filled with a clarity that has not been present before. "Done."
"Very good." The mage took a sheet of parchment from his pocket. "Now, I need you to memorize this chart of the major and minor chakras of the human body."
It took about a second for the young man to memorize and parse through all of the complex and exacting material, which was fortunate, given how many books they needed to go through.
Muttering a Latin incantation, the mage pulled a book from a pocket too small to hold it. "You should know that you are capable of casting spells, and you will learn that you are quite powerful. Some of the documents I will have you read and memorize will help with that," he said, and handed Xander the first book, Throckmorton's 'Annotated Codex of Magical Thought', a rather dry and pompous book, but otherwise an excellent introduction to magical theory, with a few simple spells to serve as examples.
While Xander was reading that book, the mage set up the laptop computer his niece had given him for his birthday. He wasn't sure of this 'Techno-Pagan' thing she was into, but it might help, and the worst it could do is waste a few minutes. As the laptop slowly booted up, Xander finish the 'Codex', and the next two books, which were mainly compilations of spells, with little theory, one of 'light' magic, the other of 'dark'.
Interestingly enough, it was the book of so-called 'dark' magic which contained healing spells, as in recent centuries most Western magic-users had labeled anything that 'disturbed the natural order' as dark, regardless of intent.
By the time Xander had finished the third book the laptop had booted up, and the mage had brought up the first of the Techno-Pagan files that his niece had downloaded to the computer. These files were shorter and more concise than the books, but took about as long to read, as some of them contained animated pictures that took several seconds to cycle through their sequence. One of the oddest documents, from the old mage's point of view, detailed the idea of 'Technomancy', combining enchantment and technology, to create the effects of fictional inventions.
When Xander finished reading those files he was presented with more books, starting with 'The Dao of Jeet Kune Do', by Bruce Lee, and then a treatise by a mahoutsukai (Japanese sorcerer) on combining magic and martial arts, and enchanting weapons and armour. These were followed by 'The Thirty-Six Strategies', Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War', and Musashi's 'A Book of Five Rings'. A few more books followed, mostly on the martial arts, finishing off with Van Hellsing's 'Journal on Practical Demonology', with an appendix of known errors, and the well respected but distressingly thin and incomplete 'Hunter's Encyclopedia of The Night'.
While he would have loved to include a sheet of paper listing the addresses of nearby magic shops, or even a few mail-order contacts, such was unwise in the present environment as unfriendly forces watched those sources, and it would doubtless bring more attention that its benefit deserved, at least at first. It would be better for the young man to seek those out on his own some time later, once he had achieved a degree of proficiency at the arts he had already been taught, as by then he ought to have at least a modicum of ability to defend himself.
Similarly, a book on sex magic, while useful and appropriate, when Xander would realistically have only one potential partner, thus almost certainly involving young Willow, would have trod too close to the line of non-interference as her parents had been quite firm on not endangering her sexual innocence any more than her mental ignorance.
They had even employed charms to that effect, virtually ensuring that no romantic attachment would ever work for the girl until those were removed. At present they were so strong that dating was next to impossible for her, but time on the Hellmouth had already begun to fray them. Eventually, as those tattered, she would be able to form temporary, short term relationships. But even so the magic of those chastity charms would prevent something permanent from forming, probably until the day the sweet girl died.
However, those spells were far from subtle, the skills he was about to impart would be more than sufficient to detect them and from there would require no effort on the part of any competent mage to remove. Xander already knew enough theory to construct a spell to remove those charms himself.
The last in this long series was the fairly plebeian 'U.S. Army Survival Manual', which was basically the Boy Scout's Handbook on steroids, including everything one might need from hunting walrus to setting effective traps using only naturally occurring materials.
Then it was time to put away the books and the computer, and get to the less tedious, but more dangerous, acts.
"Xander, I want you to focus on your brow chakra, your Third Eye. When you feel it, open it. You know that you can," ordered the mage.
"Its open," said Xander, after a moment.
"Good," replied the mage, "Now close it, and open it again."
"Done," said Xander, a few seconds later.
"Look around ," said the mage, "What do you see?"
"Everything is glowing, almost... alive, but there are trails of black smoke, everywhere," Xander said. "Your aura is hidden, though, by... an aura cloaking spell?"
"That's correct," the mage replied, pleased that his student was already using the knowledge he had been given. "The 'black smoke' is the energy of the Hellmouth, which shrouds the entire town, and can be seen or felt as far away as Los Angeles. The wards I've placed should reduce its influence, somewhat, but they'll wear out in about a week. You will need to replace them."
"Its... sickening," said Xander.
"Yes, it is," the mage agreed, "but the Third Eye can also look inward. Do that, now."
"I see... light. A pulsing light, in sort of a cage," said Xander.
"That is your power," explained the mage, "confined by your fear of yourself. You have the key. Open the cage."
"Its open," said Xander. "I feel... different. Stronger, somehow."
"You've taken your first steps into a larger world," said the mage. "When you awaken, you will not remember me, but you will remember all the rest of it. Now, sleep."
Xander returned to sleep, and the mage left, locking the front door behind him. He walked to his car, and drove toward LA. He had a plane to catch.
"So Mr. Mage Dude taught you a whole bunch of stuff then bailed, just like that?" Jesse appeared flummoxed, playing with the straw in his soda, as Xander finished retelling the events of the previous night. "That's just crazy, man. Why would he do that? I mean, what's the point?"
Xander had no good reply, so just shrugged. A demonstration of a few simple spells had already erased all doubt of the existence of magic or that the event had really happened.
Willow's face had been going through a myriad of emotions as Xander explained his experience, alert for both the changes in her lifelong friend (of which there were many) but also the reassuring similarities (which were not a few). In the end she smiled, shyly, as she concluded that he was still very much her Xander-shaped friend.
Although, if this had been done a few years later, a proper sense of Hellmouth induced paranoia could have thrown doubt on that conclusion. For the moment, however, she was convinced that her crush was, in all important ways, the same young man he had always been. And just about every change noted so far had been a distinct improvement.
Concluding she was happy with the change, she began an excited stream of Willow-babble that threatened to turn into a squeal of delight when it became clear Xander was actually following all of her honor student terminology.
"Okay. Here we are. The moment you've all been waiting for! The one, the only, the amazing... Vamp-Vision!" Jesse exclaimed proudly, and with a stage performer's sense of flair waved to his toy telescope and set of binoculars that they had scrounged together for the evening.
The trio sat upon chairs they had dragged up the old wooden steps into the bell tower of a church that had a fair view of one of the town's many cemeteries.
"So now we get to see if this all is real," Willow popped a few kernels of popcorn into her mouth, having brought movie treats for the occasion.
Xander nodded. He had just as much confusion about this topic as his friends, and wanted it resolved. It was one thing for him to cause a seed to sprout on demand, freshen a slightly fading blossom, or create a small witchlight that was scarcely lighter than a match (the only spells he had gotten to function just yet, and all tremendously minor ones, triggering effects that all wanted to happen anyway, just requiring a slight supply of energy, more proofs of magical concepts than actual spells). It was quite another to believe in actual bedtime story bogeymen terrorizing the night.
Thus, they had all agreed upon this nighttime session of vamp-watching. If what he had learned in those books from that mage was true then a few of the bodies buried three days ago were about to be unearthed - and the graverobbers would be digging out from inside.
Standing as they were in an active church, and thus holy ground, they ought to be perfectly safe. The telescope and binoculars ought to be enough to get a good view of the newly fanged tanless ones as they appeared. Too bad they didn't have enough sets for all three to use simultaneously, but there was more than one grave due to be opened if those books he'd memorized were correct. They could take turns watching.
Then they'd have their proof, one way or another, and once more they'd get it from perfect safety.
"Ooh, I see something stirring in Grave Number One!" Jesse crowed, peering through the telescope. Then all joy and excitement left him as he watched further.
Willow had snatched up the binoculars and, fiddling with them quickly, dialed in on what Jesse was seeing. Then she, too, grew very quiet, paling dramatically as she watched the scene unfold.
They watched, one by one, as those graves opened, as more vampires came swaggering out of mausoleums or sewer pipes, and they watched as those vamps ate a late night jogger.
Willow screamed. Jesse threw up, and Xander felt a cold chill of fear settle into his bones, as well as an iron core of resolve form in the pit of his stomach. None of them felt the least bit safe leaving the church that night.
Willow's snacks went uneaten.
End Chapter One