Not Exactly Your Dickens Standard
"So, how long have you had the magic?" Jesse asked as they plodded along at a slow pace back towards their houses. Willow lived in the other direction and not too far, so they dropped her off while Jesse and Xander kept each other company, just in case some vampires decided to cause trouble.
"I think since Halloween; I've been working much harder on it the last couple of weeks, though," Xander replied. "You do realize that anyone listening in on this conversation is going to think we're insane, don't you?"
"Yeah," Jesse said with a shrug. "Do you have the, uh-" he made a wavy motion over his face, "-the whole thing?"
"You mean, do I see death and decay everywhere I go?" Xander asked bitterly. "Yes, Jesse; yes, I do, except in reflections. I can see vampires even when they hide behind human faces. All I see is the demon inside them, not the person they once were."
"Huh," Jesse said. Xander scoffed loudly at the pondering nature of his tone.
"You say 'huh' like it isn't a big deal," Xander replied. "This is my life, Jesse. This is what I have been reduced to."
"But you have magic," Jesse said.
"Raistlin was always your favorite character," Xander said through gritted teeth, unable to keep the anger from his voice. He paused, looking away, as if to capture the emotions the memories once provoked.
"I always liked Sturm. He was a knight, and he lived as he believed he should and he died as he believed he should. I could understand him. He appealed to me. He was in control of his own destiny," Xander paused again, leaning up against a tree. Jesse seemed unsure about helping him or letting him do his thing. Xander shook his head.
"I never got Raistlin, well, before Halloween, that is," he said. "That yearning for power, the disregard for his companions, his arrogance that nearly destroyed the world; it never made sense to me. Now I know things he did as if they were my own actions. I have memories of wanting those things, feeling those things. I remember the smell of Draconians burning alive by flames I created. I remember the stench of Solace after the dragons attacked. I remember snarling at a man who was only letting me read his spellbooks; he was doing me a favor, and I treated him like shit. That's not me, Jesse - or at least it wasn't me before. Now it's all blending and I don't know what are my feelings and what are his. I never wanted this power. I'd be perfectly happy as the guy who picks up the doughnuts."
"I-I think I understand," Jesse said slowly, stumbling over some of the things Xander had said. "I just wanted to be strong for a night. I wanted to show off. I didn't want this to happen to you, Xander. I didn't think it could."
"I know," was all Xander said. They walked along until they stood in front of Jesse's house. "Here you are."
"Are you-" Jesse began before Xander could cut him off.
"I'll be fine," Xander said, cutting him off. It might have been the knowledge that vampires were real, or it might have been Caramon talking, but the old Jesse never would have worried. Xander knew that he couldn't let his friend turn to a smothering caregiver like Caramon did, so he stood firm. "Goodnight, Jesse."
"'Night," the other boy replied after a moment's hesitation. He walked inside and Xander turned to leave.
He didn't get too far before he slumped into a park bench outside one of the cemeteries, heaving, wheezing and coughing. Xander hacked and coughed as he struggled to get back the image of strength and the self-assured front he had displayed all day, but his body was too weak. He shouldn't have left home that morning; he should have been in bed recovering from the hospital. But, had he not been there, his friends probably would have been dead, or worse.
But now, he was practically helpless. He had snuck out and taken a nap during recess, or else he never would have made it through the day.
As it was, he didn't have strength to make it back to his house in time for the 8pm curfew, where he was either in or the door was locked. Normally when this happened, he would stay with Jesse or Willow, but that wasn't an option at the moment. His pride wouldn't let him allow his friends to see him weak. The hospital was one thing, but he was out now.
"Whoa there, son, you okay?"
Xander looked up to see a man with a gray suit and a long white beard looking down on him.
"Heh," Xander huffed with dark humor, "that's a loaded question, isn't it?"
"Well, I suppose it is," the man said with a bit of lighter humor. "Mind if an old man sits down?"
Xander didn't say anything by made a vague accepting gesture towards the open end of the bench. The old man sat down and smiled at him in a grandfatherly sort of way.
"I know things seem hard, but that's what life is," the old man commented. Xander looked at him and realized his eyes were silver, untarnished and bright. They didn't fit the corpse like appearance the rest of him had. "There are days, weeks, sometimes even years, where it seems like the world just took a dump and you're the outhouse, but it's best not to give up."
"If I was that upset, I'd have given up as soon as the staring started," Xander replied, thinking back to how the eyes trailed after him, but refused to meet his; the people flinching away when he caught them staring. "I'm being used as a case study at Sunnydale General. It's a new 'disease', so they want to check it out, poke and prod at me. I'm a curious case to them, not a person. At school, I'm a freak. I was a bit of an outcast before, but it's so much worse now. They don't even have to say anything and I already know what they're thinking. They stare, they point. They shy away as if they could catch it. They don't even know what they're doing. And you're a total stranger and I don't know why I'm telling you this."
"That's human nature, fearing the unknown, the Other," the old man told him with a kind tone. "You can't blame them for falling back to their base nature, can you?"
"Of course I can," Xander replied, rasping harshly as he glared, recalling the memories. "We go against our animal nature all the time. We wear clothes to keep off the cold or the sun or the heat. We build houses. We plant crops. We make machines. Animals don't do that. Humans do. We over came that; a bunch of middle class assholes should be able to get over a kid with golden skin."
"Well, I suppose you are right to be angry," the old man said sadly. "But they are only human, and thus flawed."
"It doesn't make it any better," Xander replied.
"Mind a bit of advice from an old man?"
"Sure, why not?" Xander replied with a noncommittal shrug. The man gave a grandfatherly smile.
"Always remember that you are Alexander Lavelle Harris, not Raistlin Majere," the man explained kindly. Xander froze and didn't say anything, just stared at the man who simply ignored his reaction and continued talking. "His wants and needs aren't yours. And your wants and needs aren't his. You are two different people, who just happen to have a few common memories."
"It's not important," he said, "but you might want to remember that Solinari is full tonight."
"But it's a new moon," Xander protested, thoroughly confused by the statement.
"Not on Krynn," the man said as he bent forward to stand up.
"Who are you?"
The man scratched his beard as he looked up at the starlit sky with a bit of amusement.
"Call me Banzif," he decided. He said it like "banzai" but with an F at the end.
"Because Zifnab and Zanfib were already taken and you're not a kender," the man said with an amused twinkle in his silver eyes.
"Wha-huh?" Xander asked, suddenly opening his eyes. The man was gone. In his place was a brunette policewoman shaking his arm.
"Kid, wake up," she said.
"What happened?" he asked, wiping a bit of blood and drool from his lips as he sat upright.
"You fell asleep," she said. "I don't know when you got here, but it's 1 A.M., almost. These streets aren't safe at night."
"It was a little after dark when I got here," he muttered. "That was a dream?"
"Do you need a ride home? I can call one in," she said, helping him to his feet. She winced not because of the color of his skin, but by the thinness of his arms.
"I'll be fine, it's just a little further," he said taking a step along the way. "Was I dreaming all that?"
He got a little further down the street before the cop called him again.
"Hey kid," she called, not to loudly to disturb the locals. "You forgot your stick."
Xander turned around just in time to see her hold up some sort of walking stick. It had some cloth on one end that was tied together below the end with a leather pouch dangling from the tie. She ran over and shoved it in his hand before he could speak. He looked down on it and then back up, but the policewoman was gone, her foot steps echoing off into the darkness. Being quick of foot was no doubt a survival trait held by many Sunnydale law enforcement personnel - especially those on the night shift.
Curiosity getting the better of him, Xander tugged at the leather string holding the cloth together. Picking apart a few knots, the cloth fell away revealing an orb set into a claw made of gold. Confused and awed, Xander sat down and watched the light from the street lamp play over the orb and claw, the tiny metal scales reflecting little bits of light every which way. The orb, cut from pure crystal with no noticeable blemishes, was faceted so that prismatic dots littered the area with light refracted from the streetlamp. Recognizing it from his memories, Xander held the staff high and slammed the butt end down on the ground. "Shirak!"
Cool, blue-tinted light filled the area as bright as daylight. Xander had to squint as his eyes became adjusted to the sudden luminosity, and only a noise behind him forced him to notice the vampire burst into flames behind him. He spun around, watching as the figure writhed around, enshrouded in flames that consumed skin and flesh. Bits of metal in pockets and the like fell to the ground as the cloth containing them was consumed. The exposed flesh went first, the clothing catching second, but all that remained in contact with the vampire turned to dust when the face had dissolved to the point of no return. A cloud of dust sprang up, getting into Xander's lungs, prompting the hacking cough that had become so familiar.
A pale-faced Xander looked at the pile of ash and coins then back at the Staff of Magius with confusion and astonishment. Glancing around to see if there was another vampire close, he bent down to scoop up the coins, belt buckle and other metal bits that had fallen from the vampire. They were surprisingly cool to the touch. He stood up and became aware of more movement beyond his range of vision.
"Enough for a cup of coffee," Xander muttered as he tucked the coins into a pocket. He caught a bit of movement out of the corner of his eye.
"Suddenly the dream/not-a-dream issue isn't that important," he said, glancing around to where other vampires skulked along the very boundaries of his Staff's light. "You vampires suck. I mean, really, and not just in that bloodsucking sense, either."
He shrugged at the multitude of hisses that garnered, but he started to walk towards his house, the Staff of Magius hitting the ground in counterpoint to his footsteps. He could hear the screams of those who got too close to his light, thinking trees would protect them. It was fine for them if they stayed in the shadows, but the Staff was taller than Xander, so he cast a rather small, localized shadow, giving them basically no cover to get close. Xander didn't hurry as he walked back to his house.
The door was locked, as was usual and expected at this time of night. He could have done as he had done before he knew of Sunnydale's nightlife, but that just wasn't enough for him these days. Remembering the commands of the spells he memorized the morning before, he softly hit the door with the tip of the Staff, whispering an arcane phrase. There was a click as the tumbler rolled, unlocking the door. He stepped inside, locking the door behind him. His father was passed out on the kitchen table, an unfinished glass of whiskey with one of those plastic novelty ice cubes still in his hand. A quick glance to the living room revealed his mother passed out in a recliner, the TV still on.
If circumstances had been different, he might have been flattered that they were so worried about him that they stayed up waiting for him, but Xander was jaded enough to know they had just passed out drunk like they usually did. It was probably a miracle that the door had been locked before the booze started flowing.
Xander walked over and pulled the whiskey glass from his father's hand and dumped it down the drain. The bottle was corked and tucked back inside the glass cabinet. He walked into the living room and took his mother's tumbler and repeated the process. Then he gathered up a couple of blankets and tucked them in where they lay.
Wearily, the strength his bit of sleep gave him vanished as he walked up the stairs to his room. He fell on the bed, unable to muster up the energy to even take off his clothes. His eyes closed and Morpheus took him far away.
Tonight, Alexander Lavelle Harris walked into my study. He wore robes of all four colors: the white of Solinari, the red of Lunitari and the black of Nuitari as well as the browns of apprentice mages not yet having taken the test in the Towers of High Sorcery. My assistants noticed his close physical resemblance to a mage of particular infamy and shied away, some already starting the rumors that the Archmage of the Shoikan Grove had a son.
"What am I doing here?" he asked me as he watched me write. I glanced up and looked him over.
"Sit down, Alexander," I said, my hand continuing to record. "There is much to speak of."
"Oh? Okay, does this have anything to do with Fiz-er 'Banzif' visiting me earlier?" Xander asked me. Nodding, I looked him in the eye, an act that seemed to disturb him. This was primarily because his appearance is rather disquieting to the average mortal.
"It has everything to do with Paladine's visit," I said, still writing. "You have had some time to get used to your situation and it has been given to me to record your life, your choices and how they impact other events." He shuffled nervously in the chair across from my desk as he glanced at all the scrolls and books surrounding him on every wall.
"Shouldn't it be Jesse? He was the one who bought the costumes," Xander asked me as he attempted to come to a decision upon the reality of our meeting.
"Jesse McNally's decision is not the only one that is different," I told him. "Your decisions will have more impact due to your power."
"I don't think that casting a few spells is enough to-"
"The power I speak of is not that of arcane magic," I replied, cutting him off. "You have choices to make. Some should be made soon, but others can wait."
"Wait, what choices?"
"You will know when the time comes," I said as I continued writing.
Alexander Lavelle Harris left my study much more abruptly than he arrived.
"Hello Xander," said a woman's voice.
He looked up to see her. Pale skin, dark eyes and hair that seemed to be made of night itself while still containing tints and shades, shimmering as if her hair were of all colors and of none. She sat on the edge of his bed and turned to look into his eyes. She trailed a finger along his jawline, leaving a trail that tingled as her finger passed, allowing him to feel her touch long after her fingers left his skin. "Young, ambitious wizards are rather impressive, aren't they?"
Xander didn't say anything. Unlike his other two encounters, this woman terrified him. She radiated power and menace. She terrified him, and yet a part of him yearned for the power she promised.
"You are mine, Xander Harris," she whispered into his ear, her voice like spider webs spun in his mind. "You know it. You might wear red robes for now, but you shall one day be the greatest of my knights. The power you'll hold will be great, but I can give you more. No one will be able to get in your way. Those who laugh at you will fear you. Those who stare now will worship you, once you come into my power."
She moved very close, looking him right in the eyes. He could feel her breath on his lips as she held his head in her hands, but their lips never touched, only came ever so close. Her palms burned his skin, but left him wanting more. He wanted to touch her, but his body wouldn't respond. He blinked, then sat up in shock, looking at the birds chirping outside the window in the early morning sun.
He glanced around, but there was no one there. Save for him, the room was empty. He shivered as the last tingle of the woman's touch left him.
Now that she was gone, he felt sick, like an addict going through withdrawal. He had felt so strong and now he felt so weak. He put his feet down on the floor and felt the bones creak as he put his full weight on them. He felt like he hadn't slept a second as his vision grayed and he sat back down quickly as a wave of nausea passed over him. He took deep, slow breaths and the feeling slowly went away. Xander closed his eyes and shivered once more, not really sure how much of it was real and what was self-delusion.
He glanced at the Staff in the corner. It was right where he had left it the night before. He reached out a hand and the Staff flew into it. Xander caught it on reflex. The sound it made as it hit his palm was almost painfully familiar, like an old lover who called up out of the blue. He ran his hands over the wood. It wasn't polished, but carved so finely that few would be able to tell the difference. Just like in his memories of Raistlin, the dragon claw holding the orb looked like it could have been alive just moments before. Reluctantly, Xander set it down beside him. He pulled out his spellbook and began to read.
While it was a habit he had originally garnered from Raistlin, the act of reading a spellbook and immersing one's self into the Language of Magic was a relaxing form of meditation. Even with the mental effort Xander put into cramming every spell into his brain, he still felt refreshed, complete even, when his efforts were finished. The more he read, the easier it became for some of the simpler spells, allowing him to shrink his study time each morning. He was not yet at the capability of Raistlin, or other mages of his ability, but Xander was growing in power at an unprecedented rate, primarily due to the knowledge of magic he inherited from Raistlin. He could manage one of the more powerful spells, but none of the greater abilities that Raistlin could manage. He could summon flame on his hands, but the ranged damaging spells, those he just couldn't manage for some reason - or at least not yet. The most difficult spell he managed to cast was "Knock," the spell he used to unlock the front door the previous night.
As he turned the pages, he realized that some were more difficult to cast due to the required components and the availability thereof. He couldn't even make the slightest sense of the later section that included the copy of the Spellbook of Fistandantalus. Though he managed to make his way through the words, understanding escaped him.
He snapped the book shut as soon as he was done, buckling the cover and tucking it into his pouch. A few minutes later, he was done packing and out the door. Where it used to take him fifteen minutes to get to the school, it now took an hour. Almost as soon as he made it past the gates, Principal Flutie was at his shoulder.
"I've thought about what you're going through and I realized that you probably haven't talked to a councilor yet, so I arranged for one," the principal said, keeping pace with the slower Xander. The man's hands were moving to accentuate his words. "Here's the room number. We're doing this because we feel that you deserve a hug, but there won't be any hugs, because we're very strict on respecting personal space."
Xander looked at the paper in his hand with confusion.
"Just, Mr. Harris, why are you carrying a big stick with a crystal ball at the end?" Bob Flutie asked, looking up at the tip of the Staff of Magius.
"It keeps me safe," Xander said simply, a wry smile touching the corners of his lips.
"You do know our policy about weapons, right?" Flutie asked worriedly.
"Even if it was used as a weapon, I wouldn't be able to swing it," Xander reminded him. Truth be told, Xander had forgotten that he'd brought it until the principal brought it up. He hadn't actually intended on bringing it on fear that it would be stolen; the setting was pure gold after all.
"Just as long as you don't hit anyone with it, I'll be okay with you keeping it," Bob Flutie replied. "We can just call it a medical aid."
"That would work perfectly," Xander said with a smile.
Xander was almost half way to the library when Jesse ran up behind him.
"Xander! How'd you get here? I went to your house, but your parents said you never made it back last night," Jesse blurted, his tone revealing his panic. Xander looked on his friend with those eyes. There wasn't any humor in them in the slightest.
"My parents," he said the word as an epithet, "were stone dead drunk when I got in last night, so it's no wonder they thought I never got there."
It was true, if not exactly what Jesse meant.
"Oh," Jesse said, looking at his feet.
"You don't need to pick me up," Xander said. "I'm weakened, not helpless."
"It's just-I worry," the taller boy explained. Xander glared at his friend; his face full of fury and indignation. His mouth opened several times in an attempt to voice his outrage, but in the end the young wizard just spun and marched away.
Jesse stood stunned, not quite sure what he said to offend his long time friend.
Thanks again GreyWizard for all the help. This would be much less sane without it.