by Jared Ornstead
aka Perfect Lionheart
In all fairness, Dogbertcarroll dared me to do it.
The rattle of a crowbar hitting the floor as the busted lock on a back door finally yielded to its efforts rang through the empty shop.
"What are we doing here?" a plaintive female voice called, sounding uncomfortable.
"I killed over ten thousand demons last night, Willow," a young man stepping through the door wearing a cheap Fantastic Four costume of Johnny Storm under an overcoat replied. "According to Giles, the Watcher archives say that slayers only kill about a hundred vamps a year. So, in ONE night, I did more slaying than the slayers have in the past hundred years combined. I think that's worth a peek, to see if it can be repeated."
Willow Rosenberg followed her costume garbed oldest friend into the closed up shop. It was all dark and spooky in a "I'm a store and should be full of people doing business" way.
Xander had paused, taking in a deep, double-lung breath of the shop's dusty air, almost as though he could feel the magic in anticipation. Memories of the night before, as the Human Torch, flying along the length and breadth of California like a jet fighter, incinerating all of the vamps or demons he could see (which, with the ability to sense heat, and know who was just a room temperature corpse waltzing around, was quite a few)...
... it had been amazing!
Willow worried for her friend, as he hadn't taken the costume off since then, not even to eat or bathe. And, since school was due to start in an hour, that meant he was probably going to miss first period or so. "Are you sure..?" she ventured.
"Like I told you, Wills. If there is some mystic-mojo, magic connection I don't want to do anything that could get in the way of restarting this. This costume worked once. If there is any way of restarting that, I'm going to take it, period. End of story."
The young man pivoted to give his companion a disarming grin. "Hey! You like how the Slayer is our own, personal super-heroine. Well, I've got fifty times her kill total, and want to stay on the job. Is there anything wrong with that?"
Willow relaxed slightly and shyly smiled. "No, that's fine."
Privately, Xander could not stop his own smile, still heady over the rush he got out of the memories from last night. It had been a thrill like no other. For one, magnificent evening, he had been invincible. From the moment of "Flame On!" any vampire that touched him died, burned to cinders in the same instant it reached out for him. Then he'd discovered how much of an advantage it could be when you could fly - and your enemies didn't. And, of course, having ranged attack powers when your enemies didn't. Crisping a bunch of very, highly flammable demons, hitting them in a weak area.
It had been a slaughter!
He'd always admired the slayer. She could wrestle with her opponents and look all cool and flashy doing so. But she got maybe one or two performances in a night, if she was lucky, excluding one or two really big battles each year. But she also had slow days where she didn't catch anything. Contrast this with flying across cities at Mach speed instantly flash frying everything demonic he could see!
Last night put everything into a context where she was like a professional wrestler - and he had spent one glorious evening being the entire United States Air Force!
Xander knew he wouldn't need more than a couple extra nights of that to cut back the vamp levels of North America almost down to where people already believed it to be - where they were purely mythical creatures and bogeymen out of fairy tales!
Of course, what Xander *really* wanted was to acquire the powers of Johnny Storm on a permanent basis, and live out the rest of his life as The Human Torch. As someone like that, he could probably put an end to the vampire menace forever!
All the slayer ever seemed to be able to do with her powers was to prevent the problem from getting much worse. She didn't really have a chance to stop the vampires entirely, as there were just too many of them, and they could replace their numbers too fast. So at best all she could do was to keep a limit on their depredations.
But Johnny Storm? There was a person who could incinerate them no matter their numbers, and faster than they could drain new victims.
Jesse could finally be avenged in the only way that truly mattered - by stopping the bloodsucking demons from ever attacking another clueless victim, wiping all of the vampire scum out from off the face of the Earth. It was an ideal Xander hadn't even let himself dream of until last night made it all appear possible. Not only possible, but for one night he'd been DOING IT!
The young man understood totally how he could've become addicted to that in one glorious evening, and gave himself total permission to get another fix, if he could. He was already going to be cherishing those memories for the rest of his life, as it was.
Buffy could live to be ninety and he'd STILL have killed more demons than her!
Oh, yes! Not bad for someone being humiliated in front of jocks, just the other day.
The two teenagers turned as there came a rattle and a crash from the door behind them. Panic was resolved almost as soon as it arose as the fear of being caught was banished by their recognizing the two new interlopers.
"Wow! I didn't know you guys would be here, too!" Amy Madison called cheerfully as she entered the shop wearing a classic witch's costume, wand in one hand and a broom in the other, a black cat darting along between her feet.
Xander's brain locked up as he caught the costume of her companion.
"Bad Xander," Willow tried to hide her jealousy as his eyes riveted to the 'black sorceress in a micro bikini' look that Harmony Kendall was sporting. She slapped him lightly for it, but when he didn't wake up, she sighed, and asked, "What are you doing here?" of Amy, just to have some girl-chat going while waiting for Xander's brain to reboot.
Amy was all smiles as she hefted her broom. "Oh, well the broom this shop sold me stopped working this morning. Since it was fine all of last night, I was hoping they could look at it and maybe fix it? I like flying. It was fun."
The blonde giggled. "It may be the first time I really liked the traditional witch thing."
"Take me, please," Xander whispered, still staring at Harmony.
Willow scowled, as not only was Harmony not bothered by this attention, if anything, she seemed pleased, and preened under his gaze. Seeking to divert this as soon as possible, she told Amy, "You know, I heard the shopkeeper was run out of town last night. But we were hoping to recover any leftover magic he might have left behind."
"You know Amy, that's not a bad idea. You should help. Most people aren't qualified to work with magic, and if the shopkeeper had to be exiled, he was probably working dark magic. There are probably some cursed items lying about."
The very masculine voice speaking up caught everyone's attention, except Xander's, but his gaze still turned somewhat that way as Hamony's very voluptuous bosom turned when she faced that direction.
The reason they were alarmed was because it was Amy's black cat who spoke. "What? You all just revealed you know about magic. Never heard of a witch's familiar before?"
Amy darted in and scooped up her cat. "That's right. I got him last night. Only last night, he was a plushy, and today he is still real. That's why I was hoping they could get the broom working right again. I already have the wand."
She held out the aforementioned object, sparks trailing from its tip in streamers.
"That's great!" Willow clapped her hands, still secretly scheming to draw Xander's eyes away from Harmony's barely-clad bosom. "Do you think you could help us detect any magic that might be left over?"
"I can try." Amy gamely waved her new sparkling wand over the shop in general. "Magic hidden before the eye. Reveal your secrets!"
"Was that a spell?" Willow blinked, then her hair practically stood on end as a wave of magic swept over the shop, leaving several objects lightly glowing.
"It felt right," Amy confessed, clutching her wand to her chest happily.
Once again, Willow fought down a surge of jealousy. This time had a different source. Why was floating pencils so HARD?
Willow incidentally got what she'd wanted as Xander's head shook in sympathy to the jiggling bosom that vanished out from before his eyes, leaving him to blink as Harmony disappeared around a corner to where she'd caught a glimpse of something in the staff only areas of the shop.
"Looks like someone was being naughty," said the cheerleader dressed as an evil sorceress as she lifted up a stack of papers from the printout tray of a softly glowing photocopier.
"Money?" Amy joined in oogling the sheets of twenty dollar bills that Harmony was picking up. They were all cut and neatly stacked by hundreds and everything.
Willow came scurrying after. "I thought they put a chip in those machines so they wouldn't copy cash?"
"This one just did," Harmony reported smugly, now loading ream after ream of cash bundles into her cloak, where they just vanished. As she was finishing up, she said, "Oh, look. The machine's light is blinking. It says it wants more paper."
Happily, the cheerleader added a new ream, and the reloaded copier began printing more.
"Do you know why the machine detects as magic?" Willow asked.
"No clue, don't care," Harmony happily replied, before fanning one stack of bills. "Although, these all have different serial numbers." The young lady cheerfully began humming to herself, already loading more paper in, incidentally covering up as her cloak, the only significant stretch of fabric in her entire costume, pooled around her as she leaned forward.
This caused Xander's eyes to catch on to something he'd missed. "Hey! Your cloak is glowing!" he accused.
"Uh huh!" Harmony cheerfully replied. "Like Amy, I'm here to find out if the shopkeeper can get me up to full power again. The outfit works fine, magical protection, perfect temperature all of the time, and a cape that holds dang near anything - It's like a purse that holds more than my dad's car! It also came with a free boob job, and a cool nip and tuck. Only last night I was blowing up monsters faster than Cordelia goes through money on a shopping spree, and I *liked* it! So I want to do more of it. So I came back to the shop to see if they could restart whatever it was they did."
"So, we're all here for the same reasons!" Amy announced, holding her cat, who agreed.
"Looks that way, Amy."
Every eye turned to where Willow had jumped back from a sword that was now stuck firmly into the floor, nearly up to its hilt. "I'm sorry!" she babbled, "I saw this Halloween costume with that was like, armor, and it had this glowing sword. I was only just going to touch it, and then it sprang away from me, and it stuck in the floor. And I don't know how it did that, or why, but it startled me, and..."
"Breathe, Willow," Xander was back nurturing his friend.
"Whoso pulleth forth this sword from this stone is rightwise king of all England," Amy read from the few inches of blade that was all that was left between the hilt and the ground.
"Well, it seems like someone wasn't worthy," her cat exclaimed.
Xander couldn't resist, and gave it a few experimental tugs, not truly surprised when he couldn't get it to budge in the least. After him, Amy gave it a try, then Harmony gave it a hefty pull.
"I'm so sorry!" Willow blurted, secretly not sorry at all, now that Xander's vision had turned away from the heaving bosom of Harmony as she'd strained at drawing the sword, to the rack of clothes she'd just knocked over.
"Oh look, a Wonder Woman costume is glowing," Harmony left her fruitless efforts straining at the sword to pick up the swimsuit-style garment, slipping into it unselfconsciously right there in front of them.
Though she didn't remove the first costume to do it, and the Wonder Woman outfit was only like a swimsuit itself, it was as though she had covered up, because the superheroine costume covered about a thousand times as much skin as her evil sorceress one.
Xander looked unhappy at the change. Glancing at the counter he spied a forgotten multitool that, when he picked it up, actually turned into any tool, from a pipe wrench, to bolt cutters, a magnifying glass, then a weight scale, through a carpentry hammer to scissors.
He pocketed it.
"Hmm, not bad," the cheerleader bounced on her toes, then did some stretches. "I think this suit has some sort of magical athletic boost. It's not much, but it's there."
"I found some more wands, only they won't work for me," Amy said.
"Those are both copies of Harry Potter's wand," Willow came over to have a look, and told her. "And in that series, 'the wand chooses the wizard'."
"Well, they don't seem to like this witch," Amy sighed, putting them down. "On the plus side, one of those costumes came with a nifty candy bag in the shape of a trolley with his trunk and owl cage on it. Since the bird is real, there might be a bag of real gold coins inside that mess of a trunk."
Willow couldn't seem to resist trying the wands both herself.
"Hey! I found the bracers that went with the Wonder Woman costume!" Harmony cried.
"Do they work?" Amy's cat asked.
"Don't know. No way of knowing, and I'm not going to look for a way to test them, either."
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
Everybody turned to where Harmony had just knocked over a pile of canes. The one in her hand had a sword halfway drawn out of it. One of the ones on the floor had just shot off half a hundred rounds before running out of ammunition. "Uh, hi? Spoke too soon?" she said sheepishly, still holding onto the cane with the half-drawn blade. "I found this nifty sword-cane, but it looks like one of the ones that dropped was someone's concealed machinegun. And, yes, the Wonder Woman bracelets? They work."
"There's another in this violin case over here. No ammo," Xander announced, disapproving.
He still took it anyway.
Everyone looked towards the distinctive sound, where Willow had just activated a lightsaber, only to sigh in disappointment as she made an experimental swing at the counter and it didn't do anything. "That's all it is," she sighed, having made the barest of touches on the blade with the tip of one finger, "Light."
"I found some winged sandals - only they don't fly!" Amy reported, and true enough, the tiny wings on the heels of her new footwear flapped valiantly, but didn't go anywhere.
"I've got a set of pokeballs, but they're empty," Xander's voice floated out of his own explorations of the costume racks.
"They probably only hold pokemon," Amy sighed. "Otherwise that could be grand."
"I'll just have to try 'em out on Angel and see." The grin could be heard in Xander's voice.
"Bad Xander." Willow scolded. "You'd have to knock him out first. And then Buffy would be lonely."
"Here are some glowing paint cans. I don't know what they do, though," Harmony spoke from the back of the shop, where she was, once again, reloading the copier.
"I could swear I just saw a man's hairpiece hide under a counter," Amy's cat told everyone.
"I always thought some of those looked like they moved on their own, like they were alive, or something," Amy mused while she inspected a beautiful ball gown. "Hey! This is, like, a princess costume or something!"
Willow scowled, but also drew in on herself, looking sad. "I wouldn't put it on. Buffy had one of those on last night, and she got beaten nearly to death, and almost raped. She's in the hospital today. It was really awful."
"Oh." Suddenly Amy's enthusiasm for the costume just died.
"I found a magic bat with these baseball costumes," Xander offered by way of distraction. "Tag says it is +1, +3 vs small, flying objects."
"Pad of receipts and a label maker behind the register are enchanted. Don't ask me what they do, though," Amy announced.
Laughter came from the employee area. "Check out the bathroom! The 'porcelain throne' has become the real deal! Gold leaf and everything. I'm going to have to find a real toilet soon, though. This doesn't have a hole in the middle anymore for its usual function, and that padding looks expensive. I'd hate to get it wet."
Willow spotted something that was enough to reignite her enthusiasm. "Hey! This is a Star Trek phasor!" Snatching it up, she scowled. "Oh. Batteries not included."
"I've found a wig for Wednesday Addams," Amy told everyone in a dull monotone while wearing the device. "All it seems to do is make me speak like this."
"I just found a Book of Exalted Deeds. Anybody a cleric?" Harmony called out. "Oh, no, wait. It's written entirely in Thieves' Cant. Then there's this Libram of Silver Magic written entirely in troll. Either one do any of you any good?"
They all met gazes. "Nooo."
"Bummer. Oh! Look! Here are a bunch of textbooks for a nerdy college geek costume that are all glowing, but they're all For Dummies. If those work like other magic books, I bet just about anybody could jump to the top of the grade curve if they read them."
"Dibs on the Home Ec for Dummies," Amy replied.
"You can have that. I'm going after Economics and Business for Dummies," Harmony told everyone, emerging from the stacks carrying a backpack full of books, handing one to Amy and keeping hold of the two she'd mentioned.
"Xander needs the one for Math," Willow admitted.
"Hey! Look everybody! I found a magic lamp!" Xander emerged bearing aloft his own prize, recently liberated from an Arabian themed set.
Without waiting for counsel, he rubbed it excitedly, astonishing everyone when a misty form emerged and began to coalesce into a clearly recognizable human form, bald with an earring and posing with arms crossed across his mighty chest. Then, with a massive swish of both air and magic, everything in the whole shop was spotless, including the four teens. Then, trash picked up, stains removed, clothes washed and the wood and tile all nicely polished, the man of mist returned to his bottle.
Xander just stared at the bottle. "Figures I'd get a genie lamp holding Mr. Clean."
"Dude, I could *so* use that around the house," Amy announced, wide-eyed.
"If you find Mr Tidy Bowl, I want to see him yacht around," Harmony teased.
"Uhm, I found a playboy bunny costume that glows." Willow shyly admitted. "Oh, look! There's an Unnatural Axe!"
"Unnatural acts?" Harmony as well as Amy and her cat all echoed dubiously.
"Axe." Xander spelled it. "It's from a card came about killing monsters. And yes, it's all over spikes and grins at people when you swing it at them. It's cool!" he declared.
Willow emerged bearing the weapon, or rather dragging it behind her, as it stood taller than the girl dragging it, and had to weight over a hundred pounds. And yes, it didn't look natural at all. "It came from a munchkin costume display," she offered.
"Pity more of that costume didn't work," Xander breathed aloud in wonder, as anyone who could swing THAT at a monster wasn't to be toyed with!
"I found a man's overcoat," Harmony had emerged from the backroom and was searching through the piles. "I thought it was from a flasher costume, but every time I open it up, well, see for yourself."
She held open the coat, showing that the inside surface of the jacket was hung with dozens of watches. Then she slapped it closed and opened it again, and this time it was hung with event tickets. Next time was mobile phones, then other jewelry. Each time she flipped the coat open it was something different.
"A, ah, uh, street vendor's coat," Amy offered dubiously.
"Yeah, but you have to shove cash in the pockets before you can remove anything." The girl holding the coat did not approve, but pursed her lips. "Still, everything but the event tickets comes at a substantial discount."
There came a crash from out of the back room, and they all rushed back to see Xander fighting with a stuffed purple dinosaur. Once he had its mouth taped shut with a roll of duct tape wrapped around its muzzle several times, he panted, "Sorry. It started to sing. Oh, would you look at that?"
And with that he picked up a deck of cards out of the lost and found that flashed and filled the whole room with light from the moment he first touched it. Amy was forced to cancel the spell that let them see magic auras before they could blink spots from their eyes in the sudden darkness.
Willow found a light switch a moment later.
"Most of the deck is like a solid block of iron," Xander announced to the group, holding the mass of cards in one hand, turning the immobile lump over and over without budging it. "But some of the cards came free in my hand."
He looked at what he had, then smiled. "Sweet!"
Immediately the lad began to reload paper into the copier, flipping open the top to take out the twenty dollar bill that lay there, and place in one of those cards, face-down.
"What are you doing? That was money!" Harmony objected.
"So are these," Xander showed off the cards he held proudly. "Some of the ones in my hand are worth hundreds of bucks. Hey, is this machine broken, or something?"
He bent to examine why it had only turned out three cards.
Harmony rolled her eyes. "Obviously you've not used a copier before. They can sense fear. Here, let me try it with another card." She handed him back the original he'd copied.
Xander passed her another card without looking at it, before deciding that having four Mox Diamonds was worth doing a Snoopy Happy Dance over.
"Huh, there are still only four, one original, three copies," Amy was watching over Harmony's shoulder as the copier produced exactly three more cards. "Could it be something about the cards? Here, try to copy a page out of this book."
She passed over the For Dummies book she held, which Harmony placed on the scanning plate open to a random page. Only to be shocked when it triggered, to have a whole book fall out into the printout rack, followed by another identical copy of the whole book. Then the 'needs paper' light came on.
"It copied everything." Willow shook her head in amazement, reading over the blonde witch's shoulder as Amy compared the copied books to the original. A quick spell just on the books revealed they were just as magic as the original.
"Ok, new plan," Willow told the group. "We all get our own copies of the textbooks. If they do anything like what they should, we all get perfect grades, and I can do more research into the supernatural in the time I save from study."
Xander had just turned to tell her what a great plan that was when one of the mox diamond cards fell from out of his hand to land face-up on the floor.
An instant surge of light had everyone blinking again.
"What was *that*?" Amy demanded, she and everyone else shielding her face from the glare with her arm.
"It's demanding that I discard a land or I don't get the diamond," Xander replied in wonder. His face paled. "Holy magic playing cards, Batman! You mean that deck is REAL?"
"Well, if you don't want the diamond, I'll certainly take it." Harmony tried to pluck the card up off the floor, only to fail just as badly as she had at drawing Excaliber. "What's wrong?"
Xander had searched hurriedly through the remaining cards in his hand. "I don't have any land cards! Doesn't that mean I should get a redraw, or something?"
"Not if you've already played a card. It's too late," Amy, who'd played a bit with her dad, who was something of a nerd about the game, told him regretfully.
Xander lunged to the copy machine, tossing out the couple of For Dummies books to retrieve the cards under them. "Yes! I've got a land!" Plucking out one of the four island cards laying on the copier, he announced, "I'll use this one to pay for mox diamond."
The flash of light surged, then was over just as quickly, leaving everyone blinking at spots once again. As they cleared, everyone could tell the island card was missing from Xander's hand, and around his neck was a beautiful piece of jewelry with a diamond that had to weigh in at something like sixty carats.
Harmony was instantly at the young man's side, drawing imaginary circles on his chest. "I'm sure I can think of something to give you that you'd like more than that silly diamond."
The young man gulped. "As much as I'd like to agree with you, games played with these cards share a lot in common with the Highlander show. They're both about a Gathering, and for each, the victory statement can truly be summed up as 'In The End, There Can Be Only One', as in, one survivor. That said, sure! I'd love to..."
"Bad Xander!" Willow swatted him on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.
"Ouch!" the boy rubbed his nose. "It's just as well," the young boy sighed, struggling with the necklace. "I can't seem to take it off." Addressing Harmony, he asked, "Are you looking for a roguishly handsome jewelry stand to come with your new necklace? Ow! Ow! Quit it!"
Willow relaxed into a ready position from her swatting. "No agreeing to die," she ordered sternly. "If you're going to play, you're going to win. No giving away important resources."
"Yes, ma'am," he meekly acquiesced. He'd crossed a line with that one, and knew it. Jokes about death were one thing, actual flirting with it another.
"Look, you've got three more of those cards, and more islands. Perhaps you could work it out so we are wearing some of the next diamond necklaces?" Amy asked.
Several islands later, four diamonds hung around Xander's neck, but no one had thought of any way that he could part with one for any of the girls.
"Well, what other cards have you got?" Amy demanded.
Xander read aloud, "I've got a Prodigal Sorcerer, White Knight, Ivory Tower, Library of Alexandria, Serra Angel and the card I think I drew at the start of this turn is called Ancestral Recall. I know some of these are worth major bucks, but I haven't played since my dad pawned my collection for beer money. And... shutting up now," the boy blushed as he realized what he'd admitted.
"Well," Amy shrugged, "You might as well play the Library of Alexandria, since you haven't played a land yet this round."
"Wait!" Harmony commanded, intercepting the card selected before Xander could put it down. "Copy it first. If these things are your tools as part of a 'live or die' struggle, then more is always better, yeah?"
Three gazes locked on each other, then it was over to the copier.
"You know, I think I've figured out why we can only make you three copies of each," Amy offered. "Because in Magic, you are only allowed to have four of any card in a deck."
Xander stared at the block of cards in his hand. "You mean I've got a deck made up of who knows how many cards, and each one is different? That can't be optimized!"
"Cheer up, Xander! It's probably working out better for you this way." Amy told him just as the mistress of the copy machine turned over four cards back to the boy. "I mean, who else gets four mox diamonds out on their first turn?"
"That's true." The boy sagged in relief. "Mana starved, I am not."
"Mana?" Amy's pet cat asked.
"The term they use for magical energy in the game," its owner told him. "And it's on an unheard-of scale. An entire island or mountain gives you only one point of mana."
"That type of power would put you among the top-ranked sorcerers of the world," the cat informed Xander boldly.
The young man gulped, then shrugged. "Ok, well, maybe I'll take this as second place over getting to be Johnny Storm again. It's got to have uses, right? Actually, from what I recall those weeks I played, I can call up whole armies with this stuff, right?"
"If you get the right cards, sure," Amy told him.
Dogbertcarroll put up a story that I though had absolutely fantastic possibilities in one direction, and when I told him so he confessed his plans lay in another, then invited me to use my ideas in my own story.
I don't know for how long I've said to picky reviewers, "if you don't like it, write your own", and, well, money where my mouth is time, here I am doing it.
The aim is probably for this to be a fairly short story. At first I was thinking only five chapters. It may go longer, but I'm not sure, and certainly not much longer in any case.