"Buffy, I really need you to come through for me tomorrow night. I know you have a lot on your plate right now, and I can't begin to know how you fit it all in, but I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important. Dawn is far too young to act as hostess, even if she did volunteer." Joyce Summers hated to dump yet another duty on her eldest, but the night was just too important to them all.
"I've already talked to Mr. Giles. He assured me that he would arrange coverage for your slaying duties. As for Glory; he feels it isn't wise to confront her now since it seems she is some kind of goddess. He wants to do more research before you charge off after her. Personally, I'm not at all comfortable with you having to deal with her at all. You're a vampire slayer, not a goddess fighter after all, not that I really understand any of it," Joyce said.
She worried about Buffy all of the time and this latest threat to her family had been the worst of all. Vampires and demons took a lot of getting used to, but hellgods? What was THAT anyway? Sometimes Joyce felt like a secondary character in some cheap horror movie.
Her eldest daughter was a college student by day and killer of monsters by night. Her baby girl didn't really exist a few months ago .... at least, not as a human being. Some mornings Joyce felt she would awaken to find the past few years were just some odd dream with an increasingly odd cast of characters.
That reminded her of another reassurance for Buffy if she chose to play hooky. "Willow and Tara are in the kitchen working on something to make patrolling easier for you. See, you can have a clear conscience about taking off one night and have a good time at the gallery. Be a normal college girl for a change and enjoy the event. Not to mention a new dress," Joyce finished under her breath.
There was a gala at the gallery. It was by invitation only, an opening of the "Allegory in Art" exhibit tomorrow night. Joyce had been working on it for most of the year so far. All the cards had gone out months ago to all the most important, moneyed citizens of Sunnydale. Great care had been taken in choosing the pieces: originals, as well as reproductions.
Caterers and bartenders had been hired and mood music selected. Joyce had even splurged on new dresses for herself as well as one for her lovely daughter. All was in place for a complete success.
The gallery had been doing all right, holding its own, in fact. Joyce could hardly wait to wave THAT bit of information under Hank Summers nose! "Let's see that bimbo of a secretary he's traveling with pull off an evening like this," she thought with a twinge of bitterness.
Joyce needed to make a real splash with this showing. She didn't want anyone to know JUST how important it was to her for it to be a success. Not just her fragile ego was on the line.
She was glad she had competent help these past months in selecting the works, cataloging and planning. There had been far too much work for her to pull this off alone.
She missed her helper she thought with a sigh. Good help was hard to find, but good FREE help was impossible to replace.
Everything had to go right with the showing. Money had always been tight since the divorce and now there were looming medical bills in the near future.
She hadn't broken the news to the girls yet, but her blinding headaches had worsened. Dr. Logan had told her to arrange a hospital visit for tests as soon as possible after the gala. The prospect of all the 'could be's' struck terror into Joyce.
If the showing went well, and sales were good, there might be just enough of a profit, for once, to relieve a bit of stress.
"I don't mind mom. I get to be ‘Buffy the gallery hostess in basic black with pearls’. Sounds all Glamour magaziney and non-slayerish for a change. I'll handle," Buffy said.
"I promise to even drop by this afternoon to help set up and
everything. See, supporto daughter front and center," she assured her mom.
Buffy could tell her mom had some major issues lately and guessed that the gala was one of the reasons for Joyce's many headaches of late.
Buffy sniffed the air and asked, "So, what's burning in the kitchen? Not like supermom to fix pancakes flambe' even on a busier than usual morning," she quipped.
"Oh, Dawn is working on that new cookie recipe for snickerdoodles. I don't think she's managed an edible batch yet, but I'm sure you can help yourself to the burnt offerings in the meantime," Joyce laughed. "I don't expect Dawn to be hosting her own show on the 'Food Channel' any day soon," she said and shook her head.
Buffy headed to the kitchen to check on her friends, and lend moral support to her little sister.
Okay, really to rub salt in the wound of her little sister's latest disaster in home economics. The only person with fewer domestic skills than Buffy was Dawn. Buffy totally loved pointing it out to her every chance she got.
She stopped short in the doorway at the sight of the mess that went with the acrid smell. It wasn't merely the burnt cookies, but somehow all of her moms plastic mixing bowls were in a gooey, icky, puddling mess on the center counter.
Willow and Dawn were standing there with cookie dough splattered all over them and stunned looks on their faces.
Tara sat at the end of the counter, book in hand, trying to comfort both the other girls.
"Sweetie, I think you need to be more specific somehow for the spell to work right," she said to Willow. She was consulting the dough-flecked pages of a Latin/English dictionary as she spoke to her lover. "According to the dictionary, globus DOES mean ball, but it can also mean a cluster or crowd or other things. ...Um... I think we need to come up with a different phrase than 'ball of sunshine’ for your magic device," she suggested.
Tara turned to the silently crying Dawn and offered the teen her best smile of sympathy.
"Dawnie, I'm sure Willow didn't mean to cause your cookies to combust just when they finally came out so well! Look, honey, some are still perfectly fine, and even yummy," she said and took a bite of one of the surviving cookies. "We probably should have worked on our spells and potions somewhere else while you were busy baking," she apologized.
"Sorry, Dawnie, I guess magics and cinnaminey goodness just aren't mixey that and I really should have taken Latin instead of French," Willow said while flicking some batter off the end of her nose.
Willow stared at the mess on the counter then brightened. The young Witch cast a quick glance at Tara and shared a new thought on what might have gone wrong. "Maybe the problem isn't with the spell, maybe it's with the potion! I think we shouldn't have used a substitute. Anya has some real peacock feathers at the Magic Box. That’s got to be millions times better than this dyed one! We'll try the potion part again after we have the real thing to use."
Willow was never one to simply give up after a few hundred failed
attempts. She put on her 'determined face' for all to see.
"Hey Buff," she said noticing her best friend in the doorway. "We're just mixin' up some spells and smells. Come on in and have a snickerdoodle surprise," she said in greeting.
"Well I know that Dawn needs all the help she can get with cooking, but bringin' in the magics is just cheating," Buffy said in jest.
"Mom," Dawn bellowed, "Buffy's in here making fun of me! Make her stop. The burnt cookies were TOTALLY not my fault. She's just being a, a, a, a, royal bitca anyway!" She threw both a glare and a burnt cookie at her older sister as she flounced out of the kitchen.
"I'm going to my room, and don't EVEN think about following me," she spat. Buffy rolled her eyes as she listened to Dawn stomp up the stairs, slamming her bedroom door upon arrival.
"There are days when I wish I could remember what it was like to be an only child," she said to herself. "It just had to be more peaceful."
Buffy turned back to her two friends and asked, "Watcha doin, makin with the magic surprises and navigating the dangerous waters of teenaged angst?"
She plopped a piece of bread into the toaster to fix her standard breakfast and poured a cup of coffee.
"We’re workin' on that plan for a 'ball of sunshine' spell. I thought I had it nailed this time for sure," Willow answered with a slight pout.
"Guess not," Buffy noted.
"Yup, back to the ole' drawing board for this Wicca." Willow got a mischievous look and punned, "Or is that there’s no rest for the Wicca?" She ducked her head as Tara and Buffy chuckled.
"I think we're going to head to the Magic Box for some supplies. I'm sure Anya's opened the store already, it is 8:01 after all," noted Tara.
They all giggled at the mental picture of a sale hungry Anya having to wait until 8:00 to open the store. Giles had put his foot down against her idea of being the first magic supply store to be open for business 24/7.
"Don't worry about patrol tomorrow, or Dawie either," Willow reassured her friend. "Xan and I have patrol covered, Giles is on research duty, and Tara's going to take the cookie monster to dinner and a movie. Got ya' covered Buff. You go be the hostess with the mostess and sell lots of arty stuff to rich Californians," she said.
Buffy’s mother chose that time to come into her kitchen. Her face registered shock at the mess left by the girls with their various projects. She could feel one of her headaches beginning behind her eyes at the sight.
"Hi Joyce, sorry about the mess we made. We'll clean it up and, um, g, g, get some replacement bowls for the ones we melted," Tara greeted Buffy's mom.
"I have another set, dear, don't worry about them. With my girls, it pays to have backup cookware," she said with a smile.
She sighed in relief as Willow and Tara proceeded to clean up not only their own mess, but Dawn’s too. She turned to her eldest and smiled. Her smile turned to a worried frown as she asked, "Is that all you're having for breakfast, Buffy?"
It was almost a morning ritual to have this conversation. "You really need a better breakfast than one piece of dry toast and a cup of coffee. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Didn't I teach you anything about nutrition?" Joyce felt a bit like a broken record, but Buffy just didn’t seem to listen.
She looked at her daughter's thinning form with concern. Buffy didn’t seem to think about her body having needs like good food or enough rest. All those highly touted ‘Slayer abilities’ made her little girl forget she was still, when all is said and done, merely human and as fragile as any other young girl. Joyce worried.
Willow and Tara left by the back door with a wave as mother and daughter engaged in a discussion about the merits of a healthy breakfast. They took the garbage bag with the destroyed bowls out with them.
Tara missed her own dead mother's similar nurturing, and Willow wished her mother was aware of her even existing.
They both felt a bit of jealousy where Buffy's mom was concerned. It was nice to be loved.
"I've got a couple of errands to run this morning. I'll come by the gallery around noon to help unpack and display those prints you were so excited to get in time for the gala," promised Buffy.
"Thank you sweetheart, I'm sorry if I’ve been a fussbudget lately," Joyce said. "I don’t mean to take things out on you girls."
Buffy looked closely at her mother and asked, "So, headaches gone?" She thought it was too bad things like headaches, finals and demon hunting stayed around while all her boyfriends left town. "Now they don't just leave for other cities, they go to whole other countries! What next?" She was only half joking as she asked herself, "Would a new boyfriend leave me so he could join NASA, leave the planet?"
"Some mornings are better than others," Joyce replied to Buffy's
Buffy was startled for a moment, trying to remember what her question had been. Wool gathering of the boyfriend challenged was too distracting in the middle of a conversation.
Her mom's answer was too close to being appropriate to Buffy's last thoughts and it confused her for a minute.
She really had to stop dwelling on her issues with men. Her mom hadn't been well and was still looking a bit off. That was more important.
No amount of brooding would bring either Angel or Riley back in her life.
Time to focus on now, focus on mom, focus on school, focus on slaying, focus...... Buffy Summers, Focusey girl comin' up.
Joyce Summers and her two assistants, Lance, and Cindy bustled around unpacking the last of the crates for the show. Things were taking shape fairly well. The well thought out plans had made last minute organization a breeze.
"Well, I don't know why Mr. Williams quit helping now when we need him the most." Cindy was talking to Lance as Buffy entered with a tray of Latte's from the Espresso Pump for everyone.
"He's done so much work. It just isn't right for him to miss the end result," Cindy continued with a slight pout and a wistful look.
"Oh, you just miss drooling over him, girlfriend," Lance teased.
Cindy elbowed her co-worker and replied impishly, "Yeah, just like you do!" Lance blushed, but didn’t bother to deny it.
"Oh, hello Buffy, just in time for the great uncrate," Lance said with a bow and a flourish.
"Ooh, one of those yummies for me," he asked? "Give over girl."
"Yup, caffeine goodness all round. Private Buffy Summers reporting for duty as promised." Buffy smiled at her mom's two employees. She didn’t spend much time at her mom’s gallery, but had met the crew a time or two. They were nice college kids from U.C. Sunnydale and Cindy had been in one of Buffy’s freshman Lit. classes.
Buffy was sure these were her mom’s only employees and wondered who they had been talking about. "Who is this Mr. Williams? Mom can't afford another employee and I really don't think she's dated anyone since Ted. Well, that one time with Giles doesn’t really count!" Buffy nearly blushed at that memory. "Mom and I really need to talk more."
Having decided to engage more in her mom's life, Buffy knelt to help unpack the art prints.
"Woa, what the heck is this? It looks like a place I may have seen a time or two," Buffy quipped.
She regarded the rather bizarre picture filled with images that brought the hellmouth to mind. She wasn't sure about the largish fish at the bottom, but the rest looked hellmouthey enough.
"Oh," said Joyce, "Those are the Bosch prints. He did wonderful
allegory paintings. That's one of his many visions of hell. Look, here's one of the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man," she explained.
"Huh, preoccupied much?" Buffy muttered to herself about artists and their weird ideas of what to paint.
"He was one of the most brilliant of the Flemish painters and his works hang in the best museums all over the world. I think we'll sell lots of these. Bosch is very popular. His work is compelling, isn't it Buffy?" Joyce had always dreamed of Buffy one day sharing her interest in all things artistic.
"Yeah, lots of homesick demons in Sunnydale," Buffy thought. "Just like a Freddy Krueger movie," she said aloud. "What a silly name for an adult …Freddy", she thought to herself.
"I just don't get art," Buffy decided as she glanced at the stack of prints. "Think I'll stick to posters of cute guys and kittens."
"This one's weird too. Why would anyone have surgery in a field? Why would someone have a flower in their brain for that matter?" Buffy continued mumbling to herself. She stared at the picture and wondered why she thought of Spike suddenly.
"Oh, that's 'Extraction of the Stone of Madness', one of his paintings at the Prado in Madrid! Mr. Williams specially chose that one," said Cindy. "I think he even ordered a print for himself."
Buffy was still puzzled. "Ok, extraction I get, and hey, if I had a rock in my brain I'd be mad too, but what's up with the flower?"
Before anyone could answer, the door opened and the florist arrived with the arrangements to be placed throughout the gallery.
Lance headed over to help the deliveryman bring in the floral arrangements and Joyce began to direct them where to place them.
This gala was going to be first class all the way.
The next several hours required far too much work for any more impromptu art appreciation classes. All four worked like slaves to make everything look just right.
When they finished it was nearly 7 P.M. They were too tired for
questions of any kind requiring an intelligent answer.
Buffy turned to her mom as they finally finished the last of the hangings. "Fast food or pizza delivery?"
"Oh honey, and here I just gave you a lecture about good nutrition this morning! I'm sorry. Promise I'll make it up to you and Dawn with pot roast and all the fixins' right after this bloody gala is done," Joyce exclaimed.
"Bloody? Mom, when did you start talkin' with Spikeisms?" Buffy saw her mom raise an eyebrow and start to answer. "No, I sooo don't want to go there! I don't even want to think of that idiot, so forget I asked, okay? I mean, first the weird art that looks like a place where he'd feel right at home, nearly family portraits, I’ll bet! Then you let loose with the bloodies ..... geech! That disinvite should have gotten rid of that stalking loser once and for all. ‘Spik-Be-Gone magic of the good," she huffed.
"Dear, I do understand how unsuitable Spike would be as a slayer's boyfriend, but aren't you being a bit too hard on him otherwise? He did help a lot with this Glory person and he can be very interesting to talk to. He is well traveled, cultured and intelligent. He does love you, even if he has, um, unconventional ways of showing it," Joyce said.
Buffy merely looked at her mother as if she'd grown another head and wondered if those headaches she'd been having were a symptom of something really bad.
IN THE HALLS OF ASGARD
"It is not possible for it to have been stolen," roared Thor. "In the hands of a knowing one, Loki will be released back into Midgard and Ragnarok will begin well ahead of schedule. Hear how the Fenris Wolf bays in anticipation?"
"I had though it safe with Skadi. After all, she did sentence that trickster and murderer to be bound and poisoned. She, the guardian of justice, vengeance, and righteous anger would not be careless of such an important item."
"See how, even now, Heimdall touches his horn," Thor exclaimed in nervousness. He began to pace about in great agitation, his mighty hammer swinging.
Modi looked nervously at his father. He ducked from the swinging
powerful hammer, ‘Mjollnir’, in his father's iron gloved hand. "Perhaps my grandfather, the great Odin, might look to the runes. He did suffer upon Yggdrasil to learn their ways, and he is the very font of wisdom," suggested Modi.
Sif, seeking to calm her husband, touched Thor upon his arm
gently. "My husband, we shall send for Hlin. She, as the protectoress, will not wish this evil to be released before the appointed time. She will know who to find to retrieve The Key of Orlog. Do not fret, and … mind the hammer, I'd not lose a son to your misplaced wrath! You've near hit Magni as well as Modi this past hour. The thunders shake the land of giant and man alike. You must calm yourself. All will be well you shall see," she said softly.
Hlin listened to the problem with growing horror. When Sif had finished the saga she called for her sister goddess, Skadi who had custody of the mighty key. "And where was it hidden," she asked of Skadi.
Skadi was as alarmed as the rest of the old ones of Valhalla. "It rested within the ice-crusted chest forged by Wheiland, himself. 'Twas safe at my home in the snows, though I have been long away. It is not the key alone that has disappeared, ... the whole of the palace, including the mountain it crowns! I know not what magic could have done such a feat, nor where my home has been taken. I am sure we all know the why, however," she trembled as she spoke.
None of the old ones needed a reminder of how important it was to
retrieve that key! A palace or a mountain could be replaced with
little effort. The key binding Loki was irreplaceable.
In a sacred grove somewhere in Scandinavia:
The shaman cast the stones as he sought the wisdom of the ages.
Suddenly before him stood Hlin in all glory.
"You have been chosen, mortal, to undertake a great quest of tremendous importance," she spoke.
In all his many years as a follower of Asatru, the Forn Sidr, he had never actually come face to face with any of the old gods that he worshipped. He was struck dumb in wonder.
The old shaman listened as his goddess spoke clearly while issuing her orders. He would need to act quickly, gather his followers. He was determined not to fail his adored one.
By nightfall a handful of valiant, brave and true followers had been pledged to their goddess' will, marked with appropriate runes, and given the magics needed to achieve their goal. They set out on the first leg of the journey to the mouth of hell.
Odin had located what they sought. They merely had to be his hands in the matter. All praise Odin!