Dark Night of the Soul: 6. The Trouble With Willow

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6. The Trouble With Willow

"Willow."

Willow's eyes drifted open. It was still night but something was strange about the sky. Her brow furrowed as she tried to figure out what it was. The air was stale and chilly as well. She blinked a few times, cleared the sleep from her eyes then realized what was different about the sky - an odd red tint was upon it.

"Willow," said the voice once again.

"Huh?" She sat up on her bedroll and her eyes scanned the darkness beyond their small camp. Her arms wrapped around her upper body, all she could hear was the sound of her own breathing and the soft crackle of the fire. Slowly, her gaze shifted over to her friends. Giles, Buffy, Xander and Elenya were still very much asleep. They hadn't heard the voice, apparently.

"Willow!" The voice was closer now, but it was a hushed tone.

The young witch rose to her feet, her ring hand lifted as she turned in a circle, scanning the perimeter. She would blast anyone who tried to attack her or the others. Her eyes narrowed again as she focused on a dark shadow, just beyond the reach of the campfire's light.

"Who's there?" she demanded. She took a step back as the figure advanced. Her hand lowered, stern expression shifting into one of surprise and puzzlement. "Frodo?"

The soft golden light illuminated the youthful face of the Hobbit, Frodo Baggins. He was dressed in traveling clothes - but carried nothing in the way of supplies. He glanced at the sleeping Men then looked up at Willow. "They'll take it from you, you know. You mustn't let them."

"What?" Willow's eyebrows arched. "What are you talking about? Who's going to take what?"

One of his hands reached out to her hand that bore the ring she'd found in Bree. "This. They will try to take it, Willow," he warned. He stood a few feet in front of her, a strange look of concern on his face now. "Tell you that you shouldn't use its power, that it's a product of Evil."

"This?" She looked down at the ring on her hand. It shimmered on its own. "Why would they want to take this? It's my ring and it's not evil." She met the little Hobbit's gaze again. "Since I've had it, my spell casting has improved. I'm not going to give that up. I'm finally doing something right." Her hand drew back, almost in a protective manner of her treasure. "How do you know so much about it anyway? And how did you find us? The way you told it, you never leave the Shire."

A roll of thunder from the South and East forced Willow to turn in that direction. The red tint seemed to originate from there - something dark loomed about and it wasn't happy. She looked down at her ring again then brushed her fingers over it, a sense of comfort flushing over her upon contact. Fear of what lurked in the lands beyond the mountains now gone she turned to deal with Frodo.

"Frodo?" she asked when she didn't see him standing there anymore. She ventured away from the camp, searching among the rocks for the Hobbit. "Frodo? Where are you?" [I hope nothing happened to him,] she thought. But why did he come all of that way just to tell her about the ring? Whatever the reason, it was obviously of great importance.

Turning, she stared back at the four who still slept near the fire. [They'll try to take it from me, he said.] Her eyes narrowed on them. [They've been bitching and moaning about this ring since I found it. Especially Buffy. She must be jealous that I'm no longer powerless.] Her left hand spun the ring around her finger, her glare becoming more suspicious. [Makes me wonder.]

-

"Willow!"

Willow's eyes popped open and she found Buffy leaned over her, a curious expression on her face. She blinked a few times, and then rose up a hand to shade her eyes from the morning sunlight. [What happened? One second it's night time, and now suddenly, it's day and everyone is awake? Did I get knocked on the head?] She pushed herself up into a sitting position and looked over to Elenya who helped Giles pack up the horses.

"It's morning already?" she sleepily asked. She yawned loudly then stretched her arms over her head. [My ring!] She jerked her hands down and immediately relaxed when her ring was still safely on her finger. She smiled at it. [Safe. You're safe on my finger, right where you belong.]

Buffy put her hands on her hips as she looked over to Xander. He'd been watching the scene with concern. Willow hadn't had a peaceful night's rest, they all knew. The redhead tossed and turned in her sleep, kept mumbling things under her breath and a couple times, she spoke in some language that Buffy didn't recognize.

"Yes, it's morning, Will. The sun came up, that's generally your first clue." She held out a hand to help her friend to her feet. "Your horse is all saddled up. We decided to let you sleep in today." She saw the way Willow regarded her outstretched hand. [What's her problem? Why's she staring at my hand like I have a sixth finger?] Her hand dropped to her side. "You have a bad dream or something?"

"Hmm? What makes you ask that?" Willow paused in rolling up her bedroll then looked back over her shoulder at Buffy who now had Xander standing beside her. "I slept fine." For a moment, she wondered if she should mention that Frodo Baggins had been there. Something inside made her think better of it. His warning was still fresh in her mind - [they'll take it from you.]

"If you insist," Buffy replied, holding up her hands a bit. She glanced back at Xander then headed over to Giles and Elenya. She looked back to Willow. Xander helped her pick up all of her things so they could be on their way. "You've noticed Willow's weird behavior since Bree, right, Giles? Tell me that this isn't all in my mind."

"Well, I -" Frankly, Giles's mind had been occupied with so many other matters. The stories Elenya told about the dawn of man and the world shook him to the center of his very being. Everything he'd resigned to being nothing but merely a fairy tale was the truth. The truth had evolved into a child's story of "once upon a time". "I hadn't noticed, Buffy."

"She's wigging out," Buffy told him. She looked up to her Watcher. "It's like she's got this bad case of PMS that she can't shake. She's irritable and confrontational. It's not Willow."

"Buffy, this situation has been extremely stressful for all of us. Perhaps Willow isn't able to cope as well as you've been able to," Giles suggested. He saw the look in Buffy's eyes. She didn't believe that to be the problem. "You shouldn't trouble yourself too much over it. We're all behaving differently these days."

Elenya hadn't known Willow long, so being able to judge what was not normal for the girl wasn't possible. She had noticed, though, that Willow was quite taken with her ring, something she'd picked up in Bree, according to Buffy. Many magickal rings existed in Middle-earth - some of them full of Evil. As she'd witnessed, Willow was a conjurer of magick. She wondered if there could be a connection -

"She's been restless for a long time, Giles. Talking in her sleep, mumbling things I can never quite make out. It's more than stress. This is getting scary."

Willow, with Xander's help, finished with packing up her horse. The four of them had picked up a lot of skills since arriving in Middle-earth - horseback riding, some more advanced weapons training, and a bit of Elvish. She checked the bridle to make certain it was properly affixed to the animal. Her gaze flicked over to Buffy who talked with Giles and occasionally looked over in Willow's and Xander's direction.

[They're already plotting against me,] she thought; her gaze narrowing briefly at the two she'd considered dear friends. Especially Buffy. Her eyes fell on her ring; it shimmered in the morning sunlight. [They'll try to take it from you.] She couldn't get Frodo's voice out of her head. Blinking, she tore her gaze from the piece of jewelry.

"You ready to head out?" Xander asked. He stared at Willow's profile. "Wills, are you sure you're okay? You've been ... a little different the last couple of days."

"Different?" She looked at him, a half-suspicious expression on her face. [You, too, Xander?] "What do you mean I've been different? I'm still Willow."

"I don't know," he replied with a shrug. His attention was caught by the glimmer of Willow's ring. She'd become awfully proud of the item she'd picked up in the alley in Bree. Willow was a lot of things, but excessively vain wasn't one of them. "You and that ring, for starters. It's like it's your new best friend."

Willow balled her ring hand into a fist and drew it closer to her body. "It's not my new best friend!" [It's my only friend, apparently. You're all so jealous of the fact that I have it. Why would you care so much about it, if you weren't?] "And I'm not different, okay?"

Xander watched Willow absently massage her balled up ring hand with her other hand. It was disturbing behavior, to say the least. He wondered exactly what was in that ring that was able to give Willow a boost in her magickal powers. "Maybe you shouldn't wear it?" he suggested.

"Maybe you should mind your own beeswax," she snapped in reply. She took hold of the saddle, placed her foot in the stirrup then easily mounted her horse. Taking the reins in her hands, she looked down at Xander. "It's my ring, Xander, and what I do with my property is my business."

"Willow -" He blinked once. This wasn't like her. He'd known the girl since they were tiny, and in all of those years, never had she acted in this manner. Not towards him, not even towards Cordelia, and Willow loathed her. "If something's wrong with you, then it's my business. That's what friends are all about."

An uncharacteristic glint came to Willow's eyes and wicked smirk crossed her face. "Maybe it's not really me you're so concerned about, Xander. It's just plain old jealousy. It's bugging you; the fact that I have something that makes me happy..." Her gaze shifted over to Buffy, who was now on her own horse. "... and you don't."

Xander stood there, dumbfounded, as Willow dug her heels into the sides of her horse and rode away from him. Had she just said that to him? Did those words actually come out of Willow "I'm just a shy girl" Rosenberg's mouth? He swallowed hard. Never had she said anything that stinging to him - ever. She hadn't salted a wound; she'd jammed a hose in there and pumped it in with full force.

Rather dejected, and still concerned about Willow, he made his way to his own horse and hauled himself into the saddle. He sat there, staring at the ground, barely hearing Buffy's voice calling out to him.

"Hey, Xander! Come on! Let's go!" She waved a hand for him to join them when he looked up at her. Buffy noticed the look Xander wore. She sat back in the saddle, her eyebrows arching in a questioning manner, as if to say 'what's wrong'?

"We have several days of travel ahead of us," Elenya said as she drew her horse to a stop between the two teenagers, attracting both of their attention. She looked from Xander over to Buffy. "The mountains are unforgiving. We must cover as much ground as possible before night falls once more."

Buffy reined her horse around, falling into the line of travelers behind Xander, and brought up the rear while Elenya moved into the point position. Biting her lower lip, she stared at Xander's back, wondering what had upset him. Was it what happened the other night in Rivendell? That she'd not ... not responded to him in the way he'd wanted?

After throwing one last look over her shoulder, knowing that somewhere in the lands behind her was Rivendell, Buffy sighed heavily. She had the feeling that things weren't going to get any easier on this trip. It just wasn't the Scooby style.

-

Two days passed without any event of note. At night, Buffy continued to tell Elenya the stories of her great battles. And Elenya would politely listen, interested in the tales, but mostly it was comforting to hear that Man would endure. In some time, so far off, these people and places Buffy spoke of existed. While the Slayers bonded, Giles took it upon himself to further Xander's education in self-defense in which Elenya had started him. If Xander expected to survive in Middle-earth, he would need more skill with a weapon than he possessed.

Willow, however, she continued to draw into herself and away from her friends. She dreamed of Bilbo Baggins the night after she'd dreamed of Frodo. Bilbo, the possessor of a magick ring at one time himself, passed along the same warning as Frodo - they would try to take it from her. He also advised her to never turn her back on the others. Jealousy could turn deadly. And with every dream she had of the two, something dark to the southeast would draw her attention. Whatever it was, it drew closer and closer to her as the nights passed.

Elenya slid down from her horse, taking the reins in her hand she walked ahead of the others to check out the rocky path leading down. They were still rather far from the bottom of this particular mountain, but once they'd crossed it, it would be a straight shot to the woods of Lothlorien. She let go of the reins, holding up her hand to Aratar to keep him back. A rockslide had recently taken place, from what she could tell, the path was blocked.

"This is just typical," Buffy muttered as she watched Elenya check out the mound of rocks, trying to figure out what the next move would be. "The past really sucks, Giles." She looked over to her Watcher. "I think I liked your version better. With the demons and everything, not all this crap."

"I preferred my version as well," he agreed. It was for another reason entirely. If this past held true to what he'd read of it, they were in for a lot more trouble. He fell silent as Elenya returned to report to them. "Will we be able to pass here?"

Elenya shook her head. "I do not believe so. Unless we leave the horses -" There was a loud whinny of protest from Aratar as he nudged her. She laughed lightly, placing a hand to his muzzle to calm him. "Unless we leave the horses, and that wouldn't be a wise decision. We have long journey ahead of us which is better traveled in haste." She looked over her shoulder in the direction they were headed. "We are not alone out here."

"Huh?" Xander glanced around; more alert now. "What do you mean? Are there Orcs or something around?" He rested a hand on the handle of his sword but didn't draw it from its sheath.

"No. This is something ... else." She paused a moment. The dream of the dark shadow had not left her since that night in Bree. Its pursuit of the future Slayer and her companions was a concern - if Mordor had taken an interest in them, what was the reason? Aragorn's warning also weighed heavy on her. Her head swiveled around. "We will have to find an alternate route. I do not know how many days would be added to our journey, unfortunately."

"I can move the rocks out of the way," Willow said. She dismounted from her horse then looked at them. "A simple manipulation spell should do the trick." She wasn't totally sure she could pull it off. Earth wasn't one of the elements she'd quite mastered. Though, with the ring's help, she had the confidence of success. "Then we don't have to find another way down and waste a lot of time."

"Willow, I don't think you should be using spells when we can find another way down," Buffy replied. She glanced over to Xander then looked down at Willow again. "What are a few more days? We've been gone from Sunnydale for weeks now; time's not a huge issue. Better safe than sorry."

"I must agree with Buffy," Giles said. "We shouldn't want to attract any attention if we can avoid it. A speedy journey is pointless if we're outnumbered by an enemy."

"I'm with the majority on this one," Xander quietly added. "Let's just find another way."

Willow's brow furrowed as her hands balled into fists at her sides. It wasn't fair. When she finally had something to contribute, they wouldn't let her use it. And of course Giles would agree with what Buffy had to say, and it was no surprise to her that Xander was right there with them. They were envious of her new powers - it was obvious. Buffy didn't want to have Willow being the one to save the day. No, the Slayer couldn't have that, could she?

Her jaw clenched as the three she'd once considered to be her closest friends reined their horses around to head back in the direction from which they'd came. The knuckles of her balled hands turned white. [I'm not going to be written off. They're going to see how powerful I am.] Her hands opened up, her arms rigid at her sides as she concentrated on the spell she wanted to use.

Uttering the phrase of magick in another language, Willow whirled around and gestured her ring hand towards the rocks that blocked the path. The mountainside rumbled violently as the blockage broke apart and continued to tumble down the mountain. The horses whinnied, frightened by the shaking of the ground beneath their hooves. Elenya, still on foot, struggled to keep her balance and help Aratar remain calm. She shielded herself from the smaller rocks that rained down on them from high.

Once the rocks had cleared away from the path, Willow lowered her hand, a satisfied grin on her face. Their route was passable once again. Her smile faded, however, when the mountain rumbled once again. She gasped loudly as a large crack opened between her feet and zig zagged out in front of her. [Oh no.] The mountain moaned loudly as the crack widened and Willow felt the ground falling away from her feet.

"Will!" Xander was off his horse in record speed. He reached out a hand, desperate to grab his friend before she plunged to her death as the mountain pathway collapsed. He managed to seize her by the collar of her shirt and cloak, yanking her back with strength he didn't even know he had in him. "I have you, Willow!"

Buffy leaped down from her own horse to help Xander with Willow. Once they were on solid ground, she shoved them back towards Giles and the horses. "Run! Now!" she yelled. She looked up when she heard a thudding from above them. A large boulder was headed straight down - and right for them. "Move!"

The three of them barely escaped the path of the boulder. It slammed hard into place they'd just been standing then continued on down to the valley far, far below them. After that, the rumbling subsided. The three teenagers leaned against the side of the mountain, breathing heavily and relieved they'd managed to survive yet another adventure.

"Is everyone all right?" Giles asked as he came up to them. He checked over Buffy then Xander. When he came to Willow, he paused to give her a disappointed look. Whatever had possessed her to use such a spell he didn't know. Rockslides were the result of the mountain already being unstable - her disturbance had almost killed them.

"We're fine, Giles," Xander said. He leaned against the mountain, a hand to his chest, mostly to make sure his heart was still beating. "Just ... fine." He glanced around and noticed that somebody was missing. "Hey, you guys - where's Elenya?"

Giles turned in a circle. He looked back in the direction from which they'd come. No sign of her. As he turned around, he saw Aratar standing near the collapsed section of the path.

"Elenya!" he called out. His eyes narrowed on something, it appeared to be fingers gripping the ground. "Elenya!" He headed for the edge but skidded to a stop when his weight, added with Aratar's, caused the ground beneath his feet to shake.

"Giles!" It was Elenya's voice. She was definitely down there, hanging on for her life. "Giles, stay back! Aratar!" She called out her instructions in Elvish. Aratar backed away from the edge, along with Giles, until the both of them were on the more stable portion of the rock.

"Elenya!" Giles looked up the side of the mountain, down it until he was back at the edge where she hung on. "Elenya, are you able to pull yourself up?" The ground rumbled once more, and a few more small rocks rained down, then it settled.

Dangling precariously from the edge of the collapsed mountain trail, Elenya glanced over her shoulder. Most of the mountain face had given way because of Willow's spell - more than just the boulders blocking the passage had been affected. She wasn't even certain how she managed to grab a hold of the edge. It just happened. Craning her head, she was able to see the ground far below. Her eyes closed and she tilted her head back.

"No!" she called back. Her eyes drifted open. "I have nothing to gain footing upon! The side is smooth, and I barely have a hold on the edge as it is!" The ground grumbled and Elenya felt the rock slip but she maintained her hold. She would need help if she expected to survive, for if she didn't, the four travelers had no chance of escaping the mountains, let alone reaching Lothlorien.

Buffy placed a hand on Giles's shoulder. "I'll do it." She saw the expression on his face but before he could object, she continued. "I'm a lot lighter than you are and, no offense, but I don't think you have the strength to pull her up." Her face softened when Giles reluctantly nodded, giving her permission. "I'll get her, Giles. I won't let her die."

Willow pushed herself from the side of the mountain. "I can help her. I know a spell that -"

Giles whirled around. "Willow, I think you've helped us quite enough with your bloody spells!" he snapped. He pointed a finger at her. "If you dare utter another incantation while we're on this mountain, I swear I'll -"

"G-man," Xander said, calmly, as he placed a hand to the Watcher's shoulder. "Elenya. Let's get her to safety, okay." He looked from the furious older man to Willow, who appeared as though she may cry at any moment. When Giles turned his attention to him, Xander let his hand drop away. "I have an idea of how to keep the danger to a minimum."

-

"Are you sure about this, Xander?" Buffy asked as she watched him tie the rope around her midsection. This was his idea - tie a rope to her and fasten the other end to the saddle of Elenya's horse. That way, in case of another collapse, both Slayers wouldn't be lost. She lifted her gaze but he concentrated on the rope instead of looking at her.

"We don't have time to test this. Elenya can't hold on much longer, and I don't want to lose you." He finished the knot, tugged on a few times then nodded when he was satisfied with his work. He finally met her gaze. He saw fear and doubt in Buffy's eyes. "You can do this. This is what you do, you save people, and Elenya, by some twist of bad luck, needs saving."

Buffy drew in a deep breath, let it out slowly then closed her eyes. [You can do this. You can. You saw Cliffhanger - it's not that hard.] Her eyes opened and she gazed up at Xander. He was afraid, she could tell, but he was too macho to admit it. After a few moments, she swallowed. "Here goes nothin'," she murmured.

"Be careful, Buffy," Giles said as he watched the blonde Slayer take measured and slow steps onto the portion of the mountain trail which was unstable. His muscles tensed, heart jumping into his throat when the ground rumbled slightly under Buffy's weight. [Please, Buffy, I can't lose you. I can't lose the both of you.]

Buffy held out her arms to balance herself then looked over her shoulder. The ground had begun to crack again. The chunk of rock she and Elenya were now part of would fall soon. She drew in a deep breath then turned around, concentrating on Elenya's hands. The woman had a hell of a lot of stamina to hold on as she had. Putting one foot in front of the other, Buffy closed the distance between herself and Elenya.

"Elenya?"

Elenya tilted her head back. She smiled weakly when Buffy's face appeared over the edge of the rock. "Buffy," she breathed. Relief flooded her. Her arms had begun to tire; she wasn't sure how her fingers managed to cling to the edge of the mountain, either.

"Never fear - help is here." Buffy offered small, but bright smile to her sister Slayer. Leaning over, she held out her right hand to Elenya. "Grab me. I'll pull you up."

"She's there," Xander whispered, almost as though he thought speaking above a whisper would shake the mountain. He watched Buffy lean forward, extending out an arm to an unseen Elenya. "Come on, Buffy, hurry up. Hurry up." He kept glancing down at the fresh crack in the ground. He put one hand behind his back, crossing his fingers. [Please, Buffy, hurry.]

Willow hung back by the horses. Her gaze narrowed a little as she watched Buffy struggle to help Elenya back up. She'd been silent since the collapse of the mountain - none of them wanted to speak to her anyway, it seemed. And Giles - her eyes narrowed sharper on the back of the Watcher - he'd taken it out on her, as if it was her fault that Elenya had gotten herself into such a situation. The rumbling of the ground made her attention flick back to Buffy. The crack widened again.

"Buffy, you must hurry!" Giles called, his gaze flicking from the fissure to the Slayer on all fours.

"I'm doing the best I can!" she yelled in reply. She took Elenya's arm with both of her hands then pulled with every ounce of strength in her body. Slowly, but surely, Elenya rose up with Buffy. She could feel the ground rumble under her feet but she ignored it. She focused on the task at hand.

Elenya placed one foot on the edge of the rock then let go of Buffy's arm. Bringing her other leg over the side, she rested on the ground on all fours, her head bowed. The muscles in her arms screamed now. She sat back on her heels, her gaze lifting to look up to Buffy. She owed her life to Buffy. Secretly, she always thought the roles would be reversed - that she would be the one rescuing Buffy.

"Thank you," she said in a soft voice. "Thank you."

The ground shifted violently. Buffy wobbled sharply and Elenya put her hands down to steady herself.

"Don't start thanking me yet!" Buffy pulled Elenya to her feet, slipped an arm around the other Slayer's waist and practically carried her to where Giles and Xander stood. No sooner did Buffy's feet leave step over the fissure in the rock, the portion of the pass Elenya had dangled from fell away from the mountain and crashed down into the valley far below.

Buffy let go of Elenya and tumbled to the ground. Her eyes widened a bit as she witnessed the rock vanish from in front of her. Elenya fell into Giles, who wrapped his arms around her to keep her from falling down. They, too, watched as the mountain crumbled apart. It was over. They were all safe and sound.

"Buffy, are you okay?" Xander asked as he helped her to her feet.

"I'm good. I'm alive, so yeah, I'm good," she answered, nodding. She began to pick at the knot Xander had made in the rope around her waist. "Elenya's alive, and I guess that's all the better." Her hands shook. Suddenly, Xander's hands took hold of hers; she lifted her head and looked into his eyes. "Maybe I'm not as good as I thought."

"You're not good, you're Buffy." He offered her a small smile then helped to untie the knot from the rope.

She tilted her head to one side as she regarded Xander. [Was he always like this, and I just didn't notice?] Soon, the rope was free from her waist. "Thanks," she said quietly.

"It's just a little knot, no big," he answered with a shrug.

"I didn't mean about the rope. I meant everything else I never said thanks for."

Before Xander could respond, Giles approached. "We should leave," he said to them. "We'll have to backtrack some distance, according to Elenya." He placed a hand to Buffy's arm. "You did an excellent job, Buffy. Thank you." He met her gaze, and Buffy knew from that look it was more than just Buffy risking her life to save Elenya - much more.

-

Two more days passed. The trek back through the mountains was tough. Willow barely spoke to anyone after the mess at the mountain pass - she kept to herself. Her behavior worried Buffy and Xander the most. In fact, they brought it to Giles's attention one evening. Elenya was away from the camp doing a little perimeter patrol; Willow was tucked away under her blankets, back to the rest of them, asleep. The fire crackled as Giles took a seat across from Buffy and Xander.

"What did you want to talk about?" he asked as he glanced from Xander to Buffy. Whatever it was, they were outwardly concerned.

"About Willow," Xander replied. He glanced at Buffy then looked back to Giles. "You have to have noticed how weird she's been lately, Giles."

"She's been withdrawn, too," added Buffy. She gestured to the sleeping redhead. "I mean, look. She won't even sleep near us. I'm worried about her. This isn't good. You remember how weird Faith got before she -" Her sentence ended abruptly. She hadn't wanted to make the comparison, not aloud, at least. She sighed. "We're concerned, Giles. We need to do something to help her."

Giles rested his chin atop his steepled fingers as he listened to Buffy and Xander. He'd noticed Willow's withdrawal from them. She barely spoke to them anymore. After a minute of silence, he cleared his throat. "What do the two of you propose we do about it?"

Xander and Buffy exchanged a look then turned back to Giles. "It's that ring, G-Man," Xander said. "I don't know how, and I don't know why, but ever since she's had it, she's been strange." He winced, recalling the nasty comment about Buffy that Willow'd flung at him a few days before. "You've seen how she acts when you mention that thing, too. It's freaky."

"And what she did at the rockslide. We need to take it from her, Giles," Buffy picked up when Xander stopped. She stared at him through the smoke that rose from the campfire. "Before she does something that kills one of us or, worse yet, herself. I couldn't live with that. Knowing I could've done something before it was too late."

Giles nodded as he sat up straight. He had to agree with the two of them, Willow had become a small menace with her newfound powers. He had reason to suspect Buffy and Xander were right about the ring being the cause of it as well. If the tale was correct, a bigger problem could arise. Willow was a beginner in the Craft - to cast such powerful spells without earning the knowledge was dangerous. As Buffy pointed out, the incident on the mountainside a few days ago was a direct result of it.

"All right," he finally said with a sigh. He placed his hands on his knees as he looked at them. "We'll speak with her about it tomorrow evening. I shouldn't want to squander valuable travel time. We'll keep a close eye on her during the day." He raised his eyebrows. Buffy and Xander nodded, they would cooperate. "Good. Now, we should get some rest. Elenya is certain we'll be out of these mountains tomorrow."

Across the camp, Willow lay on her side, her eyes wide open as she listened to what Giles, Buffy and Xander had to say. The hand with the ring on it lifted so she could see it. [So, they think they're going to take it from me, huh?] she thought, her eyes narrowing a bit. [Think I'll hurt somebody, Buffy? So glad you're watching out for my welfare. More like your own friggin' ego!]

She brought her hand close to her chest. They could try to take the ring from her. "Try" being the operative word. She snuggled under her blankets. She couldn't turn her back on them anymore - they weren't really her friends. Jealousy had turned them against her. Bilbo was right about that. Now she had to remain ever vigilant.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Net Girl and Sibyl

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: Action

Rating: General

Last Updated: 08/24/02

Original Post: 08/05/02

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