This Isn't The Yellow Brick Road...

I used to tell stories.

At least, I think I used to...

...No, no, I did, I did.

Stories 'bout this... this town? A town. That was it.

A town... a /place/, where you weren't called a cow, where...

...where there were tacos, and enchiladas, and... drivers? I had a driving licence...

...and letters, and numbers, and books...

...but the priests had the books, right? That meant they had the power, knew about this stuff.

I didn't. Know about this stuff, that is.

Had these words, though. 'Consonant representations of a mathematical transfiguration formula'.

Good words, I thought. Helping words.

Words that might get me back.

Since they got me there. Sorta got me there, anyway.

Y'see, each consonant represents one part of the formula. Speak all the consonants - all of the formula - and it draws on the psychic energy in the surrounding area - which /must/ be above a given energy level - to transfigure space and time, and open a portal to another universe.

At least, I'd /guess/ that's what happens magically. Magic... not my strong suit.

But it does make sense in physics, oh yeah. The trionic speechcraft formulation...

Sorry. I tend to babble a bit. Babbling. Still getting used to this.

Oh, people. Cows. No, people. Definitely people. Definitely here.

Definitely getting used to them. Or they're getting used to me. Or something.

Be a bit before... I can get back. Reapply, sorta thing. Start that physics degree...

...wonder how much the physics 'round here have changed? Hmm, localised alterations to the basic underlying structure... minimal, anyway...

...Right. So, Angel - you know Angel? Big man, handsome man, saved me, and himself, back... there. Nice guy, sorta got this beast thing inside, tends to burst into flame in sunlight, cause of the beast.

Vampire. That's it. Vampire. Good vampire, vampire with soul. Soul music? Something like that...

Anyway, Angel's let me stay 'round his office - it's in a hotel, or it used to be a hotel, something that way... Let me stay, get myself together, just get used to... people, and baths, and clothes, and soap, and tacos and cars and beds, and people. I already said people. Anyway...

...umm, where was I? Telling stories?

Oh yeah.

Telling stories. I /think/ I did... maybe even before. Before I went there. Pylea. I'm /sure/ I used to tell stories before I went there... books? Library. That's it, library. Telling stories in a library.

Well, sometimes. Kids aren't exactly fascinated by 'The Hyper-Dimensional Mathematics applicable in transformations of the Mandelbrot Set'... well, not when I left. I dunno, they might have changed while I was gone. Still getting used to this...

Oh, that was the problem. No-one around to hear me. Well, no-one I /wanted/ around to hear me, 'cause of the, y'know, whole cow thing.

Ooh, glasses. And people who repair glasses, 'cause, well, short-sighted, y'see. Can't see what's in front of me. Tried it myself, but... oooh, real opticians. New glasses, yay! Thanks to Angel. Paying thing. Should really pay him back... if the bank didn't bottom out, or, y'know, anything like that. "Helping the Hopeless", I think he said. Didn't want pay, or, something like that. Just get back on my feet.

Should do something for him, though. I mean, he and his friends... they went through so much trying to save Cordy, bring her back, bring Angel back, back to himself, and bring me back along, sort of thing. Back to tacos, and hot water, scissors, towels... I really oughtta do something for him sometime...

...Rescuing her from being a queen. That's a new twist. Fairly sure the stories I used to tell didn't end like that...

...but it was what she wanted? Helping out the helpless? Battling the evil? Becoming a hero? Well, heroine... Turning down being a queen of one land, to be the heroine of another? That was more like the stories... I think. Like the Lone Ranger? Not that he was ever asked to be a king, y'know, just that... they wanted him to stay... an' he turned it down, 'cause there was, like, evil elsewhere, and he had to do something about it. That sort of thing... if Cordy's the heroine, that makes me the damsel in distress. But Cordy already was the damsel in distress, so does that make me the forest girl who helps the heroes out?

Wait. Forest girl physicist. Umm... Okay, then that makes me the forest /wizard/ who helps the heroes out. I think. Umm.

But I'd look terrible in a pointed hat...

Okay, so... I'm the wizard, Angel's the tortured hero, Cordy's the heroine - and seer, Gunn's roguish fighter guy, and Wes's the wizard.


Have to think about this...

Scholar? Maybe...

Oh. Stories.

'Kay. This's sometime after ...well, *that* story ended.

After... Angel found out.

What had happened.

To Buffy.

We - well, they - went to the funeral.

Stayed behind. Babbling and all that. Looking after the phones, taking the calls. Doing a little filing... hope I got it in the right order...

They came back.

Things were... quiet, afterwards. Angel... Angel went quiet for a good time afterwards - came with me an' Cordy, shopping. Not bright, not *really* bright, like he was, just... dealing with the world.

Gunn... well, he was okay, sorta. Didn't know her like the others, I think. But he understood, if I said that correctly. Knew what was happening. ...I dunno. Like he'd seen it before, maybe a bit too much of it... Like he was seeing himself, if that makes any sense.

Wes looked... sort of like he'd just had something thrown in his face. Like he'd been told he was a cow, and this only confirmed it, like he didn't have the power any more, never had...

Came back, though. They came back. And - yay! - LA didn't blow up while they were gone, and they didn't get sucked into another demon dimension, and it's not all a dream I'm having, 'cause they /did/ come back...

So... been spending my nights wandering around this place, making sure of it... carpet, dancing on carpet, just to get the feel of it, looking out at the dim, light-shrouded night sky - light pollution, y'see. Obscures a lot of the stars. The stars you can see from here, anyway.

One sun - one /yellow/ sun - in the sky... so Angel can't go outside without the whole messy bursting into flames deal - which he could, if he'd stayed on Pylea, but there was the whole beast thing, and I don't think he wants that, and I don't want that either...

Light's different - slightly different atmospheres, differences between the radiation from one yellow star, and two red stars... makes things look different, shadows missing. One shadow again, I remember...? Yeah. One shadow. Just one. Just the way I remember it.

Wes's been around then too, just... just looking out at things. He's not looking so good; I think he's remembering not-so-good things - not just Pylea, but Buffy and maybe other stuff too. The stuff that makes him think he's a cow...?

Maybe not so good to talk, he says he's just thinking, and yeah, he probably is... Wes can be literal like that...

Stories, and... I've been thinking about them.

I mean, ours - the Pylea one - that's done now, I know that.

But when they came back from her funeral...

...the story's not over, it isn't over and they /know/ it...

Don't know what's going to happen there, what's happening with that...

...because it's not like that, is it? Life doesn't work like that... does it?

And it's a story, it's all a story we're living, because that's what we are.

The people who live the stories.

Life's the dream, the story's reality...

Bad things happen, but we'll win through. That's our part.

My life /is/ a dream. Was.

I'll be finding out, anyway...

But I'm living the story now, aren't I? Still living it...

...and it's not over.

I feel it around me; things're waiting to happen. Are going to happen. Not... not precognition, not like the Host does, but simply because... that's the story. The story expects something to happen... that's the way it goes.

And I don't know what.

I mean, death, resolution... but it's not, not for those she left behind. Maybe that's what it's waiting for...

...all around me, it's waiting.

Around. If I feel it around, then I'm inside. Am inside.

Does that mean there's an outside? Something outside the story?



...mathematics would be fairly simple, since it's not an interdimensional portal.

More a sorta hole, really.

A Plot Hole.

I like that. A Plot Hole. A hole in the plot. A way outside.

'sdgnm rgld msms rpx vmmd.'

...Where'd that come from? I mean, my tongue's fine, totally not worn out-

-and it's not like I even know what the original mathematics for a story /are/...

Stories have mathematics?





'Are you all right?'

Welcome to the nightmare...

...oh God, waking up again, and again, and again...

'Are you all right? Do you live around here?'

'Portal... Was it a portal? Maybe I just woke up. Maybe I'm still dreaming...'


'I'd better get the Doctor...'

'Doctor...? Doctor. Treatment. Do I need treatment? I keep thinking I'm waking up...'

'What's your name?'

'Fred. Although I could be dreaming... no, it is Fred. Winifred? Winifred Burke...? That might be something I heard in a dream...'

'Charley. Charlotte Pollard.'

'Oh. Hi, Charley. How many suns are there?'


'Oh good. What colour is it?'


'Ooh. Not that weird a dream...'

'Are you sure you're dreaming?'

'No. That's kinda the problem...'

'You've got an American accent. Were you there, recently?'

'America... America. USA. United States. I really hope you mean United States, 'cause, you know, I'm getting really sick of being flung outta my dreams and what have you...'

'Ummm... The United States of America?'

'Yes, *That's* it. And where am I?'

'Japan. Tokyo, Japan.'

'Ah. Los Angeles to Tokyo, without a gap. That is odd, isn't it?'

'Well... Usually.'

'It would be... I wish there was a map of some kind. A guidebook maybe. Caution, do not open dimensional portal here...'

'...I know this is going to sound silly, but... do you have two hearts?'

'No... but I think I knew some demons who did...'

'Demons? You don't fight supernatural evil, do you?'

'Umm... define supernatural. I mean, for the last five years, I've been sort of where the demons /live/, so I think that might've made me the supernatural one. To them. I think...Not actually fighting, more... running away, 'cause they would have cut my head off...'


'Not that I've just come from there, no, I haven't, otherwise I'd probably be breaking down into this blubbery ball - AAAGGGGGHHH!!!! Sorry, had to do that - but, actually, I just came - or I last remember, I can say that, Los Angeles.'


'Oh, hi there.'

'Fred? Who are you talking to?'

'Her. That little woman sitting on the staff?'

'Now that /was/ interesting... In a hundred years, I don't think I've seen anyone open a Plot Hole without using technology... or magic.'

'Plot Holes? Yeah, I was just thinking about them... y'know, about getting out of the story...'

'Excuse me a moment?'

'Yes, young lady?'

'Who are you?'

'I believe you know my great-granddaughter, Shampoo. And her fiance, Ranma.'

'Hold on a moment...'

'Amazon law is strict on the point, unfortunately. More importantly, so is Amazon honour. But... this is not your fight.'

'We're organising Ranma's wedding... We're /going/ to get involved. That's the way it works.'

'Yup, this /is/ a story... Damn, didn't work.'

'Oh, it did. It did. You /are/ Outside... Strictly speaking, yes, this is a story. But /we/ shape the stories here, by what we do, and say. Within the laws of narrative physics, at least...'

'You know what she did?'

'Oh yes. And it's quite impressive. A... knack, if you like. Working with the story...' The little old woman on the staff sounds assessing. 'As for you, Charley... you are no martial artist...'

'Oh thanks.'

'...but you're headstrong, impetuous, say what's on your mind... But, unlike son-in-law, you can be quiet... Training you would have been interesting, to say the least.'

'Oh. Thanks.'

'You're welcome.' The old woman hops down off her staff. 'Still, you're involved in this...'

'Been watching, I think...'


'Perceptive? Me... no, no. I mean, this is a family thing, right. Your great-granddaughter's involved...'

' you're keeping an eye on her.' Charley completes. 'And on us.'

'Naturally.' the old woman says. 'And, might I say... this *does* look challenging. Always something new to learn...'


'Oh yes. Always something new...' the old woman says. 'Always. Another day in Nerima...'

'What did- How'd she do that?'

'Oh, I do that too. It's quite simple; all you have to do is-'

'Disappear without anyone noticing?'

'Awww, you guessed.'

'So what /are/ you?'

'Umm... I used to be a physics student, work in a library...'

'No, I mean /what/ are you?'

'Person. Person. Not a cow in any way, shape, or form. A person. Again. But I know this vampire, if that's any help? Angel?'

'Angel...' Charley frowns. 'Wait... didn't Dawn and Spike mention him? I think they did...'


'This is Angel, the vampire with a soul?'

'Yep. 'Course, only known him for a few weeks, so I don't know /that/ much about where he comes from. But he's a nice guy. Laughs at my jokes. Takes the babbling in stride.'

'Wait... this is /Angel/ we're talking about here...?'

'I /think/ so...'

'Are you /sure/ you're alright?'


'Oh.... oh no...'

'Where is the Tendo- Charley!!'

'Ryouga, would you mind assisting us?'

'Yes. Yes, of course...'

He's going red. Now, what's that mean again? Flustered? Embarrassed?

Now, if this /were/ a story, like the old lady said, he'd be flushing 'cause he's got a crush on her, and can't actually tell her - I think that's how the story goes...

Probably not. Wasn't he asking for directions? Must have got lost, poor guy...

'Let's see what the Doctor's got to say...'

Actually, I'm not all that sure I /need/ treatment at the moment... am I?

Ooh. Maybe I /do/ need a checkup...Crug-grain and Kalla berry breakfasts, oh, and the bark enchiladas... wonder if I'm deficient in anything?

Drifting and babbling a bit, uncertain sense of personal reality... psychological effects of being isolated from everything you know. I think that was what Wes said. Or is it? Five years, five years... this never happened to Robinson Crusoe, but he had Man Friday...

'Wonder if there's anything I could say to him?'

'How about "get me back"?' Charley suggests.

'Get me back, get me back... Angel and Wesley and Cordy - and Gunn - they're all going to be worried. If you can, then yes, let them know, tell them where I am...'

'Cause they are. They're the only people I know any more, they should know. Haven't met my friends or my family yet, not sure what they'll say, I think they wrote me off. But the guys... well, they should know where I am, yeah? Let them know I'm, y'know, all right, that I don't need rescuing... that I'm not basically the damsel in distress...

But... that old lady. She said ...I had a knack.

A knack?

For what?

I'm not the hero. And the hero's the one who's the focus of the story - well, even if they're actually the villain... Shouldn't they be the ones? I mean, they /are/ the focus of the story, wouldn't it work better with them?

But I'm not the damsel in distress..., no, I know what Wes is now, I've got it. He's the adviser, the planner, the vizier. 'Xcept he gets out there and fights. Well, close...

So /does/ that make me the reclusive forest wizard?

I don't know. I didn't think I was, not while it was happening. The priests had the power...

...What's my role? What did I do? I helped Angel, I did that, and I got us all back home - and, in a way, I got them all into this, if they hadn't come looking...

Not the magician. Wes's the magician. I'm the apprentice.

The magician's apprentice?

I /was/ a student...

Walking down the road, and it's a real road, one with concrete and cracks and slabs and people...

'Are you okay?' Ryouga asks. This time, I get a good look at him. Tall guy, fangs - fangs? Maybe a little demon in him - bandana in his hair. Got the tall, dark and brooding down pat, like they said Angel used to be.

'Mm...? Oh yeah, yes, yeah, okay, I'm okay... Thinking a little.'

So the Doctor's gonna be there, and he's going to call the guys, get everything sorted. Sorted how? What if it happens again? Drop off somewhere else, in a dimension where... where, I don't know, there're no tacos? Said she'd never seen anyone do it without using technology or magic...

What happens? Are the guys gonna have to come after me again? Because, y'know, I really don't want that? They only just got back... the heroes need a rest...

I wanna know. Did I know howta do what I did, or did something do it for me? Some kinda weird gadget or device or person?

Hey, Charley's friend's a doctor. Maybe he'll be able to tell me what happened, and then I can go back to the story, bein' the apprentice?

But... do I wanna go back in the story?

What is the story, anyway? I mean, what we were in, that was fantasy, definitely fantasy. Maybe even fairytale...

...but then we come back, and Buffy's dead, and the story wants to go on, and I don't know. Maybe we're talking aftermath here, or, you know, some kind of heroic resurrection, a rebirth, free from all the shit... but...

...what's Angel gonna do? What's his story, now she's gone? Tragedy, comedy, drama... what are we talking, exactly? Beauty and the Beast? Coming to terms with the beast's face, his own face? But Beauty's gone...

I dunno. What's the story? Frog Prince? Big Bad Wolf? Maybe more the Incredible Hulk - David Banner struggling with the Hulk, that'd be interesting...

...Y'know, I've never read this story before. I dunno what's gonna happen.

Maybe that's what the old lady was talking about. The story wants to continue, but we're the ones who push it along.

Maybe more Odysseus, looking for a way home. That's what Angel's doing, looking... no, takin' it one day at a time, gettin' back to life. Never too late to stop living, even if you're dead.

Hey, maybe I should tell him that. He could put it as a slogan behind his desk...

So am I one of the... wait. Wait. Quests. He's on a /quest/. 'Kay, it's not to destroy the Evil Overlords (though these Wolfram & Hart guys, they seem pretty evil. Perhaps that's it. Angel battles the evil lawyers who, umm... want to evict us. No, doesn't feel right.) but a simple kind of quest. Choosing to do good, fighting evil... it's one of those lifelong quests, sorta thing. Angel's in for the long haul... think Cordy and Wes are, too. Not sure 'bout Gunn... he's in for the fight, but which group's his? He is in for the long haul, just... maybe not with the guys, but he's down-to-earth, helpin' me down to earth, solid presence, if you get what I mean...

So am I one of the people who has good done for them, or one of the people who does good?

I... don't know. Maybe both? Leaning towards one or the other? Perhaps... but which one? I mean, all of the guys seem like we could use a little help from time to time...


Want to do good... or go back to my life?

Can I do both?

And... first of all, can I go back? Must find out...

Hey, this looks interesting...

...'soon-to-be Saotome-Tendo Dojo of Anything Goes Martial Arts'.

Anything Goes Martial?

Well, yes... a dojo? Things have changed...

Hold on... someone's scribbled out Martial and put Marital.

Okay, so it doesn't quite work in Japanese...

Actually, it's not all that funny in English.

Okay then.

Appointment with a doctor.

A doctor who works out of a dojo? I mean, it didn't say dojo/medical practice on the door, and I don't think they combine the two, even here...

...things could have changed?

You never know.

See what the doctor has to say, get in touch with the guys, see if this doctor's willing to give me a checkup, even without, well, medical insurance, which I don't-

-Passport. Passport, do I still need a passport? Grief, how am I going to get back?

Gotta find another portal to get back, 'nother portal...


...judging from this place, it doesn't look like I'll need to look very far.

But I've gotta work out the maths. Don't think simple reversal's gonna do any good...

Was easy enough the first time, shouldn't be /that/ hard...

Heh. What do you know?

I /am/ the sorcerer's apprentice after all...




Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat.