So, without further ado...
Title: Nature's Special Effects
Author: babies stole my dingo (agilebrit)
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Length: Short story (around 1500 words)
Disclaimer: Joss is the genius behind these characters; I am but a lowly follower. I make no money from any of this, so please don't sue me.
Feedback: Concrit adored! If you see something that can be improved upon, please let me know.
Written for: ludditerobot's "Scatterlings and Orphanages" Xander-in-Africa ficathon.
Notes: Much credit must go to Mauro Campagnoli, whose pictures and research among the Baka people were invaluable in helping me write this. Any errors are mine. If you want to know more about the Baka, go here. I barely scratched the surface.
The battered turboprop touched down at the Impfondo airport, while Xander looked out the window and wondered what this country would bring him. The seers of the reconstituted Council of Watchers had found a Baka Pygmy Slayer deep in the heart of the Congo near Lake Tele, so he'd been tapped to check her out, since he was already on the continent. He snorted. It was a big continent, and the many different political situations made travel around the place difficult at best and impossible at worst.
He wondered if his compatriots appreciated that. Oh, they'd explained to him that teleporting around, while convenient, tended to freak out the people it happened in front of, so he was stuck with conventional travel, unless he had absolutely no other way to get where he was going. Also, they said, the magicks involved were complex, draining, and dangerous.
However, for once he'd had a ridiculously easy time getting in-country. He'd been in Cameroon anyway, and he'd found a direct flight from there to Brazzaville, then grabbed the puddle-jumper up to Impfondo. He caught a bus filled with goats, chickens, and natives to Epena as soon as he could.
Munching on some sort of unidentifiable meat-on-a-stick that he didn't look at too closely, he made his way to the river district to find a motorized pirogue to take him to Boha. While on the boat, he found out that it was a three-day hike to the lake from there. Whee, he thought. Demonic jungle beasts and no Slayer until then. Not to mention the other, more mundane hazards, such as snakes, bugs, and roving gangs of bandits. The nearly incessant April rain wouldn't be any picnic either.
He asked around a bit, and finally found a group of men who nodded knowledgeably when he asked, in a combination of English, bad French that he'd picked up here and there, and pidgin, if they knew how to get to Lake Tele and the Baka pygmies. They chattered among themselves for a minute, and he heard the phrase "mokele mbembe" a few times. Well, whatever that meant, it was apparently immaterial, because they soon came to an agreement as to price and made arrangements to start the journey the next morning.
Bugs, check, Xander thought sourly, waving at the metallic-green sweat bees that congregated around his face the next morning. The salt water streaming from his pores attracted the damn things like nobody's business, and he was positive he'd swallowed several of them already. Every once in awhile, one got into the corner of his eye, but a few seconds of cursing and wiping were usually enough to dislodge it. Usually. It wasn't any fun when he inhaled one through his nose, either. At least they didn't sting. Usually.
Then the rain started. He was soaked to the skin in a matter of seconds, but the downpour drove the bees away. Yay? The damp made his eyepatch itch.
An unholy screech from the front of the group jerked his head up, and he hurried forward, hand on a stake in his pocket just in case. His guides were clustered around a central point, staring at the ground and chattering and gesticulating excitedly. They made room for him, and at first he didn't see what had gotten them so worked up.
Suddenly, like one of the Bev Doolittle paintings he'd seen in a mall print shop back in civilization, the picture snapped into place, and the fattest, scariest-looking snake he'd ever had the displeasure to clap his eye on lay there camouflaged among the leaves, big as life. He twitched violently when it came into focus, but he was pretty proud of himself that he didn't run away. Demons were one thing. A highly venomous snake with two-inch fangs that he might have stepped on had his guides been a little less alert was quite another. He recognized it as a Gaboon Viper, from seeing one at the Sunnydale Zoo during a field trip that didn't involve mystical hyenas. Its four-foot-long body, as big around as his calf, was far more impressive without snake-proof glass separating him from it.
He didn't feel any better about the thing when one of the guides whacked its head off with his machete and gleefully informed him that they'd be having fresh serpent soup for dinner.
Two more days of this. Complex, draining, and dangerous, my ass, he thought. Teleporting was definitely the way to go.
They trudged soggily into the Baka village by the lake, to be greeted by a group of four-and-a-half-foot tall elders while the women and children hung back a bit. The pygmies and his guides did a little back-and-forth dialogue that he didn't catch, and then he was escorted to a circular, bark-covered hut for a confab with the leaders. Most of the guides waited outside, but one came in with him to translate. He hoped the concepts wouldn't be too difficult.
For once, it was remarkably easy. Many Africans lived in daily contact with otherworldly creatures, and the Bakas were no exception. There was no Western pooh-poohing of the existence of vampires and demons; it was a given that these things lived among them and needed to be dealt with. The news that a Slayer was gracing their village now was met with relief. Apparently, when the girl had begun exhibiting unusual strength and speed (by accidentally breaking a boy's arm!), they'd been worried that they had somehow angered the Forest Spirit, Jengi.
The legend of the Slayer had been passed down, generation by generation, they told him, although their particular village had never had one in their midst. Some thought that a legend was all she was. This was an unexpected blessing. Would he join them in a celebration?
Let it never be said that Xander Harris refused a chance to party. Even the weather turned cooperative; the sky cleared and the rains stopped, allowing them to build fires in the clearing next to the lake to dance beside. A feast of bush meat, fruit, and vegetables was laid out, and after everyone had their fill, musical instruments began appearing. Drums, harps, flutes, and rattles were some of the things Xander could identify. The Baka had other gadgets for making music that were more mystifying.
The full moon shone down, lending a surreal air to the festivities. His guides told him that the Baka used music and dance to mark every significant event in their lives, and a Slayer in their midst was no exception. Everyone seemed to share in the music-making, either by playing an instrument or singing, and the result sounded improvised but beautiful. Only a select few of the Baka participated in the dance, however.
One of the elders escorted a girl over to him. She smiled shyly with teeth filed to points, and he was given to understand that she was the Slayer. She didn't look very old--probably under marrying age, anyway. He hoped her people would take good care of her; he couldn't imagine bringing her to England for formal training. "Fish out of water" would be a laughable understatement.
The festivities continued far into the night, and Xander was exhausted by the time they finally came to an end. As they put out the fires, he thanked the Baka for their hospitality and made arrangements with his guides to start the return journey in the morning. Then he walked over to the lake to throw some water in his face before bed.
Alone on the shore, some sixth-sense creepy vibe made him check behind him, frowning. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he bent down and dipped his hands in the lukewarm pool--only to hear a splash and a gurgling sound, while a gigantic ripple surged over his forearms. He jerked his head up...
From thirty feet in the air, at the end of an absurdly long, thin neck, a snakelike head gazed down at him. Xander had a moment of gabbling amazement as he realized that he was looking at something that shouldn't have existed, if his high school science teacher was to be believed. He glanced wildly over his shoulders, but he was alone except for this...creature, with the moonlight reflecting off its reddish, leathery skin.
All right, admit it, he said to himself. It's not just any creature. It's a dinosaur. A real live dinosaur. An Apatosaurus, to be exact, if I'm remembering the toys I played with as a kid right. Wow. Just, wow.
He stiffened when the head dipped down, and its nostrils flared as it sniffed his chest, twice. If it decided to eat him, there was absolutely nothing he could do. But he could have sworn it winked at him, and it seemed almost amused as it backed away and began sinking.
Well. Congo was certainly full of surprises. He reflected that he and his friends were in a business where they believed in twelve impossible things before breakfast. Demons, alternate dimensions, vampires, and ghosts were all part of their daily routines.
But as the Apatosaurus disappeared beneath the water of the lake, Xander knew that none of the others would ever believe this.