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Shelf Life

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Book The First: In Which There Are No Giants

"This is new," Dawn said.

"Hmmm?" Giles looked up from the book he was writing in. It was a normal, fairly slow afternoon in the Magic Box. Willow and Tara were researching a spell at the big table, Anya was doing the accounts, Giles was doing... watchery work, and Dawn was just browsing among the shelves she was allowed to browse among.

"This." Dawn pointed at the sign on one of the shelves. "'Fiction'?"

"Oh, yes. Yes, it's new." Giles nodded to Xander and Buffy as they entered the store. "We sold so much at Hallowe'en that we had some free shelf space. So when I stumbled across a book clearance sale, I thought... why not. I've been reading so many ancient mystical tomes these last few years, and it's been a long time since I've had time to read the great masterpieces of literature. Now at least I can sell them."

Buffy went over and joined her sister at the new shelf, which held a jumble of old bound volumes, vintage Penguin paperbacks and some newer books in flashy covers. "And you're sure this is a good idea? I mean, magic shop and everything..."

"Well, there's the odd cataloguing problem. I'm still not sure if that big compendium on the history of leprechauns shouldn't qualify as fiction, and of course we've had Alice's Adventures in Wonderland under 'Hell Dimensions' since we opened. But apart from that, I don't see what could possibly go wrong."

Just then there was a bang and a flash over at the table where Willow and Tara were sitting. Willow looked up wearing guilt-face as green smoke rose from the herbs they'd been working on and quickly spread throughout the shop. "...Oops?"

And the walls of reality folded, and they fell...


"OK, ow." Xander sat up, rubbing the sore spot on the back of his head. He brushed the dust off his face, shielded his eyes from the bright midday sun and looked around for the others. They were all doing much the same thing; they hadn't fallen far, but far enough to have the wind knocked out of them when they hit the hot, hard dusty plain. 

Hot, hard dusty plain?

"Um... where are we?"

Buffy bounded to her feet and looked around. Yup, a hot, dusty plain, with hills and mountains all around, and a few greener patches here and there. "Beats me. Looks like something out of a Western movie. Arizona?"

"How can we be in Arizona?" Willow asked. "I mean, we were in Sunnydale just a few seconds ago, and..." She checked her watch. "Yup. Seconds. And then... um... Oh. Ooops. Sorry."

Giles calmly cleaned his glasses. "Willow, what was that spell?"

"I-it was... nothing, really, just a... um..."

"It was supposed to be an amazonian kindlich spell," Tara clarified, also highly embarrassed. "It's used to look inside books, which -"

"We all do that. It's called reading." Anya wasn't happy.

"Sure," Willow said. "If you can read and understand and absorb a book in 2 seconds flat as if it happened to you, yeah. We thought it would be helpful for research, but..."

"...Instead it took us to Arizona?"

Giles had put his glasses back on. "I don't think we're in Arizona."

"Are you sure? 'Cause that looks a lot like a cowboy coming down that hill over there..." Buffy pointed.

"They don't have mediaeval windmills in Arizona." Giles pointed in the other direction. And sure enough, on top of one of the other little hills was a wooden windmill, sails turning slowly in the light breeze.

"Huh. So where..." Buffy paused. "Do you hear something?"

The sound of approaching hoofbeats was drowned out by a loud "SANTIAGOOOOO!" as the horseman Buffy had seen earlier came galloping towards them, waving a broadsword. The sun glinted off his armour, dented from many battles (or possibly lack of maintenance). Luckily, he wasn't a young man and his horse was almost as old as he was, so they had no trouble stepping out of the way in time. The clearly unaccustomed rider rode right past them, then slowed his scrawny old nag down and turned it around to charge them again. But he needed both hands for that and after first trying and failing to find the scabbard, he lay the sword in his lap, from where it promptly fell to the ground. "'Sdeath," he muttered, then addressed them in a loud, if somewhat shaky voice. "Yes, you do well to run, moors, for I have come to teach you a lesson and free the pious Dulcinea, whom you've taken hostage! Watch as I spring from the horseback to -"

The Scoobies winced collectively as the old man tumbled from the horse and landed on his armoured ass with a loud 'CLANK'. 

"Oh," Giles said. "I suppose we're in Spain." 

Dawn, fresh from English class, stared at the old rider who was trying to get up. "You mean that's..."

"I'm afraid so. One of the books I put on the shelf the other day was Cervantes' The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha. It appears the spell has somehow done the opposite of what it was supposed to do; rather than have us absorb the books, it has inserted us into the book's narrative. Which is rather ironic, since the plot is that he thinks he's living in an old tale of brave knights, virtuous maidens, and vicious monsters."

Don Quixote, in the meantime, had managed to collect his sword and armour and now strode towards them. "This is your last warning, heathens! Unhand the fair Dulcinea, or I will be forced to cut you down where you stand!" 

Xander frowned. "Dulciwho? OW! That hurt!" 

Luckily, the nobleman's sword was even older and duller than himself, and his attack on Xander didn't really do much more than ruffle his hair. Quixote barely broke stride as he stepped up to them and wobbled down on one knee in front of Tara. "Fairest Dulcinea, fear not. Thy knight is here to free thee from these barbarous huns..."

"Hey!" Willow stepped between them. "Keep your huns to yourself!"

Quixote raised his sword to strike her, which was Buffy's cue to decide that this had gone on quite long enough. "OK, I'll take that. Thank you." She grabbed the old man's wrist, making him drop his sword with a pained yelp.

"Alas," Quixote cried, "I am disarmed, soon to be vilely slain! A tragic death is mine, cut down in the dawn of my youth -"

"Try twilight," Xander mumbled.

"- a martyr, sacrificing my own salvation to serve the greater good! O woe!" He looked at the mortified Tara, pleading. "Milady, all is lost. Thy greatest knight has fallen. Without me, thou shalt surely suffer the most horrendous fate."

"You gotta be kidding me," Buffy groaned and let him go. "We're not going to kill you. I promise. Now, can't you just go fight that windmill over there or something?"

"Unhand me, villain!" Quixote sobbed theatrically and turned back to Tara. "Milady, I am yours. Command me, and I shall obey. If it is thy will that I slay yonder mighty giant," he pointed at the windmill, "then I shall."

"I - no, it's OK, Will." Tara held off Willow's attempt at staying between her and the deluded old man, and instead bent down in front of him. "Look, I appreciate being, um, rescued, but can't you just... go home? Stop pretending to be a knight fighting imaginary battles for good and evil? Because, well..." She quickly turned to Giles and whispered, "Doesn't he die at the end?" 

"Oh yes."

Tara turned back to Quixote, and Willow put her hand on her shoulder in support. "Go home and be safe and live your real life. That's my command." 

There was a hint of relief on Quixote's face as he looked up at her. "If that is your... I mean thy command, fair Dulcinea, then I shall obey." He struggled to his feet and called for his horse. "Rocinante! We have a new quest!"

As the old man galloped away the same way he'd come, leaving the windmills unfought, Buffy turned to Willow. "Well, that was fun. So, Spain. Timetravel. How do we get home, and do we have time to hit the beach first? Did they have beaches in the middle ages?"

"Yeah, uh, about that. Remember how back at the Magic Box we had this spellbook, and these herbs, and eye of newt...? Well, this place looks remarkably newt-free. Which, y'know, under normal circumstances, yay, but..." Willow shrugged and held out her empty hands.

"...But you need those things in order to break the spell?" Giles asked. 

"Pretty much."

"So we're stuck in 15th century Spain?"

"Don't be absurd, Xander," Giles reassured him. "It's early 17th century Spain."

"Um... guys?" Dawn interrupted their discussion and pointed to the horizon. "Does that usually happen in Spain?"

They all looked. The thing that didn't usually happen in Spain was the way the horizon was rising, as if the entire world was a huge sheet of paper being rolled up. The red dirt lifted up into the clear blue sky, higher and higher, until the ground suddenly rose up under their feet. Then the horizon folded down over them, and once again they fell.

They fell through a blur of confusing images and stories. They fell for what felt like forever.

And finally landed on the floor of the Magic Box, where they lay gasping for a few seconds before all simultaneously cracking a pun about the book being a page-turner.