Cleveland Bus Stop – Morning
Vi and Xander saw the Mizor approaching from down the street. The folks waiting at the bus stop, faces turned to traffic, clearly did not.
“Hey! Everybody!” yelled Xander as he ran across the street, dodging traffic. “Get out of here! Now!” Behind him, Vi followed, less sure than he, but still weaving easily through the cars as they screeched to a halt.
Most of the people waiting for the bus simply stared at them, distressed and uncertain, but still not looking in the direction of the real threat. The one person who didn’t look in any direction was a blind man, dark glasses on his face and a seeing-eye dog at his side.
“I’m not kidding!” yelled Xander, now in front of them.
Vi, coming up alongside Xander, pointed in the direction of the Mizor and screamed, “He’s got a gun!”
That got everyone looking, then screaming. Everyone except the blind man took off from this bizarre figure walking toward them at a steady, inexorable pace.
“What’s going on?” the blind man said.
Xander reached him, taking one arm. “It’s okay. I won’t hurt you,” he said as the man jumped. “I’ve gotta get you to safety.”
“Who are you? What’s going on?”
“We don’t have time for this!”
The seeing eye dog growled at the approaching Mizor, then whimpered as it neared.
“Pluto? What’s the matter, boy?” the blind man knelt down next to his dog.
“Come on!” Xander urged.
From seven feet away, the approaching Mizor lifted one arm and aimed for Vi, who was pushing the stragglers up the street. Xander gave up on the man and instead jumped, tackling Vi to the ground just before the tendril shot out. While Xander and Vi lay tangled on the ground, the Mizor turned his attention to the nearer and unsuspecting blind man.
From its wrist, a tendril shot out nearly too fast for the eye to follow. The tip of the tendril looked barbed, and it certainly drilled directly into and under the flesh of the blind man’s neck. He screamed, a deep, then rising sound of pain and horror. Both hands flew to his sides and he shook in convulsions. Vi and Xander helped each other up and she whistled to the dog as she and Xander ran down the street.
After a quick sprint, they turned around and looked. Petting the dog, Vi kept saying, “shhh shhh” while holding it tight. But then she went silent.
The blind man was changing. His skin altered color and bubbled, while his hair simply shed itself. The gurgling sounds from his open throat were probably of pain and shock, but there was no way to tell. Yet his mouth, stretched open in a grimace, clearly showed teeth sharpening to fine points, like those of a shark. His trembling continued, but now it was a rigid trembling. And he began to glow a sickly green color, like mildew speckled with emerald. For a brief flash, he was too bright to see.
When the flash ended, the blind man had completely changed. Overweight before, now he looked muscled. In the place of clothes were what looked like leather robes, either sewn to his skin or somehow grown from it. Not one strand of hair remained visible.
The new Mizor demon stepped forward from a pool of slime, maybe the remnants of his humanity, and walked with the same inexorable pace as his sire.
Pluto let out a yelp and backed up. crouching, at the sight of his former owner. “Not a bad idea,” Vi told the dog. She motioned the animal and Xander to follow her. “Come on boy,” she said, slapping her leg.
“You can use my name,” Xander told her. Vi just rolled her eyes and nodded for him to follow.
The two Mizors followed, as well.
Watchers Council – Giles’s Office – Same Time
Rowena, with Andrew still standing guard, walked into Giles’s office with the disk in hand to see Faith giving Giles CPR on the floor. Willow stood against the office wall looking frozen, petrified.
“Oh God,” Rowena sighed in a whisper, as she watched the slayer frantically work.
“Come on Giles,” Faith called down to him as she pumped on his chest. “Fight, damn it!”
Stunned, Rowena continued to watch from the doorway as Faith began to blow in his mouth again. Suddenly Giles took a deep breath and Faith sat back, running her hands over her sweating face.
“We need help in here,” a voice said behind Rowena. She turned to see the Council emergency team and she stepped aside, into the outer waiting area, so they could get through. Spotting Dawn, Skye and Jeff in the corner of the room, she walked over. Andrew glanced back at his fallen friend for a moment, then joined them.
“What happened?” she asked.
“They were fighting, arguing,” Dawn explained nervously. “Giles and Willow that is, and he, uh, just collapsed, we guess.”
Rowena was silent for a moment, seemingly trying to process this new development. Then she asked, “Does Becca know?” They shook their heads and Rowena continued. “Jeff, can you drive down and pick her up? Just in and out. Don’t play the hero out there, okay? Tell her he collapsed, but he’s breathing – got it? Don’t stress her more than she needs to be.”
“Will do,” he said with a nod, then darted from the room.
As the medics began to wheel Giles from the room Willow and Faith walked behind them. Once Giles was on his way Willow stopped in front of Rowena and held out her hand.
“Is that the disk?” she asked.
Rowena simply nodded and handed it over. Once it cleared her fingertips, Faith grabbed Rowena by the lapels and pushed her against the wall.
“Thanks to you, I’ve got a slayer and a watcher that might die. Anything else you need to share?”
Rowena shook her head in shame, and then her tears started to flow. Willow tried to pull Faith away. Unable to budge the much stronger and more powerfully built slayer, Willow spoke into her ear. “Faith. Not now.”
The slayer released Rowena, but not without giving her an extra final shove. She pushed a finger in Rowena’s face. “You watchers better solve this quick.”
Willow watched Faith leave, but the sound of Rowena’s voice turned her attention back to the blonde.
“I’m so sorry, Willow,” she began.
The witch simply held up a finger. “Don’t. I don’t want any excuses. You promised to be honest from now on, and what you did…”
“I was trying to protect you,” Rowena pleaded.
“Maybe the disk might have some information that’ll do that.”
“Actually, I was thinking –”
“You are suspended,” Willow said, holding up her finger again. “I suggest you just go to your apartment for now. Come on Andrew,” she added, motioning the timid-looking man behind her to follow her.
“Willow,” the watcher cried out. “I love you.”
Willow stopped and turned around. “I love you, too, but Giles isn’t the only one mad right now. We’ll discuss it later.”
“Later,” Willow answered in a firm voice. Then she left the room with Andrew.
With her head hung low, Rowena walked in the opposite direction.
Another Cleveland Street – Later
Two Mizors turned the corner, just behind a dozen people running from them as fast as possible.
As he saw them, and the fleeing people, the driver of the school bus picking up children gawked. But just for a moment. He took his cue from the running folk and turned to the kids in his stairwell. “Get on board! Now!”
For once, there was no hesitation. Three preteens ran inside the hoped-for safety of the bus, bringing the number of passengers up to an even dozen. Without a pause, the driver shut the door and started moving the bus. Traffic usually made maneuvering the large vehicle tricky. Other cars being driven by people who were panicking only made it worse. A Pontiac directly in front of the bus, blocking its way, tried to swing around the VW Bug in front of it. The result was a crashing sound, followed by the shriek of bending metal.
The bus driver cursed. He could not maneuver his bus. In frustration – and fear – he honked the horn. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one. Half the cars in the street were using their horns as well. In the distance, car alarms and human screams, as well as gunshots, added to the din.
As he looked through his windshield, the driver gaped again. One of the…things…that had turned the corner now was holding an elderly black woman by the shoulders. She was shaking like a leaf and screaming. Then, she actually seemed to melt…
With a ripping sound, the door to the bus tore off. What had done the tearing was another of the Things. It looked female, despite its hairlessness and the grotesque, seemingly self-inflicted. deformities. The flesh was a sickly green and her eyes glowed malevolently. The driver picked up the fire extinguisher he kept next to his feet. Wielding it as a club, he assailed the creature now entering his bus. He struck it, not once or twice, but four times, with all the strength he could muster.
It barely paused. Behind the driver, the children were screaming by now in terror. Sweat pouring off his face, the driver tried one more time, swinging the fire extinguisher into the creature’s face as hard as he could. The force of the impact knocked the driver himself backwards and onto the floor.
He opened his eyes, dizzy, just in time to see a tendril shoot out from the thing’s wrist and bury itself into a ten-year-old girl.
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Later
“There might be another way!”
Willow, Skye and Dawn looked from the laptop over to Andrew.
Dawn asked, “A way Willow doesn’t have to die?”
“It’s all about magic, right?” Andrew continued, hurriedly. “Mizors are somehow in tune with the magical energies of Hellmouths. They’d have to be. Otherwise why would they only swarm on top of them? And they only swarm when a Hellmouth is changed, or the magic around the Hellmouth changes. Doesn’t that make sense? Doesn’t it?”
Willow blinked, the annoyance on her face giving way to thought. “Yeah…yeah, it does.”
“So….” offered Andrew triumphantly, “we change it back!”
“How?” Willow wanted to know.
“What if Willow left Cleveland? Got away from the hellmouth?” Skye asked.
“Won’t work,” said Dawn instantly. “I read it. It’s been tried. Once Willow made her home here, that started the swarm. Nothing will stop it until she dies.”
“But theoretically, what happens when someone dies?” Jeff called from the doorway.
“Becca?” Willow asked the one word question.
“With Dr. Miller now,” he answered quickly, before getting back to the subject and taking a seat next to Dawn. “The magic must go back to normal when someone dies, or at least what it was before. So that’s what we’ve got to do.”
“We’re not killing Willow,” Dawn insisted.
“I didn’t say that,” Jeff assured Dawn, softly putting his hand on her knee. Upon hearing his certainty and feeling his touch, she seemed to relax and smiled slightly. As if suddenly realizing their physical closeness, Jeff blinked and removed his hand, but the others took no notice. He looked at Dawn, Andrew and then Skye before recovering his train of thought. “What I mean is, we need to isolate Willow from magic. Maybe do some kind of spell that’ll create a force field around her.”
Skye looked at Willow. “Can you do that?”
“She can’t be the one who does it,” said Andrew, shaking his head.
“No one can make a spell that isn’t part of them in some way,” agreed Jeff. “We, the Coven, we have to do it. The whole idea is to temporarily cut her off from access to magic, so as far as the magic is concerned she’s dead. But not really.”
“The problem is,” Skye said, “We have to cut her off from magic completely. But she’s mega-powerful, so, how do we do that?”
Everyone looked at each other now, all clearly trying to think of a way. But in the silence, Willow gave a grim expression. She finally spoke, “Persephone’s Knot.”
“What’s that?” asked Skye.
“The same thing as killing you,” Jeff said incredulously. “No one’s ever survived it.”
“Again, in theory, I can,” insisted Willow. “There’s no real reason I’d have to die, and then we can try the counterspell.”
Jeff looked confused. “What counterspell?”
“Althenea told me about it once. She said…well, never mind. The point is, I’ve got to talk to her.”
Willow practically ran down the hall, everyone watching her as she did. Dawn was the first to turn her attention to Jeff.
“What’s this Knot thing?”
“Persephone’s Knot, the Ritual of Sundering,” he answered her. “It’s a way a Coven can take all the powers away from a witch who has misused them. The ritual sunders the witch from all contact with magic, like taking away a singer’s voice, or removing a gas tank from a car.”
“Oh! Or like siphoning off all a Jedi’s midochlorians?”
Everyone looked at Andrew, who fell silent.
“Yeah…Anyway,” Jeff continued. “It’s hardly ever used. But when it is, the witch always dies. The shock to the system is too great. And the more powerful the witch…”
“The greater the shock,” Dawn finished and watched as Jeff nodded.
No one added more.
Watchers Council – Giles’s Office – Minutes Later
Willow sat at Giles’s desk, a legal pad before her. She tapped the pad with a pen impatiently. In her other hand was a telephone receiver.
“There isn’t any time to explain,” she was saying. “I need you to trust me and go over the exact mechanics of both the spell and the counterspell.”
London Flat – Same Time
Thousands of miles away, Althenea Dimmons spoke into her own phone.
“It isn’t a matter of trust, Willow,” she said. “I would be remiss in my duty if I didn’t make absolutely sure that you understand the consequences of the Ritual. To sunder a witch from magic is a terrible thing, a cruel thing. Apart from any other details, the process is extremely painful, even life threatening.” As she spoke, she retrieved a large, leather-bound book from inside a cabinet and opened it.
Watchers Council – Giles’s Office – Same
“I understand all that,” said Willow. “And I’m absolutely sure this is the only way. So, please…tell me how to do the ritual, and undo it.”
After a moment, she began to write on the legal pad before her.
“Five casters, right…and five blue candles…a circle of sea-salt…”
She continued writing.
Presidium Citadel – Passageway – Same Time
The Lover made her way quickly through the labyrinthine corridors of the Citadel’s underground, untroubled by the pitch darkness or the whisper-quiet echoes that drifted around the steady sound of her footsteps. After innumerable twists and turns in darkness, a pale glow began to build around her, culminating in a brightly lit doorway.
Within was a vast chamber, with a domed ceiling and huge arches supporting the massive weight above it. The floor dipped down into a bowl, at the center of which was a circular wall, like the rim of a well thirty meters across. The light emanated from a magical structure within the well, a framework of light filaments that split, merged, crossed and intertwined in patterns of chaotic complexity. At the apex of the unearthly structure, every filament came together, forming a single brilliant column of pure light that met the ceiling and vanished through it.
The Lover walked easily along the narrow edge of the well, heedless of the cavernous pit to her side or the quick, violent writhings of the magical framework as it twisted and turned. A second figure came into her view, standing still and silent, its gaze locked on the brilliance of the magic.
“Dreamer,” the Lover said as she approached the figure. For a moment she stood motionless beside it, as it seemed oblivious to her, but she waited patiently.
“Highness,” the figure intoned at last, turning to face her. As it did so it revealed a face that was utterly featureless, perfectly smooth, and mirrored. It was no mask, rather the skin of its neck, and the back of its head, simply lost all contour, and instead reflected the image of its surroundings.
“Our Lord has new orders, Highness?” it asked politely.
“No, His wishes for you are unchanged,” the Lover replied. Her own reflection in the Dreamer’s face seemed, oddly, to move and speak a fraction of a second before she herself did.
“A matter of your own then?” it asked. “The humans you study, Highness?”
“Yes,” the Lover said, turning to stare into the magical light, “I wish to avail myself of your gifts. The human Council, the witch: Willow.” She said the name carefully, every sound in perfect place.
The Dreamer nodded, and reached out a clawed hand towards the magic. The massive structure spun quickly on its axis, and a single thread of power came into contact with the outstretched claw for a fraction of a second.
The Dreamer lowered its arm.
“I have seen,” it said simply.
“Will she die?” the Lover asked, her voice quite neutral.
“That is beyond even my vision,” the Dreamer admitted. “Some variables defy foresight utterly. She…may.”
“Or may not,” the Lover mused. She gave a thoughtful glance to the Dreamer, then looked back at the magic. “Either way, it need not concern us,” she said, after a moment’s contemplation.
“Yes,” the Dreamer said.
“Thank you,” the Lover said, “for your sight. He remains pleased with your service.”
“Yes, Highness,” came the reply. “If the witch’s life continues, is it your wish that I see her further?” The Lover paused, then shook her head.
“Not necessary,” she said, turning to leave, “your tasks are unchanged. Do not concern yourself with her.”
“Yes, Highness,” the Dreamer said once more.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Day
Several feet apart, two patients lay side by side. One was Mia, unconscious and attached to various machines. A respirator was making sure she continued breathing. A modified dialysis machine was filtering her blood, while two intravenous tubes continued to pour antibiotics into her system. Still, her body twitched. The restraints holding her in place had not been removed.
Watching her with exhausted eyes, Giles lay in his own bed. Compared to her, he hardly seemed critical at all. Apart from the heart monitor and oxygen tube, he was essentially unencumbered.
And Becca sat by his side, holding his hand.
“She’s alone,” Giles said, softly. “Mia.”
Becca looked at Mia, then back at Giles. “No she isn’t,” she said. “She just doesn’t happen to have anyone physically next to her right now. That’s not the same thing. Not at all.”
Giles looked back at Becca, the ghost of a smile on his wan face. “Such wisdom in one so young.”
She snorted. “Flattery will get you everywhere, mister.”
That got another smile.
But after a moment, he said, “I thought Kennedy would be here for her.”
“Dr. Miller said she’s keeping in contact with him from the field, and he’s updating her with any changes. She’s still trying to clear people off the street. You know, helping the team. She’s a good slayer, Rupert. You’ve done well, but she still needs a watcher, if you ask me,” Becca’s worried eyes took on a gentle, teasing light.
“Is that so?”
“Yep, so you better stick around a while longer. For her sake, of course, not mine,” she winked.
Giles smiled again. “Watcher’s honor,” he said, squeezing her hand.
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Day
Willow was finishing up the circle of salt when Xander walked into the room. “Thanks for giving me the chance to come back. I think I’ve had enough death and mayhem for one day.”
“It might not be over,” Jeff muttered, shooting a disapproving look at Willow.
“What?” Xander asked.
“Nothing,” Willow told him.
Dawn, Skye, Jeff and Andrew began putting candles in place and were filling five small bowls with different herbs.
“Anyway, I got the copies ready,” Xander said, waving the Xerox copies in his hand. “Your handwriting is just too neat for words, Will.” He began passing them out to the others.
Rowena walked into the room and went directly over to Willow. “I have the words of the counterspell here,” she told her.
“Good. Thank you,” said Willow, taking them from her. “You can go now.”
Rowena looked away, as Jeff and Andrew shared an uncomfortable look.
“Uh, Willow?” Dawn asked, “Don’t we need five to do the ritual? We’re only four members.”
Skye suggested, “What about Rowena?”
“This spell might be too sensitive. That’s why Xander’s here,” she added. “He’s done magic.”
Xander appeared unsure. “But…I’m not…You know…”
“You’ve done magic before,” Willow explained. “Successfully even. The unity spell? Raising Buffy? You even once set a book on fire.”
“Really?” Jeff asked. “Me too.”
Xander looked daunted for just a moment. Then he took a deep breath. “Okay then. Where do you want me?”
“Over here,” she motioned, and started to walk away.
Rowena reached out and grabbed Willow’s arm.
“I’m not leaving,” Rowena told her.
“You’re not staying,” the witch countered.
Willow began to walk away again, but this time Rowena grabbed her by the arm and physically began to pull her to a corner of the room, away from the rest of the group.
“What’s going on?” Xander softly asked Andrew.
Andrew looked reluctant to say anything and shrugged. “Let’s just get finished,” he said, motioning for Xander to follow him.
“Listen to me,” Rowena began, once she got Willow out of earshot of the others.
“You’re not going to talk me out of this!” Willow replied in a heated whisper.
“I realize that! But I’m not about to sit upstairs, waiting, while you could be down here dying! It’s why I took the damn file in the first place!” she exclaimed in a hushed tone.
“Exactly! So why should I trust you that you’d let the ritual finish? I can’t risk it, Rowena. Too many other lives are at stake here,” Willow countered. “One way or another, this ritual needs to be completed!”
“I know that. And I know this is your choice you’re making, not the Council’s. And if…if it doesn’t work…if they can’t bring you back…I need to be here…with you. I won’t let you die alone.”
“We all die alone, Rowena.”
The blonde watcher sighed and ran a frustrated hand across her face.
“Leave the clichés out of this,” she begged. She paused for a moment and looked deep into Willow’s eyes. “If you never give me anything else, ever again in my lifetime, please give me this…I messed up and I should have known better but all I could see was losing you. And now…well, right now, I couldn’t live with the regret of not being here. So I’m begging you, please don’t send me away.”
Willow took a deep breath and blew it out softly. “Stay here. Don’t say anything. Don’t even move until they tell you the ritual is done. Understand?”
“Thank you,” Rowena answered. She reached out for Willow.
The witch flinched from the impending embrace and appeared unsure of what to do. Rowena let her arms drop, but Willow took a few steps closer. She pulled the blonde into an uneasy embrace. Rowena returned the hug and gently kissed Willow on the neck.
“I’ve got work to do,” Willow said softly, then she slowly stepped away.
Rowena still nodded, although Willow never saw it. Looking fearful and sad, Rowena slumped down the wall until she was resting on her bottom. Without a sound, she wrapped her arms around her legs and nervously began to rock.
Another Cleveland Street – Same Time
Kennedy and Lori brought up the rear for five other people fleeing from a Mizor. The group consisted of a postman, a pregnant woman, a teenage boy in heavy goth makeup, a nun and a man in a business suit, his briefcase long abandoned. This particular area was sparsely populated and full of storefronts. Nearly every single one had bars and was locked against potential thieves. In other words, there was nowhere to go.
The Mizor moved steadily forward. Its glowing eyes were fixed on the fleeing group.
“Okay,” Kennedy said, slightly out of breath, “any ideas?”
“We can’t,” wheezed Lori, “keep up this pace. Need some kind of barrier.”
The five civilians were gasping even harder. Kennedy looked around, pointed to an alley with a fire escape. “There!”
With a tired groan, the others followed her.
So did the demon, barely ten yards behind.
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Same Time
Rowena sat in the corner, staring at what was happening, her eyes looking grim and full of fear.
Willow sat cross-legged in the center of a circle. Around her, standing outside the circle and before five blue candles, were Andrew, Skye, Jeff, Dawn and Xander. Each spoke from a sheet of paper in their hands.
“By Hecate’s right hand, so mote it be,” said Andrew.
“By Samhain’s right leg, so mote it be,” said Skye.
“By the left limb of Azreal, so mote it be,” said Jeff.
“By the left hand of Nuntet, so mote it be,” said Dawn.
“By the dark crown of Hades, worn by his great queen, so mote it be,” said Xander.
Next they spoke in unison.
“East wind, west and south and north,
We summon earth, fire, wind and sea
Elementals thy power to summon forth
In dreaded judgment, mote it be!”
Andrew, facing Willow, raised his hand. He hesitated, clearly reluctant. But Willow held his eyes and nodded. “In the name of the four corners, and in the name of the center, we invoke the three words that shall sunder flesh from fire, blood from sea, breath from the spirit of the winds and bones from the mother who is the earth.”
They all five took a deep breath. In unison, they said “Duroc!”
And then they said “Melankurion!”
Then, finally, “Abatha!”
This last seemed to have a power behind it, as if, instead of a word, it was a crack of thunder.
Cleveland Alley – Same Time
The goth helped the businessman up the ladder of the fire escape. Above them, all but Lori and Kennedy were already en route to the roof. Below, the Mizor was entering the alley.
“Go! Go! Go!” yelled Lori, pushing the overweight businessman up.
The Mizor walked steadily towards them. As the businessman got up, Lori looked at Kennedy. The dark-haired slayer strained as she pushed a full garbage dumpster in the demon’s way.
“That won’t work,” she warned her.
“It’ll slow him down,” she yelled. “For a second, anyway.”
Sure enough, the dumpster stopped suddenly, as the demon put out a hand and held it. Kennedy continued to push. Lori gave a quick push herself, sending the fire escape ladder up and out of reach. Then she ran to Kennedy’s side, adding her own strength to holding the dumpster.
“What are you doin’, man?” yelled the goth from above.
“Get back up here!” offered the businessman next to him.
“Run!” Kennedy shouted back. “Get out of its way!”
Just then, the Mizor gave a push. The dumpster thrust both slayers back. Each landed on the ground as the dumpster rolled to the side. The Mizor approached Kennedy. Jumping up, she grabbed its outstretched arm at the wrist. Suddenly, its tendril shot out. She dodged, so the thing shot past her exposed neck with barely a millimeter to spare. The tendril returned into the demon’s wrist.
Lori, who by now had risen, grabbed a bent tire iron from the ground and struck the demon across the back of its head with all the strength she possessed.
The demon paused and looked at Lori. Then it turned back to Kennedy.
Lori struck it again, but this time the Mizor did not even deign to respond. Another tendril shot out and Kennedy dodged again. This time, the tip of it scratched her neck. She cried out in pain, but kept her focus on the wrist where the tendril had returned.
Lori kept pounding the demon with the tire iron, but it had no effect whatsoever.
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Same Time
Willow grew rigid. Her eyes shut, squinting in pain. Her mouth opened, and from it a stream of light flowed out. Tiny motes of bright light, like stars, the size of sand grains, swirled amid the flow. And with the light came gasping, horrible groans from her throat. Muscles in her mouth strained, locking her mouth open, as the light continued to pour out and up.
She opened her eyes, tears pouring from them. As the last of the light left her, she let out a great, croaking sigh and collapsed.
Cleveland Alley – Same Time
The Mizor did nothing. It did not react to Lori’s repeated blows. Neither did it shoot out another of its tendrils. While Kennedy stared, the demon simply raised its other hand and pulled her grip off of its own.
It turned away. And walked. Slowly. Out of the alleyway. Out of sight.
Kennedy sank to her knees, breathing deeply. Her fingers touched the cut on the side of her neck. Lori knelt beside her.
“How does it look?” Kennedy asked.
“Like a really deep scratch,” was the shaky answer.
After another pause, Kennedy asked, “Any idea what just happened?”
Lori considered the question as she looked to where the creature had retreated. “I’ve decided to be cautiously optimistic and say maybe we scared it. For now.”
Kennedy smiled and rose to her feet, with Lori following. “Yeah…Right.”
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Same Time
Dreadfully pale, Willow gasped from her fetal position inside the circle. Each gasp had the undercurrent of a whimper.
“Oh, Goddess…” she whispered “…it’s gone…I’m gone…”
Around her, the five were now applying their candles to the herbs inside five bowls held in their right hands. They lit the herbs simultaneously, each of which flared brightly for a moment. Then, they spoke in unison.
“Duroc! Melankurion! Abatha!”
Like some kind of slow motion lightning bolt, a rainbow-hued ribbon of light appeared in the air above the circle. It wound its way to Willow, enveloping her shuddering form, causing her to glow. After a few more moments, the ribbon faded, and maybe four seconds after that Willow herself stopped glowing.
Rowena came to the edge of the circle, eyes focused on Willow, now still on the floor. She wasn’t alone. All five of those who’d done the ritual stared as well.
Willow’s eyes flickered open.
“Is it done? Is it done?” Rowena asked quickly.
Andrew nodded and Rowena rushed into the circle to pull Willow into her lap, kissing the witch soundly on the lips.
Xander’s eyes widened, but as he looked left and right in the circle, he saw that no one else was surprised by the display. With an angry glare, he stood up from the circle.
“Go get the doctor,” Jeff told him.
Xander just nodded and left the room. Rowena continued to hold Willow, stroking her hair.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Evening
Kennedy sat beside Mia, holding her hand. The stricken slayer’s eyes were closed.
“Whatever kind of toxin the demons introduced to her system,” Dr. Miller was saying, “seems to be gone now. We’re continuing the antibiotics, and just to be sure, we’re continuing to make the saline solution of her I.V. with holy water. Rest, combined with her healing powers, should correct much, if not all, the damage within days. And I’ve every reason to suppose that eventually her recovery will be complete.”
Kennedy nodded, her eyes still on Mia. She reached out and straightened a lock of hair that had fallen across Mia’s pale face. Then she stood and kissed her on the forehead.
“You should rest as well,” the doctor said. “That cut will probably be gone by morning, but you’re certainly exhausted. I think Mia will need you alert.”
“Alright,” Kennedy finally said. She stood and headed for the infirmary door. Along the way, she passed Giles. He was sitting up in bed, an oxygen tube still in his nose but otherwise looking reasonably well. He was even talking on the telephone. Kennedy paused while he finished his conversation.
“Thank you, Althenea. For everything.” Giles hung up and looked at Kennedy.
“I’m glad you’re going to be alright,” she said.
“Likewise” he replied. “And all the more so for Mia’s sake.”
“We need you,” said Kennedy. “That much is too clear.” With those words, she looked at the bed next to Giles’s, where Willow lay. Kennedy’s eyes were like flint, and Willow looked away.
“A few days of relaxation and I’ll be just fine,” he told her.
“Good. Then get your rest,” she said with a grin. Giving his hand a pat, she departed his bedside.
As Kennedy reached the door to the infirmary, Rowena entered – and stopped short at the furious glare from Kennedy.
“Get out of my way,” spat Kennedy, very quietly, but very dangerously.
Saying nothing, Rowena did. The dark-haired slayer swept past her without looking back. The watcher took a deep breath and approached Giles.
“As you can tell, people are…unhappy,” she said to him. “Kennedy’s reaction is fairly typical.”
“Can you blame them?” asked Giles.
Rowena shook her head.
“The fact is,” Giles continued, glancing over at Willow, “the pair of you betrayed the trust of everyone here. Privacy is one thing. Active deceit is something else. Worse, it went on so long it became a habit, with consequences that were nothing less than horrific. People died because of your actions, Rowena. And you, Willow, your behavior has been only slightly less dishonorable. The Watchers Council cannot operate in this fashion. It simply cannot. This kind of behavior endangers the entire world. And it shows your fellows you view them with nothing less than contempt. I could not be more disappointed.”
Silence followed as Rowena wore a look of shame.
Dr. Miller approached. “You should be sleeping as well, Mr. Giles, as should Miss Rosenberg. Frankly, from her condition I’d almost assume you two had suffered identical heart attacks. You need rest.”
Giles nodded. “This will only take a few moments.”
The doctor stepped back, allowing them some semblance of privacy while continuing to hover nearby.
Rowena spoke. “I stand ready to accept expulsion.” Her voice was low.
At first, Giles did not speak.
“I am tempted, to be honest. But I think this is an offense you are not likely to repeat. Either of you.” He shot a glance at a pale Willow.
“No,” she said at last. “We…I shouldn’t have lied. About a lot of things.”
“Bloody right you should not have,” muttered Giles. “But right now we cannot afford to lose either of you. And this whole incident has frankly left us weaker than I like, quite apart from the morale problem you two have created.” He paused, then went on. “Althenea tells me there are a few accounts of Persephone’s Knot being successfully reversed. Usually, the witch in question dies. That’s why the Coven decided not to attempt it with Willow before, because they refused to kill unless they had no choice. While I can criticize your actions, I do understand your motives.”
“Thank you,” was all she said.
“Althenea mentioned why she believes Willow is still alive. It seems the most important factor in the counter-ritual is the emotional bond between the casters and the object. Quite simply, it was their love that made the spell work. That fact will, I believe, help mend some fences in the days to come.” He sighed. “Unfortunately, she also told me that the severing from magic cannot be wholly undone. The ritual has damaged her connection to mystic forces, although to what degree over the long run, no one can say.” He looked now at Rowena, his voice like steel sheathed in velvet. “And you, Miss Allister, have much to do to earn our trust once again. Quite apart from anything formal I might authorize, you have fractured the bonds between yourself and the rest of the Council. Clemency shall consist of giving you a chance to rebuild them. Is there anything you’d like to say at the moment?”
Rowena simply shook her head.
“That is all then.”
He leaned back, adjusted his glasses, and commenced reading the newspaper on his bed. The headlines on the front page were all about a gang fight that accidentally released a supply of chemical waste, resulting in deaths as well as hallucinations. The city was already appealing for federal aid.
Willow, meanwhile, turned over and looked at the wall. Slowly, Rowena walked over to her and saw how Willow stared blankly. She leaned over and said in a low voice, “I’m sorry. That isn’t much, and it isn’t enough. But it’s true. I am sorry.”
“I need to sleep,” said Willow in a weary voice.
Rowena seemed to swallow back impending tears and nodded. “I love you, Will,” whispered Rowena.
“I know,” Willow replied. “But I need to sleep.” Willow simply closed her eyes without saying more.
Rowena left the infirmary, her eyes wet with tears. She wiped them and then took a seat in the waiting area. She quietly stopped a nurse who was passing by, grabbing her sleeve.
“If Willow’s condition gets worse, will you come get me? I’ll be here all night.”
“No problem, Ms. Allister,” she said politely before moving on.
Rowena closed her eyes and took a deep breath as she sat in the empty waiting area.
End of Hellgoddess
Next on Watchers…
When Kennedy has a slayer dream involving a former student of Robin’s and the deaths of Willow, Xander and herself, she is forced to race against time to prevent her vision from coming to pass.