Watchers Council – Conference Room – Evening
Giles sat at the head of the table, with Rowena, Kennedy and Xander to his right and Faith and Robin to his left. Looks of worry and concern covered all of their faces.
“You don’t think she’s pulling another disappearing act, do ya?” Faith asked. “You know, like she did when Ethan was here?”
Giles shook his head. “No, I’m afraid not, though I wish it were so.”
“She wouldn’t have stood me up,” Rowena added with certainty. “Not tonight.”
“We retraced her steps and found the Council van she was driving,” Kennedy reported. “It was still parked in front of Lenore’s. The stuff she bought was still inside, but she was nowhere around.”
“Did you find her keys or-or her phone?” Rowena asked.
“We found her backpack in a nearby alley. Her wallet was gone, and there was no sign of her keys,” Kennedy said.
“We were able to track the GPS on her phone,” Robin pointed out.
“Yeah, but unfortunately, it wasn’t in Willow’s possession anymore. The creep who had it and her wallet swore he just ‘found them on the sidewalk’,” Kennedy said.
“Do you believe him?” Robin asked.
Kennedy nodded ruefully. “Yeah, I do.”
“So…what happened?” Xander asked frantically. “Did somebody just grab her, or what? I mean, do we think the Presidium has her? Or Volano?”
At Volano’s name, Rowena dropped her head sadly and gazed at her fingers, touching her right pinky, with its still-prominent scar. She sniffed dramatically and wiped an unshed tear from her eye.
Kennedy reached out and gave Rowena’s hand a squeeze. She gave her a we’ll-get-her-back smile, which Rowena gratefully returned.
“We just don’t know, at this point, where she is,” Giles admitted.
“Well, let’s get to the knowing point, then,” Xander said. “Can’t we do a locator spell?”
“Andrew’s on it,” Rowena said, clearing her throat. “He’s preparing the Coven now.”
Dark Cell – Same Time
Shadow was back in her corner, squatting, rocking back and forth on her heels. Willow was still sitting up, leaning against the wall, but a halo of black starbursts surrounded her on the stone surface.
“Listen to me…” Willow tried again.
“Stop it,” Shadow said weakly. “I told you, it’s…”
Willow watched sadly as Shadow began to cry, her body shaking from the sobs.
“Rack,” she wailed, “I wish you were here. I can be strong when you’re here. You’d tell me what to do, and then I wouldn’t hurt anymore. Rack…”
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Later
As Giles, Rowena, Kennedy, Faith and Robin waited in the wings, Andrew double-checked the preparations for the locator spell. When he was satisfied, he motioned towards Jeff, Dawn and Skye. They joined him on the floor and sat around a large map of Cleveland.
Before each of them sat a candle, a dish of colored sand, and a personal possession of Willow’s. At Andrew’s nod, they each lit the candle in front of them, picked up their designated object and placed it in their lap. Andrew took up Willow’s laptop, Dawn held Willow’s personal Book of Shadows, Jeff picked up Willow’s doll’s-eye crystal and Skye took possession of Willow’s photo album. Once settled into place, they each took up a handful of their colored sand. Then they closed their eyes and concentrated.
“Thespia, protector of the night, ruler of darkness, hear our cry,” Andrew began.
“We walk in shadow, we walk in blindness, grant us your sight,” Dawn continued.
“Aradia, goddess of the lost, guardian of the missing, hear our prayer,” Jeff added.
“The woods are dense, the path is murky, bring the light,” Skye finished.
Then, they all said at once, “We beseech you, show us the way!”
As they spoke the final line, they opened their eyes, scattered their sands over the map and joined hands. The sands started to glow and swirl in the air above the map, and the sound of rushing wind filled the room. The sands formed a broad funnel, which moved systematically across the map.
When the funnel reached one portion of the diagram, it jerked, as if it had met some invisible barrier. The funnel moved to the other side, and once again met some invisible force of resistance.
“What’s happening?” Dawn shouted over the sound of the wind.
Andrew grimaced and called out, “Something’s blocking us!”
“Don’t stop!” Jeff cried. “We can break through!”
Skye clenched her jaw and groaned in pain. “It’s too strong!”
With a loud whoosh, the wind stopped as quickly as it had begun, and the sands instantly dropped to the floor. The four casters fell forward with a gasp, then released their hands in the wake of the spell’s ending.
Giles and the others rushed forward. “Are you all right?” he asked them, touching Jeff’s shoulder.
“Did it work? What did you find?” Xander asked. Both he and Rowena settled beside Dawn.
“I’m sorry,” Dawn said. “We tried, but –”
“Something was blocking us,” Jeff explained.
“Something strong,” Skye added.
“Or someone,” Andrew suggested.
“Like another coven?” Rowena asked.
Andrew shrugged uncertainly.
“Well, it’s clear that somebody’s got Willow, right?” Faith asked. “I mean, she wouldn’t be casting this on her –”
“Hey! Look at the map!” Kennedy said excitedly.
When all eyes took in the map, they saw that the sands had formed an amorphous outline around the area where the barrier had been in place.
“If that’s where the sands couldn’t go, then that must be where Willow is,” Kennedy said.
“Okay then,” Xander said, “let’s saddle up! The sooner we get to searching, the sooner we find Willow.”
Faith and Robin examined the map closely. Then Robin sat back, frowning. “That’s about ten square blocks,” he reported ruefully, as Faith marked off the area with a pen. “Give or take a block or two.”
“In other words, too big to search in a hurry,” Xander confirmed sadly.
All present let out sighs of disappointment and stood up. Then they furrowed their brows, racking their brains for other solutions.
Dark Cell – Same Time
Willow inched closer to the sobbing Shadow. Just as she reached out to touch her, the sorceress whipped around. All crying instantly ceased, all vestiges of her weaker personality vanishing.
Shadow laughed insanely, then said, “Guess what? Your friends are trying to find you.”
A look of hope entered Willow’s face.
“But I’m blocking them,” Shadow announced with glee. “They’ll have to do better than that to find you in time.”
“I-I-In time for what?” Willow asked worriedly.
“For my final revenge, of course,” Shadow said. She smiled as she caressed Willow’s cheek.
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Same Time
“What if we repeat the locator spell on site?” Rowena suggested to Andrew, her tone suggesting the idea had just struck her. “Would you have a better chance of breaking the barrier?”
Andrew looked at the other Coven members, then said, “Maybe, but the barrier might be even stronger on site, because of the location of the caster. Still, it’s worth a try.”
Jeff glanced nervously at the other members of the group. “There…ummm…there might be another way,” he said quietly.
“What’s that, Jeff?” Giles said.
“I said, there might be another way,” Jeff repeated. When everyone turned their eyes toward him, he fidgeted once or twice, then straightened. “There’s this spell I know. It’s not exactly a locator spell per se. It’s more of a…get-a-glimpse-of-the-future kind of spell.”
“We’re trying to find Willow, not foresee the next PowerBall numbers,” Xander said sarcastically.
Jeff ignored Xander’s comment and continued. “I’ve been working on building my Vision: casting the runes, using the Tarot. I think…I think with this spell I can jump a little into the future and see Willow. The cool thing is, I’ll be looking at where Willow will be, not where she is, and that might be just what we need to get around the barrier.”
“This spell…where did you find it?” Rowena asked suspiciously.
Jeff dropped his head and shuffled his feet. “The Visiones Vatium,” he mumbled.
“What?!” Giles exclaimed. “That book is in the restricted area, and for good reason! How did you –” Giles shook his head in angry exasperation. “Never mind. Just tell me about the spell. I want to know everything.”
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Minutes Later
The discussion of Jeff’s proposed spell had, in the intervening minutes, degenerated into a very loud argument involving most of the Council’s most prominent members. Kennedy and Andrew shot each other a nervous look, as the older, theoretically cooler under pressure members of the Council got louder and louder.
“I know we wanna find Willow, but we’re talkin’ about a spell that could potentially kill Jeff,” Faith said. “He’s just a kid.”
“I can do it,” Jeff insisted. “Besides, don’t we send kids out every night on patrol?”
“Slayers are different,” Faith argued ,while Robin added, at the same time, “Jeff, I realize that you want to help out, but this is no time for ill-advised heroics.”
“I’m not trying to be a hero! I’m trying to save Willow!” Jeff replied hotly to both of them.
Rowena and Xander nodded in full agreement.
“Absolutely not!” Giles barked. “It’s simply too dangerous. I forbid it!”
“You forbid it?” Rowena countered angrily. “What happened to your big speech about ‘sharing responsibility’ and ‘everyone having an equal voice?'”
“We should vote,” Xander said, pointing dramatically as if tapping a tabletop. “Right now.”
“Fine,” Giles said. “All in favor of casting the spell?”
Jeff, Rowena and Xander instantly shot up their hands. Kennedy soon joined them.
“All in favor of not casting the spell?” Giles prompted.
Giles, Faith and Robin raised their hands. Andrew eventually added his to the group.
The voters turned their eyes to Dawn and Skye, who had not yet voiced their opinions. The couple looked uneasy. Then Dawn said, “Give us a sec.” She took Skye’s hand and led her away for a private conversation.
“Skye, what do we do?” Dawn asked.
“I don’t know,” Skye replied. “Maybe we should do the spell. Try it at least.”
“Once we start it, there’s no turning back. Only Jeff will be able to stop it then.”
Skye merely shrugged.
“I know you probably don’t want to hear this,” Dawn said, “but I don’t want to see Jeff hurt.”
“And you think I do?”
“No,” Dawn said sincerely. “It’s just that…I’m scared. Scared whichever way it goes.”
Skye looked at Jeff and then back at Dawn. “He’s strong, Dawn. If anybody can do it, I think he can. Besides, this is Willow we’re talking about. She’s in really deep trouble. We’re all she’s got, and she wouldn’t turn her back on anyone here.”
Dawn thought for a moment and then said, “You’re right.” When Skye nodded and turned to head back to the group, Dawn grabbed her arm. “Wait!” she said urgently. When Skye came back, Dawn leaned closer and lowered her voice. “What about the…the other part?” Dawn asked with a blush.
Skye grinned. “I’m up for it if you are.”
Dawn gave an embarrassed laugh, then she and Skye returned to the group to inform them of their decision.
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Evening
Jeff knelt on one side of a cloth altar, while Dawn and Skye knelt on the other. Behind Dawn and Skye, a curtained divider had been strung. In the center of the altar cloth sat a large volume, propped open upon a bookstand. The page pictured a full-page photo of an old marble bust. It was the head of the two-faced Roman god, Janus. Around the bookstand were strewn various coins. A golden cup was on Jeff’s side; a silver cup was on the other side, in front of Dawn and Skye.
Xander rushed into the room and handed Jeff a large coin. “I hope it’s okay. It’s the best I could do in a rush.”
Jeff looked at the coin. Unlike the others, which lay upon the altar, this one had two small pins, sharpened to points, one protruding from the center of each side.
“It’s perfect,” Jeff told Xander, before placing it on the altar. Then, he took a deep breath and looked across at Dawn and Skye. “You ready?” he asked them.
The two young women looked at each other and nodded. Then Skye said, with confidence, “We’re ready.”
Jeff looked at the others, and everyone except for Rowena and Giles left the room, joining the paramedics on standby outside. Once the two watchers had stepped into the corner behind him, Jeff began.
He picked up the golden cup in front of him and raised it. Dawn and Skye did the same with the silver cup, holding it up together.
Then, together, the three said, “Janus, god of gates and doorways, we call upon you now.”
“God of beginnings,” Dawn and Skye said before taking a joint-sip from their cup. They smiled at the potion’s sweetness.
“God of endings,” Jeff added. When he took a drink from his cup, he made a sour face.
“God of ecstasy,” Dawn and Skye announced, and took another drink.
“God of agony,” Jeff said, as he drank once again.
“God of the past,” Dawn and Skye recited. Then they finished off the drink.
“God of the future,” Jeff stated, before draining his cup.
Dawn and Skye wavered a bit where they sat, as the room started to spin around them. They smiled, while the corners and edges of reality blurred somehow. They giggled and looked into each other’s eyes. They touched each other’s face and then kissed.
Jeff, on the other hand, looked ill at ease. He began to pant and sweat, as if he had come down with a fever.
“Janus…” Jeff started. Then he groaned loudly and clutched his stomach.
Giles stepped forward, but Rowena held him back. “The ritual’s begun,” she reminded him. “Only Jeff can stop it now.” Giles stepped reluctantly back in place.
Jeff forced himself to straighten up. He picked up the coin modified by Xander. He put the coin between the palms of his hands and pressed tightly, linking his fingers together. He winced as the pins sank into his flesh.
On the other side of the altar, Dawn and Skye were kissing deeply, their hands roaming desperately, as they stumbled to their feet and moved behind the privacy screen. Finally, breathless, they separated, but only for a moment. Skye gave Dawn a hungry look, which Dawn encouraged with a seductive smile. Skye reached out and grabbed the front of Dawn’s shirt in both hands, ripping it open.
“Oh, God…!” Dawn said, as Skye drove her to the floor.
On the other side of the curtain, across the altar, Jeff cried out in a loud voice, as his own blood ran down his arms, “Janus, I offer myself! Give me your vision! Let me see into the future! Let me see the one I seek!”
Suddenly a purple energy wave exploded from the altar and enveloped Jeff. He screamed in agony as the energy churned around him. He clenched his jaw and gritted his teeth, bearing down against the pain, the veins in his neck and forehead bulging.
Giles and Rowena ran to Jeff’s side, but the flashing purple energy around him prevented them from touching him. But Giles called out to him, “Jeff! Stop the ritual! Stop it now! It’s killing you!”
“No! No!” Jeff growled in defiance. “It’s working…I can feel it!”
Giles tried to reach out but was repelled by a shock from the cloud around Jeff. Rowena pulled Giles’s arm until he stepped a few feet back.
Jeff began to shake, punctuating each shudder with anguished grunt. After a seemingly interminable amount of time, he thrashed and went stiff. Then, with his eyes wide open, he leaned up and let out a torturous scream. The purple energy instantly dispersed. Jeff groaned loudly and fell over, his body still jerking involuntarily.
Giles ran to the door and opened it. “Medics!” he shouted.
Rowena ran to Jeff’s side and put her hand on his back. She leaned down to whisper in his ear. “The medics are coming, hang on.”
“I saw it,” he croaked. “I saw her.”
“What did you see?” Rowena asked, as the medics came in with a stretcher.
“The old school…at Peabody…some kind of bomb shelter beneath…that’s where she is. Hurry!” At that, Jeff passed out.
Dark Cell – Same Time
Shadow paced back and forth before Willow. “You probably think I want to kill you,” she said as she completed a pass. “But that’s not true.”
Shadow stopped directly in front of Willow and looked down at her. “I told you, I want you to suffer. And there’s really only one way to do that.”
The sorceress bent down until she was eye-to-eye with Willow. “To give you what you fear the most,” she finished.
Shadow zapped up a dose of black magic in her hand. It was roughly the size of a softball – a churning ball of pitch-black energy, barely contained.
Terror filled Willow’s eyes and she began backing away. But Shadow kept pace with her, never letting the black magic out of the witch’s sight.
“That darkness within you is just dying to come out,” Shadow taunted. “And I know that seeing her in control…seeing her hurt the ones you love…that will be the worst torment of all.”
“Please,” Willow begged, “don’t do this!” Shadow ignored her and moved closer, showing no signs of listening. She looked at the ball of magic, then back at Willow, and smiled sadistically. “You have no idea what you’ll be releasing by turning me,” Willow warned, “I will kill you. There’ll be less of you left over than there ever was of Rack.”
“Then I’ll go knowing I made you pay!” Shadow growled. Then she thrust the ball of black magic against, and into, Willow’s chest.
Willow jerked and fell to the floor as the black energy seeped into her body. “No!” she screamed, going stiff in an attempt to keep the magic out. Despite her efforts, her eyes began turning black.
Council Van – Moments Later
The rescue teams were on their way to the old Peabody School Jeff had mentioned. Xander drove one van. Giles sat shotgun, while Rowena and the freshly-dressed Dawn and Skye sat in the back.
Mia drove the other van. Behind the driver’s seat sat two of Mia’s fellow Black Ops slayers, Francesca and Sable. Behind them were Kennedy and Mia’s second-in-command, Janet.
Kennedy fidgeted in her seat. She repositioned once again, then sighed in frustration as she ran her hand through her hair. Next to her, Janet was the picture of calm. Kennedy looked at her in disbelief.
“How do you do it?” Kennedy asked.
“What?” Janet replied.
“Stay so calm,” Kennedy said.
Janet leaned over and lowered her voice. “Chill pills,” she answered matter-of-factly.
“Yep,” Janet confirmed. “Got a stash of ’em right here.”
Janet looked at the other occupants suspiciously, then pulled a snack-sized storage bag from her pocket. Hiding her actions, she poured about six pills into her palm. With a final glance at the others, she transferred the pills into Kennedy’s hand. Kennedy took one look and then rolled her eyes.
“M & M’s?” Kennedy said.
“Works for me,” Janet said with a smile.
Kennedy returned her smile and popped the chocolate candies into her mouth.
Dark Cell – Same Time
Willow’s body thrashed on the floor, as Shadow dosed her again and again. When Willow’s hair turned black, her convulsions became writhing, and her screams became moans. She began to giggle in pleasure.
“That’s it,” Shadow encouraged her. “Just soak it up.”
Willow opened her eyes and saw Shadow smiling at her. “No!” she screamed. Then she slammed the sorceress with a strong magical blast, sending her flying across the room.
As Shadow hit the floor laughing, Willow scrambled into the corner, shaking violently. She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs, rocking in place. “It’s not me, it’s not me, it’s not me,” she chanted to herself.
Peabody School – Moments Later
As soon as the vans were parked, the team members poured out and Mia took charge.
“Francesca and Sable, I want you two to take the emergency exit that we saw on the floor plans. If it’s inaccessible for some reason, join us at the main door of the shelter as quickly as you can. Stay in radio contact.”
“Janet, you and Kennedy are with me. We’ll go in through the front entrance of the school and make our way to the basement where the shelter’s located and enter via its main door.”
Mia turned to Giles, Rowena and Xander. “You three will follow us, but at a distance. Do not come closer until I give the word. Clear?”
Then Mia addressed the whole group. “This place is condemned for a reason, so everyone be careful. Any questions?” When no one answered, she said, “Okay, let’s go!”
Dark Cell – Same Time
Shadow rose to her feet. She wiped the blood away from her nose and laughed again. She sauntered over to the corner where Willow sat.
“That’s some punch you’ve got,” she said, wiping her nose again. Then she squatted in front of Willow. “Felt good, didn’t it? Giving me a taste of my own medicine? Giving me what I deserve?”
Willow shook her head.
Shadow reached out and ran her hand through Willow’s still-black hair. “You’re so close, Willow, sooo close…” Shadow crooned. “You’re right at the edge.” She lifted Willow’s chin and looked into her eyes. “Just one step will take you over.”
Willow seemed mesmerized as Shadow pulled her to her feet, steadying her as she led her to the center of the room. Then the sorceress stepped back, leaving Willow standing alone. She called up another dose of black magic – the final dose, the dose that would send Willow into Darkness – and held it out to her. Willow turned away.
“You know you want it,” Shadow said, holding the ball ever so slightly close to Willow. “All that power…Come and get it.”
Willow’s eyes cut to the glowing ball in Shadow’s hand and then, just as quickly, cut away. She began to shake, and sweat broke out on her forehead. She gazed longingly at the magic, then clenched her fists tightly and looked away again. Tears poured down her face as her eyes were drawn back to the black magic in Shadow’s grasp. After the slightest hint of a sob, Willow took a halting step in Shadow’s direction.
Shadow smiled. “That’s it,” she encouraged.
Willow took another step toward Shadow, and then another. Shadow’s offering was now within Willow’s reach. Willow leaned forward and slowly lifted her arm…
Boom! went the door, as Mia and Janet kicked it in.
Shadow whipped around to face the intruders, pulling the black magic away from Willow’s potential grasp. Willow fell to her knees, as her hand met nothing but air.
When Mia and Janet saw the furious Shadow confronting them, a ball of magical energy in her hand, they didn’t hesitate. Ignoring Willow’s shout not to shoot, they opened fire, pumping multiple rounds into the woman’s chest and torso. The force of the bullets was so great that it blew the sorceress back against the wall. As she slid slowly to the floor, the ball of black magic in her hand dissipated, fading away as she slowly died.
Willow was crying hysterically and crawling frantically towards Shadow when Kennedy entered the room. Kennedy ran to Willow and grabbed her arms, keeping her from moving towards the dead sorceress.
“No!” Willow screamed, flailing uselessly. “Let me go!”
At that instant, Rowena and Xander and Giles rushed in. They froze when they saw Willow.
“Oh god,” Xander said. “Oh god,” he repeated.
Rowena pushed past Xander and Giles and ran to Willow, kneeling in front of her. Then Rowena nodded at Kennedy, who released Willow’s arms and backed away. Willow reached out toward Shadow, but Rowena caught her and held her firmly in place. Rowena grasped Willow’s face in both her hands.
“Willow!” Rowena ordered. “Look at me!” When Willow didn’t comply, she repeated the command more firmly. “Look at me!”
With great effort, Willow tore her eyes from Shadow and looked into Rowena’s face. “Rowena?” she asked in a plaintive voice.
“It’s me. I’m here,” Rowena assured her, running her hand through Willow’s black hair.
“Oh God, oh God. I could have saved her,” Willow blurted, before collapsing into sobs and falling against Rowena’s chest.
Rowena wrapped her arms around Willow and stroked her back. “It’s okay,” she crooned softly as her own tears fell. “It’s okay now. We found you.”
Watchers Council – Giles’s Apartment – Later That Evening
Xander sat slumped on Giles’s sofa, a bleak expression on his face. Giles sat in the chair across from him, rubbing his temples. Xander sat up and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.
“It was bad enough seeing it when she healed Ethan,” Xander said, “but this time…” He stopped and looked at his feet for a moment. Then he raised his eyes and tried again. “Giles, she was one veiny makeover away from going Dark Willow.”
Giles frowned and nodded. “Perhaps,” he said, “Perhaps not…but the important thing is that she didn’t. She let the black magic drain away, and she…” Giles trailed off, seemingly uncomforted by that thought.
Xander wrung his hands nervously. “What if…I mean…at Ethan’s healing…what if she wasn’t just channeling Jeff’s power?”
Giles started to reply, but stopped. Then he just shook his head, a worried look in his eyes.
Watchers Council – Kennedy’s Apartment – Same Time
Mia and Kennedy sat up in bed, unable to go to sleep, even after their showers. Kennedy stared off into space, while Mia looked on, her brow furrowed in worry.
“You okay?” she finally asked Kennedy.
“I don’t know,” Kennedy replied flatly. “I’ve never seen Willow like that.”
Mia reached out and stroked Kennedy’s arm encouragingly.
“I mean, she told me about her addiction, but I just didn’t…”
After a long pause, when it was clear Kennedy wasn’t going to continue, Mia said, “Yeah, I can imagine. It totally freaked me out the way Willow went berserk trying to get to that sorceress. I mean, even after she was dead, Willow just –”
Kennedy pinned Mia with an icy stare, sending her backpedaling.
“I’m just saying that, given her past, it would make sense that she would be drawn to her, and –”
“The only reason Willow was acting the way she was is because of what that bitch did to her, because of what she forced on her. Willow would never go down that road again, not willingly.”
“I hope you’re right,” Mia said. “For all our sake.”
“Let’s just go to sleep,” Kennedy said wearily. She turned out her light scooted down into bed.
After a sigh, Mia did the same.
Watchers Council – Willow’s Apartment – Same Time
Now freshly showered, Willow sat in bed, dressed in her pajamas, the blanket pulled over her legs. Her red hair lay damp against her bruised neck. Although her eyes were no longer black, the flesh around them certainly was. In fact, there was little on Willow’s body that wasn’t bruised or battered. What hurt the most, though, was on the inside, if Willow’s eyes were any indication.
Rowena, also dressed for bed, entered from the bathroom and then stood beside her nightstand, looking at Willow.
“Are you sure you don’t want something? Tea? Or milk? Or maybe some toast and jelly?”
Willow smiled weakly and shook her head. “No thanks,” she said, putting her hand on her stomach. “I just can’t right now.”
“I wish you had stayed at the Infirmary. The doctor said –”
“Please…don’t,” Willow said, dropping her gaze to her hands. “I just couldn’t stay there. I need to be here,” Willow continued, raising her head to meet Rowena’s eyes. “I need to be home.”
Rowena smiled and nodded. “Then home it is.”
Rowena turned off the lamp and got into bed. She scooted over to Willow’s side of the bed and took the redhead into her arms. As they snuggled together against the pillows, Rowena kissed Willow on the top of her head and gently stroked her back, murmuring soft words of love until they both fell asleep.
Jimmy Volano’s Office – Same Time
“Yeah?” James Volano answered his cell phone. “Yeah, I remember…Who? They – Right.” His voice hardened. “Yeah, keep an eye on her. If she goes outside, put a bullet in her brain.”
He ended the call and slammed the phone onto his desk. He glared at Angella, who sat opposite him, composed and idly reading what appeared to be a paperback book. On closer inspection, the pages were covered with arcane symbols, which changed as she read.
“A marksman will fail,” she said calmly.
“My boys are the best,” Volano insisted.
“Nonetheless,” Angella went on, closing her book and looking at him, “since the attempt on Mr. Rayne, the Council’s Coven has implemented a spell of interesting subtlety over the private areas of its grounds. A slight variable refraction of light, quite simple, yet it renders telescopic sights useless.”
“Well how about you get one of your hocus-pocus merchants to go render them un-useless?” Volano asked pointedly. “Or would you prefer they just go and get me locked up in a cell for a while? You don’t think that’d interfere with your ‘Mistress’s’ plans a bit? No humans to do your dirty work, no warehouses to stockpile your junk below, no –”
“You’ve made your point,” Angella cut him off. “You wish us to take care of this matter for you.”
“This matter is not an isolated incident,” Angella said. “By allowing, even facilitating, the Council’s operations against its enemies – even you – we gain a measure of control over their actions. Don’t make the mistake of thinking we operate solely for your benefit. However, rest assured, your personal safety and prosperity will not be neglected, as long as we remain allies.”
“You’ve got someone inside the Council,” Volano said flatly.
Angella raised an eyebrow, curious.
“I know you do,” Volano went on. “You know too much about them to be working just from the outside.”
“My Mistress has many ways of gathering information,” Angella said carefully.
“Fine, play it that way,” Volano frowned. “Does one of those ways involve being able to point a gun between someone’s eyes?”
Angella thought, then nodded slowly.
“Then kill Jacinta Carter,” Volano ordered. “The witness, I want her dead. They got themselves involved, them and their occult crap, they can’t go to the cops now.”
“No,” Angella said calmly.
“Don’t make a habit of saying that to me,” Volano warned. “And remember how useful I am to your ‘Mistress.’ I don’t have to be useful. Even if your side wants to play rough – well, maybe you can kill me – but you can’t control me. Now, how about you explain very carefully why it is I’m going to agree to go on helping you?”
Angella studied him a moment, then shrugged. “There…may be an option,” she said slowly. “At this stage we do not wish the Council to have proof of our involvement with you. The Vutch demon attack –”
“You knew about that?” Volano demanded.
“We provided it to you,” Angella explained. “We keep track of our resources and the uses to which they are put. The Vutch may suggest a connection between your interests and the Presidium, but it is circumstantial evidence, and that much my Mistress will allow. But to have an agent of ours kill Miss Carter would change that. And this eventuality is, in fact, to our benefit, which is why we allowed it.”
Volana started to object, but Angella raised finger, cutting him off.
“However,” she said, continuing, “a possibility suggests itself. We may be able to damage the Council in a way that would not interfere with our aims, but would distract them from their current pursuit of you.”
“How?” Volano demanded.
“Simply, to appear as if we are attacking for our motives, not yours. My Mistress has no desire to harm Miss Carter, so an attack against her could only originate from you. However, our antagonism towards the Council in general is known. If that appeared to be the motive guiding our hand, you would not be implicated.”
“Yeah?” Volano asked. “Damage in what sense?”
“The lethal sense,” Angella replied. “There are various people whose loss would harm the Council greatly, yet not impede my Mistress’s scheme. If we were to simply…choose one and eliminate them, that would solve your problem. You could achieve much while they bury their dead.”
Volano frowned in thought, then relaxed and leaned back in his chair.
“All right,” he said. “One of their high-ups gets a bullet.” He grinned. “See how easy it is when we work together? I’ve said it before, we make a good team.”
“Indeed,” Angella nodded, returning her attention to her book.
End of Rack and Ruin
Next on Watchers…
The sudden death of a key Council member reveals a Presidium plot that is even more disturbing than it first appears.