Disclaimer: See first chapter
Willow followed her guides down the hallway into what amounted to a
rec room. A big screen TV lined one wall, with armchairs and a sofa facing
it. A table stood in one corner covered with a scattered deck of cards.
The room looked empty, although the TV was on and something was flipping the channels. Pyro smiled when he noticed the constant click- click of someone hitting the remote.
"Hey, Inviso Girl! Put the clicker down, we've got company. She's from Sunnydale, like you are."
Willow frowned. Inviso Girl? Empty room? Sunnydale? This sounded familiar. Wait a second. Sophomore year. Bizarre attacks on the "popular" crowd. Caused by an invisible girl named -
"Marcie?" Willow gasped in astonishment. She'd never really bothered to find out what happened to her; that particular adventure had been too closely followed by an apocalypse for her to worry about it. So Marcie was a mutant. Huh. Made as much sense as a case of Hellmouth induced invisibility.
Her exclamation was greeted by a giggle. "Surprised to see me? In theory, that is. Guess I'm not so forgettable anymore, little Willow," her voice was coming from just a few feet in front of Willow. "I'm a bit surprised, too. The last time I saw you, you weren't looking so well."
And it seems Marcie was still trying to beat Drusilla in the I'm-a- psycho pageant. Willow wondered if her cousin needed some psychiatric evaluation of his own for keeping Marcia around.
"Yes, well you were trying to kill me at the time," Willow pointed out. "With the locking me and my friends in the school basement and opening the gas valve."
"Aww, Willow, I'm touched that you remembered. You know it wasn't personal, right?" Her voice took on that annoying girlish giggle again, "You were bothering me and I needed you to leave me alone."
Willow really wanted to do something to Marcie. Yeah, as all the death threats to her person go, it was minor (nothing compared to Spike's shove the broken bottle in the face, and she had actually stopped him from killing himself this year) but Marcie's insano mocking attitude was annoying!
But being a polite guest means, well, being polite. Even if you really want to try, say, a rat spell to see if mutant powers stay after the transformation. Or maybe not the rat spell. Maybe just one which makes her think she's a rat. Just for a little while?
She could almost hear Tara saying, "I know you don't like Marcie since she threw back all attempts at helping her and set you up to get killed, but using a spell like that for petty vengeance would be an irresponsible use of magic." Phooey.
While Marcie and Willow were having their little exchange, Pyro and company were trying to adjust to whatever happened between the two girls. It was apparent there was some kind of history. Pyro knew that Marcie had been unhappy and ignored in her previous life as a human, but he hadn't heard that she had tried to kill people. Must be why she gets trusted for special missions.
Willow turned to Pyro. "Do you know that when Marcie turned invisible she decided to go after the most popular girl in school and all her friends?"
"Speaking of good old Cordelia, how is she? Does she still feel all alone?"
"Cordelia? She's getting visions and helping the helpless in L.A., the last time I checked."
Pyro frowned. "Is this Cordelia a mutant too?"
"Naw, it's a mystical demon Powers-That-Be thing. Kind of confusing, really."
Willow decided that Pyro and company were taking the revelation about witchcraft, et cetera, much better than Erik was. Must be because they weren't old stick in the muds.
At that thought, Magneto and (ick) Mystique entered the room. Pyro, Avalanche, and Toad snapped to attention. Marcie picked up a Halloween half mask, which Willow hadn't noticed earlier, and put it on.
Magneto turned towards her, "Willow, might I speak with you a moment?" He motioned her to follow him.
Willow complied. Hopefully, now that he's caught up in whatever he did, she could start to get ready to go home. She followed him down the hallway and into another room.
Once they reached the relative privacy, Magneto started to speak to her. "Mystique has been monitoring the military's activity since our escape, specifically the branch which specialized in my capture and containment. She believes that they are aware of your involvement, but are not according you a high priority. What information she has intercepted indicates that they think you did not plan my escape, and that the powers you revealed could be attributed to me. In other words, my escape was one of opportunity, entirely on my part."
Willow perked up at this. If the military didn't think she had much to do with this, then maybe she could just quietly sneak on home, nobody the wiser.
His next words burst that bubble.
"However, since you were involved, they would like to take you in for questioning. Not to mention the other purpose which set off this entire incident. So," he concluded, "I'm afraid you will have to stay with us indefinitely, while we try to clear this up."
Willow felt that "try to clear this up" had a great deal to do with "I avoid capture to continue my illegal pro-mutant work, while you tag along". But as much as she hated this, she couldn't think of a workable solution to return her home without being captured by the bad guys (Magneto might not be a GOOD guy, but the people who were after her were even worse guys, in Willow's book).
"Can I at least call Tara?"
Magneto considered her request. "We have the equipment for you to safely make a fairly short call," he decided.
Yeah! Step in the right direction. Willow practically skipped on her way to the phone he pointed her towards.
"Tara? Tara, it's me again!"
"Willow? Honey, where are you? Can you tell me what's going on? Do you need some help?"
"Listen, Tara, I can't talk to you very long. Remember that cousin I was going to visit? The one in prison?"
"Yes. Erik, right?"
"Yeah. Well, he's Magneto, and then there was this knockout gas, and I used the air purification spell, and - "
"Willow, tell me what happened."
Pause, as Tara interpreted the sentence.
"Willow! Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. But I won't be coming home for a while. Not until this is straightened out."
"But Willow - "
Magneto was signaling her to get off the phone.
"Tara, I have to go."
"No! Willow, we have things HERE that we need you for!"
Wow. That sounded important. Willow stayed on the line. It might be important enough to risk a few moments more.
"What is it?"
"Giles found this prophecy text about a demon and if it is true, we'll have to cast a certain spell and I need you to use that kind of power. Tell your cousin you have to come home."
"Tara, this is important and I'll see what I can do, but I have to go now."
"Just one thing Willow - do you have a copy of that spell we talked about?"
Willow grinned. Her girl was so smart. That spell was for long distance communication. And a copy of it was still in her purse!
"Yes. In five hours?"
"Okay. Good bye."
Willow set the phone into the cradle. Behind her she heard Magneto mutter, "Finally." Whatever. In five hours, she could talk as much as she wanted to Tara. But first to tell him about the new concern which had just arisen.
Willow took a deep breath, preparing herself for what would another battle.
"Magneto, I have to go home. As soon as possible."
His eyes narrowed, "I believe I already told you that was unwise, did I not?"
And the battle was joined, once again.
"Erik, it is vitally important that I be allowed to return home.
Tara says that a demon is scheduled to rise in Sunnydale, and that she
needs me to help cast the spell to defeat it. I have to go back!"
"I believe you told me that demons are quite common in Sunnydale. What makes this one more dangerous than the others?"
"Um...Tara didn't get that far. She didn't have time to give all the details - "
"And on this basis you propose to endanger your security and that of my people?"
"No, well, of course not. But Tara wouldn't have brought it up unless it was something bad. Like mega destruction bordering on apocalyptic."
"And Tara wouldn't exaggerate in order to speed your return?"
Hey. Hey! He was insulting Tara!
"Tara would NEVER do something like that. If she says it's important, then it is important. She doesn't lie. Tara is sweet and nice and smart and never mean and wouldn't do that. She's always being really responsible about magic and the consequences and is really better at the Wicca thing than I am and you should NEVER insult her integrity like that."
Of course, Magneto told himself, insulting Willow's girlfriend, even only slightly, would be unwise. However, it did not mean he wanted to give in to her demands. He proceeded with his arguments.
"If she is a better witch, than why is your help required for this...spell."
"Tara's power is stronger in the more natural parts of magic - like reading auras. I have what's basically a bigger magical battery, at least that's what Tara tells me, and for a spell fighting demons, that can be a key factor. Besides, some spells automatically require two witches. I don't know which it is, but Tara says she needs me. I'll be going, one way or another."
Magneto was, unfortunately, understanding her position. But the security of his people and their mission would come first. Willow's departure could, and most likely would, jeopardize them.
"I do not care. You will not be allowed to leave, Willow. Not until I feel assured that the danger of recapture is past."
"For me, or for you," Willow muttered. He was being incredibly single minded about this. Good for his cause, bad for her. And possible very bad for Sunnydale.
"Listen, Erik. In about five hours, I am going to cast a spell that will enable me to talk to Tara. I will then learn precisely what the situation is in Sunnydale. I will then explain said situation to you. Then you and I will make arrangements for me to quietly return to Sunnydale. If it makes you feel better, you can follow me there to ensure that I am not in any way, shape or form taken by your pursuers. But I WILL be returning. Do you understand?"
Magneto considered this. He disliked being dictated to, but he had to admire Willow's audacity of giving him orders when she was the uncertain guest.
"You may contact Tara. Once I have been informed with regards to the situation, I will decided on if it merits the risk. If it does, then arrangements will be made."
Willow decided to acquiesce for now. She hoped that he would see reason later on, but if not? Magic can hotwire a car quite well, thank you.
"For the communication spell, I'll need to build a fire, preferably using some pine mixed in with a harder wood like oak. And I'd like to see your spice cabinet if you have one. The spell will work with just the fire and incantation, but there are some common herbs which can strengthen the connection."
"We are in the middle of an extensive forest, you should be able to find what you need. I'll have Pyro show you where the kitchen is, along with escorting you into the woods. As for the fire, I would prefer you to build it outside."
Fair enough. Willow suspected the escort might be to keep her out of certain areas, but she wasn't going to pry. Not yet anyway.
With less than an hour left, Willow stood in the small yard behind the lodge, arranging the firewood according to the spell instructions. The oak branches had to be set in the shape of a pentagram, with the pine on top. Kindling included twigs from ash, birch, sycamore, yew, and most importantly, a weeping willow. She hoped the willow would create a magical signal strong enough to make the connection with Tara. It could possibly work better than the traditional herbs since willow was, obviously, one she bore a special connection to.
Pyro lounged against the house, joined by his friends. They were interested by what they called her "telepathic tricks". They didn't understand that true magical telepathy, either mind reading or mental communication, were far beyond her skills. The communication spell was closer to the magical equivalent of a phone call.
Willow stepped back to survey her work. The fire's base looked like the one she remembered from her spell book. It should work fine.
That would be Pyro. Willow checked her watch to check the time. In five minutes, she would begin the incantation.
"When the time comes, I light the fire and recite," Willow waved the piece of paper with the spell on it, "this incantation. If it works, I'll be talking to Tara."
"And if it doesn't?"
"I'll feel very stupid and we'll toast marshmallows."
Two minutes left. Willow scanned the spell over, the better to ensure she made no awkward mispronunciations or pauses. One minutes left. She knelt in front of the soon-to-be fire and cleared her mind in preparation, summoning her inner strength. Thirty seconds.
The kindling burst into flame.
He smirked, "Just helping."
Willow quickly snuffed the flames out. "When a spell says the caster lights the fire, the caster LIGHTS THE FIRE! That could be the whole reason the spell knows I'm the one casting it! Never, ever, try to 'help' me again, do you understand?"
He looked down, shamefaced, "Yeah."
Willow scowled as she sat down again. It didn't look like much damage had been done, so she could continue with the spell, but sheesh! And Tara scolded her about magical mistakes. She might have had to rebuild the fire!
Calm down. Focus. All that matters now is the spell. Breathe. In. Out. Breathe in time with the waves of the sea. In. Out.
Willow opened her eyes, focused on the pyre.
The pyre was alit now, flames dancing merrily.
"I beseech Hermes, god of messengers
May my words be carried to my loved one
May my thoughts be brought to her
Hermes, grant us succor
Let the distance between us be forgotten
Let my heart fly to her;
And hers to mine.
I ask that we not be parted in word and thought
So long as this fire burns bright
Hermes, may it be
That she stands before me
And I before her.
This is my plea
So mote it be."
For the last few lines of the spell, Willow heard, ever so faintly, the echo of Tara's own casting. Even so far apart, they cast the spell as one.
Now the flames surged as her supplication ended. Willow smiled as they formed the outline of Tara.
"Tara, what is going on in Sunnydale?"
The flame-Tara seemed to sigh. "Giles found a prophecy in one of his books about the Sl'kanith demon. He didn't think it was important until Anya started talking about when the last Sl'kanith demon was able to enter this plane.
Anya says the Sl'kanith thrives on chaos. Its very presence riles all the other demons and humans; it serves as a magical - cheerleader? Source of encouragement? Something to that effect. It survives on feeding off the senseless deaths its presence creates. According to her, it's last visit brought about civil war wherever it went, among demons and humans, about a millennia ago. It was only stopped when it was trapped on a distant island, where there were no deaths to cause. The demon died of starvation. She knows of no direct way to kill it."
"How will this Sl'kanith thing come here? Does it have to be invited to this dimension?"
"We think it might already have been raised. There was a ceremony on the far side of town. There were....sacrifices made.... The prophecy says that the Sl'kanith will continue unchecked unless "those who desire accord and conform remain strong" or "the seekers of upheaval and order be transformed." Apparently the language is iffy and the copyist had bad handwriting."
"But there's a spell? One that can help?"
"Yes, it works to dampen the Sl'kanith's effect on people. But it is really powerful, since the Sl'kanith is not a minor demon. It's supposed to be just under the Old Ones in the demon hierarchy."
"Okay, bad. How is everyone holding up?"
"Coping. Xander says this is same ole, same ole, for Sunnydale. It was hard when I found the sacrifices - "
"Oh, baby, I'm so sorry."
"Not as sorry as they will be. One of them was just..." Tara paused as she collected herself. "Some were young. But Buffy says we gonna kick theses demons' ass to hell and back. And I know we will if you come and help. I can't do this alone, Willow."
"Oh, Tara honey, I'll be there as soon as I can."
Willow reached out a hand to the living flame that was Tara. Tara mirrored the gesture, their hands almost touching, close enough to feel the heat but not to burn. That pain was on the inside. They held that pose for just a moment, then Willow watched Tara's form fade as the flames died down, all the wood now ashes, consumed by flame and magic.
She stared at the smoking ashes for a minute, then got up to find her cousin.
There was no way in hell she was staying here.