Copyright © 2003
Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy, Willow, etc..., that's Whedon's dumb luck.
You want it? Take it. Just let me know where it is.
Spoilers: Up to The Gift
Feedback: Yes, please. The more the better.
Author's Note: This story takes place approximately two months after the events in THE GIFT, but a month or so before the events in BARGAINING. After all, there is a three month period in the lives of Buffy's friends, during which almost anything could have happened. This is one of those things.
Summary: Willow and Tara confront a dark threat to the very essence of their powers.
She struggled against the coarse ropes binding her wrists, but all she had gotten for her efforts were patches of skin rubbed raw. With her hands tied behind her back on either side of a large wooden pole, she couldn't have gotten herself loose even if she did have the strength.
It was a helpless feeling, and she absolutely hated feeling helpless. She had all the power in the world, and yet there was no way she could use it to save herself. A dirty rag had been stuffed into her mouth, and without the ability to speak or move her hands the magick was useless.
The crowd that had begun gathering to witness her execution was growing restless. They continued to talk amongst themselves, pointing and whispering, and occasionally laughing. They knew what she was and they were just glad she was finally going to get what she deserved. None of them would meet her gaze, but if they had they would not have been particularly moved by her tears.
Movement near the back had an immediate effect on the crowd. One by one they parted, making a path for the robed figure brandishing a lit torch. It was obviously intended for the wood and kindling arranged under her feet. All the voices and snickering grew silent then. It was time.
When she saw the torch her panic grew to the point where she began to writhe hard enough to draw blood. Her face was soaked with tears. As the robed figure crouched in front of her she begged for mercy, but the gag muffled any desperate sounds she might have made.
It didn't take long for the kindling to catch fire, and as the flames rose the robed figure backed off. Cries of "witch" and "send her back to hell" rang out.
She could feel the flames licking at her feet. It seared her flesh, and she screamed.
Tara woke up screaming.
But in her case it was a silent terror. She sat bolt upright, a sudden tightness in her chest making it hard for her to breath. This unexpected movement was enough to rouse the redhead spooned up beside her, and as she was regaining her composure Willow sat up.
"Tara? Goddess, what is it?"
It took a minute or two for the blonde to find her voice again. She was trembling.
"Bad dream?" Willow asked.
"More like a nightmare," Tara replied. "I was...being burned at the stake." She shook her head. "I-I felt it. The flames. My skin, burning. It was so real."
Willow put a hand on her lover's shoulder. "It's okay. You're safe now." She gently stroked the blonde's hair. "Where did this come from?" Her eyes narrowed. "Hey, you haven't been watching the History Channel behind my back have you?"
"No." Tara couldn't help but smile. Willow had been boycotting the History Channel ever since they did what she considered a very biased story about the Salem witch trials. "Of course not."
"Well, like I told you before, it's just a dream." Though in a way this was just as bad, Willow was happy Tara had stopped having the nightmares about Glory, and what the hell-goddess had done to her. Her own dreams, when she remembered them, were as much about that as about Buffy.
"But that's just it," said Tara. "I'm not sure it was just a dream. It was so...vivid. It seemed almost like it was a memory or something. I could swear I was right there."
Willow glanced at the clock on the nightstand. It said 3:15, AM. "It's too late to do anything about this right now. After we get Dawn off to school tommo...I mean, today, we'll swing by the Magic Box and see if there's anything supernatural going on. Okay?"
Tara nodded. "Okay."
"How about this one?"
Tara looked up from the book she was reading to see the one Willow was holding out to her. She quickly scanned the page, and shook her head.
"I didn't see anything demonic," said the blonde. "Just people."
Willow sighed. They had been at it for several hours, searching through every relevant book they could find at the Magic Box. For one they were actually swamped with too much information. Almost every text had information relating to dreams in one way or another. They would need something more to go on before they could positively identify what had happened.
"Maybe it was just a really vivid dream," the redhead suggested. "You do have quite an imagination. For example, what you suggested we do with the whipped..."
Tara lunged forward and clamped a hand over the redhead's mouth, her cheeks reddening, but it was too late. Anya had already heard, and came out from behind the counter.
"What? Don't be afraid to discuss sex in front of me," said the ex-demon. "Xander and I are always on the look-out for new things to do in bed. And new positions too." She smiled. "Like just the other night, I stood on my head while Xander..."
Now it was Willow's turn to use her hands, this time over her own ears. She closed her eyes and began muttering over and over to herself until even Anya got the point.
"Fine." The ex-demon frowned. "But don't come running to me if you can't get her to scream anymore." She went to help a customer at the counter.
"That was fun," said Tara. "Not to mention..."
"...bone-chillingly disturbing?" Willow offered.
The blonde nodded. "Still, maybe you're right. I may be making something out of nothing. I've just never had a dream that was so real before."
Anya and the witches turned as the workout room door opened, and Giles stuck his head out. "Oh Willow, could you come in here for a moment?"
The redhead nodded and got up with Tara and Anya right behind her. A blonde-haired figured was repeatedly running into the wall on the other side of the workout room. Every so often she would take a step back, cock her head as if considering another approach and then do the same thing all over again. Yet she never made a sound. She also didn't seem to notice their watching.
"What happened?" Willow asked.
Giles shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not certain. We were sparring. Nothing too intense. She ducked, I hit her in the head with my staff, and there was a loud pop."
"Sounds like one of the circuits in her neural cluster shorted out again," said Willow. "I was afraid that might happen. I'll fix it." She stepped forward. "Buffy?"
The blonde stopped, her limbs twitching as she turned to face the redhead. Her eyes widened. "Willow! I seem to be..." One of her knees gave out and she started to fall, but she just as quickly caught herself on the vaulting horse. "...having a problem. I need service."
"I'll take care of you," said Willow. "I promise." She bit her lip. It had been a couple of months, but it still hurt that she hadn't been able to save the real Buffy. The robot was a poor substitute, especially since they would need her to be represent Buffy to social workers and at Dawn's school, as well as to vampires and other creatures of the night, and at the moment she couldn't even walk straight. It had been her idea to use the robot, now she just had to convince the others she was right.
Tara put an arm around the redhead. "Don't worry. You're in good hands."
Tara didn't see much of Willow for a while after that.
The redhead was so wrapped up in working on the robot that she had to be dragged out of the back room for lunch.
Once at the restaurant, however, she spent most of the time staring at Tara.
"Hey." The blonde snapped her fingers to get Willow's attention. "Earth to Willow." She smiled. "You okay in there?"
Willow dropped her hands on the table and shook her head. "I'm sorry. I was just thinking, and I guess I let my mind wander a little too much."
"What were you thinking about?"
"You. Us." Willow took Tara's hand. "Goddess, I love you so much. I think about what Glory did to you, and how close I came to losing you..." She sighed. "I swear, Tara, from now on I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure no one ever hurts you like that again."
Tara nodded. "I believe you. And I love you too, Will."
Smiling, the two of them leaned across the table to kiss one another.
That evening Dawn went to bed a little earlier than usual, leaving Willow and Tara watching television on the couch. A particularly romantic movie came on, and before too long the couple lost interest in the program and instead focused on one another.
Willow pushed Tara back onto the couch, undid the top few buttons of her blouse, and began to nuzzle the sensitive flesh between her breasts.
Tara arched her back and moaned. "Willow! We should go... mm...upstairs..."
Willow lifted her head, her green eyes sparkling. "Why?"
"Dawn could..." Tara began to tremble. "...come do-ooh goddess!"
As the redhead kissed her way up the slope of one of Tara's breasts, the blonde forgot all about what she was saying and just gave into the pleasure.
By the time they made it up to their bed the witches were almost too worn out to move. They decided to forego their usual nightly ritual of taking a shower together, and instead just snuggled until Willow drifted off to sleep with her head on Tara's shoulder.
The blonde lay there and gazed at her lover until she realized she had to go to the bathroom. She kissed the redhead on the cheek then slid out of bed. A short time later, as she was washing her hands, she bent down to splash some water on her face. As she stood up she happened to glance into the mirror, and what she saw there made her jaw drop.
A woman, not much older than she was, appeared to be standing right behind her. She had stringy black hair, sad blue eyes, and wore a dress that looked like something out of an old movie. She also had her hands tied behind her back on either side of a large wooden pole, and Tara could see flames rising around the lower part of her body. Even so, she wasn't making a sound.
Stunned, the blonde spun around. Not so surprisingly there was no one and nothing there. The bathroom was as quiet and as normal as it had ever been. Tara put a hand to her head. It was just like in her dream, except that she wasn't the one being burned at the stake. She was hallucinating, and it was beginning to make her wonder if she was going crazy.
Emptying the sink, she walked back to the bedroom. Once the door was closed behind her, Tara felt a little better. Safer. Willow was still asleep, and she took a moment to watch the redhead. As long as her lover was with her, she felt like she could handle anything the world might throw at her.
Because of that, Tara debated whether or not to wake Willow and tell her what she had seen. In the end she decided to let her sleep, since it wasn't likely there was anything the redhead could have done even if she had been awake. She lay down beside Willow, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. She was more than a little afraid to actually go to sleep.
It was going to be a long night.
When Tara woke up she was alone, and disappointed at the lack of early morning snuggles.
Then she looked at the bedside clock and realized it wasn't early at all. It was almost noon. She slid out of bed, got dressed, and went downstairs.
Willow was in the living room, ironing clothes in front of the television, and when Tara came down the stairs she smiled. "Morning, sleepyhead."
"Good morning to you too." Tara leaned over the ironing board and kissed Willow. "I never expected to sleep so late." She glanced around. "Where's Dawn?"
"Over at her friend's house. I told her to be home before dinner." Willow set the iron down. "Oh, Xander called. He's bringing the Buffybot by after work. I figured, since she's almost ready to go, we need her to be seen around the house more."
Tara nodded. "That's a good idea."
"How are you feeling?" Willow asked. "You were tossing and turning all night."
"I'm sorry about that. I just, I had a lot on my mind. You know?"
Willow nodded. "Anything you want to talk about?"
"I had another, I guess you could call it a dream-experience. In the bathroom, last night." They sat down on the couch together, and Tara proceeded to tell Willow everything that had happened. What she saw, as well as what she felt. "Something's going on, Will. I just don't know what."
The Magic Box wasn't the only place in Sunnydale for witches to gather.
Madame Occul was purported to be a very powerful spell caster, though no one who knew her had ever actually seen her do any magick. She did, however, like to surround herself with other witches, especially young and impressionable ones. Regular Wicca meetings were held at her home. That very evening, a half-dozen women of various ages sat in folding chairs.
All eyes turned toward the back of the shop as a curtain door swept open. They expected to see Madame Occul, in her multi-colored robes and clanking golden jewelry. Instead, something fast and dark darted into the room. The girls had barely enough time to scream before it was upon them.
Very soon, the screaming stopped.
Tara's dreams were frighteningly different this time.
She wasn't the one being burned at the stake—Willow was. The redhead struggled and screamed against her gag, but could not get free. As she continued to struggle, something happened. Her eyes turned solid black, as did her hair. The flames around her feet increased in intensity.
Tara was startled to feel a hand on her shoulder. She spun around, to find herself facing the dark-haired woman she had seen in the mirror. Her face was more worn than before, her eyes tired, and though she was moving her mouth no words were coming out.
"I-I can't hear you," said Tara. "Don't you understand? I can't hear you!"
The woman's face fell. She clearly wasn't getting through.
"Wait," Tara shook her head as the woman continued to back away. "Don't go. I want to help you, I do. I just..." She heard a shrill scream behind her. Willow was on fire. She was in agony. All the blood drained from the blonde's face. "No! Willow! NO!"
Tara was wrenched back to consciousness by the sound of her own voice. She sat up and turned her head to look at Willow. The redhead was still asleep but she was violently thrashing and moaning, her pajamas soaked through with sweat. "Goddess!" She put a hand on her lover's shoulder. "Will?" She gently shook the redhead. "Sweetie, wake up." No reaction. "Willow?"
All of the sudden Willow's eyes shot open, but they were not the vibrant green Tara was expecting. They were solid black. As she sat up the first thing she saw, a vase full of flowers on the other side of the room, erupted into flames. The redhead didn't even flinch.
"Willow! Stop it!" Tara shook her, more forcefully this time. "Snap out of it! Willow!"
After a moment, something changed in the redhead's face. "T-Tara?"
"Yes, baby." Tara sighed. "I'm right here. I'm right here. Everything's okay."
"The darkness...it came after me...it tried to...goddess!" Willow closed her eyes, and a shudder passed through her. When she opened them again they were back to normal. "W-What happened?"
"I'm not sure." Tara put her arms around her lover. "But we'll figure it out. Together."
Needless to say the two of them knew they weren't going to get any more sleep after that, so they didn't even bother to try. Instead, they opened some of the books they had brought home from the Magic Box and tried to find more information on dream communications, without success.
Later that morning they came downstairs, to find Buffy sitting on the couch reading a newspaper. Even though they both understood it was really just the robot it was still sort of a shock to see her. Every time they looked at the Buffybot they couldn't help but remember two months prior, watching helplessly as Buffy plummeted to the ground from the top of Glory's tower. That memory chilled them to the bone.
The Buffybot raised her head and smiled. "Hello, my friends. According to my calculations, breakfast will be ready in approximately eight point four minutes. In the meantime..." She held out the newspaper. "...would either of you care to peruse this daily periodical?"
Tara glanced at Willow. "What's going on? She's talking like..."
"...a robot," said the redhead. "I know. I'm still having problems with her neural net. I go too much one way and she acts like an infant. The other way, and she turns into Robbie the robot."
When neither witch moved to take the paper from her, the Buffybot say back down on the couch and returned to reading. As she opened it again, Tara noticed the front page.
"Oh no!" The Buffybot frowned when Tara yanked the paper out of her hands. "Willow..."
"What is it?"
Tara held up the paper. SEVEN KILLED OVERNIGHT AT LOCAL MAGIC SHOP was emblazoned across the top. "I recognize this address. It's Madame Occul's place. I used to go there all the time before I found the Magic Box." She shook her head. "Goddess, this is terrible."
"We'll go check it out if you want," said Willow. "But after breakfast, okay? I'm starving."
They took Giles with them, because the Watcher had an air of adult professionalism that would be able to open more bureaucratic doors for them than they could have accessed on their own. The Buffybot stayed behind at the Summer's home with Dawn, just in case someone came by.
While Giles spoke to the officer at the front door to distract him, Willow and Tara snuck in the back door with the help of a little magick. Inside, the smell of death filled the air.
That was because the bodies of the victims were still there, covered in tarps. Sunnydale's morgues were almost perpetually busy, so it often took hours or even a day or so for the coroner to make a pickup. That was why there was no one standing guard inside the shop; the smell was overpowering.
They set out to examine the bodies, and one thing caught their attention almost immediately.
"It wasn't a vampire," said Willow. "See? No bite marks."
Tara pulled the tarp back over Madame Occul, her face ashen. "No. But whatever did this was vicious. Goddess, they've been torn to pieces."
Willow, who was more accustomed to such gore, nodded. "And look at their chests. Whatever did this, it looks like they were trying to get to their hearts."
"Will?" Tara, who was feeling nauseous, stood up. "Can we go, please? I think I'm going to be sick."
The redhead nodded. "I think we're done anyway. We'll get Giles and head back to the Magic Box. This kind of demon MO shouldn't be too hard to identify."
On the way out the back door a colored flyer caught Tara's eye. She picked it up without a second thought, but it wasn't until they got out into the alley she actually read it.
"Hey, Will! Look at this!" As Tara was lifting her head she realized she was no longer in the alley. She was in a clearing somewhere, it was the middle of the night, and there was a full moon overhead. More to the point, she was alone. "Willow?" The redhead was nowhere in sight. "Willow, where are you?"
Someone moved behind Tara, and the blonde turned. It was the woman from her dream again, the one who had been trying to tell her something. She still was, apparently. She pointed.
Tara followed her lead. Willow was on the other side of the clearing, the shadows swirling and dancing around her. The redhead spread her arms, and seemed to embrace it.
"Will, no!" Tara started toward her lover, but the strange woman grabbed her arm to stop her. "What? What is it you want from me? What are you trying to tell me?"
The woman pointed to the flyer in Tara's hand. The blonde glanced down at it, but when she looked up again she was with Willow in the alley again. The redhead was clearly worried.
"Are you okay?"
"I asked if you were ready to go, but you acted like you were in a trance or something."
After a moment, Tara nodded. "I-I think I was. Will, I think I understand. I know what she wants me to do." She showed the redhead the flyer, which said SALEM EXHIBIT—SUNNYDALE HISTORY MUSEUM. "Whatever is going on, I think we'll be able to find the answers here."
Giles removed his glasses to clean them.
"I must admit, it does sound as if this museum exhibit is worthy of your investigation. For the historical value if nothing else."
There was an impromptu Scooby meeting going on at the Magic Box.
"It's more than just historical," said Willow. "Tara says something's going on there. And we need to be the ones to check it out."
"Yeah, but is that smart?" Xander asked. "You guys going alone? What if it's a set-up?"
"Then we'll just have deal with it," Tara replied. "This woman, whoever she is, has only shown me the two of us in these...visions. I think we're the ones she wants to see."
"That's the way some demons work you know," said Anya, who was standing behind the counter. "They get your attention with strange visions or promises of wealth and power or whatever. Then they try and separate you from your friends. The next thing you know, they rip your heart out."
Anya had seen so much heartache and pain in her thousand plus years of life, she had in fact been the cause of a great deal of it, that very little ever phased her. Yet despite her vast experience, she was not able to recognize a particular demon from the attack pattern Willow and Tara described.
"There are a great number of reasons a demon would take a human heart," Giles went on to say. "For some it's a simple matter of feeding. Others use them for ritualistic purposes."
Willow and Tara gripped each other's hand more tightly as they thought about the Gentlemen. Demonic beings who stole the voices of everyone in Sunnydale in order to kill people and take their hearts. But even they had not been so brutal as to tear the people apart first. They were very...clinical.
"I'm also disturbed by the apparent choice of victims," Giles continued. "This Madame Occul and the people in her shop, they were all practitioners of magick?"
Tara nodded. "Every one of them was a witch. I don't know what kind of power they had..."
"...if any," said Willow. "Probably a bunch of wanna-blessed-be's."
"Even so, you would both we wise to remain vigilant." Giles put his glasses back on. "If something out there is targeting witches, you and Tara could both be in a great deal of danger." He frowned. "If you won't consent to any of us coming along, what about the Buffybot?"
Willow shook her head. "I don't think she's ready for field-work yet. If she conks out in the middle of a fight, it could endanger more people than she'd be helping."
"Spike," Anya offered. "Wait until the sun goes down, and let him come with you. Whatever we're dealing with would probably have a hard time killing someone who's already dead."
"Right," said Xander. "Like we can trust him. Will and Tara'd be better off on their own."
The redhead smiled. "Then it's settled. Tara and I go in alone."
"Me and my big mouth," Xander grumbled.
"Very well. But do be careful," said Giles. "We still don't know what we're dealing with."
Tara nodded. "That's what we're trying to find out."
Willow and Tara waited until later that evening to set their plan in motion.
They joined the very last tour group of the day at the museum, and pretended to enjoy themselves along with everyone else while they were really looking around. When the tour ended and the patrons were ushered out of the museum so it could close, the witches were not among them.
They found themselves a secluded corner of the building, and sat down to wait. Because it did not house any particularly rare or valuable artifacts the security in the museum was minimal. No guards were stationed on site and the alarm system in place was such that it could be easily bypassed with the help of their magick. Even the security cameras could be fooled if one knew how.
Tara looked on and smiled as Willow combined several ingredients in a small wooden bowl they had brought with them. The resulting mixture caused a bright electrical flash which was absorbed by the lens of every camera in the museum. When the guards came around to check the tapes they wouldn't notice anything unusual, because the cameras would not have recorded anything unusual.
"We're all set," said the redhead. "No one will even know we were here." She stood up, and held out her hand to help Tara up. "I think the Salem exhibit is this way." As they entered the exhibit itself the blonde was struck by a sense of unease she could not explain. She halted in her tracks, her eyes widening, while Willow turned in slow circles with her arms outstretched. "Would you look at this place? Goddess. All these artifacts. I could probably spend the rest of my life studying all this."
Tara barely heard the redhead's voice any longer. She was being drawn to one of the displays in the back of the exhibit. It contained a single artifact; a beautiful and ornate silver hand-mirror. It was in perfect condition except for a jagged crack going across the otherwise pristine glass.
Willow, realizing she had lost her audience, looked around for her lover. "Hey." When she got no response she slid right up to Tara's side and put a hand on her shoulder. "Tara?"
The blonde's hand trembled as she reached for the mirror. She was prevented from making actually contact by a protective glass casing. "W-Willow, we need to have this open."
"If you say so." Willow had no idea what was going on, but she trusted Tara implicitly. If she needed what was in the case she would have it. Period. She held out her hand. "Abrogare!" The lock on the case clicked, and the glass door swung open seemingly of its own accord.
As soon as she was able, Tara reached in and picked up the mirror. It was warm to the touch.
Tara knew the voice she heard was not Willow's. Slowly she turned around, not at all surprised to discover she was no longer in the museum. She was standing in what had become a familiar village square. In front of her was an eerily familiar wooden stake with kindling arranged around its base, and an equally familiar woman tied to it. But for the first time she was not sullen or sad, she was smiling.
"I was beginning to think my people had lost the ability to hear through the ether."
Tara approached the mysterious woman. "Who are you? What is it you want from me?"
"Forgive me. It has been so long since I spoke with anyone other than myself. My name is Alexandra Munroe. I am, or rather I was, a witch. Much like yourself."
"I'm Tara Maclay."
Alexandra smiled. "I know."
"You said you w-were a witch? So, you're...d-dead? You're a ghost?"
"After a fashion."
"And you were trapped in this mirror, somehow?"
"It is a long and complicated story, Miss Maclay. One I would be more than happy to share with you. But first I must ask a boon of you. Can you take me from this place?"
"I don't know. Can you travel?"
"Where goes the mirror," Alexandra replied. "So go I."
Tara nodded. "Then I guess I can take you. I have some friends who'd love to meet you."
"I am afraid that is impossible. Those outside the craft, with the exception of some supernatural creatures, can not hope to perceive me in my current form. Many of those who still practice appear to no longer possess much of the insight they once enjoyed. You are the first in over a century to hear my pleas, and the first ever to strive to answer my call. For that, I am ever in your debt."
"What about Willow?" Tara asked. "She's a witch too. Why can't you talk to her?"
"I fear your heartsmate is not nearly as perceptive as you."
Tara frowned. "But, the other night. The dream. Willow said she felt something. Something dark and powerful, and so very old. You were able to reach her then. Can't you..."
"NO!" Alexandra must have recognized the severity of her tone, and sighed. "Forgive me. What your lover felt, what she experienced, it was not my doing. It must have been the other. The one with whom I shared this prison for so many lost years. I fear she has aroused the notice of the revenant, and the goddess protect you both if the beast should find you before I have prepared you to stand against it."
Willow bit her lip.
Tara hadn't moved or spoken in the last five minutes, and the redhead was getting worried. She wanted to touch her, to make sure she was okay, but she was also afraid she might interrupt something if she did so. So with little other choice, she waited.
After a while, Willow was startled to hear a growl. She glanced over her shoulder, but didn't see anything other than shadows moving around. She blinked. Moving?
The darkness came at her suddenly, like a living thing, and Willow screamed. It was her dream given form. She brought up her hands, muttering an incantation under her breath.
As the thing got closer she realized there was indeed some kind of a creature inside of the mass of darkness. It was hard to make out the shape, though it seemed to her to be vaguely animal-shaped. When the thing dove at her she rolled out of the way. It landed, pausing momentarily, and she got a better look.
It had four legs complete with dagger-like claws, a hunched back, a long scaly tail, and a pair of beady red eyes peering out from under a thick, bony brow. The darkness swept and flowed around its body, making it difficult to see when it was standing still, and practically invisible in the dark.
Willow felt a chill go up her spine. She had seen a lot of demons in her time, and had read various accounts of a whole lot more, but she had never seen anything like this. That was a problem. If she couldn't identify the thing, it would be considerably more difficult to stop it.
The creature turned and charged her again, and Willow was caught totally unawares.
Tara opened her eyes, just as the shadow-thing knocked Willow down with a swipe of its claws. It loomed over the redhead, who was not moving to defend herself.
"Willow!" The blonde stepped forward and raised her free hand. "Procul!"
An invisible wave of force struck the creature. It was pushed off Willow's prone body, just barely, but was not deterred. Snarling, it turned and came rushing at her.
"Incindere!" Flames erupted between Tara and the creature, and it hesitated. It smoldering eyes narrowed as the creature jerked its head from side to side.
"The mirror!" Alexandra's voice echoed in her head. "Show it the mirror!"
Without stopping to ask why, Tara did so. She held up the mirror, and was surprised when the creature actually back off. The shadows folded around it as it turned and ran.
Sighing, Tara lowered her arm. "Thank the..." Her eyes widened. "Willow!" She rushed to check on the redhead, who was just beginning to sit up. Her blouse had been shredded by the creature's claws, as had part of her bra, but luckily the skin underneath was still intact. "Are you okay?"
"I-I think so." Willow glanced around, her breathing still ragged. "That thing..."
"It's gone," said Tara. "But I think we should get out of here, in case it decides to come back."
They decided to take the mirror with them, even though they knew it was stealing. They could always return it once they were finished. They were more concerned with saving lives. The creature which had attacked Willow had killed before, and would likely do so again.
Both witches were exhausted by the time they got home. They headed up to bed, after one of them mumbled to Dawn to call Giles and tell him they were okay. They would go to the Magic Box in the morning to tell everyone what had happened at the museum. Because they now knew the name of Tara's ghost, they hoped they would both finally be able to get a good nights rest.
That piece of mind was apparently not meant to be.
Tara had the dream again, but it was more vivid and surreal than before. She was tied to that stake again, only it was not just a nameless mob of men and women chanting for her blood.
It was her friends and family. Giles standing side by side with her brother Donny, while Anya and Xander were putting kindling around the base of the stake alongside her cousin Beth. Even her father was there, speaking with the hooded figure brandishing the torch.
As Tara looked on, the hooded figure stepped forward. She gasped as the figure pushed its hood back to reveal the usually beautiful face of her lover, Willow. Her sparkling green eyes were solid black, and the flames which had been coming from a torch now encircled her right hand. Laughing, the redhead pointed and a plume of flame erupted from her fingertips. It set the wood and kindling on fire.
Tara screamed. "Willow! No! Help me!"
"She can't." Alexandra was there now, standing on top of the stake itself. She gazed down at Tara. "Your lover is very powerful, and her heart is vulnerable to the revenant."
"The what?" Tara asked. She shook her head. "What are you talking about?"
"I told you I would explain it all to you, and I shall do so. But first, you need your rest. You will be of no use to either of us if exhaustion overwhelms you." Alexandra was suddenly at Tara's side. "I shall withdraw myself from your mind for now. I will come to you again, in the morning." Smiling, she cupped the blonde's cheek, and Tara's eyelids fluttered closed. Everything around her dissolved into darkness.
When Tara woke up she felt more rested and relaxed than she had for some time.
She sat up, stretching and yawning, and looked around. "Willow?" The bedroom was otherwise empty, and she glanced at the bedside clock. "Noon?"
Downstairs, Tara found everyone in the living room. Dawn was sitting cross-legged on the floor, watching TV, while Willow was on the couch. The Buffybot was slumped across the coffee table; she had been deactivated and had a panel open in her back.
Willow raised her head and smiled as Tara entered the room. "Morning, baby."
"Did you sleep well?" Dawn asked, her eyes never leaving the TV screen.
Tara nodded. "I did. But why'd you let me sleep so long?"
"I figured you needed it," Willow replied. "Your face looked so peaceful. I didn't want to disturb you."
"Speaking of faces, bring me yours." Tara leaned over to kiss her lover.
"Mmm..." Willow kissed her right back. "...remind me to let you get more sleep more often."
Tara sighed. "So, I guess you guys had breakfast already?"
"Breakfast. Are you kidding?" A commercial came on the show she was watching, so Dawn was able to turn her attention completely to the witches. "We're already talking about lunch."
Willow sat down and started to pick up one of her tools, then gestured toward the phone. "Oh, Giles called. He wanted to know if we'd found out anything at the museum."
"What did you tell him?"
"Just what you told me about Alexandra. I said we'd call him as soon as we had something more."
Tara nodded. "Okay. I'm going to get some coffee, then...hey. Are there any bagels left?"
"Just one," said Dawn. "But I think it's blueberry." Her show came back on, and she turned away again.
"Anyway, I'm going to go get a cup of coffee. I assume there is some coffee left?"
"I've been thinking about your friend," Willow said, once they were in their bedroom. The Buffybot was standing guard just outside the door, with instructions to make sure no one interrupted what they were planning to do. "And how she can't seem to talk to anyone but you?"
Tara nodded. "Mmm-hmm..." She was staring at the mirror in her lap.
"I've been practicing telepathy. I used it with Spike when we were fighting Glory, and I think I'm getting pretty good. In fact, I'm just about to the point where I should be able to use it keep in touch with the whole gang when we're out in the field." She sat down on the bed beside Tara. "In the meantime, I don't see any reason why I can't eavesdrop on your conversation with Alexandra."
Tara put her hand on Willow's, and squeezed it. "I don't want to put you to be at risk."
"I won't be. Trust me, it's really simple. The worst thing that can happen is that it doesn't work."
"What will you have to do?"
"Next time you contact her, I just have to be touching you." Willow smiled. "And I love to do that."
Tara smiled. "Okay." She kissed Willow; first her hand, and then her lips. "Ready?"
Willow put her hand on Tara's shoulder and nodded. "Ready."
They both closed their eyes...
...and opened them again, to find themselves at the Bronze.
It was after-hours, apparently.
There was no music, all the chairs had been placed upside-down on the tables, the people were long gone, and the only light in the room came from a single spotlight. They were standing on-stage, they realized, and the light was being directed solely at them.
"Huh." Willow looked around. "You know, this really isn't what I was expecting."
"Me either," said Tara. "I've never been here before."
Alexandra appeared between them, having stepped through the curtains. "Of course you have. I chose this place from your own memories."
"No, I didn't mean..." Tara shook her head. "Never mind." She held out her hand, and Willow took it. "Alexandra, I'd like you to meet someone. This is..."
"...your beloved. Yes, I know." Alexandra walked slowly around the redhead. "This was a very clever idea, young lady. I am impressed by your talent, and the power I sense within you."
Alexandra turned back to Tara. "But, I still owe you that explanation, don't I? That is why you're here?"
"Very well." The elder witch gestured, and two chairs flew off a table and righted themselves. "First have a seat, please. My story is a long and tiresome one, even for the teller."
Willow and Tara did as she instructed, making sure to hold on to one another.
"Once, long ago, when I was a living woman, and a witch, like yourselves, I lived in a quiet, peaceful village. A foundling, with no family and no real home to speak of, I survived with the help of my powers. I discovered I had been gifted at a very early age. My knowledge of the magick was limited, at least in comparison to what the two of you no doubt possess, but I found I could mix potions and cast the occasional charm or glamour. People paid me what little they were able, and I was happy. I acted as healer, midwife, whatever was needed. A handful of my fellow citizen also knew of the arts, though few practiced."
Willow and Tara nodded. They were fascinated by what Alexandra was saying.
"Then, I began hearing stories. Travelers from other villages north of ours came with word that people in these other towns were being murdered. They said these others were thought to be practitioners of the dark arts, which were not always well-respected outside of my village. Everyone began to worry this was an epidemic that would soon threaten us. And it did..." Her eyes narrowed. "...in the form of the revenant."
"You mentioned that word before," said Tara. "What is it?"
"A demon," Alexandra replied. "Unlike any I had ever heard of. The revenant is an animal. A mindless beast that consumes the hearts of witches and other magick-users to gain strength. I learned it was drawn to anyone with an affinity for magick, regardless of whether or not they practiced."
Willow shuddered. "That's horrible."
"Indeed. The revenant killed several people in my village, before some of the menfolk banded together to stop it. They brought torches, pitchforks, even a few swords...and the revenant ignored them all. It cannot be harmed by anything physical. Not fist, sword nor fire. Only magick. It is both drawn to and repelled by the power those like us possess. Eventually, the revenant came after me."
"And what happened?" Tara asked.
"I was not prepared to face such a creature. I managed to turn it away with a warding spell, but unfortunately my fellow citizens saw me do it. They were mad with fright and grief, and I think they came to blame me for the pain they were suffering at the hands of the revenant. So they turned their ire on me, and forced me to isolate myself while I looked for a way to stop the beast. I discovered a banishment spell I hoped would end its threat forever. I intended to trap it within that mirror, and lured the revenant to my hiding place. We fought, and in the midst of my casting the spell the other villagers arrived. They interrupted the chant, and instead of just trapping the revenant I found myself bound to the mirror. They dragged me out into our village square, prepared a stake...and I think you can both imagine what happened next."
"You died..." Willow began.
"...and your spirit was drawn into the mirror," Tara finished.
Alexandra nodded. "Thus the revenant and I shared exile. In this limbo-like place we were not able to strike out at one another. I grew lonely, and it grew ever more violent."
"Goddess." Tara shook her head. "You were trapped in there for...how long?"
"As I understand your calendar, from what I saw in your mind, almost three hundred years."
"That must have been terrible," said Willow. "How did you get out?"
"I did not. Someone must have damaged the mirror. The revenant escaped, and as you have seen has returned to its murderous ways. I remain bound. I can't venture far from the mirror, and in this state I have no power to speak of. That is why I cried out. I focused what little energy I had left, searching for a mind capable of hearing me and a spirit strong enough to answer my call for help."
"What do you want us to do?" Tara asked. "You're dead. We can't bring you back to life..."
Alexandra shook her head. "Nor would I ask you to. Doing so would violate the very principles of my faith. No, I don't expect either of you to help me personally."
"What then?" Willow asked.
"The revenant. It is here, in this town of yours, because of me. It is my responsibility to stop it. But I cannot do so any longer. I am merely a shade of my former self."
"Now I get it," said the redhead. "You want us to fight the thing for you, right?"
"If there were any other way I would not burden you with this, but yes. All witches, including yourselves, are in great danger so long as the revenant remained free."
"How can we contain it again?" said Tara. "Your mirror..."
"...is a lost cause. In truth any reflective surface would suffice, assuming you had the proper spell." Alexandra's face grew more pensive, her lips tight. "I fear there is a more pressing problem, however. The revenant will learn of the Hellmouth sooner or later, and recognize it as a pure source of the very energy it gleans from killing your fellow witches. If it feeds off the Hellmouth itself, it would become unstoppable. Even banishment would not be successfully after that, because it could continue to feed."
"Can it be killed?" Willow asked. "You said swords and guns won't work?"
"Indeed not. Magick has proven to be its only weakness. Three hundred years ago, I had neither the power nor a willingness to kill the beast. I pray the two of you are stronger than I."
The redhead nodded. "It's just a matter of finding the right spell. Shouldn't be too hard. We have a magick shop, and a lot of books to choose from. We'll take care of it."
"Be wary. The revenant has your scents now. It will seek you out."
"Don't worry." Tara held out her hand, and Willow took it. "We can handle it."
Dawn and the Buffybot sat on the couch together, playing rock-paper-scissors.
It was a kid's game, and under normal circumstances Dawn would never have been caught embarrassing herself that way. But the robot seemed to enjoy it, and after the first time she realized how much she had missed Buffy's smile, even if it didn't come from her real sister.
The Buffybot played rock, smiling when she saw Dawn had played scissors. "Rock breaks scissors!" She tapped the top of Dawn's hand. "I win again!"
"Yeah, yeah." Dawn shook her hand. "I think I'm getting a cramp. We have to stop now."
The Buffybot pouted. "Okay." She stared at Dawn for a moment, then picked up a big plastic bowl sitting on the coffee table. "Do you want some more popcorn? I can make some more."
If she hadn't known better, she would have thought the Buffybot's feelings were hurt by her ending the game. It was as if she was trying to be helpful now. "All right."
"Good." The robot stood up and started toward the kitchen. But as she was passing the front door she stopped, a strange expression crossing her face. She turned and cocked her head. There was a strange sound outside she did not recognize, and it was getting louder.
The door erupted inward as the revenant crashed into the house. It was capable of passing through solid objects like doors if it chose to do so, but it was so hungry it just wanted to get to the food. It went right by the Buffybot and was almost to the stairs before it noticed Dawn. It stopped in its tracks, and snarled as the teenager leaped to her feet, her eyes widening.
It was confused. This one was flesh and blood, but not. It sensed an energy, a magick, within her that was unlike anything it had ever before sensed in a prey-thing. It decided to take her first, and it would finish the other two it had been hunting after it feasted on her heart.
As the revenant moved slowly toward her, Dawn began to scream.
Tara opened her eyes to find herself laying on her side, staring at the bedside clock. "Huh."
"What?" asked Willow, who had been curled up behind her.
"It's been an hour. It didn't feel like that long."
"I guess time flies when you're on another plane of existence."
As they were sliding off the bed Tara turned toward the door, her eyes narrowing. "Do you hear that?"
"Sounds like..." Tara put her hand on the knob. "...screaming." She opened the door, in time to more clearly hear a shrill scream from downstairs.
Willow gasped. "Dawn!" The redhead was the first one out the door and down the stairs, and so she was also the first to see what was going on in the living room.
The couch had been flipped over and Dawn was crouching behind it. She didn't look hurt, but she was obviously scared, and with good reason to. The revenant was pacing back and forth and growling at the Buffybot, who stood between it and Dawn. Her clothes had been torn, as had some of the artificial skin on her arms and chest, but she was still determined to protect her 'little sister'.
Willow gritted her teeth. "Dawn!" She raised her hand. "Get down!"
The teenager nodded and ducked out of sight.
The revenant was hammered by an invisible force that knocked it off its feet. It slid across the floor, right into the range of the Buffybot. She reared back and kicked at it as hard as she could, but her foot passed right through the creature. It clambered back to its feet, snorting at the witches.
Willow glanced over her shoulder. She hadn't cast that. She saw Tara lowering her hand.
"Why did you..."
The blonde lowered her head. "I'm sorry. I don't know what you were going to do, but if the revenant had moved out of the way you might have hit Dawn."
"Okay." Willow made her way down the rest of the stairs, Tara right behind her. "Dawn, stay down!"
The teenager never raised her head. "No problem!"
"We can't fight it," Tara whispered, not wanting to attract the revenant's attention. It seemed torn between going after them or the Buffybot. "Not here. Not yet."
"What do you suggest?"
"We n-need to drive it off, somehow."
Willow nodded. "We...look out!" Willow pushed Tara behind her and held up a hand. "Defendere!"
The air in front of the revenant became instantly solid. In mid-leap it rebounded off the barrier and slid back to the ground, snarling angrily. Its legs remained coiled and ready.
"Incindere!" Willow smiled as a ring of fire erupted around the creature. It screeched, and moved toward a part of the circle that seemed a little less intense. "Oh no you don't!"
Before the redhead could say or do anything else, Tara grabbed her shoulder. "Will, stop it! You're going to set the whole house on fire!"
With Willow distracted the flames lessened somewhat. The revenant saw its chance. It jumped over the ring of fire and darted toward the door. It was gone before they could stop it.
"Well, you got what you wanted." Willow frowned. "It's gone."
"For now." Tara held her hand over the fire. "Extinguere!" The flames went out, leaving a scorched circle in the carpet. "But if it found us once, it can always do it again."
Dawn, realizing the danger was over, approached the witches. "What was that thing?"
"I do not know," said the Buffybot. "I have no record of it in my memory banks."
Willow crossed her arms. "Don't worry. We do."
After they got the Buffybot fixed up Willow and Tara took her—along with Dawn, who refused to stay at home, alone, while there was a monster on the loose—to the Magic Box. Giles and Anya were there, and Xander arrived a short time after they did. Dawn spent time with the Buffybot, watching her train, while Willow and Tara got the other Scoobies caught up on Alexandra and the revenant.
"I had a revenant once," Anya said from behind the counter. Everyone else was sitting around the table, but they all turned to listen as she continued. "About oh...nine hundred years ago. This wizard, I forget his name, he swore they made the best pets. Fierce, loyal, and all that." She shook her head. "The one I had was just plain mean. And I was a vengeance demon, remember, so I know mean." She closed the cash register and frowned. "It kept trying to eat me. And the one time I sent it to kill a man for me it also ate the woman who summoned me. So I banished it, and then I sought vengeance on that damn wizard."
Tara blinked. "You banished it? How, exactly? Did you use a spell or..."
"No. I just...did it. I was a demon. I could do things like that back then you know." Anya's face fell. "I miss those powers sometimes. The other day, at the grocery store..."
Xander rolled his eyes. "An, would you please?"
"What?" Anya crossed her arms and stuck out her lower lip. "She asked." Xander sighed, stood up and embraced her, and over his shoulder they all saw her 'works every time' smile.
"This is getting us nowhere," said Willow. "We need to find it before it kills anyone else."
Giles nodded. "Agreed. But before we charge headlong into another conflict, it would be in our best interest to have a method of destroying the creature already prepared. Now, have either of you given any thought to another binding spell?"
"Alexandra said she didn't think it would be worth trying," Tara replied. "The revenant is growing too strong too quickly. A binding spell wouldn't hold it for long."
Willow's eyes widened. "Wait a minute." She held up her hand. "Venire ad ego!" A book materialized in the palm of that outstretched hand, and she smiled as she opened it. "I read something about...yes! Here it is. All we really need to do is bind it for a few minutes. With this spell we should be able to create a variation on the living flame we used to destroy the Glove of Myhnegon. Remember?"
Both Giles and Xander nodded. It was hard to forget everything that had come before that.
"I get it," Tara said, recognizing the destination point of her girlfriend's train of thought. "Since the living flame is magickal the revenant should be vulnerable to it. And if it's trapped it should be destroyed along with whatever we've bound it to." She smiled. "That's brilliant."
"Way to go Will," Xander added.
"Indeed." Giles stood up. "We should have everything you need in the shop. Anya..."
Everyone nearly jumped out of their seats as the front door unexpectedly burst open. Spike came charging into the shop. Some of his skin was still smoldering where the sunlight had gotten under the leather jacket he carried like a makeshift umbrella. He kicked the door closed behind him.
"Bloody hell! Why can't your blasted Scooby club ever hold these meetings at night?"
Xander tried to hide his contempt as the vampire joined them. For the most part, he failed miserably. "How did you even know we were here?"
"Didn't." Spike took a seat on the ladder leading to the upper stacks, and took out a cigarette. "I wagered you lot had no lives outside of fighting monsters and the like. Odds were with me."
Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his brow. "What, exactly, is it you want, Spike?"
"I've got some information for you," the vampire replied. "On this new beastie here in town."
"Why do I get the feeling we're two steps ahead of you?" Xander asked.
Spike growled. "Listen. I ever get this blasted chip out of my head, you're the first one I'm going to come after, monkey-boy! So you'd better back off!"
"Promises, promises." Xander gestured dismissively. "You're all bark and no bite."
Giles intervened. "If you're speaking of a creature called the revenant, I'm afraid Xander is right."
To his credit Spike didn't miss a beat. He had been running with the Scoobies long enough to be accustomed to being permanently out of the loop. He shrugged his shoulders and ground the cigarette butt out under his heel. "I guess you don't want to know where the little bugger is hiding then."
Willow and Tara looked at one another, then at Giles, and finally to Spike.
Spike insisted on being involved in this, and any future Scooby-ventures, before he would agree to divulge the information. They reluctantly agreed. None of them particularly liked having the vampire around, except Dawn, but they had to admit his power was helpful more often than not.
"Right then. Your beastie keeps returning to a packing plant near the center of town. Seems the other uglies in the area have been clearing out, 'cause this thing's a bit of a basket case."
Giles nodded. "The revenant most likely needs to rest after it's fed. We may be able to use that."
"Is this really a good idea?" Xander asked. "Confronting a monster in its own lair? Isn't that asking for all kinds of trouble, not to mention a world of really painful death?"
"Its territorialism could work in our favor," Giles replied. "The revenant may become more protective, and less rational, if we attack it in a place it thought it was safe."
Spike snorted. "More likely it'll turn on you like a rabid dog in a corner."
Willow and Tara came down from the upper stacks, the latter brandishing a piece of paper.
"We got it," said the redhead. "A binding spell."
"We know what Alexandra did wrong," Tara added. "We can be sure to avoid the same mistakes. But the spell is a good one, and it obviously works."
Willow nodded. "We just have to decided what we're going to bind the revenant in. Now, a mirror is usually the best choice. The reflective qualities make it the perfect mystical gate."
"I think a mirror will suffice," said Giles. "If everyone is in agreement?" They all nodded, except for Spike, who just shrugged his shoulders. "I assume we can find one?"
"Adducere!" Willow smiled as a small hand-mirror materialized on the table. "How's that?"
Both Giles and Tara got the same expression on their face. Neither of them said anything, however.
"Way to go," said Xander. "You're even better than Federal Express."
The redhead rubbed her hands together. "We just need the ingredients for the living flame, and I think we're set to go. Where's Anya?"
The ex-demon rose from behind the counter. "Here. I was checking to see if I still had any essence of toad left after the last Wicca group that came through. They love the stuff."
"Let's just hope the revenant doesn't hurt anyone else," said Tara. "Before we're ready."
The revenant was angry.
It didn't like being denied its prey. As a result it was beyond mere hunger, it was becoming ravenous. Instead of carefully selecting its target, it was to the point where nearly any human would do.
Snarling, the creature came around a corner and stopped. It saw two young women emerging from a bookstore a short distance away, and they remained oblivious to its presence. The dark-haired one was nothing to it, but her green-haired companion had a fairly colorful aura. Not nearly as strong as it would have preferred, she would be little more than a light snack, but it could no loner afford to be choosy.
Wispy tendrils of darkness seeped from unseen pores across the revenant's body. In a matter of seconds it was surrounded by a protective shell which would disguise its appearance and, under normal circumstances, permit it to blend into the shadows around it. Of course it was daytime now which, in this case, actually made it that much more visible, but fortunately there was no one else around to see it. The two young women were far too involved
in the book they were reading to notice the creature coming up behind them.
The revenant silently launched itself into the air as soon as it was close enough. It tackled the green-haired girl and had slashed open the back of her skull before her body even hit the ground. As it was flipping her over to get at her chest her companion began to scream hysterically. A quick slash of deadly claws silenced her, and the creature dragged their corpses into a nearby alley to begin feeding.
As the sun went down, the Scoobies set their plan in motion.
Xander and Anya agreed to take Dawn home and stay with her at the house. For a change the teenager didn't ask to come along, nor did she argue about her 'baby-sitters'. She'd been badly shaken by her close encounter with the revenant, though she would never have admitted it to anyone.
When they got to the packing plant the remaining Scoobies divided their forces.
Giles set up just outside the back door, and started work on the living flame. The Buffybot was with him, acting as a bodyguard. She could do nothing against the revenant if it happened to find them, of course, but he admitted to feeling better that someone would be watching over him for a change.
Willow and Tara headed into the plant itself, with Spike hot on their heels. The redhead tried repeatedly to get him to switch with the Buffybot, but he and Giles both argued vehemently against it. She relented, after warning the vampire to stay out of her way. She ultimately took up the lead.
"Bloody hell," Spike growled. "You always let her boss you around like this?"
Tara tried her best to ignore him. "I don't know what you're talking about." She clutched the mirror more tightly to her chest, and hurried to catch up to Willow. "Goddess."
"What is it?" the redhead asked.
"I don't like this place. It gives me..."
"...a major wiggins?" Willow nodded. "I know what you mean. With only half the lights on, it makes it look like all the shadows are moving." She frowned. "The trouble is, some of them are."
Behind them, Spike suddenly stopped in his tracks. It took the witches a moment to realize this, so they were a short distance ahead of him by the time they turned around. He vamped out and gave a throaty growl as he jerked his head from side to side, his golden eyes narrow.
"What is it?" Willow asked.
"I don't know yet," the vampire hissed. "I hear...something." He turned and walked away from them, leaving Tara and Willow to decide whether or not to follow him. In the end, they did. He rounded a corner, went up a flight of stairs and then made his way down a dark corridor. By the time the two of them caught up to him he was standing in front of a door with his fists clenched. "It's here."
"Are you sure?" said Willow.
Spike glared at her for a moment, then pushed open the door, which hadn't been locked or fully closed. In what they guessed was someone's office was the revenant, curled in the corner. It was fast asleep, with its head tucked under its paws, and snoring quite loudly.
"Positive," said the vampire.
Tara shook her head. "It's funny. Like this is seems so peaceful and harmless."
"Harmless my ass." Spike snarled quietly. "It's been feeding. Recently. I can smell the blood." He nodded at the creature. "Go on and do your mojo, 'fore the beast wakes up."
"He's right," said Willow. "Hold up the mirror." She drew a symbol on the glass with the contents of a vial, then pulled a small crystal out of her pocket. "Okay, you ready?"
Tara nodded. They both closed their eyes and began to softly chant in unison.
Spike turned from the witches, and watched the revenant sleep.
Tara was right, it did seem peaceful. At first. But pretty soon he saw one of its hindlegs began to twitch, and its eyelids fluttered. It barked and whined, spittle seeping out of its leathery lips.
The vampire glanced over his shoulder. The crystal Willow was holding had begun to glow. A similar glow was taking place in the surface of the mirror Tara was holding.
Spike remembered what the Scoobies had told him about the revenant. How it was attracted to magick, and was able to sense it from great distance. His eyes widened. "Bloody hell!" He realized, too late, that doing this in the same room with the creature had been a mistake.
The revenant awoke all at once. It lifted its head, blinked, and its beady red eyes locked with the vampire's. The two of them stared at one another, and then they growled.
"It's awake!" Spike announced. "Whatever you're going to do, you'd better bloody well do it soon!"
"We need just a little longer," said Tara. "The spell's very precise. See if you can't keep it busy." She closed her eyes and rejoined Willow in the chanting.
Spike sighed. "Perfect." The revenant got to its feet. "Come on then, you wanker!"
The revenant snorted and charged. Spike didn't try to get out of the way. Instead he peeled off his leather jacket and threw it at the approaching creature. He'd been hoping to distract it, long enough for him to get a preemptive shot in, but didn't count on it passing right through the jacket without even slowing down. They had neglected to inform him the creature was capable of becoming intangible.
The revenant leaped into the air and collided full-force with Spike. Howling, it drove the vampire back into the wall and began clawing at his chest. His shirt was of little consequence, and in a matter of seconds it was ripping into the flesh beneath as well. Spike screamed as his blood flowed freely.
Soon after, he collapsed. As soon as he passed out, the revenant lost interest. The vampire had no magick for it to consume. He had merely been an obstacle. It turned, instead, to Willow and Tara. It could sense a strong build- up of magick between the two witches, and that made it hungry.
Tara heard growling, a lot closer to her ear than she was comfortable with.
She peeked through slitted lids, hoping it was just Spike. It wasn't.
The revenant was practically on top of them. It was staring, apparently trying to decide which one of them to attack first. That wouldn't last long.
Willow was carrying the brunt of the spell, which gave Tara a little leeway. She clutched the mirror more tightly in one hand, and pointed the other, whispering.
The revenant shuddered, snarling as it abruptly found itself unable to move. It was as if a great weight had been applied to its body, and it found it was just barely able to stand up. It pushed bodily against the force, testing it, and was surprised to feel it give somewhat.
Tara gritted her teeth. She wouldn't be able to hold it for long. The revenant was strong, and her concentration was already divided. She turned back to the redhead, and saw her eyes opening.
Tara turned the mirror to look at it. The glass was no longer glowing. "Way to go, Will."
In that moment, whether by chance or design, the revenant threw everything it had against the force holding it back. Her spell rippled and shattered like so much glass, turning her mind upside-down and leaving her dizzy and defenseless as the creature charged at her.
"No!" Willow grabbed Tara and twirled her so she was between the blonde and the revenant. It rammed its head into the back of the redhead's legs, buckling her knees and taking her down.
Tara stumbled, finding her balance as she leaned against a nearby wall. "Goddess, what..." Her eyes widened as she saw the revenant looking over Willow. "No!"
It jerked its head around and growled at her. It bared its fangs, and slashed the air.
"T-Tara..." Willow had tears in her eyes, and her words were somewhat slurred from where she had hit her head as she landed. "...the mirror! Use..."
"...the mirror! Of course!" Tara held the mirror up so the revenant could see it.
It screeched and backed away, its beady red eyes smoldering.
"Roll over. Play dead. Good dog." Tara took a deep breath. "Deportare stabilis!"
A dazzlingly bright cone of pure white light erupted from the surface of the mirror. It enveloped the revenant's entire body before it could make any further effort to escape. It howled and roared as its body was elongated and contorted all at once, practically turning itself inside out. With one last, horrid screech it was absorbed into the light, which surged once more and then was drawn back into the mirror.
Tara sighed. "It's over." She held a hand out. "Are you okay?"
"Yes." Willow straightened up, put weight on her legs, and winced. "Or not. I think I twisted a knee."
Tara pouted sympathetically. "Awww. Come here, sweetie." She put an arm around the redhead's waist. "I'll take care of you."
"I bet you will." The redhead stole a kiss from her lover. "Mmm...we'd better get the mirror to Giles before our friend finds a way to get out."
Tara nodded at Spike. "What
should we do about him?"
The vampire groaned. "He...is awake." With a great deal of effort he managed to sit up. The wounds in his chest were deep but they were no longer bleeding, though he was obviously in a considerable amount of pain. "But he could really use a drink. I don't suppose either of you would..." They both gave him the same withering look, and he shrugged his shoulders. "Didn't think so."
"Can you walk?" Tara asked.
Spike snarled, stifling an insult that had come so naturally to his lips. He usually tried to be civil to Tara, since she was the only ones besides Dawn who treated him halfway decent. "Give me a minute." When he tried to stand up his knees buckled. "Or an hour."
"We're going downstairs," said Willow. "Catch up with us when you can."
With Tara's help, the redhead managed to limp toward the door. She gazed curiously at her lover as the blonde stopped and glanced over her shoulder at Spike.
He nodded, but didn't say anything.
By the time Tara and the still hobbling Willow made it downstairs and back outside, Giles had everything ready to go. In a large, ornate metal bowl he had created crackling blue-green flames which gave off little light or heat, but could be senses by the witches from some distance away.
Behind him the Buffybot, oddly enough, was doing handstands. As they approached, she flipper herself back on to her feet and watched them.
"Here you go," said Tara. She handed the mirror to Giles. "It wasn't easy, but we got it."
Giles nodded and held the mirror out over the flames. "Liquefacere et terminare anime!" With emphasis on the final word he dropped it into the fire. There was a bright flash and the overwhelming stench of sulfur, then with a loud pop the flames dissipated. "That does it."
Willow nodded. "Good. Ow. Can we...oww...go home...oww...now?"
"I don't see any reason why not." Giles looked around. "By the way, what happened to Spike?"
"He got pretty badly hurt," Tara replied. "Somebody should probably make sure he gets home all right."
Giles sighed. "Very well. I suppose I can be the one to make such a sacrifice."
"Shall I patrol now?" the Buffybot asked.
"You're not ready for that yet," said Willow. "Come with us. You should recharge anyway."
The robot nodded.
"Go home then," said Giles. "And remember to tell Dawn everything is okay now."
Tara nodded. "She's not the only one we need to talk to."
"I do not understand."
Alexandra looked from Tara, to Willow, and back again.
"What are you saying?"
"It wasn't your magick that bound you to the mirror," said Willow.
"It was your guilt," Tara continued. "You've blamed yourself all these years for everything that's happened with the revenant. The people it killed in your village, and in yours..." She shook her head. "But it's not your fault. You don't have to punish yourself anymore."
"You have to let it go," Willow agreed. "If you don't, you'll never know peace."
"It's over, Alexandra. You're free." Tara smiled. "Rest now."
"You've earned it."
Tears filled the elder witch's eyes as she tried to understand what they were telling her. "I'm...I can't believe it, I..." She smiled. "Goddess, I can't even begin to thank you enough. I thought my eternity would be confined to the nothingness of the mirror." Her body started glowing. "Thank you both. With all my heart, and whatever remains of my soul, thank you."
Willow and Tara leaned into one another, smiling as Alexandra's spirit dissolved into a shimmering column of golden and white sparks. One by one they went out, like so many candles.
"It's time..." Willow began, closing her eyes.
"...to go back," Tara finished, opening her eyes. She turned her head to see Willow just waking up beside her on the bed. "It worked. She's free now."
The redhead nodded. "I'm glad. We owe her, more than you know. Yet."
"What do you mean?"
Willow sat up and pulled a book out from under her side of the bed. "I found something while we were looking for ways to contact Alexandra. With everything that happened, I forgot about it." She opened the book. "I think...I mean I'll have to do a whole lot more research before I can be sure, of course, but if I'm right there may actually be a way for us to bring Buffy back."
Tara felt all the blood draining from her face. "W-What?"
"It's just an idea, right now. I'll have to check into Egyptian lore first."
The redhead nodded. "Like I said, it's just an idea. We can talk about it, right?"
"I don't know...you're talking about some pretty dark territory, Will."
Willow grinned. "Trust me."
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