Flashes of lightening surge at command through fingertips.
Black veins web rapidly through features normally mild and gentle.
Skin rips from the flesh of a bound youth.
The hands of a weeping lover are stained by the blood of an innocent.
Pleas for justice are overwhelmed by an angry voice hell bent on revenge.
The scream echoed through the dining hall and Ethan smiled at the unexpected revelations riding the swirling currents of the spell.
"What's this, an unexpected delight? We have a seer amongst my generous benefactors." Ethan's eyes shot open and he turned to Elspeth whose face was pale and twisted with pain. "That's how you knew me! You saw me, didn't you?" He laughed. "My naughty boy Ripper must have treated you to a trip down memory lane. We were quite the pair, weren't we?" The air crackled around him and the silver mist danced.
In a smoky flat, a young girl in torn and bloodied clothes, screams in desperate panic as her demonized friend stalked her.
Two tattooed youths move with weary determination to stand shoulder to shoulder in front of the monster.
A bat connects sharply to the boy's demonized skull and blow follows blow.
Blood sprays black through the candlelight.
"Dear god, Randall! What have we done?"
Elspeth gasped in terror, and clenched her eyes shut.
"You're killing her!" Willow screamed.
"Oh, but you, you were a Black Widow... my wicked Willow. I can see the pain you spread with your despair. All that delightful anger, that vengeance and sorrow served you well, yet you abandoned it."
"I never wanted to hurt anyone. I just wanted the pain to stop."
"I know all about pain; been educated quite extensively in the study of anguish and desolation. It's a beast in its own right. But you've known the lure of deepest darkest magicks, luv. Of all people, you should understand what it is I need to set me free."
Bursts of white hot agony jolted Willow's body in an empathetic response to the vision playing out before her.
Hands are strapped bound in cold canvas and metal buckles slicing into skin.
Convulsions of pain as needles remove living fluids to be replaced by manufactured poisons.
"Doctor, we're losing him again." Little deaths of mind and body are repeated.
Willow gasped for air. "This can't free you, Ethan. No magicks can heal you. Only time will mend your wounds."
"Time, child, is what I don't have in an abundance. My time and life were both stripped away from me by soulless white lab coats hoping to dissect me and unlock secrets to magicks that never held answers for them in the first place. But with this..." he held his arms out wide, gesturing to the spell roaring around them, "With this, I will reclaim my life and steal back what they took from me."
"It won’t be enough, Ethan. You’ll want more, I know."
"Then I'll find more. This is enough for now."
"You will kill everyone here in doing this."
He considered the thought, his dark eyes glancing at each pain torn face, finally settling back to Willow. He spoke with a stony seriousness, "Small price to pay for salvation."
Ethan’s jaw tensed in anger then relaxed as he began to chuckle. He shrugged. "Who isn’t these days?"
"What did you see?" Buffy squirmed nervously as Giles steered the vehicle along the winding road to the coven.
"I didn't see anything. It was as if Willow was calling to me telepathically. She's done it a few times before when patrolling and during her um... darker time." He glanced briefly over at Buffy, revealing his concern. "I gather from the sudden reappearance of this talent that her powers are growing. She's never called to me from such a distance before."
"So is that a good or bad thing?"
"Could be both." Giles slammed his hand down on the steering wheel. "Damn! If I only knew what Ethan wanted."
"Whatever it is, you can be sure it isn't going to be a basketful of puppies."
"Call Xander and have him pick up Dawn from school. We shouldn't take any chances until we know more of what's happening here."
"You think he'll go after her again?"
"I haven't a bloody clue, but let's not give him the chance."
Giles is on his knees, gasping in pain, searching for breath.
Willow presses sparking fingers to his chest, flares of energies and power radiating over her hand as she drains him.
Giles collapses to the floor, a whispered "no" on his lips.
Ethan's expression fell deathly serious. "You intended to kill him."
Willow shook her head. "No... I never meant to kill him... I only needed..."
"He had what you needed, what you craved. You understand. You are like me."
"No, not like you! I didn't choose that. It was the magicks and the sorrow and the anger! They consumed me."
"No, they empowered you."
Serpents spill out of Willow's mouth, her arms slashed as magicks swell around her.
A manicured and bloody hand breaks through the earth before a tombstone etched with the words 'She Saved the World A Lot.'
"I touched darkness but returned from it. So can you."
"Touched darkness? You are darkness, weeping Willow. Your soul cries out to accept the powers you've been gifted with. You shouldn't be against me, you should be beside me."
"Then why didn't you help poor, sweet Lessa?" His face feigned sympathy. "Why didn't you stop me?"
"I would have if I could."
Hands touch ancient metal, hair turning white as women around the world surge with power.
A young woman turns a corner and flashing fangs strike. Yellow eyes gleam as the vampire licks his lips. "Got to love that fresh power," he gloats.
A girl cowers on a bed, whimpering "freak, freak, I'm a freak" in a mindless chant before finally slitting her wrist. Her chant continues as she watches her blood flow to the floor.
"You knew you could but you chose not to. You have power beyond anything these posers could ever conceive of and yet you sit there, refusing to strike. Why don't you?" Ethan smiled. "You want it as much as I do; the power to quiet the suffering, the chance to make the pain stop. All you have to do is join me."
"Then you will fall as they all will." He smiled, waving a hand toward the suffering women. "And I will get what I came for."
A young lady and an older man sit across from each other at a small table in a seedy hotel room. They laugh and joke together.
The woman reaches out to straighten his collar. The man moves without warning, snatching her wrist. The woman struggles but is pushed down, face in his lap.
Ethan laughs. Dawn screams out in fear and pain.
Willow screamed with her.
Green mist rises from Dawn's body, drifting from her into Ethan. Ethan's body arches back. He pushes Dawn's face harder against his body.
Dawn falls unconscious. The green mist grows fainter and finally stops. Ethan relaxes in his seat and smiles with satisfaction.
"No! I won't let you hurt her!" Willow screamed. Her binds evaporated to mist. She jumped to her feet and gesturing wildly, sent a projectile of flames colliding into Ethan's chest. The sorcerer flew backwards and struck hard against the wall, collapsing to the floor just beyond her view. Willow stood there, staring at her hands, stunned.
Buffy charged the coven house, colliding again with the invisible barrier encasing it. She punched and kicked, growing more agitated with each attempt to break the barricade.
"What is going on, Giles? Dawn passed out at school with one of those headaches we thought were gone for good and Ethan's taken the coven and Willow hostage. Why is this happening?"
"I don't know, Buffy. But don't worry about Dawn. Xander and Carrie will take her home and they'll protect her."
Buffy turned to face the coven house again, pacing like a wild cat along the mystical borders. "Giles, we have to get in there! You're big into the whole magicks thing lately. Can you breach this thing?"
He lifted his hand and reached out to touch the wall. The contact sent ripples of distortion along it.
"No. Ethan's taken precautions. He's used a kind of counteracting spell to prevent us from getting in."
"So do a counter-counter spell."
"I haven't the instinctive skill Willow has, Buffy. I'd need time to research and prepare a spell of that magnitude."
"You know this guy, Giles. What is Ethan doing? What does he want with the coven?"
"I wish I knew."
"Can you sense anything, are they still alive. Is Willow okay?"
"It's unclear. The magicks being expelled here are very potent. I can't ascertain whether it's Willow or Ethan..." Giles went quiet, shaking his head in frustration, "Or both. It's chaos."
"We need to do something, anything. What do we do, Giles?"
"We wait. It's up to Willow now." He stared intensely at the house. "But she's not alone."
Willow managed to unbind Elspeth and moved on to Jo. As the cord fell away, Jo twisted to rub her shoulders and then yelled, "Willow, behind you!"
"Do it again, mommy, please," Ethan sneered as he raised his hand and sent a bluish lightening bolt blazing across the room. It crashed into Willow as she attempted to duck behind her chair. The blast sent her flying into the wall behind her, cracking the drywall and splintering the support beam within. "A fellow could get used to this."
Jo charged Ethan but just as she reached him, he vanished. She spun around to see him materialize on the other side of the dining room and approach the fallen red head.
"That would be your cue, Willow. Come now, don't tell me you've grown tired of this game already?"
"Get away from her!" Jo stormed around the table.
"Be with you in a moment, Jo." He dismissed the woman with a snap of his fingers, sending a glass cabinet full of china plates and cups screeching along the floor after her. She managed to dart out of the way just in time and watched it collide into the wall beyond her. The impact rained porcelain and glass shards to the scuffed up wood floor below. As Jo straightened and moved towards Ethan again, a vacant chair went airborne and struck her square in the head, fracturing into bits. The wood pieces dropped with her to the floor.
"I know I'm new at this but on a scale from one to ten, how would you rate this hostage taking?" The sorcerer smiled proudly.
"You're insane," Willow choked as Ethan knelt down beside her.
"Yes, you've said that before." He carefully slipped his arm under her, lifting her upright. "We don't have to do this, luv. It can end now."
"Then end it," she pleaded with a cough.
"I will. All you have to do is accept my proposal." Ethan spoke soothingly to her.
"No..." she shook her head.
"I know what it's like to have your magicks exorcised from you. People like these..." he gestured back towards the women seated at the dining table, "...these judgmental hypocrites took it from you because they were frightened. They feared what you were capable of. They feared you, as well they should."
"They're trying to help me."
"They're trying to sterilize you; to make you as useless as they are."
"No, you're wrong."
"You want this to end? It can. I'll let them be if you join me. What do you say?"
Willow's head bobbed and swayed as she tried to focus, her eyes blurring from the smoke and chemicals in the air. Her vision cleared enough to where she could see the sympathetic expression flickering in the candlelight.
"Ethan... go to hell."
"Pity, such a waste," Ethan sighed. "Pools of mystical energies just waiting to be used yet trapped within a vessel so unfortunately pathetic. Those powers you contain weren't meant to die away like some victim of the mundane. Since you're unwilling to dip into that darkness, permit me to dive right in." He raised his free hand and positioned it over her heart. "You remember this, don't you? The day you tried to rip him from me? Time to make amends, my little sister." With a spark, Ethan's fingers ignited into a blaze of mystical energies and he pressed his hand to her skin.
Willow's body arched backwards. Ethan's glowing fingers stroked her flesh and a surge of green and red energy flowed from her chest into his hand. Willow cried out.
Giles cried out. Buffy turned to see him fall to his knees. Just as she reached him, his body stiffened, his eyes rolled back to white and he blacked out.
The familiar setting of the coven dining room had faded away, replaced by a stark landscape of empty space surrounding Ethan, Willow and the coven women. A figure appeared out of the mist.
"Giles?" Willow gasped just as Ethan said with surprise, "Ripper?"
"Giles... Giles, what is it?" Buffy cradled him in her arms, trying to shaking him awake but he lay unconscious and unresponsive.
"I don't know what's happening. You have to wake up and tell me," she pleaded. She shook him again more gently and her hand stroked his forehead as she whispered to him again. "Please."
"This is a private party, mate. And I don't recall putting you on the guest list," Ethan growled.
Giles examined the scene, scanning the deathly pale faces of the coven woman. Some were slumped unmoving in their chairs while others twitched in pain. His gaze returned to Ethan whose entire body seemed to sparkle in a rainbow of colored energies as bright green and gold flashed around where his hand rested on Willow's chest.
"Giles..." Willow winced, trying to reach out to him.
"Just walk away, Ripper."
"Never going to happen." Giles stepped forward. "Let her go."
"I would think you'd want to thank me for this, seeing as how she tried the very same thing on you. Consider this as your payback, and the check’s on me." The energies surged and Willow's body arched back as more of her powers were torn from her.
Giles charged forward and tried to tackle Ethan. His body passed through the sorcerer like an apparition. Ethan chuckled.
"We're almost home, Dawn," Xander reassured her. He glanced in the rearview mirror at Carrie. "How is she?"
Carrie sat in the back seat, holding Dawn securely to her, the young lady's head upon her shoulder. "The sedatives I gave her have calmed her down. Although her pulse is steady, her breathing is erratic, almost like she is over exerting herself, yet she's cold to the touch. If I didn't know any better, I'd think she was going into hypothermic shock. I've never seen it like this, Xander."
"I'd take her to the hospital but Buffy said something's going down and she wants Dawn safe under house arrest. You'll have to play doctor for now."
"I don't see anything life threatening at the moment but I just don't know what this is. I wish I knew what was going on."
"Me too," Xander stared out at the traffic filled roadway and shook his head, worried. "Me too."
Giles turned and move in closer, kneeling beside Ethan and Willow, fists clenched and jaw tensing in frustration.
"Willow, you can fight him," He encouraged her. "You projected me here, proof that your magicks never left you. It was only your insecurities that caused them to become unreliable."
"No... too dangerous..."
"No, it's not; you're not. You're getting stronger, more confident. That's all you needed."
"You do it. You have the power, not me."
"No, Willow. Believe! It's all inside of you. It always has been."
"But the gnomes, the beanstalk..."
"Can't you see? It was your faith in me that empowered me. I don't have that kind of power, Willow, and you know it. I can borrow power, use others, but that's not my own."
"Don't sell yourself short, mate. You could raise a demon with the best of us." Ethan raised his hand from Willow's chest to poke through Giles' image. "Where are you, anyway, Ripper? I could use a taste of your old magicks too."
Giles ignored the sorcerer, speaking urgently to Willow. "Trust in yourself... Your doubts are what are holding you back."
Tara exclaims, "I can't believe that we are talking about this again. You know how powerful magick is, how dangerous. You could hurt someone. You... you could hurt yourself."
Jo shakes her head. "I don't think Willow should do the spell again. It's failed twice without cause. Magick isn't to be toyed with, and when it speaks it must be listened to."
Xander holds up his hands. "I know, I know. But until they figure out why your magic's gone all wonky, maybe you should just let it rest for awhile."
They stand there staring at her. She protests, "This goes beyond anything I've ever done... I'm not sure that I'm stable enough."
Anya points at Willow. " You have a lot of explaining to do, little miss I-know-what-I’m-doing-with-magic."
A hand touches her shoulder and Xander affirms, "You can trust her. As a Wicca, she's the best.” And the water is cleansed.
Giles squeezes Willow's hand. "You can do this. I know you can." And the barrier appears.
Giles stands on the green hills of England looking solemn. "Everything is connected. You're connected to a great power, whether you feel it or not... This isn't a hobby or an addiction. It's inside you now, this magick. You're responsible for it."
As the visions faded, Willow stared wide-eyed at Giles. "Doubts? It was all about doubts?" She whispered.
"I had a small wake-up call on the issue myself, today, Willow." Giles smiled ruefully and then spoke again urgently. "You see now that it's all about control. Now please, control your magic and stop him!"
"Thank you for that very touching Disney-esque moment." Ethan turned back to Willow and moved his hand forward. "It was truly an inspiration, but…" Ethan stopped as the scene shifted again.
Watcher and Slayer sit beside one another on a couch, holding hands.
They move in closer and a gentle caress evolves into a passionate kiss.
"I should have known." Ethan sneered and focused on the apparition of Giles kneeling beside him. "There's just something about those Summers women, isn't there?"
"Please break the barrier, Willow." Giles encouraged her. "You can do this. Remember your focus and break the..."
"Bugger off!" Ethan yelled, pointing a finger and sending a pulse of magicks toward the vision of Giles.
Giles vanished and the atmosphere crackled as the dining room reappeared around them. His words lingered in the air, "They are your magicks to control, Willow. I have faith in you, if only you will have it in yourself."
"Ignore him, my red beauty. Now, just lay back and think of England. This won't hurt but for a moment more." He placed his hand back on her chest and sparks flew around it.
"Stop..." Willow began to struggle, trying to reach up and grasp Ethan's hand only to have him slap it away.
"Just let it go, Willow," Ethan spoke almost gently as she twisted in his arms.
"Giles..." Buffy whispered with relief as his eyes fluttered open. "Giles, what's happening?"
"Ethan," Giles whispered. "He's taking their magicks." He grasped at Buffy's hand. "He's killing Willow."
"Easy luv, we're almost done."
"No!" Willow roared as a burst of illumination sent Ethan floundering into the dining room table, splattering the contents of the simmering pot. Candles flickered and went out and the grey mists twisted in on themselves and disappeared with small pops. Booming sounds echoed through the house as the mystical barrier encasing the house shifted and warped.
Willow struggled to her feet and quickly spoke a few words in Latin. With a fizzling noise fading into silence, the mystical barricade was gone and Ethan's eyes went wide with alarm.
Giles forced out the words, "The barrier is down... go!" before his eyes closed again. Buffy carefully lowered him to the gravel, got to her feet, and bolted toward the front door.
Ethan stood up and looked about nervously as he retrieved his pistol from his coat pocket.
"I despise these bloody things, I really do. But you leave me little choice, luv. I can't have you keeping all those magicks for yourself." He raised his pistol, aiming across the room at Willow's head.
A hand reached from behind him and caught the gun, pulling it up and back. A shot rang out. Ethan turned to grapple with Jo for control of the weapon, bringing it between them in a jumble of clawing hands. Another gunshot rang out and both Ethan and Jo stiffened. Jo's eyes shifted to Willow and she slowly sank to the floor. Ethan stepped back, staring crossly at the wounded woman at his feet.
"Bloody cow. How very irritating, all this planning and plotting and for what? Gunshot residue burnt into my hands and more blood stains all over my new suit. And all I have to show for it is a portion of the powers you have to offer me." He shook his head. "This day can't be over soon enough. But it will end just a little sooner for you, my dear." He raised the pistol again.
"I don't think so, Ethan." Willow stared intently at the gun and the barrel began to glow a scorching red. Ethan let it fall from his grasp, waving his burned hand in pain before glaring up at her.
"You think you've won, don't you, witch? I haven't even begun to play. And such petty parlor tricks won't cut it next time. We will meet again, I assure you." He straightened and pointed at her. "Until then, inform my self-righteous Ripper he best make his peace with his world because I'm going to take it away from him, one glorious piece at a time."
In a dazzling sphere of crackling light, the dark sorcerer vanished. Willow rushed to Jo's side, cradling the wounded woman in her arms.
"Jo... Jo, hang on," she pleaded, pressing her hand firmly to the blossoming ruby stain on Jo's sweater. "Please..."
Elspeth stirred slowly and worked to get to her feet. She saw the others still bound and began to work on releasing them.
Buffy ran into the room yelling frantically, " Willow!"
"In here! Jo's been shot." Willow sobbed. Buffy rushed to the two women.
Giles stumbled in, barely managing to stay upright. When his eyes fell on a tearful Willow holding Jo, he gestured with a finger, "Buffy, call..."
"Got it," she already had the cell phone to her ear as Giles cautiously knelt beside Jo.
"Is he gone?" Jo wheezed.
"He's gone, Jo. We're safe," Willow comforted her.
"I didn't know, Rupert," Jo reached out to Giles, her bloody fingers trembling. He took her hand in his. "I didn't understand the dangers..."
"It's okay. Just hang on, Jo. The paramedics are on their way," he squeezed her hand. "Stay with us."
Jo's grip of Giles' hand lessened then went limp. He checked her pulse and frowned. He looked up at Willow. "She's still alive. Keep applying pressure, Willow. You're doing well." He pulled his hand free of Jo's and stood.
"There's been an incident at the coven." Buffy spoke calmly but urgently. "One gunshot victim; female in her early thirties, wound to the abdomen not more than five minutes ago. We need an ambulance ASAP."
Giles move to check on Sarah and Katrina. Both sat motionless in their chairs, faces ashen and lifeless. He checked each for a pulse and then met Elspeth's eyes across the table where she was removing the last restraint from Deborah. He shook his head and her eyes widened in horror. She sunk slowly to the floor next to Deborah and the two women began to weep.
"Buffy..." Giles spoke gravely, his eyes slowly lifting to hers. "Request another transport."
"God no..." Willow choked.
"How are you doing, Dawn?" Carrie asked, reapplying the icepack to her forehead.
"Better. The earthquake is gone, only aftershocks at this point." She sat up, pushing Carrie's arm away as she got to her feet. "Any word yet?"
"They said they'd call. We need to stay put until we know they've taken control of the situation." Xander tried to reassure her.
"What situation? What's going on Xander?" She paced within her bedroom. "Why won't you tell me what's going on?"
"Because I don't know for sure. Something's happened and we just need to wait for her to call..."
"Is it... is it Giles?" She asked, voice cracking with fear. "Is he okay?"
"He's fine, Dawn. Giles and Buffy are both fine."
"I don't... I don't know." Xander ran his fingers through his hair and shook his head fretfully. "Something is happening at the coven. Buffy wanted you safe..."
"She just wants to protect me. I know. But why? I mean, we've been doing so well lately, her going through the twelve-step program for overparenters anonymous and me staying out of trouble. Now, out of the blue she sounds the code red alarm. What gives?"
"It's her decision to make, Dawn."
"I just don't like this." The computer beeped and she hurried over to her computer. "That could be them." With a push of the spacebar, the screen flickered to life and Dawn used the mouse to click on the email icon. "Oh god."
"My dearest Dawn, our day is coming. And I haven't forgotten how you taste."
The siren was deafening as the car weaved in and out of traffic. Giles expertly maneuvered the vehicle to keep pace with the rushing ambulance ahead.
"I couldn't save her," Willow sobbed. "I just sat there and watched him slit... he killed her, and I did nothing."
"It's not your fault, Willow. There was nothing you could do." Buffy reassured her.
"And Jo... if she hadn't been there.... She saved my life. I should have done something, anything. I should have used my magicks earlier. I had the power! I could have..."
"No... you weren't ready. It would have been dangerous to try, for you and them." She hugged her upset friend tightly. "You did the best you could."
"He's insane, Buffy. And now that he's got a boost the coven and from me, there's no telling what he's capable of." Willow shook her head fretfully. "He's a monster."
"Yes he is..." Giles said with a furious calm, knuckles white with strain as he gripped the steering wheel, sharp eyes staring out at the flashing red and white lights ahead of them. "And he must be stopped."