Dawn opened her eyes, squinting at the patchy shadows in front of her. The thick scent of fragrant candles burning and incense hovering in the moist air tickled her nose, and she sneezed. She tried to lift her hand but discovered they were bound to the arms of chair. Her bare feet rested flat against the damp stone floor.
“She wakes, Master,” a voice called from beside her.
“Thank you, Katako. Leave us.”
“That is all, child. Leave us.” He ordered.
“As you wish, sensei.”
Dawn whimpered slightly as the taller shadow moved closer to kneel before her.
“Close your eyes, luv.”
She instinctively shut her eyes when a warm, damp rag was pressed her eyelids. The tender touch of the moist fabric soothed the burning. The cloth pulled away and the familiar voice returned.
“Good. Now open them.”
Dawn opened her eyes to see the smiling face of Ethan staring back at her. He looked a bit rougher around the edges, scruffier. He’d let his beard grow out a bit more and his clothes were stained with dirt and sweat. His eyes sparked with the glow of the off-color fire flaring near them.
“Sorry ‘bout that, luv. Side effect of the sleep spell. You’ll be a bit loopy for a few hours. Should make for some interesting conversation.” He winked and stepped away to set the rag within a pail off to one side of the cavern. Dawn looked around her strange surroundings.
Ethan returned, placing a chair before her, just off the side of the bizarre fire. The light flickered against his unkempt features as he took a seat facing her, crossing his legs and arms in a casual manner. He examined her attire with wandering eyes, his look lingering where the edge of the short, yellow nightgown rested on Dawn's bare thigh.
“Not to question your well-educated and attuned fashion sense, but that’s an interesting choice, isn’t it? After all, there was no need to get all fancied up on my account.”
Dawn didn’t answer, pointedly ignoring the sorcerer.
“You look well,” Ethan began again, “Beautiful, even.”
Dawn didn’t respond. Sparing him only a nasty glare, she returned to her inspection of the cavern.
“Ah, I see. We’re playing that game, are we? So be it.” He rose from his chair and moved with irritation toward his stash of herbs and powders. He began sprinkling some into a cast iron pot. “I’d rather hoped we could pick up were we left off, seeing as how our business was so rudely interrupted before. But for now, I’ll leave you to your moping.”
Dawn craned her head to look past the firelight into the shadows near the cave walls. To her left lay a stockpile of plastic bags. Each was filled with roots, herbs, powders, and other strange ingredients. To her right, more exotic tools of the sorcerer’s trade caught her eye; a skull, bone-encrusted candles, even what looked to be a bag of blood from the hospital. Symbols sketched with chalk littered the rocky floor and there were scattered piles of stones and wood placed in one corner.
“If you need anything, luv,” Ethan peeked back at her, “Don’t hesitate to ask.”
“I found them,” Willow said excitedly, rushing in to the living room.
“What? How?” Giles asked, practically leaping from his chair.
“Breadcrumbs,” Willow smiled proudly.
“Magical breadcrumbs,” Xander clarified for Carrie.
“Sorta,” Willow hurried over to the join the rest of the gang and spread out some papers on the table by the couch. “You see, every spell lets off an emission. When my magic were being all wiggy, I built an application to measure and chart these mystical emissions in an attempt to find some pattern in the kablooy spells.”
“Geeky Will makes a comeback,” Buffy said proudly.
“So I decided to take another look at the readings and compare them with the traces of the expected and foreign magic in the area.”
“And?” Giles encouraged her.
“I’ve found Ethan’s signature. It’s kind of… well… chaotic. I guess that makes sense. Anyway, I traced the trail back to him.”
“So you followed the breadcrumbs back to grandma’s house. Way to go Little Red Riding Hood,” Xander cheered. “So let’s go beat grandma over the head with her own skillet.”
“From my calculations, he’s in the caves north of here, just beyond the cemetery.”
“I just knew a cemetery would be involved,” Buffy groaned.
“Look on the bright side,” Xander suggested, “at least you’ll be in your element.”
“So what now? We can’t go storming the hillside in broad daylight for all the townsfolk’s to see,” Buffy asked.
“I have a plan but it’s going to take some serious convincing.” Willow hurried to the door and grabbed her coat and the car keys.
“Where are you going?” Giles asked, walking after her.
“I’m coven bound. Call you when I get there.”
"I love you," Buffy whispered, hugging him tightly before releasing him. "And I'll be right upstairs if you need me."
Giles nodded. "Thank you. I love you too." He watched as she limped up the steps and then turned and stared at the phone for a long moment before picking up the receiver and punching in a number.
"Patricia, it's Rupert. I'm calling about Percy." Giles heard the sound of a swiftly in-drawn breath followed by a shuddering sigh.
"What's wrong?" she asked in a rock steady voice.
"He's going to be fine," Giles assured her quickly. "It's just that I'm afraid we had a bit of a situation here tonight and Percy was injured."
"What happened and how bad is it? And don't you dare try to sugarcoat it, Rupert. I want the truth."
"He was stabbed."
"Oh, god." The words were a mere whisper.
"He was taken to a local hospital and the doctors said that barring any unforeseen complications, he should be fine. Provided he takes things easy for the next couple of weeks."
"They don't know him very well do they?" she asked dryly, the relief she was feeling evident in her voice. "However, since I've had years of practice, I'm fairly certain I can convince him to listen to reason. And if that doesn't work I can always threaten to burn his trousers." Her voice changed to a tone of deadly seriousness. "What happened, Rupert? I assume it had something to do with Ethan Rayne. Was he the one who attacked Percy?"
"No, it was the Slayer the Council has been searching to find. But we believe her actions are being somehow controlled by Ethan." Giles sighed. "Percy was wounded trying to prevent her from kidnapping Dawn."
"Trying to prevent?" she repeated. "Do you mean that bastard has his hands on that poor child?"
"I'm afraid so." Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his forehead.
"How many Council casualties?" Patricia asked. "Percy hand-picked all those teams. They wouldn't have just stood idly by while Dawn was abducted."
"We lost at least four good people," he said painfully. "And several are seriously wounded."
"As soon as you can, have Willow email me all the information you have." She stopped and cleared the huskiness from her voice before continuing in a clear, crisp tone. "I know most everyone involved, and I'll contact the families personally."
"Thank you. That would be much appreciated."
"And, Rupert, just one more thing."
"Whatever it takes, stop Ethan Rayne once and for all."
"You have my word."
Willow stood at the end of the coven dining room, frustrated as she stared at the women seated around table. “I understand it’s not the way things are done. But difficult times call for difficult measures. Now is the time for action.”
Deborah shook her head, distraught. “The dangerous nature of this sorcerer is not in question here, Willow. We have doubts about our own capabilities at present, as well as doubts of your own stability. Ethan has weakened us, weakened you. What you ask may very well risk us all."
“I know it’s asking a lot, I do. I know this is pushing the boundaries of tradition and law within the coven but we have a situation here that could not only endanger Dawn, but endanger the coven, the whole town, or perhaps even worse,” Willow pleaded.
“The man defeated a small army with only a child to aid him. Imagine what could become of such a pair if he fulfills his plans with Dawn,” Agnes suggested soberly.
“I’m in,” Jo said resolutely, hand laid protectively on her stomach as she stood. “Just tell me what you need.”
“And I am here to help in any way I can,” Agnes smiled confidently.
Deborah and Elspeth exchanged apprehensive glances then Elspeth nodded and said determinedly. “We’ve been passive long enough. It’s time to fight.”
“We’re at your disposal,” Deborah confirmed.
Willow slapped her hands together in victory then smiled sheepishly. “At the moment, I need a phone. I left my cell in the car…”
Dawn twisted and tugged at the ropes holding her wrists. She eyed Ethan as he gathered ingredients and returned to the fire. The ropes scraped along her skin, leaving reddened and sore marks but she continued to stretch. Ethan poured some amber liquid into the iron pot hanging on a rod over the smokeless fire. He quickly glanced over at her and Dawn went still, glaring angrily at him. He smiled and returned his attention to the boiling mixture.
“So, tell me the truth,” he started, stirring the brew with disinterest. “Did you miss me?”
“As if!” Dawn growled angrily under her breath, and then cursed at herself for answering.
Ethan turned to face her, a pleased grin curling the corners of his lips. “Come now, not even a little? I find that hard to believe. I rather missed you. In fact, I’ve thought of little else since our separation.”
“Get over it.”
The sorcerer chuckled. “I can’t, Dawn. But you’re going to help me with that.” He stared contemplatively at her for a long moment then added with a wink, “You missed me.”
“I hate you.”
“Actually, you want to hate me. But you don’t and you hate yourself for it. Quite the complex you have going there.” He turned back toward the boiling pot.
“At least I’m not a murderous coward who preys on innocent people.”
Ethan's head whipped around as he shot a glare at her. “You’d be wise to mind your manners.”
“Or what? You’ll kill me?” Dawn sneered. “Then you wouldn’t get your fix.”
“I see,” Ethan sighed, all signs of anger gone and replaced with regret. “You’ve discovered the truth, then.”
“The truth is you’re a perverted bastard who’s going to get what he deserves.”
Ethan laughed quietly and glanced back, “I certainly hope so.” He returned to his preparations.
“So what are you doing now? Another stupid spell? Going to turn the whole town into toads or something lame like that?”
“This is a very special recipe,” Ethan stirred the pot slowly and carefully adjusted its location along the rod holding it over the open flame.
“Recipe for what, more chaos?”
“As delightful as that sounds,” he lifted the spoon out of the pot and took a taste, “it’s only stew. Stew which is in dire need of more pepper and perhaps a hint of thyme. Sorry to disappoint you, but I must take care of my girls, mustn’t I?”
“I’m not your girl,” Dawn insisted with a huff as her stomach rumbled.
Ethan laughed. “You were mine the moment I laid eyes on you, pet.”
Jo lit the final candle, dimmed the lights and took her seat at the table.
“Okay, Giles knows the plan.” Willow hurried across the dining room and took a seat at the end of the table. “He’s withdrawn the CoWboys, so they shouldn’t be affected.”
“Cowboys?” Deborah asked.
“Oh… yeah, sorry. Something Dawn said once. Kind of a nickname for the Watcher’s Council guys.”
“Seems quite to the point, really.” Elspeth smiled.
“Remember, Agnes and I will do all the work. All you need to do is concentrate,” Willow explained.
“And don’t be alarmed if you feel at all tired or dizzy by this. It requires us to share the burden of commanding magic,” Agnes added.
Willow took a moment to admire the brave women. “You guys ready for this?”
They all nodded and the chanting began.
Ethan felt a shudder run through him and he stood, eyes closed in concentration. After a few seconds, he knelt to the hard ground and placed his hand flush to the rock. His eyes went wide with alarm. He hastily crossed the cavern, yelling out toward the entrance to the cave, “Katako, get inside now!”
The young Slayer trotted in rapidly. “What is it, Master?”
Ethan’s eyes darted from bag to bag. He found the one he needed and then another as Katako stood by anxiously. His arms full of ingredients, he hurried across the cavern, stumbling as he leaned down to pick up a dusty bottle along the way.
“The collaborators are attempting a spell of their own. Bloody amateurs. I can feel anything they try.” He gestured to a clay bowl and snapped his fingers for Katako to fetch it, and she rushed to do so. Ethan poured the contents of his selected bags inside and sprinkled some ash over the concoction. “Or perhaps the coven was holding out on me. I may need to pay them another visit.”
“What should I do, sensei?”
Ethan reached out and scooped up a handful of stones from one of the closest piles to him. He tossed them into the mix, muttered some inaudible phrases and then spilled the contents of the bowl to the symbol marked ground. As the stones hit the rock below, sparks flashed and discharged subtle waves of light that spread out from the impact. Dawn noticed the stone just beyond Ethan’s feet warp slightly and a fissure appear unnoticed by either the Sorcerer or his Slayer. Her gaze shot to Ethan’s face and saw his eyes go black for an instant then return to normal.
“I’m confident I can shield us from their tricks, but you’ll have to remain inside for now.” He began to gather up the spilled stones and handed them to Katako. “Take these. In a moment, I’ll have you place a few at each end of the cave.”
“Yes, sensei.” She nodded dutifully.
Both Katako and Dawn watched with curiosity as the sorcerer set the emptied bowl beside the fire and uncorked the dusty bottle. He carefully measured three drops of the fluid and let them fall within a particular star-shaped glyph on the floor. The warping disturbance appeared again, only above the sorcerer as another crack formed in the cave ceiling. Ethan stepped out of the way as a dusting of dirt floated down from the fracture above him.
“The deed is done. Disperse the stones,” Ethan ordered Katako.
She placed a stone near a far wall. “They must be preparing for an attack. After I distribute these, I will secure the adjoining tunnels with debris to prevent a surprise incursion. But I shall remain within the cave limits.”
“Very well. Thank you, my dear.” Ethan smiled and watched with satisfaction as the Slayer hurried off into the shadowy depths of the cave.
“It’s too bad casting isn’t an Olympic sport. I’d have the gold by now.” Ethan brushed his hands together smugly.
“What have you done to her?” Dawn asked frostily and Ethan directed an irritated glance to her.
“Is it so hard to believe she wouldn’t willingly be at my side?”
“Would you be offended if I laughed?”
“I seem to recall a time when you happily aligned yourself with me,” he responded with a saddened smile.
“I was stupid then.”
“Stupid? No, Dawn… lacking information perhaps, but never stupid.” He took a deep breath and continued seriously. "You made your choice then, and I know when the time comes, you'll make the right choice again."
Willow sped through the town, searching for signs that the spell was a success. She screeched around a corner and skidded to a stop, barely managing to avoid hitting a small three-car pile-up in the center of the intersection. She carefully maneuvered the car around the accident and pulled up alongside, peeking in at all the victims. The cars were in good condition, and the passengers simply looked as if they’d fallen asleep at the wheel.
Willow drove on, spotting other results of the spell. A paperboy was lying asleep on the grass, using his bag of newspapers as a pillow. A delivery service driver was fast sleep on the front step of a package destination. A policeman was curled up alongside his handcuffed suspect on the hood of his police car, both sleeping contentedly.
Willow continued driving toward the manor, finally satisfied the spell worked. She felt a yawn overcome her and she quickly rolled down the window to let the breeze of the morning air wake her up.
“This is looking way too tempting. I gotta get me some sleep.”
Ethan stared across the cavern at her, the flickering of mystical flames dancing along his features. His eyes roamed south to her bare legs shivering in the chilled, moist air and he frowned.
“You wouldn’t ask me for it, would you?”
“Anything.” He gestured to her legs. “A blanket for warmth, food for your growling stomach… you wouldn’t ask.”
“You mean beg,” she corrected. “No, I don’t want anything from you.”
“Would you take it if I offered it to you?” He asked, tilting his head with consideration of the question. “You wouldn’t, would you? I see much of your sister in you.”
“You know they’ll come for me.” Dawn warned.
“I’m counting on it.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Stop them,” he answered easily.
“You mean kill them.”
The sorcerer turned away, bowing his head and ruffling his ashen curls with his fingers. He sighed and straightened up, still avoiding the pair of worried green eyes staring up at him. “If that’s the only way to stop them, then yes, I’m afraid I will.” He lifted a stick and crossed the space to the mystical fire, nudging at it and watching as the flames danced with his prodding.
Dawn’s face fell with Ethan’s admission. She looked about the stockpiled supplies and took a deep breath.
“I’ll do it,” she said softly.
“What?” Ethan turned a little, glancing at her from out of the corner of his eye.
“Whatever it is you want from me, I’ll do it. I’ll let you hurt me, drain me, whatever sick plans you have, I won’t fight you. Just leave them alone.”
Ethan discarded the stick and turned to face her. He waited for a moment before folding his arms and staring skeptically at her with his head slanted slightly askew. “What makes you so confident I won’t have my way with you and kill them regardless?”
“It’s not them you want, it’s me.”
“But I already have you.”
“No… not like you want me. You want me to be like her…” Dawn gestured with a nod in the direction Katako had retreated to. “You want me to want to be here… to be with you.”
His face suddenly grew stern. “I could never trust you. You’ve already proven that.”
“Trust doesn’t seem to be an issue between you and your new pet Slayer. Bet you could whip up something special just for me, couldn’t you? You’ve tried that before,” Dawn said, shuddering with revulsion.
Ethan crossed the cavern in two long strides, gripped her bound wrists tightly and gave her a jostle as he knelt before her. She stared at him fearlessly, fighting hard to ignore him as he nudged her bare legs apart with his knee, inching in until his face was scarcely an inch from hers.
He whispered softly, “Why wouldn’t I simply suck you dry and leave you to die?”
Dawn didn’t flinch, holding his stare. “With the magic you stole from the coven… the magic you killed for… I think you could have drained me when I was back at the house or when I was unconscious. But you didn’t. You didn’t because you can’t.”
In a flash of movement, Ethan’s hand closed around her neck. It tightened until Dawn began to gasp.
“You have no idea what I’m capable of, luv,” he whispered calmly, his dark eyes searching hers. “But you’ll soon find out.”
He leaned in further to nuzzle her cheek, burying his nose in the scattered strands of her messed hair and taking in a deep breath of her perfume. Dawn choked helplessly, face turning red, eyes wide with fright.
“I accept your proposal.” He whispered the words as he brushed a kiss along her bluing lips, before finally releasing her from his iron clad grip. She gasped in air frantically.
“And now it’s time for you to accept something from me.” He reached within his pocket and pulled out a fabric wrapped bundle. He unraveled the wrapping and displayed the item.
He held the etched bracelet out to her accusingly.
“You abandoned it, didn’t you? Abandoned me,” Ethan reprimanded her in a harsh tone. He forced the cuff around her bound wrist, catching sight of the bruises caused by her attempt to escape. His eyes lifted to hers, dark and furious.
“You’ll never abandon me again, Dawn.”
The moment the metal touched her skin, she shivered the length of her body and her eyes glazed over.
“How long do we have?” Buffy asked, tossing a bag full of weapons over her shoulder.
“Not sure. Maybe a few hours.” Willow guessed.
“How widespread is this sleep effect?” Giles asked, hurriedly doling out radios. “I trust the hospital is unaffected.”
“Don't worry, the hospital was specifically excluded, Giles. All in all, we've got a couple of square miles where people are fully asleep and another couple where they're going to be really lethargic and not likely to come wandering out. It's not much, but it should keep the natives from getting restless while we do our thing,” Willow said optimistically. “And the good news is we don’t need to worry about mixy magic on the individual soldiers. No more glyphs, no more covert spells.”
“With any luck, Ethan and his pet Slayer are napping peacefully until we can get to them.” Xander took up a battle axe and gave it twirl.
“I’m quite certain Ethan managed to fend off the effects of the sleep spell.” Giles equipped himself with a crossbow. “It’s more likely he’ll work it to his advantage somehow.”
“Lock and load, people,” Xander ordered with an enthusiastic grin, putting down the axe and picking up a rifle. He cockily snapped in a fresh magazine clip, pulled back the bolt and chambered a round.
Buffy marched over to the fireplace and unhooked the scythe from its place above the mantel. She gave it an expert spin, appreciating the feel of it in her hand again. “Way ahead of you, captain.” She headed to the front door.
“Let’s go get us a piece of evil sorcerer.” He swung open the door and jumped back, startled, bumping into Buffy behind him.
“Way to work the welcoming party, B,” Faith said with a sly smile. “Willow must be working the way wicked mojo. Half the town’s down for the count.”
“Faith?” Buffy said, surprised.
Wood stepped up from behind her. “Did we come at a bad time?”