Season of Solace. 175

175: The Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale

The spell book in Willow’s hand was not at all like the great tome of the Vampyr so chock full of information that it was nearly impossible to carry much less memorize. Its narrow binding was just right for smaller hands. A tight leathery surface covered the book like a brown skin weathered with age. This book had been around for a while causing her to wonder how many of Wesley’s predecessors had used it during their study of magic, or if he had found it tucked away on a long forgotten shelf of an old book shop.

An embossed rune was the only embellishment on the cover. No gilded title announced its contents. Nothing suggested that its pages contained such secrets, yet she could feel that it was no ordinary book. There was a spark, a pulse, or some reaction she could not quite describe deep inside her when tracing her fingers over the mysterious rune.

Maybe it was just anticipation causing her quaking insides to jiggle like Jello because she could not wait to delve into it. Unlike the complex books found and confiscated by Giles after Amy’s mom cast that bloodstone vengeance spell, Willow did not have to sneak into the special lockup to browse through them. Wesley fully accepted her being a witch, and treated her interest in magic as completely natural, offering her the book and giving her encouragement. It was a foreign sensation considering that her interests were not supported at home.

Despite her mother forming a bond of friendship with Joyce Summers, it was not enough to fully come to terms with the realities of life in Sunnydale, or having daughters that were something other than normal teenagers. Having a musician boyfriend was enough of a strain for her mother to accept, much less her being a witch. Willow was only just starting to learn what that really meant, and being psychoanalyzed over the dinner table was not exactly confidence boosting.

Maybe Giles was too much like family to take her abilities in stride the way Wesley did. He tended to be a worrywart issuing out warnings and locking things away he believed were too powerful or tainted by dark magic. How was she supposed to learn anything if it was hidden away in a vault? Well, vaults could be opened, but maybe the book was a sign that she would no longer have to sneak around to advance her studies.

Willow had arrived promptly at nine o’clock just as planned, but the mansion was quiet. The two watchers were the only ones up. Finding them in the study wearing identically worried expressions, completely focused on some deep topic of conversation, her soft, simple greeting startled them into defensive postures. “Hey guys!”

Wesley yelped, “Good lord! Willow, I thought you were—” He broke off suddenly turning his gaze away as he forced himself to relax.

Glancing at Giles, she saw him staring back at his fellow watcher with pursed lips, which signaled both his annoyance and restraint. Willow had seen that look a few times. It did not take a genius to realize something important had happened or was about to happen, so it was jarringly clear to her.

“What’s wrong?”

“A great deal too many things,” Giles answered honestly if a bit cryptically. Behind the metal rim of his glasses, his gaze drifted over her shoulder to the empty hall. “Where is Buffy?”

Not where she was supposed to be, Willow thought with a twinge of irritation.

Buffy’s absence was a surprise to her, too. Their plans to walk to the mansion together had either been forgotten or ignored for some unknown reason. Willow had caught the first bus at the closest Main Street stop. Its route took it down Oak Park Street just as usual. There had been a few other passengers who got off at the Maple Court bus stop closest to the Sunnydale Mall and the museum, peeps probably working weekend hours. The Summers’ house on Revello Drive was less than half a block from the bus stop, so Willow had been confident that she was not late getting there.

Confessing, “I dunno.” Willow shrugged causing her oversized striped sweater to slip a little across her shoulder. In the old days, before last summer, she would have guessed that Buffy was with Angel. Not now. Nope. Not anymore. “Probably slayer stuff. Forgot to sharpen her stakes or something.”

The hasty attempt at covering for her friend’s absence gnawed at her, especially since Giles and Wes looked about as convinced as she did over the idea. “Mrs. Summers said Buffy took off right after breakfast. She sounded kind of worried and kept telling me to be careful and stay safe.”

Willow knew that Buffy struggled to be more open with her mom about her role as the Chosen One. Being a slayer involved some scary stuff that would cause most mothers to freak out and send their daughter to a boarding school far away in some Hellmouth-free village in Alaska. Overall, Willow thought that Joyce Summers seemed to be handling it pretty well.

“Sage advice, but I fear that we may have been over-confident about using this place as a safe-haven,” Giles told her.

Spidery crawlers crept along her spine. “Our spells sh—” Willow knew that the spells cast across the mansion and its grounds should protect them from any uninvited vampires or demons that tried to breach the mystic wards. Obviously, Giles was equally aware how it was supposed to work.

“They failed.”

Willow felt her jaw drop open, and heard a squeak of a sound emerge. It seemed to ring in her ears as she realized that whatever had happened to cause Giles and Wesley to be so worried was somehow her fault. “Wh—what happened? The spells seemed okay.”

Giles closed his eyes waiting to speak until he found the right response. “This is not your fault, Willow. Your spells remain intact. Drusilla, Spike and Angel were unable to cross the threshold without Cordelia’s invitation proving the magic works. A test of the other wards shows them to be functional.”

“If they’re still working what did I do wrong?”

“Nothing you did. The failure is mine,” Wesley looked tight-jawed with self-blame, but ready to take the bulk of the responsibility. “After discovering Kalesh’s involvement, I did not think to reinforce our mystical wards against a being of such innate power. The spells I selected for you might keep the vampires and lower demons at bay, but not her.”

Kalesh was the priestess of Amolon, the right-hand-demon to the official Big Bad demon god. Surely she had other more important evil things to be doing than showing up at the mansion. Willow hoped that Wes was just being too hard on himself. Asking, “H-How do you know they won’t work? They might stop her,” she chirped trying to sound positive only to realize Wesley had been talking in the past tense.

Giles leaned forward, palms flat on the desk between them. “That’s just it, Willow. They did not work. Kalesh came to the mansion last night and took Karla.”

Gasping, “Oh, no!” Willow felt a sense of dread sink into her stomach.

“Indeed.”

An explosion of thoughts and emotions burst like fireworks. “Gosh! We need Buffy. We need a plan. Is Cordelia okay? Poor Karla. She must be so scared. I’m scared. Kalesh was here! Right here. In and out without disturbing my spells. Creepy. Awesome. How?”

Both watchers looked dazed as her babbling stream of words softened to a whisper and finally came to an end. Finally, Giles told her, “The method Kalesh used to breach our defensive perimeter is less important than her reasons for doing so. Clearly, despite her affected state of being, Karla is still vital to their end game. So much so that Kalesh did not delegate the task of retrieving her to an underling.”

“What about Cordy?” Concern laced the question. “Are you sure Kalesh did not sneak in to steal her, too? Maybe we should check.”

Wesley reflexively reached up to tug at his bow tie as if it constricted his throat only he was not wearing one this morning. That was odd considering he wore bow ties and suits like they were an official uniform. Shrugging off the passing thought, Willow thumbed in the direction of the stairs. “Just a quick peek.”

“No! No need. No need at all.” Giles eyes practically popped out of his head as he jerked back from the desk, walked around it and practically blocked her path out of the study. “Definitely no need for, ah, peeking.”

Willow felt a hot flush rise to her cheeks matching the blotchy patches on Giles’ throat. “Oh. I suppose it’s kind of early for vampires and their girlfriends to be awake.” Trying not to think about it only caused her to think about it even more. “Sun’s up. It’s sunny. Hence the sleeping. Yup!” Especially, it quickly occurred to her, if they were up most of the night doing stuff that involved Angel being ‘up’ a lot too.

Gulping hard at the image forming in her head, Willow was grateful when Giles managed to get them all back on track. “There is no need to disturb anyone until we formulate a plan to increase our defenses. Angel will want answers, not excuses when it comes to Cordelia’s safety. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that this goes far beyond just one life, or even two, Karla included, who are precious to us.”

Deep down, Willow understood that the world came first. She got that every time Buffy led them into battle against the latest monster, evil guy, or power-hungry nerd tried to take over Sunnydale, the Hellmouth, or suck the world into another dimension. This felt personal, even if Cordelia Chase was a frenemy of sorts. Whether or not she had caused a lot of angst, they had known each other since kindergarten, and Willow did not want to her to end up like Karla Brewer.

Anxiously, Willow blurted, “There has to be something we can do.”

Giles’ expression turned dour. “Yes, I’m afraid there is. If you’re willing to risk it.”

Willow stared at their expectant faces. A thick silence fell as she let their words sink in. Holding her breath, she blinked twice, looking at one watcher and then the other. Only to suck air into her lungs when instinct kicked in. “Who, me?”

Picking up a thin leather-bound book from the desk, Wesley held it out to her. “This is no ordinary book of spells. Only those with an innate talent for magic can truly master what lies within.”

Oh, yes. Me.

Reaching out with both hands, Willow grasped it close feeling instantly warm, and jittery with anticipation of delving into its pages. She started to look for a quiet, comfy place to sit when Giles burst her little bubble of happiness. “This could be dangerous. That book is not meant for the meek, Willow. Magic must be wielded from a core of strength and a pureness of spirit, or else it’s darker forces may pull you toward a path few possess the skill to navigate.”

That sounded scary, but curiosity burned within so much that her chest felt tight with it. Willow knew that she was not meek or mousey, at least not like she used to be. Being a slayer’s best friend had a lot to do with that. “I can do this.” Spell book. Magic. Yup! “I can totally do this. Um, so… what is it I’m doing?”

Thinking back to it now, Giles and Wesley exchanged a look that spoke volumes, but she had been far too focused on the book to see that they had been equally concerned. Wes gave her a nod. “For now, just study the book. You have talent, Willow. More than you know.”

A little burst of pride made her smile until it was wiped away by the scowl on Giles’ face. “Everyone will have to step up their game in the days ahead. We may have need of your talent, Willow. If you choose to expose yourself to this level of magic, there is no turning back. Wielding it may focus the enemy’s attention on you. Are you willing to take that risk?”

Funny how it was Cordy’s voice that popped into her head just then. Hello, magic. Duh!

“Sure,” she answered simply. “Guess I’ll get started.”

Leaving the watchers in the study, Willow headed back down the hall planning to find a comfortable chair in the lounge. She got no further than the main staircase before she paused to open the book, immediately becoming engrossed by the swirls of ink on its old pages.

She did not even think about her actions when sinking down onto the one of the bottom steps, her surroundings already a blur as she focused on the book of spells. When Faith paused beside her sometime later as she descended the staircase, but got no more than a cursory glance, the slayer did not bother to interrupt her. Xander zoomed by once, but it was only to hurry after Faith as she headed down the hallway. That deserved a second glance, so Willow stared after them for a moment wondering what would cause him to chase after her that way.

“Weird,” she muttered realizing that Xander had not even noticed her sitting there. Giles or Wesley might have told him not to disturb her studies, but she was almost certain he would at least say good morning.

Between the watchers’ creepy, scary news about Karla and Kalesh, and the almost eager tone in Xander’s voice as he called out to Faith, Willow decided that there were definitely weird vibes at the mansion this morning. It felt strange to her, like an odd undercurrent of energy flowing around the place giving her the shivers.

Down the hall, she heard Faith volunteering for something. “I’ll go. No, I don’t need any help,” she sounded a little amused. That light tone rapidly darkened when she took one step out of the study to find he was right behind her again. “Xander, stay.”

Willow felt her hackles rise a little at the tone in the slayer’s voice as she ordered Xander to stay put in the same way she might tell a dog to heel. When Faith turned to head up the stairs, Willow gave her a stern glare of disapproval, which barely seemed to register during their momentary eye contact. Typically, Faith had nothing to say to her. That was annoying, Willow decided, but figured there were far more interesting things to do right now.

The spell book contained magic from several disciplines, ranging from simple elemental magic to chanting, divining and potion making. Confidence at her ability to master each one flared to life. It might not be easy, but she could do it.

Some spells only required the use of a phrase or two to summon up her magic focusing it in the direction of her choosing. With all of the research over the past couple of years using Giles’ ancient resources, Willow had picked up quite a bit of Latin in the process. The book seemed to contain a mix of modern and old English and Latin. Though it might take some time to decipher all of the text, she could already make out the majority of it.

Turning the page, Willow mused over the title of the spell and wondered if this might be a good time for a little practice. She read the phrases silently the first few times, and then sounded them out slowly on a whisper until something about it felt right. Rising to her feet to stand on the bottom step, anticipation zinging along her nerves, Willow felt something take hold as the words sounded out strong and clear, each syllable uttered causing a wave of energy to rise within her.

What she wanted was a little honesty around these parts. No more dancing around the truth, or just ignoring her. Clear up the weird vibes. Get it all out in the open.

“Loquimini veritatem. Et non est mendacium.”

The words in the book glowed with golden light for a moment of time and then dimmed. Her body felt warm from the rush of magic surrounding her. Smiling a little smugly, she closed the book holding it in a protective way beneath crossed arms. All she needed was for Faith to come back downstairs.

Willow was excited to discover if the spell would work. Even with the showy effects there was a chance that its power might be minimal. Good grief! What was taking so long?

Finally, Faith showed up at the top of the stairs. She frowned at the eager expression on Willow’s face, so different than the disapproving scowl from minutes before. Moving at a slow pace, she angled her head, eyeing her as if suspecting something was up. “What’s wrong with you?” asked Faith clearly annoyed by the attention. “I don’t like you staring at me.”

Gulping at the hint of a threat, Willow summoned up the courage to speak. “I-I was just waiting. Um, what is going on with you and Xander this morning? He’s acting weird.”

For a moment, Faith looked as if she was going to heatedly tell Willow to mind her own g.d. f-word business, but as soon as she opened her mouth the truth just spilled out. “Last night I just needed a good screw. The dweeb was my best option.”

Wide-eyed, Willow let the words sink in. Her gaping jaw felt heavy making it difficult to close her mouth. “So you…you…”

“Rode him like a bucking bronco.” Faith frowned as soon as she said the words as if she realized the truth was not something she had planned to share with anyone. “And it was hot. Uh… Don’t you dare tell him I said that! He’s as clingy as Saran wrap this morning.”

“Yeah, I noticed.” Willow silently wished that she could erase the past few minutes. Was there a spell to wipe out the image of naked Faith and naked Xander doing that? A sick feeling churned her stomach. It was not exactly jealousy she felt that Xander had lost his virginity to someone else, but it felt wrong that it had happened with someone who clearly did not love him.

“He’ll get over it,” shrugged Faith as she started to move past her. “Best that he does. I am too screwed up for someone like him.”

Willow let her go even though there were other questions buzzing around her head. It seemed that Faith did not have a very good opinion about herself. Hearing the truth about last night’s escapades, Willow kind of felt the same way. Poor Xander. Even if she was his best friend, this was none of her business. Until, of course, he spilled the beans and told her all about it. Now, thanks to this spell, she would have to wonder if it was something he might have revealed on his own like a best friend would, or if he would keep the sordid details to himself.

Just how long did this spell last? Willow gulped hard. Sinking down onto the step again, she stared at the book. The symbol on its cover seemed no less intriguing than it had earlier. She traced its edges feeling the same urge to peek inside. Curiosity about the truth had not killed her like the proverbial curious cat, but it certainly hurt to hear it.

Scene 176

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