WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE
PLANS INTO ACTION
“I can do a locator spell,” Willow said firmly, “or I can heal the injured. I can’t do both.”
Xander Harris threw his arms up. “Come on, Will -- you’re uber-witch.”
In one corner of the living area Kara sat quietly, fascinated by the interaction between the original Scoobies. In the hours they'd spent traveling to Chicago, Xander had told her a great deal about the early history of Buffy’s career, and in that time this group had achieved something of a legendary status. In fact, all the new slayers in the building had gathered, hovering in hushed groups around the edges of the room, to watch their mentors at work.
Or, specifically, in argument. Xander and Willow sat on a couch right at the center of the huge room, while Buffy paced back and forth before them and Kennedy stood behind, massaging Willow’s shoulders. Giles had again disappeared into the library with her father, trying to finish deciphering the book Richard brought with him. The two -- unsurprisingly -- had quickly bonded, especially since being surrounded by teenage girls seemed to have them wigged out.
Xander claimed he and Willow were now, for all practical purposes, watchers themselves. But whenever anyone mentioned going to the library he got a look of horror on his face -- Kara thought they were taking on the title mostly because they weren’t certain what else to do with their lives.
Kara had felt that way herself -- was it only days ago?
“I’m still recovering from the big magic I worked in Sunnydale,” Willow protested. “After all the other things I tried in the gym, setting that demon on fire was really hard. A healing spell is much worse, and a locator spell takes a lot of power. I don’t want to go too far over the line . . . you know what could happen.”
“Yeah, I know.” Xander touched Willow’s arm.
“Then it’s the locator spell,” Buffy announced, coming to a stop before them. She had changed into black jeans and a matching tank top, and appeared ready to take someone, or something, on.
Xander shook his head. “Buffy, we need everyone at full strength, especially Faith. I’m not sure she could even travel right now, let alone walk.”
“What’s the point of everyone being ready to fight if we don’t know where to go? We need to find Dawn, first.”
“And Robin,” Kennedy reminded her with a hard look.
“And Robin.” Buffy looked around, seeming to notice the others for the first time. “We have a whole room full of slayers -- we’re ready for whatever’s out there.”
“What if it’s another room full of slayers?” Xander challenged. “Buffy, while those things were demolishing everyone else, they went out of their way not to hurt Dawn. She’s okay.”
“For how long? They kidnapped her for a reason, and we don’t know what that reason is.”
“I think we do.” Giles entered with Richard, whose gaze darted around until he found Kara. He gave her a little smile, but followed Giles to the center of the room.
“What have you got?” Buffy demanded.
“Yeah,” Xander added, “Do we get to party with the big boys now?” To the gathered slayers he explained, “Giles is our funky lovin’ party weasel.”
A few of the slayers tittered, and Richard looked shocked. Giles simply shot Xander an exasperated glare, but then relented. “Xander, your attempt to lighten the mood is . . . appreciated.”
“We’re short on time,” Richard reminded them.
“Right.” Giles gestured to the book he held, and opened it to a bookmarked page. “The volume Richard brought us specifies a rising of slayers, an event that takes a great deal of dark mystical power, and is most likely to be successful at midnight during a full moon.”
“Which is tomorrow night,” Richard added.
“There sure are a lot of full moons at bad times,” Xander said.
Willow nodded. “Yeah, there seems to be one every month.”
Giles cleared his throat and looked down at the book. “The volume is, unfortunately, not specific about the procedure used. Only that it must be done at a mystical gathering point, possibly a consecrated cemetery --”
“But the slayers have already risen.” Willow waved an arm to encompass the room. “Look at them, all risey.”
“These slayers will arise under the control of an evil power,” Richard told her.
Giles nodded. “Yes, and war against the good slayers, who I would assume to be us.”
But Willow wasn’t done. “Okay, then, just look at that computer screen and find out where another group of slayers is gathering.”
Richard shook his head. “We just looked. They aren’t. In fact, there’s no evidence of unusual movement among the slayers, except for the group Andrew is escorting back to Chicago.”
“Maybe Andrew turned them evil,” Kennedy suggested.
Xander snorted. “More likely he turned ‘em all gay.”
“Hey!” Willow and Kennedy protested together.
“If we could get back to the subject.” Richard gave the Scoobies the same look he used to shoot Kara when she made too much noise. “This is an extremely serious situation.”
“Yes,” Giles agreed. “We’re facing an unknown enemy, who will emerge from an unknown location --”
“Apparently in the company of an army of evil slayers --”
“And although we aren’t certain of the specifics of the ceremony, the prophecy is very clear that slayers will war with each other .”
“Our only hope of intercepting our adversary before this happens is to find Dawn and Robin.”
“Which makes a locator spell our only viable alternative.”
When Giles and Richard stopped there was a silence, as the Scoobies stared at them with somewhat shell shocked expressions. Finally Buffy gasped, “My God, dueling watchers.”
“It’s like listening to Giles in stereo.” Willow sounded awed.
“Two watchers, no waiting on research,” Xander added.
Kara shook her head. She had been thinking how horrible it was too see her father as twins, but now she’d come up with another thought, and slowly raised her hand until Giles spotted it and raised an eyebrow at her. “Is it really a good idea to bring a group of slayers to a mystical gathering point, just when someone is trying to turn a group of slayers evil? Wouldn’t it be better if we all went as far away as we could?”
The Scoobies stared at her in surprise, while she felt a blush rise over her face. “That’s a really good point,” Xander said.
“Yes, it . . .” Frowning, Giles looked down to study the book.
“We don’t run from a challenge.” Buffy looked around at the others. “We won our last battle by taking the fight to them, and we’ll win this one the same way.”
“So why do they want Dawn and Robin?” Kennedy asked.
“That’s the key.” Giles sent a look at Buffy. “Maybe literally.”
Again a silence, punctuated by Xander’s quiet, “Oh boy.”
“How?” Buffy asked. She stood with fists clenched, her body taut.
“What do Dawn and Robin have in common?” Giles asked quietly.
Buffy’s eyes widened. “Slayer blood.” Pale and barely controlled, she turned to Willow. “Do the locator spell. Hurry.”
They rushed out together, followed by Giles, Xander and Kennedy. The other slayers, gossiping quietly among themselves, slowly began to disperse, and Kara noticed her father coming toward her. He had a strange look on his face -- part sad, part determined, all proud. “How are you doing?”
“Fine.” She shifted from one foot to another.
“No. This isn’t an after school question. I mean, how are you really doing?”
Kara sighed. “I’m a little scared. But dad, this is where we’re meant to be.”
He looked at her for a moment, then nodded with a sad smile. “I know. No matter what happens, all we can do is give it our best.” He removed his glasses and rubbed red, puffy eyes. “You know, ever since your mother died I tried to teach you to be strong -- not to be a victim. I wonder now if all our lives weren’t in preparation for this moment.”
“I’ll be strong. And if you’re going to send me into battle, you have to be strong, too.”
“Yes.” He reached out to her, but she pulled back.
“Dad! Please, not in front of the slayers.”
“Of course. Go check on Jason, I’ll see you soon.” He turned to leave, and she hoped he hadn’t noticed her trying to hold back tears.
Before she could head toward the infirmary she saw someone else coming toward her. A young woman with long black hair and asian features, she was dressed in a set of yellow sweats -- sweats seemed to be the dress of choice inside the building, she had noticed, except for those few who went for more exotic clothing. “I am Chao-Ahn.”
“Kara.” She wondered if she should bow, but the other girl solved the dilemma by reaching out to shake her hand.
“I have parents, in China. I miss them. You’re -- very lucky.”
“My parents could never be watchers, but they had to send me away. When I look at you and your father, I think my parents were very brave, too.”
“So were you,” Kara said.
Chao-Ahn smiled. “Come. I show you everything else here.”
Kara followed, realizing she hadn’t seen much beyond the infirmary and living quarters. She also realized she’d just made a new friend, and by the time this was over she’d probably need all the friends she could get.
Dawn spent what seemed like hours hovering by the door, waiting to make her move.
Not that it would be much of a move, considering she had no weapon to speak of. She’d even, briefly, taken seriously the idea of using her bra as some sort of weapon, but the only thing she could think of was a slingshot, and there was nothing to shoot. Robin’s shoes, maybe, but they’d be too big --
So she spent all her time near the door except once, when she had to go to the bathroom and a small lavatory magically appeared in one corner of the room, without her even mentioning the need. That wigged her out majorly, as well as warning her any kind of planned defense was probably pointless -- a realization proven true when, instead of someone coming in, their prison simply melted away from them and they found themselves in a pitch dark, featureless chamber barely large enough to stand upright in.
“We’re moving,” she heard Robin say in the darkness.
“Are you sure?”
“He’s right,” another voice suddenly told them.
Dawn started and swung around, only to hear an offended “Hey!” when she punched Robin’s shoulder.
“Who are you?” Dawn shouted. It hadn’t sounded like Sweet, and this wasn’t his style, anyway.
“I have many names.”
Well, that sounded like something Sweet would say, but the voice wasn’t his. “What do you want?”
“To come out of that dark place between sleeping and wake, to stop haunting dreams and start haunting reality. To be a nightmare that walks the Earth.”
“We’re not helping you,” Robin said.
“You never had a choice.”
“Buffy will stop you,” Dawn said, as she strained to see any detail in their tiny prison. “She’ll be there with the slayers. You can get all the vamps and demons you want to guard your little ceremony, and she’ll walk right through them.”
“Yes, such a possibility had been troublesome before, but I ironed out that little kink in the plan. You see, I can’t be sure of success until the slayers are dead -- all of them. So, I simply intend to invite them. No guards, no barriers. They can watch their doom approach, for all I care.”
“We won’t cooperate,” Robin said firmly.
“Ah, but I don’t need cooperation, dear sir. I only need blood. Now, you need to keep your strength up -- care for some cheese?”
It took an hour, although it seemed an eternity to Buffy.
With a gasp, Willow straightened as if shocked. From her position, sitting cross legged on the floor of the computer room, she pointed past the others at the electronic map on the wall. “There.”
The Scoobies turned to see two shimmering, multicolored lights glowing on the map, centered on the edge of Lake Superior in Northern Michigan. “Within driving distance,” Giles said with satisfaction.
“Can we get there before the bad guys do?” Xander asked.
Willow shook her head. “You don’t understand. The locator spell didn’t track them to where they were -- they just suddenly appeared , and their mystical energy signature is so strong I could sense it. The bad guys are already there, along with Dawn and Robin.”
“That’s good enough for me.” Standing, Buffy helped Willow to her feet. “Xander, issue weapons, and let’s get some vans ready.”
Xander nodded. “There’s some heavy artillery in the armory, but --”
“Bring it. Giles, tell Andrew to head straight there, we’ll need him. Let’s mount up.”
Sweet tap danced into the throne room, and was surprised to see no one in front of the magic mirror. Ozma sat in her silver throne, hands resting on her lap and eyes closed, either asleep or meditating, and Cheeseman was nowhere to be seen. When he saw that, Sweet came to a stop, not wanting to disturb his host -- besides, there was no audience. But it was too late -- Ozma’s eyes fluttered open and she smiled sweetly at him.
“Did you have a nice visit?”
Glancing at the magic mirror, Sweet quickly grasped that he’d been caught. “Yes, indeed. My ex-fiance is looking well, don’t you think?”
“A beautiful girl, indeed.”
“And where is my colleague today?”
“He’s completed his research and begun the task of transporting the needed materials to a place on Earth.” She picked her her scepter, and with a wave made a globe appear before her. Sweet approached, as she pointed out a spot in North America. “I’ve never been there, but it looks lovely in the mirror.”
Sweet nodded, but turned his attention on her. “But you’ve been on Earth.”
Ozma just looked at him, still smiling.
“You see, I think I’ve got you figured out. The demon that seemed so scared of you was a nice red herring, but I checked and found its body is gone -- as if it never existed. As if it was an illusion. I won’t bore you with the same old song and dance, but I’ve noticed you don’t actually do much.”
“No. You use this place as a conduit, a location where demons can contact each other and higher powers, and you manage a few tricks with your pretty little stick. But I haven’t seen you do much of anything else -- not even leave your chambers.”
Ozma glanced at her scepter and, smile spreading, laid it down beside her. That told Sweet all he needed to know about her intentions. “You’re not a demon at all, are you? And I suspect you’re not a fairy princess.”
“We all have our secrets, our hidden agendas.” She winked at him. “Don’t we?”
Before he could reply, Ozma suddenly held a hand up. “Our master of dairy products has reached the earthly plane, with his prisoners and the mystical cargo. This day will see the final battle.”
Sweet felt a touch -- just a whiff -- of concern about what the outcome would be. “And which side are you rooting for?”
Ozma, again, just smiled.