Visiting The Magic Box
Disclaimer: The Charmed characters belong to Aaron Spelling. The Buffy characters belong to Joss Whedon. The plot, Tarquin, and red face for having forgotten to put a disclaimer on the story belong to me.
X X X X X
Phoebe ran to get to the phone. “Hey, Paige.”
“I don’t have much time; I got a ton of work here,” Paige said. “But remember that potion you were looking to make to vanquish Tarquin?”
“Yeah,” Phoebe sighed. “I’ve been to every herbalist and magic shop this side of the Golden Gate and I still can’t find any marnox root. I’m going to have to start branching out.”
“Look no further.” Paige said triumphantly.
When, after another second or so, Paige wasn’t forthcoming with more details, Phoebe said, “If you’re trying to draw this out for dramatic effect I swear I’ll kill you with my bare hands.”
Paige laughed, “Okay, okay. They have a supply at a shop called the Magic Box, down in Sunnydale, California – it’s a couple of hours north of LA.”
“That’s a long way off,” Phoebe said. “Maybe I should just keep checking around here –“
“Don’t bother,” Paige said. “I checked every magic shop on the internet. Next nearest shop’s in El Paso.”
“There are shops out there that don’t actually have a ‘net presence, you know,” Phoebe said.
“Fine,” Paige said, playing the guilt card. “Keep looking. Meanwhile, Tarquin’s going to keep killing the good guys.” Tarquin, their current target, was about six and a half feet of ugly, and his human form was that of a black weightlifter. He didn’t seem to much care who he killed as long as they fit the general description of “force of good;” in the last week or so he’d killed three police officers, a social worker, and a witch. Add to this that he was INCREDIBLY hard to track down. Piper kept “finding” him on the map only to have him be nowhere near when they hit the streets. “Plus,” Paige was saying, “This might be a chance for you and Cole to have some alone time.” Cole had been out of sorts in the past few days, ever since the potion had stripped him of Belthazor and all his powers.
Suspiciously, Phoebe said, “I thought you didn’t like Cole.”
“I had a talk with Piper about that,” Paige said. “I don’t like what he used to be. But you love him and he loves you and he’s not what he used to be anymore.”
“Okay then,” she said. “I’ll give Piper a call, wake Cole and head on down.”
After they hung up, she left a message for Piper at P3 – there’d been a too- wild party there the previous night and she’d had to head in early to supervise the cleanup – and ran upstairs to get Cole, who was sitting on the edge of the bed getting dressed.
“Morning,” she murmured. “Hurry up and pull your pants on; you and I are taking a little trip. Actually, a more than little trip. We’ll be gone overnight.”
Cole’s eyebrows rose. “Not that the prospect of going away with you isn’t appealing, but why?”
“We need some marnox root to vanquish Tarquin,” she said. “Nearest shop’s down in Sunnydale.”
Unexpectedly, Cole burst out laughing.
“What?” Phoebe demanded. “What?”
* * * * *
“So what do you know about this band of demons?” Buffy asked as she sat down on the table next to Willow.
Willow just sighed. In the background, Anya was making a sale.
“Look,” Buffy said gently. “I know you’re still upset about Tara. But right now I need to find about these demons and you’re the only one I can turn to.”
“Fine,” Willow grumped. “And you’re wrong. I don’t miss Tara at all.”
“The same way I don’t miss Giles?” Buffy asked. “Never mind. Just help me look for them. A band of demons hits town and just kind of stands around. I want to know if they’re here for mayhem or just part of a tour group.”
A voice from the back of the shop said, “They’re not part of any bloody tour group.” Buffy turned and saw Spike. “They kicked a few vampires out of an abandoned house and set up shop. The vampires were pissed, let me tell you, and they tried to work it out on me.” He cracked his knuckles. “They’re sorry now.”
Buffy glared at him.
“Oh, right, the demons. They’re waiting for something. What, I have no damn idea, and I wasn’t about to go knocking on their front door to find out. Oh, and they were a mix of types, too, but near as I could tell nothing that a good bit of violence couldn’t clear up.”
“You willing to try to find out what they’re waiting FOR?” Buffy asked.
Spike shrugged. “I’m betting it’s not the crosstown bus,” he said. “But what the hell. It’ll give me the chance to do some more pounding.”
Buffy nodded. “It’s a plan. Will –“
But during the conversation Willow had taken off. “Damn.” When Buffy turned around again, Spike had also vanished. “I HATE it when they do that,” she said.
Anya said from behind the cash register to a woman who was leaving, “Thanks! Come back! Spend more money!” Right before the woman left, a large muscular man came in, who looked like he worked out a lot. He began to browse through the herbs. Odd; Buffy wouldn’t have pegged him for a magicky type. Just went to show with stereotypes, she supposed.
As she turned to head back to the training room, Anya pulled on her sleeve. “I need to talk to you,” she said in a loud whisper. Then, smiling at the new customer, “Be right with you, sir!” Then the ex-demon practically dragged Buffy to the back of the store. “I recognize that guy,” Anya said. “He’s a demon. And not a very nice one, either. I met him a few centuries back. He kills people. Regularly. Often. His name’s Tarquin.”
Buffy decided to take the direct approach. As soon as Anya finished giving her the lowdown on Tarquin, she walked over to the man and said, “Hi. I understand you’re an evil demon who likes to kill people. Will that be cash or charge?” Finally, Buffy was once again occasionally making with the witty repartee.
Tarquin looked at her evenly, neither making any threatening moves nor bolting from the store. “You must be the Slayer,” he said in a deep voice. Then, looking around Buffy he said. “Ah. Anyanka. I’d heard you lost your powers but to be reduced to this –“ he gestured around the Magic Box derisively.
Anya said, “I make money, I get good sex, and I get to help prevent the end of the world every now and again. What else is there?”
“Power,” Tarquin said. “Slayer. Would you tell Anyanka what I’m purchasing.”
Buffy looked at the container the demon was examining, then turned and said, “Marnox root. How is that relevant?”
“Marnox root is fairly harmless,” Anya said. “It’s used a lot in love spells but that’s it.” Anya might not have been a practicing witch but over the course of a millennium as a demon she’d picked up a few things. Buffy was inclined to believe her.
“I give you my word,” Tarquin said, “That I will do no harm to any Sunnydale resident while I’m here. I’m simply on an errand, and it has nothing to do with you or yours.”
Anya said, “Tarquin’s a nasty, evil, vicious killer, but he’s famous for not lying.”
“Okay,” Buffy said dubiously, “But if it turns you’re being all Clinton-y, I’m coming after you.”
Tarquin said, “Understood.” Then he held up the marnox root. “I’d like to make a purchase.” He walked over to the cash register. Anya weighed out the marnox root – their whole supply – and named a price high enough to make Buffy’s mortgage payment. The demon pulled out a wad of bills and calmly peeled off seven hundreds, waited for his change, and then left the store.
As he left Anya called out, “Come back again with more hundreds.”
Buffy looked at Anya steadily. “Why did you say that? We don’t WANT him back.”
Smiling ruefully, Anya said, “Force of habit.”
“Break the habit,” was Buffy’s reply.
* * * * *
On the flight down, Cole had told Phoebe what was funny.
“If it wasn’t for . . . certain factors,” he’d said, “Sunnydale would be a demon’s paradise. I’ve been there a lot, both as Belthazor and – myself. Did you read anything in the Book of Shadows about a Hellmouth?”
Phoebe’d shook her head no.
“It’s a direct gateway to one of the nastiest demon realms around,” he’d said. “Stuff so nasty even I didn’t want to mess with it. It also leaks energy – and this attracts a lot of evil to the place. Demons, vampires and werewolves are just the common ones. It’s kind of party central for some of the Source’s nastiest minions. I had some fun times there myself. There was this one time a group of demons . . .” he trailed off. “But that was before I met you, of course.”
“Nice try,” Phoebe’d said, a little skeptical. “Then why haven’t we heard of it before? I mean, if it’s crawling with that many baddies there certainly has to be something there for the Halliwells to do.”
And Cole’d laughed again. “Did you think you and your sisters were the only ones with a mystic destiny? Sunnydale’s protected by the Slayer – or at least it was, last I heard.” Phoebe still must have seemed a little dubious, because Cole went on, “The Slayer does physically what the Charmed Ones do through witchcraft. Superstrength, enhanced agility, the whole shebang. The one girl in all the world with the strength to fight the vampires, yada yada yada. And this one’s been pretty damn efficient. She’s taken down some major players -- I’d give you the list, but there’s only another hour left in the flight.”
“That many?” Phoebe’d said.
“That many. Last I heard was this guy named Wilkins, who’d found a set of books called the Books of the Ascension and was on the hundred-year plan to becoming a major demonic power. She took care of him, though.”
“How?” Phoebe’d asked.
“Blew him up. And the entire high school in the process. No other dead people. I was in town looking for some fun and happened to wander by when it happened. After pieces of dead hundred-foot long demon came plopping down around me I opted for a change of scenery.”
“So if this Slayer’s a big old steaming force of good, why hasn’t the Source tried to co-opt her? Or kill her?”
“Different strokes for different folks,” Cole had said.
Phoebe’d blinked. “The Source sent Gary Coleman?”
“Sunnydale’s evils tend to be free agents; they’ve always managed to pull down the Slayer in the end. Previous Slayers, anyway. This one’s unusually tough, but recently the Source has been a lot more preoccupied with you. Not that I blame him, of course.” He gave her his best leer.
She’d elbowed him. “Flattery’ll get you everywhere, bub, just not right now. We got some marnox root to find.”
And so they’d passed the flight, and the rental car ride to the neighborhood.
When they walked in Cole got a major shock, because it looked like the person running the store was . . . “Anyanka?”
The young woman turned and her eyes widened. “Belthazor,” she said. Then, to the small blonde sitting at the table, “Buffy? Remember what I was telling you about, um, that other visitor an hour or so ago? This one’s worse.” The woman got up and strode towards them, with an irritable look in her eye.
Well. This did not look to be a promising beginning to their visit.
Piper delicately swept up pieces of broken glass from behind the P3 bar. For one of the few times in the club’s history, there had been a near-riot when the band stopped playing. Several fights had broken out and it had taken a half dozen police officers to quell the disturbance. It hadn’t been the band’s fault; the lead singer, some guy named Devon, had gotten two black eyes in the hassle and one of their guitars had gotten smashed.
Fortunately, no one had gotten hurt worse than Devon had, but tables, chairs and glasses had gotten destroyed; a couple of thousand worth of damage, easy. It had almost looked like they might not be able to open tonight, but after a few hours things were looking a lot better.
She headed to the office to put in a call to the insurance company when she felt a familiar presence behind her. “Leo!” she said, then turned and hugged her husband. “Any chance you can stick around and help me clean up? I was going to ask Phoebe, but she and Cole took off for Sunnydale a couple of hours back.”
Leo froze. “Did you say Sunnydale?”
“This is bad,” he said. “Didn’t you ever look up Boca del Infierno in the Book of Shadows?”
Shaking her head, Piper said. “No. Why?”
Leo sighed. “It’s also called the Hellmouth. It’s one of the biggest hubs of demonic activity in the world.”
“Bigger than San Francisco?” That seemed hard to believe.
“No . . . but there’s about twenty times fewer people in Sunnydale. Why on Earth would Phoebe go there?”
Now Piper was getting worried. “Because Paige called and said she’d found a magic shop down there with the ingredient we needed to vanquish Tarquin and what’s going on with all the concern? Phoebe’s been known to handle herself around demons before all by her little lonesome.”
Again, Leo sighed. “Because I can’t help her there.”
“Why not?” Piper’s words were even more clipped than usual.
“Because of the Hellmouth. It’s a gateway to the underworld . . . that spews out all kinds of evil mystical energy. Evil forces come from around the world just to try to open it. And,” he said, noticing the strained look on his wife’s face, “Whitelighters can’t go within fifty miles of it. Too . . . too much evil. If I tried to orb in I’d be dead. Paige would have the same problem. The Source, unfortunately, doesn’t have these constraints.”
“So this is a trap,” Piper said.
“It could just be a coincidence . . .” Leo said, but under Piper’s steady gaze added, “But I seriously doubt it.”
“So I guess that means I get to take a trip to Sunnydale too, huh?” Piper asked rhetorically. “Great. Love the timing. For once couldn’t demons be considerate enough to try one of their schemes when I didn’t have something else important to do?” She noticed Leo’s worried look. “And don’t tell me it’s too dangerous. I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.”
“It’s just that – if you get in trouble, I won’t be able to help you,” he said. “You’d be on your own and all I could do is watch.”
“Like Phoebe is now?” Piper shot back.
“I’m not saying we throw Phoebe to the wolves,” Leo said. “You know that.”
Part of Piper’s irritation vanished. “Of course I know that.”
“Besides,” Leo said. “Isn’t Cole with her?”
“Without his powers that’s no better than being with some random stranger,” Piper said. She was exaggerating a bit; as Cole, he was a decent fighter, and he still had a lot of his demon-based knowledge. Still, the point was taken. “You know what, honey?” she told Leo. “I think we’ve reached one of those points where your duties as a Whitelighter and your duties as a husband are conflicting just a smidge. Act just like a Whitelighter for a moment. Would you recommend I’d go to help my sister or not?”
“I’d recommend you be careful,” was what he said after a minute or so.
* * * * *
Anya looked up when the couple entered the store. It had actually been a fairly busy day, but right now the store was empty except for her and Buffy. Lots of money, hooray! Then she took a second look at the guy. She’d seen him before . . . but where.
The guy saved her the trouble by saying, “Anyanka?”
Now he recognized him; he was in his human guise, and she hadn’t seen that very often. “Belthazor,” she said. Then she said, “Buffy? Remember what I was telling you about, um, that other visitor an hour or so ago? This one’s worse.”
Buffy sighed, got up and walked over to the couple. Belthazor held his palms in front of him and said, “Whoa, hold on. We’re not here to do anything.”
“Yeah,” the woman said, “So back off.”
Buffy blinked. “And you would be?” she asked. “Not that I care, but if I’m going to beat the crap out of you I’d like to know your name.”
“Phoebe Halliwell,” the woman said. “And you’re going to beat the crap out of us over my dead body.”
Buffy shrugged. “Possibly.” Then she looked at Belthazor. “So you’re an evil murdering demon? Boy, this is just old home week in Sunnydale for you guys, isn’t it?”
“Hey!” Phoebe protested. “He is NOT an evil murdering demon. Anymore.”
Anya said, “Did you retire? Because if demons have a retirement plan no one’s been mailing me my checks.”
Belthazor sighed. “I didn’t retire. I switched sides.” Then he glared at Anya. “What are you talking about?”
“I was stripped of my powers a couple of years ago,” Anya said. “Been living here ever since. So if there’s a retirement plan could you pass them my address? I could really use the extra cash.”
Meanwhile, Phoebe and Buffy were still glaring at each other. “Okay,” he said. “Knock it off. I think we’ve gotten off on a misinterpretation. I’m not Belthazor any more. I’ve – I’ve also been stripped of my powers.”
“Really?” Buffy said. “Anya?”
Anya shrugged. “Belthazor lies through his teeth,” she said. “He’s not incapable of telling the truth but he only does it when he feels like it.”
“We’re not here to cause any trouble,” Belthazor said. “And stop calling me Belthazor. Belthazor doesn’t exist any more. I’m just Cole.”
“Okay, COLE,” Buffy said. “What do you want here?”
“Marnox root,” Belthazor said. “All we need is a little marnox root and we’ll be on our way.”
Pointing to Buffy, Phoebe said, “And once we’re gone you can keep right on going insane. Not that it seems like that’d be a long trip.”
“Gee,” Buffy said, “We’d love to help you, really, truly we would, but gosh, someone just cleared us out of marnox root an hour ago.”
Phoebe dashed to the herbs section and began swearing. “She’s not lying,” she told Belthazor. Then she came back and said, “What happened to it?”
“Oh,” Anya said. “Tarquin came in and bought it all.”
“Huh?” Phoebe said, then she looked at Belthazor. “That doesn’t make sense. It’d be like Superman buying kryptonite.”
Then a flurry of activity as four hooded demons of different sizes kicked in the front door and Spike standing there. “That band of demons I talked to you about earlier? Four of ‘em are heading here . . .” he trailed off as he saw the group at the front. “But I see you already know that.”
“There’s the one we want,” the tallest one said, pointing at Phoebe. “Kill everyone else.”