“Compulsions can be tricky magic,” Willow murmured to herself as she read a reply from one of Miss Calendar’s old contacts. “As with most tricks, compulsions are neutral but their sway can often turn one to corruption.”
Rolling her eyes, the redhead quickly typed out a reply, politely asking about side effects of a compulsion wave after being heavily shielded against it. She was well aware of what the pull of compulsory magic could do to someone, having the memories some of the not-Willow’s darker moments stored in her conscious mind. However, this particular contact tended to be long-winded and horrifyingly old-fashioned. If she skimped on the respect even a little, the old witch would likely disappear from the boards for months.
Though the woman that often answered her questions was the oldest magic-user that frequented the online community, Willow found herself wishing that just one member of the Rom gypsy clan survived. Even if one remained, they were out of reach to her for the time being and as the days passed, she became well aware of how little time remained until graduation. However, gypsies had an innate knowledge of magic that came from not being bound to a specific location or material possessions. If anyone could have answered her questions quickly, it would have been Miss Calendar, or Janna of the Kalderash.
Her laptop dinged with an alert from the message board at the same time that a knock sounded on the front door. “I got it, Red!” Faith called out. Smiling slightly, Willow clicked the confirmation button on her screen, which automatically took her back to the message board.
Disorientation, pain localized in the head (though it might spread to other regions of the body), and some loss of equilibrium; her contact stated that the little effects from a compulsion wave were similar to an electrical shock – minimal and temporary. Sighing softly with relief – it would be quite bad if there had been permanent damage – Willow typed out a quick but encompassing thank-you reply and then turned to face her newest guest, though she was mostly certain that she knew who it was.
He grinned cheekily at her as he stepped into the living room, the raven-haired Slayer at his heels. “The Xan-man is here!” he declared, sounding a bit more like an announcer than the heroic-type entrance he was likely going for. “The water buffalo fest can begin.”
Cordelia looked up from her position on the couch, placing one of Willow’s mother’s psychology journals into her lap. (Privately, it had surprised Willow that she was reading it at all, as the cheerleader would look more at home with a copy of Spring Vogue.) “Oh, you’re a requirement for Indian TV now?” she remarked waspishly.
Because the words lacked some of their usual sting, especially as the mark had been Xander himself, the teenager in question merely raised both his eyebrows and pointed at her. “Cordy’s here.”
“Wow, captain of the obvious,” Cordelia murmured before apparently deciding the journal in her lap was more interesting than going through the motions of goading her ex-boyfriend.
Xander turned to Willow, twisting his body so that he still managed to point at the cheerleader. “Why is Cordy here?”
Willow snickered softly, highly amused by the concerned confusion that painted her friend’s face. “Because I invited her. Duh.”
It was at that moment that Faith spoke up. “So, Red, what’s the verdict?”
“We’re good,” Willow replied immediately. “Maybe some dizziness and pain but you’re a Slayer – it should pass quickly.” The Slayer nodded, her dark eyes still swimming with worry. “I need to come up with a more permanent solution. The next time it happens, they might overcome you again.”
“What?” Xander turned so that his body fully faced the redhead. “What’s going on? What’d I miss?”
Willow sighed, passing a hand over her face. It was times like this that she didn’t envy Giles and Wesley their occupations; taking care of the details while others did the killing was almost as monstrous a job to tackle as the Slaying itself. After all, she thought with a ghost of a smirk, the devil was in the details. “I had made a charm for Faith to protect her from Mayor’s compulsions when I’m not around. It was a temporary measure in case he didn’t handle our friendship very well.” Her brow furrowed suddenly, a thought coming to her mind. “By the way, how did he take the cover story?”
Faith shrugged noncommittally. “He didn’t have a problem with it.”
“Anyway,” she continued, waving her hands in the air to dissuade Xander from asking questions, “it finally broke. I’d been expected it to but she was with the Mayor when it happened. That meant she was hit with a wave of compulsions that my shield has been keeping at bay for over a week.” Xander’s eyes widened comically. “If she hadn’t done the quick-thinking Slayer thing, she would have been trapped under the Mayor’s spell again.”
Xander arched an eyebrow and looked back at Faith, who grinned sheepishly. “I tied the ends back together,” she clarified, holding up the makeshift friendship bracelet for all to see.
The boy leaned toward Faith, getting a closer look at the bracelet. “Wills, this has your hair in it.”
“Yes, it does,” she said with a smile.
“Magic is weird.” Willow grinned cheekily at him. “Okay, now—” The next point that the witch was about to bring up was delayed slightly by the trilling of her cell phone, which laid on the table near Cordelia. Said cheerleader arched an eyebrow in question and Willow nodded just before the brunette tossed her the phone. Looking down at the front screen, her grin downgraded to a fond smile. “It’s… um, my dad. The real one, not the Jewish one.”
Faith darted forward then, snatching the phone before Willow could answer it. She placed it on the table and opened it, quickly enabling the speaker. “Big Daddy Gibbs!” she called.
“Faith?” Gibbs inquired, his voice tinny through the phone’s tiny speakers. “Did I call you on accident? I hate these damn things.”
The Slayer laughed. “I don’t have a phone.”
Xander shot a sideways glance at his redheaded friend. “She sounds chipper.”
Willow shrugged, a happy smile playing on her face as her worries drifted to the side for a moment. “They clicked,” she told him with a shrug of her shoulders.
“Faith!” Willow turned her attention back to the conversation in front of her, though one of the speakers of said back-and-forth couldn’t be seen, at the scandalized and appalled sound of her father’s voice. “Don’t even joke about that!”
For her part, Faith smirked at the bewildered and concerned expression on the redhead’s face. “What? I just asked about that Tony guy. He was a choice piece of beefcake, don’t you think?”
At the sound of Gibbs’ exaggerated shudder through the phone, Willow unleashed a giggle. “I think my dad would rather you didn’t think that. Which means I’m so not going to weigh in on this topic.”
Gibbs cleared his throat meaningfully and from what she could gather of his behavior previously, it was likely he wished the man in question was near, if only to smack the back of his head in an effort to dispel the mental imagery. “Anyway,” he began purposely, “I actually called to ask where your school is.”
“Well, it’s not hard to find, small town and all,” Willow told him, a chipper tone infusing her voice. “But why?”
“Your graduation’s coming up soon, isn’t it? I planned to take some time off, the kind where I actually leave, to visit.”
“NO!!!” Willow, Faith, Xander and Cordelia all yelped quite loudly at the phone.
“Um, okay. What’s going on?” At first, the former Marine had sounded taken aback – just as four screaming teenagers should make him feel – but his voice quickly transitioned into a trademark no-nonsense let’s-fix-this tone.
“Well, you see, it’s like this,” Xander began immediately, tripping over himself to think of a cover story as quickly as he could manage.
“Xander, he knows,” Willow said quickly, nearly smacking herself in the face because Xander was the only one there that didn’t know about Gibbs’ run-in with the wilder side of nightlife. With a sigh, she supposed she would have to inform Wesley as well. Eventually.
“Oh, okay then. The Mayor’s supposed to ascend into a demon… of some sort. I guess ascending kind of means he’ll be pretty big, right?” Xander looked back at Willow, his eyes clearly saying he needed some backup on that estimation.
Faith looked to the redhead as well. “Well, Red, what’s the future you have to say about it?”
“Snake,” she answered automatically, her gaze distant as she remembered that day in the other reality. Then she focused on her friends, two of which were giving her a very curious and confused expression. “Crap,” she murmured softly as she remembered that only she and Faith and that foul sorcerer of a Mayor knew about her vision. “Faith!”
She just shrugged her shoulders and grinned smugly.
Mayor Richard Wilkins III stared at the seat in front of his desk darkly. He kept replaying the scene over and over in his head, trying to figure out why his instincts were screaming ‘danger!’ They had been discussing her ability for subtlety when her face had smoothed over, revealing nothing of her inner thoughts. He knew it was a defense mechanism from her youth, a result of the most abominable of childhoods. But there had been no trigger, no reason as far as he could tell for her to have such a reaction.
Mere seconds afterward, she had fidgeted with her wrist again, with that gift from the dear Willow. As minimal an action as the readjustment of the charm seemed, it now blared to him as quite important. After all, from what his own Slayer had told him, it worked to alter her, giving her additional mental and physical clarity. That kind of alteration could be changing other things in her as well, things that were better left in place.
A soft knock resounded on his office door and it peeked open slightly, revealing the bespectacled face of his young secretary. She covered for his usual receptionist during the nights, for the older woman had children. “Mayor, are you busy?”
Knowing the woman wouldn’t bother him unless absolutely necessary, he just grinned slightly. “For you, never. What is the matter?”
Her face pulled into a disgusted scowl. “You have a visitor, sir.” That said, she opened the door a little wider and then disappeared from view.
In her place stood a smallish creature, difficult to pin to a particular species. For his part, the Mayor knew this creature as Grellum, the half-satyr half-harpy. There were many days when the thought of that union had pulled his face into a frown. “Dick, I performed your reconnaissance. Why I was spying on a vampire, I’ll never know.” Despite the way Grellum’s body took after his father (except for the folded wings on his back), his voice was almost musical and alluring. The Mayor was quite sure it was how he attracted his victims.
“And the vampire’s health?” he asked softly.
Grellum’s weathered face pulled into an evil grin, making the Mayor almost sigh with relief. “Utterly horrid. Pale, sweating, labored breathing, the works. The Slayer – the blond one, not yours – showed up while I watched and it was quite the painful sight to behold.” He said the last as if he were describing a perfectly cooked delicacy, one that was particularly savory. “If your girl dosed him with what you said, which I don’t doubt given the symptoms, then he should be permanently dead within a few days. I imagine the Slayer will be busy trying to find a cure during that time.”
“That is, if she can find that cause,” the Mayor added, his face echoing the creature’s own mirth.
“She must’ve given him the entire vial, yeah?”
The Mayor shrugged noncommittally. “My witch was quite hurt by a recent action of his.”
“I’ve always said it,” Grellum said, pointing a grimy digit in the sorcerer’s direction. “Never trust a woman. They’re likely to cut more than just the legs out from under you.”
The Mayor steepled his hands and nodded silently. “I have another job for you.”
“Price is same as always, no matter the job,” the creature reminded him, his glowing eyes narrowing slightly.
The Mayor automatically slid an envelope across the desk. Grellum opened it, scanned it with his keen eyes, and then nodded his assent. “Keep an eye on Faith and Willow, tonight only. Report back anything suspicious.”
He nodded again and immediately relieved himself of the Mayor’s presence. As much as they got along outwardly, it was true that Richard Wilkins and Grellum were anything but fond of one another. The Mayor could offer protection from the large beasties that could overpower Grellum and the creature was often able to lay his hands on rare and obscure items for the soon-to-be demon, something that was a result of his odd parentage.
The Mayor tilted his head, looking out his window at the night sky. A frown pulled at his lips, destroying the perfect evenness of his face. He hoped with all that was unholy that his girls weren’t planning to betray him.