As important it was for them to figure out how to train Faith, it had been a very long twenty-four hours, and they needed rest if they were going to be any good to anyone. Hermione tried to raise some objections, but even she was running on empty. They all but collapsed a few minutes later.
They managed to regain consciousness around noon, and then decided to face the issue, starting with what kind of magic either of the Slayers might be able to use. Not surprisingly, Hermione revealed that she had spent some of her time in Los Angeles trying to learn what she could about this.
"You're not going to tell me there were books on this subject?" Ron asked doubtfully.
Hermione shook her head. "Honestly, I thought that someone might have at least postulated the idea before I came up with it, and there were some books talking about it theoretically, but none of them really thought it was even possible." She tried to smile, but it looked a lot like a grimace. "Looks like we're going to be pioneers in this particular field."
"So how do we even begin with Faith? I don't think there's a wand maker in Sunnydale," Harry asked.
"We may not even have to go that far." Hermione saw the surprise in their eyes. "Bearing in mind that this is mostly conjecture right now, I believe the kind of magic that a Slayer has is tied to a different kind then the one we've been trained in."
This wasn't a complete shock to either of them. One thing that they had learned in LA was that there was a different branch of magic practiced in America. The practice of Wicca, or wandless magic as it was referred to by some wizards, was more dangerous then what they'd been taught at Hogwarts. Only the most trained experts were taught this kind of magic in European schools. Practitioners of it had immigrated to the colonies in the sixteenth century, and despite the hunts for them in New England (which caused many wizarding families to go underground for centuries) it still had a major foothold. Some of the wizarding community in America considered their kinds of magic quaint.
"So you think that this is Wicca?" Ron asked.
Hermione shook her head, then hesitated. "It's closer to earth magic then anything else," she told them. "It's the only way that a Slayer would have such great recuperative powers. That said, there's also got to be a level of blood in it--- you can't have the kind of strength and power a Slayer does without some severe darkness."
"If that's the case, how would we help her tap into it?" Harry asked. "We don't know anything about this kind of magic."
Hermione walked over to their supplies, and removed a small book that neither had seen before. "About a week ago, I went on a side trip near Beverly Hills," she told them. "One of the older magic shops in the country is disguised as a boutique there. I had to spend a fair amount of money to get a copy. But I think that it's worth it."
Harry looked at the title. "Wicca for Dummies?" he read doubtfully.
"Considering that we're basically in uncharted waters, that's not that far from where we are in this field," Hermione reminded them. "But it has enough spells in here to help us start training Faith in what she'll need to know."
Someone knocked. Understandably, this made everyone a bit edgy, considering that no one from the Slayers camp aside from Faith knew where they were staying.
They were even more surprised to see who was there. For a moment, they considered not opening the door, but they needed to talk to her regardless of the circumstances.
"How did you know where to find us?" Harry said, without inviting her in.
"Um, I've been working on these tracking spells for the past couple of months with a couple of acquaintances," Willow told them carefully. "It can be used to find traces of magical energy. An hour ago, I used it to follow you, with, um the help of my boyfriend."
Harry looked across the way. A van with the words 'Dingoes Ate My Baby' scrawled on the side was parked nearby, and a teenager with reddish-brown hair was staring at them.
"He wasn't wild about any of this, but he loves me," Willow said simply. "Anyway, could you come out here? Please?"
It was the 'please' that convinced Harry she wasn't screwing with them ---- Willow was trying to appear stoic, but that last word was practically a squeak. He went outside with Hermione and Ron a few steps behind them. "What do you want?"
"Here's the thing," she said slowly. "For the last few months, magic's been more a hobby than anything useful. I've been trying to cast a few levitation spells, maybe a ball of fire or two, and I've, I've been getting nowhere with it. Made me feel like I was wasting my time."
She took a breath, clearly unsettled. "But when I cast the spell to restore Angel's soul, I felt something go through me. Something very un-Willowish. And when it happened, Oz," she looked at her boyfriend, "he thought I was possessed."
Harry didn't know nearly as much about this kind of magic as anyone else in the Order, but he knew enough from his personal studies with Hermione that to cast a spell of this level wouldn't be easy for a wizard, much less a Muggle who had never been within shouting distance of a magical school. In its own way, this was as disturbing as learning that Buffy was in a relationship with Angelus.
Ron looked bothered by this too, and turned to Hermione. "This couldn't be some kind of residual force spilling out from the Hellmouth, could it?" he asked.
Hermione considered this for a couple of moments, then finally shook her head. "A Hellmouth is capable of doing many things, but it can't put magic into somebody who didn't already have access to it already," she said warily. "Not for a spell of this magnitude."
Willow didn't look happy to hear this. It was hard to tell because his expression didn't change, but neither did Oz.
"But, but last night you said magic could only come from wizarding families," There was now desperation in her voice.
Hermione softened her tone. "My parents are both dentists," she said gently. "Harry's mother was a wizard. His aunt wasn't. This war is all about protecting people just like you."
This actually managed to cause Willow to steady a little. "The last time there was a war to protect people like me, millions of people died. Some of them were members of my family. And the man responsible for it was someone so evil he made your Dark Lord look like Santa Claus." She looked at them. "How close is this monster to winning?"
For a moment Harry considered telling Willow everything he had learned from the visions he had about the suspected numbers of the wizarding populace. What stopped him was not any desire to mislead anybody who was a friend of either Slayer --- they could probably recognize a legitimate threat better than anyone, and this was incredibly dangerous. Instead, he decided to try telling something close to the truth.
"I don't think that Voldemort will be showing up on your doorstep before you finish high school," he told her. "Honestly, we've no idea how large his forces are right now. But the last time, he came incredibly close to victory, and his followers were willing to wait over a decade for him to resurface. He is more than capable to taking the long view. Which is why we have to find that Horcrux. Without them, despite whatever help we get from Buffy or Faith or you, I don't think anything else matters."
This clearly took Ron aback. "Then what the hell did we bloody come here for?" he demanded.
"I'd kinda like an answer, too."
Harry had been trained by some of the best wizards in the world about keeping himself protected. Nevertheless, he hadn't heard Faith approach, as she tapped on his shoulder. "You do know that kind of approach is dangerous, especially given a wizard?"
Faith managed to give a smile that somehow managed to display 'come hither' and 'look out!" simultaneously. "You wizards, your bones break, right?" she asked.
"We can heal them almost overnight," Hermione brought up quickly.
"Yeah, I still I think, comes to a showdown between you and me, I'd be five by five," Faith looked at Harry. "You still haven't answered Ron's question."
Perhaps not surprisingly, Hermione took the initiative. "It's possible that we may have come here for more reasons then just getting the Horcrux," she pointed out. "We may even know where Voldemort is right now."
"Well, that's great," Willow then caught their expression. "Um, maybe not so great?"
"Not so great," Faith then told them about Harry's vision the previous night. This finally proved a reaction from Oz.
"Not again," he said quietly.
Willow looked even more disturbed. "Do you have any idea where they are right now?"
"No," Harry replied. "I'm not even sure what it would take for Spike and Drusilla to come back to a place where, according to Faith, he got his ass seriously kicked twice."
"Give you three guesses, and the first two don't count," Faith replied grimly. "Here's a hint. It involves B's head."
That was not an image Harry wanted, but he had to admit it would definitely qualify. Willow was clearly bothered by it as well. "You have any idea how far away they were?"
"Could be anywhere in this continent," Harry admitted. "But even if he did, he wouldn't be able to get here overnight."
Everybody who had been engaged in this conversation was experienced enough not to react when something bad happened. Nonetheless, they were all very disturbed when this new, ominous voice began to speak, as none of them could tell where it was coming from.
"Of course, you make the foolish assumption that our Lord would be stupid enough to completely ignore one of the biggest areas of magical power on the planet."
A man in a black robe suddenly appeared less than twenty feet away from them. A split second later, so did four similarly dressed wizards. Harry was pretty sure they had just run into part of the American contingent of the Death Eaters.
If their appearance was meant to inspire shock and awe, they had to be disappointed. Harry and his friends didn't react. Faith tensed up the slightest bit --- that was all. Oz's expression barely changed.
Willow, on the other hand, started to look panicky. It took a couple of seconds for Harry to realize that it wasn't the five wizards that were unnerving her, but rather the three large creatures that were emerging from the shadows beyond them.
"When we heard that the Boy Who Lived was here, we thought that he had to be trailing us,." The speaker was tall and lanky, and looked to be barely older than them. "You'd have to be insane to try and look for help on a Hellmouth."
Harry was trying to find a way to unobtrusively reach for his wand. Faith, however, made no pretense at subtlety. "I'm going to give you until the count of three," she told the evil entourage. "After that, you're going to make me do something I'd probably enjoy doing anyway."
Three of the wizards burst into laughter. One of the demons, however, looked a tad uneasy.
"You've made a major miscalculation here," the wizard said.
"No, you have," Faith barely moved a muscle. "One."
"Leave Potter alive. Kill the rest."
The next several minutes were incredibly hectic and went by in a rush for everybody, but they all very clearly remembered what happened next. The wizard who had spoken started to draw his wand. While his hand was going to his side, Faith started running. Halfway there, she leaped into the air. "Avrada Ked---"
The would-be spell caster never finished the Killing Curse, because Faith kicked him in the stomach, and knocked him on his ass. His wand fell to the ground.
"You should have waited 'til I said three, motherfucker," Faith told him. Before the others could react, she grabbed his wand and snapped it in two.
For a moment, everyone seemed paralyzed. Even within the wizarding world, there were certain codes. Breaking a wizard's wand was something that just wasn't done --- even among the Death Eaters. Harry wasn't sure which amazed him more -- what Faith had done or the utter disregard she had done it with.
Hermione seemed to recover first. "No matter what," she whispered to Willow, "stay behind us."
The demon closest to Faith --- a gray-skinned one with what appeared to be wooden spikes at the ends of his arms--- leapt at her. She whirled around and kicked at it., even as the next wizard cast the Crucio spell on her simultaneously. Harry knew firsthand just how painful they could be, and it seemed that the combo would get to her. He cast a Stupefy spell which pushed the nearest of the wizards back.
Faith stumbled a little. Two of the demons attempted to crush her using their bulk alone. The dark-haired Slayer responded by leaping in mid air, and kicking both in the head.
At this point, the larger group of wizards scattered, apparently having realized just how formidable an adversary Faith was. It didn't, however, discourage them from their attack. Two of the wizards tried to cast a Killing Curse on Willow, but Hermione threw Willow aside by casting a Reflecting Spell. However, neither of the wizards remained stationary long enough for it to damage them.
That was done by Faith, who delivered a spinning kick that was formidable enough to knock another of the wizards to the ground. This time, they held on to their wands, and waited for long enough for the second demon --- this one, screaming yellow with a distinctly reptilian appearance - to knock Faith to the ground. Suddenly, he was carrying two steel pikes in each hand, and attempted to drive them into her stomach.
"No!" Not even sure if it would work, Harry called forth a bolt of lightning from his wand which hit it right in the guts. The crackling of the electricity could still be heard in the air, when Faith responded to this by scissor-kicking the beast in the neck.
By now the wizards seem to have focused on the Slayer as the bigger problem. One of them tried to cast the Imperium spell, but before she could get the last syllable out, Ron had thrown an exploding charm at her, and the force of the blast knocked the wand out of her hand. Before she could grab it again, Willow snatched it off the ground, and trained it on her.
This didn't fill the wizard with fear --- she looked like she was going to double over laughing. "What do you think you're going to do?" she managed to gasp out. "You going try and pull a rabbit out of your hat?"
Keeping up her most resolved expression, Willow yelled out: "Abracadabra!" She seemed genuinely surprised when nothing happened. More alarmingly, she hadn't noticed that the one demon who was still mobile was creeping up behind her.
"Crucio!" cried Hermione. The demon doubled over from pain ---- which came as a shock to Harry; he wasn't sure these kinds of magic would work on something that menacing.
Willow noticed and jumped to one side, still trying to make the wand she had grabbed do something. Faith ---- who seemed to be everywhere at once--- jumped at the demon, kicked its feet out from under it, then grabbed its neck with her legs and brought them together
The demon felt limply to the ground, its neck snapped.
At this point, two of the demons had been killed and two of the wizards had been effectively disarmed. (Even in the ensuing madness, Harry couldn't help but notice that even though this attack was happening in broad daylight., none of the screaming or strange noises had brought forth anyone else, law enforcement or otherwise.) The enemy was now outnumbered, but demonstrated no signs of retreating. If anything, they seemed even more determined to take out their adversaries.
, Harry decided to take the offensive, and began casting a series of spells at the three remaining wizards. Ron and Hermione began doing likewise, trying to find a chink in their defense But the three remaining wizards also seemed to be having no problems putting up an offensive. A standoff seemed to be emerging.
Again, they had forgotten Faith. Realizing that her usual weaponry wasn’t going to do much good against this particular enemy, she was forced to improvise. Ripping a huge chunk of wood out of one of the parking structures, she moved forward with the equivalent of a staff. She ran back over to an increasingly frazzled Hermione, and whispered something to her. Whatever it was, she assented, and then began to concentrate her fire on the wizard directly in front of her.
Before the wizard even knew she was there, Faith executed a pole vault that would have been recognized with a gold medal in any other setting. She knocked the wand out of her hands, and held the staff in a vise grip over her throat.
"All right!" she shouted. "Put your wands away or I snap her neck!"
Even considering the situation, Harry was surprised to hear such a threat from her: he knew how dangerous these wizards were and he still wasn't sure that he could kill them . He wasn't sure if Faith could pull it off ---- he had detected a notable tremor in the Slayer's voice.
Unfortunately, the two remaining wizards seemed to have realized it as well. "You may be good at killing halfbloods," one of them replied, "but you don't have it in you to kill a real wizard."
"Pretty sure that we can," Hermione countered. "The numbers are not on your side! Put your wands down and walk away!"
"You're children playing at an adults game," the second shouted. "You can't kill us anymore than that Muggle can kill Chelsea."
"Getting goddamn tired of being called a Muggle," Faith shouted. "Bottom line is: You. Can't. Win."
"Maybe not. But you can still lose."
It was then Harry realized how stupid they'd been. They'd completely forgotten that Willow was still around, and that there was a third demon that none of them had managed to take out. And this demon was the ugliest one yet ---- nearly seven feet tall, covered with plating, and looking particularly angry. While they had been concentrating on each other, it had grabbed Willow and seized her around the throat. She was starting to turn blue.
"Surrender or she dies," the second wizard replied.
"Don't do it, Harry," Faith looked only a little disturbed by what she was implying. "Her life means nothing to that monster; it'll kill her for fun."
Harry was inclined to agree, and he wouldn't trust a Death Eater as far as he could throw her, but he couldn't see any other way to save Willow's life. They need a miracle.
Then there was a thunderclap, and the wizard that was closest to Willow fell to the ground, with a look of almost comic shock on his face. It took Harry several seconds to realize what he had heard was a gunshot. It took the other wizards even longer to realize that, and by then, the air was full of them.
His elation disappeared when he realized that whoever this was wasn't being discriminate as to whom they were firing on. A couple of shots resonated just feet away from him,
Not surprisingly, Faith's reactions were a lot quicker than the wizards; she knocked her prisoner unconscious with a blow to the head, then leapt to her feet, and began to run to the creature.
By now the demon had dropped Willow, but didn't seem to be otherwise troubled by the bullets that were flying through the air. Faith began attacking him, but he seemed to be having no trouble parrying her blows from her or her staff.
"You're going to need something a lot bigger to get me to run anywhere," the demon snarled.
And at that very moment, the ugly-ass van that Willow had come in came from out of nowhere, hit the creature in the side, and knocked him all the way into the nearest motel room.
As the sound of splintering wood filled the air, the window came down. "Get in!" Oz shouted.
Faith needed no second bidding. She grabbed Willow, opened the side door, and practically heaved her in. Harry and Ron didn't hesitate either, but then they noticed that Hermione was nowhere in sight.
Then they saw her come running out of their motel room, carrying the small bag that had the Horcrux and their money in it. With the sound of gunfire still echoing in their ears, this was enormously brave and intensely stupid. The threat, however, came when one of the wizards still standing cast a Crucio spell when she was halfway to the car. She screamed in agony, but would not release her cargo.
Suddenly the Death Eater who was standing over Hermione was a ball of fire, screaming. Hermione looked as shocked by what was going on as anybody, but she still scrambled into the van.
Oz's reactions were much quicker, and he put the van into drive, and got out of there as fast as he could.
"What were you thinking?" Ron shouted at Hermione. "You almost ate it trying to save that bloody trinket!"
"What about you?!" Hermione seemed to have recovered from the spell, but her voice was still weak. "How could you just burn that wizard alive?"
Ron looked confused. "I thought that was you," he demanded. "I didn't cast anything."
Harry was even more surprised---- he sure as hell hadn't done anything.
"What have I done?"
Every head in the car turned to Willow, who looked even whiter than some of the ghosts that Harry had seen in his life. "God, what have I done?"
Back at the motel. Chelsea found herself to be the last magician standing. All of her colleagues appeared to have been laid low by whoever had been shooting at them, and the demon ---- they should never have relied on half-breeds for this job--- seemed to have run off.
Right now, she was trying to find a way out of this. When word of this got back to the Dark Lord, he'd probably flay her alive--- if he was in a good mood. She couldn't leave town without what she and her friends had learned, but right now, she was more concerned with preserving her head than----
And suddenly, it felt like she had been struck with a bolt of lightning. Before she could even react, she was on the ground unable to move. She looked up to see something standing over in a bizarre suit and mask combination that Chelsea had never seen before.
"Man, you wizards are out of touch," the muffled voice came out. "If you'd had a couple of Uzis, you'd be the one standing over me. Figuratively speaking, of course."
Now a couple of hideous looking creatures were standing around the creature in the suit.
"Well your friends who we just capped, they were the lucky ones," The change in the face revealed him to be a vampire. "Now you've got to meet the Mayor. And he's not going to be happy that you made such a big mess in his town. "
They'd tried talking to Willow to figure out what had happened, but she seemed to have gone into shock. Oz looked like he wanted to pull over and hug her, but he had clearly lived in Sunnydale long enough to know that when facing a crisis, running was usually the safer bet.
"Where are we going?" was all that he said.
"B," Faith replied. "Whatever happened to Red, she'd probably beat our asses to a pulp if she wasn't able to help. 'Sides, you really want to try explaining this to the ER?"
Oz needed no second bidding.
"How the fuck did this happen?" Faith mumbled. "Last I knew, she couldn't make a damn pencil float without getting a major headache."
This was a question none of them could answer. Someone at Hogwarts probably would've had a clearer idea, but even they would probably have had trouble. To be perfectly honest, Harry was having a great deal of trouble caring about it right now.
He'd seen a lot of people die over the years ---- far too many---- so one more Death Eater shouldn't have meant anything in the scheme of things. It certainly wouldn't to Voldemort, and that same idea raised a whole new set of problems that they might have to deal with very soon. Still, the sight of that anonymous Death Eater bursting into flames was bothering him in a way that even Dumbledore's murder hadn't.
Ron and Hermione were clearly bothered by this as well, so they decided to distract themselves by quarreling.
"I repeat, what the hell were you thinking?" Ron was demanding.
"I was thinking that we probably weren't going to be able to go back to our motel," Hermione was trying to be calm, but she was still furious. "I thought considering all the trouble we went to get that Horcrux, it would be useless to let it end up in Voldemort's hands again!"
"And if you happened to end up as their prisoner?" Ron countered. "Oh, that's right; they weren't there to take prisoners."
"Jeez, you two. Get a room already," Faith muttered audibly.
Despite the situation they were in, Harry couldn't help but grin. The same thoughts were going through his mind.
Faith's smile disappeared. "You know," she lowered her voice. "I've been a Slayer for less than a year, and I've seen a lot of shit before, but that -----" She shook her head. "Do your wizard friends traditionally hang out with demons in their spare time?"
Harry thought this over, before shaking his head. "Voldemort's very particular when it comes to who he has work for him. The fact that he's dealing with vampires at all,,." he paused. "I'm not wild about the direction he's heading in. Now I’ve got a question for you."
"Who the hell was shooting at us?" Faith shook her head this time. "No fucking clue. Little early in the day for vamps, and they don't have to pack heat. And nobody on my friends list would bother bringing a gun to a wizard's fight."
Faith was trying to be whimsical about their situation, but it seemed clear to Harry that she was as shaken up by this as everyone else.
"Is there anyone official that's going to give us trouble over this?" Hermione asked
"For once, I'm glad that the cops in this town are monumentally stupid," she told them. "There's going to be a shitstorm coming down on all of us."
"That's not what I asked and you know it." Hermione countered.
"As B told me the day we met, rule one of slaying: Don't die. What happened back there was ugly as hell, but it was necessary," Faith then thought over what she had just said. "Of course, that rule was just for Slayers, and Willow,". She shook her head. "We should've got her out of there the moment the fight started."
"I don't think we could've called time out," Ron argued.
"Still, we nearly got her killed, and then she ends up doing this, and I can't even tell B how."
The van stopped. "We're here," Oz got out of the drivers seat, and headed into the back. Willow had stopped trembling, but her skin had gotten very cold. He put his arms around her, and there was no reaction.
"Isn't there any kind of healing spell you can do on her?" he asked.
"Not if we don't know exactly what's wrong with her," Harry thought Hermione was hedging her bets. They knew a lot of healing spells, but most of them were for physical ailments. They didn't know how to deal with the psychological ones.
Oz opened the side door, and gently led Willow outside the vehicle, Faith just a step behind them. The three young wizards hung back, out of caution.
Buffy was coming out the door. "Oz, what the hell happened to your----" She trailed off as she got a good look at her friends’ appearance. "Will?"
She sprinted the remaining distance. A medium-sized woman who had to be Mrs. Summers came out as well, looking just as concerned.
"Faith, Oz, what the hell?" Buffy seemed just as scrambled as they were. Then she saw Harry and her friends, and her eyes narrowed. "What did you do?" she accused.
"They didn't do shit," Faith told them, but Buffy wasn't hearing them. Instead, she was trying to embrace her friend, but Willow finally reacted. She kept pushing Buffy away.
"Buffy, what's wrong?" the woman said. "Should I call 911?"
Another endless pause before Buffy shook her head. "Call Giles and Xander. Tell them I need them here right now."
"Are you sure that---"
"Mom, please," Buffy whispered. Mrs. Summers went back into the house.
"It's OK, Will, you're going to be alright."
And then for the first time since they'd hauled ass out of the motel parking lot, Willow spoke--- but in such a disconnected, haunted tone that they for the first time worried about her sanity.
"I don't think I am, Buffy," she told them. "I don't think I'll ever be all right again."