Wicked Willow: Shattered Twilight (an Excerpt> by Yvonne Navarro


Wicked Willow, Book 2:
Shattered Twilight

Chapter 2

      She'd sent the other members of her coven home, and now the loft was quiet and soaked in pre-morning dimness. Spike and Oz were asleep, the vampire cloaked in dreams of personal madness, the werewolf cradled by his own unconcerned savagery. Every now and then the drafts would carry one of Spike's sleep-drenched sobs to Willow's ears, and each time that happened, Oz would automatically Wicked Willow: Shattered Twilight growl, as though he were some kind of supernatural guard dog watching over a private land of nightmares. Willow thought that was a notion that might be quite close to the truth, although it was doubtful she would ever know for sure.

      After everyone had left, she'd cleared the top of her largest table--already new potions, spell books, and dozens of assorted trinkets had appeared in the loft to take the place of the items sucked through the portal Giles had created. Now, Willow carefully spread a map of the world on the cleared space, smoothing it at the edges while at the same time being careful not to crack the oversized, fragile parchment at its fold lines. This wasn't a map that a person could bounce down to the Sunnydale Public Library and check out for a couple of weeks while they did a world history paper. Oh no; if someone, Giles perhaps, had maintained a list of documents important in the realm of the supernatural--and let's face it, Willow figured the former librarian probably did just that--this fractured and old graph would probably big in the Big Top Ten.

      She ran her fingertips lightly over the map's surface, wishing it could show her more than it was going to. All the countries of the world were here, right up to the latest shift in cartography as recent as yesterday--it was just that kind of magical chronicle. All the lines were hand-drawn, from the oldest to the newest, and as she studied it, Willow could have sworn she could literally see them shifting at the borders between warring Middle Eastern countries.

      From another shelf, Willow gathered up the things she would need: a pinch of sand from the hot desert, a tiny vial of melted snow harvested from the top of a nearby mountain, the rich, the dried remains of a once deep green leaf plucked from a fig tree overseas, the ground-up pit from an imported olive, a sprinkle of special sea salt found only along the Irish coast, and more. When she had a pile of over twenty items, Willow poured them one at a time into a wide, handmade stoneware bowl. She smiled with satisfaction as the combination of dry ingredients made the inside surface of the pottery start to glow a deep orange--yes, it looked like her spell was well on its way to working.

      "The world is made of water and land," she murmured softly as she passed her hand back and forth over the bowl. "Plants, and earth, rock and man." She reached over and picked up a small bottle of ocean water, then pulled the cork and held it over the bowl. "Drink of this water to be complete, to tell me where my witches keep." With that she dribbled the water in a steady, counter-clockwise motion across the surface of the bowl's contents.

      The mass in the bowl soaked up the seawater and began to bubble thickly, glowing and spitting in the air like hot lava, giving off as much heat. Willow paid it no mind; instead, she thrust her bare fingers into the heated-looking fluid and scooped up a palm full of the stuff. Then, in one hard sweeping motion, she hurled it across the surface of the ancient map.

      None of it touched the map's surface, and most of it rolled uselessly off the side of it and onto the table. Three small lumps rolled around and finally stopped, suspended in the air above the map as though lying on an invisible plastic surface. After a second's pause, each one flared and burst into flame, then drew down until the burned like tiny, persistent candles.

      "There," Willow said. Now this was measurable progress--each flame represented the location of one of the Wiccans whom Giles had sent into the wild black yonder. "Three out of five isn't bad." Of course, five out of five would have been better, but sometimes a person just had to be happy with what they could get. Even so, it was just too bad the map wouldn't located Jonathan and Andrew for her; then again they were just dweebs--guilty dweebs, but still--and had no true power for the spell to track.

      Without warning, the Ghost of Tara was right there at her side. "I believe I've said exactly that to you on several occasions. I think it goes hand in hand with the old saying about leaving well enough alone."

      Willow was not surprised that the spirit would show up to comment on what she was doing. The Ghost of Tara had been with her almost from the moment Willow had first finished outfitting this loft as her new place of living and working, always ready to throw an opinion or two into the mix. Despite the fact that the Ghost of Tara almost always seemed disapprove of her actions, Willow had never lost the desire to have her there. And in that same vein--

      "I think I can say with all honesty that I've done just that just your death," she said calmly. She risked a glance at the Ghost of Tara, then wished she hadn't. Where the heck was it written that spirits weren't allowed to change their clothes? Next to having her back, Willow would give almost anything to be able to see Tara wearing something other than the blood-stained blouse in which she had been murdered. It was a repeated stab to Willow's own heart, a constant reminder that she had been thus far unable to realize her goal of find the proper spell to resurrect her dead lover.

      "And yet that is also something you refuse to let be." The Ghost of Tara stared at her sadly and Willow ached to touch the golden blond hair framing the face just inches away from her own. But there was no sense even trying--her hand would go right through the specter and she would only be more frustrated for having tried it.

      "Haven't we had this conversation before?" Willow asked without any true impatience. "Wait--that's right. The last time was already a few hours ago, so it must be time for a retake, just in case I've forgotten."

      "I am only trying to make you see that you will never succeed," the Ghost of Tara said gently. "I cannot bear to know that you will be disappointed."

      "Can you see the future, Tara?" Not wanting to meet the Ghost of Tara's gaze, Willow kept staring at the small flames burning above the map on the table. "Now that you're dead, do you actually have that power?"

      "No," the spirit admitted. "No, I don't."

      "Then you cannot say for certain that I'll fail," Willow said with finality. "And so you will never convince me not to try."

      "I will not give up."

      Willow nodded. She could accept this. After all, she wasn't going to give up either.

      Rather than continue the discussion--she refused to call these ‘arguments'--Willow turned back to the spell she was putting together. She was halfway there, but the second part was what really counted. From one of the work shelves behind her, she pulled another earthenware bowl she'd made ready a little earlier, in that quick time between when her coven members had left and she'd unrolled the antiquated diagram. This bowl was much the same as the first except its contents were far simpler and quite easy to procure: nothing but rich and ultra-basic Sunnydale, California soil.

      A quick glance told her that the Ghost of Tara had wandered elsewhere, this time over by Oz. She liked to stand over there sometimes, and apparently the man-turned-into-perpetual-werewolf found her presence comforting, even though the beast didn't seem able to quite focus on exactly what was in front of him. Sometimes Willow would watch as the Ghost of Tara ran her fingers across the top of Oz's fur-covered scalp, neck and down his back; lately, though, Willow had started turning away at the sight. She didn't know if it was really true, but the idea that the werebeast might be able to feel the touch of Tara's spirit made her blackly jealous.

      She dug both hands into the bowl of Sunnydale earth, enjoying the gritty feeling of the moist soil between her fingers. Quickly, as though she were a child making mud pies, she fashioned three small balls of earth, each no bigger than a golf ball. As she dropped them one by one into the pseudo-lava floating in the other bowl, she began to chant. Her voice was strong and clear as it carried across the expanse of the loft, making both Oz and Spike break from their slumber and look in her direction.

      "Loki, hear my command and heed my direction." With her hands still covered in the grime from the earth-filled bowl, Willow dug into the bubbling red liquid and found the three earthen balls. She held them up until the excess fiery-looking goo sloughed away, and they looked like three miniature coals pulsing within her cupped palms.

      Suddenly the Ghost of Tara was once more standing by her side. "Beware, Willow. Loki is cunning and a trickster. He will delight in providing not what you see, but what you think you do. You may regret demanding his assistance."

      Willow felt a muscle tick in her jaw, but she would not break her concentration, not now. She loved Tara above all things, but the spirit side of her was even more suspicious and a doomsayer than the physical had been. "Seek the bearers of the power to which I send you, and return them to me now!" She spread her fingers and let the mini balls of false fire drop into the bowl of Sunnydale earth.

      Often her spells had a lag time, a few seconds in which she could start forming the first shreds of doubt about whether or not the incantation had worked. Not this one--amidst a background of abrupt, booming laughter, there were three brilliant flashes of reddish-orange light. Willow automatically shielded her eyes; as she did so, the laughter swelled and boomed to a nearly hysterical level. It didn't sound at all funny, and Willow was just about to fire out a few words in Latin to make it stopped when it ended of its own accord. In the silence that followed, she got a really good look at the three Wiccans her spell had found and ha returned to her.

      They lay all together in a crumpled heap in the center of the loft's floor. Below them, the once golden wood was now dark and filthy, smeared with blood and the black smudges of other... matter that Willow didn't care to identify. All three were dressed differently, having come from three completely different cultures and countries, and not a one looked as though she'd been treated well. Two of them, Anan and Chiwa, were shaking themselves and climbing to their feet, already looking around with relief and ready for recovery.

      The third, Flo, was a slobbering, snapping mass of complete insanity.

      She had once been a pretty young woman. Maybe not beautiful, but her hair had been a lovely chestnut brown, shining and halfway down her back. Hazel eyes and regal, rather chiseled features topping a nearly six-foot-tall frame had made her look a little haughty, even while her power level wasn't all that high on the Wiccan scale. Willow wasn't precisely sure where Flo had ended up--she doubted that Giles, in his infinite lack of foresight and wisdom, had even considered that aspect--but it was doubtless than the very fact that she was lacking in the magicks factor that had hurt her the most. On the map Flo's little flame had hovered above a spot somewhere around Thailand; the way the markings had been hand-drawn and all the dark art symbols made it impossible to tie the flame into a solid, modern-day location. But wherever she'd been, Flo had clearly been existing in a living hell... and obviously she still thought she was there.

      Her hair was so tangled and full of strange things that it looked like some kind of tortured bird's nest. It was full of... stuff, bits and pieces that might have been fabric and dead leaves, pieces of leather and lengths of twisted, coat hanger-like metal. Worse than that, Willow could have sworn that even from her position a good twenty feet away, she could see shapes in it, small things moving around in that tangled mass of hair and other unidentifiable objects.

      It took hardly any time at all for Anan and Chiwa to register Flo's condition and instinctively scramble away. They were in considerably better shape, although Willow thought it was damned clear that they hadn't been gone on a nice, fattening vacation cruise. In just the few days that they'd been gone, each had lost a good five or ten pounds; now they were leaner and meaner, in both physical appearance and in the soul-view of their gaze, which was hooded and dark, darting in all directions as if something might leap out of the corners at any moment. It wasn't a pretty thing to view, and it made Willow silently curse that meddlesome, aggravation-generating former Watcher. She really should have killed him when she'd had the chance.

      Flo's guttural snarl jerked Willow back to the here and now. A formerly weak Wiccan she might have been, but there was nothing wimpy about the sounds coming out of Flo's mouth now, nor the ferocious way she was staring at Oz--then she leaped. Willow barely got her hand up in time to stop Flo's attack, and right off the bat Willow could think of a couple of truly nasty repercussions that would have come of that--Flo's death being one, Flo's insanity coupled with the bite of a werewolf being the other. Flo's charge ended in a painful flash of light that knocked her to the floor, and before she could get up and try again, Willow mumbled a few words and wrapped her tightly in a binding rope made of blue light. While blue was supposed to be the great color of calmness, it did little to soothe the returned Wiccan; she writhed ceaselessly on the floor, howling like a banshee the entire time.

      "Well," said the Ghost of Tara, "I see Loki granted your wish. Your charges were returned to you... though obviously not as they were when they were taken." She was silent, but only for a second. When she spoke, Willow could hear her words clearly despite Flo's wailing. "I warned you that he would betray you, just as I told you about the sine kot diabl. Why do you not listen to me?"

      Willow hissed air through her teeth. It was true that the Ghost of Tara had warned her about Loki, and yes, she should have known he would find a way to screw things up. He was just like the devil in all those old pulp movies and books, always finding a way to turn some hapless person's ‘deal with devil' right back on themselves. But darn it, she needed these Wiccans back here, and no matter what she'd told the members of her coven earlier, good Wiccans, the really good ones, weren't exactly falling out of trees here in Sunnydale. For over-population, a person really had to look to the vamps, with the demonics running a not-so-close second.

      "Maybe," Willow said as she watched Flo and wondered what the hell to do about her, "it's because although I know you're Tara, you don't... talk to me like Tara did. You're so stiff, so... formal. It's like someone took a metal rod and sewed it inside your back and now it hurts you all the time or something. You never soften up, or laugh." Willow finally looked unhappily at the Ghost of Tara. "You're Tara, but at the same time you're not."

      The Ghost of Tara regarded her. "Being dead takes all the humor out of existence," the spirit said solemnly. "Humor, laughter, love--all that goes hand in hand with life. I no longer have life--"

      "So this means what?" Willow stared at her. "That you don't love anymore? That you don't love me?"

      "Of course I do," the Ghost of Tara said. "I will always love you. It's just that love..." She hesitated. "It changes with the dying of the physical body. It can be a damning thing, an emotion that holds a dead person in place when all they really want to do is move on."

      Willow swallowed. Anan and Chiwa had gravitated toward each other and moved off to one side, where they seemed to be content to wait patiently until Willow was finished with the problem of Flo; that was good, because right now, all Willow could focus on was the words she'd just heard. It took everything she had to make the next sentence come out of her mouth. "S-so you want to m-move on."


      No hesitation whatsoever, and that, perhaps more than a lot of things, really hurt. She shouldn't do it, but subconsciously Willow just had to give it one more try. "You don't... you don't want to stay here with me."


      Another critical stab to her heart, and now all Willow wanted to do was roll into a ball and cry. She and Tara were supposed to have been soul mates, together forever, but hearing the truth--that such feelings and promises didn't carry over to whatever other side awaited after death--was nearly unbearable. For God's sake, all of man- and womankind functioned on just that ideal.

      "It isn't that I don't love you," the Ghost of Tara offered, "but that my love had changed to something more... how can I put it? Ephemeral. Something that no longer needs the physical manifestations that you crave. What I feel for you now will carry over to forever, but you cannot understand it until your time comes."

      Willow straightened her shoulders. "You're right--I don't understand it. And since that's the way it is, I just have to go by what I know--the here and now--and let eternity take care of itself."

      "Give up your idea of resurrecting me and I will be able to leave, the Ghost of Tara said. She sounded small and plaintive. "Don't you understand, Willow? It is your love that traps me here when I need to cross over."

      But Willow had already hardened her heart. "I will not give you up, Tara. Not now, not tomorrow. Not until I get the rest of your life that should have been mine--ours--to share together."

      The Ghost of Tara shook her head vehemently. "Willow--please. You've seen what happens firsthand when you call upon forces to help you that should not be disturbed." The specter waived a semi-transparent hand at Flo, still twisting energetically on the floor. "Do you need to remind you about Buffy? About how that very nearly backfired on you, and how you pulled her from what should have been her eternal peace because you so wrongly thought she was stranded in a worse dimension? When she was better off where she was?"

      "I won't make that same mistake again," Willow said flatly. "I assumed the spell had failed, and I didn't follow through on it. It was a stupid mistake."

      "And tell me, Willow, how do you know that I am not better off where I am?"

      Willow lifted her chin. "Because, Tara, if you were, you wouldn't be here now." With that, Willow strode away from the Ghost of Tara and over to where Flo shuddered, stopping when the clearly mad young witch was lying at her feet. For now, the Ghost of Tara didn't follow.

      "Flo," Willow said loudly. "Flo, can you understand me? It's Willow, remember? You're back home now, away from..." She hesitated, not sure what to say when she actually had no idea where the woman had been. "From that other place," she continued. "And you're safe. Everything is all right now."

      But Willow might as well have been talking to a hard-boiled egg. There wasn't a shred of recognition or coherence in Flo's eyes, no hint of civility or even language in the guttural grunts and snapping sounds coming out of her mouth. With a start, Willow realized that most of Flo's teeth were broken, and the skin of her face wasn't just dirty, it was hideously bruised. She leaned closer, trying to see, then recoiled when Flo tried to bite her. That glance had told her something she didn't want to know, something that really trebled the guilt ratio she already felt about losing her coven members.

      Flo's tongue had been cut out.

      Willow wiped a hand across her own face, feeling perspiration coat her palm even though it was cool in the loft. She needed to do something about Flo, yet there was nothing she could think of that would undo the damage here--scrapes and bruises and minor cuts were one thing, but she had no spell that would reconstitute the severed flesh and restore the woman's mental sensibilities. Had she been capable of it, she would have teleported both Flo and herself right into Giles's bedroom at Buffy's, just so he could see up close and personal the results of what he'd done. Eye for an eye did not apply here--Flo hadn't done a thing in the world to hurt him and, had things gone the way Willow had planned, the way they should have, she never would have. Her purpose, like all the other Wiccans, was more to feed Willow's abilities than bother anyone else.

      The Ghost of Tara's whispered words floated past her ear. "Let her sleep, Willow. In sleep, she may at least find a temporary peace."

      Willow balled her fists. So much anger--hers, Flo's, no doubt Anan and Chiwa were next on the anger management agenda. But the Ghost of Tara was right; Willow couldn't fix Flo, but neither would she kill one of her own.

      She relaxed her hands and lifted the upward, as though she were about to give a blessing to a crowd of people. Below her, Flo's struggles within the blue-light binding doubled, as if the young Wiccan believed she was about to be struck, or worse.

      "Shhhhh," Willow told Flo softly. "Somnus... jam diu." Sleep... for a long time.


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