CHAPTER EIGHT: THE PRESENT
Xander sat on the couch gripping a soda, resting the ankle of one leg on the knee of the other. He had
changed from his work clothes the minute Buffy called. Now he sat in her living room, anxious and wondering why it was she wanted him to come over. I finally made it. Just me and Buffy, alone in her house. Neither of us seeing anyone. Just the two of us. Could it be?
“It’s about Dawn,” Buffy said, coming into the room from the kitchen.
I knew that.
“Dawn?” Xander said. “Still slipping boxes of Nut ’n Honey under her jacket at the grocery store?”
Buffy shook her head. “No, I think the whole klepto-thing is pretty much over. I would actually prefer a
little petty larceny to what’s been happening.”
“If her problem involves loose floor boards or building a new patio, you called the right guy.”
“I think she’s involved with a cult.”
“Man!” Xander sighed. “Not another giant snake-guy coming up from the well?”
“I don’t think so,” Buffy replied. “It’s this First Principles thing. You may have seen it on the news. They meet at Weatherly Park everyday and ever since Dawn started going . . . she’s been acting weird.”
“Buffy, your sister’s always been weird. I mean, weird in the sense that she’s the Cosmic Key or something, but also weird in that she’s a teenage girl. Of course she’s weird. They’re all weird.”
“You didn’t seem to think I was so ‘weird’ back then,” Buffy said with a smile. “In fact, I seem to remember that you thought I was—“
“We should stick to the point,” Xander said quickly. “So Dawn’s weird huh?”
“I said acting weird. The other day she said our neighbors were ‘outsiders’ threatening the ‘community’ and I don’t think she had ever even met them—she was just assuming because they’re from another country. It all started when she began going to these First Principles meetings.”
Xander shrugged slightly. “I agree with you that’s stupid. And of course I’m happy to play big brother and help out, but Willow seems a lot more serious right now.”
“I’m not asking you to move in. Just go to one or two of these meetings for me and figure out what’s going on and how to get her out of it. I’d go, but I think she’d freak out even more.”
“Okay, I’ll do it. But if I turn into a raving twistie, it’s on your head.”
“Deal. Oh, and Anya said ‘hi.’”
“She did?” Xander looked surprised.
“Yes. Yes, she did,” said Buffy. Just ‘cause my love life is doomed doesn’t mean theirs has to be.
Xander stood up and walked into the kitchen. He set his glass in the sink, thought for a moment, and then came back to the living room. He smiled slightly as he sat back down on the sofa. “We don’t get to do this much anymore, you know?”
“Just talk. I mean we used to see each other everyday at school. Now we just see each other when there’s a crisis.”
Buffy nodded. “I know, I should call more to hang out. It’s just that—“
“We’re busy,” Xander finished.
“Right,” Buffy smiled.
They sat there for a moment uncomfortably. Xander was the first to break the silence. “I saw Willow last night.”
“How is she?”
“She’s dead,” he said.
Buffy did a spit take, shooting soda all over the carpet. “What!”
“I mean—no, she’s not dead dead. I just mean she acts like it. Monotone and one-word answers to everything. Like a zombie without the brain-hunger.” Xander disappeared into the kitchen and reappeared a moment later with a towel. “Sorry to freak you out.”
“Sorry to freak out,” Buffy said. “It’s just that with everything else . . . never mind. But yeah, I know what you mean. I don’t know what’s going on inside her head but at least on the outside the Willow we knew is . . .”
“Dead,” Xander offered.
The depressing, awkward silence lasted longer this time.
Dawn held the pie—chocolate creme—carefully and shook her head. “I don’t think so, guys,” she said, peering around the corner. The house she was looking at was illuminated by a porch light and through the windows she could see inside lights were on.
“You’ve got to,” Jamie said. “Wittingstone agreed it was a great idea—and since you’re the neighbor, it’ll work perfectly.”
Dawn hesitated. She was having trouble concentrating of late. When she tried to think deeply, everything in her head seemed . . . blurry. First Principles. Community. Stick up for ourselves. Outsiders threaten our way of life. She shook her head to clear away the cobwebs but it didn’t work.
“C’mon Dawn, we’ll your friends. We’re with you in this,” Brian said.
“I’m so glad we’re part of the community together,” Timothy added. He cupped Dawn’s chin gently and gave her a soft kiss. “When we work towards the same goals, nothing can keep us from being strong and secure. And it’s just a little pie—no one will get hurt.”
Dawn nodded and walked towards the front door. She rang the doorbell while the others, staying low, concealed themselves on either side. The dark-skinned, middle-aged woman Dawn had walked past several days ago opened the door.
“Mrs. Jocerta? Hi, my name’s Dawn from down the street.” Okay, I’ll just give her this and walk away. I don’t care what the others think.
“Dawn? Oh, of course, Buffy’s sister. She was so nice when she came by the other day and she mentioned she had a sister. We have such nice neighbors here!”
She smiled widely and opened the door wider to let Dawn enter. That’s when the other teens made their move: Timothy jumped from the shadows, grabbed the pie, and shoved it in Mrs. Jocerta’s face. The woman stumbled back, frightened and bewildered, as Brian and Jamie ran into her living room and began wrecking the place. After they had overturned the stereo, broken several pictures, and kicked through the screen of the television, Timothy shouted “Go back to Egypt or wherever you came from!” Everyone took off as Mrs. Jocerta screamed, but only Dawn looked back.
They stopped running and ducked into an alley several blocks away, huffing and puffing. Dawn was in better shape than the others and recovered quickly.
“You didn’t tell me about that part!” she snapped. “A pie in the face—that was supposed to be all!”
“Relax, babe. The opportunity just sort of presented itself. This way they really get the message.” Timothy tried to put his arm around her but she shrugged it off.
“Yeah, stop being such a crybaby, Dawn,” Jamie said. “She deserved it. She’s an outsider and you know how dangerous they are.”
Dawn put her hands to her head and sat down on the pavement and tried to think. Something wasn’t right, but she just couldn’t remember what it was. Why can’t I focus? What’s wrong with me? Stick to the basics. Community. Togetherness. Security. Protection. Friendship. First Principles. “You’re right,” she said, standing up abruptly. “I don’t know what I was thinking. We’ll all be better off when all the foreigners go home.”
“Now that’s the Dawn we know and love,” Timothy proclaimed with a smile. This time Dawn didn’t shrug his arm off.
The group of friends walked down the street. Timothy and Dawn walked arm and arm in front, while Jamie and Brian held hands and brought up the rear. Dawn tuned out their incessant chatter about how great it felt to be “proactive,” but began listening again when Brian shifted topics.
“And it’s not just the foreigners,” he was saying. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, they’re a problem. But there are others too. Like Wittingstone said. People who want to attack our community, I mean, by being like, nontraditional and stuff.”
“Yeah, I know exactly what you mean,” Jamie said fawningly. “Like who?”
“Well, like people who are all perverted and stuff. That’s who we need to be proactive against. I mean really proactive. Like what we did to that old lady, but more.”
“I’m with you there, buddy,” Timothy said, looking back.
“But like who?” Jamie said again.
“Oh I don’t know,” Brian answered before inspiration struck him. “Well like that red-head and that blonde chick who are always together downtown—you know that’s just not natural.”
“I heard they’re lesbians,” Jamie answered.
“And that’s just what I’m talking about,” Brian replied.
“One of the sickos died,” Timothy put in. “But the other one’s still around. Let’s think of something proactive to do to her.”
It took a moment for the others to notice that Dawn had stopped dead in her tracks. Like a flash of light, the blurryness and the confusion in her head was gone. It was like she was waking up from a bad dream and the cloudiness in her brain was filling with something else instead. Rage.
Timothy looked at her. “What’s the matter, babe?”
She stood there for a moment, her fists clenched tightly, trembling with anger. Then she slowly walked up to Timothy, reared back, and punched him in the face. Hard. He went down like a wounded bird, hitting the ground with a thud and a splash of blood from his broken nose. Dawn stood over him as Jamie and Brian looked on, shocked.
Tears flowed down her face as she struggled to get the words out through her anger. “Willow and Tara were the best,” she said through partially clenched teeth. “I loved them. They were some of the best people I ever knew. And I can’t believe you would dare to—“
Her words were interrupted by Timothy’s, who had just gotten to his knees, holding his nose as blood poured down between his fingers. “They were perverts, and a threat to our community!”
“They were my friends!” she screamed at him, the tears coming harder now.
“But—but—we’re your friends, Dawn,” Jamie said.
“No. You never were. And you never will be. You disgust me!” She shot them such a look that they stepped back involuntarily, cowed, while Dawn turned and ran away.
Towards her real community.
Xander had just stood up to leave when Dawn came bursting through the doorway, sobbing. She saw Buffy and virtually tackled her, knocking both of them into the couch. Buffy held her there, trying to calm her down, exchanging a look of what the hell is going on? with Xander.
“God Buffy I’ve done something terrible,” Dawn sobbed when she had finally calmed down enough to speak. “But it wasn’t me. I mean I was so confused and—“
“Dawn—just tell me what’s going on,” Buffy said gently.
Dawn related what she and the others had done to the Jocertas’ house.
“Man, that was cold,” Xander said angrily. “How could you do something like—“
He stopped when Buffy shot him another look: shut up. “She wasn’t herself, Xander. This ‘First Principles’ is behind it. They messed with her mind somehow.”
“There’s more,” Dawn said, drying her eyes.
There’s always more, Xander thought.
“They’re planning to . . . do something to Willow.”
“What?” Xander shouted. “Dawn, I don’t care if you were ‘confused’ or not, if your little friends do something to her I’ll—“
“Do what?” Buffy said protectively, remembering four years ago when Xander had promised to kill her if Willow was hurt by the Anointed One. The worst part was that she had believed him. “Just go check on Willow, Xander. I’ll sort this out.”
They heard the screech of tires on pavement just moments after he stormed out.
Wittingstone shut the door and walked back to his desk. He would have to call Mr. Castillo with bad news—and he hated calling Mr. Castillo with bad news. Still, he was glad the kids had come to him so soon. It was always better to deal with problems before they got out of hand.
He picked up the desk phone and dialed. “Mr. Castillo,” he said as soon as the other phone picked up. “It’s Wittingstone. There’s a situation, sir.”
“It’s about the Slayer’s sister. Dawn, I believe.”
“I thought you had her. Caught, I believe you said.”
“We did sir. But something happened and she got loose. Attacked one of the other members. I believe they had decided to become ‘proactive’ with Willow Rosenberg, who is--”
“I know who she is, Wittingstone. I remember her from the resort, and I’ve been receiving regular updates since I sent you to Sunnydale.”
“Yes sir. I believe Dawn’s going to run home, and the Slayer may get involved.”
“It’s not quite time for that, yet.”
“I know, sir.
“We’ll simply have to keep them busy. Pay attention now.”
Several minutes later, Wittingstone hung up the phone with a sigh. If this job didn’t pay so well . . . .But who else can do what I do? He made several more calls, and then called for his driver to bring the car around. He carefully straightened his tie while waiting. At least it’s better than the damn microphone.
After the car arrived, he gave some brief directions and then made several more calls on his cell phone. It was just after dusk by the time the car finally stopped at a deserted pier near Sunnydale’s docks.
“Are you sure this is where you’re supposed to meet him, Mr. Wittingstone?” inquired the driver.
“Yes. Apparently our prospective agent has a flair for the melodramatic.” Wittingstone stepped out of the car holding a briefcase and peered into the shadows. Moments later, the sound of footsteps was followed by the appearance of a blond-haired figure in a dark trenchcoat.
“Mister, ah, ‘Spike’ I presume?” Wittingstone said.
“Make this good and make this fast,” Spike responded curtly.
“Very well.” Wittingstone flipped the briefcase open to reveal several bundles of bills. “My employer wishes to retain your services to eliminate one Dawn Summers, of 1630 Revello Drive. Payment upon perform—“
Spike knocked the briefcase to the ground, grabbed Wittingstone by the throat, and thrust him up against the car.
“What makes you think I care?” he growled. “Do you think I need cash? What for, a bloody dee-luxe apartment in the sky?”
“My employer is . . . very powerful and . . . very well-connected. He said to tell you . . . that things are going to happen in Sunnydale . . . and that . . . you might want to . . . be a part of them,” Wittingstone gurgled.
“Is that so?” Spike asked rhetorically, loosening his grip. “Dawn Summers you say? You don’t know who I am, do you?”
“Leader of the vampires in Sunnydale,” Wittingstone answered, rubbing his throat.
Spike laughed loudly. “Bloody right. Okay Bob, I’ll see what I can do.” He picked up the briefcase and walked into the shadows, enjoying the irony. If only they knew, he thought, shaking his head in derision.
Wittingstone straightened his tie and pulled out his cell phone. “Yes sir, I’ve contacted him and he agreed. It appears we’ve been successful on both fronts then.
Castillo returned the phone to its cradle and walked to the elevator. Inserting a special key, the digital readout flashed “Sub 2” and the elevator descended quickly. The doors opened with a whoosh and he stepped out into a well-lit, well-guarded corridor. He passed through two more doors, each locked with either retina- or fingerprint- identification systems. At last he emerged into a dark, largely empty room with stainless steel walls, a plain metal folding chair, a small chest, and a large circle drawn in blood.
He shed his clothing and checked the summoning circle carefully, making sure each symbol was exactly where it was supposed to be and that there were no places where the lines had been rubbed out. He pulled out a small knife, cut his flesh, and watched as his own blood dripped into the center of the circle. He then recited the chant from memory. Magic certainly wasn’t his forte—Castillo considered himself a far too practical man to become heavily involved in such things. But he knew its place in the world, the power it could give. And since he was a patient, exact man, he had learned quickly what needed to be done.
The air grew noticeably chilly as a shape began to manifest in the center of the circle. Small drops of water started to whirl about, but they quickly became flakes of snow. Moments later, they were tiny balls of hard ice.
Castillo stood unfazed, however, and completed the ritual.
The dimly-reflected shape of a creature appeared, seen as if through several panes of translucent glass. It was vaguely-humanoid in appearance, but sharp icicles seemed to hang from its arms. The face could barely be made out, but looked like a blob of white snow with a sharp row of teeth.
“Your control is not yet strong enough,” Castillo said, as if speaking to an equal. “One has already broken free. The time is close, and so you must redouble your effort. Soon the hatred will grow and you will be strong enough to manifest fully.”
“Too . . . warm,” whispered a voice, soothing and manipulative.
“Not for much longer,” Castillo replied, glancing at the chest. “By this weekend everything will be . . . prepared. But until then you must focus your energies on influencing the humans we assemble.”
Castillo performed the necessary rites to dismiss the demon and stepped carefully away from the summoning circle. He touched his fingers to his face and traced the lines of the scars that were there and would never completely heal. Then he kneeled down and touched the chest, idly tracing the outlines of the runes carved on it. He smiled in anticipation of what was to come.