The Varos Triad
By Rebelgirl

Part 15

Willow's eyes were swimming. She wasn't sure if it was due to the amount of text she had glanced through or the amount of coffee she had sunk in the last two hours but as she rubbed her eyes tiredly, she realised that the spell she had performed last night was still taking its toll on her body. Just the thought of performing another incantation of that magnitude nauseated her, despite the fact that it was her lover she was trying to rescue.

Wearily, she shuffled over to the coffee pot, only to discover that she had emptied the contents and would have to make a fresh brew. Her research so far had not prompted any memories. As she prepared the coffee, she heard the door to the shop open and she glanced round to see who had entered.

"Hey Buffy. Where have you been?"

"I went home to sleep. Now that Varos is no longer a threat, there wasn't any need for us all to stick together." Buffy approached the red-haired wicca and smiled softly. "How are you doing?"

"Depends what you're asking me," Willow replied cryptically. Before Buffy could quantify the question, her best friend continued. "I still feel exhausted, but I slept on the couch for a while so I feel a bit better. If you're asking me how I'm coping without knowing where Tara is, then I'm not doing so well. In fact, just the thought of her alone with Faith..."

"Willow," Buffy warned, her brow furrowing at the taller girl's line of thought. "You need to get it in your head that if you sent Tara to where Varos is, she's going to need all the help she can get. And that includes Faith."

"Buffy, you can't be serious. That girl is unhinged. She's just as likely to kill Tara herself so that she doesn't have to look out for her."

"Willow, listen to yourself and then remember what Faith has done since she's been back. She got and then protected the artefacts, she went up against Varos with me and Angel and she shielded Cordelia against that shape-shifter."

Willow looked at the blonde slayer incredulously. "You're defending her aren't you?" She accused disbelievingly. "After all she did to you and all of us. How could you?"

"Do you remember when Angel saved you from Gwendoline Post?" Buffy argued, willing her voice to remain calm. As soon as Willow nodded the slayer continued. "You told me afterwards that his actions made him pretty much one of the good guys again. It's the same with Faith," she told her friend. "I'm taking her at face value. Looking at what she's done since her stint in jail." Buffy ran a hand through her hair and sighed. "I'm tired of hating her Willow," she confessed. "All the time I hold it against her, I have to hash over everything she did and everything I did too. I'm not the same person I was then. Why should Faith still be the same?"

"I don't believe this. Not only has Tara got to deal with psycho slayer by herself but my best friend is now her biggest fan." Willow moved away from Buffy and back towards the table where she had been studying.

"Will," Buffy tried, following her across the room. "Don't be like that. Surely what I've said makes sense?"

"To you maybe. Not to me," the auburn-haired witch insisted. "I don't want to talk about this anymore. I need to get Tara back. So if you've finished, I have books to study," Willow grabbed an as yet, unopened book and pulled it towards her, discarding the last book she had perused onto the floor.

Buffy shook her head sadly. She just couldn't understand her friend's behaviour. Willow had never been an admirer of Faith's but the witch had never been so dogmatic in her contempt before. The slayer wondered at the change in attitude. Willow had long ago left her shy, awkward demeanour behind, growing in confidence and self-assurance as her Wiccan powers grew. Buffy feared that Willow's continued practise of dark magick was beginning to affect her moral judgement. Despite repeated requests from Tara and the other Scoobs, the red-haired witch would use the power of black magick when she felt the situation warranted it. Buffy fervently hoped that she was wrong but needed to consult with Giles or Wesley over her concerns.

Resignedly, she sat down next to her best friend. "How can I help?" She asked softly.

Willow looked up, startled by the intrusion. She had assumed Buffy would leave her alone to continue her research and was surprised that the slayer had sat down. "You can start by taking all those books away and putting them somewhere where we won't get them mixed up with the others. There's nothing in them that will help." She gestured towards the books on the floor. Buffy nodded and bent down to scoop the volumes up. As she stood up, Willow continued. "Once they're stored, can you start with that shelf over there? I have a nasty feeling that I am going to have to read an awful lot of material before I find what I need."

"Can you give us some idea of what you're looking for?" Angel asked as he stepped through the door into the shop. He was followed by Wesley and Giles.

"Yes," Giles continued the query. "Any key phrases or specifics that we can try to isolate. Three pairs of eyes will be infinitely better than one."

Willow blinked and then thought for a few moments. "Of course," she muttered to herself. She got up quickly and climbed the ladder that lead to the upper bookcases.

"Willow?" Giles enquired.

"I wasn't thinking about the specifics," Willow called down, as if to explain everything. The four people on the ground floor of the Magic Box shared confused looks.

"Willow, that doesn't help," Giles supplied, approaching the ladder and beginning to ascend the steps.

The red-haired witch looked up from the bookshelf that she had knelt in front of. Books lay scattered around her as she continued to empty it. "I thought that I would need to see a trigger word or phrase to remember the spell, but I didn't narrow it down any further. I used dark magick to manipulate the spell Giles," she explained breathlessly. "It follows that I'm going to find what I need in a black magick book." With that, Willow yanked a large, black bound book from the middle shelf. "Can you dig out all your other black magick books Giles?" She asked as she picked the heavy volume up. "And I mean *all* of them. I think I've pretty much found all your hiding places for them." Willow stood to one side and gestured for the Englishman to finish his assent of the stairs before she moved to go back to the ground floor.

"Willow, once we've got them back, we need to have a talk," Giles warned softly.

The tone of his voice made Willow falter and she looked back up the ladder. She swallowed nervously before nodding meekly.

Once she was back at the desk, Willow sat down and began to search through the book. She looked up to see Wesley and Angel still staring at her mutely. "Once Giles has brought the other books down, I'll tell you the key words and phrases that I remember. Then we can all search for the spell," she told them.

"I'm not sure about reading through black magick texts," Wesley hedged.

The witch looked up sharply. "Well it's the only way that I'll be able to research the spell I cast," she told him assuredly.

"That's not what I meant," Wes continued softly. "These books hold great power and influence. I'm not sure I want to expose myself to them. And I'm not at all sure that you should continue to expose yourself to them."

"Wesley," Giles warned quietly. "Now is not the time." His face revealed that he understood the younger Watcher's sentiment though.

Fortunately, Wesley read his expression correctly and dropped the subject. He tugged at the collar of his shirt before taking a seat and selecting one of the books that Giles had descended with. "Tell us what we have to look for then," he asked Willow.

Faith lead Tara stealthily along the path back to where they had first materialised. She made the most of the shadows cast by the trees and stuck close to the woodland in order to stay as out-of-sight as possible. So far, they had managed to avoid conflict with the demons in the area by scouting out ways round them. Much as it galled the slayer to avoid a fight and dispatch some more demons, she knew that they had to remain undetected for as long as possible if they were to stand any chance of survival.

From the way the demons had been moving, Faith could tell that they were quartering the area and obviously searching for them. It also appeared that they were starting to work together and have a common purpose. None of that boded well for the two interlopers and the brunette fervently hoped that they reached their destination before they were forced to enter into conflict.

She snorted slightly even as the thought crossed her mind.

"What's up?" Tara enquired from just behind her. The blonde witch was just starting to get breathless, but Faith had been impressed at how well the Wiccan had kept up with her on the journey back.

"I think you're rubbing off on me," Faith replied cryptically. "I'm actually hoping that we don't have a fight."

"See? It's not so bad is it?" Tara replied, managing to keep her voice serious.

"Are you nuts?" The raven-haired slayer shot back incredulously. "Violence is what I exist for." For a long time, that included most of her childhood, Faith firmly believed that violence was the only reason she existed.

"Maybe," Tara replied carefully. "But it's not the only thing you *live* for, is it?"

Faith opened her mouth to reply but hesitated as she thought about the question. The first thought that it triggered centred around Cordelia and her mind pretty much stayed there. "Not anymore," she admitted softly. The younger girl shook her herself out of her private reflection before she turned all philosophical or mushy. That would do them no good at all while they were stranded. "Jeez Tar, you're turning me into a goody-goody peace-lover."

Tara stifled a laugh and then replied in mock horror. "Oh no. Faith the pacifist. How would the world cope?"

"This world can cope just fine. However, once I'm back in our world, the vamps aren't gonna know what hit 'em." She grinned back at Tara quickly before continuing along the trail.

Suddenly, she held out a hand behind her to stop Tara. The blonde witch took a few tentative steps closer and looked over the Bostonian's shoulder to see what had made them stop.

In the clearing ahead were two large demons. They appeared to be patrolling the area and as they paced along a well-worn path, each demon would occasionally halt and sniff the air, trying to detect a presence that they were trying to locate.

Faith turned and motioned Tara to back up down the path. Once they were at a safer distance, the slayer spoke. "This is not good. They're after us and they know that we need to use that path."

"Isn't there a way round?" Tara suggested. They had already taken a number of detours. One more would make no difference.

Faith shook her head. "I doubt it. They're waiting there for us. I get the impression that there'll be others waiting along any other path we might take."

"So what do we do? You can't take on two of them by yourself. You'll be killed," Tara protested, her voice rising slightly at the thought.

Faith waved her hand for Tara to lower the volume and then waited a beat, listening intently for any movement in the surrounding area. Satisfied that they had remained undetected, the Southie continued. "Touched as I am by your concern, Miss peace-loving hippy chick, I won't be taking them on myself. You'll be helping me," she told the witch confidently.

"Faith, I have no idea about my magic here," Tara reminded her quickly.

"I know. But it's about time we found out. Now, all I want you to do is create a little diversion. If we can get those two scooting off in another direction we can hightail it through there without me having to raise a fist," Faith pulled a face before completing the sentence, "unfortunately."

"I'll try," Tara told the brunette nervously. "But don't blame me if my diversion consists of ten rabbits hopping through the greenery."

"Listen Tar, if you don't do this, we have to fight our way through. There's no other way. But let's at least try and keep our options open for as long as possible, okay?"

Tara nodded faintly, encouraged by the younger girl's support and determination. She followed Faith back to where they had first spotted the demons. Once again, the two girls noticed the patrol-like way they were moving around the clearing. As they sniffed the air again, one of the demons licked his lips in anticipation, sending a shiver of disgust through the blonde woman. Carefully, she leant forward and whispered into Faith's ear. "Where do you want the distraction?"

Faith pointed to an area opposite to where they were headed. She looked questioningly at the blonde girl and Tara nodded her understanding before taking a deep breath to steady herself.

The witch decided that a small fireball would probably be the best thing to conjure. If she could explode it some way into the forest, it would attract the attention of any hidden patrols too. She just hoped any demons running towards the fireball wouldn't run into their escape route.

Picking out one large tree to be her focal point, Tara took a deep breath as she mentally rehearsed the spell she was about to perform, fervently hoping that it would do what she wanted it to do. The tall girl raised her right hand, pointed at the forest and then spoke the incantation out loud in a confident but quiet manner.

Faith followed Tara's hand and tried to determine where exactly the blonde girl was focusing on. As she heard the witch cast the spell, she switched her gaze continually between the wooded area and the copse where the demons patrolled in case they heard what was going on.

Tara finished the spell and looked expectantly at the forest.

Nothing happened.

She waited a fraction longer before breaking the stare to look at Faith, her stomach lurching as she felt a wave of disappointment rush through her. The blonde woman was relieved to see that Faith had kept her face neutral. She didn't think she'd be able to hold herself together if she saw her own disappointment reflected in the dark brown eyes of her friend.

Suddenly, a deafening crash roared through the trees. Tara and Faith snapped their eyes back to where the witch had concentrated her spell.

The tree Tara had centred on had simply been obliterated. All the trees that had immediately surrounded the tree had suffered the same fate. A large black circle marked the area where they once stood. The trees on the perimeter of the circle were scorched and twisted. Many had been forced over, and the branches and leaves were covered in match-sized splinters, tiny remnants of the trees that Tara's magick had destroyed.

"Those ten rabbits are a bit vicious," Faith commented blandly. She was stunned by the ferocity of the energy Tara had harnessed.

"Oh Goddess," the older girl whispered. "I never summoned power like that. I cast a simple, *small* fireball," she continued, faltering repeatedly over the sentence.

Faith looked over to where the demons had been standing. Initially, they stared at the debris, before looking at each other. Their confusion was clearly evident, despite the lack of human features the demons possessed. After a moment, the pair hurried towards the impact to investigate the site, lumbering through the woodland and making no attempt to keep their approach quiet.

The brunette slayer cocked her head and listened intently. From all around, she could hear the crashing movements of other demons in the trees. They were all descending on the area to investigate. "We haven't got time to worry about what you meant to do, Blondie," she told Tara. "We've got to get out of here now."

Tara picked up the urgency in Faith's voice and together they sprinted through the clearing and along the path they originally intended to use. There was no need to mask their own footfall as it was easily drowned out by the noise the other demons were making.

Faith picked the pace up, running as fast as she dared over the rough terrain but making sure that she did not leave Tara behind. After a while she slowed down and motioned for Tara to stop, pulling the taller girl into the shadows as they came to a halt. Once again, she listened carefully, turning her head round slowly as she tried to determine if they had company. Tara unconsciously held her breath and looked at the younger girl expectantly.

"I think we're clear," Faith announced after a few moments. "Come on, we're not far now." She strode off confidently. "Besides, with power like that, we've got no worries going up against demons one-on-one now."

Tara looked at the slayer in horror, before hurrying after her. "Faith, I don't know how that happened. All I cast was a simple fireball. There's no way I could have produced enough energy to cause that much destruction."

"You said it yourself Tar. All that stuff about magickal planes and how it might work differently here," Faith responded. "It's working differently all right. Instead of you having lesser powers, you've got massive powers."

"There's something wrong though," Tara demurred, shaking her head slightly. "I don't even feel tired by the spell."

"Well you wouldn't if what you cast was a simple fireball," Faith reasoned. She frowned as she tried to concentrate on a topic that had always remained mysterious to her.

"Yes, but the energy had to be harnessed from somewhere, or something." Tara gestured round them. "And if I didn't yoke it, who did?"

"Unless you did it without realising it. Perhaps the words you use here hold different meanings," Faith suggested, her mind beginning to swim with all the concepts that were being raised.

Tara grabbed her companion by the arm and stopped her mid-stride. "No," she stated firmly, a look of deep consternation etched on her features. "Because if that was the case, the power I drew on accidentally would have drained me," the Blonde wicca insisted.

Faith shook her head as it began to buzz with information overload. "Look Tar, I know this is worrying for you and all, but wouldn't it be better if we concentrate on getting back to where we first materialised so that the others can get us home?"

Tara nodded in agreement, but her face remained pensive. "If I can harness power like that, maybe we don't need the others to get back," she suggested tentatively.

Faith rolled her eyes. "One thing at a time. Once we're back where we started, we can figure out if you have to do some serious magick shit. Until then, save your breath and get your ass in gear." With that, Faith set off again, though her pace was far more cautious than their flight through the trap the demons had set. Her slayer instincts were on full alert as they negotiated the route once more. The Bostonian had long ago learnt the merits of caution and was not about to get complacent after evading one lot of monsters.

Tara followed the other girl miserably. She had always taken great pains to be careful in the use of magick and had never experimented without knowing the full implications of each spell she attempted. To her, it was a tool that was not to be used lightly or for personal enjoyment or gain. Suddenly, everything she had known about the arcane arts had been thrown into confusion. She wasn't even sure if she should attempt any other magick while they remained here. However, there were still the other demons to deal with.

Deep in her reverie, the blonde witch didn't realise that Faith had halted until she crashed into the back of her. She stumbled and lost her balance but was held up by a strong arm that pulled her behind the slayer's back.

"It helps if you look where you're going," Faith whispered.

"Sorry," Tara apologised meekly, her voice also in a whisper though she didn't know why. "Why have we stopped?"

"Take a look, Blondie," the shorter girl suggested and pointed to a gap in the trees ahead.

It took a moment for Tara to find out what she was looking for but as soon as her eyes locked onto what Faith had already seen, she swallowed and looked back at Faith nervously. "Varos?" She questioned hesitantly?

"In the flesh," agreed the slayer grimly. "Twice as big, probably four times as powerful and he's standing exactly where we materialised."

Part 16

Uncharacteristically, it was Tara who voiced what they were both thinking. "We're screwed."

Her comment managed to raise Faith's eyebrows. "You got that right," she concurred. "You up for some more fireballs?"

"I'm not convinced that Varos will go off to investigate one of my fireballs," Tara pointed out.

"Not as a distraction Tar," Faith corrected. "You could toast the fucker without him even realising it."

"No," Tara demurred quickly. "I can't use power like that on the demons here."

Faith stared at the girl incredulously. "Why the hell not?"

Tara looked around for a few moments before settling her gaze on the rogue slayer. "I cast spells against demons and vampires in Sunnydale because they don't belong there. I can justify my actions because innocents will get hurt if I don't." She tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear as she continued. "The demons in this place belong here. It's their world. We're the ones that don't belong. I have no right to destroy them just to get back."

"But they're out to get us Tar. You've already seen that," Faith pointed out.

"I know. And I'll willingly use magick to create a diversion. But I can't go on a rampage. It would be wrong."

"Who's asking you to go on a rampage?" Faith began to get indignant.

"You know what I mean," Tara returned.

"No I don't. They're where we want to be. I don't think tapping Varos on the shoulder and asking him to move on so we can get home is gonna work somehow." Faith made no effort to hide the sarcasm.

"I know that," Tara replied, getting frustrated. "I can't use a power I know nothing about to kill demons that belong here. I don't know what the implications would be."

Faith shook her head in confusion. "Oh, so it's all right for me to risk my ass so that we stay alive, just as long as you keep your principles intact. Is that it?"

"That's not what I meant at all," Tara refuted. "It's not just about principles and moral issues. I don't know how my magick works here. And I don't want to be inadvertently drawing on powers that I don't agree with for my own personal gain."

"You mean black hat shit," Faith surmised.

"I'm not even sure if there is a difference between white and black magick here. I just don't know. That's the point Faith. How can I use a power I know nothing about against Varos?"

"I don't think you've got much choice, Blondie," retorted Faith, her voice harsh with restrained anger.

"There's always a choice Faith," Tara replied.

"Well think on this choice then," the slayer's voice was beginning to shake. "What if Red tries to summon us back while Varos is standing there? Is she going to be able to differentiate between us and him?" She paused as she watched for a reaction from Tara. "So you're gonna have to choose between Varos being sent back to Sunnydale or destroying him here."

Willow held her head in her hands and sighed. Her eyes were dry and scratchy from so much reading and a thick band of tension tightened across her head as her frustration at not finding what she wanted began to mount. "I need a break," she announced to no one in particular and stood up to stretch.

"I think we all do," Giles concurred as he sat back and rubbed his neck absently. "Perhaps we should go out and get something to eat," he suggested, looking round at the table's other occupants.

Angel smiled wryly. "I'll eat later," he told the Watcher. Giles nodded but looked expectantly at the others.

Suddenly, Wesley looked up from the book that lay open in front of him. "Willow, I think I've found what you used," he told her, his voice quiet and cautious. The researchers had already suffered too many disappointments during the day. Now, each enquiry was forwarded with hesitancy and doubt.

The red-haired wiccan rubbed her temples roughly in an effort to dislodge the pain she felt there. "Give it here then," she asked and extended a slender arm out to take the tome from Wes's grasp. It took her a few moments to find the passage that Wesley was referring to, but as soon as her eyes scanned the words, she looked up excitedly, all previous evidence of exhaustion evaporating as she spoke. "This is it, Wes. Well done."

Suddenly, the Magic Box became invigorated with anticipation. Willow read the passage again and then worked her way back through the book steadily. It took time, and the tension started to build.

Buffy got up and began to pace while she waited for her friend to finish her study. If it wasn't for the fact that it was still the middle of the day, she would have gone out and hunted something to stake but there was no way she was going to leave until she knew the outcome of this latest breakthrough. Unfortunately, her heart sank when she saw Willow lean back in her chair, a look of defeat etched on her visage. "What's up?"

"I don't think I can open a gateway to get them back," was the flat reply.

"Why not? You've got something to work with now. What's the problem?" Angel lost his normal reticence to probe Willow quickly.

"I haven't got the power to do it," the witch answered simply.

"But you sent them there. If you had the power to do that, why haven't you got the power to bring them back?" It was Wesley this time that shot off the question.

"I was absorbing the power from the summoning spell. I stored up as much excess energy as I could. To invoke another gateway, I'd need the same sort of power," Willow replied.

"Then perform the summoning again."

All the occupants of the Magic Box turned round quickly as Cordelia entered the shop. She looked pale and drawn and as she walked towards them, the tall woman winced occasionally but she kept her eyes firmly on the auburn-haired girl sat at the table.

"Cordy," Angel got up and hugged her lightly, relieved to see his secretary out of hospital at last. "How did you manage to get out?"

Cordelia held onto the tall vampire tightly. "I think I wore them down in the end. Faith's not the only one who doesn't like hospitals."

From one side, Gunn snorted and shook his head. At the enquiring glances from everyone else, he grinned. "By the time you finished with them, you would have either left by the front door or in a body bag," he told her.

Cordelia grinned back at the black man. "It was their own fault for trying to make me stay for more tests," she justified.

"Yeah, well. Just make sure that your little performance doesn't get back to Faith." As soon as he mentioned the rogue slayer's name, Gunn tensed and then rolled his eyes. "Sorry," he mumbled.

Cordelia shook her head slightly. "Don't worry," she replied, acknowledging his apology at the gaff. The tall brunette swung round and concentrated her gaze on the red-haired witch. "Right. What's all this about not being able to get Faith back?"

"I haven't got the power. I'd need to summon Varos again to generate that sort of power."

"Then do it."

"Are you serious? We can't summon back something like that."

"If that's what it takes, then that's what we do," Cordelia insisted. "I told you, Willow. I'm not giving up on them."

"Nor am I," Willow objected, her voice rising in protest. "But I can't perform the summoning again. We destroyed the artefacts, remember?"

Cordelia faltered as she recalled the events at the cemetery. "Is there no other way of generating that power?" She asked, her demeanour business-like as she tried to think the problem through.

"You don't need the artefacts," Anya stated as she got up to pour herself a cup of coffee.

Ignoring what the ex-vengeance demon said, Willow looked steadily at Cordelia. "I do have limits to my powers, even if I don't know it myself sometimes," she admitted. "I can't conjure up a portal to another realm by myself. I need additional resources."

"Isn't there anything in these books that can give you that power?" The Seer gestured at the books scattered on the table contemptuously.

"Well there was Varos' summoning. That would create the right type of energy as well as the right amount of power to do it. But the artefacts are gone. That ship has sailed." Willow sighed and seemed to sink into her chair, allowing defeat to wash over her again.

"The artefacts only held Varos' power, it was the incantation that generated the power in the first place," Anya remarked conversationally as she returned with a full mug.

"Don't worry, Anya. I didn't want a cup but thanks anyway," Cordelia told the blonde girl sarcastically before turning back to Willow. "Isn't there any other type of ritual you could perform? Varos can't have been the only demon to be banished by a bunch of witches," she pursued doggedly.

"Probably," Willow admitted. "I just don't know where to find it."

"But you know *how* to get them back if you did have the power now?" Cordelia was determined to at least know that some of the problem had been solved.

"Yes," Willow admitted. "If I had the power, I could use it to create a gateway to the correct place and get Tara back."

"And Faith," added the Seer quickly.

"Always assuming Faith hasn't already gone Loony-Toons on Tara and left her for dead out there," Willow continued, oblivious to Cordelia's rising anger.

"Look Miss Insecurity complex, I'm just about half past give a shit with your attitude. Let's examine the facts here shall we?" Cordelia was seething.

"Cordy," Wes warned softly, trying to stem the tide before Cordelia went into a full-scale tirade.

"Shove it Wesley." The Seer dealt with the young Watcher dismissively before returning her attention to Willow. "One," she began, indicating her first point with a raised forefinger. "Faith returns to Sunnydale whilst doing her *job* only to be run down by you and your super-friends who are still getting off on what she did years ago."

Willow opened her mouth to protest but no words formed as the look Cordelia gave her hardened dramatically. "Two, she manages to get the third artefact from a shape-shifter who almost guts her in the process. Three," by this time, there were three fingers held up to accentuate Cordelia's argument. "When we come to destroy the artefacts, not only does she take on Varos, she saves mine and then probably your life by taking out that bitch shape-shifter..."

"That you thought was Faith in your vision and believed she was going to kill you," Willow interjected quickly, trying to at least even up the score in some way.

Cordelia faltered for just a fraction of a second, reliving the pain of that moment before she went in for the kill. "And four, it was *you* who decided to kill Faith with magick and it backfired by harming Tara as well. The only person I've witnessed harming any of the Scoobs is you, Willow. And you did it to your own girlfriend."

The whole shop remained in stunned silence as they waited for Willow to react to Cordelia's outburst. Willow found herself without an answer, but the mention of harming Tara cut her deeply and she focused her resolve on finding a way to get her back. "We need to look for a way for me to get more power," she muttered, deciding not to answer any of Cordelia's points.

Surprised at the lack of conflict, the Seer felt surprisingly deflated and sat back. She winced slightly as a wave of pain burned through her stomach but she fought off her nausea and stamped down on her anger, satisfied at least partially, that she'd been able to set Willow straight on a couple of issues. "So do you know of any other summoning spells that we could use?" She asked again.

"Not off the top of my head," Willow returned quietly. "It's time for some more research."

The rest of the room groaned at the thought but the sounds were quickly muted by Cordelia's sharp stare that encompassed everyone. Reluctantly, those around the table reached out to grab books.

"Why are you still reading?" Anya enquired as she took another sip of her coffee.

"Did your brain desiccate when they took away your powers?" Cordelia asked incredulously.

The blonde ex-demon returned the Seer's stare easily. "Possibly. I'd have to ask D'Hoffryn. What I don't understand is if Willow knows how to get Tara and the psycho back, why aren't we just making preparations to do it?"

"Because I need to find a way of harnessing enough power to do it." Willow ground the words out deliberately slowly, as if speaking to a small child.

Anya used the same style to answer her. "But you already have a way of harnessing the power."

By this time the whole Magic Box was focused on the conversation. There was a long pause as they waited for Anya to tell them what they were missing. After the pause showed no sign of being broken Xander decided to prompt his girlfriend. "Honey, what are you talking about?"

"The incantation to summon Varos will generate the power Willow needs."

"But we don't have the artefacts," the red-haired wiccan pointed out persistently.

Giles interrupted, suddenly recalling Anya's previous comments. "No. The incantation doesn't rely on the artefacts at all. Of course. Anya, that's brilliant."

The blonde girl smiled in surprise. "Really? Does this mean you'll let me look after the money from the shop now?"

Wisely deciding to ignore her last comment, Giles began to pace as he pounced onto the task at hand. "We still need three people to perform the rite."

"And Tara's not here," Willow pointed out quickly. "I'm not sure that the recitation could be performed by only one witch."

"But I've already done it once," Cordelia pointed out. "And it worked all right. We just need Anya to do Tara's part."

Willow groaned. "She'll never remember it correctly. That's why you had to do it."

"I am still in the room you know," Anya pointed out.

"I know," agreed the auburn witch acidly.

"Look. We don't have a choice here. Unless you want Buffy doing the spell." Cordelia looked up for an instant and met Buffy's hazel eyes apologetically. "Sorry, no offence."

Buffy shook her head and gave the Seer an amused look. "None taken."

"So all it comes down to is when to do the incantation again."

"You're serious aren't you? You're prepared to summon Varos back in order to get Faith back?" Giles stared at Cordelia in amazement.

"Deadly serious Giles. If Varos comes back with them, at least we'll have two slayers and two witches to help us defeat him."

"Those are odds I'll take," Angel supplied softly.

Giles looked round at the other occupants of the Magic Box as he considered the alternatives. He took off his glasses and absently cleaned them before speaking again. "So when are you going to do this?"

"As soon as Anya's learnt the incantation," Cordy vowed.

Tara licked her lips nervously as she considered what Faith had told her. The brunette girl was quite right of course. There would be no way of determining who was at the portal should Willow have the power to reopen it. More to the point, even if she knew it was Varos standing there, Tara doubted that she would have the power to prevent him from coming through the gateway without collapsing it. She flicked her eyes at Faith who was studying her quietly and then sighed. "I can't do it Faith. I won't use power I don't understand."

"What?!" Faith exploded. "So you're prepared to let that thing be unleashed on Sunnydale again?"

"No. I'm not going to let that happen again either," she told the slayer.

"So what are you gonna do then. Invite him back to the cave for afternoon tea?"

"I'll collapse the portal from this side if he attempts to enter it."

There was a long pause as Faith stared at Tara. She immediately understood the implications of Tara's plan but allowed herself a few moments of denial before responding. "You're going to destroy our route home?" It was intended to be a question, but it was voiced more like a dull statement of fact.

"That's what I meant by there always being a choice," Tara told her softly.

"Well that ain't my choice Twinkie," Faith retorted. "I have no intention of staying in this hellhole for longer than absolutely necessary."

"Faith, I can't use this power on Varos."

"So you keep saying. But you're quite happy to sacrifice me in the process of keeping your principles."

"No. I'll collapse the portal once you're through. That way we can guarantee Varos not returning to Sunnydale."

Faith shook her head. "Jeez Tar, do you really think I'm gonna let you stand here and destroy your way home?"

"It's the best option we have."

"No it isn't." Faith turned on her heel and began to head to where Varos and a number of other demons were standing. "If you don't want to use magick to destroy him, we'll go back to the old-fashioned method," she muttered, swinging an arm down towards her boot and plucking out her knife as she strode along.

Tara stared at Faith's back for a moment, unsure if Faith was calling her bluff or not. Then she realised that it didn't matter. The slayer was determined for her to change her mind one way or another. Shaking her head, the blonde witch hurried after Faith and tugged her on the arm.

The younger girl shook her arm free but stopped walking. "Changed your mind?" She asked.

"No, but you can't go up against Varos just like that. It would be total suicide."

"And what you're proposing isn't?" Faith spat back contemptuously.

"I know what you're saying Faith, but there has to be another way. Let's just back off and think for a few moments and see if we can come up with another plan between us." Tara knew that it would be foolish to dismiss Faith's plan totally out of hand. It would simply make the young brunette all the more determined to go through with it. And, she had to admit, Faith did have a point about her own decisions. Their best option was to work things out together. She just hoped Faith appreciated that.

The shorter girl studied Tara's face for a moment as she contemplated her words. Reluctantly, she nodded tersely. "Come on then. Let's find somewhere safe and get thinking."

The two girls turned together to put some distance between themselves and Varos but made no further attempt to go anywhere when they saw four demons standing in their path. As they turned round to look for an escape route, Tara and Faith quickly realised that they were surrounded.

"How the hell did that happen?" Faith muttered, her fists clenching as she inspected the lines for any weaknesses.

"They sneaked up on us while we were arguing," Tara replied, feeling responsible for the situation.

"Well, now you're in a predicament," Faith told her. "Cos there's no way I'm gonna be able to deal with all of these munchkins."

"Well, what do we have here?" A deep voice resonated from behind them. Faith and Tara turned round and saw Varos approaching them.

"It's the good little witch and the dashing Knight."

Tara frowned, confused at his words. "Dashing knight?" She whispered at Faith.

The brunette slayer squirmed slightly before answering. "It's my surname."

"Dashing's your last name?"

Faith shot the blonde girl an icy look. "Please tell me you're not that dense."

"And I know you know who I am, so that completes the introductions." Varos took charge of the conversation once again.

"How polite of you," Faith returned. "So what do you want?"

"Always so impatient," Varos' deep voice mocked the slayer. "However, there is something I require from you."

Faith looked at Tara quickly before scanning their surroundings again. As far as she could tell, they had no escape routes at all. Deciding to play along with Varos, the rogue slayer spoke again. "So what is it that you *require* from us?"

"Nothing from you, slayer. But I need the witch."

Tara stiffened and her eyes widened slightly. "W-w-what f-for?"

"I need you to open the gateway back to Earth."

Tara shook her head assuredly. "There's n-no way I'll help you get b-b-back there."

The tall demon smiled maliciously. "You don't have a choice," he told her.

"Deja vu, much," Faith muttered.

Varos ignored the brunette and continued to stare at Tara. "You're a good little witch. Only using good power, assisting when necessary and never for personal gain. I know this about you."

Tara swallowed. "Then you know I'll never help you," she retorted.

"Ah, but what will it take for you to change your mind. The torture of your friend perhaps?"

Both girls looked at each other. "Tara, don't do it," Faith warned. They looked around and saw the demons that had surrounded them closing in.

Part 17

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