Author: Froggy Frog and Miller
Willow watched him again. He just stood there, waiting. Smoking his cigarette. Wearing that filthy coat.
Willow didn't like him. She knew him so well, every part of his face. Every statement. He didn't have many. Most were variations of annoyed or vexed. His scruffy beard held crumbs of his last meal and, so far as Willow could tell, his matted black hair had never been washed. He leaned against the brick wall and looked down the street, first left, then right. Then he drew deeply on his cigarette, scratched his beard, and looked down the street again.
Willow sat back in the chair and pushed the telescope away. She stretched and yawned and leaned back in the chair. Goddess, this was boring. She checked the alignment of the video camera and the microphone. Nothing had changed. Not that it would, but she liked to be sure. She glanced at her watch. 1am. She was hungry and tired. And lonely. Willow looked at the door. Where was she?
Willow studied the small single bed in the corner of the dark, dingy room. Pathetic as it was, it was starting to look very inviting. It would be nice to go there, close her eyes for a little while. Willow tried to resist the urge.
She rubbed her aching shoulder and winced. It was still sore from the gunshot wound she'd received two weeks ago.
Willow grabbed the telescope again and refocused it on her target. He hadn't moved. He leaned against the wall of the nightclub as if he were one of the fixtures. Do something - anything - thought Willow.
Willow felt a slight flutter in her stomach. She smiled. Tara. Tara was near. Hopefully with coffee. And hot food.
A few minutes later she heard footsteps on the stairs and the door opened.
"About time, Tara," Willow said. "A bit tardy, eh? I was beginning to think..."
"Ow... Hot!" Tara said.
Tara was struggling with two large styrofoam cups, one stacked on the top of another. Willow stood up and went to help Tara, grabbed the cups and set them on the table.
"Thanks... I spilled some when I opened the door," Tara said, sucking the index finger of her left hand.
"Here... Let me do that," Willow said, grinning. She moved closer and slid her arm around Tara's waist. She raised Tara's scalded hand to her mouth.
Tara appeared alarmed and quickly stepped away from Willow. Willow frowned in confusion. "Tara?" she said.
"Uh... Agent R-rosenberg, this is Agent S-scully," Tara said quickly.
Willow looked behind Tara. The room was dimly lit by the pale streetlight coming in through the window, but Willow could clearly see the woman standing in the doorway. She carried a briefcase and wore a black jacket and skirt and a simple white blouse. Her shining red hair framed her pale face. She looked at Willow, an eyebrow raised, her lips pursed.
"Oh... erm... Hi," Willow said awkwardly. "I didn't see you there."
"Evidently not." Scully said. "Hello, Agent Rosenberg." She walked over to the table and put down her briefcase and the paper bag, then went to the window and peered out.
Willow looked questioningly at Tara. Tara shrugged her shoulders.
Willow picked up a cup and smelled it. Chamomile. Urgh. She handed it to Tara, then sniffed the next cup. Coffee. Much better. She took a sip.
"Erm... Agent Scully," Willow said, "what are you doing here? In Chicago, that is."
"I'm on a... case," Scully said. "Assistant Director Skinner asked me to drop off some files while I was here." She turned away from the window and looked directly at Willow. "And to see how things were going."
Willow frowned. Checking on us, she thought. Damn Skinner. Damn the whole FBI.
"Things are... proceeding slowly," Willow said, coolly. She clenched her teeth and swallowed the anger she felt start to rise within her.
"And what progress have you two made?" Scully asked.
Willow almost laughed. What a question. What progress had she and Tara made?
None. Not with the case. Not with each other.
Willow had only been out of the hospital for a week. Her shoulder had healed well, and although it felt slightly stiff and ached a little, it would give her no lasting trouble. She had returned to work as quickly as possible, eager to be around her new friend. But Tara had been away, presenting a paper at the FBI's forensic science lab in Houston for part of the previous week, following through a commitment made prior to her assignment as Willow's partner. They had met for dinner last Friday, and the two slightly tipsy agents had made their way back to Willow's apartment. And then accidentally discovered bureau cameras hidden throughout the apartment. Which spoiled the mood, somewhat, Willow recalled.
And now, this assignment. For the last 18 hours they'd been monitoring a suspect in a side street in downtown Chicago. Staring at him through the telescope from their vantage point - a room they had sequestered in a musty second floor apartment above a Chinese herbalist.
"Progress?" Willow said, forcing her mildest tone. "Agent McClay, would you like to give Agent Scully a run down on the status of the case?"
Better Tara give the report than her.
"Yes, certainly Will- Agent Rosenberg," Tara began. "The suspect is a male, a Mr Damon Richter, thirty six years of age. He is a loosely associated with two recent incidents of larceny, one here in Chicago three days ago and one in San Francisco on the 17th of June. On both occasions a man fitting Richter's description was seen loitering about the crime scene for several days prior to each theft. However, no evidence was located to link Richter with each robbery. After a sighting by local authorities, we initiated surveillance on the suspect yesterday morning at 8am. During the day the suspect sat in a discarded armchair in the alley across the street. On three occasions he left the armchair to visit the delicatessen next door to this building. He purchases sandwiches for cash and takes them back to the armchair, where he eats them. The suspect has been observed loitering around the outside of the night-club since 9:30pm."
Willow watched Tara as she spoke, listened to her soothing voice, carefully examined her deep blue eyes, and felt her frustration subside.
Scully watched Tara, her head slightly titled to one side, a slight smile curving up the edges of her mouth.
"I see," said Scully. "Interesting that Skinner put you two on a simple robbery case. I was under the impression that you were both experts in the occult, or mysticism."
"Oh, we a-are, Agent Scully. In w-witchcraft, predominantly," Tara said. "The items stolen are artifacts used in witchcraft. From private collectors."
"Interesting," Scully said. She turned to face the table. "I must be going. It's been a long day." She opened her briefcase and handed Willow a large envelope. "This is for you."
Willow took the envelope.
Agent Scully picked up her briefcase and walked to the door. She turned and looked at Willow and Tara. "Be careful," she said as she left.
Willow and Tara stared at the door in silence for a few moments.
Tara went over to the window and looked outside. She stood for a few minutes and watched Damon Richter smoke yet another cigarette.
Willow tore open the envelope. It contained a single folder. She took a seat at the table, opened the folder and started to flick through the documents it contained.
Tara went to stand behind Willow. She slowly ran Willow's red hair through her fingers.
"Sorry about that... you know, earlier," Willow said. "I should be more careful, eh?"
"It's okay," Tara said. "I should have told you straight away that Agent Scully was with me. But I hurt my finger and... well... kind of forgot."
"Poor dear," Willow said. "Still... I know the FBI's stupid rules all too well. And I should know better and try not to be so silly around you."
"Don't try too hard, Willow," Tara said. "I like it."
She bent over Willow's shoulder and kissed her cheek. Willow sighed. She was happily doomed.
"A new file? Anything interesting?" Tara asked.
"Yes. Very interesting," Willow said. She turned back to the first page and pointed at a photograph stapled to the inside cover of the folder. The picture was of the face a well-groomed young man. Tara thought he looked somewhat familiar.
"This is Nicholas Brooks. He's a wealthy lawyer. He has a large collection of books and occult objects and artifacts, some very rare items," Willow said. "He lives in New England, but has apartments in New York and Washington. He also owns a large house in southern California."
"Has he also had something stolen by Richter?" Tara asked.
"No," Willow said. "He is Richter."
"He's Richter?" Tara said, studying the picture in the file and comparing it to the scruffy man standing in the street below. The similarities were obvious now. She could easily see it was the same man.
"Why?" Tara said, bemused. "What's he doing looking like... that? Did he lose all his money?"
"No," Willow said, reading carefully. "It says here he's still got... oh goddess... lots... More than lots, actually."
"So... again, why?" Tara said.
"Perhaps he prefers the grimy hobo look?" Willow suggested.
"You think?" Tara said. "Oh look! Willow, he's talking to someone!"
Willow ran to the window and looked outside. Richter was talking to a smartly dressed man and a rather overdressed woman.
"They just came out of the night-club," Tara whispered. "He just walked up to them and started talking."
Suddenly the man started gesticulating at Richter, and Willow and Tara could hear his angry shouts through the window. The woman did not seem agitated, and stood quietly to one side, occasionally speaking to her irate friend. Richter started to walk away from the night-club. The woman waved goodbye to her companion and followed after him. The man she had left the night-club with ran after her, pleading desperately. She appeared to ignore him and continued to follow behind Richter. The man leaped forward to grab Richter by the arm and tried to stop him. Richter turned to face the man and held his right hand up. The man flew backwards for several meters and landed heavily on the sidewalk, clutching this throat.
Richter turned away from the man and continued along the sidewalk. The woman appeared startled at her companion's situation, but Richter grabbed her hand and pulled her along after him.
"Oh hell," Willow said. "Let's go!"
She grabbed her bag and ran towards the door. Tara followed behind her down the stairs and out into the street below.
Willow looked around, searching for Richter. "Tara. Check him!" she said, pointing across the street to the man writhing on the sidewalk. Willow started running down the street in the direction Richter had gone.
Tara rushed across the street, barely dodging a passing car.
The man was writhing on the floor, his hands around his throat. A dark green liquid was slowly bubbling from his lips. Tara knelt down beside him and grabbed his arm.
"Over on to your side!" she yelled at the man. "Now!"
She struggled to push the panic stricken man over to his side. He lay there, moaning, his eyes wide with fear. "Relax," she said, adjusting his head so that the thick liquid poured freely from his mouth and on to the sidewalk. "Try to relax. Don't speak."
Willow came running up behind Tara and pushed through the circle of onlookers that had formed around Tara and the man.
"Tara," Willow panted. "I... I lost him. Them. Cab. They took a cab."
She peered over Tara's should and saw the man on the footpath.
"Oh my! Danzen's Second Curse?" she said.
"Yes," Tara said. "I think so. He'll be alright in a few minutes."
The liquid had stopped flowing from the man's mouth and he was breathing more regularly. Willow knelt beside him.
"What's you friend's name? The woman?" Willow asked. "Where does she live?"
The man coughed violently. "Philipa... Philipa Astina," he said, green spittle running down his chin. "I don't know... where she lives. First date. She prefers that bum!"
Willow frowned. "He'll be okay, Tara?" she asked.
"Yes. He'll be fine," Tara said.
"Okay. You!" Willow said, pointing to a woman in the crowd. "Call 911 now!"
Willow stood and pushed her way through the onlookers. "Tara, let's go."
Tara left the man in the circle of people and hurried after Willow.
"Are we just going to drive around, Willow?" Tara said.
"We've got to find him. There's not much traffic. We might be able to spot them," Willow said, turning left at an intersection.
"Okay..." Tara said.
"Tara, get my computer out of my bag," Willow said.
Tara reached over to the back seat of the car and dragged Willow's bag onto her lap. She unzipped it and pulled out Willow's laptop.
"Open it up," Willow said.
Tara opened the lid of the computer.
"Erm... okay. It's on," Tara said, squinting at the screen. "But it wants a password."
Willow coughed. "Erm... yes, of course," she said, somewhat hesitantly. "It's... erm... oh goddess this is embarrassing."
Tara grinned. "Come on," she said. "Tell me."
Willow sighed. "It's 'tarasass'. Capital 't', capital 'a'," she said.
Tara chuckled. "Oh. And how exactly do you spell that, Willow?" she asked.
"You know how to spell it," Willow said gruffly.
Tara typed in the password and hit the return key. "Okay. It seems ready." she said. "That is... it's not doing anything in particular."
"Okay. Click on the icon that says 'Locator'," Willow said.
"Yep. Okay. Done," Tara said. "Um. It looks complicated. Lots of little boxes and things."
"Yeah. Just type in the woman's name in the first box," Willow said.
"Okay... Philipa Astina," Tara said as she typed. "Do you think it's one 'l' in Philipa or two?"
"Won't matter," Willow said. "Click the button that says 'find'."
"Okay. It's erm... doing something," Tara said. "Flashing a... um... thing... in the corner of the screen. Oh, now there's an address. And a little map!"
"Good. We're the flashing blue dot on the map... how far to the address?" Willow said.
Tara studied the screen for a few seconds. "Um... next left, second building on the right!" she said. "Oh, this is very cool."
Willow sped across to the left hand lane and turned around the corner. The tree-lined street was bordered by several tall apartment complexes.
"Expensive neighborhood," Willow said, looking at the buildings.
"It's there. The big black shiny one," Tara said.
She parked the car in front of a tall glass-clad building. Tara and Willow got out of the car and went to the large front door. It was locked. There was a button on the wall above a speaker.
Willow pushed the button. A few seconds later a voice crackled out of the speaker. "Can I help you?"
"FBI. Open up," Willow said. She took out her badge and waved it around, assuming there was some sort of security camera watching them.
There was a buzzing sound and the huge brass door opened. Willow and Tara entered a marble floored entrance hall. A security guard sat at a desk in the center of the building. The agents walked over to the desk.
"Hello. We're looking for Philipa Astina," Willow said. "We understand she lives here. Have you seen her?"
The security guard looked concerned. "Why yes," he said. "She just went up to her room."
"Was anyone with her?" Tara asked.
"Yes. Ms Astina was in the company of a young... er... gentleman," the guard said with a look of distaste.
"What's her room number?", Willow said.
"It's the penthouse. Thirty second floor," he said. "You can take the elevator."
Willow and Tara went to the elevator and pushed the up button. Seconds later the elevator arrived. They entered and Tara selected the 32nd floor.
The elevator stopped and the doors slid open, revealing a short corridor with a large oak door at the end of it. They approached the door and rang the doorbell. There was no response. Willow knocked on the door.
"Miss Astina?" she shouted.
Again there was no response. Willow tried the door. It was locked.
"What now?" Tara asked.
"We go in!" Willow said. She pointed her finger at the doorknob and whispered something in a strange language. There was a click. Willow tried the door again. It opened. She smiled smugly at Tara.
"Show off," Tara said.
Willow walked into the dark apartment. "Hello? Philipa Astina?" Willow called out. She found the light switch and turned on the lights. "We're from the... Oh goddess! Tara!"
Willow stood frozen in the hallway of the apartment, her hand covering her mouth.
Tara looked past her into the brightly lit living room. The body of Philipa Astina lay on a large white rug in the middle of the room. Bright red blood stained a large area of the rug, and pooled on the polished wooden floorboards. The dead woman lay on the rug on her stomach, her neck broken and her head twisted fully around, her unseeing eyes fixed on the ceiling.
Willow drew her weapon and scanned the room, searching the any signs of movement.
She walked slowly forward, her gun held at arm's length, and looked around cautiously. The large room appeared empty.
The wall in front of Willow was made up of huge windows that rose from the floor to the ceiling high above. The lights from the city skyline were visible through the dark glass. To the right was a hallway, and to the left a large kitchen and several doors.
From the hallway came a loud crash followed by the sound of breaking glass. Willow spun around and aimed at the empty hall.
"FBI!" Willow yelled, tensed and ready. "We're armed. Come out with you hands on your head."
There was no response.
Tara, still startled, nervously reached into her bag for her gun. She pulled it out and held it rather shakily before her. She then felt a strange sensation in her stomach.
"Willow!" she said. "Magic!"
Willow had felt it too. A strange, tingling feeling deep within her. She saw a soft glowing light in the corridor slowly grow brighter.
She heard Tara's soft voice behind her, whispering. "Oh goddess Thespia, may your power and wisdom protect us from harm..."
A bright flash emanated from the corridor, and a bright ball of light floated into the room.
"Oh dear," Willow said, and joined in Tara's incantation.
The ball exploded directly in front of Willow and Tara. The blast knocked over all the furniture, sending it crashing against the walls. The windows shattered instantly, glass flying outwards and falling to the street below.
Willow and Tara stood in a protective bubble of blue light, and watched the energy of the explosion roar around them. In seconds the blast dissipated, leaving the room devastated, the once white walls now scorched black, the blinds melted, the furniture destroyed. A chill wind blew fiercely through the empty space where the windows had been.
A man - Richter - ran out of the corridor and skidded to a halt, dumbfounded, when he saw Willow and Tara standing unharmed by the door.
"Freeze!" yelled Willow, aiming directly at him.
The man slowly lifted his hands above his head. He turned to faced the agents. The wind howled through the windows, blowing his long greasy black hair around his face.
"Now listen, ladies," Richter said in a smooth, mellow voice. "There's no need for any trouble."
"Shut up," Willow said. "Tara, cuff him."
Tara walked slowly towards Richter. He backed away as she approached, closer to the void of the open window behind him.
"Stand still!" Willow warned.
"Some other time, perhaps?" he said, and stepped quickly backwards out of the window.
Willow and Tara watched openmouthed as Richter quickly fell out of sight. Tara edged cautiously toward the window. She halted a metre before the edge.
"Um... Willow?" she said, hesitantly. "I'm a little... er... scared of heights."
Willow walked to the window, knelt on the floor and peered over the edge. The street below was well lit, but she couldn't see anything in the area she imagined Richter's body would have landed.
"I can't see him!" she said. "He's not down there."
"What?" Tara said. "He must be."
Willow turned to Tara, her face troubled. "I don't think so. I think he's gone."
Tara grabbed her cell phone and dialed. "Hello. This is Agent McClay. We require assistance at 143 43rd street." Tara quickly related the details of the events to the person on the phone. "Backup is on its way... and a cleanup crew," Tara said, looking at the dead woman on the ground. She squatted beside the corpse and looked closely at the woman's neck.
"Incredible force here Willow," Tara said in a matter-of-fact voice. "Probably not physical. Massive stomach wound too, by the look of it."
Willow crawled away from the window and stood up, avoiding standing the congealed pool of blood. She scrunched her nose and looked at the corpse reluctantly.
"You know I'm not as comfortable with these dead-and-bleeding-body situations as you, Tara," she said. "I think I'll go look down the hall."
Tara smiled. "Okay, squeamish bunny," she said. "I'll come along too, in case there's something yucky."
Willow frowned and pouted.
The two girls walked down the corridor. Black and white photographs of exotic cityscapes lined the walls. At the end of the corridor was a black glass door in a large brass frame. Willow couldn't see what was in the room beyond.
"Curious," Tara said.
Willow opened the door and went inside.
"Oh my," Willow said in a hushed voice. "Look at this."
The agents entered a massive room filled with rows and rows of bookshelves and glass cabinets. The shelves were packed with books, and the cabinets full of strange objects. The floor was tiled with shiny black granite. The air was very cold.
Tara examined one of the books on a nearby shelf. "Oh goddess. It's Hendoline's Arcana!" She gently pried the book from the shelf and opened it. "An original edition," Tara said in an awed voice. "Willow - do you know what this is? How rare? How expensive?"
Willow looked at Tara, wonder in her eyes. "I know. I know." She quickly went through the shelves, looking at the titles on the spines of the books, occasionally gasping and stroking a particular volume lovingly.
"Oh, Tara," Willow said. "This is an amazing collection!"
Tara was absorbed in an edition of Tanticillian Methods for Seventh Realm Intrusions and didn't hear Willow.
"They are so beautiful!" Willow said. She turned a corner and noticed a cabinet next to the wall. The class cover had been broken and the cabinet was empty.
"Tara!" Willow called. Seconds later Tara appeared.
"What's wrong, Willow?" Tara said.
"This," Willow said, indicating the broken cabinet. "It must be what Richter was after."
Tara looked closely at the cabinet. A small brass plaque rested inside on a bed of red velvet.
"Andurina's Compass," she said, reading the plaque. "Spain, 1536. I wonder what it is?"
"Spain? It's a country," Willow said, gently poking Tara in the stomach. "But I've never hear of Andurina's Compass."
Tara pretended to ignore Willow's teasing. She looked around the room at hundreds of books lining dozens of shelves.
"No better place than here to find out what it might be, I think," Tara said.
Willow followed Tara's gaze.
"Yes. You're right," Willow said, yawning. She glanced at her watch. 2am. By the time the cleanup was finished and the reports written, it would be 4am at least. "No point in going to bed now, I guess."
"Yeah... this did kind of destroy the mood," Tara said, grinning.
"Better get started," Willow said. "I'll begin here with these nice books, if you want to..."
"...do the crime scene reports?" Tara said, reluctantly. "Okay, Willow. But you owe me one."
Willow's head lay on a book, which in turn rested on the highly polished surface of an old oak desk. A thread of drool trickled down Willow's chin, moving ever so slowly with each breath, threatening to drop onto the open page of the ancient book.
Tara sat in an armchair a few meters away, her head resting against the soft leather of the high chair back. She snored softly. An open book sat on her lap.
Agent Scully leaned against the end of the bookshelf and watched the two agents for a few seconds, a thin smile on her face.
She coughed. There was no response. She coughed again, a little louder.
Tara jumped, startled, causing the book to fall from her lap to the shiny floor.
"Oh dear," she said, groggily. She saw Agent Scully and quickly stood up and tried to smoothen out her creased skirt. "Agent Scully, hello! I erm... that is, we..."
"You were asleep?" Scully said.
"Yes. This is, Willow... erm, Agent Rosenberg and I were..." Tara began. She looked towards Willow, who was still fast asleep. The sound of cough and falling book had caused her to frown slightly, but she still remained asleep.
Tara went over to Willow and shook her shoulders gently. "Willow?" she whispered. "Wake up, Willow."
Willow blinked her eyes and sighed. "Hmm... Tara," she murmured contently, reaching to touch Tara's hand as it rested on her shoulder.
"Agent Scully is here to see us," Tara said.
"Who? Who is?" Willow said, lifting her head and looking around through bleary eyes. "Oh..."
Willow sat up and rubbed her eyes, then stood up awkwardly. "Ow... pins and needles!" she said, rubbing her numb thigh.
Willow quickly regained her bearings. They were in the huge room in Philipa Astina's apartment that housed her collection of rare books and artifacts. Bright sunlight shone through the small, square windows that were spread across one wall of the room. Willow looked at her watch. 11:15am.
"Late night, I hear," Scully said. "Quite interesting too, by the sound of it. Your man made quite a mess out there."
Tara nodded. "We think it was Misken's Fifth Inferno, which is rather..." she began, excitedly.
"He did make quite a mess, yes," Willow said, cutting Tara of mid-sentence. She related the events of the early morning to Agent Scully, privately thinking only of cleaning her teeth and finding hot coffee as she spoke. "We stayed here after the police left to do some research on the item that Richter took. We must have dozed off around 7am."
"An interesting night, Agents," Scully said. "And this man, Richter. He simply jumped out of the window from the 32nd floor and disappeared. Into thin air."
"He could have flown," Tara began, earnestly. "It's a difficult spell to master but he..."
"We're not sure what happened," Willow interjected. "He went out of the window and didn't land on the ground. This is all we really know."
"So, did you find anything interesting? Here, with these books," Agent Scully asked.
Tara looked at Willow hesitantly, wondering if it was okay to speak. Willow smiled and nodded slightly. "Um... yes, we did," Tara said. "Something very interesting indeed." She picked up the book that had fallen on to the floor and took it to the desk. Agent Scully followed her.
"We looked through many books that detailed witchcraft activities in the 16th century, particularly in Spain. There are many books here of that kind, but this book specifically mentions a 'Compass de Andurina' - which is the object we think Richter took. It's pictured here."
Tara pointed to a page of the book. An exquisitely detailed lithograph print covered the page. The picture depicted a man in front of a church doorway. He stood in an awkward and uncomfortable pose that was probably more to do with the drawing style of the period than anything else. He held his arms up, and in one had he held two knives, one slightly larger than the other. In the other hand, which was raised with palm facing upwards, holding a thin disk. On the disk sat a dish-like contraption that contained a small central rod rising vertically out of the dish. Atop the rod rested a horizontal beam that resembled a small arrow.
"This device is the Andurina Compass," Tara said. "It is the item that was in the glass cabinet Richter broke. And these..." Tara pointed to the knives. "These are the athames of Sanezan. The knives were stolen by Richter, we presume, from a private collection in San Francisco. And do you see the amulet the man is wearing?" Tara indicated an intricately drawn pendant suspended by a thick chain around the man's neck. The amulet appeared to be inscribed with image of a grotesque, un-human face. "This is the Amulet of Teradict. Stolen from a collector here in Chicago three days ago. Again, we suspect, by Richter."
Scully frowned at the picture. "Interesting," she said. "So why do you think Richter is collecting these particular artifacts? Do they have any special relation to each other than this picture?"
Tara started to speak, but Willow cut her off again. "We aren't quite sure, Agent Scully," Willow said. "We need to do a little more research before we are certain of anything. Perhaps Richter is simply a discerning collector of witchcraft articles?"
Scully looked unconvinced. "A discerning collector who can fly out of apartment building windows?" she said.
"Um... Possibly," Willow said.
Scully raised her eyebrows and smiled. "Well, I'm sure you'll figure it out," she said. "You seem to be making some progress."
She turned to leave. "Good luck, Agents," she said, as she walked out of the room.
Tara watched her go, staring at back of the smartly dressed woman.
Willow looked at Tara and saw her gaze. "Hey!" she said. "Stop that."
Tara looked slightly dazed. "What?" she said. "Stop what?"
"Stop staring," Willow said. "She may look nice but she's the enemy. Of sorts."
"The enemy?" Tara said, puzzled. "She's FBI. Aren't we all on the same side?"
Willow frowned. "Yeah, we are," she said. "But I'm pretty sure she's only hanging around to keep an eye on us for A.D. Skinner. Which means..."
"...we need to be careful?" Tara said.
"Exactly," Willow said.
"...and not fool around," Tara said, grinning. She moved towards Willow to stand a few inches from her. Willow could smell Tara's slightly musty odor, from going two days in the same clothes, and found it rather arousing.
"Oh no, Tara. No fooling around," Willow said, stepping backwards and laughing. "Back, temptress!"
"Okay," Tara said, stopping her advance and going to the table to retrieve the book. "No fooling around for you."
"You are wicked," Willow said, trying to look as glum as she could.
Willow sipped her coffee and tapped her notebook keyboard.
"So. Go through it once more for me," Willow said.
Tara rubbed her eyes and yawned.
"Ok," she said. "But my Spanish is still as terrible as it was five minutes ago."
"That's okay," Willow said. "You got it all right. The tenses were a little strange, but you did rather well, I think."
Tara frowned. "You mean, you can read this too?" she said, jabbing her finger into the old book.
"Yup," Willow admitted. "But I much prefer to listen to you read it. It's much funnier. But just summarize the facts for me, so I've got them straight in my head."
"Hmmpf," Tara said, grumpily. "Okay."
The two agents sat in a booth in a small café. They had taken the book with the picture of the Andurina Compass and a few other related volumes. Willow thought she might have difficulty returning some of these books back to the estate of Philipa Astina, but decided not to premeditate any forgetfulness.
Tara flicked the book open to the page with the picture.
"The objects Richter stole are all mentioned in this book in a chapter called 'The Soul of Ubrius'. The chapter appears to tell a story of a demon's spirit, trapped in stone. Ubrius is supposed to be the master of persuasion, according to a rather colorful fable in which he places whole towns under his control. The book then tells of the four objects required to bind the soul of the demon into ordinary stone. This ceremony was performed in Spain four hundred years ago and, according to the book, the soul of Ubrius was bound within stones that were used to build a monastery in southern Spain."
Tara paused to sip her tea.
"He's after this Ubrius, then," Willow surmised. "Or its soul, rather. Collecting the original key components of the spell so that he can undo it, and free Ubrius."
Tara nodded. "Most likely," she said.
"And once freed, the soul will require a vessel," Willow said. "And no doubt Richter would like to be that vessel. But the book says there are four objects?"
"Yes," Tara said. "Three of the objects we know, or are at least confident, that Richter has in his possession. The fourth item is a golden disk on which is inscribed the words for the spell. We don't know if Richter has the disk already."
Tara pointed at the lithograph, indicating the disk on which the Andurian Compass was located. Willow could just make out a few words drawn on the surface of the disk.
Willow clicked her tongue. She began to type quickly on the computer. Tara left the book open in front of Willow and drank some more tea.
Five minutes later Willow looked up from her computer and smiled broadly. "Nope. He doesn't have it," she said.
"How do you know?" Tara asked.
Willow turned her notebook screen around and pointed at the picture it displayed. "It's there. In the Eve Corana Museum. In Boston. In an exhibition of Spanish religious history." Tara stared at Willow's computer screen. In one corner of the display was a photograph of a golden disk, inscribed with dozens of words. It looked just like the one drawn in the lithograph in the book.
"Goddess, Willow? How did you find it?" Tara said, awestruck.
"Internet magic, my dear," Willow said. "And some luck. The particular words on the disk narrowed the search down drastically. Anyhow, we know where the disk is."
"And where Richter is heading," Tara said.
"Yep," Willow agreed. "And where we are heading, too. Come on. Let's go!"
"At last. We're alone in the dark," Willow whispered.
"Yes," Tara breathed, her voice hushed. "But I'm a little cold."
"Poor baby," Willow said. She reached out into the blackness, searching for Tara's presence. Her hands found something warm and soft. "Oh. Sorry," Willow said happily. She didn't withdraw her hand, however. "Err... you don't feel very cold, dear."
Tara coughed slightly. "It's my... erm... behind that is cold. This floor is freezing," she said, shifting uncomfortably on the chill marble floor of the Eve Corana museum.
"Really?" Willow whispered. "Let me check."
"Don't you dare!" Tara said, trying hard to keep her voice as quiet as possible. "We're working. You know the procedure for a stake out. And Richter might appear at any moment. Besides... I'm happy with your hand where it is, thank you very much."
"Well, I'll move a little closer at least," Willow said. She sidled closer to Tara until she could feel Tara's thigh touching her own.
"And why would you want to do that?" Tara said.
Tara felt Willow's answer. A soft, light kiss on her cheek. Tara's heart skipped a beat. She turned to where she imagined Willow's face would be, and searched desperately in the dark for Willow's lips with her own. She soon found them waiting for her, and devoured them, suddenly overcome with unbearable desire. She felt Willow's arms surround her and draw her closer as the passion of the kiss intensified. Her heart beat rapidly, blood thumping loudly in her ears. She ran her hands along Willow's back, then down to her hips, mapping the curves of her partner's slight figure.
Willow started to kiss Tara's cheek, moving slowly downwards, and proceeded to gently bite the soft skin of Tara's neck.
"Honey... We'd..." Tara murmured, trying desperately to think. "We'd better... not."
"You... sure... love?" Willow said softly, between nibbles. "Not... nice?"
Tara couldn't answer. She'd forgotten where she was, and was lost in the sensation of Willow's intimate contact.
The sound of glass breaking echoed through the large hall of the museum, startling both Willow and Tara.
Willow stiffened, her face still buried in Tara's neck.
"Predictable," she whispered into Tara's ear.
She reluctantly pulled away from Tara, suddenly feeling the chill of the museum air as it replaced the close warmth of Tara's body - it was as if she'd crawled out of bed on a cold morning.
Willow stood carefully, trying desperately not to make a sound, and peered into the darkness. She saw a faint light coming from one of the corridors across the hall. The light slowly grew stronger until Willow could make out a flashlight beam scanning the floor and walls of the museum.
"Tara," Willow whispered. "He's here."
She drew her gun and flicked the safety catch off.
She heard Tara standing up beside her. "I'm ready," Tara said, her voice trembling slightly. "Just tell me when."
Willow watched the approaching light until she was sure the source of the beam was fully inside the hall. She took a deep breath.
"Now," she said, softly.
Tara began to recite an incantation, her soft voice barely audible.
Willow fumbled with the nearby light switch for a few moments. Suddenly bright light blazed within the hall.
In the middle of the room stood the startled figure of Richter.
"Freeze! FBI!" Willow yelled, aiming at Richter. "Don't move or I'll shoot you where you stand!"
Richter shielded his eyes from the sudden glare of the lights. His startled look was quickly replaced by a bored statement, and he raised his hands above his head in submission.
To the side of Willow, Tara continued to chant softly, maintaining the presence of the spell of protection she had woven around herself and Willow.
Willow stepped forward, making sure she had a clear shot at Richter.
"On the floor now! Face down!" she shouted.
Richter looked up at her. He frowned.
"Do I have to?" he said. "The floor's hard. Marble, isn't it? Very uncomfortable."
"Do it," Willow said, furious at Richter's careless attitude. "Now!"
"Nice museum," Richter said, casually. "Nice high ceiling... the pillars. Very impressive, don't you think?"
Richter shrugged and slowly dropped to his knees. "Oh. By the way," he said, casually. "Thank you both."
Willow scowled. "For what, hairball?" she said. She privately cursed her self. Hairball? What was she thinking?
Richter looked around the museum. "For this! Leading me here!" he said, smiling. "I never would have find the disk if you two hadn't have led me to it."
Willows brow furrowed even further. "Yeah, right... like you didn't know where it was," Willow asked. "Get on the floor!"
"No... as a matter of fact I didn't know," Richter said. He put his hands on the floor and leaned forward. "I've been looking for ages. Never thought it would be with a collection of... crockery." Richter looked over to the glass cabinet in which stood a set of metal bowls and plates. Propped on its side amidst the various exhibits was a small golden disk, about fifteen centimeters in diameter.
"Willow... he's casting!" Tara said urgently.
Willow shot a glance at Richter. He was smiling at her nonchalantly.
"No... he's..." Willow started.
A bright ball of blue light suddenly appeared in front of Richter and sped rapidly through the air towards Willow and Tara. The light smashed into glass cabinet of a nearby exhibit and shattered the glass instantly, sending shards of sharp crystal flying through the air in all directions.
Both agents momentarily forgot the presence of Tara's protective spell. Willow instinctively covered her face with her hands and arms and Tara dropped quickly to the floor, ducking her head as the glass fragments ricochet around them.
Seconds later Willow uncovered her face and looked around the room. Richter was standing next to the cabinet that held the golden disk. The glass of the cabinet was smashed and he was reaching towards the disk.
Willow aimed her weapon and fired at Richter. The bullet stopped dead in the air a few centimeters from him.
Richter glanced briefly at Willow and smiled. He grabbed the plate and looked at it appreciatively.
"Thank you, ladies," he said.
Willow clenched her teeth. She reached out with her mind and found Tara's presence, and the energy of the protective spell she had woven. She let herself flow with this energy, and felt Tara's perfect synergy with her own power. She drew on this power, concentrating on the floor beneath Richter and forcing it to yield to her will.
Richter gave a stifled cry as he rapidly sank to his ankles into the marble floor as if it was quicksand. He struggled to lift is legs but the marble suddenly became solid beneath him, fixing him on the spot.
"Curse you, bitch!" Richter spat, glaring at Willow. "Damn both of you!"
Richter began to chant in a low, monotonic voice.
Now Willow could feel Tara draw on Willow's energy, and use her strength to form an area of protection around them both. She freely released her own power to Tara's control, and felt suddenly light-headed as a rush of energy rapidly left her body.
Richter finished his chant. A massive explosion erupted around Willow and Tara, instantly disintegrating tables and cabinets around the two agents. Willow flinched uncontrollably as fire blazed around her, safe though she was within Tara's protective spell.
The deafening blast quickly dispersed. Richter was still in the hall, sunk ankle-deep in the floor, his face livid.
Willow approached Richter slowly. She held her gun before her for security, even though she knew it was useless. Panic filled Richter's face as he saw her approach. He reached into his pocket and took out a small, black ball. He started to incant, weaving a pattern in the air with the hand that held the sphere. Suddenly he threw the ball to the ground. Willow halted, her eyes glued to the small black sphere. The ball grew rapidly, morphing before Willow's eyes into a large black hound. The beast snarled at Willow, who stood frozen in fear.
Richter chanted again, quickly, his face grimacing in anticipation. The floor beneath him shook violently and the marble beneath his feet exploded. Richter howled in pain as the floor in which Willow had encased his feet broke into hundreds of pieces. Richter fell backwards, away from Willow, still clutching the disk tightly in his hands. He scrambled to his injured feet and hobbled towards the hallway, leaving a trail of bloody footprints behind.
Willow started to chase after him, but the black hound snarled at her and lunged forward in attack. Willow aimed and fired three rounds into the creature's head. It fell to the ground and lay still, a thick black liquid pooling around its head.
Willow ran towards the hallway Richter had left by.
Tara wiped the heavy perspiration from her brow and followed Willow into the hallway. Willow had stopped at the end of the hall. She turned to face Tara.
"Gone," she said, simply. "Door's locked. He just vanished. Again!"
Tara sighed. She was pale from the exertion of maintaining the protection spell for so long. "Nice trick," she said, a wan smile on her face.
Willow kicked the door. "What now?" she said, frustrated. "He's got the disk."
"Richter can find Ubrius, and release its soul," Tara said, echoing Willow's thoughts.
"I don't know," Willow said, frustrated. "I... I can't think. When did we last sleep?"
"You mean, in a bed?" Tara said, yawning. "Two... maybe three days ago?"
The two agents sat at a table in a small café. The remains of a half eaten breakfast sat on the table before them. Willow cupped her hands around the coffee in front of her, her eyelids drooping.
"Well, we should just sleep. Now," Willow said, deep disappointment clearly evident in her voice. "I mean, we've nothing. Richter's gone, and we've no clue as to where."
Tara frowned, upset at her partner's forlorn face. "Erm... we could, you know... Cast a location spell, perhaps?" she said. "It might help."
Willow frowned. "No... this guy's magic is strong. He'll hide himself easily." Willow said. "I just don't know what we can do. And I hate that."
Tara reached across the table and took Willow' hand. She squeezed it gently. "It's okay," she said. "We'll think of something."
Willow looked into Tara's eyes and smiled. This woman gives me such strength, Willow thought.
Tara looked into Willow's eyes and returned her smile. She frowned, however, as she noticed Willow's gaze fix on something behind her, and watched Willow's eyebrows rise in surprise.
"Willow?" Tara said.
"Goddess. It's him!" Willow said, astonished. "Outside!"
Tara looked over her shoulder and saw the figure of Richter outside, on the opposite side of the street. He was walking down the stairs of the hotel opposite the café. He limped badly, his manner that of a person in intense pain. However, he still moved quickly, and before Tara could react, he was out of sight.
Willow had stood up and was making her way towards the door. Tara grabbed a few dollars from her pocket, left them on the table and walked quickly after Willow.
Outside the café, Willow looked down the street towards where Richter had gone.
"Damn him!" Willow cursed. "He's so hard to follow!"
"Gone?" Tara asked.
"Gone," Willow replied.
Tara pointed at the hotel across the street. "Perhaps they can help us?" she said. The two agents entered the hotel and approached the reception. A tall thin gray-haired man greeted them.
"May I help you, ma'am?" the man said. His badge displayed his name. Leonard.
Willow presented her badge. "A man just left. Tall, scruffy looking. Limping."
"Yes, yes," Leonard said. "Mr Brooks. He just checked out."
"I want the key to his room," Willow demanded. "Now."
"Certainly," Leonard said. He tapped a few keys on his computer terminal and shortly presented Willow with a keycard. "Room 702. Elevators are to your left," Leonard said, curtly.
The agents went to the elevator and found their way to room 702. Willow slid the keycard through the hotel room lock. A small green light lit, and Willow opened the door.
The room was a mess. The walls were covered in patterns drawn in what was most likely Richter's own blood. The acrid smell of burnt flesh filled the room, mixed with the foul odor of something rotten.
Tara wrinkled her nose and put her hand over her mouth.
In the center of the room, on the carpet, was a bed sheet. The sheet was stained with blood. In the middle of the sheet were two bloodstained knives, next to which was the golden disk from the museum. Atop the disk sat the Andurian compass, and fresh blood dripped from the small dish that formed the compass's base.
Willow rushed to the sheet and stared at the compass.
"Tara! Look!" she said excitedly. "The location spell! Richter's done it. He must have found where the soul of Ubrius is."
Tara looked around the room. "Oh. Yes. Interesting," she said, somewhat distracted.
Willow was absorbed in the layout of the objects on the sheet.
"I wonder what is what," Willow said, concentrating on some markings on the sheet. "These could be longitudinal coordinates! And these others might represent latitude. No... no that can't be right."
Tara walked over to the room's desk and picked up a notepad.
Willow had her nose almost in contact with the compass. She was frowning. "This could use some form of triangulation technique to figure where the soul is buried. I'd need my computer from the car."
Tara coughed. "Willow?" she said.
Willow, still heavily distracted, grunted acknowledgement.
"It's here in Boston. Santa Aspendo Church, 1502 South Emerson," Tara said. Willow continued to peruse the complex structure on the sheet for a few seconds. Then she froze, slowly turned her head towards Tara with a confused look on her face.
"What's that?" she said.
"Um. It's here," Tara said, holding up the notepad. "Richter wrote it down."
"You sure?" Willow said.
"Well, there's a good chance," Tara said, uncertainly. "These notepads are replaced every day. So Richter probably wrote this."
"And it's unlikely he's interested in attending confession," Willow said. She looked at the contraptions arranged on the sheet in front of her. "Of course, I would have figured that out sooner or later," she said, grinning.
"I know," Tara said. She indicated the door. "Shall we?"
"Let's," Willow said, standing up and following Tara out of the room.
The Santa Aspendo Church was a modest building wedged between a five story office building and a Starbucks coffee shop. The grey stoned construction looked out-of-place amidst its neighboring buildings.
Tara climbed out of the cab, Willow following her. Tara pointed at the steps that led to the church's large wooden front doors.
"Willow! Look," Tara said, pointing at the steps. Willow saw drops of blood on the stairs. It was still wet and red.
Willow then noticed an engraved stone embedded in the side of the church. It read: "This church was constructed in 1923 from masonry relocated from three demolished 16th century Spanish missions."
Willow grinned. "I..." she paused. "I feel rather pleased with you, Tara."
Tara's tried to suppress her happiness at Willow's praise and attempted a serious look. "T-thank you, Willow," she said.
The two agents ran up the stairs. Willow opened the church doors and they both entered.
The church was quiet and still. A high vaulted ceiling rose above into the darkness. Faint multicolored light filtered through the two small stained-glass windows that illuminated the church. Rows of pews stretched for thirty metres towards a platform, on which a modest altar stood.
Before the altar stood Richter, arms stretched straight out from his body. His head was tilted back to look up at the ceiling. Richter's whole body was surrounded by a faint red glow. Willow pointed her gun at Richter. "Richter," she said. Her voice echoed through the church, easily audible throughout the cavernous building.
Richter lowered his outstretched arms, turned away from the altar, and faced Willow and Tara. He grinned.
"To late, hags," Richter said. He wore the amulet around his neck. "I have already summoned Ubrius, and drawn his ancient spirit, long trapped in these old stones, into my body. His soul permeates mine. We are now one."
"Tara?" Willow said, uncertainly.
"Here, Willow," Tara said. Willow felt Tara's hand on her shoulder. "I'm ready."
Tara held her own gun in her other hand. She raised it at aimed it directly at Richter. She then started an incantation, quickly establishing layers of magical protection around both herself and Willow.
Willow focused her attention on Richter. He began to walk slowly towards them.
"There is no escape. Agent Rosenberg. Agent McClay," Richter said, grinning. "I have reversed the spell written on the amulet. Ubrius has left the cold stone of this place and now lives within me. Your petty protection spells cannot stop my power."
Richter continued to walk towards Willow and Tara down the aisle between the rows of pews.
"You cannot win," he said. "Ubrius is very... persuading."
"Stop where you are, Richter!" Willow yelled. She had seen Richter stop a bullet, but was hoping he couldn't manage to stop sixteen in quick succession the contents of her own gun's magazine combined with that of Tara's.
Richter halted. "Certainly," he said, amiably. "Agent McClay?"
Tara's stomach tightened when Richter mentioned her name.
Richter smiled at her. "Please point your weapon at Agent Rosenberg's head."
Tara's arm shook.
"No," Tara whimpered. "Oh... no," She watched herself, horrified, as her arm swung around until the barrel of her gun rested against Willow's read hair.
Willow turned towards Tara.
"Tara?" she said, her face shocked.
Richter laughed. "Do you see?" he said. "Oh, and Agent Rosenberg? I'd prefer it if you aimed at Agent McClay's head and not mine."
Willow struggled with her body as it rebelled against her will, forcing her to turn towards Tara and point her gun at the side of Tara's head.
The two agents faced each other in the dimly lit church, their weapons pointed directly at each other's heads.
"Don't bother trying to resist," Richter said. "All flesh must yield to the will of Ubrius. And this is much nicer than fire and explosions. Much more... peaceful."
Tears streamed down Tara's cheeks. "Please... no," she sobbed. "Oh Willow... No."
"Oh, it's much better this way," Richter said. He approached Willow and stood close to her, leaning forward to speak to her.
"Agent Rosenberg. Kill your partner," Richter said, softly.
Willow shook violently as she tried with all her might to control her arm.
"Oh, Willow," Tara cried, softly. Willow stared into Tara's deep, beautiful eyes, and saw the love they held for her.
Tara's anguished face caused something deep within Willow to snap. She was suddenly consumed with intense rage at being manipulated in such a fashion against the woman she loved. Her hand shook more and more. Then, in a flash of inspiration, she focused the energy of her magic towards her gun.
The gun began to crumble in Willow's hand, disintegrating into fine grains of metal that sifted through her stiff fingers and fell to the floor.
"You might control my body," Willow said, her voice thick with rage. "But not my mind!"
Richter was furious. He grabbed Willow by the hair and forcibly twisted her head to face him.
He began to incant. Willow tried to resist, but could not move. She was forced to look into Richter's evil eyes as he wove his spell.
Suddenly Richter stopped incanting, a puzzled look on his face. He let go of Willow's hair and stared at his hand. His fingertips had turned into gray stone. His face transformed into an statement of horror as the grayness slowly spread down his fingers to the rest of his hand. He turned quickly to look at Tara.
"Don't you touch her!" Tara said, through clenched teeth. Her eyes, brimming with tears, were fixed on Richter.
Willow felt the control of her body return to her. Richter was backing away from the two witches, his brow furrowed in concentration, his lips moving rapidly.
Richter's forearm had completely transformed into stone, but as Willow watched, she could see the transition begin to reverse, and pink flesh slowly replace the dull gray. Richter was fighting back.
Willow felt Tara's hand slip into her own. She understood the unspoken request, and focused all her energy on Tara's spell.
The transformation reversed once more, converting Richter's flesh into stone faster and faster.
Richter screamed as his body became fixed in position, his legs and torso immobilized. His neck quickly solidified, then his whole head, a wild, terrified statement frozen on his face. Richter stood like a silent statue in the church, his final screams still echoing around the building.
Tara slumped to the floor of the church, exhausted. She started to sob. Willow sat down beside her and held her tightly.
Willow's cell phone vibrated and buzzed along the surface of the bedside table. She reached over to pick it up and checked the caller's number. She recognized it, and picked up the call.
"Rosenberg," she said.
"Agent Rosenberg," a woman replied. "This is Agent Scully."
"Hello, Agent Scully," Willow said. "What can I do for you?"
"You sound a little... croaky," Scully said.
"Um... yes. You woke me up," Willow said. "Trying to catch up on some sleep."
"Oh. I'm sorry," Scully said. "I won't keep you long. I actually wanted to talk to Agent McClay about the current... state... of our friend Richter."
"I see," Willow said.
"Yes. I've been studying the autopsy results. It's all rather interesting, biologically," Scully said.
"I'm sure it is," Willow said, stifling a yawn.
"Well, yes," Scully said. "Anyhow, I'm not sure where Agent McClay is. Have you seen her?"
Willow looked at the peaceful face of the woman sleeping next to her. Tara's head was tucked against Willow's shoulder, her arm across Willow's stomach, and her legs entwined in Willow's.
"No. Sorry. I don't know where she is," Willow said.
"Oh. Okay, Agent Rosenberg," Scully said, sounding somewhat disappointed. "I'll let you get back to sleep."
"Thanks. Goodbye," Willow said, hanging up.
Willow switched off the cell phone, and put it back onto the bedside table. She turned over to face Tara and smiled, content to just look at her sleeping companion's beautiful face for a few moments.
Then she kissed Tara's forehead, and fell back to sleep.