The quiet hum of the lab equipment filled the silence, as the two witches faced each other.
"Amy," Willow all but growled.
"Willow!" beamed Amy with much enthusiasm. "Great to see you. You look good."
Willow's eyes narrowed. "What are you doing here?"
Amy appeared affronted at the lukewarm reception. "What, no 'hi', no 'how are you'?" She pouted and regarded Willow expectantly. "After all we've been through together?"
Willow said nothing, content to allow her suspicious expression do the talking.
"Fine," Amy conceded with an exasperated eye-roll. "God, you're even more boring now than you were in high school." Her voice lowered to a self-mutter. "Didn't think that was possible."
"Get to the point, or get the hell out," instructed Willow sharply.
"You owe me," Amy snapped. "You owe me, and I'm here to collect." She cocked her head to one side and smirked. "To the point enough for you?"
"I don't know what you're—"
"Oh please," said Amy with disdain. "You're not really going to try to tell me you don't remember, are you?" Leisurely, she made her way down the stairs into the main room of the laboratory. "You can remember names, dates and places from every boring textbook ever written, but not when we met just a few months ago?" She shook her head reprovingly. "Lemme refresh you. Los Angeles, high school reunion, and me saving your darling honey dumpling."
Willow's grip on the clipboard tightened. "After you put her in danger!"
"I didn't point the gun. I didn't pull the trigger," Amy curtly reminded. "I didn't even know she was back on her feet and ready for round two. But even if I did, do you think Lilith cares about any of that?" She shrugged. "You prayed, and on her behalf, I delivered. The rest is just details."
Willow glowered at Amy's smug expression. "That isn't fair!"
"Cry me a river," returned Amy. "But fine." She threw her hands into the air. "You don't wanna honor your side, that's your call. I'm not the one breaking oaths to goddesses. I'm sure she'll understand 'this isn't fair'. And besides," she paused and threw Willow a charming smile, "what's the worst that could happen?"
Amy watched Willow absorb the implication. The redhead's eyes widened a little before narrowing once more to an infuriated glare. Amy grinned, secure in the knowledge that she and Willow were now completely on the same page.
"Yeah, nothing much," Amy confirmed chirpily. "Just little retroactive correction, goddess-style. What Lilith gives, she can only too easily take away."
"I can protect Tara," Willow asserted with conviction.
"Cuz you have such a good track record with that."
At Amy's words, Willow's face flushed red with anger. Her fingers twitched threateningly, but Amy didn't flinch.
"Ah ah ah," she admonished. "Attacking me is just a refusal with less words. You know better than that."
Willow's jaw became set and her chin jutted, but she made no further threatening moves and Amy nodded her approval, like a master pleased by his dog's new trick. She began to stroll around the room, Willow's eyes boring into her at every step.
"You'll be getting a book for me," Amy said.
Willow sneered. "Too lazy to go to Barnes and Noble yourself?"
Amy didn't reply, instead tossing Willow a look indicating that her sarcasm wasn't particularly appreciated.
"Where is it?" Willow asked instead.
Amy lifted her eyebrows and shrugged. "I don't know."
"Well what's it called?"
"I don't know that either."
"Okay," said Willow, rolling her eyes. "But'cha do know this is so far the lamest evil mission ever, right?"
"I don't know the specific details," Amy responded. "No one does. These priestesses way back when were afraid of it, so – being busybody priestesses and all – they hid it. All that's left is rumor and legend."
"So you don't even know what it does?" asked Willow dryly.
Amy sniffed. "Not exactly." She frowned as Willow made ready to voice something else equally incredulous and cut her off before she had a chance to speak. "I know it's power," Amy quickly added. "That's all I need to know."
"Actually," huffed Willow, "a way to get it might be handy too."
Amy smiled sweetly. "That's where you come in. I don't know where it's at, but I know how to send you to go fetch."
"How can you—"
Again, Amy effectively cut short Willow's objection.
"What, you think I didn't do my homework?" Amy seemed amazed at the notion. "I've been on the trail of this thing since last year. Using some of mom's old contacts, I finally tracked down a shaman with the final piece to the puzzle. He showed me the way to get there, and said all I need now is someone powerful enough to reach it." She winked at Willow. "Lucky me, huh?"
"If it's so easy, why don't you get it yourself?" said Willow pointedly.
Amy folded her arms. "Who said anything about easy?"
"Well, yeah, but—"
"Look, if I could, I would," Amy told her decisively. "But if I had enough power to get it, I wouldn't need it. Plus," she added as an afterthought, "I'm not exactly sure this is gonna work. He looked kinda shifty, you know?" Amy shrugged as Willow continued to stare her down. "Now get ready. I'm not gettin' any younger."
Closing her eyes, Amy began to draw upon her magick, soon surrounding herself with clouded swirls interspersed with blindingly bright sparkles. Becoming anxious, Willow attempted to make Amy see reason.
"Why don't ... We could ..." she hurriedly stammered. "You don't have to do this."
But Amy refused to listen. Her chant mounted as the conjuration steadily intensified. Behind Willow, a flickering glow appeared around the screens she had been monitoring. The radiance was rapidly expanding to encompass everything in its path.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this!" Willow frantically protested. "We were friends! I don't— What happened?"
There was no response from Amy. Indeed, there was no indication that she had even heard Willow's words and the incantation continued to work its magick.
"Is it your mother?" Willow suddenly blurted.
The chanting abruptly ceased, although the mystical force continued to gather energy. Amy opened her eyes. Her hands dropped to her sides and she looked at Willow as though the redhead were a total imbecile.
"Yeah, that's it," scoffed Amy. "I'm chock full of Mommy issues. I'm sure it has nothing to do with being stuck as a rat for three years of my life."
Willow's eyes darted to the side. Behind Amy, through the open door, she could see Buffy approaching. The Slayer was moving stealthily and silently, obviously fixed upon taking Amy by surprise. Willow swiftly refocused on Amy, intent on keeping her as distracted as possible.
"But that was a-an accident," she assured, "and I tried." She waved the clipboard. "I-I know it took a while, but I—"
Amy sneered and there was an ugly twist to her mouth. "I was supposed to be able to reverse the spell myself. Be a rat, run away, not be a rat. That was the plan. But I couldn't do it." Her tone lowered threateningly and she failed to notice Buffy approaching slowly but surely down the stairs. "Do you know what that's like? To be trapped in this horrible truth and know – know – you don't have enough power to make it right?"
In spite of herself, Willow regarded Amy with sympathetic understanding. But Amy wasn't looking for understanding and was in no mood to listen anyway.
"Well," concluded Amy, pursing her lips together, "I never will again."
The statement had barely rolled off her tongue when Buffy leapt into action. She ran at Amy, planning to tackle her, but unexpectedly, Amy was ready. Without so much as a glance over her shoulder, Amy thrust her hand at Buffy, and the Slayer was stopped dead. When Amy twitched her wrist, Buffy was sent flying to one side, where she crashed into some heavy equipment by the lab wall and slid to the floor. Turning, Amy treated her to a welcoming grin before her gaze traveled once more to Willow.
"Oh look, it's your better half," she announced with undisguised pleasure.
"Buffy!" cried Willow, dropping the clipboard.
Her answer was a muted groan.
Amy sighed. "Now if you don't mind," she said to the crumpled heap of Slayer, although her eyes never left Willow, "I sort of need to borrow your friend for a little bit. I'll put her back when I'm done, good as new." She pondered on that for a second. "Well, sort of," she added with a wicked grin before resuming the incantation.
The chanting had gained intensity, and the swirling current of energy behind Willow seemed to be rapidly approaching critical mass. Noticing the purling maelstrom, Willow tried to give it a wide berth but found herself rooted to the spot.
"I just wanted dinner," Buffy grumbled as she struggled to her feet. "Now I'm pissed and hungry."
Grabbing a metal chair by its legs, she hurled it at Amy's head, but once again, Amy was prepared. Turning sharply, the witch half-closed her eyelids and the chair promptly veered. It whistled past her right ear and made direct contact with the lab equipment Willow had been monitoring. The instrument readings went haywire almost instantly, as random numbers and symbols began to flash across the digital displays. It wasn't alone. The magick started to warp and bend, also threatening instability.
Amy regarded Buffy with alarm. "What did you do?!"
If Buffy had an answer, there was certainly no time to deliver one. In an explosion of light and sound, both Amy and Buffy were knocked off their feet. A violent gust of air began to rotate – a forceful whirlpool sucking everything within its path toward the giddying vortex of energy. Fighting the powerful eddy, Buffy was horrified to note that the magickal essence behind Willow had reached unusually brilliant proportions. The redhead was no more than a wavering silhouette against the whirling backdrop. Inch by agonizing inch, Willow was being dragged into the maelstrom. She reached out ineffectually, searching for an anchor to stem the tide, but the suction was too great.
"No!" objected Willow, employing every ounce of strength to avoid disaster. Her muscles were taut from the strain, but she could gain no foothold and had nothing to hold onto as the whirlpool spun ever faster and even more potent.
"Willow!" cried Buffy, extending her hand.
But it was beyond Willow's reach. "Buffy," she gritted painfully. "I can't—!"
Willow's feet were swept from beneath her as she descended into the vortex. It was time for desperate measures and Buffy responded with a do-or-die lunge. She attempted to grasp Willow's outstretched fingers as an all-encompassing flash filled the entire room, leaving in its wake a blanket of white light.
Slowly, the brilliance began to dissipate. There was an eerie silence. No comforting whir of machinery emanated from the slightly wrecked lab and no data flickered across blank monitors. The magickal energy had dispersed and there was no sign of life. No Amy. No Buffy. No Willow.
Overturned chairs and piles of strewn papers littered the lab area. Near one of the monitoring devices, Willow's head appeared from beneath a heap of clutter. She got to her feet and dusted herself down.
"Xander always swore learning was dangerous," she muttered, brushing the hair back from her face. The action was followed by a sharp, painful hiss. Her fingers gingerly probed the small cut on her forehead. It had already stopped bleeding and wasn't serious, but it was an open wound, consequently raw and tender to the touch. She took stock of her surroundings.
"Buffy?" she queried anxiously.
To her left, Buffy appeared from behind a large server. She bore a few bruises and minor injuries herself but otherwise seemed in good shape. Willow hurried toward her.
"Are you okay?"
"Well I hurt," grimaced Buffy. "That means either yes or no. I'm not sure which yet." Her eyes narrowed. "And speaking of witch ..."
"Maybe a house fell on her and we can steal her shoes," Willow grumbled darkly.
The pair split apart, giving the lab a thorough search. Buffy examined the perimeter of the room and Willow even peeked underneath sheets of paper, but there was no trace of Amy.
"You remember that year I bought her a deluxe exercise ball?" Willow said, lifting aside a slightly charred binder. "There's five bucks wasted. A-And all the times I told Miss Kitty no?" She sighed regretfully. "One blind eye and we'd all be a lot happier."
"No house, no shoes," observed Buffy. "I don't see her." She looked to Willow. "Can she turn herself into a gnat or something?"
"Let's hope," said Willow fervently. "And that there's a huge gnat-eating spider outside."
Buffy couldn't suppress her amusement. "I sense anger."
"You sense right, mister!"
"Well you can vent on the way," declared Buffy, heading for the door. "Tara's probably getting ready to send out a search party any second now."
Willow dug into her pocket for the cell phone. "I'll call and let her know that wow that's strange."
"You might want to rephrase until we get home," suggested Buffy. "That's not exactly a statement of soothing."
Willow shook her head. "No, I mean, that's strange."
She showed Buffy the phone. It was in poor shape. Only half the display exhibited a partial reading of what was normally supposed to be there, while the remainder simply blinked in random weakness or refused to blink at all. It was a distinctly sick instrument of communication and wouldn't respond to any of Willow's punched commands, despite repeated attempts.
"I think it's been mojo jojo'd," she said, mournfully jabbing at a button. "All the swirly, magick-flingin' fun fried it extra crispy."
"Tomorrow we'll give it a decent burial," commiserated Buffy.
Willow visibly pouted. "It took me almost a year to get it all customized the way I like, too."
Gathering her clipboard and associated materials, Willow stuffed everything into her bookbag and slung it over her shoulder before following Buffy to the stairs. They gave the room a brief final survey before exiting. Neither noticed the malfunctioning equipment and flashing digital readouts, all behaving as strangely as Willow's cell phone. The electronic confusion persisted for a few moments and then, simultaneously, all machines simply shut down and died.
The car's headlights pierced the darkness of the street ahead with a yellow glow. Willow had taken the wheel while Buffy rode shotgun. As instructed by the stop signs, they paused at every intersection but it was an uninterrupted journey with no other cars on the road and they made good progress.
"A book?" queried Buffy with a puzzled frown.
Willow nodded. "That's what she said."
"What do you think she'd do with it?"
"Best guess?" Willow glanced briefly at Buffy's profile, silhouetted by a street lamp. "Not bake me a 'sorry for being a vindictive bitch' cake."
"Just as well," smirked Buffy. "The icing would go straight to your hips. Unlike a pint of Super Double Chunky Fudgey Yummy which, of course, contains milk and is therefore good for you." She nodded with much enthusiasm.
"Right, because cake doesn't have eggs or flour or—" Willow abruptly turned the corner without depressing the indicator and then grimaced, quickly checking the rear view mirror but there was no vehicle behind her.
"Shh," instructed Buffy. "I'm making up a point as I go along. It's rude to exploit its weakness."
"Plus it means justification for sweet creamy iced goodness," added Willow with a huge grin. "Consider my logic sufficiently hosed."
Rolling down the window, Buffy luxuriated in the quietude of the night. "We'll have to stop and get some," she said. "I think Dawn inhaled the last carton during one of her increasingly frequent mope sessions."
"Poor Dawnie," sympathized Willow.
Buffy huffed her indignation. "'Poor Dawnie'? I didn't even get a bite."
"Then we'll buy two and you can hide the leftovers," said Willow with a sly grin.
"Yay!" declared Buffy.
They drove in silence for a moment, Willow picking up speed since she appeared to have the road all to herself and Buffy staring out the window at the illuminated houses and bare tree branches bathed in moonlight.
"So, Amy. Think that's it?" Buffy finally asked. "Some flashy lights and then her best Jimmy Hoffa?"
"We should be so lucky," returned Willow. "She'll try again. You can count on it."
A tiny frown appeared on Buffy's forehead as she continued to gaze out the window. Her senses were on alert, but she seemed to have trouble in deciphering exactly what that might imply. "Then we'll just have to be ready for her," she murmured, somewhat distractedly.
"Yeah. Uhh, no," said Willow as Buffy's head began to swivel, her keen eyes rapidly appraising the surroundings from every window and every possible vantage point.
"I mean," continued Willow, oblivious to Buffy's surveillance, "definitely with the ready. I'm Ready Gal. But I just sort of want it over, you know?" The car slowed and then rolled to a stop as Willow arrived at a red light. Her chatter resumed in full force as she leaned back and waited for the signal to turn green. "If I've gotta do something – and there is definitely a something in need of doing here – then maybe this is the best something it could be. We don't even know for sure what it is, so- so maybe it'll be good." She drummed her fingers rhythmically against the steering wheel and, despite the ensuing silence, pressed on regardless. "Maybe it'll make her happy again, or teach her a valuable moral lesson in a safe family-friendly way, or turn her back into a rat again which I'm surprisingly okay with." She nodded a firm confirmation. "I just mean, it could be worse, you know? What she wants me to do. This isn't too bad, right?" She received no answer. "Right?" she reiterated. Still no answer. Willow dragged her gaze away from the signal, which was still irritatingly red despite the lack of traffic in any direction. "Buffy?"
But the passenger door stood wide open and there was no Buffy to be seen.
"Buffy?" questioned Willow nervously, peering into the deserted street.
An abrupt rap on the driver's side window, caused Willow to start violently. She turned to see Buffy's face and, shaking her head, rolled down the window.
"What, we couldn't talk in the car?" said Willow, her waving hand to encompass the interior. "Did the car become some anti-talk zone when I wasn't looking?"
But Buffy wasn't truly paying attention. Her posture was tense, almost defensive and certainly guarded.
"Get out of the car," she said sharply, eyes constantly inspecting the surrounding area.
Willow was astonished. "What?"
"Get out of the car," repeated Buffy urgently.
Since Willow seemed confused and not acting with sufficient promptness to satisfy Buffy, the Slayer took matters into her own hands. Reaching inside the vehicle, she unlocked the door and then opened it. Willow took the hint. She undid her seatbelt and grabbed her backpack.
"What's going on?"
Buffy took a step back as Willow exited. It only took a moment for Willow to appreciate Buffy's consternation. The street and all those surrounding it were completely deserted. Nobody was out enjoying a brisk evening stroll and no dogs were being taken for a walk. No families could be seen gathered around dinner tables within the well-lit houses. And there was no traffic – not a single vehicle of any description was driving on any road.
"Really good question," said Buffy cautiously.
They parted company, each venturing in an opposite direction in search of anything that might be moving in the eerie hush. They discovered nothing.
"Maybe ... Maybe it's just late?" Willow proposed doubtfully. "O-Or, hey, the irresistible allure of Must See TV!" She glanced hopefully over her shoulder but received no response.
Moving down the street slowly and carefully, Buffy regarded anything and everything with a decidedly suspicious eye. Willow made her way to the window of a nearby 24-hour convenience store and checked for any sign of life within. There was none. She opened the door and was immediately greeted by the merry tinkle of welcoming bells.
Suddenly, Buffy was at her shoulder, cautioning and wary. "Will ..."
"It's weird, isn't it?" said Willow, her tone perplexed but also curious.
Hesitantly, she crossed the threshold, Buffy right on her heels. The store was clearly empty, devoid of customers and employees. But there was no indication of a hurried abandonment. The displays were intact, the shelves fully stocked and the cash register secure. It simply appeared that nobody was there.
"'Weird' not a word I'm inclined to disagree with," said Buffy thoughtfully.
The pair continued to scrutinize the store, but it offered no clues, hints, or solutions.
"With the lack of anyone more qualified present," Buffy began, "I think you rank as the Mistress of Mysterious. " Willow frowned at little at this backhanded compliment, but Buffy didn't seem to notice. "So what's the what?"
Willow made a valiant effort to come shining through. "There's no sign of a struggle, no sign of ... of anything, really."
"Yeah, got that far," confirmed Buffy wryly. "So what're we not looking at?"
"I dunno," Willow struggled. "Something must've—"
"Amy, maybe?" interrupted Buffy, moving behind the counter and ducking down to see what lay out of sight.
Unnoticed by either woman, an indistinct shape began to stir within the shadows of the upper shelves.
"I don't think so," returned Willow uncertainly. "Amy doesn’t have the kind of power you'd need to just poof a whole block like this."
"I think maybe it's more than just the block," said Buffy, reappearing after extracting a radio previously hidden from view. It was already turned on but nothing issued forth from the speakers. She cranked the volume to full blast. Still nothing. No dulcet voice of a DJ and no music. No news broadcast or even static. Nothing. Buffy swiveled the control knob. It was the same on every wavelength. Nothing but dead air.
Willow puzzled for a moment over this new and rather disturbing discovery and then her eyes opened wide in alarm. "But what about—?"
But Buffy had already anticipated the question. She lifted the telephone from its cradle. There was no reassuring dial tone. She thumped the receiver hard on the surface of the counter top and then brought it to her ear. Apparently, abuse was not the answer. She glanced anxiously at Willow, who promptly pulled out her mobile. This time, there was no functional display at all.
Willow blinked in panic. "We've got to get home. Tara, a-a-and Xand—"
Suddenly, her body grew rigid.
"Buffy ... we're not alone."
Receiver still clutched tightly in her fist, Buffy froze and slowly looked around the store, all senses tingling on high alert. Two pairs of eyes frantically scoured their respective adjacent areas and came up empty. They spied nothing untoward – not even the vague form stalking them, catlike, as it gradually descended the wall behind Buffy.
It was a relatively small organism, approximately the size of a large rabbit, and appeared to be composed entirely of solid shadow. It possessed no true features to speak of and seemed mostly two-dimensional, but no less horrific regardless of that fact. One of the most discernable characteristics was a mouth that displayed multiple rows of sharp and jagged shadow-teeth. Though not really visible when seen head-on due to the lack of depth, the honed dentitions were only too obvious in profile.
"What is it?" whispered Buffy, unaware of the creature behind her.
Nervously, Willow shook her head. "I'm not sure."
"Well that's helpful," said Buffy as she arched a disparaging eyebrow.
Offended by the sarcastic barb, Willow whirled to face her. "Hey, I'm doing the best I—" Her eyes widened like saucers. "Behind you!"
As Buffy turned, the shadow creature flexed its taloned appendages and sprang from the wall, landing on the Slayer's chest. Rolling with the impact, Buffy hit the floor, trying to avoid the wicked snap of its jaws. Acting on instinct, she thrust the phone handset into its mouth. The plastic disintegrated with a brittle crunch, as though it were a crisp potato chip. Buffy struggled to fend off the barrage of attacks, but it was no easy task and she continued to escape serious injury by the slimmest of margins.
"Messzire!" commanded Willow, thrusting her clenched fist toward the beast.
The snapping abruptly ceased, but further success was a matter for debate. Raising its head, the creature regarded Willow through the vertical slits housing its glowing tawny-yellow eyes. The expression that radiated from within was malicious and brimming with contempt, and Willow couldn't help but take a step away under its malevolent gaze. The maw gaped and although no sound issued forth, the beast gave every impression that it was amused by Willow's ineffectual attempt to curtail its assault. It almost seemed to be laughing at her.
Nonetheless, Willow's distraction had bought Buffy a few precious seconds and the Slayer seized the opportunity to toss the creature away from her. It sailed over the counter and landed without so much as a muted thud, immediately scuttling to its clawed feet. In less than a heartbeat, it had leapt upon a bottom shelf and then upward to another until it reached sanctuary in the shadows that loitered around the ceiling. Regaining her composure, Willow hurried to assist Buffy, neither woman ceasing their scan of the surroundings for even an instant.
"What the hell is that thing?" asked Buffy angrily, brushing dust from the seat of her jeans.
Willow shuddered. "I-I don't know. I've never seen anything like it before."
"Personally," declared Buffy petulantly, "I'd be fine never meeting it again either, but I get the feeling—"
In a blur of movement, Buffy reached out and snatched a baseball bat from behind the counter. She threw it end-over-end at the mocking yellow eyes high above. Her aim was direct and deadly, taking the creature completely by surprise. Toppling from its perch, it plummeted downward. Although the gawking mouth was open wide, it emitted no sound – no screech of pain – as it crumpled to the floor and thrashed in apparent agony.
"—I can't possibly be that lucky," concluded Buffy.
"In here!" cried Willow.
She had run to a sliding-top display freezer near the front of the store and had pulled back one end. Flipping the creature into the air with her boot, Buffy caught it deftly in both hands and quickly dumped the squirming body into the cold depths. Willow wasted no time in sliding the cover back into place. The beast struggled against the glass barrier, thrashing about violently for several seconds, and then seemed to accept its fate. As Buffy and Willow watched, unable to look away, it settled down comfortably amid the frozen confections. Yet even more disconcerting, the creature then raised its luminous eyes and returned their stares in kind.
Willow involuntarily shivered. "I'll never look at a Rocket Pop the same again."
"That's it," said Buffy determinedly. "My little wig is now a full-blown, supersized value meal wig. We're getting out of here, now."
As Willow nodded her wholehearted agreement, the pair headed for the door. As they exited, however, Willow pointed at the car and both women screeched to a halt. At least a dozen of the nasty little shadow creatures were swarming all over the idling vehicle like flies around a new carcass. At the jolly tinkle of the bell, they halted their activities and turned sharply in unison to face Willow and Buffy.
The girls wasted no time. Bolting inside, they slammed the door shut behind them. Willow took the extra precaution of flipping the lock and then, as an afterthought, also lowered the blinds.
Buffy grabbed Willow by the arm. "Let's try the back!"
Together, they dashed into the storage room and breathed a sigh of relief to discover a rear exit. Employing extreme prudence, Buffy cracked open the door and tentatively peeked out. Thankfully, the coast was clear.
"About that staying late after school thing?" she tossed at Willow over her shoulder.
Willow emphatically shook her head. "Never again."
"Just so we're clear."
And they made a run for it.
Buffy and Willow sprinted through a deserted alley and rounded the corner. Trying the handle of a nearby door, Buffy puffed with relief when it easily opened. Holding it wide, she ushered Willow inside and immediately followed, slamming the door firmly shut behind her. The pair leaned against a wall and tried to catch their breath.
"Think we lost 'em?" panted Willow.
Buffy peered through a little dirt-streaked window. "I'd say yes, but then that's what I said the last three times you asked me, and I'm sorta getting sick of being very wrong."
Brushing her hair back from her forehead, Willow winced again at the tiny stinging cut. "There's a pretty strong hate building for these guys. And in such a sort space of time, too! I'm impressing myself."
Buffy ran her fingers down the wall and located a light switch. She flipped it but no welcoming light flooded the area and she sighed bitterly. Willow quickly came to the rescue by extending her hand, palm upward.
"Adustum lucis," she incanted.
Instantly, a small ball of light formed and hovered in mid-air. It cast a golden glow, which revealed the structure to be a modest warehouse.
Buffy crouched on the floor. "We'll rest here for a few minutes," she said, "but then we need to get gone. Make it home, figure out our next move from there."
Joining her on the dusty ground, Willow rummaged through her booksack and produced a water bottle. She took a swig and then tossed it to Buffy, who did the same before tossing it back. For a long moment, neither spoke and then Willow broke the uneasy hush.
"I wanna do a spell." Buffy glanced at her with a questioning look, prompting Willow to explain. "Something weird's going on," she continued, then rolled her eyes at the obvious. "Big duh there. But I've been thinking, and there's pretty much just two options: either Amy zapped away everyone in town but us, or—"
"Or everyone in town's still there and we're not," finished Buffy.
Willow nodded. "There's a razor out there somewhere with Occam's name on it that makes it pretty clear which one's most likely."
Raising up, Buffy peered through the window once more. "But everything looks like our Trillium."
"Big clue for wrongness," Willow agreed. "I'm guessing she only got about half done before the spell got that special Buffy attention. I'm thinking we're in a ... a holding pattern or something. A rest stop in limbo."
Buffy frowned. "So what happens when Amy figures out what happened?"
"She tries to fix it. Only, Amy?" Willow looked dubious. "Not so good at fixing spells that go wrong."
Buffy returned to her squatting position. "Point taken. What about the Black Meanies?"
"Don't have a nifty principle for that one," returned Willow, nibbling thoughtfully on her lower lip. "Hoping not to hang around long enough to make one."
Buffy was in total agreement. "Works for me. What do you need me to do?"
"Just keep an eye out," said Willow nervously. "All joking aside, I don't know how long it'll be before Amy puts two and two together and—"
But before she could finish her sentence, a deafening whoosh echoed around the warehouse, accompanied by a fiercely swirling wind. It heralded the appearance of vortex manifesting behind Willow. She promptly scooted away from the wall and turned to look at the maelstrom, shielding her eyes from the blinding brilliance.
"Sure," Willow muttered through gritted teeth. "Now she learns to add."