Chapter 5: The Devil is in the Details
“Oh, Good Lord. Willow?” Paper in hand, Giles stood up from the table and walked to the front counter, where Willow stood industriously polishing a silver chalice.
“What is it, Giles?” Willow set the cup down and gave the Watcher her full attention.
“I’ve been examining the original text of the Drith Nac instructions, and contrary to our first impression, it’s really quite a dangerous bit of magic. The implications for Buffy could be serious, and nearly impossible to predict.”
“What do you mean? I read the instructions pretty carefully. Twice! In English, but it was all very clear.”
“In English? Willow, did it never occur to you that the caliber of talent hired to translate instructions for a dark-magic party trick might be somewhat less than up to the mark? Did you even think to spot-check the translation against the original?”
“There wasn’t time!” Willow was looking alarmed now. “I had to get Buffy home, and Dawnie over to Tara’s, and persuade Spike to help us, and, and… oh god, what did I miss?”
“A simple mistranslation of reflexive verbs, for one. Something you surely would have caught had you taken time for even a rudimentary check. If I’ve trained you in nothing else, I would have thought that by now you would at least be capable of applying the most basic principles of mystical research!”
Expression hardening at Giles’ harangue, Willow went from flustered to grim in a moment’s time, more budding mage than college co-ed now.
“I think I’m pretty good at what I do, Giles,” she said evenly. “If I messed up, I’m sorry. But the sooner you stop with the scolding and start with the explaining, the sooner we can do something to help Buffy.”
Giles looked at her in surprise, and then had the grace to look sheepish.
“You’re right, of course, Willow. I do apologize.”
“Apology accepted. Now show me.”
Giles cleared his throat and pointed to a passage.
“The original instructions suggest an entirely different cause and effect than the one described in the English translation. Look, right here. The verb visum was translated into English as “the subject sees,” which naturally led us to assume that the subject will become the kind of demon he or she is looking at when the spell activates. But the verb is used reflexively, you see, and so it’s actually the other way around, and bit more complicated even than that.”
“The other way … can you cut to the chase here, Giles, because like you said, Latin? not my strongest subject.”
“Yes, well. What it means is that the transformation is controlled by how the most proximate demon views the subject. So when all is said and done, it’s Spike’s… vision of Buffy, if you will, that will influence her demonic form, via some kind of triggering mechanism that I still don’t entirely understand…” Giles continued to peruse the text closely, then read a passage aloud. “ ‘The the power of the hand, the power of the word,’ as near as I can make out.”
“Well, that’s okay then.” Willow released her breath. “ ‘Cause Spike loves Buffy. Or whatever. So I’m sure the way he influences the change will be—” She stopped short, a look of horrified realization dawning in her eyes.
“And oh my god, right now he is so mad at her! I talked to him on the phone a few minutes ago and he was at the end of his rope. She’s driving him crazy! He called her a… a ‘right stubborn bint’. That’s bad, right? He said if I didn’t come over and take down the ward he couldn’t be responsible for what might happen!”
“Good Lord.” Giles looked stricken. “We both know how maddening Buffy can be when she’s intoxicated. Last year, that enchanted beer fiasco… I’m sure you remember how extraordinarily aggravating she… and now Spike… trapped …” Giles trailed off, seeming at a loss for words. “God only knows what the man may do or say.”
Giles and Willow exchanged looks of mutual understanding and dismay. Then as one they turned and bolted for the door, reaching it at exactly the same moment, each battling to be first through, until they both popped out the other side like champagne corks. Seconds later they were on their way, racing through the darkened streets of Sunnydale.
“Turn right!” Willow shouted suddenly, and tried to wrestle the steering wheel away from the Watcher. Giles slammed on the breaks. “Willow, what in the world are you doing? I’m taking the shortest route to Buffy’s house!”
“I know, I know! But we’ve got to detour and pick up Tara! Once I take down the ward, I might not be strong enough to keep Buffy under control. See, Tara’s got skills I just don’t have yet. Powers that will come to her but but seem kinda… nervous about me. We’re going to need her, Giles.”
The Watcher stared at Willow blankly for a few moments, then stepped on the gas and roared around the corner, heading for the dorms. A handful of minutes later Dawn and Tara had piled into the car — now uncomfortably full — and they were speeding back towards Revello Drive.
“Okay,” said Willow, “here’s the plan. We’ll drop Dawn at Janice’s on the way, then—”
“Save it, Willow. I know what’s going on, and I’m coming with.” Dawn crossed her arms and settled into her seat.
Willow looked at Tara accusingly. “You told her?”
“Buffy’s her sister, Willow. They’re family. She has a right to know.”
“Yeah, and I have a right to document, too,” said Dawn, reaching down and pulling a camera out of her backpack. “This is so cool! Just one good shot of Buffy in game face and I can kiss the word “grounded” good-bye forever!”
“Ah, nothing quite says family like a little blackmail,” muttered Giles.
“Dawnie!” Tara looked aghast.
“What? Aren’t you the one who told me to see every crisis as an opportunity? That whole silver lining thing? Well this is about as silvery as it gets. Oh! I wonder if Buffy and Spike will … I mean, you know, he loves her, and that whole vampire sex thing is…. Better check how many shots I have left.” She bent her head to peer closely at the camera.
“We are so taking you to Janice’s,” said Willow, glaring at Dawn.
Dawn’s hands froze mid-task and she looked up at Willow, revealing eyes suddenly filled with tears.
“I’m all she has left, Willow,” Dawn said quietly. “Buffy needs me.” She looked down and resumed fiddling with the camera.
“If you mean in the way a fledgling vamp “needs” a shot of O-Neg, I think you can pretty much count on that,” Willow said, trying to sound stern but feeling her own eyes begin to prickle.
“All right,” she announced, “Dawn comes with. Now here’s the plan….”