Into the Woods
"I still don't understand why we had to come all the way out here to do this," Sally complained, hefting the bag she carried more securely on her shoulder.
"I told you," Rachel answered, sounding slightly annoyed, "there's a ley line out here that will help to anchor the spell."
"If it didn't work at home, I don't see why it's going to work out here," Sally griped. She wasn't sure why she let herself get dragged into this.
Rachel halted and turned to face Sally. "The ley line will help to focus the spell. That, along with the full moon, will give it the boost we need to reach the other side. Don't you want to talk to a dead person?"
Sally fidgeted, glancing at the other two girls who had been silently watching them. "Of course I do. But did we have to do this before the sun was even up?"
"Just shut up and stop asking stupid questions," Rachel said. She stomped back to the front of the group and continued along the path. "We're nearly there."
As they crested a hill, Rachel stopped short, causing the others to nearly walk into her. "Goddess, no," she gasped.
"What? What is it?" the others asked, trying to see around Rachel.
In the clearing before them was a sacred circle. Candles were still lit at each of the five points of the pentacle inside the circle. At each of the cardinal points, there lay a body of a young woman.
"W-what do you think happened to them?" Sally asked.
"Something's not right," Deirdre slowly stated. "Can't you feel it? Whatever did this is still here."
"I feel it, too," Jenny added.
Sally started to back away from the scene. "I knew this was a bad idea to come out here." She turned to run back down the hill, but her path was blocked by a large shapeless black mass hanging in the air.
She opened her mouth to scream, but barely managed a squeak as the mass rushed into her open mouth, suffocating her.
Oblivious to what was happening behind her, Rachel pulled her cell phone out and prayed that there was a signal out here. She thanked the Goddess as she was able to dial 911.
"Hello, we're on the Easy Street Trail in Chino Hills State Park. There are bodies. Four of them. I think they're dead."
Sally's lifeless body fell to the ground as the black mass re-emerged from it, moving on to the next warm body.
"I don't know," Rachel said. "Let me check." She turned to ask one of the other girls how far they were from the carpark and saw the black cloud leaving Deirdre's body. Sally and Jenny were already lying unnaturally still on the earth. "No. Oh, Goddess, no. What were they doing out here?"
The phone dropped as Rachel watched the mass head for her. She wanted to run, but found herself frozen in place, in shock. She knew there was nothing she could do to stop it. Not now. With her last thought, she hoped someone would be able to stop this thing without dying in the process.
Into the Woods
"The 911 call came in a couple of hours ago," Megan Reeves said as she exited the black SUV. "The caller stated that there were four bodies, only when officers arrived at the scene, there were eight."
"So the people who found the original bodies were killed, too?" Don Eppes concluded. "They interrupt the killer?"
"No, these girls had been dead for a while when the others arrived." A woman with long red hair stated, walking over to them.
"Willow, what are you doing here?" Megan asked.
"You two know each other?" Don asked, wondering who this young woman was. She wasn't a cop or FBI; that was for sure.
"Sensei," Willow said in greeting, bowing slightly towards Megan.
"Willow's one of my Krav Maga students at the Y," Megan explained.
"That doesn't explain what she's doing at our crime scene," Don said.
"One of the locals recognized the sacred circle and gave us a call. They thought I might be able to recognize what had been conjured," Willow said.
"Willow works for Wolfram & Hart," Megan said, sensing that Don was about to ask who the 'us' was that Willow referred to.
"The law firm? Why would they call a lawyer?"
"Oh, I'm not a lawyer. I'm in research. I specialize in the occult," Willow answered.
"The occult?" Don doubtfully repeated.
"Don't knock it until you've tried it," Willow said. "Come look at this."
She turned and headed towards the crime scene, stepping around the bodies being examined leading up to a small rise. She waited for Don and Megan, gazing towards the bodies still within the circle.
"They're all such young women," Megan observed.
"So let me get this straight," Don said, taking in the scene before him. "You think something supernatural did this?"
"I do," Willow answered. "Take a look at the bodies. There's not a mark on them. No gunshots, no strangulation marks, nothing physical to show how these girls died."
"There are plenty of ways to kill without leaving a mark," Don countered. "Poison, for one thing."
"You think it's some kind of murder suicide?" Megan asked.
"Could be," Don answered. He wasn't about to jump on the supernatural bandwagon.
"Then what about the others?" Willow asked, turning to face the other bodies. "They seem to have died the same way."
"Forgive me if I choose to wait for forensic results before I start jumping to conclusions," Don said.
"I think you'll find that I'm right," Willow said.
"We'll see," Don said, heading back towards the car. "We'll see."
Back at headquarters, Don and Megan left Willow in the War Room with her laptop, the books the dead girls in the circle had with them, and an internet connection while they grabbed some coffee.
"Do you really believe Willow and all that occult and supernatural nonsense?" Don asked.
"Why not?" Megan shrugged. "There are a lot of things that happen that can't be easily explained."
"But sacred circles and conjuring?"
"Careful, you're starting to sound as skeptical as your brother," Megan teased.
"Charlie is going to go nuts when he hears about this case," Don said, slumping against the counter.
"So don't tell him," Megan said.
Don quirked an eyebrow. "Yeah, we all know how well that works. Do you want to be the one to tell him we're working a case that's tied to the occult?"
"I see your point," Megan said, frowning into her coffee.
Willow knew that the FBI didn't really believe or trust her. She was used to that, though. People denied what they didn't understand. It was one of the founding beliefs of Sunnydale.
Her cell phone rang and she grinned as she answered it. "Hey, Fred."
"Willow, are you still at the scene?" Fred asked.
"I'm at the FBI headquarters –"
"Uh oh, did you think you were crazy?"
"Not crazy, but they also didn't believe me right off the bat. I think they might be willing to listen when their forensic evidence doesn't give them anything to work with," Willow said.
"Are they at least letting you help? They didn't keep you away from the evidence, did they? Were you able to get hair and saliva swabs?" Fred anxiously asked.
"Yes, I did get those samples and will drop them off as soon as they let me go," Willow assured the scientist.
"Any ideas about what could have killed them?" Fred asked. "How close were you able to get to the bodies?"
"I got a pretty good look. It wasn't a demon, at least nothing with a physical form," Willow said.
"Could you sense anything while you were there?"
"No, I didn't get any trace of it while I was there. I just started to go through the materials the girls had brought with them. I'm guessing that it is linked to the moon; after all, it was full last night."
"Werewolf?" Fred guessed.
"No," Willow shook her head. "The bodies were in tact. No scratches or bites. Whatever it was definitely wasn't corporeal."
Don kept his eye on Willow as he headed to his desk. He wanted to check to see if the forensic results were back yet. He hoped there was something conclusive so that he could squash this supernatural nonsense. What he found at his desk, instead, was his brother.
"Charlie, what are you doing here?" Don said in greeting.
"Hello to you, too," Charlie said. Don stared at him, waiting for an answer to his question. "Oh, I was just dropping off some additional theories on that case I was helping Colby and David with."
Don nodded, satisfied with the answer. "You mind?" he asked, gesturing towards his occupied desk.
"Sorry," Charlie said, jumping up. As he did, he noticed the woman in the war room. "Hey, isn't that Willow Rosenberg?"
Don gave his brother a calculating look. How on earth did he know an occult researcher? "It is. How do you know her?"
"I met her at a physics symposium last year," Charlie said.
"She's a scientist?" Don asked, finding it hard to believe.
Charlie shook his head. "She was there to hear her friend's presentation. The girl had some interesting theories on inter-dimensional travel. Larry was fascinated."
"I bet," Don muttered.
"Is she being investigated for something?" Charlie asked, afraid of the answer.
"Not yet," Don said. "She's consulting on a case."
"Really?" Charlie perked up at that. "Do you mind if I go say hi?"
"Why not? Go ahead," Don said, waiving his brother off.
Charlie grinned as he grabbed his briefcase and headed towards the room Willow was in. He knocked on the open glass door when he saw she was on the phone.
Willow glanced up and grinned when she saw who was standing in the doorway.
"Oh my Goddess," she squealed, nearly dropping the phone.
"What? What is it?" Fred nervously asked.
"Charlie? What are you doing here?" Willow asked, ignoring her friend.
"I could ask you the same thing," he said, coming into the room.
"Fred, it's Charlie Eppes. He's here, at the FBI," Willow said in to the phone. To Charlie, he said, "I'm talking with Fred. Winifred Burkle."
"Please give her my regards," Charlie said. "Is she still working on her string theory?"
"Not so much these days," Willow said. "Hey, Fred, I'll talk to you later, okay?"
"Yeah, of course. Give me a call when you have any info," Fred said.
"Will do. Bye." Willow hung up the phone and stood.
"So, you're consulting with the FBI now?" Charlie asked, sitting on the edge of the table.
"Just for this case," Willow admitted. "How did you know that?"
"My brother mentioned it," Charlie said.
"Don." Charlie turned and gestured towards him.
"Oh, yeah, I can kinda see a family resemblance. I don't think he much likes my involvement," Willow said.
"Don't take it personally. He's always a little reluctant at first to accept help from outside the Bureau," Charlie said.
"That's good to know. But I think it's also the nature of this case," Willow told him.
Charlie frowned. "What do you mean by that?"
Willow took a deep breath, preparing for complete denial of what she was about to say. "The murderer wasn't human. I don't think it was anything with an earthly body."
"I beg your pardon?" Charlie said, standing and backing up a step. It's funny; Willow hadn't seemed crazy when he'd met her before.
"See, I knew you wouldn't believe me," Willow said, slumping into her chair.
"That would be because you're speaking nonsense. How could a killer not be human? Granted, I've seen many violent acts by people with no human conscience, but they were still very human."
Willow pulled up some photos from the crime scene on her laptop. "Take a look," she said. "There are no marks to indicate that these girls were killed by human violence. And before you suggest it, I know that it wasn't poison."
"How could you know that?" Charlie asked. "Is it because of that circle with the pentagram? You think they're witches?" He laughed at the absurdity of the idea.
"What is so funny about that?" Willow asked, her facial expression hardening.
Charlie was struck silent by the look on her face. She couldn't be. "You can't be. I mean, we met at a scientific symposium," he insisted.
"Just because I'm a practicing witch does not mean that I can't believe in science," Willow stated.
"I take it you mean you think you can do spells and things like that, too?" Charlie asked.
"Of course," Willow agreed. "I don't just think it, I do. Not to brag, but I happen to be one of the most powerful witches in the world."
"And yet, you expect me to believe that you also believe in absolute truth of science," Charlie debated.
"Belief in one doesn't preclude belief in the other," Willow pointed out. "In fact, some of my earliest spells were like learning chemistry. The ingredients are a little different, but there is a definite science to spellcasting. If you get one ingredient, one measurement off, then kablewy."
"I must say, I never would have expected this from you," Charlie said, disappointment evident in his voice.
"You don't believe me," Willow knowingly said. "That's fine. I didn't expect you to."
"What, you're not going to try to convince me that you're a witch?" Charlie asked, surprised.
"I'm sorry, did you want me to? I can certainly try, but unless you're open to the possibility that magic exists, it won't do much good," Willow said.
Willow picked up the book that had been found with the girls inside the circle and began to flip through it, searching for the spell they'd used, effectively dismissing Charlie.
Charlie was shocked. He wasn't accustomed to being dismissed like that. While he had been accused of being closed-minded in the past, it had never offended him before. Why was this beautiful woman's rejection so different?
"Now, hold on one second," Charlie said, sitting across from Willow. "If magic has a basis in science, then perhaps you could explain it to me in a way that makes sense."
Willow raised an eyebrow in question. Why did this matter so much to him? She'd fully expected him to let it drop.
"Look, after this case is over, if you want me to show you some basic spells, I'll do it. Right now, though, I need to try to figure out what killed those girls. If my suspicion is correct, it's linked to the moon, which means it might move off that hill and into the city to kill if I can't stop it tonight," Willow said.
"You think you can catch the killer all by yourself?" Charlie asked.
"Of course not," Willow said. "But I can with the help of my friends. It's what we do."
"Catch monsters?" Charlie asked, unable to fully check the snort of amusement.
Willow shrugged. "Sometimes. More often than not, yes."
"Is there anything I can help with?" Charlie asked.
"Is that a serious offer?" Willow countered.
"Yes, it is. If you're serious about there being a time crunch, then another set of eyes never hurts."
"Actually, it would be a huge help if you could run an errand for me," Willow said, pulling the samples from her bag. "Could you run these over to Wolfram & Hart and give them to Fred? She's got equipment there that might be able to help figure out what was conjured."
"Fred's involved in this stuff, too?" Charlie asked, sounding disappointed, again.
"She's incredible in the lab. She'll be able to check for residues and even the absence of normal residues to help us narrow down what could have killed the girls. And yes, she uses science to track down supernatural beings," Willow informed him.
Charlie quickly checked to make sure no one saw him take the crime scene samples, and slipped them in his pocket.
"Thank you," Willow sincerely told him. "I didn't want to interrupt my work here to drop those off, but the sooner she gets them, the better. I'll call ahead and let her know you'll be stopping by."
"You're welcome," Charlie said, standing. "Maybe this will all make sense when it's over."
"I'll help you to rationalize it," Willow promised with a smile. Charlie was about to get his eyes opened, whether he was ready for it or not.
Several hours later…
"This isn't generally how I conclude an investigation," Don said as he, Megan and Charlie watched Willow and Fred set up inside the sacred circle on the hill.
"You've got to admit that as strange as it is, it makes sense," Megan said. "There was absolutely nothing our forensics team could find to explain these girls' deaths."
"And yet, Fred was able to find something in the saliva of the dead girls," Charlie pointed out. "Something unnatural."
When he'd arrived at Wolfram & Hart, Charlie had been stunned to find so many...creatures wandering around the place. Demons, Fred had called them; but not all of them were evil, according to her. She had taken him to her lab and explained what she was doing with the samples he'd brought. While he'd wanted to rationalize that the creatures he'd seen were just people in costumes, through Fred's work, he had to admit that maybe there were more things out there than he'd wanted to believe. It was hard to refute evidence of biological differences between some of these demons and humans.
"Unnatural," Don repeated. "That's a good word for it."
"Okay, I think we're about ready," Willow said, approaching the FBI agents and Charlie. "Now we just need to do your circle and we can get started."
"Our circle?" Charlie asked.
"Of course," Willow said. "We don't want you to be attacked when I call this thing to destroy it. I need to set up a circle of protection for you."
"What do we need to do?" Megan asked, not wanting to waste time debating the safety of a circle.
"Nothing at all," Fred said, sitting on the ground in front of them as Willow began to sprinkle herbs around them.
"You're not going to be helping Willow perform the spell?" Charlie asked.
"Me? Goodness, no. I'm not so big with the mojo. I've done all that I can to help set up. Willow's going to have to do the rest alone," Fred said. "I'll know when it's safe for us to break this circle."
Willow completed the circle and muttered a short spell of protection. Charlie would later deny the shiver that went through him as Willow finished her recitation.
"That should do it," Willow perkily acknowledged.
"Are you going to be safe?" Charlie asked.
"If everything goes according to plan, then yes. I've got a couple of protective charms for myself, but once I call this thing, it shouldn't take long to send it back where it came from," Willow said.
Before anyone could ask any more questions, Willow headed for the other circle.
Once she'd been able to study the spell the girls had used, it didn't take her long at all to figure out what had killed all eight girls. It looked like the ones who had called the spirit – for it was an angry spirit – had neglected to bring an appropriate offering. Why they thought a non-corporeal being would want a Marilyn Manson CD was beyond her.
She shook her head as she set out the skinned rabbit she'd procured from Angel's butcher. She tried not to show her revulsion, but justified that the animal was already dead, and not by her hand.
With the spell book open before her, she began to call the spirit as the moon began to rise.
Charlie watched in rapt fascination as the smoke from the candles surrounding Willow seemed to gather above the center of the circle, growing and merging into a shapeless cloud.
"What have you brought me?" the cloud seemed to ask of Willow.
"I offer you this fresh meat," Willow responded, gesturing to the dead rabbit.
The cloud virtually purred in appreciation. It descended on the meat and Willow hurried to perform the banishment spell.
"How is it going to eat the meat?" Charlie whispered to Fred. "It has no body, no stomach."
"Not on this plane," Fred agreed. "But what it consumes here is automatically transferred to its body in the spirit realm."
"Spirit realm?" Charlie echoed, sorry that he'd asked.
"Quiet," Don admonished his brother. He was as fascinated as Charlie, but he also wanted to pay attention to what Willow was doing.
One of the charms that Willow had mentioned had been secreted away inside the dead rabbit. As soon as the smoke cloud had encapsulated the carcass, Willow uttered a spell to immobilize the spirit.
"Treachery," it wheezed. "Lies and trickery. What did you call me for? For you shall pay with your life for you insolence."
"Silence," Willow commanded. With eyes bled completely to black, Willow held her right arm up to the spirit, palm out. "I banish thee from this realm. Your services are no longer required and you are to depart immediately, not to return unless called."
"You called me to banish me?"
"You know as well as I that my calling was merely a formality. You never truly left this place last night," Willow said. "No more words. Go! I banish thee."
With her left hand, Willow tossed the contents of the pouch she'd been holding. As the mixture hit the cloud, it screamed and began to dissolve. As the last of the cloud dissipated, Willow closed her eyes.
Fred stood and prepared to break the circle, but Don held her back. "Are you sure it's safe?"
Fred looked to Willow and nodded. "It's gone."
She scuffed a breach in the circle and stepped out, hurrying to Willow's side. Fred tried to hide her surprise at Charlie beating her to Willow.
"Are you okay?" he asked the redhead.
Willow blinked and turned green eyes to look at Charlie. "A little tired, but good." When Don and Megan reach them, she confirmed, "It's gone."
"And it really won't be back tomorrow; or next month?" Megan asked.
"Not unless someone else is foolish enough to call it and not offer the appropriate gifts," Willow agreed.
Charlie offered Willow a hand to help her stand. "Do you think that's likely to happen?"
"Honestly, I don't know. A lot of these wanna-blessed-bes don't do the proper research before calling on powers bigger than themselves. I've seen far too many things like this happen by girls who want something for nothing. The supernatural doesn't work like that," Willow said.
"There are rules about things like that?" Don asked.
"More than you'd think," Fred said.
Fred helped Willow to clean up her supplies and remove the circle from the clearing. No need to make it easy for the next innocent.
"So what are you going to put in your report?" Charlie asked.
"Insufficient evidence," Don answered, without hesitation.
"Case closed?" Willow asked, joining them.
"Case closed," Megan confirmed.
Allowing Megan and Don to precede him back to the cars, Charlie dropped back to talk with Willow.
"So, Willow, what are your plans for this evening?" he asked.
"Aside from dropping this stuff back at the office?" Willow shrugged. "Dinner and crash."
Sensing what was going on, Fred skipped ahead to catch up to Don and Megan.
"Is there any chance I could interest you in dining with me?" Charlie proposed.
"With you? Really?" Willow questioned.
"Yes, really. Is that so hard to believe?" Charlie asked, laughing.
"No! I mean, no. I just wasn't expecting that you'd want to see me again after all of this," Willow admitted.
"I admit that I don't understand much of what happened here, but I also don't know that I can truly deny it either," Charlie said. "So would you like to have dinner?"
"That's a big yes," Willow said, a bounce finding its way into her step.
"Excellent." Charlie couldn't stop himself from grinning. His worldview may have just been turned on his head, but it looked like he had found himself the best guide to make sense of it again.