keep on knocking
The gang listened anxiously to the growls and pounding of the demon horde attacking the shop windows and door.
“I know Ahn had the foresight enough to install security grade glass, but with the muscle the geek squad is throwing at us, the windows aren’t going to hold out much longer,” Xander warned. “Just a professional fyi.”
“I knew I should have considered the hurricane glass,” Anya cursed, “Or the bullet proof glass. But no… I had to settle for the contractor’s discount of the week. You’d think a girl would learn. Taking up shop on the Hellmouth there’s bound to be semi-annual disasters. Still, I got all caught up in making a deal, saving a few…”
“You can buyers remorse all you want later, Anya. We got bigger demons to dust now,” Buffy interrupted, peeking through the windows at the opposition. “I’m estimating about fifteen demons. I’ve identified some from previous engagements and know the weak points, but the others, I don’t. Let’s crack open a few books and get researching. I need options people.”
“Heads-up, the gooey antler demons are charging again.” Xander yelled, quickly pulling Buffy away from the glass.
“Chaos demons,” Ethan corrected with an indifferent mumble, leaning forward on the counter and looking bored.
“You ought to know,” Willow scolded.
“Rudolph’s slimy cousins, whatever… they’re fixing to shatter the windows,” Xander hollered.
With a loud crash, the windows splintered and began to fold in against the gate. Buffy rushed to support what little remained of the barrier.
“Not again. I can’t take this,” Anya rambled inconsolably as she paced the length of the shop.
“I don’t have time for this. Giles is out there somewhere, alone. I need to find him.” Buffy braced against the rickety gate that shuddered under the power of each demon’s attack. “ Willow, think you can enchant up a shields-at-maximum spell or something?”
“I don’t know,” Willow winced, nervously jumping to her feet with the request. “I mean, the spell would be a cinch normally, but I don’t know if I should.” She gave an anxious look to Tara who was already objecting to the idea.
“You know I wouldn’t ask unless it was really, really important, Will. I can’t sit here and wait to see if Giles is okay. He’s out there alone and upset…”
“She can’t. No magick,” Tara said determinedly. “We’ll find another way. You know she can’t, Buffy.”
“Can’t or won’t?” Anya challenged.
“Excuse me,” Ethan tried to intervene but the group continued their bickering.
“That’s not fair, Anya,” Tara challenged. “You know it’s difficult for Willow to control.”
“That’s not really our problem, is it?” Anya responded.
“Pardon me,” Ethan repeated louder but to no avail. The gang continued to ignore him, still occupied with their argument. He shook his head in frustration and stormed off into the backroom.
“Maybe if it’s just a little spell, Willow? Like a single serving size?” Dawn negotiated.
Tara sighed, distraught. “But there are no little spells, Dawn. That’s the point. Every casting is like…”
“Then maybe *you* should try a spell,” Anya suggested. “We need to do something before my quaint little hometown shop becomes a drive through.”
“I can try but I’ll need a few things,” Tara nodded.
“Lucky day, I have things. Many things. I’ll just put them on your tab,” Anya suggested with an agreeable smile.
“Tab?” Willow balked. “You’re going to charge her for supplies she needs to save your shop from being destroyed?”
“Um, guys?” Xander tried to interrupt.
“Anya, don’t you think the situation calls for a little magick shop comp?” Buffy suggested. “Red tag sale on account of the pending siege and all?”
“Maybe we should discuss the fiscals after the casting?” Tara recommended, hurrying across the shop to start gathering the necessary ingredients.
“Maybe I can help?” Willow offered apprehensively, following along after her.
“No Willow. I’ll do this alone. It’s for the best for you to…”
“Hey guys, hate to be the bearer of even more bad-ish news but where’s Ethan?” Xander asked, beginning to search anxiously around the shop.
“He was here a second ago,” Willow said.
Buffy cursed under her breath, “If that yellow-bellied, good for nothing…”
“Saepio impedimentum!” bellowed a deep, commanding voice. A purplish illumination bubbled up from the ground and expanded outward, enveloping the shop within. The demon’s thundering quieted to a mere echo as the dark-eyed sorcerer marched out from a shadowed corner of the room.
“What the heck was that?” Xander gulped.
“The barrier spell you failed to request properly,” Ethan said smugly. “Your Willow isn’t the only practitioner of magicks at hand, you know. If any of you had the presence mind enough to inquire…”
“You helped us?” Dawn squeaked.
“For the moment,” Ethan strutted up to the window and peeked out from between the mesh of metal bars Buffy was stubbornly refusing to release.
“Why should I trust you?” Buffy asked, skeptical of the spell as well as its source.
“I couldn’t care less if you trust me or not. The spell will give us a short reprieve, but most likely won’t hold the night. It would be best to have a follow up plan.”
The sorcerer folded his arms, grinning with pompous satisfaction as Buffy finally released her hold of the barrier.
“So Slayer, is too much to hope for your own homespun brand of violence here, or am I flying solo?”
“Don’t get cocky Captain Chaos,” Xander threatened. “I’m sure Buffy has something up her Slayery sleeves, don’t you Buff?”
“Think nothing of it, luv. You’re heartfelt appreciation is reward enough,” Ethan griped bitterly.
“Remember our little ‘talk or bleed’ arrangement?” Buffy warned. “Well, it’s been revised to ‘don’t talk or bleed’, got it?”
“All too well,” Ethan rolled his eyes with the tiresome threat.
“Now what?” Anya asked. “We just wait for them to pound their way in here? Doesn’t sound like a good plan to me.”
“Nor me,” Ethan agreed, receiving a glare from Buffy.
“Are you deaf or just have a death wish?”
“Um, guys, not really getting how the insult-y threats will help with the crisis at hand,” Willow interrupted, as she stepped between the Slayer and sorcerer. “Call me wacky but I think maybe there are better targets for your hostilities than each other. Like, say… the army of monsters trying to renovate the shop into a parking lot.”
“Why don’t we begin by using our muchly appreciated tunnel exit in the basement, yah?” Xander suggested anxiously.
“No Xander, I won’t abandon the shop again,” Anya objected and soon the entire gang cascaded back into a heated debate. The sorcerer separated himself from the others, seeking peace at the circular table where the youngest member had taken residence.
“Is this how you lot normally function?” He asked Dawn with an exhausted look, collapsing into a chair beside her.
“It’s our way,” she smiled uncertainly.
“What’s going on?” Warren huffed, arms waving in frustration towards the beasts battering a seemingly indestructible store front. “We should be in by now?”
“I think there’s a barrier spell blocking us,” Jonathan explained.
“You think?” Warren chided. “The big, purple, glowing, bubble thingie kinda tipped me off to that one, Sherlock.”
Jonathan shrugged off the insult and countered, “Looks like your clueless sorcerer isn’t so clueless after all.”
“Shut it, Doublestuff!” Warren gave the shorter man a harsh push, sending him stumbling into an unprepared Andrew. “Point is, there’s a bit of a time constraint here. I could only cover half the damage for an hours worth for these rent-a-massacre guys. We’re down twenty minutes and counting. At this rate, if they manage to get inside, we’ll barely have time enough to enjoy the Royal Rumble.”
“Wait a minute; I thought we were swimming in green. What happened to the First National Bank of Sunnydale funds we stole… I mean acquired?” Andrew asked.
“That’s been gone since like forever,” Warren sighed. “With the whole James Bonding Death Star van and the Hall of Doom Injustice League headquarters planning, its way spent.”
“Then how were we planning on paying these guys if it takes longer than what you’ve paid for?” Jonathan asked nervously.
“I dunno. I kinda figured on an IOU. Doesn’t matter, once we get inside and to all that magick junk, we can conjure us up some money.”
“I don’t like this. Something tells me defaulting on demon debt could be worse than late fees for porn at the video store,” Andrew rambled.
“So let’s avoid that and get the hell into the shop. Listen, Shortround here is supposed to be the Troika team’s Harry Potter so what do you say you get to working your mojo pronto magick bone boy.”
Jonathan shook his head timidly. “I don’t have nearly enough power to breach Rayne’s spell. He’s like a mystical aptitude level…”
“I didn’t ask for the top ten list of your lame ass excuses, Whine-athan. Better make yourself less of a waste of space or I’ll tell the Terylkans they can use you as a battering ram,” Warren demanded.
“Okay, okay… I’ll see what I can do.” Jonathan rustled sheet after sheet of schematics in his hands. “Maybe he didn’t think to shield all entrances to the shop,” he considered as his finger traced a path along the sewer lines. “Or perhaps the barrier is beefed up for the main entries leaving other areas less protected.”
“Leaving alternative accesses to the shop unshielded and therefore vulnerable,” Andrew suggested. “Like maybe there’s a sewer access or laundry chute or something.”
“Affirmative,” Jonathan nodded confidently.
“The Riker Rearing Class S maneuver, quite a cunning stratagem,” Andrew said, impressed.
“Geek it down and do it already!” Warren barked then mumbled under his breath, “I really have to get a new crowd to hang with.”
“W-what’d you say this was again?” Giles asked, slurring his words as he swayed in his seat atop the stone sarcophagus. Spike’s gaze narrowed, working to focus in on the moving label of the bottle in Giles’ hand.
“Scotch,” Spike grinned and took a hearty swig of his bottle of tequila.
“I don’t like it,” Giles muttered, dramatically shaking his head to punctuate the point.
“Neither did I until I was force fed it in trying to escape your endless pity parties a few years back.”
“What do you mean?” Giles lurched forward, overcorrecting his unbalance and clumsily repositioning himself on the burial chamber lid.
“I roomed with you for a time, back when Buffy wasn’t quite so civil to yours truly.”
“You and I were friends?”
“Hardly, more like scathing enemies. Thankfully greed won out and sealed a monetary bond between us.” Spike took another gulp of tequila, hissing with the burn of his throat. “Good times.”
“Were they really?”
“Of sorts.” He shrugged. Then upon further consideration, Spike shook his head, conceding, “Okay, not really. Actually, things were much clearer before that. Buffy knew what she was and I knew what I was. There was a sort of blueprint… a design for survival back then. Now it’s all a bloody mess, innit?”
“Yeah, it is,” Giles nodded absently. “I used to like this scotch?”
“Well, you could afford a better label but yeah, you fancied it alright.”
With a thrust, the bottle went smashing to the mausoleum wall, instantly drenching the stone and floor and spraying them both in the process.
“Hey, I nearly got a bat to the head nicking that!” Spike protested.
“I don’t like it anymore, now,” Rupert concluded with a garbled growl.
“I’m getting that,” Spike pushed himself out of his chair to his feet and started clumsily rummaging around in some nearby paper bags settled along the dusty floor. “What’ll it be next then, Rupes? I have rum, vodka, gin…”
“Trouble!” Shouted an anxious voice.
“What does trouble taste like?” Rupert asked, trying to focus on the blur of motion passing him.
“Clem?” Spike acknowledged the wrinkled demon with a confused look. “What are you doing here? Fright Nights not until tomorrow.”
“There’s trouble at the Magic Box. It’s looking like ‘High Noon’ with something like a hanging posse of the demony sort over there,” Clem said, acknowledging Giles with a polite nod and smile. “Hello. Name’s Clem, always nice to meet one of Spike’s business buddies.”
“Hello Clem,” Giles responded amiably, shaking the demons hand as he examined the overlapping folds of skin along its flapping arms. “Nice to meet you but Spike and I aren’t friends. I don’t know what I am, actually.”
“Bummer, my aunt went through that last year during molting season. It’s sort of like a menopausal episode but with a bad rash,” Clem said with an understanding smile. “She went all ‘soap opera’ on account she took the wrong medication and hopped the first bus outta town. Uncle Mickey found her in Vegas two weeks later trying to get hitched to a Michael Jackson impersonator. Turns out, it was just a schizophrenic delirium wraith with a bad nose job. Had a steady paycheck though. Aunty Mimmy never lets Uncle Mickey forget it either.”
“How many, Clem?” Spike asked, obviously irritated as he grabbed his coat and threw it on.
“I don’t know. Maybe every two weeks. Not sure how entertainers work the payroll…”
“Demons, Clem, how many demons?” Spike shouted.
“I didn’t get a good look. They have the main streets blocked to keep traffic away and the phone lines and power are down for the entire block. I’m not an expert but it seems mighty professional to me. Looks like Buffy may be in trouble.”
Giles suddenly sobered with the news. “Buffy’s in trouble?”
He pushed off the sarcophagus and stood determinedly before Spike. “I have to help her!” And with his first step, fell flat faced to the floor as Clem fumbled helplessly to stop his unexpected plummet.
Defeated in his attempt to help, Clem sighed as he examined the inebriated man at his feet. “Pity party?” He asked Spike.
“I’ll tell you later. Help me with him, will you?” Spike asked as the pair of demons worked to get Giles upright.