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Chapter Six - Ready or Not

'Where is the cauldron?'

Willow and Tara looked at each other. Willow gestured with her eyes at the cabinet at the far end of the room. Tara nodded.

'The what-where-who?' Willow asked, circling round the double bed as Tara moved slowly in the opposite direction.

'The Cauldron of the Dagda,' the golden man explained. 'We were told it was here.'

'Here here or S-Sunnydale here?' Tara asked.

The intruder was between the two girls and could not watch them both at the same time. While his back was turned, Willow squatted down and hauled a box out from under the bed.

The man heard the noise and started to turn, but, seeing the movement, Tara quickly added, 'No cauldrons here.'

'Nobody here but us witches,' Willow commented. She had put the box on the bed and her head was practically inside it as she rooted about for the things she wanted.

'And we're not the kind that use cauldrons,' Tara added as the intruder took a step towards Willow. The golden man turned back towards her, circling smoothly, like a dancer. He thrust his hand forward and it seemed to plunge into a gap in the air, his arm disappearing up to his elbow. Slowly, he withdrew his hand, but it was now holding an immense broadsword, its blade pitted and blunt, but no less brutal for it. This was not a weapon for a clean kill, but rather one for slowly hacking bits off of your opponent.

Tara swallowed.

'We're really not,' she insisted. 'Are we?'

'Uh-uh,' Willow assured her, distracting the creature from her friend. 'Great big smelly ugly type things.'

'Cauldrons or the witches who use them?' The intruder turned his attention back towards Tara, swinging his blade in smooth arcs, but keeping the movement contained, controlled. Tara tried to ignore him as she rapidly filled her arms with items taken from the cupboard on the wall.

Willow grinned. 'Both, I think.' The intruder turned to face her. Again.

'Where is the Cauldron?' he demanded, levelling his blade with Willow's heart. 'We were told that it would be here. Therefore you must know where it is to be found. Either tell me now or I shall extract the information by force. Slowly.'

'Well, um, I hate to distract a man from his work, especially when he enjoys it so,' Willow said, her eyes fixed on the tip of the sword, 'but have you stopped to consider that you might have been misinformed? That maybe it isn't here, after all? Let's not forget how unreliable those cauldron-types can be. One little piece misinformation and your whole plan goes to pot.'

The intruder narrowed his eyes. Suddenly the bed between Willow and the intruder did not seem quite such an obstacle.

'Ah. My bad,' Willow said. She glanced over the man's shoulder to speak to Tara. 'Have we got any cinnamon?'

'I'll take a l-look…Here. Catch.' Tara threw the pot of ground cinnamon to Willow. The intruder, seeing the movement, had turned to face Tara. Now he followed the progress of the pot until he was back where he started.

'Thanks,' Willow said. 'What candles do you want?'

Tara paused, weighing up her options.

The intruder put a foot on the bed, ready to launch himself at Willow.

'A white one,' Tara blurted, 'and…um…the dark blue one. You know, the one with the rune in it. And there should be a black stone in there too.'

The intruder still had his foot on the bed, but his eyes were now boring into Tara's own. She stumbled back a step and struck the counter.

'Got it,' Willow said. She raised her head from the box. 'Tara, look out!'

The golden man had finally made up his mind and was lunging towards the taller witch. With no time for anything fancy, Tara blew the dark powder in her right hand into the man's face. He stumbled away, coughing and spluttering, his hands rubbing at his eyes.

'Cool spell, Tara,' Willow said appreciatively. 'What was it?'

'Spell? I didn't have time for a spell. That was just pepper.'

Tara and Willow used the golden man's temporary confusion to swap spell components with each other. Willow used a jar of white paste to paint a third eye on her forehead while Tara lit the two candles and placed the smooth black stone at the closest point of an equilateral triangle formed with the candles.

'I'm missing something.' Willow was frantically emptying the contents of the box on to the bed. 'Come on, come on. Engage brain.'

The golden man had recovered his balance. He was leaning on the doorjamb while he planned his next move.

'Uh, Willow, honey,' Tara said, 'now might be a really good time to think of something.'

'What? Oh. Yeah. Glow-in-the-dark creepy thing. Can a glowing thing be creepy? Doesn't that kinda make it difficult to creep?'


'Right. Nerves. Babbling. Salamander scales!'


'Salamander scales,' Willow repeated. 'Brown jar, bottom shelf.'

'Coming right up,' Tara said as she dived back into the cabinet. 'Here, catch!'

Tara threw the jar.

Willow braced to catch it.

The golden man launched himself at the smaller witch.

'Willow!' Tara shouted.

Willow turned, but did not have time to move out of the way.

Tara desperately tried to think of a spell, but could not come up with one that would not hurt Willow as well.

And then Miss Kitty Fantastico darted forward. She ran in and around the golden man's legs, disrupting his footing.

He fell and Willow stumbled back out of reach.

And the jar completed its arc by smashing into the wall and spilling its contents over the carpet.

'Whoops,' Tara said.

'Tara,' Willow shouted as the man struggled back to his feet. 'I need another spell ingredient. Anything.'

Tara grabbed the first thing that came to hand and threw it to Willow who caught it easily.

'Thyme?' she complained. 'What am I supposed to do with thyme?'

Tara shrugged apologetically.

'Guess we'll just have to suck it and see,' Willow muttered. 'Ready?'

Tara held up a length of black ribbon.

Willow stuffed the thyme into a pocket and then filled one hand with salt and the other with cinnamon.

'Lets do it,' she said.

Taking a deep breath to centre herself, Tara began to tie knots in the ribbon. As she did so she began to chant.

'By knot of one, my will be done.

By knot of two, this spell be true.'

While Tara chanted, Willow circled the golden creature, surrounding it with circle of salt. She was just completing the circle when the man lashed out with his sword. Willow dodged most of the thrust, but it still sliced through her sleeve, opening up her upper arm. She stumbled back on to the bed, hand pressed against the wound, face contorted in pain.

'Rhodon,' she snarled.

The intruder cried out and dropped his sword. The hilt had sprouted tiny thorns.

Gritting her teeth, Willow struggled to her feet and gathered up her spell components. Swiftly, she completed a second circle, this time of cinnamon, then another circle of salt.

'By knot of five, this spell's alive,' Tara continued. 'By knot of six, like stone be fixed!'

The golden man froze, like a statue. Only his eyes remained in motion, glancing first from one witch then to the other.

'I like,' Willow said. 'How long does it last?'

'That depends on the power of the entity being bound,' Tara explained. The golden man's fingers began to twitch. 'I'm guessing not very long.'

'My turn then,' Willow said.

She took the thyme in both hands and extended her arms towards the creature until they were locked and rigid. The eye painted on her forehead began to glow with a light of its own. It seemed to suck all other light from the room so that the only illumination was that which came from Willow's face.

'Be gone!' she snapped.

A wind whipped up as if from nowhere and threw the creature backwards throw the window. Shattered glass could be heard raining on to the ground below.

Willow and Tara ran to the hole to look for their intruder, but he was nowhere to be seen.

'Thyme out,' Willow whispered. Then she grinned. 'Hey. I made a funny. I feel almost Buffy-like now. Only without the pointy sticks.' She rolled her shoulders back and puffed out her chest heroically.

'I love you just the way you are,' Tara assured Willow, putting an arm round her and planting a light kiss on top of her red hair. 'Now, who's going to pay for the window?'


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