THE POWER OF THREE
Content Advisory: This part contains extreme violence, including torture and sexual assault. If this type of content disturbs you, don’t read it.
Disclaimer: All of the materials borrowed from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel belong to Joss Whedon and to the entities and companies associated with their creation. I have borrowed them for creative and entertainment purposes only. No compensation has been or ever shall be received for the writing below. No copyright infringement is intended.
My Website: http://www.dragonwriter17.net/
Feedback: Yes, but only if it’s of the non-flamey variety: DragonWriter17@aol.com
Distribution: The Mystic Muse, Near Her Always (If you are interested in posting my story on your site, please contact me first for permission.)
Spoilers: The end of BtVS Season 4’s “Wild At Heart” and beyond.
Author’s Notes: I have kept to the BtVS/Angel canon in some ways, borrowing directly from aired episodes; however, I have also made significant changes: deleting certain storylines, moving some, changing others, as well as adding some completely original plots. If you haven’t read my backhistory story for Tara, “Out of Shadow into Light,” you need to because it is critical to Book 2.
Additional Note: If you’ve read my Watchers episode “Rack and Ruin,” you may notice some similarities between it and this chapter. I must admit, I did pillage my PoT outline when I wrote that episode. Oh well.
Number of Chapters: 16
Chapter Summary: As Buffy and Willow frantically search for her, Tara is mercilessly tortured by Caleb. Faith and Vamp Willow prepare to make the jump from the Wishverse to the “real” Sunnydale.
In Giles’ apartment, everyone stood anxiously waiting for Tara to contact Buffy and Willow again. Buffy and Willow exchanged worried looks as they felt Tara’s fear at her captor’s arrival. Suddenly, Buffy and Willow screamed in pain and fell to the floor. Giles, Xander, and Anya looked on in shock as the two women thrashed about in a convulsion-like fit.
“Oh my god!” Xander exclaimed. “Giles, what’s happening?”
“It...it looks like a psychic attack of some sort,” Giles said.
“We’ve got to help them!” Anya cried.
“What do we do?” Xander asked desperately.
“Let’s move the furniture so they don’t hurt themselves,” Giles replied, not knowing what else to do.
As the three pushed the sofa, chairs, and coffee table away from the two stricken girls, Buffy and Willow stopped screaming. They gasped frantically for air but remained on the floor. Xander and Giles and Anya moved quickly to their sides.
“Willow! Are you okay?” Xander asked.
“Buffy! What’s happened?” Giles added.
Traumatized by their shared experience, Buffy and Willow were completely unaware of the others around them. The two sat up and reached out for one another.
“Tara…” Buffy whispered to Willow in a choked voice.
Willow collapsed into Buffy’s arms, crying hard. Giles, Xander, and Anya pulled away, thinking the worst.
“Oh god…” Anya said, turning and hiding her face in Xander’s chest. He wrapped his arms around her. Giles looked on with shock and grief in his eyes.
* * *
Back in the underground room that served as Tara’s cell, Caleb was wringing his hands. They were still crackling with energy, but that faded as he powered down his magic.
Tara was on the floor, gasping for air, her muscles still jerking from the aftermath of his attack. Her blouse and skirt were covered with dirt from her convulsions on the filthy floor.
Caleb circled her then squatted down beside her, a gloating grin on his face.
“So, how’d’ya like my ‘psychic scourge’?” Caleb asked her. “It’s a fine tool, if I do say so myself.”
Caleb’s expression became one of haughty instruction, and he gestured overdramatically with his hands as he began to explain.
“You see, it’s designed to attack the nervous system. It hits all the nerves in your body and fires them into pain mode all at the same time.” He flashed a wide smile at Tara. “Excruciatin’, ain’t it?”
After his smile, Caleb put his hand to his chin and put on a fake look of disappointment.
“It does have one itty bitty drawback, though,” he said. “I can’t overuse it.” He leaned closer and poked Tara’s forehead several times. She jumped with each touch. “Why, if I used it too much, I’d fry that little brain of yours like overcooked bacon.”
Caleb stood up and laughed. “But don’t you worry, darlin’ !” he said, beginning to wring his hands once again. “You ain’t even sizzlin’ yet.” As the crackling began, Tara’s eyes grew wide with fear.
* * *
Back in Giles’ apartment, Buffy and Willow were recovering their composure. Giles knelt beside them to venture a question.
“Buffy, what is it?” he asked gently. “What’s happened?”
Buffy turned to Giles. “Whoever or whatever’s got Tara, he’s…he’s hurting her…bad.”
“Oh god…” Willow seemed to fall apart again at Buffy’s words.
“We can…feel what she’s going through,” Buffy explained, pulling Willow closer. “It’s like it’s happening to us.”
“But she’s alive, right?” Anya pushed for clarification. “He hasn’t killed her?”
Buffy nodded. “Yes, she’s alive.”
“Well, then there’s hope,” Anya said firmly. “We just have to find her.”
“Yeah, we’ll find her,” Xander said grimly, “and then we’ll kill the son of a bitch who’s—”
Giles cut Xander off. “Buffy, you said that Tara was trying to tell you where she was before…before she was attacked. What did she tell you?”
“Not much,” Buffy answered. “She was in a room of some kind, underground. She was trying to describe it to us when she heard someone coming.”
Willow touched Buffy’s arm, making the slayer turn to her. “Buffy, she’s hurting so much, we have to do something.”
“I know, baby,” Buffy said reassuringly, cupping Willow’s tear-stained cheek. “And we will, we’ll find her.”
“Buffy, this bond of yours, between the three of you,” Giles interjected, “do you think you could use it to contact Tara again?”
Buffy shrugged uncertainly. “Maybe. We’ve been working on it lately, trying to figure out what we can do with it, you know, opening and closing our mental shields. We can definitely feel what the others are feeling, especially if it’s an intense emotion, but it’s been hit-and-miss at best.”
“Well, I think you should try,” Giles suggested. “Perhaps with the two of you working in tandem, you could—”
Giles’ words were cut off as another psychic blow hit both Buffy and Willow. Once again they fell screaming to the floor.
Giles reached out for the slayer and witch. “Buffy! Willow! Close your shields!” he commanded.
Buffy and Willow didn’t seem to hear him and continued to convulse on the floor. Giles grabbed Buffy’s arms and shook her.
“Buffy! You have to cut off contact with Tara!”
Buffy didn’t respond. Giles grabbed both sides of Buffy’s face and made her look at him. Through her pain, she met his gaze.
“Buffy! Close your shields! Now!” he told her again.
Buffy looked terribly distraught. She closed her eyes and shook her head. When Giles pleaded with her once more, she reluctantly slammed her mental shields shut. She was immediately released from the shared attack. She gasped in relief and tried to regain her breath.
Willow, however, was still fully in the throes of the painful experience she was sharing with Tara as she was attacked. Buffy crawled to her knees beside Willow and shook her, forcing the redhead to look at her.
“Willow! Close your shields!” Buffy told her girlfriend.
Willow shook her head. “No! I can’t!”
“Baby, you have to!”
“No!” Willow sobbed. “I’m not…going to leave her…alone in this!”
“Will, you have to!” Buffy begged. “We can’t help Tara if we’re incapacitated! Baby, please! Close your shields!”
As Buffy’s had before, Willow’s expression became extremely distraught. But she did as Buffy told her and broke contact with Tara. Her convulsions instantly ceased, and she fell crying into Buffy’s arms.
* * *
In the underground cell, Caleb was gleefully zapping Tara with his psychic scourge, sending bolt after bolt into her body.
The blonde witch was beyond fighting, beyond screaming, as she jerked uncontrollably on the floor. Finally—fortunately—her eyes rolled back in her head, and she fell into blessed unconsciousness.
Caleb noticed and ceased his magic assault. “Damn,” he said. “Out already?” He let out a disappointed sigh.
* * *
A short time later, back in Giles’ apartment, Buffy and Willow were recovering enough to talk. They were seated on the couch, which had been moved back to its normal place. The others hovered nearby.
“Buffy, I know this will be difficult,” Giles said, “but, ummm, can you tell us what happened? Anything at all?”
Buffy took a deep breath. “I think…I think she must be unconscious. I can’t sense anything.” Buffy turned to face her girlfriend. “What about you, Will? Do you sense anything?”
“No,” Willow said, shaking her head. “It’s different now. Even after I closed my shields, I could still feel a little, you know, like when you can still hear the lawn mower through the door? But now, there’s nothing.”
Anya got a worried look. “But she’s still…you know? Right?”
“Yes,” Buffy confirmed. “Tara is alive. I think we’d know if…if she wasn’t. But we have to find her and fast. I don’t know what that monster’s doing to her, but if he keeps it up, she won’t be alive for long.”
* * *
In the Wishverse, Faith and Vamp Willow were standing inside a small circle inscribed on the floor. Ethan stood outside their circle, but inside a larger circle drawn around the other. Giles was outside the larger circle, watching with interest.
Ethan went through a series of incantations then held up a small crystal in his hand. Vamp Willow held up a similar crystal in her gloved hands. The two began a call and response in a language Faith didn’t understand. The dark-haired slayer watched with more than a little worry in her eyes.
Slowly, the edges of the inner circle began to glow, and Faith felt a wind-like force begin to whip around their legs. Just then, Ethan belted out the final line, and the portal opened.
“Hang on, baby!” Vamp Willow yelled from her motorcycle helmet as she tucked her crystal into her glove. “We’re off to Oz!”
Faith wrapped her arms around Vamp Willow, and in a flash they were gone.
* * *
Back in “real” Sunnydale, the Scoobies returned to the outside of Tara’s dorm, where the demon’s trail had ended. Buffy, Giles, Xander, and Anya watched as Willow walked a weaving path through the wooded alcove. She waved a smudging wand before herself and whispered a chant as she moved through the area. When she was done, she returned to the group.
“What did you find?” Buffy asked.
“There’s clearly a magic residue present,” Willow answered.
“So the demon did teleport,” Anya said.
Willow shrugged unhappily. “Looks like.”
“But that means—” Xander started.
“Right,” Giles said. “He could’ve taken Tara anywhere.”
Buffy wrapped her arms around herself and looked at the ground. Willow frowned sadly before bending over to snuff out her smudging wand on the ground.
* * *
After the spell, the gang returned to Giles’ apartment. All five trudged in, with heavy thoughts clearly on their minds. Anya and Xander immediately sat down in the living area. Willow stopped at Giles’ desk and set her bag on it. Buffy walked a few feet away and just stood there by the hallway, a lost expression on her face.
“I’ll, um, get out the necessary volumes,” Giles said. Then he headed for the bookcase.
Willow walked over to Buffy and rested her hand on the slayer’s arm. “Are you okay?” she asked softly.
Buffy stuffed her hands in her pockets. “Yeah…just gonna…head to the little girls’ room.”
“We’ll start researching the demon,” Willow said.
Buffy just nodded in response and then turned to go down the hallway.
* * *
Buffy shut the bathroom door carefully. She walked to the center of the small room and hugged herself tightly. Soon her shoulders began to shake, and tears began rolling down her face. She quickly put her hand over her mouth to muffle her cries.
Less than a minute later, Buffy jumped in surprise when the door opened and Willow came inside. Buffy tried to compose herself. She wiped the tears from her face and straightened her stance. When the slayer gave a nervous laugh, Willow pulled her into her arms, hugging her warmly. Buffy tried to stay strong but couldn’t. She fell sobbing against Willow’s shoulders, finally letting out all the worry and grief and frustration she’d been holding in. Willow cried with her, stroking her back and hair.
After a long cry, Buffy pulled away from Willow. She looked down at her hands, a sad and helpless expression on her face.
“I’m supposed to be action gal,” Buffy lamented. “Slayer who saves the day.” She shook her head ruefully. “I can’t even find Tara, much less save her.”
Willow reached out and touched Buffy’s arm, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Buffy, you—”
“Why can’t we sense her anymore?” Buffy asked in a choked whisper. “Do you think that she—?”
“No!” Willow said instantly. “Don’t even think that.” Willow caressed Buffy’s cheek. “She’s still alive, and we’re going to find her.”
Willow gave Buffy a comforting kiss, which Buffy eagerly returned. Then the two just held one another, relishing the reassurance of the other’s presence.
* * *
Later, in Giles’ living room, the Scoobies were still hitting the books, researching the demon that had taken Tara. Anya and Xander sat on the couch while Giles worked at his desk. Willow and Buffy sat on the floor, leaning against the chair for support.
“Hey, I think I may have found something,” Buffy announced. She handed the book to Anya, who peered at the picture on the page.
“That’s it,” Anya said. “That’s Sasquatch, all right.”
Giles got up from his desk, perched on the arm of the couch, and took the book from Anya. He studied the text carefully for a moment.
“Gorif Demon,” he read aloud. “Large and strong, its defining characteristics are its shaggy shoulders and single horn in the forehead. Not particularly intelligent, this beast has no special abilities other than its inhuman strength.”
“Nothing about teleportation?” Willow asked.
“No,” Giles answered, shaking his head. The watcher got a confused look on his face. Then he turned to Anya. “You say Tara tried to use magic on it, but it didn’t work?”
“Yes, that’s right,” Anya confirmed.
“Maybe this Gorif guy has an accomplice who’s the magic guy,” Buffy offered.
“Well, it would make sense,” Willow said. “If Gorifs aren’t too bright, then it could be that the magic guy is the one running the show and he’s just using the demon to do his dirty work. He could have cast a spell on the demon to protect him from magic, and—”
“No, no,” Anya said, interrupting. “The Gorif wasn’t just protected. He was casting. It wasn’t like Tara’s spells just bounced off some protective shield that someone else put in place. The Gorif was actively casting counter-spells.”
“Are you sure?” Giles asked. “Because that just doesn’t fit what—”
“I don’t care what the book says,” Anya insisted. “I know what I saw.”
Giles glanced around the group, a helpless look on his face. The others had similar expressions as they pondered what to do next.
“Maybe this demon isn’t the demon,” Xander suggested.
“No,” Anya said firmly. “I swear that’s the one.”
“No, Xander may be right,” Willow interjected, the wheels clearly turning in her head.
“I may be right?” Xander replied, looking surprised.
“Yeah,” Willow continued. “What if the attacker was disguising himself—you know, to throw us off the track?”
“Interesting,” Giles said. “A glamour perhaps?”
* * *
Later, in the underground room, Tara slowly awakened. Her eyes blinked in slow motion several times, then she opened them wider as if trying to focus. She went to sit up but found herself unable to since she was tied down to the old metal desk in the room.
Her wrists had been bound together with rope, and her arms had been pulled over her head and then tethered to that side of the desk. Additional cord had been tied around her ankles, pinning them to the legs of the desk on that end.
Tara looked up between her arms to find Caleb standing over her, smiling. Intense fear came over her face, but she took a calming breath and closed her eyes.
“Willow! Buffy! ” Tara called out mentally to her girlfriends. She got no response. She tried again, but the same result occurred. She opened her eyes and looked at Caleb, the terror on her face even more intense than before.
“Whatsa matter? Can’t git your girlfriends on the phone?” Caleb taunted. “I guess they got somethin’ better to do.” The dark-clad man stepped closer, wearing his familiar gloating grin. “Or maybe I just took your phone off the hook, so to speak. They don’t need to feel all of it, anyway. They just need to know it’s happenin’.” Caleb reached over and ran a surprisingly gentle hand across Tara’s forehead. “After all, we don’t want them crashin’ our party, now do we?”
“Why are you doing this?” Tara forced herself to ask. “What do you want?”
“I believe I have already answered that question,” Caleb replied. “But don’t you be frettin’ about the why’s and wherefore’s, li’l darlin’. You’ve got quite enough to worry about with the what’s and the how’s and especially the how long’s. Like…‘what’s he going to do to me next?’ and ‘how long can I hold out?’ That sort o’ thing.”
Tara swallowed hard but didn’t say anything else. She was trembling with fear, a fact that Caleb noticed. His only response to it was a slight smirk.
Caleb took a step back and cracked his knuckles by interlacing his fingers and bending them back. “Now, I love my ‘psychic scourge’, don’t git me wrong,” he said before making fists and massaging out a few more knuckle pops. “But that don’t mean I have no appreciation for the traditional methods of pain infliction.” He gestured dramatically as he continued. “After all, physical torture has a long and hallow’d hist’ry.” Caleb scanned the full length of Tara’s body, a look of gleeful anticipation shining in his eyes. Then he leaned over until he was right in her face. “Besides, physical torture leaves a permanent physical reminder of our time together.”
Caleb straightened and then reached for Tara’s blouse. When he started to unfasten the top button, Tara whimpered and closed her eyes. She began whispering a desperate prayer to her goddess.
Caleb laughed. “Oh, that goddess o’ yours can’t help you now,” he said as he continued unbuttoning Tara’s blouse.
That comment seemed to anger Tara, and her eyes flashed open. He ignored her, finished undoing her blouse, and spread it open. The blonde’s defiance vanished when she saw Caleb materialize a large knife out of thin air. He twisted it several times in his hand, causing the blade to reflect the room’s light. Tara began to tremble harder, with tears flowing freely down her face.
Caleb ran the flat edge of the blade along Tara’s tear-stained cheek. A small, choked gasp escaped her mouth before she clenched her jaw tightly, clamping down on the other sobs trying to get out. Caleb pulled the blade slowly down Tara’s neck, before turning and trailing it nonchalantly across her collarbone. Her chest was heaving as she panted in fear, but when Caleb passed the knife over her breasts, she instinctively sucked in her breath and held it, expecting the worst. She felt the cold blade slip under her bra between her breasts. She gasped and jumped when he suddenly snapped his wrist, slitting her bra up the middle and exposing her breasts.
Caleb pushed back the bra, brushing Tara’s breasts ever so slightly. She felt the bile rise in the back of her throat, but she forced it back down. Caleb straightened up to admire his work. Tara looked at him as he examined her torso. Her eyes showed a glimmer of hope when Caleb zapped the knife away.
“You know I always thought that expression ‘milky white skin’ was just an exaggeration,” Caleb said in amazement, “but I see now that I was mistaken.” He leaned over and ran his hand between Tara’s breasts and over her stomach. She jerked at his touch, but he didn’t seem to notice. “It’s perfect,” he said, “just perfect.”
When he stood up, he materialized something in his hand. It wasn’t the knife he had held before. It was a metal rod, about two feet long, with a wood handle on one end, and an iron head on the other. It was a branding iron. As Tara watched with terror-filled eyes, Caleb conjured fire into his free hand and held the head of the branding iron in the flames. After a few moments, he withdrew the iron; its head now glowed an angry orange-red.
When Caleb brought the hot iron near her, Tara struggled uselessly against the bonds that held her. “Oh god, oh god,” she repeated as he drew the item closer and closer to her skin. Caleb gave a savage grin as he thrust the branding iron against her stomach. She screamed as the hot metal seared into her skin.
As Tara panted through the initial pain, Caleb pulled the iron away. He smiled at the red brand left on Tara’s skin, clearly pleased with the result. When he met her eyes, she managed to glare furiously at him, but that only pleased him more. Without moving his eyes from hers, he gleefully conjured up the fire in his hand once again.
* * *
Back in Giles’ apartment, Buffy and Willow and the others were in a deep discussion, trying to develop a strategy to find Tara.
“So what’s the plan?” Buffy asked. As her eyes turned to Giles, both she and Willow suddenly groaned in pain. They reached out for one another, but just as quickly as it had come, the feeling passed.
“Tara?” Giles asked softly.
Buffy nodded. “I think he’s doing it on purpose. Blocking, then unblocking. I think he knows we can feel her. He’s taunting us.”
“He must be a very powerful warlock,” Anya commented. “He can disguise himself, he can teleport, and he’s somehow blocking your connection to Tara. That’s pretty high-end stuff.”
Giles nodded in agreement.
“So, how do we get around that?” Xander asked. “I mean, there’s gotta be a way, right?”
Giles thought for a moment and then said, “The last time you tried to connect with her, you said that you could actually feel the barrier. Perhaps you could track it instead of Tara herself.”
Willow lit up at that. “That could actually work,” she said excitedly. “It takes a lot of power to maintain something like that. The energy signature would have to lead back to him.”
“Can we track it on the fly?” Buffy inquired.
“I think so,” Willow said. “Being on the move makes it harder, but I think we can do it.”
Buffy stood to her feet. “Okay then, let’s get some wheels and hit the road. We’ve got a warlock to find.”
* * *
About an hour later, Caleb was finished with his branding. Multiple burns covered Tara’s stomach and breasts. Several ran up her arms, and one was prominently placed on her neck, right next to her jugular. After zapping away his branding iron, Caleb waved his hand at Tara, and the ropes holding her untied themselves and fell away.
Tara was so exhausted from the physical and emotional trauma of Caleb’s torture that she could barely move. She brought her arms down to her sides, but that was as far as she got before Caleb grabbed her hands and pulled her up to a sitting position on the desk. She swayed precariously on the edge, but he held her firmly in place as he met her eyes.
“You know I have to say, I’m impressed with how you’re holding up,” Caleb told her. “I imagined you just crumpling like a fragile flower, but you have quite the pain tolerance.” He flashed a curious grin. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you’d done this before.” Then he snickered wickedly. “Don’t tell me you let the Slayer and your little Red Witch tie you to the bed and have their way with you?”
Tara shot an angry glare at Caleb.
His smile fell away, and he looked at Tara intently. “No, it’s not that,” Caleb said, thinking out loud. “It’s something else. I think I’d better take a peek.”
He wiggled his index finger at Tara’s face, and her eyes grew fearful as she wondered what he was going to do. Suddenly, he magically sank his finger right into Tara’s forehead. She shrieked in agony as her mind was invaded.
* * *
In the van they had rented, Xander sat in the driver’s seat with Anya sitting shotgun next to him. An open map was on her lap. The engine was running, but the van was in park. In the back of the van, Buffy and Willow and Giles sat in a circle, chanting softly together. After the chant ended, the three sat silently for a moment, their eyes still closed.
“North,” Willow said.
“North,” Xander repeated uncertainly. Then he looked over at Anya.
“Just head out of town and catch Highway 10,” Anya instructed.
Xander put the van in gear and did as he was told.
* * *
As Tara struggled weakly and uselessly against Caleb’s violation, the warlock himself seemed energized and exhilarated by the experience. His eyes were closed, and his head was tilted back. An intoxicated-like grin was on his face.
“Oh I see,” Caleb announced. “Daddy Dearest, huh?” Then he gave a small laugh. “Oh, and Brother Donny too.”
He tilted his head back up and reluctantly pulled his finger out of Tara’s head. She gasped in relief and nearly fell off the desk when he did so. Caleb easily caught her.
“Well, no wonder you’ve held up so well,” Caleb said. “You’ve had years of practice.” He gave a simple shrug. “That’s okay. Just makes it more fun for me.”
He yanked Tara off the desk and to her feet. She wobbled in place, almost too weak to stand, so he grabbed the front panels of her shirt and held her up with them.
“Why don’t I make this a little more familiar for you?” he said.
Before her unbelieving eyes, Caleb morphed into the image of Tara’s father.
“No!” Tara said, shaking her head and trying to pull away. “You’re not my daddy!” she yelled.
He smacked Tara across the face, sending her to the ground. “Don’t talk back to me, little girl!” he shouted as she went down.
She landed hard on her back. When Caleb came after her, she scrambled backwards away from him. “You’re not!” she spat at him.
“Don’t even try to deny it!” Caleb said, pointing furiously at Tara. “I saw the demon rising up in you, like a coiled up snake, lifting its head.”
He backed Tara against the unfinished wall and locked eyes with her. As Tara stared, terror-stricken, at her father’s image, she became hooked into Caleb’s illusion.
“D-D-Daddy, no, please, I didn’t m-m-mean to,” she whimpered, shrinking in fear before the warlock.
* * *
The van was now on a twisting gravel road in a highly wooded area somewhere north of Sunnydale.
“Left,” Willow called out from the back of the van. “We’re close.”
“Umm, I can’t,” Xander said.
“She said turn left!” Buffy yelled.
“I can’t!” Xander insisted, looking back briefly. “There’s no ‘left’ to turn to!”
When he turned back to face front, both he and Anya suddenly screamed. He slammed on the brakes, and the van came to a loud and skidding halt, making the three in back tumble forward and out of their circle.
“What the hell are you doing?!” Giles demanded. “Why are you stopping?”
“I ran out of road,” Xander explained, pointing at the dead end sign inches from the front bumper.
“Oh,” Giles replied.
“Okay, everybody out!” Buffy ordered. “We’ll do this on foot.”
* * *
Still in Mr. Maclay’s form, Caleb stalked closer to Tara, who cowered near the unfinished wall, wishing she could just disappear into it.
“You never mean to, do you?” Caleb said. “But you just keep on letting it come out, don’t you? It has to be beaten down, and you have to be punished.”
“I’ll do better, Daddy…I p-p-promise,” Tara stuttered, without meeting her father’s eyes.
“Take your place,” Caleb said simply.
“Daddy, please…don’t,” she cried, not moving from her place at the warlock’s feet.
“I said, take your place! Now!” he roared, frightening Tara even more.
“Y-Y-Yes, sir!” she answered instantly, crawling to her feet as quickly as she could.
Once standing, she faced the wall, reached up above her head, and took hold of the metal conduit inside the unfinished structure. She gripped it tightly then spread her feet shoulder width apart and tried to be still.
Behind her, Caleb materialized a riding crop in his hand. Tara could hear the familiar tap-tap of the leather crop in his palm as he drew closer.
“Daddy, please,” she tried once more, not daring to look his way.
“Shut up!” he warned, raising his arm to strike.
The crop came down hard on her back. Even through her clothes, it stung and bruised.
He hit her again, beginning his assault.
In Tara’s mind, she was back in her father’s barn stretched over the ladder to the loft, crying out as her father laid blow after blow on her back, buttocks, and thighs. She could feel the rough wood of the ladder rung in her hands, she could hear the horses shuffling nervously, she could smell the manure and the hay. She bit her lip and prayed for her punishment to end soon. She gasped in pain with each stroke and struggled to remain both standing and still. She knew that to fall or to move would only mean additional punishment.
Slowly…ever so slowly….through the haze of pain…Tara’s mind began to fight what it was sensing.
No...this isn’t right, she thought. I don’t live here anymore.
She cried out as an especially hard smack to the back of her legs caused her to lose her balance and fall to her knees.
“Get up!” her father demanded.
Tara closed her eyes and shook her head. When she opened them, the scene before her changed from the barn to the basement and back again several times.
No, no...I got away, she thought.
The image of the barn faded away, replaced by the image of the basement wall. Her eyes darted about until they settled on a large piece of jagged concrete beside her leg. It was the corner broken off a cinder block. She wrapped her fingers around it.
I got away, she said firmly in her mind as she brought the stone to her chest.
“I said get up!” Caleb screamed.
“You...are not...my father!” Tara said somewhat maniacally before screaming in rage, turning around, and braining Caleb with the piece of cinder block.
He crumpled instantly, but the blow took Tara to the ground with him. She landed on top of him, nose to nose. She immediately scrambled backwards away from him, holding up the brick in readiness. Luckily, Caleb was out cold. Tara dropped the brick and crawled away. She pulled herself to her feet and stumbled for the door. She left the small room and building and went outside.
“Buffy! Willow! ” Tara screamed with her mind.
* * *
Buffy and Willow and rest of the gang were searching in the woods off the gravel road. Xander and Giles both carried small backpacks on their backs.
“We’re close, I know it,” Buffy said to Willow, who nodded in agreement.
“Buffy! Willow! ” came Tara’s mental cry. They stopped in their tracks when they heard it.
“Tara! ” they called back to her.
“Are you okay? ” Willow asked.
“Where are you? ” Buffy added.
“I’ve got to get away! ” Tara rambled almost incoherently. “I can’t let Caleb find me! ”
“Tara, honey, tell us where you are ,” Buffy said.
“We’re close. Help us find you, ” Willow prompted.
“What’s happening?” Giles asked.
“Tara’s contacting us, she must’ve broken through somehow,” Willow said to Giles. Then she turned to Buffy. “Keep her talking. I’ll track her.”
* * *
Back in the underground cell, Caleb came to and groggily got to his feet. He touched his bleeding forehead and roared in anger. Then he rushed out of the room.
When he got outside, he scanned the nearby area, looking desperately for his escaped victim. Within seconds, he saw her stumbling through the brush. A look of savage hate came over his face.
* * *
“Tara, stay with me,” Buffy told Tara. “We’re going to find you. Describe where you are. ”
“Woods, trees, lots of trees,” Buffy heard Tara say frantically. “Wait, tower, watch tower, like for— ”
Tara’s words were cut off by a mental scream.
Buffy started looking for the tower right when Willow pointed off in the distance. Over the highest reaches of the trees, they could just make out the top of the forest observation tower.
“Come on, this way!” Buffy cried out.
* * *
Tara screamed out loud as Caleb materialized directly in front of her. She tried to run, but he caught her by the arm.
“You little bitch!” Caleb yelled angrily. “You’re gonna pay for that!”
He punched her violently in the face, sending her to her knees. He hit her several more times, before letting her slip to the ground, facedown and dazed. He stepped away and pulled a bandana from his pocket. He began blotting at the wound on his bleeding head, cursing to himself angrily.
Tara started trying to crawl away, pushing weakly with her feet and clawing at the leaf-strewn forest floor. He walked back over to her and kicked her hard in the side. She groaned in pain and tried to curl up into a fetal position. He yanked her arms behind her and tied them with his bloody bandana. Then he picked her up and threw her over his shoulder. He took a deep breath and teleported away.
* * *
With the others close behind them, Buffy and Willow rushed up a hill. When they reached the crest, they saw the tower not far away. As they struggled to catch their breath, they scanned the area, looking for any sign of Tara.
“Do you feel her?” Giles asked upon arrival.
“No,” Willow said desperately. “We heard her scream and then pain and then nothing!”
“There!” Buffy said, pointing out a building just beyond the tower. “That building—it has to be!”
The group dashed off, heading that way.
* * *
Back in the building, Caleb threw Tara onto the old desk facedown, knocking the breath out of her. As she gasped for air, he kicked her legs apart and held her down with one hand while he pulled her skirt and underwear off with the other hand. Tara whimpered and tried to lean up, using every bit of strength she had left, but he grabbed a handful of her hair and shoved her back down, slamming her already bruised face against the hard metal of the desk. He quickly unbuckled his belt and unzipped his pants.
“No, please,” Tara begged hysterically as she felt him move into place behind her. “Please don’t do this...god, no...”
Caleb merely grinned and rammed himself into her.
As Tara sobbed and cried, he rode her roughly, laughing as he did so. When his laughs became ragged grunts, he grabbed Tara’s hair and forced her head back.
“Time...to pay...for your sins...bitch!” he growled in her ear before magically sinking his free hand into the back of her head.
Tara screamed in agony as both her body and mind were violated at the same time. Caleb echoed her scream as he achieved his ecstatic release. Their screams ended simultaneously, and Caleb fell forward on Tara’s now-limp form.
After regaining his breath, he pushed himself up with both hands, pulled his pants back up and fastened them, and re-buckled his belt. He stepped to the side of the desk and looked at Tara’s face. Her eyes were open, but completely vacant. He reached up with his index finger and closed her eye lids one at a time, saying “Chuh-Ching” as he did so.
* * *
As Buffy and company reached a point about a hundred yards from the tower, they passed through an invisible shield of some kind. It shimmered when they went through it, and they felt its energy ripple across their skin. They stopped and looked around, expecting an attack, but none was coming.
“Did you feel that?” Willow asked.
Buffy nodded. “Be ready,” she told the others.
* * *
In the underground cell, Caleb turned toward the door as if he had just felt Buffy and the others arriving. He smiled and looked back at Tara.
“Only one more thing to do,” he announced.
The large knife materialized in his hand once again.
“After all, presentation is everything,” he added with a sick grin on his face.
* * *
Minutes later, Willow and Buffy burst through the door. They rushed into the room with Xander and Anya and Giles right behind them. Willow and Buffy froze at the sight before them.
Tara was strung up by her wrists, hanging from ropes tied to pipes in the ceiling. She was completely naked with her back to them, her head hanging limply against her chest. A message had been carved into her back:
The weakest link,
Is no more!
“Oh, dear god,” Giles said in horror.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART