"I told you it was rat girl!" The Doctor said smugly as he stepped back and let Rack run from the room.
"Shouldn't we be chasing after him?" Tara asked, watching Rack dart down the corridor and skid around the corner.
"Nah" the Doctor declared. "I'm sure your friend Buffy will take care of him."
"Let me guess, the corridor leads straight to her," Tara realised aloud. "You knew he'd make a run for it."
"Weeeell, know is such a strong word," he said, as he tucked his hands into his pockets. "Let's just say I made an educated guess and planned accordingly." He grinned. "Well, I suppose our next step is going back to Rack's place."
Why?" Tara asked distractedly.
"Because that's where your Willow arranged to meet her," the Doctor said, as he led the way back to the control room.
"Of course," Tara sighed. "How silly of me, I should have realised."
"Was that sarcasm?
Tara pulled a face. "That was worry," she admitted. "Amy isn't as powerful as me, but she has a better understanding of offensive magic and, more importantly, she won't hesitate in using it."
"And you don't want to put Willow in the position of having to fend her off," the Doctor said, with a sharp nod. "Will the trick we used on Rack work on her?"
"To a certain degree, I think," Tara said, after a moment. "Amy's a witch, which means she can do a lot of stuff under her own power, much like a sorcerer would, but she isn't very powerful, so she'd probably use an outside power source for her more powerful spells….my guess is, that's how she hooked up with Rack in the first place."
"Sounds like a right piece of work," the Doctor muttered.
Tara shrugged uncomfortably. "Actually, I feel a bit sorry for her," she said. "Willow told me she wasn't like this before she was turned into a rat. I guess all those years inside a rat cage changed her."
"She tried to murder you, Tara, and she got all those people on Abera Amin killed," the Doctor said grimly. "I don't care how difficult her life has been, nothing excuses that."
"So what are you going to do, Doctor? Lock her up and throw away the key?" Tara asked.
"We'll deal with that when we come to it," he said evasively. "First we find her and get the genie lamp back."
Tara frowned at his back as he quickened his pace and strode ahead. She didn't like the sound of that. "Doctor?" she called after him. "Doctor, what are you thinking? Be honest."
He looked over his shoulder at her. "I'm thinking that I'm not the slayer, Tara, I can punish humans, and I won't hesitate in doing it if I think it's for the best – is that honest enough for you?" He slammed through the control room doors, and Tara followed him, coming to a halt as she spotted Buffy leaning against the rail, a bound and gagged Rack lying on the floor beside her.
"Ah!" the Doctor said, his voice suddenly full of cheer. "I see you found him, then. Good stuff. We'll drop him off when we collect the other one."
"The other one?" Tara's eyes followed the sound of Willow's voice and spotted her straightening up on the other side of the central console. She grinned; it seemed Willow couldn't help having a peek at the console when the Doctor wasn't looking.
The Doctor's eyes narrowed as he spotted her, and he bounded up the ramp and glared at the console suspiciously. "I do hope you didn't try to look under the hood," he muttered, as he shined a lever with his coat sleeve..
"If that's your way of asking whether I looked for the power source, then no… although I was tempted," Willow added, under her breath.
"You didn't answer Willow's original question," Buffy pointed out bluntly, folding her arms. "Why are we letting Rack go, and who is this 'other one'?"
"Amy," Tara said softly.
Buffy blinked. "Really?" she said, the surprise evident in her voice. "Wow, I didn't think she had it in her. It just goes to show you, you can't judge a bad guy by their cover. I always thought she'd never go beyond the nickel and dime stuff."
"Why is that?" the Doctor asked, curious.
"Fear, mostly," Buffy admitted. "She always struck me as all bravado, with very little spine. Sure, she likes to talk the talk, but when it comes down to it, she's an addict, not an evil mastermind. The only thing that motivates her is finding her next hit…sorry, Willow."
Willow shrugged, embarrassed. "You shouldn't be," she said softly. "It's true."
"So, you think this plan is a little too well thought out for this Amy to be behind it?" the Doctor mused.
Buffy frowned thoughtfully. "She always struck me as someone who wouldn't think twice about hurting one of us, especially after Willow shut her out, but this seems a bit sophisticated for her," she said. "This took a lot of thought and effort; it wasn't a spur of the moment plan."
"It's a bit sophisticated for Rack, too," Willow said suddenly, as she stared at the tied up Warlock on the floor. "I mean, he's smart, but he's always been way too self absorbed to play these sort of games just for a taste of me. There are plenty of people lining up to get what he's offering."
"And what does he offer?" the Doctor asked softly.
"Peace," Willow murmured. "At least for a little while."
"You think there's someone else involved?" the Doctor asked, turning to Buffy once more.
"It's usually how things work around here," Buffy said. "You start off thinking they are just a lot of nasty but unrelated incidents, and then you discover that they're all connected, somehow – usually about a week before the apocalypse."
"You really do lead an eventful life, don't you?" the Doctor asked rhetorically.
"Like you wouldn't believe," Buffy muttered.
"Oh, I think you'll find that I'm quite open, in that regard," the Doctor said, grinning wildly as he prodded at the console. "But, for now, let's just concentrate on getting the genie bottle, eh?"
He pushed a lever up, and the TARDIS began to hum once more. This time, the Doctor twiddled a different dial. "Same place, different time," he muttered. "You were supposed to meet at eight, weren't you?"
"Oh, yeah, eight o'clock," Willow said weakly.
The Doctor nodded grimly as the TARDIS's central column came to a rest. "We're here," he said, as he stared at the monitor intently. "And it seems she's waiting for us."
"What?" Willow squeaked.
"Look for yourself," he said, his voice flat.
Tara saw Willow's eyes widen, and hurried up the ramp to look at the monitor herself. "What is that?" she asked, as her eyes took in Amy and the creature beside her.
"It looks like a crone," Buffy observed, over her shoulder. "I mean, like in one of those crones in the old fairytales Mom used to read to me as a kid."
"Not quite," the Doctor said softly. "But close enough, I suppose. They're called the Carrionites."
"You recognise them?" Buffy asked.
"Oh yes," the Doctor said, "Although I've never met one in person before."
"They're…aliens?" Tara asked, unsurely.
"Yeah," the Doctor said, with a frown. "And ones that would feel quite at home on a Hellmouth, I suspect. They're the intergalactic equivalent of magic users."
"Willow gulped "Magic users?"
"Oh, I shouldn't worry," the Doctor drawled. "I should be able to clear this all up, once I remind her of the finer points of the Shadow proclamation."
"The Shadow proclamation?" Buffy echoed.
"Set of rules, set up to prevent this kind of thing," the Doctor explained breezily as he trotted down the ramp and opened the door.
Tara hurried after him as she heard the voice screech his name. Hadn't he said he'd never met one of them before?
"Sorry, I don't think we've met…?"
"You destroyed my sisters!"
Did I? Oh dear, there I go crossing my own timeline again—"
Tara reached the door just in time to see the Carrionite raise a threatening finger and Buffy flew past her just as a bolt of lightening zipped from the creature's finger, throwing the Doctor to the ground. Sometimes, it was handy having a Slayer around.
The Carrionite pointed once more, her lips forming the curse, and Buffy hit out with a kick, knocking her hand away, as the Doctor scrambled to his feet and suddenly clapped a hand over the Carrionite's mouth. "Words," the Doctor panted. "Her power is in her words.
But not mine," Amy said coldly, as she stepped away from the wall.