Title: The Fourteenth Ghost

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: T

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.

Summary: B:tVS, Thir13en Ghosts. Buffy and Willow clean up after the destruction of the Ocularis Infernum. 1500 words.

Spoilers: B:tVS post-"Chosen"; "Thirteen Ghosts" (2001)

Notes: Challenge entry. Not much point to this one, except to give Dennis Rafkin a few seconds more of "screen time". I know the movie was cheesy, but I'm fond of it anyway.

"This is it?" Buffy asked, wrinkling her nose up at the enormous pile of steel and shattered glass looming at the end of the long driveway.

"This is it," Willow confirmed as she parked the car. "The only completed model of the Ocularis Infernum. Or, what used to be a model of the Ocularis before it backfired on the guy that built it."

Buffy frowned a little as she opened the passenger door. "This is the all-seeing Eye of Hell? I was expecting something kind of, um... smaller." She held her right hand out in front of her, separating forefinger and thumb by about an inch, and squinted through the space at the house. "Not to mention, rounder."

"The actual eye is somewhere in the middle," Willow said, brushing strands of red hair from her face as a light autumn breeze rustled the trees around them. "The rest of the structure is the machine that's supposed to force it open, dressed up to look like a house. It needs the energy of thirteen ghosts to work: twelve to represent the black zodiac, captured ahead of time and imprisoned in the basement, and one more, the willing sacrifice of a pure soul lured into the building before the whole thing is set in motion."

"A pure soul?" Buffy frowned as they crossed the drive to the gap where the front door must have been. "Why would anybody that fit that description sacrifice themselves to give a bad guy infinite knowledge?"

Willow shrugged as she walked. "Because he thought he was doing it to save his kids?" she asked. "The guy that owns this place-- Arthur Kriticos-- said his uncle Cyrus faked his own death and left it to him in his will, only he was waiting when Arthur and his family got here. By the time Arthur figured out something was seriously wrong, all the ghosts were free and Cyrus and his minions had trapped Arthur's kids in the Eye Room. Then they told him sacrificing himself was the only way to shut it down and save them."

Buffy swallowed, remembering the terror and clarity of the moment when she'd stood atop a shaky tower and realized what she'd have to do to save her sister. Yeah, she could understand that motivation. "I take it he didn't, though?"

"Nope." Willow shook her head. "Cyrus hadn't counted on his pet psychic turning on him-- or Arthur's nanny spoking the gears. The ghosts got free, threw Cyrus into the machine, and escaped while the place shook itself to pieces. Arthur, his kids, and the nanny were the only ones who survived."

"So how'd you hear about it, anyway?" Buffy asked, frowning at the debris. It clearly wasn't fresh; there were drifts of leaves and dirt visible inside the half-destroyed structure, and though the widely scattered shards of glass still sparkled in the sunlight, even a casual glance could see that time had blunted their edges. "I thought you said there was something dangerous going on here, but the wreckage looks pretty dated to me."

Willow murmured something under her breath and raised her hands in front of her in a sweeping gesture. The wind picked up suddenly as the color began to bleed out of her red hair, leaving it strawberry-milk pale as the debris in the devastated entryway began to shift noisily to the sides, clearing a safe path inside.

"There is something dangerous going on," Willow said, lowering her hands as the clatter of shifting wreckage began to die down and her hair went red again. "There has been, ever since it happened back in '01-- you were still recovering from, you know," she gestured vaguely, "at the time, and the Watchers weren't paying as much attention as they should have. Anyway, when they started paying attention again, they noticed a lot of psycho-kinetic energy in the area. It turns out Cyrus Kriticos stored a lot of magical artefacts inside the house, and Arthur didn't take them when he left, but no one else can get to them, either; at least one of the ghosts he dealt with stuck around and played guard dog."

A sudden burst of cold air stirred Buffy's hair, and she shivered. "I think they can hear you, Wills," she said.

"Good," Willow said, speaking a little louder as she stepped into the house, carefully keeping to the area she'd magically cleared. "Then they'll also hear me when I tell them that there's a warlock in Cleveland with enough power to build a new Ocularis, and all he needs is Cyrus' copy of the book of spells. He's coming, and they're armed with enough ghost-trapping equipment to take care of all of you, if you don't help me get rid of the book first."

Buffy was right behind Willow, within the outer boundaries of the house, when the gust of chilled air came again. This time, she could hear faint words accompanying it: I'd like to see them try.

"No, you don't," Buffy said, glancing from side to side as she tried to pinpoint where the ghost's voice was coming from. She knew who Willow as talking about; they'd had word that he was planning something major a few weeks ago. "Trust me, Phoenix isn't someone you want to tangle with. He won't care where you end up after he has what he wants, either."

Willow was moving down the hallway, still inching along in front of Buffy; her foot struck what looked like a pair of glasses as she walked, and they caromed off some scattered debris before coming to rest at Buffy's feet. Curious, and creeped out enough not to mind a distraction, she bent to pick them up and settled them on her face, then glanced around at what was left of the structure.

Suddenly, she could see faint, glowing traces of unintelligible words scattered all around her, adorning the floor and most of the scattered glass shards. It was magic of some kind, obviously, worked into the building's structure-- probably part of how old Kriticos had controlled and trapped the ghosts he'd enslaved. Whichever of them had decided to stay behind must be pretty tough to persevere in spite of the bad memories that would linger from their imprisonment.
Interestingly enough, Willow looked no different through the glasses, but Buffy herself appeared to glow very faintly. It was disturbing, but probably harmless; she'd died twice, after all. Besides, she was definitely more solid to eyesight and touch than the hot guy propping himself up against the--

She blinked, and reached out to tug at the back of Willow's shirt. "Willow," she hissed, staring at the tall, blond specter hovering off to one side. The young man, whoever he was, was attractive in an intense, early twenty-something geeky kind of way-- except for the dark ooze of blood running down over the right side of his face, neck, and shirt.

Willow frowned into the air approximately where the young man was standing, and murmured several more words that made his form waver and take on slightly more vivid colors.

Hey, stop that! the young man objected. That tickles!

"You're the psychic?" Willow asked, squinting in his general direction.

Dennis Rafkin, he replied, defiantly. What do you think you're doing here?

"That depends," Buffy said, drawing the attention away from her magical friend. The ghost reminded her, strangely, of early, brash, defanged Spike; she didn't know if it was the colors he was wearing, the blond hair, or the defiant attitude, but it unsettled her a little. "Are you planning to stop us from destroying that book of spells so no one else can get their hands on it?"

He glanced from one to the other of them for a moment, then crossed his arms over his chest. If you're not telling the truth, he said, We'll deal with you like we have the rest of them. We're not letting anyone else get their hands on that kind of power ever again.

Behind him, several other shadows flickered through the distant edges of Buffy's vision. Other ghosts, she was sure-- ones who maybe weren't so nice. It was nerve-wracking, and frustrating; she really preferred enemies she could get her physical hands on; she didn't have much defense against the spirit world.

"Scoobies' honor," Willow said brightly, lifting her hands. "Besides, it's not like we could steal it without going past you again, right?"

Right, he said, grimly, then turned and flickered, striding off down the hall. It's this way. And hey-- watch where you step.

Buffy looked down, and groaned as she saw the solid ground they stood upon fall away where glass had once separated the ground floor from the basement. One of these days, something was going to go easily for her-- or she was going to meet a hot guy she could actually touch without the end of the world somehow being involved, and she was going to faint from the shock.