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HOOTS! THEM!

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6.

Looking out of her hotel room window, Willow watched as Royal Marines patrolled the silent streets in their open top Land Rovers. For a moment she worried that they’d all catch cold or something. It was almost freezing and as she’d already noted the Land Rovers had no roofs. After her little mishap with the (almost) Willow eating Haggis the previous afternoon, they’d run for their lives back to the vehicles and escaped by the skin of their teeth. Kennedy had had to leave the hire car behind; Willow hoped the Haggises wouldn’t wreck it. They’d all made their escape aboard the brigadier’s Land Rover.

When they’d got back to the police station, Kennedy had sent her back to their hotel to rest. Willow turned to look at the unoccupied bed next to her own; obviously Kennedy hadn’t come home last night. No doubt she’d been doing something useful back at the police station. Willow was feeling particularly sorry for herself and useless, she’d grown to like being relied on for magic and stuff. It had come as a shock that people seemed to be able to get along without her. Slumping down on her bed she pouted like a five year old, after a minute or two she sat up straight and started to think of ways to redeem herself. You never know, she told herself, if she did a good job Kennedy might forgive her and not leave. Tara had forgiven her (and just look what had happened to her), Willow’s shoulders slumped again. There had to be something she could do, after all wasn’t she a way powerful witch?

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Brigadier O’Brian frowned as he turned away from the window, the weather was closing in again, snow was already starting to fall and more was forecast for later that day. He still had no idea where these damn Haggis creatures were hiding and what was worse, someone had sent a man from the Ministry of Agg and Fish to oversee the entire operation. On the good side, he’d managed to get all of Four-Two Commando in and deployed around Inverlochty before the weather had closed down the helicopter flights and blocked the roads. They were basically by themselves now, which was good (no political interference), it could also be bad if things went pear-shaped.

Looking around at what had become his ‘Advisory Group’, O’Brian smiled; there were the Doctors Medford, Sergeant Peterson and the American woman, Miss Scarpone. Major Kibbee was running ‘interference’ keeping both the police Inspector and the Man from the Ministry occupied and out of his hair. The brigadier walked back to the table where a large scale map of the area had been laid out.

“Has anyone any idea where these creatures could be hiding?” he asked with a tired sigh.

“Well,” began Harold Medford slowly, “they usually like high places but out of the direct wind and weather; something like a tarn or amongst some crags or something.”

“Anywhere like that, Sergeant?” the brigadier asked the policeman.

“Aye,” the sergeant rubbed his chin as he studied the map, “there’s a tarn up on Ben Ochty above the town. That’s where they’re building the new hydro-electric plant; I suppose they could be there.”

“Little too close to human habitation,” pointed out Patricia Medford.

“So, really we’ve no idea,” O’Brian shook his head.

With all the helicopters grounded there was no chance of air recon and he didn’t like the idea of sending men out on skies blindly hoping they’d find something. He heard the door to the room they were using open and shut, he looked up to see Doctor Rosenberg come in with a tray of steaming tea mugs and a plate full of doughnuts, she at least looked cheerful.

“Hi guys!” Willow chirped as she placed the tray on the table, “I bring tea and sticky, sugary goodness, when I was at school I found a big intake of sugar helped with the mental processes.”

Everyone smiled and helped themselves to the tea and doughnuts.

“So, what’s the sitch?” Willow blew on her tea before sipping.

“We’ve lost the Haggises, Dr Rosenberg,” Patricia Medford pointed out.

“Yes,” agreed O’Brian, “with the weather closing in we’ve nothing flying and I’m reluctant to send men out to search blindly.”

“Oh, I see,” Willow thought for a moment, a simple ‘Locator’ spell would do the trick; but how to cast it without letting everyone see, she caught Kennedy’s eye.

“I might be able to help,” Willow said slowly.

“How so?” replied O’Brian who at this point would try anything, if the American woman suggested witchcraft he’d go along with it!

“There’s a mathematical method,” explained Willow making it up as she went along, “we use to help predict the movements of robbers and such. You never know it might work with the Haggises.”

“I’ll try anything once,” O’Brian informed the room, “what do you need?”

“Umm,” Willow thought quickly, she had to make this sound reasonable, “I’ll need stuff like…”

“All confirmed reports of Haggis sightings,” Kennedy jumped in realising that Willow, never too good with the ‘lies’, was foundering, “isn’t that right Doctor Rosenberg?”

“Yes!” Willow’s confidence having been boasted she got into the spirit of things, “anything on which way they were heading, time of day,” Willow thought rapidly what else would she want if this was real? “Oh, and a map and an office to work in.”

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Several minutes later, the two young women were hidden away in the Inspector’s office; Kennedy was busily marking the map with the locations of all the Haggis sightings and the creature’s direction of travel. Willow studied the dots and arrows Kennedy was drawing on the map; they might actually help with the spell, it couldn’t hurt. Plus it would look more convincing if she had to show the map to anyone.

“So,” Kennedy stood up having marked the last know Haggis sighting, there were depressingly few, “what are you going to do, a little hocus-pocus huh?”

Kennedy could never quite bring herself to truly believe in magic, okay, she’d seen Willow do some really amazing stuff. But she still didn’t fully ‘believe’ not deep down where it counted. Her brain still kept telling her that it was some clever trick or like special effects in a movie.

“Simple location spell,” Willow informed her soon to be ex-girlfriend, “should give a rough area to work with if nothing else.”

“Do you need anything else,” Kennedy wanted to know, “eye of newt or something?”

“No,” Willow frowned, I’ll give you eye of newt, she thought, or maybe I’ll just mess with your mind and drive you away. “No, no,” now she was feeling all sad again at the thought of Kennedy leaving her; got to concentrate she told herself, “just a quick chant and I’ll be done.”

Watching as Willow chanted Kennedy saw the lines she’d drawn on the map swirl and start to move towards a point on the map just above the town. When Willow stopped chanting the pencil marks went back to their original location; Kennedy marked the spot where they’d all joined together with a big red circle.

“Well?” Willow asked looking at the map, “Did it work?”

“According to you,” Kennedy glanced at Willow, that had been a neat trick, “they’ve got their nest or whatever up here on,” Kennedy screwed up her eyes to read the small print on the map, “Ben Ochty? Everything seemed to centre on this little lake thing.”

Kennedy tapped the map with her finger.

“Okay,” sighed Willow, “lets go tell everyone.”

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The news that the Haggises were camped out on top of Ben Ochty wasn’t greeted with the sort of acclaim that Willow had hoped for. The Doctors Medford pointed out once again that it was too close to human habitation. The brigadier, while not exactly pooh-poohing the idea was still unwilling to send men out without better intelligence. Kennedy found herself defending Willow’s ‘theory’ asking if anyone had a better idea. In the silence that followed her rather forceful interjection there was a quiet knock on the door and Constable McHenry poked her head into the room.

“I think there’s something you need to hear,” she slipped into the room closing the door behind her. “Early this morning, before the weather got really bad, a Mr Cameron took his children up the mountain to go sledging. Mrs Cameron phoned in to say they’ve not come back.”

“How long have they been gone?” Peterson wanted to know.

“Its about three hours now,” explained McHenry, “Mrs Cameron says her husband was only going to be an hour, he had work to do but he wanted to take the kids out first.”

“I’ve an awful feeling I know the answer to this, Constable,” the brigadier looked worried, “where were they going?”

“Up Ben Ochty,” replied McHenry, “somewhere near the hydro-electric plant.”

“Right!” O’Brian snatched up a field telephone that’d been put in to give him a direct line to the Commando’s headquarters in the church hall down the street. “I’ll get some men together and we’ll get up there.”

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The motor of the little snow cat vehicle the marines used roared as it started to climb up the track towards the summit of Ben Ochty. Willow, Kennedy, Brigadier O’Brian and three marines who carried rifles and radios were all crammed into the back of the tracked trailer being pulled up the mountain by the tractor unit. In front and behind them were more tractor-trailer units full of marines making their way along the construction site track leading to the half built hydro-electric plant. The brigadier picked up and checked his own rifle.

“That’s a different type weapon, isn’t it?” Kennedy asked once again feeling the pangs of weapon envy.

“Yes,” agreed O’Brian slipping a big magazine into the housing in front of the rifle’s pistol grip, “the 5.56mm ammunition we use nowadays doesn’t have the stopping power of the old 7.62, I had them get some old SLR’s…”

“SLR’s?” frowned Kennedy.

“Self Loading Rifles,” explained O’Brian, Kennedy nodded her understanding. “Anyway, I had them taken out of storage and reissued to the chaps. This time if we bump into any of these Haggis chappys we’ll be able to stop them cold!”

“I hope you’re right,” Willow chimed in, she didn’t like guns; a man with a gun had killed Tara and nearly killed Buffy.

“Oh don’t worry about that, Dr Rosenberg,” O’Brian smiled in a knowing way, “I’ve seen a bullet from one of these,” he patted the rifle, “take down an African bull elephant.”

“Oooh!” Willow whimpered, “Poor Dumbo!”

“Never mind,” Kennedy patted Willow on the knee and then remembered she was supposed to be leaving her lover and withdrew her hand, “I expect it had to be done, didn’t it Brigadier?”

“What?” O’Brian turned from looking out of the window of the trailer, “Oh! Yes; it was a cull by South African game wardens, all legal and above board. I’d like to tell you more but I think we’ve arrived.”

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Climbing out of the back of the trailer, Willow was almost blown off her feet by a gust of freezing wind. Clutching at the trailer’s door to steady herself she saved herself from sliding all the way to the foot of the mountain. While she struggled to keep her footing, dozens of white camouflaged marines ran here and there in seeming chaos. Then, it seemed to Willow, that someone cast a spell and everyone disappeared into the snow. Where, moments before there were men everywhere, now she couldn’t see one! Turning in growing panic she was relieved to see the Brigadier, the Medfords, Sergeant Peterson, Kennedy and several marines in a huddle behind one of trailers. Willow walked stiff legged over to join the group.

“Glad you could join us, Dr Rosenberg,” O’Brian smiled down at Willow before turning to speak to one of his marines. “John, I want your chaps to spread out and start searching for these children and their father, okay?”

“Right away, sir,” ‘John’ nodded to the brigadier and turned to run off shouting orders to his invisible men.

Willow watched as lumps of snow turned into marines and started to move around the hillside searching for the missing children.

“I don’t like it,” Harold Medford said quietly, “the chances of finding anyone alive...” his voice faded away as he shook his head sadly.

“I know doctor,” O’Brian signalled some more marines over, “but we have to look. What I suggest we do is that we search the construction site,” he pointed over to the half built abandoned buildings. “Keep an ear out for Haggises and watch you don’t get trapped by the bounders.”

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Finding herself automatically paired off with Kennedy, Willow walked through the jumble of half built pipes and buildings; she didn’t really know what she was looking for, what were ‘signs of Haggises’ anyway? Until a day ago she’d thought that a Haggis was a traditional dish made from sheep. Now she knew they could be ravenous, hooting monsters that ate sheep and (Willow gulped mentally) people. Miserably she considered casting a Haggis finding spell, she stopped for a moment to think; were there any Haggis finding spells? If there were she didn’t know them; just as she was thinking about using a general life force locating spell, Willow found her feet entangled in what she thought were dry branches. Looking down she found herself standing amongst a pile of bones.

“Oh my!” she gasped as she bent to examine her find.

Willow was inside a half built concrete shed or hut, the walls stood about eight feet high put the roof was open to the sky and the floor was just frozen earth. The bones were covered in a light dusting of snow which she brushed away with her hand. Memories of long ago biology lessons fought their way to the forefront of her mind as she recognised some of the bones as being human.

“GUYS!” she called urgently, “HEY GUYS, I’ve found something.”

Sighing with relief at the sound of footsteps crunching on the snow, Willow turned to see Kennedy standing in the doorway sword in hand. No one would give her a gun but no one appeared to want to tell her she couldn’t carry her sword, so there she was standing like a heavily bundled up ancient Highland warrior.

“What’s up?” Kennedy asked.

“Found these bones,” Willow pointed to the litter at her feet.

“Crap,” cursed Kennedy just as the Medfords turned up.

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“Well,” sighed Harold Medford as he spoke to O’Brian, “at least the children’s remains weren’t amongst the bones we found.”

“Thank god for that,” mused the brigadier, “what have we got?”

“I’m no expert, you understand,” explained Medford, “but there’s pieces of three different human skulls, some of the other bones I recognise as human. The rest all seem to be sheep bones.”

“Humm,” O’Brian rubbed his chin with a gloved hand, “unfortunately I still doesn’t tell were these creatures are nesting or whatever you call it.”

“Oh, they’ll be near by,” Medford scanned the snow covered crags for a moment, “you can count on that.”

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“Willow?” Kennedy walked over to stand next to Willow, “I can feel something like an annoying little sister at the back of my mind trying to get my attention.”

“That’ll be your ‘spider sense’ trying to tell you something,” Willow grinned.

“Well, duh!” Kennedy turned a full three-hundred and sixty degrees looking for the source of her unease, “I’d sorta worked that out. Can’t you work the mojo to find these things?”

“Oh yeah,” sulked Willow, “fine to use the magics when you want something…this is so unfair!”

“Hey,” Kennedy caught hold of Willow’s arm and turned her to face her, “I’m just suggesting, right?”

“Oh…” Willow was just about to utter a snappy come back when the sound of bagpipes came to her ears, “Hey?” she asked, “What’s that?”

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