Becca’s Books – Morning
Giles opened the shop door and stepped inside, his face falling at the sight of the destruction.
“We’re closed,” a voice called out from the rear of the shop, where two of the bookcase stacks were leaning dangerously against each other.
“Becca?” Giles called out, coming around the corner and seeing the owner painfully picking up fallen books and placing them on a rolling cart. “Oh dear lord!” he exclaimed when she turned around and he got a good look at her bruised and battered face.
“I said, we’re closed,” Becca repeated, her voice hard. “Get out.”
“Becca, I am so sorry,” he said, moving closer. “I never meant to put you in harm’s way.”
“How touching,” she sneered. “Now leave.”
“Your…your hand,” he indicated, looking at her swollen right hand. Two of the fingers were taped together and supported by splints. “What happened?”
She sighed and dropped the book she was holding in the other hand on the cart. “They wanted to know to whom I sold that book,” she replied. “The one with the dead friend.”
Giles blinked. “They knew about Tara?” he whispered.
“Whatever,” she shrugged. “When I told them I didn’t know, they snapped a finger. Then they asked again and I said it was a cash sale so there was no record of it. They snapped another finger. I told them you were English. That’s all they needed, apparently, so they left, but not before trashing the shop.” With one hand, she painfully pushed the cart toward the storage room.
He feebly grabbed the other end of the cart and pushed it for her. “At least let me help,” he said.
She gave a sarcastic laugh. “Even with two people, it’ll take weeks to get this place back in order.”
“I’ll bring in help,” he said. “In no time we –”
“Forget it, Rupert,” she said. “I don’t know what was in that book that’s so important but…just go.”
Giles opened his mouth, as if to explain again, but closed it with a snap. “Very well,” he said, defeated. He turned to leave, but stopped and faced her again. “I-I truly am sorry. I had no idea this would happen.”
Watchers Council – Lobby – Morning
Robin Wood snapped the cover closed on his cell phone and strode to the lobby door, opening it just as a man about fifteen years his senior approached.
“Good morning, sir. Can we help you?” he said to the gentleman, putting out his hand. The man looked at it for a moment but refused to take it. Upon getting that reaction, Robin registered who the man was.
“Where’s my daughter?” Rachel’s father asked flatly as he walked inside.
Faith heard the exchange and walked over. “Mr. Jones,” she began. “I, ah, I wanna start by saying –”
“Don’t start,” Mr. Jones told her as he held up his hand. “There’s nothing you can say at this point,” he added in an icy tone that appeared to chill Faith to her very soul.
She looked unsure of what to say and spared a glance to Robin, as if silently asking for advice.
“We have everything prepared,” Robin told him, stepping up to them. “Her belongings are in her dorm and ready –”
“Fine,” he said with a curt nod. “I do have one question, though.”
“Certainly,” Robin said sympathetically.
“How many other girls did she kill?” he asked, pointing to Faith.
“Well, Rachel –” Faith tried to begin.
“I asked him,” Mr. Jones waved a finger. “Not you. I don’t want to hear a word out of you.”
Faith was on the verge of tears, but held it back.
“Mr. Jones,” Robin said, trying to stay diplomatic with the man, “Let’s go to the dorms and we’ll discuss things.”
Not waiting for an answer, Robin led him away. Standing alone in the spacious Watchers Council lobby, Faith let out a ragged sigh and closed her eyes.
Watchers Council – Library – Same Time
Giles walked in to find Willow still looking at the book.
“Oh, hey,” Willow said, standing up. “Did you see her? Is she okay?”
Giles gave a dismal nod. “Yes, I did. And her shop is destroyed…I offered to help but…she doesn’t want anything to do with me.”
“Did she say what happened?”
Giles nodded. “It was us. Or me, I should say. They were after the book and somehow they knew it was Tara who warned us.”
Willow could sense his melancholy. “Well, hey! Here’s a bit of good news. I think I figured out what spell the demon used on me. I still have to find the counter-spell and adapt it a bit, but Tara knew I was good at that kinda mojo so…I think that’s why she sent us to this text.”
“That’s wonderful,” Giles said, his voice devoid of emotion as he looked out the window and over the lake.
Willow scrunched her eyebrows. “This is like a woo-hoo breakthrough, Giles, and you’re all Mr. Gloom and Doom,” she noted. “What’s up? Was she really that bad or…” Willow began to grin slightly. “You like her, don’t you?”
“She’s very charming,” Giles admitted. “And right now, she’s very angry, but I don’t blame her in the least. I’m angry with myself, actually. I should have had the foresight to have a slayer watch over her shop, at least until we resolved matters a bit more.”
“You’re missing the point here, Giles,” Willow said. “You like her.”
Giles paused and looked at his colleague for a moment. “I…”
Willow smiled as he broke off. “Giles, I haven’t seen you this way in a long time. Not since Ms. Calendar.”
Giles frowned. “Well, even supposing you’re right, what chance do I have now?” he asked. “Because of me, she’s hurt and her shop is ruined. She won’t have anything to do with me, and rightly so!”
Willow watched as he paced across the room, and then said, “I think then what you need to do is go back there and set things right.”
“What?” he asked, looking at her in confusion.
“Look, Giles,” Willow said. “If this woman has you so instantly smitten, then there must be something more to her than just good looks and a bookstore. And you can’t blame her for being upset.”
“What are you saying, Willow?” Giles asked.
“Go back there,” Willow repeated. “Don’t let this kind of opportunity pass you by, because you know as well I do they just don’t come along that often. A-and like you said, you didn’t help her then, but you can help her now. Take Andrew and the girls and have them do something productive. Geez, if nothing else it might help boost morale knowing that they’ve accomplished something, even if it is only dustpan work.”
Giles looked at her and then finally nodded. “You’re right, Willow. Thank you.”
“Anytime,” she said as he rushed out of the room yelling for Andrew.
Becca’s Books – Afternoon
Becca heard the door opening and sighed. “I so need to fix that damn door lock,” she muttered to herself as she moved out from behind the stacks. “We’re closed,” she said. “I know I put a sign out, and if you’re looking for a bookstore you must know how to…” She broke off when she saw a herd of a half-dozen young girls led by a blonde-haired young man.
“What the hell?” she asked.
Andrew approached her and tentatively held out his hand. When she refused to take it he pulled it back nervously and scratched at his chest. “Um, hi,” he finally said with a smile that was more like a grimace. “I’m Andrew and these are my girls.” He blushed. “Well, not my girls, but we all…well, we kinda work together and we’re here to help you.”
“Rupert sent you,” Becca finally said, getting over the shock.
“Rup…? Oh, Mr. Giles! Right!” Andrew nodded. He turned to the blonde girl next to him. “Marsha, let’s get started at the back and work our way forward,” he said. “Mr. Giles will be here soon with more supplies and we should have all the books picked up and the fallen shelves moved by the time he arrives.”
Marsha nodded and moved off into the store, with the other girls following. Becca watched for a moment and then turned to Andrew, as if to order him and his entourage out of the store, when the door opened once again. Giles clumsily tried to push his way through while simultaneously toting a stack of two by fours.
“Little help here!!” he called, struggling with the heavy lumber. Becca’s eyes widened as Marsha ran over, easily grabbed the load from him and trotted to the back of the store. Giles picked up the large toolbox that was holding the door open and stepped over to Andrew.
“Here, Andrew,” he said, handing the box to the young man. “There’s more lumber for the broken shelves in the truck. Get the girls to carry it in, since it’s rather heavy.”
“Right, Mr. Giles,” Andrew said, then hurried away.
Becca turned to Giles and looked at him, an incredulous expression on her face. Before she could speak, she caught something out of the corner of her eye and she whirled around to see one of the girls getting ready to lift a fallen bookshelf.
Becca began to race over, issuing a warning. “You’re gonna hurt yourself if you…” She trailed off as she watched the small girl upright the bookcase as if it were made of cardboard.
“That’s…that’s impossible!” she said, turning back to Giles. “Three men couldn’t lift that shelf, much less that little girl. What’s going on?”
“Yes, well, that would be one more of those things you wouldn’t believe,” he said, a small sheepish grin on his face.
“Out with it!” she demanded.
Giles sighed. “Becca…i-it’s not that simple, I’m afraid. The more you know, the more you could be in danger.”
“Look around,” she said. “I’m already in danger. I probably have been since the moment you first stepped through my door. You owe me at least an explanation.”
After a moment, Giles finally answered. “You’re right. Is there someplace we can talk?” he asked.
Becca looked a bit reluctant at first, but then shrugged her shoulders in a blasé fashion. “In the back,” she nodded. “Come on, I’ll make some tea. Ceylon black or Darjeeling?”
“Oh,” Giles smiled happily. “Darjeeling, please.”
“My life keeps getting weirder and weirder,” Becca muttered to herself as they walked.
Presidium Lair – Device Room
The Engineer stood at his lectern, his demonic hands moving smoothly over the inscribed runes. His face remained expressionless despite the screams coming from the device.
The door to the room opened and Bonnie entered, approaching to stand in the shadow of the Engineer. His hands paused on the controls, but he gave no other indication of being aware of her.
“The vampires report that the watchers already have the book, my lord,” Bonnie said.
The Engineer straightened slightly, looming even more over the human beside him. She swallowed and continued.
“Gretz and his crew left before finishing the job. I’m afraid they’ve taken the Presidium’s orders against random killing too close to heart.” The Engineer finally turned, fixing her with his black eyes.
“They will finish tonight,” he said.
“Yes, my lord,” Bonnie said quickly, “I’ll see that they’re back in time to dispose of…” she glanced at the device, “him.” She turned and quickly left the room.
The Engineer turned back to his lectern, peered closely at the geometries of its surface and made another adjustment. Once again there was no reaction from the demon to the sounds of agony that came from the device.
Becca’s Books – Afternoon
Giles dropped a cube of sugar into his cup and stirred, the sound of the stainless steel against the porcelain loud in the small room. Becca sipped from her cup, her bandaged hand gently holding the cup as if seeking its healing warmth. Finally, Giles looked up and met her eye.
“I don’t know where to begin,” he admitted with a nervous smile.
“What’s a watcher?” she asked.
Giles mouth went agape. “How did you –?” Giles began.
“Those goons last night,” she interrupted. “When I described you they said the watcher had it. That’s you, right? A watcher? And what do you watch?”
“Well, quite simply, those girls outside,” he said, tilting his head towards the front room, where the industrious sounds of the cleanup crew could be heard. “They’re very special girls.”
“You said you ran an academy for gifted children,” Becca noted. “Those are the children, I’m assuming?” she said, pointing outside the small room toward the shop.
Giles nodded. “How should I put this?” Giles pondered to himself before looking at Becca. “The Book of Watchers states that, in every generation there is a Chosen One,” he began in a bored tone. “She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer. God, I’m getting tired of that speech,” he concluded under his breath.
“Vampires?” Becca repeated. “Demons? Forces of darkness?”
Giles nodded, sipping at his tea. “It’s all real, not some fanciful tale from a gothic novel. Most of the world remains blind to the real evil that exists among us.”
“Wait,” Becca said, trying to absorb all the information. “You said ‘Chosen One.’ There’s a half-dozen girls out there and at least two of them who are stronger than you and I put together.”
“Actually, there are more of them than the few here today,” Giles said. “Hmm…let’s see if I can make this simple. A small group of men magically empowered one girl with superhuman strength many millenniums ago. Those men became the first watchers and, over time, the Watchers Council has continued its mission of assisting the Chosen One in her fight against evil. Until recently, there was only one slayer – Buffy Summers.”
“Buffy?” she asked with raised eyebrows. “The world is protected by a girl named Buffy?”
“Well, no, not any longer and t-that’s another story. But allow me to finish.”
“Please do,” Becca snorted.
Giles ignored the sarcastic tone and continued. “Part of the Watchers Council mission was to seek out and identify those girls who had the potential to be chosen as the next slayer – when the Chosen One dies then another is called into service and given those superhuman powers. The watcher’s duty is t-to train their potential and prepare her in the event she would be called.”
“So what happened?” Becca asked. “I’m guessing that all the potential girls are now Chosen girls.”
“Very good,” Giles smiled. “It was necessary for us to activate all of the potential girls, making them all slayers, in order to save the world from a great evil. An evil, by the way, which destroyed the Watchers Council, with the exception of a few watchers scattered about the world.”
“And you’re a member of this Watchers Council?”
Giles nodded. “After we saved the world, my colleagues and I came to Cleveland. Our new mission is to find the newly called slayers, train them and protect them until they can go out into the world to fight evil wherever it exists. Usually larger cities, since vampires need to feed on humans to survive.”
Becca sat back and stared at him for a moment. “Well, why Cleveland? Why not a larger city, like Los Angeles or New York?”
“LA is already protected by associates we know there,” Giles answered. “But Cleveland sits on top of a Hellmouth… a-a mystical convergence where evil things tend to gravitate. There are other such areas around the world, but until recently the Cleveland Hellmouth was fairly dormant. Strange things always have happened here, from what I’ve been reading, but now events are, how should I say…picking up.”
“So I noticed,” Becca said. “Why now though?”
“We think that with the closing of the Hellmouth in Sunnydale, California, the energy balance has shifted to the closest Hellmouth,” Giles postulated.
“Sunnydale?” Becca asked. “That’s the town that disappeared in the earthquake…” Becca paused at the look on Giles’s face. “That wasn’t an earthquake, was it? That was you?”
“And my colleagues,” he admitted with a nod.
“So you fight demons and train girls and read arcane books and live a dangerous life?”
“T-that’s basically it,” he said with a bashful grin, but then his expression turned serious. “I’m terribly sorry you were hurt, Becca,” he said. “It’s true that you would never have been put at risk had I not walked through your door. However, the information in that book could help to save the life of a young man who’s missing from our council.”
Becca sighed and looked away, prompting Giles to continue. “And I realize this story seems totally fabricated or, at the very least, nothing more than the ramblings of a madman…I could try to make up an excuse, something that sounds less preposterous, but honestly, I’m telling you the truth. I believe I owe you that much, because I enjoyed your company the other evening and I unwittingly put you at risk. With that said, you deserved to know the entire story.”
Becca rose and started to pace the small room.
“I don’t know, Rupert,” she said. “It’s all so very much to take in but…I can’t explain how that girl picked up that bookcase and like I said, I’ve seen some pretty bizarre things lately, stuff that made people think I was crazy when I told them. Maybe you are telling me the truth or maybe…Oh god, maybe I am going crazy,” she finished with a sigh.
“I know how difficult this is to believe and I would probably be more worried if you bought it without question,” Giles said with a warm grin. “But as I said, you deserve the truth. So, th-thank you for the tea,” he said, rising from his chair. “I’ll go see if I can help Andrew and the girls. The more hands we’ve got working, the sooner you can get back to your business.”
Without saying more, Giles walked from the room and Becca regarded him with an intense expression.
Watchers Council – Lounge – Late Afternoon
Willow and Rowena were poring over pages of notes and other cross-referenced information taken from various sources. The strain and exhaustion was beginning to be quite noticeable on both women. Faith and Robin were sitting quietly on the couch when Andrew and Giles walked in.
“Hey,” Willow said, looking up from her notepad. She wiped a hand over her face. “All better at the bookstore?” she asked.
“Andrew will have to go back tomorrow to finish the staining and varnishing on the new shelves, but yes, everything’s pretty much in order,” Giles reported.
“The girls were great,” Andrew said excitedly. “Xander would be so proud. That Marsha can wield a circular saw as if it were a stake.”
Willow rolled her eyes at his enthusiasm. “And your friend?” she said, turning again to Giles.
“That remains to be seen,” Giles said. He paused, then changed the subject. “A-any progress with the book?” he asked, indicating the paper-strewn table.
Willow sighed. “Getting closer, I think, but it’s still frustrating,” she said. “I mean, maybe this is meant to slow us down until it’s too late. Yeah, she was right about the beach thing, but how do we know it really was Tara who was in Ken’s dream?”
“Did she stutter?” Faith asked from the couch.
“What?” Willow asked.
“Tara,” Faith said innocently. “She was that stuttering blonde chick I met that one time, right? Ask Ken if she had a stutter.”
Willow stood up slowly from her chair and approached the couch.
“Willow –” Giles began, but stopped when Willow put up a warning hand.
“Yes, Tara stuttered when she was nervous,” Willow said and Faith’s face paled at Willow’s dark tone. “And she was nervous that night because she knew it was your skanky evil self in Buffy’s body.”
“Damn, chill Red,” Faith said, putting up her hands in a defensive gesture. “I didn’t mean anything by it. What the hell’s your problem?”
Willow snorted sarcastically. “Let’s see, my girlfriend might be a paraplegic, I’ve barely ate or slept in two days and I’m researching something that may or may not exist to get back the powers that I lost. And how’s your weekend shaping up, Faith?”
Faith shot to her feet, coming nose to nose with Willow, a scowl embedded on her face.
“For starters, I had to give a slayer back to her dad in a body bag! One of my best friends, who you’ve mentioned, is lying in bed and might never be able to walk again, much less slay, and there isn’t a damn thing I can do to get back your wonderboy spell caster. So you tell me, what do you think?”
Willow grit her teeth and clenched her fists, but didn’t say anything.
“Oh, this is so not good!” Andrew whined, backing up until he was pressed against the wall next to Rowena’s chair. “All this talk about Tara only makes Willow turn into a black magic momma.”
“What are you talking about?” Rowena asked as Willow and Faith continued to stare at each other.
“Willow,” Andrew said, pointing at the redhead. “She is death. She is the dark vengeance that the frail hearts of evil men fear. She is like Princess Leia when she went over to the dark side of the Force in the graphic novel…not the ‘comic book,’ but graphic novel…Dark Force Rising.” Andrew’s hands rose up to trace quote symbols in the air.
“Will you shut up?” Willow said, finally turning from Faith and facing him. “And for your information, it was not Dark Force Rising. That was a Timothy Zahn novel. Dark Empire was a comic book,” Willow said. stressing the phrase with an aggravated smirk.
“Uh uh!” Andrew challenged.
“Nah Uh,” Willow rebutted, exaggerating the child like tone. “And while we’re at it, it wasn’t Leia that got turned, it was Luke. Leia was the one who saved him.” Willow shook her head and added in a mutter, “I can’t believe I’m arguing about this.”
“Will you both please shut up?!” Giles said, running his fingers through his hair.
Willow sighed and blushed, embarrassed to be caught arguing with Andrew.
“Now Willow, you know Faith didn’t mean what she said, so don’t get upset over trivialities,” Giles continued. “And Andrew, please refrain from expressing your unfounded fears that Willow will slip into the dark arts and destroy mankind.” Giles smirked playfully and turned to Willow. “But in the unlikely chance you do, please start with Andrew.”
Willow gave him an incredulous look and then for the first time all day her face broke out into a big smile. “Okay, I promise, I will,” she said, then gave Andrew’s arm a small squeeze to show she didn’t mean it. “Sorry, Faith,” she said, turning to the Slayer. “I know you didn’t mean anything insulting.”
“It’s cool, Will,” Faith said. “We’re all under pressure.”
Willow nodded. She was about to speak again when Rowena suddenly spoke up.
“Oh!” the blonde Watcher exclaimed. She waved her hand frantically, getting everyone’s attention, but without looking away from the book in front of her. “I think I found the counter-spell!”
End of Act Three