Citadel – Same Time
Two of the Lover’s silent minions preceded the Flayer into a darkened chamber, then stood aside and left. He glanced around, noting the dim shapes moving among the shadows, then took a few paces forward to stand by the Lover, just visible in the gloom.
“Highness,” he said after a pause, in which she did not acknowledge his presence.
“Let there be light,” she murmured, glancing sidelong to see the Flayer’s reaction. In that moment, the chamber lit to reveal that they stood on the central walkway of a perfect replica of the Engineer’s machine. Dull-eyed demons clambered here and there at its edges, carrying about rune-carved stones and fleshy cables. The Flayer’s eyes widened in surprise, then he let out an exasperated sigh.
“Another whim of yours, Highness?” he asked with exaggerated civility. “It is purposeless, is it not? Our late comrade said –”
“I remember,” the Lover nodded, “‘At one time and place, only, can such a thing be done, to snare a world, and reel it in as does a trapper with his prey.’ Pretty words.”
“Arrogant words,” the Flayer snorted. “I said so then, and now the Engineer is dead.”
“You don’t find that fascinating?” the Lover asked. “That one of us could die? Mortality,” she gestured at the sphere at the machine’s heart, “right there, even to the likes of us, mortality.” She fell silent, tracing a clawed fingertip across the arcane patterns etched into the sphere’s surface.
“I have no wish to experience mortality,” the Flayer said flatly.
“Nor I,” the Lover said idly, “nor I. Yet it is…instructive to be this close to death and to recall that the human – one on whom I waste my time, according to you – she wielded just such a construct and killed one of our kind.”
“Provided you do not propose to give her this,” the Engineer replied tartly, “I fail to see the problem.”
“Of course not,” the Lover sighed. “You are a warlord, you understand might. And to master a realm, even a world, might is enough. But to master creation, fate itself must be bent to our will, and there are rules, shall we say. This human you so despise…Willow…she has shown us to be weak.”
“She has done no such thing!” the Flayer argued hotly. “The Engineer’s death was –”
“Remain silent,” the Lover interrupted. “I have a higher understanding. One of our kind has fallen, and yet she lives. In the workings of fate, she has claimed power over us, and only by reclaiming this power can we master her. Not merely murder, as assassins or soldiers or warlords do, but master. As higher beings, inviolate to those beneath us.”
“Then destroy the machine,” the Flayer said.
“It will be dismantled, in due course,” the Lover replied, “as will she. Her home shall be laid low, her loved ones slaughtered, her body broken, and her soul chained and bled dry. Then we shall have undone her and bent fate back to our will.”
“And you will do this?” the Flayer asked dubiously.
“I find her fascinating,” the Lover smiled. “Such a tiny creature, yet with our very blood on her hands. Such an unlikely creature. I would allow no other to do it. You may go.”
The Flayer nodded and departed, leaving the Lover to return to the machine. A change came over the chamber, an attenuation of the light, a thinning of the air. A towering form, wreathed in shadow, approached the Lover from the far side of the chamber. Neither it nor the Lover paid any attention to the demonic servants as they collapsed and writhed briefly, ichor bubbling out of their skins.
The dark figure stood before the Lover as she bowed. Its eyes, visible only as pure blackness among the shifting shadows clinging to it, were fixed on her. She looked up at its shrouded face.
“I am to be the one, my Lord?” she asked in a whisper. “I am to master her?”
The terrible creature raised a shadowed claw and gently stroked the Lover’s cheek. A smile crossed her leathery lips.
“Thank you, my love,” she murmured.
Barlow College – Old Hospital – Library Main Room – Same Time
Angie stared at the skull, her eyes huge. “Is it real?”
Robin gazed at the object with hardly a blink. “This used to be a hospital, remember? Probably a teaching aid.” He reached over and picked it up, examining the skull from several angles. “Sticky,” he murmured.
“Oh God,” Angie said, wrinkling her nose.
“Who knows how long it’s been in there,” he noted. “Probably just grime.”
“Yeah. Grime. Just plain old grime. I like that. Grime.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Want to switch desks?”
“That’d be great!”
He got up and gestured to Angie, who wasted no time heading for the second desk. Robin passed her and then took her place at the old roll-top. While Angie continued flipping through pages of ledgers, he knelt and took a look inside the broken drawer where the skull had fallen out. Then, he reached inside. What he pulled out was a dusty book with a tiny lock mechanism.
“Diary, maybe,” Robin said, giving a quick tug at the lock. It snapped open easily. Actually, the lock disintegrated with the tug. Several tiny pieces of metal fell to the floor with an almost-inaudible series of pings. Robin opened the book to the first inside page and read aloud, “The journal of Dr. Howard Phillips, M.D. 1897.”
Barlow College – Old Hospital – Clock Tower Ledge – Same Time
A guano-stained ledge surrounded the nonfunctioning tower clock. Like many of the details of the building, the features of the tower echoed those of battlements and keeps. In particular, there were various openings along the perimeter of the ledge that looked like the slots for archers in castles.
A lone pigeon landed near one of these openings. The pigeon took a few jerky steps, cooing and trilling, along the ledge. As it neared the slot in the wall, a hand shot out and grabbed the bird. It flapped its wings frantically in an attempt to wriggle away, but it was all in vain. In a fraction of a second, the bird was snatched out of the sunlight and into the shadows. A crunching sound followed, as if teeth were breaking tiny bones.
Frozen Lake – Day
Willow sat on the bench, adjusting her skates, as she looked out over the small lake to see Rowena doing laps. As she finished tying the second lace, she watched Rowena leap a few inches off the ice and turn her entire body around in mid-air and start skating backward. As she came back around to where Willow was seated, she came to an abrupt stop, the steel blades of her skates scratching across the ice like nails on a chalkboard. The sound made Willow flinch.
“You ready?” Rowena asked.
“For that? No,” Willow answered honestly. “And you might not be either. I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”
Rowena laughed and opened her arms to Willow, and the witch seemed drawn from the bench. “I’m fine. No more flips and we’ll take it slow to start,” Rowena assured her.
Willow made her way over with a penguin-like shuffle. Once she hit the ice, she grabbed Rowena’s arms in a terrified grip. Her eyes had never been so wide open. Both of them wore ice skates, but while Rowena balanced easily upon hers, Willow shuddered as she barely stayed erect.
“You just be patient and it will come to you. I promise. You’re doing fine,” Rowena soothed her.
“Fine is kinda relative.”
“Above average then.”
“That’s even more relative!”
“Shhhh…Look at me.”
Willow did as she was told, making eye contact and keeping it.
“Now,” continued Rowena, “just keep doing what I told you. You won’t fall. I won’t let you.”
“You know, Buffy tried to convince me to do this once, but I put on my resolve face.”
Rowena laughed. “Then I guess it must be luvvvv, eh?”
Willow grinned and slowly repeated the movements Rowena had practiced with her. Together, they inched across the ice.
“See?” Rowena said proudly. “You’re doing it.”
Another tiny smile crossed Willow’s lips. They picked up speed, slowly but surely. What began as maybe a foot per minute eventually became a yard, then two, then three. After a time, the two of them were moving in unison at a rate that forced them to turn, having gone from one end of the lake to the other. Heading back again, Willow was more confident. Her eyes went from the size of dinner plates to that of tea saucers. By their third trip, Willow’s grip had relaxed.
For most of an hour, Rowena coached her, eventually letting Willow move on her own for seconds at a time, yet always taking hold of Willow again.
Amid much nervous laughter, Rowena led Willow into a slow, mutual spin. Eventually, they came to a stop and just looked at each other. Each wore a smile, and their eyes shone.
“Guess what?” murmured Rowena.
“You probably have some idea what kinds of big surprises I’ve had in my life. In fact, we’ve probably had a lot of the same. Finding out about demons and vampires, for a start.”
“Yeah, that was a biggie,” Willow said with a mock sigh. Still, she smiled at Rowena.
“But the biggest surprise, the best surprise, the most wonderful…was this. Was you.” Although smiling, Rowena looked as if she might cry. “Thank you, Willow,” she whispered.
“Thank you, Rowena.”
Their lips met for a long, lingering exchange. And even when the kiss ended, neither one moved for what seemed like minutes.
“Interesting,” said a voice from shore.
Rowena and Willow turned. Mary Grace, wrapped up in warm clothes, stood less than ten yards away. She was staring at the two women in each others’ arms. With the surprise of seeing Mary Grace, Rowena lost her grip on Willow, and the witch tumbled to the ice.
Mary Grace just turned and walked away. Instead of going after her sister, Rowena reacted to seeing Willow fall and reached down for her. Rowena groaned in pain, and Willow shook her head.
“I’m okay,” she told the blonde. “Don’t hurt yourself.”
Rowena offered her arm, but Willow got to her feet on her own.
“This is bad, isn’t it?” Willow asked, nodding in Mary Grace’s direction.
Rowena watched her sister’s retreating form. “With Mary, it usually is,” she answered with a sigh.
Barlow College – Old Hospital – Library Main Room – Same Time
” ‘Our tragedy is double’,” read Robin aloud. ” ‘For Josette my daughter has died giving birth to her shame, without once breathing the name of he who has disgraced her. More, the child is deformed in ways unrecorded by medical science. Not even in the ravings of…’ I’m not sure, but I think the name he mentions is Charles Darwin. No, the rest of that passage is illegible.” He flipped through the next few pages.
“Wow,” muttered Angie, “makes you real glad to be born in the twentieth century, huh? Locking away your daughter just ’cause she got preggers.”
“It was a different time.”
“A lousy time, if you ask me.”
Robin looked up for a moment. “No argument here. Although sad to say, it still happens.” He stared at a few more pages, then read aloud again. ” ‘Eyes not of nature nor heaven, but rather the infernal regions’.” Turning a page, he continued. ” ‘…refuses all food save meat, preferably raw. Were I not a Christian, this spawn should not survive one hour in my presence. Yet I shall not set it loose upon the world to wreak what mischief might enter its dark heart’.”
“Un-frigging-believable,” said Angie in disgust. “Just ’cause the poor kid is deformed, this s.o.b. treats him like a monster!”
“I’m wondering…” Robin quickly skimmed the next few pages. “According to this, the child grew very quickly. Like it was standing and walking around within six months. Maybe Dr. Phillips got it right…infernal.”
“As in…what?” Angie asked in confusion.
“Well, a fair number of demonic species are fertile with humans. In fact, most demons now on Earth supposedly have some human ancestry. Or so we’ve been told.”
“I know I’m going to regret asking this, but…told by who?”
“A demon. Or, ex-demon.”
Angie blinked. “How do you get to be an ex-demon? Wait! Before you answer…is it gross?”
“Okay. How do you get to be an ex-demon?”
“Sometimes humans can be transformed, and if they are, then the potential is there to un-transform them. Doesn’t happen too often, though.” He held up the diary. “Anyway, the eating of raw meat and the growing up too fast could be signs of a demon/human hybrid.” He started skimming the pages again. “And there’s a very good reason for needing to find out.”
Above them, another sound, something like a thud, came from the ceiling. It made Angie jump. Robin merely stared up, then continued his skimming.
“What is the very good reason?”
“Some demons live a very long time. Centuries even.”
Reluctantly, Angie turned her head to the wall, her eyes searching out one of the several pieces of graffiti that marred the surface. The nearest one read, “Beware The Creeper.”
“You mean like, around a hundred and three years or so?”
“Possibly,” Robin said, looking at the ceiling above them.
“Oh, hell,” she sighed.
Watchers Council – Slayer Rec Room – Later
Faith entered the rec room with confident strides. She still had her coat over one arm as she looked across the seemingly-empty room and made a circuit. Not making much noise as she moved, Faith got a reaction once reaching the far side of a particular sofa.
With a scramble, Kennedy and Mia each managed to close each other’s shirts in less than a second. Faith managed not to smirk too broadly.
“Hey, Happy New Year and all that,” Faith cheerfully greeted the amorous slayers.
“Um…thanks,” said Kennedy.
“We didn’t hear you,” said Mia.
“Apparently. Anyway,” Faith said, looking around, “this place seems deserted. Dawn and Skye are playing chess in the library, but didn’t want to talk for some reason. What’s up with them?”
Mia shrugged. “Don’t know.”
Kennedy added, “Xander took Vi out for Italian. Giles is with Becca. Jeff and Andrew decided they wanted to play some kind of card game.”
“Tarot,” noted Mia. “Seeing if they could read the future.”
“Whatever,” shrugged Kennedy.
“And I see what you two are up to,” said Faith. “Which gives me an idea. Where’s my guy?”
“Out with another girl,” said Kennedy.
“Excuse me?” Faith asked.
Mia smacked Kennedy’s arm. “It’s not like that,” she told Faith.
“He’s on an errand with some newbie,” Kennedy answered.
“With Vi’s sister,” added Mia.
“Vi has a sister?” Faith asked. “Man, I just left for one weekend. Things didn’t change this much when I was in prison for years.”
“Yeah, she’s a twin,” said Mia. “Identical, but they sure don’t act the same.” Mia looked as though she was going to say more, but stopped.
“Really,” said Faith, eyeing the two young women. “And what’s the deal with that? Spill it.”
Mia looked at Kennedy, who finally looked at Faith. “Angie – that’s Vi’s twin – she’s interested in maybe enrolling at the Academy.” She paused.
“She’s not much like Vi,” Kennedy told her.
“Not at all,” agreed Mia.
Reluctantly Mia spoke. “Angie is a smartass. And she flirts. A lot. And Giles sent her with Robin to check up on a library some college wants to donate to the Council. So that’s where he is right now.”
During all this, Mia observed Faith’s reaction, watching as the elder slayer crossed her arms and began tapping one foot.
“Uh-huh,” was all Faith had to say.
“What was up with that hospital in Maine?” Mia asked, trying to change the subject.
“Place seemed haunted,” Faith said. “But some old lady, a psychic or medium or somethin’, seemed to have it covered. Makes sense that a hospital would have ghosts, I guess. Nothing the council needs to deal with.”
“And the anteater?” Kennedy could not keep the skepticism out of her voice.
“Spirit guide, the old lady said. I checked her credentials. Anyway, no demons or vampires or anything, not in Lewiston anyway. There were rumors about a whole nest of vamps in a town up the road, but I wanted to check that over with Giles. R and R get back yet?”
“Huh?” Kennedy asked.
“Red and Ro?” Faith asked again.
“Oh, not that we’ve heard,” she replied.
“And where did you say my guy was?” Faith asked.
“Abandoned building at Barlow College,” Mia answered.
Faith nodded, and then she turned around and strode out of the room.
Kennedy looked at Mia. “Trouble. Maker.”
“Me? You started it.”
“You don’t think Vi’s gonna get upset if Faith twists her twin sister into a pretzel?”
Mia sighed, then cocked her head. “Actually, that has some possibilities.” She waggled her eyebrows until Kennedy laughed. She was still giggling when they resumed kissing.
Barlow College – Old Hospital – Library Main Room – Day
“Here’s more,” said Robin, still hunched over the diary. “It says: ‘The regular restraints are of little use in controlling the creature, hence my decision to use chains. More, around its head I have had fashioned a kind of cage. The power of its limbs is far beyond that of any two men, so I make certain to drug its food.’ That entry is dated 1912.”
“Year of the Titanic.”
“And by then, his grandson would have been fifteen years old. In chains.”
“Well, if he was a demon…”
“All the more reason to treat him well,” Robin said, simply. “Abuse a cow, and you have trouble. Abuse a tiger, and you’ve got a lot more trouble. I don’t see how this poor creature could have been anything other than insane the way his grandfather acted.”
For a moment, neither of them said anything. Then, there was another sound from above.
“The security guards,” said Angie.
“Kept deserting their posts,” said Robin. “Or at least disappearing.”
“Let’s get out of here.”
Robin stood up. “Good idea.”
Barlow College – Old Hospital – Corridor – Same Time
The corridor was in poor condition, with hardly any lights at all. Robin and Angie left the main room and headed down the corridor towards the front entrance.
But then, they stopped. Ahead was a shape. Manlike. As it stepped forward from the shadows, they saw that it wore the ragged remains of a straight jacket. An iron cage was set around its head, but the bars directly in front of its face had been bent back. Nearly six feet tall, it showed no trace of a beard, but it had a mane of matted hair.
More, its eyes burned a feral red.
Watchers Council – Lounge – Same Time
Faith was seated with her feet up on the coffee table. “Sounds like your sis is just a little bit of tart.” She had a cup of coffee in her hand.
Vi let out a long sigh, sipping at her own coffee from a lotus position on the sofa next to Faith. “She pretends to be. The truth is, most of her behavior is really just an act. Behind all that –” Suddenly, Vi’s face went slack, and she began to gasp repeatedly.
“Hey, you okay? Vi?”
Vi dropped the cup in her hand and shot to her feet.
“Something’s wrong,” she croaked and wheezed. “Very, very wrong!”
End of Act Three