The Boiler Room Nightclub – Later that Night
Police cars formed a blockade at the end of the dead-end street leading to the converted factory that housed the nightclub. Distraught ravers, their clothes and faces spattered with blood, were being checked by EMTs. Police were moving quickly from person to person, trying to gather any information on what had happened inside. SWAT officers were crouched behind the blockade, covering the entrance to the club.
Faith led her group of slayers, with Xander in tow, through the crowd, and caught the eye of a particular detective. He passed word to a colleague, then looked back at Faith and glanced to the far corner of the street, where the crowd was thinnest at the edge of the police lines. She nodded, and a moment later she and the others were through the perimeter, shielded from the view of the crowd by a SWAT van.
“Ma’am,” the detective said, “the description is a Caucasian female, early thirties, wearing black. Some people said…well, it was dark in there, and probably stronger stuff than a few joints doing the rounds –”
“Thanks officer,” Faith cut him off, “the description matches, it’s a Code Five. We’ll take it from here. Any other exits to this place?”
“There’s a fire exit to that alley there,” the detective said, pointing, “we’ve got men covering both ends. No ‘laymen,’ no cameras.”
“Ken, Marie,” Faith said over her shoulder, and the two slayers headed for the alleyway, Kennedy carrying a bulky bag almost as long as she was tall. Faith pulled a mobile phone from her pocket and hit the speed-dial, then handed it to the detective.
“Robin Wood,” she said, “if you need to know something, talk to him.”
“Yes ma’am,” the detective said, standing back.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to being called ‘ma’am’ by senior cops,” Faith grinned to herself as she led Mia, Vi and Xander down the dead-end towards the club’s entrance. “It’s good to be the Council. Slick, you set?”
“We’re ready,” the reply came through her earpiece. “Fire exit’s closed from the inside, no one came out this way.”
“Xander? Can you-?” Faith started to ask. She did a double take as if noticing his clothes for the first time – a zebra shirt with a black leather vest. “What in the world are you wearing?”
“You said it was a club.”
“Dude, Wham! called from 1986 and wants their clothes back.”
Kennedy’s laugh could be heard through the earpiece.
“Ha.Ha… Just give this a go,” Xander replied from behind the other slayers. He turned on his light and raised a video camera. Faith grinned and waved into the lens.
“Hey Giles,” she said to it, “are Red and Ro playing footsies under the table?”
“Faith!” Willow’s voice sounded through the earpiece.
“Giles is cleaning his glasses now, isn’t he?” Faith asked with a smirk.
“Furiously,” Ro deadpanned.
“Nice one,” Faith nodded to Xander, “Project: Virtual Watcher works like a charm. Girls, choose your weapons, let’s go bag us a vamp, huh?”
The Boiler Room Nightclub – Moments Later
Faith, Mia and Vi walked slowly through the open front door of the club, with Xander following, carrying a weapons bag in his free hand. The beams of their flashlights and the searchlight on Xander’s camera panned through the darkened space, which without its inhabitants seemed gloomy and cavernous. As the lights moved, the pillars and hanging light fixtures cast eerie shadows.
“Body,” Faith noted.
“You getting this?” Xander asked, kneeling by the corpse with his camera.
“Same unique neck wound,” Ro noted via the radio. “It’s definitely the vampire from the Ceres.” There was a clang from the far side of the floor, making all four start.
“Just us,” Kennedy apologized. “We’re in, checking the corridor now.”
“More bodies,” Mia said quietly, panning her light around.
“Oh jeez,” Xander said weakly.
The slayers looked to see the beam from his searchlight illuminating one of the suspended dancers, now a hollowed-out shell, limp in her harness. Blood dripped from her mouth, nose and ears, ran down her legs and pooled on the dance floor beneath her. The searchlight passed across the other dancers, all dead.
“Something was hungry,” Faith said grimly. She glanced across the floor as Kennedy and Marie emerged from the distant fire exit. She looked back down, spotting another corpse.
“Huh,” she muttered, “naked girl…even I wasn’t that forward back in my rave days.” She stepped back and reached into Xander’s bag, drawing out a hand axe.
A hiss echoed around the empty space, startling everyone. Vi and Mia closed around Xander, two swords snapping into place in Vi’s hands, Mia leveling a bulky crossbow.
“There!” he yelled, pointing with his free hand. The spotlight from the camera lit the vampire, crouched vulture-like on top of a wall of darkened video screens. The tattered cloak was gone. Now it wore its first victim’s outfit, sleek and black. Faith, closest to the creature, advanced.
“Marie, stay with Xander,” she said calmly, as Vi and Mia moved up on either side of her. “No stakes, go for the neck. Ken, you feel like working out that frustration of yours?”
“You don’t need to ask twice,” Kennedy replied grimly, dropping her large bag to the floor and unzipping it. She reached inside and pulled out her heavy polearm, one end a huge axe blade, the other a vicious flail.
“C’mon. Larry,” she said, starting to swing the weapon around herself, “I know a vamp who’s just dying to meet you.”
Faith lifted her axe in one hand, pointing the top of its blade at the vampire as she advanced, her sword held back in her other hand. Vi circled to the left, while Mia held back, her crossbow whirring quietly as it drew back the string on a heavy-headed bolt.
“Crew of thirteen on that ship,” Faith said to the vampire, “and I count maybe ten in here…you’ve been a bad girl.”
The vampire hissed again, and Faith whirled into action, swinging her axe and sword at once. The vampire sprung out of its crouch, just ahead of the descending axe blade. It smashed through the TV screen it had been standing on, while the vampire twisted in mid-air to avoid the sword. It swung just past the creature’s legs. Vi leapt forward, swinging one blade, then the other, but the vampire caught both in its claws as it landed, striking sparks in the darkness. In the space of a heartbeat, it straightened, pulled Vi’s arms wide, and butted her in the forehead, releasing her swords as she reeled back.
As if gifted with prescience, the vampire leapt a second time, flipping backwards as Mia fired from behind it. The bolt passed beneath its body, then struck the far wall a second later, splashing fluid across a square yard and instantly igniting it. Mia barely had time to react as the vampire landed in a handstand in front of her and kicked her hard in the chest with both feet.
“Hey, bitch!” Faith yelled, charging again. Her axe and sword flashed through the air in lightning arcs, striking again and again as the vampire deflected the blows with its claws. Vi recovered and charged in from behind, adding her swords to the whirling steel surrounding the creature. Still the vampire dodged and parried, its arms moving at superhuman speed.
Without warning, the vampire leapt straight up, one leg stretched in either direction, catching both Vi and Faith in the jaws as they reacted, sending both slayers sprawling. The vampire was twisting around, at the apex of its jump, when the flail end of Kennedy’s whirling polearm caught it squarely in the back and hurled it with shattering force to the ground.
“Round two to the human,” Kennedy grunted. She spun the weapon behind her back, the spiked flail building up momentum again.
“Nice,” Faith coughed, getting to her feet and taking a step towards the crumpled vampire.
“Careful!” Kennedy warned, at the same time as the vampire launched itself off the ground. Faith threw herself back to dodge a scything claw, parrying by instinct with her axe. Meanwhile, Mia hefted her crossbow and aimed a second incendiary bolt.
“The old one-two!” Faith called to Mia, who nodded. The vampire’s claws dug into the concrete ceiling, supporting it as it crouched, inverted, its eyes fixed on Kennedy and the weapon in her hands. Faith drew back her arm and hurled her axe at the vampire’s head. Almost as soon as Faith released the weapon, she was already dodging in anticipation. The vampire wrenched a claw free, snatched the weapon out of the air and sent it spinning back towards Faith. However, the second’s distraction was enough for Mia’s bolt to strike home, thudding into the vampire’s stomach and drenching it in flames.
“Now is it dead?” Mia asked, as it dropped from the ceiling into the pool of fire on the floor. Kennedy, Faith and Vi approached warily, but it took only a moment for the vampire to rise again, seemingly oblivious to the immolating liquid coating it.
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” Faith hissed, exasperated, as the vampire turned to face her. “Girls, all in!” Mia tossed aside her crossbow and drew swords, Marie drew a pair of sais from beneath her thigh sheaths, and all five slayers charged the flaming vampire.
Xander watched in horrified fascination as the vampire ducked and weaved at the center of the deadly melee, the creature’s arms blurring as it parried with its claws. Sparks flew in the darkness, the vampire’s legs lashing out as it dodged sweeping swords and the ever-present whirling flail strikes Kennedy was aiming at it. With every turn the flames trailed and sputtered in the wake of the vampire’s darting, spinning body, until none remained.
“Holy hell,” he whispered, “are you guys seeing this?”
“We’re cross-referencing resistance to fire,” Willow’s voice said. “Faith, decapitation’s still your best bet unless we turn up something.”
“Screw this,” Faith growled. “Girls, let’s give her a Thunderbird!”
In the space of a second all five slayers synchronized their attacks, Kennedy swinging at the vampire’s shins with the axe end of her polearm, Mia slashing at its waist, Vi sweeping her swords in from the creature’s right, Marie stabbing her sais in from the left, Faith driving her sword edge in from above, aimed straight at its neck.
Impossibly, the vampire countered. It twisted around in mid-air, as if it weighed nothing. Its legs flew up, out of the axe’s path, torso contorting around Marie’s attempted stab and Vi’s cuts, its body rising up, away from Mia’s slash, and its claws closing around Faith’s sword. In the next moment, the vampire was turning on its attackers. It kicked Vi and Mia as it rose, craned its head backwards to strike Marie’s crown, then wrenched Faith’s sword from her hand and cracked the hilt across her jaw. Finding herself the only slayer on her feet, Kennedy desperately heaved on her heavy weapon, turning its sweep into an upward slash, but the vampire let Faith’s sword fly away and instead grasped the polearm in both claws.
It landed facing Kennedy, the pair of them holding the weapon between them, struggling for control of it. Faith spat out a mouthful of blood and looked up at the two combatants.
“God!” she coughed. “What the hell was that?”
“Guys,” Xander said urgently, “we need backup, real quick!”
“Gimme that, you hellbitch!” Kennedy snarled, hauling on her weapon. As she spoke, the nightclub’s fire alarm started blaring and the ceiling sprinklers burst into life, dousing the fires still burning on the far wall and the floor. The vampire’s head snapped up, confused by the sudden deluge soaking it. Kennedy took advantage of the split-second distraction, head-butting the vampire, then flipping backwards, wrenching the polearm from its grasp as she flew. Her boots splashed on the concrete as she landed, axe raised.
“Want it?” she yelled. “Come on, come get it!”
The vampire hesitated, for the first time. Then it leaned forward, until it was crouching on all fours. It stared at Kennedy, its lips curling into a gleeful, savage grin and emitting a throaty hiss.
“Okay,” the slayer responded, “have it your way.”
She swung the weapon around herself once, twice, building up speed, then lunged forward, smashing the concrete floor to dust with the massive flail. Then she spun the weapon again to bring the axe to bear on the vampire as it leapt to dodge the first strike. The blade caught the vampire in the stomach and Kennedy drove it down to the floor, which cracked beneath the creature’s back as the slayer embedded the axe in its midriff.
“You ain’t so tough,” she sneered, as the other slayers closed in.
“You ain’t so tough,” the vampire echoed, in Kennedy’s own voice.
The vampire then struck back at Kennedy in her momentary shock, driving its hand palm-first straight through the massive, thick shaft of the polearm. Shards of black metal flew as the weapon broke in two. It was on its feet a second later, the flow of blood from its ruptured body already slowing to a trickle. As Kennedy watched in disbelief the wound closed, leaving only a thin gap in the black PVC the vampire wore as evidence that it had ever been.
The vampire turned, lightning-fast, flinging the half of the broken weapon it still held at Faith and Mia. It missed by inches, the axe whirling over their heads. Then the vampire leapt forward, past Kennedy, and as it flew it blurred, changed, its whole body remolding itself. By the time it hit the floor, it was a huge jackal, black as night, sleek and powerful. It raced, blindingly fast, towards the nightclub’s main door.
“Come back here!” Kennedy yelled, giving chase without a second thought.
“Ken!” Faith called, sprinting after her, barely keeping up. By the time they reached the street outside, the vampire-jackal was already leaping upward. The beast crunched the top of a dumpster, then somehow sprinted up an almost sheer wall towards the rooftop. Faith and Mia, the closest behind her, drew up short, but Kennedy simply kept going. She leapt onto the crumpled top of the dumpster, then launched herself up after the fleeing creature.
“Holy crap,” Faith whispered. She watched Kennedy sprinting up the wall, as if she suddenly weighed next to nothing. For a moment. it seemed as if she would catch the jackal’s leg, but her hand was an inch short, and as it scrambled to the safety of the roof Kennedy began to fall. Mia leapt forward to catch her, but succeeded only in breaking her fall somewhat. Both slayers slammed into the dumpster, buckling its lid in completely.
Kennedy looked up from where she had fallen, dazed, oblivious to Mia’s desperate pleas for her to say something. The jackal looked down at her from the rooftop with baleful yellow eyes, then leapt. It blurred in mid-air, becoming a huge black-feathered hawk. It vanished into the night, and Kennedy’s eyes fluttered closed.
Watchers Council – Infirmary Waiting Room – Later that Night
“Doctor?” Mia, Faith and Willow all said at once, as Dr. Miller emerged from the examination room.
“I’m confident she’ll make a full recovery,” he said. “She’s unconscious, but I believe there’s no permanent damage.”
“Can we…?” Mia asked, gesturing to the examination room. The doctor nodded, and followed the group into the room.
“There’s no spinal damage,” he went on in a hushed voice, while Mia stood by the bedside and gently took Kennedy’s hand in hers, “which, under the circumstances you described, is next to miraculous. She has some head trauma, and there’s a chance there will be short-term damage, but I consider that remote. All in all, she’s a very lucky woman.”
“Her and me both,” Mia whispered. She looked around, her eyes settling on Willow warily. But then her face relaxed and she gave a brief, relieved smile, which Willow returned.
“When will she wake up?” she asked.
“Naturally, it’s difficult to be precise,” the doctor replied, “but I think she will remain unconscious for some time. Perhaps forty-eight hours.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” Willow said. “Do you need any help from the coven?”
“If you can spare someone capable of aiding diagnosis, I’d like to confirm my examination,” he said. “But unless the situation changes, I think it’s best if she recovers in her own time.” Willow nodded.
“Faith,” she said quietly, “they’re waiting for us.”
“Be right with ya, Red,” the slayer said. As Willow left the infirmary, Faith put a reassuring hand on Mia’s shoulder.
“She’s a tough kid,” she said gently, “she’ll be back on her feet in no time.”
“Yeah,” Mia nodded, suddenly looking tired as she stood by Kennedy’s bedside. “Five by five, huh?”
“You better believe it.” Faith grinned. She pulled a chair over for Mia, then followed Willow.
Conference Room – Moments Later
Willow and Faith entered and took their seats, joining Giles, Robin, Rowena and Dawn.
“The doctor says she’ll be fine,” Willow said as she sat down, causing a general sigh of relief. “She’ll be up in a few days.”
“Isn’t it past your bedtime?” Faith smirked at Dawn, who gave her a friendly scowl in return.
“She’s been helping with the ancient language work,” Willow said. “Did that idea you guys were working on while they brought Ken in turn up anything?”
“Actually, yes,” Rowena said, “we’re pretty sure we’ve identified the subspecies we’re dealing with, it’s –” She was cut off by a loud knocking at the door.
“Yes?” Giles called impatiently. The door opened to reveal Andrew, who entered, and Bonnie, who remained tapping her foot on the threshold.
“Come in,” Giles sighed.
“Thank you,” she said perfunctorily. “Your femme fatale is a Kudlak.” She took a seat, all the while returning Rowena and Dawn’s stares with blank indifference.
“How the hell…?” Rowena asked.
“Lots of phone calls,” Andrew said wearily.
“And don’t think it didn’t cramp my style to have Mr. Wells here listening in,” Bonnie added. “The TransWorld group dealt with a man in Trieste, where the ship last stopped, who was working for an Insatia succubus –”
“They’re not hostile,” Willow interrupted with a frown, “they just want, well…”
“Sex in massive amounts, hence the name, I know,” Bonnie finished. “May I continue? Succubi, at least the Insatia variety, aren’t a threat to anything except the happiness of insecure men with delusions of virility, but they do greatly dislike anything that upsets their routine. Now, I spoke to one of the Succubus’s happily exhausted legion, and he said that she hired this man to arrange for a creature she called the Kudlak to be removed from her city.”
“Well, thank you,” Giles said in the ensuing silence, “that’s most…helpful. If that’s all, then…” he added, glancing at the door.
“Oh come on!” Bonnie protested. “This is the first time in weeks I’ve had something better to do than watch reruns of Farscape. Seriously, what’ve you got to lose here?”
“Very well,” Giles nodded, after a brief glance around the table, “stay.”
“Roll over, fetch,” Bonnie muttered, settling back in her seat.
“But no sarcasm,” Giles frowned.
“Sorry. Reflex action.”
“It is a Kudlak,” Rowena said, once Giles’s attention was back on her. “The strength, speed, agility, healing, the immunity to fire and stakes –”
“Shape-shifting was a giveaway,” Dawn interjected. “Surprisingly few kinds of vampires can actually do that. It’s mostly a myth, or people getting vamps mixed up with other demons.”
“They’re Slovenian in origin,” Rowena went on. “Trieste is the nearest major port. Kudlaks are a combination of vampire and village bogeyman. According to folklore, they’re responsible for everything that can go wrong in a small farming community – illness, crop failure, death of livestock and so on. The usual vampiric behavior applies, aversion to sunlight and crosses, need for blood, et cetera.”
“And turning into jackals and giant bats?” Faith asked.
“There are references to Kudlaks taking the form of village animals, horses, oxen, pigs –”
“No kidding?” Andrew asked. “A vampire pig? Count Oink-ula?”
“Either this Kudlak has learned to vary its forms,” Rowena continued, ignoring Andrew’s comment, “or the people telling the folk stories weren’t very creative. Whatever the case, it’s definitely a Kudlak. Everything matches.”
“You and Dawn got all that in the ten minutes I was away?” Willow asked, beaming with pride.
“Only ’cause you’d already ruled out the entire northern European and African branches of subspecies,” Rowena complimented, smiling back.
The others around the table grinned indulgently, while Bonnie rolled her eyes.
“Sixty-four million dollar question?” Faith spoke up. “How do we kill it? Is it still decapitation, ‘cuz, if it is, I think we’re gonna need a bigger decapitator.”
“Ah, that’s actually quite interesting,” Rowena began in a delighted tone, leaning forward.
“Do tell,” Faith replied in a mock chipper voice. “Because getting our asses kicked and having no way to kill it, well, not as fun as it sounds.”
Rowena just sighed and went on. “In folkloric tradition, the Kudlak is opposed by a being called the Kresnik, a sort of vampire hunter. In fact, it’s possible the story originated from tales referring to a slayer at some point.”
“A slayer,” Faith said flatly. “If you watch that video tape again, you’ll see we did bring one or two of those, and they didn’t seem to work so well.”
“Not just a slayer,” Rowena explained. “A Kresnik is a kind of divine anti-vampire, a magical warrior with all the same abilities and powers that the Kudlak has. In every variation of the story, the Kudlak and Kresnik confront one another, and eventually the Kresnik prevails. People like stories with a happy ending, generally.” She shrugged.
“So we need a slayer who can turn into barnyard animals?” Faith asked. She watched as Rowena nodded. “Okay, we don’t have one of those. I’m sure I would’ve noticed.”
“Actually, Dawn has a theory,” Rowena said, motioning to the young woman. Dawn looked at her, and she smiled encouragingly.
“Okay,” the young watcher-in-training began, “I was thinking about this whole Kresnik thing, and what we saw via Xander’s camera. Did any of you notice anything unusual during the fight?”
“I noticed how this Kudlak ignored catching on fire and then made us look like a bunch of amateur potentials,” Faith suggested, “most notably busting out of our five-on-one Thunderbird attack, and I’ve never seen anything get out of a Thunderbird in less than seven separate pieces.”
“Why ‘Thunderbird’?” Andrew asked suddenly.
“Vi invented the move,” Faith said ruefully, “so I let her name it. Five-girl attack, so –”
“Ohhh.” Andrew grinned. “I get it. Thunderbirds are go. Clever.”
“Yeah, you’d probably think so. Last time I let her name anything,” Faith grumbled good-naturedly. “Sorry, go on,” she added to Dawn.
“Anyway, I was thinking,” she continued. “Of all five of you, the only one who landed a hit was Kennedy – twice, in fact. Well, and Mia with the crossbow, but you drew its attention to distract it for that shot. And then you said Ken leapt up a three-story wall and nearly made it to the top –”
“You think Kennedy is this Kresnik thing?” Faith exclaimed. “Since when can she turn into a pig? I mean, I know I say that when she gets to the table early and grabs all the pop-tarts, but…does she know?”
“Last night,” Bonnie interrupted, “she fought the Kudlak, yes? What was she wearing?”
“Huh?” Faith asked. “I dunno, black rags or something –”
“No, not the Kudlak. Was Kennedy wearing anything white?”
“Was she…uh, yeah. Yeah, that jacket Willow got her for Christmas. But what does that have to do with anything?”
“Ohh!” Dawn and Rowena said at once.
“The succubus in Trieste,” Bonnie explained, “was adamant that the people who put the Kudlak aboard that ship avoid the color white, especially on clothing. She seemed to think if the Kudlak saw someone wearing white, it’d trigger some kind of aggressive response. More aggressive than usual, that is…”
“The Kresnik is associated with the color white,” Rowena said. “That’s the basic imagery, Kresnik white, Kudlak black.”
“Like Spy vs. Spy,” Andrew chimed in.
“So,” Dawn continued as Rowena paused, “the Kudlak got here, and ran into a vampire slayer wearing white, who fought it –”
“Naturally, it would assume Kennedy was the Kresnik,” Giles spoke up for the first time, “if it’s as folklore-driven as it seems.”
“Wait, she’s a Kresnik just because it thinks she is?” Robin asked.
“Folklore can be funny like that,” Rowena said. “On the surface it’s just stories, but if it’s old enough – especially if it’s been truly believed, even feared, generation after generation…”
“That’s true,” Willow added, “I’ve studied the phenomenon briefly, with Al. A kind of latent power builds up, and when events occur that conform to the beliefs, the power…it sort of becomes self-fulfilling. Given what happened tonight, I’d say there’s an excellent chance that this Kudlak folklore is playing itself out, with Ken as the Kresnik. She was in the right place at the right time – or wrong place, wrong time – and boom, instant folkloric figure.”
“So, what’s the problem?” Andrew asked. “If this folklore stuff is self-fulfilling, we just wait for her to get better, then point her at the Kudlak and stand back while she plays out the story and dusts it, don’t we?”
“Why didn’t she win?” Faith asked, before anyone could answer. “They went head-to-head tonight. If the story goes that the Kresnik beats the Kudlak, how come it’s still flying around and our Kresnik girl is lying in the infirmary?”
“Oh,” Willow said, suddenly sounding worried, “I think I know…the Kresnik is magic, right, a sorcerer kind of figure?” Dawn and Rowena both nodded. “That might mean,” Willow went on, “that to defeat the vampire, Kennedy has to actually play the role she’s been cast in – a magical warrior. It might…just defeating it by force, or-or being lucky, that won’t work. The magic surrounding the Kudlak won’t let it be defeated like that. It has to face a Kresnik, someone who’s consciously wielding the power she’s got.”
“Kennedy’s got to do magic?” Faith asked skeptically.
“Not spells, not magic the way we do,” Willow replied. “But on some level, yeah, she may have to accept her role, a magical being, in order to fulfill the story.”
“So if she’s just being her usual Kennedy self, no deal?” Andrew asked.
“It’s hard to say for sure,” Willow said. “This kind of magic is really primal, it’s not easily predictable…I’ll double check with the Devon Coven but, yeah, it could be.”
“And no one but Kennedy can do it?” Faith asked. “We can’t just all dress up in white and take it on?”
“Again, I’m thinking no. The magic is playing out through her, so she’s got to be the one that defeats the Kudlak. But to do that, she’ll have to immerse herself in the magic.”
Everyone at the table descended into a somber, thoughtful silence, except for Bonnie, who looked warily confused.
“So, what?” she asked. “Kennedy doesn’t like magic?”
End of Act Two