Cleveland Street – Moments Later
Kennedy sped dangerously through the late rush hour traffic, weaving in and out, even veering into the oncoming traffic now and then to gain a few seconds.
“God!” Mia swore, watching from the Jeep, which Rowena was trying to keep within sight of the slayer up ahead. “I hope she’s indestructible or something.”
“My bike isn’t,” Faith grumbled, though she was just as tense as Mia every time Kennedy missed a collision by inches.
“Ro, Willow,” Robin’s voice came from the dashboard radio, “we’ve got a report of an attack that could be the Kudlak, near the corner of Fifth and Granger –”
“We’re two blocks away,” Willow said.
“Lucky,” Robin noted.
“Already on our way,” Faith said, leaning forward between the front seats, “Slick’s working on turning into a homing pigeon.”
“Handy. Do you need anything?”
“If last night was any indication,” Rowena said, hitting the horn to try to clear a quicker path on the road ahead, “have police ready to block off the street at both ends. We’ll let you know if the fight moves out of the area.”
“Okay, good luck.”
“There she is!” Willow pointed ahead. “Oh no…”
The bus had begun to pull out into the street before the driver’s demise, and was blocking a lane of traffic. Rowena pulled the Jeep to a halt, and Willow, Faith and Mia stood up to get a better view, while Kennedy raced ahead between the slow-moving cars. There were dim shapes moving inside the vehicle, but it was difficult to tell – the windows were splattered with fresh blood, streaked where hands or bodies had pressed against them briefly.
“Ace, seal the street now!” Faith called. She grabbed a radio earpiece off the dashboard and quickly put it on. “Ken, slow down, you’re gonna –”
Kennedy made no effort to slow down, speeding straight for the stalled bus. At the last moment, when she seemed about to crash into its side, she kicked off the bike, stretching her arms above her head like a diver. She crashed through the bus’s window, while the bike tipped over and skidded to a halt. Amid the shower of fragmented safety glass, Kennedy slammed into the Kudlak, wrenching it away from the latest of its victims. The pair crashed through the opposite window and onto the street beyond.
“Hell with this,” Rowena growled, revving the Jeep’s engine. Her passengers sat down quickly, scrambling with their seat belts as she swerved the vehicle up onto the sidewalk. Several loud blares from the horn cleared the way, allowing her to drive along beside the street, closer to the scene of the attack, as she narrowly missed the buildings and street lamps.
“C’mon, Vi tactic time!” Faith tugged at Mia’s arm, unbuckling her belt as Rowena slowed. The two slayers jumped out of the Jeep and ran towards the gathering crowds of uncertain spectators, wondering whether to flee or take pictures.
“Gun!” Faith yelled.
“She’s got a gun!” Mia echoed, pointing to where Kennedy and the Kudlak were staggering to their feet near the bus. The crowd scrambled to clear the area, and Faith darted into the open door of the bus, helping the terrified survivors out.
The two adversaries faced each other for a moment, sizing each other up, slowly circling. Kennedy struck once, quickly, a punch that the vampire blocked with equal speed. Again, they circled. The Kudlak made a lightning-quick sweep kick, but Kennedy jumped out of the way.
“I got better,” she taunted the vampire.
“I got better,” the Kudlak echoed back at her, once more mimicking her voice exactly.
In a flash, both launched into a series of blows, dodging and blocking each other, their limbs blurring with speed. The Kudlak was the first to grow bold, lashing its leg up then down. It missed Kennedy’s shin by a fraction, its foot cracking the asphalt. The slayer pressed her momentary advantage, head-butting her opponent as it leaned forward in its stamping kick. She followed this with a double punch to its stomach that sent it flying away. It flipped in mid-flight, still rising, and landed gently on the bus’s roof.
With a hiss, its mouth stretched open and its tongue darted out, stabbing down at Kennedy. She dodged left and right as the razor-sharp tongue speared at her again and again, keeping her from approaching.
Inside the bus, Faith saw Kennedy’s plight and turned from hurrying the last of the survivors away. A handrail had been bent half out of its bracket during Kennedy’s flying tackle through the vehicle. Faith wrenched it the rest of the way free, then with all her strength drove it up through the roof, aiming for the vampire’s foot.
She missed, but the split-second’s distraction it caused the Kudlak was enough. Kennedy gripped its whipping tongue with both hands and wrenched it sideways, hauling the vampire off the bus and sending it crashing to the street, where the traffic was still racing past.
“Thanks!” Kennedy called to Faith as she charged, leaping into a pair of scissor-kicks to the Kudlak’s face and driving it further back. Horns blared and cars swerved, one coming too close and catching the vampire’s leg as it passed, throwing it to the ground. Kennedy darted forward, reaching for a weapon. Without thinking, she closed her hand around the front wheel of Faith’s fallen bike and swung it over-arm, bringing it crashing down on the Kudlak as it tried to scramble back to its feet.
“Goddamnit!” Faith screamed, seeing the bike’s frame buckle under the impact. A moment later, she yowled in protest again and cringed, as the Kudlak reared up and tossed the broken vehicle twenty feet through the air, where it crashed into the path of the oncoming traffic.
“Robin. Roadblocks. Now!” Rowena warned into the radio, reaching under her seat for the stowed camera.
“On the way,” he replied. Police sirens sounded in the distance and lights flashed from several blocks away.
“You know what?” Kennedy said, flexing her fists as she and the Kudlak faced each other again. “I’m getting real sick of you.”
“You know what?” the Kudlak mimicked her. Kennedy feinted left, then kicked the vampire in the face, sending it flying back across the emptying street.
“Save it,” she growled, giving chase. The Kudlak appeared disoriented for a moment as it stood, but when Kennedy attacked, it discarded the ruse. Taking her unaware, it delivered a series of body-blows that sent Kennedy reeling.
“Ken!” Mia yelled from the far side of the street. The Kudlak then lifted the staggering slayer over its head, throwing her clear across the sidewalk and smashing through the window of a restaurant that occupied the ground floor of the building beyond. People who had gathered at the window to watch the fight now scurried out of the way as quickly as they could, pushing and shoving each other in panic.
“Robin, get them to evacuate the block!” Willow insisted, taking over the radio from Rowena.
“Evacuate?” he replied, surprised.
“Right now! The whole block – buildings, streets, sidewalks, everything!”
“I’ll do my best,” he promised.
“I can’t believe it. She’s on her feet again,” Rowena reported in awe. She zoomed the camera in on the shattered window and stared through the eyepiece. Willow watched as the Kudlak stalked across the sidewalk and towards the building, closing in on Kennedy. The slayer, oblivious, was still shaking glass off her body.
Watchers Council – Library – Same Time
Vi took the radio headset from Robin as he devoted his attention to his phone. She and Dawn were sorting through various maps and blueprints of the street and buildings at the scene of the fight, as fast as Andrew and Skye could retrieve them from the library stacks.
“I need everything between Fifth and Sixth on Granger evacuated,” Robin insisted into the phone. “Yes I know it’s drastic for a Code Five, but this is a dangerous one! …I don’t care what you tell the media, just get every civilian out of the area now!”
Giles looked on, worried, as the destructive confrontation between the Kudlak and Kennedy played out on the TV monitor on the opposite table.
Fresh Air Restaurant – Same Time
The restaurant staff that had originally come out to see what the commotion was about now backed away from the debris of the window as Kennedy faced the vampire closing in on her from the street.
Nevertheless, the headwaiter remained unflappable, politely tapping the slayer on the shoulder.
“Does ma’am have a reservation?” he inquired in a cultured, slightly forced accent. Kennedy whirled around to face him.
“Get your people out of here!” she snarled. The headwaiter fell back a step, and then, as Kennedy turned away and moved towards her approaching opponent, he straightened his shirt, gave a disgruntled huff and began politely hurrying his crew towards the back doors.
“I suppose you think throwing a girl through a window is real funny?” Kennedy snorted. She grabbed a chair by its back and hurled it at the oncoming vampire, who quickly raised an arm and smashed it out of the air. It darted forward the last few steps, kicked Kennedy’s arms out of the way, then delivered a sledgehammer blow to her chest that sent her flying across the room. Kennedy crashed into a wrought-iron spiral staircase in the center of the restaurant with such force that the stairs buckled.
“Ken!” Rowena’s voice sounded in the slayer’s earpiece, “we’ve lost sight, are you okay?”
“Just peachy,” she grumbled, getting to her feet. The Kudlak continued to advance, swiping tables out of its way as if they were made from cardboard.
“Do you need more weapons?”
“Not now,” Kennedy said, backing up the stairs. She quickly turned and scrambled up the stairs, the Kudlak breaking into a run after her.
On the upper level, outfitted as a cocktail lounge, a few of the staff remained, including a pianist. Kennedy glanced down the stairs, seeing the Kudlak reaching the bottom. Then she leapt onto the grand piano and back down on its other side, shoving the pianist out of the way.
“Sorry,” she said over her shoulder, gripping the keyboard from beneath, “I just need to borrow this for a second –”
With a mighty heave she lifted the piano up on its sole rear leg. Before it could fall, she pushed it forward so that it tipped into the stairwell, where it crashed down with a noisy cacophony, sending splinters flying everywhere and thoroughly sealing the access to the ground floor. Stunned for a moment, the staff stood in shock for a long moment before, as one, darting to the service elevators.
“That oughta slow the skank down,” Kennedy said. “Ro? Can you –”
The remains of the piano exploded upwards around the Kudlak as it smashed its way through, landing on the edge of the stairwell while pieces of wood rained down around it. It appeared hulking, muscular, animalistic for a moment, then it blurred and returned to its normal form.
“Never mind, I’m busy again.”
The vampire leapt for her, sending them both sprawling across the floor as they struggled. The Kudlak was first to its feet, delivering a shattering kick to Kennedy’s stomach that lifted her into the air and sent her soaring over the bar. She landed on top of an uncomfortable mass, which yelped in pain and turned out to be a cowering barman.
“I’d advise leaving,” the slayer grumbled as she got up, just in time to catch the Kudlak’s arms as it leapt across the bar at her. She turned its momentum against it, lifting it up and smashing it upside-down into the glass shelves full of bottles, which smashed in explosions of sharp shards and alcohol. Unphased, Kennedy hauled again on the vampire’s arms, turning its fall into another throw, slamming it down on the bar.
“Always wanted to do this,” she grinned as she shoved with all her strength. She sent the prone Kudlak sliding along the bar, smashing through bottles and glasses before breaking through the wooden pillar at the far end and rolling across the floor. She vaulted up onto the bar and ran its length, leaping off the end towards the Kudlak as it staggered to its feet.
Street – Same Time
Rowena, with the camera, and Willow, with the weapons bag and Xander’s container, stood behind the two slayers, watching the building anxiously.
“Something’s moving in there,” Willow said.
“I can’t make it out,” Rowena complained. “I’ve got to move in closer.”
On the heels of her words and a few steps forward, the restaurant’s windows exploded outwards and instinctively Willow pulled Rowena back, shielding her body from any debris. Kennedy and the vampire, who flew half-way into the street before landing, sent cracks through the street surface.
The Kudlak came up with the advantage, grabbing Kennedy’s leg before she could right herself and hurling her across the remainder of the street, into a bus shelter, which splintered around her, and then through a shop window. Faith and Mia braced themselves as the creature sprinted towards them.
“Hang onto your hat,” Faith muttered, as she and Mia took a defensive pose.
But, at the last second, the Kudlak leapt, sailing through the air to smash through the first-floor window of the office tower opposite the restaurant.
“Ken!” Willow raced to the fallen slayer’s side, with Mia, Faith and Rowena on her heels.
“Oh man,” she complained, sitting up amid a sea of debris rubbing her head.
“Are you okay?” Mia asked disbelievingly, staring at her girlfriend amid the ruins of the shop front she had crashed through.
“I’ve had better days,” she admitted, getting to her feet and flexing her limbs. “Got a tear in Marie’s coat, for one thing. Where’d that bitch go?”
“Somewhere up above,” Rowena said. “It jumped through a window.”
“Great,” Kennedy grumbled, glancing up at the ceiling. “The guys at the library come up with anything?”
“They’ve seen footage of everything until you went into that building,” Rowena said. “Nothing new to report – the tongue’s an odd attribute, but no go so far as a way of killing it.”
“Yeah, if she’s got a girlfriend, she must love that,” Kennedy joked. “Is this building empty?”
“Robin says yes, there should be no one inside, just empty offices,” Willow replied.
“Gimme that.” She took the shockproof case from Willow and slung its strap over her shoulder. “Playtime’s over. I’ve had it up to here with that fork-tongued fiend.” Then she took off in a run for the building’s foyer.
“What’s in that?” Rowena asked.
“A Xander Special,” Willow said. “We should probably get clear of the building.”
“How come she gets to use one?” Faith complained, as they sprinted for the safety of the opposite side of the street. “He never let me have one!”
Office Tower, Second Floor – Same Time
The door to the fire escape stairwell thudded once, then flew off its hinges and crashed into a desk. Kennedy strode out onto the floor, glancing about for any sign of her prey.
“Here, vampy-vampy-vampy,” she sang. “Come get some, you shape-changing freak…” She looked through the gaping hole in the window, spotting the watchers and slayers down in the street below.
“Come on,” she muttered to herself, turning back to the silent office space, “you know you want me.”
A sound from above caught her attention, and she spun back into a defensive crouch, looking up. The office’s ceiling had numerous air conditioning outlets – from one of these, a large, black, yellow-eyed rat was staring at her.
“If you’re really just a rat,” she murmured, sliding a sword-hilt into her palm, “this is gonna be the worst day of your life.”
A chittering echoed around the office floor. Kennedy glanced from side to side – from dozens of hiding places, from under desks, beneath cabinets, behind partitions, a swarm of identical rats had emerged, all staring at her.
“Well aren’t you the clever girl?” she muttered grimly. In unison, the vermin leapt, but instead of trying to defend herself, Kennedy leapt straight up. She extended her sword and rammed it through the light ceiling tiles, reaching through to the thin metal framework they rested on. It wasn’t strong, but it was enough to hold her weight for a second, while the tide of rats, hissing angrily, swarmed into the space she had been crouching in.
With a grunt of effort, Kennedy tore at the steel in her hands, falling to the floor and rolling out of the way. A sizeable chunk of ceiling followed her, just enough to keep the scrambling rodents occupied while she rolled to her feet and backed against a wall, sword ready. The swarm clambered out of the debris, tensing, ready to leap.
“Okay,” the slayer challenged them, “you got any more tricks, or do I just have to skewer you one by one?”
The vermin tide leapt, colliding and merging, blurring in mid-air. They were a jackal by the time they reached Kennedy, who ducked and thrust her sword upwards, burying it in the monster’s belly. With her free hand, she grabbed its hind leg and pushed with all her strength, smashing the impaled beast through the wall behind her. It wrenched the sword from her hands as it flew away, and she backed up a pace and executed a quick dive through the hole it had left. Kennedy rolled to her feet just in time to see the jackal scurrying down the building’s central corridor to the elevators, the sword still buried in it.
“Bet that hurt!” she yelled after it, earning a hateful glare from its pale eyes. An elevator opened behind it, and it backed in, blurring as it moved. The Kudlak stood, once more in human form, and pulled the sword out of itself with a gasp. Kennedy, meanwhile, sprinted to one side and into a doorway, keeping an eye on the vampire. She then unslung the container from her back and opened it.
The Kudlak gave a primal hiss and threw the blood-stained sword overarm, spearing it through the doorjamb Kennedy crouched behind. She glanced at the blade, protruding from the wood inches from her head, then gave the vampire a feral grin.
“Mine’s bigger,” she said. She raised a missile launcher to her shoulder and fired. She then threw herself into the office beyond the doorway, as far from the corridor as she could.
The vampire had a split second to snarl at the projectile rushing towards it, then the elevator was obliterated by a thunderous explosion that tore through the entire corridor.
Street – Same Time
Rowena, Willow, Faith and Mia threw themselves down behind a parked car as the shockwave from the blast blew out all the windows on the tower, followed by a fireball that erupted from the center of the building and from the lobby elevators on the floor below.
“Ken!” Mia screamed into her radio. “Ken, answer me! Are you okay?” She sagged with relief, almost falling to her knees, when she heard an answering cough.
“Damn…I’m fine…” Kennedy said through her radio. “What did that look like from outside?”
“You’ve seen Die Hard, right?” Faith asked.
“That good, huh?” Kennedy quipped.
“Did Xander say you could fire that thing indoors?” Mia asked sharply.
“She did WHAT?” Xander’s voice broke in, from the Council.
“He didn’t say I couldn’t,” Kennedy replied mildly.
“Did you get the Kudlak?” Ro asked.
“Hang on, I’m checking… holy crap,” she finished, sounding dismayed and impressed in equal measure.
“What is it?” Faith asked.
“Xander owes me ten bucks.”
Office Tower, Second Floor – Same Time
The floor was a ruin. Those sprinklers that remained barely functional had sprung into life, drenching the fires that burned in the wake of the blast. The walls between the central corridor and the office space had largely collapsed, the elevator block had been blown open and the elevator doors were embedded in the concrete wall of the fire escape stairwell opposite.
But the vampire had survived. As Kennedy watched from what remained of the floor near the elevator, its wounds healed, sealing up split and tattered flesh and stemming the rain of blood. It was clinging to the elevator cables, which now hung loose two floors higher up, the remains of the elevator itself having crashed down to the basement. It fixed Kennedy with a stare for a second, then began to climb, its shape blurring continuously as long, clawed limbs gouged at the walls of the elevator shaft and leathery wings beat at the air.
“No way,” Xander said via the radio, “are you sure you hit it?”
“Square in the chest,” Kennedy said, staring up at the dangling cables. “Just blew its clothes off. And opened up its stomach real nice, but it’s healed.”
“This is getting ridiculous,” Faith complained.
“It’s heading for the roof,” Kennedy reported.
“What are you doing?” Faith asked.
“Going after it.”
“Ken, no,” Rowena jumped in. “Pull back until we learn some way to destroy it.”
Ignoring the warning, Kennedy jumped from the crumbling ledge and caught one of the cables, hauling herself up hand over hand in pursuit of the rising vampire.
“Ken?” Rowena called again. “Ken?…Damn it.”
Office Tower, Roof – Moments Later
Kennedy emerged warily from the elevator house, her eyes darting across the dozens of hiding places among the air conditioning blocks surrounding the roof’s helipad. Its bright landing lights created deep, thick shadows.
“Now, the question is,” she murmured to herself, “is it running ’cause it’s scared, or is it just trying to lead me into a trap?”
Her eyes settled on a space where an outline of torn metal brackets showed an air conditioning unit had, until recently, been installed.
“The latter,” she grumbled. At that moment, the Kudlak rose up from its hiding place on the roof of the elevator house, and heaved the massive air conditioner down at Kennedy. She spun around, too late to dodge, and instinctively flung out her hands to shield herself, taking the huge weight as it fell on her. From somewhere she found the strength to hold it, just long enough to fling herself backwards before the unit crashed against the concrete.
The enraged vampire leapt at her, striking lightning-fast with hands and feet, driving Kennedy back. She found herself backed up against another air conditioner, and barely ducked a fist that punched straight through the metal. For a split second, the Kudlak had to wrench on its hand to free itself, tearing its skin in a momentary, quickly-healed shower of blood. Taking advantage, Kennedy lunged forward, butting it in the stomach.
It landed on its back, but contorted beneath the slayer, bringing its legs up underneath her and kicking her off. She, in turn, grabbed hold of its arms, slipping on the bloody one but holding her grip on the other. As the Kudlak kicked her away, she turned the momentum back against it, landing and hurling it over her head, half-way across the roof. It crashed into the parked helicopter.
“How do ya like that, huh?” she yelled, advancing on it. It whipped its legs around, flipping itself upright, and darted to one side, reaching the helicopter’s tail and wrenching the tail rotor from its housing. Kennedy’s eyes grew wide as the Kudlak drew back, then threw the blade straight at her midsection, aiming to slice her in two.
With no time to evade the spinning blade, she instead caught it, snatching it out of the air. Kennedy let herself be spun around by the blade’s momentum before releasing it back at the Kudlak. It dove out of the way, blurring as it moved. The rotor smashed in one side of the helicopter and out the other, showering sparks and debris across the roof. Spinning shrapnel sliced into several of the landing lights, smashing them in sudden bursts of light.
Momentarily half-blinded by the sudden glares, Kennedy barely had time to react as the Kudlak lunged for her. It was now a huge black panther, larger and more powerful than the jackal. Its claws sliced into her shoulders, tearing her coat, and she fell back with an angry yell. She curled up instinctively as she hit the ground, kicking at the animal’s underside. It howled in pain and lost its grip for a moment. As she slid to a halt, Kennedy’s hand touched a heavy, jagged piece of glass, a remnant of the helicopter’s windows, and plunged it into the huge predator’s eye.
It reared up with a deafening roar, staggering backwards, clawing at its face. With a blur, it was human-shaped again, bleeding from an empty eye socket. Its face scratched and twisted in rage, it turned and sprinted for the edge of the roof. Kennedy followed by pure instinct. With a tremendous leap, it took off through the air and off the edge of the roof.
Street – Same Time
“God!” Faith exclaimed, pointing up. The group watched, stunned, as the vampire flew across the gap between the high-rise buildings, stretching towards the opposite roof, and impossibly, reaching it.
“Ken – No!” Mia yelled, as a second shape flew off the roof of the office tower, the white-clad slayer soaring through the air just as her prey had done.
“She’s gonna –” Faith began.
“Look out!” Mia and Willow yelled at once, futilely.
High-Rise Roof – Same Time
The Kudlak turned and wrenched a safety rail from its brackets, swinging it at Kennedy as she flew towards it. With a sickening thud, it made contact, tossing her back into open space, away from the safety of the roof.
Street – Same Time
Mia howled in shock and disbelief as her girlfriend’s limp form smashed into the windows of the building she had leapt from and fell. It took a second for Kennedy to fall the twenty stories. Then, with a crash, she landed on a parked car, smashing the roof down and sending glass flying in all directions.
“Oh Jesus,” Mia muttered in shock, staring at Kennedy where she had fallen. She wasn’t moving.
Mia ran across the street, falling half-way and scrambling back up. Willow turned to look at Rowena, searching her face for some reassurance, but Rowena could only stare from her to the wrecked car, the video camera still on her shoulder.
“Come on,” Faith said distantly, tugging at Rowena’s arm. Still in a state of shock, they followed her, moving towards Mia. She had come to a halt in front of the wreck.
Watchers Council – Library – Same Time
Andrew bit his finger as everyone in the room watched the video feed. “Is she…? I mean, will she…?”
“Oh God,” Vi sighed, her voice trembling. Nearby Robin, Skye and Dawn stood with equally shocked expressions.
Giles took off his glasses, hung his head down and rubbed the bridge of his nose before righting himself again.
“I want answers on how to stop this thing,” he said in a soft, determined voice. “This ends right now.”
Street – Same Time
Kennedy lay amid a pile of twisted metal, still not moving. Mia stood next to the wreck, panic in her eyes, her breath coming in tiny gasps.
“S-she’s okay,” Faith said, “isn’t she? That’s-that’s the point, right? She has to win, no matter what.”
“The Kudlak,” Rowena murmured to herself, dragging her eyes away to look up. The vampire was gone from the roof, but when she looked around, she saw it, a warped, winged shape, soaring away.
“Ken?” Willow said quietly. “Ken, c’mon… get up…please?” Mia took a step forward, tears starting to well up in her eyes.
Then a harsh cough wracked Kennedy’s body, and she jerked awake, sitting up abruptly. Mia jumped back, biting off a scream, while Willow, Ro and Faith stared at Kennedy in disbelief.
Watchers Council – Library – Same Time
As everyone went back to their books, Andrew glanced back at the video to see Kennedy stirring.
“Uh, guys?” he said.
“Not now,” Giles said shortly.
“Kennedy’s moving,” he told them.
“What?” they all said collectively. Everyone raced over to the screen, crowding around.
“Unbelievable,” Robin muttered.
Slowly, a smile worked its way to Giles’s face. He blew out a sigh of relief.
Street – Same Time
“What?” Kennedy asked. Then she looked around both herself and at the crumpled wreck of the car she had landed on. “Oh, that left a mark, huh?”
“Ken?” Mia whispered. Kennedy clambered upright out of the wreckage and reached for her girlfriend, hugging her fiercely.
“I’m here,” she said quietly, “Right? Feel that? Heart still beating and all, okay?”
Mia clung to her for a moment, then took a gulp of air and stood back.
“You’re okay?” Willow asked, stunned.
“No. I’m mad as hell is what I am,” Kennedy replied. “Where is she?”
“She flew off,” Rowena said apologetically.
“I can follow her,” Kennedy said, “Where’s the bike?”
“You used it as a club,” Faith said, still somewhat stunned.
“Right,” Kennedy nodded, “Sorry.”
“The Council will reimburse for that, right?” Faith asked Willow, who only shrugged.
Kennedy looked along the street, to where the distant strobe red and blue lights marked the police blockade. “Get in the Jeep.”
“Where to?” Mia called, as Kennedy sprinted towards the barricade.
“The docks!” she called back.
Cleveland Docks – Moments Later
At the heart of the deserted area within the emergency barricades, the grounded freighter loomed above the devastation it had caused, like a great, dead animal.
Kennedy, riding a police motorcycle, skidded to a halt outside the gate to the wrecked TransWorld pier, with the others in the Jeep a moment behind her.
“She’s in there,” she called over her shoulder. Rowena brought the Jeep to a halt, and Faith, Willow and Mia jumped out.
“Why?” Willow asked.
“Licking her wounds.” Kennedy shrugged. “That’s where she feels safe. I can feel her…in here.” She tapped her forehead with a finger, frowning. “Stay here,” she added. She took off her earpiece and handed it to Faith.
“Like hell!” Mia protested.
“Stay. Here,” Kennedy said firmly, turning to face her. “Faith?”
“Okay.” Faith nodded after a pause. With a last, long look at Mia, Kennedy turned and sprinted forward, vaulting easily over the two-yard-tall fence.
Ceres Hold – Moments Later
One of the hatches in the ceiling opened and Kennedy dropped silently into the hold. She ignored the remains of a ladder, which had buckled and broken during the ship’s grounding. The hold was a vast, dark cavern, lit only by slants of moonlight appearing through tears in the hull, few and far between.
“I know you’re here,” Kennedy called out, her voice echoing in the huge space. “I’ll make this simple for you. No more games. No more running around, testing each other. You, me, now. One of us doesn’t leave here tonight.”
She turned around, staring into the darkness.
“Come on, what’re you afraid of?!” she yelled. “This is what you do, right? This is your damned story, isn’t it? You gave me this damned magic so I’d fight you! Well, here I am! No weapons, no help, just me!”
A low, dangerous growl echoed out of the darkness behind the slayer. A smile slowly crossed her face.
“That’s my girl,” she said to herself.
With slow, pounding footsteps, a huge black bear emerged from the shadows, towering over Kennedy. It rose to twice her height, easily, and was massively muscled, with claws like machetes and massive fangs protruding from its open mouth.
“My, my,” Kennedy grinned, turning to face the enormous creature, “what big teeth you have.”
The beast lashed out at Kennedy, catching her across the jaw with a closed fist and sending her flying across the darkened hold. She crashed painfully into a bent structural support, buckling it further, and fell to the deck. She spit out blood from a cut lip, but it healed over in the space of a second.
“Not bad,” she growled. “My turn.”
The bear came charging, roaring, and Kennedy met it with a thunderous punch, leaping up and smashing her fist into the huge creature’s snout. It roared and reeled back, but stayed on its feet. Kennedy dodged as it swiped at her, then ducked between its legs when it stamped down at her.
“Not so fast, huh?” she taunted the creature as it rounded on her. Then she yelped as it lunged, catching her off-guard and tripping her. She rolled left, barely avoiding a smash from a paw. Instead, the bear’s claws tore into the deck. A whirling kick to the beast’s knees gave Kennedy a split second to scramble to her feet.
“Okay, you’re fast,” she conceded grimly. Her opponent simply roared and charged again, even faster. With no time to dodge, Kennedy leapt into the bear’s charge, surprising it for a second and hammering blows into its neck, smashing at its windpipe. It gave a choked-off bellow, then plucked the furious slayer from its chest and lifted her above its head.
“Now –” Kennedy growled, as it reared up and threw her. She flew across the hold, but managed to grip the dangling end of the broken ladder from the deck hatch above. She used her momentum to swing herself around, launching herself back at the monster, while the ladder groaned and fell from its brackets.
“I’m MAD!” she roared, and her roar became a thundering bellow. Her body warped, growing, changing, becoming just as massive, strong and powerful as the Kudlak itself. When the transformation completed, Kennedy had become a gigantic bear, pure white.
The two creatures collided with bone-jarring force and crashed to the deck, wrestling with each other, clawing, slashing, biting and roaring. The entire hold rang with the din of their battle as they struggled upright, still fighting, smashing at each other with animal fury.
The white bear lunged in at her opponent, grabbed it around its middle, lifted it up and brought it crashing down on the already-weakened deck. With a terrific groan, the deck tore apart, sending both creatures hurtling down into the bowels of the ship. The grounding had literally torn the area apart, it was now a mutilated wasteland of rubble and tortured metal.
Cushioned by her opponent, the white bear recovered from the fall first, smashing her claws into its opponent’s head, tearing great gashes in its snout and neck. In a last, desperate attempt, the black beast struck up into the changed slayer’s stomach, slicing through the thick hide, digging its claws in deep. As Kennedy’s white fur was stained with a huge gush of deep red blood, she roared in pain and rage, reared back, and drove all of her front claws into the Kudlak’s chest, impaling it twice over. The blows lifted up the black bear and brought it crashing down against a jagged, twisted mass of torn metal and debris. The fractured end of a girder punched through the Kudlak’s back and out of its chest, spearing it through the heart.
The Kudlak gasped and shuddered, scrabbling at the debris around it, but weakening, unable to move itself. The white bear lifted herself up and stood back, clutching at its deep wound, blood trickling between her claws and matting her fur. She lifted up her head and howled. The howl became a cry of pain as the creature blurred back into the shape of Kennedy, her stomach torn and bleeding.
“Come on,” she grimaced to herself. “Come on…I’m not dying here…” Slowly, she took her hand away from the tear in her clothes, revealing the angry red gash in her skin. But beneath the slick of blood, the wound was slowly closing, healing. The slayer laughed painfully, then looked up at the dying Kudlak.
It had shifted back to its human form and was lying limp, its face cut and bloody. The girder impaling it seemed even more devastating to its small body. It raised one of its talon-like claws, which shrunk back into a hand as it reached out to Kennedy, mouthing wordlessly.
“Just die,” the slayer said, shaking her head. “Just…die, would you?”
The Kudlak stared at her for a moment longer, then its head dropped back and it gave one last shudder. As it died, its flesh began to blacken, and smoke rose from it. Kennedy stumbled back as the body burst into flames, the blaze spreading along the river of blood that had poured from its torn chest. In a moment, the fire surrounded Kennedy, reaching for her. In the space of a few seconds the whole chamber was burning. The unnatural, unstoppable flames reached up through the torn deck, catching in the hold above.
“Bitch,” Kennedy swore, her shoulders slumping. She looked up, through the hole in the deck, then through the open hatch in the deck above, to the night sky. Her shoulders squared again and she took a shallow breath, trying not to cough on the smoke.
“I’m coming, baby,” she muttered, wrapping her arms around herself. As the flames grew brighter, hotter, closer, her form became indistinct in the heat, a dark shape against the white-hot flame. It was a shape that blurred and changed – and erupted upwards.
Cleveland Docks – Same Time
“No!” Mia screamed, seeing the flames reach up from the deck of the stricken freighter.
“Down!” Faith yelled, grabbing her and hauling her to the ground. Willow and Rowena ducked behind the Jeep.
The freighter exploded in a single, titanic blast, rupturing with a great fireball that blossomed out of its midsection and tore fore and aft. The fireball consumed the prow and the stern of the ship and toppled the bridge into the water behind as the ship blew apart. The shockwave of the blast lifted the debris of the ruined warehouse into the air, showering it around for miles. The fireball rose over the docklands like a genie, up into the air, billowing, dissipating and, finally, dying among the clouds.
In the eerie silence that followed, the only sounds were the faint, distant cracks of falling glass from shattered windows.
Faith let go of Mia and got to her knees, looking around.
“You guys okay?” she called in the direction of the Jeep.
“What?” Rowena called back, as she and Willow unsteadily got to their feet, leaning on the vehicle for support. Faith shook her head, trying to get rid of the ringing in her ears.
“She’s not dead,” Mia was saying to herself. “She’s not, she’s not dead… she’s alright…she’s…”
She stopped, and looked up into the sky. From the smoke-filled air, dark forms were emerging, wings beating in unison. It was a flock of ravens, pitch-black. They swirled through the air, around the stunned slayers and watchers, circling tighter and tighter, until in a single motion they all darted inwards and merged into a single form. The flock transformed, leaving Kennedy standing in its wake.
“Hi guys,” she said distantly. Then her eyes closed and she collapsed, falling into Faith and Mia’s arms as they lunged forward to catch her.
Watchers Council – Lobby – Next Morning
Andrew deposited a stack of newspapers on the front desk, just in time for Giles to pick one up in passing. The main title read “Bombing in Cleveland,” followed by “Special Forces Thwart Neo-Nazi Group” and “CIA Denies Al Qaeda Connection.” A large color photo of the devastated dockland, but little information, accompanied the story on the “accidental” ignition of the freighter’s damaged fuel tanks.
“Mr. Wood’s been busy,” Andrew noted.
“Yes,” Giles agreed, “I imagine we may have to make some effort to placate our friends in high places after last night’s work, but when one considers what might have been, I think they’ll agree that the damage to property was unavoidable. Far preferable to further loss of life, at any rate.”
“Is Ken Possible still resting?” Andrew asked. Giles frowned in confusion for a moment, then gave a slightly baffled smile.
“No, she’s up and about.” He folded the paper under his arm. “She’s with Mia, so I’d, well, give them some time.”
“Yeah,” Andrew agreed. “Hey, what’s this about watermelon racing? Xander said you’d know.”
“Mr. Giles!” Both men turned to see Bonnie approaching.
“What can I do for you?” Giles asked guardedly.
“A successful conclusion to the Kudlak crisis?” she asked, nodding to the stack of newspapers. “The stories on the morning news had a note of optimistic finality to them that’d be pretty embarrassing if the whole thing got repeated tonight, so I guessed you’d gotten rid of the creature.”
“You’re very observant,” Giles observed dryly.
“It’s what I do,” Bonnie noted. “Now, I think you’ll agree that, while I could have simply left it all to you, I volunteered my time and services, and provided useful information –”
“What do you want?” Giles interrupted. “Bearing in mind that your freedom isn’t an option.”
“Bearing in mind that there’s several thousand demons out there who still want me emphatically dead, I wasn’t going to ask.”
“My house,” Bonnie said. “Seeing as you ‘appropriated’ its contents after the fiasco with the Engineer, I assume you’ve still got them in storage somewhere? I’d like them for my apartment here.”
“That’s a considerable request,” Giles pointed out, “given that you are still a prisoner here.”
“A useful prisoner,” Bonnie pointed out, “inclined to be helpful if I’m well kept, and with unique skills. And I have to tell you, there’s only so many times I can read that copy of The Da Vinci Code someone left in the lounge before I go insane. About once, actually. Will it really constitute a threat to the Council if I have my library and DVDs back? Or my wardrobe, for that matter.”
“You understand that you won’t be given anything that hasn’t been thoroughly examined first?” Giles warned.
“Naturally,” Bonnie shrugged. “Just don’t do anything interesting with the lingerie.”
“I’ll look into the matter,” Giles said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me…” Bonnie shrugged again as he turned and left. Then she glanced at Andrew, who was looking at her with guarded curiosity.
“What?” she asked.
“You help us, we give you stuff?” he asked. “Is that always how it is with you?”
“That’s always how it is with most people,” she replied calmly. “Why shouldn’t I? I worked for the Engineer. At least you people are human. Sorry if I disappointed you, but I’m not going to turn into some kind of paladin.”
“How can someone like you be a Farscape fan?” Andrew asked, genuinely confused.
“I like Scorpius,” Bonnie grinned faintly.
“Figures.” With a shake of his head, he took a newspaper and headed off after Giles. Bonnie watched him go, then took one for herself, scanning the headlines.
“And unique,” she said to herself, “is always valuable.” She grinned at her joke, then a puzzled frown appeared on her face.
“Wait,” she said, “watermelon what?”
Watchers Council – Willow’s Living Room – Later
Willow looked up at a knock on her door, then smiled as she saw Kennedy in the open doorway.
“Hi,” she said, getting up, “I came by earlier, but you were still asleep. Then later, but the doctor said Mia was in with you, so I figured, not the best time to burst in –”
“Thanks.” Kennedy grinned.
“So, how are you? All good and…good?”
“All good,” the slayer nodded with a fond smile. “Back to normal. No more magic wackiness which, all things considered, I’m comfortable with an absence of.”
“Yeah,” Willow nodded, “that’s fair enough, to each her own. And it’s not like you got the enjoyable side of it anyway, just the doom and gloom.”
“Not really after more doom and gloom,” Kennedy said. “And the crazy fairytale logic I can do without – I prefer normal vamps that don’t care what shape you are when you stake them. Um, yeah, I just wanted to say thanks…you know, for stepping in, helping out…being my old watcher again.” Willow’s eyes widened, and she quickly got to her feet and lifted Kennedy’s chin, like a schoolmistress with an errant child.
“Not old!” she insisted playfully. “Learned or experienced are acceptable.”
“Gotcha, old watcher.” Kennedy grinned. “Anyway, I’ve got a report to write up, you know, just in case another one of those things ever shows up and someone has to go through this all again. I’ll try to be out of town if that happens.”
“Yeah,” Willow began with a nod. “Oh, just, one thing? I was wondering, just out of curiosity…what was it like? I mean, being a whole flock of birds? That’s like, ‘wow’ magic…”
“I don’t really remember details.” The slayer shrugged. “But…pretty scary. All in all, I’m happy being me again – two arms, two legs, no wings. Seems to work.”
“Yeah, it does,” Willow agreed, with only a tiny touch of sadness. Kennedy stepped forward and gave her a brief, friendly hug, then moved back to the door.
“See you later,” Willow said.
“Yeah.” Kennedy nodded. “Later.” On the threshold, she hesitated and looked back. “Actually…” Willow looked back at her. “…in hindsight…it was pretty special. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like that again. Ninety percent pure terror, but…the rest was incredible.”
“It can be.” Willow smiled.
“Yeah,” the slayer agreed. “Later, huh?”
Fade to Black
End of Avatar
Next on Watchers…
Ethan Rayne’s return to Cleveland is accompanied by the arrival of a mysterious, malevolent force, and Giles is convinced the two are related.
Click here to read “Fire Eater” now!