Watchers Council – Hallway – Day
Giles, Willow and Rowena swiftly walked down the hall side-by-side.
“It’s a sure bet that the Presidium was behind switching Faith for an infiltrator,” Rowena commented.
“No argument here,” Willow agreed.
“So if she’s still alive, where would she be?” Rowena posed the question for debate.
“We have two search options,” Giles began. “Either Faith is being held captive by the Presidium itself in Vor, or she’s still on Earth. Bonnie’s work was pointing towards a link between the Presidium and Jimmy Volano. If this creature was intended to kill her, that would seem to confirm it.”
“Brell’s there in Vor,” Willow answered. “I’ll see if the Coven can get a message to him magically. Maybe he can look for Faith, or at least be able to give a description of her to someone who can help him look.”
Giles nodded, as Rowena added, “Good, I’ll concentrate on setting up the Black Ops team to turn Volano’s operation inside-out. Besides, I could use a little payback.” She wiggled her pinky for emphasis.
“What about you?” Willow asked Giles.
“I’m going to have a talk with our resident shooter,” he answered.
As all three of them broke at the end of the hallway, quickly moving in separate directions.
Watchers Council – Holding Cells – Moments Later
Bonnie looked up at the sound of footsteps. Giles appeared, staring at her through the bars of her cell, while Marie waited against the far wall. Bonnie stood and looked at him, expectant but wary.
“We have reason to believe you were telling the truth,” Giles said slowly.
“Must be a good reason,” Bonnie said. “All things considered.”
Giles glared at her, then looked away and continued. “What you killed proved to be a demon,” he said. “A shapeshifter. Faith was abducted and replaced by this…creature that took her form.”
“Three guesses who was responsible,” Bonnie said, sitting back down on the cell’s bed.
“If you have any information to share –” Giles began, but Bonnie cut him off.
“Other than the fact that it tried to kill me, no. Yes, there are plenty of demons who’d love to do that, but not many that can replace the Senior Slayer of the Watchers Council and get away with it. I assume you’ve been having meetings like they’re going out of style over this. Has anyone owned up to noticing Faith acting out of character? Anything that ‘didn’t seem important at the time’?”
“No,” Giles said grimly. “The replacement was perfect.”
“I’ll tell you,” Bonnie went on, “two years ago when I was freelancing, if someone had come to me and offered me more money than God to find him a demon infiltrator that could be that good, every minute of every day, I’d have told him no deal. I could’ve suggested a Khamelloid or a talented Clay-skin, but they’d have given themselves away somehow, even if it was only realized after the fact. Something as good as this…what did you say it was called?”
“I didn’t, but it was a Chrysalid Changeling,” Giles answered.
“Not in this city,” Bonnie declared flatly. “And as far as I know, not on this planet, not the last time I looked. I’d bet this Chrysalid is out of the reach of any of the local demons who’re holding a grudge. That leaves Jimmy Volano and his Presidium friends.”
“Your expertise will be used in pursuing him, immediately,” Giles said. “However, don’t expect to be treated as a ‘restricted guest,’ as you have been recently. You smuggled a weapon into the Council, in violation of the trust that was extended to you –”
“Which I used in self-defense! And by the way, I didn’t smuggle it. It was with my belongings,” Bonnie pointed out.
“How you used it or how you got it is not the issue.” Giles glared her down. “The fact that it was self-defense is the only thing keeping you from being the subject of the Cleveland Council’s first full tribunal procedure. As the situation stands, there will be consequences for what you have done.”
“All right,” Bonnie said wearily. “Let’s hear it.”
“An appropriate punishment will be decided upon when we have the luxury of time to debate the matter,” Giles said. “For now, you will be confined to guest quarters. Your usual suite and your possessions will be searched thoroughly, taken apart piece-by-piece if necessary, to ensure there aren’t any more hidden surprises. Whether they will be returned to you will be decided later.”
“You will be allowed out, under guard, to assist our operation,” Giles said. “Your activities will be monitored and limited, severely.”
Bonnie stared at him for a moment, then dropped her gaze and looked blankly at the wall of her cell. She heaved a tired sigh.
“Not much choice,” she muttered. She looked up at Giles again. “I’m not apologizing for the gun. If I hadn’t had it, that thing would have killed me. Probably made it look like I attacked it and it killed me in self-defense. You’d still have a Presidium infiltrator running the Slayer Branch of the Council.”
Giles stared at her thoughtfully, but there was no kindness in his gaze.
“Did you realize when you killed it that it wasn’t Faith?” he asked. “Did you even suspect?”
Bonnie crossed her arms and sighed. “No,” she replied flatly.
“At least you’re getting into the habit of telling the truth,” Giles commented. “Marie will escort you to your new room. There will be a change of clothes there. Meet us in the library in fifteen minutes.”
Ice Caverns – Vor Hell Dimension – Same Time
Brell hurried through the sparse crowd of demons that milled about a network of caverns and tunnels, Some spoke grimly, carrying weapons and armor, while others rushed here and there with messages. At his side was another of his kind, blue-skinned, tall and female. They arrived at a huge arachnid creature guarding the entrance to a red-lit cave.
“Brell,” the demon woman said, “this hopeless. They not help a human.”
“Brell must try,” Brell said gently. The woman studied his face, then nodded. She watched him intently as he approached the arachnid and waited as its compound eyes turned on him and examined him.
“Well?” it said in a guttural voice, tiny clicking sounds accompanying its speech.
“Must see Creed and Brighid,” Brell said, “very urgent. Brell have message from human Council.” The huge spider-demon regarded him balefully, then lifted its bulk on twelve razor-edged limbs and moved to one side. “Thank you,” Brell said hastily, giving a quick backward glance at the demon woman as he hurried inside.
Beyond the entrance, the cave widened out, and one wall fell away into a cliff, overlooking a vast underground lake of churning, blood-red water and ice-floes. Brell looked nervously at the hulking guards who stood in the red-tinted shadows around the cavern’s perimeter as he approached the group of demons at its center, clustered within a circle of arcane symbols burned into the solid ice floor.
“Brell beg forgiveness for intrusion,” he said, “but important message, must be heard.”
The huddle of demons spread out, and two stepped forward towards Brell – one the gigantic Creed, and the other a shapely female form composed entirely of incandescent heat. A skin of black-scorched magma coated her form, cracking and reforming as she moved.
“Give your message,” Creed growled. The demon-woman’s white-hot eyes flickered towards her huge comrade, then turned on Brell.
“From Earth, from human Council,” he explained. “Faith, most powerful slayer – very brave, has fought for Brell, and other demons, many times – is taken by Presidium.”
“Then she is dead,” Creed declared. “So?”
“Not dead,” Brell insisted, “taken, but alive. Red Witch knows Faith is alive, until this day at least. Presidium has her. Council does not know whether here or Earth. They search Earth for her. Red Witch has asked me to search for Faith here.”
“Good fortune to you,” Creed rumbled, turning away. The other demon, the fire-woman, glanced at him again, then approached Brell.
“It is our help this one desires,” she said. “It wishes our aid in finding its friend, the human slayer Faith.” She turned and stared at Creed, who turned back to her. “Do we turn away so quickly?”
“It is none of our business,” he growled.
“Faith is great ally!” Brell protested, turning his attention to the fire-woman. “Noble Brighid, Faith led slayers against Engineer’s army, defeated them! And it is Red Witch who asks this, who broke the Arena when Presidium cast it, who defeated Engineer himself. Eleven we face, not twelve, because of Red Witch. Never before have Presidium bled. She asks this of Brell, asks me to ask you for help, to keep Council strong.”
“It speaks the truth,” Brighid mused. “The Council harms the Presidium. Do we not attribute the calm before the present storm to the difficulties on Earth? Do we not benefit? Are we not stronger, while they fix their gazes elsewhere?”
“Indirectly,” Creed allowed, “but the Council fights to save its own kind, not us. Earth is threatened, so they fight for it. Humans are attacked, so they defend themselves. You know how difficult it is to move where the Presidium is strong. Why should we risk that, and not at a time and place of our choosing, but to rescue a human who has never spilled blood for us?”
“Not true!” Brell said vehemently. He circled Brighid at a safe distance from her radiant heat and approached the giant Creed. “Faith fought for demons, many times! For Brell’s own kin, and for those fleeing the fall of Galas. When the assassins were sent, the Council fought, Faith fought! And asked nothing in return. Fought only because help was asked!”
“Is this true?” Creed asked Brighid.
“It speaks the truth as it knows it,” she replied. “Monarch Reteesk says much the same, indeed. The Council changes. The time of mindless persecution comes to an end, it says.”
“He talks too much,” Creed grumbled.
“It says little that is not of value,” Brighid said thoughtfully. “We too speak of seeking out allies where once there were enemies. Before the Presidium came, did not your kind and the Scarmen kill each other on sight? Fifty Scarmen or more now reside within this sanctuary. Do you rest only when your claws have broken their blood?”
“You would help the humans?” Creed said skeptically.
“Great allies are Council,” Brell put in. “Loyal, not cowed by Presidium fear. And strong, capable warriors, wise leaders.”
“Yet your brother is dead,” Brighid said quietly. Brell’s eyes widened, and he stared at her, then nodded.
“Yes,” he agreed, “Tram dead. Many dead. Creed and Brighid’s warriors die, too, when fighting Presidium. Yet others remain loyal. Honor the dead. I honor Tram, continue to honor what brother died for.”
Brighid and Creed exchanged a glance, as Brell looked from one to the other of them, expectantly.
Watchers Council Giles’s Apartment – Later that Day
“I need to personally oversee this Volano operation,” Giles stressed to Becca. He stood at his desk, going through some papers.
“I’m just concerned, is all,” she said. “I know you’ve done field work – years of field work – but this is the first time you’re going out since the heart attack. What if something goes wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing will go wrong,” he assured her.
“But what if it does? Then what?” she pushed.
Giles stopped and walked around the desk to face her. “Then the girls will be there to help…Becca, I can’t sit around waiting for the next heart attack.”
“You don’t need to go chasing after one either,” she countered.
Giles sighed and sat down on the edge of the desk. “If this were any slayer other than Faith, or-or Buffy, I would let Rowena handle this,” he saidy. “But this isn’t just another slayer. This is Faith, the commander of our slayer forces.” Giles paused thoughtfully for a moment, then continued. “Besides, it’s not just about rank. I’ve watched her grow from a-a reckless, carefree spirit to a-a disciplined, effective leader, and the girls need her. I need her. And if my being out there helps us find her, then that’s where I have to be.”
Reluctantly, Becca nodded and hung her head. Giles rose up and kissed the top of it softly, as he placed his hands on either side of her cheeks.
Watchers Council – Kennedy’s Apartment – Same Time
Kennedy walked into her bedroom to find Mia putting on the last of her gear.
“Hey,” Kennedy called over softly.
“Hey,” Mia replied in kind. “Sorry you got grounded. I know you wanted to help the search.”
“Being a slayer sometimes bites.”
“So’s being Ops,” Mia answered. “I really thought it wouldn’t be terrible to order firing on evil people, but lately it’s hard to tell what’s evil and what’s not…”
Kennedy paused and watched while Mia adjusted her belt.
“You didn’t know what to expect with that Shadow chick,” Kennedy told her. “And if you didn’t order the open fire, she might have killed everyone in that room by snapping her fingers. I think you made the right call.”
“Did I? Or did I pass judgment too quickly?” Mia countered. “I can’t seem to forget Willow crying about how she could have saved her.”
“For all we know, it could have been Stockholm syndrome, or that magic crap that bitch loaded her up on.”
“I guess,” Mia said, with a shrug.
“Besides, she took Willow against her will. She was far from an innocent victim. So go easy on yourself here, okay?”
Mia gave a slight grin and chuckle.
“What?” Kennedy asked.
“This is about 180 degrees from our last conversation about my job. Guess it’s getting easier for you to watch me kill humans, huh?”
“No, that will never be easy,” Kennedy answered. “Just like doing it won’t be easy, but sometimes…sometimes it’s necessary. So, go out there and bring Faith back home safe and sound, just like you did with Willow. That’s the important thing.”
“Ma’am, yes ma’am,” Mia teased, giving Kennedy a salute.
Fade to Black
End of Act Two