Watchers Council – Garage – Moments Later
“Well, I guess we’re taking one of the cars,” Kennedy said, heading to the key rack. “Think Giles would mind if we borrowed his Aston Martin?”
“Who Aston Martin?” Brell asked.
“Not who. What,” Kennedy answered. “It’s the company that makes the car.”
“Besides, it only has two seats,” Rowena reminded Kennedy. She looked at her watch and smiled. “I’ve got another idea. Come on.”
“Where?” Kennedy called after her, as she sprinted away.
Watchers Council – Helipad – Day
Kennedy and Rowena approached the Council helicopter on the large stretch of tarmac overlooking the waterfront. Brell stood behind them, looking uneasily at their ride.
“Maybe Brell stay here. In case Council building attacked.”
Kennedy stepped behind him. “Sorry, Brell, but we need you with us.”
The pilot waved to Rowena, and they all moved towards the helicopter. Kennedy opened the side door and climbed in. She helped Brell up and then reached a hand to Rowena. Once they were all inside, they busied themselves with seatbelts and stowing their gear, while the rotors began to spin.
Brell let out a frightened whimper as the aircraft lifted off the ground and tilted forward, accelerating up and away over the water.
“Statistically,” Kennedy yelled to Brell over the noise, “you’re safer in here than traveling in a car.”
“But in car, you don’t fall so far to the ground,” Brell countered.
“He’s got a point,” Rowena replied, smirking at Kennedy.
“Please be quiet. You’re not helping,” Kennedy told her.
Rowena just smiled and patted Brell’s knee. “Don’t worry. Our pilot is one of the best. You’ll be just fine.”
Brell gave an uneasy nod.
Willow’s Van – Day
Faith and Jeff sat in silence, while Willow fiddled with the radio dial. She rotated the knob, desperately searching for a station. The radio answered with an endless stream of static. “Well, looks like that’s it for the radio.”
Jeff and Faith remained silent.
Willow watched the road uncomfortably. “So anyone see any good movies lately? Andrew said he liked the Ring 2.”
Faith shrugged. “I think I’ve had my fill of fantasy horror for a good long while.”
Willow frowned. “Faith, about everything that happened. If you ever want to talk about it…”
“Willow I’m fi –”
“Five by five…right?” Willow said, without looking over.
“Actually, I was going to say ‘fine’.” Faith grinned ever so slightly.
“Oh.” Willow looked a bit embarrassed. There was a moment of silence until Willow said, “Isn’t ‘fine’ the universal response for ‘not fine?'”
Jeff looked up from the back seat, but remained silent.
Faith sighed. “All right, I’m not going to sit here and say that I don’t think about what happened. But I’m okay. I can handle what happened…and I can handle whatever might happen.”
Willow smiled. “Glad to hear it. But if…”
“Yeah, I know. You’re here if I need to talk.”
The car was silent for a moment until the radio came to life. Willow turned the dial, clearing up any remaining static, and settled in for the rest of the ride.
Grassy Field – Later
Rowena and Kennedy stood at the door of the now-motionless helicopter. Rowena laid a map of the area on the floor of the helicopter cab. Brell sat several meters away, hugging the ground. Kennedy examined the plans.
“Is it a good idea for us to be at the coordinates of the portal?”
“We’re not,” Rowena said, without looking at Kennedy. “The coordinates I gave the pilot were for a location one mile north of the portal. This is where the vans will be meeting up.”
“How long till they all get here, you think?”
“Shouldn’t be more than an hour.” Rowena answered, checking her watch. “In the meantime, without any of the equipment…we have absolutely nothing to do.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Kennedy said, snatching the map away from Rowena. “I can use this to scout the area on foot. See what kind of defenses they’ve got out here.”
Rowena sneered and grabbed the map back. “I don’t think so. Not this time.”
“Why not?” Kennedy said, defensively crossing her arms.
“Because,” Rowena said, raising her voice, “we have no way of communicating. All the gear is in the vans.” She set the map down on the ground. “Plus, we need the map here.”
Brell stood up and walked over to the two women. “Brell need help.”
They ignored him.
“You don’t need the map here,” Kennedy insisted. “You just don’t want to listen to a suggestion that you didn’t come up with yourself.”
Rowena shook her head. “Why can’t you ever listen to anything I say?”
Brell held his stomach. “Brell going…”
“Why do you have to criticize everything I say?” Kennedy countered.
Rowena threw her hands into the air. “You’re just so…so pigheaded.”
Brell inched forward. “Please.”
“I’m pigheaded?!” Kennedy yelled over Brell’s groans. “Fine, but you know what? I’d rather be pigheaded than a snooty girlfriend stealer! ”
“So, now it comes out!” Rowena answered, waving a finger at Kennedy. “For the record, I did not steal Will –”
Before Rowena could finish, Brell bent over and threw up all over the map. The two women looked down and cringed, then looked back up at each other.
Brell sat back and said, “Brell hate flying.”
“So much for the map,” Kennedy said, walking away.
Helicopter – Minutes Later
Rowena and Kennedy sat on opposite sides of the still vehicle, in absolute silence. Brell sat on the floor next to the door and looked out longingly.
After several moments, Rowena took in a breath and opened her mouth as if to speak. However, she quickly closed it and turned her gaze away from Kennedy.
Kennedy looked up and said, “What?” Her tone was of mild irritation.
Rowena looked as if she might not answer but finally said, “I think we should work this out.”
Kennedy’s look of irritation broadened. “Work what out?” Brell glanced up with a look of mild curiosity.
Rowena fidgeted in her seat. “You know, the complete dislike of one another.”
Rowena checked her watch. “We’re stuck here for another fifty-five minutes, and to be honest I don’t think I can take an awkward silence for that long.”
“All right, fine,” Kennedy said, crossing her arms. “Where do we start?”
Rowena leaned back in her seat. A look of bewilderment crossed her face. “I don’t know.”
Kennedy sighed. “Me either.”
“Red Witch,” Brell said from his place by the door. Rowena and Kennedy both stared at him in shock. “Brell demon, not blind. Red Witch is reason you not get along.” He stood up. “I get fresh air.” He hopped out the door and disappeared from view.
Rowena looked down at the floor, avoiding eye contact with Kennedy. “He’s right, you know.”
Kennedy nodded. After several seconds,” she spoke, “When it comes to Willow, I think I suffer from jealous-ex syndrome.”
“Kennedy, how can you be jealous? You’ve got Mia.”
“I know, but Willow and I…We didn’t have the most pleasant of break ups.” She stood up. “I can’t believe I’m even talking about this with you. You were the one that –”
Rowena got up as well. “Look, I did not cause your break up. I wasn’t even looking for a relationship. Neither was Willow, at the time. And don’t think you’ve got it so bad. Try dealing with jealous-of-ex syndrome.”
“You heard me. You think it’s a picnic working in the same place as your girlfriend’s ex? It’s like a constant reminder of what I’m being compared to.”
Kennedy scoffed and sat back down. “Willow would never compare you to me. I mean, when I was still with her, she would bring up Tara every now and then. But never like that.”
“It’s not only that,” Rowena confessed. “Willow told me, before she and I got…involved, that the two of you had a…healthy…sexual appetite. I’m not sure I measure up in that area.”
“So those ‘ice queen’ comments were dead on?” Kennedy teased.
Rowena paused and took an unsteady breath. “In a manner of speaking, yes. I was raped at the Watchers Academy.”
Kennedy’s jaw’s fell. “Oh god, I’m sorry. I…I feel like an ass now.”
“Don’t,” Rowena told her. “You had no way of knowing but, like I said…I’m not sure if I can be as…creative as you were. And I still envy your time with her.”
“Are you…okay?” Kennedy asked. “I mean, after what happened?”
“I’m getting better – better than I’ve been in years, thanks to Willow. But there’s still so much I don’t know about her. So, yeah, I do envy you in some ways.”
“Like how? Nothing sexy here, okay?”
Rowena took a seat next to Kennedy.
“Okay. Let’s see…Oh, about a couple of weeks ago, I was at the lake with Willow. And a frog hops over to us. So I picked it up to show Willow.”
“Oh, bad idea,” Kennedy said with a laugh.
Rowena nodded and continued, “Suffice it to say, that wasn’t our best outing. But that’s what I mean. There’s stuff I just don’t know.”
“Well, I’ve got you beat,” Kennedy said cheerfully.
“Let’s hear it,” Rowena said, motioning to Kennedy to go on.
“Just after we closed the Hellmouth in Sunnydale, we were staying in a motel. This was before we relocated to Cleveland. Well anyway, I was sharing a room with Willow, and I borrowed her toothbrush.”
Rowena laughed knowingly. “She didn’t yell, did she?”
“No, she didn’t yell so much as sigh. She looked at the brush in my hand and just…sighed.” Kennedy demonstrated for Rowena, who was now grinning. “Actually, she didn’t even say anything. But man, that sigh is a killer. I felt like I had killed her goldfish or something.”
“I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds that odd,” Rowena said, still laughing. “I mean, what’s the difference between using a toothbrush and kissing someone?”
“Oh, I’ve got a ton more.” She took Rowena’s wrist and glanced at the watch. “I don’t think I can fit them all in, but I’ll try. Oh, like the way she eats hamburgers…”
“Around the outside and then the middle?” Rowena asked.
“See?” Kennedy said, slapping Rowena gently against the arm. “You know a lot more than you think you do and…and I can see you make Will happy. Just promise to keep making her happy, okay?”
Kennedy gave the woman a ghost of a smile, and Rowena returned it with a nod.
“I intend to,” the watcher agreed softly.
Watchers Council – Slayer Rec Room – Same Time
Xander strolled into the lounge and spotted Vi by the pool table. She bent down to shoot as he approached. Xander stood behind her and watched as she set up the shot. Vi struck the cue dead on and sent the five ball into the left middle pocket.
“How d’ya like that?” she said haughtily to her opponent.
“Nice shot,” Xander called from behind her.
Vi jumped and turned around. “Xander? I thought you were in your workshop.”
Behind her, Kennedy’s dragon crouched down on the table and squinted at the cue ball.
“Not much to do. Took a stroll through the offices, ended up here. Robin’s headed off to the airport. He got a call from Riley’s people to move their meeting up a couple of hours.”
“Riley?” Vi asked.
“Brigadier-General Finn,” Xander clarified.
“Oh, the army guy,” Vi nodded. “You know him?”
“Sunnydale,” Xander explained. “He dated Buffy for a while. Got mind-controlled by a demon cyborg, had super-soldier drugs tested on him…the usual.”
“Oh, okay. You know, I think you kind of outrank me, if you want to take the reins while the others are gone –”
“I’m more of a helper than a leader. Anyway, what happened to ‘let’s make the watchers run laps’?” Xander said with a grin. “That was an impressive power trip.”
Vi grinned. “I retract my previous statement.”
The dragon reared up and swatted the cue ball with its tail, sending it spinning off three cushions before glancing a red ball and sinking it neatly.
“God dammit,” Vi muttered, seeing the cue ball come to rest in a perfect location for the dragon to make its next shot.
“She plays pool?” Xander asked, bemused. “Smart little thing, isn’t she?”
They watched the dragon swat again but, in sinking one ball, it accidentally sent the cue ball into the pocket too.
“She’s got some kind of instinctive grasp of spatial geometry,” Vi complained, as she pulled the cue ball from the pocket and looked for a place to set her shot. Not finding one, she shook her head in frustration and placed the ball on the table. “It’s probably from flying or something. I’ve lost three games in a row. But not this one!” she warned the dragon. She reached for an X-frame to line up her next shot. The creature hopped onto the edge of the table and managed to look smug.
“While you think that over, there’s something I need to tell you,” Xander said.
Vi hesitated for a moment, but continued with her shot. She sank the nine ball in the bottom left corner pocket.
Xander leaned down to catch Vi’s eye. “I should have said this last night. I –”
“Vi!” Tracey yelled from the doorway. “We’ve got a crisis.”
Xander leaned back as Vi turned to face Tracey. “What is it? Vampires?”
Tracy shook her head. “Someone broke Andrew’s Kill Bill Volume 2 DVD. He’s on a rampage. He’s threatened to close the kitchen until someone fesses up.”
Vi sighed. “Where is he?”
“He’s in the lobby, shouting up a storm.”
“Okay, I’ll be right there. Tell him I’ll buy him a new one.”
Tracy nodded and left the room. Vi turned to Xander. “What were you going to say?”
Xander paused. “I can tell you later. Go appease the nerd.”
Vi moved to the door. As she passed through it, she turned to Xander, grinned and motioned to the pool table, where the dragon had sunk two in a row. “You have my permission to finish my game,” she told him.
Xander smiled back as Vi exited the doorway. He turned to the table and took aim. His shot ricocheted off the thirteen ball and collided with the eight, knocking it into the right side pocket. “Oops,” Xander said.
The dragon made a sound suspiciously like a snort of laughter.
“Don’t gloat,” he told the dragon.
Willow’s Van – Day
“Okay, we’re coming up on the coordinates now,” Willow said. “We’re supposed to meet in a field at the end of this road.”
Faith looked ahead. She leaned forward as something caught her gaze. “Hey Willow, I think I know what you forgot to bring.”
Willow looked over urgently. “What?”
Faith pointed to something ahead of the car. Jeff leaned forward in the back to see what Faith pointed to.
“Your girlfriends,” she replied. “Good news is they don’t look like they’ve killed each other yet.”
Willow’s eyes widened. “Oops.”
Grassy Field – Moments Later
Rowena, Kennedy, and Brell watched as the three vans pulled up. Willow exited the lead van.
Kennedy grinned. “What took you guys so long?”
Grassy Field – Moments Later
“Sorry,” Mia said, as she hugged Kennedy. “I thought you were in Fran’s car, she thought you were in mine…real efficient teamwork, huh?” She grinned sheepishly.
“We’re a classy outfit,” Kennedy joked.
“How’d it go?” Mia asked. “I mean, in the helicopter, with her?” She nodded towards Rowena, who was talking with Willow a few yards away.
“Oh, you know, fireworks…” Kennedy brushed it off. “Not so bad. Brell threw up.”
“I didn’t know you two argued that much.”
“Airsick, smartass,” Kennedy whacked Mia on the bottom. “Don’t you have to go change into your slinky-gear?”
Mia nodded. “Soon as the others are done.” She grinned at Kennedy. “Want to share a change room?”
Meanwhile, Faith and Rowena stared over Willow’s shoulder at the clean map she had brought. “Well, this is us,” Willow said, pointing. “The portal site would’ve been roughly here, but if they were doing delicate magic, they’d have moved away from that location before they set up camp; there’d have been some unusual residuals that could mess with their rituals. I’m guessing here,” she pointed to an area of forest. “Somewhere. It’s the most remote from any roads, inhabited property or tourist areas.”
“That’s a lot of ground,” Rowena said thoughtfully.
“I’ve got Jeff mixing ingredients for a couple of spells I’d like to try,” Willow replied. “We might be able to narrow it down a bit, maybe even get a definite fix on their location. Plus, we’ll put a standing spell over the helicopter. It should make it pretty difficult to see or hear it, from a distance anyway. So long as it keeps reasonably high, it should work.”
“So you get us a direction to follow,” Faith summarized, “we head that way, the helo goes high and scouts ahead of us, we zero in on whatever it sees. Sounds good to me. That it?”
“That’s it,” Willow nodded. Faith headed off to get changed, while Rowena leaned against the van and looked at Willow.
“I was wondering if you’d suggest I stay in the helicopter,” she said. “It’d be safer up there, after all.”
“Don’t think I wouldn’t love to,” Willow admitted. “But safe isn’t always right…I mean, this is what we do for a living. Battle demons.” She sighed. “Sometimes it sucks having a calling. You know, right about now, normal people would be wishing they were back in school, where they didn’t have to deal with any of this stuff.”
“You did have to deal with this stuff in school,” Rowena pointed out.
“I know,” Willow sighed. “I know.”
Grassy Field – Later that Day
Willow and Jeff stood up together, carefully lifting a wooden board between them, keeping it level as they carried it over to the open back of a van.
“Well, that looks like a confirmation to me,” Willow said, comparing the scattered drifts of colored sand on the board to the map, which had been marked with a series of circles.
“Two locators and an ethereal topography rite,” Jeff nodded. “All point there. Plus, that’s the direction I sensed when I did the prescience chant.”
“Yeah, you’re getting good at that,” Willow said. Jeff beamed at her praise. “Well, then are we all ready?”
“Ready,” Rowena nodded, appearing at her side. Willow looked out across the area of field where the vans were parked, taking in Faith and Kennedy in their leather outfits, Mia and her team in their armor, their weapons – submachine guns, compact one-shot missile launchers, and Francesca’s usual assortment of heavy weapons – and the helicopter with the Council shield emblazoned on the side of it.
“This sure isn’t like high school any more,” she mused. “Okay, let’s go.”
Forest – Day
The team moved stealthily through the forest. Kennedy went first, scouting ahead, then Janet and Saida out to either side, followed by Francesca, between them and a few paces further back. Mia and Faith walked on either side of Willow, Rowena, Jeff and Brell, while the remaining two Black Ops slayers followed a short way behind.
“Anything?” Faith asked again, switching her radio earpiece to the helicopter’s frequency.
“Negative,” came the reply.
“They should be able to see something,” Willow said, frowning. “Unless the camp’s camouflaged. Maybe they built it all under the canopy, somewhere the trees are too thick to see through.”
“I should’ve gone up,” Jeff muttered. “I could’ve done a ritual from up there, something directional…”
“We need you down here to do the binding,” Willow pointed out. Jeff blinked, then nodded.
“Better on ground,” Brell said to Jeff. “Trust Brell on this.”
“Everyone, look sharp,” Faith said into her radio.
“What’s up?” Rowena asked.
“Don’t know,” Faith murmured, as the slayers scanned their surroundings. “I just feel –”
Before she could finish, a blur rose from the ground ahead and bowled over Saida, snarling and clawing at her. Janet rushed to help her, but more creatures were emerging all around them. They leapt up from shallow burrows, their skin changing color from the dusty brown that had blended in so well with the forest floor to a deep black.
“Ambush!” Faith called, snapping off a shot with her pistol crossbow and drawing a sword with her free hand. “Ken, circle around and back, they’re mainly east of us!”
“Point and rearguard, weapons free, quiet,” Mia said quickly. “No big guns, we don’t want to make any more noise than we have to!” There were a pair of muffled shots from behind them, while ahead Janet lifted the first attacker off Saida and threw it to one side, where Francesca killed it with a single, silenced shot from her P90.
Mia and Faith took aim, one with a submachine gun and the other with a repeater crossbow, at a group of the creatures sprinting towards them from one side. One by one, they fell as the slayers’ shots found their mark, but their charge remained unbroken, the survivors ignoring their fallen comrades. Then the leader of the pack, just a few yards from where Willow and Rowena were aiming their crossbows at it, jerked sideways and toppled over with a bolt in its head.
Mia then spotted Kennedy closing in on the beats from the side, felling another with her crossbow. “Nice work!” Mia called. The remaining creatures slowed, confused as to whether their enemy was in front or to their side, and the slayers made short work of them.
“Keep watch. Fran, check Saida,” Mia ordered through her radio, before turning to Willow and Faith. “No one sees any more of them,” she reported.
“I’m fine,” Saida said, getting to her feet. “It just winded me, no harm done.”
“Okay,” Faith nodded. “Ro? Wildlife run amok?”
“Demons,” Brell said.
“Agreed,” Rowena said, crouching over the corpse of the nearest creature. “Abyssal Stalkers, I’d say. Never seen one in person before.” She stood and returned to the group. “They’re not intelligent, except for instinctive pack-hunting behavior.”
“So they won’t have told anyone we’re here?” Willow asked as the group set off again. Kennedy sprinted ahead.
“Unless they’ve been altered somehow, and I don’t see any sign of it, so no. Probably the Presidium brought them just to scatter around, to deter visitors. They tend to remain in whatever area they’re put, unless they’re literally starving. I’d say they’ve been doing all right from the local wildlife, so this is probably where they were placed.”
“Meaning the Presidium is somewhere around here,” Willow concluded.
“Works for me,” Faith said. “Wherever they try to kill ya, keep going that way. Helo, you see anything? We just got jumped by some critters down here, I’m thinking we’re close.”
“Negative sighting,” the helicopter pilot replied in Faith’s headset. “I read your beacon, but no visual contact with hostiles. Unbroken forest as far as the eye can see.”
“No, we’re close,” Jeff insisted. “I’m sure, I recognize this bit of forest.”
“How’s that?” Mia asked.
“The spell I did, the prescience one,” he explained. “I got an image of this area. This is where we’re going to find it, so this must be where it is.”
“At least we know we’re gonna find it eventually,” Faith said with a shrug.
“Likely to,” Jeff corrected her. “It’s based on probable futures, not certainties. I’m getting better, though, I’m almost certain on this.”
“I feel something,” Willow interjected. “There’s…darn, it’s subtle…something in the air, from that way.” She pointed ahead.
“Hold position,” Mia ordered quietly.
“Ken, you see anything up there?” Faith asked, as the slayers came to a halt. “Ken? Mia, try her.”
“Ken?” Mia tried her radio.
“No visual,” Janet reported. “She was there one moment, then gone.”
“It’s here,” Willow said, walking a few paces forward. “Something…like a wall.”
“Looks like more forest to me,” Faith said, coming to her side. She gestured around with her arm. “Forest behind, forest to the side, forest – Hey!”
“Yikes!” Willow jumped back at the sight of Faith’s arm, missing from the elbow down. Faith jerked her arm back and found it intact. She cautiously extended it again and smiled as it slowly vanished.
“Now that’s a good piece of magic,” Willow said in a hushed voice. Faith waved her arm quickly back and forth, causing ripples to appear in the image of the forest in front of them.
“Hey guys,” Kennedy said, appearing out of nothingness just to the left of Faith. “Radio’s dead, and what’s so interesting about Faith waving her arm – Whoa!” She stared, wide-eyed, at Faith’s arm disappearing.
“A camouflage spell,” Willow explained.
“A massive one,” Jeff added. “No wonder they can’t see anything from above.”
“Did I walk through that thing?” Kennedy asked.
“Didn’t you notice?” Faith asked.
“No, I couldn’t tell. It looked like you guys were just standing there staring at nothing. This working now?” she said into her radio.
“Gotcha,” Mia replied. “Must be the spell, no signals in or out.”
“Three guesses why,” Kennedy said. “Come on, you guys have got to see this.”
Crater – Moments Later
The slayers, watchers, and Brell crept to the edge of a rough embankment in the forest and stared over it, out across an area completely clear of trees. A huge, shallow crater had been carved out of the forest, almost a mile wide, and within it were dozens of wooden structures, huts and workshops, their tops covered by skins stretched across them. Piles of charred wood and ash smoldered in fire pits, piles of raw meat lay stinking in the sun and here and there wells were bored into the ground, full of bubbling mud. Dozens of scaly, armored demons patrolled the huge pit, carrying maces and axes.
The scene was dominated, though, by a huge construction at the center of it all. Inside a wide, circular trench, filled with steadily burning oil, a colossal scaffold rose up five stories tall, above the distant treetops. Atop it, walking back and forth among dozens of circles formed from stone, wood and drying, rotting flesh, was a tall, thin creature, barely visible from the edge of the pit.
“Ohh-kaay,” Mia said. “How big is this weapon supposed to be, anyway?”
End of Act Two