Crater – Same Time
“Good God,” Mia swore, staring at the gigantic form towering above the encampment.
“Mia, what the hell do we do?” Janet asked through the radio.
“Uh,” Mia shook her head disbelievingly, “uh, status!”
“Demons are down, we’re in the clear,” Janet replied.
“Regroup, meet up! Fran, what the hell have you got over there?”
“It’s some kind of machine!” Francesca yelled into her radio across the crater, over the thudding of the construct’s footsteps. “The mage is in it!”
“This very bad,” Brell said.
“I can’t get him!” Jeff shouted. “No sense of him at all!”
“Willow, what do we do?” Kennedy asked, readying her crossbow.
“Is there any chance of binding him?” Rowena added.
Willow closed her eyes, with Rowena steadying her as they slowly scrambled back towards the edge of the forest. “Nothing,” Willow said. “He’s protected somehow. There’s no way we can bind him while he’s in that thing!”
“Then let’s get him out,” Faith said grimly. “Fran, hit the legs. Let’s see if we can bring that baby down!”
Francesca brought her mini-gun to bear on the titan’s legs and opened fire, blasting a hail of splinters from the massive trunks. For a moment, a cloud of dust, thrown out by the impact of the high-velocity shells, obscured all view. But then the construct strode on through the haze, undamaged.
“We got nothing!” Faith shouted into Mia’s radio. “What?…Okay, Mia, Red says hit it with everything!”
“That could kill the target,” Mia pointed out, while leading her and Janet’s combined teams forward, towards the back of the towering figure.
“Better him than us,” Faith replied.
“Okay, you heard her!” Mia called to her squad. “Weapons free!”
“Don’t wait too long. I think it’s mad at Fran,” Faith warned. As she said this, the construct leaned down and smashed a colossal fist of coiled tendrils through a building, tearing it to pieces.
“On our way!” Mia assured her. “Girls, let’s get its attention. Spread out, break out the launchers! Faith, get your team out of there. We’ll take him! Saida, gimme that.” She caught Saida’s rifle as the slayer tossed it to her. Holding one weapon in each hand, she dashed forward, her team fanning out.
“How’s this for a tap on the shoulder?” she muttered. She kneeled and fired both weapons up at the construct’s massive back, carving two trails of splintered bullet holes in its thick bark armor. The figure paused, then turned slowly around, facing its new attacker. From its chest, the Princeps stared furiously down at the tiny slayer beneath it.
“Time on target! Hit him now!” Mia yelled, turning and fleeing the enraged war machine.
The construct took a single crashing step towards her, then paused as missile trails bloomed from the four other slayers arrayed in front of it. It turned away, its bulk shielding the mage within it from the blast, as the four missiles smashed into the shoulder of the huge wooden figure. The impacts erupted into a colossal fireball, tossing broken chunks of wood everywhere.
Faith stared in awe at the blast, and the rising cloud of fire and smoke that, for the moment, obscured the titan, and even the sky. She inhaled sharply as the construct loomed out of the smoke, reeling back from the explosion. But then it righted itself, and her face fell in horror. Even as she watched, the broken beams and trunks of gnarled wood around its shoulder twisted and knitted back together with each other, and a new skin of rock-like bark formed over the quickly-healing wound.
“You gotta be kidding me!” she shouted in dismay. “What does it take to kill this thing?”
Watchers Council – Slayer Rec Room – Same Time
Xander tossed a series of darts at the wall. The first two landed nicely in the checkered section of the dartboard. The last nicked the board’s metal ring and spiraled to the floor. Then he approached the board and grabbed his darts for another round of throws.
Across the room, the door shot open and slammed against the wall. Vi strode in and kicked the door closed behind her. Her entire body was soaking wet, resulting in a trail of water on the floor behind her. On her heels, the dragon slunk into the room, looking somewhat dejected as water dripped from its scales.
Xander smiled. “Bucket of water this time?”
Vi grabbed the darts from his hand. “It was the sprinklers.” With an angry grunt, she hurled a dart at the wall, landing a bullseye. “The slayers staged a commando raid on the kitchen.” She launched the second dart. It hit just above the first, still inside the tiny red circle. “They got in, but someone,” she glared at the dragon, which had the decency to look sheepish, “managed to set a pile of dish towels on fire in the process.” The last dart left her hand and wedged in between the first two, knocking them onto the floor violently.
“Well if you look on the bright side, now you don’t have to take a shower.” Xander grinned tentatively. “You know, you could give Giles a call. I’m sure he’d be happy to shout at Andrew.”
“No,” Vi said flatly. “I’m in charge, and I’ll deal with it. Even if it costs me my sanity.” She gave a forlorn sigh. “If I ever get excited about being put in charge again, I want you to have my head examined.” She moved to the bar at one side of the room and plopped down forlornly on one of the stools.
Xander followed and circled around the bar, went to the fridge, and took out two bottles of root beer. He came back around and handed one to Vi. “I think I know how I can cheer you up a little bit.”
“How?” she asked, as she tried to twist the cap off her soda. Each time she applied force, her wet hand slipped off the cap.
“Well, I recently had an epiphany.” Xander saw her struggling with the cap and reached out a hand. “Here, my hands are dry. I’ll get it.” She passed him the bottle. He tried to twist the cap, but couldn’t get it to move. “Man, this thing’s really tight. Uh, where was I?”
“You had an epiphany.”
“Right, okay, so I had this epiphany,” he continued, while pulling harder on the cap, “and I decided that I –” The cap sprang free of the mouth of the bottle, and along with it came a flood of root beer. The beverage erupted from the bottle and covered Xander pants. Xander looked down and said, “Well…that was unexpected.”
Vi held back a fit of giggles. Xander put down the bottle and looked around the bar. “Any paper towels around here?”
“Ye…yeah,” Vi said, doing her best not to laugh at him. “I’ll go get you some.” She quickly crossed the room and passed through the door.
Just then, Andrew entered from the door on the opposite side of the room. “Xander, you didn’t by any chance borrow my Kill Bill Volume 2 DVD, because…” He trailed off when he saw Xander’s pants. “You know what? This is probably a bad time. I’ll come back later.”
He exited the room quickly. Xander looked down, and then at the direction Andrew had gone. “It’s not what you think! I spilled a bottle of root beer!”
Xander sighed in defeat as silence answered him, then looked down at his feet, where the dragon was methodically wiping its wings dry on his trousers.
“Next time, I’m going on the mission,” he vowed. “It’s probably safer to be in the great outdoors than trapped in here.”
Crater – Same Time
“Fall back!” Mia yelled, sending the Black Ops team scattering among the remains of the Presidium encampment as the colossus thundered towards them. She spotted Faith leading Willow and the others around the edge of the crater and sprinted towards them.
“We’ve got six missiles left!” she called. “Give me good news, please!”
“The structure can’t be destroyed,” Willow said quickly. “The mage is channeling all his power into it. It’ll be able to repair itself like that again and again.”
“What about the mage himself?” Mia asked. “Can we shoot him out of it?”
“I don’t know,” Willow admitted. “He may have some way of defending himself. I just don’t know.”
“Girls,” Mia said into her mic, “who’s got a clear shot at the guy in the driver’s seat?”
“I’m on it,” Janet replied over the radio.
“I’ll run decoy,” Saida’s voice came shortly after.
“Fran, covering fire,” Mia ordered.
They watched Janet pick her moment, then sprint out of cover a hundred yards away, circling towards the construct. Francesca opened fire again, blasting a trail of damage across its shoulder, but it seemed fixated on the slayers in front of it and didn’t even acknowledge the new attack. It caught sight of Saida out in the open and steadied itself. Then it rammed its arm down into the ground, punching through the surface with the mass of wooden coils that formed its fist.
“Watch out!” Faith yelled, as the ground cracked and shook around the construct’s arm.
A row of eruptions began, one after another, stretching out ahead of the wooden titan. Earth and stone were tossed ten, twenty yards into the air. Saida took one look behind herself and dodged sideways, barely clearing the path of the eruptions as they raced towards her.
“Janet, careful!” Mia warned, as Janet sprinted towards the massive figure.
The titan tore its fist out of the earth, roots and tendrils retracting, leaving a gaping hole in the ground behind it, then aimed a swipe at the tiny slayer nearing it, its huge limb moving with incredible speed. Janet threw herself forward as the enormous trunk swung over her, rolled to her knees, and, in one motion, raised and extended the one-shot launcher she carried.
“Say cheese,” she sneered as she fired.
The missile roared up, directly towards the demon entombed within the chest of the huge magical machine. At the last instant, however, a tangle of gnarled roots erupted from the wooden skin on either side of the demon and closed over it, absorbing the missile’s impact and blast.
“This very very bad!” Brell said, as the construct lunged forward, its chest opening again to reveal the unharmed mage within.
“Janet, look out!” Mia yelled.
The young slayer was staring up in shock at the towering figure and reacted too slowly when it swung at her again. The impact of its arm lifted her off the ground and sent her flying through the air to crash down amid the wreckage of a building, where she tumbled and rolled to a halt.
“Janet!” Mia screamed, racing towards where she had fallen.
Faith sprinted after Mia, with Francesca following her. “Med-evac, med-evac!” she yelled into her radio. “Slayer down!”
“Negative visual on your location,” the helicopter pilot replied over the radio. “I repeat, negative visual, the camouflage spell is still active.”
“Jeff, with me,” Willow ordered quickly. “Ro, Brell, check the intact buildings, destroy anything that looks magical! Ken, go with them.” Kennedy stared after Mia for a second, then sprinted over to join Rowena and Brell. Willow caught Rowena’s hand for a second, stared into her eyes, then dashed off after Faith and Mia, with Jeff on her heels.
Mia was kneeling by Janet’s broken body, trying desperately to revive her. Janet’s eyes stared sightlessly, blood trickled from her mouth, nose and ears, and her limbs were twisted at unnatural angles.
“Janet,” Mia pleaded, “Janet wake up, come on…”
She looked up hopelessly as Faith slid to a halt beside her, crouching down, followed by Willow and Jeff. Francesca stood nearby, keeping her mini-gun trained on the huge construct striding towards the other Black Ops slayers.
“She’ll be okay, right?” Mia asked. “Slayer healing? Right?”
“Mia…” Faith said sadly, her fingers on Janet’s pulse point.
Mia turned to Willow. “You can save her though, right?” she pleaded, as Willow pressed her palms to Janet’s forehead and chest.
“Mia…I’m sorry,” Willow said after a pause.
“No, you can save her! You saved that Rayne guy,” Mia insisted. “Willow…Jeff, you can –”
“There’s too much damage,” Willow said, almost pleading with Mia herself. “There’s no way to heal her, it’s just too much.”
“Mia?” Saida’s voice came through the radio. “We’re getting pushed back, what’s going on down there?”
“Mia, they need you,” Faith insisted.
“Help me!” Mia pleaded.
“Saida, fall back into the forest,” Faith ordered. “Spread out, don’t give it a target.”
“We’ve found something,” Rowena’s voice came through the radio.
Council Helicopter Above Forest – Same Time
Swooping in low, the helicopter pilot stared in shock as a mile-wide section of forest rippled and disappeared, revealing the crater and the battle taking place in it.
“Hell’s bells,” the pilot whispered. He shook his head, recovering from the shock. “I have visual, coming in to land.”
“Negative,” Faith’s voice replied over the radio. “Stay clear, that thing’s hostile!”
“Roger that. What’s the status of the slayer down?”
There was a pause before Faith replied. “No chance, she’s gone. Fly high, wait for orders.”
Crater Edge – Same Time
“Come on!” Saida yelled to the remaining Black Ops slayers, firing bursts from her rifle to cover their retreat up the crater’s side and into the forest. She stared in confusion as the construct paused, then slowly turned and headed back across the crater, away from them.
“Mia, Faith?” she called. “Is it heading for you?”
“Negative,” Faith replied from inside the crater, “it’s not us.” She watched as the titan strode across her field of vision, through the remains of its scaffold in the center of the crater, and off towards its other edge.
“The portal!” Willow realized. “It’s heading directly towards the portal!”
“Good riddance,” Saida commented over the radio.
“No, bad,” Willow said, as Rowena, Brell and Kennedy joined them, all sparing sad looks for the fallen slayer among them.
“It’s heading home,” Rowena guessed.
“It’s working here, on Earth,” Willow explained. “The Princeps got the magic right, so now he’s trying to take it back to the Presidium so they can copy it and make all of those things they have work here too!”
“We’re going after it,” Saida radioed quickly. She broke cover and sprinted with her teammates down to the crater floor, following the trail of flattened buildings and huge footprints in the ground that the construct left in its wake.
“Can it get through the trees?” Rowena wondered.
There was a terrific crash as the huge figure strode up out of the crater, reached the edge of the forest, and barged its way through, smashing trees out of the way left and right.
“That’d be a yes,” Faith said grimly. She picked up Janet’s fallen rifle. “Mia, come on babe, come on! The job’s not done yet!”
“I’m…I’m coming,” Mia replied, staggering to her feet.
Forest – Same Time
Saida and the other Black Ops slayers reached the beginning of the path the titan had torn through the forest and checked their weapons.
“What’s the plan, guys?” she asked into her radio.
Crater – Same Time
Faith, Mia, Willow, Jeff, Rowena, Brell and Francesca were running as fast as they could towards the crater’s edge, and the construct, which was now towering from the waist up out of the forest beyond.
“We’ve got no weapons that can damage it,” Mia said. “Magic?”
“The Princeps is too strong while it’s in there,” Willow replied. “Those spells I did earlier were just fireworks to distract it. I can’t do any real damage to something like that.”
“We can relay a call through the helicopter,” Rowena suggested. “There’ll be hell to pay in administration later, but we can probably get the Air Force to send some jets to bomb the thing.”
“They wouldn’t make it in time,” Willow pointed out. “Look how fast it’s going. It’ll be through the portal before anyone can get here.”
“I’ve got an idea,” Faith said quickly. “Saida, slow it down! Hit it with whatever you’ve got, just distract it so that we can catch up! Helo, bring her down, middle of the crater. Guys, keep that thing busy,” she added to Kennedy and Francesca, tossing Janet’s rifle and ammunition pack to Kennedy.
“What are you going to do?” Kennedy shouted after her, as she ran back into the crater.
“Just keep its eyes off the sky!” she shouted over her shoulder.
Forest – Same Time
“Spread and attack,” Saida ordered, sprinting behind the construct. She paused for a second, braced her rifle against her hip, and fired a grenade, which burst against the titan’s back with an impressive fireball.
“That got your attention, didn’t it?” she grinned, as the towering figure turned towards her. She ran back as its fist thundered into the earth, then dodged as another line of eruptions spread from the impact, blasting boulders and trees about like toys. She sprawled as the ground burst beneath her feet, but she was saved when the construct tore its arm out of the ground and turned, facing the other Black Ops team members, who were blasting it with gunfire and their remaining missiles.
Kennedy, Mia and those following them appeared on the edge of the clearing the construct had made as it turned, and Kennedy immediately raised her rifle and fired a grenade. The explosion blasted a chunk out of the colossus’s knee, but the damaged trunk quickly healed itself.
“Come on,” Willow said, grabbing Jeff’s arm. “I’m good for a few more fireworks, what about you?”
“You bet!” he agreed.
“Stay back!” Willow warned Rowena and Brell, as she and Jeff circled around away from them.
The construct took a swipe at Saida, missing her but connecting solidly with a massive tree, which was torn out of the ground and hurled end over end. Willow and Jeff threw themselves down as it passed over their heads, and Willow stared back in horror as it fell towards Rowena. Kennedy grabbed her and shoved her out of the way, nearly being hit herself as she dove for safety.
“Thanks,” Rowena coughed. She struggled to her feet and stared after the tree, which crashed into the forest behind them, mowing down several others until it came to a halt.
“Uh, slayer reflex,” Kennedy replied with a shrug.
Willow sighed and then asked, “You two all right?”
Kennedy gave her a thumbs-up sign.
Crater – Same Time
Faith glanced over her shoulder back at the battle taking place in the forest, the colossal figure towering over the trees, twisting and turning amid a hail of bullets, explosions and pyrotechnic magic. Then she turned and sprinted towards the helicopter, which was just touching down. She quickly scrambled into the back and pulled on a headset.
“Take us up!” she ordered.
The pilot nodded and lifted the vehicle off the ground again, rising up above the ruins of the Presidium encampment. Faith took a deep breath, clutching a single grenade from Janet’s rifle in her hand.
Forest – Same Time
Jeff tossed Willow a small gourd from his backpack, which she closed both hands over and then threw. It flew up, as if weightless, straight at the construct’s chest, and at a whispered incantation from Jeff, it burst into a sheet of flame. For a moment, the titan was ablaze across its front, but then the fire faltered and died out.
“Uh, try holy water!” Willow shouted in desperation. She waved her hand and sent a stream of flickering firefly-lights up towards the Princeps, which ignored them. The construct took an earth-shaking step towards her, but at the same time, Mia and Saida opened fire from behind it. It paused, turned, and slammed an arm into the ground, causing a blast of earth behind them.
“Oh boy,” Willow said, wide-eyed, as she heard the helicopter’s engine nearing, “I think I know what she’s got in mind.”
Mia pushed Saida clear of the eruptions of earth, then half-leapt half-fell out of the way as one exploded almost beneath her.
“Aim for the legs,” Faith’s voice emerged from the radio. “Nothing up high for a minute, okay?”
“Why? What are you –?” Mia exclaimed, seeing the helicopter swoop into view, with Faith leaning out of the open side door. “Are you crazy?!” She stared wildly around. “Aim low, aim low!”
Council Helicopter Above Forest – Same Time
“Closer!” Faith yelled above the noise of the rotors. “Right above it!” The helicopter swerved, narrowly missing a fountain of earth, as the titan sent another stretch of ground erupting in an effort to kill the slayers scuttling about its feet. The vehicle leveled out, still a good twenty yards above the construct.
“Put ‘kick ass’ on my tombstone, okay?” Faith shouted. Then she leapt out of the helicopter.
Forest – Same Time
“Oh Goddess,” Willow breathed, watching Faith fall. She gasped in shock as the giant figure turned beneath her, moving away from her.
Above Forest – Same Time
Faith reached out desperately as she fell past the titan’s back, and managed to grasp a protruding coil of wood. She slipped almost immediately, but the second’s grasp was enough for her to swing her other arm in and jam it into the mass of twisted branches and gnarled tendrils that made up the magical construct’s body. She screamed in pain as her arm took her weight and a bone snapped, but she managed to cling to the construct’s back and pull her broken arm free of it.
Ignoring the blasts of gunfire and thundering of erupting earth from beneath her, Faith began to climb, slowly pulling herself up the figure’s back and onto the top of its torso. She grimaced in pain, then gave a gleeful grin as she scrambled forward.
“Man, there’s a bitchin’ view up here,” she said, moving towards the top of the construct’s chest.
Forest – Same Time
“What in God’s name is she doing?” Kennedy shouted, looking down just long enough to fire a grenade into the titan’s leg, before staring again at Faith. She reached for another grenade from the bandolier strapped around her waist, then glanced down when she found the last pocket empty.
“Oh, you’re kidding,” she muttered.
Construct – Same Time
Faith clambered down the front of the figure as best she could, using her broken arm to brace herself when moved and nearly threw her off, gritting her teeth at the pain throughout. Finally, she reached the hollow housing the Princeps demon. With her free hand, she pulled open the neck of her leather top and pulled the tiny grenade from inside.
“Killer cleavage,” she grinned, priming the grenade’s timer. She swung herself down, startling the Princeps when she suddenly appeared in front of it and jammed the grenade as hard as she could into its mouth. Then she hurled herself back, falling free into the treetops below.
The Princeps exploded. Shredded flesh and bone erupted from the front of the war machine, which staggered back. Then it began to topple slowly forwards, disintegrating as it went. The masses of living wood within it twisted apart, snapping and splintering against themselves. With a titanic crash, the construct fell and smashed against the trees in front of it, crushing them into the ground.
The impact threw everyone nearby off their feet, and it took a moment for them to recover and stand. The watchers and slayers exchanged glances – relief, apprehension, weariness.
“Faith?” Mia said into her radio. “Faith?” She shook her head.
Forest – Moments Later
Willow, Rowena, Jeff and Brell watched as the slayers clambered over the field of debris, heaving huge chunks of wood up and tossing them aside.
“Not her too,” Willow whispered. Rowena hugged her, remaining silent as they watched the slayers search through tearful eyes.
“Here!” Francesca called out.
Everyone rushed to where she was standing, almost waist-deep amid the debris, hauling on a huge half-buried trunk. With the help of the other slayers they lifted it clear, revealing Faith beneath it, face down. Willow scrambled down, checking her pulse and placing a hand against her head at the same time.
“She’s alive,” she gasped.
Watchers Council – Slayer Rec Room – Hours Later
Vi watched as Xander circled the pool table in deep concentration. Both were wearing new clothing, and Vi had done her best to remove the oatmeal from her hair.
Vi lined up her shot and pushed the pool stick forward. It sent the cue ball into a cluster of balls near the bottom left corner pocket. The balls knocked around until the eight ball emerged and rolled slowly into the pocket. “Well, that sucks.”
“You’re in good company.” Xander said, taking the eight ball out of the pocket. “I did it myself not long ago. So that’s two all. Next game wins.”
Vi took the triangle and placed it on the table. “I don’t think you ever got the chance to tell me about your epiphany.”
Xander dropped the eight ball in the triangle and looked at Vi. “You’re right. Every time I try, we keep getting interrupted.”
Vi laughed. “Well, you know what they say. Third time’s the charm. Which I guess in your case doesn’t apply.”
“I don’t think the fourth time’s going to be the charm either,” Xander corrected.
“So…you’re not going to tell me.”
Xander shook his head. “I think I have a better idea.” He leaned in, but broke off when he spotted Mia standing in the doorway. Her face was solemn.
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Hours Later
Willow entered the coven room to find Jeff sitting against the wall, reading a large volume she didn’t recognize. “What are you doing?”
Jeff looked up. When he saw who it was, he looked back at his book. “I’m just looking over some stuff on binding spells.”
Willow walked over and sat down next to him. “It’s not your fault that the binding spell didn’t work, Jeff.”
Jeff sighed and turned the page of his book. “I should have been able to control him.”
“And you did. For a while. We didn’t plan on that…giant wooden monster blocking our spell.”
“Well, I should have been able to break through it.”
“Jeff, listen to me. That spell was created for a spell caster more powerful than you, or even me at the peak of my power.” She leaned back and sighed. “No one is to blame for what happened. Only the Presidium.”
Jeff looked thoughtfully at her and then back down at his book. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d still like to continue. If there’s nothing I could have done this time…maybe next time there will be. I don’t want to be in that situation again and think, well, maybe if I’d studied harder, worked harder, I could have done something.”
Willow nodded and sighed. “All right…let’s see what you’ve got.” Jeff nodded and turned a few pages back, but then both of them looked up as the floating slab of deep blue stone, now in a corner of the room, began humming.
Watchers Council – Slayer Training Room Office – Same Time
Kennedy sat at Faith’s desk in the office attached to the Slayer Training Room, looking through a manila folder. Rowena walked into the doorway and knocked a few times. Kennedy looked up and waved her in.
“What are you looking at?” Rowena asked, as she took a seat in the chair opposite the desk.
“I was just going through Janet’s personnel folder,” Kennedy said.
“I thought she joined up with Mia.”
“She did.” Kennedy closed the folder and put it back on the desk. “But we still kept some records on them. A few of the girls gave addresses or phone numbers for out-of-state relatives. I thought I would check and see if Janet was one of them.”
“How is Mia?”
Kennedy frowned. “It’s hitting her pretty hard.” They were silent for a moment.
“Kennedy, about earlier. I’m sorry I called you pigheaded.” Rowena did her best to avoid eye contact.
Kennedy grinned. “Really?”
Rowena looked up. “I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t believe it was deserved.”
Kennedy took a moment to consider Rowena’s words. After several seconds she said, “I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t have called you a snooty girlfriend stealer.”
Rowena nodded. “Apology accepted. Oh, and the thing I told you about the Academy…please don’t say anything. I trust that you’ll keep it to yourself.”
“So you trust me now?” Kennedy said with a slight grin.
Rowena smiled. “I always have to be honest, but even more since you saved my life today…so I wanted to apologize.”
“Wait, you’re saying that if I hadn’t’ve saved you from that Princess demon, you wouldn’t have apologized?”
“Absolutely. I would have, just not as soon as now.” Rowena teased. “Oh, also, it was a Princeps demon, not a Princess demon.” Kennedy stared at her with wide eyes. Rowena blushed and added, “Uh…watcher reflex?”
Rowena winked at Kennedy, and the slayer gave a small smile before the watcher left the room.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Same Time
Faith lay in a hospital bed with a cast over her right arm. Robin sat in a chair adjacent to her and was at her side the instant she began to stir.
“Oh man,” she whispered hoarsely. “What hit me this time?”
“From what I hear, you hit it,” Robin said.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in DC?” Faith asked with a grin.
“It’ll wait,” he replied. “I got the first plane back.”
“It’s nice to be in demand,” Faith said wryly. “What’s the damage, Ace?”
“Your arm, cracked shoulder, some ribs…Doc says the arm is bad, but it’ll heal in time, and all in all it’s a decent-sized miracle you’re in one piece. Faith…Willow and Ro went over what happened. Was that really the only way?”
“We had to take it down,” she replied. “So I took it down. That’s what I do.”
“You could have gotten yourself killed,” Robin pointed out.
“I could get myself killed every time I go on patrol,” Faith countered. “I’m a slayer. You know the deal. Risk is part of the life.”
“I’m just worried,” Robin explained. “You’re not over what happened to you in Vor. You’re having nightmares. You’re edgy…”
“So, what?” Faith asked heatedly. “You think I’m trying to buy it as a way out? I’m not suicidal!”
“I know,” Robin assured her quickly. “I know, babe…but, like you said, risk is part of the life. I’m just worried that right now, maybe part of you thinks the risks aren’t that great, compared to what you had to deal with in Vor.”
“Is that really what you think?” Faith frowned.
“Am I really that wrong?” Robin asked. Faith looked him squarely in the eye, but didn’t answer immediately.
“I did what I had to do,” Faith finally said.
“All right. You got the job done, yes. But is there more to the story here?”
“Such as?” Faith asked, a hard edge in her voice.
“That you took a big chance just to prove to yourself that you’re back home. I know pain can sometimes be a nice reminder that you’re alive, but it’s also a good way to get yourself killed, if it goes wrong.”
Faith didn’t answer. The silence stretched on, until it was broken by Robin’s phone ringing. Robin sighed and answered with a short, “Yes…One second.”
“Council meeting,” he said, putting his hand over the phone. “You want a wheelchair?” he asked.
Faith shook her head. “Just give me a shoulder to lean on.”
“You got it,” Robin replied, putting an arm carefully around her.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Moments Later
“You’ve spoken to Creed?” Giles asked Willow, as Faith and Robin, Rowena, Brell, Xander, Mia, Kennedy, Vi, Heli and Andrew took their seats. The Council coat of arms overlooking the table was covered in a black cloth.
“I spoke to Reteesk,” Willow said. “Creed’s still not talking to any of us. Apparently…the news is bad.”
“Very bad,” Brell clarified.
“What we saw was a Furian Dreadnought,” Willow went on. “The Presidium conquered the Fury hell dimension years ago, and since then they’ve been using the dreadnoughts they captured, and building new ones, for their own armies. Up until today, a large force of them were involved in a war they’re waging over a hell dimension called Gehenna.”
“Until today?” Robin asked.
“Creed’s people say there are five Presidium armies in Gehenna conquering it, each with their own contingent of dreadnoughts, plus all kinds of other weapons and magic. A few hours ago, all the dreadnoughts were removed from battle. The Presidium mages opened up portals, and every last one of them vanished from Gehenna. Creed believes they were returned to the Presidium’s strongholds in other dimensions. He put two and two together and contacted us.” She looked around the table glumly. “Reteesk said that the only reason the Presidium would do that would be to modify the dreadnoughts for use here.”
“But we trashed their prototype!” Faith protested. “They can’t do it…can they?”
“Creed and his mages think they are,” Willow said. “They must have already had enough information, or the Princeps got a message through the portal telepathically or something. However they did it, it’s done.”
“How soon?” Giles asked grimly.
“Reteesk says they’ve conquered three hell dimensions very close to Earth recently,” Willow replied. “I compared dates, and it fits. Something about the way they conquer is causing the earthquakes we’ve been having. That’s why they’ve been so strong – the Presidium is getting closer. Gehenna is the last one, and it’s crumbling.”
“How many of these dreadnoughts do they have?” Kennedy asked.
Willow looked tired, then squared her shoulders. “In Gehenna, they had around eight hundred,” she replied. “No one knows how many they might have held in reserve. Reteesk said they normally accompany ground troops, with other mages, other war machines…”
“We went through all that, just to take out one of them on its own,” Mia sighed.
“What are our options?” Giles asked, after a silence went around the table.
“We take it to ’em,” Faith spoke up. “Forget waiting around here for them to send more monsters like that one to walk all over us. We go where they are, fight them on their ground, on our terms.”
“You’re kidding,” Rowena protested.
“You mean…go to hell?” Xander asked.
“They’re coming, one way or another,” Faith said, leaning awkwardly forward. “I’d rather go down in a battle in hell than in a massacre on Earth.” She fixed Giles with a stare. “If we wait, they’re gonna give us a fight we can’t win. We’ve gotta make one we can win.”
All eyes turned to Giles, who sat staring at Faith, thoughtful.
“Giles?” Willow asked quietly.
“We need to start making some calls,” he said.
End of Wicker Man
Season Two Finale Teaser Video
Next on Watchers…
In the first part of the Watchers Season Two finale, the Council calls in every favor it has at its disposal to execute a desperate plan… to save the world, the Council will have to invade hell itself.
Click here to read “Ragnarok Part 1” now!