Watchers Council – Lobby – Moments Later
The majority of the Council leaders had moved inside the lobby after receiving the envelope from the Beluferae. Xander and Vi had remained outside to continue with the preparations.
With Rowena looking over her shoulder, Willow was quickly reading the folded piece of paper that had accompanied the Polaroid of Tracey.
“It says to meet them in an hour in the basement of the public parking garage at the corner of Third and Main,” Willow explained. “If we turn over Reteesk to them, we’ll get Tracey back unharmed. If we don’t…”
Andrew looked pained at what Willow had left unsaid. Then he suddenly took on a determined expression. “Well…turn him over then!”
Dawn gave Andrew a disgusted look. “What happened to your ‘needs of the many’ speech?”
“Screw the needs of the many!” he shot back. “This is Tracey!”
“We can’t give them Reteesk,” Rowena said. “He is somehow connected to their plan to bring Fenris back, and we can’t let that happen.”
Everyone, including Rowena, looked instinctively over to Giles.
In a reluctant gesture, he rolled his shoulders before he spoke. “I agree,” Giles finally added. “We have to prevent Fenris’s emergence at any cost.”
“At any cost?” Andrew said. “What if it were Becca they had? Or Elizabeth? Would you be so gung-ho about risking their lives?”
“Look, we can find her, right?” Faith interjected before Giles could respond. “We find Tracey, and we snatch her before the exchange can take place. That’s what Black Ops trains for.”
“And you might get her killed in the process,” Jeff commented.
“Hey, they got Rowena away from Volano, didn’t they?” Kennedy said.
“And got her shot,” Willow countered.
Kennedy face showed shock and then anger. She crossed her arms tightly and didn’t say another word.
“Yeah, well, shot’s better than dead,” Faith replied. “Wouldn’t you agree?” Faith asked Rowena.
At that, the group instantly erupted into simultaneous arguments, until Gregor pulled Kennedy aside and spoke into her ear. After listening, she put her thumb and index finger in her mouth and gave a very loud whistle, silencing the crowd.
“Hey, listen up!” Kennedy said. “Gregor’s got something to say.”
“Thank you,” he said to Kennedy before addressing the group. “I believe that I may have a solution. I…”
Gregor trailed off when he noticed two figures enter the front door of the Council. Everyone saw Gregor’s distraction and turned to see what the man was looking at.
At the front door, a man and a woman in dark suits, guns at their sides, hovered near the door, looking around for whoever was in charge. Rowena hurried over while the rest of the group watched nervously.
They watched as the two figures pulled out badges and made several statements to Rowena, who nodded a couple of times. Both Willow and Giles moved closer to Dawn. Within moments, Rowena returned and walked directly to Dawn.
“Dawn,” Rowena said gently.
Dawn’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh God,” she said, trying not to cry.
“These police officers need to talk to you,” Rowena continued.
“Come on, Dawnie,” Willow coaxed. “We’ll go with you.”
Slowly, Giles and Willow led the terrified Dawn toward the front door. Rowena gave a “wait” signal to the group and then followed.
Watchers Council – Lobby – Seconds Later
As soon as Dawn came forward, the female detective gave Dawn a polite nod.
“Ms. Summers,” the detective said, “I’m Detective Rhines, and this is Detective Stenner. We understand that a missing persons report was filed on Ms. Skye Talisker. Is that correct?”
Dawn simply nodded wordlessly.
“Maybe you should sit down,” the detective said, gesturing at a nearby chair.
“No. Just tell me…what happened,” Dawn said, shaking her head.
Detective Rhines cleared her throat. “Well, we found a body fitting Ms. Talisker’s description. There was no I.D. on the body, but nearby we found this.”
She turned to her partner, who picked up a brown paper sack, opened it, and then held up a small blue backpack with his gloved hand. As soon as the detective showed it to her, Dawn gasped in alarm. Across the front was a name written in large black magic marker: “Skye.”
“Do you recognize this?” the detective asked.
“Yes,” Dawn barely managed to say. “It’s Skye’s.”
“I know this isn’t easy, but we’re going to need you to come down to the morgue to identify the body,” Detective Rhines said, as gently as she could.
Dawn didn’t answer. She seemed frozen, staring at the floor. Rhines looked uneasily at her partner and then at Dawn, as if expecting Dawn to accompany them right then. Willow noticed and intervened.
“How ’bout if we meet you there in the next hour?” Willow offered.
“Do you know where the –?” the detective started to ask.
“Yes, we do,” Giles answered. “Thank you.”
Stenner and Rhines gave a nod of approval and left the lobby, taking the backpack with them. Giles put his arm around Dawn’s shoulders, and Willow turned to face Rowena.
“You two go,” Rowena said. “Take Dawn. We’ll handle this.”
“Thank you,” Willow said gratefully. Then she gave Rowena a quick kiss before she and Giles escorted Dawn outside to one of the waiting vans.
Watchers Council – Lobby – Seconds Later
Rowena approached the anxious group.
“The police may have found Skye,” Rowena announced. “Her body, that is.”
After a few gasps and downcast glances, and a long moment of silence, Rowena looked up and put on her boss face.
“Kennedy and Jeff, go help Xander and Vi get the teams on their way,” Rowena commanded, “but hold your own team and Faith’s team back. Make sure there’s a Black Ops leader on both teams. Clear?”
Kennedy and Jeff gave nods of acknowledgement and hurried outside. Rowena turned to the remaining three.
“Faith, Andrew and Gregor, you’re with me,” she said. “We’re gonna go talk to Reteesk.”
“And my suggestion?” Gregor prompted.
“Oh…right,” Rowena said as she led the group out of the lobby. “Let’s hear it.”
“Actually, it’s quite simple…” he replied.
Downtown Parking Garage – An Hour Later
Rowena, Andrew, Faith and Kennedy escorted Reteesk out of the Council van. They walked slowly to the lighted area and waited.
Within seconds, the demon leader, L’min, emerged from the shadows. Behind him were three of his comrades, who were carefully guarding Tracey. The young woman seemed frightened, but otherwise unharmed.
“Tracey!” Andrew called out.
“Andrew!” Tracey called back.
“Silence! ” L’min barked at Tracey, raising his arm as if he intended to strike her.
Andrew growled and took a step forward. He lifted his hand, already beginning an incantation.
Rowena put her hand on Andrew’s arm. “Stand down, Andrew,” she said. When he didn’t immediately respond, she repeated herself more firmly. “Stand down.”
Andrew turned angry eyes in Rowena’s direction, but when she stared him down, he dropped his gaze and complied. Then Rowena turned to the Beluferae.
“We’ve brought Reteesk,” she announced. “We’re prepared to make the trade.”
“Send over the Monarch,” L’min said.
Rowena turned to Reteesk and nodded. The robed Vl’hurg moved slowly across the concrete floor of the garage. As soon as he was close enough, two of the yellow-skinned demons rushed forward and grabbed him.
“Let Tracey go!” Rowena commanded.
L’min sent the two demons holding Reteesk away, then turned to the one holding Tracey. At L’min’s nod, the demon shoved Tracey forward, sending her tumbling to the pavement. Then the two demons slipped away to join the others. Faith and Kennedy ran after them. The squeal of tires on pavement could be heard on the street outside the garage.
Andrew raced forward to Tracey’s side and helped her up. He pulled her into his arms and hugged her tightly. She gratefully returned the hug and tried unsuccessfully to stop the hiccuppy sob that escaped her lips.
“Thank God you’re all right,” Andrew said in a choked voice, tears rolling down his cheeks.
Suddenly, Andrew pulled away and looked at Tracey in alarm.
“You are all right, right?” he asked. “They didn’t hurt you?”
Tracey smiled and said, “I’m okay…now.”
As Andrew pulled Tracey into his arms again, Faith and Kennedy returned from where the demons had gone, apparently having lost them on the street. They walked over to Rowena, who was fishing a black handheld device from her jacket pocket.
“Is it working?” Kennedy asked.
The device gave a high-pitched whine as it powered up. Then it began to bleep quietly at regular intervals. Rowena grinned.
“Yep,” the blonde watcher said. “Let’s go.”
Cleveland City Morgue – Same Time
The Council van pulled up into the parking lot of the city morgue. After the headlights turned off, Willow, Dawn and Giles got out. With Willow and Giles on each side of her, Dawn began walking toward the entrance.
About halfway there, she abruptly stopped. “I can’t,” she whispered. Willow took Dawn’s hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. “I can’t do this,” Dawn said. “It was bad enough when Mom died…”
“I know how difficult this is,” Giles told her, “but you can do this. You’re stronger than you know.”
“And we’re right here with you,” Willow added.
Dawn finally nodded and took a deep breath. “Okay.”
Regency Hotel – The Penthouse – Moments Later
Held firmly between two of the Beluferae, Reteesk was ushered into Vladimir Vital’yevich’s penthouse. When the robed demon tried to resist, L’min picked up a taser from the table and stuck it against his body. Reteesk jerked and fell to his knees. With their victim properly subdued, the demons dragged the Vl’hurg down the hall and into their master’s bedroom. They set Reteesk before the wheelchair-bound man, then kneeled before him themselves.
“My lord,” L’min said, “we have brought the Monarch.”
Vladimir Vital’yevich made a gesture at his attendant, who promptly wheeled him forward. The sickly man’s face was lit up with glee.
“At last,” he cried, “at last!” He turned to his doctor, who stood nearby. “Prepare him! Prepare him!”
The doctor nodded in acknowledgement, then turned to the attendant and nodded at him in turn. The attendant went to retrieve a rolling tray full of medical instruments. The doctor walked over to his patient.
“Once the cranial fluid is removed,” the doctor explained, “it will need to be ingested immediately. If it’s exposed to air for more than a minute or so, it will begin to break down; it will lose its efficacy and become useless to you. And given your condition, you’ll need to consume all of it. Do you understand?”
“Of course I understand, you imbecile!” Vital’yevich barked. “Just get it!”
The doctor forced a smile and walked over to the rolling tray that the attendant had parked in front of the stunned Reteesk. The doctor removed a cordless drill, checked the long narrow bit, and gave the trigger a test pull, revving it several times.
“Lord Vital’yevich,” L’min interrupted, getting to his feet. “We have fulfilled our mission. Give us the idol.”
Vladimir turned to L’min. “No!” he shrieked petulantly. “Not yet. Not until I have taken the serum.” Then he smirked and pulled a small wooden idol from under the blanket on his lap. “Only then will you get your reward.”
L’min roared and rushed the sick man, only to find himself repelled by a silvery magical barrier that burned him when he touched it. Vladimir gave a pleased chuckle as L’min cursed and moved away. Then a commotion near the doctor drew the old man’s attention.
When Vladimir looked over, he saw Reteesk shoving aside both of his demon guards. When the robed demon had successfully freed himself, he drew himself up into a proud stance and then…changed.
As the others watched in shock, Reteesk magically morphed into Gregor Kalderash.
Gregor’s eyes burned with hatred, and his mouth twisted into a feral grin as he saw the Beluferae recover from their shock and prepare to attack.
“Nooooooo!!! ” screamed Vital’yevich.
Cleveland City Morgue – Same Time
After slowly making their way to the proper area inside the morgue, Willow, Dawn and Giles found Detectives Rhines and Stenner waiting for them. They exchanged brief greetings, then Rhines gestured at the double doors behind her.
“Are you ready?” she asked Dawn.
“No,” Dawn said. “But let’s do this.”
At that, Rhines and Stenner led the group through the double doors to the large room where the body was laid out. The walls were lined with the burnished steel doors of the refrigerated drawers where bodies were stored. In the center of the room, a lone gurney held a sheet-covered body. An attendant stood watch beside it.
When the group reached the gurney, the detectives positioned themselves on the far side with the attendant. Dawn, Willow and Giles stood on the near side. The attendant leaned over and took hold of the edge of the sheet. Then he looked at Dawn. When Dawn nodded, he pulled back the sheet.
Dawn gasped and then fell, sobbing, into Willow’s arms. Eventually, Dawn’s legs gave out, and the two witches slipped to the floor.
Detective Stenner gestured for the attendant to re-cover the body. Rhines came around the gurney and called out to Dawn. “Ms. Summers? Ms. Summers?”
Giles touched the detective’s arms and pulled her away. “It’s not Skye,” he told her. The detective turned back to watch Dawn and Willow.
Dawn got her crying under control and pulled away. “It’s not her,” she said in a choked voice. “It’s not her. That means there’s still a chance she’s okay.”
Willow confirmed this with a simple nod, then pulled Dawn closer and looked up at Giles in relief.
Regency Hotel – The Penthouse – Moments Later
Gregor had finished off the two Beluferae who had held him and was now hard pressed by a gang of others who had burst through the front door. The doctor and attendant cowered in the corner of the penthouse.
Nearby, Vladimir sat shaking his head in desperate denial, pushing involuntarily at the floor with his feet and inching his wheelchair backwards. “No, no…this cannot be!” he screamed, holding the idol tightly against his chest.
L’min growled and moved toward the old man. “Give me the idol!”
“No, no,” Vladimir cried, still transfixed on Gregor.
“Give it to me!” L’min shouted. Then the demon threw itself at the retreating man.
The demon leader wrapped its whole body around the barrier, screaming in rage as the silvery essence of the magical wall burned him. It pulled away, then attacked again, slamming its arms against the barrier and causing both of them to skid down the hallway to the bedroom.
When Gregor saw L’min attacking Vladimir, a look of desperation came over his face. He recklessly tried to fight his way through the gang of demons and caught a blade in the thigh. He stumbled back, grasping at the wound in his leg. As the demons surrounding him moved in for the kill, Gregor gathered his strength and released a magical blast that blew them back in one big swoop.
At that moment, Kennedy and Faith arrived, leading a team of slayers into the fray. Jeff was right behind them, ready to lend magical assistance. As the slayers began decimating the Beluferae, Gregor left the fight and ran toward the hallway.
“Gregor!” Kennedy called out as her uncle rushed past her.
She turned to follow, but was tackled by one of the demons, her silver-plated sword skittering away when she hit the floor. While it had the slayer down, the demon raised its own weapon, intending to sink it into Kennedy’s back. Before it could do so, it was blown into the wall by a magical blast from Jeff. Kennedy shot a look of gratitude toward the young witch, then rushed toward the hallway.
When Kennedy rounded the corner, she found Gregor bloodied and bruised, but straddling a heavily burned L’min. Gregor held a silver dagger in his hand. He raised it over his shoulder.
“This is for Erzebet! ” he cried. Then he plunged the dagger into L’min’s chest.
L’min screamed in agony and then disintegrated in a burst of flames. Gregor allowed a brief moment of satisfaction to show on his face. Then he went limp, swaying once before falling face down on the floor.
“Uncle Gregor!” Kennedy screamed, rushing over to him.
When she got to him, she turned him over. His eyes were closed, and he wasn’t moving. She put her fingers on the side of his neck to feel for a pulse. She let out a breath of relief when she found one.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Afternoon
Gregor awakened groggily, slowly blinking his eyes. When his eyes finally focused, he found himself in the Council infirmary, with Kennedy sitting patiently at his bedside.
“Welcome back,” Kennedy said with a smile.
Gregor returned her smile, then quickly grimaced when he attempted to move to a sitting position. “It’s good to be back,” he groaned.
Suddenly, Gregor’s demeanor changed, and he cast a panicked glance at Kennedy, grasping her arm tightly.
“The idol! Where’s the idol?” he demanded frantically.
Kennedy put her hand on top of her uncle’s. “It’s here, at the Council,” she assured him. “We got it.”
Gregor eased back against his pillow. He whispered something in a language Kennedy didn’t recognize, but his tone suggested a prayer of thanks.
“You did it,” she told him. “You stopped the Beluferae.”
Gregor simply nodded and patted Kennedy’s arm before pulling away. Kennedy stared at her uncle intently, then dropped her gaze to her hands. When she looked up, she asked, “Who’s Erzebet?”
An expression of shock came over Gregor’s face.
“That’s what you said,” she explained, “before you killed that demon.”
Gregor’s shock changed to resigned sadness, and after a moment’s silence, he turned to his niece. “Erzebet was my daughter,” he said softly. Then he clenched his jaw and added, “The Beluferae…killed her…many years ago.”
“And that’s why you’ve been hunting them,” Kennedy said.
Gregor nodded, but didn’t say anything more.
“Well, they’re history now,” she said. “You’ve avenged her. And you’ve saved the world from Fenris.”
“Yes,” Gregor said, with little satisfaction.
Kennedy dropped her gaze once again, and for a time both uncle and niece were at a loss for words. Finally, she asked, “Well, what do you plan to do now? You know, now that the whole save-the-world thing is over.”
Gregor sighed. “I don’t know.”
“Well…you could hang out here for a while,” Kennedy suggested wryly. “The Council can always use an Uncle Kicks-Their-Ass.”
Gregor rolled his eyes and grinned.
Several beds down from Gregor’s, Rowena and Faith were telling Brell and Reteesk about the events of the night.
“My word!” Reteesk exclaimed, still lying in bed. “You mean to say that this-this decrepit billionaire intended to ingest my cranial fluid?”
“That was the idea,” Faith confirmed. “Some kinda cure-all for whatever ailed him, his doc said. But…since the old geezer didn’t get any, he’s now dearly departed.”
“In return for delivering you to Vital’yevich,” Rowena added, “the Beluferae would have gotten their Fenris idol.”
“But why did he need me?” Reteesk asked.
“Apparently, there’s something special about you Monarch types,” Faith teased.
“Something unique that runs only in the royal bloodline of your people,” Rowena said. “And since you’re the only remaining full-blooded heir…”
Reteesk was silent for a moment. As he closed his eyes, his body began to shake. Rowena and Faith looked at Brell, who merely smiled and shrugged. Then they looked back at Reteesk, concern on their faces. Within seconds, a series of snorts emerged from the demon’s tentacled face. Soon, he began belting out full-bellied guffaws, slapping the bed frame with each wave. When they realized that Reteesk was laughing, Rowena and Faith awkwardly joined him.
“What’s so funny?” Rowena asked.
“Oh…oh…” Reteesk cried as he tried to get his laughter under control. “Oh my…that is just…priceless. Absolutely priceless!”
“What?” Faith prodded.
“Ah, the bittersweet ironies of life,” the demon said, before sighing. “I am fedotai,” he said. When the humans didn’t seem to comprehend, he explained. “A bastard child. No one knew, you see. No one but my parents and I.”
“So you’re not a real Monarch?” Rowena asked.
“Oh, that, I am,” he answered. Faith and Rowena looked even more confused, so he went on. “My mother was true royalty, as was the man she was set to marry. Before the nuptials, however, she was attacked in her chambers one evening. I, you see, was the result of that attack. Eventually, the man was caught and hanged for his crime. And although her virtue was considered ‘spoiled’ by some cultures, my mother was still loved by the man I knew as my father. He married her regardless.”
“So to everyone in the outside world…?” Rowena asked.
Reteesk nodded. “Exactly! Although I was not of his blood, my father loved me as his own and no one knew any different. ‘Twas our little secret.”
Reteesk started to chuckle once again.
“So you’re not really full-blooded royalty then?” Rowena asked.
Reteesk shook his head, his giggling getting a little louder.
“And the old guy woulda gotten squat when he drilled into your head, right?” Faith clarified.
Reteesk nodded his head furiously, then burst out laughing once again. Rowena, Faith and Brell joined him, letting their laughter fill the room.
Watchers Council Van – Same Time
As Giles got in the driver’s seat of the Council van, Willow and Dawn came in the side door, slammed it shut and sat down together on the first bench.
Dawn let out a long and shaky breath, the tiny shudder of a sob still present. Giles turned in his seat and looked at the young watcher.
“Are you all right?” he asked sincerely.
“I’m okay,” Dawn said. “I mean, this is good, right? Not good for that girl but…you know what I mean. It wasn’t Skye, so she could still come home.”
“Absolutely,” Willow said, trying to be optimistic. “She’ll turn up. You’ll see.”
“We’ll find her,” Giles added reassuringly.
Dawn forced a smile and took another deep breath. But as Giles cranked the engine, a frown of worry spread over Dawn’s face.
Fade to Black
End of In the Balance
Next on Watchers…
While an ill Gregor Kalderash tries to hand down family traditions to Kennedy, while the affair of young lovers Richard Caperlet and Erios, of the Montager demon clan, threatens to spark a supernatural war in the Cleveland underworld.