Watchers Council – Dawn’s Room – Night
Dawn was just about to head out her door when her phone rang. She detoured back to her nightstand and picked up the phone.
“Hello,” she said. “Oh hi, Skye…no, I was just about to start inventory on the Vault…yeah, Willow’s assignment…oh, okay, then I won’t wait up for you. See you tomorrow? Okay, love you too…bye.”
Dawn placed the handset in its cradle and looked thoughtfully at it for a moment before leaving the room.
Taina’s Apartment – Same Time
Skye closed the cell phone and dropped it on the floor, then turned back to the woman lying in the bed next to her. She grinned and twirled a lock of blonde hair around her finger, waiting for Taina to speak.
“Got a girlfriend, huh?” Taina finally said, disappointment in her voice.
“Yep,” Skye replied.
“Been together long?”
“A couple of years now,” Skye said. “Be together forever if I have my way. I know she’s the one.” Skye smiled at the thought.
Taina sighed. “So that’s it, huh?” she finally asked. “I’m just some one night stand?”
Skye’s expression turned from wistful to predatory as her attention returned to Taina.
“Something like that,” Skye murmured, as she leaned in to embrace the woman.
Watchers Council – Andrew’s Apartment – Minutes later
A small, crystal-like plastic shape hit the surface of the table, rolling to a stop in front of Tracey.
“Nine,” Tracey read the number off of the top of the die.
Andrew quickly glanced over the cardboard screen standing in front of him. “Composite longbow plus two, right?”
Tracey nodded her confirmation.
“You hit the troll in his left shoulder. He howls in pain and anger, and charges you.” He turned to look at Jeff, seated to Tracey’s right. “Your initiative, Kronor.”
“She has the troll’s attention?” Jeff asked.
“I’d say so.”
“How about the other guy?”
“He’s nocking an arrow,” Andrew told him, “and it looks like he’s aiming at Kyrendra.” He motioned toward Tracey.
“Okay, I’m going to cast a Magic Missile his way.”
“Okay, roll for it.” Andrew suddenly glanced up to look at the doorway. “Hi, Dawn.”
Tracey and Jeff turned around, startled. “Hey,” Jeff said, “I didn’t hear you come in.”
Dawn nodded at the three seated around the small table. “Who’s winning?” She asked with a small smile.
“So far, the NPCs are kickin’,” Andrew replied. “What’s up?”
“Oh, nothing,” Dawn replied, quickly. She took a deep breath. “Nothing,” she said again, more calmly.
Andrew’s eyebrows arched, concerned.
Dawn let out a long breath. “It’s just that I’ve barely seen Skye in a week. And even when she’s there, it’s like she’s not there. She comes home late, she leaves early. I mean, hell, by the time I wake up, her side of the bed’s already cold.” The words came out in a rush, sounding almost like a run-on sentence. “And I really don’t know what she’s doing in her research groups. I mean, I know what she tells me, but I get the feeling sometimes that there’s somebody else…”
“Hey,” Jeff frowned, “don’t think that way. Skye would never cheat on you.” He paused, his jaw tensing slightly. “Believe me, nobody on earth wants to say this less than I do, but you don’t need to look too hard to realize that Skye’s completely nuts about you.”
Dawn looked over at him and smiled warmly.
“Um, look,” Andrew pointed at a space at the table, “we have space for another player if you want. I mean, I’m sure that they’d appreciate the help.”
Jeff and Tracey nodded enthusiastically.
“Thanks, I appreciate it, really I do, but if I don’t inventory the vaults by the time Willow gets back, she’s gonna have my fanny in a sling,” Dawn replied.
Andrew’s expression became blank as his eyes drifted upwards, appearing to fix upon the distant position of Ursa Minor. A dreamy smile slowly spread across his face.
“Ow!” He jerked away from Tracey, rubbing his arm. “That hurt,” he whined, looking over at her. He quickly recoiled from her as she fixed him with a glare.
“The vaults,” Jeff commented idly, suppressing a shudder, “some of the things we keep down there give me the willies.”
“They’re just trinkets,” Dawn replied with a shrug. “At any rate, I’d rather we had them than someone on the street.” She looked up at Andrew. “Keep a seat out for me. I might stop by after Willow’s done with me.”
She darted out of the room, leaving the door opened. Once she was out of sight, she held up four fingers of her right hand, then curled her pinky, followed a moment later by her ring finger and a second later, her middle finger.
“Ouch!” Andrew yelped from inside the room.
Dawn grinned as she walked down the hallway.
Warehouse – Later
Gregor’s body heaved as he sat slumped in the chair. His breath wheezed in and out.
“I feel I should apologize,” he said, “I assure you that your captivity will not last long.”
“What are you doing?” Willow demanded. “You’ve already said you’re not going to kill us both, so why are we both here? The spells you’re working right now are slowly killing you, and you can’t exactly spend ransom money if you’re dead.”
“That’s the limit of your imagination? Money?” Gregor shook his head.
“Look, the Council has enough to pay whatever you want,” Willow’s voice softened, but only slightly. “We can arrange for you never to have to work another day for the rest of your life.”
Gregor looked at her sorrowfully. “It’s sad.”
“That when you couldn’t force your way out, your immediate response is to try to barter,” Gregor replied. He looked up at her. “And since these are doubtless the last hours I will spend on this earth, you could be a little more polite.”
“Well, I’m sorry, being kidnapped for Goddess-knows-what reason and possibly being killed has a way of making me downright uncivil,” Willow snapped.
“I suppose that’s fair,” Gregor said tiredly.
“What would Kennedy say if she saw you now, huh?” Faith spoke up. “You’re all that’s left of her mother – her real mother – and you’re doing this? That girl looks up to you, and she’s been a little short of role models lately.”
“Kennedy is…” Gregor stopped, then started again. “I’m more proud of her than I would have imagined possible. In so many ways, she reminds me of my Erzebet. Smart, tough, a certain affinity for disobedience. She trusted me and looked up to me, and what did I do to her?” His features hardened.
“Oh man,” Faith whispered. “You killed her? God, she was your daughter, you son of a b –”
“I did not kill her,” Gregor spun to glare at Faith, tears streaking his cheeks, fury burning in his eyes. “She’s not dead.”
“Not dead?” Willow asked. “But you said…”
Gregor turned away from the two women, looking at the Idol sitting nearby. “Do you know what Hell is, Miss Rosenberg?”
Willow’s brow creased. “What do you mean?”
“Hell is where your worst nightmares are made flesh,” Gregor continued, “your worst fears become real.”
“What do you mean?” Faith asked, unconsciously echoing Willow.
“When Erzebet and I faced the Fenrir, she did not die. She was not killed, she was trapped between our world and the Fenrir’s realm – Hell, for lack of a better term – like a fly caught in amber.”
“But…that’s not possible,” Willow insisted.
“Reality doesn’t care,” Gregor replied, “whether you believe that it’s possible or not.”
“So…you’re trying to get her out?”
Gregor nodded. “My own life energy is the only thing that keeps her from being drawn in. As long as I’m alive, she stays trapped, but once my life force expires, she is drawn in… for all eternity.”
“And you’re dying,” Faith said, her voice barely a whisper.
“I asked you before, Miss Rosenberg, if you knew what Hell was. I have lived every single day of my life since Erzebet was trapped knowing that someday, maybe that day, maybe someday fifty years from then, I was inevitably going to send my beloved daughter into the inferno.” Gregor turned to face her. “That, Miss Rosenberg, is Hell.” He sat down, eyeing the two women. “By comparison, an eternity in the real thing should be easy.”
“So…you brought us here to perform the life threatening spell to get her out?” Willow asked.
“No,” Gregor replied, “even you don’t have that power.”
“Then what do you want with us?”
Watchers Council – Library – Same time
Robin pressed his fingers against his temples. “I haven’t spent this much time staring at a book since I was an undergrad,” he commented to no one in particular. He closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair, letting out a long yawn.
“Tired?” Rowena’s head poked out from the stacks to look at him.
“A little. Don’t suppose Faith and Will are back yet, are they?”
Rowena shook her head, “I guess they decided to stay for dessert. I love Will, but sometimes I think she’d drop me in a second if someone offered her a good enough cheesecake.”
Robin smiled. “There are times when I think the same about Faith.” His smile quickly went away, however.
Rowena frowned. “Is something wrong?”
Robin frowned. “It’s just a feeling I’ve had.”
“C’mon, out with it,” Rowena slid into a chair across from him. “What’s the matter?”
“There’s something that’s been bugging me about Gregor.”
“Such as?” Rowena asked.
“I worked with some of the most devious high school students who ever lived. I learned pretty quick to see through just about any excuse they offered,” Robin frowned, deep in thought.
“Quickly,” Rowena replied automatically.
“Quickly, adverb. ‘I learned quickly…'” She stopped herself. “Never mind. You were saying?”
“Something’s been chewing at the back of my head for the last few days. It’s like he’s hiding something, telling us just enough of the truth that we get the wrong impression,” Robin shook his head.
Rowena chewed on her lower lip for a moment. “Far be it from me to argue with your gut instinct, since that’s why you got promoted earlier tonight, but I can’t exactly shove Gregor into the brig for that. Do you have anything to back it up?”
Robin shook his head. “Nothing definitive.” He pushed the book in his lap across the table to her. “I found this in a translation of an old Viking tome. It talks about someone they call the ‘Wandering Enemy.’ His blood is sealed to the Fenris cult, and his every word serves the Fenris’s will.”
“I get why you made the connection to Gregor.” Rowena’s eyes narrowed as she scanned the text. “It’s not conclusive, though.”
“No, it’s not,” Robin agreed. “At the moment, all we’ve got is my gut and this vague text.”
“But this text doesn’t exactly paint him in the most flattering light,” Rowena commented without looking up from the book.
Robin shook his head. “I imagine something was lost in the translation, but bloodthirsty and obsessive are probably pretty universal concepts.”
Warehouse – Same Time
“Hell will not let my daughter go unless it gets something in return. At the moment of my death, I will trade one of your souls for hers.” Gregor told the redheaded witch.
“What?” Willow demanded. “You’re going to send one of us to Hell to save your daughter?”
“Yes,” he replied, with a hint of regret. “I have spent forty years trying to find a way to extract my daughter. Believe me when I say that this is the only way.” His gaze shifted back and forth between the two women. “I am not, however, uncharitable. I will allow you to choose which one of you will take her place. But rest assured, one of you will join me in Hell before this night is done.”
“Woah, wait just a damn minute. If you’re so self-righteous, why don’t you take Erzebet’s place?” Faith asked.
“He can’t,” Willow told her softly. “He needs a living soul. He’ll cast the spell the moment he dies, and barter one of our souls for hers. If he tried it with his own, he would drag both himself and Erzebet into Fenris’s realm.”
“Oooh-kay. Next question: why us?” She turned to Gregor. “If you could catch the most powerful witch in the world and a slayer, you can catch pretty much anyone on the planet. Why not grab some guy off the street?”
“Because I am desperate,” Gregor’s voice was sharp, clipped. “But I am not a monster.”
“Says you,” Willow retorted.
Gregor ignored her comment and went on. “I would never send someone to Hell who wasn’t already destined to go there anyway.”
Willow was the first to realize the implications of his statement. She looked at him in stunned shock for a moment. “Wait, you’re saying…”
He looked back and forth between the two women.
“Yes,” he said plainly. “You two are chosen by forces beyond your comprehension to be guardians for the human race. Slayer and watcher. Warrior and witch. You were entrusted with the sacred task of protecting your world. You both betrayed that trust. You murdered. Not by accident or by error, and not to save another. You willfully destroyed a life for revenge,” he said, looking at Willow, “or for personal gain,” he added, as he shifted to meet Faith’s eyes.
“But how about the lives we’ve saved?” Willow’s voice was almost panicked. “We’ve saved the whole world! More than once!” She indicated Faith, then herself. “Each!” she insisted.
“Will…” Faith interrupted quietly. Willow ignored her.
“So you believe that the good you have done balances out the evil?” Gregor’s voice was perfectly steady.
“Well…yes.” Willow replied. “Nature demands a balance.”
Gregor nodded. “Yes, nature demands a balance. That doesn’t mean she forgives.”
“What? You’re saying that it doesn’t matter?” Willow asked, frantically. “All the good we do, all the people we help… none of that counts for anything? This,” she gestured around the room, “is it, then Hell?”
“No, I’m saying that this,” Gregor mimicked her gesture, “isn’t simply a test. It’s not about balancing yourself. It’s about doing good for its own sake, not because you’re hoping for some payoff down the road. It’s not about saving your soul from Hell, it’s about not sending it there in the first place. Men and women forgive; Nature does not.”
“No chance for parole?” Faith asked.
“How can you be so glib?” Willow snapped at her.
“Look, we have no way to contact anyone. We have no idea where we are to even tell anyone if we could. And besides, Will, he’s right,” Faith sounded almost relieved.
“You can’t believe that,” Willow’s voice was hard.
“It’s the truth. I used to think that there would be a time when I’d paid my debt, balanced the scales,” Faith told her softly. “That’s not the way it works, though, is it?” Gregor nodded his confirmation, “And nothin’ you or I can do is gonna change that. We gave up our right to redemption when we killed.”
Gregor turned to face Willow.
“Your friend,” he began, “seems to have a greater understanding of the nature of Evil than you do, Miss Rosenberg. If you had time, you could learn much from her.”
“I had a good teacher,” Faith replied to no one in particular.
“Well, excuse me if I haven’t resigned myself to the blast furnace just yet,” Willow snapped. “And who made you the be-all/end-all when it comes to the cosmic order of things! This is ridiculous! There has to be another way around this, Gregor!”
“Perhaps,” he shrugged noncommittally, “and if you have it, you are only too welcome to use it.” His eyes met Willow’s. “If you can figure out in an hour what I could not in forty years, then perhaps you are not completely undeserving of your reputation.”
Faith quickly turned her back on Willow, shielding the witch from seeing her hands. She dug into her jacket pocket, producing her cell phone, which vibrated in her hand. The display read, “ACE,” in large block letters. She looked over at Gregor, then down at the phone in her hand. She closed her eyes slowly, took a deep breath and pressed the power button, shutting the phone off, and then slid it back into her jacket pocket.
“Faith? What is it?” Willow asked.
“Hmm?” Faith turned to face her. “Nothin’.”
Watchers Council – Library – Same Time
Robin hung up the phone. “No answer.”
“Faith always has her phone on her, doesn’t she?” Rowena asked.
“So either she won’t answer, or she can’t.”
“Any luck with Willow?” Robin asked.
Rowena closed her eyes. “We can’t call her.”
She opened her eyes and motioned to the ceiling above them. “It’s upstairs on the coffee table. She forgot to put it in her jacket when she switched them tonight.”
Robin took a deep breath. “I don’t like this one single bit.”
“If there’s no danger, then it’s no harm, no foul. But if something’s gone wrong with Gregor, and Faith tries to tell us where they are, there’s no way we’ll get there before he does whatever he has planned,” Rowena replied.
“So, one of the most powerful sorcerers we’ve ever met possibly has the most powerful witch, and one of the most powerful slayers.”
Rowena gritted her teeth and nodded. “And we don’t.” She closed her eyes, forcing her breathing under control. “Okay, let’s just stay calm here, it’s way too early to panic just yet. We need to keep ourselves calm. All this is probably nothing.”
Dawn pushed her way into the library. “Has Will come back yet?”
“No,” Robin shook his head. “We were just trying to reach them.”
Dawn nodded. “Okay, well, when she comes back could you let her know that I’ve finished the inventory of the vaults?”
“Everything accounted for?” Robin asked idly.
“Oh, everything except for item 0277a,” Dawn replied.
“What’s that?” Rowena asked.
“Um,” Dawn looked down at her list. “Bronze Idol of Fenris.”
Rowena looked up at Robin. “Now‘s the time to panic.”
End of Act Three