Warehouse – Same Time
Willow threw her weight against the unyielding magical barrier. She grimaced in pain, then backed away from the magical force field, rubbing her shoulder. Gregor was working near the idol at the far end of the warehouse. He glanced over at the two women briefly, then returned to his work.
“Feel better now?” Faith sat, akimbo, on the hard floor.
“You could try to help, you know?” Willow snapped.
“I just watched you cast three spells, throw nine punches, and damn near dislocate your shoulder against that thing.” Faith nodded at the ward. “You think I got somethin’ to throw at it you don’t?”
“Slayer strength, for one,” Willow replied, throwing a rather unprofessional kick at the barrier.
“Will, I tried already, remember? And we’re not dealin’ with Harmony here. Gregor’s smart enough to know, if he was gonna take us, he was gonna have to hold us,” Faith replied.
“How can you possibly be so calm?” Willow demanded. “He’s just told us that by tomorrow one of us is gonna be dead. Worse: he’s sending one of us to Hell.”
Faith nodded. “Yeah, but he also told us that’s where we’re goin’ anyway.”
“Well, I don’t believe that,” Willow insisted. “I can’t believe that everything we’re doing, everything we’ve done, all the people that we’ve helped – I can’t believe that was all for nothing.”
“So your only reason for doing good is to save your soul?” Gregor slowly approached the two women.
“No,” Willow answered. “I do good because I’ve seen evil – been evil – and I want to make things better. But I can’t for a second think that none of it matters in the end.”
“I wish I had more time to debate with you Miss Rosenberg, but I need an answer,” Gregor replied. “Have you arrived at a decision?”
Willow quickly held up her hands.
“No!” she yelled quickly, then calmed herself with another, “no. The train has not arrived at decisionsville yet. We…we just need time. I’m sure, if we work together, we can think of something.”
“Why?” Gregor asked simply.
Willow was taken aback by the unexpected question. “Why?” She echoed. “I don’t – I don‘t understand.”
“Assuming, for the sake of argument, you could find some way of freeing Erzebet, something that I’d somehow missed, why would you do it?” Gregor asked. “Would you do it because it’s right? Would you do it because you care about Erzebet? Or are you doing it to save yourself?” He looked hard into Willow’s eyes. “Now, pretend, for the sake of argument, that I’m right: that you’re going to Hell anyway, and there isn’t a damned thing, no pun intended, that you can do about it. Would you still do it?”
Willow opened her mouth to speak.
“You’re about to say yes,” Gregor spoke before she did, “and you’re lying. Perhaps to me, perhaps to yourself, maybe you even believe it when you’re saying it, but you’re still lying.”
Willow backed away from him, her jaw clenched, her breathing rapid and shallow. “You don’t know a damn thing about me.”
“Every life you save, some part of you believes that it goes some way to washing the blood off of your hands,” Gregor continued. “That’s not virtue, that’s just a kind of prudence.” he spat out the final word as if it left a very unpleasant taste in his mouth. He glared at the witch. “Now, you can try to tell me that I’m wrong.”
Willow relaxed slightly as she held Gregor’s gaze, but she did not speak.
Gregor nodded appreciatively. “One thing I admire, Miss Rosenberg, is honesty. There may be hope for you yet.” He turned and started walking towards the idol.
“What about your soul?” Willow blurted out.
Gregor halted and turned to face her. “What about it?” He asked.
“You’re a good man, Gregor. I know because you’ve won Ken’s faith,” Willow told him. “If you do this, you’re not just sending one of us to Hell, you’re sending yourself there too.”
Gregor nodded. “Yes, I am.”
“And you’re okay with that?”
“I’m Romany,” he replied. “Unavenged blood cries out for justice.” He looked at the redhead quizzically, his head cocking slightly to one side. “We’re two sides of the same coin,” he observed. “You’re trying desperately to keep your soul out of Hell, but I’ve found something worth putting it in.”
“Well, there has to be a way that nobody goes to Hell on this thing,” Willow insisted.
“Perhaps,” Gregor replied, “but sadly, I do not have time to find it. I need a decision. Now. Who will it be?”
“Look,” Willow said angrily, “if you need to use us, fine, but don’t make us take part in some twisted, sadistic…”
“I’ll do it,” Faith said quietly.
“What? Faith, no. We’ll find another way to do this,” Willow insisted.
“In a few hours?” Faith asked. “Face it, Will, we’re not gonna find anything.”
“But why you?” Willow pressed. “Why not me?”
“Cold, hard math, Red,” Faith replied, standing and walking towards Gregor, “the Council can handle losin’ me a lot more than it can handle losin’ you.” She smiled thinly, “‘Sides, you think I wanna face the wrath of Kennedy and Ro for letting him have you? Hell, give me demons any day of the week, but the wrath of your ex and current girlfriends? No way.”
Willow slid in front of her. “If you think I’m just gonna let you –”
“Nope, I don’t,” Faith shook her head. Her right fist slammed into the side of Willow’s face, between her jawline and her cheekbone. The witch’s head snapped around to her right. Her knees buckled, and she crumpled to the ground in a heap.
Gregor’s eyebrows arched. “Is she…”
“She’s fine,” Faith replied tightly. “I just cut her strings for a few minutes – long enough for you to let me outta this thing,” she gestured at the shimmering force field around her.
Gregor made a quick gesture, and Faith took a step forward, uninhibited. “I must say,” Gregor said, “I hadn’t expected this.”
“You receive a phone call, which I can only assume was from someone in a position to help you, and you disconnect it without answering.”
“Noticed that, did you?”
Gregor nodded. “Now, you beat a friend senseless to take her place.” He looked at Faith again, as if seeing her for the first time. “It’s not often that I misjudge someone, but I did in your case.”
“Robin wouldn’ta gotten here in time, and Willow wasn’t gonna listen.” Faith shrugged, and then looked back at the shape of the witch lying on the floor. “At least this way she’ll sleep a little easier, knowin’ that she couldn’tve stopped me.”
Gregor nodded. “For whatever you may consider it to be worth, I am sorry.”
“If it wasn’t worth anything, I wouldn’t be doin’ this,” Faith replied. “Let’s get this over with, ‘kay?”
Watchers Council – Library – Minutes Later
“Does it strike anyone else as strange that I’m the voice of reason here?” Kennedy asked. “I mean, all we have is a missing idol and two people that we can’t reach.”
“That’s not just an idol…” Rowena began.
“I get that,” Kennedy interrupted, “but for all we know, it could’ve been catalogued wrong, or Dawn just didn’t notice it.”
“We can’t reach them,” Robin told her.
“Faith turns her phone off when she’s out for dinner with you,” Kennedy pointed out. “And for some reason, I can never find her when I need a late-night sparring session. Don’t think for a second that I don’t care about them, but let’s not jump right away to the conclusion that they’re in trouble.”
“Look, Kennedy, I understand –” Rowena said.
“No, you look. That’s my uncle you’re talking about. He’s the last connection I still have with my mother. So maybe, just maybe, you’ll cut me a little slack if I’m not exactly eager to jump on the ‘he’s an evil bastard’ bandwagon,” Kennedy snapped.
Xander burst into the room, Vi trailing closely behind.
“I got the security footage,” he announced.
“What do we have?” Rowena asked.
“We don’t have a camera actually inside the vault, but from the camera just outside, I have Willow, Faith and Gregor entering earlier this evening,” Xander told them.
“Did they look like they were being coerced?” Robin asked.
Xander shook his head. “No. They were just walking in.”
“There, you see?” Kennedy gestured at Xander. “Mystery solved. Gregor probably had something to show them about the Idol, and they took it to study and forgot to sign it out.”
“Not necessarily…” Rowena prodded gently.
“Why is everybody so damned eager to assume the worst about him? Ro, you were gonna offer him a position on the Council.” Kennedy thrust a finger angrily in her direction.
“If he checked out,” Rowena added. “But your point is well taken. Do the tapes show any sign that something wonky happened?”
“Actually, I was just getting to that,” Xander replied. “It’s not what the tape shows…it’s what the tape doesn’t show.”
“Okay, need an explanation there,” Rowena muttered impatiently.
“The tape shows all three entering the vault – no excitement, no violence,” Xander told them. “I’ve checked every second of tape between then and Dawn coming in to make her inspection…it never shows them leaving, and Dawn would have seen them in the vault.”
“Is there any other way out?” Robin asked.
Xander shook his head. “The vault’s basically a steel room surrounded on all sides by rock. That’s why we couldn’t put a camera inside, no signal can get through the walls. That door’s the only way in and out.”
“So…a glitch in the tape?” Kennedy asked.
Xander shook his head. “The time code in the bottom corner of the frame never jumps.”
Rowena closed her eyes, her expression one of intense concentration.
“Get Jeff,” she ordered. “Tell him we need a locator spell right away.” She glanced over at Robin, who nodded his assent, then she turned to Kennedy. “Are you gonna fight me on this?”
Kennedy shook her head. “No. But when all this turns out to be a false alarm, boy is your face gonna be red.”
“I’m willing to risk embarrassment to save two people we love and care about,” Rowena answered quickly.
Warehouse – Same Time
Willow groaned and rolled onto her stomach.
“See, told ya she wouldn’t be out for long,” Faith commented. “Now, Giles and Xander, on the other hand, they both have glass jaws.”
“Faith, what the hell is going on?” Willow rose shakily to her feet.
“Will, this’ll all be over in a few hours and you can leave. But right now, we can’t run the risk of you gettin’ in the middle of it,” Faith told her.
“Faith,” Willow pressed her hands against the shimmering barrier, “what do you think you’re doing?”
“Look,” Faith said, “maybe Gregor has it right, maybe not. But even if one good act won’t make up for all the bad stuff I did, at least I’ll be able to say that I went out on one good act.”
“Since when did you become suicidal?” Willow asked angrily.
Faith took a step closer. “It’s not suicide. But I’m not gonna kill Ken’s uncle and I’m not about to leave you in there to rot. If I go, then this all ends. Oh, and if it turns out that Gregor’s wrong about the whole redemption thing, put in a good word for me upstairs, when it’s finally your turn? You never know, maybe there is a chance for parole.” She turned to face Gregor. “Are ya gonna be ready soon?”
Gregor tilted his head in her direction. “I’ll need about twenty minutes to prepare.”
Coven Room – Moments Later
Jeff’s eyes snapped open. “No dice,” he told Rowena, frustrated. “I can’t find them.”
Jeff shook his head. “No. It’s not showing them dead. They’re…there, wherever there is; but it’s like I’m running full speed into a brick wall every time I try to find them.”
“Magic?” Rowena asked.
Jeff nodded. “Very powerful magic.”
“Can you at least narrow it down for us?” Rowena asked.
Jeff shook his head, “I don’t know how powerful Gregor is, but if he teleported them all out of the vault, he could be halfway across the country by now. And it might not be too crazy to say halfway around the world.”
“Okay. We’ll assume that he kept them inside the city,” Rowena began.
“On what grounds?” Robin asked.
“On the grounds that if he didn’t, then there’s little to no chance of finding them,” Rowena replied tightly.
“What does it matter?” Robin asked. “Even if we only search Cleveland, there’s thousands of places he could hide them until he did whatever he had planned. And somehow, I don’t think he’s going to waste much time.”
“I know,” Rowena closed her eyes tightly, her brow furrowing in a deep frown. “If someone has a suggestion, now’s the time, ’cause I’ve got nothing. Unless…Jeff, can you hold a seer session – perhaps see where they are?”
“I’ll certainly try,” he answered.
“I got an idea too,” Kennedy spoke up. “It might be a bit more accurate.”
“And that would be?” Rowena asked.
“Release the hounds, Smithers,” she said, doing a bad imitation of Mr. Burns.
Dark Alley – Later that Night
Marsha the Dragon leapt forward, straining against a leather leash. Kennedy stumbled after her, fighting to keep up with her.
“Ever have one of those moments where you ask yourself if you need to rethink your decision-making paradigm?” Heli turned towards Vi.
“What do you mean?” Vi asked.
“Well, we’re using a giant reptile as a bloodhound to find three people who teleported out of our vault. On the list of universally crazy ideas, this has to rank somewhere near the top,” Heli pointed out.
“Well, Ken’s crazy ideas have a habit of working out, usually,” Vi shrugged, “so maybe her luck’ll hold.”
Heli frowned. “I don’t believe in luck.” Her expression softened. “But, I’ll be the first to admit that the universe has been kind to her.”
“And that’s different from luck, how, exactly?” Vi asked.
Heli shrugged. “It’s one thing to have the Powers That Be smile on you; it’s another to expect them to.”
Vi shrugged in response and then began to look around at their surroundings. “Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t spend much time in fancy restaurants…”
“This an observation, or a complaint?” Kennedy commented over her shoulder.
“I’m just thinking that this isn’t exactly the kind of area Gregor would take them if they were going out for dinner,” Vi pointed out.
Watchers Council – Library – Same Time
Robin paced back and forth, leaning heavily on the cane in his left hand. Rowena watched him, her hands clasped in front of her as she sat at one of the library tables.
“Robin,” she said gently, “if we have to replace the part of the carpet that you’re wearing out, I’m taking it out of your paycheck.”
He stopped. He let out a long breath and took a seat across the table from her.
“Sorry,” he said simply. “I just hate being on the sidelines.” He looked angrily down at his prosthetic leg. “This time last year, I would’ve been with them, right on the front lines. Now, all I can do is send them out and wait.”
Rowena nodded, understanding. “You need to adjust to letting others do their jobs,” she said simply.
“How do you do it?” He looked at her, shaking his head. He stood and started pacing again.
“Do what?” Rowena asked.
“I try to sit down for thirty seconds, my skin is crawling so badly that I have to get up and start pacing again. You, you’re the epitome of grace under pressure,” Robin replied.
“There’s a difference, you know?”
“Difference between what?” he asked.
“Between looking calm, and actually being calm,” Rowena replied. “There’s nothing that terrifies me more right now than the possibility that Willow could be hurt or dead. I find it hard to believe that anything could ever make me more terrified than I am right now, at this very moment. And I’m a woman that’s been tortured, had her finger cut off and been shot…But if I find out that Gregor’s hurt her, there’s absolutely nothing I’d rather do than beat him with a sledgehammer until he resembles strawberry preserves, which is probably why it’s a good thing that I’m not on the front lines.” She shrugged. “But the Council needs a strong leader, not someone who’ll freak out at the drop of a hat.”
“This isn’t exactly the drop of a…”
“All the more reason to not freak out,” Rowena interrupted.
“But what if –?”
“And the best way to not freak out is never to ask that question to anyone, especially yourself,” Rowena replied. “Sitting and worrying does nothing but cause more worry, which doesn’t resolve the problem. Action is the only way to resolve a problem. We’ve done that – Jeff is in the Coven Room and Ken is out in the field. We’ll be here to back them up if they need us.”
“I can’t see how this has no effect on you,” Robin answered. “My palms are sweating. Hell, my fingernails too.”
Rowena shuddered. “Will’ll tell you that I spent three months after that whole Shadow affair last year waking up in a panic. I had nightmares for months about every single possible way that scenario could’ve gone wrong. But during that whole incident, I never asked ‘what if’ – ‘What if Willow was dead?’ ‘What if she couldn’t be found in time?’ I knew we needed to find her first, not waste our time wondering about it all.”
“So the trade off for your apparently unshakable calm is that you pretty much guarantee that you’ll never have an untroubled night’s sleep again,” Robin clarified.
Rowena nodded. “That’s the price I’m willing to pay for being an anchor for the Watchers Council.”
Robin looked at her for a moment. “I think I’ll keep pacing, thanks. Just bill me for the carpet,” he said, finally.
Warehouse – Same Time
Faith stood unwaveringly in front of the Idol, while Gregor stood beside her, reciting a long incantation. Willow stood behind them, her body pressed against the magical barrier. A single tear formed in the corner of her eye, then zigzagged its way down her cheek. She wiped it away harshly and forced herself to look back up at the duo, forcing herself to bear witness to her friend’s final few moments.
The Idol’s eyes began to glow red, and a beam of light speared through the gloom of the warehouse, stabbing the slayer in the center of her chest.
Faith grunted in pain and dropped to one knee in front of the Idol. Her face twisted in agony as she was slowly lifted by some invisible force from the ground. She hung suspended, still connected to the Idol by a beam of light.
“Gregor! Call this off!” Willow yelled.
Dark Alley – Same Time
“Marsha is getting excited. It looks like this is the place,” Kennedy whispered to the two slayers standing near her.
“Definitely not a restaurant,” Vi looked at the large, nondescript warehouse.
“Okay, we go in there,” Kennedy said, “we have to go in hard and fast. Gregor’s a powerful magician, so we can’t let him get a spell off.” She looked at the other two slayers. “If we’re wrong, then we’re wrong. But God help him if he’s hurt Willow or Faith, ’cause I sure won’t.”
Warehouse – Same Time
Bright white light poured out of Faith’s body, and Willow held up her arms, shielding her eyes. Faith cried out in pain, and her head flung back. Her hands balled into tight fists as whatever force held her aloft stretched her body out, holding her arms and legs straight out from her body.
Dark Alley – Same Time
The slayers all heard the cry from outside the door.
“Okay,” Kennedy said softly, “on three. One…Two…”
Warehouse – Same Time
The door to Faith’s right exploded inward. Gregor’s soft, melodic voice halted. The idol’s glowing red eyes almost seemed to bore into him, as if demanding that he finish. Faith dropped to the ground, her body heaving as she tried to get her breathing under control.
Kennedy and Vi raised their small crossbows and fired without hesitation.
“No!” Faith screamed. She leapt to her left, trying to place herself between the crossbows and Gregor before they struck him.
The bolt from Kennedy’s crossbow slammed deep into Faith’s left shoulder. Faith’s face twisted in pain as she dropped to the ground, her breathing coming out in gasps.
“Faith!” Vi rushed forward, cradling Faith’s head in her lap.
“Is…he okay?” Faith managed to force the words out. “Is Gregor okay?”
Vi frowned, confused. “Gregor?” She glanced up at the old man, who still stood a few feet away.
Gregor looked down. Vi’s single crossbow bolt protruded from his chest, about eight inches to the left of his centerline. His eyes widened in shock as his body crumpled to the ground.
Willow, who had been leaning against the magical ward, stumbled forward as the invisible barrier vanished. She rushed forward, dropping to her knees next to Gregor’s body.
“Oh my Goddess,” she whispered frantically. She looked frantically up at Kennedy. “Come on, get me something. Bandages, a first aid kit, something!”
Vi looked at her, genuinely confused. “Will, what…”
“Tell me what to do,” Willow hissed desperately at Gregor. “How do I stop this?”
Gregor’s eyes drifted over to Kennedy’s face, and for the briefest of moments focused on her. “Erzebet,” he breathed. A smile touched his lips as his eyes closed. His body went limp in Willow’s arms.
Willow quickly looked over to meet Faith’s eyes. An expression of terrified realization spread across both women’s faces.
“Oh, God, no.”
Brilliant white light poured out of both Gregor’s body and the Idol. Everyone recoiled, as if expecting something to strike at them from the bath of bright light.
“Tell us what’s happening!” Vi demanded, her voice showing only the slightest tinges of fear.
The light subsided, and standing before the Idol was a young woman. Her dark hair hung around her shoulders, framing the olive-colored skin of her face beautifully. Her dark brown eyes darted around the room, and after a few seconds she stumbled slightly, disoriented. Finally, her wandering eyes fell upon Gregor.
“Papa?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper. “Father?” She rushed toward him.
“Oh no,” Willow whispered.
Bright tendrils of energy leapt from the Idol, wrapping themselves around the woman’s body. She pulled against them, as if she were trying to walk into a strong wind, but they dragged her backwards toward the Idol.
“Help her!” Faith screamed at the slayers standing around.
Vi lurched into action, reaching for the woman’s arm, trying to slow her inexorable slide toward the Idol.
Willow screamed an incantation and a ball of energy formed around her hand. She then flung the glowing ball at the Idol. It did not react. Instead, its glowing eyes almost seemed to mock the witch’s impotence. Kennedy grabbed the woman around the waist, while Heli latched onto her leg.
For a moment, it looked as if the three slayers could break the force that held the woman.
But only for a moment.
All three women screamed with effort as they skidded toward the Idol. Willow launched another spell, with a similar lack of effect to the first.
“Don’t let me go. Don’t let me go,” the woman screamed frantically.
Willow cast another spell, this time, on the group of people being dragged toward the Idol. A translucent sphere formed around the four women. Willow began muttering a stream of Latin phrases.
The four women’s forward velocity slowed. Then they jerked a few feet forward. Willow, too, was yanked forward, as if she’d been holding the end of a rope. She slammed forward, the air in her lungs blasting out in a hard whuff as she hit the hard floor of the warehouse. The spell she’d cast around the group evaporated and they were again dragged toward the idol.
Erzebet’s feet struck the Idol and vanished into it, as if the Idol were as insubstantial as the air around it. Her frantic screams for the slayers around her not to let go transformed into a single, incoherent, bloodcurdling cry as she vanished deeper and deeper into the Idol.
Six preternaturally strong hands now gripped the woman’s arm, making one final attempt to prevent whatever lay beyond the Idol from swallowing her. A final, agonized scream tore through the air as she slipped from the slayers’ grips, and was cut off as she finally vanished.
Kennedy looked at the Idol for a moment, still breathing hard from the Herculean effort she and the other two slayers had just put forth. “What…just…happ–”
Her question was cut off as, through every corner of the large empty warehouse, laughter exploded. Harsh, cackling laughter. It belted into their ears, snarling at them.
Willow dropped to her knees, pressing her hands against her ears. “Stop it!” she screamed. “Stop it, stop it, STOP!” Her voice rose to a crescendo, as she rocked back and forth, trying to shake the bellowing laugh from her mind.
Then, as abruptly as it had begun, the laughter ended.
Empty silence again fell over the warehouse.
Willow crawled over to where Faith was resting on her elbows. The two looked at each other for a long moment.
“We tried, Red,” Faith said softly, as they locked eyes.
Faith closed her eyes first and lowered her head so much that her chin practically touched her collarbone. Willow simply rested her forehead against the slayer’s and sobbed softly. The younger slayers around them looked on, mouths open, gasping.
Taina’s Apartment – Later
A lit match slowly dropped to light a large candle, then was shaken out.
Skye placed the candle on the nightstand of a bed. She looked down at her handiwork without pride or joy. Taina lay on her back on the bed, around which dozens of candles had been lit. Her eyes stared lifelessly at the ceiling, and her unnaturally naked, pale skin contrasted beautifully with dark sage sheets wrapped around her.
Skye walked over towards the gas oven and opened it, then turned it on to ‘broil.’ She did the same with the four gas burners, which turned on but didn’t light. Quietly, she slid her jacket on and walked out through the front door, closing it behind her.
End of No Mercy
Next on Watchers…
When Kadin Van Helsing finds the mystical other half of the medallion left to her by her father, she and Kennedy are sent on a quest to the Van Helsing ancestral homeland.