Watchers Council – Rowena’s Apartment – Living Room – Evening
“I was wrong,” Rowena said.
She sat in a near-perfect lotus position on the carpeted floor of the room. Around her were books and files, a computer and communications devices. Here and there were items of interest, like a three-pronged dagger too small for a human hand. Photos of her brother and pictures of a young Middle Eastern woman hung in places of honor, or at least in obvious sight. Dotted around the room were several seashells, as well as three porcelain replicas of lighthouses. Yet the lights were low, and Rowena herself sat on the floor, looking directly into another set of eyes and speaking in a low voice.
“Not about everything,” she continued, “and to be honest I have hopes nothing will go too wrong. But that’s all I have…hopes. I wish we knew more. We need to know more, or we might walk right into a disaster worse than Vancouver. You see that, don’t you?”
Rowena sighed. “Never mind. What I have to do is trust Kennedy and Jeff. They’re both smart, and despite everything, I know Kennedy will be careful. She’s also got Marsha to act as a scout. Jeff has grown a lot. His powers are real, his judgment sound. I think.”
Now she looked directly into the eyes of her audience. “But here’s the problem. It seems subtle, and it is, but it’s also crucial. I needed not to make my concerns too obvious, or the result would be another debate – a pointless argument between me and Willow that, when you get right down to it, has nothing to do with the tactical situation. Nothing! It is all about other issues. Her issues. And mine. Our. Our issues. Yet all that is getting in the way of saving lives, of doing what is a sacred duty. A duty we’ve been failing at. Let’s be honest, again, right? I mean, why not, eh?”
Her cat stared up into her eyes, an intensity in the creature’s face that was unreadable to any mere human or other non-feline. Rowena reached over and scratched Polo on the cheek. “Good kitty,” she murmured, “pretty kitty, such a good listener. Now if only you had some advice, hmm?”
“Like, what do you think the Fellowship is really up to? What went wrong? What is our team going to be walking into tonight, eh? Are any of them coming back?”
Now Polo rubbed her head against her hand.
“I wish I could be like you,” whispered Rowena. “But I’ve got the whole world to save. Again and again and again. Including you.”
She took her hand away, much to Polo’s indignation, and rose out of her lotus position in one smooth movement. Then she headed for the door.
Watchers Council – Holding Cells – Evening
“Someone looks like she’s having a bad day,” Skye said, pretending to concentrate on the group of cards she was holding in one hand. Dawn was sitting on a camp chair just outside the cell, holding her own hand of cards. Resting on the blanket at the edge of the cot was the rest of the deck of cards.
Dawn looked at the pile, picked up a card and immediately discarded it. She shrugged. “Willow’s still playing god with people’s lives, but now she’s being much more benign about it.”
Skye chuckled and thought for a moment, looking between the discard pile and her hand.
“Let me guess…you asked her permission to restore my soul and she said no? Why doesn’t that surprise me?”
Dawn looked up at her. “Yeah, that’s it exactly…okay, well, kinda like it,” she said. “I did it, Skye…I found a way to restore your soul without any of that messy curse business, but they won’t even let me try. And forget about Jeff helping out. I think that boy’s doomed to spend his entire life being whipped.”
“Typical boy – always thinking with his other head,” Skye said with derision. “So, what’s the deal with the soul?”
Dawn thought for a moment. “I go fetch your soul from Purgatory, bring it back, and pop it in. Piece of cake.”
For the first time, Skye looked shocked instead of cynical. “What?” she exclaimed. “No way. Stay out of that place, Dawn. You don’t belong there.”
“Neither do you, and no matter what the Coven says, I’m not letting you stay there,” Dawn said.
“I’m serious, Dawn,” Skye said, her cards falling unheeded to the blanket. “I need you safe, and I’m not going to risk you in an attempt to get something I don’t even care about. Just forget it, Dawn. It’s only a soul, it’s not that important anyway.”
“Should I just stake you then?” Dawn asked. “Everyone is telling me that’s my only choice. You’re a murdering demon, and if I want to free your soul from Purgatory, then your body needs to go poof.”
“Is that what you want, Dawn?” Skye said. “You aren’t willing to give me a chance to prove that I can love you, soul or no soul?”
“You’ve still shed blood,” Dawn said. “And what happens to Skye’s soul while I ‘give you a chance?’ Every minute you’re here enjoying yourself, Skye is just…waiting. Is she supposed to spend eternity suffering alone, while you and I live happily ever after? I don’t think so.”
“Does seem like she gets the short end of the stick,” Skye smirked.
Dawn stood up and pulled a stake from her waistband behind her back.
Skye’s smirk grew larger. “Gods, I love a woman with a nice piece of wood in her pants,” she said. “Gonna stake me, Dawnie?”
Dawn looked at the weapon in her hand. “No,” she finally said. “No, I’m not gonna stake you. I’m gonna go get your soul. You wanna stop me…stake yourself.” With that, she threw the stake on top of the pile of cards and walked quickly from the cellblock.
Bomb Shelter Room – Evening
Grey still wore his dark robes over a suit, and he browsed among the books in his shelves. The walls of the room were rough concrete, but each piece of furniture was tasteful, even glamorous. He trod on thick carpet and viewed the room in the light cast by tiffany lamps.
He turned. The blond demon with a third eye was fingering a book in another bookshelf.
“Leave that!” Grey glided over and pushed the demon’s hand away. “You can look at it later, if you’re really interested.”
“But what is it?”
“If you must know,” said Grey, “those are my original 1955 editions of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Collector’s items. But of little direct help at the moment.”
The demon shrugged. “Did you check the diamond? Was it all right?”
“Yes! As a matter of fact, the diamond you procured was flawless for our purposes. Nearly all the necessary elements are in place, and soon we’ll be ready.”
Grey took a deep breath. “To wield a weapon of vast power. It is called the Unwinding. Almost never used. Apart from the rather exotic ingredients needed, there’s quite a lot of danger involved for the wielder. Yet even more for the target of the spell.”
“Uh…and who’s going to do the wielding?”
“I will.” Grey swept over to a very nice chair of old, darkened wood. Sitting down, he stroked his mustache with one finger. “One must get every single word precisely correct, which means prior memorization. I’ve already done that, although frankly using it was always a last resort. Still, there’s little doubt of the need.”
“There’s something I’ve got to ask.”
“Why? I mean, I get why you wanted to turn Cassandra back into herself, but if she was trapped in that form by the Watchers Council, why did she go all medieval on our asses?”
“Insanity,” Grey instantly replied. “I should have expected it. Over a year in that bestial form, trapped in her own confused thoughts. Cassandra went mad and, on a purely instinctual level, attacked the first group she encountered.”
“Yes. Frankly, I am surprised. I thought she was made of stronger stuff. But now, there’s nothing to do but put her down. Has Ethan arrived yet?”
“I’ll need his final ingredients before I can perform the Unwinding.”
“Is there something wrong?” Grey’s voice took on a new tone. Inquiring. Slightly threatening.
“Go along then. Let me know the instant Ethan arrives.”
Hotel Room – Evening
“Exactly when,” Ethan asked, “do you want to move?”
Standing across from him, dressed now in the simplest of clothes and having cleaned the blood from her face and hands, was Cassandra. Her face, although in its demon form, lacked any semblance of rage. In fact, it contained no emotion at all. She stared at nothing, her powerful eyes unfocused.
Ethan waited patiently, moving as little as possible. Save for the slight sheen of sweat on his brow and a certain raggedness to his breathing, there was no hint of anything other than calmness. He simply waited, managing not to jump when Cassandra turned in a single smooth movement toward him, those golden eyes locked on his.
“You were supposed to find a virgin,” she said, deadpan. “For Grey’s Unwinding.”
“But I didn’t.”
“I know. You came back here. Why?”
“Pure self-preservation,” he replied. He even smiled. “That, and no great trust in Grey’s competence.”
“He was able to change me back,” said Cassandra. “I wouldn’t have thought that possible. Or…I couldn’t see why anyone would want to. Stupidity. The gods themselves and all that.” A spark of emotion showed in her eyes. Rage. It dulled soon enough. Replaced by curiosity. “I haven’t felt this angry in…” She considered. “I can’t remember. Invigorating, in a way.” There wasn’t a trace of inflection in her voice as she said this.
“Do you mind if I ask…?” Ethan hesitated.
“Exactly how did you come to be a wolf? Grey said some claptrap about you being trapped but, like I said, he doesn’t really impress me that way. What’s the real story?”
So rapidly that Ethan actually did a take, Cassandra smiled, and in an almost amused way she reverted to her human face. “You’ve been in prison, haven’t you?” she said.
“As a matter of fact…”
“You get to recognize the signs. Of that, among other things. Lots of things. Lots and lots and lots. Anyway, when you were in prison, did you like it?”
“Not even a little bit.”
“What about solitary confinement? They ever do that to you? Hm?”
“Did you hate it?”
“So do I,” her voice lost all trace of emotion again, as did her face. “Dullards and imbeciles can handle solitary confinement, did you know that? Look around you. Fools locked up by history and habit and grinding routine, every single one of them alone. Save for a precious few. The ones who aren’t alone, aren’t in solitary. And if you actually use your brain, you can hide from yourself the weight of all that banality less and less. Finding someone, then, is even more vital.”
In a flash she was next to Ethan, her face again demonic, and Ethan jumped. “What did you get? You were away long enough to fetch your precious virgin for the Unwinding, but there’s no blood on you! So what did you get, Ethan?”
“A vase,” he said. His voice was higher pitched than usual. “The spell calls for the blood of the virgin, but I got a vase and was going to put ordinary blood in it.” As she continued to stare at him, he spoke slower and deeper, more like himself. “You wanted to get at them, right? That means getting past the wards Grey will certainly have in place before they can run. So I have to come back from my errand, and not empty-handed. You see?”
When she said nothing, he slowly reached inside his pocket and pulled out a vase. It was the size of a medicine bottle, dark green with gold at the rim and stopper. He held it up. “See?”
She turned from him, her face melting into a semblance of humanity again. “What were you doing with these idiots, anyway?”
He shrugged. “I needed a job. The perks were very nice. If things went wrong, there was always the possibility of nicking a few choice items and making my exit. Honestly, I didn’t think they were quite this reckless. Or maybe just unlucky.”
Cassandra gazed back at him, almost coquettishly. “Is there a difference? Never mind. Where are Grey and his friends holed up?”
“An old bomb shelter under a bank downtown. He actually furnished it quite nicely. Well, expensively anyway. Plus, he has a formidable collection of herbs, spells, books and the like.”
“I can imagine. Because of Troy, incidentally.”
“Why was I a wolf? You asked, remember? Because I got out of solitary. And with him, we found a way out of the jail. Your Mr. Grey pulled me back.” She smiled, and somehow that smile conveyed a world of pain. “For that, he will suffer as no one has ever suffered before. It isn’t that I particularly want him to suffer, you understand. It is really hardly more than a preference. But you see, that little thing is all I want. That scrap of a desire is the only thing I feel. The only thing.”
Ethan Rayne looked at Cassandra for a long moment. He nearly smiled a gentle, even comforting smile. “Let me help,” he said softly.
Watchers Council – Kennedy’s Apartment – Later That Night
The bedroom was completely dark. The only sound penetrating the silence was the steady tick of the wall clock.
The outline of a body was visible under the sheets. A light groan could briefly be heard. The body shifted and then relaxed again.
Kennedy was standing just outside the bedroom door. Her feet shuffled nervously as she let out a deep breath and reached out to open the door.
It slowly crept open, sending a stream of light streaking through the darkness. The streak swept up the floor to splash against the back wall, illuminating the figure sprawled out across the bed.
Kadin groaned and her eyes fluttered against the sudden intrusion. “Wha…?” Her voice was thick with sleep as she slowly forced her eyes open. As soon as the light hit her sensitive eyes, she quickly lifted her hand to cover her face. “Jeez…what?”
Kennedy stepped into the room and closed the door, so that only a tiny bit of light remained. She locked eyes with Kadin as she slowly made her way over to the bed.
The hunter peered through the darkness until the image of her lover’s face became clear. “Oh, it’s you,” she sighed before falling back against the bed. “Comin’ to bed?” she asked with a yawn.
Kennedy gently shook her head. “No,” she answered in a low whisper. She took a seat on the bed next to Kadin and gazed down at her as she started to slip back off to sleep.
“Kadin?” the slayer asked quietly. She reached out and placed a hand on the other woman’s back.
“Hmm?” Kadin mumbled sleepily.
After a long moment of silence, Kennedy finally replied, “I love you.”
Kadin’s eyes instantly snapped open, and she sat up slightly to look over at the slayer. “What?”
A soft smile spread across Kennedy’s lips. “I think you heard me, but just in case you didn’t…”
Kennedy slowly leaned down to place a tender, but passionate, kiss on Kadin’s lips. She pulled back just a fraction and locked eyes with the hunter, then repeated in a throaty whisper, “I love you.”
It took a moment for the words to finally sink into Kadin’s brain. Once she was over the initial shock, a slow smile spread over her face. “I love you, too.” She pulled Kennedy into a more heated kiss, her hand starting to roam underneath the front of the slayer’s shirt.
“Wait,” Kennedy barely managed to breathe, as she pulled back from the kiss. She gazed into Kadin’s eyes with a regretful expression. “I really, really want to,” she began to explain apologetically, “God do I want to…” She paused as her eyes raked down the hunter’s body. “But,” she added after a beat, “we got this super important mission, and I am the boss now…”
Kadin sighed and pulled her hand out of Kennedy’s shirt. She let out a groan of annoyance and fell back against the bed.
“I’m really sorry,” Kennedy apologized again.
“No,” Kadin replied, waving a hand. “It’s your job. If ya gotta go, ya gotta go.” She looked up at Kennedy with a teasing grin. “But…when you get back…”
Kennedy returned the grin. “Oh, don’t worry. There ain’t no force on this planet that’s gonna keep me from comin’ home.”
Kadin chuckled and leaned up for one last kiss. “You come back to me, hmm?”
“Don’t I always?” Kennedy replied.
Kadin smiled, satisfied with the answer, then she fell back onto the bed and seemed to fall back asleep almost immediately.
Kennedy remained silent for a long moment before she slowly stood up and headed for the door. She paused with her hand on the knob and turned back to get one last look at Kadin. Without another word, she pulled open the door and slipped quietly from the room.
Watchers Council – Parking Garage – Night
Jeff walked purposefully, but more slowly than he usually did. Beside him strode Heli, both of them headed to the waiting van.
“I have a fix on where they probably are,” Jeff said. “And so far, they aren’t moving. At least, the mummy’s arm isn’t, and we have to assume they’re in the same place.”
“You have to teach me that sometime,” said Heli.
“We can talk later.”
At that moment, Marsha streaked past them, flapping her wings and picking up speed, then banking to slow down. She circled the van, then glided perfectly through the passenger-side door. Upon landing, she pulled in her wings and sidled over to Kennedy’s side at the wheel. The slayer reached down and petted her dragon’s snout.
Marsha made a sound halfway between a purr and a growl.
Vi, meanwhile, was approaching from a different entrance. She wore a long black slicker that billowed behind her like a cape.
“Shotgun,” she said.
“Uh…” Kennedy said, as Vi got closer, “I think Jeff needs to be in front with me. Him being the navigator and all.”
Vi paused, then sighed. “Okay.” She got into the backseat with Heli, while Jeff slipped in beside Kennedy. Marsha looked up at him and trilled.
“Hi,” he said absently, scratching the little dragon under her chin.
A few yards away, a second van was loading up, its passengers including Robin and Faith. Willow headed towards the van and passed Rowena, who was outside the driver’s side door, talking to Robin.
“Remember,” Rowena was saying, “I’m counting on you. Both of you.” She gave a meaningful look to Faith, as well.
“Five by five,” said Faith, without looking at her. Robin nodded at Rowena, who stepped away as Willow got in the back.
Both vans shut their doors and powered up their engines. They started to move, one following the other as they reached the exit ramp. Automatic doors opened to allow each one to pass, then closed once both vans had left the underground garage and moved onto the street. Rowena watched all this without blinking. She didn’t even seem to have noticed Andrew walking up from behind her with an envelope in his hand.
Rowena turned. “What?” She sounded puzzled.
“This.” He held out the envelope. “It just arrived from the other Councils today. The mail room saw it and thought it might be important, so they asked me to hand deliver it.” The envelope was slightly larger than that of regular business letters. It was also made of a heavy bonded paper and sealed with wax. The red wax bore the sleeping lion and three ravens of the Watchers Council.
“Is that what I think it is?” asked Andrew, as Rowena took it.
“Probably,” said Rowena.
“The decision about Faith?”
She nodded. They both looked at the envelope. Neither said anything. Rowena made no move to open it. But after a moment, in unison, the two of them looked at the automated exit where the vans had left. In the nearly-empty space of the large room, their silence was too obvious.
“You know,” Andrew suddenly mentioned, pointing to the exit, “that always kinda reminded me of the batcave.”
Bomb Shelter – Outer Room – Same Time
The young mage in red was still wearing his robes. He stood absolutely still before the entrance, which in turn looked like a bank vault. Mystical emblems had been painted onto the surface of the doors in a circle.
At the sound of footsteps, the young mage instantly summoned fireballs in each hand. But out of the shadows of the underground hallway emerged Ethan Rayne.
“Now, you see,” said Ethan, “some men only claim to have burning balls.” He smirked.
“Did you bring the virgin?” The mage did not change his stance.
In response, Ethan lifted the vase out of his jacket. “The spell requires the blood, not the intact person. Rather than call attention to myself, and us – especially to anyone who might recognize what we are attempting – I very discreetly stole the blood only.” He made a what-can-you-do shrug. “People get so upset when their family and friends actually go missing. Why beg for more trouble than necessary? Don’t you agree?”
“Grey said you had to bring a virgin.”
Ethan looked at the mage as if he’d just wondered if water was wet. “Ask him yourself. Look, I know what he’s trying to do, and he’s probably right about it working. Somewhat typical of him, really, to pull out as big a gun as he possibly can, but in this instance it truly is the smart move. But in order for it to work,” he said slowly and deliberately, “he needs this!” He held up the vase.
No response from the mage.
“I’ll leave then.” Ethan turned to go.
He was almost entirely obscured by shadows again before the mage said, “Wait.”
Ethan stopped. He turned and watched the young mage extinguish his flames, then touch the magic symbols on the vault door. As he did so, each symbol glowed for a moment. The final one emitted a jarring tone that made Ethan cock his head while shutting one eye. Even the mage winced. But then, the huge, round door began to swing open.
“I’ll allow you to enter,” said the mage, “but then it is up to…” He stopped.
Cassandra was standing in front of Ethan.
The mage wasted no time in hurling both fireballs directly at her. She caught them, one in each hand. The mage’s eyes almost bulged. Without any visible effort on Cassandra’s part, each fireball grew in size to double, then triple its original fierceness. Then she released them.
Unfortunately, his attempt to copy her trick and catch the flames failed. He literally became a man-shaped inferno.
Cassandra didn’t even blink.
Bomb Shelter – Inner Room – Moments Later
Grey looked up. He was at his desk when a strangled sound echoed in his room. His attention went immediately to the room’s entrance. It was a simple archway formed in the rough concrete, but, since it led into a T-shaped intersection, he could not see much beyond it.
He listened to the silence, then got up. From the inside of his robe he pulled a narrow stretch of wood, nearly two feet long. An odd stone was worked into the base, while runes were carved along its entire length. “Enair,” he whispered. The tip of the wand began to glow.
He now moved very slowly into the center of the room, eyes still fixed on the entrance. Then he waved the wand at several objects in the room. A box sprouted wings and came to him, hovering between him and the entrance. A petrified apple likewise floated towards him, coming to rest in the air to his right. To his left came floating a tiny hatchet, plated in silver.
Just then, a head came flying into the room.
It landed on the carpet, staining the material with green blood. Cyrano’s pale face and long nose stopped rolling within moments, his tongue falling from between slack jaws.
When Cassandra turned the corner, she was met by the flying box. It vanished as it neared her and, at that same instant, a block of multi-faceted crystal appeared around her. The sound of settling ice arose, then vanished as she froze in place. She stayed that way.
Grey hesitated. He kept his wand aloft, still pointed at Cassandra. But she didn’t move. Grey did, however, as Ethan waltzed into the office, with an appreciative glance at the crystal-encased vampire. Grey turned his wand to Ethan.
“Well done,” said Ethan. “If I’d had one of those, I’d’ve probably tried it myself. As it was, all I could think to do was hide.”
“You seem to accomplish that with great skill,” said Grey, with thin lips.
“Practice,” said Ethan. “An enormous amount of practice.” He looked at the crystal. “How long will that hold do you think?”
“It depends,” said Grey.
The crystal began to crack.
“Bloody hell,” said Ethan.
Grey now turned all his attention to Cassandra. A lattice-work of cracks was now appearing all over the crystal, like spider-webs growing at warp speed. Each crack was black, like a living shadow. pieces of crystal began to fall to the floor.
Ethan wasted not a moment. He crouched behind Grey’s desk, eyes peeking over the top. But below, unseen by anyone, his hands were busy. He slid open one of Grey’s drawers, then reached inside and removed a tiny bottle of oil, then a small box of ground herbs.
When the crystal finally dissolved and crumbled to the floor like melted sugar, Ethan crouched all the way behind the desk. He began mixing the oil and herbs into his little vase.
Grey, meanwhile, made a gesture with his wand. The petrified apple and silver axe both hurled themselves at Cassandra. She caught each one with a hand and screamed.
The apple began to petrify her entire hand, turning it to jagged stone. Her hand and wrist changed almost immediately, with the petrifaction spreading down her arm into the elbow. Her other hand, the one now holding the axe, erupted into blue-white flame! And it, too, was spreading.
Grey pointed his wand at her. “Brandacasti!”
Red lightning emerged from the wand’s tip and enveloped Cassandra, who continued to scream in pain. But as the lightning faded, she was still there. The petrifaction had slowed. Now it stopped. Grey hurled more red lightning. Cassandra held up her burning hand and, in a roar of light, the two seemed to extinguish each other. At least, as the lightning faded this time, so too did the blue flames.
Cassandra concentrated on her other hand. It took several seconds, but her arm began changing back to flesh again. The stone receded until, at last, the apple itself became red once more, whereupon she dropped it.
“Yes,” said Grey suddenly. “You’re remembering who you are now, aren’t you? Cassandra. Cassandra of Bruges. Not some beast trapped in a cage, running around on all fours. No, you are more than that. So very much more.” He said this, his eyes never leaving her for a second. When she said nothing in return, he even stepped closer. “Listen to me, Cassandra,” he said softly, “try to remember it all. The power. The sense of victory over your enemies. The thrill of bending others to your will. I am the one who tried to give all that back to you.”
“Fool,” she said finally. “I grew out of all that long before you were even born. Forget? I wish I could. And as for a beast…”
She moved too fast for him to respond, driving her fangs into his throat, but pulling back almost as fast. “I was always a beast!” she hissed.
Grey staggered, hand to his throat. His fingers were blood stained when they came away.
Trembling, he asked, “What do you want?”
“To kill you, of course.”
She hesitated, as if considering whether or not to explain. Then she sighed. “Why not?”
Grey tried to run. He turned, headed away from her. But he didn’t get far. From each of the fingertips of Cassandra’s right hand emerged a glowing talon of pure energy. Almost nonchalantly, she drove them into his back. His entire form arched in agony. Energy poured out of his mouth and eyes. All four limbs jerked uncontrollably.
Ethan carefully took position behind Cassandra.
Tunnel Outside Bomb Shelter – Same Time
Jeff was in the rear, with three slayers – Heli, Kennedy and Vi – in front of him.
“Ahead,” he said. “But also, some kind of dark magicks have been at work here. Very recently.”
“We should send Marsha ahead,” said Heli.
Kennedy nodded. Marsha, at a nod from her, took off from her arm and headed down the hallway.
“Something else,” said Jeff. They all looked at him. “Whatever has been happening…it’s still going on.” He seemed to be concentrating on the air. “Not very close by. Not just ahead. But not far either.”
“Let’s get ready,” murmured Vi.
Bomb Shelter – Inner Room – Same Time
Grey collapsed to the floor, energy still pouring from his eyes and mouth. But now he was only twitching feebly. Weird gurgling noises came from his throat, while his entire frame began to somehow soften.
“What did you do?” asked Ethan.
“Fused his mind to his flesh, then melted the flesh. He’s still there,” Cassandra noted. “He’ll be there until every single cell has been reduced to its component elements. And he’ll feel it.” By now, Grey’s flesh was becoming liquid, a glowing mess that stained the carpet. “He’ll feel every single moment of that agony. It might take years.”
“Pardon me for saying so, but you don’t seem happy.”
“Of course not.” She didn’t look at him. Her gaze was on Grey’s corpse, and not a flicker of interest showed in her eyes. “Might as well have snapped his neck, really.” She shrugged. “But I decided to be cruel instead. A whim. Or maybe just the last ember of caring.”
“Yes, well,” said Ethan, taking out the vase. “Time to kill me now, is it?”
Cassandra sighed. “I suppose so.” She didn’t seem enthusiastic.
“That’s what I was afraid of,” was his matter-of-fact response. He pointed the mouth of the vase at Cassandra.
She noticed. “What is this?”
“Pandorium invictus!” he said. “Ah!” The vase kicked slightly in his hand.
Cassandra cocked her head. “I don’t know that.”
“Well, no offense, but that is why I decided to chance it, luv. My own invention. Hope it works.”
She took a step forward. “If it doesn’t, you could spend the next few years dying slowly.” Her eyes looked slightly alive again, or at least interested.
“Oh, I know.”
Cassandra blinked. She looked at her hands. They were elongating. Her hair was moving, as if in the wind. Toward the vase.
“I expect you’ll get out of this, eventually,” said Ethan. “I’m not stupid enough to think myself in your league, but the odds are pretty good that by the time you escape, I’ll be long gone.”
Now there was no doubt. Cassandra’s eyes burned. Her face shifted. “You chose the wrong thing to threaten me with, little warlock,” she hissed from her fangs.
“Yes, I know. Sorry. But the fact is, well, I rather like you, but I continue to like me much much more.”
By now Cassandra was distorting, the edges of her form breaking up into a kind of mist. They swirled in a vortex towards the mouth of the vase in Ethan’s hand.
Bomb Shelter – Outer Room – Moments Later
Heli and Vi did a quick search of the room. Kennedy stayed beside Jeff, her cell at her ear “So far,” she said, “all we’ve found are a few body parts.”
“And a lot of magical residue,” added Jeff.
“Plus,” Kennedy continued, “Jeff says the place is like the mansion in terms of magic. Yeah, soaking in it.” She looked at Jeff. “Anything?”
He shook his head. “Nothing.”
Kennedy repeated this into the phone.
“Hey!” Vi said. She pointed to the hallway. The tinkling sound of glass could be heard. All four of the team began inching their way in that direction.
Bomb Shelter – Inner Room – Moments Later
Vi and Heli practically jumped into the room, ready for a fight. Marsha flew ahead and made for the one other figure present.
Ethan Rayne had been pouring himself a glass of scotch. As the small dragon flew up and began growling at him, he put the glass down and his hands up.
“Oh, I was wondering when you lot would show up.”
By now, Kennedy and Jeff had entered the room. Jeff scanned the room with his eyes, while Kennedy simply lifted one eyebrow all the way to her hairline. “You,” she said. “You’re the one behind the Fellowship of Shadows?”
“God no,” Ethan insisted. “Probationary employee only, I assure you. And not terribly keen on joining full time, from what I saw of their shenanigans. Bunch of bloody amateurs. All they had going for them was a little talent and some grand schemes. Plus luck. Which,” he gestured to a gory mess in dark robes on the floor, “finally ran out, as you can see.”
“Cut the excuses,” snapped Kennedy. “Who else is here?”
“Apart from us?” Ethan quipped. The dragon growled, and Ethan sighed. “No one, I do believe. Me, I went into hiding once the fight broke out, emerged as things quieted down and then did the most civilized, rational thing one can do in such times of stress.” He reached for his glass, picked it up and took a swallow. “Oh dear. Wouldn’t you know he’d go for the stuff that cost more but wasn’t as good?”
Kennedy looked at Jeff. “Anything?”
“All quiet now.”
“Now, yes,” offered Ethan, “but a little while ago…You know, I’m not even sure what the whole fight was about.”
“Really?” said Vi, coming up to stand next to Kennedy. Both their expressions spoke volumes, none of it involving belief in a single word he was saying. Marsha, by now settled onto the back of a nearby chair, seemed to wear an identical expression on her tiny reptilian face.
Ethan shrugged. Then, “Be careful with that!”
Heli had in her hand the small green vase, about the size of a cough syrup bottle. She looked back at him. “Why?”
“Trust me,” he said with a straight face.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Later That Night
Kennedy walked with Rowena.
“So we still don’t know what really happened?”
“Not exactly,” Kennedy agreed. “Ethan keeps dropping hints, mostly about that jar Heli picked up. Jeff and Willow agree the thing contains some kind of hefty black magic, but neither one of them wants to open it.”
“Of course not!”
“Ethan came out and said he knew what was inside. Or rather, he promised to tell us all he knew, in return for what he called ‘The Right Price’.” They both snorted. “Meanwhile, we’re locking the thing away where no one can get to it.”
“Long term secure storage. The whole world’s friend when it comes to certain items.” Rowena nodded in agreement as she spoke.
“What do you wanna do about Ethan?”
“The problem is,” said Rowena, “we don’t know if he’s telling the truth or not. And despite what anyone thinks, we are not in the habit of shooting first, asking questions later. We have to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
“Really?” Kennedy wrinkled her nose.
Rowena made a gesture that seemed to say “eh.” But her actual words were “Well, we’re not gonna lock him up or shoot him. It would be a good thing to keep an eye on him, though.”
“I agree.” They stopped. They were now at an intersection. Rowena’s apartment lay in one direction, Kennedy’s the other. “Gotta go. Kadin’s waiting.”
“Go,” said Rowena softly. “Enjoy. Tomorrow is going to be rough.”
Kennedy sighed, nodded, then walked away.
Rowena watched Kennedy leave, then turned to the nearest door. She raised her hand to knock, then lowered it. Then she raised it again. Still, she made no motion to complete the action.
The door opened. Robin looked somewhat amused as Rowena remained frozen, one arm held awkwardly up in the air. “How did you…” she asked.
“I heard you and Kennedy out here,” he said. “I thought I’d say hello.”
“Hello,” Rowena said, giving a little wave as she finally shifted into a more comfortable stance. “Actually, I have a little bit more to say than that.”
From her pocket, she produced the envelope. The red wax seal had been broken, and the envelope itself looked slightly worse for the wear.
“This is for Faith,” she noted simply.
“You opened it,” Robin observed, his voice neutral.
“I did,” Rowena said. “As Council Chair, it was addressed to me…It’s the decision.”
“And…?” Robin raised an eyebrow.
Rowena bit her lip before responding. “Is Faith here?”
“She hasn’t come back yet,” he told her. “Probably still trying to get something on Ethan. She should be here soon, though.”
“Okay,” Rowena said. “Could you…just make sure she sees this when she gets in.” She held out the slightly wrinkled envelope.
“Of course,” Robin replied, taking her offering.
“I’ll see you guys tomorrow, then,” she said. “I’m going to make sure the lights up there aren’t on by accident,” she pointed above them to the library. Without saying more, she shuffled uncomfortably in place for a short moment before making her exit down the hall. Robin watched her retreat for a few seconds before turning and closing the apartment door behind him.
Robin put the envelope containing the decision on a small wooden shelf next to the door. He didn’t move any further into the apartment, however. He cast a long, sideways glance at the letter, then quickly grabbed it. He fiddled with the wax seal for a moment, then sighed and placed the envelope back on the shelf. He walked away into the kitchen.
Watchers Council – Library – Moments Later
Rowena walked to the doorway of the library and saw Willow typing away furiously. For a moment she simply watched the redhead, who was obviously engrossed in what she was doing. She couldn’t help but smile. Suddenly the typing stopped, and Willow looked up, spotting her at the entrance.
Rowena didn’t try to hide her smile, and Willow began to grin in response.
“Everything okay?” Willow asked.
Rowena walked deeper into the room. “Fine,” she told her. “But there’s something I gotta know.”
“What?” Willow asked, concerned.
Rowena still grinned as she took a slip of paper and a pen and began to write something down. When she finished, she folded it and looked back over to Willow.
“What was my most embarrassing moment?” Rowena asked.
Rowena gave a small chuckle. “What was my most embarrassing moment?” she repeated.
Willow began to grin. “Uh, when you got knocked out at the Academy play?” she replied, a bit unsure of her answer.
Rowena handed Willow the slip of paper and began to walk from the room. She stopped in the doorway.
“We woulda kicked Vi and Xander’s butts,” she told her as she slipped out of sight.
Willow opened the paper that read, ‘My play at the Watchers Academy.’
Watchers Council – Faith & Robin’s Apartment – Same Time
Robin sat silently on the couch, his attention focused on a dog-eared copy of The Da Vinci Code. The sound of the apartment door opening distracted him from his book.
“Hi, honey, I’m home,” Faith said with a smile, closing the door behind her. Her grin grew wider when she noticed Robin’s choice of reading materials. “I didn’t know you were readin’ that. Not quite as upper-crusty as your usual beat.”
“I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about,” Robin replied, his expression remaining serious. “Turns out, it’s not about much.”
“But you never know when we’ll need somebody around here with experience in code-breaking,” Faith said. When Robin didn’t say anything, Faith’s smile slowly began to fade. “What’s up, Ace?”
“Rowena was here earlier,” he told her. “She dropped something off for you.” Robin motioned toward the envelope sitting on the shelf. Faith looked over at it, raising an eyebrow. “She opened it, not me,” he continued quickly. “I haven’t read it.”
“Took ’em long enough,” Faith said, attempting to continue to sound nonchalant. Then she turned and walked off toward the kitchen.
“You aren’t going to read it?” Robin asked, his surprise evident.
“Gimme a second,” Faith called. In the kitchen, she opened a cupboard and pulled out a small crystal glass. Placing the glass on the counter, she grabbed a nearby bottle of Jack Daniel’s and poured herself a serving.
“Already celebrating your acquittal?” Robin asked, managing a small smile.
“Red did say this was all a formality.” Faith sauntered back into the living room, glass in hand. Taking a sip, she picked up the envelope, slowly turning it over in her hand. With a single motion, and without spilling her drink, she removed its contents and let the envelope float to the floor as she read the letter.
Robin watched Faith’s eyes pass quickly over the first few sentences, She remained absolutely still, absolutely silent. Then he flinched as the glass in Faith’s hand shattered, the loud tinkling noise ringing loud in the quiet room. Faith herself took several very deep breaths. She looked like she was trying very hard not to scream.
A brown whiskey stain was slowly spreading amidst the broken glass on the carpet.
Watchers Council – Rowena’s Apartment – Moments Later
Rowena walked inside her apartment. The grin from earlier was still on her face as sat down on her sofa. Slowly, the grin was replaced by a frown as she looked around the empty apartment. Marco and Polo were curled up in furry balls together on the sofa. She rose and began to pace in silence. Finally, she pulled her cell phone out of her pocket. Rowena pressed a few numbers before putting it to her ear. She waited a few seconds, listening to the ring.
“Hey, it’s Rowena. Hope I’m not bothering you…” She paused as the voice on the other end said something. “No, no,” she said quickly, “Willow’s fine. Everyone’s okay…I was just calling because I need to ask you a huge favor – well, more than a favor, actually.” She paused again. “Well, I was wondering if I could tempt you out of retirement.”
End of Very Bad Ideas
Next on Watchers…
Rowena’s sudden resignation and her choice as her successor blindside the rest of our heroes, but the new Council Chair has no time to settle in before the next crisis hits.