Watchers Council – Computer Room
“Yeah, that’s all we’ve got,” Kennedy said into her phone. “‘Kay, one sec,” she added, before pulling the phone away from her ear. “Will!” she shouted. “I’ve got Al!”
She held the phone out toward the witch and Willow came over, taking it.
“Any ideas?” Willow asked without bothering with pleasantries. “No, Jeff’s on it now. Did Ro happen to leave anything there at your place?…Great! Can you –”
Willow finally grinned for the first time. “Thank you, Al…No, call Ken’s cell…Thanks…I’ll try.” Willow quickly hung up and handed the phone to Kennedy. “Andrew!” she yelled. “Does that machine need your personal attention to track that signal?”
“No,” Andrew answered. “What’s going on?”
“I’ve got a new job for you: find out where the signal from this camera is going.” Willow gestured at the camera. “If anything happens, I want to know about it. I’ll be in the Coven Room.”
Rowena rounded the corner at the top of a set of stairs.
“Okay, how bad is it?” Rowena asked.
“I told you,” Heli said levelly, “I’m fine.”
“I’m not talking about you,” Rowena replied, before quickly adding, “Not that I’m unconcerned.” She looked back down the stairs in the direction they had come from. “But really…what is this all about and what comes next?”
“Does it matter?” Faith asked, sounding very annoyed.
“Look, sooner or later, we’re gonna have to ask the big question: what does he want? What’s he thinking?” Rowena said.
“One down…” Vi said softly.
“Hey!” Heli yelled as she hobbled along. “I am still here.”
“Heli, you got us through that last hang-up, and I’m impressed, really,” Vi said, “but frankly, our situation isn’t looking all that bright at the moment.”
“No, Faith,” Vi said sharply, “we’re dealing with a bottom-line psychopath. Figuring out what he’s thinking won’t make him any less crazy, or us any less screwed.”
“So, what, Vi?” Faith countered. “You just wanna give up?”
Vi took a series of deep breaths. “No,” she said softly. “I’m just…” her voice caught, “I just hate not having something whose ass I can kick. I can kick the crap out of a demon, or even a human if I have to, but this…”
“I know,” Faith said, “believe me, I know.” She helped steady Heli who looked like she was starting to sway. “But we need you together on this one, Vi. If you’re not with us one hundred percent, we’re all gonna die. Same goes for everyone else.” She paused for a moment before she turned back to face Vi. “Are you with me?” She asked.
Vi took a few shaky breaths, then nodded shortly.
Faith offered a weak smile. “Good,” she said softly. “Let’s get out of here, okay?”
Watchers Council – Coven Room
Willow’s jaw was clenched as she stood near the door of the Coven Room, every muscle tense as she watched Jeff sit in a half-trance. His eyes were half-closed, his breathing slow and relaxed. His hands rested on his knees.
“Will?” Xander whispered from her side. “Are you alright?”
“No,” she replied pointedly.
Xander winced. “Right. Dumb question.”
Willow watched the young witch in the center of the room intensely.
“We’ll find her,” Xander whispered.
“‘Her,'” Willow said idly, “not ‘them’?”
“Sorry,” Willow apologized.
“I watched the screen in the computer room. I watched Vi and Ro and Faith trying to get Heli out of…whatever she was in,” she sniffled slightly. “And I watched them drag her out of there…afterwards.”
“Look, I know how hard it was for you…”
“It wasn’t,” Willow said, a single silent tear streaking its way down her cheek. “I watched them drag Heli out, and Goddess help me, the only concrete thought in my mind was ‘thank God it’s her.’ Of all the people in that…madhouse…she’s the one I can bear to lose.”
“Will, come on,” Xander said softly. “I can see where you’re going and I know you didn’t want to see Heli die.”
“Xander, ask yourself honestly: if someone doesn’t make it through this, who do you want it to be? Dig deep and get an honest answer,” she told him.
“People we love are missing, and obviously under duress,” Xander told her. “Of course you hope Heli makes it out.”
“But what if we start to see our slayers as expendable?” Willow countered. “What if we decide someday that a few dozen slayers are a reasonable price to pay if a half-dozen demons are killed? A dozen slayers here, a dozen there? Pish,” she threw up a hand. “It’s not like it’s Faith, or Vi, or Buffy. We can afford to lose a couple of lackeys.”
“Deep down, you really don’t think that,” Xander said.
“Some part of me does,” she said softly. “Some part of me, a small part, definitely, but still a part, was ready to let Heli die if it meant that our girls would be safe.”
Xander looked at her silently, unsure of what to say.
“I always knew I’d give up my own life if I knew it would keep Ro safe,” Willow said softly. “Apparently I’d give up someone else’s, too.”
“We’ll find them,” he told her, “all of them.”
Willow’s eyes rose to meet his. “I’ve never seen you like this. How are you so calm right now?”
“I’m not,” Xander replied. “But at least one of us has to pretend to be.”
Willow grinned for just a short moment and took Xander’s hand in hers, giving it a squeeze.
“How long do you think we were unconscious?” Vi asked.
“Does it matter?” Faith asked.
“Well, they had to move four unconscious people without being noticed by anyone. How far do you think they could’ve taken us?” Vi continued.
“Not far,” Heli replied. “Unconscious people tend to be hard to move.”
“Well that depends entirely on how long we were under, doesn’t it?” Vi’s voice took on a snippy edge.
“Less than twenty-four hours,” Faith said.
“How do you know that?”
“‘Cause I’m regular as a Swiss watch,” Faith replied.
Rowena arched an eyebrow at her.
“Hey, she asked,” Faith said defensively.
Watchers Council – Coven Room
“Dammit!” Jeff yelled.
“Blocked?” Willow asked.
“No, redirected,” he replied. “Blocking it would be easy compared to this.”
“What do you mean?” Willow asked.
“Come over here,” Jeff said, waving her over. “Whoever this is, they turned the spell around and aimed it straight back at us.”
Willow inspected the map and Jeff’s supplies that sat next to him. “So…what happened?”
“The spell says they’re in this room,” he said. He glanced around the sparse room. “Nope.”
“Look, now is not the time to be glib with me,” Willow snapped. “If some powerful magician is doing this, you’re just gonna have to try harder.”
“Try what?” Jeff countered. “Will, whoever’s doing this has a strong understanding of some of the subtleties of the locator spell.” He indicated himself. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m good, but whoever’s doing this is either a very powerful magician, or has some very specialized understanding of the locator spell. Since I doubt anyone would have that intimate knowledge of locator spells, I think it’s fair to say that we’re dealing with a major player here.”
Willow took a long breath. “Okay, let’s try this from a different angle. Who do we know that could do something like this?”
“You. Ethan. Althenea, maybe,” Jeff replied.
“I trust Al. A-and this just is not Ethan’s style.” Willow shook her head. “Any unknown factors that could turn around a locator spell?”
“Well, if I knew, they wouldn’t be unknown,” Jeff pointed out.
Willow looked like she was about to rip into Jeff again, but Xander gripped her upper arm to calm her.
“Jeff, is there anything we can do?” Xander asked.
“I don’t know. I can’t think of anything more on the magical end, at least nothing that’ll work in time,” Jeff replied.
“Did you try it with red pepper?” Willow asked.
“Yes, and rosemary and saffron,” he replied. “I’ve done it three times already and, like you just saw, it’s the same results.”
“Alright then. L-Let’s see what Al comes up with,” Willow answered, taking a very deep breath. “I’ll give this a shot myself, but until then hit the books to see how someone might be blocking us.”
“We could try to look back in time again, but without Skye, it’ll be nearly impossible,” Jeff offered.
Willow closed her eyes for a moment. “Do the research I asked,” she said.
“But Will –”
“Now! We don’t have time to argue,” she said, pointing out the door. Xander and Jeff exchanged a brief look of sympathy before Jeff started on his way. Closing her eyes, Willow took a seat in front of the supplies and blew out a long breath.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Minutes Later
Willow left the Coven Room and Xander followed her closely until he caught up next to her.
“So nothing on your end, either?” Xander asked as they walked quickly down the hall.
“I got the same results,” she replied shortly.
They walked for another moment until Xander said, “Tinkerbell!”
“What?” Willow looked at him dubiously.
“That Tinkerbell spell that Tara did to find you. Can you do that to find Ro?”
Willow shook her head. “No, Tara and I worked magic together, like a coven. That’s why the spell won’t work for Ro, she’s not…” She trailed off.
“What?” Xander asked.
“She’s not in the Coven, and this guy didn’t take a Coven member,” Willow said. “Only slayers and a watcher, no witches. Why?”
“Heck if I know, Will,” Xander replied. “I’m racing to keep up as it is.”
“I’m guessing because he knew somehow that the Coven might find our fellow members much easier.”
“So he is someone with magic knowledge then?”
“Maybe,” Willow replied. “Or maybe it’s just someone who knows our Coven real well – well enough to know what we would try.”
Watchers Council – Computer Room – Moments Later
“Andrew, where are we?” Willow asked. Andrew stood on a stool in the corner, tinkering with the camera hanging above him.
“Actually, this should be a lot faster. It looks like whoever set this up wasn’t planning on being found,” he reported.
“And our incoming video? If we find whoever’s doing this, there’s no guarantee that we can make them talk,” Willow said.
“No promises on that front,” Andrew said. “It’ll be tight, if it happens.” He frowned. “Willow, whoever did this has an intimate knowledge of our computer system and how it works.”
“You think this was an inside job?” she asked.
“It looks that way.”
“This didn’t just come out of nowhere,” Willow said. “Has anyone been threatened, or felt like they were being watched, or anything?”
“Nobody’s said anything,” Andrew told her.
Willow frowned, an expression of deep concentration on her face. “That bitch,” she whispered.
“What?” Andrew asked, confused.
“She’s found a loophole,” Willow said.
Kennedy walked over and held her phone. “Al,” she told her as she held it out. Willow reached for it, but Kennedy pulled it away. “She says Rowena is here.” With that she moved the phone back toward Willow, who grabbed it roughly.
Watchers Council – Skye’s Room
“Where is she?” Willow demanded.
Skye looked passively up at the witch, putting down the paperback she had been reading and standing up from her bed. “What am I getting blamed for now?”
“Drop the innocent act, where are they?” Willow’s voice became darkly threatening.
Skye crossed her arms over her chest. “Okay, how about you pretend for the sake of argument that I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” Skye paused for a moment, looking at the redhead quizzically. “Actually, please pretend, because I don’t.”
“What was it,” Willow demanded, “we put a muzzle on you and you found a way around it? You can’t hurt anyone, so you find some way of getting them to kill themselves?”
“Again, what the hell are you talking about?” Skye asked.
“You kidnap four of our most prominent members, put them in some kind of Saw funhouse, then, what, watch us scramble around for your own sick pleasure?” Willow pressed.
“Um, yeah, ’cause you know, I had plenty of spare time to build a funhouse while you were watching me twenty-four hours a day,” Skye told her.
“Will,” Xander said softly, “she’s right. With the leash we’ve been keeping her on, there isn’t enough time in the last year for her to have gone to the bathroom, much less construct a complete house o’ hazards, without us knowing about it.”
Skye waved a hand in Xander’s direction.
“She was a part of our Coven, so she knows how we operate. What we can do. Besides, look at her,” Willow gestured at the vampire, “she’s hiding something.”
“Will, she’s a vampire. By definition, she’s hiding something,” Xander told her.
“Your arm,” Skye said softly.
“What?” Willow turned to face her.
“Your arm,” Skye repeated. “Someone gave you a shot of something.”
“Where?” Willow looked down at her forearm.
“Right here,” Skye walked over, took Willow’s arm and stretched it out in front of her. “Right into the vein.”
“You can see that from across the room?” Willow squinted.
“See it? No. Smelled it? Yes,” Skye replied.
Willow’s features scrunched uneasily.
“It’s a vampire thing. Give me a break,” Skye told her. “You don’t see me bugging you about how loud you snore, do you?”
“How do you know that I snore loudly?” Willow demanded.
“I didn’t,” Skye replied. A smile spread across her face. “I just assumed.” She looked at Xander. “Both of you got a shot of something. Smells like a mixture of a depressant and an amphetamine of some kind.”
“How can you possibly –?”
“Do you know how many ecstasy-takers are drunk on any given weekend?” Skye asked. “Hang around a vampire haunt or two, and you get to know the smell pretty well. Ask the doc what you’re on, then you’ll at least have a lead on who drugged you.”
“I don’t want leads,” Willow insisted, “I want answers.”
“Come on,” Skye countered, “you’ve watched 24. Follow the threads, Jack.”
“We don’t have time for this!” Willow yelled.
Skye’s head cocked slightly. “Funny how it changes things, isn’t it?”
“What are you talking about?” Willow asked.
“Impending death. I’m willing to bet Rowena’s one of the four in danger, and suddenly, you’re desperate,” Skye said. “Right now, you’re frantically trying to remember the last words you said to her before you fell asleep last night, trying to remember your last kiss, the last touch, the last time you made love…all because you have to actually consider the possibility that it was the last time,” Skye shook her head. “Life is on the line, and everything changes.”
“Nothing’s changed,” Willow insisted.
“Everything’s changed. You’ve changed, both of you. Let’s face it, Will, you’re usually the cool cucumber, the one who sees the silver lining in every dark cloud. Look at you now. You’re frantic. And then there’s Xander here, the guy who gets emotional at the drop of a hat. Now he’s trying to stay cool because that’s what he has to do to keep you in check. He’s seen first hand how dangerous you can become when the woman you love is in jeopardy…or dead. And to be honest, I’d love to hang out with you guys for the rest of the day just to see how this little role reversal plays out.”
“All the more reason to think you have something to do with this,” Willow said.
“I told you, it’s not me. But I’ve got a hunch that whoever’s doing this…he knows how you’d react, he knows your history,” Skye told her.
Skye nodded. “Dawn told me the story. You loved Tara. Tara left you. But Tara came back and life was wonderful again until…boom. Game over. And Xander’s mouth saves the world. Now let’s jump a few years ahead. You find Ro. You lose Ro. Ro comes back and, yet again, life is wonderful. You even got a neat engagement bracelet recently, and now…boom. Do you see the similarity here?”
Willow released a ragged sigh as Skye dropped into an armchair. Skye looked at the duo calmly for a moment. After observing them silently for a few seconds, she spoke again. “You know, scientists have found that when people are in a heightened emotional state, the reasoning part of the brain is completely quiet.”
“So,” Skye said, “right now, you meet the measurable definition of ‘crazy.’ Whoever’s doing this, I guarantee that, right now, he’s a lot less crazy than you are. But more than that, he knows how you’d both react to this.”
“Again, someone like you, you mean?” Willow countered.
Skye smiled. “Really, I’m flattered you think it was me, but like Xander said, you’re barking up the wrong tree. So tell me what you got and we’ll see if we can’t figure a few things out.” Skye held up her hand quickly. “Actually, Xander, you tell me the story, because her head’s not in the right place at the moment.” Skye grinned as she gestured toward Willow, who just glared at her.
Heli needed some support as the four women proceeded down another hallway. Her face was pale and a thin sheen of sweat covered her brow. Her breath came in ragged gasps. Her right arm was draped across Vi’s shoulders.
“What’s next?” Heli asked. Her voice was slightly slurred, as if she were hopelessly tired.
“Is she okay?” Rowena asked Vi.
“I think she’s going into shock,” Vi replied. “She’s lost a lot of blood.”
Rowena gritted her teeth. “We don’t exactly have time to wrap her in blankets and elevate her feet.”
“I can make it,” Heli said. “Just make sure I can see a doctor when we get out of here.”
The hallway widened into a large room.
“Okay, where are we now?” Rowena asked.
Vi looked around. “A big room?”
“It looks too safe,” Heli said. “I don’t like it.”
“So it’s not a trap,” Vi replied. “I have no problem with that.”
“This whole place is a trap,” Heli countered.
“I gotta say, I’m with Heli on this one,” Faith said. “They got something planned for us here.”
“Or that’s exactly what they want us to think and they want us to waste time looking for a trap that isn’t there,” Rowena suggested.
“If there’s something here, and we miss it, we die here,” Heli said. “If not, we lose some time, and at least we have a chance to make up for it later. We can’t make up for dead.”
Rowena nodded. “You’re right,” she admitted. “Search fast.”
“Ro, we’re gonna have to stick around for a little while, at any rate,” Faith said.
“Why’s that?” Rowena asked.
“The next door’s locked,” Faith replied, rattling the doorknob.
Watchers Council – Computer Room
“How long, Andrew?” Willow asked.
“Fifteen minutes, maybe. I’ve got a good signal here. I guess he wasn’t counting on us finding this,” Andrew told her.
“Good, tell me the instant you have a location,” Willow ordered.
Robin burst into the room. “Have you found them yet?” he demanded.
Willow winced. “I’m sorry, Robin. Not yet. You?”
“Everything from last night’s gone, erased.”
“Damn it,” Willow sighed.
“What’s the hold up here?” he asked.
“Everything, it seems. It’s been almost an hour now and I’m no closer to an answer,” Willow admitted. “I was hoping the cams picked something up.”
“How bad is it?”
“Bad,” she said. “We have no idea where they are, our locator spells didn’t work. Andrew’s trying to track our signal back to wherever they are, but he doesn’t know if it’ll happen in time. And now you’re saying we have no visual record.”
At first, Robin was silent. “Yeah, that’s bad.”
Willow could only nod as she looked back at the screen.
“I think I just found it,” Faith said. She was kneeling in the center of the room.
“Careful,” Rowena said, “we don’t need another injured slayer.”
“Ro, how likely do you think it is that at least one more of us isn’t gonna get hurt before we’re out of here?” Faith asked.
Rowena just sighed. “What do we have?”
“Trap door,” Faith said. “I was just about to open it and take a look.”
“Okay, just…be careful,” Rowena said softly.
Faith pulled on a section of the floor, freeing a panel four feet square. Carefully, she looked down.
“Oh joy,” Faith muttered, “a pit of razor blades.”
“Care to bet that the key to that door is buried under there somewhere?” Vi asked.
“No bet here,” Faith replied. “How deep do you think it goes?”
“I don’t know. We’ve gone up at least one floor. How deep?…That’s anyone’s guess.” Rowena said.
“Look, there’s no gettin’ around this,” Faith said. “One of us has to go looking for it.”
“I’ll go,” Heli said.
“You’ve lost enough blood for one day,” Faith replied. “I’ll go.”
“Um, guys?” Vi called out.
“We gotta move quickly here.” Her gaze was fixed above the door at the far end of the room.
The three women followed her gaze. A timer, identical to the one which was prominently displayed in the center of each of their chests, had lit up in the center of the door. It began counting down from two minutes.
“Move!” Heli yelled.
Faith looked at the door for a moment, then took a deep breath before she jumped into the pit.
“Faith, no!” Rowena yelled, but it was too late.
Faith gritted her teeth as her bare feet sunk into the pit full of razor blades. She sank nearly to her knees, then she began digging around, searching. She groaned in pain as her hands and forearms received dozens of cuts.
“How much time do we have?” she yelled out, her voice hiding none of the pain she felt.
“One-thirty,” Vi yelled back.
“What happens when it runs out?” Rowena asked.
“I don’t know, but I got a feeling we don’t want to find out,” Vi yelled back.
Faith dug deeper through the blades around her, brushing armfuls of the double-edged blades out of the way. Blood flowed freely from her arms, spraying the walls of the shaft around her with her wild gestures.
Watchers Council – Computer Room
“What the hell is happening in there?” Robin asked as he leaned closer to the computer screen. Three of the women stood around a hole in the floor, while the fourth could not be seen from where the camera was situated. “Where’s Faith?” he asked.
On the screen, a hand reached out of the pit, leaving a dark smear on the floor. Vi knelt down next to her momentarily, then rushed to the door, pulling it open.
Rowena helped Faith pull herself out of the pit. Faith rolled away from the hole, groaning in pain. Her hands, covered in dark red blood, curled into claws. She lay on her back, gasping for breath. Hundreds of short cuts, some shallow, some deep, criss-crossed each of her four limbs. She dragged her legs up onto the floor beside her, leaving long bloody smears on the wood floor.
Faith sat up and Rowena pulled a blade out of the sole of Faith’s foot. The slayer looked at her hands and pulled another pair of blades from her left palm.
“Please tell me that we made it in time,” she whispered between breaths.
“We made it,” Rowena said. “Are you okay?”
“I’ll live,” Faith replied. “I don’t think I cut anything vital.”
“Can you walk? Your feet look like they’re cut up pretty badly.”
“They are,” Faith said. She stood up, taking a few shaky steps. Perfect bloody footprints marked her path on the filthy floor. “I’ll make it.”
“What, Ro? Unless you got somethin’ to bandage me up, I’ll just have to manage.” Faith replied sharply. Rowena took off her shirt. “I’m flattered, but not interested,” Faith teased.
“Sit back down,” the watcher ordered. Rowena tried to pull on the fabric. Giving up, she tossed it to Vi. “Rip off the arms please.” Rowena then turned to Faith. “I would have given you my shirt to begin with.”
“Too late now,” Faith replied.
Rowena sighed. “Please, from now on, think before you act.”
“I still would’ve gotten cut,” Faith countered, as Vi tossed Rowena the first sleeve.
“But maybe not as bad,” Rowena said. She started to tie one of Faith’s feet.
“I just…I saw the clock…” Faith trailed off and didn’t finish.
Rowena looked up at her with a grin. “I know…and you were just being Faith.”
Faith grinned too, in spite of her pain, as Rowena rose and helped Faith to her feet.
Watchers Council – Computer Room
“I got it!” Andrew yelled.
Willow and Robin’s heads turned from the computer screen. “You know who’s watching us?” Robin asked.
Andrew nodded. “They’re in the building.”
“You’re sure?” Willow asked.
Andrew nodded again.
“Who is it?” Willow asked softly.
Watchers Council – Slayer Rec Room
The heavy wooden door exploded inwards, revealing Kennedy standing in the hallway. Every muscle was tensed, her expression hard.
Marly turned away from the computer screen to calmly face the door.
On the screen in front of her, Andrew could be seen working near one of the terminals in the computer room.
The air around Willow almost seemed to be crackling with electricity as she pushed her way into the room to stand in front of the slayer.
“Where is she?” the witch demanded ominously.
End of Act Two