Bureau Nine Headquarters – Same Day
Rowena had her cell phone to her ear as she and Mia walked down the sidewalk.
“Okay,” Rowena said into the phone. “Just be careful. All right…Yes, I’ll give Marco and Polo extra cuddles tonight and tell them it’s from you.” She grinned. “Be careful…Love you too.” Rowena hung up and turned to Mia. “Looks like Willow’s going on a road trip.”
“Where to?” Mia asked.
“Spain,” Rowena shrugged. “She’s calling tonight with details,” Rowena said, as she began to take in their surroundings.
“Well,” offered Mia, “at least it looks smaller than our place.”
She and Rowena stood before a gleaming building of glass, steel and concrete that looked a little like some kind of futuristic sculpture. Above the front door, the logo of Bureau Nine fairly blazed, silver on black.
“From what Lori tells me,” Rowena said, “there’s a lot underground.”
“Really. Well, that’s worrying, I suppose.”
“Honestly? No reason. Just trying to be supportive.”
That earned a smile from Rowena. “Thanks.”
Bureau Nine – Elevator – Minutes Later
Lori ushered Rowena and Mia into the elevator, then waited until the doors closed. She then punched in a series of numbers on a keypad above the controls before pressing a floor number, and the elevator began to move.
Rowena watched this with a trace of envy in her eyes. “I presume,” she said after a moment, “that you’ve got mystical security procedures as well?”
“Oh yeah,” Lori nodded. “Basic wards over most of the building, with periodic scrying throughout. Then we have some hefty glamours and other little surprises built into the high security areas.”
“I can’t believe you guys put all this together so fast,” said Mia.
“Yeah, I mean…Bureau Nine has only been around a couple of years, right?”
“Actually,” Lori said, “it goes back over a century. Of course, in those days it was little more than a committee of experts. But once the Nazis came to power in Germany, then it started getting a lot more to do.”
“Nazis?” Mia asked. “What do Nazis…?”
Rowena interrupted before Lori could answer. “There were powerful occult forces behind Hitler, using him for their own ends. Over a dozen potential slayers were dispatched to Germany during the war.”
“And what, three made it back out?” Lori asked.
“Yeah. That’s right.” Rowena gave Lori a surprised look.
“We have impressive files,” Lori answered the unasked question. The elevator stopped moving. Its doors slid open.
Bureau Nine – Felix’s Office – Moments Later
Jason Felix looked up from the files on his desk as the door opened. Lori, accompanied by Rowena and Mia, entered the office. Felix rose.
“Ah. Excellent. So pleased you could come. Miss Allister and Miss Nakata, isn’t it?” They both nodded. “I am Jason Felix, CEO of Bureau Nine. More importantly, for the moment, I am your host.”
Both Rowena and Mia swept the room with their eyes. It was simple, attractive in a vaguely Spartan way. Large, but neither crowded nor empty. An impressive screen took up much of one wall. Comfortable chairs pointed towards that screen took up the center of the room. It was towards these chairs Felix gestured.
“Please, have a seat. Would you like some coffee, tea, soda?”
They shook their heads, but sat down facing the screen.
“Mr. Felix?” Lori hesitated.
“I’d like to check to see if the final reports are in.”
“Excellent idea. You do that.”
Lori caught Rowena’s and Mia’s eyes. “Let’s hope it’s good news.” Then she exited.
“Final reports?” Rowena asked, getting settled in the chair.
“Yes – we’re waiting for them. Let me explain.” He took a small control box from off his desk, then came to sit beside Mia and Rowena. He pressed one button on the box, and the large screen lit up. Before them appeared a series of photographs showing Cleveland from a high elevation. Very high. And as the pictures progressed, never lingering more than a full second on each frame, it became obvious that what they were looking at was time-lapse photography, over the course of days.
“Immediately after word broke of what happened on October 31st,” Felix began, “I had an idea. By calling in a rather large number of favors from…well, some people…I managed to gain access to satellite surveillance of the Cleveland area in and around the date of the attack.”
“Wait a minute,” Rowena said. “Who has Cleveland under satellite surveillance? Besides the government, I mean…And why?”
“Lots of people. For a variety of reasons. Meteorology for one. There are literally thousands of satellites in orbit, examining the world, looking for everything from possible oil deposits to ancient roads to, in this case, automobile traffic patterns. Actually, that is what I focused upon. Automobiles.” He pressed another button. This time the screen changed to show a complex series of mathematical formulae.
“Probability patterns,” muttered Rowena.
“Exactly right! Starting with the premise that Miss Hamalainen would have left the immediate Cleveland area by car…”
“That way offers the most mobility and privacy, both.”
“Just so…starting with that premise, then I had this surveillance data subjected to rigorous software, looking for anomalies.”
“Did you find any?”
“Close to three thousand.”
“Talk about your needles versus haystacks,” Rowena replied.
“Right. So, we tightened the parameters and ran the programs again, essentially getting rid of some haystacks.” Felix grinned. “This time, we came up with a more workable number. Two hundred and five.”
“S’cuse me,” Mia raised her hand. “I love CSI as much as the next guy, but I’m beginning to get lost.”
“They’re trying to find Heli by noticing, analyzing, traffic patterns.”
“Can that work?”
“In theory,” Rowena replied.
“You see,” Felix said, “we can make certain assumptions about how Miss Hamalainen would have made her escape from Cleveland. It would be unlikely that she would use a new car, for instance. And equally unlikely would be for her to head to a place frequented by slayers or anyone from the Watchers Council or a long list of others. More, if she had prepared this theoretical place beforehand, she could not have stayed there long. She would have been missed if absent too long.”
“That is making another assumption,” said Rowena.
“That Heli acted alone.”
Felix nodded. “I considered that. But with all due respect…who? And why? Not only in terms of tactics, but strategically?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Rowena said cynically. “Let’s say a for-profit organization competing with the council?”
“That too would be an assumption, but an incorrect one,” Felix replied. “If anything, Miss Allister, we’re on the same side. We simply handle the overflow, you might say.”
“And collect a hefty fee doing it,” Rowena replied.
“This is true. Our stocks are doing quite well as of late, but we have the Council to thank for that. By going public, it’s opened up new doors for our business. We too no longer have to operate in secret. But getting back to my original point, anyone capable of doing what Heli has done could have inflicted far, far more damage if their goal was serious harm to the Council.”
“Let’s hear your theory,” Rowena prompted.
“Your entire senior management might have been assassinated, for instance. Or, more tellingly, she could have continued as a kind of deep cover agent, which would be much more valuable to any potential enemy than the frankly vicious torture and killing of several individuals. Besides, what she did, it smacks of a personal goal, a very specific agenda.”
Rowena pondered this. Mia simply nodded. “Makes sense.”
“Ah, but as a very wise man said, logic is simply a way of being wrong with confidence. Nevertheless, I still acted upon my assumption that Heli Hamalainen acted alone. If nothing else, failure along those lines would indicate the opposite. Bureau Nine agents are tracking down all two hundred and five leads gained from the traffic analysis. Lori is checking on the last dozen or so. Dead ends, so far.”
“When you have the final reports, assuming they lead to anything,” Rowena asked, “what then?”
“I thought I’d made my intentions clear.”
“The information we glean is to be handed over to you, Miss Allister. Presumably, to act upon with dispatch.”
“Seems doubtful Heli Hamalainen will remain in one place for long.”
“No, I mean – why are you handing this over to us?”
“Ah.” Felix nodded and took a seat. “Among the questions we’ve been tossing around here lately is precisely what was gained from this act of…well, let’s keep it simple and call it terrorism. An obvious result was increased paranoia within the Watchers Council.”
“You’re suggesting,” said Mia, “that Heli did this to make us suspicious of…you?”
He shrugged. “That is bound to be something of a side effect under the circumstances. So a token of good faith seems appropriate, all the more since it truly is sincere.” His gaze was steady, open. “At times your organization and mine may well be rivals, but again, our goal is the same – to serve and protect humanity. For us to be enemies, however, would be stupid. Even dangerous.”
Rowena took all this in. “How many slayers have you got working for you now?”
“Sixty nine. Twenty of those are like Lori Carew, old enough to have lost their powers.”
“And was it your idea to have her pose as an expert on national TV?”
“Good lord, no!” This actually got a short chuckle. “She’s dating a reporter! It was his idea. And…she never once claimed to be an expert. Although, frankly, she is one.”
“What about you?”
“I’m definitely an expert.” He grinned.
“Approximately a dozen or so fields.”
“That’s a lot.”
“How many are you expert in, Miss Allister?”
“Just one – being a watcher.”
One eyebrow went up. “Really?” Felix asked rhetorically. “Then keep us in mind should you ever decide you feel you need a change.”
“Are you seriously trying to recruit me?” Rowena asked incredulously.
“Why not? You seem like a very intelligent woman,” he replied.
“For one, I don’t think my fiancée would approve,” Rowena said with a smirk.
“Of course, with Miss Rosenberg as head of your Coven, I can see why that might make things a bit complicated at home.”
Rowena looked surprised at first. “How did you –?”
“I read Watchers Monthly, nice magazine,” he replied. “It’s wonderful to have someone like her, isn’t it? Someone you want to grow old with?” His tone seemed distant.
“It is,” Rowena replied with a slow nod, picking up on his demeanor. “What about yourself?” she asked, hoping to sound friendly. “Anyone special in your life, Mr. Felix?”
With a melancholy grin he replied, “Not anymore, unfortunately.”
“I’m sorry,” Rowena said sincerely.
Felix shrugged. “Anyway, my job offer stands, and the door is always open should you change your mind.”
Before Rowena could reply, there was a quick knock on the door. Lori rushed inside, file in hand. “Jackpot!” The three rose as they heard her voice. “We’ve got her!”
“Heli?” Rowena asked, her voice suddenly deeper.
Lori’s eyes were shining. “She bought a used car from a salesman due to retire. And then, she had it painted a different color. Both times, she paid cash.” She handed the file to Felix, who opened it. “Car number one hundred and eleven.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Felix looked at Rowena, then at Mia, then at Rowena again. He handed the file to Rowena. “A cabin in Deerfield. She’s there.”
Rowena blinked and took the file. “You’re sure?”
Lori nodded. “We confirmed with nearby residents in Deerfield. They claim they’ve seen a car matching Heli’s description traveling in the area. They thought it might be the family of the other households, but it turns out, none of them recognize the car.”
“If she’d avoided well-lit areas, it would’ve taken her longer to get there,” mused Mia.
“Exactly!” said Lori.
Felix took a deep breath. “Good hunting, Miss Allister. Should you wish, all the resources of Bureau Nine are at your disposal in this matter. Or not. The choice is entirely your own.” He waited.
For an eternal second or two, Rowena waited. Then she said, quietly, “Thank you. We need to go.”
He nodded. “Or course. Lori, show them out?”
South Boston – Public Housing Apartment – Night
A little girl, no older than five, with wavy brown hair and faded clothing hanging loosely on her tiny frame, sat cross-legged on the carpeted floor of a scarcely decorated family room. In her lap was an infant girl with identical brown eyes and the same pale, undernourished appearance. The room was completely dark except for the flickering light of an ancient rabbit-eared television that held both girls’ rapt attention. “This is the best part,” the older of the two whispered, as a clay reindeer approached a similar clay characterization of Santa Claus.
Both sisters jumped as a loud slam sounded through the apartment, causing the television’s picture to flicker slightly. Seconds later, a short twenty-something brunette entered the room and unceremoniously hoisted the infant into her arms, taking care to adjust the cigarette in her mouth so that it wouldn’t burn the child. “Your father’s home,” the woman said matter-of-factly to the older girl, who remained on the floor.
The younger sister whimpered quietly in her mother’s arms for a few seconds, before bawling outright. The woman did not react; instead, she looked down at her older daughter and said, “Go finish your homework. You’ve watched TV for long enough.” Her tone was distant and emotionless. Without another word,she turned and exited into the adjoining kitchen, where the younger sister’s cries were much less audible.
Frowning, the small brunette sat motionless for a moment, looking back at the television in an act of silent defiance. Her smile slowly returned as the clay reindeer with the bright red nose pulled Santa’s sleigh through the sky on a foggy Christmas Eve Night. She sat like that for a moment, looking safe and content.
Suddenly, an ear splitting crash of glass on drywall assaulted her eardrums. All sense of normalcy disappeared quickly as two boisterous voices began verbally sparring so loudly that the Claymation reindeer blurred into a series of unintelligible black and white wavy lines, until finally blinking out completely, the television screen going dark.
The shouting ended as abruptly as it had begun, and for several seconds the pitch-black room was nearly silent, the only perceptible noise coming from the ragged, frightened breaths of the unseen brown-haired girl.
Faint at first, a disjointed white noise moved through the room as the television came to life once more, illuminating the area as the screen displayed a bright snowy static. A now full-grown Faith sat on the floor, her legs pulled tightly against her chest as she stared blankly at the screen.
The voice was distorted and almost inaudible.
The brunette looked up cautiously at the sound of her name, but spotted no one. She scanned the poorly-lit room, without moving from her innocuous position.
The slayer’s eyes darted to a doorway opposite the kitchen. She stared for a moment before slowly loosening her posture. Lowering her arms from her knees, she rose to her feet and took a few tentative steps toward the doorway.
Faith hesitated briefly at the doorway at the entrance to a bedroom, then entered, paused in the center of the room, and waited. The bedroom was tiny, decorated with only a metal-framed crib, a small twin bed, and a chipped wooden nightstand. The only light source was a small yellow nightlight resting on the bedside table.
While still distorted, the voice was a bit louder.
Faith’s eyes flashed to the open window next to the twin bed. A set of flimsy white drapes shook slightly as a gust of air whistled through the frame. Walking forward, she stepped up to the window. Pushing the drapes aside, she climbed through.
Out on the fire escape, the low whistle of the wind blocked out most of the sounds of the city. Instinctively, Faith gripped the cold railing of the metal platform. Bending over the bar, she looked down into the alley five stories below, where a homeless man in a dirty tan duster and frazzled brown hair was digging through a pile of black trash bags.
Shifting her gaze across the alley, she spotted a scrawl of text spray painted on the redbrick face of the opposite building. Her eyes flashed with recognition as she stared at the writing, which read, “During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die and death will elude them.”
The voice grew louder.
Quickly, Faith looked up. Letting go of the railing, she started climbing the fire escape, as the wind grew strong and its whistle more audible. With each story she ascended, the building’s exterior seemed to appear less like cheap red brick and more like jagged crimson limestone. Her passing steps sounded as though her hard rubber soles were grinding against pebbles, rather than grated metal steps.
The wind picked up as she reached the top, and it became clear that Faith was no longer in Boston. Before her was an eight foot wide path of flat limestone that stretched fifteen feet until ending abruptly at a cliff’s edge. Beyond that was a straight drop to a canyon floor two hundred feet below.
She stepped forward and walked slowly toward the drop. The wind roared around her, pushing fiercely against her hair and clothing.
Faith continued to walk until she reached the very edge of the cliff. As she stopped, all sound died around her.
No longer distorted, the voice was soft and feminine…almost angelic.
Faith brought her arms up slowly and allowed herself to fall forward toward oblivion.
Watchers Council Jet – Over The Atlantic – Night
With a sharp intake of breath, Faith opened her eyes and blinked several times as her retinas adjusted to the level of light in the jet’s cabin. She allowed her head to fall against the back of her plush leather seat and took a series of slow, easy breaths in an attempt to calm her rapidly beating heart.
Glancing to her right, she eyed the airplane window angrily and quickly pulled down the shade. Across the aisle, Willow was snoozing soundly, her chair in full recline.
Shifting in her seat, Faith pulled out her cell phone and turned it on. She lowered the volume and waited for the inevitable beep. A few seconds passed before the small display screen lit up and showed eighteen missed calls.
With a sigh, Faith turned off the phone, closed her eyes and leaned back against her chair.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Evening
Buffy’s purposeful walk down the hallway was suddenly brought up short when Kennedy popped eagerly out of the nearest doorway.
“Do we have the go-ahead?”
Buffy put a hand on her chest and tried to slow her breathing down. “Could you not…do that?”
“Do what?” Kennedy asked.
Buffy sighed. “Never mind. Yes, we’ve got the info. Black Ops is suiting up right now.”
“Buffy, I –” Kennedy began, but Buffy interrupted her before she could get started.
“Yeah, I know, you want to lead the op. And I’m going to say yes, but…Kennedy?”
Buffy looked the younger girl straight in the eye. “After…everything, we’re hurting for leaders around here. Faith’s off in her own little world, we all know that. The girls are counting on you. I’m counting on you.”
Kennedy nodded slowly. “I should get going.” She cracked a smile. “Have a cell picked out by the time we get back, okay?”
Buffy managed a rueful grin. “I’ll work on it.”
Kennedy turned and walked off down the hall.
Watchers Council – Slayer Staging Area – Minutes Later
The new leader of the Council’s Black Ops unit had a heavy accent, but it didn’t make her voice any less commanding.
“Final check! Body armor! Tranquilizer weapons! Heavy gloves! Headset!”
The girl wore black body armor along with a simple black scarf covering her hair. She inspected the somewhat smaller-than-usual Black Ops unit until she was satisfied that they were fully prepared. Then she turned to Kennedy and nodded curtly. “We are a go.”
“Um…good,” Kennedy nodded. She wore her own armor and held a large black tranquilizer rifle. “Have we met?”
“No,” the girl replied, stiffly extending a hand. “Amira Aziz. Transferred from Paris one week.”
“That’s right, the French girl.” Kennedy shifted her rifle so that she could shake Amira’s hand. “Sorry, you weren’t quite what I was expecting.”
“I am Palestinian,” Amira explained. “Two years Black Ops. They say Cleveland branch need help. I am here.”
Kennedy glanced over at the other girls, who were now standing at perfect attention, waiting for instructions. “One week, huh?” Kennedy raised an eyebrow, impressed. “Let’s go then.”
Council Van – Between Málaga and Ronda, Spain – Late Morning
Opening her eyes, Faith arched her back, shifting her shoulder blades into a more comfortable position. Stifling a yawn, she glanced out the passenger window to her right.
“Sleep well?” Willow asked politely from the driver seat.
“Fine,” Faith answered quickly, caught off guard by Willow’s question. She shifted awkwardly in her seat. “How far out are we?”
“Less than an hour,” Willow informed her. She glanced down at a piece of paper lying on the center console. “Assuming I’m reading these directions correctly.”
Faith paused a moment before asking her next question. “You said this town was really small right?” Willow nodded, keeping her eyes on the road. Faith continued. “What are the chances of running into reporters out here?”
Willow frowned. “I’m not sure. I’d guess pretty low,” she answered. “Buffy made it clear to Jim that the press wasn’t supposed to know where we were going. We pretty much stayed out of sight in Málaga, and Tomás told me that –”
“Tomás?” Faith asked, cutting her off.
“Tomás Vargas,” Willow replied. When Faith didn’t acknowledge, she clarified. “Elisa’s watcher. He called while you were asleep.” She paused. “Well, uh, he told me that Ronda is pretty much its own little isolated community. Aside from the tourist spots, the town is old fashioned. Most of the citizens don’t even own televisions. I doubt we’ll even be recognized.”
“Good,” Faith replied with a sigh.
For a moment, an awkward silence hung in the air. Willow glanced nervously at Faith. She bit her bottom lip and fixed her gaze on the road ahead. “When we get there, I’m going to meet Tomás and compare notes before I go talk to Isabel.” She paused, gauging her friend’s reaction. “But first, I’m going to drop you off at the hotel.” Her last statement came out like a command.
Faith simply nodded. “That’s fine.”
Willow frowned, as if she had been expecting Faith to object in some way. “Good,” she said finally.
Another awkward moment descended on the car until Faith spoke, her tone a bit lighter. “So, is the hotel nice?”
Ronda – Hotel Montelirio – Morning
“Nice,” Faith said, as she pushed open the van’s passenger door and hopped out. She secured a small black duffle bag over her shoulder and took a moment to admire the white stone face of the Hotel Montelirio. Waving off an eager bellboy, she closed the door and leaned over the passenger window. “Keep me posted on anything you find. I’ll probably have my phone off, but you can leave a message.” She turned to go, but Willow called her back.
“Wait, why will your phone be off?”
“I was thinking of doing some sightseeing.” Faith replied, taking another step toward the hotel. “I’m on vacation, right?”
Willow was out of the car so fast that it made Faith blink. “No, uh-uh, absolutely not! This is not a vacation.” She came to a stop in front of the brunette slayer and pointed a stern finger. “This is you tricking Buffy into letting you come out here, but that’s not going to work on me. I respect the fact that you want answers, but I can’t just let you roam around the city looking for them. The Council needs you, and this is too important. Now, you are going to check into your room and stay in this hotel until I tell you otherwise, or so help me Goddess I will teleport your ass right back to Cleveland. Is that understood?”
Faith’s expression hovered somewhere between shock and amusement. “How long were you rehearsing that?”
“Is that understood?!” the redhead bellowed, causing both Faith and the bellboy to jump.
“Ma’am, yes, ma’am,” Faith answered quickly, no longer amused.
“Good,” Willow replied, her voice suddenly back to normal. With that, she headed back for her side of the vehicle.
Faith watched her for a moment, somewhat annoyed. “So what am I supposed to do now?”
Willow slammed the driver-side door of the van and shifted the vehicle into drive. Leaning forward, she eyed Faith through the passenger side window. “Order room service, read a book, watch some TV. I don’t care, just as long as you stay here.” Her tone was still quite commanding. “And I’ll be calling to check in, so you better answer the phone.” Without another word she stepped on the gas and the van pulled away, leaving Faith to stare after her in disbelief.
Ronda – Apartment Loft – Noon
A dark-haired man in his mid-thirties looked up from a large cluttered desk when a low knocking sounded through the open space of the room. His clothing was wrinkled, and it looked as though he hadn’t shaved in several days. Removing his glasses, he stood up, set down the papers he was holding, and moved toward the door.
“Tomás Vargas?” Willow asked, after he pulled the door open. She flashed her Council ID and smiled warmly.
Nodding, Tomás returned her polite gesture and stepped aside, motioning for her to enter the room.
“Ms. Rosenberg,” he said with a heavy accent as he shut the door behind her.
“Please, call me Willow,” she replied as she moved towards the desk in the center of the room and looked over the assorted documents in front of her. “Have Isabel’s blood tests come back yet?”
“Yes,” he quickly answered, moving back toward the desk. Scanning the table, he located the appropriate report and handed it to Willow, all the while eyeing her curiously. “I’m sorry, when I spoke with Ms. Summers, she said that the Cleveland Branch would be taking over the investigation.”
Willow flipped through the report, but didn’t look up. “We are. I just came early. Buf…Ms. Summers wants this handled discreetly until we assess the nature of the threat.” Her finger trailed down to the bottom of a particular page, and she frowned. “Well, I guess we expected this. Has she been released from the hospital yet?”
“Yesterday,” he answered, pulling up a chair for her.
She nodded her thanks and sat down. “Okay, I’ll want to speak with her later today, but first, can you walk me through the days before Elisa was killed.”
Vargas flinched at the name, but Willow didn’t outwardly notice. He took a seat and began speaking, “Six weeks ago, Elisa requested a few days off so that she could return to Ronda and see Isabel.”
“I thought Isabel was at the Council. Why would she be in Ronda?”
Vargas’s expression soured. “Isabel…” He took a calming breath. “Isabel left the Council six months ago.”
Willow looked confused. “Why wasn’t that in the report?”
He paused again. “Ms. Rosenberg, we don’t have the resources that Cleveland does. We don’t have the number of slayers and watchers that Cleveland does. It’s taken us a very long time to rebuild. We’ve done the best we can, and what Isabel did to us was an embarrassment.”
“I’m sorry…I don’t understand. If she resigned six months ago, then…” Quickly putting it together, she shot him a sympathetic look. “Did she leave before the battle?”
“During.” He was angry now, but kept an even tone. “She had five slayers under her charge. They were assigned to help keep order in the streets around Sant Pau.” Willow looked confused, but did not interrupt. “At the time, when her group did not return, we feared the worst. It was two months before we found out that she was still alive.”
Willow sat for a moment, unsure how to respond. She settled for another question. “Why would Elisa have wanted to see Isabel?”
“I don’t know.” Now he sounded more sad than angry. “She would not tell me.” He paused, the sorrow on his face evident. “This is all that I know. She left that morning, the same slayer I trained with for three years, and by that evening, she was dead.”
“Have you spoken to Isabel?” Willow asked quietly, her discomfort apparent as she shifted nervously in her seat.
“Yes,” he replied. “She told me that she could not remember anything.”
Ronda – Hotel Montelirio – Faith’s Room – Same Time
Faith sat on a comfortable-looking sofa with her boots propped up on the coffee table of her hotel room. Remote in hand, she flipped through the channels of the television with alarming speed, finally settling on a Spanish-dubbed version of Happy Days.
Setting down the remote, Faith watched intently. A minute passed before the phone rang.
Immediately jumping from her seat, Faith shut off the TV, looked up at the ceiling, and said, “Thank you.” She moved around the sofa and reached for the phone. “Willow, what have you got?”
“A few questions…” Robin’s voice responded. He sounded a bit relieved.
“Robin!” Her surprise was apparent by the tone of her voice. She bit her lip. “How’s England?”
“Rainy,” he replied sardonically. “Something wrong with your phone earlier?”
Faith sighed and allowed herself to fall back onto the couch. “So we’ll just get right into this, then?” She paused and rubbed her left temple. “I turned it off, Robin. I didn’t really want to talk about…this.”
“It’s kind of hard to talk about it if I don’t even know what ‘this’ is.” Now he sounded pissed. “Faith, I don’t know how you were expecting me to react, but you can’t just get on a plane without calling and expect me not to be concerned.”
“I knew you’d be concerned. I just…didn’t want to think about it.” When he didn’t respond, she went on. “Look, Robin, I…I need to figure some stuff out.”
Neither of them spoke for almost a minute. Finally Robin broke the silence. “Will you be coming back after you’re done ‘figuring stuff out’?”
Faith flinched at the harshness of his words. “What do you want from me?”
“I want you to trust me.”
“I do trust you.” Her tone was sincere.
“It doesn’t feel that way when you keep shutting me out like this.” There was another agonizingly long moment of silence. “Faith? Are you still there?”
“Faith?” There was urgency in Robin’s voice. “Talk to me.”
“I’m stuck.” She paused, surprised by her admission.
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m not sure I do either. I…I know that you want to move forward, but right now I can’t. I just…I don’t…” She sighed. “We shouldn’t be having this conversation over the phone.”
“I should go. Willow is supposed to call.”
“I’ll call you later.” She hesitated for a second. “I love you, Robin.” Quickly, Faith set the phone back down on its cradle before he had time to respond. Within seconds, the phone was ringing again.
Ignoring the sound, Faith stood up, pocketed her room key, and exited the room.
Ronda, La Ciudad – Side Street – Afternoon
Her eyes closed, Willow stood in the middle of a narrow, shaded alley. Behind her at the entrance to the alley, Tomás looked on curiously.
“I’m not picking up anything,” the redhead said finally. She opened her eyes and turned to the Spanish watcher. “Whatever happened to Elisa left no lasting mark on this place.”
Tomás didn’t reply, his gaze fixed on a small brown discoloration on the street beneath Willow’s feet. Following his eyes, she frowned and stepped towards him. “Why don’t we go meet Isabel?”
Breaking out of his reverie, the older man looked up and nodded.
Ronda – Puente Viejo – Same Time
The sun was now high in the sky, and the clearness of the day allowed for a scenic view that stretched beyond the gorge to the miles of rolling verdant hills that surrounded the mountainous town.
Leaning up against the old metal gate that acted as the only barrier between the bridge and almost certain death, Faith looked down at a slow moving stream of water that flowed steadily along the gorge below her. From her place at the center of the bridge, she could see both sides of the town, as well as another large bridge that crossed the gorge.
Digging into her pocket, she produced a folded piece of paper with hand-written directions on it. Reading them quickly, she looked around for the closest street sign.
Behind her, a group of school children clustered around a tour guide, who was speaking animatedly in Spanish while pointing to various places on the bridge. Turning to face them, Faith noticed a pair of little girls staring at her, their faces filled with excitement.
Quickly, she started walking. Passing a sign that read La Ciudad, she headed for the old side of the city.
Ronda – Dirt Road – Council Van – Afternoon
“Did I mention how glad I am that you offered to drive?” Willow said apprehensively, as Tomás steered the van down the narrow, winding, dirt road. “What happens if there’s a car driving up?”
For the first time since they met, Tomás smiled. “I wouldn’t worry. There’s rarely any traffic here, and the road is wider ahead.” He laughed as Willow let out a nervous yelp when they went over a particularly bumpy stretch. “Why don’t you look at the scenery? This area is beautiful.”
“On your side, maybe.” Her eyes were now closed and her hands tightly fixed to the side of her seat. “All I have is the side of the mountain.” She yelped again when he hit a bump. “So, you seem to know the town pretty well.”
Tomás straightened in his seat slightly. “I spent some time here three years ago, before the Council was set up in Barcelona, when most of our time was spent recruiting slayers.”
“So you recruited both girls?” she asked. With this, she opened her eyes and observed him.
He nodded, but did not vocalize an answer.
Biting her lip, Willow considered her next question. “Tomás, did you ever train with Isabel?”
He did not answer right away. “Briefly, when she first arrived. They were the first slayers I had ever met, and I quickly realized that I could not watch both of them. Isabel was reassigned.”
“Where is her watcher now?”
“She died,” he replied quietly. “Eight months ago.”
Ronda, La Ciudad – Narrow Street – Same Time
La Ciudad was noticeably different from the other side of the city. There was almost a claustrophobic feel, emphasized by the clusters of town houses that lined the cracked, sloping streets.
Walking at a moderate pace, Faith moved past residence after residence, making her way to the end of the shadowy row. She slowed significantly as she passed a gray stone building that was set back away from the rest on the street. A large stained glass window above the structure’s entrance caught her attention, causing her to collide with a man walking in the opposite direction. Mumbling a nearly mute, “Sorry,” she kept moving until the church was out of view.
When she reached the end of the street, Faith quickly spotted a gravel path. It led to an old service road , which sloped down out of view. Squinting against the bright afternoon sun, she headed for the road.
Ronda – Ortiz Residence – Later
Closing the passenger door of the van, Willow rounded the vehicle and joined Tomás on the front walk to the small one-story home that sat about a hundred feet off the dirt road. They reached the structure’s quaint front porch at the same time and came to a stop at a painted green door that stood out against the building’s white stone exterior. The witch watched as Tomas knocked. Within seconds, the door swung open.
“Sí?” Isabel asked, fixing Willow with a cautious stare.
Tomás stepped forward before the redhead could respond. “Isabel, this is Willow Rosenberg. She’s from Cleveland.” His tone seemed to give the words a separate meaning.
The brunette flinched when she spotted him. They locked eyes momentarily, then Isabel looked away. Unphased, he went on. “We have a few questions.”
The girl nodded slowly. “Okay. Please come in.” She stepped aside and held the door.
Willow didn’t move, her eyes fixed on Isabel.
Ronda – Dirt Road – Same Time
With a soft thud, Faith’s feet found the ground on the other side of the wooden barrier. Stepping away from the road, she walked up a grassy hill that rose well above the road. Scaling the incline easily, she soon found herself facing a large sign that read, “Utilice el Cuidado.”
Dodging around the sign, Faith stepped up onto the bluff and took in the scene. She paused. It was just like her dream. The limestone path extended eight feet before ending abruptly at a deadly drop. The only discernible difference was the color of the rock – a dull gray instead of a dark crimson.
Walking forward, Faith scanned the area, as if searching for something. A few moments passed, but nothing happened. Eventually she moved to the edge and looked over the area. The canyon was much wider here, and the chasm much deeper.
“Looking for someone?” a familiar voice called from behind her.
Faith didn’t need to turn around to know who the voice belonged to. The corners of her mouth turned up slightly as Gabrielle stepped next to her. The slayer spoke without looking over. “I have some questions.”
Gabrielle looked out over the gorge. “And I might just have the answers.”
End of Act Two