Watchers Council – Training Room – Afternoon
“Come on, Denise, you’re better than this,” Marie said as she stood over the prone slayer on a training mat.
“Apparently not,” Denise replied with a slight groan. A thin trickle of blood dribbled from the corner of her mouth.
“Could you ease off the gas just a little, Marie?” Kat asked. “I know she screwed up, technically, but I, for one, am very happy she did.”
“Easy for you to say,” Marie countered, “she saved your butt. She hung mine out to dry.”
“Why don’t you just back off, okay?” Kat snapped. “Yeah, she messed up, but we’re all okay, and the demons are dead. Your record’s clean, so what are you so mad about?”
“I need all of my slayers to be on the ball here,” Marie told them. “If you can’t step up, then now’s the time to tell me.”
“What is this?” Chamique asked. “They give you a little power, and suddenly you’re ready to throw your weight around?”
“Look, just step up, and we won’t have a problem,” Marie told her. “Otherwise…”
“Hey!” Kennedy’s voice called from the doorway. “Is there a problem here?”
Marie immediately snapped to attention. “No, ma’am,” she said hurriedly.
“Hold it together, girls,” Kennedy said. “I know we’re all a little on edge here, but we need to stay calm. If we start losing it…”
“Yes, ma’am,” Marie told her.
“Okay, take a break,” Kennedy ordered. “We all need a few minutes of downtime.”
Watchers Council – Hallway Outside Training Room – Later that Day
Niven snagged Denise’s arm as she stepped out of the training room and pulled her off to the side of the hallway. Denise smiled widely as he held her close. “Hi, Niven,” she said.
“I need a favor,” he told her.
“I’m fine, thanks, and how are you?” Denise asked wryly.
Niven let out a short breath. “Hi,” he said shortly. “I need a favor.”
Denise rolled her eyes at him before she replied. “Fine,” she said. “What’s the problem?”
“I’ve got the mother of all demon bookies after me, and I really need someone to get him to back off,” Niven said.
“Can’t you just pay him off?” Denise said, “I mean, how much can you possibly be in for?”
“Thirty-four,” Niven told her.
“Thirty-four…thousand?” Denise ventured.
“Not exactly,” Niven said. “But it doesn’t matter, ’cause if we just get rid of Volek…”
“The bookie,” Niven said dismissively. “All we have to do is take him out, and all our problems go away.”
“All your problems,” Denise countered.
“Right, all my problems, but really, do you want to just let a demon bookie rule the demon underworld indefinitely?”
“You want me to go to Faith and see if I can get her to take out your bookie for you?” Denise asked incredulously.
“Is that a problem?” Niven asked.
“It might be a bit of a challenge, yeah,” Denise told him.
“Look, what harm can it do to ask?” Niven asked. “I mean, the worst she can do is say no, right?”
“We’re talking about a woman who could kick my butt with her pinky finger,” Denise told him. “It’s bad enough that I kinda screwed the pooch last night, now you want me to go to Faith and get her to kill your bookie for you? Now isn’t exactly the time for me to be asking for favors.”
“Look, come on, could you just ask? Please?” Niven asked.
Denise quickly glanced around, seeming to suddenly find everything in her environment absolutely fascinating, except for his eyes. Finally, she looked up at him. “Fine,” she finally consented. “But just so you know, if you were anybody else, I wouldn’t –”
“Thank you, you’re a lifesaver.” He drew the slayer into a tight embrace.
Denise’s chin rested on his shoulders, and her tense expression relaxed. She took a deep breath and relaxed into his embrace. As he pulled away, her expression tightened again. “I’m only doing this once, and I’m only doing it because it’s you. Don’t make a habit of this.”
“Deal,” Niven conceded, backing off. “You won’t even know I’m here from now on.” He turned and left.
“No, it’s…” She stopped, looked at Niven’s retreating back and let out a long breath. “It’s okay,” she said softly.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Later
Jackson doodled in the margins of the legal pad in front of him as Rowena stood in front of the group of watchers gathered in the main conference room.
“The next item on the agenda is Heli. And get used to that, because she’s officially our top priority until she’s caught, or dead. Whichever one comes first,” she said.
“Ro, she’s vanished,” one of the watchers said. “We may as well be looking for a needle in a…in a pile of needles, in the middle of a pile of haystacks.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Rowena told her. “Our tip line is ringing off the hook. She’s been spotted in Japan, Syria, the Netherlands, Germany, Moscow…”
“So in other words, we have absolutely no clue where she is,” another younger watcher spoke up.
Rowena closed her eyes. “No,” she admitted, “we don’t have any clue where she is, and we don’t have enough manpower to follow every one of the thousands of leads we have. It’s a big world out there, and she could be anywhere in it by now.”
“What do you think, ma’am?” Jackson asked. “Where do you think she is?”
“I think we’ll find her when she wants to be found,” Rowena said. “So be careful. Until we find her, none of us are safe.”
A brief murmur of hushed conversation spread through the room before Rowena called for quiet.
“The next item, we’ve been seeing an increase in demon activity in the city. We haven’t had any major reports in any of our other branches, but here in Cleveland, we’ve had a number of…encounters with demons who have otherwise been reported as peaceful,” Rowena told them. “I want to know if this is a mobilization of the demon world against the city of Cleveland in general, or against the Watchers Council in particular. I want to know anything that could cause an increase in aggressiveness in demons, and I want to call in whatever contacts you have in the demon world. We need to know what’s happening here.” She looked around the room. “Okay, you all have your assignments. That’s all for now.”
Watchers Council – Lobby – Day
“Hey,” Jeff said, as he ran into Hope in the entranceway. “Where have you been today? I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“I was just, um, out,” Hope told him. “Having lunch.”
“You could’ve called me,” Jeff told her. “I would’ve joined you.”
“Oh, it’s okay,” Hope told him. “I didn’t have a lot of time anyway.”
“Didn’t have a lot of time? You were gone all morning,” Jeff pointed out.
“Where I go, and what I do, is really none of your business,” Hope said sharply.
“What?” Jeff asked, hurt.
“Look whatever this is, I never said that I was going to let you know everywhere I was going to be every waking hour of my life,” she said. “If you can’t deal with that, maybe you can’t deal with me.”
“Now that’s unfair,” Jeff told her. “With Heli out there, and B-9, and demons who apparently have suddenly decided that they don’t like us…I worry, okay? And I think you’ve been through enough in the last couple of years, frankly.”
“I’m a lot tougher than you think I am,” she said, her voice hard. “Keep that in mind.”
Jeff released her arm and sadly watched her back recede, eventually disappearing into a hallway.
Dingy Apartment Building – Evening
The keys shook in Niven’s hand as he quickly filed through each of the keys on his key ring. He jumped, startled, and turned around sharply when one of the floorboards he was standing on creaked. He quickly opened his door, stepped through it and closed it behind him. His breathing was hard and fast as he leaned his shoulder into the heavy metal door. He then reached for the doorknob and locked it. His hand then worked its way up, locking a deadbolt. He reached a little higher and slid a bolt shut, followed by a chain lock.
He turned around in his dark apartment and flopped down on a tattered armchair in the middle of his living room. “God, I hope Denise comes through,” he muttered.
Watchers Council – Faith’s Office – Evening
“What part of no don’t you understand, Darcy?” Faith demanded.
“It’s Denise, actually,” Denise interjected politely.
“Whatever,” Faith said dismissively. “I like you, you’re good at what you do, but right now, we don’t have time to handle all this. We’ve got a psycho slayer out there somewhere, we have demons suddenly deciding that they wanna get nasty and I have at least one slayer who seems to be seriously considering going on a personal mission of revenge. I don’t have time to deal with your boyfriend’s financial problems.”
“He’s not my…”
“That’s not the point, Daphne,” Faith interrupted.
“Denise,” Denise said softly.
“Denise,” Faith agreed. “If I divert slayers away to deal with Nick’s…”
“Niven,” Denise told her.
“…Niven’s personal issues, those are slayers that could be out helping innocent people who need assistance.”
“Niven needs our help, and he’s one of us. He’s one of the guys who does the cleanup after people like us have finished the slaying. He’s one of the guys who does the dirty work, so don’t you think we can do him this one favor? I mean, it’s not like he’s asking us to kill anyone – just demons, which, as I understand it, is kinda our job,” Denise said.
“I wish I could help, really, I do. But what do you think Blondie and B are going to say if I tell ’em that I’m sending slayers into the field to settle someone’s gambling debt?” Faith asked.
“Well, I probably wouldn’t put it that way…”
“Again, not the point, Deidre,” Faith said.
“Um…it’s Den –”
“Also not the point,” Faith said sharply. “Look, I’m sorry, but my answer is no.”
“Here, I thought our job was helping people. My mistake,” Denise grumbled as she stood and turned to leave.
“It’s Denise!” Denise said sharply, as she slammed the door behind her.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Evening
“Hey, Jackson,” Jaye called out, causing the young watcher to draw to a halt in front of her.
He spun around to face the slayer. She stood in front of him, her hands clasped behind her back. Her low-cut blouse showed ample cleavage as she stepped closer to him.
“So…I hear you’re planning a party,” she said.
“Yeah, I think we need a bit of a morale booster after everything that’s happened, so I figured tomorrow night would work well for us,” Jackson told her.
“A little music, a little dancing, a few drinks?” Jaye asked.
“Something like that. You planning on coming?” Jackson asked.
“You know me,” Jaye said with a bit of a smile, “I go where the party is.”
“Well, then. Tomorrow night at my place, I’ll see you there,” Jackson said with a smile.
“I have a couple of people who can hook you up with, um, refreshments.” She handed him a business card. “Give them a call,” she said.
“Thanks, I will,” Jackson said with a smile, taking the card.
Jaye turned around and walked down the hallway.
Jackson looked appreciatively at the slayer’s tight jeans and let out a long breath.
Hope’s Apartment – Later
Hope picked up the ringing phone and held it to her ear. “Hello?”
“Hope, it’s Mr. Felix,” said the voice on the other end.
“Oh, hi. I was just going to call to tell you how much I enjoyed breakfast this morning,” she told him.
“Well, I’m most certainly pleased with that,” Felix replied. “I was hoping to invite you to my office tomorrow, if your schedule would allow for it.”
“I’m available,” Hope agreed. “Can I ask what you want to see me for?”
“Well, I feel we have much to discuss, and I’d much prefer to speak to you face-to-face, rather than over the phone,” he told her.
“I’d be happy to,” Hope told him. “Let me know when you want to meet, and I’ll be there.”
Alleyway – Evening
“I can’t believe you came in to work,” the demon to Niven’s right asked, as he helped Niven lift a body into the back of a large van. “God, if I had Volek gunning for me, I’d be calling in sick and checking out plane fares to Mars.”
“You think I’m not good for it?” Niven asked.
“I know you’re not good for it,” his partner replied. “I mean, how many times have I spotted you a Persian or two because you were strapped that week?”
“And I’ve always paid you back, haven’t I?” Niven countered. He moved toward another demon’s body.
“Yeah, after months of asking you for it,” his partner said. “You were hustling those various Council members-in-training in those pickup poker games until you could afford to buy those kittens you owed me.”
“Everyone’s a critic these days,” Niven said, throwing his hands up.
“How did you do that, anyway?” his partner asked.
Niven shrugged. “They always use cards that are transparent to infrared light. My eyes can see pretty deep into the infrared spectrum,” he replied with a bit of a smirk. He looked into the darkness of the alleyway. “Can you handle this guy?”
“Yeah,” his partner told him. “What is it?”
“This’ll just take a second,” Niven told him. He crouched low, creeping close to one of the concrete walls of the alleyway.
“What is it?” his partner asked again.
His hands curled into claws as he crept closer to a small garbage can.
Niven pounced behind the garbage can. From his grasp, a tiny Siamese kitten shot from the shadows. It raced to the street where it vanished.
“Oh yeah,” his partner said, “you’re loaded all right.”
Watchers Council – Training Room – Evening
Denise drew up short as she walked into the training room. Marie, along with Chamique and Kat, were preparing for a patrol. “Did I miss something? We don’t go on patrol for another two hours.”
“No, you don’t,” Marie replied.
“What are you talking about?” Denise demanded.
“You’re going with Casey’s girls tonight,” Marie told her.
“Since when, exactly?” Denise asked.
“Since you started cavorting with everyone’s favorite resident half-demon,” Marie said.
“Cavorting? Wait, what?” Denise asked. “You’re cutting me from your team because of who I choose to spend my spare time with?”
“That’s right,” Marie stepped toward her. “I’m being watched really closely right now. I can’t afford to have one of my girls jumping in the sack with any underworldy demon that…”
“Marie, I know for a fact that you’ll sleep with anything that has two legs…and quite a few that don’t, as I remember,” Denise snapped. “Do you think I’ve forgotten about that vampire you…”
“That was when we were in basic training, so I didn’t know he was a vampire until…after,” Marie said defensively.
“Fine, but what about that Marnok demon in Vegas that you…”
“That was Vegas, that doesn’t count,” Marie insisted.
“And that was a Marnok demon, so you can’t exactly claim that you didn’t know. They have six eyes,” Denise pointed out.
“Hey, that’s Vegas,” Marie countered. “Weird things happen there.”
“And that demon in Montreal? I mean, those guys are kinda slimy. What, did you think that he was just sweating a lot?” Denise asked. “And how about that Voxyn in Singapore? I remember you showed him a really good…Actually, was that one a ‘him?’ I was never too sure about that one.”
“What’s your point?” Marie demanded.
“The point is that you should really clean up your own glass house before you start chucking stones around mine,” Denise argued. “At least I can claim that every guy I’ve slept with was human.”
“The difference is that then nobody was counting on me for a promotion,” Marie snapped back at her. “I’m sorry, but right now, you’re a liability I just can’t afford.”
As she turned to leave, Denise let out an exasperated breath. “Bitch,” she muttered under her breath.
Watchers Council – Training Room – Evening
“Oh,” Denise muttered as she stepped back into the training room later that day, “great.”
“Great to see you too, roomie,” Jaye said, almost managing sincerity.
Denise’s eyes rolled upwards. “God, whatever I did to piss you off today…”
“I hear you had a bit of a run-in with your slayer-in-command,” Casey said.
Denise nodded. “Apparently, the people I spend my spare time with are grounds for dismissal now.”
“Well, that strikes me as somewhat unfair,” Casey told her.
“Really? You’re not worried that my off-hours proclivities will get in the way of your big promotion?” Denise asked sarcastically.
“You think you’re the only one who’s ever had a fling with someone…undesirable?” Casey asked. “I’m British. We practically invented the sordid affair.”
“Well, this isn’t exactly a…” Denise began.
“You just do your job, and I’m sure we’ll get along just fine,” Casey continued. “Just tell me one thing: is he cute?”
“Well, he’s –”
“Smart, handsome, good in the sack?” Casey continued.
“I actually wouldn’t really know…”
“I stand corrected, you are as boring as I thought you were,” Casey said jokingly. “And don’t let the age thing bother you. For your first time you want someone with a little experience.”
“Well, it wouldn’t exactly be my first…”
“Well, then, I stand corrected again.” Casey smiled. “If you do your job, I think we’ll get on just fine,” she told the younger slayer. “Get ready, we march out in fifteen minutes.”
Cleveland Street – Night
“Anybody have a feeling like they really need to kill something?” Denise asked as the team of slayers walked past an old, run-down building.
“Rough day?” Jaye asked.
“I’ve had better,” Denise replied. Her shoulders sagged a little. “Ever have one of those days where you’re constantly thinking that you should’ve stayed in bed that morning?”
“Yeah, it’s called a hangover,” Jaye replied.
“Right,” Denise muttered, “I’m asking the wrong person.”
“It’s not as bad as all that,” Casey told her. “Think about Marly.”
Denise shrugged. “Yeah, getting blown up would be bad.”
“Not only that, but getting tortured beforehand,” Casey added.
“What do you mean?” Denise asked.
Casey shot Jaye a look. “You didn’t tell her?”
“You told me not to,” Jaye answered.
“True to your word. That’s good to know,” Casey replied.
“Tell me what?” Denise asked, annoyed.
They all stopped walking for a moment, and Casey spoke in a soft tone. “Rumor has it, and I don’t know if it’s true, but before they found the bomb on Marly…Willow Rosenberg tortured her…turned that vamp Skye loose on her.”
“No way,” Denise replied, brushing her off.
Casey and Jaye both nodded.
“I didn’t believe it either,” Jaye offered. “But Frannie,” she said, pitching a thumb over her shoulder to the slayer further down the street, “she said she was walking down one of the back halls and overheard Rosenberg crying on Allister’s shoulder about it. And Danny in Records said he saw a requisition form for Althenea Dimmons to stay at the Council for a few weeks – something about ‘Coven Priestess edification.’ Said it was signed and approved by Summers herself. Believe me, this is big, and the higher ups are trying to keep it hush-hush.”
Denise looked shocked, but then grinned and shook her head. “You guys are full of it,” Denise replied. “Rosenberg wouldn’t do that. Are you kidding? She wouldn’t torture a slayer. Her best friends are slayers.”
“Maybe, but she’s not marrying any of them,” Jaye answered.
“What does that mean?” Denise asked.
“Think about it a moment,” Casey said. “Allister was in that house. And Rosenberg already lost one potential wife, from what I’ve heard. I think she’d do whatever she had to not to lose a second…including torturing a slayer.”
Denise shook her head. “I think you guys are whacked.”
“Oh yeah,” Jaye said sarcastically. “Like the higher-ups give a good damn about what happens out on the streets. Hell, Faith couldn’t even remember your name earlier,” she prodded.
Denise sighed. “Yeah, but she looked pretty busy at the time and…I’m not making excuses here, okay? But I think you’re not giving them enough credit. We’ve all been on edge lately.”
“Maybe,” Casey replied then motioned for them to start walking again. “But like I said, at least it can’t get much worse.”
Denise offered a one-sided grin. “Never say that during a patrol. I’m convinced that there’s some geek sitting in front of a computer, typing out every aspect of my life, and that’s just the kind of thing he’d put in there to foreshadow some horrendous disaster.”
“You really think that?” Casey asked.
“We fight demons for a living. That strike you as normal?” Denise told her. “Seriously, have you ever wondered if you’re one of the central characters in some whacko’s sick fantasy?”
“Who knows, Rosencrantz?” Casey asked wryly. “If we are some whacko’s sick fantasy, I must say that he hasn’t been terribly creative with our dialogue over the last few hours.”
“Good point,” Denise said.
“Hey, guys?” Frannie called out. “I think we’ve got a light on here.” The quintet stopped in front of one of the old building’s dilapidated entrances.
“Okay, let’s go in,” Denise said.
“I’ll call it in first,” Casey said.
Denise snapped her fingers. “Right,” she said softly, “that’s why you’re in charge.”
Casey keyed the radio on her belt. “This is slayer team four on patrol in Glenville. We’re stopping to investigate a building at St. Clair and East 92nd.” She looked up at her team. “Okay, let’s go in.” She reached to her belt, producing a small, black flashlight. The members of her team did the same.
Run-Down Building – Moments Later
“Careful what you step on here, guys,” Denise told the rest of her team. “I think I’m getting gangrene just by looking at this place.” She quickly cast a beam of light over the interior of the sparse, gutted building, interrupted only by the odd support keeping the ceiling from caving in on them. Barely.
“How is this thing still standing?” Jaye asked. “It looks like it’ll fall over in a strong wind.”
“All the more reason why we should check this place out and get out of here,” Casey replied. “I have no particular desire to remain here any longer than strictly necessary, have you?” The rest of the slayers nodded in agreement.
Denise tensed as she and the others methodically searched the building. Her hand snaked its way into her jacket and produced a thick wooden stake. She gripped it tightly in her right hand.
“I hear something this way,” Frannie hissed. She gestured toward an open area in the direction of the middle of the building.
The five women came upon a group of a half-dozen demons, seated around a large bonfire. They looked up at the intruders, primed for combat. Some were seated, akimbo, on the ground. One had upturned a wooden crate to use as a chair. One sat against a support pillar.
They looked human, mostly, except for the horns in their foreheads above their eyes. Their skin looked darker blue because of the firelight. As their eyes turned towards the slayers, they seemed to glow yellow in the darkness.
Denise’s grip on her stake loosened slightly, and she released her balled fist. Her tense shoulders sagged down in relief as she let out a long breath. Around her, the other slayers also visibly relaxed.
“Team four, report,” a quiet voice called over the radio.
“HQ, this is team four. It’s nothing. Just a group of Brell demons. I think we’re done for the night,” Casey said. “We’ll be home in twenty minutes.” She turned to the demons, none of whom had stood or spoken. “We’re very sorry that we interrupted you tonight.”
The team of slayers started to file away from the demons.
“Have a pleasant evening,” Casey added.
“Something’s not right here,” Denise said quietly.
“It’s okay, Denise,” Casey told her.
“No, it’s not, Case,” Denise snapped.
“Ease up, Denise,” Casey replied, her voice steady. “There’s no need for this to get –”
The rest of the sentence was cut off when the nearest Brell leapt from the fire, pouncing on the lead slayer. The other demons lurched into action at the same time.
Denise had slightly more warning than her leader and was able to parry a strike from an approaching demon. She ducked as a hand tried to grip her head and rip it free from her shoulders, then fired a series of punches at the demon’s midsection.
The demon did not double over from the force of the blows. For that matter, he hardly acknowledged that they’d occurred at all. He gripped the slayer’s forearm, and with the same effort one would reserve for throwing away a piece of tissue paper, simply threw the slayer away.
Denise collided with one of the support pillars of the building, crashing through its heavily compromised structure. She slammed into the ground and slid a solid ten feet, finally skidding to a stop covered in concrete dust and coughing for breath.
“Scatter!” Casey yelled, pushing the demon in front of her away.
The slayers ran, almost in random directions, away from the bonfire. Meanwhile, the ceiling above them, no longer supported by the pillar that Denise had just forcibly relocated, collapsed under the weight of the floors above.
Tons of concrete, metal, brick, insulation and other building materials rained down on them. A large slab of concrete hit Denise on the side of the head and she stumbled, dazed. She was not coherent enough to put up a suitable defense when one of the demons struck her full force with a right hook.
As she lay prone on the ground, she could see the hole in the ceiling above her spread outward, toward the outer walls of the building. “Jesus,” she whispered, as she rose shakily to her legs. “Casey, the whole building is coming down!” she yelled.
Casey glanced upward, following Denise’s gaze. “Bloody…” she whispered. “Team, pull out!” she yelled.
Jaye extricated herself from the demons holding her. “But what about the…”
“No time!” Casey shouted. “Get out of here!”
The slayers ran, leaving the demons behind them growling in fury as the building disintegrated around them.
“Don’t look back!” Denise yelled.
As the slayers stumbled from the run-down building, a cloud of dust exploded out of the entrance. They kept running, chased by falling rubble from the large building, stopping only when they were safely clear. They turned and saw the building finish imploding.
Denise bent over, her hands on her knees and her body wracked by a series of dry, wheezing coughs. “Am I alone in hoping there wasn’t any asbestos in there?” she asked between coughs.
“I don’t know,” Casey said. “It looks like it was built in the thirties.”
“Where’s Jaye?” Frannie asked. Everyone looked around for a moment before they spotted the red-haired slayer straggling out of the cloud that still emanated from the wreckage, dust caked on her face.
“What the hell was that?” Denise demanded.
“Well, I’m fairly certain the building collapsed,” Casey told her.
“No, not that. Before then. I thought the slayer handbook said that Brells were peaceful demons,” Denise said. “What was all that about?”
“Well, perhaps they weren’t as peaceful as we thought,” Casey replied.
“No, something really weird is going on here,” Denise insisted. “Last night, we took out a team of demons that Niven swears didn’t have a violent bone in their bodies. Tonight, we take out a group of Brells that watcher research confirms are peaceful. Just what the hell is happening to the demons in this city?”
“This is your fault,” Jaye said out of nowhere, her voice a low growl. Everyone turned to see her pointing directly at Denise. “You and your demons. You’re the one who made us stay. You’re the one who’s there, every night…”
“Jaye?” Frannie asked. “Are you, like, okay?”
“No, I’m not okay!” Jaye yelled. “This bitch is…” She couldn’t force out the rest of the words, she was too furious.
Denise put up her hands. “Look, I know we’re not best friends, but can we keep the baseless accusations in the dorm room and not out here where they can –”
Jaye leapt at Denise, her hands wrapping around her fellow slayer’s throat as she drove them both to the ground.
Casey looked down at the two slayers for a moment, stunned, as Jaye tried her darndest to throttle the life out of Denise. “Apparently, it’s not just demons,” the head slayer commented.
End of Act Two