Cemetery Outside Greek Church – Day
Lorinda looked up from the grave bearing her name to see Jeff talking to the priest. After a few nods Jeff began walking towards her. The sun shone brightly in the Mediterranean sky, and even the gravestones seemed time-weathered in the light.
“Didja ask him?” she asked nervously.
“Yeah,” Jeff told her, sparing a brief glance at the gravestone. “Yeah, I did. The language barrier is still a problem, but I think I understood him.”
“And?” Lorinda prompted.
“Turns out, another slayer came to this island in 1833,” Jeff said.
Lorinda’s eyes drifted back to the date on the headstone. “I take it this story doesn’t have a happy ending?”
Jeff nodded. “She was killed. The, um, the natives put a stake through her heart and cut off her head before they buried her in consecrated ground, so I’m guessing…” He drifted off as he watched Lorinda slowly lean against one of the cemetery’s taller monuments, looking like she was doing all she could to keep from collapsing on the spot. “Lorinda?” he asked quietly. “I know this is freak-worthy, but –”
“I’m going to tell you something, okay?” Lorinda said in a far-off voice.
Jeff crossed his arms. “I’m listening.”
“When I was little, we had this legend in our family, that…” Lorinda swallowed. “…that the women were cursed. Two of them were locked up in insane asylums and then died soon after, and another was hanged for murder. They all had dreams about…about monsters, ran around at all hours of the night.” She wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “Mom always said they were willful.”
“Slayers,” Jeff stated.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t know that at the time,” Lorinda said. “And then, I started showing signs of it, too. I hit my older brother one time, y’know, we were playing, and I knocked him out cold. My family stayed away from me after that. Afraid I’d damage their precious reputation. When the Council called up, they were thrilled to get me off their hands.” She looked up at Jeff. “Being a slayer runs in my family. Lorinda is a family name.”
“I know,” Jeff said.
Lorinda opened her mouth and closed it again before getting anything out. “What? You –”
“I know,” Jeff repeated. “It was all in your file. The Old Council was even tracking you for a while, though they got taken out before they could do anything about it. When we first brought you in, Giles had a meeting with everyone to decide how to handle it. Four slayers in one bloodline, it’s…it’s pretty remarkable.”
“Do they…” Lorinda hesitated. “Do they know why?”
“No,” Jeff replied. “No. My theory is that it’s some kind of karmic destiny. And the fact that we now find out that you’ve ended up in the very same place where she…ended up, well, that only supports it.”
“Then my karmic destiny sucks,” Lorinda stated flatly.
Jeff cracked a smile. “And we’re surprised by this?”
Woods – Cleveland Metroparks — Night
Two women cloaked in heavy robes sat in a snow-cleared circle. They faced each other as they held hands, and both had their eyes closed. Barren trees surrounded them, and a small fire provided light, but with minimal warmth.
A slight breeze ruffled the redhead’s short hair, and a surge of power seemed to run through the circle. Between the women, the cold dirt stirred, and a small green thread appeared from the ground. The tendril began to twist and expand, and after a few moments it had unfurled to reveal a beautiful green orchid, seeming out of place in this stark winter environment. The women opened their eyes almost simultaneously, and both smiled at the flower.
“Paphiopedilum javanicum,” Willow announced. “Thought extinct until it was recently rediscovered at a small resort in Java.”
“It’s beautiful,” Althenea said. “Why did you choose this particular orchid?”
Willow thought for a moment and then said, “I think because its chances of surviving are not so good. There are efforts to turn the resort into a conservation park, but the mighty tourist dollar will probably win out.”
The fragile plant seemed to shiver in the cold air. Already. the edges of the leaves were developing a rim of frost.
“Plant and animal species go extinct every day,” Althenea said. “It’s part of the natural order of life.”
“I know,” Willow said. “I just wish I could save them all.”
“Why?” Althenea asked. “I mean, why you? There are covens all over the world that put their best efforts into saving endangered species, but even then, many die. Why must you take on the responsibility of saving the world?”
Willow grimaced. “It’s my job,” she said, almost brutally. “Something I’ve been doing for the majority of my life. Chosen watcher here, remember?”
“Many different watchers and slayers and witches have saved the world many times, also,” Althenea pointed out. “You’re not alone. You don’t have to take on the weight of the world.”
“No, but what about the weight of my friends?” Willow asked. “I had an innocent tortured, and it didn’t change anything. It couldn’t save Vi.”
“So if the situation presents itself again, do you think torture will work better next time?” Althenea asked.
“Of course not,” Willow answered.
“Then what will you do next time?”
“I don’t know,” Willow answered. “I-I really don’t…But this isn’t just about Marly. It’s about Skye, too. I used her as an instrument of torture. How far back did that set her on her path of redemption?”
“You’re assuming that she even has any hopes for redemption,” Althenea said.
“Dawn does,” Willow pointed out.
“Dawn is not responsible for Skye’s redemption,” Althenea said. “And neither are you. Only Skye is, just like only you are responsible for your own redemption.”
“Well, I think that little incident shows I haven’t learned anything…torture for revenge or torture for information – it all comes down to the same result…nothing good.”
Althenea was silent as they both watched the orchid continue to wither. “A few years ago, you used magic, and your computer skills, to erase a convicted murderer’s record. What have the consequences been?”
Willow thought for a moment. “If I hadn’t, Faith would have gone back to jail…and the world might have been lost. Robin would have lost the woman he loves and I…I would have missed finding her friendship.”
“But some would say justice wasn’t served,” Althenea argued. “You cheated society out of its right to punish Faith for her crimes.”
“Society might not be here if Faith was incarcerated,” Willow scoffed.
“Perhaps…perhaps not,” Althenea said. “But still, you used magic to alter the natural order of things. Why did you use a vampire to torture the slayer? Why didn’t you just do it yourself? You could have easily done it with magic, and like you said, it’s not like you had no experience at it.”
Willow winced at Althenea’s harsh tone. “I…I was afraid.”
“That I’d lose control again,” Willow admitted in a whisper. “All I could see in my mind was Marly’s face, stripped of its skin. I just couldn’t take that chance.”
“So you used a vampire to extract the information you needed,” Althenea pressed. “Why?”
“Because…” Willow stopped, then started again. “Because Ro’s life was in danger. And so were Faith’s and Vi’s, and gods help me, even Heli’s. I did…”
“I did what I had to,” she whispered.
“You did what you had to,” Althenea repeated. “The choices we make are never easy, Willow. You used magic to solve one situation because you felt the good would outweigh the bad, and perhaps that was a good call. There’s no mistake that Faith does good, and has continued to do good. On the other hand, you didn‘t use magic to solve another problem, because you felt the bad would outweigh the good. I’m not condoning what you did, but I’m not going to judge you, either. You’re the one who has to live with the consequences of the choices you make, and it won’t be easy for you.”
“So the Coven isn’t going to strip me of my position as High Priestess?” Willow asked in a small voice.
“No,” Althenea replied. “You’re on your own, Willow. For better or worse.”
“I don’t know if that’s best,” Willow said. “I’m not sure you can trust me…heck, I don’t even trust myself.”
“You have to learn to trust yourself, and you do that with knowledge. Examining where you are and where you’ve been. You’ll always be in a state of learning, and that’s not a defect in your character as a person. Even people who hold PhD’s continue to learn, every day of their lives. We all do…even me,” Althenea said with a slight grin.
“Then what’s the answer?” Willow asked.
“I’d advise you to keep doing exercises like this one.” Althenea indicated the now brown and dead orchid. “Stay connected to the Earth…to the Mother. Rely on Andrew to support you – he’s turning into a fine High Priest. You don’t have to take everything on yourself. And talk to Rowena more…she loves you so much, Willow, and she’s there for you. I worked very hard to get the two of you together…I don’t want you to mess that up just because you’re wallowing in your own self-pity.”
Willow let out a half-sob, half-laugh as she wiped her eyes. She leaned forward and hugged the dark-haired woman. “I will…I promise,” she whispered.
“And when all else fails, when the people of this world let you down – and they will, intentionally or not – put your faith in the goddesses and gods to see you through. That’s what it means to be faithful in our religion. The Goddess will lead you on the path you need to be on.”
“I’m having trouble believing that. We shape our own destinies.”
“No, we make our own choices. And sometimes things that seem terrible, like Tara’s death, can hold some positive purpose in the grand picture of life. It’s just not obvious to us at first what the Goddess has planned for us. But it’s the choices we make after these heartbreaking things happen that determine just how painful, or destructive, the event ends up being.”
“Sorry, but I’m having trouble seeing the good side in Tara not being here.”
“If you could trade Rowena for Tara, would you?”
Willow’s face contorted in shock and disgust. “How can you even ask me that?”
“Why can’t you answer?” Althenea responded.
Willow was speechless for a moment. “Oh Goddess, how can you…?”
“That’s a good start,” Althenea replied. Willow appeared confused. “Look to the Goddess. If you can’t answer something, if you’re not sure what to make of what’s going on, then listen to what the Goddess is telling you in your head. Right this second, what is she saying in your mind? Go!”
“Right now she’s saying you’re morbid,” Willow replied.
“No, that’s you talking. What’s the Goddess saying, Willow? Concentrate.”
Willow closed her eyes for a moment. “No,” she eventually replied. “I wouldn’t trade Rowena for Tara if I could, because…I love Rowena and…Tara’s death wasn’t senseless…It had a purpose…Oh Goddess, it had a purpose.”
“And what purpose is that?”
Willow spoke slowly. “If Tara had lived, and I had stayed away from magic…the Scythe spell might never have happened. The world might have been lost without those girls who fought beside Buffy…Tara’s death did change the world.”
“And so did your choices,” Althenea reminded her. “Your actions after her death, your trip with Mr. Giles to England…meeting me…and eventually Rowena…The choice you made to put your fear aside and do as Buffy asked. All of these were choices you made – not all of them positive, but not all of them bad either.”
“I-I never thought of it that way before,” Willow confessed.
“So, getting back to recent events,” Althenea said. “The choice you made, to torture Marly…again, I’m not the one to judge. But the Goddess inside me says it led you here,” Althenea said, motioning between them and then around them. “Perhaps this had to happen to put you back on a path where magic is more than what you do, it’s who you are. Maybe you’ve been losing touch with that. Then again, maybe all this happened to put you on a path that neither of us can quite see at this point. I don’t have the answers to that, Willow, but maybe someday you’ll see that Marly’s last hours also happened for a reason greater than just the two of us sitting here.”
“So listen to the Goddess more, eh?” Willow said, near tears.
Althenea let out a slight chuckle. “Eh?” she mimicked. “Rowena’s rubbing off on you, I see.”
Willow grinned and just looked at Althenea for a moment. “Thank you, Al.”
“You’re welcome,” she replied and let Willow go. “Now come on. Let’s get back inside…my bum is starting to freeze, and yours must be numb by now, California Girl”
Ypsilanti – Outside Armbrister Residence – Same Time
Snowflakes flew daintily around the bundled-up figures of Rowena and Faith, while they trudged through heaps of those flakes that had already reached the ground. A pristine white blanket surrounded them on all sides, interrupted by the occasional tall, black, scraggly tree. The two women made their way up the walk to a small, low ranch house, its white paint job blending in with the surrounding snow.
“It is kinda pretty,” Rowena said. “Reminds me of where I grew up.”
“Tell me we’re not back out here again because you want to stroll down memory lane?”
“Nooo,” Rowena answered. “Mrs. Armbrister might have remembered something more that matches the descriptions Giles got from the sheriff. I’m just…enjoying the scenery. I think it’s rather beautiful. Is that so wrong?”
“No, ‘cept this postcard has a hell-beastie hiding somewhere in the middle,” Faith replied. The two women had reached the front steps of the house. Faith rapped noisily on the screen door and shivered a little as she and Rowena waited.
Rowena was still looking around at the scenery. “Hard to believe sometimes, our lives the way they are, that there’re still places like this. You can’t tell if it’s 1930 or 2006.”
A slightly portly woman in her forties, brown hair spilling down her back, opened the inner door.
“Hello again, Mrs. Armbrister,” Rowena said as the door opened. The woman blinked twice, then raised the cell phone she had been holding in her hand and took a snapshot of the two women standing on her doorstep.
Faith sighed. “Definitely 2006.”
“Still trying to get a shot of the creature, I see,” Rowena told the woman.
“No, that one’s for me to keep. I didn’t get one before, and we don’t see many celebrities out here.” Faith sighed and gave Rowena an annoyed look. “Come in,” the woman said, waving them inside.
Armbrister Residence – Moments Later
Faith and Rowena sat at the Armbristers’ kitchen table across from Mr. Armbrister, a large man in a plaid shirt with a well-worn face. Quilted patterns hung on the walls, and the tablecloth was checked white and blue. Mrs. Armbrister set oversized mugs of hot chocolate in front of each of the women. Faith visibly relaxed just at the sight of the drink.
“You girls must be freezing,” Mrs. Armbrister said, all motherly concern.
“It’s all right,” Rowena assured her. “I grew up in Nova Scotia and Faith in Boston. We’re used to bad weather.”
“Sheriff Preston told us that he had contacted the Watchers Council,” Mr. Armbrister said, “but we had no idea that they would send the two of you.” Faith and Rowena shot each other a look over their steaming mugs.
“Honestly,” Faith told them, “this is fun for us. Back to the old days, pounding the streets. Not having a reporter follow my every step. It’s not bad, being here.”
Rowena nodded sheepishly. “Yeah, I love my work, but I think we all start to get cabin fever around this time of year. The media camped on the front lawn twenty-four/seven doesn’t help, of course, as Faith said.” She took a sip from her hot chocolate. “So hopefully you’ll understand if we get straight to business.”
“Oh, yes, of course,” Mr. Armbrister said. “I suppose you want to talk about Baxter again.”
“Baxter?” Faith asked, confused.
“Remember, Baxter was our dog. He disappeared a while back,” Mrs. Armbrister explained, lovingly placing a hand over the top of her husband’s.
“Sorry,” Faith said. “I forgot his name.”
“Has either of you seen the creature in the last day?” Rowena asked. “Two deputies say they saw it yesterday, not far from here.”
“Maybe,” Mrs. Armbrister said. “I don’t mind telling you, I’ve been a little leery around those woods and maybe it’s just my mind playing tricks but…it was this big, hairy, black thing.”
But Mr. Armbrister was shaking his head. “I haven’t seen it since we brought the Christmas tree in, but it wasn’t black to me. It looked long and brown, with these rolls of skin hanging off of it.”
Faith sighed. “You know you just totally contradicted each other, right?”
Greek Church – Guest Room – Day
Lorinda hunched over her bed, studying a map of the ruins spread out across it. She looked up when Jeff walked through the door, his arms full of various supplies.
“Where’ve you been?” she asked testily. “I’ve been looking over these ruins, and I think I might’ve found a few spots where a vamp could hide.”
Jeff spread several objects out across his own bed. “You’re not ready to face the thing in the ruins, whatever it is.” Without looking up, he began to pour ingredients into a bowl.
Lorinda scoffed and moved across the room towards Jeff. “I’m ready,” she insisted. “I’ve been doing really well in training. I even beat the crap of out Shannie the other day when we were sparring. She looked like she was gonna cry, the little –”
Jeff turned to Lorinda and reached a hand toward her. “Vincire,” he said, and a kind of green energy flowed from his hand and wrapped itself snugly around Lorinda’s arms and torso.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Lorinda squirmed, but found herself unable to move. Slowly, she began to drift off her feet, floating helplessly upwards into the beam of late afternoon light emanating from the guest room’s lone window. “What is this?”
Jeff looked up at her. “You’re hiding things from me. Important things, and so much of your strength is tied up in the hiding that it’s taking away from your duties as a slayer.” As he spoke, he turned back to his bowl and began to mix some ingredients together.
“No, I’m not!” Lorinda yelled, but Jeff kept his back turned. After a moment of watching him, her voice got quieter. “What are you doing now?”
“I’m casting a truth spell,” Jeff said. “You’ve been my slayer for over a year. If you haven’t told me your secrets by this point, you’re not going to…not willingly, anyway.”
“You’re going to magically force me to tell the truth?” Lorinda was shouting again by the end of the sentence. “You bastard! You know how Rosenberg feels about screwing with people’s minds. When we get back, you are going to be in so much –”
“Willow approved the spell,” Jeff told her.
That shut Lorinda up momentarily. Then she said, “Will it hurt?”
Jeff sighed. “Unfortunately, yes.” He turned to Lorinda, still holding the bowl, which was now filled with a sludgy gray substance.
Lorinda’s squirming kicked up a notch, but it was to no avail. She was held fast. “Okay, okay!” she screamed suddenly. Jeff stopped in his tracks, looking up at her expectantly.
When she spoke next, Lorinda’s words came out in a rush. “Last year when Shannie…Shannon Matthewson lost her baseball card, it wasn’t Ethan Rayne. It was me. I took it, and I destroyed it.” She looked down and saw Jeff take another step forward. “Dammit! Ever since Hope came to Cleveland, I’ve been talking to her, trying to convince her that you don’t love her or that she doesn’t belong at the Council. I know that maybe you really do love her, but I did it anyway.”
Jeff took this in. Then he took another step forward. Lorinda was panicking now, tears forming in her eyes. “When I told you that my brother and I were playing when I hit him, I lied. He yelled at me because I got angry with my horse and I pulled the bridle so hard that it was bleeding, so I knocked him out. When I was twelve, my mother told me that I wasn’t getting a birthday party, and I ended up breaking her arm. The other day when I beat Shannon, we were just sparring, but I sucker-punched her in the kidney, and then I punched her three more times when she was down. I’m not a good person, and I never –”
Lorinda’s stream-of-consciousness confession finally faltered. “Just do it. Do the spell and get it over with.”
Jeff’s facial expression didn’t change as he gazed up at his slayer. “There is no spell.”
Lorinda froze, though she was pretty much frozen already. “What?”
Jeff held up the bowl. “This is instant oatmeal.” He dipped in a fingertip and then licked it clean, making a sour face as he did so. “Really bad instant oatmeal.” He looked back up at Lorinda. “After my mother was killed, I fantasized about joining the Presidium. At least then I wouldn’t have been the one hurting anymore.”
Lorinda was still trying to catch her breath. “Why are you telling me this?”
“It’s a trade,” Jeff told her. “Secrets for secrets. That’s how this works. Dissoluto.” He waved his hand, and the energy holding Lorinda dissipated. She dropped to the floor and immediately fell to her knees. Jeff walked over and gently lifted Lorinda’s chin until her eyes were looking into his. “You’re my slayer, Lorinda, and I’m your watcher. Our bond is sacred. I can help you, but only if you let me.”
“You…you won’t tell anyone, will you?” Lorinda asked.
Jeff smiled. “I dunno, it will make such good gossip…” Lorinda’s eyes widened, but Jeff shook his head. “Sacred bond, remember? I won’t tell anyone.”
Outside Armbrister Residence – Day
“Thank you for the hot chocolate,” Rowena said as she closed the screen door behind her. She and Faith were bundled up again and had just exited the Armbristers’ home.
“Oh, you’re welcome dear,” Mrs. Armbrister said through the screen. “Just remember, if you invite us to the wedding, make sure to let us know early. We’re thinking of going on a cruise over the summer.”
Rowena stood dumbfounded as the woman closed the inner door.
“Well, they were nice,” Faith grinned, steam issuing from her mouth as she spoke. Rowena just scowled at her. “So, what now? ”
“We talk to other neighbors,” Rowena said. “See if we can come up with anything consistent.”
Neighbor‘s House – Living Room – Day
“It was like the most horrible growling thing,” a bearded man told Rowena and Faith. “I can still remember the way it was foaming at the mouth.”
Outside Second Neighbor‘s House – Day
“I don’t have to deal with you people,” spat a wrinkled old woman. Then she slammed her front door in Faith and Rowena’s faces.
Third Neighbor‘s House – Dining Room – Day
“It had the most evil glowing red eyes,” a harried mother told Rowena and Faith, while balancing a four-year-old on her knee.
Fourth Neighbor‘s House – Den – Day
“It was the eyes I remember most,” an elderly man told them. “They were like black pools. They were completely dead, like there was nothing there.”
Outside Fourth Neighbor‘s House – Moments Later
“Thank you,” Rowena called, as the old man closed his door behind her.
“Whaddaya think?” Faith asked. “Some kind of changeling? I’m not big on changelings.”
“I doubt it,” Rowena told her. “Anyway, right now we meet back up with the guys, compare notes.”
“Think they’ll find out anything different?”
“No,” Rowena sighed. “But maybe we’ll get lucky and someone has a picture of it.”
Greek Church – Guest Room – Night
Lorinda cracked an eye open in the dark. She shifted position in her bed to look over at Jeff. He appeared to be sleeping. Lorinda crept out of bed and slid a bag out from under her bed. She opened it to reveal her stash of weapons.
Ruins of Lamios – Later
Lorinda padded up the mountain of Lamios, through a forest of ancient columns. Some lay on their sides. Some were broken, but still standing, sentinels against the starry night.
“If I was a vamp, where would I hide?” she said under her breath. Then Lorinda spotted a cave in the mountainside, its square entrance suggesting that human hands had cut it. She fished a flashlight out of her bag, switched it on, then headed straight for the mouth of the cave.
Greek Church – Same Time
The old priest stood in his bathrobe in the doorway of his quarters, shaking his head.
“So you haven’t seen her?” Jeff asked. He began to sound his words out very slowly. “Have…you…seen…the…girl?
The priest looked very tired.
Cave at Ruins of Lamios – Moments Later
Lorinda was now fairly deep into the cave, her flashlight the only source of illumination. Her eyes grew very wide when she directed her light towards the walls of the cave. They were completely covered in elaborate paintings, murals and carvings. Red blood was splattered everywhere, and there was a preponderance of young girls bearing weapons.
She stopped to run her hand across one particular carving that showed a girl with a sword sticking through her abdomen, just as had happened to her in her dream.
A small smile crossed her face. “Huh. I had a slayer dream. Bet Shannon doesn’t get slayer dreams.”
Then she moved her flashlight on to a section of the painting that depicted a shadowy figure fighting with a shield and sword against a woman. Lorinda’s mouth dropped open when she recognized the woman’s face.
End of Act Two