Wormwood Acres – Motel Room – Morning
Dawn tried her cell phone yet again. She held it to her ear and then sighed. “Still nothing.”
From the bathroom, Lorinda’s voice called out. “I suppose it’s too much to hope that she got lucky?”
“Well, we can hope, but…nah.”
Lorinda emerged, still brushing her hair. “Okay,” she said, “you’re a witch, right? And I know there are such things as tracking spells.”
“Yeah, there are, but…”
“So use one.”
“It isn’t that easy.”
Now Lorinda just raised an eyebrow. “If they don’t work, what’s the point of having the stupid things?”
“They work, just not all the time.”
“So, now what?”
“Now we go looking for her the hard way.” Dawn snapped her cell phone shut and put it in her pocket. Then she looked around.
Lorinda gave a quick whistle. The little dragon’s head popped up from beneath one the double beds. She crawled out and made a trilling noise.
“You don’t suppose she did her business under there, do you?” asked Dawn.
“You gonna clean it up if she did?”
After a moment, Dawn shrugged. “Good point.”
Wormwood Acres – Church Basement – Same
Grace squirmed against the pillar to which she was tied.
“Hey!” she called out. None of the robed, hooded figures at the opposite end of the room reacted. They continued to chant. “Just so you know…I’m not really a virgin so if that’s what this is all about, the whatever-it-is won’t work. Okay, maybe it’s only a technicality, but still…” They continued to chant, voices low.
Grace waited. “I’ve got an idea! Look, if you’re gonna kidnap someone, you might as well do it for profit, right? There’s this girl with me: Lorinda Sheparton. Her parents are rich enough to buy Delaware. I looked it up – they tried to, once.”
The robed figures continued to chant.
“You could at least talk to me, you losers!” Grace made as much noise as she could. “Talk about rude! Bad enough you hold me here against my will…”
That got a reaction. One of the robed figures went to the side and picked something up. Now the robed figure approached Grace. In his hands was a roll of duct tape.
“Hey! What are you doing with –” She didn’t get any farther as he slapped a large piece of the tape over her mouth. Then he put another piece on top of that, and another.
Grace tried to continue complaining, but the sounds no longer resembled words. Not discernible ones, anyway.
“Thank you!” called out one of the other robed figures.
Wormwood Acres – Mayor’s Office – Later that Day
Mayor Hegwell smiled and dictated into her tiny portable tape recorder.
“Remember to double-check next week’s supply of beef and other meats. Odds are, what we’ve got won’t be enough. Not in the long run…” She turned to look at the door to her outer office. Voices spoke on the other side of the door. The Mayor continued her recording. “No need to spend money on steaks and things. Carnivores prefer things like kidneys, livers, that kind of thing. See how much of a break we can get on organs, and so on.” She stopped again as the voices outside became louder, more shrill. With a single press of her finger, she turned the mini-recorder off.
Another sound answered the voices, something that resembled the scream of a cat and, in some ways, the screech of a bird. Almost immediately, a sound eclipsed that – the sound of pounding on wood. Two good hard blows was all it took to break the lock and open the door. Mayor Hegwell’s eyes went huge and her smile froze.
Lorinda straightened herself from the kick she’d used to open the door. Marsha the Dragon soared over her head and came to rest on the Mayor’s desk. She looked up at the woman and made a growling trill.
“Okay, where’s Grace?” Lorinda strode over to the desk while asking.
Dawn entered the office. “Lorinda!”
“Grace,” Lorinda snapped, “the geeky watcher who was with us. She went for a walk last night. Never came back.”
“Young lady,” Mayor Hegwell tried to smile again, “there’s really no reason…”
“Stuff it,” Lorinda snapped. The dragon made an answering growl.
The Mayor swallowed. “You’re upset,” she said. “If your friend is missing, we need to get the police involved, make a search, go through official channels…Ow!” In one smooth movement Lorinda had moved to her side and grabbed the Mayor’s hair, giving it a sharp tug.
Dawn watched , slack-jawed.
“Cut the sugary sweet act. You are the worst liar I’ve ever seen.”
“Wait!” Dawn almost yelled.
The mayor and the slayer looked at Dawn. After a moment, so did Marsha. “There’s something going on…”
“Well, duh,” said Lorinda.
“And,” continued Dawn, with an edge in her voice, “it has something to do with dragons.”
The mayor blinked and stopped smiling. Lorinda noticed. “Okay, how do you figure that?” the slayer asked, not taking her eyes off the mayor.
“We drove up here and she recognized us instantly. She knew about Marsha. She knew about Kennedy. And this whole town was founded by dragon-worshipers, right?”
“I explained about that…” the mayor attempted.
“Yeah, but she’s right – you’re a terrible liar. In fact, you’re so bad at it, I wonder how you got elected.”
“Everybody here is probably just a moron,” said Lorinda.
“No,” said Dawn, “my guess is you don’t have to lie. Not to anyone here…they’re all in on it. Whatever ‘it’ is. The whole town.”
The mayor’s face no longer had anything like a smile on it. “There are only two of you,” she said in a deadpan voice. “You’re outnumbered like two thousand to one. I don’t care how special and powerful either one of you might be, you haven’t got a chance.” She grinned. Then, cried out as Lorinda gave her hair a yank.
“Yeah, well,” she said, “right here, right now, you’re outnumbered three to one. And guess what, we do have powers, like super strength.” She gave another yank.
“And magic,” said Dawn. She held her hands about a foot apart, palms facing. Then whispered a certain word. Multi-colored lightning arched between her hands, crackling the air and illuminating her face with flashing yellow, violet and blue. The mayor watched all this with alarm, and then noticed Marsha had stepped closer to her. The little dragon snarled like a pit bull.
“Okay,” she said, voice low. “You win.”
Wormwood Acres – Church Basement – Same Time
Grace was still tied to a pillar. Now, however, copious amounts of duct tape had been fixed to her mouth. Indignation shone forth in her eyes, but soon that emotion gave way to curiosity.
The robed figures were now kneeling. As they did so, the other side of the room became visible. Paintings of dragons – dragons in flight, dragons breathing fire, dragons devouring innocents – adorned one whole wall. But Grace’s attention was on the brazier between the robed ones and the wall. It was large, over a yard in width, but in the center of its glowing coals was an oval object. It glowed slightly. It was an egg.
Wormwood Acres – Mayor’s Office – Same Time
Dawn shook her head in disbelief. Lorinda had a matching expression on her face, as they both stared at Mayor Hegwell.
“You bought a dragon egg off of eBay?” Dawn had already said this several times.
“Well,” said the mayor, “I’m sure it’d make a better movie if we’d hired out a bunch of archeologists to find it in some obscure Viking burial grounds, but that wasn’t what happened.”
“And you believed them?” Lorinda sounded outraged.
The mayor looked at her. “Why not?”
“But…eBay?” Dawn repeated.
“Look, it matched the descriptions of our sacred texts, that’s why!” The mayor almost whined her answer. “Plus, the rituals and spells are working. The egg is alive now, thank you very much. It will hatch, and a new dragon will emerge into the world.” She eyed Marsha. “Bigger than your midget, I can tell you that.”
Dawn just stared at her. “I don’t know whether to be more afraid if you’re right or if you’re wrong. If it isn’t a dragon in that egg, God only knows what you might be waking up!”
Wormwood Acres – Church Basement – Moments Later
Grace’s eyes fixed on the egg. Robed figures around pointed to where cracks had appeared in the egg’s surface.
“Glory!” chirped one of the robed folk.
“Our dreams!” said another.
Behind the duct tape, Grace tried to say something that sounded not unlike an expletive, probably a significantly obscene one. Of course, because of the tape, it also resembled a muffled gargle.
The cracks in the egg expanded as it began to sway back and forth. Little curled claws picked away at the shell. More and more of the egg itself began to break apart, accompanied by oohs and ahs from the robed ones. Finally, a reptilian head emerged, wearing a piece of egg like a helmet. A quick movement shook the fragment loose and a faltering step brought the rest of the creature out of its shattered encasing.
Wet scales glistened. Tiny eyes looked out, and a tongue flicked past an array of very sharp teeth. Its tail whipped back and forth. The mouth opened, and a trilling sound emerged.
“Uh…Sid?” said one of the robed figures. “Where’re its wings?”
“Maybe it’ll grow them?”
“Could be,” someone offered.
“According to the book,” said another, “the spells help a dragon mature faster.”
“The book said so?”
“But is that really a dragon?”
“Looks like one.”
“But it’s got no wings,” he repeated.
Grace tried to say something at this point. It came out something like “rrrsssgg rrrgg!” One or two robed figures looked at her in response, whereupon she repeated herself, twice, each time with more fervor. Unfortunately, she didn’t become any clearer, and so her captors simply shrugged, looking back toward the green, scaly creature.
“Hey! It’s starting to grow!”
“The book said that would happen.”
“But so fast?”
A pause before anyone answered. “Sure.”
Grace began to tug at her bonds.
“Wow,” said one of the robed figures, “it sure is growing fast.”
“Yeah, but still…”
The creature was now the size of a large dog. Its scales glittered dozens of different shades of green. Its eyes were red. The legs looked strong, with fierce spikes on what in a human being would be its knees. Both forelegs were much, much smaller, but ended in talons.
With a bang, the door to the church cellar burst open and Lorinda rushed in.
“The door was unlocked!” Mayor Hegwell whined from behind her. Dawn was behind the mayor as they entered the room. Marsha swept in and perched on a box. She hissed. Grace tried to yell through the duct tape over her mouth.
“Okay,” yelled Lorinda, “everybody stay where they are and I don’t break kneecaps!” Grace rolled her eyes.
Dawn ran over to untie Grace, but did a take at the scaly green creature staring at her. “Oh my Goddess,” she squeaked.
“What is that?” asked Lorinda.
“Our dragon!” exulted Mayor Hegwell. “Alive!” The creature looked at her. It was now nearly the size of a pony.
“That isn’t a dragon!” wailed Dawn.
“Of course not,” snorted Lorinda. “No wings.”
Grace tried to scream through the duct tape. It sounded like “uhtmmmrddduhrrrrrr!” Dawn untied her.
“Of course it’s a dragon,” Hegwell insisted, eyes alight. “Just look at it!” Her smile seemed totally genuine this time, and again showed more teeth than any human mouth could contain.
By now, Grace’s bonds were undone and she didn’t even try to get the tape off her mouth. She just ran for the exit without stopping.
“You idiots!” Dawn breathed. “Don’t you watch the Discovery Channel? Or go to the movies?”
By now, the creature was nearing six feet tall. Lorinda’s eyes popped in horrified recognition. “Oh hell!” She headed for the exit, as did Dawn.
“That,” was Dawn’s parting shot, “is a velociraptor!”
Marsha took wing, following Dawn, Lorinda and Grace out of the basement. Mayor Hegwell watched them go.
“A veloci-what?” Then she was distracted by screams behind her.
Wormwood Acres – Town Square – Moments Later
Grace leaned against a tree, breathing hard. Above her, in the branches, Marsha perched and looked around. Lorinda kept reaching for the tape on Grace’s mouth, and Grace kept slapping her hand away.
“Look, the easiest thing is to just pull it off.”
Grace slapped her hand. She tried to take the tape off her face herself, and whimpered. Dawn, standing a few feet away, stared at the church across the street.
“Okay,” she said to herself, almost succeeding in sounding calm, “I don’t really have anything to be afraid of. It can’t kill me. It can’t. I know that.”
“It could still eat you, though,” offered Lorinda. “Do you think it would digest you before or after you resurrected?”
“Shut up! I just need to figure out the right kind of spell. Something simple, but powerful.”
Grace screamed. Lorinda proudly held aloft a mass of duct tape. “Done!”
“You enjoyed that, you little bitch!”
“Can you please stop whining for ten whole seconds? I’m trying to concentrate here!” yelled Dawn.
From the church, the sounds of screaming suddenly increased, coupled with a roar. All three of them went silent at the sound. After another moment or two, the mayor emerged from the church, with remarkable speed, especially given her high heels. She raced past Dawn, Lorinda and Grace. Marsha watched her go, her head pivoting on her serpentine neck. Then she turned again toward the church at another roaring sound, louder this time.
“A spell,” muttered Dawn to herself, “Dinosaurs are just big lizards. They won’t like fire any more than…” she searched for an example, “Elephants! Or horses. Yeah, that’ll work.” She took a deep breath.
“Uh, Summers?” Grace said as she pointed.
That was when the Velociraptor appeared. Now over six feet tall, it ran like a racehorse, but gave off the air of a rabid tiger. It looked around and gave another roar. The few people on the street ran. But the raptor fixed its eyes on Dawn. Marsha, still in the tree, gave a warning chirp.
“I see it,” said Dawn. As the raptor began to run towards her, Dawn quickly traced a symbol in the air with her left hand. The symbol itself seemed to hover in the air for a moment. “Incendiaria,” she said, and held her right palm forward. A ball of flame emerged from her palm and shot forward. All three young women flinched as the flames erupted. An animalistic scream echoed as a tiny pillar of fire swirled where the raptor had stood moments before. And, as the flames subsided, the raptor still stood, looking startled, but not at all hurt.
“Oh hell,” said Dawn.
“Run away?” suggested Lorinda.
“Yep,” said Grace.
Watching them, the Raptor blinked for a moment. Then, with a bellow, ran after their retreating forms.
Cleveland – Warehouse – Same Time
Faith looked around the vast, abandoned room, littered with shipping pallets, machinery and heavy equipment, which had long since started to rust or rot. Shafts of moonlight shone in the dusty air, bathing the room in a pale blue light. She nodded, satisfied, as she allowed her eyes to adjust to the dim light.
“This is the place,” she whispered softly. “Now I let her find me.”
Watchers Council – Faith and Robin’s Apartment – Same Time
Robin sat on the bed, looking at the small diamond ring in the palm of his hand. He closed his hand into a fist and brought it to his lips, wrapping his free left hand around it.
“God, if you’re out there, I know we don’t talk much,” he whispered, although nobody was close enough to hear it, “but I guess that means I haven’t ever asked you for much, either. But I’m asking now. If you have a miracle handy, I could really use one right now.”
Wormwood Acres – Downtown – Moments Later
Mayor Hegwell could not run terribly fast in high heels. She ran faster than one might suppose, but not faster than Lorinda, Dawn or Grace. Overhead, Marsha had no trouble catching up with her, either. The little dragon swept in front of the mayor with a hiss. As a result, Hegwell cried out and nearly collided with the three members of the Watchers Council behind her. Lorinda grabbed her by the wrists.
“Let go of me!” she shrieked. “You’re gonna get us killed!”
Grace looked around, then pointed to a house under construction. It looked mostly finished, but no one was working on it now. The roof was unfinished, as were the upstairs windows. “C’mon!”
They dragged Hegwell with them. All four, dragon hovering above, headed inside the half-finished house. “Are you crazy? The walls aren’t even done yet!”
“So we can get inside without arguing,” snapped Grace. “And there could be power tools for weapons.”
Getting through the front door proved to be ease itself. The interior of the first floor was dark, save for a few working lights. As they heard the roar of the raptor, they took cover away from the windows. Grace peeked out through the tiny window on the front door.
The raptor came into view. It walked in a surprisingly smooth, flowing gait, like a bipedal cat, head swinging from side to side. On the street, inches from where Hegwell had been caught, the creature paused, before omitting a growling sound that seemed to go on forever. It then turned and headed away from the house under construction.
Grace breathed again. “Just a little bit of research,” she whispered, “Some field work. Simple, she said…I’m gonna kill that woman.”
Cleveland – Warehouse – Same Time
Faith heaved her body onto a stack of shipping pallets and closed her eyes. She reached into the inside breast pocket of her jacket, producing a wooden stake. She gently lay it on the rotting wood next to her. Her breathing slowed and she gently rested her hands on her knees.
“Into a soul without thought or emotion, even a tiger finds no room to insert its fierce claws,” she whispered. “One and the same breeze passes over the pines in the mountains and the oak trees in the valleys, yet why do they make different notes…No thinking, no reflecting, perfect emptiness, yet therein something moves…The eye sees it, but no hands can take hold of it…The moon in the streams, clouds and mists, they are midair transformations.”
Her dictation halted abruptly and her head, eyes still closed, cocked slightly to the left. With a sharp intake of breath, she rolled backwards as a leg swept through the space the bridge of her nose had occupied only a moment earlier. She continued her roll backwards, coming to a stop a few feet behind her, kneeling on the edge of the stack of shipping palettes.
“Impressive,” Janna said, from her position on the opposite edge. “How’d you know I was there? It’s these pants isn’t it? I’ve been trying to get my hands on a pair that makes a little less noise, but a girl’s gotta keep up with modern fashion.”
“Naah,” Faith shrugged. “Your breath stinks.” She threw herself at the vampire, trying to drive her back with a series of punches at her midsection. Janna’s stomach curled around the impact, and had she had any breath to be knocked out of her, it would have been. Instead, she barely reacted, swinging around in a backhanded strike at the slayer’s right temple.
Faith deflected the strike and tried to respond with an uppercut under the vampire’s chin. Janna twisted away from the punch and stepped forward, locking her right knee behind Faith’s, and drove her forearm into the center of Faith’s chest.
Faith tripped backwards and fell flat. The edge of the pile of shipping palettes the duo was dueling upon struck her in the small of her back. Her entire upper body hung, suspended in space for the briefest of moments, before, like a book that had been pushed too close to the edge of a table, she flipped backwards and fell to the concrete floor below, landing face down.
Janna jumped down from her perch to land next to the slayer’s prone body. She shook her head disapprovingly.
“I don’t know about you, but from my vantage, it doesn’t look like this fight is going much better than the last one,” she said, her tone patronizing.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Same Time be
“You did what!?” Buffy was livid as she stood facing Robin from the hallway. “How in hell could you let her go after that woman alone again?”
“Do you honestly think I could’ve stopped her?” Robin asked.
“Yes!” Buffy snapped. “Actually, I’d say that you’re the one person who can stop her. Isn’t it kinda part of your job description to stop her from, oh, I don’t know, killing herself?“
“No,” Robin said simply.
“No,” Robin’s voice was calm. “It’s my job to trust her. I believe…I have to believe that she can do this.”
“Where did she go?” Buffy demanded. “I’m sending a team of slayers after her.”
“I don’t know,” Robin told her.
“You’re lying,” Buffy accused him.
“On any other day, you’d be a hundred percect right. If I knew, I wouldn’t tell you,” Robin said softly.
“Why the hell not!?”
“She needs this fight,” Robin said. “I can’t explain it better than that.”
Cleveland – Warehouse – Same Time
“Four hundred years looking for a slayer who can match me, and look at you,” Janna taunted, watching Faith rise shakily to her feet. “You can barely stand.” She shook her head. “I gotta say, Faith, this is damned disappointing.”
Faith brought her arms up to a defensive position, adopting a perfect stance as Janna advanced on her. Her stance was relaxed, but the expression on her face betrayed the intense level of concentration and focus inherent to every action, every motion.
Janna advanced with a feint and followed with a kick to Faith’s floating rib. Faith cleared both attacks and darted inwards, driving her elbow into the vampire’s abdomen and following it with a backhanded strike at the bridge of her nose.
Janna jerked her head to the side and the blow aimed at her nose instead collided to minimal effect with her collarbone. She gripped Faith’s wrist firmly and twisted it in a single, brutal motion.
Faith grunted in pain as her whole body bent over reflexively to alleviate the torque applied to her shoulder. She wasn’t able to mount any defense when she received Janna’s foot applied generously to her stomach. Janna released her wrist, allowing Faith to drop to an undignified position on her hands and knees. Faith’s whole body heaved as she tried to force air into a pair of lungs that seemed reluctant to expand.
“Face it, Faith, you’re just outclassed this time,” Janna said. “I’m willing to let you walk away. Just turn and walk away.”
Faith finally managed to take a full breath before she used a piece of machinery next to her to pull herself to her feet. She leaned heavily on it for support as she looked defiantly at the ancient vampire.
“If you think I’m going to take you up on that,” she said, “you really don’t know me at all, do you?”
Janna shrugged. “Suit yourself,” she said softly.
Faith looked at her for a moment, her expression almost one of curiosity, as if she were looking at a demon she’d never seen before. She smiled slightly, and slowly allowed her hands to drop to her sides.
Watchers Council – Robin and Faith’s Apartment – Same Time
Robin looked out at the full moon, shining down like a spotlight on Lake Erie. He leaned heavily on the window’s ledge, watching the small waves push in against the coastline.
“How long has she been gone?” Buffy’s voice sounded softly from behind him.
“Three hours,” he replied, without turning around.
“Robin, we need to find her,” Buffy said.
Robin shook his head slowly. “Not yet.”
“I understand that you have to trust her, but you’re taking this well past insane,” Buffy told him.
“She can do this,” he said.
Cleveland – Warehouse – Same Time
Blood sprayed from between Faith’s lips as a completely undefended strike slammed across her jaw, followed by a second delivered from the opposite direction. She still hadn’t raised her hands in defense when a third strike, a jab, drove straight into her nose.
Janna had abandoned her previously impeccable style for hard, brutal strikes at the slayer’s face and jaw.
Faith dropped to one knee momentarily, but recovered almost immediately and rose again to face the vampire. Her hands remained down at her sides. Blood flowed freely from a large cut over her right eyebrow, and a trickle of blood dripped from the corner of her mouth.
“Faith, come on,” Janna gripped Faith’s head behind the neck and slammed it downwards into her knee. Faith again dropped to one knee, dazed, before she pushed herself up again, her legs barely supporting her. “Dodge, hit back, do something,” Janna said as she drove another punch across the black-haired slayer’s jaw. Faith’s head snapped to the right with the blow, and as she looked back at the vampire, her eyes were barely half-open. Her breaths were ragged and slow. “God, don’t just give up,” Janna added, delivering another punch to Faith’s cheekbone.
Watchers Council – Faith and Robin’s Apartment – Same Time
Robin did not turn away from the window. “She can do this,” he whispered.
Cleveland – Warehouse – Same Time
Faith’s half-closed eyes suddenly snapped open a fraction of a second before another of countless blows made contact with her right cheek, and she simply ducked. The fist whistled mere millimeters above her head, striking nothing more substantial than the air. She stepped toward the overbalanced Janna and drove her forehead into the vampire’s. The vampire dropped with the force of the impact, leaving the side of her head opened for a hard snap-kick. Faith followed the kick with a pair of punches, one delivered to each side of Janna’s face, which finally dropped her to the ground.
For a moment, Faith looked down at her hands in shock, almost as though a pair of foreign objects had been attached to her wrists.
She looked up at the slowly-recovering vampire and a wide smile spread across her face. “Aaaall riiiiiiiight,” she said slowly.
Janna’s brow furrowed, her eyes darkened and her canine teeth extended. An almost-feral growl freed itself from her throat as she threw herself at the slayer, forcing Faith backwards into a large metal device.
Faith brought her right elbow up across her body, then brought it down across both of Janna’s wrists, ripping them free of her throat. She then slid her elbow along the vampire’s outstretched arms, using them to guide a strike directly to Janna’s throat.
“Not as much fun when they hit back, is it?” Faith asked, as Janna stumbled away from her.
Janna threw a punch across Faith’s jaw, which she did not attempt to redirect. Instead, she twisted with the force of the blow, causing it to glance off her jaw. She continued the twisting motion and brought the back of her right fist across Janna’s temple.
The two locked together as Faith was again forced against a wall. Faith brought her arm up under Janna’s chin, holding her back. It was only because she had a position of slightly greater leverage that she was able to slow the vampire’s fangs inching towards her jugular vein.
“You can’t beat me,” the vampire hissed, as she closed in on Faith’s throat.
“Maybe I can’t,” Faith’s voice hid none of the strain she felt as she tried to hold the vampire at bay, “but we can.”
Janna’s eyes widened. “Wha –?” She looked down just in time to see two inches of very pointy wood punch its way outwards through her sternum. A look of shock froze itself on her face in the instant before she disintegrated in front of Faith. As the vampire vanished, she revealed the shape of Hadley standing behind her, stake at the ready. She cringed when she saw the elder slayer.
“Jesus, Faith,” she said, suppressing a shudder as she surveyed Faith’s very obvious injuries.
“Watch your mouth, kid,” Faith corrected her.
“Sorry, but you scared the…heck outta me…You said you were gonna keep her busy, not become a piñata.”
“Worked, di’n it?” Faith said dopily.
“Here, lemme help you,” Hadley rushed forward and tried to drape one of Faith’s arms across her shoulders.
“Na’ah, I got it,” Faith pulled her arm away and started to step away from the wall she was leaning against. Almost immediately, her legs collapsed under her. “Okay, I was wrong,” she amended.
Hadley chuckled slightly and bent down to help Faith stand.
“Just for the record, I coulda taken her,” Faith said, as the duo struggled towards the door at the far end of the warehouse.
“If you think that, she must’ve hit you harder than I thought,” Hadley said with a smile.
“Heck, I’ll take you right now,” Faith insisted.
“A lot harder,” Hadley added.
“Hey, you li’l pipsqueak,” Faith grumbled playfully, “I’ll have you know that I’ve been slaying since you were in diapers.” She paused. “Okay, maybe not diapers, but at least fuzzy, footed pajamas.”
“So do you want me to have you fitted with a walker?” Hadley asked her. “Does Robin know he’s robbing the Craftmatic adjustable bed?”
Faith looked down at Hadley for a moment and smiled. “Hadley, I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.”
Wormwood Acres – Half-Built House – Minutes Later
Crouching in the darkness, Mayor Hegwell sucked on a lit cigarette.
“Okay,” Lorinda was saying, “how come magic didn’t work?”
“Maybe dinosaurs are immune,” Dawn suggested.
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Could be. I mean, how would anyone know?” Dawn replied.
“I think it’s because they hatched the damn thing with magic,” said Grace. “Think about it. A velociraptor egg? Must be millions of years old. How much magic would it take to bring something like that back to life? Or for that matter, how long have they been doing this? Hey, you, Lipstick-for-Brains, when did you and your stupid group of Jawa wannabes get the egg?”
Hegwell glared. “I don’t see any reason to be insulting.”
Grace looked at Lorinda. “Do me a favor?”
“Break her fingers for me?”
Lorinda looked at the mayor. “Yeah, okay.”
“Five years ago! Jeez!” She went back to sucking on her cigarette.
“You know,” Dawn said, “those things do cause cancer.”
“Thank you so much for telling me. And of course, that is so very high on my list of worries right this second.”
“Right,” continued Grace, “they’ve been pouring magic into that egg for years. So it isn’t like your powers aren’t cool and everything, but it’s kinda like throwing a bucket of water at a tidal wave.”
“We’ve got to kill it,” said Lorinda.
“No kidding, Sherlock,” muttered the mayor.
The slayer looked at her. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. How about some bait?” She smiled.
“That is a good idea,” Grace commended.
“Hey!” the mayor exclaimed.
“No, not you. Something a carnivorous dinosaur would find more tempting.” Grace concentrated. “Let’s face it, you’re mostly skin and bones…What were you planning on feeding your dragon?”
“Meat, of course. We stocked up at the local grocery store. Their big freezer is full of it.”
“Big freezer? How big is your big freezer?”
“Bigger than my office.”
“The grocery store. But it’s frozen. We didn’t know exactly when the egg would hatch.”
Now Grace looked at Dawn. “You can throw fireballs. Can you thaw meat?”
She thought about it. “Yeah. It would take a little longer, but it’s really just the same principle, sort of. Basically, anyway. But that still leaves the problem of getting the dinosaur to come and get it. And the even bigger problem of what to do when he…she…it does.”
“What to do with it is obvious,” said Lorinda. They all looked at her. “Well, it is.”
Wormwood Acres – Minutes Later
The raptor strode along a neighborhood that was, by now, deserted. Neat, even picturesque homes lined both sides of a street that was also dotted with trees and a smattering of parked cars. Even the squirrels, however, were hiding.
So the raptor continued along. It listened and sniffed the air. The cry that got its attention sounded something like that of a hawk. It looked up and around. From atop a nearby house Marsha dove and swerved in the air several yards in front of the raptor. She even hissed in defiance.
The raptor began to chase the little morsel. It was as swift as a cheetah, able to run faster than Marsha could fly. The little dragon barely avoided its fanged snout, heading into the air out of range. Then she headed away, but not so high as to make the raptor give up. But she also kept moving.
And the raptor followed, hungry.
Wormwood Acres – Grocery Store – Later
Marsha soared as fast as she could, reaching the roof of the grocery store actually panting. Behind her, the raptor turned a corner and looked around. It sniffed the air.
The raptor immediately looked at the far end of the parking lot. A raw steak lay on the ground. A quick sprint and the ravenous dinosaur was on it. The steak was small enough that it simply picked up the meat with its jaws, leaned its head back and swallowed. It then did the same to another steak lying nearby, closer to the back door of the store. A third steak was at the door entrance.
When the third steak was swallowed, the raptor saw the inside of the store, and the trail of roasts and hamburger leading to a big door that was currently wide open. Still hungry, the raptor wasted little time in its quest for food. The roasts and hamburger were soon torn by its fangs and in the creature’s gullet. A little less hungry now, it hesitated before entering the room marked “refrigeration unit.” From the far corner, peeking out over the top of a desk, Grace, Dawn and Lorinda watched what happened.
After a few seconds the raptor stepped inside the freezer. The pile of raw meat just inside the door was just too tempting a target. Wet tearing sounds began, with a snarling like that of cats when they eat birds. Dawn uttered a word and made a hand gesture. The door of the freezer swung shut.
Almost instantly, the raptor reacted with a roar. Just as quickly, Lorinda ran to the freezer door. She slipped the lock into place, not a moment too soon. The full force of a dinosaur began pounding at the door. It quaked under the blows. Lorinda pushed against it, holding it closed.
“Hurry,” she yelled, making it sound very much like an order. She was already straining against the blows on the door.
Grace had already reached the controls and turned the freezer’s temperature all the way down. Dawn, meanwhile, had risen and was pointing at the freezer with her thumb and pinky. The other hand traced a symbol in the air. “I call on the lords of Jotunheim,” she said, “I invoke Mim and the hosts of the north, the masters of frost and endless winter. Claim this space as thy domain. Let thy presence be felt. Breathe here and let the ice hold reign.”
“How long is this going to take?” asked Grace.
“Faster if you don’t distract me,” was Dawn’s answer. “I call on the lords of Jotunheim,” she repeated. “I invoke Fafnir and the hosts of the north…”
A talon the size of a small crossbar pierced the freezer door from the inside. “Oh hell,” muttered Lorinda. The talon began to tear at the door material, then pulled back inside. Another couple of blows, and its talons pierced the door a few inches from the first hole.
“Let thy presence be felt. Breathe here and let the ice hold reign.” Dawn repeated.
Another blow sent Lorinda to the floor.
Dawn’s voice rose. “I invoke Fasolt! And the hosts of the north! The masters of frost and endless winter. Claim this space as thy domain! Let thy presence be felt! Breathe here and let the ice hold reign!” Her hands had begun to glow. Lorinda, gasping from being thrown to the floor, noticed her breath was visible.
“Let the ice hold reign!”
Frost gathered on the wall and door of the freezer. It began to fall off as the hinges of the door weakened. A fanged snout poked through a hole in the door. It snarled, and its breath was a long wisp of mist.
“Let the ice hold reign!”
Now frost was on the raptor’s hide as it grabbed the door and pushed, pulled, yanked. The hinges were almost out of the wall by now. But the raptor’s movements were slower…
“Let the ice hold reign!”
The raptor was barely moving. Its talons, holding onto the freezer door through the holes they’d created, were white. Covered with a layer of fine ice. A pathetic, mewling growl came from the other side of the door. As the three of them watched, the talons slid back into the freezer. A large thump from inside followed.
Dawn, no longer chanting, looked at Grace. Grace looked back at her. Dawn looked at Lorinda, who matched her look, then aimed it at Grace, who looked at her then at Dawn again.
“Let’s get out of here,” said Grace at last. “I’m freezing.”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Next Day
Marsha the Dragon paced up and down the table, under the slightly stunned eyes of Rowena and Willow.
“Of course, later I realized what we should have done,” Lorinda was saying, seated across from them. “We should have gone to a vet’s office and laced all that meat with sedatives.” She nodded, oblivious to the stares aimed at her by Dawn and Grace, seated on either side of her. “I’ll bet Jeff would have thought of that.”
“Well,” said Willow. “Maybe.”
“But the important thing is,” said Dawn, “invoking the spirits of the frost giants worked. I know some dinosaurs were warm-blooded and all, but still, that much cold took the creature out. And it being inside a refrigerated room helped. Some.”
“So much for a simple, quiet bit of field research,” muttered Grace.
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that,” said Rowena.
“But look on the bright side,” Rowena told them. “The three of you did a good deed, and even without any real preparation, you managed to negate a serious menace!”
“I’ve been preparing,” objected Dawn. “I’ve been studying magic for how long now?”
“Oh, sweetie,” said Willow, “she just means…”
“I know what she means, Willow.”
“You two were so lucky,” said Lorinda.
“What?” said Dawn.
“If I hadn’t been there, you’d’ve both been raptor lunch!”
“Hey! It was my magic that took that damn thing down!”
“After we followed my plan!” Lorinda remarked.
“Your plan?” Grace’s eyebrows almost hit her hairline. “Your plan? I’m the one who came up with –”
“The only reason you’re even alive is because I beat the information out of the mayor! And Dawn here tried to stop me!”
“You are such a liar!”
Rowena and Willow looked at each other while Dawn, Lorinda and Grace bickered. Willow tried to smile. “We should have practice in dealing with teenagers, huh?” she said, voice low.
“…got yourself kidnapped wandering off alone…”
“…took forever to find me…”
“…Jeff would never have let that happen…”
Rowena sighed. “I guess,” she said. “Still, we will have help.”
“…didn’t even issue us any weapons…”
“…what do you call Marsha…”
“…and I’m the one who killed the beastie…”
“At least,” said Rowena, “we won’t have to worry about our own for at least a decade.”
Bureau Nine – Mr. Felix’s Office – Same Time
“Jason! Jason! I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” Dianna burst into the office with a plastic folder in her hand, catching Felix off-guard.
“Sir, I’ll call you back,” Felix said, and then pressed his earpiece. “Are you okay?” He stood up.
Dianna snorted a laugh as she rushed over to his desk. “Okay? I’ve left okay behind. I’m…I’m better than okay.”
Felix raised his hands. “Good. I’m glad. Just…sit.” He gestured to the seat facing his desk.
She batted away his kindness as she sat down. “I’m just…Jason, I’ve done it.”
He frowned for a moment and then looked serious. “And by it, you mean?”
She nodded. “The Sphere. I’ve cracked it.”
His face lit up. He pursed his lips, trying to form words, but they were lost. He blinked. “…Dianna…”
Dianna’s smile brightened. “Yes Jason, it’s done. After weeks of staring at that sodding thing, I’ve finally solved it!”
“I…I don’t know what to say. Honestly, I’m lost for words.”
“Well, I’m not, just…just listen.” Dianna tried to bottle her glee. Felix agreed with a nod. “I tried just about everything I could to decipher the Sphere. Nothing worked. Light, heat, cold, sound, you name it. But what I didn’t try was touch. A week ago, Lori had commented on my jewelry box – it was a gift Grace bought me long ago. You know how everyone litters their desks with bits and bobs, to make the office more home-like.” She glanced at Felix’s desk. It was sterile, void of anything bar a single photo frame that was turned towards him. She shook her head. “Perhaps not everyone…Anyway, I was winding the jewelry box up. I was sitting there, entranced by this beautiful, lonely thing, and I stared at the music reel and then it came to me. The indentations on the sphere aren’t a language or a map. They’re musical scores.”
“I had nothing else to lose, so I rigged up a set of spikes to strike the sphere as it rotated,” Dianna reached into her jacket pocket and produced a digital microphone. “Of course, I had to experiment with various speeds of rotation and the thickness of the spikes, but then I got this.” She pressed the play button and a high pitched crackling and scratching sound reverberated around the acoustics of the office. She turned the recording off. “What does that sound like to you?”
“White noise. Very loud, very clear white noise,” Felix twisted his little finger in his left ear.
Dianna shook her head. “That’s why you hired me, my dear friend. It’s the sound of radiation, as detected and measured through a Geiger counter.”
“Of course, I should have recognized it.” A worried look crossed his face and he sat forward. “Oh my God, are you okay?”
“Yes I’m fine. The sphere doesn’t emit any radiation; no one’s in any danger.”
“It doesn’t emit radiation, but it plays the sound profile of a certain type of radiation. So I started looking for where one would find said radiation on Earth.”
Felix grinned. “Dianna, this is incredible…”
“It gets a whole lot more credible, believe me. I piggybacked off of numerous satellites positioned around the globe, scanning certain regions at a time,” she slid Felix the plastic folder across the table.
His eyes widened and he grabbed for the folder and opened it. Inside was an aerial image of a forest.
“The Himalayas. The final stage of The Project begins in the Himalayas.” She leaned over and pointed to a small area encased in a red box. “Precisely in this secluded monastery.” Dianna smiled. It was either bright or chilling, depending on your perspective.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Next Day
Faith stood facing the doorway. Her hands were clenched into fists as they hung by her side.
“You’re five minutes late,” Buffy whispered from beside her.
“I know!” Faith hissed.
“You’ve been standing here for ten minutes,” Buffy added.
“I know,” Faith replied quietly.
“It’s a door, Faith, it can’t hurt you,” Buffy said.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Faith said, “I’ve met some pretty nasty doors in my life.”
“They’re gonna think you bailed,” Buffy pointed out.
“And this is a bad thing because…”
Buffy looked at her with an exasperated sigh. “You’ll thank me for this later.”
Watchers Council – Classroom – Continuous
Sixteen heads turned in unison as the classroom door swung open, shattering the glass of the window. Next, Faith stumbled inside in an undignified manner, as if thrown. She landed on the ground in front of the group, but quickly picked herself up off the floor. She turned around to face Buffy, whose diminutive shape still occupied the frame of the door, offering a venomous glare.
“You’re welcome,” Buffy silently mouthed at her, before she vanished.
Faith turned to look at the classroom. Thirty-two eyes bored into her, waiting for her to speak. She took a deep breath. “What you just saw was a demonstration of one of the basic rules of combat. Never turn your back on anyone, even if you think you can trust them.” She yelled the last few words, on the off chance that Buffy was still within earshot.
She stopped for a moment, looking at the classroom. She looked down at the engagement ring on her left ring finger, and allowed herself to smile.
“They’ve asked me to talk to you today about small-unit tactics,” she began. “The great advantage that you, as slayers, have, is that for the first time in the history of the Slayer Line, there are more of you. Thousands of you. And you have to rely on each other. You have to trust each other, and you have to trust yourselves.”
Fade to Black
End of Bloodlines
Next on Watchers…
When Kennedy accidentally makes a wish during a TV interview, she finds herself in a new world that seems like a big improvement on the old one… at first.