Atlanta – CNN Studios – Early the Next Morning
Kiran Chetry and John Roberts addressed the cameras facing them.
“What is being billed as the Wedding of the Century is less than forty-eight hours away,” said Kiran Chetry. Behind her, footage of Willow and Rowena leaving the Council headquarters in Cleveland appeared. “And although smaller in scale, it certainly looks to eclipse even the ceremony of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes in terms of world-wide interest. Canada’s Parliament has passed resolutions offering good wishes to the happy couple. Prime Ministers Harper and Blair, sent congratulatory telegrams, as have politicians and world leaders from Japan, Israel, New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico and France.”
John Roberts continued. “In the U.S., would-be presidential candidates have all been offering their own good wishes. Senators Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden all issued statements, as have former Senator John Edwards and former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani. Former Governor Mitt Romney has made no comment upon the upcoming nuptials. Neither has former Senator Fred Thompson. The Bush White House has made no comment. On the other hand, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI offered a blessing to all who serve to protect the innocent, without mentioning the couple by name.”
“Meanwhile,” Kiran Chetry said, “the tiny Nova Scotia town of Thornkirk finds itself under siege. Journalists from all over the world have descended on what is essentially a fishing village, taking up every square foot of hotel space or room for rent, not only in Thornkirk but for miles in every direction.”
“And on a more serious note,” her partner said, “the Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church was stopped this morning from entering Nova Scotia by Canadian border officials. The Reverend Phelps, who has openly denounced the wedding as ‘a sign from the Book of Revelations,’ is promising a lawsuit.”
Watchers Council – Press Briefing Room – Later that Morning
Wearing his best suit, Jim Pollan strode confidently from a side door up to a central podium. The Watchers Council Coat of Arms framed his figure perfectly for the TV cameras. The reporters filling the room wrapped up their conversations with one another and found their seats.
“Okay, people, I’m going to keep it brief today,” he began, sounding like nothing more than a British C.J. Cregg. “It’s a bit of a slow day, I’m afraid. I suppose that’s what you get when they leave me in charge.”
There was scattered laughter throughout the room. Jim leafed through some notes he had pulled from inside his suit.
“First, as per usual, a few announcements. With many of the top Council officials up in Thornkirk for the wedding festivities, we have a bit of a different crew manning the barricades this week. There’s, well, me, obviously. I’m acting Chair here in Cleveland, though if anything major comes up, they do have phone lines to Canada now, I hear, marvelous inventions.”
More laughter. Jim spoke quickly but smoothly, enunciating each syllable clearly.
“The Acting Slayer Commander is Mia Nakata, N-A-K-A-T-A. You’ll find a brief bio there in your press kits. She’s done this before, a very competent girl, so no worries there.” Jim turned a page in his notes and looked back up at the crowd after a very brief glance. “Several of you have requested interviews with Slayer Hadley Ramirez. Seems she made quite a splash after she ‘called her shot’ last week. And you know us, always eager to please. There will be a press session for Slayer Ramirez from noon to one in the Carnation Room.”
“Now, if there are any questions, I’ll take those now.” Jim immediately pointed to a woman in the front row. “Yes, Tally?”
“Sources inside the Council have indicated that there is an ongoing investigation into the death of the terrorist slayer Heli Hamalainen,” Tally Atwater said. “Does the Council believe that there was any sort of wrongdoing in connection with that incident?”
Jim flashed a toothy grin at the cameras. “First of all, it’s nice to hear a question about that case that’s not some version of ‘Where’s Heli?’ Second of all, any time a Council operation results in the death of a human, there will be an investigation. That’s standard procedure. Now, all the indications that we currently have tell us that Slayer Kennedy was in a bad situation, pitted in a one-on-one duel with a terrorist with slayer powers, and she came away victorious, fortunately for herself and for us. The heroism of Slayer Kennedy and all the girls like her is truly, truly extraordinary. Harry?”
A middle-aged African-American man asked the next question. “Considering today’s big wedding, is the Watchers Council prepared to take an official position on Gay Marriage?”
“The Council doesn’t take political positions on non-Council-related issues,” Jim replied. “As long as it does not represent some sort of conflict of interest, which the relationship of Miss Rosenberg and Miss Allister does not, the Council does not regulate the personal lives of its members. Now, on a personal note, I know both the lucky ladies very well and wish them all the best today and in the future.” He pointed to a reporter a few rows back. “Yes, Mark?”
Mark was a tall man with graying hair. “What do you think of the couple’s decision not to allow video cameras at their wedding? If the ceremony were broadcast, it would be great publicity.”
Jim chuckled briefly. “What I think is that this is a wedding, not a public relations stunt. The last thing Miss Rosenberg and Miss Allister need today is to be hounded by you blokes. So, if I can ask a personal favor, please leave them alone.”
Thornkirk – Docks – Same Time
Joseph put his hands over his head and waved them around at a group of people around him, all talking, some arguing with each other.
“Everybody please!” he shouted. “I’ve got all your reservations in order,” he told them as he quickly walked down the dock, “but you need to have your confirmations ready when you step up, so let’s start getting a line formed here. Thanks!”
Joseph’s secretary, who had a clipboard in her hands, took him aside and walked him into the boathouse.
“You realize, when they learn you’ve rented them boats and sent them to the wrong place…” the secretary began when they were safely inside and away from the crowd.
“I’ll have folks gunning for me big time?” he replied.
“That’s an understatement,” she said.
“Maybe, but I’ll take my chances. This is Blanche and Willow’s day. If I can throw off a few newshounds, that’s great. If I can make a few bucks in the process, even better. Just make sure they’ve got all their paperwork in order, along with their money orders.”
“You’re the boss,” the secretary told him.
Thornkirk – Docks – Same Time
Two journalists stood at the back of the line when one turned to the other.
“What happens if he overbooked us?” the taller one asked. “We’re screwed.”
“Doesn’t matter,” his partner replied. “We’re still going to get the scoop of all scoops – close-up images of the wedding itself.”
“And how do you plan to do that? Renting scuba gear, too?”
“You just have your cameras ready. Morzebub will be bringing what we need very soon…One way or another, we’ll get our money shot.”
Calcutta – Airport – Same Time (Early Evening)
Kennedy and Kadin looked ruffled and grumpy as they emerged from customs. The day was still bright, and the air humid. Kadin did something with her neck and some snapping sounds could be heard.
“Twenty hours,” she muttered.
“Well, if we’d taken connecting flights,” said Kennedy, “the plane would’ve been smaller, and we’d still be traveling.”
“I guess so.”
“Hullo! Kennedy! Miss Van Helsing!” Both of them looked towards the voice. It belonged to a tall man with a blue shirt and white jacket. As he approached, he smiled. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Rajiiv Venugopal, head of the local Watchers Council. An honor, truly an honor!”
Kadin stared at him with bloodshot eyes. “What makes you so special?”
He blinked. “I meant the honor was mine.”
“Sorry,” Kennedy apologized. “We’re just jetlagged. Is there somewhere we can stretch out?”
“And take a shower?” Kadin added.
“Of course! Right this way – I’ve a car waiting.” He pointed at a stretch limo. As they followed him, he continued. “And I’ve been making arrangements since Miss Summers contacted me. Nearly all are ready. Among other things, I’ve a thorough briefing of what we know of Bureau Nine’s activities.”
“That’ll be helpful,” Kennedy said.
“No trouble, truly. After all, the local head of Bureau Nine and I play tennis together.”
Both Kennedy and Kadin stopped dead at this, staring at Venugopal.
“Is there a problem?”
“You play tennis with him?”
“Him, her, whatever! Why would you go around playing tennis with the enemy?”
Now Venugopal blinked. “We’re colleagues. The Council and Bureau Nine have worked in tandem for years, at least here they have. In fact, several months ago, they were crucial in our efforts to neutralize an entire nest of Rakshasa.”
“You had a nest of Rakshasa?” Kadin almost gasped. “How many?”
“Over a dozen.”
“Why didn’t you send for reinforcements?” Kadin looked horrified.
“Fortunately, we didn’t need to. Bureau Nine lent us all the support we needed. We, in turn, helped cross-train their magic users. And in a few weeks, we’ll be facing each other in a football game – their slayers against ours.”
Kennedy said nothing more for what seemed like a year. “What is a Rock-shatsu,” she finally asked, deadpan, “or whatever?”
“Rakshasa. Shape-shifting flesh-eaters,” said Kadin. “Stronger than gorillas, insatiable, control weather, fly, can only be killed by sacred arrows.”
“Some of them breathe fire,” added Venugopal. He waited. After a few moments he offered, “The car has air conditioning.”
Calcutta – Council Limo – Minutes Later
“So,” said Kennedy, “tell me what Bureau Nine has been up to lately.”
“As I presume you know,” Venugopal was saying, “Mr. Jason Felix arrived in Calcutta a few days ago. With him were several close associates, including Lori Carew herself.”
“Why do you say her name like that?”
Venugopal hesitated before answering. “You see, we work with Bureau Nine on a fairly regular basis. We even did so on occasion under the Old Council. We’re more familiar with them as a group. Lori Carew is the equivalent of…let me think of something appropriate…perhaps Condoleezza Rice? Or maybe Hillary Clinton in the previous American administration? That isn’t terribly precise, I know, but suffice it to say she’s very well known in our circles.”
“I think I met her a couple of times,” said Kadin. “But you actually know her, don’t you?”
“Thought I did,” said Kennedy. She looked at Venugopal. “Go on.”
“Well, I’ve identified where they are headed. Bureau Nine has a specially built jet helicopter that should have arrived at their New Delhi office by now. It will be taking several persons to an old monastery in the Himalayas. Until a few decades ago, it was a peaceful interracial community dedicated to a rather esoteric study of Kali.”
Kennedy sighed. “Make with the explaining.” Then she turned to Kadin. “Buffy tells me this is what Giles used to be like.”
“Really?” Venugopal seemed pleased. “Well, interracial in this case refers to humans and demons living together. Benevolent species, for the most part. Some Vl’hurgs, a Brachen or two, a fair number of Kwaini, even a Fyarl I’m told, but that might be apocryphal.”
“And what is Kali?”
“Kali is an ancient goddess. She has many aspects, but in recent years, she’s come to be seen primarily as a feminine aspect of death and destruction, which is part of the natural order. A benevolent mother goddess, if you will.”
Now both young women stared at him. “What kind of mothers do you guys have around here?” Kennedy asked.
“Let me see if I can find a good comparison,” Venugopal mused. “In Hindu belief, balance is vital. So death is just as important as life. Immortality would be seen, for example, as a curse, not a blessing. In order for change to happen, for there to be any hope of joy or peace or even life, the past must die. The old must fade, to allow the young to prosper. Ignorance must be killed, if knowledge is to live. Just as even vegetarians must kill plants in order to survive. That is the truth which Kali…” He looked for a word.
“Represents?” suggested Kennedy.
“Symbolizes?” from Kadin.
“Is,” said Venugopal finally.
Thornkirk – Allister Home – Later That Morning
Buffy had a cell phone pressed to her ear and an annoyed look on her face.
“What am I supposed to do, Jim?” she said into the phone. “I’m not the one who got the lap dance.” There was a muffled response on the other end. Buffy snorted and gave a small chuckle before her expression turned serious again. “No, I realize this is serious. The Council does not believe in the sexual degradation of women. I-I…” She trailed off as more angry muffles came from the phone. “I’ll talk to them, okay? All right. Anything else?” Buffy listened for a moment. “Okay, I’ll be back the day after the wedding,” she said. “Call if you need me. Bye.”
She hung up the phone and turned to see Faith standing there with a grin.
“You,” Buffy said, shaking her head.
Faith didn’t vocally reply at first. She put her hand up to her chest, as if to say, “Who me?”
“I just got off the phone with Jim Pollan,” Buffy pressed on. “Seems the rags got ahold of some bachelorette party pictures with a certain slayer getting friendly with a stripper. Thank god for camera phones, huh?”
“I told you not to tip that girl,” Faith replied seriously, before starting to grin.
Buffy looked shocked. “I wasn’t even there. I went home, like the rest of you should have before you were recognized.”
“Lighten up, B. Nothin’ happened. Besides, if anything, she got frisky with me.” Faith made a sweeping gesture with her hands over her body. “And who could blame her?”
Buffy sighed and closed her eyes briefly before opening them again.
“According to Jim, you’re front page news, with such flashy headlines as ‘the gayest slayer’ and ‘are the slayers safe?’ and another one that referred to Robin as your, and I quote, ‘black beard’.”
“Black beard,” Faith chuckled. “Wait ’til Ace hears that. That’s a good one. The New York Post, right?”
“I didn’t ask which paper,” Buffy told her, annoyed.
“Listen, Buffy,” Faith said, enunciating her whole name. She took the distraught slayer by the biceps. “If this party is the worst thing that gets out about us this year…the Council’s doing pretty damn good. Tell Jimmy Boy to chill.”
Robin cleared his throat from the doorway, and Faith looked over at him. She immediately dropped her hands away from Buffy as if the blonde was on fire.
“No, please,” Robin said with a grin. “Don’t stop on my account. This might end up being better than last night.”
Faith grinned and chuckled, while Buffy began to walk away, still stewing.
New Delhi – Private Airport – Night
The helicopter was bigger than some boxcars. A Bureau Nine logo was painted near the nose, and its blades swung in a swiping motion, slowly picking up speed. Whining engines had already begun to blanket out all other sounds.
Isabel, in a heavy jacket and flight suit, gave Hope a hug before following Lori towards the helicopter. The flight crew and security guards held open the side hatch.
Hope looked at Felix, who also hugged her.
“Be back soon,” he said in her ear.
“I’ve got to ask…” she began. Felix smiled and looked at her. “What is all this about?”
He took a quick glance at the copter, its blades picking up speed. Then back at Hope. “Soon, I should be able to tell you. But here’s something – this land, India. Full of ancient wisdom, probably the oldest civilization in the world. But shackled by a terrible idea – the idea of fate, of destiny.” He had to raise his voice to be heard now. “If Roland succeeds, we give to mankind the greatest power imaginable: the power to choose. To be free!” As he said this, his eyes shone, as if seeing a treasure beyond any imaginable scale of value. “Wish us luck!”
“You don’t need it!”
“Oh yes, we do! Everyone needs a little luck!” At this, he grinned, suddenly looking a decade younger. He turned and almost sprinted to the waiting helicopter.
Almost to herself, Hope whispered, “Good luck.”
Cleveland – Giant Eagle Parking Lot – Later that Night
A small elderly woman with bright white hair backed away from a growling vampire in a mostly empty grocery store parking lot, until her back ran up against the side of her Caravan.
“Get away from me you…you beast!” the old woman exclaimed. She smacked her hefty purse into the vampire’s mid-section a few times. The vampire only grinned in response. He leaned in for the kill.
“Hey!” a female voice said from behind him.
The vampire turned to see Mia standing behind him.
“Old ladies?” she asked, hands on hips. “I mean, a few tasty coeds is one thing, but now you’re just getting pathetic.”
“Slayer,” the vampire said, resignation evident in his voice.
“You know the drill,” Mia nodded. She grabbed the vampire by the back of his neck and swiftly bent him over her knee without much of a fight. She slammed her stake downward into his heart. The vampire was dust.
“Oh, thank you so much,” the old woman said to Mia as the slayer dusted the remains of the vampire off her jeans. “Aren’t vampires such awful things?”
“That they are,” Mia agreed, “but don’t worry. You’re safe now.”
“Thanks to your Council,” the woman said. “I don’t know what we’d do without them. Say, do you know those two women, Willow and Rowena?”
Mia grinned. “Very well.”
“Well, I personally never was much for the Gays,” the old woman said as she opened her car door. Mia walked over to help her in. “But they both seem like such nice girls, and they work so hard, I think maybe I can make an exception in their case.”
Mia grinned. “I’ll be sure to tell them that.”
The old woman glanced around the parking lot, concerned. “Are you out here by yourself, dearie?”
“Actually, I was just gonna head in to buy a couple things,” Mia told her. “I’m out of paper towels back at the apartment.”
“Just goes to show you,” the old woman said. “I was talking to my friend Betsy the other day, and she told me that she’s not afraid to go out in public anymore. She said it was because wherever you go, that girl next to you might be a slayer. It’s a comforting thought.”
Thornkirk – Hotel Room – Next Afternoon
A knock came at the door, and Sheila Rosenberg rushed to answer it. As she swung open the door, the tail end of a conversation on the other side became audible.
“…don’t see how that can mean anything good.” Dawn stopped herself as Sheila greeted the group.
“Willow!” Sheila smiled. “And Rowena!”
“Mom,” muttered Willow.
“Mrs. Rosen– Sheila,” said Rowena, correcting herself midstream.
“Do come inside! Oh, and you two as well!” She included Dawn and Skye, who stood behind Willow and Rowena. “Is that enough,” she asked Skye, “or do I have to say more?”
“That’s fine,” said Skye, catching Dawn’s eye. She strode over the threshold.
“You know, Sheila,” Rowena said as she entered the living room, “it isn’t that I’m not thrilled you’re here. Truthfully, it means a huge amount to me that you are.”
“Thank you, dear.”
“And you are welcome to attend. But just settle something for me – you’re not going to ask the guests to wear O.P.R.A. buttons at the ceremony, are you?”
“I wasn’t planning on asking…”
“Good,” interrupted Willow, under her breath.
“I don’t know,” said Skye. “Might be fun. Me, I’m always up for a good laugh.” Willow tried to stare her down and failed.
“While that would be a helpful gesture on your part,” Sheila said, “I didn’t actually ask the four of you here for that reason.”
“Why are we here?” asked Dawn. “Not you and Willow and Rowena – I get that. That one’s obvious. But why me and Skye?”
“Oh, there are reasons.” Sheila managed to wave her hand in dismissal and nod her head in affirmation at the same time. “I like to think of this little get-together as something of a summit. A détente in our personal and professional lives, as it were.”
“Oh Hecate, help me,” Willow sighed.
“This is a step forward towards a better, brighter future. Only one step, to be sure, but a real one, nevertheless.” Sheila paused.
“That sounds nice,” said Rowena in a neutral tone.
“Wait a minute,” said Skye, suddenly very alert. “I know that perfume!” She turned around.
“Oh, that makes such a nice segue,” Sheila said. “You see, here are my other two guests – or, if you like, attendees to the summit.”
“Hi, Willow!” said Harmony. She grinned.
“Hello Skye,” said Luna. “And you too, Dawn.”
Nobody said anything for a few moments. Then…
“I think I might vomit,” muttered Rowena.
End of Act Two