Watchers Council – Command Center – Night
Grace and Rowena walked into the command center to see Buffy, Robin, and Faith watching a newscast.
A newscaster was seated behind a desk, giving a report. “In Berlin, over a hundred children escaped from a nest of demons that had been keeping them captive in a hitherto-invisible building…”
“Do we have anything on B9 yet?” Grace asked the group.
“Skye and Dawn have been going over the info that they copied from us,” Buffy told her. “They found references to the ‘The Nexus of Choice’ in some obscure works here and there, going back over three thousand years.”
Robin tossed the file on the table. “Along with about a dozen other references to what seem like random things, we found one interesting tidbit. It mentions a ‘chamber atop the world.’ According to these references, ‘when the Nexus touches the Vessel, then the Meeting shall take place’.”
“Isabel is the nexus then?” Rowena asked.
“Or maybe the vessel,” Buffy replied. “Or maybe none of the above. We really could use a few more watcher brains on this but, like magic, watcher brains are hard to come by.”
Rowena looked around the room. “Speaking of…”
“Giles is with Ethan Rayne,” Buffy told her. “He showed up a little while ago. I wanted to stay with him, but he doesn’t think Ethan will be a threat. To be honest, he’s right. Ethan looks like death warmed over.”
“He’s conscious?” Rowena exclaimed.
“That was pretty much our reaction too,” Buffy agreed.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Same Time
Dr. Miller made his way along a series of beds. A nurse followed. He looked at charts and readings from monitors next to each patient. Willow had a tube down her throat. Next to her was Althenea, her eyes still flickering open on a pale face. Jocelyn was hooked up to several machines, including a ventilator, and Andrew was bathed in sweat, stirring as if not quite fully asleep. At the end of the row lay Jeff, staring sightlessly at the ceiling tiles, his breath shallow.
Coming back across the room, Dr. Miller met the gaze of three people. Dawn and Skye, already standing, took a step to meet him. Mary Grace, seated, stood and followed.
“There’s not a lot I can tell you,” said Dr. Miller in a low voice, as they began to walk back toward the door. “Those who aren’t in comas are very close to it. Every single one shows signs of extreme exhaustion. Blood pressure is low and falling. We’ve got them on drugs to increase that, but it looks like we’re going to have to keep upping the dose. There are limits to how far we can go that way.” He started to say something more, but hesitated. “We’ll have to wait and see,” finally came out of his mouth. Then he headed back to his office.
All three ladies stepped toward the beds. Mary Grace stopped between those of Willow and Althenea. Saying nothing at first, she crossed her arms and noticed Xander silently sitting on the other side of Willow. She gave him a nod, and he returned it with one of his own.
“Cold taco?” he said, motioning to the table.
Mary Grace grinned for a moment. “No, thank you,” she told him. “Do you mind?” she asked as she motioned to the seat in front of her.
“Go right ahead,” he told her.
Mary Grace sat down. She looked over at Althenea with a sad expression, then took the witch’s hand in hers.
Dawn, followed by Skye, went to each bed. She made herself look at each one. Beside her, Skye held her hand. By the last, Dawn was frowning.
“Why not me?” Her voice was low.
“Because you can’t die,” answered Skye.
“But that’s magic,” replied Dawn.
“Evidently, it’s not.”
Dawn pulled away and took the folder from the end of Willow’s bed and opened it. She looked at it for a few seconds and then sighed, “Chicken scratches. Why do doctors write so bad?” she asked Xander rhetorically.
“Too many years of med school reports,” he told her.
She gave him a brief grin and dropped the folder back into its holder. As she did so, her finger ran across the edge. “Oww,” she said, as she examined the blood coming from the tip. She began to suck on it for a moment, then gave her hand a shake.
“You okay?” Skye asked.
“Compared to them?” Dawn replied. “I’m fine. Besides, give me a few moments, and I’ll be good as new.”
Dawn walked up to Willow’s bed and leaned over to her ear. “Somewhere in there, I know you can hear me. So wake up, okay? You’re one of the biggest supporters Skye and I have. If it wasn’t for you and Ro, Skye over there would be in a dust pan,” she said with a small grin. Skye grinned from the foot of the bed. Dawn’s smile, however, began to slip away, “But really, Will. Just wake up, okay?”
Dawn patted her hand and rose up again. She began to walk away, but instead of following her, Skye walked over to Willow. Xander didn’t move, but he did carefully watch every movement Skye made.
“Hey, Will,” Skye told her. “I’m not done antagonizing you just yet.” She moved closer, and Xander got to his feet. Skye watched him but didn’t budge. She began to whisper, “Besides, you and Ro have a kid to raise, so get up soon. Got it?” Skye rose up and looked over at Xander. “Look after her,” she told Xander, waving a finger at him.
Xander watched her leave, never taking his eyes off her. Dawn had a curious expression as the vampire approached.
“What did you say to her?” Dawn asked.
“I told her if she doesn’t get up soon, I’m stealing Ro,” she told her with a wink. Dawn grinned, and the vampire took her hand. “Come on, we’ve got a few more books to hit, I’m sure.”
Watchers Council – Command Center – Same Time
“I think there’s something we need to consider here,” Robin told the gathering. Rowena, Buffy, Faith and Grace all looked in his direction.
“I’m open to any ways to get magic back,” Buffy began. “So let’s hear them.”
Robin hesitated, visibly apprehensive for a moment, before moving forward. “That’s just it – maybe we shouldn’t bring magic back.”
“Come again?” Grace asked.
“I’m saying that…maybe this isn’t so terrible.” He stopped and waited for their response.
Buffy said nothing at first. She looked at the others in shock, mouth slightly open, then looked back at Robin. “Have you noticed that our best friends, our family, are dying?”
“Yes, that totally slipped my mind,” he shot back sarcastically. “Of course I know that. But think of what this could mean. We’ve already gotten reports that Hellmouths around the world are shut, and that’s if they even exist anymore. People trapped by curses are now free. It seems like the majority of vampires are automatically turning into dust, and even those that aren’t can’t make more of them without magic.”
“The world needs slayers, Robin,” Buffy countered.
“How so?” he pressed. “When the remaining demons are no more of a threat than criminals or dangerous animals?”
Buffy took several deep breaths in and out through her nose, then turned to Faith. “You’re marrying a crazy man.”
“Maybe,” she said. “But he makes a valid point.”
“I don’t believe this,” Buffy said quietly, turning her head away.
“Like he said, B. Think about the larger picture here. People might die, yeah. People we love, even, but what’s the bigger trade-off? I’d give up being a slayer if it meant the world could be safer. Hell, you haven’t patrolled in forever, so I can’t see you having a problem with it, either.”
“We don’t know all the facts, all the ramifications of this,” Grace put in. Buffy motioned for her to continue. “Maybe magic is just something that makes spells work, but I’d say it’s something more. Look at the Coven. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they’re dying.”
Buffy winced and glanced at Rowena, who was looking at the table in front of her, not saying anything.
“You think anyone in that infirmary wouldn’t give their life if it made the world a much safer place?” Robin said. He turned to Buffy. “Tell me that Willow or Al or anyone there wouldn’t die to save humanity as a whole.”
Buffy looked away and said nothing.
“I’m sure they would,” Grace answered. “But that wasn’t my point.”
“Then what is your point?” Faith asked.
“My point,” Grace said, accentuating the word, “is this: If the lack of magic is affecting them so severely now, what long-term consequences might it have for everyone? Is magic exactly what Andrew’s been thinking? That it’s like the Force – something within all of us, something that helps nurture creativity and binds us as people?”
“People can’t draw pictures anymore or write stories, so what? I’m sure folks like my son could find a new hobby,” Faith told her.
Grace shook her head. “No, it’s more than that. Einstein, one of the most analytical men in the world, saw how important imagination and creativity were in life. He said, and I quote, ‘Imagination lights the way for the impossible and makes it possible.'”
Faith sighed, “Still not following you.”
“I do,” Buffy said. “Humankind stops evolving, right?”
“Exactly,” Grace replied. “Without creativity – magic, if you will – we wouldn’t be able to fly in airplanes, or have light bulbs, or-or indoor plumbing. We wouldn’t have a cure for Polio or antibiotics to fight infections. I can sit here all day and list examples, but we don’t have all day. There might be a window in which we can return magic. And if we don’t return it, we might be short a few demons, yes, but the results could be…catastrophic.”
For a long time, no one said anything. Buffy finally motioned to Grace. “I’m with her in stopping a catastrophe.”
“We don’t know that any of that will happen,” Robin said.
“We don’t know that it won’t,” Grace countered.
Robin sighed. “I guess it comes down to a tiebreaker then,” he said, addressing Rowena.
At first, Rowena said nothing. She just rubbed her nose repeatedly with her index finger, as if in thought. Finally, she cleared her throat.
“Willow, Al…everyone in that hospital room, and even in this room…we would die to save the world. A few people in this room already have,” she remarked. Buffy and Faith both just looked at each other. “So if it came down to it – if we knew, without a doubt, that the loss of magic would be a productive thing – I would side with Robin.” Rowena finally looked over at Buffy, and she teared up. “You know I love Will with all my heart, but I also know that if it was her or the world, she’d tell us to save the world first. And if it were me in that bed, she’d know that I’d want her to do the same.”
Buffy looked into her lap and softly said, “I know that.”
“But Grace makes a strong argument,” Rowena said, addressing the room again. “While there are benefits on the surface in the short-term, the long-term consequences could be far more harmful. At least with magic, we know what to expect. So I vote that we try to restore magic. Not to save my family, which is one of my goals, I’ll confess, but for the protection of everyone.”
For a long moment, no one said anything.
“Rowena,” Robin began. “I don’t want you to think that I want Willow or Al to die, not at all. I just –”
Rowena held up her hand. “You were doing your job, Robin, and rather well,” she said. “It’s best that we took the time to examine all the options and to not let personal opinions get in the way. So I don’t hold your comments, or Faith’s, against you guys. And I ask that Buffy and Grace do the same. But now that we have a decision…we need a plan.”
Watchers Council – Hallway Outside Infirmary – Same Time
Skye and Dawn still held hands as they left the infirmary. Skye turned right, but Dawn stopped. She had looked left, spotting a figure seated in a chair several yards away. With a soft tug, she brought Skye with her toward the figure.
Lorinda evidently hadn’t combed her hair in a long while. It had become an untidy mane atop her head. She didn’t move as they approached. Instead, she stared at nothing, her unfocused eyes pointing at the floor, but not registering a single detail. The footfalls of Dawn and Skye got no reaction. Neither did Dawn kneeling beside her and saying her name.
“Jeff,” began Skye after a few moments. Lorinda instantly looked up. “He’s alive but….just like everyone else…they’re getting weaker.”
At that, Lorinda waited. Then she nodded, but said nothing. She just stared at Dawn and Skye. It grew uncomfortable. Dawn stood up.
“Can they make me go back?” The words from Lorinda came out in a jumble, barely audible, but, in the silence, they almost echoed.
“What do you mean?” asked Skye.
“Am I normal now? Can they make me go back?”
“To where?” Skye tried again.
Lorinda said nothing.
“Do you mean, can they make you into a slayer again?” asked Dawn, “Or…do you mean go back to your family?”
In almost slow motion, Lorinda’s eyes began to tear up. “I don’t know,” she whispered.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Moments Later
Giles pushed Ethan in a wheelchair through the infirmary. Ethan looked at the Coven members lying in their beds.
“So this is what I have to look forward to, eh? Not very comforting, Ripper.”
“I’m still not sure how you managed to avoid it. We had a theory that practicing witches and warlocks are being greatly affected. The less involvement in the arts, the less physical the aliments.”
“Your theory might still be on target, Mate.”
“How so? You –”
“Haven’t practiced for quite some time,” Ethan told him.
Giles stopped walking and moved in front of Ethan, regarding him skeptically. “You? You gave up magic?”
Ethan grinned slyly. “What can I say, Ripper? I found a beautiful blonde and decided to settle down. It seemed to work for you, so I thought, why not have a go at it?”
“Seriously?” Giles asked, still disbelieving him.
“I’m conscious now, aren’t I?” Ethan countered. Giles shrugged, unable to argue. “But I won’t be, if I stay in this building much longer.”
“They’re not contagious…well, not that we know of,” Giles replied.
Ethan leaned forward. “Not them, you git. Be the watcher you are and think of what this all means.”
Giles sighed and admitted, “I seem to be having a difficult time doing that at the moment.”
“Then let me spell it out for you…”
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Same Time
After leaving Lorinda, Skye pulled Dawn by the hand into the Coven Room.
“What? You want to be alone, I get that, but why?”
In answer, Skye put Dawn’s hand on her chest.
Dawn blinked. “Now? Skye!” She fell silent as Skye put a finger to her lips. She used the same hand to put Dawn’s other fingers on her wrist.
“Just…feel,” Skye said. She looked at her watch.
“Pay attention. Close your eyes. And feel.”
Dawn did so with a sigh. She shut her eyes, letting her hand rest over Skye’s heart. And waited. Then, her eyes flew open and met Skye’s.
“When did it start?” Dawn whispered.
“A few hours ago. That’s when I noticed it, anyway. I didn’t even recognize it at first, I had forgotten what it felt like, and then I thought that was impossible. Now…now, they’re coming every two minutes or so.” She lowered her voice. “It used to be every five.”
Dawn used her other hand to draw Skye in. They stood like that, cheek almost touching cheek, in the silence, and waited. This time, Dawn knew what she waited to feel. Both of Skye’s hands pressed hers over the heart.
Two minutes. Like clockwork. Now, almost lip to lip, they gazed at each other.
“Am I becoming human?”
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Same Time
“There are still demons in the world,” Ethan pointed out. “Lots of creepy crawlers who, if they haven’t already, are soon to figure out that there are no more slayers. Now’s the perfect time for revenge on the Council and its slayers. So if you want my advice…get the hell out of this building, or arm yourselves to the teeth if you’re silly enough to stay. Scatter the slayers about, instead of making them a demon smorgasbord all in one place. Hiring mercenaries might be a good idea right now, as well.”
“Dear lord,” Giles sighed. “Excuse me,” he said, quickly walking over to the phone.
“What a git,” Ethan sighed, as he watched Giles talking for a moment. He rose from his wheelchair and walked over to the foot of Willow’s bed. He looked over at Xander, who still sat there.
“Doesn’t seem she knows anyone’s here,” Ethan remarked. “A shame really. I rather liked the little red witch.”
“She’s still alive,” Xander told him.
“But for how much longer?” Ethan asked. “You need answers, boy, and you need them fast. Good news is, I know where you might find them.”
“I see your lips moving,” Xander told him. “But I don’t see anything useful coming out of them.”
Giles returned. “I’ve ordered the evacuation of all the slayers and staff in the building. Xander,” he said, “can you find Dr. Miller for me? We need to move the Coven out of this building as soon as possible.”
Xander nodded and walked away.
“Well, Ripper, as I was telling…Xander…I might be able to help. I’ll volunteer pretty much everything I know about Bureau Nine, Jason Felix and any others.”
“At what price?” Giles asked.
“You know me so well, Mate.” Ethan grinned. “For starters, I want one of those flashy Aston Martin cars like yours – newer, of course.”
“Of course,” Giles sighed. “What else?”
“My list is rather long,” he said, digging into his pocket and handing it to Giles.
“How about I just save your life?” Giles said as he took the list. “That should be reward enough.”
“There’s more to life than breathing air – there’s also the material rewards. But if you’re not interested…”
Ethan began to walk away.
“Stop,” Giles told him, as he continued to look at the list. “You want what?” he exclaimed without looking up.
“In truth, it is a short list,” Ethan replied. “So do we have a deal?”
“I want it signed by Ms. Summers.”
“You don’t run the show here anymore, mate. I know she’s the one in charge, so I want her signature. I’m just protecting my interests, and in all fairness and a bit of flattery, if anyone can get her to sign it, it would be you.”
Giles rubbed his temple. “All right,” he muttered.
Ethan leaned his head closer with a grin. “What was that?”
“I said all right,” Giles said, louder and with more annoyance.
“Wise choice,” Ethan told him. “Now, you can attend to the list later, since time is of the essence right now. One of your first steps is to find this posh English bird I’ve seen working closely with Felix. What in heavens is her name?” he asked himself, as he looked at the ceiling. “Deanna? No. Deedra? No, that’s not it.”
“Dianna?” Giles asked.
“Yes!” Ethan said. “We make such a wonderful pair, Ripper,” he teased. “Between the two of us, we might get this figured out. But yes, her name is Dianna, and I’ve seen –”
“Come with me,” Giles said. He led Ethan back into the wheelchair and swiftly moved him out of the room.
Watchers Council – Lobby – Same Time
Kennedy and Kadin walked into what looked like an organized madhouse. Slayers and watchers seemed to be wandering around rather aimlessly, but then they would note the locations they should be by pointing and walking in that direction.
Jackson walked around holding a bullhorn, attempting to provide directions to the teeming throng.
“Each section of the room is broken into the four major time zones,” he told them through the megaphone. “Go to the time zone of your hometown and find your tickets. Inside each one, you’ll also find a debit card to use for rental cars, hotel stays, anything you might need until you get home. If you’re traveling outside the U.S., go to the North Gymnasium.”
Kennedy and Kadin continued to wade through the swarm of people.
“This is my fault,” Kennedy said as she looked around them, Jackson still talking in the background. “Look at this mess. I could have stopped this.”
“I was there, Ken,” Kadin pointed out. “We did what we could. If anyone’s to blame, it’s that jackass Felix.”
“I had the dream,” Kennedy answered. “I got the heads-up. I was just too stupid to realize it at the time.”
Although Kadin said nothing, her face showed sympathy.
They approached closer to Jackson, who was still talking, “Buses will be going to the airport in fifteen minutes, starting with the Pacific time zone. If you’re leaving from the Detroit airport, go to the bus outside right now and check in as you get aboard.” Kennedy tugged on Jackson’s sleeve. “What?” he snapped. Upon seeing her, he quickly made up for it. “Sorry, Kennedy. I didn’t know it was you.”
“Where’s the gang?” she asked.
He shrugged. “I couldn’t tell you – scattered everywhere would be my guess. I just got a call from Chairwoman Summers to start shipping all the slayers and watchers home ASAP. We’ve got a skeleton crew right now.”
“Thanks,” she told him. She motioned with her head to have Kadin follow her.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Moments Later
Kennedy and Kadin walked inside the infirmary, but Kennedy stopped suddenly, making Kadin bump into her.
“Oh lord,” she said, as she looked at all the occupied beds in the room.
She looked over toward Willow’s bed and watched as Xander moved to his feet and started toward her.
“How are you feeling?” he asked, as he approached her with open arms.
Kennedy just raised her hand and motioned to him not to come any closer.
“You hug me, Xander, and I might lose it,” she confessed. “We need to do something. I need to do something.”
“It’s not your fault, Ken,” he told her as he lowered his arms.
“I told her that, too,” Kadin said, running her hand over Kennedy’s back.
Kennedy looked around the room. “Stupid question, but…how are they?”
“The doctor keeps coming by to change the drugs or the dose or something. I’m worried because he’s starting to come back more often.”
Kennedy gave a firm nod. “I figured Rowena would be here, too.”
“She was,” Xander answered. “But she’s trying to find a way to turn this around somehow.”
Kennedy nodded and then slowly walked over to Willow’s bed. She stood at the foot and bowed her head slightly.
“I’m sorry I failed you,” she whispered.
Rural Ohio – Abandoned Rail Tunnel – Late Night
An incredibly ugly vampire, his cheeks shrunken, his eyes without pupils, waited silently in the dark. He stood in the gravel by a rusted set of railroad tracks. The only sound was that of water dripping somewhere. In the center of the tracks burned a tiny fire, fueled by brush. The flames played off the cracked, graffiti-covered concrete walls of the tunnel.
The blind vampire smiled. “I can see you, Jurgen.”
A short, snaggletoothed creature, Nosferatu-like with his bat ears and long fingers, stepped into the circle lit by the fire. He wore a dark gray, military-like uniform, with gold-tasseled shoulder-pads and other strange decorations.
“It’s Jurgen the Great,” he growled. “You always get that wrong, Sung.”
Sung bowed his head briefly. “I am sorry. We among the Weng Chiang carry no such honorifics.”
“Save it,” Jurgen barked. “What I want to know is…who called this meeting? The last meeting of the Covenant was before the imprisonment of the Master, and I’m in no mood for politics.”
“It was I,” stated an unearthly, deep voice. This vampire was tall, muscle-bound, and developing the nose of a bull. He also bore short, curved horns, curling from his forehead. He stepped forward into the light. “We face a crisis, and we must face it united, for our common benefit. Welcome, Sarkis.”
A fourth vampire stepped into the circle. His skin was beginning to form into scales, and his long, forked tongue periodically flicked out between his fang-bearing lips.
“Isss it jusssst ussss four?” Sarkis asked. “Where isss Kakissstoss?
“Slayed,” Jurgen supplied. “He pissed off Faith Lehane, back before she was famous. He couldn’t have known who he was dealing with. Shame, really. Come now, Cretarus, what is this about?”
“We, the eldest, are still here,” the tall bull-vampire began, “but the younger generation of vampires nears extinction.”
“I have observed this,” Sung nodded. “My disciples have been…depleted.”
“Don’t talk to me about depleted!” Jurgen shouted. His temper flared impressively. “My army, the great force worthy of its commander that I have been building for over a century, is gone in a day! And we were almost ready. The entire city of Boston would have fallen…the Council suspected nothing, I’m sure of it. And then…this!”
“Sssilence!” Sarkis hissed. “Your voice makes my ssscalesss twitch.”
“You insolent reptile,” Jurgen spat, “I will remove your eyes and use them as marb –”
“ENOUGH!” Cretarus bellowed. The others quieted down, if only for a moment.
“The magic is disappearing,” Sung pronounced. “Soon, it will have left this realm forever.”
“I agree,” Cretarus said.
“Sssso,” Sarkis asked. “What do we do?”
“We may not know the cause,” Cretarus replied, “but we may deduce that one of two things will now happen. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before we follow in the path of our younger brethren and revert to dust. Perhaps the Council will find its usual eleventh-hour solution, and the power will return to the slayers.”
“With our own numbers greatly diminished,” Sung said, a hint of fear in his voice.
“We are not alone in this,” Cretarus continued. “There are still many demons on the side of the dark, their strength and stamina undimmed. I have contacted many of them. They were…receptive.”
“Receptive to what?” Jurgen asked. “I take it you have some sort of plan in that thick skull of yours?”
Cretarus nodded once. “A plan, yes, though a simple one. We devour as many of the helpless little girls who once called themselves slayers as possible.”
Sarkis hissed in delight. “A fitting revenge. I like it.” Jurgen bore his teeth in a hideous grin, while Sung simply nodded in agreement.
“But who, if I may ask, will get to drain the really famous slayers?” Jurgen asked. “You know, Faith and Buffy?”
“Long have I hungered for their blood on my lips,” Sung said.
Cretarus considered this a moment. “It will be a race. Winner takes his choice of prizes.” He bore his own impressive fangs. “Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I have preparations to attend to.”
At that, the hulking figure of Cretarus turned and walked out of the circle.
Rural Ohio – Mouth of Railway Tunnel – Moments Later
Cretarus stepped out of the mouth of the railway tunnel and planted a foot firmly on either side of the tracks. With little effort, he raised his booming voice.
“It is agreed. We strike at the earliest opportunity.”
A cheer went up from the throats of the demons who watched him. They were perched on embankments and standing five-deep in the trackside weeds. Dozens, maybe hundreds raised their battle-cry.
End of Act Two