Bureau Nine – Clinic – Next Morning
Lori knocked lightly on the door before entering. Within, light glowed indirectly. Paintings of sailing ships hung on the walls. At the far side of the room lay a hospital bed, equipment on either side. Nicholas lay under the sheets. His eyes flickered, and his head moved to his right side.
To the right, parked on a simple chair, sat Jason Felix. Seeing Lori, he rose and came to her.
“Sir,” she began, voice low, “we’re getting reports of vigilantes attacking friendly demon species.”
“Damn!” He closed his eyes for a moment. “Damn and damn again. I should have thought of that.”
“You can’t –”
“Send a priority message to every branch,” he interrupted her. “All resources must be applied to minimize damage. Non-critical operations are canceled until further notice. So are all vacations. Redeploy to protect benevolent demon populations, offer sanctuary where applicable.” He took a deep breath. “I do apologize.”
“I’m not blaming you,” she said. “I am not going to blame you.”
“Maybe you should,” he said, not looking at her. “Nicholas is…he’s insisting they use stimulants to keep him awake.”
“That doesn’t sound very safe.”
“Nor is it. But he’s earned that choice.”
“What about Isabel?”
Felix sighed again. “We have a theory about her. I’ll give you a full briefing after you send that alert to all branches.”
She nodded. “At once,” she said, and exited.
It took Felix longer to return to the bed than to leave it. He sat down. Nicholas spoke, barely audible. “We all knew the risks.”
“Not quite, my friend. Not quite.”
Nicholas blinked slowly, the equivalent of a shrug. “We never do.”
Dianna’s Apartment – Kitchen – Afternoon
Dianna sat at her kitchen table, looking exhausted. She poked at a cup of brightly-colored yogurt with a plastic spoon. Then there was a knock on the door, and she looked up.
Dianna’s Apartment – Living Room – Moments Later
Dianna partially opened her front door to see Grace standing on the other side. A relieved smile crossed her face. “Grace, I’ve been worried about you. Is everything…?”
“Yeah, Mom, I’m great,” Grace interrupted. “Can I come in?”
“Of course, dear,” Dianna said. She opened the door further and stopped in the middle of a welcoming hand gesture. Giles, Rowena, Jim, Kennedy and Faith were all standing in the hallway outside of her apartment. Dianna blinked. “Oh, you brought some friends.”
Giles looked at her darkly. “Dianna, I believe we need to have a conversation.”
Dianna took a large step backwards. Giles crossed the threshold, closely followed by the others.
“I-I’m not sure I understand,” Dianna stammered nervously.
“Your buddy Ethan gave you up,” Faith supplied.
“And we know you’re working for Bureau Nine,” Jim added.
“And we’re pretty sure they’re the reason I’ve had an attack of influenza, not to mention a lack of slayer-ness,” Kennedy put in.
Dianna continued to retreat from the advance of the Council members. Not looking where she was going, she tripped over a large easy chair and fell backwards into its seat.
“There are a few different ways this can go, Dianna,” Giles told her, “but they all end the same way. You will tell us what we need to know.”
Dianna gathered herself and looked him in the eye. “You wouldn’t.”
Giles took one deep breath in, then he grabbed Dianna by the hair on the back of her head. She gasped. He brought his face very close to hers. “You know better than almost anyone what I’m capable of. Or have you forgotten?”
“Giles…” Kennedy and Faith both began.
“No,” Rowena interrupted. She was standing against the wall, her arms crossed. “We’re not calling him off, so I suggest you do as he says, Dianna.”
Grace put a hand on Giles’s shoulder. He stood, a look of slight surprise on his face. Dianna watched as her daughter led Giles aside.
“Please,” Grace said to him in a whisper, “just wait. I’ve heard the stories. I know you’re about to go all ‘Ripper’ on her arse.” She made air quotes with her hands on the word Ripper. “And normally, I’d say have at it. But…no matter what she thinks of me…she’s still my mom. Just let me talk to her for a sec.”
Giles looked at Grace for a moment, sizing her up, then nodded and took a step away. Grace walked back over and knelt in front of the chair her mother was sitting in, one hand on each armrest. She stared down at the floor, not looking Dianna in the eye.
“Grace, I never meant for any of this to happen,” Dianna said quickly.
“Mom, how could you do this to me?” Grace asked, without looking up. “These people in this room…they trusted you. I trusted you. You and I might not like each other all that much, but…I trusted you.”
“And you betrayed me,” Grace continued, looking up into her mother’s eyes. Grace was barely holding back tears. “I don’t know what you and your…people did, but I know that you lied to me and that you used me. And, you stole from the Council.”
“So it really was you?” Faith asked. It sounded more like a comment than a question. Dianna looked from Grace to Faith and back again. Very slowly, she nodded.
“You really are a traitorous bitch,” Rowena said, her voice low.
“Bleedin’ backstabber,” Jim threw in.
“The bosses here have a point, Mom,” Grace said, nodding.
“Grace, I…” Dianna hesitated. “I did it for you. I did it for everyone.”
Giles stepped forward. “Did…what, exactly?”
Dianna sighed. It was a surrender. “This wasn’t the original plan. We were looking for a way to…to turn magic off.”
“Seems to me like you succeeded,” Faith pointed out. She gave a mocking thumbs-up. “Great job.”
Dianna shook her head. “No, not like this. Not all at once, with no warning. Jason, who figured it out, correlated several apocryphal prophecies with some obscure texts. They gave us a timetable.”
“A timetable for…” Jim prompted.
“For bringing the Nexus to the Vessel,” Dianna explained. “We found the Nexus…”
“Isabel?” Rowena asked softly.
Dianna nodded. “I…acquired the Sphere, and that told us where to find the Vessel – at the Top of the World.”
“Okay, maybe it’s because the Chosen watchers are feeling a little fuzzy today,” Grace said, “but I’m missing something here. Why would anybody want to ‘turn magic off’?”
“To end the suffering,” Dianna said quietly. “Instead of holding the line in endless battles, we wanted to end the war.”
Giles stepped forward. “Dianna, this is madness. Bureau Nine cannot be so colossally stupid as to think that this was actually a good idea.”
“But it was!” Dianna protested. Faith raised an eyebrow. Dianna backtracked. “I mean, we didn’t want this. No one expected all the magic everywhere to instantly go away.”
“Well, what exactly did you think would happen?” Rowena asked, suddenly raising her voice. “Did you think we’d all sit down and chat, and then my girlfri– my wife would agree to go quietly?”
“We didn’t –”
“We were in the middle of our wedding!” Rowena shouted. “And now she’s dying. But it’s not just her. There are others we know about, and perhaps many more we don’t, that are in the same damn situation because of you.” Rowena looked like she was about to charge the woman. Faith put out a comforting hand in Rowena’s direction, but she shrugged it off. “If we don’t fix this,” Rowena continued, “none of them will get better. In fact, the world might be a whole lot worse. Is this what you call an end to suffering?”
“What do you want from me?” Dianna shouted in return. “I told you, this was an accident!”
“Seems to me like you messed with something you shouldn’t have,” Faith said. “Never goes well.”
“You can blame me all you want,” Dianna said, “but it’s not going to change what happened. I know something has to be done. Many of my friends are badly off, too.”
“Don’t compare yourself to me,” Rowena said, a dangerous tone in her voice. “You don’t get to do that.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Dianna said. “I’m sorry. Just…”
“Dianna,” Giles said, the Ripper tone making a reappearance, “you’re going to tell us what happened. What made magic disappear?”
Dianna looked at him for a moment before answering. There was a slight tinge of fear behind her eyes.
“I don’t know.”
Rowena turned to Giles. “Screw this. I’ll get the blowtorch, you get the pliers.”
“Jason does!” Dianna said quickly. “He didn’t tell me everything, but he was there in India. He saw everything. He knows what’s going on. And it has something to do with Isabel Ortiz.”
“Jason Felix?” Jim clarified. Dianna nodded in confirmation.
Giles spent a moment glaring down at Dianna. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair.
“Was there something else?” she asked, in a failed attempt at petulance.
“Actually, there is,” Giles replied. “You have something we need. Full Bureau Nine security clearance.”
Dianna gaped for a moment. “No, no, I can’t.”
“‘Course you can, Princess,” Faith said. She grabbed Dianna by the hand and tried to pull her out of the chair. It didn’t immediately work. Faith released her hand and sighed, resting her hands on her hips. “Look, just because I can’t break you in half with my bare hands doesn’t mean I can’t kick you in the kneecap and then laugh while you roll around on the floor.”
“Mom, just come with us,” Grace pleaded. “I know you’re a human being. A very annoying human being, but a human being, and this is destroying you inside. We can figure out how to beat this, but we need your help to do it.” Dianna looked at her daughter. “Please,” Grace repeated.
After a long pause, Dianna nodded.
“I just…” Dianna faltered, “I know you have no reason to trust a single word I say, but I did this because…I wanted a safer world for you, Grace, for everyone. I had the means to do something I thought would protect you. And yes, I was jealous of you being Chosen over me. But that jealousy was replaced by fear for your life. You and your father would never have been in danger last year if not for magic. No one would have.”
She took a deep breath, trying to calm her panic-ridden breathing.
“For what little it’s worth, I am proud of you, Grace…and I am so terribly sorry for what I’ve done. To all of you.”
Giles gave a slow, contemptuous clap. “Bravo. No one does the broken-down-woman routine like you, Dianna.”
Silently, Grace stared back at her mother, her own eyes glazed over with tears. She then glanced from Giles, to Rowena, to Faith. Her mouth was open slightly, ready to form a word, a sentence, but nothing came out. After letting out a heavy sigh, she rose to her feet.
“We need to go,” Grace said, motioning her mother toward the door.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Afternoon
Dawn turned one corner, then another. She almost entered the room with the sign saying “Men” on the outside. With a shake of her head, she looked a bit further down for the ladies room, but instead she spotted Skye.
Skye stood between a pair of doors. At first she didn’t react as Dawn approached. Her gaze was elsewhere…on a mirror.
“I’ve been looking for you!” Dawn said as she reached Skye’s side. “Listen, Ro has an idea about why the rules seem to be changing for vampires. Skye? Skye?”
Dawn turned, and her mouth went wide for a moment. Blurred and transparent, Skye’s reflection stared back at them. Skye looked at Dawn’s eyes in the glass.
“I don’t know. I came here to use the restroom and…that’s when I noticed it.”
“When? You’ve been gone a half-hour.”
For a moment, Skye said nothing. “Sorry, I lost track of time…I was pretty resigned that I’d never see myself again. I just…I’m…” Skye raised her hand and watched it in the mirror. Finally, her eyes moved away, and she looked at Dawn. “I’m sorry.”
Dawn lowered her voice. “Has it changed at all?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe. I think it didn’t have as much color at first. It was more transparent. But…” Her voice trailed away. The two of them continued to stare into the glass.
“Well, you’re not the only one,” Dawn said, cutting through the silence.
“What do you mean?” Skye asked, looking away from her reflection again.
Dawn held up her finger. “My paper cut hasn’t healed yet.”
“You’re becoming mortal, too?” Skye asked.
Dawn looked back at the two of them in the mirror, and Skye followed suit.
“Like you said, I’m not sure.”
Bureau Nine – MRI Lab – Same Time
The monitor showed a roughly human shape, outlined in a variety of colors. It resembled an infrared image, but glowing.
“Well,” said Mr. Felix, “I’m not as familiar with MRI scans as you are, but this certainly looks nothing like any I’ve ever seen before.”
“Part of that, sir, might be the design,” said the technician. “This is the most advanced device of its kind in the world. It’s specifically designed to detect paranormal readings on an entire range…”
“I am familiar with the machine,” said Felix, lifting a hand. “But from your report, this is atypical?”
“Very much so. In fact, given what these readings seem to be saying, I’m not even sure how she can still be alive.”
Felix looked over past the monitor, at the MRI machine proper. Lying on the bed, surrounded by the scanning technology, lay Isabel. Apart from her breathing, she wasn’t moving. Her hands lay to her sides.
“Can you tell…is she in pain?”
“I…” the technician hesitated. He looked intently at the monitor. “These readings don’t indicate pain, sir. But then, interpreting them is not a simple matter. It is literally as if energy were pouring into her from all directions – esoteric energy of some kind. Under normal circumstances, I would presume such energy to be mystical, but now…” He shook his head. “We need more data.”
“We’ll see what we can do. But…you are the expert. I don’t expect miracles, nor knowledge where there is none. Please, in your opinion…is she in pain?”
The technician waited. He took off his glasses, but didn’t look at Felix. “In my opinion, sir, it is most likely that she is experiencing no strong levels of discomfort. Not enough to register, at any rate. I don’t know if that is of any use to you.”
“Neither do I, to be honest. I just hope…she’s not in pain.”
Watchers Council – Hallway – Later that Afternoon
“How did it go?” Buffy asked.
“Time will tell,” Giles said to her as she walked beside him. “Is Ethan still here?”
“Yeah,” Buffy replied.
“Good. We may need his expertise, as he’s the only one with magical knowledge who is still conscious. Did you get all the slayers and watchers evacuated successfully?”
“Most. A few asked to stay to help move the Coven…but it’s a moot point now.”
“What do you mean?” Giles asked, concerned. “Are they…?”
“Oh, no, they’re still alive, but they’re getting worse.” Buffy just sighed.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Moments Later
“Are you sure?” Giles asked the doctor. Buffy and Xander stood next to him.
“As I told Miss Summers, in my medical opinion, yes. Moving them is far too dangerous,” Dr. Miller replied.
“I told him keeping them here could get them just as killed,” Buffy said to Giles.
“And as I told her,” the doctor continued, “I can’t get these people stabilized. Moving them right now could kill them. But if we seal this room from intrusions, they might have a chance. Besides, if what you’re thinking is true, by moving them, we could be putting innocent civilians at risk. The damn media told the world about our problem, and now they’re watching all our movements like hawks. Demons who might be looking for us will check the hospitals for the Coven if they don’t find them here. Either way, in my opinion, it’s best if they stay here.”
“We can’t leave them unguarded,” Giles told him.
“True,” Dr. Miller replied, “and forgive me for saying as much, but protecting them is your department, not mine. I’ll do my very best to try to stabilize them, and if I’m lucky enough, heal them. But it’s up to you to figure out how to guard them.”
“Bloody hell,” Giles sighed.
Watchers Council – Command Center – Later That Afternoon
“I have a plan,” Giles told the gathering.
Buffy, Rowena, Faith, Kennedy, Kadin, Robin, Xander, Grace and Ethan were all present. They listened intently to what Giles had to say.
“I believe a small group of us can infiltrate the high-security area of Bureau Nine. We need access to and control of this ‘Nexus’ or ‘Vessel.’ At which point, we might be able to undo what’s been done and hopefully save lives and restore slayers to what they were. Any objections?”
“Not from the Watchers Division,” Buffy replied.
“I second it,” Faith said.
“Sorry we’re late,” Dawn said, as she and Skye entered the room. “Skye had a theory that we had to test.”
“Like what?” Rowena asked.
“I tried to enter a house without permission. The bad news is I succeeded,” Skye told them. “And as for a crucifix, it hardly hurts to touch anymore. Of course, this might just be me because…my reflection is starting to return, but I haven’t seen any other vamps to know if that’s the case. In any event…”
“…any dangerous demons limited by magic are a lot more dangerous now, for sure,” Buffy finished for her.
“Bingo,” Skye said, pointing at her.
“In light of this, I think the most experienced fighters should stay here, and not go to Bureau Nine,” Giles said.
“I agree,” Robin answered. “Marissa, Faith, Buffy, Kennedy, Mia, and Kadin too, if she wishes, should get ready for a battle here. They can instruct the younger girls who stayed, like Lorinda, on what to do and expect.”
“And what exactly do we expect?” Faith asked.
“The unexpected,” Jim told her. “Be ready for anything.”
“Beautiful advice,” Faith sighed.
“Ethan, Jim, Rowena and Grace can join me in going to Bureau Nine,” Giles proposed.
Buffy started to nod, but stopped. “Maybe we should keep Rowena here. Or better yet, send her to a safe location.”
“I’m going to B9,” Rowena insisted. “If the answer to Willow’s problem is there, I need to find it.”
Buffy sighed. “Giles, guys?” she told them. “Can you start getting your teams ready?” Before she finished speaking, she started leading Rowena by the elbow toward a corner.
“Certainly,” he replied, and the group began to talk among themselves.
“I just don’t think it would be best for you to go,” Buffy told Rowena, as Xander approached the two of them.
“I realize the danger I might be in,” Rowena answered. “I get that.”
“Then you –”
“But know this, Buffy,” Rowena said, cutting her off. “I can always try to have another child. But there’s only one Willow in this world, and I don’t want to raise a child without her. So if I can save her, I have to try.”
“If she’s going, then I’m going with her,” Xander told them.
“No, Xander,” Buffy said. “We don’t know what B9 might do.”
Xander stepped closer to Buffy and said, in a soft voice, “I made a promise to look after them. Willow’s not here to do it, so it’s become my duty. I’m not letting her walk into that alone.”
Buffy considered it for a moment and relented. “Fine,” she agreed. “Just…be safe guys.”
“You too,” Rowena replied. “Now, let’s get those teams in order.”
Underground Lair – Same Time
Cretarus sat silently in his underground bunker. It had originally been built as a fallout shelter for another building, now abandoned. One could still see the nuclear symbol painted on a pillar. He stared at a small, flickering television, an older model.
On the screen, Jim stood on the front steps of the Council grounds, in the center of a huge crush of reporters.
“We’re working on the problem,” he was saying, sounding much more harried than his usual press conference patter. “Everyone here is doing their best. We’ve lost a few dozen slayers today around the world. We’re trying to not lose anybody else.”
“Is this some sort of virus?” one reporter shouted.
“Was the Watchers Council poisoned?” called another.
“We don’t believe so, no,” Jim replied. “Right now, we don’t know exactly what we’re dealing with.”
“We saw several people leaving the Council and getting on buses earlier today. Is the Council officially closing?”
“The Council is not closed,” Jim told them. “We have simply allowed Council members who’d like to go home to have the opportunity. Nothing more and nothing less.”
Sarkis moved out of the gloom behind Cretarus. “The otherssss grow ressssstlesssss.”
“We must know the field if we are to play the game,” Cretarus intoned, before turning back to the screen.
“I can tell you that Coven Members Rosenberg, Dimmons, Lindquist, Wells and O’Hara are here in the U.S.,” Jim said on the television.
“You mean at the Council?” one reporter tried to clarify. “We have footage of them being brought in on stretchers.”
“I can’t confirm or deny if they are in Cleveland at this time, for safety reasons. However, I can say they are seeking treatments for a variety of ailments…”
“I do not undersssstand thissss obssssesion of yours with thisss…box,” Sarkis grumbled.
“It’s a wonderful invention,” Cretarus replied. “One can use it to discover the enemy’s exact disposition of forces. Far more efficient than covert intelligence. And of course, without it, I’d miss Dancing with the Stars.”
“Is it true that all the slayers have lost their powers?” Tally Atwater asked. She proceeded to stick her microphone in Jim’s face.
“We have not confirmed that at this time,” Jim said.
“He’s lying,” Cretarus noted.
“However, as a precaution,” Jim continued, “we are staying abreast of every slayer’s condition and asking that our slayers remain indoors for the time being.”
Cretarus sat back, resting his head on his hands.
“Excellent,” he said. “All of the lambs are in one place. Ready for the slaughter.”
End of Act Three