Watchers Council – Infirmary – Early Evening
Rowena leaned over the unconscious Willow and gave her a kiss on the cheek, as she brushed her fingers through the witch’s hair. At the other end of the room, Grace stood waiting. In between Willow and Althenea still sat Mary Grace.
“I’m gonna do everything I can, Sweetie,” Rowena told her. “I need you, Willow, so please…stay strong. I can’t raise this child on my own.”
“Did you just say –?”
Rowena only nodded.
“You’re pregnant?” Mary Grace asked with a growing grin. Rowena just nodded again. “Who’s the father?” she asked.
Rowena looked down at Willow. “You are, aren’t you, Sweetheart?” Rowena then turned back to her sister and added, “With help from an extra special guy. But still,” she said, looking back at Willow, “I need you here, Will. There’s so much more I want to give you. So much more that I want you to be around for. So please, just hang on, Sweetie.” Rowena took a deep breath and blew it out slowly before she turned back to her sister. “Let’s get you out of here and on the bus.”
“Maybe I should stay,” Mary Grace offered. “Look after them?”
“I’d feel better if you left this place,” Rowena told her. “I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye on very much, but I do love you, Mary Grace, so please? Do us both a favor and head home? I promise you’ll hear about everything.”
Mary Grace took a last look at Althenea and then nodded her agreement.
As she rose, Rowena whispered, “Not too many people know about the baby. But let’s keep it that way, okay?”
Her sister just nodded as they walked over toward Grace.
“I’m all set,” Rowena told her. Grace gave her a nod. “And for the record, Grace, I’m proud of everything you’ve done today. And everything I’m sure you’ll do…but as my last order in this Council…make sure my sister gets on the bus.”
Grace grinned at the compliment as the three of them walked out.
Watchers Council – Xander’s Apartment – Same Time
Xander stood outside of his closet, looking at his shrine to Vi.
“If this doesn’t go well, I might be seeing you again sooner than you think,” he told her. “But I’ll do my best to do you proud, Vi, to help bring the slayers back to what they were.”
He picked up his picture of her and gave it a light kiss before placing it back in its spot.
Bureau Nine – Tunnel – Later that Evening
Dianna switched on the lights of the tunnel, revealing what looked like a long cylinder over a dozen yards long. She left the stairwell and crossed the distance to the outer wall. Checking the time against her watch, she then punched the datapad built into the wall.
Then she stepped back. A portion of the wall three yards wide began to lift. It lifted in less than four seconds, despite consisting of more than a yard’s thickness of steel. A party of individuals stood on the other side. Giles and Rowena stepped inside first, followed by Xander and a pale Ethan, then Grace and Jim.
“You call this a small team?” Dianna looked aghast. “Small convention, is more like.”
“I tried to tell them, luv,” said Ethan. “But Ripper, he never listens.”
She looked at him. “I’ve seen zombies that looked more alive than you.”
“My bet is you’ve slept with zombies that felt more alive than I do.”
“Thanks so much for that image,” grumbled Xander.
“Enough bickering,” said Giles. “This is the group, Dianna.”
“Very well,” she said with a sigh. “This way.” She led them down the hallway.
“If I may ask,” Jim said, “won’t our presence set off some kind of alarm?”
“Normally,” said Dianna, “but I’ve logged that I’m inspecting the emergency egress tunnel. The computers know I have clearance and recognize my pin codes. Normally, some spells would also be in place, but…” Her voice trailed off.
“How many people are in this complex right now?” asked Rowena.
“Fewer than five dozen. Resources are stretched to the maximum right now, with ongoing operations and efforts to minimize damage. There’d be even fewer, save that Felix insisted on keeping back a reserve for emergencies. Hopefully, we’ll make it through unobserved.”
“That was Frodo’s plan, too,” said Grace.
“Yeah, but that worked, didn’t it?” said Xander.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Same Time
Buffy ran to catch up with Robin. When she caught up with him, she was breathing hard, visibly winded. “Hey Robin!” she managed, before stopping, hands on her knees. Robin smiled as he waited.
She stood upright after a few seconds, waving a hand to show she was all right. “Exercise isn’t supposed to be hard,” she complained, as the two began to walk together.
“Um, if you say so,” he replied. “I guess you’re headed for the gym, too?”
Buffy nodded. “That’s where Faith is organizing the volunteers, isn’t it? Don’t know how many we’re gonna get, though. I mean, staying to fight possible demonic hordes without super powers? I’m sure people are just stepping right up for that one.”
“You stayed,” Robin pointed out.
Buffy shrugged. “Yeah, but I kinda hafta. I’m the big kahuna these days. Plus, if I left Will behind and something happened, I’d never be able to live with myself.”
“There is that,” Robin agreed.
“Can you keep a secret?” Buffy asked. Robin just nodded. “Inside…I’m terrified. I thought I was over the whole slayer thing, but…I was just kidding myself. I don’t know how to be…this.”
She and Robin stopped outside the door to the gym.
“You’ll figure it out,” Robin assured her, “if you have to. You ready to see what we have to work with?”
The two of them opened the door. Buffy blinked in surprise.
Casey, Marie, Hadley, Marissa, Mia, Kadin and Amira were all in the room, talking animatedly with each other. Lorinda sat on one of the benches, still looking shell-shocked. By a table covered with various weapons, Kennedy and Faith were arguing. Marsha sat at Kennedy’s feet, staring up at Faith with an indignant look on her face.
“All I’m saying is that you don’t need to do this,” Faith insisted.
“No one here still has their powers,” Kennedy replied, frustrated.
“True,” Faith agreed, “but you’re the only one suffering from the same magic-related badness that put our entire coven in intensive care. Not to mention the fact that in the past few days you flew twenty hours each way to India, with just enough downtime in between to get the snot beaten out of you. No offense.”
Kennedy bit her lip. “Faith, either you give me a weapon, or I will sic my dragon on you.”
Faith looked down at Marsha, who managed a menacing growl. She sighed in defeat.
Over by the exercise bikes, Dawn and Skye were trying to reason with Shannon.
“You have a family, Shannon,” Dawn implored her. “Why don’t you get out of harm’s way? It’s a free vacation, for Pete’s sake!”
“You guys are my family, too,” Shannon said, “probably more than the one in Nebraska. I’m not gonna leave you guys, not now.”
“What about Norman?” Skye asked. “You could go stay with him, let the puppy love roam free.”
“He’s okay,” Shannon replied. “Just talked to him on the phone. Right now, it’s you two I’m worried about. And I am so not in love with him.”
“Nice crowd, huh?” Buffy and Robin turned incredulously to see Tracey standing in the corner behind them.
“You volunteered for guard duty?” Buffy asked, eyebrows raised.
Tracey folded her arms over her chest defensively. “Hey, I will bet you three weeks’ pay that I have fought more demons without superpowers than everyone else in this room combined.”
“She’s probably right,” Robin told Buffy.
“If anybody comes near Andrew,” Tracey continued, looking genuinely scary, “I will make them wish they had never been born. And this time, I’ll have something with a little more punch than a frying pan.”
Watchers Council – Slayer Gym – Minutes Later
Amira held a large brown and black rifle in her hands. The volunteer force stood around her in a circle.
“This is an AK-47,” she announced. “It weighs about four kilograms. A trained operator can fire up to six hundred rounds per minute. Most of you are not trained operators.” She held up what looked like a small black box. “This is your cartridge. Each cartridge has thirty rounds. We have…many of these, but not an unlimited amount. Try not to shoot without reason. You load and unload like this.” She demonstrated. “Safety’s here, put the switch up before you shoot. I think we will have enough of these to go around, but many of you may want something smaller.”
Faith stepped forward. “We’ve also got the usual sharp and pointies, if you’re more comfortable with those, though many of you might find them a little heavier than you’re used to. I want to say again, none of you have to be here if you don’t want to be. I know this whole thing is crazy.”
“Actually, that’s pretty much par for the course when it comes to our lives, huh?” Mia quipped.
“The point is, if anybody wants out now, it won’t be held against you,” Faith continued. She turned to Amira. “That goes for you, too. You’ve been a big help, but I get it if this isn’t your fight.”
Amira shrugged. “Where am I to go? Back to Palestine? This is my home now.” She stepped back to take a place in the circle.
“Same here,” Casey said, raising her hand. “‘Cept I would have said England instead of Palestine. And with a different accent, of course.”
“Offff course,” Mia said, bumping shoulders with her.
“Hey, I’m just here for the credit,” Hadley said.
Marie elbowed her in the side. “You are such a glory whore.”
“You know it.” Hadley grinned.
“Okay, we get it, you’re all brave as hell,” Kennedy said loudly. She stepped forward, drawing a surprised look from Faith. “But brave isn’t gonna be enough. Not this time.”
“Kennedy…” Buffy began. Kennedy ignored her.
“I’m sick, and I’m exhausted. I’ve got a bruise on my leg that hurts a lot more than I remember bruises hurting, but I’m still here. We’re all still here. You know why? Because we’re all used to being slayers. We’re used to being powerful. But we’re not anymore. We’re not slayers.”
The room had fallen completely silent. Kennedy turned slowly, looking each girl in the eye.
“But I think I’ve figured something out. I think that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t the slayer inside that made us powerful. Maybe we were powerful already. Instead of getting Chosen, maybe we chose. Chose to be fighters. Chose to be strong.” She began to raise her voice a little. “And that’s why if anybody comes here looking for a bunch of weak little girls, they’re going to get a big surprise. Because we still choose to be strong. We still choose to fight.”
She paused, a grin gradually forming on her face. “And, even if we aren’t slayers, we’re all still bad-ass chicks.”
“Yeah!” Hadley exclaimed, and in a moment all the girls were cheering and clapping. Kadin looked on proudly, as did Marsha at her feet. Even Lorinda cracked a smile.
“What about me?” Robin said in mock offense.
“You can be an honorary bad-ass chick,” Kennedy amended. This drew loud laughter from the group.
Faith and Buffy exchanged a look, after which Faith put two fingers in her mouth and whistled. This brought the fun to a halt. Tracey grimaced and covered her ears.
“Okay, let’s do this then,” Faith said. “Amira and Marissa, you’re the first line of defense. Both of you know how to handle a gun, so I want you patrolling the grounds. We’re closing the gates, but I doubt that’ll stop a really determined beastie. First sign of trouble, you radio it in and retreat. Don’t stand and fight unless you have to, okay? The rules are slightly different now.” Faith turned to Hadley as she continued to speak. “And now more than ever, it’s important to remember we’re all a team. No one’s going out there trying to be a lone-wolf hero today, got it?
Marissa pulled off her best salute. “You got it.”
“All right then. Casey and Marie, you’re on the roof.”
“We’re playing lookout?” Casey asked. She sounded vaguely disappointed.
“You are the lookouts,” Faith told her. “You see anything, anything, that looks suspicious, call me up.”
She held out a small radio. Marie took it. “We’ll say Marco.”
“Polo,” Faith nodded. “We’re sealing off the parking garage, so that gives us two main entry points: the front lobby and the side door in the classroom wing. Shannon and Lorinda, you think you can handle the side door?”
“Got it covered,” Shannon nodded, though she and Lorinda shared an unreadable look.
“That leaves me, B, Hadley, Trace, Dawn, Skye, Slick, and the dragon in the front lobby. That’s the most likely way in. We can send reinforcements from there to anywhere that needs it.”
Mia motioned to herself, Kadin and Robin. “What about us?” she asked.
“You three all have at least some experience with guns, so I want you in the Infirmary,” Faith told her. “You’re the last line of defense in case everything gets FUBAR. Ya got me?”
“I gotcha,” Kadin nodded.
“And maybe you could…keep them company,” Lorinda said. “You know, while you’re there.”
“We will,” Robin told her in a kind voice.
“Mia, Kadin, Robin…” Faith looked at them each in turn. “Under no circumstances are you to leave that room. It doesn’t matter what you see or hear happening outside. You stay put. You’re not only protecting the weak, but also Dr. Miller and his nurse who stayed behind. If he gives you the go-ahead to move them out, you stay with them at all times. Everybody understand their orders?”
A chorus of “yes” and “yeah” filled the area, along with several nods.
“Okay,” Buffy said loudly, “you heard the woman. Get your weapons and get going.”
As the group broke up, Buffy found Kadin.
“Listen,” she said, putting a hand on Kadin’s shoulder, “I know we don’t know each other that well, but I just wanted to say…guard them with your life.”
Slowly, Kadin nodded, and Buffy lowered her hand.
“Hey, guys,” Skye called from outside, “there’s a chick in a skanky outfit here to see you.”
All eyes turned to the door, where Gwen Raiden stood with her hands on her hips. She huffed indignantly and turned to Kennedy. “Do I look skanky to you?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Kennedy told her. “This is Skye. She does that to everybody.”
“Hey, Gwen,” Buffy said, stepping towards the woman. “Not that we’re not thrilled to see you, but…how did you get in?”
Gwen shrugged. “I sneaked. I heard what was going down, and I figured you guys would probably be in for a world of hurt any time now.”
Faith turned to Robin. “How come everybody figured this one out right away except us?”
“And you’re in luck,” Gwen announced. “I happen to have the one superpower that has nothing to do with magic.” She removed a glove from one of her hands and let the lightning bolts crackle between her fingertips. “Nothing here but genuine Grade A freaky science.”
“Well, we can definitely use you,” Buffy said. She looked around. “Hey, people, what happened to the ‘get going?’ Move it!”
Bureau Nine – Hallway – Same Time
Like much of the Bureau’s headquarters, the hallway in this wing was painted in several shades of dark blue. Panels and indirect lighting glowed, illustrating the names on doors and walls. “REC-GYM” had been stenciled, with an arrow beneath, on the wall where Ethan paused to rest. Leaning on one hand, he took several ragged breaths.
“Remind me again why I’m here?”
“To avoid the revenge-seeking hordes bound to descend upon the Watchers Council, wasn’t it?” said Jim.
“No, that’s why I’m not there. Why am I here?”
“To save your life,” said Rowena.
“And stop the hangover that never ends,” said Giles.
“Right. That makes sense, then.”
Xander looked at the words next to Ethan’s bowed head. “No offense, but this kinda looks like a busy spot.”
“Unfortunately,” said Dianna, voice low, “there are no empty areas between Emergency Egress and the High Priority Areas. When you think about it, there wouldn’t be, would there? So kindly stop your complaining and please try to walk quietly.” She turned and headed down the hall. Grace opened her mouth briefly, looking like she wanted to say something, but restrained herself.
Bureau Nine – Training Area – Same Time
Two girls in sweats swirled and parried the swords in their hands. Neither carried fencing foils. Instead, each had a meter-long blade designed almost like a broadsword, but made of a space-age composite. Each was lightweight, durable, razor-sharp and with just enough bend to be flexible. Along one wall, dozens of identical blades hung, ready for use.
Watching them was a slightly older girl, slender with short dark hair. “Good! Break!”
Both girls parted. One was Asian, the other was an elfin blonde.
“Almost got you, Viking-girl.”
“Ha! Samurais always boast like that?”
“You both were doing great,” said Valentine, the eldest of the three. She looked almost thirty. “But Mariko, you didn’t take advantage of the opening Inga gave you.”
“That’s because everything feels so weird,” said Mariko.
“Getting tired so quickly, you mean?”
“And moving so slow!” said Inga. “C’mon, you’ve been here longer, Val. What have you heard?”
“Rumors,” Valentine sighed. “Lots and lots of rumors. But remember what you’ve been told from the beginning – these powers aren’t really yours. They’re on loan until you hit thirty.”
“Yeah, but I just had my twenty-first birthday!” said Mariko.
“Wanna have your twenty-second? Keep practicing.” Valentine raised an eyebrow. Both girls started to take a combat stance, but then stopped. Valentine looked at the door, an arched entrance way on a balcony twenty feet above them. All three looked at each other and nodded. They quickly and quietly moved to below the balcony, out of sight to anyone entering the room.
“…can’t I just make a comment?” echoed a voice from the hallway outside.
“Oh, that is just so typical!”
“Grace.” Rowena’s voice was low, but loud enough to be heard distinctly.
Dianna entered the training room first, looking around. Behind her came Giles, Xander, Rowena and Grace. Ethan slowly entered last, with Jim at his side. “This way,” Dianna said, heading down a narrow set of stairs. “As it turns out, the gym doesn’t seem to be in use.”
They were halfway across the floor when they heard a voice behind them.
Behind them stood Valentine, Mariko and Inga. The latter two held swords.
“I knew this was too easy,” said Xander.
“Remember, guys,” Rowena said very quietly. “We’re not here to kill anybody, okay?”
“What are you doing, Miss Earl?” asked Valentine. She said it quietly, but without blinking, and as she did so, she took a step to the side.
“Valentine, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Deputy leader of Alpha Green Squad.” She stepped further to the side. Giles noticed and caught Rowena’s eye, then Jim’s. All three shifted their weight slightly.
“The operation at Quiet Hill, I remember,” nodded Dianna. “Superb work.”
“What are you doing, Miss Earl?” Valentine insisted. “I don’t recognize half the people with you, and the ones I do recognize, I know are not members of Bureau Nine.”
“Girlie,” said Ethan at last, “Dianna is escorting us to see Mr. Felix. She’s being discreet because we don’t want any panic, now do we? Or more rumors than absolutely necessary.”
With a swift movement, Valentine took the last two steps and grabbed a sword from the rack. “No way you’d be here without a security escort – especially you!” Her eyes pinned Ethan.
He sighed and shrugged. “Yeah, well, that’s a fair cop.”
Rowena, Jim and Giles grabbed swords as well, forming a wall between the three Bureau Nine slayers and their compatriots. Six swords faced each other for a long, long few moments, while everyone waited for someone to do anything that would upset the balance.
“We might be better than you think,” warned Rowena. “Both Giles and I were champions. Jim, too. Well, he was a close second.”
“Do you have to rub that in now?” Jim hissed at her from one side of his mouth.
“Step aside, girls,” Giles told him.
“I don’t take my orders from you, old man,” said Mariko.
Giles looked a tad miffed.
“Just remember, young lady,” Jim shot back. “You’re probably used to using your slayer powers,” said Jim, “which, at least temporarily, aren’t here anymore.”
“You’ve never seen us train,” said Inga, with a tight grin.
The scraping sound of another sword being drawn caught everyone’s attention. Xander hefted the weapon in his hand, eyeing it with an expert’s eye.
“These are good,” he said. “Must have cost a mint, though.”
“As a matter of fact,” said Dianna, between clenched teeth.
“Xander,” Rowena said quietly. “Put it down. I don’t –”
He didn’t let her finish. “There was this great line in a movie once. About how the best swordsman in Europe doesn’t fear the second best swordsman as much as he fears the worst – because the worst will be unpredictable. So, do I say en garde, or is that just a cliché?”
Inga raised her sword against Xander, but Jim went on the attack. His blade began an intricate series of feints and cuts against Inga, forcing her back but without really threatening her. At the first movement from him, Mariko engaged Giles, while Valentine found herself facing Rowena and Xander. The room echoed with the ring of steel on steel. Valentine hesitated for a moment, then did a quick series of strikes against Rowena before turning to Xander. She swung high. He blocked the blow. But she pivoted and kicked as hard as she could into his solar plexus. He flew back, gasping, dropping his sword. Then Valentine turned all of her attention to Rowena, already pressing her attack.
Giles soon got into trouble. His opponent was smaller, faster and more agile. She liked to close in, where his longer reach was a disadvantage, and he had to put more of his effort into defense. Dianna and Grace watched all this, eyes huge. Ethan, leaning against the wall, also watched.
Xander struggled to his feet. He looked around and reached over to get another sword from the rack.
Then Giles went down. He’d managed to cross Mariko’s forte with his own, and, by not letting her disengage, was using his superior weight and size. But then she did the unexpected – a controlled fall backwards. Giles toppled, and his own momentum brought him to the floor while Mariko rolled away. She grabbed his sword and jumped up, delivering a kick to his leg that was temporarily disabling.
“Oh, hell,” Dianna breathed. She reached down and picked up Xander’s first, discarded sword, a few feet away.
Mariko approached her, Grace and Ethan, wielding a sword in each hand.
“You could help,” remarked Ethan.
“I don’t know how,” snarled Grace.
Xander, meanwhile, hovered near where Rowena and Valentine were circling and trading blows.
“Neither does he, obviously, but at least he’s giving it a go,” Ethan remarked.
Xander didn’t get too close, but he did swing in when Valentine seemed vulnerable. As a result, her defenses were distracted. Besides, she was fighting opponents of different sizes: the noticeably taller Xander and the also-noticeably shorter Rowena.
“Go help Giles!” Rowena told Xander.
“I’m not leaving you!”
Rowena blocked another one of Valentine’s swings. “Son of a bitch,” she swore under her breath.
Inga, noting this, did a quick run over to Xander. She engaged him, using no finesse. Just a series of quick attacks that forced him back, back, back and away from Valentine.
Without an opponent, Jim then noticed Dianna barely holding her own against Mariko. Giles was struggling to rise. But it was Inga that Jim noticed most.
As Inga knocked Xander to the ground, she turned her attention toward Rowena. She now stood behind the watcher while Valentine battled Rowena from the front.
A split second before he reached them, Jim saw Inga rear back her arm to stab Rowena in the back.
“Ro! Behind you!” he shouted.
Without turning around, Rowena jumped to the right, while Jim dived toward her. Inga’s blade swung forward, slicing into his side.
With a cry of pain, Jim went down to the floor.
“Jim!” Rowena shouted.
Xander, seeing this, threw his own sword as hard as he could at Inga, who seemed momentarily stunned by what had just happened. The handle hit her square in the head and she collapsed.
Rowena dropped her sword, stepped closer to Valentine and grabbed her sword wrist. She punched the girl square between the eyes and she too dropped to the floor, her sword clanging to the ground.
Rowena turned around and knelt next to Jim.
“Why did you do that?” she chastised him, as she rubbed her sore hand.
“If she had succeeded, who would I have to antagonize, huh?” Jim gasped, clutching his side.
Rowena smiled. “You’re an idiot.”
“Yes, and that’s just the kind of sentimental treatment I’d expect for saving your life.” He almost chuckled at his remark, but as he started, he stopped and grabbed his side.
“Let me see,” she said, pulling at his shirt.
Giles finally managed to get to his feet and saw the bleeding Jim, as well as Dianna struggling to her feet. His eyes searched for a sword. Inga was back on her feet again and now held Xander at bay, while Valentine rose behind Rowena with her sword in hand.
A sharp whistle pierced the air. Everyone glanced up at the source of the sound. Above them, on the balcony – and now descending – were nine security guards wearing the Bureau Nine Logo. Each had a riot baton and a Taser. Each had a firearm at their sides. In front was a red-haired woman in dark clothes.
“So much for the secret entry,” Ethan remarked dryly.
Watchers Council – Front Lawn – Same Time
Marissa and Amira were stationed on the front lawn of the Watchers Council, guns strapped around their necks. Marissa paced restlessly, while Amira was a picture of quiet concentration. She gazed out toward the front gates of the Council, the other side of which was swarmed with reporters. Tenth Street was lined with satellite news trucks.
“Maybe the demons cannot get here through the news people,” Amira speculated.
“Sun set over an hour ago,” Marissa told her, without breaking stride. “They’ll be here.”
Marissa’s radio crackled to life. “Stavros, you there?” Faith’s voice asked.
Marissa grabbed the radio and held it up to her mouth. “Yeah.”
“Anything yet?” Faith asked.
“Not yet,” Marissa replied.
“Just keep your eyes peeled.”
“All right,” Marissa said, “but if we all die because we lost our powers, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line. “Marissa, you didn’t warn us. You just showed up and demanded we give you your powers back.”
“Yeah,” Marissa admitted, “but…I told you not to say it.”
Watchers Council – Lobby – Same Time
Faith sighed into her radio. “Fine. Whatever. Go patrol.”
“Does this mean I finally have my job back?” Marissa asked.
Faith sighed and then grinned. “I’ll put a good word in for you with the head cheese, who’s busy painting her fingernails at the moment.”
Buffy shot Faith a glare. “I am not!” she yelled.
Faith chuckled. “Copy all that?”
“I copy,” she heard Marissa say with a chuckle.
Faith waited with Kennedy, Dawn, Skye, Hadley, Tracey, and Buffy in the fluorescent-lit lobby. Nobody seemed to be able to sit still. Most carried some kind of firearm, including Faith, who was nervously fingering her AK-47. Next to Faith, Buffy was struggling with a large sword.
Faith raised an eyebrow in her direction. “You sure you don’t want a gun, B?”
“I’m sure,” Buffy managed, before giving up and letting the tip of her sword clonk to the floor.
“Guess you had more time to get used to the powers than anybody else, huh?” Faith pointed out.
“This is just the stupidest thing that has ever happened, ever!” Buffy kicked the reception desk in frustration. “Ow!” She dropped the sword and grabbed for her stubbed toe with both hands. This made Buffy lose her balance and fall backwards onto her rear end.
Faith tried unsuccessfully to keep from laughing. “I gotta say I’m with you on that one, B.”
“And it’s my fault,” Kennedy replied from the spot where she was sitting on the floor. “I can talk the talk to the troops, but the fact remains the same.”
“Jason Felix is the only fact to blame for this,” Buffy told her. “So stop beating yourself up.”
“I saw it. I knew it was coming. Hell, I couldn’t even stop it when I was there. Just three more seconds – all I needed was three extra seconds and I might have stopped all of this. You were right, Buffy. You said I might not be ready for this, and you obviously were right.”
“Kennedy…” Buffy said sympathetically.
By contrast, Faith told Kennedy, “Oh, shut the hell up.” The sharpness of her words made Kennedy look up at her. “You heard me. Quit belly-achin’ about the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s, all right? What’s done is done, so focus on the here and now.”
Kennedy grinned slightly. “Is that an order, Ma’am?” Kennedy asked.
“Damn straight,” Faith said harshly, before starting to grin too.
Watchers Council – Front Lawn – Same Time
All of a sudden, Marissa froze in place, peering off beyond the press village in the street and into the dark alleys on the other side.
“You see something?” Amira asked.
Marissa didn’t answer her. Instead she pulled out her radio. “Guys,” she said, “I think we’re about to have a whole lot of fun.”
Watchers Council – Roof – Same Time
Casey stood at the edge of the roof, looking through a pair of binoculars. She gasped. “Bloody hell,” she said under her breath. Then, louder, she called to Marie, “Hey, come check this out.”
Marie walked over and took the binoculars from Casey. She only looked through them for a second. Then she lowered them and grabbed for her radio.
“Uh…Marco? Marco. Marco Marco Marco Marco.”
Watchers Council – Front Gate – Same Time (via CNN Feed)
Tally Atwater stood outside the Watchers Council front gate, the words “COUNCIL CRISIS” displayed below her in large-lettered graphics. She looked remarkably good for someone who hadn’t slept in two days.
“The Council headquarters here in Cleveland has gone into some kind of lockdown mode. No one is allowed in or out. We’ve seen a few girls patrolling the perimeter with machine guns. ” She glanced over her shoulder at the commotion beginning to take place. “I’m sorry, Rock, I think something is happening here. Oh my God, run!”
The camera swung towards the ground, and the cameraman’s frantic breathing could be heard for a few seconds. One could hear the sound of a woman screaming.
Then there was a thud, and the picture went to static.
Watchers Council – Lobby – Same Time
Faith was trying desperately to get more news out of her radio. “Marissa?” she yelled. “Amira? Anybody?”
“What’s happening?” Dawn asked. Faith just shook her head in response.
From outside the front window of the Council, the sound of yelling could be heard. This was soon followed by gunfire.
“This is it,” Kennedy said. She brought the gun in her hands to the ready position and clicked off the safety. Next to her, Tracey did the same, with her jaw set and steel in her eyes. Buffy was back on her feet. This time, she managed to lift her sword.
For ten full seconds, everyone in the lobby waited, the only sound coming from the struggle outside. Then, all of a sudden, the noise stopped.
“Maybe it was a false –” Skye began.
She was cut off when the front window shattered. A large object flew into the lobby and skidded to a stop on the floor in front of the group.
It was Marissa. The side of her throat was completely torn out, and several horrific claw marks gashed the center of her torso. She was, rather unmistakably, dead.
Wide-eyed, Faith looked up to see Cretarus step through the hole he had just made in the front window. One of his huge hands was closed around Amira’s throat, holding her high off the ground. Choking, she desperately clawed at his fingers, but it was to no avail.
Behind Cretarus were arrayed Sarkis, Jurgen and Sung, as well as a large and varied host of powerful, angry-looking demons that completely blotted out the rest of the view.
Cretarus smiled. It was quite possibly the most evil-looking expression imaginable.
End of Act Four