Original broadcasted 06/06/2007
Calcutta – Watchers Council Branch – Day
The television screen showed an Asian man in a suit and tie. All around him, the CNN logo appeared – on walls, coffee mugs, and neckties. His own expression was entirely neutral.
“I repeat,” he was saying, “although details are still coming in at this time, it seems certain that no less than nine slayers were killed in Hong Kong earlier this afternoon. They were, according to official sources, attempting to rescue three dozen school children taken hostage by what was described as, and I quote, ‘a demonic cult.’ Eleven slayers formed the rescue team. As of this hour, two are still alive. However, it deserves pointing out that every single child reported missing, as well as several others, managed to escape en masse within twenty minutes of the incident. Both surviving slayers are under intensive care…”
With a click, the television screen went black. An elderly Indian man stared at the screen for several moments, eyes blinking behind his thick glasses. With him was a much younger Indian woman – barely into her middle age. Her hair was still black, unlike the man’s, which was mostly salt, with very little pepper anymore.
Upon the wall was an inscribed version of the Watchers coat of arms, a sleeping lion, three ravens, a bell and the motto, “Expedia Est Potentia.”
“Nine,” breathed the woman.
The man nodded. “A terrible thing. And puzzling as well.”
“Enemies capable of killing so many slayers are rare, but not unheard of. We should be able to…”
“That is not the puzzle, Dr. Naidu,” said the much older man. “Yes, there are such foes. And yes, they are terrible. But the puzzle is…how did the children escape?”
She thought about it for a few moments. “I see. Perhaps Mr. Venugopal might have an idea?”
“I would look forward to asking him, but he is on a mission himself. The American slayer Kennedy and her companion came, needing help. It was perhaps not the wisest course for him to see to their needs personally.” He shrugged. “On the other hand, you and I were the only others available. Forgive me, Doctor, but you are not a watcher.”
“Nor do I claim to be.”
“True. And I…I am a very old man. Too old even to be targeted by the minions of the First Evil. No, Venugopal’s mission may not be wise, merely inevitable. But I have asked all the slayers in the subcontinent to report in. There may be…What?”
Dr. Naidu looked up. “Did you just hear something?”
“My hearing is not what it was.”
“A mechanical whine, above. The roof, it sounded like.” Now she looked at the door, where voices could be heard shouting and fast footsteps. The older man quietly pulled out a small pistol from inside his coat pocket.
“Hopefully, this will not be needed.”
Almost a full minute elapsed, while Dr. Naidu sweated and paced. The old watcher merely sat in front of the door, pistol in hand. Then, the door opened.
Rajiv Venugopal burst inside. “Doctor! You have patients!”
She blinked. “Who? Where?”
“The clinic. They’re coming down in stretchers now. It is the American slayer Kennedy and her…well, friend. Kadin Van Helsing.”
A man behind Venugopal answered, “They were hit by Tasers.” All eyes turned to Jason Felix as he walked into the office. “Three or four each. Kennedy was also struck in the leg by a metal baton. Both of them appear to be in shock.”
Dr. Naidu swept out of the office as swiftly as she could manage. Felix noticed the older watcher, whose eyes remained on him and whose hand remained on the pistol. It wasn’t pointed at anyone, but neither was it put away. Felix bowed slightly. “Jason Felix, at your service, sir.”
The man nodded his head. “Rakesh Bai.”
Now Lori Carew entered the room. “Sir,” she said to Felix, “she’s no longer responding to anything we say.”
“I see.” Felix turned to Venugopal. “Sir, if Bureau Nine can be of any assistance whatsoever, please do not hesitate to ask. My guess is we may need each other very soon.”
He took out a cell phone as he headed through the door, Lori following immediately behind.
Venugopal looked at Rakesh Bai. “One would assume,” Bai said after a moment, putting his pistol away, “that was the head of Bureau Nine? Mr. Jason Felix?”
“And it has occurred to you, no doubt, that a Taser attack alone should not be of too much difficulty for a slayer to recover from?”
“I know. Especially given that it happened over two hours ago. Yet she is in severe shock and has suffered a serious bruise on the leg. A bruise that has not begun to heal after two hours.”
The two watchers looked at each other for several moments.
“More is wrong than perhaps you realize,” said the older man.
Bureau Nine – Dianna’s Office – Same Time (Evening)
From her seat behind her desk, Dianna turned up the sound on the small television in the corner of her office. On the screen, Tally Atwater stood in front of a hospital entrance. A sea of flashing red and blue lights lit the scene behind her.
“What was being called the Wedding of the Century was suddenly cut short only hours ago, when the ship where the wedding was being held turned back to shore. Several Council members were then rushed by ambulance here, to St. Sebastian Medical Center. Hospital officials have confirmed that Willow Rosenberg was among those admitted here today. We don’t have any kind of update about the nature or the seriousness of her condition…”
Dianna’s office door opened without a knock. She muted the television and turned to see Cameron Kreswell standing nervously in the doorway. Dianna nodded and gestured for her to come in. Cameron obeyed, then produced a clipboard with several sheets attached and held it out. Dianna took it and glanced through the first few pages. Then she sighed and looked back up at Cameron.
“I’m not going to have the time to read all of this,” Dianna said. “What’s the situation?”
“We don’t know,” Cameron replied, sounding genuinely scared. “Every magic user in the building has fallen sick.”
“I know that, Cameron,” Dianna said. “I was hoping we could figure out what they were sick with. I’ve been examining the Codex Cluj, but there’s nothing here that I can see about magical plagues or…” She dropped the clipboard on her desk with a clatter that made Cameron jump slightly.
A tense beat of silence followed.
“Well, it’s not the same with all of them,” Cameron offered. “Nicholas is barely staying conscious, but Kay Macchia says she’s just a little woozy. And Ethan…” She trailed off.
“What?” Dianna asked. “Is he all right?”
“I don’t know. He seemed ill, and I told him to go see the doctor, but he just left. Said a doctor isn’t the man who can help him…Dianna, something’s really wrong, isn’t it?”
Dianna looked up at her, but said nothing.
“Listen,” Cameron began, “the phones are ringing off the hook out here. If you want to take a break from…”
“Any word from Jason?” Dianna interrupted.
Cameron bit her lip and began to shake her head. At that moment, Dianna’s phone rang. She immediately picked it up.
“Dianna, it’s Jason,” said the voice on the other end.
Dianna leaned forward in her seat, her body language on alert, as she pointed the phone out to Cameron. “Jason, what’s going on? Something’s happening to our magic users, and according to the news, Willow Rosenberg’s in the hospital –”
“I know, Dianna, I know,” Felix said, his voice sounding very calm compared to hers. “Project Roland has…taken something of an unexpected turn.”
Thornkirk – Hospital – Same Time (Evening)
Rowena, still in her wedding dress, sat in the emergency room waiting area, a Styrofoam cup of coffee in her hand and her foot bouncing up and down impatiently. Buffy and Xander sat on either side of her. Several wedding guests and family members stood around the room, all just waiting
Giles was pacing, but he stopped and walked over to Becca, who was seated with Martin in her arms. He leaned down to her and, in a soft voice, whispered, “Will you take the children back to the hotel? Gather up our things? I’ll call as soon as I hear anything, but I want to be ready to go on a moment’s notice.”
It seemed like it took a few seconds for Becca to catch up to what he was saying, as if she was lost in her thoughts.
“Oh, yeah,” she said eventually with a nod. “Let me just tell her goodbye.” She motioned to Rowena.
Giles took Martin from Becca’s arms as she walked over to Rowena.
“What the hell’s taking so long?” Xander muttered in frustration, as Becca walked over.
“Sweetie,” Becca began, in front of Rowena, “I’m going to take the kids back to the hotel, but Rupert’s going to call me if there’s any news. If you guys need anything, just call me.” She said the last bit to all three of them.
They all nodded, and Rowena gave her a soft, “Thank you.”
Becca gave her a kiss on the forehead and ran her hand over the back of Rowena’s head. As she turned, she almost collided with her daughter.
“Whoa,” Becca said, tousling Elizabeth’s hair. “Didn’t see you there, Sweetie.”
Elizabeth extended her arm toward Rowena as if to hand her something. Rowena opened her palm, and Elizabeth put two small seashells into her hand.
“Daddy say Will sleepy,” Elizabeth told her. “When Will wake up, you give?”
Rowena closed her fingers around the shells. She sniffed dramatically and mustered a grin. “It’ll be one of the first things I do. I promise,” Rowena told her.
Elizabeth grinned widely until she heard her dad say, “Elizabeth?” and turned to see him motioning her toward him. She gave Rowena a wave and then toddled over to Giles.
“Hang in there, Honey,” Becca told Rowena, as she patted the hand that held the shells. Then she too walked away.
Becca chatted briefly with Giles before she took Martin back. Rowena watched as they kissed each other. But she suddenly turned away, looking back down into her coffee cup. Becca motioned Elizabeth to follow her, and they slipped around the corner out of sight.
Across the small lobby sat Robin, Faith and Andrew, who had a wet paper towel around his neck.
“You should be back there too, ya know?” Faith told Andrew, with a quick jerk of her chin in the direction of the emergency room. “You’re not lookin’ all that great.”
“Not feeling real well, either,” he replied. “But the good news is, I don’t think there’s anything left in my stomach.”
“I’m missing something here,” Robin said.
“Like what?” Faith asked.
“Willow and Al are both High Priestesses, and they’re both unconscious. Andrew here’s a High Priest. Why is he still alert? Not wishing anything bad on you, of course,” he said, leaning around Faith to look at Andrew. “But it makes me wonder why you’re not worse off than you are.”
Andrew shrugged. “Maybe I’m just that powerful.”
“Or not that powerful,” Giles said, turning toward their conversation.
“What do you mean?” Robin asked.
Giles was on the verge of adding more when the doctor emerged from the emergency room doors and made her way over to Rowena. The watcher rose to her feet and moved quickly to meet the physician. Buffy and Xander followed her, with the others gathering around them.
“I wish I had something concrete to tell you,” the doctor began, addressing her words to the gathered group. She then looked directly at Rowena. “But we don’t know precisely what’s wrong yet.”
“Are they awake?” she asked.
Sadly, the doctor shook her head. “No, unfortunately, but we have stabilized them, so that’s promising. When they first arrived, Ms. Rosenberg’s heart rate was rather erratic, and at one point Ms. Dimmons’ heart stopped altogether. We resuscitated her, and as of right now they, along with Mr. Lindquist, appear to be in a comatose state. They’re not getting any better, but the good news is they’re not getting any worse.”
Rowena bowed her head slightly and held back her tears as Mary Grace moved closer and took her hand.
“Doctor,” Ira began, “is there anything more you can do?”
“Here, no,” she replied. “But as I said, they are stabilized, so that means perhaps your doctors at the Cleveland Council, people familiar with magical illnesses, might be able to address the issue. This is simply beyond my scope of expertise.”
“Thank you, doctor,” Giles told her. “We’ll start making arrangements on our end.” The doctor nodded and walked away as Giles turned back to Rowena, who had unshed tears in her eyes. He took her by both arms, and the gesture got her full attention.
“We have work to do, my dear,” he told her in a loving but firm voice.
Rowena took a deep breath to steady her nerves and gave a firm nod.
End of Teaser