Watchers Council – Gym – Next Morning
Shannon punched the bag again, nearly knocking it off its chain.
“You’re gettin’ a lot stronger, Li’l Sis. But so what?” Skye asked, as she walked up and put her arm around the swinging punching bag. “Any slayer can beat up a punching bag.” She smiled.
Shannon looked sternly at her, jaw set.
“What you need,” she took Shannon’s wrist and turned her away from the bag until they faced each other, “is a sparring partner. And not some slayer, either. I mean a real sparring partner. One who thinks…” Skye grinned at her and blew her a kiss, “moves…”
Skye was suddenly behind Shannon. Shannon turned quickly to find Skye in vampire face and clutching her by the throat.
“…and reacts,” Skye tightened her hold on Shannon’s throat, “…like a vampire.”
Shannon stared at the gloating, golden-eyed Skye. Then she frowned and brushed Skye’s hand away easily. Skye laughed, her face returning to normal again. “Why are you looking so pained, Shannon?” Skye asked, draping an arm over her shoulders. “Sit on your stake?”
Shannon smirked and let out a little laugh. “No…but something close.”
“Well,” Skye said, walking her to the nearby set of bleachers. “Tell Old Mother Vampire what’s so bad.” They sat down on the bleachers and Skye helped Shannon take her boxing gloves off.
“I don’t want the squad, y’know?” Shannon said.
Skye blinked, surprised. “What’s the deal? You beat out some pretty stiff competition to get it. Girls giving you a hard time?”
“No. No, we’re doing real well together. I like them and they try really hard and they’re real good, or we wouldn’t have made it to the finals.”
“So it’s the Games that have you worried.”
“No. I’m not worried about that. We’re gonna take the championship, totally. The Taiwanese got all those fancy moves, but that’s just a lot of flash. And the Australians…well, what do they even fight in the Outback, vampire kangaroos?”
“Demon Dingoes.” Skye grinned.
Shannon wiped the sweat from her forehead with her arm and said nothing further.
“Li’l Sis, talk to me. What’s going on?”
Shannon remained quiet for another moment and Skye simply examined her silently, as if noting her body language.
“We’re getting a lead watcher for the squad. I knew we were gonna get one and I figured it’d be Dawn or Robin or Jeff…or even one of the new ones that need to be trained up. But Dawn said it’s…it’s Ethan Rayne!” Shannon pouted and leaned forward, elbows on her knees and chin resting on her knuckles.
Skye curled her lip in disbelief. Then she frowned. “I thought you liked him?” she asked carefully.
“I do…kinda,” Shannon said. “And don’t even ask me why, ’cause I don’t know.”
“Wait. How’d he get to be a watcher in the first place?”
“Payback for his help, I hear.”
“So, the mage is made a watcher as payback. I guess that makes payback a witch.” Skye chuckled at her own pun.
Shannon turned her head slowly and looked balefully at Skye. “You are sooo Dawn’s girlfriend,” she said. “The thing is, Dawn says the Council’s not sure that Ethan’s good enough to do the job. So they want him to work with me and my squad because they think him and me work well together.”
“He and I,” Skye corrected.
“Him and you what?”
“Forget it. Go on…”
“And Dawn says that I’m supposed to tell her everything he tells us to do. I can’t follow any orders, take any directions, make any plans or listen to anything he says unless Dawn or someone else, like Rowena or Buffy, says it’s okay first.”
“And Ethan’s okay with that?”
“He doesn’t know! He’s comin’ in thinkin’ he’s in charge and working with me as lead slayer. And then I’m supposed to go behind his back and tell everything to Dawn for clearance! She says it’s for the good of the squad and for their safety.”
“And you don’t think that’s good.”
“How can it be good – or safe – to run and get a second opinion? How can I lead the squad if I’m not supposed to trust the watcher in charge, and if I can’t be trusted by him?”
“That really is unfair,” Skye agreed.
“It’s unfair to everyone,” Shannon said. “I don’t know why Ethan wants to be a watcher. He’s a really great sorcerer, y’know?”
“So what do you think you should do about all this?” Skye asked.
“Write a story about it?” Shannon sneered.
Skye stared at her a beat, and then playfully smacked her in the back of the head.
“Brat…writing what you’re feeling won’t hurt. Might help you get some perspective on it. But it’s not enough.” Skye looked at Shannon hard until Shannon met her gaze. “What you do,” Skye continued, “and how you handle it from here on out…that’s what’ll make it work. Or not work.”
The gym door clanked open sharply and one of Shannon’s young squad members stuck her head in. “Hey! Hey, they’re here! C’mon, Shannon! We gotta go meet ’em! C’mon!” Then the girl was gone, and the door slowly swung shut.
Shannon and Skye looked at each other and both grinned broadly. “Let the games begin, Li’l Sis!” Skye said, and high-fived her.
Shannon jumped up and raced out of the gym.
Skye looked down at the abandoned boxing gloves. She slipped one on and walked to the punching bag. She brought her arm back for a punch, then stopped and smirked. She took off the glove, brought her arm back again, and hit the bag with vampire strength. The bag tore from its mooring chain and landed halfway across the gym floor.
“Oh yeah, gonna have a good time!” Skye smiled, but then looked down at her hand. “Damn! Broke my nail…”
Watchers Council – Hallway Outside the Auditorium – Later that Day
The Taiwanese slayer–in-training squad stood, shoulder-to-shoulder and legs apart, elbows bent and hands behind their backs. Their pony-tailed hair was all cut to the same length and their faces were all scrubbed, fresh and set in the same stern way.
“Ooooooh, look at them, will ya?” one of the tall Australian squad members cooed loudly, hooking an arm over a teammate. “Ain’t they the dangerous lot!”
“Yeah, for a bunch of ankle-biters!” the other girl replied.
“Hey,” a third squad member said, “they’ve got spiffy outfits, all matchin’. Even their hair’s lair!”
The Australian team laughed. The Taiwanese didn’t move, nor react, but one girl, in the lead, shifted her eyes once, left and right.
“Say…where’s your baby-sitter – oh, I mean, your watcher, then?” the first girl asked, grinning. She sauntered up to the girl in the forefront, the Taiwanese lead slayer. Towering above the frail-looking girl, she patted her head with the flat of her hand. “Now there’s a good little tyke…” she said. Her teammates snickered and leaned into each other.
The Australian girl turned and faced her watcher.
“Last I checked,” he said, “our squad was over here. Shouldn’t you be with them?” Vanessa sighed.
“Sorry, Ad,” she said, smiling apologetically at him. The rest of the squad formed a straight line beside the watcher.
“Let’s go then, Vanessa,” he called. “The meeting hall is this way…”
Without further orders, the Australian team turned and marched in a straight line, behind their watcher, down the long corridor toward the Council auditorium.
Vanessa turned quickly around and smiled at the leader of the Taiwanese team. “G’day, mate,” she winked at the girl, and patted her cheek. She headed down the hall after her teammates and began to sing:
“Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong, under the shade of a coolibah tree…”
The rest of the Australian team picked up the song as they stepped down the hall.
“And he sang as he watched and waited ’til his billy boiled, you’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me? Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda, who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me? And he sang as he watched and waited ’til his billy boiled, who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me.”
The Taiwanese lead slayer shifted her eyes left and right again. Her team remained motionless, but they all looked sideways at her, waiting.
Their own watcher appeared, looking quizzically down the hall at the singing Australians. “Jiao, has anything happened that I should know about?” she asked in almost perfect English.
“No,” the lead slayer replied, her own English uncertain. “The…Australian team…they are…high spirits.”
“Well then, how shall we answer such spirit?” the female watcher asked, staring hard at her slayer.
Jiao turned sharply to her squad and sang a first line:
“San min chu I, our aim shall be…”
As one, the Taiwanese girls joined her with strong, young voices and they marched sharply down the hall singing:
“To found a free land, world peace be our stand. Lead on comrades, vanguards ye are…”
Watchers Council – Auditorium – Minutes Later
A reporter waved her cameraman toward her as she moved along to catch up to someone who had entered the auditorium and been handed a program. The woman had begun to look at the paper when suddenly the reporter was next to her.
“Congresswoman O’Mara,” the reporter began, “I see you’ve made it to the first official Slayer Games. It’s nice to see.”
“I wouldn’t miss it, Suzanne,” O’Mara answered with a grin, already familiar with the reporter.
“So, care to tell us what team you’ll be rooting for?” the reporter asked in a knowing fashion.
The Congresswoman rewarded her with a light chuckle and a winning smile. “All the slayers of the world, and everyone at the various Councils, they all do an extraordinary job day-in and day-out, keeping our world safe. But I must admit, being a Cleveland gal myself, I’m biased, so I’m pulling for the home team today.”
“Will you be staying for the entire Games?” the reporter asked.
“I’d love to stay and offer my support, but duty does call and I’ll be flying back to Washington tonight. I wasn’t elected to watch sporting events,” she said, her smile still in place. “But I do feel it’s important to come out today, because this helps bring the entire Cleveland community together and it shows the world why the Council calls Cleveland ‘home’.”
“Speaking of work, how go your duties as the Chairwoman on the Subcommittee on Supernatural Affairs?” she asked.
“Excellent! The Watchers Council has been incredibly helpful, not just within the Subcommittee, but within every branch of the government. We couldn’t be happier with all they’ve done.”
An elderly woman to O’Mara’s right tugged on her blouse sleeve. “I think we should sit down soon, Dear,” she said.
“Of course,” the Congresswoman answered. “Forgive me for not introducing you, Suzanne. This is my mother, Agnes. I think she’s getting a bit tired of being on her feet, so I’ll have to cut this short.”
“Of course,” Suzanne said, “Thanks for taking a few moments and I hope you both enjoy the games, Congresswoman.”
“You too, Suzanne,” O’Mara said, apparently sincerely, before she led her mother toward the private box that was set aside for them. The reporter walked in the opposite direction and both women both watched her leave.
“I don’t know why you do that,” Agnes muttered as they walked along.
“It’s all part of the job, Mother,” Autumn O’Mara said in a frustrated tone. On her face, however, she wore a smile, as she waved to a few spectators who were acknowledging her arrival.
“I’m sure it would be a different story if they knew the truth,” her mother replied.
O’Mara helped her mother up the small steps to their spectator box and helped her to their chair.
“I’m doing good work, Mom,” she insisted. “It’s vital for humans and demonkind to live together in peace.”
“It wasn’t back in my day,” her mother replied.
“Well, things are different now,” O’Mara told her. “I’ve got the chance to make more of a difference.”
“Why don’t you start by telling the truth then?” Agnes asked. “Oh, I forgot. You’re a politician now.”
“That’s a cheap shot,” O’Mara replied, avoiding the question and handing her mother a program. “Just have fun today, okay?”
Reluctantly, Agnes took it.
Watchers Council – Auditorium – Moments Later
The Australians smiled as they marched into the auditorium, waving at the assembly of watchers, slayers, parents and guests. They marched down the aisle and up onto the stage, where three sections of chairs had been set up. The Cleveland Branch’s slayers already sat in the center, beneath a banner of red, white and blue. A set of chairs to their right, beneath a banner of green and gold, was waiting for the Australians.
The Australians had hardly reached their seats when fresh, strong voices drowned them out, as the Taiwanese team marched in time, feet slapping rhythmically on the tiled floor, and arms swinging in unison, back and forth. They stared straight ahead, with heads held high.
“…Hold fast your aim, by sun and star. Be earnest and brave, your country to save. One heart, one soul, one mind, one goal!”
They sang as they climbed the steps onto the stage and stood before the chairs set for them to the left of the Cleveland squad, and beneath the red, green and blue banner.
When they stopped singing, Jiao gave a quick one-syllable order and the girls stomped their feet twice in unison, setting their legs set apart and snappily putting their hands behind their backs, elbows bent, eyes sharp, and standing at attention.
Silence filled the auditorium.
“Woooooooo!” some slayer cried from the audience. “Taiwan rocks!”
The crowd laughed, then began applauding with cries of welcome and admiration for all three teams.
“Thank you, yes, thank you!” Rowena said as she walked from the wings, applauding as well. “Thank you, Taiwan. Thank you, Australia. Thank you, Cleveland. And thank you all for coming to the first of what we hope will be many Slayer-in-Training World Games!”
The applause died down. “As you know,” Rowena said, “these squads have been competing in elimination trials with others in their countries or regions to make it to the finals of the World Games. Only three squads can make it to the finals. And one of them will be the World Champions. But let there be no mistake. There is not one slayer on this stage who is not already a champion in her own right and by her own display of courage, resourcefulness, forthrightness, and skill.”
In the audience, Willow stood beside Jim Pollan. She leaned toward him as they joined the applause for Rowena’s introduction. “Nice speech,” she told him.
“Can’t take the credit this time. It’s all her.”
Jim nodded, making Willow smile proudly and applaud harder.
“I’m very honored to introduce the two watchers of our guest squads,” Rowena continued. “They are Adrian Smith of Australia and Li Heng Fu of Taiwan.”
The two watchers stood and nodded politely at the crowd, then at one another. Adrian Smith continued to stare, smiling, at the attractive Li Heng as she sat back down. He held his gaze until he realized there were some twitters coming from the audience. He blushed bright red and quickly took his seat.
“I am sorry to say that our Cleveland squad has been without a permanent watcher. That is about to change. But, it is a very great pleasure for me to say that they not only have made it to the finals, but have done so largely on the leadership of their lead slayer and the teamwork they’ve exhibited in the short time they’ve been together. Well done, Cleveland. Well done!”
The crowd burst into raucous cheers and applause.
“Of course,” Ethan muttered as he puffed on a cigarette in the wings. “I get the Amazon squad!”
“Mr. Rayne,” one of the Council teachers, doubling as stage manager, said from behind him, “Please, put out your cigarette! No smoking backstage!”
Ethan turned and quirked his mouth at the man, then tossed his cigarette on the floor and crushed it beneath his foot. He walked past the curtain pulls and the lighting booth and opened the exterior door, exiting with hands in pockets and a grimace on his face.
Watchers Council – Center of Athletic Field – Late Afternoon
“All right, all right, everybody shut up!” Shannon growled. The training squad all settled and sat down on the grass, looking attentively at her.
“Okay,” she said. “So what have we got?”
“Those Aussies think they’re hot stuff,” said ten year-old Cindy Loomis.
“Cindy Loo-Who’s right,” said Jennifer. “They got a real case of the ‘we’re greats’.”
“Don’t call me that!” Cindy said.
“Okay,” Shannon said. “What else?”
“The Taiwanese are even more stuck up than them,” said Tyeesha. “That Jiao girl’s lookin’ for trouble.”
“So’s that Vanessa on the Aussie team,” Jennifer said. “They’re ready for a fight. Let’s give ’em one!”
The girls all cheered.
“Yeah, great. That’s already the plan! But how can we use their stuck-up-iness to our advantage?” Shannon asked.
The girls looked at her expectantly. Shannon put her hand into her jacket pocket and pulled out a baseball. She looked at it and gripped it across the seams. Then she backed up and pitched it at Bailey. Bailey almost caught it, but at the last moment, it arced around her hand and smacked her in the ribs.
“We throw ’em a curve,” Shannon said. “If I want to get the other baseball team out, I get ’em to swing at the wrong pitch. Instead of a fastball – which they’re looking for – I throw ’em a curveball. If going into the competition and meeting them head-on is our fastball, what’s our curve gonna be?”
The girls sat at a total loss. Shannon gave a short laugh and shook her head at them. “Okay,” she said, grinning, “how about this…if it was Lorinda in charge of you guys instead of me, what do you think she’d do?”
Madison laughed. “I know. She’d bat her eyelashes and swing her hips at that Aussie Watcher and make him forfeit.”
“You mean make him faint,” Jennifer smirked.
The other girls giggled. “So,” Madison asked, “we’re gonna ask Lorinda to –”
“We’re not asking ‘Rinda to do anything!” Shannon said, “But did you guys see who he had goo-goo eyes for on stage?”
Bailey grinned. “Yeah, everyone did!” The girls laughed again.
“Right,” Shannon said. “If we get those two distracted by each other, they might not be so focused on the games.”
“Yeah,” Jennifer said dramatically. “True amour saves the day for the Cleveland Branch.”
Shannon smirked. “But is that it? Is that all we can do?”
Tyeesha frowned. “Well, if Lorinda was in charge – and I’m glad she’s not – she’d have everybody mad at everybody else, and we’d get nowhere.”
Ten year-old Cindy raised her hand. “I think Tyeesha’s right. Lorinda would make us all mad at each other.” She absently smoothed down the stray lock of strawberry blonde hair that stood up in the middle of her head. “But…” she hesitated, “the other two teams are already like, fighting each other, sort of…That’s, like, good for us, isn’t it?”
Shannon spun, grinning. “Cindy Loo-Who just earned her pay!” she said.
“But Shannon,” Cindy said, “we don’t get paid for this.”
Four sets of hands smacked Cindy lightly in the head and shoulders and the lock of hair popped up again.
“We get the other two teams focused on their own rivalry,” Shannon continued. “They’ll be so hung up on one-upping each other that they’ll screw up and fall behind us. All right! Now, what else we got?”
“Ethan Rayne,” Madison groused. “Whatta we gotta have him around for?”
“I heard they gave us to him because they don’t trust him with real slayers,” Jennifer said.
“Hold it!” Shannon said. “Don’t ever say that again! We are real slayers! Only real slayers make it to the finals of the World Games and only real slayers’ll win the title. And that’s us! I don’t like having Ethan, either. But not because we can’t trust him.”
“No, ’cause he’s a drunk,” Jennifer said.
“He’s not a drunk. He just kinda drinks…a lot…is all,” Shannon shrugged.
Jennifer spread her hands in exasperation.
“But not when he’s working,” Shannon continued. “And right now, he’s working for –”
“I’m working for me!”
The slayers all looked around. Out of thin air, a vague and wavering form emerged, which after a moment took shape as Ethan Rayne. He stepped up alongside Shannon.
“Thanks for eavesdropping in,” Shannon said, chagrined, “but this is a private meeting.”
“Then it’s a good thing I’m alone, eh?”
“We’re discussing some important stuff here, Ethan, so –”
“Yes. How to get the better of your foe without lifting a finger. Subterfuge. Intellectual warfare. Dominance by means of distraction, misdirection and obfuscating the purpose of the competition. And at such a tender age! Impressive.”
“He ain’t no watcher, but he sure talks like one…”
Shannon shot Bailey a warning glance.
“Might I suggest,” Ethan said, smoothly, “that your tactics may backfire on you if you rely on them and not on your own strengths? You are setting yourselves up for a fall.”
“Says who?” Jennifer asked.
Ethan looked coolly at Shannon, smirking at her.
“Okay,” Shannon told the girls. “That’s it. We’ll meet tonight after supper. I gotta talk to Ethan right now.”
The girls all stood and waited. Ethan watched as Shannon stepped forward and the group gathered around her.
Shannon put her hand out in the center of the group and everyone piled their hands atop hers. She looked at each of them, smiling, then lifted the tower of hands upward on her own and brought it back down again swiftly. Ethan saw the form break on an unmistakable cry of unity. Then the girls made their way across the field toward headquarters, talking excitedly.
“Quite a team you’ve got there,” Ethan said, glancing down at Shannon. “Shame if they were to be led down a garden path because someone is insecure about her own abilities to lead them.”
Shannon turned to him angrily. “Yeah? If I’m so insecure, why would they follow me in the first place?”
“They follow you because they believe in you. They trust you. They rely on you to help them see the big picture and to do what’s effective, but also what is right.” Ethan took a long look at Shannon, who still followed the retreating squad with her eyes. “Quite a responsibility to have to drag around with you, isn’t it?”
“What do you know about it?” she shot back defensively, glaring at him.
“Why do you think I never took Mr. Giles’ offer of watcher training back in the day?”
“‘Cause you’re an evil lay-around?”
“Lay-about,” Ethan corrected. “Yes, well, that too. Let me ask you something. What did you do to become this squad’s lead slayer?”
Shannon blinked at the question. “Well…there were tests of strength and agility…speed…ability to follow directions…” Shannon’s voice trailed off.
“But what did you do? What was it, besides your innate slayer skills, that made you the lucky girl chosen for this assignment?”
“I’m not lucky. I didn’t even want it! And now I’m responsible for them as well as me!”
“Then why on earth did you take the post?”
“Because they were gonna give it to Lorinda if I didn’t!”
“Well now, that’s admirable.”
“I don’t need your sarcasm, Ethan!”
“Admirable that you should actually be so forthcoming with such an unbecoming truth. But then, that’s why you’re the leader of this team. Because you can come forward that way. And yet you abdicate your leadership by asking those girls not to listen to you, but to consider what someone else would do in your place…”
Ethan let his words hang in the air as he lit a cigarette. He looked out over the empty field. “You’ve already lost the competition, Shannon. You’ve already failed your post. You can go on to supper now…”
Shannon’s face fell and her eyes clouded. She looked at Ethan contemptuously. “I don’t need this!”
Ethan exhaled a long stream of smoke. “What you need, my Little Blue Slayer, is a second chance. A chance to set things back on track.” He turned and looked at her, smirking. “As your lead watcher in this, I’ll give you that chance. If…you give me one.”
Shannon huffed. “Just don’t get in my way,” she said, averting her eyes uncomfortably. She walked away along the same path as the squad.
Shannon’s Dorm Room – Dusk
“I wish I could be there!” Norman Hansen’s voice crackled disappointedly over the phone. “Why couldn’t they have it when school’s on break?”
“I dunno,” Shannon said. “I’ll send you pictures. They said ESPN is gonna broadcast it. You could watch it on T.V.,” she said unenthusiastically.
“Hey, what’s wrong? You sound like you don’t care.”
“It’s not that. It’s just…I gotta figure out a way for our squad to win, Norm. The Australian girls are, like, twice as tall as us, and they’re strong. And I saw vids of the Taiwanese. They’re, like, all with the gymnastics moves.”
“Like Chinese acrobats,” Norman suggested.
“Fine. Taiwanese acrobats. So, what are you gonna do?”
“I dunno. I thought we could mess with their heads, you know? Make ’em so involved with trying to one-up each other that they’d lose concentration, or just get worn out from it.”
“That doesn’t sound like much of a plan. Besides, what’s that got to do with being a slayer squad?”
“Well, yeah. That’s kinda what Ethan was saying.”
“I still can’t believe he’s in charge of you guys.”
“That’s not important. Right now I gotta figure out what to do, or our squad doesn’t stand a chance.”
There was a moment of silence as Shannon picked at the peeling pink toenail polish on her big toe.
“Hey Shannie, you know what?”
“When I went to McDermott – you remember, to look for you and Dawn and Skye…?”
“Well, I was there with Lupo Orongo. And we couldn’t stay together. And he told me that I had to rely on my own strength. I thought he meant my muscle strength, cause I’m Faith’s son and all – you know, maybe I got some of her slayer strength in me. But that wasn’t what he meant. He meant that my brains were my strength and that I had to really rely on them if things got bad.”
“I gotta rely on my brains?” Shannon said. “We are soooooo dead.”
“Well, don’t take this the wrong way, Shannie, but I don’t think that’s where your strength lies.”
“No kidding. So I rely on my slayer strength, then. Norm? Norm, I can hear you frowning.”
“I-I don’t think it’s slayer strength either, Shan…”
“What is it, then?”
“I think it’s something else. I think it’s…it’s the same thing as when we became friends when I first came to the Council. Everyone was making fun of me and saying things to Faith. You were the only one that made friends with me. And then you got everyone else to think I was okay.”
“You did that, Norm.”
“Not without your help, I didn’t.”
Shannon stopped picking at the peeling toenail polish and thought hard about Norman’s words.
“Hey, Shannie…I guess I never said thanks. So, um…thanks.”
“Yeah…no problem…” she answered distantly. Her eyes wandered and settled on her alarm clock. “Damn! Hey, Norm, I gotta go. The dinner’s started – I’m late!”
“Okay, but don’t forget what I sa –”
Shannon hung up the phone. Without changing out of her sweats, she stuck her bare feet into her running shoes and bounded down the hallway at a dead run to the cafeteria.
Watchers Council – Cafeteria – Minutes Later
The cafeteria was filled to capacity. Many parents and guests sat at hastily set up folding tables and chairs mixed in amongst the regular dining tables. Slayers, families and friends were all crowded into the cafeteria.
Shannon squeezed her way through the seated crowd to the table where the Cleveland squad sat. She tried not to look at their smiling faces as they sat with their family members. She slowly approached the table amid the noisy, crowded room.
“Hey, Li’l Sis…” a gentle voice called out to her. Shannon stopped and blinked at the sound, without raising her head. “What are you wearing, Shannie?” another voice floated to her. “You’re dressed like a guy! Well, a real pretty one…”
Her head shot up so fast she startled a couple of her own squad members. “K-Kyle…? Cody!” She looked at two handsome young men, one twenty-three and the other barely twenty, both with the same color hair as she. “What…what are you doing here?” she asked incredulously.
“They said they’re your brothers,” Bailey said doubtfully.
“Wh-what are you here for?” Shannon asked again.
“Dork!” twenty year-old Cody said, bringing his closed fist down like a hammer on top of Shannon’s head. “What do you think we’re here for?”
“Came to see our Li’l Sis mop the floor with the competition,” Kyle said, smiling.
“Mom sends her, uh, warmest regards…” Cody coughed.
“Cody,” Kyle admonished.
Cody’s smirk faded as he saw Shannon’s sad expression. “Hey!” he said brightly, “C’mere, punk-cat!” He quickly grabbed Shannon in a bear hug and began digging his knuckles into her head.
“Owwwwww! Co-dyyyyyyy…” Shannon whined. Kyle watched his two younger siblings wrestle and then saw Shannon give up and hug Cody.
A sudden commotion near the buffet line caught everyone’s attention. Vanessa Taylor and Jiao Cheng, the lead slayers of the two guest squads, were scuffling and tussling with each other. Vanessa got a good handful of Jiao’s jet black hair and pulled ferociously. Jiao let out a howl and raked her fingernails across the side of Vanessa’s neck.
“Cat fight! Cat fight!” Cody cried, grinning, as Shannon disengaged from his hug. She, along with the Australian and Taiwanese watchers and several more from the Council, ran to the pair.
Jiao and Vanessa were clearly not using slayer strength on each other, but Adrian Smith was forcefully pushed away by Vanessa with slayer might, falling on his backside and sliding on the floor.
Dawn was nearing the fray, but Shannon was already there and yanked Vanessa off Jiao. She placed her hand on Vanessa’s jaw and shoved her hard, then stepped heavily upon, and leaned on Jiao’s foot.
“Knock it off!” Shannon told the two girls.
Dawn stepped forward, but a hand on her arm stopped her. She turned to see Ethan. “Wait,” he said to her. She scowled at him and turned her attention back to the three lead slayers.
“Look, I don’t care if you two go at each other ’til…’til vampires’ fangs fall out! But not before we have a chance at you! We’ve been working hard for this competition. And so have you! I don’t know about you two, but I want to win this thing because we beat the best there is. Not because the two other teams were too tired out from smackin’ each other around in the lunchroom!”
“Ooooooooooh and ain’t she the bossy thing…” one of the Australian girls said. Vanessa turned and gave her a look, and the girl shrugged.
“Now listen, we have a long week ahead of us. I say we save the fight for the games. After the games,” Shannon looked at Vanessa, then Jiao sharply, “it’s every slayer for herself. Deal?”
She held her hand out before her and waited. Vanessa huffed out a laugh and took Shannon’s hand first, shaking it. “Deal, mate.”
Jiao stared hard at the two slayers and then reached her hand forward and shook Shannon’s hand, too. “We agree,” Jiao said. “It is a…dee-arrr.”
The girls on the Australian squad snickered at the mispronounced word, but Vanessa shot them a hard look and they went still.
Then Vanessa and Jiao turned to walk back to their tables.
“Hold it, hold it!” Shannon said. They turned back around and looked at her. “You two forgot to shake.”
Vanessa stared back coldly at Shannon, but Jiao regarded her thoughtfully for a moment. Suddenly, the Taiwanese girl stepped up and held her hand out steadily, waiting for Vanessa to take it. Vanessa continued to stare at Shannon. A slow, smug smile spread across Vanessa’s face. “You’re a regular Mahatma Gandhi, ain’t’cha…” she said. She looked at Jiao, took her hand, and the two feuding slayers shook.
Shannon stood and watched as the two slayers and their squads took their seats. She looked over at her brothers. Kyle and Cody were both grinning broadly at her. Kyle winked at her and Cody gave her a thumbs-up.
“Nice going, squad leader,” Dawn said over Shannon’s shoulder.
Shannon smiled. “C’mon, Dawn! I want you to meet my brothers,” she said. They began to walk to the table and Shannon stopped. “Hey, Dawn…who’s that slayer she was talkin’ about?”
“What slayer?” Dawn asked.
“Hot Momma Gandy.”
Dawn chuckled and put her arm around Shannon.
“Mahatma Gandhi – a man who made the impossible possible,” she explained. Shannon still looked confused. “Just Google him tonight,” she said with a chuckle.
Shannon gave her a shrug as they walked back to the table.
Fade to Black
End of Act Two