Watchers Council – Mr. Felix’s Office – Later That Night
“Yes, thank you.” Jason Felix had just put the phone back in the dock when there was a knock at the door. “Timely,” he muttered to himself. “Come in!” Lori entered carrying a folder in her hands. “Ah, good. That was Jakob Hellmer in Florida. They’re arranging mobilization of a large sea-rescue vessel for our journey. Have you got the tentative case file? I want to get my revisions off to Miss Summers before I leave for the night.”
“Yep.” Lori passed Felix the folder. “Giles put together the team roster of who he wants to go. I see you’ve made the shortlist.”
“He asked me earlier. It may sound a bit hasty, if not a little childish, but I can’t wait.”
“Really digging the watcher role, huh?”
“That I am Lori, that I am…” He trailed off.
She watched him for a moment as he scanned the documents inside the folder.
She just came out with it. “I want in.”
Felix looked up from the folder. “Lori, I don’t –”
“Jason,” she cut him off abruptly. “I may be handicapped, but I’m not useless.”
“I’ve never once thought otherwise.”
“Well, good then, so you won’t have a problem adding me to the team roster in your revisions.”
“It’s not that I don’t think you’re capable, Lori, but we have to be practical. You’re aided by a cane, and we don’t know what conditions we may face, what problems we may encounter. You know I have your best interests at heart.”
“As I do yours. I’ve got your back.”
“I think we’re past such pretenses.”
“I don’t think we are,” she said, staring back at him. “That aside, if you really care about me, then let me have this. Please. Don’t bench me.”
Felix glanced from Lori back down to the folder with the team roster.
“Look at the list, Jason. Three watchers, three slayers, one Coven member, and Storm – minus the being able to fly and control the weather thing,” Lori explained. Felix smirked in response. “I’m not saying I’m anything special, but I am probably the best marksman the Council has.”
Felix held his pen to the page and then placed it down before clasping his hands. “I trust you’ve been keeping up with your physiotherapy?”
“And you haven’t been exerting yourself any more than necessary?”
Lori continued to nod, her face held tight.
“And you’ll let me have your back, and if I think you’re struggling, you’ll stay on the boat?”
“You got it.”
Then Felix smiled. “Okay.” He took his pen and clicked the button. “You’re in.”
Watchers Council – Willow and Rowena’s Apartment – Same Time
“Here, before you leave, come with me,” Rowena said, waving Grace toward the direction of her home office. “I have something I want you to take for the trip.”
“What is it?” Grace asked.
Arriving at the desk, Rowena reached inside and pulled out a golden lighter. She placed it in Grace’s hand.
“Thanks, but I don’t smoke,” Grace said, her tone dubious.
“I know. Call it a good luck charm – watcher-to-watcher,” Rowena replied. “No matter how dangerous the assignment, I always came back when I had this with me.”
“I never figured you to be a superstitious person, Ro,” Grace said as she opened and closed the top.
“When it comes to most things, I’m not,” she replied. “But be sure you bring this back to me in one piece when you’re done, okay?”
Grace nodded. “Thank you,” she said sincerely.
“I mean it. I want you to bring it back to me.”
“I will,” Grace told her with a firm nod.
“And another thing…” Rowena continued.
Grace smiled. “I’ll bring Willow back, too,” she replied without being told.
Rowena smiled. “Good girl.”
Giles and Becca’s House – Bedroom – Same Time
“No. It’s not a good idea. Not again,” Becca barked at Giles. She stood by the open wardrobe with her arms crossed while Giles took his clothes from the rails.
“I don’t have a choice.”
“Everyone has a choice!”
Becca watched Giles move back and forth between the wardrobe and his suitcase, which lay open on the end of the bed. As he turned to go back to his suitcase, she sharply stepped in front of him, brandishing a hard glare.
“Please, Becca, darling –”
“Don’t you dare lay on the charm!” The light caught her glistening eyes. “I thought we were past this. I thought we could have those lazy-lemonade-porch-days, but with you back at work…after the danger you put yourself through…” She tapped a finger against his heart. “…after what you put us through…” She turned her finger toward her chest. “I almost lost you last time.” Her eyes welled, but she took her tears by the reins and held them in.
“Becca…” Giles threw his folded shirt onto the bed behind her and placed his hands on his wife’s upper arms, gripping her lightly.
She sniffed and blinked back the tears. “You’re my husband. You’re a father, and priorities change. Your life isn’t just for you anymore. It’s for them,” she said, motioning outside their door.
“What I do, everything I do, is for you and for Elizabeth and for Martin. I try to make this world a better place for all of you. I’ve done great things over the years, creating our children being two of them…but I’m not done yet.” Giles fixed his eyes on hers. “I have more to give, other ways that I can protect them…and this is one of them.”
“But why you? You’ve said it yourself, the Council isn’t one person alone.”
Giles shrugged his shoulders. “Sometimes it comes down to one…like this time.” Becca licked her lips and gave a heavy sigh. “I know how hard this is,” he told her.
“No, Rupert,” Becca said firmly. “You have no idea what this is like. You have no frame of reference whatsoever.”
“You’re right. I don’t,” he confessed. “But I do know what it’s like to want a better life, a safer life, for our children, and perhaps for their children. The knowledge I seek could be the key to ensuring that…and I can’t let the opportunity go by.” Tenderly, Giles leaned in and kissed Becca once on the lips and then on her forehead, cupping her face with both hands. “I’ll be okay,” he said, resting his forehead against hers.
Becca wore a sad smile, but didn’t move. “You better. I waited my entire life for you, and I’m not letting you go yet.”
Giles pulled her in for another kiss.
Fade To Black
V.O., Buffy: “What’s the catch?”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Earlier that Night
“The island is on another plane of existence, another dimension,” Giles said.
“Knew it. Well, okay no, but I knew there was something else,” Buffy quipped.
“In order to access this dimension, there are certain conditions that have to be met,” Giles continued. “It’s not as simple as just going from point A to point B. The course we must follow will take us through certain areas of the Bermuda Triangle which are rife with recorded phenomena, both natural and supernatural.”
“People not returning from sea and such,” Xander said.
“Yes, exactly,” Giles replied.
“But plenty of people have successfully flown or sailed through the Bermuda Triangle, haven’t they?” Jim said skeptically.
“Many have made it safely through the Triangle. Those who began to experience problems and still managed to get through only did so because of…well, blind luck,” Giles said.
“So what’s the first hurdle?” Willow asked.
Smash Cut To:
Sea-Rescue Vessel – Deck – The Next Morning
The gentle waves broke against the hull, spewing a salty spray up into the air as the sea-rescue vessel cut through the azure, foamy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean.
V.O., Felix: “The course will take us through a region with intense electromagnetic anomalies.”
Flashes of blue and white light and the sound of crackling thunder irregularly erupted from the bow deck.
V.O., Felix: “Scans and records indicate that these anomalies are of natural occurrence, yet totally unexplained. In this region, all and any forms of navigation are rendered useless. It’s been reported that not even the stars at night can guide you through the Triangle, as they shift position before your very eyes.”
V.O., Giles: “We need Gwen.”
At the tapered peak of the bow deck stood Gwen with her bare arms extended in front of her, her hands and fingers held tight and pointed, resembling talons.
V.O., Felix: “Miss Raiden can deflect these electromagnetic fields and allow us to bend our way through them. With her manipulation of these fields, navigation should function normally.”
Streams of pulsating, furious electricity washed down from her upper arms and leapt from her hands and fingertips. The occasional dissident arc of electricity struck the vacant bow of the vessel, and a charred ring now encased the spot where she stood.
“Great, Gwen! Keep going!” Giles called out from the raised cabin where he and Felix stood at the helm. The needle in his compass held steady.
Gwen shivered and cracked her head from side to side, releasing a long heavy breath. “I’m getting pins and needles,” she whined.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Resume
“The area is laden with wards that the Guardians put in place to prevent magic from being used to access the island,” Giles said. “It’s safe to assume that these wards are now working again after magic was restored, so the use of spells is out of the question.”
“Well, good thing we’ve got Gwen on speed dial,” Buffy said, looking up from her PDA. “Jason, this isn’t going to be a problem for you, is it?”
“It’s not even an issue, Miss Summers,” he replied with a tip of his proverbial cap.
Buffy nodded her thanks.
“With navigation online, we must sail to and stop at very precise coordinates. There we will need to wait for a dense fog, which gathers every twelve hours,” Giles went on. “It is this fog that is the actual gateway to the island’s dimension.”
Smash Cut To:
Sea-Rescue Vessel – Deck Head – Moments Later
His eyes flew open, his pupils retracting to microdots from the harsh light. He found himself prone on the sofa bench. He immediately sat up, raising a hand to his head to ease the abruptness of his return to consciousness.
“Wha –What is it?”
The air was thin, and strangely still. He squinted, and the image of Willow standing before him focused into view.
He blinked and cast his still-blurred gaze to the window behind her. The sky was gray.
Sea-Rescue Vessel – Deck – Moments Later
“Now that’s something you don’t see everyday,” Gwen said with her folded arms to her chest, shielding her body from the salty sea breeze.
Buffy, Lori, Felix, Hadley, Grace and Casey joined Gwen in staring at the huge swirling cloud of fog that spanned the entire horizon and seemed to continue up into the heavens.
“That’s it. It’s time,” Giles said, appearing from behind the group, along with Willow. He half-turned his gaze to the woman beside him. “Willow.”
She raised her hand up in the air and scurried off towards the stern deck. “Aye aye, Captain. I’m on it!”
Giles watched Willow hurry off and then turned back to stare at the immense fog.
V.O., Giles: “Just inside the fog is a time dilation field…”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Resume
“…That field increases in strength the closer one comes to the island. On the fringes of the field, an hour to us might be a day to those stuck inside. Where the field peaks and ends is only a few hundred yards off shore. At the peak, time just…stops.”
“Can you imagine making it that far?” Robin said. “To be that close to the island, and then to get frozen in time, your eyes fixated on the prize for all eternity? It’s kinda cruel, but ingenious, if you think about it.” There was a certain degree of admiration in his voice.
“So how do you expect to get past this field and not get stuck, too?” Lori asked.
“Yeah, I thought you said using magic in the Triangle was out?” Dawn scrunched her face in a slight frown.
“Outside of the fog, yes, magic is out of the question. Inside the fog, however…”
Smash Cut To:
Sea-Rescue Vessel – Cabin – Later
V.O., Giles: “…there is one spell that will work, and yes, I know it.”
Giles and Felix stood side-by-side at the helm.
Felix gripped the handle of the accelerator and gently pushed it forward. The steady growl of the engine reached a crescendo as the vessel started to edge toward the huge, daunting mass of viscous gray.
On the stern deck, Buffy watched the distance between the ship and the fog shorten. “Here we go…” she said, folding her arms across her chest.
Behind her, Willow sat cross-legged in a circle of four medium-sized blue lace agate crystals. She, too, had her eyes on the fog as it rolled towards them. She closed her eyes and Buffy did the same.
A few moments later when Buffy opened her eyes, she found the entire ship enveloped in a thick gray fog. She called out through the mist.
“Will, time to bust it with the mojo.”
The witch shook out her shoulders and released a deep sigh before starting to chant.
V.O., Giles: “Once inside the fog, Willow will perform a spell that will place us on another plane of existence, so that we’re not affected by the time dilation field.”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Resume
“Oh, I will, huh?” Willow asked, with a smile and an arch of her brow.
Giles smiled back at her, although with a coy shade. “Yes, not only do I need you to do the spell, but I also need you to make sure I don’t step on any ancient daises and have my mind depart my body again.”
“Okay, I’ll give you my wife, on the condition that you bring her back safely,” Rowena threw her say into the mix.
“I’m a commodity now?” Willow smirked.
“Hell, yes!” Rowena barked with a sly smile. “I’m not going to raise two kids in this dimension by myself. Are you up for this, Will?”
Willow looked from Rowena to Giles before saying, “Yes.”
Smash Cut To:
Sea-Rescue Vessel – Stern Deck – Moments Later
Willow’s head now hung low, with the backs of her hands resting atop her knees, her palms open in supplication.
Two of the crystals were already illuminated with an ethereal cerulean glow. Her words were now barely a whisper. Then the third crystal began to glow from its center out, intensifying until it matched the two others. Her inaudible words continued to pass her lips, growing in frequency. The fourth crystal now began to glow. Willow’s words became faster, louder, clearer. The light radiating from the crystals merged and became cylindrical, forming a band of blue light around her.
As the final word parted her lips, Willow’s eyes flew open, and she forcefully threw her hands up into the air. An effervescent sound – similar to that of overflowing soda, only sharper and louder – filled the quiet air. Soon the circle of light around Willow exploded outwards and upwards, firing a shaft of light straight up into the sky.
A sparkling blue wind washed over the vessel, carrying particles of what could only be described as starlight. Each individual particle shone with different intensity. Some were smaller, just specks of light, while others were golf-ball-sized, burning with the brightness of a sun.
The blue wind encased the vessel, causing the ship to shimmer into the ether until it was completely gone.
Ethereal Plane – Sea-Rescue Vessel – Stern Deck – Same Time
Except for the soft rumbling of the engine, the world around them was quiet. No wind, no waves, not even gulls could be heard.
Willow blinked. Everything she could see was painted in an ashen blue. She brought up her hands; they were blue, too.
“Okay, this is weird,” she said quietly.
“Hey! I look like Brell!” Buffy joked.
Giles burst out of the cabin and hurried down the steps to the stern deck, closely followed by Felix.
“Willow, you did it!” he exclaimed as he came to a halt.
With the helping hand of Buffy, Willow got to her feet and brushed off her backside. “You doubted moi?”
Giles blushed. “No, never,” he insisted. A few moments later, he said, “Thank you.”
She smiled. “Pleasure.”
“So, what now?” Buffy asked.
Giles put his hands in his pockets and looked up at the sky.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Dr. Miller’s Office – Late Afternoon
Dr. Miller looked up at the sound of a knock on his door. “Come in,” he said. The door opened, and Hope poked her head inside.
“May I see you?”
“Of course.” the doctor smiled as he closed a folder and took off his reading glasses. “Come in.”
Hope slipped into the office and closed the door behind her. She perched on the chair in front of Dr. Miller’s desk. He smiled, waiting for her to speak. When no words came, he asked, “What can I do for you?”
Taking a deep breath, Hope waited another moment before speaking. Then she said, “I was wondering if you could give me a checkup. A complete checkup.” Her eyes were bright.
“Of course,” Dr. Miller said, smiling. “That’s part of what I’m here for.”
She nodded. “I’d like it real soon. Like, this week?”
He thought about this. “Should be possible. If you don’t mind my asking, why the rush? Any symptoms popping up?”
“No, nothing like that.”
“A pregnancy test, perhaps?” he speculated.
“What? Oh, no! Well, yeah, go ahead. But I don’t think that’s – actually, that is related to something I wanted to find out.”
Dr. Miller smiled invitingly.
“Last year,” said Hope, “I was possessed by a demon. You heard about that?”
“At the risk of sounding blasé, my dear, who hasn’t been possessed by a demon around here?”
“Good point. But you were saying?”
“One thing that occurred to me was that there might have been side effects.” She gave a nervous smile. “I hope not, but…” Her voice faded.
“Be glad to check on that,” Dr. Miller nodded. “But I’m surprised you haven’t had tests before now.”
“Oh, I did. A bunch, in one way or another. But that’s not the same as a full checkup, I don’t think.” Taking another deep breath, Hope suddenly smiled a brilliant smile. “I want…I need to know if I can even have children.”
The doctor blinked and then smiled as he absorbed this. “Whether you can.”
“Yeah. I need to know. Please?”
Reaching for his planner, Dr. Miller donned his glasses again. “Let’s make some room in the schedule then, shall we?” He smiled.
Ethereal Plane – Sea-Rescue Vessel – Stern Deck – Later
Grace held her head back with her eyes shut and her padded, gloved hands as far away from her body as possible. As Casey pummeled the gloves with punch after punch, Grace let out a steady, “Oww…oww…oww…oww…”
“Hey, when’s my turn?” Hadley called out, sitting on the steps leading up to the cabin with a magazine on her lap. Her arm rested on a British World War I helmet. “And while I’m at it, what the hell is this thing?” she asked, holding it up.
Casey stopped punching and shook out her limbs. Grace panted and wiped the sweat from her brow. The former then walked over and took the helmet from Hadley.
“This is my Great-Grandpa’s. British Army on the Rhine,” she answered. Hadley stood up and nodded before quickly darting over to Grace. “Hey!” Casey exclaimed.
“You walked away,” Hadley replied with a playful grin. “My turn now.”
Grace let out a ragged sigh, but she still raised her padded hands, and Hadley began punching. Casey sat down, dejected, and picked up the discarded magazine.
Across from them, Buffy and Willow sat with their legs dangling over the edge of the vessel.
“When did we get old?” Willow asked through a morose expression.
After a beat, Buffy realized that she had been asked a question. She averted her mesmerized gaze from the lapping water against the hull and raised a brow as she cocked her head towards her friend.
“I mean, like, I’m married, and I’ve got kids baking in my wife’s oven, and-and I think I found my first frown line the other day.” Willow placed hesitant fingers to her forehead.
“Well, you do resolve face a lot.”
Willow glared, and Buffy’s raised brow seemed to arch further.
The glare subsided back into worry. “You think I’ll be a good mom?”
Buffy wrapped an arm around Willow’s shoulders. “No doubt. Those lil’ bundles of happy-happy-joy-joys are gonna love you so much. I mean, how can you not love Willow?”
Willow smirked. “Ya think? I mean, they’re due any minute, and the nursery isn’t finished yet! A-A-And what if they don’t like the color?” she pouted with her eyes wide. “I picked it!”
A sigh escaped Buffy as she rested her head against Willow’s.
Ethereal Plane – Sea-Rescue Vessel – Bow Deck – Same Time
Gwen stood with her eyes closed, the salty sea breeze billowing in her long, multi-tone curled hair.
“Miss Raiden?” Felix’s voice came from behind her.
She opened her eyes and glanced over her shoulder before fully turning to him with a small smile.
“Sorry, doing my best Rose-and-Jack-Titanic-spread-eagled thing,” she said. “Yeah, I don’t get out much. Plus, it’s a girl thing. Buffy was up here earlier too, and, actually, so was Giles…” She trailed off pensively with a frown.
Felix smirked. “I’m fairly certain saying the ‘T’ word is a major faux pas on a boat, much like the use of the term ‘good luck’ in the theater.”
She bit her lip, mulling over his cautious words. “Probably, yeah. Well, if we sink and I’m left clutching hold of a door with Leo swimming nearby, at least I’ll know that he was already electrocuted. You know, with the water and all.”
“Yes…” Felix just stared at her for a moment. “Umm, Miss Raiden –”
“Please, Jason. Gwen.”
“Gwen,” he said, giving a nod. “We haven’t had a chance to talk, not properly, and I –”
“We’re good,” Gwen told him, throwing her hair back over one shoulder and giving Felix a bright smile.
Ethereal Plane – Sea-Rescue Vessel – Cabin – Same Time
Giles stood at the helm. His hands gripped the wheel, holding the course steady. Lori sat in the chair beside him, contently staring out at the blue world around them.
“There’s another one,” she said, raising a pointed finger to an aircraft suspended in mid-air.
Giles’s eyes followed where Lori pointed, and he sighed.
“And they really believe that they’re getting somewhere?” she asked.
“They are. They’re still moving, only at a rate we can’t perceive. It’s all a matter of perspective. It could take them another hundred years, possibly more, to reach the field’s peak, and then…”
“And then nothing, right?” She didn’t turn away from the aircraft.
Lori sighed, and she looked at Giles. “Okay, question. Why didn’t these vessels get set free when…when Bureau Nine annulled magic?”
Giles quickly looked at Lori before returning his attention to the course ahead.
“These vessels that we’ve passed – they and the people on board don’t inhabit our plane of existence anymore.”
“So there’s no way we can save them, huh?” Lori asked.
Giles just stared ahead of him and shook his head.
Ethereal Plane – Sea-Rescue Vessel – Deck Head – Later
Below decks, Lori closed the lid of a metal case. It was one of many that sat in stacks in the storage area. Each bore the embossed logo of the Council.
“That’s an awful lot of firepower for a boat trip,” Buffy said. She sat on the padded bench to Lori’s left, the Scythe in her lap and a rag in hand.
“So says the woman buffing a shine to her ridiculously powerful and mystical Scythe?” Lori turned her head with what could be mistaken for a grin.
Buffy stopped, shrugged and then continued to shine the silver blade’s edge. “Hey, none of the slayers would be here if it wasn’t for this beaut.”
“And me,” Willow shouted out from somewhere in the background.
Buffy pitched a thumb over her shoulder. “And her. Still, what you’re packing…”
“We’re going on a mission worthy of Lara Croft, so it’s best to be prepared,” Lori replied, raising a brow.
Buffy waited a moment and then admitted, “Point taken.”
“Lara had, like, only a few weapons,” Grace corrected, sitting at the galley counter with a notepad in front of her. “What you’ve got there is like half of Nicholas Cage’s arsenal in Lord of War.”
“Heh, Lori of War,” Hadley snickered, as she dealt cards for Casey and herself.
“Guys,” Willow called from the deck, “you’d better come up here.”
The group shared a mutual look of concern.
Ethereal Plane – Sea-Rescue Vessel – Stern Deck – Moments Later
Followed by Hadley, Casey, Grace and Buffy, Lori climbed the steps up to the deck, leaning heavily on her cane.
“What is it?” she asked.
“That,” Willow said, standing next to Giles and Gwen, their backs to the group.
They all turned to face where Willow, Giles and Gwen were staring.
“What the –?” Hadley said, her frown turning into awe as she hurried to stand beside Willow.
A strange ship, similar in design to that of a pirate ship, only on a much larger scale, sat dead in the water a hundred yards away from the Council’s vessel.
The frame of the ship was constructed out of bones. The actual hull was reminiscent of one large ribcage. Between the gaps of the bones was a dubious brown amalgam. It could very well have been wood, but it looked organic, only charred and preserved. Each of the ship’s masts seemed to be a single bone, a spine. The sails that hung from the masts were dull in color, a rotten beige with sporadic stains of mottled burgundy.
“Is that…?” Gwen put a hand to her mouth. She gulped.
“Skin. Possibly human skin,” Giles said tonelessly.
Her brow furrowed, Willow turned to her left. Her eyes bulged, and her mouth hung open. “L-L-Look!” Her elation broke the group’s concentration. As each person turned, they all shared in Willow’s surprise.
The fog began to lift, and the outline of buildings could be seen in the distance.
Towers of grand design that reached far into the sky pierced through the fog. Smaller constructs were scattered at their bases. Although they were smaller in dimension, their quality was not lacking. Each individual building was constructed of bricks of gold bullion and decorated with lavish and elaborate designs. Several spires stood around the island, their needle-like tips gleaming in the light. At the center of the island sat a large domed building, its cap similar to that of a domed cathedral.
“That’s some library,” Willow said, utterly engrossed.
A slight smile crossed Giles’s face, but his attention was soon returned to the ship that they now were parallel with.
“The fog’s lifting. That means we’re nearing the island,” he said, the vigor behind his words lacking.
“I’ll go prepare to shift us back,” Willow said, and left the group.
“Hadley,” Giles said. He pointed to a pair of binoculars that rested atop a pile of crates outside the stairs leading down to the deck head.
She handed Giles the binoculars, and he brought them up to his eyes, adjusting the focus on the ship. Through the telescopic lenses, he saw dozens of fierce demons with oily olive skin, huge mouths full of razor-sharp teeth and black eyes bulging out of their dented, oval shaped heads.
They were all frozen – some in mid-run, others lifting, some practicing swordplay, still others walking to the lookout platform.
Giles panned the binoculars along the ship until he reached the bow deck. Standing at the tapered peak of the bow deck towered an easily seven-foot-tall demon, dressed in a blood colored cloak. He stared eternally out at the island, his mouth held in a chilling smile. Hung around his neck were various talismans, bones and teeth. He gripped a tall staff tightly in his hand. It, too, was constructed of bone, but it was decorated with carvings. On one side of the staff, a scythe-like blade was attached.
Giles brought down the binoculars and kept his stare on the ship as the Council ship began to pass it.
Island – Craggy Shoreline – Minutes Later
A small, modern dinghy with a motor engine came to a stop near the shore, where the water was only ankle deep. Felix, manning the craft, cut the engine’s power and deployed the anchor.
The group jumped out of the dinghy and made their way to dry land. Felix stood, the warm waters lapping against his trousers, and helped Lori disembark. As she held her cane high above the water, she flashed him a grateful smile, and with his help, reached the grainy sands of the beach.
“Man, this is like Atlantis,” Grace said as she and the rest of the group stared up at the golden buildings above them. Slowly, she raised her digital camera and took a picture.
The flash snapped Giles out of his reverie. He shook his head with a sigh. “We need to get up there.”
Buffy scanned the area. “I can’t see a way up. Least not from this part of the beach.”
Giles looked around and was about to turn away when he saw a woman standing on the cliff’s edge further down the beach. Her curled brown hair danced over the shoulders of her velvet gown.
“I’ll unpack the grappling hooks,” Gwen said. “We can get up easily that way.”
Giles was oblivious to the conversation going on around him. He stared up at the woman. She was too far away to make out her face, but she was clearly staring back at Giles. Then she turned away and walked toward the buildings and out of view.
“That way,” he said. “We need to go there.” At that, Giles started to walk in the direction of where the woman had been moments earlier.
Willow frowned at Buffy, but started to follow him.
Island – Central Concourse – Minutes Later
With a katana holstered on her back and a flashlight and gun in her crossed hands, Casey took cover behind a large stone pillar. She scanned the lonely square, off of which walkways, alleys and doors led to various buildings. She aimed her flashlight to the shadowed areas created by the towering structures.
She pressed a finger to her earpiece. “Square clear,” she whispered.
Hurried footsteps came from behind her, and soon Hadley ran around the corner, an assault rifle in her hand and twin axes strapped to her back. She took position ahead of Casey behind one of the supporting pillars of a large stone pagoda. Four stone benches made a circle under its canopy.
“In position,” Hadley said into her earpiece. “All clear. Move out.”
Giles, Willow, Grace, Felix and Lori turned into the square, flanked on the right by Buffy, who gripped her Scythe with the stake end pointing in front of her, and on the left by Gwen, who had her left hand uncovered and poised.
“Whoa,” Willow said, taking in the surroundings. “This isn’t a library. It’s a city.”
“I wonder if this is where they made the Scythe?” Buffy asked. “The Guardian said it was forged halfway around the world.”
“It’s possible,” Grace said, “and if that’s true, then…”
“…then there could be other weapons. Nice thinking, Starbuck,” Gwen said matter-of-factly, more concerned with examining the square.
Grace seemed pleased with her new nickname.
Giles saw the bottom hem of the woman’s green cloak disappear into the shadows of a particular corner of the square. As his eyes narrowed, he saw the top half of what appeared to be a carving, more like graffiti in design, exposed in the sunlight. Darkness concealed the rest of the carving.
“Giles?” Willow asked, seeing him head over to the corner.
He didn’t acknowledge her. He came to a stop before the graffiti and raised his flashlight, banishing the shadows. Large, crude, splintered letters were carved into the slabs of sandy brick. In the deeply drawn crevasses, a dried red pigment accentuated the letters. It wasn’t clear whether it was red paint or dried blood inside the carvings.
Giles ran his hand over some of the graffiti. Willow stepped up beside him, her eyes scanning the archaic indentations.
“Didn’t take the Guardians as ones for street art,” she quipped.
“This was deliberate vandalism,” he said.
“Why would the Guardians graffiti their own home?” Willow pondered.
He ran his hand over more of the carvings. “I don’t think they did.”
“You mean there were others on the island before us – other than the Guardians, I mean?” Willow now started to sound concerned.
“It looks that way.”
Willow gulped and shivered. “Do you know what it says?”
Giles slowly nodded, his eyes narrowing further.
“It’s Occuarian, but the Occuaria couldn’t have made it to the island. Traversing the oceans and possessing the magical abilities needed to reach the island were, suffice to say, beyond their capabilities.”
“All that’s fine and good, Giles,” she sighed, “but, again, what’s it say?”
“Beware the Loathestone.”
She frowned. “What’s that?”
He slowly shook his head. “No idea.”
Willow took a picture of the carved words, the flash garnering the attention of the others.
“Hey, is everything okay over there?” Buffy called out. Giles turned to her and then made his way over to the group with Willow in tow. “Giles?” Buffy prompted as they arrived.
“There’s a message, over there,” he answered, thumbing behind him. “‘Beware the Loathestone.’ Anyone heard of it?” The group didn’t say anything. “Thought so. It’s possible that the warning means that this…‘Loathestone’ is on this island.”
“Island’s practically made outta stone. We supposed to be fearing the walls now?” Lori asked.
“I don’t know, but there’s also a chance that whoever left that message is still here, so be extra vigilant,” Giles said, taking in a breath. “Now, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Willow, Buffy and I will explore the domed structure ahead of this position. If I’m right, that’s the library. Gwen and Lori, you’re together. You take the right of the square. Jason and Grace, the buildings to the left. Casey and Hadley, I need you to hold this position down to the shore.”
“You’ve got it, Chief,” Casey nodded.
“If there are any problems, radio in, and for God’s sake, stick together and be careful. We’ll meet back here in two hours and assess the situation then.”
With a collective nod, the group disbanded, each heading their separate ways, except for Felix, who remained under the pagoda.
He and Giles shared an understanding look. Giles gave the man a nod, and he responded likewise. Felix placed his metal briefcase down, resting it against one of the stone benches, and then turned and walked toward Grace, who was already charting their sector with her camera.
Island – Domed Building – Moments Later
Buffy pushed a heavy stone door open and walked into a large room ahead of Willow and Giles.
Stone tablets were strewn across tables that sat around the room. Cabinets stood against the walls, housing a vast collection of books and jars of various sizes and contents.
Willow navigated her way around the tables to the far end of the room, where four woven mats circled a golden cauldron, in which the charred, decayed remains of an ingredient sat at the bottom.
“Their Coven Room,” Willow said as she turned to Giles, who was lifting one of the tablets off the table.
He moved his stare from the tablet to Willow and then placed it back down. Buffy holstered the Scythe on her back, then held her camera out in front of her and started to photograph the room.
“I’m so having a wicca-gasm right now!” the witch squealed, reveling in the discovery. She hurried over to the nearest cabinet and took a book at random into her hands.
“Yes, steady now,” Giles smiled. “Willow, if you can pry yourself away, we’ve still got much to explore. We can come back to this.”
Willow put the book back in place and then pouted. “Oh, okay,” she said, deliberately sounding disappointed.
She stomped past Giles and Buffy and out into the hall. Giles and Buffy shared a smirk.
Island – Left District Building – Same Time
Grace stood in front of a large tapestry. It hung down from a rafter in what seemed to be the lobby of the tower that she and Felix were in. She took a step backwards to gain a better vantage point for her photo. With the snapshot taken, she looked up toward the top of the tower to see the blue sky high above them and walkways on different levels spanning the central hollow of the tower.
“This sure as hell wasn’t built in a day,” her voice echoed.
“Too true,” Felix said, crouching behind a central pillar that reached to the top of the tower. He moved a block of stone at the base of the pillar back in place, then stood and walked around to stand beside Grace, readjusting his backpack. “Ready to get up there?”
She winced at the thought. “It’s asking too much that there’s an elevator in this place, right?”
He rolled his eyes with a smile, patted her on the back and made for the set of stairs to their left. Grace let out a sigh, gripped the straps of her backpack and followed behind Felix.
Island – Domed Building – Minutes Later
Giles closed the door to another room. The flash of Willow’s camera drew his attention. He turned to see her a little further down the hallway. He frowned and looked behind him.
“Willow, where’s –?”
“Guys, I’ve found something!” Buffy’s voice bounced off the walls.
“Oh, there she is,” he muttered under his breath in a sarcastic tone.
Island – Domed Building – Moments Later
Giles and Willow rounded the corner to find Buffy standing ahead of them.
“I thought I said stick together?” he said, obviously not too pleased.
“Sorry, saw something shiny,” she said, pointing in front of her.
“She does love shiny things,” Willow teased.
As Giles and Willow got closer, a large, ornate door came into view, the gold border and jeweled decorations sparkling in the dull light.
“Boy,” Willow remarked. “You weren’t kidding. Talk about your bling.”
All three now stood before the grand door. Giles drew in a breath, and after a moment he stepped forward and wrapped his palms around two metal ringed handles. He tightened his grip and pulled.
The momentous slabs of stone scraped across the sandy floor. As the doors grew further apart, a bright burst of immense white light overwhelmed their eyes.
With the doorway now open, their eyes began to adjust to the natural light that shone in from glass panels on the ceiling of the colossal domed chamber.
Willow blinked back the dancing spots and raised a brow. “This vu has truly been déjà’ed.”
In the center of the room stood a podium-device, identical to the one they had found two years earlier in the Cuyahoga Temple. The only noticeable difference was that the crystal attached to the inverted needle-like spire that hung over the stone platform below was larger, more splendid, more refined and had a metal ring circling its circumference, held in place by four rods that penetrated the crystal itself.
Except for the odd differences, the chamber was an exact replica. Ancient carvings of words, pictograms, symbols and possibly even entire books lavished the walls leading up to the glass-paneled ceiling. The written library even spilled over onto the stone floor beneath their feet.
Giles’s mouth hung open as a warmth, a passion, began to flourish once again in his eyes.
“Oh boy,” Willow sighed. She made a quick glance at Giles, but upon seeing his mesmerized stare, she did a double take. “And you’d better stop with the kid-in-the-candy-shop-eyes right now, Mister, ’cause there’s no way you’re stepping on that thing again!” she firmly informed him, but she frowned when Giles didn’t react to her words.
Near Island Shoreline – Skeleton Ship – Same Time
The waters surrounding the skeletal ship were still frozen in time. There was not a ripple, not a splash. All was frozen.
On the deck, the demons were still like statues. Not a single sound of the ocean could be heard, nor the sound of activity on board.
The seven-foot-tall demon standing at the furthest edge of the bow deck continued to stare out at the island, less than a mile away. The sea-rescue vessel was now added to the landscape before him.
Then, ever so slowly, his pupils started to react. Next, his jaw gradually widened, expanding into a chilling smile. A low, guttural sound began rumbling inside his throat.
At the same time, the ship started to edge forward, causing the still waters to softly ripple.
End of Act Two