Storage Room – Afternoon
The body was still in place, but none of the three people standing over it was paying it much attention. Willow knelt beside it, examining the shattered pieces of milky glass on the floor. Jeff had moved the rest of the reliquary to the side, with Felix’s help.
“Just as well the insurance company won’t have to pay up,” said Felix with a glance at the reliquary, its interior now broken. “You could probably buy a small country with what that was worth undamaged.”
“So tell me about this St. Josephus,” Willow said, running her hand slowly through the air above the glass and the small scroll amid the shards.
“No one knows a great deal about him,” said Felix. “Other than his name, and the fact he was from Tyre.”
“Well,” Jeff said, “he killed Abaddon. Or defeated it.”
“Yes, sometime in the Fifth Century. A convent was built in the very spot where they said he did it, and the nuns kept this reliquary in his honor. Until the First World War, anyway. It’s been passed from hand to hand ever since.”
“But what was inside? I mean,” Jeff pointed to the scroll, “is that it? A piece of paper? Or is his finger in there somewhere?”
“Excellent questions,” said Felix. “Miss Rosenberg? Or should I say Missus?”
“Willow is okay.”
“Thank you. Willow, then.”
Now Willow looked away from the glass and scroll, to Felix and Jeff. “There is the faintest trace of some really dark magic here, but nothing active. Not right now.”
Felix nodded. “Then I suggest we discover what we have here – and hope it amounts to nothing. And then we can allow the coroner to take away Mr. Logan here.”
He knelt down, taking out two sets of tweezers from his pocket. They had broad plastic tips, not unlike forceps. Slowly, he pushed the milky fragments of glass away, like bits of some exotic cracked egg. Underneath, the scroll looked fragile enough to crumble with a strong breath. Apart from that, it was barely longer than a pencil, but as thick as a baseball. He didn’t touch the scroll until the tiniest fragment of glass was taken away.
Jeff, holding a flashlight aimed at the scroll, asked, “Do you want the container now?”
The container was plastic, the size of a shoebox and padded on the inside. Felix used the tweezers to lift the scroll up and into the box. As he did, something fell out of the scroll.
School Corridor – Same Time
Faith and Hope took in the scenery as they wove their way through the small river of uniform-clad schoolgirls. Neither looked at the other. Both tried to ignore the stares and whispers from various girls.
“Bone white,” Hope said, nodding at the walls. “Better than puke green, I suppose.”
“Or crap yellow.”
After another yard or so, Hope spoke again. “At least the lockers are new. Well, they’d have to be. Half of them got trashed after we lost homecoming. Remember?”
“Must’ve been after I left.”
“No, it wasn’t. Really.”
Faith shook her head. “Don’t remember.”
“It was when you were going out with that drummer? He had a band called Undead Banshee? Kinda ironic, when you think of it.”
“I don’t remember.”
“Well, I remember him. Cyke something. Had this stupid tattoo on his chest, something from a movie. Sinbad and the Eye of the Tigerlilly or something. Yeah, he went to St. Julian’s. Or did, before he dropped out. Wonder what happened to him? Maybe we can find out?”
Faith said nothing. She gestured at a classroom they passed and snorted.
“Who taught English here?” Hope asked, glancing at it. “Do you remember?”
“That, I really don’t remember.”
“Sister Mary Paul, wasn’t it? Or Paula Marie? Maybe Marie Peter?”
“Like I said…that, I don’t remember.”
Silence. When she spoke again, Hope’s voice was low. “We all have things we’d like to forget.” She frowned as she said it.
“Just the kind of thing you would say,” said Faith, jaw set.
Hope stared at Faith for a few moments, then opened her mouth, but said nothing more. She just pointed to the door with the word “Dean” written in gold leaf across its surface.
“Please,” breathed Faith as she prepared to knock on the door, “don’t let this be anyone from the old days.”
“Amen,” Hope said in response.
Faith hesitated, then knocked. “Come in,” said a voice from within. She opened the door and both sisters entered.
Dean’s Office – Same Time
A slender woman with dark hair and piercing eyes rose from her desk as they came into view. She wore a gray business suit and pearls.
“Hello, Faith,” she said.
“Oh, great.” Faith didn’t roll her eyes, but she looked like she wanted to.
“And Hope…hello.” The woman’s voice softened measurably.
“Miss Mulliner,” said Faith. “You’re the Dean now.”
“You sound surprised. That, at least, I can understand. In all honesty, one of my last expectations was ever seeing you two walk into my office.” She waited for a moment. “You can close the door now.”
“Oh, right,” Hope said, taking it upon herself to shut the door.
“For the past year and a half,” Dean Mulliner went on, “the school has received countless requests for interviews about you, Faith. And for your transcripts. I trust you’ll be pleased to hear we have refused all such requests.”
“The school has, at any rate. We, of course, have limited influence over the faculty, and sometimes even less over our student body.”
“Miss Mulliner,” Hope began, but upon seeing the response she received, she amended her words. “Dean – you do know why we’re here, right?”
She nodded. “The highly unfortunate business about a dead body on school grounds. And something mysterious about it which brings the Watchers Council into the matter.” The unasked question lingered in the air.
Hope and Faith glanced at each other. “We can’t go into all the details,” said Faith, “but the corpse stole something. Not while he was a corpse, of course – I don’t think so, anyway – but what he stole might be the mystical equivalent of a time bomb.” She smiled, enjoying herself a little too much. “Or not. We’ve got people finding out. Brought lab type stuff and everything.”
Dean Mulliner didn’t even blink. But she did lower her voice and lean forward a fraction of a millimeter. “How are you, Faith? What is your life like, now? I know better than to accept publicity and journalism at face value.” Her eyes strayed to Hope, who looked away. “How are you, both of you?”
“Five by five,” Faith said instantly.
“I’m real good,” said Hope. “I’m even getting married.”
“My congratulations.” The Dean looked back at Faith. “Classes have already finished for today, and fortunately this is a Friday. What can I expect?”
“Asking the wrong person,” Faith replied. “Some top folks are looking over the body now. With a little bit of luck, you’ll have seen the last of us in an hour.”
“Until I turn on the television or pick up a newspaper,” said the Dean.
“Hey, I didn’t ask to be famous. And you can turn the TV off.”
Once more, the Dean turned to Hope. “And what is your role in all this, Hope?”
“I’ve been learning magic and helping out around the Council.” Hope somehow managed to sound a decade younger speaking to her former teacher.
“You were an excellent student in my History class. You earned a B on your last test, as I recall.”
The Dean nodded. “That would be because you don’t really believe enough in yourself. Foolishly, in my opinion. Unlike some, you proved over and over an ability to apply yourself. While I know nothing of magic, I’m sure your skills are more impressive than you yourself tend to accept.”
“I don’t think that is a judgment I’m supposed to make.”
“You need to. That is part of what being an adult means.” She turned to Faith again, who had been listening to the exchange with a set jaw. “Faith – I am pleased you seem to have grown beyond what I sensed in you as a teenager.”
Faith hesitated barely half a second. “Hey, I’m the same bitch I always was,” she said with a fierce grin.
The Dean frowned.
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Day
Ethan Rayne stepped inside the coven room and saw two young women frowning at each other. One of them was Kennedy. The other was in her teens, and clearly Asian. They both looked at him as he entered.
“Ah…and you would be Miss Nugyen?”
“Yes, Mr. Rayne.” She said this with something like relief.
“Sorry about being late. Been watching a dozen or so Slayerettes practice bodily mayhem for truth, justice and the American way.” He looked at Kennedy and smiled broadly. “And good day to you, as well.”
“Hi.” Kennedy’s frown remained in place. “I was escorting this…” She seemed to be at a loss for the right word.
“Christian?” Nugyen said.
“I was gonna say bigot, but Christian is okay by me.”
“Oh dear,” Ethan said with an exaggerated sigh, “and you ladies were talking about?”
“Sin,” Nugyen replied.
“Tolerance,” Kennedy answered at the same time.
“Hmm.” Ethan looked from one to the other, then back. “Miss Nugyen, I understand you’ve shown some genuine talent at magic.”
“So Mr. Phong of the Singapore Office says. And he recommended you as a teacher who should be able to bring that talent out.”
“Phong? Really? Don’t think I know anyone named Phong.”
“He heads the Bureau Nine Office there.”
“Nope. Still don’t know him.”
“Of course,” muttered a still-frowning Kennedy.
Both Ethan and Miss Nguyen looked at her. “I can’t be expected to know everyone,” Ethan said after a moment.
“Mr. Rayne,” Miss Nguyen said, “I would rather not conduct my lessons in the presence of this person.”
“All right by me,” Ethan replied.
“I says otherwise,” Kennedy said.
Ethan turned and looked at Kennedy, one eyebrow rising.
“I’m trying to learn magic, too, y’know!”
“From the little red witch, last I heard.”
“Yeah, but Kadin gets jealous. And even Willow says I should branch out. Besides, she’s out of town.” She shrugged.
“Ah. Well, I must say, that is the most transparent set of lies I think I have ever heard. Really. You should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t you know that deceit is one of those really essential life skills? What is this Council coming to?”
“I’m going to have a word with Ripper. I am.”
“Mr. Rayne,” Nguyen interrupted again. “I am, if anything, even more disturbed by your words than by this person’s…lifestyle.” She made quote fingers. “Perhaps Mr. Phong was in error.”
That got stares from both Kennedy and Ethan for several seconds.
“Ooh, you are the cheeky devil, aren’t you?” said Ethan at last.
School Library – Same Time
Jeff wore latex gloves and wielded the same kind of forceps-tweezers that Felix had used earlier. In front of him was a sheet of Plexiglass, raised a few inches from the table surface. Lights were built into the frame holding the Plexiglass. Below that, the scroll lay half-unwrapped.
“I wish I could say we’d be leaving right now,” he said, “but Mr. Felix is worried the threat might still be here.”
“That’s assuming there is a threat,” grumbled Faith.
“Better safe than sorry,” Hope said, seated in the corner, watching Jeff.
Jeff nodded. “Especially after we found that.” He indicated a cloth on the other side of the table. There lay a tiny clump of translucent shards. None of them were larger than a pea, while most were much smaller. Each shard was the color of brandy. “Amber. Shattered. From the inside.”
“Where’d you find it?” Faith stared at the shards of amber.
“Inside the scroll. And Willow said this isn’t ordinary amber. It’s magic, or at least was made by magic, and acts like a kind of mystical insulation.”
“So,” Hope queried, “it would be ideal to hold some kind of magic in stasis?”
He nodded. “Or something with a lot of magic. Like a demon.”
“Pretty small demon,” Faith said.
“For now,” said Jeff. “Who knows how big it might get, given the chance? Willow wondered why it wouldn’t have failed when magic vanished last summer, but Felix thought that maybe whatever was inside – quite possibly Abaddon – needed magic to escape. Stalemate.”
“Yeah,” Faith said, “maybe. I just wish…”
“What?” asked Hope.
“Nothing.” Faith stared at the door. “Tell me again why Felix went with Willow to do a sweep?”
“He volunteered,” Jeff said. “That way, she’s not alone if she finds anything.”
“Uh-huh. So is he armed or anything?”
“Sure,” said Hope, pulling out something from her pocket. It looked dark and plastic, roughly the length of a glasses case. “Mr. Felix gave me this, a taser with adjustable settings. Can be set to stun anything from a squirrel all the way up to a charging rhino. Of course, that one charge uses up its power. Felix has two of these at least, as well as some other goodies.”
“Gave me one, too,” Jeff added.
“Oh. Well, good.”
Watchers Council – Dawn and Skye’s Apartment – Later that Day
Skye opened the door with a sharp reply of “What?”
She found Rowena standing there, her arms folded across her chest and not looking too pleased.
“And to what do I owe this visit?” Skye asked.
“We had an appointment,” Rowena said, as she pushed her way inside without asking for an invitation.
“Please, come in,” Skye said, long after Rowena had cleared the threshold. She closed the door behind her and went toward the living room, where Rowena was already sitting on the end of a chair.
“I don’t get it, Skye,” Rowena continued. “What happened today?”
Skye seemed reluctant to say anything, then looked over her shoulder, making Rowena turn too.
“Hey,” Dawn said, entering the room. “Where’re the twins?”
“The great thing about living at the Council is the endless supply of babysitters,” she replied. Dawn smiled. “Shannon’s with them, but she could probably use an extra set of hands. Would you mind heading over and giving her some help, while I chat with Skye for a bit?”
“Sure, no prob,” she said.
“Thanks, Dawn.” Rowena smiled in return.
After the door had closed, she turned back to Skye, the smile nowhere to be found.
“Now that Dawn’s gone, tell me, straight up, what’s going on?”
Skye grinned. “Nice diversion, helping with the twins. Good one.” Rowena said nothing. Her eyes seemed to pin Skye. The grin on the vampire’s face began to slip. “I’m not sure where to start,” she said, “And even if I did, I’m not sure I’d still be staying here if I finish the story. Hell, I’m not sure if I’d still be, y’know, undead.”
Rowena’s forehead creased in confusion. “What do you mean?” she asked.
Skye said nothing at first. She just locked eyes with Rowena. Finally, she asked, “Have you ever seen those cartoons, the ones with the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other? Well, except for Bart Simpson, he had two devils on his shoulder.” She chuckled. “It was actually kind of funny. He was –”
“Stop being evasive,” Rowena cut her off.
Skye let out a sigh. “I hear voices, okay? Not strange voices, but my own voice. One says things that…are evil. It talks about hunting and killing and drinking and…” She licked her lips nervously. “Well, the other voice, it’s me, too – the me before I got turned. The-the one who came to Cleveland, who wanted to share a life with Dawn, but also wanted to do good, help her and her sister save the world.” Rowena said nothing at first and her face showed no emotions. Skye held out her hands. “Okay, gonna lock me up now?”
Rowena motioned for her to drop them. “So, it hasn’t always been like this?”
“No,” Skye replied.
“But you’ve done good things all along.”
“To keep Dawn,” Skye confessed. “I only did the right thing because, if I didn’t, it would mean losing Dawn. It was selfish.”
“And now?” Rowena asked.
“And now it feels selfless – like I’m doing the right thing for me, sure, but it’s also for everyone around me, and not just Dawn.”
There was a brief pause. “Tell me what happened today at my apartment,” Rowena said. “I want the truth.”
Skye shook her head. “If I told you, then I’m sure you wouldn’t let me within a hundred feet of your apartment. Hell, you’d probably even toss me from the Council building. It’s actually the reason I moved out of your place…well, not the only reason. I mean, damn, those kids are annoying as hell to hear screaming all the time.”
Rowena gave a small grin. “I love my children, but yes, it can be taxing on the nerves. I understand. But like I said –”
“The voice told me to feed on them,” Skye said quickly, as if she had to say it fast before she changed her mind. “And that’s really why I left. Why I left today and why I left for good. But each time I hear that voice, I hear the other. The one that tells me I’d be in a dustpan now if not for you and Will. One that says if anyone or anything laid a finger or claw on your family, they’re history. Told you…I’m crazy, huh?”
“How long has this been happening?”
“Last year,” Skye replied.
“Do you know when it began?” Rowena asked.
Skye nodded. “During the whole magic fiasco. When the battle was finished I spazzed…literally, seizures and everything. When I came to, it felt like I wasn’t alone, y’know?”
Rowena paused, considering the words. “Not really, no.”
Skye sighed in frustration and took a seat on the sofa across from Rowena. “There’re two mes inside this dead body,” she said, tapping her chest. “One who truly wants to do the right thing and the other who’s trying to corrupt me. At first, I heard from each one of them all the time. But lately, the evil voice isn’t there as much…but when it is it’s powerful, angry, like it knows it’s losing a fight, but it’s nowhere near giving up.”
Rowena began to grin and muttered, “Chia soul.”
“Huh?” Skye asked.
Rowena waived her hand dismissively. “Look, I’m not going to lock you up,” she began. “You seem to have it under control. But for safety’s sake, you’re right. I’m not letting you anywhere near my children. I have too much time and love invested in them.”
Skye nodded although she looked a bit disappointed. “I understand.”
“And let me add, I have too much time and, dare I say, love, invested in you too,” Rowena replied. “I have faith that as long as you keep being open with me, and Dawn, about all of this…we’ll find a solution. You have my word, but the question is…do I have yours?”
Skye grinned in relief and gave her an approving nod.
“But, good voices or not, know this – you won’t come into my home, and if you come within five feet of my kids, I will dust you, no questions asked. If you’re as concerned about my family as you say, you’ll agree I’m making the right move here.”
Skye nodded again, this time looking rather solemn. “No, I get it. I do. And you’ve got my word, Ro.”
“Then we’re good,” Rowena told her. “When Will gets home, we’ll meet…in the library.”
“Thanks,” Skye said.
“And thank you for trusting me enough to be honest,” Rowena replied. “Now, let me save Shannon and Dawn from the madness that is parenthood.”
Both women grinned at each other.
Dean’s Office – Same Time
Dean Mulliner had her head bent over a small hill of paperwork. Beside it was a tiny mountain of other paperwork – forms, memos, lists, applications, etc. Her coat hung on the back of her chair. By any standard, she herself looked tired.
She reached over to a water bottle on her desk, then tilted her head back to take a swallow.
And dropped the bottle.
Eyes wide, she did a huge take and shrunk back into her chair with a gasp. From the air vent next to her ceiling, over a hundred black spiders had emerged, with more coming behind them. They had bodies the size of pennies, but with extremely long, high-arching legs. As they moved, they created the impression of a seething, boiling black mass crawling across the ceiling directly above her.
She barely hesitated. Keeping her eyes on the swarm above, she eased out of the chair and began to move towards the door.
The swarm followed.
Before the Dean could even start to run, the spiders began to drop from the ceiling. The first landed on her shoulder, soon followed by five more. She tried brushing them off of her shoulder, her hair, her arms. Those that landed on the floor began crawling up her legs. In seconds, dozens and dozens were writhing over her body.
She fell to the floor. When she opened her mouth to scream, the spiders dove inside. The rain of spiders from above continued until she was barely moving. Only her terror-filled eyes remained visible under the writhing mass of tiny bodies and legs.
In moments, they vanished too.
End of Act Two