School Hallway – Dusk
By now, the hallways were silent, except for the tapping of Faith’s boots as she made her way across the tiles.
“Willow?” Her voice echoed.
She paused briefly to open the door of each classroom and look inside. Most were dark, save for the fading sunlight pouring through the windows. Here and there, posters were hung on walls, usually with massive amounts of tape. The majority celebrated a team called the Ravens. Crudely drawn pictures of ravens dribbling basketballs were a common motif.
“Willow? You hear me?”
On a half dozen bulletin boards were tacked announcements of one kind or another. The most professional-looking were simple black-and-white, reminding students of rules.
An auditions notice for Twelve Angry Women had a crudely drawn set of masks, comedy and tragedy, atop the sheet. This was tacked in different colored paper at every bulletin board and taped on several walls, including above each water fountain.
One classroom still had a lesson scrawled in chalk across the blackboard. The Ten Commandments. Some had been underlined: “Thou shalt not kill” and “Honor Thy Father and Mother.”
Faith stopped briefly at the school entrance. A statuette of the Virgin Mary looked out at her from a niche facing the front door. Crossing herself, Faith resumed her search.
“Willow? Where are you?”
No answer. She continued to make her way through the near-empty school. Her voice still echoed. When she reached a staircase at the end of a hallway, she began to climb.
“You up there? Willow?”
Watchers Council – Willow and Rowena’s Apartment – Same Time
There was a knock on the door and Rowena walked over and opened it. She found Dawn there with a small suitcase.
“Mind if I crash?” she asked as she moved inside.
“Uh, no, but…what’s going on? Are you okay?” Rowena asked.
Dawn put the suitcase down. “Skye told me about the talk you two had. I can’t believe she’d do such a thing. I’m-I’m shocked and I’m pissed and –”
“Calm down,” Rowena told her.
“Calm down?” Dawn parroted. “How can I calm down? How can you calm down? She said she wanted to eat your kids, for crying out loud. You can honestly tell me you’re totally relaxed about this?”
“Hell no,” Rowena told her. “As soon as I left your place I thought I might start to hyperventilate.”
“Then you know where I’m coming from,” Dawn replied.
Rowena sighed deeply. “Look, Dawn. Skye didn’t have to say a word, but she did. And the only way we’re gonna help her through this is if she keeps being open. That’s not gonna happen if you shut her out. I don’t think you fully appreciate the power you have over that woman.”
“Woman? She’s an animal, Rowena. And I think it’s time I wake up and see that. I’ve been fooling myself – just like my sister tried to do.”
“So that’s it? You just stop loving her?”
“No, it’s not just like that,” Dawn argued. “But it’s time to face facts here. I mean, tigers are beautiful, and you can even hand-feed a few raised by humans, but in the end they’re still wild, y’know? You can’t predict what they’ll do.”
“No, but as I told Skye, if she gets close to my children, I won’t wait to see if Will’s poof spell works, I’ll do it myself. And I meant it.”
Dawn drew a long breath. “I just…I thought I knew her. I thought I understood her, but I really don’t know her at all.”
For a moment, Rowena said nothing. Then she cleared her throat and said, “Trust.”
“What?” Dawn asked.
“Any relationship that survives is based on trust. Trust is earned by being honest and keeping your promises. But if we don’t keep our word, trust breaks down, and relationships fail.”
“From what I understand, Skye trusts you, and me – so much so that she was willing to confess her thoughts, no matter how gruesome and no matter the outcome. But I think that has to do with the soul that seems to be growing inside her.”
“Wait a second,” Dawn said. “She’s got a soul?”
“She didn’t tell you our theory?”
Dawn looked sheepish. “To be honest, she talked about eating the twins and I wigged. I really didn’t stick around for more.”
Rowena grinned and picked up the suitcase, handing it back to her. “Like I said, trust.” Dawn took it. “Talk to her. Find out everything she’s feeling, and be honest with her about how you feel. Then, if you still want to stay here, the door’s open. Deal?”
Classroom – Same Time
“Hey, you there?”
Hope shook herself and looked at Jeff, who grinned. “Sorry,” she said, “Million miles away. Ten million. Maybe twenty.”
“Or maybe, years and years in the past?”
“Kinda.” She fell silent.
Jeff put down his tweezers beside the half-unrolled scroll and adjusted his chair toward Hope. He waited, but after a few moments he spoke again. “Memories?”
“Any good ones?”
She considered. “Some. Yeah. There was this essay contest, once. In Miss Mulliner’s History Class. Freshman year. And I won. The thing is, I did something kinda weird, could have gotten me in a lot of trouble. But I wanted to, so I did it.” She paused.
“I, well, I wrote the essay in iambic pentameter. Two pages of it. And I tried to make it fun when I read it aloud in class. Everyone laughed, but in a good way. Got an A-plus.”
Jeff was all smiles. “Wow. I never did anything half that creative. Never! Do you still have it?”
“No. When I got home…” She trailed off. Jeff continued to look at her, and after a few moments, she continued. “Dad said I was showing off.” She tried to shrug. It didn’t quite come off. “He tore up my essay. Threw it in the garbage.” Her eyes looked distant, her face terribly still. “Long time ago.”
“How many years?”
“That’s like about a quarter of your life ago.”
Jeff waited. When he spoke, his voice was low. “I wasn’t there for you then,” he said, “and I can’t go back to help you. But I am here now. Now and forever. My oath to you, my dear love – there is nothing I will not do to save you. Nothing I would not do to spare you pain. Nothing.”
Hope met his eyes, looked on the verge of tears.
Then Jeff twitched.
“Something’s wrong. I don’t know what, just something.” He turned suddenly toward the door. “Whatever might have escaped from the reliquary…I think maybe it’s active. It has done something. And nearby.” He turned back to Hope. “Maybe you should leave.”
“No.” There was something about the set of Hope’s mouth, the angle of her head, the look in her eyes. For a moment, she looked uncannily like her sister.
“I’m not saying you definitely need to –”
“And I said no,” she interrupted. She didn’t blink.
Jeff nodded his assent.
Dean’s Office – Same Time
Where Dean Mulliner had fallen, a mass of webbing now lay anchored to the floor. It was human-shaped only in the vaguest way possible. Certainly its size was too large.
The lump pulsed, as if it were breathing. Soon, the breathing became labored.
The first crack in the webbing revealed that its interior was harder than it looked. What appeared to be little more than a huge ball of extremely fine string was, in truth, a kind of shell – a chrysalis.
Once the crack was large enough, something emerged.
A long, dark, thin leg. Then another. And another. From a second crack emerged a hand, pale and with fingers that were too long, even if they didn’t end in slender claws.
More cracks began to appear in the chrysalis.
Buffy’s Office – Evening
Skye was comfortably parked in Buffy’s chair, her feet up and on Buffy’s desk, when the lady herself entered.
“Joan, tell Lori I’ll be getting back –” She stopped upon seeing the grinning figure leaning back behind her desk. “I’ll be getting back with her in the morning.” She shut the door. “Feet. Off.”
“I’m experimenting with different kinds of evil,” said Skye, without moving. “Yesterday, it was squeezing toothpaste tubes from the middle and leaving the caps off. Tomorrow, I’m thinking of borrowing Xander’s power tools and not returning them on time. On the petty side, I know, but it lets my inner demon come out and play without trying to eat people. You have no idea how testy she gets all cooped up all the time.”
“Scuff up somebody else’s furniture, okay? Or I’ll start remembering how to fill in this title: Buffy the Blank Slayer.”
“Speaking of testy…”
Grinning, Skye swung her feet to the floor. “Glad to, now that I have your undivided attention. Do you realize there’s a palace coup being planned?”
“Not you, too.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “Look, I’ve just had to listen to a solid hour of Kennedy’s conspiracy theories about Bureau Nine, the Oversight Committee and Kadin’s kidnapping. I’m really in no mood to –”
“Xander and Faith are the ringleaders.”
A beat. “Oh, come on!”
“Yep. And since they’re convinced Felix and friends are out to take over the Watchers’ Council, they’re organizing a counter-coup. Or at least that’s how I see events, especially after some judicious eavesdropping here and there.”
“Does the word ‘privacy’ mean anything to you anymore?”
“Inner demon, remember? Anyway, there’ve been secret meetings for weeks, and ever since Faith went with Felix to Boston, all sorts of stuff has kicked into high gear.” She waited.
“Like what?” Buffy said, finally.
“B-niners being followed. When Miss Saigon showed up, for example, Kennedy stuck to her like glue.”
“According to Kennedy, she made some very homophobic comments.”
“I believe it. And that naturally made Kennedy want to keep her company for a few hours because…?” Skye’s left eyebrow lifted as she let the sentence hang. “Casey’s been grilling the slayerettes over what Ethan’s been up to. Xander locked up every firearm he could find, then asked Doc Miller to double-check his inventory of incapacitating pharmaceuticals. Ellen’s been tailing Lori, while Brenda hasn’t let Valentine out of her sight more than a few minutes all day. Plus, there was the phone call…”
When Skye didn’t add more, Buffy got even more annoyed. “Will you stop that! What phone call?”
“Kennedy’s, to the Boston Branch. On my way to see Ro today, she was telling them to be on high alert and to be ready in case Felix tried anything. Not about any demon threat, but Felix himself.”
“How do you know what –?”
Skye pointed to her ears. “Vampire. Hearing.”
Buffy took this in for a few second. “Damn. It.”
Skye got to her feet and began to make her way to the door.
“Why are you telling me all of this?” Buffy asked.
Skye grinned. “Let’s just say I’m in a good mood and feeling extra generous.”
“Well, no, that’s not entirely true. I could use some brownie points with your sister at the moment. She loves this Council, and I’m fond of a few folks here too – at least the ones that didn’t try to stake me as I sat in my apartment. How all this plays out will have an effect on them, too. So consider yourself warned, Councilwoman.”
Skye didn’t add more as Buffy watched her leave.
Office – Night
The telephone rang. From her chair, the woman turned, a thick file still across her lap. She removed her glasses as she picked up the receiver.
“Alex Neel,” she said.
“Hello,” said a voice on the other end. “This is Kennedy. Of the Watchers Council?”
It took a moment for Alex to respond. “Yes, I recognized your voice. I would have even if I hadn’t been hearing it now and then on CNN for a year or so.”
“So how are things over at Heaven’s Law Firm? Still in business?”
“Yes. Our most important client is still with us and shows no sign of going anywhere.”
“Good. Keeping the folks behind the pearly gates happy, yeah, That’s good.”
“By definition,” Alex nodded. She waited, putting her file aside. After several more moments, she spoke again. “Kennedy, it truly is a pleasure to hear from you, but I’m wondering, what’s with the call? Especially at this hour? You’re rambling a bit, so I presume it isn’t immediately pressing?”
“No, not pressing. For that matter, it’s probably something too low-level for you. But, well, you guys are the one bunch of lawyers I know aren’t evil.”
“And I’ve got something legal I want done.”
From the other end of the phone line, Kennedy took a deep breath. “I want to change my last name to Calendar.”
Watchers Council – Hallway – Same Time
Shannon and Skye walked side by side down the hallway.
“I don’t see why you’ve got to cancel tonight,” Shannon began. “So Dawn’s annoyed with you right now. Big deal. To be honest, she gets annoyed with me over the silliest of stuff.”
Skye stopped walking and Shannon looked in front of them to see what halted her steps. She saw Dawn standing there, watching them.
“Go ahead and take off, Squirt,” Skye told Shannon.
Not waiting for a reply, Skye moved toward Dawn. For a moment, Shannon watched them, but then she turned the other way, walking back in the direction from which they had come.
“Hey,” Skye said, once she was within a few feet of Dawn.
“Look,” Dawn began. “I’m sorry I freaked.”
“Don’t be,” Skye told her. “I’m freaked myself. Well, part of me is, anyway. I’d be worried if you weren’t concerned.”
Dawn ran her fingers through her hair nervously. “I see you and sometimes all I see is a teddy bear, y’know? Something warm, well, okay, room temperature…but still, cuddly. It’s easy to forget that inside you is really a grizzly.”
“What’s your point, exactly?” Skye asked.
“I don’t know if there is a point really,” Dawn replied. “What I’m saying is, I get it, but then again, I don’t get it. On one hand, I think I know you, but, on the other, I don’t.”
“Join the club,” Skye said with a gentle grin.
Dawn grinned, too. “But I’m glad you were honest about what’s going on and I-I don’t want to do or say anything to stop that from continuing. So just try to have a bit of patience with me when you say things that might rock my world, okay?”
Tentatively, Skye reached out and Dawn allowed her to take her hands.
“I love you,” she said. “I don’t want to lose you and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize any of that. But I need answers, and the only way to find those answers is throwing out all the facts.”
“That part I get.” Dawn replied. “Knowledge is power and all that.”
“Well, as for nibbling on Ro and Will’s kids…” Skye said softly.
“And there’s the part I don’t get,” Dawn added, “but go on.”
“It’s something you should know, for everyone’s sake.”
Dawn pulled Skye closer. “I can’t promise I won’t freak again. I’m just asking you to give me time to regroup. And now that I’ve had that, why not tell me the rest that I didn’t stick around for?”
Skye smiled. She still held one of Dawn’s hands as the two of them started to walk together.
Classroom – Night
Faith stormed back into the group’s classroom headquarters, with Willow and Felix in tow.
“Do not – I repeat, do not – go wandering around without slayer backup, Red. I mean it!”
“It isn’t like I was by myself,” Willow said, “nor is it like I don’t know how to take care of myself.”
“Hey! Unknown territory and all that!”
“Miss Lehane may have a point,” said Felix. “Even with your own formidable abilities, Willow, it could hardly do any harm to include further protection. Especially when a demon as powerful as Abaddon might be involved.”
“Uh…” Jeff was seated beside his worktable, where the scroll was now mostly unfurled. “I’ve got some good news and some bad news.”
“Start with the good news,” snapped Faith.
“Well, it isn’t exactly good news per se –”
“I don’t care if it’s semi-peachy keen, mostly-cloudy news, let’s just hear it, okay? I am so sick of being in the dark here!”
“We are all in the dark, somewhat, Miss Lehane –”
“Just shut up and let Harry Potter talk, okay?”
“Faith!” Everyone turned toward Hope at hearing her say her sister’s name like a curse. “Stop that. Now.”
“Don’t you dare –”
“No. Don’t you dare.” Hope stepped between her sister and Jeff. “Get down off your high horse and start treating people half-way decently.”
Faith’s jaw almost dropped. “Where do you get off telling me –” she began with a hiss.
“Wait a minute!” Willow yelled. The sisters stopped and looked at her. “Didn’t Jeff have something to tell us? Jeff?”
Jeff was watching Hope. “Yeah. Turns out the scroll was written by Saint Josephus himself, not unlike a last will and testament. According to this, he’d studied legends and lore involving Abaddon for years, positive that the demon would reappear at a certain prophesied time.”
“Deja Vu,” Faith muttered.
“Exactly what I was going to say,” said Felix, voice low. Faith didn’t even look at him.
“Anyway,” Jeff continued, “Josephus figured that Abaddon was a true fallen archangel, one corrupted somehow after Lucifer’s rebellion and that meant he – or she – had a fatal weakness. According to legend, Abaddon was banished by the word of God.”
“You keep saying ‘he or she’,” Hope pointed out. “Why? I mean, is this demon a hermaphrodite or something?”
“It’s more complicated than that,” Jeff replied.
“There are two kinds of angels,” said Felix, eyes and voice intense. “One could be a virtuous human, one who achieves that status in the afterlife.”
“Like Gabrielle, former slayer.” Faith nodded.
“Exactly. But then, there are the original angels, beings of pure spirit created without ever having been flesh.”
“Like Abbadon,” Jeff continued, “who was one of the latter. Hence, no gender, because no flesh. But when an original angel falls, it must take some kind of physical form. Abbadon was banished into the physical form of a spider sealed in amber, but it can increase its power by consuming some other physical form. And will assume the gender of that form.” Jeff looked at the scroll on the table in front of him. “Josephus discovered the word God used to banish Abbadon in the first place. It was Abaddon’s true name in the angelic tongue. He believed that would return the demon to its first body and seal the demon away. The name is written here, in Latin.” He pointed to the scroll.
“Why do I hear a but somewhere in there?” Faith wasn’t blinking and her mouth was screwed up.
“Because Lehane girls are smart,” Jeff said with an almost-smile. “Josephus writes that no mere human can speak the name and survive, because for a split second he will contain the full majesty of the divine. Simply put, flesh cannot survive that.” He looked again at the scroll. “Josephus considered this his suicide note.”
“No offense,” Willow began, “but I think this Josephus guy was blinded by his religious preconceptions.”
“I really don’t think so,” Jeff answered. “He comes across as a very learned mage.”
“But a Christian one,” Willow said. “He believed in the great big sky father deity that smites cities with lightning and turns folks into salt.”
“That is not a completely accurate vision of the Christian Deity,” said Felix.
“Okay, I’m overstating it, yes,” Willow admitted, “but think…he expected to die, and maybe that’s what killed him. You can’t tell me that the Church in the Byzantine Empire was very liberal or tolerant of stuff. That was when they were stamping out other religions. Right?”
“Essentially,” Jeff replied.
“So maybe if Josephus had – I don’t know – maybe if he’d worshiped Dionysus, the magic of the name wouldn’t’ve killed him,” Willow continued.
“But,” said Hope, “you could be wrong.”
Willow hesitated. “Maybe.”
“Before we assume anyone is going to have to speak the word,” said Felix, “what else does Josephus say, Jeff?”
“Not much. Except the usual list of attributes for Abaddon – the Devourer of Nations, the Apostle of Hatred, the Bringer of Suffering and Step Child of the Ultimate Abomination. The essence of it boils down to a warning about Abaddon’s power and cruelty.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” said Hope, “but doesn’t the broken amber from inside the reliquary mean that Abaddon is free?”
Then, Faith jumped as something inside her coat began to buzz and ring. She pulled out a cell phone and almost yelled into it, “Yeah?”
Watchers Council – Buffy’s Office – Same Time
“Faith,” said Buffy into her phone, “just what the hell do you and Xander think you’re doing?”
“B, we’ve got a sitch that needs addressing here –”
“Yeah, well, you’ve created a sitch that threatens to get out of hand back here! For the record, your so-called secret plan to spy on everyone from Bureau Nine is no longer a secret. Nor was it ever much of a plan.”
Classroom – Same Time
“B,” Faith said with her teeth on edge, “looks like a demon is free in my old high school. Like right here in the building.”
“Demon in your high school,” Buffy sighed on the other end of the line. “How come you keep living my life?”
“I dunno, I just wish it’d stop.”
“Do you need back-up?”
“Maybe. Let’s find out more details first.”
“Let me talk to Jason.”
“Listen, B –”
From the hallway outside, the sound of breaking wood and a crash could be heard and felt through the door. Everyone looked in that direction.
“Oh hell,” said Hope.
“Let me see that word again, Jeff,” Willow told him.
“No! You’re not saying it!” Faith yelled at Willow. She then turned her attention back to the phone, “B, I’ll have more to report later. Gotta go. Bye.” Buffy could be heard grumbling on the other end, but Faith hung up anyway.
Again, from beyond the door came the sound of deep cackles echoing along the hallway.
“I’m doing recon,” Faith said. “The rest of you, stay here.”
“You’re not going alone,” said Jeff. “I’m coming with you.”
“Why?” asked Hope.
“Yeah, why?” Willow asked. “I’m the biggest magical gun we’ve got. No offense, Jeff, but you know that’s the truth.”
“I’m not offended,” Jeff said, “but I really don’t think you should go out there right now.”
“That makes no sense,” Willow argued.
“You’ve got a wife and kids, okay?” he argued.
“And you have a fiancée,” Hope told him, pointing to herself.
Faith didn’t wait to hear the end of the argument and instead headed straight for the door. She opened it and stepped into the hallway.
After looking up and down the corridor, she took a careful set of steps, her attention at high alert. Seeing and hearing nothing, she took another set of steps.
Then she heard a chuckle.
She turned to her left. The hallway curved slightly, and as she stared down it, a shadow became visible, moving toward her from beyond the bend. Within moments, the source of the shadow moved into view.
It wasn’t truly a spider. The thing making its way down the hallway bore the same relationship to a spider that a centaur has to a horse. Most of the body was that of a huge arachnid, easily the mass of a large dog or small pony, not counting the six hairy and segmented legs. Rising from the main body was the torso of a woman, one pale and vaguely distorted. Her arms were long, too long, and her fingers ended in tapering talons. Both of her arms moved up and down as she walked, in almost-sync with the flow of her six legs.
The fanged woman’s mouth smiled.
“Faaiiiiittthhhhh…” the creature hissed.
End of Act Three