Africa – Battlefield – Continuous
“Bloody hell,” Liz sighed, as she looked up at the Old Ones who seemed to be fighting with one another. “Okay,” she said, regrouping. “We put on our inviso-camos this instant. Maybe we can sneak by and…”
The words died on her lips as one of the Old Ones stopped and turned to face the stunned group.
“Humans,” it growled.
He pointed, and the other Old Ones, four in total, turned to see the group as well.
“Uhh, Plan B?” Jen asked.
“Scatter! Run like hell to the next ridge!” Liz managed as the Old Ones began to approach.
The group took off in various directions. Liz herself was in a flat-out run.
“We need air support! Now!” she shouted into her communicator.
A voice came over saying, “Coordinates please.”
“No time! Over the goddamn ridge. You can’t miss it.”
“Coordinates please,” the voice repeated.
By this time one of the Old Ones had a tree in his large hand using it as a club. He swung with all his might, narrowly missing Liz as the tree crashed into the ground, leaving a deep impression.
“Son of a bitch!” Liz swore.
“Less swearing, more running,” Giles told her.
“Ya think?” Liz replied. She looked over as she continued to run and spotted a tree line. “Everyone get to the tree line and get your camos on ASAP!” she told the team. “We’ll meet at the rendezvous point.”
“Copy that, gang?” Alex asked his group, which included Calendar, Jen, Willow, Kadin and Kennedy. They all nodded.
Alex rubbed his hands together until a blue ball of energy formed in his hands. He tossed it at an approaching Old One as he ran.
The Old One moved back slightly where it hit his shoulder, but it did nothing to slow down his advance.
“Move!” Alex ordered his group.
Command Pavilion – Same Time
“Send support in now,” Shannon ordered the controller in front of her.
“She didn’t give the coordinates, ma’am,” the controller replied.
“You know the direction they’re heading,” Shannon argued. “Look on the damn map!”
Battlefield – Same Time
On the other side of the field, Liz and Giles continued to run.
“Keep going,” Giles told her. “He can’t harm me, I’m dead. I’ll find you.”
“I’m not leaving you,” Liz argued.
“Don’t argue. Just go,” he ordered again. He stopped and waved his arms as Liz continued toward the tree line, not looking back.
“You bloody git!” Giles screamed up at the Old One. “Leave us alone!”
The creature paused a moment, cocking his head as if shocked by the defiance he was witnessing. Slowly, he grinned and raised the tree high, then he sent it crashing down so fast and hard that Giles’s body looked like a pancake in grass.
Witnessing what happened while running from their own Old One, Buffy’s mom pulled on her daughter’s sleeve.
“You guys keep running,” she told Buffy, young Joyce, Dawn, and Xander. “Anya, Skye, stay with me.”
“Mom!” Buffy and Dawn argued.
“Listen to your mother! Go!” she shouted at Buffy, and ran in the opposite direction, with Anya and Skye in tow.
“Finally,” the younger Joyce remarked. “Someone to yell at you for a change.”
Buffy seemed to look for something to say and instead just parroted what she had heard by saying, “Listen to your mother! Go!” She pointed as she took off again, and the group followed.
Joyce motioned Anya and Skye to move away from her. She waved her hands in the air like Giles had done moments before to get the Old One’s attention.
“Hey! You overgrown lizard!” Joyce shouted.
“Fresh meat over here!” Skye shouted.
“Yeah!” Anya yelled. She mimicked the other two, who stood several yards away. “Your mother is so ugly, when she was born, the doctor slapped the wrong end!” she said. She appeared quite proud of her contribution.
Joyce did a double take. “This is not a ‘yo momma’ contest.”
Anya pointed at the Old One. “Hey, it worked. Here he comes.”
The Old One ran toward Anya first and backhanded her with such force that she flew practically a half-mile away.
He then set his sights on Joyce.
“Oh, crap,” she sighed.
Further through the valley, Willow fell to her knees.
“Guys!” Kennedy yelled out.
Jen and Alex both stopped and returned to pick Willow by the arms.
“I can’t move this fast, guys,” Willow told them. “You go on.”
“No. Teleport. We’ll catch up,” Alex told her.
Willow looked reluctant. “Not after that battle. I’m nearly drained.”
“Look,” Calendar said, “I’ll take them on and give everyone else time to get out.” She readied herself to run forward.
Kennedy and Kadin both put a hand on her shoulder, pulling her back.
“You won’t last ten seconds. You can’t stand up to these guys, Van,” Kadin told her.
“Stand up…That gives me an idea,” Kennedy said. “Everyone?” she called over the comlink. “When I say jump, you do a long jump in the air, got it?”
Robin, Faith and both Nikki’s all looked at each other as they raced toward the tree line.
“Copy,” Faith replied. Liz’s and Andrew’s voices followed in the affirmative.
“Al, Tara, where are you?” Kennedy demanded. Suddenly, they appeared beside her.
“The next ridge is clear, if we can get there,” Althenea said.
“Great,” Kennedy told her. “Now everyone join hands, sit. I’ll need everyone’s collective power.”
Seeing the vulnerable circle, one of the Old Ones started toward the group.
“Tremo terra!” Kennedy proclaimed, and immediately after said, “Jump!”
The ground shook tremendously, putting the Coven on their back. But it also succeeded in Kennedy’s plan of knocking the Old Ones from their feet.
The running groups, however, didn’t feel the tremor and managed to stay upright and in motion after their jump. Those who did stumble upon landing did so only slightly before continuing their run.
Liz looked back to see the Old Ones looking more like turtles trapped on their backs as they rolled, trying to get upright.
“Ha! That was bloody brilliant, Ken!” Liz complimented.
“Go now!” Kennedy said, not having time to take the compliment, as they pulled Willow up. “Go! Go! Go!”
From above, a Council aircraft had finally arrived and began to bombard the prone Old Ones with round after round. As it turned to make a second pass, one of the Old Ones managed to get upright and slapped the craft away like an annoying mosquito. It hurtled off into an uncontrollable tailspin.
Command Pavilion – Same Time
“It appears they’re near the tree line,” a commander told Shannon. Her response was a satisfied sigh. “Ma’am, I’d suggest you catch the transport now.”
“All right,” she reluctantly agreed. “But if they ask for air support again without–”
“I’ll send a unit there, I promise.”
“Good,” Shannon nodded and left the tent.
Battlefield – Grove – Same Time
As the groups ran deeper into the trees, Andrew and Jeff came to a sudden stop.
“We’ve got to get changed quick,” Jeff said, as he dropped his rucksack and began to pull out a garment. As soon as he slipped the jacket on, he pressed a button, making his torso practically invisible.
“Do me a favor?” Andrew asked, as he dug into his sack, too. “If I don’t make it, promise you’ll tell Tracey and James that I love them?”
“You’re doing fine Andrew,” Jeff replied. “Just get dressed.”
“I mean it,” he said in an insistent voice.
Jeff stopped briefly from putting his pants on. “I promise, if you’ll do the same for me. Now will you get dressed?”
Andrew grinned and nodded. “I’m sure this tree line isn’t going to stop those guys.”
Battlefield – Valley Near Grove – Same Time
The Old Ones regrouped and started toward the grove where the teams were hiding. They stopped as a lone woman with long dark hair stood before them, stock still.
“End of the line,” she said. One of the Old Ones raised the tree he was holding. “I would not do that if I were you,” she warned.
He brought the trunk down, but the woman only held out a hand, stopping it with her palm. The Old Ones all looked at each other and then back at the woman’s face. Illyria’s face.
“I told you not to do that,” she repeated. With a quick motion she pushed forward, making the tree slap the wielder in the face. With a wave of her hand, the other three Old Ones were up-ended off their feet.
Battlefield – Grove – Same Time
Liz was putting on her camos when she turned quickly at a rustling noise.
“Sorry I’m late,” Giles told, her and then pointed to the man following him. “I found an old friend. This is my daughter, Elizabeth,” he told the man.
“Wesley Wyndham-Pryce,” he said, offering his hand. Liz scrunched her eyebrows, as if trying to place the familiar name. “I was once Faith Lehane’s watcher, many years ago.”
“Oh,” Liz said, her eyes widening. “Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise. I’ve seen your work for some time. Rupert is quite proud of you and rightfully so. When your father advised me of what you had in mind, I thought I might bring some needed support, by way of a…friend,” he told her. “She should have your problem with the Old Ones alleviated shortly, I’m sure.”
“Thank you,” she said sincerely. “Thank you both.”
“My pleasure,” Wesley assured her.
Hundreds of yards away, both breathing hard, Robin and Faith were hunched over.
“You guys okay?” Nikki asked her parents.
“Not used to…the 880…that quick,” Robin replied. He looked over to Faith. “How’re you?”
“I’ll be okay,” Faith said. “Just give me a sec.”
He grinned. “You’re not breathing…as hard as me.”
“In better shape, old man,” Faith teased, and then righted herself first, taking a deep steady breath. “Ah, that’s better. Now, where are we heading?” she asked Nikki.
“Due north,” the younger Nikki replied and pointed.
“Wish we could see what’s coming next,” Faith replied.
“We can,” Robin’s mother replied. “I’ll be back,” she added before she vanished.
Further along the line, in the brush, Willow was sitting on the ground.
“I’ve made a decision,” she told her group. “I’m getting too old for this.”
“You just need more exercise,” Kennedy told her.
“No, I need to retire,” Willow said, before starting to chuckle.
Jen and Alex looked at each other and smiled.
“Like that’s ever going to happen,” Kennedy remarked with a knowing smirk.
“You think Dawn’s going to have enough power to get the kids here?” Alex asked.
Willow took a deep breath and blew it out slowly before saying, “Let’s hope so. I’m putting the life of my favorite granddaughter in her hands.”
“Trisha’s your only granddaughter, Mom,” Alex pointed out.
Willow grinned. “So far…”
Also in the thicket nearby, Xander stood with his family. He and his daughter Joyce watched the battle just beyond their area.
“Do you see them?” Buffy asked, sounding rather winded herself.
“No,” he replied, “but something out there is kicking their collectively huge asses big time.”
“Maybe it’s Jeff,” Dawn said.
Joyce shook her head. “Not unless he became a woman with long dark hair. Of course you never know with you wacky Coven types, Aunt Dawn.”
A loud crash seemed to shake the ground, and Buffy and Dawn looked at each other with concern.
“Two down,” Xander remarked. “And this time they’re not trying to get back up.”
“Sorry we’re late,” the elder Joyce said, materializing beside the group along with Anya and Skye.
“Did she come with you, Grandma? ‘Cause she’s kicking major ass!” the younger Joyce asked, as she pointed to the loud, but partially hidden battle outside the tree line.
“You kiss your mother with that mouth?” she replied to her namesake.
“Hey, he just said ‘asses,’” Joyce said defensively, pointing to her dad.
The older woman just gave Xander a stern look. He acted as if he was going to say something, but then he gave up and said, “Let’s keep moving.”
“Yes,” Anya said, “and for the record, you’re welcome for saving your lives…again.”
“You’re already dead,” Buffy told her.
“So that one didn’t count?”
“That’s not…” Buffy stopped herself from going any further. “Thank you, Anya, for giving us time to escape.”
“That’s better,” Anya replied and began to walk. “Now maybe next time you say it, it’ll sound like you actually mean it,” she muttered as she passed.
Dawn tried not to laugh, and Buffy turned to her. “Don’t you dare say a word,” she threatened.
“If anyone can hear me,” Liz said over the comlink, “work your way to the center of the thicket, but keep your helmets in your hands so we can see each other.”
“Gold group copies that,” Buffy said. “Let’s go, guys.”
Nearby, Robin jumped slightly as his mother materialized next to him. Faith raised a fist, putting herself between him and his mother. She lowered her guard when she saw who it was.
“The other valley looks clear right now – it’s not far at all,” Nikki reported. “Sorry,” she added, aware of their surprise. “It’s not like I can knock first.”
“I know, Mom,” he replied.
“Why don’t you two head out?” Nikki said, pointing to her granddaughter and Faith. “We’ll be along.”
Young Nikki and Faith collected their bags, along with Robin’s, and started out. Once they were out of earshot, Robin’s mother smiled.
“She still loves you, y’know?”
“Yes,” Nikki replied. Robin rolled his shoulders, but said nothing. “It’s not too late to set things right.”
“She hurt me, Mom. A lot…you weren’t there.”
“You really think that?” Nikki asked. “I was there. I’ve watched you your whole life, Son. And I know your happiest days were with Faith. I wasn’t there to give you advice growing up, but I can tell you now…don’t let her go after this is over. You’ll both regret it.”
“She’s not the woman I fell in love with,” Robin told her. “I don’t know where she went. There’re traces of her now and then, sure, but…”
“Oh please,” Nikki sighed. “Tell me you’re really not that shortsighted about what lies ahead here.”
“Well, why don’t you explain it to me then?” he asked shortly. Nikki took her palm and smacked him on the forehead. “Owww,” he said with a grin, as he raised his hand to rub the area.
“You fail, the world slowly dies. You succeed…and Faith will be free. I can’t say she’ll be the Faith you knew. But I do know that Stone won’t have an influence on anyone here…including Fait. You deserve happiness with her, Robin. Nikki deserves that. And yeah, even Faith too. But you do what you’re gonna do,” Nikki said as she started to walk away. “I’m just your mom, after all. What do I know, right?”
Robin watched her walk away.
“Over sixty years old, and she treats me like a child,” he muttered.
“I heard that,” Nikki called out as she continued on. “Start acting like a grownup, and I’ll treat you like one.”
“Oh for Pete’s sake,” Robin said, as he hurried to catch up.
Enemy Hut – Same Time
Wagner’s demon commander entered.
“Have you found them?” she asked him.
“No, ma’am,” he replied. “They seemed to have…disappeared.”
“How can they disappear?” she demanded. “What of the Old Ones?”
“They…” he trailed off.
“Yes?” she said shortly, when he didn’t continue immediately.
“Well, there was this woman. She arrived and–”
“I don’t care about any woman!” Wagner barked. “I want those people and that Stone!”
“We’ll keep searching, ma’am,” he replied.
“You do that,” she said firmly, and shooed him away with her hand.
Suddenly, she heard screaming outside of the tent and rose from her table with a sigh.
Enemy Hut – Continuous
Wagner walked out to see wave after wave of Council members, alive and dead, storming into her area.
“Retreat! Retreat!” one of the demon commanders yelled, just before he was riddled with crossbow bolts.
Wagner heard a whizzing noise and looked over to see a rocket heading straight for her.
Upon impacting her, it also hit the hut, reducing it to rubble and leaving her nowhere to be seen.
Clearing – Moments Later
The next tree line formed a perfect circle, nearly fifty yards across. It surrounded a slight indentation, like a shallow bowl or funnel in the soil. As Robin reached it, he did what half the people around him were doing as well – he looked around, startled.
All was silent. There was no growling, no screams, no sounds of battle.
“So,” piped up Anya, “guess this is the spot.”
Liz was looking at the ground. She knelt and touched it.
“Sand,” she muttered. “Black sand.” Then she looked up. “A perfect circle like this should have shown up on the satellites. They can read the fine print on documents from this distance.”
“Uh…magic?” offered Skye, lifting an eyebrow. “Not like you haven’t grown up around it all your life.”
“Very old magic,” Jeff said.
Willow nodded. “I’ve never felt anything like this before.”
“Guys!” they heard a voice behind them yell. They all turned to see Shannon running toward them. She stopped when she was near the group and put her hands on her knees as she tried to catch her breath.
“Transport brought me, I’m here,” she said. “Did you find the ritual spot?” she asked. It was at that moment that she saw Skye standing behind Dawn, smiling at her.
“You’re really out of shape,” Skye teased.
Shannon began to cry, and Skye’s mocking demeanor fell away as she went over. Buffy tensed, but Dawn grabbed her arm to stop her from moving. They watched as Skye pulled Shannon into an embrace.
“It wasn’t your fault, Li’l Sis,” Skye told her. “It was just my time. That’s all. But you gotta focus now, okay?” Skye pulled away slightly to look at Shannon, who nodded weakly. She then pulled her closer again.
For a long moment, no one spoke.
“Well, I guess that,” Kennedy said, pointing, “is what we’re looking for?” Before her, at the center of the clearing, stood a white stone. Perfectly square. Two meters on each side.
Everyone approached it. Tara and Althenea each gave a little gasp as they got within a yard of it.
“That isn’t stone,” Tara said.
“It looks like it,” agreed Althenea, “but it isn’t.”
Jeff approached and touched the gleaming, perfect surface. “Okay, I don’t mean to freak anybody out too much, but this kinda feels…alive.”
Now Kennedy approached it, reaching out and brushing her fingers against the alabaster-like cube. But the moment she did, a sound like a sigh rumbled through the otherwise-silent clearing. The stone began to move. One edge of the cube lowered, just like a drawbridge, until its razor-thin surface touched ground. Materializing in the side’s place was a perfectly circular opening, like a gate or a doorway. Within was nothing but darkness, at least nothing any of them could see. Glowing words shimmered in strange glyphs around the edge of the round hole.
“Let me guess,” Buffy commented. “It says ‘Abandon Hope, Ye Who Enter Here?’ Am I right?”
“Almost,” said Giles, with a hint of a smile. “The language is Sokai. Hardly anyone ever even tries to learn it nowadays…”
That was when young Nikki strode forward, pointed and read aloud, “‘Begone Lest You Violate the Place of Keeping.’”
Giles looked at Nikki, who smiled and batted her eyes. Faith snorted. Robin laughed, then looked away as Giles caught his eye.
“Yes, well,” said Giles, “shall we be going?”
Joyce stepped forward. “Maybe those of us who can’t be killed should go first.”
“Good idea,” said Rowena.
Just then, something entered the clearing. It strode on four legs, but a torso rose from these, centaur-like, with two arms. But instead of a horse, its lower half seemed more saurian. And its upper half looked not unlike a gorilla. A gorilla with gleaming horns. Pointing a taloned finger, it roared.
“Too bad we’re outta time!” Buffy yelled. “Everybody inside!” She rushed to the circular entrance.
“Let’s hope there’s a way to shut it behind us,” said Calendar, following.
They all crowded through the opening, while other bizarre and gigantic shapes began to emerge into the clearing from the trees.
White Cube – Room – Same Time
Jeff blinked and looked around. Everyone who was with him had disappeared. Not a single member of Alpha Team was present.
Behind him was a smooth wall, the same pure white as the cube. The floor lay before him, carved into triangular tiles. In front of him were two entrances, circular like that through which he had passed, but without any writing.
“Hello?” he called out. “Where’d everyone go?”
Three figures appeared from the entrance to his right. They were women…naked women…naked women he knew.
“Hello, Jeff,” said Hope, smiling.
“Uh…” was all he could say.
Lorinda put her arm around Hope’s waist. “You should see your face, Jeffy.”
Holding Lorinda’s other hand was Grace, the years fading from her body with every breath. Wrinkles faded, flesh tautened, and with a tiny shake of her head, the gray in her hair became dark brown again. “Gotta say I like that,” she muttered.
“Hey!” Lorinda grinned. “You’re hot again!” She pulled Grace to her side.
“Okay, I’ll ask,” Jeff finally managed. “What is going on? And where did everyone go?”
All three women looked at each other, grinned, then looked at Jeff. He held up his hands and saw the age spots vanish. His skin was literally un-sagging.
“This whole place is a fulcrum of light and dark magic,” Hope explained. “Carefully balanced to protect and hold the Loathestone.”
“But,” added Lorinda, with a distinctly wicked, yet not at all evil, twinkle in her eye, “all those demons are feeding the darkness. So, the light is reaching out and looking for a recharge. You know what it calls recharging, Jeff? Do you?” Her grin grew even larger.
“Love,” said Grace. She stepped towards him, with Hope and Lorinda still entwined with her. All of them looked at him happily. “This is an amazing place. If you let it, all your fears and hang-ups can simply go away.”
“Which opens up possibilities.” Lorinda wiggled her eyebrows.
White Cube – Room – Same Time
“I’m afraid so,” said Gregor Kalderash, his ravaged face barely recognizable. He looked as if he’d been starved to death then brought back to life, beaten up and then infected with every known disfiguring disease. He sat in rags, upon the triangular tiles before the round entrance on Willow’s left. Behind her was a featureless wall.
“But…you said I was going to hell anyway.” Willow’s voice was a whisper.
Wearily, Gregor nodded. “And in your heart of hearts, you believed me. Yet, believing the future held nothing but damnation, still you did all in your power to help. That is what earned your redemption.”
She did not stir from the wall, where she pressed her back in the direction from which she had come. Willow breathed in shallow gasps. “Until now?”
“Exactly.” Gregor lifted his hands, showing her the barbed shackles that pierced each wrist. He grimaced in pain. “Fenris’s cruelty is subtle, and deep. That door,” he indicated the one to Willow’s right, “is a tangled and difficult path to what you seek. It will lead you there, but not quickly. Nor is the path sure. This way,” he indicated the round opening behind him, “is certain. You can achieve your quest beyond doubt. But only at the price of entering Fenris’s realm by choice, and perhaps remaining his toy for the rest of time.” He bowed his head. “I am sorry.”
“This is more than a choice,” Willow muttered. “It’s a test.”
White Cube – Room – Same Time
Robin stared at the two round openings before him. Within each stood an identical figure, leaning against the white stone edges with arms crossed and one leg bent. Twin boots rested on the tiles and on the wall’s edge.
“What’s it gonna be, Ace?” said the first, young Faith.
“The Lady or the Tiger?” said the second Faith.
“Not that either one of us is a Lady,” said the first.
“Well, I am, kinda,” said the second. “Kinda sorta. After all, if he tells me to go away forever, I will. Hell,” she pulled out a large dagger from the inside of her leather coat, “I’ll even let him use this on me, if he really wants.”
White Cube – Room – Same Time
Althenea looked from one round entrance to the other.
“Are you coming?” said Rowena, standing inside the right entrance.
“No, please,” said Mary Grace, in the left one. “Come with me. Please?”
White Cube – Room – Same Time
“You’re not really Angel, are you?” Xander eyed the figure before him, ageless and still wearing the same long dark coat.
“Sorry,” said the vampire, his face shifting. His eyes went gold, his brow furrowed, and his fangs lengthened. “I really am. There was this whole prophecy thing, the Vampire-With-A-Soul. Turns out this is what it is all about.” He approached Xander. “I’m supposed to save the world now. Destiny and all that. But…I need something from you to do it.”
“What? My blood? Buffy? How about my whole identity while you’re at it?”
“Matter of fact…” Angel let the words hang in the air.
White Cube – Room – Same Time
Giles and young Joyce seemed to shimmer into existence in a large vacant room.
“Giles?” she asked. “Are you real? What happened? Where is everyone? Where in the world are we?” she asked in rapid succession.
“No need to panic. A maze of sorts, it seems,” he replied. He looked around the blank room. Below were triangular tiles, and before them two round entrances almost identical to the one they had entered originally.
Above the far right entrance there was an ovoid shape, an egg. They stood closest to the left, which had two pillars guarding it.
“Which way?” Joyce asked him. Before he could answer, they both turned when the centaur-gorilla-thing stepped forward into the room.
“Go!” Giles ordered, pointing to the left entrance. “Faith saw pillars.”
In her haste, Joyce tripped. She looked up from the ground, terror on her face. Giles was in the process of lifting her, but neither seemed to be moving fast enough to the entrance.
In less than three seconds, the creature was nearly upon them.
End of Act Three