Watchers Council Special Detention Facility – Later
Livia gingerly poked the crispy-fried corpse of a dead demon mage with the end of her sword. Several of the other slayers were spread out in the open central area of the Special Detention Facility. In one corner, Jocasta and Katherine tried to make Veronica comfortable while they waited for the medical team to arrive. She looked very pale and had a large makeshift bandage taped to her neck.
Livia walked over to the group. “How’s she doing?” she asked Katherine quietly.
“She’s very weak,” Katherine reported, “and she’s lost a lot of blood. If we can get her some medical attention soon, she should be okay.”
Mira jogged into the room to give her report. “The place is empty,” she announced.
“Empty?” Jocasta asked incredulously. “This is a prison. Where are the prisoners? Heck, where are the guards?”
“We found a couple of ’em upstairs,” Mira said. “Dead. Looked like their necks were snapped. I don’t know where the rest of them went.”
“Looks like we’ve got ourselves a ghost prison,” Livia sighed.
Katherine looked around at the room. Red smears covered large portions of the walls and floor. “I’m picking up some major residual magic here.”
“How major is major?” Mira asked.
“Majorly major,” Livia confirmed. “I’m feeling it too, and you know how crappy I am at this. Dark stuff, too.”
Jocasta stood over a small pool of reddish liquid in the center of the room. “I hate to ask, but…does anyone know what this is?”
“It’s Sean,” Veronica rasped from her position on the floor. Everyone turned to look at the injured watcher, this being the first time she had spoken. She looked very small as she softly repeated, “It’s Sean.”
Before anyone could react to this, a Council medical team burst into the room, heading straight for Veronica. The rest of the team stepped back to give them some room as preparations were made to lift her onto a gurney.
“I should call Giles,” Jocasta said after a moment, fishing her comm link out of her pocket.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Same Time
“I understand, Jocasta,” Sebastian said quietly, slowly rubbing his brow with one hand. “Gather all the evidence you can, and don’t forget the security recordings. That’s all.” He deactivated his comm link.
Morgan Travers was standing nearby, having listened to Giles’s half of the conversation. “So I suppose you’re pleased with the fate of Mr. Rayne?”
Sebastian’s expression darkened. “Ask me that again,” he said quietly.
“I shan’t,” Travers said. “Of course, despite the unfortunate circumstances, Councilor Wyndam-Pryce will need to be checked out and debriefed as soon as possible. Checked over thoroughly,” he emphasized, “lest she has somehow been…compromised.”
“We will speak with Veronica as soon as she has physically recovered enough to do so,” Giles told him, “but not before. Am I making myself clear?”
“The Council is in extreme danger, Sebastian,” Travers insisted. “You know as well as I do the nature of the prisoners at the Special Detention Facility. If they have all been released and are under a single leader, the same leader that has managed to turn a significant portion of our own slayer force against us…this organization has never faced a greater threat. What we need is strong and immediate –”
“Morgan!” Giles interrupted. He flashed a wide, fake smile. “I’m on it.”
Giles’s assistant opened the door to the conference room where the two men were arguing. “Mr. Chairman, the werewolf representatives are here to see you.”
“Send them in, Snyder,” Giles nodded.
“What’s going on?” Travers asked.
“I’m going to ask for their assistance,” Giles said.
“This is hardly the time to be consorting with the enemy,” Travers whispered fervently as Anita, Oliver, and Reese entered the room.
“I’m not…consorting,” Giles sighed. “I’m gaining allies, which is exactly what we need at a time like this. Travers glared at the werewolves suspiciously. “Why don’t you go check on the senators and keep yourself out of trouble?”
Travers made a face, but did as he was told. With a final malignant glance at the werewolves, he exited the room. Giles tried on a diplomatic smile and turned his attention to the delegation.
Watchers Council – Jocasta’s Office – Later
Jocasta and Katherine sat in front of a viewscreen in Jocasta’s office, looking more than a little glad to be off their feet. Willowgram flickered a little as she watched with interest from the desk between them. The security tapes from the detention facility were playing on the screen.
“Still nothing,” Jocasta sighed. “Fast forward some more.”
“Sure thing,” Willowgram said helpfully, and the tape zoomed forward until Katherine realized that the area they were looking at had suddenly filled with people.
“Wait a second,” she said, and Willowgram slowed the tape down to normal speed.
A female figure was surrounded by the prisoners of the facility, who had obviously been recently released.
“I was a watcher once, many centuries ago,” the woman said. “Then a slayer. Now I am a vampire and a witch. I am more powerful than you can imagine.”
“Hey!” Jocasta exclaimed, sitting up in her chair. “Zoom in on her.”
Soon the woman’s face filled the frame, though the image was still a little blocky, making her hard to recognize.
“Can you clean it up at all?” Katherine asked.
“Already on it,” Willowgram chirped, and after a moment the image cleared up.
“Holy moly,” Jocasta said.
“Isn’t that – ?” Katherine began.
“Willow, compare the image on the tape to one of Cassandra of Bruges you have in your records,” Jocasta ordered.
“Way ahead of you,” Willowgram said, and the file appeared on the viewscreen next to the woman’s frozen image. “It’s the same woman,” she confirmed.
“But how?” Katherine asked. “I thought she’d been dead for over a century.”
“It appears,” Jocasta said slowly, “that the rumors of Cassandra’s death were highly exaggerated.”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Later
“She killed him,” Veronica said from her hospital bed. She still looked and sounded weak but her physical condition had improved slightly. Her emotional condition was another matter entirely. A large bag of blood was connected to her arm via a pumping system. “It was like she had these claws, made completely of magic…she just destroyed him.” She turned away for a moment, unable to continue.
“It’s okay, Veronica,” Giles said softly. “Take your time. Is there anything else you can tell us?” He was seated next to Velika in the conference room, with Katherine and Jocasta at the far end and Livia and Mira seated across from each other in between. Willowgram’s mobile emitter sat in the center of the table, a small version of the hologram projected above it. They were all watching Veronica via video link on a viewscreen hung on one wall.
Veronica recovered enough to continue. “If you go after this Cassandra, be very careful. She’s capable of anything.” She looked genuinely frightened. “I looked into her eyes…it was like there was nothing there. They were just dead. And her behavior was so…she watched Sean die, in that horrible, painful…she had almost no reaction at all. If anything, she seemed sad.” Veronica swallowed. “I don’t know why she let me live.”
“Thank you, Veronica,” Giles said sincerely. “You need to rest now. We’ll let you know if you have any more questions.”
Veronica nodded slightly. “Good luck, Sebastian.”
Giles broke the video link and turned to his assembled team. “Jocasta, I understand that you have the security tapes ready to view?”
She nodded. “I should probably warn you guys that this is…pretty graphic.”
“You really think you can shock us?” Mira asked.
Jocasta shrugged and then pressed a few buttons on her controller. The video from the detention facility appeared on the viewscreen, and everyone watched the scene play out. Jocasta paused the tape as Cassandra led her new army out of the facility.
“Thanks for the warning,” Mira said quietly. Velika nodded vigorously.
Giles wore a very dark expression, his jaw set. “And you’ve confirmed her identity?”
“She’s Cassandra of Bruges,” Jocasta said, “thought to have been killed while in the form of a wolf back in 2006, but apparently they didn’t quite kill her enough, because here she is. Cassandra was both a watcher and a slayer before she was turned, and has since acquired some pretty awesome magical abilities.”
“I’ll say,” Livia put in. “Did you see that thing with the…” She made an indecipherably elaborate hand gesture before settling on a word. “Melting?”
“The thing we don’t understand was her reaction to Mr. Rayne,” Katherine said. “Who did she think he was?”
“And what was she talking about when she said that his magicks couldn’t hold her?” Velika asked.
The occupants of the table just looked at each other for a few seconds.
“It’s obvious that we don’t have all the answers,” Giles said, “but what is clear is that this Cassandra is far more dangerous than we thought.”
“Not to mention that we don’t have a clue how to deal with her,” Livia said.
“Just another fun week at the Watchers Council,” Mira commented.
Giles thought for a moment. “Jocasta, we’re going to need to do the magical tests for vampirism.”
“Giles, I don’t have near –”
“Test your strongest MTs first and clear them,” he said, “then put them in charge of the testing. You and Katherine need to develop a strategy for dealing with this vampire.” He paused before continuing. “This is it. If we don’t come through now…”
“There won’t be a later,” Livia finished.
Katherine looked uncomfortable. “Go team?”
Warehouse – Later That Night
Cassandra’s blank, emotionless face surveyed her small army of vampires, demons, and mages.
“You will do,” she said finally. She raised her voice so that all her minions could hear. “The target is the Council Headquarters. I want the entire complex surrounded before anyone attacks. When you receive word, vampires and demons will go in first. Turn anyone you can, they may yet be of use to us. The first wave will provide cover for the magic users to attack from greater distances.”
Cassandra paced silently for a few steps then stopped. A vamped slayer walked up to her and handed her a portable data pad.
“Good,” Cassandra nodded. Then she dropped the pad to the ground and crushed it beneath her heel, taking no notice of the sparks that resulted. “All is prepared. Soon, all the high-tech organization of our enemies will be dust. Science is the tool of man…and it will be his destruction. Demons and magic will reclaim the earth.”
The warehouse filled with the cheers of Cassandra’s army. She didn’t seem to notice.
Watchers Council – Tower Hangar – A Short Time Later
After returning from the Special Detention Facility, Antonia had refueled her transport and had then begun the standard maintenance check done to prepare the vehicle for its next departure. She had just finished the last item on her checklist when the hangar alarm went off. She dashed away from her ship and into the control room.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
The people inside ignored her, their eyes glued to their viewscreens as they worked frantically at their consoles.
“Transport 269, you are off course!” Admiral Rodney Richardson was barking into his headset. “Damn it, Johnson, you’re off course!” He turned to the female officer next to him. “Lieutenant Mars, I need to get in contact with that ship.”
“I’m on it, sir,” responded a small petite woman, desperately pushing buttons in front of her.
Richardson turned to Antonia. “Didn’t you hear the alarm? Get the hell out of here!” he commanded.
“What’s going on?” she asked again.
“Sir!” came Mars’s panicked voice, causing the admiral to turn back to the console.
Antonia moved closer and looked over the admiral’s shoulder at the flight control screen. Her eyes grew wide. “Oh…my…god…” She began backing away then looked up fearfully at the hangar outside the room.
Watchers Council – Jocasta’s Office – Same Time
“She is a vampire,” Katherine said, “so the usual methods should work, right?” She looked over at Jocasta, who was next to her, hunched over the table, running a hand through her hair.
“Yeah, if we can get past her magic,” the watcher replied unenthusiastically.
“That’s why Cassandra is so dangerous,” Willowgram added from atop her mobile emitter. “She’s a quadruple threat: Watcher, Slayer, Vampire, Witch. I just wish we knew more about what she wants.”
“No matter what her goal is, magic is the key,” Jocasta said. “If we can get past her magic, we can deal with her. We need to round up as many powerful spells as we can. I’ve gotten quite a few in my research lately.”
“Like the burny bugs you used on Mitchell?” Katherine said in a somewhat serious tone.
“Yeah!” Jocasta said excitedly, not hearing the concern in Katherine’s voice. “But that’s not all. I finally broke the encryption on Willow’s restricted diaries. There’s –”
“You didn’t tell me that,” Katherine interrupted.
“I didn’t?” Jocasta said. “I’m sure I meant to. Anyway, there’s all kinds of stuff in there.”
“You mean dark stuff…stuff Willow didn’t want anyone to ever use again,” Katherine challenged.
“If she didn’t want anyone using it, then why did she record it at all?” Jocasta countered. “I’ll tell you why. Because she knew that this knowledge might some day be needed.”
“But you know how dangerous dark magic is,” Katherine said worriedly. “You know how Willow herself almost succumbed to it.”
Jocasta smiled and reached to touch the slayer’s arm. “I’m being safe, I promise.”
Katherine pulled her arm into her lap and looked away. A hurt expression came over Jocasta’s face.
“What is it?” the redhead asked softly.
Katherine turned back to Jocasta. “It’s just…it frightens me how powerful you’re getting.” When Jocasta looked as if she were going to object, Katherine cut her off. “You didn’t see yourself when you fought Jordyn and Brianna, when you were interrogating Mitchell. It –”
Katherine and Jocasta were thrown from their chairs by the huge detonation that went off somewhere above them. As fire and security alarms started to blare, they felt the entire building shudder. The two women scrambled under the heavy table.
“What happened?” Katherine asked.
“I think Cassandra just hit us first,” Jocasta replied.
Watchers Council – Stairwell – Moments Later
Jocasta and Katherine dashed down the emergency stairs as quickly as they could. Other Council employees were ahead and behind them, doing the same. Jocasta had Willowgram’s mobile emitter tucked tightly under her arm.
Just then, a set of new explosions rocked the building. Everyone in the stairwell gripped the rails to steady themselves.
“My god!” Jocasta exclaimed. “I think the whole building may be coming down!”
“Don’t stop!” Katherine said, pulling the watcher into action. “Keep going!”
Watchers Council – Lobby – Moments Later
Katherine and Jocasta burst out of the emergency stairwell and into the lobby, where they ran into Giles.
“What happened?” Katherine asked the chairman.
“One of our heavy transports just crashed into the tower hangar,” he answered, a grim expression on his face.
“The hangar?” Jocasta asked worriedly.
“And Cassandra’s got an army outside,” Giles went on. “We’re evacuating to the bunker.” He began hurrying them from the lobby.
Watchers Council – Lobby – Same Time
In another part of the lobby, Finola was trying to escort the Peace Conference delegations out of the building.
“This way!” she yelled. The building shook again, and Finola struggled to stay on her feet. “Bloody hell!”
Cooper was trying to help, motioning the group of senators toward the door through the chaos. He pushed Senator Dalgren out of the way of a falling chunk of ceiling, barely avoiding it as it hit the floor with a crash and a white cloud of plaster.
“Get your hands off me!” the senator cried angrily, ungratefully brushing Cooper off.
“What the hell is going on now?” Oliver asked as he helped Anita run toward the exit.
“I heard a transport hit the building,” Reese shouted. “We need to get out of here.”
“I told you we should have brought our own security,” a female senator confided to Senator Cregg.
“I’m starting to reconsider my vote on the Human Defense Treaty,” said another.
Another explosion wracked the lobby, and all the windows shattered. Demons of all shapes and sizes streamed into the Council HQ through the open windows, and screams could be heard from the fleeing crowd.
“Bloody he –” Finola repeated, before she was cut off by a punch from a large, red, horned demon.
“These must be the demons Cassandra let loose from the detention facility!” Anita yelled.
“Ya think?” Reese asked sarcastically.
Finola punched one demon in the face, then sent another down with a kick to the back of its knee. She whipped a sword out of her belt and slashed in three different directions with it. Having gained a little space, Finola glanced around at the battle, gasping for breath. At least ten demons were still on their way towards the group. Finola looked around for another slayer who could help, but the few girls she saw were busy fighting their own demons.
Having decided that it was her job to protect the Conference delegates, Finola’s body tensed, one hand tautly re-grasping the handle of her knife. The demons were nearly upon her.
And then wolves were everywhere, claws and teeth bared as they crashed into the demons. All five members of the werewolf delegation, even Dr. Ash, were in wolf form. One bit deeply into the neck of a large purplish demon with a long tail. Another took down a devilish creature with a swipe to the stomach.
Finola grinned and launched herself into the fray. Soon, the portion of the lobby around the group was demon-free, at least for the time being.
Back in human form, Cooper pulled his Council sweats back on. “We need to get everybody to the bunker,” he said. Nearby, a naked Dr. Ash was looking very uncomfortable and frantically grabbing for clothes.
“No,” Finola told him. “There’s a bleeding war happening on the Council’s front doorstep. I have to help.” She turned to run out a nearby window, but Cooper caught her arm, spinning her back towards him.
“Be careful,” he said.
Finola smiled and nodded. “Keep them safe.” With that, she turned and leapt out of the broken window.
Watchers Council – Computer Center – Same Time
“I think I got it,” James said as the computer core he had reassembled powered up. “Yes, yes!” he exclaimed excitedly when the indicator began to glow with life.
Ignoring the building alarms that were blaring, James continued to work. As he reached over to take a tool from Anya, sparks began to fly out of the connectors. He yelped and pulled away. Lex ran over and gave the equipment a shot from the fire extinguisher.
James held his singed hand and grimaced. “Damn it! I’m so close.”
John walked back into the room. “Aidan and the rest of your staff are out, and this floor is nearly empty. We need to go as well,” he ordered.
James shook his head and went back to his work. “You guys go. I’ll catch up. This is too important to abandon now.”
“No way, dude,” Lex said. “You’re coming with us. We’re not leaving you here alone.”
“I’ll be fine,” James insisted. “I’m not alone. Anya’s with me.” Anya smiled at that and stepped nearer to James. “I swear I’ll be just a few more minutes,” James said. “Besides, you may be needed elsewhere.”
Lex and John looked at one another uncertainly. Then John spoke up. “Okay, but you get out of here as soon as possible, even if it means abandoning that.” He pointed to the pile of computer equipment on James’s work table.
James nodded and gave a grinning salute. “Aye, Aye, Captain.”
Watchers Council – Hallway Outside Computer Center – Moments Later
Several people brushed past John and Lex as they joined the handfuls of employees evacuating the building.
“You think it was wise to leave them alone?” Lex asked with concern in his voice.
“Anya will protect him,” John reassured him as they fell in behind two men headed for the emergency exit.
“That explosion was massive,” one of the men said.
“Yeah, I can’t believe we felt it all the way down here,” the other man said.
“What caused it?” Lex asked the two men as they entered the stairwell and started down. “We just heard boom, shake, and rattle, and then the alarms.”
“We heard a transport crashed into the tower hangar,” the first man said.
Lex’s face went pale, and he stopped in place. The two men went on their way, but John stopped with Lex. He reached out touch his friend’s arm, but Lex moved away, turning in the opposite direction and heading up the stairs.
“Lex! It’s not safe!” John called out, but Lex ignored him and kept going up, brushing past the people coming down the steps from other floors.
John’s eye’s went from Lex to the people evacuating around him and back again. When a woman stumbled near him, John caught her and began helping her down the stairs. He cast one final look upwards before turning his gaze to the stairwell below him.
Watchers Council – Underground Bunker – A Short Time Later
“Is the evacuation area secured?” John asked as he entered the command center of the underground bunker.
Lieutenant Nobbs, a tall, lanky man with close-cropped hair, nodded as he handed him a data pad. Giles turned around at the sound of John’s voice behind him.
“Most of the damage was to the hangar,” Nobbs explained as John read. “Took out almost all of our aircraft. We think there may have been a bomb on it,” Nobbs added as Giles came to stand next to him.
John let out a sigh and turned to Giles. “Casualties?”
Giles nodded ruefully. “I’m afraid so. No word on how many yet,” he stated. “Was James able to extract any information from the equipment found at Cassandra’s lair?”
“No sir, not yet,” John answered. “But he was very close. He stayed in his lab to work just a few minutes more before heading this way.”
“Where’s Lex?” Jocasta interjected as she and Katherine joined the three men.
“He, um, he went to the hangar to look for Toni.”
Jocasta’s eyes widened at hearing this, and Katherine immediately took the watcher’s hand in her own. “I’m sure they’re fine,” she told the redhead, who merely nodded silently.
Watchers Council – Computer Center – Same Time
James was working on the same part of the computer core that had sparked the last time. He used a shielded coupling and a fusion welder to repair the connection. He examined his work very closely then turned to Anya.
“Go get me a suspension case,” he told her. “If this works, we’ll need to take it with us.”
“You betcha,” Anya said with a smile. “Here to help.” She hurried off for the supply room.
James took a deep breath and flipped the switch, praying for a miracle. The computer core once again powered up, this time without the sparks, and a volume of information began to scroll down the screen.
“Yes!” James screamed in elation, jumping up and down in triumph.
His celebration was cut off when a hard punch to the face sent him spinning to the floor. He landed hard, and before he could recover, his assailant was on top of him, choking him. As James tried to pry the hands from his throat, he looked up at his attacker. It was Aidan – his face transformed into the growling visage of a vampire. James fought back as best he could, but Aidan was too strong, keeping him pinned to the ground with his hands all but crushing James’s windpipe.
“Hey!” Anya shouted, returning to the room with the suspension case. “Stop that!”
She ran over and smacked Aidan with the suspension case, knocking him off James. She dropped the case and picked Aidan up, and then threw him across the room. Aidan’s back hit a desk, and he crumbled to the floor. He didn’t stay there for long, though, picking himself back up and charging Anya.
“Anya!” James called out in a ragged voice. When she turned to him, he tossed her the fusion welder.
Anya caught it and immediately whipped back to face Aidan. She turned right into his charge and rammed the metal probe of the welder into the vampire’s chest. While he looked down at it, she cranked up the power and pulled the trigger.
Aidan began to shudder, seizure-like, as the welder rose to its peak temperature. His chest glowed for a moment, then his entire body exploded in a cloud of dust.
“Ha!” she said, tossing the welder into the pile of ashes on the floor. “That’s what you get for touching James, you little freak!” She knelt beside James. “Are you okay?” she asked.
“You saved my life,” James marveled, massaging his bruised throat.
Anya beamed for a moment then sobered. “Thank me later,” she said. “We have to go. Now.”
“Wait!” James said as he pulled himself to his feet. He retrieved the suspension case, unhooked the repaired core from his computer station, and placed it inside the case. Once he had secured the case, he turned to Anya and said, “Now we can go.”
She smiled her biggest smile as he grabbed her hand, pulling her with him out of the room.
Watchers Council Grounds – Same Time
Chaos reigned on the grounds of the Watchers Council. A rather disorganized force of slayers, along with anyone else who had been able to lay their hands on a weapon, engaged a superior number of demons, mages, and slayers-turned-vampires. The protestors and other hangers-on who had descended on the Council grounds over the past few days had been taken unawares, and were now in various stages of hiding, running for their lives, or other panicked pursuits.
A vampire dusted to reveal Livia standing behind it. She quickly evaluated her surroundings and began issuing orders, her voice raised over the din of the conflict. “Tammi, get your group behind those trees. I’m gonna need you to hold this whole area.” She looked in a different direction. When she yelled “Paz!” she gained the attention of a very young nearby slayer who had just finished defeating a very large demon. “Find any civilians you can, get them out of here!” The girl nodded and scampered off.
Livia ducked a magical blast, and a tree behind her burst into flames. She straightened up, recognizing the woman in front of her. “Wilma?”
“Thanks for all the magical training,” Wilma said. “It’s come in really handy.”
Livia dove to her left to avoid another magical blast, rolling on the grass of the Council lawn and springing right to her feet.
As Livia and Wilma began to battle, Tammi and her small platoon of slayers were settling in amidst a copse of trees, shooting repeating crossbows out between branches. Paz had gathered a couple of her fellow slayer cadets, and they were trying to escort a mixed group of protestors away from the battle, their differences forgotten. Various deadly projectiles, magical and otherwise, filled the air.
Cassandra stood nearby with several of her slayer minions, watching silently as a platoon of slayers easily sliced through a group of demons.
As the demons were slaughtered, one of the vamped slayers asked, “Should we maybe…”
“No,” Cassandra said. “This is not the site of our final victory. Go and see to the preparations.”
The slayer nodded to her fellow minions, and the group left their leader. Cassandra remained where she was, unaffected by the battle raging all around her.
Watchers Council – Stairwell – Same Time
Lex pushed as gently he could through the people who were vacating the upper floors of the tower. Although dust filled the air and the stairwell was lit only by dim emergency lights, he tried to look at each face to make sure that it wasn’t Antonia.
“Have you seen Captain Allister?” he asked one man. “Antonia Allister?”
Before the man could answer, Lex heard the mumble of a voice a few feet ahead of him. “Lex?”
Lex looked up. “Toni?” he called out desperately. A few people parted on the stairs, and he saw the blonde pilot hobbling down the steps with one arm clutched to her chest.
“Lex!” she cried as a tearful smile appeared on her face.
As she tried to rush forward to him, she tripped and fell, but Lex caught her. The two hugged tightly for the longest moment, oblivious to the people moving around them on the stairwell. When they pulled apart, Lex brushed back Antonia’s slightly singed hair and touched her soot-covered cheek.
“You okay?” he asked as he quickly began to examine the rest of her. The arm she was holding had a severe cut on it. The pilot winced a little but still nodded.
“Admiral Richardson didn’t make it,” she said as her eyes welled up with more tears. “It was so loud. Is it still loud?”
Lex smiled and shook his head. “No, baby, no” he said as he kissed her forehead, wrapping his arms around her. She placed her good arm around him and just cried into his shoulder. “It’s okay. I’ve got you.”
“Don’t let me go,” Antonia forced out between sobs.
“I won’t. Not ever,” he assured her. Then the two of them headed down the stairs following the other evacuees.
Watchers Council – Underground Bunker – A Little Later
Lex and Antonia stumbled into the command bunker. They found the area abuzz with activity.
“Lex! Toni!” Jocasta exclaimed when she noticed them, looking up from her work with Willowgram. “Are you guys all right?”
She rushed over to the pair to make sure they were okay. Having satisfied her concern for the moment, she said, “Don’t scare me like that” and hugged the two of them.
Giles nodded to the pair with a smile and went back to looking over some data on a viewscreen with John West. James and Anya were working at a different station, hooking up the restored computer core. Morgan Travers and Velika Petrova sat nearby at other screens, watching video of the battle outside and coordinating defenses. A weak-looking Veronica Wyndam-Pryce sat in the corner of the room, a large scar visible on the side of her neck.
Katherine walked into the room from another part of the bunker. “Everyone’s situated,” she said.
“How many is everyone?” Lex asked.
“As many as we could find,” Katherine told him. “Senators, Werewolves, any of the employees we could get out of the building. Almost all the slayers and guards are outside fighting.” She looked down at the floor. “It’s not as many as I thought it’d be.”
“This attack doesn’t make any sense,” Giles said, looking over Velika’s shoulder to view the progress of the battle. “It’s far too random. Whatever forces Cassandra may have at her disposal, there’s no way a frontal assault will be fully successful in time to prevent reinforcements from arriving. I thought Willow said she was smart.”
“She is,” Willowgram insisted, “it says so right in Willow Rosenberg’s diaries. Do you want me to show you the page? ‘Cause I can.”
“I agree with Sebastian,” Travers said.
Giles blinked in surprise. “Why, Morgan, I didn’t know you had it in you.”
“Yes, make sarcastic remarks during the crisis, good show,” Travers rejoined. “What I mean to say is that this Cassandra is far too canny to waste time like this.”
“Then what’s she up to?” Katherine asked. “Just getting in some grins pitting slayer against slayer?”
Watchers Council Grounds – Same Time
Black smoke, darker than the night it moved through, billowed from the upper floors of the Watchers Council HQ.
Below, the young slayer named Cherise threw the dead body of a demon off herself and got to her feet. She fought her way through the battle, dodging the magical blasts and electrically-charged crossbow-bolts. She spotted a familiar figure and managed a tired smile.
“Monique!” Cherise gasped. “Thank God I found you. They’ve got our backs to the wall here. Any word on when reinforcements are –”
Monique punched Cherise hard, sending the girl flying back ten feet and rolling along the ground. Cherise struggled to her knees.
“No,” she whispered, her voice nearly breaking on the single short syllable. “No.” She pushed herself to her feet, looking back at her friend. “Monique, you’re my best friend. We’ve been roommates forever.”
Monique said nothing in reply, instead smiling wickedly and jumping to attack. She delivered a flying kick to Cherise’s mid-section, but the other girl managed to stay on her feet and delivered a punch in return.
“Remember that time I had Mono, and you used all your vacation time to stay at the barracks and keep me company?” Cherise asked.
“Times change,” Monique told her and tripped her with a low leg-sweep. Cherise tumbled onto her back. Now wearing her demon face, Monique crouched over the fallen girl. “Livia told you, don’t let me get the advantage.” She leaned in to Cherise’s neck, fangs bared.
Then Monique looked up, surprised. A moment later her body collapsed into dust, leaving nothing above Cherise but the smoke-filled night sky.
The young slayer remained still for a few seconds, stake still pointed upwards. Then she returned the stake to her pocket and rejoined the battle.
Watchers Council – Underground Bunker – Same Time
“She’s not doing this for laughs,” Willowgram told those gathered in the command bunker. “Her goal would be total, absolute destruction. Cassandra told Willow Rosenberg, or she told someone who told Willow…the diary isn’t very clear on that –”
“Can we get back to the point?” John West asked, fatigue showing in his voice.
“Anyway,” Willowgram continued, “she said that she was tired of life, of everything about it, of good and evil. Cassandra doesn’t want to survive, and she doesn’t want anyone else to, either. There’s a video in my archives that she sent to the Council of that time…”
“No,” Travers said, “that cannot be right. If she was suicidal, why wouldn’t she just kill herself? Her plan is far too elaborate for that.”
“When I saw her face,” Veronica said softly, “there was nothing there.” Everyone turned to look at the councilor in her seat in the corner. “Nothing. No hope, no ambition. Just…nothing.”
“And now she wants nothing for everybody,” Katherine said in a gloomy voice. “Great.”
“Well, she’s not going to achieve that by attacking the Council Headquarters,” Travers pointed out. “There must be something else at work here.”
“Oh God,” James piped up from his computer station.
“What is it now?” Giles asked wearily.
“I think I know what her plan is,” James told him as his fingers began to fly over the keys. The others drew near.
Watchers Council Grounds – Same Time
Mira and Finola had just finished off yet another gang of demons. As Mira got to her feet, she cursed and shook the demon blood off her hands.
“This is pointless!” she said. “We’re gonna be here all night fighting off Cassandra’s drones. What we need to do is take out Cassandra herself.”
“Cut off the ol’ ‘ead, I like it!” Finola said, struggling to push a huge demon corpse off her legs.
“That’s it,” Mira went on. “I’m going to find that bitch.” At that, Mira strode off, leaving Finola behind.
“Wait up, ya eejit!” Finola griped as she maneuvered the demon off herself.
As she ran to catch up with Mira, Finola was tackled by a vampire. They rolled a few yards, then she managed to kick the vampire off.
“I don’ ‘ave time for this!” Finola said through clenched teeth as she got to her feet. The vampire charged her again.
Watchers Council Grounds – Moments Later
After moving to the outer rims of the battle and making her way around, Mira soon found Cassandra. She was surprised to find the woman standing all alone, completely unguarded. From her hiding place in a thatch of tree-like shrubs, Mira scanned the surroundings. It was an open grassy area atop a slight rise from which Cassandra could view the ongoing battle.
“Damn,” Mira whispered. “No cover.” She let out a resigned sigh. “Oh well. Nothing like the direct approach.”
Mira stood up, pulled out her sword, and walked purposefully toward Cassandra. She stopped several yards in front of her. The sorceress merely raised her left eyebrow in response.
“So…you’re the wicked little witch causin’ all this trouble,” Mira said. “Didn’t your parents tell you what happens to naughty girls?” Mira patted the flat side of her sword in her hand.
A flash of a smirk pricked at Cassandra’s lips. “As a matter of fact, they did,” she said. “Until I killed them.”
Mira roared and charged. Cassandra didn’t move and showed no signs of fear. Right when Mira swung her sword overhead, Cassandra lifted her right index finger. Mira found herself flung back by a magical barrier. Mira charged a second time with the same result. Growling with determination, Mira tried again. This time Cassandra did more than lift a finger; she raised both hands in front of herself and made a slight grasping motion. Mira found herself frozen in place, unable to move. She struggled even to speak as Cassandra walked over to her.
“Your ferocity is impressive…” Cassandra said as she circled behind Mira, lazily drawing her finger along the slayer’s shoulders. When she stopped in front of Mira, her eyes narrowed. “…though it will do little to save you.”
Cassandra grabbed Mira by the throat and began to choke her. Still frozen by the witch’s spell, Mira could do nothing to defend herself. No one was surprised more than she when Cassandra suddenly just stopped and pulled away. As Mira coughed and regained her breath, Cassandra stared at her curiously. Then Cassandra stepped closer and rested her hand over Mira’s heart. She closed her eyes as if sensing something.
“Interesting,” Cassandra told Mira as she pulled her hand away. “You have magic in you. Did you know that?”
“No,” Mira answered honestly, shocked that she could now speak.
“Yes, trapped somehow,” Cassandra said, looking at Mira’s chest. Then she met Mira’s eyes. “I could free it for you.”
Mira seemed mesmerized by Cassandra’s gaze, but she didn’t speak.
“It’s only a tiny genetic fluke barring your access to it,” Cassandra said.
Cassandra ran her fingertips down Mira’s cheek, then down her neck, then rested her palm over the slayer’s heart once again, never releasing her from her stare.
“Join me, and you shall know the power within you…and more.”
Mira’s lips turned up into a slight smile, and her head began the barest of nods when a bolt of magic burst between the slayer and the witch. Mira hit the ground with a thud while Cassandra merely stumbled back a few feet. When Cassandra regained her footing, she flashed furious eyes in the direction that the magical burst had come from. She found an equally furious Finola stomping towards her.
“Get the ‘ell away from ‘er!” Finola shouted, already powering up for another blast.
Cassandra’s face hardened, and she powered up as well, her fist glowing with energy. Before she could cast, one of her minions called to her. Reluctantly, she powered down and stepped back. With only a parting smile to the two slayers, Cassandra disappeared in a flash, having teleported away.
“What the hell?!” Finola complained.
Watchers Council – Underground Bunker – Same Time
When James finished typing, he pointed to his viewscreen. The others leaned in to look.
“This is one of the files we managed to salvage off of Cassandra’s computers.”
Giles read the text over his shoulder. “She’s been researching the Color Bomb?”
Jocasta’s eyebrows shot up in alarm. “A Color Bomb?”
The senior staff of the Watchers Council exchanged horrified looks.
End of Act Eight