Watchers Council – Hallway – Same Time
Sebastian made his way down the hallway to Morgan Travers’ office. He was walking a bit stiffly, though, and a tense expression was on his face.
“Is the AVR working?” he murmured through tight lips.
“For the last time, yes,” came Veronica’s exasperated voice over Giles’s hidden earbud.
“Audio-visual’s coming in loud and clear,” confirmed Willowgram.
“And-and the other device?”
“It’s fine. Don’t worry about the technology,” Veronica instructed. “Just focus on pushing Morgan’s buttons.”
Sebastian’s lips curved into a grin. “That, I can do.”
“Remember, just try to get him on record first if you can,” Veronica reminded him.
Watchers Council – Travers’ Office – Moments Later
An efficient assistant escorted Chairman Giles into Travers’ inner office. Morgan wore a smug expression and refused to rise for his guest’s entrance. Instead, he steepled his fingers and said i
n a sweetly sarcastic voice, “Sebastian, how nice to see you.”
Sebastian gave him a cursory smile. “May I?” He gestured at the chair before Morgan’s desk.
“By all means,” Morgan said. As Sebastian took his seat, Morgan reached over to his desk and activated the privacy button on his console—a feature designed to jam wireless signals and prevent electronic eavesdropping. “I take it you’ve gotten word of my petition? The Command Council will resume its session tomorrow, and my Slayer Service Bill will be passed. There’s nothing you can do.”
“As much as I hate to admit it, I believe you’re right. There is nothing that I can do. And I can’t help but notice that you turned on the privacy control. However, flatter me for a moment if you would,” he said as he activated a camera in his hand and sat it on the desk. “I want it on record that this is your idea and that you’re the one who pushed so hard for it.”
“Why?” Morgan asked suspiciously.
“That way, when this Council goes belly-up, we’ll all know who’s to blame and have it recorded for posterity.” Giles then leaned over and pressed the privacy control button on the console, so it would record as well.
“Now if you don’t mind, explain to me why this bill is so important to you?” Sebastian asked.
Morgan didn’t answer immediately. Finally he said, “Slayers were created by watchers, to serve watchers; they must answer that call of duty.”
“So they should just surrender their lives—body, mind, and soul—to the Council’s enslavement?”
Morgan held up his finger. “Not enslavement. Service.”
Sebastian whipped out a datapad and started summarizing from the Slayer Service bill. “Potentials permanently removed from their parents at the moment of their identification, with no familial contact allowed until the slayers’ deactivation. Incarceration for slayers refusing to serve. Active slayers tagged with implants that not only track their movements but that are also capable of administering ‘disciplinary therapy.’ Lethal force authorized and actually encouraged for slayers who have managed to escape Council control. My god, man, can you not see what this looks like?”
“What I see is a Council on the verge of collapse. Thanks to your ‘kinder, gentler,’ media-friendly approach to Council operations, slayer enrollment is at an all-time low. And the slayers that we do have lack focus, discipline. The survival, the very future, of the Council is at stake here, and nothing—nothing—matters more than that!”
“That sounds rather hypocritical coming from someone who worked for Horatio Tyrell. He betrayed the Council and everything it stands for. And now you’re about to do the same.”
“No, I am merely doing what needs to be done.”
“How? By taking steps that you feel will make the charter we have better in some way?”
“No, by following what the charter truly means. I’m a loyalist, Sebastian. Unlike yourself.”
“I’d say chances are you haven’t read the charter to see what this Council is truly about…This bill isn’t about loyalty. It’s about power.”
“Finally we agree on something. It is about power. We are the Watchers Council—not the Slayers Council or the Witches Council—and it’s high time we started acting like it again.”
Sebastian directed a shocked look at his colleague but said nothing, which only increased Morgan’s air of smugness.
“Answer me this then…Is this the Council you believe Rupert and Elizabeth Giles envisioned?”
“No,” Travers answered. “I’m making it better than their wildest dreams.” Travers leaned back in his chair and said, “Now…if you’ll excuse me, I have a speech to finish.”
“Yes, as do I,” Sebastian said as he turned off his recorder. He rose from his seat and left Morgan’s office without another word.
Anomalous Zone – Fog Bank – Resume
Tara pushed off the limb but fell only a few feet through the air before her descent slowed and she floated to the ground via magic.
“You…you…you’re Tara Maclay,” Katherine blurted.
Tara smiled and said, “That’s right. I am.”
“H-H-How? W-W-What are you doing here?”
“I came to see you, Sweetie. I think we need to talk.”
“Oh,” Katherine replied. She crossed her arms, trying to appear nonchalant. “So, so what do you want to talk about?”
“What you’re afraid of,” Tara answered.
“Well, at the moment, I’d have to go with the whole ‘I’m about to die ’cause the world’s coming to an end’ thing.”
Tara shook her head and stepped closer to Katherine, looking directly into her eyes. “That’s not what you’re afraid of,” she said. “Dying, I mean.”
Katherine gave Tara a puzzled look but said nothing.
Tara went on. “You’re afraid of what will happen when you die, of what will happen to Jocasta. You’re afraid that history is repeating itself, that you and Jo are pawns of fate, that you’re me and she’s Willow, and that you’ll die and Jo will lose herself to the power within her. Does that about cover it?”
Katherine could only nod in response.
“I’m here to tell you that none of that is true.”
Katherine was finally able to form words. “But…you didn’t see her earlier!” she objected. “This place has her so jazzed up, when that dragon was coming at me, she blew it out of the sky like a D-36 rocket. Her eyes were all black, and—”
“Katie,” Tara said, taking the slayer’s hands in hers. “Listen to me. You’re not me, and Jocasta’s not Willow.”
Katherine was obviously confused about the reincarnation issue. “But…I thought we were both—?”
“You are, but what I mean is…that’s only a small part of who you are, and it’s not even the most important part,” Tara told her. “It’s the part of you that isn’t me that makes you special, and it’s the part of Jocasta that isn’t Willow that makes her so special. That’s why Jo can avoid Willow’s fate. But she needs you to help her realize that.”
Katherine let out a near-sob as tears tumbled from her eyes. “Really?”
“Really,” Tara assured her.
Katherine pulled Tara into a hug, laughing and crying at the same time. “Thank you, thank you so much.” When she pulled away, she said, “Oh, gosh, I have so many questions, so many things I wanna know…”
“I know, Sweetie,” Tara said, “but we don’t have time for that. You need to find the others.”
“Find the others?” Katherine replied. Then she repeated the question in a more frustrated tone. “Find the others?!!” She gestured at the thick fog covering the entire forest. “Right now, I can’t even find my own ass with both hands!”
Tara tried to repress a laugh, but a tiny snicker slipped out, then another, then a full-fledged giggle. “Sorry, sorry,” she said, holding up a hand. “It’s just that…spicy talk…you are so not me.”
Katherine couldn’t help but laugh with her. Soon, however, Tara was sobering, and she backed several steps away from Katherine.
“Time for me to go,” Tara announced. “Trust your heart,” she told her, “And tell Jo to do the same.”
Tara began to fade away, and Katherine watched her with longing. Then Katherine’s eyes lit up in alarm. “Wait! How do I—”
The mist surrounding Katherine started to swirl into a tempest.
Anomalous Zone – Plain Near Forest – Continuous
“—find the others?” Katherine finished as the gusting winds that had assailed her died down as quickly as they had gathered. “Oh,” she said when she realized that her fellow team members were standing nearby, looking just as perplexed as she was.
Katherine heard Jocasta’s voice behind her and turned toward the sound. She nearly tumbled to the ground when Jocasta threw herself into her girlfriend’s arms.
“Oh, god, Katie! I was so worried when I couldn’t find you,” Jocasta said.
“Me too,” Katherine said, squeezing the redhead tightly.
At the same time, Mira, with the Scythe still in one hand, rushed over to Livia and pulled her into a relieved hug as well. Livia was surprised at first but wasted no time in returning the embrace.
James glanced around the area. Seeing no one else to hug, he ran up to Jocasta and Katherine and turned their embrace into an instant group hug. Jocasta and Katherine laughed and pulled their friend closer.
When they separated, Jocasta said, “I’m glad you’re okay, James.”
“Me too,” James said emphatically. Then he immediately corrected himself. “I mean, I’m glad you’re okay too.”
Jocasta smiled back, but Katherine was looking around the open field. “Did you see Dr. Burkle?” she asked James. He just shook his head.
Meanwhile, Livia and Mira were just pulling out of their embrace. They paused to look at each other. Then Mira suddenly gave Livia a punch in the shoulder.
“Owwww!” Livia said. “What the hell was that for?”
“For sending us off in that fog!” Mira shot back, angrily waving the Scythe in the air.
“What happened to ‘Okay, you’re the boss’?”
“Oh, it’s waaay back there in the fog bank,” Mira answered sharply. Then she very nearly stamped her foot. “I looked for you for hours!” she complained. “And-and I almost fell into some kind of dimensional whirlpool thing!” She twirled her hand in demonstration. “And oh yeah…I nearly got eaten by what looked like a rabid armadillo the size of a Labrador!” She pointed out several sets of gashes on her body.
Somehow Livia managed not to laugh. She just nodded sagely as if seriously contemplating the matter; then she proclaimed, “Still better than getting eaten by a dragon.”
Mira let out a huff and rolled her eyes, but she smiled when Livia finally let her grin come out.
Anomalous Zone – Forest – Dusk
The mission team, still minus Dr. Burkle, had gathered near the tree line to discuss their options.
“Okay, so nobody saw Burkle anywhere,” Livia summarized. “What now? She’s the only one who knows how to find this ‘Source’ thing we’re after.”
“I guess we have to find her,” James said.
“We couldn’t even find each other,” Mira pointed out. “How are we gonna find Dr. Burkle?”
“We could do a standard locator spell,” Katherine suggested. “I’ve got everything we need,” she added, lifting the small pouch attached to her belt.
“Everything but something of Burkle’s,” Jocasta pointed out.
“Oh yeah,” Katherine said, her expression deflating in defeat.
“What about that glowy-blob thing you used to find Katie when she went all bonkers that time?” Livia asked Jocasta.
“Livia!” Mira chastised.
“What?” Livia asked.
“‘Went all bonkers’?” Mira prompted.
Livia shrugged and looked around the group. “Well, she did.”
Katherine smiled and shook her head. “It’s okay. Livia’s right. I did go bonkers. But what’s this ‘glowy-blob’ thing she’s talking about?” She looked to Jocasta for an answer but saw only terror on the redhead’s face.
“Uhh, it’s nothing,” Jocasta insisted. “Totally irrelevant. Wouldn’t work here at all.” She turned away from the group, wringing her hands.
“Are you sure?” Livia asked. “You didn’t have anything of Katie’s then. There wasn’t time. You pretty much did it on the fly.”
“Which spell was it?” Katherine asked. “What did it do?”
“Oh, it was so cool!” James answered. “It made this little glowing ball that just floated in the air. And Jo told it, ‘Find Katie,’ and it did!”
“Well, that sounds perfect,” Katherine told James before turning back to Jocasta. “Jo, why don’t you try it? It—”
“I can’t,” Jocasta said without turning around.
“What do you mean, ‘you can’t’?” Livia asked.
“Yeah,” Mira added. “Just a few hours ago you were shooting dragons out of the sky, and now you can’t do a simple locator spell?”
“I said I can’t!!!” Jocasta yelled as she spun around. “Do you not understand English?! I can’t! Okay?”
The others took a step back, surprised by the intensity of her outburst. Katherine, however, stood her ground. When she saw how badly Jocasta was shaking, she slowly approached her.
“Baby, what’s wrong?” She tried to look in Jocasta’s eyes, but Jocasta wouldn’t let her. “Did something happen while we were separated?” She reached out and touched Jocasta’s arm, stroking it gently. “Whatever it was, it’s over now.”
“It’s not over,” Jocasta said in a choked voice, finally lifting her eyes to meet Katherine’s. “It’s never over. It’s inside me…like it was in her…like it was in other her…and I’m so afraid…so scared of what I’ll do…”
Tears began spilling over Jocasta’s eyelids, and Katherine brushed them away. “What did you see?” she asked softly.
It took a long moment for Jocasta to answer. “I saw another world…one where Willow went bad.”
“When Tara died?” Katherine guessed.
Jocasta shook her head. “Before.”
Katherine frowned, and her mouth dropped open slightly as she considered the ramifications of Jocasta’s revelation.
“I used to think that losing you and going berserk afterwards was the worst thing that could happen.” She swallowed hard and glanced briefly at Katherine. “It’s not.”
Katherine looked frightened for a moment, but then her resolve set in, and she got a hold of herself. She took Jocasta’s arms in her hands and looked her in the eyes.
“Something happened to me, too,” she told her. “When we were in the fog,” she added in explanation. “I met someone.”
“Tara.” Jocasta’s eyes grew wide, but Katherine quickly went on. “She came to tell me that we didn’t need to be afraid…that you weren’t going to repeat Willow’s mistakes.”
“She said that?” Jocasta asked, a little hope entering her expression.
“She did. She said to trust your heart.”
Katherine paused for a moment, giving Jocasta time to absorb Tara’s words. Then she gave Jocasta’s arms a squeeze.
“You can do this, Jo. I know you can. And I’ll be there with you.”
The two witches stared intently at each other for a long time before Jocasta finally nodded. Behind them, several yards away, Livia, Mira, and James visibly relaxed when they saw Jocasta agree to do the spell.
Anomalous Zone – Base Camp – Bio-Pod – Hours Later
Finola and Cooper eased their way outside the bio-pod. With Cooper in the lead, they crept a few yards to their left and peeked around the edge of the structure.
“They still ’ere?” Finola asked softly.
“Yeah,” Cooper replied. “They’ve demolished the storage pod, but it looks like they might be heading away.”
“Janey Mack!” she exclaimed incredulously.
Cooper turned back to Finola and grinned. “I’ll have one egg with jam, please.”
“I’ll give ye some jam, buddy,” Finola said sexily as she drew Cooper over for a searing kiss.
Before their lips could meet, however, they were startled by the bio-pod door flying open and slamming against the side of the structure.
“Finola! Cooper! I’ve got good news!” Anya belted out. “I heard Captain Allister on the radio!”
Cooper and Finola instantly directed their gazes toward the pillaging demons. They found two sets of glowing eyes looking right at them.
“Oh bugger…” Finola growled.
Anomalous Zone – Foot of Mountain – Same Time
A small fire crackled in the growing darkness. Lex lay against a rock, his eyes closed, as Antonia worked through the electronic guts of a broken radio. She touched the spliced optics of a stripped wire into a nodule on the silicon board. Tiny sparks flew for a moment, and then the green power display on the front of the radio flickered into life. Antonia made a few adjustments to the touch controls, and static filled the air.
She pressed the speak button and said loudly and clearly, “May day, may day, this is Captain Antonia Allister of the Council Air Corps…Does anyone read me?”
The static emitting from the speaker seemed to change in pitch, as if a reply was imminent, but then the green power light faded, and the radio petered out with a whine. Antonia slumped and sighed and then glanced over at Lex.
She found him rousing from his sleep. As he pushed himself off the rock, he asked, “Any luck?”
She gave her head a rueful shake. “Thought I had it for a second there, but then…poof…nothing.” She set the broken radio aside and moved to sit next to Lex.
“We’ll get out of this,” Lex said, pulling her into a warm embrace. “After all, we’ve been in way worse jams than this.”
“Yeah. Like when we told my parents that we weren’t getting married by a priest. Honestly, I didn’t think we were gonna make out of there alive.” He shot her a playful grin.
Antonia chuckled. “You know it’s funny,” she said. “Jo wanted us to go ahead on our honeymoon so that we could avoid the end of the world, and yet here we are…right smack dab in the middle of it.”
“At least we’re together,” Lex said, now serious.
“Always,” Antonia whispered as she leaned over for a quick kiss.
As Antonia pulled back, Lex’s eyes narrowed in confusion. He gazed over her shoulder into the darkness.
“What is it?” she asked, freezing in place without turning around.
“I don’t know,” he whispered. “Something moving. Maybe several somethings.”
Antonia reached into her flight jacket and pulled out her laser pistol.
Lex smiled in relief. “I love you,” he said earnestly.
“I know,” she replied with a smile.
Anomalous Zone – Forest – Same Time
The mission team had moved deeper into the forest, into a quiet grove of smaller trees. In the center of the grove sat Jocasta and Katherine. The others stood a short distance away.
The two witches were inside a large circle that had been drawn in the dirt. Jocasta was sitting cross-legged with her eyes closed, but Katherine was standing. The blonde held a smudging stick in her hands. While whispering phrases of cleansing, she waved the smoke over and around Jocasta’s body.
Mira noticed Livia watching the proceedings with intense worry. Mira’s face creased into a frown, and she glanced away for a moment. When she turned back, she took a deep breath and then reached over to take Livia’s hand in hers. Livia instantly looked over, a surprised expression on her face. Mira sent her a small smile, and Livia smiled back. After a simultaneous hand squeeze, the two slayers turned back to the ongoing spell.
Setting the smudging stick aside, Katherine sat down and joined hands with Jocasta, who slowly opened her eyes. Katherine calmly met her gaze and gave her a nod.
At that, Jocasta closed her eyes and repeated the chant that she had used earlier in the fog bank. Within minutes, a new Tinkerbelle was floating between Katherine and Jocasta. Katherine smiled in amazement at the glowing ball then looked over at Jocasta. The redhead’s pupils were large and dark, and she stared at Tinkerbelle with a frightening intensity.
“Find Dr. Burkle,” Jocasta ordered, in a deep, powerful voice that even the greater forces of the universe could not argue with. Tinkerbelle flashed brightly once then began moving off to Jocasta’s left.
“We have to follow it,” called Mira. Then she, Livia, and James headed after the little green light as it bobbed through the misty air.
Katherine got to her feet and helped Jocasta do the same. She noticed that her girlfriend’s eyes had already returned to normal.
“You okay, Jo?” she asked uncertainly.
“I’m fine.” Jocasta sounded surprised. “Great, even.” She glanced off to where the light was now flickering as it passed into the trees. “Let’s go.”
Anomalous Zone – Forest – A Short Time Later
Blue lightning split the dark night in two, accompanied by a crash like an explosion. It momentarily lit Livia’s face as she struggled through the thick underbrush. With her eyes, she followed the sphere of green light as it danced through the forest. Ahead of her, James was wielding a laser-like device to cut through the vines. Behind her, Katherine and Jocasta walked hand-in-hand, talking quietly. Mira brought up the rear, glancing around warily, holding the Scythe at the ready.
“How much further?” Mira asked as she and the others caught up to James in the lead.
“If we knew that, we wouldn’t have had to do the spell,” Katherine pointed out.
“Oh, right,” Mira nodded lamely. “It’s just…how could Burkle possibly have gotten this far…alone…without supplies or weapons? It doesn’t make sense.”
“It’s the Zone,” Jocasta said. “Distance is relative.” She turned to see James easily cutting through a vine as thick as an arm. “Where did you get that thing?”
“I salvaged it from the ship,” James said. “I thought it might come in handy.”
“Especially if we run into any bad guys,” Mira agreed.
James looked offended. “This isn’t a weapon. It’s a highly advanced piece of equipment.”
Tinkerbelle suddenly stopped moving forward. “Guys…” Livia called out.
When the others looked in that direction, the magical ball frantically bobbed up and down several times, glowing extra brightly. Then it faded away.
“…I think we’re here,” Livia finished. After a moment, a confused look appeared on her face. She cocked her head, listening. “Does anyone else hear that?”
A crease appeared in Katherine’s forehead. “Voices?”
“Lots of voices,” Livia confirmed. “I’ll check it out.”
She walked ahead, towards where the sphere’s journey had ended. As the sound of the voices grew louder, she saw a gap in the trees up ahead. Creeping closer, Livia knelt behind a bush, peering out between thorny branches. Her breath caught.
She could see a small, bowl-shaped clearing, strewn with rocks varying in size from boulders to pebbles. Every inch of space was covered with demons. They were every size, shape, and color. Some were red and horned. Others were snarling, dark-skinned creatures with sharp, yellow teeth. Some floated above the gathering, hovering on hummingbird wings. Some were tall Cyclopes, while some were giant, hundred-eyed spiders. The demons chattered amongst themselves, but did not move.
Anomalous Zone – Edge of Clearing – Moments Later
Livia had been joined in her hiding place by the others.
“I don’t see Dr. Burkle,” James said, squinting.
“What are they doing?” Mira asked.
“Waiting.” Livia’s response was quiet, flat.
Mira looked at her. “Waiting for what?”
The voice was female, deep, and strong. It might even have been called regal.
“QUIET, OOZE, OR I WILL ADORN MY PALACE WITH YOUR SKELETONS!”
The demonic gathering, which had already been growing quiet, completed the process in a hurry. In the center of the clearing, on a particularly large, jagged chunk of rock, stood a solitary figure. It was slim by comparison to most of the other demons. It wore a suit of form-fitting, dark red leather. Long blue hair framed its pale face and piercing blue eyes.
It looked exactly like Dr. Burkle.
“What the…” James breathed.
“I am Illyria, God-King of the Primordium!” the blue-haired woman shouted. “It is by my will that you are gathered.”
She never seemed to blink as she surveyed the crowd in the clearing. She moved strangely, like a bird.
“You are all trapped here,” she said, “in this prison without end. The world is now a place of men. They overrun the world like vermin, stripping it bare and gorging themselves on its bones. For a thousand thousand years, my kingdom glittered like a jewel. Now the humans call it California. I dislike their treatment of it.”
“Is that Dr. Burkle?” Livia whispered.
“No!” Katherine instantly answered. Then her expression became less certain. “It couldn’t be…”
“I have spent time among the humans, learned their customs and their debaucheries,” Illyria continued. “There is a human word. Judgment. A meaningless word in my age, when we knew that power was the only law. It is only now that I see the merits of this new word. The humans deserve judgment. Judgment for forcing the Gods into exile. Judgment for their arrogance. They must not only be defeated, but destroyed utterly. Now is your chance.” Her voice rose. “Today is your day. Our worlds are twisting into something new. Join my army, a new Army of Doom to replace that which is now but dust. Together your war cries will signal a new age. An age where the Gods are returned to their throne, and human blood stings iron-sweet on your tongue. DEMONS, WHAT SAY YOU?!!”
Another lightning bolt streaked across the sky, but none of the Council expedition could hear the thunder. It was lost in the deafening cry of approval that issued from every throat in the clearing.
End of Act Five