Giles Home – Kitchen – Next Morning
January 1, 2023
Giles and Becca both entered their kitchen holding their heads, only to find the teenagers in the kitchen, cooking. They looked at each other briefly before entering, as their children danced around the kitchen. Liz was singing a parody of “Uptown Funk.”
“Stop! Wait a minute! Whip some eggs, put some ‘nilla in it! Was Saturday Night, now New Year’s Day! Powdered sugar on top! Owww!”
“Can we keep it down to a slight roar today?” Giles asked softly as Becca walked slowly to the coffee pot.
“You’re gonnnnna hearrrr meeee rooooaarrrrr!” Liz sang loudly, mimicking Katy Perry.
“Lizzie, please!” Becca raised her voice, and then immediately held her temples in regret. “Please stop,” she whispered.
Martin grinned. “Too many spirits, ‘ey Gov’ner,” he mocked in a loud and bad British accent. He bumped shoulders with his dad, who looked equally miserable sitting at the kitchen island.
“Yes,” Giles said softly. “So, let’s agree on no singing and only inside voices today.”
“French toast?” Liz asked her parents in an exaggerated whisper as she slapped it on the sizzling griddle. They both shook their heads. “Some chunky oatmeal? Burnt toast? How about some greasy sausage or bacon?”
Becca had to put a hand over her mouth as her shoulders hunched. Liz and Martin smiled.
Giles pointed at her. “Elizabeth Willow Giles…do shut up, or spend a month grounded.”
The siblings smiled.
“Okay, jokes aside,” Liz relented, “can we get you guys anything? Aspirin? Hair of the dog?” She held up a bottle that had maybe a splash or two of vodka in it.
“Coffee and dry toast,” Giles answered.
“Comin’ up,” Liz agreed, motioning her brother toward the bread.
Rosenberg-Allister House – Bedroom – Same Time
Rowena opened her eyes and rolled over to see Willow lying on her back, looking up at the ceiling. She shifted her body over until half of her covered her wife. Her arm made its way across Willow’s stomach, holding her.
“Happy New Year,” Rowena whispered.
“Happy New Year.” Willow’s voice sounded void of enthusiasm.
From outside the bedroom, they could hear the kids stirring. “Sounds like the troops are on the move,” Rowena said.
Willow managed a small grin. “We do live with a small army.”
Rowena paused. “What if we made it bigger?”
“Okay, first question, are you insane?” Willow asked.
“No,” Rowena chuckled.
“Second question, are you just looking for a way to sleep with Xander again?”
Rowena laughed once more. “No. It’s just that the twins will be out of the house in a couple of years, and Jake and Sophie will be teenagers, and we’ll be…”
“Empty nesters? I love our kids, b-but I’m not seeing the downside in your scenario,” Willow countered. A growing silence passed between them. “Are you mad I’m not ready to have more kids?”
Rowena thought for a moment. “I’m not mad. I’m afraid.”
“If I’m going to carry another child, it needs to be sooner rather than later. I’m forty-five, so it feels like tick-tock.”
Willow thought for a moment. “I’m not saying no, but I’m not saying yes. Is this super important to you?”
“Not super important. More like rattling around in the back of my mind.”
“Okay, I just…” Willow seemed reluctant to say more.
“What?” Rowena asked. When Willow didn’t immediately finish her sentence, Rowena sat up in bed. “We promised we’d always be honest about what’s on our minds, so what did you want to say?”
Willow rose up, too, and said, “I feel useless.”
Rowena’s eyes widened. “Useless? Why? You’re the most powerful witch on Planet Earth, Will.”
“Forget I said anything.”
Willow slipped from the bed.
“Look, I’m sorry. Talk to me here. Why do you feel useless?”
Rowena watched without moving from her position as if giving Willow space to move and work out her thoughts. The younger woman began to pace.
“I remember that call from Korea just after Thanksgiving in 2019: ‘Ms. Rosenberg, we’ve got patients here with horrible respiratory issues. Can you help?’ Sure, I said, I-I can grow a new eyeball for Xander. I can tackle a simple cold, no problem.”
“You tried,” Rowena said.
Willow just nodded and continued. “Then a couple months later, the call from Italy in Winter 2020. The Council chair at the Milan Branch begging, pleading in choppy English, ‘Please use your magicks to save my mother from the breathing disease.’ She died, too. I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t save anyone. How powerful am I? Really? Because the way I see it, I’m a failure.”
“You’re not a failure,” Rowena replied firmly. “While everybody else in lockdown were singing shanty songs and baking sourdough bread, you were poring over books and spells to put an end to it all.”
“And I never did, did I? Let’s face it, Dolly Parton did more with her donation to Moderna than I did. I’m just not as powerful anymore.”
Rowena rose from the bed at that point and put a hand on each of Willow’s upper arms. “Listen to me,” she began. “I love you. You are one of the smartest and most talented women I’ve ever known, and we’re all lucky to have you.”
“Tell Casey that.” Willow slipped from her embrace and started to pace again. “Tell Grace since she blames me for not being able to ‘fix’ her BFF. Tell all those other slayers like Casey dealing with post-powers ailments that I can’t cure.”
“Who’s to say those ailments wouldn’t have presented sooner if you hadn’t given them slayer powers? If anything, you gave them more time, fuller days of youth. You kept them from illness and disease.”
“I hear you. I do. But it doesn’t feel that way. Now there’s these demons coming down with a mysterious illness that, guess what, I can’t fix that either. Like I said…useless. Officially the big four-oh, and I’m nowhere I expected I’d be in life.”
“Welcome to the club called middle age,” Rowena told her. Willow rolled her eyes. “No, seriously, Willow. You’re not alone in feeling that way. Why do you think I have ‘wig days?’ It’s a chance to be someone else, someone new.”
“You don’t need to be anyone else,” Willow insisted. “Ever.”
“I’m not what I used to be. My bones literally creak when I get up. I can’t read anything without a pair of glasses, and sometimes I need to read things twice because I can’t remember what I just read. I teach a group of students every year who may or may not save the world, based on whether I can get them to pay attention. I’m rarely on the front line anymore, and honestly, I don’t know what good I can do when I am.”
“You’re still great in the field,” Willow told her.
“Let’s ask the Cleveland Museum of What Used to Be Art. Really, if the fiasco two weeks ago has shown me anything, it’s that the answer is no, I can’t do any good anymore, because I nearly burned down that place with people I either bore or educated. So yeah…welcome to the club. So you feel like you’ve fallen short of your expectations? Congratulations. Who hasn’t?”
“If you’ve felt this way, why haven’t you said anything?” Willow asked.
“There’s nothing to say,” Rowena replied. “It’s just…life. Sometimes you save the day and sometimes…”
“You burn down museums?” Willow finished with a slight grin.
“Sometimes.” Rowena grinned, too. “But the thing is, we don’t give up. Yes, it seems like things fall apart, but we pick up the pieces and we keep moving. You’re doing that tomorrow actually. Maybe you can’t figure out the demon virus on your own, but maybe some good might come of your meeting with Dr. Goldman tomorrow. This could be just what you need to feel better.”
Willow was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry for acting like a whiny baby.”
“You’re not a whiny baby,” Rowena told her. “You care about what happens in this world and in your life. You’re venting and that’s good. Don’t bottle stuff up, and please remember, you can always talk to me. About anything, anytime. Got it?”
“Ma’am. Yes, Ma’am,” Willow saluted. “I’m the other general in this small army, right?”
Rowena closed the distance between them. “Suggestion: Let’s brush our teeth and report back to bed at oh-eight-hundred hours for duty?” As Rowena put her hands on either side of Willow’s smiling face, there was a loud pounding on the door, followed by Sophie’s voice.
“Mom, tell Jake it’s my turn to use the blue PS5 controller.”
Both women closed their eyes.
“And you want more of this?” Willow teased.
Rowena sighed. “How about twenty-two hundred hours instead?”
“Ten p.m., huh? If I’m not asleep by then, sure,” Willow chuckled.
Rosenberg-Allister House – Kitchen – Same Time
Jen sat at the kitchen table, her bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch sitting ignored in front of her as she scrolled on her phone. Alex plopped down next to her.
“You done with the milk?” he asked. She grunted, which was enough for him to reach across in front of her and grab the jug. The younger kids could be heard screaming somewhere in the background.
After pouring the cereal and the milk, Alex looked over at his sister and took a long breath.
“Do you remember that girl from the muse –?”
“You recognize this guy?” Not registering that her brother had said anything, Jen held up her phone toward him. He squinted at a candid picture of a very large, bald man in a leather vest.
Then Alex blinked. “Yeah, he’s –” Alex snapped his fingers twice, trying to think of the answer. Then he pointed at Jen in recognition. “He was in the missing person’s report in the meetings yesterday!”
Jen pointed back. “Yes! I knew that I…” She trailed off, looking back at the picture. “So riddle me this, Twinsy –”
“Don’t call me –”
“How did he show up on the ‘Vamps I’ve Slayed’ insta this morning?” She turned the phone back toward him, with the page scrolled back to the top to show the banner.
The twins looked at each other for a long beat, then both yelled “Mooommm!” at the same time.
Watchers Council – Grace’s Office – Later that Day
Buffy sat, along with Rowena, in a Chairwoman’s office that was much larger and nicer than hers had ever been. Grace spun an office chair toward them and away from two computer monitors set up on one side of her desk. One of the monitors showed the same Instagram page Jen had been looking at.
“So this is good, right?” Grace asked. “I mean, not for this guy, but from our perspective…we’ve been trying to get a handle on these disappearances because we think they’re connected to the Vampire King. If we can figure out where this girl took this pic, it’ll at least be a start.”
“Do we even know for sure that this guy was a vampire?” Buffy asked. “Or that this girl slayed him?”
Grace gestured to the computer screen. “I mean…he’s on ‘Vamps I’ve Slayed’.”
Rowena looked over at Buffy. “It’s run by a lancer named Ainsley Horvath. She takes a picture of every vampire she fights before she slays them.”
“She what?” Buffy sat back in her chair, frowning. “Half the time I can’t even open my camera app on the first try. How does she do it mid-fight?”
Rowena shrugged. “Slayer skills?” She turned back to Grace. “If this girl’s a lancer, though, chances are she won’t tell us anything.”
“And if she starts posting that we brought her in against her will, just for slaying vampires, I’m going to get yelled at by the Guild,” Grace agreed with a sigh. “I’ve already had three screaming matches with them since Thanksgiving, I’m not looking to make it four.”
Buffy sat up. “I know who she’d talk to.”
“You think she’d do it if I asked?” Rowena asked.
“I think this gal likes the attention,” Buffy replied.
Grace’s eyes bounced between the two of them.
Shaker Heights Recreation Center – Day
A troop of teenage girls, wearing the most fashionable of winter gear, trailed behind a single girl at the front with shoulder-length brown hair. The whole group walked down a hallway toward an indoor skating rink. The rest of the foot traffic in the busy area gave the group a wide berth.
The girl at the front was in the middle of a rapid-fire monologue. “So then I said to him, ‘I’m sorry I left before midnight,’ but it’s not like kissing him is more important than my slaying career. He knows that I have to prioritize –”
Her phone buzzed once. She lifted it then stopped in her tracks. The entire group stopped with her. The lead girl’s eyes went huge.
“OMG,” she said breathlessly.
Electric Car – Day
“Yeah, it was easy,” Faith said into her phone as she sat in the back of her Uber. “Just a few too many selfies with the gals, and she gave me the info. Yeah, she said she ran into an alley at Cedar and Surrey in Cleveland Heights. Any time, Blondie. And again, my love to Red and the pipsqueaks. Yeah, you too.”
She ended the call and looked up at the driver sitting in the front seat. “Okay, let’s go. I can’t be late.”
Her car pulled silently away down the street.
Cleveland Heights Alleyway – Day
Several men and women wearing jackets with Council insignia scoured an alleyway. One young woman, her breath visible in the cold night air, was closely examining the asphalt on one knee. She looked over her shoulder at Robin standing behind her.
“It’s definitely vamp dust, sir,” she said. “This is the spot.”
“But the alleyway’s clean,” said Jackson, walking up beside Robin. “Seems like a dead end.”
Robin looked up and down the alley, a wrinkle of concentration in his forehead. Then he motioned to the building on one side. “What is this place?” he asked.
“Uh, restaurant, I think?” Jackson replied. “I don’t think it ever reopened after lockdown.”
Abandoned Restaurant – Day
A younger woman, in her own Council jacket, kicked open the locked front door of the empty building, then nodded and stepped aside for Robin to enter. He took a few steps into a quiet room that was still recognizably a restaurant. Its booths and tables were left empty and bare. His eyes swept the room at least twice. Then they alighted on something.
Robin took several steps forward, pulling out a pair of tweezers from his pocket as he did so. Only a slight limp was evident from his artificial leg. Then he leaned down and picked something up with his tweezers. He lifted the object to examine it. What he had found was a rough-hewn gold earring, roughly a spiral in shape. It glinted in the light coming from the front windows.
Watchers Council – Grace’s Office – Afternoon
Grace sat in a leather chair in her office, the Council’s coat of arms behind her. A bespectacled male reporter sat across from her in a similar chair. Multiple cameras and their operators occupied the nearby areas of the office. She had a practiced, attentive half-smile on her face. She seemed oblivious to the fact that either of the cameras was there.
“It must be hard,” the interviewer said, “living in a different time zone from your husband.”
Grace blinked twice and glanced down for a split-second, then back at up at him, her half-smile never wavering. “It’s a hard life, the Watchers Council. What we do, it’s not easy, we never tell anyone it is. Jeff’s duty took him to the Chicago Branch, mine is here. But it’s not forever. And we…” She glanced down again. “We find our moments.”
“And the public seems to recognize your devotion,” the reporter said. “The Council’s approval ratings have never been higher. What do you attribute that fact to?”
“We don’t do this to be popular,” Grace said. “The world’s still here. That’s the only approval rating that matters.”
“But the threats continue,” the interviewer noted. “The vampire allegedly at the root of what happened at the Cleveland Museum of Art a few weeks ago remains at large. We understand that you can’t always divulge all the details of ongoing investigations, but tell us, is the Council any closer to ending the threat?”
“Well, you’re right, Gerald, I can’t say everything, but…” Grace nodded. She paused and scratched an eyebrow. “There are always threats. You try to hold the darkness back, and it’s still very, very dark. And there are people, good people, people who don’t deserve any of…who have devoted their lives to all of this, who give up, just…everything. But there will always be a next thing, and a next thing, and a next thing.” She shook her head. “There is no…glorious victory, at the end.” She looked directly into the reporter’s eyes. “But I can tell you this. We’re gonna get her. And we’re gonna do it soon.”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Afternoon
“We can’t do it!” Willow exclaimed.
Grace stared levelly at her from the head of the table, again with video images of Althenea and Amira behind her. The rest of the Boxless Lady Task Force again surrounded the large table in the conference room.
“Will,” Buffy ventured, “you said yourself, the earring was a hit on the locator spell for this chick.”
“And,” Emma pointed out from the far end of the table, “she was wearing that thing at the museum. She looked great, y’know, for her age.”
“Just because we know where she is doesn’t mean we can do anything about it,” Willow said. “We don’t have a containment vessel, and we don’t have a spell.”
“Then slay her,” Amira’s voice came from the speakers. “I read the reports, she is hard to kill. But she is still a vampire, yes?”
Rowena shook her head. “We know that older vampires are different. They change form, and they’re more resilient.” She turned to Buffy next to her. “I’ve read Giles’s diaries.” She looked over at Liz, who was starting to open her mouth at the end of the table. “Not yours, though the Aquatic Demons section of the library is a terrible hiding place.” She turned back to Buffy. “The Master didn’t die the first time you staked him, and Kakistos didn’t die when Faith staked him. How did you guys finish them off?”
Buffy half-smiled. “We got a bigger stake.”
“Seems like something Xander could do,” Shannon commented.
“The Master fell on a table leg, Buffy,” Willow said. “I was there.”
“I threw him on the table leg,” Buffy said defensively. “It was completely on purpose!”
“Uh-huh,” Willow said, unconvinced. “The point is, how are we going to get this lady to stand still long enough for us to shove a two-by-four through her heart? It doesn’t seem like slayers are likely to last very long with her in a fight.”
“We bring more than two slayers,” Shannon said. “A lot more.”
“And the Coven can assist,” Althenea said. Her zoom background of bucolic English countryside flickered as she shifted in her chair. “It’s a fairly simple holding spell.”
Willow looked up at her, eyes wide in surprise. “It’s a simple holding spell on a human,” she replied. “With this lady, who knows?”
Grace cleared her throat and sat forward in her chair. Everyone turned to look at her.
“Okay, how many witches do you need?” she asked quietly.
“I-I…” Willow stammered. “We don’t work like that. Magic doesn’t work like that. It’s not math. It’s kind of the opposite of math.”
Grace looked directly into the small camera on the table in front of her. “Al, what do you think? How many witches?”
Althenea’s mouth worked for a moment. “How-how many are in your Coven there now, Willow? Twelve?” She had almost an apologetic look on her face. “I certainly agree, there isn’t a specific number, but the more the better for something like this.”
“Then we bring the whole Coven,” Shannon said. “Worst case, it’s like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer.”
“That’s not the worst case scenario!” Willow nearly yelled. “I’m not taking the whole…” She realized at that point that everyone was looking at her. Her eyes went from Shannon, to Grace, to Althenea, to Rowena. She spent a long moment looking at her wife, as if pleading for her to say something. Rowena looked down at her hands in her lap. Willow looked back at Grace and swallowed, her voice now lower, almost pleading. “Half of them haven’t even been in the field.”
“I know Ken’s not here,” Rowena said, “but you still have Dawn and Skye, and I’ve heard that Wilton is really coming along well.”
“She better not be coming anywhere near your wife,” Liz grumbled under her breath at the end of the table.
“What was that?” Rowena asked, turning to her.
Liz hurriedly shook her head. “Nothing!”
“It’s harder without a strong male energy,” Willow told her. “If we still had Andrew or Asher here, or Jeff –”
“He’s not here,” Grace said quickly. “He’s in Chicago, training more witches, which, FYI, is what you’re supposed to be doing here. I hate to break it to you, but if the Coven’s not ready for this when we need it to be, we’ve got bigger problems than one ancient vampire king.”
Willow looked down at the table. Rowena raised a hand to her arm, but Willow moved slightly to shrug it off.
Grace licked her lips and continued. “There’s a proposal on the table for an attack on the Vampire King using the information we have about her location and a large force of slayers and witches. I’m going to call a vote. Slayer Division?”
Shannon and Amira nodded at each other briefly, then Shannon said, “We’re ready.”
“No,” Willow said quietly.
Grace sighed and sat back. “We have a few high-ranking watchers here, so I probably shouldn’t just speak for them. Let’s do this: I propose the Watchers Division votes yes. Any objections?”
She looked at Buffy and then at Rowena. Willow’s mouth opened slightly at her wife’s silence.
“Will,” Rowena said quietly, “I know you’ve been –”
Willow stood up and left the room.
Liz watched, wide-eyed, as the older woman passed behind her chair. After the door closed, she turned back to the rest of the occupants of the conference room. “So, are these meetings always this fun? I’ve been missing out.”
Willow’s Office – Moments Later
Willow stood over her desk, leafing through the papers and books that cluttered its surface. Her head turned at a slight tap on her open door to see Rowena standing there.
“Can we talk?” she began.
“About?” Willow asked, pointedly turning back to her work on the desk and continuing to look busy.
Rowena didn’t wait for an invite. She moved deeper into the room and shut the door behind her.
“The vote wasn’t personal,” she said.
“To you,” Willow countered. “It wasn’t personal to you. You didn’t say a word in there. Not even a single syllable to back me up whatsoever.”
“What could I say? I’m stuck in the middle here.”
“I know many times over the years we have not seen eye to eye, but I always felt like you had my back regardless…until today.”
“You know I support you.”
“Really? Then help me find a way to call this off.”
“That’s why I’m here, actually. They want to do this sooner rather than later.”
Willow smiled sadly and shook her head. “They want to charge into a Vampire King…Queen…whatever den tomorrow, with no serious recon an –”
“They’re going tonight,” Rowena interrupted. “We can’t wait or we might lose her. And people keep going missing, Will! The longer we wait, the more –”
“At night – when we don’t even have daylight to our possible advantage? Did everyone here just take a big handful of stupid pills?”
“Will, I know –”
“Nothing. You know nothing of what’s to come.”
“Neither do you, and if we wait –”
“We could be more prepared. We could learn more info that makes the difference between life and death.”
“If we wait, it could mean the difference between saving Cleveland, or hell, saving the world.”
Willow paused. Her face was unreadable.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” she finally said. “I have to plan an attack without having enough information. So, unless you have some new enlightened details to share with me about this threat, the door is over there.” She pointed.
“I don’t want you to leave angry tonight,” Rowena said.
“You don’t have a choice here – like me,” Willow replied. She didn’t add more, or even look at Rowena. She started to go through the books again, then took a seat as she started to thumb through one of them.
Rowena watched her for a moment and then left the room without comment, closing the door behind her.
Council Van – Night
Dawn drove the Council van with Skye in the passenger seat. The two of them chatted amiably about what shows to watch later on Netflix. The rest of the van was filled with members of the Coven, most of whom sat in tension-filled silence. Alex was in the far back. In the first row of passengers, Willow stared out a window at the cold, passing night.
“Try not to worry too much, Miss Rosenberg.” Willow turned to look at Emma Wilton sitting next to her, wearing a leather jacket and a smile. She nodded her chin over her shoulder toward the rest of the Coven. “They’re Council. That means something, right? And they studied under the best bloody witch in the business.” She paused for Willow to give her a wan look. “I mean, if I can call myself that. Oh, you thought I meant you?” She flashed a toothy grin.
Willow looked back out the window and said, “I’ll need your help in there, Miss Wilton.”
“I’ve told ya before, you can just call me Wilton.” She motioned to the rest of the van. “They all do. All my friends. We’re friends, right?”
“Yeah,” Willow said, turning her head back to the English girl. “Yeah, Wilton, we’re friends.”
Council Van – Same Time
The van full of slayers was far more raucous, with at least a dozen girls engaged in loud conversation, Emma in the middle of them. Shannon was behind the wheel. Amidst the slayers sat Liz, legs together, a large notebook on her lap. She seemed slightly bemused at the upbeat mood. She looked up when she heard the girl next to her speaking to her.
“Are you seriously the one watcher they brought?” the girl asked. She had bright red hair and might have been in her mid-twenties. “I mean, no offense. I thought this was a big deal.”
Liz held up the notebook. “I’m the one who speaks her language.” She shrugged. “Maybe. We didn’t really have time for me to brief anybody.” She looked at this girl for a second. “I’m Liz.”
The girl grinned. “I know, I’ve seen you around. Cindy Loomis.”
Liz’s eyes grew very slightly wider. “Wait, I do know you.” She hesitated then leaned over toward Cindy, speaking in a lower voice. “Are you the girl who –”
“Yes,” Cindy replied. She seemed very proud of herself.
Parking Lot – Minutes Later
The vans, Council insignia emblazoned on the side, pulled through a large entranceway into the interior of a huge covered garage. In the dim light inside were row upon row of identically-painted yellow school buses. The building was made of crumbling cement blocks, rebars occasionally sticking out of the walls.
A moment later, the vans pulled to a halt, and those inside piled out as quickly as possible.
Dawn looked around the place and said, hands on hips, “Your tax dollars at work.”
“Or lack thereof,” Skye replied. “When was the last time this town passed a school levy? Did you know they still don’t let vampires vote?”
“We know,” Dawn said, in a tone that suggested that was neither the first nor the twentieth time Skye had mentioned this.
“There’s not even any having-a-soul loophole, it’s insane.”
“I like it,” Emma said quietly. “One way in, one way out. We’ve got her cornered.”
“Shut it,” Shannon barked, as she reached inside the back of one of the vans and pulled out a very large piece of wood.
Several seconds of silence followed. The group spread out near the bus-sized entrance to the garage. Shannon put down the plank next to the van and turned to the slayer next to her, a short brunette. She made several quick motions in American Sign Language.
Subtitle: “Charlotte, take your squad around the left flank.”
The girl signed back.
She motioned to several of the girls without speaking and led them off toward the left side of the garage. Several more seconds of silence followed.
“Is the bitch here?” Wilton whispered.
Willow looked around. “She’s here.”
Then, some distance away, between two buses, a light hanging from the ceiling flickered on briefly, giving a clear view of the Vampire King standing in a flowing dress. She was looking at them. Then the light flickered off again.
“C’mon, guys, make the circle.” Willow reached out both her hands. Alex took one, and Dawn took the other, the rest of the Coven soon pressing in around them.
“Where’d she go?” Cindy asked, looking around.
“I think you might be up, Giles,” Shannon said through clenched teeth. “Remember, just keep her distracted while the Coven does its thing.
Liz licked her lips and opened her notebook, then took several steps forward. She looked down, breathed several times hard through her nose, then called out, “Molo, wendo!”
Subtitle: “Hello, visitor!”
Liz glanced behind her and saw Willow quietly organizing the Coven. Shannon gave her a circular motion to keep going.
She turned back around and said, slightly louder, “Wan ke mondo wawinj kendo wapuonjre.”
Subtitle: “We are here to listen and learn.”
The Coven was starting to chant. Liz licked her lips and continued, “Warwaki e tich ariyo, rao!”
Subtitle: “Welcome to Tuesday, hippopotamus!”
Liz looked up to see that the King was now standing about six feet in front of her. She gave an involuntary, strangled scream.
The King cocked her head, her eyes passively regarding Liz. Then, she said, very clearly in English but with a distinct accent, “Hello, Watchers Council. I am happy you came.”
Liz gaped for a second. Then she looked down at her notebook and threw it on the floor in disgust.
“There goes two weeks of my life for nothing,” she growled. A moment later, she seemed to realize that the King was still there. Behind her, the Coven was still chanting. Slayers fanned out around them. “Uh…hi!” she said. “How, um, how’s it going?” She then looked extremely disgusted with the fact that was all she had managed to get out.
The King looked around the garage, clearly very aware of what was happening around them, then back at Liz. “Are you the leader?”
Liz blinked. “I’m gonna say…no.”
A very slight movement of the King’s eyebrows showed what she thought of that. “Ah. Still, I will tell you. It is you who came. Before I arrived here, in my time, I saw what humans were. Vampires see humans as food, but that is only part of the truth. They are locusts. They eat everything.”
Liz watched Cindy creep closer out of the corner of her eye. “Your English is…really good. Did you do Rosetta Stone or…”
“I knew when I fought Sineya that my power would not be enough,” the Vampire King said. “When I drank her and took her power for my own, it was still not enough to stop the Shadow Men from imprisoning me. I have come here and seen that I was right about the humans. I require the power to stop them.”
Liz’s brow furrowed. She spoke quietly, more to herself than anything. “Sineya? I know this…that’s the name they gave the First Slayer in the Opus Obscuram. That’s…” She looked up at the Vampire King. “You…killed the First Slayer?”
“Her blood was my food.”
The Vampire King’s head moved slightly, and she seemed to look past Liz for the first time. The Coven’s chanting had reached a crescendo.
“There is power,” she said.
The King pushed Liz aside but suddenly shot up about a yard into the air. Her feet dangled uselessly beneath her. She looked directly at Willow, who looked back directly into the King’s eyes while keeping up her chant with the rest of the Coven.
Shannon, circling nearby, signed “Now!” to where Charlotte was standing behind the nearest bus, just out of King’s range of vision.
Several of Charlotte’s team let loose with crossbows and throwing axes. At least four bolts struck the King in the back. An axe, tumbling end over end, struck her in the shoulder with a wet thudding noise. The King’s face showed no visible reaction to this.
Liz stumbled backward, grabbing her discarded notebook as she did so, eventually skittering to a stop behind the nearest Council van. She watched as the holding spell pulled out one of the king’s arms away from her body, then the other. Cindy and Emma ran forward, each grabbed one of the King’s legs, and pulled. The vampire did not spare either of them a glance, instead keeping her eyes on Willow.
Then Shannon strode forward with a long plank of wood carried over her shoulder. It was at least three feet long and five inches across, with a sharpened tip. As she neared, the Vampire King finally looked down at her and raised one eyebrow.
With a heave, Shannon thrust the plank through the Vampire King’s heart.
Cindy let out a triumphant whoop. Willow and the Coven kept chanting. Shannon said nothing. She just waited.
The Vampire King did not turn to dust.
Then, her movement a blur, she pulled one arm down from where it had apparently been pinned and grabbed Shannon by the front of her shirt. She pulled the Council’s most senior active slayer up in the air, legs kicking, then threw her.
Liz watched from behind the van, mouth hanging open, as Shannon flew above her in a high arc. Then the slayer’s body smashed to the concrete just above the garage entrance. The wall crumbled at the blow, gray chunks raining down. A support beam gave way, then another.
A few seconds later, the garage entrance was entirely blocked by a pile of twisted concrete and metal. Shannon was somewhere underneath.
In shock at this, most of the Coven stopped chanting. The King dropped to the ground immediately. As she did so, she kicked out her legs, sending Emma and Cindy spiraling away in opposite directions. She took several slow steps forward, then stopped and pulled the giant stake out of her chest. After a moment, it came free with a squelch. She tossed it to the side. Her wound closed while the clattering still echoed.
The King looked at the Coven and said, “I see now your error. You believed that I was trapped with you. In truth, you are trapped with me.”
Alex blinked. “Does she know that’s from –”
“Run! Now!” Willow bellowed.
Dawn grabbed her arm. “Willow, run where?” She jerked her head toward the rubble at the entrance. “That was the only way out.”
The two of them looked up at the King walking slowly toward them. She pulled the axe out of her back, looked at it for just a moment, and dropped it to the floor with a clang. Two slayers ran in front of her, striking each of her cheeks in turn. The Vampire King’s head did not even move.
Willow glanced over at the nearest van. Liz had already scrambled into the passenger side and grabbed the radio. “Hey, Command, uh, we are gonna need an extraction here. Nowish.”
Two slayers slammed into the floor so hard that the concrete cracked.
Willow turned to the rest of the Coven. “She’s after me,” she said. “You guys need to get away.”
“Willow!” Wilton protested. “You can’t –”
Cindy tried a flip-kick on the Vampire King that ended mid-flip with the King grabbing her face and smashing it into the floor.
“Relief team is about seven minutes out,” Robin’s voice crackled over Liz’s radio. “And it sounds like they may need to assess how to get in when they get there.”
“Mr. Wood,” Liz said, a somewhat crazy edge to her voice, “in seven minutes, we’re all gonna be dead!”
“I’ll be fine,” Willow told the Coven. “You’ll be fine. You’re witches. Look around the perimeter, find a way out. Go!” Willow saw the reluctance on her son’s face when he didn’t move automatically. “You too.” She kissed him on the forehead and said, “I’ll be okay. Go.” He nodded and took off.
The rest of the Coven scattered too, except for Dawn. Skye shot her one last look, and Dawn nodded. Then she smiled at Willow and said, “I’ll distract her. Go.” Willow nodded and started running in the opposite direction from the rest of the Coven.
A worse-for-wear Emma scrambled over on her hands and knees to where Charlotte crouched behind a bus. She looked at Charlotte so the girl could see her face, then pressed the bluetooth in her ear.
“We need to throw everything we can at her. Attack fast, get away, attack again. Anything we can do to slow her down. We have to keep her away from the Coven. And don’t get caught, the last thing we need is slayer blood in her. And, uh, also, try not to die. Should be easy peasy, let’s go.”
She pressed her Bluetooth again and saw Charlotte signing at her emphatically.
Subtitle: “Who the fuck put you in charge?”
Emma shrugged. Charlotte seemed to consider this for a moment then nodded. She ran forward, gesturing to several other slayers nearby.
Dawn stepped in front of the Vampire King, who regarded her for a moment.
“You are something new,” the King said.
Dawn pulled her hair back, off of her neck, and raised an eyebrow. The King leaned forward.
“Careful,” Dawn said, “or you’ll get a soul.”
The King stopped briefly and stared at her.
“It grows,” Dawn said. “Like a chia pet.”
The King cocked her head. “What is…chia?”
Parking Lot – Moments Later
Willow ran down an alleyway lined with yellow school buses, panting heavily. Overhead lights flickered. From nearby, somewhere, could be heard the sounds of violence and shouting. Willow made a hard right, then a left into the next alleyway. A girl flew above her, between one bus and the other, arms flailing wildly. Then Cindy Loomis came crawling out from under one of the buses in front of her. A split-second later, Cindy was pulled back by something. She screamed, her fingernails scraping on the concrete as she disappeared back under the bus. Willow sprinted past, made a turn and then another.
About twenty feet in front of her stood the Vampire King. Willow skidded to a stop. Then her eyes steeled, and she thrust out a hand toward the Vampire King, pushing with an unseen force.
The Vampire King remained unaffected. She began to walk forward.
Willow whispered a command and produced a ball of blue fire in her hand. She threw it toward the King. The ball struck her and dissipated harmlessly on impact. The King continued to walk forward.
As she neared Willow, the witch breathlessly whispered, “Spathios.” A brightly flaming sword grew from nothing to three feet long in a moment. Willow raised her new blade in a fighting stance, teeth set. When the King did not stop her approach, she swung the sword at the vampire’s neck.
The blade shattered on impact, the pieces fading away to nothing as they fell. Willow stared at the woman standing over her, genuine fear in her eyes.
“What are you?” she asked.
“My first life taught me that power is all,” the King answered obliquely. “I will use the power of your kind to sweep you from this world.” She reached a hand out for the trembling Willow. “Your power…”
“No!” Wilton grabbed Willow’s shoulder and pulled her backward, hard. Willow went stumbling onto her behind on the concrete. She stepped between Willow and the King and said, “You want her, you go through me.” She put her hands on her hips, jaw pushed out in defiance.
“Don’t,” Willow called out, reaching out an ineffectual hand.
The Vampire King regarded Wilton for a second then said, “Agreed.”
Before Wilton could get the first syllable of a spell out, she was grabbed by the King, hard, with both hands, lifted off the ground and spun around to face Willow. Their eyes met. Then the King’s fangs emerged, and she drove them into Wilton’s neck.
Willow scrambled very slowly backward on her hands, mouth agape. The Vampire King, with a greedy slurping noise, continued to gulp down Wilton’s blood. Then she kept going, and kept going. Willow’s eyes stayed on Wilton’s as the spark left them, and they sagged shut.
A shape fell down from the top of the bus on the right, dragging both the King and Wilton down with it as it fell. The newcomer, having the element of surprise, was the first to their feet.
Shannon, hair caked in white dust and face covered in cuts and bruises, grabbed Wilton’s now-very-pale body and sprinted toward Willow as fast as she could.
“Come on!” she yelled.
When Willow hesitated for a moment, just gaping at her, Shannon stopped, screamed, “Come on!” once more, then kept going. As the King very deliberately rose behind them, Willow pulled herself to her feet and ran after the slayer.
School Bus – Same Time
Skye had a finger to her ear.
“Everyone, get to Bus 47. Northwest edge of the garage. We’re gonna try to get everyone out.”
She was sitting in the first seat of the school bus, a seemingly-asleep Dawn draped over the seat next to her. Dawn had two small wounds on her neck. In front of her, Liz was desperately fiddling with wires under the steering wheel.
“C’mon,” Skye urged her. “What kind of juvenile delinquent are you?”
“Not helping,” Liz said through gritted teeth.
At the sound of frenzied knocking, Skye stood and pulled open the bus door to let in the first of a stream of slayers and witches.
“Look out for Dawn,” she warned them, pointing to the prone woman as they all began to pile inside. “Make sure all the windows are closed.”
Those who could move well enough followed the vampire’s order, going row by row.
School Bus – Same Time
Shannon, Wilton still in her arms, and Willow made their way through the maze of buses as fast as they could.
“Hurry it up, Rosenberg!” Shannon shouted.
Just for a moment, some ways behind them, the King could be seen.
“I don’t have running powers!” Willow yelled back.
“I got thrown through a wall!” Shannon replied.
The two of them pulled up to the side of Bus 47, and the door opened. They rushed onto the bus, finding it now full of Council personnel. Liz was still fiddling with wires beneath the dash.
“She’s right behind us!” Willow urged.
“Is she…?” Alex asked Shannon, with a nod of his head toward Wilton’s limp form. Shannon just looked at him.
“Healing spell couldn’t hurt now,” Willow told him. He nodded and put her hands in his.
“Can you do it or not?” Skye snapped at Liz, who was still under the dash.
“I…” Two of the wires sparked, and the bus engine sputtered to life “…can,” Liz said, sitting up with a big smile on her face. “And Ro said I had to pick between crime and the Watchers Council.”
Liz and most of the rest of the bus then jumped when the glass in one of the windows near the front of the bus broke suddenly. The Vampire King’s arm reached through the resulting opening, grasping. Those inside the bus tried to pull to the opposite side. Emma, now holding Jung Kook, started whaling on the King’s arm with it, but failed to deter her.
“Let’s go!” she shouted.
Liz put two hands either side of the steering wheel, took a deep breath, shook her head once and said, “Here goes nothing.”
She slammed her foot on the gas pedal, and the bus accelerated forward as quickly as it could go.
“Aim for that wall. Don’t slow down,” Willow told her in a voice that wasn’t open for debate.
Liz shrugged and pointed the bus directly at the front wall of the garage, which was rushing toward them very quickly.
“Hold on to something!” Liz called out to the passengers. Several of them took heed.
Wide eyed, Willow put her hand out and started to mutter as the wall came closer and closer into view. Liz’s knuckles were literally white as she pushed the pedal to the floor as hard as she could. She started to wince as the yards turned into feet.
Everyone behind her did their best to brace for impact, while Charlotte, one eye swollen all the way shut and one arm hanging uselessly at her side, leaned as far as she could away from the Vampire King’s still grasping arm.
As the bus bore down on the garage wall, the wall fractured with hundreds of cracks. The bus hit the wall and the concrete gave way. The vehicle tore a hole the exact size and shape of the bus in what had been the front of the garage and barreled out of the building. The impact caused the Vampire King to be thrown off the side, tumbling back into the darkness.
Liz stole a glance over her shoulder, then howled in triumph and joyously slammed a hand on the steering wheel. Emma slumped down in a seat, looking extremely relieved.
Liz’s jubilation was short-lived, however, when her eyes drifted over to Willow. The witch’s nose was slightly bloody, and she was still holding Wilton’s hand with Alex, a look of extreme exhaustion and concern mixed on her face.
Cleveland School Bus 47 continued to the nearest major road and pulled hard right onto it with a screech. The Vampire King stood in the hole the bus had left in its wake, watching its swift retreat.
Watchers Council – Medical Emergency Entrance – Moments Later
Buffy and Rowena both stood just outside the entrance to the Council Emergency Room as the occupants of the bus began to make their exit. Orderlies and nurses began to tend to the injured. Buffy watched as Shannon and Emma carried Wilton down the stairs.
“She needs help!” Shannon called out urgently, and several of the medical personnel hurried over to assist Wilton.
“What happened?” Buffy asked.
“All hell broke loose,” Shannon replied as she and Emma put Wilton on a gurney. “In case you’re curious, Vampy is still at large.”
“Are you two –?” Buffy started to ask.
“Battered, but alive,” Emma offered. “If Wilton makes it, then no casualties, but we’re gonna wake up with some aches tomorrow, I’m sure.”
As the trio walked into the building, Rowena still waited. She only moved forward when she saw Alex and Willow descend the stairs. Since he was in the lead, she pulled Alex into a hug, which he barely returned. When she pulled back, she noticed that Willow had already moved past her and into the emergency room without so much as a backward glance.
Watchers Council – Emergency Room – Moments Later
When Rowena made it through the doors of the ER, she found Willow not far inside, standing and staring at the bed where a pack of doctors and nurses worked frantically to assist Wilton.
“Oh good, Willow, you’re here.”
Willow looked up to find Grace nearby, the watcher having just looked up from studying something on a tablet. Her nostrils flared as Grace took several steps toward her.
“Hey, what happened out there?”
“What happened out there?” Willow shouted back. Then her voice grew even louder. “What happened out there?” Most of the patients in the room turned to look at her. “I’ll tell you what fucking happened out there, Grace!”
Grace took an involuntary step back, surprise on her face. Rowena reached out and grabbed Willow’s arm. “Honey, not here –”
“Don’t ‘honey’ me!” Willow screamed at her, pulling Rowena’s hand off her with her other hand. She turned back to Grace, pointing a finger at the Chairwoman. “What happened is that Vampire Terminator not only survived your ridiculous ‘giant stake’ bullshit, she played basketball with the heads of all the top slayers in this fucking place, and, oh yeah, as far as I can tell, she’s immune to magic. I used the Sword of Ephesus on her, Grace, and it broke on that bitch’s neck. Do you understand? That thing can cut through fucking diamonds, I’ve done it, and nothing.”
Her finger got much closer to Grace’s face. “Do you get it? You did this! You fucking did this! I told you what would happen, and you just traipsed along like always, and the only reason, the only fucking reason, that your entire Coven and all your top slayers didn’t get eaten tonight is because, wait for it, Elizabeth Giles for some reason knows how to hot-wire a school bus!”
Rowena looked over at Liz, who was now sitting in a chair nearby. The girl shrugged, “Mom called it a handy life skill. Turns out she was right.”
Rowena shook this off and looked back at her wife. “Willow, please…”
Willow spun around to point the same finger at her. “And you! You did this, too! You could have backed up your own goddamn wife, but instead you decided to just keep being Grace’s lapdog, like always. Remember, you’re the one who trained her. What the fuck happened?”
Rowena held up two hands, trying very hard to keep her breathing steady and not entirely succeeding. “Willow, please, let’s keep our work disagreements actually focused on work, okay? I know we don’t always see eye to eye, but I still love you. Remember that cartoon Xander showed us, way back when? We’re still Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf, all these years later.”
On a nearby bed, Cindy, who was receiving a set of stitches to a nasty-looking gash on her forehead, looked at Charlotte sitting across from her. “Were Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf fucking?” she asked.
Charlotte used her remaining useful arm to make a palms-up “beats me” gesture, then yelped in pain when the medic attending to her unexpectedly snapped her shoulder back into place.
“It’s a little hard for me to leave work disagreements out of our relationship when you and Grace’s stupidity nearly gets both me and our son killed,” Willow shot back. She looked back over at Grace. “You know what, Ro? I wish you were still in charge. When you were Chair, this place would have been tied up in investigations for months over this bullshit. But she…” She pointed at Grace again, “…is gonna to keep going just like she always has. Damn the torpedoes. I’ve got a Looney Tunes metaphor for ya. This whole place is like Wile E. Coyote. You’ve walked all of us off a fucking cliff, and I’m the only one who’s looked down and realized the ground isn’t there anymore.”
Willow closed her mouth but was still taking wild breaths. Grace’s eyes were wide, but she said nothing. Rowena hung her head, looking at the floor. Then Willow turned and walked out of the ER, slamming the door behind her as she went.
Behind Rowena, Liz held up a page from her notebook, on which she had written “YIPE!” in large letters.
Grace turned to Rowena. “I gotta ask, have you ever heard her swear before?”
Rowena shook her head. “Not outside of bed and her giving birth. And…not like that.” She pulled out her phone and put it to her ear. Without so much as a hello, she said, “Hey, I need a favor tonight.”
At the far end of the ER, Dawn loudly gasped and sat straight up in her bed. She looked around at her surroundings and then seemed to gauge she was back at the Council. She turned to Skye sitting next to her.
“What’d I miss?”
Rosenberg-Allister House – Later that Evening
Willow was the first one past the threshold, followed by Alex, with Rowena practically giving chase.
“Willow, talk to me,” Rowena called out.
From the sofa, Jen, Jake and Sophie watched this unfold.
“Not a stellar night, Bro?” Jen asked.
“No,” was all Alex said as he climbed the stairs. No one said anything as they heard his bedroom door close.
Rowena turned to the couch crew. “Grab your horns in one hand and your toothbrush with the other,” she told them. “You’re having a sleepover.”
“On a school night?” Jake asked happily.
Rowena nodded. “Aunt Becca was so impressed with your debut she wants you guys to get in more practice time together, so chop-chop,” Rowena said, and clapped her hands twice. The younger kids scurried upstairs. Jen didn’t look convinced.
“Ma’s really pissed, eh?” Jen asked, as if already knowing the answer.
“What gave you that impression?”
“I don’t know, I have eyes that function?” Jen replied.
Rowena grinned for just a moment. “Please check in on Alex after you get your toothbrush.”
Just then, there was a knock at the door. As Jen made her way up the stairs, Rowena moved to answer it.
“Perfect timing,” she said as she opened the door to see Becca there. “I appreciate this.”
“No worries. Lizzie and Marty are thrilled for this chance, even though they know it’s not a real sleepover night.”
Rowena grinned. “Jen didn’t buy the sleepover story either, but Jake and Sophie did.”
Becca took a step forward and softly said, “Maybe it won’t be as bad as you think. Just know that we’ll keep the kids as long as you need and, since we’re just a few streets away, use your key and come in whenever you want.”
Rowena hugged Becca and said, “Again, thanks.” When she pulled back, Jake and Sophie were running down the stairs, instrument cases and toothbrushes in hand. Each one greeted Becca with a hug and then ran out to her car as she waved them in that direction. Alex exited his room first, followed by Jen. Without a word to anyone, he walked out toward the car. Jen leaned over and kissed Rowena on the cheek before patting Becca’s shoulder and following her brother out.
“Call if you need anything,” Becca told her then turned to follow Jen to the car.
“You too,” Rowena called after her.
Rowena closed the door and took a deep breath, then looked up toward the bedroom.
Rosenberg-Allister House – Willow and Rowena’s Bedroom – Moments Later
Rowena took a spot on the end of the bed. She could hear the water running in their master shower. When it stopped a few seconds later, she announced her presence.
“Becca has the kids tonight.”
“I’m not really in the mood for a romantic night,” Willow quipped. After a few moments, she came into the bedroom in her nighttime attire, her hair damp.
At first, the two women just looked at each other. Rowena took a breath and said, “Wilton is awake. The transfusion seems to have worked, according to Robin. He called when I was driving home.”
Willow simply nodded. “Everyone else doing okay?”
“Everyone else is fine.”
Willow only nodded again.
Rowena regarded her for a moment longer. “I’m sorry.”
Willow didn’t talk immediately. “For what?”
“For all of it.”
“That was super specific,” Willow said sarcastically. She walked over to the dresser and pulled out a pair of socks.
“Seriously,” Rowena continued, “I’m sorry for all of it. I’m sorry I didn’t say more in the meeting. I’m sorry I didn’t make a stronger case later and express your concerns about waiting for daylight. I’m sorry for putting you and Alex in jeopardy. You were right, and we were wrong.”
Willow started to shake her head. “Is that what you think I want to hear? That I was right? Because it’s not. I don’t like saying ‘I told you so’.” Against her better judgment, Rowena cocked her head and couldn’t quite suppress a small smile. “Fine. You got me. I do like being right,” Willow confessed, with a small grin of her own. “But don’t think for a single second that I wanted this mission to fail.”
Rowena finally moved to her feet and started on her way over toward Willow. “Of course not. I know that; everyone knows that. And I meant what I said. I am sorry for all of it.”
Willow took a deep breath. “For what it’s worth, in hindsight, I can see how you might have felt trapped in the decision making. We need to stop her, sooner rather than later. All of you are right on that account, but we need to be smarter about this,” she stressed.
“And we will,” Rowena insisted. “It’s just that this threat is different…”
“No. It’s just been awhile since something this big came in our backyard,” Willow replied.
“Yeah. We’re out of practice,” Rowena added.
“What gave you that impression? You blowing up an art museum or me killing a school parking garage?”
Rowena giggled in spite of herself. “Yeah, those two for starters,” she snickered.
Willow buried her face in her hands and then rubbed her eyes before she looked over at her wife. “Since he was at both places, I say we just blame Alex a-and be done with it.”
Rowena actually laughed out loud.
Willow looked over at the clock and said, “Twenty one hundred hours.” She nodded at the bed behind Rowena.
“You still want to report for duty, General? I wouldn’t blame you for going AWOL right now,” Rowena replied.
“I can take my wife to bed in our child-free house, or I can continue to stew about something that I can’t change because it’s in the past. What do you think I should do?” Willow asked.
“I vote bed,” Rowena replied as she started to unbutton her shirt. “Heeey,” she squealed as she started to rise slowly in the air. She looked over to see Willow slowly raising her hand to control her ascent. Willow’s smooth movements positioned her toward the bed and gently rested her down.
The witch closed the distance between them and slowly climbed up the length of her wife’s body until they were face-to-face.
“Finally, a vote I can agree with,” she said, just before her lips claimed Rowena’s.
Rowena pulled back and said, “I am sorry you felt I picked Grace over you, because…you are the most important part of my life.”
Willow took a deep breath. “I love you too, Ro. But…I’m still pissed at Grace, and Shannon to a lesser extent.”
Willow briefly looked away, but Rowena pulled her face back toward her. “Tomorrow. We’ll deal with it tomorrow, okay? Together? Unified front, all right?”
Willow smiled and her lips descended on her wife’s neck.
Unknown Location – Night
Two hands systematically put items into a blender. They peeled a banana and put it in. A cup of strawberries, some greek yogurt, a squirt of honey, a carefully measured portion of goat’s milk and a dash of cinnamon followed. Then a very large carafe of a deep, red, viscous liquid was poured over all of this.
With the press of a button, the blender made a horrendously loud noise and began to mix the ingredients.
A few moments later, the dark red contents were emptied into a large plastic tumbler, into which was placed an extra-large straw.
The male vampire who grabbed the tumbler wore glasses and a dress shirt with pens in the front pocket. He hurried out of what looked like a small, depressing corporate break room. When he exited the door, he was in the checkout area of what had clearly once been a large big box store, though the paint on the walls was old and tattered and all the displays had been removed. He rushed over to the area that was still marked “Customer Service,” where a large leather easy chair now sat in front of the desk. He went down to one knee, looking at the floor, and waited.
Several seconds later, a pair of dark-skinned female feet in sandals walked up to the bespectacled vampire and sat down in the easy chair. Their owner made no move to take the tumbler. The vampire on the ground glanced up at her, just for the briefest of seconds, then back down. “My King…your smoothie.”
She looked down at him for a moment then announced, “I have already eaten.”
He put the tumbler to one side, remaining on the tile floor. “So your, uh, plan, it went well?”
“The Watchers Council appeared,” the King replied. “I tasted them. The blood was…strange. So rich. All the humans in this time taste like princes.” She looked down at him. “There is such power there. So many daughters of Sineya. I thought I had defeated her kind, but now…”
Abruptly, she stood, looking out beyond the Customer Service area. “The Shadow Men kept me captive for so long. I think you were right, the Watchers Council would only seek to do the same. That is why my first action when I was reborn was to be certain I would never be captured again. If I could take the power of enough humans as my own, I could never be put back in the box.”
She took several steps forward, toward the store beyond. After a moment, her lackey tentatively rose and followed, keeping his eyes down.
“After tonight,” the King said, “I now know I have that power. The Watchers Council cannot harm me. I have the power of too many in me.”
She gestured out at the store. The parallel shelves remained, but were empty. Rather, every aisle that could be seen was filled with lines of people. They were each hanging from the ceiling, upside down, unconscious. There were dozens and dozens of them. From each of them, blood slowly dripped from shallow cuts. The blood was caught by buckets and basins set up below each hanging body.
Several vampires, all muscle-bound, ran between the aisles, periodically picking up the buckets and basins as they filled. They then brought them to what had once been a large aquarium at the front of the store and dumped them in. Three other vampires were chanting in the King’s language over the mixed blood of all of the humans. The deep red mixture in the aquarium crackled with green energy.
The King stood over the aquarium and dipped in a finger. She then brought it, covered in blood, back up to her lips and sucked it dry. She smiled.
Then she looked back at her lackey. “With the power of these humans, I am already invincible.” She gestured expansively at her handiwork. “With the power of the Watchers Council, I will make this world a paradise.”
Her lackey grinned a very fangy grin. Then he sobered briefly.
“My King, you…you mean a paradise for vampires, right? Not-not for them, y’know, for us?”
She turned and looked at him.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “Vampire paradise, let’s do it.” He got down on one knee. “My King.”
End of Act Three