Watchers Council – Gymnasium – Next Morning
Liz Giles was sandwiched between Jim Pollan and Rowena Allister, all three wearing their fencing uniforms and holding foils.
“Attention, class,” Jim told the other three students, who were seated on the front bleachers and dressed in similar garb. “We are not wearing lamés because there’s no scoring of any kind today. This class is merely designed to help you learn techniques when faced with multiple attackers.”
“Correct,” Rowena added. “In the following demonstration, Jim and I will attack Liz, and she will have to defend herself while also getting in a strike to each of her opponents.”
Rowena pulled on her mask, adjusting it quickly. Jim motioned towards Liz as he put on his own mask and said, “Begin anytime you are ready, Miss Giles.”
Liz nodded once and pulled her mask over her face. She then quickly moved her sword to hit Rowena, who easily deflected it. Jim took the opportunity to slash at Liz, striking her across the back and essentially ‘killing’ her.
“Again,” Jim said as he and Rowena readied for round two. Liz moved fast to hit Jim but, like Rowena, he parried with ease. And like the last time, Liz was slashed across the back, this time by Rowena.
“This is impossible,” Liz complained, pulling up her mask. “How am I going to defend against both of you?”
Rowena grinned slightly. “Do you think your attackers are going to line up single file and take turns?”
“No,” Liz muttered.
“Of course not,” Rowena continued, “They’re going to come at you from various angles, possibly all at the same time, with everything they’ve got.”
“Exactly,” Jim added. “So, when you practice these defense patterns, you can use them in a fight with multiple attackers. You’ll learn who you strike first, who you dodge to engage later and when to make your moves. With time and practice, it becomes more of a muscle reflex.”
From the bench, Trina Cunningham raised her hand, and Rowena motioned toward her to speak.
“Maybe a better swordsman in the middle might give us a clearer idea of what you mean?” Trina offered with a smile. Liz’s eyes narrowed at the remark, but she said nothing in return.
“Okay,” Jim said, motioning to Liz. “Switch spots with Rowena,” he advised.
Liz took up a position on the end, putting Rowena in the middle. Almost immediately, Jim moved to strike Rowena, which the blonde deflected, and then, in a single motion, swung back towards Liz, who also had to deflect. As Jim regrouped and thrust again at Rowena, she knocked him away and turned to hit Liz’s sword by moving her blade from one hand to the other. After parrying Jim’s next attack, Rowena turned back to see Liz attempting to hit her, but Rowena quickly sidestepped her attack and thrust forward, hitting Liz in the chest, and knocking her out of the competition. She then swiftly turned to focus on Jim, and the two of them sparred back and forth until Rowena managed to work Jim’s foil free and hit him in the chest as well.
“Not impossible,” was all Rowena said.
“For you,” Liz challenged. “We’re not Council champion swordsmen here like you two.”
“Do you honestly think that Jim and I got good overnight? Of course not.”
“It takes practice,” Jim added. “It takes experience. The more you do it, the better you will get.”
“Except for Jim,” Rowena tossed out.
“That’s it Allister,” Jim chuckled. “We’re goin’ again – just you and me this time. Mano a mano.”
The small group all chuckled, until a voice over the intercom said, “Rowena Allister, line three. Rowena Allister, line three.”
“Excuse me, folks,” Rowena said. “Jim, how about you run the drill with you in the middle this time and two students on the ends?”
“Sounds good,” he said. “Ty? Come up to my right. Liz, stay to my left. Let’s try again.”
Meanwhile, Rowena walked over to a phone on the wall not far from the fencing class, picked it up, and said, “Rowena Allister speaking.” She paused and listened for a while, then let out a despondent groan. “When?…Okay, I need to change, but I’m on my way.”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Day
Rowena walked into the conference room to find Grace, Willow and Robin already there. “Sorry,” she sighed as she sat down next to her wife, “I got called out of class.”
“So did I,” Willow said, turning toward Grace. “I feel like when you send me a text for a meeting, you should maybe say what the meeting is about.”
Grace looked down at her tablet and said, “Let’s get to why we’re actually here, and then maybe we’ll get to the texting etiquette if we have time after, if that’s okay.”
Rowena looked at one of them then the other. Then she let out a breath and reached into her bag for a notebook, while Grace moved on with the meeting.
“You all know Lucia Dominguez, don’t you?” she asked.
Robin nodded. “She was the Lead Slayer at the DC Branch until, what, about a year ago, right?”
Grace pointed at him. “Yep.”
“A very good slayer, I always thought,” Rowena put in. “More than that, a very good leader.” She turned to Willow. “Remember that case with that warlock and the Virask demons and the weasels?”
“Remember it? I have nightmares,” Willow said. “She’s the only reason anyone got out of there unweaseled. But…she just kind of quit one day, right? It was weird.”
“She turned thirty a year ago,” Grace said. “We’d assumed she’d stay on, but…she took an indefinite leave of absence six weeks later. She told me she couldn’t deal with it anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” Robin sat forward. “Deal with what?”
Grace looked down at the table, ostensibly at her notes. “Everything. In those six weeks, she missed half the days. Told me she couldn’t get out of bed.” She sighed. “She informed us later that she was in treatment for severe depression. She felt that she couldn’t be responsible for girls in the field.”
Willow blinked several times. “Are…are you saying that the healing cured her depression and then it went away? Because, no offense, if the healing is supposed to cure slayers with mental health problems, it hasn’t done the greatest job over the years.”
Rowena spoke up softly. “A big change in your life like that, combined with a bunch of weird chemical changes in your body…it was losing the powers that did it, Will.”
Willow shook her head. “Okay, but…now I’m back to asking why we’re here. And should you even be telling us all this? This sounds like Lucia’s private medical stuff.”
“You’re right,” Grace said. “She told me all that in confidence. But I think she’d be okay with my briefing you now.”
Robin’s forehead wrinkled. “Um, why?”
“Well, for one thing…” Grace cleared her throat and sat back in her chair. “Because she’s dead.”
Columbia Gardens Cemetery – Earlier that Day
The two investigators who had found the body in the cemetery were still there. Now the blond woman had her thick glasses off and was wiping her face with the back of her hand.
“I don’t…I don’t get it,” she said, her voice breaking. “I talked to her a couple weeks ago, she seemed like she was doing better. Why would she decide to go fighting vampires now? This is just…”
The man with the shoulder-length hair walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. He whispered into her ear. “Shh…it’s okay, baby.”
She relaxed into his arms, just a little. “Sorry, Asher, this is so stupid. She was so…stupid.” On the last word, her eyes focused a little, and she put her glasses back on. She pulled out of his arms and stepped toward Lucia’s body. She knelt down in front of her then turned her head back toward Asher. “Lucia wasn’t stupid.” She sounded very certain.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Day
The group stared at a photo of Lucia’s dead body on the screen.
“When you said, ‘trigger warning,'” Willow said, “I figured, ‘we’ve seen everything by now, how bad could it be?’ But, um, yeah, you’re right, her arms aren’t supposed to bend that way.” She swallowed and looked away.
Rowena seemed far less affected, and in fact stood up to take a closer look at the screen. “So, she just decided to go slaying again, on her thirty-first birthday?”
“Ah, that’s the thing!” Grace said. “It doesn’t make sense, not if you actually knew her. And the team on the scene was Asher and Hannah Bloom, and they did know her.”
Columbia Gardens Cemetery – Earlier that Day
Hannah Bloom, her hand now covered with a blue sanitary glove, pulled Lucia’s head aside to expose her neck wound more clearly. She peered at the two punctures through her glasses.
“There’s too much blood,” she said.
“I mean, it is a murder scene,” Asher said from behind her as he struggled to pull on his own gloves. “Blood is kind of par for the course.”
“It’s a vampire murder scene,” Hannah said. She looked up at him. “When I make you my blueberry pie, you don’t leave a bunch of blueberries on the plate. You eat the whole thing.”
Asher cocked his head at her. “And blood is like vampire blueberries.”
“Exactly,” she said. She stood up next to Lucia’s body. “Something weird is going on here.”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Resume
Rowena turned to Willow. “God, I remember when Hannah Gilroy was my best student. And Asher Bloom was one of yours.”
“Her name’s Hannah Bloom now,” Grace commented.
“I still can’t believe they ended up together,” Willow replied. “I take it they were the DC Branch team on the scene?”
Grace nodded. “Yeah, and when they figured out something was up, they went down, well, a rabbit hole. They called Lucia’s family, but they were still in Puerto Rico and hadn’t talked in two weeks. She lived in a house with a bunch of roommates, DC housing prices…”
“Cleveland will get there,” Robin put in. “I never would’ve thought that being near the Hellmouth would make real estate more expensive.”
“…But,” Grace continued, “they all left for a group camping trip in Shenandoah three days ago. No cell service.” She paused. “Or did they?”
Willow rolled her eyes.
Outside Lucia’s House – Earlier that Day
Hannah Bloom walked up the front walk of the brick house Lucia and her friends had lived in. She sighed when she saw a young woman waiting for her on the front porch, arms crossed over her chest. She was slim, her straight dark hair framing an impish smile. She carried a full bow and quiver on her back.
“I thought you were off today, Allie,” Hannah said.
Allie Fedorovich uncrossed her arms. “We’re talking about Luce. Luce is fucking dead.”
“Yeah,” Hannah sighed and looked down at the ground.
Allie stood up straight and put her hands in her jacket pockets. “Yeah, that’s more important than whatever I had planned. Which, to be clear, was supposed to be bottomless mimosas.”
“Which I didn’t ask you to give up,” Hannah pointed out.
“And that’s why you’re my favorite watcher,” Allie replied, “but it’s a slayer thing, you wouldn’t understand.” She pulled out a hand and waved behind Hannah. “Hi Ash!” He was huffing and puffing as he ran up the street to the end of the house’s front walk.
“I found a parking space a couple blocks over!” he called to them.
Lucia’s House – Moments Later
The front door of the house broke open, and Allie lowered her foot from her kick. Then she, Hannah and Asher walked into the entryway, looking around. The three of them found the house silent and empty.
Allie poked her head in the kitchen, which had been cleaned and all the dishes put away. She turned back to the others and said, “Seems like there’s nobody home. Looks like they really did go camping.”
Hannah bit her lip then shook her head. She walked into the dining room, where the tablecloth had been straightened and all the chairs pushed in. Then she said, “No, I don’t think so.”
Asher followed her into the room. “Are you sure, babe? There’s nobody here.”
“I-I just have a feeling,” Hannah stammered. “It’s like it’s…too clean.”
“You’ve got a point,” Allie said, leaning against the doorway to the kitchen. “A bunch of millennials live here, right? You’re telling me they leave the place this tidy when they go on vacation?”
Asher looked at her then at his wife. He sighed and pulled his small backpack off his back. “Okay, but this better be worth it. I spent six hours last week putting this thing together, and it’s single use.”
He pulled a small metal cylinder, about the length of his palm, out of the backpack. He put the cylinder in the middle of the dining room table then took a hurried step back.
“You might wanna…” was all he got out before the cylinder exploded in a blinding flash of light. “…Close your eyes,” he finished. Both Allie and Hannah were left grimacing and rubbing their eyes.
“What the fuck, Ash!” Allie growled. She had staggered back against the door frame, blinking rapidly.
“It’s okay,” he said, “you’ll be fine. It’s not any worse than, say, looking directly at the sun for a couple minutes.”
“Oh, is that all!” Hannah protested.
As her eyesight finally returned, she could see that the room had changed. When it had just been the three of them before, human figures now surrounded the table, all of whom were standing completely still, not moving in the slightest. A few of them wore party hats, and all carried drinks of one kind or another. Lucia stood at one end of the table, her lips pursed to blow out the unflickering candles on the cake in front of her. Her friend Steff looked on next to her. Above their heads hung a banner reading “Happy 31st Birthday!”
Hannah walked around the table to look closer at Lucia, staring at the deceased former slayer’s still face for a moment.
“This is fucked up,” Allie said from the far end of the table, making Hannah look over. She was passing her head back and forth through one of the male partygoers, watching as the image flickered slightly each time she did.
Hannah looked over at Asher. “How long ago did the parents say they left for the camping trip?”
“Three days,” he said. “And this thing has a maximum range on it of twenty-four hours. So yeah, you’re right. Somebody’s lying, or maybe there’s been a bunch of memory spells? There’s something about the vibes here, makes my nose twitch.”
“So can you, like, fast forward?” Allie asked. “See what happens?”
“It-it doesn’t work like that,” Asher said. “It’s a snapshot, not a video.”
“I think it’s great, honey,” Hannah said. She reached over and put a hand on his arm. “You’re doing great.”
“You too, babe.”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Resume
“I still don’t get it,” Robin said, “What’s…what’s happening?”
Grace sighed and flicked at her tablet, the conference room’s large screen going black. “Well, we don’t know, but the Blooms have a theory, and I’m flying them up here to present it to everyone.”
Willow blinked. “So…what is it? And why can’t they tell us over Zoom?”
Grace licked her lips, seeming to think about her answer. “They’ll be here later today. And I’d like to keep this as secure as possible in terms of electronics, because…” She trailed off, seemingly reluctant to continue.
“You think someone’s hacked us,” Robin finished.
“Honestly, I’d strongly prefer that to the alternative, which is that we have an actual spy,” Grace said.
“I mean, I did that security,” Willow said, “and if I do say so myself, I’m a really good–”
“You are, Willow, with systems from twenty years ago,” Grace said. Willow opened her mouth in shock. Grace waved her hands in front of her apologetically. “No, I mean, look, you’re amazing, but…remember that time you literally hacked into the Pentagon to save Kadin? If you could do that, what could the best hacker do now, no matter how good your security is? ‘Cause really, you’re the best. But you’re not, like, the best best, right?”
Rowena leaned forward, holding out an arm to try to keep Willow from jumping across the table or changing hair color. “I’m sorry,” she said, “why do you think there’s a data breach?”
“Because…” Grace ran her hands over her face. “The only way I can make this make sense is, whoever this is, they didn’t just find Lucia – they could have probably figured that out somewhere else online – no, they targeted her. They knew that she was having a really hard time, and she was a good candidate.”
“I don’t…” Robin trailed off. “Again, who are they? And…candidate for what?”
Grace groaned. “The first, I have no idea. The second…I really hope I have no idea.” She started to get back to her feet. “I’ll call you guys when the Blooms get in. You can get back to class.”
Willow and Rowena exchanged a look as she left, then Willow turned back toward the door. “Who’s they?” she called. The door closed behind Grace. “Chairwoman Hatherley, who’s they?”
Watchers Council – Slayer Gym – Day
Shannon wore a hard expression as she slammed her wrapped fists into a large punching bag hanging from the ceiling. She grunted as her attacks increased in frequency and sweat shone on her brow. She tried different combos, occasionally backhanding the bag or delivering elbow strikes. Finally, she gave it a flying kick, and the bag flew back and up, nearly inverting before the cord attaching it to the ceiling recoiled and the bag flew back in Shannon’s direction. She rolled to the side on the mat as the bag swung back through where she had just been standing, then she jumped to her feet in time to steady it as it swung back again.
For a few seconds, she stood there, hanging onto the bag, breathing hard. She had a distant look in her eyes, as if her mind was somewhere else.
Then she saw Charlotte standing at the edge of the mat, a small smile on her face. “Punching bag technology has improved,” she signed. “Remember when Kennedy would get in a fight with her wife? We all learned to string them back up over and over.”
Shannon just nodded to the other slayer then started to pull off the tape wrapping her hands.
Charlotte took a few steps forward then signed, “Maybe you shouldn’t push so hard. You might regret it in a few months. Kara told me that when she…”
She paused when Shannon stopped unwrapping and just looked over at her. The older slayer had dark circles under her eyes. For a moment, it seemed like she might be about to say something. Then she took a few steps over the nearest bench and sank into it, dropping her head into her hands. Charlotte stared at her for a moment, eyes a little wider than usual and mouth slightly open, then took a deep breath and walked over to sit next to her on the bench.
The two women sat next to each for ten full seconds, Shannon not looking up, Charlotte studiously looking anywhere but at Shannon. The distant sounds of other slayers working out drifted over to them.
Then Shannon pulled her head up, getting the other girl’s attention. “Can I ask you something…something kinda weird?” she said.
Shannon signed the next bit as she spoke, though it was a little awkward with tape trailing off one of her hands. “Why do you think the slayer healing didn’t help you with…” She stopped and thought for a moment, then tried again. “Why didn’t it fix…” She faltered again.
Charlotte smiled a little and signed, “You mean, why am I still deaf?”
Shannon sighed, then looked up at the other girl and said, “I don’t get it. The healing can fix a broken back, a broken arm, but not your ears? Not Casey’s eye? I’ve been thinking about it…and I realized I don’t even know what it is that I’ve had this whole time.”
Charlotte looked over at Shannon, making sure the other girl was watching when she signed what she said next.
“All I know is, it’s magic. There are rules, but they don’t have to make sense. I know that slayers aren’t starfish. If you cut off one of my legs, it won’t grow into a new slayer.”
Shannon smiled a little and imitated the sign Charlotte had made for “starfish,” first brushing her pointer fingers against each other, about head height, then holding one hand flat in front of her and wiggling it like a fish. Then she spoke and signed, “You mean, the sea animal?”
Charlotte grinned back and nodded. Then she started signing again. “I also think that maybe the magic knows who I am.” Seeing the confused look on Shannon’s face, she kept going. “Being deaf is part of me. It’s not something I need the magic to fix. I think it knows that. Just like it knows that it doesn’t need to fix your blue eyes. Being a slayer doesn’t change who you are.”
Shannon took this in and looked back down. She gulped back whatever she was feeling and gave Charlotte a small smile before she went back to unwrapping her hands.
Watchers Council – Cafeteria – Afternoon
Willow and Xander sat at a table with trays of food and cups of coffee in front of them. They seemed oblivious to the chatter around them as they spoke animatedly, Xander with frequent arm waving and Willow with excited gesturing. Kennedy approached and plopped her tray on the table across from the two friends. They both stopped speaking and looked at her in surprise.
“So can anyone join, or is it for OG Scoobs only?” she asked as she sat down without waiting for their reply.
“Please, sit,” Willow said, motioning to Kennedy’s already occupied seat. “We’re just discussing the merits of the Senate’s latest attempt at gun control.”
Kennedy snorted as she tucked into her baked macaroni and cheese. “Good luck with that. They’ve been spinning their wheels since Sandy Hook.”
“My point, exactly!” Xander said. “You’ll see ’em any given Sunday. Getting on the so-called pundit news programs to condemn the latest mass shooting every time, but nothing gets done.”
“At least they’re trying to do something!” Willow said heatedly. “I mean, it’s bad enough we have almost daily shootings, even with our own kids. But what about the ones that don’t make the news cycle? The armed militia groups who are targeting the friendly demon population?”
“Some of those groups are fighting the good fight with not-s0-friendly demons,” Kennedy pointed out.
“No!” Willow spat, slamming her hand down on the table and making her coffee slosh out of its mug. “Those so-called ‘patriots’ have no business doing our jobs. They start from a place of ignorance and don’t care who gets hurt when they open fire – evil demons, friendly demons, and yes, even humans. I don’t ever want to hear anyone here at the Council defending their actions, no matter what.”
Kennedy stared at her a moment and then shrugged. “Whatever.” She picked up her grilled Cuban sandwich and took a huge bite.
Willow sighed. “I’m sorry, Ken,” she said.
“Hey, I’m entitled to my opinion, just like everyone here,” Kennedy remarked. “I just think it’s misguided to generalize everyone trying to defend the Earth. Are there assholes? Yes. I’m not defending them. But there are caring people putting themselves out there in the fight against evil who aren’t born superheroes, is all I’m saying.”
Willow sighed. “I know you weren’t defending them. I just get so frustrated when I open up Cleveland.com on my tablet each morning and brace myself to see what mass shooting may have happened overnight.”
“Makes sense,” Kennedy replied. “You’ve had a front row seat to what that feels like. Still, I’m not about to lump everyone together.”
“It’s life in the twenty-first century, Will,” Xander said, moving his fries around his plate. “When we were kids, we thought we’d be flying around in hover cars and immigrating to Mars, but instead we’re dealing with global pandemics and climate change…and only rich people will be on Mars.”
“Hey, that reminds me,” Kennedy said, picking up her phone. After hitting the screen, she said, “Alexa, order more disposable diapers.”
Kennedy smiled, and Xander chuckled in spite of Willow’s stern expression from across the table.
“Speaking of,” Xander remarked, “How is the young one doing?”
“Vanessa is wonderful.”
“It’s amazing that Goldman was able to create a child that’s biologically yours and Kadin’s. How is motherhood treating you?”
“Wonderful. Kadin and I take shifts, which is why I’m here to annoy Willow now.”
Willow ignored the remark. “Anyway, the point I was trying to make is we knew those things were coming,” the witch said. “We should have been better prepared.”
“We were too busy saving the world to save the world,” Kennedy replied. “It’s not all up to us.”
Willow seemed to relent. “I guess not.” The phone sitting on the table by her elbow started to chime. She glanced at the display. “Oh, speaking of science fiction, it’s our own gene editing expert.” She swiped the flashing screen. “Good afternoon, Dr. Goldman. Willow here…Okay, Tamara,” she said with a smile as she blushed.
“Dr. Tamara Goldman?” Xander asked Kennedy. “Isn’t she the same gene splittin’ genius we were just speaking of who helped you and Kadin have Vanessa?”
“I wonder if her ears are burning.”
“Got any pics of my little miracle goddaughter?” Xander asked proudly, rubbing his nails on his shirt. Willow continued her conversation on the phone. Xander glanced at her for a moment and scrunched his eyebrows, but then turned back to the former slayer, who was now showing him her phone.
Kennedy rolled her eyes. “It was Kadin’s idea to ask you to be godfather,” she pointed out.
“And yet you did not object,” he countered.
“I figured since you were responsible for most of the rugrats around here, you might as well be responsible for ours, too,” she answered. “Besides, who better to ask for free babysitting?” She smiled.
He chuckled. “My specialty!”
“Okay, Tamara, see you then,” Willow said into her phone and then hung up. Xander looked at her curiously again. “Okay, Brell has been setting up the donors we need for the DOPS project, and we need to meet to sort through the preliminary data on the demon DNA sequencing. Oh, this is so exciting!”
“All Greek to me,” Kennedy said.
“Me too,” Xander said. “But DOPS? Really? Who came up with that?”
“Demonic Origin Pulmonary Syndrome,” Willow clarified. “I think it just kind of organically happened while we were first trying to isolate the pathogen. Kind of creepy, I know. It reminds me of the early days when HIV was still called GRID – Gay-Related Immune Deficiency.”
“So Miracle Baby Doctor is still trying to help you find a cure?” Xander asked.
“Yes!” Willow said, wiggling a bit in her chair. “I am soooo looking forward to this week. She’s a genius. A-and not like a super smart gal like me, but an actual Einstein-type genius. It’s exciting and I-I’m hopeful.”
“You know, Will,” Kennedy said, “Kadin and I were over at the Memorial Museum yesterday, and we saw a picture of Tara in the Fallen Heroes section and…I still don’t see any resemblance. Kadin didn’t either, and both of us spent a lot of time with the Doc while she was doing her science mojo.”
“Wait a minute. Stop the presses,” Xander interjected, holding up a hand. “You mean this genius of yours looks like Tara?”
“No,” Kennedy said.
“Yes,” Willow said at the same time.
“Ah ha!” Xander said, sitting back in his seat in satisfaction. “That explains it.”
“Explains what?” Willow asked with a frown.
“Explains you acting all flukey all of a sudden,” he said. “Ever since that woman called, you’ve been positively glowing.”
“Glowing?” Willow said, immediately going on the defensive. “Flukey?” She wagged her finger in his face. “I thought we were never going to mention that ever again?”
“I’m not, because I’m not a part of this fluke. But it’s okay, Will. I get it. Just please don’t do anything that’s going to endanger the stability of your family.”
“What I do is none of your business, Xander.”
“True, usually. But some of our business is…intermingled,” he replied calmly. “I told you a long time ago that as long as I was a part of your family, I would do everything to make sure you and Rowena kept all of the kids healthy and happy. I lived with two parents when neither of them wanted to be there with each other. It was rough.”
“Everything is fine,” she told him.
“Great. But if you decide to have a midlife crisis, stick to spending a few hundred grand on a Giles Mobile. Aston Martin is still a few years away from making a fully electric sports car, but the 2023 Vantage comes in a convertible model that looks really sweet and starts at only a hundred and fifty-five thou. I wouldn’t mind borrowing the keys from you for a spin around the block a time or two.”
Kennedy snickered before taking a bite of her sandwich.
“Why…you…you!” Willow stood up and, leaving her unfinished meal behind, stormed out of the cafeteria.
Kennedy reached over to Willow’s tray and stole her cup of cottage cheese. “I think the lady doth protest too much,” she said before digging in.
“So does she really look like Tara?” Xander asked, picking up his spoon and stirring his rapidly cooling soup.
Kennedy shrugged as she chewed and then said, “You can check out her image on the college website, but like I said, Kadin and I say not really.” She went in for another spoonful. “And it’s not such a great resemblance to cause Willow to act like that,” she continued, before putting the spoon in her mouth.
“Well, I’m sure our sensible little toaster will come to that realization soon enough.”
Fade to Black
Watchers Council – Infirmary – MRI Room – Day
Shannon stared up at the ceiling as the CT scanner platform pulled her into the machine.
“So you’re going to hear some pretty loud noises,” Dr. Miller said over a speaker from the next room. “Just try to stay as still as possible.”
Once Shannon was inside the CT scanner, a series of green light beams played over her face. She showed no expression as they did.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Exam Room – Day
Shannon leaned her head back as Dr. Miller moved a cotton swab deep inside her mouth. She sat on a paper mat on the examination table, he in a chair in front of her.
“This is the last one, I promise,” the doctor said then put the swab inside a small plastic container.
While she waited, Shannon looked over at a poster on the wall listing concussion symptoms, then down at her hands.
Dr. Miller turned back to her and said, “Okay, so we’ll send that off, and they’ll give us a full genetic profile in a couple of weeks.”
“And that’ll tell you if I need to…watch out for anything?” she ventured. She looked up and focused on him. He sighed.
“Unfortunately, we’re not at the point where any of this is an exact science,” he said. “But yes, we will be able to tell whether you are predisposed to some specific conditions that theoretically could develop. We’ll take the scans we did today and see if anything changes when we do another set…once your powers are no longer present.”
“You mean once I lose them,” Shannon said quietly.
“We…try not to put it that way anymore,” Dr. Miller said. “You don’t lose them. This is something that’s happening to you, not because of anything you did. The least I can do is reflect that in my own language.”
“It doesn’t matter how you say it, it’s not gonna change anything,” she replied, looking back down at her lap.
Dr. Miller looked at her for a moment then said, “Shannon, I’ve helped a lot of women through this process, and I can tell you that most of them come out the other end just fine. You’ve done the right thing coming to us, getting a head start on…whatever might happen. But in my experience, the task ahead of you is at least as much mental as it is physical. If I might make a suggestion–”
Shannon hopped off the table. “Sorry, Doc. I’ve gotta get back to work. I’ve still got these powers for a few months, at least.”
She had opened the door and passed most of the way through before she turned back to him and said, “You’ll let me know when you get anything back?”
He hesitated then nodded. She gave him a single nod back, then was gone.
Kadin and Kennedy’s Cabin – Evening
“How are my favorite girls doing?” Kennedy asked as she came into the room, taking off her coat.
Marsha the dragon, now about the size of a large dog, galloped her way over to greet her mom. Kennedy walked over to the refrigerator. After opening the door, she pulled out a small plastic bag, and Marsha followed her to sit patiently as she began to open it. The former slayer reached in, grabbed some kind of meat and tossed it to Marsha, who caught it with ease. As Kennedy put the bag back into the refrigerator, Marsha seemed to want her to follow toward the couch, where Kadin and Vanessa were sitting. Kennedy quickly washed her hands at the sink and then dried them off with a towel before following Marsha’s lead.
“She’s been a wonderful big sister today,” Kadin said of Marsha.
The dragon purred and rubbed against Kadin’s leg before taking a seat beside her.
“Oh really?” Kennedy asked, with a higher degree of interest than was probably necessary. The inflection in her voice, however, seemed to make Marsha happy, and she cooed toward her.
“She did. She even went to the crib and brought her blanket.”
“You’re making that up,” Kennedy replied.
Kadin laughed. “Actually not. I asked Marsha to get the blanket, and the blanket she got.”
At that moment, Marsha got up and started to walk towards the nursery again.
“Stop,” Kennedy and Kadin both said at the same time, making the dragon look at them. “Stay here,” Kadin added. Marsha took a seat and waited for her next command. Kennedy motioned her over, and she returned to the trio.
“Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect when Vanessa came,” Kennedy said, “but she really seems to adore this baby.”
“Marsha’s always had a soft spot for you,” Kadin replied, “so I’m not surprised.”
“I think you’re one of her favorite people too, so it works out,” Kennedy added. “Want me to get dinner started?”
“No need,” Kadin answered. “Ribs are already in the crock pot. They’ll be done soon.”
“Look at you all on top of everything,” Kennedy commended with a slight chuckle. “I feel like such a slouch.”
“Nah, you got important stuff to do. How’s the Coven going?”
“Good. Something’s up with Will, but otherwise good.”
“Like what?” Kadin asked.
“Not sure,” Kennedy replied. “It’s not really anything that she said, but more how she said it. She seems like she’s on edge, irritable. She tried to tell me I couldn’t have an opinion.”
“And how well did that go over?” Kadin chuckled.
“At first I was just kinda thrown,” Kennedy answered.
“And you let it go?” Kadin questioned her.
“No, but I didn’t jump at her. Like I said, she seemed ‘off,’ so I didn’t want to pile on.”
“Trouble at home?”
Kennedy shrugged. “If so, it’s not my problem to fix.” She paused and smiled. “Wow. That sounded way more catty and bitter than I expected.”
Kadin just chuckled and Kennedy joined in too, before continuing, “I just meant it’s not a problem that I personally know about, and if I did, I’d stay out of it.”
“See? Living in the woods in a cabin has its advantages,” Kadin pointed out.
“You ain’t kiddin’,” Kennedy replied. “I love the Council, you know that. But I like having our space, too.”
Rosenberg-Allister House – Kitchen – Evening
The sound of the younger kids walking around upstairs could be heard from the kitchen below, where Rowena was emptying the dishwasher of the dinner plates and silverware, while Willow leaned against the sink.
The witch had an annoyed expression on her face as she said, “I don’t think you’re being very reasonable. If Jennifer wants to do the interviews, she should.”
Rowena stopped what she was doing for a moment, faced Willow and asked, “How, in any dimension, does this seem like it’s a good idea?”
“It’s a very good idea,” Willow said defensively. “But only if she wants to do it.”
Rowena shook her head and went back to her task. “You have to admit, that press conference could have gone a lot better.”
“It also could have gone a lot worse, and it didn’t. Why do you think people are knocking down the door wanting to talk to her now?”
“Which is all the more reason we shouldn’t send her out there to the wolves.”
“Jen’s a slayer,” Willow pointed out. “She’s a very strong person, like her mothers. She can handle herself.”
“I still say she’s too young.”
“Too young? When you were tucked away safe at the Council learning to be a watcher, I was the same age as Jen and in the field working with the Slayer.”
Rowena clenched her jaw for a moment. “I wasn’t safe. Apparently you forget about the professor who attacked me. The world is a very dangerous place. And I need to protect her for as long as I can.”
“Your way is futile. Because you’re never going to be able to truly protect her. She has to have victories and defeats to prepare her for life when we’re not around.”
In the nearby den, Jen and Alex sat next to each other on the sofa, listening to their moms going back and forth, their voices rising with each additional statement they made.
Alex turned to his twin. “Have either of them asked you what you want?”
Jen shook her head, not taking her eyes off the TV.
“What do you want?” he asked.
Jen seemed to consider the question. Finally, she said, “I want this weeks’ cover from Platypus to be Twenty-One Pilots’ ‘Stressed Out’. Though, on second thought, Everclear’s ‘Wonderful’ might be better.”
He put his arm around her and rested his head a moment on her shoulder. She slightly leaned into his embrace.
“You got it,” he agreed.
Back in the kitchen, Willow and Rowena were still talking with rising voices.
Willow was shaking her head. “No. If she wants to talk to the press about the things that are important to her, I think she should have every right to do that. And I think it’s a damn shame that you wanna stand in her way.
“You’re not listening. I just want to keep her safe.”
“Coddling her is not going to keep her safe.”
Rowena began to shake her head. “I can’t believe you can be so cavalier about her safety.”
“Don’t put words in my mouth,” Willow sneered. “I want to keep her safe too, but for the long haul. I could ‘save’ her now, but she’d miss the much-needed practice to hone the skills that she needs to survive. And yes, dealing with the press and social media are two of them, for better or worse.”
“You’re going to tell her that you’re okay with her doing this, aren’t you?”
“You’re damn right I am. Because this might be something that she needs in order to deal with it all. And if she doesn’t want to do it, I’m going to stand behind that decision, too. It’s her life.”
“And I’m assuming if she comes to you and decides that she doesn’t even want to be a slayer anymore, you would be okay with that, too?”
Willow threw her hands in the air. “How many times do I have to say it’s her life? If she decides to never use her powers or ever work for the Council again, I’m okay with that.”
“After everything that we’ve created? You can stand there and say you’re really okay with her deciding not to be a part of the Council?”
“In all those classes, did you not learn that Buffy herself left the Council? She stopped being their instrument to fight evil and just did it freelance. She was kind of the first lancer, now that I think about it.”
“Things are different now.”
“Are they? Because the way I see it, we have a Council Chair who cannot even talk to the High Priestess without being a smartass. Why? Because in some warped way she blames me for her best friend’s death. And to cap it all off, this woman is also one of my wife’s best friends, but I can’t be in the same room with the two of them.”
“And one of the best watchers that we have is the retired ‘Chosen One,’ who left the Watchers Council, as I mentioned, because of all the bullshit she had to endure. So forgive me for not feeling disgraced if Jennifer decides she doesn’t want to be a part of it.”
Rowena appeared dumbfounded. “I didn’t think you thought so poorly of the Council.”
“I love the concept. But right now, the execution of it is way off.”
“Hyperbole much?” Rowena briefly frowned. “Wow, we have been together a while.” Then she shook her head to get back on track.
“Face it,” Willow persisted. “Whether you like it or not, at some point, this thing with Grace and me is going to come to a head, and you’re gonna have to decide where your allegiance lies. Two years ago, I would have known the answer, but today…Goddess have mercy on the woman who doubts what she’s sure of.”
“I’ve got your back, Willow,” Rowena insisted.
“And I have Jen’s, so my vote goes with ‘Team Jen’ – what she wants to do is up to her.”
“I’m trusting her. And if she wants to be on everything from Colbert to Kimmel, and every news or talk show in between, that’s fine with me. And if she says she wants to cancel her first interview with three seconds to air, that’s fine too. It’s all her choice – not yours or mine. It’s hers.”
Willow didn’t wait for Rowena to reply. She simply left the room.
Vor Hell Dimension – Throne Room – Same Time
The Empress Zorgrafilloraxtragor, known by her subjects as Zorgy, had one leg crossed over the other as she leaned back casually on her enormous, ornate throne, displaying her sneakers. Stone sculptures of two clawed demon hands framed her seat, and the back was covered with intricate carvings depicting magical symbols. On either side of her stood towering statues depicting victims in various states of torment.
A huge, gray-skinned demon wearing heavy, spiked armor knelt before her. He genuflected several feet in front of Zorgy’s throne, eyes downcast as he spoke through razor-sharp teeth.
“Empress,” the demon said, “the Ghidora clan has served you loyally. We provide your army with ten thousand warriors. But we have once again been insulted by our ancient enemies, the Bulgorax. The Bulgorax Chief requested another rotation of the seventh moon to provide us with his tribute because of an outbreak of the Scale Rot among his tribe. We cannot abide this insult.”
Zorgy looked at the Ghidora Chief for a moment, a small smirk on her lips. Then she said, “How many warriors does the Bulgorax provide my army? Like, ballpark figure.”
“Only a thousand, Empress,” said the demon, “but their mages…”
“I don’t need any more mages.” Zorgy waved him off with one hand. “The Presidium left this dimension with way more mages than the market can bear. Some of the mages need to learn to code.” She drummed her fingers on one of the claws of her throne for a second, deep in thought. Then she said, “Okay, sure.”
The demon chieftain looked up toward Zorgy very slightly. “You will send your warriors to crush the Bulgorax, Empress?”
“Ain’t nobody got time for that,” Zorgy told him. “I’ve got a better idea.” She gestured over her shoulder, beckoning her hulking minion Krog forward from behind her. He leaned down obediently toward her.
“Send a messenger to the High Priestess of the Bulgorax. Tell her that there’s one trick that her healers don’t want her to know to cure the Scale Rot, and that’s to drink the blood of the Q’doba Beast. If she doesn’t believe us, she should do her own research.”
The demon chieftain spoke up hesitantly. “Empress…the blood of the Q’doba Beast is a deadly poison.”
Zorgy looked at him wanly. “Are you sure?”
“So say my–”
Zorgy cut him off. “Ah, so some so-called expert told you. Look, you say it’s poisonous. I say, what if it isn’t? I’m just asking questions here. Questions are what make Vor the freest of all the hell dimensions.”
The demon chieftain looked back down at the floor again, bowing his head further in submission.
Zorgy stretched with an audible groan. “Anyway, most of the Bulgorax’ll be dead in a couple weeks. Have fun with that.” She turned to Krog again. “Is that it? I’ve got stuff I’ve gotta get back to.”
Vor Hell Dimension – Palace Hallway – Moments Later
Zorgy walked down a long corridor composed entirely of black marble, Krog following a few steps behind. She wasn’t looking where she was going, instead staring at her phone. After a moment, she growled in frustration.
“The wifi in here is still shit. Tell I.T. they need to sacrifice some more virgins. I can’t work like this.”
“Empress,” said Krog quietly. “The Bulgorax are your subjects as well. Why kill them?”
Zorgy stopped and looked at her normally quiet bodyguard. She shook her head. “Don’t try to think, Krog. It messes up your whole vibe. But…okay. The reason I’m in charge isn’t because I was born into it, or because I rule with an iron fist, or because I’m loved and adored by all my demony people. I’ve earned everything I’ve ever had because I figured out real quick how to get people to do what I want. It’s because they hate each other more than they hate me.”
Krog remained silent. Zorgy turned and kept walking down the hall.
“Anyway, back to the Council. It’s really been my passion project lately. I was thinking, why do slayers lose their powers when they reach thirty years old? Whose idea was that?” She turned to look briefly at Krog.
“It has always been thus, Empress.”
Zorgy raised a finger. “No, you’re not getting it, but again, that’s your whole vibe. Whose fault is it?”
“What I’m thinking is that maybe the watchers are keeping it that way so that the slayers are easier to control. What if the watchers are ruining the lives of all these slayers for their own selfish reasons?”
She looked back at Krog with a small grin on her face.
“Again, I’m just asking questions.”
Zorgy looked down at a small noise from her cell phone. “Finally!” She stopped and started typing vigorously as Krog waited patiently.
Stake & Crossbow – Evening
Two women clinked their mugs of beer together and shouted “F.O.P.!” in unison. Then they each downed the beers in the course of a few seconds as several other women around them cheered. One of them slammed her mug to the table just before the other and raised her arms in triumph. A cat on the table regarded the mugs balefully.
As the winner started high-fiving members of the surrounding crowd in the far corner of the Stake & Crossbow, Maddie Allen turned back to the bartender, Lisa, and said, “They’re having a lot of fun.”
“When one of the girls throws a retirement party, common sense goes out the window,” Lisa replied. “Least t’bar makes a lot of bloody money.”
“Not a retirement party,” Maddie reminded her.
“Oh aye, an F.O.P. party,” Lisa replied. “How could I forget?”
As if in response, one of the girls in the corner, now holding up the winner of the drinking contest’s arm as if she had just won a heavyweight fight, shouted, “Fuck off powers!” and all the rest of the girls yelled the same thing in response. The cat on the table meowed along with them. “Hey, Lisa!” the same girl called over. “Fireball shots for the house, on me!” Another cheer went up.
Lisa found Maddie looking hopefully at her then just said, “No,” and turned to start pouring the shots.
Maddie’s pout lasted only for a moment before she noticed something on the TV above the bar. A still photo of Todd Kramer appeared on the screen as part of a local news graphic.
“Hey Lisa, can you turn that up real quick?” Maddie asked. Lisa nodded, put a bottle of Fireball whiskey down on the bar, then pulled a remote from underneath a lounging tabby and quickly turned the volume up on the TV. The tabby rolled over, seemingly unaffected.
“…closed their investigation into Mr. Kramer’s death. The mutilated body of the local real estate tycoon was found two months ago at a warehouse in Ohio City.” The screen changed to footage of flashing police lights outside the warehouse, with close-ups of yellow crime scene tape. “Cleveland PD classified the death as likely being of supernatural causes, but the Watchers Council emphasized today that there remains no evidence linking Mr. Kramer’s murder to any threat to the general public.”
Maddie was already scrolling through her phone for more information on Todd Kramer’s death. She clicked on a link headlined “Dental records identify corpse as missing businessman.” She read for a moment then said “Wow, Todd, you were even more sus than I thought.”
“You knew this geezer?” Lisa asked her.
Maddie slowly shook her head. “No, but…maybe I should.”
Slayer Memorial Grounds – Next Day
Buffy sat by herself on a bench all the way to one side in the outdoor amphitheater at the Slayer Memorial. A breeze off the lake ran through her hair, and she wrapped her arms around herself. There was hardly anyone there. A man stood at the podium at the front, and in a far corner a small group of tourists were taking in the ceremony. Their guide leaned against a nearby wall, poking at her cell phone as she waited.
“They asked me to come find you.”
Buffy looked up to see Emma standing next to her. “I take it ‘they’ is Grace?”
“Yeah,” Emma nodded. She sat down next to her watcher and motioned toward the podium with her head. “So, did you know her at all?”
Buffy looked back over at the podium. The man talking there continued to drone on, reading from a prepared statement about noble sacrifice. “Her name was Lakshmi Sharma. She was assigned to Mumbai, but I guess she was on a mission in Goa when she…it was vampires. Somehow, it’s still vampires. And they caught her alone. Thousands of us and they still catch us alone.” She sighed and turned back to Emma. “No, we never met.”
“But you still come to these things, even on a Saturday,” the girl said, stuffing her hands into her coat pockets. “As long as I’ve known you. You know, nobody would know if you didn’t.”
“I’d know,” Buffy said. “I feel like all these girls…they’re my responsibility, even on weekends.” She motioned toward the man talking. “The whole official line at these things is all about how I shared the power with all these girls and we’re all part of this shared destiny and it’s a beautiful sisterhood and girl power and blah blah blah. And I do believe that, I do.” She shook her head and looked down. “But I feel…responsible. If I could’ve beat the First on my own, Lakshmi Sharma would still be alive.”
Emma ran one of her shoulders into Buffy’s. “Yeah, but you wouldn’t have met me.” She got a small smile back from Buffy. Then Emma looked over at the wall behind the speaker, which was covered in dozens and dozens of women’s names. “You know, that Vampire King lady kept calling us Daughters of Sineya. I guess that’s the name of the first slayer. Like, ever.”
“Now her I’ve met,” Buffy said. Emma raised an eyebrow. “I’d introduce you, but I refuse to have you watch me do the Hokey Pokey and shake my gourd.”
Emma shook her head. “We’ll come back to that. My point is, maybe you were a Daughter of Sineya, but we’re more like Daughters of Buffy.” Emma noticed Buffy staring at her and laughed awkwardly. “I mean, not really. You know what I mean.” She sobered, sighed and got to her feet. “Grace wants you in a meeting. People are flying in from DC, it’s a whole big thing. You should probably go.”
Buffy watched as the man behind the podium gestured behind him, and a small curtain fell away from yet another square on the Slayer Memorial Wall, bearing Lakshmi Sharma’s name. Then she got to her feet with a groan.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Later
Buffy and Emma walked into the conference room to find it already mostly full. Grace had moved from the head of the table to one side. Shannon sat next to her, looking down at an extremely large thermos of coffee in front of her. Willow and Rowena sat across from them, whispering to one another about something, along with Kennedy and Robin. Asher and Hannah stood at the front, talking somewhat loudly with one another.
“Oh good, you’re here,” Grace said. She gestured to the last two empty chairs at the end of the table. “I appreciate what you do for the girls who…pass…but we really need to get started on this.”
“And what is this, exactly?” Buffy asked as she and Emma sat down.
“That’s what I’ve been asking,” Willow said, palms upturned. Rowena grabbed one of them and squeezed.
“Lucia Dominguez is dead,” Kennedy said quietly.
Buffy looked around, wide-eyed. “Wait, what? Why wasn’t I–”
Grace sat forward. “I’ve asked everyone to keep this as quiet as possible.” She held up a finger at the multiple mouths that opened. “And I’m hoping, after we get through this once, you’ll all at least get where I’m coming from. So, can we have it out after you give Hannah and Asher a couple minutes?”
Willow sat back in her seat and sighed.
Asher clapped his hands together once. “Okay, the Chairwoman asked us not to put any of this on computers, so we’re gonna do this the old-fashioned way.” He nodded to Hannah, who unrolled a large paper map of the Washington, DC area on the table.
“Lucia Dominguez,” he continued. “Age thirty-one. Killed while apparently trying to slay vampires without her powers in Arlington, Virginia.” Hannah pinned a photo of Lucia leaning on a tombstone, her eyes staring blankly and her limbs pointing in all directions, across the Potomac River in Virginia. Shannon stared silently at the photo.
But then Asher kept going. “Laquonda Ellis, age thirty-two. Dead of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning in her old apartment in Takoma Park.” Hannah pinned another photo. “Yulia Lipnitskaia, age thirty-four, originally from Minsk, allegedly came all the way to DC in order to jump in front of a Metro train during rush hour at Farragut North.” Another photo. “Kelly Whitecloud, originally from Dante, North Dakota, age thirty-three, found by a jogger in Upper Rock Creek Park in a somewhat, uh, advanced state of decay.” Kennedy swallowed as she saw the next picture Hannah pinned to the map.
There were three more before Asher finally said, “Leah Friedman, age thirty, she was found in the basement of her parents’ house in Laurel, Maryland. She was…” He trailed off, and Hannah pinned a small photo of a girl with dark hair hanging from a noose northeast of the city on the map.
Everyone remained silent for a long moment as they looked at the map. Hannah dropped one of her pushpins on the table, and the noise was almost enough to startle.
Buffy finally said, very quietly, “They were all slayers?” She cleared her throat. “Deactivated slayers, I mean.”
“Yes,” Hannah said. “They were. Most of them were never with the Council, so you all might not have heard about all of them.”
“I remember Leah,” Kennedy said bleakly. “I…I talked to her parents. After.”
Robin blinked a few times, his eyes still on the map. “These are all…tragic, but they seem like either accidents or-or personal…issues.” He caught Kennedy looking at him and held up a hand. “What I mean is, they’re not connected. They can’t be. Right?”
“Well, all of these were former slayers in the same metro area in the course of about a year,” Asher said. “If that seems like a lot, it is. But more than that…” He trailed off and looked at Hannah, who pulled several papers out of a folder and started handing them around the room. “These are the toxicology reports.”
That got Rowena’s attention as she took one of the papers. “Wait, what? They were all on drugs?” Her eyes started scanning over it with interest.
Hannah shook her head. “No, or at least…not like you’re thinking.”
Shannon looked at the paper she was holding for several moments, then finally threw it down on the table in frustration. “Look, I have no idea what I’m looking at here. You’re going to have to explain like you’re talking to a slayer.” Kennedy shot her a slightly disapproving look, but Shannon at least pretended not to notice.
Asher sighed. “None of them tested positive for anything, but if you actually look at the reports–”
“Some of this stuff is weird,” Rowena said, squinting at the page. “Traces of…galantamine? And something called ‘Oil of Reproxin’, I don’t…”
She handed the page to Willow, who snapped her fingers, as if trying to remember something. “Oh, it’s a rare ingredient some spells call for. Rejuvenation, that kind of thing. But it’s super shady stuff, ’cause it’s from an internal gland of a Reproxin demon.” She looked around the room. “You’ve gotta kill the demon to get it, and they’re generally pretty decent folks, on the whole. I wouldn’t let one near my goat, if I had one, but…” She stopped, thinking. “Wait, why would this girl have that in her system?” She picked up the paper Shannon had thrown down. “Did they all have that?”
“And galantamine is an Alzheimer’s drug,” Hannah volunteered, “so there’s definitely no reason any of these girls would have taken it. And those are only a couple of the weird parts. There are several of these seemingly incongruous substances, and they’re all in the toxicology reports of each of these girls. So I went through and tried to figure out how these would each interact with each other, and…” She sighed and pulled off her glasses for a moment, rubbing her eyes with one hand. Then she carefully put them back on and put both hands on top of the empty chair at the head of the conference table. “We think someone, somewhere, has a drug, a serum that they believe is going to give these girls their powers back.”
Shannon looked up at her, wide-eyed.
“Or maybe they’re testing it on these girls?” Asher put in. “We have no idea.”
Down at the end of the table, Emma put her hand up. “But…they’re all dead now. And not from…they all died in different ways.”
“Unless,” Buffy said, her brow wrinkling, “it’s a great big conspiracy.” She looked up at the couple at the end of the table. “Have either of you met any mean psychology professors lately? Or anybody who claimed that Iowa was a real place and that they were from there?”
Asher and Hannah shot each other a confused glance.
“And add a pinch of this and stir,” Grace said, speaking for the first time since the start of the meeting. “‘Hashtag Slayer Cure’ is a trending topic on Twitter today. It seems like every lancer out there knows some girl who knows some girl who knows some girl whose third cousin got her powers back after she turned thirty. And now the Blooms here are telling me that they think somebody in the DC area is putting this…serum out there, and either it’s straight up killing these girls, and whoever’s giving them the drugs is covering it up, or that person is just straight up killing them to keep them from telling anyone.” She looked around the table at those present. “You know as well as I do how desperate some of these girls are. How big of an issue this is for every single slayer. This is one of those things where, if we fuck this up, I’m not sure if I can unfuck it. We lose the confidence of the slayers, why is the Council even here?” She sighed. “So, my question is…what the hell do we do now?”
Silence descended on the conference room.
End of Act One