Watchers Council – Cafeteria – Afternoon
Emma exited the Council cafeteria line with an impressive pile of tater tots and a bottle of juice on her tray. Almost immediately, she noticed a young man about her age waving excitedly in her direction.
“Em!” he called over the din of the cafeteria at lunchtime. She nodded, managing just a small smile, as she walked over to him.
“I haven’t seen you in, like, a week,” the boy said as he sat down. “How were your parents?” he pulled his shirt and khaki jacket straight and smiled, his eyebrows disappearing behind his messy fringe.
She sighed and said nothing, just sat back in her chair. He noticed the bags under her eyes.
“Not great, I’m thinking?”
She shook her head. “Just the usual. Thanks for asking, Matthew.” She leaned forward and picked up a tater tot, then stopped and put it back down again without actually taking a bite.
“Well, something’s bothering you,” Matthew said. “You look terrible…”
Emma rolled her head and her eyes to the side.
“… girl. You look terrible, girl.”
“A-and you’ve got more than your recommended daily allowance of tater tots on your plate there, so…” he trailed off with his hands.
“Thanks,” Emma replied sardonically. She sighed again. “It’s just…Summers says I need to keep things professional between us, I guess in case I have to let her die to save the world or something, but I can’t do that. I’m sorry, I can’t. But I also can’t just lose Summers, because…I’ve told you about my parents! Summers is the only one who ever gave a shit about me.”
“I give a shit about you, Em,” Matthew pointed out. “Two shits, even.”
“You don’t count,” she replied, then playfully threw a tater tot at him. It bounced directly off his forehead.
“Slayer skills, no fair!” he groused. She grinned at him but shook her head ruefully. He sobered, as well, and said, “Look, the good news is, the world isn’t currently ending. Why not just go back to work, tell her you get it, do what she says, and all that jazz. You don’t have to tell her you luuuurv her.”
“Hey, not like that, dumbass!” Emma said, but she was smiling again.
“Hey, you never know,” Matthew said, pretending to turn his attention back to his lunch. “I’ve read some fanfics where she and…well, truth is stranger than fiction, that’s all I’m saying.”
“Matthew, don’t read fanfics about my boss…or any living person because that’s creepy AF.” Emma popped a tot into her mouth. Through her chewing, she said, “Hey, speaking of, how are things with you and Ned? I could really use a hot and heavy tale of library smooching today.”
“Sadly, very little smooching since last time,” Matthew replied. “Ned and I have had to spend most of our research time lately actually, y’know, researching, what with my upcoming practical demo in Rosenberg’s class.”
“I thought you guys being ‘research buddies’ was just, like, a euphemism.”
“Alas, no.” Matthew put a mocking hand on his head, and Emma giggled. “The good news is, I think I’ve actually got the transmog working. So hopefully I won’t, y’know, fail. You sure I can’t use you as a guinea pig? Not literally…I hope?”
“Look, I love you, but hell no,” Emma told him. Her grin widened. “But good luck!”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Day
“This is the new thing,” Tess Muller said, sliding a thick, photocopied pile of papers across a glass conference room table. “You all may have agreed to our deal, but Wellfresh’s shareholders, shockingly, have not. And now they’re suing me for, well, kind of everything.”
“Nothing you didn’t actually do, I’m sure,” said the brunette across the table from her. Her hair hung over her shoulders, impeccably styled, and her bright red lipstick set off her eyes.
“Yes, we’re aware,” Grace said from her seat between the two of them, at the head of the conference table. “That’s why I asked Catriona Duncan, head of our in-house Legal Department, to take a look and see to what extent our getting involved…makes sense.”
“And the headline is, it doesn’t,” Catriona Duncan said. “I reviewed your signed agreement with the Watchers Council, and there is no civil indemnity clause of any kind, which I can tell you was on purpose because I wrote it.”
Tess forward across the table. “I’m giving you guys really important intelligence, I think the least you could do is–”
“And for that, Ms. Hatherley is putting up with an extremely inconvenient PR disaster, both inside and outside the organization,” Catriona interrupted. “As well as actively preventing you from being killed, by the way. If you find the terms of the agreement you signed unsatisfactory, Ms. Muller, there are numerous ways you could abrogate it. In fact, your continued action is required to keep up your side of the agreement.” She looked Tess in the eyes. “That is, you have to keep telling us about the Empress Zorgrafilloraxtragor.”
Tess slammed a hand down on the glass of the table. “Not this again! I’ve told the Council everything I know, and frankly I resent the implication…”
As Tess continued to speak, Grace looked up from her notes. She blinked and turned her head to look out the windows on the far side of the conference room.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Last Year
“Not this again?!” Casey swung her head back to stare up at the ceiling, throwing her hands up and letting them slap down on top of the table.
“It’s quite simple—” Catriona began.
“Who you calling simple?!” Casey barked as she sat back up.
Her palms now balling into fists, the lawyer tried again. “You’re not…I know that Ms. Summers has spoken to you about this in the past…”
Standing beside the door, Buffy flashed the briefest of nervous grins. Emma bit her lip. “…but now given your declining health, coupled with the nature of your disability—” Casey pointed at Catriona and turned her head, mouth agape, toward Grace, who sat at the opposite end of the table. “—means that we in the Legal Department have advised the Council that to allow you to continue on as…”
As Casey turned back to the woman, she did a double take as, out of the corner of her good eye, she saw a group of armed slayers passing by, including her patrol partner, Chamique, crossbow in hand.
“Hush them gums, sweetheart,” she told the attorney and then shouted toward the doorway, “Oi, Chamique!!” Casey bellowed, snapping her fingers and making all the others jump, except for Grace.
Doubling back, Chamique nodded for her team to continue, then came back to the door. “So, this looks tense…”
“Yes, please, luv. I need your crossbow,” Casey asked, still snapping away, albeit now more persistently, and on her feet.
Catriona looked pleadingly to Grace. “As her Watcher, let alone as the Chair…”
Grace slowly reached forward for her coffee mug. “Oh, oh, I’m not getting involved.” The smallest of grins curled from the corner of her lips.
Chamique shrugged and gave the weapon a toss. Casey reached out and caught the crossbow with ease. She unscrewed the tip on the arrow and loaded the weapon, then turned it to the open doorway, prompting Chamique to clear the way while also checking the hallway for any commuters. For their part, Emma and Buffy scooted further along the far wall. She brought the sight up to her eyepatch.
“Disability? Disability, my arse,” she told Catriona.
Chamique nodded an all clear and Casey fired the bolt straight out of the door.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Same Time
The whistling grew louder and sharper as the bolt bore down on the bank of elevators. It struck the button dead center.
The elevator doors opened a second later with a “Ding.”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Same Time
“You were sayin’,” Casey told the attorney, as she lowered the crossbow and turned to the woman. Eyeing her up and down, a smug smile appeared on her face, but only briefly. She marched around the table toward the exit, handing back the crossbow and the tip to Chamique as she went.
Confident and alone, Casey continued out of the boardroom and then immediately walked into a stool in the hallway that she had failed to see, its feet screeching along the hard floor. Momentarily, she lost her balance, but after a second she righted herself and kept on forward.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Present Day
“Grace, please,” Tess was saying. Grace blinked again several times, sitting up slightly straighter.
“Yes, I’m listening, Tess,” she said, “but you have to understand–”
“No, you understand,” the former CEO interrupted her, pointing a finger. “I know what you all think of me, what everyone thinks of me. At best, you think I wouldn’t be in this mess if I hadn’t done the things I did.”
“And here you are, experiencing the shocking consequences of your own actions,” Catriona commented.
“You don’t get it, I–,” Tess’s voice cracked. Her eyes grew wet. “You want to know what this bitch wants? She doesn’t want to take over the world. She wants every single person on this Earth to die, and not just die, but die screaming in pain. There was some very involved intestine imagery–” She looked down at the table, blinking hard in a desperate attempt to keep her composure, then back at the two other women. “I didn’t do what I did to try and keep my money and power. I did what I did to try to avoid…” She trailed off, looking down again.
“Intestines,” Grace finished. “Neat.”
Watchers Council – Hallway – Minutes Later
Across from the conference room, Grace stared at the scratched elevator button. It was only the doors of the elevator opening that snapped her out of her reverie.
She blinked, looked up, gathered herself and stepped inside. Flinging her hair back over her shoulder, she blew out a sharp puff of air and then pressed the floor button. Her breathing shuddered, and as the doors slid shut, her spare hand reached up to clutch her chest.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Day
A typed sign had been taped to the closed Coven Room door. In bold, block letters, it read, “EXAM IN PROGRESS. DO NOT DISTURB…UNLESS THE WORLD ENDS AGAIN…THEN, SURE, DISTURB.”
“Transmogrification, a relatively simple—” a young man’s voice could be heard behind the door, his figure framed within its single, thin horizontal glass pane.
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Continuous
“—enchantment,” Matthew continued, quickly running a hand through his mop of hair, scratching his scalp, “pretty basic actually, really, it’s entry level stuff, first year, even bedroom spellcasting, and I’m rambling—”
At the table opposite him, in the center, sat Willow. She curled her bottom lip into a slight smile as she cast her eyes down at her iPad. Flanking her was Dawn, twirling a pen and looking nonplussed, and Wilton. The latter had a small paper sign on the table in front of her that read “Student Representative.”
He grinned, rattling off a nervous laugh, and running his hand through his hair. “—heh, yeah, sorry.”
“Hey, I’m the queen of the ramble. Just relax into it, breathe. Wanna take it from the top?” Willow asked, sincerely.
With a cough, the young man shook out his arms, fixing his hair again, and blew out a hard, quick-fire puff of air. “Okay, thank you…hey everyone, my name is Matthew, and for my Coven mid-term project I decided to focus on transmogrification,” he began to pace, talking with his hands, “the art of transforming the appearance of one object into another—”
Matthew turned and stopped as his eyes landed on the door, where another guy, sporting black glasses with curly hair, stuck his face as close as possible to the glass pane with a big toothy smile. He even managed to fit a thumbs-up between him and the glass.
With a blink, Matthew began pacing once more. “—now, while it is a relatively basic act in principle, it is notoriously difficult to perfect. It’s more than a glamour, it’s a full-on transformation, but it is won and lost in its details and, in those is where the complexity of the skill, the art, the…I’m sorry…magic lies.”
The pen in Dawn’s hand clattered on the desk, and she rocked her head back with a deliberately audible sigh.
Matthew stopped in his tracks, with arms and hands wide. He coughed and then stood up straight. “A-a quick and dirty glamour is totally passable, but look a little closer, if it’s observed from a certain angle, hits the light just so, then cracks, literal cracks, imperfections can give the game away. For my project, I want to expand our transmogrification capabilities for use in the field with tactical applications.”
“Tactical?” Wilton asked curiously.
Matthew nodded and clasped his hands, “Ya-huh.”
“Such as…” Dawn questioned.
He threw open his hands and spun them into motion, as if trying to conjure his words. “Such as…” he clicked his fingers and pointed at Willow, “…that heist last year. Right? With a transmog, you guys could have barrelled into the museum as vamp security guard cultists. ‘Cause that’s a thing, apparently.”
Willow sat forward. “And you’re saying things would have gone better?”
“Uh, maybe? At the very least, you could have taken them by surprise. More surprise.” Matthew’s top lip twitched.
“And my teenagers, you’d transmogrify—” Willow ventured.
“Transmog. Trans-mog,” Matthew said, moving his hands slowly from right to left.
“Transmog” she finished, her chin tipping down as her eyebrows raised, almost like they wished to meet her hairline, “my teenaged son and daughter into over-forty security guards? How would you compensate for the height difference? You’d be transmogri—”
Matthew bore his teeth with wide eyes as Willow considered her words.
“—transmogging—” she continued, to the relieved delight of Matthew, “—literally thin air, given the height differences.”
“And don’t say magic,” Dawn said bluntly, her eyebrows level and eyes half open.
Matthew retracted his hand and brought it close to his chest. He visibly swallowed and then chuckled. “Well it would be and is magic, but, ugh, yeah, no, I’ve already integrated the transmogrification field with a perception filter.”
“And how would this transmogri—” Wilton asked. She caught Matthew silently wincing, “—transmog be applied?”
Matthew’s eyes glanced over to the door, and the guy standing there hastily pointed. He nodded and hurried over to a side table, picked up a simple coin and held it in front of the panel. “With this!”
“A penny?” Dawn remarked skeptically.
“Yeah, a, sorry, magic penny,” he said proudly. “We enchant it with the desired transmog prior to the op, then it’s activated by a simple rub and single word incantation. Here!”
Matthew flicked the penny off of his thumb and index finger over to Dawn, who caught it in her palm. Dawn opened her hand and inspected the coin, turning it over between her fingers.
“Skivalde,” Matthew said. At the same time, he clapped his hands shut, his irises briefly flashing light blue.
A whizzing sound came from the ether, crescendoing into an audible pop, and Dawn’s clothes dropped into a pile on the floor. A few seconds later, a pigeon emerged. The coin dropped, clanging on the table and then rolling off. Dawn flapped around on the floor, clearly very confused.
“Goddess!” Willow shouted. She jumped back from Dawn as the pigeon furiously clambered toward her, her chair screeching back.
“Nope!!” Wilton screamed, recoiling and retreating as well.
Matthew looked aghast as he jumped forward, hands outstretched, not sure what to do. The coin, now on the floor, continued to roll. Meanwhile, the Coven Room door flew open as the guy who had been standing outside burst in.
Matthew threw up his hand. “Ned, close the door!”
Dawn flew toward Ned, wings going full tilt, and he threw his weight behind him and fell back into the door, slamming it shut. He yelled as Dawn reversed course and flapped the other way.
Matthew reached out his hand, and Ned ran to him. As they reached each other, their palms slapped together and Matthew pulled him in closer, gripping his arm. “Keep an eye on Ms. Summers,” Matthew hissed.
“Oh yeah, like that’s gonna be hard!” Ned snapped back.
“You really cast a pigeon transmogrification on a bloody penny?!” Wilton shrieked.
“No! It was supposed to be me!” Matthew bleated.
Willow raced over to them and turned back to see Dawn now perching on the strip light, teetering back and forth as she seemed to try to find her balance. “So, ugh, if Dawn poops, when she turns back does it— no, I don’t want to know. What I do wanna know is how she turns back? And where the hell is the coin?!”
Dawn’s head snapped around and then stopped abruptly, peering down at the coin as it continued to roll across the floor. She flapped her wings and loudly cooed before swooping down awkwardly, bearing down on the coin.
A floor grate sat at the opposite end of the room. The coin bore down on it.
“There! There!” Wilton shouted and pointed, seeing Dawn fly down.
The group ran forward as Dawn stuttered in the air, still finding her wings.
The coin reached the grate and went straight down into the underfloor vent with a clang.
“Shit!” Willow squealed.
“Uh… ugh…” Matthew stuttered.
Dawn hit the floor, then immediately launched herself back up into the air.
“The window!” Ned belted out.
Willow shot a look to the small window into the hallway, left slightly open, for which Dawn was making a beeline. She flung out a hand, “Claude!”
Dawn had made it to the window and, as she struggled to control her ascent, she stumbled outside, into the hallway, and shakily flew out of view.
“Why does my magic never work on windows?!” Willow shouted in frustration as she threw her hand back down to her side. Slowly, she turned towards Matthew and Ned, her jaw firmly set and her eyes furious.
Ned stood up from cowering behind Matthew and straightened his shirt. “Uh, yeah, hi. Ned, watcher-in-training. Matthew’s research buddy and, well, boyfriend.”
“So, I take it I haven’t, ugh, passed?” Matthew coyly asked.
“Ya think?!” Willow screamed, her voice breaking. She made a noise somewhere between a grunt and a growl and ran her hand through her hair in aggravation.
The Coven Room door opened and Skye walked in, her head craning back down the hallway. She thumbed over her shoulder and said, “Is that a pigeon?”
Willow dropped her hands from her hair and turned toward Skye. “No, that’s your girlfriend.”
“Huh-wha?” Skye’s face went through a range of emotions.
“Put out a warning. Then catch her and put her in a cage, for now. Don’t transform her in the cage – she needs space to…expand. We’ll deal with this when I get back. I’ve got an important meeting with my family I can’t miss.”
She didn’t wait for an answer. She just walked out.
Skye poked her head back out the door slowly. “Dawn?” she called out tentatively. “Baby? Are ya there?” She hesitated. “I can…get you some breadcrumbs, if you want?”
Watchers Council – Buffy’s Office – Same Time
“How was the trip home?” Buffy asked.
Emma paused. “Typical. But this feels more like home. Not necessarily us but just…the Council. If you retired tomorrow, I’d still feel like this is where I belong. Of course, I hope that doesn’t happen. I give you hell sometimes, Summers, but…I’m happiest here.”
Emma and Buffy were looking at something on Buffy’s desk when they heard the crackle of the PA, and Skye’s somewhat strained voice. “There is a pigeon in the Council. Do not harm the pigeon. It is Dawn Summers. I repeat, the pigeon is Dawn Summers. Please report where you see her to an administrator. That is all.”
Emma looked at Buffy in surprise, but Buffy rolled her eyes. “Of course Dawn’s a pigeon.”
“How did she–?”
“Who knows?” Buffy cut her off before she could even finish. “Wanna help me catch my sister?” she continued in a bored tone.
Emma laughed. A few seconds later, Faith poked her head inside the office. “Did you know Spike still calls Dawn ‘pigeon’? Irony, huh?”
“You’re still roaming around?” Buffy asked.
“Yeah, I’m waiting on my flight back to L.A.”
“Want to catch a pigeon with us?”
Faith nodded. “Sure, I got time to kill.”
“This feels like a joke,” Emma said. “How many slayers does it take to catch a pigeon? Should be Easy Peasy.”
“I’ll catch up. I need to make a stop first,” Buffy told them.
Watchers Council – Front Lobby – Later
Wearing an oversized t-shirt with the Council logo and jeans, Kennedy walked through the lobby. She cast sidelong glances at the way everyone passing her couldn’t quite help but stare at her, then hurriedly looked away. Kennedy subconsciously pulled several stray strands of hair behind her ear as she walked.
Watchers Council – Watcher Rec Room – Minutes Later
“Sorry, I’m–” Kennedy stopped halfway through opening the door to the Watcher Rec Room when she got a look inside. “–late.”
She saw Buffy, Willow, Xander, Robin and Rowena all waiting on folding chairs, arranged in a circle, along with one empty chair.
“Ken, hi!” Willow said, her tone chipper, though a nervous edge crept in. She motioned to the empty chair. “Have a seat.”
Ken cautiously strode further into the room, looking around at its occupants. She stopped just short of the open seat. “Oh God,” she sighed. “I know what this is.”
“We’re just…worried about you,” Buffy said.
Kennedy sighed and sat down. “Fuck my life.”
End of Act One