Thailand – Underwater – Day
Beneath the surface of the river, the chaos was strangely muted. Lorinda’s eyes opened wide in the green murk. An un-tethered backpack drifted by. Several feet away the blades of the helicopter still spun lethally. Jeff, his eyes closed, floated in their general direction. A dark red cloud wafted from the wound in his shoulder.
Lorinda kicked towards the scene, bubbles streaming from her nose. After a few moments she grabbed Jeff around the waist. Suddenly, several thin trails cut through the water around them. Bullets. Lorinda stayed still for a few seconds, turning her head sideways, triangulating. A broken piece of the helicopter’s armor plating hung in the water nearby. She tightened her grip around Jeff’s waist.
Thailand – River Bank – Moments Later
With a gasp, Lorinda hauled Jeff out of the water, using her free arm to hold the hull-piece like a shield. Both their chests heaved with wet coughs. Lorinda peeked over her shield. Their side of the river was lined with five demons with bony ridges surrounding their eyes and green, scaly arms. They all fired AK-47s into the water.
A couple of them glanced in Lorinda and Jeff’s direction and moved to fire towards them. She looked down at him. His eyelids fluttered, and he groaned. “I’ll be right back, ‘kay?” she said, and then she was on her feet and running.
Gunshots echoed across the river. Birds flew into the air from their tree-tops, disturbed by the ruckus. A few bullets clanged off of Lorinda’s shield. She yelled and broke into a sprint. With a leap, she was upon the first gunman. She smashed him the face with her shield and kicked him in the throat before he hit the ground.
However, the second demon was already there. She spun and raised her shield as he fired. She heard distant yelling, and there weren’t as many shots now. With another spin, Lorinda backhanded the demon. He went stumbling but stayed on his feet. Bullets kicked up little clods of mud when they struck the river bank. Lorinda tried to follow up, but he dodged her elbow strike and smacked her in the temple with the butt of his gun. She went reeling, and he prepared to shoot her at short range.
Then something slammed against the back of his head with a thud. Aileen stood there, completely soaked, holding a tree branch as thick as her arm. Lorinda shook her head to clear it. Then the bullets started again, and Aileen tried her best to leap behind Lorinda’s shield.
Shannon appeared behind them, crawling out of the water. She had difficulty at first in the mud of the bank and then was on her feet, hurried by the bullets.
“We’ve got to move!” Lorinda shouted. The three of them ran in a zigzag towards the trees. Then Shannon stopped in her tracks.
“Miss Matthewson, we have ta…” Aileen began.
“The Scythe,” Shannon said, not raising her voice at all. Then, louder, “The Scythe!” Bullets struck around her feet and behind her. She was out in the open.
“Shannon!” Lorinda called. She watched as Shannon broke into a run…in the opposite direction. She took several splashing steps into the river before diving in and disappearing. “Dammit!” Lorinda swore. She turned to Aileen. “We gotta buy some time.”
“I’m with you,” Aileen said between heavy breaths.
Thailand – River Bank – Seconds Later
Lorinda and Aileen were in the middle of the three remaining demons, yelling at the top of their lungs. They moved so quickly that it was hard to tell what was going on. Aileen kicked one and punched another simultaneously. Lorinda slammed her shield into the nose of one, jumped, and landed on his face. Aileen knocked one of them out with a flying kick to the nose. Then a voice stopped them.
The final demon stood by the river’s edge, his gun trained on the two slayers. He continued to shout at them in an unfamiliar language. Lorinda’s shield was below her, out of position. Both girls stood frozen. The demon’s finger squeezed on the trigger.
Then Shannon leaped straight up out of the water, sending droplets spiraling off in all directions. She swung the Scythe with both hands and sliced the demon’s head off at the neck. His body slowly collapsed to the ground. Shannon landed in the mud, one hand touching down, the other brandishing the Scythe.
“Ruddy hell,” Aileen sighed.
“Glad you could join us,” Lorinda said with a flat voice.
“See anybody else?” Shannon asked, shaking her hair to try and get it to stop dripping in her eyes.
“Jeff’s back there on the beach,” Lorinda told her. “That’s it.”
Shannon frowned. “We have to get under cover.”
Lorinda sighed. “Now she gets it.”
Thailand – Opposite Bank – Day
Rowena dragged Dawn’s lifeless body up onto the bank of the river, leaving a trail in the mud. She kept going until they were both just inside the tree line; then she looked down and sighed. Dawn’s cheeks and lips were blue. Both of them were soaked and caked with mud. Rowena took off her jacket and tried her best to wring it out.
Behind her, Dawn’s eyes opened, and she began hacking up two lungfuls of water onto the mud beside her. After several seconds of this, she groaned and tried to sit up. “I’m back,” she rasped. “What happened?”
Rowena turned back to her, soggy jacket in hand. She spread her arms. “I think we managed to locate the target.”
Dawn looked around. “Where is everybody?” she asked. Rowena ran a hand through her dirty, wet hair. Dawn shot to her feet, suddenly panicked. “Where is everybody?!?” she asked again, turning back to the river. Rowena grabbed her by one arm and held her back. “Shannon!” Dawn yelled. “Je –”
Rowena clamped a hand over Dawn’s mouth. She spoke to her in a low, even, voice. “Yelling gets us all killed. The guys who just shot us with a SAM missile are probably still around somewhere, so I would advise you to keep your voice down.”
Dawn nodded. Rowena took her hand away. Dawn spoke quietly, but with barely contained emotion and urgency. “We have to find them. What if something happened?! What if they didn’t make it?! We need to go back in, maybe they’re still…”
“If they’re still in the river, they’re gone,” Rowena said, and Dawn’s eyes went wide. Rowena raised a hand and continued. “But we have to assume they made it. Slayers are tough, Dawn, you know that as well as any of us. So are witches,” she added with a knowing grin.
Dawn’s breathing slowed a little at this. “Yeah, you’re right. Yeah. I mean, it takes more than an exploding helicopter to kill Shannon Matthewson, right?”
Rowena nodded. “And we’re not going to do them any good if we get ourselves killed,” she added. “The best way to help them is to make contact with the Council, let them know where we are.”
“Okay,” Dawn nodded, wiping her face with the back of her hand. This only made her face dirtier. “So, how do we do that?”
Rowena sighed. She walked over to the nearest tree, looked it over for a moment, then dropped her forehead against it with a thud.
“Ro…?” Dawn began.
“I don’t know,” Rowena said quietly.
Council HQ – Buffy’s Office – Evening
Buffy leaned back, eyeing the candidate in the chair across from her. “I have to say, I was surprised when you applied.”
Amira shrugged. She wore a long, dark-colored dress and a hijab. She spoke softly. “I think maybe I can help more than I have helped. I am in the field now, yes, but I think my value is in leadership and strategy. I do not have to hold a gun for this.”
“Amira, I really value that I can count on you,” Buffy said. “You’re like…” Her eyes ran over Amira, who waited placidly in her seat. “…a rock? Or…a column?” There wasn’t any reaction. “I’m sort of coming up empty, but you’ve been great. I guess my concern is, this job is more than X’s and O’s. You have to have…”
“People skills?” Amira finished.
“Well, yeah,” Buffy said.
Amira sighed. “I do my best. It is difficult, sometimes. Other times easy.” She squirmed in her seat. “I am not a full person, not yet. The things that I see when I close my eyes are not what I want to see. What happened to me should happen to no one. And so I think perhaps, if I…move outside myself, I can make that change. I can help more people than with a gun.”
Buffy licked her lips and nodded.
Thailand – Rainforest – Day
Lorinda and Aileen carried Jeff awkwardly between them, Lorinda supporting his shoulders, Aileen his feet. His eyes and mouth were half open, but he wasn’t really there; he was somewhere else entirely.
Shannon hurried beside them, carrying the Scythe. “Careful!” she urged them.
“I’m…being…careful…” Lorinda growled through gritted teeth.
Shannon was already underneath a large tree, clearing out some undergrowth with the Scythe and her hands. “Okay, okay. Set him down here.” The girls set Jeff down as quickly as they could. “Watch his head,” Shannon said.
“I am.” Lorinda was audibly annoyed.
When they were finished, all three girls gathered around him. Jeff’s shoulder was soaked in blood. It trickled onto the forest floor beneath.
“Ruddy hell,” Aileen breathed.
“I’m gonna need to make a bandage,” Lorinda said. “We need to get the bleeding under control. Aileen?”
“Right,” Aileen said, and immediately she was taking off her shirt, exposing the sports bra beneath. With a grimace of effort, she tore off one arm and handed it to Lorinda. “Lemme know if you’ll be needin’ the otha’,” she said. Lorinda took the cloth without a word and set to work.
Shannon watched all this with raised eyebrows. Finally, she said, “We need to make a stretcher.” She placed her hands on her knees and pushed herself to her feet.
Thailand – Rainforest – Day
Dawn and Rowena clambered up a rocky slope. Trees several dozen feet high clung to the hill. Dawn pulled herself onto a particularly large rock and then lent Rowena an arm to help her up.
“Higher ground?” Dawn queried.
Rowena grabbed Dawn’s arm. “Higher ground,” she grunted as she pulled herself up.
The landscape around them stretched into the distance. They were two specks in the primeval forest.
Thailand – Rainforest – Series of Shots
– Shannon led Aileen and Lorinda through thick jungle, hacking her way forward with the Scythe. They carried the unconscious Jeff between them on a makeshift stretcher of cut wood and broad leaves.
– Dawn stopped on a ledge to try and wipe sweat from her brow. Rowena motioned for them to keep moving. Dawn groaned and followed.
– Aileen stepped in a hole in the forest floor and stumbled, nearly dropping the stretcher. Lorinda kept Jeff from rolling off with one hand and glared at her.
– Rowena shaded her eyes and tried to look up at the sun. She looked in the opposite direction and after a moment’s hesitation, pointed in a new direction.
– All three slayers tried to hide behind trees. After a moment, a boar emerged from the underbrush then walked off again. Shannon breathed a sigh of relief.
– Dawn, breathing hard, mud hardened on her clothes, pushed aside the leaves of a fern and stepped through. Rowena, in much the same state, followed her.
Thailand – Rainforest – Day
Shannon continued to hack her way through the undergrowth, followed closely by the two stretcher-bearers.
Lorinda grumbled under her breath. “This close to being a princess, and I end up in the ass-end of nowhere.”
“Don’t count your princesses just yet,” Shannon told her between slices. “How’s he doing?”
Lorinda craned her neck to look down at Jeff. “Still breathing. Still shallow. And don’t talk to me about taking things for granted, Miss I’m-Angsty-About-Being-Proposed-To.”
“Ya got proposed ta?” Aileen said breezily. “Congrats, Ma’am. Who’s the bloke, then?”
“Norman Hansen,” Shannon said before setting to work on a particularly troublesome branch.
“In’t he the son of –?”
“Yes,” Shannon interrupted. “And I’m gonna get back to him. And Lorinda will get back to her stupid Prince. And you’re gonna…” She glanced over her shoulder. “Get back to whoever you have to get back to.”
Aileen nodded. “There’s a man, all right.”
Now Lorinda looked over her shoulder. “There is? Since when?”
“It’s a bit of a secret, innit?” Aileen said. “Ya think I told ya everythin’?”
“Yes,” Lorinda said without hesitation. Shannon smirked then turned back to her work.
Thailand – Tent – Day
“You will resume your work, or this will go very badly for you. You know this.”
Jengar spoke quietly, but firmly, in the local dialect. He knelt in front of an elderly Thai man wearing a rough homespun robe and a placid expression. The floor of the tiny tent was strewn with sand in many different colors and leaves of many different shapes and sizes. In the opening of the tent stood a demon holding an AK-47. The old man did not respond.
Jengar raised one eyebrow and sighed. “I understand your position, but this will not stop us. If you refuse, we will simply kill you and capture another holy man. You are only destroying the life of another unnecessarily.”
The old man licked his lips. He refused to look at Jengar. “I have given up all the fruits of this world to live my life without doing harm to others. You think I will help you now?”
Fury entered Jengar’s eyes. “You follow the Buddha. Where was your guru when my family was…” He sputtered, incoherent. “Would he have me follow the path of nonviolence into the oblivion of my species? NO!” He pushed the old man in the chest with both hands, sending him sprawling backwards.
“Sir, we have –”
“What?” Jengar yelled, turning to look over his shoulder.
The underling he had spoken to by the fire the night before knelt in the doorway in front of the demon with the machine gun, wide-eyed with fear.
Slowly, Jengar got his breathing under control. “You have news,” he said in his normal voice.
“We…we found the Council by the river,” his lieutenant stammered.
“And they are dead?” Jengar asked quietly.
“They…escaped,” came the nervous reply. “Or most of them have, at any rate.”
Jengar bit his lip. He looked back down at the old man, who remained on the ground. “I see.”
He got up from his knees and exited the tent. “Come with me,” he said to his lieutenant. He walked a few steps then turned to the demon with the machine gun. “Shoot him,” he said matter-of-factly, jerking his head over his shoulder toward the tent. Gun fire rang out as he walked away without another word, his minion following at a trot.
Council HQ – Buffy’s Office – Night
“We’ve come a long way together, haven’t we?” Buffy smiled at her computer screen.
Andrew sat in a well-appointed office on the other end of the video feed. A framed poster for a fifties monster movie was visible over his shoulder. “It’s been a long journey, that’s for sure,” he replied.
“And now you’re applying to replace me as head of the Council,” she said and then leaned back. “Never thought I’d say this, but I’m seriously considering it.”
“I’m sure you have other more qualified applicants,” he said, putting his head down.
“True, but each one has their own unique qualities they’ll bring to the job,” she said. “What about you? What do you think makes you unique?”
Andrew bit his lip and thought for a moment. “Back in the day, I’d say something dramatic like I’m a man who has faced his dark side and emerged into the light, but we both know that doesn’t mean a hill of beans. Lots of good people have done really bad things, and they’ve gone on to greater heights. But as for me, I’d say that my best quality is love. I really and truly love all of the Slayers, Watchers and Witches and support personnel that make up the Council.”
“I agree,” Buffy said. “And that’s a good quality to have, but you do realize that there will be times when, as Chairman, you will have to order those same people to their deaths?”
Andrew sighed. “I know,” he said. “I’ve seen Giles and Rowena and you do it more times that I’d like to think about. I’m not going to say it’ll be easy, but I think it’s something I can do.”
Buffy nodded. “It’s the hardest thing you have to do,” she said. “I think sometimes it’s easier to give up your own life than to ask others to give up theirs.”
“Yeah,” Andrew said. “I wouldn’t hesitate a moment to give up my life for the good fight.”
“I believe that’s true. But would you be willing to give up Tracey’s life if you had to?” Buffy said bluntly.
Andrew’s head snapped back, and his eyes widened. “Oh…”
Council HQ – Buffy’s Office – Night
“Who am I missing here?” Buffy asked Joan as she glanced through the remaining pile of folders on her desk.
“I asked Robin Wood specifically, per your request,” Joan said. She shook her head. “He said he couldn’t, not now. Between his security job and being a single dad…”
Buffy frowned. “What about Grace?” she asked.
“She didn’t apply either,” Joan said.
“Hmm…” Buffy said.
Thailand – Rainforest – Day
With a groan, Lorinda and Aileen set Jeff’s stretcher down. He was still unconscious, but his eyes were flicking furtively behind their lids. The group had stopped in a beautiful, shady spot beside a deep blue forest pool. The soothing trickle of water babbled in the background. Shannon stood authoritatively on a black rock, scoping out the area.
“We should drink here,” Shannon said. “No sense getting dehydrated.”
Lorinda eyed the spring dubiously. “Is it safe?”
Shannon rolled her eyes. “I’m used to drinking Lake Erie, and you’re used to drinking the Thames. We’ll live.”
“I don’t think that’s how it –” Lorinda began before getting distracted. Aileen was on one knee, carefully unwrapping Jeff’s bandage. “Careful!” Lorinda called reproachfully. She ran over to make sure things weren’t messed up too badly.
” ‘ere now,” Aileen said once she got a look at his wound. “Not too bad, indeed. You’ve a talent for doctorin’, you have.”
“Yeah, well, at some point he’s going to need antibiotics, or this is gonna get infected,” Lorinda told her, her voice bleak. “We don’t have any.”
“So we’ll get rescued, then,” Aileen said with forced joviality. ” ‘at’s Matthewson’s plan, innit?”
Lorinda sighed and sat down on a rock. “If you know Shannon’s plan, Aileen, now would be the time to tell me.”
Aileen stood up straight, put her hands on her hips and furrowed her brow. She opened her mouth then closed it again, hesitating to say what she was about to say. “Ma’am, ye’ve given me every chance I’ve had, and that’s worth somethin’. Shannon, now, I know you two’ve a history, but –”
“Could we drop it?” Lorinda asked, her voice tired. “Please?”
Aileen looked at her for a few full seconds. “All right, Ma’am. I’ll be gettin’ the water then.” She climbed carefully down a bank of black rocks, leaving Lorinda to tend to Jeff. At the bottom she found Shannon kneeling at the edge of the pool, cupping her hands to bring water to her mouth, occasionally splashing some on her face.
After a few moments, Shannon looked up to see her there. “Hey,” she said.
“Ma’am,” Aileen nodded politely. She knelt next to Shannon. She had already taken a few gulps of water when she noticed Shannon still staring at her. “Can I help ye, Ma’am?” Aileen asked, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
Shannon sighed and sat back on a rock. “I just…my mom used to say that they should call her Jobina Matthewson after all the patience she needed to put up with us. And you, putting up with her, all day, every day, and you don’t…You really are Jobina.”
Aileen stifled a laugh. “Who, Sheparton? She’s all right.” Shannon raised a disbelieving eyebrow. Aileen grinned. “Well, no, she’s a complete ruddy bint, in’t she?”
Shannon let out a long breath. “Oh my God, I hate her so much. Do you know what she did the night before I was supposed to start as a squad leader? She switched my shampoo for Prelbek excretions. Said it was for old times’ sake. Do you have any idea what you have to do when you get that stuff on your skin?”
Aileen did not seem surprised by this. “Once I saw ‘er make a girl cry just by smilin’ at ‘er.”
“Once she stabbed me in the back. Literally. Claimed it was an accident.”
“We’ll be in a crisis, and she’ll drop everythin’, just for a good plodger, leave me to clean up ‘er mess. An’ I don’t mean that literally…most of the time.”
“She tried to kill my watcher’s girlfriend one time.”
Aileen raised an eyebrow at this one.
“She’s a vampire,” Shannon explained.
“Aye, I remember now,” Aileen nodded. “To each ‘er own, I say.”
“And I outranked her,” Shannon said, shaking her head. “How do you put up with it?”
Aileen leaned forward conspiratorially. “Great heaping quantities of Scotch. The real stuff, mind, not what ye Americans drink.”
Shannon looked like she was genuinely considering this idea. Then Aileen continued.
“But for all that, she’s the best boss I could ‘ave, in’t she?”
Shannon pulled back, one eye squinting in confusion. “Well, apart from everyone ever, yeah.”
“She’s got a mind on ‘er, don’t she?” Aileen argued. “She’s a ruddy whiz at tactics. Just walkin’ a step behind ‘er, it’s a master class. You may be a better fighter, Ma’am, but Sheparton, well, she gets even a half-chance and she’ll knock yer only wee weakness hard as ye like.” She took a deep breath and stood up. “I may hate the bint with a flaming passion, but I sure as ‘ell respect ‘er. And I’m grateful to be ‘er assistant.”
She turned to climb the rocks but stopped when Shannon said, “You’re not her assistant, Aileen. You’re a slayer.”
“Aye,” Aileen said, and she went back to climbing the rocks. Shannon followed her.
At the top, Lorinda was waiting with Jeff. “Did you bring the water?”
“Well, I’m not yer assistant, am I?” Aileen replied. A small smile appeared on her lips as she walked past Lorinda and into the woods. “Got to take a piss. Be back in two shakes.”
Lorinda’s mouth had dropped wide open. She spun and found herself face-to-face with Shannon. “What did you say to her?” Lorinda asked.
“Nothing, jeez,” Shannon said, her hands held up defensively. “Keep it in the holster, Commandant. Girl’s got some potential, y’know, if you didn’t ride her all the time.”
“I’m trying to help her,” Lorinda insisted. “And the water wasn’t for me, it was for Jeff. Did you even –”
She was cut off by a strangled cry coming from Aileen’s direction. Both girls immediately turned and ran to help, but before they made it very far, Aileen came stumbling out of the jungle. She put both hands on Lorinda’s shoulders.
“I think it bit me,” she said through clenched teeth. All of a sudden she seemed out of breath.
“Okay, stay calm,” Shannon said. “What happened?”
“I think I…I stepped on it, and then…me ankle hurts. It really…bloody hurts. Ah!” She’d tried to put her weight on her right foot but couldn’t do it. She collapsed awkwardly into Lorinda’s arms.
“Okay,” Lorinda told her. “We’re just gonna sit down. Over here. Here we go. That’s right, get off me.” She led and/or dragged Aileen over to the rock where she had been sitting and sat the girl down on it. Lorinda knelt in front of her. “I’m going to roll up your pant leg, get a look at your ankle. This’ll hurt.”
“I told you,” Lorinda said. “You really have to lis…” She fell into silence.
“Yer bedside manner is crap, y’know that, Ma’am?” Still silence. Aileen tried to lean forward to see. “What?”
Lorinda moved aside so Shannon could see the ankle. It was swollen to the size of a grapefruit, with two large, distinct puncture marks on the instep. It had turned an ugly shade of dark red. Shannon winced.
“Okay, Aileen,” Lorinda said, desperately keeping a thin layer of calm stretched over her inner freak-out, “this looks like a snake bite. Did you see the snake that did this?”
“It was…really big…aaah!” Aileen screamed in pain, reeling as if she’d been struck. The veins in her neck were stretched and visible, and her face was screwed into a grimace.
“Should we, I dunno, suck the poison out or something?” Shannon asked.
“That’s a myth,” Lorinda told her, running a hand through her sweaty hair. “And if this was a cobra, that’d be a really bad idea. But if you really want to –”
“Cobra?! ” Aileen shouted, panicked. She thrashed her body, threatening to throw herself off of the rock, but Lorinda held her in place.
“Keep her calm. I’m gonna try and get her shoe off,” Lorinda ordered.
Shannon took Aileen by the shoulders. “Okay, Aileen, look at me.” Aileen’s eyes were screwed shut in pain. “Look at me, okay.”
Lorinda tugged Aileen’s shoe off.
“Bloody shite bugger arse!” Aileen screamed.
Shannon grabbed her by the head with both hands, forcing Aileen to look into her eyes. “Listen to me. You are a slayer. You’re strong. You’re a fighter. I saw you go up against those demons. You’re not gonna let this beat you. You hear me?”
Aileen seemed to relax for a moment. “Slayer healing, yeah?”
“That’s right,” Shannon told her, urgency in her voice. “You’ve got slayer healing.”
Aileen’s brow wrinkled in confusion. “Did ye know ye’re blurry?”
“Blurry?” Shannon asked. Aileen coughed hard instead of answering. She tried desperately to take a deep breath but was having trouble.
“I can’t – can’t see,” Aileen choked out. “Can’t breathe.” Her chest heaved in search of air. She rolled sideways, falling off the rock and onto the forest floor.
“I said hold her steady!” Lorinda snapped. “We have to keep her heart higher than the wound.”
“What’s going on?” Shannon asked as she tried to grapple with the writhing Aileen. “This is happening really fast.”
“I think the damn thing might have hit an artery,” Lorinda said. “Her leg…I can’t do anything. I can’t do anything!”
“Okay, keep it together,” Shannon told her. Below her Aileen’s chest was rising and falling extremely rapidly. She was making terrible dry gasping noises with each breath.
“You keep it together,” Lorinda snapped.
Shannon ignored this. “What if we cut her leg off,” she said quietly. “We have the –”
“No!” Aileen screamed. She tried to reach out to grab Shannon, but her arm remained rigid and barely moved from her side.
“It’s…it’s too late for that,” Lorinda told her. She swallowed hard, but her throat sounded very dry. “The venom’s already spread.”
“I can’t move me arms,” Aileen hissed. Her thrashing had stilled, and her neck arched back. Her mouth gulped uselessly. Tears streamed down her face.
Shannon leaned over her. “Aileen, you’ve gotta do this yourself, okay? You’ve gotta fight this.” Aileen’s hissing gasps were growing farther apart. Shannon was crying now, too. Lorinda sat back on the ground, a stunned look on her face.
“Please,” Shannon begged. “Please, Aileen, you have to stay with us.”
Aileen’s eyes stared into Shannon’s. Noises rose in her throat, but she could not make them form words anymore. Her lips curled back in a terrible grimace.
Shannon looked away, tears in her eyes. Then she grabbed for the Scythe where it lay nearby on the ground. She picked it up and brought it to Aileen’s hand. With her own hand she closed Aileen’s fingers around the grip.
Lorinda watched this scene with wide, stunned eyes. She brought the back of her hand to her mouth.
Shannon and Aileen locked eyes. “You feel that?” Shannon asked. “You’re connected, to all of us. Feel it. You’re more than just you. You’re a hero. Feel it.”
Aileen’s lips moved lazily, her last bit of muscle control. “Thanks.”
One final rattle from the back of her throat followed, and then she was still.
Shannon blinked back her tears, still holding onto Aileen’s body. Very slowly, Lorinda got to her feet. Jeff lay on his stretcher. For several seconds the only sound was that of the babbling pool. Shannon carefully lay Aileen down on the ground, leaving the Scythe clutched in the dead slayer’s hand.
Lorinda shook her head. “If she’d just done what I told her to, this wouldn’t have happened. And you, Shannon, if you just once would –”
Shannon shot to her feet, grabbed Lorinda, and slammed her against the nearest tree. She had her forearm across Lorinda’s throat, pressing hard.
“That girl actually looked up to you,” Shannon said quietly, barely controlled, her eyes shining with rage, “and now she’s dead. If you open your mouth one more time and say something childish or insulting, I will remove your liver before you can scream. Do you understand me?”
Lorinda’s eyes narrowed. Very slowly, she nodded. Shannon let her down. Lorinda rubbed her throat and glared at the other girl.
Shannon walked quickly over to where Aileen still lay and roughly snatched up the Scythe.
“Now,” she said, her face still a mask, “we need to do something with the body.”
End of Act Four