Council HQ – Cafeteria – Morning
Buffy stared at the metal trays under the glass in front of her. They were lit orange by buzzing heat lamps. With a sigh, she reached down and ladled a pile of scrambled eggs onto her plate. “How come Los Angeles gets all the good food?”
Willow sidled up behind Buffy in line. “Missing Andrew?” she asked, sympathy in her voice.
“Just more than usual,” Buffy replied. “I interviewed him last night.”
Willow hesitated “For…the thing? And how did that go?”
Buffy sighed. “I dunno. Okay, I guess. Is it wrong to ask a man to kill his wife?” She grabbed a couple of pieces of bacon with a pair of metal tongs.
Willow paused a beat. “What?” she asked, thoroughly confused.
Buffy just shrugged off the question as if it weren’t really important. “Look, are you sure you don’t want to do it? Pleeease?” She made her best attempt at puppy dog eyes.
Willow burst into giggles. “Sorry, but no. My kids are better at making that face than you.” Buffy stuck out her bottom lip a little more, but Willow still shook her head. “Not even close.”
“Choosing is hard,” Buffy whined. “Lori is probably overqualified, Amira almost made me cry with her pitch, and Andrew is everyone’s friend…”
Buffy turned around at this, straightening her neck and trying a little too hard to appear professional. “Yes, Joan?”
Joan had come up behind them, surprisingly stealthy in her heels. She pointed over her shoulder. “There’s a phone call for you at your office from Bangkok.”
Council HQ – Outside Buffy’s Office – Minutes Later
As Buffy walked into the antechamber of her office, she found Grace sitting in the waiting area, paging through an issue of Spin.
“What are you doing here?” Buffy asked her.
“Learning about our favorite diva,” Grace replied. She closed the magazine and held it up. The cover picture depicted Hadley Ramirez smashing a guitar in true rebel fashion. “Did you know that her idols growing up were Faith Lehane, Jesus Christ, and Beyonce?” Buffy crossed her arms and waited. Grace put down the magazine. “Okay. I, uh, I need to talk to you about something.”
“Well, come on in,” Buffy said. She waved Grace into her office. “I’ve just got to take this call first, and you might as well hear it. I’ve got a feeling it’s about your Uncreation thingy.”
Council HQ – Buffy Office – Moments Later
Buffy leaned back in her big Chairwoman chair as she listened to the voice on the speakerphone. Grace leaned forward in the chair across from her, elbows on knees. Streaks of morning sunlight shone through the windows.
“Mr. Chatpong, slow down,” Buffy said. “When was the last time you heard from them?”
“Their last transmission was nearly twenty hours ago,” said Mr. Chatpong, in what sounded like British-accented English. “We have already requested aerial transport services from –”
“Twenty hours?” Grace asked. Her head was down, and her voice was low.
There was then a pause at the other end of the line. “That’s correct, Ma’am.”
“That’s just completely unacceptable,” Grace said, a dangerous edge seeping into her tone. “You should have called us after three hours out of contact.”
Buffy raised an eyebrow at this but said nothing. The two of them waited a moment for the reply.
“I-I’m aware of that, Ma’am,” said Mr. Chatpong. “We’ve been understaffed here, you understand, and some of the newer slayers were manning the board, and –”
Grace sat up in her chair and cut him off. “No, you know what? We’re past that. We’ve got to work together and get them back and find Jabba the Hutt and get Han Solo out of the carbonite.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line. “Um…thank you?”
Buffy shook her head to clear it and rocked her chair back forward. “So I’m thinking we should start again at the beginning…”
Council HQ – Hallway – Morning
Kennedy walked down a hallway a little faster than usual. Xander hurried behind her with a tablet PC, struggling to keep up.
“Get everybody up and on this. Vacation time is canceled. Sleeping is later. I’m gonna want access to satellite imagery from the whole area. We should divert resources from the other Asian Councils to Bangkok, along with personnel. And I’m gonna need a team on a plane right now. Bangkok has shown they aren’t ready to handle something like this.”
“You know Buffy says you can’t go,” Xander pointed out.
Kennedy huffed. “I know. I’m the general now. Tell Amira she’s leading the team.”
The two of them walked together down the hallway for a moment in silence.
“Also, if I’m going to stay here, somebody better get me a damn Diet Pepsi,” Kennedy said. She rubbed a hand over her face, her voice growing quieter. “And somebody needs to make sure Willow knows.”
Council HQ – Day Care Center – Morning
Willow was chatting with Ben when Skye entered the day care center. Ben was holding baby Jake in his carrier. The infant avidly observed the adults.
“So the baby was a bit cranky this morning,” Willow said. “He didn’t get much sleep last night because he was teething. I did a healing for him before coming here, so I expect he’ll drop off before you know it.”
“Okay, Willow. We’ll take good care of her,” Ben replied. He then turned to the vampire that had approached them. “Ms. Talisker,” he said in greeting, but his eyes remained wary.
“Relax, nanny boy,” Skye said. “I’m not here to eat any of your charges. Although…” Her demon face emerged as she leaned down to nuzzle the baby’s belly, causing Jake to giggle madly. “This one is plump and ripe enough.”
Ben pulled the carrier away quickly as Willow rolled her eyes.
“What’s up, Skye?” she asked.
“I thought a little levity might help since Grace sent me,” Skye said, her face returning to human and growing serious. “The Thailand group is MIA.”
“How long?” Willow said, thrusting the diaper bag in Ben’s direction and heading for the door.
“Almost a day,” Skye said as she followed.
Before she walked out the door, Willow cast a last look at her newest child lying peacefully in his carrier.
Council HQ – Conference Room – Day
Kennedy stood before a digital map projected on the large flat screen at the head of the room. “Is this the best you can do?” she asked the technician working the map’s controls.
“It’s the l-l-latest satellite feed available from G-g-g-oogle maps,” the technician stuttered, obviously nervous with Robin Wood standing over her shoulder. Willow entered the room just in time to overhear the last remark.
“Google? Good grief!” she marched over to the controls and quickly tapped some keys. Less than thirty seconds later, the image on the screen dissolved into a new, more finely detailed view.
“That’s more like it!” Kennedy exclaimed. “What did you do, Will?”
Willow shrugged. “Tapped into the Xinhua News Agency’s map database. They’ve got the latest sat feeds on all of China’s neighbors.”
Robin rolled his eyes as the tech nervously asked, “Did you do that with m-m-magic?”
“Nah,” Willow laughed. “I’ve been hacking databases long before I was casting spells. Just make sure you clear the cache when we’re done here, okay. We don’t want to start World War III with China.”
“Yes, Mrs. Rosenberg,” she said.
“Any new news?” Willow asked Kennedy.
“Nothing yet,” Kennedy replied. “We’re having a hard time since it’s on the other side of the world and our local crew seems to be less than useful.”
“I had an idea,” Willow said. “I’d like to try some astral projection…get a look for myself at the situation if I can.”
Kennedy frowned. “Isn’t that dangerous?” she asked. “I remember the last time you did it, and it took a lot out of you.”
“It did,” Willow agreed. “But I have to do something. This sitting around isn’t helping any, a-and you did say we need more information.”
“Yeah, but Willow…”
“No ‘buts’, Ken,” she growled, holding out her hand. “That’s my wife who’s lost out there!”
“And your kids are here,” Kennedy retorted. “Gonna leave them without either of their mothers?”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Willow argued. “That’s the beauty of astral projection.”
“There’s that ‘but’ again,” Willow said. “Not listening, Ken…just send Skye to the coven room with your best guess as to where they might be, okay?”
Kennedy took in a deep breath as she looked hard at Willow. Finally, she nodded and said, “Okay, I’ll have her get everything for you. Go spend some time with your kids before you go, all right?”
“Already planned to,” Willow said with a small, sad smile.
Thailand – Rainforest – Night
Dawn sullenly poked her sputtering campfire with a stick, sending a few stray sparks jumping. Rowena sat across from her, hands on her knees.
“It’s funny,” Dawn said softly, staring into the fire. “I think I’m getting over the whole immortality thing–no, immortality curse–just because when I think I’m getting over it, I remember what it is…a curse. Shannon, Lorinda, Jeff, that…other girl. They could all be dead.”
“They’re not –” Rowena tried to interject.
“And I’m already starting to think that maybe I’d be better off detaching myself from everything,” Dawn kept on. Her voice floated out into the night. “Just think of people as objects, like a squirrel or a table. You see a squirrel on the side of the road, dead, you sort of go ‘aww’. You don’t cry. Sometimes you don’t even notice. I’ve tried it. I can’t do it. You don’t realize quite what bastards the Powers are until…” She trailed off, poking at the fire with a stick again. Rowena looked at her through the top of the flame. “Sometimes I think I had the right idea when I kept trying to kill myself.”
“No, Dawn!” Rowena said. “Listen to me. First off, they’re alive. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that you gotta assume they’ve made it. Second off, I believe–and everything I’ve seen, everything we’ve seen, has only confirmed that belief–that everything happens for a reason.”
“Sorry, Ro, but that’s just a bunch of B.S.” Dawn angrily threw her stick into the fire. “I mean, why do I get to live forever and people like my mom and Tara were taken before their time? They loved and were loved and I’m…who am I?”
“Dawn, you’re somebody who can’t not care, which is good,” Rowena replied. “And you miss your family, but think about this…it seems like your mom was spared the pain of losing her oldest daughter. As for Tara, well…I’m not the best person to reason that one out. If she hadn’t died…then my family wouldn’t exist because she’d still have Willow. That’s selfish, I know, but I love Willow and our family more than anything else in this world. I’m not saying that Tara had to die for me, but, honestly, that’s the way it worked out. Life’s rarely ever fair, but we do the best we can do.”
“Yeah,” Dawn said sadly.
“And remember, here you are, punished for trying to get Skye’s soul back, and then she gets it back anyway because of the punishment. Our lives are like that. And you’ve got a honey who shares the same curse, who’s…on your level.”
Dawn looked up at Rowena, understanding entering her eyes.
“I’m…glad you kids worked it out,” Rowena continued, her voice slightly hoarse. “With, Willow, well, we have three kids. Three. And I love them with everything, but…Willow talks with Goddesses. She is a Goddess. I’m trying to make this life with her, but I wonder…how much can she love somebody who’s just a person, you know? Or if one day I’ll look away and look back and she won’t be there anymore, and it’ll be someone else, and I won’t have noticed, and wow, I’ve just kept on talking.”
Dawn shook her head. “No, it’s fine. I think it’s being out here, both of us. No TV. Makes the mind play tricks.”
Thailand – Rainforest – Night
Shannon and Lorinda sat around their own fire, Jeff lying on the ground beside the flames. The two slayers looked everywhere but at each other. Jeff made a groaning noise.
“You should look at him,” Shannon said.
Lorinda shot her companion a hard look but kept her mouth shut. She got up, took a few steps, and knelt over Jeff. “You’re good, you’re good,” she assured him. “Easy.”
Jeff tried to sit up. “What’s going on?” he asked, a little groggy. He looked around, grimacing. “Where are we?”
“The helicopter crashed,” Lorinda told him. “You were wounded…Do you know how heavy you are? Have you been hitting the gym?”
“I remember…” Jeff said. He now sounded more lucid. Suddenly his eyes met Lorinda’s. “Where’s Aileen?”
Lorinda opened her mouth then closed it again.
“She’s dead,” Shannon said loudly from the far side of the fire. Lorinda frowned at her.
Jeff blinked several times but said nothing. The fire crackled in the dark. Shannon idly picked up a dead leaf and tossed it into the flames. Jeff glanced down at his bandaged shoulder.
“Did you do this?” he asked Lorinda.
“Don’t poke at it,” she said, worry showing through in her voice.
“It’s good,” Jeff assured her. “Really, it is.”
Lorinda bit her lip. “I have many hidden talents.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Jeff said. He smiled up at her for a few moments. Shannon looked at the two of them, and one of her eyebrows went up.
Then Jeff tried to rise to his feet, grimacing as he did so.
“You really shouldn’t –” Lorinda said.
“You’ve carried me far enough,” Jeff told her, pushing away her extended helping hand. He wobbled slightly on his feet, but he made it. “There, ya see?”
Shannon stood up. “We should get to –” she began.
Then thirty different torches blazed into life in the forest surrounding the campfire. Shannon, Lorinda, and Jeff all looked around wide-eyed.
“– bed,” Shannon finished. She groaned. “Oh, come on! I got up at five this morning.”
One demon stepped forward, carrying a torch in his hand. The bony protrusions around his eye sockets gave him away as one of Jengar’s soldiers. “You will come with us,” he said in heavily accented English. Shannon’s eyes narrowed.
Behind her, Lorinda spoke. “Hmm. No, I don’t think so. You’re not my type. Too…” She gestured at the demon in general. “Indiana Jones bad guy for me. I’m a little more high society.”
“Very well,” said the demon. He shouted a few loud syllables to the forest, and they were rushed by a few dozen demons. Shannon snatched up the Scythe from next to where she had been sitting and swung it in a wide arc. Several of the demons jumped back, but they soon closed back in on her. She tried to swing the weapon again but found that her hands were stayed. There were five demons, grabbing at her, wrenching it away. “No!” she yelled. “Get the hell off me!”
Lorinda and Jeff found themselves in the same predicament. Thirty torches closed in, and the fire went out.
Council HQ– Rowena & Willow’s Apartment – Nursery – Evening
Willow sat in the ornate rocking chair holding her sleeping son. Nearby, the older twins sat on the floor, playing a board game.
“Mommy?” Jen looked up at her mother. “Can we call Mom now?”
Willow shook her head. “It’s still early there, Baby,” she answered.
Alex reached out a hand. “Can I borrow your iPad, Mommy?” he asked.
Willow took the device from the table next to her chair and handed it to her son.
Alex took it and quickly typed on the screen. “It’s only five o’clock in the morning in Bangkok,” he announced. “Mom will still be asleep.”
Willow nodded and appeared to be controlling her tears. “That was very well done, Alex.”
Jen pouted. “But that means by the time Mom wakes up, we’ll be sleeping.”
“I know,” Willow said. “When I speak with her next, we’ll arrange a time for a family conference call, okay?”
“Okay,” Jen answered, and then a knock came from the front door.
“That’s Mr. Nawaf to watch you guys while I take care of something for the Council,” she said. “Can you go answer the door, Alex?”
Alex jumped up and ran from the room.
“Why can’t Aunt Skye watch us, Mommy?” Jen asked. “Ben’s nice and all, but Aunt Skye is way cooler.”
Willow sighed. “I know, but I need Skye’s help.”
“Oh!” Jen said. “It’s a witch thing, isn’t it?”
“You’re as smart as your mom, my brainy baby girl.”
“I’m not your baby, Mommy. Jake is.”
“You’ll always be my baby, Jenny,” Willow said. “No matter how old you get.” She smiled at Ben as Alex led him into the nursery.
Council HQ – Library – Evening
Buffy walked up to the table where Grace sat surrounded by data pads and moldy books. “So…whatcha got?” she asked, taking a seat.
“On…?” Grace asked.
Buffy raised her eyes at Grace’s tone. “The Uncreation thingy, the Thai sitch, all of the above?”
Grace finally looked up from the book in her hands and sighed. “Sorry, I’m a little worried about Jeff.”
Buffy nodded. “I understand,” she said. “I’d be touchy, too, if Xander was there. As it is, my sister and my best friend’s wife are in danger…as well as, you know, your husband and…the others.” She sighed.
“Well, you really don’t need to worry about Dawn…” Grace stopped when she noted Buffy’s raised eyebrow. “In any case, not much new to go on. I’ve got some leads by way of crazy cross-references, but so far I feel like I’m going around in circles.”
“Okay,” Buffy said and picked up a book from the pile. “Tell me where to start tracking them down.”
“You?” Grace said. “Research?”
Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes. “While not my favorite part of the whole slayer gig, I have been known to crack a book or two in times of need, and I’d say this was definitely a needy time.”
“You’re right,” Grace said. She handed Buffy a tablet computer. “Start here and try to find where this reference is going…”
Council HQ – Coven Room – Evening
Willow walked in to find two of her priestesses preparing the circle for casting as Skye looked on.
“Almost ready?” Skye asked.
“Just about,” she answered. “Did Ken get the location intel to you?”
Skye nodded and handed the pages to Willow. “Robin’s best guess based on where the chopper went off the radar.”
“Okay,” Willow said as she looked over everything. “I’ll start there and see where my nose leads me.”
“You sure about this, Will?” Skye asked. “Could be dangerous.”
Willow’s eyebrow quirked up. “You worried about my health, Skye?” she quipped.
Skye snorted. “As if! No, just don’t wanna get staked by your wife for letting you do something incredibly stupid.” For a moment both women just studied each other in silence. “Okay,” Skye admitted in a sigh. “Maybe I’m a little concerned for you.”
Willow smirked. “I’ll be fine,” she said. Skye gave her a reluctant nod in return. “All right, ladies…let’s get this show on the road.”
She took her place in the center of the circle, sitting on a cushion while the other three took position at the edges. She took three deep breaths as the others began to chant.
Astral Plane – Thailand – Morning
Willow blinked open her eyes and found herself sitting on the ground in a jungle. As always when astral projecting, the image appeared distorted, as if looking through thin tissue paper. Still, the vista before her was breathtaking. She jumped to her feet and raced for the nearest tree, easily clambering up it.
“Eat your heart out, Neo,” she giggled to herself as the rush of magic running through her veins made her skin glow.
At the top, she clung loosely to the branch, looking out over the forest’s canopy. “Hmm, this could take a while,” she said. A soft chirrup came from her left, and she found herself looking into the eyes of a small tree frog. It stared back at her.
“You know, if I was really here, I’d be afraid of you,” she said sternly.
The frog blinked its eyes.
“Funny how animals can see astral travelers,” she mused to herself. “Well, frog, I’ve got people to find. Nice chatting with you.” With that farewell, she leaned against the tree branch and launched herself through the air towards the next tree. Grabbing hold of a branch, she used her momentum to continue from tree to tree, laughing in sheer pleasure.
Thailand – Rainforest – Morning
Rowena climbed up a heavily forested slope, doggedly placing one foot in front of the other. She pushed a low-hanging branch out of her face. Several feet behind her, Dawn was struggling to keep up. She used a stripped branch as an improvised walking stick.
“How high does the ground need to be?” Dawn called. “We’ve been climbing since yesterday afternoon.”
“We need to find a highly visible peak,” Rowena replied without turning around. “Then we can, you know, be seen for miles around. So the bad guys can shoot us.”
“I’m seeing a flaw in this plan,” Dawn noted between huffs.
Rowena stopped and turned to face Dawn. “Look, I’m doing my best here, Dawn. Our helicopter crashed in the middle of the jungle. We’re not dead. I think that’s pretty good. You got any ideas, I’d love to hear them.”
“Oh, I know,” Dawn told her, coming up alongside her. “Just trying to break the monotony. And actually, I think just up there might be a decent spot to get shot.” She pointed up the slope with her stick then pressed on.
Rowena followed. “It’s easy to forget you’re not a teenager anymore.”
“It’s ’cause of my youthful good looks,” Dawn replied over her shoulder with a grin.
Thailand – Rainforest – Moments Later
The rhythmic thunk of Dawn’s walking stick ceased, and she came to a halt. “Well, that’s new,” she said.
Rowena came up behind her. “What is it…oh.”
They stood on the edge of a steep slope, almost a cliff. Below them lay a dusty valley, completely filled with tents, huts, and a few low, ramshackle modern buildings. These structures were swarming with figures, human-ish from a distance. On the rocks across from them perched a collection of intricate spires, some gold, some wood, inter-mixed with sloped pagoda-style roofs.
“We never saw this from the air,” Rowena noted. “I feel like maybe we should have seen this.”
Dawn shrugged. “We never quite got this far.” She took a step forward, pointing with her stick. “So, that’s a monastery, but I’m confused what all this – Ah!”
The ground suddenly collapsed underneath her, and Dawn found herself rolling down the slope. “Dawn!” Rowena called urgently, rushing forward…only to cause another collapse.
Rowena slid down the mountainside after Dawn, doing everything she could to control her fall. She grabbed at stray branches and rocks, angling her body to keep from rolling.
Dawn was trying to do the same thing. A smile spread across her face. “Woo-hoo!” she cried. She coursed down the mountain like it was a water-slide. Then she reached the bottom with a thud, falling over onto her face. She grimaced as she pushed herself up. “Just like Disneyland,” she said. Then she looked up. She was surrounded, pinned against the cliff-face, by demons with green-scaled, reptilian arms and bony eye-sockets.
Then Rowena thumped to the ground behind her. She rose, looking sheepish.
Dawn gave the demons a small wave. “Hi.”
Thailand – Rainforest – Morning
Jeff stumbled forward after a shove from one of his guards. His face bore a sheen of sweat, and his bandaged shoulder was soaked through with blood. He tripped again and fell to his knees. One of their demon captors shouted something in the local language, which had the quick rising and falling syllables common to many Asian languages. Another kicked him in the ribs, and Jeff fell sideways to the forest floor. His fall sent a centipede scurrying from its hole, causing Shannon, her hands bound behind her back, to jump out of the way.
Lorinda pushed her way between Jeff and the guards despite having her hands bound as well. “Hey! Get off of him.” There was a troop of at least ten guards surrounding them, each carrying an automatic weapon. These were now all pointed at Lorinda, but she stood her ground, glaring, as Jeff wheezed below her. “If you were gonna kill me for that, you would’ve done it already,” she declared.
She stooped to offer Jeff a hand up then realized she had no free hands to offer him. He made it to his feet, but he wobbled, barely able to stand.
“I can’t…go much further,” he managed to say between gasps.
“I don’t think you’ll have to,” Shannon said. “This group didn’t bring enough supplies for a much longer walk.”
One of their captors said something angry in his own language, and then the group pressed on.
Thailand – Jengar’s Camp – Morning
Shannon had been right, they didn’t have far to go. After a final push through the forest they came upon a camp sprawling in a clearing over-arched by four or five huge trees that blocked out most of the sun. Dozens of tents and shacks littered the forest floor with no apparent pattern. At one end of the oval there was an opening in the trees, where a path led down to a distantly-heard raging torrent of a river. Shannon, Lorinda, and the very worse-for-wear Jeff were brought into this melee by their armed escort. They passed forlorn elephants tied to trees and slowly munching on forest leaves. Two demons pushed through their group carrying two carved planks of wood on their shoulders, at least twenty feet long.
In the center of all of this, a bizarre structure, cobbled out of scrap metal and wood, rose well above the ramshackle dwellings below. The ground beneath it was stripped down to bare rock. It grew up like a spider, posts growing from the forest floor, connected by cross-beams, slowly bending until a central meeting point. It was like a skeletal circus big top. And in the midst of this, atop a pedestal that might once have been a mighty tree, was an even more complicated contraption, all gears and levers. The device leaked steam from its pores and seams. And in its heart was a seemingly freestanding ball of…something, which pulsed a dull red-orange.
“Sweet mother Nefertiti,” Shannon breathed, “what is that?”
“The Uncreation, I presume,” Lorinda said.
“Maybe,” Jeff said, “though it’s less of an event and more…Thunderdome.”
He tripped again as they reached the foot of the structure, falling to his knees. He looked up blearily to find Jengar waiting for the group, standing in front of a busy set of demons who seemed to be making adjustments or repairs to the structure. Some of them climbed along its flimsy-looking girders, moving with ease.
“Ah yes, the slayers and their watcher,” Jengar said. His eyes roamed over Jeff. “You know, I have sometimes wondered why you didn’t get rid of them years ago. They too often only slow things down.”
Lorinda knelt to attend to Jeff, but he waved her off. She looked up at Jengar. “Okay, lizard-face,” she growled. “Why are we here? I mean, it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a nice long Bataan Death March, but excuse me if I’d like to be spared your mwa-ha-ha’s.”
“English has changed since my days in the missionary school,” Jengar observed.
“Who are you?” Shannon asked, her jaw set.
Their host opened his arms expansively, almost welcoming. “I am Jengar, leader of these people. My people. We are the Ravana, the sons and daughters of dragons.”
Shannon glanced at Lorinda, who shrugged. Shannon raised an eyebrow at this. One of their escort brought Jengar the Scythe. He accepted it, running both hands over the handle and blade. “Very nice,” he said. “A mystical weapon, I think. Wonderful work. He motioned to the hulking structure behind him. “I have my own, you see. I have heard about you, you know. The Great Blue Slayer.”
Shannon’s eyes went wide as saucers at this. “How do you know that name?” she asked. She was too shocked to sound angry.
“It was in a prophecy handed down to me from great seers,” Jengar said. “The Great Blue Slayer has come. But she has not come alone.” He held up the Scythe. “She has brought her greatest weapon. And she has brought her greatest rival.” He turned his head towards Lorinda. “And their fates will be entwined.”
She smirked. “Greatest? Really? I’m touched.” Next to her Jeff managed to get back to his feet.
Shannon’s eyebrows shot up. “Entwined? We’re not entwined. Really.”
“Oh, but you are,” Jengar replied. He took a few steps towards them. “Just think, the threads of both your lives, leading both of you inexorably here. To your failure.”
Lorinda made a noise in her throat. “You wish.”
“That’s the end of it,” Jengar stated. “It’s almost enough to make you believe in something greater than yourself. Almost. The Great Blue Slayer…will lose.” Jeff leaned on Shannon, and they shared a look at this. She did not look happy.
“Okay, but what about me?” Lorinda asked. Jengar ignored her, listening to one of the workers as they spoke into his ear. “Hey, Genghis or whatever your name is, do they say anything else about me in your mystical little fortune cookie –?”
“The test is ready,” Jengar announced, silencing her.
“Test?” Jeff asked, almost panicked. “Test?”
While the group looked on, about two dozen local people, looking dirty and ill-kept, were led past them and into the dome of the structure. Four or five of them were children. A few whimpers could be heard.
“What…is this?” Shannon asked quietly.
“Something very, very bad,” Jeff told her.
The prisoners huddled in groups, shoulders slumped, children tugging at the hands of adults. Jengar surveyed them briefly then nodded. One of the Ravana on the ground shouted something to three that still perched at stations on the upper tiers. One of them yelled an acknowledgment. They began to operate a complex series of levers and switches.
The great machine groaned to life. The huff of steam and the clank of metal on metal filled the air. The ball at the center shifted from red to blue. With a faint hum, a swath of faint blue energy appeared, running from the top of the dome to the forest floor. It swung once around the dome in the space of three seconds before getting back to where it had begun. The entire structure shimmered blue for a brief moment before the effect disappeared.
The contraption continued to chug, hydraulics growing faster and faster. And then something began to happen to the people trapped inside. Particles seemed to trail off them, hanging in the air like dust in sunlight. There were wails and cries of surprise.
“What are you doing?!” Shannon screamed. She ran forward, but two of the Ravana guards held her back before she could reach the dome’s threshold. “Stop it! Stop it!” She struggled against the guards, but her hands were still bound, and the demons were able to hold her. Lorinda and Jeff stood rooted behind her. Jeff’s eyes were downcast, and Lorinda’s mouth hung open.
The skin began to disappear from those inside. One man, screaming, made a break for it. He struck the edge of the dome and made it no further. There was a blinding blue flash, and he was thrown back, a smoking corpse. The machine rolled on.
Shannon watched, tears streaming down her face, as the people inside faded to nothing. Moving from the center outward, they turned into particles hanging in the air. And then even those particles disappeared. It happened slowly but surely. Within a minute there was no one left inside the dome.
“No!” Shannon yelled. Her tears made trails in the grime on her face. She slumped against the demons holding her. “No,” she whispered.
Jengar shouted a command, and the contraption quickly ground to a halt. There was only silence for a long beat.
Then a scream broke through the stillness. Everyone turned to see the form of a man finish coalescing from nowhere about thirty feet away. He teetered momentarily on his feet. Then he vomited a large glob of blood onto the ground. Blood poured from his nostrils and where his eyes had been. He pitched forward onto the ground face first and was still.
Jengar frowned and spoke. “Still needs work.”
End of Special Assignment Pt. 1
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