Dilapidated Shack – Night
Mae Hong Son Province, Thailand
The old man sat quietly on the bare wood floor. The night sounds of the deep forest seeped through the thin walls of his tiny shack. He wore a simple brown robe, and in front of him sat a black cauldron sculpted from coarse stone. There was no other furniture. From the cauldron rose a small green flame, and it was into this flame that the old man stared. The old man did not blink.
Neither did he look up when a grating creak announced the opening of the shack’s lone door. Through it strode a younger man, his movements swift and purposeful. His breath was ragged after his long journey. As he approached, one could see that he was not, in fact, a man. Bony ridges protruded around his eye sockets, and his olive skin gave way to green-tinged scales on the skin of his muscular arms. His eyes carried a startling intensity.
“I would speak with you, Old Man,” said the demon.
The old man continued to gaze into the fire. “It is unreliable, you know. The future is always changing.” He finally glanced up at his guest. “Changing because of ones such as you.”
The demon knelt respectfully opposite the old man. He was not wearing shoes. “You must tell me. Tell me what happens to my people.”
The old man leaned over the flame and took a long breath of its smoke. His eyes rolled up into his head, showing nothing but white. He spoke with a deep voice, sounding as if it emanated from the depths of his being.
“She approaches. I see her. The Great Blue Slayer.”
The demon gritted his teeth at this. “A slayer?”
“She is not alone. She brings her greatest friend. She brings her greatest weapon. She brings her greatest rival. And all their fates are entwined.”
“But my people…” the demon insisted.
“The time of the Uncreation is approaching. Blood is spilling, spilling, spilling…and then nothing. Forever.”
“And the slayer? Will she stop us?”
“She…will lose.” The old man’s eyes returned to normal, and he took in a great startled breath.
The demon got to his feet. A smile spread very slowly across his face.
Storage Locker – Night
With a groan, the young man opened his eyes. His head rolled loosely on his neck, he had a newly-formed welt above one eye and he blinked more than usual as he tried to take in his surroundings. He was in a large storage locker, the kind you can rent on any industrial back street. Around him the locker floor was packed with strange, leathery-skinned pods. He squinted blearily at them.
When he tried to sit up, the young man discovered that his hands and feet were strapped to the metal table he was lying on. He thrashed weakly for a few moments, then lay still. His attention was drawn by a sudden scratching noise.
The man craned his neck to see that one of the pods had begun to rock and shake. Then the pod next to it began to do the same. Then the pod next to that. The leathery skin of the first pod burst open to reveal a terrible, yellowish insect-like creature. The eggs were hatching.
The young man’s eyes widened in fear.
“Help!” he screamed.
He twisted as far as he could, trying to break the leather straps holding him, but it was to no avail. He looked again to see several of the newly-hatched insect creatures skittering towards him, their mandibles clacking together hungrily. Most of the eggs in the room were now in some stage of hatching.
“Oh God.” Beads of sweat poured down his forehead, and his neck strained as he shouted as loud as he could. “Somebody help!”
The door to the storage locker burst open with a crash, the torn remnants scattering the bug babies as they hit the floor. Standing where the door had been were several young women.
Willow Rosenberg’s right hand was wreathed in crackling green energy and clenched into a fist. Next to her stood Shannon Matthewson, in her early twenties, a dangerous-looking sword in her grip. On the other side of Willow stood Dawn Summers, sporting a smallish axe and a set jaw. While the others looked a few years older, Dawn looked exactly the same as she had when she’d been punished with immortality eight years earlier. Arrayed behind them was a team of slayers.
Willow gave a put-upon sigh. “Not this again.” The young man looked stunned at this development.
The team sprang into action. Willow sent a fireball at the closest bug creature. It let out a terrible screech as it dodged. Shannon entered the room with a leap, drawing another dagger from a holster at her hip. She lashed out with both arms as she landed, burying blades in two bugs. She slid the weapons free, twirled and slashed again.
The floor was now a sea of ravenous knee-high creatures. Dawn backed up a step to let the three slayers standing behind her enter the fray. One of them was Casey, who wore a patch over her left eye and completed the look with an all-leather outfit and a repeating crossbow. She used the weapon to shoot three of the bugs in quick succession, but they still kept coming.
“Get me out of here!” shouted the boy strapped to the table.
A slayer with long blond hair ran towards him, but before she got there, one of the bugs closed its mandibles on her leg. She yelped in pain.
“I’m coming, CiCi,” Shannon called, her voice calm. “Remember what we talked about.” She sliced a wide arc with her sword and was splattered with a spray of green bug guts.
CiCi kicked sideways with her leg, and the bug flew off of her and into the wall. She gritted her teeth at the pain, but still pulled a sword and began to hack at the throng.
Willow glanced at the table with the young man and waved her hand. His restraints undid themselves without being touched. He sat up, a grateful grin on his face, but being surrounded by bugs, he was just as trapped as before. He looked around. “Uh, guys…?”
“There’s too many,” Willow called to Dawn. “Time for Plan B.”
“This was Plan B!” Dawn replied, an edge in her voice. One of the bugs leapt at her, but was skewered out of the air by one of Casey’s crossbow bolts. Casey winked at Dawn with her good eye and then re-entered the fray.
“Then we need a new Plan B, Sweetie,” Willow told her with a forced smile, immediately before sending a flame burst to toast another bug.
Dawn sighed, took a step or two outside, and put a finger to the communications device at her ear. “Command, this is Echo Team. We need a new strategy. The eggs have hatched. And there’s a lot of them.”
Watchers Council – Command Center – Same Time
Grace Hatherley frowned and leaned back in her chair. She wore a microphone headset. Behind her, the Command Center bustled with activity. The map projection on the far wall bristled with pulsating color data-points. “How many is a lot?”
Dawn’s voice came through the headset. “I dunno, it’s a lot, okay?”
“Well, that’s not real helpful, is it, Summers? I’m a hard-data kinda gal here. How many…”
“There’s a lot.”
“Well, fine then.”
Buffy leaned over Grace’s shoulder, a ghost of a smirk on her lips. “Just help her, Grace,” she said tiredly.
Grace shrugged and pressed a few buttons on a keyboard in front of her. “Are ya there, Ro?”
Satisfied, Buffy stood up straight and walked a few stations over to where Kennedy was sitting and wearing a similar headset. She crossed her arms and watched for a moment as Kennedy poked at her keyboard and squinted at her computer screen.
“Ohhhkay, Beta Team, you need to be over on East 146th.” Kennedy’s voice sounded flat, bored. “We got another sighting of that Firaxis. And this time use the blessed blade. We don’t need a repeat of last time.”
Buffy tapped her on the shoulder, and she spun in her chair. “They’re in crisis-mode with the Suvolte babies,” Buffy said.
“Will can handle it, though, right?” Kennedy asked. “I’ve got four other teams…”
“You’re Lead Slayer, Kennedy,” Buffy said. She gestured at the commotion going on all around them.
“I’m Lead Desk Jockey,” Kennedy replied flatly. Buffy opened her mouth to reply, but was cut off by Rowena’s voice over her own earpiece.
“Buffy, you’ve faced Suvolte demons before, haven’t you?”
“That was a long time ago, Ro, and we were in Spike’s basement, and Riley was there, and it was all very confusing.”
Watchers Council – Library – Same Time
Rowena replaced a book on a shelf and pulled down another in its place. Her brow furrowed, perplexed. “Spike had a basement?”
“Ha ha,” Buffy sighed over Rowena’s earpiece.
“So, no help then.” Rowena tucked the book under her arm. “Well, we can’t let these things escape into the populace. They breed like pissed-off lemmings.”
She strode out from between shelves and into the center of the library. Several watchers sat at reading tables or computer stations, researching intently. Only a few of them looked up.
“Sorry to disturb you, people,” Rowena announced, “but we need to find weaknesses for juvenile Suvolte demons. We need to kill a large number, very quickly, and we need to know now.”
One watcher, a chubby young man around twenty, raised his hand. Rowena headed in his direction.
Storage Locker – Moments Later
Willow fired a series of glowing magical blasts into the storage locker, but there were too many demon babies for them to have much of an effect. Shannon moved between the blasts, silhouetted by the lights outside. Every slash of her weapons brought another spray of demon gunk. She was a picture of precision, sometimes standing on one hand, other times one foot, every movement crisp and planned.
Dawn came running up to Willow. “They’re not big on cold.”
“‘Not big on’ or ‘are killed by’?” Willow asked, without taking her eyes off the horde.
“Hey, Ro’s your wife,” Dawn shrugged. “If she talks funny, it’s your fault.”
Willow sighed, then shouted, “Everybody get out of there!”
Hearing the call, Shannon found her way to CiCi and grabbed the girl by the elbow.
“I’m here,” Shannon said. “We need to go. Now.”
CiCi nodded, and the pair of them moved towards the doorway as quickly as possible.
Casey turned from bug-fighting long enough to ask, “But what about the boy?”
Willow and Dawn looked to see the young man now standing on the table, cowering as the increasingly less-distracted bugs closed in.
Shannon and Cici stumbled beyond the threshold, CiCi leaning on Shannon’s shoulder. They joined the rest of the team, which had never gotten that far inside in the first place. Shannon’s eyes widened as she watched Casey take off for the center of the storage locker. “Casey, no!”
It took Casey three extra-long slayer jumps, clearing her landings with her crossbow, before she landed on the table in the center. “You’re a cute one, you are,” she said as she grabbed the young man around the waist. “Hold on tight, luv.”
Moments later, Casey and the young man, looking somewhat the worse for wear, landed on the pavement outside. “All clear,” Casey groaned.
Willow nodded, then turned to face the tide of bugs on their way. “Dawnie, give me your hand.” Dawn hurried over and grabbed Willow’s hand. They both began to chant.
“I call on the lords of Jotunheim. I invoke Mim and the hosts of the north, the masters of frost and endless winter. Claim this space as thy domain. Let thy presence be felt. Breathe here and let the ice hold reign.”
Everyone else took a step backward as the bugs advanced. Except for Shannon, who took a step forward.
“Let the ice hold reign.”
“Let’s hurry this up, guys,” Shannon said through gritted teeth.
“Let the ice hold reign!”
Silence. The bugs stopped. Frozen solid. Icicles hung down in the open doorway. Dawn swung once with her axe, and the nearest bug shattered into innumerable shards.
“We’re good,” she confirmed with a smile.
CiCi collapsed against the closed door of the storage locker opposite the now-frozen one.
The young man looked around shakily for a moment. “Thank you so much.”
Shannon, covered in bug goop, strode up to Casey and pointed an angry finger at her.
“You are very, very lucky, you know that?”
“Down girl,” Casey said with a grin. “The day is saved.”
CiCi pulled out a smartphone and began poking at it with her thumbs. She mumbled under her breath. “Bug demons frozen. Got bit in the leg, but not too bad. Shannon is awesome. Hashtag slaying, Hashtag wounded…”
Shannon was still going. “You took way too big a risk in there. If you slipped, there was nothing anybody could do for you.”
Casey sighed. “It all worked out, dinnit? And ask the boy whether he fancies having a permanent case of icy fresh breath.”
“I don’t, by the way,” the young man put in. “Just to be clear.”
Shannon glared at him for a moment, bug pus dripping down her forehead. Then she turned on her heel and walked away, grumbling. “Damn, I need a cigarette.”
Watchers Council – Hallway – Night
Shannon walked out of the tunnel from the parking garage into the Council headquarters. She was still slathered in bug gunk and entrails, and had a lit cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth. The halls were busy with watchers and returning slayers.
Robin fell into step beside her, holding the latest tablet PC under one arm. “I take it you made it to the last nest in time?”
Shannon pulled the cigarette away from her lips and let out a long, smoky breath. “That sort of depends on your definition of ‘in time.’ But they’re dead now, yes.”
“You know, there’s no smoking allowed in the building.” Shannon shot Robin a dubious look, then stuck the cigarette back in her mouth. He shook his head and sighed. “So, you’ll be happy to know that Chamique’s team busted up the dealers’ HQ about five minutes before your adventure at the U-Store-It. Seems the plan was to sell the mature Suvolte in war-torn African nations, though I doubt they were ever going to be truly able to control them…”
“Robin, can we save the debrief?” Shannon picked a few demon pieces out of her hair as they walked. “I think I need a shower.”
“Right, of course,” Robin nodded. “You did good tonight. Really.”
“Yeah,” Shannon nodded, a small smile on her face. Robin walked away down a side hallway. Shannon stopped for a moment and took one last drag on her cigarette before pitching it in a nearby garbage can.
Then Xander popped up behind her. “So, slay-gal, how’d the new crossbow work?”
“What?” She turned, fatigue seeping through in her voice.
“The new repeater, with the jam-resistant mechanism and just a touch more torque on the string,” he prompted. “The one you ordered?”
“Oh, yeah,” Shannon said, turning to walk on. Xander followed beside her. “I gave it to Casey to test out.” Xander frowned at this, but said nothing. “Talk to her. Seemed like it worked great, though.”
Xander peeled off to run over to Casey, who was walking up the hallway a ways behind Shannon. Casey greeted him with a grin. “My God, that crossbow is bloody brilliant,” she squealed as he approached.
Shannon smiled at this, but her smile faded when she heard a voice behind her.
“Shannon!” She turned to see Norman, in his early twenties as well, standing in the hallway outside the door to the main Council Command Center. His hair was slicked back, and he wore a suit and tie.
“Norman. You look nice,” she said, though she sounded a little confused.
“So do you,” he replied.
She shot him a disbelieving look and brushed another demon bit off of her shoulder. “What are you doing here, Norm?”
“We had a date tonight,” he pointed out.
“We did,” she nodded. “As you can probably tell, something came up.”
“That’s been happening a lot lately,” he said. “This is the fourth time in a row, actually.”
Shannon glanced nervously over to the Command Center doorway. Buffy, Kennedy, Grace, Dawn and several others now stood there, watching them unabashedly. “You know slaying. It can wreak havoc on the romance.”
“Not the way I heard Xander tell it,” Grace said under her breath. Buffy elbowed her lightly in the side.
Norman took a deep breath. “Point is, I came down here because I really didn’t want to wait anymore.” At this, he dropped to one knee and pulled a small blue square box out of his jacket pocket.
Shannon’s eyes went wide as saucers. She tried to speak, but it just came out as a strangled squeak.
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking,” he said, “and I’ve never felt this way about anybody else. I love you. I love the way you move, the way you talk, the way you put apple juice on your fruit loops…”
Dawn had her hands over her mouth at this point and looked like she was about to cry.
“…I want to spend the rest of my life with you, I really do. So…” He opened the box. It contained a silver ring with a small square diamond set in it. “Shannon Matthewson, will you marry me?”
Shannon’s eyes were very moist. She blinked several times, her mouth working. “Norman,” she managed, her voice cracking, “I don’t know…I mean, this is all…I don’t…” She ran a hand over her face, smearing demon gunk as she did so. “We can’t do this right now. I can’t do this right now.”
Norman was still on one knee. “Shannon…”
“Can…can we do this when I’m not covered in slime? Please?” She stepped around him and took off down the hall.
Norman got to his feet and watched her go, his jaw set and real hurt in his eyes. Everyone in the doorway stood open-mouthed.
Shannon didn’t look back as she walked down the hallway.