Watchers Council – Rooftop – Night
There was a large blanket spread out over a secluded spot of the roof. A few candles were burning, and the faint sound of soft music filtered out from the nearby radio.
Kadin, wrapped in a blanket of her own, took a long drink from the soda can before setting it back down onto the blanket beside her. She folded her arms behind her head and reclined back, crossing her feet at the ankle.
The sound of the roof door opening pulled her eyes away from the sky long enough to look over and move to her elbows. She smiled when she saw her lover step through.
"Hey," the hunter said in a soft voice. She watched as Kennedy made her way over to stand above her beside the blanket.
"Hey yourself," Kennedy replied. She took a look around before bringing her eyes back down to Kadin’s. "This a private party, or can anyone join?"
"Depends on who this anyone is," Kadin teased.
"Kinda chilly out here tonight," Kennedy mentioned.
"Yeah, why don’t you come warm me up?" Kadin replied.
Kennedy nodded her head then stepped over the other woman to take a seat on the blanket next to her. Kadin looked over at her with a smile as she waited for the slayer to settle in before turning her eyes back to the night sky.
Kennedy’s eyes lingered on the hunter for a long moment before she too reclined back and turned her stare to the sky.
"It’s beautiful, isn’t it?" Kadin breathed, suddenly interrupting the quiet moment. She turned her head to the side to glance over at Kennedy.
The slayer returned the glance with a short smile before quickly turning her eyes back to the sky. "Yeah, it is," she finally answered in a low whisper.
Kadin watched the other woman’s reaction for a long moment, a solemn expression on her face. She finally let out a short sigh then turned her eyes back to the sky.
Just as both women’s eyes were focused on the sky, a sudden bright and shining star shot across their vision before disappearing into the distance.
Kennedy and Kadin simultaneously glanced over at each other, their faces lit up with excitement.
"Pretty neat, huh?" Kadin asked with a playful grin.
Kennedy’s small smile remained as she nodded and turned her vision back to the sky. "Yep. Pretty neat indeed."
Kadin’s grin quickly faded, and she let out another sigh, dropping her eyes to the blanket for a long moment.
"Kennedy," she said, finally breaking the silence with a whisper of the other woman’s name. She pulled her focus back up to the slayer and waited until the brunette’s eyes were locked with hers once again. "You know...you don’t gotta say it back."
A sudden look of surprise flashed across the slayer’s face, but she quickly recovered with a nervous laugh. "What?"
"I think you know what," Kadin answered softly.
Any hint of a smile quickly faded from Kennedy’s face, and she averted her eyes in silence.
Kadin watched the reaction before reaching out to grasp Kennedy’s hand in her own. She squeezed it reassuringly then turned her eyes back to the sky.
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Same Time
Dawn and Jeff approached the altar where Willow and Andrew were sitting on comfortable cushions on the floor. They both kicked off their shoes and took their seats on the extra cushions, showing a familiarity with the simple act.
Jeff put aside the folder he was carrying, and the four clasped hands and closed their eyes, their breathing deepening and becoming as one. A shimmering glow filled the air around the four and expanded outward until it enclosed them in a protective circle. After a few minutes of meditation, they simultaneously opened their eyes.
"Goddess, I love that," Andrew said with a sigh.
"Ummm," Willow agreed, stretching her neck as if enjoying the release of tension. She smiled at Jeff and Dawn. "Not that I mind the interruption of the work day, but you guys wanna tell us why you wanted us to meet in circle?"
Dawn glanced nervously at Jeff and then took a deep breath.
"My lady," she said to Willow and then turned to Andrew. "My lord…I have discovered a way to return Skye’s soul to her and have come to request the Coven’s assistance."
Andrew blinked in surprise, and Willow’s eyebrows raised in astonishment.
Dawn continued. "The Gypsy curse spell you used on Angel is based on the blood link between the demon inhabiting the body and the soul that once inhabited that same body. While the soul resides in Purgatory, it is tormented by the acts committed by the demon, but the curse returns the soul to the body as a way to torture the demon for those same acts. Like you said before, my lady, the curse only works if the demon spilled Gypsy blood, but if you take a look at what I found, you’ll see that the Gypsies merely used that part of the blood link to ensure that they summoned the correct soul from Purgatory."
Jeff handed some papers from his folder to Willow, who glanced at them. Andrew leaned closer in order to read along.
"Bypassing the summoning part of the curse eliminates the necessity that Gypsy blood be spilled, and since no Gypsy blood was spilled, the happiness clause aspect of the curse is negated. Basically, all I have to do is bring Skye’s soul back from Purgatory and complete the ritual. Skye gets her soul back with no Gypsy blood spilled and no risk of her losing it again if she experiences happiness. Simple, really."
Dawn anxiously watched the high priestess and high priest as they completed reading the papers. Finally Willow put them aside and looked at Dawn.
"Purgatory is not like traveling to a demon dimension such as Vor, Dawn," Willow began.
"I know that, but…"
Willow held up a hand. "Purgatory is a big part of the fundamental Christian doctrine and falls more under the auspices of the Powers That Be. Dimensions like Vor are of lesser concern to the Powers."
"Skye wasn’t a Christian," Dawn pointed out.
"No, she was Wiccan, and if she’d had a natural death, her soul would be resting in the Summerland in preparation to be reborn," Willow said calmly. "But since she was killed by a vampire, her soul went to Purgatory. I know it doesn’t make much sense to us humans, but it’s part of the same reason why Christian crosses repel vampires and other religious symbols don’t. Skye’s death put her soul under the realm of the Powers, and until it’s released from Purgatory, then that’s where it belongs."
"Then we have to get her out!" Dawn said.
"You’re right," Willow said quietly, and Dawn’s face lit up. Jeff frowned as if he could sense what was coming.
"Then you’ll help me retrieve Skye’s soul?" Dawn asked.
"No, Dawn," Andrew finally spoke. "We can’t. Not this way."
"What?" Dawn looked between the two of them and finally saw Willow’s saddened expression. "But you just said…"
"I said, you’re right…Skye’s soul doesn’t belong in Purgatory, and she certainly doesn’t deserve to be waiting for release," Willow said. "But it’s not our responsibility to be walking around in Purgatory, hoping to return the souls to the undead."
"And if it was Rowena? Or Xander? Or Buffy? Oh wait, you did that one already," Dawn shot back. "Playing a higher being is only okay when you decide it’s okay?"
"No Dawn, it wasn’t okay," Willow said. "What I did was wrong and many people have paid for my actions and continue to pay. That’s why neither the Coven nor the Council can attempt the course of action you’re proposing here. The ramifications for both could be unimaginable, not to mention the personal cost each of us might have to make. Besides, trying to find Skye's soul there is like looking for a needle in a haystack...So, whilewe sympathize with you and we grieve with you – Skye was our sister and our friend and…" Willow broke off as her tears joined Dawn’s. "A-and it’s so not fair, a-and I hate it…I hate that we have to deny you this, that we can’t get back Skye, Dawn, not this way."
"So you won’t help me?" Dawn asked. "You won’t anchor me while I go to find Skye’s soul?"
"No, Dawn, not with this plan you’re proposing," Willow said. "And for the record you're forbidden to cross into Purgatory, you are forbidden to retrieve Skye’s soul, and you are forbidden to attempt to resoul Skye’s body without this Covens' approval."
Dawn looked at them in shock. Willow’s tears still flowed freely. Andrew wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his robe, and even Jeff’s were moist. Willow reached out and took one of Dawn’s hands in hers.
"Please Dawnie," she said. "We love you…I love you and I need you here. The risks are just too great. We both know Skye wouldn't want you to risk yourself like this for her."
"She wouldn’t, Dawn," Andrew said, taking her other hand. "She loved you. She'd want you to live out the rest of your life with all the happiness you can find."
Dawn turned to Jeff.
"They’re right," Jeff said. "And...maybe it’s time you realized that Skye is gone and…let her body rest in peace."
Dawn closed her eyes. After a moment, she opened them.
"I-I understand," Dawn replied. "I know it’s not easy for you to make this decision, but you make it out of the love you share for me and the love you had for Skye."
"Have, Dawn. We still love Skye, wherever in Purgatory her soul might be, but we also love you too," Willow said with a smile.
"I still want to find a way," Dawn told the group in a soft voice.
"Understood," Willow answered. "No one is going to go staking Skye. But I’m serious, though, please don’t attempt anything like this. You have no idea what harm this has the potential to bring." She turned to Jeff, "And I don’t think I have to remind you that our edict goes for you too."
Jeff nodded. "I assumed as much, Mistress," he said respectfully.
"Right then," Willow said, and she turned to Andrew. "Shall we open the circle and get back to work, my lord?"
Andrew nodded, and once again the four joined hands.
Cleveland Mansion – Continuous
The air literally crackled where waves of magical energies met. On one side stood a red-robed woman, her eyes glowing while streams of luminous might flowed from her hands. Facing her stood Cassandra of Bruges, naked but for bits of blood and gore on her skin. Her face was vampiric, save for the eyes, which had gone solid black. Black too was the rippling lightning emerging from her fingertips, punctuated by tiny motes of darkness dancing in and around the shimmering threads. Where the power of the two witches met was simply chaos. Flashes of rainbow sheet lightning created the smell of ozone. Reality itself seemed to bend and buckle.
But it was Cassandra who was winning. Her dark lightning was pushing back the glowing streams from the red-robed witch. It also showed in their stances. Cassandra looked like a predator waiting to pounce. The witch was trembling with effort, sweat pouring from her brow. She took a step back, in the direction of the exit. Then another.
Cassandra stepped forward. Then again. And again.
When the witch tripped over a body, she lost control of her energies. Black veins of glowing power seized her as she screamed. The veins bored into her flesh, burning and melting as they did so. Screams gave way to shrieks, then something like moans. Then a gurgle or two.
When Cassandra abruptly lowered her hands and removed her power, what was left of her opponent collapsed to the floor in a wet, smoking mess.
For a few moments Cassandra did nothing but gaze around her. Three bodies lay on the floor, in different degrees of dismemberment. Splashes of blood dripped from the walls and ceiling. Her own arms were coated with gore up to the elbows.
Behind her! She spun almost too fast to be seen. Standing beside the brazier, hands raised, stood Ethan Rayne. "The others," he was saying, "seem to have gotten away. I was wondering…"
Before he could finish, she was inches from him. Her eyes, no longer black, were still the feral gold of a vampire. It gave him pause.
"…ah…well, if you might want some…help?" He smiled, managing to make it look as if he weren’t terrified. Almost. "Clothes, for one thing? And…well, I can help you track down the others. Perhaps this is a good time to point out I did not in fact take part in this ritual?"
She was staring at him. Not growling.
"Can I? Help?"
"No," she said. There was no tone in her voice at all. None. She might as well be a stone given the power of speech. "You cannot help." Ethan’s smile froze, looking even more fake. "But…you can do things."
"Glad to be of service."
Watchers Council – Computer Room – Next Day
Willow’s fingers flew across the keys of her computer. Robin and Rowena stood behind her. "I’ve got bad news," said Willow in a somber voice, then brightened. "And—well, that is good news, actually. At least, it qualifies, I think."
Robin leaned over to look at the screen. Rowena did not. "I’ll bite. What is the bad and the good?"
"The museum robbery took some items that used to belong to Cassandra of Bruges," said Robin.
"I hope that is the bad news," said Rowena. "What did they steal? Books? Amulets?"
"Gloves," said Willow.
"And some jewelry," added Robin.
Rowena pondered this. "Magic jewelry?"
"Nope," said Willow.
"Fairly valuable, though," said Robin.
"But here’s the weird part, and the kinda good. Kinda." Willow moved her mouse. "Last night, somebody broke into the Cleveland Zoo and killed two wolves. Guess which ones?"
Now Rowena blinked. "Cassandra and Troy."
"Got it in one," said Robin. "Which is just plain weird. We’ve got this dark coven, trying to make a name for themselves and all. But they steal trinkets and kill a pair of harmless animals."
"Some very unusual animals," noted Rowena.
"Yeah, but still just animals. We had ten vets go over those two before we sent them to the zoo. The Coven did a scrying."
"Jeff even tried foretelling their future," added Willow.
"But that isn’t totally reliable…"
"I know, but we used everything we had to double-check. They were wolves. Just plain old wolves. That even made sense, given what she said she wanted."
"That’s what worries me," offered Robin. "Most vampires, let’s face it, they tend to be pretty dumb. They’re the weakest of the human herd, picked off because they’re easy prey. It’s the exceptions that are trouble."
Rowena nodded. "Like Cassandra."
"Exactly. Can we be sure this isn’t some kind of elaborate plan of hers?"
Willow and Rowena thought for a moment.
"To do what?" asked Willow. "Get herself killed? Because that’s happened."
"I agree," said Rowena. "Cassandra might have been smarter than the three of us combined, but the only benefit she got from her plan was the one she said she wanted. The thing is, why would anyone kill her now that she’s a wolf?"
"Probably thought she wasn’t going to stay one," said Robin. "Unless the blood or fur or something of a wolf that used to be a vampire-slayer-sorceress could be used in some kind of spell?" He looked at Willow.
She blinked. "Wow. That would be real exotic. Like in brand spanking new."
"As in," said Rowena, "there’s no way to tell."
"Not that I can see."
The door to the computer lab swung open, and Andrew rushed inside. "Hey, there’s been some news…"
"Andrew," said Rowena. "Why are you all in black? Black leather no less?"
"I thought it would look good," he said, eyes darting to the side.
"Uh-huh," said Robin, folding his arms.
"What’s going on?" asked Willow.
"I think," said Rowena, "maybe Andrew is trying to copy some style points from Vi."
"Am not," yelped Andrew, then deepened his voice. "That isn’t it at all. Anyway, it’s on the news—there was a massacre in a mansion last night. Sounds like something ritualistic."
All three of them followed Andrew out of the room at something near a run.
Cellar – Later
"Okay," the blond demon with the third eye in his forehead was saying, "okay…I mean…well…okay…" He seemed to be on the verge of saying something more, or asking a question. "Okay…"
"WILL YOU STOP THAT?" shrieked his companion, a red-robed young man with dark circles under his eyes. He took a deep breath. "Just—cool it, okay? The fact is, we don’t know what went wrong."
"Yes we do!" The blond demon began pacing. The cellar might have once been used to hold wine, but now its vaulted space held little more than a lamp and a pair of cots. "We made a great big effing mistake is what happened! No! Grey—Grey is the one who made the mistake!"
"No! No ‘maybe’ about it! Grey screwed the pooch, and now we’re screwed right along with it!"
The young man in red robes stared at his companion. "You cannot believe this is helping."
"It’s helping me, dammit!"
Four knocks echoed from the door above them. Both stared at it.
"Do you think it’s her?" the demon whispered.
"Yeah," the young man rolled his eyes. "Terrifying monsters always knock." Then two more knocks echoed. "One of us," the young man said, nodding. He headed for the stairs.
The door swung open as the young man pulled it, allowing Ethan Rayne to enter. He stepped inside nimbly enough, allowing the young man in red to shut the door behind him.
"Well," said Ethan, "you two look…well, terrible, actually, but that is so much better than dead and dismembered."
"Right back at you," the young man sighed.
"How did you get out?" asked the demon with the third eye. He did not look much more relaxed than before. Less so, if anything. Now he focused on Ethan and for a change looked dangerous. "You were at the far end of the room, next to the brazier. She was between you and the door." One hand suddenly shot out.
Ethan gagged as he began to rise in the air. He waved at the demon, who made a similar gesture and a multi-colored explosion of sparks erupted between them.
"Let him go!"
"How did he get out?" the demon demanded. "Tell me that! How?"
The young man lifted a hand, a ball of flame forming. "If you kill him, we’ll never find out, will we?"
Ethan continued to gag, then fell as the demon released him. He wasn’t even looking at him, but at the young man with the fireball.
"On your head," the demon hissed.
With a nod, the young man extinguished the fireball. Now they both turned to Ethan. "You know," said the man, "he has a point. How did you get out?"
"Two things," groaned Ethan as he got up from the floor. "First, I worked what little charm I might possess, which bought me I would guess maybe two entire seconds. Which were enough. Barely. I did a teleportation spell."
"Impossible," scoffed the demon. "You haven’t got the power."
"A few hours ago, I would have agreed with you. But blood racing with a good solid dose of terror will do that. Necessity being the mum of invention and such." Now standing, he swayed and slowly seated himself onto the steps he’d just descended. "Mind you, that little bit used up practically all I had." Now that he was in better light, they could see he was pale. Worse, he had circles under his eyes that looked like bruises. "As it was, I was lucky. Appeared five feet above a fountain. Not a very deep fountain, unfortunately, but at least it wasn’t the inside of an atomic reactor." He stretched very, very slightly. "Ow."
The red-robed young man looked at the demon. "Satisfied?"
He shrugged. "For now."
Any further conversation was stopped by the appearance of a green glow in the center of the room. The glow got brighter, then dimmed to nothing. And behind it was left a scroll.
"Grey does have a sense of style," muttered Ethan. "I’ll give him that."
It was the demon who snatched up the scroll, unwrapped it, and began to read. "He has a plan."
"Oh good," said Ethan, "I so hoped he did. A better one this time."
"He says," the demon continued, "we’re to move about during the day."
"Makes sense," offered the young man in red. "She’s still a vampire, after all."
"What’re we to do while moving about during the day?"
"Grey has given a list of ingredients we need to gather, and a place to meet this afternoon. One for each of us." The demon gazed up at them, looking wary. "Which one wants the ‘find a virgin born on a full moon’?"
"I’ll do that one," said Ethan. They looked at him. "What? All I have to do is go find some baby born two weeks ago last Monday. Or were you two thinking we needed an adult?" He raised an eyebrow. "You were, weren’t you? What are the other ingredients?"
"The left hand of a mummified man."
"Dibs on that," said the red-robed young man. "This city is full of museums."
"Huh," the demon grunted. He looked again at the scroll. "That leaves me to bring a yellow diamond of exactly eleven carats." He shrugged. "I’ve got some alchemists who owe me favors. We’re lucky these are pretty simple ingredients."
"Yeah," agreed the young man.
"Make sure that it’s exactly eleven carats," sighed Ethan. "I think I know what Grey’s up to, and you make the tiniest mistake, get a diamond the tiniest fraction off, then…" He left the sentence unfinished.
"We’re liverwurst," said the young man.
Watchers Council – Briefing Room – Later
"If everyone will please give me your attention," said Rowena, raising her voice above the muttering of those assembled. Apart from Willow and Jeff and Kennedy, there were also Vi and Xander as well as Faith and Robin, Heli, Dawn and even Andrew. "We have some kind of picture of what’s happened. Exactly why it has happened and is continuing to happen remains unknown."
Everyone by now was silent, seated and listening. Rowena took a deep breath. "We’ve identified a few corpses that were found in a mansion earlier today. One was certainly a demon alchemist, a member of the Fellowship of Shadows we’ve been hearing about. He almost certainly had something to do with the petrifying of a security guard two nights ago. When found, he had been disemboweled." Her face clouded with memory. "Quite thoroughly."
"What about the other bodies?" asked Kennedy.
"Torn into shreds, basically," was her answer. She turned to Willow. "Will?" She managed to do this without actually looking at her.
"Some kind of magic ceremony happened there," Willow took up the story. "Apart from the paraphernalia left behind, there were dark energies literally soaked into the walls. Each member of the Coven who went into the room could feel it."
"It was like Vor," noted Jeff. "A tiny little suburb of hell."
"We’ve come up with a theory," said Willow. "The Coven, I mean. You all remember last year, when we confronted Cassandra? The slayer turned vampire?" She waited, noted that everyone seemed to understand. "These people killed her. They broke into the zoo where she was – now that she’s a wolf, that is – and they killed her for some reason. And this was after stealing some of her personal belongings. I’m not exactly sure what the object of this was, but we think some kind of magical experiment was going on. And it blew up on them."
"Or," Rowena said quietly, "they succeeded at whatever-it-was and began to fight among themselves for possession of…whatever-it-is."
"That is possible," agreed Jeff.
"No, that doesn’t make any sense," Willow said. "This was too sudden, too total!"
"All that means," Rowena said slowly, "is that the fight was vicious. In and of itself that doesn’t prove anything. However..." She held up her hand. "...this is also somewhat academic. Because, they’re not done yet." She nodded to Robin.
"Two hours ago, there was another museum break-in," Robin said. "During the day, in full view of security. Some guy in blood-red robes stole an Egyptian mummy. Well, part of one. He yanked off an arm and then left."
"So I take it," Faith asked, "a mummy arm can be useful?"
Dawn nodded vigorously. "Lots. That really isn’t a good clue. But the good news is, since he left the rest of the mummy behind, we can do a locator spell."
"The museum will give us a mummy?" Xander asked.
The members of the Coven shared a look. "We promised to give it back," noted Jeff.
"Once the spell is done, what do we do?" said Vi.
No one said anything for a few moments. "We’ve had a lot of bad consequences," said Rowena, "as a result of poor information. The thing that frightens me most about this situation is that we know almost nothing. We are flying, if not blind, then very close to it."
"But we can’t just sit around and wait!" Willow raised her voice.
"I’m not suggesting we do." Rowena kept her voice low. "But what we need is a team to go in and learn all they can. Something is going on here and we don’t know what—"
"Violence, that’s what’s going on," Willow interrupted. "People being killed, black magic getting thrown around like it was water, and it isn’t over yet!"
"I know." Rowena still didn’t look at Willow. Not directly. "I know. But if we don’t understand what’s going on, we can make things worse. Much, much worse."
"How? What could be worse than people literally getting ripped to pieces?"
Rowena opened her mouth but said nothing. The silence was awkward, ugly and tense. Willow stared indignantly at Rowena, who still stared into space.
"Look," said Kennedy after what felt like a few decades, "it’s going to have to be the slayers who go in when the locator spell is done. We’ll probably need some coven backup. And a reserve, just in case things go totally wrong. But the real question is—what are we supposed to do when we get there?"
"Stop the Fellowship," was Willow’s instant reply. "That’s what the Council is for. That’s what slayers are for."
Rowena took a deep breath, waited, finally spoke. "Kennedy," she said, "Do what you think is best. I trust you. I trust all of you."
No one said anything.
Fade OutEnd of Act Three