Arena – Underground Cell – Later
Faith looked up as, once more, footsteps sounded in the corridor beyond the bars. One by one a group of identical demons, Imbethit’s assassin children, emerged from the gloom.
"Slaves of the Presidium," their leader said, "the Arena waits." The bars separating the cell containing Faith and the others turned rusty brown, and within a second were eaten away to dust that drifted to the floor. Faith glanced to either side, noting the adjacent cells were similarly open, but those beyond remained intact.
"Vi," she said, getting to her feet, "pass word to Heli, she’s in charge until we get back." Vi nodded and gave a hand gesture to the blonde slayer in the cell next to hers.
"You will comply," the demon insisted impatiently. "Imbethit wishes you to fight of your own will, but we will bend your minds if necessary."
"Yeah, yeah," Faith sneered, "shut your…orifice or whatever that ugly thing is in your face. Girls, let’s show ‘em what we’ve got." The other slayers in the open cells followed Faith into the corridor, sizing up their guards, who kept distance from them, surrounding them.
"Remember, no physical contact with these," Faith whispered, "not unless we commit to a fight." Mia and Marsha, next to her, nodded and whispered in turn to the slayers by them. Behind them the bars of their cell reformed.
Presidium Citadel – Chorum – Same Time
Tier upon tier of balconies surrounded a central floor, stretching upwards so far the topmost were lost in shadow and mist. Each was filled with Presidium mages, silently mouthing the words of arcane spells and staring blindly at the mages on the tier below with their scarred, empty eye sockets. Row upon row, the magic emanating from them built upon itself as it neared the center. There Imbethit stood, at the center of all the spell-casters, their focus.
The Flayer stalked the perimeter of the chamber, glancing up at the dozens of concentric balconies before returning his gaze to the armored figure at the heart of it all.
Presidium Citadel – Panopticon – Same Time
Her chamber once again alight with images, the Lover stood at the center, watching Imbethit, the Flayer and the mages through the sphere of vision surrounding her. She lifted a clawed hand and drew a talon through the image of the armored Assassin, revealing waves of magical power leaping up from the mosaic floor beneath him, like hellfire.
The Lover’s sphere of images closed more and more on Imbethit, until he and the magic around him filled the entire Panopticon. Seeming to pass inside his shadowy form, the magical imager revealed a great arena, an expanse of sand surrounded by tall iron walls, huge empty stands, and Imbethit staring down from a balcony adorned with statues and darkly-colored pennants, surveying the ground far beneath his vantage point.
Arena – Same Time
Herded up a sloped tunnel by their demon guards, Faith and the other slayers squinted for a moment as they emerged from the near-darkness into the light, and the Arena. Faith was the first to spot Imbethit, high above, staring down with his impassive gaze.
At spear-point the slayers were forced into the center of the Arena, then their guards fell back to its edge, where doorways opened for them in the iron walls, sealing fast behind them as they left, the metallic clangs of their closing echoing around the vast, silent space.
"Aren’t we supposed to have Russell Crowe on our side?" Faith muttered.
"Slayers of the Earth Council," Imbethit rasped, his death-rattle voice amplified around the Arena, "you have been brought here to suffer until your debt is paid. If you refuse to fight, you will die. If you fight poorly, you will die. If you kill, you will live."
"Ave Caesar," Vi murmured.
"We who are going to kick your demon ass salute you," Mia added, giving the distant Assassin a rude gesture, which, if he saw, he ignored.
"Let the games begin!" he intoned, raising his arms. From his vantage point, seeping from the corrugations in the jagged iron walls, a black mist spread through the stands, reaching all around the huge stadium. A deafening roar rose from it, and in its wake it left dark, twisted creatures, jeering and booing, snarling at the slayers in the Arena beneath them. By the time the mist dissipated the massive stands were filled with nightmarish creatures, baying for blood.
"Tough crowd," Marsha said hesitantly. All the slayers turned as a metallic groan signaled the opening of a huge gate in the iron wall surrounding them.
"Okay girls," Faith raised her voice over the crowd’s derisive clamor, "you know the drill, this is just another demon fight. Watch each other’s backs, whatever comes at you, hit it hard in whatever looks like a weak spot. Pick your targets."
An enraged bellow echoed through the Arena, and from the open gateway a group of demons charged – all manner of demons, from ferocious-looking warriors to bestial creatures with chitin, scales and razor-sharp spines covering their hides — talons and claws ready to strike.
"Take ‘em down!" Faith yelled, leading the slayers in a counter-charge.
Meeting Room – Same Time
Robin raced into the room to see Giles on the phone. The watcher held up a finger as he spoke into the phone. "Yes, yes. I will. You call me as well. Goodbye."
"We’ve got a problem," Robin told him.
"Sleeping slayers?" Giles asked.
Robin looked bewildered. "How did you-?"
"Robson just called," he explained as he motioned toward the phone before walking over and taking a seat on the edge of the table. "Seems they weren’t able to wake their second patrol. The doctors examined them and found no signs of coma although that’s what it appears to be."
"Well, Faith wasn’t tired last night and decided to head to the rec room. When I woke up this morning she still wasn’t back so I went looking. I found her and Mia asleep on the sofa down there but neither of them will wake up."
Willow and Rowena walked inside the meeting room short of breath. "We’ve got a problem," the witch announced in a worried voice.
"We’re aware," Giles said as he went to the phone and dialed again.
"Faith and Mia won’t wake up," Robin told them.
"Same with Marsha," Willow said. "We tried just about everything. I was going to get the doctor to check on her…" Willow tapered off and listened in on Giles’s conversation.
"Giles again. Call the Asian council Mr. Robson – they might not have reported in, thinking it’s only them," Giles instructed into the phone. "Tell them what’s going on and keep all the slayers that aren’t asleep awake until we get this figured out. No, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to see if Althenea and the coven can look into magical goings-on. Our coven will start researching too…As will we. Thank you Mr. Robson. You too."
"The graveyard shift is going to be coming in any minute," Robin told the room.
"We need to stop them from going to bed," Rowena added.
"The ones that are already asleep let’s move them to the infirmary," Giles instructed. "I want them examined and put on monitors to see if there’s any change in their vitals. We’ll also have to notify the families of the slayers that have gone home for holiday. Understood?" Giles asked.
"I’m on it," Robin said as he quickly left the room.
"Us?" Rowena asked, pointing to her and Willow.
"Willow, assemble the coven," Giles began. "Start looking for any kind of spells that might cause something like this. Also, call Buffy. She’s still in Europe so it’s possible she’s still awake. If you can’t reach her leave a message and have Nancy at the reception desk keep trying the number until she answers." The witch nodded and Giles continued, "Rowena, start with some of the old watcher’s diaries. See if perhaps this has happened before and if there’s a remedy."
"What about you?" Willow asked.
"I’m going to pay Bonnie a visit. This might not be the work of a random caster."
Arena – Same Time
Faith broke the neck of the demon facing her with a swift uppercut to its jaw. A leonine creature vaulted over the falling corpse, away from Mia and toward Marsha. Faith lunged at it, catching its tail mid-leap, bringing them both crashing to the sand.
"Thanks!" Marsha yelled above the din of the battle, kicking at the creature’s head, stunning it long enough for Faith to right herself and hammer its spine with both fists, killing it. She took a second to look around, noting slayers methodically surrounding and killing the demons among them.
Another metal groan attracted their attention, drawing their gazes to where another gateway was opening in the wall, releasing more demons.
"Enough already," Faith muttered. She spared a moment to trip a demon, which dodged near her in the midst of its fight with Lori, then tore off a strip of her shirt and wrapped it around her hand. With it protecting her somewhat from the sharp edge she hauled at one of the cat-demon’s sharp dorsal spines until it tore free.
"Here," she said, tossing it to Marsha, "see if you can cut some more out."
The young slayer caught the spine with a frown of distaste at the blood dripping from its blunt end, but quickly started using it to dig the others from the demon’s back.
"Vi, watch your back!" Faith warned, launching herself into the melee as the new batch of demons attacked. Marsha tossed a spine toward her, which she in turn caught and threw to Vi, just in time for her to stab at a charging beast. The crowd let out a great roar as the battle began to rage once more.
Slayer entrance – Later that Morning
Kennedy and one of the girls from the other teams walked in laughing when they saw Andrew dart toward them. He pushed the button on the walkie talkie and said, "Red Five here. I’ve got them Gold Leader." Andrew moved swiftly to greet them and announced, "Where the hell have you been?"
"Excuse me?" Kennedy asked.
"Something’s happened to the sleeping slayers – we can’t wake them up."
"What?" Kennedy asked.
"You can’t go to sleep until we figure out why the slayers aren’t waking up."
A look of realization washed over Kennedy’s face and she ran toward the rec room.
Arena – Same Time
Mia launched herself at the demon in front of her, a huge red beast with colossal, muscled shoulders and arms. It reeled back as both her feet hit it in the head, losing its balance as other fighters collided with it.
"Eleven," she growled to herself, before a dark shape thundered out of the press of bodies, knocking her over. She saw, briefly, a tall form, its skin covered in tiny steel plates wired to its flesh, rearing up above her, its jagged fists held high to strike.
It struck at her, but at the same moment Faith crashed into it. Mia screamed as the metal-plated fists struck her shoulder, but then a bestial dog-like creature lurched toward her and she had to roll out of the way of its claws, switching the broken spine she held to her good hand to fight back.
Faith rolled with the steel demon, her arms and exposed stomach taking cuts from the sharp edges of its metal plates. The creature flung its arms wide, trying to hurl her off, but she held on with one hand and struck at it with the other, aiming the shard of horn in her hand at where its eyes glinted from between the armor on its face. The demon bellowed in pain as blue ichor splashed Faith’s hand. Taking advantage of its distraction she swung herself astride it and plunged her weapon between the plates on its chest, digging deep into its body.
"There!" she yelled into its face, "Welcome to Slayerville bastard!"
"Must kill," the dying creature coughed, "to live…"
Faith stared in confusion at it as its glimmering eyes went black and its head dropped to the sand. Then a creature with a skinless face grabbed her from behind, its claws cutting into her sides, and hurled her away. Without thinking she rolled to her feet and struck at her assailant, burying the shard in her hand beneath its jaw, felling it.
Around her the other slayers were struggling with their opponents, killing one after another. Slowly the melee drew to a close, and the hostile crowd fell silent as only slayers remained standing – grimacing in pain, leaning on each other for support, but standing.
Presidium Citadel – Panopticon
The Lover watched with vague attention as the Arena guards emerged from their hidden doorways and surrounded the slayers, herding them back. A scuffle broke out, ending with a guard stabbing a slayer in the arm with its spear to drive her away from the body of a fallen girl. Reluctantly, the slayers fell back.
Other demons emerged to pick up the fallen slayer, and lift her broken body above their heads. The silent crowd erupted in a roar louder than any other. The Lover watched with interest as the remaining slayers bristled fiercely at the crowd’s enjoyment of their comrade’s death, forcing their guards to close shoulder-to-shoulder, only their spears keeping the humans back.
As they were herded out of the Arena, the dead bodies of the demons sunk into the sand and vanished.
The Lover gazed into the distance in thoughtful contemplation, then dispelled the Panopticon’s magical images with a wave of her hand and stalked out of the chamber.
Slayer Rec Room – Moments Later
Kennedy came to a halt in the rec room doorway to see Mia being placed on a stretcher.
"Oh god," she muttered and then darted over.
Robin caught her movement from the corner of his eye and came over taking Kennedy by both arms.
"Is she…?" Kennedy asked.
"She’s alive," Robin told her. "They all are. We’re just moving them to the infirmary to keep tabs on them until we can figure out why they haven’t woken up."
"What caused this?" she asked.
Robin took a ragged breath. "We’re working on it."
Arena – Underground Cell – Later
Faith moved quickly to the side of the bars as several slayers trooped back into their cell, bloodied and bruised, under the watchful eyes of their demon guards. Vi was being carried between them, groaning and stirring slightly as the slayers laid her down and tried to make her comfortable.
"Bandages, now," Faith said to Marsha, who passed the word along to the other cells. Soon scraps of clothing started being passed back from cell to cell, to where they were needed.
"What happened to her?" Faith asked one of Vi’s cellmates who knelt by the bars next to Vi.
"Name’s Cynthia," the slayer replied in an Irish accent as she stuck her hand out to shake Faith’s, "London branch. Same drill as before when your team went out, fifteen of us, a hundred of them – about twenty at a time. Enough to wear us down, not enough to overwhelm us. It wouldn’t be much fun for the audience that way I assume," she added bitterly.
"Vi?" Faith prompted.
"Knock to the head," Cynthia said promptly, "she took on four at once when we had a girl down. I should have gotten to her quicker, I’m sorry-"
"Not your fault," Faith said firmly. "How is she?"
"Eloise has medical training. She says, barring bad luck, she’ll be fine in half an hour. We…we lost one. The bastards got her on her own and- there was nothing we could do. Her name was Hannah she said."
Faith lowered her head. "And the demons?" she asked quietly after a pause.
"Dead," Cynthia said levelly, "every one of them."
"Okay," Faith nodded. "They took some girls from other cells just before you got back, you should have time to rest. They left some water and something to eat in some of the cells, but I’m not sure if we should trust it."
"Okay. We’ll look after Vi for you," Cynthia promised. Faith reached between the bars to clasp her hand briefly, then stood and moved to where Mia was waiting.
"Gwen, the girl from Alaska, she died," the slayer said morosely, "in one of the cells over there…the news just got passed down. They couldn’t stop the bleeding. That’s five, all strangers – not trained like us."
"Six," Faith noted, "a girl named Hannah." She let out a long sigh. "Did those bastards take her body?"
"They didn’t say."
"Send word back," Faith said, squaring her shoulders, "her clothes – we need the bandages." Mia stared at her, then dropped her gaze.
"Right," she said sadly. Faith watched as she spoke grimly to a slayer in the adjacent cell, and returned.
"Anyone have any ideas out of this mess?" Mia asked, nodding toward Vi’s cell.
"Nothing," Faith replied. "We’ve got to keep trying though."
"What for?!" Mia rounded on her, then caught herself and lowered her voice. "There’s no way out of these cages, we can’t climb the walls of the death pit, even if we did convince them to stop killing us there’s no way out. And their demons they’re making us fight-"
"Number one, we have to keep trying!" Faith insisted in a whisper. "And number two, I don’t think these demons are soldiers. One of them said he had to fight or die. I think they’re slaves, just like us."
"What does it matter?" Mia asked. "They’re killing us," Mia pointed out, "they tore that girl open and left her to die!"
"I know!" Faith whispered back harshly. "But what if it was like Clem, or Brell? What if it only fought so it could see its wife and spawn again?"
"Now is not the time to play what if," Mia hissed, "They’re killers, and right now, it’s kill or be killed." Mia grabbed Faith by the arm forcefully. "Don’t go getting soft on the demons here Faith. If these girls are gonna make it out we need a strong leader. Tell me you understand that."
"I do," Faith said. "But that doesn’t make it right."
As she spoke a distant roar echoed through the cell block, the sound of the Arena crowd enjoying a kill.
"What choice do we have?" Mia asked. "Look, I don’t like it, but you know inside this is what we have to do. Our only chance is to stay alive and hope our watchers find us. If staying alive means killing demons, I don’t have a problem with that."
Faith let out a sigh and dropped her gaze to the stone floor with its sparse covering of straw. A groan from the next cell caught her attention, and she gave Mia a sad look and moved over.
Vi was staggering to her feet, supported by Cynthia, who helped her over to the bars.
"Morning sleepyhead," Faith said with a weak grin.
"I made a pass at a demon and it didn’t work," the wounded slayer replied, "figured I needed some beauty sleep." Cynthia held a torn piece of cloth to the cut on her head.
"You shouldn’t be on your feet," Faith said, her grin vanishing.
"I’m not helping anyone lying down," Vi said quietly. "We’ve got girls who haven’t heard of the Council, and young ones – they need to see us up and about or they’re going to lose it."
Mia turned to Faith with a smug expression. "She gets it," she whispered to Faith before she walked away.
"Okay," Faith agreed, as Marsha appeared at her side with more bandages. All four turned as footsteps signaled the approach of more guards.
"You and you," the lead guard said, pointing a claw at Vi and Cynthia, "the Arena waits."
Vi and Faith shared a concerned glance.
"Glad I got that nap," Vi muttered, bracing herself and standing upright, away from Cynthia’s support. Faith reached her hand out and Vi took it in solidarity.
Only a few bars vanished from the front of their cell, just enough to admit one person at a time, and the guards’ spears kept the other slayers back.
Vi looked nervous for a moment but squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. "Wish us luck," she said before the guards pushed her outside.
Faith and Mia silently watched them leave until Faith searched the floor before picking up a decent sized rock. As the end guard started on his way out Faith threw it, smacking him in the arm to make him face her.
"Two against a hundred demons?" Faith growled at the guard. "Is that a fair match where you come from?"
"One slayer against one slayer," the demon replied. "It could not be fairer."
Fear spread across Faith’s face as the guard walked away.
End of Act Two
Onto Act Three