Story by Chris Cook
Written by Chris Cook
Directed by Chris Cook and CN Winters (with additional directing by Gelfling21)
Produced by Chris Cook, DragonWriter17 and CN Winters
Edited by DragonWriter17
Sound by CSR
Art Direction by Chris Cook
Artists: Chris Cook, David Zahir, Libbi, Humaira, Sarah and Robert Kidman
Watchers HQ Lobby – Mid-morning – 14 hours to H-Hour
"Red," Faith called, "new arrival. Just over there," she added to Alex, pointing her towards where Willow was waiting, flanked by two Black Ops slayers.
"Thank you," Alex said, turning to Willow. "You’re expecting an attack?"
The lobby was crowded with people, and not a few demons. Vi and Marie were by the reception desk, which was surrounded by crates they were steadily opening and emptying, while Xander checked each delivered item off a list – swords, axes, pole-arms, crossbow bolts by the hundred.
Each stack of weapons was handed over to a trio of young coven members who, under Jeff’s supervision, had formed a makeshift production line to coat each blade and bolt with several purified unguents, and lastly sprinkled with holy water from a borrowed water cooler.
Also under Xander’s watchful eye, and occasional confirming signature, several other Black Ops agents were cataloguing the heavy steel transport crates taken to them by Slayers – these were opened, checked, and quietly sealed again.
The corridor leading to the library and computer labs was in constant use, a stream of watchers and watchers-in-training moving back and forth with ancient tomes and manuscripts, or CDs and print-outs.
Rowena, who had been talking to Giles, caught the eye of one of the watchers, exchanged a word or two, and with a nod to Giles as she left followed him back into the library. Giles returned his attention to the people and demons clustered around him – Brell was there, as were several others, some openly displaying their faces, others concealed beneath hoods and heavy clothing.
Robin was by the main door talking to Faith, who was glancing periodically at the contingent of slayers guarding the entrance. Every human or demon visitor in the room was accompanied by a slayer, and no new arrivals were entering without being checked. Glancing back at the door, Alex saw another newcomer, a Padisha demoness, being asked to follow a young slayer over to where she stood.
"No," Willow shook her head tiredly, "no attack, just security. You heard about the trouble we had with that Presidium shapeshifter?" Alex nodded. "Now wouldn’t be a good time for a repeat of that," Willow finished wryly.
"You’ve got spell for Changeling demons?" Alex asked, as Willow dipped her fingertips in a bowl of water, then another bowl containing an ochre powder.
"Yep, Changelings, Imbethit assassins, Komimitors, the whole deal. Been doing them all morning," Willow replied, "which between you and me, is starting to get a bit tiring. Just give me a minute…" She held out her hand towards Alex and muttered a few syllables. After a moment the powder clinging to her wet fingertips crackled and vanished, and she let out a sigh. "Thanks," she said, "sorry about that, but-"
"Understood," Alex hastened to assure her, "You’ve been turning the place upside down calling in allies and favors for two weeks now. I can see how getting an infiltrator just now would be inconvenient. Who should I talk to?"
"Giles," Willow said, suppressing a yawn. "In a few minutes, he should be free. He’s still handling our allies from the various hell dimensions. Some of them are a bit ‘conservative’."
"I guess we don’t have a monopoly on being backward-thinking at times," Alex shrugged. "I’ll see if I can help. My firm has allies here and there."
"Thanks Alex," Willow mustered a smile for her as she nodded and left. She looked up to see the Padisha and her slayer minder waiting, and took a deep, steadying breath. Just before she could speak, a coffee cup appeared in front of her.
"You look a bit like hell," Rowena said, stepping out from behind her and handing her the cup, "are you working on camouflage, for when we get there?"
"Ah, it’s nice when your girlfriend’s pleased to see you," Willow said with a grin, before downing half the cup in one go. Rowena smiled and ran her hand casually up and down the back of Willow’s neck.
"I’m needed back in the library," she said. "Can you get Jeff to take over for you soon?"
"He can’t do as many spells in a row," Willow sighed.
"He can do enough to give you a break – taking a shift watching over the weapon blessings will at least keep you off your feet."
"Wanna keep me off my feet huh?" Willow answered with a smirk. Rowena simply blushed. "Yeah, okay, I’ll give it another ten minutes… nice to see you," Willow turned to Rowena and gave her a wide, if tired, smile.
"You too," Rowena replied.
"Okay," Willow said, squaring her shoulders and turning back to the waiting Padisha, "matriarch, is it? This’ll just take a minute…"
Rowena headed back to the library, dodging around a two slayers who between them carried a pallet stacked with military-issue crates, marked ‘M72-A2’.
"Don’t drop those," she murmured to herself, weaving her way through the procession in and out of the library.
Inside the tables were crowded with watchers sitting among piles of books, reading, cross-referencing, periodically handing stacks of notes to others who took them back out. Several extra tables had been brought in to accommodate half a dozen laptops and their operators, who were quickly loading the databases supplied via network from the computer labs, and dispensing lists of references for their helpers, the newest of the watchers-in-training, to retrieve from the library shelves or the stacks next door, and bring to the readers.
To bring some semblance of order Rowena had had a large whiteboard dragged in from one of the classrooms, on which a brief plan of the room identified each table and what sort of research was being handled there.
"Sorry," she said to Dawn, who was waiting for her by the door, "Willow needed a coffee."
"Just one?" Dawn asked. "She’s doing okay then?"
Rowena nodded. "Now what were you saying before? The Kasdeja hell?"
"Right," the young watcher nodded, "there’s a reference in the Sheol Codex to the Kasdeja being a hive species, which might explain why there’s never been any refugees from there."
"The Presidium got the Queen?" Rowena surmised.
"Well, they’re genderless according to this, but yeah…capture the leaders of each of the six hives, and the rest of the species is incapable of resistance."
"Damn, so we can rule out any help from there," Rowena muttered. "Good work."
"Actually," Dawn admitted, "Skye found it…I was knee-deep in the Nessian Apocrypha volumes, which turned out to be really apocryphal in this case – though there was some useful reliable info on the Semyaza thaumocracy, oh, and Auza hydromancers. I dropped it off at the demon magics table."
"Great," Rowena said with an approving nod, looking around, "where is Skye? They could use an extra hand in the labs, and I think we’ve got our side of things under control for, oh, at least half an hour…"
"Stacks," Dawn said.
"Could you tell her?" Rowena asked. "I’ll be at the portals table."
"Sure," Dawn nodded, managing a smile as Rowena left. She looked around aimlessly for a moment, then sighed, picked up a pile of books one of the researchers had finished with from the nearest table, and crossed the library to the stacks, shelving the books here and there as she went.
"Skye?" she called as she entered the less impressive, but more extensive part of the library complex.
"Dioscuros manuscripts," a voice echoed out of the shelves. Dawn nodded, shelved one of her books, and left the remaining two on the sorting desk, where a passing watcher-in-training scooped them up on his way deeper into the stacks. Dawn followed the direction the voice had come from, finding Skye on top of a portable ladder in the demonic anthropology section.
"Hi," she said, closing the book she was glancing through and returning it to its shelf.
"Hi," Dawn replied, "um, Rowena says they could use you in the labs?"
"‘Kay," Skye nodded, dropping to the ground. Dawn stood aside to let her pass.
"Oh, um," Dawn added, "also, uh, Rowena said good work, on the Kasdeja find…" Skye paused.
"Oh," she said, "right…thanks." She nodded, Dawn did likewise, but neither of the moved.
"I’ll be real happy when this is over," Skye said forlornly.
"I know," Dawn nodded, "you, me, nice secluded spot like this…I’m holding the Presidium personally responsible for cutting our make-out time in half."
"They are evil," Skye sighed.
"Yeah," Dawn replied earnestly.
"Um, labs," Skye motioned vaguely to the end of the aisle, "I should…"
"Right," Dawn nodded. "Later," she added.
"Later," Skye grinned, before turning and leaving.
Hurrying through the main library and connecting corridor she nearly collided with Andrew as he was coming out of the computer lab doorway.
"Skye!" he exclaimed.
"Yes?" she asked hesitantly.
"Sorry. I was just coming to find you, can you handle the extra-dimensionality database queries for the next ten minutes? I really need to get back to the kitchen and count the rations."
"No problem," she replied, as Andrew led her to a seat among the watchers and research assistants. The lab was full, with every terminal now occupied, and the spare tables also crowded with laptops and hastily-imported desktops from other rooms, all with watchers busy at them. The lights had been dimmed in one corner to allow everyone to clearly read a screen being projected onto the wall, showing the various databases the Council maintained, along with lists of active queries and results waiting to be examined.
"People, extra-dimensionality is open for business!" Andrew called, and instantly Skye’s screen lit up with queries to be checked and filed. Andrew watched proudly as the room operated, then noticed a young watcher, Nicholas, waving to him.
"What’s up?" he asked, leaning over the young man’s terminal.
"Conflict," the watcher replied, "this slayer briefing on Klendath demons is tossing up a red flag with one of the codices we added into the mix earlier."
"None of the others?" Andrew frowned.
"Is that the title or the author’s name?"
"Both, according to this."
"Move on to the next briefing," Andrew said, "I’ll go check that. Print it out?" He crossed to the line of laser printers, weaving through the handful of people waiting until he spotted his page emerging and grabbed it. He headed back towards the library, and noticed Robin standing in the near side of the lobby on his way.
"Andrew," the head watcher nodded.
"Mr. Wood," Andrew replied, "the labs are running well, I’m just checking on a…a Klendath demon," he read from the page. "Do we know them? It sounds familiar."
"You were on the scene, weren’t you?" Robin asked. "The one Xander…" he raised his hands and made a whooshing ‘missile’ noise.
"Oh, that," Andrew snapped his fingers, "right…in that case," he consulted the page, "this ‘Neogorgon’ got it wrong, they’re not vulnerable to immersion in water, are they?"
"Not that I noticed," Robin agreed. "If you’ve got a minute, could you check the kitchen? The slayers on door duty had breakfast early, they could use a snack."
"On my way there anyway. I’ll get it done."
"Thanks." Robin turned and got a few steps across the lobby before Xander intercepted him. "What’s up?"
"Signature," he explained, holding out a clip-board and motioning at a pair of serious-looking soldiers waiting by the reception desk, with a heavily-laden trolley of crates beside them.
"More don’t-give-it-to-just-anyone equipment," Robin nodded, taking the board and glancing at the page on it, "okay, let’s- whoa!"
"Not bad, huh?" Xander nodded. "Firearms aren’t my first choice, but if you’ve got no choice, go with the best."
"These will take the anti-demon bullets?" Robin asked, signing.
"The documentation says yes," Xander said, taking the clipboard, "They’re from the same manufacturer as the Black Ops gear. I’ll unpack a couple and run them through their paces on the range just in case, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t work with the liquid-core rounds."
"Check the graphite-tips as well," Robin advised.
"Are there vampires in Vor?"
"I don’t know, but if there are, with our luck we’ll run into them."
"Can’t fault that argument," Xander agreed ruefully. "Thanks," he held up the clipboard, then noticed Kennedy coming from the slayer wing, wiping sweat from her brow with a cloth. "Hey, Ken!"
"Hey Xander," she said. "Need a hand?"
"I’ve run the girls through all the exercise drills I can without starting a mutiny," she said, stretching her arms behind her back as if trying to work an ache out, "and Heli’s up to her ears in wannabe warriors. We have no idea who’s just a butch with a stake and who’s a top class demon slayer. Twenty minutes off will do everyone more good than training right now, and at least we can look organized when we get back to work. Got a job for me?"
"Escort these gentlemen down to the range, would you?" Xander asked, motioning her towards the soldiers and their cargo. "Guys, one crate to the weapons range with Kennedy here, the others over there with the rest. Thanks." The soldiers began unloading the crates from the trolley, and Xander turned back to Kennedy, taking a deep, slow breath.
"I’m not the only one being run ragged?" she asked.
"If I never see another receipt form it’ll be too soon," he admitted with a grin. "Most of what we ordered is here though, so we’ll quieted down soon. Just as well," he noted, glancing at the crowd of people and demons around Giles, from which raised voices were emerging, "it sounds like there’ll be enough volume from our friends to keep the neighbors complaining on its own."
"If it’ll cheer you up, Vi told me to tell you hi," Kennedy offered.
"Thanks," Xander smiled wearily. "You wouldn’t think two people could go a whole fortnight without finding a quiet moment, would you?"
"Two weeks ago I wouldn’t have," Kennedy said wryly. "Then again, two weeks ago we weren’t trying to turn a bunch of trainees into the only patrol force this city is going to have, indefinitely."
"We’re ready," one of the soldiers said, straightening from unloading the second-to-last crate.
"Great," Xander said. "Ken, have the guys at the range check a few of these out with the graphite and the holy water rounds, okay?"
"Graphite and holy water, got it," the slayer repeated. She led the soldiers and their now substantially-lighter trolley away from the lobby, passing Mia as they went.
"New gear?" Mia asked, indicating the crate.
"Not sure, Xander just got them," Kennedy replied. "How’s things?"
"Things are good," Mia said vaguely, "you don’t know where Saida is, do you?"
"I saw her leave a minute ago – Giles was talking to her. He might know."
"I have to talk to him anyway. Been training?" Mia asked, noting Kennedy’s flushed skin and workout gear under her jacket.
"Ran the girls through their paces," Kennedy replied. "Sparring with allies, seeing how good they are, the usual."
"You look good," Mia offered. Kennedy gave a smile and nodded before hurrying away with the soldiers. Mia walked to where Giles was standing, addressing the gathered demons, and waited for him to notice her.
"This is not simply about us," he was in the middle of saying, "now yes, I admit that we on Earth are in the most immediate danger, but the Presidium is a threat to us all – those of you from conquered hells, especially, will have no doubt of that." Several of the demons nodded and murmured their agreement, while Giles saw Mia waiting. "Excuse me a moment…Mia?"
"Rosters, Mr. Giles," she said, handing over a folder.
"Thank you," he said, glancing through the pages quickly. "You’re sure the Black Ops unit is ready? After losing Janet…"
"It’s hard for all of us," Mia admitted, "for more reasons that just being down a lieutenant…the girls know the score though. So do I. Sitting on the sidelines licking our wounds isn’t going to help anyone."
"Very well, thank you." Mia nodded and turned, leaving Giles to face the assembled demons again.
"Your plan is bold," a Kray demon said, in its high-pitched, buzzing voice, "but boldness alone is insufficient. Such a thing has never been done."
"As I said, we are putting the full weight of the Council behind this," Giles replied. "We have allies coming in from around the globe, and the free hell dimensions, as we speak, many are already here."
"We will hear your words," sang a robed Carnivean, "but elsewhere, our hopes may come to rest."
"We fulfill our vows to defend our own," a horned demon snarled, "not for humans." A striking female demon rounded on him.
"If you vowed to protect the innocent, it shouldn’t matter what dimension they’re from!"
"You have a vested interest," her opponent pointed out. "Seeing as the Presidium is hunting the Oden Tal to extinction."
"Please," Giles interrupted, "let’s remain calm, please…"
"I can’t speak on behalf of my superiors," a human wearing the medallion of the Anmael demons said, "but our position is favorable at present."
"The moon’s shadow guides us," a squat Iblis, one of two present, intoned. "Where she wanders, we seek trial." There was a general hesitation as the various humans and demons frowned in confusion.
"Good," Giles said to fill the pause, "very well…" His gaze wandered to the main door, where a new arrival had appeared. "Oh, excuse me a moment, one of our coven leaders has arrived."
He hurried to the doorway, where Faith was waving in Althenea Dimmons.
"Althenea," he greeted her.
"Rupert," she smiled, "It’s good to see you again. You look…tired, actually. Have you and Mrs. Giles not been behaving yourselves?"
"Al!" Willow rushed over. The two slayers assigned to her hurried in her wake, reaching her just in time to step in-between her and Althenea.
"Oh," she grinned sheepishly, "sorry, I forgot…"
"We’re taking measures to avoid any infiltration from the Presidium," Giles explained, "until Willow’s done her spell-"
"-physical contact is a risk," Althenea finished, "of course – spell now, hug afterwards?"
"Uh-huh," Willow nodded enthusiastically, rushing back to prepare the spell.
"Just to make sure you’re not, you know, evil suddenly," she went on, dabbing her wet fingers in the bowl of powder held in her other hand as she came back, "Rowena’s in the library by the way, she’ll be so pleased to see you, I mean the circumstances could be better, sure, but hey, any excuse to get you this side of the Atlantic will do-"
"Um, Willow?" Althenea prompted.
"Right," Willow grinned, holding up her hand.
"To tell the truth," Althenea said as Willow muttered the spell beneath her breath, "I wouldn’t be surprised to find I’ve picked up a little evil, after sharing a flight on the way here with- oof!" she exhaled as Willow, having completed the ritual successfully, hugged her forcefully.
"With who?" Giles asked.
"Oh come now, Ripper," Ethan Rayne said from the doorway, "who else could it possibly be?"
"B-" Giles began.
"Here," Ethan interrupted, "Watch. He’s going to do his ‘bloody hell’ and sigh."
Giles closed his mouth again, but couldn’t suppress a long-suffering sigh.
Fade to black.
End of Teaser
Onto Act One