The door to Giles' office cautiously swung open as Judith stuck her head in, reluctant to disturb what sounded to be a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable conversation. Giles was sitting behind his desk, a broad smile on his face as he chatted with the bright-eyed new Slayer across from him. Her face was open and expressive, with light blue eyes and pale blonde hair to match the award-winning toothy grin that was echoing back to the Watcher.
He glanced up as Judith knocked on the open door and stepped into the room, motioning for the girl to enter fully.
"Asura said you wanted to see me?" she queried, taking in the new girl who was now beaming in her direction.
"Yes, thank you, Judith," replied Giles, rising to his feet to lead her fully into the room. He gestured at the blonde girl. "This is Sonja."
Sonja's smile turned up an impossible notch and she waved happily at Judith. Judith returned the greeting with a nod of her head, just a touch of disbelief on her face at the enthusiasm.
"Sonja just joined us from Sweden," he continued, hopefully offering a starting point for conversation to make both girls feel more at ease.
"Pleased to meet you," greeted Sonja.
Judith's eyebrow twitched in surprise. "Wow, your English's good," she complimented.
"Thank you," the new Slayer replied graciously. "I've been studying since I was very small. My teachers believed strongly in a solid language background. Be prepared for any situation, and all," she added with a shrug of her shoulders, although her smile never once diminished.
"Good philosophy," nodded Judith. "Got lost somewhere in application for me, though. At my school, we were force fed just about enough Spanish to say 'El tejon es frio en mi tienda.'"
Frowning, Sonja tilted her head to one side, thinking for a moment. Finally, she regarded Judith with a smirk. "'The badger is cold in my store'?" she questioned with a laugh in her voice.
"Huh." The brunette considered this. "I guess that one has limited usage."
Sonja laughed easily, a tinkling sound that had both Judith and Giles smiling in response.
The Watcher was obviously delighted that that the two girls appeared to be hitting it off well as he turned to Judith. "I was hoping that you could perhaps give Sonja the grand tour? Spend today with her, help her get settled in?"
"Sure thing," she replied. "It's either that or worry about this badger thing for the rest of the day."
"Excellent, thank you." To the other girl, he stated, "We can meet again tomorrow morning, Sonja, and get your training and class schedules sorted, all right?"
The blonde practically bounced in her seat with excitement. "Okay, Mr. Giles," she replied sunnily. "I'm looking forward to getting started. This is all so exciting!" Sonja actually clapped her hands together, unable to fully contain herself. "There's so much to learn!"
Giles grinned and regarded the girl fondly, her mood contagious. "And we shall do our utmost to teach you."
Nodding, Sonja rose to her feet and followed Judith out of the office, the door closing quietly behind them. Giles remained standing for several seconds, staring at the door as his good cheer slowly evaporated. No trace of a smile remaining, he returned to his seat and moved aside a heavy book to reveal several pages that had been hidden from view. The topmost contained a detailed sketch of the Mogari. The Watcher picked up the phone receiver and dialed a number, studying the picture intently while he waited. When he finally heard a voice on the other end, he dropped the sketch next to the stack of pages and focused his attention on the conversation at hand.
"Bentley, good afternoon. This is Rupert Giles. I'm calling with regards to the blood sample I sent you last week. Do please tell me you've made some headway on it ..."
Half covered by the drawing was a long list of names and addresses. Almost every name had been scratched out.
Report 0100.21 – Proditionis Traditum
The bulk of today was spent stuck in a pointless tour of the facility, however it did afford me the perfect opportunity for intense scrutiny of people and events that might have otherwise raised suspicion, and I took full advantage of that fact.
My contact with Rupert Giles was brief, but I was able to access his mood, and I feel confident in saying that he is at a complete loss with regards to our movements. I fail to believe that even he is ignorant that something is happening, but he is aware only of the symptoms. Of course, this also means that the entire Watcher's Council is operating in the dark. So much the better for us.
Judith walked into the large gymnasium that served as the main training room for the new Slayers, Sonja only one step behind. The blonde surveyed the room appreciatively, but her eye was soon drawn to the class being conducted at one side. She and Judith moved closer, standing toward the back of the assembled group of fifteen or twenty girls, content to observe for the moment.
In front of the class, Kennedy stood next to another, much taller girl with short dark brown hair highlighted with blonde streaks. She was standing to one side, arms crossed in front of her chest as she watched Kennedy pace back and forth while addressing the class.
"Fighting and kicking ass is great and all, no doubt, but what's really gonna win the battle in the end is knowledge," lectured Kennedy. She ticked examples off on her fingers. "How your opponent moves, what she's thinking, what she can do and what she thinks you can do. You can have all the strength in the world, but without knowledge and skill to back you up, you're just a midnight snack. Okay, so let's see some of that in action."
Kennedy gestured to the girl behind her. "Danielle's been part of my training classes for about a month and a half now." Moving to stand at Danielle's side, the Slayer glanced up at the taller girl. "Would you say you've got a pretty good handle on my fighting style by now?"
With just the slightest sneer, Danielle nodded. "Yeah, I think I got you pegged," she said confidently, bordering on cocky.
"Alright, let's put that to the test. We'll start off with—"
There was absolutely no warning whatsoever. One second Kennedy's hand was dangling at her side, the next it was retracting from where the heel had collided with Danielle's nose. The audience collectively winced in sympathy as the other girl cried out. Cupping her nose, she tried to stop the flow of blood running down her upper lip.
"See?" Kennedy pointed out to her class. "She should've been expecting that."
Danielle was in too much pain to agree or disagree. Impassively, Kennedy watched the Junior for a moment, then slightly rolled her eyes. "Okay, let's get you to the infirmary," she sighed, leading the girl away by her elbow. Over her shoulder, she told the class, "Think about it. I'll be right back."
With only a barely passable bedside manner, Kennedy tugged Danielle toward the left-hand entrance of the training room, navigating her through the various hazards along the way that the girl couldn't see due to her head being tilted all the way back. The moment they were out of sight, the class erupted into chatter. Wide-eyed, Sonja turned to Judith.
"Is that the norm?" she asked, her voice a mixture of awe and concern.
Judith shrugged, the exchange seeming to leave her completely unphased. "Oh no. Sometimes she's brutal."
Somehow, Sonja managed to widen her eyes further.
"For the most part, Kennedy and Faith are big believers in pain being a keen motivator," explained Judith, gesturing toward where Danielle and her bleeding nose had exited. "And I guess they have a point. I mean, a vamp's not gonna care much about your perfect nose alignment."
Observing the excited conversations around her, Sonja was puzzled. "And how does everyone else feel about that?" She gestured to encompass their fellow Slayers.
"Surprisingly, pretty cool about it," replied Judith, before leaning over to the blonde and lowering her voice. "Confidentially, I think hate's a pretty decent motivator too, and we've got some girls here who would dearly love to get one over on our beloved trainers." Sonja raised her eyebrows with interest at this as Judith straightened and continued in her regular tone of voice. "Keeps us on our toes though, you know? I mean actions speak louder than words, right?"
As if on cue, the sound of someone loudly clearing their throat cut through all conversations, and everyone turned to stare at the newcomer.
Buffy stood in front of the group. With her arms crossed and her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, she radiated business. Business and extreme disapproval. "Is this what passes for training these days?" she asked with a touch of sarcasm. "Standing around and gossiping?"
Nobody replied, unsure of what to say. A few girls leaned over to their neighbor whispering, "Who's that?" Most received nothing but shrugs and shaking heads.
"I may have been out of the loop for a while," Buffy began in a loud, clear voice as she started pacing, "but I'm pretty sure nobody ever saved the world by talking about who's dating who."
By now practically every head in the crowd was turning this way and that, seeking someone who could fill them in on just who this woman thought she was. Despite their ignorance, however, nobody questioned her right to speak to them, and there was no denying that she had every ounce of their attention.
"Now I've been watching how you guys act for a few days, and I gotta tell you – so not impressed." Buffy gazed out at her rapt audience, taking a moment, it seemed, to meet each girl's eyes before continuing. "I mean yeah, you're learning some important stuff ... What a stake is, the business end of a vampire, the fact that no amount of Tide is gonna get that bloodstain out. But when I look around at you, I'm not seeing Slayers." She stopped pacing and turned to face the group straight on, her tone becoming harsh. "I'm seeing little girls who think this is a game. And I think you're all in for a rude awakening."
The girls were riveted, having no idea how to react to this sort of speech and thoroughly entranced. Her eyes fixed on Buffy, Sonja leaned over to Judith. "Who is that?" she asked softly.
Judith adopted a similar position. "That must be Buffy. She's been away, only just got back. I haven't actually seen her before today. Something, huh?"
Nodding, Sonja frowned slightly as she continued to study the Senior Slayer. "That's certainly one way to describe her."
The infamous Buffy Summers graced one of the training classes with her presence today. From what I've been able to gather, she took off soon after the Council reformed. Once she had decided everything was settled, she left, and nobody really heard from her for months afterward. I doubt very much that her return now, after all this time, is a coincidence. Realizing who she was concerned me for a moment, but as I soon discovered, the friction caused by her return may be much more an aid to us than a hindrance.
Buffy resumed her pacing, speaking passionately as she did so. "You've each made a choice, to come here, to learn, and to keep the world safe. You realized your power and you grabbed it, taking—"
"What's going on?"
Kennedy, sans Danielle, strode toward the group, her face like thunder. She glared openly at Buffy, who had halted once more and again crossed her arms. The blonde's expression was guardedly neutral, and she gave no indication that she felt even remotely intimidated by Kennedy's outburst.
"Just talking," replied Buffy casually, gesturing at the group. "They seemed to be in need of some direction, and as I was passing through ..."
"You figured you'd take over my girls?" Kennedy accused, coming to a stop almost uncomfortably close to the object of her anger. Said girls shuffled nervously, many looking guilty as though they had somehow been caught cheating.
Almost too calmly, Buffy uncrossed her arms and placed her hands on her hips. She spoke very slowly, as though dealing with someone just a tiny bit challenged. "No, I was thinking I might try inspiring your 'girls' with something other than a fear of extended hospital visits."
"So you think you can teach them better than me, is that it?"
"Different. I didn't say better."
Kennedy frowned, and tilted her head as though in deep contemplation. "Cuz I'm here thinkin', what can you really teach them? Besides how to run away from responsibility."
A flash of anger crossed Buffy's features, though when she spoke it was still with an eerie calm. "I didn't say better. Doesn't mean I wasn't thinking it."
Clearly beyond angry now, Kennedy's instinct was to drop into a threatening stance and Buffy immediately responded with a defensive one. Noticing the changes, the assembled Slayers broke again into chatter, only this one was tinged with nervousness on top of an undeniable excitement. Buffy's eyes darted to the group, and inhaling deeply, she straightened. Though still tense and ready for anything, she made an obvious effort to prevent the situation from degenerating further.
"We probably don't want to go all War of the Roses with an audience," she stated, jerking her head toward the class.
It took a moment, but Kennedy blinked and then came back to herself. An expression of shame, quickly followed by one of renewed anger darted across her face as she too straightened and fought to regain composure.
Her gaze still locked on Buffy, Kennedy spoke to the class. "We'll pick this up on Friday," she dismissed, and the girls all turned to leave, splintering immediately into little discussion groups. Only Judith and Sonja remained, watching the drama unfold before them.
Neither Slayer was willing to back down, but Kennedy finally broke the deadlock and, with a parting glare that could have easily killed had it been physical, stomped out of the room. Buffy watched her go then sighed and shook her head in frustration, staring angrily at her shoes.
The two newer Slayers lingered for a moment longer, then Judith motioned for Sonja to follow and exited through the same door as Kennedy.
The complete lack of order here is unnerving to say the least. Those who have been charged with preparing their younger counterparts for the life they will lead seem incapable of agreeing on any method. I'm at a loss for how anything gets done. I can't even suggest that it's a case of too many chiefs. Instead, it seems more a lack of any one, singular individual strong enough to exert his or her will over the others. One gets the feeling that if we were to leave well enough alone, it would simply collapse internally. But then I suppose that is the nature of entropy.
It's ... difficult to be here amidst this chaos, but now more than ever, I'm convinced our path is the true one.
The girls found Kennedy in one of the dorm rooms, similar in size to Faith's but with even less adornment. There was a very simple bed off to one side, appearing mostly unused, and the bulk of the floor space was taken up with exercise equipment. Hanging in one corner was a punching bag that Kennedy was doing her utmost to punish.
"Hey, you," greeted Judith.
Kennedy glanced up briefly, grunted noncommittally and renewed her attack. Hovering uncomfortably but watching with undisguised interest, Sonja lingered in the doorframe as Judith moved further into the room.
"Oh no," Kennedy replied with biting sarcasm, "every day Her High and Mightiness butts into my life is a carnival." She attacked the bag with renewed vigor.
Judith carefully stepped closer, making sure to stay well away from the pummeling fists. "I'm sure she didn't mean it ..." she began soothingly.
"Oh, she meant it," Kennedy spat. "Well, not as in she got up this morning and said 'How can I piss off Kennedy today? I know!', but she meant it. To her, I'm nothing but a fill-in, someone keepin' her spot warm while she runs off and does whatever the hell she feels like for months. Never mind the fact that I—" She drove her fist into the bag with a surge of anger. "–stuck around here and I—" Another fierce punch landed home. "–helped whip this place into shape. Where the hell was she? Now all the hard work's done, here she comes again to shove me back in line with everyone else." Kennedy pulled back and hit the bag so hard the hanging fixture vibrated. "I knew she was gonna do this!"
Casting a worried glance at the ceiling, Judith stepped backward. "I really didn't get that feeling from her, she just seemed to want to ... you know, help. It's just that her style's really different from yours and Faith's, but that doesn't mean it's better ..."
Kennedy snorted at Judith's attempts to be placating, and she punctuated her reply with renewed attacks. "You don't know her. I know her. It's all flowery speeches and declarations that she's the only one with any real power and poor Buffy, nobody understands her. You think that now she's back she's gonna be interested in what Faith and I have been doing to make this place run like it does? Hell no. An' what's worse is, everyone else is just gonna fall in line behind her like sheep and not even question it, because that's what they do."
The Slayer threw a final punch at the bag, a disgusted 'get away from me' gesture. "Nah, screw that," she growled. "She won't listen to me, but I know someone she damn well better listen to."
With that, she stomped out of the room, not looking back. Sonja glanced at Judith and the brunette simply shrugged.
Dawn walked briskly through one of the hallways of Slayer Central with great purpose, rushing just enough to not pay much attention to where she was going. Consequently, she walked right into Judith who was rounding a corner. As they collided, Judith took only a step backwards, but Dawn stumbled and fell heavily to the ground in a generally undignified manner.
"Oh, geez, sorry!" exclaimed Judith as both she and Sonja went to either side of Dawn to help her up. Dawn just laughed as she shakily rose to her feet.
"And I thought height was supposed to give me some sort of grace or something too. I think I got gypped," she chuckled, rubbing her injured assets.
Convinced that she'd done no lasting damage, Judith stepped back and smirked. "At least you can reach the top shelf without crawling on the counter."
"This is true. And I have a distinct 'keep away' advantage." Brushing herself off, she glanced to Sonja, smiling her thanks for the girl's assistance. "Hey, I don't think I've seen you around before. Not that it's easy keeping track of everybody anymore, but ..." She shrugged. "Are you new?"
The blonde smiled broadly, and Dawn was compelled to respond in kind. "Yes, I just arrived. I'm Sonja."
"Dawn's Buffy's little sister," explained Judith.
A small huff escaped and Dawn rolled her eyes slightly. "That's pretty much my full name!" the teenager stated with obviously forced cheerfulness.
Judith was instantly sheepish. "Sorry," she apologized, but Dawn simply shrugged again, blowing it off.
"My issue," she dismissed. "So, Sonja, where are you from?"
"Karlstad, in Sweden," replied the Slayer, a fond expression appearing.
"Oh, cool," Dawn enthused as she checked her watch. "Listen, I've gotta be somewhere about five minutes ago, but maybe we can meet up later and you can make me insanely jealous some more?"
Laughing and nodding her head, Sonja agreed, "I'd like that. And you can teach me all I need to know to fit in America."
Dawn backed away, keeping the two Slayers in sight. "Develop an unhealthy love of money and McDonalds and you're halfway there. Catch you later." She waved at the other girl. "Bye, Judith!"
Both Judith and Sonja waved at Dawn's retreating back as she jogged down the hall.
After a brief discussion with the sister, I'm even more firmly convinced that Summers' return is far from the happy event one might expect. As observed, the sister constantly struggles to find her place, believing it to only be worthwhile if it's separate from Summers. Her failure to realize that her very connection to Summers is a source of great strength and power for the both of them not only works in our favor, but provides further proof of the short-sightedness indicative of the entire inner circle of this new Council.
"I'm here!" Dawn announced as she entered Giles' office. She practically glowed with eagerness and excitement as she closed the door behind her and stood in front of the desk. "I've squeegeed my brain of all those useless 'school' things, and am prepared to devote every single ounce of brainpower to whatever task you need." A frown crept across her face. "Unless it involves cleaning. I know nothing of cleaning."
"No, no cleaning," Giles assured, glancing up from the book he was reading. "It's research, actually."
Dawn glowed again and actually did a very tiny dance of joy with an excited, "Yay!" as Giles moved to her side carrying a handful of papers. She scooted closer to study at them.
"I've been focusing the bulk of my attention on that new creature Kennedy encountered last week," the Watcher explained, shuffling through the papers. "Its actions seem to support the idea that its attack was anything but random, and I'm hoping that if we can uncover its origins, we might shed some light on the missing Slayers."
Reaching out, Dawn took the sketch of the Mogari and examined it with some trepidation. "Is this it? Gyuhh," she shuddered. "They won't be making a Beanie Baby of this thing any time soon."
"Indeed," agreed Giles, bringing a laboratory report to the top of the stack. "Now an associate of mine is running some tests on the blood sample, but it could be a few more days before he has anything conclusive to tell us. In the meantime, I suggest that we continue our research into known demons and see if we can narrow down the type."
Giles placed the stack of papers on his desktop and turned to one of the shelves, hefting a stack of books and dropping them in Dawn's hastily outstretched arms. Nearly collapsing under the weight, Dawn staggered for a moment but regained her footing and peered around her tower at the Watcher. Giles collected another, smaller stack and opened the door.
Unsteadily, Dawn made her way out of the office, her head still tilted to one side so she could see where she was going. "Fun-time Saturday spent in the library!" she bubbled without a trace of sarcasm as Giles locked the door behind him and followed. A moment passed and Dawn considered her words. "God, I really couldn't be more of a dork if I tried, could I?"
The Watcher chuckled fondly and smirked at the young girl. "I expect that you could do with a spot of, erm, 'dork' for a time."
"You heard, huh?" Dawn winced, and not from the strain the books were putting on her arms.
"I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover that the entire population of Trillium heard by the time Willow was done with you."
Somehow, Dawn managed to be indignant. "Oh, like it was my fault the ghost totally wrecked her X-Files DVDs." Her eyes darted to Giles, complete with flat stare, and she sighed reluctantly. "Okay, like it was only my fault," she corrected.
Giles said nothing, content to simply shake his head.
"How long do you think I'll have to grovel?" the teenager whined.
"Oh, I'd say at least until you graduate and move out," Giles replied kindly. "Possibly up until you're married and have your first-born child. Still, if you uncover anything at all about this creature, I'll put in a good word for you." He placed a restraining hand on Dawn's shoulder to keep her from running into a group of Slayers who were rounding the same corner where Dawn had collided earlier, then took a few of the topmost books from her stack so she could see more easily. The coast clear, they continued down the hall, passing several large windows that were streaming sunlight into the building.
Dawn shot Giles a pleading look. "Could you make it a whole sentence?" she nearly begged. "It kinda nailed Xena, too."
Unseen by either, they were being closely observed by something outside the building. It watched them intently as they passed by the windows, chatting amiably. Once they were out of sight, it let go of the windowsill where it had been holding itself up, landing solidly on the ground.
It was a small, not particularly attractive creature, even by demon standards. It was squat, like it had perhaps met with an unfortunate trash compactor accident at some point in the past, rendering it solid at about three and a half feet tall. Its complexion was an off-orangey color, akin to a pumpkin that had been left out in the sun for a little too long. The skin was stretched tightly across its face, rendering it almost featureless, and it had no nose to speak of – only two little holes where a nose might normally be. As though attempting to compensate, its pointy ears were twice as big as they should be and it was nearly hairless, save a tuft of black fuzz that could be called a goatee if one were feeling generous.
Quite in contrast to its natural appearance, the demon was immaculately dressed in a tiny black three-piece suit with a blue silk shirt and matching tie. He pulled a small notepad from inside one of the jacket pockets and scribbled something with a miniscule pen, glancing in the direction of Giles and Dawn. His notes complete, he grinned, very nearly from ear-to-ear, revealing an impossible number of razor sharp teeth.