The Boss and Norg casually made their way through the halls of the building. Little was going on. Following the end of the meeting, most demons, devils and the like were probably out doing their thing. Only a few could be seen, walking by or occupying the rooms that the pair passed as they conducted business.
Norg held a small pad in his leathery hands, taking notes as they went. "And I think the thpeeth went over very well."
The Boss smiled. "Thanks. Now, how are things as far as numbers go. Don't go blood-coating it or anything either."
They moved past the cafeteria. Its lone occupant was a large, many-spiked demon who dwarfed his chair and even the wooden table, one meaty fist gripping what looked like a human femur as he proceeded with much gnawing. Health and diet-related posters lined the walls, most prominently including a "food pyramid" which listed without reservation kittens, babies, brains, hearts and blood as being among the core fare of a healthy demon. The nearby chalkboard listed that day's entrée as oven-roasted football player, guaranteed to contain enough meat to satisfy even the most demanding appetite.
Norg referenced a page of his notepad briefly. "In thpite of the Thlayerth'th many, uh, thlayingth, memberthip ith up."
"Seriously?" asked the Boss, receiving a nod from his assistant. "Well, I'll be damned. Literally." He considered for a moment. "Make a note to put Jesson down for a raise. Looks like his marketing campaign paid off after all."
"Lookth like it."
"Who would have thought?" the Boss inquired rhetorically. "That whole ‘So Evil Your Own Mother Will Hate You' theme sounded lame, but it did the job. I'm surprised."
Norg nodded, then hesitated for a moment, verifying some figures. He looked up again. "But—"
"Ah, I knew this line of talk was too good to be true," the Boss admitted with a shrug. "What's the catch?"
They were passing the workout room, somewhat more occupied than the cafeteria from earlier. In one corner, a surprisingly squat vampire was pressing weights, while near the entrance, a pair of scaled demons, hides an ever-changing mixture of chaotic blues, were tossing around a medicine ball. At least, it would have been a medicine ball if it hadn't been larger and made entirely of stone. The immense, smooth-hewn boulder weighed at least half a ton, but each demon threw and caught it without difficulty.
Another demon, tall and covered with bristling black fur, wasn't satisfied. "Come on, you worms!" he yelled. "Bethelas would be ashamed to know you represent his forces in this dimension!"
The two demons, looking like giant lizards who had been the victim of graffiti, only grunted and threw the ball harder.
With the noise of the room behind them, Norg continued. "Due to all the Thlayerth many thlayingth, almotht nobody can make quotath. Ith hurting morale."
"No big surprise there," acknowledged the Boss. "Membership up, but acts of mayhem and violence down due to interference? You got missed quotas."
"Ath a rethult, there ith talk on the floor about lowering the quotath..."
The Boss spread his arms wide in mock amazement. "How did I know that was coming? No can do, Norg. See, if I lower the goals because of this, next thing we know, nobody'll be hitting their marks, just so they can get them set even lower. One of the drawbacks of an organization like this—I can't exactly count on good intentions."
Norg nodded. "A very good point."
"See, the solution isn't to expect less, but to provide the reason and tools to achieve more."
"Wow, that'th deep," Norg said, looking up at his leader before flipping ahead in the notepad to jot down this new bit of wisdom.
"Yeah, I tell you, that Demonic Leadership seminar was some of the best money I spent this year. That and the little electronic basketball game. Anyway, I'm feeling charged up. We're going to kick this place into high gear."
The two continued their amble down the hall, moving past a closed door marked "Counseling." A cardboard sign taped to the front indicated "Therapy Session in Progress, Do Not Disturb."
They had only gotten about ten feet past the door when a black, slime-oozing body came flying through, landing on the hallway floor in a shower of wood splinters and glass. A bespectacled gray-skinned demon with a greenish mane of hair stuck its head out of the door to hurl a volley of abuse. "You're a pathetic pansy loser. No one loves you. You make me sick! Go home!"
The Boss clasped his hands behind his back, surveying the walls and ceiling as they moved. "So, what else have we got going on?"
"Thorry to report, Clark didn't pay hith memberthip dueth again," Norg remarked with a pained expression.
"That's the second month in a row, right?"
The Boss uncrossed his hands and made a show of examining his well-trimmed fingernails. "He give a reason?"
"Thomthing about not retheiving proper benefith from the group. That he wath ethpecting more protecthion from Thlayerth. But rumor hath it that he hath thomthing of a gambling iththue."
"Is that so."
The Boss remained expressionless. "Well, regardless of the reason, two months is two months. Clark knows the rules as well as the rest of us do. And without rules, we're just a chaotic bunch of monsters running around, you know?"
Norg nodded. "Yeth, thir."
"We'll have to see to it that he becomes an example of what to not not do..." The Boss considered the words. "Of what to make sure you don't not do... To... Eh, you know what I mean."
Another group of demons, vampires and other unclassifiable beings had been gathered. This crowd was larger than the one earlier in the evening, easily numbering a half-hundred of the denizens of darkness. The entire assembly could have been mistaken for perhaps a meeting of the PTA, except for the profusion of horns, scales, fur and claws. Despite their many differences, they sat, amicably chatting amongst themselves, some in tongues that had never before been heard by human ears.
"But how do you get yours to remain tender?" one demon asked another. "I find that once I disembowel, the innards become tough within a matter of..."
Nearby, a female vampire was relating her own tale. "So I tell him, ‘Stick it where the sun shines, pal!"
Into this cacophony of the damned walked the Boss. He strode to the front of the room, but his presence alone did not induce silence. "Okay, folks, let's settle down. Time to call the meeting to order... Or at least a more organized form of chaos."
This had almost as much impact as asking them the time of day. Less, in fact, since few of them wore watches. They continued on with their business.
"...and the first vamp says, ‘Do you realize what's at stake here?'"
The Boss looked to his side. "Norg, if you would."
Opening his mouth, which suddenly expanded to nearly the full size of his head, the diminutive demon let out a bellow that made the entire room shake and threatened to bowl over some of the smaller demons by sheer force of sound.
Instantly, silence pervaded the room.
"Cheers," the Boss thanked Norg, before turning back to the rest of the room. "I know the past few months have been rough for us all, and this month isn't going to be any different. Since the Slayers have come in and set up shop, seems like you can't swing a kitten—or eat one, for that matter—without a Slayer showing up to cause trouble."
A rather small-looking demon on one side of the crowd, who looked like he couldn't decide if he wanted to be furry, leathery or scaly, spoke out. "Tell me about it. Just last week I had to fight two of those brats."
At least three dozen heads turned to stare at him dubiously. "Okay, so I had to run away from two of those brats," he admitted with a shrug. "Whatever. You get the point."
"We all hear you," agreed the Boss, walking back and forth, "even if your exact details may be a bit suspect. But things don't have to be like this. I'm confident that with hard work and perseverance, we can stand strong and show these Slayers what's what. That we're not gonna take it."
A vampire in the center of the group raised his hand. The Boss stopped in mid-stride to address him. "Yes, Jim."
"Uh, how exactly are we going to do that? I mean, yeah, they're little girls and all, but they're pretty strong, and they're fast, and there's a bunch of them, and—"
The Boss spread his hands. "It's true, no sense in denying it. They have numbers, they have speed, they have strength. But we have numbers and strength too. Even better, we have information." He waited a moment for that to sink in. "We've seen what they can do, what they're capable of. We know all about the leaders in their gang of sanctimonious ruffians."
He continued his pacing in front of the group. "What do they know about us? Not much. ‘Stakes against vampires. Cold iron against the Inabas. Peanuts against the Agumbra.' Stuff like that."
The masses snickered. A tall, ashen demon whose skin might have been carved from stone waved a hefty fist at the culprits. "Hey, shut up. We can't help it if we're allergic."
The laughter stopped and the Boss went on. "While they don't know that we as a group exist, we know all about them. Our spies and agents watch them, and our warriors who manage to escape alive bring back useful knowledge. Observe."
He gestured to someone in the back of the room, and the lights dimmed. The light of an unseen projector illuminated the wall behind him, empty of adornment. "Know Your Enemies" appeared in blood-red letters on a dark grey background.
"These are the movers and shakers of the Slayer Empire. We know their strengths, all we have to do is find their weaknesses. Take them out, their whole game collapses and we rule again."
So saying, he clicked the button of a control in his hand. The words behind him melted away into a canvassed image depicting a horde of demons standing triumphant over their fallen knightly victims. A few moments of silence were taken for the picture to sink in properly.
"First up, Dawn Summers."
He clicked the button again. A new picture appeared and, unlike the painting before it, this one was clearly doctored. Dawn stood in the forefront of the scene, arms crossed, lips formidably set, and eyes glinting with untold knowledge. Flames roiled in the background, with a clear message: where she goes, destruction follows. Despite her impressive demeanor, there was little reaction from the crowd.
"Not an actual Slayer, but a child, created from an ancient source of almost unfathomable mystical energy," explained the Boss. "This power, older than recorded history, provides a deceptively young-looking girl with deep wisdom and maturity."
Lying on the bed in her room, Dawn rolled over onto her stomach. She absently yet intricately twirled the phone cord around her finger. "She did not say that. She did? No way! No way! No way! You are such a liar, Jackie, I'm so sure. No way!"
Another click of the button and a new picture appeared, as doctored as the one before it. Xander stood tall and proud, holding up a struggling demon by the throat and squeezing the very life from its body with one cruel hand. A villainous smile was prominent in Xander's features. Some portions of the crowd let out a slight hiss.
"Alexander Harris," the Boss announced. "An enigma. No one is quite sure what powers he wields, but he has been with this cadre since the beginning, so there can be no doubt he possesses incredible abilities. The menace of his eye patch only adds to the fearsome countenance of this foe."
The television played forth its colorful scene, holding Xander entranced in its display. A closer look revealed that it was in fact airing an episode of 'Popeye the Sailor Man'. It appeared to be the one where Popeye rescued Olive Oyl from Bluto.
"No matter what you sez I yam, I yam what I yam an' thas' all that I yam!" the titular character declared boldly. Xander erupted into a burst of laughter that even his dearest friends would have described as "extremely dorky."
The Boss called up the next screen. There floated Willow, black hair and eyes, and veiny skin. Her hands were outstretched, emanating waves of awesome energy that poured forth onto her hapless victims while her still-image face was locked in a maniacal cackle. On the screen, several demons were frozen in mid-air where they had been sent flying by her unrestrained powers.
An audible boo erupted from the crowd, along with a strangely incongruous catcall. Several demons glared in the direction of the amorous admirer before the Boss refocused their attention. "Willow Rosenberg. The Red Witch. Her name alone can strike fear into the hearts of the bravest of demons. With the power to wield the very elements, she can kill a hundred hundred of our brothers and sisters with but a glance of her black, bottomless eyes."
Willow braced herself as she stood, assuming a posture of intense focus and pointing both hands outward toward her target.
"Hecate, aid me in my noble desire
Force abdication of my resisting foe
May the events I wish henceforth transpire
Lest my vengeful wrath evermore grow."
Her fingers made a final commanding gesture to complete the spell and discharged their mystical buildup. At the center of the kitchen table, a closed mayonnaise jar shuffled an inch slightly across the surface then became still. Willow picked up the jar and twisted the lid savagely. It refused to budge. Willow visibly pouted.
The next featured Giles, and if there had been doubts about the edited nature of the previous images, there could be none here. The Watcher stood straight and orderly, arms crossed. He was dressed in the robes of a Chinese strategist with a feather fan in one hand. Spread out behind him was any army of young girls, each bearing a white flag with the black insignia of a hand holding a wooden stake. Pillars of smoke arose from the far distance, no doubt the charred remains of any who dared to cross the master.
"Rupert Giles. The brilliant mastermind and coordinator of the Slayers. His leadership skills are second to none, and his ability to know where to position his troops and how best to utilize them is so profound as to be almost precognitive."
Giles wandered through the parking lot, surrounded by cars on all sides. He looked this way and that, to no avail.
"Where is that bloody thing?" he asked no one in particular.
After some fumbling in his pocket, he pulled out a set of keys attached to a small oblong object. He pointed the plastic device hopefully at the sea of automobiles and jabbed at a button. He was summarily greeted by the flashing lights and chirping horns of half the cars in the lot.
The screen flashed, and Kennedy appeared, earning the first concerted gasp from the audience. The Slayer was in a most unlikely position, performing a handstand while staking a vampire behind her. The latter act was accomplished with a wooden stake held between the feet, her arched body propelling the implement of death into the helpless foe. In spite of all this, her hair remained perfectly in place and not trailing on the ground as might be expected.
"Kennedy. A natural Slayer. Her strength, grace and beauty in battle easily rank her among the most deadly of her kind, despite having had her powers for less than a year."
Kennedy, reclining in the rec room's Laz-E-Boy, reached over to grab the Coke next to her as the television played. Bringing it to her lips, she took a tremendous gulp and downed the contents, pausing afterward to emit a loud belch while crushing the can in one hand.
Placing the empty container back onto the table, Kennedy yawned hugely and scratched the back of her head.
In contrast to Kennedy's extreme action shot, Faith's picture looked almost restrained, until the bodies became apparent. She had adopted the position of performing a side kick, having just connected with a demon and propelling it backward. Her hand grasped a well-used and bloodied battleaxe. A score or more of demon bodies—no doubt the source of the weapon's uncleanliness—surrounded her, in some areas rising as high as her knees. There was a sharper intake of breath from the crowd, and some of the more squeamish even turned away.
"Faith. The Dark Slayer, a primal force of rage and violence—untamable, unstable and deadly."
A loud snore permeated the room where Faith lay on her bed, one arm dangling over the side. The proliferation of beer cans on the floor indicated that this was not merely an afternoon nap. Suddenly and without warning, she rolled over, landing unceremoniously on several of the beer cans, crushing them. A moment later, unphased by the development, the snoring continued.
Buffy's visage was the final one to appear. Despite no outward display of violence, Buffy's picture managed to convey twice the menace of those that had come before. She was depicted as a Rambo-type, dripping with weapons. A sword waited in each fist for the next unfortunate victim. A crossbow was slung across her back, cocked and loaded. A silver cross was around her neck and duel bandoliers of wooden stakes criss-crossed over her chest. This woman was all business, and her business was death. The only depiction of action in the image was hordes of fleeing of demons, running for their very lives. The silence that greeted this picture was telling, almost as if the creatures were afraid the slightest noise might bring the Slayer to life.
"And finally," the Boss concluded, "Buffy Summers. The Legendary Slayer. She is the Boogey Man for little spawn everywhere, the story your parents tell you to keep you in line that actually turns out to be true. So gifted, so talented, it's been rumored she is ultimately unkillable."
Buffy reached over and grabbed the obstinate jar of mayonnaise from the center of the table. Placing her hands around it, she gave a quick twist, frowning when the lid refused to move. Bracing herself, she made a second attempt with the same results. Adding gritted teeth to the mix, she gave a final effort, but still the jar remained stubborn, and she set it back on the table with a pout.
"Truly these are formidable foes," said the Boss as the screen faded and the lights returned to the room. "But ultimately, no one is unkillable. Buffy Summers herself has proven that more than once. They can be beaten; the trick lies in being clever enough to figure out how." He spread his arms to the group. "And that is what we are discussing today. We are strong. We can come up with a way to stop this reign of terror."
The members of the gathering looked back and forth to each other. Though many glances were exchanged, few words were.
"Come on, now's not the time to be shy. Let's hear some ideas."
A leathery-skinned monster near one of the corners stood up. "We could attack them with something. Something they'd never expect."
Everyone turned to look at him, waiting for the rest of the statement, but his expression clearly indicated that was all the statement he had. "Like, uhh... Erm..." He bit his lip lightly with an assortment of jagged teeth. "Like-like... Hummus."
The words settled on the crowd like a heavy and uncomfortable weight. Another demon, with skin less leathery and infinitely more veiny, stood up about twenty feet away. He jabbed a webbed finger at the first. "Fhamaget, I have lived on this plane of existence for a full 2,810 years and never have I heard a plan so stupid."
Fhamaget rounded on him angrily. "That is so like you, Malkan! You and your high-and-mighty—" at this he lapsed into a surprisingly accurate imitation of his opponent, "'Ohh, I've been on this plane of existence for a full 2,810 years. I'm so perfect, my eviscerating skills are best, having been honed for a full 2,810 yea—"
"That's enough," interrupted the Boss, cutting him off. "We're not here to fight, we're here for ideas. This is what we call brainstorming, people. There are no bad ideas in brainstorming." He paused for just a moment. "Except that one. Sit down, Fhamaget."
A furred demon, in tinges of red and yellow, spoke up from the other side of the room. "We could all rush in together and attack them. Together."
"Then we'd all be dead together," another nearby pointed out.
"The problem seems to be," a third, near the center of the room, began, "that when they're around, they kill us. So maybe that's the secret. We kill them when they're not around."
Malkan raised his hand. "I'd like to point out that I stand corrected. That is quite possibly the most stupid plan I have heard in my full 2,810 years of existence." He lowered his hand in silence, only to speak out again a few seconds later. "No, the hummus was stupider."
A vampire stood up, although a little unsteadily. His outfit suggested that he had just come from a punk rock concert, and his glazed eyes suggested that while at that concert he had snacked on a druggie. "We could invite ‘em over for dinner."
Slowly and in an almost worrying unison, every head in the room turned to him.
"And then we could like, poison their food or somethin'. And the ones that didn't eat, we could just jump all over ‘em and beat the crap out of ‘em and stuff."
The Boss seized upon the momentary confusion to speak up before anyone could attack the vampire's suggestion. "Okay, I'm hearing some, uh, good stuff here, but let's keep at it. I want you all to think tonight of ideas on how to put these people away. We'll meet at this time tomorrow to hammer everything out."
This was one thing that the entire assembly could agree on, and he received many nods of assent.
"Also, everyone make sure to check the patrol roster, especially the Dusk Shift. There's been some updates and changes since Roger got decapitated last Tuesday. There'll be a collection coming around tomorrow to send a bouquet of hearts and spleens to his widow, so everyone remember to come with an open wallet and chip in for good ol' Roger."
There was a collective bowing of heads in memory of their fallen comrade.
A pair of similar demons were walking through a park, sticking mostly to the shadows, despite the fact that it was night and the park was not particularly well lit. The creatures appeared to look almost like warthogs, were warthogs to suddenly start walking on two legs and have inch-long spines protruding from their necks. There was definite skulk-action going on, with the two demons staying close together. They seemed to be on the prowl, but chatting in quiet voices as they did so.
"...and you just know that Vrishella is giving a little 'extra' attention to make sure she can move up in the ranks," the first complained bitterly.
The second murmured appreciatively. "Mmm. Wouldn't mind a little extra attention from her myself."
"You don't want any of that, trust me. Word has it..." Glancing over his shoulder, he moved close to his companion. "...that she has fun on the other side of the fence too. If you know what I'm saying."
"You mean... Humans?" Disgust was painfully, prominently evident.
Nodding his head, the first didn't bother to repress his sneer. "And she is a shape shifter, so..."
"Eww, eww, ugh!" He started rubbing his arms vigorously, obviously feeling unbearably dirty for his thoughts.
"Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction."
Calming, the second became contemplative. "The wife probably wouldn't be too happy if she found out anyway."
"How is Celina?"
"Eh, the usual," he replied with a shrug. "She's always moaning about the job, how I'm never around to help raise the kids. I keep telling her, it's my job to bring home the dinner, not raise it." He rolled his beady little eyes hellward, as though searing for answers. "She doesn't even have to cook it. You do that and it loses all its flavor."
"Yeah, Kathy says marrow tastes better when the bone's been roasted too." The first shook his head ruefully. "Females."
"Can't live with ‘em, can't sacrifice ‘em to Gas'tirzal the Damned," chuckled the second, earning an enthusiastic nod from his partner.
The two continued through the park, turning toward the entrance. Off in the distance, they spotted a elderly woman walking her dog. It was an ugly mutt, with a thoroughly unattractive face that could have been spliced together from the least appealing features of twenty different breeds.
"Alright, now we're talking," grinned the first demon, rubbing his palms together eagerly. He made a step forward, but stopped when his partner laid a restraining hand on his arm.
"No, man," he said, shaking his head.
Confused, the first gestured at the retreating figure of the woman. "Don't tell me granma's got you spooked."
"No way," responded the other with an offended tone. "But the pooch..." He shrugged and scuffed his bare, hoofed foot in the dirt. "Kinda reminds me of an old girlfriend."
The first squinted at the mongrel, then glanced back his partner with an unreadable expression. After a moment, he sighed and dismissed the potential victim with a wave of his hand. "Fine. Pity, though. Walkin' the dog out here at this time of night... She's just asking to be picked to the bone."
"I dunno," replied the second as they continued their patrol, "she'd probably be a bit stringy. And anyway, don't forget what we're really after."
"Yeah, I know. Slayers." A moment of silence passed, then he broached, "Hey, you think we really got a shot of bagging one tonight?"
Shrugging, the second demon replied, "Never can tell. I know we can do better than some of the others. Oh, did you hear Loraine going on at lunch?" he asked excitedly. Shaking his head, his partner's expression indicated he was anxious for the latest gossip. After an appropriately dramatic pause, he continued, "She swears she actually gave one a sprained ankle while running away."
The two demons shared a hearty chuckle at the very idea.
"Riiight." Disbelief dripped from every inch of the demon.
"Like Loraine can even run in those heels she wears," added the second with an incredulous eye roll.
"And I don't think any Slayer's going to sit tight while she puts on—" Suddenly his head jerked up, and both demons froze. "Hey, did you hear that?"
"This," a voice replied from behind them.
The two demons turned to find themselves face-to-face with a pair young girls, one with curly blonde hair and the other with a long brown ponytail. They were unfamiliar, clearly younger and less battle-hardened than your average Slayer, but both held weapons in a way that said they knew how to use them.
"Well, well, the night's looking up," commented the first demon, unintimidated.
"My thoughts exactly," retorted the brunette Slayer.
The two groups launched themselves at the other, but it was a painfully short fight. The blonde finished first, ending her battle with a sword thrust to her demon's gut, then withdrawing the blade and, bringing it around in a wide arc, decapitating it. The other Slayer chose instead to exchange physical blows, and was grappling with her opponent. She quickly gained leverage and forced him to the ground on his stomach, arms pinned behind his back.
The second demon sighed heavily. "Well, shoot, there goes my 401k."
In a quick motion, the brunette wrenched his neck with an audible snapping sound. Within seconds, both of the demon bodies dissolved into a mist that quickly dissipated, leaving no trace.
The following evening, a pair of pictures were being added to a giant bulletin board, finding a place amongst dozens upon dozens of others. The pictures were of the two warthog-like demons, taken during happier times. One was gnawing on a fresh, vaguely femur-shaped bone, while the second was mugging an obviously faux-scary face at the camera. The creature hanging the pictures stood back to examine its work. The photographs looked at home amongst the sea of others hanging underneath a banner reading "Gone But Not Forgotten."
Elsewhere it the building, the Boss had reassembled his staff.
"I know we're all broken up about last night's tragic loss. Those two were the most lovable Deveraths you could ever hope to meet. Their murderous sprees were an inspiration to us all." The Boss paused for maximum effect. "But this is exactly why we cannot falter. We must stand together to staunch the cascading rivers of goodness. For Sam, for Bliwslevteibon, and for my favorite pen that Sam sadly happened to have on him when he disintegrated."
Enthusiastic cheers erupted through the assembly, and the Boss smiled.