Buffy, Faith and Kennedy had commandeered one of the larger boardrooms at Slayer Central. Since only the three of them occupied it, the takeover was probably a little excessive but they didn't seem bothered by that fact. Faith in particular was thoroughly enjoying lounging in the plush, comfortable chair and had decided to prop her feet on the obviously expensive meeting table of highly polished solid maple. Grabbing one of the external microphones attached to the conference telephone, she spun it absently by the cord. Slumped in her chair, Kennedy held a yellow legal pad in one hand and a pencil in the other. With a look of absorbed concentration, she was scribbling intently. Meanwhile, Buffy, an expression of fierce determination on her face, was apparently trying very hard to make the discussion group work. However, the tapping of her foot and the drumming of her fingers clearly indicated that patience was wearing thin and tolerance was approaching its limit.
"...then I thought we could bring out those big poofy demony things. You know, the ones that look like giant Pillsbury Dough Boys?" The blonde Slayer paused and waited for confirmation that Faith and Kennedy were following her train of thought, but neither responded and a displeased Buffy frowned. "And then I thought we could dress them in tutus and whistle the theme to 'The Andy Griffith Show' while we watch them dance," she continued.
Buffy's frown deepened at the continued lack of response and she angrily snatched away Kennedy's legal pad.
"Hey!" came the indignant protest.
Scrutinizing the sheet of paper, Buffy's expression turned to one of total disbelief. She dangled the pad in front of Kennedy's nose and then presented it to Faith, who shrugged in a bored manner at the markings.
Buffy jiggled the pad at Kennedy once more. "You're playing tic-tac-toe?"
Kennedy nodded. "Yeah."
"With yourself?" queried the incredulous blonde Slayer.
"I don't like to lose," Kennedy shrugged.
With an exasperated sigh, Buffy tossed the legal pad on the table and began to pace the room. "Giles wants these new lesson plans by next week," she stated firmly. "We have got to get this done."
"All sounds stupid to me," was Faith's comment.
Buffy glowered. "If it doesn't involve beating something to death with your bare hands, everything sounds stupid to you."
Faith gave the statement due consideration. "Nah," she contradicted, "weapons're cool too."
In total frustration, Buffy threw her hands into the air.
"Look," continued an exasperated Faith. "I'm just sayin' – you got your strengths, Brat's got hers, I got mine. We got a system goin'. Why we gotta mess with that?"
"Because we have to teach them how to work together," Buffy told her, obviously trying not to totally lose her temper. "How to blend the things they learn. What happens when you run into something that you can't just pummel into submission?"
"Ain't found nothin' yet I can't make submit," Faith threw out cockily. "An' like it," she added with a meaningful waggle of her eyebrows.
Kennedy puffed. "We've been at this for hours. Can we please just take my suggestion and get the hell out of here?"
With a flick of her wrist, Faith bounced the little microphone like a yo-yo and sneered. "Your suggestion blows."
"Thank you for that valuable input," snapped Kennedy. "I don't see you offering anything besides off-color commentary."
"Don't gotta offer jack to know a crappy suggestion when I hear it," Faith retorted. "Walking on lava? The hell's that all about?"
Kennedy's eyes narrowed with irritation. "It's fire walking. Not lava walking. Nobody walks on lava."
"Oh, sure, all makes perfect sense now," scoffed Faith. "Can't see where I got 'blows' from. My bad."
"My father's had thousands of employees in his companies," Kennedy informed her, "and they all do these team-building exercises every year. He's laid out I dunno how much money to get the best people in this stuff. A million dollars can't be wrong."
"When it's spent on frickin' fire walking, I got a million different points of wrong," challenged Faith with a glare.
Half rising from her chair, Kennedy clenched her fists and Buffy quickly interceded before things could really turn nasty.
"This is getting us nowhere," insisted the blonde. Then turning to Kennedy she added, "I'm with Faith on this one. I don't see falling back into someone else's arms really hitting the point home, traditional corporate team-building whatchamacallit or not."
"Fine, then what's your brilliant suggestion?" questioned Kennedy scornfully. "You've been badgering us for an hour now. Funny how all we've gotten out of you is this micro-manage crap."
"Well at least I'm trying!" accused Buffy.
"I am too!" Kennedy shot back.
"I'm not," interjected Faith. "So can I go now?"
"No!" declared the other two Slayers vehemently.
Faith threw the microphone on the table and swung her feet to the floor. "Oxford wants this done so bad, he can do it himself," she griped. "We're Slayers, we ain't built for all this paper pushin'." She disgustedly tossed a handful of pages into the air. "An' we ain't built for tag-team."
"She's got a point," remarked Kennedy, albeit somewhat reluctantly. "Most of these girls don't even need each other for taking on the majority of the stuff they fight. Slayers were made to go solo."
"That was then. This is now," Buffy asserted. "The rules have changed ... the whole world's changed. We're not alone anymore, and we have to work together. When we don't, people die."
Without undue formality, the broken and bleeding body of an aged man dressed in flowing robes was dumped unceremoniously into the middle of a circle that had been drawn onto a wooden floor with all the artistic grace of a third-grade finger-painting. It seemed likely that blood had been the substance of choice in its creation. The circle was surrounded on all sides by numerous symbols of varying designs, and as soon as the body landed in the circle's center, the many sigla around its perimeter began to glow and sparkle. With a crackle, tendrils slivered from the painted symbols and wrapped themselves around the prostrate figure, dredging the unfortunate victim into its core. The surface shimmered brightly for a moment, then promptly faded to nothingness, leaving behind neither body nor circle.
This grizzly carcass and unsightly circle were not, it appeared, the only disturbing, distinguishing features. The walls of the rather sophisticated one-roomed cabin were lined with miniature skulls, bleached bones, assorted weapons and other dangerous – not to mention exotic – paraphernalia. It was a spacious area, big enough to house a bed, refrigerator, stove and small television set. Sunlight filtered through the windows and a vast expanse of lush greenery could be seen outside.
The cabin's now sole occupant regarded the disappearance of the body with apathy and stared for a second at the bare floor before crossing to the refrigerator. He was a tall and burly individual – approximately six and a half feet of solid muscle. Nonetheless, despite his bulk, the movement was smooth and fluid. Thick sinews extended from his feet to his near-nonexistent neck and his skin was dark, almost an ashen gray. Perhaps his most unusual feature, however, were the eyes. Totally devoid of pupils, it appeared that someone had shoved black shooter marbles into the sockets. With his hand poised over the handle of the refrigerator, he turned and sneered at the empty space previously occupied by the circle, revealing a set of humanoid teeth, but with elongated needle-like canines.
Opening the door, he glared at the interior with disdain before reaching for a can of Coke. Yawning widely, he dislocated his jaw – rather like that of a boa constrictor swallowing its quarry – and tossed the entire beverage, can and all, into his gaping mouth. Bringing his molars together with a sharp snap, he chewed noisily and then spat the crushed and drained aluminum remains onto the ground.
Tapping his foot impatiently, he scowled at the area above where the circle had formerly been until a small rift appeared in the fabric of the atmosphere and the translucent image of a winged imp hopped through fissure. Not bothering to close the refrigerator door, the beefy creature moved toward the tiny rapscallion.
"Unfortunate news," the imp told him. "Your most recent kill was only awarded four points."
This unfavorable information did little to improve the hulking brute's disposition. If anything, it seemed to make him even surlier.
"I was told he was the best warlock in this region," came the snarl. "He only lasted twenty-two minutes, and that's only if you count three minutes of begging for his miserable life." He jabbed a finger pointedly in the imp's direction. "He still should have been worth more."
"Do remember," the imp cautioned, "I am only a messenger. And speaking of which, Zolbrek of the Blohdi Clan was awarded seven points for his latest kill, an atmos viper." This comment failed to help the situation, but the imp seemed unconcerned about the impact of his statement.
With a low growl, the creature slammed his hamhock fist down on a wooden table. It shattered into a myriad of fragments, spewing a shower of splinters into the air.
"This dimension sucks," complained the strapping demon with something of a whine in his voice. "There's no worthy hunting here – the bugs in this sweltering jungle provide more challenge than my prey do."
The imp visibly smirked. "Quite the contrary," it stated matter-of-factly. "For a challenge, you only need to know where to look."
Slowly raising his head, the brute eyed the winged figure with an inquiring gaze. "Go on," he urged.
"Magicians, vampires, demonkind ..." The imp shrugged nonchalantly. "Obviously they're not of your caliber. What you need ... is a Slayer."
The demon grinned with delight, baring his sharply pointed fangs. "Slayer ..." he mused with an affirmative nod of his head. "I like the sound of that."