Hazel made her way through the halls of Slayer Central, cheerfully exchanging greetings with the assortment of Slayers and Watchers she met along the way. But once out of their line of vision, her bright smile quickly faded into a small frown. Upon reaching her destination, she paused for a moment outside one of the dormitory doors before knocking.
"S'open," called the room's inhabitant.
Turning the handle, Hazel saw Faith hunched over a laptop that had been placed on the small desk. Faith appeared to be far from happy. She was scowling at the screen as though nothing would have delighted her more at that moment than to have popped the machine across the jaw – assuming it could have manifested a jaw which would have been within easy popping distance. Hazel smirked with amusement at the sight.
"Bill Gates-ing it, huh?"
"Gettin' ready to Mike Tyson it, this thing don't stop givin' me crap," growled Faith. In obvious frustration, she shoved away from the desk and threw her hands into the air. "It's out to get me, I know it. Stupid sonuva—"
"Computers don't know how to be spiteful," chuckled Hazel.
"Well this one's super smart," griped Faith. "Look for it to start launchin' nukes in a second."
Hazel nodded wisely. "Right, and then we can all look forward to an army of Ahnolds coming to kill us." She moved closer to the computer. "What are you trying to do?"
"I wanted to find some parts for my bike, really sup it up, y'know?" She turned and grinned at the younger girl. "I went to Will, but she just sorta got this glassy stare when I started talkin' specs, so she told me t' get a computer and check online." The grin turned into a sneer.
Hazel blinked. "So you went out and bought a computer?"
Faith waved a dismissive hand. "Nah, I just took hers."
The Junior Slayer stared wide-eyed.
"What?" asked Faith indignantly. "I'll give it back." She returned her attention to the laptop as a scornful smile crossed her lips. "With a few minor adjustments."
"No, okay, you can't kill Willow's computer," came Hazel's recommendation.
Faith was not so easily swayed. "Actually, I'm pretty good at killin' stuff, I'm pretty sure I can."
Hazel leaned over Faith's shoulder and peered at the screen. "Why don't you show me what you're trying to do and—"
"I think I've had about enough'a these things for today," Faith interrupted, firmly closing the lid with a sharp snap. "I'll just harass Red until she looks for me. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you're irritating enough."
Hazel straightened. "Nice motto," she stated wryly.
Faith shrugged. "It's one'a several." Spinning in her chair, she turned to face the Junior. "So, what's up with you? Why the house call?"
Apparently uncertain where to begin, Hazel wandered around the room, inspecting its contents though there truly wasn't much to see – a few well-worn dog-eared paperbacks, clothes strewn in random fashion on the floor and a couple of posters decorating the walls. There was very little in the way of personal effects.
Hazel frowned. "It's almost like it could be anyone's."
"Huh?" queried a puzzled Faith.
Hazel indicated Faith's habitat. "You've been here for months and months now, but you still look like you're ready to move out in a second. Most of the girls ... within about five minutes, they've personalized their room. But not you. Why not?"
The reply was rather terse. "So you came here to, what? Review my room for 'Better Homes an' Gardens'?" Hazel didn't flinch away however, and Faith sighed. "I dunno," she admitted. "Before this, closest thing I had to a home was a 4x5 cell. Before that it was a hospital bed. Comparatively speaking, this place is a freakin' Martha Stewart wet dream."
"I suppose," agreed the younger girl, her tone somewhat despondent.
Eyes narrowing, Faith examined Hazel from head to toe. "Okay, what's up? You obviously didn't come here for decorating tips."
"No. Actually ..." Hazel bit her bottom lip. "I need your help."
Faith nodded and leaned back in her chair. "Shoot."
Perching on the edge of the bed, Hazel took a deep breath and began. "It's my parents. They—"
But she didn't get the chance to continue as an abrupt rap upon the door was swiftly followed by the poking-in of Buffy's head. She smiled quickly at Hazel and then crooked a finger at Faith. "Meeting time."
"What?" asked Faith.
"Big meeting?" Buffy prompted with a roll of her eyes. "Big bad? Big sharing of information?"
"Oh, yeah," sniffed Faith, "the Giles thing."
"Yeah," confirmed the blonde with a sunny smile. "The Giles thing that he swears is more substantial than 'We have no idea'. You know me, Substance Girl – so let's get a move on before Xander snags all the good chairs."
An expression of apology crossed Faith's face as she turned to Hazel, but the young girl instantly dismissed the idea. "This'll keep," she assured.
"You sure?" asked Faith with a tiny frown of concern.
Hazel smiled cheerfully. "Yup. Find me when you're free?"
"Will do," promised Faith as she followed Buffy from the room.
Buffy glanced at the dark-haired Slayer as the door closed behind them. "She okay?"
"Think so," replied Faith dubiously. "She wasn't cryin' or nothin'."
"Ahh, with your sensitive side, it's no wonder she came to you," remarked the blonde with a hint of sarcasm.
"Bite me," retorted Faith.
Buffy nodded in her wisdom. "See? Sensitive."
"His name is Robespierre," stated Giles with authority. "He is the leader and founder of a group known as 'The Assemblage of Merodach'."
Pacing back and forth across the floor of the library, Giles took stock of the gathering – Buffy, Willow, Xander, Tara, Dawn, Faith, Kennedy, and Hannah, all listening intently.
"These evil groups, always with the big names," commented Xander dryly. "Just once I'd like to meet a group called 'The Evil-Os' or something. Three syllables, four max."
Willow grinned. "Maybe they're overcompensating."
Giles frowned at the banter and Willow threw Xander a grimace before blinking innocently at the Watcher and waiting for him to resume his briefing.
"Ever since Tara gave us his name, I've been trying to remember where I heard it before. A few days ago, I finally remembered: Robespierre was once a member of the Council of Watchers."
"Used to be?" queried Kennedy.
Giles nodded. "He was dismissed for his rather ... overbearing attitudes."
A frown of disbelief crossed Buffy's face. "Wait, the guys who wrote the book on how to be a control freak thought this guy was too much?"
"Yes," the Watcher confirmed. "Rather puts things in perspective, doesn't it? You see, Robespierre believes very strongly in one thing and one thing only, and that is order. The Council has, for centuries, devoted itself to combating evil and protecting the world. However to Robespierre, this is short sighted. He believes that the world needs protecting from itself as much as from outside sources."
"I can kinda see his point," murmured Dawn, noting with some surprise that everyone had turned to look at her. "Flip on the news sometime," she urged. "We don't need help from demons and stuff, people are pretty close to their very own homemade apocalypse."
Giles gave this some thought and inclined his head in agreement before continuing. "Be that as it may, Robespierre's vision is nothing less than a totalitarian society of- of Orwellian proportions. Every aspect of life would be precisely controlled, from what you hear and what you see to where you live, what job you hold, who you marry ... Free action, free thought – these things destroy
order and cannot be permitted."
"Sounds like a real charmer," remarked Faith caustically. "Anyone actually listen to this nutjob?"
Giles turned to the dark-haired Slayer. "Yes, actually," he told her. "His family had been part of the Council ... well, almost since its inception. His name carried with it considerable clout and power. For years, he pressed the Council toward what he called, 'realizing and channeling the full power of the Slayer.' He believed that the Slayer should not simply be a tool for combating evil, but the chief instrument through which the Council wrested control over ... well, the world."
"Could they even do that?" asked Tara. She glanced around the room. "I-I mean, I know Buffy's real strong and everything, but ... she's just Buffy." She treated the blonde to a small smile and Buffy smirked her amused acknowledgment.
Giles thrust his hands into his pockets as he paced. "Given the deep bureaucratic ties already at the Council's disposal and adding a little strong-arming ... Well, it wouldn't necessarily be a guaranteed victory for either side. But Robespierre was convinced that they could do it. However no matter how much pressure he applied, the Council's top members refused to even entertain the idea."
"Well yay for the old Council!" declared Willow emphatically. She paused. "That'll probably be the only time I ever get to say that."
The Watcher leaned against a wall and crossed his arms, eyes sweeping the gathering. "Feeling he had little other choice, Robespierre staged a coup. It failed, of course, and he and his primary followers were expelled from the Council."
"When office politics go horribly wrong," Xander remarked.
"Robespierre quickly formed The Assemblage of Merodach," continued Giles. "The Council kept a close eye on them for a time, but the group seemed unable to amass sufficient power to be a true threat, and eventually Robespierre simply disappeared, and the group with him. With other, more pressing matters at hand, the Council were happy to let the rather embarrassing matter die."
Kennedy scoffed openly. "You'd figure the Council'd know better than anyone that dead things don't stay dead."
"Indeed," affirmed Giles, "which is what brings us to now."
"And a situation considerably more dangerous," added Hannah, speaking for the first time.
Buffy treated her to a flat look. "Way to kill the mood, Hannah."
"Sorry," she replied in a tone that indicated she was actually far from sorry. "But it's important that you all realize what it is we're likely facing."
"Guessin' it's not a bunch'a geriatrics bitchin' about the price of Depends," noted Faith.
Now, it was Hannah's turn to pace. "As Rupert suggested, it's not inconceivable that the Council could have, at any point, wrested control of the world's governments. And that was with one Slayer."
An oppressive silence enveloped the room as cold realization began to sink in.
"The missing Slayers," said Buffy.
Giles took up the gauntlet once more. "Precisely. I believe that Robespierre has been anything but lax during his years of silence. I believe the Assemblage is still very much alive, and what's more, have now become a seriously grave threat. When we awakened the potential Slayers, we provided Robespierre with his foot soldiers."
"But there's more," Hannah appended.
Xander arched an eyebrow. "Now how much would you pay?"
Hannah glanced at Giles, who gave a sharp nod. She took a deep breath. "We don't believe he's working alone."
Tara noted the exchange. "The girl, right? The one who attacked? You think she was a Slayer."
"Yes," agreed the Watcher. "But she was ..." His voice trailed away as he searched for the correct terminology, "...enhanced, somehow. She was more than simply a Slayer, she was ..."
"A Super Slayer," volunteered Xander. At the numerous eyes that turned toward him, he admitted, "Yeah, it sounds comic booky, but if the clichéd shoe fits ..." He finished the statement with a shrug.
Giles stared at Xander for a moment before picking up the thread. "I can only think that there are magicks at work here. Over the past few days, I've been in almost constant contact with the Covens—"
"Hey!" objected an offended Willow. "You're outsourcing! Witches sitting right here!" She jabbed a finger toward Tara and then directed it at herself.
The Watcher allowed himself a tiny smile at the spirited outburst and hastened to clarify. "Absolutely, but as they were already assisting me with research on our mystery symbol, I thought the coordinated efforts would be best. I promise, I have every intention of thoroughly using you both later."
"Good!" Willow told him with a firm nod. "See that you do, mister!" As her indignation died away, she frowned at what she had just readily agreed to, but Giles had already moved on.
"At any rate, the Covens have been unable to locate Robespierre or the Assemblage at all," he sighed. "According to their findings, in fact, he simply doesn't exist. This, coupled with the obvious enhancement to our attacker, keeps suggesting powerful magicks. Before we could pursue the matter much further, however, someone contacted me."
"Someone actually got your phone number?" asked an astounded Xander. He leaned over and nudged Dawn in the ribs. "See? I told you that 'unlisted number' stuff was all a scam."
"Magickally, actually," mused the Watcher. "She joined a mental link Miss Harkness and I had established for private conversations."
Impressed, Willow let out a low whistle. "Wow. That takes some juice."
"Some knowledge, too," added an equally appreciative Tara. "Pre-forged psychic links? They're really tricky. Just busting through one is hard enough, but to actually synch up to everyone involved ... Wow. And she was a stranger?"
"Completely," Giles confirmed. "To us, at any rate." He chuckled, but the sound reflected no true merriment. "She seems to know more than enough about us, however."
He regarded the questioning faces. "She's offered her assistance, and frankly, she does seem at the moment to be our strongest lead to getting information. But there's something of a snag."
Faith leaned back in her chair. "I knew it. Here it comes ..."
"She's quite old," the Watcher told them, "and insists that we arrange for her transportation."
Buffy shrugged offhandedly. "Okay, so we send her Greyhound ticket, what's the big?"
Giles shook his head. "She wants us to come and get her. Or, well, actually, just one of us. Requested by name, no less. And she was quite insistent."
His gaze traveled the room and came to rest on Tara. The blonde smiled briefly and glanced over her shoulder, seeking out the object of the Watcher's attention, but there was nobody behind her. She turned back to find she had now become the main focus of the entire room. Slowly, her eyes widened in surprise.