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Donnatella Moss walked through the familiar halls of the West Wing, noting all the unfamiliar faces. It had been weird to get the visitor pass clipped to her jacket, after working here for seven years. She’d be getting a new staff pass in a few days, but for now …. She checked her watch; she’d made sure to get here in plenty of time, but it was time to end her little ramble. She headed for one of the many conference rooms, as she’d been instructed. The blinds on the windows were closed; not unusual, as the conference rooms were often used to discuss sensitive information. She took a careful grip on the handle and opened the door.
“Mister President,” she said in some surprise; surely, with the inauguration of his successor only days away Bartlett had more important things to be doing? He was seated at the head of the conference table, leaning back in his chair.
“Donna,” he said with a smile. “So glad you could make it. Please, have a seat.” He gestured to a chair.
“Well, the invitation wasn’t exactly phrased as a request,” Donna said, tucking her briefcase beneath her chair as she sat down. “It was also somewhat lacking in explanations.” She looked curiously at the two men talking in low voices at the foot of the table.
“Yes, I know,” President Bartlett said. “I apologize for that, but unfortunately I have little more information to give you. A few days ago I got a call direct from the Queen of Great Britain, asking me to listen to a presentation from an organization I’ve never heard of before, called the Royal Council of Watchers, and comply with any requests they might have. They requested you here while they made their presentation, and have consistently refused to say anything until we’re all here.”
“Really?” Donna frowned. It took a great deal of chutzpah to keep the leader of the free world in the dark. She checked her watch. “So now that I’m here, will they get started?”
“I’m afraid we’re still waiting for another person, Miss Moss,” one of the visitors said. He looked to be at least seventy years old, with iron-gray hair and an upper-class British accent, and didn’t seem to be putting much weight on the elegant cane he held.
The door swung open behind her, and Donna turned around to see Toby Ziegler walk in, the door swinging closed behind him. She caught a glimpse of Secret Service agents stationed outside the door, but they didn’t follow him in, which was strange given the fact that Toby was scheduled to go to prison in less than a month. True, it was for leaking information rather than a violent crime, but the Secret Service wasn’t in the habit of leaving the President alone with felons of any kind.
“You wanted to see me, sir?” Toby said to the President.
“It wasn’t exactly me,” Bartlett said, “but close enough. Have a seat.” He gestured to a chair across from Donna.
Toby started around the table, only then noticing the men at the far side. He came to an abrupt stop, face tightening. Donna knew him well enough to distinguish this from his usual crabbiness; something was seriously wrong. “Whatever they want, the answer is no.” He turned around and headed back towards the door.
“Mister Ziegler, the Council’s had a rather extreme change in management and policy since you left us,” said the elderly gentleman who’d spoken to Donna. “I think you will have no objections to our current protocols.”
Toby snorted. “Yeah. Pull the other one, FitzHugh.”
“You haven’t considered why we have requested Miss Moss’s presence.”
Toby froze, hand clenching the doorknob. “No. She’s too old.” His voice was flat. If his fear hadn’t been so palpable, Donna would have taken offense.
“Alas, that is no longer the case, Mister Ziegler. Things have changed.” FitzHugh’s voice softened. “Please listen to our proposal. If, when we’ve said our piece, you still wish to reject our offer, we’ll leave with no threat of reprisal or manipulation. But you do need to hear us out.”
Donna frowned. Who were these people and what had they done that Toby reacted so negatively to them? All things considered, their promise of no reprisals or manipulation didn’t reassure her much. Not if they were brazen enough to mention the possibility in the White House in the presence of the sitting president.
“Toby, what is this about?” President Bartlett asked, steel in his voice.
“What have they told you so far?” Toby countered, facing him, arms folded.
“Nothing. They insisted on waiting for you. I’m here because the Queen of Great Britain asked me to listen to them.”
Toby squeezed his eyes closed. “I’m going to sound like an utter lunatic, but here goes. Demons, vampires, witches, all that stuff is real. They’ve been around longer than we have, and most humans don’t stand a chance against them on their own. Several thousand years ago someone gave pieces of a demon’s power—strength, speed, healing, natural fighting skills, instincts, et cetera—to a girl. She then went out hunting the demons, and when she died, her supernatural abilities were passed on to the next girl in line, and that line has continued down throughout the centuries. But strength and speed aren’t enough to kill a lot of demons; you also need knowledge, which is where the Watchers come in. They’re supposed to train and support the Slayer—that’s the girl’s title—in her fight. Unfortunately, power tends to corrupt, and the fact that each Slayer tends to have a very short life made the Council treat her as an expendable asset. They’re more caught up in their internal power struggles than they are in actually doing their jobs and helping to fight evil.”
“And they’re saying I’m
this mystical girl who’s supposed to fight demons?” Donna raised an eyebrow skeptically. “Wow. And I always thought fighting Republicans was hard.”
Toby snorted, but seemed to relax a little.
“Toby,” the President said mildly, “please don’t take this the wrong way. But are you high?”
“He’s not high, sir,” said FitzHugh mildly. “As you should know, given the way your demon-experiment program—I believe you called it the Initiative?—went arse-up and had to be bailed out by the Slayer some five years ago.”
“We’ve been experimenting on demons
?” Toby said incredulously. He swung around to face President Bartlett. “Why? How stupid
can you possibly get?”
“Toby!” the President snapped. “I don’t even believe in demons at the moment, and I sure as hell
haven’t been authorizing experiments on something I don’t believe in.” He pointed to a chair. “Sit. You’re not leaving until this whole thing has been explained to my satisfaction.”
Toby looked at him with mistrust, but sat in the chair indicated.
“Mister President,” FitzHugh said delicately, “if you truly were not aware of the Initiative project, might I suggest that you do some research? The survivors should have all the proof you need regarding the existence of demons and the slayer. It was a military project, we believe run by your army, although the woman directly in charge of it was a civilian scientist named Doctor Maggie Walsh. I would suggest contacting an Agent Riley Finn for details—he was by far the most trustworthy and competent of the survivors of the disaster. He and his team are currently fighting demons in—” he turned to the other man, a young gentleman with slicked back hair.
“Equador, sir,” the aide said.
“Equador. Yes, that’s right, that nest of Fyarls.” FitzHugh turned back to the President. “I’m afraid, sir, that we assumed you to be well aware of the existence of demons, and brought none of the standard proofs or demonstrations with us to show our veracity. Until you can check with your own people, you’ll just have to take this on faith. But demons do
exist, and Miss Moss is
“We do have one demonstration to make at this time,” the aide pointed out.
FitzHugh glanced at him. “Ah? Oh, yes, of course, please proceed, Mister Marsham.”
“With your permission, sir?” Marsham said to the President, hand straying to the breast of his suit coat.
“Yeah, sure.” The president waved a hand. “This
I’ve got to see.”
Marsham reached into his jacket, and pulled out a knife. Donna stiffened and opened her mouth to call out for the Secret Service, but Toby put his hand on her arm and shook his head.
“How the hell
did you get a knife through security?” the President demanded.
“Magic,” Toby said sourly.
“Toby, this is no time for jokes!”
“I wasn’t joking, Mister President!”
“Mister Ziegler is quite correct, Mister President,” FitzHugh said calmly. “You can relax. There was no way for your Secret Service to detect its presence given the level of spells concealing it, and we have no ill designs on anyone in this room. Marsham?”
“Of course, sir.” Marsham was holding it by its blade, ready to throw it.
Donna tensed. Light glinted off the blade…and she caught it. “You threw a knife at my head!”
“And you caught it,” FitzHugh replied with an air of great patience, leaning on his cane. “My dear girl, you are a Slayer. Even untrained, your reflexes and coordination are far greater than those of your average human. Given the fact that you were looking at the man who threw the knife, the chances of you missing it were so small as to be almost non-existent.”
“That doesn’t give you the right to throw cutlery around at unsuspecting people,” Donna objected.
“How else were we to convince you?” Marsham asked.
“I don’t believe you now!”
“But you aren’t sure we’re wrong,” FitzHugh said. “Tell me, Miss Moss, have you been having strange dreams, lately? Dreams that seem more real than your waking life? Slayers often have prophetic dreams, and the first few months are filled with the lives of those who went before. Are your senses sharper? Do you need to turn on the lights as early in the evening? Has your normal exercise seemed easier? Have your … appetites increased?”
?” Donna asked, appalled. At that last question, yes, but … Josh had been complaining since she’d moved in with him that she never turned the lights on, and the dreams … could fit. She shook her head. The laundry list of ‘slayer symptoms’ was so vague as to be meaningless. “What do you mean by ‘appetites’?”
“Slayers often have an increased hunger, for food and,” Marsham hesitated, blushing slightly, “and other things.”
“Okay, I think we’re done here for today, gentlemen,” President Bartlett broke in. “I don’t think your line of questioning is appropriate, and even if Donna was in no danger, I don’t like people who throw knives around.”
“I do apologize for that, Mister President,” FitzHugh said with a nod of his head. “But first, may I address the direct point of this meeting? Mister Ziegler,” he turned to Toby, “how long do you think Miss Moss will survive, as a Slayer without even the slightest bit of training and assistance? A month? Three?”
“What?” Donna blurted.
Toby looked like he’d bit into something sour. “She’s smart and resourceful.”
“Five or six, then, if she’s lucky,” FitzHugh said.
“And that really is the end of today’s meeting.” President Bartlett stood up and leaned on the table. “I don’t like people who make threats.”
“I am not threatening her.” Fitzhugh leaned forward on his cane. “Slayers are targets for every demon, witch, or warlock with a desire for a big name, and the forces of evil are drawn to places where their enemies congregate. I am pleasantly surprised that she has not so far encountered anything dangerous, but I am under no illusions that it will last. Once evil things start coming for her, she will be a sitting target, and she will continue to be one until she receives both physical training and education in her calling. If she is to survive, she must be taught. And Mister Ziegler is the only one we have who could do so, and he cannot do it from inside a jail cell. We are asking you to pardon him as you leave office, so that he may be free to pursue his calling as a Watcher. As Miss Moss’s Watcher.”
“Why me?” Toby asked. “If you’ll recall, I left
the Watchers a long time ago. I’m not exactly going to follow your rules, and I know you’ve got a lot of people with more training than I’ve got, who would be honored to Watch the Slayer.”
“Unfortunately, that is no longer the case,” Marsham said. “You are familiar with the First Evil from your training, I presume?”
“Non-corporeal, manipulative, priests called the Bringers,” Toby said. “So?”
“So, there was a power shift a year and a half ago in which the First Evil gained more power for direct influence in this world,” Fitzhugh said. “It promptly ordered the Bringers to assassinate as many Potential Slayers and Watchers as they could; the only reason Miss Moss was spared was because they were going in order through the primary and secondary Potentials—that is,” he turned to the President, “the ones most likely to be Called—and hadn’t yet gotten to the tertiary Potentials, of which Miss Moss was one. Along the way, they blew up the Council holdings, where most active Watchers lived and worked. The Slayer was able to stop them and seal the Sunnydale Hellmouth through which the First was manifesting, but she was only able to do so by Calling all
the surviving Potentials at once.”
“I didn’t think that was possible
,” Toby said, impressed.
“Neither did anyone else, but she did it.” FitzHugh shrugged. “I’m sure you can all see the obvious problems.”
“You’ve got a lot of Slayers on your hands, and no one to train them, so you’re recruiting everyone you can get your hands on.” Bartlett had sat back down somewhere during FitzHugh’s speech.
“Exactly,” FitzHugh said. “We’ve gathered as many Slayers, Watchers, and Watcher trainees as we possibly can to a few key locations and started schools there to give them the training they require, but most Slayers are in their teens, and so relocating them is relatively easy. For the few who are in later stages of life, things are rather more difficult. They can’t always just pack up and move across the world to the nearest center. For Miss Moss, if Mister Ziegler cannot be her Watcher, the nearest training facility would be the one at the Cleveland Hellmouth.”
“There’s an entrance to Hell in Cleveland?” Donna shook her head. “That explains a lot about my cousins.” She imagined moving to Cleveland. She’d have to give up her new job as the First Lady-elect’s chief of staff, and leave Josh … she just couldn’t see herself doing either, even if she did believe FitzHugh’s stories.
“What about the archives?” Toby said.
FitzHugh grimaced. “We’re not sure. We think it still exists, but we’ve not been able to access them—all the keys were lost.” He turned to the President. “As a protective measure, the archives were not physically located on this plane of existence; they were in a self-contained pocket of reality in which time passes far slower than it does on Earth. That protected the books from harm and preserved them through the centuries. But without the key, even if they did survive they are inaccessible. We hope to get them back eventually, but it may take some time.”
“I see,” the President said. He leaned back in his chair. “You want me to pardon a former speech-writer so he can teach the new First Lady’s Chief of Staff to fight vampires.”
“And other demons,” Marsham said, nodding. Both he and his boss looked as if that was a perfectly normal thing to say.
“All other factors being considered, it’s the only reasonable chance for Miss Moss to both continue with her current life and
continue to be alive,” FitzHugh said. “Unfortunately, word that there are now a lot of poorly-trained Slayers around has gotten out to the demon community, and the head-hunts have started. She really does need training, as soon as possible.”
“What about facilities and resources?” Toby asked.
“Fortunately, we were able to regain access to the Council’s funds almost immediately,” FitzHugh said. “The treasurer was on vacation when the Council was destroyed. We’ve located and secured a warehouse that can easily be converted into a training facility for your use; if you can find a location that suits you better, you would be free to choose it instead. As for texts, the destruction of the Council and the loss of the archives was a severe blow. There simply aren’t enough copies of anything to go around. We’re scanning the most useful volumes that we have access to into the computer and burning them to disc for easy distribution; you would of course get copies of those as each became available.”
“Would I have to put up with a lot of the Council’s crap?”
FitzHugh snorted. “Frankly, old chap, as long as you keep the girl alive, we’re too busy just trying to get by to care much how you do it. Even if we had the leisure and manpower to actively interfere, we wouldn’t blindly set up the old system again. To be quite blunt, most of those who survived the Council’s destruction did so because they’d either quit like you yourself did or they’d been purged by Travers and his cronies.”
“Archibald Travers was still running things?” Toby raised an eyebrow. “He’d have been, what, in his nineties?”
“No, the head of the Council was his nephew Quentin Travers,” FitzHugh said. “Who was frankly even more of a pillock than his uncle was.”
“I didn’t think that was possible,” Toby said sardonically.
“Yes, well, Quentin achieved it the old-fashioned way. Through hard work and dedication.” FitzHugh waved it off. “But enough of this. Are you willing to do your duty?”
Toby shrugged. “Assuming the President grants the pardon, it’s not like I’ve got much of a choice, is it?”
“Good man,” FitzHugh said. “Now that your adolescent rebellious phase is over and done with, I’m sure you’ll do quite well.”
Donna’s mind boggled at the thought of dour, staid Toby Ziegler in an adolescent rebellious phase. Then again, given FitzHugh’s age, anyone under thirty-five probably looked like an adolescent.
FitzHugh turned to face President Bartlett. “Well, Mister President?”
“And don’t I get a say in any of this?” Donna asked. “It is my life you’re arranging, after all.”
“My apologies, Miss Moss,” FitzHugh said with a slight bow. “Of course you have a choice. You can stay here with Mister Ziegler as your Watcher; you can go to Cleveland (or to another of our schools) and receive training there; you can stay here with no training and live an exciting life, until it kills you. In an ideal world there would be more options, but we unfortunately live in the real world in which that is not the case.”
President Bartlett folded his arms. “You haven’t convinced me that Slayers and demons actually exist, yet.”
Donna blinked; FitzHugh and Toby had been so serious in discussing this whole thing that she’d kinda forgotten she didn’t really believe them, yet.
“But you will look into the Initiative?” FitzHugh said. “And once it’s been confirmed that they do exist?”
it’s confirmed, I’ll be pardoning Toby,” the President said. “I’ll also be giving the President-Elect a heads-up about things that go bump in the night.”
“As long as he understands that such things are dangerous and best left to the professionals to handle, that’s probably a good idea,” FitzHugh said with a nod. “Meanwhile, are there any other questions I might answer?”
“Donna?” the President asked. She shook her head.
“I think that’s everything, Mister FitzHugh,” Bartlett said. “If I find you’re telling the truth, I’ll be in touch.”
“Thank you, Mister President,” FitzHugh said with a slight bow. He gestured to Marsham, who pulled a stack of files out of the brown leather briefcase at his side.
“Here are the details on the training facility and the Council’s new organizational setup, as well as the most current intelligence we have,” Marsham said. “Contact numbers are included if you have any questions.”
As the door closed behind them, President Bartlett turned his whole attention to Toby. “Demons?” Donna was impressed by the evenness of his tone.
Toby shrugged. “Yeah, they exist. But would you have believed me if I came up to you and started the whole spiel out of the blue, or would you have thrown me in the looney bin?”
The President cocked his head. “Point. I’m still not sure that isn’t the right thing to do. But the two of you have some talking to do, and I need to go check up on this whole business. Donna, I’ll let you know if they’re right about the existence of demons.” He grabbed his cane. “I’m sure you can both show yourselves out when you’re done talking.”
“Of course, Mister President,” Donna said, standing up as he left.
“So, what’s your position in the Santos administration going to be?” Toby asked once he was gone.
“I’m Mrs. Santos’ chief of staff,” Donna said. “Will this whole ‘slayer’ thing interfere with that?”
Toby shook his head. “It shouldn’t. It’s not like you’re on the President’s staff; you should have more free time than you did as Josh’s assistant. We can work the training on your time off. You’ll probably feel the urge to patrol occasionally, but it’s not like DC is a hotbed of demon activity, so you shouldn’t have too many problems.”
“Okay,” Donna said. She checked her watch. “I’ve got to get back to the office—I have a meeting with Mrs. Santos in an hour.”
“Right.” Toby stood. “I’ll get in touch with you about training once I’ve looked over this stuff. Just … don’t go out alone, particularly at night, until we’ve got something worked out, okay?”
Donna blinked. “Right.”
“And if you’ve got any jewelry with crosses, wear it.” He headed out the door, picking up his Secret Service escort along the way.
Donna grabbed her case and followed. “That really works?”
“For some demons.” Toby shrugged. “It’ll slow them down, make them flinch, at least. Might give you time to get away.”
“What if I were Jewish, would a Star of David work?”
“No. It’s actually originally an occult symbol, so it has some power from that, but it doesn’t directly invoke the presence of the Powers That Be the way a cross or crucifix does. For the Jewish equivalent, you want a tefillin. You might know it as a phylactery.”
“One of those tiny cases with a fragment of the Torah inside?”
“The Shema, yes,” Toby said. He stopped, putting on his coat and gloves. “Look, you can get my information easily. Do you have a card or anything so I know how to get ahold of you?”
“Sure,” Donna said, pulling one of her new cards out of her purse. “The office line won’t work until after the inauguration, obviously.”
“Obviously.” Toby slipped it into his pocket. “I’ll check out the training room situation and get back to you on it.”
“Toby, I still don’t really believe all this is actually real,” Donna said.
Toby looked away, keeping his voice carefully level. “Well, first let’s see what the President digs up on the Initiative, and if that isn’t enough I’ll see if I can arrange a live demonstration.”
“Wouldn’t that be dangerous?” Donna protested.
“Would anything else convince you?” Toby said sarcastically.
“Good point.” Donna finished putting on her gloves. “I’ll see you, then.”
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