Everything either belongs to Joss or it should, no infringement is intended and no profit is to be made. When you get right down to it I’m not really worth suing anyway unless you want a share of an underpaid civil servants wages and it just wouldn’t be worth the hassle trust me.Shadow Valley Vineyards – May 2003
‘Again’ Giles ordered and the potential took a step forward and tried to run her opponent through. She had barely started to lunge when her sword was easily parried away and a sharp crack on her forearm caused her to drop the weapon with a yelp. ‘If you hit me with that stick one more time…’ she started to say, clutching her arm. It wasn’t injured but it stung like crazy.
‘… you’ll maybe start to learn something’ Stephen interrupted her and brought his bamboo cane up in a mock fencing salute. ‘She’s telegraphing horrendously’ he told Giles. ‘Her actual technique is fairly adequate otherwise, but she always lets you know what she’s about to do’ he observed.
Giles nodded in agreement and faced the group. ‘It’s not about the power’ he told the girls gathered for the sword training. ‘It’s about reading your opponent’ he explained.
‘Oh come on’ Rona protested rubbing her arm. ‘He sleeps with a sword next to him and probably talks to it when nobody’s around’ she declared causing a ripple of laughter from the others. ‘How are we supposed to compete with that?’ she asked coldly.
Stephen opened his mouth for a retort but a look from Giles caused him to snap it back shut again. They were supposed to act like professionals he knew.
‘Talks to it?’ Molly whispered to the group. ‘I bet he writes poetry to it’ she continued. ‘Poor Emily it’s one thing being two-timed for a piece of ass, but a piece of steel...’
Giles was apparently just out of earshot of that one but Stephen wasn’t and he went bright red and got very flustered. He was surprisingly easy to agitate, despite a tendency to be intense and serious much of the time, and baiting the young watcher trainee was rapidly becoming a popular pastime now he had started helping out Giles. The potentials smelled blood in the water and they were really starting to revel in yanking his chain, or as Molly, often the ringleader, said, “winding him up”.
‘A slayer needs skill as well as strength’ Giles told the group. ‘If you let your opponent know your next move through sloppy technique you’ve immediately given away the advantages you’ve been given in speed and reaction times’ he stated. ‘Stephen is a skilled swordsman but Buffy would kill him in a fair fight and not just because she’s the slayer. You could have her power’ he said, pointing to Rona, ‘but even if you did you’d still have a sore arm right now, it’s just that the bruise would disappear a lot sooner’ he told her.
‘Perhaps Molly would like to go next’ Stephen said placidly but there was definitely something in his eyes that was very unsettling.
The English girl blanched. ‘I don’t want to be hit with a stick’ she declared.
‘Then don’t let him do it’ Giles told her then turned to the boy. ‘Just keep in mind that when they get their powers they’ll be inclined to give you a damn good hiding if you provoke them too much now’ he warned reasonably.
Stephen swished his bamboo cane through the air. ‘I was taught this was the best way to learn swordplay in a hurry. Negative reinforcement and all that’ he replied. ‘The subconscious mind takes over the process, like falling down a lot teaches you how to walk’ he said. ‘Of course Mrs Wilderspin, the Academy Fencing Mistress, was
a bloody sadist’ he admitted.
‘You should have had my
Fencing Master’ Giles replied with a shudder. ‘Now then Molly’ he said. ‘Take your stance and try not to let young Stephen know in advance what you’re about to do or he might be writing sonnets to that piece of bamboo tonight instead.’
Molly looked at Giles who smiled, as did Stephen after a fashion but the smirk of the latter was a lot more unsettling she thought readying her blunt training sword.
She did a lot better than Rona but the match still ended with a yelp as the Watcher Trainee feinted one direction then suddenly struck out in another to prod her in the midriff with his cane. ‘Well done for making me have to work for it’ he said to the surprised girl who was clutching her stomach where the stick had connected. She hadn’t expected praise from the jerk but even less than that she hadn’t expected to like it. Amanda had commented behind Molly’s back that when she
liked a boy she tended to pick on them too, of course it was obvious to everyone, except Stephen who like most males was unbelievably dense when it came to that sort of thing, that Emily already regarded him as her property.
‘Right, now form into pairs and practice the basics’ Giles told them. ‘Remember don’t just watch the sword, watch the body language, look for the tensing of muscles and the shifting of weight from one foot to another’ he advised. ‘The sword is just an extension of the arm’ he told them, ‘move to counter before the thrust is attempted and it’ll never get through’ he continued. ‘And also remember that a sudden counterattack against an opponent that has committed to a failed course of action, will be far harder for them to avoid, especially as they may have sacrificed their balance for what they thought was a killer blow.’
Giles looked at the girls. He hoped that something he might be able to teach them would end up saving their lives, he always seemed to care about that just a bit more than other Watchers, young Stephen for example was still very much in the Academy mindset of seeing them as weapons not people, but Giles saw that as a strength not a weakness. ‘Never forget that the winner is the one that makes the second to last mistake, just don’t be the one to make the very last one because it’ll also likely be the last thing you’ll ever do in your life’ he told them seriously, there was little point in sugar-coating the reality of their new lives.Coffee Shop – Sunnydale – May 2003
The teenager did a double-take and then stared for a second. ‘Hey Miss Burkle’ he said to the woman sitting at the table. ‘I guess this is your sister?’ he continued, looking at the woman sat next to her drinking a cappuccino. God that was dumb, he thought, they were clearly
twins, only the Teaching Assistants blue hair differentiated them.
‘Good morning Larry’ Illyria replied, looking up at the High School Student, ‘Yes this is my sister Winifred’ she told the boy. It was by far the most convenient cover story to maintain they were identical twins, anything else would have been implausible including of course the actual truth. ‘Larry attends one of the classes I assist in’ she told Fred.
Fred lowered her oversized cup. ‘Nice to meet you’ she said. ‘Ria has been telling me how much she likes her new job’ she told the boy, ‘much more fun that working at the Lab she used to be at so she tells me.’
‘And much less money of course’ Illyria said continuing to maintain her back story, as of course was Fred. Quite a few families had already started to move out of town, somehow driven away by the malevolence spewing from the Hellmouth, and attendances at school were slipping but classes continued and Illyria still went to work there Monday to Friday, apparently warming to her invented alter-ego Ria.
Three girls joined Fred and Illyria, one looked to be about fourteen maybe, the other two a few years younger. They pulled up chairs and sat down with them.
Fred chuckled at the boys’ expression. ‘Twins run in our family’ she explained. ‘This is Jessica and Deborah’ she said introducing the younger girls. ‘And the lonely normal one is Emily, they’re our cousins over from England for a few weeks.’
‘Larry we’re going to be late for the movie’ a teenage girl Illyria didn’t recognise called out across the room. Larry turned to her. ‘I’ll be right there’ he called back. ‘Nice to have met some of your family Miss Burkle, see you at school Monday’ he said to Illyria then set off.
‘Twins run in our family?’ Emily whispered.
Fred grinned. ‘I had to say something’ she replied.
Jessica and Deborah were holding mugs of Hot Chocolate. ‘She does
look lonely’ Deborah observed, indicating Emily.
‘It’s like Attack of the Clones around here’ Emily responded looking at Fred and Illyria then her own sisters. ‘Freaky’ she observed jokily and started on her own drink.
Fred looked at the twins. They had only just started to want to go out and even then they didn’t like not having Stephen along. They both knew from stories they’d been told that Illyria was the toughest thing in town, or perhaps anywhere
for that matter, and her presence seemed to relax them a bit, but they still kept looking around nervously as if expecting Bringers to appear any moment to try and kill them again. Fred knew what it was to live constantly in fear, always at your guard, it was no way to live hopefully they’d get over it soon. If nothing else it was interfering with the normal process of grieving for their parents.
Illyria’s indifference to the girls had shifted to a mild fascination with the twins. It was really a matter of how they could look the same but still be treated as different individuals. Although stuck with the Shell's form she wanted people, or being honest to herself she wanted Wesley
, to stop seeing her as a Fred copy which of course was a primary reason for keeping not only the blue hair when adopting the Burkle persona but also having blue eyes, though not of course her own glacial blue within blue which would have looked too inhuman. Fred had brown hair and eyes and carried herself differently, less certain of herself than the imperious Illyria. Deborah similarly had a more confident manner than Jessica and unlike her twin would usually look you right in the eyes when speaking. It was little things like that that made them individuals, maybe even more than the fact that they wore their hair differently, though neither of course had blue locks.
Illyria did wonder however if Deborah could
get away with a blue streak in her hair. It would suit her she thought.
‘Not having anything?’ Emily asked Illyria, she was the only one without a drink.
‘None of the liquid offerings available appealed and I have been told I am not allowed to eat any more cups’ Illyria replied. ‘Why are you laughing?’ she queried as the others giggled.
‘It's true’ Fred told them laughing ‘She ate one of Wesley’s willow-pattern cups and he went ballistic. It was an antique set he brought with him from England’ she told the girls.
Illyria frowned. ‘It was blue and did
look appealing’ she said. ‘Nevertheless I had to promise not to do it again’ she said regretfully.
‘Do you always keep your promises?’ Jessica asked, intrigued.
‘As long as I made them in good faith to begin with’ Illyria told her. ‘If only because a reputation for deceit is not to be welcomed. It makes betrayal, when necessary, much more difficult’ she explained pragmatically.
‘What's it like to eat a cup?’ Deborah asked curiously.
Illyria thought about that one. ‘Crunchy but without much flavour’ she replied. ‘I would not suggest you try it yourself, your teeth and jaws would suffer badly and you could not handle the material with your digestive tract.’
‘What's the worst thing you've eaten?’ Jessica wanted to know.
‘Bringer blood’ Illyria replied. ‘I used my teeth to rip out one of their throats in a melee battle’ she told the child.
‘Good’ Jessica said in response, her expression shifting to a cold hate.
Illyria looked at the girl. ‘You say that but I regretted doing it for hours, the taste was vile’ she responded. Illyria found herself concerned by the girls demeanour, she was very sensitive to human moods even though she wasn’t quite able to understand them fully despite the remnants of the Shell. ‘Have you ever seen a god on the verge of bringing her dinner back up?’ she asked rhetorically. ‘It's not pretty, I thought the others would make me walk back home. Neither Wesley nor Giles wanted me in their cars’ she said.
Jessica laughed again and Fred looked at Illyria in mild surprise, she’d actually made a joke to lighten the mood and cheer up the girl. ‘On the other hand’ Fred noted. ‘Wesley could have got his cup back if you had.’
‘I think by that point he'd not wish to drink tea from it again anyway’ Illyria reasoned. ‘Even if we could have glued the pieces back together.’Wolfram and Hart Building – Los Angeles – May 2003
‘The Accounts Department are making very unhappy noises about her expenses’ Lilah told Holland, having caught up with him just before he entered the boardroom. ‘You wouldn’t believe the email I got from Bob down there’ she continued. ‘He’s auditing every purchase personally, the clothes bill alone...’
Holland shrugged. ‘It would be a false economy not to accommodate her demands' he said interrupting. ‘The financial losses we could incur if Illyria decides to drop in on the firm after finishing up in Sunnydale will be astronomical.’
be astronomical?’ Lilah queried.
‘We checked with our astrologers’ Holland replied, knocking on the door to the boardroom and stepping inside. ‘Glory you look even lovelier today than you did yesterday if you weren’t a god I’d wonder how you managed such a seemingly impossible feat’ he declared.
‘Save it Manners’ Glory replied. ‘If I wanted toadying I’d bring in my own people for that, they’re much better at it and I know they mean it’ she said.
Another figure flashed into existence sitting across the table from Glory who frowned. ‘Couldn’t you maybe show a little
class and not look like that diminutive bitch?’ she asked angrily.
The First took the hint and changed from looking like Buffy to someone Glory didn’t know. Lilah had been keeping up with her research and recognised it as Caleb.
‘Wolfram and Hart, The First Evil and Glorificus’ Holland remarked, taking his own seat at the head of the table. ‘What an alliance we make’ he said.
Glory glared at him. ‘Next time you say something like that my name had better come first or your bosses will have to bring you back to life again’ she vowed. ‘Now can we get on with it before my brother comes back?’ she insisted.
‘Is this really
the best you could do?’ the First asked Holland indicating Glory with a nod. The HellGod for her part being well aware that she couldn’t just throw him out the window for that remark, simply flicked her hair and examined her new jewellery courtesy of an apparently unlimited Wolfram and Hart expense account.
If Holland Manners had been just as incorporeal and invulnerable as The First he might have chuckled but as it was he kept his expression stony and professional, as did Lilah who had sat down next to him. ‘Please remember that you
came to us
for help’ he told The First. ‘And as for Glory as well as her beauty she is the only being in this dimension that we can match against Illyria knowing that the Old One wouldn’t simply crush her under her heel’ he said.
Glory smirked at The First. ‘Putting Vampires and Harbingers up against a God’ she said derisively. ‘Talk about bringing a knife to a gunfight’ she said in her most sarcastic tones.
ordinary vampires’ The First replied in annoyance.
‘Oh yeah, like that makes all the difference’ Glory retorted. ‘You were getting your ass kicked by Illyria and the Slayer and you went running off for help because you couldn’t do the job yourself’ she declared.
The First, still in Caleb's form looked at her and snorted. ‘Abuse from a god that was beaten by a mere human, now that’s rich’ it retorted.
a human’ Glory defended herself.
‘Oh yeah, like that makes all the difference’ The First responded with a slight air of triumph.
Holland sighed. ‘Can we please return to the intended purpose of this meeting’ he requested. ‘Namely what are we going to do about the Illyria situation?’
‘You keep to your side of the bargain and send me back home with all my powers restored when I get there and I’ll kill the bitch for you’ Glory told him. ‘And I’ll throw in the slayer for free’ she added with a vicious smile. That British guy that killed Ben was going to get it too, she’d rip him in half she decided.
The First shook its head. ‘Perhaps "vainglorious" would be a better name for you’ it stated. ‘Illyria is not to be underestimated’ he warned. ‘I remember the thing from the old days and I'll bet the Senior Partners are nervous because they knew her too’ he added.
Glory raised one of her hands. ‘Super strength, super speed, near invulnerability’ she said counting with her fingers. ‘Well guess what, I’m not
impressed’ she said, looking at her fingernails. ‘And from what I’ve heard she can’t use her portal jumping or time altering powers too much at once or she’ll go boom’ she added.
The First in Caleb's form rolled his eyes skywards. ‘She’s the Energizer Bunny compared to you’ it said. ‘A bit of magic and a few hits from a hammer and you turn back into your brother’ he pointed out.
‘It was a Troll-Gods’ hammer and you left out the being hit by the wrecking ball just before’ Glory said defensively.
‘In any case’ Holland interupted, trying to break up the quarrelling beings. ‘We have a way both to stabilise Glory’s control over herself for an extended period and to counter the slayers’ Witch sidekick’ he said.
‘You do?’ Glory asked curiously. These Wolfram and Hart people had continued to surprise her ever since they raised her, or rather her brother, from the dead. She still regarded them and their Senior Partners as being way down the food chain, quite literally as she had already sucked the brains out of two unfortunate lawyers and a secretary since she arrived, but they certainly had their moments.
Another being, obviously a demon, entered the room. It looked like it was on its last legs but looks could be deceiving.
‘May I present Cyvus Vail our Senior Warlock in this realm and a major shareholder in the Firm’ Holland announced.
Glory looked him over with distaste, even her minion Jinx had been better looking. ‘Think he’ll live long enough to get the job done?’ she asked sarcastically.
‘Don’t underestimate me HellGod’ Vail told her, taking a seat. ‘Just carry out your part of the bargain’ he said.
‘What about footsoldiers?’ The First asked. ‘They’ve got numbers on their side for once.’
Lilah had been reading from a folder and looked up. ‘Well we do think you should contribute something
to the war effort’ she replied.
‘My best forces are trapped the other side of the Seal of Danzalthar’ the First replied. ‘I can provide hundreds of Harbingers, I’ve been collecting them for weeks, but I do not believe they are strong enough’ it admitted candidly.
‘We were actually thinking of the Turok-Han’ Lilah replied.
The First changed form to look like Lilah herself. ‘The Seal’ it said in her voice, ‘Hello’ it continued sardonically.
‘The Senior Partners are going to force a portal into the Hellmouth that should enable us to pull a number of your elite troops through to our side’ Lilah replied, ignoring the fact that she was now addressing her double. ‘The power required is vast however so don’t
expect us to do it again’ she told it. ‘Our resources are not unlimited’ she said.
‘And besides which you don’t want me too strong’ The First observed wryly. ‘Don’t worry I don’t take it personally, it’s better to be feared than loved’ it opined.
Holland nodded in agreement. ‘A student of Machiavelli’ he noted appreciatively.
The First looked at him and chuckled. ‘I was saying stuff like that when Machiavelli’s distant ancestor hadn’t evolved beyond the amoeba’ it declared.
Glory had ignored the chat and was reading through a fashion magazine. ‘Sorry to break up the party but I feel my stupid pointless lump of a brother returning’ she said. ‘Care to demonstrate you really can put him on ice?’ she asked Vail.
The warlock looked at his watch. ‘I’m due in another meeting in half an hour’ he said. ‘I’ll give you ten minutes’ he told the HellGod and raised his hands, starting to mouth a spell silently.
Glory felt Ben being pushed back in her mind. ‘How long can you do that for?’ she asked with interest, it was nice to keep control a little longer.
‘It will become harder and harder with time until I have to let go, I cannot hold back the inevitable merely slow its march’ Vail replied. ‘Do us both a favour and use that time to good effect even if it’s to run away’ he advised.
‘Just don’t let the witch teleport me into the stratosphere’ Glory told him. ‘The falls a breeze but the landing at the end just sucks
’ she said, returning to her magazine. Oh I’d look good in that, she thought, not that I don’t look good in everything.
The First sized Glory up. She may have the power but she just didn’t have Illyria’s edge and joy in battle. It wasn’t confident but beggars can’t be choosers and when it came to Mercenary Gods the pickings were slim. ‘I’d drink a toast to our success but you know… incorporeal’ it said, mimicking Lilah’s voice and mannerisms exactly.
Holland Manners smiled and raised an imaginary glass. ‘To new Alliances’ he said.