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Balance of Powers

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This story is No. 2 in the series "The Tragedy of Dawn Summers". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Five years after the Groom Lake massacre, Buffy must deal with the trauma of becoming a cyborg, allies begin to gather, and the Sith advance their plans...

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Star Wars > Dawn-CenteredDarthTenebrusFR181346,5770196,6761 May 123 Sep 14No

One - Progressions

A/N: Had to split this into two chapters. Don't want to disappoint the fans by delaying the story, right? No, that just won't do...with that said, get ready for chapter 3, coming soon to a laptop near you...



Tora Bora Mountain Range, near Afghanistan-Pakistan border, present day

The Taliban patrol had been moving for an hour toward their next checkpoint. They were due to conduct a raid against a heavy platoon of the American infidels that had been active in the area, and God willing, they would drive the agents of the Shaitan before them soon enough, but the idea currently was to harass them and wear them down before the final stroke fell against them. It simply made sense, tactically speaking, to weaken your enemy before you destroyed him. Thus the raids, the IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), the kidnappings. Opium sales only brought in so much revenue, and besides, with the death of the great Sheik Osama bin Laden, the Mullahs were proclaiming future operations to pave the way for God's holy vengeance. The land would be cleansed. The blood of the infidel Americans would wash their taint forever from the soil.

The local commander had passed along intelligence that indicated the Americans were to start reducing their presence in the area, which was hard to believe, since it had long been common knowledge that America had declared jihad against Islam itself with the attack of the Nineteen Martyrs in New York and Washington in 2001. Hard to believe, yet there it was. That was the other reason for the increased patrols. Local units were to assess the American situation and attempt to verify the intelligence they were receiving. If it were true, it would make things much easier on them when conducting future operations and liberating territory from the Americans' tyrannical grip. They would also need to find out the reason for the reductions.

The lead man in the patrol group moved quietly, keeping a greater space between himself and his compatriots than they kept between each other. As point, he was expected to offer up his life to Allah if the enemy struck first with grenades, so the others would have more time by his death to make ready. But while he was still alive he could spot trouble for the others, and this he did with great alacrity.

The radio operator monitored frequencies for word from their local commander, and also for signs of electronic jamming by the infidels. Allah knew, but he was the best at what he did. He frequently made slight tweaks to the signal as they went along, while constantly scanning the area visually for signs of enemy activity.

The patrol leader kept watching his men, ensuring they spaced themselves out evenly, that they used the natural cover provided by the terrain. Contrary to what most infidel Americans believed, Afghanistan was not just a vast expanse of mountainous, rock-strewn desert. There were trees, there were fields of grain where the ancient Persians had irrigated the land and brought forth wheat and other good stuff for eating and for trading, to maintain their vast empire. The Taliban could hide in the fields of poppy and other grains and conceal themselves from the Americans, and the trees and large boulders were effective parapets against small arms fire and most explosive ordnance. He would keep his men alive until and unless God dictated otherwise.

In short, this unit was the best in the area, with an impressive operational record. So it was a general surprise when the first signs that they were in trouble started to show themselves.

They were just approaching the coordinates for the next checkpoint when a loud squeal emitted from the radio's earpiece. The operator held it away in sudden pain at the loudness. A sudden, intense jamming signal had intruded on the network, and they were now cut off from command.

"Spread out brothers, it is the Americans trying to ambush us. God's vengeance be done, we will reflect their attack back upon them," said the patrol leader. Upon his orders, the patrollers increased their space between each other and started scanning the terrain for the familiar presence of black rifles and composite armor. Every shadow held a threat now, the slightest movement was noticed in hyperawareness.

Five minutes passed like this until the first rocket struck. It exploded in a bright actinic flash--it was designed to do exactly that, and the entire patrol group was struck blind, unable to see the muzzle flashes that erupted from a dozen chain guns simultaneously in as many different directions. Then a salvo of explosive and incendiary rockets launched from the hilltops above, and the thunder of detonation echoed nearly a hundred miles away. The destruction of the Taliban patrol was sudden, swift and complete. Nothing was recognizeable among the detritus of combat.

As soon as it had begun, the ambush was over, and soldiers emerged from their concealed positions among the rockslide. Or rather, emerged might not have been as accurate a description as appeared out of thin air. The Adam clones decloaked directly beside the now-dead Taliban fighters and began to assess the situation post-action. One of them, the leader by a coded tattoo on his left cheek, pressed his finger to a secure Bluetooth device in his ear and made his report.

"Four-One to Command. Tango element neutralized, no outgoing signals. Commencing elimination of evidence."

The reply from the identical voice on the other end was brief and clear. "Negative, Four-One. Plant one and eliminate remaining. Future patrols in area will investigate and be drawn into the same ambush. Clear, Four-One?"

"Four-One clear."

"No survivors. And leave a body, next patrol due in forty eight hours."

The patrol leader listened to this exchange with the rudimentary English he had learned in the last ten years and did not like what he heard. The voice on the radio sounded the same, exactly the same, identical to the one that spoke before him. And these soldiers....

They were identical in appearance. And...they were not human.

"Allah save us, they are devils," he said in his native Pashtun. "They are demons, monsters. Does the Shaitan know no decency?"

The moment the first syllable passed his lips they all turned to him in unison. Their reaction time was too short, too swift. Inhuman. Then the leader raised his weapon, a massive chain gun, and aimed it at the patrol leader's head. He had just enough time to shout "Allahu akbar!" before a muzzle flash blinded his eyes and obliterated his head.

********

Watchers' Council Interim Headquarters, Christchurch, New Zealand

Buffy sat in the center of the room in a classic lotus position, her breathing as steady and even as her ventilator allowed for. Her armored body was still, the only evidence of her concentration manifesting itself in the three floating spheres slowly orbiting around her. Her Wicca mentor sat before her in an identical lotus position, her stomach slowly moving in and out in time with her breath as she monitored Buffy's progress. She had come along rather well in the past year, learning to tap into the essence of the Slayer to access the energies around her and influence them. The training had been modified somewhat due to the present circumstances, owing to Buffy's need to recognize the warning signs of the Dark Side's influence. Wiccans did not believe in the Force as defined in the late George Lucas' magnum opus known as Star Wars, but they knew energy existed in many forms and could be influenced to effect physical change, thus the levitation exercises. There was more to learn -- there was always more to learn -- but they had to define the parameters of Buffy's education so that she could accomplish her part in the coming campaign against the Sith and their rising influence in the world.

Buffy was at peace, finally after five years after her traumatic encounter with Willow and her sister, whom Willow had corrupted with the Dark Side and transformed into an agent of destruction. Now she had to learn how to achieve that state in a fight, and how to remain there so she could allow it to guide her movements, resolve a combat situation, and achieve a desired outcome.

"Pick up your weapon now and strike at the target spheres," said her mentor at last.

In a flash the Slayer was on her feet, lightsaber in hand and both blades ignited. The three spheres suddenly changed direction and began to circle around her in a more aggressive manner. But she waited. Her breathing never changed. It wasn't important to strike fast, it was important to know when the moment came to strike, and to allow herself to simply let the energy of the magicks guide her and her blades. Seconds passed while the spheres spun, dipped and whirled around her, slow then fast, seemingly random, looking for a vulnerable spot in which to charge and impact upon Buffy's armored form. Still she waited.

Then one sphere froze in mid-air. For a second it did not move, then it suddenly dipped and sped straight in toward her midsection. In a flash the energy blades spun and formed a vicious saw that intersected cleanly with the sphere's center, bisecting it and allowing two pieces to fall to the floor, their edges glowing and sizzling.

As that ill-fated object impacted on the floor, it made two solid ringing clangs. As each sound reached Buffy's auditory implants the other spheres moved in to impact her on each side simultaneously. But she wasn't there, and they collided with each other, the sound of their impact identical to the impact of the split sphere on the floor of the training room. At the same time her weapon spun around with her and moved to catch both of them at the moment of impact. They bounced off each other and sped away to orbit her once again, yet her return to guard brought one of the deadly beams to intersect with one sphere at its exact centerline and burn through in an instant, both halves of the stricken device falling to impact simultaneously on the floor. The sole remaining sphere moved behind her and rose to a level with her head, but Buffy switched off one of the blades on her weapon and assumed a classical stance for a single bladed fighter, then raised the weapon into a high guard and switched it back on. The beam pierced the sphere cleanly through the center as it ignited, then switched off. The sphere, suddenly missing a center, fell to the ground and made a strange hollow clang as it collided.

"Pretty good, Buffy. Don't slouch, though. Here they come..."

Her senses tingled with danger, and seven more metal spheres bolted toward her out of nowhere. She jumped toward one and landed on it, using its momentum to propel herself in the opposite direction, and in a split second the blue blades snapped apart, each one forming a separate weapon. Buffy raised one blade over her head as she sailed over another sphere, and it cut cleanly through the middle, sending it to the floor to join the rather pathetic heap of scrap forming beneath her. Two more spheres zoomed across, one low, the other high, but before they reached their target Buffy curled into a ball and held her blades close to her midsection. As she spun each blade found a sphere and contacted it, the overall appearance being that of a black armored form with blue wings rolling as she sailed between them, cutting them in half as she passed.

Four spheres left, two blades, one Slayer. Buffy touched the ground briefly as the remaining missiles sped around her, looking for an opening. She no sooner made contact with the floor than she slashed with both blades at once in a scissors motion, obliterating one sphere in a shower of sparks, then she vaulted over the others, reconnecting her lightsabers into a single weapon as she recovered from the scissors maneuver and spinning the deadly implement into a guard position. As she returned to the floor she thrust her hand out, and one sphere suddenly changed direction as though it had been shoved, and collided with the others, ricocheting them toward opposite sides of the room. Each sphere then returned to an attack vector and sped toward her. Buffy took the dual saber in one black gloved hand and inverted her arm, spinning the weapon to form a vortex, into which the first sphere to return flew into and was shredded, sparks flying everywhere from the violent interaction. Her return spin went overhead and horizontal as she reversed her arm from its inversion, caught the second sphere in a miniature supernova, then continued its momentum as she shifted the lightsaber to her other hand in mid-spin and turned her body around, thrusting out with her reverse blade as she concluded her spinning and catching the final sphere, its own momentum turning it into a shower of sparks that flew into her masked face.

And just like that, it was over. The Wiccan seated before her as Buffy executed her elaborate dance of death opened her eyes and plastered a huge grin on her face as she stood up.

"Marvelous, General, just unbelieveable. I was sure I was going to get you with at least one of them, but they never touched you! And that little bit where you jumped between two of them and sliced them going through, I thought that was just poetry in motion. You really have gotten a lot better, a lot," she bubbled profusely.

"You're a real bitch, Rachel," said Buffy, "but thanks. I feel really good about this."

"That's the best part about all that, General, I didn't feel one bit of rage or negative feeling from you at all. I might just tell Mr. Giles that you're ready to get into the fight. Sound good to you?"

"Be good just to get off this bloody island, getting into the fight will come later." Buffy strode toward her Wiccan Master and embraced her in a predictably light hug. It wouldn't show much appreciation if she were to use any more of her cybernetically enhanced strength, lest she crush her Master to a pulp. No more accidental death on my hands, thank you very much.

"Alright, let's go, see what's going on, then."

********

"What is done in secret has great power."

--Darth Sidious, from the novel "Darth Maul, Shadow Hunter"



Simi Valley, California (LOCATION CLASSIFIED)

Hera was musing on the intricacies of her subterfuge. Her work was going rather well, and it was a matter of time now until she received reports from the first of her clone infiltration teams. The work of sneaking in atomic devices into the first of the nations’ capitals was delicate at best; one false step and the great plan she had been advancing would disintegrate before her eyes. The worst part would soon follow as government inquiries would reveal the scope and depth of her efforts, and the terrible, baleful gaze of the public eye would lock onto her. Her legal department head would tear her hair out trying to sort out the myriad international repercussions. It still wasn't her law to make yet, and until it was she needed to rely on the advise of experts such as Lilah Morgan. She was truly a godsend.

That was to say, if Darth Hera ever believed in any God other than the Dark Side. She had to have a little chuckle at that. A God send...

Wolfram and Hart had recommended Lilah based upon her expertise in international law, business and contract law. She had graduated from Harvard Law College with the highest marks in every one of her classes, with letters of recommendation from every one of her instructors. This told Hera that the woman was ambitious. That was good, she didn't want someone heading her legal department who didn't want to rise above the competition. Such was the nature of life, after all. One rose above the masses to lead, to command. To dominate. Or else to die lost among the masses, alone and forgotten.

Hera had also looked at the record of Morgan's wins and losses in the courtroom. There had only ever been one loss, early in her career, to a decidedly ruthless prosecutor who didn't consider himself above bending the law just a bit to get a conviction. There had been some evidence planted, ever so subtly, but with the disappearance of one or two key witnesses for the defense due to "accidents," so to speak, the accused's privately hired attorney, one Lilah Morgan with Wolfram and Hart, couldn't make a case against the state. When the verdict was handed down and the sentence of death proclaimed, Miss Morgan had been appropriately upbraided by her employers. But the greater part of the punishment did not originate from Wolfram and Hart, but from Lilah herself for not having taken every opportunity to prevent the State Attorney General's office from using its repertoire of deceptive practices. She had chastised herself most severely, offering significant blood sacrifices to her employers in an attempt to gain more power to pursue her goals with the company. The end result was that Lilah, having to spend a week in hospital recovering from massive blood loss, found herself wanting to not just win the case every time thenceforth, but to utterly destroy her enemies in the process.

From that point forward her record spoke of incredible victories in the courtroom, not simply winning every case but ruining the opposition's reputation thenceforward. She relished the thrill of battle in the courtroom, and she pursued her goals with a zeal bordering on fanaticism. She didn't merely seek victory in the form of an acquittal or exoneration, she lived to see the accuser grovel at the judge's feet begging for another case, another chance to redeem themselves. The truly sweet wine was pressed from the ripest berries, after all, so when she suddenly found the case in need of another prosecutor because the old one had a sudden case of depression and committed suicide, she pressed her attack, speaking to the judge, to the governor, to whomever she imagined could affect the case in any degree and shaping circumstances to bring about victory. These were the cases she especially enjoyed.

Ruthlessness matched by cunning and subterfuge. The hallmarks of a Sith. Hera decided she wanted Lilah right then and there to head her firm's legal department.

She set an appointment to meet Lilah. There was just one more question to answer...

********

Bio Research Solutions headquarters office, Simi Valley, California, two years ago...

Lilah walked through the vast complex on the ground floor of the pyramid that comprised the sum total of Bio Research Solutions, Incorporated. The invitation to meet with the CEO, this Rosenberg woman, was just too good to pass up. She wasn't going to be hired to work in the legal department, she was going to be hired to run it. She liked the idea immensely, to be in charge from the very beginning. It was what she lived for, it was the air she breathed, the blood that ran in her veins. Power was what kept her alive. If she could not dominate the competition, what was the reason for living in the first place?


She had gotten a call from Holland Manners a week ago concerning an offer to head up the legal department of a biotech start-up in Simi Valley. Sometime before, the firm had asked for applicants to go out on extended retainer with groups and individuals that had potential for being brought in under the Wolfram and Hart umbrella, and having long-term contacts with each of them would greatly increase their influence in the general world in terms of expanding their client base. Manners had seen great potential in Bio Research Solutions as a protectorate, due to Wolfram and Hart’s familiarity with the record of their Chief Executive Officer, one Willow Rosenberg. She was known to the Senior Partners as an immensely powerful sorceress out of Sunnydale before the collapse of its Hellmouth.

They wanted her. Her powers on their side would give the Senior Partners an enormous advantage over the Powers That Be.

So when Lilah was informed that Rosenberg wanted to interview her, she jumped at the chance, for in her mind it meant gaining a significant step up the corporate ladder, so to speak.

And now here she was, making her way toward the single lift in the entire building. As she walked, she regarded the faces of the various scientists and technicians that scurried to and fro, going about their daily business, looking for the entire world like a colony of mindless ants. They mattered so little to her; what she wanted was to run the show, not listen to the prattlings of a few eggheads as they worked to secure the latest patent on a new technology or some other such thing. She felt nothing for them.

What she did feel was the power that pervaded the place. She didn’t know how or why she felt it – it was the first time she had ever felt anything like that in her whole life. She wasn’t even a psychic, and she knew this place was buzzing with an extremely powerful energy. Manners hadn’t been lying when he said that Rosenberg’s allegiance would be a great advantage for the firm. She would have to tread delicately lest she find that power turned against her.

The lone security agent seated at the desk before the lift tower looked at her askance until she presented her credentials and her appointment letter.

“My apologies, Miss Morgan, she’s expecting you. Please go up,” he said as he waved her past. . As she walked past him to the lift she couldn’t help but notice a thin film of sweat on his brow, as though he feared what transpired on the top floor. She gave him a slow smile that was partly warm and sympathetic but also partly cold and predatory. He responded by shuddering ever so slightly as the doors closed. She imagined for a brief moment what a night in the sack with him would be like. His bald, polished head and trimmed goatee with his African features gave her a delightful shudder of her own.

She suppressed that thought just as quickly as it had risen unbidden in her mind. As entertaining as the thought was to consider, it was not the reason for her being here.

The lift then opened, and Lilah stepped out into what could only be considered the whole top floor of the building. Suddenly she realised she did not feel the power coming from this place anymore. Where had it gone? She cast her gaze about the place, concentrating on getting back a trace of the energy she had been feeling, that had given her such a rush. Rosenberg’s office took up the entire apex of the pyramid. In one corner was a wet bar, fully stocked with what oddly enough were juices and various blends of root beer. Apparently her future employer’s tastes didn’t extend to alcohol, something she would have to ask her about later. In another corner were a small number of potted shrubs and several trees, which were being tended with the utmost care by a middle-aged lady of seemingly Spanish descent. Her eyes caught Lilah’s and smiled briefly before refocusing on her task. The rest of the office was what really caught her eye.

The desk was semi-circular, black and was surprisingly bare of any accoutrements or embellishments. It looked for the entire world like a plain black desk. It wasn’t much to write about, it wouldn’t have compelled anyone to take the time to give it a second glance, but it wasn’t what really kept her attention. It was her desk chair.

The thing was huge, as though it belonged more to a ruling monarch than a corporate tycoon. It had been carved seemingly from a single block of granite or marble. And Lilah thought the desk was the darkest shade of black to be found, but this chair, this throne seemed to draw all the light from the room into itself, into its interminable maw. It gave her the creeping horrors, and yet it gave her a thrill of adrenaline in the same moment.

“I’ve admired that chair ever since I first acquired it,” said a voice behind her suddenly.

Lilah screamed briefly and spun around. The owner of the voice was just there behind her. Ink black hair cascaded to her shoulders. The skin was whiter than ivory, the eyes the colour of ice, yet both looked as cold as the void of space. Her lips were full and red, a very specific shade of red -- the red colour of fresh blood. This made up the visage of Willow Rosenberg. Lilah looked into those eyes, and her breath caught in her throat as her chest tightened. Her human appearance was only that – appearance. The body, the flesh was human. The eyes, though….

There was not a trace of humanity in those eyes.

Only power. Dark, frightening power, which Lilah recognised as the same energy she felt in the main BRS lobby, but she felt it more strongly from this woman than she had felt down below. Nauseatingly powerful waves of it rolled off the Rosenberg woman and struck Lilah all over, driving her to her knees.

“Who are you?” she managed to ask in a voice that faltered seemingly at every syllable.

“Willow Rosenberg,” replied the apparition standing before her. “Are you alright, Miss Morgan?” it asked, the expression one of of unusual uncertainty and compassion for someone so used to employing rather less than ethical means of getting her way. She knelt down after Lilah and offered her hand. “Can I help you up?”

“Sure. Yes, Ma’am, thank you, I’m alright. It was nothing, probably,” she replied as she took the proffered hand. Willow seemed to pull only slightly, yet Lilah found herself hauled to a standing position with nothing less than the strength of an Olympic powerlifter. Her surprise was understandably great.

“Well, come on then, have a seat, we’ll get started in a sec,” said Willow. “Can I interest you in a drink?” she offered as she sauntered over to the wet bar. Lilah wasn’t sure, but looking at Willow made Lilah think that the black haired woman enjoyed putting on that little display of strength. Aside from the demons she knew, there was No One on Earth, working for Wolfram and Hart or otherwise, who could pack that much power into such a small frame as hers. Had Willow sacrificed her own humanity to gain so much power? The eyes had said absolutely, unequivocally yes, and Lilah had to learn how, if ever she was to gain that power for herself.

“Whatever you’re having is fine with me, Ma’am.” She decided she needed to play it cool and get this job, so she was going to be nice to the boss. Nice meant respect, and respect eventually got a looser tongue and more secrets unlocked. And secrets were power.

“I hope you don’t mind, I make it a point never to consume alcohol,” said Willow as she poured a particularly frothy concoction from a decanter, glancing at Lilah briefly. “The things that dull one’s mind nowadays. That’s why I never drink or smoke. It’s why I’m the big boss here at Bio Research Solutions,” she said as she returned to the desk and handed Lilah her root beer. “I won’t imbibe anything that will dull my thought processes; I need the sharpest minds in the industry to keep this company on top. That means I have to have THE sharpest mind out of everyone here to keep everyone else from straying off course in their research. I trust you agree with that policy, Miss Morgan?”

“On the job, yes I do,” said Lilah cautiously. She was being interviewed already. “It is important, however, when one leaves the job behind at the end of the day to cut loose a little bit, enjoy life a little. But not until after work.”

“Good answer.” Perhaps this Willow wasn’t such a tight ass as she pretended to be. “How’s your root beer, by the way?”

Lilah took a sip, then a larger one. The flavour was like nothing she had tasted in quite a long time, not since she was a small girl. “The best, Ma’am. Absolutely the best root beer I have ever tasted.”

“Good, I’m glad,” said Willow. She was definitely in control of this interview, Lilah thought as her benefactor circled slowly, almost lazily, behind her. Lilah had a sudden feeling of being scrutinised most closely, the feeling a live insect gets its first time under a microscope. “But we must be careful; no matter how much we can afford to cut loose off the clock, Lilah,” Willow said, “some measure of discipline must remain with us. Our competitors will show us no mercy.” She noted the sudden blaze in Lilah’s eyes at that last statement. A small, slightly skewed smile turned up the corners of her lips.

Willow then sat down in her massive stone chair and set her own root beer on a dish on the desk. She leaned back and steepled her fingertips, as though entertaining a particular line of thought.

“I like you already, Lilah,” she said at length. “And I’ve already decided I want you to head my legal department. Would you like to know why?”

“I’m a smart dresser? Conscientious on the clock? I always watch my back?” she rattled off in a slightly accelerated manner, yet still managed to sound cool as a cucumber. What does she know about me that the firm hasn’t already told her?

“You understand competition,” she said very pointedly. “Your aggressive nature in the courtroom shows as much, and it will reflect in your daily affairs here. Your subordinates will understand how to perform each day, so long as you are there to remind them who’s in charge. The slightest deviation in their devotion to their job must be utterly, thoroughly punished. As our competitors will show us no mercy, so shall we be utterly despotic in our administration of this company. You do agree with my words; do you not, Miss Morgan?”

This abrupt change in Rosenberg’s demeanour was not lost on Lilah. Truth be told, she had wondered why the corporate executive had not revealed her true nature sooner. The power she had felt from the raven-haired woman spoke of nothing but evil intent. She could sense the bloodlust, the greed, the desire to acquire and jealously hoard power in all its aspects and the drive to use any and all means to do so. How very much like herself Rosenberg seemed.

“Very much so, Ma’am,” she responded with relish. “I didn’t get this far with the Senior Partners by weakness. I think we both agree that weakness is death, and in a dog eat dog world I’d much prefer to be the dog that eats rather than the one that gets eaten.”

“So which dog do you think should be the one that gets eaten, Lilah?”

“We could start with a small contractor company, one that shows some promise but hasn’t yet made it big. I can put one of my contacts on the job. A little industrial espionage can go a long way, and we will need leverage on them to hit the mark the way we want to.”

“You have contacts? Where?” said Willow with more than a hint of suspicion, and Lilah suddenly had a sinking feeling that this woman knew a lot more about the world and its true nature than she let on. It would do no good to attempt to conceal her sources from her new employer, she now thought, so she laid out all her cards on the table.

“The demon underground, Ma’am,” Lilah confessed. . “I can call in a few favours with one of the local clans; they owe me for pulling their collective arses out of the flames on more than one occasion. Clan rivalries can be such a bitch at times unless you have the right representation, don’t you think?”

At this Willow leaned forward, and her eyes locked onto Lilah’s with an intensity that shocked her to the core.

“And what makes you think that I would sanction bringing in outside help for such a job? Why shouldn’t we use our own people? Do you think that I would enjoy owing favours to such people as you suggest?” Willow all but shouted at Lilah.

“This doesn’t need to be sanctioned by the company, Ma’am,” replied Lilah with a calm, unshakeable confidence. "Not officially, at any rate. I will be their sole contact, and their sole function would be to collect intelligence and plant some rather, shall we say, ‘compromising’ evidence.”

“And there’s nothing like a good scandal to bring down a rival. And when we call them in on it, they would have no choice but to turn their assets over to us to avoid public embarrassment. Yes,” purred Willow, her sudden anger melting away and forming a pleased smile, “I do like the way you think, Lilah.”

“It appears we think alike, Ma’am, if you’ll permit me a bit of presumption.”

“You don’t fear me. Do you, Miss Morgan?” Willow asked suddenly.

“Only disappointing you, but I know I won’t. I haven’t won every case I was given only by going through the system, that just ties one’s hands together. You can’t fight like that.”

“I know, Lilah. May I call you Lilah?”

“You may call me anything you wish, Ma’am, just don’t call me late for dinner.”

At that a chuckle escaped both their throats. “Very well, and please call me Willow.”

“Very well, Ma- …I mean Willow.” They both took this as the cue that the interview, for what it was worth, was finished, and each stood up. A look passed between them, a bit of longing, of mutual ambition, sprinkled with power lust.

“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow, and we can get started right away.” Before Lilah could turn to leave, however, Willow resumed speaking. “One last thing, though.”

“Yes?”

Willow crossed the space between them, her steps measured and deliberate. “I have some plans for the future that go beyond the company. From what I see in you, I can honestly say I feel no guilt whatsoever in revealing them to you. The time to reveal them will come soon, and when it does, I want you here as part of these plans. How does that sound to you?”

“I would very much wish to see that day.”

“Then I’ll see you tomorrow,” Willow said, and she took Lilah’s hand and clasped it gently, then Lilah stepped into the lift. And as the doors closed the sensation of power went away with Willow’s face, causing a brief moment of loss.
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