: I'm sure I got some of the characters' voices wrong, here. But these are alternate versions of all of these characters, and that's the excuse I'm going with.
They had all been expecting something like this to happen.
Admittedly, none of them had expected it to take place in Scotland. But… well… you can't choose where the apocalypse will take place. Buffy had learned that enough back in Sunnydale.
"Ria says this has to be the capitulation of those threats the Institution's been getting," Willow explained to Buffy, on the train-ride up. "Either we hand over the Scythe, or the world ends."
"Alien or demon threat?" Buffy asked. "No, hang on. Let me guess. Demon."
Aliens didn't usually care about mystical Slayer super-weapons. It was one of the Slayer Institution's key advantages, in their fight against aliens. Archaic weaponry that shouldn't work, but does? Yep, that was something no alien was ever expecting.
"No idea," Willow confessed. "But Ria's sending over some backup. Just… in case… you have your hands full. Or a bigger threat comes along, while we're solving this one." Willow glanced back, suspiciously, at the sleeping Seo, in the row behind them.
She had snuggled into Xander's side, her head resting on his shoulder. Xander didn't seem to mind, just grinned and waved at them. Nope. Didn't mind at all.
"I couldn't leave her behind," Buffy told Willow.
And Seo had, actually, seemed completely thrilled at the idea of saving the world. As far as Buffy could tell, Seo hadn't slept for the last 48 hours, bouncing around and asking them what it was going to be like, and what they thought the monsters would be like, and whether they already had some clever plan worked out or if they were going to have to make something up, and on and on and on.
Dawn, upon hearing Buffy complain about this, had said something along the lines of, "Well, what did you expect? Of course she wants to save the world. She wants to be like her parents."
"Seo could be the one sending the threatening messages in the first place," Willow reminded Buffy. "She's got the skills to do it. And it's exactly the kind of thing she'd do."
Buffy had to admit, that was true. It was exactly the kind of thing she'd do.
"She probably wouldn't have the monsters to back it up," Buffy offered.
"She hasn't so far," said Willow. "That's not the same thing. Lots of aliens seem all helpful and benign, until the rest of their army shows up, and suddenly, they're killing everyone right and left."
"I've taken out uber-vamps, Bringers, Daleks, and bio-mechanical super-demonoids," said Buffy. "Whatever army might be coming to help back up Seo, I can kick its butt. No problem."
Which was good for Buffy. Because she'd been having this weird feeling, recently, like there was something really evil out there, something just out of reach. Something just out of sight. Something… that was poised, ready to strike at any minute.
Something to do with the ghosts.
"Do you have any idea what this Sphere thing is that Seo keeps talking about?" asked Buffy. "She mentioned that Torchwood was looking for it, too. She said that was why they wanted her."
Just before she'd told Buffy that she was lying about all of it.
"It's just a magically shielded Sphere," said Willow. "I'm way more worried about the Seed of Wonder she's been collecting. Whatever this Sphere is, it's nothing compared to the Earth losing its soul."
"You don't think the First sent the Sphere?" Buffy asked. "Wherever it is. And whatever it is. I mean, if you can see it, but it doesn't actually exist…"
"Buffy," said Willow. She held out both her hands, like a scale, weighing each possibility. "Seed of Wonder, containing Earth's soul and the origin of all magic. Evil Sphere thing, that may or may not be some lie Seo told us to distract us from her Seed of Wonder adventures." Willow tipped her hand-scale way over to the side of the Seed of Wonder. "It doesn't measure up."
Buffy nodded, slowly. But she didn't like it. She didn't like it at all. There was something that felt really wrong about this whole thing.
"How does Ria know that it's the Scythe the demons are after?" asked Buffy.
"They asked for the Slayer's Weapon," said Willow. "So… Scythe it is."
"You don't think they're after this Sphere thing?" Buffy asked. "Or… the Seed of Wonder? Or…?"
"Buffy," said Willow. "When we get to the castle, we'll regroup. I'm sure Leah, Satsu, and Rowena will know more than me."
Buffy blinked. Then blinked again. "Wait, who?"
Willow frowned. "You know them?"
Buffy opened her mouth to say, yes, of course she…
Then stopped. Because… no. No, she didn't. She knew nothing about them, whatsoever. So… why… did those names give her a gut reaction, like she should know who they were? And why did she keep feeling like heading to a Scottish castle was somehow… right?
"No," she said. "No, just… weird feeling."
Willow shot Buffy a sympathetic look. "Xander had one of those," she admitted. "He was certain that he'd seen Harold Saxon running around Sunnydale."
Buffy laughed. "Harold Saxon?" She shook her head. "That's ridiculous."
"Tell me about it," said Willow, with a grin.
There was something weird about the castle. Something Buffy couldn't identify, that she couldn't shake off. It just nagged at her, like she'd forgotten something vitally important, but when she tried to summon the memory, it didn't seem to exist.
And Seo just made things way, way worse.
The moment she met Leah, Satsu, and Rowena, she started staring at them. She did it normally, then again with her eyes crossed, then again at a squint, then again, tilting her head at various angles, as if trying to spot something no one else could see.
"What?" Leah demanded, after this had gone on for some time.
Seo looked around, then leaned in, conspiratorially. "You have this thing," she explained. "Except it's nothing. It isn't there. I can't see it."
"So… I have… nothing," Leah clarified.
"No, you have lots of things!" Seo insisted. "Like normal people. Except for the extra weird thing you have. Which you don't, because it doesn't exist."
Leah just nodded, slowly. And tried to get as far away from Seo as she possibly could.
"That Seo is a nutter," Leah told the others, later. When Seo wasn't around.
"She's Buffy's time travelling kid from the future," said Xander. "Her father's crazy, too. I think that's where she gets it from."
"Father?" asked Satsu. She seemed a little put out by the news.
"It's a long story," Buffy told her. "And one that I really don't want to get into."
"Buffy's like cookies," Xander explained. "Or, at least, that's what she always tells us."
"Thank you, Xander," Buffy muttered.
But Seo wasn't really their main concern, at the castle. At the moment, they were way more concerned about who these demons were, and how they were planning to end the world.
"They've been spotted here, here, and here," Rowena explained to them, pointing to different locations on a map. "All sightings say they're 20 feet high, and they shimmer into and out of existence."
"Like the ghosts," Leah added. "Except bigger."
"Do they come during ghost shift?" asked Buffy.
"Never," said Satsu. "And, unlike the ghosts, they become physically present, before they disappear. They've torn down entire buildings with just a touch, and they can roast someone alive without even making physical contact."
"Okay, that's not something I'd like to experience," Xander put in.
"Some kind of psycho-kinesis," Willow diagnosed. "Probably fueled by something in the human population, nearby. Like… fear, maybe?"
"I've seen that before," Buffy confirmed. "But we can't rule out the possibility that they're being generated from somewhere on Earth. A cover for someone else, trying to get his or her own way."
"We've thought of that," said Leah. "Ria's intelligence has been looking around the area, trying to find any possible suspects. And Torchwood Two's been helping us."
"Oh," said Buffy. "You mean Archie. Jack's mentioned him. What's he like?"
The three junior Slayers looked at each other. Then back at Buffy.
"Weird," they agreed.
"Okay, just... throwing this out here," said Xander, "but... why the Scythe? I mean, yeah, it's got superpowers, but those superpowers only work for Slayers. We couldn't even use it to heal the Doctor, and he's Time Lord Powered."
Willow and Buffy exchanged nervous glances.
"Well," Willow said, "when we did that spell, activating all the Slayers, we… did it… through the Scythe."
"Destroy the Scythe, and no new Slayers," Buffy agreed. "Then pick the rest of us off, one by one. Easiest way to destroy the Slayer Line."
For a moment, no one said anything.
"So how do we stop them?" asked Satsu.
"But I want to see!" Seo complained.
Buffy dragged Seo back, trying to suppress her frustration. "You're acting like a spoiled 10 year old," she reprimanded.
"No, I was way worse when I was ten," Seo said. "I built a neutron bomb and blew up my room." She hesitated. "And… most of the rest of my home, actually."
Giles stepped forwards. "I can look after her, while you and the others are away," he offered. "I was planning to do some research, anyways."
"Hear that, Seo?" said Buffy. "You stay with Giles and help him research, while I go out and…"
"But I've been sitting around reading books my whole life!" Seo complained. "I want to go and see stuff!"
"I can't believe it," Xander said. "She's actually worse than Dawn."
The others all looked at each other. They could clearly see that someone with Seo's strength wasn't going to be restrained by Giles. Or even a locked door.
"I'll stay," Satsu offered. "Keep an eye on her. You can go."
Seo stopped struggling. She turned, to look at Satsu. No, not just look. Examine. With a sort of animated curiosity, as if trying to work her out completely based on the scant few words they'd shared.
Then she beamed, and tugged her arm away from Buffy.
"Okay!" she said, bouncing over to Satsu. "I'll stay with her."
Buffy wasn't sure she liked the way that Seo had leapt at the opportunity. Or the way that Seo had suddenly decided that staying behind was okay. It was almost… like…
"You're planning something, aren't you?" asked Buffy.
Seo gave her a completely innocent look. "No," she said. "How'd you get that idea?"
Buffy turned, instead, to Satsu. "Don't let her out of your sight," she warned. "Keep her here, out of trouble, and don't let her interfere." Then she turned, and began to march off with the others. But stopped. Spun around. "And no matter how much you want to, don't kill her!" she added.
Satsu had only accepted the babysitting job because she'd hoped it would bring her closer to Buffy. She guessed there were worse things than babysitting an immature, Slayer-powered brat, but… she honestly couldn't think of any, at the moment.
"Do you also wish that Harold Saxon was a woman?" Seo asked.
Satsu started out of her reverie. "What?"
"Nothing!" said Seo. There was a delighted smile on her face, as she wandered around the castle. Leaping from room to room, bounding up and down spiral staircases.
It was a little exhausting.
"Have you saved the world before?" Seo asked, stopping in mid-step, between two stairs.
Satsu stopped just short of running into her. "A number of times," she confirmed.
"This is my first time," said Seo. "I'm really excited. I've never saved the world before. My parents saved it a lot. I think that's how they met. I always wanted to."
"Hate to break it to you," said Satsu. "But you're going to have to wait a little longer before you do."
"No, I won't," said Seo. "Just watch."
Satsu shook her head. "You do realize you're kind of young for this thing? Saving the world — that's a lot of responsibility for someone who's only…"
"I'm 98," said Seo.
Satsu blinked. Then blinked again. Stared at Seo. "What?"
"It's okay," Seo reassured her. "I'm very immature for my age." She paused. Then frowned. "Oh. Can you hear that?"
Satsu listened. But could hear nothing.
"Can I hear—?" Satsu began, but noticed the sudden rush of movement, as Seo dove beneath her arm, and tumbled down the stairs, towards freedom. Satsu sighed, then back-flipped down the steps and arrived at the bottom just in time to catch Seo before she could escape.
"Oh," said Seo. She gave a friendly grin. "Hello."
"You should know, I'm the best fighter at the Slayer Institution," Satsu informed her. "Ria relies on me for her most important missions. If I'm guarding you, you're not getting out of here."
Seo's expression fell. "Okay." Then she thought a moment, and frowned. "Ria," she repeated. "Do you have a crush on her, too, or is it just Buffy?"
Satsu was startled enough that her grip slackened, allowing Seo to slip away and pop back to her feet.
"How…?" asked Satsu. Then she cleared her throat. "Ria got engaged last week. And… I have no feelings… towards…"
But Seo had decided that was enough of that topic of conversation. She'd started tapping against the walls around her, squinting at them, and sniffing at them. "How are the monsters trying to destroy the world?" she asked.
"I… I'm not allowed to tell you that," said Satsu.
"Because you don't know," Seo replied, pausing in her work.
Satsu began cursing inside her head, but managed to keep calm on her exterior. "I'm under instructions to keep you out of trouble and uninvolved," Satsu replied.
"Yeah, but we both know that's never going to happen, so let's skip that part," Seo dismissed, waving the order off with her hand. "So these monsters are going to destroy the world unless you hand over the Scythe. And you want to defeat them."
"Yes," Satsu admitted.
"Except you don't know how to defeat them," said Seo. "Because you don't know how they're going to end the world."
For a few moments, Satsu was silent. "Yes," she sighed.
"And," Seo continued, "the monsters don't show up all the time. Just every so often. That's why everyone rushed off to try to hunt them down — because you don't know when or where they show up, or why, or what they look like. In fact, you don't really know anything at all."
Satsu stared at the kid. Not sure what to say. Because, annoying as it was… she was right.
Seo tilted her head to the side. "Well, except you do know one thing. They speak English."
"Wait, what?" Satsu shouted.
"Well, this is a bust," said Xander. He turned back to the others, all of whom were wandering aimlessly through the Scottish countryside. "Still nothing, Will?"
Willow shook her head.
"We should have asked Archie," said Leah. "He's been tracking them."
"Yeah, I'd like to avoid Torchwood, at the moment," said Buffy. "If possible."
Willow gave her a pointed look.
"It's just… you know what Torchwood is like with demons," Buffy added, hurriedly.
Rowena and Leah both gave the same annoyed sigh, that said that — yes. Both of them had dealt with Torchwood and demons. And the encounter hadn't ended well.
"Torchwood is good with aliens," said Rowena. "Not so much with demons."
"Well, that's why we're here," said Willow. "Slayer Institution. We're the inter-dimensional experts. And Torchwood is more like… the… the…"
"Initiative," Xander offered.
Buffy elbowed him, hard, in the side. "Some of my best friends work for Torchwood."
"Yeah, and your ex-boyfriend worked for the Initiative," said Xander. "So there we go."
"We better head back to the castle," said Leah. "See if Giles has found… any…"
She trailed off, as the air seemed to rip apart, a short ways away from them, and a twenty foot shadow of a monster seared through the sky, its fangs dripping black gunk onto the ground with a splash.
"Hey!" said Xander, pointing. "Go us. We found it."
Buffy glanced over at the other Slayers. Then, with a gesture, the three of them raced off towards the monster, hoping to get a better look. Willow and Xander struggled to catch up, their eyes still on the giant shadow monster.
"Feel anything?" Buffy asked the people around her.
Inside her own mind, she was probing around with her Slayer senses. Trying to figure out if she'd detected anything like this before. It was definitely there, and definitely evil, but it wasn't familiar. Not like she'd hoped.
"Seeing them," said Rowena, pointing up ahead, "I'm feeling mostly disappointment."
Buffy's focus shifted to the outside world, and the two figures that had just come into view. The figures that were sitting, cross-legged, on the grass, facing one another, their eyes closed, as a bright golden orb of energy surrounded them, pulsing.
Buffy swore, beneath her breath.
"That is so unfair," said Leah. "I've been training every bit as long as Satsu. How can she get the demon to show up, when I can't?"
Xander looked over at Willow. "We really should have expected this."
"Yes, we should," said Willow.
The golden bubble of energy dropped away, and the two figures climbed to their feet. They were still too far away to hear, but they could all see Seo pointing to the demon, in the air, speaking to Satsu hurriedly.
Satsu pulled out a katana, her eyes on the evil shadow monster. Her stance looking like she was going to spring forwards and strike out at it, any second.
Seo grabbed the katana out of her hand, snapping something at her. Then turned her around to face the oncoming rush of people approaching them.
"So," said Buffy to Seo, as she approached, "I'm guessing the words, 'don't interfere' have no meaning for you whatsoever."
Seo beamed and gestured towards the sky. "Look! I found your demon for you!"
"But it doesn't speak English," Satsu said to Seo.
"No, but it is
after the Scythe," said Seo. "That's why it showed up when we accessed your psychic energy."
"Woah, woah, wait," said Buffy. "Slow down. What's going on?"
"I was guarding her, like you said," Satsu insisted. "But she started talking about how we didn't really know anything about how these creatures were going to end the world. Or how to stop them. Or what they were. Except that they spoke English."
"What?" said Willow.
"They sent Ria an ultimatum," said Satsu. "In English. So either the monsters themselves can speak English…"
"Or whoever's sending them can," Leah realized. She looked askance at Seo. "She figured that out?"
"I didn't just figure it out," said Seo. "I found a way to prove it. After all, what if these demons had nothing to do with the Scythe or the ultimatum? What if they were attracted here by something else?"
"So we constructed a test," Satsu concurred. "Using some of the stones from the castle."
"They're psychically active," Seo explained. "I could feel them humming. And they tasted all weird and tingly, when I licked them."
Satsu's face flushed red, as did Xander's. The exact same mental image going through both their minds.
Buffy wished there was a convenient paper bag she could put over her head. Oh, God, this was way more embarrassing than when the Doctor did it. Because at least the Doctor didn't look exactly like her. "You licked the castle."
"In front of Satsu," Rowena muttered. "Bet she loved that."
"So we took one of the stones out here," Seo continued, as if she had completely overlooked the sexual undertones of her previous actions, "and used our psychic energies to complement each other. Satsu's energy all stems from the Scythe's regenerative recycling power, so she's drenched in Scythe psychic residue. The creature picked up on that. It came out, and showed up here!"
"Which proves that the two are related," Leah realized. "This creature was sent by someone looking for the Scythe."
"Who sent Ria that message," Rowena continued. "And… can speak English."
"So it's a human being, trying to end the world!" said Seo. "It has to be. A human being, or a very talented alien. Or… a very talented demon. Or maybe a bird that accidentally…"
The demon shadow creature turned its head to stare at them.
Everyone backed away, slowly.
"So, now that we've got it in the open," said Buffy, "anyone actually know how to kill it?"
Everyone looked over at Seo. She cringed.
"I hadn't… really… thought that far ahead," she admitted.
"Well, it's only my first time saving the world!" said Seo. "Cut me some slack!"
Buffy looked at the other Slayers. "Regroup?"
"Regroup," they agreed.
Then turned, and fled for their lives.
The shadow demon looking them over, curiously, making a half-hearted attempt to follow them. But not reaching out to destroy them, the way they expected.
"Why isn't it killing us?" Seo asked.
"Maybe it's saving us for dessert!" Buffy shouted back. "Now keep moving!"
Xander, huffing and puffing, felt himself falling behind. The only non-magic, non-Slayer powered of the group. Seo, noticing, lingered a moment, hooking her arm around his, and helping him forward.
"You… you know," said Xander, between gasps of air, "what I don't get is… if these demon things only show up… where the Scythe's energy is… then how'd they end up… in Scotland? And not the States?"
Seo glanced back, over her shoulder. At the towering black creature, analyzing it. Then her breath caught in her throat, and her eyes grew wide.
"What?" panted Xander.
Seo snapped her head around to Xander. And gave him a charming grin. "Nothing," she told him, trying to push him to run faster. "Castle! Now!"