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Chapter Seventeen: Unpleasant Surprises

SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 2002, 6:01 PM (GMT)
A SECURE LOCATION

-TRAVERS-


Quentin Travers shuddered as he crossed the verge of the null field and stepped into the facility's secured guest quarters. All of the old Council bloodlines had been heavily bred for power and intelligence in ages past, and though few today exhibited the kind of power Rupert Giles had once had at his command, no Watcher grew to adulthood without becoming accustomed to the feel of magic as a constant background presence in their lives. To have it suddenly ripped away from one's being was akin to having a portion of one's body go unexpectedly numb; it felt to Travers as though his ears and skin had suddenly been wrapped in cotton wool.

He scowled through the sensation and strode forward to the bed, staring down at the corpse of the girl that had given the Watchers' Council so much trouble in recent years. From the moment she'd turned up in Sunnydale and the Council had become aware she had not fallen to Kakistos alongside her first Watcher, she had been nothing but a thorn in their side. At first, she'd bid fair to follow in Summers' rebellious footsteps; that level of notoriety had evidently not been enough for the dark Slayer, however, and she'd soon turned coat and made alliance with the enemy. Travers had hoped she'd perish in hospital after that unfortunate series of events had finally concluded, but she had escaped that fate... and then escaped the hands of the Council once more when she fled to the cursed vampire for sanctuary.

Even incarcerated, Faith could have been of use to the Council, but several members of the Board had put a stop to Travers' plans for her, refusing to recognize the necessity of the measures he intended. And so she had remained out of reach whilst their hold on Sunnydale had weakened further and the situation with young Wyndam-Price slipped entirely out of control. Not until the boy's origins had been laid bare at last had Travers found the leverage he needed to arrange matters as he wished. Richard had been willing to go to extraordinary lengths to keep the knowledge of the boy's exact origins limited to himself and Travers.

It seemed terribly fitting that in the end, it had been Faith's own failures that finally brought her back to them. The lawyer Faith had dealt with in her headlong flight after awakening from the coma, and whom she had made an enemy of all on her own, had taken the Council's bait, engineering the Slayer's capture and turning her over for a tidy sum. With Cruciamentum drugs at hand, a null field in place suppressing whatever abilities might have escaped the medication, and hostages to her supposedly rehabilitated conscience in the form of the Potential Slayers, it had seemed impossible for her to find any further way to thwart them. Even the cup of poison, intended as a psychological measure only, should have played to the Council's benefit if she had succumbed.

If. Travers shook his head. There was no uncertainty about it: the emptied goblet had fallen from her hand to lay sideways on the carpet, only a few deadly drops still clinging to its interior. A dark stain had gathered in the corners of her mouth, and all color had fled from her limp, indecently bared flesh. In addition, the body had been checked manually-- and quite thoroughly-- by the facility's medical staff to make certain that the stain around the girl's lips was indeed the poison and that she hadn't withdrawn into some sort of low-functioning meditative trance. It was, and she hadn't. Her heart had stopped within seconds of ingesting the drink, and she had not moved since.

Had they made a mistake, renewing the null field around her room after they had adjusted the spell to exclude the Potential Slayers' dormitory? Had the Slayer essence somehow been imprisoned within the walls of this bedroom? Travers glanced around uneasily at that thought, all too aware of the origins of that subsentient, migratory spirit. The echo of Sineya would not be pleased with the presence of a descendant of the Shadow Men.

"Chalmers," he snapped, looking up from the body to fix his gaze on the incompetent woman who had been responsible for reading the spell in the Potentials' quarters.

She started a little, like a frightened rabbit, at his voice; he fought the urge to sneer at her. "Please inform Richard that the null field is no longer necessary. She cannot escape now, and its suppressant effects may be at fault for the delay in the Slayer transference."

The mousy woman ducked her head in acknowledgement, then fled out into the corridor. Travers sniffed in disapproval, then paced slowly around the edge of the bed. He had seen many deaths in his day, including his own Slayer after the failure of her Cruciamentum. There was nothing particularly special about this one, save for the particular benefits Travers would garner from the power that should have been-- and would still be-- released by her demise.

He paused by the head of the bed, studying the slackened lines of the Slayer's face, then let his eyes trail downward to the silver flash of the chi-rho necklace at her throat. An unusual choice for a Slayer, that; most Slayers were aware of the efficacy of crosses and holy water against vampires and certain other demons, but few ever thought to try other types of Christian paraphernalia or religious items from other cultures, and the Council did not encourage the practice. The exact function of the divine in her duties was not something such a short-lived foot soldier really needed to concern herself with.

Perhaps the necklace had served another purpose? The researchers had not yet proved to Travers' satisfaction whether static, persistent enchantments adhering to objects remained active within the null field's range. Curious, Travers took a step closer, extending one hand toward the bright, reflective metal.

He was arrested short of his goal by the peculiar sensation of a warm obstacle pressing against his left shin. A squeak emitted from the obstacle when he attempted to shift it with that foot, and Travers' tenuous hold on his temper slipped free. "Chalmers! Percy!" he roared, absolutely furious, and took three quick steps away from the bed. How could they have let such a thing pass?

The bed skirt moved, then lifted to expose the lithe body of a young blonde woman little older than the dead Slayer squeezing back out from the space under the bed. An irritatingly familiar woman, whom he had last seen at the side of the Summers Slayer the year before. "You!" he spat, pulse throbbing at his temple in rage.

She staggered to her feet with something approximating a contrite expression on her face. "Oops?" she offered, smiling at him apologetically.

"Percy!" he yelled again, then glared as the door finally opened, disgorging the bookish young Watcher.

"Uh, s-sir?" he stammered, glancing in Travers' direction, then turned his focus back to the inexplicable Ms. Jenkins.

"How did she get in here?" Travers demanded of him. When the dark Slayer had been installed, the room had been empty and the door locked; Richard himself had been here at the time, and whatever personal disagreements might lie between them, Travers trusted the other man's dedication to his duty. Someone must have admitted Ms. Jenkins to the room in the hours since.

"I, um, I--" Percy trailed off without even offering a complete sentence, his eyes fixated somewhere near the young woman's bustline.

"It's really rather simple," the blonde replied, her hands clasped in front of her. She appeared disconcertingly unconcerned about her current situation.

Travers narrowed his eyes at her, nostrils flaring, before responding. "Do explain," he said, forcing the words out through clenched teeth.

"It went something--" she said, then smiled and paused for a second as the air around them briefly glittered, leaving in its wake the feeling of magic seeping back into his bones.

"--Like this," she continued, and her face shifted into something entirely unexpected.

Horrified, Travers staggered backward again, belatedly equating her appearance in Sunnydale over two years ago with the reports of Anyanka the Vengeance Demon disappearing in that town. He flinched as his back made contact with the wall, then raised his arms in front of him, bracing for whatever curse she had come to inflict-- then blinked as she abruptly disappeared from the room.

The Potentials! he thought with a stab of dismay, then forced himself to relax as he remembered that they were currently all entrapped in spell-induced slumber. He would have to take care to raise the null field again before allowing them to be awakened, but in the meantime, with Faith Lehane no longer among the living, he was probably safe from Anyanka's wrath. Whether the Slayer had simply failed to make a wish, or Anyanka's ability to enforce wishes perished upon the petitioner's death, he did not know, and did not care; clearly, the Powers That Be were on his side in this matter.

Travers straightened his collar and stepped away from the wall, then turned the full force of his attention back on the hapless Percy. "We shall discuss this failure later," he said, scowling at the young man. "Return to the dormitory at once and assist Chalmers in re-casting the revelatory spell."

"At once, sir," Percy agreed hurriedly, then fled from the room.

Travers snorted at the boy's nervous haste, then shook his head and and turned back to the body. Before Anyanka had interrupted him, he had been examining Faith's necklace; it still seemed a likely receptacle for defensive charm-work, especially if it were genuinely made from silver and not a more fashionable option such as white gold or platinum. He stepped back toward the bed-- briefly pausing to drop to one knee and peer beneath it to make certain there were no more intruders-- then gently applied the index and middle fingers of his right hand to the chi-rho pendant.

Power flowed up Travers' arm at the contact. He jerked his hand free immediately, startled by the hybrid flavour of the magic contained within, and swore under his breath at the implications. If the null field was, indeed, calibrated specifically to suppress supernatural emanations from biological organisms, sparing pre-set spells entirely, it now meant a possible additional layer of interference in the passing of the torch in question.

Unless he missed his guess, the vampire's son had been responsible for the pendant's enchantment, and the boy's spell-casting seemed to have improved greatly since his Academy days. It would take a team of experts to determine its exact functionality, and the examination would have to be done before the body was disposed of; Travers wanted no unpleasant surprises later on. Especially if Percy's errand failed as entirely as the earlier attempt to discover the next Slayer had done.

Regardless of the delay, however, it was only a matter of time before Travers had everything he wanted in his grasp. The Rollright installation had reported the capture of the chaos mage, Ethan Rayne, and the London branch had successfully engineered the arrest of Rupert Giles, who had been spotted in the city mere hours ago. A team was in hot pursuit of the rash young Wyndam-Price, and the only other British member of the so-called "Scooby Gang", the vampire known as William the Bloody, was the current subject of a great deal of plotting on American soil. That left the remainder of the group without leadership or native knowledge of the terrain, virtually guaranteeing that Summers and her crew would not be able to interrupt his plans until it was far too late.

Travers favored the Slayer's body with one last smile of satisfaction, then turned on his heel and left the room.

>> CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

* And here we have it: the first of the new chapters. At last. Huzzah!
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