WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
JUST ANOTHER APOCALYPSE
Dawn opened her eyes, surprised to find herself not dead.
It took her a moment to realize she wasn’t alone, and she got her second surprise when she sat up and found Robin Woods -- who she couldn’t help thinking of as Principle Woods, even though his school has been swallowed up by the Hellmouth -- lying on a cot beside hers. They were on a raised platform that ran the edge of an area the size of a classroom, walled in by concrete. Narrow slits, barely big enough to be called windows, were too high up to tell if it was day or night, but the place was brightly lit by glowing strips on the ceiling.
“Okay . . .” She stood up and looked around, noticing a table and two chairs across the room, a locked steamer trunk near that, and a thick looking wooden door. She knew, without trying, that she couldn’t open it. Most important of all, she saw and smelled a hot breakfast waiting on two plates at the table.
Turning, Dawn nudged Robin. “Principle -- um, Robin?”
Opening his eyes, Robin moaned. His hands automatically went to his abdomen, and then his eyes opened wider. He set up, unbuttoned his shirt, and ran his hands in wonder over unscarred skin. “I’m healed.”
“Hallelujah. Let’s eat.” She pulled him to his feet and pointed toward the food, which he approached with suspicion.
“How do we know this isn’t poisoned?” he demanded. Dawn raised an eyebrow at him. “Okay, drugged?”
“Good point.” Perching on a chair, Dawn reached for a fork and, before Robin could protest, took a bite. “Doesn’t taste like LSD.” She began eating, having decided that they had to keep their strength up until they figured out what was going on, while Robin sat across from her and watched.
“How are the biscuits and gravy?”
Mouth full, Dawn gave him a thumbs up sign.
“The eggs? Not too overeasy?”
Swallowing, she waved her fork at the other plate. “Look, someone healed you, so why hurt you now? I’m not saying they’re going to come in and sing to us, but I don’t think they’re going to hurt us yet, either.”
Giving in, Robin started eating, while Dawn wondered if she was right. One thing she did know was that she wasn’t going to be the victim this time. By eating, she not only kept her strength up, but gained a nice, pointy fork to work with.
But as soon as she’d shoveled the last mouth full in, the fork disappeared. The plate went too, and the orange juice glass vanished with the last sip. While she sat there with her arms crossed, pouting, the same thing happened to Robin.
“You think the food’s still there?” he asked, patting his stomach.
“Whatever.” She got up and began stalking around the room, looking for weapons and weaknesses. After a moment Robin joined her, and they traded stories about how they'd ended up there. By the time they circled the small room, the table and chairs were also gone.
Increasingly irritated, Dawn marched over to the cots and discovered they were bolted to both the floor and the wall. She stood on one, reaching up on tiptoe to find steel bars had been cemented into the windows -- which were too narrow to allow someone through, anyway. Pacing by an amused Robin, she gave the door a good swift kick that almost broke her foot. “This sucks. On ice.”
Her cellmate nodded. “Someone’s being very careful with us: Apparently, we’ve developed a reputation. All the weapons I had hidden on me are gone.”
“I could snap them with my bra.” Dawn stood in the middle of the room, considering. Above all, she didn’t want to be rescued by anyone, especially Buffy. She was so tired of being rescued. But self rescue seemed an increasingly dim prospect. “If only we knew who brought us here, and why.”
Robin tilted his head for a moment, thought about it, and -- sang.
Given all the things I like
knives and stakes, a nice long pike
I think that I could get us out of here.
The situation’s looking bad
they took from me the things I had
Escape is just a fantasy I fear.
It seemed perfectly natural for Dawn to join in the chorus:
It’s just another apocalypse
What else could it be?
Acid dripping from demon lips
Or poison in his pee
It’s just another apocalypse to me.
Swords are more of the same old story
Please give me a gun this time
Can’t we update our inventory
The Watcher’s council has the dime
I want to kick some demon ass this time.
They did a little dance number and added,
It’s just another apocalypse
Been there, done that
Hellfire from some goddess lips
We’ll pull a rescue from our hat
It’s just another apocalypse, you see.
Glory, Master, Mayor or Spike
It’s getting old, you must agree.
Sword or mace, stake or pike
Give us a shot, and we’ll be free
It’s just another apocalypse, to me.
As the music faded Robin froze, arms thrown out, fingers spread. Only his eyes moved, to see Dawn in a similar position. “Did we just sing?”
“And danced,” Dawn told him. They dropped their arms, and Dawn saw he looked as embarrassed as she felt. But she also felt something else. She moved to the middle of the room to spin around, staring into the corners for some sign of their enemy -- and she now knew exactly who that was.
“Hey, snappy dressing sing and dance guy! Show your orchestrated ass right now!”
Dawn thought at first Robin had spoken, but she spun around to see an all too familiar demon standing in the doorway -- even though the door had not been opened. “Sweet,” he repeated, before tap dancing his way down to the lower level. That blood red face split into a wide smile, and as he spun, his no doubt custom made blue three piece suit swirled around him in an oh-so-cool way.
I’ve got a hundred of ‘em
but people never say ‘em
I just don’t say my name
while people play my game
But now the rules have changed, my friend.
Dawn held a finger up and advanced on the demon, while Robin looked on with a shell shocked expression. “Don’t you dare make me --”
Then she danced backward, in perfect unison with Sweet’s steps.
You and your friends the slayers
think that you’re such the players
But now you’ll find you’re wrong
You’ll have to sing his song
It may bring you pain, my friend.
“I am not your friend!”
Sweet just grinned as if she’d made the funniest joke imaginable.
So you can call me Sweet, and tell the friends you meet
that I’m the coolest one, but when the day is done
There’s someone else to take attention,
a new Big Cheese that I should mention
That makes me now the second fiddle
So see if you can get this riddle
‘Cause if you don’t you’re in the middle --
“Hey -- why aren’t you making me sing with you?” She hated to sing. Dawn stared at her old nemesis, who had once made her and her friends -- and all the town of Sunnydale -- break into song and dance routines. He seemed marginally less threatening, which was a big deal considering his tendency to make people burst into flames.
To her surprise, Sweet stopped singing, although he continued to grin. “That’s what I’m saying, little one: Your fate is out of my hands.”
“What riddle?” Robin suddenly asked.
Sweet turned to him. “Ah, the baritone. The riddle is: How can you reverse the dream of shaken milk who’s bringing memories to a real life nightmare?”
“That riddle sucks,” Dawn told him, mostly because she was mad.
“True, and it will likely be of no help. But hey, I’m not the Riddler. And you can’t solve it yourself, princess -- that would make it too easy.”
I’ll see you at the gate,
the place you’re gonna hate
Now we can’t go without you
But with you there we can do
And it may bring your end -- my friend.
And with a flash, he was gone.
There was a moment’s silence, while Dawn waited to see if they were going to break into song again. Then she turned slowly to Robin, who appeared to be deep in thought. “I guess I should explain that.”
“He’s a demon who once caused Sunnydale to break into song and dance?”
“I guess I don’t have to.”
Robin shrugged. “I figured out the backstory, I think. But he made it pretty clear he’s not the one in charge, this time.”
“No.” But Dawn wondered why Sweet had told them that. He’d said once that he didn’t make the rules -- was this some other rule he had to follow? After all, he’d volunteered once before to tell Dawn what he was up to.
“So if he didn’t put us here, why did he come?” Robin asked. “Was it just to torture us? If it was, why didn’t he have me breakdancing, and you doing a Rogers and Hammerstein number?”
Turning, Dawn perched on a cot and, after a moment, Robin sat on the other one. “We’re going to some gate,” Dawn said, as she reconstructed their encounter. “And we won’t like it very much.”
“But they can’t go to the gate without us. And . . . it may bring our end.”
“They can’t go to the gate without us, or . . .” Dawn shivered, as a cold shock jolted through her body. “Or, they can’t open the gate without us.”
Robin sent her a sharp look. “They could use us to open a gateway?”
“Our blood, would be my guess.” Dawn drew her knees up and huddled on the bed, feeling a fear she’d thought would never come again. “I’ve been a key before.”
Ozma turned from the mirror and regarded the room’s other occupant, who stood with chunks of parmesan smashed in his fists, face scarlet, jaws clenched. “He told me he’d been called by the amulet,” Cheeseman said. “Why would he lie to me?”
Ozma’s amusement at the situation was rapidly fading. Cheeseman’s appearance was deceptive, and she’d assumed he had no chance of succeeding with this audacious plan. But, with Sweet serving as something of the voice of reason, they were coming closer than she could have imagined. “I have a theory,” she told him. “Sweet surely knows that you wish the prisoners kept secure, and that you wouldn’t be happy if he walked into your prison. But one of them is the only person who ever survived being picked to be his queen. Add that to the fact that he’s been unable to indulge himself in his usual musical extravaganza, and he probably wasn’t able to control his impulses.”
“Hm.” Looking a little less angry, Cheeseman leaned toward her and whispered, even though they were alone in Ozma’s throne room. “Do you don’t think he sent those vampires?”
“It seems unlikely. To my knowledge, Sweet has never replaced his minions the Slayer killed.”
But Cheeseman seemed unconvinced. “What about that riddle? What was that about?”
“It doesn’t sound to me like a real riddle at all. It could be Sweet is simply trying to occupy their minds, so they aren’t looking for a means to escape.”
“True,” the mild looking demon rubbed his chin, leaving crumbled bits of cheese behind. “After all, what could ‘shaken milk’ possibly refer to?”
“Good point,” Ozma said. Then she turned away to hide her smile.
“Andrew, it’s Giles for you.” One of the slayers handed the cell phone forward to the front passenger seat of the panel truck, where Andrew sat half asleep. After insisting on driving most of the way to L.A., he'd gladly consented to having help with that chore on the way back.
An enraged roar came from the girl strapped down behind him, causing all the slayers to jump. They looked with concern at the nurse, Chantel, but she glanced at her watch and shook her head. “Another half hour before it’s safe to give Dana the next dose. We’ll just have to hope the restraints hold.” She continued cooing gentle words at their cargo, who stared at her with wild eyes and seemed barely to understand.
An insane slayer. Everyone seemed to think Dana could be cured, but . . . Andrew took the phone and shook his head, wondering if the new Watcher’s headquarters had been supplied with a padded room, tucked away somewhere. Probably -- it had everything else. “Mr. Giles?”
“Andrew, how goes it?”
“No change since we left California, sir.” Andrew’s chest tightened as he fought the temptation to tell Giles that Spike had returned from the dead -- again. He felt terrible, lying to one side about Spike and the other about Buffy’s location, but he’d concluded lying was one of the uncomfortable duties of a Watcher.
And he’d decided that was what he wanted to be -- that was why he had lived through the destruction of Sunnydale. It was time to put away childish things and take responsibility. His Star Wars action figure collection had gone down with the rest of town, anyway.
“Andrew, this is very important. You must not let on to the slayers with you what we’re speaking about.”
Another lie. Great. “Sure, Mr. Giles, we should be back by early tomorrow morning.”
“Have you noticed any difference in them since you left? Any sign that they might be . . . changing?”
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”
“We’ve uncovered a prophecy that one group of slayers may do battle against another group. At the moment, there are only two organized companies of slayers, and you’re alone with one of them.”
Andrew gulped and glanced around. The driver, who had just graduated high school that spring and left a college scholarship behind, kept her attention on the road. Most of the rest were trying to sleep despite the cramped conditions, while one or two noticed him looking and replied with smiles. His willingness to go into danger alone in Los Angeles had apparently earned him a seal of approval. “No, sir, nothing like that here. Our -- guest -- isn’t happy about being cooped up in the van for this long, but otherwise we’re all fine.”
“Yes, well . . . keep your eyes open. And be ready to go into battle as soon as you join us. Something very, very bad is going to happen soon, and if the prophecy proves correct it may be a serious situation, indeed.”
Andrew shut off the phone and squirmed in his seat, suddenly wide awake. There were many slayers still out there around the world, faced with brand new powers and no guidance. What if someone else got to them first? Turned them evil? What if someone attacked the new Watcher’s council, just as the First Evil had the old one, and took control of those slayers?
He turned to catch the attention of the woman behind the wheel. “Drive faster.”