"Get away from me!" Salome Simpson shrieked as she raced through the living room. She threw a chair in the way of her stalker, trying to momentarily slow him down. She backed her way into the small kitchen, up against the counter.
The shadowed figure leapt onto the counter and grabbed Salome from behind, hauling her off her feet and onto the counter with him. Salome kicked her legs and let out another shriek.
"I win," Connor said, a feral smile on his face as he leaned in and nuzzled his nose against her cheek. He wrapped his arms tighter around her. "You sound like such a damsel when you're shrieking."
"Damsel?" Salome squirmed against her boyfriend as he lifted her up and carried her towards the couch. "I do not damsel."
"Just when we're playing, huh?" Connor fell onto the couch with Salome perched on his lap. He leaned in and nibbled on her jaw.
Sighing deeply, Salome tilted her head slightly. "Seems that's all we do these days. Play demon hunter. We hardly get the chance to actually be demon hunters."
Connor pulled back and sighed. He ran his hand up Salome's stocking-clad thigh. His expression was grim. "I dunno. I'm kind of enjoying the break after being a demon hunter for so long in Quortoth. Spending quality time with my girl." He pressed in towards Salome and gently took her mouth.
With a sigh, Salome accepted the tender kiss. After a moment, she withdrew again. "You're not the least bit bored?"
Connor glared at her. "You're the one who took a job in Los Angeles. The demon population hasn't been the same here since the Circle was destroyed and there's a Slayer School. And there are plenty of drunk college students who want to get tattoos in Palo Alto."
Salome wrinkled her nose and wrapped her arms around Connor's neck. "LA was the only place I could find a tattoo artist willing to take me on as an apprentice." She cocked her head to the side. "You going to miss me, Ace?"
Connor frowned deeply, looking down. His bangs fell in front of his eyes. "I didn't say that."
Salome sighed, brushing Connor's bangs out of his face. She pressed a kiss to his forehead. "You didn't really have to. Can read you pretty well now."
"I spent a long time without you, Salome," Connor murmured. He brought a hand up to cup her cheek. "When I was in Quortoth, I kept on thinking about how I wanted to be back with you. And now that I am... I don't want to let you go."
"I'm going to be back in Palo Alto all the time," Salome assured him softly, curling a lock of his hair around her finger. "As much as I can. I promise. I'll even teleport so we don't lose time with that pesky driving." She paused for a long moment, surveying his features. "You know, you keep bringing up your time in Quortoth, but we've never really discussed...." She narrowed her gaze on him. "Just how much time are we talking, Ace?"
Connor sighed deeply and lifted Salome up, placing her down on the couch next to him. "I already told you guys it wasn't seventeen years again..."
"But it doesn't sound like it was just a few weeks either." Salome frowned slightly, getting up on her knees and leaning over Connor. "Come on, you can tell me anything."
Smiling wryly, Connor caressed Salome's hair. "Let me put it this way..." He leaned in towards her. "I'll have to get used to being with a younger woman."
"Really." Salome sighed, shaking her head. "That's something, isn't it? My younger boyfriend is now suddenly my older boyfriend." She rolled her eyes. "This sort of thing could only happen to us." Salome licked her lips. "Think you'll have any trouble adjusting to that? Not looking to trade me in?"
Connor smiled up at Salome, before pulling her back into his embrace. "It's you, Sal. I don't have a moment's hesitation. You're my soul mate."
They kissed gently but passionately. After a moment, Connor pulled back and gazed down at Salome. "Now that I answered your question, there's something I wanted to ask you."
There was a knock at the door. Salome sighed deeply as she extracted herself from Connor's arms. "Hold that thought."
Salome got to her feet and strode to the door. Connor groaned and ran a hand through his hair. He reached into the pocket of his jeans and took something out.
"What the--" Salome yelped, distressed.
Connor leapt to his feet, dropping the box he had been holding and grabbing up his axe. Stand in the doorway was a shrouded figure, hovering above the ground. Salome held a hand up to halt Connor. "Relax, Ace. It just startled me. You wouldn't be able to hurt it anyway. It's a Wraith."
Connor's brow furrowed deeply. "Not making me want to hurt it any less."
"It's a messenger between worlds," Salome explained.
"Why is it here?" Connor asked warily.
The ethereal wraith held out a scroll to Salome, which she accepted. The creature disappeared as if it had never been as Salome unwrapped the scroll and began to read. "Oh..." Salome took in a sharp breath. "That's why."
"What's why?" Connor asked hurriedly.
Salome worried her lower lip. "It's from the Nyazian High Council. It seems... I'm under arrest."
Connor's eyes grew wide. "Arrest? For what?"
Salome swallowed hard as she looked up. "Attempted genocide."
J. August Richards
Connor's hands were clutching the wheel of his Viper so tightly, his knuckles were beginning to turn white. Salome was beside him in the passenger's seat, her feet up on the dash. She huffed out a breath, blowing a lock of purple hair out of her face. "You're going to break the wheel if you're not careful. Just try to relax."
"Relax?" Connor repeated, looking briefly to his side and raking his gaze over Salome. He let out a bitter laugh. "You want me to relax? My girlfriend is under arrest for Attempted Genocide..." He raked a hand through his hair. "And why are you so relaxed anyway? You're said girlfriend!"
Salome gave a small shrug studied her nails with seeming great interest. "There's not a whole lot I can do about it, Ace. I don't even know why we're bothering going back to Palo Alto. I'm not going to be any less under arrest there."
Gritting his teeth, Connor turned his attention back to the road. "But in Palo Alto, we can talk to Andrew and Oni and... We can just figure out what we're going to do. I mean, come on, Sal! You're being falsely accused! Don't you want to fight against it?"
Salome blinked impassively, glancing over at Connor. "I'm not being falsely accused. I did it."
Connor let out a derisive snort as he turned a corner. "Yeah, sure, Baby... While I was in Quortoth, you tried to wipe out an entire civilization." He shook his head. "I don't know why I didn't see it before."
"You weren't away," Salome remained perfectly calm and even, still staring at her manicure. "In fact, you were right beside me." She paused for a moment, her voice dropping in volume. "You were the one who asked me to do it."
Salome jerked forward as Connor slammed on the breaks and the car came to a screeching halt. She was about to protest the abrupt stop, but Connor had turned to her, his blue eyes wide and fearful.
"They're arresting you for opening the fissure to Quortoth," Connor breathed softly. His brow was furrowed deeply.
Salome gave a nod. "Yeah." She sighed deeply. "I told you there would be consequences, Ace. And this is it."
"Attempted genocide?" Connor whispered, his voice laced with disbelief. "You were trying to save the world...." He shook his head fiercely. "No, more than the world. You were trying to save all of existence. It was the only way. You're telling me the Nyazian High Council doesn't realize that?"
"They don't care," Salome replied. She reached over and carded her fingers through Connor's hair. "The Nyazian Council doesn't see shades of grey. They're black and white. Good and evil. Opening a fissure, a crack in reality... It's against the laws of our people. Laws that were set in place to stop people like Cyvus Vail and Azriel from destroying us all. Opening the fissure could have very well gone wrong, Connor. I could have killed us all. I could have just hastened the merger with Quortoth. It was a crap shoot. And that's what I'm being punished for."
"So what do we do now?" Connor asked desperately. He reached for Salome, cradling her face in his hands. "I mean, attempted genocide doesn't seem like something you get a simple slap on the wrists for. I mean, it's..."
"A capital crime," Salome finished. She inclined her head to rub against Connor's palm. "There's not much we can do, Ace. I'm not powerful enough to stay under the Council's radar. They're going to have trackers on me. They've blocked my teleportation. If I try to get out of my trial, they're just going to send bounty hunters after me."
"We'll take care of them," Connor insisted, pulling Salome to him and hugging her fiercely. "You and me together... We can take out anything they throw at us. Any demons they've got hunting you are no match for us."
"They're not bad guys," Salome reminded him, pulling back. "They may be in it for the money, but they're doing it because I'm guilty. You can't kill someone just because they don't like me."
"Why not?" Connor asked. He ran his thumb over her cheek. "Anyone who's trying to hurt you is a bad guy in my books." His face was lined with worry and fear. "I can't lose you, Sal. I only just got you back."
"Let's just keep driving," Salome's voice was gentle and still calm as ever. She smoothed down Connor's hair. "Let's get home and see what the gang say. They might have a better perspective on things."
Connor started the car up anew. He let out a small snort. "This is the gang we're talking about. I dunno how much better their perspective is going to be."
"Running isn't going to do any good," Salome reminded him as she settled back down into her seat. "Fighting isn't going to do any good. All we can do is figure out a way to get me off. And despite all appearances, our friends are a lot smarter than they look."
Andrew opened the door to Lamia House, covered from head-to-toe in demon slime. "How was I supposed to know fire was going to make it explode?"
One-by-one, his friends filed into the house, similarly drenched in the sticky viscous fluid: Jamie, Mandy, Oni, Matty and finally Dawn. Each of them looked thoroughly miserable and tired.
"You did say you knew all about this demon, Cowboy," Matty reminded him, pulling off his glasses and wiping them on the hem of his shirt, to little effect. "You'd think 'highly combustible' would have been in the footnotes."
"You know, you're supposed to be on my side in stuff like this!" Andrew insisted, pouting at his boyfriend. "They can get on my case..." He lowered his voice to only a whisper. "But I let you do stuff to me."
"For which I'm very grateful," Matty replied. He gave Andrew a small smile. "But it doesn't make up for being covered in demon guts. Talk to me after we've had a shower."
"You know..." Dawn wiped her face with her hands, but did nothing but smear the vividly green goo around. "I could be back at Berkeley, enjoying pre-semester parties. But instead, I chose to stay here and keep the evil at bay..." She let out a small squeak of disgust. "I'm starting to wonder why."
Jamie handed Dawn a towel before he began to help Mandy with the slime in her hair. "Well, I've got to thank you for keeping that thing for chowing down on me."
"You know," Mandy piped up. "You guys don't have to help me patrol while Connor is out of town. It was only in the last decade 'Chosen One' lost it's literal meaning."
"And it's only in the last decade Slayers have lived long enough to vote," Jamie pointed out. "As long as Connor and Salome are away, you're getting help."
Oni had run off and come back with a small beaker. "If it would not be any trouble, I would be most appreciative if you could all help me collect a sample of the demon's viscera." She wiped the slime off her cheek and tried to shake it into the beaker. Most of the splatter ended up on the floor. "I would be quite interested in examining it under the microscope. I have not yet had the opportunity to examine an invertebrate demon."
While her friends grumbled, they all obliged Oni, helping her fill her beaker. She let out a pleased sound when it was filled to the brim. "I am quite thankful for this. I would like to examine the bioluminescence of this sample. It is fascinating."
"I think we arrived at just the right time," Salome commented from the doorway. She leaned over towards Connor. "We missed the slime splatter."
Connor did not look at all amused by her comment. By the dark expression in his eyes, his friends were certain very little was going to amuse him.
"Connor..." Andrew took a step forward. "You weren't supposed to come back until Sunday. What's going on?"
"We have trouble," Connor said darkly. "You need to get on the phone with the Council."
"What's going on?" Mandy asked, picked her dirty axe up again. "Anything we need to kill?"
"Calm down, Barbie," Salome said, holding a hand up to halt the gung-ho Slayer. "It's nothing major. I'm just being arrested for attempted genocide." She then waved to the group as a whole. "Hey guys. It's been a while. We'll hug when you're not... Dripping."
"Do I have the definition of 'genocide' wrong?" Jamie asked, arching a brow. "Is it really something that can have a 'just' qualifier on it?"
Salome shook her head. "Nope. The deliberate destruction of an entire race..." She curled a lock of hair around her finger. "That's the deal."
Matty cocked his head, confusion clear on his features. "I know we haven't known each other long, Salome... But you've never struck me as genocidal."
Salome shrugged. "It's always who you least suspect."
"How can you do this?" Connor snapped angrily, glaring at Salome. "How can you make jokes when the Nyazian Council is threatening to kill you? Don't you care about this at all?"
"Of course I care, Ace," Salome replied, her voice sharper and annoyed. "But what do you expect me to do?" She threw her hands out and shrugged once again. "Freak out and brood? You've got that covered pretty damn well. And it won't do any good. They've got me. I did what I did and I make no apologies for it. And we'll deal with whatever the Council decides."
Connor looked to his friends, his expression showing ever bit of displeasure on it. Salome's words had done nothing but make him even more upset. "Get cleaned up guys... We have work to do."
Andrew strode into the living room, still clutching the phone in his hand. "I just got off the phone with the Council. Gunn will be here before morning. Salome, is there anything you can tell us about what's going to happen?"
Salome was sitting casually on the couch, idly stroking Jack's fur as the cat purred in her lap. She looked utterly calm, as if she was not facing a death sentence. "Well, I've never been charged with genocide before, but I do have a rough idea." She sat up and the cat jumped out of her lap and onto the couch, running over the legs of Oni and Jamie. "Twenty-four hours after I receive the summons, I'll be teleported to the Court of the Nyazians. It's like a... Pocket dimension. Somewhere the lower beings and ascended Nyazians can meet."
"I think I was there," Connor murmured. "When you absorbed Cyvus Vail's powers and I had to save you. It looked like the Hyperion Hotel."
"It'll look different this time," Salome sighed. "It's in a state of flux, fitting whatever the current situation calls for."
"If they're going to teleport you," Dawn started, "Can't we just block the teleport? Get some mystical tether to keep you here?"
"I probably have something at the shop," Matty offered helpfully.
Salome shook her head. "It won't do any good. If we tried that, they'd just send bounty hunters. I'm not going to put you guys at risk because of this."
"But you're still at risk," Andrew pointed out. "They might kill you, Salome."
Salome shook her head. "No, Andrew. There's no might. They are going to kill me."
Mandy arched a brow and stared at Salome. "Are you nuts? Why are you so calm right now if you know they're going to kill you?"
"Because I've known since I did it," Salome replied. "I knew what the consequences were. It was just... I didn't know when they'd get around to trying me."
With a furious shake of his head, Connor stormed out of the room, slamming doors behind him. Salome jumped up, running after him. "Connor!"
Oni sighed deeply. "I never could have comprehended saving the universe was a capital crime."
"So what should we do?" Jamie asked. "Should we start researching? Start building a defense?"
"I wouldn't know where to start." Andrew sank down onto the love seat beside Matty. "Gunn's going to be here in a few hours. He'll have a better idea of where to look."
"So we're just supposed to sit around until then?" Dawn said, a shrill tone in her voice. "But... We'll go crazy with the wait."
"I might have something to keep you occupied," a voice said from the doorway. All eyes turned to the newly arrived figure.
The purple haired woman looked down on the assembled group. She was dressed in purple leather and held a long staff topped with a crystal and blade.
"Gatekeeper?" Jamie go to his feet slowly. "What are you doing here?"
"Gatekeeper?" Mandy repeated. "You mean that girl that saved you and Connor? ...And then Connor again?"
"Yeah...." Jamie nodded. "Since you only show up in times of super crisis, I'm really worried about what you're going to say, Gatekeeper. Is it Apocalycious?"
"Not really," the Gatekeeper responded. "But from my perspective, it's pretty worrying."
"What's going on?" Andrew asked.
The Gatekeeper's expression darkened. "My powers are gone."
Salome frowned as she looked down onto the bed where Connor was laying. With hesitant movements, she crawled into bed next to him, putting her arm around his waist. "You're pissed off at me."
"No," Connor replied, his voice slightly muffled by the pillow he'd buried his face in.
"Could have fooled me," Salome sighed. She nuzzled her nose against his neck. "Connor, I knew what I was getting into. If I hadn't done it, we wouldn't have been able to stop the fissures. I'd do it again today if I had to."
Connor sat up suddenly, causing Salome to shift on the bed and nearly fall off. "But that's not true!" He let out a bitter laugh. "You didn't want to do it," his voice was laced with misery. "You told me. You said the Council would kill you. You slapped me for asking you to do it. But I didn't listen. You're going to die because of what I asked you to do."
"And I'd do it again," Salome replied. "Connor, there's nothing you could ask me that I'd say no to. I'd go to hell and back if you needed me to." She cradled his face, gently brushing his hair out of his eyes with her fingertips. "And it saved the world, so stop feeling guilty about it."
"It just doesn't feel worth it anymore," Connor leaned into Salome's gentle caress. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Remember back when you were planning go fight against Cyvus Vail? You were sure you were going to die trying?" Salome straddled Connor's legs and pressed a kiss to his forehead. "You had a whole list of things you wanted to do before you died. You just wanted to focus on that and not what was going to happen the next day."
Connor shook his head fractionally, confused. "Yeah? So?"
Salome gave Connor a gentle smile. "Well, maybe I want that too. But there's only one thing on my list."
With that, Salome pressed her mouth to Connor's and began to ease him down onto the bed. Before they could proceed further, the door burst open and Dawn entered.
Salome jerked up quickly, looking over at the door. "Geez, Dawn! I've only got like twenty hours left to live! Can't I have some indulgence?"
"Sorry!" Dawn threw a hand up in front of her eyes. "Didn't mean to interrupt. But you guys might want to be downstairs right now. Something else has come up."
Andrew stared at the Gatekeeper incredulously. "Your... Powers are gone. Just like that."
The Gatekeeper nodded. She was sitting on the couch, her chin resting on her folded hands. "Yep. I was fighting these demons that suck up temporal energy in San Diego and then all of the sudden.... No powers." She paused for a moment, shrugged. "Well, not no powers. But the temporal ones."
"Has something occurred with the Cronos Crystal?" Oni asked. "Your powers were inaccessable once previous, when Jasmine's acolytes misappropriated it."
The Gatekeeper shook her head. "That's not it. I mean, I still have the Aeon Glaive. It just doesn't work. It's something with me. The only thing I can think of is... Something in my own personal timeline has been altered so that I never gained access to the Gatekeeper powers in the first place."
"Then why are you still here?" Matty asked, leaning against Andrew. "If your timeline changed so that you could never travel in time in the first place, shouldn't you... Go back to your own time?"
"Time travel's a little more complicated than that," the Gatekeeper admitted. "I'd love to explain it, but I'd need about six hours and a white board. The short story is... Something changed within this time period that affected my gaining of the Gatekeeper powers. Since I was here at the time, I registered the changes, but I still remember the former timeline."
"Wait..." Jamie looked between Salome and the Gatekeeper. "What if it's not a timeline thing? What if it's connected to Salome's trial?"
"What do you mean?" Connor asked, frowning deeply.
"I mean, Salome can't use her powers now that she's under arrest," Jamie explained. "What if the Nyazians thought the Gatekeeper might try to get around that? And you said it yourself when we first met, Gatekeeper... You've got some Nyazian in you."
"I didn't say that," the Gatekeeper replied. "I'm not Nyazian. I have the blood of Illyria in me. That's different. The Nyazian Council has no dominion over my powers. This is bigger than them."
Dawn bit her lower lip in thought. "If something changed in your personal timeline to take away your powers, why come here? It's not like we can cast a spell to give you your powers back."
"Because my fate is unequivocally tied to the fate of all of you," the Gatekeeper admitted. "I received the powers of the Gatekeeper because of actions that will be taken in this house in the future. For some reason, those circumstances have changed now and I won't receive those powers. I came here hoping to make a course correction. Unfortunately, being cut off from the temporal Nexus, the only knowledge of the past I have is my own personal experience."
"I'm sorry about your problems, Gatekeeper," Connor said hotly. "But we've got some more pressing concerns right now than your powers. Salome's going to be executed tomorrow."
The Gatekeeper rose to her feet. She leaned in and whispered into Connor's ear softly, so softly no one else could hear, but they could see the surprise dominate his expression.
"How can you know that?" Connor asked softly. "You said you were cut off from the temporal Nexus."
The Gatekeeper's look was enigmatic. "But I also said I remember things from my personal experience. Trust me on this."
Connor spent a long time staring at the Gatekeeper, his blue eyes darkened with a torrent of emotions. Finally, he spoke, "I guess we have a new house guest." He cocked his head. "But if you're not the Gatekeeper anymore, we're going to need to call you something else. What's your real name?"
The Gatekeeper gave Connor a small, appreciative smile. "Mara... My name's Mara."
Connor nodded. "All right, Mara... Stick around." He looked back at his friends, focusing his attention on Salome. "But we'll have to deal with your problems later. For now, we have to get to court."
"If you knew what the Nyazian Council was going to do to you, you should have called me weeks ago." Gunn gave Salome a chastising look. "It would have been nice to have more time to build up your defence.
The girl's own expression was contrite, head bowed. "I didn't think there was much you could do for me. And I know how messed up everything is, what with the school in Cleveland in ruins. My death sentence shouldn't be a priority."
"Of course it should," Connor insisted softly. "You think we're just going to sit here and let you die?"
Salome looked over her friends. They were all gathered in the living room of Lamia House, staring at her expectantly. Salome worried her lower lip. "Actually... That's exactly what I think you'll do."
"What?" Andrew cried, leaping to his feet. "But we're your friends. We're supposed to stand by you when people are trying to kill you!"
"You were all involved," Salome explained calmly. "You were working with me when I opened up the fissure to Quortoth. As humans, the Council has no authority over you. But if you come with me, they might decide you fall under their jurisdiction. I'm not going to let you get killed just to support me. Gunn wasn't here, he wasn't a part of it. He's the only one I can guarantee will be safe."
"You sure about this?" Jamie asked warily.
Salome nodded. "Yeah. I am." She gave him a small smile. "Even if you guys aren't there... I know you're... There." She let out a small laugh. "Man, that sounds really sappy."
"I will be there," Connor said quickly.
Salome turned to him, frowning slightly. "Did you miss what I just said, Connor? They might kill you if you come with me."
"I don't care," Connor replied. "I'm coming with you." He narrowed his gaze on Salome. "Do you really think there's anything you can do to talk me out of it?"
"I guess not," Salome sighed deeply. Connor drew her close and pressed a kiss to her forehead. Once they parted, they turned their attention onto their friends.
"All right..." Connor nodded. "Mandy, while we're gone, you're in charge. If Salome and I don't come back, call the Council and get them to send help."
Mandy's expression was rather ambivalent, but eventually she nodded. "All right."
Connor turned his attention to the violet-haired new arrival. "Mara? You said even not as the Gatekeeper, you've still got some powers."
She nodded. "I can't alter time, but I could go toe-to-toe with a Slayer."
"Good. Get Mandy's back. And if we don't come back..."
"Believe me, if you don't come back, I'm going to have bigger problems," Mara sighed.
Connor frowned slightly at the cryptic comment, but didn't have long to dwell on it. The air seemed to fracture as a portal open.
"I think that's our ride," Gunn commented, adjusting his tie. "You guys ready?"
Connor took Salome's hand, lacing their fingers. He gave her a determined look and nodded before jumping through the portal.
The trio fell out of the portal in what appeared to be an ancient temple. Gigantic pillars towered over them. Most terrifying was the looming statue of a tenacled and armoured beast, carrying a pair of double-pronged blades.
"Definitely different than last time," Connor murmured as he pulled himself to his feet.
"Just what in the hell is that?" Gunn demanded, staring up at the demonic statue.
"The God-King of the Primordium," Salome replied, bowed her head in reverence.
Both Gunn and Connor turned to Salome in utter shock. "You're trying to tell me," Connor sputtered. "That... that... is Illyria?"
Salome nodded slowly. "I told you the Courts of the Nyazians is in a state of flux. They can make it appear as they like. They chose to make it look like Vahla ha'nesh. Before the ruination." She touched the base of the statue reverently, before a shudder went through her.
"We felt it appropriate," a voice said behind them. "Given your position as the Qwa-Ha Xahn of the God-King."
The trio turned to the source of the voice. There were a half-dozen Nyazians behind them. In the lead was Radwan. He was the one who had spoken.
Salome smiled wryly at the red-haired man. "Hi Dad."
Mandy had her arms crossed tightly as she watched Jamie pace back and forth. "Do you mind not doing that? You're making me feel a bit queasy."
"What else can I do?" Jamie asked, stopping suddenly to face his girlfriend. "Connor and Salome have gone to get judged by a Council that have pretty much already decided they're guilty. They might not be coming back. And Andrew, Oni and Matty went off to work like nothing happened. The Gatekeeper, who used to be one of the most powerful beings in existence, is doing the dishes in the kitchen and can't access those God-likes powers because of who knows what! So, I pace."
Mandy sighed deeply. "And it's not doing anything but getting you that much closer to a coronary. Don't stress, Jay. There's nothing you can do right now. The others know that and that's why they've gone off to work."
"You're not doing anything," Jamie said, cocking his head. "So if it's not out of worry..."
"I have something on my mind," Mandy said with a sigh. She held up an envelope. "Something that was making me worried before this whole Salome genocide thing came up. And this just makes it worse."
Jamie took the letter from Mandy. He opened it and began to read it. "Dear Miss Boyd, We're pleased to announce you have been selected for the Stratford Festival Conservatory...." He trailed off and looked up, shaking his head. "I don't get it. This sounds like it's good news."
"It is," Mandy replied. "They only take a couple of students. But..."
"But..." Jamie frowned. "But what?"
"Stratford, Jamie," Mandy sighed. "It's part of the Stratford Festival. Meaning, it's in Stratford." She sighed again at his blank look. "In Canada."
"Oh." Jamie's frown deepened. "And I'm guessing this is more than just a weekend workshop."
Mandy nodded. "It's a twenty week course. And after that... I'll have a contract with the festival."
Jamie sank down onto the couch next to Mandy. "You're moving back to Canada."
"I auditioned ages ago," Mandy pointed out. "Before we started dating. Certainly none of this stuff with Connor and Salome had come up...."
"You're moving back to Canada," Jamie repeated quietly. "You're worried about them not coming back because then you won't be able to go home, right?"
Mandy looked down. "I'm kind of a selfish bitch, aren't I?"
Jamie shook his head. "No... You just have a dream. Being a Slayer shouldn't define your whole life. This is something you really want, isn't it?"
Jamie shook his head, knowing what she was going to say. "I can understand staying if something happens to Connor and Salome," Jamie said quietly. "But that's it." He met Mandy's gaze. "Come on, Mand... We knew this wasn't forever."
Mandy allowed Jamie to pull her into his embrace. He nuzzled his nose against her blonde hair. "I guess we have another reason to want Connor and Salome home safely."
"Dad?" Connor repeated, looking between Salome and Radwan. "You're not serious..."
"Why is that so surprising?" Salome asked, looking over at her boyfriend. "I told you my father had ascended to the Council."
"He's trying to kill you!" Connor cried. "And he very nearly let you die before!"
"The Nyazian High Council is removed of all emotion," Salome said, keeping her black gaze on Radwan. "They cut themselves off from the world in order to properly judge it. While Radwan recognizes me as his daughter... He doesn't feel any emotion regarding that fact." She cocked her head. "Isn't that right, Dad?"
He gave a curt nod in response. "Salome Carr, you know of the charges against you?"
It was Salome's turn to nod. "Yes. I also understand the punishment should I be found guilty." She gestured to Gunn. "I've brought representation."
The Council turned their respective gazes towards Gunn. "You are provided with a Council member to fight in your defence," Radwan said, eyeing Gunn. "I suggest you take it. A human will not know the intricacies of Nyazian law."
"Charles Gunn," Gunn replied coolly. "The human's name is Charles Gunn. I'm Lawyer for the Slayer's Council and former defence attorney with Wolfram and Hart."
This statement caused the Council pause as they exchanged uncomfortable glances.
Gunn continued on, noticing their discomfort but paying it no mind. "I am well verse in Nyazian criminal law, along with the demon laws and customs of over three hundred other sapient species. So don't worry about what the human can or can't do."
"It doesn't really matter what kind of representation I have, does it, Dad?" Salome asked, cocking her head to the side. "You guys have already decided my fate, haven't you? I opened a rift to Quortoth... Which, to you guys, means that I have to die."
Radwan nodded. "Oh, it is much more than that."
Matty leaned against the counter of Flying Demon Monkeys, leaning over towards Andrew. He was peering back at the shelves, towards the purple-haired girl perusing the rack. Mara had abandoned her Illyrian armour in favour of jeans and a t-shirt borrowed from Salome. As Salome had pointed out, she might very well not need her clothes after her trial. Despite her change in outfit, Aeon Glaive remained strapped to her back.
"It's kind of eerie, isn't it?" Matty said, furrowing his brow.
Andrew was currently involved in writing up an order. "What is?" He asked, looking up only briefly.
"Her," Matty replied, gesturing towards the girl. "The Gatekeeper-- Mara-- whatever. I mean we did the research on her. She's supposed to be one of the most powerful beings in the universe. And now she's powerless and just... Kind of like us. And she comes to us for help."
"Well..." Andrew shifted slightly. "Technically, she came to Connor. And that's not surprising. I mean, people always come to Connor for help..." He thought about it for a second. "Or to kill him. You do remember the whole hellgod thing, right? It was only a few months ago."
"The books really say that about me?"
Both Matty and Andrew jumped up at the sound of Mara's voice. She'd turned to them, but hadn't moved from her spot. She smiled over at them. "Sorry." She pointed to her ear. "I have fantastic hearing. They really call me one of the most powerful beings in existence?"
"Yeah." Andrew nodded. "But not much else. You're all sorts of mysterious and junk. Like you came from nowhere."
"Everyone comes from somewhere," Mara replied. "I was born and I grew up just like you..." She paused for a moment. "Well, maybe not just like you. My childhood was pretty interesting." She reached back and touched her glaive. "The truth is, it's this that gives me my power. You saw what happened when someone stole my crystal. Without it, I'm just a superpowered demon hybrid. Nothing special."
Matty snorted. "A superpowered demon hybrid is nothing special?"
Mara shook her head. "Where I'm from... Not really, no."
"Where are you from?" Andrew asked suddenly.
Mara took a few steps forward. "What do you mean?"
"You said you came from somewhere. I have an idea where that somewhere might be. But I'd like to hear you say it... Where exactly are you from?" Andrew arched a brow.
Mara stared at Andrew for a long time, intensely blue eyes studying his face. Her free hand idly played with the pocketwatch hanging from her neck. "You already know I'm from the future, Andrew. I told you that much yesterday."
"That's not what I meant," Andrew said quietly. "I'm not as dumb as I look. Other people might be too preoccupied to see what's right in front of them... But I want to hear you said it.
"I've never thought you were dumb," Mara replied coolly, her smile coy. "Nineteen years I've known you and I've never thought that."
"So why don't you just say it then?" Andrew asked.
"There's a lot more things to deal with then where I come from," Mara sighed. "Quite a lot..."
Salome raised her hand up in oath. She placed her hand over her heart. Radwan stood in front of the stand. "Do you swear by your blood and the blood of your family what you about to say is factual?"
Salome nodded. "I do."
Radwan nodded and Salome sat down. "State your name for the record," Radwan commanded.
"Salome Simpson," Salome automatically replied. When Radwan's piercing gaze met hers, she sighed. "Salome Carr Vail. I have also gone by Salome Beckett, Salome Wagner and Salome Mallory. I'm currently going by Salome Simpson."
"Your name is Vail because you married Azriel Vail, a traitor to our people, isn't that right?" Radwan said, no emotion in his voice. He was not trying to anger her. He was merely stating a fact.
Salome nodded. "Yes. I married Azriel when I was thirteen. It was a marriage of convenience for me."
Salome smiled tightly. "It ended up being not-so-convenient." She pushed her hair over her ear. "He was trying to get me to work with Cyvus Vail. I ran away from him. When we met up again, I beheaded him." She leaned in. "You know all this shit, Dad. Why don't you just get to the point? May of this year. "
"This is not just about you opening the fissures to Quortoth, Salome," Radwan replied, shaking his head. "That was only the final act of disobedience. You've been on trial for a year now. You were given great power when you absorbed Cyvus Vail's energies. And act in which you were supposed to die. We spared your life on the Destroyer's request, but it was only a stay of execution. No Nyazian is supposed to have the power you do. But you were given a chance to prove yourself loyal to the Nyazian Council. You have broken our rules. Open fissures, played with minds... And you bound yourself to the God-King."
"It's our God," Salome whispered, her voice laced with confusion. "Did you really expect me to ignore Illyria?"
"We owe our existence to Illyria, it is true," Radwan said. "But we have grown past the need for the God-King."
Salome stared at her father, trying to read his expression.
"I don't understand," Connor whispered to Gunn. "What's going on?"
"They're afraid of her," Gunn replied, realization coming slowly. "They don't think Illyria will keep her in check."
"This is total crap!" Connor leapt to his feet. "Salome hasn't done anything wrong!"
"Her existence is wrong," One of the members of the Council replied. "She should have died a year ago."
"But she didn't," Connor insisted, ignoring Gunn's feeble attempt to get him to sit back down and he strode up to where the Council sat. "Salome's not loyal to the Council or Illyria." He paused, taking a breath. "She's loyal to me." He looked at Salome, smiling fondly. "Isn't that right, Baby?"
Salome smiled back and nodded. "Yeah, Ace... That's right."
The smile faded quickly from Connor's face as he turned back to face the Council. "Everything Salome's done--Opening the fissures to Quortoth, played with Magnimus' mind-- everything... It was because I asked her to. If anyone's to blame, it's me."
"What about her associations with Illyria?" Radwan asked.
"That's my fault too," Connor insisted. "Salome was happy being a college student before I came into her life. Because of me, she's started fighting. Through me, she met Illyria."
"Connor..." Salome got to her feet, shaking her head furiously. "Don't do this. Stop it!"
"Sorry," Connor murmured. "I have to. I'm not going to let you die for something that's my fault."
"You would die in her place?" Radwan questioned.
Connor nodded, turning to Salome and smiling sadly. "In a heartbeat."
"The Destroyer is the Champion of the Nyazian people," Radwan said, cocking his head. "You know we would never kill you."
"Was kind of banking on that," Connor retorted. "But I told you before, if you let Salome die, I wouldn't be your Champion. And if you murder her, I'll do one better... I'll hunt down every remaining Nyazian and butcher them." His lip curled in a snarl. "So either me or her... You're screwed."
"Connor," Gunn ran to Connor. "What the hell are you doing? Your dad is going to kill me if I let you do this."
"It's too late, Gunn," Connor replied. "I've done it."
"Yes you have," Radwan nodded. "But we know both are guilty of transgressions against the Nyazian Council. The Destroyer is needed to fulfill the prophecies... He cannot die. And as he has stated, it would be in our--" He glanced warily at Connor. "--Best interest that Salome remain alive."
Both Connor and Salome breathed sighs of relief.
"But both must be punished," Radwan said firmly. "Salome Carr Vail, stand before the Council."
Trepidation in her footsteps, Salome walked to stand in front of the Council. She took a deep breath, bracing herself.
"Salome Carr Vail," Radwan said firmly. "Through your actions and your own words, it is clear you have forsaken the Nyazian Council."
Salome stayed silent, just staring at her father. "For that crime..."
He placed a hand on her head. Glowing gold energy surrounded Salome and she let out an unearthly scream. Connor tried to run to her, but was halted by Gunn. Salome's body convulsed violently. Her purple catsuit receded, leaving her nude. Her purple flesh turned pale. Naked and shaking, Salome fell to the ground.
"...The Nyazian Council forsakes you."
Connor finally freed himself from Gunn's grasp and ran to Salome's side. He knelt by her. "Sal... Baby..." He whispered, brushing her hair out of her face. "What did you do to her?" He demanded.
"We gave her what she wanted," Radwan replied. "Freedom from the Nyazians."
Salome placed a hand over her chest. "Holy Moses..." She murmured. "My heart... It's... Here." She looked up at Connor, eyes wide with shock and horror. "They made me human."
Gunn shrugged off his jacket and handed it to Connor, who draped it over Salome to preserve her modesty.
"Why?" Connor asked, voice thick with emotion. "Why did you do this to her?"
"You wanted her alive," Radwan replied. "But the Nyazian had to die. She is exactly what she was before... Only human now. Our business is done, Destroyer. Leave this place now."
Connor carefully helped Salome to her feet. "What about me?" Connor challenged. "You said we both had to be punished. You've only punished Salome."
Radwan held up a hand and opened a portal. "Your punishment will come soon enough, Destroyer."
Night had fallen over Los Angeles. The alley had long since fallen into disuse. The pavement had been cracked for years, no city crew willing to work on it with the strange occurrences in the area.
On the ground near the gaping hole in the pavement, the dust was kicked up by a sudden, inexplicable wind. The wind formed a violent funnel cloud. Lightning-like energy emanated from it. As quickly as it began, it died away, leaving a slender blonde woman in its place.
Vivid blue eyes opening, the woman gasped, jolting up. Darla looked down at herself and groaned. "Not again..."