4. King Clown
“Stand back!” Claudia wrapped a blanket around her hands for protection and rammed the wooden leg from a dismantled army cot through the small, glass window in the door. Tracing the wood around the frame, she made sure all the sharp fragments of glass were cleared out. “Well… If someone’s supposed to be guarding us, that should make them show up.”
Willow broke another leg in two, producing a pair of sharp stakes. “I know it doesn’t seem like much as a weapon,” she handed one to Claudia, “But you’d be surprised how effective a sharp stick can be in the demon world.”
The agent took the stake and shushed the other girl. They both listened intently for any sound of trouble coming.
“Nothing,” Claudia huffed. “Guess we don’t rate on their threat list.”
“Yeah, well… With Buffy and the others coming to rescue us, they probably have bigger things to worry about.”
“Buffy was the little blond one, right? She was cute, but Pete will likely pound his way in here with his head… literally.” The older girl chuckled at the thought.
“Oh, you don’t understand. Buffy’s the Slayer. Bad move kidnapping the Slayer’s best friend.” At the other girl’s blank look, Willow sighed, “I forgot no one told you. It all happened so fast in the alley. The Slayer is the chosen one. The one girl in all the world with the strength and power to fight the demons and vampires.”
“You mean like a super-girl?” At Willow’s nod, Claudia pursed her lips, letting the thought sink in for a moment. “Cool,” she nodded. “No wonder they keep her a secret, though. Guys have a hard enough time dealing with how awesome us chicks are as it is.”
Both girls shared a giggle.
“See anything?” Willow asked when Claudia peered out the newly cleared window again.
“There’s a table across the room. I think I see a set of keys sitting on it.” She glanced around their small cell. “If we take both the cots completely apart and tie all the sticks together with something, we might reach them. Maybe our shoe laces or something…”
Willow went to the door and stared out at the keys. After she didn’t move for a few minutes, the Warehouse agent noticed the lack of help and went back to stand behind her.
“What are you looking at?” Her breath caught when she saw the keys jump on the table.
The younger girl’s head dropped in frustration. “I thought I could do it,” she muttered. “I’m just not strong enough.”
“Are you packing an Artifact you didn’t tell me about?”
“Huh?” Willow turned around. “Oh, Giles never even got the chance to tell me what that means. I don’t think so. I’ve been practicing a little magick. I thought I might be able to float something that small, but I can’t.”
Claudia blinked a few times. “All right, guess I’ve seen weirder crap. But this day is totally going straight to the top of the bizarreo list.” She took a deep breath. “Okay, long story short, Artifacts are objects that basically soak up what happens around them, like energy from people and certain events, and gain some sort of power. At the Warehouse, we collect and store the ones that start making trouble in the world.”
“Wow. Like talismans and stuff. Only those are given magickal properties on purpose.”
“Suppose that works. And by the way, I’m hoping from what you do that you’re the type who can keep a secret. Cause otherwise… My bosses will so hang me by my toes for spilling the beans.”
Willow chuckled. “The only people I would tell already know by now anyway. I wonder why Giles never told use about you guys.”
“Probably the same reason Artie didn’t with the vampire thing. It’s hard enough dealing with one world ending problem at a time.”
“Yeah, that sounds right. He likes to protect us whenever he can.”
“You know what,” Claudia held Willow by the shoulders and turned her back around. “Why don’t you try with the magick stuff one more time?”
“Okay, but I’m really not that strong.” The young witch focused on the keys again and tried to summon up all of her power. They jiggled.
Claudia leaned up and whispered, “Giles is in trouble. He needs your help.”
The keys suddenly shot off the table and both girls ducked as they flew in over their heads and hit the back wall of the cell.
“Wow,” Willow gasped.
“Yep,” Claudia chuckled. “You so totally heart your geezer.”
“What?” the younger girl blushed. “I don’t… I mean I care, a lot… It’s Giles! And he’s… Well, he’s…”
“Don’t worry. I keep secrets, too, you know. Besides, if I had a Farnsworth on me, I’d so be checking up on the old man I’m not supposed to be this worried about right now.”
“Oh man! How can we be so stupid!?” Pete’s sudden outburst made everyone stop in their tracks as they paced and waited for Giles to finish his work. “We use the Farnsworth to contact Claudia. As long as she’s still on Earth, it can reach her, right?”
Artie silently reached into his back pocket and held out the communications device.
Myka murmured, “One per team, Pete.”
“Damn. That’s a stupid rule. I’ve always thought it was a stupid rule. When are you gonna have more of those things made anyway?”
The senior agent scowled at him. “Oh yes. I’ll put that at the top of my list of things to have Philo Farnsworth do. Next time I raise him from the grave, that is.”
Buffy’s head popped up from being deep in her own thoughts. “Oh, you don’t want to do that. Raise people from the grave. It’s never a good thing.”
“I think he was hitting me with some sarcasm,” Pete grumbled. “Unless he’s been sneaking out alone at night again,” he shot back at Artie. “And you people can do that?”
“Well,” Buffy frowned, “I can’t. But, if it was really important, I bet Giles could find a way.” She looked over, but the Watcher was so engrossed in his translation that he had shut their conversation out entirely.
“Not if he always takes this long to figure anything out,” Artie growled under his breath.
“Breakfast,” Xander announced, entering the library. “Very first batch of doughnuts. Hot from the ovens.”
The welcome food drew the full attention of the room for a short while. Long enough for Giles to finish his work in peace.
“Here, Big Guy, I saved you a jelly.” Xander offered the doughnut to the Watcher as he stood up in front of the gathered group.
“Thank you,” he murmured, still sorting through the information swirling in his mind.
Buffy frowned. “I don’t like that look. It’s never good when he looks like that.”
This brought Giles’ focus up to the expectant faces. “Right, um… It, it could be worse than it is.”
Myka gave him a small understanding smile. “Why don’t you start by telling us exactly what ‘it’ is?”
“Yes… Quite.” He straightened and cleared his throat. “It appears we are, indeed, dealing with Char-Qualkn demons. These demons exist in twined pairs, and find their… joy, in raining cruelty and torture down upon their victims. It is also clear from the text that the Marquis might have been doing the world a service by using his power to bind their will. The havoc they have been wreaking under the control of a master over the last century is nowhere near the threat they would be on their own.”
“Tame version or not,” Buffy said. “These guys came after my people. How do I kill them?”
A sad smile drifted across his face at her sure determination. “It’s not going to be easy. Historically, the games Char-Qualkn force their prey into were tests to find the best warrior. These warriors would fight for the promise of having what was stolen from them returned. Usually something they couldn’t live without.” Giles shared a knowing glance with Artie. “However, the games were a test they used to find the champion, then, by consuming his heart and brain, they absorbed his power and grew stronger themselves.”
There were disgusted faces all around. “Hey, but if these warrior guys were so strong,” Pete spoke up. “Why didn’t they turn on the demon things and take them out instead.”
“The grief of loss is one of the greatest ways to cloud the mind. The demons keep hidden until the contest is over. By then there was only one, likely exhausted and wounded, warrior left. And, even for one with the abilities of a Slayer, they are a monumental challenge. They are extraordinarily strong and, according to the text, the twined Char-Qualkn have the ability to heal each other’s wounds. Therefore, the only way to destroy them is to deal the exact same killing blow to both of them simultaneously. An impossible feat for one, and unlikely even for two with great skill and of the same mind.”
Heads hung and shoulders slumped at the devastating news. No one spoke. No one knew what to say. Pete slowly plucked the last doughnut from the box. When he brought it to his mouth the thin paper lining followed. He shook it testily, taking it for something he had the power to fight.
“No, wait… Wait, Pete,” Myka stopped him. “There’s something on the bottom.” She carefully pulled the paper from the sticky doughnut and spread it over the box.
Xander peeked over her shoulder. “Hey, that looks like Sunnydale. It’s a map. How did that get in there? I brought the box straight from the bakery.”
“There’s only this one burn mark,” the agent mumbled. “Do you know what’s there?”
“You think X marks the spot? I don’t recognize that place. But hey, Wills can find out… No, she can’t.”
Giles stepped up and placed a steady hand on the boy’s shoulder. Xander glanced back at him. He tried, but couldn’t hide the spark of blame deep in his eyes. The Watcher ducked his head, understanding completely. If he had looked into a mirror, he would see that and more.
“Myka, look at the border,” Artie was pointing. “I think it might be more than it seems.”
“You’re right. It’s words. I can almost make them out, but…”
“Here, let me try.” Buffy carefully took the map. “Slayer vision might do the trick.”
“You mean you have special magni-vision, too?” Pete piped up. “Like Superman?”
“No, I mean I don’t have old people eyes,” she muttered and nodded, affirming she could see the small lettering. The rest of the group held their collective breath and waited for her to read out the message. “Here we go… The place is set, the time soon coming. When Sun kisses Earth, a start to the gaming. Six, a company brave and true. But one by one will turn to two. His treasure in reach for only the best. A princess to save, or mourn with last breath.”
“When Sun kisses Earth,” Myka repeated. “Sunset!”
Buffy nodded in agreement, “What time does the Sun set tonight?”
“6:42,” Giles murmur distractedly. Seeing the flurry of eyebrows raised in his direction, he added, “The, um, the full moon is in a few days.”
“Oh yeah,” his Slayer sighed.
“Great,” Xander added in a mutter. “That’s all we need is a majorly ticked off werewolf.”
“Were-,” Pete did a double take and leaned nearer to Myka. “Did he really just say werewolf?” His partner nodded with wide eyes.
Xander shrugged at the annoyed sigh Buffy huffed.
Giles sank into a chair, mumbling, “It doesn’t matter. If we can’t save Willow tonight, I’ll willing lock myself in the cage with him come the time.”
“Giles!” the Slayer scolded.
“Wait. So, who’s the werewolf?” Pete whispered to his fellow agents.
The petit blond shook her head slowly. “Oz. Willow’s boyfriend.”
“Oh,” Pete breathed. “Oh snap!”
Buffy turned back to her Watcher. “Giles, from my experience, these demon things just kinda show up, so there’s no point in going to wherever this place is until sunset, right?” He looked up at her distractedly, then nodded. “Okay, so here’s the plan. I don’t know about everyone else here, but I’m positive you haven’t been to bed in like three days. If we’re going to do this tonight, we need both of you in fighting shape,” she glanced over to include Artie. “We have almost twelve hours for you to eat and rest, and that’s what you’re gonna do.”
“Humph,” Artie grouched. “He might take orders from little girls, but I’m—“
“Artie,” Myka interrupted him softly. “She’s right. We can help get you there, but it’s you who will have to face these things. ‘One by one will turn to two’, remember? They’re going to split us up somehow. Those two girls are your responsibility. Both of you. I agree with Buffy. One of us will be up to let you know if anything changes, but we need you two to be ready for tonight.”
He let his shoulders dip with the weight he felt, and accepted her logic.
Buffy turned when she heard Giles’ quiet growl. “No arguing from you either. I know you’re worried, but you’re going to get some sleep even if I have to knock you out… again.”
“Sounds like she’s done that before,” Pete chuckled.
“Only a couple times,” Xander answered. “It’s usually the bad guys who lay the big man out, though.” Both younger men shrugged under the glares of the others. Glancing sidelong at Giles, Xander added slowly, “Mostly ‘cause he’s trying to save my butt?”
“Yes, Buffy,” Giles sighed. “I agree that I’m not thinking at my clearest right now. However, my flat is a bit small for all of us to rest comfortably. It would be best if we all stayed together, but…”
“I know. And talk about giving my mom another reason to freak… Besides the whole not tell anyone rule thing.”
“We still have our rooms at the hotel,” Myka suggested. “Not that that’s really staying together.”
“Willow’s house,” Xander piped up. “Her parents are gone again, but I have a key. There are enough beds and couches for all of us to get some shut-eye, plus the kitchen so we don’t have to run out every time we need food. And it’s closer to the place on the map than anywhere else.”
Buffy smiled, “I think Xander wins this round. Anyone else want to gripe about it?”
She got two surly grunts and three nods of agreement. Decision made, they packed up the weapons and books they thought would be useful and went to put their old men, make that champions, to bed.