"But now that Superman's back, I'm sure he'll take care of any trouble."
"I'm sure," Faith said with a grimace. "Well, if you hear anything, you let us know, okay?" She slapped the k'Relka demon on the shoulder, grabbed her beer, and headed back to the booth in the corner they'd staked out for their base of operations for the night. Andrew was there, sipping some drink that smelled sweet enough to make Faith gag, but the newbie Faith was breaking in was still making the rounds. "Y'know," Faith said, eyeing Andrew's drink, "I may be a slayer, but ordering a mixed drink in a demon bar takes a special kind of guts. Or maybe stupidity."
Andrew paled. "You don't think they put something in it, do you? I thought it didn't taste right, but—"
Faith waved him off. "I'm sure Baby the bartender wouldn't poison you on purpose, yo, but I dunno if she's got much experience making drinks for humans."
Andrew eyed the bar's other patrons. "You may have a point," he said nervously, pushing the drink away from him. "Did you find anything out?"
"Nah," Faith said. "This place is dead. I think the Council's seers must have bombed out on this one—if there's a big bad in Metropolis planning an apocalypse, he's doing a hell of a job staying quiet." She glanced around for the newbie, trying to ignore Andrew as much as possible. Okay, yeah, they needed more Watchers and they could trust Andrew, and yeah, he needed to get broken in on the field end and aside from B she was the most experienced of the slayers, and yeah, five years after SunnyD's collapse he was a hell of a lot better than he'd been when they met, but he was still Andrew, and she must really be slowing down if she hadn't been able to duck him on this trip.
Oluremi Shittu, and wasn't that a crappy name, was over by the juke box talking with a demon Faith couldn't identify, her dark skin blending into the shadows better than many of the demons present could manage. The newbie seemed competent enough, but Faith knew all about how that could be faked. That was part of why they were here. Over the past few years Buffy'd gotten in the habit of sending slayers out with Faith one-on-one before turning them loose on their own; Faith was more likely to see cracks that would come back to bite them in the ass later. Oluremi, however, seemed to be just fine even to Faith's critical eye. So as soon as they wrapped up the other part of the mission, they were out of here and back to Merrie Olde England.
The other girl bowed to the demon and made her own way back to the table. "Any luck?" Faith asked.
"No," Oluremi answered. "No one I have talked to knows about anything unusual. Besides Superman's return, of course, which I do not believe counts as an apocalypse. And," she hesitated, "and I do not believe they are lying." She shrugged. "I do not think we will learn anything more here."
"Yeah, you're probably right," Faith said. "I haven't gotten jack shit, either." She glanced at her watch. "Tell you what, let's swing by the waterfront for a quick patrol and call it a night."
"Do you think we'll find anything by the waterfront that we haven't here?" Andrew asked.
Ignoring the "we"—Andrew had spoken to one demon, and only one demon, before retreating to the booth—Faith swigged the last of her beer. "Nah, not really. But Slayers, patrol, it's kind of part of the whole gig. It's as good a place as any."
"Mister Giles says that demons often like to travel by ship," Oluremi said. "For international travel, there is less scrutiny than by plane."
"Also less chance of accidental sun exposure, for those who like the darkness," Faith said. "Let's go."
They'd been wandering around the commercial docks for about half an hour and hadn't seen anything; Andrew had been blessedly quiet, having finally learned that interrupting Slayers when they were working was a Big No-No. Out of sheer boredom Faith was about to suggest they run through any local cemeteries that hadn't been taken over by urban growth.
Then she felt it. There was something in the area, though she doubted it was dangerous. Still, she didn't react; it was a great opportunity to see if the newbie was good enough to catch it. Faith did start gently steering them in what felt like the right direction, though.
Oluremi drew herself up sharply about five minutes later. "Am I—do you sense anything, Faith?"
"I've been waiting for you to catch it," Faith said mildly. "Whaddaya think?" She'd figured out pretty early on that the best way to do this was actually not General Buffy-style lectures, but let the kid try and figure things out on her own, and just jump in if she was getting off track. Plus, it was a lot easier on her end, and Faith had never been one to spend much time and energy on anything but fighting and fucking.
"I don't know," Oluremi said slowly, glancing shyly at her, obviously playing for time and trying to get Faith to answer the question for her. Andrew was watching them intently, but had the sense to stay quiet when he had nothing to add.
Faith waited impatiently for Oluremi to talk, though she did manage to keep from tapping her foot. There was an art to getting baby slayers to talk without intimidating them into incoherence.
"I do not believe it is dangerous," Oluremi continued when it was clear Faith wouldn't do her work for her. "But I think there is probably something demonic or supernatural in the area."
"Well, let's go check it out," Andrew said.
"That's just what I was going to say, A," Faith said, with minimal sarcasm. After all, much though it tempted her she didn't want to scare Andrew into incoherence, either. "Lead the way, 'Remi."
Oluremi started off timidly, but led them to the right place soon enough. It was a warehouse, abandoned-looking from the outside. There was a massive steel door for loading cargo on the street side, but Faith led them around to a less imposing wooden door just off an ally. It was only slightly larger than a normal door, though it was probably a lot thicker, and it had one of those wooden slots at eye level like the gin-joints in the old movies B and Dawnie liked to watch when they got nostalgic for their mom. She pounded on the door.
Sure enough, a few seconds later the cover for the slot slid to the side, and an eye peered through. Given the shadows that filled the alley, anyone who didn't know about demons probably wouldn't have noticed the skin surrounding the eye was red. Not red Indian red, Vegas neon light red. And scaly. "Whatcha want?" the owner of the eye growled, staring at them belligerently.
"Hey, yo, we're your friendly neighborhood slayers," Faith said brightly. "And who are you?"
"Oh, sorry," the doorman said in a considerably friendlier tone. "Gimme a sec, here." The slot slid closed and they listened to the rattling of locks turning. The door swung open, revealing a small demon perched on a stool to get him to eye height. "Welcome to Ugzard's Emporium, source of all things magical, Metropolis store," he said, ushering them in and closing and locking the door behind them. "We open day after tomorrow. Oh, uh, that's all things safe magical. We don't do no business with the rough crowd, and we don't sell hard stuff without a personal reference. Can't be too careful, these days. Always happy to see Slayers—keeps the riff-raff down, y'know? Good for business. Woulda sent you an invite if we'd known you were gonna be in town. Can we get you anything while you're here? First thing's on the house, for Slayers."
"No, thanks," said Faith. "We're just passing through, checking out the area. Noticed your shop and thought we'd check it out." She didn't know what kind of demon he was, but she could tell he wasn't giving her a snow job; her Slayer sense wasn't tingling danger or anything. A question or two to see if he'd spotted anything unusual and they were out of here.
"Oh, sure, sure," the demon said. "Well, if you do need something while you're here, you let us know and we'll set you up."
"Sure thing," Faith said, considering how best to ask her questions without getting another long-winded response out of the guy.
"Could we have a tour of your establishment, sir?" Andrew asked.
"Be delighted, sir!" the demon said, hopping off the stool. "Can I assume you're a Watcher? Think you might mention our name to the Council? They're always in need of new suppliers and we're as trustworthy as they come. We've only just begun expanding operations to this dimension, but we've got quite a long history all told, just ask anybody. We've done a lot of business with Brackens, and I know they've got some enclaves in this dimension. Not on this continent, unfortunately, but you can't have everything."
"If your main customers are not on this continent, why is your shop here?" Oluremi asked.
"Because this is where the portal to this world was easiest to set up, ma'am," the demon said. "And you've got such marvelous—and cheap, and fast—shipping services that work across continents and oceans. And telephones and this wondrous thing called the 'internet'! I don't know why the demon community isn't making better use of it, it's so convenient. All told, it was cheaper to build our first shop in a place we could build a good portal easily. Besides, Superman's back, and he always kept crime down before. Good for business." He opened a door to a large room, lined with shelves and displays of various bottles and jars. The floors, ceiling, and what little could be seen of the walls were tastefully decorated, and showed no sign of the warehouse the building had been converted from. If it weren't for the blue lighting and the demon stocking the shelves, it could have been a Bath and Bodyworks. Faith raised an eye in bemusement.
"This is our main Spell Ingredient department," the demon said. "As you can see, everything is out so that it can be inspected before purchase. As with all our departments, hazardous materials or those which are mainly used in evil rituals are kept in a separate storeroom, and can only be fetched by our clerks once a proper authorization was given. The Spell Component department is just through that arch on the other side of the room. D'you want to look around, or would you prefer a general tour?"
"General tour is fine," Faith said before Andrew could open his mouth.
"Okay. Across from the Ingredients department is the Books department." Their guide opened another door, to a room that would've warmed the G-man's heart if he'd been there to see it. He'd been moaning over the books lost in the destruction of the Council since about five minutes after the collapse of Sunnydale; she'd have to mention this place to him.
"Our Clothing and Ritual Vestment department is down this hall," the demon said, turning a corner.
"What's down at the end of the hall we were just on?" Oluremi asked.
"Offices, mostly," the demon replied. "Offices and living quarters for our people line the outside of the building. We design our buildings that way so it's harder for thieves to get in. Here we are in Vestments." He opened another set of doors, and Faith glanced in. She raised a bemused eyebrow and shook her head as the demon led them down the hall. She really didn't want to know what particular kind of ritual that gold and chartreuse sequined cape with clashing puke-green lamé dress was for. Or what kind of a demon wore it.
"Next we have the Edibles department," the demon said, showing them what looked like a small supermarket. "For those who want a little taste of their home dimension at a reasonable price. You'd be surprised how popular this department is."
"Not really," Andrew said. "I've spent the last several years living mostly in England. It's hard enough getting home food across an ocean, I can't imagine what it would be like across dimensions."
"You probably don't want to," the demon said. "Last but not least is the Restricted department," he said with a flourish. "It's where we keep the stuff we don't want to put on the shelves where just anyone can walk in and take it."
Faith glanced in. "Why are the shelves mostly empty?"
"Oh, we don't want to bring in the really dangerous or expensive stuff until the final wards are up," the demon said with a shrug. "That won't happen until early tomorrow evening, maybe around five, depending on when we get everyone robed up and ready to go. The stuff that's in here now is mostly minor, or stuff we need to set up the wards. Once they're set, we'll bring in the rest."
"It looks like setting the wards will be a fairly major procedure," Andrew said.
Looking around at the symbols carefully inscribed on the floor and the team of demons arranging occult items with deep concentration, Faith had to agree. She frowned. Something was slightly—off. Nothing immediate, and she couldn't spot it, but it was gonna bug the crap out of her until she figured out what it was.
"Oh, it is," the little demon replied. "Still, it's worth it. Best security available in this or any other dimension."
"Is there any chance of something going wrong?" Oluremi asked. Her accent had deepened, which probably meant she was picking up the same thing Faith was and it was making her uneasy.
"Of course not," their escort said with a sniff. "We've been doing this for the last three thousand odd years, please give us credit for knowing our trade."
"Right," Faith said. Still, without something more concrete to go on there wasn't a lot they could do at the moment. "Look, the reason we're in the area is that the Council's seers think there's an apocalypse coming to Metropolis in the next couple of days, but so far we haven't found jack. You got any ideas?"
"An apocalypse?" the demon said, his voice jumping half an octave higher. "Oh, dear me, no! How unfortunate. The wards will protect us against even minor apocalypses, but losing the client base of the city's demons would be a severe blow to our profits. Not to mention, a great tragedy for the city. I wish I could help you out, but I haven't heard anything that might be useful. The city's been quiet since we arrived. Well, except for the blackout the other day, but that didn't really affect the demon community. We don't use much electricity."
"Yeah, we haven't found out anything either," Faith said with a sigh. "I'm kinda leaning towards this being a false alarm—some of the psychics are pretty green."
"Oh, I do hope you're right about that," the demon said with perfect sincerity. He pulled a card from his vest. "If you find something and need any supplies to prevent it, don't hesitate to look us up. I'm sure we can find what you're looking for, and we're always happy to help the Slayers." He gave Faith the card.
"Thanks," she said.
"Can we come and watch the spell-casting tomorrow?" Andrew asked. "It sounds like something Giles might be interested in."
"Trying to prevent a repeat of what the First did to the old Council buildings, eh?" the demon said. "You're more than welcome to come, if you'd like."
Faith slouched back in the armchair in her hotel room, idly playing with a dagger and trying to shut out the debate Oluremi and Andrew were having about whether Superman was really an alien or just some new kind of demon they'd never seen before. She wasn't really succeeding.
"No, scientists claim to have found Krypton," Andrew was saying. "That's Superman's home planet. Which means he is from this dimension, which means he isn't a demon. And according to Lois Lane," he waved a copy of the Daily Planet, where a picture of Superman covered half the front page, "that's where he's been for the past five years. He went back to Krypton to see if there was anything left. I wonder where he stashed his spaceship." Andrew sighed in geek-lust.
"Perhaps," Oluremi answered. "But his powers make no logical sense when one considers them scientifically. They are far more likely to be the result of magic than alienness. And a different dimension an equally plausible explanation for where he has been these past five years—a time differential would account for the time away nicely."
"So would the travel time to another planet," Andrew answered. "And there's no reason they couldn't have magic on other planets."
"Okay, that's enough," Faith said, boots dropping from the table with a thump. "We're going out to see if there's anything we missed. That should keep us busy until it's time for the warding."
Oluremi bounced up off the bed, grabbing weapons and equipment for the search.
"We haven't seen anything suspicious so far," Andrew protested. "Last night you said it was probably a false alarm."
"Yeah, well, do you really wanna stake the fate of the world on that assumption?" Faith said. "'Cause I don't know about you, but I'd feel real silly if we called in that nothing was wrong and then the city fell apart as soon as we got off the plane in Heathrow."
"I get it," he said with a sigh as he rolled off the bed. "Lead on, O Fearless Leader."
They hadn't found anything, of course, but the point of the afternoon's patrol had been to distract Andrew from Superman, and it had worked. Not that Faith had anything against the guy, it was just—spandex? Underwear on the outside? Boy Scout platitudes? Not really her thing. And any being that called itself "Superman" had an ego of a size she didn't want to ever encounter in person. So here they were, back at Ugzard's, just in time for the casting.
"Is there anything that could possibly go wrong with the spell?" Oluremi asked their escort as they were led towards the Restricted department.
"The chances of that are very small," the demon said pompously. "We have perfected our technique over quite a long period of time, and have everything down to, as you humans say, a science." It would have been more impressive if he didn't sound like he'd been breathing helium. It was a different demon than the one who had given them the tour last night, but like the other, he hadn't given his name.
"But is it possible?" Faith pressed.
"Theoretically," the demon said with a sigh. "I suppose." He scrunched his face. "If a jar of the centaur blood mixed with ch'k'k'tel lymph node fluid we use to mark out the symbols on the floor were to spill and obscure the signs after the chanting portion starts, the consequences could be dire. But that's why we always seal it carefully and put it away before starting."
"How dire is 'dire'?" Andrew asked.
"That would depend on exactly when it spilled. Worst case? It would rip the fabric of the space-time continuum."
"That sounds … bad," Faith observed.
"Bad? Bad?" Andrew stared at her, goggle-eyed. "It would be the end of the world as we know it!"
"Right," Faith said dryly, going on ahead to forestall a lecture. She entered the Restricted room and glanced around. It looked pretty much the same: ceremonial diagrams covering most of the floor, lots of shelves with a few ceramic jars and other containers scattered here and there, and a whole lot of non-threatening demons. Except the demons were all in ceremonial gear and there were more of them than yesterday.
"So, where is the Centaur blood stuff kept?" Andrew asked as he entered behind her.
"Do you see those purple jars on the top shelf on the left?" their escort said. "That's them. As I said, they've all been carefully sealed. Actually, that would be a good place for you to observe the spell-casting; it's out of our way, but you should still have a good view."
"Right," Faith said, heading over there. "Anything else we should know or do?"
"Please do not disturb us during the ceremony," another of the demons said. "We will be happy to answer any of your questions afterword."
"Sounds good," Faith said as Andrew and Oluremi joined her, and the demons took up places within the markings. She watched idly as they began their ritual; Andrew would pay attention to the details, which left her free to space as the demons worked their magic.
Which was why, as the demons started chanting about half-way through and the power they were wielding became so tangible she could almost see the wards they were creating, she was the first to notice the tremors. "Uh, guys, is that supposed to happen?" she said. One of the demons shot her a dirty look and Andrew shushed her, but that was the only response she got. She edged away from the shelves which didn't seem to be bolted down or braced or anything. Sure, as a Slayer she had enhanced healing, but that didn't mean she wanted to get brained by a jar.
As the shaking increased, some of the demons began looking around nervously. "Guess not," she said under her breath, not wanting to distract them further.
"Uh, I don't think this is good," Andrew said nervously.
"No shit, Sherlock," Faith said as the noise of things rattling around grew stronger and the wobbling of the shelves increased. Across the room a green jar shook itself off the shelf it was sitting on and shattered on the floor, spraying a white powder around the room.
"Shouldn't we do something?" Oluremi asked.
"What did you have in mind?" Faith said.
"Uh, guys?" Andrew said. He'd turned around and was staring up at something looking faintly green.
"What?" Faith asked, as he stepped to the side and threw up his arms.
She turned just in time to see him catch a large purple jar of that Centaur-stuff as it fell. It knocked him backwards, and he landed awkwardly with a snap of breaking bones that was audible even over the earthquake. Faith winced. That didn't sound good. But at least the jar had landed on him, not on the floor. 'Cause Andrew and the jar had landed on top of the symbols painted on the floor. All the sealing in the world wouldn't have done a damn bit of good if the jar had shattered.
"Hey, Andrew, you okay?" Faith said, glancing up to see if any of the other jars looked like they might fall. She held Oluremi back as the girl tried to go to him; she didn't know what would happen if they disturbed the circle more, but she doubted it'd be a good thing. She could feel the power crackling around them.
Andrew let out a whimper.
"Guess not, then," Faith said, noting that the chanting had come to a stop and all the demons were looking at them in shock. "Is it done?" She crouched; the shaking was getting worse, and standing was a good way to get knocked down even with slayer reflexes.
"No," said the demon with the most elaborate head-dress. She motioned to the demons around her, who began hastily smudging the lines around them in what looked like a very particular way, muttering as they did so. "We will have to try again tomorrow, if we can get everything cleared away and reset by then. It is safe to aid your friend."
"Great," Faith said, crawling over the lines carefully. She reached for the jar and was about to pick it up when Oluremi grabbed her arm.
"It is cracked," the baby Slayer said urgently. "See how it spills out onto his shirt? It may spill if we lift it off him."
Faith bit her lip and looked over at the demon leader. "Now that the chanting has stopped, will that stuff do anything if it spills on the lines?"
The demon glanced around uncertainly. "I don't know, since we stopped the ritual in the middle. I would rather not chance it."
"Right. Space-time whatsis. Bad thing." Faith sighed. "Do you have a tarp or something we could put under it? 'Cause I heard bones breaking when he fell, and that thing can't be doing him good sitting on his chest like that."
The little demon snapped her fingers and one of the demons in the circle stood, picked up the skirts of his robe, and galloped off while Faith called 911 on her cell. It was busy; this must be some earthquake. The demon returned a few minutes later with a blue nylon tarp, which Faith laid out beside Andrew, making sure none of the pattern on the floor was exposed. Oluremi lifted the jar onto the tarp and dragged it out of the way while Faith inspected Andrew. "At least three cracked ribs," she reported. She checked his pupils. "And a concussion. He needs to go to the hospital to make sure there wasn't any internal damage; that thing was heavy."
"We should call for an ambulance," Oluremi said anxiously.
"Already tried it," Faith said. "With this quake, it may be a while before we can get through and they can send someone out. If we can get him there ourselves, we should. It'd probably be quicker."
"We have a car you can use," one of the demons said. "And we can probably find something to use as a stretcher."
The streets were a mess, but they got him there eventually. The main shaking had stopped while they loaded him into the back of the car, but there were still a few aftershocks here and there.
The emergency room was packed when they got there, doctors and nurses flying around and shouting official sounding things at one another. It sounded like an episode of ER. Faith took one look and turned to Oluremi. "I think we'll get better service if we bring him in ourselves than if we try to flag someone down," she said.
"I think you're right," Oluremi said as they went back to where the car was parked illegally.
Faith grabbed his shoulders while Oluremi grabbed his legs; it wasn't that he was too heavy, they just didn't want to jostle him any more than they had to. "We could use some help here!" Faith called as they re-entered the emergency room. In under a minute Andrew had been placed on a gurney and a nurse was quizzing them on what had happened while handing them forms to fill out. Fortunately, the Council had good health insurance.
"What? Where am I?" Faith looked down to see Andrew blinking confusedly around. "What happened?"
"A jar fell on your head during an earthquake," Faith said. She let out an unobtrusive sigh. She'd never really cared for the little geek, but she'd been worried he was gonna die on her.
A nurse started wheeling Andrew off, but a cop grabbed the nurses arm. "Wait a minute, we've got someone coming in."
"Yeah, and you've got my friend right now," Faith said, crossing her arms and stepping closer to the cop.
"Sorry, miss, but—" the cop broke off as the front doors burst open and a crowd of cops and doctors rushed another gurney in.
Faith caught a glimpse of black hair on the gurney, and an awful lot of red and blue.
"Was that …?" Andrew had raised his head and was staring after the crowd.
"Okay, now you can go," the cop said, and the nurse began to wheel Andrew away again.
Faith and Oluremi glanced at each other. "Nah. Couldn't have been," Faith said.
Faith sat on the window ledge of Andrew's hospital room as he chattered on about the honor of being in the same hospital as Superman. At least for a little while; they'd transferred everyone out as soon as they could so the man in blue would have privacy or security or something.
"I mean, he just picked up that whole continent and lifted it up into space!" Andrew said excitedly. "They're tracking it, and they think it might enter into a stable, high orbit around Earth. Then we'd have two moons! The military thinks we should shoot it into small pieces, to make it less of a threat if its orbit ever starts to decay. That was an impressive way to save the world, wish I'd been there to see it."
"More impressive than going down into the mouth of Hell?" Faith asked.
"Well, not really," Andrew said. "But a lot cooler."
"Literally," Faith said, remembering the brimstone heat.
"But Andrew, you saved the world yourself," Oluremi said impatiently.
"I did?" Andrew said, astonished. "How?"
"The jar that fell on top of you? It was filled with the mixture they used to create the symbols on the floor," Oluremi said. "It happened while they were chanting. The jar cracked, but nothing touched the floor. If you had not been underneath it the jar would have shattered, and its contents would have gone flying everywhere!"
"Wow!" Andrew said, wide-eyed. "You mean I prevented a tear in the fabric of the space-time continuum? Captain Picard would be so proud!"
"Don't let it go to your head," Faith said, smirking. "Anymore than it already has, at least."
"Oh, ha-ha, very funny," Andrew said with a scowl. "That's right, mock the guy with the concussion." But he couldn't keep up the attitude for long and settled back into his pillow. "I prevented a tear in the space-time continuum."
Faith shook her head. She was not looking forward to the trip home.