They've never used the Grand Hall for anything other than group exercises. Some of the younger girls liked to spend their lunchtimes in there, playing 'tag' in between the imposing columns under the eyes of generations of Watchers peering down from the portraits above. It is traditional, Giles told Dawn when she first commented on this, to have artwork depicting holy warriors in places such as this. There are countless other buildings - some perfectly preserved, some targeted by the Harbingers and now no more than ruins - with similar artwork on the walls; generations of Watchers fighting their holy wars with blessed weapons - female and so very young - by their side.
Dawn thinks that those paintings might be creepier than anything else about the Academy grounds.
"The tools of my trade are no use here," the head Knight - Paul - says, and lays down his weapons (knife; stake; great big sword) on the altar. The girls are supposed to follow at this point, Dawn figures - there are certainly enough pointed looks in their general direction - but they are reluctant. Missy is shifting from foot to foot, her fingers nervous over the cracked hilt of her knife. (Missy loves that knife. Not loves it as in she'd pitch a fit if it went missing - 'loves it' as in she sleeps with it under her pillow, her fingers curled around the cheap, broken hilt, the hard edges of the plastic pressing into her palm. She has a little scar right along her lifeline from back when she couldn't heal as fast as she can now, and the knife was still there, slicing its dull little way into her flesh. Missy loves that knife.
Dawn doesn't want to think about what would happen if it went missing.)
"The tools of my trade are no use here," Paul says again, more firmly. He really is very young, and very cute, Dawn thinks. He also has the cutest accent in the world, and the ugliest tattoo in the entire history of tattoos blazoned across his forehead. (Maybe she's biased. One too many people tattooed like that tried to forcibly separate her head from her body so, yeah, she's also not keen on the idea of being unarmed in a place full of tattooed guys all looking at her like she could burst into flames at any point.) "I will not have them on my person." He gestures above the heads of the gathered girls, towards the far end of the hall where one of the other guys - also wearing the same crazy outfit and also tattooed with ugliness - has unlocked a heavy chest with several knives and swords clearly visible and is looking expectant. "I keep them in a locked chest in the armoury."
Dawn doesn't want to be a pedant. She doesn't. But the guy does not keep his weapons in the armoury. He clearly keeps them on his belt to take them off mid-speech.
He has also unlocked a chest full of weapons in the middle of the God-damned Grand Hall, under the eyes of God and Slayer and millennia-dead Watchers.
(Missy's grip on her knife is knuckle-white.)
"The armoury is the place for all this wood and steel. It is the place for all the unholy things that define me. In this place, their presence is an affront." The weapons are duly loaded on to a little tray and ceremoniously carried to the chest where they are tucked away, out of sight.
Paul stands in front of them with no access to any blade.
"A long time has gone by," he says, his voice low and almost singsong. His white tunic has seen better days; so have the weapons and the Hall. (So has Dawn, really, but she tries not to think about that.) They have all been fighting. There are blade marks in the masonry - a few months old or millennia; you will never know in a place like this. Dawn likes it that way.
"It lacks a certain something," Andrew had murmured upon first seeing it, theatrically steepling his fingers as he surveyed the derelict.
"A Death Star in the distance?" Dawn had asked dryly, and elbowed him out of the way. There was work to be done.
(There is always work to be done.)
Paul is faltering slightly, his speech moving farther and farther away from the small leather-bound tome he held clutched in one hand. "A long time since the Mouth of Hell opened, so hungry it devoured itself in its greed. A sobbing, fitful, frightened time that has spent itself in pieces along the way." Paul's voice wavers over that last, stuttering to a stop. He swallows.
"Ten years ago, I took this burden." His fingers touch the ugly mark on his face gently, with faint reverence. "Ten years ago, you understand. It has been a difficult ten years for my order, and for me. We have been fighting the same enemy that you fight, and we have suffered many losses."
The girls stir; faint murmurs of agreement at this. Dawn counts heads amongst those who did not react.
Paul continues in this same vein for a while - half ceremony, half battle call - listing his familial and beloved dead in gruesome, gory detail. Dawn cynically wonders at the influence CSI and Law & Order evidently bring to bear on the new ranks of the Knights of Byzantium, then checks herself. By this stage, they're probably retro.
Missy is fidgeting, playing with her knife. Some of the other girls - the calmer ones - have given up their half-reflexive checks on the exits and are listening to Paul preach, their heads gravely inclined to one side.
It's not a bad speech; she'll give him that. A little too pop-culture for her current tastes, despite his 'thou shalt' vocab, but it seems to suit the girls just fine, and beggars can't be choosers in this private little war.
"Miss Summers?" Another Knight approaches her, eager-eyed and bushy-tailed and at least fifteen years younger than the young Paul.
Privately, Dawn sighs at what this tells her about her own fading youth. "Yes?"
"I was sent to ask what you think of the service thus far. About how you think the Council will respond."
Seated in a half-circle, the girls are breaking into pieces the bread the Knights are handing out, giggling as they tear the flesh apart. The crosses threaded on long, sturdy chains around their necks glint in the candlelight; cheap, glossy plastic. The girls wear them in a variety of colours to match the rest of their slaying gear: they're style statements now, or badges of affiliation. They love them, like they love the creepy paintings in the Grand Hall and in their study rooms; like they love the ancient and out-of-bounds arsenal of crossbows and scimitars locked away in the Academy vaults. They also like Paul; she can see that. He's just unusual and spirited enough to get them interested, and she thinks that a regular chapel service would prove a reasonable hit with those interested in new (and old) weaponry. They're an inquisitive lot, her girls. They would all want to know how as well as why.
And not a single one of them would know a thing about the tightly-laced, breathless terror of Paul's - and his brethren's - religion if it came up and bit them on the ass.
Dawn is almost looking forward to their inevitable dissection of any non-battle-related sermon.
"I thought it was lovely," Dawn said briskly. "A little too religious for my tastes, of course." And the Council will say what I damn well tell them to say.
The young Knight's smile doesn't slip. "We're in a chapel, Miss Summers, conducting Mass for the Slayers. A little religion is expected."
At sixty-two, she thinks that her dislike of the Knights might have ebbed a little, but it is still as strong as ever. She doesn't like them.
No - that's not quite true.
She doesn't trust them, those slippery tattooed fanatics, waving a sword in Heaven's name and happy to chop a little girl in two because of it.
The Head of the Council shrugs and gets to her feet, a little less fluidly than she would like. Her joints protest the movement. "Just as long as it doesn't interfere with their slaying."
She leaves the dead Watchers to continue to view the proceedings avidly from their lofty places upon high.