Author's Note: Wow, we've really got to get through this section of the plot before we run out of games.
Chapter 11: Fallout 3.
"So, Miess Zummers, you still refuce to talka," Xander said, in a foreign accent so off that Buffy couldn't really tell who he was trying to imitate.
The Slayer shook her head. "It's weird, yeah, but it's not end of the world weird. I just figure it's a good idea for... Ranko to tell you herself."
"Yeah, well that's easy for you to say, you haven't spent the last few weeks ogling her,"the brown haired boy complained.
"I don't know, I think Buffy's right," Willow shook her head. "It's just some gender confusion, it's not going to destroy Sunnydale or anything."
"Hey, this is Sunnydale. if you haven't forgotten, an unusually large concentration of mosquitoes has the potential to blow up the planet here," Xander disagreed.
"So, are you talking big mosquitoes, or..." Willow started, before Buffy raised a hand, moving slowly up to the library door, keeping her head below the circular windows.
"See?" Xander whispered to the redhead next to him as the two skulked up behind their friend, "I bet whatever's in there has something to do with Ranko."
Willow just rolled her eyes, moving up next to where Buffy was pressing her ear against the crack of the door. "What's going on?" she whispered, worried.
Buffy didn't respond, only bringing a finger to her lips and shushing the more timid girl. Still, Willow was rather curious, so she quickly sprang up, peeking through the window for half a second before ducking down again.
"Why are you hiding and listening in on your mom?" she asked, confused. Buffy just shushed her again, so she bent and put her own ear to the wood below Buffy's.
Xander contemplated joining them, but was pretty sure that there was nowhere he could put himself in that situation that wouldn't at least get him slapped, so he shuffled backwards, leaning against the wall.
"Um, well, you see, there's a perfectly logical explanation for..." Rupert Giles sputtered, as he was glared down by a woman who was several inches shorter than him and at least that many years younger. Still, it felt rather a lot like he was being dressed down by his own mother as she lay down what she knew, what Buffy had told her, about the Slayer and her Watcher. Fortunately, it seemed that she had wound down after his first stuttering and unsure attempts at an explanation, as she just stood in front of him, her hands on her hips and a glare that would cause the Master to twitch firmly aimed at him.
"Mrs. Summers." The Brit took off his glasses, rubbing them on his suit jacket. "What Buffy has told you is entirely true. Yes, even that part about torturing her." Joyce was about to comment about that, but Giles kept right on going, thinking that if he let her start yelling again he just might lose his nerve and move to Greenwich. "The problem is that becoming angry with me for that is rather pointless and short sighted."
"Excuse me?" Joyce demanded, her voice incredulous.
"The Slayer draws, and is drawn to trouble. You recall when you moved a year and a half ago due to the gym fire incident?" The Watcher stood, and began pacing around the central library table. "Buffy would have found trouble on the level of the Master without me. I, and all other Watchers, am supposed to train a Slayer, so her inevitable encounters with the supernatural will, um, end in her favor."
"And that includes this... Crucia-mantus?" Joyce asked, the incredulity clear in her voice. There was a soft thudding noise from the door, but both parties ignored it.
"No," Giles admitted. "It doesn't, and I've never come up with a satisfactory reason for the damned thing." The bitterness in the older man's voice surprised Buffy's mother long enough that she didn't take the obvious opportunity for a snide comment. "Unfortunately, tradition is a rather powerful force, and much more so for larger groups of people. And before you begin yelling indignantly at me about following tradition without thought," he quite remembered how THAT explanation had gone over earlier in the day, "if Buffy had reached 18, without being killed by something because my training wasn't good enough, or my information wasn't timely enough...
"I would have put her through the Cruciamentum, and hoped that she could defeat it, since otherwise, she and I would be fighting the entire Watcher's council, who would want to... get rid of us, in order to gain a more cooperative Slayer." The Brit let out a snort. "Of course, given what Smith's pulled, that's going to happen anyway, so I suppose there isn't going to be a Cruciamentum on Buffy's eighteenth birthday."
"What are you saying?" Joyce asked, her area of concern suddenly switching from Giles himself to a much larger group.
"I don't know," the Watcher admitted. "Ranko's encountered one strike team that I'm sure was sent by the Council already, and if she is, in fact, the current Slayer, though the evidence of that is tentative at best, there will be others. Of course, Buffy is no longer the primary target, but with Buffy, that doesn't matter."
Joyce sort of wished that the tweed clad man had stopped after assuring her that Buffy wasn't the Council's primary target, though she still would have felt bad for Ran... whatever the second half of that name was supposed to be. Of course, she knew her daughter as well as he did, and didn't even really need him to explain what he'd said. The target of their activities was one of her daughter's friends, so she would get involved regardless.
"I hope you know I'm still as frantically worried as I was when I first stormed in here," the brown haired woman sighed.
"Oh yes, well... I'm terribly sorry about that," the Watcher responded. Joyce was unsure if he was trying to be sarcastic, until he continued. "Of course, Buffy's tendency to stick her, um, neck out for her friends is reciprocated rather strongly, so I'm sure we'll find some way to deal with this... probably."
"Remind me never to have you speak at a pep rally," the worried mother griped.
"Perhaps if we scheduled it for the vampires, it would do some good," the librarian muttered.
The room descended into an uncomfortable silence for a few moments after the equally uncomfortable joke, only to be broken shortly after by the swinging open of the library doors, Buffy, Xander and Willow walking in and seeming a bit louder than usual.
"Hey Giles," the Slayer said, waving casually at the bespectacled man. "Oh, Mom, you're here too? Isn't that a surprise seeing you here, of all places!"
"All right, how long were the three of you outside?" Joyce muttered, looking at her daughter suspiciously.
"Well, we studied history out on the front lawn for the last half an hour," Xander said, hopefully.
"Buffy, you've got a little..." Giles said, moving a hand up to his cheek and rubbing a finger down it.
The Slayer blinked, feeling her own cheek and finding a slight impression from a metal plate on the side of the library door.
"So, where is that Ranko, anyways? I really want to talk to her, or him," Xander said, in an obviously overly loud voice.
Buffy just sighed irritably.
Jenny Calendar sat in her classroom, typing furiously. All she was doing was writing example programs for a few of her classes over the next few weeks, "Hello World" in every possible language and variation imaginable, mostly, but it was busy work that she actually needed to do, and let her think while she did it.
All throughout the day, she'd thought about the confrontations the day before and that morning. At the heart of each of them was something that had been held back, for what had been thought to be good reasons. She herself had a secret quite like those ones, and as she'd thought about it, she'd wondered if the reason she'd kept it was really such a good one.
Yes, her primary mission in Sunnydale was clear, and telling Buffy, or even Giles about it could possibly endanger the goal, but she wasn't even sure what that goal was supposed to be.
Hearing a soft chime from her computer, she brought her attention back to it for a moment, reading the line that had last been written in the text editor. "7 FORMAT(13H HELLO, WORLD)" She blinked at it, wondering why she'd decided to write in Fortran, before closing the editor and noticing that the E-mail icon on her task bar was flashing.
In her inbox was one message, a reply to one she'd sent earlier in the day. When she read it, a dark frown grew on her face. "Damn it," she cursed, reaching out and hitting the power button before she could realize what she'd just done. As the monitor went black, she muttered, "And I didn't even save my work, either."
Standing up, she smoothed the wrinkles out of her blouse, and headed for the classroom door.
As Buffy walked down the hallway with her mother, recalling what she'd heard Giles say in her mind, and trying to ignore the fact that Willow and Xander had scuttled off shortly after the group's incredibly subtle entrance into the library, she couldn't help but be a lot more confused than she had been this morning. She'd been more confused than this over the weekend, mostly around the time she'd found out about the Cruciamentum, but that feeling had been subsumed with a rather healthy dose of angry annoyance at her Watcher for the last little while.
Giles' words, spoken while he was unaware that she'd been listening to them, had thrown her perfectly righteous outrage at him right out the window. "I don't think I've ever felt warm and fuzzy about someone threatening to drug me and lock me in with a vampire before," she muttered, just loudly enough for her mother to hear it and look strangely at her. "Giles," the teen clarified, shaking her head. "He actually gave a good reason for not telling me about that ritual thing, and I believe him."
"Mmh," Joyce said, her voice practically the definition of non-committal.
"At least he explained things better than Ranma's mom, even if he didn't know I was there," the younger Summers continued, getting a curious look from the other woman. "The words 'Self-righteous asshole' were used, and I agreed with them," she clarified.
"Buffy, language," Joyce said reproachfully.
"Hey, I was just quoting," the high schooler justified.
The brown haired woman decided to let the transgression slide for the moment. "So Ranma's meeting with Nodoka... didn't go well, I take it?"
"She was glowing. And I don't mean the bright, beautiful skin type of glow, either. I mean, radioactive... but it was blue... and really cold."
"I'd take that as a bad sign," Joyce muttered, Buffy giving an emphatic nod. "I suppose, given what I know of this fight, she can stay in our guest room as long as she needs to."
"I'll be sure to tell her that," Buffy said, smiling slightly. "If I can find her, anyways."
Joyce nodded. "Well, I suppose it's a good thing I called the foreign exchange program and canceled our Peruvian after finding out about the Slaying thing," she commented to herself quietly.
"Wait," Buffy said, confused. "You signed us up for the exchange program? It'd be nice to get a memo about this sort of thing, you know."
"It must have been lost in the same in-tray as your Slayer status," Joyce replied, before turning and leaving her speechless daughter in the middle of the hall.
"I had a comeback for that," Buffy grumbled.
"I've got it!" Spike looked up as he heard the door to his and Dru's portion of the warehouse slam, and the strange guy with the umbrella and the fangs marched in, a good portion of his legs covered in thick mud. In one hand, he triumphantly held a pack of small pink tablets, the word 'PEZ' emblazoned across the side.
"You took off for a little more than a day and came back looking like you've been through the sodding wars for one pack of candy?" the bleach blond vampire asked, incredulously.
"The store was pretty far away," the foreign boy protested.
Spike kept right on giving him a look, but Drucilla stepped out of the shadows, where she had been doing something the male vampire didn't really want to look in on with a couple of her dolls, and reached out one hand for the candy.
Ryoga obediently dropped it in, and the brown haired woman suddenly growled, her face shifting to its vampiric appearance as she lunged at the food in her own hand as though it were an unsuspecting club goer.
"Gwa... Huh..."" the lost boy stammered, looking between the feeding Dru and Spike, who wore an expression of bemusement.
"How is she even doing that?" the lost boy asked.
"After a while," Spike began slowly, "you learn that there are some things that are never meant to be known. This is one of them."
Ryoga nodded calmly for several seconds, before realizing that he'd just seen a woman turn into a monster with golden eyes and fangs larger than his. He had previously seen Spike in full vampiric form, and thus normally would have just asked what was going on. Unfortunately, he'd also, just an hour or two before, been kissed by a corpse, and he was somewhat rattled. "Gah!" he finally yelped, turning in a random direction and charging out of the room, through a utility door that led deeper into the bowels of the warehouse.
"Where is he going?" Drucilla asked, in her usual dreamy tone, after finishing consuming her candy.
"You scared him off, love," Spike replied, walking over to the door and peering through it. "Funny, I thought that utility shaft was a dead end."
Dru was about to reply to that, when there was a knock at the door that lead into the warehouse's main floor, and Spike sighed, heading up the stares to answer it. When it opened he saw a rather pretty girl standing on the other side, wearing a dress that sort of looked like a poncho with a bunch of dragons and people being eaten on it. "Yeah, what is it?" the vampire demanded, as he licked his lips, noting that he was rather hungry.
"I am looking for a boy with an umbrella," the girl replied. "He wears a yellow and black spotted head wrap."
"Ah, him, just missed 'im, sorry," Spike said, shaking his head. "Not sure where he went."
"Ah, I see." The girl frowned, worriedly rubbing at one cheek, where spike could see some sort of rash. "Thank you very much." She seemed to look at him in a worryingly familiar fashion, as though sizing him up to be bitten, but he shook that idea off as she turned and started to walk away.
Leaping forward and unsheathing his fangs, the blond caught the girl easily and bit into her neck, this one nowhere near as hard to pierce as the lost boy's. Just as he began to suck, though, everything went wrong. The girl jerked away from him, screaming and running out of the warehouse, as he began coughing and hacking, his throat filling with dust and what tasted like dead flesh.
"Oh, what in the hell?" Spike finally managed to croak out, after his trachea had apparently abandoned its attempted escape. "What's next, someone who just makes me disintegrate when I bite 'em? Shoulda stayed out of this goddamned hellmouth, that's what I shoulda..." his irritated grumblings were cut off as he stalked down stairs, slamming the door behind him.
"We there yet?" Elder Cologne of the Joketsu Zoku sighed to herself as she heard her great granddaughter ask that question for the fifteenth time. Granted, they had flown pretty much straight through from Japan to the United States, but the fact that there was still nothing but ocean below them should answer the question readily enough.
"I can still have you transferred to the pet compartment with Mousse, you know," the diminutive woman grumbled, as she lowered the newspaper she'd been reading and placed it on a pile of Los Angeles area papers which she'd been searching through for Ranma-esque weirdness. So far, all she'd found was a bunch of weirdos in pajamas running around San-Francisco and a town with an extraordinarily large obituary section.
"Shampoo be good," the purple haired girl in the seat behind Cologne replied, quickly, only to receive a snort from the brunette in the seat beside her, who had apparently been asleep before the other had spoken.
For a moment, Cologne caught herself wondering if the airframe of the 747 could take a fight between Ukyo and Shampoo, before reminding herself that neither of them were that stupid... probably. Thankfully, the Tendo girl was still in Nerima, as her older sister drew the line for helping her quite a distance before an 80,000 yen plane ticket. This probably should have cheered up the Amazon elder, though there was something in the back of her brain telling her that she'd missed something important, and that perhaps she should have just waited for her son-in-law to get back to Japan.
"We there yet?" the grey haired woman sighed.
The light reflected off of the walls in strange patterns as Nodoka knelt in front of a single candle, gently turning a small object in her hands as she stared down at it. The tanto gleamed back at her, just recently cleaned and sharpened, against the background of her tweed kimono. She hadn't really thought that she would need a white one, and the garment she was wearing was her official garb during Watcher's council meetings, representing one of the two things she'd failed catastrophically in being.
She'd already penned her note, the black ink drying on a sheet of rice paper beside the candle, and her sword was laying up against a wall nearby, though she knew that she wouldn't have a second. She took a slow, deep breath as she stopped moving the blade, clenching its handle firmly in her right hand and orienting it towards her stomach. Just as she was about to stab, the door to the room she sat in creaked open.
The auburn haired woman turned her head to see the boy she now knew was her son standing at the door with a backpack slung over one shoulder, the look on his face one of obvious disappointment. "R... Ranma," she said, uncertainly, as he walked over and began pulling clothing out of the dresser next to her.
"Taking the coward's way out," the pigtailed martial artist observed, as he got to the bottom of one drawer and began rummaging through the contents of the next.
"Excuse me?" The comment had obviously stung, as Nodoka leveled a glare at the boy. "This is necessary to regain my honor after..."
"Like I said, coward's way out," the martial artist continued. "Thought about doin' it a few times in Nerima, revealing the curse to you and getting ready to get my head chopped off." He laughed. "Woulda solved a few problems. Woulda also meant I'd lost."
"You felt admitting your curse and waiting for my decision would instantly result in your death," the older woman shook her head. After a few moments of thought, she continued, "I'm not sure if you would have been right."
Ranma just shrugged, removing the last of his clothes from the dresser and slamming the drawer shut. "Guess it doesn't matter now, does it?"
Nodoka didn't respond, only turning her vision back to her hand as she heard her son's footsteps receding. When she realized it was empty, she opened and closed it several times in surprise, looking around. Nearby, laying in two jagged pieces on the carpet, was the blade of the tanto. The hilt, with the family crest on it, was gone.
Buffy walked next to Ranma, wondering, for about the fifth time, if she should ask what had happened since she'd seen the redhead in the library earlier. Granted, what had been talked about then would be enough to upset anyone, but the mood seemed darker, somehow, and he was carrying around a backpack roughly half her size.
She'd resisted the temptation to ask the previous four times due to the fact that they'd been in graveyards and distractions had turned up just as she'd decided to do so, but now they were just walking down the street towards her home, the silence getting rather uncomfortable. "So, um... are you..."
"Buffy!" a voice called out from down the street, and the blonde's mind skipped around a little bit for a second.
"Are you Buffy?" she muttered to herself, blinking, before she noticed Angel running towards the two of them, his eyes looking rather wild. "Angel?" She asked, concerned. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," The undead man said, reassuringly. "Your mother wanted me to ask if you could come home for a while before starting to patrol, and bring Ranko." He nodded at the black haired boy.
"Oh, so you talked to Mom?" The slayer asked, blinking. "No wonder you look like a scared rabbit."
"I've had worse," Angel responded. "Though I can't really remember when, right now."
Ranma looked between the two of them, rather confused. "Um, what's Buffy's mom want, and what'd she do to Angel?"
"I'll tell you when you're older," Buffy responded, patting the pigtailed martial artist on the shoulder.
"I'm older than you are," he objected, confused, but was summarily ignored as the three headed back for the Summers household.
"I call this meeting of the Senior Watcher's Council to order," William Bigsbee, the current Council Head, intoned. "Today we are here to discuss the actions, or lack there of, of the 'Clean-up Crew' we had stationed just outside of Sunnydale. Travers, you have the floor."
"Thank you, sir," Quentin began as he stood. "As you can see in the packets I've provided, the two man crew was dispatched to eliminate the being posing as the Slayer and its former Watcher, Nadoka Saotome." Pausing a moment for emphasis, he continued, "During their operation, Marsh and Jones made contact with the creature, Ranko. It disarmed Jones and had rendered him unconscious before Marsh arrived on the scene. Because of this, we cannot be sure what happened next."
"It says here," one of the three women in the room broke in, "that the supposed Slayer, or 'Ranma', as Marsh called it, is a shape-shifter and that it has only struck one human in his presence, save in self defense."
"And that one time," another woman added, "was when one of the other men in the area tried to 'hit on' her and apparently wouldn't take 'no' for an answer."
"Be that as it may," Bigsbee said, "we have only Marsh's word on what has happened. Considering the dedication Saotome showed in her duties before she was stationed in Nerima, Japan, and how she acted in Sunnydale, it is entirely possible that mental manipulation was involved in this situation."
"If that is the case," Travers interjected, "then we can likely exclude Giles and Summers from being of any use. When I was discussing the matter with Giles, he seemed rather reluctant to consider the imposter a threat."
"I see," the Council's head acknowledged. "We have a threat who may be able to brainwash those around it and can take out an average human with very little trouble. Does anyone have any suggestions on how we should proceed?"
"As I see it," one of the men said, leaning forward in his chair, "we have two options. First, we could use a sniper to eliminate this threat from a distance. Unfortunately, if anyone else we would consider has met this creature in the past or if its radius of effect is large enough, we could have the same problem as we had with Marsh."
"Yes, that could be a problem," another of the men said. "We have no information regarding this threat from before the empowering ritual other than that which Saotome provided, all of which is suspect."
"So we need to send someone who could not possibly have been influenced." Roger Wyndam-Pryce said, bringing a hand up to his chin. "And since all of our field teams are drawn from global militaries or mercenary organizations, that wouldn't leave many options."
"The Slayer," Travers interjected, getting strange looks from the others. He hastened to explain. "The recently awakened one. She's lived in Jamaica with her Watcher for most of her life, and I highly doubt that she ever met this demon before. It's also possible that her status may give her some resistance against the target's abilities."
"Hasn't her Watcher informed us that she's been acting erratically?" Laura Kay Weathermill raised her eyes from reading Travers' report.
"I'm sure Zabuto's just suffering from a case of the jitters," Wyndam-Pryce responded, dismissively. "He's raised the girl for the past decade, after all."
Most of the others frowned, nodding, though Weathermill looked unconvinced. "With the state Sunnydale is already in, a barely trained Slayer, several civilian assistants, and a vampire as its only defenders, the last thing we need is yet another Slayer with mental issues."
Bigsbee nodded. "True, but something definitely must be done. The Hellmouth in Sunnydale is very dangerous, and there is an unidentified demon with free reign of the area. Travers, since you've seen this thing and had recent experience with the Watcher, perhaps you should go and examine the new Slayer, Kendra, isn't it? If you deem her fit, then take her to Sunnydale and eliminate the threat."
Travers was startled, but tried not to let it show on his face. It made sense that the girl have backup in a situation like the one in Sunnydale, and as he thought about it, he couldn't help but like the idea. Perhaps, after the demon was destroyed, he could deal with the small town's... other... problems. "I would be glad to do so," he finally said, nodding.
"Well then, if this matter is settled, let us move on to our next topic." Bigsbee turned to one of the others around the table and said, "Mr. English, please begin with your translation of the Cthongran Prophecy."
"Happy Birthday!" There were several blinks, some of them almost audible, as Ranma, Buffy and Angel stood in the kitchen, staring at Joyce as though she'd just started dancing around while spouting Vogon poetry.
"Um, Mom, my birthday isn't for another four months," Buffy finally decided to break the silence, looking rather uneasily at the tray of cupcakes the brown haired woman was holding up, with a few candles stuck haphazardly into them.
"I'm aware of when your birthday is, sweetie," the Summers matriarch replied. "It just came to me that when I was told about the Crush..." She shook her head, before continuing, "that ritual, the fact that it had to be done on the eighteenth birthday kept being mentioned."
"Oh," Buffy, Angel and Ranma said at once, each of them surprised.
"Wait, you didn't realize when your birthday was?" Angel asked, raising an eyebrow.
Ranma shrugged uncomfortably. "Never really seemed important,"
"Well, in that case I could always put these away," Joyce said, beginning to turn before an arm reached out and snatched one of the cupcakes without a candle on it. "Buffy?" she snapped, as she saw her daughter chewing on the treat.
The blonde smiled sheepishly before swallowing the cupcake and clearing her throat. "I'll go get Xander. Angel, you go and get Willow. If anyone can help out with a party in two hours, it's them."
"Is anyone going to ask me about this?" Ranma grumbled, though he couldn't help but smile slightly.
Hope you enjoyed this chapter, please review and tell us what you think of it.
Well, last chapter we promised it, and here it is. The full list of council screw-ups, freshly prepared. Of course, this means we found some extra, since the list has magically jumped from 13 to 18 in a chapter with only two entries.
Chapter the first
1. Forcing Nodoka to choose a Slayer candidate despite her reservations about their ages.
2. Not making sure the chosen Potential IS a potential... or female. Okay, to be fair, that second one they couldn't really see coming.
3. Believing that a single detection spell, the bent rebar test and a knife toss were valid tests... when the candidate could do two of those before the ritual.
4. Smith? Really?
Chapter 2: Electric Boogaloo.
5. Failing to inform Giles of Nodoka, or clarify their Slayers' status.
6. Giving a Field Watcher a whopping whole six months of combat training.
The Council doesn't show up in Chapters 3 or 4. If they did, there would be entries for them here.
Chapter V: The Vampire Strikes Back
7. Failing to check 'Ranko's' birth date, leading to a rushed job, on the same night as a major cosmological convergence.
Chapter 6: I am number 2.
8. Zabuto not noticing that his Slayer can shoot off blue waves of energy.
Chapter 7... Just, Chapter 7.
9. Poor planning in general, especially regarding Ranko, and getting her to the testing location with no weapons.
10. Poor monitoring of the Vampire, not keeping it sedated, and giving it a mouse and an egg salad sandwich. They don't have to eat.
11. Poor and obvious placement of surveillance, electronic and human.
12. Poor research.
Chapter 8: Supposedly Funny Joke Not Found, Please Consult Manual.
13. Failing to chase after the person who actually knows what's going on, rather than questioning a confused Watcher.
14. Travers winning the gold in the 100 meter long-jump to conclusions.
15. Not listening to Giles.
Chapter 9: There is no Chapter 9.
Chapter 10: With special Guest Star Daniel Thomas Stack.
16. Council Screwup in this chapter. Sending a Cleanup Team with a member that has Personal Experience with the Target. They should know enough about their teams and the people involved to avoid that.
Chapter 11, Title 11, United States Code.
17. Assuming a being has shape-shifting, telepathic compulsion, and great demonic power, when just assuming the first would be much more logical.
18. Not Listening to Zabuto.
Author Screwup Count Unknown.
1. We missed a few council screwups.
Note: All other instances of this count have been removed due to website's page size restrictions.