Making it quick since I want to catch the Angel finale tonight.
Up to part 53 can be found here
Continued from here
Faith bounded over to Catherine feeling like a million bucks. “What’s the news?” she demanded. “All I hear is distant growling.”
“We think they’ve drawn the snake off,” Catherine said.
Faith looked around. “Where? There’s no damn place for it to go.” Energy was thrumming through her body and she was getting that tingly-fight-and-fight-some-more feeling in her spine. She was so pumped and needed a good scrap to blow off the energy.
“I heard some snatches of shouting,” Ruda volunteered, her eyes grimly fixed on the opening. “I think they’re trying to trap it in the tunnels and then finish it off.”
“Smart, that’s smart,” Faith nodded as she bounced on the balls of her feet. For the sheer hell of it, she took out one of her throwing knives and began flipping it between her two hands like a juggler.
Catherine’s hand shot out and snatched the knife from her.
“Hey!” Faith protested.
“I take it you’re feeling much better,” Catherine dryly said.
“Yeah. Yeah. I feel great. Better than great. Never had the healing kick in so fast.” She was about ready to climb the walls. If she didn’t get any action soon, she was going to pop. “Hey! Think they need help killing something?”
“Unh-ooohhh,” Ruda said as she stepped back. “Charlie O.D’d her.”
“Hunh?” Faith leaned against the wall, foot digging into the dirt. Standing in one place was such a bitch.
“Faith?” Catherine reached out a hand and began gently rubbing her shoulder. “You’re going to be…ummmmm…ookee?”
“What’s an ookie? Is that like a noogie?” Faith started giggling. Christ. She was giggling. Something was seriously whacked.
“See, when you got knocked out, Charlie had to kick-start your Slayer healing because we needed you awake.” Catherine sounded desperate. “He might’ve misjudged a little because we had no idea how bad you were injured and…”
“Wow. So this is the shit he pumped Xan-the-Man full of for the superfastest healing you will ever see this side of Wolverine?” Faith asked. She picked at her clothes feeling itchy all over. “Damn it. I can’t stand still!”
“Faith, it’ll be alright,” Catherine soothed. “Take a deep breath through your nose and let it out through your mouth. Just concentrate on keeping your body calm.”
“Is it gonna work?” Faith asked suspiciously. “Because I’m pretty sure when you shoot someone up with speed, breathing deep and keeping calm does not make the head rush go away.”
“Hold still,” Catherine kept her voice gentle as she studied Faith’s eyes. “I need to get a better look…”
The Slayer winced against the bright light shining in her face, but she heard Catherine let out a sigh of relief.
“Your pupils are dilated only a little. Charlie misjudged only by a bit, so you were pretty seriously hurt. Give it about five minutes and your body will be a little calmer. Just let that Slayer metabolism cycle through it.” Catherine was definitely putting on the Watcher voice. “Just concentrate and tell your body to behave until you feel better.”
“No way it’s that easy,” Faith insisted.
“It’s not. It’s that hard,” Catherine gently said.
Faith tightly shut her eyes closed and pulled on her prison experience of forcing herself to stay calm no matter how much shit was going on around her. While the prison therapy and anger management sessions could be too full of the self-esteem horseshit at times, she did manage to absorb lessons in exerting some self-control.
Strangely enough, Catherine’s suggestion worked. Not completely. She still felt the jumpiness in her muscles, but she found that if she worked at it she could concentrate. Jesus, if she lost it because of some drug-induced boost she’d be a fucking disaster waiting to happen.
That meant trouble for everyone.
Keep it tight, girlfriend, Faith ordered herself as she fought to keep from fidgeting.
“We got it!” J’Nal shouted.
“Don’t touch!” Catherine ordered J’Nal. “Wait ’til we’re over there.”
“Ruda, stay put,” Faith said, forcing her jaws to relax.
Catherine began, “I think you should stay…”
“No chance, girlfriend. Rather be with numbers if I go kablooey, if you get my drift. Me ’n Ruda alone? One of us is gonna get hurt if I go psycho.”
“It’s a good idea,” Ruda agreed with a shiver. “You remember what happened with Chalia when she got overdosed by accident.”
“But that was an extreme case,” Catherine reminded her.
“And Faith’s isn’t.” A stubborn expression crossed Ruda’s face. “Besides, it’s her friends fighting out there, so she’s entitled.”
Catherine shook her head with a resigned sigh. “Since Ruda has decided on fair play, let’s go.”
Faith fought the urge to bound ahead of Catherine as they turned and headed for J’Nal. She could feel her muscles twitching underneath her skin and the rush of blood in her veins as she fought to keep her movements loose and normal. This is minor? That’s disturbing. Don’t wanna see what would happen if Chucky-boy decided to really boost me into the stratosphere.
She wondered how long it would take before she felt something resembling normal, because the last thing she needed was the ever-present threat of going ape at the wrong time to be dogging her.
J’Nal’s eyes were fixed on the Grail as Faith and Catherine drew level with him. Willow appeared, practically hanging over Faith’s shoulder to get a better look.
“OoOoOoOo! Pretty!” Willow said in a squeaky, excited voice.
Faith tilted her head and added, “Shiny, don’t forget shiny.”
“Very gold,” Willow agreed.
“Aside from gold and shiny, why exactly are we thinking ‘pretty?’” Faith asked, forcing herself to concentrate on the Grail. “Ain’t nothing on it. No jewels. No nothin’. When I think Grail, I think jewels need to be involved.”
“It’s power that makes it pretty,” Willow said.
“And there’s a lot of it coming off the Grail in waves,” J’Nal added.
“Yo! Squirt! Andrew! Have you found anything on the Grail over there?” Faith called.
“Not yet!” Dawn shouted back. “Only thing we have is that ‘the gods’ put it here, but nothing about the Grail itself, and definitely nothing resembling a user manual.”
“I can’t believe this,” Andrew complained. “Xander sends us off on a D&D mission and we don’t even have a Players’ Handbook.”
“Unh, yeah. Whatever.” Faith’s brain was too busy chasing itself in circles to even try figuring out what Andrew said. “Keep reading. Something’s gotta come up somewhere in that mess.”
“Right-o,” Dawn agreed before she went back to her mumbled consultation with Andrew.
Catherine stood on her tiptoes, frowning into the cup portion. “There’s writing etched in the bottom.” She then rendered her judgment in an exclamation that made Faith and Willow jump. “F-tpah!”
“That sounds like ‘fuck’ if I ever heard it,” Faith commented.
“What is it?” J’Nal asked.
“Not Lingua Commonality,” Catherine unhappily said. “Looks more like Prima. Ancient Prima.”
J’Nal’s dark face scrunched in disapproval. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.”
“It’s a guess,” Catherine quickly said. “A big guess. Because I don’t know what the Prima language looks like. At all. Nope. Not me. Because me knowing? Not a good thing. I get that. Yup. Ignorant about all things written in Prima. No knowledge of written Prima here. Nosiree.”
Willow and Faith regarded Catherine as she gave a sickly, hopeful smile at the increasingly displeased J’Nal.
“I’m going to pretend you don’t officially know what you so obviously know because your family has contributed its share of Prima over the centuries,” J’Nal finally said, warning in his voice. “And not because you almost mixed blood with one of us.”
“Right in one,” Catherine nodded sincerely as J’Nal turned away and continued frowning at the Grail.
“Smooooooth,” Faith said with rolled eyes. “Very convincing. I truly believe you were telling the truth. No jury would convict you.”
“Looks like the Harris babble gene has survived breeding with the saner members of the human race,” Willow commented. “Nice to know that some dominant traits just don’t go away. Thank you Biology 101 for teaching me about dominant traits. Thank god that was one class that wasn’t taught by an evil professor, which is really good, because I just scared myself with an image of animating dead frogs ala Frankenstein and then cutting them up while they let out these zombie croaks.”
Faith couldn’t resist taking her shot. “Y’know, maybe not so much Xander. Could be the babbling comes from the mother’s side of the family.”
Catherine shot Faith a pointed look.
“I don’t know any girl in the house who babbles like Xander when he gets going,” Willow replied.
Whoosh! Right over her fucking head, Faith shook her head with a sigh. She clenched her hands behind her back, rhythmically squeezing and relaxing her entwined fingers. She could feel the jumpiness recede, but it was still there under the surface, like a subwoofer hum that just wouldn’t go away.
“Much fun as this verbal spell of delusion is, someone still needs to take hold of the Grail,” J’Nal said.
“Count me out. With my fucking luck the Grail probably has it in for Slayers,” Faith grumbled. “And since I’m pretty sure I can’t handle more TLC from your doc...”
“Hey!” Charlie protested from the sidelines where he waited with Tikri.
“A good idea,” Catherine agreed. “Well, it’s you or me, J’Nal.”
J’Nal’s hand flicked out and snatched the Grail from its position before anyone could react. When she saw the Grail snuggled tight in J’Nal’s arms, Faith tensed, half expecting some Indiana Jones trap to let loose on the group’s collective heads.
Catherine exploded. “What the hada did you think you were doing?”
“Solving our problem?” J’Nal’s uncertain voice telegraphed that he knew that he’d earned Catherine’s righteous smackdown.
“Do you have any idea what could have happened?” Catherine ranted. “How could you be so careless?”
“Ahhh, but nothing is happening, is it?” J’Nal pointed out.
Catherine huffed. “Lucky,” she muttered.
Watcher Honoria mildly placated, J’Nal looked into the cup portion. “Very ancient Prima,” he remarked. “Very difficult to translate. It’s going to take a little bit.”
“We don’t have a ‘little bit,’” Faith snapped. “I don’t know if you noticed, but we got people scattered all over the place fighting god-knows-what so we can grab this thing. I saw we bust a move and haul ass before something does happen. Let’s figure it out after we get back to the Mother Ship. Giles will be all over it like demon goo on your short hairs.”
“Faith,” Willow quietly interrupted. “There’s a lot of power emanating from that Grail. It’s a good idea to check it out.” She paused and added with a grin, “ ‘Demon goo on your short hairs?’ Heh. And ew! Not to mention, ouch.”
“Very funny,” Faith fidgeted.
“Perhaps we should wait until Dawn and Andrew are finished translating the wall?” Catherine prompted.
“I think we better get comfortable then,” Faith countered. “Maybe the Grail can clue us in?”
“This iteration of Prima is not easy to interpret,” J’Nal absently commented as he stared into the Grail. “Words can mean several things all at once. It’s in how they’re arranged and the flourishes on the individual letters that tells you the true meaning.”
“Nice language,” Faith grumbled.
“I’m trying to get a read off the Grail’s power,” J’Nal continued as if Faith hadn’t spoke. “It’s a shortcut, but one that is necessary since time is of the essence given the battles around us.”
“Maybe I could help?” Willow offered almost shyly.
J’Nal’s head shot up and Faith could swear she could see a twitch of a smile. “I’d be honored. Since it has been here for quite some time, perhaps you might be able to read the power signature better than I.”
Willow stepped forward and gave the Grail a long, considering look before rendering her judgment. “Power I get, but nothing else. Kinda like the reading I get from this whole place. Can’t tell if it’s going to cause a problem or not.”
J’Nal held the Grail out to Willow so she could take it.
Willow smiled and reached out to take the Grail from J’Nal.
In the space of that second, Faith’s paranoid, pessimistic instincts kicked her in the gut. “No!” she shouted.
But she moved a fraction of a second to late to slap Willow’s hand away.
Willow’s fingertips barely brushed the surface of the Grail when she violently flung herself backwards. Correction: it was more like something had roughly jerked her back a few feet until she landed crumpled on the ground.
“Don’t move,” Faith ordered as she bounded over to the fallen witch.
A low keening sound came from the Willow-shaped mound.
“Willow?” Faith asked as she reached out a trembling hand.
Yet another brush of fingertips as Faith barely touched Willow’s shoulder was enough to animate the witch. She scrambled back, her eyes a solid, cold black that froze Faith in place.
That look…Faith felt the remains of the drug high dissipate as her jumpy thoughts found something to focus on and her Slayer instincts started screaming that bad shit was going down.
As for Willow, she seemed utterly unaware of her surroundings as she stared down at her hands, rocking back and forth. “My hands. Oh my god. My hands. The blood…” her voice trailed off into a broken sob.
Faith didn’t see Catherine and her people exchange quick looks behind her back as she forced herself to cautiously approach Willow.
Willow reached out and grabbed Faith by the front of her shirt and pulled her forward in a surprisingly strong grip, those coal black eyes not leaving the Slayer’s face. “It’s all over me, Faith. Look,” she held up a perfectly clean hand for the Slayer’s inspection, tears rolling down her face, “his blood’s all over me. It’s been on my hands all day. There was so much blood. The spell didn’t say…”
Faith could hear someone creeping up behind her. “I said stay put,” she snapped. The sound of movement stopped.
“He was right about me,” Willow whispered, shell-shocked black eyes locked on Faith’s face. “Monster. Vampire. Selfish bitch. But the poison. I had to…selfish…I’m selfish…he’ll understand…you understand. Please tell me you understand. Please tell me he’ll forgive me.”
What the hell is going on? “Fuck. She’s lost it. We have to get her out of here.”
“It’s the Grail.” J’Nal sounded shaky. “I felt the surge of power when she touched it. The mystical signature clashed with the her native connection to this planet and must’ve affected her thought processes.”
“Are you telling me the Grail short-circuited her brain?” Faith asked over her shoulder as Willow’s tears snapped off. The witch was now humming something vaguely pop-y and folk-y, a tune Faith didn’t recognize.
“I don’t know,” J’Nal admitted.
Willow giggled. “I love this song. I really love this song. No surprise it’s number one.” She was off humming again.
“Find the fuck out,” Faith snarled. “Dawn? Andrew?”
“Yeah?” Dawn asked.
“You done reading that thing yet?”
“Make that a no,” Dawn said. “The mix of ogham and what was that language again?”
“S’nargle,” Andrew answered.
“Yeah, so it’s making the translating tough going,” Dawn said.
“Do you really need to finish it?” Faith asked hoping the answer would be no.
“No!” Andrew cheerfully volunteered.
“Yes,” Dawn countered with a glare at her cavern buddy. “So far, nothing useful. Mostly ‘and the gods did this’ and the ‘gods thus came forth,’ the usual stuff, but I want to finish the translation to make sure we’re not missing something.”
“Spoilsport,” Andrew pouted.
“I hate it when demons pop,” Willow started scrubbing her hands through her hair, black eyes still in that thousand-mile stare. “When I said I missed demons that go ‘poof,’ I meant demons that go ‘poof,’ not ‘pop.’ I mean it’s like glue-y glue. I swear I’m going to have to shave my head. That’s not funny Joey! I noticed you were in the clear when Rona ran it through with a sword. Honestly, when I was your age I was more respect-y to people with more demon-y experience. Giles! I was so! ”
Keeeee-rist! “Whatever the fuck is affecting Willow, you better figure it out,” Faith snarled. “I don’t want anyone else whammied by that thing, got it? So before it leaves here, find a way to stop its bizarre-o rays before it does whatever it does to someone else.”
“I think we need to get her out of here,” Catherine said nervously. “Get some distance between her and the Grail. Charlie?”
“Check her out,” Catherine ordered.
Faith moved aside to let Charlie in with his metal remote full of blinking lights. She quickly scanned the cavern to find ‘volunteers’ to evacuate Willow. Dawn and Andrew were out, since they were still bickering over the writing on the wall. Catherine and friends were out since they had to figure out how to smother whatever the Grail was sending out. That left just her to get Willow out of here.
Oooh, not entirely comfortable with that thought.
“I found a book,” Willow laughed as she held her empty hand out to Faith. “I can’t believe it. This is the key. Do you know what this means?”
“There’s a problem,” Charlie muttered.
“You think?” Faith nastily countered.
“Her neuropathic signals keep overwriting themselves, which is activating the psycenter region in the center of her cerebral cortex. It appears be over stimulating the tempus node and causing it to misfire, which means that we don’t just have a physiological problem, but a mystical one as well.”
“Too many syllables,” Faith growled. “Try again.”
“If you go on the theory that all time happens at the same time…”
“Doc?” Faith interrupted. “Just tell me one thing: Can we fix her?”
“Not here,” Charlie quickly answered; relieved he was spared trying to explain something that was clearly beyond Faith’s grasp. “We need to get her someplace quiet so J’Nal and I can do a tandem healing. We have to tackle not just the physical, but the mystical as well and that’s tricky.”
“This is quiet. Sort of.”
“Not quiet enough,” J’Nal volunteered. “We need to isolate her as well because if something goes wrong, we might inadvertently cause harm not just to her but to anyone in the vicinity.”
Fuck. This sounded uber-bad.
It didn’t help that every option she had was not a good option. Right, so what option is the least fucked-up?
“Ruda!” Faith snapped.
The younger Slayer jogged over, her expression all attention. Faith suspected that she was barely suppressing the urge to bow, salute, or genuflect.
“I gotta get the Red One outta here, so I need you to do me a favor.”
“Whatever you need,” Ruda said.
Faith ignored the unspoken Lanoire-rah-sen she just knew was lurking at the end of the sentence. She jerked her head over at Dawn and Andrew, “Keep an eye on those two and make sure they get outta here in one piece.”
“Of course I will.” Ruda looked offended that Faith even thought she had to ask.
“I know you will, but, see, the thing is, I promised Xander special that I’d keep them and Willow safe.” Faith noticed that the girl stood straighter at that, so she went with it. “But I gotta get Willow out ’cause right now she ain’t safe. Since I can’t be in two places at once…”
“They’ll be fine,” Ruda grinned. “I’ll make sure. I promise you and Alexander special.”
Faith couldn’t resist grinning back. Whatever else Ruda was, she was most definitely a good kid. Wonder how much Catherine is the reason for that. She forced herself to her feet, feeling a certain weight on her shoulders. She had made her decision; she just hoped it was the right one. “Catherine, I’m gonna get Willow outta here.”
“We’ll work on the Grail. Make sure it won’t cause harm when it leaves this place,” Catherine agreed.
“You also might want to keep her away from the others,” Charlie added. He gave Catherine a look as he added, “Her mind might be unhinged from this time period, which means she could be seeing the future.”
Faith’s heart sank. If Willow was seeing the future, just how much was she seeing?
This could only end one of two ways: bad or worse.
“Good luck,” Charlie muttered.
Faith looked over at Willow, who was now sitting cross-legged and humming some sort of mantra as she stared into space with those black eyes. I’m sure as hell gonna need it, she silently agreed.