She had come so far, and now she had only one duty to perform before she
could rest. The page led her through the narrow hallways to the Council
chamber, past lamps on the stone walls guttering in a draft, and Helena
hugged herself, fighting weariness and an unexpected chill. A few more
yards. That was all it would take, and then she would face them with her
"Sister Helena," the page announced her, holding the door for her. The men
sitting around the long table rose to their feet, all of them showing
respect to someone who appeared to be only a very young nun, one just past
her first vows. The page must think it very strange. Nuns did not travel
often, but it was easier to pretend to be one than it was to journey as a
young woman alone. Or even a young man, given the wars breaking out in
Germania and Francia. She would have been conscripted into someone's army if
she had traveled in any other guise.
But it was appropriate that these men did her honor, no matter what any
outsider would think. She had never taken any oaths or made any promises to
God. But she still fought for Him in the cause of humanity, as did any
anointed monarch or vowed knight. Udolfo had taught her that.
The door shut behind her and Helena turned and lifted the heavy oak bar,
placing it in the brackets which would hold it in place, keeping out any
outside intrusion. She closed her eyes, feeling grief and exhaustion sweep
over her, wanting nothing more than to collapse to the floor weeping. But
she couldn't do that. Not yet.
"Slayer. This is unexpected." She opened her eyes and straightened her
shoulders, Udolfo's teachings coming back automatically, then turned on her
heel to face the Watcher's Council. The man at the head of the table ---
old, but no dotard, his gray hair still streaked in places with black ---
watched her with keen blue eyes. "We received no message informing us of
your impending arrival. And where is your Watcher? I would have thought that
he would have had the courtesy to tell us of your visit."
Mention of Udolfo cut at her, and she swallowed, forcing herself to control
her breathing, as if in a fight. "That is why I am here." Helena's fingers
knotted together, and she took a few steps forward, studying the faces of
the men around the table. "I regret--- I am sorry to tell you this.
Udolfo---" Her throat closed up, and she swallowed again, trying to keep her
face a mask. "My Watcher is dead."
"How?" one of them rapped out, frowning severely at her. "Who killed him?"
"A vampire queen that was living in the Florentine court." She watched them
chew on that, not liking the taste of it. "She captured him by trickery, and
held him captive to gain my cooperation in fulfilling a prophecy. Udolfo
warned you about this."
"Ah, yes. The Prophecy of Danae. Di Rossi mentioned something about that in
his last missive," one of the younger men commented, leaning back in his
chair. "So she actually tried to fulfill it? Amazing... I wouldn't have
"No. You didn't, did you?" Helena stared at the ten men gathered around the
table, watched a few of them squirm, the others merely look resigned.
"Udolfo begged you for help. He asked for assistance, for more attention to
the writings of Aurelius---"
"What he asked for was plainly impossible, given how little we knew and the
current state of events here in England," the first man said severely. "We
are facing another invasion by the Norse, as well as other barbarian tribes.
Our duties to the Slayer come before anything else, but we must preserve our
heritage, and we had far too much to do. Di Rossi's suspicions were too
nebulous to require our attention in the face of the impending crisis." He
shook his head, retaking his seat and folding his hands in front of him. "Go
on. Tell us how he died."
Rage was building again. The same rage that had seized her in Firenze,
sending her blazing through the vampire queen's army, killing without
stopping, intent only on reaching her goal. "She wanted me to sacrifice
myself for him, on the altar of the Errinyes. If I had done that, she would
have become too powerful to defeat." Helena dropped her eyes to her hands,
seeing them twisting together without her will as she remembered the pain of
making that choice, knowing what the consequences might be. "I chose to
attempt to rescue my Watcher."
She lifted her gaze to the Council. "I arrived too late." The nightmare
scene she had found when she had finally reached the queen's inner
chamber --- and what she'd had to do then, in order to put her Watcher out
of his pain --- had haunted her all the way to England. Something had
changed in her at that moment, holding Udolfo's hand, watching his life
bleed away.... She had believed herself no longer innocent; believed that
she had become inured to the suffering caused by the vampires she hunted.
Not indifferent, but hardened, perhaps. Used to it.
People died. Vampires killed them. She killed vampires. Nothing more than
that. Nothing more to be done. Nothing she would let herself break her heart
The vampire queen had taken a very long time to die as payment for proving
Helena wrong about that.
There was a momentary silence, and she searched their faces again, looking
for some feeling, some trace of compassion. She saw regret, yes; but no
deeper emotion. "A pity," one of them said thoughtfully. "He was a valued
Watcher. His will be hard shoes to fill."
"Mmmm. True. I don't envy the next man," someone commented.
"Who shall it be?" Another asked, looking around the table.
"Gentlemen----" The leader stood again, his voice tired. "This discussion
can be saved for another time. It will require a great deal of consideration
and thought. In the interim, we must prepare for the Norsemen." He turned
back to Helena. "You have our sympathies, Helena. And I apologize, but we
will not be able to provide you with another Watcher either at this time or
any time soon. You will have to stay here until this is settled, of course.
Gerard will show you to your chambers." He reached for the bellpull, but
stopped at the sound of Helena's voice.
"That's all?" She was trembling, the rage nearly a red veil in front of her
eyes now. "That's all you have to say to me? All you have to say about
Udolfo? Too bad, stay here, go there, wait a bit and we'll get you another?"
She unknotted her hands, letting them form the fists that they'd been
instinctively attempting to become since she walked into the room. "I don't
want another Watcher. He was my father in every way that counted, and I had
to kill him to spare him unendurable pain. I don't want to go through this
again. I don't want to be the Slayer any longer."
"My dear, you don't have a choice. It is your destiny---"
She swore at him in Latin and Firenzan, vulgar curses that Udolfo would have
tutted over, but he wasn't there to care anymore. "Destiny. It was destiny
that the vampire queen would attempt the Danaen Ritual, but you ignored
that. You ignored Udolfo's pleas for help, and ignored both of us in Firenze
for as long as we were doing our jobs. I fight and kill every day, while you
write in your books!" Tears were gathering in her eyes, as much as she
despised herself for it. "You don't give a damn about anything but your
precious heritage and damned customs and your triple-cursed formalities. You
didn't know him. You didn't see him, see what she did to him---"
"Helena, you must control yourself---"
"Must, must, must! Damn you, he died for me, he died for you, for this
Council and your bloody destiny, and all you can think about is who will be
next, and you didn't even try to stop it---"
"You are overwrought. We understand your grief---"
Her temper broke. "You do not!" She brought her fist down on the end of the
table, cracking it, sending a rift through the wood that reached to the
other end, splitting it in two, falling into splinters and shattered oak at
her feet. They fell silent, holding themselves still, finally aware of her
as the Slayer. Not just the young woman whom they ordered this way and that,
but the killer of vampires, a supernatural being possessed of powers they
"You let him die. Just like you're going to let me die. How long? How long
will this go on? Until the millenium? Until Judgement Day? When will you
bastards do more than sit in this chamber and debate the possibilities, and
actually fight against them?"
"Helena...." Their leader drew a deep breath, rose to his feet again, not
looking down at the ruined table. "This is what we must do, in order to
ensure the survival of the Slayers. If we took part in the fight, too much
might be lost. We must stand back, and keep the records of what has gone
before, so that we will always have the knowledge with which to fight
"It isn't enough," Helena whispered. "It isn't nearly enough." She was
breathing hard, but her mind was clearing, entering that icy state beyond
rage and grief. She welcomed it. "And I'm not going to let you do this any
more. Not to me. And not to another Slayer."
They stared at her, puzzled and offended, but not fearful. They should have
been afraid. Udolfo had been afraid; the man who had comforted her after her
worst nightmares had been crying with terror and pain before she came to
rescue him. To save him. While these men had stayed in England, and
discussed their options at a thousand miles' remove.
She couldn't save Udolfo. But she could save the next Slayer.
Helena reached out to the man nearest her, easily, so easily, and snapped
his neck with a twist of her hand. The eyes of the remaining nine men glazed
in shock and fear, and she smiled, a feeling of peace descending on her.
"You will have to fight now. For your lives."
Buffy jolted awake with her own panicked calls, her hands scrabbling for
purchase on the books and notes spread around her.
"Buffy? Buffy, it's okay! It was a dream, whatever it was, you were dreaming
it!" Willow was patting her arm, her green eyes large with worry as she
tried to calm her friend. Buffy stared at her a moment, still gulping, then
went boneless with relief. She was in the library, it was broad daylight,
she'd just drifted off while studying. It wasn't real.
"What was it about? Something that's going to happen? Another premonition?"
Willow got to her feet, her expression troubled. "I could get Giles,
Principal Snyder just grabbed him for some administrative meeting he was
"No." Buffy straightened, looking away from Willow, shaking her head in
denial. "No, it wasn't about the future. I'm positive. Just a nightmare."
She smiled weakly, staring back down at the books again. "Even if it was a
deeply wiggy one."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Ummm... not really." The Slayer glanced at the clock. "You're going to be
late to class if you don't motor, Will." She met her friend's skeptical
glance and grinned. "Honest, I'm fine. I just want to forget it. Since it's
not a future thing, I don't have to think about it, right?"
"If you're positive...."
"All right. But you should tell Giles about it anyway, just to be sure."
Willow gathered up her books and headed for the library doors. "Okay?"
"'Kay. Bye, Will." Buffy waited until she was sure her friend was gone. Then
she reached out for the new diaries of Wesley's that they'd been studying
right before she had the nap attack. 500 A.D., 600 A.D., 700 A.D.... Buffy
paged through the one covering the eighth century, looking for Udolfo di
Rossi's name, or Helena's. There was nothing about them in the Diary for
that year, or that decade.
Finally she found something, a little footnote in the next Watcher's
.... Helena's remains were buried secretly, in an unmarked grave at the
foot of Udolfo di Rossi's cemetery plot. All mention of her tenure as Slayer
will be expunged from the official records, save the following entry:
Helena di Firenze, 700 A.D. - 717 A.D.
Slayer for Florence, 714 A.D. - 717 A.D.
Died by the judgement of the Watchers for crimes against the Council.
Buffy stared at that entry for a long time, chilled and wondering.
Findings of the Watcher's Council, 718 A.D.: Conference of Wales
(1) The next Slayer has been called near Brindisi, in the mountains above
Greece. A new Watcher has been dispatched to train her and replace her
current Watcher, in accordance with the following directives.
(2) The Watcher's Council has been re-established within the confines of
Wales, in a small village near the Mabinogen Hills. The places left by the
deceased members of the Council have been filled, at least for the time
(3) After much consideration, it is the finding of the Council that the
cause of the tragedy in London can be laid at the feet of Udolfo di Rossi,
and his excessive consideration for the Slayer in his care. The sole witness
to the massacre has reported the Slayer's remarks regarding the death of her
Watcher, and her stated reasons for her actions. It is the Council's belief
that her grief left her abnormally unbalanced, and that lingering effects
from proximity to the vampire queen's magic may have also resulted in a
clouding of her mind.
In the future, every precaution will be taken to prevent such an intense
attachment from forming, both for the sake of the Slayer and Watcher, and
for the preservation of the Council's ability to effectively control the
Slayer. All of us agree that steps must be taken, and tests and limitations
on the Slayer's power created, in order to ensure that this will never