Rachel looked over the assembled council and it was anything but good as far as she was concerned. It was hard for her to imagine a greater waste of time than attending a meeting of 'community leaders' even if they happened to be community leaders with actual clout and use beyond the usual talent for self-glorification. Really, all that changed was that there was a chance for any arguments to turn into duels of a more literal kind that had an unfortunately high chance of dropping half of the meeting chamber on their heads. Well, it kept things interesting, she supposed.
And to top it off, she was the meeting chair. She couldn't even have a sly snooze during the boring parts like Harry inevitably did every single time he was forced to attend one of the meetings in his capacity as the headmaster of Hogwarts. Truly, it was terribly unfair.
"Hello and welcome to the seventeenth biannual supernatural council," said Rachel, her voice carrying easily to all the corners of the chamber. "Before we start, I would like to welcome our new member: the chosen representative of the Selinef shamans."
There was a polite round of applause as the representative stood up, a round that was considerably more enthusiastic on the parts of several of the male members. Predictable really. So many cat-girl fetishists out there. She took a small bow and then took her seat again, allowing Rachel to continue.
"We have quite a busy day ahead of us looking at the agenda for this meeting," she continued, managing to contain her grimace with only the mightiest exertion of her will that she'd made since duelling Malak. "So, without further ado, we shall start. I believe that the first item, ah, yes, the latest batch of interdimensional refugees. Lorne?"
Lorne, the designated representative of the demons that remained on Earth after the various purges, stood, looking somewhat weary. "They're not demons," he said to start with. "Every test we've ran on them comes up with the same results: pure human blood. I know it's unusual for humans to show up out of a portal, but can we do something about this? They're getting kinda antsy on me – probably Something to do with coming from a post-apocalyptic dimension and being housed with demons – so can we get a bit of a hurry moving?"
Rachel almost winced. Yeah, that was bad. "I'll talk to the President," she promised. "The law might need to be amended but I'll try and get it through as quickly as I can."
Lorne nodded and was about to sit when someone else, a representative of the German wizards Rachel thought, spoke up. "Wouldn't there be some deviation if they were from another dimension?" he asked in a harsh accent. "I am no scientist, obviously, but evolution should produce some differences given no common base, surely?"
"That is getting to the core of what forces produce different dimensions," said Rachel. "There is no definitive answer at this point in time so it is rather pointless to debate it."
And so the meeting went on, moving through a series of rather pointless issues, cauldron bottom thickness standards, being a particularly brilliant example of how the wizards loved to waste everyone's time, before moving on to things that actually mattered.
"Ah, the next item we have to address if the current situation with the Dark Lord Malitia," said Rachel. Before she could say anything else, she was interrupted by Harry's snort of laughter.
"Oh, is that what he's calling himself these days?" he asked. "They do grow up so quickly these children. An anagram-using Dark Lord before you even know it."
"Some of use don't find it so funny that Hogwarts has turned out yet another overly powerful psychopath with delusions of grandeur, Potter," said the French wizards' representative, an aged man with terribly blond hair. "It grows tiresome."
"Because we all know there's no Frenchmen working for him," said Harry, his voice thick with disdain. "You grow tiresome."
"That's quite enough," cut in Rachel, drowning out the burgeoning argument between Harry and the Frenchman. "We have better things to do than to indulge in old rivalries. If you cannot be constructive, I will have security escort you out."
It was an empty threat and everyone knew it. No-one, and she meant nobody at all, would be willing to force Harry, the slayer of Voldemort, to do anything against his will. Well, maybe Willow – and Rachel herself of course – but neither of them were likely to want to go to that much hassle to save the Frenchman.
"Now," continued Rachel. "Malitia, or Malcom if you wish, is still a fledgling as that type goes, little more than a nuisance, but that doesn't mean we can afford to slack off. If you know anything, anything at all, then now would be a good time to speak up."
The room went silent for several moments before anyone spoke. "There have been sightings," said the representative of the Baltic states, almost begrudgingly. "But we have nothing more than innuendo and rumours to link any of the crimes to this Malitia. He is no Grindelwald."
"Not yet," said Harry. "But he was always a quick learner. We need to step on him quickly before he gets too strong to be easily dealt with."
That should do it, thought Rachel. Harry was a living legend, albeit a tainted one, amongst the wizards. For him to say that this new guy could be a threat . . . well, it would mean a lot.
"We all know how great a threat another Voldemort could be," said Rachel. "We can't afford that. We have to find a way to undercut Malitia and prevent his acquiring a substantial power base or the consequences could be dire."
"And how do you expect us to do that when he speaks straight to the heart of those who quail in horror at the indignities inflicted upon us, the wizards?" asked another one of the wizards, an American this time, Richard Ramsay. He'd been a politician of some repute before the forced assimilation into muggle culture and still held some influence amongst them. "We have had our society taken away from us. We no longer have the right to self-determination as a culture. I am too old and my blood no longer gets quite so hot at such slights, but how can anyone be surprised when the young take up arms in resistance? We are an ancient and proud people. It would make no sense for us to go quietly into the night."
The way the room stirred at that did not please Rachel at all. She'd known that there was discontent amongst the wizards, but for them to speak of it in such a public forum was a bad sign indeed.
"Since when have wizards been a 'people'?" asked Harry. "The only thing that ever unified us was fear of muggles; the only thing that stopped us from going to war against each other as the muggles did our fear of discovery by said muggles and what that would bring."
"And now we have a common struggle to unify us," replied the wizard. "Remember that. You may not feel any kinship for your fellow wizards but we are not all of such a mind."
"This talk comes dangerously close to treason," warned Rachel. "You all know the penalties for that. I advise you to watch your tongues."
"I have yet to be convinced of why I should be considered treasonous for speaking against a state that is not mine, but I shall abide by your reasoned judgement," finished the wizard with a flourish and a short bow. He was nothing if not polite.
"This Malitia is an extremely dangerous and ruthless man," said Rachel. "Do not mistake him for some sort of freedom fighter. He is a simple murderer with no interest in anything other than self-aggrandisation. If you had seen the intelligence I have seen . . . no, he's not someone you'd want to associate yourself and your politics with. That way lies a place in the history books as the ally of a monster
"Grindelwald and Voldemort were quite enough, we don't need another round of that game. Don't fall for him."
"Hear, hear," said Harry. "Not that it matters. He'll be pushing up daisies soon enough."
Rachel shook her head. He'd changed since the end of the war, well, that war, since he'd returned to Hogwarts, but she doubted that Harry would be anything less than utterly vicious when it came to dark lords.
"Now," she said. "One last item. The Watcher's Council has a report to present on demon activity."
With a nod, the current representative from the Watcher's Council rose to his feet. Rachel hadn't known Robert very long but he didn't have quite the same air of snobbery around him that most Watchers had, which seemed like a good sign to her. He cleared his throat and then he began to speak in a calm, even tone. "As you may recall from previous reports, demon activity has been on the upswing for the last seven years," he started. "This has been especially true in the parts of the world that experienced the greatest suffering through the Third World War for obvious reasons.
"This upward trend appears to have been arrested," he continued. "In Africa, the Quavort Clan have finally been exterminated thanks to the efforts of the Army and, of course, the Jedi. In the Middle-East, the Tralog infestation has at least been prevented from growing any further. In India, the vampire numbers have been pared back to a more reasonable level. In China, the general difficulties remain and will continue to remain for quite some time given the conditions there but Ms. Rosenberg and her coven were quite successful in strengthening the barriers between this world and the next which should hinder the demons somewhat .
"It would be somewhat difficult to argue that these results are anything but excellent given the difficulties of recent years," he continued after taking a sip of water. "However, they have came at some cost. The continued assistance lent to the various demon movements by the Rylean Empire makes rooting them out much more difficult than it would otherwise be.
"Of course, it hardly need to be said that the continued existence of the Rylean Empire alone agitates them into continuing to fight," he continued. "If we could eliminate the demon empire then our own demon population and the linked dimensions would almost certainly quieten down to more manageable levels of activity.
"The Council shall, of course, continue monitoring the situation and will produce a further report for the next meeting."
And with that the report and hence the meeting came to its close. There were still formalities to be observed, of course, but they were something that Rachel handled on autopilot at the best of times and lacked any points of actual interest. Such was the way of formal meetings.
"Statement: master, I do not understand why you subject me to those hideously tedious meetings," said HK as they made their way out of the meeting. "The problems could be dealt with much more effectively with the application of sufficient fire-power."
"You can't fix everything with mass-slaughter, HK," said Willow before Rachel could weigh in. "Some things just take time."
"Declaration: no people, no problem."
"I'm not sure that Stalin is the best role model to choose," said Rachel. "Or at least not a popular one."
"Exclamation: how insulting! I would never take a mere meatbag as my role-model! That place is reserved exclusively for Skynet."
Even Tara smiled at that and it took some doing for Tara of all people to smile at one of HK's comments. Then Rachel saw a group of reporters approaching them. Ah the joys of infamy. She felt more than slightly uncomfortable to see them approaching but you just had to deal with when you were in her position. There was no avoiding it.
"Master Giles! Master Giles!" called out the closest, a young woman whose face looked rather flushed with the exertion of being first to reach Rachel. "Do you have any comment to make about the rumours of a Dark Lord rising?"
Rachel held out her hands in a calming gesture and waited for the reporters to quieten. "There is a terrorist movement amongst the wizards," she said finally. "This shouldn't come as any surprise. Humanity has no shortage of malcontents these days, we've all seen evidence of that. But a Dark Lord? A rather grandiose title for a simple criminal, I think."
"Don't you think it's rather disingenuous to dismiss a powerful wizard as a simple criminal?" snapped back the reporter. "Simple criminals can't teleport at will or kill with a few words and a wave of their hand."
Rachel smothered the smile that threatened to appear on her face. Ah, a challenge. "That's the price we have to pay for this new world we live in," she said. "Humanity can no longer plant its collective head in the sand and ignore the nasty things which lurk in the dark. I think it's a price worth paying but some may disagree."
"And what about the rumours of a demon uprising in China?" called out another reporter, one whose face was not visible to Rachel amongst the mob that surrounded him.
"They're just that: rumours," said Rachel. "I've heard nothing to suggest a general uprising, even as delicate as things can be there. There have been some troubles, of course, but that's hardly a surprise considering recent history. You need to start paying more attention to the facts and less to salacious rumours."
"Then how do you explain the fact that Willow Rosenberg spent several weeks there?"
"I closed some dimensional breaches with my friends," said Willow. "You have to do it every so often, like you have to maintain your guttering. Except that you get monsters popping out into the streets instead of damp, which is kinda bad, but it's easily fixed if you get enough witches-"
Willow's voice stopped mid speech but no-one was paying attention to that. They were paying attention to the black hole that had been burned straight through her chest, right over where her heart was. Rachel froze. She just couldn't comprehend what she was seeing. It just didn't compute in her mind. And then, after wobbling on her feet for just a moment, Willow fell backwards into Tara's arms amidst a storm of camera flashes and the dull roar of a shocked crowd as the security guards started rushing around.
None of it made any sense to Rachel. It just didn't seem possible, like a bad dream that she kept expecting to wake up from, and that was why she didn't move an inch as Willow gasped her last to a shell-shocked Tara. "Oh," she said. And that was it. The light faded from her eyes never to return. Gone. Willow was gone. Forever.
"Master, permission to hunt?"
"No, HK," said Rachel, her voice as ice. "This one is mine. Protect the civilians. No-one else dies."
And then she reached into her magic and became one with the wind. The assassin would not escape her.
It was but a moment's work for her to find the miserable creature that had killed Willow and then appear out of thin air in front of him. He didn't look like much, the assassin. If he hadn't been carrying a laser rifle then she would have almost thought that she'd made a mistake. Of course, one look at his eyes gave it away: Sith. She well recognised the look of a Sith assassin.
He was fast. She had to give him that. He had that laser rifle up and aimed her way as fast as she'd ever seen a normal human manage such a thing. Of course, it wasn't fast enough. Before he could pull the trigger he found himself dumped onto the ground staring dumbly at his badly broken arm with Rachel looming over him, her features utterly devoid of expression other than the rage boiling over behind her eyes.
"Please do resist," she said simply.
The assassin snarled and lunged upwards at her with a silver knife in his good hand but it was a simple thing for Rachel to catch him under the jaw with a kick and knock him back onto his arse with a thud. Before he could blink the dizziness away and act again she smashed her boot heel down onto his wrist, doing a pretty good job of crushing it. His howl of pain was almost animalistic as Rachel felt the bones give way and crumble under her attack.
"I can do this all day," she said. "But you, well, you only have so many bones to break, unfortunately."
"Bitch! My master will destroy you soon enough."
Rachel made a dismissive hand gesture. "I've heard it all before," she said, never taking her eyes off the assassin and holding her posture rigid. "If I were you, I'd worry about my own future. I'll let you in on a secret: it's not looking so rosy right now for you."
He actually had the temerity to laugh at her. "You think you can intimidate me?" he asked. "One of the master's favoured?" His laughter was positively manic. "Oh, you have no idea. No idea at all."
"I think now would be a good time to lay out your options," said Rachel. "One, you can talk, and then you can throw yourself upon the fair justice of the Republic's courts. Lethal injection seems likely. Two, you can talk, and then I can kill you now. Three, I can torture you. Choose. Choose quickly before I choose for you."
His lips curled into a snarl but he said not a word.
"Feel free to not talk," said Rachel. "I'm rooting for the third option. It's been a long time since I tortured someone and I used to be so good at it. It won't be the same without my tools, but I think I can make do. What do you say? Are we going to have a good, old-fashioned round of violence and bloodshed, or are you going to be boringly reasonable and give up the information?"
"Do you really think that will work on me, Revan? My master has favoured me with her greatest teachings. You are nothing."
"Yes, I was going to ask about that when we got started. You aren't Force-sensitive and yet you disguise yourself rather well. Fascinating, and yet I sense that it isn't you doing the work."
"You have no idea of the wonders that my master has constructed."
Rachel eyed the man closely and then it came to her. "Ah, the amulet," she said. "Yes, it's a slippery little thing." And then she tried to summon it to her hand. Tried. She frowned. It wasn't usual for her powers to fail her even with the most minimal focus. She focused all her strength on it and it leapt from his neck to her hands despite his attempt to grab hold of it. "Ah, ah," she said. "No touching."
The amulet was horribly cold in her hands. Unnaturally so. She could sense the darkness in it not that she held it within her grasp and it was a deep, dark pitch indeed. And with every moment she held it, she could feel greater and greater interference building within her powers in a sort of feedback loop. She took in its appearance quickly and then dropped it. She'd seen all she needed. Sith runes. "I am that which will silence the light," was embossed upon its surface. Alchemy with a hint of the dark arts contained with a series of runes.
"Interesting," said Rachel in a neutral tone of voice. "Very interesting. Now, little assassin, it is time for you to make your choice. Speak."
"I will tell you nothing, traitor! Nothing! The Force shall free me!"
"Ah," said Rachel. "That's just I wanted to hear. Now I can work off some tension."
A soft pop that would have been inaudible to all but those who had been infected with lycanthropy. "This isn't the way, Rachel."
"You of all people . . . I would've expected you to understand, Harry."
"Oh, I do. Believe me, I do. I'd do no different. But you've worked too hard to not be this person anymore for me to just stand and watch as you throw it all away."
Rachel looked at Harry with contempt in her eyes. "One interrogation does not Darth Revan make."
"Have you looked at yourself?" asked Harry. "I could feel your aura from half a mile away, boiling over, and your eyes . . . they're shot through."
Rachel looked back at the still defiant assassin. "We must know all that he knows," she said. "We must know who ordered this."
"I know," replied Harry, stepping closer, making a placating gesture with his hands. "But I can deal with that easily enough. You're in no fit state, Rachel."
Rachel looked away from the assassin to Harry and then back again. Every part of her ached to inflict a level of suffering upon the bastard that had killed Willow that he could not even begin to imagine, but . . .
"Fine," she said finally, sounding as if each word was being dragged out of her by some great force beyond her control. "Do it."
Harry strode forward past Rachel and then yanked the assassin to his feet by his collar, ignoring the man's grunt of pain as he did so. "Look into my eyes," he ordered, and the assassin did so in a slow jerky motion. Seconds passed. "He has an interesting defence against mental intrusion."
"He's playing some strange card game in his head. It's most distracting."
"Pazaak," said Rachel. "Ignore it. Push deeper. It's a defence I devised for my tools once upon a time. Effective enough for one who has no better options, but you should be able to defeat it."
The only sound was that of the grunts of exertion coming from the assassin as he tried to defend his mind from Harry's intrusion. Rachel began to tap her foot against the ground in impatience. She wanted answers and she wanted them now.
"His memories have been altered," said Harry finally. "He knows nothing. Nothing useful at any road."
"My master's foresight exceeds all others," laughed the assassin.
"You don't even remember your master," said Harry with disgust. "God, I hate trash like you."
"I'm going to enjoy watching him die," said Rachel, though the rage was beginning to dissipate, leaving behind a cold numbness in its wake.
"You're not the only one."
"My death will be avenged!"
A quick punch to the temple from Harry quietened the assassin. It also knocked him out cold but who's quibbling?
"Rachel, are you . . .what a stupid question."
Rachel stared at him for a long moment before snapping off a reply. "No shit," she said.
And then with a tug on her magic, Rachel removed herself from the scene.
The scene of Willow's death was absolute chaos when Rachel returned. Absolute pandemonium. People rushing to and fro everywhere. People screaming. People asking what had happened. Police trying to set up a perimeter and set up hunter teams to go after the assassin around it all. It was absolutely out of control.
And in the middle of it all, the eye of the storm, there was Tara clutching at Willow's utterly still body as if it was the absolute only thing in the world that mattered. There were no tears, no great melodramatic display, just the quiet desperation of the utterly devastated. Rachel stumbled towards them in a shambling movement, as if against her will, before falling to her knees beside them and just staring at the body as her mind reeled from what it was seeing.