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Generated: Aug 10, 2019 9:49 PM
Post last updated: Jan 12, 2019 4:47 AM
bless me, father
slayer karen confesses killing vampires to priest!macalaure
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The only reason that Karen doesn't spend a good ten minutes outside the door fidgeting is that there's a line. As it is, she spends twenty seconds with her hand on the door handle, debating whether she actually has enough courage to say words about the situation to someone who isn't her sister. After that long, she worries that someone is going to ask her if she's OK, and then she'll have to lie about it, or else explain the situation to someone who is not bound by the seal of the confessional, and that would be no fun for anyone.

She ducks inside and kneels in front of the screen. She doesn't usually do confession with the screens, but she's glad for them today.

"Uh. Hello, Father."

 

Permalink Eye

"Welcome, my child."

Permalink Eye

 

Maybe if she pretends to be brave. She crosses herself, and -

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been - three months, ish, since my last confession. I - had some other things I wanted to say, but I've forgotten them, because I'm mostly thinking about the fact that I killed nine vampires in an attempt to keep them from killing other people, and they didn't really cover this possibility in depth in my confirmation classes, so I'm not really sure whether this is a sin or not."

Permalink Eye

" - ah," he says.  

"It is not a sin to kill in self-defense, or in defense of another. It can still weigh on the soul, though, so I'm glad you mentioned it. Are you all right? Are the people you were protecting safe?"

Permalink Eye

She pauses.

" - I think so. Some them had to be taken to the hospital, but I think I got to them all in time. They're - not permanently safe, but they're alive and stuff."

Permalink Eye

"It is very unusual for a human to be able to repeatedly fight vampires."

Permalink Eye

" - yeah. Yeah, I know. It's, um, there's some magical thing - I dunno if using magic is a sin, but it just sort of happened? It wasn't on purpose. Apparently there's something where one girl at any given time is something the vampires call a slayer. Superhuman speed, strength, etcetera, enhanced healing, prophetic dreams. And she's supposed to use her powers to fight vampires. I guess. I think I kinda missed the orientation. So to speak."

Permalink Eye

"It's often hard to tell how God means us to use our gifts, but those sound like gifts you have because you needed them to protect people. There is some debate over how we are to interpret the scriptural prohibitions on magic, but the understanding my conscience guides me to is that you should never consort with, or pray to, beings other than God. Everything else is - working within the universe to do good, just like using its less mystical physical laws."

Permalink Eye

"...OK. That makes sense, I guess. Um. ...I've been trying to figure out whether there's something better to do than to just try to catch vampires in the act of killing someone and then kill them back before it's too late. 'Cause it seems like a pretty non-ideal system."

Permalink Eye

"It's good of you to be thinking about that. I - think perhaps it would be good for you to ask me for help outside the confessional. Would you be willing to do that?"

Permalink Eye

 

".....yeah, OK. If you're not gonna tell the FBI so they can lock me in a padded cell and do weird experiments to see if they can duplicate slayerness."

Permalink Eye

"I promise that we won't go to the U.S. government with information about you until the U.S. government can be relied upon to handle this gracefully. - I know someone working on that, it's not as impossible as it sounds. I mostly want to introduce you to someone who can watch your back and to some people who are trying to research alternatives to stabbing."

Permalink Eye

"OK. That sounds really good. Thank you, Father. - oh, I have to finish the thing, sorry."

She counts off on her fingers and starts talking abnormally fast, because then this part will be over sooner. "I haven't been praying or reading the Bible as often as I should. I skipped mass once without a good reason. I didn't do the laundry when it was my turn and my sister had to do it even though she was really tired after work and I think it made her sad. I wrote a story and I got to a part about sex and I think I should've skipped over it and I deleted it later but I shouldn't have written it in the first place probably. Also I skipped doing algebra homework three times to fight vampires, and I don't know whether fighting vampires is a good enough excuse that it isn't still a sin to not do my homework, especially since I think the vampires thing might be motivated reasoning since I kind of didn't want to do it anyway. - that's all I think."

Permalink Eye

“Did you apologize to your sister? Can you do the laundry when it’s her turn?”

Permalink Eye

"Not yet. I can do it when I get home. And yeah, I can take one of her turns."

Permalink Eye

“You can’t drive God away, you know. Even if you run away for a very long time he’ll be right there the next time you really look. But the people you love - you can end up with a lot of distance to close, if you’re careless. I want that to be your priority this week, all right? That and the vampires. 

I don’t know if you ought to do your math homework. I do think you ought to sit down and imagine what the life that lets you do the most good for the next year looks like, and then do your math homework if you think it’s part of the best you can do, instead of letting the pressures of the moment settle it.

Why do you think you don’t pray enough? Do you start when you’re in a hurry? Do you run out of things to say?”

Permalink Eye

"No, I think - I think I sort of got out of the habit after my parents died? I kind of stopped talking to a lot of people after my parents died. Not my sister, but - other people. And - with God, there just keep being more and more things that I should ask about, and some of them are confusing no matter how much I ask about them? And - I guess sometimes I just feel like I'm bad at praying, like I don't know how to focus on it right and I definitely don't know how to hear what God's telling me to do all the time, and I know that it's still important to do it even if it doesn't always feel like it's doing anything, but it's... demoralizing. And so it's hard to just keep deciding to do it anyway, even though I know it's important. And I'm tired."

Permalink Eye

“When my father died I stopped talking to God. Eventually I found that I could sing to him, though. 

I think I would like you to try this week to pray when you feel safe and strong and happy. Get yourself your favorite food, watch a movie with your sister, come here to church to watch the sunset and escort the parishioners home safely - and then tell God that you are glad for the world and working to protect and love the people in it, and that you understand him a bit better when you do that. And someday you will understand him well enough for the hard questions.”

Permalink Eye

"OK. I think I can do that. Thank you, Father."

Permalink Eye

“For your penance, I want you to apologize to your sister and do the laundry for her. Say your act of contrition.”

Permalink Eye

"My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against You, whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with Your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In His name, my God, have mercy."

She sounds a lot more cheerful now.

Permalink Eye

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Permalink Eye

"Amen. Thanks again."

When she's all done, she waits in one of the pews and thanks God that there is at least one probably vaguely responsible adult in the world who doesn't think she's crazy. She scribbles some Latin vocabulary in a notebook and waits for the scheduled confession time to end. She looks up about twice a minute to make sure she doesn't miss the priest - even if he didn't mean to talk about the vampires right away, she does actually have to be able to recognize him to talk about the thing later.

Permalink Eye

Eventually he departs the confession booth. He’s tall, really tall, with long glossy carefully-braided black hair and a very striking face. He looks perhaps 25, which is odd because the short biography in the brochures at the front door says that he graduated from seminary in 1973. Maybe it’s a typo.

 

He smiles at her.

Permalink Eye

OR, her brain helpfully offers, MAYBE he is IMMORTAL.

It would probably be super logistically complicated for a vampire to become a priest. 

She had better not take her chances.

"Hi Father! I have to ask you a question, do you have a minute now or should I come back? - also can we maybe talk outside. Where there is sunlight."

Permalink Eye

He’s wearing a silver crucifix; he raises his eyebrows just slightly and reaches up to touch it. “Yes, absolutely.”

Permalink Eye

"Sorry," she says, when they're outside. "Slayers are supposed to die young but I don't want to make it easy for anyone. Um, so - I found out about vampires when one of them attacked me a few months ago, but she lost, which was very confusing for both of us, and then a different vampire told me that I was something called a slayer, and - since then I've been trying to learn more about vampires, and about all the other weird stuff that happens around here, but I'm sort of completely unqualified to handle all that alone, and I thought if I got help it might take me longer to. Y'know. Die."

Permalink Eye

“You were right to get help. There’s an organization that’s supposed to train and orient slayers, I wonder what went wrong. I haven’t heard particularly inspiring things about them anyway, though, letting them know they missed one wouldn’t be my highest priority unless you’d like me to do that. There are other resources it’ll be easier to get you without the Watcher’s Council considering itself responsible for you. Is your living situation safe right now? Does everyone know not to invite people in?”

Permalink Eye

"I think so. I told them not to. My sister doesn't necessarily believe in vampires, per se, but she's not sure they're not real, and she's not the sort of person who ignores easy chances to do things for other people's peace of mind just because she might think they're kind of dumb. And I told my nephew."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. I think I want to arrange you a bodyguard and some books and some case studies from cities less complicated than Sunnydale so that you can be safe and get some training while you figure out what you think you ought to be doing. Does that work?"

Permalink Eye

"Gosh. Yeah, that'd be amazing."

Permalink Eye

"All right. You can come by for the books any time you'd like; I don't know where the bodyguard is right now but I expect he can be here within a week or so. Would you like a hug?"

Permalink Eye

"I think so." Hug. "Thanks so much."

Permalink Eye

“There’s one other thing. If you find yourself in trouble, you can do - ” this “and I will hear you if we’re in the same city, and can try to help.”

Permalink Eye

Woah.

" - you're not a normal human person, are you."

Permalink Eye

"I'm not. - I am validly a priest, though, there was no reason to think I shouldn't be but nonetheless I checked whether water I blessed was lethal to vampires before I did any sacraments people relied on."

Permalink Eye

"...cool. Well, I'll see you, Father - what's your name again?"

Permalink Eye

“Michael.”

Permalink Eye

"Like the archangel." He looks sort of like what you might think an archangel would look like, maybe. "I'm Karen. I'll see you, Father Michael."

She does not, for once in her life, report back to Azalea, nor does she report her findings to Zeke. Her allies are all... very different from each other, and it seems like letting them be made aware that they are all allied with her is the sort of thing that could potentially lead to problems. She does apologize and do the laundry. She's back at the church for Sunday night Mass a few days later, and she hangs around the sanctuary afterwards and waits until it looks like she won't be interrupting anything by asking about the books.

Permalink Eye

“Of course!” He hands her a big stack; they are freshly-bound with covers that say things like “an introduction to folklore in the Ottoman Empire” and “excerpted oral tradition in Mesopotamia, 10th century B.C.”. “Vampires,” he says matter-of-factly, pointing to the books one by one, “other demons, institutional actors, case studies from Saskatchewan, Ontario and Cleveland in ascending complexity. Ignore the titles. How are you doing?”

Permalink Eye

"Much better now!" she says, packing the books into her backpack - best to keep her hands free if she's walking across town at night. "My sister likes me, I have a new church that comes with excellent new reading material, and nobody at my school has mysteriously died this week. So really about as good as it gets."

Permalink Eye

"I'm so glad. Your bodyguard will be in town tomorrow, is there a good place for you to meet him?"

Permalink Eye

"I am kind of unclear on the extent to which we are planning to let my sister know that I have a bodyguard, so... here, or I guess school if you want it to be somewhere I'd be going anyway? Also I have no idea what having a bodyguard entails if you are not the president."

Permalink Eye

"I trust you to figure out what it makes sense to tell your sister, though if it will help for her to hear it from an adult I am happy to drop by and explain. I want you to have a bodyguard to alert you to threats before they are in range of your hearing, help train you to protect yourself and others, and intervene in fights that look particularly dangerous. Other potential uses might include looking after your loved ones if they're doing something dangerous you can't accompany them on, or if anyone tries to get to you by targeting them, or persuading the Watcher's Council that you're looked-after and do not require a Watcher, assuming you don't want one. - the books will be informative about that."

Permalink Eye

"OK. I will not get through all the books tonight, but I'll make a good start. Should I come here tomorrow after school or do you think Sunnydale High is OK? I can't, uh, drive, so going places takes a little bit of time. But I can make it if here's better."

Permalink Eye

"He can meet you there. Maybe you can mention that you have a distant cousin in town planning to pick you up for ice cream. - he is in fact very likely to be a distant cousin."

Permalink Eye

"I will consider mentioning this," says Karen, because she doesn't want to say that this sounds exactly like the sort of thing that a bad-at-lying fifteen-year-old would come up with if she were trying to hide something bad. Maybe this is the point. People will probably not assume that she's hiding vampires.

"Anything else?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't think so. Take care."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks! You too."

She wastes no time when she gets home. "AZALEA.”

Permalink Eye

“You know, Karen, I truly and genuinely appreciate that I was not tasked with raising one of those teenagers who only communicates with her adults in monosyllables.”

Permalink Eye

“ - that’s sincere, right?”

Permalink Eye

“Completely. What can I do for you.”

Permalink Eye

“So I told the priest at St. Mary’s about vampires, and it turns out he already knows about them, and also knows about slayers, and also knows about the sort of training that slayers are supposed to get, except for whatever reason the group that’s supposed to train them hasn’t caught up with me yet, and also Father Michael says that’s a good thing so we're not going to let them know right away, but he does think that I should have a - he kept calling him a bodyguard? Someone to make sure that I don't get myself killed fighting vampires while I'm still figuring out how to do that. And I thought that if that was going to be the situation then I should probably let you know."

Permalink Eye

 

"...I appreciate how many syllables that was."

Permalink Eye

"Are you really worried or just a little worried?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm... you understand that you're fifteen years old, right? That's old enough to do a lot of things. I do not know that it is or should be old enough to go to war."

Permalink Eye

“I’m not going to war! I’m just, you know, doing - training-wheels superheroics, instead of starting with a motorcycle and probably wiping out and killing myself.”

Permalink Eye

“…you’re going to try to save people from vampires no matter what I say, aren’t you.”

Permalink Eye

“Yes.”

Permalink Eye

“I suppose that under those conditions it makes sense for you to have some kind of backup.”

Permalink Eye

“Yes.”

Permalink Eye

“I want to meet this person. And Father Michael. And anyone else who thinks it’s a good idea for you to go around - doing these things.”

Permalink Eye

“Does that include Zeke? Because I haven’t asked him directly but he seems to condone it and I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to meet Zeke right now.”

Permalink Eye

“Zeke is your vampire friend.”

Permalink Eye

“Yeah, the one who told me all the stuff.”

Permalink Eye

“….meet the damn bodyguard. Invite him and the priest guy over to dinner sometime. Give me some advance warning so I can make something in the way of an actual dinner.”

Permalink Eye

“…OK. Thanks. Are you mad?”

Permalink Eye

"No. You’re fifteen, it’s your job to be reckless and idealistic. Or nihilistic, whichever. But I’m twenty-four, and it’s my job to turn in my cool card if that’s what it takes to keep weirdos from hurting you.”

Permalink Eye

“That seems kind of backwards.”

Permalink Eye

“I know, right? Who decided to let me be the older sister? Dinner’s refried beans and leftover mashed potatoes.”

Permalink Eye

So she eats dinner, and she stays up until two AM reading her books, and then she wakes up at six AM and does half of her homework in a panic and tells herself that maybe she can finish the rest during lunch. (She does not finish the rest during lunch.) One of the kids who's noticed her being shifty asks where she's going after school, and, having failed to think of a more plausible cover story than the one she was given, she reports that a distant cousin is coming to pick her up for ice cream.

The kid predictably finds this doubtful.

After school, she and the kid can be found on a nearby bench conversing really, really slowly in broken Latin, waiting for whoever it is to find them.

Permalink Eye

He looks like - well, whatever sort of being Father Michael is, he is obviously the same sort, though they don’t otherwise look all that much alike. He glances around, sees them, and lopes over very gracefully. “Karen?”

Permalink Eye

"Hi! Yeah that's me."

Wow, he's not even a tiny bit plausibly Korean. Technically she has family members who aren't Korean but she does feel like this would have been less suspicious if there were anything resembling a family resemblance whatsoever.

Permalink Eye

"Your cousin," says the kid next to her. "Your last common ancestor was who, Noah?"

Permalink Eye

"A very distant one," she says, solemnly shutting her Latin textbook.

Permalink Eye

“So technically what happened was that my grandfather remarried after my grandmother died and had four more children, and Karen’s on that side. We don’t get on with our half-cousins and that’s what everyone but Michael calls them, half-cousins, but he’s all serious these days so I guess he decided it was Christlier to drop the “half-”. Who’re you?”

Permalink Eye

"Dennis."

Permalink Eye

"I don't know this person? He just sits down next to me at random times to tell me that I'm being suspicious."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, that's pretty much how it is."

Permalink Eye

"Hey, that's an important service, teaches you how to be less suspicious. Ice cream? My car's around the back."

Permalink Eye

"Sure! Bye Dennis!"

She waits until they are probably out of earshot of Dennis.

"So who exactly, uh, are you."

Permalink Eye

"I'm Michael's brother. He's good at singing and I'm good at stabbing, we specialize like that. And he was worried about you, so, backup. Until you can handle yourself, which I expect I can definitely teach you to do, if the stuff we have about slayers is true at all."

 

His car looks like it is thirty years old but very loved. 

Permalink Eye

"Cool. I, uh, have basically no real combat training and definitely have no vampire-specific combat training, other than I guess stabbing ten of them. I don't think any of the ten had any idea what they were doing, though."

Permalink Eye

"Most of them don't. It seems like the transformation affects discipline and motivation to self-improve, at least in many cases, so it's pretty rare for vampires to spend their immortality getting better at hand-to-hand violence. Some do, but not many."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. That... does seem like a thing it does." Zeke does not seem terribly motivated to improve himself on very many axes, which is probably a good thing. "Not that I have an extensive sample size."

Permalink Eye

"But you're much better off if you can take the rare one who stayed ambitious, or who had combat training already, or five at once, or whatever else you run into."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. There are a lot of them running around, and I think if I do this for any length of time then I'm going to get unlucky at some point. Probably at several points. And I still need to come up with a better system than just... stabbing people who are already trying to murder someone, because I'm definitely going to be too late, one of these days, and there have got to be a bunch of incidents that I never run into at all. But I also don't think I can just preemptively try to kill every vampire I run into."

Permalink Eye

"You can get them - at least, many of them - to go a long time without murdering people just by making it really clear this'll get them killed and arranging alternative sources of blood. There are a few that don't kill people. We haven't encountered any who stably don't kill people even if it becomes convenient."

Permalink Eye

"...Yeah. But there are lots of humans who do horrible things when they're convenient for them, too, and it doesn't mean we can just murder all of them. They're... people. And people are worth saving. And, I mean, sometimes you can't, a lot of the time you can't, but you have to at least think about what it would mean to do what you can, right? That's - why we're doing this in the first place?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't have the slightest idea what you oughta do, just figured you'd want to know that when you were deciding."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. I'll think about it. First I have to not get killed, and then I can work on getting better at making murder victims not be murder victims, and then I can work on better responses to people in high-murder demographics than ignoring or extrajudicially executing them. I think." She sighs. "So is there, like, a lesson plan?" Because she is bad at those.

Permalink Eye

"I thought we could start with archery. Because it's fun, and good for not getting killed."

Permalink Eye

Oooh. "That sounds good."

Permalink Eye

He has a selection of bows and a space cleared in the forest for them to practice, with a target that's impressively far away; he demonstrates each of the bows four or five times, explaining some points as he goes. He reliably hits the target, but usually not the center; it's not obvious until the last bow that he's spelling 'Karen' on the target. "- so what do you want to start with?"

Permalink Eye

Woah.

She tentatively selects a bow and asks permission to use it before firing in the direction of the target. She's straightforwardly strong enough to use any of them, but while her aim is unusually good for an untrained human, it's not good enough to actually hit the target from this distance.

Permalink Eye

That's good because then what would she be learning from all this practice! He has a lot of suggestions. Do slayers pick up new combat skills unusually quickly?

Permalink Eye

Slayers pick up new combat skills unusually quickly! After a while of practicing she... still can't reliably hit the target but is definitely missing it by less.

Permalink Eye

"Awesome! You're picking it up very quickly, just so you know. I think we should stop for now, because there are other things it'll be important to cover, but I'm really excited about what you'll be able to do in a month."

Permalink Eye

"OK! What else?"

Permalink Eye

"How exactly have you stabbed the vampires you've stabbed?"

Permalink Eye

"Uhh... one of them I ended up tackling, and the first one was really weird because I didn't know how much force I had to use, but I guess by default, like - "

She pulls a stake out of her backpack and stabs the air. Her basic stance is borrowed from karate lessons she took when she was nine, and is therefore not completely terrible, but her overall form is not very optimized for stabbing things with stakes.

Permalink Eye

Cool, they can work on that too! And on stances more combat-oriented than karate lessons for nine-year-olds, generally.

Permalink Eye

This sounds like a very good use of time. Her form improves considerably.

Permalink Eye

This seems pretty important so they can go until she's getting tired or her sister is expecting her home.

Permalink Eye

Azalea honestly doesn't expect her home at any specific time, but eventually they will hit the hour when Karen feels like she's in danger of missing dinner if she doesn't head home soon.

"Oh! Also. Azalea wanted me to invite you and your brother over for dinner later in the week, presumably to discuss the slayer thing, is there a day that would be good for that?"

Permalink Eye

"Whatever works for you, I don't have a real job here yet and doubt I will by the end of the week. - Michael's got his singing things on Wednesdays and Saturdays and Sundays, I think."

Permalink Eye

"OK! Thursday then, Thursday's good. Thanks so much. - what's your name, again?"

Permalink Eye

"Good question." He pulls his driver's license out of his pocket and examines it studiously. "Alex," he announces. 

Permalink Eye

" - you know, Gabriel would be funnier, but OK. I'll see you tomorrow?"

Permalink Eye

"The guy who makes our identities banned elaborate in-jokes after the incident in the 1980s. Tomorrow sounds great."

Permalink Eye

"That's probably fair of him. I'll see you."

She heads home and tells Azalea that Real Dinner should happen Thursday. She reads her books. She considers whether she should tell Azalea more and whether she should tell Alex more and whether she should tell -

- she actually has no idea what Zeke would do if she announced that that she's getting serious training in vampire-killing now, and that she has a new trainer-person whose attitude towards not-currently-violent vampires is not really something she feels comfortable gambling on. Probably not try to kill anyone directly, if only because it sounds dangerous. Probably he'll just leave town and make her somewhat sad about that. But he could tell someone else. He could buy a gun. She likewise has no idea what Alex would do if she told him that she's friends with a vampire; probably ask her if she's sure that he's not committing any murders, and given that she actually technically isn't, quite possibly kill him.

She can maybe just not mention either to the other, but this seems unlikely to work very well long-term unless she just never talks to Zeke again, and even then Zeke might worry that she's dead and come check on her.

Why is protecting people not really simple, like just always running into burning buildings to save trapped toddlers?

Possibly she should get some advice. Who does she know who cannot go killing people after being asked for advice on the subject, even if they think that someone really needs to be killed?

She checks her parish bulletin and confirms that St. Mary's very conveniently has 7:30 AM confessions on Tuesdays, and that she can probably make it from there to school by 8:00 AM if she runs the whole way. St. Mary's probably also has other priests who ever do things, but it's worth a shot. Or, like, maybe it's not, maybe confessing that you're scared that your decisions are going to get your confessor's brother killed is a terrible thing to do to someone, but she's going to do it anyway, because maybe she is terrible when she's afraid that she's going to get her friends killed.

She's at the church at 7:10, mostly because she can't very well invite Father Michael to dinner while she's confessing, and can't very well wait until 8:00 and be late for school, so she has to catch him on the way in. If he happens to be the priest on duty today at all.

Permalink Eye

He is, and is in fact there already, sitting in the first row and singing. This was already fairly obvious when he led Mass but he has a truly astonishing singing voice.

Permalink Eye

Wow.

She'll just. Sit in the back row and listen and try to catch him when he has to stop and move to the confessional, rather than having to make any decisions about whether and when she should interrupt him while he's doing that.

Permalink Eye

At 7:29 he goes on over. 

Permalink Eye

And she is there, having rehearsed what she's going to say continuously for the past fifteen minutes.

"Hi! Sorry to interrupt you, I just wanted to say that my sister wants to talk to you and your brother about stuff and do you think you could come over for dinner to this address this Thursday at seven?" She has a slip of paper with her address on it.

Permalink Eye

"Oh! Yes, absolutely." He takes the paper and puts it in his pocket and opens the door to the booth.

Permalink Eye

Cool cool cool. 

There is one person in line; she waits for them to finish and then enters herself.

"Bless me Father for I have sinned. Maybe? Probably at some point. It has been six days since my last confession. I have a problem."

Permalink Eye

" - all right. Welcome, what's going on?"

Permalink Eye

"So the reason I didn't end up dying when I was first - activated? - is that after I got jumped by the first vampire a different vampire came by and explained vampires and slayers to me and told me what research to do and how to kill vampires and how to protect myself from them, and I totally thought that he was trying to get me to lower my guard so that he could kill me later, and I guess I don't know one hundred percent that he wasn't doing that, because it's hard to know something like that, but in terms of his actual actions he's just been super helpful and without him I'd probably be dead and we're sort of friends now, and he's not a good person or anything but he's not, like, killing anybody, I don't think, although technically I haven't had the resources to one hundred percent confirm this? And I talked to Alex about how I want to find a way to stop vampires without killing them, and he seemed like he didn't think that was a totally stupid idea, so I don't know that if I told him about Zeke he'd want to kill Zeke, but I also don't know that he wouldn't, and then Zeke would be dead, because Alex is way more terrifying than Zeke. But also I usually talk to Zeke about how I'm doing and I think if I don't get back to him soon then he'll wonder if I'm dead or something, and I'm not super good at lying to people so I think if we get to talking again then I will probably end up mentioning Alex, and probably Zeke would just leave town then, where I guess he would maybe just start killing people again so actually maybe that's a terrible outcome, but if he doesn't then I don't want Zeke to like panic and buy a gun and try to shoot your brother before your brother can decide to shoot him? And I'm really really really sorry about giving you all of this information in a context that means that you can't act on it and have to just hope that I make responsible decisions, because I know that if I were in that situation that would be super horrible to experience, but also I don't want anyone to die, and I thought that to make that happen I should probably ask someone for advice who is not fifteen and who cannot unilaterally decide to kill people based on the information received in the process of giving advice."

She takes a breath and sighs heavily.

"Also I lied to my history teacher about forgetting to do my homework."

Permalink Eye

"Having a list in advance of safe explanations that aren't lies is a good way to avoid lying when you have a secret to keep. It's hard to do in the moment. If you get a planner, and don't use it, then you can always say 'I didn't write it down in my planner'....

Of the things you described, I am by far the most concerned that Alex will kill your friend while going around killing vampires that are wandering the streets at night, as I take it he doesn't currently know that there's a reason to do that selectively. If you tell him how to identify your friend I am confident he won't kill him. Given that, I think it might not be a good idea to tell your friend. It sounds like it might disrupt him out of an equilibrium where he isn't murdering people. - why do you think he isn't murdering people?"

Permalink Eye

"Because he said he wouldn't kill anybody if I didn't kill him, and it sounded fake, so I shadowed him for a few nights a few months ago, and he doesn't really hunt or anything? He breaks into the butcher shop after hours and steals, like, cow blood. Obviously he could have a way of knowing when I'm watching him, or could kill people only sometimes and happen to only kill them during nights where I haven't been watching him, and I should really check on him more thoroughly now that I can, but he was - sort of helping me help other people not die?"

Permalink Eye

Nod. "I think Alex might follow him longer but that seems like a reasonable amount of checking, for the resources you had."

Permalink Eye

"That makes sense. I'll... tell Alex, then. Thanks."

Permalink Eye

"Of course. Ah, say your act of contrition -"

Permalink Eye

She says her memorized act of contrition and resolves to do better. 

" - oh, do I have to do a penance thing? For the lying?"

Permalink Eye

"Say three Hail Marys."

Permalink Eye

"OK. I can do that. Thank you, Father."

Annnd then when he's said the absolution she really does need to run to school as fast as she can. She can say Hail Marys while running. Mary is a sensible person who probably wants her to get to school on time. And then she prays to God, for the rest of the way, because she's remembered that that's a thing she should be doing.

She's late. She's not very late. She's on time when she leaves the school and looks around for Alex.

Permalink Eye

Sitting on a bench weaving a basket out of weeds. It's a cool-looking basket despite being made out of dandelions.

Permalink Eye

"Hi! Ready to go. Also I remembered that I didn't give you my address, and I know you might have it anyway, but it seems best not to assume that people know where your house is unless it would be inconvenient for you if they did, as a rule. - nice basket."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks. I have been following you closely enough to get an address but I think it's considered less weird if you tell it to me."

Permalink Eye

"That's what I figured." She gives him a slip of paper with her address on it. "Also we need to talk about a thing but where there are - not people."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, people, they're terrible. Same place as last time?"

Permalink Eye

"Sounds good!"

Permalink Eye

Off they drive. 

Permalink Eye

"So I have this friend," she says, eventually. "I guess he's a friend. It's slightly unclear. I think he's a friend. He's a vampire. An anomalously nice one, but, like, by vampire standards. He is probably some significant part of why I am not dead yet. Or at least a significant reason why the victims of the attacks I stopped aren't."

Permalink Eye

"Cool. What's he look like?"

Permalink Eye

"White, dirty blond hair I guess, this much taller than me - he's sort of generic-looking? I can point his crypt out on a map. ...you're gonna not kill him, right? At least unless he's still killing other people?"

Permalink Eye

"Keeping your friends alive is my entire job. Well. It's like seventy percent of my job."

Permalink Eye

"Oh. OK. Thanks, then."

She is in better spirits for today's practice.

Permalink Eye

Oh good! Then they can get better at archery and hand-to-hand fighting and have a try at hearing people coming from a distance - "do Slayers have better senses?"

Permalink Eye

She can get better at hearing people coming with practice, but she doesn't seem to have significantly better senses than a normal human. Can't have all the powers.

Permalink Eye

So it goes. "Though that means we should probably get you bulletproof clothes."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. I am... not super clear on how we prevent me from being taken out by snipers once the vampires in town generally know what I look like. It seems like a thing that they might be interested in causing to happen."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, I can hang around and stop them, but it seems like an extra layer of precautions will be good. - I do have vastly better than human senses."

Permalink Eye

"That's cool. I don't super know where to get bulletproof clothes but I guess you probably do?"

Permalink Eye

"Bulletproof clothes, bulletproof limos, antiaircraft missiles, sonic grenades, you name it."

Permalink Eye

"Ah. I... think I don't need any of those other things, but I'll remember if I ever do."

Permalink Eye

"Hey, better safe than sorry, imagine if someday you really need an antiaircraft missile and you haven't got one."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe if we end up fighting dragons at some point."

Wednesday is more of the same - school, practice, dinner, books, a few hours of sleep, panicked homework-doing the next morning.

On Thursday, gym is cancelled because the teacher is missing. Karen really, really needs to get her math homework done before class this time, so she ducks into the basement during lunch on the theory that it'll be quieter down there and she might be able to focus.

There are trails of slime in the basement that disappear behind ancient filing cabinets. Also the smell of rotting meat.

She does not get her homework done.

Permalink Eye

Alex is waiting for her after school. Today he is knitting an elaborate soft hat.

Permalink Eye

"I think the gym teacher was....... eaten by something."

Permalink Eye

"Shit." He stands up, ties off the hat, and puts it in his backpack. "What'd you see -"

Permalink Eye

"Um - so the gym teacher was missing today and I happened to notice for unrelated reasons that the basement looked like, uh, like a really big slug had gone through it, and it smelled like something was rotting down there? And then I checked the gym teacher's office during passing period to see if anything was weird about it, and I think someone cleaned up part of whatever was there but they, uh, didn't get all of the slime."

Permalink Eye

"All right. I'm gonna tell someone to look up kinds of critter that might be, in case it has any weird vulnerabilities or abilities we should know about, and then I think we should go after it today when we can easily follow it. Is that okay with you?"

Permalink Eye

She nods seriously.

Permalink Eye

"You okay?"

Permalink Eye

"Uh-huh. I didn't look through the basement for it. I, uh, only have a wooden stake right now."

Permalink Eye

"I got stuff in the car but I haven't taught you how to use it yet. I guess a knife isn't wielded all that differently from a wooden stake."

Permalink Eye

"This is true. Probably. I am not an expert. I can probably figure out stabbing things with a knife, though."

Permalink Eye

"The important question is whether you're safer with a knife than without one. I think ...you probably are? But a baseball bat might be even safer. Yeah, let's do that." He walks briskly towards his car.  

Permalink Eye

Cool. Baseball bats seem nice and uncomplicated.

"Do you want to see the basement, or..."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah but I'd like to go in armed even if we're going to wait for identification before we follow it. In case it's back."

Permalink Eye

She nods and accepts a baseball bat.

Permalink Eye

He takes a crowbar and a gun and something that might be a grenade and hands them both earplugs and in they go.

Permalink Eye

The basement is creepy and quiet and continues to smell of rotting meat. There are greenish slime trails on the floor and on the ceiling.

Permalink Eye

He looks at them intently. "Okay. I asked Michael to call a friend of ours with a big database, see if they can identify it. I'll let you know when they have something."

Permalink Eye

"You asked - oh, the telepathy. Cool."

Permalink Eye

"It doesn't work on vampires, actually, which sucks, it'd make it pretty much impossible for them to sneak up on us. But it's useful for this kinda thing. Not something you can learn, sorry."

Permalink Eye

"I figured it was a... you thing." At some point she should really write up a list of all of the abilities of - archangels? Not-archangels, so that she doesn't get confused. Maybe write up a list of all of the abilities of everything she runs into, in case that ever comes in handy.

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

A person with a sufficiently comprehensive database of demons could probably narrow it down to a few different things that climb on walls and eat people and leave slime trails that may or may not be about that color. Of the likely candidates, the Atrashi demon spits acid and the Kulaxa has a really ridiculous number of claws. Neither is thought to be intelligent.

Permalink Eye

He conveys this. "All right. Let's follow the slime."

Permalink Eye

"Cool."

There are slime trails leading in and out of the vents, and also slime trails leading to and from the boiler, and - ah. That would be the gym teacher. He's looking pretty cut up and melted at this point.

"...ah."

Permalink Eye


"You wanna stay here or go up?"

Permalink Eye

"Nah, I wanna find it. It's the third murder this year, I'll live. - unless I don't, I guess. How do we get to it if it's in the vents?"

Permalink Eye

"Good question. I'd say we could gas it out but there are probably still people in the school....hmmm."

Permalink Eye

"I guess we could wait until the school empties. Or - if it's been hanging out by the boiler then it probably needs water? Or warmth?"

Permalink Eye

"Ah huh. If we send something cold through the vents maybe it'll come to us."

Permalink Eye

"Radio-controlled car and... ice, I guess? Although you'd need a camera on it to have any idea which way it should be going. Or a map of the vent system, maybe, but I have no idea where we get one of those. Sort of wildly spitballing here."

Permalink Eye

"You're thinking about the right stuff, though. Do you know where the air intake for the ventilation system is?"

Permalink Eye

"Nah. One of the janitors might, I guess? Someone has to upkeep the system, I'd think..."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Let's go ask them."

Permalink Eye

The janitor they find needs to check his binder - Sunnydale janitors change so frequently that apparently Principal Flutie has taken to giving them all binders of everything they could possibly be expected to know, rather than wait for them to actually learn all of it. He then tells them where the air intake is, and doesn't even bother to ask them what they need to know for.

Permalink Eye

That's convenient. "There's liquid nitrogen in the car. I think the easiest thing is to make the whole school very chilly for a little bit, and wait for our slime thing to come for the boiler."

Permalink Eye

"That makes sense. You have a lot of things in your car."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, the antiaircraft missiles aren't in the car, I have to call in for those." He stacks several identical indistiguishable black boxes and pulls out some metal canisters. "Here we go."

Permalink Eye

"Solid. I don't know how to handle those safely so I'm going to let you do that and then wait by the boiler, I think."

Permalink Eye

"Sounds good." He opens the canisters outside the air intake valves; they start to steam immediately. 

Permalink Eye

The school is pretty cold by the time the Karen makes it to the boiler. The demon, it turns out, does not like cold. After a couple minutes of waiting, there's a gurgling noise, and then the vent cover is punched clean off the wall, and then the demon with lots of claws is headed right for Karen.

Between Karen and the claws and the baseball bat, the baseball bat is the weakest link; it splinters.

She takes - really almost no time to process this, actually, before skewering the thing's center on the pointy piece of wood she now has in her hand. The demon shrieks.

 

Permalink Eye

He has arrived at the door by then but hangs back watching.

Permalink Eye

She takes her stake out and stabs it again, on the theory that this will probably do more damage than leaving it in.

The demon explodes. Its innards are horrifically messy, but apparently not immediately caustic, because Karen is covered in them and mostly seems grossed out.

 

"I.... think it's dead."

Permalink Eye

"Yes, I think so. Well done."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you. Uh. Do we do anything about the dead part-of-a-body, or...?"

Permalink Eye

"Taking a shower might be more urgent, but yeah, we should probably not leave this for the janitors. I'll mop it up."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. I'll go... do that. Thanks."

She heads for the locker rooms.

Permalink Eye

She runs into someone on the way.

"...I'm gonna let you slide this one time, Teller."

Permalink Eye

"That's big of you."

She showers. She changes into her gym clothes, because these are the only clean clothes she has right now. It occurs to her that they are probably in danger of being late for dinner, so she stuffs her slimed clothes into a plastic bag and grabs her backpack and runs out to the car.

Permalink Eye

If he disposed of the demon he somehow did it without sliming himself at all. He's packing things back into the spacious trunk of the car. "Hey! Are we late for dinner?"

Permalink Eye

She glances at her watch (which has been carefully washed free of slime, at least on the outside). "We will be, a little, by the time we drive over there. It's not a huge deal."

Permalink Eye

"Okey dokey." He gets in the car. "You did great."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks," she sighs, without much enthusiasm. "I guess we need a new gym teacher now."

Permalink Eye

"Your school has a lotta vacancies."

Permalink Eye

"Yes. I think they're about half deaths and about half people who decided to get going while the going was good. Have you seen the death numbers for Sunnydale High students and teachers? They're even more appalling than the numbers for the rest of the town."

Permalink Eye

"Is there more stuff lurking around the school, do you know?"

Permalink Eye

"Probably. I feel like there's gotta be. Nobody keeps official records on just the school, but I told the school paper that I maybe wanted to join and asked them if I could look through old copies for examples of good writing. They've been running an obituary section for the past seven years, and if you compare the deaths there with the information on the murders in the Sunnydale Herald - aside from just the sheer number, a lot of them have been killed in really weird ways, things that don't sound like vampire attacks."

She frowns. "I wonder if the Hellmouth's near the school. If Hellmouths are even things that have locations that are that specific."

Permalink Eye

"I think they do, yeah. Man, why do kids keep going to a school with an obituary section of the paper?"

Permalink Eye

"It's very mysterious. I am sort of confused about how nobody seems to have... noticed. Or, like, there are people who have noticed, but how nobody says anything. I think the police are doing coverups, but you'd think at some point that would just.... stop working?"

Permalink Eye

"You'd think, yeah."

Permalink Eye

Another sigh. "Is there an answer, is it magic or something?"

Permalink Eye

"I haven't looked into a Hellmouth in particular before, but if you compare witness reports when a nonhuman-looking demon charges through a crowded plaza to witness reports when a human wearing a rubber mask charges through a crowded plaza, people are much better at identifying the attributes of the mask and much less likely to say the masked person was a normal-looking guy. So there's something at play."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. So I guess it's probably some combination of magical influence and not wanting to be the one to say that the Emperor has no clothes. But there's clearly some level of evidence that you can give people to make them realize that something weird is going on."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. And the government does know, though I don't know what precisely they're doing or which many people I mean when I say 'the government'. 

If it were up to me I'd tell everyone. Let them protect themselves."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Though I guess if everyone knew it could escalate to just - open warfare, if not just mass panic. Which I guess could be better than the status quo, if it changed things enough. But the word from on high is 'not right now'?"

Permalink Eye

"The problem with specializing in stabbing is that other people do all the international policy stuff. And yeah, they say not now."

Permalink Eye

"Makes sense. I would probably not be any good at international policy stuff. I will keep this in mind when deciding what to write for the school paper."

Permalink Eye

"I'd be awful at it but on the other hand when I leave it to other people they always make decisions I disagree with." He pulls up in front of her house.

Permalink Eye

She knocks on the door; the door opens.

"Hi! Sorry we're late, there was a - thing. At the school."

Permalink Eye

"A thing?"

Permalink Eye

"The gym teacher got eaten."

She heads inside and runs upstairs to change her clothes, rather than staying to answer questions about that.

Permalink Eye

Azalea lets her pass. She raises her eyebrows at Alex and pointedly neglects to invite him in.

Permalink Eye

He comes in anyway. "You must be Karen's sister! I'm Alex."

Permalink Eye

"Azalea. What's this about the gym teacher?"

Permalink Eye

"Eaten by a Kulaxa demon."

Permalink Eye

"Mhmm. What is that."

Permalink Eye

"Clawed, slimy, not thought to be sentient, dead now."

Permalink Eye

"I see," says Azalea, although she really thinks she probably doesn't. "Dining room's in there. Your brother was on time."

Permalink Eye

"I bet he was."

Permalink Eye

"Alex! It's good to see you."

Permalink Eye

"How's God?"

Permalink Eye

"Pretty well."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you both for coming. Who are you and why did it strike you as a fantastic idea to sic a fifteen-year-old girl on whatever these things are that are out there killing people?"

Permalink Eye

"I was not actually under the impression I could talk her out of it."

Permalink Eye

"People get to care about things other than their own safety, actually. And she's probably the safest person in this town."

Permalink Eye

"Karen'll do what she's going to do, either way. And yes, she may well be in less danger with someone else watching out for her, if she insists on fighting whatever the hell is out there. But you're focusing on her an awful lot, given that she can't possibly be the most qualified person to go after these things."

Permalink Eye

"I think she can grow into it, maybe, if she survives. The Watcher's Council kills most Slayers at eighteen, so there's not a lot of information out there about how much they can do with proper support and backing. And - I was assigned to this parish. Karen came to my church. I don't understand how Slayers are called, or why we crossed paths, but I don't believe anything happens for no reason."

Permalink Eye

" - well. I guess that explains why you're not going to anyone more organized."

Permalink Eye

"It's why we're not going to them in particular. There are a lot of actors in the underworld, and the best ways to avoid trouble are either to be sufficiently inconspicuous or apparently disorganized that you don't attract much notice, or to have established relationships and lines of communications with nearly all of them. The intermediate stage, where you're conspicuous enough people want you dead and not established enough that they have a clear picture of who that would annoy, is hazardous. So for the time being, I think Karen is safest if she goes around solving local problems with one bodyguard to keep her out of anything she can't handle. When she's older and has more training and a clearer picture of what she wants, she can revisit that."

Permalink Eye

"...I suppose she's unlikely to run out of problems to solve, if half of what she thinks is happening in this town is actually going on."

Permalink Eye

"It's an unusually active place. It's on a hellmouth."

Permalink Eye

"Whatever that means." She sighs. "Look, I'm under no illusions that I can stop Karen, and I seriously doubt that I could stop you, so - if this is what she wants, fine, teach her to kill the things that go bump in the night and bring her home safe at the end of it. But the second, the second she wants out of your little crusade, she is out, she is back to being a high school student who worries about algebra and boys and recovering from the untimely death of her parents, all right? She has not enlisted in anything and you do not at any point get to accuse her of desertion."

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Permalink Eye

"I'm not here for making people do stuff."

Permalink Eye

"All right. Good talk. I'll get you people some food."

Permalink Eye

Karen comes down a few minutes later wearing something somewhat more normal. Her nephew, who is six, follows her down and silently stares at their visitors with moderate suspicion.

"So I'm thinking of joining the school paper," she says seriously, when everyone has food. "Because I'm sort of overbooked as it is but I feel like it provides a good cover story for investigating random nonsense, and I feel like there's a lot of random nonsense that someone should possibly be investigating. Possibly specifically a lot of random nonsense happening at the school."

Permalink Eye

"Sounds good to me."

Permalink Eye

"We should probably figure out a way to make the school less abysmally unsafe. - the town in general, really, but the school seems more manageable to start with. I guess turning it into something that's technically a residence would only affect vampire attacks."

Permalink Eye

"And it'd be very difficult to do. Size isn't inherently a problem - I know of a much larger castle that seems to entirely qualify as a residence - but the constant coming and going of strangers is a problem. Most likely if you tried you'd get a smaller area. If I were trying, I'd raise a little kid there, starting over the summer when it didn't have students, making sure they had the run of the whole place and liked things about most parts of it."

Permalink Eye

"He's not actually going to do that, he's just gesturing at the sort of thing it'd take."

Permalink Eye

"I don't have any kids stowed away for convenient residence magic."

Permalink Eye

(The six-year-old narrows his eyes suspiciously.)

"That makes sense. I guess you can monitor it, partially, even without cameras, but there are situations where that'd only help if it made sense for you to be in the school to do anything about anything that happened.

...I wonder if Sunnydale High requires its gym teachers to have, like, credentials."

Permalink Eye

 

"Oh, I can have credentials."

Permalink Eye

"I bet you'd be good at it. The last guy was really bad at it. ...no offense to him."

Permalink Eye

"I really dislike having authority. But - hmm, maybe there's a way to make it work."

Permalink Eye

"Up to you. I am no longer personally suffering now that I have been magically imbued with the power not to be one of the kids who gets mercilessly pelted with dodgeballs from eight different directions."

Permalink Eye

"Your school sounds at least moderately concerning in almost every way that I can think of."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. I might have asked for a transfer but I sort of don't want to go anywhere else now."

Permalink Eye

"What'd'you think, should I be a high school gym teacher?"

Permalink Eye

"Probably. You could teach self-defense."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking. Maybe the ones who aren't idiots could learn archery."

Permalink Eye

"Even you weren't safe with a bow when you were fifteen."

Permalink Eye

For some unclear reason Alex seems to find this comment utterly exasperating, but he doesn't respond.

Permalink Eye

"...so, are you planning to train with Alex every day from now on?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't know. Probably almost every day, at least until I get better at things? Maybe not all at the same time, at some point I have to go back to actually stopping vampires. And the school paper meetings are on Mondays and Thursdays, if I end up doing that. And I still have to read more, I'm almost done with the first load of books but it sounds like there are a ton more things that it would pay to know about. And I should probably ever do any of my homework. Or have any friends." She frowns. "But yeah, like, probably. Maybe some days Alex'll have stuff to do, though."

Permalink Eye

"I've been keeping an eye out in the evenings, I don't think vampires have been emboldened by your absence. I'll let you know if that changes."

Permalink Eye

"There's lots it'd be good to know but I wouldn't say there's much it's worth disrupting your sleep and school to read a little faster."

Permalink Eye

She looks pained by this. "...but school is hard."

Permalink Eye

"Well, maybe you should drop out."

Permalink Eye

The two of them are probably having a telepathy conversation of some kind judging by the glaring but all he says is, "what's hard about it?"

Permalink Eye

"It's just, uh, hard to make homework happen, I guess." Lots of staring at it and not doing it and thinking about how you should really be doing it and then not doing it, lots of panicking at the last minute and internally screaming about not getting things done. "I guess maybe if I budgeted my time better, or something." To accommodate all of the screaming time.

Permalink Eye

"Can you take classes that involve more in-class assessments and less homework?"

Permalink Eye

This would probably require paying slightly more attention during class and writing notes instead of stories. "Maybe. I think homework is sort of a fact of life when you're in high school? And I don't think Sunnydale High is super customizable even as high schools go, what with the teacher mortality rate."

Permalink Eye

"Hmm. Perhaps this isn't the time, but maybe we can think later about how to make school a little easier for you."

Permalink Eye

"Orrr you could drop out."

Permalink Eye

"I think that's illegal at fifteen. And, hey, then I would have no excuse to be on school grounds and stop slime monsters."

Permalink Eye

"That's true."

Permalink Eye

"I will just have to bravely suffer through remedial English."

Permalink Eye

"You're taking remedial English?"

Permalink Eye

"Well I didn't read the books in regular English. I'm doing OK in Latin!"

Permalink Eye

"We could get someone to do your homework for you -"

Permalink Eye

"That's not -"

Permalink Eye

"I'm pretty sure God doesn't care."

Permalink Eye

"- Karen, most kinds of support or assistance you could possibly think of are available, but I think that this is a normal teenage problem and that it will be healthier for you in the long run to try to solve it with strategies that don't involve systemic deception."

Permalink Eye

"I agree! Honestly, I'll be fine. - but I'm still going to read the books."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

Permalink Eye

"They've been fascinating so far, by the way. Very good rundown of things, way more comprehensive than what I had. I'm not all done with the case studies yet but they've been really excellent so far. I think I want to go over them one more time and take more notes before I return them, though."

Permalink Eye

"That sounds good. I'd say you could keep them but we worry about theft."

Permalink Eye

She nods. "Sometime next week, probably."

Permalink Eye

"Sounds great."

Permalink Eye

The following Monday the students of Sunnydale High School have a new gym teacher. 

Rumor among the students who have him early in the morning is that he's really hot.

Permalink Eye

Dennis is in the same gym class as Karen. Latin and gym are actually the only two classes they share; Dennis is honors track for everything.

"You realize the fact that your not-cousin is suddenly the gym teacher now gives you about a thousand more weirdness points, right?"

Permalink Eye

"I can't decide what he does, man. It's a free country."

She waves at the new teacher.

Permalink Eye

He waves at her. 

Permalink Eye

"Hello, everyone! I'm Alex. This class has two rules: don't be stupid, and don't interfere with other people getting something out of this class. If you want to sit on the bleachers and talk to your friends, I'll give you an A. This stuff - the stuff you're going to learn here - is important, but at some point you gotta figure out how to do important things without people dangling test scores in front of you. 

Your last gym teacher died. I heard from my first class this morning that that happens a lot."

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There are murmurs of mixed confusion and agreement. One of the kids in front asks what they're going to learn here.

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"Self-defense. Also basketball, because it's in the state-mandated curriculum. But mostly self-defense. The stuff out there is mostly stronger than you guys, which means that it takes different tactics than you'd learn in tae-kwon-do class. But nothing out there is impossible to fight. The curriculum says I gotta tell you that physical education is important because people who exercise live longer. I think they meant that you won't get heart disease when you're sixty. But also, you won't get ...stabbed in the neck by an angry gang with barbecue forks... next Tuesday."

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There are, again, murmurs of mixed confusion and agreement.

"What are we starting with?"

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"We're gonna start by learning how to fall, because then you won't get hurt when you learn literally everything else. But first, we're all going to run towards the end of the football field and back, because being in decent shape will help you run away from bad stuff and because you'll sit still better if you're tired out. Here are the rules about running towards the end of the football field.

First, I said 'towards'. You don't have to make it all the way there. If you start feeling like 'wow, this sucks', check how far you got, stroll on back. Tomorrow maybe it'll be a little farther. Or maybe it won't, people always have off days, but next week it'll be quite a bit farther. Second rule, if you make it farther than you've ever made it before, you get a chocolate chip cookie at the end of class, because you're pushing your body and you need energy to keep doing that. Today's the first time, so everyone's going to make it farther than you've ever made it before. Okay, go."

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A lot of the kids start walking back after not very long, but no one takes him up on sitting at the back of the bleachers and talking with their friends. Karen makes it to the end of the field first and makes it back fourth, of the ones who ran the whole way, because somewhere on the way back she remembered that she is supposed to have a secret identity or something.

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"Awesome. So, some people, a little running around helps you sit still and pay attention. Other people pay better attention if they don't hafta sit still. If you're going to learn fastest if you're sitting, come sit in the front. If you're gonna learn fastest if you're pacing, or standing on your head, or trying to balance a ball on your finger, go to the back so you don't distract anyone else. Can I get a volunteer to punch me so I can show you all a couple different ways to fall over?"

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Mercy raises her hand.

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(Karen goes to the back and stands.)

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He points at Mercy. "Awesome, come up here. What's your name?"

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"Mercy."

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"Great. I would like you to punch me or shove me. It doesn't really matter how hard, because you can't hurt me and because I will act like I was hit really hard even if you barely tap me so we can entertain the crowd here."

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She smiles and nods seriously, then punches him as hard as she can.

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He takes a very dramatically satisfying tumble and rolls and stands up and talks about some principles for falling safely. "Again, Mercy?"

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She does! Mercy enjoys hitting people as hard as she can. She doesn't seem to mind at all if this specific person is in fact entirely unharmed by it.

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What a wonderful person! He will take a bunch of entertaining falls and intersperse a safety lecture that is in significant part about falling but also manages to cover a lot of points that are important for safe sparring generally, either because he's deliberately trying to get that lecture across in a interesting format or because he just keeps thinking of related concepts when he's explaining something. 

Eventually he invites the kids to give it a try.

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The kids pair off and practice falling. Karen considers asking if Mercy wants to practice and then thinks better of it and decides to pair off with a random girl who is scared of someone punching her too hard. (Karen does not punch her too hard.)

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Mercy doesn't punch kids as hard as she can. That would be unfair to the other kids. She does pick the most formidable-looking boy in the class and practice with him.

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Dennis spends a little time trying the falling thing and a lot of time watching the teacher for additional signs that he is some kind of horrifying demonic entity. He doesn't exactly know that this is what he's looking for.

Everyone else seems to like Alex; he'll be a very popular teacher by the end of the day.

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He seems to be having the time of his life. He corrects kids who are doing dangerous stuff and lets them self-correct if they're just doing counterproductive stuff, unless they look frustrated.  At the end of class he gives everyone cookies. 

 

Possible signs he's some kind of demonic entity:

- he doesn't exactly move like a human; particularly when he's not paying attention, he's a little too fluid and fast

- he has long braided blond hair that doesn't go with the rest of his presentation at all

- he seems to really like being a gym teacher????


If the cookies are drugged with something that will turn all the students into rats for him to eat, the effects are not immediate.

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Medium suspicious. Dennis puts his cookie in a plastic baggie to be consumed later, when enough time has elapsed that he's decided it's not an evil cookie. Or until he gets hungry.

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Karen is more excited than usual when she stops by after the journalism club meeting. "You seem like you're very good at this job."

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"I don't actually know if it'll be enough. Could make things worse, if they take more chances since they're all sure of themselves. But I guess an hour of their day doesn't suck, that's something. ...I didn't do well with school."

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"I can tell. I mean, I couldn't tell for sure that you ever went to school, but you seem like if you did ever go to school then it didn't agree with you very well."

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"It was better than something like Sunnydale High would've been, but it was pretty bad for me until someone noticed I'd be much happier out hunting all the time." He drives them off to their usual practicing grounds.

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"I don't think people around here can mostly get by just hunting all the time. But I'm glad you found something you were good at."

There was a point at which she would have wondered what she was good at, if anything, but she feels like she maybe doesn't need to figure that out anymore. She has a job; she's going to do her best with it. She works very hard on slayer training for someone who seems to have a very hard time putting any effort into school things at all.

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He doesn't really think that not putting in the effort is her problem with school. 

But anyway, school doesn't matter and this does, so it's a good thing she's a hard worker and a quick study.

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She is those things! She mostly does not ask to cover new material on her own, but is nearly always excited when Alex decides that it's time for that. And she always does her best, which is consistently really good for someone with no previous training.

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The gym classes go well too! The kids are mostly not as quick studies as Karen but he diligently does a lot of research into the best options for surviving something stronger, faster and tougher than you and teaches the kids that, and bakes a lot of cookies, none of which turn anyone into a rat. On Tuesdays they instead do basketball but after sternly telling them all that the curriculum says they're doing basketball, he works on stances and hand-to-hand fighting with anyone who wants.

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Karen's books detail the operations of an organization of unclear size and scope which Michael works for, and which has been clearing small towns of vampires by attacking the main nests in force, leaving blood brothels and blood bank operations alone, instituting new procedures at the coroner's office, and then making it widely known that any vampire who kills a human will die the same day. This takes a lot of legwork to enforce but vampires do learn from examples. The book includes comparisons of the number of deaths caused by doing it this way (usually some vampires test the rule) to the expected casualties of an operation more singlemindedly focused on killing all the vampires. Which one is better kind of depends on how bad you think it is to kill a not-currently-murderous vampire. 

The case study for Cleveland is instead vastly more complicated, because Cleveland apparently was simultaneously near a hellmouth, ground zero of a turf war between two species of demons with a many-thousand-year history of racial hatred, the core port of entry for a dozen smuggling gangs, and home to some very old vampires and some dangerously powerful magicians. 

The books describe every species known to Michael and Alex except, apparently, the species Michael and Alex are. In the background of one picture of a crowd of demons there's another being like the two of them, though.

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Karen studiously takes notes on all of this and commits as much of the information to memory as possible. (She has also been taking notes on whatever kind of thing Michael and Alex are, and on every Weird Thing that appears at the school, because she might be probably-going-to-die but it seems like Weird Things are a field where additional notes could someday leave future people more prepared to spend more time not-dying.) 

Whenever she runs out of books, she returns them to Father Michael and asks if he has anything else for her. She continues doing research online, and spends most of her allowance ordering more books from the internet, whenever she runs into one that looks like it might have additional useful information about Weird Stuff. She develops a habit of watching this one cryptid-hunting show on Saturdays, just in case any of the things they're hunting are examples of legitimate Weird Stuff. Also cryptids are fun. She writes up a bunch of perfectly respectable articles for the school paper.

She kind of doesn't push on when they should start properly hunting vampires, because she kind of doesn't know what their game plan there should be, but she does feel like this is maybe a failing on her part and she should maybe be figuring this out faster.

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He wanders the streets of Sunnydale at night killing things if they're vampires and aren't Karen's friend Zeke. He's not opposed to bringing Karen along for this but there hasn't yet been an occasion that seems like it'd teach her something useful, and she's not quick enough on her feet yet that he'd be comfortable sending her off outside his hearing.  

And it seems like this is good enough.

Until two kids don't make it to school one day.

"Missing since yesterday," he tells her after class is over. He has pictures. "Do you know either of them?"

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"This one's Willow Rosenberg. I don't remember the other one's name, but he's friends with her. She's honors track for everything. Sort of shy and nervous about everything, but super smart. You think something got them?"

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"It seems pretty likely." He makes an unhappy sound under his breath, a little bit of a growl. "I didn't hear anything but I can't pick out everyone in the city at the same time."

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"It's sort of a lot of people. Any idea where to look? If it was vampires we could check the cemeteries, see if anyone is hiding bodies out... anywhere, but I guess we have no idea whether it was a vampire attack in the first place."

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"We really don't. Do you know any friends of theirs who we can ask where they were seen last?"

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"Cordelia Chase picks on her sometimes? I think maybe she's friends with Xander? I don't really remember ever seeing her talking to anyone else. She's probably in a lot of Dennis's classes, I guess."

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Sigh. "All right. Thanks."

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"Sorry. I'm not acquaintances with every single person in the school yet."

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"I'm not mad at you, I'm not disappointed in you, I don't think there's something that you reasonably could have identified as a good decision in advance that'd have changed anything. I -" he shakes his head like a horse shaking off a fly. "Do you want to go ask their friends, or do you want me to?"

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"I can do it. Back in a bit."

Dennis doesn't know anything, but gives her an additional weirdness point for asking. Cordelia hasn't seen Willow, but did see Jesse at the Bronze and wants her to know that he's a tremendously uncool loser with delusions of having a shot in hell with her. Xander was going to meet Willow at the Bronze last night, and he thought she just thought better of it, but given that she was absent today he's concluded that she's probably really sick or something.

"So probably they were both at the Bronze last night," she concludes, after reporting all of this to Alex.

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"What's the Bronze?"

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"Oh! It's a club. Sort of the club, for high school students, since they card at the bar and not at the door. It's always crowded in the evenings so I think the vampires like it. - I'd have mentioned it before, sorry, I just assumed you knew about it - do you want to see my map of Sunnydale later - "

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"Sounds good. Want to head over there and ask the staff if they left with anyone?"

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"Yeah, OK. It'll be crowded, though, it's Friday night."

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"Huh, so it is. Well, maybe that'll make us less memorable."

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So they go to the Bronze. The staff doesn't seem to remember Willow or Jesse - some of them weren't even working last night - and also doesn't want to tell random people who other random people left with. 

At some point after sunset, the person at the door is pushed inside and the door is locked shut. Karen is asking another staff person and won't immediately notice the six vampires at the door.

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Not wanting to tell them isn't much of a barrier, he'll read minds for something like this. Not remembering is a much bigger one. 

He notices the door closing and finds his way through the crowd towards Karen.

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"Hi! I don't think anyone remembers."

The vampires make their way to the front of the Bronze; a few of them grab people, though they don't immediately try to kill anyone.

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Might want to take one alive if we can, to get a location out of. Why don't you take down the ones who aren't holding people, less messy if you miss.

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OK. Cool cool cool. She looks around to identify the vampires.

Someone kills the lights and puts a spotlight on the stage, where a vampire in game face is looking down at everyone.

"Ladies and gentlemen," says the vampire. "There is no cause for alarm."

Karen decides to make her way to the stage, actually.

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They should probably work on tactical communication. That can wait, though. He scans around to make sure he knows where all the vampires are.

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In her defense, the vampire on the stage isn't holding anyone. When she's near the stage, there's one vampire to her left offstage, one to her right onstage with a person, and then the one with the spotlight. Plus there's the one at the lights; she knows there are more but she doesn't know where they all are.

"Actually," says the vampire with the spotlight on him, "There is cause for alarm, it just won't do any good. Bring me the first."

She looks up and sees that the first is - oh hi Dennis.

Yeah this is not happening.

She moves. She pulls out her stake, stabs the vampire to her left, vaults onstage and stabs the one in the spotlight mid-evil-mologue, pulls the one off of Dennis and stabs her, then looks around for other vampires who need to be immediately stabbed and realizes that she can't see them because the rest of the room is dark and there is a spotlight on her. 

The whole maneuver takes about three seconds. She gives herself an A minus for murder, a C for preparedness, and an F minus for secret identity-ing.

Sorry sorry sorry, she thinks, in case Alex can hear that.

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The ones at the doors hesitate and then try to open the doors when the one in the spotlight is killed. He stabs one, stabs two, clubs number three over the head hard enough to kill a human, turns around to see Karen blinking in the spotlight, turns back to club number three again.

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Karen cannot actually see this. She should... probably go for whoever is controlling that spotlight? She jumps offstage and climbs the stairs. The one at the lights notices this and runs, but not fast enough; she remembers that they were supposed to take one of them alive and attempts to beat the one at the lights into a coma. She doesn't super know how to beat people into comas so she mostly just kicks the vampire in the head as hard as she can until she stops moving.

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He surveys the room, satisfies himself that no one else in it is a vampire, notes that they now have two alive vampires, stakes the one he's holding, and heads over to Karen.

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"Hi! Sorry about the - sorry. I got a vampire?"

People below them are mostly panicking and attempting to leave the building as quickly as possible.

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"Let's get it out of here so we can get directions to wherever it's headed. I think one of the missing kids was among the vampires here tonight but not the other, does that match what you saw -"

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"I don't think I got a good look at... any of them." She slings her vampire over her shoulder.

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"We can get out onto the roof." He does that. "I saw -" face, face, face, face, face, face, face.

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" - OK, that looks right. So the one in the spotlight had a symbol on his face? Or maybe it's just a weird-looking scar?"

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He sends it again. Probably not just a weird-looking scar.

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"...OK. They were... weirdly open about what they were doing, for vampires."

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"Yeah. I guess vampires planning to kill everyone in there might be that reckless, but they shouldn't've been so sure. Pretty careless not to check for you, if they knew there was a slayer in town."

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"Maybe they didn't? I haven't been doing that much looking for vampires since you showed up, and the ones I staked earlier were all alone."

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"Well, if they haven't noticed let's keep it that way." What kind of condition is the one Karen's carrying in?

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Her skull is looking just a liiittle bit smashed. She'll recover, of course, but it may actually take her a while to regain consciousness.

(It hasn't, actually, but Darla has decided that anyone who can curb-stomp the Order of Aurelius that quickly is probably fairly dangerous, and as a magically reanimated dead body she's actually very good at playing dead.)

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"There's vampire-safe handcuffs in my car," he tells Karen, "let's head that way. We can leave her with Michael and then - I guess our best guess is the cemeteries?"

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"I think we should ask Zeke if he's heard anything. Or, well, I should ask Zeke. Otherwise yeah."

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"Sounds good." He gets vampire-safe handcuffs out of his car. "You go ask Zeke, I drop this on Michael until it wakes up?"

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She nods seriously, hands over her captive, and heads for Zeke's crypt. 

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He cuffs the vampire to the metal frame of the car and drives to Michael's. 

 

 

Michael has a cottage that looks humble on the outside and is fairly ridiculous on the inside, with an amphitheater and a room entirely consumed by a personal computer and an indoor swimming pool with a waterfall and four underground floors full of artwork. There's a live-in human servant with instructions to never let anyone in including at gunpoint, because Elves don't relevantly count as residents. There is one underground floor (the second of the four) where the servant doesn't live and which can be accessed via tunnel; Macalaurë protects himself by the simple expedient of not sleeping there and checking whether there are people there every time he goes in. It's their general strategy when they're operating in a city where they may have made some enemies.

Tyelcormo sleeps in the woods. It hasn't failed him yet.

He drags the prisoner into the unprotected underground floor.

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"What's this?"

 

(They're speaking Quenya.)

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"Weirdly bold vampires attacked at the Bronze tonight. They might have a living prisoner, and they almost definitely have a nest somewhere. Karen hit her pretty hard - good kid -"

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"Yes, she is."

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"We're exploring some other avenues but if they don't pan out we may need to ask her some questions. Do you have a cage here which can -"

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"Nothing's broken out of the 4x00 series yet, right?"

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"There was an incident last year in Cleveland. The demon in question stored the ingredients for a shapeshifting spell in their bodily cavities and then turned into a rat. We made the grate smaller and, uh, we check."

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"Then I'm happy to keep an eye on her."

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"Cool." They cage the prisoner. "I'm going to go worry until Karen surfaces, give me a call if this one wakes up."

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"Is everything all right?"

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"Yeah. Just - I hope you're right about humans when they die."

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"Are you, though, it's not really an overwhelmingly optimistic picture."

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"If they're not gone then someday somehow we can fix it."

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Nod.

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He goes back into town and paces.

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Karen arrives at Zeke's crypt and politely knocks on the door. It's been - man, at least a couple weeks, and the last time she saw him they really didn't talk much.

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"Hey Karen, what's up?"

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"Hi! Really weird thing happened at the Bronze just now, and I thought maybe you might possibly know a thing? There were like seven vampires and they attacked the place in force, including having one of them stand onstage and give an evil monologue with a spotlight on him. It was all very above the radar. Vamps are usually subtler."

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"...Wow, what the fuck? Uh... was the evil monologue guy kinda obnoxious and self-important? All like," he puts on a pretty decent impression of the guy's Speechifyin' Voice, accent and all, "'I was at the Crucifixion, you know' and 'Children, I haven't lost a fight since before you were turned' and stuff? I think his name's Luke. He's with some kinda cult. They've been making noise about doing something interesting but not, you know, any more than most people who never actually get around to doing anything interesting. I stay out of their way, I don't want Luke noticing I can't stand him and deciding to beat me up about it."

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"Yeah, that sounds like him." She pulls herself up to sit on one of the stone boxy thingies that's supposed to hold a body. "Know anything about the cult? Also why Luke had that weird symbol on his face? Obviously this is super off the record."

Is that how you use the phrase 'off the record'? She should really look up at some point what you're allowed to do with things that are off the record.

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"I dunno, he didn't have a weird symbol on his face last time I saw him. Did you fight him? Are you okay? He seemed pretty scary."

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"Yeah, I'm OK." She doesn't look a hundred percent OK, though she doesn't appear to be meaningfully injured. "I had to kill a bunch of them. It just - happened really fast. I think one of them was a kid from school, before - I guess stuff happened to him."

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"Oh, yikes. That doesn't sound like fun at all."

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"It wasn't. I don't... I don't like killing people. But I don't like watching people die, either."

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"Yeah, that must suck."

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"It does. Thank you for the affirming platitudes, they help for some reason." She sighs. "Are you sure you don't know where the cult people live? One of classmate's friends is gone too and I don't know that they've killed her yet."

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"Uhh..." He tries to think if he's forgetting anything relevant. "...I can tell you what graveyards I've seen them hang out in but that might not mean anything. Sorry. It's mostly that one that's like two streets down from the Bronze and that's a pretty busy graveyard."

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She pulls out a notebook. "Go ahead and tell me anyway, I gotta at least try to find her before they kill her. ...and thanks."

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"Hey, what are friends for, right?"

He names the graveyard in question and the street it's on.

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"You're a good friend. OK, I have to go now - can't cry about killing people until after I find Willow, gotta schedule things like that these days. Thanks again!"

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"See you! Good luck rescuing people!"

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"Thanks!" And she's off.

Doesn't actually remember where she's supposed to meet Alex, so -

Paging Alex? I don't know if the telepathy works this way but I guess if you can hear this do the telepathy thing? We should really go over the specific limits of this at some point.

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I got you. I can hear people I know from a couple miles. I’m not listening most of the time, though, which is why you want to specifically direct it at me, that’s harder to tune out.

I can hear Michael about a thousand miles away but we’ve known each other awhile.

On my way.

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Oh. Cool. That seems good.

She's standing on a random park bench because it occurred to her that going directly to the graveyard could plausibly be a bad idea. She gives him her notebook. "Got a likely graveyard in terms of hideout location, plus some very vague information about the vampire cult in question. Spotlight guy was named Luke, doesn't usually have a symbol on his head, does go in for dramatics. They've been 'making noise about doing something interesting' but I do not have specifics. Sorry."

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You say sorry a lot. Combat communications is definitely something where practice actually matters and you'll get better at it over time so I guess I can parse 'sorry' there as 'I noticed a new thing I need to learn' but having spotty intel is just life, it's super not in 'sorry' territory.

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"OK. I guess." Now she kind of feels sorry for being sorry but also feels like apologizing for it would be pretty absurd. "Do we sweep the graveyard or wait for the other one to wake up? There could be more of them and we don't want them to get hungry, I think."

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Yeah, I agree, let's keep moving while we're waiting for the other one to wake up.

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So she heads for the graveyard. 

There are a lot of graves; there is a somewhat more reasonable number of crypts. Some of the crypts have tunnels under them. A few of them lead down to a whole connected tunnel system, which seems to also break into the sewers in several places.

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We haven't practiced with this yet, but I can send you what I can see. He does that. It's slightly disconcerting since it's from his viewpoint instead of hers, but he can see in the dark. 

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Woah. (Slayers should be able to see in the dark, she thinks, given their job description, but for whatever reason they can't.) 

Can you hear anything? If there were vampires anywhere down here they would probably be making something in the way of sounds...

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He listens.

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Someone is monologuing. It's a ways away, over that way. 

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Vampires. He bounces this to Karen and they start winding that way.

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So they head that way. The person is still monologuing by the time Karen is within earshot of him. They seem to have a little underground cavern up ahead.

So do we... do we just go in?

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I think you should line up a shot, step around the corner, and then take it. Then we'll deal with the audience.

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OK.

So she accepts a bow, readies, aims, steps around the corner, and -

Killing people mid-evil-monologue is about as satisfying as killing a person can possibly be, which is not really very satisfying at all but is something that she can very grimly appreciate a tiny bit on some level anyway.

There are three vampires left, and they're surprised - it's not a terrifically hard fight. There's the body of a teenage girl in the corner.

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The missing one. That's not surprising but it sucks. 

 

"We should clear out these sewers and make them vampire-unfriendly sometime."

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"Yeah. Sometime. - do you think there's a way to get the body someplace where the authorities can find it? Just so her parents can have a funeral or whatever?"

She's not crying. Actually not. She's digging her nails into her palms but she's not crying.

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"Yeah. I can carry it, just gonna put on gloves so I'm not accused of murder."

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"OK. Thanks. ...do we stake the body or behead it or something? Just in case?"

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Nod. "Stake's not as hard on the family - you can do a little splinter, minimum length is about the length of your finger -"

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"OK."

Broken arrow, in and out, can't see the hole at all when her clothes are on. She figures she's gotta learn to do this part sometime. They still have a body at the end of it.

"I'm gonna.... I'm gonna go home. If that's OK."

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"Of course."

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So she goes home. 

She doesn't cry.

She does, like, one math problem of her homework, and she goes downstairs and raids the fridge for leftovers, and she stabs her notebook with a pencil too hard, and she blasts Christmas music until her sister knocks on her door and tells her that it's September and she has to keep her music at a reasonable volume until Advent, and she throws a bouncy ball at her ceiling and then misjudges the force she needs and accidentally sends the ball through the plaster. She resolves to fix it herself in the morning. She tries to sleep, and it doesn't work, and she tries to pray, and it doesn't work, and so she hides in her closet with the lights on and writes a story about a world where it is very hard to bring people back to life, it takes years of work and the survival of countless terrifying trials, but you can do it, and at the end of all of the trials an old woman asks you whether you loved the person, whether you tried your hardest to save them, whether you have in all ways at all times acted responsibly.

She tears the page out and waits until dawn and then sets to work fixing her ceiling.

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He leaves Willow's body at the edge of the cemetery where a passerby will see it, and heads over to Macalaure's. 

"It awake yet?"

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"Not showing any signs of it."

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He opens the door to the cage, closes it behind him, and presses a cross to her leg.

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The vampire is awake! And annoyed. 

"Ohh. Five more minutes."

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"Sorry, but he's gonna have an attack of conscience by then, so I'm in a hurry."

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"I can't actually stop you," he observes mildly. "I am kinda wondering what you even need to know."

Permalink Eye

"Monologuing fellow in the sewers. Who was he, and what was he up to?"

Permalink Eye

"You're going to have to be a lot more specific."

Permalink Eye

"Old, bald, skin looked like he's either very old or he thinks something caustic is a form of moisturizer, you and your buddies brought him a couple of Sunnydale High students yesterday..."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, you mean the Master."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, tell me about him. Friends? Allies? Evil schemes?"

Permalink Eye

"Oh, nothing terribly interesting. Murder, mayhem. Hell on Earth, if all goes well."

Permalink Eye

"Go on."

Permalink Eye

"Look, I don't know what the plan is if the Harvest fails. Give him time. But he'll find a way to free himself, and then - fun and games for everyone."

Permalink Eye

"Mmmhmm." He stands up. He stakes her.

Permalink Eye

"Was that really responsible?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't think this was anything - grand, or interesting, or big. Just a bunch of vampires, all dead now, but a day later than we shoulda done it. Will you come down and do the sewers with me this weekend?"

Permalink Eye

"Mmhmm. Stay here tonight, on the off-chance he has some allies you angered?"

Permalink Eye

"I hate your decor." But he stays.

Permalink Eye

She considers confessing, just so she can talk about how sad she is without any appreciable consequences, but she doesn't really actually think she's committed any mortal sins in this mess, so she skips it and just goes around sort of glumly for the next two days. She skips weekend training but promises she'll be back on the ball on Monday.

On Monday there is Dennis.

Permalink Eye

"Hi! What the fuck."

Permalink Eye

"You don't think you could let this one slide?"

Permalink Eye

"You made three dudes explode in front of like a hundred people, with a spotlight on you."

Permalink Eye

"Yes. And the explanation for this is - bye."

She runs off to class, which will allow her to avoid questions for, uh, the two hours that she has until gym class.

Permalink Eye

Where they're going to talk about how to escape kidnapping and what to do if something is stalking you in a dark alley!

Permalink Eye

These seem like important things to know! 

They should all pay attention to this probably.

Permalink Eye

"You realize you can't actually make me forget that you made three dudes explode by running away every time I ask about it. And how come nobody else remembers you making the three guys explode? Because I asked someone else about it and he said he thought you were a guest member of a local band."

Permalink Eye

"...I can definitely explain that but first I have to get through gym class."

Permalink Eye

"All right. You're not getting out of this, though."

Permalink Eye

After gym class she packs up her stuff.

Heyyy Alex, when the people on high declared from on high that vampires should not become common knowledge, how non-common did they want that knowledge to stay?

Permalink Eye

I'm not going to announce it to the class but if people are putting two and two together it's not the first time that's happened. It's okay to tell your friends.

Permalink Eye

OK then. Thanks.

She doesn't super have friends but this seems like a kind of irrelevant distinction. Dennis meets up with her at lunch.

"So the way it is, is - Sunnydale is situated on something that some people call a Hellmouth. It makes, uh, weird stuff come here, and happen in this area. Weird stuff like things that are, uh, colloquially known as vampires."

Permalink Eye

 

"So what are they actually?"

Permalink Eye

"Uh, I've just been calling them vampires. They drink blood and kill people and stuff. They're usually way more below the radar than they were the other night, the other night was weird."

Permalink Eye

"And you're... you kill these things. With our gym teacher. Who is not really a gym teacher."

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"I mean, he is. I assume they're paying him and stuff."

Permalink Eye

"You know what I mean."

Permalink Eye

So she answers questions in broad strokes; she doesn't say much of anything about Alex except that he's a monster hunter, but she does answer questions about various kinds of monsters and respond to various objections that monsters are mostly not real.

She eventually hits on what happened to Willow and Jesse the other day, and then the bell rings, and that pretty much ends the conversation.

She stops by for training after journalism club.

Permalink Eye

"I want you to practice navigating with my senses, it's useful when it's dark out. We should be able to practice in the gym."

Permalink Eye

"Cool. Sounds good."

She thinks she's managing to keep her distraction level at 'only sort of kind of distracted by unprocessed emotions', but it's worse than usual.

Permalink Eye

He notices. 

"Should we wrap up early?"

Permalink Eye

"I dunno. We don't have to, I can keep going."

Permalink Eye

"I didn't ask that. It's pretty bad, the first time someone dies in close enough proximity that it feels like maybe you coulda been there."

Permalink Eye

"I guess." She pauses. " - but I couldn't've been. I don't know how I could have - I can't, actually, keep everyone in this town from dying. Not if the Hellmouth is going to keep attracting new weird things, even if we figure out how to manage the vampires. So it's going to happen again."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

"So I need to be able to deal. I just need to figure out how to do that. Consistently."

Permalink Eye

"I guess. But that doesn't have to mean running around in the dark right now, if you wanna be doing something else."

Permalink Eye

"I guess." She sits down on the bleachers. "I don't know what I want to be doing right now. Dealing. But I don't know how to make that one happen. Struggling to come up with a second choice."

Permalink Eye

"Hey, you're dealing. You're here. You sat through all that school."

Permalink Eye

"I guess.

 

"D'you think you could show me how to make stuff out of dandelions?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I can do that."

Permalink Eye

And she makes a lopsided little basket, and she goes home later, and she practices, and she reads, and she writes, and she does (some of) her homework, and she goes to Mass, and she answers increasingly complicated questions for Dennis, and she deals.

Cheerleading tryouts are the next week. Karen wouldn't normally be there, but someone has to cover it for the paper, and most of the other people on the school paper staff are not super up for doing things. 

A girl bursts into flames during them. She's not dead, but the burns are going to prevent her from doing anything sport-like for quite some time.

"So I feel like this falls under the umbrella of 'weird stuff'," she says, after going to find Alex for their usual practice time.

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, sure sounds like it. A spell, maybe? Probably? I can ask for someone to look into spells to make people burst into flames."

Permalink Eye

"Why some random cheerleader, though? Do the forces of darkness not have better things to do?"

Permalink Eye

"Super unclear what the forces of darkness want these days, and I bet half the shit in Sunnydale isn't even them."

Permalink Eye

She sighs. "All right. Should we be... how do you prepare for more students bursting into flames, even?"

Permalink Eye

"Good question. We can check that all the fire extinguishers work. We can look up what spells it might be, they'll have counters. I can start reading everyone's minds to see if someone is contemplating how they're going to light students on fire at random."

Permalink Eye

"That sounds rude," says Karen, uncertainly. "I guess it's less rude than being lit on fire, but it's going to affect a lot more people. But we don't want anyone to die because you didn't..."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, we don't normally do it for exactly that reason. ....I thought about saying 'if someone dies I'll do that' but then I thought about how I'd feel about it if someone died and then I did that and found a fire demon living under the gym and mad about the banging sounds, or whatever."

Permalink Eye

"...this is true. All right. I unhappily condone this strategy."

Permalink Eye

"Hopefully it was a weird one-off accident and stops now."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Hopefully."

Permalink Eye

But in case it's not he reads the kids' minds in gym class. 

He is expecting this to be completely horrible so he makes a field trip of it, getting surprise grant money from the National Foundation For Children's Physical Education to take them out to a ropes course with a zipline and a gorgeous view all the way to the sea. They take turns doing the zip line. He supervises and reads minds and stares out at the horizon, listening through Macalaure's ears to Macalaure singing in a cathedral at the same time.

Permalink Eye

The kids are mostly having a lot of fun, either because they're doing the zipline thing or because they're getting out of classes and getting to spend time talking to their friends. When they're not immediately having fun they think about lots of stuff.

This kid is worrying about how he's going to fix things for his dead brother, who he reanimated a couple months ago. This kid seems to be thinking exclusively about artistically terrible lyrics for his band. This kid is thinking about spells that he can do to make his parents stop giving him a hard time about not getting his homework done. This kid is worried that his brother is raising some kind of evil monkey goblin in their basement. This kid is in the middle of an elaborate fantasy about raping one of his female classmates. This kid is terrified that people are just - not seeing her, at all sometimes, it's like she's invisible? This kid is missing his friend Willow, who everyone now knows is dead. This kid thinks ziplining is the BEST THING EVER. This kid seems to actually be a zombie. This kid is very clearly suicidally depressed. This kid is plotting Star Trek fanfic. This kid is really worried about the fact that she keeps losing six hours of time on alternating Thursdays because tomorrow is an alternating Thursday. This kid is thinking about whether racecar driving is more or less dangerous than hockey. This kid is periodically thinking about kissing boys and then telling himself that he needs to STOP because that's GAY and he's not GAY. This kid is thinking about asking a girl out but is super worried that she's going to find out that he's half-demon. This kid is worried that someone is going to figure out that his dummy is sentient and has an ancient vendetta against a race of demons. This kid is trying to figure out how she can avoid showering at home, because she doesn't want her foster brother to get sent back to his old house but she thinks he's found a way to spy on her in the shower. This kid is thinking that high school was way less interesting when she went twenty years ago, and also doesn't seem to be a kid.

Permalink Eye

Well, okay.

 

What the fuck.

Permalink Eye

Uh, where to even start. 

 

He should check in on the reanimated brother and the potential monkey goblin. He should pay close attention to Ms. Alternating Thursdays tomorrow. He should invite the girl who thinks she's invisible to apply for the ...fencing team? archery club? that he's starting up, fuck, why did he take this stupid job. He should invite I'm Not Gay too, because there's probably something to be done there. He needs to get the suicidally depressed kid some music. The half-demon is probably fine? Right? Half-demons don't have any particular issues? He did not know that zombies would tend to continue going to school like nothing happened but, uh, that seems promising actually, he'll pass it along. The dummy.... eh, that's not that big a deal probably. 

Why is anyone who isn't legally obliged to go to high school in high school?

Permalink Eye

High school students get to do great things like go ziplining and win awards for being beautiful and popular. But it's so much harder in this body - it's uglier and fatter and she can't get it to move right. It's terrible. If she doesn't do something soon she won't be able to be a cheerleader at all.

Permalink Eye

Uh, okay. That's a promising candidate for the person who lit the cheerleader on fire but it's honestly way down his list of priorities right now. 

 

 

After they get back to the school he has Macalaure meet him with a Walkman.

Permalink Eye

"This is kind of dubious, you know."

Permalink Eye

"What, don't you do it?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, but, uh, more consensually, I can tell people that it's religious music and it'll make them feel happier and they should listen specifically paying attention to effects on their mood and see if they like them -"

Permalink Eye

"Well, we work with what we've got."

Permalink Eye

"It seems like you're kinda doing the 'a problem exists somewhere where I can see it, I have ridiculous resources, I guess I'd better throw them at it' thing."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, yeah? If you guys think that instead we should spend all our effort on malaria eradication then you can cut me off, it's not my job to figure out if this is better than that." He pockets the Walkman. "Thanks."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

"A lot of your classmates have problems," he tells Karen.

Permalink Eye

"They're teenagers going to a magical high school with like a twelve percent mortality rate. It'd be sort of weird if they didn't. Any we can do anything about?"

Permalink Eye

"I have a cure for depression but I need to figure out how to explain to kids why they should take it. Someone's a zombie but I guess that's just fine? There's a reanimated brother and a monkey demon to check on. It seems like the cheerleader may have been lit on fire by a bitter forty-something woman in a teenager's body who wants to make the cheer squad."

Permalink Eye

"...OK, I'm gonna need five seconds to process all of that." Pause. "You have a cure for depression?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. - it's undergoing clinical trials and stuff, it just takes forever to get something legal to distribute as medication in the U.S.. We've been working on it for decades but supposedly it'll go faster now that we have more people in the government."

Permalink Eye

"OK. Solid. I don't actually know what to do about forty-something women possessing teenagers and the fact that they can do that is pretty creepy. I can check on the monkey demon if I have a location, and - whose brother and in what sense is he reanimated?"

Permalink Eye

"Chris Epps, dunno what kind of reanimated except that he didn't think he could just get back to his old life."

Permalink Eye

"So worse off than zombie guy. - does the zombie thing scale? Like - it can't be that bad, if we haven't noticed..."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah I passed it along to people who might be interested in that. I'm guessing it's a pretty local effect but still."

Permalink Eye

She nods. "Who's the zombie?"

Permalink Eye

"Jack O'Toole."

Permalink Eye

" - oh. You know what, nevermind, that doesn't scale. Any ideas on the weirdly old cheerleader?"

Permalink Eye

"Wait, what about Jack O'Toole should make us despair of widespread zombification as a measure to prevent humans dying? The weirdly old cheerleader is Amy Madison, or is possessing Amy Madison or impersonating Amy Madison."

Permalink Eye

"He has a knife named Katie and he waves it at people. - I realize this sounds like it's not much in the way of evidence but I'm not very optimistic."

Permalink Eye

"Is that the zombification, though? Was he like that before?"

Permalink Eye

"I dunno, how long has he been a zombie?"

Permalink Eye

"Didn't catch that, sorry."

Permalink Eye

" - I guess if we want to be good scientists then we can at least compare whatever happened to Jack O'Toole to whatever happened to Chris Epps's brother. I guess. Probably we can find some dead person who doesn't terribly mind." She sighs heavily. "I'm going to check on the monkey demon, you figure out whether there are any ways to counter bodily possession or shape-changing spells, we can regroup later and investigate various zombies, and if you think of anything that could run in the school paper to influence kids to take some kind of suspicious depression cure then I'll do my best?"

Permalink Eye

"You could publish a review, I guess. It's music. It's really pretty. Maca- uh, Michael recorded it."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, music is way less suspicious than most things it could be! We can totally get people to listen to music. Somehow."

The first two syllables of Father Michael's real name are definitely getting recorded in her Notes About Not-Archangels, that's how this game works.

Permalink Eye

He hands her the Walkman. "Here you go. It's pretty subtle. There's a version that's not subtle at all but it went over worse with patients."

Permalink Eye

"Neat. So I'll write about this - I'll need a thing to call it and like a place that it can be obtained - and I'll check on the monkey demon situation annnnd I'll see you tomorrow to talk about protecting cheerleaders?"

Permalink Eye

"Sounds like a plan."

Permalink Eye

"Good talk, coach."

So she gets a location for the monkey demon and investigates the house of Andrew, Tucker, and Jacob Wells, where she finds that Tucker has a whole bunch of weird stuff in his basement, but he insists that the demons are 'pets' and that they are tame despite the fact that a lot of them appear to be attempting to gnaw through the bars on their cages.

...Paging Alex, I wanted to be cool and handle this myself, but I actually have no idea what to do about the fact that these high school students have like six different demons in their basement.

Permalink Eye

Yeah, that sounds a bit complicated. Did you see the demons? Do they look okay?

Permalink Eye

They're momentarily contained, but not very well. They're mostly angry and..... scared, I think.

Permalink Eye

I'm going to come on over.

Permalink Eye

If you think it's necessary. I guess I don't super know how to send them back wherever they should be on my own. Sorry.

She gives Tucker a stern lecture about keeping exotic animals in poorly-made cages and lets him know that she's going to contact someone who'll handle the situation without getting him in too much trouble.

Permalink Eye

He's there about five minutes later.

Permalink Eye

Tucker wants him to know that this is all a big misunderstanding and the animals are totally happy. The demons do not look totally happy.

Permalink Eye

"If that's so then it'll be cleared up as soon as I talk to them." 

 

He sits down in front of the cages and makes a strange sound low in his throat and gives the demons concepts - afraid, safe, comfortable, in pain, hungry, scared - to communicate.

Permalink Eye

The demons are NOT comfortable and do NOT think they are safe. Most of them are scared. All of them are VERY UPSET. One of them is full but it thinks it's maybe full of something that isn't really food. This one wants to KILL EVERYONE. This one is a baby and misses its mom. 

Permalink Eye

He sends all of this to Tucker.

Permalink Eye

Tucker is pretty freaked out that the school gym teacher is a telepath. 

"So obviously I have some things to learn about demon care," he says, nervously eyeing the basement exit.

Permalink Eye

"Uh huh. So send them home and I'll get you some better books and you can summon them again once you have a nice space for them and a plan to treat them well."

Permalink Eye

Tucker frowns and sighs heavily and mutters something under his breath about people for the ethical treatment of demons, but he goes upstairs and gets his spellbooks.

It takes him a couple hours to reverse all of the summoning spells, but he does it.

Permalink Eye

"Thank you! I think you'll be much safer if you learn how to summon responsibly."

Permalink Eye

Tucker seems pretty disappointed by all of this. His brothers let him know that he's very smart and he'll definitely be able to do it better next time.

Permalink Eye

Karen is outside staring at the sky, because at some point she got bored of watching people chant at monkey-dog-things.

"All better?"

Permalink Eye

"They're home."

Permalink Eye

She nods.

"Where is home, for demons? I mean, for the ones that aren't... demon-demons."

Permalink Eye

"There're a lot of different dimensions. Some of them are hell dimensions where everything is terrible and some of them are just different. Most of the hell dimensions are complicated, not the kind of place you could invade and do better. I think whether it's called a hell dimension or not in our books is as much a matter of who was there taking notes as of the world itself. If you were a chicken and you did some magic travel to a factory farm here, you'd figure this was a hell dimension.

 

There's one I know of that's pretty nice but not many people are the kinda people who can be happy there."

Permalink Eye

"This one's pretty OK. Apart from all of the random death and factory farms and dead babies and wars and poverty and - maybe this one's a fixer-upper. We're gonna fix it up some, though. Right?"

Permalink Eye

“That’s the plan.”

Permalink Eye

"OK. ...thanks. For helping fix it up."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, I tried the thing where instead you comfortably ignore it and it's not all that comfortable really."

Permalink Eye

"It seems like it wouldn't be."

So she goes home, and she fixes the little broken pieces of the world that she she can reach. She writes a music review and alerts students about where they can pick up their own recordings; it won't immediately make them popular, but maybe a few kids will pick up copies, and maybe a few kids will suggest it to their friends. She's still stuck on the Amy Madison situation at the end of the day, though, and at the end of the day it is common knowledge that Cordelia Chase - a cheerleader - was suddenly blinded and had to be driven home early by her parents.

"Do we... confront her?" she asks, after school. "Because I'm good with confronting her if you think it's the best idea, but I'm sort of worried that she's going to jump into one of our bodies if we do, and that sounds super hard to deal with for everyone."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, it'd be a little messy. Potentially a lot messy, if she gets memories from people she imitates. This is probably a job for someone who knows how to do the counterspell that sends her back to wherever she came from."

Permalink Eye

"Fair," she says, in the tone of someone who sort of feels like fate has set out to make sure that she, personally, gets to look as useless as possible from now on. "You know someone?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I'll call. I can hook you up with someone who teaches magic, too, if you wanna learn it."

Permalink Eye

She makes a little bit of a face. "I want to know things. And know what I can do in the world myself. I don't want to... go worshipping Star Trek aliens with delusions of godhood."

Permalink Eye

"It's not really my thing either but plenty of spells are more 'we welcome your presence' than 'we think you're great', for what it's worth."

Permalink Eye

"I can talk to them, I guess. Maybe some of the Star Trek aliens are all right. It'd be a little unfair to automatically discount someone if they just want to help, but they can only notice people who burn flowers and not people who think the words 'paging Alex'."

Permalink Eye

"I think there's probably some beings described by that."

Permalink Eye

"OK. But moratorium on magical nonsense until I know anything about it, I agree. Do I at least get to talk to Chris Epps and figure out what's going on with his brother?"

Permalink Eye

"Seems fine to me. At minimum it'd be good to know if it's something different than what's going on with Jack O'Toole."

Permalink Eye

"...fine, I will also face down Katie. But I want a cookie for pushing myself after."

Hopefully if this is completely ridiculous it'll automatically be parsed as a joke. Hopefully.

Permalink Eye

"All right, noted."

Permalink Eye

Karen doesn't have any friendship points with Chris Epps. You know what Karen does have, though? Dead parents.

"Hey," she says, at lunch the next day, before Dennis can intercept her. "I - um, don't think this is crazy or anything? You won't laugh?"

     "Sure, what - "

"I heard that you can raise the dead."

     " - I don't know what you're talking about," says Chris, who clearly knows what she's talking about.

"Oh," says Karen. "I just - sorry, it was stupid. I just - my parents died a couple months ago. But obviously they're just - I mean they're gone."

     And now Chris feels like a dick. "Oh, I - I mean I'm not saying it's impossible, just - raising the dead, you know, that's heavy stuff - "

"You've looked into it?" she asks, sitting down at the table.

     "Well - not extensively. People have theorized about it. But even if it could be done, a couple months is way too long - you have to get to people before the tissue damage sets in. A few days, maybe, at the absolute most - much better if you can get to them within twelve hours."

She takes notes. She keeps the conversation going. She gets an invitation to his house to look over his books.

Paging Alex. This is a report, not a request for immediate assistance. Very likely doctor Frankenstein. It must be a Hellmouth thing, if it were easy enough to reanimate the dead that a high school student could do it then it wouldn't be something that everyone thinks it impossible. But Epps thinks he's using pure science; he's not casting spells.

Permalink Eye

Impressive kid. Any guesses about what's wrong with his brother such that he doesn't just come back to school?

Permalink Eye

Not yet. I'm gonna head to his house after school; if the brother's still hanging out there then I guess we'll find out.

She doesn't get access to the basement the first time they hang out, but it doesn't take her very long. Maybe she has a trustworthy face. When Chris does, eventually, admit to having reanimated the dead, and subsequently introduce her to his brother Daryl, she's..... underwhelmed.

     "Don't look at me," says Daryl, with entirely more feeling than Karen thinks is really necessary.

"It really doesn't look that bad."

     "I'm hideous. My own mother hasn't seen me, do you know what it would do to her?"

"You're... I mean, you're a little discolored and a little less symmetrical, but so are lots of normal people who haven't died, you know?"

     "No one could love a face like this. What, could you?"

 

 

Paging Alex. I think I'm being asked out by a zombie. I really didn't have a plan for this situation.

 

Permalink Eye

You have that whole religion, right? Isn't that a good way to let guys down easy? I'm on my way -

Permalink Eye

I mean he's not a dangerous zombie. Probably. He's just gonna make me look super uncool. I'm pretty sure you can't save me from uncoolness.

 

"I feel like... I mean, there are lots of people out there with diseases and stuff, you know? But like - you're alive, you know? You might not be, you know, the most popular kid in school anymore, but - you can watch movies, and you can go see sunsets, and - maybe you have to wear a ski mask or something, although honestly I think people will mostly be too polite to stare, and - you don't actually have to hide in this basement indefinitely, you know?"

Daryl does not seem super appeased by this.

Permalink Eye

What's even the problem, is it something cosmetic surgery can handle?

Permalink Eye

Honestly it looks like it? He's mostly concerned about how ugly he is. It's not even that bad. I guess everyone does know that he's dead and stuff, which sort of complicates things logistically, but - and we don't know that the effect will hold up if he leaves the Hellmouth -

Permalink Eye

Yeah I guess there's that. Uh, suggest plastic surgery anyway? Having logistics be the barrier to your dreams can be a lot nicer than having it be something that doesn't look doable, even if the logistics are a headache.

Permalink Eye

She tentatively approaches the sobbing zombie.

"Look. Even if you think nobody's gonna talk to you now - which I bet you is false - plastic surgery exists now? I feel like there are multiple solutions to your problems. You just need some help."

     "Well how?" demands Daryl. "What, are you going to help me?"

"Yes," says Karen, after not very long of a pause at all. "I will help you."

 

Sooo, do you have a plastic surgeon and therapy for kids who have died stashed next to the anti-aircraft missiles?

Permalink Eye

Those sound like things money can buy, so, yeah, we got that. 

Permalink Eye

Bet I can get you Chris's lab notes for them.

 

Permalink Eye

Well done.

Permalink Eye

So she convinces Chris to let her borrow his notes, conditional on her getting help for his brother.

Jack O'Toole is less straightforward to investigate, given that nothing he says makes sense and also he somehow still has his knife, despite repeatedly threatening students with it on school grounds. It's kind of mysterious. Maybe he gets away with it because he's a zombie. 

 

"So he's definitely a different kind of zombie than Daryl. More than that is sort of hard to say. I felt like we were getting somewhere, but in hindsight we weren't really, and that is when he thrust the knife at me, and that is when I kidnapped Katie."

Permalink Eye

"Is Katie actually sentient or is that just a game he's playing?"

Permalink Eye

"Oh it just has a name. I think. Gosh, I really hope it's not alive. I think people just name their knives sometimes."

Permalink Eye

"That's probably all it is but just in case I know a way to check."

Permalink Eye

She hands over her kidnapped knife.

Permalink Eye

He pulls something out of a desk drawer. It looks like an elaborately embroidered handkerchief with little beads in it. He passes it over the knife. "Not a person!"

Permalink Eye

"That's good. And she's away now. So I guess if he sees me again and is upset about it he'll have to just punch me."

Permalink Eye

"Is problem-solving skills part of the Slayer powerset or are you just good at that all by yourself?"

Permalink Eye

"...I dunno. I never really tried to solve any problems before."

Permalink Eye

"It's the only way they get solved, far as I can tell. I got you a cookie." It is melty on the inside.

Permalink Eye

"Aww!" Best coach trainer telepathic alien bodyguard person ever. "I only half-solved the zombie thing, though. Any progress with Daryl? Oh, and the possessed cheerleader thing?"

Permalink Eye

"Uh, Daryl has a therapist and we'll cover plastic surgery if he and his brother can come up with the first two thousand dollars since it seemed good for Chris to get a job that isn't bustling around Daryl's sickbed and allows him to look out for him - not my call, I outsource people stuff. I'm gonna ask Amy to stay after class and unpossess her then because I want to be able to support post-possession Amy and explain what happened and so on."

Permalink Eye

She nods seriously. "Does that clear out the sidequest queue, after that? Back to generally becoming less killable and possibly figuring out the vampires thing?"

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He still needs to seduce a guy who will be willing to show up at the Tuesday archery class he's now running and be affectionate in public like it's not a big fucking deal actually, no one here will edit your brain for it. 

"Yeah, that's all the sidequests. Michael and I have been spending the weekends filling the sewers with crosses, if you want to join us for that."

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"Oh good, I was sort of worried you were going to try to convince him to bless the sewage and try to make it holy water. Yeah, I can do that. Community service builds character, or something."

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"Nah, can't do that, we don't wanna piss God off. We did try blessing the water supply in one city to see if it had salutary effects on lifespan or anything."

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"I assume it didn't do anything?"

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"Nope. It's too bad."

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"Yeah."

A couple more weeks pass. She learns some things about magic. She asks Alex if they can go over how to subdue human opponents without hurting them. She patrols. She diligently avoids Jack O'Toole.

She has a dream. She has lots of dreams, of course. People tend to. But Zeke said that her power set comes with prophetic dreams, so she's been dutifully writing them down in a notebook next to her bed, at least on days where she doesn't immediately panic about how she's totally failed to do her homework on any sort of reasonable timeframe. 

 

The dream has dogs in it. She thinks they're dogs, anyway. Something is chasing her through long grass, gaining on her, calling her name through the darkness. And then, suddenly, there isn't any grass. She's standing on a mountain, in her nightgown. There's snow, all around, for miles and miles. 

     "This is sort of your job," says Dennis. Dennis is next to her. Dennis looks like he knew there would be snow in this dream when he got dressed. "Aren't you supposed to know about these things?"

She feels herself shaking her head. "No one told me. I only got here yesterday."

     "You know we have a test on Monday," he says, sounding very unimpressed.

"I know. I wanted to ask Father Michael - "

     "He won't be there. You have to fill in the answers yourself. You get that, right?"

She frowns at him. She looks back at the tall grass, now covered in snow. "Do you think they can hear us?"

     "Probably. Hey, I'm not letting you cheat off me."

"Not even a hint?"

     He frowns. "...You have to look after the little kids. That's all I'm saying, though."

She nods, then climbs up to the top of the mountain by herself. She thinks she must have left something up there. But that can't be right; she's never made it to the top of the mountain before. She always has to go back down before she finishes.

The air laughs at her. It calls her name. She pretends she can't hear. That's very rude of her, she thinks, but she has to get the thing she left. The mountain opens up as she climbs, because it's a volcano. Light spills out of it, and clear water, and steam, because that's how volcanoes are. She pretends she doesn't notice. It isn't the volcano's fault. At the top there's a garden, and it isn't covered in snow. That must be why she isn't dressed for it - it's no good if everyone there thinks she's the kind of wimp who can't even spend a few hours climbing a mountain without a coat.

Alex is there. Maybe he's the thing she forgot? That doesn't sound quite right, but it must be.

"Hi," she says. "We have a test on Monday."

     He groans. "Not already."

"I think we've prepared pretty well. Didn't you study?"

     "That's not the problem. You're going to fall asleep," says Alex. 

"No, I won't," she says, and she's irritated, because he's right, but he shouldn't be. "I'm old enough to stay up all night this time."

The wind calls her name again. But it isn't the wind, the wind doesn't do that. They're coming, she realizes, they must have followed her up the mountain - she thought they couldn't leave the tall grass, but she doesn't know why -

Alex is gone. There are wolves here, now, instead - or something like wolves - blurry gray shapes that snarl and circle her.

She's so tired.

The gray shapes pounce, and she doesn't have a weapon. She should have asked Alex for one when he was here, but she didn't.

There are fangs in her throat.

 

She writes down everything she remembers, when she confirms that she's still in her room and has not been eaten by wolves. And then she panics about her homework. And then she remembers that they have a field trip to the zoo today.

She sits next to Alex on the bus. "Do slayers really have prophetic dreams?"

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"Yep. I don't know who sends them."

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"Huh. I mean, I did get dreams about the other slayers before you showed up, but nothing weird since. Normal dream weird, I guess. How do you tell if a dream is prophetic weird or normal weird?"

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"I'm not really sure, if they don't feel any different. Whether they start coming true, I guess?"

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"Ah. I guess that makes sense."

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"Not a good dream?"

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"I got eaten by wolves at the end. But like, I used to have lots of dreams where I'd die, sometimes multiple times in the same dream, so it could totally just be a me thing."

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"I'm honestly pretty damn sure I can keep you alive until you're thirty or so and scarier than I am."

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"...gosh, is that the plan?"

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" - yeah?"

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"Oh. I didn't know I was trying to make it to thirty."

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The Watcher's Council murders Slayers at eighteen, I don't think there's much reason to think they'd be short-lived otherwise. Obviously you want to be smart about which enemies you make and how much they know about you, but you've got time to figure that out.

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Oh.

Does this mean I have to think about getting good enough grades to get into colleges? You gotta tell me these things, man.

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I don't really get why people'd want to go to college but you can tell us where and we'll set it up.

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Wanting things sounds hard.

Thanks, though.

I guess I was figuring I had high school, and then if I made it more years after that alone than it took you to train me, then the training time was probably worth it for the world and stuff. So twenty-one. And no college, I guess, it'd get in the way.

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I mean, you wanna die, I'm sure you'll run across an opportunity, but if you're careful I don't think it has to go that way.

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I don't wanna die! Dying bad. This is why we go around preventing dying. I just have to revise my timelines, is all.

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All right, well, I'm going to stick around until you can take care of yourself and then you're gonna go not die.

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OK.

 

The zoo is nice. Nice for humans, anyway, probably some of the cages are smaller than animals would ideally prefer. It'd be weird, being stuck on the monkey island for your entire life, even if the monkey island is nice. But she pays attention, and she successfully avoids buying overpriced zoo ice cream, and she wanders around with her friends - well, with Dennis and occasionally Chris, but they're sort of her friends, now, right?

It's an all right day.

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Mercy is not, typically, the sort of person who crosses lines labeled "DO NOT CROSS". Fences exist for reasons, and there are many dangerous things in this world that she doesn't know about, most of them on the other side of one fence or another.

But she can't abide bullies, and the group of students who have convinced Lance Lincoln to head to the blocked-off hyena pen with them are definitely bullies. They are definitely planning to attack him in an isolated location. They definitely need to be given the opportunity to pick on someone less easily terrified. So she crosses the line, and she heads to the pen, and to the surprise of absolutely no one but Lance, the group is in the process of lifting their victim over the railing.

The situation demands action, and so Mercy acts.

She pulls Lance back and punches Kyle DuFours in the face.

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Elsewhere the student chaperone breaks off telling children how the lemurs feel about each visitor in turn and hurries off towards the hyena cage.

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Mercy doesn't really think that she can take four people at once. She's not expecting any of the four to fight back. In her experience, most people are cowards. 

There are four of them, though, and there's a hyena cage below them. One of the girls pins her arm to the railing. Tor Hauer twists her so she's hanging halfway over it. The hyenas have woken up, and are staring up at her, probably wondering if she's food. Lance yells something about how they're all going to get in so much trouble for this.

She's not terrified of this situation. She has one free hand. She probably only needs a few seconds to push off the railing again and punch whoever she needs to punch to go back to having two free hands.

She doesn't get a couple seconds, though. The hyenas don't move, but something passes from the hyenas to her. Beyond that, she doesn't have words to describe the experience.

The grip on her arm loosens and Tor pulls her back.

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He jogs around the corner and looks intensely irritated that nothing unacceptable seems to be going on. "This area is closed. Why did you all come down here?"

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Mercy starts giggling. Everyone but Lance starts giggling, actually, like they're all in on a joke that everyone else is really stupid for not getting.

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"You okay?" he asks Lance.

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"Yeah. I - they - uh, yeah."

He hasn't been injured. He keeps glancing worriedly at the other kids, though.

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"All of you get detention for a week for entering an unauthorized area, coulda been dangerous. If you'd thrown him in you'd be in jail so I'd say you should also thank Mercy for saving you from yourselves."

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There's more giggling, but this time it dies down.

     "Thanks," says Kyle.

"No problem," says Mercy.

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He shooes them out.

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So the kids go back to wandering around the zoo, and at the end of the day everyone goes home. 

 

A few days later, principal Flutie has Herbert the pig hang out at gym class, so that kids will see their fierce razorback mascot and remember to try their hardest for the school. (Principal Flutie may not actually understand that gym class contains very little sports these days.) You can't really just let a baby pig run around wildly, so mostly Karen is holding him and and occasionally talking to other people about how cute he is. 

There's a dog outside. She thinks it's a dog. It's peeking in through one of the windows - the ones that must be at least thirty feet up. It's peeking from above. The dog is on the roof. It looks like it's staring very intently at her, until she remembers that she's holding a pig, so probably it's staring at the pig. She stares back.

One of the kids falls on his face, across the room from her. He's very insistent that Mercy tripped him.

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He can swap partners if he'd like.

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That resolves that.

 

The next day, pieces of Herbert the pig are found where Herbert the pig is supposed to be sleeping. He appears to have been eaten. Flutie is distraught.

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So is he, actually. Herbert liked rain and was stressed out about there being so many kids around and loathed Cordelia Chase's perfume and thought the gym smelled like it ought to be tasty but wasn't and -

- and had a better life than nearly every pig out there, which he's doing nothing about because it makes him too sad -

 

He calls in sick. He goes out looking for demons.

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Welp. Time to put on her big girl pants and figure out who killed Herbert, then. Herbert hasn't been around very long, but he's cute, or was before whatever got to him did, and bringing the pig-killer to justice sounds like a job for - the Sunnydale High School Sentinel doesn't really have investigative journalists, really, but it should, and something something be the change you want to see in the world.

She asks around the school for suspects other than the weird parkour dog, because she doesn't really know how she's going to track down a dog. Lots of kids have ideas, and while nobody has anything super substantial, enough people had seen Kyle DuFours and his crew in the vicinity that she thinks she may have a lead. One of the kids mentions that Principal Flutie already asked about this earlier in the morning, at which point she figures that maybe she should go down to the principal's office and see whether Flutie's put anything together.

She's too late.

 

Paging Alex. Flutie's dead.

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Shit. Of what?

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He, uh. He was eaten. In his office. Um - I'm not a detective or anything but he's - he's, uh, he's not all dried out like he'd be if it was a while ago.

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Yup, that's recent. Can you look around - I'm sorry - I can only see what you see -

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Yeah, on it.

She looks over Flutie's corpse and the scene in general. Flutie's had a lot of chunks taken out of him. The area is pretty messed up; Karen is, again, not a detective, but she'd say that there was at least something in the way of a struggle. 

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It looks more like orcs than like wild animals.

He doesn't say that. 

I assume you weren't getting anywhere on Herbert's killers?

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Oh, no, I had two entire suspects. Suspect number one was parkour dog from yesterday, but given that Flutie had just called in Kyle and his crew for questioning before - well, this - I am kind of leaning towards suspect number two, the aforementioned -

She happens to glance out the window.

Parkour dog is staring at her from outside.

"HEY," she screams, and takes off.

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He runs a stoplight.

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She jumps out the window and tackles parkour dog. Parkour dog is.... honestly entirely indistinguishable from a normal dog, and also seriously lacking blood on his face, which if he were a normal dog would pretty much clear his name, but a normal dog couldn't do that anyway, and she has no idea what qualities hypothetical demonic dogs might have.

This is either a vicious killer or the most innocuous red herring ever.

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The dog whimpers pitifully.

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He arrives at a run a short time later, carrying a tranquilizer gun and a real gun and a backpack. "You think it's him?"

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She's holding the dog like a normal dog now and is giving him ear scritches.

"Well. On the one hand, he was definitely staring at Herbert from the roof yesterday, and he was also hanging out outside Flutie's office just now? On the other hand, he's like, small and adorable, and also actually seems to be a normal dog in all ways."

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"Huh." He holsters the real gun and drops down onto his hands and knees.

He sends concepts. Eating people, getting scritches, climbing on roofs...

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OH, thank GOD, I thought I'd NEVER meet a telepath again. CAN YOU HEAR ME. PLEASE SAY YOU CAN HEAR ME.

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He rocks back on his feet a little bit. I can hear you. I'm Tyelcormo, this is Karen. What are you, uh, doing here?

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I'm not entirely sure how general that question is meant to be. I'm in Sunnydale because I have determined that there is very likely a Slayer in this vicinity, and that she very likely has not been assigned a watcher, and therefore my services might be exchanged for computer access and treats. Also belly rubs. I'm at this school because I believe it is the nexus of mystical energy within this town, and I expect the Slayer to frequent it. I'm in this girl's lap because apart from the concerning start she seems like a pretty great source of ear scritches. I haven't had any of those in a while.

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Why do you think there's probably a Slayer in this town? And did you eat the principal of this school, by any chance?

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Eat the principal! As if I don't have standards. As if I don't have honor. As if - no, it was those kids. Terrifying kids, I don't know what they're doing to them in schools these days. Anyway, the fact that there's a Slayer in this town is obvious from the fact that the entire Order of Aurelius was taken out overnight by a teenage girl.

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Ah huh. Okay. We're in a bit of a hurry going after whatever ate the principal. Did you see which way they went? Would you like to help us out?

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Absolutely! Provided nobody eats me, because I'd really like to avoid that. But you must grant me one thing.

I have not eaten a proper meal in weeks.

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He nods seriously. What would you like?

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BACON BACON BACON BACON wait that's disrespectful of the recently dead. Ahem. Any nutritionally balanced variety of dog food will be acceptable.

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And how should I introduce you to Karen?

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I don't know, I'm sort of confused about how the girl fits into the WAIT A SECOND.

Karen is the slayer, isn't she.

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Don't get her hurt. Admittedly it'd be difficult, but.

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I didn't come here to get the Slayer hurt. You may introduce me to her as Wishbone, former demon hunter and squire originally pledged to the service of King Arthur, coming up on one thousand five hundred years of experience opposing the forces of darkness. You may also tell her that until very recently I was living with a family in Maine that had no idea I wasn't an ordinary dog, and was spending my time reading all the books their teenage son brought home.

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Okay. "So, Karen, this dog says he is Wishbone, former demon hunter and squire originally pledged to the service of King Arthur, coming up on one thousand five hundred years of experience opposing the forces of darkness. He also says that until very recently he was living with a family in Maine that had no idea he wasn't an ordinary dog, and spent his time reading all the books his teenage son brought home. He also says the kids ate Flutie and he can help us track them but we should get him something to eat first. Do you two want to start on finding a trail while I swing by the pet store?"

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"OK. Normally I would ask questions here but I'm going to skip that part today until after there aren't high school students eating people alive. I just want to note that that sounds, like. Pretty out there."

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"Just a bit, yeah." He hands her the tranquilizer gun. "I don't know if that'll work since they're not regular humans, but a higher dose would be dangerous if they're still relevantly regular humans. If you run into them, hit them with this and they're still on their feet then clear out, wait for me, we can change the dose with that information."

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"Yeah. On it. Lead the way, superdog."

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He flies into the pet store at a frankly inhuman pace, drops forty dollars on the counter and leaves at the same pace with a bag of dog food.

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The kids are hiding in a patch of forest not far from the school. Wishbone points them out and then hides, which she figures is honestly pretty reasonable of him. It does, however, mean that once she's hit one she's not able to track down the others after they scatter.

Paging Alex. I have one kid down. It's Mercy. Can't find Wishbone right this second -

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He sends both of them the location of the other.

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Thanks. Going after the others.

 

OK, I have five kids down. They, uh, look about like you'd expect kids to look if they'd just eaten something alive, it's kind of disturbing.

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Are they somewhere where I can swing the car by?

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I got them in the woods, sorry. There's a road not that far away, we can carry them to it I guess?

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Sounds good. I want to have them secured somewhere while we figure out what's going on.

He pulls the car in at the nearest road and helps Karen carry bloodied classmates to the car. 

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She plops down in the front seat and hugs Wishbone when she's done.

"Where now?"

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He hands Wishbone a meal. "Michael's. He's got the dungeon."

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She nods solemnly and takes over feeding-Wishbone duty so that Alex can drive.

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Wishbone happily scarfs down his food.

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Michael's home is in a nice neighborhood right near the church. It has a garden, which is flourishing. It's a little cottage; it looks like if it has two bedrooms they are both small bedrooms. It has a one-car garage which opens as they pull up. 

The garage door closes behind them. The garage moves, like an elevator, down and then down some more. It's glass, so as it moves they can see an enormous amphitheater and a waterfall and a swimming pool and stained glass not-windows-since-this-is-underground and a hall of musical instruments and a glorious wide winding staircase. The next level appears to be a library. 

The level after that is the dungeons. It's still pretty, but the walls are lined with bars, and Michael is standing there waiting for them.

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"Hello, Karen, hello Alex, hello, Wishbone. Welcome."

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She waves uncertainly, with the hand that isn't cradling Wishbone. "Uh. Your Batcave is neat. It's only the third weirdest thing I've seen today, but it's neat."

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"Thank you!" he says cheerfully. "It's a mortal sin. What did you see today that was even weirder?" 

 

They start unloading kids from the car. The cells have two sets of doors which cannot both be open at the same time, which makes dragging kids into them a bit of a hassle.

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"Well, uh. The thing where my classmates apparently ate our principal, that's pretty weird? And the thing where Alex says this dog is, like, a former knight of the round table or something? And your underground mansion thing was just not going to top those."

She thinks at this point she might just be storing additional weird things to be processed later. This is sort of convenient, she'd probably be kind of nonfunctional if she were processing it now.

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"That's what he said, I can't vouch for it at all, I don't have any information on whether the legend of King Arthur is real -"

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"Oh, I'm sure it is." He checks that all of the cages are secured. "We're confident these are all the possessed children?"

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"I did not, uh, actually know that they were possessed until just now, so I think I am not the person who should answer this question."

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"Not confident but I have a theory about when it happened and if so it would have been them plus one additional kid who is currently walking home thinking about how it's awful about the principal but on the other hand he can spend the whole afternoon playing video games, so I think he's fine."

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"When did it happen?"

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"They ran off somewhere they weren't supposed to be, at the zoo. They don't otherwise hang out together - well, Mercy doesn't otherwise hang out with the other four. They were trying to throw Lance into the hyena pit."

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"Seriously? Why -"

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"''Cause they're little pieces of shit. I bet this wasn't the intended outcome, though. Did the guy who fixed Madison for us leave town?"

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"Yes. I can invite him back."

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"Are they gonna be OK? Apart from the... I guess they're not going to be the most OK people ever."

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"It seems likely they had a pretty awful experience. Depending on the flavor of possession they may not remember it much, though. We can clean them up before attempting to fix it."

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"Yeah. OK."

She thinks about asking whether she has to go back to school today, but there's no way to ask that that doesn't make her sound twelve.

She thinks about asking whether she can sit down somewhere, preferably somewhere with a toilet in case processing makes the nausea come back, but, well, ditto.

"I guess we should clean them up before they wake up? Depending on how much longer that's going to be."

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"I'll handle it."

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"If you'd like to change your clothes and take a shower, there are guest rooms upstairs."

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"Ah. Yeah. I guess that might be good." 

She doesn't throw up. She does give up on not crying. She'll only have to do it the once, probably, so it's fair that she has to do it once, she can live with that. She breathes and washes her face, after, so that it's hard to tell.

She's a slayer. Slayer slayer slayer. This is her job. Sometimes she doesn't do her job the best way it can possibly be done, maybe - not that Alex had any idea that kids were going to eat Flutie either - but she always does it, or always tries, and she is not going to complain about being someone who that falls on.

It's OK, on her end. It's a lot. But it's OK.

Eventually she emerges and asks if they have any sort of game plan for handling the fact that the kids have disappeared and that they're going to start remembering things the second they get un-possessed.

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He glances at Alex.

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"Uh....they all had some kind of weird flu today, which manifested as behaving strangely when Flutie interrogated all the students about Herbert's murder...Flutie called them in on suspicion of letting some animal into the school to attack Herbert, they heard wild animals in Flutie's office and fled, not realizing he was in there - that doesn't work as cover for Mercy, maybe she ran to get a weapon - and they collapsed since they were sick. I guess this obliges us to take them to the hospital, and ideally to get them unpossessed before they wake up - ugh, what a mess - 

- d'you suppose we can get a cooperative principal now -"

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"Not a bad idea. I'll ask." He tilts his head back and closes his eyes.

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He seems simultaneously amused and frustrated for some reason. "I'll take a shower also." And he heads upstairs.

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Karen will just, uh, stand here awkwardly and hope that the not-archangels have this sort of under control now and that nobody's going to tell her to go back to school. She will deal with the fact that she's cutting classes later. Probably by ignoring it.

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His conversation or whatever it is doesn't take long. "We can't do much until someone who can get them unpossessed arrives. Can I get you two anything?"

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BACON BACON BACON wait. No. Must be strong. It's fine, I've eaten.

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"I'm good."

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"Okay." He goes to a computer and types some things and music starts playing in all the cells, quietly enough that it's not audible outside them. "I'm going to need to go upstairs, that music will keep them asleep but it'll put me to sleep too."

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Wishbone yawns. He can barely hear the music, honestly, but he has also been traveling through inhospitable conditions for several weeks.

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Karen scoops him up. "We can all go upstairs."

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Upstairs is the library floor; it has a fireplace, a warm cozy rug, an elaborate instrument that isn't quite a piano, and books from floor to ceiling on every wall. 

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Ooooh books. She might be better at appreciating this opportunity if she weren't currently dealing with Flutie-just-got-eaten feelings, but it'll be a cold day in hell when she doesn't appreciate a new library at all.

What sort of books, exactly, are there useful books that will tell her useful things about weird stuff? Are there ALIEN books? She probably won't be able to read alien books, but she might grab one just to stare at the lettering system, if there are any.

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(Wishbone curls up on the rug and sleeps. He also appreciates books! He's just really exhausted right now.)

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The books are organized by language, though it might take her a little while to figure that out because the labels on the shelves are in a beautiful curly calligraphy script she can't read; English over here and Spanish and Italian and French and Portuguese and Latin and German and Old English and Middle English and Arabic and Hebrew and Chinese and Japanese and then lots and lots of alphabets she can't even guess at. 

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(Man, everyone else in this room is probably like a thousand years older than her and has had a bunch of time to learn stuff like this, and she's going to make it to maybe-thirty-if-Alex-is-right, which is not enough time to learn any of this. It's not faaaaair.)

She copies the labels into a pocket notebook as well as she can, labeling each word with the language it goes with; these words are probably in not-archangel script. When she's done that, she goes through the English section for anything that looks like it might be about Weird Stuff.

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Yeah, this is pretty much a library of weird stuff, that and religious books. Guides to vampires, stories of specific notorious vampires, demon ethnographies, copies of the books he gave her earlier, books about magic artifacts and about exorcism and about rituals and spells and the 'gods' and 'goddesses' they call on. A 12-volume series called The Nature Of The Fiend. Eighteen different translations of the Bible and then shelves and shelves of Catholic writers, ancient and modern. Narnia is on there. 

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Well, then she has a lot of reading to do before Father Michael suggests that she leave his library. Be easier to do it without the fresh trauma, but hey.

She grabs some vampire case studies, thinks better about reading more extra-grisly things right now, and then settles in to read about magical artifacts.

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There's a lot of really random stuff out there somewhere in the world. Some of it gives you superpowers and some of it is binding a demon who will destroy the world if it is damaged or moved and some of it is empowering a demon and must be destroyed to stop them. Many artifacts are needed to perform certain spells. There's one that lets you swap bodies with people and one that makes you able to move through walls and one that allows you to control fire and one that makes vampires indestructible and one that lets you make portals and one that lets you reveal the destination of portals and one that lets you alter the destination of portals and one which demons use to grant wishes and that gets her through the letter 'A'.

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Eventually Wishbone wakes up and reads beside her.

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She tells him to bark when he wants a page turned. She's actually just going to keep reading until she either gets kicked out or comes up on dinnertime and has to head home for that.

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He doesn't kick her out. Alex comes down after a while.

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It's getting kinda late.

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Yes. I don't want to make them feel like they ought to leave.

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Yeah, I just mean, should I order pizza.

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Oh. I guess. Yeah.

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Karen will still be deeply engrossed in pouring information into her brain when the pizza arrives, at which point she will remember that she skipped lunch today and is actually really hungry.

"So, uh, any idea how long it'll be before the kids are... un-whatever-ified?"

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"It'll depend on whether our expert recognizes it - you shouldn't do an exorcism until you know what you're dealing with. If they don't know offhand, we might go tonight to check out the zoo, see whether there are any clues there."

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"You're not worried that whatever it is will infect you, too?" Because she kind of doesn't want to deal with possessed not-archangels, given what possessed high school students are like.

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"We have reason to think we cannot be possessed but I agree that we'll need to plan to be very careful about that."

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"OK. D'you want me to stick around for anything, or - I mean I can imagine circumstances under which having a probably possessable slayer around would just make things worse - "

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"I don't think you should go to the zoo but you're of course welcome here as often as you'd like to come and as long as you'd like to stay."

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"...OK. Maybe I'll visit later, then. I, uh, should probably go home tonight before Azalea starts worrying, though, if you don't think I'll be any help with the possessed kids. Thank you for the pizza and the books and the holding my classmates where they hopefully can't eat anyone else."

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"You're very welcome. Hopefully tomorrow they will be as good as new."

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"Yeah." She scoops up Wishbone. "We're superfluous, Wishbone. Let's go home. Maybe see if you can poke keyboards or something."

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"If not I can have someone rig something up for him."

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"That'll be good."

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The possession expert doesn't recognize the exact problem with the kids, though he's passingly familiar with legends about people being possessed by the spirits of wild animals. He's going to need more information.

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So they swear that for the next week they won't engage in any violence against humans or standard Earth animals without having verified with their brothers outside Sunnydale that the circumstances warrant it, unless so obliged by the oath about the Silmaril, and they go to the zoo and check out the hyena exhibit.

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The hyena exhibit contains five hyenas, plus a symbol on the floor that almost looks like it might just be decorative, plus a very concerned zookeeper.

"Oh, good, are you from the school?"

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"Yep."

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