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Generated: Dec 31, 2020 3:22 PM
Post last updated: Dec 31, 2020 3:20 PM
it's terribly simple
season two: in which the council notices our heroes
Permalink Mark Unread

Karen is pretty sure it's gonna be a good year. She already has friends, she's no longer consumed by grief at the death of her parents, she has all her classes picked out, and she's going up against the forces of darkness armed with knowledge of her destiny and supported by, like, three ancient mentors who actively want her to succeed and not just her sister and a random vampire who is now one of her best friends. She has a really good first two days of school, and at the end of them she is more sure than ever that this is gonna be a really, really good year.

On the third day of school, a guy in some kind of suit jacket stops her on her way in.

"Hi!" she says, brightly. "Can I help you?"

     "Yes, I believe you can. You're Karen Teller?"

"Yep. That's me."

     "Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Now, Karen, what I'm about to tell you may shock and confuse you, but I would like you to hear me out. I know you may feel that this is unnecessary, but - "

"Sure! I do sort of need you to hurry it up, I gotta get to first period, but yeah, down to be shocked and confused."

     The man takes a deep breath. "You, Karen Teller, are a vampire slayer. You are the world's first and often final line of defense against not only vampires, but against a whole host of supernatural evils. I expect this to be hard for you to accept, but I've come prepared to show you evidence, both of the demons you must fight, and of your own nature, but you, Karen Teller, must accept your destiny and protect this world."

"I know."

     "....you know?"

"Yep. Already on it."

      "How did you come to know about this?"

"I figured it out."

     Wesley takes a moment to look deeply confused and a little disappointed, then sighs. "Well. Very good then. As I told you, my name is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. I have been assigned to work as your watcher, to train you in the art of slaying and to deploy you against the forces of evil that are at work in this town. You'll no longer have to fight this war without support."

"Oh," says Karen. "...OK."

     "Yes! Well then. I think we should start immediately."

".....OK. But I do have to get to first period."

     "Right! Right, yes, of course. It shouldn't be necessary to immediately interrupt your education. We shall start immediately after classes."

"Oh. OK. I'll - see you," she says, lamely, and walks off to class before she has to say anything else.

 

Paging Alex. Heads up. Watcher's council's found us.

Permalink Mark Unread

Ah, fuck.

 

What'd they tell you?

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A guy named Wesley Wyndam-Pryce is outside the school. He wanted me to know that I'm a vampire slayer and that he's been assigned to act as my watcher, to, uh, train me in the art of slaying and deploy me against the forces of darkness. He was very surprised that I already knew. He said he wanted to start after school, and I sorta just told him OK instead of saying 'yeah, actually I already have some people', and I think I'm gonna go with 'and maybe that's a good thing, because maybe we don't want the Council of Watchers to know everything about us right away before we've thought about it' and not 'I sort of panicked', although I think in the actual moment it might have been mostly the second thing.

Permalink Mark Unread

Well, good call whatever the reasons. We probably can't keep it up, though. Let's both think about what we want to do and talk about it more at lunch. I ...think many watchers are, individually, all right, aside from their terrible loyalties? It could be worth talking to him for a day to get a read on how terrible he is.

Permalink Mark Unread

He didn't seem overtly terrible. He seemed... very enthusiastic. But yeah, lunch.

 

She's gonna eat lunch outdoors with Dennis and Mercy and Chris, because this fall she's the sort of person who has actual friends. It would be pretty ideal if Wishbone could hang out with them, too, but she's pretty sure Principal Snyder would explode if they let a dog on school grounds. (Next year. Next year they can eat lunch across the street.)

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He reads Wesley Wyndam-Pryce's mind.

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Wesley Wyndam-Pryce has informed the council that Karen has been contacted and is willing to begin her training immediately. He's now in the process of unpacking books into his apartment and putting together the specific list of questions that he's going to ask Karen, to get her to realize that she may know about her destiny, but she's still quite in the dark about a long list of other things, and that she will benefit tremendously from the expertise, support, and structure that a watcher can provide. Sometimes he goes back and mentally repeats something to see if he can make it sound more impactful.

Permalink Mark Unread

That makes this not an emergency so he should stop reading Wesley Wyndam-Pryce's mind.

- but are there any things Karen actually doesn't know, in that list?

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Several, actually! Wesley does, in fact, want to usefully assess Karen's knowledge of the supernatural, so he's mixing in a few easy questions about the basic abilities and weaknesses of vampires, plus a few medium questions about ghosts and possessing spirits in general, but since he wants to impress on her how ignorant and vulnerable she is without his help, he's starting with a barrage of questions about the strengths and weaknesses of various obscure demon species that Karen has almost definitely never heard of.

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Hey Wishbone, do you want to help me with something?

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Oh boy, do I!

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Our local representation of the Slayer manipulation and murder squad has a bunch of questions about demons for Karen. He conveys them.

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Oh, easy! Not the most practical set of information ever, but all of it is information I have.

He has it off the top of his head, too, frequently with extra context on why things are the way they are.

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Oh good. He passes this on to Karen during gym class.

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- so as funny as me knowing all of this stuff would be, don't you think it's kinda gonna tip him off about me having several other non-council expert people in my corner? Unless that's the point.

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It probably will. It's your call, I just don't like people making me feel stupid so I'll listen to them.

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Yeah. Me too.

...I guess he's gonna figure it out at some point anyway.

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Seems pretty impossible to hide while also letting you do your job at all.

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Yeah, I guess. Thanks.

And, after school, she immediately runs into Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.

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"Karen, good. Walk with me. Now, I think the first thing is to assess your knowledge of the supernatural, see how much you already understand. To that end, I have prepared a series of questions. Do you know how to kill a Magati demon?"

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"Magati demons can't be killed. The most effective means of neutralizing them is to imprison their spirit within one of a few specific types of crystals - clear quartz is ideal - but you still have to keep the rock from breaking or else you're right back where you started."

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"Yes. Well. Very good. Ah - you encounter a house with a history of unfortunate happenings and find that the base is surrounded by green, glowing liquid. Most likely explanation?"

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"Most likely the secretion of an Ethros demon, which will have possessed one of the inhabitants. In that case the secretion will be watery, light green, and glow pretty brightly. Of course, it could also be the slime trail left by a giant Haffreek, in which case it'll be closer to the consistency of honey and more just really reflective than actually glowy. That won't explain most varieties of unfortunate happenings, but in the real world sometimes things are just coincidences, and it's important not to draw definite conclusions from just a couple pieces of ambiguous information."

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"Mushrooms growing in a circle in a meadow or forest?"

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"Fairy ring, supernatural status depends on the species; some fungi and flowers do it naturally and others only grow around areas that are frequented by actual fairies. Best not to disturb them unless you know whose they are. Often a good place to check for weakness between dimensions, so they can be useful places to try if you need to check where a portal was opened."

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"Most likely explanation for Jack the Ripper?"

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"Fear demon; the point wasn't the murders themselves, but the hysteria caused by them."

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"What did Sir Durin kill on November 16th, 1247?"

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"What is the Dragon of Wasting. That really does seem more like a jeopardy question than like something I'm gonna have to know, at least in that format."

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"I begin to think you're entirely too prepared for this."

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"OK. Ask me something else."

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"How do you kill a Sopuro demon?"

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"That I don't know. If I ran into one and it needed to be killed and the usual tools for the job weren't working, I would ask my sources and see what they could tell me, although I presumably wouldn't know I was dealing with a Sopuro demon and would have to settle for a description of whatever it was."

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"Your sources?"

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"It's very bad practice to name names."

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"...Karen, I don't know what has contacted you or what they've gotten you to believe about their nature or their intentions, but the stage is larger than you know, and the vast majority of its players are not on your side. The Council of Watchers exists to train and help slayers; all other powers that you may encounter will be fair-weather friends at best, and much more often will be attempting to take advantage of your inexperience and naiveté for their own evil ends. You've been the slayer for a week, at most, and throwing your lot in with, statistically speaking, some sort of prophet or mind-reader, most of which, again, are evil, will only lead to your untimely demise, and possibly result in the destruction of much more than just yourself."

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Alex? He thinks I've only been the slayer for a week.

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- well, that’s interesting. I’ll pass it along.

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"I understand your concern. I just feel like what I'm doing is working out for me so far."

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"And what exactly are you doing?"

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"My job. Now, if you have a lesson plan or a lead on a dangerous evil about to poke its head up, then I'm ready and willing to listen, but if we're just gonna play more supernatural jeopardy then actually I have some homework."

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"Your studies of demons? Perhaps you can show me where you've been getting this information."

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"No, I mean, like, trig."

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"I see." He sighs. "Karen - whatever you're embedded in is likely very dangerous, and I really must insist that you tell me precisely what it is that you've been doing."

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"And I really do understand why you'd be concerned, but - I have reasons for trusting the people I trust, and I don't really have those with you? Like, even if I were going to trust the Watcher's Council, I don't even really know that you are a watcher, you're just a British guy in a suit who knows what a slayer is. And - I really am sorry if I'm making this hard for you, but I don't think I really have the luxury of trusting everybody who walks by and asks me if I know what a fairy ring is."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I see. Well. Feel free to do your homework, then, we will discuss your situation at greater length tomorrow."

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"OK." She heads back towards the school.

I think I made him kind of sad and really concerned.

Permalink Mark Unread

Seems like an occupational hazard when your occupation is attempting to make scared teenage girls with superpowers feel inadequate so they'll trust you until you set them up to be murdered.

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- y'know, this is a fair point, but I don't know what exactly I should be expecting really concerned watchers to do. He knows I'm listening to people who aren't him, and he thinks the people who aren't him are probably evil, and I don't know if we've actually done ourselves any favors here.

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Council can't hurt us. I guess we can give important people a lot of headaches and should maybe not do that, but - not sure he's any less stressed if you try to hide that you have allies, either.

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Can I ask why you're so confident they can't?

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If we're nervous we don't have to let any of 'em into the country. Or any more of them, at least.

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Ah. That does make me feel a little better.

Are we training today?

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Yeah. Let's leave from a couple blocks away, though. We can at least make him talk to a bunch of students to learn you train with me.

Permalink Mark Unread

Sounds good.

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They've started training Karen to defend against all kinds of bizarre weapons, because there are a bunch of creatures out there which specialize with scythes or chakrams or whatever. Most of these things are unusual precisely because they're not spectacularly useful but it's still good to know how to defend against them. 

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Karen is very excited to be training again! Training is good and she sort of missed it over the summer. 

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"They should have done training! They're a military, right, they have ever fought a war, they probably know at least some things."

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"They were trying really hard not to act like they were military. We did a lot of climbing drills and stuff, and those were fun? But it wasn't the same thing. - oh, I did notice a thing when I was there? I have no idea how long it takes for a thing to tire me out. Like, I know how long it takes me to get bored of something and I have a sense for about how much I can lift, but apart from hell day last spring I just don't really remember ever being really exhausted by anything since I became the slayer? Is that a thing we should test or figure out at some point, or - ?"

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"Oh, huh. Yeah, that seems useful to know. We could run to Los Angeles."

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"Can we?"

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"Well, depending how fast you run, possibly not tonight. But this weekend, absolutely."

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This weekend is gonna be awesome.

"Cool, let's do it! All right, so then - other than figuring out what to do about the council and the Mayor, anything else we're working on this school year?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has set up a task force to examine accusations of illegal industrial dumping, about twenty miles north of here. We should keep an eye on them, make sure they're at least trying their best, yeah?"

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"Sounds good."

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"Then we're all set. Betcha it'll be a nice, quiet, peaceful year."

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"Maybe. I think we'll be ready for it, in any case."

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Wesley Wyndam-Pryce is waiting for her the next day after school, as promised.

"Karen! I trust you have no commitments this afternoon?"

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"Well, Thursdays are usually when the journalism club meets, but it doesn't start up until next week, so yeah, I guess I'm free."

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"Good, good, let's mark out your whole schedule so that we can devote as much time as possible to training and to fighting the forces of darkness."

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"...so the problem with that is that my schedule is already pretty full of training and fighting the forces of darkness, but I don't really know if I want to invite you to either."

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"Karen, I can't help you if you don't trust me. In any case, I think you underestimate my abilities. I know that you've been training with your gym teacher for the past several months, and I know equally well that your gym teacher is a demon."

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"I approve of your basic investigation skills. He's not a demon, though."

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"Well, he's obviously not human."

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"There are lots of things in the world that aren't humans and aren't demons. Like. You know. Raccoons."

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"A poor example. Modern raccoons are typically up to three percent demonic in origin."

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" - what does that even - that's not the point."

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"The point is that he is very likely much more dangerous than you assume. If you insist on continuing to associate with this 'Alex Johnson', which I assure you is almost certainly not his real name, then as your watcher I insist on meeting him and determining what manner of fiend he is. If, as you believe, his motives are aligned with ours, then there should be no problem, now, should there."

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Wyndam-Pryce has mastered the art of asking questions of high school students. He wants to meet you. Also he says you're a demon. Also that so are raccoons.

Permalink Mark Unread

He knows where to find me. Or do you want me to drop by? And I dunno about raccoons, there're some in Valinor, I wouldn't expect them to go in for animals that are even a little bit demon. I guess the ones in Valinor are different, these ones could be a bit more crossbred.

Permalink Mark Unread

He did specify modern raccoons. We should have more words than 'demon' for things, 'demon' is doing way too many jobs right now.

- but no, don't bother.

"You can go see him whenever, it's a free country. We had a war about it."

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"You want me to approach an unknown and possibly quite dangerous agent of evil alone and unarmed?"

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"...fine. I'll go with you, but partly because if I weren't hanging out with you I would be going that way anyway."

I guess we're coming to you. He can't go on his own time 'cause you're evil and dangerous.

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Of course, I forgot.

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We're onto your nefarious plans.

- do keep an extra eye on Zeke while he's in town, though, OK? I dunno how they feel about non-practicing evil, but I'm not optimistic.

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You got it.

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Thanks.

"So this is the gym," says Karen, very unnecessarily, when they get there. "Mostly we do self-defense drills here, but sometimes we do basketball, because it's in the state curriculum and we are often law-abiding citizens."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You would do well to take this more seriously." 

He approaches Alex, cautiously, making an effort to stay behind Karen. "Hello. I understand that you are aware of Karen's true nature."

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"Oh, hey! Yeah, I've known her for a year. Smart, hardworking, cautious, protective, I've met worse people in better worlds."

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(Aww.)

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"I see. Then you knew her long before she became the Slayer."

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"I started here last fall."

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"I suppose that does make you moderately less suspicious compared to the scenario in which you only appeared on the scene last week. - what are you?"

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"No comment. We don't bite. I spent the last year making this city safer and teaching the kids to defend themselves, and I'm going to keep doing that this year."

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"So you say. I suppose I should thank you for briefly looking after the Slayer during the time it took us to determine her location. Nevertheless, your services will no longer be necessary; Karen will train with me going forward."

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Karen laughs.

" - sorry."

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"With all due respect, what exactly are you expecting you can teach her?"

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"She will continue to study hand-to-hand combat, assuming that's what you've been doing, as well as ranged combat and techniques developed specifically to defeat vampires and the more dangerous and deadly demon species common to this region. She will also study demonology and defenses against the mystical arts, among other things that I expect to be quite beyond a public school gym teacher. You may have taught her to cheat, but I intend to teach her to succeed even when she can't."

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"Do you want to know what we covered so you know where to start?"

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"If it would make you feel better."

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"All right. She can hit a moving target with a crossbow at about 80 meters, and with a longbow at a hundred eighty meters; she has stakes balanced and weighted for throwing and is reliable with those up to about 30 meters. She has practice with hand-to-hand combat, hand-to-hand combat with a knife, and hand-to-hand combat unarmed with an armed opponent, though obviously she should never get herself into a situation where an enemy is within ten meters of her, and she very rarely has. We've obtained a waiver exempting her from the California law prohibiting accompanied minors from carrying a gun at a shooting range, and she's mostly been practicing with U.S. military hardware because that's what I have access to. She's logged a couple hundred hours each with the M4 carbine -- standard-issue assault rifle, semi-automatic but there's an automatic that handles nearly the same -- the M107 semi-automatic long range sniper rifle, range is around 2,000 meters, the only place in the state you can practice with it is about fifty miles west of here at Fort Irwin -- and with a rifle-mounted laser used by the U.S. military to alert civilians that they're entering a combat zone. She has experience safely using smoke grenades and tear gas grenades and we've done three days of practice with explosive grenades. She can swim, she can navigate the woods at night, she can climb, she can fight blindfolded, she can recognize the couple hundred demon species that collectively make up 99.9% of all sightings in this part of the world, she can track things pretty adequately, she can administer first aid. 

Priorities for the next couple months are teaching her to drive, teaching her to hotwire a car, teaching her a wider variety of nonlethal weapons -- there're people working to develop a taser for demons that I'm potentially interested in -- getting more into the space of magical rituals permissible under her Catholic obligations, and skydiving because it's fun and decent practice at risk management under pressure. I was gonna ask her whether she's interested in learning some vocabulary for deescalation in a couple hundred nonhuman languages; if so, we might try that."

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" - Karen, how long have you been training with this person?"

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Can I assume that if you're gonna tip your hand that far we've just decided not to keep the timeline secret?

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Honestly he wasn't thinking about that at all he was just resisting the urge to punch Wesley Wyndam-Pryce in the face. 

Yeah. 

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"About a year. I've been the Slayer since, like, July of last year."

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"But that's not possible, that's when the previous Slayer was called in Beijing. You would have had to have - what, died and been raised from the dead?"

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"I don't make the rules, man, I just -

 

- oh wait, did sorta die the summer before last. Man, I gotta stop dying."

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"We actually weren't sure why you all didn't show up. It seemed like good news, though, given the mortality rate of Slayers trained by the council. Just so there's no ambiguity, if you attempt a Cruciamentum on Karen I will make sure the state of California executes everyone involved for murder."

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Karen bounces.

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"This seems like a rather unique situation; I will need to confer with the Council about it. In the mean time, I, ah, suppose it would be acceptable for you to continue training with Mr. Johnson for a while longer, provided you do not neglect your official training or any other essential aspects of your duties. I will, however, expect you to present me with a schedule and to regularly account for what you have been learning from non-Council sources."

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"Very thoughtful of you. I'll send over all my notes."

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"I appreciate your cooperation in this."

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"So. Good talk guys. Can I learn to drive now?"

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"Sounds like a plan! See you, Mister Wyndam-Pryce. The lesson plan for today is Karen learns to drive my car. I took all the explosives out of the trunk first."

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"Bye Mr. Wyndam-Pryce!" says Karen, waving cheerfully, before following Alex out of the school.

"I feel bad for him," she says, when he's out of earshot, though she's still smiling.

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"I don't."

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"I was getting that sense. It's just - hm. He's, like, trying to do a thing here, and he's very confused about everything, and he's trying to act like he knows what he's doing and nobody is buying it at all. And that sounds rough. I dunno if I'd like him very much if I thought I had to listen to him, though."

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"It's like, I dunno, you feel bad for someone if they stub their toe but if they're mad and try to punch their kid, and instead punch the wall and hurt their hand, and this makes them madder so they keep punching the wall, then that's just kind of - the way their life is going to be until they learn to stop punching walls? And it's much better than if they'd successfully punched the kid, and maybe it'll even eventually teach them something about using punching to solve their problems.

Except I think punching people is far more - honest and decent - than trying to make them feel small and inadequate so they obey you."

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"I think the rest of that's a lot sadder than them just stubbing their toe."

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"For the kid."

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"Mostly. You help the kid first, obviously, if there's only one of you and you can only help one person. But someone's gotta feel bad enough for people who're causing problems that they eventually try to figure out how to help them, I think, if we're not just gonna kill them or lock them in boxes with walls to punch from now until the end of time.

"And - I feel bad for vampires."

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"Sure, they can't help it. Mister Wesley can, he just might punch some walls while he figures out how."

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"I guess. ...What're we gonna do about him, just ignore him a lot?"

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"Tap his phone to make sure no one in England is deciding to assassinate the Slayer for excessive independence or me for impeding Wesley, and then ...yeah, I guess? He can pass you leads from the Council on problems to solve, I think there'll be some of that."

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"Poor murder nerd. Anyway," she says, very seriously. "How does driving work."

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Yes, good idea, a driving lesson, a much better use of their time.

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Karen is very serious about driving lessons. She's pretty sure humans weren't built to pilot metal death cages at sixty miles an hour, so it's important to be as responsible about it as you can.

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That is a good attitude for humans, though less necessary if they have supernatural reflexes and alertness. 

 

 

He asks Matt to tap Wesley's phone because he doesn't want to read the guy's mind constantly, that makes him the person who's enjoying having power here.

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Wesley does call the council. His calls give the impression that the Slayer is rather independent, given that she's already been the Slayer for a good fourteen months, but that he's made friendly contact and the Slayer will soon rely on him as an indispensable part of her life and destiny.

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Sometimes you gotta let people punch some walls. 

 

 

The next week before they go out on patrol he tells Karen - "hey, good news. The Bureau is ready to take some vampires in, if we can take them alive."

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"Awesome! I mean - it's better than killing them. How are we taking them in, just - radical head trauma, or do we have anything less, uh, sort of awful than that?"

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"I mean, most of the time it'd work fine to just both of us go in and handcuff them, but some of the time it would not be fine so we're not doing that."

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"Point taken. I guess they'll be back to all thrusters firing eventually."

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"Not even that long. - I guess kind of long on a human scale."

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"Yeah. On the other hand they're not human, so - anyway. We do the best we can. Are there even any hostile vamps around right now? I thought we cleared most of them out, but there're always new ones moving in."

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"They seem to crop up more than makes any sense with no surviving nests I know of. - there's the folks at the blood bar, and Zeke, but I don't think they're turning people. I guess maybe we're a vampire tourist attraction."

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"I think it's like, a moths to zappy lamp thing. Except the moths are vampires and the lamp is the hellmouth and the zappiness is us."

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"Well, now the zapping is gonna be like 95% less lethal." Out they go, Alex deeply distracted as he scans the city's eyes for trouble.

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For a while there aren't any non-blood-bank vampires or particularly hostile weird things anywhere. At some point a definitely-non-vampire mugger pulls a knife on someone a few streets east of them.

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Well that's not supernatural but maybe we should go thwart it anyway.

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Friendly neighborhood Spiderman, coming up. Except without the spider. Or the man.

Disarming normal humans with knives is not terribly difficult compared to some of the things Karen does. She knocks the guy off his feet and he runs, minus purse, knife, a whole lot of confidence.

Are we supposed to get him for the police or something?

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Maybe he learned a valuable lesson. If he does it again we can do the police thing.

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Sounds good. 

 

Maybe I should chase him and lecture him about his choices or something. Just to give him the best odds possible.

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I can, uh -

 

Hey, kid. Whatever you need, you gotta find some other way to get it, okay?

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The guy looks around wildly. He doesn't see anyone. He looks up.

"...God?"

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No, I can't watch the whole world like this, just this city. But I'm watching this city and I want you to be okay and you've got to stop that.

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The guy considers a lot of possible responses to that, but he feels like it might be hazardous to outright argue with - whatever this is, exactly, so he just keeps walking.

"Yeah. OK. Whatever."

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He shakes his head irritably. "I guess probably we should call the police about stuff like that."

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"D'you think it'd help? - also I think maybe some of the police are evil and stuff."

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"I don't really think it'd help but - he thought I was God. I don't want people thinking - he tortures humans when they die, if he feels like it's the fitting ending -"

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She kicks the ground a little.

This is probably not the time to have a theological conversation about the nature of hell. She doesn't think she'd be any good at that anyway.

"You don't have to be all telepathy-y at people if you don't want to. - you don't really have to do anything. But I'm gonna sternly lecture the next guy about his choices, if they're only medium-terrible choices and they're the first ones I've seen him make, because... I don't really think 'I don't want people to mistake me for someone who sends people to hell' is a good reason to become someone who doesn't even try not to send everyone to evil cops who will at best send them to prison, if prison wouldn't fix anything. 

"Also I don't think anybody's going to mistake me for God."

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"Yeah, lectures out loud seem safe enough."

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"OK then. I don't think there are any new vampires in town tonight."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm getting that sense. Get some sleep. Or do your homework. Or whatever."

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"Yeah, it's way too early in the semester to just give up. I'll see you tomorrow."

Permalink Mark Unread

Reports to Wesley Wyndam-Pryce on the activities of the Slayer, Karen Teller, in preparation for her destiny:

September 3, 1997

Activity: driver's education

Rationale: many bad things are not walking distance from Sunnydale High School or Slayer's residence. most expedient solution was training Slayer in handling of a two-ton steel frame on a combustion engine, optimized for travelling one hundred kilometers per hour. This activity is also of cultural significance to humans sixteen years of age. 

Costs/materials for reimbursement by the Council: estimated $4.32 in depreciation on my truck, a 1991 GMC Syclone, $.37 cents in gas

September 4, 1997

....

 

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Karen delivers all notes she is given.

"Wesley says he's not gonna reimburse you for things you decide to do on your own initiative. He did say to thank you for the notes, though, after he got the dismayed sighing out of the way."

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"I'm glad he liked them!"

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Aww.

" - thanks for letting Wishbone help type them up, by the way. He's really helpful, for lots of different things, but - I think he gets sad when he doesn't feel like he's a part of the group and stuff."

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"It's not -

 

- he's doing me a favor, really, I can't actually write in English."

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"Ohhh. Aww. ...I kinda wanna hug you now but I'm worried it'll come off as condescending and stuff so I'm gonna wait a second."

 

Permalink Mark Unread

"How's it meant to come across? Being able to read is better than not being able to read."

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"I know! It's just - sometimes maybe I forget a little bit that I don't just have a really weird guardian angel who thinks he's a terrible person but not as terrible of a person as God is, and who has a lot of machine guns and stuff, and I feel really lucky? But then sometimes I just remember that you're, like, actually sort of just a regular person and stuff, and you don't actually have to be here, but you are anyway? And then I feel even luckier. That's all."

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"You're a good kid, Karen. Do you want to do driving lessons again today?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes please!"

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September 6, 1997

Activity: patrol

Rationale: some vampires, though certainly not all of them, have been observed to ravage the streets of Sunnydale committing murder. after careful consideration, we arrived at the conclusion that the Slayer should attempt to prevent this. 

Costs/materials for reimbursement by the Council: one stake was dented by striking a fence (after striking the vampire; the Slayer did not miss). the stake could stand to be polished.

September 7, 1997

Activity: weapons training

Rationale: [redacted]

Costs/materials for reimbursement by the Council: for some reason the U.S. military pays $100/bullet for the special ammunition used in training. As A Taxpayer I am very concerned, and I elevate this to your attention not in the expectation of reimbursement but in the hope that you will share in my outrage and go back to England, which I assume treats its citizens' money with higher regard

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And so time passes. The journalism club gets to work. The archery club starts up again, this time adding Dennis as a member (not because he thinks archery is a spectacular use of time, mind you, but because he's decided he needs a bunch of extra curricular activities and the robotics club has disbanded this year, due to lack of any suitable teaching staff). Mercy is already a member; Mercy signed up about five seconds after the club was formed. At the end of last year they had about a dozen regular members, and Karen is expecting them to pick up more members this year.

"Anything I can help with?"

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"If you want to help the more advanced kids get back into form that'd be good, I want to keep an eye on the new ones so they don't kill anyone. Snyder'd hold it over me for ages."

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"It's true! Also you would break our no-dead-students streak."

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"I worked on an oil rig once that had this sign on the wall, "days since workplace accident". We could get one. "Days since student fatality"."

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"We could!"

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"I hope you guys realize that this is, like, a really concerning conversation to walk into first thing," says Dennis, arriving at the practice range.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Archery's less dangerous than driving, but it's differently dangerous. If you're stupid people will definitely get hurt. I promise not to let anyone be stupid in your vicinity. How was your summer? Do you know which is your dominant eye?"

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"No. And it was pretty OK, apart from the worrying that the government might be evil."

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"They're evil but they're on our side." He picks out a practice bow for him. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, well, as long as we're all evil."

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"Nah, see, it's not like there's the evil team and the good team and you can check if you're evil by checking if your allies are. They're evil, we're - up to us."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"So. How do you use that bow thing?"

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He demonstrates that. The other kids trickle in. Marcie Ross has stopped worrying she's sometimes invisible. 

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Karen helps the advanced students! At a certain point she starts hanging out with Mercy. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Karen. Have you returned to hunting vampires?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yep. New-and-improved less fatal methods, too."

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"That does not sound improved."

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"Well, I mean, we're not letting them go or anything. We just think we have a way to stop them without all the murder and stuff."

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"Why should you want to? They're a demonic infestation. Enemies of humanity. Fundamentally evil."

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"Well, yeah, but - I mean you had that whole infestation thing that one time, and we saved you?"

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"Vampires don't have anything in them to save. They're pure evil, and sympathizing with evil will only lead to - evil."

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"That is a perspective."

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"There is one problem," he says, wandering over, "which is, once you teach yourself not to sympathize with evil, you find it hard to sympathize with anyone on Earth, and you leave for somewhere nicer with no evil, and it seems like that's evil."

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"Why should it be, unless you consider yourself to have an obligation to rid this world of evil?"

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"Well, ridding this world of evil is pretty hopeless but it seems like fighting it is better than not doing that, more often than not."

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"I question whether people can effectively fight what they feel sorry for."

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"Do you."

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"Perhaps I'm wrong."

She does not sound like she is seriously considering this.

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" - so I'm gonna go help Marcie," says Karen, and she does that.

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"People sometimes get sad and tired when they're killing sympathetic enemies but they sometimes get bloodthirsty and reckless and - bad at predictions - when they're killing things they hate, it sorta looks like downsides all around to me."

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"It makes sense that those are things to watch out for."

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"And, you know, if you're running any kind of real operation with a lot of people, you're going to have a lot of each, which is better than all of one or all of the other."

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"I suppose you will."

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"Did you practice over the summer? You're doing really well. I think we can move the target back."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thank you. I did." 

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"I like your classmates," he says to Karen when they're out on patrol. "I mostly didn't like humans before Michael roped me into this but kids are - everyone's awful to them, and they have to grow up so fast."

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"You're good with them. You talk to them like they're people. - gosh, that is a depressing statement."

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"That's the thing, right?"

 

And then suddenly he turns his head east and - giggles delightedly.

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"What is it?"

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"Wesley Wyndam-Pryce is out near the Bellevue graveyard with a stake. But he has just tripped over his own two feet. He hasn't even run into a vampire yet but he thinks he heard something -

- yep, he heard something -

- let's go save the innocent, shall we?"

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"You're terrible," says Karen, much too cheerfully to communicate any disapproval at all. She does head off to go save the innocent, though.

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Wesley is not in good shape. He's actually still on the ground, and he's being threatened by a single vampire. Which is definitely enough to kill a person who doesn't know what they're doing.

"Good! Karen! Slay!" he says, though it really sounds much more like a plea than a command.

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She has a crossbow. (Guns are loud.) She takes aim, and the moment the vampire turns around to see who it is, she shoots him in the eye.

The vampire screams and drops to one knee. He doesn't immediately fall unconscious. He's actually just kneeling there in tremendous pain with an arrow sticking out of his face. She reloads and fires a second arrow through his head, and then he falls.

"Y'know, I still think that guns are too loud to just go shooting people every night, but the blood-curdling screaming's not hugely non-suspicious either. But maybe everyone's adapted to ignoring screams by now?"

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He heads over to shackle the vampire. "It seems like you'd have to be, living in this town. - it's hard to tell now, but did you recognize the guy? I'm still trying to figure out if they're coming from out of town or getting turned here."

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"Not on sight, but I don't remember everyone I ever see. Sorry."

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"Yes, yes, good work. Now finish the job."

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"I think he's done for the night, man."

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He cuffs his arms and legs, just in case. "I"ll call it in."

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"You mean to say that you consider that an adequate slaying procedure? It's not dead, it'll return as strong as ever in time."

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"Yes. It makes me feel a lot better about the part where I shot him in the eye."

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(He calls it in on a bulky handheld phone.)

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"Is this what you've been teaching her? To momentarily disable vampires? Karen, the Slayer must - well, slay. You must not content yourself with doing only half your duty before abandoning it."

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" - look. I understand your concerns, but I've killed a lot of people, and I mostly didn't like it, and I mostly still think that killing people is actually bad, so, uh, I'm gonna keep trying to transition out of my murdery phase."

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"Where are you even taking it?"

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"That's classified."

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"We've got a safe containment solution and they'll be killed if it fails. I don't want these things on the streets either."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's much too risky. You're not prepared to - particularly without Council support - "

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"I'm gonna walk you home now, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce, and it'd be really cool if you could stay there and not get attacked by vampires, because I'd feel kinda bad about it if you died. Assuming you have this vampire, Alex."

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"Yep."

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"Cool. See you in a bit."

She walks Mr. Wyndam-Pryce home. She makes a good-faith effort to listen to his list of complaints about her behavior, but only partially succeeds at paying attention. She assures him that she understands that from the outside her situation looks maybe kind of concerning. She leaves him at his apartment, after asking him to please at least give her a heads-up next time if he's going to insist on wandering the town alone or watching her slaying procedures.

Why does everyone want me to be more murdery. When I picked out my list of dumb teenager opinions I didn't really think 'moderately opposed to murder but can get over it in a pinch' was going to be one of the more controversial items.

Permalink Mark Unread

Most everyone has a really narrow definition of who's people when push actually comes to shove.

There's a famous epitaph above this grave in Athens - "this memorial is set above the body of a very good man. Pythion, from Megara, slew seven men and broke off seven spear-points in their bodies. This man, having brought sorrow to no one among all men who dwell on earth, went down to the underworld felicitated in the eyes of all."

Permalink Mark Unread

That's a good memorial to get.

 

Thanks for being cool about stuff. I guess it doesn't really matter what Mercy and Mr. Wyndam-Pryce think.

Permalink Mark Unread

They'll grow out of it.

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Maybe Mercy will, anyway. Any more evil afoot?

Permalink Mark Unread

Nothing stalking the streets, at least. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Fresh out of excuses not to do trig, then. Alas.

 

Ohh, hey, you doing anything for parent-teacher night this year?

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I think people mostly don't come to parent-teacher night to ask how their kid is doing at gym, but I still have to be there. I'm gonna try not to punch any of them in the face even the assholes who hit their kids or don't let them see their friends or threaten them with weird human conversion therapy that doesn't even work.

Permalink Mark Unread

A wise choice. I'm pretty sure you do more good as a gym teacher than as someone who was a gym teacher before Snyder fired him for assaulting someone's parents.

...is there non-human conversion therapy happening somewhere?

Permalink Mark Unread

Well, y'know, paradise can't have gay people, and Quendi come out that way sometimes too.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

I think I'm mostly concerned about the fact that paradise is still using sexual reproduction. This has a lot of worrying implications.

Permalink Mark Unread

It's not a human afterlife, it's only a perfect place for the Valar and also Quendi live there for complicated historical reasons.

Permalink Mark Unread

Ah. Well, if it's not supposed to be your paradise, either, then that explains why you didn't like it any.

Permalink Mark Unread

I mean, most people think it's a Quendi paradise too.

Permalink Mark Unread

Yeah, but you don't. And - hm.

 

When I was little I used to be scared of heaven? Because I had these teachers who would try to describe how good it would be there, and they'd disclaim that of course what they were describing didn't really bear any real resemblance to the real heaven, because of course we haven't been there, so we can't know, but everything they'd say would sound worse than here? And I used to worry that maybe I'd get there and I'd still be broken and unhappy and nothing else would be, and the only thing wrong with the world would be me, and I wouldn't have any excuses anymore for not being as good as I was supposed to be. And so I didn't want to go, because, well, that sounded kind of awful.

Anyway, eventually I figured that I can't imagine what heaven's like at all, so I shouldn't really try, but that whatever it is it'll be something that fits, a place that you go there and it's like coming home, and it works with the thing that you're supposed to be, whatever that is. And I feel like if I thought I'd seen paradise, and it sucked for me, and I didn't think I wanted to be the sort of person who would think it wouldn't suck, then I'd be pretty bummed about that, and think that maybe nothing would ever get to be OK, because maybe I was just sort of incompatible with OKness. But if the Quendi don't live in the real Quendi paradise, then maybe nobody's ever been to the real Quendi paradise before. And maybe the real Quendi paradise really is OK.

 

- I should should stop saying things. You know if you taught me to block telepathy I'd say fewer stupid things. - that was a stupid thing, too. Augh.

 

MAYBE if she puts up her imaginary waterfalls then Alex will PRETEND he can't hear her.

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I think the problem's with the concept, really. Like, by far the most important thing wrong with Valinor is that the rest of the universe is still here. Even if it - polished away the edges - maybe it could've been so nice we wouldn't have left, and that would have been even worse.

Permalink Mark Unread

She doesn't bring her waterfalls down at all, because she's pretty sure everything she has to say about this is really stupid, and pretending that there are giant crashing waterfalls in front of everything she says makes her feel maybe a little better about things, since at least she doesn't think anything she says is the sort of thing that shouldn't be behind a giant crashing waterfall that probably doesn't do anything. She also doesn't stop talking, though, because, well.

Heaven's not supposed to be like that, not while the rest of us are still down here. Everyone up there spends all their time praying and trying to help everyone down here. You couldn't just ignore it all.

 

Permalink Mark Unread

He doesn't respond to that.

Permalink Mark Unread

Maybe she has come up with something too stupid to be worth responding to at all. Or maybe he's ignoring everything behind the waterfalls because he feels bad that he can't tell her how to actually block anything.

Or.

She keeps her waterfalls up.

 

Alex?

Aaaaaaleeeeeeex.

Alexalexalexalexalexalexalexalexalexalexalexalex -

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He hops in the truck and starts driving her home.

Permalink Mark Unread

This is so weird.

Alexalexalexalexalexalexal-

She abruptly brings her waterfalls down.

-exalexalexalexalexalexalexalex-

Permalink Mark Unread

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" - sorry."

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He looks back at the road. "Whatever floats your boat."

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Weeeeeird. But he could still be doing the pretending not to hear her when she has waterfalls up because he feels bad that he can't tell her how to actually block things thing, because she's kind of unclear on how many of her thoughts she's actually sending most of the time.

Oh! Michael won't have been paying attention to them! If she brings her waterfalls up and goes HEY FATHER MICHAEL behind them, then - ?

Permalink Mark Unread

This does not produce any effects.

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Father Michael would definitely answer if he could hear. Unless possibly Alex either predicted that she was going to contact Father Michael OR read her mind and told him not to answer before she actually contacted him. But that wouldn't make a ton of sense. Alex doesn't have any reason to make her think she can block telepathy if she can't.

Ergo, waterfalls work. 

Hm.

She pictures forming words outside the waterfall and sending those to Alex. 

Anyway. I'm fresh out of parents, so I guess Azalea'll be coming to parent-teacher night this year.

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I'll tell her that you are an adequate student but sometimes fail to fully apply yourself at gym class.

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If I fully applied myself everyone else would know that Clark Kent is Superman.

 

Also I definitely figured out how to block your telepathy just now and it's mildly freaking me out and in the interest of transparency and stuff I feel like I should let you know this. Sorry.

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I noticed. It's not my fault, I didn't tell you, I don't care.

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Oh. OK. Solid. 

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I tried to convince Matt it'd be a good idea to tell you anyway but he's hard to move on security stuff.

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I wouldn't tell me secrets either. It's just hard not to poke things.

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Osanwë's - friendly, it's meant to be entirely voluntary, it's not supposed to have invasive uses at all. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Ah. ...I imagine reading people involuntarily was probably less needed in off-brand paradise, even if it was off-brand and stuff.

Permalink Mark Unread

People debated a little whether it was okay to read little babies? But - yeah. You're getting a very skewed account of Valinor, hearing it from me, it was vastly better than Earth in every way. I don't want to suggest otherwise just because I'm mad about a bunch of stuff.

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I feel like there's a lot of space between 'better than earth' and 'literally heaven'. Earth has, like, literal demons that wander around and kill people by draining all of their blood.

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I mean, I also kinda think a heaven would be horrible so we're probably just not on the same page here.

Permalink Mark Unread

Yeah. But I guess if neither of us is planning on dying any time soon then it probably won't come up for a bit. 

Permalink Mark Unread

We go back to Valinor when we die. - I guess conceivably something weird could happen with Michael but that's where I'd go, unless I decided to hang around hoping you get reimbodiment magic.

Permalink Mark Unread

Ah. 

For, like, forever? Because you left once, and stuff. Not that I guess it'll probably matter on my end, 'cause you're not allowed to live thirty thousand years and then die in the next twenty, and I'm pretty sure I don't get to come back.

Permalink Mark Unread

Twice, I've actually left twice, I have died before. But yeah, you're the one we've gotta worry about. 

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Yeah. I think I'm oddly bad at the staying alive for someone who's not supposed to get any second chances on that front.

Permalink Mark Unread

He pulls in to her house. Well, take care.

Permalink Mark Unread

And for a while things are quiet.

 

A few weeks later, a couple of vampires drive into town. Spike would have figured the Order of Aurelius would still in town, but they're not. In fact, the whole place seems to be almost entirely abandoned, with nary a vampire in sight. The whole thing is very depressing. Normally he'd be at least a little excited to see what had driven all the monsters away, but he's got to be careful about this, this time. He's got to think about Dru.

Eventually he parks next to a bar and gets out. It's a demon hangout, he can smell it. It's not very impressive, even so. A few of the demons inside are violent types, but they don't look like they've gotten up to any violence recently.

"Well, this is sad," he informs the room at large. "A tragedy, is what this is. Whole hellmouth under this town, and all it has is a couple dozen sorry excuses for demons that would rather play cards than wreak a little havoc?"

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One of the demons playing cards looks up, then looks back at the cards, then chews on their tongue for a while, then looks back up. "I take it you're new."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeh, just rolled in. Who do you kill for fun around here?"

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"Cockroaches. Sometimes, puppy dogs."

       "I know a couple guys who died sticking to puppy dogs."

              "Idiots, though."

       "You take that back."

"Yeah, you rolled into the wrong place if you want any sport."

              "There's a Slayer here."

                         "There's a lot of goody-goody saviors of the world running around here."

              "It's like Cleveland."

                         "Don't get her started about Cleveland."

 

 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, is that all? Killed a couple slayers in my time. I don't like to brag. - actually, I love to brag. Where's this bint live?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"You'll get yourself killed," someone mutters. 

        "She goes to the school," someone else offers. "Sunnydale High."

"Karen Teller. You really don't know what you're getting yourself into. It's like she's everywhere at once."

                "I'm not a coward."

       "She's got friends, they're usually with her -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Friends, huh? Little army of high school brats with stakes?"

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"No."

     "Well, some of those."

"They're teaching the kids at the school to fight vampires these days."

     "I remember when humans knew their place -"

"She didn't get those weapons from any high school students."

"There's a bodyguard, a tall fellow."

"There's a priest."

       "Last I heard the Watcher's Council was as useful as a toothpick but maybe the times are changing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Priest and a bodyguard, huh? That's new. They have names? Addresses?"

Permalink Mark Unread

No one has the faintest idea where the bodyguard lives. The priest lives a short walk from the church in a little cottage. The Slayer drops by every week, or every few weeks, or really only once a month or so, depending who you ask.

Permalink Mark Unread

Well, this should be interesting.

The first order of business - after he's found a place for Dru to stay, anyway, a nice roomy abandoned factory where she can spread her dolls out and rest for a while - is to determine who this Slayer is and how seriously he should be taking her and her "friends".

He waits down the street from the school in his car, the black paint on his windows protecting him from bursting into flames. The slayer's not hard to recognize, if you know what to look for. She moves with purpose, like she knows what she's doing. She stops outside to talk to someone, a man in a suit coat who couldn't look more uncomfortable if he tried. That'll be the watcher, then. Doesn't look very tough.

He follows the watcher home.

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"Have you seen Mr. Wyndam-Pryce?" asks Karen, two days later. "He hasn't bugged me in like a whole forty-eight hours."

Permalink Mark Unread

"- no, I haven't. That's worrying. Let's drop by his place."

Permalink Mark Unread

Wesley's apartment is empty of humans, but not of objects. 

"His books are still here."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, I don't like this." He seems to be watching Karen expectantly.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well..."

Dangit, how do detective people do things, this is much harder than crossbows.

"He didn't call anyone?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Nope."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well. ...is his car still here."

(It is. There's a little parking lot near the apartment complex that still has a car that looks like the one Wesley drives. She doesn't have the license plate memorized, or anything, but she's pretty sure very few people keep their cars that obsessively clean.)

"Well. We should probably figure out what murdered and/or kidnapped my watcher."

Permalink Mark Unread

"We should probably assume that it doesn't wish us well, either. Let's not be out tonight, and let's invite your family over to Michael's -"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yeah, that makes sense.

"What about - I mean tomorrow's parent-teacher night."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh, right. Everyone out after dark - damn Synder - Michael can drive Azalea over and be an extra pair of eyes and ears, and we can tell the Bureau to be around conducting investigations of the drainage systems or whatever and escort all the kids home safely. And I'll read all the demons in town, see if any of them were involved."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Cool. I'll, um, get Azalea and then sit at Michael's and be useless, I guess?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"We're going to figure it out. We just need some leads and shouldn't wander around exposed looking for them. You can sit at Michael's and brainstorm with Wishbone, 's not useless."

Permalink Mark Unread

She nods seriously. "I'll get Azalea."

Permalink Mark Unread

He reads demons' minds. There aren't many left and none of them are contemplating Wesley, just their girlfriends and their soap operas and the inadequate inventory of the local magic shop and how their sister is a bitch and how it's been too long since there was an explosion in this town and how sirens are an atrocity really if you think about it and about how this town used to get a higher caliber of tourist and about whether that fellow was single. 

Permalink Mark Unread

She grabs Azalea and Connor and Wishbone and they all drive to Michael's.

 

"Just so we're clear," says Karen, before they get there, "If you hit on my priest, I will have to beat you to death with a shovel."

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"That's fair. What happens if I hit on Alex?"

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"I dunno! Don't! Probably not murder, I guess, I'll probably just glare very sternly."

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"I just like to be aware of all current threats to my life."

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Lovely. They arrive at Michael's.

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"Karen, Azalea, Connor. Come on in."

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"Thanks for having us! We appreciate the hopefully not being eaten by monsters."

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"I really like not being eaten by monsters, personally." He leads them in. 



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"Your house is really big. I was gonna say 'for a priest's house' but I think it'd be pretty big for anyone."

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"It's very important to spend your money on the poor and not on big houses but it is a virtue I have particular difficulty embodying."

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"Well, for all have sinned. - it's a big house, though."

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"I told you."

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"Yeah, but 'big' is sort of ambiguous when it comes to - whatever. Thank you for having us. Are there bedrooms?"

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"Yes. Second floor." He shows them their bedrooms. They are big, elaborate, pretty rooms with their own water features.

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Cool. Cool cool cool. Excessive, but cool.

 

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"Alex back yet?"

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"On his way. He checked whether anyone'd showed up at the hospital or the morgue - nothing."

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"Ugh. He's - probably not really any more my responsibility than anyone else is, but it feels like he is."

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"That makes sense. He came here for you, and while the Council has many shortcomings which, uh, chafe Alex particularly, everyone who chooses to fight evil in this world will end up having shortcomings far more visible than those of the people who manage to stay out of it."

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"I mean I don't even really dislike him. He's just... really bad at things."

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Nod.

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He gets back five minutes later. "No body. Which doesn't mean much. No one else missing, that the cops thought of offhand when I asked."

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"So nothing really resembling a lead, still."

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"Yeah. We'll keep ears out. Whatever it was, it seems unlikely it just wanted Wesley."

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"Yeah. We'll just... stay in until we have to go to school tomorrow, I guess."

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"Sounds good. Michael can sing."

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"Technically I'm not supposed to sing in front of civilians."

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"They already know everything, though."

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"I"m just saying that technically the rule is civilians, not 'people in the know'."

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"Cáno. Sing."

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So he wanders upstairs to the biggest room and sings. It is immediately obvious that he has been holding back at Mass. 

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Wow.

Maybe staying in the batcave isn't, like, the worst thing ever.

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He did learn from the people who sang the universe into existence. 

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Well apparently this is the place to learn.

 

Eventually she can vaguely attempt to do some homework, go to bed, panic in the morning and attempt to do more homework, and then go to school and attempt to finish the rest during first period, as is her way.

She swings by the gym after school - around five, about an hour before things are scheduled to start. "Hi! Ask me why I'm still in the building, despite being neither a parent nor a teacher."

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"Snyder? Oh, sorry. Why are you still in the building despite being neither a parent nor a teacher?"

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"Snyder," she confirms. "He is unimpressed with my grades, my snooping, and, I suspect, with my general existence. Anything I can do for you before I am chained to the snack table in preparation for two hours of forced labor?"

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"I guess be on the lookout for weird stuff." We've got as much backup as we could reasonably ask for with one person missing, which is quite a lot of backup actually.

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She gives him a thumbs up. How many people?

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Like twenty. They're going to escort the parents home safe, and call in backup if that's getting complicated.

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That is a lot. I guess people take us seriously or something.

"All right. Off to the mines I go. Remember me well."

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"The important thing is to remember that someday you will be free and wreak vengeance upon all those who enslaved you. I hear toads and locusts are traditional."

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"Thank you, I'll keep it in mind."

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And he braces himself for parents.

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There are parents! Most of the parents do not, in fact, come down to the gym. Some people want to know how he grades. A few fathers want to know if Alex is planning on ever making the kids play any sports. A mother very seriously tells him that her daughter has always hated gym, but that it's now her favorite class, and she'd like to thank him for whatever it is he's doing in it.

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Well that's all right then.

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Azalea is a responsible adult and goes around to most of Karen's classrooms to see what everyone has to say about her sister. Not because she cares what they think, mind you, but because Karen really likes it when people care about how she's doing, and also Karen'll be happy if she hears that her teachers are saying any nice things about her behind her back. (Several people say that she should apply herself more. The math teacher is not entirely sure she's ready for trig. The English teacher suspects that Karen did not read more than the first ten pages of their first novel. The chemistry teacher doesn't seem to have any idea who Karen is. The Latin teacher comments that Karen is the first student who's ever given him a paper so long that he had to subsequently impose length limits. The American history teacher gets this faraway look in his eyes and says, "She really cares about things. Not about homework, but about - she got into this passionate debate at one point about the significance of the Magna Carta.") 

Eventually she makes her way to the gym. "Hey. I'm supposed to ask how Karen Teller is doing in your class. Name ring any bells?"

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"I told her I'd let you know she's a bright, hardworking kid, though sometimes it seems like she isn't really applying herself in gym class. She said something about Clark Kent in defense."

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She laughs. "And her extracurricular activities, is she applying herself to those?"

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"Yep, doing great."

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"Good for her. She's a good kid."

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"They're all good kids. But - yeah."

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It is at about this point that two things happen:

One, on the other side of the school, a group of about a dozen people walks into the room where Karen is manning the snack table. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce is among them, and for a good two seconds Karen is too relieved to see him alive to realize that he isn't.

Two, a larger group of vampires not bothering to pass for humans pours into the gym and starts attacking parents.

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This fucking city. 

Couple dozen vampires in the gym, he informs the Bureau and Karen and Michael, and innocent people are going to get killed if he fires the gun at these idiots so it'll have to be stakes once he's out of throwing knives, which he is four seconds after they walk in.

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Bunch of them in the - whatever this room is even called -

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"Hello, Karen. Do you think they'll hear your screams all the way over in the gym?"

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She looks around wildly for something weapon-shaped, fails to find anything suitable, and settles for hitting him with the entire snack table. This works OK, though it's too slow to be much good against a vampire who knows what they're doing and also results in the snack table being out of reach.

Also I found Mr. Wyndam-Pryce. He's dead. And possibly unconscious. In that order.

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Hang on, get out of there if you can, backup coming -

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They have the exits blocked - maybe I can - 

Weapon, weapon, weapon -

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Spike applauds. 

"You know, that was something. Woman of action, I respect that. Tell you what - "

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Oh, who needs weapons anyway. 

She runs for the exit and yeah, no, that's not gonna work, she's gonna have to ram her way out. She kicks someone in the face and then throws the other nearby vampire at the wall, but there are ten of them, and by the time she's done with that there are three more on her and her arms are pinned. Not pinned well, but it means she can't punch anyone in the next three seconds.

Also Wyndam-Pryce is not unconscious, frick, he's standing up across the room.

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"You know I was hoping we could talk for a bit before I killed you. I mean we've only just met."

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So the getting out of here plan did not work so well.

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Then just - stall - they're on the way - 

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"Name's Spike. Now I could kill you now, Slayer, but it'd be a little hollow. We'd never know which of us wins in a proper fight. So I figure, I call off my men - have them guard the exists, so your discretion doesn't get the better of your valor - and we'll try this again, just you and me. You win, they let you walk out of here. You lose, well. Don't be scared, pet, I'll make it quick. Won't hurt a bit."

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"All right. Call off your men and let's dance."

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He nods. The vampires on her let her go and return to guarding the exits.

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And so they fight. She hits him pretty hard, but he doesn't go down. He hits back.

There is some part of whatever she is now that was made for this, specifically, not for a world of crossbows or cars or guns. Some power that was first unleashed when humanity was in its infancy and its most formidable weapon was a stick, with a sharpened stone attached, in the hand of a young woman who was supposed to be human, but who maybe wasn't anymore, not quite.

It sings, fighting someone who's worthy of being fought. 

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Soldiers burst into the gym with tasers to find not all that much to mop up. Some of them start administering first aid. Most of them keep going.

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- and she can't actually figure out how to deliver enough blunt force trauma to force Spike down, and at some point Spike gets one really good hit in her solar plexus and shit shit shit, everything is terrible - 

Things going OK on your end? 'Cause I'm fine, I'm definitely not getting my ass handed to me by a vampire I met three minutes ago.

 

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They burst through the door and fire a lot of tasers at everyone that might plausibly be a vampire.

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Apparently they know that Karen is not a vampire. This is pretty cool.

OK. Crisis averted. Ow. Is Azalea - ?

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Fine. Fuck. Where'd they get - this is so many - 

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I don't know, we had the town practically all cleared out!

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Sounds like someone should talk to this - he kicks the blond vampire that'd challenged Karen - when he wakes up.

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Yeah.

 

He beat me. Not even, like, all of them together. Just him.

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I don't see how they got into the building. Incompetent idiots. He glares at the soldiers.

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I dunno. 

I didn't think we could miss this many in the city in the first place. They have to be new, right, they can't have been feeding, we'd have noticed that, surely - ?

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Could've been feeding on animals, I don't keep very close track of that. But yeah. I asked about other disappearances when I was looking for Wesley.

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Can we go back to Michael's? I dunno what Snyder's doing about this but I don't really want to deal with it right now so much.

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Yep. He takes her arm.

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Thanks.

He didn't break anything. Bruising's gonna show up properly tomorrow. Mostly it's embarrassing. Also he killed my watcher, I guess.

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It's not embarrassing. You didn't make any mistakes.

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That's good to hear, anyway. Sort of differently disheartening, because it means sometimes she just can't win even if she does everything right, but it still makes her feel a little better.

I guess high school students can't just carry guns around schools.

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Yeah. Maybe we can wrangle the vamptasers for you but that wouldn't have changed this.

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Yeah.

High school is terrible and school events should never go past sunset.

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Gotta figure out what's up with the mayor. Once he's out we can replace Snyder.

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Yeah.

She's just gonna keep being sulky until they get back to the batcave.

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"Uneventful night here."

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"I think we hogged all of the events. I got to get cornered by ten vampires and get beaten up by exactly one of them."

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"The thing that's eating at me is - assuming Karen was the target, how'd they know she'd be at the school tonight? When did Snyder tell you that you had to stay?"

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"...literally today, I didn't even tell anyone else."

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"The leader, did he introduce himself, did anyone address him?"

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"He said his name was 'Spike'."

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Oh! Oh, oh, oh! I know this one! Pick me!

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“Well, go ahead -“

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Spike! Also known as William the Bloody. He was a member of the Whirlwind before it broke up, but remains the lover of Drusilla. Or at least he was, the last time anyone bothered to write about them. He's of interest to the Watcher's Council because he's already killed two slayers, one in China during the Boxer Rebellion and one in New York in the 70s. Strong ones, too, the second was already in her twenties. I'd have to look it up to remember more details, but you do make a name for yourself, killing multiple slayers. He's most likely aiming to kill a third.

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Macalaure bounces this to everyone present.

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"Well, luckily for him he couldn't stop showboating long enough to do it."

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Yes, I imagine he'll have a very difficult time achieving his ambition now.

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(She is perhaps slightly less sulky now that she's remembered that Spike wouldn't have walked away from killing her.)

"Who's Drusilla?"

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I don't remember as much about her. I'd need some time to do some proper research, though given access to Council writings I could find the information without much trouble at all. I do remember that she's insane.

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"We can ransack Wesley's bookcases. I still wanna know how Spike knew she'd be there and I doubt he's gonna tell me. Though it'll be worth a try."

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"Yeah. ...he can't have gotten that many people together in a matter of hours, even if they did come from outside the city. I guess maybe if Snyder knew he was going to tell me and he had a mindreader focused on him?"

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"Or if Snyder was working for him."

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"Oh. Yeah. Or that."

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Prophetic knowledge of the future wouldn't exactly be unprecedented.

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"If you want to go steal Wesley's books, I can come with. Michael, can you read Snyder -"

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"Sure."

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"And let me know when the prisoners are awake -"

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"Mmhmm."

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"And when they identify the corpses -"

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They stare intensely at each other for a moment. 

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Then Alex shakes himself and steps away. "C'mon, Wishbone -"

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Onward!

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"Do you want me on book theft, or - ?"

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"Yeah. Until 'beat up Snyder' is on the agenda, then I'm gonna want your help with that."

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"I'm not sure that'll fix anything," she says, but she gets her backpack and follows.

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"If he's evil then it fixes lots of things!"

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"I guess? Kind of depends on the brand."

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"Okay, okay, I promise we won't go beat up Snyder unless he's the kind of evil where this solves a problem."

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"Then I will be there."

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They go to Wesley's house. They go in. 

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Wesley has a lot of books. Nowhere near as many as Michael's library has, but they are more specifically focused on Council knowledge, and he does have copies of all of the significant watcher's diaries from the past two hundred years.

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Yep, I'll be needing this one and that one and, oooh, better take them all just to be safe.

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"Can't have other people getting their hands on it, can we?" He starts bringing things out to his truck.

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Karen will help with this. If they work hard and believe in themselves and are good at cramming books into trucks they can probably take everything over in one trip.

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Meanwhile he reads Snyder's mind.

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Snyder is wondering how this could have happened and what he's going to tell the parents in the morning. Probably say it was a gang on PCP again, although the cover story is starting to strain credulity, especially given how many there were this time. 

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"Hello!" he announces a little while later. "We stole a library, got space for it here?"

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"It happens I do!"

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Karen can move books again. Moving books seems unlikely to require her to be in particularly good spirits. She sets aside the ones that Wishbone asks for and starts combing through them herself when everything has been moved.

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He gets some sticks out and whittles them into stakes while waiting for the phone to ring. 

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Eventually it does. "They have the prisoners secured back at Bureau headquarters."

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"I'm going over there."

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"See ya."

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Is this an I-am-going-to-ask-questions-of-prisoners-and-you-are-going-to-read-books-Karen sort of situation?

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Yeah the Catholics gotta stay home for this part. Sorry. 

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'Kay. Don't kill anyone.

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Killing people is very bad interrogation practice.

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This is true. I will go do reading things.

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The vampires wake up in separate cages, lying on the ground, with their hands and legs cuffed to the floor. Someone has tucked a pillow under their heads. There's a human in Spike's cage. He's tapping his foot and humming 'I'll be missing you". 

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Well. This is not any of the ways that he expected this night to go.

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"You're up!" he says cheerfully. "I'll pass that along. Uh, you're detained on the authority of the U.S. government on suspicion of murder, you have the right to a determination of your species and your capacity to stand trial, you have the right to die, you may have more rights than that depending on your species but it sure looks like you're a vampire and if so that's all you've got."

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"Already dead, mate."

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"If you want to be dust instead of a vampire you will be provided with this opportunity." Tap tap. "Most folks don't take it."

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"Yeah, I'll take my chances."

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"Do you want to give us a name?"

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"Spike."

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"Do you feel that you're fluent in English?"

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"Yeah, I'd say so. How long until you finish the stupid questions and move on to whatever it is you're doing here?"

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"Uh, I can send them in if that's what you want."

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"You do that, mate, I haven't got forever. - I mean I do, but I don't wanna spend it doing this."

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He opens the door. Someone walks out. Someone walks in.

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"Hi, Spike. Comfortable?"

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"Not particularly, which I'm sure pleases you. I suppose that slayer still draws breath."

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"Luckily for you."

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"Eh. Win some, lose some. What's it to you?"

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"Where'd you source your sad little army?"

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"Around town. You can always find plenty of people won't be missed, if you know where to look."

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"Why'd you go after the Watcher?"

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"Heard the Slayer had support. Didn't know it was more you than him."

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"Where'd you hear that?"

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"Demon bar. People talk."

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" - all right, what's a question you're not gonna answer, I came here to hurt you and I'm not gonna get away with that if you're going to help me out every step of the way."

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"Sorry, mate. Let me up and we can go a round."

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"- oh, I've got it. Drusilla. Where is she?"

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"Broke up with that bitch ages ago."

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"Is that so."

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"Gets old, taking care of the feeble-minded."

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"Where'd you keep your baby vampires while you prepared for the attack?"

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That one takes him a second.

"City dump. Figured nobody'd come by."

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"When I send someone there, are they going to find signs that a couple dozen vampires were hanging out until recently?"

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"Well, a lot of them only just rose tonight. Or - well, whatever night it was."

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He opens the door and says something to someone in the hallway and then comes back. 

"Off they go to check. Want to try to remember anywhere else you might've been?"

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"No, I don't think I need to."

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He waits for them to investigate the city dump.

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It's a pretty ordinary dump. There are rats. Most of them only have two eyes. No particular indication that large numbers of people have been there in the recent past.

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A while later he leaves and comes back. "Sounds like bullshit, Spikey. Now, why wouldn't you want me to know where you kept the vampires?"

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"I dunno, sounds like maybe you and your mates don't know what a vampire hideout looks like."

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"Man, I'm going to feel so badly about myself if that turns out to be it." He pulls out a knife. "Lemme know if you'd rather die."

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"Ooh, torture, scary. No one's ever done that before."

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"So we should be clear that like - my first priority here is getting to beat you up a little bit because you tried to kill my slayer and I'm very angry about that, my second priority here is having the helpful people who are keeping you and your buddies locked up not get too mad to keep doing that, I guess technically on some level I care where your girlfriend is but, like, not very much.  I'm going to chop your fingers into salami and you're not going to tell me anything and then we'll both be happy, right? And then we'll go find your girl anyway because she can't have gone that far. And in the future you will leave Karen the fuck alone. Everything make more sense now?"

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"Gettin' the picture, yeah."

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"Great." He gets started on cathartic stabbing. It's not really enjoyable in the slightest but it does make something hurt a little less. 

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Spike's not really gonna be able to keep up the sarcastic commentary indefinitely, but he's also not going to tell anyone where Dru is.

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They page through books. He takes notes on the ones he doesn't have. "Let us know if there are things we can help with, Wishbone -"

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Well, I'm going to read these all myself eventually, but to speed things up now, we know that information about Spike and Drusilla will be in the journals from - I think it's 1976 and 1900? Within a decade of those numbers, anyway. Any information about their origins will obviously be earlier than that. And we have several books on particularly infamous vampires, though I'm afraid most of them aren't polite enough to include an index.

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"All right. I'll see if I can find anything."

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Woo, books.

 

 

"OK, here's something. - aw, it's depressing."

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"Oh?"

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"It says Drusilla was a - well it doesn't say exactly where she comes from, but she was preparing to be a nun when the vampire Angelus killed her. It says in life he drove her insane - stalked her, tortured and killed everyone she loved, left her a shell of herself, turned her into a vampire, and then looks like he and his existing girlfriend kept her around to, uh, continue enjoying how thoroughly they'd destroyed her mind? Because, y'know, just torturing her to death the normal way wasn't depressing enough."

" - oh, and she has visions."

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"- wow. 

All right, we need to find her. Alex is trying, but not getting anywhere. Is that going to be in a book or should we start walking the sewers -"

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"I think none of these books have been been written in the past three days."

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"Well, she might have a known preference for, I don't know, abandoned churches or treehouses or something." Sigh. "Cities take a long time to search."

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"I can read more stuff. There's nothing about it in this one, but hey, we have more."

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Nod.

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Alex comes back a little later. "Are you looking for Drusilla?"

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"She's probably not hiding between the pages but that's the top of our priority list, yes. Is the Bureau out searching?"

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"They're checking the woods but it's going to take a very long time during which we could easily lose another forty people." He kicks a table.

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"You break it you pay for it. Also, she's insane, that might make it harder for her to carry out murders inconspicuously."

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"Tortured by vampires to the point of insanity while studying to be a nun. So it's just been happy fun times all around."

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"Did Spike do that?"

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"No, no, this was this other guy. Spike comes in later, and then the torturing-would-be-nuns-into-insanity vampires leave and Spike and Drusilla stay together for - at least one lifetime, anyway."

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"Huh. Okay."

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"It's kind of cute, apart from all of the torturing and murdering people? Possibly I should stop reading before my brain falls out. They will definitely torture and murder people if they get the chance, though."

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"We'll find her. They won't get the chance."

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Nod. "Any plans on how to do that?"

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Table-kick.

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"Enough," he says very quietly. 

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"I guess we just go out and look."

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"All right. Cool. We can do that. After I, uh, sleep and eat and I guess go to school in the morning. Gosh it's late."

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"Oh it is, yeah. - uh, can I have - do you want - a hug?"

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"Yeah."

Hugs. Hugs are very important and good.

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I'm so sorry.

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Don't be. - or, well, for which thing?

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You nearly died. I want to say it won't happen again but I - can't even promise that -

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She hugs him tighter. She wishes she had better words.

I know. I'll try to be careful. But it's - the median slayer doesn't make it a year, and - I did start doing this before I had backup. I know what might happen. I don't expect this job to be perfectly safe.

You make it a lot safer, though.

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Don't die. 

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I'll try my very best.

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Nod. Squeeze.

 

 

He guards her house all night, pointlessly.

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She writes very thorough notes about the day's happenings. She snuggles her dog, who is still reading. She wakes Azalea up really early in the morning and asks her to help her figure out how to apply makeup that makes it look like your face isn't covered in fading-now-but-not-fading-fast-enough bruises. She goes to school and goes to journalism club and bounces around some ideas for what exactly they are going to say about whatever happened at Parent-Teacher Night.

Any particular place we should start sweeping the city?

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They got a location from one of the vampires Spike turned. She wasn't there but she might not have wandered that far.

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Solid.

The abandoned factory has a room with a bed, several expensive dresses, and a collection of little china dolls in it.

At least we know she was here.

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Yeah. 

How helpful to her are her visions, should we pretty much assume we're dealing with a precog?

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Sources disagree. She can't have perfectly reliable precognition that gives her all the information she could want about something, or she wouldn't have sent Spike into the school. Probably. Assuming she likes him. But beyond that I'm not sure.

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Alright. I guess we fan out from here.

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On it.

 

Wherever Drusilla is, she's laying low for the moment. There are no obvious signs of a vampire.

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That sucks because it means they probably won't find her until she kills someone. 

They get an advisory published that a dangerous serial killer is on the loose, encouraging people to call the FBI if they see her.

 

They go back to school.

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Where school things happen!

 

So how did we classify Snyder's evil levels, asks Karen, a few days later, around lunchtime.

Permalink Mark Unread

He wasn't behind this. He's still working for the mayor but there are still no leads on that and no indication Spike's crew was involved. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Ah.

- so like, more specifically, Snyder says one of the kids who was supposed to host one of the international exchange students got really sick and had to pull out of the program but everything's already set for all of the kids to come and did I know that I am in possession of a house, and like this seems like a pretty ridiculous thing to be able to force students to do, even by Snyder standards, but I guess I'll probably say yes unless this is likely to be an evil plot of some kind.

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Wow. Uh, I'll check.

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This high school is super weird. I just want you to know that I'm pretty sure most high schools? Not this weird.

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The concept of high school is pretty weird honestly. In a nice world you'd all spend most of your time exploring and sitting in on lectures that seem interesting and doing apprenticeships and building houses for your classmates who were ready to move out. And teaching little kids. 

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That does sound a lot nicer. But in defense of high school, we only get until we're eighteen to either figure out how to support ourselves or figure out how to convince people that we're worth spending higher education dollars on. Also something something historical importance of compulsory education for maintaining a remotely free and equal and at all cohesive culturally diverse democratic system, rather than collapsing back into oppressive tyranny of the powerless and ignorant masses.

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Yeah, you have a way harder problem. Sigh. I don't like the exchange student but I have no reason to think it's an evil plot.

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Well he's got to stay somewhere. Thanks.

 

How long do Quendi get? To figure out - I guess I dunno whether anyone ever made you guys get jobs.

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No one in Valinor needs to work but we legally come of age at five hundred and typically start to try to be adults by the time we're a thousand.

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Well at least one person probably won't judge me too hard if I'm still making stupid decisions at twenty.

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Honestly sometimes I think everything wrong with humans is that you are full-sized before you have enough experience to be good with each other. Most things humans do wouldn't be that horrifying if a Quendi toddler did them.

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Sounds alarmingly plausible. Man, I was OK being human and mortal and everything until just now. I bet I could figure out how to be a responsible adult if I had five hundred years.

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It makes a big difference. People - figure out what they actually want.

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I dunno if I'd manage that. Maybe in a whole five hundred years. Man, that's like - five hundred years ago the Europeans had known about the Americas for five. The whole country isn't even that grown up. So - maybe in five hundred years even I could figure something like that out.

Anyway. I guess I don't really have to. One of the better parts of being a vampire slayer is that I get to stop trying to figure out what I'm going to be when I grow up.

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Mmhmm. But - it's still good to have time to figure out how you want to be it.

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Yeah. But I also get to not be murdered at eighteen, so that's cool. I'm like ahead of the curve and stuff.

- this conversation is getting more depressing the longer it stays on this topic, so, uh. You coming on the field trip next week?

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Nope, I hate art museums and successfully finagled not being a chaperone. Sorry. 

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You're gonna feel so bad about yourself when monsters jump out of the paintings and attack us.

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No doubt.

 

 

They found a woman dead in the laundry room of an apartment complex out at Sunset and Mann. Barbecue forks, etcetera etcetera. Bureau's combing the area.

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Dang it. I guess more extensive patrolling tonight, then. After we find her I wanna go back to unarmed hand-to-hand before we move on to hot wiring cars, but this comes first.

Lame how I don't have vampire senses. I would totally trade in the slayer dreams for a vampire radar. - or maybe I wouldn't, they were a lot more useful before I met you guys.

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I think her precognition is making this vastly harder than it'd be otherwise.

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Yeah.

- and that's the bell, I gotta go pretend to know Latin now. I'll see you after school.

 

They don't find Drusilla. She's really very good at hiding. Karen wonders whether she thought that this quality might save her, when Angelus was preying on everyone close to her. She kind of wants to give Spike some points in comparison, for going after girls who have some chance at fighting back. This is probably a dumb impulse.

 

On Monday the class takes a field trip to the Sunnydale Natural History Museum. They have lots of old pottery stuff. They have exhibits on dinosaurs, but no actual dinosaur skeletons, just trilobite fossils. She wants to be disappointed about that, but she also feels like if they did have dinosaurs then she would definitely have to fight a T-Rex at some point, and while this sounds incredibly badass, she has seen Jurassic Park, and she knows in her soul that it wouldn't turn out well in the end. 

They have an Incan mummy with worryingly little in the way of display glass. None, in fact. She could just reach out and touch this mummy. This is such a concerning disregard for the safety of valuable ancient historical artifacts.

When they return to the bus, no one counts off. Karen counts, in her head, out of habit, and notices that they're short one student.

Karen does not go home on the bus.

Heyyy, Alex, so I'm gonna cut sixth period to go wander around the natural history museum some more. We're missing a student but if it turns out he's just smoking pot somewhere then feel free to note this on, I dunno, a list of dumb teenage decisions that I have made.

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I'll join you after school.

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Cool.

 

 

 

 

 

Hey Alex? This is gonna sound really dumb, at least if you don't take into account the fact that there were fairies present at some point in our pasts and they cursed us to have interesting lives, but this mummy? This is a different mummy than the mummy that was here before. Also the burial seal plate thingy that was on the mummy before is, uh, broken.

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Man, I hate this place.

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It's very itself.

I'm just gonna.... look around for a mummy for a while before I go pick up Ampata. Mummies can't be that hard to find, can they?

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I kinda wish you'd stop saying things like that. You know what we need, we need cameras everywhere in this city, we need to make the government watch everything that moves. 

 

He pulls up at the museum. He starts scanning for minds that are moving.

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guess 1984 isn't as bad as dying. Plausibly.

There aren't many people moving around. There's Karen, now sweeping the other side of the museum. There are some security guards and museum staff. There are a few patrons, though really not very many at all, it's kind of unclear how this place is staying in business. 

There's one mind that's holding very, very still. She's hiding under the big platform in the mummy exhibit.

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Well okay then.

 

Osanwë's almost as good across a language barrier.

Hey, he sends, you can come out.

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Nope. Nope nope nope. It's not safe, he'll be coming for her, she needs to move but there are voices and she doesn't know how these clothes go and she needs to move but she's still trying to remember how -

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"- all right, found her, she's under the platform and really freaked out. I have no idea if she's safe to touch, but we should assume the answer is 'not'. There're biohazard suits in my car, do you want to go grab them -"

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" - yeah, OK. On it."

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Hey. Are you okay?

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No. Yes. I -

 

What are you?

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Long story. This place has lots of strange things happen. I look out for them. My name is Alex. What's your name?

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I don't remember.

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Okay. 

 

Did something happen this afternoon?

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He broke the seal. I didn't mean to - I don't know if I meant to - I -

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It's okay. Ronnie broke the seal?

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I don't know. Someone. I left the body in the display case.

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Do you know how you did that?

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- what are you going to do?

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I'm going to figure out how to keep you and everyone else safe.

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I kissed him. And the life that was in him - it - I don't know how much I was restored, but - I can move - or I could, if -

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"Got the stuff."

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They get dressed. So you were able to take his life force and regain your own life force? And now you're not a mummy?

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I think so.

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Okay. Do you like not being a mummy?

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- I can't go back. I can't -

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Okay, okay. I just didn't want to congratulate you on not being a mummy until I knew how you felt about it. Congratulations on not being a mummy. Do you want to come out of there?

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After a long moment, a teenage girl wearing the clothes of a teenage boy crawls out from under the display platform.

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Hey. It's us. We're just in the suits in case you mummify everyone who you touch, okay? This is Alex, waving at you. Are you okay? Thirsty? Hungry?

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"...I don't want to stay here," says the girl, very quietly.

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We can take you back to my friend's house.  

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...OK.

Permalink Mark Unread

And we can try to learn what ways for you to interact with the world are safe, so you can lead a normal life.

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She looks really hopeful about this.

I'd like that.

Permalink Mark Unread

Okay. Let's head back, then. 

 

And to Karen, this is going to be a hassle to check, because even if she's safe to touch animals we won't know for sure about humans, but - the Ronnie thing really wasn't her fault -

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She nods seriously and brings up the rear on the way back to the car.

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They head to Michael's. Michael and the live-in human have been warned out of the way. He shows the girl to a bedroom. "Is this okay?"

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"It's very nice. - it's wonderful."

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"Okay. Lemme show you how the sinks work -" he does this - "and then I'll get some food, okay?"

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Nod nod nod.

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He demonstrates sinks, locks her in, goes to get pizza. 

To Karen: Did you know Ronnie?

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Not well. Met him in detention a couple times. 

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Oh, okay.

 

He puts the pizza in the oven.

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She hugs herself and bounces while they wait for the pizza to cook. It's not happy bouncing.

 

"At some point I do have to pick up Ampata. Not now, but - in a bit."

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"Yeah. Are you okay?"

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"Yeah."

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"M'fine. It'd just suck, being human sacrificed and then - waking up somehow in a weird place and immediately killing someone before you know what's going on. I dunno."

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"Yeah. - it's weird that she speaks English."

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"Could've gotten it from Ronnie somehow?"

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Nod. "We're stretched thinner than I like. Drusilla's still out there, you're supposed to be picking up the exchange student who might be an evil plot, we need someone here to help this girl acclimate and they might die if she touches them - do you mind if I call Melissa at the Bureau and ask her to escort you and Ampata home -"

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"That's fine."

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"It was a long day and people died. It happens."

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"Yeah." He calls Melissa. He takes the pizza out of the oven. 

There's a car outside to escort Karen fifteen minutes later.

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She can at lease pretend to be chipper about things while she welcomes Ampata to America and then to her house. Her house is great. It has her sister and her nephew and her totally normal Jack Russell Terrier who is definitely in no way whatsoever an ancient demon hunter. Also it is where she does homework, like a responsible junior in high school.

(She stabs her pencil at trig problems as though the answer depends on how much pressure she applies to the page. She keeps getting stuck in the middle and having to start over. It's whatever.)

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He brings the mummy girl pizza. "So you forgot your name?"

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"No one's said it in a very long time. I think everyone else forgot it, too."

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"In a very long time - have you been awake in that museum exhibit?"

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She nods.

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"Wow. Okay. I'm so sorry. That won't happen again, we won't leave you alone. You can actually message me telepathically if you ever need to."

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"OK. - thank you."

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"Of course."

Michael can you shoot Moryo a call and ask him to check if the mummies in the museums in New York are conscious. Also ask Matt about the ones in DC if you think he won't just stab them.

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I'll pass it along. 

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"This food is very good. What do you call it?"

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"Pizza."

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"Pizza. Thank you for the pizza."

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"Of course. Want to try ice cream?"

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"OK!"

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He gets her ice cream.

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Mummy girl will very happily try ice cream and comment repeatedly on how good it is.

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That's good then. He sits with her and explains more things and watches Karen worriedly.

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Karen eventually gives up on her homework and gets Ampata settled into his room and then goes to bed like a normal person who gets normal amounts of sleep.

Because she is not, in fact, a normal person who gets normal amounts of sleep, she's up an hour later and pacing around her darkened house.

 

I think I'm gonna go check on Zeke.

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Sounds good. Think he might've heard anything about Drusilla?

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Ah yes, a logical and responsible reason to check on Zeke.

Wouldn't bet on it, honestly, but we might as well check.

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Yeah. Be careful out there.

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Yeah.

She's at Zeke's crypt twenty minutes later.

"Hey dude. If you wanna go to the arcade I have, like, an obscene number of quarters."

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"Ooh. Sounds like a plan."

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Everything is now a full 15% less terrible. 

"So. You hear about what happened last week?"

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"You mean the thing where some guy came into town, totally cleaned up at kitten poker, turned like thirty people, got demolished trying to attack Sunnydale High, and disappeared? Yeah, I caught that."

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"Yeah, that thing. - Did you hear about it before he attacked the school, because if so I'm gonna feel really stupid." Also negligent and responsible for like thirty deaths and for whatever is happening to the surviving vampires now and ugh.

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"Nah, I didn't catch wind of anything major until he was already gone. If I heard somebody was raising an army I'd, like, come looking for you, that seems like the kinda thing you should know about."

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"Thanks. He was trying to kill me, I guess."

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"Well, I'm glad he didn't manage it!"

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"Yeah, me too. We're looking for his girlfriend right now, she's around and killing people and has visions of the future and may or may not also be trying to kill me specifically. So, like, if you hear anything."

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"I will tell you if I hear anything about this guy's girlfriend," he assures her. "I like barely knew he had a girlfriend before now, but you never know."

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"Thanks. Best vampire friend ever."

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"I try! So besides the vampire army, how've you been?"

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"Pretty OK!

- I mean actually one of my classmates was killed by a mummy today and my principal is sooort of forcing me to host a random guy from Peru in my house and I'm feeling sort of generally bummed about, like, letting thirty people die and making Alex worry and stuff, but, uh, I'm coping I guess."

She's not coping exceptionally well, maybe, but still.

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"...Do you want a hug?"

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"Lil bit."

Hug.

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Hug.

"I wanna like say something comforting but the best I can come up with is 'yeah, thirty people dying does sound like a bummer', so maybe I should just shut up and play arcade games."

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She laughs. It's only a little bitter.

" - it's like, it's less even that they died and more that - it's my job to stop stuff like that from happening, you know? So when it happens it's like - maybe it wouldn't've happened if spent more time hanging out with demons or something, but I dunno if trying to would get more or less people killed in the end - "

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He hugs her again.

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Hugs.

 

"...Alex was really upset about it."

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"Yeah?"

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"Yeah." She stops hugging him and keeps walking towards the arcade, hands stuffed glumly into her hoodie pockets. "Not with me. He's never very upset with me, I don't think."

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He isn't sure where she's going with this but can't figure out how to ask. How does he find out what the helpful thing is and how to do it? Friendship is hard.

"That... sounds like a good thing to have in a friend, the not being upset with you," he tries, tentatively.

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"Yeah! Yeah, it's really good." She looks at the ground. "I don't want to be upset with him either, you know? And - I don't think I am. Not really."

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"...but...?"

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"I think he probably tortured the guy who tried to kill me. Or hurt him really badly, anyway, if there's a difference. And I dunno how to feel about that. Shouldn't feel anything about it, really, other than - maybe it doesn't even matter, maybe it'd be fine to just feel grateful that he cares, or to just feel glad that Spike got what was coming to him, or to object to torturing people on principle and tell him not to? And I do feel all of that, I just - I mostly feel really sad about it. And I don't know what I'm even supposed to do with sad, sad doesn't get you anywhere. And - now we're trying to track down Drusilla, and I know we have to find her and stop her, and I want to, I do, but - I feel really bad for her, too, after reading about who she was when she was alive, and how even after she died she had to travel around with this guy who tortured her into insanity, and I just - she could try to kill me, and if she comes close then maybe Alex'll hurt her, too, and I don't want her to be hurt, I want her to be - safe, and OK, and not being tortured again, but she's also like a murderous monster who's out there killing people, and I don't wanna be distracted by - worrying about her, but I am, and -

" - I just keep thinking that if I'd been better at my job in the first place then it wouldn't've happened. And that's - I don't know if it's bad or not, because I should want to be better at my job? But wanting to for that reason feels like - it's not like Alex is a force of nature, you know, it feels wrong to treat him like he isn't making choices, but like on the other hand he's going to make whatever choices he makes, and I can't make them for him? So I can only control the choices I make, so maybe I should be focusing on that? But I don't even know what the right choices are. And I don't feel capable or powerful anymore, really, since it happened, because I didn't beat Spike, if I'd been alone I'd be dead now, so I can't get by without Alex and the government people, which means I don't really get to take issue with how they do things, I don't think, and they're still the best option? It's - I think it's still better to try taking people in alive instead of executing people on the spot, even if some of the people get really badly hurt on the way, but they're not trying as hard as they could try to help them, if they're -

" - but I don't even really know that he did anything, I just - very strongly suspect that he did something that I would disapprove of, and he didn't tell me what, which kind of makes me feel like he thinks it's something that'd make me feel worse to know, which makes me feel really terrible because I don't know how bad it'd have to be to be worse than what I'm already worried about, but then it's not like he's intentionally hiding it or anything, because I didn't ask, and Alex doesn't tell people things if they don't ask, and so maybe it was really nothing at all and I'm doing this to myself for absolutely no reason, but I still don't want to ask because then we might have to talk about it and if we talk about it then all of this stuff will spill out and - I don't think he'll be disappointed in me for it, but I don't want him to take me less seriously, either, and then it might make him sad, and maybe make him worse at his job, and maybe not even make me any better at my job, and I don't want to deal with that, especially now, because I need to be ready and he needs to be ready, and I'm not ready, really, which means he needs to be ready even more, because if we're both off our game while a precog super vampire is running around then that's a really bad situation, you know?

"So I'm trying to figure out how to just - ignore it, and go back to being the person I was, and be cool and confident and responsible and stuff, and I don't know how, because it's not just the torture thing, it's also, like - I almost feel like this isn't my city anymore, between the government people and the super-strong vampire serial killers and my watcher being dead and the not being able to do anything for the mummy girl, and the - being useless - and it's dumb and I feel dumb and it doesn't help anything to throw a tantrum about it, it just makes everything worse.

"And I know I'm not any worse at anything than I was last year, I just feel worse because I had one bad night, which is dumb because there are always going to be bad nights sometimes, and I guess because I have more options, and that means I have to spend more time thinking about which one is the right one, and - I know I have to keep taking vampires alive, because it's still better than killing them, but I'm scared for them now, and it sucks, and it's a totally useless emotion to have because I can't let them go or a bunch more people will die.

"And sometimes I feel like maybe given all this I should at least be frustrated with Alex, or something, but I'm not, 'cause every time I think about him I just think about him trying really hard and really really wanting me to live and being scared that maybe he can't get me all the way to thirty, and I feel a little sick every time I think about being really happy whenever he threatened to hurt people if they ever hurt me, because - it's really nice having someone care, but the thing about hurting people is that then the people end up hurt, and I don't want anyone to be hurt, and I know I'm not gonna get an epitaph that says I never brought sorrow to anyone, it's too late for that, but I still don't want my epitaph to be 'here lies Karen; she was nice I guess, but she couldn't be OK with people being hurt, and she only ever got anything done because Alex was always half a step behind her with a spear, ready to break off a spear-point in her enemy's body' - and I don't even know whether I want to be more OK with hurting people or less OK with hurting people, I don't know which one's better, because being here is no good, but none of the places I can land look very good either, and - maybe if I were a much much much better slayer I could just save everyone all the time and never have to make decisions about it or have to figure out how to feel about sucking at stuff, but I don't know how to get there, and -

" - and every time I try to figure it out it gets more tangled and I don't know what to do about it and Alex knows I'm sad and I don't know what to tell him because it's not like I can just tell him - whatever all of that was."

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"Wow," says Zeke, blinking. "Um. I want to hug you again, can I hug you again."

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"Mhmm."

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He hugs her again. Hopefully this helps. Even if it doesn't help Karen it kind of helps Zeke a little, honestly.

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Zeke hugs temporarily lift a good 27% of her inner turmoil.

"Thanks."

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"Hey, no problem. What are friends for, right?"

Okay, where does he even start with this. He's not sure he remembers more than half of all the stuff she said.

"...so I think... sometimes the situation you're in kind of sucks, and all the things you could do about it kind of suck, because the world kind of sucks, and I think it's pretty normal to not feel great about that, because, like, it's bad when things suck, that's the whole deal with things sucking? This is not something I personally have a lot of experience with because I don't really do things, but I bet it comes up a lot when you're the Slayer, especially when you're trying to help people as much as you try to help people, which as far as I can tell is kind of a ridiculous amount? You're doing a lot of stuff that's really hard because you're a nice person and you want everyone to be okay even when they don't want you to be okay at all and are actually trying to murder you. And, like, I respect that about you. Kind of a lot actually."

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"...you do?"

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"Yeah."

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" - you're a really weird vampire."

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"That's very true."

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"I guess I'm not, like, super archetypal for a vampire slayer either, though. - it's cool. You're really cool."

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"Yeah, well, you're really cool too. So there."

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"Thanks."

They do, eventually, proceed to the arcade. It's nice. Probably says something about her that one of the most normal downtime things she ever does is play arcade games with her vampire friend, but hey.

She's quieter on the way back to Zeke's crypt. At least until they get within sight of the graveyard.

" - hey Zeke?"

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"Yeah?"

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"You don't have to answer this or anything - really, I won't mind at all if you don't - but, uh, how many people do you figure you've killed, in the whole time you've been a vampire?"

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"Man, I am way too bad at math to answer that question. Uh, what's one a week for a hundred and ffity years? Ish?"

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"Uh, I think that's like...... seven thousand five hundred, ish? That sounds like the right order of magnitude. Wow."

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He shrugs. "Sorry? Like - I'm literally incapable of remorse but I'm not a big fan of making you sad, so, not very sorry but at least a little sorry?"

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"Nah, s'cool. I mean, don't ever do it again or I'll kick your ass, but I asked. I'm just thinking about stuff."

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"Sure," he says agreeably.

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"I'll see you around," she says, and gives him one last hug before leaving.

She tries to imagine seven thousand people on the way back home. Not just picture them, that doesn't get at the thing. It'd be - Azalea and Connor and Alex and Zeke and Wishbone and Dennis and Mercy. Times a thousand. Seven thousand people with hopes and dreams and backstories, seven thousand people with their stories cut short, seven thousand people whose parents and spouses and children must have wondered where they were. She would have liked most of them. She likes most people, if she thinks about it enough. She would have cared, if she'd known them, about each and every one of them, at least if her heart hadn't gone numb by the end.

And. Also. Zeke is her friend. 

She takes a deep breath.

 

 

Zeke hasn't heard anything about Drusilla.

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Drusilla got someone else. Well, presumably her, it could be a different vampire but we had such a streak going - anyway, thanks for checking. Sorry it didn't pan out.

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Where'd they find this one?

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Worked the night shift at the gas station up by campus.

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She sticks a pin at the location on her big labeled map of Sunnydale. And the one before that?

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Laundromat. He gives the address.

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She adds another pin. The locations aren't particularly close together.

How many hours ago was the second murder?

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Couple hours ago.

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That might be too cold for Wishbone to pick up a scent trail, but I'm gonna swing by anyway and see. Maybe we should get a bloodhound or something.

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Yeah. Man, I hate this. 

 

Bureau's thinking about letting her boyfriend out, seeing if we can follow him to her.

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I guess that might work. I imagine he knows we're looking, though.

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Yeah. They can stage an escape opportunity but - he's not stupid, I don't know if he'll buy it. 

I do think he'd look anyway, he really loves her.

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Yeah.

She throws her backpack and her crossbow into Azalea's car and sets Wishbone down very gently. The police can go ahead and yell at her for driving on her own with just a learner's permit; she has a serial killer to catch.

 

If I ask what you did to him are you gonna tell me?

 

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Yeah, of course.

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OK.

 

I'm not asking now but that's because I'm driving a metal death box at night on like zero sleep in an attempt to track a precog super-vampire serial killer, and I think these are the sorts of things that you're supposed to, like, focus on while you're doing them.

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So I've been told. Do you want me to meet you there?

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It'd probably be best. How's mummy girl?

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She thinks junk food is the greatest! It's pretty great, I see where she's coming from. She thinks she was conscious the whole time. We're checking on mummies in other cities.

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...well that's sort of horrifying.

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Uh huh. 

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At least she's better now. I guess. I wonder if the museum'll notice that they don't have a girl mummy anymore.

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Seems like the kind of thing it'd be hard to miss but on the other hand I dunno if you advertise it. 

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I guess. How far away are you? I don't want to wait that long once I get there, if we're short on tracking time.

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Yeah, get started right away, I'll catch up to you. Not far.

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It is at this point that a really terrified no-longer-mummy starts sending out really panicked screaming that there's someone breaking into her room.

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- never mind. I'll send backup after you. Careful, okay? Stay clear of fights that might be iffy -

He swings the car around. Michael, Michael are you at that stupid church -

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Yes - what's wrong - oh - 

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Got it.

She reaches the gas station and waits, crossbow at the ready, while Wishbone attempts to find a trail he can follow.

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The windows open from the inside. There's a passcode. It's - oh shit you won't know our numbers - 

4

7

7

7

0

1

1

2

Got it? 

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I think so -

She bites her lip and punches in numbers and escapes through the window seconds before the door gives way. She doesn't have a good enough head start to avoid being chased.