Disclaimer and Authors Note: Refer to Chapter 1.
Note: > > indicates telepathic conversation
"Not bad. For a kid."
The praise, faint as it was, was still more than Jean usually heard Logan give out. Strangely, despite the calming motions of Tai Chi, there seem to still be a great deal of tension in the air.
Buffy looked back at Logan.
"Do you really think I'm a kid?" It was said calmly, and Jean knew, without a wisp of a doubt, that there was a lot more going on in this conversation than she was picking up. It frustrated her. Buffy maintained eye contact with Logan for a moment before he tilted his head back at her.
As she continued gathering her things, he casually and very not-subtly asked the question Jean wanted to know, "So. Where did you learn the Tai Chi?"
The tone was abrupt and very obviously end-of-conversation. Logan nodded his acceptance of the limit and stood, quiet and sharp-eyed, watching as Buffy headed inside.
Then he turned to look at Jean, letting her know that he knew she had been watching, before he settled his hat on a little firmer and headed back indoors himself.
Jean's stomach gurgled uncomfortably. She would far rather deal with straight-out, fight-to-the-death madmen than these kinds of sideways problems.
Willow snuggled down deeper into her pillow. THAT was better. For a while, she been in the worst dream. Now, no more frogs jumping out of the ground at her. All gone.
And just as sleep was dragging her deeper, Buffy dropped her pack at Willow's feet and sat beside her hands.
The slight jerk of fear at someone strange in her room while she was asleep and healthy Hellmouth paranoia woke her instantly.
"Buffy?" A glance at the clock told her it was only 6:00 in the morning.
"What're you doing up this early, Buffy?"
One part of her noticed the exercise clothes and camera; enough so that when Buffy replied that she hadn't actually gone to sleep yet, she finished waking up completely.
Buffy seemed odd - her breathing calm, her body centered and her eyes a little upset - all at the same time.
"I need to get these - " She raised the camera, "to Giles. And I've kinda forgotten how. I'll explain what's happened while you do that."
What's happened? But . . . Didn't we just go to sleep? Arg!
Scott was the last to arrive, shuffling in with - Jean knew - his eyes half closed. And his shirt buttoned wrong. Muffling a snort, she grabbed his hand, pulling him towards a chair as she telekinetically undid and redid the buttons correctly.
"Now that everybody is here - Kitty, why don't you let us know what you've discovered."
"Thanks, Professor. Um, well, Logan asked me to look into something last night and I don't know how he knew," she looked at Logan in his corner questioningly and he quirked a corner of his mouth back at her, "and since he's not going to tell us just yet," Frustration was evident in her voice. Kitty's curiosity didn't like unanswered questions. Jean always found it amusing that sometimes Kitty could be just like her namesake. "I'll explain what I found out."
Swinging her chair around she brought up one of her graphs. "Here is the last fifty years of known deaths, murders, etc in Sunnydale on a percentage scale. I had to do a lot of digging to get some of the older stats. They were really well-hidden, and the more I look at them, the more I think that Sunnydale Police higher-ups have to be in on it somehow. Anyway, that's the last fifty years. This," Kitty switched to another graph, " is the last 10 years. It shows things better. Bet you can't guess what this," She jabs at a spot on the graph, "corresponds to." The humor in her voice had even Scott wide awake now.
She watched her audience as realization dawned on them.
"Is that . . . ?"
Kitty grinned at Scott.
"It appears that your cousin has made a big difference in the town. Almost to the day that she arrived, the murders and missing people started to go down. Dramatically. So, on a whim, I looked up the area of Los Angeles that she lived in before she moved to Sunnydale. It was pretty normal - for that area of L.A. - until a couple of months before she got kicked out of her school."
She brought up another graph and began pointing to places on it as she explained.
"At that point, murders in the area began to increase, almost doubling every few nights or so. They ended the night Buffy allegedly burned down the gym. After that, it was back to business as usual."
She turned back to her audience.
"As well, I did a search through something I should have thought of right away. The school newspaper, the school yearbook and their websites. On Awards Night, it lists Buffy as having received a trophy called 'Class Protector'. This was the first year it was given."
"Uh-huh. In fact, it says on the yearbook's website that people wrote in to suggest the award for her. And, creepily enough, the thing they seem to be most proud of is that their class had the highest percentage of people to survive to graduation. What kind of school did she go to, anyway? Not one I want to go to, that's for sure. The school paper had an Obit column. The high school newspaper had an OBITUARY column. I think I have a better chance of surviving here at Mutant U. At least here, we usually only have problems with, you know, other mutants, those stupid Friends of Humanity, aliens, and government robots trying to kill us."
"Kitten. Who do you think they have to deal with?"
Kitty took a deep breath.
"Well. Um. I went back and looked at the police reports and the newspaper reports and, um, sometimes there was this sorta common denominator that -"
"Kid. Just spit it out. Our lives? Unusual enough. They can handle it."
Kitty made a face at Logan.
"Yeah? The last time I suggested anything like this you guys laughed at me. Of course, that was before you discovered that I was right." She looked at Logan again, realization dawning. "You already knew, didn't you? How do you -?"
"Just spit it out, pum'kin. I'll help if you have trouble."
Kitty made a face and growled at him lightly. She really didn't like being kept in the dark.
"Okay, for the one group I put together, there's a whole buncha reason listed, but, basically, it comes down to blood loss by way of two little holes in the neck."
"Vampires!" The horrified exclamation came from Ororo. Jean found herself reaching over mentally and brushed a small wordless wave of > comfort, safe now > against the walls in Ororo's mind. A shaky > gratitude, acknowledgement, safe here > of emotion whispered back at her after a moment. Ororo's experience with vampires had been years in the past and had left her with nightmares and self-doubt. A very painful memory for all the X-Men. Kitty was right. None of them had believed her when she had suggested a vampire had bitten Ororo all those years ago. Not until the vampire came back for her.
Jean could feel Scott shudder. Mystical things were not on his favorite list, either. They never seemed to follow the laws of physics. He liked the laws of physics.
"Vampires. And, probably, other things that go bump in the night. The hospitals - - Get this, guys - - the hospitals list 'injury through barbeque fork' on the charts of survivors of the vampire attacks. And then there's the other injuries and, MAN, some of them are weird. How do they expect people to believe this! They're even less realistic than barbeque forks and gas main explosions. Slimey goo and cuts are 'an explosion of jam jars'. Yuck! And 'gangs on PCP's' show up everywhere in reports. But there's no traditional signs of any actual gangs. And people go along with the stories, after the first few hours, anyway. Going completely, totally, milky-eyed blind in minutes is 'bad contact fluid'. The girl didn't wear glasses. Or contacts. And the complete recovery a day later was 'expected, only a matter of time, really.' Having your hands catch on fire, in front of a whole bunch of people, is 'booby-trapped pom-poms'." Kitty's face twisted in disgust as she read down her list. "These people are sick! Really! Oh! I didn't remember this one. A mouthless girl -"
"Stop! Kitty. Just. Stop. Okay? I think we get the picture."
"It's growing! You don't mean - like tentacles or anything, do you? Because I hate tentacles. And then they're all suckery and grabby - and they don't care where they grab you, either. But, no. It wouldn't be suckery if it was stone. Unless it's a portal to something suckery. When the Hellmouth opened, there were tentacles, then. And the face. Do you think there's gonna be something like the face again?" A beep interrupted Willow's worryalog and she brightened after checking her computer. "Okay, Giles received the photos and they all came out intact."
"So. Demons, huh?"
"Oh, don't get her started AGAIN." To their disgust, Kitty hadn't stopped at her verbal examples. She had had pictures. And she wanted them to know this time that there was no way she was just an over-imaginative kid to be patted on the head, so they had been very comprehensive, disgusting pictures. And had included autopsy photos. Very disturbing.
"Yep. What I wanna know is how Logan knew about it. Knew enough about it to put me on the right track."
As a group, they turned and looked at the silent man who had leaned back in his chair with his hat tipped forward over his face as if he had been napping for the last little while. With the weight of their eyes on him, he resettled the hat to it's proper place and eyed a very curious Kitty.
"Lotsa reasons. But she had the smell of dead vampires on her. That was kinda a giveaway."
"Logan? I'm fairly certain she's showered. . . "
Logan snorted and then sighed, knowing Kitty wouldn't give up.
"That wouldn't matter. I'd probably still be able to smell them on her a week from now. Look, if you eat something with a strong scent, you know that scent comes out as part of the body's sweat, etcetera, right? Enough that even normal people can sometimes smell it."
"Yeah, but I doubt that she ATE the vampires."
He snorted a laugh again.
"Vampires turn to dust, Pum'kin. Dust floats in the air. If you're fighting, you're usually breathing fairly hard. And since you breathe air, you're breathing in - "
"So, what do we do now?"
"Me?" Buffy's shoes hit the floor. "I'm going back to bed. The feel of that yucky Karny was bugging me all night. Literally. Like bugs all over. I've had NO sleep. Tell everybody that I'm jet-lagged, that I had trouble sleeping in a strange bed, whatever. I just need an hour or two." With that, she collapsed backward, wiggled the covers around her and was out before Willow could say anything else.
Bugs all over? Maybe that's a bit like the frogs all over me. And they came out of the ground! Am I - am I getting that sensitive to the magic, now?
An amazed Willow found herself wondering if she had really made that major breakthrough or if it was all just a coincidence.
This was way too much stress this early in the morning.
"Demon hunter? She's only eighteen, Logan!" Scott had the look of someone who knows something is probably true, but is fighting it.
"Plus," Jean added, "this would have started when she was fifteen, not eighteen."
"Folks who're demon hunters get called to the job at all ages. Lot of 'em are young - not usually this young, but still young; although most don't last too long. And you better include the little fire tree as well, because she's got the smell on her, too. Not as strong but it's there."
"I'm only eighteen, Scott. And I started in the business when I was thirteen. Granted, it wasn't usually DEMONS, but - "
"Goddess help them. Demons. Vampires. For at least three years, possibly four. The horrors they have likely seen, experienced - !" Ororo was shaking her head, sight focused inward on some horrible vision.
"Could it have really been that many? I mean, why would they all congregate at a little city like Sunnydale, when there's L.A. not too far away? Why California, of all places, anyway? Why not someplace with a little less sun?"
"Not as many people; not as much food; easier to get lost in a crowd. And some places just draw them. Never been able to figure out why."
Xavier looked at his children and listened to the babble, giving them the chance to reflect, question, and discuss this new information, as they needed to do before being able to accept it. He had needed the time to change his worldview to include the bouncy young women he had met the day before as demon hunters. And, of course, he thought, it would be Scott's relative that would be involved in such a profession. > X-Men. Please. I believe that Kitty has still more to tell us. >
> X-Men. Please. I believe that Kitty has still more to tell us. >
Bubbles are nice.
Willow giggled as she blew some of the bubbles off her hand. With Buffy needing sleep so badly, she had decided to leave for a shower. And when she had gotten here - Well, a bath could take a bit more time than a shower. She hoped nobody minded that she took some the bubble bath, but she had really felt the need to relax and stop worrying about if she had actually felt the magic of the portal or not. It was just too EARLY. And nothing worked better at relaxing her than a hot bubble bath. Except, she considered, reddening, Oz in a hot bubble bath. She giggled.
Oz and bubbles. Ummm.
Steam rose as she settled back to soak and daydream.
"Okay, does anyone know what she's doing? Is she sniffing the wind, like Logan or Rahne do when they catch a scent of something? Doesn't quite look like that, but . . . And now she's off. With a destination in mind, by the looks of it."
"Just watch, Scott."
Fascinated, the group watched the recording of Buffy's early morning activities, leaning forward in confusion as she started tracing back carefully over her steps. Scott cursed suddenly.
"That's where the N'Gari dimensional portal was. How does she know that? And what the hell is she doing to the grass?"
As the grass peeled up, the white rock underneath it became visible. There were some shocked gasps and one low, vicious masculine curse at the runic rock revealed. A low, rumbling growl came from Logan.
"We have got to destroy that NOW. Before the N'Gari have a chance of using it."
"Just wait, Scott. Watch."
Despite having seen this before, Kitty still watched it as closely as the rest, a finger ready to pause the tape in an instant. But, she thought, just for a moment. She didn't want to lose the feel of it. Or the shock value. She smirked.
Logan concentrated, intent on the taped scene as the young suspected demon hunter knelt, examined the ground and then pulled out a digital camera and began taking pictures. When finished, she fished a cell phone out of her rather completely equipped little fanny pack and dialed.
"Wah - ?"
"Giles. Wake up."
"Mmmmph. Wait. Buffy? What happened?"
The group listening recognized the man's voice from the previous, half-monitored call.
"I've found something."
"Already? Are you sure?"
# weighted silence #
"Of course you're sure. Why else would you be ringing at this time of the night."
"It's some kind of rock. It was under a bunch of moss and it is throwing out some nasty vibes. There are carvings on it, like what was on that thing in my vision. The monument thing."
"Vision? Is that her power? Visions." Scott made a little face at that. "Wouldn't have thought of visions as a Summers' ability. We've always been more 'focused energy-beams'."
"Visions would be of great asset to someone of her profession. And they might not be considered unusual enough in the supernatural world to identify her as mutant. Except, perhaps, by she herself."
"Yeah, that thing. Right now this rock - or whatever - is still fairly small, but I think it's growing. In fact, I'm sure it's growing. And it feels - Giles, it feels almost like when the Hellmouth -"
"Hellmouth! What in the hell is a Hellmouth!" Although voiced by Logan, the mutter was the general feeling of all of them.
"- is opening. And why is this happening on my summer vacation? Nothing happens in the summer. Summer is supposed to be my time off. You know, go to beach, work on my tan - "
"Growing. Growing how?"
"I don't . . . It was growing up. Like that Karny thing in my dream. When it's finished, it's going to be like that. And we don't want it to finish what it's doing, Giles. Not if I get vibes like this from it now."
"Again with the 'vibes'. Okay, visions I get. But - vibes? What the - ?"
"Perhaps her mental abilities allow her to access the energy created by the supernatural. There is very little we know about the supernatural. However, the energy transference from Illyana to Kitty, when she transferred her soul-sword - "
"You mean, when Illyana died." The quiet words came from a no-longer smirking Kitty.
"Yes, Kitty. When Illyana died. We did record the transference of energy from her to you, so we do know that magic and the like can take an recordable energy form. Not measurable, yet, but it is - "
"Or," Logan interrupted Xavier, eyes still on the paused screen, "It could just be that she's got the instincts. Years of experience in the field, they give you a feel for what off and what's not. Supernatural agents, government agents. To survive, you gotta have the feel for it. Let's just wait 'fore we jump to any conclusions."
"No. No, you're right. Not like it is, but - Buffy, I think I remember something about this from one of my books. This is important, Buffy. Damage it somehow, but DO NOT destroy it."
"Is he insane?"
"I do not believe that to be wise. It must be destroyed before they have a chance to come through again."
"Smash some of the glyphs; slow down the growth, but don't demolish it. I - I think to completely destroy the portal that you feel forming, we are going to have to let it grow a little."
"That doesn't make sense, Giles."
"I agree with you, kid."
"But we've never managed to completely destroy the cairn. It does keep 'growing' back."
"I know. Just let me consult my books for a bit. I have a hunch that I read something about this during my research in the last week, but I can't quite remember where. It would be much easier if I were able to see the carvings."
"That's easy enough. I took some pictures on Willow's digital camera. As soon as I get back to our room, we'll e-mail them to you."
"Yes. That would be very helpful. Providing I can get the infernal thing to work properly."
# laughter #
"Hmm. Oh, yes, yes. Goodbye, Buffy. And please, be careful."
"Well. That was illuminating."
Willow brushed her hair, watching the highlights glint in the early morning sunlight. It was funny, she thought absently, that Oz has never done his hair in that platinum blond Spike favored. He's done it in just about every other color. And he looks good in any color that he picks.
Sighing, she remembered when she'd mentioned once that she was thinking of livening up her hair color with some different color for a bit of a change. One of the groupies had made a comment about how 'some people' were so plain-looking along with a pointed look at her and - well -
Oz had made sure she knew he'd love her no matter what her hair color was before he mentioned how incredible he thought her hair was. And then had kissed her hair and . . . sigh He was so sweet and always made her feel so special.
She missed him.
"She knows Tai Chi. She - she's pretty good at it, too."
There was a snort from Logan.
All of them had to silently agree that that had been one of Scot's better understatements.
Charles was again having to add to his earlier mental adjustments. This one was even harder. A teenager - former cheerleader and all-around exuberant California girl - who was a demon hunter was one thing; a difficult thing but manageable. The selfsame teenager being able to match Logan in a six thousand year old martial art to promote meditative oneness between body and spirit was so far beyond the realm of consideration that he was having quite a bit more difficulty dealing with this new bit of information. But proof continued to flicker on the screen.
Charles hadn't had hair on the back of his neck for a very long time. That didn't stop them from trying to stand on end as the primitive instinct-driven part of his brain started sending out unheard whimpers of fear. The more advanced part of his brain was amused that the sight of a teenager flowing from one gentle movement into the next could cause more of a case of the 'heebie-jeebies' in this jaded group than the same teenager apparently tracking an inter-dimensional portal by 'vibes' and talking about visions.
Welcome distraction came in the form of a leaked mental itch of curiosity.
"I wonder just who her ex is? That he could teach her like that?" Kitty's eyebrows scrunched consideratingly as she muttered into the stillness of their viewing.
Slow, precise movement continued on the screen.
1. Okay, a huge apology to everyone for the length of time it took to get this out. I tried participating in NANOWRIMO (writing a small book in the month of November) and as soon as I had a set amount I had to write every day, I - well, I don't know what exactly happened. It was horrible. Nothing came out; I couldn't even write out a creative grocery list. I do know now that I must never, ever try to do that again. It completely killed all creativity for months. Dead creativity equals very frustrated author.
2. And an enormous thank you to everyone who wrote in and encouraged me. You wouldn't believe how much it pushed me to try and work. A special thank you to Aiffe for the long e-mail offering 'New York' assistance. Although I think I scared her off with all my questions. Either that or my e-mail was sorted to her Junk Mail automatically. It was very cool (and strange) to see favorable reviews from some of the people I read. Thank you.
3. Next chapter should bring the last of the cannon characters that will be in this fanfic. Except for the N'Gari, of course. And these two are ones I've been delaying introducing because I find their accents so hard to write. Wish me luck!
4. Almost forgot! 'THANK YOU' to Sylvia S for the proofreading and editing. This chapter really needed that help!
5. PS. Does anyone know why fanfiction dot net took out all my stars and left arrows and wiggly lines? And duplicated part of a page below the orginal part in several places? And changed some of the formating? I did everything the same as I used to. It allows number signs but took out my arrow going one way is allowed but the one going the other way. Very strange. I hope I caught everything.