|        Ongoing...|
Episode Three - Lullaby
The sun was beginning to peek over the horizon as the white van wound its way down the coastal road towards Sunnydale. The dark blue of the night sky slowly turned an odd blend of pink and mauve as the early morning light bounced through the clouds. Mere feet from the side of the van, the road fell away to form a steep cliff with waves crashing against the rocks far below, sending up plumes of white spray.
Inside the van, Pike's fingers drummed against the steering wheel in time to the music blaring from the stereo. Veruca had chosen the station, but only Marcie had complained.
'Well, guys, here we are,' he declared as they passed a large green and white sign welcoming them to Sunnydale. 'Glad to be back?'
'Never thought I'd see this dump again,' Marcie complained.
'SunnyD's not all bad,' Veruca corrected. 'I had some good times here.' She absently ran a hand across her throat. 'And some bad.'
'I've got nothing but good memories of this place,' Owen remarked.
'Then why'd you leave?' Marcie asked.
'I went where the excitement was,' Owen explained. 'It just got dull here after a while.'
'What did you do, walk around with your eyes closed?' Gorch drawled. 'Hell, last two times I was here, I got out because it was a little bit too exciting for my tastes.'
'Poor baby,' Marcie mocked.
'Leastways I went to see what was out there,' Gorch countered, ''stead of hiding in a damn attic.'
'Knock it off, you two,' Pike snapped, glancing back into the rear of the van.
'Pike,' Veruca shouted, 'watch the road!'
Pike slammed his foot on the brake and fought with the wheel as the van skidded and screeched across the road, then jerked to a stop.
'Nice driving, sheriff,' Gorch commented.
'Any landing you can walk away from,' Veruca muttered as she stepped down from the van.
A brown Volkswagen was at right angles to the road in front of them, blocking both lanes. The passenger-side door was open and the female passenger was hanging half in, half out of the car. The driver was still belted into his seat, his head slumped against his chest. Veruca looked beyond the car and saw a third figure, lying face down in the road.
'What's going on here?' Marcie said.
Veruca jumped. Marcie had approached quietly and from downwind.
'I don't know,' Veruca confessed. She felt ashamed to have to admit that to the invisible girl, despite the fact that she was sure Marcie had no better ideas herself.
'They're asleep,' Owen called to them as he examined the two in the car. 'They're both fast asleep.'
He shouted at them and shook them, but neither reacted.
'Weird,' Owen murmured.
Pike crouched down to examine the man spread-eagled on the road. 'I'm gonna see if he's got any ID.'
He reached out to roll the guy over.
Veruca caught a scent
'No, don't,' she yelled.
She sprinted down road, throwing herself into Pike and sending them both tumbling head over heels.
'What the ' Pike began.
The rising sun touched the sleeping body and it burst into flame.
'Vampire,' she explained.
Owen stared at the blazing body open-mouthed.
'Is he still sleeping?' he demanded. 'How can you sleep through that?'
Pike picked himself up and started dusting off his clothes.
'Welcome to Sunnydale,' he said.
* * *
The van crawled into town. Any faster and Pike risked running over the people asleep in the street.
'They just fell where they stood,' Veruca deduced.
No one contradicted her.
They passed more than one car that had been totalled, carrying on unguided when its driver had lost consciousness. The occupants of those vehicles slept on, despite some horrific injuries.
'We can't just leave them,' Owen had complained as Pike had continued to drive past.
'What are we supposed to do?' Pike asked him. 'Call an ambulance? No one's answering. Take them to the hospital ourselves? And who's going to help them when we get there? By the looks of things, we're the only people left awake in the whole town.'
'Then lets get out of here before what gets them spots us,' Gorch suggested.
Pike shook his head.
'We have to find Buffy,' he replied.
Pike was glad his companions knew the Slayer and could direct him to Revello Drive. He had lost touch with Buffy after Las Vegas and, though he had later learned she had moved to Sunnydale, he had made no effort to track her down. Why was that, he wondered. What was it about meeting her that scared him?
Pike knocked on the front door, wondering what he was going to say when she answered. He need not have worried, because no one came to investigate his pounding.
'Here's a thought,' Gorch called from the van, where he was sheltering from the sun, 'maybe they're all asleep.'
'Can you see what's inside?' Pike asked the others.
'Curtains are closed,' Owen replied.
'Whatever happened here, happened last night,' Marcie explained, 'otherwise that vampire wouldn't have been out.'
Pike nodded, then kicked the door. It did not budge.
'This looks a lot easier in the movies,' he complained.
'You want a job doing, get a girl to do it,' Veruca told him as she began to disrobe. 'You know, guys, it's polite to turn your backs.'
Embarrassed, Pike and Owen complied. Marcie just sneered.
'Don't flatter yourself,' she said.
Having discarded her clothes, Veruca willed the change, fur leaping through her skin as she allowed the wolf out. She growled, low and long, the beast revelling in its freedom. Then she slammed one clawed hand against the lock, knocking the door open.
'I thought werewolves could only, well, become werewolves on a full moon?' Owen asked as they stepped inside.
Veruca threw back a head and let lose a stream of barks. It took Owen a moment to realise that she was laughing at him.
Pike led the way through the house. In the kitchen were two teenage girls, both brunettes. One sat in a chair, her head resting on the kitchen table. The other, taller, girl was slumped on the floor by the sink. She was snoring gently. The cold water tap was still running, water pouring slowly down the overflow pipe. Pike reached across and turned the tap off.
'Well, neither of these kids is Buffy,' Veruca pointed out.
'She had a kid sister,' Pike replied. 'One of them could be her, but she'd be all grown up now.'
'More people up here,' Marcie called from upstairs, summoning the others.
'That's Buffy's dad, I think' Pike said, pointing to the man asleep in the double bed. 'But that's not Buffy's mom.'
'Agreed,' Owen said. He screwed up his face while he strained his memories. 'She told me her parents were divorced.'
'Divorced?' Pike echoed. 'When did that happen?'
'Before she moved here,' Owen replied.
Which would be right after I left her, Pike thought to himself. If I'd known she was going back to that
He shook his head. Now was not the time to dwell on what might have been.
'Thing is,' Owen was saying, 'I could have sworn she lived with her mom.'
'Are we sure we're in the right house?' Veruca asked.
'This is definitely the place,' Owen replied defensively.
'Yeah, but you were last here seven years ago,' Veruca continued. 'You don't think she could have moved?'
Pike had moved on to one of the other bedrooms. The décor wasn't what he had expected, but he recognised the stuffed pig on the dresser.
'This is the place,' he said with conviction.
'And we know this how?' Marcie retorted sarcastically.
Pike opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again. Explaining about Mr Gordo seemed too much an invasion of Buffy's privacy. Or was it just that that was a memory he wanted to keep all to himself? Then his eyes alighted on the locked wooden chest at the foot of the bed.
'Open it,' he instructed Veruca.
The chest was full of weaponry.
'Anyone still need to be convinced?' Pike asked.
'That still leaves one question, though,' Veruca pointed out. 'Where is she?'
* * *
They regrouped in the kitchen. Even Gorch had joined them, shielding himself with a blanket for the run across the drive. Owen had prepared breakfast, raiding the fridge and the cupboards. Pike hoped he would get the chance to pay Buffy back for her hospitality, however unknowingly given.
'Well this was a wasted journey,' Marcie remarked. The glass of orange juice bobbed, apparently unsupported, in the air as she gestured to emphasise her point.
'Tell me about it,' Gorch drawled.
'Don't you think we should try and do something?' Owen suggested.
'Like what?' Veruca replied. 'We don't even know what's going on here.'
'Besides, it's not like there's anyone to be impressed with your heroics this time out,' Marcie sniped.
'Got that right,' Gorch said. 'Town's ideal for a bit of mayhem and destruction, but it loses its sparkle if there ain't nobody to terrorise.'
'All I'm saying is maybe we should try and do the right thing,' Owen protested.
'And all we're saying is that maybe the right thing is to get the hell out of here before whatever happens to them happens to us,' Marcie countered.
'Enough!' Pike slammed the palm of his hand down upon the tabletop, causing plates, bowls and mugs to jump in shock. 'Do I have to remind you that you people had to talk me into coming here. Well, I came and I'm damn well not leaving until I've had a chance to look around. In case you've forgotten, there are still those those things calling themselves angels-'
'Or just 'angels' to the rest of us,' Marcie muttered.
'Those things calling themselves angels,' Pike continued, ignoring her, 'flying about trying to bring about the end of the world. Sure, if we leave now we'll be safe from whatever's going on here, but who's going to help out when the sky's falling? Well?'
'So what do you suggest we do?' Gorch asked.
'We investigate,' Pike explained. 'We've got two objectives: finding Buffy and finding out what's going on here.'
'And fixing it,' Owen piped up.
'Let's stick to investigating for now,' Pike cautioned. 'We'll split into teams. Owen, you go with Marcie. Veruca, you're with me. Gorch, I guess you're stuck here until the sun goes down.'
'I'll guard the van,' he suggested, 'from all those sleeping folks out there.'
'Something caused this,' Pike said, 'and that something may be very much awake. Keep your guard up.'
'Sure thing, captain,' Gorch replied, saluting.
Pike surveyed his troops.
'Well,' he said after a moment, 'what are you all standing around for?'
* * *
Owen retrieved a sword from the van before he and Marcie set out.
'Compensating for something?' Marcie asked him.
'As if,' Owen retorted. 'I just want to be ready for whatever it is.'
'We don't even know what we're up against,' Marcie pointed out. 'How exactly are we supposed to be ready for it. I can't work out if you and Pike are crazy or just suicidal. Or both.'
'Hey,' Owen protested defensively, 'if you think this is such a bad idea, why are you still hanging around.'
'Because, while I'm here,' Marcie replied softly, 'there's somewhere I want to see.'
* * *
'I get the impression Marcie doesn't much like me,' Veruca purred, rolling her neck and shoulders. She had changed back into her human self - her mask - and her muscles were stiff.
'Marcie's like that with everyone,' Pike assured her as they walked into town. 'From what I can gather, she didn't have a lot of friends growing up.'
'I'm not surprised,' Veruca replied. 'She must be the prize freak of your collection.'
'I don't think of you as freaks,' Pike insisted.
'Don't you?' Veruca asked. She turned to face Pike, stepping in front of him so that he would have to go round her if he wanted to continue. 'Aren't you hunting us for your private army. Normal people won't do. Only the strangest creatures can pass the Pike test.'
She moved in close to Pike and he held his breath, afraid that if he so much as twitched their bodies would touch.
'Admit it,' Veruca whispered huskily, 'there's part of you that's attracted to the monsters, isn't there?'
Pike felt as if he were drowning in those dark eyes, but he fought his way back up to the surface and inhaled as deep breath of fresh air.
'You don't know what you're talking about,' Pike snapped, pushing past Veruca.
'Don't I?' Veruca said, laughter in her tone. 'My bad.'
'Besides,' Pike called back, regaining his composure with every step he took away from her, 'Owen's normal.'
* * *
Lyle Gorch had returned to the van. He hated to admit it, but those sleeping people in the house gave him the creeps. It wasn't so much the idea that they might wake up and try to dust him. Heck, he had faced off against the Slayer twice and was still here to tell the tale. But, when all was said and done, there was still something about them that made his skin crawl. It just wasn't natural, not that he was one to talk.
So he lay down in the back of the van, shielded from the sun by blacked out windows, and tried to get some shuteye. But even that was not right. Gorch was old enough to remember the days before the Industrial Revolution, before the tidal wave of machinery and automata had stretched inexorably across the surface of the planet, choking it in its dark embrace. He could still, if he concentrated hard enough, remember the stillness and the quiet of a world without cars or jet engines or washing machines. But he had lived through the twentieth century as well and a constant background hum was expected. This silence was unnerving, so loud that he could not sleep, no matter how much he writhed on the floor of the van in a vain effort to get comfortable.
And now there was someone hammering on the back doors of the van. Bang, bang, bang. Each impact so precise and rhythmic to be almost hypnotic. Gorch buried his head under his blanket and hoped whoever it was would just give up and go away.
'Get lost!' Gorch yelled.
The banging continued. If it had not been daytime, Gorch would have been out of the van in a flash, his fangs deep in the throat of whoever it was that was disturbing him. But then what about Pike? He had promised Pike that he would not kill so long as Pike agreed to protect him. But where was Pike now? Some protection. Besides, he was a vampire, for crying out loud. Evil. Why should he have to worry about keeping his promises?
Because, a voice echoed in Gorch's skull, if she finds me I'm a dead man. Well, more dead than I am already, at any rate.
The banging continued unabated. There was nothing for it, but to see what was out there. Gingerly, so as to minimise his exposure to the sun's rays, Gorch eased the door open a crack.
A baseball landed painfully in Gorch's lap.
'Excuse me, mister,' a kid said. 'Can I have my ball back please.'
The boy was nine, maybe ten, wearing a sleeveless blue sweater over a white shirt and grey pants. A red baseball cap was perched precariously on a thick head of curly blond hair and he rested a baseball bat against one shoulder. Gorch passed the kid's ball from one hand to the other, buying himself time to think.
'What's your name, kid?' he growled, trying to seem menacing, despite the fact that he had scurried back into the darkest corner of the van as soon as the door had swung open.
'Me? Oh, you can call me Mitch,' the boy said.
'Mitch,' Gorch said, taking his time with the word. 'Didn't your mommy teach you not to talk to strangers, Mitch?'
'Maybe she did, maybe she didn't,' he replied with indifference. 'Can't remember. So, can I have my ball back now?'
'In a minute,' Gorch replied. 'First, I was kinda hoping you could answer a little question for me.'
'Shoot,' Mitch responded cheerfully.
Gorch threw the ball in the air and caught it. Neither Gorch nor the boy followed the projectile's arc, keeping their eyes fixed on one another.
'So,' Gorch began, 'how come you're still awake?'
* * *
'I hate it,' Marcie said.
'I don't think it's all that bad,' Owen suggested.
'You wouldn't,' was Marcie's only response.
They were walking through the corridors of the rebuilt Sunnydale High. It was clear from the outside that this was not the school either of them remembered. This came as no surprise to Owen, who remembered with something akin to nostalgia the events of his Graduation. Marcie, however, had not known that the school had been blown up in order to kill the Mayor who had become a giant snake.
'So they rebuilt it,' Owen said. He kept looking ahead, not bothering to try and direct his comments in Marcie's direction since he knew from experience he would almost certainly guess wrong. 'It happens.'
'It's vile,' Marcie said. 'All the primary colours and patterns on the floor. It's clean and modern and sterile. The old school had character.'
'The old school was old,' Owen pointed out.
'But it was my home,' Marcie said quietly.
Owen stopped in the middle of the corridor.
'Your home?' he exclaimed. Then he added, 'Sorry. I didn't mean it to come out like that. What I mean is, I didn't know. Marcie?'
There was no response. Had Marcie run on ahead or was she standing right next to him, sulking? How would he know?
'Marcie,' he called out, hurrying along the corridor in the direction they had been heading. 'Marcie, this isn't funny.'
He stopped next to the showers. He could hear running water. He frowned. That did not make sense. The school would have been closed when whatever happened happened. He and Marcie had had to break in when they arrived. Who could possibly be taking a shower? Unless it was Marcie, it supposed. But why? Well, why now would be a better question.
He started to open the door, then paused on the threshold. He was reluctant to burst in on a woman in the shower, even if he wouldn't be able to see anything. Reminding himself that he had a mission, he stepped through the door.
* * *
Pike stood transfixed by the inscription on the headstone.
Buffy Summers. She saved the world a lot.
They had come all this way to find her, built their hopes around her, only to find it had been a wasted journey. And Pike? He had been terrified of meeting her, his stomach tying itself in knots every time he thought about their potential reunion. His fear seemed terribly selfish now.
'So, I guess we just get back in the van and go now, huh?' Veruca said. 'Not much point in sticking around.'
'What?' Pike said. He was not really listening. Instead he was hearing the voice of that girl in Los Angeles who had changed his life forever.
'Hey, I'm not going to pretend I was Buffy's biggest fan,' Veruca continued. 'Sure, shame she's dead, but let's get over it and move on.'
Pike shook his head. 'You didn't know her like I did.'
'What's that supposed to mean?' Veruca asked. 'As if I couldn't guess.'
'No, no. Nothing like that,' Pike corrected her. 'But we were close. We connected, you know. Have you ever been like that with a person.'
The far away look in Pike's eyes must have been infectious because it could now be seen in Veruca's own.
'Once,' she confessed. 'He didn't feel the same way.'
'I'm sorry,' Pike replied. 'You know, I spent years convincing myself that was the case with Buffy, that it would never have worked out, but the truth is that I never gave us a chance. She had an I guess the best word is an aura.'
'An aura,' Veruca repeated, unable to keep the hint of sarcasm from her voice. Pike did not notice.
'Yeah,' he confirmed. 'It made you feel special just to be with her. I followed her all the way to Vegas just to be a part of that.'
'Planning a wedding were you?' Veruca asked.
Pike shook his head as a wry smile crept on to his face.
'I'd be lying if I said it never crossed my mind,' he admitted, 'but the truth is I just wanted to be a part of her life, in whatever capacity.'
'So what went wrong?'
'I put her in danger,' Pike explained. 'She was spending too much time watching out for me and not enough time watching her own back.'
'I'd have though you would have done that for her,' Veruca teased.
Pike ignored the jibe. 'So when we cleaned up in Vegas, she went back to L.A. and I I didn't. And ever since I've wondered what might have been.'
'Life's too short for regrets,' Veruca told him.
Pike opened his mouth to say something, but was distracted.
'What's that sound?' he inquired.
Even in her human guise, Veruca posed some of the wolf's senses.
'Running water,' she concluded. 'Probably a hose-pipe.'
'It wasn't on when we got here,' Pike said. 'I'm sure of it.'
Veruca did not argue.
The pair of them made their way up the hill, as swiftly and silently as possibly. Veruca loosened her clothes, ready for trouble, but the sight that awaited her stopped her in her tracks.
The water spewing from the end of the hose was shooting straight up into the air and forming a shape as it fell. The shape of a woman.
* * *
The water streamed from the shower, struck the tiled floor and bounced back up. Or rather, most of it did. Some of it was hanging in mid-air, coalescing into a single huge water droplet. A water droplet with a face. Owen watched as the face pressed out against the surface tension of the droplet, budding off a second globe of water which rapidly became a blue-tinged face. Arms were sprouting from the main droplet, which no seemed to be a female torso, still hanging from the showerhead by a wasp-like waist.
The water nymph shook her head, silken green tresses sprouting from her crown as she did so. She smiled at Owen and he found himself smiling bashfully back. Then she began to sing. Her voice was sweet and comforting and the song reminded Owen of the lullabies his mother used to sing to him as a child. They were always the last thing he remembered before sleep took him and now he found his eyelids getting heavy. He yawned and stretched then slumped against the wall, using his hands as a pillow for his head. Surely it would not matter if he just snatched forty winks?
His eyes snapped back open. He thought of the bodies collapsed in the road, still snoring. He was not going to end up like that. He lunged forward towards the shower. His limbs seemed heavier than normal and with every step the temptation to just lie down and give in grew all the stronger. But he would not give up. That was not his way.
He fingers curled around the shower control and started to turn.
'No, please don't,' the water creature begged.
Owen gritted his teeth, ignored her and turned the water off.
The creature screamed.
* * *
Marcie was looking for the music room. Perhaps that, at least, might have escaped the horrible design work that characterised the rest of the construction. She knew that she must be close because she could hear singing, faint, but leading her ever onwards. She was tired, so very tired, and she looked forward to curling up in the music room the way she used to.
Then a scream cut through the halls, jerking her back to wakefulness. What was she doing? And where was Owen?
She turned and ran back the way she came. The scream continued uninterrupted and Marcie had no problem tracking it back to the changing rooms. Then she stopped short.
Owen was standing in the showers, soaked to the skin. Hanging out of the showerhead in front of him was a woman with green hair and it was she who was screaming. She was trapped half in, half out of the shower and the pipes were rattling and groaning in process as she attempted to escape.
'Owen,' Marcie shouted over the noise, 'what the hell is going on?'
'Marcie,' Owen yelled back, 'get out of here! Find Pike!'
Then the first pipe exploded and Marcie leaped back, yelping as the hot water struck her. More pipes burst and the vibration caused cracks to spiderweb across the walls. Tiny bits of ceiling fell, causing splashes in the water pooling at Owen's feet.
'Marcie,' Owen screamed, 'for God's sake, run!'
The remaining pipes burst all at once and Marcie spun and hurled herself out of the door as the walls gave way sending debris in all directions. She landed heavily, her right wrist badly twisted, but she ignored the pain as she struggled to see what had become of Owen. She strained her eyes as the dust slowly cleared and her heart sunk.
Unsupported by the walls, the roof had collapsed, completely burying Owen.
* * *
The boy chewed thoughtfully on his lower lip.
'You know, that's a good question,' he said at last. 'Maybe I'm just special.'
'Yeah right,' Gorch muttered.
'You don't think I'm special?' Mitch asked.
He turned his head so that Gorch had an unobstructed view of his jugular. He could practically see the blood pumping away beneath the skin. He licked his lips, fantasising about the warm metallic taste. Pig's blood was all well and good, but it was a poor substitute for that inside a human.
'You look like you could eat me up,' Mitch said, 'isn't that right, Mr Wolf?'
'What in tarnation are you talking about?' Gorch demanded. He was finding it harder to concentrate. A red film had formed in front of his eyes, obscuring everything except the boy.
'Don't be coy, Lyle,' Mitch replied. 'I know what you are.'
'And what are you when you're about?' Gorch asked. 'And how come you know so much about me, anyways.'
'I'm your next meal, Lyle,' Mitch replied. He held out his left hand. Blood flowered from his palm. 'Can you taste it yet?'
Gorch could taste it. And smell it. And feel it rolling down his throat till it burned.
'How long has it been since you had a proper meal, Lyle?' Mitch persisted. 'How long since you became a tame pet?'
'I'm not,' Gorch began, but Mitch was still talking.
'It's time to give in to your true nature, Lyle,' he said. 'It's time for you to feed.'
* * *
The woman stepped away from the hose. Her body was composed entirely of water, but, as they watched, it seemed to take on the aspect of flesh, though whether this was real or illusion Pike and Veruca could not tell. The woman was naked, but her green hair fell down to her ankles, and wafted around her in such a way as to preserve her modesty.
'What are you?' Pike asked.
The woman laughed, a sound like the chiming of tiny silver bells.
'We are the Rusalki,' she replied. Her voice sounded like a whole chorus.
'Well that tells us a lot,' Veruca remarked.
'We are water spirits,' the Rusalki replied.
'I pretty much gathered that,' Pike said. 'Do I take it you're responsible for putting everyone to sleep.'
'We were afraid,' the Rusalki explained. 'We still are.'
'Afraid?' Veruca repeated. 'You can put a whole town to sleep. What do you have to be afraid of?'
'Armageddon,' the Rusalki replied. 'The cleansing fire that will unmake the world. We should all fear the Apocalypse.'
'And the best way to stop the Apocalypse is to put everyone to sleep?' Veruca mocked. 'Seems to me you're just leaving everyone defenceless against whatever it is that's coming.'
'This way the dawn will never come,' the Rusalki told her, coiling her hair around her fingers. 'Now they have no reason to rain fire down on us.'
'I'll be honest,' Pike said, 'I'm only really understanding one word in three, but what do you say you wake everyone back up and maybe we can see about helping each other?'
'We have a better idea,' the Rusalki replied.
And it started to sing.
* * *
Gorch felt his features distort into his 'game face' as the hunger took hold.
'Now what makes you think I'm gonna come out there,' he said, his voice distorted by the mouthful of pointed teeth. 'I don't tan so good.'
'Because your hunger will get the better of you,' Mitch told him. 'You are your hunger. You can't separate on from the other.'
'Still have to have some kind of death wish to step out there,' Gorch replied. 'I'll be a bonfire long before I reach you, kid.'
'You think you have a choice, Lyle?' Mitch said. 'You're just an animal, with animal urges that drive you.'
His hand was now covered in blood and he brought it up to his mouth so that he could lick it off.
'Believe me,' he said, 'it tastes even better than it looks.'
Gorch found that hard to believe because it looked pretty damn tasty. Could he grab the boy and get back in the van before it was too late? He knew he was fast, but those seemed like unlikely odds. But even if it was his last meal, at least he would taste human blood one last time before he went, something that might be forever denied to him if Pike had his way.
'No,' he growled, forcing the beast back inside and causing his face to return to its more human shape. 'I'm not an animal. Now get lost.'
He hurled the baseball at the boy and Mitch hefted his bat, swung and struck the ball high into the sky. Gorch's eyes followed the projectile until it disappeared from sight and when his gaze to the road he was unsurprised to learn that Mitch had vanished as well.
* * *
The Rusalki looked down at the two figures slumbering at her feet, the man and the girl that was also a wolf. She shed a tear for them and it fell from the corner of her eye to land on the man's cheek. She did not take any pleasure in her work, but it was a question of survival.
She set off across the cemetery, the damp grass crunching beneath her bare feet.
When the Rusalki had first learned of the coming Apocalypse, there had been mass panic, but, as they had earned more about their circumstances, reason had started to prevail. One lone Rusalki had come up with a way to save not just the Rusalki, but all of creation and her ideas were infectious, becoming part of the great sea of life from which all Rusalki sprang.
As the Rusalki understood it, the cause of the Apocalypse lurked in Sunnydale. The texts were confusing. Was the end of the world triggered by the rise of the dawn or the fact that the dawn never came at all? Much time had been wasted debating these issues before it was finally decided that they did not matter. The important point, the one significant factor, was that the problem would arise in Sunnydale.
So the Rusalki came to Sunnydale to neutralise the problem. They had no idea who or what was the cause or how many people might be involved so they did the only thing they could. They neutralised everybody, putting the whole town to sleep. The fervent hope was that if they were incapable of action then they were incapable of triggering Armageddon.
She had reached the reservoir. She could see her fellow Rusalki playing in the water and she stepped of the wall herself, feeling her legs dissolve as the touched the liquid.
'Welcome back, sister,' one of the other Rusalki called to her.
'It is good to be back with you, my family,' the first Rusalki said, 'though I would rather that we could be home. This place does not compare to the lakes I am used to.'
'We all feel the same way, sister,' the other confirmed, 'but we all volunteered for this task and we cannot return before our mission is complete, lest out own negligence brings disaster down upon us all.'
'This I know, sister,' the first admitted. 'We have a sacred duty and I shall not shirk until that duty has been done.'
'Then it is good,' the other said. 'Tell us, did you encounter anything on your patrol?'
'There were two,' the first Rusalki explained. 'I believe that they were new to this place, but now the slumber peacefully.'
'May nothing disturb them,' the other Rusalki intoned. 'Now come, you have earned your rest. Take comfort in the pool and be one with us for a time.'
The first Rusalki smiled and gladly relaxed, releasing her hold on her solid form and allowing herself to become part of the water bound by the reservoir. But something was wrong. She was in pain. She felt as though she were being pulled apart. She struggled to return to her previous state, but it hurt so badly, as if she were on fire.
'What is happening to me?' she wailed amid her screams and she saw that she was not the only one screaming. Whatever was attacking her had struck her sisters as well.
'I take it from all that writhing and thrashing about that my little plan's working,' Owen said. He was sitting on the wall, careful to keep his feet above the water. He patted the container of liquid soap beside him affectionately.
The Rusalki tried to sing, harmonising their voices despite the pain in an effort to put this stranger to sleep, but Owen just smiled back at them.
'I assume you're trying to use your powers on me,' he said. He tapped his ears. 'Won't work. I've installed earplugs.'
'But why?' the Rusalki asked. 'We were only trying to help.'
'Please,' another begged, 'you're killing us.'
But Owen could not hear their pleas. He just sat patiently on the wall, watching their death-throes until they finally, permanently, lost their form and their spell was lifted.
* * *
Pike found Dawn drinking lemonade in the garden. It was a beautiful day. Peaceful. To Pike, it seemed inappropriate.
'I never thought I'd see you again,' Dawn said when she noticed him approaching.
'I'm surprised you remember me,' Pike replied. 'It was so long ago.'
'You took my sister away,' Dawn explained, 'or so I thought.'
'More like she stole me,' Pike said.
Dawn offered him a weak smile. 'I get that now.'
'I came a long way to find her,' Pike continued. 'I mean, I know I hadn't seen her for years, but she was a kind of constant in my life, you know. I knew that no matter what I did, she'd always be out there, fighting the good fight. I could draw strength from that. It never occurred to me that she might be '
'Mortal?' Dawn supplied. 'You and me both. So many people died, but it was never going to be Buffy, never could be Buffy. Until it was.'
She turned her back on Pike, her eyes fixed on the flowerbeds.
'She died before,' Dawn continued, 'but it never seemed real because she always came back. You could kill her but she'd always get better. And every time I hear a knock at the door I keep thinking that it's her and that there's been some kind of horrible mistake, but she's not coming back this time, is she?'
She wiped at her eyes with her free hand. Awkwardly, Pike put and arm around her and he felt Dawn lean into him, drawing strength from his nearness.
'It'll be all right,' he said softly. 'You'll see.'
'No,' Dawn replied, staring up at him with large damp eyes that seemed to hold worlds, 'it won't.'
|        Ongoing...|