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Summary: Cordelia's cousin comes for a visit a certain Halloween night...

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Cartoons > Other Cartoons(Current Donor)vidiconFR159125,8311913621,56326 Jan 1317 Aug 14No

Three Crater Circus

Author’s Note:

Thanks very much to my Betas on this, Letomo and Cordyfan.

The following ways of notation may be found in this story. This is excluding whatever I need to represent chatting, texting and stuff like that.

Speech: “Who’s on first.”

Thought: *What’s on second.*

Vision: #I-don’t-know’s on third.#

Thanks to Cordyfan and grd for recommending this story.

Three Crater Circus

Sunnydale, after Halloween

The spell had been broken. Litter and the remnants of battles and detritus and damage left by rampaging hordes of monsters were scattered over the town of Sunnydale. The streets were emptying and people were already starting to talk about the gangs on PCP being extra bad this year, and the buses full of delinquent children who had run amok.

Joyce had taken control of the situation, oddly enough, when it became clear that none of the teens had any notion on how to herd and care for the very upset children. She had taken them to the Gallery, picked up some more children and even some parents, and then led them all to the High School. Some phone calls to a few elementary schools had parents showing up in droves.

Xander, Kevin and Cordelia had helped to bring the trick-or-treaters back to the school and had remained to help until most of them were gathered up by worried parents, then they had quickly left, to avoid being been swept up in the wake of Joyce's silence and her eldest daughter’s frightened glances.

Having picked up her car at the Gallery, Joyce bundled her children into it and drove off. Her fingers were clenched and white around the steering wheel and she was silent and didn't look at her daughters except when she was checking the mirrors.

Buffy was quiet the entire short drive. Dawn had tried to start a conversation, but it had died a horrible and painful death in the oppressive silence.

So it was that Willow saw a rather smaller and far more tense group than she expected as she waited on the porch of the Summers house.

“Willow!” Buffy greeted her manically.

“Willow, hello. I don't mean to sound rude, but I have some things that I need to discuss with Buffy. Could you come back tomorrow?” Joyce spoke softly, but anger was still quite clear in her voice.

Willow swallowed, and looked at Buffy, who was trying to send some message with her eyes. Whatever it was, Willow wasn't able to interpret it.

Then Joyce stepped up and guided the redhead down the steps to the car. “Buffy, I'll take Willow home, I don't want her to walk tonight. Would you help Dawn with her costume and make sure she gets to bed?”

“Mo-om!” Dawn whined.

Joyce whirled. “Not tonight Dawn. Not! Tonight!”

Dawn's eyes widened and her lip trembled. Buffy put an arm around her shoulders and led her inside.

Joyce closed her eyes and sighed, opened the car door and beckoned at Willow to get in.

*******

Dawn was lying in bed, her hands resting on her stomach as she gazed at the ceiling. Her dress hung on a hanger from the door.

She could hear the front door open and close. Then her mother came up the stairs. She turned left at the top of the stairs, towards Buffy's room.

Dawn closed her eyes and her hands clenched into fists. Her mind flashed back to the angry shouts and the arguments between her parents. She picked up her second pillow and covered her head, hoping to shut out the noise of the fight that was sure to come.

******

Buffy froze. She could hear her mother coming in and her duffel bag was not even half way packed. Getting Dawn cleaned up and in bed had taken more time than she'd hoped. And she really hadn't wanted to frighten her little sister by running away right away.

She frantically started filling the bag, sure her mother would take some time in the sitting room and kitchen. When she heard footsteps on the stairs she realised that of course Mom would check on Dawnie first.

Then the door to her room opened. Joyce stood in the door way and Buffy froze.

She slammed the door shut and stood spread eagled in front of the window, her eyes wide, frightened and angry. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, BUFFY ANNE SUMMERS!?”

Buffy stood gaping at her mother in shock. “M-mom?”

“You ran away once, Buffy. It nearly killed me! You are not doing that again!” Joyce’s voice was trembling, Buffy saw tears in her eyes, and then she was right beside her, making her wonder if her mom didn’t have some magical or Slayer talent.

“You are not going anywhere, young lady!” Joyce hissed, before grabbing Buffy and hugging her close. “You were nearly killed tonight, do you understand that?”

Buffy stood rigid in her mother’s embrace. “Yeah. I sorta do. Why? Do you care?”

Joyce growled and her hug intensified. If Buffy hadn't been the Slayer, oxygen definitely would have been an issue. “Because I'm your mother. And I may have been clueless and stupid, that doesn't make it any more true.”

Buffy blinked. “Ummm? Huh? B-but why are you so angry with me?”

Joyce's hug lessened. Buffy’s heart missed a beat as her mother pushed her away. “I'm not angry with you, I'm angry with me. I didn't believe you. But why didn't you show me? Us? Your father and me? And who else knew? Willow? Xander? Cordelia?”

Buffy laughed bitterly. “Yeah, well, I didn't have a handy vamp around to show the dusting, sorry. And I really didn't feel like showing how strong and fast I'd become. No desire to end up at one of the labs of Dad's 'friends'.

Joyce frowned. “Don't be ridiculous, your father would never... Hmmm.”

“Hmm? What, hmmm? Haven't you noticed he barely takes notice of us? How many dates has he missed?” Buffy scoffed.

“Yes. Exactly. I'm beginning to think that Hank might know more about this than he let on... He was a little too eager to have you committed. But that’s not the point. The point is that you and I need to talk. But not right now. We're both angry and tired and frightened. And we smell. I thought I told you to take a shower?” Joyce asked pointedly.

Buffy huffed. “Hey, you don't smell like pansies and roses either mom! Like, horses much?”

“Yes, but I wasn't the one who was home. Go take a shower. I'll do the same, after I've had a word with Dawn,” Joyce made shooing motions with her hands.

Buffy nodded and headed for the shower.

“Buffy? Will you promise me that you will stay? Not run away?” Joyce pleaded.

Buffy stopped. “You won't be angry with me?”

Joyce tapped her lip. “I can't guarantee that. But I will listen with an open mind.”

She smiled wryly. “I'm quite sure you've done things that will upset me. And don't mistake me, young lady… I will most certainly want to know everything.”

Buffy winced. “Yeah. Okay.”

Joyce moved over and kissed Buffy's forehead. “Don’t worry, we'll be fine. I'll write a note so you don't have to go to school tomorrow.”

Then she frowned. “That man tonight... He was the one I hit with the axe at the PTA meeting, right?”

Buffy sniggered. “Oh, yeah. That's twice now you've chased him off.”

“If he wants to harm my little girl, he has to come through me first,” Joyce smiled.

“Now shoo, shower.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. But this is just dust and sweat, nothing like the sort of stuff that drips from some demons...”

Buffy's voice trailed off when she saw her mother's face. “Yeah, I didn't pick those stains up in Chem class.”

“And I should have realized that. We will discuss that, too,” Joyce sighed.

“If I didn't have to work, I'd take the day off myself. But the Gallery is a wreck and I need to get the evaluators in as soon as possible.”

Buffy nodded. “I understand mom. Now I'm headed for the shower.”

Joyce smiled and left. Buffy looked at her duffel, shook her head and headed for her own shower.

*********

Dawn had her face between two pillows. Joyce knew she did that when she wanted to close out the world. She had done it, and so had Buffy.

She smiled and sat on the bed. “Hello Pumpkin.”

“Mom?” Dawn's voice broke as she spoke, and she was trembling.

“Don't worry, we'll be fine. Oh, Buffy and me have a lot of things to talk about, but we'll get through it,” Joyce assured her youngest.

“So you're not putting her in an institution? And she's not running away?” Dawn asked very quietly.

Joyce heard the unspoken 'agains' in those sentences and sighed. “Well she nearly ran away. If I'd been a few minutes later, she might have been gone. But she isn't. She's in the shower. And if you're alright, I'll go and shower too. And then Buffy and I are going to talk.”

“Can I be there?” Dawn perked up.

“No. You're far too young and you should be in bed,” Joyce told her sternly.

“I don't wanna!” Dawn finally removed the pillow.

Instead of the angry and defiant look she'd expected, Dawn's face was frightened. “I-I don't wanna be alone, Mom! Please? I-I won't listen!”

Joyce wanted to remain firm, but she could understand Dawn. She'd had a pretty terrifying and painful night. If the thing with Buffy hadn't come up, Joyce wouldn't have let her out of her sight.

“Very well. You may have to wear your Walkman.”

Dawn sighed. “Oh, come on, mom! I know everything! I know about Willow and Xander finding out and Giles being Buffy's Watcher and Angel being a vampire and...”

She saw her mother's face. “Errr... You didn't know any of that yet, did you?”

“No. Which begs the question, how do you?” Joyce's eyes narrowed. “Buffy wouldn't tell you... Dawn Marie Summers! You’ve been reading your sister's diary again!”

Dawn drew the pillow back over her face. Joyce sighed. “You remember the punishment for that, Dawn. I’m sure Buffy will be delighted to have you do some of her chores.”

Dawn whimpered. Joyce patted her through the duvet. “I’ll come and get you before we go down. And we will discuss this later, young lady!”

*******

Buffy was coming out of her room in pyjamas and a bathrobe when she saw her mother emerge from her own room. Joyce hesitated and then waited, hugged Buffy and sighed. “Dawn’s been reading your diary and let some things slip. She’s also scared to death and doesn’t want to be alone. So you’d better warn me when things get scary, so I can tell her to turn up the volume of her headphones even more.”

Buffy grunted. “That little sneak!”

Then she bit her lip. “B-but it explains the extra hugs and stuff. S-she always believed me, you know.”

Joyce winced. “I know. And that makes me feel even worse. Well, shall we gather up the Sneaky little Pumpkin and go down?”

Buffy nodded. Joyce opened Dawn’s door and smiled. “Or maybe not?”

Buffy looked inside and saw Dawn sleeping, dressed in her bathrobe and curled around one of her pillows. “She had a long day. Ummm? Mom? Maybe, I should carry her down? I mean, we can talk, and if she has a nightmare…”

“And it will protect you from my worst shouting?” Joyce asked slyly. “Well, if you can carry her without waking up.”

Buffy grimaced. “Do you have to know me so well?”

“Apparently not as well as I thought,” Joyce answered dryly. “And I promise I won’t shout.”

Buffy nodded and easily picked up her sister, carrying her down the stairs and putting her on the shorter of the two couches, covering her with a fleece blanket and then went into the kitchen.

“She’s still sleeping. Hot Chocolate?” She finished hopefully.

“Yes. With marshmallows,” Joyce replied. “I figured I had enough exercise tonight to be able to convince myself it won’t go straight to my hips.”

Buffy hopped onto a barstool. “Yeah. You were pretty awesome as Éowyn. But I think I prefer you this way.”

“So. Who knows?” Joyce asked as she watched and stirred the milk. “Dawn said Willow and Xander and Mr. Giles at school? Was that why he was in the hospital when I fell and…”

She frowned. “I was attacked. Some blonde girl… Bit me? Why didn’t I remember that before?”

She turned towards Buffy. “And that would have been an excellent time to tell me the truth, too. So?”

Buffy swallowed. “Yeah. That was Darla.”

“Ah. Was as in past tense, no longer with us?” Joyce asked.

“Yeah. Angel staked her,” Buffy bit her lip as she realized that mentioning her sometimes crush off and on again boyfriend who is also a two hundred year old vampire might not be the best strategic move.

“Yes… Angel,” Joyce glared at the milk and a ferocious stir almost sent half the pan-full over the edge and only a quick counter stir stopped it.

Buffy looked at the action jealously. “Why can’t I do that? All that happens with me is that the pan falls on the floor!” she whined

“Don’t change the subject,” Joyce shook her spoon. “So, those three and Angel. Anyone else know?”

Buffy shook her head. “No. Well, Maybe Amy.”

“Amy?” Joyce frowned. “Have I met her?”

“No. Remember when I tried out for cheerleader?” Buffy prompted.

Joyce sighed. “You’re never going to let me live down that I didn’t back then, are you?”

Buffy shook her head and grinned. “Nope, perfectly good guilt-tripping material. But anyway, Amy’s mom had been a champion cheerleader and wanted Amy to be as well, and then she wanted to relive it, so she took over Amy’s body. And we saved her, so she might know.”

Joyce narrowed her eyes. “Why do I get the feeling that there’s a whole lot you’re not telling me there?”

Buffy bit her lip.

Joyce poured the hot milk onto the cocoa base and sighed. “Okay. It really is too late tonight to go into all this. So, who do I talk to and find out what’s going on in my daughter’s life? What being this… Slayer… Is all about really, and not just the bits I remember from the diary we found…”

She rubbed her face.

“That would be Giles. He’s my Watcher…”

At Joyce’s sharp look Buffy hastily continued. “In a totally non-Peeping Tom kinda way!”

“You seem to attract older men like honey does flies,” Joyce muttered. “How old is Angel anyway? And Dawn said he was a vampire? How does that work?”

Buffy winced. “Errr… In total? And…yeah, I found that out the night Darla attacked you. And he’s got a soul. It’s a curse.”

“A curse that he has a soul?” Joyce asked. “I’d imagine that’s one the philosophers never thought of.”

Buffy sighed and sipped her hot cocoa. “He killed this girl. And her people cursed him. So he remembers all the things he did as a vampire, and enjoyed then. And he regrets them now.”

“Hmmph. Do any of those bad things include seducing girls a…” Joyce looked annoyed. “How old is he? You never said. And what did you mean in total?”

Buffy groaned. “Well, there’s the age he was turned. And then there’s the time he was a bad vampire. And the time he’s been a good vampire.”

Joyce frowned over her mug. “I see. All three, then the total.”

“Mom! Sheesh! I thought we were gonna talk about me being the Slayer!” Buffy growled.

“Oh, we are. Later. But I’m your mother and I want to keep you as safe as I can, from demons or ensouled vampires. Who are far too old for you. How old?” She repeated pointedly.

Buffy looked at the brown liquid in her mug. “He was born in 1727. Turned in 1753 and he got his soul back in 1898,” she grudgingly admitted.

Buffy didn’t have to look up to know her mother’s reaction. She could almost hear the earthenware of the mug cracking under the pressure.

“I see. I want to meet him, face to face. Soon. Tomorrow isn’t soon enough. And I don’t care that I may not have been the world’s most observant mother, but I noticed he was too old for you when I first met him. And this doesn’t make it better,” Joyce’s voice was icy cold.

Buffy sighed. “Yeah. Okay,” she smiled a little. “I think Susan wholeheartedly agrees with you.”

Joyce snorted. “Éowyn on the other hand wants to get her sword out and show him exactly what she thinks of men preying on her children. Though she grudgingly admits that Aragorn and Arwen might have a larger age spread still, though Aragorn at least is an adult.”

Buffy shook her head. “It’s gonna be weird having them in our heads, isn’t it?”

“Rather,” Joyce sipped her cocoa. “Though the advice seems sensible enough.”

Buffy glared. “So? Any more questions about my love life? Are you gonna lock me in my room for that? Or find a nice padded cell?” she sneered.

Joyce put down her mug. “Buffy… Do you know why I agreed to have you institutionalized?”

“Because you thought I was insane and didn’t want to deal with it?” Buffy taunted.

Joyce shook her head, her lips pressed very hard together. “No. There’s one thing I remember from what you wrote. I remember it very well. You underlined it three times, in three different colors.”

Buffy’s face scrunched as her mother spoke and then her mouth opened in shock. “Oh… The bit about…?”

“About Slayers dying young, in battle and the things you wanted…”

Joyce shrugged helplessly. “The psychiatrist said it was a very original way of showing a-a suicide-” she swallowed heavily. “Suicide wish. But it’s worse this way. A-at least with suicide it would be your choice.”

Buffy sat still, breathing very fast, her eyes wide and vacant.

Joyce slammed her mug down and dragged open a drawer, grabbing a paper bag, blew it out and held it tightly in front of Buffy’s mouth. She held it there for a while, then removed it and repeated the process. After about ten minutes Buffy finally relaxed and started to cry.

Joyce held her close, rubbing her shoulders and hair. “Tell me what’s wrong, honey. Talk to me.”

“I died! I died! I would’ve been dead if Xander hadn’t… I DIED!” Buffy wailed. “I don’t wanna die! I don’t wanna die again!”

Joyce made a mental note to thank Xander. “How did it happen?”

Buffy gulped. “There’s this book, the Pergamum Codex. It’s full of prophecies. A-and one of them said I was gonna face this really ugly old vamp called the Master. A-and he’d be free and I’d be killed by him. A-and Giles said that every prophecy in it always came true!”

Joyce snorted. “Right. And no doubt exactly the way people want to read it? Remind me to kick him and then hit him with Herod. Idiot.”

“Huh?” Buffy asked through her tears.

Joyce smiled. “Prophecy 101. Cyrus, king of Lydia, asked the Oracle at Delphi what would happen if he crossed the River Halys. He was told a great empire would fall. He crossed the river, was defeated and his empire fell.”

Buffy blinked. “That sorta happened, yeah. Turns out the Master only could get free because I went down there and he drank my blood. T-then he threw me in a puddle and I drowned. And Xander used CPR.”

“Remind me to thank Xander. And I hope you did too?” Joyce noted Buffy’s wince and decided to get into that later, there was apparently some guilt over that.

“You don’t seem very upset about it,” Buffy tried to pull away.

Joyce held on quite firmly. “Oh, I’m a bit beyond upset honey. I’m so far beyond upset I’m nearly at frothing, but there’s this space in between that allows me to think. I think Éowyn left it behind. And some other bits, but I’m keeping those locked away. Otherwise I’d be screaming ‘Béma!’ and hitting people with a sword right about now.”

Buffy noted the glint in her mother’s eyes. “Mom, you can’t kill Giles! He does all the stuffy research stuff that needs to be done, and if you kill him I’ll have to learn how to do it!”

Joyce lifted an eyebrow. “So if I’ll kill him, you’ll study? Interesting.”

“MO-OM!” Buffy whined, half laughing. She laid her head on Joyce’s shoulder. “Thanks.”

“For what?” Joyce asked.

“For being here. Not kicking me out, being in time to stop me from running away. Listening. Making me laugh just now. Everything,” Buffy explained.

“You’re welcome. B-Buffy?” Joyce closed her eyes. “W-will you ever forgive me? F-for not believing you?”

Buffy looked strained. “I-I… I don’t know. When I get nightmares? That one is always there.”

Joyce winced.

Buffy bit her lip. “I’m sorry-”

Joyce shook her head and hugged Buffy more tightly. “No, I understand. But if you ever run away again? I don’t know what I’ll do, but you won’t like it.”

Buffy smirked. “If it’s half as scary as the way you fight Spike, you get no argument from me on that count.”

Joyce smiled. “Just taking care of my girls. Now let’s go to the sitting room and we’ll see where we get tonight.”

Buffy yawned. “Can’t we go to bed? I’m pooped.”

Joyce looked through the door at Dawn, who was whimpering in her sleep. “You’re right. It’s far too late. Would you put Dawn in my bed, please?”

Buffy sighed theatrically. “That’s all I’m good for, Little Sister Carrier.”

Then she sniffed. “And why does Dawn get to snuggle up to you when she has nightmares and I don’t?”

Joyce shrugged. “It’s a Kingsize bed, Buffy. If you want to, you’re welcome. I wouldn't mind having both of you close tonight, I admit that.”

Buffy picked up Dawn. “Yeah. I don't think I'd mind either.”

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Cambridge Massachusetts , Halloween

Kendra was sitting on the couch, eyeing the three statues that stood on the table, carefully in case they decided to move. A spiked club was lying next to her, rather an incongruous addition to her Harlem Golden Age dress.

Diana came into the room and sighed. “They're not getting up and walking, Kendra.”

“They are fertility symbols. I will not take that risk,” Kendra replied, never taking her eyes of them.

“Well, if you damage them, you pay for them. And at the rate you're managing to get a job? That might take you a while.”

“I have a job, I am the Slayer,” Kendra replied.

“And that pays the rent how? What will you do for money when you're forty? You're not living with me that long. You'll be screaming for your own place-” Diana swore sotto voce as she saw Kendra start to tremble and quickly sat down next to the girl.

“Hey! I'm not kicking you out! You're staying with me until you want to leave.”

Kendra stifled a sob. “Then why do you wish for me to get a job?”

“Because it will be good for your social skills and give you an idea of the value of money,” Diana explained. “Which is something everybody needs.”

Kendra let out a sniffle. “All a Slayer needs to now is how to recognize and defeat evil.”

“Yes, well, I think that part of the Slayer's Handbook needs updating. And most of the rest of it as well,” Diana noted dryly.

“Generations of Watchers compiled and wrote it,” Kendra brought up her usual argument.

“I long ago learned to think very hard for myself when authority figures claimed to know better 'just because.' Admittedly it took me a lot longer than Eric, but he was born a forty year old cynic,” Diana replied.

“He is the one who asked you to buy those, did he not?” Kendra nodded at the figures on the table.

Diana sighed. “Yeah. He wants them for his office.”

“Are you sure he does not want to bed and impregnate you? That is what such figures used to represent,” Kendra added dryly.

Diana spluttered and then saw Kendra's face. “Was that a joke?”

Kendra bit her lip. “Yes. I am sorry if it wasn't funny.”

Diana laughed. “Oh, it was funny, just unexpected. And I'm very pleased. And no, Eric is just a friend. Now you really needn’t sit here all night long. As a matter of fact it's a school day tomorrow and both of us need to be up early. Do you need help getting out of the dress?”

“No, I can manage, thank you,” Kendra replied politely as she rose.

“Give me a call if you change your mind!” Diana called after her ward.

She sighed and looked at the idols, remembering again how she'd become responsible for Kendra, the Vampire Slayer.

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Kaua’i, Hawaii somewhere along WaimeaCanyon, September 1997

Kendra was the Slayer. Like her Watcher, Mr. Zabuto, had told her time and time again when she was still a Potential and very occasionally objecting to the harshness her training, she had indeed become the Slayer. The Destiny, the Duty was hers. Kendra didn't spare much thought to her predecessors. Mr. Zabuto had mentioned that the previous Slayer wasn't as dedicated to the Duty as she ought to have been, preferring a life of debauchery and wantonness.

Kendra lived and breathed her duty. Wherever the Duty required her to be, there Kendra would go. Whether it was in the jungles of Africa or on the snow and ice covered peaks of Antarctica, Kendra would obediently travel there and deal with whatever evil dwelt there. Which explained how she came to be in a strange place, attempting to stop a ritual that Mr. Zabuto was certain would cause great upheaval if it was allowed to be performed.

And if Mr. Zabuto said it was necessary to stop the ritual, it had to be done. Mr. Zabuto was very wise.

He'd heard about the ritual from a local kahuna, who was more frightened of what might happen than of the people who were performing the ritual.

Kendra, perched on a rocky overhang overlooking the ritual site, used the term 'people' in the broadest possible sense. There were at least two dozen of them, some human, some not. From what Kendra could sense and see, fully half of them were part human.

This did not worry Kendra greatly. She had been trained specifically to deal with non-human threats. The problem was the humans, and to combat them Mr. Zabuto had joined her, with a high powered rifle and a crossbow.

Kendra was wearing a suit of camouflage clothing and a vest on which several stakes, knives and vials filled with holy water and potions were hung. It was immediately clear that she was prepared for any eventuality. There was no reason to blend in with the local populace and therefore no need to wear the boots, shirt and trousers that Mr. Zabuto had supplied for the few times that Kendra had to go out in public for the Duty. Mr. Zabuto did all the shopping and whatever was necessary. Kendra studied and read, trained and exercised.

Kendra looked at Mr. Zabuto, lying beside her in similar clothing. He nodded. Kendra started to make her way down the steep slope to the rocky plateau where the ritual was being performed. Half a dozen red-robed men, three with black horns protruding from their foreheads and green scaly skin, were chanting in the outermost of five circles. The others were standing still and waiting.

Kendra didn’t know that language. Mr. Zabuto had assured her it was a foul, demonic tongue, spoken by foul, demonic beings. And if Mr. Zabuto said it was so, that was enough for Kendra.

Moving smoothly and with great skill and agility, Kendra slipped from the shadow of one boulder to that of another, then to the sparse cover provided by a desiccated bush. Every move, every new position took her closer to the five-fold ritual circle.

Mr. Zabuto would deal with the humans, using the rifle. Kendra had to be close enough to deal with the demons. A Slayer could not kill a human, not even the blackest of magic practitioners, without doing immense damage to their souls and powers. They were the chosen vessels of the powers, chosen to stand between humanity and the dark, the demons and the outside beings who sought to destroy the Earth and enslave its people.

Kendra felt a slight twinge of regret knowing that the humans were beyond redemption, willing to destroy the world, to sell their own kind, so as to achieve immortality or momentary power.

A shot rang out and the man in the innermost circle collapsed, most of his head gone, taken by an expanding round. One of the men in the next circle collapsed seconds later. Kendra jumped into action, her twin short swords whirling as she engaged two of the black-horned demons in melee.

She ducked under a clumsy, desperate, blow, and then leaned in and ran her blade across the being's stomach in a slanting slash calculated precisely to do the most damage.

The demon screamed and tried to keep to its feet, but failed as its steaming entrails poured down its legs and unto its feet.

The demon was mortally wounded and Kendra moved onto the next, her swords singing through the air.

Some of the people in the second circle were screaming for her to stop, that she didn't know what she was doing, but Kendra was quite clear about what she was doing. She was ending a threat to the safety of the world.

She cut down the second demon and moved on, just as the rifle took down the last of the humans in the second circle.

*******

Kendra wasn't even breathing hard by the time it was all over. The corpses of the evil cultists were scattered around, many of them in more parts than before her assault. She could see Mr. Zabuto making his way down the slope some distance away. He wasn't a Slayer and the route she had taken was impossible for him.

Kendra looked around, nodding once in satisfaction. She had taken only thirteen seconds longer to eliminate the demons than she had originally calculated.

There was a sound, a rasping breath. One of the men was leaning on his elbow, his eyes fastened on Kendra. “You've doomed us all. The warding is unfinished. Olukai will return. May the Lord judge your soul and cast you into Hell, bitch.”

Kendra gave the man a long, measuring look, then walked away. He was an evil man, and his words were meant to sow doubt and discord in the hearts of the Champions of good. She could not undo that he had spoken to her, but she could ignore his filthy and poisonous words.

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When Mr. Zabuto arrived at the ritual circle, the man had died. Kendra had checked and made certain that all the others were dead. She had no desire to be clawed in her calf by a demon who wasn't quite as dead as she thought. Now all the demons were missing a part they had had before the battle, to wit, their heads. They lay in a neat pile in the central circle.

“Hardly a great success, Kendra,” Mr. Zabuto spoke softly. “Your form was off while you faced the sixth and seventh demon, and again with the thirteenth and seventeenth. That is unacceptable. You will train harder.”

Kendra winced imperceptibly. “Yes, Mr. Zabuto.”

Zabuto's face was stern. “Well, despite your lacklustre performance the thing is done. You stand guard while I make certain that they aren't carrying any dangerous mystical objects.”

“Yes, Mr. Zabuto,” Kendra answered meekly and moved off.

Zabuto started searching the corpses, throwing any money and valuables in a rucksack, any items which he thought were mystical and identification in an old shopping bag. He'd have Kendra throw it in a volcano later. In his experience almost everything that got thrown into a volcano tended to be destroyed. And if it wasn't, it was buried in lava or volcanic rock, which tended to solve the matter, at least for the short term.

He looked up occasionally to see if Kendra was still taking her guard duty seriously, noting with approval that the girl had taken up station on a slight rise overlooking the Heiau site. He knew little about the Hawaiian religion and mythology, but the warning that had come from Paul Brigham had been very clear. The priest was both a Kahuna and an Anglican, a combination that was strange to Zabuto's mind, but it seemed to work for the Hawaiians.

The sound of gunshots came only after the piercing pain. He saw Kendra twist under the force of the projectiles and reach numbly towards her shoulder before she fell. Then all went black.

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An immense and unseasonable rainstorm was interfering with the astronomical observations of the area of the sky that Diana was interested in. Though the multiple mirrors of the great telescopes allowed for far greater clarity and accuracy of observation than the old single-lensed ones, even for them it was difficult, if not impossible, to study the sky when the sky was hidden by a layer of high floating, deep, moisture rich clouds.

But not all was lost. There were calculations to be done, adjustments to be made. That meant that Dr. Diana Carrington was able to continue her research rain or shine. And so were her colleagues. But at this point in time Diana was more interested in her own research. It was perhaps petty of her, but she had to publish or perish. If she wanted to get the sort of grants and tenure that she needed, she needed a certain amount of progress in her observation. It didn't really matter if her theory regarding a certain heavenly object was correct or not, what mattered was that the theory was proved or disproved. Truth was far more important than who was right or wrong, a scientific tenet that many people, scientists included, tended to forget.

That, at least, was what should be happening. In reality Dr. Diana Carrington, Olympic Medallist in Gymnastics (three times – two Golds and a Silver) was making her way up Waimea canyon, pitting herself against the rocky trails and the inclement weather.

Inclement to the locals. Diana, who had tenure at University near Boston, was used to a lot worse. She had volunteered to help the local volcanologists with their measurements, at least that was what she was going to tell her colleagues and superiors back in... In reality Diana relished this sort of thing. She loved her job, but being cooped up in an office, or behind a desk hour after hour, day after day eventually wore down her willpower and she had to go out and do something reckless.

It was one of the main reasons that things hadn't worked out with Albert. He liked exercise well enough, but to go hiking and rock-climbing in a violent rainstorm? Not him.

Hank understood that a little. Eric thought she was insane. Only Sheila and Bobby really got the need Diana had to really test herself, again and again.

All of which explained why Diana was approaching one of the seismic stations that the geologists of the University of Hawaii had set up along the canyon.

Kauai was one of the most stable islands of the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain, which in itself was not saying much. It was a volcanic island after all, created by the hotspot on the Pacific tectonic plate, grown from the upthrust magma of deep undersea volcanoes. Diana used her flashlight to locate the measuring station, some clever fellow up at the university had made sure that the casing was reflective. It made finding the bloody thing a lot easier.

“Gotcha,” Diana murmured as her flashlight lit up the white-green rectangular box.

She took out the key ring and located the correctly numbered key, inserting it in the lock, then the second one. She lifted the lid of the assembly, checking automatically if there was any damage or disruption. She put the padded lid gently down next to the device and peered through the Plexiglas cover. It was clearly working, recording the minute vibrations that were always present in the Earth's crust near the Hawaiian Islands.

She nodded. The University was slowly replacing these older units and going fully digital, but it was expensive and there was always resistance. Not all of it because of innate conservatism either. With graph paper you knew what had happened, the data was recoverable. Despite everything that the techs swore to, there was a considerable minority, if not majority, that wasn't sure that earthquakes, rumblings and general geological mayhem might not upset the delicate hardware that was supposed to store the data.

Which meant that rolls of paper still had to be changed regularly in many of the measuring devices. Diana was rather happy that in this case it wasn't necessary. Changing the paper in a storm like this would be hell.

Diana was watching the progress of the needle on the graph paper when the seismograph rattled. With a sigh she turned her attention to the sound. She was hardly an expert, but she could read the thing well enough.

Diana frowned, refraining from tapping the clear case only with the greatest strength of will. You didn't need an expert on the seismograph to see that whatever was happening wasn't normal. It looked too regular. Almost like a man pounding on a door to attract the attention of the inhabitants of a house. Or an army slamming a battering ram against a city gate.

*I do hope it’s not some drunken idiots who think it’s fun to beat the ground with earth moving equipment,* Diana thought wryly. *Really not in the mood for intoxicated students.*

Then she frowned. *It could be illegal mining. Though heaven knows there’s nothing here to mine. Perhaps... Illegal archaeological excavations?*

The strange rhythm continued in regular heavy blows. It was an unnatural progression, of that Diana was sure. If it had been a message on her own equipment, she might have proven the existence of alien life in the universe.

With a sigh Diana started to seal the seismographic equipment back up. There was a slight lull in the rain, and unlike it would be in Boston, it was warm and humid, as was common for the time of year and the location.

She smiled as she thought of what Presto would say if he were here with. He was used to cooler climes and tended to sweat like an otter anywhere south of New York anyway. She looked up at the dark, scudding clouds. Normally Diana would enjoy a sky like this one. But tonight the sky seemed filled with angry dark greys and reds. And the atmosphere seemed watchful, vigilant.

That was when Diana noticed that the birds had gone quiet and the wind seemed to have dropped. Now she wondered if the rain itself had stopped for the same reason it was as if the natural world itself was waiting, frightened of what was about to happen. Diana rose from her haunches and finished sealing the case. Then she took off down the path, as quick as she could. After about half a miles she saw the light of the fires in the distance, but not ordinary fires, the fires of the earth. Lava, where no lava should be.

In her pocket, her lipstick case started to vibrate. Diana sighed and set off towards the threatening glare.

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Samuel Zabuto wasn't quite sure how it had happened, but currently he was suspended in a cage hanging about forty feet above a chasm filled with hot, boiling lava.

As positions went, it wasn’t a very nice one. What made it worse was that hanging from chains next to a volcanic cleft hung Kendra, obviously unconscious. He could see the blood that had dried on her face; that had run down from what must have been a sizable and painful wound just above her hairline. A bit of scalp was hanging down, hair trailing. At least she'd gone down fighting, unlike Zabuto himself. Whatever they had used, it hadn't been bullets. They wanted to capture the Slayer alive. They had wanted Kendra alive, and from what he could see, Zabuto feared it was for a dark and evil purpose

“Pa’ao, Olukai! Great One! Teacher of the ways! Hear our pleas!” a dark complected man intoned, his arms spread wide as he faced out over the lava. “Return to us and guide us, in your greatness and might! Pa’ao, great one, hear our entreaties!”

Zabuto looked at the man and suddenly realized where he knew the voice from. Paul Brigham, the man who had warned him of the ritual in the canyon. He tried to call out, but the heat from the lava and the lack of food and drink had parched his throat. He tried to make saliva, but the sulphurous fumes clanged his throat shut.

“Accept, Oh Pa’ao, this, my sacrifice!”

Brigham pulled on a chain and Kendra was lowered towards the cleft, the heat and fumes sufficient to kill any lesser being than a Slayer. Zabuto felt a pang in his heart as he realised that his perfectly trained Slayer had lasted not even half as long as her annoyingly disobedient predecessor.

“OLUKAI! Pa’ao! RISE! From within me, RISE! My being, my soul, RISE! Memory return, Doors be unlocked, OLUKAI! Pa’ao! RISE! Make my being one once more, RISE!” Brigham chanted.

Around him half a dozen acolytes we're waving and humming.

Zabuto was getting ever more worried. Olukai was a powerful demon in Hawaiian mythology, the great snake. The fact that Brigham was not only calling upon him but claiming to already incorporate part of him was a frightening thought.

“Unite with me, Olukai! Unite with me Pa’ao, rise and take up the mantle of flesh with me, your chosen vessel, your descendant! RISE OLUKAI!” Brigham shouted.

His acolytes hummed and swayed, sweat running down their bodies.

“RISE OLUKAI! Accept the offering I bring you! The Huntress who stalks your slaves! Accept her mind and body and soul and end her line and her power with thy will!” Brigham was getting hoarse and the acolytes seemed to be frothing at the mouth.

There was crack as the ground in the middle of the ritual circle broke open and a spout of lava hurled into the sky, impossibly keeping its form, defying gravity as it stood towering over the mad priest and his acolytes before finally sinking back down. Brigham laughed. “Yes! Now it is time for the first offering.”

The acolytes hummed and Brigham strode over to Zabuto, drawing an obsidian knife from his belt. “Mr. Zabuto. We finally meet face to face.”

Zabuto tried to answer but his voice came out cracked and broken. “You do realise that Olukai will merely devour you?”

Brigham shrugged. “I am his vessel and he is my destiny. I must admit I never thought to see his return during my lifetime, what with the strength of the Order of Haumea. I must thank you for killing them, and bringing me the Slayer. Her blood and power should be sufficient to open the door to allow Olukai entry once more, to revive his being that resides here.”

“You are insane,” Zabuto told the man calmly, wincing internally at how he had been deceived and that the deception had placed Kendra in her current condition.

“Am I? Maybe I am. Yet I am not the one who set the Slayer to kill innocents and champions of good merely because they have demonic blood,” Brigham chuckled. “However are you going to tell her that, Zabuto?”

Zabuto shook his head. “If you succeed, I won't have to. If we succeed in stopping you-”

Brigham laughed. “Stopping me? How are you going to do that, I ask you? No, when both your souls are tormented by the Lord Olukai, yours will be in extra torment knowing that you are the cause for it.”

He smiled brightly, and gestured at the acolytes to lower the cage. They hurried to do his bidding, grabbing Zabuto by arms and legs and dragging him from the cage, even as he tried to cling to the bars.

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Diana had approached the strange fires of lava with great care. It took considerable magic to summon lava to the surface, as she knew from experience. And that was in a world where magic was accepted and mages quite plentiful. On Earth the number of mages who might manage it was small, probably numbering less than the fingers on her hand. That meant outside help had been called in. And that very seldom boded well. Most of the beings who wanted night time rituals involving lava and fire were not the sort of things Diana wanted to call upon or face.

It never ceased to amaze her how many people were willing to sacrifice all just to gain some power. Mankind's stupidity was boundless. She crept closer, wishing Sheila was here. Heck, she wanted all of the gang was here. It looked like there were a lot more of the bad guys than she could easily deal with alone.

She listened to the impassioned, ranting ritual and sighed. Presto would have been able to tell her if this had any chance of succeeding. Not that it would have stopped them from interfering, what with the older man in the cage and the girl hanging over the Crack of Doom. She wondered if they were father and daughter. A pile of weapons rested by a large boulder, in the direct line of sight of what Diana termed the acolytes and the High Priest.

The guy in the traditional Hawaiian priest’s outfit was walking over to the man in the cage. He had a knife in his hand and the sneer on his face did not bode well for the captive. But Diana was more worried about the girl. The fumes from the crack would kill her soon, if they hadn't already.

Diana moved from the shadows. The acolytes didn't notice her as approached the chained up girl. The prisoner seemed to, and he obviously approved of what she was doing and apparently tried to taunt the priest. Whether he succeeded or not was of no great import, he was dragged from the cage and held down by the acolytes all six of them being needed to hold him down.

Diana crept up to the dangling figure, put her lipstick into one of the links of the chain and then extended her staff, slowly. With a slight squeal of tortured metal the link parted. Diana was sure that the bad guys hadn't heard it, what with their victim screaming. Somehow Diana doubted he was doing that just because of the torture.

She parted a second link, and a third. She used her gymnast's strength to lift the girl down and dragged her quickly into the bushes. The girl was the colour of wet ashes and Diana didn't think it had to do with the lava or the gas from the crack.

She took a deep breath and thanked the stars for the comprehensive First Aid course that Presto had insisted they both take. 'You never know when it could come in handy', he'd said. Though Diana had hoped for more pitter-patter of little feet, ‘Mommy! I’ve got an owie!’ and rather less combat related use.

But it hadn't worked out with Presto, though happily they were still friends. Thinking back to the long-ago instructions about what to do with gassed victims, Diana started CPR, letting the tiny flow of magic that Presto had taught her and the others to use so long ago move into the girl’s body to help regulate her heart.

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It was dark and cold, Kendra thought. Or felt. Or intuited. Actual thought was difficult in this place. She couldn't say what place it was, but she felt satisfied. As if she'd defeated a demon and Mr. Zabuto had praised her, without reservation. It was a good feeling.

Then there was pain, pain in her chest, in her head. A gnawing pain in her shoulders, as if she'd been hanging from her arms for too long, put too much strain on them.

Kendra groaned and blinked and she felt gritty ash and dust on her eyelids and her lips. She wondered how it got there. The light was bright to her, even though she could tell that it was dark.

“You awake? Okay, good,” a soft, warm voice told her. “Look. There’s a man out there I need to save. I'll be back later. If I’m not, make your way down the canyon, okay?”

Kendra nodded, and tried to sit up. A hand against her shoulder stopped her. “You should keep still, give yourself a little time to recuperate. I had to press down on your ribs pretty hard to get your heart going again, girl.”

“Resuscitation only allows for the resumption of a normal heartbeat in a very limited number of cases, less than thirty percent,” Kendra replied, her voice rough and her throat achy. “And my name is Kendra, not 'girl'.”

The voice laughed. “Yes, well, I may have had an unfair advantage. Now keep still and remain hidden.”

“Wait. Who are you?” Kendra asked.

“You may call me Diana. Don't worry, I'll be back soon,” the woman rose from her crouch and peered through the bushes before setting off.

Kendra took a few shallow breaths before trying deep ones. Her lungs and ribs ached and her throat hurt, but her strength was returning swiftly and she was sure her rescuer would need aid. She also needed to find Mr. Zabuto. Sitting up carefully Kendra took stock of her pains and injuries. She didn't think they would hinder her. Moving with the utmost care to blend into the sounds of the night, such as they were, Kendra set off to follow the woman who called herself Diana.

*******

After removing her bright coat -leaving her in jeans, sneakers and a short-sleeved t-shirt- and rubbing herself with dirt and freshly fallen ash, Diana had made her way to the area near the volcanic rift. She made full use of the flickering shadows and the bushes that grew on the slopes of the canyon. She had the strangest idea that she was being followed and hoped that it wasn't true. She took up the position she needed for her first attack and mentally prepared herself. These guys were not going to surrender or release their prisoner. She took a deep breath and started a series of backflips that got her to the group by the lava flow fast and with less noise and chance of being hit than just running. She landed on her feet, her lipstick dropping into her hand and immediately expanding into her staff. She struck out at one of the acolytes, hitting him below the chin, and a slight twist crushed his windpipe. He let out a screaming gurgle, staggered backwards out of the circle and plunged into the lava below. Diana didn’t pause, she slammed the staff into the gut the man next to him, leaned back to avoid a swing of an obsidian knife and kicked out, sending the second man backwards, screaming, into the lava.

Diana suppressed a shiver at the sound of the body hitting the lava, the short, terrible hiss. She would never get used to killing people, no matter how deserved their deaths. No matter how often she had to do it.

There was a hiss and then the four remaining henchmen morphed, their faces elongating, their teeth becoming fangs, their pupils becoming slits in yellow orbs. Forked tongues licked out of their mouths and their fingers lengthened and grew claws.

Brigham laughed. “Excellent! Another sacrifice! And such a feisty one. Do I know you?” He asked, with interest in his voice.

Diana whirled out of the way of the claws of one of the hench-snakes and aimed a blow at Brigham. The blow landed and ought to have shattered his shoulder. In fact it did.

Brigham winced, then shrugged, the shoulder slowly moving back into position. “That hurt you know. Even being as close to the power of Pa’ao as I am now, that still hurt,” he told her reproachfully.

“Luckily I know that what I’m going to do to you will be more than repayment. So prepare to suffer, bitch.”

Diana ducked under another hasty blow by one for the snake-men, flinching slightly as a few drops of liquid splashed her bare arms.

She felt them burn. *Note to self, do not get bitten or scratched by these guys.*

The four remaining snake-men were weaving around her, growling and hissing. They seemed to be moving closer together and in an ever tightening circle around Diana. She needed space to dodge and they were denying her that.

Brigham was grinning ferociously. “Soon, they will take you. And then you will bleed like this foolish man.”

He kicked Zabuto, hard, and Diana thought she could hear bone crack under the impact.

Diana had been focused entirely upon the four beings attacking her, looking for an opening. With some surprise and rather more aggravation she saw Kendra move towards her, in an admittedly, silent and sneaky manner. Sheila would have approved. Kendra was carrying a, well, it looked like half a log to Diana. A much larger club than she imagined the girl could use with ease. It was bigger than Bobby’s club. When she was about ten yards away, Kendra charged on swift, silent feet.

The club hit one of the three remaining snakes and threw him bodily as if he was a baseball to Kendra's bat. Diana put her staff to the ground, willing it to lengthen, giving it a slight twist, pushing off hard with her feet and launched herself over the heads of her attackers, moved her staff as she twisted in the air, landed easily behind one of the snakes and struck him full in the head with her weapon.

The snake-thing wailed as half its teeth flew from its mouth. Kendra struck another snake and it staggered back. Diana hit it as well, across the throat and the thing went down with a wail.

Brigham swore. “What? How did you get loose?”

Kendra didn't reply, instead swinging her club at the legs of one of the last two standing snake-things. It jumped, which allowed Diana to hit it with all her strength in midair, causing the thing to gasp as its ribcage caved in. It fell heavily and Kendra smashed her club down on its head.

“You seem to be running out of minions awfully fast,” Diana smiled saccharinely at Brigham.

Brigham snarled and raised his arms. “To me, my servants! To me! From caves and fire, water and earth, to me!”

Diana groaned. “Dammit! Why did I pick now to start channeling Eric?”

There was a rumble. Rocks shivered aside from the canyon wall, revealing a dark, unpleasant looking cavern and from it emerged spiders, seven of the largest spiders Diana had ever seen. Considering she’d fought giant spiders with bodies a yard long on ‘Mudball’, that was saying something. These spiders gleamed in the light from the lava. Red flickering through and over their grey-furred bodies and over their chitinous, hooked legs.

“Kendra? Aim for the joints and the eye patches. Those are giant versions of the Kauai Cave Wolf spiders. Many of them are blind, but they can feel vibrations,” Diana explained as she kept the spiders, Brigham and the two upright snake men in sight.

“If I had a sword or spear I would be better able to make use of your advice,” the girl noted calmly.

“All we’ve got are some obsidian knives, you’re welcome to use those,” Diana gestured at the pile.

“My own sword would be preferable,” Kendra replied as she swung her club, causing a snake to dodge and then kicked out, hitting it in the groin, causing it to collapse in a pained ball with a whimper.

Which left one snake and seven spiders and… Diana cursed. “Shit!” Out of the fiery pit came crawling two large, half-stone half lava, salamander-like creatures.

“We might have to run, regroup,” Diana told the girl.

“We cannot leave Mr Zabuto. He knows what we should do!” Kendra replied curtly.

“Does he? Well, I think we should kill as many of these things as we can, then run. Or run before they get us. And if you want weapons, over there by that boulder are some swords and spears,” Diana vaulted over a burning snake and slammed her feet into the chest of the last Snake-henchman.

Kendra looked where Diana had indicated and smiled, very briefly. “I will be back directly,” she threw her club against the head of the snake that had been kicked in the crotch, who was shaking his head and getting back to his feet, and Diana could hear his neck snap under the force of the throw.

Kendra back flipped and cartwheeled passed the Spiders and the Fire snakes, landing in a crouch by the weapons, picked up a spear and threw it at one of the spiders. It slammed into the spiders bulbous, hairy body and embedded itself almost a meter into it. The spider shrieked, its mandibles clicking in distress. It turned laboriously toward Kendra, who had picked up another spear and threw that too, directly into the monster spider's left eye cluster.

With a bubbling, gurgling sound the thing went down. Kendra grabbed two swords and charged into the midst of the remaining spiders.

Diana grinned. “Well, I'll be...”

She took a deep breath, windmilled her staff and slammed it into the snout of the nearest Fire-snake. It withdrew, with an offended look in its eyes.

Diana vaulted over the beast, landing between it and the other one, tapping first one, then the other on their broad, flat skulls. “Hey! Snakeheads! Think you can catch me?”

The snakes hissed, their tongues flicking in and out of their broad, lipped mouths, gleaming like the heart of fire.

Brigham glared at Diana and Kendra, his hands twitching. “You will not escape! My fire-snakes will destroy you!”

Diana didn’t answer, tapping the left hand snake on its head again. It lunged at her, but she vaulted over the right hand snake and the blunt head of ‘Lefty’ struck ‘Righty’.

“Well, as soon as they learn how to catch me,” Diana smiled as the snakes hissed at each other before turning towards her.

Their stone and lava bodies were slow and ponderous and she was quick and not yet tired, so she should be able to manage to hold them off until some way to destroy them occurred to her.

She hit Righty and jumped out of the way of its counterattack, landing lightly on the back of Lefty and somersaulting to stand in front of Brigham. She stuck her tongue out at him and smiled again. He opened his mouth to reply, but she cartwheeled out of his line of sight just as Righty tried to ram into her back and struck him in the chest, making him stagger.

Diana smirked, but only briefly. Brigham's eyes had had slitted pupils and there was a mottling under his skin that looked a little like scales. Apparently he was already transforming, despite the fact that Kendra had been removed from the sacrificial chains.

She saw with approval that Kendra was dealing competently and decisively with the spiders, the girl was obviously well trained to deal with monstrous opponents. She was also very quick.

Diana frowned. *Quicker and more agile than she should be, and far stronger. I know how long it takes to recover from the sort of treatment she suffered; she should be a lot less limber and coordinated. And that club of hers was far heavier than she ought to have been able to wield... I do hope she's not some sort of magical construct. I really don't want to deal with a golem tonight.*

The girl in question back-flipped three times to avoid a swaying leg before she stopped, lined up behind a nice, sharp piece of granite that had come loose when the spiders emerged and kicked it into a spider’s pale white eye-cluster, hard. Most of the eye’s facets exploded in a gooey mess. As the spider tried to regain its balance using the tremors of Kendra’s movements, she closed the distance and thrust her long sword into the mess, bypassing the harder chitin of the front body and straight into the creature’s brain. The legs pistoned one last time and then the beast collapsed, curling into a ball of legs and gore.

*Much, much stronger than a human. Dammit!* Diana thought as she avoided yet another slow attack by a Fire Snake.

She was trying to make as much noise as possible to distract the spiders. She thought that Kendra had realized that and was making use of it, like she had hoped. It was dangerous, but she didn’t think that Kendra would be able to fend of a concerted attack.

“You will not escape, Slayer! You will feed Olukai and me, we will devour your body and your soul!” Brigham raged.

Diana almost rolled her eyes, but she was busy dodging two giant, burning snakes. *Okay, I'm beginning to see Eric's point about sarcasm more every year. It seems that all villains are stupid and every single one of them surrounds himself by and speaks in clichés.*

“Your blood and your power will feed me! RESTORE ME!” Brigham was jumping up and down and screaming.

Diana hopped over another snake, rather happy that Brigham had summoned such stupid servitors. She nodded in approval when Kendra chopped the mandibles of one spider with one of her blades and struck the other one through the mouth deep into the brain of the thing. That made for three dead spiders.

Kendra looked over her shoulder. Diana, if that really was her name, had managed to kick the remaining snake-men into the lava pit and was distracting the high priest and the snakes. That was good. That left her to concentrate on the quicker spiders. Diana would have found herself in trouble against them, Kendra thought, though she was very good indeed. Kendra ducked under two sweeping forelegs and swung her longer blade up into the monster-spider's face, and cut a swathe across its blind eye. The thing screamed and backed away. Kendra pirouetted and avoided a slash by another spider's legs. There were sharp and barbed claws on those legs, to fasten onto prey. Kendra had no desire to be eaten by spiders.

She ran at a more distant spider, leaving the blind one behind, jumped high, twisted in the air and landed on the bulbous abdomen, facing towards its head. She drove her sword in between the space between body and cephalothorax, wrenched it up and down and to and fro a few times and pushed off, using the spongy body as her launch pad. The spider, almost cut in two, died swiftly. The injured spider that had tried to swipe at her earlier came near, but instead of attacking Kendra it started to feed on its dead kindred.

Kendra ignored the feeding spider and ran at the last two, daring them to attack her by the much louder than usual noise of her feet on the hard ground. The spiders pounced and she swung up her long-sword and caught the leg of one of them on the edge. Just holding the blade still caused the arachnid to cut off its own foreleg. Her short sword divested it of the other front foreleg seconds later. A high kick just below its mouth parts slammed shut the double-hinged jaws and a swift stab into its eyes made it withdraw, chittering to itself in pain.

Kendra quickly checked on Diana again, noting that the woman seemed to be holding her own. She also saw that Mr. Zabuto was dragging himself away from the edge of the fiery pit behind Brigham's back.

Two of her enemies were eating dead spiders. The biggest of them hadn't even approached her; it had fastened onto the body of the first one she'd killed, the one with the spears through it, as if it hadn't eaten in a thousand years.

That left two wounded and one unwounded spider and Kendra turned her attention fully back to her battle, with only one of the wounded actually interested in fighting her. She was really glad that the sorcerer hadn’t summoned opponents that were smart.

Diana was grinning fiercely. Kendra was obviously equal to the task of killing spiders. And dodging Lefty and Righty was kind of fun, as was heckling Brigham. It rather worried her that she was starting to see Eric's point about taunting opponents, but she hadn't had a work-out like this in years. She did think it a shame the others weren't there. Full-fledged battles in remote locations like this were about the only time all of them could let loose with their artefacts. Otherwise they tended to draw a little too much attention. And they really lived too far apart these days to easily orchestrate them.

Together they would have made very short work of these enemies. As a matter of fact, Kendra, alone, with her two swords and Diana to distract the snakes and the priest was doing quite well. Diana had helped train enough young gymnasts to know that what Kendra was doing was far beyond anything that even world-class athletes could reasonably achieve. The strength she was showing was much greater than a girl her size ought to be able to achieve, ever. Diana had seen, met, and spoken with some of the strongest weightlifters, the most capable martial artists, the most agile gymnasts, had been one of the latter. None of them could have done, even with the utmost expenditure of their time and resources, what Kendra was doing here and now. Diana almost blinked as the girl bent over backwards into a perfect half-moon shape to avoid another leg swipe, while simultaneously slashing upwards and sideways with both her swords at the same time.

That sort of balance, coordination and strength just weren't within the realms of the physically possible for normal people. Diana returned to distracting the priest with taunts and the snakes with thumps on heads and tails. There would be time to question Kendra on what she was later. And if the girl fled, Diana had enough of her blood on her hands and clothes that Presto ought to be able to cast a spell that would find her even in the orbit of Pluto.

********

Kendra was methodically working her way through the spiders. The fact that the huge arachnids were quite willing to attack and eat their own dead and wounded, even while in the midst of battle, was a great advantage she had to admit. It was clear that they weren't used to working together even in the slightest. Kendra wasn't entirely up on the mating habits of giant spiders, a lack she intended to rectify as soon as she had access to reference books, but she wouldn't have been at all surprised if the spiders had started to mate with each other if the time had been right. Did male spiders fight each other? She knew that some demon species fought for the favour of mates, and that some even ate their mates after the act of mating, but were spiders similar?

She shook her head and returned to her job. Now was not the time to consider such things. Once the threat was removed, the spiders were dealt with was time enough to ask Mr. Zabuto how these things worked. Mr. Zabuto would know.

********

Brigham was practically frothing now, clearly, well Diana wasn't going to say insane. Any man who tortured people to try and bring back some evil demon into the world, claimed to house part of that demon already and was served by people who were half-snake at the very least had to be insane in Diana's book. Sane people didn't do thing like that.

Overwrought didn't seem to be the word either. He was jumping up and down on the edge of the lava pit, yelling like, well, a madman. Diana ran up the back of Lefty, thanking her decision earlier that day to put on heavy walking shoes rather than ankle-high sports shoes. The soles of the ones she was wearing at least offered some protection from the heat the snakes exuded and they were low enough to perform most of her moves without discomfort.

The problem was that she really lacked the power, the sheer physical strength or magically enhanced weapons to truly damage the snakes. All she could do was annoy them. And though the snakes were slow and Brigham obviously no longer, if he ever was, able to direct them, Diana was tiring and only had to make one mistake, one miscalculation for the battle to be over.

Diana saw that Kendra had returned to the pile of weapons, stuck her sword into a scabbard on her back and picked up another spear, which she threw at the smallest of her remaining opponents. It struck the blind eyes, but didn't penetrate very far, obviously stuck on some piece of exo-skeleton. Kendra was not deterred, picked up the last spear and ran at the spider, which was rather busy wiping its face with pedipalps to try and clear the spear away and possibly assess the damage.

The spear rammed into the spider’s mouth and Diana could see it emerge from the cephalothorax with a spurt of arterial blood and enter the abdomen. The spider stood for a few seconds, apparently not quite sure whether it was dead or not, and then collapsed, drawing its legs up, just like Diana had seen dozens of smaller spiders do in her life.

That left two spiders, the biggest one and the one without forelegs. The big spider seemed completely uninterested in Diana or Kendra and merely ate. Diana was starting to sweat and getting out of breath. The snakes might be slow, but they didn’t seem to tire and they were starting to anticipate her moves.

*Not the chicken you used to be, Diana. Better admit it!* Diana thought as she dodged another attack by Lefty. She smiled as she saw Kendra kill another spider.

CRAP!* Diana dodged a flash of lightning that streamed from Brigham’s fingers.

“Pa’ao! Lord of Lightning! Olukai, Master of Fire and Night! Lend me your strength!” Brigham bellowed. “By the blood of your enemies, enter me! By the power of their love, enter me!”

He strode away from the fire pit and leaned forward and stabbed his knife into Zabuto’s chest. Zabuto screamed once.

Kendra had whirled around at the scream from Zabuto and stood staring, wide-eyed and lips trembling, looking at his still form. Then she screamed, a scream of pure rage and anguish and loss and dropped her short-sword, ran at the single wounded spider that was left and cleaved its head in two with a single unstoppable stroke.

Brigham was laughing, his head thrown back, and Diana could see that he was growing, that he seemed to be bursting from his skin. Lefty and Righty were crawling in front and around him, preventing Diana from attacking the priest.

Kendra sheathed her sword and hoisted the dead spider up and staggering under its weight ran towards Brigham and the snakes. With an incoherent cry she threw the corpse over the two snakes and into the morphing man. The weight caused him to stagger back, despite his increasing size. Kendra yelled.

Diana wasn’t quite sure what she was yelling but she could hear 'Mr. Zabuto' and 'killed' and was starting to worry rather about the girl's sanity. With another scream Kendra grabbed Diana's staff and ran at the snakes.

Diana gasped. The staff was like an extension of her, and she was a strong woman, but the girl had ripped it from her hands as if she was a small child. And it was responding to Kendra. Not that she believed the Dungeon Master's spiel about 'the pure of heart' wielding it, Venger before his atonement had wanted to use them after all, but the Staff never reacted like this to anyone but her.

It lengthened as Kendra sped towards the snakes and with a show of agility that Diana -sweating and tired and feeling every one of her twenty-eight years- envied the girl vaulted over the snakes and threw her sword into Brigham's forehead in one fluid motion.

Still off balance from the thrown spider, this second attack completely surprised Brigham. Kendra's kick less than half a second after she landed threw him backwards and with a dopplering scream he fell into the lava.

The two snakes twisted round and Diana was sure that it was the end of Kendra. The snakes hovered, their tongues flickering, their eyes hooded, and then they pounced, simultaneously. Kendra slammed the butt of the staff into the ground and somersaulted backwards, over the fiery chasm, a distance that Diana was sure she would never have been able to manage even in her prime. The snakes hovered at the side of the lava pit, stopping themselves before they went over the edge.

Diana didn't notice, her eyes were on Kendra. The girl seemed to twist in mid-air and with a desperate lunge the end of the staff hit the far wall of the chasm and using her momentum, Kendra flung herself upwards and outwards, landing heavily, but alive on the other side.

Diana looked on as the girl rose, shakily to her feet, as the snakes started to move around the fire pit, even as the pit seemed to be closing. The snakes slowed, the fire that animated them dying and the rocks that made up their bodies dissolving into the surrounding area.

Kendra stood still, perfectly still. The chasm was closed, the snakes were falling apart and the huge spider was eating. She slowly started to make her way to the bloody body of Zabuto. The staff dropped from her hands as she fell to her knees, her hands trembling as she reached out, touching the battered man. “Mi-mister Zabuto?” she whispered.

Diana swore under her breath. If the girl was the man’s creation, his dying might drive her insane. She started to edge around the two, towards her staff. She’d need it if she wanted to have any chance whatsoever against Kendra.

Zabuto drew a deep, gurgling breath. “Kendra,” he whispered painfully. “So proud of you… my little girl. So proud…”

Kendra sobbed. “Mister Zabuto! You’re alright!”

Zabuto made a small gesture with his hand at Diana. She warily approached.

“You saved her,” he looked into her eyes. “You know about the things that dwell in the dark. Take care of my little Kendra.”

His eyes closed and Kendra sobbed. Diana knelt on the other side of his body, wondering if she could do anything, anything at all to save him. Even if just for the girl - golem.

Zabuto opened his eyes again. “Please?” he whispered painfully.

Diana nodded. “I will take care of her. I promise.”

Zabuto smiled, turning his eyes towards Kendra. “So proud, my little Kendra…”

His breath stilled and his eyes glazed. Kendra sobbed and collapsed across his body. Diana looked at the two of them, the man and the girl, and sighed.

*I’ll take care of her. But I haven’t got the foggiest notion what I’m going to do with her…*

BtVSBtVS D&D BtVSBtVS D&D BtVSBtVS D&D BtVSBtVS D&D BtVSBtVS D&D

Boston, Massachusetts

Faith Lehane woke feeling unusually energized. Oh, since she started living and training with Triple D she’d gotten in a lot better shape, getting fed regular home-cooked nutritious meals and all, exercise and eight hours of sleep a night… At first she’d groused against the restrictions that Dr. D placed upon her, but she wasn’t protesting as hard anymore. It was hard to protest when despite the possible destiny, the woman obviously cared so much for her. Her alarm rang and Faith slapped it. There was a crash as the rickety beside table collapsed and the alarm clock disintegrated. One of the cogs bounced of Faith’s nose.

“Ow.”

The door burst open and Dr. Dormer ran in, a mace in her hand, still in her dark blue pyjamas. She looked at the mess and her face went slack with grief for a moment before firming up again into her ‘proper British expression’.

“Oh. Oh dear,” Diana Dormer said as she sat on the bed next to Faith.

Faith swallowed. “I think I’ve been chosen, haven’t I?”

End Note:

Pa’ao is either a legendary or historical figure who, in Hawaiian history and legend, introduced the practice of human sacrifice and was, according to some traditional Hawaiian belief, responsible for the corruption of Kapu, the true ways of the people.

William Tufts Brigham (1841-1926) was the first curator of the BishopMuseum (formerly the BernicePauahi BishopMuseum, and designated the Hawai»i State Museum of Natural and Cultural History). He held a very low opinion of native Hawaiians and their culture, expressed in letters to friends. I thought it ironic to use his name in this fashion.

Kauai Cave Spiders are blind and hunt through vibrations they sense through their feet, and possibly, through the places where their eyes should be… (they’re also very rare and quite small.)
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