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 Post subject: No One Knows What It's Like, Behind Wood Doors"
PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2017 3:49 pm 

Joined: Thu Jan 17, 2008 7:39 pm
Posts: 40
Cordelia Chase was perched on a heating element in the Sunnydale High School library, filing her nails with an emery board, keeping her distance from the rest of her senior classmates in the room, and pretending to be more bored than she really was. Said classmates, Xander Harris, Willow Rosenberg, and Danny “Oz” Osborne were sitting at one of the many long tables, chatting amiably and waiting for a few more people to show up.

Librarian Rupert Giles was finishing the process of charging out four books to Jared Millek, a junior researching a report on Handel for Music Appreciation. Wesley Wyndham-Price, an adult with no connection with the school, and Faith, nineteen and in much the same situation legally, were softly discussing what she’d seen on her patrol the night before.

“And you’re saying the light definitely was entirely various shades of green in color?” the handsome Englishman asked.

“Yeah, but all sick, puke-y greens, not like growing plants, sort of stale, and it was only up on Kingman’s Bluff, near that old buried temple Giles told me about right after I moved here,” she answered.

The doors opened and a face neither familiar nor expected came through, a man in his mid-40s, above medium height but looked bigger in some hard-to-describe way, wearing roughly practical, vaguely camouflaged clothing. He had very short darkest brown hair, a round, somewhat babyish face underneath a close-clipped graying beard, and friendly yet somehow haunted brown eyes. He walked straight to the circulation desk.

“Rupert Giles, I presume?” he asked, then said, “My name is Cutter and I found something today I believe you would wish to look at,” and so saying, produced an egg-shaped object about the size of human fist and laid it on the desk. It was a variegated green color and looked greasy somehow, and seemed to be faintly lit from inside. Giles looked at the object and put his hand near it but didn’t touch it.

The stranger continued, “You see, I’d heard the librarian at one of the local high schools was a field agent of the Watchers’ Council and felt this would be something of which he should be aware.”

Wesley walked over, muttered “Mr. Millek, I strongly suggest you not stay for this discussion,” to Jared, then spoke more loudly and said, “Mr. Giles is no longer an agent of the Council, I am now their local representative, Wesley Wyndham Price. I believe I recognize you, Timothy Alfred Cutter, the self-appointed freelance demon hunter, correct? You’ve caused some problems for the Council on several occasions in your checkered career.” Wesley attempted to sneer but it merely looked like his nose was itching.

“I’ll not dispute your version of events, Mr. Price, although some of your field Watchers and special operatives might support me when I say that I’ve saved their lives and even those of a few Slayers at odd times. And it’s Cutter, just Cutter; first names are for real people.”

Unusually, Wesley was in no mood for an argument and simply looked over at the object and said, “An Ovule of Tandara, I’d say, sort of a black magical landmine. “Where did you find it, and how?”

“On a ridge to the north of town, Kingman’s Bluff I believe it’s called; I can’t be sure as it’s been some years since I was here last. I believe there was a temple raised by the Proserpexans there, buried in the Quake of ’37. I’ve dealt with them before and they have been known to use the Ovules as traps. I’d just come into town, I like to keep an eye on places like this, and was getting the lay of the land, so I was walking around up there and sensed it, and I could also sense that it wasn’t designed to activate at a touch so I thought I’d bring it to someone with more references at his disposal than I have. This one was rather completely exposed. I admit I didn’t spend much effort on trying to see if there were others up there.”

“Quite sensible, Cutter, and I thank you,” said Giles, then looked up at the younger people who had crowded closer during the discussion. He said, “Faith, if there are more of these up there, and if their energies are starting to bleed, it could explain that display you saw last night.”

“I’d imagine so, Mr. Giles,” Cutter said, “these things are rarely planted singly in any case, and I had a strong impression of both more of them around and, yes, also some leakage, like the tenants of the Ovules are close to escaping without the usual triggers.”

“Green isn’t my favorite color at best, but these are definitely some yucky shades,” Jared observed, to murmured agreements from his slightly older peers.

Giles sighed with frustration, “Jared, I’m told stubbornness runs in your family, and I know you mean well, but may I remind you again you aren’t part of this group? Perhaps you should go home and work on your report.” Giles was being more polite than he had to be; as annoying as Jared’s Scooby Wannabe act and clumsiness could be, he had at times been a real help to his older friends, so Giles had no actual wish to disturb that. “And I wish Buffy would get down from the physics lab so we could get started here.” Then he and Wesley returned their attentions to examining the egg-like object.

Cutter stepped back a bit to give them more room and Willow turned to him and asked, “So, you travel around by yourself, and you fight demons with extra-sensory perception or something? I’m Willow, by the way,” and she proceeded to introduce everyone else.

“Well, I admit to having a few wild talents which come in useful, but as to fighting I do that mainly with weapons,” he answered, taking a ballpoint pen out of his pocket and fiddling with it a bit, “ I have quite a few interesting devices, including both an AK-47 and an Uzi modified to fire wooden bullets. Oops!” he said as the pen slipped from his grasp. It reached about the level of his knees then came floating back up. He looked around and smiled, “Sorry, I have a lot of ham in me and I so seldom get to show off. Can’t do that around most people, you know.”

Faith had picked up the Ovule and was rolling it between her hands and said, “Well, the colors are definitely close to that light show I saw last night. Not the same, but then I guess that makes sense.” As she said this, the library doors opened and two beautiful blonde seniors walked in, arguing. Everyone turned in that direction, and Faith set the Ovule down.

“Oh, you’re just jealous,” said the white-blonde Harmony Kendall.

“I’m serious, Harmony,” replied the golden-blonde Buffy Summers, “Go to the best school your unlimited funds and limited brains can get you into, latch onto an accounting major, and get a ring out of him. And don’t try to jump right into a big city with just your looks and a high school diploma. I grew up in LA, and a real city would just eat you alive.”

Unexpectedly, Cutter gave out with a joyful laugh which caused everyone, including the two newcomers, to look at him.

“Not making fun of you, ladies, I’m just thinking that if my daughters, who were not identical twins, had lived to be your age, they’d probably have arguments just like that. And probably look a lot like you two, as well.”

Buffy and Harmony glanced and each other, shivered a bit, and said “Ewwh!” simultaneously. Then they came closer, Harmony headed directly for Giles behind the desk –as she approached Wesley used his hand to cover the Ovule- and Buffy towards the outer fringe of the group, and Cutter introduced himself, saying how glad he was “to meet the much-talked-about Buffy Summers.” Harmony told Giles she needed to do a report on Andrew Wyeth for Art Appreciation and he directed her to the correct part of the stacks. As she walked away, she looked at the group, shook her head and mumbled “Freaks,” in a rather well-done stage whisper, then disappeared into the stacks.

Willow asked, “You have children, Mr. Cutter?”

“I’m afraid ‘had’ is the correct term, Willow, two daughters, and a stepdaughter who looked a lot like you. My wife had been cast out by her family when she married her first husband, then when he died, well, I was as alone as they were until we found each other, and I was inspired in those days. Their memory is still my inspiration, but in a different way. And it’s Cutter, just Cutter; the title ‘Mister’ is for real people.” Willow felt an immediate rush of sympathy for the older man; those words sounded like a very well rehearsed speech to cover his old and deep hurt.

Without thinking, Xander quipped, “So you’re saying you had a red-haired stepchild?” and he looked embarrassed with himself before the last word had left his mouth.

Reaching into a pocket, Cutter said, “Why yes, Xander, I did. Here, let me show you a picture. And that’s another habit of mine, giving straight answers to humorous questions.”

He pulled out a picture just a bit larger than a regular wallet size and everyone except Giles and Wesley (both occupied with pulling reference books off shelves) took a look at it. It was recognizably Cutter, albeit with a mustache only and no grey hair, a woman holding two small girls, and an older girl next to her.

“Hey, Wil, he’s right,” said Xander, “that girl does look like you, except she seems to have come by the red hair naturally. And Buffy, I can even sort of see what he meant with you,” the latter statement met with a glare from Buffy, although she had to admit to herself he was right.

Willow muttered a vague assent to Xander’s comment, but her attention – and Jared’s – was more drawn to the ash-blonde woman, amazingly beautiful in a girl-next-door fashion, who had apparently been Cutter’s late wife. She had large blue eyes, mesmerizing yet kindly, a demure yet mysterious half-smile which hinted at secrets she’d never tell, and long, straight hair which looked silky even in the Eighties-vintage photograph. Her apple-blossom-white skin was flawless and her cheekbones were so lovely they took Willow’s breath away.

She said in a hushed voice, “Your wife was just about the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

“Thank you, Willow, I felt the same.”

Jared did too, but figured it would be impolitic of him to use those words. So he decided to make what he thought would be a humorous comment about something he hadn’t noticed at first, because the woman’s features were all so harmoniously proportional, but had struck him on second glance. He looked up with a quarter-grin and said, “And I’ll bet you two enjoyed rubbing noses a lot, huh?”

Cutter, with a completely straight face, said, “Why, yes, we did, Jared.” But there was an odd combination of a twinkle and a glare in his eyes which said, “I understand your kind perfectly, boy, since I used to be one.” The older man’s very noticeable lack of obvious reaction made the disgusted looks which Buffy, Cordelia, and Xander, whom he considered friends, and Oz, whom he didn’t, sent his way even more painful to Jared than they normally would have been.

Willow, still thinking about the woman in the picture, and not understanding why that face should have affected her so, silently handed the photo back to Cutter then walked over and asked Faith if she could examine the Ovule. The dark-haired Slayer handed the item to the redhead who wandered back towards the study table, looking at it distractedly.

“I know I’ve got a ways to go before I’m even a true beginner with magic, but this thing is making some kind of radar I never knew I had buzz like crazy,” she said to nobody in particular. “Okay, we know it doesn’t go off from contact or proximity, but I’ve heard these things are still easy to trigger.”

“Oh, yes, Willow,” said Cutter, “their use fits the attitude Proserpexans have towards the world and everyone in it.”

From behind the circulation desk where he and Giles were paging through references, Wesley said, “Yes, quite. They can be triggered by such simple things as saying an ordinary proper name, or even a name from fiction, and it doesn’t have to have any real supernatural significance.”

Xander said with a smirk, “What, this thing could be set off by saying something like ‘Cthulhu’ or ‘Dormammu’ or something?”

Giles snapped, “That’s exactly what he means, Xander, and you know better than to joke around like that! At least you should by now.”

Jared looked at Xander with a fake-stern expression on his face and said gravely, “Yes, Xander, you shouldn’t fool around with such things. From what they’re saying, this could be activated by a word as silly as Pyewacket.”

That word had barely left his lips when Willow said something which sounded like “Yeeps!” and tossed the Ovule, which had suddenly developed a crack out of which a bright beam of sickly green light was pouring, onto the table.

Without conscious thought, everyone on the outside of the circulation desk formed into a vague circle, at a good distance from the table. Buffy and Faith both pulled out good-sized knives and Cutter a baton which he flicked out to its full length. Some of the others grabbed the backs of chairs, but didn’t lift them, while Jared fumbled in his right sport coat pocket for his garlic-pepper spray, and began singing “All Things Bright and Beautiful” under his breath. Giles and Wesley paged through their books even more furiously.

The beam spread out and played on the ceiling for a few seconds, then contracted into a shape. It was of the corpulent torso of a short-bearded man with multiple appendages waving about. They flexed more like tentacles than like arms, but some had clawed hands on them while others had shark-like mouths lined with teeth. The whole creature was the same disgusting interplay of roiling green shades as its egg had been, and the expression on the face was not pleasant. A stem-like extension where a natural creature would have had legs connected it to the table where shards of the Ovule remained, no longer themselves seeming illuminated.

Jared asked, without thinking about it, “Did I do that?”

Cordelia turned towards him and said, in an appropriate tone of voice, “Yes, you moron! You always do that!”

The creature began throwing what looked like green lightning bolts from its hands, and they sizzled like static electricity when they hit something. Meanwhile, Harmony emerged from the stacks, talking to herself in a normal conversational tone, “Well, two books with chapters on this guy should be enough for my . . .” when she looked up and saw the creature, froze in her tracks, and said “Glirgh.”

Giles shouted “Willow, start chanting the Distarthna Ritual, that’ll hinder it a bit while Wesley and I look for a dismissal.”

Willow heard him but it failed to register immediately. “Oh, Giles wants me to be the first to do something. Why? Oh, yes, because I know this. I really do,” and after that brief hesitation, she began doing what he had requested. A natural combination of thoughts flew through her head, ordinary physical fear, cautious fear about whether she could do what she was being asked, a sliver of confidence from knowing she knew the ritual, and a vague warmth at being not only included but important. Thoughts of the picture faded from her mind and never made it into the conscious part of her long-term memory.

Meanwhile, others attempted physical attacks. Buffy and Faith both slashed the thing, and apparently did some damage, as their knives opened what looked like cuts in it which bled greens of different shades from its skin. But both of them were knocked flying to the floor by the electrical discharges which accompanied these wounds.

Cutter was undeterred; the handle of his baton was insulated, and he was wearing gloves. He swung the knobbed end at the creature several times; whether or not the hits did damage is uncertain, but the creature noticed them. It brought one of its tentacle-mouths near Cutter and emitted a cloud of greenish gas, which caused the demon hunter to make a choking sound and collapse to the floor.

Wesley slammed shut the tome he had been paging through and exclaimed, “Blast it! There’s nothing in here!” and began chanting the same ritual Willow was. It was not in synch with hers but he knew that was unimportant. Meanwhile, he began rummaging through the books on the table, lifting and discarding one after another.

For the most part, each member of the group was ducking and side-stepping so as not to present stationary targets for the creature’s attacks. It still continued to grow slowly. Harmony walked stiffly, seemingly blindly, down the stairs from the stacks and headed towards the reference desk.

Giles had still been paging through the first book he had grabbed when suddenly he cried, “I’ve found something!” He began a sing-song invocation in a mixture of ancient Greek and medieval Italian, accompanied by sort of a pin-wheel gesture with his right hand.

The monster apparently recognized the spell; it turned to face Giles and Wesley and gestured with several of its tentacles. A sound like a rushing breeze became audible and both the Englishmen staggered back, although no objects were moved. However, they both kept up their different chants.

The stem of green light connecting the creature to the shell fragments suddenly broke and the beast gave a rather mournful cry as it began to shrink. Within a short time it lost its features and became a round blob. Then the blob shrank and seemed to fold up like a sheet of paper, then was suddenly gone. Leaving the fragments of shell, now totally without a glow, behind.

Jared looked around and noticed the two Slayers were back on their feet. Faith gave him quite a memorable dirty look. He remembered how she’d reacted when he’d asked her out at their first meeting during Homecoming. She’d said “One date with me, boy, and they’d be picking up pieces of you from four blocks around.” He rather thought she seemed to be estimating how many pieces she wanted to make.

Meanwhile Harmony had shuffled to the circulation desk and silently placed her books down, and Giles checked them out.

While doing that, he said, “Harmony, you deserve an explanation of what was happening here a bit ago. Cutter here does, err, special effects as a hobby and he was showing some off, that’s all that was.”

“All what was?’ she asked, haltingly.

“Well, the things going on in here….”

“What things, Mr. Giles? I didn’t notice anything, so there’s nothing to explain, right? Right?” she said mechanically, a distracted look, but wide-awake, not glassy, in her eyes, as she gave a small nod.

“Oh, yes, quite right,” he said with relief. As she began very slowly walking towards the doors, Giles picked up Jared’s music books. Then, putting a suitably stern expression on his face, he walked over to the boy and thrust the books vigorously into the latter’s arms, staggering Jared a bit. Then, still using his Watcher’s voice, he said “Jared, Harmony looks a bit peaked. I’d think it best if you were to walk her to her car, to make sure she gets there alright.” Then he turned quite deliberately, dismissively away, walked over to the study table and began examining the shell fragments.

“Well . . . .”

Buffy, after positioning herself between Faith and Jared, looked at him with a similar expression and said, “In fact, why don’t you offer to drive her home? The way she’s feeling that would be safer and your house is a shorter walk from hers than it is from school.”

“Well . . . .”

Cordelia joined in with, “I’d advise that, Jared. She’s not thinking very clearly now and this is the best chance you’ll ever have to drive her anywhere.”

“Well . . . .”

Giles glanced over his shoulder, slipped into his faculty voice, and commanded, “Now, Jared!”

“Going, going, going . . . hey, Harm, wait up a bit!” Jared called out, unnecessarily as she was still walking only very slowly to the door.

Giles turned back to what he was doing as the rest gathered around him and he said, “Well, I think our safest assumption is that there are more on that hill. Now, how do we address that?”

Epilogue, the Next Morning

Willow and Xander were sitting on a bench outside the school before classes; it was a traditionally fine morning. Jared walked up to them and they turned and looked at him silently and with blank expressions, knowing he had something he felt he needed to tell them.

"Hi, guys, I figured I'd do a trial run with you since you're less likely to kill me than Buffy or Giles. Sorry I Steve Urkel-ed up that demon last night."

The two older teens looked at each other, and then Xander said, "I notice you didn't mention apologizing to Faith."

"Yee-eah, I figured with her and Mr. Price the safest thing would be to let them just forget about it instead of apologizing. They might not settle for a figurative killing"

"Well, I can forgive you, Jared, we've faced worse," said Willow, and Xander sort of nodded affirmatively.

"Thanks, it means more than you might believe. That Cutter was quite an interesting guy, wasn't he? Although you sort of seemed more interested in the picture of his late family, Willow."

"Yes, I can see why losing them to demons would make him want to hunt them. Forget that his stepdaughter looked like me, and their two little girls looking like Baby Buffy and Baby Harmony, his wife; I don't think I've ever seen a woman who looked more beautiful to me. Funny, I remember how I felt, but I can't really remember what she looked like."

Jared smiled a bit and said, "I do. What a face, I mean, those eyes, so full of secrets she'd never choose to tell, and those cheekbones, not to mention the lips."

Xander said, "From the way you were talking last night, you seemed more interested in her nose."

Jared bristled a bit, only mostly kidding, "Hey, anytime I see somebody with enough up front to fit in with my own relatives, I get a lift from it. Is he staying around any length of time?"

Willow said, "Well, like he said, he doesn't stick around anywhere too long, but we discussed some ways of laying whatever's rising on Kingman's Bluff. And I won't tell you what they are, Nosey, so just stay home tonight."

"Hey, like I said, there are some people I want to avoid for a couple days," and with a half-smile, Jared made his way to the school doorway.


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