by E.Escher - 28th Sep 2017
Xander wasn't especially surprised when he woke up tied to a chair. Sure, he was disoriented for a second or two, but quickly got his bearings; ropes, chair. He'd been creeping around in the dark and something had snuck up on him. Idiot.
That said, having been knocked out and captured, waking up tied to a chair was far from the worst case scenario. He wasn't over a bonfire, chained to an altar, or staring into the maw of some monstrous demon, so yay, chair. At least he was comparatively comfy.
He checked out his surroundings, a small, low-ceilinged room with curtains draped on the walls, the dim light was provided by fruity-smelling candles in the corners. The floor was carpeted with a variety of rugs and, bizarrely, doormats.
The sturdy wooden beams holding up the corrugated steel ceiling told him that he'd found the thieves from the building site. Or they'd found him. Whichever.
The demon-campsite theory was a bust, though. The packed-earth smell told him he was in an underground lair of some kind, though the smell of strawberry-and-lime candles did their best to disguise the earthy scent.
He tested the ropes holding his wrists, and found them a little loose. He wriggled his ankles, and found them similarly lax. That was good; he could be out of here with maybe ten minutes of desperate struggling. He made a start, struggling as quietly as possible lest he raise the alarm.
Almost immediately he heard sounds of movement outside the room, and a second later the curtained wall before him parted to reveal a young girl in a short black dress, rubbing her eyes with one hand. He quickly slumped as thought unconscious, and she walked straight past him without a glance.
He risked a quick look as she passed, and nearly gasped aloud; the girl had a slender tail trailing in the air behind her as she walked. A triangular tip at the end flicked lazily with each step. And she had small wings folded up against her back, leathery and delicate. Xander watched in silence as the winged girl walked out between another pair of curtains, leaving him alone in the fruit-scented gloom.
He resumed his frantic struggle with the ropes as sounds of toothbrushing and gargling filled the air. He froze again as the girl returned, still looking mostly-asleep, a half-full water bottle in one hand. She didn't seem to have noticed that he was awake.
A curious urge took him, and before he could think better of it, he cleared his throat.
The girl stopped, blinked in his direction, held up a finger as though to say 'one sec' and then ran out of the room.
She ran back a few seconds later, minus the water and toothbrush, and skidded to a halt before him.
She bit her lip, opened her mouth in a couple of false starts, before finally speaking.
Xander raised an eyebrow. 'Hi.' He glanced around. 'Nice place.'
She looked surprised. 'You like it?'
'Oh, sure. The candles are a nice touch.'
The girl grinned, a remarkably guileless smile. 'I'm trying to make it a home, rather than a hole.'
'Oh yeah, it's definitely homey. Can I ask why?'
'Why? This town is crawling with vampires!' She gestured toward the drapes, and Xander mentally noted the direction as a possible exit.
He plastered on his most shocked expression. 'No way! Vampires you say? What is the world coming to?'
'I know, right? It's nasty out there!'
'So, you're all alone in here, and if you make it into a home, vampires can't come in?'
'Yeah... hey, waitaminute!' She leaned back, frowning. 'I'll ask the questions, buddy!'
Xander grinned, unable to stop himself. The sense of impending danger was way gone, and he was sure he could annoy this kid into making a mistake.
'Okay...' the girl adopted a serious expression. 'First thing, what's your name?'
'My friends call me Xander.'
'Hi Xander. I'm Miki.' The girl beamed prettily, then held out a hand, but Xander couldn't return the gesture.
He gave her an apologetic shrug instead. 'I'm... kinda tied up.'
She bit her lip, watching him carefully with wide eyes. 'If I untie you, do you promise not to run away?'
Xander flashed his most disarming grin. 'Scout's honour.'
The girl, Miki, nodded wary approval, then casually tore the ropes from his right wrist. When he made no move to attack she did the same to the left, then stepped back out of reach. Xander remained perfectly still, his prior cockiness quickly buried under a renewed sense of danger. Either those ropes were seriously rotten, or Miki the demon-girl had strength on a par with Buffy's.
He kept his smile casual. 'Uh, tell me if you've heard this before, but... please don't kill me?'
She seemed shocked. 'Me? I just needed some help sorting my place out, and I saw you at the building place, and followed you for a bit, and decided to bring you here for a chat. No killing.'
A shrug. 'Sure. Unless you're evil.'
Xander goggled. 'Unless I'm evil? I know it's dark in here, Miki, but I'm pretty sure you're a demon.'
'Nuh-uh!' she protested. 'I'm a mutant.'
He smirked. 'Like the X-men? In comicbooks? Nice try.'
'I don't know what that is.' She frowned for a moment. 'Oh! Hold on, I've still got it somewhere... aha!' She fished around at her hip and produced an ID card. Xander squinted at the photo, but the room was too dark to read much of the text. A hologram caught the candlelight and stood out, but it wasn't anything he recognised. He picked out the initials in the corner, but they were nothing familiar.
'MCO. Huh. Never heard of it.'
'It's the Mutant Something Office, I always forget the middle one. They make sure we don't use our powers for evil.'
'Powers? Like, superpowers?' He stopped massaging his wrists to give her a curious look.
'Yeah. Before I came here, I was a superhero.'
= = =
While Willow fretted through the morning classes, Buffy took the more direct option of cutting class and retracing what she assumed was Xander's route.
Her first stop was the building site; she crept to the wooden fence panel and listened. It was quiet, presumably deserted, but there could still be somebody on guard. She quickly pulled herself to the top of the fence and had a look around, before dropping down on the other side.
Her slayer-sense wasn't giving her any cues, so she made a quick survey of the area, stopping at the ravaged toolshed. She gave the twisted metal a quick once-over, comparing the handprints to her own fist.
Way small. Score one for the demon midgets theory.
Another glance around and her hunter's eyes spotted the footprints. She noted the strange design on the boot-tread, and frowned. It was almost familiar, but she couldn't put her finger on why. Giles or Willow would know. She knew she'd never be able to describe it accurately enough, and wracked her brain for a way to get it to them.
She prised the toolshed doors apart and climbed in, looking for a chisel or something. The concrete was ruined and would have to be re-done anyway, so one missing chunk wouldn't matter too much. What she found was better; a pen and paper.
Chuckling at her silly idea, she dashed back to the footprints and sketched the design. It was a pair of vague diamonds shape and four irregular triangles. She studied her handiwork, and raised a brow. The outer shapes almost made a witchy-star thing, a pentagon, or whatever, but the proportions were all wrong. She stuffed the paper into her jacket pocket. Giles would figure it out.
She made another quick tour of the site, and found a few more small prints in the dust, but she figured she already had all the info she could get from those, and there were too many prints to tell how many demons there were, all muddled up as they were.
Except... the concrete had only a single set of prints, so odds were there was only a single demon midget. That would make the slaying easier, but the finding harder. Then again, if a single midget had taken all the wooden beams and stuff in a single night, as well as smashing up the toolshed, said demon midget was wicked strong.
She gave the bootprints a last scowl, then leapt back over the fence. Xander should have headed straight home from here, but the park was quite close, and a cut-through would only have added a few minutes onto his travel time. Buffy had been patrolling the area, and although she hadn't seen him, that didn't mean he hadn't been there. In fact, if he'd got there before her he could have driven the demon into hiding. Assuming it hadn't retreated somewhere to eat its prey.
She ran a palm down her face and let out a strangled groan. She was going to have to search the whole park. Again.
= = =
Miki refused to elaborate on her superhero claim, but instead began bombarding Xander with questions. She asked the date and year, the name of the world, the country, the name of the local king. She asked questions about technology, which left Xander kinda downhearted.
'No,' he explained, 'we don't have tiny computers that fit in one hand, we don't have holograms, no battle robots, hovercars, jet packs, or any of that stuff. I wish we did, it all sounds pretty cool. No, I don't have a cellphone. Those things are expensive, and huge!' He noted her incredulous look. 'Yeah, really. Like a housebrick.'
It was pretty clear that wherever she'd come from, it wasn't hell, but rather a technological paradise with talking computers, advanced robots, and laser guns.
She then started asking about magic, and monsters, and heroes, and the name of earth's primary god.
'Uh, that's a good question. Nobody's really sure. Or, well, lots of people are really sure, but they don't all agree. It's a whole big thing. Around here we mostly just call him God.'
She blinked. 'Why don't they just ask?'
'God's not really big with the introductions. Last documented conversation was a couple of thousand years ago.'
'Oh,' She scowled. 'One of those. No wonder your world is full of monsters.' She paced for a while, leaving Xander to reflect on the ramifications of her words. He knew there were other dimensions, and that it was possible to travel between those dimensions using magic. Until now, though, his experience said those other dimensions were hells and their denizens were mostly evil.
'Hey, Miki, what's your world like?'
She stopped pacing. 'My world?'
'Where you came from?' he prompted, 'before you came here?'
'Oh, right, I wasn't sure which you meant.'
'You've travelled between worlds more than once?'
'Oh yeah, me and Jack have been to a bunch of places. Usually we save the day a few times, and then get moved on to someplace else.'
Xander processed that. 'And Jack is...?'
'My friend. He's a wolf.'
'Like, a werewolf?'
'No, a wolf-wolf. Just a sec, I've still got his MID card...' she produced another card, this time with a photograph of a grey wolf. 'I carry this around for him, because he doesn't have any pockets... I hope he gets here soon.'
Xander glanced around, expecting to see a feral beast lurking in the shadows. 'He's coming here? Is he tame, and house-trained?' He blinked. 'Why does a wolf need a mutant ID card?'
'It's complicated. Usually when I get sent somewhere, Jack comes too, but not always at the same time. Jack thinks it's because magic works better on me, so I get here sooner.'
'Because you're a mutant?'
'No, silly. Because I'm a devil.'