Year 16

Chapter 3

by E.Escher - 28th Sep 2017
The park was certainly a lot nicer when the sun was out. Buffy had already been over all the areas large enough to set up a campsite, but now she was looking for a single demon, and a small one at that. She'd never been a fan of outdoor pursuits, but she figured a single tent could be popped up just about anywhere. Even worse, some tents were printed with camouflage, so kids could play army or whatever.

Having taken the direct path from the construction site, she arrived at the edge of the park midway between two entrances. She scanned over the railings and found a patch where the thin layer of moss was disturbed. Beyond the railings, somebody had trampled the plant life, and she quickly spotted a pair of large prints. She didn't know for sure that they were from Xander's sneakers, but it seemed a pretty safe bet.

She vaulted over and started looking for a trail.

= = =

'So, in summary: Superheroes aren't real, but a few people are special. Monsters are real and magic is real, but most people don't believe in any of it.'

Miki looked confused. 'So the monsters can just run about and do what they like?'

'Well, no. Most are pretty careful, or sneaky. Leave no witnesses, or use magic to make people forget what they saw. Around here, people will believe anything in order to avoid facing the truth.'

'That explains a lot. I've been exploring the town for a couple of days and the people seem kinda stoned.'

Xander blinked. 'You've been out in daylight, looking like that? Like, interacting with people?'

'Oh, geez, not like this,' the girl chuckled. 'I have an Illusion of Normalcy. It makes everything seem normal.'

'I take it you're not using it now, because while that's a good look for you, it's pretty far from normal.'

She arched a brow. 'The illusion only works on people when the weird stuff isn't actually happening to them personally,' she explained. 'You're in my lair, tied to a chair, talking to a cute girl from hell, so I turned the illusion off, because this probably isn't a very normal sort of situation for you anyway.'

'You'd be surprised,' he returned, flatly.

Suddenly alert, the girl tilted her head like a nervous animal. 'Something's outside,' she whispered. 'Something violent, looking for trouble.'

Xander gulped. 'How do you know?'

'Shh. I can feel the magic. It's kinda what I do.'

'How close is it? Will it find us?'

'We're hidden, but I had to make the burrow wider to get you in.' She tilted her head. 'Of course, if it's hunting humans it might be following your scent.'

'Or it might be able to smell those scented candles.'

Miki's eyes went wide. 'I didn't think of that.' She sighed, then shrugged. 'I guess I'd better go out and kill it.'

= = =

Xander's protests fell flat – literally - as he tried to stand and found his ankles still tied to the chair. He let out a strangled cry and slammed face-first onto the ground. Miki paused to give him a withering look, then slipped out through the drapes.

'Son of a...' He rolled onto his side and started tugging at the ropes binding his ankles. The thick knots were behind his legs, and the rope was old and so frayed that he couldn't figure out which bits he was supposed to be unfastening from which.

The seconds were painfully long, and he tried not to think about the little devil fighting whatever was out there. She could already be dead, or worse, she could be bargaining for her freedom by telling them about the tasty human with his legs tied to a chair.

He changed his approach and began trying to wriggle free. He pulled off his shoes, but that didn't make it much easier. If Buffy were here she'd have smashed the chair into matchwood; he'd be out of there in seconds. If Buffy were here...

Oh crap, what if Buffy was here, and that's what Miki had sensed? The slayer would probably make short work of the monster-girl and then continue on her way, leaving Xander trapped underground.

Or, even worse still, what if Miki was winning? She never did tell him what special powers she had, but if it was enough to get an official superhero card from the government of a scary parallel universe it had to be something pretty substantial.

They were probably both up there right now, fighting each other to a standstill, bloody and bruised, hair all dirty and anyhow, clothing torn and tattered, but just not quite showing anything naughty...

He shook his head to clear it and resumed his struggle. 'Neither the time nor the place, Xan. Gotta focus.'

The curtain parted and Miki ducked inside. 'What're you doing?'

Xander gave up on the ropes and managed a shrug. 'I've fallen and I can't get up. How about you? You okay?'

'Yeah.' She tossed something aside and hoisted Xander upright by his jacket. He clung desperately to the arms as the chair rocked alarmingly. He noticed smears of something dark on Miki's arms, and smelled the familiar stink of demon ichor.

'So, uh, what did you find out there? Demon? Vampire? Oogy boogy thing?'

'I dunno. Some spiky blue guy.'

'You don't know what kind of demon it was?'

She shrugged. 'How would I know? I'm not from round here.'

'But you're originally a demon? From a hell dimension?'

'Devil,' she corrected him. 'I was born in what Jack calls an Abrahamic Hell.'

'I have no idea what that means.'

'Me either.'

Xander chuckled, and made a mental note of the phrase for Giles. He was pretty sure the watcher would know what it meant.

'So, uh, you killed a spiky blue thing. Yay to that.'

'Death to evil!' proclaimed Miki, striking a dramatic pose. After a few seconds silence, Xander raised a brow.

'You're a strange little lady.'

= = =

Following Xander's trail was surprisingly easy, even without the aid of her monster-hunting slayer-radar. Slay-dar? Was that a thing? If it wasn't, she'd get Giles to put in his journals later, and she'd be the first to name it, as a legacy to all future slayers.

Not that she needed it to spot the path of near-devastation Xander had cleared through the sparse woodland. Broken twigs, flattened plants and the all-too-recognisable footprints left a trail any semi-aware tracker could follow. If she'd had a vamp's sense of smell, the job would be even easier.

And then she found some smaller footprints, and Xander's trail stopped. The smaller prints were the same as those at the building site, and they led away through the undergrowth.

It all made sense. Xander had been ambushed, knocked out and carried away.

By the demon midget.

'I knew it.'

She set off after the new trail, pausing to glance back as something nagged at her; the demon-tracks left the clearing, but they started in the middle, right where Xander's trail ended.

This being Sunnydale, the possibilities were just too weird to hazard a guess, and she so wasn't in the mood for hellmouthy wackiness. She frowned, then turned back to the trail.

= = =

'So, are you planning on being a superhero here in Sunnydale? Oh! Oh! Do you have a costume? And a codename? You never told me what your powers were.'

Miki rolled her eyes at the barrage of questions. 'Jack says I shouldn't discuss my powers with strangers, and I have a bunch of costumes, depending on the mission.' She bit her lip for a moment. 'I haven't decided about the superheroing thing, I always seem to end up causing trouble when I try to help.'

'Ah, ouch. That's gotta suck.'

'It does. Oh yeah, my codename is Zaradai.'

Xander pulled a face. 'Zaradai? I was expecting something like devil-girl, or hell-kid. What is it, latin?'

'It's dark tongue, language of my home.'

'Home being hell?'

'Yup. Outer ring, eighth plane.'

'Wow. You're from way outta town.' The pair sat in silence for a moment. 'So what's it mean? Zaradai?'

'It means I'm a devil-girl.'

'Huh. No kidding.'

A moment passed, and Xander sighed. 'Hey, is it okay if I untie my ankles?'

= = =

Buffy followed the diminuitive bootprints as far as she could, but the trail left the soft earth and headed onto the paved pathways, toward the park exit. The prints in soil were quite deep, so the demon had still been carrying Xander at that point, but where were they headed?

The path headed back toward town. The only greenery in that direction was in and around cemeteries,
but she'd already checked those the night before. Of course, that was when she was looking for a whole campsite. Now she was looking for a single demon, which made the whole thing way harder. How was she supposed to find a single demon with the whole town to hide in?

Maybe Xander's special abilities would sway things in her favour, namely the fact that he could be a huge pain in the ass. Kidnapping him meant the demon wasn't staying in a tiny one-person tent. They had to have somewhere bigger, someplace solid enough to hold a prisoner. Buffy quickly revised her patrol route: she was going to need to go through all the abandoned buildings, the mausoleums, the sewers, all the usual hangouts. The camping gear was either a red herring, or something sinister. Somehow.

She left the park at a dead run.
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