by E.Escher - 30th Sep 2017
'So, this is where you sleep?' Xander waved an arm to encompass the pitch-black space he'd stepped into. 'We humans call it a bedroom, because "lair" sounds kinda creepy. Also, I don't know if you have really good night vision, but we humans find impenetrable darkness to be a bad decor choice.'
'One sec, I'll get a candle.'
Xander sensed a rapid motion, and then he was alone in the dark. In a strange girl's bedroom. An extremely strange girl, in fact, who'd given him a tour of her home and ended it in the bedroom. Oh yeah, nothing scary there.
He'd promised to help Miki make her den into a home, and his best bet was to give her some pointers and then make his escape. He'd seen nothing to suggest that she might kill him, indeed she seemed like a normal teenage girl once you looked past the wings and the tail, and the short little cones on her forehead that had turned out to be horns.
A glimmer of light entered the tunnel, and Miki appeared with a candle-jar in each hand. 'Gotta be careful with these,' she warned. 'They melt the plastic.'
Xander cast a critical eye over the room, and raised an amused eyebrow. Unlike the chamber he'd woken up in, Miki had created rooms within the caves by setting up tents and connected them together like a hamster-run. The bedroom was an orange-and-blue box with a slightly peaked roof. A beach towel hung outside the window, depicting a crude city skyline in black and yellow. The metal struts were randomly decorated with ribbons of hazard tape, and one side of the room was entirely decorated with cartoonish figures drawn in coloured markers. A large symbol took pride of place on another wall, a loose collection of triangles he'd seen somewhere before.
He moved closer to the group picture, moving the candle for a better look.
'Hey cool, who're these guys? Friends of yours?'
She nodded. 'Yeah. That's Jack, and Eustace, and Doomshield, and Coolhand, and over there is Sunbeam, and this one is Debbie.'
'Superheroes?' he ventured.
'I like it. I drew on my walls at home when I was a kid, but my folks didn't like it.'
'It's important to be creative.'
'I hear ya, and in this case, I think you could do with some furniture. Like, someplace for your clothes, a bedside table, a bedside lamp, a bed to put them beside.'
'I have a bed!'
'That's not a bed, that's a sleeping bag. I bet it's no fun on the hard floor, either. We should get you a mattress,' he suggested, then remembered the narrow tunnels and quickly revised his idea. 'An inflatable mattress. An airbed. Soft, bouncy fun.'
'I got one of those, but it won't stay up. All the air keeps coming out.'
'There's a little plug to keep it in.'
'I know that! I think I killed it.' she pounted. 'Either my horns or my tail poke holes in it.'
'Ah. Well, that sucks, but it's not a dealbreaker. I'll get you a repair kit, and maybe some rubble sacks or something. A few soft layers on top and you'll be away with the fairies in no time.'
'Like a proper bed? Like in a proper home?'
'Well, more-or-less like, sure.'
'Yay! Come on, show me how the other stuff works!' she handed him a candle and struck a dramatic pose. 'To the trophy room!'
And then she simply vanished.
= = =
Buffy was tired, frustrated, and rapidly becoming irritable. Searching for demons in the daytime was never particularly fruitful, and she'd seen no further signs of her pint-size quarry. Lacking any better ideas, she diverted a few blocks out of her way to visit Angel's apartment.
'Buffy? What is it?' The vampire answered the door after a few knocks, squinting slightly against the light of the corridor.
'Xander's missing, we think kidnapped. I've got a lead, but it's coming up nada.'
'There's not really much I can do to help, Buffy, it's almost noon.'
They both glanced at the window, permanently shrouded behind a thick curtain. 'I know, but I thought maybe you might know something. I found some bootprints, I think it's a kid, or a midget, or maybe just a demon with really small feet. Are there any tiny demons in town, or maybe a kid vampire? A tribe of tiny cannibals?'
Angel shook his head. 'No, I haven't heard of anything like that.'
'Oh, there was a symbol!' Buffy fished the drawing from her pocket. 'Have you ever seen this before?'
He studied the image, turning it this way and that. 'I don't know, it looks almost like a face. A tribal mask, maybe? Where did you find it?'
'It was on the prints I found. It's carved into our mystery-midget's boots.' She frowned. 'It's like he's stamping the symbol into the ground with every step.'
'Like an animal, marking territory? Or some ritual significance?'
She shrugged. 'It's a theory, and more than that, it could be another lead. I've got to get this to Giles. Maybe it's something he's heard of before.'
= = =
'Miki!?' Xander ran out of the bedroom as fast as he dared, and spotted the girl at the other end of the tunnel, in what she called her Trophy Room. He ducked his head and wandered in.
'I think I must have blinked or something.'
'Hm?' A compact camping grill held her attention, and she didn't look up as he approached.
'I could have sworn you just vanished for a moment there. Like, poof.'
'Oh, yeah, I do that. It's a thing I do.'
She looked up, and shrugged. 'Sure.'
'So that's your superpower? Or is it magic?'
She tilted her head. 'Uh, both, I guess. All zaradai can do it, but when I got tested they said it was a mutant thing. It's on my card, I think.' She flicked her fingers and produced an ID card, seemingly from thin air. Xander took it warily, and used his candle to get a better look.
'Wah 2, Man 2b, Ex 3, Wiz zero?' There were a bunch more letters and numbers in there, but they meant nothing without an instruction book. 'And wow, science words. Warper, manifester, exemplar?'
'Warper means I teleport, Manifester means I can make stuff, Exemplar means I'm pretty and awesome, and Wizard means I can do magic.'
'Even though this bit says Wiz Zero?'
She scowled at that. 'I couldn't do any magic on the day when they tested me, so they gave me a zero score. Jack thinks I'm also actually an Energizer, which means I suck up energy and use it for my own stuff, but because there wasn't any magic for me to use, I couldn't do anything.'
'I am so confused here. This is the first time a demon, sorry, devil came with a card listing their special abilities. "Blink teleport" is what you did before, right? "Copy wardrobe"?'
He heard a faint 'whoosh' and found the girl wearing a passable imitation of his own polo-shirt and slacks. He gave an approving nod. 'Nice.'
'I'm a master of disguise,' she declared.
'Right. It says here you have a magic pitchfork. I bet that's handy.'
The next line described an official list of weaknesses: Firearms, holy water, and angels. No big surprises there, all things considered. He turned the card over.
'Nice photo. I guess your world has better driver's licenses than ours, too.'
'I dunno. Maybe.'
'I think I see a problem here, though. I wouldn't go trying to use this thing in an official capacity.'
'Huh? Why? It's totally official! It's got a hollygram!'
'Maybe so, but it's 1998, and the issue date on this card is eight years in the future.'
The girl made a strangled noise. 'Aww, I hate time travel! No wonder you don't have any cool tech!'
'Wait, you're from hell, and the future?'
'I guess.' She dragged his attention back to the camping gear. 'Show me how this works. I want to cook something. I've got shelves and folding chairs and things. You said you'd help me decorate!'
'Okay, okay, fine, geez. We'll play house, but then I've gotta go.'
'So, we've got the main hall, the bedroom, this, uh, trophy room... anything else?'
'Treasure room.' she pointed to the main chamber. 'Through there, behind the red curtain.'
Xander led the way and parted the curtain for a peek at the treasure.
'Oh wow, that's... kinda lame. Two wallets, a wristwatch and a jar of, what is this? Peanut butter?'
'Two guys tried to rob me in an alleyway. It didn't work out.'
'And the peanut butter?'
'I like peanut butter.'
Xander wasn't sure that was enough to classify it as treasure, but he decided to humour her. 'Creamy vs crunchy has long been the polarising debate of our generation, and hey, this is a nice watch.' He turned the gaudy timepiece over in this fingers and checked the time. 'Oh my god, it's morning?'
'How long was I asleep?'
'All night. Isn't that normal?'
'I'm late for school! My friends will be wondering where I am.'
'And that's bad?'
'It could be bad, yeah. It could very easily be bad. There could be overreacting, drama, pointed questions in accusing tones. You don't know these people.'
'You were gonna help me with the den!'
'I'm sorry, I thought I had hours to spare, but I gotta go. Which way is the exit?'
'You can't just leave! The location of my secret den is a secret!'
'Seriously? We're under the park.'
'No we're, uh, I mean, yeah, the park. With the trees. Oh no, you found me out.'
He blinked, thoroughly unconvinced. 'You lie worse than Willow.'
'C'mon, I've gone to all this work so I can stay hidden, if you crawl out through the door you'll know where I live.'
'Is that so bad? It's not like I'm going to tell anybody.'
'What about your friends, with the pointed questions?'
'I'll tell them I spent the night with a cute girl.' He shrugged. 'They won't believe me, but it's easy to stick to the truth.'
'You think I'm cute?' She smiled, momentarily, then frowned again. 'Stop trying to be charming! How do I know I can trust you?'
'I'm extremely trustworthy.'
'You're a teenage boy!'
'And you're a teenage girl. Or, well, close enough. I'm very good at keeping secrets. I happen to know some pretty big, important secrets.'
'Oh yeah? Like what?'
'Aha, nice try, but no cigar for the devil girl. You wouldn't believe me if I told you.'
Miki considered that for a long moment, and finally relented. 'I was kinda enjoying having a visitor. I sorta hoped we could be friends.'
'We can still be friends. Especially the kind of friends who don't eat each other.'
She laughed, and flashed him a toothsome grin. 'You're funny.'
= = =
Giles gave Buffy's drawing a momentary glance, then paused to polish his glasses. 'It's a baphomet.'
'Baph-o-met. And not a very good one, either. It's meant to represent the head of a goat, and fits into a pentagram. Here.' He produced a pencil and sketched a five-pointed star over the design. 'Point down, of course. This is the nose, these at the top are horns, and these are ears.'
'And the penta-thingy, that means it's evil?'
'Ah, well, there is some debate. The baphomet was originally used by the Knights Templar.'
Buffy's blank expression spoke volumes. Luckily Willow was on hand to fill in the blanks.
'Weren't the Knights Templar evil, though? With the inquisition and everything?'
Giles grimaced a little. 'Well, again, there is some debate about that, as well. The Templars were brought to justice for the heinous crime of helping jews, which the church of the day frowned upon. The placement of the baphomet symbol within a pentagram was a convenient device to use as proof of heresy.'
Buffy pursed her lips. 'So, symbol: evil or no?'
'Possibly. Perhaps. It's hard to say. It's almost ironic, but we seldom encounter references to actual satanism when dealing with hellmouth-related evil.'
'And the goat head thing? Is that what we're dealing with? A goat-headed pygmy demon?'
'Angel said it looked like a tribal mask, so I was thinking those little tribal guys, with the masks. Pygmies, right?'
Giles tried to hide his surprise. 'Ah, yes. Pygmies indeed.'
Willow pouted. 'And you just know it's a girl. Xander always seems to attract the lady demons.'
Buffy and Giles exchanged looks. 'So our creepo-du-jour is a goat-headed pygmy girl demon? Anything in your books about that?'
'I can't say it rings a bell, but I'll certainly take a look.'
= = =
Miki led Xander through the exit tunnel, a cramped, narrow hole with several sharp bends. Stooping almost double, he had to blink as he stepped into a shaft of dappled sunlight.
'The entrance hole is kinda small. Hold on, I'll check the coast is clear.' Miki jogged forward a few paces, unbothered by the low ceiling, then teleported out through the hole.
Xander didn't fancy waiting, and instead hurried to the opening. 'Trees, wow. No surprise there. Any monsters? Vampires?' The hole was a couple of feet above the ground, and he straightened up as he dropped down. 'So where are we, if not the park?'
Miki pointed through the trees, toward a large brick building in the distance. 'There's something bad over there. Big bad magic, and I want it.'
Xander let out his breath in a long sigh. 'I'm surprised, but I shouldn't be. Welcome to Sunnydale High.'