One to Go
(the Junior Watcher Remix)

by Deird1

Fandom(s): Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Word Count: 3,544 words
Rating: PG (language)
Original story:Into the Abyss”.



 
Once upon a time, back in March, a woman’s body was found, mutilated. Police have no leads at this time.

*               *               *

The car skidded violently round the corner, nearly hitting a fire hydrant.

“Shit!” Dawn said, and hauled the steering wheel round straight. They continued at the same hectic pace.

Jane kept riffling through pages. “You’re sure that your magic rock is going to kill this thing?”

“Dispel, not kill,” Dawn said, still watching the road. “If it’s really a Tlak-mengu, yeah. It can’t maintain its connection to this plane if — damn! That’s the street!” — she pulled the car round in a swift U-turn and veered right, narrowly missing the SUV parked on the corner. “Basic hack-and-slash would kill it, but we don’t have the muscle for that.”

Their car thudded across a pothole, briefly experimented with mounting the curb, and skidded to a halt outside Redmont Alley, a dim, dank gap between two backing rows of houses.

“Quick! Grab the bag!” Dawn yelled, unbuckling and racing from the driver’s seat out into the street. Jane stuffed the book into Dawn’s backpack, pulled it over her shoulder, and followed at a run … slowing to a halt as they reached the end of the alley. Dawn was standing, still, looking down at the remains.

Another one dead. Just like the first two.

“We were too slow,” Dawn said quietly. “He beat us to her.”

Jane searched for the right thing to say. Nothing seemed right, so she settled for “Fuck.” Followed by, “We’ll get to him in the end. I know it.”

Dawn ran her hand over her hair, and sighed. “Yeah, we will.” She turned and walked back up the alley — and Jane barely heard her ask: “But when?”

*               *               *

Once upon a time, a long time ago, a worried girl gave a tiny baby to someone she thought she trusted. And it should have ended there.

*               *               *

They had dinner at the Glory Wok, which served the best vegetarian dumplings in Boston. Jane slumped on her seat, and observed, “Evenings like this one need a whole lot of vodka.”

Dawn just nodded, fiddling glumly with her chopsticks.

“I think I’ve got some at the apartment.”

“Love to. But,” she sighed, and put her chin in one hand, “if we don’t keep researching, the Tlak’s going to take out co-conspirator number four. Which means we need coffee and chocolate. Preferably lots of both.” She looked exhausted already.

Jane frowned. “Maybe we need a new strategy? It’s just — by the time we’ve figured out the next person it’s after, and done the tracking spell on them, it’s … I mean … What if we found all the names? Then we could contact the targets and warn them.”

“Maybe.” Dawn finished her soda, and shrugged. “People who make blood pacts with demons, not really known for their self-preservation instincts, but it’s worth a shot.”

“We’ve got to try, anyway.” Jane stabbed the last dumpling with a chopstick, swallowed it, and stood up. “Coming?”

*               *               *

Once upon a time, last Tuesday, two women both reached for the same volume of the Dichaltus Compendium, and struck up a conversation about violent stabby demons and their likely victims.

*               *               *

A mug was held out in front of Jane’s laptop. “Coffee?”

Jane blinked, and looked up at Dawn. “I think I’ve been staring at this web page for nearly twenty minutes,” she groaned, and clutched at the mug gratefully. “Thanks.”

“Well, I figured you’d been serving me coffee all week, it was about time I got off my ass and found out where you kept the percolator.” She dropped down into the armchair next to Jane. “Anyway, I couldn’t keep going full steam. Break time.”

Jane closed her laptop, and they both sipped in silence for a minute, as Dawn cast around for conversation topics that didn’t involve the huge pile of books on the table that she was sick of looking through.

“This is a nice apartment.”

“Thanks.”

“Nice …” — she waved her hand vaguely — “… curtains.”

Jane grinned. “Thanks.”

Dawn smiled, sheepishly. “Sorry. I don’t think I’ve said two words to you all week that weren’t ‘demons’, ‘people who summon demons’, or ‘how to kill demons’. I suck at the friend thing.”

“Demons are important to talk about,” Jane shrugged. “But yes, the nice conversation would be … nice.”

“Okay. Board games, card games, or video games?”

“Card. Especially poker. Cats or dogs?”

“Cats — they’re so much purrier. Do you play sports?”

“Not really, but I used to ski. You?”

“I keep on telling myself I’m going to take up tennis, or something … Cake or pie?”

“Cake! Star Trek or Star Wars?”

“I’d say Star Wars, but my best friend would kill me, so Trek it is.”

“She’s a Trekkie?”

“He is — and he spent two years of my life forcing me to watch episodes every time I saw him. He lives in Europe, though, so we haven’t caught up for a while.” Dawn drank some more of her coffee, and observed, “I haven’t really met many people since I moved here. I’ve been spending way too much time studying and organizing stuff for work.”

“Stuff for work?”

“It’s kind of a mess at the moment.” Dawn paused. Jane just waited; they were clearly back on the list of Topics I Don’t Really Tell You About, and Dawn was going to start picking her words carefully again. “The team I … support, they had three people here. But one of them got injured, and the others kinda went off-book and started … doing stuff they shouldn’t have. So they’ve been sent … west, to another town, and I’ve been put here to clean up the mess.”

Jane nodded, trying to look like she was keeping up.

“It’s mostly paperwork. By the truckload. But it’s keeping me way too busy for any kind of social life.”

“I get that. Journalism gets pretty hectic, too.”

Dawn grabbed some chocolate, and added, around a mouthful, “Plus, I have to spend a lot of my time on the net, or my niece is going to forget what I look like.” She grinned. “She’s so super cute. She’s just figured out how to say my name — she says it ‘Dah-nun’, every time she sees me on Skype. Do you have any nieces or nephews?”

Silence.

It had just been an innocent attempt at fun conversation, but Jane had frozen up. Dawn glanced at her and said awkwardly, “Um. Sorry. New topic. Do you like any kind of music?”

Jane took a deep breath, and smiled at her. “It’s okay. It’s just … I had someone. A — a baby girl.”

“Oh.”

“She died.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. It was a long time ago.” She broke off another piece of chocolate, and made an attempt at normality. “I like any music that isn’t Sinatra. You?”

*               *               *

Once upon a time, a long time ago, five friends made a pact. Five very stupid friends made a very reckless pact.

*               *               *

“Do all of these things really work?”

Dawn was on the computer. Jane was inspecting the contents of her backpack.

“Pretty much, yeah,” Dawn said absently. “You know, at least two of the three victims have changed their names. I’m going to do some googling on number three.”

There were two wooden stakes; a small, ornate axe; a bottle of holy water; a blue crystal on a necklace; a rock, covered in sigils, that Dawn assured her could dispel certain types of demons; a handkerchief, embroidered with faint symbols in cream cotton thread; a small vial filled with a golden liquid of some kind; and three books on demonology. Jane was fascinated.

She held up the necklace. “What does this do?”

“Focusing crystal.” Dawn was still typing. “For breaking trances, and also for concentrating mental energy when trying to induce certain dimensional anomalies.”

“And this?” — the vial.

“I think I’ve found …” Dawn frowned, and glanced over. “That’s an Icthyian mist potion. Break the bottle, and it forms a steam that kills anything that breathes it in. I try not to use it, though, because I’d have to be able to run pretty fast.”

Jane nodded and stood up. “You said you found something?”

“Yeah. At least I think so. All three of our victims had name changes processed in the same two month period.”

“Seriously?”

She span the laptop around and showed Jane the webpage. “Check it out. Danica Carlisle: April 2004, Amelie Linden: May 2004, Nicolette Herveaux: May 2004.”

Jane looked fascinated. “They really did. Do you think …?”

“Right there with you.” Dawn started typing again. “I’m making a list of all the name change applications that happened that year. We can compare them against our phonebook pages, and figure out which names are triggering our seeking-spell.”

“Awesome.” Jane sat down next to her, watching her work. She frowned. “What kind of idiots make pacts with demons, anyway?”

“It’s more common than you might think. Faust is the best known example, but it’s happened plenty of times.” She pulled a notepad over, and started scribbling notes. “It tends to backfire, though. Manifesting demons are notorious for hunting down anyone who tries to control them.”

Jane nodded. “Hence all the bodies.”

“Yep. The ones we’re trying to find have had a pretty good run of things, actually. It’s been — what? a decade? — and meanwhile they’re all successful and loaded, so the binding spell’s still been working in their favor. Whatever they sacrificed must have been a big deal.”

“What do you mean? Sacrificed?”

Dawn grimaced. “Not fun to think about. Most of the time, making a pact with a demon involves a whole lot of ritual, and some kind of sacrifice — usually human. But demons have preferences: they like people you’re related to, or people you care about, or the innocent. The more the sacrifice is ‘worth’, the better the spell’s likely to turn out.”

Jane shuddered. “Ugh.”

“Yep. Try not to wonder too much. After all —” She looked at the computer screen with mild distaste. “— we still have to save these people.”

*               *               *

Once upon a time, several weeks ago now, someone saw a chance to take revenge. Because, honestly, why wouldn’t you?

*               *               *

“Yes, I’m trying to get in touch with Ms St Claire about — No, I’m not selling any–… No, I got this number through her listing in — No, but — Yes! Ms St Claire! Can I talk to her as soon as —”

Jane sat and watched as Dawn tried, fruitlessly, to convince Luciana St Claire’s army of deputies, flunkies, and assistants that she wasn’t yet another total waste of the TV producer’s precious time. It seemed to be proving difficult. Jane frowned.

Dawn had stopped pacing. “Yes. Summers. Well, please ask her to call me. As soon as possible. Thanks. Goodbye.” She hung up, and threw the phone onto the couch with a snort.

“No luck?”

“Uh-uh.” Dawn sat down, and added, “Not that I really expected much.”

“True. High-powered executive, and all that.”

“And it’s not like you can really leave a message explaining that someone’s in danger of having their guts ripped out, either,” she said, sighing. “Not if you want to stay under the radar — which I do.”

It was a tricky business. A single bad choice, and things weren’t going to work out properly. Jane sighed, and pulled the map towards her. “Well, we know where she’s likely to be. Go and tackle her directly?”

“I guess. Although, knowing our luck, we’ll probably end up tackling the Tlak-mengu directly, as well.”

“That’s not likely, is it? I mean — so far, this thing’s been pretty consistent with the once-every-two-weeks attacks.”

“Yeah, but I don’t know why,” Dawn pointed out, gathering up their notes and filling the backpack. “I mean, if it was a standard, ritual, once-a-fortnight-by-the-light-of-the-setting-sun, that’d be one thing. Nice and predictable. But this — night of Friday 27th, morning of Monday 13th, evening of Thursday 23rd … And the Tlak isn’t known for ritual killings, either. He should be slaughtering the summoners all at once — unless he can’t find them …” She frowned, thoughtfully.

Jane sighed, and stood. “Well, in lieu of better ideas, I’m going to go pee. And then let’s go tackle St Claire — hopefully not literally.”

“Sounds good.”

*               *               *

Once upon a time, a long time ago, a demon gave his commanders their every wish. And bided his time on his own wishes.

*               *               *

There were blood stains spattered across the parking lot wall, bearing silent witness to what had happened. Dawn stood there without comment for a few minutes — and then kicked the wall, once, viciously.

“We don’t know it was her,” Jane pointed out, without much hope in her voice.

“Yeah. But playing the odds …” She closed her eyes, sighed briefly, and said: “Okay, then. Page five?”

The line of police tape was shaking slightly in the breeze. Jane tore her eyes away, and pulled some torn phonebook pages out of the backpack. “Well, we still have the same problem we had two hours ago,” she said. “Fontaine to Fuschia. Clarissa Fowler and Simone Fontenay are both on this page.”

“And both in the March name changes,” Dawn nodded. “Not to mention both rich, successful, and famous.”

“Hence the problem.”

“Yep.”

They started walking back to Dawn’s car, still discussing the issue. “Demon-summoning people shouldn’t be allowed to look inconspicuous,” Jane grumbled. “They should have bright green noses, or something, so that they’re easier to find.”

Dawn shook her head. “Standard mengulian glamour.”

“What-in-the-who-now?”

“When Tlak-mengus grant favors to humans, they usually induce a glamour over them,” she explained. “It makes them look gorgeous, so people like them, but also has the bonus side-effect of making them look recognizable in good ways — so that they can be famous — and not recognizable in bad ways — so that they can’t be infamous.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep. That’s why we need their names. And it fits my latest theory.”

“What theory?” Jane asked, frowning.

“About the name changes. I think maybe the Tlak needs to find them through their names, too. If he’s susceptible to his own glamour, he wouldn’t be able to hunt them down by sight. So they could have changed their names to stop him finding them again.”

“And now he’s figured out another way of tracking them down?”

“Maybe. Or maybe he’s somehow finding out their new names, which —” Dawn stopped short, looking thoughtful. “Hey … I have an awesome idea.”

Jane waited, but nothing else seemed to be coming. “… yeah?”

“We don’t need to figure out his next victim! We just need to stop the Tlak figuring it out! Which means we just need some kind of concealment spell so that he can’t —”

She was interrupted by a loud thunderous sound, as, in front of them, a large figure coalesced into being. It was seven feet tall, dusky black, with thick spines projecting from the chest and upper arms. The two of them gasped and stepped back as the demon spoke, its voice greedy and gloating: “Jane Schoeren. I have found you, and I will claim you.”

*               *               *

Once upon a time, a few hours ago, someone saw her approaching doom, and decided to renew an old acquaintance. And, just like that, the hunter became the hunted.

*               *               *

The Tlak-mengu stepped forward, and Jane screamed and mindlessly threw the first thing she had to hand: the phonebook pages, which fluttered uselessly against its chest. It snarled. Dawn was fumbling in her backpack, but the Tlak whacked her with one huge, misshapen arm, throwing her to the ground — and Jane recognized a sigil-covered dispelling stone, skittering away from them across the asphalt. Dawn groaned and put her hand to her face — Jane saw with horror that she had a long, bloody gash from forehead to cheek — before struggling up.

The Tlak turned its attention back to Jane again, grabbing her neck in a vise-like grip, and lifting her off the ground. She struggled — for breath, for freedom — but couldn’t pull away, until suddenly, with a clang, it staggered and dropped her, and Jane saw an axe being pulled from its side as Dawn drew back for another blow.

“Run, Jane! Just go!” she yelled, laying into the Tlak’s neck as hard as she could. It growled, and turned to hit her again.

Jane hesitated, before springing forward. No weapons, but she grabbed her phone from one pocket and threw it at him, then followed up with her right shoe. Barely any impact, but it distracted him enough for Dawn to dodge and race in with the axe.

Four more heavy blows, ten more seconds that each felt like hours, and the demon lay, dead and gooey, at their feet. Dawn and Jane looked across at each other, locking eyes for a moment, before Dawn sighed, wiped her axe off on one jeans leg, and put it back in her backpack.

Jane just stood still.

“So,” Dawn said evenly, looking around for her dispelling stone, “you wanna tell me why the Tlak was after you? Or are we just going to ignore that?”

Jane almost didn’t respond — the past was nearly dead and gone, and no-one was going to change that — but then she looked at Dawn, holding her hanky up to stop the blood still dripping from that head wound, and figured that, well, whatever happened next, Dawn had earned the truth.

She put her hands in her pockets, and said, “I’m guessing whichever one we were after — Clarissa Fowler or Simone Fontenay — I’m guessing she gave the demon my name. So that it’d forget about her and come after me.”

A moment’s pause. Then: “Why you?” asked Dawn. “Why not both of us?”

“Because it’s only interested in people who summon it.”

“Oh. Right.” And Dawn just let that silence sit there.

Jane clenched her fists, waiting for the inevitable question. When it failed to arrive, she said, tensely, “I didn’t make a pact with it, exactly. I just … gave it names. As I figured out what their new names were.”

“I’m guessing I was pretty helpful there.”

“Yes, you were. I’ve been trying to find them for weeks, now — it was much faster once I had you helping.” And, despite everything, she couldn’t help the hint of pride that had crept into her voice.

Dawn nodded, not looking at her. “Is this some kind of vendetta, or do you just have a thing for slaughtering demon-summoners?” she asked.

“Vendetta,” Jane said, flatly.

“Right.” And suddenly Dawn was looking her right in the eyes, saying, “I hope it was for a good reason, because so help me, if this was you being upset at the nasty rich ladies turning down your fabulous resumé …” She was trying to sound calmly threatening, but Jane could hear the undercurrents of upset — which didn’t help anything. Jane walked away for a moment, before turning back, arms folded. If Dawn needed a reason, she’d get a reason.

“How about murder? Does that make you feel better?”

Dawn didn’t reply.

Jane continued, slightly calmer. “You know those drop-off programs they do at hospitals? Where you can take a baby, no questions asked, and the hospital will look after them? Well, my lovely friend Betty was so helpful, and said I didn’t have to face it, she’d do the drop-off for me, just to be kind.” Her voice was full of sarcasm.

“Your daughter …” Dawn said, slowly, quietly.

“Betty was a great friend. We worked together at a café, and she helped out so much while I was pregnant, with getting new clothes and stuff. She even let me crash at her apartment for a couple of weeks. Then, just after I had the baby, she left work and never came back.” Jane took a deep breath, and continued, “And then, a couple of years ago, Betty’s apartment building got knocked down, and they found the body of this little baby, hidden under the floorboards.” She looked at Dawn. “So — yeah. It was a pretty good sacrifice. Just like you said.”

Dawn was pale. “Fuck.”

“Since I read the article about that, I’ve mostly been trying to figure out why they did it. And then trying to track them down.” She shrugged. “The Tlak-mengu barely took any convincing. I just gave it names when I worked them out. Almost got them all, too.”

Dawn hesitated for a minute, then said carefully, “You know, if I’d figured it out, I would have stopped you.”

“Yes.”

“It’s kind of my job.”

Jane nodded.

“And even if people are evil, we’re not supposed to kill them. It’s not how things work.”

“No.”

“It’s just not.”

“I know.”

Dawn took something out of her backpack, handed it to her, and said, “Good luck.” Then she turned and walked away.

Jane looked down at the small golden vial of Icthyian mist in her hand.

*               *               *

Once upon a time, a long time ago, a worried girl gave a tiny baby to someone she thought she trusted. And it really should have ended there.


End

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