Disclaimer: See first chapter
Early the next morning, four women set out to speak with Melly the Siren.
Mystique was driving, with Anya in the front to give directions; Buffy and
Willow sat in the back.
"You sure you don't know Raven? I pride myself in remembering my girls, and you are the spitting image of her. Except for the blue skin, scales, and hair. But otherwise, you could be her twin!"
Mystique wished that the annoyingly high pitched voice and the equally annoying woman would shut up. She disliked being made to come to Sunnydale at all; having to physically aid them went above and beyond the call of duty for the Brotherhood.
"Raven's wish was quite something," Anya began to reminisce for the fiftieth time in the past two hours of driving. "It was so rare that a wish was granted so precisely according to the wisher's instructions - normally I had to do some creative interpreting. D'Hoffryn was always praising my gift for that. But Raven - now that was a scorned woman who knew her vengeance! Perfectly detailed description. Granting that one almost got me the Best Vengeance award over at the Academy of Wanton Violence, but I got disqualified because it was so obviously the intent of the wisher." Anya grew huffy at the memory. "Only got an honorable mention. Those hoity toity academicians kept saying it had to be all me. Knew I never liked them."
Mystique smirked a little, but otherwise did not respond.
Buffy and Willow rolled their eyes at Anya's continued recital of "the good old days, when men feared my wrath". The closer they came to Melly's place, the more Anya seemed to mourn for her vengeance demon status.
"But not that I mind being human. I very much love my Xander. Sometimes, we even -"
"Are we there yet?" Willow burst in quickly. Anya was about to start one of her TMI stories, and those always led to scary images. She never, ever wanted to hear about the use for very long paintbrushes and chocolate sauce again. She had had nightmares for a week.
"No," Anya twisted around in her seat. "We will arrive at Melly's in approximately half an hour. As I was saying, sometimes Xander and I like to - "
It was Buffy's turn to break in now. "Is Melly going to talk to us? I really don't want to come all the way out here just to be told to get lost."
"Melly and I go way back." Anya got that nostalgic look in her eyes again. "We met when she was working the French coast in the fourteenth century. This girl's sailor lover had been cheating on her and she wished for his death, preferably a painful one. Melly was already luring him in - we had such an argument over who was going to kill him, but in the end I decided being crushed on the rocks followed by drowning would be suitably painful. After that, I sent a lot of unfaithful men her way."
"Does she know you're not big with the vengeance now?" Willow asked.
"Melly? She was the only one who sent a sympathy card when news of my newly mortal status came out." Anya turned to Mystique, "Turn left here. And for the record, I still retain the necessary knowledge to perform vengeance if so motivated. I have not forgotten my heritage."
They went down a gravel road; leading up to a small cottage perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean. An old brown minivan was parked in the front. The garden was neat and well taken care of, with pink flamingos and gnomes scattered throughout. Willow found it decidedly un-siren like.
Mystique parked the car next to the minivan. It was time to get this pointless errand over with. Soon as they returned to Sunnydale with the siren hair she was going to have a long talk with Magneto about the foolishness of his involvement.
Anya rang the bell, waited a moment, and rang again. Buffy wished she had been allowed to carry a crossbow with her, making nice with demons always made her edgy. Willow hoped they could do this and dump Mystique, preferably off the cliff. Mystique stood of to the side and tried not to openly sulk.
The door opened.
"Anyanka! It's been ages!"
Melly was certainly not what Willow had expected. The siren was a little short, a little round, with salt and pepper hair done up in a messy bun. Her skin was freckled and a little age wrinkled; her eyes were definitely a non enticing shade of gray. Her flowered muumuu was as non- sexy as it could get. Her voice was a little harsh and gravelly, and not in a Lauren Bacall kind of way. Did they have the right address?
"Haven't seen you since Borkamir's bicentennial. Of course, that was before your accident. How have you been holding up, Yanka-dear?"
"I find the fragility of my mortal existence off putting, yet not without its rewards. My boyfriend is a very generous lover and we share many happy orgasms."
"I'm so proud of you for seeing the positive side. I honestly don't know if I could handle being human after all these years."
"You're coming up on your 2473rd, aren't you?"
"Shh! I tell all the boys I'm not a day over two thousand."
Anya nodded. She didn't have the heart to tell her friend that she looked closer to the two and a half millenium mark than not.
"And who are your friends? You'll all have to come in for some coffee. I hope you'll like Maxwell House - been buying that brand ever since they started selling. It's not like they used to make it, but it never is."
"This is Buffy, Willow and Mystique," Anya introduced proudly. Buffy and Willow were still a little too dumbfounded to do more than wave; Mystique gave her customary smirk.
"How nice to meet some people from Anya's new life. You know, I was so worried that you wouldn't be able to adjust. You always hear stories about the newly human, with the depression and the turning to dust and all that rot. Why, Liesl, you remember Liesl, she dated Dracula in the 1500s, well she became human just three centuries ago and was such a mess. Couldn't handle the shock and committed suicide. Or got a last visit from an ex-lover, no one ever found out for sure. Never mind my ramblings, please, come in, come in!"
They followed the siren into the cottage. It was decorated in a charming, sea themed fashion. There was an entire wall devoted to figurines of lighthouses, with a poster over it reading "Be Gracious in Defeat". Another wall held a bookcase full of texts devoted to the mythology of the sea. Willow recognized some of the books from research sessions; a few others were required reading in the Myths & Legends elective she took last year.
Melly made them sit down. The chairs were comfy and had the right amount of squishiness. Willow sank into hers happily; as much as she loved Giles, furniture selection was not his specialty. The siren bustled about, going over to the adjacent kitchen and preparing a tray, punctuated by remarks like "Does anyone like cream?" and "These danishes are divine, but I need to watch my figure. Feel free to eat as many as you want."
They spent the next fifteen minutes drinking coffee and engaging in chit-chat. Well, everyone but Mystique, who snootily sipped her coffee and refused to touch the danishes. Willow had no such compunction and helped herself to three. They truly were divine.
The gossip was amazingly free of supernatural references. Melly cheerily flitted from celebrities to the condition of the beaches to the state of pop culture ("deplorable") and back to the lives of celebrities ("It's all in the Enquirer"). Finally, Melly set her cup down and faced Buffy.
"Now, Slayer, why are you here?"
Buffy blinked. It was admittedly a long shot that a demon as old as Melly wouldn't be able to spot a Slayer, but she had hoped to go unnoticed, at least until they bought the siren hair.
"You know I'm the Slayer?"
"Dear, I may not be the siren I used to be, but do give me some credit. I've always made it a policy to keep track of these things. Not to mention you have quite the reputation. One of the few of your kind who even remotely comprehends that there is a gray zone - stories about you and your vampires are quite the talk of the town. But that's neither here not there. Why did you have Anyanka bring you here?"
Me and my vampires, plural? Huh? Buffy shook herself quickly from that thought and focused on Melly's question.
"We need a bag woven of siren hair," she stated matter of factly. "Willow can fill you in on what it will be used for exactly. I just know we need it for a spell to use against the Sl'kanith demon."
Melly paled at those words.
Willow noticed and quickly spoke up. "It won't be anything bad, no backlash badness for you. The spell will just stop the Sl'kanith from working so much majorly bad mojo."
"So, you can help us, right? We'll pay in valid currency," Anya added helpfully.
Once again, Mystique said nothing, silently watching the proceedings, filing the smallest details for use later.
"Anyanka, why did you go have to make friends with the Slayer," Melly whispered softly. "This only leads to dangerously good deeds." In a louder voice she said, "I'm sorry you came out here for nothing, but I can't sell you anything."
Such a simple question, such a complicated answer. "Because I know what you're dealing with. By Poseidon's trident, I know. You're dealing with more than just the Sl'kanith. Not that such a creature isn't a danger in itself. But to bring forth a Sl'kanith - that requires forces I don't involve myself with. I like me the way it is, with all parts attached."
"Maybe there's a way we can make sure they don't know you gave us the hair?" Willow offered.
"I'm the only siren on the West Coast. There's only one spell you could use against the Sl'kanith. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"We need your help," Buffy said coolly. "The Sl'kanith will be affecting humans any day now. We will cast the suppression spell in three days. We will pay what the asking price is for a bag made of siren hair. We will offer protection until the Sl'kanith and whatever cult or group that summoned it are taken care of."
"And if I refuse your offer?"
Such a brave little Slayer. She was everything the rumors said she was. Well, Melly had yet to see any evidence of that vampire thing. Pity, that was the most interesting part of the story. But to accept her offer/order? There's the question.
Melly was not uninformed, by any means. Even out here in her cottage, she had heard about the emergence of the Sl'kanith, the arrival of the mutants - yes she was fully aware that Sunnydale's quota for the uncanny was at an all time high. Just look at that blue woman. What was the world coming to?
Such a mismatched group. A former vengeance demon - Anyanka had been the best in her day, such a pity that day was ended. A witch with a power promising greatness but not yet tempered by wisdom. A mutant, one whose hatred and hostility was worn like a cloak, radiating displeasure. And lastly, a petite blond woman who was Chosen to protect the world with her life.
Well, it would be interesting, at least.
Melly stood up. "I weave the fabric myself. A piece the size you need will cost approximately $800, payable to an account I will specify. Remember, you are paying not only for the hair, but the weaving. I will follow you to Sunnydale; I do not intend to become a victim at my age. Agreed?"
Melly went to her storage closet to get the fabric, saying over her shoulder, "Yanka, be a love and put away the dishes." Anya nodded and began to do so.
Buffy gasped when she saw the material. It glowed with an almost hypnotic light, golden in color but with rainbow like fragments creating a kaleidoscopic effect. It was so different from Melly's own graying hair.
"That's yours?!" Willow couldn't help her outburst. She had managed to keep quite about Melly's non-sirenness so far, but this demanded a response.
"Indeed it is," Melly assured with a faint smile. "What, did you think this," she waved at her general appearance, "was my true face? Of all the glamours I can create, this is the most comfortable, but this," pause for a moment of concentration, "this is my working face."
The image Melly displayed was far more akin to what Willow had envisioned a siren to look like. Long, wavy hair with enough bounce to make a hairdresser drool framed a flawless face. Eyes the color of the sea at sunset, pouting lips, delicately arched eyebrows. A generous figure.
"What do you think?" And a voice that managed to sing even as it spoke. Definitely what a siren was supposed to be.
"I think it's a good thing Xander isn't here," Buffy joked, "or Anya would be worried about competition."
"What about my Xander?" Anya demanded, having finished cleaning up.
Mystique quietly noted the siren's shapeshifting ability. Knowledge like that could be useful.
"Your Xander's fine," Melly assured her as she changed back to her frumpier form, "I have no designs on your boyfriend."
Anya appeared mollified. Her Xander was safe.
"Giles will fix up the account thingy for paying you," Buffy told Melly. "Thanks for the stuff. But, I'm not sure where we can put you if you follow us to Sunnydale."
Mystique spoke for the first time. "We would be happy to have a guest where we are staying."
Happy was debatable. But a source for more local information would be advantageous.
Willow wrinkled her nose. She didn't like the idea of Mystique being able to chat it up with Melly. Melly seemed so nice, especially for a demon.
Buffy met her eyes, a similarly distasteful expression on her face. But where else could Melly go, honestly? Her mother's? Giles'? Crawford mansion it would be.
With a new passenger added on, they returned to the car and headed back to Sunnydale. Mystique tried to ignore the other four women as they started to talk some more about some celebrity scandal.
At least their mission had been accomplished.
"Well, it certainly wasn't what I was expecting, but it will have to
do. Though I usually avoid former vampire nests, this one is remarkably
well kept. Can't help the smell, but then I've lived in worse. The décor
shows an eye for the finer things - do you know the previous owner?
Probably killed the last living owner, that's how these things are usually
done, but I think I see some distinctly vampiric touches. Those heavy
curtains are a dead giveaway, pardon the pun. Now you just wait here,
I'll be taking those down in a jiffy. Place like this always looks better
in the sunshine."
Magneto stared at the woman who was bustling about the foyer of the mansion. A siren? This frumpy, housewife-like busybody?
"Are you sure she has to stay here?" he whispered to Mystique.
"She insisted that she return to Sunnydale with us; she fears retribution for aiding these children. I felt it might be wise if we could - speak - with her."
"An intelligent plan, Mystique, but does she have to stay here?"
Melly rolled her eyes at the mutants' conversation. Did they think she didn't recognize the invitation for what it was? Really. She had two millennia and some of experience. And most of it had been spent causing shipwrecks, causing small wars, and causing generic trouble for foolish, selfish mortals. It wasn't until the past few centuries that she had considered retirement; and she had only been officially off the job for about ninety years. That wasn't nearly long enough for a being such as herself to forget the finer points of subterfuge. She was a siren, by Poseidon's trident, and as such she was born to deceit.
But the mortals were cute in their attempts to plot around her and it would be interesting to see what high-jinks they got up to. Melly was all for the Slayer beating the Sl'kanith, but that didn't mean she wouldn't enjoy the chaos preceding its destruction.
"Now, Magenta, or whatever your name is, would you be a love and help me with these drapes? They really ought to be taken down and cleaned. I wonder if Anyanka knows the name of a good drycleaner's. Fabric like this deserves professional treatment, don't you agree?"
"Let's see - do we have the focusing crystal?" Willow began to read off the list of ingredients of the dampening spell. They had a two days left to get all the ingredients and she wanted to be sure they weren't scrambling on the last day.
"Rose hips, monkshood, sage?"
"Triple check. I even started the basic preparation - smell."
"Mmmm. Is it supposed to smell like that? Usually my herbally spell attempts end up kind of stinky."
"Honey, that's because you only use the smelly herbs. Most charms should have a few nice ones slipped in for scent."
"Doesn't that screw it up?"
"Not usually. It can even help balance out the powers you're summoning."
"Cool. Next time I try for a protection against evil talisman, you'll show me?"
"Okay. Back to the list. Cauldron made of copper, silver, and gold?"
"Right here. Mr. Boggardy gave us a special price on it, remember?"
"Oh yeah. Siren hair?"
"Being sewn into a bag as we speak."
"And a very good job you're doing. With the neat little stitches and the cool looking thread - where did you get that?"
"M-melly gave it to me. She said it came from her sister Lori."
"Very nice. Blood of the victim?"
Tara looked up at Willow from her needlework. Their eyes met, knowing what didn't need to be said.
They didn't have the blood of a victim yet. But that part of the puzzle would be found all too soon.
Yet another night patrolling in wonderful Sunnydale. Buffy flicked her eyes over at her new partner for the night, Mystique.
The mutant was gliding along beside her, her dark blue skin blending in perfectly with the night. Every time Buffy looked at her, she expected her demon sensors to start screaming "Evil demon! Evil demon!" and when they didn't go off, she felt majorly creeped out.
Which was sort of funny. She was creeped out because her senses for the creepiness were reading a no-go? Wasn't that a paradox or an oxymoron or something?
"What are we doing in a graveyard?"
And the not-quite-demon speaks.
"I want to go talk to Spike, get some information. Willy's not talking and we need something solid."
"Spike?" Magneto had brought her up to date about the situation in Sunnydale, after he and Willow had a long discussion, but Mystique was still interested in what Buffy would say. How would she defend the morally ambiguous decision of letting a vampire live?
"A vampire. Can't go around biting people right now so he gets his kicks fighting demons. Sometimes helps us for money."
"Why can't he bite?"
"He got a chip shoved in his head. Spike tries to hurt someone, he goes all Aghhh! and can't perform."
"Why don't you kill him?"
Buffy sighed in annoyance. What was this, a session of Q&A? "Because he can't fight back."
Fascinating. Magneto had indicated the Slayer possessed that sort of annoying moral code, but it was illuminating to see how she applied it. Mystique filed away that fact for future use. She expected tensions between the two organizations to explode any day now. Actually, tensions between one organization and one group of children led by a middle-aged man who needed a job. She was reminded of that idealist always causing the Brotherhood problems.
At least idealists were predictable.
Mystique followed the Slayer into the crypt. It was less unpleasant than she had expected, but no where near the sort of refinements she favored - such as flooring and heating.
Mystique was interested to see what this Spike would be like. She was presented by a cocky man whose every fiber shouted Attitude. She made a mental note. A troublemaker like that could always be a potential ally.
"If I'd known you were coming, luv, I'd have baked a cake."
Buffy rolled her eyes and cut to the chase. "The Sl'kanith and the group that summoned it. If you've gotten any information on either, Giles says we'll pay you."
"Must be pissing you off that your Watcher won't let you go a round of Kick the Spike. You need me to be all nice and helpful if you want to have a shot of catching the new nasty in town."
"I wouldn't say that," Buffy said back at him. "A round or two might be just the thing to get you to give me what I want."
"Really, luv. Didn't know you were interested - OW!"
"Cut it out, Spike. You know something, you tell me."
"So that's it, then? Your demon friend got anything to add?"
Mystique raised an eyebrow. A pity that the floorshow was trying to get her involved.
"Not demon, mutant. And I really don't care how Summers gets information from you. Not my problem."
"Nice." Spike turned back to Buffy. "And Slayer, there's nothing I can tell you. All I've heard is that the Sl'kanith's gonna send out a big surge tonight. Wants the mortals to join in the fun and games. That's all I got."
Willow walked through the streets of Sunnydale, her cousin by her side. Buffy had convinced her to take Magneto for her partner - apparently Buffy now had a grudge involving demon carcasses, shirt slaying demon spit, and Magneto. Willow didn't mind. That meant Buffy was stuck with Mystique.
Magneto seemed remarkably eager to patrol tonight. It probably had something to do with the hospitality he was reluctantly offering Melly. When Willow had gone to meet Erik, she found Melly and Anya chatting in their uniquely piercing voices right in the mansion's common room.
And apparently Melly's favorite topics of conversation matched perfectly with Anya's. She couldn't blame him from wanting to flee. All she had heard involved the two interrogating Pyro and Avalanche about their views on women and sex. Mostly sex. Willow was very grateful Melly wasn't staying with her.
"Do you often go patrolling?"
"Not as often as Buffy has to, but I usually get to do the whole creature of the night deal once or twice a week."
"Where do you go?"
"For patrol? Mostly the Bronze, graveyards, and parks. Ooh, and the warehouse district."
"This town has enough industry to support a warehouse district?" Magneto had to marvel at that. According to the data he gathered on this place, it was a small, mostly suburban type place. He marked the warehouse district as another oddity worthy of note - beside the zoo, museum, train and bus stations, and assorted mansions.
Willow shrugged. There were so many things that made absolutely no sense in Sunnydale. Like how they were walking by the police station and none of the other people on the street noticed the screaming come from there -
Willow was galvanized into action, sprinting over to the building. Before she was able to open the door, though, she hit a barrier.
"Erik, let me in!"
Magneto ignored her, listening carefully to the sounds within. Screams, yes, but also gun shots. He reached out with his mind, trying to grab all the metal he sensed in there. It was difficult, since he could not see his targets.
As soon as he felt it was under control, he released Willow. She burst into the station, a spell at her lips to fight whatever monster that presented itself.
The scene that greeted her was horrific.
Three bodies were splayed about, one draped over a desk, the others slumped over the floor. There was another person, a man, crouched behind a bench he had turned upside down, hand to his side trying to keep the blood in. Beside him lay a young woman, alive but only just, her breathing slow and tortured.
The architect for this scene was in a corner, a policewoman with sweat soaked hair and maddened eyes, shouting about how the demons were everywhere and that the monsters had to be destroyed.
The scene was made even more surreal by the metal floating about. The shooter's gun hovered in her hand, obviously not under her control. Guns from the other officers hung motionless over their bodies, as if in silent salute to the dead. Metal pens, coins, paperweight knick knacks, etc. all were held by that same eerie levitation.
Willow felt numb inside
Magneto stepped in behind Willow, coolly taking in the image of the massacre. Now that he knew exactly what he was sensing, he summoned all the weapons to him, then crushed them with a thought. No sense in keeping such nonsense around.
With her gun now fully taken from her, the madwoman leaped forward, hands like claws, aiming at Willow. The attack shook Willow from her stupor, forcing her to defend herself.
A moment's concentration and the madwoman slumped into unconsciousness. Shaking herself from the unreal feeling of the situation, Willow proceeded to check on the two survivors. Magneto was already over there, helping the wounded man staunch the bleeding.
She bent over the young woman, assessing the injuries. Courtesy of a Sunnydale education, she knew that unless an ambulance showed up, maybe ten minutes ago, there was nothing she could do to stop the inevitable.
Willow reached down and held the girl's hand. At the contact, the girl's eyes fluttered open for a second and met hers. The pain in them ripped something inside Willow into itty bitty pieces.
She gave the dying girl's hand a gentle squeeze. Who was she? Who were her loved ones? Why was she here? Why did the mad policewoman shoot her? Why did this girl have to die?
The lights were almost out in the young woman's eyes.
Willow whispered softly under her breath, not so much a spell as a prayer.
"May these moments be filled with peace. May your spirit be at rest. May justice be granted unto you." In a firm tone, she whispered, "This I swear."
And then the unnamed girl died.
Out of the corner of her eye, Willow saw Erik taking care of what was now the lone survivor. It barely registered.
Hands shaking, she pulled a vial from her pocket. She dipped it into the pool of blood growing next to the dead girl.
"Blood of the innocent, to thee I call."