Two girls walked through downtown Cleveland an hour before dawn searching for the bus depot in the hope that there would be a bus to a tiny little place called Boudenver within the next twenty-four hours.
There were other people going about their business on the dark streets and the more honest among them spared the young women a glance and worried if it was safe for them to be out at this hour. The less honest spared them a glance and wondered if they could be bothered to make them less safe.
Rona and Vi walked casually on, oblivious to the attention.
"Africa was . . . something else," Rona was saying as they turned another corner. "The desert at night is . . . is nothing like the desert in California or Nevada. The sounds, the smells, it all felt so alien."
"So was it creepy?" Vi asked.
"Nah, that was the weird part. It felt like coming home, and I don't mean in a whack 'my ancestors were slaves' kind of way. I mean this power, our power, it felt like it was home - like it was at peace there, or something."
"Wow, that's pretty deep," Vi told her, impressed.
Rona chuckled. "Yeah well sitting in a freezing desert chanting with an eighty-six year old Laiboni and waving grass around and praying about cows is deep if nothing else. Deep what, I don't know yet. How was your summer?"
They turned onto another street and Rona's eyes lit up when she spotted a DoubleMeat Palace place half way up the road. She'd been on planes or in airports constantly for the better part of two days and she was so sick of travel food.
Vi dragged her suitcase along on its little wheels and tried to keep up with Rona. "I went home and saw my folks. I thought it would be cool after not seeing them for so long and not even knowing if they were still alive or if they'd been got by the . . ." She broke off and did a stabbing hand gesture reminiscent of Norman Bates. "But it turned out to be a bit boring."
"Yeah well give me a month or two of boring and I won't be complaining."
They'd walked right up to the fast-food joint's plate glass window. Inside was all lit up, but when Rona tried the door it wouldn't open.
"I don't think its open yet," Vi said.
"Doesn't hurt to ask." Rona went and banged on the glass door.
A woman in her twenties looked up. Realizing what they wanted, she shook her head and pointed to a closed sign in the window. Rona held her hands out to the sides and put on her best I'm hungry and all I've eaten for a day is stuff that comes in little tiny tinfoil trays' face, but the woman obviously didn't understand because she went back to her sweeping.
"Why do they do that? They're in there; they've got the grill fired up. How much would it actually cost them to just chuck a burger on it and stick it in a bun?" Rona moaned.
A tall man passed them on the sidewalk and turned into the dark lot behind the restaurant. Rona turned her attention to him.
"Hey, come on, just a box of fries then, I can see them cooking from here. Come on I'm hungry".
The tall man looked down at the two Slayers. "Aren't we all," he said with a smile; it wasn't a very nice smile. "But that's all gonna change soon." He winked and disappeared into the shadowy blackness.
"Uh Rona, do you feel funny?"
"Yeah I do." She was staring after the tall man but now she turned to face the red-head and lowered her voice to barely more than a whisper. "We can take him. He's only one and we're two. What do you say?"
Vi nodded. Stakes materialized out of nowhere to be clenched tightly in sweaty fists. They started inching into the darkness of the parking lot, eyes straining for any movement in front of them. They had reached the rear entrance when they first heard the talking.
Rona swallowed. "Okay so there's two. One each, we've done this before."
Vi crouched down and peered around the corner to see how close the two vampires were. "Uh Rona," she whispered, her heart was battering away inside her chest so loud that she knew if any of the creatures bothered to listen they'd hear her. "It's a little more than one each."
Rona peered around the corner herself.
"Oh . . ."
Twenty feet in front of them, against the back wall of the lot stood close to thirty vampires. Four were in deep conversation with each other and the rest milled around obviously waiting for some command. Most of them were in game face and faint growls reached the girls crouched behind the wall.
". . . crap."
"I think we should forget about the bus and get a cab," Vi whispered, her voice hoarse with panic. "I think we should go get Buffy."
They both backed away just before a polite voice, given a slight lisp due to the fangs, called. "Did anyone smell anything unsavory just then? No? Oh well, must just be me."
The prison gym was alive with the sounds of grunting. Add to this the soft rhythmic thumping and occasional loud bang and anyone might wonder just what was going on in there. The guard standing by the door didn't seem to be to put off by it though; in fact he was looking pretty red in the face over the whole shebang.
Faith tried to ignore him as she pulled Janey off the floor.
"That was better, but you're still leaving yourself wide open after ya kick."
Janey bounced on the balls of her feet a little. "Yeah but if I get him in the jaw with a kick like that then he's going down. I mean you didn't, but we're stronger than them, right?"
Faith fell into combat stance as she answered. "Yeah we are, but even if you take one out with a good move, that still leaves his friend or maybe ten of them to come at you. And you're not going to stand a chance if you're still all off balance from one little kick." She shook her hair out of her eyes, wishing she'd bothered to put it in a pony tail. "Right, let's try again and this time make it so's you land on top."
They started sparring again, both so intent on it that they didn't notice the three faces looking through the barred, dirty window.
Lol wiped some more of the scum off the pane. "Looks like they're trying to learn some self-defense moves." She chuckled, it was a cold sound. "Which we get to pound outta them. Who said the joint ain't jumping."
One of her constant, thick-necked companions wiped her own circle on the glass to see better. "I dunno Lol. They both look pretty handy to me."
"Yeah well that's because they're fighting each other. You don't have to be any good to beat on someone as useless as yourself."
Lolitta's other hench-monkey was standing to the other side of her, her back to the windows as she picked thoughtfully at her teeth with a sliver of wood. "Faith never used to be weak-ass shit. I wanna know what's changed."
Lol looked at her. "She wants to get outta here and so she's playing the good little inmate. We're gonna make her forget about that."
"So what, we just keep on until she snaps and breaks something of ours?"
"You'd prefer it if I broke something of yours?" Lol growled.
The tooth picker just carried on picking.
"We keep on until she snaps so hard and fast that I can guarantee she'll never get out of this place." Lol looked from one minion to the other. "And if she has to kill one of you to guarantee that, so be it."
There was a quiet little snap as a piece of wood broke between two teeth.
"What do you want us to do?"
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