House of The Setting Sun: Pilot
Episode One of the House of the Setting Sun Series

Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters, nor do I make any profit from writing about them. No copyright infringement intended.
Rating: R
Timeline: Set after No Time To Choose.
Summary: Sequel to No Time to Choose; a virtual season eight.


Episode One

Act One

Willow stood outside Buffy's door, plate balanced in one hand, the other poised to knock. She hesitated, not really sure why she'd volunteered for this job. She didn't entirely believe what she'd told Dawn earlier, but with Slayer accuracy, surely if Buffy had been aiming for her sister she wouldn't have missed! Deciding to hope for the best, the best being not decapitation by a plate brimming with breakfast-y goodness, she sighed and went to knock.

"I know you're out there Willow, just come in already," Buffy said from the other side of the closed door.

Willow jumped, the contents of her plate wobbling precariously. She gave a self-conscious giggle and let herself in the room.

"How did you know it was me?" She asked, her eyes flickered around the dark room before landing on Buffy.

"I could hear your brain ticking away while you tried to come up with reasons not to come in," Buffy answered.

Willow raised an eyebrow and made her way to the bed. "Mind if I . . .?" She gestured to the bed with the plate.

"Throw pancakes at me? Sure, why not; after everything we've been through I think we can survive a food fight." Buffy made a great effort to drag herself up until she rested with her back against the pillows. She cleared a space on her messy bed and pointed to it. "Sit."

"So how did you really?" Willow asked again. She set the plate of pancakes on Buffy's knees and handed her a fork.

"The bottom of your slippers make a scratchy noise on the carpet and you were shuffling your feet out there for quite some time." Buffy explained, setting her breakfast and the fork aside.

Willow looked down at her fluffy pink pig slippers. "Way to rat me out guys." She pouted at them.

Shifting on the bed, she began studying her friend in the gloom. "You're not eating your pancakes. I made them special. Funny shapes just for you."

Buffy smiled dolefully. "Just not hungry, I guess. They look good though," she added in an overly perky tone.

Willow picked one up and began nibbling at the edge. "They are good. Full of sugar and butter and milk and other things that fill you with energy and make you want to leave your dark and gloomy bedroom and go out and say, I don't know, be a part of the human race again." Willow hid behind her pancake, peering over the top at Buffy so she could see the attack if it came.

Buffy didn't attack, she just sighed despondently. "I'm not up to human race stuff yet, Will. I'm still recovering from the battle . . ." Willow looked at her, doubtfully, but she soldiered on. ". . .And we agreed it would be cool if I just had a rest, took things easy for a bit." She shrugged. "I'm just getting my head together. I'll be back to all action Buffy soon, I promise."

Willow looked at her kindly. "No one's saying you have to go out slaying. Kennedy and the girls have got that covered, but you should get out of this room at least. Just come downstairs and be with your friends. It's like you've been hibernating ever since . . ." Willow trailed off and looked at her hands.

"Not true. I came shopping with you guys in L.A." Buffy replied, choosing to ignore the direction Willow had been heading in.

"Yeah, and that in itself is worrying. All those clothes shops and you bought four outfits and . . .and you've been living in one of those ever since." Willow gestured to Buffy's stripy pink pajamas.

"And I leave the room, I've left the room lots since we moved in," Buffy pouted.

"To go to the bathroom, or to raid the fridge in the middle of the night. I saw you duck back in here last night Buff, when I was helping Xander to bed. I would have appreciated a little Slayer strength help to be honest."

"Sorry," she said sincerely. Her brow creased with concern. "Is he okay? That's like three times this week, isn't it?"

"No; he managed to put himself to sleep the first night, in the bath. Which gave Ken one hell of a scare when she climbed in half asleep to take a shower." The corners of Buffy lips tugged upwards slightly. "The second time he just passed out in front of the T.V., but last night he wanted to party. I was up getting a glass of milk so luckily I was there to stop him from recreating the Bronze in our living room. He still woke Dawn and obviously you, though."

"I was already awake. I've been a night person for so long it's hard to adjust."

"Well lounging around in bed all day every day won't help with that," Willow stated firmly.

Buffy looked away at the drawn curtains. "I know. I'm just not ready."

"Maybe talking about it would help?" Willow asked. "I mean, you haven't yet. Talked, I mean; about any of it. 'Cause I'm here y'know. We all are, if you want to."

"Thanks, maybe later." Buffy snuggled back down under her covers, effectively ending their conversation.

Willow patted her shoulder through the bed clothes and stood to leave. "I'll see you later then. Try and eat some pancakes, you'll feel better."

She opened the door to go and noticed the cactus Dawn had brought, on the shelf. It wasn't difficult to spot; it was the only thing on the shelf. All of the rest of Buffy's stuff they had bought in L.A. was still strewn around the floor in boxes. The top three inches of the plant lay behind it, wedged between its body and the wall. Willow shook her head at it.

Buffy's voice came muffled from deep in the bed. "Oh yeah, and tell your girlfriend she owes me a plug!"

The small car hurtled down the road with Kennedy behind the wheel. Xander clung on to the armrest, his knuckles turning white with nervous tension.

"Hey Ken, remember about my lack of depth perception and the fact that I only have one eye? Well I still drive better than you."

Kennedy turned and gave him a smile. "Bite me."

"It must be a Slayer thing. Buffy's terrible at it too," Dawn called from the back.

"I am not a bad driver, you're all just wusses." Kennedy explained, looking in the rear view mirror at Dawn while she negotiated the next couple of bends.

"Dear Gods woman, look at the road!" Xander cried, his feet scrambling for an imaginary brake pedal.

"Relax, Xander, there's nothing out here but us. I bet there's not even another car on the whole of this road, ever. We never see any." Kennedy slowed the car marginally to avoid a lump of dead something in the road.

"I wasn't caring about other cars, it was the sign you nearly took out. And what is that?" Xander, Kennedy and Dawn all peered out of the windows at the dead something.

"It doesn't look like your average road-kill, that's for sure," said Dawn.

The mass was hot-pink, with a green stripe over the top. There was a smaller lump sticking out of the side that may have been a head, or a very big boil. It didn't move at all, it just steamed slightly.

"If you'd knocked the sign for the town over, we would have to call this place Bowled Over, not Boudenver," said Andrew, chuckling.

"Er, Supernerd, try and focus." Dawn dug her elbow into his ribs.

Andrew rubbed where she'd elbowed him and whined. "Don't call me that, you know I don't like it; and what's so fascinating about a dead Maritima demon? We've seen much worse stuff than that."

Three heads swiveled towards Andrew, and three sets of eyes showed surprise.

He shrugged it off. "What? As much as you all might like to forget it, I do have some knowledge in this area. I used to be a . . ."

"Yeah Andy, we know," Dawn cut him off. "If you were an action figure, 'I used to be a super villain' would be the line you said when someone pulled your cord."

"That would be sooo cool. I could come with all these accessories, like a set of demon pipes and an invisibility gun and stuff." Andrew sat back again, grinning.

Xander shook his head at Andrew in mock horror. Kennedy began to pull away again.

"Hey, where are we going? Shouldn't we do something about . . . that?" Xander asked.

"Like what? We didn't kill it, we don't have to deal with it. It ain't gonna hurt anybody now it's dead/"

"It wouldn't hurt anyone anyway. They only eat fish," Andrew said from the back.

". . . And my job description says Slayer, not highway clean up crew, so unless you wanna step out and do the job, we're leaving it to the crows."

Xander looked at the thing for a few more seconds, taking in the size and general sludginess of the deceased demon. His nose wrinkled as the smell of the thing started to come through his open window. "The birds."

Kennedy nodded at his good sense and sped off again.

"What do you think killed it? Do you think maybe Buffy was out slaying last night?" Asked Dawn, hopeful that her sister was finally getting back to normal.

Kennedy shrugged. "Didn't see her out and she was still sobbing in her room when I got in from patrol."

"Buffy wouldn't have just left it like that. If she had got it, she'd have buried it," Xander said.

"Yeah, if she could stop wringing her hands and wailing long enough to pick up a shovel." Kennedy slowed slightly as they entered the town's main street.

"Hey, she's going through stuff. She'll be back on top soon," Dawn snapped.

"Yeah well she better make it soon or else this whole Slayer revolution we've got going is gonna pass her by."

"You wouldn't even be a Slayer if it wasn't for my sister, so you should watch what your saying."

Kennedy pulled up in front of the store. "It was Willow who made me a Slayer, not B, and anyway all I'm saying is she needs to get over it. Okay, so she fell hard for Faith, but Faith shot through, which shows just how much she doesn't care about Buffy. Buffy has to think about that. Yeah, okay, so Faith is pretty hot; but she's not worth the state our fearless leader has worked herself up to. Buffy's losing it and it's annoying the rest of you as much as it is me. Don't pretend otherwise."

Dawn looked ready to argue, but Xander stepped in. "Buffy will deal in her own time and us arguing about it isn't going to speed that up, so let's just get some groceries and wood and get on with things."

He got out the car and the others followed.

The shadows flickered in the candle light as it burned low. The figures around the candle sat with bowed heads as the one that was obviously their leader chanted low in a thick Cornish accent.

"That which, she slayed the last
Let rise again and slay her fast
From flesh to dust
From dust to flesh
Use these words to squash our pests."

One of the lesser figures looked up at their leader.

"Thick doon rhyme, mawther."

"It will do, sonny," came his reply.

"We're not exactly spoiled for choice here, are we," moaned Kennedy as she looked over the shelves. They were well stocked, but dull.

"Well it's not exactly K-mart but we won't go hungry." Dawn started shoving cans into her basket.

"How long do you think Xander will be?" Asked Andrew. "Ooh, Oreo's." He grabbed a couple of packets.

"Dunno, however long it takes to buy wood, I guess. I've never done it," Kennedy said, also grabbing items off of the shelves. Every now and then she'd look to the front of the store where three people were gathered around the counter, whispering up a storm with the shop keeper.

"I still think you should have gone with him Andy, to help him carry it," Dawn chastised.

"I would have, but when I carry the wood on my shoulder like Xander showed me, it leaves a dent, and it doesn't go away for days. Remember I showed you?"

"Oh, oh yeah." Dawn felt her ears grow hot and she busied herself grabbing some fresh fruit off a stand.

Kennedy smirked. "Oh he showed you, did he?" She drawled, but before Dawn could give her a sarcastic answer, her attention was dragged back to the front of the shop.

"No, he just . . . What is it?" Dawn also peered up the front.

"They're talking about us." Kennedy's voice was barely audible to her companions.

"Huh? What makes you say that?" Dawn asked while Andrew tilted his head to one side as if it would make him hear better.

"Come on!" Said Kennedy. She grabbed the basket off of Dawn and stormed to the cash register, plonking the basket on the side, she started:

"If you have something to say, say it."

The two old women and one old man who were stood at the counter looked at each other in alarm, then they looked at the shop keeper who was also an old man. Then all four looked at the three shoppers.

"Say again now, darlin." The shop keeper drawled, a nervous smile betraying his casual answer.

"I could hear you talking about us."

"Well how could you hear that?" One of the women, with a bright shock of ginger curls asked, before being jabbed in the ribs by the other woman who had nice grey curls which were much more becoming for a woman of her age.

"Doesn't matter how, all that matters is that I did. I heard you saying to him that you couldn't be having with all these strangers poking around."

"Now why would she say that?" Asked the man who wasn't the shop keeper. "This here's a tourist town."

Dawn rolled her eyes. "This is a tourist town?"

"Well yeah, of course it is. Y'see they come for the lake and then stay for the hospitality." The old man opened his mouth to laugh, showing the three teenagers a healthy set of gums and not much else.

Kennedy pointed her finger at him. "No, she definitely said that and then you said 'Don't pay them no mind, they'll be upping stakes and heading back to the city soon enough'. And then she said . . ." she jabbed her finger in the grey haired lady's direction, ". . . just as well, we don't need them sort around here'. I want to know what you meant by that."

All four looked at her blankly. The shop keeper shrugged too.

"Uh Kennedy, maybe we should leave these nice people to it and go wait for Xander by the car." Andrew began tugging at her sleeve.

"I heard them say it." She was adamant.

"Well maybe you're hearing things, Lass," said the shop keeper.

Kennedy clenched her hands into fists and was about to storm out, but Dawn stopped her.

"Hang on, you have to help carry the groceries." Dawn smiled sweetly at the shop keeper. "That is, if my associate hasn't just soured our chance of eating in this town."

The ginger haired lady moved aside and to let Dawn get to the basket. "Of course not dear, you go ahead."

The shop keeper started to ring up the goods. "Just remember, nobody likes being accused of things," he told her, while shooting a nasty look at Kennedy. In fact they were all giving her bad looks, Dawn noticed.

Kennedy stood and stared blankly at the wall behind them like she hadn't realized she was on the receiving end of some frozen attitude. Andrew smiled nervously at everyone.

When the shop keeper had finished, he handed the bag to Dawn and gave her a grandfatherly smile. "There you go. Have a nice day now."

Dawn smiled back and Kennedy took the heavy bag and stormed out of the shop without looking back. Andrew and Dawn followed after her.

All was quiet within the shop for a few seconds, until Ginger haired lady broke the silence.

"Ooh, that is a feisty one. How did she hear us anyway?"

"She probably didn't," replied the old man. "She was just paranoid. These city types are always paranoid, it's working with all that money. Makes 'em a little crazy."

Grey-haired lady stepped onto her soap box next. "Well it's not right, whatever they're like. You can't have a house with a dozen girls and only two boys living there, it's perverse. And did I tell you what I saw the other night? Well, that cheeky one that was just in here, I saw her strolling around the church yard with a bunch of the young lasses with her, and I think there was some violence and most likely vandalism going on, too. Obviously I didn't like to get too close but what else would they be doing in a grave yard in the middle of the night?"

"It's the city; it stops people being decent," said the old man.

"And all them girls only seem to come out at night. Where are they going, you wonder. It's true, as soon as the sun sets they're out roaming the streets. Their parents should do something," said the ginger haired lady. "Goodness knows what they're up to."

"Probably out street walking, that's what they do in the city," the old man revealed.

The shop keeper smiled at them all but kept quiet. It was amazing the gossip you heard in a small shop in a small town. Much better than city gossip, definitely.

Willow decided she liked gardening. She was out in the fresh air, with the sun on her back and the wind in her hair. In fact, gardening made her feel positively poetic.

She also liked it because it made her feel connected to things. The Earth, Mother Nature, the elements. It reminded her of her time in England, the time she'd spent pulling the flower through the earth from Paraguay. Even though this morning's gardening was being done in a non-supernatural way with a cut-sized trowel and mini spade, it still helped keep her in tune with where her magic came from; her connection to the planet she called home.

She sat back on her heels for a minute, cast the small spade aside and wiped at her sweaty brow. Doing it this way was definitely more strenuous though, she mused. Smiling to herself, she wondered if she could convince Kennedy to take a nap with her after she got back from town. It wasn't normally that hard to talk her girlfriend into that kind of thing. The only drawback might be that Kennedy actually wanted to sleep to make up for what she'd missed the night before. Willow sighed; now that Ken had taken over the patrolling, and what with having a much wider area to patrol, she wasn't getting home until three most nights, and this morning she had been rudely awoken with Buffy's tribute to 'Beaches' which had not left her a happy little Slayer.

Willow looked up at the window to Buffy's bedroom but the curtains were still shut tight. She caught movement out of the corner of her eyes and turned her head towards it, but there was nothing there. Chuckling at herself for being so jumpy, she carried on working at weeding out the flower garden, every now again casting glances at the three new Slayers that were working on digging a vegetable plot. She could hear them whispering but couldn't make out the words.

"Yes, well I heard she's averted seven apocalypses." Said a young blonde girl as she dug her spade easily into the soil and lifted it to loosen the earth.

"Shouldn't that be apocali?" Asked another girl. Her hair was black, so black it looked to almost have a blue sheen in the bright glare of the sun.

The blonde shrugged. "Dunno, but if saving the world sends you doolally, then you can keep it." She continued to dig effortlessly.

"Come on Alison, doolally is so not a word, and even if it was, she's not. I heard her sister Dawn say that she took some hard hits in the big battle and she was just recovering," the girl with the black hair responded, waving a packet of seeds around as she gestured.

"Well I've been here since the day after they moved in and she hasn't left her room once. That's not recovering, that's reclusing, Miranda," said Alison.

"I heard her boyfriend died in the big battle," said a third girl. She had been quiet up until then, studying a hoe. "That's got to send you slightly - doolally, was it?" She flipped her long auburn hair over one shoulder and gave the gardening tool another curious look.

"Yeah well, her last boyfriend was a vampire . . ." Alison began.

Miranda's mouth opened in shock. "No, really? But she's a Slayer."

"Yep really. So I'm thinking she must have been pretty crazy to begin with. Cici, are you going to use that thing or just admire it all day?"

Cici looked up from her examination. "Well I assume this bit goes in the ground." She flicked the metal head with her fingers. "But I'm not sure what happens after that," she said with an apologetic expression.

Buffy was pacing around her room, again. Everyone thought she'd spent the week lounging around in her bed, but really this had been her main activity. Her room was not large, approximately the same size as her bedroom back home had been.

"Gotta stop thinking like that," she chastised herself. "This is home now, whether I like it or not."

It didn't take long to pace around it. She started off by the door, marched up towards the window, took a sharp right, and marched round the foot of the bed; then another sharp right until she hit the wall, about turn and reverse the order until she reached the door. It took about thirty seconds. She had done it a few thousand times a day since they'd moved in, trying to spur herself into some sort of action, trying to make up her mind what she wanted to do next and wondering what she had done so wrong to end up like this.

She knew her friends were concerned for her and that she needed them around right now to anchor her, but she couldn't bear to see them looking at her pitifully; thinking of her as the poor, broken-hearted, wrecked Dumpee she had become. But she wasn't ready to let go of her anger and pain at losing the person she loved either, which meant she couldn't go down there and mingle and pretend to care about every day life like they wanted her to.

She snarled in frustration and flopped down on the bed. Reaching under her pillow, she pulled out a worn, well creased sheet of paper. Reading it brought tears to her eyes as if by magic. No matter how all cried out she felt, one look at the letter brought on a fresh wave, but she couldn't help it. It was the only thing she had left connecting her to Faith and she hoped with each re-reading to be able to stop caring; to see the words for what they really were, but it hadn't happened yet.

With the letter still in her hand, she got up and started pacing again. She would go after her if she had a clue where to begin. If she had one clue of where to start looking for the rogue Slayer, she'd be out there right now, searching until she found her and was able to beat her into a senseless pulp for doing this to her. For turning her into another notch on the belt that she so hadn't wanted to be. For finding new ways to hurt her, even though she hadn't wanted to.

Even when she was angry Buffy knew she couldn't lay all the blame at Faith's feet. She had pushed the other woman into committing that night, even though she knew Faith was reluctant. Faith had said she had plans, had said she had places to be, but Buffy had at least expected her to be there in the morning.

She didn't know why she expected that; Faith's departure was true to form. Yet Buffy had seen the love in Faith's eyes, and she knew they felt the same way, so why was Faith still running?

Buffy slammed her hands into the sides of her head in frustration at the stupidness of it all.

"Damn you. If you want to throw away the best thing that ever happened to either of us, then far be it from me to get in your way. I've got better things to do with my time than mope over you, Faith."

She flung the door open and stomped out into the hall and down the stairs.

"Jeez, alright, no need to push, I'm out." Faith stumbled slightly as she fell out of the van. Slayer agility managed to keep her on her feet, despite the fact her hands were cuffed behind her impairing her balance.

A woman dressed in a guards uniform jumped out the back of the white van with the words Northern California Women's Facility emblazoned on the side. Another guard, a man this time, came around from the driver's door and grabbed her by the arm and started propelling her towards the doors of the large, imposing court house.

"Hey, don't touch what you can't afford, jerk-off," she growled.

He ignored her and pushed her up the steps to the door. Despite her verbal challenges, Faith went with them as meekly as she could.

Willow looked up towards the back door to see Buffy standing there gazing around.

"Hey sleepyhead," she called.

Buffy offered her a weak smile in return and continued to look out across the garden as if she hadn't seen it before. Which, Willow surmised, she probably hadn't unless she'd bothered looking out of her window at all.

Deciding to leave her to it for fear of scaring her back upstairs, the witch returned to the garden. She'd finished the weeding, handfuls of Ground Ivy now surrounded her on the lawn. The tiny blue flowers were pretty, but to leave it in the ground would have meant certain strangulation for all the new plants she'd brought. It had taken some hours but it was a job well done and it did look a lot better. There were already some flowers in the patch and Willow had brought some more to add to it. Not only would they look pretty, but she hoped at some point she'd be able to grow most of the plants she needed for her spells.

She looked around for the little spade she had set aside earlier but couldn't see it. She began to crawl up the garden, searching for it in the ankle high grass, when all of a sudden something stung her on the ass.

"Ouch!" She swatted at her butt with her hand but felt nothing there but a burning sensation under her shorts. Before she could get to her feet, she was stung again on the ankle. She whirled around wildly, again exclaiming her pain, but there were no insects hovering around that looked like they might want to attack her.

She looked down at her bare ankle as was surprised to find a little tear in her skin. There was a trickle of blood flowing from it and she wiped it away, wondering what could have caused it.

Before she could wonder long, there was another flash of pain across the thigh of her other leg. She tried to jump up and away and was horrified to find she couldn't. Whatever was stinging or biting her was holding her in place.

"Oh Goddess," she squealed when she looked down and saw the leafy green tendril wrapped around her leg.

She gripped the Ground Ivy with both hands and pulled as hard as she could until it snapped, then she scrambled to her feet. Spinning around intent on making a dash for the door, she was startled to see a lovely flowering Foxglove suddenly rear up and gnash its petals at her threateningly.

With a squeal she fell backwards into the garden and screamed, "Buffy!"

Buffy was already halfway there before Willow shouted. She'd watched her friend start acting strangely and when she'd heard the redhead say ouch, she'd assumed she had caught her finger on a thorn or something. But when Willow began thrashing about dancing with the flowers, Buffy decided it was time to get over there and help bring her best friend down from whatever mind bending drugs she had taken.

When she saw the Foxglove waving around in front of her like a dancing cobra, Buffy was about to accuse Willow of slipping more of the same drugs in her pancakes and therefore peer-pressuring her into a life of narcotic dependence and cop dodging, but decided that would take to long and settled for kicking the plant and its pot high into orbit.

"Buffy!" Willow squealed again as she felt another sting or bite, this time to her left shoulder.

Buffy wasn't sure what was wrong, but she grabbed the hand Willow was waving around wildly and yanked her best friend to her feet.

A succession of pops was heard as one by one, little sucker pods left Willow's skin and fell back to the earth.

Buffy pushed Willow out of the way as another snaky arm of Ivy left the ground and shot though the air towards her. The Slayer moved aside and grabbed it with both hands. Immediately it began to wind around her fists, binding her to it.

She grunted in effort as she ripped it apart and flung it away. Spotting a pair of secateurs left by the rose patch, she flipped out of the way of the Ivy which this time was creeping for her feet and snatched them up.

Willow had run off and Buffy could see three girls off to the side watching her, but she remained focused on the weeds. Inching forward, with the secateurs held out in front of her, she advanced on them.

"I think it's time I cut you down to size," she told them and then lunged. Snipping with superhuman speed, she soon had the tendrils in small pieces.

Some of them continued to move feebly and she watched them until something stung her on the ankle. She looked down and saw a milky green pod stuck to her ankle.

"Damn, forgot about you suckers." She pulled her ankle away and lifted it to stamp down hard. The pods her foot squashed burst open, spraying a greyish fluid over the ground. She carried on stomping until the nameless plant pods were all destroyed.

"Buff, move aside," Willow said, coming up behind her.

Buffy stepped to one side and watched as the witch poured a steaming substance onto the weeds and plants.

"That a witchy brew?" She asked.

"Nah, just boiling water. It works on most garden pests so I thought, y'know, worth a try."

They both watched as the Ivy ceased its creepy movement and the sticky quashed pod plant shriveled up and turned a sickly yellow.

"Guess it worked." Buffy looked up at the three girls. "You okay?" They all nodded silently. "Well, good. It's probably best if you stay away from this bit for a while." They all nodded again. Buffy gave them a bemused look and turned to help a limping Willow back into the kitchen.

Xander whistled as he walked down yet another alley. This town had four main streets and only half a dozen shops, but in alley ways it out-shone Sunnydale by miles. The man behind the counter at the grocery store had told him the lumber yard was behind the tavern and to his right, but despite following those instructions to the letter, so far he hadn't found it. He was getting the feeling he was wandering around in circles. He was also getting the feeling that he was being followed, hence the whistling. A casual demeanor was everything when it came to switching from surprise-ee to surpriser, which is what he intended to do as soon as whatever monster was following him, showed itself.

He came to another split in the alley way. Down one he could see the main street again. That was where the car was parked, that was where he had entered this maze. Opting for the other alley, he resumed whistling.

This one was narrower than the first and despite the bright sun overhead, the path remained in shadows. He could hear whispering behind him, or was it above him? He wasn't sure, but whispering meant more than one monster. Unless it was a monster with multiple identity issues.

'Okay,' he thought, 'two monsters are harder than one, but I'm a pro at this, I can handle it.'

On that thought, he spun around to face his shadowers and was startled when four or five figures jumped from the low roof of the adjoining building and landed in front of him. Before he could defend himself, he was being pelted with hard missiles.

"Hey!" He shouted as one struck him on the right ear.

"Shut up, wolf," one of his four and a half foot attackers told him.

"Wha. . . Wolf?" Xander questioned. Another - stone, was it? - smacked him in the chest and he fell back a few paces.

"We know what you are, and we don't want your sort here," another cried.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Xander insisted. He was getting worried now; his adversaries looked like children. He had a hunch they were children - the children of Super Bowl champions if their throwing arms were anything to go by.

"Course you don't, wolf." Another boy hurled a stone the size of a rock and caught him on the forehead.

Xander grunted in pain and dropped to his knees. His hands flew to his head and encountered wet blood from a 'rock' sized gash. "Wha . . .?"

"We knows it's you," another assailant told him. "Georgie shot a wolf inna eye on Friday, and we never found no body, and now here you are." The boy who said this looked no older than ten to Xander, but he still swore to himself he'd beat him black and blue when the chunk of wood he threw caught the one eyed man squarely across the side of the head and almost knocked him out.

He curled his body up in a ball, too dazed to do anything else, and just waited for the shower of projectiles to stop.

Act Two

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