servatis a periculum. servatis a maleficum
Cars snaked down the busy highway, one after another, their headlights coursing along the asphalt like an endless, glowing river. The interior of the 4Runner hummed with restless, unspent energy. Conversations rose and fell among the occupants and nervous eyes scanned every passing car through the dirty windows. Faith kept the radio off; fighting over the station with the others had put her on edge five minutes into the drive and she needed to stay focused.
The occasional swipe of the windshield wipers was barely audible over the whine of the engine as Faith shifted gears into an open spot of road. Her eyes flicked to the rearview mirror and to the darkened faces of her passengers in the seat behind her. Rona was staring out the window attempting to look bored, but the pinched edges of her eyes and mouth were giving her away. Vi was staring out the windshield with wide eyes. Every so often she looked over to her seatmate and opened her mouth as if she was about to say something, but other than a few choice words about the weather, nothing came out of her attempts at conversation. Kennedy shifted in the front passenger seat and let out a loud breath.
“I can’t believe you fucked Buffy,” she said abruptly, staring hard at Faith.
Faith’s grip tightened slightly on the steering wheel and the look of concentration on her face gave way to something between a smirk and a grimace, but gave no other reply.
“Oh c’mon, that’s it?! Pfft… I can’t believe you aren’t bragging about banging the original Chosen One. I mean, c’mon Faith: how was she?” Kennedy twisted in her seat to better face Faith while Rona and Vi tried to stifle the laughter that wanted to come bubbling out.
Faith slid her eyes Kennedy’s direction while passing an orange and white taxi. “I thought you were all mystical Zen-girl now?”
“What, I’m not allowed a little fun? Let’s hear it.” Kennedy leaned forward eagerly, her brown eyes gleaming an unnatural hue as the pickup in front of the 4Runner hit the brakes to avoid a slow moving sedan.
Faith shifted uncomfortably in her seat, shrugging her shoulders. Her jaw worked for several long seconds as she searched for the right words. She felt a smile tugging at her lips and immediately clenched her teeth in response. “It was… I dunno…”
Silence permeated the inside of the truck once more as the other women digested Faith’s noncommittal answer. Kennedy quirked an eyebrow and glanced to the backseat.
“Damn… that bad, huh?” Realization bloomed over her face in a sly smile. “Or that good?”
“Kennedy, I have three words for you: Shut. The fuck. Up.”
Kennedy smiled haughtily, blinking her eyes rapidly. “That’s four, genius, and you’re totally not getting out of this. Unless…” She gasped dramatically and rested a hand on Faith’s tense forearm. “She was totally your first, wasn’t she?”
“What?” Faith scoffed, swerving in the lane. “No way, Ken.”
“Yeah, Kennedy,” Rona interjected. “What are you talking about? She and Robin totally got down back in Sunnydale, and Xander could hardly shut up about the night he boned her.”
Faith swallowed heavily and spared another glance in the rearview mirror, sharing a grimace with Vi.
“First woman, slowpokes,” Kennedy sighed. She poked Faith sharply in the leg with her index finger. “She totally popped your lesbo-cherry, didn’t she?”
“Why is this so interesting to ya, Ken?” Faith asked, shaking her head. “Hmm? Think you might have the hots for her yourself, wanting to know all the dirty details.”
Sputtering with laughter that none of the other three could ascertain was entirely genuine, Kennedy rocked back in her seat, struggling slightly as the seatbelt tightened with her movements. “No fucking way do I want anything from Little Miss Tight-Ass.”
“Oh, and what a tight ass it is,” Faith chuckled.
“I don’t know, Faith,” Vi chimed in, “if anyone has a crush on anyone, I think Dawn likes you.”
There was a momentary pause in the laughter as they all turned to stare at the redhead. Vi looked around at them with wide green eyes.
“No, see, ‘cause before you came back to Sunnydale from, you know, the big house she told us lots of stories. Like, everything. And I was under the impression that you must’ve broken her heart or something with the way she was warning all of us against you, how you’d turn around and betray us.” Vi looked to Rona then Kennedy for support in her argument and finding none, took a deep breath and looked out her window as a shower began to pelt it with fat droplets of hydrogen and oxygen.
“D said all that?” Faith’s voice had dropped into its lower registers, made raspy by suppressed emotion and too many cigarettes.
“I think it was mostly just her remembering Faith hurting her sister and their friends. I didn’t get the crush-vibe.” Rona told Vi in an attempt to placate her.
Kennedy waved her hand dismissively. “Even if she did have a crush on Faith back in the day, she’s totally turned her attention elsewhere. You guys’ve seen how close she’s getting to Xander, right?”
“Yes!” Vi exclaimed, turning from the window and leaning forward between the two front seats excitedly. “That’s gotta be illegal. I mean, he’s practically her brother.” Rona and Kennedy both added their two cents with groans of disapproval.
“Cool it, guys, I think the Xan-man’s safe from any incest charges. I sleep in the next room and all I’ve been hearing through the wall is him sawin’ logs.”
“You never answered my question,” Kennedy announced abruptly, turning her attention once more to Faith.
“Ken, I told ya once and I’m tellin’ you for the last time, alright? Drop it. I’m not gonna tell you how Buffy was in the sack. You’re just gonna have to find out for yourself.” Faith down-shifted hard into fourth gear and the engine roared as it passed a minivan in the center lane.
“I’ll pass, thanks. And that wasn’t the question I was referring to.”
“Oh yeah? Then what was?”
“Did she pop your lesbo-cherry?”
“You made that word up,” Rona insisted.
“No, she didn’t, aight?” Faith seethed, ignoring Rona’s comment to direct all of her attention to Kennedy and the highway ahead. “That honor belongs to the Fanged One in the cargo hold.”
First Vi, then Rona, and finally Kennedy craned her neck to observe Dylan, chained in the cargo hold at the very back of the 4Runner.
“Yeah man, I know you swear by your kinks and all that, but that’s just a whole other level of –”
“Aw, sick, Rona! When she was human. Jesus.” Faith shifted in her seat, her face scrunched up awkwardly. “We were on our way here, had a long couple days on the road, got drunk and had a little fun. And before you even ask, Ken, no I will not compare and contrast Buffy and Dylan’s performance between the sheets.”
Kennedy rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically. “Aw c’mon, Faith. Buffy’s so tightly wound there’s no way she could hold up her end of a sixty-nine. There’s gotta be something she’s bad at, am I right?”
“Driving.” Faith, Rona and Vi said simultaneously.
“Huh?” Kennedy looked between the three of them, confusion etched on her face.
“Girl can’t drive for shit.” Rona clarified, inspecting her nails.
“You’d think she’d get a different color car,” Vi mused. “It’s not like she needs to draw any more attention to the fact that she can barely stay in her own lane!”
“I know, right?” Faith slowed down to maneuver around a slow pocket of traffic. “I mean, I’ve faced my share of vamps, demons, prison gangs and Blondie herself with a knife to the gut, but bein’ a passenger when she’s behind the wheel is hands down the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It only happened the once, back in SunnyD when she was still in high school, and it will never happen again. If that thing in her stomach turns out to be a baby – my baby – I’ll be the one teachin’ it to drive.” She punctuated her decree by swerving around a semi and crossing three crowded lanes to exit the freeway.
“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” Rona scoffed. Kennedy and Vi joined in her chuckling as Faith stopped short at a stop light at the bottom of the exit ramp.
“Ow.” Vi rubbed her collar bone where the seatbelt dug in. “Since when do we have to drive to go patrolling, anyway?”
“Yeah, is the Hellmouth taking over the entire state of Ohio now?” Rona asked sarcastically, pulling at her own too-tight seatbelt.
“God, I hope so,” Faith mumbled, peering past the hood for on-coming traffic as she pulled the 4Runner out into the intersection. She made a quick left and then another, directing the truck into a residential area.
“Nah, Giles is just paranoid that every little demon is this ‘summoner’ thing he keeps reading about. Now that I got his golden girl knocked up he’s gettin’ all demanding about it.” Faith tried to joke, but the tightness in her features gave her away. The others remained quiet.
A house near the end of the street came into view. It appeared abandoned: while the other houses on the block were adorned with well-kept lawns and warm porch lights, this house had fallen into ruin. The windows were boarded up and the yard was barren. Weeds had grown through cracks in the driveway and kudzu had overtaken the far side of the house. The house sat alone on a three-quarter acre lot, surrounded on three sides by a wooden fence. Its neighbor to the right was a vacant lot. To the left, the neighbors had let their hedges grow wild and tall, blocking their view of the eyesore next door.
As Faith drove closer to the end of the block, Dylan began to growl. The sound came from deep in her chest, a low incessant whine that put the four Slayers even further on edge.
“What was this thing’s deal again?” Vi asked, her voice high and tinny over the sounds emanating from the cargo hold.
“I think Giles said something about it feasting on reproductive organs,” Kennedy answered, not sounding all that sure herself.
“It’s a chameleon,” Rona supplied. “It needs the reproductive organs of whatever species it’s mimicking to keep up the disguise.”
“Wait, so it can look like other things? I mean, other than humans. What if it’s decided to look like a-a rat or something?” Vi’s voice rose higher and higher as her imagination gave way to panic.
“Everybody just chill, aight?” Faith parked the truck and got out as the engine shuddered into dormancy. “Last anybody reported a disappearance from this neighborhood, they said they saw some creepy dude hanging around.” The others reluctantly vacated their seats to follow Faith. “That was only a couple days ago. Chances are, he’s still tryin’ to blend in with the populace.”
“Any ideas how we can kill it?” Kennedy asked as she climbed over the gear shift and out the driver’s side door.
“Oh, the usual, probably. Chop its head off, light it on fire, stake through the heart.” Faith winked at the others as she opened the tailgate. The volume and intensity of Dylan’s growling had reached a crescendo and Rona and Vi warily eyed the houses nearby, hoping they weren’t drawing too much attention to themselves.
“Do you really think she’s necessary?” Vi asked aloud, her eyes still scanning the quiet suburban street. “I mean, there are four of us.”
Faith raised a hand to the back of her neck, her eyes staring blankly into the cargo hold as if the question had stumped her completely. Kennedy walked up beside her and pulled a metal case from the truck. She quickly assembled the tranquilizer gun and slung it over her shoulder before reaching in and unlocking the chains that were connecting the Primal’s wrists to her ankles.
Dylan rose slowly, her lips pulled back in a snarl and baring sharp, gleaming fangs. She ambled out of the back of the truck on her hind legs, hunched unnaturally at the shoulders.
“She was getting restless,” Kennedy offered over her shoulder as she followed Dylan toward the house.
Rona and Vi took that as their cue, collecting an axe each from a trunk of weapons in the cargo hold. They followed Kennedy silently, flanking either side of the darkened structure. Faith paused, listening to their footfalls as they each reached the fence. She listened to the night go silent as Dylan’s growling ceased and the footsteps of the other Slayers faded. She listened to the creak of the front door as Kennedy pushed it open and the wobble of old wood as Vi and Rona scaled either side of the fence.
She continued staring into the back of her truck, wondering when exactly she had moved her belongings out of it. She could see the pile of miscellany sitting in the basement and her clothes neatly folded and put away in the dresser in her room. She closed her eyes as she heard Kennedy shut the door behind her.
Faith sprinted silently up the driveway, sword in hand, slowing only when she reached the edge of the porch. She waited until she heard Vi and Rona enter the back door before slowly, carefully slipping inside.
She wasn’t prepared for the smell, for the way the house reeked of death and rot and so much offal. She stepped gingerly through what had once been a living room. Body parts littered the floors in various states of decay. Faith glanced up a flight of stairs and her bowels shuddered at the sight waiting for her there. Squeezing her eyes shut and breathing rapidly through her nose, she composed herself long enough to move into the kitchen.
The first thing she noticed as she stepped on the cracked and peeling linoleum was that Dylan was cowering behind Kennedy, red and brown eyes alike wide and focused. She followed their collective gaze to a door on the far side of the kitchen.
Bloody handprints adorned the bottom of the door and the floor beneath it. Several sets of parallel grooves lined the floor. Faith could only assume they were made by human fingernails clawing at the linoleum and she felt bile rise in her throat.
She spared a tense glance to Kennedy, who mouthed the word “basement.” Faith nodded and hesitated for only a moment before stepping toward the door. The floor creaked beneath her feet and she held her breath. A noise behind them, from deeper within the house caused both Slayers to turn warily. Metal gleamed in the pale light as Vi and then Rona filed into the kitchen, their faces pale and drawn.
“You went upstairs, huh?” Faith asked with a humorless chuckle.
“Your mistake,” said a voice like nails on a chalkboard behind her, so inhuman in its tone that it felt to Faith that her ears were trying to curl themselves into her skull in horror.
Dylan chose that moment to resume her growling, causing Rona to jump slightly. Faith focused on the task at hand, feeling the air shift as Kennedy adjusted her position behind her. Faith turned her head in slow motion, blinking once, then twice, and when her eyes reopened a third time the basement door was ajar and a hideous, manlike creature was standing in its frame.
His body was thin and his face was pale with eyes that were just slightly too large and wide-set to pass for human. He grinned at his unexpected visitors and his teeth glistened metallically in the dim light shining into the room between the slabs of wood covering the window.
Faith and Kennedy jumped back as one as he darted forward, skinless hands outstretched to reveal sharp metallic claws. Rona and Vi barely had time to raise their weapons in any sort of offensive posture before they were being pushed back into the corridor leading to the living room.
As the Slayers found their composure, the Primal found that she was free and immediately attacked. The creature screeched and leapt back as the Primal attempted to tackle him with fangs bared. He lashed out with those claws and connected solidly with her shoulder, ripping tissue and tendons as he went. The Primal roared and all four Slayers shuddered involuntarily at the sound. Faith was the first to regain her senses, charging forward with her sword.
“I know you like to eat ‘em; let’s see if you got ‘em, you fucking sicko.”
Her sword sliced through the air and into the creature’s body at the juncture between his legs, sticking there with a sickly thud. Grayish blood oozed out of the wound but the creature was otherwise unfazed. He smiled maniacally, those metal teeth gleaming sharply in the light. Lunging forward, he grabbed the hilt of the sword, just barely missing Faith’s hands with those razor claws.
Before he had a chance to turn it around on her, though, Kennedy stepped forward, a maniacal grin of her own spreading over her face as she raised one of the axes and swung it like a homerun hitter. Gray blood splattered all over the door and unused refrigerator as his head tumbled away from his body, landing on the floor beside Dylan with a soft thud. His body fell just behind it, squelching against the linoleum as blood gushed from the wound, its acrid stench quickly overtaking the other horrors of the house.
A thick silence overtook them as they stood in shock and awe, waiting to see if anything more was in store for them.
“Is that it?” Vi asked, voicing their thoughts exactly. “I mean, not that this isn’t, y’know, awful, but Giles made it sound –”
“Yeah, well, like Faith said, Giles is a little high-strung right now on this prophecy thing,” Kennedy interrupted, handing the axe back to Rona.
“Easy come, easy go, I guess. What’s the protocol here, anyway?” Faith chimed in, turning to Vi and Rona. “There’s gotta be at least ten different bodies in that room and I don’t even wanna know what’s upstairs or downstairs.”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Rona scoffed, sliding her eyes in Vi’s direction.
“I guess… I guess we could call the cops?” Faith instantly tensed at the suggestion as she bent to pick up her sword.
“Y’know, like an anonymous tip from a payphone or something. Somebody needs to know about this and I don’t really think we’re equipped for this sort of thing. Especially right now with… everything,” Vi quickly added.
“Yeah, that’s actually not a bad plan. We’ll take care of that on the way home,” Kennedy said, prodding Dylan with the butt of the tranquilizer gun.
“We? What, she know how to work a phone now?” Faith joked, stepping aside to let them pass.
Kennedy didn’t reply as she crossed into the living room, Dylan reluctantly leading the way. Kennedy stopped once to peer through the gaps between the boards covering the front windows and upon deciding the coast was clear, opened the door and walked out into quiet night. Vi and Rona followed a moment later, moving quickly and with purpose to escape the awful house.
Faith trailed behind, her steps slow and methodical, her eyes taking in every ounce of blood and gore, of torture and chaos evident in the living room, on the stairs. The battle was over and the demon was dead, but somehow Faith couldn’t help but feel that this was only a taste of what was to come.
She crossed the threshold and closed the door gently behind her. Breathing in the refreshing scent of rain on warm asphalt, she shivered.