In the living room of the Scoobies' house, the television, tuned to Animal Planet, played on, blissfully unaware that its avid viewers were somewhat less than attentive. To the television, at any rate. The screen could have been projecting the secret, inner thoughts of the world's most fascinating people, and Dawn and Grip still wouldn't have spared it a glance.
The young couple was snuggled cozily on the couch, their eyes only for each other. Dawn smiled, even through the soft kiss, and Grip couldn't help but echo it as his thumb stroked her cheek. They separated, just enough to open their eyes and smile wider, then like their lips had been magnetized, they were drawn together again. Dawn's hands, seemingly of their own volition, began to snake their way under the back of Grip's shirt and she grinned again – until the front door burst open and the pair jerked apart.
Recovering smoothly, Grip's demeanor betrayed no sense of impropriety, and he watched the living room entrance with a welcoming expression. By complete contrast, Dawn immediately began adjusting her shirt, smoothing back her hair, adjusting her shirt again, trying to find a less incriminating seating position, and then adjusting her shirt a final time. As her sister's voice reached her ears, she added blushing to her repertoire.
"...experience I'll never forget," Buffy was commenting as the front door closed.
Xander's agreement was absolute as he spoke over the sounds of keys jangling and removal of coats. "It's amazing how much you can learn about a person by how they sing 'Love to Love You Baby'."
"There will be payback for this," Willow promised in a deceptively calm tone, "mark my words."
Dawn had mostly managed to compose herself as the trio entered, although the toothily innocent smile she flashed lived at least two zip codes away from completely genuine.
"Buffy!" Her tone was excessively perky and somewhat skittish. "Hi! Hi guys!"
If Buffy noticed Dawn's jittery behavior, she certainly didn't remark on it. Simply reciprocating the smile, she turned and grabbed the mail from a nearby table, flipping through the envelopes before glancing briefly at the couple on the couch.
"Hey Grip," the Slayer told him with a friendly nod of acknowledgment.
"Hey Miss Summers," he replied, cordially and calmly, although the glint in his eye betrayed his amusement at Dawn's nervousness. He inclined his head toward Willow and Xander. "Hi guys."
Arching an all-knowing eyebrow, Willow looked to Xander with a smirk. His lips curled in a grin that could be best described as "wicked". Moving toward the pair, Willow threw herself down next to Dawn while Xander perched on the arm of the couch next to Grip. Dawn threw furtive glances at each of them and began wringing her hands in her lap.
"Grip was helping me with stuff," she began.
"I'll bet," agreed Xander.
Dawn hastened to clarify. "School stuff."
"Biology?" inquired Willow sweetly.
This earned the witch a wide-eyed blink from the incredulous Dawn, but Willow only returned the smile, as though it were the most natural assumption in the world to make. Buffy took up residence in Xander's chair and continued to sort through the mail.
Xander gestured toward the television. "So, what're we watching?"
"Nature show," Dawn told him quickly.
Xander nodded. "Ahh, animals. Nice topic. Very relatable, seein' as how we all are one, last I heard." He affixed the teenagers with a pointed stare. "So what's it about?"
Dawn and Grip glanced at the screen, now in the throes of a commercial. They exchanged the briefest of looks, neither having even the slightest clue.
"Sea turtles," stated Grip confidently.
"Bugs," came Dawn's response at the same time.
"Sea turtles and bugs," Grip amended without missing a beat. "It's a look at the differing ecological structures in the sea turtle and insect native habitats."
The show resumed. Featured quite prominently was a huge bear, munching lazily on a shaft of bamboo.
"And also pandas," reported Grip, his grin never faltering.
"That's a pretty complex show ya got there," remarked Willow wryly.
Grip nodded in her direction. "Well knowing is half the battle."
The corner of Xander's mouth twitched upward. "The other half is a more ... hands-on experience?"
Dawn shrank against the cushions. She seemed regretful when they didn't swallow her whole.
"This all sounds really fascinating," announced Buffy, intently scanning the contents of an open envelope, "but it's almost 1am and I believe you two must continue that uphill knowledge battle bright and early tomorrow, so ..."
Dawn's expression immediately grew sunnier, instantly latching onto a most fortuitous opportunity to exit this nightmare.
"Yes!" She confirmed exuberantly. "Yes, so ..." She hopped to her feet. "So Grip, thank you for helping me with—" Dawn turned pointedly toward Willow, "—my history."
Willow tucked her legs beneath her. "Do you think they're doomed to repeat it?" she asked Xander.
"That depends," pondered the carpenter for a second. "Do you think we're doomed to keep walkin' in on it?"
Dawn's eyes grew wide with horror. She seized Grip's arm and hauled him up from the couch. "Oh my god. Leave. Leave quickly."
Stifling a laugh, Grip took the insinuations in stride and good-naturedly allowed Dawn to propel him toward the front door. Still seated on the couch, Willow and Xander leaned forward in an effort to watch the hurried departure, courtesy of Dawn's insistent pushing.
Safe from their line of vision in the foyer, Dawn rolled her eyes. "What are they, like nine? I am so beyond sorry."
Reaching out, Grip squeezed her hand. "Nah, don't be. Tonight was good," he told her gently.
"It really was," smiled Dawn, embarrassment all but forgotten. "I wish you didn't have to go so soon though..." She shook her head in amazement. "I still can't believe we're back in school! This summer just flew by."
"It did," nodded Grip before adding, "Well except for that bit where you were away in England. That part flew less. There was, in fact, little to no flying involved. It was mostly idling on the tarmac."
"I know! It was torture!" groaned Dawn. "All that time in another country, seeing the city and the green green hills and with all the really cool accents and ... Oh no, wait, that wasn't torture that was so cool." Her enthusiasm bubbled for a moment but quickly settled. "But the missing you part, there was that."
Grip chuckled. "You know what we have to do: Next time you go for exciting overseas adventures, you'll just have to bring me along. I'll hide in your luggage."
"I don't think you'll fit," Dawn informed briskly, inspecting him from head to toe with admiring appraisal.
Grip squeezed her hand again. "We'll use a Space Bag. Haven't you seen the commercials? You can fit anything anywhere with a Space Bag."
"My own portable Grip," sighed Dawn contentedly.
Grip's eyes twinkled. "Now with extra space-saving action."
"Mmm," whispered Dawn. "And that's not all ..."
Lost in the moment, the pair leaned toward each other, goodbye smoochies seizing the top spot on their immediate agenda and causing both to forget where they were. Luckily, Buffy was quick to remind them.
"You need a ride home, Grip?"
Their forward motion screeched to a halt. Grip glanced toward the entrance to the living room while Dawn appeared to be teetering on the verge a total frustrated meltdown.
"I'm cool," he called out. "I borrowed my dad's car. Thanks though." Depositing a rather chaste peck on Dawn's cheek, he murmured, "I better go. I'll see you tomorrow."
Dawn nodded with resignation. "Okay." She opened the door and stood to one side as Grip made his exit. "Thanks again for the help on my homework!" she stated, loudly and pointedly, as he left.
She lingered on the step for a few seconds longer, watching as Grip got into the car. He waved at her through the window and she waved back. Within seconds, the engine had started and Grip was out of sight. Closing the door, Dawn sighed heavily and then steeled herself for a return to the living room.
Now seated on the couch proper, Xander was randomly punching remote control buttons, while Buffy and Willow looked on with exasperation. The carpenter's thumb continued to depress at regular intervals even though he turned to greet Dawn with a broad grin. Willow's neck also swiveled at Dawn's reemergence. She treated the teenager to a meaningful nod and a knowing smile. With a visible wince, Dawn hopefully shook her head and threw them both an imploring look before glancing in Buffy's direction. Willow complied, but with a slight huff of disappointment at being denied her fun. Much to Dawn's relief, Xander had also apparently decided not to pursue the subject.
"Tara upstairs?" asked Willow, breaking the silence.
"Uh-huh," affirmed Dawn. "She said she was going to bed a bit early. She looked really tired."
A fleeting expression of concern crossed the redhead's face, but it passed before being noticed by the others. "Bedtime for me too then," she announced, rising to her feet.
Xander followed suit. "Me three. Only not with the three," he quickly amended. "Bedding for one. Just me. Alone. O solo mio."
As "goodnights" were exchanged, Willow and Xander headed for the stairs.
"Besides, you're such a bed hog," the carpenter could be heard to complain.
Willow's eye-roll couldn't be seen, but was prevalent nonetheless. "Xander, I was four."
"And yet you still managed to shove me out. I'm willing to bet you're only stronger now, young lady ..."
Dawn turned to Buffy with a beaming smile, ostensibly rather pleased that the events of the evening had transpired without the Slayer suspecting anything.
"I'll go to bed too." She yawned. "Where – I know, I know – I should've been like an hour ago."
Buffy nodded her agreement. "Night."
She offered her cheek for Dawn's kiss and then watched the teenager make her way out of the room.
"Oh, and Dawn?"
The teenager stopped and turned back. For the first time that night, Buffy looked her sister directly in the eye.
"Next time you want to suck face with your boyfriend, you might want to close the curtains first."
Horrified, Dawn's eyes grew round as saucers as her gaze darted to the bay window behind the couch. Sure enough, the drapes were wide open, providing a free, all-expenses-paid view of whatever might be happening inside the house. Dawn swallowed and then emitted a tiny "eep."
"Okay!" she told Buffy, her voice strained and a little high-pitched. "Thanks! Night then!"
With all the flexibility of a clockwork soldier, Dawn began to make her way upstairs. The Slayer regarded the stiff retreat soberly and then, with a huge sigh, she threw her head back against the cushion and stared at the ceiling.
"This just in: raising an 18-year old, way harder than being one," she muttered. "Mom, wherever you are – I now hold this truth to be self-evident. And boy do I have a lot to apologize for."
She sighed once more and scrunched her eyes tightly shut.
"I'm not apologizing," stated Kennedy firmly, jaw set.
Faith shrugged. "Not askin' you to."
Perched like pigeons atop a low parapet on the roof of Slayer Central's European counterpart, the two sat side-by-side, staring out at the skyline. Their legs dangled precariously over the side of the tall building, but neither seemed to be plagued with vertigo and appeared perfectly at ease with their lofty location. In the distance, the sun was just beginning to rise over the British Museum and the morning traffic journeying up and down Tottenham Court Road was little more than a muted hum.
Clearly, Kennedy still felt the need to defend herself. "I wouldn't even have gone there if you hadn't dared me."
"What can I say?" Faith struck a match against the hard stone surface and brought the flame to the tip of the cigarette dangling from her lips. "We both got a weakness."
Kennedy took a sip of Coke and cast a sideways glance at Faith, who took a drag from her cigarette before popping open a can of beer.
"Actually, you know, I think you should apologize to me," Kennedy told Faith with an emphatic nod.
Faith puffed out an immaculately formed smoke ring. "How y'figure?"
"I've been playing it over in my head. The vamp was on my side."
Tipping back her head, Faith took a long pull from the beer can and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
Kennedy continued her expectant pause. Realizing Faith wasn't going to say anything, she pushed on. "You threw her down on your side when I staked her. So the kill stealing thing is really pretty much your fault."
Faith flicked the ash from her cigarette and stared at the horizon. "Yeah, well, you can take an extra outta the next nest."
"I think this was about it for the fun ones," Kennedy replied with some regret. "The next time we go out, we'll be bringing some girls with us."
The other Slayer stiffened a little at this and the cigarette on its way to her lips hesitated for a moment. Kennedy continued to watch Faith out of the corner of her eye, but maintained her silence and gave no indication that she had noticed anything amiss.
"I've got the main group of course," she continued easily. "They need my extra special Kennedy Brand attention. Still a little too much lip in that crowd, and not of the fun servicing kind either." She frowned and took another sip of Coke, slamming her heels against the brickwork. "I didn't mean that quite like it sounded."
Faith didn't react, her gaze fixed on the pale sun, taking long pulls from her Marlboro and drawing the smoke deep into her lungs.
"I got it all figured out," Kennedy stated with confidence. "Vi's group is cool, but they could use a little shaking up. She babies them. You can show her how it's done. See, it's a learning experience for everybody. You teach them how to kick ass, they teach you ..." She thought for a moment and wrinkled her nose. "Okay, so that part's still a bit on the fuzzy side."
Still, Faith said nothing. Kennedy decided to interpret the silence as Faith's buy-in.
"Great," she confirmed. "We'll go at sunset tonight. Wood's really been getting into this whole 'administrator' thing, and thinks he's uncovered evidence of a network of vamps hiding out in the Bakerloo line. So I'll take my group into the Regent's Park tube station while you and Vi—"
Flicking the butt of her still burning cigarette into the street below – which was luckily devoid of human life so early in the morning – Faith pushed herself up from the low wall. Turning her back on Kennedy, she made her way to the door leading down into the building.
"... will walk away while I'm talking to you," Kennedy concluded with a dark frown.
Swinging her legs over the wall, Kennedy hurried after Faith's departing figure and quickly caught up, stepping in front of the other woman and effectively blocking her retreat.
She crossed her arms and regarded Faith with tightened lips. "I know you dropped out of school and all? But I thought you stayed through the lesson on 'manners'. You know, that was the part in Kindergarten between colors and the alphabet."
"Look, I ain't interested, alright?" snapped Faith. Darting swiftly to the right, she attempted to sidestep the obstacle, but Kennedy matched the motion and Faith was once again brought up short.
"So get interested," commanded Kennedy.
Faith's sneer conveyed her blatant contempt. With a snort of derision, she took another step to the side, but was no more successful second time around. She dragged her hair back from her forehead with both hands and looked at Kennedy through narrowed eyes.
"Wouldja quit that?"
"Sure," replied Kennedy with a nod. "All you have to do is agree to patrol with me and the girls tonight."
"You, I got no problem with. You an' me, we can go out. Kill some vamps, drink some beer, five by five." Faith's hands sliced the air in a cutting motion. "But that's it. You an' me. I don't want nothin' to do with the wannabes."
Arms remaining crossed, Kennedy tossed her hair over her shoulder, her eyes never leaving Faith. "You can't keep hiding from them."
"Thanks, Dr. Phil," was the sarcastic retort.
Kennedy was beginning to lose patience. "Faith, if you'd just—"
"No! Alright? Just ... no."
Roughly elbowing her way past, Faith marched purposefully toward the door. Kennedy watched her go without further protest as her arms dropped to her sides. Her eyes roamed the London skyline for a moment and then, with an exasperated sigh, she too turned and entered the building.
The bedroom was bathed in darkness, quiet and tranquil save for the measured sound of slumbering breaths. The digital clock on one of the nightstands proclaimed the time to be 3:48am. Facing the beside table, Willow lay on her side, right arm thrown over her head at an odd angle, left leg bent at the knee jutting out from under the covers. She smiled a little in her sleep and snuggled against the pillow.
Almost inaudible at first, a tiny whimper came from the figure next to her as Tara's head rolled from side to side. Her eyelids fluttered and protesting moans forced their way from the confines of her throat, gradually increasing in intensity. Her body began to twitch and her agitated fingers plucked desperately at the coverlet. The blonde mumbled as she tossed and turned.
"No ... I don't ..." She shuddered involuntarily, but the movement was not sufficiently violent to awaken her sleeping partner. She muttered again. "No ... No!"
"Acorns!" Willow suddenly exclaimed, jolted awake by the outburst. "Dancing with ..." She frowned as her brain began to rejoin the rest of her in the waking world. "... ninjas?"
Shaking her head, Willow propped herself on one elbow and glanced in Tara's direction. The blonde was staring wide-eyed at the ceiling, gulping for ragged breaths of air. Willow's brow knitted with concern as she scooted toward Tara and gently brushed damp hair away from the moist forehead. Tara continued to focus fixedly on the area above them.
Willow's tone was gentle and soothing. "Another one?"
With an imperceptible nod, Tara glanced at Willow briefly before her shaking hand fumbled toward the nearby night table for a glass of water. Quickly turning, Willow grabbed the glass from her table instead and offered it to Tara. With a smile of gratitude, Tara began to sit up as she raised the tumbler to her dry lips.
Her expression still brimming with concern and sympathy, Willow stroked Tara's shoulder as the blonde sipped eagerly at the cool liquid. Having drunk her fill, Tara gave the glass to Willow, who promptly returned it to its original location. With a sigh, Tara sank back against the crumpled pillow while Willow remained sitting up, looking down at her partner with understanding.
"Wanna talk about it?" she probed softly.
Tara said nothing for a long while and then regretfully shook her head. "Not really."
A worried frown creased Willow's brow. "They're getting worse."
"No," denied Tara. "No, it's ... it's pretty level, actually. Sort of a steady stream of fear and uncertainty. Which, you know, sounds bad, but on the plus side ..."
Her voice trailed away and Willow smirked ruefully, playing along for the moment. "The plus side?" she urged.
Tara raised her head and treated Willow to a small grin. "I don't have to worry about oversleeping?"
Willow's expression of doubt said everything and Tara was forced to relent. "Okay, no plus side," she admitted, letting her head drop with a frustrated exhale.
All amusement vanished, and Willow moved closer until she was sharing Tara's pillow. "You said it was getting better," she persisted, cradling her head in her palm and resting on one elbow.
"And it was," Tara responded with as much enthusiasm as she could muster.
Willow smiled sadly. "You've got a pretty funky definition of 'better'."
"But my tense was right."
The pair settled into an uneasy silence. Willow cleared her throat nervously. She was obviously apprehensive about what she was preparing herself to say, but the words demanded an outlet. "Maybe you should—"
Tara's interruption carried something of a warning edge. "Will ..."
"It's not normal!" Willow insisted, her worry audible. "There's— There's things. Bad things. I mean, I-I know – resurrection, soul yanked outta Heaven's Waiting Room ... Sure, that's grounds for a nightmare or two. But ... But still? You should talk to someone. An expert someone."
Tara reached out and squeezed Willow's hand. "I don't think there's really a branch of psychotherapy for this sort of thing, sweetie."
"Well no, maybe not," the redhead was forced to admit. "But the Covens! Believe me, they've got people to talk to for just about everything. I swear, my first two weeks there? I even had to see a counselor about what breakfast cereal I liked." She allowed a small smile to cross her lips at Tara's stifled chuckle. "You laugh, but I'm serious! Oh, and if you talk to that one," she advised with complete seriousness, "don't tell her you like Froot Loops – you're just askin' for trouble."
Tara's smile grew wider, but the weight of their conversation soon settled back around them.
"I did talk to them," the blonde noted. "When we were helping set things up for the Super Slayers? They didn't ... There's just not a whole lot they can do, you know? Nobody's ever really had to ... deal with this sort of thing before. I mean, there's Buffy, but ..."
Silence reigned again, finally broken by Willow. "Yeah, but what if ..."
Her words trailed away as her eyes moved to the area above Tara's heart. The perimeter of the blonde's scar was plainly visible, peeking around the thin straps of her tank top. Willow reached out and traced the outline of the mark, regarding it with some wonder and no small degree of fear.
Tara's gaze followed the path of Willow's fingertips. "I don't think it's them," she reassured in a soft voice.
Willow swallowed hard before responding. "We don't know that. They could still be out there." With a sudden movement, she snatched her hand away. "That scary guy, with the weird eyes? We never saw him when we fought the Super Slayers, and he was pretty darned good with the whole mindmeld thing." She waggled her hand near her head for emphasis.
Tara restrained the restless fingers, entwining them in her own. "It doesn't feel like him. I think I'd know if it was."
The redhead's expression grew dark as she latched onto something new to be upset about. "I can't believe Ruth didn't tell you anything before she poofed outta here," she accused grumpily.
"She kinda did," Tara reminded.
"More cryptic blahdy blah!" scowled Willow, adopting a scratchy and ancient tone. "'When you seek the truth and you dare to find it, look inside yourself for the secret thingiemahoozit that I just now made up ooo look at me I'm so mysteeeeerious.'"
Tara smiled indulgently. "That wasn't an exact quote. Or a very good imitation."
Still, Willow would not be cajoled from her grumpy mood. "It was about as helpful," she grumbled.
"She just means that until I really want some answers, I won't find them," the blonde attempted to explain.
Willow would have none of it. "But you do and you aren't, so ... so I say we demand a refund!"
She turned to Tara, fully expecting to see complete support and emphatic agreement. Consequently, she was surprised to note that the blonde seemed even more crestfallen than before. "You do, right? Want answers."
"Yes," Tara replied confidently.
Willow was skeptical. "Yes?"
"No," stated Tara with just as much confidence.
"Best of three?"
Tara inhaled deeply. "It's complicated."
"Hey, grad student gal sittin' right here," Willow pointed out. "I'm all about the complicated."
"Maybe later?" Tara requested calmly, though her expression turned it more into a plea. "I-It's really late."
Willow was unwilling to allow the matter to drop. "Yeah, but—"
"Please?" Tara looked up at her with soft and entreating eyes.
Letting it go was clearly the absolute last thing Willow wanted to do, but she nodded just once, relenting. She allowed Tara's hand to fall onto the coverlet and returned to her side of the bed, throwing herself back against the pillow. The silent distance now between them seemed almost tangible.
"I just want to help," Willow finally murmured, her voice thick.
"I know," replied Tara, smiling into the darkness.
"It's part of my job description, you know? 'Help Tara'. They were very clear when I interviewed for this position. 'Helping Tara' is way at the top of my responsibility list. And if I don't do that, then what's it gonna get me? A big fat ol' red 'X' on my annual performance review, that's what. A red X!" She rolled her head to the side and stared meaningfully at the blonde's profile.
Tara turned and their eyes locked. "My little overachiever? Never happen. Besides." She reached across the bed, once more taking Willow's hand in her own. "You help me all the time."
The redhead looked up at the ceiling. "Then with all that practice," she replied with quiet bitterness, "you'd think I'd be better at it by now."
Tara didn't respond. Instead, she curled up next to Willow and snuggled against the redhead's shoulder.
"Just love me," she whispered. "That'll always be enough."
Willow's lips brushed against Tara's hair as she cradled her close in the darkness.
As the door to "After Midnight" slammed open, two figures emerged from inside the bar. One had an iPod jammed against his ear and was crooning happily, if not very tunefully, to the song being played.
"All you need is love! Bah-bah-dadada," the vampire warbled.
His companion – a demon who was quite humanoid in appearance, save for the bony protrusions around his shoulder blades and the livid green skin bearing all the charm of a warthog – laughed openly at the off-key rendition. The cool of the night air did little to alleviate their drunken condition as the pair made their way along the street, staggering slightly and occasionally bumping into each other.
"All you need is love!" the vampire continued. The delivery was no less harmonious than before, but he certainly couldn't be faulted for lack of enthusiasm.
"If you like that song so much, why're you doin' that to it?" inquired the demon.
The vampire turned to face him, his expression deadly serious. "Don't mock The Beatles, man."
"Not," assured the demon. "Mockin' you."
The vampire pondered this for a moment. "Oh. S'okay then."
The two chortled uproariously at their own humor, as only the truly inebriated can. They rounded a corner and made their way to the main street. It was deserted, which was just as well since neither could manage more than a step or two without bumping into everything within a five-foot radius.
"It's good we can—" hiccoughed the demon, "—can drink. T'gether, I mean. Since I'll prob'ly be killing you tomorrow." A self-satisfied grin crossed his face.
"Pssh," the vampire merrily dismissed. "Whatever."
The demon shook his head. "Naw, fer real. Malthar—" His tone suddenly adopted a very reverent tone despite his drunkenness. "May he forever bathe in the blood of the innocent and the screams of the fallen – got hold'a this big power thingie. Big. Huge. We're all gonna rise up an' cleanse the earth." He frowned. "This Thursday, I think."
"Oh yeah?" was the witty comeback.
The vampire seemed to be stuck in a groove. "Oh yeah?"
The vampire geared himself up to continue the pointless exchange, but his mouth formed only the "Oh—" For moment, he stared curiously at the stake protruding from his chest, and then finished his sentence. "—crap!"
As the ashen remains crumbled to the ground, the iPod skidded with a clatter across the concrete.
The demon blinked and cocked his head to one side, as though trying to make sense of what had just transpired. "Dude, yer 'Pod ..." he muttered with a slur.
Before he could make any other observations, he was yanked backward into a nearby alley. Staggering, he turned to face his aggressor, a young girl with oriental features.
"Slayer!" he snarled, lips curling.
"No," the girl replied. "I do not have that honor."
Though still off-balance, the demon launched an attack. He swung at the girl without much precision, but with a great deal of gusto nonetheless. He towered above the diminutive form, but even if his brain hadn't been clouded, it soon became apparent that this would have been far from a fair fight. She evaded his lumbering efforts with grace and agility, lashing out with a few blows of her own. The counter-attack was efficient and accurate. Within seconds, the demon was on his knees, throat pinned against the wall by the girl's forearm.
"You have a master?" came the soft inquiry.
The demon didn't answer at first, defiant in his refusal. Acting swiftly, the girl produced a sharp knife that she immediately buried deep into the demon's shoulder. The thrust penetrated the muscle and its tip grated against the brickwork. He howled at the sudden pain and she jiggled the blade. It was a barely perceptible action, but sufficient to cause another anguished howl.
"There are many blades," she informed him in a voice barely above a whisper. "I do not think you would like to see them."
She twitched the knife once more. This time, the demon's cry was one of intense agony.
"You have a master?" she asked again.
The reply was interspersed with groans. "Yes! Oh god!"
The girl appeared satisfied. "This is good."
She slowly withdrew the blade and the demon's body slumped. Resting on his knees, he sucked greedily at the night air and waited for the burning in his shoulder to wane. Inspecting the crimson-coated weapon with much interest, the girl produced a small vial. Holding it aloft, she allowed several droplets to flow into the glass container. Her eyes narrowed as she watched the slow trickle of demon blood against the glass.
She paid the groveling figure at her feet little mind, save to inform him in a tone which clearly demanded compliance, "You will tell me how to find him."