So I had to split it in half. Me not happy.
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All previous parts can be found here.
Continued from Part 4F.
“It all started with a Slayer from Suriname,” Andrew began. “This Slayer, whose name I won’t tell you because this totally was not her fault, came from this really rich family. After she finished her basic training, she was assigned to the Brasilia house. Her parents were so proud of her — because of course they heard that Willow was headquartered there, so it was a real honor to get it as a first assignment — that they rewarded her with a trip to Hawaii. It was her last big hurrah before she moved in with us.”
“Her parents knew everything, hunh? And they sent her to Hawaii as a reward, no less,” Susan bitterly said as she looked up at Andrew. “My parents think I’m in a locked-down nuthouse for the perpetually cuckoo.”
“Don’t say that,” Cheryl said with horror. “That’s not a nice thing to say about, unh, people who aren’t well. They’re sick, not cuckoo.”
“My family thinks I’m cuckoo, so I have a right to say it,” Susan angrily muttered.
This time it was Cheryl’s turn to sling an arm around Susan’s shoulders. “At least your parents know where you are. I’m pretty sure mine think I’m with Aunt Jody in Lansing.”
“Still?” Susan asked her.
“Aunt Jody hasn’t called to warn me that they’re looking for me, so I think yeah,” Cheryl said.
Andrew winced. He could relate to that bad reality a little too much. “Well, I’m glad you’re both here,” he said in an effort to spin the conversation back to a more pleasant spot in the Alpha Quadrant, “because the house wouldn’t be the same if one or both of you weren’t here. Which is, unh, obvious, but totally true.”
“Before we start with the group hug, care to explain what some Slayer’s celebratory trip to Hawaii has to do with anything?” Helen interrupted.
“Well, that trip is important. It’s vital to the story, even,” Andrew said, relieved that they were at last back on the subject. “Because, you see, while she was Hawaii she took some lava rocks from the sandy beaches of Waikiki as a little reminder of her visit. When she made the big move to Brasilia, she brought the rocks with her. She put them — three rocks in all — on her desk. She’d show them to anyone who asked, and would tell stories about how she found them on the beach while watching the perfect sunrise, which she knew meant that she was about to start a great new life where she’d do things that would make her family proud.”
“That explained exactly nothing,” Helen petulantly said.
Andrew held up a finger. “You’ll see why this is important in a little bit.”
“It’s because the lava rocks are tied to the bad luck.” Had Cheryl’s mood been better, she would’ve been already bouncing in her seat. As it was, she was dangerously close to doing just that.
“Very good, little padawan!” Andrew exclaimed.
“How can a bunch of lava rocks bring bad luck?” Kristin asked.
“Weeeellll,” Andrew drawled as he aimed a grin at Kristin, “it wouldn’t be much of a story if I told you now, would it?”
Kristin shook her head with an answering grin. “No, Andy, it sure wouldn’t.”
“Within weeks after our Suriname Slayer moved into the house, bad luck just started happening. It was little things, at first. Important herbs for spells would get mixed up with herbs they shouldn’t mix with, say. On a good day, it would make them useless for spell work. On a bad day, it would start a fire,” Andrew continued. “Regular patrols would go wrong, like the bad guys wouldn’t be where they were supposed to be, or they’d take us by surprise and get the drop on us. There were all kinds of minor injuries and ouchies, usually caused by people just being clumsy. The transport vans would break down for no reason. Girls started getting streams of bad news from home, mostly personal stuff, like friends and family getting sick, or getting hurt, or getting into legal trouble. Things in the house started breaking, too, or just falling apart.”
“Didn’t people notice the bad luck?” Helen asked doubtfully.
“Well, at first we didn’t,” Andrew said. “In the beginning none of it was a big catastrophe with bat wings and fangs. It started with a bunch of little annoying things, like how my soufflés kept falling or how the transport vans — which were kind of old anyway — needed lots of repairs all of a sudden. It was, y’know, normal stuff, and totally could be explained. Of course, the more bad things kept happening, the shorter tempers got, so arguing and bickering and all kinds of nasty fights started breaking out. When people lose their cool, it makes things seem worse than they really are.”
“Willow didn’t notice there was a problem?” Susan sounded strangely hopeful when she asked the question.
Andrew shrugged. “Willow was there right at the beginning when it was only the little stuff going wrong. Then, a bunch of emergencies started happening all over South America and she was needed to lend her witch-y strength to help solve them. One day it was Argentina, the next it was Columbia, then she’d have to go to the Rio house — that’s also in Brazil — and on and on and on. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get back to Brasilia. Every time she thought she could go home and catch her breath, she and Kennedy were called away to solve yet another problem in yet another country.”
Susan deflated. “Oh.”
Even though it wasn’t the reaction Andrew was looking for, he let it go. He was just happy that Susan was getting into the story like the others.
“Let me guess, Willow was so busy zipping all over South America that she wasn’t there when Xander showed up for his regular visit,” Helen mumbled from the depths of her chair.
“Excellent deduction, my lovely Watson,” Andrew said with a nod. “Even Xander seemed to be affected by our run of disastrous luck. He had to delay his visit for a week-and-half. He was yanked into an emergency in St. Petersburg. That’s, unh, the one in Russia just so no one gets confused. See, he had discovered that the local vampire clans had decided to hold a Slayer hunt. He tripped over one of the hunters on his way to the airport. He had no choice. He had to be Bugs Bunny to their Elmer Fudd and help the Russian Slayers defeat the vicious hunters.”
Helen groaned. “Another Slayer hunt. How many do we know about?”
Kristin frowned in thought. “I think it’s nine. Wait! No! I forgot about the one in Johannesburg. That one happened right after the one in St. Petersburg, so 10 hunts in all.”
“You forgot Hong Kong, which happened after Johannesburg,” Susan said.
“Does Hong Kong count?” Cheryl asked. “I thought the house there found out about it before the whole thing even started and killed all the demons involved while they were still planning the hunt.”
“It counts,” Helen said.
“Let’s call it a half-a-hunt,” Kristin said. “And this talk of hunts isn’t letting Andy finish the story.”
“Thank you, Kristin,” Andrew acknowledged with a nod. “When Xander finally managed to make it for his regular visit, Willow was stuck in Rio because a vicious gang of magic users had decided to target the Rio house. That meant she and a few of the really powerful Coven members were forced to man the frontlines. And it wasn’t an easy fight. Every spell that every good witch cast in the battle simply didn’t work, or didn’t work the way it was supposed to, or caused more problems than it solved.”
“So they kept magically shooting themselves in the foot,” Kristin said.
“Exactly,” Andrew said. “Because the magic kept going wrong, Willow didn’t dare try to teleport back to Brasilia when Xander arrived.”
“Wait. If Willow was up to her eyeballs in trouble, why would she even think it was remotely okay to zip back home just because Xander was coming for a visit?” Helen asked as she straightened up in her chair.
“Well, to bring Xander back to Rio with her, of course. They needed all the good fighters they could get and Xander’s one of the best, as you know since you’ve seen him work firsthand,” Andrew said. “But that was before it got really bad, because Willow ended up warning Xander to stay away after he reached us.”
“He couldn’t just get on a plane and go to Rio without his buddy twitching her nose?” Helen asked.
“Actually, he tried going from St. Petersburg to Rio because he heard Willow was in the fight of her life and he naturally wanted to help, but he couldn’t seem to find a plane that would take him there. Every flight he tried was sold out, got canceled, or was overbooked,” Andrew explained. “In the end, he decided to come to Brasilia first and try to get to Rio from our location.”
“I’m guessing that didn’t work either,” Susan said.
“No, it really didn’t,” Andrew admitted. “Oh, he got to us just fine, and he planned to stay with us long enough to get transportation to Rio, except that no matter what he tried he couldn’t seem to get there. Xander tried getting a flight, renting a car, hiring a taxi, you name it. Either everything was booked or just not available. He even tried to borrow our vans, except the second he put the key in the ignition something would go wrong and whatever van he tried to borrow couldn’t even leave the compound.
“After trying mightily for two days to get to Rio, Xander had to call Willow to tell her that he couldn’t seem to leave Brasilia. It turned into a huge fight because Willow told him that she wanted him to stay as far away from Rio as possible, which Xander didn’t take well. At all. Soon they were yelling at each other over the phone. Well, I assume that Willow was yelling back because I couldn’t hear her part of it. But I definitely heard Xander yelling that he should be in Rio with her so he could work his ‘wacky demon-magnet mojo’ and help smoke out whatever was causing her problems.”
Susan suddenly straightened up. “What did he mean by that?”
Andrew frowned at her. “Ummm, I think it’s pretty clear. Xander wanted to help, and Willow thought it was too dangerous for him to come.”
“No, no, no,” Susan shook her head. “What did he mean when he said ‘wacky demon-magnet mojo’?”
“It’s just one of Xander’s jokes, that’s all,” Andrew said with a shrug. “He always had the weirdest luck in Sunnydale, especially when it came to dating. Pre-Anya, of course. And, unh, maybe once post-Anya, but that was before Xander and Anya found each other again and declared their undying love for one another just before death tragically ripped her from his strong, muscular arms.”
Susan sat back and regarded Andrew with a frown. “If you say so.”
“So Xander never got to Rio to help Willow,” Cheryl said before Andrew could ask Susan what she meant by that.
“Well, he did in the end, but that’s later. Much, much later. After the events related in this very true story that I witnessed firsthand,” Andrew said. “Anyway, after Xander hung up the phone, he still kept trying to get to Rio despite the fact that Willow told him to stay away. It was almost as if the universe had planted a big brick wall between Xander and his best friend, because nothing he tried worked. The harder he tried, the more frustrated he became. His temper got all short-circuit-y and he snapped at everyone to stay as far away from him as possible. When he wasn’t trying to book passage to Rio using the phone or the computer, he’d walk all over the house. He’d stop at every window and look out. He’d open every door and look outside, too.”
“That’s a very weird thing to do,” Susan remarked.
“Don’t know if you noticed, but Harris is kind of a weird guy,” Kristin said.
“He is not,” Cheryl huffed.
Helen pointed a finger at Cheryl. “I’m with her. Going by what I heard in the SUV, I think it’s a miracle that Harris is as normal as he is. I didn’t understand any of it, but there are a few things he said that’ll be giving me nightmares.”
Susan was shaking her head and frowning. “Hey, Andy. How often did Xander patrol the house?”
The question brought Andrew up short. “I, unh, I don’t know. Maybe every few hours. At least. I know it was pretty often, because he was driving everyone crazy. He’d just pace all over the whole house looking out of windows and doors. He’d even go into people’s bedrooms when people were in them trying to sleep. Day or night. It didn’t seem to matter.”
“And he didn’t start patrolling the house until after his fight with Willow, right?” Susan asked as her eyebrows crunched lower over her eyes.
Although the question seemed to come from out of the blue, Andrew answered it because it appeared that Susan had finally stopped wallowing in her funk. “Now that I think about it, yeah. As a matter of fact, the first thing he did right after that fight was to walk around the whole house. He repeated the pattern for something like 24 hours straight. I don’t even think he slept.”
“Suze, where are you going with this?” Kristin asked.
“He was waiting for something. That has to be it,” Susan muttered.
“Waiting for what? A miracle taxi that would drive him to Rio?” Helen asked.
“Nooooo,” Andrew said slowly. “Xander wasn’t looking for anything. He was feeling a little bit of the ol’ cabin fever and needed to work off a little extra energy.”
“How do you know?” Susan asked.
“Because I asked him. Unh, actually I asked him to stop being all sentry-man, on account of the fact that he was making everyone crazy and tempers were starting to fray. Again. Or maybe I mean more,” Andrew said. “He told me that he was feeling restless because he couldn’t seem to leave Brasilia.”
“He must’ve worn a hole in the carpet pacing like that,” Helen remarked.
“I thought he was going to. Wear a hole in the carpet, I mean,” Andrew said. “In the end, it turned out to be a good thing he did go all sentry-man.”
“Why?” Susan asked.
“Because it was on one of these walk-arounds that Xander spotted,” here Andrew took a deep breath to draw out the tension, “a chaos demon clan sneaking up on the house! The demons were armed and everything!”
“You’re kidding!” Helen sat up.
“Talk about luck when you least expect it,” Kristin smirked.
“What did Xander do?” Cheryl asked.
“He raised the alarm, of course!” Andrew crowed. “We all grabbed weapons and ran out to meet the dreaded threat. Thanks to Xander’s eagle eyes — unh, I mean eye — we caught the demons unaware and beat them back before they were able to carry out their dastardly plot!”
“So something did go your way,” Helen said.
Andrew deflated. “Sort of. We weren’t able to capture any of the fiends to find out why they decided to attack us. A few of the Watchers thought it was because something must’ve gone wrong with the wards. The Watchers figured the chaos demons had sensed it and decided to take advantage.”
“Why would they assume that?” Kristin asked with a frown.
“Excellent question!” Andrew clapped. “As it turns out, that was exactly the same question Xander asked.”
“And that’s how Xander found out about the Brasilia house’s bad luck,” Cheryl bounced.
“Exactamundo,” Andrew said with a grin. “The Watchers told Xander that they thought the wards that Willow had put up to repel any and all nasty demon invaders must’ve failed, mostly because those were the only things that hadn’t broken down or gone wrong in the past few months.”
“And Xander picked up on that comment and ran with it,” Helen said.
“And how,” Andrew said. “Xander made everyone in the house tell him everything that had gone wrong in recent months. At first, everyone thought Xander was being crazy. Actually, some of the Watchers and Slayers said, ‘crazy again,’ but, well, you know how it is when people are getting on each other’s nerves. But Xander wouldn’t give up. He kept asking questions, and asking more questions, and asking even more questions until he had a complete list of everything that had gone wrong. Then he put up the list on whiteboards, and it took several whiteboards to list everything, let me tell you. When he was done with that, he gathered everyone together, pointed to all that writing on all those whiteboards, and asked, ‘Does this seem at all normal to you?’ When it was all put together in one place like the way Xander did it, everyone had to agree that Something Weird Was Going On.
“While we all contemplated Xander’s excellent whiteboard work — and as an expert on the proper use of whiteboards, I can say that, without a doubt, it was the best whiteboard work I’d ever seen — Xander pointed out that the run of bad luck had started right after his last visit,” Andrew continued. “He then asked if any magical items — books, or enchanted objects, or anything like that — had come into the house around that time.”
“Why magical objects?” Kristin asked.
“In case any of them had a curse attached, right Andy?” Cheryl eagerly asked.
“Your deductive reasoning would make Batman proud,” Andrew assured her.
“Hah. I knew it. It’s perfectly logical,” Cheryl happily remarked.
Andrew couldn’t resist grinning. This was working so much better than he had any right to expect. Even his spirits were improving. “Well, I don’t have to tell you that what Xander was asking was a very tall order,” Andrew began.
“A tall order?” Susan asked. “How many magical things does the Brasilia house get?”
“Oh lots, all because of Willow,” Andrew explained with a wave of his hand. “Sometimes she’s asked to review spell books or magical items, after it’s been properly vetted to make sure that it isn’t dangerous, of course. Xander’s theory was that something could’ve gotten by the people who were supposed to check for curses and that’s why the house had a run of bad luck.”
“Makes sense,” Helen said.
“As soon as Xander gave the order, everyone jumped to work,” Andrew said. “In the end, they had three spell books, one blessed sword, two statues of ancient gods, four rings—”
“And a partridge in a pear tree,” Kristin sing-songed.
Andrew chuckled. “Close. A painting, but it was of Elvis on black velvet.”
“You lie. A painting of Elvis is not even remotely like a partridge in a pear tree,” Kristin pouted.
“Unh, well, no. I guess not,” Andrew admitted.
“You’re kidding about the Elvis painting, right?” Helen deadpanned.
“Nope,” Andrew shook his head. “The Elvis painting was supposed to tell you the future, except whoever bespelled didn’t do it right. If you asked a question, it would only answer you by singing any song the real Elvis ever sang before he died and started wandering the earth as the zombie he is today. It wouldn’t have been so bad if, y’know, the song actually answered your question. Except it never really did. Willow ended up keeping it in the end. She figured the day might come when she’d need an Elvis on black velvet that could sing The King’s entire back catalog.”
“Probably to rent out to parties or something,” Kristin quipped with a grin. “Or maybe to scare away Zombie Elvis if he ever dropped by for a visit.”
“Or to freak someone the hell out,” Helen countered. “Can you imagine asking, ‘Where am I going to be next year?’ and getting ‘Jailhouse Rock’ for an answer?”
“Getting back to the story, I have one question,” Susan interrupted. “If Willow was in Rio, how could anyone in the house figure out if the magic items were cursed or not?”
“They couldn’t,” Andrew said. “But Xander and the Watchers came up with a clever idea to get around that. What they needed to do was give up ownership of everything, at least temporarily. If the items were cursed, the curse would follow the new owner and leave the Council house alone.”
“You mean Xander was willing to subject someone else to a possible curse,” Susan yelped. “How could he even think of doing that?”
“Wait, wait!” Andrew held up his hands to forestall any yelling from the other girls. “It was only a temporary transfer of ownership. Besides, remember what I said? The bad luck started with little things at first, and they were all little things that we could handle. The idea was that if the new owner started having annoying things go wrong while everything started going right for us, we’d have our answer. Besides, the house had a trusted ally in the city who was willing to do the temporary trade, and the Watchers agreed to pay for any damages caused by bad luck-associated problems.”
“Still sounds dicey to me,” Kristin grumbled.
“But not a bad idea, provided the person getting the goods knew what they were signing up for,” Helen said thoughtfully.
“Oh, he did!” Andrew nodded. “As soon as our brave ally agreed to help us, Xander assigned one Slayer and one Watcher to deliver the items. Once they transferred ownership of the suspect items, they had to stand sentry at the trusted ally’s house to make sure he wasn’t hurt while he ‘owned’ them. Xander even made sure to stress that they needed to accept money from our ally and to write out a receipt and give it to him, that way we’d be sure to cover all the angles. Xander wanted to be very certain that there would be no doubt on any practical or mystical level that, for the time being at least, we didn’t own the magical items.”
“Since we know the lava rocks were the problem, it’s pretty obvious that Xander’s attempt to rent out the bad luck it didn’t work,” Kristin said.
“Which we found out much sooner rather than later,” Andrew darkly said. “Anyway, while everyone was scurrying around to collect all the magic items, Xander began patrolling the house again. This time, though, no one complained or called him crazy because they figured he was on the lookout for yet another massed demon attack. It wasn’t long before he spotted a brand new demon horde approaching the house!”
Cheryl let out a screamlette. “Oh, no!”
“Well, this horde had a bunch of different demons. It was the United Nations of demons, even,” Andrew said. “There were demons that slithered, and demons that crawled; demons that walked upright, and demons on four legs. There were demons with fangs, demons with claws, demons with horns, and demons all three. They had skin, scales, and feathers! We had some old familiar favorites in the horde, but there were some demons that no one even had a name for. Yet. Worst of all, it was dusk, which meant that there were a few shadowy demons that could use the very night itself to attack us.”
“People must’ve freaked out,” Cheryl said with wide eyes.
“And how,” Andrew said. “With that many demons, it was going to be very, very hard for us to get the magical items to our helpful helper so he could take temporary ownership. Luckily for us, Xander didn’t lose his head. He had a plan.”
“What was it?” Kristin asked.
“Well, Xander offered to cause a distraction and lead the demons away so the Watcher and Slayer taking the magical items out of the house wouldn’t be forced to fight their way through the demon horde,” Andrew explained.
“Wow. I bet the Slayer assigned to protect Xander while he played bait must’ve been pretty thrilled with that job,” Helen said. “Fighting through a horde of demons and then daring them to follow you so you can run for your life before they smush you dead? Sign me up.”
“Well, obviously the Head Watcher, Paulo, absolutely wouldn’t allow Xander to bravely distract the demon horde by himself. He assigned a Slayer guardian to watch his back,” Andrew said. “Then there was this huge argument about—”
“Guy’s got a deathwish, I swear,” Helen darkly muttered.
“He does not,” Andrew sniffed primly. “Xander is a survivor. He always survives. Surviving is what Xander does best. And do you know how he does it? By being careful, that’s how. Besides, the argument wasn’t over—”
“Andrew, look. I was at the storage facility tonight,” Helen interrupted. “Harris changed the plan at the last minute. Instead of just charging in and doing damage like we were supposed to, he insisted that he had to go in and do a demon headcount so we’d know what we were facing. Alone. The only reason why LaTisha went in with him was because she tricked him into it. If she didn’t do that,” Helen slapped her hands together to underline her point, “he would’ve been dead before Terri killed that thing. While I appreciate what he was trying to do, he’s human, not a Slayer. So when a Slayer offers to watch your back, you take it and say thank you. Period. He, of all people, should’ve known better.”
“Helen!” Kristin exclaimed. “That’s not fair, and you know it. I was there too, and I thought his reasons for doing what he did, or at least tried to do, were pretty good ones.”
“Doesn’t negate my point,” Helen snapped. “Besides, what do you know? While I was holding his hand in the back of the SUV and listening to these terrifying things coming out of his mouth, you were standing outside waiting for LaTisha to show up and tell you how to wipe your ass.”
“Hey!” Kristin shouted.
“Stop it!” Andrew bellowed, just as Susan and Cheryl began joining the fray.
Everyone fell silent and looked at Andrew with wide, shocked eyes.
“We, unh, we need to calm down. And not fight,” Andrew nervously said. “We’re all family, right? We need to stick together, especially since…” His voice trailed off as he looked at the stairs to the second floor bedrooms, where, no doubt, Xander and Terri were fighting for their very lives.
Helen looked embarrassed by her outburst. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to— I mean, it was pretty bad and I’m still a little— Just…sorry.”
“It’s okay. We’ve all had a tough night,” Kristin said in a contrite voice.
Susan and Cheryl murmured an agreement.
There was a beat of uncomfortable silence. Then Andrew began to speak. “As I was going to say, the argument wasn’t over that. Xander was more than willing to take the Slayer escort. The argument was about Xander’s offer to play bait. After everything was settled, and just when Xander was about to leave the room, Paulo said he wondered what it would take for Xander to do his duty. He said that Xander should’ve offered to lead the demons away during the first attack, not waited until an even bigger horde showed up the second time. He said that Xander put the entire house at risk by reneging on his sworn duty.”
The Slayers exchanged confused glances.
“Ummm, is that part of a field scout’s duties?” Cheryl tentatively asked. “Because if field scouts have to act as bait whenever a Council house is threatened by demons, that’s kind of a really bad job. You’d think that a Slayer should be the one to do that. I mean, we run faster and we’re stronger. Plus if a demon catches up with us, we’ll have a better chance of surviving. Risking a field scout is, ummm, not a good thing to do, I’d think.”
Andrew shrugged. “I guess it must be part of a field scout’s duties. It’s not in the written job description, though. I checked afterwards. So maybe it’s an unwritten code, something like The Secret Code of the Watcher’s Council Field Scouts.”
“I don’t care if it’s in the job description or not,” Helen declared. “Paulo saying that to Xander still sucks. I don’t know Harris that well, but one thing he isn’t is a coward. Maybe he takes chances, but coward?” She snorted. “Paulo basically called Xander a coward because he didn’t do something stupid the first time out, so it’s not exactly a shock if Xander took offense.”
“What? No. Oh, no. It wasn’t Xander who started arguing with Paulo. It was Paulo’s lieutenant, Mariana. She’s, unh, the Lead Slayer. Anyway, she was the one who started arguing with Paulo,” Andrew quickly explained. “It was, ummm, for the reasons that Helen and Cheryl basically said. Xander just kind of slunk out of the room when Mariana started yelling at Paulo. I don’t blame Xander at all for just leaving. The argument got kind of bad. I had to leave shortly after he did because I was afraid they were going to start throwing things at each other.”
“Well, good for Mariana,” Helen nodded. “I hope she nailed him in the nutsack.”
“Helen!” Cheryl exclaimed with horror.
“Well, I do,” Helen sniffed.
Kristin made a thoughtful face. “So let me get this straight. Xander offers to distract the demons so the Council house can deliver their magical objects without interference to an off-site location, and the Head Watcher not only agrees to it, but he also expected Xander to offer to do it before that point? As in during the first attack? Why? It wasn’t like they needed the distraction before Xander offered. Does anyone else think that doesn’t make any sense?”
Andrew had to admit to himself that he thought it was weird at the time. Well, not weird for Xander to offer to play bait, of course, because Xander was just being the hero he was. But it was weird that Paulo was mad that Xander hadn’t offered to play bait before it was absolutely necessary.
“Maybe Paulo didn’t like Xander very much,” Helen said. “Harris does sometimes come across as a little bit of a jerk.”
“No he doesn’t,” Cheryl hotly said.
“Ummm, you do remember what Harris was like when he first got here, right?” Helen asked.
“I most certainly do,” Cheryl sniffed. “I liked him right from the start.”
“Girls, girls, girls,” Andrew clapped his hands to attract the attention of the distracted Slayers. “I never saw any evidence that Paulo didn’t like Xander in all the time I was there. Besides, if Paulo didn’t like Xander, he wouldn’t have insisted that Xander take a crossbow so he could protect himself. He didn’t leave him totally unarmed, even with a Slayer escort. Plus, they assigned their most senior Slayer, the one who knew the city the best because she grew up there, to escort him. You’re way off-base.”
“One man armed with one crossbow and one Slayer armed with God knows what versus a horde of demons,” Helen sarcastically said. “Yeah, that’ll keep them alive while they’re running for their lives through the city streets.”
Andrew was desperate. He didn’t want his little chicks to have a bad opinion of the Brasilia house. “Well, Paulo did even more than that. He also told Xander where he could find a local witch who sometimes helped out the Council house in exchange for a small consideration for her time and effort. Paulo said that if Xander reached her, Renata could cast a protective forcefield spell around him that was almost as strong as Willow’s. Plus, Paulo told Xander to put whatever the witch charged for her services on the Council house’s expense account.”
“Big of him,” Kristin remarked.
“It’s actually a lot more impressive than it sounds. Renata is a very, very powerful witch,” Andrew nodded. “Anyway, the time came and our delivery Slayer and Watcher were ready to go with their haul of magical items. While the nervous pair waited, Xander and his Slayer escort dove out of the Council house’s front door and landed in front of the gathered horde. This big roar went up when all the demons saw them. But before any of the demons could surge forward and capture either one of them, Xander and the Slayer leapt to their feet and gallantly ran away!”
Cheryl giggled. “The way you said that makes it sound really funny, even though I know Xander and the Slayer were actually doing something really brave,” she apologized.
“Well, it was very brave,” Andrew huffed. “Especially since most of the demons did follow Xander and his escort. In fact, they were so eager to go after them that they were trampling each other as they began to give chase.”
“Can’t stop,” Susan muttered. “Can’t be helped.”
Kristin was immediately alert. “Hey, Suze, are you all right?”
Susan startled. “Fine. Fine. Just thinking. That’s all. Go on, Andy.”
Andrew cleared his throat. He really needed a drink of water, but he didn’t want to leave his little chicks hanging. “The only demons that were left behind were a few of the smaller and weaker ones, probably because they knew that they had no chance capturing Xander and his escort for themselves. In any case, all of the Slayers and Watchers poured out of the house and beat the remaining demons back, while our delivery Slayer and Watcher made a clean getaway!”
Andrew dropped his voice to build the tension. “Once the excitement was over, all we could do was wait. We waited to hear word from Xander that he had made it to Renata’s. We waited to hear word from the delivery Slayer and Watcher that the magical items had been ‘sold’ to our brave trusted ally. The clock tick-tocked-tick-tocked-tick-tocked for 10 minutes, then 20, then 30. Then, when the clock struck 45 minutes after Xander’s departure, the phone rang!”
“Xander was safe!” Cheryl cheered.
Andrew held up a hand. “Not so fast, my brave Tonto. It was the delivery Slayer and her Watcher. They had signed over the goods. Now they could only wait and see if the bad luck had transferred over to the new owner.”
“We know it didn’t, because the lava rocks were still in the house,” Kristin said.
“Wonder what went wrong to tip everyone off that the plan was a bust,” Helen said.
“When the demons came back,” Andrew answered.
“Oh, no!” Cheryl’s hands flew to her mouth. “Xander!”
“Relax, Cheryl. Xander comes out fine,” Helen said. “Harris made it here, didn’t he?”
“I think the question is, ‘Will Harris make it out of here?’” Susan muttered.
Kristin threw Susan a worried look.
“When the demon horde descended on the house, everyone feared the worst. Xander and his guardian Slayer must’ve been killed and the demons must’ve decided to come back to wipe us all out,” Andrew said. “Maybe the curse was gone, but that didn’t mean all the damage had been reversed. If the wards broke during the house’s bad times, there was nothing we could do. Willow wasn’t there to fix them.
“When we saw the demon horde closing in on us, we prepared for all-out war. Not just to protect ourselves, but to avenge Xander! And the Slayer with him, of course. We would make them pay for Our Fallen Heroes. Maybe we’d emerge victorious like Aragon at Mount Doom, or maybe we would gallantly fall like…like…like the Rebel Alliance on Hoth! It didn’t matter! We would make them pay in blood for our tragic losses this day!”
Cheryl was on the edge of her seat. Susan leaned into Cheryl and whimpered. Helen was sitting upright, her eyes bright, probably wishing she was there to fight the glorious battle.
Kristin nodded and smiled reassuringly at Andrew.
“And just when we were ready to march out and meet our fate,” Andrew took a dramatic breath, “the phone rang!”