There were big things and small things that Gemma missed.
She tried to focus on the big things most of the time: reliable food, heat, running water, electricity. Medical care, drugs. Those were the things that were going to keep her alive, keep them alive. Those were the things that required all of her energy, that first six months.
Shelter, even. Shelter wasn’t as hard as the other ones, because there were still intact buildings, but then you had to protect your mostly-intact building from everything, and everything was a much longer list of threats now than it had been six months ago, a year ago.
Food, same thing – you could find canned goods, preserved goods, but eventually, all of that was gone or gone bad. Same thing for drugs, and when they found a doctor they guarded her with their lives. Running water, electricity, those were the hardest, and those were the least important, at least in the short run.
But when she went to sleep at night, Gemma missed clean, bright colors, frivolous painting, swishy skirts. She missed glitter, and giving someone a card just because you could. She missed decorative clothing — light sundresses and bright-colored t-shirts and mismatched socks on purpose, not because your feet were freezing.
She had not been one of the magi before the world cracked. She had heard of them, the way you hear about CEO’s, Fortune-500 sorts of people, but magic was for the 1 percent, the super-important. She’d been a barista.
Now, though. 90 percent of the surviving population had something — a piece of a broken city they carried, a cracked charm, a wound that held some small fragment of magic. And in her own fragment, Gemma held light and heat, sunshine in a hand that no longer worked well otherwise, pierced by a piece of rebar.
Late at night, when she had done all she could towards their survival for the day, Gemma would sit up in her bed and aim her magic hand at the wall. She’d focus, thinking about candy hearts and ribbons, Hallmark cards and picnics, and she would project the tiniest little lights onto the wall: Glitter. It sparkled and shone and danced on the walls, and, for a few minutes, Gemma barely even missed running water and espresso machines.
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Katarina woke at sunrise, the heat of the May sun warming her skin.
She didn’t open her eyes right away. She lay there, splaying her hands on the ground, letting the warmth soak into every bit of her.
She’d never expected to see the sun rise again.
She wasn’t sure she had another sunset coming, but if the sun was up and her skin was warm, she was going to delay the moment as long as possible. She was going to soak up every bit of sun before she let herself see how bad her situation was — and how bad the world’s situation was.
The explosion last night had — no, not an explosion, that was far too small a word. The cataclysm last night — had shaken everything. It had knocked out power across, as far as they could tell, the whole continent. There was no telling about the rest of the world. It had shattered buildings, buckled roads, and left fields and rivers both burning.
Katarina had been pierced with a flying shard of stone, right between the ribs. Rough triage said it was non-fatal and quick self-inflicted surgery confirmed it. She’d survived the explosion.
She was not nearly as sanguine that she’d survive the men that had come for her. It hadn’t been her hand in the spellwork, but she had survived, when the ones who had done the deed had not, and someone needed to pay.
She opened her eyes. The world had survived, in a matter of speaking. For three, four hours there, she hadn’t been sure it would. But the sun was lifting over a burning horizon, and, for the moment, at least, Katarina was still alive to see it. She smiled.
Every sunrise was a blessing. And the men standing, armed, just behind her, they narrowed the focus of the day. All she had to do now was make it to sunset.
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| Part I
“Your name is Buffy?”
“Yeah? So what. Yours is Agatha; I wouldn’t throw too many stones.”
“And I suppose you’re a cheerleader,” Agatha scoffed.
“Well, I was. But then the cheerleaders lit on fire, so now I’m just the girl who keeps the cheerleaders alive. And the football players. And… oh, yes, everyone else.”
“Oh, departed gods help us, it’s another cy’Doug.”
“I’m cy’Giles, I keep saying that…”
Agatha’s attention slid over Willow as if she didn’t exist and went straight to Xander. “And what about you? Do you fight off monsters?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, if Buffy’s busy or if it turns out I’m dating a demon again, which, you would not believe how many times it’s happened, but mostly I just run and hide.”
“Do not get into that with them,” Magnolia advised. “It is weirder than you think it can be.”
“Well.” Professor Valerian coughed. “As I was saying, I believe we ought to get back to Director Avonmorea and these children’s… these potential students’ minder soon, before anyone else dies.”
Buffy brushed herself off and walked up to Dysmas, stepping up until her toes were touching his. He didn’t flinch or even move, although Willow did both and so did Xander.
Buffy put her fingers on Dysmas’ pale neck, unerringly reaching for his artery. Willow noticed the way Dysmas held a little bit stiller, which struck her as the first sensible thing he’d done all day.
“Hunh.” Buffy frowned. “Pulse. Bloodsucker with a pulse, that’s new. All right, fang-boy, I guess you get to live.” She turned to Anatoliy and bowed. It was a lazy bow, with poor form and loads of Buffy flair, but it looked like it got the point across. “You, you fight like woah. You should choose better friends… but you fight like woah. I wanna spar with you sometime. Without pads, of course.”
“I might need pads,” the giant joked. “You fight like you were born to it. Nobody here, not even the Thorne girls, moves like that.”
“I was born to it. One girl in all the world, yadda, yadda. Chosen, picked, that’s my thing. I fight monsters.”
“That’s… neat.” He grinned crookedly at her.
“No,” Agatha complained. “No, Tolly, it’s not neat. She was Attacking you. She was trying to kill Dysmas. It’s not neat, it’s not okay, and you shouldn’t spar with her and give away more of your combat tricks. She’s not your friend.”
“Well, hey now,” Willow spoke up. “He might want to be friends with us. And we might want to be friends with him. And who are you to tell him no? I mean, seriously. He’s a grown man.”
“Really, really grown,” Xander put in.
“Exactly. He’s big enough to pick his own friends.”
“I am his crew, and you are nothing. You don’t even go here yet.”
“Way to sell the whole school thing,” Buffy put in. “I’m real excited to attend your little school now.”
“And I care? Seriously, how excited you are has nothing to do with anything. You’ll come here, the same as the rest, and you’ll be teeny-tiny fish in a big pond, and I’ll get to watch the sharks gobble you up.”
“Did you miss the part where she could kick your friends’ asses?” Xander was glaring at Agatha now. Of course, so was Willow.
“Did you miss the part where she had to do it with her eyes closed because Dysmas nearly had her eating out of his hand? Oh, yes, you did. You weren’t here for that part. I don’t care how well you fight, the sharks are going to eat you all alive, and I’m going to sit back with my mojito and enjoy every minute of it.”
“You’re not a very pleasant person,” Willow informed her. “I look forward to being the chairperson of the I Hate Agatha club.”
“Oh, that’s so mature,” Agatha sneered.
“Well, and so what? Mature just means old, and, and I have no intention of being old any time soon!”
“You tell her, Will.” Xander grinned. “Besides, we’re already in charge of the I Hate Cordelia Chase Club. I’m sure we can join another club without any problem.”
“And this one would be better,” Willow added, with a little bit of cheerful malice she wasn’t ashamed to admit, “because Xander wouldn’t start dating the target.”
“…are you certain these children are old enough to attend Addergoole?” Agatha asked, eyebrows raised. “Perhaps they should wait two more years – and then I’ll be gone, and it won’t be my problem at all.”
“They’re old enough.” Professor Valerian looked more than a little amused. “Come, now. Magnolia, I’m going to relieve you of your duties as tour guide and take these three to Director Regine before they light the school on fire.”
“Hey, I only did that once… well, twice, but the second time was completely justified!” Buffy’s sulk was back in full force, although she kept shooting Dysmas strange glances. Willow didn’t worry too much. Buffy was good at looking at people funny.
“So, the three of you knew each other,” Ms. Valerian was saying, “and you all attend school in this Sunnydale…”
“Right on the Hellmouth,” Willow offered cheerfully.
“Ahem, indeed. And you’re all called to Addergoole at the same time. That’s very unusual.”
“I’m very unusual,” Buffy offered perkily, “and so are Willow and Xander.”
“Hey! I resemble that remark.”
They were walking much more casually through the same halls. Willow wondered if they’d ever see more of the school than just these hallways. “You know,” she mused, “we’ve seen demons and vampires so far but absolutely nothing about academics.”
“Oh, well,” Xander scoffed, “who expects those from a school? I mean learning? We’re lucky if the school projects aren’t trying to eat us.”
“If I’d known you were interested in academics,” Ms. Valerian put in, “I’d have made sure it wasn’t Magnolia giving you the tour. She’s a nice girl, but she’s not primarily interested in classwork. “
“Oh, well, around her, I’d be glad to indulge in her interests,” Xander offered.
“I’m telling Cordelia.” Willow stuck her tongue out at him. “Sorry, Ms. Valerian. Academics?”
“We have a strong course of study, designed to transition you into your third or fourth year of college when you leave here, or perhaps into graduate work. We focus heavily on traditional subjects – history, mathematics, literature, linguistics, and science – but there’s a lot of room for independent study or building your own curriculum, and if you’re interested in more modern subjects – like, say, computers – we do have a former NASA scientist on staff.”
Willow shut her mouth, only they realizing it had been open, and then opened it immediately afterwards. “Marry me?”
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