| Part I
“Are you sure we should be leaving Buffy?” Willow turned to look behind them as they walked out of the gym. “She’s rarring for a fight, you know.”
“I believe that the most combat-ready members of our staff and students ought to, at the very least, be able to give her a workout,” Regine answered calmly. Far too calmly. “They will be fine. Willow, you’ve expressed an interest in Professor Valerian’s teaching, but I believe you’ll also be able to gain useful information from Professors Solomon and Pelletier.”
“Academics,” Willow squeaked. “Yes. Teachers. Yes.” When Xander glanced at her, she was blushing hotly.
“I will leave you in Laurel Valerian’s capable hands then.” The Director knocked sharply on a door; a moment later, the door swung open. “Laurel…”
“Ah, Willow. You came back. Do come on in.”
“She should talk with Reid and Shira as well. Others, as it suits you. Buffy is sparring with a selection of cy’Luca and with the cy’Doug. I imagine she will be quite a while.”
“I… nevermind.” Xander was surprised that Buffy hadn’t popped her head out of the gym yet, chirping “done!” Then again, this place had been surprising from start to finish.
“I’m sure we can find a way to pass the time. Do come in, Willow. We can discuss… academics.”
Even Xander could tell that Professor Valerian was flirting with Willow. Why wasn’t the Director saying anything? And Willow, Willow was blushing and trying not to smile.
Xander wanted to shout, “Hey. What about Oz?!” but he wasn’t feeling quite that hypocritical. He’d been ready to follow Magnolia anywhere – especially into that hot tub. He couldn’t complain if Will was feeling the same…
…even about another woman.
A teacher. Well, he couldn’t say anything about that. Except. “Will? You’re sure she’s not a giant bug?”
“I’ll double-check, Xander.” She hugged him. “Go do what you’re doing, and try not to turn into a fish.”
Okay, he deserved that. He hugged her back a little longer than he needed to, then cleared his throat. It took effort to look the Director in the eye.
She looked – maybe – slightly interested. “It seems that things are more chaotic down in ‘Sunnydale’ than your Mentor suggested, and he suggested quite a bit of chaos.”
“Oh, yeah.” Xander shrugged. “Wacky stuff happens every week. Sometimes it’s wackier than others – see fish thing – and sometimes it’s dangerous and awful. But what are we going to do?” He shrugged. “I mean, we can’t very well just ignore it. Especially not with the Buffster being the Slayer and all. You’re taking the existence of vampires very calmly, I have to say. Is it because you have a vampire taking classes here?”
“The creatures that you call vampires are in a different category from Dysmas. Those things – I have encountered them before, in my past. They thrive near these ‘Hellmouths,’ but they can live anywhere. No.” She shook her head. “The Hellmouth itself is what concerns me. They should not be opening so soon. It is far too early.”
“Wait, what? You know about Hellmouths and your worry is that they’re early? Come on, you’re messing with me, right?”
“I assure you, young man.” Regine’s voice was firm but something about her expression looked amused. “When I ‘mess with’ you, you will most definitely notice it.”
“Right, right, don’t bother the scary lady, she can mess with me. So. Why early? Why not worry that they’re coming at all?”
She studied him. “Normally, I would say that I did not worry.” Her voice had dropped to something like a whisper. “I will do you the honor of being a little more honest with you. I have done my worrying about the gates opening. I have been worried about them for — shall we say, a very long time? — and I have prepared. But that there are mouths to other locations open in Sunnydale — that’s worrisome because it is new information, and because it is far earlier than expected.”
Xander cleared his throat, suddenly uncomfortable. “So there are more coming?”
“There are more coming. Your friend is going to find that there are warriors here with training that very nearly matches her own — because we are going to need far more than one dedicated Slayer-of-demons when the time comes.”
“No more Buffy dying!” It came out before he’d thought about it, like most of the things that came out of Xander’s mouth. He thought about slapping his hand over his mouth, but thought that probably wouldn’t go over well with this lady. “I’m serious. I don’t care how much we need more Slayers, Buffy isn’t dying again.”
“I—” She looked taken aback, oh, no. He’d taken the Director aback, and she’d realize what a bad idea it was to invite him here, and he’d have to leave Buffy and Will all to themselves in this place with the hot catgirls…
His brain was doing a Willow. Xander shook his head to clear it.
“That’s how you make a new Slayer. When one is dead, another is called. Giles didn’t tell you?”
“We are certainly not going to attempt to kill and revive your friend to see the results on ‘calling’ new ‘Slayers.’” She certainly looked tempted, though. “What I meant was simply that we needed hunters, other people who could fight. We are, ah, not run-of-the-mill, as I believe you might have already noticed.”
“Yeah, I noticed the vampire and the giant and the cat-girl and the little demon girl.”
“Little… ah. Ivette, I imagine. They were all told to keep their Masks up, but, of course, a directive like that is sometimes just seen as a challenge.”
“Masks? Wait, Professor Valerian said something like that to Magnolia. Something about ‘Mask up?”
“A Mask is, ah. Some of us are unusual-looking, as you’ve noticed. Not everyone can see that — to some people, Magnolia would look like merely a pretty girl no matter what. But with a ‘Mask,’ up, she looks like that to everyone.”
“So, uh, there could be giant bug-demons here? And I wouldn’t be able to tell?” Xander gulped. “I could do without that.”
“We have no giant bug-demons here. There are… spells that allow one to reveal such things, and I know all of those spells.” Regine’s smile was actually reassuring. Xander wondered briefly about his life, that that was what reassured him.
“Well, that’s good. I mean, as far as ‘good’ goes here.” Xander looked at the woman uncomfortably. “You’re way too calm about this whole magic thing, you know. I don’t know anyone nearly as calm as you about this stuff.”
“Eventually,” came a voice from behind Xander — no, purred a voice, a deep alto that was probably male — “you will learn that Regine is far too calm about all ‘stuff.’ And that she is not, by far, the only one.”
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