The Journal of Astrid Raynor

Campaign: Dark Shadows of the Slayer

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Jewl Theft and Other Crimes
I don't know who mailed me that story from Chicago, but they are messing with the wrong slayer. Sure, it freaked me out. I don't like that they know where I live, and I'm worried about Jace. That text message he sent didn't sound overly optimistic. I really hope this isn't a government interfering with/trying to stop the slayers thing (again). Plus, anyone going after THE Slayer, as in Buffy herself, is totally screwed. I mean duh!

But before the anxiety of all that can send me screaming there are a few other things to deal with. Don't know if the pictures in lackey number gross's pocket means he's doing some side work of his own, or if it was research for Lord Ruthy, but it puts too many girls in danger. I w---, I WANT (we don't wish in this family) the little shit to come out and face me. What does he do? Send minions, hide in his hole, generally be an annoying wuss. Ug. Every evil overlord things he's so special. Dude, it's been done before. I bet he's rehearsed his monologue and everything. Probably has performance issues.

Oh, and I'm told that the school play is really just a way to summon some big bad ancient demon to kill us and destroy the world. Robert's working on a way to fix that. I'm helping by not being involved in the research. (I'm so helpful! I got Seamus out on a date!) I mean, I am not research gal. I am point me at the bad thing and watch me kick its ass gal.

I hope East doesn't have to get help from his new friends. I mean, I'm glad he has new friends, and people to talk about complicated physics with. But something about Angelique freaks me out. It's like...I don't know. Probably how normal people feel in the presence of movie stars or something. Besides, I doubt those girls are at his level. I really wish Jessica wasn't involved. She should know better, seeing what it did to her sister. Maybe she's just trying to prove that she's better than that, but it worries me. She'll require watching.
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Memory Lane
Chicago, 2015. Apartment 2B.

There were boxes piled around around her. She'd been packing up their two-bedroom apartment for the last few days; years of moving made her an expert. The bedrooms had been first. Clothes were neatly sorted into labeled boxes; donations had already been hauled away. Shoes were wrapped in dishtowels to prevent scuffing, dressers and nightstands hand been emptied, and she'd wrapped the mattresses in blue painters tarps. The kitchen followed the bedrooms in being packed away. The bathroom was always last, because most of it was either thrown out on their last day or put into carry-on luggage.

She'd oversee the loading of the moving truck when it got there. Two beds, two dressers, one brown leather recliner, a beat up desk and swivel chair, and a lot of boxes. One of them was sitting open, but instead of putting things in she'd taken them out. Now she sat on the floor thumbing through the pages of old photo albums, walking down memory lane.

Southern California, 2004. Artists Commune

"I don't want to go." The little blonde pleaded with her mother. "Why can't I stay here like the big kids do?" The older kids were ten, and a succession of parents on the commune taught them.

"Because they don't teach kindergarten here." Her father answered. "Plus, kindergarten will be full of kids your age. Don't you want to make friends and have playmates?"

"No!" Astrid answered, glaring at her father. "Besides," She added, turning towards her mother. "Nina says the educational system is designed to turn us into unthinking automatons who won't question a fascist government." She waited. Nina was her mothers' best friend. Both women always seemed so pleased when she repeated things from Nina's rants.

"Well," her mother replied, looking at her father for help. "Well the only way to tear down a system is from inside the system. If you don't have a good education then you won't be able to really fight against anything. Plus, they have a jungle gym just for kids your age."

That did it. Astrid loved the jungle gym and swings at the local park, but the big kids always took it over. "O.k." She acquiesced. "I guess I'll go. But I'm not wearing a dress."

"You can pick your own clothes." Her father answered. He'd tried and failed to get her to wear dresses before. Dresses, he'd been tartly informed, were a tool the patriarchy used to make females adhere to preset gender rolls. Not even Astrid's doll wore a dress.

San Fransisco 2007 Parent Teacher Night

"I'm concerned about Astrid's attitude. She's a bright girl, but she doesn't apply herself."

"Apply herself to what?" Her mother argued. "Busy work designed to keep kids quiet?

"Mrs. Raynor." Mrs. Mullard began. "Your daughter is struggling with the math assignments. Her vocabulary is quite advanced, but her math skills. Does she get any practice at home? I've noticed her homework often comes back unfinished."

"We don't do homework." Her mother answered. "She sits in the classroom for seven hours a day, isn't that enough? She's a kid. When she gets home, we play."

"But when she gets here, I have nothing to grade." Mrs. Mullard tried again. "The homework gives me an idea of where my students are at. It lets me know if I need to slow down my lesson plans. If the whole class were struggling with multiplication I'd spend more time on it. Unfortunately, it's just your daughter. I'm afraid she'll fall too far behind and have to do the year over."

"You want to hold her back because she doesn't do her homework?" Mrs. Raynor asked, incredulous. "That's ridiculous. Plenty of kids don't do homework."

"Yes, and I even have a few, but they pass their quizzes. Astrid's gotten C's and D's on her last few tests. I know she's capable of learning if she would just apply herself to the task." The second grade teacher answered. "Perhaps your husband could help her? I understand he's in business, he must have a head for numbers."

"Because I don't?"

Uh-oh, Astrid thought. That's the danger voice. That's the voice that is immediately followed by an impassioned rant on the ills of society.

"I didn't mean to imply," Mrs. Mullard tried.

"Yes you did. You think because I'm an artist I'm not smart enough to teach my daughter basic multiplication. But clearly my husband, the man, has a head for numbers. Best leave that to him while I go bake a pie and starch his shirts. Let's go, Astrid. We're finished here."

Her mother did have a good head for numbers. She helped Astrid with her homework for the rest of the year.

Oregon, 2010 Suburbs

"I'm telling you, Sharon, we can't just pack up and go anymore. Astrid needs a stable school environment. Ripping her out of fifth grade mid-semester could damage her education. She's already struggling to catch up from the last move."

"She'll be fine. She's always fine, aren't you sweetie?"

"Don't drag her into this." Mr. Raynor argued. "She'll feel like she has to pick sides."

"You put her in the middle of this!" His wife returned. "Making her the reason you don't want to move. I need to get out of this place, John. I feel like I can't breathe here. The people are terrible. Did you see the Johnson's house? It's bad enough that the exteriors are all the same but the interiors? Beige walls! I can't live in a place with beige walls!"

"Our walls aren't beige." Her father argued. "This place is like a damn rain forest of color." He spread his arms, encompassing there bright green kitchen. "What does the Johnsens house have to do with us?"

"What does it have to do with us? John we're surrounded by Johnsens! I don't want her growing up in a neighborhood of beige and bland! And don't think I don't know the neighbors gossip about me. That crazy chic who things she's an artist. I am an artist!"

"Of course you are." Astrid soothed. "They're only talking like that because they're jealous. They wish they could be brave enough to paint their kitchen green, or have an orange couch. They dream of being able to paint murals on the wall. But don't worry about me mom. I'm not growing up in a bland beige world. I'm growing up here, in our bright green kitchen. What do you say we Tye-dye the curtains? Really give them something to gossip about."

"That's a great idea, honey! I'll get the buckets!" Mrs. Raynor answered, suddenly perking right up.

"Thank you," Her dad said, when his wife was safely out of earshot.

Astrid shrugged. "I don't want to move either. Maybe we can hold her off until summer?"

"Maybe." Her dad conceded.
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Slayers and Marching Men
She was getting that itchy feeling between her shoulder blades that meant she was being watched. It could have been Initiative Soldiers, but she dismissed that idea. It was true she'd seen more of them while she was patrolling lately, most nodded and moved on. A few looked at her with open curiosity. She made faces at them.

When questioned Jace, who was the squad leader, had admitted there was no significant threat increase in the area. His mens orders were to sweep, and if needed, provide back up for slayers in the area. She even had a code name: Ruby 12. Apparently all Slayers in the system were given code names related to precious gems. Buffy probably didn't have a code name like that. Astrid would bet her best knife that Buffy was code named Buffy.

She'd found the radio, a short list of codes, and a new leather purse full of stakes in her gym locker the Sunday of the psychic demon incident. Major Becker had also included a brand new pair of black combat boots, a wicked looking dagger, and a note. "I thought you'd like this more than a fruit basket. Stay safe. Regards, Major G.T. Becker."

The radio was still in her locker. She found the chatter on it distracting. She did have Jace's number programmed into her phone. She'd called before she left. "I'm running an exercise." She told him. "So tell your boys if I look like I'm drunk or something that really I'm fine."

"Drunk or something? What kind of exercise are you running?" The squad captain asked, sounding half amused.

"It's something we learned in camp. Sort of an acting thing. See, slayers, for the most part, move more like a predator. We don't move like prey. That can tip off certain bottom feeding scum. So the idea is to go out and act like we're not kick ass super hero's."

"You're going to be Clark Kent then." Jace surmised.

"Pretty much. But think less dork and more drunk teenager." Astrid answered.

"So you're going to be bait." He guessed.

"Yep. Tasty, tasty bait." She could feel him smiling. "See you around."

That had been an hour ago. She'd seen a patrol since she left who had mostly ignored her. Jace must have passed on the message. But this wasn't Initiative watching her. Her instincts didn't jump to vampire, either. Predatory and creepy, definitely. But she still couldn't quite place what it was, but it was behind her.

She came to a corner and looked up at the street sign like she was lost. She kept standing there, letting the thing get closer to her.

"You look lost." A man's voice, older. She turned slowly, with a slight wobble. A man in his mid thirties looked back at her dressed casually but with something up his sleeve. He wasn't used to carrying it, unlike the stake in her right coat sleeve.

"I'm trying to find the after party." She pouted. "I was supposed to have a ride." She grouched. "But we had a fight and I said I'd walk and," She hiccuped. "And now I can't remember how to get back."

"I've got GPS in my car." He offered. "Give me the address, I'll take you." He smiled, just a nice guy. Astrid's instincts were screaming otherwise. He looked too intensely at her. And what was up his sleeve?

"Oh, that's sweet." She said. "But I just called someone."

"No you didn't." His smile stayed, but he voice took on an edge.

"Yeah." She argued, still playing the drunken girl.

"No. You haven't been on a phone for the last ten minutes. I saw you." A knife appeared in his hand. "Walk that way." He ordered.

In response she grabbed his wrist and broke it. Her other arm sent an elbow flying into his nose, not enough to break, just to bloody.

"I don't think so." The slayer told him.

"The fuck?" He yelled. "You broke my arm!"

"I couldn't broken your nose." She pointed out. "Maybe I should." He bent for the knife and she kicked him in the kneecap. He hit the wall of the building and slid down. She looked around. There were a couple of soldiers half a block down. They were in plain clothes, but Astrid recognized their walk. "Hey!" She called out, waving. They began a jog towards her.

"What have we got?" The first one asked. He bent for the knife and Astrid blocked him.

"Evidence." She said. He nodded. "Potential kidnapper." She added. "Probably not his first time, either. One of you want to call the cops? You do it; I'm not involved. I do it..."

"There's a lot of questions. Yeah, yeah, we know that drill." The second guy answered. "So, what happened?" He asked his partner, already pulling out his civilian phone.

"Guy tried to mug you. You fought back. No witnesses, no one else present. Make sure they bag that knife. I'll make a call, make sure they run his prints and DNA through the system. Make the call. He turned to Astrid. "Walk with me? Looks like I'm out a partner for the night otherwise."

She shrugged. "Sure." They double-timed until they were two blocks over. By then they could hear a siren coming. "I'm," she began.

"You're Ruby 12." He answered.

"O.k." She looked at him. "All business then, huh?"

"I don't like to form attachments." He admitted. "I have a dog for that."

"Yeah, and I'm the one the shrink called resistant to forming new relationships."

"You see a shrink?" He sounded surprised.

"When my parents split a might have beat up a girl." She answered. "Right as I entered the work force, so to speak. My dad made me see someone. Then I home schooled for a year. There weren't really many new relationships to form. I have a gold fish." She added. "I won him at the carnival. When we move I'm giving him to the mother of a friend of mine. She has two."

"So you don't have a real pet."

"Mouse is a real pet!" She argued. "I feed him and clean his bowl."

"You named your fish Mouse?"

"Technically, Alicia named him. And Dad's allergic to cats, and a dog would interfere with my sneaking in and out abilities."
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Pre-Slayer School Days
"Alright, gather up your books." Mrs. Peerson chirped to her students. A favorite of the middle school teachers, she had a habit of reserving the last five minutes of class for letting students talk and pack up. She also assigned very little homework. Students shuffled books and tablets into their bags as the noise level rose. The bell rang and the sixth graders moved out. There were only three places sixth graders went for fourth period: Band, Art, or P.E. Astrid was due in Art in six minutes, but when Mrs. Peerson called her name she was still sitting at her desk, clutching her bag with white knuckles.

Why didn't I take music? I wonder if it's too late to switch? I bet I could play the tambourine, or that little triangle thingy. Or maybe I can take two P.E. classes. There's an obesity epidemic in this country; shouldn't they encourage us to do more than shuffle around for fifty minutes? Why can't sixth graders take Creative Cuisine? She could feel the panic rising in her, and with it anger.

She didn't want to take art. She'd only agreed to take it because she thought it's make her mother happy. She hated the smell in that classroom. She hated Ms. Balton, with her smug little smile and enthusiasm for the color orange. "Astrid? Did you hear me?" Mrs. Peerson asked.

"I'm not deaf." Astrid snapped, standing up. Well I just won't go. I'll do what the stoner kids do and sneak out behind the track.

"Are you alright?" Mrs. Peerson's patient, sweet voice shot right through her anger, making her feel like she'd kicked a puppy.

"I'm sorry." Astrid apologized. "I just, um," tears began to roll down her cheeks and she brushed them aside angrily. "I hate art class. It's stupid, it smells like old paint and we have to do this dumb Mother's Day project and all I want to do is smash the damn thing into pieces." There was a click as Mrs. Peerson locked the door.

"Ah." The older woman said, handing her student a tissue box. "Well. Look, I'm not going to do this all the time, but," She opened her closet door. "Why don't you hang out in there this hour? There's plenty of books, you can even take a nap if you want. And at lunch we can go see Mr. Peerson and work out a more permanent solution. I'll send a note to Ms. Balton's room excusing you. I'll even put it on plain white paper." She teased. Astrid carried her bag to the closet.

"I don't know what to, I mean thank you." Astrid answered. Mr. Peerson often joked that he should teach and his wife should be a counselor. The kids liked him almost as much.

"It's a lot better than hiding in the cabinets." Mrs. Peerson replied. "A nasty boy locked me in one when I was about your age."

"You hid in a cabinet?" Astrid asked, a little dazed.

"That's a story for another time." Mrs. Peerson promised. She gently shut the door. As students filed in she heard a few ask why the door had been locked. "Must have been a student." She answered smoothly. "Everyone take their seats."

"Do you have another red pen, Mrs. P.? This one's out." Astrid heard Summer Colton's voice ask from the desk by the closet door. Summer was the student assistant for Mrs. Peerson that hour. Her golden curls, laughing blue eyes, and perky personality made her one of the most popular girls in school. She was the type of perfect girl that other girls usually hated. Summer avoided that fate by being unfailingly kind to nearly everyone.

"Oh, um, why don't you ask Ms. Balton? I have a note I need delivered there anyway." The teacher answered.

"Sure, but aren't there some in the --" Summer began.

"No." Astrid heard the educator respond, as she laid a hand on the door. "And the closet is off limits today. I, well, it just is." Mrs. Peerson added.

"K." Summer answered. Astrid breathed a sigh of relief. A while later a note slipped under the closet door.

"Hang in there kid. If you need anything, come find me." It was signed in Summer's loopy signature. Embarrassment and relief flooded through the sixth grader together. When all the other kids had left for lunch, Summer eased open the door.

"Summer," Mrs. Peerson called.

"Want to come to lunch with me?" Summer asked, looking down at the girl on the floor.

"I have to see Mr. Peerson." Astrid admitted.

Rather than leaving, Summer sat crossed legged on the floor. "That's o.k. I had to see a shrink every day for two months when my parents split up."

"You're parents divorced?" Astrid asked, surprised. "But I always see your dad at your basketball games."

"Rick's my step dad," Summer explained. "My other dad lives in California now. I see him on vacation."

"I never want to see my mother again." Astrid declared. Summer nodded in sympathy.

"That lunch offer is good any time, kid." Summer told her, helping her up.

Astrid looked around. Mrs. Peerson was sitting on a desk near the door. "Ready?"

"Yep." Astrid answered.

Mrs. Peerson left her with her husband for lunch. Her dad, the school councilor, and the principal all conferred after school and determined that instead of going to art she would see Mr. Peerson fourth hour. It was also strongly recommended that she see a child psychologist, Mr. Peerson provided a short list of professionals in the area.

A week later, sitting on the end of the bleachers, she heard some eight grade boys talking. Normally she didn't pay attention, because mostly what they talked about was gross. This time she heard Summers name.

"So how was your date with Summer?" One asked.

"Totally made second at the movie." Another boasted. "Couple more dates I'll be sliding home." There was laughter among the group. Astrid had heard enough. She hopped down, landing behind them.

"Slide home?" Astrid challenged. "Because from what I heard, you couldn't even bunt. You got weepy during the movie."

"I got popcorn salt in my eye!" The boy protested.

"Conveniently right when the chick flick got all gooey and emotional." Astrid countered. "But it's o.k." She added in mock sympathy, laying a hand on his arm. "I'm sure there's a girl out there that likes prissy momma's boys who weep at girly movies." She smiled at the rest of the group. "And I'm sure that if any of you ever say utter an ungentlemanly comment about Summer Colton again the only girl who'll date you is, well, him." She added, pointing at the furiously blushing boy in front of her.

Feeling good for the first time in months, Astrid strode off towards the cafeteria.
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Love Hurts, Lizards Poison
Later, she would learn it was her anger that had attracted them.

She strode down the street, eyes blazing. The gym was only two blocks away, and hitting the heavy bags seemed like a good plan. The condo had a gym, but it wasn't like Mic's. Mic himself was a retired initiative soldier, and his gym was built with his clients in mind. Initiative, slayers, and demon hunters all worked out at Mic's. There was a bar half a block down that catered to the same clientele. Astrid had only ever been in Mic's, but Alicia had been in the bar and promised to take her when she was older.

She didn't notice the woman following her, but she did notice the guy who pulled her into the alley. It was the woman who knocked her out. When she woke she was tied to a metal folding chair, in a small room. The door was ajar, and she could see light, dimly filtered from a candle. The air was damp, and had chill to it. The sub-tunnels then; there were any number of demons that used the sub-tunnels as housing and transport. She tested the ropes. Her hands were tied tight, but her legs had some wiggle room. They'd left her boots on. Footsteps, she closed her eyes.

"This one is strong," A young man's voice. "Mother says she'll feed us for a long time if we're careful with her."

"Careful is no fun." Another young man answered, truculent. "They taste better when they're screaming."

"But Mother said," The first began.

"Mother said," The other mimicked.

"Yes," A woman's voice. "I did. Leave her, Gork. This one is your brothers. We'll find you something." She could hear them moving off. The first voice spoke softly, "Not as nice as mine." He stepped away, and the door shut.

Carefully, Astrid opened her eyes and waited as they adjusted to the darkness. A cheap tap light was turned on, hanging from a nail on the wall to her left. Bare concrete walls and floor. A cot in the corner, small folding table, and her in the chair were the only things in it. They hadn't tied her upper half to the chair except to loop the rope tying her hands through the back. She could bend.

Astrid listened to them leave. They sounded human. There were footsteps, on what was probably concrete. And it was cold down here, with a wetness to the air. Tunnels then. Great, first she'd have to kill whatever caught her, then she'd probably have to fight her way out. Well, no, first she had to get out of the chair.

She bent, reaching, lifting her knees, and finally, blissfully, her fingers closed on the thin, faintly rounded edge of her knife. She pulled it out. A boot knife was something Alicia had taught her. "Always have a weapon. Never rely on it," was the older slayer's motto.Wedging the knife between her knees she began to saw at the rope between her wrists. Dry and pulled tightly apart, she had her hands free in four minutes. Every minute she expected them to walk in.

They weren't vampires, that much she was sure of. But without getting a look at them, she didn't know what they were. They had human voices, but any number of demons could have that. Their footsteps had sounded human. One of the boys had been wearing heavy boots. She untied her feet and stood carefully. She could feel the lump on the back of her head, but she was steady on her feet. She did some basic math in her head. Probably not a concussion. She took stock of the room.

Aside from her knife, she had the rope she was tied with, a dirty cot, and a metal folding chair. She tucked the longer bit of rope around her waist and folded the chair up. It would be an awkward bludgeoning tool, but if they weren't expecting an attack...

Carefully she opened the door. The hallway was the same, bare concrete. She could here a man screaming down the way. She knew she should escape while they were occupied, but she was still unsure. Then, in the quiet between screams, she heard a woman whimper. Astrid's face hardened. She was going to get everyone out of here.

Footsteps, and she quickly closed the door. Standing to the side she waited. He came in muttering to himself. She launched a quick and vicious assault with the chair. She hit his knees first. Unsure of what she'd bee fighting, but knowing they had feet, her first goal was to disable. With a popping sound, his knees gave out and he fell. His scream died in his throat as the metal edge of the chair smashed into his neck. She looked him over.

Human shaped, his skin had the small green scales of a lizard. His eyes were slitted, and stared up at her in pain and confusion. His vocal cords had been crushed, and his airway was severely damaged. Grimly, she set the edge of the chair against his throat and leaned. His hands, tipped with sharp nails, struggled weakly to push the chair away. She leaned on him even after he'd quit moving, until she saw the spark of life leave his eyes. Vampires looked angry when you killed them, and usually surprised. The lizard man had looked desperate.

She listened carefully. If the other demons had heard the struggle there was no sign of it. The man screaming down the hallway was probably a good distraction. Dragging the lizard demon by his ankles, she moved him out of the doorway. There was door across the narrow tunnel wall. It was rough cut, and hung half off its hinges. She eased it open. A girl of about twenty looked up from her whimpering, reflexively hitching up her shoulder to fend off a blow. She was chained by her ankle to the wall, her hands tied in front of her.

Finger to her lips, Astrid approached her. She slipped the knife from her boot. "I'm going to use this to unlock you, o.k.?" She said quietly. The girl nodded. "Can you walk?" Carrying her would be slow, and she'd have to put her down to fight. The girl nodded again.

"I pace when they're not here." The girl told her. "To keep warm." There was a click as the manacle unlocked. Astrid carefully cut the ropes on the girls wrists the slipped out of her jacket. "Thanks. I'm Nell." She said, slipping into the jacket and zipping it up.

"Astrid." The slayer returned. She looked at Nell's bare feet, then crossed to the bed, just out of reach of the previously shackled girl. Tearing strips from the sheets, she wrapped Nell's feet, winding until they wrapped her ankles and tying them off. She handed Nell more strips. "Stick them in the pockets." She instructed. "And stay behind me." Picking up the chair again, she edged into the tunnel. The man had quit screaming.

They reached a larger chamber. It smelled of blood and sweat things best not thought about. There was a man crumpled on the floor. "I want another one." The whiny voice Astrid had heard earlier complained. "This one's almost gone. Look, he passed out. Please."

"We'll take the bus out and find you a nice drunkard." The woman began.

"No! I want a good one. Glak got a strong one. I want a strong one!" He whined. "An athlete. Glak got an athlete." He continued.

"Glak takes better care of his pets." The woman began.

With a deadly accuracy, the slayer threw her knife into the woman's back. It hit with a thunk. "What?" The woman managed before staggering. "Gork!" She called, reaching for her spawn. The lizard man pulled the knife from his mothers back as she sank to her knees.

"How?" He sputtered. "How dare you!" He charged her, knife in hand. Sweeping Nell sideways with her, Astrid brought the chair up like a shield.

"Asks the lizard who kidnaps people?" Astrid returned, shoving the chair into his middle the letting it fall. The air whooshed out of him. Grabbing his wrist she bent it until the knife fell from his hand. He swung his taloned free hand at her. Dodging, he hit her shoulder instead of her face. She felt blood run warmly down her arm. Snapping a kick at his knee, she jumped back. "Nell, get him out of here!" She called. "Take the first ladder you find to the surface. I'm right behind you."

Staggered by the blow to his knee, the lizard man still moved forward. "You're dead!" He screamed at her.

"Like your mommy?" She asked him mockingly.

With a bellow he launched himself at her again, talons swinging. She ducked under, and brought her shoulder into his middle. With a heave the demon went flying. He hit the wall with enough force to daze him. Nell was struggling to wake the man on the floor, tears streaming down her face. "Please," she begged. "Please, Johnny, you have to wake up. You have to wake up!" She pleaded.

"Nell." Astrid said gently. "We can send people back for him."

"No!" The other girl protested. "I can't leave him here. Help me wake him."

With a sigh, knowing it would slow them down, Astrid slipped the slim man over her shoulders in a fireman's carry. Nell wrapped her arm in a strip of sheet. "You must be really strong."

"Comes with the job." Astrid answered. "I'm a super hero." She continued, striving for lightness.

"You should have a cape." Nell replied. "Or a really fancy pair of boots."

"Ooh, boots." Astrid answered. "Yes. I should have fancy boots." The continued down the tunnel. A vampire came around the corner. Astrid couldn't have said how she knew he was a vampire, his face was normal. Something in the predatory hunger of his eyes.

"Ladies." He said. "Escaping the lizards I see. I usually like my meat a little fresher," He began.

Astrid stabbed him neatly through the throat. "That was a love tap." She warned. "Show us the ladder out, or I'll cut your head off."

"Slayer," The vampire hissed, a hand at his throat. Astrid smiled coldly at him. "Follow me."

"If you try to trap us, I'll make sure you die first." She warned. Ahead of them, he nodded silently.

"No tricks." He promised. Leading them through a series of tunnels, he pointed them to a ladder. "Should take you up right behind an old butcher shop. A few of us raid it when we're hard up." He admitted. "Another night, I might have killed you. But I figure we probably owe you for the lizard men. Nasty bits, them."

Astrid regarded him. "If you've got a lair down there, move out." She warned. He nodded, and turned back the way they'd came. Nell held Sammy while Astrid climbed up and pushed the manhole aside. When it was open she went back down. Nell had been holding up well so far, but the adrenaline was leaving her, and shock would set in soon. How long had they kept her down there? She sent her ahead and tried to think how to carry Johnny up. Finally she tied the rope around his wrists and put his arms over her shoulders. With super human efforts she managed to get them to the top and replace the manhole cover.

Chicago wind sliced bitterly at them. Nell huddled into Astrid's jacket. It was the wind that woke Johnny, propped beside the back door. Astrid broke the lock off the back door and helped young man inside it as Nell slipped inside. He didn't speak, still in shock. It wasn't much warmer inside the building. Moving through the cold back room, they finally found the small office. Astrid called Mic's.
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