Slayer – Kiersten White

̨ey, of all people, should have known better than to be in a cemetery as the sun set and night claimed the world. ̨e hunter watched the mother, straight as a lightning rod jammed into the earth, channeling her grief into the grave where her heart had been buried. On either side of her stood a little girl in pink cowboy boots. ̨ey were both skinny and pale, their red curls now leached of color in the darkness. Darkness was the great equalizer. Everyone was the same in the dark. Colorless. Featureless. Powerless. ̨e hunter would keep them that way. It was her job, a̼er all. She turned to the vampire beside her. ̨ey were both invisible in the black recess of a mausoleum. “The woman lives. The children are yours.

” Technically only one of the girls needed to die, but it was better to avoid any prophetic loopholes. ̨e vampire strolled out toward the grieving family. He didn’t hide or prowl. He didn’t need to. One of the girls tugged frantically on her mother’s hand. “Mama. Mama!” ̨e woman turned wearily, without enough time to be surprised before the vampire threw her. She flew back, hitting her husband’s granite headstone and falling unconscious to the so̼ ground over him. MERRICK JAMISON-SMYTHE: HUSBAND, FATHER, WATCHER loomed above her in classically carved letters. ̨e hunter wished she could take a photo. It was perfect staging. “Hello, girls.” ̨e vampire’s glee was audible. ̨e hunter checked her watch. She should have picked a hellhound, or perhaps the Order of Taraka.

But they were outside her price range and, frankly, overkill. Two children needed a very minimal amount of kill. And she liked the symmetry of using a vampire. He held out his arms, as though inviting the children in for an embrace. “You can run if you’d like. I don’t mind chasing. Works up an appetite.” ̨e two girls, who the hunter had expected to be screaming by now, looked at each other solemnly. Perhaps standing on the grave of their father, who was dead because of a vampire, they felt the truth: ̨is was always their fate. One of the girls nodded. ̨e other threw herself at the vampire’s legs with such startling speed and fury that the vampire fell backward, tangled up. Before he could kick the girl off, the other one jumped on his chest. And then the vampire was gone. Both girls stood, brushing dust from their neat black dresses. ̨e second little girl tucked the stake back into her flowery cowboy boot.

̨ey hurried over to their mother and patted her cheeks until she stirred. At least their mother had the sense to be panicked. ̨e hunter sighed, annoyed, as the mother pulled the girls to herself. Now they were all watching the night. Alert. ̨e hunter had hoped to avoid the confrontation of revealing herself, but it had to be done. She pulled out her crossbow. Her beeper chimed. She looked down at it out of habit, and when she looked back up, the family was gone. She swore. She should never have used a vampire. ̨at was what she got for trying a bit of poetic tragedy. She had orders to keep their mother alive if possible, and she had wanted their mother to live, alone, having lost everything to the same pathetic half-breed of monster. Punishment for thinking she could hide from prophecy. Punishment for risking the entire world for her own selfish desires.

Well. The hunter would find them again. She flipped up her hood and strode to the nearest gas station. A pay phone waited in an anemic pool of light. She picked it up and dialed the number on her beeper. “Is it done?” “No,” the hunter replied. “I’m d i s app o i n t e d i n y o u.” “ S o g r o u n d m e.” S h e h u ng up, s c o w l i ng, a n d t h e n w e n t i n s i d e t h e g a s s t a t i o n. S h e h a d fa i l e d t o a v e r t t h e ap o c a lyp s e, fo r n o w. She needed candy. 1 OF ALL THE AWFUL THINGS demons do, keeping Latin alive when it deserves to be a dead language might be the worst. To say nothing of ancient Sumerian. And ancient Sumerian translated into Latin? Diabolic. My tongue trips over pronunciation as I painstakingly work through the page in front of me.

I used to love my time in the library, surrounded by the work of generations of previous Watchers. But ever since the most recent time the world almost ended—sixty-two days ago, to be exact—I can barely sit still. I εdget. Tap my pencil. Bounce my toes against the ζoor. I want to go for a run. I don’t know why the anxiety has hit me diΦerently this time, aδer all the horror and tragedy I’ve seen before. Τere is one possible reason that tugs at my brain, but . “Τat can’t be right.” I peer at my own writing. “Τe shadowed one will rise and the world will tickle before him?” “I do hate being tickled,” Rhys says, leaning back and stretching. His curly brown hair has once again deεed its strict part. It ζops over his forehead, soδening the hard line of his eyebrows, which are perpetually drawn close to his glasses in thought or concern. Aδer we εnish this morning’s lessons, I’ll tidy up my small medical center, and Rhys will train for combat with Artemis. I shake out my hands, needing to move something.

Maybe I really will go for a run. No one would miss me. Or maybe I’ll ask if I can join combat training. Τey’ve never let me, but I haven’t asked in years. I really want to hit something, and I don’t know why, and it scares me. It could be the demonic prophecies of doom I’ve been reading all morning, though. I scratch out my botched translation. “As far as apocalypses go, tickling’s not the worst way to die.” Imogen clears her throat, but her indulgent smile soδens the severity. “Can we get back to your translation, Nina? And, Rhys, I want a full report on half-human, half-demon taxonomy.” Rhys ducks his head, blushing. He’s the only one here who’s in line to be a full Watcher, which means he can join the Council one day. Someday he’ll be in charge, part of the governing body of the Council. He wears that weight in everything he does. He’s the εrst one in the library and the last one out, and he trains almost as much as Artemis.

Watchers were meant to guide Slayers—the Chosen Ones specially endowed to εght demons—but over the centuries we evolved to be more hands-on. Watchers have to make the hard decisions, and sometimes the hard decisions include weapons. Swords. Spells. Knives. Guns, in my father’s case. Not all of us train, though. We all take our education seriously, but there’s slightly less pressure for me. I’m just the castle medic, which doesn’t rate high on the importance scale. Learning how to take lives beats knowing how to save them. But being the medic doesn’t get me out of Prophecies of Doom 101. I push away the Latin Sumerian Tickle Apocalypse. “Imogen,” I whine, “can I get something a little less difficult? Please?” She gives me a long-suΦering sigh. Imogen wasn’t supposed to be a teacher. But she’s all we’ve got now, on account of the regular teachers being blown up.

She teaches for a few hours every morning, and the rest of her time is spent managing the Littles. Her blond ponytail swings limply as she stands and searches the far bookshelf. I hold back a triumphant smile. Imogen is always nicer to me than to anyone else. Actually, everyone here is. I try not to take advantage, but if they’re going to treat me like the castle pet just because I’m not all with the stabby stab, at least I should get some perks. Τe shelf Imogen is searching is technically oΦ-limits, but since BuΦy—the Slayer who singlehandedly destroyed almost our entire organization—broke all magic on earth a couple months ago, it doesn’t matter anymore. Τe books that used to pose threats such as demonic possession or summoning ancient hellgods or giving you, like, a really bad paper cut are now as benign as any other book. But that doesn’t make them any easier to translate. “Magic is still broken, right?” I ask as Imogen runs her εngers down the spine of a book that once killed an entire roomful of Watchers in the εδeenth century. It’s been two months without a drop of magical energy. For an organization that was built on magic, it hasn’t been an easy adjustment. I wasn’t taught to use magic, but I have a very healthy respect-for-slash-terror-of it. So it’s creepy seeing Imogen treat that particular tome like anything else on the shelf. “Fresh out of batteries and no one can εnd the right size.

” Rhys scowls at his text as though insulted by the demon he’s reading about. “When BuΦy breaks something, she breaks it good. Personally, I think that if confronted with the Seed of Wonder—the source of all magic on earth, a genuine mystical miracle—I might opt to, say, study it. Research. Really think through my options. Τere had to be another way to avert that particular apocalypse.” “BuΦy sees, BuΦy destroys,” I mutter. Her name feels almost like a swear word on my tongue. We don’t say it aloud in my family. Τen again, we don’t say much in my family at all, besides “Have you seen my best daηer?” and “Where are our stake-carving supplies?” and “Hello, my twin daughters, it is I, your mother, and I love one of you better than the other and chose to save the good twin εrst when a fire was about to kill you both.” Okay, not that last one. Because again: We don’t talk much. Living under the same roof isn’t as cozy as it sounds when that roof covers a massive castle. “Τink of all we could have learned,” Rhys says mournfully, “if I had had even an hour with the Seed of Wonder. ” “In her defense, the world was ending,” Imogen says.

“In her not defense, she was the reason the world was ending,” I counter. “And now magic is dead.” Imogen shrugs. “No more hellmouths or portals. No more demons popping in for vacations and sightseeing.” I snort. “Foodie tours of Planet Human are canceled. Sorry, demonic dimensions. Of course, it also means no current tourists can get back to their home-sweet-hellholes.” Rhys scowls, pulling oΦ his glasses and polishing them. “You’re joking about the disruption and destruction of all the research we’ve compiled on demonic traveling, portals, dimensions, gateways, and hellmouths. None of it is current anymore. Even if I wanted to understand how things have changed, I couldn’t.” “See? Buffy hurts everyone. Poor Rhys.

No books on this subject.” I pat his head. Imogen tosses a huge volume on the table. “And yet your homework still isn’t done. Try this one.” A poof of dust blows outward from the book; I flinch away and cover my nose. She grimaces. “Sorry.” “No, it’s εne. I actually haven’t had an asthma attack in a while.” It’s εne that my asthma mysteriously disappeared the same day BuΦy destroyed magic, the world almost ended, and I got showered in interdimensional demonic goo. Totally εne. Has nothing to do with the demon. Neither does the fact that I’m desperate to go running or start training or do anything with my body besides snuggle up and read, which used to be its primary occupation. I pull down my sweater sleeve over my hand and carefully wipe the leather cover.

“‘Τe Apocalypses of . Arcturius the Farsighted’? Sounds like the dude just needed a better prescription for glasses.” Rhys leans close, peering curiously. “I haven’t read that volume.” He sounds jealous. Notes have been scrawled in the margins, the handwriting changing as it moves through the centuries. On the last few pages there are orange εngerprints, like someone was reading while eating Cheetos. Τe Watchers before me have made their own notes, commenting and εlling in details. Seeing their work overwhelms me with a sense of responsibility. It’s not every sixteen-year-old girl who can trace her family’s calling back through the centuries of helping Slayers, εghting demons, and otherwise saving the world. I εnd a good entry. “Did you know that in 1910, one of the Merryweathers prevented an octopus uprising? A leviathan demon gave them sentience and they were going to overthrow us! Merryweather doesn’t give many details. It appears they defeated them with . ” I squint. “Lemon.

And butter. I think this is a recipe.” Imogen taps on the book. “Just translate the last ten prophecies, how about?” I get to work. Rhys occasionally asks Imogen questions, and by the time our class period is almost over, he has what looks like half the extensive shelves piled on our groaning table. In years past, Rhys and I wouldn’t have studied together. He’d have been in classes with the other future Council hopefuls. But there are so few of us now, we’ve had to relax some of the structure and tradition. Not all of it, though. Without tradition, what would we be? Just a bunch of weirdos hiding in a castle studying the things that no one else wants to know about. Which I guess is what we are with tradition too. But knowing I’m part of a millennia-long battle against the forces of evil (and apparently octopuses) makes it much more meaningful. BuΦy and the Slayers might have turned their backs on the Watchers, rejecting our guidance and counsel, but we haven’t turned our backs on the world. Normal people can go on living, oblivious and happy, because of our hard work. And I’m proud of that.

Even when it means I have to translate dumb prophecies, and even if I’ve wondered more and more the last few years if the way the Watchers and Slayers fight evil isn’t always right. Τe library door slams open and my twin sister, Artemis, walks in. She takes a deep breath and scowls, crossing past me and tuηing open the ancient window. It groans in protest, but, as with all things, Artemis accomplishes her goal. She pulls out one of my inhalers from her pocket and sets it on the table beside me. Everything in this castle runs because of Artemis. She is a force of nature. An angry but efficient force of nature. “Hello to you, too,” I say with a smile. She tugs my hair. We both have red waves, though hers are always pulled back into a brutal ponytail. I have a lot more time for moisturizing than she does. Her face is like looking in a mirror—if that mirror were a prophecy of who I’d be in another life. Her freckles are darker from spending so much time outside. Her gray eyes more intense, her jawline somehow stronger.

Her shoulders are straighter, her arms are more deεned, and her posture is less snuηly and more I-will-destroy-you-if-itcomes-to-that. In short, Artemis is the strong twin. The powerful twin. The chosen twin. And I am . The one who got left behind. I don’t just mean the εre, either. Τe moment when my mother was forced to choose to save one of us from the terrifying ζames—and chose Artemis—was deεnitely life changing. But even aδer that, even aδer I managed to survive, my mother kept choosing her. Artemis was chosen for testing and training. Artemis was given responsibilities and duties and a vital role in Watcher society. And I was leδ behind on the fringes. I only sort of matter now because so many of us are dead. Artemis always would have mattered. And the truth is, I get it.

I was born into Watcher society, but Artemis deserves to be here. She sits next to me, pulling out her notebook and opening it to today’s to-do list. It’s in microscopic handwriting and goes past the εrst page and onto at least one more. No one in this castle does more than Artemis. “Listen,” she says, “I might have hurt Jade.” I look up from where I’m almost εnished with this book. Every other prophecy had margin notes detailing how that particular apocalypse was averted. I idly wonder what it means that this is the last prophecy. Did Arcturius the Farsighted εnally get glasses, or was this apocalypse so apocalypse-y that he couldn’t see past it? It also has no Watcher notes. And Watchers are meticulous. If it doesn’t have notes, that means it hasn’t been averted yet. But my own castle emergencies are far more pressing. “And by ‘might have hurt Jade,’ you mean . ” Artemis shrugs. “Definitely did.

” On cue, Jade limps in. She picks up her tirade midargument. “—and just because magic is broken, doesn’t mean that I should be Artemis’s punching bag! I know my father worked in special ops, but I don’t want to. I was good at magic! I am not good at this!” “No one is, next to Artemis,” Rhys says. His voice is quiet and without judgment, but we all freeze. It’s one of the things we don’t talk about. How Artemis is inarguably the best, and yet she’s the assistant and Rhys is the official golden boy. Watchers excel at research, record keeping, and not talking about things. Τe entire organization is ever-so-British. Τough technically Artemis and I are American. We lived in California and then Arizona before coming here. Rhys, Jade, and Imogen—who all grew up in London—still laugh when I treat rain like a novelty. It’s been eight years in England and Ireland, but I adore rain and green and all things nondesert. Jade ζops down on the other side of me, hauling her ankle up onto my lap. I rotate it for range of movement.

“Τat one translates as ‘Slayer,’ ” Artemis says, peering over my shoulder. She crosses out where I had mistranslated a word as “killer.” Same difference. Jade yelps. “Ouch!” “Sorry. Nothing is broken, but it’s swelling already. I think it’s a mild sprain.” I glance at Artemis and she looks away, guessing my thoughts as she so oδen can. She knows I’m going to tell her there is no reason to train this hard. To hurt each other. Instead of rehashing our usual debate, I point to my translation. “What about this word?” “Protector,” Artemis says. “That’s cheating,” Imogen trills from where she’s reshelving. “It doesn’t count as cheating. We’re practically the same person!” No one calls me on the lie.

Artemis shouldn’t have to do my homework on top of everything else, but she helps without being asked. It’s how we work.


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Updated: 13 October 2021 — 01:02

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