“I can’t believe Snyder gave us detention,” grumbled Buffy as she filled a pail of water from the janitor’s closet. “For once I was just an innocent bystander.”
Oz felt that detention was too harsh a measure in this instance. If only Xander’s little Jell-O demonstration of splatitude had not accidentally involved the principal’s suit they might have gotten out of it. Now they were stuck cleaning graffiti that someone else had sprayed across school grounds.
Still, there was no use fighting about it. The stoic demeanor that normally kept him off Snyder’s radar no longer applied when he was anywhere near Buffy Summers. It was guilt by association pure and simple. Oz accepted this as an unchangeable fact.
Even though Buffy had nothing to do with Xander’s lunchtime Jell-O mishap or, as she had indicated, the theft of items from the school Chemistry Lab, Buffy was under the principal’s constant scrutiny. Having learned from Willow that there was a gym fire at Buffy’s last school, Oz could understand the concern, especially since Buffy tended to be in the thick of things when something went wrong.
Cleaning a little graffiti was a small price to pay compared to what he got out of this business. Considering what might have become of him if the werewolf hunters found him, he was grateful that the slayer found him first.
He listened quietly as Buffy outlined their assigned tasks, inwardly amused that she doled out duties much like she did when organizing patrol. Oz didn’t often join them on their nightly excursions, but Willow extolled their adventures in detail. Sometimes it bothered him that his girlfriend was placed in dangerous situations, but there was pride, too. Her skills and confidence had grown by leaps and bounds since they first met.
Sometimes he felt like he was holding her back. Witches and werewolves belonged to different worlds despite their link to the supernatural.
Catching himself focused on thoughts that were better left to another day, he blinked slowly and then let his mind catch up with the conversation.
“Holy cow, Batman.”
A gleep sounded as Willow rounded the corner leading up the library. “Giles is gonna be the one having the cow.”
Oz took in the dark red splotches covering the walls. Symbols scarred every surface. Paint dripped like blood. This was not the work of disgruntled students marring the walls with the name of their favorite bands. He’d seen the Dingo’s name depicted in artful forms more than once.
The way that Buffy carefully set her full water pail down and moved cautiously down the hall scanning the symbols raised the hairs on the back of his neck. Oz sensed her nervous reaction.
“It looks like blood.”
“Paint,” Oz confirmed. He could smell it.
Buffy glanced at them over her shoulder, her eyes dark, shadowed by something Oz could fully understand, a predator sensing danger. She met Willow’s gaze, and then Xander’s before nodding toward one particular symbol on the library door. “That’s it, right? It’s the one from the ring. Amolon.”
Their nods confirmed it.
Having just learned some of the details, Oz took this to be a very bad sign. Demons were gathering in Sunnydale for a ritual that would bring a powerful god to Earth. It required sacrifices including Cordelia Chase if they were correct about the prophecy scroll’s method of identifying its victims.
There were too many people looking out for Cordelia to ever let that happen. So he hoped. Her old friends, the Cordettes, would have sooner thrown her to the wolves if it meant facing the kind of danger she was in. They were superficial, clueless about the realities of Sunnydale. Oz had to give Cordelia a lot of credit for overcoming that.
Like him, he was at the fringes of the Scooby Gang, an outsider of sorts who didn’t really belong. He wondered if she saw it that way or if her return to their ranks after the rebar accident was the only way she could cling to something meaningful. Or if, given the choice, she didn’t want to go back to the life she had before. Oz supposed that she couldn’t considering her financial circumstances, which Willow had revealed to him.
Buffy didn’t wait to issue orders. She barged through the library doors calling out her watcher’s name. Both Willow and Xander took off next and so Oz followed after them though at a protracted pace. He paused to touch his fingers to the paint. They came away tinted red.
The paint was still fresh.
Snyder had not mentioned the library as being the target of the graffitist. They had been headed for the back exit where the principal had described damage to the outer walls of the school. That was why the students hadn’t been gossiping about it all day long. It was closer to the teachers’ parking lot than any section of the school where the students hung out.
Now it was here in the halls outside the library. Oz pictured the school layout. It was a ring of symbols. A partial one. He was mentally tracking the path of halls someone would have to take to make a complete circle when Giles and the others swept past him through the other door.
As expected, Mr. Giles was stunned by the sight of demonic symbols marking the walls around the entrance to the library. “This is the work of Amolon’s demon cult.”
Oz remained silent for a moment as he waited to hear what else Buffy or Giles had to say on the subject. Having been informed of most of this second hand he felt it was better to hold back and assess the situation before diving into trouble.
“How’d they do this? There are still people around.” Buffy hissed angrily over the fact that her enemies had come and gone while laying waste to her territory.
Gesturing to the scrub brushes in Willow’s hands, Giles commented, “I see that you plan to clean it up. Excellent notion, though I admit something of a surprise.”
“Nah, we’ve got detention,” clarified Xander. “Snyder nabbed us at lunchtime.”
“Ah. That, however, is not.” Giles pursed his lips and stood akimbo as he perused the damage. “I heard nothing.” He explained that he had been conducting research in his office. “This wasn’t here earlier today.”
Choosing that moment, Oz raised his stained fingers so the others could see. Willow caught on right away. “Fresh paint,” she gasped. “It hasn’t been here since lunch.”
“So the culprit could still be around.” Stepping away from the group, Buffy peered back down the hall, her eyes flitting across every diverging corridor. “Maybe we can catch this demony creep and get him to tell us where to find his boss.”
The vampire who could survive sunlight. Oz made the connection based on what was said about Cordelia’s grandmother’s funeral. “If the symbols are here…,” Oz raised a brow as he looked toward Giles who quickly came to the same conclusion.
“The ritual is connected with the Hellmouth.”
Buffy told Giles, “The rest of the graffiti is outside near the back entrance.”
“The beginnings of a circle,” Oz suggested.
“Of course,” Giles turned himself around in a slow circle as he gaze down the corridor and back through the glass portion of the library door toward the back of the room. “If the demon is still on school grounds…,” he began only to see Buffy sprint away in the direction of the trail of symbols before he could finish, “it will be that way.”
The slayer had already vanished around the corridor before any of them managed to break into a run. “Wait up, Buffster!” Xander called out as he and Willow headed in that direction.
Oz and Giles, still standing firm, both sighed over the fact that it would’ve taken a lot less effort if anyone actually listened before dashing into the fray. Glancing up at the watcher, Oz waved a hand in the direction of the library door. “Short cut?”
“Emergency exit,” Giles nodded in confirmation as they headed back into the library.
The afternoon sun glinted into his eyes as he emerged outside. Oz shaded them by raising a hand to block the light. A quick scan of the side of the building showed a lone figure huddled close to the wall. Buffy burst onto the scene. Oz had seen her in action before, but it still stunned him to see how quickly she could move.
Willow and Xander appeared after that, but the Slayer was already halfway to her quarry. It didn’t look like a demon, he noted, though the strong light created more of a silhouette. The creature took no notice of the oncoming danger continuing to brush painted symbols in a large arc across the brick surface.
It was surrounded, Oz realized with a twinge of satisfaction, as he and Giles ran from one direction while Willow and Xander covered the other. Buffy went straight for it. With a flying leap she tackled it to the ground. A feminine screech sounded followed by a flurry of movement as the Slayer rolled across the grass to straddle and pin her opponent down.
Slowing up as he got closer, he saw that it was not a demon, but a girl. Someone he knew. Someone they all knew. Karla Brewer, the first one identified by the signs of the prophecy and taken to be a sacrifice.
She was alive…
And, for some reason, was painting demonic symbols on the school.
Buffy recognized as soon as she had forced her into a position from which she could not break free. “Karla?”
The blank eyes that stared back showed none of Karla’s blue-eyed warmth. Tinted black, they revealed nothing human. “He shall come.” A string of demonic sounds followed before she repeated, “He shall come and only the worthy will embrace his power.”
Letting go one arm, Buffy slapped her across one cheek hard enough to leave a red mark behind. “Snap out of it, Karla.”
There was no effect. Oz hadn’t expected that anything as simple as pain would break the hold over his schoolmate’s mind. “She doesn’t even recognize the sound of her own name.”