Alicia, Sally and Darrell return for their final term in the Fifth, and Alicia's decision to reveal the supernatural world to Betty in an effort to mend their friendship doesn't go entirely unnoticed.
This is the first part of this series that I've written outside on the 12DaysOfChristmas challenge so let's see how this goes...
Chapter CW: Internalised ableism, prejudice towards mental health difficulties, violence.
"It didn't go exactly as planned", Alicia admitted, inhaling sharply as Rupert pressed gauze to her wound.
"Hold that", Rupert said and he began to wind the bandage around Alicia's arm, "Where's Sally?"
"Oh she's probably sulking somewhere, she wasn't impressed with how it all turned out", Betty's voice cut in, filled with wicked glee, "though that girl never has worked out how to have fun".
"I would suggest, Miss Hills, that right now you keep your mouth shut", Rupert said, "Alicia? From the very beginning please?"
Two months earlier
"I still can't believe you've been sneaking around doing this for months and you never told me, you beast", Betty said as she followed Alicia down the path towards the town. After the Easter weekend, Betty had come to spend the rest of the hols with Alicia and most of their time had been spent avoiding the rest of Alicia's family while Betty inundated Alicia with questions.
"Marie wasn't exactly overjoyed when the other two found out", Alicia said, "It isn't like I chose to tell them".
That was the part that appeased Betty. While Darrell Rivers and, even worse in Betty's eyes, Sally Hope had known this grand secret about Alicia for months, they had learnt through circumstance. Alicia had chosen to tell Betty.
"Still, weren't you awfully bored with those two being the only ones you could talk to about all this. I bet they were so just and good about it all", Betty wasn't being quiet. Alicia had gotten used to quiet on patrol. Either she patrolled by herself where she was silent the entire time bar the occasional verbal jab aimed at a vampire to throw them off their game, or she patrolled with Sally who only said what was necessary in her usual soft-spoken way. Alicia was surprised to learn she had gotten rather used to - dare she even say appreciative - of the latter.
Alicia ignored Betty's comment, "Come on, I want to do a loop down near the station", she had only shared vague details of the supernatural and had omitted matters that might expose the specifics of what had happened to Sally or Darrell.
"I am glad you told me Alicia", Betty said and she sounded so pleased that Alicia pushed the dread over what Marie might say about all this to one side.
"Just make sure you do what I tell you okay?", Alicia reminded her, "I'm serious about it being dangerous".
"Yes, yes. I heard you the first three times, do stop fretting 'Licia", Betty said.
Alicia nodded but the knot returned in her stomach as she angled their route down towards the old train station. About twenty minutes walk from the Johns' family home, it was the ideal hiding place and Alicia couldn't shake the growing worry that the supernatural world was going to hit closer to home sooner rather than later.
"Come on", she whispered, gesturing for Betty to stay behind her as they reached the overgrown path down to the train station.
Twigs cracked beneath their feet, no matter how careful Alicia was. Sharp noises pierced the night, leaving echoes behind them and no doubt announcing their arrival to anyone within the area who cared to listen. She sensed rather than saw Betty open her mouth to say something and waved for her to stop. Maybe it was the fear of having brought another friend into the midst of danger, maybe it was her developing Slayer senses, either way, Alicia could feel the gentle and indescribable thrum of realisation that there was a vampire nearby.
Alicia moved quicker, hoping to leave Betty behind a little and keep her out of harm's way but her friend was frustratingly adept at keeping up with her. If the vampire hadn't heard their footsteps, it would no doubt hear the pounding of Alicia's heart and the speed it was pushing blood to her limbs. She put one hand on the stake at her belt and wrapped her fingers around it slowly and firmly.
The timing was everything. Even when they knew you were coming.
Alicia waited until she heard the first fall of footsteps and then rushed low towards the sound. The vampire jumped out from the thick of trees and bushes around the path just as Alicia reached him and she used her lowered body and momentum to shoulder charge him. The vampire landed hard amongst the foliage but moved in time to avoid Alicia's follow up kick. With a quick shift of her position, Alicia forced the vampire to stay in a defensive position and back away from where she had left Betty. One clumsy punch was easy ducked by Alicia and she landed her blow in the vampire's abdomen. The vampire threw a second swing, Alicia jumped backwards to avoid that one and then swept the vampire's legs from beneath him as she ran back in on the attack. This time she followed the vampire down and slammed her stake into his chest.
"Bloody hell!", Betty exclaimed as the vampire burst into dust.
Alicia just nodded and got back up, only half-listening to the enthused chatter that followed from her best friend. She turned around slowly, looking and listening as best she could for signs of any more vampires. Vampires could just as easily be pack hunters as lone predators and it wasn't as though she could just ask before dusting them if they had any friends nearby.
"Let's loop the station and head back", Alicia said when there was a gap in Betty's talk. She started walking, giving Betty little choice but to follow.
"I'm old enough to go into town by myself", June protested as Marion Johns swept around the kitchen, returning it to some semblance of normality after lunch-time. Alicia maintained it was the three boys who caused all the mess and they protested greatly to that accusation. Marion set her children various jobs to make her life easier when they were at home but she had learnt a long time ago that she was better off not tasking them to getting the kitchen back to how she wanted it.
"And yet last time you went by yourself, I got a phone call to say that you had gotten into a row with the boy who runs errands for the Cheshams. It was the talk of the town how you two went off at one another in the middle of the store", Marion said as she levelled a look at June.
"He started it", June grumbled.
"Someone else always does", Marion said as she finished folding the tea towels and putting them to one side, "Alicia has already had her chance to complain about having to go with you so off you go and find her and the sooner you get it over and done with the happier you'll be".
Arguing with Marion rarely got any of the children anywhere - even if they weren't her own children - so June sighed and stomped off to find her cousin.
"Buck up June, the world hasn't ended", Betty grinned as June found her and Alicia out the front of the house tidying the garden.
"Not yet", June huffed when Alicia handed her a watering can and pointed for her to put it to the side, "Can we just get this over with?"
"Gosh, it's just such a mystery why you don't have any friends June", Betty teased.
June glared at Betty and then glanced at Alicia. Alicia watched her cautiously for any indication that June might make a snide comment about the temporary break-down in Alicia and Betty's own friendship. June pursed her lips and then turned to Alicia.
"How's Darrell?", June asked in a voice much smoother than her usual tones.
Alicia didn't need to look at Betty to know her friend had bristled, June's smirk told her that well enough.
"Stop being a prejudiced ass, June", Alicia shot back, deliberately misinterpreting June's attempt to cause trouble between her and Betty, "Are you ready to go?"
Alicia didn't wait for June to respond before she headed down to the gate out of the front garden. She heard Betty say something behind her, not directed at her, and she wished that her friend could just keep her mouth shut for once. Even if just for a little while.
They had nearly reached town before June couldn't cope with the silence anymore,
"Did you hear that someone attacked Mrs Thornton?"
Alicia's curiosity got the better of her and she pushed her irritation at June aside, "No. How'd you hear that?"
"Sam was discussing it with that boy from the house down the way", June shrugged, though she looked rather pleased that she knew something that Alicia didn't. Alicia let her have the moment.
"Well", June frowned as she recalled the details, "apparently she couldn't find her cat and was listening out for it late into the night, heard a noise at the door and went to check thinking it was the cat. Sure enough the cat was on the path so she went to get him and a man just jumped out and grabbed her. She grabbed the lid of her bin, walloped him with it and ran back into the house. She thought he'd chase her but he just...stood in the pathway for a moment staring at her before running off. It all sounds jolly peculiar".
"Was she hurt?", Alicia asked.
"She swears the man tried to bite her but she hit him before he could", June said.
"Just how closely were you listening in on this conversation?", Alicia asked suspiciously.
June blushed, "Well, the postman said something about it to Aunt Marion this morning as well".
"Listening at doors June? Not very becoming", Betty teased and Alicia pretended not to see the rude hand gesture June made.
"It's a bit worrying though, isn't it?", June pushed and Alicia wondered if she had perhaps been too transparent with her concern, "I don't know if they caught the man or even have any idea who he is".
Or whether someone drove a stake through his chest after he was at Mrs Thornton's place, Alicia thought. It certainly didn't do anything to ease her worries about returning to Malory Towers and leaving her mother all alone.
Darrell fought the urge to squirm in the chair as Dr Cudson slowly read the notes.
"Hmm", Dr Cudson made a low noise. Darrell hated that noise. Her father 'hmmed' when there was something he wasn't completely happy with. Dr Matthewson had 'hmmed' when she had reviewed the notes from Darrell's physical tests and her scans. It was a doctor thing, of that Darrell was quite sure.
She looked around the room while she waited, at the books lining the shelves and the piles of journals on the desk. She wondered how many of them Dr Cudson had referred to when he was first treating her.
"And you say you didn't do any sports last term? I'm surprised by these notes from Dr Matthewson if there aren't any means of explaining them-", Dr Cudson said, clearly referring to the pain and reduced healing in Darrell's knee.
"No, no sports, but it is school and I probably did overdo things", Darrell interrupted. Dr Cudson looked up at her and she was relieved when he nodded slowly; after all, she was hardly going to be able to say that there had been running involved in fleeing a pack of Werewolves.
"These stronger painkillers could make it more difficult for you to concentrate, did Dr Matthewson talk through that with you?", Dr Cudson asked, and at Darrell's nod he continued, "and you're quite sure you don't need to talk further about the scarring?"
Even though she had been expecting the question, it made her flinch.
"What good would talking about it do? Nothing will get rid of it", Darrell said, and she didn't manage to keep the bitterness from her voice.
Dr Cudson put down the notes and looked as though he were going to make her talk, then he nodded,
"The therapist in Cornwall will bring it up again".
Darrell just about stopped herself from sighing with relief. Talk of Cornwall and therapy meant Dr Cudson was going to sign off on her return to school. She collected the paperwork and prescriptions from Dr Cudson, thanked him and hurried back to the main reception.
Theresa Rivers was waiting in the reception area and she smiled when Darrell came out,
"Good news then?".
Darrell ran through what the doctor had said and they walked the short distance to the hospital pharmacy to put in her prescriptions and collect her medications.
"Are we still collecting Sally on the way down tomorrow?", Darrell asked when they returned to the car.
The Hopes hadn't allowed Sally to stay with the Rivers at all over the Easter holiday and Darrell was half expecting a follow-up call to say they weren't going to let her be in a car with Darrell either. Either that or that they had pulled Sally out of Malory Towers.
"Diane called and confirmed this morning", Theresa said, "Arthur is away on business so it's much simpler if we collect her".
"So it's a necessary evil, her being in a car with me. They'll take the risk of me doing something crazy if the alternative inconveniences them", Darrell said bitterly as she climbed into the passenger's seat.
She winced as she bent her knee too quickly and a sharp pain shot down her leg. She closed her hand around the bag with her prescription but decided against taking painkillers when her mother could see her. It would only bring questions and worries, and she wasn't risking anything stopping her returning to school.
"Darrell, don't say things like that", Theresa said as she got in the driver's side, "there's plenty of people out there who will use words to hurt you. Please don't turn them on yourself".
"I was joking", Darrell said but she could hear herself that she sounded insincere.
"You weren't. If you were or if you were reclaiming the words people use to hurt you, I wouldn't have said anything", Theresa put her hand on Darrell's forearm, "don't take on the things other people say. I know… no, I imagine it isn't easy".
"I thought it would hurt less if I used those words too", Darrell admitted, "it doesn't. Just makes me wonder if they're right to say the things they do".
Theresa sighed and squeezed Darrell's arm gently, "They're not, but I don't suppose I can convince you of that just yet".
Darrell changed the subject abruptly, not bothering to be subtle, "I think I'll go into town later, do you want me to pick anything up?"
Theresa accepted the change of topic and started the car.
Darrell pocketed the list her mother had given her after checking she had picked everything up. There had been mercifully little small talk. No-one particularly wanted to talk to her nowadays, not now whispers were well established about her "problems". More hurtful were the parents who put themselves between Darrell and their children once they spotted her. Or crossed the road. Darrell tidied the way that made her feel - a twisted mix of sadness, grief and rage - away and headed into the library.
"Hello, one last visit before school restarts?", Miss Wilson asked from behind the counter. Darrell spoke to her for a minute and then hurried back into the archive room where she carefully took the book she had found in the Spring, simply titled 'Reaper', down from the shelf. With Felicity off staying with Susan for most of the hols and no-one from school to spend the time with, Darrell had focused her energy on reading as much of the book as she could, taking notes as she did. It wasn't the easiest of matters as the staff at the library became suspicious when she spent too long in the archives and her parents became suspicious when she went to the library too often.
She hadn't even made it through a quarter of the book over the entire hols. Darrell carefully turned over to some of the later pages and wished she could just absorb all the information there, it all seemed so important she hated to leave it behind. Darrell glanced at the front desk and then back at the book. Time ticked ever so slowly in her head and she looked down at the bag at her feet and then shook her head. Even if the book weren't so big, she couldn't go stealing it. She wasn't a thief.
"Everything okay, Darrell?", Miss Wilson poked her head around from the left of the archive room and Darrell jumped. She was sure her cheeks had gone crimson in betrayal of the thoughts that had been running through her head and she cleared her throat before answering.
"J-just...", and she looked down at the book and struggled to come up with any kind of believable explanation.
Miss Wilson walked over slowly. Darrell stepped back and barely dared to breathe as Miss Wilson looked at the book and the notepad beside it.
"Why are you so interested in this particular book?", Miss Wilson asked carefully.
Darrell ran answers through her head, dismissing each one as it came to her. She couldn't tell the truth, of course, and all the lies she came up with were so obvious that she daren't voice them. Darrell had never been very good at lying and the few times she had tried, when she was younger, hadn't gone well for anyone involved so she avoided doing so now. Though, saying nothing, as she had done with the Conduit, was a lie of sorts. A lie of omission people called it and Darrell could sometimes get away with those if she had to. It was when she tried to talk her way out of things she got into more trouble.
"Sometimes, when there's a significant and frightening change in our lives, such as an accident or an illness", Miss Wilson spoke carefully, watching Darrell for a reaction, "We can be drawn to looking for answers. An explanation to try and muddle out questions we have about mortality and humanity", Miss Wilson put her hand on the book, "We might even become preoccupied with the macabre".
That hadn't even crossed Darrell's mind as a possible excuse and yet, as Miss Wilson said those words, they hit something tender and unexamined, and Darrell breathed in sharply to calm the pounding in her chest. Miss Wilson smiled and looked back at the book.
"Is this helping?", Miss Wilson asked, "To work through whatever is weighing on you?"
Darrell nodded, finding that she didn't feel as though any part of this was a lie. Miss Wilson nodded and, after a quick look around the library, inclined her head towards the door into the back room.
"We have more than one copy of some books in the archive, particularly those that are older but not particularly rare like this one...", Miss Wilson mused as she rummaged, "and I thought...ah, here it is".
Miss Wilson straightened up from the box she was digging through and she was holding a scruffier copy of the book Darrell had been reading. The cover was peeling away in places and some of the pages were misaligned from the others.
"This one was vandalised by someone who didn't think content such as this should be kept in a public library. We never got around to repairing it", Miss Wilson explained and, after a final moment of hesitation, she handed it to Darrell, "If this becomes a preoccupation that causes trouble in your life, you must promise me you'll tell someone".
Darrell nodded, barely able to believe her eyes as she held the battered tome in her hands.
"Go home and enjoy the last few days of your holidays", Miss Wilson's voice grew sterner for a moment and Darrell hurried to put the book into her bag.
"Thank you", she said before she rushed out of the library. Now she just had to figure out how to get it back to school with her.
Sally checked her room one last time to make sure she had everything. Daffy had followed her around all morning from room to room like a chatterbox shadow. She maintained she was "helping" and Sally didn't mind; if there was one silver lining to the hols it had been spending time with her little sister.
"The Rivers are here", her mother called from downstairs. Daffy ran off and Sally followed at a more sedate pace with her suitcase in one hand and her hand luggage in the other. She was surprised to see that it was Darrell who had come up to the door to help. Sally cast a quick look at her mother and rolled her eyes at the look of horror that Diane Hope quickly covered up with a painfully fake smile.
"Darrell!", Daffy launched herself from the bottom step into Darrell, who only just caught her in time. Diane looked as though she might scream.
"Hallo Daffy", Darrell spun Daffy around, though perhaps more carefully than she might have in previous years.
"You didn't come and see me for ages", Daffy said with the reproach of a slighted child.
"I'm ever so sorry", Darrell said and Sally laughed when Daffy said that she would forgive Darrell this time.
"Better not keep your parents waiting", Sally said, one eye on her mother and wondering when she would lose her composure.
Darrell took Sally's case and left Sally to say one last goodbye to her family.
"You gave my mother quite the surprise", Sally said once the car had pulled off and she had finished waving to her little sister, "Was that intentional?"
"Perhaps", Darrell said, but she grinned as she said it and Sally elbowed her gently.
"I am sorry about her, all the same", Sally sighed and settled back into the seat.
Darrell waved off her apology. Soon the conversation moved on to what they had been up to over the hols and then onto Malory Towers and the term ahead. The miles went by as they drove further south and conversation ebbed and flowed. After a particularly long silence, Sally looked over at Darrell and saw that her friend had fallen asleep.
It was even little changes like that which reminded Sally how everything was different now. Darrell had never slept on a drive down to Malory Towers before, she was always too excited to do so. Now her insomnia and her medication gave her erratic sleeping patterns.
"She was nervous about going back today", Felicity had obviously seen her looking, "I don't think she slept well".
"How are your form about all this?", Sally asked.
Felicity shrugged, "Some are better than others. They mostly don't talk about it, except sometimes Susan. Or June".
"I bet she has plenty to say about it", Sally said dryly, thinking of the antagonistic second former.
"She hasn't been how I'd expected actually", Felicity said, a thoughtful expression falling over her face, "there's not been any nasty comments or insults. It's more like she's interested".
Sally was about to say that was strange, considering the antagonistic history between Darrell and June, but Michael announced they were going to stop for lunch so Sally turned and shook Darrell awake instead.
After lunch, Darrell and Sally walked the rubbish down to the nearest bin, which gave them time to talk.
"Have you heard from Alicia at all?", Darrell asked.
Sally nearly laughed at the question until she saw Darrell was serious.
"Alicia only calls me when she's worried about you", Sally said, "I didn't expect to hear from her. But it is odd that you haven't".
Something tickled at the back of Sally's mind, a reminder of how something had seemed off about Alicia just before they broke up for Easter. She tried to chase the thought for a moment but she couldn't quite get a hold of it, and she brushed it away when Darrell spoke again.
"Maybe she was just busy", Darrell shrugged but Sally could tell she was preoccupied.
"Probably, you know what she gets like sometimes", she saw no reason to worry Darrell more.
They threw the rubbish into the bin and Sally glanced at the distance back to the car before speaking again, "I'm trying really hard not to rush you Darrell but what we discussed at Marie and Harriet's house…"
Darrell glanced back to the car as well. It was a stalling tactic, just like Sally had used it as; they both knew they would have to shout for anyone else to hear them. Still, even though Darrell had been the one to ask how the demon Conduit had been excised from her, Sally couldn't blame her for being hesitant about discussing it again. Tearing open the main cause of your trauma wasn't to be undertaken lightly, Sally could attest to that.
"I had hoped we would have the hols and some measure of privacy", Darrell admitted, "It's not really something I want anyone else stumbling upon us discussing".
Darrell started to walk back up towards the car and Sally turned to follow her. Sally frowned as she saw Darrell was limping. She hadn't noticed when they had walked down, having been side-by-side. She was toying with whether she should ask or leave it be when Darrell continued,
"And we can't exactly discuss it now", Darrell said.
"I just…", Sally took a deep breathe and struggle to put her thoughts into words.
"It's weighing on you. And I've come and pulled at the strings but not opened the whole thing up. Which isn't fair", Darrell said, "I know, and I'm sorry. Look, we're not going to get privacy tonight either but before the end of this first week we will make time".
All at once, Sally was relieved and terrified and she was quite grateful that Felicity, re-energised by the lunch stop it seemed, had an awful lot to say on the next part of the drive.
Theresa Rivers pulled the car into the drive of Malory Towers just as late afternoon was setting in.
Felicity barely waited for the car to stop before jumping out and disappearing into an excited crowd of second formers. Sally went to get out too and saw out the corner of her eye that Darrell had gone awfully still. When Sally turned back to look at her friend, there was panic drawn across Darrell's face.
"Go on, it's okay", Theresa said gently to Sally, and Michael got out of the car as well to help unpack the cases.
Sally followed reluctantly and helped lift out the cases. For a split second, her worry distracted her and she picked up one of the heavy cases with one hand without thinking to mask her supernatural strength. Michael did a double-take and Sally hurried to put the case down.
Mercifully, they were interrupted by Alicia and Irene arriving.
"Train made good time then?", Sally greeted.
"No Darrell?", Irene asked with a frown after they exchanged greetings.
Sally nodded towards the car where Darrell and Theresa were still talking. Alicia looked over the situation for a moment.
"Too much going on?", Irene asked, her astute observation surprising Sally.
"I think so", Sally said and she was quite relieved when Darrell finally got out of the car.
Irene clapped Darrell on the shoulder in greeting, as always a little harder than she intended, and Darrell managed a smile and a few words of greeting.
"Has Felicity just run off without any of her luggage again?", Theresa sighed as she searched for her, "Michael, can you run the...", Theresa glanced at the other girls stood with Darrell and Sally and faltered, "...the updates over to Miss Potts while I try and find Felicity?"
"I'll do it later once it's quieter", Darrell said, a terse edge to her tone that confirmed that the 'updates' were about her condition.
Irene cleared her throat, a nervous habit when situations became uncomfortable and Alicia caught Sally's eye and raised an eyebrow. They stepped away as Theresa and Michael spoke quietly to Darrell. Felicity, of course, was still nowhere to be seen.
"There you are, I wondered where you'd gone", Betty's voice came from nowhere and Sally watched as a peculiar look flashed over Alicia's face.
Irene crinkled up her nose and Sally wondered if she was about to voice what Sally was thinking. That they all thought Alicia-and-Betty were no more. Before either of them could say anything though, Alicia had hurried off through the crowds of girls with Betty. Irene's eyebrows shot up as she pulled a comical expression,
"My, everyone seems all out of sorts this term. Don't you go off the deep end on me", Irene said.
Sally chuckled and shook her head, "Come on, let's go find some of the others while Darrell finishes up. I think it's a bit less uncomfortable for her if we're not standing about here".
Irene agreed happily and they took their cases and bags - once Irene found hers - up to the fifth form dorm where some of the others were already in various stages of unpacking. Greetings and updates from the hols were exchanged as they unpacked and the rest of the form arrived one by one until there were only two beds left.
"Where's Catherine?", Alicia asked, nodding to the empty bed beside Moira.
"She isn't returning for this term. Or Sixth Form", Moira said stiffly as she finished putting her toiletries into her bedside table.
"Oh, has something happened?", Mary Lou asked. Sally smiled, trust Mary Lou to be the one to voice concern about Catherine's well-being.
Moira pursed her lips and looked around the room before answering, "Her parents didn't want her to return, she's changed school".
"Why-ever not?", Alicia scoffed as she shoved some of her belonging into her bedside drawer.
"Please. I'm sure you can work it out", Moira said coldly and she looked pointedly at the last empty bed before sweeping from the room in an excessively grand indication that the conversation was over.
"You know, a few weeks and I almost forgot what a bitch she is", Alicia said and a few of the girls gasped.
"Alicia!", Mary Lou chastised, "if a teacher hears you saying that you'll get in trouble".
"That", Alicia said as she pushed her case to the end of her bed, "doesn't make it any less true now, does it?".
With that, Alicia left the dorm as well, leaving a peculiar atmosphere behind her. A few seconds later, Darrell finally arrived.
"Has there been a row already?", Darrell asked, putting her case and bag down and sitting on her bed with a grimace of pain, "Moira practically knocked me over and Alicia went running off towards West Tower".
"Where would any last term be without some drama?", Belinda commented as she lay on her bed and put her hands behind her head.
Before Darrell could ask any more questions, Sally walked over and nudged her,
"Come on, I'll help you unpack", she said, "or Matron will be doling out order marks on our first day back".
Sally wasn't convinced that Darrell hadn't seen her clumsy efforts to change the topic for what they were but it distracted her long enough that Darrell seemed to genuinely forget about the tension in the form. By the time the bell for dinner went, the conversations were back to what people had gotten up to over the hols. As they took their seats at the table, Sally spotted Alicia and Betty hurry in behind the South Tower Fourth Formers. Alicia looked like she was hushing Betty and gesturing for her to stop talking. Then, before Sally could see anything else, Alicia parted ways with Betty and rushed over to take her seat.
"Mes petites, it is lovely to have you all back", Mamzelle smiled warmly as she looked around the table.
"We're not so petite anymore Mamzelle", Alicia said, "Sixth formers next term".
"Ah, Alicia, you will all always be mes petites. Even when you are thirty and married with children", Mamzelle beamed at her.
"What if we're married without children?", Belinda asked.
"Or not married and have no children?", Irene said, "Can we still be tes petites then?"
"Lord, are we playing at this kind of silliness already?", Moira grumbled.
Sally shook her head and smiled, in moments like this she could almost believe they were all just ordinary school girls. She glanced over at the West Tower table to where Betty was sat and frowned. Almost.
The supernatural routine starts back up as soon as they get back to school, especially since there's so much unresolved from the previous term for all three girls.
CW: Prejudice towards mental illness, internalised ableism, trauma, drowning, and flashbacks.
Catherine's departure was somewhat brushed over by Miss James and Alicia was grateful for it. None of them had been particularly friendly with dear Saint Catherine, not even Moira, and if her leaving hadn't been uncomfortably tied up with Darrell's return, no-one would have given it a second thought.
"Hey, dreamy, what are you staring into space over?", Betty nudged her and Alicia looked around with a start, "You've not copied down a thing from the board, Jimmy'll tear a strip off you if she finds you daydreaming".
Alicia grabbed her pen and copied down the timetable, chore rota, and the dates for the sessions where Miss Oakes and some of the other teachers would spend time discussing the girls' plans after Malory Towers. Alicia paused mid-writing and pursed her lips. She had always thought that she had university and then a career in her future but Marie had laid out the realities of being a Slayer to her. So what was she supposed to do now? Her family expected her to apply for university, it had been her plan for years.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Alicia finished copying the rest and caught up with the rest of the class just as Miss James asked them to put down their pens.
"One last thing before we start English", Miss James said and Alicia frowned at the second of hesitation from the teacher, "We have asked Darrell to take back over her role assisting Louisa in Games and she has agreed. Also, just to say thank you to Moira and Sally for filling in last term".
Alicia watched a few of the girls pull faces but Miss James moved straight on to English so quickly, no-one had a chance to wonder whether they should be clapping or even acknowledging the change.
"Turn to the first page please", Miss James stood in front of the board.
After English, Alicia packed away and hurried off with Betty before anyone else could speak with her.
"Say, they're bold putting Darrell back in her old position", Betty said once they were outside and alone.
Alicia started to offer a rebuttal but then shook her head and changed her mind, "Nevermind that, look, I've got to go and speak to Marie and she might have work for me this evening-"
"Patrol already?", Betty's face lit up and Alicia hurried to cut off her enthusiasm.
"Yes but you won't be able to come", Alicia winced at how blunt her words came out and the hurt look it caused on Betty's face so she clarified, "at the beginning of term I won't be patrolling alone so it's too tricky"
"Oh, right that makes sense", Betty said, "Miss Potts is your...she's training you, isn't she, so she'll be with you".
Alicia didn't correct the assumption - couldn't without revealing Sally's secret - and when she left Betty a minute later to go and find Marie, her friend had happily agreed to hold off bothering Alicia about patrols until Alicia gave her the word it would be clear.
Rapping smartly on Marie's door, Alicia waited for the summon to enter. There was some rustling of papers and movement inside but no response so Alicia knocked again.
"Come in", Marie finally called and Alicia entered.
"Thought you were ignoring me", Alicia said.
Alicia's flippancy faded when she saw how weary Marie looked. Still as professionally turned out as always but with an exhaustion to her that Alicia hadn't seen before. Alicia hesitated, unsure whether she should ask, and Marie must have seen it.
"Personal matters have been commanding my attention, I apologise for my distraction", Marie said and Alicia realised she knew almost nothing about Marie's personal life.
Truthfully, she hadn't given much thought to the fact that her teachers might have one. Oh, she had her suspicions about exactly who and what Marie and Harriet Rutherford were to one another but it hardly seemed appropriate to ask about it.
"Everything quiet in my absence?", Alicia asked.
"Nothing Rupert, Harriet and I couldn't handle. Sorry to be brief but I have to get over to the first formers next lesson, this evening I need you and Sally to go out to Magnus Payne's place. The council have finally released it so Sally can see if she picks up anything inside", Marie grabbed some books and gestured for Alicia to step out, "Rupert will meet you just outside school grounds with a car".
Marie then bade her goodbye and hurried off towards the stairs. Alicia frowned and crossed her arms as she watched her teacher disappear from view down the stairs before deciding she had better head towards Science. As she crossed the courtyard, she spotted Sally and Darrell so sped up to catch them.
"Good to have you back, ordering us about on the sports field", Alicia grinned, nudging Darrell with her elbow.
"I don't order people about", Darrell replied but she looked pleased with the comment.
"No, Louisa does. You give out the praise she forgets to", Alicia agreed, she saw Betty approaching and lowered her voice, "Sally, we're heading out to the Payne residence tonight".
"By foot?", Sally asked, looking understandably dubious given the distance, and Alicia hesitated.
"Rupert's driving us. It'll be fine, find me later", she said and then dropped back to walk with Betty.
"There he is", Sally said, nodding to the left with a frown and shoving her hands into her coat pockets. Alicia smirked, she wondered if Sally realised how petulant she looked sometimes when she did that.
"Look, I'm sure he'll be reasonable...", Alicia tried to reassure her but truthfully she wasn't convinced herself. After all, Rupert had been curt with her for most of the previous term and she hadn't even been the one who had knocked him out.
Sally obviously didn't believe her, she just shrugged and sped up. When they got close enough, Alicia greeted Rupert and got a small head nod in response.
"So, what are we looking for?", Alicia asked once they had driven for a few minutes in silence.
"Anything the Council missed in the house and traces of other people. Though that might be difficult to separate with all the people who have been traipsing in and out", Rupert explained.
"And I bet they didn't even have the decency to take their shoes off", Alicia sighed, glad to see the comment brought a twitch of a smile to Rupert's lips.
The silence for the remainder of the drive was a little less uncomfortable.
Rupert let them in with a key and set about searching the downstairs rooms. Alicia felt distinctly uncomfortable as she climbed the stairs, her stomach twisting in anticipation of seeing Magnus' corpse, even though she knew it wouldn't be there.
Alicia let Sally go into the room ahead of her, the other girl not burdened with the same memories.
"Get those wolf powers going", Alicia said, forcing flippancy as she tried to push the image of a dead man from her mind.
Sally walked through the office and closed her eyes, breathing slowly and focusing on the scents.
"A lot of people were here", she said when she opened her eyes, and she pinched the bridge of her nose with a wince, "This is going to take a while".
"Take your time, I'll check the other rooms. Pity we don't have a t-shirt or something for you to get a scent off first", Alicia called over her shoulder and she grinned to herself when she got an audible but quickly suppressed growl in response. She deserved that.
Alicia didn't find anything and when she went downstairs to Rupert, he hadn't fared much better.
"Council took anything hinting at the supernatural", Rupert sighed.
Alicia sat on the second to bottom step as Rupert leant against the doorframe. Neither could find much to say. The sound of footsteps and then of banging sent both their attention to the top of the stairs.
"She's obviously found something", Alicia said.
A few minutes later, Sally stepped past Alicia and handed Rupert a bound journal, "I think your friend hid it before he was murdered".
"Wherever did you find that?", Alicia gaped. With the size of the volume, it hardly seemed like something the Council should have missed.
"A loose floorboard at the back of his study, under the desk", Sally explained, "I guess they didn't search the walls and floors".
"They wouldn't have much reason to...", Giles turned the journal over in his hands, "Magnus wasn't a concern for the Council".
"He was a concern for someone", Alicia pointed out and then, when she got no response from Giles, she turned back to Sally, "Any luck sensing what killed him?"
Sally shook her head, "I can't intuit what things are, I need a reference".
"So you can tell us it's not vampire, werewolf, Lei Ach, human or the Conduit but asides from that it could be anything?", Alicia asked.
A flicker of tension went through Sally and Alicia winced at being so thoughtless as to bring up the Conduit; she glanced at Rupert but he hadn't heard, too engrossed in reading.
"I can't even say with much certainty that it's not human", Sally admitted stiffly, "You're human, Darrell's human, but you've both got...differences to most other people".
"These are the Writings of Aurelius", Rupert's mutterings interrupted them and both girls turned to the Watcher, "if he was hiding this..."
"Who's Aurelius?", Alicia asked.
"A vampire, 12th century", Rupert said off-handedly as he turned another page, clearly thinking that were all the explanation needed.
Then, it were as though he remembered himself and where they were and he shut the book.
"Let's head back. I doubt there's much more to be learned here".
"And where are you off to?", Alicia asked, appearing from seemingly nowhere and making Sally jump.
"For a walk. Marie asked to meet me at the farmhouse", Sally replied.
Alicia raised an eyebrow and Sally hated the implications the other girl could communicate with a single gesture.
"You caught me, I'm really on my way to Tibet to try and find the remains of the wolf pack", Sally said, letting the sarcasm coat her words, as much as she hated to use it since it usually meant Alicia had gotten to her. She was bewildered when Alicia started laughing. Honestly, she simply couldn't get her head around Alicia at times.
"Oh don't be so uptight Sally, I know you're not about to go betraying us", Alicia grinned, "I just like to keep you on your toes".
Even though nothing Alicia said was untoward and there was nothing to suggest she was being sly, the words made Sally feel on edge.
"Darrell's talking with Matron, I think it's about her medication or her doctor's report. She was vague about it but she said it might take a while", Sally explained.
Alicia looked as though she might ask something else but they were interrupted by Betty hailing Alicia from the path leading down to the playing fields. Alicia offered a hurried goodbye and went off to join Betty. Sally watched them depart, heads bowed in hushed conversation and wondered, not for the first time that term, how their friendship had been so quickly repaired.
The thoughts preoccupied her as she set her course for the farmhouse, speeding up into a jog once she was away from prying eyes. She had an hour, maybe a little more, until her absence would become suspicious.
It made an unease run over her skin as she walked the pathway up to the entrance. Perhaps it was the fact that two of its recent residents had been executed, and two more were undergoing whatever this teaching was in Tibet. Sally wanted to believe that an associate of Marie's had the best of intentions but she had learnt to be cautious of trusting without reservation.
She pushed the front door open and moved through each room, checking for recent signs of anyone being there. Patrick, after all, was still unaccounted for.
"Quite glad it's you, I should really have waited up here", Marie's voice interrupted her search and Sally turned to face the teacher who had just come up from the basement.
"You wanted to speak with me", Sally said.
"Yes, I thought it would be less uncomfortable for you if neither Alicia or Darrell were present. Did the remaining wolf pack member try to contact you over the holidays?", Marie asked.
Sally bristled at the unspoke - and perhaps unintentional - accusation, "No. I didn't sense him. He hasn't been back here either".
"Good, though it raises more questions as to where he may have gone", Marie said, "Follow me".
Sally did as asked, much as she might like to say something about this underlying lack of trust. Sally had never been on the receiving end of the likes of it and to have people doubt her and distrust her now - even if on some level she understood why - made her chest ache with a hollowness that she couldn't quite describe.
"I got thinking, with what you found at the Payne residence, perhaps here held secrets too", Marie explained as they approached the cage, "I also wanted to check here anyway as a potential location for you to spend the full moon. Given that your sudden exhibit of control last term doesn't seem to be a stable thing".
Sally looked over the reinforced cage and the new additions - chains bolted to the walls and floor and a privacy space, something that was lacking from the small cage at the cottage - with an approving nod.
"Where did you want me to start looking?", Sally asked.
"I thought we could just start down here and see how far we got", Marie admitted, "the house is rather a state and I can't imagine we will achieve as much as I had hoped".
Twenty minutes later and neither of them had found anything. The remaining presence of werewolves, and of blood, was so distracting that Sally struggled to push through it at times to focus on anything that lay beneath. The effort was making her agitated and she was grateful that it was just Marie there.
"They killed more people than I thought", the words were thick and heavy in Sally's mouth and just saying them made her feel sick. She stood up and paced for a few steps.
"You didn't know", Marie said gently.
"I should have looked harder, I got distracted and foolish", Sally confessed, horrified to discover that there was a lump in her throat.
"There was a lot to distract you", Marie nodded towards the stairs.
Sally immediately hurried up them, relieved to be back above ground. By the time Marie joined her, Sally had composed herself.
"Shall we call it a night", Marie said with a sigh, "Before we both end up being late for dinner and cause questions to be raised".
On their way back through to the front door, Sally paused at the bookcase.
The wolf pack had never struck Sally as big readers so a case full of books on the supernatural seemed an unusual possession for five werewolves who moved from location to location in search of a den. Where had they kept them when they lived in the caves? The more she thought about it, the less sense it made.
"I don't know why they would have these books", Sally called ahead to Marie, "Could the previous owners have left them?"
"The farmers?", Marie asked, her doubt audible, "I shouldn't have imagined so, though they died before my time at Malory Towers and stranger things have happened. Matron may know".
Sally checked her watch and then took the books off the shelf and checked for a hidden panel. When she found nothing, she began to flick through each book one by one. Marie joined her, taking half the pile.
"Here's something", Marie said as she got to partway through a particularly large book on the history of werewolves and shapeshifters.
Marie pulled out a small collection of photographs and closed the book to lay them out on top of it. One by one, familiar faces were turned over; Alicia, Rupert, Marie, Sally...
"What on...", Sally murmured to herself as she moved the photographs towards her and into slightly better light.
"Well this is worrying", Marie said, "Whyever did they take these? There must be something more here".
For a moment, Marie looked as though she might suggest they stay. She looked around the room and clucked her tongue with irritation.
"Come on, we'll have to talk about this later", and she gathered the photographs up and hurried out the door, Sally a few steps behind her.
"Jolly unfair having us get up this early, breakfast isn't for an hour!", Alicia grumbled as she threw herself onto the common room sofa.
Marie had decided to risk meeting in the Fifth Form common room rather than have the girls traipse through the school to get to her office; given how unusual some of them had been behaving the last few terms, Sally thought that a change to routine was probably for the best. Rupert, of course, was positioned so that he could step out of view if someone poked their head around the door; though he was as grumpy as Alicia over the early hour, and the fact he couldn't smoke. Darrell had been awake before either Sally and Alicia, and Marie hadn't seen cause to exclude her from the discovery.
"Well, this is rather a pressing matter", Marie shut down any more complaints from Alicia, "and as I couldn't think of an excuse at short notice to skip the first staff meeting back last night, this morning it had to be".
"Staff meetings, Slayer meetings, Council meetings...", Alicia muttered, "your life is just full of sitting around either talking or listening to people talk", then she grinned, "when you're not shooting at things with a crossbow that is".
Sally just managed to stop herself from rolling her eyes, it was far too early to be entertaining Alicia and her need to make comments and asides on everything, "We found something at the farmhouse".
That brought silence and, Sally was loathed to see, a glimmer of mistrust across Rupert's face.
"That's where the other werewolves were living, right?", Darrell asked.
"Yes, they hadn't been there for long", Sally explained, grateful for the question to prevent Rupert saying anything, "We found some photographs hidden inside a book".
Marie put the photographs out on the small coffee table and they all leant forward to get a better look at them. In silence, they all took in the images and then sat back and looked around at each other uneasily.
"That's creepy", Alicia said, "How long ago did they take those? Why did they take them?"
"It's here, at school", Sally said, somewhat unnecessarily given that both hers and Alicia's photographs had her in their school uniform and the photograph of Rupert was him working on the grounds, "and I think they might have been taken at the beginning of Spring term, maybe the end of the Winter term".
Four sets of expectant eyes turned to her and she dove in with her explanation,
"There's no photograph of Darrell. And the wolfpack didn't know who she was until she physically came back. If they were watching us, why wouldn't they be watching all of us?"
"Unless they didn't see Darrell as a threat?", Marie asked.
"Oh they were certainly threatened by Darrell's return", Alicia piped up and Sally so wished she hadn't.
She cleared her throat, "I think if Darrell had been here when those were taken, there would be one of her".
Rupert ran one hand over his face and began to slowly pace, "You think someone told them who we were before you and Alicia even met them".
"I don't know for certain", Sally was tempted to backtrack but didn't, "I just...some things that seemed a little odd at the time make more sense if I start thinking that way"
"My thoughts went to a similar place", Marie added her voice to Sally's point of view, "Which leaves us with a rather concerning twist on Alicia's questions; who took them, why, and why give them to a pack of werewolves".
"It has to be someone in the school, we would have noticed an outsider taking photographs of us", Alicia said as she turned to Marie, "you've had your suspicions that someone at Malory Towers isn't who they seem to be for months".
"Unless invisible people are real", Darrell said as she examined the photographs, just quietly enough that Sally wasn't sure she even meant to say it, but loud enough that they all heard.
Sally looked to Marie as an authority on the matter,
"Invisible people are real", Marie sighed, "but they're not common. I've only ever heard of it happening in areas of intense supernatural energy when someone is so figuratively ignored by everyone in their lives that they are treated as though they don't even exist. There's no-one from Malory Towers who would fit that criteria...", Marie paused, no doubt seeing the looks being shared between Alicia, Sally and Darrell, "what?"
"Well, that does sound a little like Violet", Alicia admitted, voicing what all three girls had thought, "She was in first form with us?"
Marie sighed, "Oh for goodness sake. Yes, I remember Violet, Alicia. She moved to another boarding school because her father got a new job. My word, you girls have active imaginations sometimes".
Darrell laughed, diffusing the tension in the room, and Alicia protested, "Come on! As though that would be the strangest occurrence at Malory Towers".
Sally covered her own smile by glancing away at the clock, feeling daft for the small thrum of happiness that the silly moment had brought them, "We better head back up to the dorm before the others start to wake up".
"Well, keep an eye on each other and keep an eye on anyone acting strangely", Marie finished, "Whoever took these photos had a reason and I very much doubt they've finished whatever they had planned".
That, Sally thought, was a very disturbing thought to carry back up to the dorms.
"Sorry you had to get up early two days in a row", Darrell apologised again as she walked alongside Sally down towards the pool.
Sally brushed off her apology with a gentle wave of her hand, "I've told you, it's no bother".
Darrell shook out her hands where she had began to tense them unconsciously and quickly offered Sally a smile when the girl cast a concerned glance at her.
"I suppose it makes sense that I shouldn't swim by myself", Darrell sighed, pulling her robe tighter around herself.
That had been one of the outcomes from Darrell's meeting with Matron, or at least one of the ones she had, quite reluctantly, told Sally about. Darrell frowned as other snippets of the meeting gnawed at her and she rubbed her nose.
"It probably would be a good idea for nobody to swim by themselves", Sally said, "An awful lot could go wrong for anyone swimming, no matter their circumstances".
Darrell still felt awful for Sally having had so little sleep already in their first week back, especially since Sally had struggled so much the previous term with her school work. Darrell grimaced as her head jerked to one side and she tensed her jaw, neck and shoulders to try and stop a second tic happening. She knew it wasn't the best thing to do but she could practically feel Sally watching her out of the corner of her eye and she did so hate for her friend to see how different she was now.
"I think I'll stay on the side for a bit though, wake up properly before jumping in a freezing cold pool", Sally said as they finally reached the pool.
"It's not freezing cold", Darrell said, but she couldn't persuade Sally to go straight in. She suspected Sally was doing it just to keep Darrell from ruminating, so she played along and got into the pool, leaving Sally sat on the side.
While the pool wasn't freezing, it was sharp and cool at this time of day, having not had the day's sun to warm it slightly. Darrell stepped out until it was deep enough to swim and then cautiously swam a few metres. She was relieved when she didn't feel any pain and set about swimming a few steady lengths of the pool.
As she paused at one end to catch her breath - having underestimated how much even a light swim would take out of her - Darrell squirmed as a slow unease turned over in her stomach. It was almost like her body was anticipating some kind of danger. She pushed herself out a few metres into the centre of the pool and turned to look all the way around the edge.
She thought she heard Sally call her name but it was far away, as though it were little more than a whisper. After reassuring herself that there was nothing there to be worried about, Darrell decided she was being paranoid. That didn't sit very comfortably with her, after all paranoia could so easily mean the beginning of a lapse. She looked back over at Sally, who had gotten to her feet and was watching with a cautious look on her face. Darrell forced herself to smile and wave, prompting her friend to mirror the action, but just seeing that look made Darrell's stomach sink.
Darrell took a deep breath and then ducked underwater, hoping the cool would clear her head.
The suffocating wave of panic was near-instantaneous. As soon as her whole body was submerged, her world flickered with crimson and darkness and Darrell choked on water. It burned her throat and lungs as she fought against the fear pushing her deeper and deeper, her legs and arms so heavy she swore she would never be able to lift them. Scrambling for the floor of the pool, Darrell couldn't seem to reach it beneath the endless expanse of water. Hands pushed her down and held her even as she fought to get back to the surface. She could hear voices above her, so far away that they were little more than echoes.
Arms wrapped around her and yanked her back to the surface where she couldn't see for a moment for sun and water in her eyes. Thinking of the hands on her shoulders, Darrell tried to pull away from whoever was holding her but their grip was impossibly strong around her.
"Darrell, it's me", Sally's voice was distorted, covered, like everything else, with so much water. It waved and wobbled, it sounded like someone else beneath the voice Darrell knew so well.
Darrell didn't remember them moving back to the edge of the swimming pool or getting out but they must have because there was stone beneath her hands. She heard Sally speak but couldn't make sense of the words. Thoughts flickered into firmer form and it was like those moments where you had been struggling to recall a name for ages and it had sat just out of reach in the depths of your memory; that feeling when you managed to finally get hold of it and bring the name to mind. Thoughts became images, speckled with gaps and uncertainty. The nightmares she had been having for weeks began to slide into place, partially completed parts of a jigsaw Darrell had no finished picture for.
Sally's voice was in her head now, in her memories,
'Darrell, I need you to trust me okay, even if what I tell you to do sounds wrong okay?', Sally said, 'just, trust me'.
'Let it win'
And it was then the water from her nightmares overwhelmed her.
It could have been a minute, it could have been much longer, when Darrell opened her eyes and the world was no longer shifting between nightmares, memory and reality. Sally still had hold of her, and Darrell's hands hurt. She turned them and saw grazes around her knuckles and fingers.
"Help me up", was that her voice? It didn't sound like her. Panic rose in Darrell's chest for a second but she grasped hold of it before it could take over. She had just choked on water, that was why her voice was different. She swallowed, grimacing when her throat hurt and spoke again,
"I'm alright. It's over", that sounded more like her.
Sally helped her to her feet, practically studying Darrell as she did. Darrell wobbled a little as she stood and Sally's hands kept her from tumbling back over.
"Are you hurt?", Sally asked.
Darrell shook her head. Hands aside, she didn't think she was.
"Sally, I need to ask something", Darrell forced herself to say. If she didn't start now then Sally would insist on taking her to Matron and then she never get the answers she needed.
"I think I should take you to be checked over", Sally said and Darrell would have smiled to herself but Sally's voice had wobbled in the middle of her sentence and somehow that brought the reality of what had happened into a stark light. Still, Darrell couldn't let herself stop, not after what she had seen in her head.
"We need to talk about it now. I need you to tell me everything about the Conduit", Darrell said eventually, the words cracking as she forced them out.
"Maybe we should get back to school-", Sally started but Darrell cut her off sharply, sharper than she meant to but she just had to know,
"No. I need you to tell me now".
Content Warnings are at the end of the fic, please click the link below to or press "End" on the keyboard if you want to read them first.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"I can't believe you dragged me into town so you could go and talk to some boy", Alicia grumbled.
With the weekend allowing for more freedom, Alicia had wanted to talk with Betty about what had happened during the week. It was thrilling to have someone to discuss the supernatural with in hushed voices. Except Betty wanted to go to town and they'd nearly bumped into so many other people on the way that Alicia had given up trying to talk about the supernatural.
"Oh, do cheer up", Betty grinned.
"You left me sitting outside for ten minutes", Alicia replied.
"Just be glad it was only ten minutes", Betty nudged her, "What's wrong, not jealous are you?"
It was so sly, the way Betty let her voice get that tone. The one Alicia herself had used so many times in the past when she pushed Sally's buttons about getting jealous over Darrell. Alicia hated being on the receiving end of it.
"Put out more like", Alicia shot back, "Got better things to do than wait around for you".
Alicia regretted the vitriol she put into her words when Betty's face fell but before she could decide whether to apologise or not, she spotted Moira ahead of them, her head bowed and apparently deep in thought.
"Come on", Alicia said, pulling Betty's elbow, "let's walk a different way".
Betty followed Alicia's eye-line, "Is Moira something awful? Like a witch?"
Alicia snorted and shook her head as she led them off the main path so they could loop in around the back of the cottage.
"No, I just don't want her to know what we're doing", she said, "She got jolly suspicious of Sally and I last term and I don't want her to start following us about. Anyway, do you want to hear about last night or not?"
Betty's wide-eyed wonder as Alicia relayed details of the patrols soothed Alicia's irritation and by the time they reached the cottage, she pushed her annoyance aside completely.
"I never really thought much about this place. I thought it was where the groundskeeper lived", Betty said as Alicia unlocked the door, "Who knew you were hiding away in here discussing monsters?"
Alicia opened the door and poked her head inside to check it was clear, then ushered Betty inside. There were some books open on the table but they all looked like ones they had left out after their research session the previous day.
"What used to be in there?", Betty had gone through to the back room.
From Betty's horrified tone, Alicia knew she had to be referring to the damaged cage and, perhaps foolishly, wanted to shock her more.
"Werewolf, completely tore the restraints apart", Alicia explained, she grinned at Betty's expression.
All it would take would be one misplaced comment and Alicia would struggle to backtrack so she satisfied herself with Betty's reaction and began to rummage through the papers on the table.
"Help me look for a small notebook, Marie left it down here", Alicia said.
That had been peculiar in and of itself. Usually, Marie was much more careful about where she put things. Her distraction of late had Alicia wondering if she would soon hear rumours that the teacher had left a demonic text in one of the classrooms for all to see.
"Is that...", Betty's question was cut off by the sound of the handle turning. Alicia shoved Betty towards the backroom and gestured for her to hide. She turned back around and made it to the door in time to slow Rupert's entrance.
"You scared the life out of me", Alicia complained and stepped back, hoping Betty had found somewhere to hide.
"Do you have nothing better to do than study monsters on your weekend?", Rupert said, moving past her and straight for the back room.
"Says you", Alicia grimaced as Rupert approached the bookcase, "Thought for sure that you would have someone to keep you company off-site".
Rupert shot her an exasperated look over his shoulder.
"No luck with the ladies then?", Alicia kept talking aimlessly as she stepped into the doorway and looked around. The door to the bathroom was pulled to and Alicia suspected that was where Betty had gone. A cool trickle ran down Alicia's spine. She shook herself to get rid of the sensation and the inevitable memories it would conjure.
"Alicia...", Rupert warned and Alicia returned her attention to their conversation. Rupert found whatever he was looking for on the bookcase and turned around.
"I may not have anyone else to spend time with but I was under the impression that you do this term", Rupert put the book under his arm, "Where is your friend while you're hiding away in here?"
"I'm hardly hiding. I was looking for my notebook", Alicia stepped backwards until they were in the front room, grateful when Rupert followed her, "Marie didn't return it. She's been a bit forgetful this term".
A flicker of unclear emotion crossed Rupert's face and he cleared his throat,
"Very well. We need you and Sally to begin expanding your patrol further from the school", Rupert said, he hesitated for a moment and then shook his head, "Lock up after yourself".
Alicia felt like she could breathe properly again once the door to the cottage shut behind Rupert.
"Well, that was exciting", Betty appeared in the doorway with a grin, "He's wound up tight isn't he?"
Alicia grabbed her notebook from the table and opened the door a crack to check where Rupert was. His long strides had already taken him a fair distance back towards school grounds.
"It's something of a job requirement", Alicia explained, "Come on, before anyone else turns up".
"You're brooding more than usual", Alicia broke the uncomfortable silence between them as they stopped to get their bearings.
Rupert had dropped them off a few miles outside of Truro hours earlier, repeating Marie's instructions to take extra care patroling the churches and cemeteries. Rupert had his own target that night and insisted they meet back at the car by two in the morning.
"Just thinking", Sally brushed Alicia's comment off as she turned around slowly, "We need to head that way, did we already patrol those church grounds?"
"Who knows", Alicia groaned, "This place is like when you go to those villages with one shop, three pubs and three churches".
Sally didn't bother with a reply, she just started walking towards the church. She heard a sigh from behind her and then Alicia jogging to catch up with her,
"Did you and Darrell have a fight?"
"She asked how we defeated the Conduit. I told her", Sally could have prolonged the back and forth of Alicia's efforts to dig out information but, if she were honest, she wanted someone to talk to about it.
"My, I bet that was a cheery conversation. How did she take it?", Alicia forced levity into her voice.
"About as well as you might expect. I am worried it will cause problems with her...with...", Sally fumbled over her words, "I read that stress can make hallucinations worse. Maybe I should have told Marie".
"Harriet keeps a close eye on her though, right?", Alicia asked, and then put her hand out to stop Sally walking.
Alicia nodded towards the church ahead of them. Someone was moving around inside. Light visible through the stain glass window dimmed to nothing, as though candles were being blown out one by one.
"Human, I think", Sally said after a few seconds of concentration and then her attention drifted to the graveyard, "But they're not".
Alicia followed her eye line to two figures moving up towards the church, weaving between the gravestones.
"Vampires?", she asked, and received a silent nod in response, "Take the left side, cut them off before they reach the church".
Sally did as asked and Alicia took the right side to try to catch the vampires unaware and off guard from behind. Sally lost sight of Alicia once she reached the wall surrounding the church and the graveyard, having to move in a low position to avoid alerting the vampires. A loud thud of wood and the screech of rusted metal being pulled down prompted Sally to stop and peer over the top of the wall. A man stood at the doors to the church, locking the building up. Sally hadn't thought churches would be locked up at night, she had assumed they would provide a permanent place of sanctuary. Perhaps that had changed with recent events.
Sally glanced at the vampires, they had sped up and had left Alicia too far behind to reach them before they got to the man. Sally gave up on subtlety and broke into a run. The man only realised the danger he was in once the vampires were within a few metres of him. The vampires didn't realise the danger they were in until Sally clattered into the side of one of them with such force that the crack as he hit the wall echoed through the graveyard. Sally turned on the second vampire, Alicia was closing in on them now. The second vampire recovered remarkably quickly from his surprise and he leapt backwards and away from the punch Sally threw. She stepped in to keep him on the defensive and he took another step backwards. Lips twisted into a sneer as he got his bearings,
"Now, what are you?"
There was a certain relief in the fact that negative human traits like arrogance persisted into the vampiric existence, it certainly made their jobs an awful lot easier. Alicia jumped, planted one foot on the top of a headstone and propelled herself at the back of the vampire. By the time he even realised she was there, her stake was buried through his back and into his heart, breaking the stake with the force behind it.
Sally turned to finish off the first vampire and found empty space where he had been. She turned to check on the man on the steps but he was gone as well.
"Where'd he go?", Alicia demanded, "where's the vicar?"
"I don't know!", Sally ran over to the steps where the vicar had been. There was no blood, mercifully, but she was able to pick up his scent and took off following it. She followed it up through a small path, between some allotments and hedgerows, and out to the row of buildings overlooking the church. That was when she saw the vicar, scurrying in terror towards a house and fumbling with his keys. Sally relaxed and pointed it out to Alicia as she caught up with her.
"No vampires?", Alicia checked with a frowned and Sally shook her head.
"Can't sense any".
The door to the vicar's house slammed shut behind him loud enough that it must have disturbed one of his neighbours, a few seconds later a light in the next-door house turned on.
"Come on", Alicia pulled her arm back towards the church, "Let's find that vampire and get out of here before neighbourhood watch decides to investigate"
They returned to the spot where they had last seen the vampire but the scent stopped there.
"I can't believe you lost a vampire", Alicia's amusement was audible, "Did you hit him hard enough to dust him?"
"I don't know that it works like that", Sally said but they crouched down to get a closer look all the same.
"Huh, look at that", Alicia brushed her fingertips over the thin layer of dust atop the grass, "Apparently you did".
Sally ran her hand over the grass and examined the dusted residue herself. It certainly looked like the vampire had been dusted.
"It doesn't make sense", Sally brushed the dust off her hands and pulled a face as she remembered what exactly they were touching, "Vampires can only be killed in specific ways".
They explored the area a little more, looking for a spike or protruding branch that might have played a role as a suspiciously conveniently placed make-shift weapon but came up with nothing. They eventually gave up when Alicia pointed out that Rupert wouldn't be pleased if they were late to the car.
"Rupert or Marie'll have an answer", Alicia reassured, "You worry about everything too much. It'll make sense, in the end, you'll see".
Sally didn't have much choice but to pretend to believe her.
'You and Alicia killed me?', Darrell hoped she was hearing things for once. She had never imagined a scenario where it would be preferable that she was hallucinating.
'It was the only way to get rid of it', Sally wouldn't look at her, ' We... I drowned you so the demon would be forced out, then we brought you back'
'What was your plan if that didn't work?', Darrell didn't know what to do with her hands, with her whole body in fact. She felt like she should be doing something.
'I thought it was better to have at least a chance of surviving than to just give up and let Marie and Rupert...', Sally trailed off.
Darrell recoiled as Sally lifted her hand as though to take hers, and she felt a thrum of guilt at the hurt that flashed on Sally's face.
After another night of restless sleep, disturbed by a continuous cycle of nightmares and memories, Darrell had been just about to fall back asleep when yet another unwanted thought began to twitch in the back of her mind. She twisted and turned from one side to another, willing herself to sleep, but the thought grew to a gnawing and insistent idea that she couldn't ignore.
Darrell got up and turned on the lamp. If Miss Rutherford got up, she wouldn't see the light.
Darrell slid off the bed, knelt down and dragged the books out from underneath it and rummaged until she found the one she was looking for. Her knee didn't appreciate the movement and Darrell grimaced at the noise her joint made as she turned around to sit on the floor.
Darrell flicked through until she found the right page and examined the drawing there. She was certain. It hadn't been her imagination. One of the marks on Sally's arm the day she had been turned had looked exactly like that.
How could that be? It didn't make any sense. How had none of them seen that at the time? Thoughts upended into a mass of flickers that she couldn't grasp. It was as though she had tugged at the end of one string in a bundle of hundreds and only been able to unravel a few inches of it. Then when she took hold of another, the same thing happened but now she had also lost sight of the first.
"Patience…", Darrell muttered to herself, pressing her palm against her forehead and remembering her mother trying to teach her to sew without breaking the thread. Patience had never been a strength of hers.
Darrell hauled herself back up onto the bed and rummaged for a notebook. If she got the thoughts out then maybe she would be able to make sense of them. Her body had other ideas and she gritted her teeth as her arm shot up twice in quick succession. Once the unwanted movements had stopped, she took two deep breaths and began to write out all the possible reasons for how a mark used by an ancient demon to choose a vessel could have been left during an attack by a werewolf.
There weren't many possibilities and halfway through, Darrell began to ask herself another unwanted question.
Werewolves weren't renowned for their self-control. So why hadn't this one just killed Sally?
'Maybe she isn't Sally, she's a shape-shifting demon who took your friend's place', Darrell bolted upright and hid the notebook behind her.
Her room was empty. No-one had spoken. No-one real anyway, no matter how familiar that voice sounded. It was just a hallucination.
Just. As though anything of this could be reduced to 'just' anything. Alicia was just a vampire slayer. Sally had just been turned into a werewolf. Darrell had just...just...
Darrell sat up straight and pushed herself back against the wall her bed was against. She did the breathing exercises the therapist had asked her to use when she began to get overwhelmed by her thoughts. They didn't work as well as she had hoped, the thoughts were still there prodding and pushing to be let in.
Sally had just...
Darrell rocked and banged her back against the wall just hard enough that the thud reverberated through her shoulders, her chest and trailed off like echoes into her limbs. She did it over and over until the thoughts flickered away to a safe distance. Then she waited for a moment before relaxing and sitting forward, the thoughts were staying away, for now.
Darrell scratched the back of her hand as she checked one more time that she was alone, then put the notebook back onto her lap and read back through the possibilities. She was inclined to cross out coincidence right now but she needed to share this with someone. Someone who wasn't... someone who didn't have paranoia as an uncomfortable companion most days. She hesitated for almost a minute before scribbling the possibility of Sally not being Sally at the bottom of the list.
She read until it was a reasonable time to get up, then moved straight into her Monday morning routine. Even if insomnia and nightmares broke up her overnight routine, at quarter to six it was the same every time. Shower, get dressed, make breakfast.
"Bad night?", Miss Rutherford put the kettle on and took down the cups, pouring milk into Darrell's and setting up her own for a coffee.
"Nightmares", Darrell replied vaguely, "What time do we need to leave?"
She didn't need to ask. She knew the answer. It was the same every Monday and it was written on her schedule and in her diary but she couldn't help herself from asking. Dr Cudson had called it a harmless repetitive behaviour, used by a lot of his patients to help calm anxiety and uncertainty. Darrell worried sometimes that people presumed it meant she was having memory difficulties.
Miss Rutherford never seemed to mind answering though, "Quarter past seven. We'll get to school by around quarter to eight".
Then forty-five minutes to try and make herself feel like she still belonged with her form, forty-five minutes to get past the uncomfortable reminder that for part of the week she wasn't part of the school. Forty-five minutes where she would be expected to act normally with Sally and Alicia...
Darrell hadn't felt the tic coming. That was the part that upset her the most. She was embarrassed about the smashed plate and the mess it made. She was frustrated by the fact that she would have to make more toast for breakfast and how that would affect the one routine she hadn't had to change so far. But she was upset that she had been so distracted by her thoughts that she had missed the split-second sensation that she could usually feel before a tic and she couldn't even explain why.
"Are you sure you want to go to school today?", Miss Rutherford asked gently as they finished tidying up the mess and remaking the ruined parts of breakfast.
"Yes", Darrell didn't mean to be curt but if she talked at length, she didn't know what she might say.
Miss Rutherford nodded and didn't ask any more questions, but Darrell knew that when Darrell went to her room to get her bag, Miss Rutherford would call Marie and let her know what had happened. It felt like being back at home, with that awful Gail Taylor and her daily reports. Darrell struggled to swallow the toast and her milk just felt heavy on her tongue and in her stomach. She managed to eat a little simply to satisfy Miss Rutherford's concern and then cleaned up and went to get her belongings.
The sound of the door to the living room being pushed shut, to mask the sound of talking, make a lump appear in her throat.
CW: Trauma, auditory hallucinations, references to temporary death by drowning, internalised negativity regarding mental illness.
Apologies for delays in updating for all my ongoing fics, I have broken fingers and this is slowing my typing and updating. Thank you for reading during the slower updates.
Please click below or 'End' on your keyboard to read the Content Warnings first.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Do you think it's true? My sister says that she started talking to herself"
"Well, I heard it was a nervous breakdown"
It was silly to stop. Darrell knew that doing so would only show that she had heard what they were saying but she couldn't stop herself. Perhaps she should have accepted Sally's offer to come with her and offer moral support after all.
"Alright. Everyone back in", Louisa called, much to Darrell's relief.
The girls, more than usually turned out for any tennis practise, jogged back in to crowd around Louisa. Darrell joined Louisa at the front, ignoring how girls leant in and whispered to one another when she did.
"It's good to see so many girls are interested in working on their tennis this term", Louisa said, "We'll see you again next week".
Darrell gathered up the equipment as First and Second Formers rushed back up to the school to get changed. Felicity and Susan offered to help but Darrell brushed their offer off and forced herself to smile.
"You've got some pluck, I'll give you that", Louisa said as she joined Darrell in carrying the equipment back up to the school.
"I wouldn't have come back to all the staring and the rumours", Louisa said, shifting the weight of the tennis raquets in her arms.
It didn't sound like a compliment. Nor did it sound like an insult. Perhaps Darrell was just so twisted up by trying to figure out who meant what these days that she couldn't tell the difference anymore. So she said nothing.
After dropping off the equipment, she hurried off to get changed herself. By the time she was showered and dressed, there were only ten minutes until supper, much to her frustration. She had hoped for enough time to search the books at the cottage; she remembered seeing a chapter in one about demonic possession whilst flicking through books during her nights on werewolf duty.
She glanced at her watch again. The teachers were lenient this early in the term so she probably had closer to fifteen minutes. Before she could talk herself out of it, Darrell turned around and jogged down to the cottage. She was sorely tempted to run but the medical advice had been clear, if she wanted any chance of returning to sports properly in Sixth Form, she needed to take it easy this term. By the time she had unlocked the door and reached the bookcase, she'd taken nearly six minutes. Even if she found the book, where would she hide it? She wasn't going to be able to reach the dorms and still make it to the hall in time.
'Just skip supper, this is important'
Darrell couldn't help looking around, even though a part of her already knew it was another hallucination. It wasn't a terrible idea, she admitted as she scanned the bookcase, if she went up to the dorm and pretended to be asleep if anyone came up to find her she would have at least half an hour to herself. On the other hand, it would make Sally and Alicia worry.
'Don't worry about them. You need to find out for certain what's going on'
"I know, just let me...", Darrell's chest felt awfully heavy as she realised what she was doing. Forcing all of her attention on the bookcase, Darrell found the book she was after and tucked it under her arm.
By the time she reached the dorm, the late bell for supper had gone so she decided to stay where she was. Laying the book out on the bed, she leafed through pages, scanning each quickly. Texts and sketching of demons and all matters related flashed by until she reached the section on possession. Then she slowed down and checked each page. There had to be something on finding out if someone was possessed.
"History, notable possessions...", Darrell muttered to herself, "signs of possession!"
As she read, Darrell wondered how many of the signs she had displayed before Christmas. Loss of time was definitely one she had experienced under the Conduit's control. Unexplained changes in personality was almost certainly another.
There was nothing to say for certain one way or the other if was likely that Sally was possessed. Frustrated, Darrell read on. She skipped over the details of different demons and to the smaller section on spells. The first claimed to destroy 'minor demons'. Darrell stopped for a few seconds to wonder what might be considered minor in the demonic world. The next spell was what she needed, forcing a demon to show itself. Even as she was about to despair over the fact it was written in German, it was as though something moved in her brain and she could read the words without thinking. Darrell dropped the book onto her bed and jumped up.
'Calm down, it's not the first time that's happened'
Darrell couldn't tell if those words were her own attempts to self soothe or another hallucination. She pressed her palms into her eyes and took a few deep breaths. Perhaps she should be looking into the long term effects of possession on the human mind. Maybe there would be more answers for her there.
Not now though. Now she needed to just give herself a minute and then see if she recognised the ingredients for the spell. She shook her arms out and returned to the book. She recognised most of the ingredients and had seen them amongst Marie and Rupert's supplies, now she just needed to work out how to get hold of them without anyone finding out.
Darrell closed the book and shoved it under the rest of her belongings in her trunk. She lay back on the bed and breathed a sigh of relief, feeling lighter, somehow, with the beginnings of a plan.
'Don't forget about the library. You need to -'
"I know, I will. One thing at a time", Darrell cut the words off sharply.
"Darrell?", for a moment, she didn't realise the voice wasn't another hallucination and she ignored it. It wasn't until the footsteps that she realised someone was there.
She sat upright and Sally's face confirmed it, she'd heard Darrell answering to no-one. Neither of them spoke for what seemed like an age, though it was probably no more than a few seconds. Sally cleared her throat.
"Mam'zelle sent me to check on you, you're missing supper", Sally tried to sound like her usual self but it fell flat.
"Right", Darrell stood up and fumbled for an explanation. She didn't want to lie. That only caused more problems further down the line.
"Come on", Sally gestured towards the door, mercifully giving Darrell a pass on explaining what had happened.
No-one asked for an explanation when they reached the hall and Darrell didn't provide one.
"You think she was hallucinating", Alicia said matter-of-factly. They were in a rarely used corridor of Malory Towers, hoping that no-one would stumble across them and wonder what exactly the two of them had to talk about so intensely.
"I don't know. Maybe", Sally looked pained, as though she were betraying Darrell simply by discussing this.
"She could have been talking something through with herself", Alicia said, "Remember during the play, she would talk to herself when she was editing but that wasn't... Was it?"
Alicia wished as soon as she spoke that she hadn't said those words out loud. It made Sally go rigid as the possibility sunk in and made a horrid weight plummet in Alicia's stomach.
"No, that was... It was different. Everyone talks to themselves like that sometimes, it's problem-solving", Sally said eventually and there was a conviction to her words that reassured Alicia, "This sounded like part of an argument".
"People do talk through difficult situations sometimes", Alicia didn't entirely believe it herself as she said it but it did soften some of the worry on Sally's face, "It has to be stressful for her, what with everything going on. Maybe that's all it was".
Alicia pushed away the guilt that accompanied her next words, knowing full well that she wasn't being completely straight with Sally,
"Why don't you stay back tonight? I think someone should keep an eye on her and I'm fine patrolling alone", and yet the words sounded so genuine as she said them. If Sally had been less preoccupied then she might have questioned the offer but as it was she just agreed. It didn't take much more convincing to get Sally to head back to the common room, then Alicia made her way to West Tower.
Rules around visiting one another in different Towers seemed to change depending on which adult was enforcing them. The official word was that once the first evening bell went, the one sending the First Formers to get ready for bed, then everyone needed to be back in their own Towers regardless of age. The teachers and Matron in West Tower had a rather irritating tendency to enforce that rule much earlier in the evening when it came to Alicia; something she could, begrudgingly, understand when she was younger but resented now she was seventeen. It didn't do much to stop her, but it did make sneaking in and out more difficult than it should be.
"You're lucky you just missed Miss Carton, she was in a foul mood", Betty said as she shut the common room door behind her, "She would have turfed you out in a jiffy. Where are we going?"
"Nowhere, well, not right now", Alicia pulled Betty to one side, "Tonight, do you think you can sneak out and meet me down by the back door?"
Betty's eyes lit up and Alicia could feel herself grinning back despite herself.
"No, I risked being dragged out of here with a clip around the ear for a laugh. Of course, I'm serious", Alicia said, "Make sure no-one sees you leave..."
Betty was already waiting when Alicia arrived. Alicia hushed her attempts to talk and gestured for her to follow, wanting to make sure they were well away from the school before any talking started. She handed Betty a stake and led them down through the sports field and off of school grounds.
"You know I don't know what to do with this, right?", Betty grinned, waving the stake at Alicia.
"It's not that difficult, the pointed end goes in their chest", Alicia said.
"And where do I sign up for my super-strength to get it through their chest in the first place?", Betty teased as she put the stake into the pocket of her coat, "Where are we off to then?"
"Marie wants me to patrol the old church towards town, Sa-", Alicia cleared her throat, realising she was about to say too much, "There's catacombs there and she wants me to check them over again to make sure we didn't miss anything".
"You don't make this Slayer business sound very exciting sometimes", Betty sighed but Alicia snuck a look at her, she looked pleased all the same.
Alicia let Betty do most of the talking on the way, taking care when she answered not to reveal too much information. There was an uneasy sensation sitting on her chest and listening to Betty's chatter made it easier to ignore.
"Did you ever take Darrell on patrol?", Betty asked as the church came into view. Something in how she asked it gave Alicia pause and all of a sudden she wanted to lie to keep Betty happy.
"You did, didn't you?", she had taken too long and Betty answered for her.
"Just once, it didn't go well", Alicia admitted, "I got an earful from Rupert over it".
Before Betty could ask anything else, Alicia sped up and led her towards the catacomb's entrance.
"Gosh, that's miserable looking", Betty pulled a face when Alicia pulled aside the overgrown grasses and foliage to reveal the entrance.
"What did you expect?", Alicia raised an eyebrow and received a shrug as a reply, "Stay close behind me, just in case".
Alicia descended into the catacombs, listening keenly for sound of movement below. All she could hear were their footsteps.
"Please tell me you have a torch", Betty said, her voice a little too light to not be put on.
Alicia took the torch from her coat pocket, turned it on and handed it to Betty.
"Try and keep the beam ahead of me", she instructed. Betty did just that and the walkway ahead lit up.
"So, do you just know when vampires are around?", Betty asked.
"Something like that", Alicia didn't want to admit that she still didn't know all that much about Slayer skills, "Come on, here's where the Tomb I opened before is".
"What are you looking for?", Betty asked as Alicia took the torch from her and scanned the room.
"Anything that mentions the name Aurelius, apparently he wrote all sorts of predictions about demonic activity and hellmouths", Alicia stepped back out and into the next room.
Ten rooms later, there was still no sign of anything referencing an Aurelius and Betty was getting restless. Alicia moved the torch to check the time, it was only just after half eleven.
"We better go up and do a sweep before heading back", Alicia knew she should look for a while longer but she didn't want to put Betty off coming out with her.
They made their way back down the catacombs to the entrance and up the stairs.
"There you are", Sally said as Alicia emerged above ground, "Marie sent me to..."
There had been no time to get Betty to stay underground or hide. Sally's face was almost comical, as though she couldn't quite believe her eyes. Then she seemed to remember herself and she became quite unreadable.
"You told her", Sally didn't so much ask as state.
"Marie sent you?", Alicia asked and, with great effort, Sally looked away from Betty and back at Alicia.
"She sent me to get you, Rupert is out in Truro and there's been a spate of missing people. Marie's waiting with the car for us", Sally said.
"And why would she send you", Betty piped up, not in the slightest bit phased over being found out, "Do you give the vampires a good talking to?"
"We need to hurry", Sally ignored Betty's comment, "Especially since we need to drop her off". With that final comment, Sally turned and headed back towards school, clearly expecting them to follow her.
"You would have thought even she would be less prim over the supernatural", Betty chuckled as she followed Alicia.
Alicia didn't say anything. The uneasy feeling in her chest was back and this time it was more difficult to ignore.
"I can't understand how you could be so foolish", Sally said, pulling ahead of Alicia as they walked.
"Yes, you've made your thoughts about it very clear, do you feel better?", Alicia retreating to sarcasm and snippy comments wasn't positive either. They had only just got to a point where they were, well, not exactly friends but friendlier certainly.
"Are you planning on telling Marie?", Sally suspected she already knew the answer to that.
"No", Alicia's face hardened, "That would be just typical of you to-"
"Oh do shut up, Alicia", Sally interrupted her, "I'm not going to tell her".
Alicia pursed her lips but didn't say anything.
"I actually thought you were worried about Darrell, turns out there was nothing benevolent about it", even as she said it, Sally knew she was being unfair, so it didn't surprise her to see Alicia scowl. Alicia may not have been completely honest in having Sally stay back with Darrell but it was a step too far to suggest that she didn't care.
Sally was almost relieved when they reached the road and saw Marie's car idling in the layby further down. At least once they were with Marie, they couldn't argue like this.
"Does it make you feel better?", Alicia asked bitterly, and though Sally ignored her and hoped that she'd stop, Alicia continued, "Does having something to Lord over me stop you from having to think about how Darrell doesn't want to be around you anymore?"
Sally had almost forgotten just how deep Alicia's comments could cut, how she always seemed to know just where to stick the knife. She really should have known that when she struck a low blow that Alicia would hit back lower.
"You dragged yet another person into this mess", Sally forced herself to keep her voice steady, "You've seen the damage it does to people, why on Earth would you want that for your best friend?"
"And you're the authority on what's right, are you?", Alicia got in the last word, like she always did, just before they reached the car and got in the back.
If Marie sensed something more than their usual level of animosity, she didn't say as much.
"Rupert was quite flustered on the phone but I understand at least four people have gone missing, perhaps those vampires from the other night were not the only ones", Marie explained as she pulled out onto the road.
"No bodies though?", Alicia asked.
"No. Which means it's possible they've been turned", Marie said, then after a pause, "of course, it could be something else".
Sally turned her attention to out of the window as Alicia asked more details from Marie. Alicia could use her anger in a fight, and use it to great advantage, but Sally needed to bring her own emotions back under control lest she put them all in danger. In some ways, it was a good thing she had done it so well before being bitten. If she had been of a different temperament, who could say how the previous term would have panned out.
The drive took around ten minutes and Sally could make out Rupert waiting nearly in the shadows as they pulled in.
"Found one fresh grave", Rupert dove straight into the matters at hand, "Dug it up and it was one of the missing men, bite to the neck and blood on his teeth. I staked him to be safe but the transformation hadn't started".
It took a beat for Sally to realise what that meant and she felt a little queasy at the thought of Rupert staking a body that didn't respond like a vampire's. Alicia had similar thoughts, if the look on her face were anything to go by.
"You think they're nearby?", Alicia asked and Sally began to focus her senses even before Marie turned to ask her.
The others seemed to think sometimes - and perhaps this were her fault in some ways for not correcting them - that it were easy to isolate single traces. That a werewolf had some kind of infallibly accurate sensor for individual people and monsters. If only that were truly the case.
"Are we near any of the graveyards?", Sally asked eventually, the scent of death seemed to overwhelm all else.
Rupert nodded and gestured with both arms in opposite directions.
"There's too many other scents to be certain", Sally admitted, "But I think that one". She pointed to the West.
"Then that's where we'll start", Marie said.
It was only a short walk to the graveyard. This one had a few grander mausoleums than they'd seener in the other graveyards.
Splitting up, they took a quadrant of the graveyard each. Alicia and Sally focused on the parts with the mausoleums.
It was as she was shouldering the door to one of the last mausoleum's in her quarter shut, that Sally heard Alicia call that she'd found something.
"There's a set of stairs going deeper back here", Alicia pulled aside the tapestry that had been covering the entrance, "Come on".
Before Sally could suggest they exercise some caution, Alicia disappeared inside the stairwell. Alicia didn't understand how much of a disadvantage places like this put Sally at. Death choked the air, dampened her senses until rot and decay were all she could feel.
Still, she couldn't leave Alicia to go alone. She caught up with the other girl at the foot of the stairs.
"I can't see a thing", Alicia murmured as she fumbled for her torch before cursing to herself, no doubt remembering she had handed it off to Betty.
Alicia started to walk deeper into the darkness anyway.
"We're more vulnerable without light", Sally said as she followed her, glancing back up the stairs to make sure their escape route was clear, "We should-"
There was a second between the dull impact on Sally's side and the shooting pain in the side of her head and flashing disorientation that followed. Alicia called her name, and then it sounded like Alicia managed to land a few blows on whatever had attacked them but then there was the crack of skull against stone and all the air was knocked from Sally's lungs as a body landed on her.
"Alicia!", Sally squirmed onto her back. She supposed she was relieved it was Alicia and not a vampire atop of her.
Sally pushed Alicia off of her, the lack of protest made her worry she was unconscious or worse, and she tried to clamber back to her feet. She had crawled up onto her hands and knees when the boot connected with her abdomen and pitched her back into the dirt near the bottom of the stairs.
"Slayers", a deep voice moved away from her towards Alicia, "They're always disappointing..."
The vampire bent at the waist and yanked a stone brick that had come lose from the wall up and above his head. Sally scrambled her reserves of strength and got back to her feet.
Sally was sure she tore the knee out of her trousers as she slid to reach Alicia in time. She grabbed the other girl and rolled them both out of the way of the rock that thudded into where Alicia's head had been.
"Luke! This one has back up", a woman called from the top of the steps.
A twang of a crossbow being released followed and then the heavy sound of footsteps on the steps above them. Sally fumbled for Alicia's wrist to check her pulse, her own head ringing too much to try and listen alone. A steady beat made her breathe a little easier.
"Down here", Sally called out and she groaned as she pushed herself up into a seated position. Two sets of footsteps ran down the steps.
"We're here. Oh my Lord, is she...", Marie's voice had gotten closer so quickly that Sally wondered if she had passed out for a moment. The vampire had hit so hard it reminded her of the Conduit enhanced vampires from a few terms back. And that thought just made her feel sick.
"No, unconscious", Sally clarified and she let Marie help her to her feet.
"I'll take Alicia", Rupert's voice faded away for a moment and then Marie shook Sally just enough to refocus her.
"Can you walk?", Marie asked and before Sally could say she really had no idea if she could or couldn't, Marie put Sally's arm around her shoulder and helped her up the steps.
Since she managed to stay upright without either passing out or being sick, Sally insisted on walking back to the car under her own strength. She didn't remember much of the walk, snippets of the journey fading in and out, then the feeling of the seat beneath her and her own hands on the belt, fumbling to buckle herself in.
"Here", Rupert said, his words gruff and gravelled with concern, "Let me?"
Sally pulled her hands away and nodded; Rupert clipped her belt in and then asked Marie something in the back seat.
Sally must have passed out because the next thing she remembered was being helped out of the car by Marie while Matron and Rupert tended to Alicia. From the subdued grumbling, Alicia had regained consciousness but she didn't look in any state to be standing of her own volition.
"Take her to the San", Matron said to Rupert as he lifted Alicia up, "How's she doing?"
"I'm already healing, I'll be fine", Sally mumbled, though she wasn't entirely sure she believed it.
Matron examined her dubiously and Sally took a few steps to demonstrate she could walk on her own. She didn't think anyone noticed the wobble.
"I will be up in half an hour to check", Marie said eventually and Sally agreed to those terms.
She kept the charade up until she was inside the building, then she crumpled onto the steps up to the dorm. She allowed herself just a minute before getting back up and struggling up each set of stairs. She was healing, slowly. Each step hurt just a little bit less than the previous. By the time she pushed the door to the dorms open, her ears had stopped ringing.
Sally stumbled over one of Irene's shoes, left haphazardly at the end of her bed, and winced at the clatter as she landed on the floor.
"Hello? Sally?" Alicia?", of course she had woken Darrell, "Are you okay?"
Sally shook her head, which was pointless as Darrell couldn't see her in the dark, and pushed herself up off the floor. She made it to her bed and collapsed onto it.
Darrell shimmied out of her own bed and crouched beside Sally's, "What happened? Are you hurt?"
"It went so dreadfully wrong", Sally said, "Alicia... She's really hurt".
Sally didn't protest when Darrell helped her take her jacket off, or when she retrieved a nightdress for Sally to change into. Once Sally was changed, she lay down and turned onto her side.
Darrell looked so concerned and part of Sally selfishly thought that this meant that all wasn't lost. Sally grabbed Darrell's hand clumsily and tugged her onto the bed.
"Just... Please stay, just for a while", Sally asked.
"Of course", and it was like things weren't completely broken. Even if just until Sally fell asleep.
CW: Auditory hallucinations, violence, negative attitudes towards mental illness.
Please click below or 'End' on your keyboard to read the Content Warnings first.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Darrell was so preoccupied with getting to the cottage that she didn't even see the two Second Formers until she bumped into them. The satchel on her shoulder slid down with the force of the collision and she grabbed it to steadied it. The last thing she needed was for the contents of her bag to spill out. It would be difficult to explain why she was carrying around all manner of plants, herbs and general oddities.
"I'm sorry, I wasn't looking", Darrell said, "Are you quite alright?"
She managed not to react when the two girls recoiled from her. Darrell recognised them now that she was paying attention, Veronica and Doreen. They were two of the most unpleasant girls in the lower school and Darrell doubted they would willingly accept her apology. Darrell glanced over to where some of the First Formers, her sister included, were sitting on the grass. Even if the girls were unlikeable, she had to set a good example to the younger girls.
"Are you alright?", Darrell asked again.
"Off in your own world were you?", Veronica sneered.
Were it not for the sneer, it would almost sound like an innocent comment. After all, hadn't they all joked before about how Irene was in her own world at times? It was something people said. Except now Darrell very much doubted that this was said with any such amicability. Darrell's chest, neck and face felt hot the more she thought on it and she took a few extra seconds to make sure she didn't say something frightful.
"As I said, I'm sorry I bumped into you", and she turned to carry on walking.
Darrell went still. She knew, of course, that people said things about her. That words like that - and worse - were bandied around in whispers. Hearing it said so sharply, so boldly, was a different matter entirely. Darrell might have ignored the comment if not for the First Formers, who had clearly heard what Veronica had said. Darrell couldn't let Veronica speak to her like that unchallenged, as much as she might want to just get away from this awful situation. So she turned around.
"Excuse me?", Darrell was relieved that her voice sounded a lot more confident than she felt, "Would you care to repeat that?"
The two girls were less confident now they had been challenged and shared a nervous glance.
"Very well, I don't actually need you to repeat it", Darrell took out the punishment book that all Fifth and Sixth Formers carried and scribbled something out. She tore the slip off and held it out. Veronica scowled as she took the paper and read it,
"You can't make me write this", she protested.
"I can. See it's done by Monday", Darrell said and she went on her way before anything else could happen.
It was so difficult to stop herself from speeding up but doing that would only attract more attention. Miss Potts and Mr Giles had left school grounds earlier in the car and Sally had gone to work on her prep. If Darrell didn't find the last ingredients now, she would have to wait until Monday at the earliest.
Darrell checked one last time that no-one had followed her and then locked the door behind her.
The ingredient stores were kept in the backroom, locked in one of the cabinets there. Darrell counted out the rest of the ingredient onto the top of the cabinet and checked the list.
"Just gingko and wolfsbane", she murmured to herself and she reached down the back of the cabinet, stretching until she managed to grab the spare cabinet key hidden behind it. It really was rather slack in terms of security but the others' distraction was to her benefit. She undid the cabinet, pulled the doors open and began to rummage through the ingredients. Wolfsbane was easy to find, it was kept front and centre in case they ever needed it to incapacitate Sally. Gingko took a bit longer but she eventually found it too.
Darrell doubled checked she had locked the cabinet up correctly and then began to combine the ingredients into one jar as directed by the book's instructions. The sound of a key turning in the lock as she was just about to shred and add the wolfsbane prompted her to hide what she was doing behind her satchel and turn around.
"So you are here", Sally put her books on top of the side table, "When Felicity said they'd seen you walking this way I was a little confused"
Darrell waited for Sally to ask about Veronica because surely Felicity would have mentioned something about the altercation and then Darrell could just move onto that topic of conversation and avoid-
"What are you doing?", Sally frowned and took a few steps closer, but her attention was on the floor.
Darrell followed Sally's eye line and winced, in her hurry to hide what she was doing, she had knocked some of the wolfsbane onto the floor. Sally took one more step and started to bend down to pick it up.
"No!", Darrell grabbed Sally's wrist and stopped her, far more harshly than she meant to.
Sally looked like she didn't know how to react to Darrell's behaviour and Darrell's mouth went dry, making it difficult to provide any kind of sensible explanation for her actions.
"Wolfsbane...", she said weakly, "You can't touch it"
Sally obviously knew about wolfsbane because she recoiled and took a few steps back. Darrell knelt down and scooped up the leaves, pushing them back up onto the side when she stood up. She daren't look at Sally because she was certain that even with all the walls that kept coming up between them, her friend would see everything written clear as day across her face.
Her efforts to hide were pointless in the end because Sally stepped in beside her, close enough that Darrell couldn't concentrate properly, and moved Darrell's satchel to one side. Sally didn't say anything. She didn't have to.
"It's a spell to make demons reveal themselves", it felt like Darrell couldn't stop the words from tumbling out.
"Where do you think a demon is hiding?", Sally asked.
Darrell took the list she had written - the one about Sally and the mark - out of her pocket, unfolded it and handed it to Sally. Sally stepped away to read and Darrell felt like she could breathe normally again. She turned and watched as Sally got to the bottom of the page and promptly looked back at the top and re-read the list. Sally got this look whenever she was thinking over a problem and at first, it seemed subtle, but Darrell found the longer she looked, the more she could see the intensity. Eventually, Sally walked back over, put the paper down, ran her thumb over the bottom of the page where Darrell had practically scored through the paper circling 'Why didn't it kill her?', and folded the paper over.
"Those are unpleasant possibilities", Sally said, unease seeping into her words, "You want to rule out me being possessed?"
"Fine, do it", Sally agreed and Darrell wasn't sure if she had misheard but Sally gestured for her to carry on so she finished combining the ingredients while Sally watched.
"The wolfsbane in it, will it hurt me?", Sally asked.
"No, I checked, as long as you don't touch it you'll be fine", Darrell finished combining the potion and waved for Sally to move a little further back, "just to be safe".
Sally hesitated but did as she was asked. A small lump formed in Darrell's throat as she thought on the fact that Sally was going completely on faith for her sake but she pushed the feelings down and held the potion firmly.
"Ihr Goetter, ruft Euch an. Verbergt Euch nicht hinter falschen Gesichtern", Darrell spoke steadily, even as she wanted to rush the words out, and on the last word, she smashed the jar on the ground between them.
Smoke rose up and dissipated before it reached the ceiling and Darrell waited, barely daring to breathe. Seconds passed and nothing happened.
"I don't feel any different, is that it?", Sally ventured to ask after a few more seconds passed, "Does that mean..."
"It means we're okay", Darrell said, then she finally smiled, "We're...it means there are no demons".
She took a dustpan and brush from the side and cleaned up the glass from the floor.
"You said we", Sally spoke after a few moments of silence, "That we're okay. It wasn't just me you were checking".
Darrell faltered, she hadn't even realised what she had said, she'd been so pleased.
"I just needed to be sure...", Darrell trailed off as she stood up and threw away the broken glass.
"Well", Sally said, "at least we know that of all the people in the school, neither of us are demons".
The attempt at lightheartedness was strained but Darrell smiled all the same, "I suppose we should go back to school?"
"You can come and help me go over the French prep before supper", Sally walked back towards the front room and took her books from the side, "It was why I was looking for you in the first place. I've gotten myself in a mess with the third part of the translation".
Darrell didn't know if that was really why Sally was looking for her or not but, elated by the fact that she could finally cross one thing from her growing list of concerns, she shoved her belongings back into her satchel and readily agreed.
It was, in hindsight, a jolly good thing that Matron had only allowed her a tumbler of water and not a glass, Alicia thought as she stared hopelessly at the slow-growing pool of water beside the bed. Alicia carefully swung her legs around to the other side of the bed and pushed herself upright. She was quite proud of the fact that she made it to the cupboard, found a tea towel, and made it back without incident. A rather low bar to clear, she had to admit. And, if she were honest with herself, the room did sway a little. Just as she was wondering how best to clean up the mess, the door opened.
"I wondered what that noise was, get back into bed young lady and I'll finish that up", Matron bustled into the room and shooed Alicia back up onto the bed.
In short time, Matron had the spill cleaned and a fresh tumbler of water by Alicia's bed. Then she insisted on giving Alicia a check over.
"How's the pain?", Matron asked once she'd finished her checks.
"So-so", Alicia said, "Why is it taking so long to heal?"
Alicia's Slayer healing had never taken this long. Initially, they had simply thought a spell in the San would only last for long enough for the bruising on Alicia's face to subside. To Alicia's horror, she discovered that she actually needed the bed rest. The other girls were under the assumption that it was a fever of some sort and Alicia hadn't been allowed any visitors who weren't already privvy to her supernatural status. Which mean Betty hadn't been able to come and see her because Alicia was not about to confess to Matron or Marie that she'd told Betty about the supernatural world.
"Any number of things", Matron was vague, just as she had been last time, "You might be okay to return to school tomorrow if you make sure you rest. You have a visitor. I don't want any arguing".
Given Matron's warning, Alicia wasn't surprised when, as soon as Matron stepped out, Sally stepped in.
"How are you feeling?", Sally tried her hardest to sound natural but her words were all stilted and it made Alicia grin. Which of course made Sally frown.
"Do you care?", Alicia teased.
"Of course I do", Sally stepped closer to the bed but didn't sit down in the chair like any other person would.
"Right, the concern just comes off you in waves", Alicia jabbed again and her smile grew bigger when Sally rolled her eyes, "Alright, I'll stop. You're so easy to wind up".
"I take it you are feeling a bit better then?", Sally asked.
Alicia shrugged and adjusted her sitting position, "A bit, I don't know what that vampire did but I've never been this badly hurt. Anyway, why are you really here?"
"Marie asked me to come and see you since no-one else can", Sally admitted and Alicia laughed, "I have a deck of cards if you want to play something?"
"Sure, why not?"
They played various card games for half an hour and talked a little about the plans Marie had for them going forward and what Alicia had missed in class. Sally wasn't as fun as Betty, nor as engaging as Darrell and her way of retelling events, but Alicia was surprised to discover that she quite enjoyed Sally's dry sense of humour. Really, the more she got to know Sally, the more she could make sense of why Darrell enjoyed her company and that was a peculiar experience.
It didn't take long after Sally left for Alicia to get restless. It was a full moon and Sally, Marie and Rupert all needed to make arrangements for patrol. Which left Alicia staring at walls again.
The only other time she had been in the San this long, she had come down with the measles. She'd been too sick then to spend more than a few minutes staring at the white paint, wondering if white truly were the most soothing colour for ill people.
"Counting the ceiling tiles?"
Alicia shot up in the bed and gaped as Betty snuck into the room and pushed the door closed.
"However did you sneak in?", Alicia asked.
"Oh it was easy, one of the kids in the First had a slip and might have broken her ankle. Everyone's busy with that over in South Tower", Betty sank into the chair beside Alicia's bed, "So are these Slayer powers not all they're chalked up to be then?"
"I don't know what's wrong, usually I just need a night's sleep and I'm back", Alicia gestured to her water and Betty handed the tumbler across, "I feel awful leaving everything to Marie and Sal-", Alicia interrupted herself and took a drink of her water in an effort to hide the near fumble.
The glimmer in Betty's eyes told her she'd fallen short.
"Ah yes, I've been meaning to ask. What is Sally? I know she's not a Slayer but there has to be a reason Marie sent her looking for you the other night, right?", Betty leant in a little closer.
"It's not right to discuss her business in all of this without her here", Alicia protested, though it was a slightly feeble protest even to her own ears.
"Spoilsport", Betty grinned, "So who does patrol with you cooped up in here?"
Alicia ignored her question and asked instead about class, earning herself an eye roll but Betty indulged her change of subject and went into a ramble over how Miss James had nearly lost her rag with Maureen and Gwen during a most trying Maths lesson.
Once Alicia started to flag, and conscious that she was risking an awful lot just being there anyway, Betty promised to return the next day if Alicia weren't back in school. Alicia slept again until after supper and awoke to find Marie talking quietly to Matron in the doorway.
"Perhaps I'll leave it until she's back in school", Marie was saying to Matron, "Though that gives us less time, maybe it's for the best and she'll be stronger by then".
"Are you sure you have to go?", Matron was asking, "Rupert's..."
"He's come a long way, Elizabeth, and yes I'm sure. Come on, let's not wake her"
Much to Alicia's disappointment, the two women moved away from the doorway and she could no longer hear them. So she repeated the words she had heard over and over until she was certain they were firm in her memory and they echoed in her head as she fell back asleep.
"You look awful, been up all night trying to tear out chains?", Alicia's daft comments were almost welcome after days without them. Of course, Sally did remind her that this wasn't the time or place for those comments. It was instinct by now. She accepted Alicia's point that no-one was close enough to hear them with little more than a sharp look.
"And aren't you bright eyed and cheery?", that comment Alicia directed at Darrell, who had just arrived in the courtyard.
Darrell sat down next to Sally on the bench, "Did Matron get fed up of you and kick you out?"
"Cheeky", Alicia turned at the sound of voices, "I'll see you later".
Sally tried to keep her expression clear as she watched Alicia go over to Betty but Darrell, who had shifted to take Alicia's seat, must have seen something.
"What's...", and Darrell followed Sally's eyeline and then looked back and practically studied her expression, "Did something happen with Betty?"
"You could put it like that", Sally tore her attention off of the other girls, "Don't worry about it".
"I wasn't but now you've said that I am going to", Darrell said, "They're not getting at you again are they? I thought they'd grown out of that nonsense".
"Nothing like that, come on, let's go for a quick walk before class", Sally got up, "How was therapy?"
Darrell pulled a face at the question but as they walked Sally teased a few details from her.
"He wants you to go to a group where other people have the same thing as you?", Sally asked.
Darrell made a noncommittal noise which Sally chose to interpret as a yes.
"You sound overjoyed at that idea", Sally said and that prompted a small smile.
"I don't think I'm ready for anything like that", Darrell explained, "Also it means having to remember to avoid talking about certain things with even more people. It's difficult enough to remember with just one therapist and a few doctors. How can I be involved in something like that when I can't even mention the cause of my trauma?".
Of course, that brought a dark cloud over their conversation because anything referring to the Conduit ended up with them both thinking about how it had ended.
"Sorry", Darrell wrapped her arms around herself almost defensively.
"It's not...", Sally sighed, "It's not you. Come on, let's go to English".
And just like that, the morning, and Sally's mood, became greyer.
English passed without incident, though Sally kept overhearing snippets of Betty and Alicia whispering and she became tense at the topic of their whispers. After class, she caught up with Alicia outside and took her to one side.
"Tell Betty to stop talking about things she shouldn't be in class. People will hear", Sally said.
"Listening in were you?", Alicia asked.
"Not deliberately", Sally didn't have a chance to say anything else because Betty arrived at that moment.
"Is this a secret meeting?", Betty asked, "I've been meaning to ask, what do you add to this team anyway? I don't think you can disapprove vampires into atoning for their sins, after all".
"You didn't tell her everything", Sally directed her comment at Alicia, knowing it would irritate Betty to do so.
"It didn't seem right to tell others' secrets", Alicia said.
"So, what is your big secret?", Betty asked, her eyes lighting up wickedly.
"None of your business", Sally was about to say more when the movement of Darrell pacing the other side of the courtyard caught her eye. Betty turned around and her face turned downright cruel for just a moment.
"That's a point, what's Darrell?", she asked.
Betty's words brought a chilled silence.
"Well come on, it's all a cover, right?", Betty asked and as the silence went on she continued, "She's not actually crazy, is she?"
Sally couldn't stand to listen anymore and with one final look at Alicia, who looked embarrassed by Betty's words, Sally left them to it. It seemed no matter how hard Sally tried, whenever she tried to solve one problem another just popped up to take it's place. She was trying so hard to prove that she could be trusted after the events of last term and yet-
"Ah, Sally", Marie called out to her before she reached Darrell and Sally nearly groaned with annoyance. Except, she couldn't do that because it wasn't what people expected from her so she took a deep breath and waited for Marie to walk over to her.
"I must speak to you and Alicia this afternoon, could you both come up to my office after last lesson?", Marie asked, "I can't really put it off any later than that, I'm afraid".
Sally agreed, of course, because passing messages on was something that people expected her to do. But when Marie glanced at Darrell, who was still pacing and apparently unaware of just how unusual her doing that was, Sally smiled politely and said she would see her later. The last thing she needed was for Marie to start asking about Darrell, as though Sally were responsible for and knew all the answers regarding her best friend. If that was still what they were to each other.
"Ready for French?", Darrell greeted her so normally when Sally reached her that she immediately felt guilty for her bitter thoughts.
So Sally didn't comment on Darrell's pacing, and she didn't tell Darrell about Betty's new involvement or Marie's sudden need to speak to Sally and Alicia. That was the right way around, after all. Darrell was still getting better and it wasn't right to involve her in more problems. Even if it meant there was no-one to take some of the weight off Sally's shoulders.
Sally perhaps should have known that even she couldn't keep everything bottled up for too long. What she didn't expect was for it to come spilling out during their last lesson of the day, where the form had been asked to help sew costumes for a First Form play.
It was frightfully hot and Sally, usually quite patient when it came to sewing, kept breaking her threads.
"Oh Sally, you're usually so careful", Miss Donnelly commented as she examined their work, "I think you'll need to unpick that part and try again".
Sally was horrified when her first thought was how she wanted to throw the costume at Miss Donnelly and she choked on her words, managing to force an apologetic smile instead. It had to be the full moon cycle causing this, Sally reminded herself, and tonight was the last night. Then things would be easier.
"I'll unpick your stitching if you thread my needle?", Darrell offered and Sally swapped her costume for Darrell's needle and thread.
"How come Miss Donnelly doesn't bother you?", Sally asked, pleased she didn't sound too sullen.
"Oh, she decided by the end of Second Form that I was hopeless at sewing of any sort", Darrell grinned, "So I think she's just relieved when I manage to sew in a straight line. That's why I get all the tasks where you can't see the stitching".
Sally laughed and it caught Miss Donnell's attention, prompting the Sewing Mistress to purse her lips.
"I do hope everyone is taking this seriously", she said.
"Sorry Miss, my fault", Darrell supplied immediately and Miss Donnelly turned away, sated for now.
The tension fell away for a while after that and Sally managed to finish her sewing while Darrell avoided making too much of a mess of hers.
"Anyone who hasn't finished should stay behind and finish up", Miss Donnelly instructed.
"Here, take this over to hang up and I'll do a bit of yours", Sally offered to Darrell, "I can't leave you here struggling away".
Another swap of items and Darrell went over to hang up the finished items.
"Miss, aren't we meant to do our own sewing?", Maureen's voice, high and whiney, broke over the quiet chatter of the girls.
It truly wasn't done for girls to sneak to teachers, especially in the Fifth, and had it been another teacher, nothing would have come of it bar a quick clarification between the teacher and Sally. Miss Donnelly, however, didn't see sneaking quite the same as other teachers.
"Quite right", Miss Donnelly looked around for the culprits, "Oh dear, Sally, Darrell, I expected much better from you".
Sally knew her cheeks had gone red and the fact that every other girl was shooting disgusted looks at Maureen did little to soften the blow. How dreadful to be scolded like a small child when you were in the Fifth.
"Both of you had better stay back", Miss Donnelly said firmly.
"Miss Potts has asked to speak to me then Miss", Sally replied, quite sure that whatever that meeting was about would be far more important than a bit of sewing.
"Well, then a message shall be sent to her that you will be late. I'm sure she'll be disappointed", Miss Donnelly said.
Sally clenched her hands in her lap and clamped her lips together. The familiar sensation of a growl began to tremble in her chest and she tried to focus her emotions. What if her eyes glowed, like they'd done the other terms when she got annoyed. However would they explain that? The material clenched between her hands pulled taught and she made herself let go for fear that she would rip it.
"Miss Donnelly?", Darrell interrupted the silence and stepped closer to speak quietly to the teacher.
Sally felt the growl start to subside and she released the tight fists her hands had twisted into again. She dared not pick up the sewing so she, and the rest of the class it seemed, waited for the outcome of whatever Darrell was saying.
Miss Donnelly took a few steps back, quickly smoothed a most peculiar look from her face, and cleared her throat,
"Right, very well. Instead, Darrell is going to take the sewing and finish it this evening", Miss Donnelly said firmly, "And I shall give both of you an order mark".
The bell went and the girls tidied away, disappointed that the incident hadn't grown into something more.
"I wonder what Darrell said to old Donnelly, she looked like she'd seen a ghost", Alicia caught Sally's elbow as they all stepped out of the room, "Come on, let's go find out what Marie's big mystery is".
By the time they reached Marie's office, Rupert and Marie were already there talking.
"-could have told me earlier", they caught the tail end of a reproach from Rupert.
"Told you what?", Alicia breezed in and sat down on the sofa as though she hadn't interrupted some sort of argument.
Marie sighed and walked around to the other side of her desk, "I will be away for a while. Maybe as long as two or three weeks".
Alicia looked as though she were going to ask questions but Marie held up her hand to stop her. The teacher really did look exhausted.
"I know it's not ideal timing what with all that's going on", Marie said firmly, "Believe me, I know all too well that we keep finding more problems without getting answers to any of them and this particular group of vampires is a particular concern".
"You don't say, a vampire who beat up a Slayer and a werewolf in seconds is a concern?", Alicia said. Sally wondered if she realised that all of them knew too well that her being snide and childish was a cover for her concern.
"There's business at the council that I can't get out of and then I need to follow up a lead that might be related to the writings that you all found at Magnus's home", Marie just ignored Alicia's verbal strop and continued with her explanation, "Rupert will take over Watcher duties in my absence. I trust," and her eyes flickered over Alicia, "that I don't need to worry about you doing anything daft while I'm away".
"It just seems like terribly inconvenient timing", Rupert crossed his arms over his chest.
"I dare say it might be", Marie said briskly, "I wouldn't be surprised at all to learn that the Council have some hand in this or some test they're planning but it can't be helped".
While the other three continued to debate, despite Marie's reminder that she needed to head off that evening, Sally found Marie's comment kept coming back to her.
That was the problem, wasn't it, they couldn't solve any of their problems because something else always kept happening. They hadn't had a chance to stop and collect their thoughts since long before Christmas. Darrell's list and the worries it prompted, came back to Sally and by the time they left Marie's office, Sally was quite decided that Darrell might be onto something.
Now she had to do her own investigating.
CW: Offensive/bigoted language and views towards mental illness, paranoia.
Please click link or press 'End' on your keyboard to jump to the footnotes for content warning.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
How long had it been raining? Darrell's clothes were wet through and the rain chilled her skin. The coat, already cumbersome, weighed her down and she thought about ridding herself of it but no matter how much she tried, her body wouldn't comply.
'Il est presque temps', someone spoke to her left and she glanced over. A vampire stood a step behind her, watching the same people out the window as her.
'La Tueuse, est-elle ici?', those words came from her but weren't spoken with her voice. The Vampire beside her nodded.
Screams from ahead pulled her attention and she walked forward. A flash of lightning disorientated her and she held her hand up to shield her eyes. When she lowered her hand again, she was no longer stood in the dark and rain with a town ahead of her. Instead, she was back in the cottage staring at the door.
The sound of water and struggling behind her made her turn. She walked into the backroom and the noise got louder, it was coming from the small bathroom at the back. As she got closer the door burst open and a shadowy figure came flying out, struggling with someone.
The shadow broke away from the fight and Darrell flinched as it moved into her space. Her blood ran cold when she looked up and saw Sally raise the sword from her side.
"It's me!", Darrell tried to call out but nothing followed but silence.
Sally swung the sword at Darrell's middle and-
Darrell woke up screaming. It took her a moment to realise that the terrified sound came from her and she scrambled out of her bed, falling heavily to the floor in her attempts to escape. The fall knocked the breath from her and forced her to take a moment to gather herself.
Bed. Floor. She was in the dorms. It had been a nightmare. Was she awake now?
Darrell got back up onto her knees and grabbed her notebook and pen from her side table. She flicked through to a page she had written and re-read it, relieved when she could understand the words. Hands shaking, she wrote a few words to remind herself of the dream. If she could read and write she was almost certainly awake.
Footsteps in the hallway made her heartbeat race again and she scrambled to her feet. She looked at the beds either side of her, Alicia and Sally were still on patrol, it was the bolsters hidden under their covers. If anyone came in and turned the lights on, they'd see in an instant that they were gone. And no doubt wonder how someone screaming in terror hadn't woken the entire dorm. Not knowing what else to do, Darrell ran to the door and went out, nearly crashing into Miss James as she did.
"Goodness me! Darrell, whatever is going on? I heard screaming", Miss James recovered from her startle quickly but Darrell was thrown for a moment by the fact her teacher was in her pyjamas and dressing gown. That meant it had to be very late, she wished she had thought to check the time.
"I'm sorry Miss, that was… I mean, I had a nightmare", Darrell recovered from her momentary surprise but realised that now that she was in the hall, she had no idea how she was going to keep Miss James out of the dorm.
"My doctor says they're a side effect of…", Darrell trailed off when she saw Miss James fill in the gap she hoped she would. She tried not to think too long about how she had used preconceptions about her condition to get out of difficult situations twice in less than twelve hours.
"Of course, I didn't think", Miss James softened her voice, "Are you alright now?"
Darrell was about to say she was and bid the teacher a goodnight when movement at the end of the corridor caught her eye. Alicia froze just after rounding the corner and put out her arm to stop Sally from walking too far out. Then she backed them both up around the corner again.
'Typical', the voice was back.
The tic in Darrell's shoulder started up and she grimaced.
"Darrell?", Miss James asked.
'Lie, you've got to lie to cover for them'.
Darrell reached up and pulled the curls at the back of her head to make the words stop. It didn't stop the tics though and she wished Miss James would stop looking at her with such pity.
"Let's take you to Matron, maybe she can give you something to help you sleep", Miss James suggested and Darrell reluctantly agreed. It was the only thing she could think of to make sure Alicia and Sally weren't discovered.
Matron was as kind and efficient as always and gave Darrell a small dose of the sleeping tablets she was prescribed but didn't like taking. Miss James spoke to Matron in soft tones while Darrell took her tablet then the teacher left to return to her room.
"I'm to keep you in bed until break tomorrow I'm afraid, which is just as well as you might be groggy in the morning, so head on next door and get some sleep", Matron explained.
Darrell sighed and did as she was asked. So much for trying to keep her routine intact.
As it turned out, Darrell wasn't well enough to return to classes until lunchtime. The sleeping tablets on top of her usual medication made her light-headed and sick, and Matron insisted on her staying in bed until that had passed. Half an hour before lunchtime, Matron gave in to Darrell's insistence that she was fine to get up and get ready for the rest of the day.
In the privacy of the dorm, after showering and dressing, Darrell sat on her bed and flicked back through her notebook to read the rushed notes of her nightmare. This was all because of that newspaper article.
Tucked away at the bottom of her trunk was the reason for the spontaneous trip into town she had made the previous afternoon while everyone else was preoccupied. She hadn't planned to go until the weekend but when she had gotten her and Sally out of staying back with Miss Donnelly, it made sense to get it over and done with.
It had occurred to her, shortly after Sally's confession about defeating the Conduit, that even though Sally wouldn't say who died in Darrell's place, that person had gone about their daily life in a small Cornish town until, one day, they simply weren't there anymore. From there it was straight-forward. Newspapers reported missing people after all and she had a date to work with. After the newspaper archives in the town library, she had a name and a face.
Richard Austen. Father and husband, a part-time bus driver, and missing since before Christmas. Further details were scarce but Darrell didn't need them. Just knowing his name and seeing the photograph of him in the paper had been enough to preoccupy her. And apparently give her nightmares where her brain filled in the blanks.
Feeling herself getting more agitated, Darrell went outside for some air. She was struck by just how quiet Malory Towers could be even when the buildings around her were filled with schoolgirls.
"Skipping class? You'll set a bad example for us kids", Felicity's voice interrupted her thoughts and she turned to face her sister.
"And you're out of class because?", Darrell asked.
"Susan came over all funny in French, Mam'zelle Dupont asked me to take her to the San", Felicity replied, "and then I saw you. If you're that worried you better walk me back to class, keep me out of trouble".
Darrell shook her head with a grin but walked with her all the same. Felicity hid it under a facade of playing the cheeky younger sister but Darrell knew full well she was checking in on her.
"Did you really set Veronica an essay on respecting people different to herself?", Felicity asked, "She's been raging about it to anyone who'll listen".
"It wasn't very good", Darrell held the door open for Felicity then followed her inside, "I rather think she should count herself fortunate I didn't make her rewrite it".
"Does it happen a lot?", Felicity looked concerned, "Girls saying things like Veronica?"
"You don't need to worry about that. People find it difficult, I suppose, but most people aren't like Veronica", Darrell reassured.
Though that were true only because most people so far had been too polite to be openly bigoted, it didn't mean that what they were thinking was any less unpleasant.
"Is that why you and Sally aren't spending as much time together these days? Does she find it difficult?", Felicity asked.
"Sally and I are fine", Darrell didn't quite believe her own words but she continued all the same, "and you need to stop worrying about me. It's meant to be the other way around. Look, here's your class, I'll see you later".
Felicity looked like she might argue for a moment but then she said goodbye and went inside. No doubt the content of their conversation would end up, at least in part, inside Felicity's letter home to their parents. Which, Darrell admitted to herself as she went back outside, was partly her fault for being deliberately vague in her own communications with her parents. Though, they did have professionals to give them details about Darrell's progress so was it so bad that she wanted to keep a few things to herself?
The bell went for lunch and she quickly learnt that the class had been told she'd had a migraine. Whether that came from Matron or Miss James, Darrell wasn't sure but it did ward off the awkwardness she had been expecting so she kept to the story.
The rest of the afternoon was uneventful. Sally sensed that Darrell wasn't ready for too much talking so gave her space. Alicia, taking her cue from Sally no doubt, did the same but did ask Darrell to try and stay up after lights out so the three of them could talk. Given how much longer she had slept that morning, Darrell was more worried that she wouldn't sleep at all. By the time the bell for the Fifth went, she still felt like she had the energy to stay up for hours but went upstairs and got ready for bed all the same.
"That's how you got us out of being held back?", Sally asked once she'd finished listening to Darrell's explanation.
Darrell had to admit, it did amuse her when she managed to do something out of character enough that it made Sally undecided about whether to laugh or chastise her.
Sally finished washing her face and squeezed out her flannel, "I can't believe you lied to a teacher".
"I didn't lie. She presumed", Darrell felt that was an important distinction to make, "It's not my responsibility that she thought I needed to see Matron for my tablets. Or that she was horrified by me talking to her about it. I was helpful, giving her an out by suggesting I take the sewing away. Anyway, the beastly thing is sewn up now and back with her so she can't complain".
Sally finally smiled and shook her head, then all of sudden looked sad, "You must have known that she thought like that to risk that ruse".
Darrell packed away her washbag, "Everyone treats me differently some way or another, the ones who behave like Miss Donnelly are just easier to pin down".
Sally looked as though she were going to say more but then Moira called the dorm to order for lights out and they went back to their beds.
"You can be worse than first formers sometimes", Moira grumbled as Irene tried to retrieve something she'd knocked under her bed and Maureen scrambled to finish brushing her hair.
"Can anyone imagine Moira as a first former?", Alicia asked quietly, "I assumed that she just popped into existence, seventeen years old and jaded".
The comment was just loud enough for Irene, who had finally retrieved her music book from under the bed, to hear and she gave one of her explosive laughs which set Belinda off giggling too.
"Yes, Moira?", Alicia put on her most innocent expression and Darrell had to turn around so she didn't start giggling too.
No doubt sensing that she would set off a chain reaction if she pushed too hard, Moira chose to say nothing and just hurried Maureen to get into bed.
The girls in all the other beds fell asleep almost as soon as the lights were out, courtesy of magical intervention. Alicia immediately sat back up and pulled the curtain open so they could see each other with the moonlight.
"Miss Potts is off on official business", Alicia just jumped straight into an explanation, "Most inconvenient timing, probably not a coincidence, and Sally mentioned you had some thoughts about other coincidences..."
Darrell squirmed at being put on the spot, "I don't know. I might be being paranoid".
"I don't think you are. You're right about the mark being too coincidental", Sally moved from her bed to sit beside Darrell.
"So? How did you come up with this list of ideas?", Alicia asked.
Darrell fumbled for a different explanation before giving up, "I...it was just a feeling. And a voice".
The silence she expected followed.
"As in...", Alicia shared a hesitant look with Sally.
"A hallucination, I think", Darrell said quietly.
"And not the only one, from your expression", Alicia prompted carefully.
"Does it matter?", Darrell asked, "They're still me. Sometimes things people can't quite work out manifest... Nevermind, forget I said anything".
Darrell tucked her knees up against her chest and wrapped her arms around them, then immediately wished she hadn't because she must look awfully defensive in doing so. Then Sally's hand was on one of her knees and the warmth distracted her enough that Sally gently eased her back into a more relaxed sitting position.
"I think you're right and however you worked it out doesn't matter", Sally didn't take her hand off of Darrell's leg, even as Darrell glanced down at the gesture, "Something bigger is going on here and I think between us we can figure it out".
Darrell couldn't concentrate properly on what Sally was saying, so she took Sally's hand in hers, immediately missing the warmth on her knee as she did.
"If you're quite done, feeling a bit like an unwanted third party here", Alicia sighed.
"Very funny", Sally rolled her eyes but returned her attention to Alicia, letting go of Darrell's hand as she turned to face Alicia.
"So we need-", Alicia started and then movement from a few beds over silenced her. All three girls looked over at Belinda's bed and barely dared to breathe as their classmate tossed and turned. Just as she seemed like she might be on the brink of waking up, Belinda settled back down into the bed with a sigh.
"Which reminds me, all that business with Belinda in art class definitely needs to be put in the odd things column", Alicia said, "We better get out on patrol, we'll talk about this more later".
It ended up being a few days later before Alicia managed to get herself, Darrell and Sally together for any length of time without raising suspicion. There seemed to be more watchful gazes upon them recently.
"Are you sure you can't stay at Malory Towers this weekend? It would make matters much simpler", Alicia sighed as she hopped up and sat on the table, then swung her legs back and forth.
"Quite sure. It won't be simple if I stay", Darrell replied.
"Will one weekend really send you spiralling?", Alicia asked.
"Does it matter? I'm not happy doing it", Darrell paced one side of the music room, "Shouldn't one of us play the piano? Otherwise, someone might try and come in".
"I will if I hear anyone coming", Sally sat on the piano stool with her back to the instrument.
"What if we came to visit you", Alicia asked, "That would solve our privacy problem".
"It's too short notice", Darrell tensed up for a moment and then flapped her hands as though to rid the tension, "but maybe in the future. Now can we please just get on with it?"
"Fine, so we think the Conduit and the werewolf that bit Sally are somehow linked because of the mark", Alicia waited until both the others nodded and then continued, "The pack had photographs of us, do we think that's linked?"
"The Conduit was defeated by then", Sally pointed out and then turned around and began to play.
Alicia waited and Darrell stopped pacing. Sally played for another thirty seconds or so and then stopped.
"Irene, she's gone into the next room", Sally explained, turning around.
"What if the driving force isn't the...", Darrell paused and shook her hands out again, "Maybe it isn't the Conduit that set all this in motion. Maybe it was part of someone else's plan too?"
"What's more powerful than a demon?", Alicia frowned.
"Lots of things", Darrell looked bemused and she began pacing again, "and it's not just about physical power. I don't see a group of vampires deciding one day to revive the Conduit without outside instruction. Or at least not any of the vampires you've described meeting".
"The ones in Truro seemed more organised than most", Sally ran her fingers across the piano keys but didn't play.
"So they're behind this?", Alicia asked.
"I don't think so, their scent was new. There's still that unidentified...", Sally stopped herself and began to play again.
This time, however, the door to the music room opened and Betty poked her head around the door.
"Thought I recognised that playing and since I couldn't find any of you, I thought you must all be cosied up together", Betty strolled in and let the door shut behind her, "So is this a secret monster hunter's meeting then?"
Alicia couldn't make herself speak. She could only watch as Betty perched on the table beside her and grinned broadly, apparently very pleased with herself. Alicia looked at the others. Sally was unreadable, which she should have expected, and Darrell looked decidedly unsure about this new development. Betty followed Alicia's eye line and smiled.
"Did they not tell you that I'm part of your little group now?", Betty asked. Darrell shook her head mutely and looked over at Sally for confirmation. Sally sighed and nodded.
"Jolly good, now we're all on the same page", Betty grinned, "So what are we talking about?"
"Trying to find a link between some of the events that have happened", Alicia filled the uncomfortable silence, "We just don't know what the link is".
"Can't help you there since I haven't been brought up to speed on all your big events", was that bitterness in Betty's voice, "But if it's all started since you became the Slayer, isn't the link you?"
"Not necessarily. While the supernatural is drawn to the Slayer, new Slayers are also called up in areas of emerging supernatural energy", Darrell started to explain but Betty chuckled and cut her off.
"So is that what you do? Are you their little researcher? Suits you", Betty grinned.
Darrell smiled hesitantly and she started to rub her palms together before stopping herself.
"I really need to make sure I have everything ready", she said and before anyone could say anything else, she left.
Sally got up immediately.
"Going running after her?", Betty asked, "Some things never change do they?"
Alicia winced at the look Sally shot at them just before she followed Darrell out of the room.
"Whatever did you do that for?", Alicia groaned. They had barely gotten anything done and now she wouldn't even see Darrell again until Monday morning.
"You told me about this Slayer business so I could help. I can't help if you're not telling me everything now, can I? Which means I can't help treading on toes", Betty replied smoothly.
"You don't have to tease them like that though", Alicia protested weakly, feeling even more uncomfortable when Betty raised an eyebrow at her, "What we've all been through is serious Betty, it's not like the stuff we used to lark about".
"And how am I supposed to know any of that?", Betty asked.
Alicia had to concede that Betty had a point, even if Alicia wasn't convinced that that was the sole reason for Betty's actions. That concession, she was sure, was why she felt like she had to invite Betty out on patrol with her and Sally that evening.
Sally was going to kill her.
She's talking too much, Alicia thought as Betty chatted away while they patrolled. She had seen Sally glance at them a few times but so far she hadn't said anything. Alicia struggled to find the words to tell Betty to quieten down.
"Vampires up ahead", Sally said and that did the job of shutting Betty up, much to Alicia's relief.
Alicia gestured for Betty to hold back and let Sally lead the way down the path until they came out on one of the fields in view of the farmhouse. The building loomed out of the darkness, seeming larger than it did during the daylight.
"What have we here?", the voice from just ahead of them made Alicia roll her eyes.
Some vampires sounded like they were quoting old movies, playing up to the stereotype of villains. Even the way this vampire strutted towards them made her want to cringe on his behalf. The second vampire seemed to sense something wasn't quite right and that they weren't being handed an easy meal but his efforts to hold the other vampire back were unsuccessful.
"Didn't your parents teach you girls not to sneak out at night?", the vampire approached Sally.
At least she looks more unimpressed with them than me, Alicia thought. Just as the vampire reached out - to do what Alicia didn't know, probably try something creepy like touch Sally's face or hair - Sally's hand shot up and she grabbed the vampire's wrist and squeezed.
First came the look of shock, then as Sally increased the pressure came the grimace of pain, and finally, the vampire screamed as Sally crushed his wrist. The scream prompted the other vampire into action and Alicia cut off his run. She ducked beneath a wild swing, came back up and brought her knee up into his stomach.
The first vampire landed in the dirt beside her, still cradling his wrist and a moment later Sally slammed a stake through his chest. The sound of his companion disintegrating into dust distracted the vampire fighting Alicia and she took the split second of distraction to kick the vampire's legs out from beneath him while unbalancing him with a sharp shove her of her shoulder. The vampire fell back hard onto the floor and Alicia followed him down, driving her stake through his chest.
Remembering Betty, Alicia turned and found her friend staring with unconcealed fascination.
"That was unbelievable", Betty hurried over, "What exactly are you Sally?"
Sally didn't even give her a glance, just readjusted her jacket and nodded to Alicia that they should keep going.
"Oh come on", Betty caught up with Sally as she walked, "This is one of two things that are interesting about you. I know you're not a Slayer. There's only one of them at a time".
Sally just seemed to ignore her again and the silence was long enough that Alicia squirmed and jumped in to fill it.
"Just tell her Sally. She'll find out eventually..."
More silence followed before finally, Sally answered,
Betty burst out laughing, "A werewolf! Oh please, tell me you're joking".
Sally returned to silence as she led them out of the field and back onto the dirt path that would eventually bring them back around to the school grounds.
"As if you could actually be a werewolf", Betty continued, still laughing. Sally stopped and turned to face Betty; as her eyes flashed amber, Betty stumbled back a few steps.
"Well", Betty managed once she regained her composure, "who'd have thought you of all people… So go on then, what's really going on with Darrell? "
There was a chilled silence and Alicia watched Sally carefully. The other girl was already tensing up. Before Sally could say anything, Alicia cut in,
"She was tortured, well, and possessed by a demon. We got rid of it but she was traumatised by what happened to her. We're still not completely clear on everything that did happen but it was bad", Alicia explained. Sally scowled and turned away, quickening her pace.
"So, she is mad?", Betty persisted and Alicia shivered as Sally growled.
"Betty, just…", Alicia gestured for her to stop asking questions. Good Lord, the last thing they needed was for Sally to go losing her temper. For someone who was so terribly even-tempered as a human, the wolf side of her was very unpredictable. Particularly where one person was concerned.
"Oh, well…sorry", Betty shrugged, "Is she dangerous?"
"I will patrol around to the south of the cemetery, you finish going north", Sally said before Alicia could answer, "see you back at school". With that, the other girl turned abruptly and began to head off towards the coast.
"Well, that seems unnecessary", Betty said.
"Leave it alone, you know how it is with those two", Alicia pulled Betty's elbow so she would follow her.
"So where to now?", Betty asked.
"North of the cemetery and back to school, stick close okay", Alicia upped their pace so that Betty couldn't talk as much.
"Do we need to check in anywhere like those catacombs?", Betty asked as the cemetery came back into view, "seems like somewhere a vampire might want to hide".
"No, they avoid nesting at this cemetery, we patrol past it too often", Alicia explained, "We'll walk through just to check there's nothing unusual though".
Alicia gave Betty a boost to climb over the fence and then jumped over herself.
"Looks quiet", Betty agreed as she started to walk through the cemetery, "Who's buried in this then?"
As Betty walked over to the small mausoleum, the only one in the cemetery, and reached out to push the stone door, an awful spike of terror pierced Alicia's chest. Flickers of the night in Truro came back in waves and Alicia crossed the ground between her and Betty in a split second and stopped her.
"Don't", her word came out sharp and hard, making Betty jump back.
"What's in there?", Betty asked and Alicia froze.
What if one of those vampires was in there. What if, this time, there wasn't someone else around to save them. What if-
"Is everything okay?", Sally's voice made Alicia and Betty jump, and Sally did a reasonable job of hiding her amusement.
"Fine, why wouldn't it be?", Alicia asked.
"I was nearby. Intense emotions are difficult to block out", Sally explained, just vague enough that Betty wouldn't necessarily put together what Sally meant and for that, Alicia was grateful.
Sally looked past the pair of them to the mausoleum, "That's empty, let's head back".
"You know, I hope your patrols sometimes get a bit more eventful than this", Betty nudged Alicia with her elbow as they walked back up to school. Alicia managed a weak smile in response because Betty really didn't know what she was asking for and Alicia had a horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach that she would find out the truth sooner rather than later.
With Alicia paired back with Betty - a duo that Sally had absolutely no desire to join as a third - and Darrell offsite, Sally spent most of the weekend alone. Which led to her spending too much time pondering the actions she, they all, had taken to end up where they were. Which, in turn, was probably why she found herself walking into town on Sunday. It seemed different in the daylight, seemed different now she had different intentions. Sally followed the cobbles leading up into the houses and cottages away from the main part of town, then stepped off of the road and up the path which led into the trees and beyond up the hill. It was almost impossible to see someone up here from the road and Sally very much wanted to remain unseen. She stopped halfway up the path and looked down towards the house she had dragged Richard Austen from.
There was movement in the kitchen window as a woman lifted a toddler up to wash their hands in the sink. Then they moved away from the window and out of sight. Sally had never stopped to wonder, for all his other sins, whether Richard had been a good father. He hadn't been a good husband but did his wife miss him all the same? Sally was overcome with the urge to just march down to the house, knock on the door, and confess all to the person that answered. Not that a soul would believe her confession.
The door to the house opened and Sally stepped back, even though she was unlikely to be seen. The woman looked out of the door and up at the sky, then stepped back inside. Sally looked up as well and realised that rain was threatening, and she hadn't bothered with a coat of any sort. When the woman returned, this time with the toddler in tow, the first spots of rain started. Sally waited until the two had walked fifty metres or so and then walked back down the path. She didn't have an explanation for following them but a part of her just need to see. She kept her distancing and crossed to the opposite side of the road, wondering just how suspicious she looked.
"Wondering what you left behind?"
Sally had been so intently focused on the family and not being seen that she hadn't sensed or seen Darrell at the corner where the road led into town. In her defence, this was the last place she had anticipated even seeing Darrell on a Sunday given the other girl's weekend routine. Darrell had the decency not to comment on the surprised yelp that Sally made.
"What are you doing here?", Sally wrapped her arms around herself as the drizzle grew heavier. Darrell had been prepared enough to bring a coat.
"Miss Ruther-", Darrell self-interrupted and started again, "Harriet goes shopping on Sunday. I go with her if I'm feeling well enough for all the hustle and bustle and today I was".
"So she's insisting on Harriet?", Sally smiled.
"She says Miss Rutherford makes her feel uneasy for personal reasons so", Darrell said, "I'm trying".
"The shops are that way", Sally pointed out and Darrell nodded.
"I worked out who you and Alicia killed in my place. I suppose I wanted to see something real to make it make sense. Then I saw you going this way and followed you", Darrell admitted and Sally's heart sank even though she had suspected as much, "Seeing his wife and son was unsettling though".
Sally could only agree. The skies overhead finally gave way to real rain and Darrell looked up at the sky for a moment. Sally stepped in and pulled Darrell's hood up, then pulled her hands back sharply as she realised what she had done.
"Come on, standing in the rain can't be good, even for werewolves", Darrell turned and walked back towards town.
Sally moved into step beside her, "I should have guessed you would have started investigating".
"Why are you here?", Darrell asked.
"I don't know", Sally looked ahead of them at the two-person family growing smaller in the distance, "I wanted to see them I suppose. See the other people affected by what I did".
They walked in silence for a time; houses and cottages gave way to the busy town centre and shops and shoppers surrounded them. Darrell moved a little closer to Sally as it got busier and louder, though she didn't seem to realise she had done so.
"Will you ever be able to forgive me for what I did?", Sally asked.
"It's not for me to forgive", Darrell said, surprising Sally with her words, "You didn't take anything from me, you didn't harm me. Quite the opposite on both counts. I'm not the one who can or should forgive you".
Sally muddled through the words, taking her time so the lump in her throat would be gone by the time she spoke,
"But we've been…", Sally couldn't find the words to explain what she was asking.
"I had to make sense of what you did, in my own time", Darrell explained, "and I haven't, not completely, but I wasn't there. I can't say I wouldn't have gone to equal lengths for you".
Sally doubted Darrell would ever cross that line but she didn't say anything.
"And I think you're asking me to forgive you because you can't ask them for forgiveness", Darrell said.
"So what am I meant to do?", Sally asked.
"I don't know", Darrell said, "Make amends and make changes in another way?".
It was a little eerie, hearing the same sentiment that Marie had voiced being repeated but Sally supposed that meant it made sense.
"There's Mi- Harriet, I have to go", Darrell took Sally's hand and squeezed it gently, "I'll see you tomorrow".
"And where have you been, young lady?"
Sally looked around, then turned on the spot when she couldn't find where Alicia's voice came from.
"Up here", Alicia pushed the window open and lent out so Sally could see her, "So, where've you been?"
"Not your concern, why are you in there on a Sunday?", Sally stepped closer as she realised that it was one of the Science labs that Alicia was in.
"Slayer business, come up here would you?", Alicia pushed the window out further.
"I'm not climbing in through the window, Alicia", Sally protested.
"By the time you've gone all the way around and in through the school, think how much time you've wasted. Not to mention the risk of someone seeing you", Alicia stepped away from the window.
With a quick look around to confirm she was alone, Sally jumped over the flower beds beneath the window and pulled herself up and through the window. She pulled the window closed behind her and frowned at the ingredients and books spread out on one of the tables.
"I've been looking into spells", Alicia explained, turning off the heat on one of the bunsen burners, over which a dark green solution was bubbling, "Trying to get a feel for how they work. It must have crossed your mind before, right?"
"I can't say it has", Sally replied and walked slowly around the table, "Where's Betty?"
Alicia snorted, "She's in town. There's a boy who works part-time in one of the cafes down there that she likes. I let Winnie go along with her this time, learnt my lesson last time. Nevermind her, come and look at this".
Sally watched Alicia for any sign of deception but, not finding any, she relented and walked over to Alicia's side, "Did you at least lock the door?"
Alicia put her hand in her pocket and pulled out a ring of keys and dangled them for Sally to see, "Took Rupert's set".
"You are joking", but even as she said it, Sally knew that Alicia wouldn't be joking, "Alright, well what did you want to show me?"
Alicia carefully took the vial from the stand and poured it out into a small woven bag while saying something in stilted Latin. Whatever was inside must have soaked up the liquid as the bag didn't leak. Sally was about to ask what she was meant to be looking for when Alicia went over to the door, hung the bag on the handle and unlocked the door. She peered out and then stepped outside and shut the door. Sally heard her saying a few more words in Latin. Sally waited and looked around for some sort of reaction.
"Sally?", Alicia called, "Can you hear me?".
"Yes, Alicia", Sally sighed. Almost immediately the door opened and Alicia came back in, locking it behind her.
"See! It's not working", Alicia said and Sally was sure she pouted for just a moment, "Why isn't it working?"
"What are you trying to do exactly?", Sally pulled the book towards her and read the spell, "Dampen sound?"
"It's meant to work like the sleeping spell does in those bags Marie uses, to affect the whole room but I can't make it work! I thought it would help solve our problem with finding places to talk in private. Before I had to keep waiting for someone outside to make noise to check so I'm glad you're here to speed this up, let me tell you", Alicia was starting to ramble and it was such an unusual thing to see Alicia do that Sally couldn't help but stare, "So, you're going to help me get this right".
"I don't know that magic is something you can just pick up and do", Sally spoke carefully as she examined the book again, "Marie has years of experience and perhaps we can only use the sleeping spell bags because she's made them...", Sally trailed off as she remembered the spell Darrell had performed, perhaps it hadn't worked after all. But Darrell had seemed so sure and the solution she made had definitely reacted to the air. If it had worked then that would mean you didn't need...
"What? What was that", Alicia pointed at Sally's face and Sally brushed her hand aside.
"Nothing, what I'm saying is maybe you need to have a certain amount of magical ability or practice to do them", Sally closed the book, "Which we don't and we need to tidy this up before you get caught".
"Spoilsport", Alicia sighed but she did begin to tidy up the table all the same, "Where would we be without you to keep us all ship-shape? Alright, I'll come back to this later".
"Don't bring Betty on patrol tonight", Sally said as she finished putting some of the ingredients into Alicia's bag, "She's starting to look unwell with all the late nights and someone will notice. Rupert will notice".
"Is that the only reason?", Alicia asked.
Sally closed the last book in front of her and put it in Alicia's arms, "I'm serious Alicia".
"Aren't you always".
CW: Nightmares, trauma, symptoms of psychosis and medication side effects, mental illness slur, discussions of (very) minor character death.
Il est presque temps - It's nearly time.
La Tueuse. Est-elle ici? - The Slayer. Is she here?
Please click link or press 'End' on your keyboard to jump to the footnotes for content warning.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Harriet drove into the driveway of Malory Towers and pulled the car over to the side, leaving the engine idling, "Are you quite sure you're okay to be here? We can turn back".
"I'm fine, I want to be here", Darrell insisted.
Harriet watched her for a moment longer and then pulled the car back out to finish the drive.
"Okay. I am going to have a word with Elizabeth though", Harriet glanced at her quickly, "Sorry. Matron to you I suppose. And will you think about talking to your friend about it?"
Darrell grimaced but nodded. While she might not want Matron clucking around her and she wasn't all that keen on talking to Sally about what had happened either, she supposed Harriet wouldn't feel comfortable leaving if she didn't agree. Once they got to the end of the drive and the car stopped, Darrell grabbed her satchel and hopped out of the car.
"Thank you, I'll see you on Friday", Darrell said and Harriet waved her off with a smile as she climbed out of the car too.
Darrell shot off inside, through the main building and outside to the courtyard to cut across to North Tower. Given the early hour, she was surprised to see Bill walking back from the San.
"Everything alright?", Darrell asked.
Bill glanced up, "Clarissa woke up feeling dreadful. Matron's worried about her heart".
"Will she be okay?", Darrell asked, quite alarmed. Clarissa had been getting in so well since she joined Malory Towers the previous year that Darrell had almost forgotten about her heart condition.
"I think so", Bill said, "I'm just worried. First Arman and now Clarissa".
"Your brother?", Darrell tried to remember if Bill had mentioned her brother being unwell before.
"Sorry", Bill ran over hand through her hair and shook her head, "I forgot you weren't here when I got the letter. He's back from the army and in hospital".
"He was injured? I'm sorry", Darrell opened the door to North Tower and let Bill in ahead of her. She was beginning to see why Bill looked so despondent.
"No, not that sort of hospital. He's got...He...", Bill glanced at her, then away just as quickly, and cleared her throat, "He's...nevermind".
"He's come back different to how he was before?", Darrell asked just to break the awkwardness of the moment.
Bill only managed a nod in response. The silence which followed was painfully uncomfortable and Darrell was grateful for the sound of their footsteps on the stairs to distract her.
"If you want to talk...", Darrell started once they reached the top and Bill offered a forced smile.
"No, that's alright", Bill hesitated, "I think I'll go to the common room to be by myself".
The whole exchange left Darrell feeling like she had been thumped in the stomach and when she reached the dorm, she threw her satchel onto her bed and paced. Darrell tried to tell herself it was just the awkwardness that came with most people discussing matters of mental health but she couldn't quite make that ring true.
Then the door to the dorm burst open and Alicia greeted her enthusiastically, "You're back! Come on, Sally's waiting outside. Rupert is having an awful time of it. Poor chap looks quite ready to have a meltdown, I'll fill you in on the way".
Just like that everything was back to their new normal so Darrell shoved the complicated bundle of thoughts and feelings she was ruminating on down and locked it away. After Alicia and Sally filled her in on just how stressed Rupert was becoming in Miss Pott's absence, and gave her more details about Clarissa, it was time for class and the day's lessons went by with little in the way of event. The tension between Darrell and Sally had almost completely gone. Darrell no longer had the ball of worry in her chest whenever she was about to see Sally and their conversation was all but back to their usual easy back and forth. Still, she couldn't bring herself to do as Harriet had asked and talk to Sally about her weekend.
Darrell should have guessed the calm wouldn't last for long and she wasn't entirely surprised when her quiet study later that afternoon was interrupted by Alicia and Betty.
"Why doesn't this spell work?", Alicia put a book in front of Darrell and swung the chair beside her around and sat down.
Darrell fumbled the Maths prep she was working on and sighed as her pens and pencils rolled onto the floor.
"Are you really slogging away at prep on a Monday?", Betty leant against the wall beside the desk. So much for quiet study. Darrell gathered up her belongings and put them to one side.
"What am I supposed to be looking at?", Darrell grumbled as she pulled the book towards herself.
"This one", Alicia tapped the page, "I tried it over the weekend and it didn't work. Sally thought that perhaps people needed to practice magic for a long time to make it work. Where is she, by the way?"
"She asked Mam'zelle for half an hour of extra support", Darrell read over the spell. The spell looked simple enough, as far as spells went, and certainly no more difficult than the sleeping spell.
"You don't need to practice for a long time for straightforward spells. Getting it right is about precision with the ingredients, pronunciation, rhythm", Darrell reread the spell.
"Maybe my Latin was off", Alicia admitted.
"Where did you prepare the mixture?", Darrell asked.
Alicia didn't get a chance to answer for at that moment the door opened and Sally didn't look pleased to see a full room. She crossed the room and put her books on the other desk.
"I need to study", she said before Alicia and Betty could interrupt.
"Hello to you too", Betty replied.
"If you're not here to study, please can you go somewhere else?", Sally sounded peculiar somehow and Darrell waved for Alicia and Betty to clear off. Alicia rolled her eyes with a smile but did as Darrell asked.
"Did it not go well with Mam'zelle?", Darrell asked once the door shut behind the other two girls.
"All it did was show me more things I don't know. So now I have a headache and I still have to catch up on the Maths prep and finish the French from last week", Sally quickly rubbed her palm across her eyes.
Darrell hesitated. Even after five years, she wasn't sure when Sally wanted - or needed - comforting and when she wanted to be left alone. Darrell got up silently, went over to behind Sally's chair, and placed her hands lightly on Sally's shoulders. So lightly that Sally could shrug them off if she wanted. Instead, Sally reached up and squeezed one of Darrell's hands. The wordless gesture reassured Darrell so she leant down and hugged Sally.
"I'm sorry, I didn't realise everything was getting to you quite so much", Darrell said.
"Neither did I", Sally leant back into Darrell's embrace, "Though I suppose Marie did warn me eventually I would come apart".
"I hardly think you've come apart", Darrell said, "You're just a little frayed at the edges and seams".
Sally swatted Darrell's arm, "Stop being a donkey", but there was no bite to her words.
They stayed like that in silence for a few seconds. Darrell felt a little of the tension seep from Sally's shoulders and she tightened her hug for a second in reassurance.
The silence was finally broken when Sally sighed, "I suppose we should do this prep".
"I suppose", Darrell stood up, missing the warmth of the hug as soon as she did, "I think I've got my head around the first part of the Maths so let's compare notes and see if my optimism is deserved".
Darrell was relieved that she didn't wake up screaming after her nightmare but she did feel so queasy that she thought she might be sick. She grabbed her watch from the side and tilted it to catch the moonlight. Nearly one o'clock. Slumping back onto her bed with a groan, Darrell tried to recall the nightmare. She really should write it down but she was just so tired. She glanced at the beds either side of her, Sally and Alicia were still out on patrol.
Darrell spent the next ten minutes trying to go back to sleep but, for all her exhaustion, she was too wound up to sleep. Deciding walking about might help, she got up and put on her robe and socks. Socks were easier to run in than slippers if needed. Shoes would be even easier but they made an awful lot more noise. With one last check around the dorm to make sure nothing was amiss, Darrell slipped out into the corridor.
After walking around for a short time, finding the silence and calm of the night soothing to her racing thoughts, Darrell headed back towards her dorm. She had nearly reached the stairs when she heard footsteps from ahead of her and stopped. As the footsteps got louder, Darrell took a few steps back to give her a headstart in case she needed to run. Then a girl came into view and the faint light from the moonlight through the window lit up her face as she stepped off the bottom step.
"Belinda?", Darrell whispered. Just how many people were out of bed?
"It hurts", Belinda's words were so quiet and faint, Darrell wasn't convinced she was awake. Darrell placed her hand on Belinda's forehead. Her classmate was burning up.
"Belinda, I'm taking you to Matron", Darrell said. Belinda didn't respond so Darrell gently took her arm.
Getting Belinda to Matron was easier than expected, whether she was awake or sleepwalking, Belinda seemed quite content to be led through the corridors and stairs of Malory Towers until they reached Matron's room. Darrell knocked on the door and waited. First, there was shuffling about inside, then a muffled "One moment", and finally the door opened.
"Darrell? Is something the matter?", Matron asked.
"I found her wandering around like this, all she's said is 'It hurts' and she's burning up", Darrell explained. Matron nodded and took Belinda inside. Within a few minutes, Matron had Belinda's temperature taken, given her some medicine and taken her to the room adjacent to Matron's and given her a cold flannel.
"You three are still setting sleeping spells, aren't you?", Matron asked quietly and as odd as it felt to be discussing supernatural matters with Matron, Darrell confirmed they were.
Matron looked troubled, "This is the second girl in your dorm now who has woken during the night unwell".
"I thought Clarissa came down ill in the morning?", Darrell asked.
"Not Clarissa, Maureen's been in the San since Sunday, I found her when I did my rounds just before midnight, stood in the hallway outside the dorms mumbling to herself", Matron explained.
Darrell felt guilty for having not even noticed that Maureen was absent that day. It wasn't as though the other girl was very likeable and Darrell generally had little to nothing to do with her, but she felt guilty all the same.
Then another thought dawned on her, "Matron, that's three girls from our dorm all come down ill in a matter of days..."
"The same thought occurred to me", Matron said, "I think I need to take a look at this sleeping spell you all use. I warned-", Matron caught herself and moved on, "You best be heading back up to bed. I'll have a word with Rupert tomorrow".
By the time Darrell returned to the dorms, Sally and Alicia were back.
"There you are, Sally here was getting herself all worked up", Alicia said. Darrell couldn't blame her. The last time Darrell had inexplicably vanished from the dorm had been when the Conduit had taken her.
"I'm fine", Darrell said, sitting on Sally's bed beside her, "I took Belinda to Matron".
Darrell filled them in on what had happened and what Matron had said.
"It is worrying so many in such a short time", Alicia mused.
"When I last spoke to Felicity, Susan had just come down sick. Maybe it is a virus or a bug", Darrell suggested but she didn't sound convinced.
"Well, we can't do anything now", Alicia decided eventually, "We might as well try to sleep".
As Sally and Alicia got into bed and lay down, Darrell moved to her own bad and sat on top of the duvet, too preoccupied to sleep. She wasn't sure how long she'd sat there but when she looked around again, Alicia had fallen asleep. Despite everything that happened on a nightly basis, she seemed to be able to push it away as soon as she went to bed.
"Darrell?", Sally's soft voice broke the silence and Darrell looked over at her.
Sally seemed to consider what she wanted to say for a long time before giving up and instead pulled her duvet back in a wordless offer. Darrell hesitated for a moment and then slid off her bed and padded the few steps to Sally's.
Sally shifted backwards and put one arm in the space between Darrell's neck and the bed, and her other arm lightly around her waist.
"Okay?", Sally asked.
Darrell made a gentle noise of agreement and Sally tightened her embrace for a moment.
"Goodnight", Sally whispered.
"Why aren't your fish cakes falling apart?", Alicia appeared at Sally's elbow and inspected her cooking then looked over to where Darrell was cooking, "and Betty's soup doesn't look like that. Is it supposed to be red?"
"Yes", Darrell put the pan onto the heat, "Why? What colour is hers?"
"Greeny brown. Like sludge", Alicia shifted around the table, "and you've started on your biscuits too? You two have done this already, haven't you?"
"Mother insisted I learn to cook from a young age", Sally explained.
"So you can please your future husband?", Alicia mimicked Mrs Leyton, the South Tower mistress who taught cookery alongside other subjects. She was dreadfully old fashioned in her views and had made a great deal out of how cooking for their husbands would be expected of them. Most of the girls were quite relieved that cooking was only taught occasionally, rather than having to endure the lessons with her every term.
"Sadly, yes", Sally said dryly, her stomach twisting in that uncomfortable way whenever she recalled her mother's efforts to fit Sally into the future she imagined for her.
"My parents just preferred that I not starve when I move out", Darrell grinned initially and then her smile faltered, "I better put these in the oven". She took the tray over to the oven and out of earshot.
"Have you broken the news to your mother that a husband is unlikely?", Alicia stole one of the chocolate chips left over and popped it in her mouth, "You could reassure her that it's fine since Darrell's a good cook".
Giving in to a moment of childishness, Sally threw some flour in Alicia's direction. She missed but got a put-on outraged look in response all the same, though it quickly dissolved into a grin.
"Miss Johns, back to your own table please", Mrs Leyton called and Alicia scampered back to salvage hers and Betty's cooking, nearly bumping into Darrell who was on her way back from the ovens.
"I do hope we don't have to taste their food", Darrell said.
"What's that?", Sally nodded to the other pan Darrell had on that seemed surplus to their needs.
"The ingredients to retry the sound dampening spell", Darrell said and Sally nearly dropped the tray of fish cakes she had picked up to take to the ovens.
"In class?", Sally whispered sharply, stepping close to Darrell.
"Hiding in plain sight", Darrell replied and she had that grin that made her eyes light up. The grin that Sally suspected Darrell knew full well always went a long way to mollifying Sally. Sally fought back her own smile and went over to add her food to the oven.
"What's your plan if Mrs Leyton inspects your pan?", Sally asked, returning and standing beside Darrell and blocking the view of the pan.
"I thought I'd tell her it was failed soup", Darrell replied, checking over her shoulder, "Did Alicia really do it on a bunsen burner before? No wonder it didn't work, check the temperature would you?"
Sally took the glass thermometer from the side and put it into the mixture, "Nearly seventy".
"Alright, let's pour it out", Darrell took a vial out of her satchel and pushed it towards the pan.
"What if someone sees?", Sally asked, grateful that the likes of Moira and Gwen were on the other side of the room.
"Better be quick then hadn't I?", Darrell pulled the pan over and took the stopper out of the vial. She poured the liquid into the vial and then reinserted the stopper and slid the vial back into her bag.
"Easy", and Sally felt her cheeks get a bit warm when Darrell winked at her. Darrell gathered up the saucepan and some of the other utensils and pans they had used and went over to the sink to wash up. Sally grabbed the tea towel from the side and followed her to help.
Unsurprisingly, Alicia and Betty's food was deemed inedible and no-one was forced to try it. Everyone else got varying degrees of compliments mixed with criticism from Miss Leyton as she examined their food. Once the tables had been inspected and Miss Leyton was satisfied with their cleaning up, they were dismissed. Alicia and Betty shot off ahead of the rest of them, whispering about something, and Darrell and Sally headed outside for some fresh air. Rupert was tending to the flower beds and he gestured them over with a nod of his head. It wasn't completely unheard of for students to talk with other staff who worked at the school so they decided a short chat wouldn't attract too much attention.
"Elizabeth is concerned about the sleeping spell and the effect it's having on your classmates", Rupert said as he pointed towards some of the flowers, making a show as though talking about something else for the benefit of anyone watching them, "She wants us to try and stop using it as often".
Before Sally could ask about the practicalities of that, Rupert moved around the flower bed and continued speaking.
"I think I've also made some headway regarding that vampire, Luke, and the others that attacked you and Alicia", Rupert dug the dirt as he spoke, "I believe they're part of a cult of vampires called the Order of Aurelius, I've got a little more research to do but I should have more for you and Alicia by sundown, so I'll find you after lights out".
"A cult of vampires?", Darrell asked and there was a peculiar look on her face as though she were trying to work out a difficult puzzle.
"Can you pass the information onto Alicia when you see her?", Rupert asked, and he picked up his tool bag and moved onto the next flower bed without responding to Darrell. Sally thought it was less a deliberately rude gesture than one borne out of stress and distraction. She had been quite surprised he had spoken so civilly to her.
"What's bothering you?", Sally asked Darrell as they went to find somewhere to sit in the shade.
"It's nothing", Darrell spoke too quickly and Sally was about to push a little further when she saw Bill sitting by herself on the other side of the tree they had found to sit under.
"How's Clarissa?", Sally asked gently, but she made Bill jump all the same.
"She was okay to talk for a short time but she's weak, Matron's talking of sending her home to rest", Bill replied, "Clarissa begged her to see how she gets on this week".
"Do you want company?", Sally asked. Bill shook her head.
"No, but thank you".
Sally nodded for Darrell to follow her to somewhere else and leave Bill to her thoughts, "It's a shame, neither of them is having a good time of it recently. It's awful seeing Bill so down".
"Bill mentioned her brother is in a psychiatric hospital", Darrell said and Sally wondered briefly when they had spoken about that but the thought was quickly pushed aside when Darrell continued, "I was in one, for a while, after I went home".
Sally stopped walking and struggle over her words for a few seconds, before finally saying, "I thought you just went home, you never said".
"It wasn't for long, my parents weren't happy with the treatments so they pulled me out against medical advice", Darrell shrugged and blinked heavily a few times before continuing, "It's not easy to talk about".
Sally wanted to reassure Darrell that she could talk about anything with her but they were interrupted yet again, this time by Alicia and Betty running up to them. Sally looked over the two girls, out of breath and bright-eyed with enthusiasm about something and raised an eyebrow in question.
"We went to the San to see Belinda and Maureen", Alicia explained.
"Whyever would Maureen talk to you?", Sally frowned as she thought of how often Alicia and Betty had mercilessly teased Maureen.
"Loneliness, if no-one else talks to you then you take what you can get. But nevermind that, we found out something", Alicia said, "Both of them said they have fuzzy memories about waking up but they both remembered having nightmares about monsters. They both also swear they heard voices just after they woke up and that's what prompted them to get out of bed. After that, it's blank for both of them. That sounds a lot like what you experienced, Darrell".
Darrell went stiff, "What do you mean?".
"Missing time, hearing voices, nightmares about monsters", Alicia insisted and Sally wanted to tell her to just shut up but part of her knew that Alicia was right.
"So?", Darrell seemed to shrink, crossing her arms in a weak attempt to shield herself.
"So, isn't that what happened to you?", Betty asked. Sally glanced at Alicia, she had told Betty everything?
"I doubt they're possessed since little else odd has happened with them", Darrell spoke slowly, as though trying to keep the emotion from her voice, "so perhaps Matron is right and it is a side-effect of the spells".
"What about what you've got now. Could they have, I don't know, caught it from you or something?", Betty asked.
Darrell clenched her jaw for a moment, "It doesn't work like that".
"Rupert wants us to limit the sleeping spell, just in case it's causing these problems", Sally took over the conversation before Betty could say anything else, "So we'll need to work out how we're getting out of the dorm tonight. He wants to talk about the vampires who attacked us".
"Secret meeting after lights out then?", Betty asked.
"No", Sally and Alicia spoke at the same time and promptly exchanged questioning looks. Sally knew why she was protesting but Alicia seemed so keen to have Betty go along with them these days that her protest surprised Sally. Alicia turned back to Betty.
"I need you to take a few nights off. If we are going after the vampires who put me in the San, they're really dangerous, Betty", Alicia said.
Sally thought that Betty was going to argue but all that happened was she jutted her chin out in an almost defiant way and pursed her lips.
"Alright then", but from the cool look she gave Alicia, Sally guessed that this wasn't the end of the discussion for them. As long as Betty didn't follow them out in the night, Sally was quite content to leave that as Alicia's problem.
They were a sorry looking form, Sally thought when she looked around the common room. Belinda, Maureen and Clarissa were still in the San. Alicia and Sally were exhausted from patrol. Bill was so withdrawn that she looked like she was sickening for something. Darrell was...
Sally looked around. Where was Darrell?
Darrell had been unusually quiet all day and Sally had thought that it might have been because of Betty's ignorant questions the previous day but there was a preoccupation to her quietness that made Sally think there was something more going on. The bell for lunch rang and the much-reduced form got to their feet and headed down to the hall.
"Darrell's late", Alicia commented as the second bell for lunch rang, "Is she up to something she shouldn't be?"
"I don't know", Sally said honestly, "Something is bothering her".
Five minutes later, Darrell finally arrived and quickly took her seat before any of the teachers noticed her late arrival.
"Where have you been? Getting up to mischief?", Alicia asked.
"I've been doing nothing of the sort. You think so little of me", Darrell shot back, taking an apple to eat, "I was caught up reading was all, didn't hear the bell".
"Hmm, a likely story", Alicia teased and then turned to ask Irene about Belinda. It seemed as though all three girls in the San were doing better, though Matron was reluctant to let any of them out from under her watchful eye.
After lunch, they had History which dragged on with the heat and finally Maths where Miss James took pity on the girls and let them go outside and do their work in the fresh air. Alicia joined Darrell and Sally after fifteen minutes, flopping down onto the grass beside them.
"You've finished already?", Darrell asked in disbelief. Alicia smiled that self-assured smirk of hers and gestured for Darrell to show her where she had gotten up to. Darrell passed her book over and Alicia read through her work.
"I'm sorry Betty said what she did yesterday, by the way", Alicia asked, trying to sound casual but not quite managing it, "I should have stepped in and said something. I will if she says anything again".
Sally was so used to Alicia's harder personality that she was surprised when Alicia was like this and she would be lying if she said that it didn't spark a little thrum of jealousy that the softer side of Alicia often seemed to come out with Darrell.
"Alright. Apology accepted", Darrell offered Alicia a small smile and the thrum of jealousy grew a little stronger in Sally's chest.
"Where did you go earlier, anyway?", Alicia asked as she handed the book back, "You're doing fine, looks like you've got them all right so far".
"Rupert mentioned a cult of vampires, the Order of Aurelius, and that one of them was called Luke", Darrell said, checking around to make sure no-one was close enough to hear them, "I remembered the name from...from something I read and I was checking it out. I think there might be a link back to the Conduit after all".
"Girls, ten more minutes", Miss James called.
"Finish up and we'll catch up about this later", Alicia said and she returned to where she had been sat before.
Sally and Darrell finished off the rest of the Maths work in silence and then packed away.
"Peculiar that Rupert hasn't made the connection between the Order of Aurelius and the Conduit", Sally said quietly and when Darrell jolted and slowed down her packing away, Sally knew she'd guessed correctly that Darrell was hiding something.
"It wasn't something you read, was it? Is this about the nightmares you keep having?", Sally pushed gently.
"They're not always nightmares", Darrell said eventually as they got up to head back inside, "Some of them are just odd dreams and...", Darrell stopped talking and walking as a thoughtful look came over her face, "dreams... That could be it".
"Could be what?", Sally asked, sensing Darrell's thoughts had gone off of what they were discussing, but there was no time to get an answer because the rest of the class started to head inside too and it was too risky to discuss the supernatural.
Alicia collared Sally after Maths and dragged her off to see Rupert for an update, which was, in Sally's view, a rather pointless exercise given that they knew nothing more than they had the previous day. Still, her irritation lessened slightly when she saw how flustered and exhausted Rupert looked. Checking in with them was probably as much about maintaining some degree of routine as it was anything else. By the time they were finished there, it was time for Supper and Prep followed that. If Sally didn't know better, she would have thought the entire universe was working to stop her from finding out exactly what thoughts were untangling in Darrell's head.
The only chance Sally had to speak to Darrell, away from unwanted listeners, was after they had brushed their teeth and washed before bed.
"Dreams? Explain", Sally went straight to the point in an uncharacteristically blunt way, regretting it when Darrell looked a touch hurt at being spoken to as such.
"Has Alicia mentioned anything about having vivid, realistic dreams about the supernatural?", Darrell asked, then splashed water over her face to finish cleaning off the soap.
"No, never, why?", Sally asked, trying to be a little gentler in her tone.
"Because she should have had some", Darrell packed away her washbag, "Slayers have these dreams, the books refer to it as prophetic dreaming, and every Slayer experiences them. Alicia would have had one by now".
"Maybe she told Marie in private?", Sally asked, lowering her voice when she saw Gwen go to one of the other sinks, "I'll ask, but what does it matter?"
"What are you two whispering about over there?", Gwen interrupted them and Sally glanced at her.
"None of your concern", she said.
"You're always whispering away and sneaking off together", Gwen wrinkled her nose, "it's no wonder what other girls say about you two"
Darrell turned around, no doubt to demand to know what Gwen was talking about but Sally looped her arm through Darrell's and pulled her away and back to the main dorm.
"What is she talking about? What do people say?", Darrell demanded.
"Don't bother about Gwen", Sally said, "Look, I'll speak to Alicia tonight about the dreams".
Darrell didn't look entirely pleased and, for a moment, Sally thought that she might argue. Then she nodded, a little stiffly, and finished getting ready for bed.
Alicia sat down heavily on the grass and caught her breath. Sally sat beside her and shrugged off her jacket to get a better look at the injury on her forearm.
"That's disgusting", Alicia pulled a face as she watched the edges of the hideous wound on Sally's arm start to slowly close and heal, "Does that happen every time?"
Sally put her jacket back on and ignored Alicia's commentary, "Where next?"
"We'll head back, I'm exhausted", Alicia sighed, dropped her head into her hands, "Do you think it's this Order of Aurelius getting all the vampires riled up?"
"My, thank you for your in-depth contribution", Alicia said, knowing even as she said it that the sarcasm would just roll off of Sally.
"What exactly does the Order want?", Sally asked.
"The downfall and destruction of humans, like any self-respecting vampiric cult", Alicia replied, "The writings are full of prophecies about horrific events that will come to pass. Rupert hasn't finished reading them all yet but so far, nothing that explains the Orders presence here".
"Why do you think they were in that mausoleum?", Sally asked.
The words made a cold chill start at Alicia's chest and slowly trickle out to her limbs. She swallowed to try and buy herself some time and shrugged, even though hiding her true feelings from a werewolf was practically impossible.
"Rupert said no-one of particular importance was buried there", Alicia was pleased with how calm her words came out.
"I doubt whatever was down in that hidden passage is a matter of public record", Sally got up slowly and held out her hand in an offer to Alicia. Alicia accepted and let Sally pull her to her feet, though she didn't really need the help.
"Do you get nightmares? Since all this started, I mean?", Sally asked as they started the walk back towards school.
"No", Alicia said and when Sally gave her a disbelieving look she insisted, "No nightmares. Sometimes I... it's always when I'm awake that I think about it. I seem to sleep well enough".
The answer seemed adequate for Sally, though Alicia couldn't be entirely confident that she would have known if it wasn't. They walked the opposite way to usual back to school, patrolling down to the front of the school instead of past the cemetery and in via the coast. Rupert had insisted they avoid being too predictable with their patrols, in case the Order had further plans for them. As they walked along the pavement towards the entrance to the school drive, Sally stopped abruptly and looked around.
"Vampires?", Alicia moved her hand to the stake inside her pocket.
"No", Sally's face twinged with something akin to pain, "Death".
"Where?", Alicia wished that she wasn't reliant on Sally for following these trails because in moments like this she didn't want to wait for Sally to narrow down the scent, then put it into words before they could act.
"This way", Sally walked over to the gate into one of the fields and vaulted over it. Alicia followed closely behind.
The field sloped up gradually before dropping into a cluster of trees, hedges and overgrowth along the bank of the river. It was that cluster which Sally led them down towards. Just as they reached the edge of the thicket, Sally recoiled and Alicia grabbed her by the shoulders to stop her knocking them both off balance.
"Sally?", Alicia asked but Sally just shook her head and moved out of her grasp, stumbling a few feet away and closing her eyes tightly.
"One moment, just...please...", came the strangled request and Alicia nodded, then stepped closer to the source of Sally's distress.
Once Alicia had pushed aside some of the branches and begun to weave through the foliage, the smell of decay hit her. Rummaging through her pockets, she found a handkerchief and balled it up and held it over her nose and mouth; she could hardly blame Sally for her reaction now. With her other hand, Alicia took the torch from her pocket and switched it on, pointing it ahead of her. A gentle rustling of leaves behind her preceded Sally tapping her lightly on the upper arm.
"Sorry about that", and Alicia couldn't help but smile, even given the circumstances, over how Sally sounded so embarrassed at such a normal reaction.
The two girls moved forward a few more feet and then the light of the torch fell upon a face on the ground just ahead of them. Alicia stopped and held the beam steady, as much to give her time to steady herself as anything else.
"She's been dead for a few days at least", Alicia's voice was muffled through the handkerchief, trying not to breathe more than shallow breaths.
"They all have", Sally added and Alicia looked over her shoulder at her.
Sally took the torch from Alicia's hand and moved it in a slow, sweeping pattern over the ground in front of them. Face after face, gaunt and ravaged by their time in death lit up under the beam. Alicia counted to eight before her stomach lurched and her own body betrayed her attempts to remain in control. Alicia hurried back out of the thicket and wished the ground would open up and swallow her whole when she stumbled back into the field and promptly threw up. Sally didn't join her back in the field for a few seconds and Alicia was grateful for that small mercy. When she saw Sally emerge, she nodded towards the crest of the hill and started walking. They both would benefit from the distance.
"There are eleven bodies in total", Sally said once they stopped, "I could see bites on the few with their necks exposed".
"Rupert hasn't said anything about people being missing", Alicia breathed in deeply, grateful for the air that wasn't choked with decay, "How did that many people get killed and no-one noticed?"
"I don't know", Sally wrapped her arms around herself and shivered, though Alicia suspected it was not because of the cool, "We should go back and tell Rupert tomorrow".
"We can't just leave them all there", Alicia protested.
"There is nothing we can do now. Come tomorrow, they'll all still be dead", Sally was right, of course, but it sounded so dreadfully callous being spoken out loud. Alicia couldn't think of an argument though and she reluctantly trudged after Sally when she started walking.
"I don't think I'll be getting much sleep when we get back though", was the only other thing Sally said on their walk back to Malory Towers and Alicia echoed those same sentiments in her thoughts.
True to their suspicions, neither Alicia nor Sally managed much sleep and when the bell rang for them to get up, they were almost grateful to no longer be making the pretence of trying to sleep.
"You're not sickening for something now are you?", Irene scrutinised Alicia on their way to the showers, "You look awful".
"Thank you very much, Irene", Alicia said, "Just what a girl wants to hear".
"Well you do", Irene was unphased by Alicia's sarcasm, as she always was, "Belinda and Maureen might both be back today, the last thing we need is more of us getting ill". That was the end of Irene's questioning and Alicia felt a little better after her shower so she hoped she looked better as well.
As she walked past Darrell's bed, she tapped her on the elbow and whispered, "Break time, the sewing rooms", before continuing to her own bed to dress. Sally nodded to confirm that she had heard the whisper as well.
Much to Irene's delight, Belinda did return to school that day, arriving at the first lesson with a broad grin and seemingly quite back to her normal self. Maureen was also back but she didn't get the same warm welcome, not even from Gwen. Then Clarissa arrived and Bill's face lit up in a way that Alicia had never seen before.
As soon as Clarissa sat down beside Bill, their attention was only on one another and Alicia chuckled to herself.
"Surprised they managed to show restraint during their heartfelt reunion", Betty drawled, "Though they always do show more restraint than others I could mention"
"We're having a meeting up in the sewing rooms during break", Alicia said.
"Oh, can I come this time, then?", Betty asked, "Sally hasn't banned me?"
"Betty-", Alicia started to protest again but Miss James swept into the room and silenced any more chatter.
As soon as the lesson ended, Alicia pulled Betty's arm and led her off so that they would reach the sewing rooms from the opposite direction to Sally and Darrell. They arrived first and waited in one of the rooms.
"The Order of Aurelius is really dangerous", Alicia said carefully, wanting to broach the peculiar tension between her and Betty.
"I can look after myself", Betty said.
"Not against this sort of thing", Alicia said, "Sally and I can heal quickly, hit hard and run fast, and they still nearly killed us".
"I want to help, Alicia, but you shut me out when it suits you, just like you do to Darrell. She's got her issues so that makes sense but I can help", Betty crossed her arms.
"Don't say things like that", Alicia said, remembering her promise to Darrell.
"It's true. People not saying it doesn't make it less true", Betty shrugged.
The door opened and Darrell and Sally stepped inside and pushed the door shut. Sally remained at the door while Darrell leant against the wall.
"Moira is on another prowl, suspicious about something", Sally said, "Let's make this quick".
"Last night we found the bodies of eleven people", Alicia went straight to the point, "all killed by vampires, I suspect the Order was responsible. Darrell, you had something to say about that?"
"I think Aurelius, the founder of the Order, and this vampire you encountered, Luke, were each present at massacres carried out by the Conduit", Darrell sounded more confident than she had before, Alicia wondered what prompted that.
"They make for slightly odd bedfellows", Alicia said.
"Not so much. Until Sally told me, I didn't know the writings of Aurelius foretold events. Significant events of evil. Like massacres. From that point of view, it makes an awful lot more sense. The Order was present to see the prophecies come true", Darrell's cheek and eye twitched as she spoke and Alicia eyed Betty to see if she was going to comment. Her friend remained silent.
"Perhaps...", Sally started cautiously before becoming more sure of what she was saying, "Aurelius is the link we've been missing?"
"Aurelius died centuries ago", Alicia shook her head, "Rupert said there's another head of the Order now, some vampire called The Master".
"How original", Betty added dryly.
"Then perhaps he picked up where Aurelius left off and if it's tied up in prophecies for the end of days...", Sally trailed off and a great weight cast over them all as the seriousness of what they were discussing sunk in.
Alicia stood up and took a breath to steady herself and make sure her voice came out calm and confident, "Then we have to stop them. Like we did before with the Conduit, with the wolf pack, because if we don't then we're not going to have the opportunity to regret it".
Content Warning: Non-explicit descriptions of dead bodies, injuries and wounds; derogatory attitudes towards mental health difficulties; minor references to homophobic attitudes; trauma and PTSD.
Please click below or press 'End' on the keyboard for content warnings.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Alicia wasn't sure she had heard correctly, "You want me to..."
"Spar with me", Rupert repeated.
Alicia glanced at Sally who looked just as confused as she felt and Alicia was reassured by that, "But I'll hurt you"
"Perhaps, but I can teach you - both of you - how to improve your fighting", Rupert stepped into the centre of the room.
It seemed that in between chasing vampires and fretting over keeping his charges safe, Rupert had converted the basement of the old farmhouse into a training room. With a sizeable werewolf cage at the back. Not for the first time, Alicia wondered how he ever managed to fool anyone else at the school that he worked as a groundskeeper.
"You are both strong fighters but your fighting could be improved and refined", Rupert explained, his tone taking on that teacher element that was so unlike his usual demeanour.
"I think he's calling you unrefined", Alicia said to Sally when Rupert took a breath and grinned when she got two unimpressed looks sent her way.
"Alright", Alicia sighed as she stepped up to stand a few metres from Rupert, "Let's have at it I suppose".
Rupert held back and forced Alicia to close the distance, which she did. Her first punch was suitably blocked and Rupert just about got his guard up in time to block the follow-up elbow she threw. Alicia feigned throwing another punch and then threw it with the opposite hand, hitting Rupert solidly in the side and making him stagger to regain his footing.
Closing the distance again, Alicia wasn't expecting Rupert to recover so quickly and lunged back to avoid his first punch. Then Rupert made a sharp turn and it was as though he floated around Alicia, he moved so smoothly. Alicia spun to keep him in sight and Rupert swept her dominant leg from beneath her. Alicia wasn't able to regain her balance in time and landed her heavily on her side on the floor.
"Bloody hell", Alicia gritted her teeth at the sharp pain resonating through her side.
"You are strong but fighting is more than strength. Your training has been interrupted so often that we have fallen behind. With the Order here, we need to catch up", Rupert explained as he held out a hand, pulling Alicia to her feet when she took it.
"Jolly good, can you embarrass her next?", Alicia asked, jabbing a thumb in Sally's direction.
Rupert faltered for just a moment, "Actually, to better simulate the fights you will have, from here on I'll be teaching through the two of you sparring. So let's get started, we don't have long".
"Someone's afraid of the big bad wolf", Alicia grinned widely when Sally groaned.
"Just how long have you been waiting to use that line?", Sally shrugged off her light jacket and put it to one side.
"My genius is so underappreciated", Alicia sighed, "Come on then, first lesson away. And no nibbling".
Alicia was very pleased with herself when she twisted out of the way of whatever it was Sally flung at her.
By the time Rupert decided their training was over, Alicia regretted every time she had ever grumbled about Marie's training.
"I think you've given me a dead arm", Alicia grumbled as she gingerly examined her upper arm, half-expecting to see bruises already.
"If you weren't so focused on playing the fool, I wouldn't have managed to hit you so many times", Sally didn't sound in the least bit apologetic.
"Rupert wanted us to fight as we do against vampires. I make comments, it affects their focus", Alicia lowered her sleeve and pulled a face as the light brush of material caused a twinge of pain, "I suppose just not your focus. Maybe next time I'll make comments about things that will affect you".
"You wouldn't dare", Sally said.
"Only because you might throw me through the wall", Alicia grinned.
"Well aren't we friendly?", Betty was waiting for them along the path, perched on top of one of the walls, "Did you two have fun training?"
"Must you tell her everything?", Sally sighed.
Alicia squirmed, feeling simultaneously guilty about what she had told Betty and what she hadn't. It seemed no matter which way she leant in the amount she revealed, she didn't manage to get the balance right.
"I'll see you later", Sally said and she continued walking towards the school.
Betty jumped down from the wall and dusted off her tunic, "She's always so serious, I'm starting to think nothing could ever mellow her out".
Alicia didn't acknowledge the comment. Truthfully she was starting to understand how Darrell had felt in previous years when the tension between Alicia and Sally had put her in the middle time and time again. Though, at least Darrell hadn't had the added element of risking their lives on a nightly basis to contend with.
"Where did you want to go?", Alicia asked instead and the groaned as she saw Betty's eyes light up, "Oh come on, you don't need me to go with you to see some boy".
"His friend will be there", Betty looped her arm through Alicia's, "You haven't even gotten to know him yet. I bet you don't even remember his name".
Alicia opened her mouth to protest but found herself floundering to recall previous conversations. It was with some considerable guilt that she realised she tended to tune out whenever Betty started gushing over...over...
"Christopher!", and Alicia knew from the way Betty rolled her eyes that she had given away her relief over remembering the name.
"Given how good I know your memory is, forgive me for not being more impressed", Betty said.
"I have had some slightly more pressing things going on", Alicia grimaced at how petulant she sounded.
"You can spare a few hours. You may even like his friend. His name is Timothy, by the way", Betty said firmly and Alicia knew there was no point in arguing.
Betty spilt more details about Christopher and Timothy than Alicia cared to listen to but she bore the conversation during their walk. She hadn't been a particularly attentive friend at times, she had to admit, and while she felt she did have a solid excuse, that probably didn't make Betty feel any more valued or listened to.
"There they are", Betty's voice went up a pitch and she waved excitedly at two boys waiting outside the cafe in town. Alicia recognised the taller of the two as the boy Betty had met up with before, making him Christopher.
Betty made all the introductions and immediately gravitated towards Christopher's side as they headed into the cafe. Alicia forced herself to offer Timothy a smile and was relieved to see his smile back was just as awkward. After ordering their drinks and sitting down, the conversation got off to a stilted start before Betty convinced Alicia to retell one of the many times they had played a prank on Mam'zelle Dupont.
"Of course we're far too grown up to go around playing pranks now but it was fun while it lasted", Betty sighed, "Now we have to start thinking about university and careers and the such. That reminds me, we've got that lesson with Miss Oakes about our options next week, Alicia".
Alicia nodded and hoped she didn't grimace visibly. University had been weighing on her mind lately, just at the back where she could ignore it with effort. Mercifully, Timothy spoke up.
"Father's already setting me up to take over the family business", Timothy took a sip of his coffee, "I rather think he's planning his retirement already. I would after the past few weeks".
"Is he still losing workers?", Christopher asked and Alicia's ears pricked up.
"Losing workers?", Alicia asked, hoping she sounded casual, "Jolly careless of him".
"He hires a lot of transient workers, there's always been a high turnover but this year seems worse than usual", Timothy explained, "People haven't been staying as long".
"Now you say that, my father said they haven't moved on half as many people sleeping rough on the beaches either so far this Summer", Christopher drained his cup.
Alicia thought about asking why Christopher's father felt the need to interfere with someone trying to get some sleep but saw Betty glare at her just before she opened her mouth. So, instead, she sunk back into her chair and stared off into space while Christopher offered some more views on the changes in the town. When Timothy said he had to get back to finish up some chores, Alicia could have cheered with relief. She stepped outside to let Betty and Christopher say goodbye and waved a half-hearted goodbye to Timothy as he loped off towards the residential side of town. Eventually, Betty and Christopher came out as well and Alicia returned Christopher's goodbye and hurried Betty back towards school.
"You had to go and make it uncomfortable didn't you?", Betty grumbled.
"I did no such thing, kept my mouth shut didn't I?", Alicia said, "Anyway, what Timothy said about missing workers was interesting".
"Why? Sometimes people are just unreliable", Betty was still in a bad mood and Alicia sighed, she would need to spell it out to her to get her focus back.
"Yes, and sometimes they are brutally murdered by a cult of vampires", Alicia said.
Realisation dawned on Betty, "You think all those people who were killed..."
"It would explain why Rupert couldn't find anything about missing persons if no-one reported them missing", Alicia upped their pace back to school, "Add in what Christopher said and I think I know who the Order are preying on while they're here".
"Is that all you got out of today?", Betty asked.
"I didn't think today was much for me at all, you spent time with Christopher. I met him. What more did you want?", Alicia asked.
"What did you think of him?", Betty asked, her exasperation coming through in her voice.
"He was...I mean if you like him that's the important part", Alicia decided not to answer the question, "I'm happy you enjoy spending time with him".
"That's not an answer", Betty grumbled but she seemed to realise that Alicia wasn't going to be any more forthcoming, "Is it odd for vampires to go after only people who no-one will miss?"
"It seems especially careful and that makes me nervous", Alicia replied, "So tonight-"
"I know. Just you and Sally on patrol", Betty sighed.
Alicia stopped walking and caught Betty's arm gently, "I know I'm not always a brilliant friend".
"I didn't say that", Betty protested.
"No but you've probably thought it often enough", Alicia brushed the protest aside, "and I know you want me to tell you all the things you hoped I liked about Christopher and you wanted me to hit it off with Timothy and all of that but things are different now, Betty. My mind is always going to be half on what monster is trying to kill us or destroy the world. But I need you to believe that I'm telling you to stay away because you're my best friend and I care about you. If something happened to you, I couldn't forgive myself".
Alicia surprised herself with her speech and from the way Betty gaped back at her, she was even more surprised than Alicia. Then her expression softened and she punched Alicia gently in the arm.
"Don't go getting all sentimental over me", Betty said a little gruffly, "Come on, let's go find Rupert".
Finding Rupert turned out to be a much more difficult task than Alicia had anticipated, for the Watcher seemed to have vanished. Since Alicia couldn't really go enquiring about the whereabouts of a groundskeeper without raising suspicion, she gave up and resigned herself to having to wait to update him on her findings. The rest of the afternoon and then evening passed with no sign of Rupert and Alicia was so restless at supper than the rest of the form noticed.
"If we weren't in the Fifth, I would swear you're up to something", Belinda commented as Alicia knocked her fork onto the floor for the second time that evening.
"I think it's the heat", Alicia lied, knowing that the weather was beginning to affect everyone.
"Thunder and Merrylegs are all out of sorts too", Bill commented.
"Well, I don't think Alicia is really comparable to a horse", Belinda replied and the discussion swiftly splintered off into multiple small pockets of conversation, much to Alicia's relief.
After supper, Alicia did another round of the school in search of Rupert, becoming ever more frustrated when she couldn't find him and eventually resigned herself to sitting in the common room with the rest of the form. As the conversation, perhaps inevitably, moved onto the upcoming class with Miss Oakes, Alicia forced herself to join in. Sally kept to herself but the others left her alone; she was given some leniency when it came to her bouts of silence which Alicia envied at times. Still, Alicia felt she did an adequate job of relaying her dreams of university, and as they all traipsed up to bed she was determined to find Rupert after lights out even if she had to beg Sally to track him.
Even once they were ready for bed, the rest of the girls were in high spirits from the discussion in the common room so Alicia lay on her bed and closed her eyes while she waited for them to settle. Ever since they'd stopped the sleeping spell, they had to wait for longer before leaving the dorm. Alicia sighed as Gwen and Maureen started chattering about something and Moira began to insist they lie down and go to sleep. Really, they were all in the upper school now and shouldn't be being told to go to sleep.
The next thing Alicia knew, she was in the mausoleum where they had first encountered the Order. She turned on the spot, expecting to find Sally beside her but instead found herself alone in the dark. Light poured out from the entrance to the stairs and Alicia found herself walking towards them even though it was the last thing she wanted to do.
Her footsteps echoed as she descended the stairs, echoed so loudly the noise was overwhelming. There was a door at the bottom of the stairs which hadn't been there before and Alicia pushed it open. Light obscured her vision and she stumbled through the threshold.
At the sound of the door slamming, Alicia turned around but there was no sign of a door, no sign of a cemetery let alone a mausoleum. She was out near the coast, somewhere she recognised at first but even as she watched, it transformed before her eyes, as though time were going in reverse and the world around her was spinning back through times past. The coastline shifted and contorted and then the sea dissolved away, replaced with lava and flames.
Alicia staggered away from the heat and into something. A hand wrapped around her neck and Alicia kicked out desperately as she was lifted from her feet. She was turned, helpless to stop the movement, until the being which had hold of her was in front of her. Crimson skin, like scorched rock, cracked with a wicked smile of teeth. It spat out words that Alicia couldn't understand and then it turned her back around just in time to see creature after creature burst out of the Earth, each with a sound more ungodly than the previous-
The splash of cold across Alicia's face stole the air from her and she gasped for breath even as she grabbed the collar of the person above her.
"Let go of me", Sally said firmly and she yanked Alicia's hand away, a motion which nearly tore Sally's pyjama top in the process.
Alicia took a few deep breaths and looked around at the terrified faces all staring at her from beds around the room, "What's everyone looking at?"
"You were having a nightmare", Mary-Lou whispered and Alicia looked back at Sally for confirmed. She got a small nod.
"I don't...are you sure?", Alicia pushed herself up to sit on her bed, grateful when Sally moved away and perched on the edge of Darrell's bed to give her space. Alicia scowled at the glass of water Sally placed on the bedside table, realising where the shocking cold which had woken her had come from.
"Unless you have another reason for screaming blue murder in your sleep?", Moira asked dryly.
"I don't get nightmares", Alicia protested weakly.
"Maybe you're sickening with what Maureen and I had?", Belinda suggested, "Some of the nightmares were terribly vivid".
"I...", Alicia couldn't think quickly enough to come up with an excuse and she was relieved when Sally jumped in.
"Let me take you to Matron, just in case it is the same thing. I don't want to get sick because you were too stubborn to be checked over", Sally stood up and gestured for Alicia to follow her.
"Are we actually going to the San?", Alicia asked.
"No, I just thought it best we step out for a while", Sally replied.
"Did I really scream?", Alicia asked.
"You did. Everyone had only just gotten to sleep. It sounded like whatever you saw in your dreams was terrifying", Sally said.
Alicia just made a soft noise of agreement and was grateful when Sally didn't pry for more details. It was bad enough that she was sure the next time she closed her eyes she would see the contents of that nightmare.
"It makes sense", Darrell paced the courtyard, keeping close to the wall so she could run her hand along the coarse stone, and checked the doors for people arriving. The words and doubts had been growing since the previous day, ever since Sally had called her and told her about Alicia's nightmare, and she had been surprised Harriet hadn't noticed her distraction.
'Other people would have worked this out before'
Darrell sped up her pacing and turned her idea over in her head again, examining it more intently. She took the folded up note out of her pocket, it was starting to look ratty from the frequent handling, and read it carefully then put it back.
"No. There's information to back it up. I checked", Darrell insisted.
The door in the direction of the dining hall opened and Darrell clamped her mouth shut. Sally and Alicia walked towards her while the rest of the class drifted towards the North Tower door. Realising she was stood rather stiffly, Darrell tried to make herself relax. Her shoulder jolt started and she grabbed her shoulder with her other hand to stop it.
"Morning", she winced, even her voice sounded different.
"Bad weekend?", Alicia asked.
"I had a lot of trouble sleeping, that's all", Darrell said.
Darrell turned to look in the direction of the voice and then stopped herself and straightened back up, no doubt looking awfully rigid again.
"I put more work into my idea and I also got the spell to work", Darrell dove straight into what she wanted to say before either of her friends could ask more questions. The voice brushed whispers against her ears but she ignored them.
"The silencing spell? Well, what are we waiting for then? Shall we find a room", Alicia's eyes twinkled with delight and she led them off to find somewhere to talk so quickly that Sally didn't get the chance to question anything, for which Darrell was very relieved.
Alicia gestured for Betty to follow them and they hurried to one of the music rooms. Darrell hung the bag with the solution on the inside door handle and gestured for Betty to go inside and make some noise. Shaking her head to clear the last of the whispers, Darrell reeled off the Latin in the pattern she had practised over the weekend, and the sounds of stamping and shouting vanished in a split second.
"You actually did it!", Alicia clapped Darrell hard on the shoulder, knocking her sideways as she had forgotten her strength.
"Just remember we also can't hear the bell or people coming", Darrell warned as they stepped inside the room, "Though there's nothing that should stop Sally sensing people".
"So what's this idea of yours", Alicia asked.
"All the records I've found say that Slayers have intense prophetic dreams but before this weekend you hadn't had any", Darrell explained.
Alicia glanced at Sally, "Hmm, so you were information gathering were you?"
"Yes", Sally's lack of denial made Alicia chuckle.
"Fair enough. No, before Saturday night I hadn't had any of these dreams", Alicia turned her attention back to Darrell.
"There's a phenomenon where people can, under supernatural circumstances, experience shared dreams. It's happened to Slayers before", Darrell paced, "Some of these dreams are like being a passive viewer of someone else's mind, others you can interact with one another's dreams. I think the constant use of the sleeping spell could have caused shared dreaming".
"That could explain the nightmares Belinda and Maureen had I suppose", Alicia didn't look entirely convinced, "and maybe Belinda drawing those sketches of monsters she couldn't have seen but why would it make them ill?"
"Think what you were like after your nightmare", Sally said quietly, "If it's something that Slayers are meant to experience. So if a regular person were experiencing it in smaller amounts over and over who knows what effect would it have?"
Alicia shuddered and covered it up by standing up to pace as well, "So I should have seen prophecies, is what you're saying, but the overuse of magic meant my dreams got shared with other girls in the dorm? Does that mean I've missed some prophecies that might be important?"
"I'm saying both are possible. Sleeping spells are mind-altering. Then there are the times the Lethe's Bramble was used, which can be even more harmful", Darrell took out all the information she had written down and handed the paper to Alicia, "Run it by Mr Giles, see if he thinks there's merit in it and tell him what you remember from your dream. It's important. You can't get the missed dreams back but you'll have more of them from now on".
"Wonderful, I was hoping it was a one-off", Alicia sighed and unfolded the paper. Then Alicia blinked rapidly a few times as though something on the paper had confused her and Betty moved closer to read over her shoulder.
"What the - ", Betty started and then Alicia waved for her to be quiet.
"I'll talk to Rupert today", Alicia promised and she put the note away into her blazer pocket, then checked her watch, "Now, we had better head to Maths or Miss James will have a tantrum".
Darrell was exhausted. She had paced the hallways for nearly half an hour and sleep still seemed impossible. She returned to the dorm and snuck across the room to sit on the windowsill. There had been no nightmares or sleeping walking from any of the other girls since the sleeping spell had been stopped; while it was possible that could simply be coincidental, Darrell had her doubts.
'What's she doing?'
Darrell had half turned before her exhausted mind caught up and realised that the words hadn't been spoken by anyone in the dorm. Darrell rubbed her face with her hands and toyed with the idea of going to see Matron. As much as she despised the side effects of her sleeping tablets, they did their intended purpose well. Telling herself she'd wait a few more minutes for any sign of tiredness, Darrell turned her attention to out of the window. Where her attention was promptly drawn to someone walking down onto the fields from the direction of West Tower. Darrell caught herself before she groaned out loud. She would bet anything that was Betty.
Before she could talk herself out of it, Darrell dressed as quickly as she could and snuck down and out of North Tower, putting her shoes on once she was outside to keep her footsteps as quiet as possible. She could just see Betty heading down towards the fields so she hurried after her. The slow sensation of terror started to creep into her chest and Darrell forced herself to breathe slowly and deeply to ward off the panic. Betty's caution meant she was moving slower than Darrell and Darrell got within hailing distance of her just at the edge of school grounds.
"What do you think you're doing?", Darrell asked and she tried to hide the smile when Betty leapt out of her skin.
"Jesus Christ", Betty put one hand to her chest and gathered herself for a moment before continuing, "You're a fine one to talk, sneaking up on me in the night".
"I saw you from our dorm", Darrell closed the distance so she could lower her voice, "So what are you doing exactly?"
Betty folded her arms and looked away, a peculiar expression on her face. Darrell wished for all the world that she was able to read other people better but over the years she had learnt her limitations and relied on Sally for that. She had the occasional flash of insight but generally speaking, Darrell went at most social situations with the same blunt approach she did most things. Which didn't work for everyone and certainly wouldn't work with Betty.
"It's dangerous out here, we need to head back", Darrell said.
Before Betty could reply, they were interrupted by an ungodly sound, somewhere between a growl and a wail, and Darrell's entire body felt as though it were doused in ice.
Darrell clenched her hands into fists and told herself to breathe but the whispers came back.
'What's she waiting for? Run'
"What was that?", Betty's hand wrapped tightly around Darrell's wrist and it brought Darrell back out of her head for a moment.
"I don't know", Darrell forced the words out.
"You're shaking", Betty glanced down at where she was squeezing Darrell's arm so hard the skin was paling around her grip.
"I can't help it", Darrell said, "We need to get back to school".
"But aren't the wards on the school boundary enough to keep most things out?", Betty's grip loosened slightly, "That's what Alicia said, that Marie and Rupert boosted all these protective spells or somesuch after what happened to you and that's why Malory Towers is safe".
"I don't know if that's still true in Miss Potts' absence", Darrell said, "So come on".
"Isn't that Alicia and Sally?", Betty just seemed to ignore her and Darrell reluctantly looked over to where she was pointing and the terror returned.
"What are they chasing after?", Betty's voice weakened as she too noticed the humanoid creatures a few paces ahead of their friends, heading in their direction.
"Let's not wait to find out, we need to...", Darrell looked around and recoiled as, for just a moment, there was a flicker of a shadow beside them. When she looked again it was gone.
"We can't outrun them, just...", Darrell spun on the spot again and made a decision, "Climb up there", she pushed Betty towards one of the large oak trees before she could argue. For once, Betty did as she was told and climbed up the tree quick as you like. Darrell's knee protested at the sudden movements she was asking from it but she got up out of harm's way before the creature's reached the school boundary and promptly barrelled straight over it without so much as a break in pace.
So much for the wards and spells.
"Can they climb?", Betty grabbed Darrell's shoulder, making her jump.
"I don't know", Darrell reached up and removed Betty's hand from her shoulder, "But up here we have the height advantage".
Even saying that, Darrell's heart pounded so hard in her chest that she felt sick when the creatures - demons, Darrell realised now they were closer - ran into the clearing beneath them and paused.
"What the hell are Betty and Darrell doing up and about?", Alicia was barely coherent she was breathing so heavily.
Sally didn't try to come up with an answer, just focused on closing the distance between them and the demon in time. Distracted by their desire for prey, the demons had stopped running just beneath the tree they'd seen Darrell and Betty climb up. Sally pushed for one final burst of speed and pulled ahead of Alicia.
One of the demons took a step towards the tree and Sally aimed for it. There was no time to stop and make an informed attack so Sally just collided head-on with the demon, sending them both flying into the dirt.
Sally heard a thud as Alicia made contact with the other demon and felt as though she could breathe a little easier knowing the two demons were occupied. She jumped back to her feet, beating the demon to doing so by a split second and stepped back and away from it as it charged at her.
The demon lunged again and this time raked it claws along her arms. The growl in her chest startled the demon and she took advantage of that to headbutt it. Even for werewolves, that was disorientating and she grimaced at the throb of pain while the demon staggered backwards.
After a quick glance to check Alicia was holding her own, Sally closed the short distance to the demon and knocked it back another few paces with a low punch to the torso. The demon lashed out again and Sally only just pulled back in time to avoid the claws from tearing across her face.
The demon pressed it attacks and knocked Sally onto her back, the impact knocking the air from her. She rolled out of the way and staggered back upright. She could see Alicia struggling with the other demon, forcing it onto the ground and driving her stake into its chest with a sickening squelch. The other demon moved towards them and Sally forced herself to move.
Kicking hard at the back of the demon's leg, Sally drove it to its knees. The demon looked up at Alicia and snarled something at her, in a grisly and crackling approximation of a language. Sally took hold of the demon's head and twisted, snapping its neck. It crumpled into a heap at her feet.
Alicia was breathing as heavily as she was and they both silently agreed to a few seconds to catch their breath. The silence was broken by Betty descending from the tree and running over to them.
"Well, that was excellent timing", Betty grinned.
"Why are you out here?", Alicia asked and her sharp tone surprised Sally.
"I came looking for you...", Betty looked hurt and Sally decided she didn't need to be involved in the debate so went over to the tree where Darrell was still sitting in the branches.
"Happy up there?", Sally asked.
"Happier than I would have been down there", Darrell tried to smile and reassure Sally but it wobbled.
"Come down, if you slip I'll catch you", Sally said and Darrell did as she was asked.
"All good?", Sally asked once Darrell was on the ground beside her and even though the nod Darrell gave wasn't altogether convincing, Sally let it go.
"You didn't have to come chasing after Betty", Alicia walked over with Betty a few steps behind, "but thank you since she might have been eaten by a demon if you hadn't".
Before tensions could get any worse, Sally suggested they hid the demons. After all, they could hardly leave their bodies on display for anyone to find.
"What was that demon referring to when it said they would walk the earth again?", Darrell asked as they finished burying the demons in a shallow grave. They would have to let Rupert know and arrange to bury them elsewhere later.
Sally frowned and glanced over at Alicia who looked just as bewildered.
"I don't know", Sally said carefully, "Can you grab some of those branches and leaves, we'll cover them with that as well".
By the time they had finished, it was closing in on three in the morning and Alicia insisted that Betty and Darrell go back to bed while she and Sally reported back to Rupert. Given his frequent absences of late, they were relieved to find him in the cottage, where he had fallen asleep on the sofa with a book open on his chest. Alicia nudged him, startling him awake, and sat on the arm of the sofa.
As Rupert fumbled around for his glasses, then retrieved the book which slid off of his chest and onto the floor once he sat up, Alicia debriefed him on their encounter.
"It went better than last time", Alicia stretched with a groan, "We're both upright and coherent, but that's more because they didn't hang around to fight this time".
"It is frustrating to have gotten so close only to lose them again", Rupert sighed, "and you're sure these...these demons were with the Order?"
"We're sure", Sally leant her head against her hand, "We thought the wards around the school would hold them off for a short time at least but they just...it didn't even slow them down".
"Shit!", Rupert's curse startled them and he held up a hand, "Sorry, I forgot to... I'll go and see to the wards now while I remember. Good work tonight, now try and get some sleep", and with that, he got up and left.
"I think we need Marie back sooner rather than later", Alicia got up and led the way back up to school.
Before they reached the school, Alicia cleared her throat and said, "Tonight, when the demon spoke..."
"I know, it wasn't in any language I've heard. So I have no idea what Darrell was talking about", Sally finished for Alicia, "It's not the only odd thing that's been going on with her either".
"I know", Alicia said and she put her hand into her pocket and hesitated before pulling out the note Darrell had given her earlier in the week.
"You didn't give it to Rupert?", Sally asked.
"I couldn't. He would ask questions. I just told him what Darrell said", Alicia handed the paper over to Sally.
Sally unfolded the paper and read it. Or as much of it as she could for it was written in multiple languages. Once she finished, she tried to hand it back to Alicia but she waved for Sally to keep it.
"Can...can what she's got affect learning like that?", Alicia asked awkwardly, pausing at the door into North Tower, "I don't really know anything about it"
Sally hesitated. Truthfully, she hadn't been able to find much to read about psychosis and the little she had been able to get her hands on was so negative that Sally couldn't see any inkling of her friend amongst the cold and damning words printed on the page.
"It wouldn't do this", Sally hoped she sounded confident.
"I need you to find out what is doing this then, I can't cope with more surprises", Alicia said firmly, "If she won't open up to you here, get permission from Grayling to go to see Darrell over the weekend, maybe she'll open up away from here".
"And you?", Sally asked.
"I'll take Betty...", and Alicia gave Sally a look to stop her protesting, "during the day at the weekend and try to find everywhere the Order have been. All the peculiar disappearances, unusual events. If we can't work out why they're here, we can at least try to find where they base themselves. Then Sunday evening, we'll put down every point relating to the Order's activity onto a map and see if there are any patterns".
"Alright, I know it looks a bit peculiar in here but if you could all just wait up the front", Miss Oakes spoke quietly but firmly and the fifth formers settled down quickly, "I am going to go along each of you and find out what your current plans are after Malory Towers".
"Where's Darrell?", Alicia tapped Sally on the shoulder, "Wasn't she with you?"
"She had to go and see Matron, I think, I haven't seen her since just after lunch", Sally admitted and when she closed her eyes and concentrated, she couldn't sense her nearby either. Alicia nudged her and Sally opened her eyes as Miss Oakes reached them.
"Plans for after school? It's quite alright if they change but just as a starting point", Miss Oakes asked.
"University?", Sally asked hesitantly, although she had no idea whether that was still an option. Thankfully Miss Oakes seemed to accept her answer without issue and moved along to the other girls. They were sent to small groups at the tables set up around the hall.
"I tell you, I am heartbroken not to hear all about Gwendoline's plans for after school", Alicia said dryly as she sat down at the table with Sally, Betty, Belinda, Irene and a few girls from other Towers. There were similarly small groups dotted throughout the hall and Sally suspected they were loosely grouped into similar plans - or lack of plans in some cases.
The lesson - if it could really be called that - ended up being quite informative and Sally found herself hoping that there was some way to overcome the obvious barrier to her university attendance by the time Miss Oakes dismissed them early.
"Well, if we survive the sixth, we might be able to make something work out", Alicia said as she looked at the papers she had taken from the lesson, "Have you ever asked about that fellow in Tibet and if he could help you learn control? Marie did say he was fascinated by what you did".
"What did happen?", Betty asked and Sally shot Alicia a sharp look to dissuade her from replying.
"Doesn't matter", Alicia quickly moved on, "We have to go and find Rupert so I'll find you later".
Betty sighed but didn't argue, Sally suspected Alicia had had more than a few firm words to say about Betty following instructions after the other night. So Betty went off to find Winnie and the others while Sally and Alicia headed down to the cottage where Rupert had asked to meet them. They realised Rupert wasn't alone when Alicia opened the door.
"Fascinating", Rupert stared across at the doorway, "I am impressed, while the spell itself isn't necessarily hard, getting the rhythm of a silencing spell is quite tricky and yet you've managed it exactly. I didn't hear a thing until the door opened. Well done".
Darrell looked like she wasn't sure whether to be openly pleased or not but she eventually settled on a nod and small smile.
"We missed you in class", Alicia said as they sat down.
"I thought it would be horribly awkward for everyone if I was there", Darrell shrugged, "I don't know what's going to happen next term let alone next year, so I asked Miss Grayling earlier in the week to be exempt from the lesson".
Sally reached across the short distance between her and Darrell and brushed her fingers against Darrell's in a quick gesture of support.
"I have redone all the wards. I will finish the rest today", Rupert started and Sally pulled her hand back, "I can only apologise for my lapse causing such issues".
"When is Marie back?", Alicia asked, "Not that you're not enough for us but it's an awful lot of work for one person".
"I haven't been able to reach her for a few days so I couldn't say", Rupert ran his hands through his hair, leaving it rather wayward, "She hoped to be back this week but the Council have kept her tied up with bureaucratic nonsense. I am convinced that she was getting close to something and they needed to distance her".
"Like whoever's passed on those photographs of us?", Alicia asked, "You don't think the Council are involved in that do you?".
"I don't know. I would hope not but there are other possibilities. More than one person and each serving a different master, a member of the Council gone rogue so to speak", Rupert shook his head, "I can't say anymore".
Sally had been trying to keep those thoughts buried at the back of her mind for it made her uneasy to wonder who might be spying on them. She glanced at Darrell and hoped the discussion wouldn't renew a bout of paranoia.
"I presume there have been no more sudden illnesses in your dorm?", thankfully Rupert moved on, and at the three shaken heads he continued, "one mystery solved at least, though one with a most irritating obstacle for us".
"I dread to think what rumours will go about if someone sees both Sally and I missing from our beds too often", Alicia raised her eyebrows in an overly comical way.
"Yes, well, we shall deal with that if it happens", Rupert moved them along, "I haven't made any headway in deciphering your dream but I have gotten somewhere researching the Order, given the new information Darrell had about them perhaps crossing paths with the Conduit, we went back over some of the texts from when we were researching the Conduit and a few others we've acquired since".
"We've confirmed that Luke was in France during one of the massacres and sightings of him were documented in the region just before the massacre happened", Darrell added in, drumming her fingers gently against the tabletop, "We also found some more information about The Master".
"Did Miss Grayling agree to that particular change of curriculum?", Alicia asked and the genuine grin that lit up Darrell's face made Sally glad - if only privately - for Alicia's constant need to make pointless asides.
"The Master took over the Order after Aurelius died", Rupert explained, "He has been in charge since the 13th century and has been a vampire for so long that he has foregone human appearance".
"What does that mean?", Alicia wrinkled her nose.
"It means he looks something like this", Darrell turned a book towards them both. On the page was an old sketch of a creature not unlike some of the demons they had fought, it looked as though it once appeared as a man but one now as much demon as human.
"You said before that as vampires get older, they get stronger", Sally said to Darrell, recalling the day they had been forced to fight vampires during the day, "This Master has to be incredibly powerful".
"He is", Rupert replied, "Or rather he most certainly was".
"There hasn't been a sighting of him since 1937", Darrell added in, "it was in a town called Sunnydale in America. The Master and the rest of the Order were believed responsible for the murder of a hundred or more residents in a matter of weeks".
"And then he just vanished?", Sally asked.
"Just like that", Rupert took his glasses off to clean them, "there were sightings of the rest of his Order over the years but never the Master".
"Well, this is a jolly history lesson in all things cult-like and vampiric but why are they here?", Alicia asked.
'That, I don't know yet", Rupert admitted, "but I can't help but feel that both your calling and the Master have something to do with it".
"How? For all anyone knows he's long dusted", Alicia sighed.
"Perhaps", Rupert said, his earlier enthusiasm quite diminished.
"Then who took over?", Sally asked, and at the curious expressions continued, "Magnus had the writings of Aurelius and seemed to believe the Order was still active. We now believe that same to be true. If the Master was killed, who's in charge now?"
"That...", Rupert tapped his forefinger against his chin as he thought, "That might be the part we're missing. You're right. Someone has to be in charge of the Order or they almost certainly would have disbanded, vampires are not well known for their long-term team-work".
"Maybe it's this Luke", Alicia suggested.
Rupert stood up and rummaged through the books on the table, "I dare say not him, he doesn't seem to be the leader type. More the enforcer sort, if you will".
"I should probably go and get my things ready before Harriet gets here", Darrell checked her watch, "I can ask if Miss Pott's has more books at their house that might be helpful?"
"Yes, yes, that would be helpful...", but it was clear that Rupert was already more than half focused on finding a particular book and it wasn't apparent that he had actually heard what Darrell had suggested.
"I'll come with you", Sally offered.
"Leaving me to sort through this books, charming", Alicia teased, "Times like this makes you wish we had a librarian on the team right?"
Sally and Darrell walked in silence for a minute or so before Sally asked, "Are you still happy for me to come over this weekend?"
"It's on my calendar and it's planned out. It's fine, honestly", Darrell smiled, "Harriet said that she would be awfully busy this weekend with work so she's probably quite relieved I'll have company".
Sally smiled back and hoped that her smile didn't give away the glimmer of guilt. It was for a good reason, she reminded herself, as they reached North Tower and headed upstairs to the dorm. It was for a good reason and she really did want to spend time with Darrell away from school. If only the fact that both those things were true made her feel any better about what she hoped to find out.
Content Warnings: Hallucinations (Auditory and Visual), negative views towards mental illness, descriptions of violence.
Please click the link below or press 'End' on your keyboard to read content warnings.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sally was due to arrive any minute and Darrell didn't know what to do to pass the time. There wasn't enough time to start doing anything of note but if she did nothing then all the horrid feelings from yesterday would come back. Which reminded her in the sharpest way that she had forgotten to take her tablets; snippets of sentences from the report that she had hidden in her room tugged at her thoughts. The lump in her throat made taking her tablets more difficult than usual.
After taking her medication, Darrell paced since she didn't know what else to do. Pacing also calmed her down and meant she wouldn't burden Sally with worrying about her even more. The word burden echoed in whispers in her ears and she shook her head to try and rid herself of it but the words persisted. She paced faster and counted as she stepped until the whispers were drowned out by the numbers. The knock at the door made her jump and she had to take a few seconds to compose herself before she went and unlocked the door.
"Morning. Do you still go out walking now or should I come in?", Sally asked.
Of course Sally had remembered her weekend routine. Sally always remembered everything important. The conflicting happiness and guilt made Darrell squirm, "I usually go out now, if you don't mind".
Which of course Sally didn't and that made Darrell feel even guiltier; the whispers came back, louder this time. They walked in silence for the first five minutes, a comfortable silence that they could so easily fall into when left alone. Then Sally remembered something ridiculous that Irene had done the previous day and the silence melted away into a conversation.
By the time they returned to the house, the whispers were gone and Darrell felt a little lighter.
"You do extra schoolwork on the weekend?", Sally asked, looking at Darrell's schedule.
"I don't know if I'm going in for the higher exams next year or not. I just want to be prepared whichever options I have", Darrell explained as she got her Maths books from the shelf, "I can talk and work, or you can...I don't know. Sorry, it might be awfully dull for you".
Sally assured her it wasn't a problem and went over to make herself some tea. Darrell asked for just water when Sally offered to make her something and started work on her extra Maths. The first few problems were easy enough but once she reached the fourth problem, the explanation in the text book didn't fully explain how the equation worked and Darrell found her progress became much more stop-start.
"Any progress back at school?", Darrell asked once Sally joined her.
"Not really. Alicia and Betty are mapping out where the Order have been so maybe they will find something", Sally didn't sound too convinced but Darrell suspected that was more to do with Betty's involvement than anything else.
It was peculiar, really, how little they knew about Betty. She had always just been Alicia's best friend from another Tower. They all saw her often, of course, but there was enough of a distance that they didn't get to know more than what they saw on the surface.
"Are you alright?", Sally asked, "You went away for a moment".
Darrell shook herself and returned to the problem she was half-way through, "Fine, just thinking about something. So, no luck finding out who at the school might be passing on information?"
"Oh don't", Sally groaned, "I've been going over that for days. It's an awful thought that someone we know might be-", then Sally stopped talking and glanced at Darrell, "Maybe we shouldn't be talking about this..."
A hot spark flickered in Darrell's chest and grew so quickly that she didn't even recognise the old telltale sign of her temper flaring.
"Right, we wouldn't want the crazy person getting more paranoid would we? Better keep me in the dark in case I'm too unstable to cope", Darrell snapped. She was on her feet and almost to the door when what she had said and how she had said it caught up with her. She stopped in the doorway and closed her eyes.
She shook her head but the nasty whisper kept coming back. She covered her ears for a moment and then thought how dreadfully peculiar that must look, so stopped.
It didn't sound like Sally had moved and as much as Darrell didn't want to turn around in case she saw the hurt on Sally's face, she knew she couldn't stay frozen with this decision for much longer.
"I'm sorry", she turned around.
Sally quickly covered up whatever feeling had been on her face and Darrell wished she hadn't.
Darrell wondered if the flinch showed on her face and if it did whether Sally would know what it was or just think it was another tic.
"I...", Darrell closed her eyes and tried to put into words what she wanted to say but couldn't and so she apologised again, "I'm sorry I snapped at you".
"It's okay", Sally said quietly.
Darrell returned to her chair and sat down, "It's okay for me to get frustrated and angry but not to take it out on you. You're trying to fumble your way through this just like me".
"I shouldn't have presumed what you could or couldn't handle", Sally ran her fingers over the tabletop.
"Maybe but I don't make it easy for you by not talking to you about what's going on", Darrell reached out and nudged Sally's fingers with hers, "My parents asked for a therapy report ahead of half term. I read it yesterday and it upset me. But that's not an excuse to lose my temper with you".
Sally took her hand and for a while, they were silent. Sally looked as though she were thinking through a decision and Darrell left the quiet so that she could concentrate.
"I need to ask you something which might be difficult", Sally said, "And I know it seems strange to just tell you this now but it's part of the reason I came to see you and if I don't get it over with then I'll feel like I'm deceiving you somehow".
Darrell looked at her cautiously, "Okay".
Sally took a piece of paper from her pocket and handed it to Darrell, "You've done things like this a few times and I don't understand what's causing it".
Darrell looked at the note - the one she had given Alicia - went to ask what Sally was talking about and then did a double-take when she saw what she had written, "Oh".
"When did you learn German?", Sally asked, "Or...or demonic languages?"
Darrell understood the German question, after all that was clear in front of her, but she had no idea what Sally was talking about demonic languages for and the confusion must have shown.
"The other night", Sally started hesitantly, "you said the demon said that they would walk the Earth again but whatever language it was speaking didn't sound like a human one. Alicia and I both heard it".
Darrell dropped the note onto the table. She knew that it would start to come out eventually.
"I think a few things were left behind..."
And with that, she spilt the details of all that had been bothering her. The dreams that she thought might be memories, the fading in and out unconscious knowledge of all these languages that she had never in her life known, the occasional flickers of just knowing certain things but not knowing how to access it when she tried.
"You know how when you're playing tennis and you don't stop and think about what you need to do, you just move?", Darrell asked, "It's like that. If I focus too hard on it it gets blurry and confusing but when I'm not concentrating on it, it just happens sometimes".
"And you think it's...that the Conduit left behind parts of its own experiences? So it's memories and knowledge were added to your brain?", Sally asked.
"I don't know. Maybe", Darrell sighed, "I know it's gone. It's not like before. But there's not exactly research on the long term impact of demonic possession on the human brain. It was in there for a long time, it's not impossible?".
"That...", Sally looked a little stunned for a moment and then continued, "that's okay though, right? It's not hurting you?"
"I think it's more confusing than harmful? I know I should have told you all earlier but I still don't always know what's trauma, what's psychosis and what's something supernatural. I guess I was scared?", Darrell pulled her Maths book in front of her almost as a shield and flicked her thumb against the edge of the pages, then she glanced at the clock, "Should I make lunch?"
She was grateful when Sally let her change the topic without comment, especially as abruptly as she had done.
Harriet returned while they were making lunch and sat with them for a short while before heading out into the garden to give them more time alone. Harriet seemed preoccupied, more so than usual, and Darrell wondered if she had news about Miss Potts. As much as she might want to find out though, she could hardly run after her and ask. Least of all because Harriet probably wouldn't tell her the truth.
"Who do you think is watching all of us?", Darrell asked when they moved down to her room, hoping Sally would let her broach the topic again.
"I don't know", Sally sighed, "I've been trying to think about who has been acting peculiarly but I don't want to think that anyone we know would hurt us like this".
"What if...", Darrell went stiff when Sally noticed the report sat on Darrell's desk. Sally's gaze flickered over the front page and realisation over what she was reading dawned on her face.
"You can read it, if you want?", Darrell offered.
Sally went to refuse but she must have seen something in Darrell's expression and, instead, she nodded slowly, gathered up the papers and went to sit beside Darrell on the bed. Darrell couldn't bear to read it all again so she looked straight ahead as Sally read. Every so often, Sally would ask what something meant and Darrell would explain as detachedly as she could. Finally, Sally reached the last page, finished reading and set the report to one side.
"Rather dire, isn't it?", Darrell laughed emptily, "If I didn't know better, I wouldn't think it was me they were writing about".
Sally put her arm around Darrell's waist, the affectionate gesture surprising Darrell, even if they were alone.
"They're writing from one perspective about you, about one part of your life. This isn't all of you", Sally spoke softly.
"I know", Darrell shrugged.
"Is this why you said those things about yourself earlier?", Sally asked.
"Maybe. Sometimes I get angry at myself, I suppose", Darrell said. She glanced at Sally and felt a little shy, though she couldn't think what for, "Do you have to go back this afternoon?"
"I could ask Harriet if I can call Miss Grayling and get permission to stay? She might say yes", Sally suggested.
Darrell nodded and Sally got up to do just that. She must have only been a few steps down the hallway when she came rushing back into the room.
"One perspective! What if the person gathering this information on us didn't know who it was being given to?", Sally asked.
Darrell tried to follow Sally's sudden train of thought but she couldn't seem to get her mind to work as quickly as it usually did.
"I've been wondering who would pass on information to werewolves or...or demons or the Council, and I couldn't think of who would do that", Sally explained, "What if they're being used by someone else? Someone they trust?"
"Someone is telling them that we're the enemy, you mean?", Darrell frowned, "I suppose it's possible if someone was brought up in the right environment. Back in first form, Katherine used to write to her father when she needed advice about running the form because he was a colonel in the army. She didn't mean any harm by it, she just wanted to do a decent job as head girl".
"Really?", Sally asked, then waved her hand as though to say 'never mind' so that they didn't get sidetracked, "If someone thinks they're helping the Council or someone else by passing on all this information, they think they're doing the right thing".
"Does that help us work out who it is?", Darrell asked.
Sally thought about it and then shook her head, "No. But it does make me feel a bit better about it. Let me go and speak to Harriet and call the school. Then, if I can stay, we'll start going through everyone at the school".
"Everyone?", Darrell called after Sally as she ran off to find Harriet, but she didn't get a response so all she could do was smile to herself at Sally's out-of-character giddiness and wait for her to come back.
It had never occurred to Sally just how odd it felt to arrive at school after breakfast on a Monday. And of course, her uniforms had been at school so she'd had to wear some of the clothes Marie had for her full moon transformation and race up to the dorms to get changed before class. Miss James had passed on the message to the form, via Moira, that Sally was staying over with Darrell so no-one asked much about where she had been but there were a few odd looks that made Sally wonder if it had been one of their better ideas. Darrell was - always had been - a little naive when it came to what other people thought and she was glad that this was just another instance that would go unnoticed.
Besides, they had more than enough of their own suspicions about other people to keep them occupied. The list they had put together of their schoolmates and teachers, along with any suspicious behaviours, was tucked inside Sally's trunk at the end of her bed.
"Should we tell Alicia?", Darrell asked as they made their way to first lesson.
Sally wouldn't say it out loud but she didn't want to; Alicia might outright eliminate people like Winnie or Eileen who they had no way of being sure weren't involved. Yesterday, Sally had pointed out that they couldn't even eliminate Betty and that was when Darrell had started to get nervous and on edge so Sally stopped them working on the list before she became paranoid.
Still, they couldn't keep this from Alicia. Or Rupert.
"We'll discuss it at the meeting later", Sally eventually settled on, and that seemed to satisfy Darrell.
Lessons that day were quite a laid-back affair. The weather insisted on getting steadily warmer and teachers throughout the school realised that the girls were only able to concentrate up to a point and cut many of the lessons short or spent time on less mentally taxing tasks.
"I wish Mondays were our day to use the pool after lessons", Irene groaned as they finally trudged out of last lesson.
"The swimming pool does sound lovely right about now", Mary-Lou agreed, "When are you going to be allowed to swim again?"
Darrell hadn't been expecting the innocent question and she fumbled for an answer, "I don't know yet. Soon, hopefully".
"I would have thought swimming was good for most rehabilitation", Moira cut in, "My uncle went swimming after his leg injury long before he did any other sorts of sports".
Darrell squirmed and Sally wished she could just jump in and tell Moira to shut up, but she suspected that might make this even worse.
"It's not the physical injuries that are the reason", Darrell mumbled eventually, wrapping her arms around herself.
And there it was, the unease immediately seeped back into the form with discomfort and uncertainty on faces and in the looks exchanged as no-one knew what to say. Thankfully, the uncomfortable moment only lasted until they reached the common room, where the pile of letters on the table gave everyone something new to talk about. Moira picked up the pile of letters before anyone else could and began to hand them out.
"Just likes to be nosy", Alicia muttered.
Moira dealt out the letters quickly and then retreated to her corner of the common room to read her own letter. Most of the form had correspondence of some sort, with half-term coming up there was news from families about who would and would not be coming. Sally opened her letter, expecting the usual platitudes she received before each half-term, and read it while Darrell left hers until she had more privacy. Sally frowned as she read, her frown growing deeper the further down the letter she read.
"Everything alright?", Darrell asked.
"My parents are coming to half term", the words sounded peculiar even to Sally, and she re-read the letter to make sure she hadn't made a mistake.
"Really?", Darrell clearly hadn't meant for the word to come out so incredulously and she quickly apologised, "I'm sorry".
Sally looked at her, a smile on her lips and shook her head, "It's fine. I'm as surprised as you".
"Have they said why?", Darrell asked and Sally handed her the letter.
"No. I can't imagine what's prompted it", Sally said.
In all the years she had been at Malory Towers, her parents had never come to visit during half-term. When she was younger, she had hoped with each letter received that this time they were coming, only to be bitterly let down. For a few terms in the second form, she had asked Darrell to open the letter for her and just tell her if they were coming or not so that she needn't read whatever excuse was being offered. By the third form, she had just assumed they wouldn't come and, while it stung a little, it made it easier to read the letters. Now, finding out that they were coming just left her with an uncomfortable suspicion that something else was going on that she hadn't figured out yet.
"I'm feeling restless, come with me for a walk?", Darrell asked, jumping up of the sofa. Sally agreed, knowing that Darrell wanted to check if her family would be coming, then after that they had to meet Rupert. Alicia would make her own excuse to leave the common room a few minutes after them and eventually they'd all end up down at the cottage.
Once they were outside, Darrell opened her letter and read it as she walked. Every so often, Sally would nudge or pull her out of the way of a minor obstacle before she decided it was probably safer if she just made Darrell sit down. Choosing one of the larger trees for the shade, they sat while Darrell finished reading.
"My parents are coming", Darrell said simply and kept whatever else was troubling her silent. Sally suspected it was something to do with the terribly negative and clinical report that she'd seen the previous day. If Darrell's parents had read it, they were probably concerned and wanted to discuss it at half-term. Still, at least they were coming; Sally very much doubted her mother would have agreed to Darrell going out with them.
Now that Darrell was unlikely to fall over something, they continued their walk, finally ending up at the cottage where Rupert and Alicia were already waiting.
"Your folks coming?", Alicia asked, and then carried on when Darrell nodded, "My mother's coming but June's parents can't come until Saturday so she's coming out with us on Friday. Which will be delightful, I'm sure. What about you Rupert, are your parents coming to see what a good job you're doing as a Watcher?"
"Don't be ridiculous", Rupert sighed and then smirked, "My father hasn't spoken to me for so long that I'm beginning to wonder if he remembers he has a son".
"So Watchers had complicated families too, who knew", Alicia grinned.
"Yes, well. Shall we get down to actual Slayer business", Rupert said. He took a cigarette from his pack and went to put it in his mouth, reconsidered and then put it behind his ear.
Sally nudged Darrell gently and gave her a nod of reassurance.
"I...", Darrell struggled to start and Sally reached out to stop her ripping her blazer where she was twisting the hem between her hands.
"I need to tell you something", Darrell managed eventually. With the occasional bit of encouragement from Sally, Darrell explained about her dreams and the sudden acquisition of information from the Conduit.
"My word, that's remarkable", Rupert took his glasses off and tapped one of the legs against the table as he stared off into the distance, "Truly fascinating".
"Also terrifying for the person having to actually experience it", Alicia raised her eyebrow and Rupert flushed and cleared his throat.
"Of course, it must be terribly confusing for you, Darrell", he put his glasses back on, "I...I simply meant from an academic perspective".
"I take it you've not heard of this happening before?", Alicia asked.
"Well, no", Rupert looked around at the bookcase as though he were checking for a particular book that may jog his memory, "Most demonic possessions kill the host. Darrell even being alive is rare".
Sally tried not to react when Rupert's gaze passed over her and Alicia briefly, hoping her didn't use this moment to dig for details over how Darrell was alive.
"Jolly useful though", Alicia stood up and stretched, "You've been able to confirm that those other dreams were real events so clearly you've got access to some of the Conduit's memories, even if you can't just unlock them and start poking around".
"You said you had notes?", Rupert asked and he took the notebook Darrell handed over.
While Rupert went next door and poured over the notes, muttering something about not being able to concentrate otherwise, Sally reluctantly filled Alicia in on their new idea about someone passing on information thinking it was for the right reason.
"You started out assuming it could be anyone?", Alicia asked.
"It could be, that's the concern", Sally said, "A few people could be practically ruled out and others went to the top of possibilities".
"I suppose that makes sense", Alicia said, "Alright, well we'll all four of us put our heads together and see who stands out".
Sally stopped herself from protesting about Alicia automatically including Betty but Alicia was as good at reading people as Sally.
"Oh, I see", Alicia said and she glanced at the door to the other room and lowered her voice, "I should have known you'd find a reason to exclude Betty somehow".
"We can't rule her out yet, that's all", Sally said quietly, she glanced over to Darrell and saw that she had put her hands over her ears and closed her eyes, "Not now, okay Alicia?"
Alicia followed Sally's gaze and the hardness in her face softened, "Fine".
After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, Rupert returned, waving the notebook with an urgency they hadn't seen from him before.
"Where's the journal, the writings of Aurelius?", he asked, as though they would have any idea where he had last put it.
Rupert rummaged through the books on the table, then opened the cabinet and looked in there as well.
"Here it is, Magnus must have known before they arrived", Rupert returned to the table with the journal and flicked through it before finding the page he was looking for.
"Care to enlighten the rest of us?", Alicia asked.
"Aurelius and the Order were obsessed with a group of demons called the Old Ones", Rupert explained, "They predated the world as we know it. Pure demons, horrifically powerful. They were imprisoned and have been contained for centuries but there have always been fears that someone would find a way to bring about their return".
"Why would anyone do that?", Alicia asked.
"I wouldn't like to try and guess but this here is why I think that's what is happening...", Rupert pointed to one of the newest lines in Darrell's notes, "the demon you heard say 'they will walk the Earth again' and, Alicia, your prophetic dream".
Rupert turned Aurelius's journal around to face Alicia and she recoiled at the sketch on the page, an artistic rendering of the demon she had seen up close in her dream.
"I don't need to ask if that was the demon", Rupert said softly, "That's Maloker".
"The father of all vampires?", Darrell asked, "That's not good..."
"Exactly", Rupert said, "if you saw him in a prophetic dream then someone is trying to release him and the rest of the Old Ones".
"Release them from where?", Alicia asked.
"I don't know. Only fully-fledged Council members are privy to their location", Rupert said, "as few people as possible know where they were contained to prevent them being released".
"It's not...here, right?", Alicia asked.
"They wouldn't have pulled Marie away if it were", Rupert said, "But there must be something here that the Order are after".
"Did you find anything when you went out Sunday?", Sally asked Alicia.
"A little. There's a lot of activity just North of Truro and many of the missing people are linked to the town. Oh, and remember that church we came across? With the vampire that dusted and we couldn't work out how? Any of the missing people who weren't linked to town were known to frequent the church", Alicia said, "but none of that tells us anything".
"I want you to patrol the town tonight and I'll revisit the church", Rupert said, "one of us is sure to encounter the Order".
"If one of us has to be alone, it shouldn't be you", Sally tried to keep her refusal casual, "They nearly killed Alicia. They will kill you".
Rupert conceded her point with a tight nod of his head, "I don't like to ask one of you to have to go out without backup".
"I'll go by myself into town, take Alicia to the church", Sally insisted, "I can sense the vampires before either of you".
"But...", Darrell started to protest and then stopped herself.
"I'll be fine", Sally reassured her, managing to sound more confident than she felt.
"That's settled then", Rupert checked his watch, "You better head on back and Alicia, I'll see you tonight".
"You do know she's going to be waiting up for you?", Alicia asked as she and Sally stepped out into the night.
"I can still feel how worried she is from here", Sally admitted, "Her feelings are all over the place at the moment. But I'm sure I'll be fine. I can outrun vampires if I need to".
"I was serious before, when I asked about learning to control your werewolf abilities. I think you should look into it. You can control your strength already during games, it seems to me it's just a step further than that", Alicia said.
"Maybe. There's Rupert waiting for you. I'll see you later", Sally avoided answering the question and set off in the direction of town.
Alicia sighed and jogged over to join Rupert near his car.
"I don't like this", Alicia said as she got into the car, "I know she says she'll be fine but I still don't like it".
"Me neither but we don't have much choice", Rupert started the car and pulled off.
"These Old Ones, how serious are we talking?", Alicia asked after they had been driving for a few minutes.
"I've spent all afternoon trying to contact Marie and left messages for Quentin at the Council to call me back", Rupert said, "If they manage to release one of those demons, we're in serious trouble never mind more than one".
Alicia couldn't bring herself to ask more questions, so they went back to silence until they reached the church.
"There's lights on", Rupert pointed out as he locked the car, "Perhaps the vicar is still there. It might be prudent if we escort him home".
As they approached the church, a man who looked to be in his thirties stepped out and started to lock up.
"That's not the same man as before", Alicia said to Rupert, "he was older".
"This one might be in training", Rupert whispered before raising his voice in greeting, "Good evening, are you the vicar here?"
The man turned to look over his shoulder as he continued to lock up, "I am, though I was just heading home for the night. It is nearly midnight after all".
"May we walk with you?", Rupert asked.
The man hesitated, looked between them and then nodded. Alicia wondered what worst case possibilities were racing through his head.
Rupert pulled something that looked like official identification out of his inside pocket and flashed it quickly as he spoke, "We were hoping you might be able to tell us a little about some of the people who have gone missing".
The vicar looked closely at Alicia again, no doubt thinking that she looked terribly young to be any sort of investigator. She kept her face neutral and hoped the stony look would bring some credence to the possibility.
"I'm surprised they sent anyone, the local police certainly weren't concerned. They never do show much compassion for the homeless people around here, so I wasn't expecting much", the vicar came down the steps and gestured the direction he needed to go. The same route the vicar ran the other night.
"All of them were homeless?", Rupert nudged Alicia with a notepad and pen he had conjured up from somewhere. Alicia took it and began to write notes, even though she would almost certainly remember what was said. They gathered a few notes on the walk up to the road, the most helpful being the area where the vicar thought most of the missing homeless people used to sleep for the night.
"I've been by myself a few mornings but not seen them", the vicar stopped outside a cottage, "this is me, unless there's anything else?"
"Would it be possible to speak to the other vicar, perhaps later in the week?", Alicia asked.
"There is no-one else", the vicar smiled.
Alicia frowned and tried again, "I thought the gentleman who lived in the house over there", she pointed, "worked at the church too".
"Your information is rather out of date I'm afraid, Father Matthew passed away six months or more ago. Ninety-seven he was and still insisted on running the services alone", the vicar smiled fondly, "the house has been empty since".
"Thank you", Alicia smiled and shut her notebook, "Have a good night".
As soon as they were out of earshot Alicia spoke, "The man we saw was definitely not ninety-seven. Or dead. Sally would have sensed if he were a vampire".
"Perhaps we had better take a visit to this house", Rupert said, "Let's go as though we're leaving in case anyone is watching, I think we should be able to come around the back if we take a left down here..."
They didn't dare use a torch in case it alerted anyone to their presence so they moved slowly down the side path and around to the fences that surrounded the back gardens of the cottages. They counted down the houses until they reached the one they needed, then Alicia jumped the fence. She would never get tired of being able to do that. She lifted the latch off the gate so Rupert could join her and they crept up to the house.
"Right about now, I could do with Sally's ability to sense what's inside", Alicia murmured as she peered through the windows.
"Someone certainly has been staying here", Rupert pointed to plates and cups on the draining board and fresh rubbish in the kitchen bin, "I'll try the door".
Unsurprisingly, the door was locked so Alicia took look out while Rupert picked it. Inside, the house didn't smell musty like you might expect had it truly been empty for months and the recent newspapers confirmed that someone was definitely staying there.
"Someone with human needs", Rupert mused as he peered into the bin at the vegetable peelings.
"Demons don't eat their greens then?", Alicia asked.
"Well, I suppose some do. Others have less mundane tastes", Rupert replied as he opened a few drawers for more answers.
"Maybe someone's just squatting?", Alicia asked.
"Then why masquerade as a vicar at all? I wonder if there's something about the church...", Rupert said more to himself than Alicia, "Let's check upstairs".
Moving as quietly as possible, they moved upstairs. The dust there was thicker, except for in one room that seemed to have once served as an office or record room of sorts. That room had clearly been rifled through. Rupert spent some time leafing through the paperwork but it all seemed to be records of the church or the congregation and Rupert couldn't find anything of any interest.
"Maybe they got what they needed?", Alicia asked.
"Perhaps", Rupert said, then he pocketed a small leather bound book, "I don't think there's anything left here".
Alicia led the way back out of the room and froze at the top of the stairs. Stood at the bottom, blocking their exit was a blonde woman, leaning forward and holding onto both banisters.
"Our little birds were correct, the Slayer did come sniffing around", and the voice made Alicia shudder though she couldn't place why, "She's brought her Watcher too".
"What about the werewolf?", that deep, gruff voice struck terror into Alicia as she recognised it as Luke's. A moment later and the hulking silhouette of the vampire came into view behind the female vampire.
"Seems she's somewhere else".
"Pity, hardly seems fair for them", Luke chuckled.
Rupert tapped Alicia's elbow and nodded to the wicker chair in the corner of the hallway. Just as Luke stepped onto the stairs, Alicia grabbed the wicker chair and hurled it as hard as she could down the stairs. Knowing it would only buy them a few seconds, Alicia raced towards the bedroom, pulling Rupert behind her. Once inside, Alicia dragged the wardrobe in front of the door. It wasn't overly heavy but she hoped it would get them another few seconds. Rupert yanked on the window handle, only moving it a few millimeters where it had been painted over, sealing it's mechanism.
"Here", Alicia vaulted the bed to land beside Rupert and wrenched the handle, splintering part of the wooden window frame in the process.
There was just grass and a few flowers beneath them, thankfully. At the sound of someone crashing into the door behind them, Rupert clambered up onto the windowsill and jumped. He landed with a thud and a loud curse. Alicia turned as the door was smashed off it's hinges and the wardrobe rocked, lowered herself to brace herself against the wall and kicked at the bed as hard as she could. One end skidded across the floor, putting the bed at an angle across the room and blocking the wardrobe from moving further.
Then she jumped out of the window too, realising a moment too late that she hadn't checked whether Rupert had moved out of the way.
Thankfully, Rupert was limping towards the gate already and Alicia scrambled back to her feet and ran to support him. Slinging one of his arms over her shoulder, she took much of his weight while he opened the latch on the gate.
"If you can't move quickly enough, I might have to carry you", Alicia warned.
"Needs must", Rupert said through gritted teeth, though he put up a valiant effort of moving as fast as he could.
"Let's hope everyone is sensible enough to stay inside and tut about the noise we're making", Alicia said as they reached the end of the path and started towards where Rupert had parked the car, "Can you see them?"
Rupert crane his neck around, "No".
Alicia didn't slow down though and she was almost dragging Rupert by the time the car came into view. Rupert got his keys out ready but Alicia took them from him.
"You can barely put weight on your leg, how are you going to accelerate?", she asked, "my brother showed me how to drive".
Before Rupert could protest, she opened the passenger side door and shoved him inside, then ran around to the driver's side and got in herself. Technically her brother had shown her how to start a car and drive it on a single loop down the track near their house but Alicia doubted Rupert wanted to hear the technicalities. She started the car and put the headlights on.
"Bloody hell", Rupert yelled as the headlights lit up the blonde vampire stood ten or so metres in front of them.
Alicia shoved the car into gear, dropped the handbrake, then lifted the clutch and accelerated at the same time. The car jolted forward but mercifully didn't stall. She pushed down on the accelerator, fumbled the car into second gear and then held the car straight as she built up speed. Alicia really didn't know what the vampire had expected. Probably for her to freeze rather than panic and drive straight at her. The vampire dove out of the way just in time. Alicia turned the steering wheel sharply to get them out onto the main road, relieved to see when she looked in the rear-view mirror that both the blonde vampire and Luke were behind her.
Then guilt struck her, "What about everyone in the town?"
"If they know what's good for them, they'll stay inside", Rupert groaned, "If not, us running back and getting slaughtered is hardly the happy ending we want".
Alicia returned her attention to driving. This wasn't like driving in the daylight, on a road she knew, and a few times she nearly stalled when she slowed down for a corner without dropping gears. Through a stroke of luck, they didn't meet a single other driver on the way and Alicia finally felt like she could breathe normally when she brought the car to a shuddering halt on Malory Tower's driveway.
"You were lying when you said you could drive", Rupert said as he heaved himself out of the car.
"I said my brother showed me how to drive, not that I could", Alicia pointed out as she locked up the car and moved back around to help Rupert walk.
"A rather important difference, one might say", Rupert took a sharp breath as he stepped, "Still, you got us back here in one piece. That's the main thing. Would you drop me off at the cottage? I'll sleep on the sofa in there and go to Matron tomorrow".
Alicia did as he asked, taking as much of Rupert's weight as she could to ease the pain of him moving. It seemed to take twice as long to reach the cottage and Rupert made a low groan of pain even though Alicia was as gentle as possible setting him down on the sofa.
"We always seem to be running away from these vampires", she said as Rupert turned the lamp on.
"Sometimes living to fight another day is the best you can do. There was no way you could fight them and win in such close quarters. Then once I was injured, the odds were against you", Rupert said, "We know more than we did yesterday and we are alive to use that knowledge. Now, go and see if Sally is back from her patrol. Come back if she isn't. Otherwise we shall regroup tomorrow".
Alicia left Rupert to tend to his wounds and raced back up to the school. She forced herself to slow down once she was inside and move as quietly as possible up into the fifth form dorm. Sally was inside, sitting with Darrell on her bed. Darrell looked half asleep and Sally nudged her as Alicia came inside.
"You're okay", Darrell looked relieved.
"Aren't I always?", Alicia grinned, "You can finally get some sleep now".
Darrell nodded and shimmied down to get into bed. Sally got up and walked over to speak to Alicia.
"A few regular vampires in town but no sign of the Order", Sally whispered.
"That's because they were with Rupert and I. Long story short, we jumped out of a window and I nearly ran one over but unfortunately they're still in one piece", Alicia sighed, "Rupert was hurt but he should be okay. We need to go and see him tomorrow to come up with another plan".
Sally nodded and headed back to her own bed while Alicia forced herself to get changed into her pyjamas rather than just collapse in her clothes. At least this week was only a part week with half term, for Alicia was quite sure that she was going to be far from her best mentally come the morning.
Content Warning: Internalised ableism, slurs about mental illness, auditory hallucinations.
Half-term shenanigans. This chapter and the next will cover the two days of half-term from the perspectives of all three characters. So instead of continuing on from one another, they'll overlap in time and events. Supernatural events will take a backseat temporarily.
Some serious and potentially upsetting topics involving families will be covered during these two chapters, particular the second one. If you think this may affect you at all, please make sure to read the content warnings and notes at the end of the chapter.
P.S. Daffy's age in Pamela Cox's continuation breaks continuity even more than Blyton liked to so I'm ageing her from the original six books.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"And here are your copies of your reports", Miss James said as the fifth formers finished their breakfast, "Your parents may have received their copies already".
Alicia accepted her envelope and, for the first time, found she was anxious to look inside. Before all of this, the only time she had ever had a problem with school work was when she had come down with measles in the fourth. She had resat the exams in the first term in the fifth and, without the fog caused by the measles, had passed with ease. The longer she spent fighting the supernatural, the more difficult schoolwork was becoming.
Alicia glanced at Sally, who was turning her envelope over in her hands. Sally worried about her results these days too. It wasn't as though they had a good excuse to offer their families either, if their school work slipped.
"Alright then", Belinda said as they trailed up to the common room to wait for a little while before parents arrived, "Who's going to go first?"
"Stop being so dramatic", Moira said, tearing her envelope open, "I'll go".
Alicia watched Moira's face for any indication of how her grades were and saw a flicker of disappointment followed by a small smile.
"They're fine", Moira said.
That prompted everyone else to check theirs and murmurs of relief and disappointment followed shortly. Alicia was relieved to see that she had just about kept her usual grades, though English and French were a few marks lower than she had hoped.
"How did you do?", Alicia asked Sally.
"Better than I had convinced myself I'd done but there's a few lower than I'd like", Sally admitted, "My parents will have something to say, I'm sure".
Alicia turned to ask Darrell how she had done but didn't need to. The surprise and disappointment was written on her face.
"But that's not right...", Darrell said quietly, more to herself than anyone in particular.
Before Alicia could ask, Darrell shoved the paper into her pocket, screwing it into a ball as she did. Sally's hand on Alicia's arm told her not to push the issue so close to the parents arriving.
"I suppose I should go and find June", Alicia checked her watch, "If I don't go and drag her out with me she'll only sulk in the library all day. Or worse, Felicity might invite her out with your family, Darrell".
Darrell rolled her eyes but Alicia was pleased to see the comment had made her smile. Alicia jumped up and went off to the second form common room to find her cousin. The second formers were rather excited and Alicia could hear them from the end of the corridor. Just as she reached the door, Pam and another girl came barreling out and straight into her.
"Awfully sorry, Alicia", Pam said, straightening herself up, "Are you looking for June? She's still inside. The cars are arriving!"
Then a whirlwind of second formers came running out of the common room and Alicia stepped aside to let them pass. Better that than be stampeded. Once all the second formers had passed, Alicia poked her head around the door and saw June sat by herself.
"Come on, you're coming out with us", Alicia called, hoping June wouldn't be difficult about it.
June got up silently and followed Alicia without a single word which worried Alicia more than any stroppy comment would have done. She tried to pull some conversation from June as they walked but all she got was single word answers so eventually she gave up. Families had started to arrive and there were girls and parents everywhere.
"There's Aunt Marion!", June's face brightened for a moment and Alicia let her go on ahead.
After giving June a warm hug, Marion turned to Alicia, "Just me this time, is it only the two of you today?"
Before Alicia could answer, Betty and her parents appeared and greeted Marion as well. The two families had been great friends since Alicia and Betty's first term at Malory Towers. When Betty's mother suggested they all go out together, Alicia glanced at June and saw her scowl; so much for the moment of brightness. While they were deciding where to go first, a sharp voice rose above the general murmuring of chatter around them. Alicia turned around but she couldn't see where it had come from and there seemed to be no follow up.
"Alicia? Are you coming?", Marion called, "Thought we'd better see all your teachers first".
Alicia jogged to catch up with them. June's expression had grown even more dour since the decision to speak to the teachers and Alicia gave up trying to talk to her after a few minutes, deciding instead to talk to her mother. After all, she had the rest of term to find out why June was so sulky and only these two days with her mother.
Miss James was more positive than Alicia expected, having thought the fifth form teacher wasn't a particular fan of hers, and Miss Parker pulled Marion to one side to speak to her quietly about June. June disappeared for a few minutes at that point and when she returned, with a gruff excuse that she had gone to speak to someone, Marion and Miss Parker had finished. After speaking to a few more teachers, the party decided to head down to the beach rather than drive anywhere. June walked on ahead and Alicia found herself regretting bringing her along.
"Miss Parker is quite worried about June", Marion said quietly, dropping her and Alicia back behind the Hills family by slowing down, "Says she doesn't seem herself this term, though her work is fine".
"She's been off for a little while now", Alicia admitted, "I can't for the life of me figure it out though".
"Keep an eye on her for me after half-term, will you?", Marion asked. Alicia agreed, though truthfully how she was going to keep an eye on June with everything else she had to do, she didn't know.
A few other families had chosen the beach and Alicia grinned as she saw Irene had joined Belinda's family for the day, she would be surprised if they made it back in one piece with all their belongings.
"Will you be spending Summer with us, June?", Marion asked, trying to engage the so far silent girl in the conversation once they'd settled down on the picnic blankets.
"I don't know", and it did sound as though June tried to keep the sullenness from her voice, but just failed miserably.
"I can call your father and ask. That's if if you'd like to come?", Marion offered.
"I don't mind", June looked away towards some of the other girls who were paddling in the water, "Do you mind if I go for a short walk, Aunt Marion?"
"No, of course not", Marion said, "Just don't go too far".
June got up and began to walk back up away from the beach and onto the grass, shoulders hunched up in a way that made her whole body seem stiff. It rather reminded Alicia of Sally in first form, when she was trying so hard to keep everything bottled up inside that she never seemed to relax. Which made Alicia wonder what exactly June was keeping to herself.
"She's a cheery one today", Betty murmured to Alicia. Alicia nodded slowly and tried to keep an eye on June all the while she talked to her mother.
After twenty minutes of conversation, Marion looked around and frowned at not being able to see June.
"Shall we unpack the lunch then?", Marion asked, "Alicia, could you go and find June?"
Alicia and Betty set off in the direction they had last seen June and went in search of her. On the way, they bumped into Winnie and her family and exchanged polite greetings with the adults.
"Did you hear?", Winnie hung back as her parents kept walking, "About Sally and Darrell?"
"No, what?", Betty lowered her voice, always eager for some gossip.
"Some sort of argument with Sally's mother, I'm not sure what set it off but Eileen saw it", Winnie rushed out before she hurried after her parents.
Alicia rolled her eyes as she continued looking for June, a younger her might have taken great joy out of second hand gossip but it all seemed so unpleasant now. Betty seemed to sense her irritation, and she didn't bring up Winnie's comment.
"Is that June over there?", Betty asked, pointing out a girl walking towards them. She was right and Alicia waved to get the younger girl's attention. As June got closer, Alicia swore that there was a slight glassiness to her eyes but June blinked a few times and it was gone.
"We're having lunch now, thought you might want something to eat", Alicia said. Just like before, June followed without comment and Alicia shared a bewildered look with Betty.
"How are you getting on in second form then, young June?", Betty asked.
"Looking forward to moving into the third?", Betty persisted and June's posture grew even tenser.
"Got any friends yet?", Betty asked and Alicia gave her a sharp look, the sudden jab at June's tendency to be on the outskirts of her form both unexpected and unwanted. June snapped back before Alicia could say anything.
"Why don't you just shut up? Like you can talk about anyone else's friendships", June turned on Betty, "There's plenty of people with things to say about you and Alicia and how you two fell out".
With that, June stormed off back towards the beach, leaving Betty and Alicia gaping after her.
"Well, she told me", Betty said eventually, "Don't I know better than to say anything to her again. My, she's prickly today".
"The comment about her having no friends was a bit much", Alicia said.
"I was trying to get a reaction", Betty protested.
"Well you certainly got one, now she'll be even more miserable", Alicia sighed and she waved for Betty to hurry up with her and head back to join their families.
Neither of them wanted to address June's comment about their own friendship.
"Sally!", Daffy's excited voice cut through the hubbub and she darted out and barrelled into Sally to hug her, "Mummy and daddy brought me to see the school too!"
"I can see that", Sally laughed, ruffling her little sister's hair, "It'll be nice to show you around".
Diane and Arthur Hope walked over and greeted her far more sedately. They were in the middle of suggesting they move away from the school entrance and start to look around school when Daffy raised her voice with another excited squeal.
Before any of the Hopes could stop her, Daffy took off racing over to where she had spotted the Rivers. Sally winced as her mother's expression dissolved into one of horror when Daffy launched herself at Darrell, leaving Darrell no choice but to catch her.
Sally could only follow and hope to calm the situation as her parents hurried over to retrieve Daffy, who had wrapped her arms and legs around Darrell when Darrell tried to put her down. Daffy, of course, thought all of this was a jolly game. She was only six after all and dreadfully fond of Darrell who had been part of her life since Daffy was tiny.
"Daffy, don't run off like that", Diane snapped, "Come here".
"I wanted to say hello to Darrell", Daffy protested, clinging tighter to Darrell.
Before the whole situation could blow up like a tinder box, Sally stepped in closer to Darrell.
"Did you ask Darrell before you went climbing all over her like a vine?", Sally asked, relieved when her clumsy attempt at humour made Daffy laugh.
"I jumped on her", Daffy said.
"We all saw that, maybe you're getting too old to be jumping on people now. What if Darrell didn't catch you?", Sally asked.
Daffy turned to Darrell, "Would you really not catch me?"
"I wouldn't do it on purpose but accidents happen", Darrell explained, "Then you'd fall on the floor and it would be terribly embarrassing".
Then just like that, the brief moment of joviality was shattered as Diane snapped, "Sally, what do you think you're doing?"
For a moment, Sally had no idea what her mother was referring to. After all, she was diffusing a bitterly tense moment and she would have thought her parents would just let it play out. Then she realised where her mother was looking and it dawned on her that at some point in the short conversation, she had put her hand on the middle of Darrell's back. She couldn't even remember doing it, perhaps she had just so instinctively wanted to reassure and comfort Darrell that she hadn't even thought about it. Perhaps she had been allowing herself too much leeway recently with their physical demonstrations of friendship.
It didn't really matter why she had done it though, not now. Sally pulled her hand back sharply and tried so hard to not see the hurt and confusion that flickered on Darrell's face. Even Daffy now realised something wasn't right and she looked around the tense faces with worry on her own.
"Come on Daffy, let's go and walk around the school", Sally couldn't hide the way the lump in her throat made her voice strained, "I'll show you anywhere you want".
"Okay", Daffy said quietly, "Bye-bye Darrell". Daffy hugged Darrell extra tightly and then let herself be lowered to the floor.
It was awful walking away like they did and Sally was sure some of her peers had seen the altercation which made her feel even worse.
"In public? In front of Daffy?", Diane grabbed Sally's arm and yanked her in to whisper sharply when Daffy ran over to Arthur and chattered away to him.
Sally kept quiet, even as her mother's fingers dug into her arm hard enough that they might bruise, because if she were to start talking she might get upset and if that happened, there certainly would be a scene to be had between them all.
The tour of the school was horribly awkward in places but Daffy's excitement about seeing every little thing in Sally's school life soon wore away at some of the tension. Daffy even insisted on introducing herself to many of the teachers, including Miss James when Diane and Arthur asked her about Sally's progress.
"And you're sure you're happy with Sally's work?", Diane asked, "We did notice a few wobbles this term in her report". As Diane dug out the report paper, Sally squirmed and wished she had left Daffy to talk Miss James' ear off.
"I'm certain", Miss James smiled, putting her hand on Diane's arm and stopping her from holding out the report, "Given what has happened in the past few terms, she's stayed remarkably focused. It puts her in good stead for the exams in the sixth and we're not worried about her work".
Diane didn't look entirely convinced but she thanked Miss James all the same. Sally felt much lighter, having been fretting ever since she had seen her report; she hadn't realised that the teachers were less worried than she was. Though of course they only knew a very small piece of what was on her mind.
With most of the teachers spoken to, Arthur suggested they head out for some lunch. They drove to one of the nearby towns and found a cafe. Daffy's enthusiasms about the day so far kept the conversation from getting too stilted; at least until Diane brought up the topic of the summer holidays.
"One of Daffy's friends and her family have a chalet in France and they've invited us all to go with them over summer", Diane said as she poured them all some more tea.
"We're going to see Miss Grayling before we go to get permission for you to leave school a week early so we can all go out there together", Arthur added.
Sally thought it was peculiar that they had come all this way when they could have asked that on the phone but that thought was soon replaced by far more pressing thoughts about the full moon.
"For how long?", she asked.
"Well, all of summer of course", Diane said and Sally nearly choked on her tea.
"I don't want to hear anything about you not seeing Darrell", Diana snapped, "You see more than enough of her during term time, some time apart will do you two the world of good".
"I just...", Sally didn't know what to say because she certainly couldn't voice her real fears, "I was just wondering".
With that lunch became a tense and uncomfortable affair. For a few wild moments, in the car on the way back to school, Sally thought about racing up to see Miss Grayling before her parents and begging her not to give her permission. She dismissed it when she realised that she would have no explanation to give Miss Grayling either. After all, she could hardly say that every full moon she turned into a wolf and might very well maul her family to death. Even if it was true.
Anyway, it would only delay the holiday by a week and a full moon would still fall within the time they were away.
Diane and Arthur left Daffy with Sally while they went to speak to Miss Grayling.
"Why are you sad, Sally?", Daffy asked as she balanced along the top of the wall outside the entrance to Malory Towers, holding on tightly to Sally's hand.
"I'm not. Just thinking", Sally lied.
"You are sad, I can see it", Daffy insisted, "Did Darrell make you sad?"
"No, of course not", Sally wondered how Daffy had come up with that, "Why do you ask?"
"Because mummy was angry when we talked to her and doesn't want you to be her friend anymore", Daffy jumped off the wall and landed beside Sally, "I thought maybe she had done something wrong".
"Darrell...", Sally hesitated, unsure how to explain matters to Daffy in a way that would make sense, "Something serious happened to Darrell and she was hurt, and that meant that she became a bit different. I think sometimes people don't always understand that and they're not always nice to people who are different".
Daffy seemed to accept that explanation and asked more questions about the school until their parents returned.
"Miss Grayling sees no reason why you can't leave school a week early for the summer", Arthur said, "So that's sorted. We best be getting off now".
As soon as she said goodbye to her family for the day, Sally raced off to find Darrell. Before she found her, she was stopped by Miss Grayling in the corridor.
"Sally, have you enjoyed your day with your family? That little sister of yours is certainly a character", Miss Grayling's eyes crinkled as she smiled, having been waylaid by Daffy earlier during the day.
"Yes, thank you", Sally said politely.
"I have been meaning to ask how you and Darrell are getting on since she came back", Miss Grayling asked.
"We're fine", Sally said quickly.
"Fine?", Miss Grayling asked gently.
Sally hesitated. Miss Grayling was incredibly astute and Sally suspected that she wouldn't be convinced if Sally were to stick to a bland 'fine', so she explained a little.
"We've had to adjust to a few things, of course, but things are going well", Sally insisted, "I'm glad she came back and so is she".
Miss Grayling smiled warmly and nodded, "I'm glad to hear it, well as I'm sure that's who you're looking for now, I think you will find her down near the pool".
"Thank you", Sally said and hurried off, wondering what had prompted the head teacher to ask today of all days.
Heading back outside, Sally came to a stop at the top of the path leading down to the pool. Miss Grayling had been right, Darrell was sat under one of the trees talking to Alicia. Sally started to walk down and then hesitated, her mother's words and accusations ringing in her head. What she had said to Daffy earlier was true, people weren't always nice to those who were different and Darrell's difference wasn't the only one that Diane Hope disapproved of. Sally felt so foolish for forgetting herself earlier, she knew better than to show too much affection in public and yet she had done it so naturally that it worried her because she didn't know what else she might accidentally let others see.
Her mother thought all of this came from Darrell, the veiled comments over the past year had made that clear. Sally wondered bitterly how her mother's tune might change if she knew that it was Sally who knew how she felt and who knew who she was, not Darrell. How if it wasn't Darrell who Sally felt this way about it would - one day - be another woman and that all the threats in the world wouldn't change that. Deep down, she knew that it probably wouldn't change much other than to direct more of her mother's ire onto Sally in lieu of someone else to blame.
Sally took a deep breath to calm the noise in her head and continued walking down the path.
"Perhaps we should go away from school for the day?", Michael suggested as Theresa put her arm around Darrell's shoulders.
A few people were whispering and sneaking looks over at them; Darrell felt awful for subjecting her family to this. All she seemed to do was make life harder for everyone close to her.
"Susan and her family are going down to the beach with their picnic, we could join them?", Felicity suggested, "Unless you want to talk to the teachers first?"
"I think it's best we talk to your teachers later", Theresa said, "We don't want anymore scenes to ruin today, come on".
Darrell didn't want to be sullen and point out that the day was already ruined - between the Hopes and the godforsaken reports that Darrell couldn't shake from her mind - so she kept quiet and let Felicity fill the silence with excited talk about what she and the second form had been up to. Then, remembering she had it, Felicity took out her school report and handed it to Michael,
"Ah, the other copies haven't arrived in the post yet. Let's take a look", Michael said and he stopped walking for a moment to let Theresa look as well, "Hmm, says here that she's well-behaved and focused on her work, I think they've given us another girl's report card".
Felicity made a play of protesting over the silly comment but she beamed when her father patted her on the shoulder and congratulated her. Then there was an awful moment where Felicity looked over at Darrell, expecting her to hand over her report, and then realised that perhaps Darrell didn't want to discuss it. Michael jumped in and made a point of saying that he could see the Blakes up ahead, giving Theresa time to fall back and speak to Darrell.
Darrell clutched the screwed up paper in her pocket and then took it out and handed it to her mother, "It's not very good".
Theresa didn't say anything as she unscrewed the paper and she didn't look particularly unhappy when she read the results, though there was a glimmer of a frown by the time she reached the bottom of the report.
"Which part is making you most upset?", Theresa asked carefully, folding the report and handing it back to Darrell, "I don't suppose for one minute it's the sewing".
Darrell laughed, surprised that her mother had managed to coax some measure of joy out of her. Her sewing grade had been abysmal, worse than ever before, and Darrell hadn't given it a second glance. She had a good idea what else other than her sewing had prompted her low grade in that particular subject. She just hadn't expected to see a similar thing in some of her other classes.
"Some of them...", Darrell wasn't expecting the lump in her throat, "I know some of them are fair, where I've been working to catch up but some I tried really hard and the results are lower than...than how I'm doing in class. It doesn't make sense that...oh, what does it matter anyway?".
Theresa pulled Darrell into a hug, "It's okay".
"It's not, it's awful. That and the...the other report. They're just awful", Darrell could feel herself getting overwhelmed and all she wanted to do was run until she had no more energy so that she wouldn't fall apart here in front of her family and everyone else.
"We're still very proud of you, no matter what those reports say", Theresa said gently as they walked after Michael and Felicity again, "We'll always be proud of you and maybe you're not somewhere where you can believe that right now so if you want to simply not talk about it yet, we won't talk about it".
Darrell nodded and gratefully accepted her mother's offer to change the subject. They caught up with Michael and Felicity and made their way down to the beach. They walked along the sand until they caught up with the Blakes, then found a place for them all to sit down and spread out the picnic blankets.
Once they'd talked for a short while, Felicity and Susan ran off to paddle in the water before lunch, though they did their best to pretend they weren't excited to do so, after all only first formers got excited about playing in the sea, or so the second formers would have people believe. Darrell offered to keep an eye on them and she wandered up and down the beach a short distance near the water, glancing up to check on Felicity and Susan every so often.
Over lunch, Susan and her family were a little off to begin with, unsure how to talk around Darrell it seemed, but they soon thawed and by the time they were finished on the beach and had packed up and made their way back up to school, it as as though the uncertainty had never been there. Felicity played a big part in that and as they walked back to school, Darrell gave Felicity a quick one-armed hug and whispered a quiet thank you.
"Do you want to speak to some of Felicity's teachers?", Theresa asked Michael, "I'll find Miss James and, Darrell, is Miss Potts back yet?"
"No, Miss Parker has covered some of her duties but I've not had much to do with her", Darrell said.
"Alright then, just Miss James then", Theresa said, "Do you two want to stay here?"
Since the thought of having to listen to anymore judgments about herself was the last thing Darrell wanted, she said she would prefer to stay outside. Felicity immediately said she would stay too and Darrell hoped it wasn't because she felt she had to keep Darrell company. It soon turned out, Felicity had her own worry on her mind.
"Has Alicia said anything about June recently?", Felicity sat on the steps beside Darrell.
"Not to me, though I doubt she would. Why?", Darrell asked.
"She's been different this term. Quiet and keeping to herself, I think something's worrying her but she won't talk to me about it", Felicity sighed, "I've tried a few times to include her in things Susan and I are doing but she gets all funny and stand-offish with me. Says she doesn't need my pity".
"People sometimes act strangely when we don't feel good enough, I wouldn't take what she says to you to heart. That sounds like June being June", Darrell frowned as she saw the Hopes' car pull in further down near the entrance of the school, hoping they wouldn't have any reason to come their way.
"Perhaps. I'll keep trying though", Felicity said, leaning her elbows on her knees and resting her chin on her hands, "Other times, it is like she's back to normal. Did I tell you about the joke she played on Miss Davis?"
Michael and Theresa reappeared within a minute or so of each other but didn't mention what had been discussed with the teachers, instead they suggested that they better be heading off for the day if they wanted to get checked in at the place they were staying.
With their parents gone, Felicity went to find Susan, and Darrell walked down towards the pool, needing some quiet after the business of the day. Finding a tree to sit under, Darrell tucked her knees in against her chest and wrapped her arms around them, then just sat and listened to the sound of the waves. That was the only sound around her for nearly five minutes.
"I've been looking everywhere for you", Alicia's voice interrupted her thoughts and she glanced up, "Seems we all had an eventful day".
"You might say that", Darrell replied.
Alicia sat down beside her then leant forward and picked something up from the grass, "This yours?"
Darrell looked around again and saw that her crumpled up report had fallen out of her pocket. She accepted it back off of Alicia and shoved it back into her pocket, though she did wonder briefly about walking down to the sea's edge and tossing it in.
"Another report about how I'm not coping or not good enough or not achieving the right things", Darrell said bitterly.
Alicia sat back against the tree, "I'll write you a report. About how you saved Betty from becoming demon food or how you held an ancient demon at bay through force of will. That you're more than good enough and that those other reports don't tell the whole story".
Every so often, Alicia knew how to say something heartfelt enough that it could make you feel quite emotional, though of course if you said as such she would laugh at you for being overly sentimental. So Darrell didn't say anything, just gently nudged Alicia with her shoulder in a silent recognition.
"How was your day?", Darrell asked.
"Oh, June was an absolute brat", Alicia groaned, "I was sure she was getting better but she just sulked all day and wouldn't talk to anyone".
"Will she be going out with you tomorrow?", Darrell asked, thinking of Felicity's concerns about June. It seemed Alicia didn't have any answers for her.
"I don't know. My aunt and uncle can come tomorrow but they might want us all to spend time together", Alicia pulled a face, "Uncle William can be quite solemn so it could be a really miserable affair. Say, what happened with you and Sally today?"
"What do you mean?", Darrell stalled.
"Oh come off it, I heard there was some kind of problem with her mother, and your family and hers avoided one-another all day", Alicia said.
"I don't think Mrs Hope wants Sally to spend time with me. Not since...", and Darrell let the sentence trail off, knowing that Alicia would fill in the blank.
"Well, that's certainly one way to spend your only half term with your daughter since she went to boarding school", Alicia pursed her lips, "Do you know, the more I learn about her parents, the more I understand why Sally's the way she is. I used to think she was just boring and tightly wound".
"She's never been boring. The rest of you don't get to see her the way I do. If you did, you'd know how amazing she is", Darrell said and she felt herself blush a little at blurting out something like that to Alicia. She was relieved at the sound of movement behind them and turned to see Sally walking down the hill towards them.
"Do you even realise that you light up when you see her?", Alicia asked suddenly and Darrell looked back at her.
"I suppose I didn't. Why? There's nothing wrong with me being happy to see her", Darrell crinkled her brow in confusion.
Alicia shook her head with a chuckle, as though she had more to say but wasn't going to, and stood up.
"I'm going to go and find Betty, maybe go and bribe June into behaving like a reasonable person tomorrow", Alicia said.
Darrell watched as Alicia nodded in greeting to Sally and strolled back towards school. Would it really be such an inconvenience for Alicia to spell things out sometimes? Sally took Alicia's spot on the grass and was quiet for a while. Darrell was wondering if she should say something first when Sally eventually spoke,
"I don't know what to say. I'm just so sorry".
"None of it's your fault", Darrell said, "Are you alright, spending all day with them?"
"They want us to go away to France for the whole summer", Sally said after a pause, "I don't know what to do. I can't exactly show them that I'm a werewolf, can I? Then ask them to lock me up for the full moon".
Darrell couldn't help but start giggling at the image of Sally very seriously sitting her parents down and explaining that she was a werewolf before bringing out some chains and talking them through how to keep her locked up. Something about the entire idea tickled her and before she knew it, she had made Sally laugh as well just because she couldn't stop giggling.
"We'll have to think of something though", Darrell said once they settled down, "We can't let you go running wild in France".
"I know", Sally sighed and she stood up and held out her hand to Darrell, "Come on, let's head back".
Darrell let Sally help her up, "Is there something else bothering you?"
Sally shook her head just a little too quickly, "No, nothing else".
Darrell wasn't sure she believed her but decided that Sally would tell her when she was ready. After all, Sally gave her plenty of time to be ready to talk about things. The least Darrell could do was return the favour.
Homophobia - Veiled comments, verbal criticism.
Domestic (parental) abuse - Emotional/Verbal abuse in the form of persistent criticism, one instance of physical harm in the form of grabbing/manhandling.
Ableism and stigmatised views towards mental health difficulties including internalised views.
Second half-term focused chapter. As with the previous chapter, there are potentially upsetting topics relating to families within this chapter. Please click below of press 'End' on your keyboard to read the content warnings related to this.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"My parents are here", Sally saw their car pulling in from where she and Darrell were sat in the window alcove, "You will come to watch the tennis, won't you?"
"Of course I will", Darrell squeezed Sally's hand as she got up, "Wouldn't miss it".
Sally headed downstairs, narrowly avoiding being bowled over by some of the younger students, and outside.
Daffy was just as energetic as she had been the previous day and Sally wondered if she had managed any sleep. Daffy was usually much quieter than this when they were at home; except for the few times Darrell had stayed over at the Hope residence, that was. Darrell had an uncanny ability for getting Daffy completely over-excited.
"Did you say you were playing in the tennis exhibition?", Arthur asked, overhearing an excited second former telling her family that she was playing.
"Yes, against one of the sixth formers", Sally said, "it starts at eleven, after the lower school have finished their matches".
"Well done, I didn't know you were so good at tennis", Arthur nodded his head approvingly.
Sally smiled and tried to ignore the knot of disappointment as she realised how little her father had paid attention to what she had told him in the past. She had been playing tennis for Malory Towers against other schools for years.
"Well then, shall we go and find a good seat for the first match?", Diane said and led the way towards the tennis courts. Daffy grabbed Sally's hand and skipped alongside her.
"Will I come to Malory Towers when I'm older?", Daffy asked.
"That's up to mother and father", Sally said, swinging her arm in time with Daffy's skipping.
When Daffy was smaller, if she ever went out with Sally and Darrell she would insist on holding both of their hands and being swung up and down as they walked. Darrell used to wait until Diane wasn't looking and then they would swing Daffy high up off the ground, before acting the pictures of innocence when Diane looked around to see why Daffy was squealing with delight.
They found some seats and Daffy immediately looked around to see if she recognised anyone from the previous day. She didn't but Alicia was sat nearby and she leant over to speak to Sally.
"Nervous about your match?", Alicia looked coolly towards Diane and Arthur who were busy talking to another set of parents. Obviously she had learnt about the confrontation the previous day, though Sally wasn't sure if that was from Darrell or someone else.
"A little bit", Sally admitted, surprised at how true it was as she said it.
Alicia looked like she might ask something else but then changed her mind and sat back.
The lower school match was an exciting one, evenly played for the most part with the third former only pulling ahead of the second former right at the end when the younger girl began to tire. Both girls rightly received loud rounds of applause for their efforts.
"I better go and get changed during the break", Sally said to her parents and she darted off to the changing rooms. There was half an hour between matches but she also wanted to warm up properly.
On her way back, she was surprised to hear her mother's voice from further down the corridor, having thought she would stay at the courts. Curiosity got the better of her and Sally walked a little closer to see what was happening.
"And as I told you, Mrs Hope, there simply isn't a space for Sally in any other tower", Miss Grayling said firmly.
Sally went deathly still. She knew there was something more to Miss Grayling's questions the previous day, and to her parents sudden appearance at half term after all these years.
"I thought you might reconsider now that Sally has worries about Darrell", Diane said.
An icy chill went through Sally and she felt quite sick with anger. It sounded as though this wasn't the first time they had tried to have her moved and her mother had just outright lied to Miss Grayling.
"I don't mean to doubt your words, Mrs Hope, but Sally and Darrell seem more than happy. There have been adjustments, certainly, but they appear to me to be as close as always", Miss Grayling said.
"Yes, well, isn't that part of the problem?", Diane's voice lost all it's facade of politeness and the vitriol that replaced it made Sally shudder.
"I am quite sure I don't know what you mean", Miss Grayling sounded like she did when she was about to talk most severely to a girl who had done something dreadful. Sally took that as her cue to leave, she certainly didn't want to be caught listening in.
The hot, miserable anger just seemed to grow with each step and the closer she got to the tennis courts, the more she wondered whether perhaps she shouldn't play. She had spent so long learning how her supernatural abilities worked and, more importantly, how to make sure they didn't appear when they weren't wanted but how was she supposed to do that with all these emotions threatening to overwhelm her?
As Sally got to the courts, she saw Darrell stood talking with Theresa and made an impulsive decision. She walked over, even though she could practically feel her father glaring at her from the other side of the court.
"Going to wish me luck?", Sally nudged Darrell's elbow and then took Darrell's hand in hers, hoping she sounded natural enough.
"Are you...", Darrell looked down at their hands and then back up and around, "should you be talking to me? What about your parents?"
"Nevermind them", Sally said, "I wanted to see you before my match".
Because the only thing Sally could think of that had any hope of calming her down, was Darrell.
"You don't need luck", Darrell grinned, "you're brilliant. But good luck anyway since you asked".
Before she could talk herself out of it, Sally turned and hugged Darrell tightly. It must have come as a surprise because Darrell took a second before returning the embrace. Sally held on for longer than she should. Hugging as much as she and Darrell did was seen as ever more unusual as they got older, but when it was only brief, people didn't comment. This hug was far from brief but Sally didn't care.
"Are you alright?", Darrell asked when they did pull apart.
Sally smiled tightly, not wanting to answer with a lie and turned and walked onto the tennis court to warm up. It didn't take long to see her mother stood nearby, watching her. She couldn't bring herself to make eye contact with her and she didn't dare look over at her father again either. Instead, Sally made herself push all her thoughts and feelings deep down until the only things she was concentrating on were tennis and staying in control.
The match started and didn't let up. The sixth former, Elizabeth, obviously didn't want to be beaten by a fifth former and Sally found herself playing defensively for the entire first set, watching how Elizabeth played and where she wasn't as strong. The first set went to Elizabeth, but only just, and Sally could see the other sixth formers encouraging her from the sidelines.
"Lulling her into a false sense of security, I like your tactics", Alicia commented as Sally went to get some water.
"She's very good", Sally said, taking a long drink and then returning to the court.
The second set, Sally managed to take the lead early on because of a few silly mistakes from Elizabeth and she held onto it tightly. The sixth former was starting to slow down just a little, a combination of having put so much into the first set and the heat. Sally won the second game advantage with a high ball that looped down behind Elizabeth, just inside the line, and took the second set.
The third, and final, set saw Elizabeth fight back with renewed energy but Sally matched every serve and return, placing the ball from side to side on the court and forcing the other girl to run, tiring her down even more. By the time Sally took the second game with a long ball that the sixth former had no hope of reaching, it was clear to everyone watching that Sally had taken the set. The remaining games were almost just a formality.
Shaking hands at the end, Elizabeth nodded stiffly at Sally, not making a scene at losing but the disappointment apparent in her face.
The North Tower fifth formers were delighted. Of course, it was supposed to just be an exhibition match but it was always nice when someone in your form won, especially against one of the older students. Sally accepted the praise from the members of her form who had been watching, her face getting steadily warmer as she got a little overwhelmed by their enthusiasm. All the time, she could see her parents watching out of the corner of her eye and she knew she couldn't drag this out any longer.
Darrell had kept her distance after offering her own congratulations, probably not wanting to make the situation worse, but as she walked past her Sally reached out and took Darrell's hand. Darrell looked at her for answers and Sally squeezed her hand - as much to reassure herself as Darrell - then let go and walked over to her family. Each step felt heavier than the last.
Daffy was a bubbly excitable ball of a child, bouncing on the spot and chattering about the match and all of the shots she could remember. Sally wrapped her arms around her sister and kissed the top of her head. Stiff congratulations without any real feeling behind them were shared by her mother and father, then Diane said,
"I need to speak with you, in private. Now".
Sally followed her mother, doing her best to act as though nothing were wrong even though her heart was pounding. What was her mother going to say? To do? For a moment, Sally wondered if the moment they were away from anyone else, her mother would strike her. Before yesterday, she would have thought that her mother was more likely to be cruel with her words than to lay a hand on her, now she wasn't so sure.
Away from everyone else, Diane turned on Sally.
"How dare you behave like that in front of everyone?", Diane demanded, "People were watching the way the pair of you carried on".
"I didn't do anything wrong", Sally forced herself to be stubborn and pretend to not know what her mother was referring to.
"It was bad enough before, the way you behaved with Darrell but now? Now that she's got this madness?", Diane sighed, "People talk Sally, how could you do this to us?"
"Don't say things like that about her, can you not hear yourself?", Sally said, "You accepted her as my friend before, why can't you accept her now?"
"Because she's not just your friend, is she?", Diane's voice became a strangled whisper, "I should have seen it before, what was happening".
Sally couldn't say where the bitter laugh in response to her mother's words came from. Maybe it was the realisation that nothing she said was going to bring this to a happy close. She could insist over and over that she and Darrell were just friends, she could lie and deny all of the feelings she had - rich and complicated in ways that she was still sometimes too worried to examine - and it wouldn't change a thing. Not when it seemed her mother already knew the truth. Sally wondered when she had seen it. What moment had Diane Hope stumbled upon that told her that her eldest daughter wasn't going to follow the path that everyone expected from her.
"That's why you've tried to have me moved out of North Tower", Sally said, taking some satisfaction from the shock on her mother's face, "Did that start after Darrell's accident too?"
"I asked Miss Grayling to move you in the fourth", Diane snapped, "I begged her but she wouldn't do it. If she had only listened maybe this would never have happened because the two of you wouldn't have been together all the time".
"Mother, just stop! Please", Sally ran her hands over her face and paced, "It isn't Darrell who...she didn't do anything to make me..."
Diane's face fell as what Sally was trying to say sunk in; first there was a slow realisation, followed by what Sally could only describe as grief, and then finally disgust.
"No", Diane put her hand out and used the wall to steady herself, "It has to be her. You weren't like this-"
"It is me", Sally choked on the words, "I don't know why. It's just who I am"
"There are people out there who can help, you know", Diane changed tacts, "I've heard about them, doctors who can help you get rid of these sorts of unnatural feelings. I hear the treatments can be very effective".
"No", Sally shook her head, "I'm not ill, I'm just... different, I suppose. I don't need a doctor".
The imploring look on Diane's face twisted into a sneer and Diane stood up straighter, a most peculiar stiffness to her posture. Sally couldn't help but step back, worried about what her mother might do.
"Very well, if that's your choice. You've got your house key still. Collect your belongings over summer and then I never want to see you set foot in our house again", Diane said, "I won't have Daphne exposed to you or your choices".
Sally went still for a moment, listening to the words repeat in her head until they sunk in.
"You're...", Sally couldn't get anymore words out. All at once, two conflicting thoughts clouded her mind; that she hadn't seen this coming and that she knew this was the only outcome her confession would end in.
"You've made your choice", Diane swept past Sally, "God help you".
After making sure that the Hopes had left the front of the school, no doubt heading for the tennis courts, Darrell went outside to wait for her parents.
"Billy-no-mates?", Felicity teased, leaning against the wall beside Darrell and giving her a nudge, "Standing here looking thoughtful".
"Trying to stay out of the way", Darrell said, "I don't want a repeat of yesterday".
"There they are", Felicity pulled Darrell's arm and dragged her towards the car that had just pulled up.
Their parents greeted them just as fondly as the previous day and Felicity began talking at a hundred miles an hour. Darrell wondered what else she could possibly have to talk about at such length. Theresa nudged Michael to take up the conversation and she moved over to talk to Darrell as they walked towards the tennis courts.
"How are you feeling today?", Theresa asked.
Darrell sighed, "About the same".
"There is one thing from your report we do need to talk about", Theresa gently broached the subject, "Your medication?"
Darrell knew this was coming. The therapist had stated outright in the report that he felt Darrell would benefit from her dosage being increased. Which was the absolute last thing she wanted.
"I want to stay with it as it is", Darrell pulled her arms in tight against herself, "Stronger medicine means more side effects, I don't want more side effects".
"Okay", Theresa said and she let the subject go, though Darrell suspected it wouldn't be the last she heard of it.
Making sure they sat far away from the Hopes, they found seats for the tennis. Felicity was in and out of her seat during the first match, cheering for the second former. She wasn't a North Tower girl but Felicity knew her from classes. The second former put up a valiant effort but tired in the final set and eventually the third former won.
In the break, Darrell saw Sally get up and head towards the changing rooms. A few seconds later Diane Hope got up and looked around, found whatever or whoever she was looking for and shimmied between the chairs. Felicity asked Darrell a question, pulling her attention away for a moment. When she turned back, Darrell found Diane talking quite heatedly with Miss Grayling. The Head Teacher gestured towards the school and they both walked up and away from the tennis courts.
Darrell frowned, even toyed with the idea of following them to find out what was going on, but she thought perhaps she was edging towards paranoia and flights of imagination so she made herself stop that line of thinking and tried to pay attention to what her family were talking about.
It didn't take long for her mother to notice something was bothering Darrell and she suggested they went for a walk to stretch their legs. They walked in silence for the most part, Theresa letting Darrell take the lead in whether she wanted to talk. It wasn't until they were nearly back at the courts that Darrell felt ready to say anything. Before she could start though, there was a touch on her elbow. As she looked around, Sally slipped her hand into Darrell's.
"Going to wish me luck?", Sally asked.
"Are you...", Darrell looked down at their hands and then back up and around, "should you be talking to me? What about your parents?"
"Nevermind them", Sally said, "I wanted to see you before my match".
"You don't need luck", Darrell grinned, "you're brilliant. But good luck anyway since you asked".
Darrell wasn't expecting the tight hug that Sally wrapped her up in so it took her a moment to respond. Sally held on for longer than usual, long enough that it would bring a few looks in their direction. Darrell never could understand why some other people were so concerned with what she and Sally did.
Sally pulled away and stepped back. Darrell saw Diane stood a short distance away and the look on the woman's face was so unpleasant and cruel that it made Darrell feel quite panicked. There was something more than she was seeing here, something to explain why Sally looked like she was about to walk into a fight she wasn't sure she could win. But when Darrell asked, Sally just smiled tightly and headed onto the tennis courts without another word, and that worried Darrell even more.
"Well, let's get back to our seats", Theresa had an odd look on her face, thoughtful in a way.
Darrell sighed and did just that, hoping that if nothing else, the tennis would distract her. Elizabeth, the sixth former, looked to be a serious challenger and, from the grim look on her face, she didn't intend to be beaten by a fifth former.
Elizabeth quickly demonstrated her skill when she put Sally on the back foot for the entire first set. Sally played defensively for each game, finally losing the set on the sixth game. Darrell knew that even though the first set had gone to Elizabeth, Sally would have watched Elizabeth's play closely and would almost certainly use it against her in the next sets.
Darrell's prediction was soon proved accurate as Sally took advantage of some unforced errors made by Elizabeth and made shots and plays that pressed on Elizabeth's weaknesses. She took the second set, never losing the lead she took early on.
It was the third set where Sally wore Elizabeth down and made her run ragged with cleverly placed shots. Darrell let her excitement get the better of her a few times and jumped up to celebrate points won. Before the set was half played, it was clear Sally had pulled ahead and was going to win the match. Once it ended, Elizabeth was disappointed but she shook hands with Sally with good grace.
The other fifth formers were very pleased with Sally's win and they hurried over to celebrate with her. Darrell glanced over at the Hopes, not sure if she should join in congratulating Sally.
"Come on, what are you standing there for?", Felicity pulled Darrell's arm and dragged her over to Sally.
"Well done", Darrell felt strangely awkward all of a sudden when she spoke to Sally, being so conscious of who might be watching them, "You were fantastic, I even felt a little bit sorry for Elizabeth".
Darrell moved away after offering her congratulations and stood apart so some of the others could speak to Sally. A minute or so passed and then Sally stepped out from the other girls. Sally walked passed Darrell and reached out to take her hand. Darrell tried to find an explanation in Sally's face for all of these open physical demonstrations but found nothing. Sally gave her hand a squeeze before letting go and walking over to her parents.
After a quick exchange, Diane said something to Sally and they walked off together, away from the other girls and families. Diane saw Darrell watching and shot her such a filthy look that Darrell turned away. Theresa was stood just behind Darrell and it seemed she had seen the look as well.
"Why does she dislike me so much?", Darrell asked, "I haven't done anything to her, or to Sally! Is this all because of my...because I got sick?"
Theresa rubbed Darrell's shoulders, "Darrell, I think there's more going on here than you or your diagnosis".
"What do you mean?", Darrell asked, feeling yet again like everyone else knew something she didn't.
"Something more personal, maybe something Sally isn't ready to or can't talk about openly", Theresa said.
"But she tells me everything", Darrell rubbed her cheek and eyebrow as her facial tics started, almost as though she were trying to brush them away, "almost everything, anyway".
"And you tell her almost everything but it's the almost part that's important, Darrell. I think the best thing you can do for Sally is just be there for her. When all of the dust settles, I think she'll need you", Theresa suggested. Darrell wanted to ask more questions because she was so tired of getting half-answers and cryptic advice but she was too confused to work out what she even wanted to ask.
"Come on, let's go find your father and see where he's ended up", Theresa said.
They found Michael had been cornered by Mam'zelle Dupont and he was quite grateful to be rescued.
"I do forget how enthusiastic she can be", Michael grinned, "Though she's awfully pleased with your French this term, Darrell".
Darrell squirmed, unsure if it was acceptable to be praised when her fluency in languages had benefited from supernatural influence. Thinking it was a reluctance to talk about her school grades again, Michael changed topics. They were starting to discuss some plans for summer when Diane stormed through the crowds of girls and parents and right up to Darrell.
"This is your fault", Diane jabbed a finger in Darrell's chest hard enough to make her step back, "They should never have let you back in school".
With that, Diane and Arthur, with Daffy trailing behind, stormed off towards their car. Daffy turned, looking so confused by what was happening around her, and gave Darrell a smile and a wave so out of tone from the rest of the interaction that Darrell could only give a single stunned wave in return.
"What happened?", Felicity asked, "What's your fault?"
"How should I know?", Darrell rubbed the back of her neck as she tried to avoid looking at anyone. Girls were whispering to each other, parents were murmuring, and she could feel a voice trying to pull at the edge of her thoughts. She tugged one of her curls to try and keep it at bay. Her parents shared a look that she couldn't read and then her mother said,
"I think you had best find Sally, and maybe bring her back here".
Darrell nodded, grateful to have something to do, and raced off towards the direction the Hopes had come from. She asked Belinda and Irene on the way if they had seen Sally and they sent her towards the changing rooms. Darrell nearly ran straight in and then remembered that other girls had been playing in exhibitions and might still be there. So she knocked first and pushed the door open just a crack,
"Sally? Are you in here?"
Darrell pushed the door open and went in, "We just saw your parents, is everything..."
Darrell trailed off because it was very apparent that everything was not okay. Sally was sat on the bench, and even though she wouldn't look at Darrell, Darrell could see her eyes were red and puffy and her cheeks flushed. She had clearly been crying and Darrell couldn't remember the last time she had seen Sally so upset. Darrell stepped closer and knelt down in front of Sally, clasping Sally's hands gently between her own.
"They...", Sally swallowed heavily and took a deep breath before continuing, "We had a dreadful row. I was so angry with how they were behaving. They came all this way just to be so cruel. Mother said some horrible things. About you, about me... I don't think I can go home, Darrell. She said I wasn't welcome there anymore".
Darrell kept quiet and caressed slow circles against the back of Sally's hands with her thumbs.
"What am I going to do?", Sally crumpled into tears and the only thing Darrell could do was wrap her arms around Sally and let her sob.
"William, Polly, it's nice you could make it", Marion smiled politely, greeting June's parents.
Alicia had never understood the uncomfortable relationship between her mother and June's parents. Polly was Marion's younger sister but they certainly weren't close from what Alicia could tell. Their sisterly relationship was much more like Moira and Bridget's than, say, Darrell and Felicity's.
William said hello to Alicia while Polly nodded her head with a soft smile. June greeted both her parents with what Alicia thought looked like a rather reluctant hug for each of them.
"Now, where are your teachers. It would be good to see them before this tennis your school are putting on. I thought one of you two might be playing tennis, don't either of you play for the school?", William asked.
June stiffened and lowered her gaze in a manner most unlike her so Alicia answered.
"There's only a few exhibition matches today, so they choose the best players", Alicia said, "Now I'm confident holding my own against a lot of girls but I'm not daft, Sally Hope would steamroller me in a tennis match".
"You're telling me", Betty seemed to appear from nowhere to jump into their conversation, "Good job she usually gets paired against Darrell during games, saves the rest of us the embarrassment of being shown up".
"Hello Miss Hill", William's lips tightened in a line and Betty grinned as she returned his greeting far more cheerfully. Alicia was pleased her unexpected arrival distracted William and soon they were all heading over for the tennis.
"Trouble in paradise?", Betty murmured when they found a seat, pointing out that they were sat near the Hopes and the Rivers were almost as far away as they could be.
Alicia frowned and shushed her, not wanting Sally to overhear them discussing her personal business. After they sat down, she leant forward and made brief conversation with Sally and then turned her attention to the first match.
Once the younger girls had finished, the West Tower third former besting the South Tower second former in the end, Sally got up to go and get changed for her match.
"Is it really fair for Sally to be playing against other girls?", Betty leant in close and asked Alicia once Sally was gone.
"Keep your voice down", Alicia glanced around but no-one seemed to have heard, "Sally has good control, it's not quite the same with her as it is with me".
The first month after being bitten, Sally had experienced more than a few unwanted displays of strength, including accidentally breaking a door handle off much to Alicia's great amusement and Sally's horror. After that, her supernatural abilities settled down and Sally had to deliberately want to use them for them to appear. Except for during moments of heightened emotion, when there was no saying what might happen. It was for the best really because it would have been difficult to explain why the school's best tennis player was suddenly refusing to play.
"She can turn it on and off?", Betty asked.
"Not quite that simple but in a way. More so than I can", Alicia whispered, "Now pack it in would you?"
Betty rolled her eyes but did stop asking questions and they chatted while they waited for the next match to start. June didn't join in any of the conversation, even though Alicia saw Marion try a few times. It was a different quietness to yesterday. June had been sullen and almost grumpy then, today there was a sadness to her silence.
Alicia was pondering it when Betty elbowed her in the side and nodded to the other side of the course. Alicia's eyebrows shot up in surprise to see Darrell and Sally stood together, it looked as though they were even holding hands. When Sally hugged Darrell, and for an awfully long time, Alicia looked around to see what Sally's parents thought of that. Mrs Hope wasn't in her seat but Mr Hope's face was thunderous and Alicia glanced to make sure Betty had seen it.
"We could have fireworks before the end of the day", Betty said.
Sally left Darrell and walked onto the tennis court to warm up for her match, and Mrs Hope returned to her seat so Alicia and Betty changed the topic.
The match started and Sally played with single-minded focus in a way Alicia hadn't seen from her before. Alicia swore it was like Sally studied her opponent like prey in the first set and then used every weakness she had seen against her in the next two. Even Betty whistled loudly when Sally won the match.
"We'll say a quick well done and then go grab some strawberries and cream for everyone", Betty said. They did just that and returned to the seats with bowls for everyone. Except neither June nor William were there.
"Gone to talk to some of June's teachers", Marion explained. They put the spare bowls on the empty seats and talked as they ate. After five minutes, the cream was starting to melt so Alicia donated the two untouched bowls to first formers sat behind them. They waited another couple of minutes and then walked around for a further ten but there was no sign of June or William.
"There's Miss Parker, I'll ask her if she's seen them", Alicia said and she moved between the groups of people to reach the teacher.
"Excuse me Miss Parker, have you seen June?", Alicia asked.
"Only briefly, she came with her father about fifteen minutes ago. He said he was going to speak to all of June's teachers but I'm not sure where they went", Miss Parker waved over Mam'zelle Rougier, "Mam'zelle, have you seen June Johns?"
"About ten minutes ago, her father wished to discuss her work and conduct during French", Mam'zelle said.
Alicia winced. She couldn't imagine that Mam'zelle had many positive things to say on that front. June could do the work well enough but only if she felt like it. When tests came around she, like Alicia, topped the class without much in the way of effort but her lacksadaisy approach to classwork frustrated teachers and classmates alike.
Alicia fed the news back to her mother and Marion suggested they walk around a little longer. Alicia grinned as she watched Betty try and drag some conversation out of Aunt Polly but even Betty was despairing over the feeble responses she got.
"Can you do another run around Alicia and see where they've gotten to?", Marion asked, her exasperation starting to show after yet another ten minutes.
Raising her eyebrows at Betty, Alicia raced off in search of them. A sweep of the outside where all the other parents were came up empty and there was no sign of them in the entrance hall. Alicia couldn't think there was any reason for them to be anywhere else inside the school but decided to cut through on her way out towards the stables just in case.
As she was walking through the school, June swore she saw a man who looked like Uncle William at the end of one of the corridors, leading down to the science classrooms and she changed course to follow him. But when she got to the end, there was no-one in the adjoining corridor.
Alicia frowned, she would have sworn that it was her uncle. Honestly, what was it about this school that made it impossible to find people when you needed them? She was about to turn back when she heard her Uncle's voice from one of the classrooms,
"...chance after chance".
Alicia went over to the door and raised her hand to open the door.
"I was trying", June insisted and Alicia paused, not wanting to embarrass June by walking in on a scolding.
"This is you trying, is it?"
"I don't know what you want me to tell you", June said.
Alicia jumped at the crack of skin hitting skin. Even though she swore she knew what that sound was, she must be wrong this time. Then the awful sound of a second slap split the air. She opened the door and a weight fell into the pit of her stomach when she saw June cradling her cheek, a red mark already appearing just above where her hand covered her face. Alicia couldn't move. Couldn't think. Just stood half in the doorway, as yet unnoticed by June or William. She even missed what William said next as he leant in closer to June, though the look on June's face told Alicia it had been cruel.
William grabbed June's elbow and twisted her arm, his fingers pinched tightly on June's skin. June didn't cry out but her face contorted with pain and she dropped her hand from her face to try and push her father off.
All at once it was like Alicia could think clearly and she threw the door open as she ran in and grabbed William by his other arm. She would be damned if she hid her Slayer strength and let this happen.
"Alicia?", June blinked rapidly at the sight of her. William tried to yank his arm from Alicia's grip but she tightened her hold and used her free hand to pry his fingers off of June's arm.
"Don't you dare touch her again", Alicia shoved William away hard enough that he stumbled and clattered against one of the work benches.
"You have no right to-", William started, pushing himself upright.
"You have no right! What sort of person hurts their own child like that?", Alicia demanded. June moved behind Alicia and hid as William pointed at her.
"You just wait until you get home", his lips twisted into a snarl.
"She won't be going home, not if I have anything to do with it", Alicia shot back, turning and putting one arm around June's shoulder to start to lead her away, "I won't let you near her".
"I'm her father, you don't get any say in the matter", William took a step towards.
"If you come any closer, I will hit you. I'm not afraid of you and I can fight back", Alicia warned him.
William laughed, a nasty cough of a laugh, and continued walking, "Your mother always did let you run your mouth off too much, if you were my daughter I'd have seen you learnt a little more respect".
"I respect people who deserve it", Alicia said simply, "Now, I'm taking June to my mother and you are going to go home".
"Like hell you are, get out of the way", and William moved to push Alicia aside.
So Alicia hit him. One single punch to the face, hard enough to knock William to the floor in a dazed stupor.
"Come on", Alicia led June away before she could ask any questions. She kept her arm around June's shoulders and firmly guided her back outside as quickly as she could. June made a few noises as though she were going to ask a question but then she fell silent and Alicia could feel her whole body trembling beneath Alicia's arm.
"You're okay, I won't let him near you", Alicia whispered. Once they were outside, she spotted her mother and raised her hand in a wave. Marion seemed to be able to tell in a second that something was wrong and hurried over to them and away from the other girls and their families. Polly and Betty followed closely behind.
"June?", Marion asked and then she must have noticed the mark on June's face, "What happened?"
June couldn't speak and Marion gently enveloped her in a hug and raised an eyebrow at Alicia in question.
"Uncle William", Alicia said, "I don't think it's the first time either".
The sound of running footsteps behind them made Alicia turn and she put herself between William, and her mother and June. William's steps slowed and he stopped a few metres from them. Surprised at his hesitancy all of a sudden, Alicia glanced back at her mother and she understood. The look on Marion's face would have been enough to stop most people - and even some demons - in their tracks.
"Marion...", William started, "You have to understand..."
"Oh, I do", Marion said, her voice so cold that Alicia shuddered, "I understand very well".
William started to speak again but then fell silent and looked around, realising that a few people were starting to look over at them.
"I thought she would be better, try harder this term", William lowered his voice, "You don't see the reports we get about her".
"Don't you dare use that as excuse", Marion said.
William looked at Polly, perhaps for some kind of support, but she kept her gaze down. While she didn't support William, neither did she step up to see how June was or condemn what William had done. Alicia felt a flash of anger towards her as well.
"I think maybe we should make our way home", William said to Polly and, with a silent nod, she walked over to join him.
"I think that's the only good idea you've had in a long time", Marion agreed and she watched them all the way to their car before speaking again, "June, honey, let me take a look at you".
Alicia wasn't sure what made this awful situation more surreal - how compliant June was as Marion gently checked her face or how utterly terrifying her mother had been in those few minutes. The mark on June's face was starting to fade already and Alicia realised that if she hadn't been looking for them, they might not have seen the mark for what it was even in twenty minutes time. They might have naively chalked it up to the heat if it had faded enough.
"What am I going to do, Aunt Marion?", June asked, rubbing at her eyes with her palms, "If I go home after this he'll...he'll... Last time was...", June's voice wobbled and she couldn't keep talking.
"Let me worry about that", Marion said firmly, "I'll sort everything out and you'll come stay with us".
Alicia didn't doubt for one moment that her mother would do exactly that.
The last parent had gotten in their car and set off for home. Marion had spent nearly half an hour in Miss Grayling's office and when she had come out, she had smiled reassuringly at June and said that Miss Grayling would make sure she was safe at school. After taking June back to her common room, and leaving her with Felicity and Susan for company, Alicia had gone outside for some air. There she found Darrell and Sally sat on the front steps and, after a moment of hesitation, Alicia walked over and joined them.
"So...", she said and trailed off.
"This half-term was dreadful", Darrell said simply, which was when Alicia noticed that Sally looked utterly defeated and there was a faint redness around her eyes. Not sure if she should ask, Alicia just nodded and they all sat in silence for a minute or so before she spoke again.
"June's father hits her", Alicia didn't mean to blurt it out and for a second she felt awful for exposing June's private business.
"He hits her?", Darrell asked, the very idea horrifying her.
"I saw it, well, heard it I mean...never mind", Alicia ran her hands over her face and breathed out slowly, "and I hit him back when he tried to stop me taking her to my mother. I just saw red when he tried to...oh bloody hell".
Alicia stopped talking for a few seconds to gather her thoughts, grateful when she felt Darrell's hand on hers as reassurance.
"Mother says she can live with us but how didn't anyone know? I called her a brat yesterday when she was dealing with this, I've been so impatient with her", Alicia leant her knees on her elbows and stared out into the dimming light, "And now I'm getting upset and it's not me that had to deal with it, what right do I have to be upset?".
"I don't think there's a perfect way to feel and respond to something like this", Darrell suggested and it sounded sensible and logical but at the same time Alicia couldn't shift the lump of guilt in the pit of her stomach.
They sat in silence again for a short time before Alicia asked, "Why are you two so sombre anyway?"
"My mother and I had a dreadful row", Sally said quietly, "and she told me that certain choices I've made mean I'm no longer welcome at home".
Alicia realised just how Darrell and Sally felt after her news, completely stunned, and she stared at them. Betty had said there were bound to be fireworks but this was more than that.
"What happened this half-term?", she asked, "Where did all of this come from?"
"I think it was always there, there was just the perfect storm to bring it all to the fore", Sally sighed and she dropped her head onto her arms.
"Sally's going to live with you? Right?", Alicia turned to Darrell.
"Of course", Darrell said immediately, "but that's not the only thing that matters".
"I suppose not...", Alicia trailed off into thought for a few moments, "Will you be able to come back next year if your parents won't pay your school fees? I didn't think about that, I don't know if June will be able to come back either. Then there's university".
"Alicia, please don't", Sally asked wearily, "Not tonight, not when we've still got to go out and patrol later".
"It's a shame evil doesn't take a night off for personal crisis", Alicia said, "Where the hell do we go from here?"
Neither Sally or Darrell had an answer for her.
These two chapters have perhaps been heavier going than some of the others. The chapters will, after this, return to the more supernatural elements of the storyline but they will reference some of the events of these chapters given the impact they have on various characters.
Domestic (parental) abuse - Multiple occurrences of verbal and emotional abuse, physical abuse in the forms of slapping, pinching and arm twisting, suggestions of long-term physical abuse.
Parental emotional neglect.
Homophobia - Veiled comments and rumours, overt verbal criticism and threats, brief mention of "treating/curing" in relation to LGBT+, once instance of religious disapproval.
Ableism/prejudice towards mental illness.