It started with a girl, as these things almost always do. This girl was a hero, as girls often are if given the chance, who had, like a good number of her contemporaries, been banished from her home when all she had done was tell the truth. The one odd thing about this girl was that her story had no door, nor did it have a mirror, a rabbit hole, or a tornado to carry her to another world. This girl was Buffy Summers. She was the Slayer.
Buffy arrived at the school alone. Her parents had been instructed to go with her no further than the front gate as some sort of psychological cue for her rehabilitation beginning as soon as she stepped onto the property. They hadn’t even made it that far. Joyce and Hank Summers were too busy fighting over whose fault it was that Buffy had turned into a delinquent to drive her halfway across the country. Buffy took a taxi from the train station that dropped her off at the roundabout at the end of the long driveway. She studied the building in front of her as the taxi drove away. It was a large building that looked more like a private mansion than a rehab school for teenage criminals. At least it had to be better than the mental hospital her parents had been talking about sending her to before the lady that ran the school had offered her a spot.
The bespoke wooden sign above the porch read:
ELEANOR WEST’S HOME FOR WAYWARD CHILDREN
No Solicitations. No Visitors. No Quests.
Buffy looked at the sign. She looked at the door, which was just a door and not a door. She tried the handle. It was unlocked.
The door opened into an empty entryway with a large staircase that disappeared into the upper reaches of the building. Flowered wallpaper covered every inch of the walls as far as the eye could see. The few pieces of furniture rattling about in the entryway were, Buffy noted, made of wood, easy to repurpose into stakes if needed.
A woman descended the staircase. The movement caught Buffy's eye only after the bright pop of colour. The woman was wearing a long pleated skirt that seemed to have started off as white lace and then been dyed in bright orange and pink stripes. Her blouse was lime green and she wore bracelets on both arms in a dozen other colours, all of them clashing. Her shoes were nonexistent.
“Hello, my dear,” the woman said. “I’m Eleanor. You must be Buffy.”
Buffy just nodded. Eleanor’s choice of outfit had stunned her into silence.
“Lovely,” Eleanor said. She walked around Buffy, studying her carefully. Her white hair was buffeted about like a cloud by her movement. “Not Nonsense, certainly. A Fairyland, perhaps, or maybe a Netherworld.”
Buffy found her voice enough to ask “Huh?” She wasn’t getting any demony vibes from Eleanor, but demon was the only thing that made sense with that.
"Oh, please excuse me." Eleanor stopped walking in front of Buffy. “This world does insist on being linear. I ought to have asked you first. Where did you go?”
“Vegas,” Buffy said shortly. Shouldn’t Eleanor have known that already?
Eleanor smiled and shook her head. “My dear, you don’t have to lie anymore. We’ll all believe you when you tell us the truth, no matter how impossible it might seem. Now, where did you go?”
Buffy looked up at Eleanor with narrowed eyes. Well, she was already here. She didn’t really have anything to lose. “I went to Vegas with my boyfriend...to hunt vampires. I’m the Slayer.”
Eleanor looked at her in complete silence. Then, after what felt like a long time, she nodded. “Come with me. I have the perfect room for you.”
The room was on the first floor at the end of the hallway. Eleanor knocked sharply on the door and stood waiting for several moments. Just as she was raising her hand to knock again, the door flew open.
“Eleanor! I’m sorry, I was reading. Oh, hey, new girl,” the tanned blonde girl dressed all in black who’d opened the door said. She looked Buffy up and down. “We’re roommates, I guess?”
Eleanor nodded. “Shelly, this is Buffy. I believe her background will be compatible with yours, but if I am wrong, I trust that you will come to me with your concerns before you attempt to murder each other.”
“Yes, Eleanor,” Shelly said. “Come on, new girl. Let’s get your base camp set up. See you at dinner, Eleanor.”
“Don’t forget about group therapy.” Eleanor turned to Buffy. “Lundy begins group after dinner at eight. Shelly has a tendency to skip. Though I quite like lying to your parents, it is altogether easier if everyone is where they should be, when they should be. It helps keep us accredited.”
“We’ll be at group therapy,” Buffy promised. She wasn’t locked up in a padded room, and she didn’t want to be if the school got shut down and her parents sent her to an actual mental institution.
Eleanor nodded once. Then she turned and disappeared back down the hall.
Buffy and Shelly studied each other. Finally, Shelly said, “Shelly Kane, Black Knight of the Court of Roses. Moderate Logic, more Wicked than not, high Rhyme. You?”
Buffy paused for a moment before she answered. “Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer. What’s all that logically wicked stuff supposed to mean?”
Shelly shrugged. “It’s all about where we went. I went to Partez. We kept everything in order and everything made sense. Logic. Though, you’ll hear kids from Nonsense say the same thing. Rhyme, well, the Court of Roses has a Black Knight, the Court of Thorns has a White Knight. Rhyme. Wicked and Virtue is a bit more nebulous, but we had a lot of murder and assassination so...” She shrugged again. “Lundy will explain it better.”
“Oh,” Buffy said. “So everyone here went to some magical realm?”
“Well, there’s one girl whose world had spaceships, but pretty much, yeah. Didn’t you?” Shelly raised an eyebrow.
Buffy shook her head. “I went to Vegas. I’ll tell you about it if we can stop standing in the hallway like a pair of weirdos.”
Shelly let out a delighted laugh. “Vegas! I think we’ll get along just fine, new girl. Word to the wise though, we’re all weirdos around here, and Eleanor says ‘weirdo’ is a four-letter-word, so don’t use it where she can hear.”
Buffy and Shelly swapped stories until dinnertime. Buffy learned that Partez was a world of plant people who were deadly serious about politics. Shelly learned that the world she’d been born in wasn’t as boring as she’d thought. They were still talking as they headed down to dinner.
“I think you’ll like Elisabeth,” Shelly said. “She’s had to slay vampires before, just never in Technicolor. And they don’t usually stay dead. The Dracula type, you know?”
Buffy nodded. She’d seen the movies, though thankfully she’d never run into a vampire who took them seriously.
“Not exactly grounded in Logic,” Shelly muttered. “But I don’t usually want to kill her.”
Dinner took place in a large ballroom filled with tables. The actual meal was set up buffet-style on long tables along one wall. The students, at least thirty of them, mostly girls ranging in age from twelve to eighteen, sat at round tables scattered across the rest of the room. Some sat in groups, others alone. One table held a crystal bowl of a glittering purple punch, which the dozen or so girls seated around it used to fill their glasses. At another, three boys appeared to be having swordfights with their cutlery. The only other boy in the room was sitting at a table in the far corner with a girl dressed in worn brown leather. They were easy to spot even from across the room thanks to the boy’s hair, which was a million different shades of blue and green and hints of grey, like the colours of the sea. After they’d gotten their food, Shelly led Buffy to join the ocean-haired boy and the other girl.
“Hello,” the boy said. “Who’s this?”
“This is Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Shelly said, sitting down next to the girl in leather. “She’s my new roommate. Buffy, this is Wendell and this is Zara.”
“Hello,” Zara said, without looking up from her plate. Her shiny black hair was pulled back in a neat bun, which allowed Buffy to see the faint blush creeping across her warm brown skin.
“Zara is better with glass than with people,” Shelly said. “Just refuse to go away and she’ll eventually tolerate you.”
“Don’t corrupt the new girl with Heidi’s tactics,” Zara muttered.
Buffy sat down between Shelly and Wendell. “So...where did you guys go?”
Wendell’s blue eyes became distant. “The Trenches. It’s a water world with hidden caves and sunken ships and...” he trailed off, lost in the memories.
“And he was a merman,” Shelly said. “High Reason, low Wicked. Zara went to Laal Patthar. Neutral, low Logic, high Linearity, lots of lava. Where’s Elisabeth? I want Buffy to meet her.”
Wendell abruptly came back to dry reality. His eyes focused on Shelly. “Didn’t you hear? She went home.”
“What?!” Shelly’s shriek likely sent birds flying from the roof of the school. Buffy winched.
Wendell nodded. “Zara said that her door just appeared in their room, like it was being projected on the wall. Elle walked through and it disappeared.”
“Wow,” Shelly breathed. “I hope she never comes back.”
“Me too,” Wendell said. “Hey, between her, Heidi, and that frog girl, that’s three people in less than a year.”
“Four,” Zara corrected. “Dale, the girl who lived in the basement.”
The three travellers were silent for a moment, each of them hoping that they’d be the next one to beat the odds. Then Wendell cleared his throat. “So, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, what’s your story?”
Buffy found herself smiling. “You know, burned down my school’s gym, went to Vegas, killed some vampires. Nothing special.”
Buffy was at the school for five months. She traded stories with Shelly and Wendell, and Zara, eventually. She made a few more casual friends; girls who’d been the Chosen Ones of their own worlds, girls who’d gone on adventures and slayed dragons, girls who always believed her because their stories were just as fantastical as their own. When she was made to leave, she went as all former students did, with Eleanor’s lessons of lying and rule-breaking ready to be used, Lundy’s lessons of fair value held in the back of her mind just in case, and the phone number for the school in her pocket.
Seven years later, the phone in the apartment Shelly and Zara shared rang. Shelly answered.
“So,” Buffy said, “we just collapsed a town and now we’ve got about a thousand new Slayers to teach, after we find all of them. Do you still remember how to use a sword?”
Shelly grinned. “Always.”