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It took a warrant and some smooth talking by Sandburg to get them past a rather annoying Principal Snyder, but Jim and Blair finally made it into the hallowed halls of Sunnydale High School. Blair whistled his approval as they walked across the courtyard to the computer room.
"Meets with your approval, chief?"
"Definitely. Naomi often taught me at home when I was growing up, or I was in a school for such a short period of time that I never got a chance to really appreciate the place. These kids' parents must have some serious money to be able to afford to build a school like this."
Jim nodded his agreement, and made a mental note to see if there was a connection between the incomes of the parents of the murdered teens. They got to the computer room just as class was letting out. According to her schedule, this was Ms. Calendar's free period, which was why Jim and Blair went to interview her first. Jim knocked on her door just as she was gathering up papers from around the room and turning off lazy students' computers. "Ms. Calendar?"
The dark-haired young woman looked up from her task to greet the two men walking into her classroom. "Yes? Can I help you?"
Jim introduced them, "Ms. Calendar, my name is Jim Ellison, and this is my partner, Blair Sandburg." He flashed his badge, hoping she would assume it was from Sunnydale, and continued, "we'd like to ask you a couple of questions about one of your students, Michelle Chen."
Samantha recalled the girl immediately. Asian girl, dark hair--good student, great on the computer. She and Willow had worked closely on several projects that were of a more traditional nature, and the two had become close friends. [But just how close?] thought Samantha. Given Willow's often necessary hobby of illegally breaking into secured computer networks, if Michelle had been caught sneaking in where she wasn't supposed to…"She's not in any kind of trouble, is she?"
She noticed both men shifted their weight and looked at each other for a brief second, and she picked up immediately what kind of call this really was. She could feel the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach even before Jim replied, "no ma'am, unfortunately, Michelle died yesterday evening. Her body was found early this morning near the school athletic field."
[This part never gets any easier,] thought Samantha. She felt a desperate urge to sit down, so she pulled up a chair and, after motioning for Jim and Blair to join her, asked, "how did she die?", even though she had a feeling she already knew.
All business, Jim replied, "we're still trying to determine a cause of death, but we do have reason to believe that her death was not of natural causes."
When she heard the words "…not of natural causes…", Samantha drew in a deep breath, and her heart skipped a beat. [Did they know?]
Jim noticed the imperceptible change immediately, and also picked up on her attempt to quickly compose herself, or at least to compose herself to the level which she 'should' be composed when hearing about the death of a student. He gave her a minute to finish 'composing' herself, then asked, "how well did you know Michelle, Ms. Calendar?"
"She was one of my best students. I'm the faculty advisor for the school's computer club, so between class and the club projects, I had been able to spend quite a bit of time with her."
"Could we get a list of the students in the computer club?"
"Certainly." She went over to her desk and pulled out a copy of the requisite list, handing it to Jim before sitting down again. "She wasn't the type to hang out with a bad crowd or anything, really more of a quiet, shy student."
Blair asked, "when did you last see Michelle?"
Samantha stammered, "Last night. She was working on a project with myself and another one of my students, Willow Rosenberg. They were in the middle of designing a programmable flash card screen saver program. She must have left around six or so."
Jim then asked, "Ms. Calendar, we have reason to believe that Michelle's death may be connected to several other deaths in the area. Did you know any of the other students that have died recently?"
She lied, "No."
Jim picked up on the lie immediately, and ended the conversation. "Well, thank you, Ms. Calendar, you've been most helpful. If we have any more questions, do you have a number where we can contact you?"
"Certainly," she replied. She pulled out a piece of note paper and wrote down her beeper number. "This is my beeper. If you page me, I should respond within the hour. If I don't, it usually means I'm in a class."
Jim shook her hand briefly, thanked her again for the information, and left. Confused, Blair asked the older man the minute they were out of Ms. Calendar's earshot, "Jim, what was that about? Why was the conversation so short?"
"She's hiding something, chief, I know it. There were a couple of points where I could hear her get really nervous, then back off when I went a different route with the questioning than what she was expecting. And she out and out lied to me with that last answer."
Blair looked at his watch. They had thirty minutes before the next period. "All right, so we know who the last two people to see her alive. I take it we're going to go find this Willow Rosenberg next?"
Jim smiled, "you're catching on, chief. You're catching on."
As the bell rang for their free period to start, Willow Rosenberg walked down the hall with her best friend, Xander Harris, but her mind was most definitely not on where she was going. She was thinking about her friend Michelle. [I was just with her last night,] she thought, not for the first time. Actually, it was all she could think.
Willow had lost several friends since the vampires started making regular appearances around Sunnydale, but, thought Xander, she hasn't been this bad since Buffy defeated the Master. He had to gently guide his childhood friend by the shoulder to make sure the poor distraught girl didn't accidentally bump into a wall, locker or anything else as he led her to the library.
They had both heard rumors about Michelle's death that made them suspect a vampire attack, and Xander wanted to bring Willow to the Library so that Giles could confirm or deny those rumors. With all his heart he was hoping that the rumors were false, but, knowing his luck, they wouldn't be. [In that case,] thought Xander, [Giles will know what's going on, and he'll have a plan of how we're going to stop this thing. Giles always has a plan. It's a Giles thing.]
They walked into the Library and found what was, in Xander's opinion, the first great sign that the world was about to end: a frantic Giles. His tie was undone, his hair was a mess, and it seemed like every book he owned was on the Library table. At the sound of the opening door, Giles looked up briefly to see the two people Buffy affectionately called her "Slayerettes", walking in, Willow looking almost as distraught as he was feeling at the moment. He had grown to like the young girl whose thirst for knowledge mirrored his own, and she had become an invaluable help and resource to him in Buffy's (and his own) fight against the dark forces of Sunnydale. He knew without a doubt that the only thing that distressed the girl this badly was the loss of a friend, and he guessed that Willow knew the girl whose body Buffy had found last night. [The perfect thing to get her mind off things,] thought Giles, [will be for her to help me find information on this Order of Ra.] Smiling inwardly, he added to himself, [and Lord knows, I could use all the help I could get right now.]
"Ah Willow," declared Giles, "good, you're here. Listen, I could use your help. I need you to surf the Net and find me anything you can about a group called the Order of Ra."
Willow shook off her melancholy the minute she noticed Giles' state. If the normally prim and proper Englishman was in this bad a state of disarray, this was big. End of the world big. And it probably had to do with Michelle's death last night. She ran to the computer and pulled up Excite, joining in the search right away.
Willow was out of Xander's protective arms and in front of her prized computer before Xander even had a chance to blink. From the day he had first followed Buffy into the library, life seemed to have run right past Alexander Harris, and he always felt was working twice as hard as everyone else around him seemed to be just to keep up. Today was no exception, but he hoped that maybe he could get some help in coming up-to-speed. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Could someone _please_ tell me what is going on here?"
Buffy walked into the library at the same moment of Xander's semi-breakdown. She explained, "I'm sure you've heard about Michelle by now?"
Xander nodded. "She was killed by a vampire?"
Buffy nodded, "some hot-shot new sect called the Order of Ra. Apparently they were given some special blessing that gives them the power to hide from their enemies, including me. Giles has been working since last night trying to find a way for me to track them." It was then she noticed her Watcher's frantic, disheveled appearance. As she walked over to where Giles was helping Willow, she continued, "and it looks like there hasn't been a lot of progress in the search?"
Discouraged, Giles shook his head. "No. I don't know that much more about them than we did last night, other than the fact that they're probably here to vie for control of the Hellmouth."
Buffy muttered, "just like every other vampire sect in the world."
Giles nodded his agreement. Suddenly, a book caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. It was a well-worn, old volume, one of the books about Slayer prophecy he most often referred to. He knew every word in that book, as the American saying went, 'like the back of his hand'.
A prophecy from that book was working its way out of the back of his mind, and he grabbed the book, thumbing through it furiously, trying to remember where it was. Finally he found it, and, reading the prophecy over again in more detail, muttered, "could this be it? Could they possibly be referring to them?"
Buffy always hated it when Giles' mind went off on possibilities without taking them with him. "What? Who? Giles, you're being cryptic again."
Coming back to reality, he apologized, "Oh, sorry Buffy. I was just remembering a prophecy I had read once about 'demons who walk in daylight'. The prophecy was to happen sometime after the Master's defeat, so at the time I skimmed over it and put it aside. Now that's I've taken another look at the prophecy, though, I think it might have something to do with how we might be able to find the Order of Ra."
Excited, Buffy asked, "can I see it?"
Giles looked at the book, then thought out loud, "well, this prophecy is fairly straightforward, so I don't see why not…" The minute he said "…don't see why not…", Buffy grabbed the book from his hands and read the prophecy for herself.
The young Slayer plopped the book on the table, confused. [This doesn't seem all that straightforward to me.] Out loud, she asked, "what does it mean, 'not of the hunters yet separate from the hunted'?
Giles replied, "I'm pretty sure that 'not of the hunters' means that the 'Blessed Protector' is not another vampire. The blessing the Order of Ra received probably encompasses the idea of protecting them from others of their own kind who would seek to do them harm."
Buffy thought out loud, "so it means the 'Blessed Protector' is a man."
Giles replied, "most likely."
"But what does 'separate from the hunted' mean?"
"I don't know. When we discover what that passage means, I have a feeling that's when we'll find our 'Blessed Protector'."
It was at that moment that two men walked into the library. The taller, stronger and obviously older of the two announced to the assembled group, "excuse me, but I was told we could find a Willow Rosenberg here?"
Willow looked up from behind the computer. "I'm Willow."
Giles interjected, "and you are--?"
The tall man replied, "Detective James Ellison, and this is my partner, Blair Sandburg. If you don't mind, we would like to ask you some questions about Michelle Chen."
Willow's first instinct was to panic. [Calm down, Willow. Deep breath. They're not here about you, and they're not here about Buffy. They're here about Michelle. Which of course could lead to questions about Buffy and that could lead to all the hacking I've done and I know that's illegal and they could send me to jail and I heard they do bad things to teenagers in jail…] She forced herself to take two more deep breaths to try again to calm down before she passed out.
Blair didn't need Jim's Sentinel abilities to pick up on the panic in the young woman's eyes when she found out that the two of them were with the police, although he stole a brief glance at his partner, whose eyes made it clear that he had indeed picked up on the girl's reaction to their presence. He then started into what had become his 'good cop' routine to try and get the girl to calm down. He pulled up a chair next to Willow, who instinctively backed away from him. He tried to reassure her, "whoa, whoa, take it easy! You're not in any trouble." He then went to his favorite tactic--taking her mind off of the questioning by starting on a favorite subject. "So I hear you're good with computers?"
That brought on another panic attack in Willow. Blair then realized what she was worried about and changed the subject immediately. "So tell me about this project you and Michelle were working on."
Willow took another deep breath, and took a good look at Blair, finally noticing the man's age and appearance. [He doesn't look like a cop,] she thought, [actually, he doesn't look much older than we are.] She briefly described the flash card program she had worked on with Michelle last night, then interjected at the end, "you don't look like a cop."
Blair smiled, wondering when that was going to come up. "Actually I'm not."
Curious, Willow nodded her head over to Jim, who was watching the whole proceedings, and asked, "well, if you're not a cop, then what are you doing with him?"
Blair replied, "I'm an Associate Professor in Anthropology. I'm studying the police force as part of my work for my Ph.D., and I work with Jim as a consultant to the department."
The prophecy he had just read echoed in Giles' mind, […guided by wisdom and innocence…] He then shrugged off the stray thought, [a simple police officer? The Blessed Protector? Not likely.]
Jim then interrupted the little social chat Willow and Blair were having, asking, "what time did you last see Michelle, Willow?"
Looking over to Jim, who was still standing imposingly at the other end of the table, Willow replied, "she must have left at around 6. I stayed for another hour to work on the program and answer some e-mails, then Ms. Calendar gave me a ride home."
Jim then asked, "did Michelle leave with anyone? Did she get a ride from anyone?"
Willow shook her head, "no. As far as I know, she walked home alone. It was still light out, and she doesn't -- I mean didn't -- live far from school." The expression on her face turned sad again as she thought about the idea of never seeing her friend and lab partner again.
Blair looked at the girl sympathetically. "How well did you know Michelle?"
Willow seemed to brighten a bit as she thought good thoughts of her friend. "Pretty well. She and I met at the beginning of freshman year in Ms. Calendar's computer club. We worked on a lot of projects together, and we got to hang out a lot."
Jim asked, "what were her other friends like?"
Willow breathed a mental sigh of relief. [Good. So these two don't know about vampires. They're thinking another human being killed Michelle.] Sadly, she thought, [I almost wish that were the case,] then replied out loud, "she was mostly friends with the other people in the computer club. She was friends with a few girls on the track team, but no one who ran with a bad crowd or anything."
Blair asked, "Willow, we think this may be connected to some other deaths that have happened recently. Did Michelle know any of the other students who have died over the past month or so?"
Willow shook her head. "I don't think so."
Jim saw that continuing to talk to Willow was going to get them about as much information as they got from that Ms. Calendar. Actually, he had gotten more interesting insights from the reactions questioning Willow had brought about in the other people in the room. [But,] he thought, [that can wait until Sandburg and I can talk later.] He looked at the clock. Ten minutes before these kids needed to be in their next class. He concluded the interview, "Well, thank you for helping us out, Willow. If you can think of anything else you might want to tell us, just give us a call at the police station. Come on, chief, let's go."

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