((Reader beware: (im)mature language.))
It was early in the morning, early enough that the sun had not yet risen over the Wilds -- something that always took longer where they were, given the cathedral-height trees not far from their house. Ettyn was usually up by now, but this morning she slept in longer: on her stomach on top of the covers, face buried in folded arms, still but for a slow, half-hummed snore every minute or so. Coracle was snoozing on the bare small of her back, tank top disheveled due to sleep motions, and she greeted Anya with a yawning yowl as she heard and saw the other slayer moving down the hall.
The other animals in the house were decidedly quieter. The drakes stuck mostly to the kitchen and the hearth, bulbous reptilian eyes glowing faintly in the darkness, watching the far side of the living room just past the couch, where the darkness seemed a little deeper and the air a little colder -- cold even for being removed from the hearth. Other cats were under and on the backs of furniture, tails swishing in excitement or agitation.
Only Meowzart toddled along in the open, getting out his discordant morning meows to let the household know that yes, as far as he was concerned, it was breakfast time. The deaf kitten (more grown now, but still ropy and kittenish) padded along in the danger zone, seemingly oblivious to it.
At the door to her room, Anya paused to yawn and stretch so enthusiastically that she answered Coracle with a squeak that turned into a groan. She rubbed her eyes with the back of her left hand. Her right was already holding her phone and swiping the screen open to check emails. Even the slight glow from the screen was enough to make her squint.
Bare feet followed a familiar path towards the kitchen. "Good morning, babies," she mumbled hoarsely.
The screen was in front of her face while she puzzled over a message on it. Absently, she flicked her left hand as she passed by the hearth to reignite the fire.
The darkness deepened across the room from Anya. The reignited fire was only allowed to live for a moment, then flickered away and died as if blown out.
For the first time in his little life, Meowzart hissed. Something whispered back, something that shrouded itself.
Finally, Anya looked up and at the dark hearth. Meowzart didn't give her time to consider it before starting introductions. She looked where he was, into the darkness that spread over the room, and froze. With the thumb of her left hand, she tapped three times on the thistle signet ring she wore, pinging her sleeping housemate.
The thing in the darkness sensed Anya's motions, and finally the specter emerged: a too-tall figure with long limbs and a long, skinny head supported by a long neck. He was dressed like an undertaker with cobwebs and Spanish moss dangling from rat-bites gnawed out of his flesh, and the only thing big about him was his teeth. Silvery ectoplasmic wisps flared around him as he moved, pulling back his blackened lips to HISS right back at Meowzart, who started to skitter away.
Started to but could not quite, because in that split second the ghost twisted into a second long neck, turning a second head down into the poor kitten's path to HISS again. Meowzart let out a discordant yowl of distress. Coracle was padding out of the slayer's room now, the big girl with her tail fluffed up like a bottle brush, licking her chops and hissing right back at this strange menace.
Her mom wasn't far behind her. What had started reasonably quiet became louder when she clattered away in the armory, swearing, "Fucking rag-licking bone-tickler going to wish they never died...!"
Anya had lost her breath when the specter revealed itself, but the chill that had started in her belly and spread to her spine thawed the longer she looked at it. By the time Meowzart yowled, she could move.
The little cat was rescued effectively, if not comfortably, when Anya grabbed him by the middle and slid him towards her. She brought him with her when she stood, cradling him in one arm. Backup arrived in the form of a calico ready for violence. Anya almost asked her if she'd decided to go it alone before she heard Ettyn down the hall.
Conversations in the Inns lately and at work had often involved recordings. Her mind had been on drumming up business. It wasn't a long leap from hearing Ettyn's promises to flipping her phone screen over to the camera. Her posture and the way she nuzzled the kitten on her arm suggested the danger had passed. Now she was waiting for Ettyn to come evict their uninvited guest.
The ghost seemed unaware that the danger had passed, though annoyed that Anya no longer treated him as a threat. He pointed a gaunt hand at her, and another at the hall where Ettyn approached, necks stretching out to menace the residents up close and personal with chomping, chattering teeth...
The teeth stopped mid-chomp, a menacing hiss becoming a strangled "hrk!" when the silver chain partly coiled around Ettyn's forearm whipped out and secured the base of his neck. Multiple heads became one again contact with the chain bound the being to this plane.
And made it more physical. And easier to hurt.
Ettyn was not dressed for slaying as far as public image was concerned, still in an orange tank top ("Enjoy Frito-Cola!") and mismatched yellow shorts; but she did not stop to consider it, or notice that Anya was recording the entire "hunt." She'd heard Meowzart in distress and Coracle ready to rumble, and came out to send this trespasser packing. Her old silver sword had already been unsheathed, and the ghost tried to escape the binding chain, fearing a head-severing blow when she pirouetted--
--but the blade swung low, and the flat landed on the ghost's backside with an almighty WHAP. "SCARING CATS, YOU SPOOKY BITCH?! THEN YOU GET SPANKED! BAD BITCH! BAD!" Whap! Whap! Whap! Whap! The ghost was howling in as much emotional as physical anguish from the humiliation, clawing at the bindings, desperate to be free of this place.
This footage was not going to be usable for commercials. Although Ettyn could be clearly heard, the camera was shaking while Anya came apart with laughter. She let the little white kitten down before she dropped him and sat down, her back against the end of the hearth. She was still recording from this new angle, making it all look larger and keeping it steadier, but now in the background was her voice whispering "spooky bitch" and lapsing into giggles again.
Maybe Ettyn was grinning because it seemed to be working. Or because Coracle had joined the fray, batting and scratching through the phantom's ragged pants as he jerked away from her. Or because she could hear Anya giggling over there.
The ghost tried to speak, hollow white eyes fixed on Ettyn: "You will regret this, so mark my name--!"
She jerked the chain down hard with a growl and stuck her leg out, effectively putting the ghost over her knee, and started swinging again. "YOUR." WHAP. "NAME." WHAP. "IS." WHAP. "SPOOKY." WHAP. "BITCH!"
The ghost was howling by the end of it, and Ettyn roared: "YOU WANT MORE?!" He grasped the chain and shook his head as far as he could, moaning and wailing. "THEN FUCK OFF AND DON'T COME BACK, SPOOKY BITCH!" She jerked the chain off of him hard enough to spin him like a top, putting some English on the pitch: then she wound up and smacked his spectral ass again, sending him the rest of the way back across the Veil.
Anya sniffled in the resulting quiet and wiped her eyes. She hit the little red button to stop recording, looked at Ettyn, and started laughing again. Meowzart, who had chosen not to stray far, got scooped up and placed on her lap for some reassuring scratches behind his ears and down his back.
The drakes, rabbit and other cats started creeping out from their various hiding places. "Cowards," she told V and Mr. Bacon. Her voice was too shaky to get any more than that out.
Ettyn rumbled laughter at the admonishment, and Anya's state. She couldn't even look at her! "Brave baby girl," she said to Coracle, stroking her back and smoothing out her tail. Then she took the chain wound around her arm, and the sword hoisted over her shoulder, back to the armory.
She wasn't gone for long, probably not nearly enough time to recover. Or maybe just enough time for Anya to think she had, until she saw Ettyn again. "Think any more will show?" she said as she returned to the hearth.
She looked up from her spot on the floor where additional critters had joined her, started to answer, and laughed again so loudly that most of them scattered again. Poor Meowzart just dug his claws in when her lap shook.
There was a longer, wheezier chuckle from Ettyn and she scrubbed her face. "Poor babies." She scritched Meowzart's little noggin, and maybe just because of the chance it would make Anya dissolve again, she patted her on the shoulder and left her to another giggle fit while she cooked.
((Cowritten with Anya!))
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