Phoenix, Arizona, United States. September 1995.
High in the sky, Sol blazed white-yellow, illuminating the car-riddled streets, baking tarmac, concrete, and metal, all which reflected the heat back up to those souls who walked out in the lunch-time heat. Natives and long-time residents of the city basked in the autumnal temperature that, while not cool, was cooler than the overwhelming heat of summer. The ever so slight breeze kept the air from feeling stagnant. Tanned skin was exposed by the vests, flip flops, and shorts that were the clothing de rigour. So it was that a visitor from England, pale and dressed in slacks and a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up the elbow, stood out. Roger Wyndam-Price tugged uncomfortably on the collar of his linen shirt. He felt uncivilized in the loose material. Though the material breathed in ways his usual clothes could not, he was exposed to be so casually dressed. In coming to Phoenix, he'd had to forgo his typical Bookster suit, the tailored tweed jacket, waistcoat, trousers, and tie being unsuitable for the overbearing heat of America's desert southwest. It felt unnatural not to have the comforting stiff fabric enclosing his body. Why four and a half million souls had chosen to live here was beyond him.
When he made it back to London, he planned on giving the insufferable head of the Council, Quentin Travers, a considerable portion of his mind. He was too old and too valuable a researcher to be sent out to some crass, ugly city in search of a potential Slayer. No, she might not even be a potential; the magics had been inconclusive on that matter. Fortunate him, who was sent out to confirm if she did or did not have the potential to become the Chosen One. It was a task better suited to a younger, less important member of the Council with a solid grasp on the necessary magic. Even his son Wesley would have been a better choice. Let him sweat uncomfortably in this infernal heat.
The child in question, an eight-year-old girl named Isabella Marie Swan, lived with her mother in a section of Phoenix's suburbs that rode the line between lower middle class and working class. That the child had confused the magics used by the Council to locate potential slayers was certainly interesting. The researcher aspect of his personality itched to examine the girl to discover the reason she was different than all the others who simply either were or were not potential Slayers. If the spells he used to determine her status as potential proved inconclusive again even when done in person, he would take her back to the Council's headquarters for further study. He had half a mind to do so anyway. Truly, the more quickly he found himself back home in tolerable weather the happier he would be. After only three days here he longed for the short days and overcast skies of home.
London's weather, he'd learned in his six decades, generally reflected his outlook on life. It was stoic; not overly eager, bright, or oppressive. In contrast, the weather here felt as brash and abrasive as the Americans he encountered. If he'd been the fanciful sort, he might have enjoyed drawing parallels between a city's weather and its inhabitants' personalities. A proper Wyndam-Pryce, however, was the antithesis of fanciful, and so no errant thoughts of that nature entered his mind.
He pulled the hire car off to the side of the road across the street from the Swan's home, a small space rented by the girl's mother. The two lived in a wide single-story house that had been divided into two flats. The house's green paint had faded to a sickly, washed out color, the decorative shutters no longer black so much as they were black-tinged wood.
The child Isabella was nothing to look at: small for her age, pale skin, wild brown hair always pulled back into a sloppy pony tail, long fringe obscuring her eyes. Two big knees, two big eyes, and second-hand clothes, she was wholly unremarkable aside from her ability to confuse otherwise accurate magics. The mother Roger noted only enough to identify her; she was unimportant. Time watching the Swans passed at a terribly slow rate. He followed the ugly yellow bus in the morning as it brought Miss Swan to the overcrowded elementary school, and watched for her class to empty out into the school's playground. While the child was attending her lessons, he used the time available to him to translate texts recently recovered from a washed out mud hut in Timbuktu. It was thought the manuscripts mentioned the Slayer and contained needed prophecies. The originals were safely stored at the Council's headquarters, and he had with him the copies he'd ordered the Watcher trainees under his tutelage to make.
Watching the Swan child with her classmates on the school playground had him hoping that the magics would reveal her as simply ordinary as she appeared, with no potential to become a slayer. She was, quite possibly, the least coordinated child he had ever seen. He suspected that the palms of her hands and her knees were perpetually skinned from the many falls she took. If she proved to indeed be a potential, he would arrange to avoid a posting as her watcher. In no way would his reputation be impinged by having such a creature in his care.
Late in the afternoon, Roger left his spot near the school and took a late lunch before he put himself in the position to watch her home. It had been his observation over the past two days that Miss Swan's school bus deposited her at the end of the driveway between three and three fifteen in the afternoon, and that her mother rarely arrived home before five in the evening. An hour and a half alone with the girl would be just enough time for him to cast the necessary spells to determine her potential and if necessary erase her memories of him. Two days of observation were not enough to determine that the Swans' respective arrival times were consistent, however, so he resigned himself to watching them over the course of a week, possibly two, if their schedules proved to be less regular than the first two days suggested. It was miserable timing. Late in September, the weather had not cooled off much, to his mind. A helpful bank he passed on the drive from hotel to neighborhood displayed on its sign that it was 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit --33 degrees Celsius--today. Far too warm, in his mind, for September. Particularly when one was to sit and observe, outside, from a stationary vantage point, for long periods of time.
At the end of the third day parked within sight of the Swan home, Roger turned in his hired car, and then rented another one of different make and model. There was no sense in observant neighbors noticing the same strange car parked in the street every day. He repeated this action after another four days. The translations came along nicely as he fell into a pattern of observation.
At the end of ten days, Roger determined that Thursday evenings, when, it seemed, the mother came home even later than on other days, were the best opportunity to have time with the child and cast the necessary spells. Subsequently, the following Thursday he was several doors up the street, waiting for the school bus to divest itself of the students on this street and move on. When he felt he would be least likely to be observed, he picked the front door lock on the Swan home and let himself in.
Initially the child did not notice his entrance. She was at the small table in the cluttered kitchen, head bent over what he thought must be homework, pencil pressed into the paper, her tongue pinned between her lips in concentration. "Miss Swan," Roger said in a firm, voice, loud enough to gain her attention without being particularly loud.
She jumped in her chair and dropped her pencil. The child looked up at him, fear and surprise clear on her face. Her eyes darted from him to the front door and a hint of confusion became evident. When she spoke, her voice was small and uneven. "Bella," she offered in correction. The child blinked and then asked, "Who are you? How- how did you get in?" She did not move from her seat, only held herself very still has she waited on his answer.
Roger lifted his chin. "I am Roger Wyndam-Pryce, of the Watcher's Council." His tone and manner of speech did not alter from that which he used when conversing with his fellow researchers, with perhaps a tinge of the asperity that found its way into his voice when he was forced to deal with lesser politicians of Parliament. He had a tendency to view young MPs and children as the same: barely worthy of attention and entirely annoying. "You, child, have garnered our attention and require testing."
"Testing?" She squeaked out. Then, seeming to remember something: "Does my mom know you're here? She didn't tell me I was gonna be tested." He noted that she had stopped glancing at the door and instead was sneaking looks at the telephone hanging from the wall next to the ugly green refrigerator in the kitchen.
Seeing an easy way to stop at least one line of questions, he gave her a perfunctory nod before he lied. "Yes. Your mother was to inform you and make arrangements."
The child's face fell a bit at this information. "She forgets sometimes," she whispered. She pushed her too-long fringe out from her eyes and regarded him gravely. "What kind of test?"
Roger looked to the living room, where a chipped but clean coffee table stood sentry between a sagging sofa and small telly. It would do. He pointed at the faded, flower-patterned sofa. "Sit." The Swan child bit her lip and seemed to be contemplating his instruction. A sharp twist of anger rose up at her lack of response. When Roger Wyndam-Pryce gave instructions, those receiving them did as they were told. "Now, Miss Swan."
"Will I need a pencil and paper for the test?"
"No. I believe I instructed you to sit over there, did I not?"
She shrank into herself at this response, then moved to follow his instruction, tripping over her own feet and stumbling several steps to catch her balance as she made her way into the other room. When finally she sat at the center of the sofa, the child's face was red and her eyes wet with unshed tears.
The Watcher ground his teeth in irritation. Could the chit not walk six feet without tangling her limbs? How disgraceful that she might be a potential slayer. Impatiently, he strode to the coffee table and laid out the spell components. Reaching across the small table, he plucked a loose hair from her head. He ignored her squeak of pain and affront and set about casting the spell that would tell him if the clumsy girl would soon become a ward of the Council as a part of the slayer line.
When he finished the invocation, a fine mist with three fingers of green, brown, and red rose from the mixing bowl and moved as a living thing toward the girl. She had been watching him with some confusion, though she had followed his instruction to "sit still and be quiet" up to this point. When she saw that mist come toward her, she started to get up and move away.
"Stay," Roger snapped at her.
Wide-eyed, the child shook her head and moved backwards on the sofa until her back reached the back cushion, upon which she made as to move sideways. He stepped around the small table and took her shoulder in a firm grip, digging his fingers into the soft skin under her thin t-shirt. "I said stay still, Miss Swan. This is the test I spoke of." Just before the three-pronged mist touched the skin of her face, he released her from his grip. For the spell to be effective, the subject could not be in contact with another living being.
The mist enveloped her, seeming to swirl around the small body. Normally, the indication would be immediate. A flair of light to indicate that the subject was a potential Chosen One, a dissipation of the mist to indicate the subject was an ordinary girl. With this child, however, nothing happened. The tri-colored magic continued to move around her with no indication either way. For two minutes Roger watched the magic evaluate her, saw it behave as he never had before; the mist dipped into nose and mouth, swirled, held her in its power even as she began crying and asking him to stop.
Finally, then, the magic faded from her. There was no tell-tale flair of light. The child was as ordinary and unimportant as her appearance indicated, however much time it had taken the magic to evaluate her. He could leave this dreadful place and return to his rightful position as the Council's researcher in London. The child was curled up on the couch, crying, asking for her mother between wet snuffles. "Silence!" He snapped in irritation.
She stopped, looking at him in surprise. Did no one raise their voice to her? How barbaric, he thought. Did her mother not discipline her at all? He cleared the coffee table of the spell ingredients, then leaned across and placed his hand heavily on head. Intoning the appropriate words of magic, he told her: "You came home as usual. Revised your assignment until you became tired and laid here on the sofa to nap. It was an uneventful evening. Sleep."
Her eyelids closed and she sagged, then curled into a tight ball against the seat cushion where she sat. He swept the small room to verify that he would leave no indication of his presence after he left. Satisfied, Roger let himself out the front door and immediately put her out of his mind. Not a potential slayer, she was no longer important. By the time he reached the hired car, he was already puzzling over the odd diction used in the latest section of manuscript he had been translating.