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First Dream (The Readiness Remix)

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Jenna sat bolt upright in bed, afterimages if dead girls and cloaked figures with no eyes burned into her brain. That was a Slayer dream.

She lunged for the door, getting tangled in the sheets, and flipped the lights on. No, nothing there, she was alone. She gulped a deep breath, heart racing. Anne—she needed to call Anne. She darted out of her bedroom and downstairs to the phone in the kitchen, hitting light switches as she went. But in the kitchen, she dove for the knife drawer instead of the phone, getting out the largest one there. Then she picked up the phone and began to dial, wedging herself into the corner so that nothing could come at her from behind.

There was movement upstairs, and Jenna swallowed. It wasn’t a demon or warlock, she told herself. It was probably her parents moving around. She must have woken them up.

The phone rang, and rang. Anne would be asleep; it would take her time to wake up and get to a
phone. There was nothing wrong with her; Slayer dreams foretold future problems, not current ones. And Jenna hadn’t recognized any of the dead girls.

“Jenna, what’s wrong? Are you all right?”

Jenna jerked looking up at the stairway. Her Dad was there, in his bathrobe. “No,” she said. “Yes. I don’t know. I had a dream. I need to talk to Anne.”

“Must have been some dream,” he said, coming down the rest of the stairs to take a seat at the table.

“Yes,” Jenna said.

“Hello?” came Anne’s voice over the telephone.

“Anne? It’s Jenna,” she said. “I had a Slayer dream.”

***
Within an hour, Jenna was sitting in a work room at the coven’s business center, drinking a horrible herbal tea that would help with clarity of mind and openness to spiritual and supernatural perception. (She would much rather have had a normal tea. But Anne had insisted.)

At last, after she had told her story several times and answered every question twice, they left her alone to go discuss it. Mum was there for moral support (Dad being home with her siblings), an arm round her shoulder, and Jenna sighed and leaned into her.

The odds were that Jenna would never become a Slayer. There were several hundred Potentials at any one time, scattered throughout the world, and most of them would never be called. There was a roughly five-year interval, from about twelve to about seventeen, in which they were eligible depending on the vagaries of the Powers that Be. Given that Slayers lasted two to five years on average, it worked out to about half a percentage point chance for each individual slayer.

(It was more complicated than that, of course; Anne had assigned her the analysis, once, as an exercise in Magical Analysis and Statistics. But Jenna didn’t have any of the miscellaneous factors that increased or lessened her probability of being Called, so half a percent it was.)

This was all to the good. Slaying was a noble calling, and necessary for the survival of the human race, and Jenna regularly gave thank-offerings for all the Slayers as part of the coven’s regular ritual. But she had no burning desire to live a short, nasty life chasing the things that went bump in the night, before inevitably being killed by something.

Her mum and dad owned a magic shop (a real one, not a stage-trick or New Age trendy one), and had done auguries at the birth of each of their children. Jenna was a Potential, and so it would only be a matter of time before the Council came for her; but she also had a talent for magic, which gave them a bit of leeway. They’d contacted the largest White Coven in England, and asked for Jenna to be trained. The Coven had then argued with the Council that, given the odds against Jenna becoming a Slayer but the certainty of her having magic, it made better sense for her to be trained as a witch. The compromise was that she had a Watcher come out three times a week for Slayer training, and her magical training included studying the types of demons a Slayer was most likely to need to hunt.

She had never expected to have a Slayer dream.

The door opened, and she straightened, hoping that whoever it was hadn’t seen her snuggling with mum like a little girl.

Anne was there again, with Ms. Roberts, who was the head of the coven and whom Jenna had only met a few times. Behind them came a middle-aged man she’d never seen before, but she knew him—everyone knew about the events of last spring, and the American witch who’d gone so badly off the rails. Jenna’s power had been part of that lent to Mr. Giles, and it left a kind of resonance.

“Jenna, you know Ms. Roberts,” Anne said. “This is Mister Giles. He was at the retreat center, and he’s the closest Watcher. We’ve filled him in, but he’d like to hear it directly from you. I know you’re tired, and how hard this is. You are doing very well, but we just need this one thing from you and then you can rest.”

Jenna swallowed and nodded, calling the dream to mind again as best she could. Anne sat down next to her, on the other side from Mum, and took her hand. Ms. Roberts and Mr. Giles took seats opposite them.

She told the story again: girls, lots of girls, white and black and Asian and all kinds, being chased by eyeless beings in cloaks. At this Giles brought out a drawing, and Jenna flinched. Yes, that was them. There were more questions. Yes, she was sure it had been a Slayer dream and could list all the identifying marks of one and how they had been present in the dream. No, she didn’t know who any of the girls were. Yes, she was sure it was a future warning not an echo down the Slayer line of a past event. Yes, she was sure she hadn’t been Called yet—and just to make sure, they had her try to bend an iron bar.

“What are those things, do you know?” she asked, when there was a break in the questions.

Mr. Giles rubbed his forehead. “I believe they are Bringers—servants of the First Evil.”

Jenna swallowed. She hadn’t studied the First Evil much; there was no particular reason to think she’d ever need that knowledge. The First Evil only interfered directly on very rare occasions. But what she did know was terrible.

“You needn’t worry,” Mr. Giles said, “even if the First is going after Potentials, as long as you stay within the Coven you should be safe.” He turned to Ms. Roberts. “I would, of course, suggest going to high alert on your defenses.”

“We’re already there,” Ms. Roberts said. “And given the problems with Willow, we’re actually a bit more practiced than normal, which is all to the good.”

“But what about the other Potentials?” Jenna asked. She wasn’t sure how they had decided that the targets were Potentials and not, say, untrained witches, but he seemed certain. “They won’t have covens to protect them!”

“No, they won’t,” Mr. Giles said, turning to her. “I shall attempt to warn as many as I can. But I shan’t be able to go through the Council, unfortunately, which means this will take time.”

And what if there’s not enough time? Jenna wondered. “Why can’t you just tell the Council and let them figure it out?”

“Because the current leadership is rather … conservative, and disinclined to believe in the possibility of things they’ve never encountered before,” Mr. Giles said. “Potentials do not, as a rule, have Slayer dreams, so I doubt they will believe your dream is true.”

“Unlike most Potentials, Jenna has been trained in the arts of scrying and dream-interpretation and prophecy,” Anne pointed out. “She’s doing quite well. So it’s unsurprising that she would both receive and remember such a dream, when other Potentials might not.”

“Besides, we’ve had our other scryers and sages at work, and they say it was definitely a Slayer dream,” Ms. Roberts said.

“Yes, but the Council won’t believe until their own magicians come to the same conclusion, and they simply aren’t up to your caliber,” Mr. Giles said. “Also, I can confidently say what Travers’ first question will be: given that the First Evil would prefer a world without Slayers, why start going after Potentials now, why not thousands of years ago? And I don’t have an answer for that. Something’s changed, but I don’t know what. Until I can find a reason that would convince him—or until Potentials start dying, God forbid—he won’t listen, not to me.” Mr. Giles looked very old, for a moment. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to go begin making arrangements.”

He stood up to leave. Ms. Roberts went with him. “We’ll help in any way we can, of course,” she said as they left.

Anne waited until they were gone before patting Jenna’s shoulder. “You’ve done very well, today,” she said. “I’m proud of you. I’ll go see about finding a room for you and your mother to sleep in, and we’ll probably be moving you to the retreat center in a bit—it’s better defended.”

“What about David and the other children?” Mum asked, and Jenna felt rotten when she realized she hadn’t even thought about if they might be in danger.

Anne shrugged. “I don’t know. They’re welcome with us, of course, but they may actually be safer away from Jenna, unless the Bringers target families directly. I’ll talk with our scryers, see what they say.”

***

An hour later, Jenna was lying in a guest room, staring up at the ceiling, trying to go to sleep. Her mother had the other bed, and it was soothing to listen to her breathing, but Jenna couldn’t imagine being able to sleep now. So she was awake to notice the magic surge that accompanied Mr. Giles’ departure.

She needed to sleep, to rest and rebuild her energy. They would want her to take her turn in the defenses, and chances were this wouldn’t be the only time the coven would need to teleport Mr. Giles. And if she slept, she might get another dream, with more information to help save the lives of other girls like her.

It made no difference. She couldn’t sleep.

***

Over the next few months, Jenna had a two more dreams. She reported everything she could, and hoped that it was useful.

When the time came to make a choice, Jenna chose “no.”

She was a witch. She had never wanted to be a Slayer.