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A Change of Key

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"OK kids, that's enough for today," Tyler Jensen said. He clapped his hands to get the attention of his hyperactive Slayers. "Who wants to find out who we're up against at Sectionals?"

"I can't believe we're going to Sectionals!" Chrissie squealed.

Pippa gave the shorter Slayer a scornful look. "It just means we've enough people to be a full choir," she said. "Now getting to Regionals, that'll be an achievement."

Tyler kept a smile on his face. Truth be told, he didn't reckon the Summertime Sisters had much chance of making Regionals. It was the first year that the Joyce Summers Academy for Girls was fielding a choir, the girls only had a vague idea of what it was all about, and Tyler himself had no experience as a choir trainer. Oh, he could show the Slayers a thing or two about projection and the choreography was a walk in the park, but beyond that he had no clue. They had all been winging it when it came to arranging songs. Then again, winging it was pretty much S.O.P. for Slayers.

"OK, settle down," Tyler said, flourishing the envelope and making a production out of opening it. "We are up against... New Directions, Sweet Sixteen and the Dalton Academy Warblers!" A hard group, he thought. Maybe it would do the girls good to come up against something physical they weren't supernaturally the best at.

"They'll be no match for us," Bella said confidently, flicking her blond hair out of her face. She was the diva of the group, always lobbying for the solos and pitching a fit if a vampire dared to get dust on her designer tops. Annoyingly she was also the best singer.

Pippa pulled out another scornful look, which was par for the course with her. "New Directions and the Warblers were both serious contenders at Regionals last year," she said. Tyler wasn't surprised that she had done her homework. Pippa took music very seriously and regarded slaying as an unfortunate distraction from her future career. It irritated her no end to have to play second to Bella. Principal Wood had muttered something about "Buffy and Faith all over again" that Faith had taken exception to.

"Who are the others?" Marnie asked.

"Sweet Sixteen, right?" Berta added. Tyler tried not to smile. The two girls were a double act, having apparently bonded the moment they met. They were the the dynamic dancers of the group, and Tyler was quietly encouraging them to come up with their own choreography. He had never expected to use the performing arts part of his degree again once he had retrained as a computer tech, and getting to exercise his dance skills was something he was intensely graceful for.

"They're new," he said, "from Fairmont Academy, an all-girl school just outside Lima."

"Fairmont?" Giselle looked by turns surprised and wistful. "My parents had a place reserved for me there. If I hadn't been a Slayer..."

Chrissie gave her a hug. "It's OK," she said, "we love you anyway." Giselle gave her a sideways look but leaned into the hug. It was impossible to stay mad at Chrissie.

Pippa was frowning again. "One set of girls, one set of boys and a mixed choir," she thought out loud. "We should emphasise our high ranges, show up what the Warblers don't have."

Tyler nodded. "I want you and Bella to work on the diva parts of your solos. Don't overdo the ornamentation, purity and power is what we want. The rest of you, get your dance moves down solid. Treat them like kata. When you're on stage I want the moves to be automatic so you can concentrate on the rest of your performance." The great thing about training Slayers as far as Tyler was concerned was that they were in amazing physical condition and could cope with any dance moves he threw at them. However, with very few exceptions they had no idea how to use those moves to express their emotions. He was still fighting an uphill battle over that.

The girls swirled off, chattering excitedly to each other about the upcoming competition. They passed Tim on his way in, presumably to remind Tyler that they were on this evening's patrol rota. It was good timing, Tyler thought, and waved him over to the piano where their reluctant accompanist Robert Johnson was packing up.

"What's got the girls all stirred up?" Tim asked.

"We found out who our competition at Sectionals will be," Tyler told him. "It's a tough group."

"And show choir isn't something the whole Slayer package is much help with," Tim mused. "That's going to be a bit of a shock to some of the girls."

"Well, it's your problem now," Robert said with satisfaction. "They will need to practice against the backing track, so I can go back to trying to force American History into closed minds."

Robert was the nearest thing to an old-school Watcher in Cleveland, and he played the part with relish. Tyler wasn't buying it. Robert was only a couple of years older than him and handsome with it, and Tyler reckoned he put on the stand-offish act to keep the girls a safe distance away. Certainly he played pop music from skimpy notes far too easily for someone who kept complaining that he was trained in "classical music, not this rubbish."

"I'd have thought you would have been keen to stay on and push a little more culture onto the girls, with all that noble lineage of yours," Tyler teased.

Robert rolled his eyes. "My family may have made the sacrifice of leaving Britain a century and a half ago, but we were hardly nobility even then. As for culture, I fear for the younger generation if this is their idea of culture." He paused, considering something. "It would explain a great deal about my nephew."

"Oh?"

"After he graduated, I offered to get him an interview here," Robert sighed.

"I take it even the flocks of pretty young Slayers didn't sway him?" Tim asked.

"He said, and I quote, 'Lol.'" Robert looked like he'd just bitten a lemon. "Seriously. I'd never heard anyone say that non-ironically before."

"OK," Tyler said, "that's, uh..." He'd never heard anyone say that non-ironically either.

"Apparently a philosophy degree does not equip you to communicate in English," Robert continued. "Though he did play hockey too, perhaps I can blame it on concussion. At any rate he decided to become the PA for some internet artist because it's safer than being a secondary character in our genre, whatever that's supposed to mean."

"I suppose he's got a point," Tim mused. "It's not like field watchers traditionally lived long enough to retire."

"And on that cheerful note I'll leave you to it," Robert said, picking up his briefcase. "Have fun in Lima."

"Not so fast, Robbie," Tyler told him. The nickname earned him a glare as usual. "You're tapped for chaperone duties on competition day."

Robert wilted. "Can't you handle them on your own?" he whined.

"Because one adult to over a dozen Slayers is such a good ratio," Tim observed wryly.

"Right," Tyler agreed. "This way we can take the Slay Wagon and two cars, and have plenty of room for everyone." The Slay Wagon was what the school's non-descript minivan was affectionately known as. It had been tricked out with hiding places for all the essentials of a night's slaying: stakes, holy water, assorted medieval weaponry, changes of clothing and make-up repair kits.

"Wait, two cars?" Tim asked after a beat.

Robert smiled thinly. "Three adults is better than two. Also, misery loves company."

"Robin signed off on it this morning," Tyler said. He grinned broadly. "We're all taking a day trip to Lima." Tim grimaced at him, as if he wouldn't have come anyway to see Tyler's girls in action.

"What sort of trouble are you expecting?" Robert asked. He was looking mildly suspicious now.

"Nothing, honestly," Tyler said, raising his hands defensively. "We're going to a show choir competition, that's all. No demons, magic or anything, just singing and teenage egos."

Robert groaned and Tim put his head in his hands. "You just jinxed us, you realise that?" Tim said, his voice muffled.

"I'll load for major demonic invasion, than," Robert added.

"You have no faith," Tyler told them. "No faith at all."